Eat, Drink, and Be Married

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Engagement Photos on the Amtrak to New Orleans

November 26th, 2010 by Melia

Before I had my own engagement photos taken, I’d thought they were kind of a cheesy prospect. I couldn’t really picture Darren and myself gazing longingly into each other’s eyes while wearing matching polo shirts. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Luckily for us, the motto of our photographers, Adam and Allison Hudson of Adam Hudson Photography, is “Despise the ordinary.” (I think “the cheesy” is included in “the ordinary.”) Their wedding photography avoids the kinds of stock shots where you can simply rotate in Couple B for Couple A. Each photo captures the unique personality and dynamic of a couple.

The Hudsons also include engagement photos in all of their wedding photography package, because it’s important for them to get to know a couple by photographing them before their wedding day.

And wouldn’t you know it — I’m happy that we have engagement photos. It’s nice to have professional photos of us where we’re in regular clothes instead of wedding garb. It’s even better to have photos that we helped art direct.

Adam and Allison are popular enough that they can afford to have the following policy: They do wedding photography only for couples that they would be friends with. They say that a disconnect between their style and the couple’s means that they can’t give the couple what they want.

Darren and I are lucky that they chose us as friends, because a) they’re super fun people, and b) our pictures turned out beautifully.

I nominate Darren for membership in the Handsome Men’s Club.

Given that our wedding has a travel theme, A+A had the brilliant suggestion to shoot the engagement photos on the Amtrak train from Jackson to New Orleans, and around New Orleans once we arrived. They thought that a “traveling through time” concept would loosely weave the photos together, and they brought props to bring it to life: old wooden suitcases, a black felt flapper hat, martini glasses, and a tea set.

Somehow, word of the Amtrak shoot got around to Marianne Todd, Publisher/Editor of Mississippi Weddings Magazine. She’d been planning to write a piece on romantic Amtrak trips for the December issue and asked if she could do an interview and photo spread on our shoot. We didn’t mind at all and connected with her by phone before the shoot, and by email after. The issue hasn’t come out yet, but Marianne said that the spread turned out great.

The staff of Amtrak, pleased that the company would be featured in the magazine, made special arrangements for the shoot. We had access to the Jackson train platform before the other passengers did, a discounted “family sleeper car” to shoot in, and entry to the dining car during times when it was normally closed.

On a temperate Saturday afternoon in October, Darren and I met Adam and Allison in the downtown Jackson train station, where we would be married in just a few months. We had 10 minutes to shoot on the train platform before the other passengers were able to enter. We got shots of Darren and me walking together, and of a freight train whizzing by.

When the train arrived, we boarded, got settled in our respective train cars, and ate lunch in the dining car before shooting for the rest of the three and a half hour trip to New Orleans. We made a few costume changes and played around with different scenarios: two businesspeople exchanging glances on the train, for example, and a couple on honeymoon. Adam and Allison posed us much of the time and battled the dim light and shaking corridors of the train.

Down in New Orleans, the four of us cabbed it to A+A’s hotel in the French Quarter. Darren and I changed into street clothes, and we trekked over to the French Market, which sells all manner of foods and trinkets. It was important to Darren and me to get shots of us at the farmer’s market, because so much of our lives center around fresh food. We also tried on hats and sunglasses, which was a blast until we were shooed away by the vendors who didn’t want us photographing their wares. We ate beignets laden with powdered sugar at the famous Café Du Monde and asked our server for paper hats to wear (see above).

I was really laughing in this photo, because Darren’s head is so big that hats tend to sit jauntily upon his head.

Darren and Adam both had the idea to shoot in Pirate’s Alley, a cobblestone alley near Jackson Square  that looks as if it could be in Italy or France. We sat and talked at one of the café tables decorated with a single flower in a vase.

At one point, I was so taken with the beautiful brick walls near Pirate’s Alley that I asked Adam to photograph us against it. He asked us to sit with our backs to it, and I happily obliged, until I saw Darren sitting inches away from it.

“It’s New Orleans,” he said. “People have probably peed all over these walls.” Ew. I’m sure he was right.

It was in front of that invisibly filthy brick wall that A+A asked us to do a series that they call “60 seconds,” where we make as many goofy faces as we can in 60 seconds. I felt pretty ridiculous doing this, but we did end up with some winning shots.

At around 6:30 that evening, we wrapped up the shoot, and Darren and I met up with our friends Katie, Josh, and Kaila. One paella dinner and countless crack biscuits later, we were back on the train to Jackson. We shot photos on the way back, too, making sure to capture anything we’d missed the first time around.

You can see two albums, with some overlap, on the Adam Hudson Photography blog and on the Facebook album of our shoot. I love how they turned out. Darren’s mom, Jill, emailed us to say, “Just two questions: are these photos for sale, and how soon can I get them??” The photo-ordering website will be up soon.

Which shots are your favorites?

Read more about Adam Hudson Photography in the Jackson Free Press.

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Save the Dates: Designer’s Commentary

October 7th, 2010 by Darren

Melia & I had a lot of fun making the save the date. For our wedding, we’re working with a loose international/travel theme. Phrases that are banned include “passport to eternity” and the like. We wanted something fun for the save the dates, and we settled on a sort of “golden age of travel” look.


Our wedding colors are going to be simple, white and black with red accents. We needed something more festive for the save the date, but not so loud as to distract from our final wedding colors. I really like how this blue & red came out.


My favorite typeface is Trade Gothic Bold Condensed No. 20. If I’m gettin’ married, that typeface is gonna be in there. The scripty font is Santa Fe, which breaks my design teacher’s rule to never use a typeface named after a place. Sorry, Daniela!


The international first class envelope striping on the bottom was a great way to do give it a substantial, hand-held feel since we’re e-mailing the piece. The “Darren Schwindaman marries Melia Dicker” was a (joking) point of contention…but the photo we used had us in that order, and “marries” makes a nice block with Melia’s name because my name’s so long. The photo is from an earlier shoot we’d done with our photographers Adam & Allison Hudson. It’s a great photo that really captures our love. If you’re reading this blog you are honor-bound to contemplate how much Melia & I are in love. Deal with it.

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There Will Be No Eloping

October 4th, 2010 by Melia

I can see why people elope.

I’m not saying that I don’t want a wedding. I really, really do. It fits into the life I’ve imagined for myself.

All I want is for someone to plan it for me and pay for it all. Is that too much to ask?

The wedding day is just under five months away. As we have begun to make the first in a series of expensive decisions, and as we make a very long itemized to-do list, I just keep thinking, “City Hall would be so much simpler. Or Vegas.”

But I’m a romantic, I love a good party, and the wedding just wouldn’t be as meaningful to me without my loved ones present, so Darren and I are going forward with a full-blown wedding. But eloping no longer seems like the travesty that I’d once thought it was.

Darren and I have been so consumed with work lately that we haven’t devoted much time to wedding planning. According to Real Simple Weddings (a special edition of the magazine and my favorite resource so far), we are on track with most things but behind on a few others. Here are just a few items that we have checked off from each section:

Sixteen to Nine Months Before

First of all, I almost had heart failure when I read the words “sixteen…months before.” We got engaged twelve months before the wedding. Throw me a bone here, people. I haven’t been planning this thing since I was ten.

  • Start a wedding folder or binder. My grandma very thoughtfully sent me a three-ring binder called Tying the Knot: The Complete Wedding Organizer (Wedding Planner). It has durable plastic covers,  breaks down every step of the planning, and contains plastic sleeves in each section to hold loose papers. It’s also very, very girly, covered with pink and cursive. It has a bride on the cover, not a bride and a groom. This made me wonder how many grooms help plan their own weddings, and how many of those grooms use wedding planning binders. I’d venture to say, “Not many straight ones.”

  • Settle on a head count. Ours is somewhere between 140 and 160. Deciding how many people our venue and budget could accommodate was, without question, the most stressful part of the wedding. We have pretty extensive networks in both Jackson and California, and there was no way we could invite everyone. This was the compromise: we’ll be asking our Jackson network to come out with us after the reception, and inviting our California friends to a potluck celebration next spring. This means we won’t have to eat pork and beans for a year so we can cover our wedding expenses.

Eight Months Before

  • Purchase a dress. I owe this one to my sister and Matron of Honor, Gill (whom I love to remind that she is oh-so matronly). While we were both in California this past July, she suggested that we pay a visit to San Francisco’s Jessica McClintock outlet. Turns out that all wedding dresses were half off because Jessica McClintock is no longer designing wedding dresses and she’s clearing out her inventory. I’d had no expectation that we would leave the store with a wedding dress, but we left after only an hour with a wedding dress AND and an after-party dress. For $150. Yes, for both. If not for the no-returns policy, I would have peed myself with joy.

  • Book the photographer and videographer. Before we even got engaged, I knew that the first vendor we booked would be Adam Hudson Photography. Darren and I had met husband-and-wife team Adam & Allison Hudson through the wedding column I used to write, and they a) took amazing pictures, and b) were a lot of fun. Their policy is not to take on as a client anyone whom they wouldn’t be friends with, because they need to feel a personal connection to their subjects. Thank God they think we’re cool.

We’re not hiring a videographer, because the only person who would want to relive our wedding on video is Darren’s mom. (My own mom will freely admit that she wouldn’t watch it, and I don’t blame her.) Instead, we’re going to ask friends to take little snippets of candid video from their digital cameras, and we’ll compile them on iMovie.

Seven to Six Months Before

  • Shop for the bridesmaids’ dresses. Whew, I don’t need to worry about this one. I asked my bridesmaids to wear black cocktail dresses in any length or style that suits them. This saves me the hassle of coordinating the dresses, and it’ll allow each bridesmaid to choose from her existing wardrobe or buy a dress that she can wear again.
  • Send save-the-date cards, if you plan to do so. Oh, the advantages of marrying a professional designer! Darren will be posting to the blog about his beautiful save-the-date design, which we emailed out recently using MailChimp is a brilliant service that walked us through designing email blasts and creating separate lists of folks who would receive them (Wedding/Wedding Party/CA Potluck/Jackson after-party). The basic version is free.

So now we’re in the Five to Four Months Before range. It makes me a bit nervous to be here instead of comfortably in the six-month range, but maybe that will give us the push we need to get moving.

Real Simple tells us that this month, we’re supposed to book the rehearsal dinner venue, and select and order the cake. I’m supposed to try out hairdressers and makeup artists, purchase shoes, and start my dress fittings. We also should choose songs and compile welcome baskets for guests.

Because we already have deposits down with the venue and the photographers, we will definitely not be eloping.


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Love Has Other Plans, Part 2

September 13th, 2010 by Melia

This is Part 2 of a piece written for a friend’s daughter about the road to finding love. Read Part 1.

Regardless of my growing love interest, I was still planning to travel around the world. Darren encouraged me, sending me ideas and resources that would help me on my way. Eventually, though, our daily conversations began to include him in my travel plans. I was surprisingly OK with that. Even though my vision had been to venture out on my own, I loved Darren’s company, and any trip would simply be more fun with him there. Sometimes our travel plans included working on organic farms in different locations around the world. Sometimes they had us living in his dad’s cabin in rural Arkansas and teaching ourselves survival skills.

In spite of my glamorous fantasies of riding a camel to see the pyramids of Egypt, when I was really honest with myself, I knew that I didn’t want to go gallivanting around the world. I had recently left a stressful job and had put myself through six intense months of making peace with my past. What I really wanted to do was to relax and put down roots. Darren happened to live in the South, one of the best places in the world to put down roots. If I moved there, we could finally live in the same city and curb our expensive cross-country flying habit.

Although I would never, ever have thought that I would do this, in January of 2009, I moved to Mississippi. For a guy.

I’d always been the type to believe that things wouldn’t happen unless I made a big effort to do them myself and control the outcome. This time, I didn’t even try. Instead, I trusted my instincts and simply got out of the way, and voila, incredible things began to happen.

Once I settled into Jackson, I found that many of the pieces that I’d envisioned for my ideal life slowly came into being. I started writing for a living. Darren and I built a garden bed outside our apartment and grew our own organic produce. I taught myself how to play the guitar. Suddenly, I realized that I was living a lifestyle that could be called “balanced”: cooking at home, exercising and sleeping enough, and laughing a lot every day.

It astonished me that once I stopped striving for all of these things and just let my life unfold, my dreams seemed to materialize, one after the other. I began to check off items from my New Year’s vision collage: a bigger apartment, better financial stability, and travel to beautiful places: China, Israel, and Puerto Rico (my employers even paid me to go).

Two years to the day that we met for the second time at Mardi Gras, Darren and I got engaged. Even though I never would have thought that I would marry a college friend of my little sister, it’s impossible to imagine a more ideal match for me.

Back when I was a city girl, I had big, important plans and no intention of letting anyone change them – especially some guy. But the joke was on me. Love had other plans. And as it just so happens, they turned out much, much better than if I had made them myself.

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Love Has Other Plans, Part 1

September 13th, 2010 by Melia

A friend of mine, Funmi “QueenFolayan” Franklin, recently asked me and her other female friends to write a piece for her baby daughter, Bralynn, about “the struggles and the journey we face on the road to good love.” This is my piece, which I’ll publish in two parts.

The last thing I wanted was a relationship.

At 28 years old, I had big plans for myself. I had recently decided to leave the job I’d had for the past four years, a job that had left me mentally and physically exhausted. My plan was to take a year off, to visit the schools that had shaped my childhood, and then travel halfway around the world following my curiosity’s lead. My goals was to write about all of it.

Then Darren came along and threw off my whole agenda.

I had actually met him nearly three years before, in May of 2005. Darren was in my younger sister’s graduating class at Loyola University New Orleans, and I had felt smitten by him right away. We had talked a bit while out with friends one night, and I had asked my sister about him so many times that she began to get annoyed. However, no matter how cute and charming Darren was, he had just graduated college. I had been working full-time for years. He was a Mississippi boy, and I was a California girl with no intention of leaving my home state.

In February of 2008, I flew to New Orleans to visit my sister, Gill, and experience my first Mardi Gras. When Gill told me that Darren was driving down from Jackson for the weekend, I felt a little flutter in my stomach and couldn’t help but smile. I wondered if I’d be as attracted to Darren as I had been the first time around.

When he showed up that Friday night at the parades, in faded jeans and a t-shirt he’d designed himself, I knew that I was most definitely still into him. Our conversation started that night and picked up the next day, and the day after that. We’d had common paths in life, having both started businesses in our twenties – mine a nonprofit youth organization and his a t-shirt design store – that had been great learning experiences, albeit taxing ones. I found myself surprised again and again by how hard Darren made me laugh with the unexpected things he said. I had never met anyone like him.

I remember the moment that I grabbed Darren’s hand so I didn’t lose him in the throngs of people at the Mardi Gras parades. I remember when he pulled me with strong hands back from the curb so I didn’t get bulldozed by a marching band, and when later that night, sitting on the floor back at our friends’ house, I leaned back into his chest and he put his arms around me.

Though my weekend with Darren had far exceeded my hopes for it, when I kissed him goodbye as he was leaving that Sunday night, I had no expectations of keeping in touch. After all, what was going to happen? We lived across the country from each other, over 2,000 miles apart, and I just didn’t do long distance.

On Monday, I texted Darren, “Wish you were here,” from the parades. On Tuesday, I flew to Maryland to see my grandparents and a close friend, and to my surprise, Darren and I continued to text each other. That led to a call the next night, and another, until it was clear that we wanted to talk to each other every day. Once I got back to my San Francisco apartment, I would laugh so hard on the phone with Darren that my housemates could hear me through the walls.

About two weeks from Mardi Gras weekend, Darren said, “I’d like to come visit you next month.” My stomach dropped. The fact that he was flying across the country to visit so soon meant that he was serious about me, right? I was a little panicked, because I couldn’t let my upcoming year of soul searching get ruined by a relationship. On the other hand, I couldn’t deny that I was excited to spend more time together. Darren’s short visit would be a litmus test to see if we were a good match.

And oh, how we were. From the moment I picked Darren up at the San Francisco Airport to the moment I dropped him off four days later, we didn’t run out of things to say to each other. I had planned a jam-packed whirlwind adventure through the Bay Area that included a walk on the Berkeley Marina at sunset, wine tasting in my beautiful hometown of Sonoma, and meals at some of the most renowned restaurants in the area. By the end of the trip, it was clear that Darren and I were hooked on each other.

Continue to Part 2

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Marriage is So Gay

August 6th, 2010 by Melia

From the New York Times:

Saying that it discriminates against gay men and women, a federal judge in San Francisco struck down California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage on Wednesday, handing supporters of such unions at least a temporary victory in a legal battle that seems all but certain to be settled by the Supreme Court. …

Judge Vaughn R. Walker, the chief judge of the Federal District Court in San Francisco, wrote,“Proposition 8 cannot withstand any level of scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause … Excluding same-sex couples from marriage is simply not rationally related to a legitimate state interest.”

And there was much rejoicing in the streets.

Even Paris Hilton gets why a ban on gay marriage is absurd. She tweeted, “What a huge historical day for equal rights in this country! They finally overturned Prop 8! There shouldn’t be a law on true love. :)”

I never thought I’d say this, but Paris Hilton is right.

Why conservatives make such a fuss over gay marriage, I just don’t understand.

Conservatives like private wealth, right? If you want your city to prosper, says Richard Florida, a George Mason University professor, encourage it to become more gay-friendly. Florida wrote a paper called “There Goes the Neighborhood,” in which he refers to a “Bohemian-Gay Index” to show how artistic and gay populations increase property values.

Are these people worried about the gays turning others gay? Spreading AIDS? Then marriage would be a way to encourage faithfulness over promiscuity. As a fabulous Funny or Die video (below) put it, “”If you disagree with the homosexual lifestyle, support overturning Prop 8, and make them get married like the rest of us.”

Yesterday was a big step toward the day where we don’t have any use for the term “gay marriage” anymore. Whether the couple is gay or straight, their marriage will be just regular ol’ marriage.

We do still have a ways to go before gay marriage is legal and accepted everywhere, but for today, let’s celebrate this historic victory in my home state. You did me proud, California. Let’s take this thing to the Supreme Court.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite songs, “City Hall” by Vienna Teng, about a couple getting married in her hometown of San Francisco in February 2004:

Ten years waiting for this moment of fate
when we say the words and sign our names
If they take it away again someday
this beautiful thing won’t change.

That makes me cry every time.

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Introducing My Fellow Foodie Friends

August 3rd, 2010 by Melia

One of the things that I love most about Darren’s and my friends is that a great number of them are fellow foodies. They not only bear with my regular food-related Facebook updates, but they actually appreciate them. In my opinion, reading vivid descriptions of food can be almost as good as actually tasting it. This is why I drool over the dessert menu even when I’m far too stuffed to order from it.

Here are three food blogs from my food-and-drink-loving friends, whom I insist that you meet.

1. I Love Tongs

My friend Heather writes a food blog, I Love Tongs, and gave our new blog a sweet shout-out. She and her husband, Grant, are honestly two of the funniest people I have ever met. They are childhood sweethearts who now have an incredibly cute son, whose photos you can “aww” over on “I Love Tongs.” You can also ogle the awesome dishes that Heather cooks up.

2. Feed the Empire

“The Empire” is the tongue-in-cheek name of the creative behemoth that Gill and her college friends (now my friends, too) have dreamed of for years. We can only imagine what we’ll continue to cook up together, edible and otherwise.

Feed the Empire is the collaborative foodie blog that this group of friends and I keep up casually. This is where we share our favorite recipes, from the simple to the fancy-pants, and our stories about enjoying them. I am dying to have a fancy dinner party along the lines of my sister’s New Orleans Supper Club Event.

3. Tiny Biscuits

Another pair who embody the Eat, Drink and Be Married philosophy are Drew and Kaytie, a couple of Jacksonians who are amazing chefs and food photographers. They write the blog Tiny Biscuits and are the kind of people you definitely want to invite to your potluck (or pay to cater it). Check out their tips for infusing your own liquors.

Heather and Grant. Gill and Brian. Katie and Josh. Kaytie and Drew. These are some of my favorite couples, because they love to eat and drink as much as they dig each other.

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How I Knew I Was Ready

August 2nd, 2010 by Darren

The first week of February was an eventful one. We moved into a new apartment that, with a home office, promised a much better work/life balance than what we’d been experiencing. We landed a monthly social media client with a national-level retailer. Our two-year anniversary of dating was approaching. A television commercial starring us for a regional cell phone carrier began airing, with a money boost to match.

Melia and I had been living together successfully for a year, and as we talked more and more casually about our future life together, it was time to lock down those plans. “Put a ring on it,” as Beyonce would say. (I liked it.)

Since Melia arrived in Jackson, we’d been going nonstop, building up our branding practice, taking on too many clients and figuring out how to balance everything. There were so many projects up in the air that dealing with a wedding would feel like just another project, with too many details on which to focus, and that’s not how I wanted it to be.

With so much beginning to fall into place, though, the abstract “next level of stability” that I was envisioning had suddenly arrived. I e-mailed my mom, who had our family heirloom engagement ring, and told her I was ready. I instructed her to “be cool” so as not to alert Melia and pass me the ring at our weekly lunch. I’ll save the proposal for another blog post.

Addendum: I of course had already known I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Melia; that was the easy part! Our lifestyle was completely comfortable and full of laughter and fun. I knew I’d be excited and proud to commit to her in front of everyone important to me.

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Welcome to Eat, Drink and Be Married

August 2nd, 2010 by Melia

The first thing you should know about me is that my favorite things in life are eating, drinking, and love. There are many other things that I’m passionate about, like music and media and meaningful learning, but “Eat, Drink and Be Married” pretty much sums up my philosophy of life.

I know that marriage is not for everyone. Nor is it available to everyone, which kills me a little every time I think about it. I respect the straight couples who refuse to get married until gay couples also have that legal right. I suppose I justify my choice to get married the way Jennifer Love Hewitt probably justifies putting out a CD and a memoir. She gets special privileges because she happens to be famous, and I get special privileges because I happen to be straight. Even if we feel sheepish about it, we take advantage of what’s available to us. It’s important to be grateful for that, and to support those opportunities for everyone else. (Not that I’m requesting another The Day I Shot Cupid.)

So, as someone who is lucky enough to have the choice to get married, I had to decide if marriage was for me. I am not religious, so I didn’t need to enter the institution in order to legitimize my partnership. I’d had around 30 years of life experience under my belt and had read plenty about relationships, so I knew what I’d be sacrificing and gaining by getting married. All things considered, I was confident that I did want to get married one day, and that my ideal match would show up eventually.

When I started dating Darren in February of 2008, I fell in love with him quickly and knew early on that I wanted to marry him. We just made sense together. We made each other laugh until our stomachs hurt. We liked to do the same kinds of things, for the most part, and made an effort to “accept our partner’s influence” (as relationship expert John Gottman puts it) in the areas where we differed. Darren started going on walks with me (sometimes); I started watching baseball with him (sometimes). When we got engaged on February 3, 2010, we were both ready to commit to doing these things together over the long haul.

Even though I hoard water glasses on my bedroom dresser. Even though he never washes his coffee cup with soap.

I feel about Darren as Anna Quindlen feels about her husband, “that things do not really happen to me unless I have told them to him.”

I feel about marriage the way that Ellen DeGeneres described it when Oprah asked her and her wife, Portia de Rossi, “Was it important to you to be married?” Ellen replied, “Anybody who’s married knows that there is a difference. It feels like you’re home. There’s an anchor; there’s a safety. I mean, I’m going to be with her ’til the day I die, and I know that.”

What Ellen said — that’s why I’m getting married. It won’t always be easy, of course, but Darren and I will make sure that it’s always interesting. We plan to chart our journey on this blog, in the hopes that you’ll find something of interest here, too.

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