Posts filed under ‘rvw10’

A Lesson from the American Chestnut

There’s a common misconception that the American chestnut is extinct. That’s not the case. The large trees may have been decimated by the blight, but you can see plenty of little trees in the Appalachians. Alas, those small trees will eventually succumb to the blight as well before they can reach the large sizes of yesteryear.

But here’s the thing about the American chestnut. It’s incredibly optimistic.  The American chestnut is not afraid to try again. The blight will take its the branches. The blight will take its trunk, but when the tree “dies”, the roots send up another shoot to give life another whirl. It’s almost as if the tree shrugs and thinks, “Well, that sucked.” and then moves on.

Prickly Pear - Blight and New Growth
Chestnuts Aren’t Afraid to Try Again – With the larger trunk blighted, new shoots give it another go.

The weeks following our wedding was an exciting time in the chestnut arena. We got to watch as our seeds germinated. I was amazed at how from the get-go the tiniest baby leaf already looked like an American chestnut. It had itty bitty curved teeth!

Baby American Chestnut!
Baby D4-28-30, 16 days After Planting – Aww… It’s Baby Leaves Already Have Teeth!!!

We slowly exposed our baby trees to full sun and full wind. We watched them peek out of the top of their pots and continue to grow. I remember how giddy I was when I realized I could clearly make out the chestnuts when we drove down Dawson Street before we reached our road! In June, we celebrated one of the chestnuts reaching 12″ tall.

Then disaster.

Leaving for a trip, I gave the trees extra water. It turned out to be an unnecessary gesture. It rained the whole time we were gone. Worse– the holes in the bottom of our pots were obstructed so all that water queued up. This was not good– American chestnuts are sensitive to overwatering. When we returned home, our formerly happy chestnuts were far from happy. And just like that, they died.

I felt… horrible! The American Chestnut Foundation had put so much work and research into those nuts and I turned around and killed them.  I literally lost sleep over it, a fact I couldn’t hide from my mother thanks to Mark Zuckerberg (“Why were you on Facebook at 4 AM?!?”).

After a few days, I realized there was only one thing I could do to feel better. I needed to confess! I called up The American Chestnut Foundation and apologized to the poor employee who happened to answer the phone. She had a scientist call me back to gather up some data about my potting mix, my fertilizer and pot sizes. All I wanted from the conversation was a means to appease my guilt. I ended up with a lot more. At the end of our phone call, the scientist surprised me, an established tree killer, by offering me more seed.

And here’s another confession. I’m not as brave as the American chestnuts in the Appalachians. I didn’t want to try again.  I was timid and scared and had to be talked into it! Luckily, I gave in and in mid-June Ryan and I received another package marked “Refrigerate Upon Opening”

Take II
Our second wave of chestnuts aren’t from the “Restoration generation” (B3F3). They are still 15/16 American, but are members of the earlier B2F3 generation.

Ryan and I didn’t have enough pots to accomodate all of our newcomers, so we bought cheapy biodegradable peat moss pots to get some of the seedlings started. They were shorter than the recommended size, but they did have a surprise side benefit. Those pots dried out super fast, helping me avoid the overwatering mistake from my past. Later in the summer we invested in real pots for all the seedlings! This time, we verified each and every hole in the bottom and in a couple of cases, poked extra holes. : )

On the surface, it looked like the small peat moss pots did the trick, but I will note that all of our tallest seedlings were ones that were planted in the bigger pots from Day One.

American Chestnuts - Take II - July 8th
The Temporary Homes

Germination Stats
With the help of Jacal, we planted 48 nuts. Some of them had crazy long radicals. We cut the radical down to 1/2″ for 11 of the nuts. The remaining seed we left the radicals completely in tact. Two nuts were moldy and didn’t have radicals. One nut’s radical broke. Out of those 48 nuts, we had 45 germinate. Yup– the moldy nuts and the one with the broken radical were the ones that did not make an appearence.

American Chestnuts - Jacal Plants
Jacal Planting Seed

Potting Mixture
Our soil mixture was the recommended 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 perlite and 1/3 vermiculite. Jacal helped me mix it up.

American Chestnuts - Jacal Mixes Dirt
Jacal Prepares our Soiless Potting Mix

Germination Time
Germination was substantially faster this time. In March, it took our seeds roughly 13 days to poke up out of the soil. The June wave, took just 4 days before baby chestnuts made their above soil debut.

Chestnuts like slightly acidic soil with a pH between 4.5 to 6.5. For fertilization, I used MiracleGro for Azaleas, Camellia, Rhododendron (it’s geared for “All Acid-Loving Plants”). It was recommended that I fertilize them every other week. Once the hurricanes and tropical storms started coming our way and the plants were getting watered frequently from nature, they were only fertilized once a month (the fertilizer was mixed in water and I was fearful of overwatering).

Pest Control (Or lack thereof)
I did not use any kind of pesticide this summer, but it probably would have been welcomed by the chestnuts. A couple of them were deemed tasty by insects and I did find two cankerworm squatters.

American Chestnuts - Take II - July 15 (7)
A Baby Chestnut with a Partially Devoured Leaf

Of the twenty-two chestnuts I kept here in Elizabeth City, I did have three casualties. Of the survivors, some have done better than others. My tallest right now was planted on June 17, 2010 and on November 29th, it was 29″ tall.

American Chestnuts - Take II - September 9
Jimmie with Chestnuts – September 9th

Planting Date Size on 11/29/2010
June 17, 2010* 24″
June 17, 2010* 29″
June 17, 2010* 15″
June 17, 2010* 11″
June 17, 2010* 24″
June 17, 2010* 16″
June 18, 2010 9″
June 18, 2010 10″
June 18, 2010 6″
June 18, 2010 12″
June 18, 2010 7″
June 18, 2010 12″
June 18, 2010 6 1/2″
June 18, 2010 12″
June 18, 2010 18″
June 18, 2010 11″
June 18, 2010 9″
June 18, 2010 10″
June 18, 2010 7 1/2″

*Originally Planted in Larger Pots

Fall Colors
I may have planted these guys late, but apparently they got to grow a little longer here in warm North Carolina. On Facebook, I saw someone’s Restoration chestnuts in Traverse City, Michigan yellowing in early October. Our chestnuts didn’t start to yellow until nearly a month later.  I first spotted changing leaves on November 17th.

American Chestnuts - Take II - November 18 - Yellowing
Yellowing Chestnuts – November 18th

The chestnuts got their first glimpse of snow of December 5, 2010. As you can see, some of them are STILL sporting green leaves!

American Chestnut - Aww, Chestnuts' First Snow
Chestnuts’ First Snow – 12/5/2010

American Chestnut - Aww, Chestnuts' First Snow 3
Chestnuts’ First Snow – 12/5/2010

The Neighborhood Kids
As with many of our endeavors, the neighborhood kids were involved. Above you saw that Jacal helped with the soil mixing and the planting. When Ryan and I traveled to Cape Cod this summer, the chestnuts stayed healthy under the watchful eye of Dada, Vick and Risha. But here is my favorite American Chestnut/Neighborhood Kid story (so far):

Over the summer, 4th grader Tyrek came over for a visit. We talked on the back deck surrounded by all the little baby chestnuts and all the little baby pawpaws. Tyrek was telling me a story when he suddenly stopped in mid-sentence. He looked at his surroundings and said, “Vicky, these trees make me happy!”

My reply— “They make me happy too.” : )

And there you go! Sometimes trying again can be terrifying. Sometimes trying again seems hopeless. But sometimes… sometimes trying again will bring you something to smile about.

Additional Resources
Please note– this post is just a discussion of my experience and I am far, far, far from an expert and am still learning myself. If you are interested in growing American chestnuts, I recommend the following references:

TACF Fact Sheet – How To Grow Your Chestnuts
Growing Chestnuts From Seed – Long Instructions from Meadowview Research Farm
Growing Chestnuts From Seed – Quick Instructions from Meadowview Research Farm
The Chestnut Growers Mailing List (Great resource for questions and answers)

For more information of donating to or becoming a member of The American Chestnut Foundation, visit:

December 6, 2010 at 1:00 am 11 comments

Wedding – American Chestnut

In 2008, I visited one of the research farms of The American Chestnut Foundation and learned about their backcross breeding effort to restore the American chestnut. It’s hard work! Innoculating trees, evaluating blight resistance, pollen collection, flower bagging, meticulous hand pollinations and fall harvests of the spikey burs. After 25 years, all that effort produced the B3F3 generation. Dubbed the “Restoration chestnut”, the trees are 15/16th American and potentially blight resistant. But keep in mind– blight resistance isn’t enough for the trees to rebound in the wild. There’s a very good reason why we couldn’t just throw some Chinese chestnuts in the Appalachians and wish them well. Chinese chestnuts don’t grow fast or tall enough to compete with the likes of tulip poplars and other forest trees. To be successful, the trees would need American growth characterstics with the Chinese blight resistance.

Does the B3F3 generation have what it takes? Does it have the winning combination of Chinese and American traits? To help answer that question, The American Chestnut Foundation invited its Sponsor Members to become a part of their science team. Last March, Sponsor Members were able to receive two Restoration chestnut seeds to grow, measure and report on.

Ryan Somma and I received our seeds on March 17th. We were getting married three days later on March 20th. The timing allowed us to have a very special guest at our wedding. Good people have been trying to save the American chestnut since the blight was first spotted in New York City in 1904. It’s an effort that has spans generations. After 106 years of heartache and hope, Ryan Somma and I had the great honor to plant a Restoration chestnut during our ceremony.

Wedding Weekend - American Chestnut Unity Ceremony - Ryan Plants (by Liza Franco)
Ryan Plants Our Unity American Chestnut

Wedding Weekend - American Chestnut Unity Ceremony - Ryan and Vicky Water (by Liza Franco)
Ryan and Vicky Water American Chesntut

I can’t say for certain we were the only couple who have had an “American Chestnut Unity Ceremony”, but my hunch is it’s pretty rare. : )

In lieu of gifts, Ryan and I suggested two charities for our guests to donate to. For science, we suggested Elizabeth City’s Port Discover. For nature, we suggested The American Chestnut Foundation. The response was resounding! Out of just the donations that we know about, our guests gave $1392.50 to The American Chestnut Foundation. One of our guests, Ryn R, handmade a card to document her charitable donations. She did her homework. She gave the American chestnut leaves teeth!

Wedding Weekend - Inside of Alex and Ryn's Card
Card – The American chestnut leaves have teeth!

It’s been eight months and a handful of days since our wedding and Ryan and I are still fielding questions and witnessing continued chestnut enthusiasm from our family and friends.

To have your loved ones so wholeheartedly embrace and support a cause that is near and dear to your heart…. could there be a wedding gift better than that?

For more information of donating to or becoming a member of The American Chestnut Foundation, visit:

November 22, 2010 at 5:00 am 4 comments

Wedding – Cake

I may be intimidated by the likes of linens and flowers. But there is one thing I can get very enthusiastic about wedding planning– the cake. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE wedding cake. At the same time, I despise fondue. What’s the point of ruining the cake just to make it look pretty? When perusing cake vendors, this paragraph on Merrill’s Desserts caught my eye:

Unlike many wedding cakes – made for looks rather than taste – ours are truly delicious. We bake all cakes fresh right here and frost them with a special buttercream icing. They cut and serve easily, and their moistness will delight you.

That put them in the running immediately. One day in September 2009, Mom, Carolyn, Ryan and I drove to Suffolk Virginia to meet Sandra Merrill. We tasted numerous flavors and unanimously confirmed– they were indeed “truly delicious”.

We flipped through design pictures to get an idea of what we wanted. Mom and Ryan were sharing a book and at once they stumbled upon a promising design.  It was a light blue cake with brown branches over it.  The cake also sported leaves and butterflies.

“I think it’s a home run with our venue,” Ryan noted.

SOLD! We changed the light blue icing to light green and that was that. We could scratch one wedding task off the list!

Wedding Weekend - Reception - Cake (By Deanna Felton)
Wedding Cake (Photo by Deanna Felton)

We did three tiers and picked a different flavor for each tier.  For the largest bottom tier, the “grown up” tier, we picked a yellow almond cake.  Sandra mentioned the raspberry filling makes the almond flavor really pop out, and we took her council.

The next largest tier was geared towards the kids.  Before we had met with Sandra Merrill, I solicited some flavor ideas from them.

One teenage boy didn’t have to think about the matter one bit.  “PEACH!” he declared.

“Uh….” I said, “I don’t think they have peach cake.”

“Yes they do!” the boy insisted.

Lo and behold, I didn’t see Peach on the flavor list.  But I did remember grocery shopping with one of the other boys when I let him pick out a cupcake mix for dessert.  He chose strawberry cake, which Sandra did have.  The second tier was strawberry with Bavarian creme.

The top tier was plain vanilla.

At the wedding, the cake itself seemed to go over well. BUT Ryan and I got booed!!! Apparently some spectators were less than pleased with our gentle manner of feeding each other. 🙂

Wedding Weekend - Reception - Feeding Each Other Cake (By Liza Franco)
An Unpopular Wedding Moment (Photo by Liza Franco)

I heard a surprisingly large number of people lament after the wedding that they “forgot” to get cake.  My sister, little Malena, my new sister-in-law to name a few.  That concept is so foreign to me.  As soon as I enter a wedding reception hall, I am monitoring the cake status.  When it is cut– I’m all over it, man!  You’ve got to have your priorities!

The loss of those guests was Hunter Street’s gain. Ryan and I had a lot of leftover cake. When we got back to our hotel room and decompressed after the day’s events, our appetites returned with a vengeance and we sat together, reveled in the quiet and feasted on wedding cake… with our bare hands! In our neighborhood, one kid was on punishment and had to miss the wedding. Meanwhile a whole other family was thwarted by a flat tire. Thanks to the leftover cake, they all still got to experience a little part of the wedding.

Ryan and I got to have some sizable extra helpings too! Each helping was as moist and as delicious as the first. In fact, one could accurately say, “truly delicious.”

Wedding Vendor – Cake
Merrill’s Desserts, LLC
211 E. Washington Street
Suffolk, VA 23434
Phone: 757-539-0418

September 20, 2010 at 1:00 pm 3 comments

Wedding – Caterer

When I moved from Blacksburg, I expected to miss the mountains. I expected to miss my friends. What I didn’t expect to miss was the food. In Blacksburg, I had a variety of options at my disposal. I’m afraid I took that for granted. When I moved to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, I found myself deprived of past staples. Elizabeth City doesn’t have Ethiopian food. It doesn’t have Indian food. It doesn’t have Thai. As a result, when we do venture out of Elizabeth City, that’s what I want. Ethiopian, Indian or Thai. Or Chic-Fil-A. We don’t have one of those either. 🙂

In the Virginia Beach/Norfolk area, Ryan quickly introduced me to Rajput Indian Cuisine. Absolutely delicious. Everything’s so, so good. I had found my new favorite restaurant. After that, anytime we were in the market for supper in that area, we were most likely going to Rajput.

Rajput – One Taste and You’re Hooked!

When we started down the road for wedding planning, I didn’t make the connection at first… that you could actually have your favorite restaurant cater. We looked through a listing of caterers and reviewed menus and plate costs. Nothing really stuck out and worse– the whole idea of a “real wedding” was becoming more and more intimidating. Linens and flatware and silverware. Oh gosh, don’t forget the cups. That’s a lot of trouble for a meal you aren’t particularly jazzed about.

Enter Rajput and Paul Chhabra. They do full service catering! Suddenly, not only did we have a meal to look forward to…. but we had knowledgeable, unflustered Paul Chhabra in our ranks. Ryan and I didn’t know what we were doing and that was okay because Paul did know what he was doing. He took care of all those details that were so scary– the linens, the plates, the forks, the cups. He had questions we never would have thought of. He had recommendations. He had suggestions. He had answers.

He also had vision. Three weeks before the wedding, Paul and I met with Jennifer Turlington at the Virginia Living Museum for a walk through. At one point Jennifer asked where I wanted the cake table.

“Uh…..” I had no clue.

“What about right there? In front of that painting?” Paul asked.

That’s where we put it. And wow. Our nature themed cake looked so lovely in front of that backdrop.

Wedding Weekend - Reception - Bouquets and Cake (by Liza Franco)
Cake and Painting

We ended up doing a buffet dinner featuring chicken, vegetarian and vegan options. I was concerned about the children and my boss Larry, so we added in a special selection for the more finicky souls. Greg Z went into the buffet line with a plan. “Save room on your plate.” He instructed his wife, “The best stuff on a buffet is always last!” Greg stayed true to his own strategy. He kept plenty of open space on his plate, only to discover the last item was… chicken fingers and french fries. 🙂

When I arrived at the reception, I could smell the aroma of delicious Rajput food. I saw Paul and I was overwhelmed with gratitude. For months, he had squelched all my worries, alleviated all my stress and then he delivered a fabulous meal. With that, I just had to give my caterer a hug!

Paul and I had another bonding moment. At the very end of the reception as everyone started to clean up, the DJ put on Slumdog Millionaire’s Jai Ho. A young man started to dance and put on a phenomenal show. A small crowd gathered and found themselves mesmorized. Paul stood next to me and we both watched with big smiles.

“That’s my son!” he said. He said that statement with pride. It was well-founded pride.

I truly believe Rajput was the turning point of our whole wedding planning process. I think it is very possible that if Rajput had not come on board, Ryan and I would have ended up with a very different, smaller event. With food to be excited about and all Paul’s expertise, we got to stay calm and relaxed and celebrate with so, so many more loved ones. Ahh, and I got Chicken Tikka Masala and decadent rice pudding to boot. 🙂

Wedding Vendor –Caterer
Rajput Indian Cuisine
742 W. 21st Street
Norfolk, VA 23517
Phone: (757) 625-4634

August 23, 2010 at 10:57 am 6 comments

Wedding – Pi Favors

Shortly after the wedding, Ryan and I had a number of kids over to walk them through reinstalling their laptops. It was a lengthy process, so we put movies on in the background to provide some entertainment while the various progress bars ticked by. One of the movies we watched was “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. From the lack of laughter, it was safe to say the movie only appealed to me and me only. There was an exception. Near the end of the film, you can see the family arguing in the kitchen.

“Hey!” I pointed at the screen, “LOOK!”

While the characters were arguing, they were also hard at work…. wrapping wedding favors in tulle.

And that I think was the only part of the movie we ALL got a kick out of. Wrapping things in tulle was a process we were intimately familiar with. In the two weeks before the wedding, Ryan, the neighborhood kids and I made 130 chocolate Pis using ThinkGeek Ice Cube Trays. We then placed 130 chocolates on 130 little squares of purple cardstock, wrapped them in tulle and tied them with a purple ribbon.

Wedding Behind the Scenes - Ryan Struggles to Tie
Grrr… We Know What It’s Like to Wrap Things in Tulle!

We selected Chocolate Pis as wedding favors because, well, Pi is pretty geeky.  It works with science and nature.  Plus Pi made a cameo in our ceremony.

A perfect circle contains an element of infinite complexity. Like circles, your rings have no beginning and no end and in the sacred tradition of marriage, rings have come to symbolize eternal love and the endless union of body, of mind, and spirit.  The circle, like marriage, was created to be forever, and endless. Just like the number “PI”  a number that goes on without end.  To quote Lisa Hoffman, “Marriage is like PI – natural, irrational, and VERY IMPORTANT.”

Interestingly enough, the Pi Chocolates had a lot of male contributers. Khalif and Tyrek helped squirt chocolate in the molds. Tyrek cut up purple ribbons. Khalif, Armani and Ryan all helped wrap.

Here’s another surprise. While Khalif, Ryan and I all struggled at tying the ribbons, Armani, who had seemed to be pretty indifferent about the wedding, waltzes in and puts us all to shame. He was by far the most effective wrapper! His innovation– twisting the tulle before tying.

Wedding Behind the Scenes - Chocolate Pis
Growing Inventory of Wrapped Pis

Chocolate Pi at Wedding (Photo by Brian Nenninger)

Opportunity for Improvement
Our little Pis were cute and fitting, but there was an opportunity for improvement. When shopping for chocolate, I noted that almost all the selections included partially hydrogenated oils. That did not please me. So we used some Baker’s “Dipping Chocolate” instead.   It didn’t contain partially hydrogenated oils, but it melted a lot easier than the other chocolates.

This melting issue turned out to be a source of stress for me. The day before the wedding, Ryan and I loaded up two vehicles full of wedding stuff and headed up to Chesapeake Circuit Court to get our marriage license. It was a pretty warm day and as we headed into the Circuit Court, I was conscious that our vehicles would warm up. I was concerned. LUCKILY, that ginormous white wedding dress with its incredible amount of layers—- it made for perfect insulation! The chocolates not only survived that stop, but they also survived a late lunch as well.

My cousin Sam and my brother’s girlfriend Jacklyn were both helping with the wedding setup. I warned them about the easy melting. They knew to hold the little tulle contraptions by the top as they set the tables. And I do remembering mentioning to more than one person at the reception, “When you decide to eat your chocolate Pi, eat it fast!”

Alas, there was still a mishap. My friend, Tony, decided to put his chocolate Pi in his pocket to save for later.

Yeah, that didn’t quite work out as planned. He ended up with a pocket full of melted chocolate. 🙂

So the improvement I would recommend is to select a chocolate that wouldn’t melt when exposed to body heat as easily. 

August 22, 2010 at 5:00 am 7 comments

Wedding – Lowell’s Lecture and the Father Daughter Dance

When I was a young girl, one lesson my father frequently reprimanded me on was the value of commitments. “You can’t renege on a commitment!” he’d bark at me, “You can NOT renege on a commitment!”  This usually happened when I was trying to get out of a bridge game.

I was married before and when that marriage disintegrated, I returned home to stay with my parents. Although I can look back now and see with clarity the correctness of my decisions, it was extremely tough at the time. I cried almost all of the 250 mile drive to Occoquan. And when I finally arrived at my parents’ home, my stomach sank before I walked in the door. Here was this giant commitment getting reneged upon. What commitment could be more important? Most certainly, I would be disappointing my father. I braced myself for the loud opinions that were to come my way.

And I got lectured… but not about commitments. Dad expressed some strong feelings on the importance of happiness and how it isn’t something to forfeit. I cried and cried and cried.

“You only live once,” he said, “You’ve got to do what makes you happy. You’ve GOT to!”

On more than one occasion, Dad would pause his lecture and look at me absolutely dumbfounded. “Why are YOU crying?!?” To him, the situation was so clear-cut. My sadness baffled him.

I would still have internal conflicts and doubts to come, but Dad’s reaction helped immensely. I understand now why he was so opinionated. It’s so easy to see just how much happiness I had been forfeiting.

Since my sophomore year of high school my father always seemed pretty oblivious and indifferent of the comings and goings of my boyfriends. When Ryan Somma came along, my father took an unprecedented interest. And sometimes his attention was a little… awkward… like the time Dad started to grill Ryan with questions.

“Why do you have tattoos?”
“Do you go to church?”
“How are your finances?”
“Do you have a retirement fund?”
“How much is in your savings account?”
“Why did you get a divorce?”
“Did you cheat your wife?”
“Did she cheat on you?”

But then, there were the pleasant surprises.

“Vicky looks so happy,” my father reported to my mother one Thanksgiving, “It’s like night and day.”

Or the time Dad brought out his cellphone and snapped a picture of Ryan and I. He evaluated his work on his phone and smiled. “I had to get a picture of the happiest couple I know,” he explained.

When Ryan proposed, I had a rare occurrence show up in my email inbox. A very sweet, sentimental message from my father. He apparently still felt strongly about happiness. In an eight sentence email, he referred to it four times.

When you contacted me about your last marriage, I could only give general guidance. My advice to you then was that you only live once, and that you have to make the decision what would make you happy. When you are with Ryan I see just happiness. I like Ryan. Forget about the financial background check, as I suggested. You picked the perfect person for happiness. I greatly endorse Ryan to be our to-be-son-in-law. He is a very great person who will give you happiness for the rest of your life.


When it came time to pick a song for the Father Daughter Dance, I selected an accoustic cover of Stand By Me by Jonathan David. My father was by no means the only one who supported me during my divorce. But he was the biggest surprise. I’m where I’m at now and as happy as I am in part because my father knew what was important and stood by me. I certainly hope I can do the same for him.

At the wedding reception, when my father and I stepped out on to the dance floor, the sentiment was much different than the night I was lectured on happiness. No tears were shed and actually there was very little dancing. Instead my father did what he does best– in his animated manner, he told me funny stories.

I laughed and laughed and laughed.

Wedding Weekend - Father Daughter Dance - Vicky and Dad Laugh (By Liza Franco)
Dad Cracking Me Up (By Liza Franco)

August 21, 2010 at 12:54 pm 7 comments

Wedding – The Pink Daisy Blanket

In recent years, I was exceedingly lucky to have a number of supportive loved ones who helped me make my way to Ryan Somma. One of those individuals is my friend Ann. When it came time for my wedding, I wanted to thank her for her contribution to my happiness. All the laughter she brought me with her stories and observations. The times she let me galvanize my resolve by listening to grievances she had heard dozens of times before. And most of all, the times she made me field tough questions– the kind whose answers are hard to say aloud even though they are surprisingly common-sense.

At Ann’s wedding she designed and constructed handbags for each of her bridesmaids. Her creations proved to be so popular that after her wedding, Ann was able to build a business off of her designs. I decided even though the bar was high, that I would like to hand make something as well. I don’t sew and I know very little about handbags. I can, however, crochet.

Ann loves daisies, so I scoured the Internet for a daisy crochet pattern. That’s when I found Krochet Krystal. The site shares a free pattern for a beautiful daisy square. There’s a small (and uplifting) catch! In return for the pattern, you are to crochet at least one square and mail it back. The squares are sewn together and donated to hospitals and charities in the Buffalo, New York area. The effort has quite an impressive following and daisy squares have been mailed in from all over the world!

For colors, I chose black, a light pink and a bright pink. My inspiration for the color palette is drawn from one of Ann’s own classic handbag lines.

Color Inspiration from Handbags

I started the daisy effort in November 2009. Now my recipient was Ann. I didn’t want to just turn over anything. I had to practice first! I made seven daisies in blue. Once I was satisfied I had the hang of it, I moved on to the pink.

The daisy blanket proved to be the most extensive of all our wedding DIY projects. Even near the end of the daisy effort, each square was still taking me between one and two hours. I needed forty and as time ticked by, I had to squeeze in daisy making whenever I could. I worked on daisies while we watched TV (but never during Lost– Lost required complete attention). I worked on daisies in the car. I worked on the daisies during ZJ’s Super Bowl party. I even worked on a daisy on the floor of the Virginia Air and Space Museum while I waited to see Avatar in 3D IMAX.

Wedding Behind the Scenes - Daisy Blanket - Making a Daisy Waiting for Avatar 3D
Working on a Daisy Waiting for Avatar 3D (Photo by Ryan Somma)

Despite all that diligence, it wasn’t looking good. So I recruited the most prolific crocheter I know:

My mother!

Crochet is like breathing to my mother and still tried and true, she volunteered to take on the less fun part. When I finished a batch of squares, I shipped them to Occoquan. Mom would weave in the loose ends, surround each square with single crochets and stitch them together. We would send pictures of our work back and forth and it was exciting to see everything come together through team work!

Alas, Mom and I still fell short of the March 20th wedding date. We had 30 daisy squares completed and 20 of them sewn together. But it was enough to present to Ann and give her a preview of what’s to come.

Final Afghan
This past weekend, I met Ann in Blacksburg, Virginia for her birthday. I was able to hand over a pot of a succulents from her bouquet (which are still growing!) and…after seven months– the pink daisy blanket!

Wedding Behind the Scenes - Daisy Blanket Finished
Finished Blanket

Wedding Behind the Scenes - Daisy Blanket - Closeup of Daisies
Closeup of Squares

Wedding Behind the Scenes - Daisy Blanket - Gwyn and Daisies
Blanket in Use

Ann and I live eleven hours away. While I worked on the daisy blanket, I couldn’t help but think about why I was working on it. I relived happy memories and thought about all the reasons I had to be grateful for the friendship. Now that the blanket is finally done, I do believe I’m going to miss working on it. 🙂

June 28, 2010 at 1:19 pm Leave a comment

Wedding – Meteorite Rings

The Rings
A large number of Google image searches were involved with our wedding ring decision. “Science rings”, “science bands”, “nature rings”, “tree rings”, “tree wedding bands”, yada yada yada. But it was a late night search on Etsy, not Google, that nudged us in the right direction.

We ended up with titanium rings with inlays of meteorite!

The striations present in both rings are known as “Widmanstätten pattern“– it’s unique to meteorites and caused by the temperature changes in their journey.

We purchased our rings from a company called Titanium-Buzz. The inlays are from a meteorite that was discovered in South Africa in 1838. The meteorite itself is estimated to be 4 billion years old.

Well before we started to search for actual rings and had any idea there was such a thing as a “meteorite ring”, Ryan already had some ideas for the ring ceremony. He wanted to embrace just how old and how far the elements that comprised our rings had traveled.

Your rings are circles and a circle is the symbol of the sun, the earth, the universe, of wholeness, perfection, peace and unity. It is forged from elements that were created by a supernova. This means that the metal in these rings has traveled billions of years through time and billions of light-years through space to be here on earth today. And now they will become a part of the both of you.

At the tender young age of 4 billion years, the meteorites in our rings are a “contemporary” example of that concept.

The Ceremony
During the ceremony, we did experience some difficulty with Ryan’s ring. It didn’t want to go on! After admiring Ryan Somma for nearly 17 years, I wasn’t about to be foiled by a little friction. I summoned some more umph to my effort and the ring found itself where it should be.

Such a victory should not go by without fanfare.

“ON!!!!” I declared and pointed at the defeated ring.

I was sufficiently intimidating. That small circle of titanium and meteorite hasn’t ventured off since. 🙂

May 17, 2010 at 9:55 am 8 comments

Wedding – Venue

The neighborhood kids, obviously, have become quite important to Ryan and I. So when it came time to plan our wedding, we knew we wanted to keep the festivities somewhat local so it would be easy for them to attend. We looked at two venues within walking distance of our house. Both were quite lovely, but didn’t really have much personality. Nothing that really spoke out as us. Plus with both venues, we would have to fool with renting the likes of tables, tents and chairs.

For his science blog and his science-themed Flickr PhotoStream Ryan routinely documents museum exhibits. One such museum was Newport News’ Virginia Living Museum. Ryan spoke quite highly of it and lo and behold, their website had plenty of resources and information about Facility Rentals. One weekend in August, we made a trip up to scope it out together.

Virginia Living Museum - Volunteer with Turtle Virginia Living Museum - Two Bald Eagles
Virginia Living Museum - Pelicans Fish Virginia Living Museum - Pathway and Gazebo

Snippets from our August Visit to the Virginia Living Museum

The museum was gorgeous — full of native flora and fauna. It was educational– interesting quotes, history, explanations and trivia were ample throughout. Within its walls, the curators managed to married together the wonder of science and beauty of nature.

It was perfect!

Ceremony Site
There are a number of rental areas to choose from– including a waterfall and planetarium. We chose to have our ceremony on the back deck facing the Coastal Plain Aviary. We ended up with perfect weather (sunny, 74 degrees…in March) and the perfect spot. The waterfowl were out and about and a heron even flew down and landed in the trees during the ceremony.

Wedding Weekend - Venue - Ceremony Site (by Deanna Felton)
Ceremony Setup (By Deanna Felton)

Wedding Weekend - Venue - Wood Duck (By Tony Airaghi)
Duck Loiters After Ceremony (By Tony Airaghi)

Wedding Weekend - Ceremony - Heron Cameo (by Deanna Felton)
“Our” Heron From a Distance (By Deanna Felton)

Reception Site
For the reception, we chose to have it in the main floor of the museum. We didn’t have to rent any furnishings! The Virginia Living Museum provided all the tables, the chairs, and even a dance floor.

Wedding Weekend - Reception - Dinner Tables (By Tony Airaghi)
Museum Provided Tables and Chairs (by Tony Airaghi)

The ticket sales area became an instant bar with aquarium backdrop.

Wedding Weekend - Reception - Bar (by Tony Airaghi)
Bar (Photo by Tony Airaghi)

With rental, the guests would have free reign over all the exhibits in the main floor. This included the touch tank, the human sized turtle shell, and the live three legged sea turtle. There was plenty to do and so much to see and get inspired by.

Wedding Weekend - Venue - Habitarium (by Deanna Felton)
Habitarium (by Deanna Felton)

Wedding Weekend - Venue - Britt was Spotted (By Becky and Vic)
Britt Gets Spotted (Photo by Becky and Vic)

Wedding Weekend - Venue - Sea Turtle (by Deanna Felton)
Sea Turtle (By Deanna Felton)

Wedding Weekend - Venue - Shark! (by Deanna Felton)
Sharks! (By Deanna Felton)

Kirsten Turtle (Photo by Jason Akira Somma)
Kirsten Poses in Turtle Shell (Photo by Jason Akira Somma)

The Owl
To top it all off, the museum arranged for a volunteer to bring out one of the rehabilitated animals for everyone to see, pet and learn about. That meant an adorable one-eyed screech owl attended the reception! I even got to pet it before it retired for the evening.

The Owl That Attended Our Reception (Photo by Nicole Z)

And one of my favorite shots of the whole event:

Wedding Weekend - Reception - Kids Look at Owl (By Deanna Felton)
Neighborhood Kids Visit the Owl (Photo by Deanna Felton)

I can not speak highly enough of the museum event coordinator Jennifer Turlington and the museum volunteers. We had a great deal of chaos in the final moments leading up the ceremony. Both the rings AND my father were independently lost (my father would get misplaced a total of three times that evening-hehe). Armed with walkie talkies, the museum staff managed to locate them both and get them to their proper spots.

When we started to walk to the ceremony site, we discovered a walkway was gated and locked.

As we waited behind the scenes for someone to arrive with a key, Jennifer noted that I was the most laid back bride.

“At the end of the day, I’m still going to married to that wonderful man out there,” I pointed out.

But another contributing factor was definitely, definitely the museum staff. I had them around to fret and handle the crisis for me. So while they dealt with locating keys, my side of the bridal party got to enjoy fresh air and spy on bald eagles and wolves. Ryan’s side got to hang out with the otters and my father and I got to disagree on whether or not a tree was a red maple (Obviously I was right– I was the bride).

Apparently there is one downside to having such a kick-ass venue. My brother-in-law and sister forgot to eat their cake and their chocolate Pi favors!

“Mistakes were made.” Clint explains on Flickr and then concludes, “Too many distractions in that museum!”


Wedding Vendor – Venue
Virginia Living Museum
524 J Clyde Morris Blvd.
Newport News, VA 23601
(757) 595-1900

April 29, 2010 at 12:35 am 7 comments

Wedding – “Florals”

One day some months ago, I was on the phone with my good friend and bridesmaid-to-be, Ann. A common topic of conversation those days was the wedding and true to form, I mentioned Ryan and I were meeting with a florist that afternoon.

“Oh good,” Ann sighed with relief, “Flowers are the most important part of a wedding!”

I momentarily got tongue tied and silently eyed the box of origami roses in the corner of the living room. I had been trying everything in my power to NOT have flowers at the wedding! It was a lot of money on something that was just going to die. I wasn’t aware they were the most important part! 🙂

Later that day I was walking the dogs and as we strolled over moss, suddenly a notion struck me. On a number of hikes, my groom-to-be would suddenly announce, “Hey! A succulent!” He’d squat down and pinch off a leaf to plant at home.

Succulents have amazing diversity and patterns, they don’t require a lot of water to grow, they can propagate through clippings AND they are hard to kill. What about succulent bouquets?!?

When I returned to the Internet, I learned I wasn’t the only one with that idea (Stunning Succulents by Polka Dot Bride). It was feasible! I sent out some pictures and got immediate and unanimous bridesmaid buy-in!

With encouragement and research from celebrations, ec and the extensive capabilities of Page Kremp and the team at Newport News’ Jeff’s Flowers, Of Course, we pulled it off. Succulent Bouquets!

Wedding Weekend - Getting Ready - Vicky Pre Ceremony (By Vick)
Succulent Bouquet– YEAH!!!! (Photo by Vick White)

Wedding Weekend - Reception - Bouquet and Cake (By Deanna Felton)
Closeup of Bouquet (Photo by Deanna Felton)

On the groom’s side, we wanted something nerdy. Inspired by some pictures from, we decided the nice Fibonacci curve of fern fiddleheads would be wonderful. Jeff’s Flowers, Of Course stepped up the geek factor by adding fractal-like Dusty Miller to the mix!

Wedding Weekend - Misc - Fiddlehead Boutonniere
Fern Fiddlehead and Dusty Miller Boutonniere

Wedding Weekend - Formal Shots- Vicky, Grandma, Ryan (By Liza Franco)
Succulent Bouquet, Fiddlehead Boutonniere (Photo by Liza Franco)

For ceremony flowers, we relied on the beauty of nature. We had a simple table positioned in front of a waterfront and bird habitat. The table was sparsely occupied:

  • Two potted orchids (later given away at the reception to the two couples who were married the longest)
  • A heart shaped wreath which now hangs in our house
  • A pot and supplies for our American Chestnut Unity Ceremony
  • Two potted Cycads that were presented to our parents

Special thanks to my brother’s girlfriend, Jacklyn, and my cousin, Sam, for setting this up!

Wedding Weekend - Ceremony - Table Setup (by Liza Franco)
Ceremony Setup (Photo by Liza Franco)

As covered in earlier posts, our centerpieces were made by the neighborhood kids and also featured succulents. After the ceremony, we let the kids who wanted them to take their pots and their succulents!

When it was all said and done, the only flowers in our “florals” were:

  • The two potted orchids for the ceremony
  • Small wax flowers in the bouquets
  • White orchids in the corsages for the mothers and my grandmother…which we actually forgot to hand out– so do we even count those? : )

Two days after the wedding, Ryan and I planted all three bouquets in pots. We only expected the succulents to make it, but we went ahead and planted everything just in case there was a surprise (There wasn’t).

Wedding Weekend - Monday - Ryan Waters Chestnuts and Bouquets
Ryan Watering Succulent Bouquets

Today it has been exactly one month since we planted them. There was one troublesome species of succulents with all green, broad, rounded leaves. Those guys dissolved.

Wedding - Succulents - Casualty
The Succulent Species that Didn’t Make It

All the other succulents, particularly the ones with the pointy leaves are thriving. One succulent from Ann’s bouquet even sprouted a new shoot!

Wedding - Succulents One Month Later - Vicky's Bouquet From Above
My Bouquet From Above

Wedding - Succulents One Month Later - Succulents From Carolyn's Bouquet
Succulents From Carolyn’s Bouquet

Wedding - Succulents One Month Later - Ann's New Shoot
NEW SHOOT from Ann’s Bouquet

Whenever I had a meeting on flowers, I would think of Ann and instruct the vendor, “There is only ONE person you need to please.”

With beautiful presentation, Jeff’s Flowers, Of Course was able to easily meet that goal. With reasonable prices and bouquets that are still growing a month later, they went above and beyond.

They managed to please the bride and groom as well! : )

Wedding Vendor – Florals
Jeff’s Flowers, Of Course
300 Ed Wright Ln Ste F
Newport News, VA 23606

April 22, 2010 at 11:40 am 3 comments

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