Friday, August 31, 2007

Florists: The good, the bad and the snobby

Our first appointment was with Ric Eckhoff at Palermo Florist, which has no website. My mom, Calvin and I went in to the florist shop, which is in an old house. Here is my initial review:

Ric Eckhoff at Palermo Florist (no website)
First impression: The shop was organized, orderly and very clean. Ric and his assistant were there, and we sat down to talk. While we knew that he had done work at the reception venue before, we did not know that he had also worked at the church, and knew exactly what to do with the alter arrangements. That made a big impression on all of us.

He liked our ideas for a monochromatic red color scheme, and instantly came up with several ideas for arrangements. Later he mentioned that his own son had had red as the color scheme at his wedding, and it worked really well. Ric also made suggestions for ways to rearrange the reception room in a way we had not thought of. When it came down to price, he was not pushy at all, and seemed very systematic in how he was thinking about how much everything would cost. This is what he said:

$300/piece for giant alter arrangements of four types of roses and carnations
$125/piece for tall centerpieces of red dogwood and carnations
$75/piece for shorter centerpieces of red dogwood and carnations
$200 for delivery
$10/table for eight votive candles
$25/table for polyester blend tablecloths

Still over budget, but Ric seemed willing to work with small and smaller budgets. Only drawback is that he did not show us any pictures of past work that he did.

Albert Wilhelmy and Debbie at Al Wilhelmy Florist

I spoke with Debbie on the phone, and we made an appointment that worked for her on the weekend we were in town. My mom, Calvin and I go, only to be told that Debbie is off that day.

First impression: The shop seems chaotic and cluttered and a bit dirty.

The owner, Albert, is a bit flustered; he speaks with us, and asks us to come back in half an hour, so he can gather things together. (This worked out fine, as we had been running late and had been unable to grab lunch before the meeting. So we got lunch). We return, and a laptop is setup. He talks with us, emphatically using his hands and never completing a sentence or a thought. When we show him pictures of what we like, he talks about other things that he can do, and does not seem to understand what we are looking for. Calvin starts making faces. Albert left us before we could even ask about prices.

Calvin has vowed that he will write his own post about our experience at Al Wilhelmy.

Stephen Tokar of Stephen M. Tokar
Calvin had played phone tag with Stephen's assistant for over a week, but we were able to schedule an appointment.

First impression: The shop seems organized and fairly clean. Very Design oriented with a capital D.

Stephen Tokar is sitting behind a desk, and has pulled up chairs for us. We talk for about an hour with different ideas. He is very creative, and into topiary type arrangements. And then we talk budget, and his entire tenor changed. Like the woman at Catan's Bridal, but only in the opposite way- he no longer seemed as interested to work with us. His budget breakdown was:

$200/piece for tall centerpieces; did not specify materials. Alter arrangements would be converted to tall centerpieces.
$80/piece for shorter centerpieces of about 80 carnations
$50/piece for shorter centerpieces of three candles
estimated $40/piece for linens, because he didn't want to "restrict" us
15% delivery charge

Did not seem interested/willing to work with "smaller" (less than 4k) budgets. Calvin and I did say, though, that if we had a big or unlimited budget for decor, Steven is the person we would want designing it.

We have one appointment left: Arne Klein at Blooms by Plantscaping, who we are meeting tomorrow morning.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Introduction of the florists

So we have figured out our vision, and thought some about linens. What about flowers?

Back when Calvin and I were thinking of a smaller wedding, we figured that we would do the flowers ourselves. How hard could it actually be? With flowers available at Costco or Fifty Flowers, among others, it seemed like it would be really easy to do.

It all changed when we booked our reception site, and began to think about the logistics of doing our own flowers. While I feel confident about the actual arranging, I wasn't certain about the logistics of transportation and setup. With not a whole lot of reliable in town friends, it seemed like we may as well at least look into florists.

Florists are expensive. Really expensive. And a lot of what you are paying for is the labor. Additionally, research florists is extremely difficult, at least in the Cleveland area. If a florist has a website, it is most likely one of the FTD websites.

The Renaissance had a list of preferred vendors, and the church has a florist that they use for most services. Since neither I nor my mom are big fans of what the normal church florist does, we decided not to contact them. The florists in town that my family has used for past occasions have either changed hands or closed in the last five years, so we looked into the places that the Renaissance suggested.

We contacted:
Stephen Tokar at Stephen M. Tokar Custom Floral

(images from his website)

Arne Klein at Blooms by Plantscaping

(All photos by Steven Mastroianni)

Ric Eckhoff at Palermo Florist (no website)

(image from here)

Pieter Bouterse Studio

(images from their website)

Debbie at Al Wilhelmy Flowers, who didn't have any photos that I could find.

I worked up the nerve to call Arne and Debbie; Calvin contacted the other three. I left messages with both, and Arne was the first to call back. Never having actually called any other vendor, I just blurted out that I was getting married, and I wanted to set up an appointment, and really had no idea how to go about doing things. Arne was fabulous, and suggested that I bring in pictures of what I (we) like, along with pics of the dress and swatches of the bridesmaids' dresses. He also explained to me exactly what he does, and how he works within budgets. I'd also heard good things about him on indiebride.

Now that I knew what we needed to do, once appointments were made, we just had to go to them. Do you have any additional tips on what to bring when meeting with florists?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A vision of a reception

We are looking for roughly 20 centerpieces and two alter arrangements. We are not having personal flowers at all- no bouquets, no boutonnieres, no corsages. Call me crazy, but I just don't want a bouquet.

We know what we want the church to look like- simple, with minimal decorations. It's a gorgeous building, and we really want the focus to be on worship.

That said, we've been doing a lot of thinking about what we want the reception to look like. We are thinking of a monochromatic sort of look, and I pulled together the following inspiration board of reception decor.

Things we like are a mix of tall and short, and tight clusters of flowers. I absolutely do not like peonies- a consequence of my landscaping days. Not a big fan of roses. I do like the look of carnations bunched tightly together, as shown in this picture:

Picture is from the Knot.

We also like the look of clusters of candles:

From Mrs. Lemon's wedding over at Weddingbee.

And here is a picture that seems to synthesize the previous pictures into pure awesomeness.

Sadly, I don't remember where I got this one from.

The last picture is more or less exactly what we are going for. Traditional ballroom, dim lighting, gobo on the dance floor, red linens and carnation centerpieces. Yes, there is pinspotting on the tables (not possible at our venue because of restrictions) and chivari chairs (the dark blue chairs at our place will do just fine), but still. It's awesome. And can be done within our budget.

So we don't have exactly the most extravagant tastes. Which is good, because we definitely don't have the most extravagant budget for a wedding with roughly 170 to 180 guests.

There are three aspects in decor that seem important: lighting, linens and centerpieces. Given our budget and our tastes, it seems that we can get the biggest bang for the buck with lighting and linens. $500 of lighting or linens goes a lot further than $500 of flowers. And neither of us are big flower people.

I'm curious, though, to know where other people are spending their decorating dollars. Where are your splurges? And where are you saving?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

the wonders of palladium

My engagement ring looks like it is platinum, but it is not. It is palladium.

For those of you who haven't heard, palladium is posing to be the next biggest thing in jewelry. It is whiter than platinum, making it perfect for those looking for white-silver colored jewelry. It is lighter than platinum, which is perfect for those who don't like the weight of platinum rings, as well as for other types of jewelry, such as earrings, that can't feasibly be made of platinum because of the weight. It is stronger than platinum, which is definitely a good thing when it comes to rings not bending. It is 95% pure, like platinum rings are.

One more benefit? It is cheaper than platinum. Much cheaper. It is currently priced at not much more than white gold. And unlike white gold, it is hypoallergenic and never needs to be plated because its natural color is white.

This article does a good job of explaining many of the benefits.

And one more thing, unlike the mining of other aspects of jewelry, it is readily available by this mine that engages in safe, legal, ethical mining practices.

Look at theses rings:

Rings found here.

Of what is your engagement ring or wedding ring made?

Friday, August 24, 2007

I'll be back

Calvin and I are headed to Cleveland this weekend to visit family and meet with some florists, and then my mom is coming to Michigan for a couple of days. I'll try and post on Monday and Tuesday, but if not, I'll be back on Wednesday with a full report of the three florists.

Oh Cleveland, we're coming home! Image found here.

Why chess and coffee?

After blogging for awhile, I realized that I have not properly discussed the name, "chess and coffee."

"Why," you ask, "is your site named chess and coffee? That doesn't seem very wedding-y."

That is a great question, and I would be delighted to answer.

Calvin and I met in college, and become good friends during the last summer of college. Both of us were working on campus; he was involved in the IT department, and I was doing AMRE. He liked to play chess, and I wanted to learn. With mutual friends, we spent the entire summer together, playing chess and doing random things, like driving to Arkansas to go to a movie theater that has the same uncommon name as our friend.

In the fall, we both worked/lived in a non-profit coffee house program. Not long after the semester started, after eating dinner together every night, and staying up late playing chess and drinking coffee and wine, we decided to call a spade a spade and started dating.

As far as why that is the name of this site, well, we wanted something that reflected us and/or our wedding date. Various combinations of our names were taken, and we thought that our wedding date itself was kinda cheesy. In reflecting on our relationship, chess and coffee were two key words that stood out. So there you have it. Chess and coffee- could you ask for a better match?

From China

(actually, they are playing Go, but let's pretend they are playing chess)
to Egypt

to the USA

Everyone loves Chess and Coffee.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

put on your dancin' shoes

Now that we had the music locked into place, we had a bit of a problem.

Neither of us really know how to dance.

Back September '06, before we were engaged, Calvin gave me dance lessons for our anniversary. Unfortunately, due to a variety of reasons, were not able to figure out a time to take them. So this summer, at the recommendation of a friend, we started with lessons at Arthur Murray.

The wonder who is Arthur Murray. Photo from Dance Heritage.

Lessons at Arthur Murray consist of three different parts. The first the private lesson- just you and your partner, with an instructor; the lesson lasts about 45 minutes. In our case, there are normally 1 to 2 other private lessons going on in the studio when we are there. The second is group lessons- you and your partner, with a few other couples of the same ability. For us, there are normally 2 to 3 sets of group lessons going on at a time, each with 2-4 couples. Finally, there are the parties- open dancing, with people of all skill levels and all types of music. Instructors are around to give pointers.

In the first four or five lessons we took, we had progressed enough that we were all over the dance floor at his cousin's wedding. Compared to how we were at a wedding the month before (when we had only had two lessons), we had definitely improved a lot in both our skill and confidence. I'm glad that we started lessons with so much time before the wedding, and have many more lessons to come.

The thing about dancing is that you can do it the rest of your life. For us, this is an investment so that we can enjoy all the weddings and parties of the future. On top of that, it is a good source of exercise, and is a great way to spend some quality time with the one you love! And who doesn't want to look fabulous on the dance floor?

Fred and Ginger in Flying Down to Rio

Do you plan on taking dance lessons?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


When I first saw the abbreviation "STD" around wedding websites, I thought that people were a bit forward with their situation regarding HPV, herpes or syphilis.

Turns out a save-the-date (STD) in wedding world parlance is not about various diseases, but rather about a notice to send guests announcing your impending nuptials months before the wedding. In this day and age, it isn't enough to give people two months' notice of your event. No, you need to let them know four, six, eight, even twelve months in advance so they can "save the date."

The biggest secret about save the dates is that you don't actually need them. The thing is about them, if people don't already know when you are getting married six months out, how important is it for them to be there? And if they are good but forgetful friends, will a postcard in the mail do anything to help them remember?

And then it brings up the inevitable etiquette question- if you sent someone a save-the-date, can you not send them an invitation if you have some sort of falling out? The answer is, of course, no. You told them an invitation was coming, so you need to follow through with your word, and send the invite.

That said, I feel that there are circumstances where I could see that it might be beneficial to let people know ahead of time (i.e. more than two months out) about the details of your day. Getting married in NYC over New Year's? Or at a ski resort in Vermont over President's Day weekend? There are some times when technical details (read: booking flights/hotels) need to be taken care of more than two months in advance. But most save-the-dates that I have seen don't seem to include the necessary travel information.

I bring to you our solution: An email with a link to a wedding website containing all the necessary travel information. Sending email is free! And there are plenty of websites, such as ewedding, tgwedding and mywedding that offer free templates and hosting.

Now, I recognize that not everyone is technologically savvy in this day and age. So what if you need to send some information to Great Aunt Mildred so she can make sure not to schedule a deluxe motorcoach tour of the nation's capital during that point in time?

"Great Aunt Mildred, the senior tour can wait- I'm getting married!"

Seniortours offers tours for the nation's retirees.

You should either call her, or if you don't want to hear about her latest bout of rheumatism, you can send a save the date. Something along the lines of these:

French Vintage Save the Date from Wedding Paper Divas

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

getting the ring- the saga

When we first were considering settings, we went to several local jewelers. Abracadabra seemed nice, but small. Austin and Warburton was high quality, with a similarly high price tag. And then we stumbled on what we thought was a winner, rated by local newspapers' readers' polls as the best jeweler in town.

They ordered stones for us, and we found the perfect one. Given the type of setting I wanted- low profile, half bezel set- it had to be a custom ring.

Long story short, the ring was originally made in the wrong metal, so they remade it. In the meantime, Calvin proposed to me sans ring. The ring came in, and it looked lovely:

Only problem was, six weeks later, the stone was loose. The whole reason I wanted that type of setting was so that the ring wouldn't be loose. Back it went, and it came back fixed. A month later, it was loose. Back it went, and it came back fixed. Less than two weeks later it was loose again. Back it went, and they recognized that it wasn't made properly in the first place.
Lewis Jewelers pledged to remake it with some slight modifications, and we came in to examine a wax cast of the ring with the stone. Only problem is, the stone was chipped. Significantly. It was now .02 carats smaller than it was before.

Calvin was refunded his money, and we were back to square one.

I now have a fabulous new ring in a slightly updated design that is oh so comfortable to wear. From Abracadabra:

The jeweler's comments on the ring are
This Custom made ring is a unique one all around! The center stone is an oval Red Spinel with great fire. The customer choose the ring design, as a take on a tension mount, but with a bridge underneath for sizing and stability. Channel set diamonds run in two ribbons along the side of the center stone. The ring is cast in an up and coming metal, Palladium. Palladium has many of the same properties as Platinum. It's whiter, has increased wear resistance, a pure 950 metal, and is more resistant to tarnish. The romantic twist? Palladium is named after the Greek Goddess Pallas. She is the Goddess of Wisdom, the Arts, and the embodiment of Purity & Strength. Who wouldn't want a bit of that in their ring?"

While Calvin did most of the work with Steven, the owner of Abracadabra, all of my interactions with the people who work there have been fantastic. You can check out more of the amazing work of Abracadabra here.

Did anyone else have issues or complications with their engagement rings? If you did, how was it resolved?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Oh the places we'll go, part 2

In case you missed it, here is part 1 of the honeymoon post.

So in scanning the globe, I came across an amazing place.


I present to you Option 1: Amuleto.

High up on the cliffs overlooking Zihuatanejo Bay, Amuleto seemed like the perfect place to get a away from it all and relish in being married. With solid tripadvisor ratings, it seemed perfect. Pricey, at about $400 USD/night, not counting tax and gratuity, but it looks perfect. Consider one of the main suites:

Complete with hammock

And private plunge pool!

And for a bit more, you could stay in the Palapa suite, which has a unique indoor/outdoor feel to it. Like living in the rainforest with luxury accommodations.

Just check out the shower!

Unfortunately, when I proposed this place, Calvin vetoed it on the argument that he doesn't want to go to Mexico., and the lack of a nearby bustling metropolis. So I went back to the internet, and continued the search.

Friday, August 17, 2007

finished our first "DIY project"

Okay, so while I do think of myself as being a bit on the crafty/creative side, even though I don't have much of an outlet for it, there is one bit of DIY project that Calvin and I have completed thus far. It took about 2 minutes, and was the result of the deadly combination of sick days, bronchitis, generic dayquil and an empty wall in our apartment. (May I add, who actually gets bronchitis in June? It was ridiculous. And we were both sick for a week).

Check out our brainstorming board.

You know it is amazing.

Closeup of the bottom, where we were brainstorming various words that reflect our relationship.

Our completely, 100% not to scale floorplan of the cocktail and reception area.

In all seriousness, though, it has been extremely helpful to have a large space on which to write out ideas. Both Calvin and I are big visual learners, so it really helps to have everything visible.

Now, in case anyone hasn't already figured it out, all we did was tape 3 pieces of aluminum foil to the wall. Because of the previously mentioned drug induced state, they were not even at all. Doesn't matter. If you have aluminum foil, tape, and dry erase markers, you are good to go.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

...with the sound of music

Calvin and I knew before we were officially engaged that we did not want a DJ at our reception. Both of us had too many bad experiences with it, and besides, what are the odds that they would have the right music? Both Calvin and I were involved in college radio not that long ago, when WCWS 90.9 FM transitioned to

College radio staples such as Iron & Wine, The Postal Service and (my personal favorite) The Magnetic Fields were definitely groups that we would want played at the reception. And what better way to do it than on one of our own laptops? The only drawback would be that we would have complete control over the music, and no emcee (darn!)

Cue the parents.

Both sets insisted that we have a band. Absolutely insisted.

So, we thought, why not? If they want to pay for it, we can have a band. Only they have to be good, and not cheesy at all, and not do any covers of disco music. Given our own musical preferences, we decided that we wanted a band that would cover jazz/swing standards, as well as some Frank.

::sighs:: I love Frank.

That led me to google, where I found our first contender: The Dukes of Wail

Now, that picture is deceiving, because there are currently only six members in the band. Both of us have heard them before when they played at our college's Winter Gala (like prom, only with better food and without the awkwardness), and they were great. We contact them for a contract.

But Calvin's jazz band experience convinces him that they sound, well, a bit empty for the sound we are looking for. Which is true, given that they only have two horns. He wants a big band. I think that they must be outrageously expensive.

Ernie Krivda did some work with his high school jazz band, so we contact them for information.

Look pretty snazzy, don't they? But given that Ernie Krivda is pretty famous (at least locally), I feared they would be out of our budget. After intense scouring, I came across two other bands.

The Dave Banks Big Band

The Dan Zola Orchestra

Keeping in mind that we (I at least) would have been more than happy with the Dukes of Wail, we emailed each group for prices. Ernie Krivda was $1300+ more than the Dukes, and the Dave Banks Band was $500+. The Dan Zola Orchestra? A mere $75 more. Score!

We then sent Calvin's sister and her boyfriend to scout them out, as they play every Tuesday at the 100th Bomb Group restaurant. (For those interested, they also have a nice place for wedding receptions). They went, and although the crowd consisted entirely of senior citizens (aside from them), they had a great time, and said the band was fabulous. So we signed a contract, and the Dan Zola Orchestra will be entertaining us and our guests for 4 hours at our reception. And during the band's breaks, we can play a bit of our college radio indie rock music if we feel so inclined.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Invitations- they are more than a piece of paper

To follow up last week's post, I continue the discussion of invitations. Perhaps Wednesdays will be a discussion of all things paper?

By June, we still had no idea about invitations, other than that we wanted dark paper with light text. My Gatsby had some good options, with a burgundy paper and silver text. Their Jane invitation would fit into our budget. You could get 125 invitations, complete with response cards, for about $200. But somehow, it lacked that bit of pizazz, that bit of flair. They were, in a word, boring.

Now, I know that they needn't be boring.

But their options for burgundy paper with light text were limited to silver or gold. I really wanted white or light colored text. And Calvin did too.

Cue the opposite of boring: Indian Wedding Card. There is a whole thread on indiebride about ordering through this company, and although there are things to watch out for, there are some amazing deals.

Like these blue ones, for $.85/set, including printing.

These lovely cream colored ones, complete with jewels, for $1.25/set.

Gorgeous deep purple for $.85/set.

Or red with a tassle for $.85/set.

All include printing of two inserts. RSVP cards, thank you cards, and the like are also available. Shipping is expensive- somewhere between $50-$100, but given how cheap the cards are in the first place, it is an extremely good deal.

Unfortunately for Calvin and I, none of the invitations exactly go with the mood/vibe/atmosphere of our wedding and reception, so it was back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

our alternative to diamonds

Miss Peony over at Weddingbee has a great post about different aspects of the 4Cs of diamond shopping- cut, clarity, carat and color.

Which got me thinking about my own engagement ring. I do not have a "traditional" engagement ring, in that it isn't a diamond solitaire, or even consisting only of diamonds. The concept of "the traditional diamond engagement ring" stems from a giant advertisement campaign by DeBeers in the 1930s. This Slate article does a good job of discussing the evolution of the engagement ring.

Conflict, violent and corporate sponsored tradition aside, I knew that a diamond engagement ring wasn't for me. When we first started looking at rings more than six months prior to getting engaged, we looked at a lot of different things. And trying on diamond rings just didn't feel like me. It was too sparkly, too bling-y, too girly, and not in a good way. And I am rough on my hands, so I knew that a traditional solitaire and setting wouldn't work for me.
(l to r: round solitaire with tiffany (prong) setting, princess solitaire with prong setting, both from Blue Nile)

So we started looking at stones, and, not surprisingly, I was drawn to red. I love the look of deep red stones.

(the Carmen Lucia Ruby from the Smithsonian)

In the process of looking at stones, we learned about a very cool gemstone that is a favorite among jewelers and is not well known by the public. It is rarer than diamonds are, and comes in nearly every color of the rainbow. May I present to you...

The Spinel

(image found here)

The thing that I really like about spinels is that they come in a deeper red color than rubies typically do, which tend to be more bright red/pink red. I love the color of garnets, but they are an incredibly soft stone that is not durably enough for everyday use in a ring. Spinels are an 8 on the Mohs hardness scale; sapphires and rubies are 9, and diamonds are 10. They are durable enough that synthetic versions are used to create the stones in class rings.

Once we figured out the type of stone, we had to find the right stone, and then figure out a setting.

What are your thoughts on a non-diamond engagement ring? Do you have an alternative engagement ring, or a completely different symbol of engagement?