Live from Duncan’s Downtown Birthday “Madness!”

A minute ago I returned  home from a FABULOUS event, and I’m still all giddy about it – Duncan’s Downtown Bday party! Duncan – who? Duncan Reyes, of course – who certainly does NOT need any kind of introduction. But, should you by any chance not belong to the 99.9% of people “in the know” who he is: he is the “wedding guru of the Bay Area,” as quite a few of his guests reverently referred to him. And, believe me, he deserves every bit of that honorary title!

Just back from orchestrating a HUGE wedding in Mumbai, India (the talk of the evening was a whispered total cost in the 7-digit range…), Duncan used his regular “Martini Madness” events for colleagues and friends for an early Birthday celebration – and tout le (chic!) monde flocked to Infusion Lounge in downtown San Francisco to join in the celebration. And I was lucky enough to be one of them!

Duncan, the devoted doggie Dad (to his diva, “Bella”) and I, equally devoted doggie Mom to “Buzz,”  (the “Woof” in Wedding Woof) immediately found out that we are sharing a big interest! Here he is with his furry muse:

Beautiful, no?

Well, “beautiful” was definitely the motto of the evening… starting with the location: Infusion Lounge, an ultra-hip bar in the heart of San Francisco, bathed in truly magical lighting:

Talk about chic… and the guests were definitely a crowd to match – a Who’s Who of the Bay Area’s foremost wedding professionals: fellow event coordinator Tony White of Extreme Elegance, BluBungalow Event Studio founder Hazel Bourget, Anastasia Alvarado of Grace Street Catering, event and catering managers Cristina Lopez of Kimpton Hotels and Katie Orndorff and Siba Tarassoly of Marriott – who assured me that both all Kimpton Hotels (Argonaut, Harbor Court, and Tuscan Inn in SF) and the downtown Marriott are, in fact, very dog-friendly! So listen up, all the “Woof” fans of Wedding Woof… that’s for you and your four-legged darlings! On to Robbie Schlosser of Magnolia Jazz Band who has been entertaining guests in the Bay Area since 1975 and rightfully considers himself a “veteran” – and whom, in fact, absolutely everyone greeted affectionately – “everyone knows Robbie!” Olympic Gold for the highest presence by sheer numbers, however, goes to the photographers who transform all these incredible events into tangible memories: Alex Ho, Auey Santos, Orbie Pullen and husband-and-wife team Ariel and Samuel Soto-Suver of Bowerbird Photography, “senior statesman” Richard Mayer, and Mike Steelman with the one-of-a kind steel (!) engraved business card… as I said – le Beau Monde, and brimming with creativity!

Birthday Boy Duncan took personal care of each and every one of his guests, inviting them to fun photo shoots in a photo booth with lots of hilarious props (think masks, hats, neon feather boas…) while his Mom and Sis were proudly looking on. He certainly is the quintessential, perfect party host!

Thanks for having us all, Duncan, and have a wonderful, successful and totally happy new year in your life!

 

Duncan Reyes/ Events by Design, www.duncanreyes.com

Infusion Lounge, infusionlounge.com

Tony White/ Extreme Elegance, extremeelegancebytony.com

Hazel Bourget/ BluBungalow,www.blubungalow.com

Anastasia Alvarado/ Grace Street Catering, www.gracestreet.wordpress.com

Cristina Lopez/Kimpton Hotels, cristina.lopez@kimptonhotels.com

Katie Orndorff/Marriott SF, katie.orndorff@marriott.com

Siba Tarassoly/Marriott SF, siba.tarassoly@marriott.com

Robbie Schlosser, Magnolia Jazz Band, MagnoliaJazz.com

Alex Ho, alexhophotography.com

Auey Santos/Photograffiti, www.photograffiti.net

Orbie Pullen, orbiepullen.com

Ariel and Samuel Soto-Suver/Bowerbird Photography, www.bowerbirdphotography.com

Richard Mayer, www.MayerPhoto.com

Mike Steelman, mikesteelman.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was Meant to Be – on Top of the Golden Gate Bridge

What’s the most unusual wedding you can imagine? For example, do you know someone who got married on top of the Golden Gate Bridge? Crazy, right?


Well, I do! Greg and Oh. And their wedding way up there was just the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” of their incredible love story. Want to hear it? Here we go:

On the day he turned fifty, Greg sat down all by himself and took stock of the first half of his life.  Life had been good to him. He had enjoyed a succession of happy relationships. He had always followed his passions and been successful in what he did. Starting with a Masters degree in Education, he had become a public school teacher. Then he had studied Classical Composition and finally found his passion: he studied Screenwriting at NY University and achieved an MA degree here as well. He was now teaching Screenwriting at UC Berkeley. His first feature film had been accepted at the renowned Sydney film festival. Having become a SF firefighter – and just having been promoted to Lieutenant – had allowed Greg flexible work hours and a steady income to support his artistic pursuits. So far – perfect.

And yet – the most important dream of his life still remained unfulfilled: to find his partner for life and have a family. On that very day, Greg decided to make this dream his absolute priority for the next years of his life. And – unsurprisingly – he tackled this new task with his usual systematic approach and perseverance.  He realized that at his age his chances of finding a partner young enough to still have children were slim at best, especially in a youth-centric Western culture like the US or Europe. On the other hand, he had always admired and also studied Asian cultures, especially the Thai Buddhist culture with its emphasis on peace and harmony. That’s where he would start looking for the perfect mate: College-educated, sharing his passion for art, music, and literature, non-smoker. To maximize his chances, he chose an online dating service.

Little did he know that at the very same moment, at the other end of the world – in Thailand, actually – Oh, a College-educated young accountant in search of the perfect husband and practicing Buddhist, was making a wish list of her own: College-educated, Western culture, non-smoker. She had always admired the Jewish culture with its emphasis on learning and education – so, preferably Jewish (which Greg happens to be…). Age difference no problem. To maximize her chances, she chose an online dating service… the same one as Greg!

Done deal? Not at all. At their first date, the two were not overly impressed with one another. They both kept looking. But still – their mutual interest was piqued. They stayed in touch via phone and Skype. It took months until their first shy kiss, and it took several more visits of Greg to Thailand to have their encounter blossom into a romance. On November 1st, 2010, Greg proposed on exotic Phiphi Island, and Oh let herself be persuaded to follow Greg to America.

As unusual as their whole story is – just as unusual was their wedding, truly one-of-a-kind. They wanted it to happen on top of the world – well, at least on top of the Golden Gate Bridge! As a San Francisco firefighter, Greg was able to obtain the exceptional permission for a site visit at the top of the South Tower on June 1st, 2011, accompanied by his bride and his officiant (his colleague and friend Mark, who had become an ordained minister just to be able to marry the two). Up they rode in the tiny, drafty elevator to a platform some 750 feet above the water of the Bay; and from there they had to climb up a metal ladder. Oh, totally fearless, kicked off her high heels, climbed up, and got married – barefoot! But married they got, look here:

Their long, tortuous journey had finally reached its destination. That same evening, they raised their glasses at an intimate wedding dinner with family only:

A few months later, the two invited friends and colleagues to a belated wedding dinner at the romantic Forest Hill Clubhouse in San Francisco. Oh, a terrific cook (another passion she shares with Greg!) had insisted on cooking everything herself, and the whole party feasted outside under old trees and the stars.  And this year, the two got married just once more – in a traditional Buddhist ceremony in Oh’s native Thailand, in Bangkok:

 

They stayed on for a little while – Greg found a new job as a rickshaw driver…

well, just kidding… and then they enjoyed their real Honeymoon in Myanmar, concluding the yearlong wedding festivities! Oh has meanwhile settled into San Franciscan married life, assisted by her new four-legged “stepdaughter” Sadie, Greg’s Yellow Labrador Retriever. Now life is really good for the three of them!

 

Live from the SF Wedding & Celebrations Fair!

I am just here at the Bay Area Wedding & Celebrations Fair at the Parc 55 Wyndham hotel in downtown San Francisco, and the whole fourth floor and Grand Ballroom is just buzzing with excitement. Brides and grooms-to-be, mothers, whole families are crowding the 50 or so vendor tables: lots of photographers, entertainment companies, beauty products, spa services,venues and honeymoon destination hotels, sweet confections, bridal accessories…you name it!

It was a day full of discoveries!

The first thing I discovered was my good friend Rachel, owner/designer at The Desk Set, one of the Bay Area’s premier wedding stationery stores. She showed me the perfect custom-made invitation suite for a couple whose rustic-vintage inspired wedding I am currently organizing – look here:

Isn’t that totally adorable? Rachel is so incredibly gifted and creative, and “the sky is the limit” for her designs (think letterpress on white handmade paper with a gold cut…) BUT  it’s her promise that she will work within any client’s budget! Look her up at thedeskset-sf.com!

Next up was Modern Love Photography whose dreamy, totally romantic photos I LOVED! All their photo packages come with an engagement session (including hair and makeup!), and with a whole day of photo coverage. Your photographer will actually stay on for your whole evening and capture all those precious moments…

Most packages also include a beautiful “coffee table” style photo book, very professional and polished-looking… and then there are all these creative touches: a boudoir session (with all female staff!) resulting in the most gorgeous gift for the groom: a book full of sensual images of his new wife… a personalized guest book containing full-page photos of the couple, complemented by thought-provoking questions for guests to comment on: “where do you see us in ten years?” “what do you think ties us together?” Once this guest book is filled, it will become one of the most personal and cherished keepsakes of that special day, I am sure! (www.modernlovephotography.com)

And then – the total, absolute discovery of the day: French macarons by the Sugarie! You know French macarons – these weightless, melt-in-your-mouth, pastel-colored confections, with the most delicate thin and crunchy crust and a deliciously creamy filling?

Being European, I’ve certainly tasted my share of macarons, and I have to say that hands-down, these here from Sugarie are among the best I’ve had, ever! They make a fabulous center for your candy bar, AND they could be wonderful wedding favors:

Isn’t that too cute? The magician behind these divine confections is Natalie who during the week before the wedding fair alone baked 1,300 macarons! They come in 14 different flavors (imagine: lavender white chocolate, green tea azuki bean, raspberry dark chocolate…) and even in custom flavors of your own choosing! Here I am with Natalie at her booth. Visit www.sugariebakeshop.com and get seduced!

 

And the last pleasant surprise of the day – the hotel itself! Why? The Parc 55 San Francisco offers DOG-FRIENDLY WEDDINGS!!! Yes, you heard it – you can bring your beloved four-legged companion to your wedding ceremony in the hotel and to your reception! Your darling is also allowed in the dog-friendly guest rooms. The only requirement – easy to organize – is that your dog is leashed and under the care of his/her own handler (preferably professional dog walker) at all times. And with that, you can have an elegant hotel setting for your wedding, just one block away from Union Square, perfect for yourself and for your out-of-town guests, AND have your doggie with you.

The hotel will provide elegant table settings for your wedding dinner, and the grand ballroom on the fourth floor can accommodate up to 300 guests. The huge foyer on the fourth floor can be transformed in an elegant cocktail reception space. Feel free to have it decorated to your heart’s delight!

What else? So many things – just quickly: Tim and Vikki,a cute husband-and-wife team at By Request Entertainment  fulfill all your entertainment wishes from cued ceremony music to reception entertainment to DJ services for your post-dinner dancing, including MC’ing throughout your wedding day. For a local 100-people wedding this comprehensive package starts at as low as $1,500 – and they even have a karaoke setup. Doesn’t that sound fun?! (www.byrequestbayarea.com)

Thinking destination wedding? Yosemite now offers the choice of five hotels inside the park (the Ahwanee) and further out (among others, the dog-friendly Tenaya Lodge) which can be booked up to 18 months in advance – regular bookings are only 12 months in advance – with the best months to have a romantic outdoor ceremony under the towering mountains being April through September (YosemitePark.com/Weddings). Or is a beach wedding more your style? Think of the all-inclusive Sandals Resorts in Jamaica, Antigua, St. Lucia, the Bahamas, and Turks&Caicos – also fabulous for “just” your honeymoon! (call toll-free 1-800-SANDALS).

Lastly – in spite of all the excitement pervading the exhibition hall, there was a feeling of serene romance, provided by the beautiful live performances of guitarist Julio Reyes! A classically trained musician, Julio has worked as a teacher and performer, and he especially loves playing at weddings. And, believe me, he is so GOOD at it! Listen to his 2010 CD “Heart Strings,” and you’ll know what I mean (www.julioreyesguitarist.com).

“I Do” with your Doggie

So you are getting married – congratulations!

Your happiness is complete, and so is your family: you and your soon-to-be spouse, and your dog, of course! Your faithful companion of so many years, who shared your ups and downs and never let you down in his undying love and devotion. Your dog is a family member, like a child. Your dog will share the joy of the most important day in your life – unthinkable to exclude him/her, right?

Right. I agree. I feel the same way. But, unfortunately, not everybody does!

Plan ahead – way ahead!

For starters, if you are planning a ceremony at church or another house of worship, your four-legged companion cannot join you. Same at most indoor ceremony sites (unless you are lucky enough that your friends own a gorgeous mansion and will of course host your Great Day…). Overall, there are very few dog-friendly wedding venues, meaning your selection is limited. Your best bet is an outdoors ceremony and reception, but even public parks often have restrictions. In San Francisco, where I live, the presence of a dog in the ceremony and during the outdoor reception in a park has to be applied for and specially permitted.

Michelle Buzz lowres

An outdoors celebration, of course, restricts you to the fair-weather months in your specific region. Therefore, if you feel your wedding is not complete without your furry friend, as we felt, you need to plan early. And once you have identified a selection of possible venues, bring your dog along for site visits (at hotels and the like) and observe how the staff reacts to your dog. That will tell you a lot! When we first visited our front-runner venue, on a hot day, our dog exploited a split-second of our distraction to jump in their reflecting pool, emerging dripping wet and dirty – a nightmare! Our hostess’ reaction was not a hysterical scream, but a stack of towels… needless to say, we booked this venue!

Be prepared – think like a dog!

Wedding preparation time is stressful for everyone, even for your dog! As you well know, dogs are very sensitive and pick up the tension. Some may even develop psychosomatic reactions of all kinds. Wedding day itself can stress your dog to the limit. Just think of it: nobody has time to properly take care of him/her, the normal routine does not happen, instead there is a trip to some unfamiliar place that under normal circumstances would require extensive exploration including sniffing and marking. For incomprehensible reasons this is not allowed today. The regular caregivers are busy otherwise. Any dog except for the absolutely good-natured ones will try to enforce some attention, be it through barking, pawing, running away, rolling in the mud or any number of other behaviors that his/her humans somehow do not like.

Buzz after finding "water" (a mud hole, actually...) on a hot day

Buzz after finding “water” (a mud hole, actually…) on a hot day

Ceremony and celebration from your dog’s perspective

Once the ceremony is under way, it’s getting even trickier for you doggie: he/she is required to be quiet or even perform ring bearer duties. Once that is over, at the reception, all attention will be showered on the newlyweds and no attention at your dog who might find plenty of opportunity to wreak havoc with tablecloths and long gowns. The concluding festive dinner is, of course, the worst of all: just imagine he SMELLS!! As you will have heard, a dog’s olfactory brain (the part processing the sense of smell) is seven times the size we humans possess. A dog perceives the world through smell. And a banquet from which your doggie is excluded is torture, plain and simple!

Buzz at dinner table

One other thing: what we humans enjoy as music, might not exactly be to your dog’s liking. Dogs can hear much higher frequencies than humans, and ours is especially sensitive to certain famous sopranos. Hearing Maria Callas sing her high notes, our doggie rolls on the ground and covers his ears with his paws. Certain violin tunes, on the other hand, elicit in him the irrepressible urge to sing (aka howl) along… You might want to give this observation some consideration ahead of time!

Enlist help

Now that I have laid out before you a true horror scenario, I’ll have to come up with solutions. The most important step is to enlist help, in your doggie’s best interest, but just as much in your own. Your doggie needs his/her own caregiver throughout the day to ensure as much regular routine as possible.

The Good Life of a Canine Diva

The Good Life of a Canine Diva

Preferably this will be a dog walker your dog is already familiar and comfortable with. This way, your darling can take walks and naps as he/she is used to; there will be someone to keep her hydrated and well-fed, to keep her out of too much sun during an outside ceremony, and so much more! By the way, don’t forget sunscreen for rosy noses – and “doggles” for the fun of it if your dog likes them. They definitely look ultra-cool!

Buzz with his "date," Liz

Buzz with his “date,” Liz

We invited our dog Buzz’s favorite dog walker, Liz, to come to our two-day destination wedding (three hours away) with us as our guest – and she’d take care of Buzz on the day of the wedding, through ceremony and reception, then take him for a walk and a nap, and be back for our dinner on the loggia, where she was seated a little away from the main table with her charge. There, they both feasted on Filet Mignon! And when it was getting late, the two of them quietly retreated to her dog-friendly hotel room for the night, giving the grown-ups time to party. It proved the perfect solution, and Liz loved her mini-vacation. I’d really recommend something like this plan to all dog-lovers on their way to the altar!

And now the fun part!

Since everybody’s dressing up on wedding day, you may think of dressing up your doggie to match. That’s great! There are so many fun outfits to choose from, both for doggie boys and girls, starting with bowties and barrettes and going on to full tuxedoes and tutus. The sky’s the limit! Or perhaps also your dog’s size (what looks adorable and totally cute on a Maltese might look a bit, well, ridiculous on a Great Dane…). And dogs with a thick coat like ours might feel quite uncomfortable in their unfamiliar finery and try their best to shake it off. With Buzz, we didn’t even try. He got an extra bath for a shiny fur and was just his gorgeous self.

Being dog-people, at least some of the friends you’re inviting will be dog-people, too. Don’t forget the doggie favors for the attending dog parents to take home – in our case, these were probably more sought-after than the “people favors!” For the human guests, we gave away home-made limoncello packed in little paper handlebags, and for the doggies the bags looked quite the same – except for lots of little dog stickers! Big success; not one was left over!

 

And afterwards – the Honeymoon!

With dog or without?

This one time, maybe, without – right? But where to leave your furry friend? Lucky you if your parents, siblings or best friends can’t wait to borrow your four-legged partner for however long your honeymoon lasts! Otherwise… another “plan ahead” item to take care of. Find a reputable kennel or dog hotel (e.g. in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is the “wag” hotel, check it out!) or find a dog sitter who’ll stay in your home with Fido. Just make sure this dog sitter will actually be home most of the time and will not leave your dog alone all day! Best of course is a word-of-mouth recommendation; in any case, you could ask your vet. Make sure the dog sitter of your choice is insured and bonded and check his/her references. What actually worked best for us was a dog walker who offered to invite our dog to her home as a single house guest and to take him on her regular walks with other dogs. This way, our dog was rarely if ever alone and returned well exercised and socialized – needless to say, he is still excited to see this dog walker! If you want to go this route, make sure to give it a few trial runs well ahead of time so that your doggie already feels at home with the dog walker BEFORE you leave him/her there for longer. That way you may also take a peek at your darling’s temporary home.

And lastly, make arrangements with your vet. Let him/her know that you are going away, and leave the dates, your contact information and the name of your dog’s caregiver in the office. Also leave a signed statement what to do in case your dog should need treatment, who will make any decisions if you can’t be reached – and preferably also leave your credit card authorization. That way you have the peace of mind that if the unforeseen happens, your doggie will be in good hands, and everything will be done to ensure his/her safety.

And with this, the road map is laid out for you – get excited, get going, and have a day like no other!