Chicago, wedding #4

Ben and Simiao got married this past weekend at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL, so we took the opportunity to go on a much-needed vacation and headed over the Sunday before via the Amtrak.

Or, at least, we tried to go via the Amtrak. Turns out they were having line trouble between Toledo and Chicago which meant both that we were two hours late leaving Pittsburgh despite the train being there on time (because the crew had exceeded their working hours or something), and we were woken up in Toledo and transferred to a cramped charter bus for the rest of the trip. So much for taking the more-comfortable Amtrak over the Greyhound. :(

Chicago turns out to be a wonderous land where the Walgreens sell frozen yogurt (with fresh fruit toppings), the Starbucks have a beer and wine selection, the people don’t seem very friendly, and the drivers honk all the time at nothing in particular. Interesting to visit, certainly, but not somewhere I’d really want to live.

We made quite a few trips out to the Bean.

The Chicago marathon was also that weekend, so we encountered a lot of marathon-related things, including rows upon rows of port-o-potties and chain-link fences that seemed quite out of place in the parks.

Ben had a bachelor’s party on Thursday evening. We tried to make it out, but it turns out the Blue line was having serious issues, with trains arriving overpacked and only one or two people able to squeeze into each car at the station.

After being unable to board 4 trains in a row, we gave up and met up with them for dinner instead, which ended up being amazingly tasty.

But mostly we spent the week wandering the city before transferring out to a hotel in Lisle on Friday before the wedding. We took the Metra train, which seems pretty much exactly like the Caltrain. The seats had a neat property though where the backs swiveled over the seat itself so you could face either direction or create little seating areas that faced each other. Kind of an awesome feature.

Saturday was the wedding, and we took advantage of the free admission to the Arboretum to wander it for a bit in the morning. We had no car and walk everywhere anyway, so we walked the 2.5 miles in, but it turns out the Arboretum doesn’t really expect people to wander in by foot. As a result, we ended up standing in a line of cars going to the entry booth while a bunch of confused volunteers kept asking if we were okay. So that was fun.

The wedding itself was beautiful. It was the quickest ceremony I’ve ever seen (less than 7 minutes from the time the officiant walked out the door to when he walked back in again after having married them), but it was still awesome. And you couldn’t beat the view.

The food, booze, and company were all awesome, and it was rather a shame to head home Sunday evening via the Metra to an L train to a plane to a Port Authority bus. Our great luck at Chicago public transit never failed us, with trains usually arriving shortly after we got to the platform, but gave out in Pittsburgh when we missed the 28X by a matter of seconds.

More photos can be found at photos.

That’s it for weddings this year (thank god). Next wedding is in March, followed by ours in April. Yay for more weddings?

Wedding venue, houses

We signed a contract for our wedding venue last Thursday, so we now officially have a place and a date!

Last weekend we actually looked at three places, thanks to some last-minute searching and emailing. In addition to the planned stop at the Children’s museum, we also took a look at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association and the Wyndham Grand downtown.

Our first stop was the PAA, and we liked it so much that it made the rest of the day rather anticlimactic. The venue itself was gorgeous, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the food. But their prices are also remarkably cheap (relatively speaking, anyway). And they have a bowling alley in the basement you can rent out.

Next up was the Children’s museum. It was pretty much what I expected as far as the rental spaces. The rest of the museum was a little disappointing though… it was my first time there, and while there were a lot of interesting things, it wasn’t anything that I would see holding the attention of wedding guests for an extended period of time. The best part was the third-floor water exhibits, but that would be expensive to rent (would probably have to do the whole museum) as well as a bad idea (formal wear + water = unhappiness). So it was nice, but not as nice as the PAA with bowling option.

Finally was the Wyndham Grand. It was certainly a beautiful venue (especially the ballrooms surrounded by glass), but it was quite expensive and also felt very hotel-y. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when you’re comparing it to other (cheaper) places, it just doesn’t feel very special. But Ashley was certainly friendly and very accommodating of our 24-hour-notice request to tour the place (which ended up being during a busy all-day Indian wedding, no less), so it had that going for it. (We were more interested in the smaller first-floor rooms due to size and cost, but they really didn’t feel special at all… just generic meeting space that could be set up for food and people.)

But overall, I think the bowling sealed the deal for the PAA. I had been concerned about people that didn’t like board games having things to do during the reception. Bowling fixes that, and their rental rate was also very fair.

At this point, we’re also close to signing the photographer (have the contract with me right now, actually) and are working on the officiant. Once those big three are done, it’ll be time to continue on with the more fun and awesome parts of planning.

I think our budget at this point has become “whatever it ends up costing”. We’re definitely going to be over $22,000 and will likely exceed $25,000 depending on how many people come. I think that also gives us the dubious honor of spending more on our wedding than anyone we know. I suppose we’re fortunate in that we can afford whatever ends up happening, and it’s really just a once-in-a-lifetime event. But it still feels wrong to me to be spending the cost of two cars on one evening of festivities. Meh?
I think the main unexpected cost is turning out to be the alcohol. Pennsylvania already has expensive alcohol, and the markup from the venue-provided-only alcohol is fairly substantial. I suppose we could always look into doing a “dry” reception (I know that a lot of people coming don’t drink at all), but there’d be a bunch of really disappointed people as well. (We could’ve saved a few thousand by going with a venue that allowed DIY alcohol and bringing it, but the only one that allowed that that we’d been looking at was the Children’s museum.)

We also saw another couple of houses last week. The first one was a huge disappointment… looked beautiful outside, and looked nice when you walked in the front door. But it became apparent as you walked around that they had just done a lot of last-minute patching work to make the place seem nice. The second floor was also terrible (thin, worn-down wood floors, broken light switches) and the basement was a disaster. And they wanted $400,000 for it. We were joking that we’d probably pay $150-$200k given the amount of work it would require, but I don’t think we would actually want to do as much work as would be necessary.

The second was very interesting. The first floor had been redone as an open floor plan, and as such only had two rooms. But it just didn’t work very well with the layout of the door and stairs, and also the design ended up making the place look more industrial or businessy than homey. The second floor wasn’t much better either… dark, rather old looking, and small. Our agent pointed out that a lot of the workmanship was also subpar. And they wanted $390,000 for it. So, yeah.

The house hunt continues. At least wedding plans are starting to take shape.

My photojournal has also been updated through the end of September. Just because.

Wedding planning

The recent string of weddings (with one to go still this year, and one early next year) has been pushing me to finally take first steps toward planning my own wedding. And it’s proving to be quite a surprising experience in many ways. Mostly in stressful ways.

When we first started discussing wedding things, we were thinking $15,000 should be plenty to budget. How much could it possibly cost to throw a party anyway? Turns out it costs quite a lot, and that $15,000 will likely not be enough to cover even just food, booze, and the venue.

I found this post today (never mind that it’s 3 years old) that mostly agrees with my $10,000 on food and $3000 on venue estimates. It also itemizes out some things I hadn’t really had a good handle on, like decorations, linens and silverware, and gifts.
There’s also this average cost breakdown which suggests the food I’ve been looking at is on the expensive side. But I don’t have much of a choice based on the venues I’ve been looking at, since they all have required caterers.

So we’ve started looking at venues. Our first visit this past weekends was to the University Club at the University of Pittsburgh. You don’t have to be affiliated with the university to get married there, and it has the benefit of being an all-in-one package location where you don’t have to worry about coordinating things. Madelyn had her graduation party there last year, and it’s a nice venue.
(Photos from her party last year)

This upcoming weekend we are visiting the Children’s Museum to look at the options available there. I’m mostly interested in options that include exhibits, because I think half the fun of the museum will be the actual museum itself. But the full museum rental is $6500, which seems not worthwhile for a 4-hour event. We shall see what other options exist, I guess.

So yeah. Boo wedding planning. It will be awesome when it all comes together, but until then, argh stress.

Wedding #3, blah at security

Greg’s sister Katie got married this past weekend. It was a rather nice wedding… the weather decided to cooperate, despite having called for rain earlier, and so there was an outdoor ceremony followed by a reception where the booze flowed freely.

More photos are at photos.

But what is it with security people and their need to be terrible?

On the way back from Toronto from the last wedding, the border agent that stopped us was really rude. He grilled the driver on our reasons for being in Canada, expressing skepticism when he couldn’t immediately remember the name of the bride (his wife’s college friend, so they’d never met before the wedding). He did a search of a lot of things in the trunk. He questioned us on why we had two cameras (because there’s four of us…?). I feel like he really, really wanted to stop us for something but couldn’t.

On the way home after arriving at the Greyhound station last night, on our way toward the exit, we were stopped by some guy that identified himself as homeland security and started launching into a huge tirade about how photography was illegal in the station and was a federal crime and we would be arrested and sent to prison if we had taken any photos at all in the station. When we repeatedly told him we hadn’t, he threatened to pull the tapes. He eventually let us go, saying that he’d review the tapes later and would arrest us if we were lying. What!? I had my camera around my neck (because I always do), but I hadn’t used it for like 4 hours. People had their phones out everywhere around us. Not quite sure this makes a lot of sense.
(Not to mention I’m pretty sure photography is only strictly illegal in explicitly marked and highly sensitive areas. Private property like the greyhound station can set their own rules for photography, but the most they can do is ask you to leave. But I’m not anywhere close to a legal scholar, so I don’t know.)

…as if I needed another reason to not take greyhound. I’m contemplating now how much the added expense of just renting a car is, because I’m getting to the point where I’ve had enough of greyhound’s bullshit.

All that is leaving me in a rather sour mood now, especially combined with having to return to work today (because weddings are stressful and it feels like I haven’t had a break in weeks). Add another thing on the long (and growing) list of why I hate to travel. :\

Life, Photo Firsts (Austin, Max, Yubin, Michael), KoL, wedding

As it’s the end of yet another 4-month interval, life‘s photo journal and photo stats pages have been updated. The stats update includes stats for Pittsburgh people as well, so here’s some photo firsts:

First photo of both Austin and Max:

April 26, 2012 at Yubin’s apartment after Greg and I were invited to their weekly games night.

First photo of Yubin:

Also April 26, 2012. Same place. Same event.

First photo of Michael:

August 9, 2012, also at Yubin’s apartment at a games night.

KoL has been going. I’ve been ascending more and feel like I’ve gotten better at runs (thanks in no small part to the terrible overpoweredness of the Smiths tome). I fell short of a 3 day Heavy Rains run today by less than 20 turns (hit the hedge maze). The run will definitely be under 800 turns. That’s a rather large improvement from what my runs used to be like.

I’m also really enjoying the new path. The path itself isn’t actually that hard… the extra ML granted by the water is actually super beneficial (at least to me, with like 150+ permed skills), and the path-specific skills granted mean turncount goes way, way down by granting an infinite-use fax machine, a banish, a stunner, a deleveller, item drop, a yellow rain, summonable equipment, and more. Crazy.

As far as weddings go, Susannah’s was last weekend. It was a fairly nice wedding and reception… photos of it are up at photos. This means we’re halfway done with weddings now, at least for this summer. I hear that there will another one early next year. So whee for that?