September 2011

The nebulous world of wedding expense tracking

by Melissa on September 28, 2011

To date, we have spent $12,704 on wedding expenses out of our $15,000 budget. $214.44 dollars of that has been shipping costs.  We estimate that we’ve earned about $211.89 using cashback reward programs so far. I’ve also earned more than 100,000 British Airways miles after I signed up for a mega bonus program a few months ago as well as many many Southwest Rapid Rewards Points. Given our projected expenses (balances to be paid to vendors, etc.) we estimate that we’ll be approximately $4000 over budget. Yikes. (For those interested, I’ve updated the expense tracking spreadsheet in the sidebar)


Let me tell you though, if you haven’t tracked your wedding expenses to the absolute nitty gritty level that we have, it is a really nebulous exercise.  Just to give you a breakdown:

So far, we have had 93 wedding-related expenses

  • 72 of those expenses (77%) have been less than $100
  • Those 72 expenses add up to $2442.84
  • 18 of the 93 expenses have been between $100-$500.
  • Those 18 expenses add up to $4182.35
  • 3 of the expenses have been between $501-$1000
  • Those 3 expenses add up to $2011.16
  • We have had 2 expenses between $1001-$3000 ($2910 was our max expense)
  • Those two expenses add up to $4067.85

I guess what I’m trying to illustrate with my analysis here is that it’s not always the big expenses that kill your budget. Our 18 expenses between $100-$500 have been a complete budget buster.

There are many other things that leave me scratching my head when I add line items to our expenses spreadsheet.  Let me illustrate with some examples.

  • The other day, I bought a huge multi-pack of scrapbook paper for $14.99 (after coupon). I’m only going to use maybe 15 out of the 100 sheets. So, what do I put down as the wedding expense? $14.99 for the whole pack? Or since each sheet comes out to about 15 cents, do I just put down $2.25 in the spreadsheet (15 cents each (x) 15 sheets of scrapbook paper used)?
  • I bought a hot glue gun from Amazon to assemble my seating chart poster. Now, I never had a need for a hot glue gun before, so the wedding was the reason I had to buy the hot glue gun at this moment in time. But will I use the hot glue gun again in the future?  Very likely yes!  So, is that a wedding expense?  Or, let’s look at it in a different way. Let’s say I already owned a glue gun and glue sticks. Would I have to to deduct the glue sticks that I used as a “wedding expense” even thought I might have bought those glue sticks years ago and was only just using them on the wedding project?
  • Over the past few days, I’ve been purchasing accessories (purse, bracelet, necklace, etc.) to wear on my wedding day. Nothing “bridal” looking, but instead fun, funky jewelry and some plain old elegant pearls. All jewelry that I would wear on future occasions. So, are the accessories a wedding expense?
  • I’ve identified a difference between the cost of “getting married” vs. the cost of your wedding. For instance, should our engagement photos and the amount I paid to get my hair done for our engagement photos be considered a “wedding” cost? The more I thought about it, no. That might be part of the cost of “getting married” but our engagement photos cost have nothing to do with what we’re spending for our wedding day.
  • What if I manage to sell $1000 worth of stuff after the wedding? Would I subtract that from the “cost” of the wedding?
  • What about all the gifts and money we receive? What about all the frequent flier miles earned? Shouldn’t that somehow be taken into account when trying to determine how much you “paid” for your wedding?

Or maybe I am just trying to make excuses for myself as we anticipate that we’ll be nearly $4000 over budget?  What this all boils down to is the need for multiple spreadsheets. So, what you’ll see here on SuperNoVABride after I get married (in just a little over 6 weeks! Yikes!) is all sorts of different expense analysis. One counting supplies (even if it’s a supply I’m likely to use again in the future), one breaking down “wedding day” vs. “getting married” expenses, and all sorts of other fun stuff.  What? Other people don’t think that’s fun?

Has anyone ever taken an accounting class? How are expenses like these accounted for in the business world?

Image Source


Thoughts Early in Engagement vs. Late in Engagement

by Melissa on September 23, 2011

Sunday is the one year anniversary of Ken and I departing on the vacation on which he proposed (although he didn’t propose until 8 days into the vacation!)  We’re now just about six weeks away from our wedding!

I thought I would compare how my thoughts differ now compared to early in my engagement. I wonder if other brides-to-be experience the same?

Early in Engagement: OMG, Weddingbee is like the best site ever.
Late in Engagement: Christ, Weddingbee posts are SO repetitive.

Early in Engagement: Woohoo, Wedding Magazine subscriptions
Late in Engagement: Why am I still getting these in the mail? I already have my dress and I read about these ideas online months ago.

Early in Engagement: My to-do list has things like “pick venue” and “book catering tasting.”
Late in Engagement: My to-do list consists of 200+ discrete tasks

Early in Engagement: Look at all this amazing stuff on Etsy! I’m going to buy so much stuff on here once the wedding gets closer!
Late in Engagement: This stuff is still amazing, but dude, it’s also SO expensive.

Early in Engagement: OMG, Style Me Pretty is like the second best wedding site ever! I’m totally having all those amazing DIY elements
Late in Engagement: I’m pretty sure there’s about 3000 dollars worth of details in that single photo on Style Me Pretty

Early in Engagement: I’m so glad we’re having a 14 month engagement! It’ll give us plenty of time to plan all the fun things we want to have at the wedding!
Late in Engagement: Ugh. I can’t believe I’ve been thinking about this wedding for nearly a year. I wish I would’ve planned it all in six months or less.


Planning a Wedding Done Right

by Melissa on September 22, 2011

Last month, I announced our intention to have, with just a few necessary exceptions, all wedding-related tasks done by mid-September.  Now that we are in the home stretch of meeting that deadline, I can say that, without a doubt, it has been the BEST decision we have made during the entire wedding planning process.  While we haven’t made our exact “September 15” deadline, we will make it within the next week or so.  Here are a few reasons why it has been a good decision.

1) To state the obvious, I’m not stressing or panicking over details at the last minute. In fact, these past few weeks have been the most busy and harried during the entire wedding planning process because we’re rushing to meet our self-imposed deadline. And you know what, I feel good that it’s happening NOW and not two weeks before the wedding instead!

2) It’s saving us money. I’m not having to pay for rush shipping charges for anything. For example, a lot of cute wedding-related items on Etsy can take sometimes four weeks or more to ship because they’re custom made. I ordered one of these wedding hangers back in July.  It took nearly five weeks to get it (which, of course the seller had clearly disclosed).  If I had waited until the last minute, I would have been paying rush charges and stressing about whether I would get it in time.  Same thing went for some rustic table number holders I ordered.  Also, an Ebay seller “forgot” to ship two large chalkboard signs that I ordered, so that was a significant delay. By thinking about everything really far in advance, I’m saving a lot of money and avoiding last minute headaches. Although I must say, money has been flowing freely out of our checking accounts as we’re in this push to get things done.

3) Tasks always take significantly longer than you plan.  For example, you can’t just “make escort cards” in one sitting.  It takes several steps.  First you have to design a template, then import or mail merge all your guest information, then do a test print, and then probably another test print. Then it’s possible that you run out of ink.  Which, in fact, is what happened when I tried to print ours just last night. As part of our self-imposed deadline, I’m printing escort cards for all our invitees and will just throw away the cards of those who RSVP no. When I tried to print the cards, the ink was low and it took about three ink jet cleanings to get it to work again. I’m glad I’m doing that now and not a week before the wedding when that would be a much bigger imposition.

4) Thinking through all this stuff now helps me combine wedding-related errands. Although I have had to make a bunch of trips to JoAnn fabrics and other craft stores recently, I’m glad I’m doing it all now that way I’m not having to drive all around this city right before the wedding trying to track down some last minute craft or supply.  In fact, if all goes well, this Friday should be my last trip to any craft stores!

Now, of course there are still things that I’m going to have to do much closer to the wedding, like my dress fitting, buying our pumpkin centerpieces, and getting a keg of beer. But I’m glad there will only be a few things to focus on in those last few weeks, and not tons of different tasks.

The only downside has been that we are really just guessing what our final guest list will be when it comes to ordering things like our favors. We’ve been saying 150 guests all along, but we invited well over 200 people. So, if more than 150 adults end up coming, I’m not sure what we’ll do about ordering more favors since we only ordered 150 of them.

But, that’s the only downside! So future brides, take note! Set an arbitrary deadline for finishing wedding-related tasks two months before your wedding. With any luck, you’ll meet it, or at least be very close!

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Saja: Beautiful Dresses, Ugly Service

by Melissa on September 20, 2011

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know that my Saja wedding dress is late. It was supposed to be in stock by “late August.” It has still not arrived. Although I loved the Saja dress that I ordered, which I first talked about all the way back in March, I knew that it was time to start exploring other options.

If I had not ordered the Saja dress, my second choice would have been the JCrew Cecilia, which I tried on at the JCrew store in Georgetown back in June. Knowing that that dress is regularly in stock, I decided to cancel my Saja order.

Well, long story, which is chronicled in the e-mails below, but Saja is refusing to refund my 50% deposit ($297.50), because they say that “All sales are final.”  Funny. I haven’t actually ben SOLD anything! I’ve filed a dispute with my credit card company for merchandise/services not rendered by agreed-upon date. I had to file a credit card dispute about two years ago after a house cleaning service overcharged us, and it was a very simple process. I’m hoping that this experience will be similar.

To summarize my experience:

  • I placed the order for my wedding dress on July 14, 2011, after e-mailing back and forth with the store manager, who said that the dress would be back in stock in my size by “late August.”
  • Late August comes and goes. I e-mail the store manager on September 6 asking about my dress. She said she’s expecting it “any day now.”
  • On September 15, nine days after being told my dress would be in “any day now,” I decide to cut my losses and cancel the dress
  • That evening, the store manager e-mails me, telling me “don’t panic,” and that I will definitely have the dress by the BEGINNING OF OCTOBER! She also tells me that my deposit is non-refundable since all sales are final.

We have several e-mail exchanges back and forth, including the fact that the contract I signed says that dresses may take up to 18 weeks to be delivered. Upon which I tell her that that therefore makes the contract unenforceable (you know, based on my vast legal knowledge from watching The People’s Court and Law and Order) since she knew that 18 weeks would be well past my wedding date. And anyway, I have so much conflicting correspondence from them, including the e-mail that says late August, my receipt that says the pickup date is September 10, another receipt that says delivery takes 8 weeks, and all the subsequent e-mail correspondence with them over the last few days (which the store manager has claimed would be Late august, then “any day now,” then “early October,” then “18 weeks,” and the most recent claim was “late September.”

They have no idea when that dress is coming in.

In the meantime, I’ve ordered the JCrew Cecilia from Ebay and another white dress from Macy’s. I’m just waiting to hear back from my credit card company about the dispute.

late august blurred

any day now blurred


early october blurred

18 weeks blurred

After posting to Saja’s facebook page and complaining about them on Twitter, the store manager tells me that my use of public forums is “ill-advised.”

ill advised blurred

And I should mention that the promptly deleted my complaint from their facebook page. I’m no social media expert, but something tells me that there are better ways to handle a dissatisfied customer who takes their complaints to social media.

facebook post blurred


So, there you have it. One thing that really aggravated me is how she told me “don’t panic” and that weddings are “stressful” and “emotional.” At no time was I panicked, stressed, or emotional. I decided that they were no longer worthy of my trust and that that I should explore other options.

The fact that wedding vendors treat all brides as like fragile, emotional basketcases drives me absolutely batshit crazy. More crazy than the actual planning of our wedding ever has.

Any other brides out there had to deal with a late and/or non-existent wedding dress?

Update November 20, 2011. My credit card company sided with me on the dispute! My deposit was refunded.

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Wedding Vendors are not your Friends

by Melissa on September 19, 2011

There’s a common theme that I have experienced while planning a wedding. Each vendor thinks that his or her  services are absolutely essential to having a successful wedding.

Well, here’s what I have to say. No vendors’ services are essential to the success of your wedding. They will, however, try to convince you that their services are in fact, essential.

They will play on your emotions and your stress.  They’ll say, “oh, that’s the LAST thing you want to worry about on your wedding day!” or, “Couples always regret that they didn’t work that into their budget!”

They may even try to convince you that your guests won’t have a good time if you don’t have a certain element, like a cocktail hour or a deejay. Or that your guests will think that you’re inconsiderate if you don’t offer transportation between your ceremony, reception, and hotel.

Whether it be self-deejaying, DIY makeup, videography, buying a wedding dress from China instead of a local boutique, wedding-day transportation,  or day-of coordinating, they will convince you that their service is essential.

They are, of course, business people and sales people.  They have a vested interest in getting your business and they use sales tactics that work. I do not fault them for that. But, this blog is about advice for brides, not vendors. So, this is a very important thing to remember when you are considering DIYing certain things. Listen to what the vendors have to say, but be very objective about your decision. Don’t allow them to play on your emotions and stress. They’re trying to close the sale.

Seek out honest, independent advice from brides who have been there, done that on things that you may be considering DIYing or eliminating altogether. There are so many places online that will help guide you and help you in your efforts.  So, if you want to do it yourself, then do it.  Do your homework, do your research, and yes, it is harder than just signing a check over to some vendor, but be confident in your decision.  Plenty of other brides have had successful weddings with no deejay, no caterer, no flowers, and no makeup artist.

Once you do book a vendor, of course it is important to have a certain level of trust. But always remember to question anything you think sounds out of the ordinary!


My Wedding Shower and a few Lessons Learned

by Melissa on September 13, 2011

We’ve had a relatively stress free wedding planning experience.  My shower, however, was somewhat of a drama show for a few reasons.

First, I didn’t want a shower.  I didn’t really like the idea of being front and center in front of a bunch of women and having to be “on” the entire time I opened gifts while everyone watched my reaction.  Second, my family is not the most well-off financially, so the thought of them hosting a shower for me and having all those expenses was kind of unsettling.

But, my sister insisted, and I obliged with one condition. I said she could do whatever she wanted, but I wanted no games. No cutesy little gift bingo, no toilet paper dresses or hats of bows.  Nothing. I hate that shit. It’s part of what makes me dread both wedding and baby showers alike.  I just wanted people to come and eat good food and be in good company.

Well, my sister asked me about every little detail along the way, which drove me completely insane. What color NAPKINS do I want??  I don’t even care what color napkins I’m having for the wedding!  What color ribbon on the favor tags? That’s just a few examples, but there were dozens of phone calls exchanged. (So, advice for anyone who is throwing a shower or party for someone who doesn’t really want one, don’t bother them with details!)

Then came the invitations. Traditionally all showers that I have ever attended have been women-only events. So those included on invitations were my future mother-in-law, future sister-in-law and her 2 year old daughter, and my fiancé’s cousin, grandmother, and aunt. Well, apparently they were not very pleased that their spouses or significant others weren’t invited. I felt a little weird, and actually kind of baffled that they had never heard of having a shower where only women were invited. I asked my family if they minded if spouses could attend, and they said of course they didn’t mind, as long as the spouses  didn’t mind being the only men at the shower!  So, they were going to come.

Then, one week before the shower, they decided not to come.  My fiancé asked me if I would be disappointed, and I said no, that I understood. They really just couldn’t afford to come. I just asked that they be the ones to RSVP to my sister instead of having me RSVP for them.

My future mother-in-law emailed my sister, (which I was kind of disappointed about, I thought she would call) to say that they couldn’t come.  So I still had to be the one to explain the situation. My sister offered to let his family stay at her house so they wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel.  To say the least, my family was really disappointed that they wouldn’t come.

So, I asked my fiancé to see if his family  would reconsider. They now had a free place to stay and we offered to pay for gas. He talked to them again, but going to the shower was completely out of the question. Even though I initially said I didn’t mind that they weren’t coming, I was then starting to get disappointed.  The shower was clearly something my sister had put a lot of work into, and she wanted my future in-laws to see it and share in it.

Well, even with their absence, I am happy to say that my shower was a big success! My sister rented a tent and had it in her big backyard. I wasn’t uncomfortable at all opening gifts because I sat like in the middle of the tent instead of the front, which made it more cozy and intimate instead of sitting in the front like I was performing some show. There were plenty of other men that attended so my future in-laws probably would not have felt uncomfortable at all.  My sister agreed and didn’t have games, but she did rent a karaoke machine, which I would classify as a “game,” but others had fun with it despite some initial shyness. The food was amazing and the weather was great!  In fact, while Hurricane Irene  was hitting DC, we were four hours west in Pittsburgh for the shower.  In fact, some of Irene’s outer bands were hitting just 45 minutes east of Pittsburgh. We had nothing but sunshine, and the proximity of the hurricane made it perfect and breezy though!

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So, aside from that little bit of drama, here are some lessons that I took from my shower that I think might be valuable for other brides to be!.

1) People will almost never shop online for a gift. We registered at Bed Bath and Beyond, Crate and Barrel, and Amazon. I felt terrible for registering at Bed Bath and Beyond, because Amazon has the same items at a fraction of the price! So, our Amazon registry is significantly larger than our BBB registry.  No matter.  People apparently hate buying things online.  I’ll never understand it since I’ve been buying things online since 1999, but whatever.  So, I’ll move things from my Amazon list to my Bed Bath and Beyond list for the wedding and ignore feelings of guilt that my guests are paying way too much money for the item.

2) People will buy you gifts that are not on your registry. I would say that about 25% of my gifts were not from my registry list. This really leaves me confused. I would say that 90% of the items on our registry were less than $40, so it’s not like we had really expensive gifts that people just couldn’t afford. I’m not sure why people do this especially when they have a list of items that they couple have specifically indicated they would like to have, but, who am I?  In fact, I went to great lengths to register for items that aren’t crap!

3) Mingle with your guests on a more intimate and personal level. While people were eating, I moved around from table to table and sat down with my plate of food.  Although I never ate much of the food on my plate, I spent time with each person at the shower! It was lovely.

4) When having events outdoors, whether it’s your shower, wedding, or just a plain old party,  always, ALWAYS have various types of bug repellant. The bees were crazy at the shower, especially since all the food was outside. And my sister didn’t have anything to try and keep them away. She sent her husband to buy some citronella tike torches from Lowe’s during the party!   For parties that my fiancé and I have hosted at our house, we use a mix of different repellants.  Specifically, we use these incense sticks, which work phenomenal around the perimeter of the house.  Then we have citronella candles at various places like seating areas, and non-toxic bug repellant mixtures around food. (I use lavender oil-soaked rags in open jars) Then we always have bug spray available for guests to use.  At a recent wedding we attended, they also started giving out these bug wipes which worked great! I just rubbed a little bit on my neck and the bugs stopped attacking me.

5) If you’re not into games either, figure out another nice way to get people talking. I’m sure you’ve all seen the trend (and a very nice one I might add) of displaying previous generations’ family wedding photos at your wedding. Well, at my shower I was showing off photos of my mom’s wedding shower. It was quite the hit, especially among the older guests who were also in attendance at my mom’s shower!

So, there you have it! My wedding shower story!

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A Retrospective on September 11, 2001

by Melissa on September 7, 2011

A little bit different of a post here today at SuperNoVABride.  I thought I would share with you my September 12 story.  No, that’s not a typo.  I found out about the September 11 attacks on September 12, 2001.  Here’s my story.

September 11, 2001. Our ship is maneuvering its way through a Typhoon. It’s been 11 days since our Semester at Sea voyage departed Vancouver on August 31 (we lost September 8 when we crossed the International Date Line). It’s been six days since seeing any land, when we could see the Aleutian Islands way off in the distance from our ship, the S.S. Universe Explorer. We’ll be arriving in Japan in just two days. And I am incredibly seasick today because of the rough seas. Despite being sick, it’s been an exciting day. The fresh air helps my seasickness so I’ve been outside taking video of the waves crashing over the front of the ship. It’s so windy that if you jump, the wind will carry you about a foot before you land. But, my first exam of the semester is tomorrow and I have to study. Everyone on the ship has to study, because the exam is for the class that all students are required to take on Semester at Sea, called CORE.

I’m studying on an outside deck that’s covered and shielding me from the rain. Then the captain makes an announcement at 7PM. All outdoor areas on the ship are now off limits. Waves are getting higher and it is safer for everyone to stay indoors. The ship should be out of the storm by 3AM. I manage to study for another hour inside before I’m overcome by seasickness. I decide that my best option will be to go to sleep now and wake up bright and early to cram for my 9:20AM exam. Not ideal, but it’ll have to do.

When my alarm goes off at 5AM the next morning, September 12, 2001, I am relieved that the ship is no longer rocking so violently. I get ready for the day, and realize that my stomach is growling loudly with hunger.  Not surprising considering that everything I ate yesterday came right back up.  So, I take my books up to the cafeteria to study while I eat some breakfast.

As I approach the cafeteria, there’s a small crowd of people huddled around a bulletin board. I don’t think much of it. A student had just finagled his way out of an expulsion and I assumed the Dean had posted a statement. I set down my books at a table and grabbed some food from the buffet. As I sit down to eat, there is this strange vibe among the 25 or so people in the cafeteria. A few tables down, I overhear a strange conversation.

“How do you even PLAN something like that?” a student said to his table-mate.
“I don’t know. But airplanes are powerful machines.”

I study and eat for maybe another 90 seconds. As someone walks by my table, I overhear one person say to another, “Do you think they’re going to turn the ship around?”

I suddenly do not feel well. Not like the seasickness of the day before, but that feeling when you’re about to get bad news. My stomach hurt, and gone was my intense hunger. I force down a few more bites of my food. I leave my textbooks on the table and go over to read what is on the bulletin board.

There are two sheets of paper, both are fax printouts. I start to read the one that says “Timeline of Terrorist Attacks in the United States.” I think to myself, “Oh, that’s a shame,” and have visions of an Oklahoma City-type attack. I scan the timeline briefly, not really digesting any of the information. My eyes stop where it says, “North World Trade Center collapses.”

Out loud, and to no one in particular, I say, “Oh my God. The World Trade Center COLLAPSED??”

A guy behind me says in a very unemotional voice, “Yes. They both did. I’ve read this timeline about 20 times.”  I turn around and look at him like he’s crazy. But he just keeps staring at that fax. Only knowing that both towers had collapsed, I run down to my cabin to wake up my roommate Sarah. She’s from New Jersey and her dad sometimes works in Manhattan.

“Sarah, Sarah WAKE UP!  Everything at home has just gone to hell!”  Confused and half asleep, she can’t figure out why I’m reacting the way I am. “Come upstairs and read about it. There have been terrorist attacks at home.”  Hold on,” she says, “I have to shower first.”  “No, there’s no time for that! It happened in New York, doesn’t your dad work there some days?”

She takes her time, brushing her hair and teeth. I’m getting extremely annoyed, and she can tell.

“Melissa, I’m sure everything is fine. I’m sure that whatever it is it’s just being completely blown out of proportion.  You know how the media can get”

We go upstairs and this time the crowd around the bulletin board is much larger. We make our way to the front, and for the first time, I read the timeline from beginning to end, trying to understand what happened. Every time I read it, I absorb some new, practically unbelievable piece of information. Planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers. Planes crashing into fields in Pennsylvania.  Planes crashing into the Pentagon.  U.S. airspace closed. Borders with Canada and Mexico closed. New York Stock Exchange closed.

Although the timeline is only a single page, I am completely overwhelmed with information. About the 5th time reading it, it starts to sink in.  Someone behind me chokes back a sob.  There’s a second, more pronounced sob, although I’m not sure if it’s from the same person.  In that instant, my emotions change.  I’m no longer confused and overwhelmed.  Tears start streaming quietly down my face as I’m overcome by sadness.  I wipe them away but they quickly return.  My quiet tears turn into sobs so heavy that it’s hard to breathe. I look at the other sheet of paper on the bulletin board for the first time.  It’s a faxed copy of a news article printed from the internet. It says that nearly 50,000 people may have died in the World Trade Center.  My tears start running faster.

The tears in my eyes are making everything blurry.  For some reason, my senses are heightened.  Everything starts to feel very surreal.  Oh My Goodness, I’m dreaming!  My tears stop flowing.  Yes, of course.  Wake up Melissa.  You’ve had these before.  Ultra-realistic dreams.  All that seasickness medication from yesterday is messing with your head.  C’mon, wake up!  I fold my arms across my chest and pinch my left arm with my right thumb and forefinger.  I’m not waking up.  I pinch harder.  I let go, and grab a strand of hair and pull it from my scalp.  It hurts, but I’m still standing here in this hallway.  I study my surroundings again, looking for any hint of a dream.  As I take a small step, I bump into someone kind of hard.  That would’ve definitely woken me up.  This is no dream.

As quickly as I went from confused to sad moments earlier, suddenly, I’m furious.  I don’t want to be here.  I don’t care how long I’ve been looking forward to studying abroad, I hate being here. Why did I have to pick THIS semester to go abroad? I certainly don’t want to be on this damn ship.  I want to be on land, at home in the United States, with access to a television and the internet so I can read details beyond what is just printed on this ridiculous piece of paper.  I can’t breathe.  I’m feeling claustrophobic.  Why is this hallway so small?  Why is this ship so small? I am so sick of seeing these same surroundings. I need to be on land right now.  I want to know what is going on.  I want to hear news anchors narrate what is going on.  I want to be able to click around from news website to news website, constantly refreshing for new information.  I hate this ship.  And while we’re at it, I hate the terrorists that have done this.  I hate everything.

I’m swiftly snapped out of my self-pity session when I see a blonde girl, inconsolable and frantic. She is sobbing and running around the main deck, looking for someone to help her contact her family. I hear her say that her dad works in the Financial District in Manhattan. Someone suggests that she try one of the e-mail stations.  I feel so selfish. Here I am mad because I want to be watching live television and have internet access, while there are people on the ship that have real, genuine concerns.

There are 4 e-mail stations on board the ship for 600 students and nearly 100 adults and faculty at a rate of 50 cents per minute. It finally occurs to me that I should check my e-mail, but I can’t pull myself away from that bulletin board. And in the back of my head, I’m still worried about the CORE exam. Sarah said she was going to check her e-mail too, and I went with her. As we approach the stations, the line is about 80 people deep. There is a sign posted that all classes, including the CORE exam, are canceled and that there will be a meeting at 9:20 instead.

As we waited in the e-mail line, the blonde girl walked past us. She was no longer sobbing, but her eyes and face were red and puffy. Someone asked her, “Is everything okay at home?”  She said, “He got a haircut. My dad stopped and got a haircut before heading to work today. He’s fine.” She let out a chuckle of relief as she said it, and then a long exhale, like it was the first time she had breathed all day.

Another student was sitting quietly by himself on a sofa near the e-mail line. Someone asked him if he was alright. He replied that his dad works in the World Trade Center. He had been trying to get an outside line on the ship for an hour. When he could get a line, he couldn’t get through to New York. He was eerily calm. Shortly after, the Dean of Students walked up to him, saying they had gotten through to his family. His dad was fine and they had him on the line. He walked away with the Dean. When he returned a few minutes later, he said his dad had managed to get out of the World Trade Center in time but that New York looked like a warzone.

While we waited in line, we heard someone say that they had received a fax from their parents. Sarah went down to the Purser’s office to check for faxes. She had received one. It said, “Dad and I are okay. Love you.”  She was instantly relieved.

We approached the front of the e-mail line just as the shipboard meeting was starting. I logged in to my e-mail and I had about ten frantic e-mails from my family as the previous day’s events had unfolded. Everyone was okay. I e-mailed everyone to tell them that I was okay and that I’d try to call them later that day from the ship.

The shipboard meeting is short, but very emotional. We have no television, and really no idea of what planes crashing into towers would even look like. It’s barely 9:30AM and I am completely exhausted. I’ve experienced such an array of feelings today already that make me feel emotionally drained.  Relief that we were out of the storms, hunger, worry, confusion, sadness, anger, self-pity, guilt, back to sadness, and, a little ashamed to admit, excitement about being on land tomorrow for the first time in two weeks.

We would be arriving in Kobe, Japan the next day and someone at the shipboard meeting suggested that we make origami cranes, a symbol of peace and joy in Japan. Throughout the rest of the day, the main auditorium was filled with students making origami cranes and they were strung together and hung in the main hall the rest of our 100 day voyage.  When I wasn’t making origami cranes, I was out on the deck enjoying the beautiful weather and scenery as we sailed past countless little rocky islands. I feel guilty, and every time I find that I am enjoying myself, or hear laughter or a squeal of excitement, I remind myself of what was going on at home.

After our ship arrived in Japan on September 13 and we were waiting to clear customs to disembark, newspapers were placed around the ship. Someone had removed a page from one of the newspapers and hung it up in a busy hallway on the main deck. The page contained an unbelievable photo. The photo was a zoomed-in image of a man falling head first from the World Trade Center. I was stunned and even more confused about what exactly had happened in New York. Above the photo, someone posted a handwritten sign. “Never Forget.” It was the first time I had heard that phrase associated with the attacks.

After we got off the ship, instead of there being an excitement to start traveling around Japan, there was a mad dash for internet cafes. In e-mails we had received from our families, we kept hearing about videos of the planes crashing into the towers. And we all wanted to see it. When I finally did find a video of it online, I could hardly believe my eyes. I was torn between wanting to keep up with what was going on at home, and wanting to have fun in Japan. I left the internet café a few minutes later.


The universal symbol of our entire 100 day voyage in all ten countries that we visited was a simple hand gesture that people used to communicate with us through language barriers. The gesture was that of raising their flat palm above their head and then lowering their hand. A distinct look on their face always accompanied the gesture. Typically the look was pity or devastation. And sometimes a hug or handshake or bow or other embrace followed. The gesture communicated a collapsing tower. The look on their face communicated their sadness for what had happened, and the embrace, their support for us.

On our last day of the voyage, one of our professors gave a farewell speech. One quote resonated with us all:  ” … there is no way you will ever understand it. September 11 will be one of those markers in people’s lives … like Kennedy’s assassination and Pearl Harbor. It will be the marker for your generation for decades to come. And you missed it. You weren’t there. And because of that, there will forever be a hole in your life.”

Each year, on the anniversary of the attacks, I watch hours of September 11 footage on the internet.  Especially footage of newscasts that were broadcast as events unfolded live on television on September 11, 2001.  I can’t say that it’s a healthy thing to do, but it’s some weird attempt of mine to “be there” on that day.  I wonder what I would have been feeling that day if I was watching it on the news or if I was around close friends and family, and not near-strangers I had met only 11 days earlier.  If I had been able to hear the emotions in newscasters’ voices about the events, instead of reading about the events on some sheet of paper.

Like a movie spoiler, I knew what the end was in a matter of moments without having to watch the action unfold hour after hour.  Then I stop and think to myself. This was not some action movie. These were real events. Real people died at the hands of pure evil.  I should not mourn that I missed the events.  I should mourn for those that died.  And mourn for the way that the world changed on that very day.

So, I’m okay that I missed it. It was an incredible time to travel the world.


Is Our Love only Worth $14.99?

by Melissa on September 6, 2011

About a month ago, my fiancé and I went shopping for his wedding band.  After a few visits to some jewelry stores, he had it narrowed down to a comfort-style Tungsten band.*

The rings ranged anywhere from $200-$350, which was well within our budget for his wedding band.  But, because we’re compulsive and not impulsive, we didn’t buy anything and we went home to research tungsten.

As it turns out, tungsten is one of the cheapest metals on earth.  In fact, when you pay for Tungsten jewelry, in essence all you’re paying for is the labor required to make the jewelry.  But, what’s really cool about it is that it is heavy.  So, it’s not cheap feeling at all.  There are a few downsides, like it can’t be resized.

With our new knowledge in hand, my fiancé did some comparison shopping.  What he found was a Tungsten ring that looked identical to one of the bands he had tried on at one of the jewelry stores.  The only difference?  It wasn’t $300.  It was $14.99.

So, my fiancé ordered two different sizes (Every jewelry store we went to sized him as something different).  We ordered it from Amazon, which has an excellent return policy, so that we could make sure it was good quality.  When the ring arrived, we were really wowed.


We decided to gather opinions about this ring.  So, my fiancé brought the ring with him to work.  He then proceeded to ask the very classy question, “How much do you think we paid for that?  No seriously, you won’t offend me, just guess!”  An woman he works with who is very into expensive jewelry guessed at least $400.

When we asked our wedding coordinator / neighbor, who describes herself as a “Tiffany Girl” said she thought it cost at least $800.

Revealing the price, it sets off a shitstorm of opinions.  These opinions range from “Wow, I would’ve never guessed!  That’s a great ring for that price!”  to “I just couldn’t buy a wedding band that is $14.99.  It feels like you don’t value your relationship.”

When I told my grandmother, I think she may have assumed that we were so poor that that’s all we could afford, and then proceeded to offer him my deceased grandfather’s wedding band.

Opinions have definitely leaned towards the “But it’s a wedding band.  You HAVE to pay more than $14.99 for a wedding ring!”

Well, we disagree.  In fact, my fiancé is keeping both the sizes he ordered, so that if he ever, ahem, outgrows the smaller one, he can just use the bigger one.

So, what do you think, lovely readers?  Do you think we don’t value our marriage because we’re only paying $14.99 for a wedding ring?  Should we pay $300 for the same ring just to demonstrate that it “means more” to us?


* By the way, if you have never tried a comfort band, they really are incredible.  It’s hard to describe it, but his ring really is incredibly comfortable.