Oh Where, Oh Where Will Our Wedding Site Be?

This August, Steve and I embarked on a whirlwind tour of Illinois and Tennessee in pursuit of the perfect wedding and reception site. After 4 days in Tennessee and 4 days in Illinois, we finally had it narrowed down to 2 choices. . .

Tour of Tennessee

I spent several months before our trip researching potential sites for places that fit our style, our needs, and our budget. When it came time for our trip, I had a very tightly arranged schedule of 8 sites in each state to visit. I had planned our appointments at each site very carefully so that no time would be wasted with back and forth commutes. We kept up a pretty ragged pace for those 8 days, but we got through it well and managed to have a little fun, too.

Our first full day in Tennessee was spent visiting a few places near Steve’s parent’s house, about an hour from Nashville. We spent the day with Steve’s sister Merri and her husband Reid. One of the places we visited was Cumberland Caverns. The Caverns do book weddings in the Ballroom, a huge cavern lit with an beautiful chandelier of Viennese crystal. But that was really just an excuse for us to visit the caverns that day. I think we both knew we weren’t going to get married there, but we did want to tour the caverns.

Reid, Merri, and Steve at Cumberland Cavern

While at the Cumberland Caverns, I learned a VERY important lesson, one that will serve me well for the many years of Tennessee Pride ahead. When we arrived at the Caverns, the guy behind the counter described the tour for us. Pointing to a map, he said we would walk through the cavern until this point, then we would climb the stairs into the next cavern room and watch a 10-minute presentation before coming back around and ending up in the Ballroom. Sounds fine, right. I’m thinking this presentation will be a history of the caverns, maybe a geology lesson.

So, we get to the bottom of the stairs, and the tour guide tells us that we will be seeing a “religious light pageant”. I gave a little laugh, thinking for sure he was joking. He gave me an odd look and no one else laughed. I went over to Steve and, in a very quiet voice, said that I thought I’d made a mistake and described what had happened. I explained that I was sure it must be a joke, so why didn’t anyone else laugh? Steve informed me that, no, the guide wasn’t joking; we were going to see a religious light pageant. I was shocked and, frankly, livid. I’m a letter writer. When things piss me off, I write letters. Steve finds this highly amusing, especially as I’m standing in these caverns demanding to know from him if they are a state or national park. No, they are privately owned and they can show a religious presentation if they want to. So, still semi-disbelieving, I hiked up the stairs and took my seat.

It was really lame, but not too bad. They turned off all the lights and started big booming music. Then some deep voice started reciting Genesis and different lights would come up on rock formations. It moved quickly through to the birth and death of Jesus. I call it the Bible in 10 minutes or less. This presentation hasn’t changed since the 1950’s.

Of course, Steve found this whole story very amusing and insisted on telling it to every member of his family repeatedly. Finally, he told it to his dad who leaned in to me and, in his Tennessee drawl, said “Is there any religion that doesn’t offend you, Anne?”

That night in our room, I had a very pointed discussion with Steve in which I told him he could tell the story to anyone he wanted to in Illinois and California, but if he told it to anyone else while we were in Tennessee, the wedding was off!

The lesson, you see, was learning that no one in Tennessee would ever make a joke in public about religion. Point taken, my mistake, won’t happen again.

The third place we visited that day was the Inn at Evins Mill. They have a wedding weekend package that looked very attractive and the Inn was beautiful. It actually consists of a lodge house with several outlying cabins. It’s set back in a very woodsy area with hiking trails all around. As part of our tour, we were invited to spend the night there for free. Unfortunately, this inn would not work well for our reception, but I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a weekend away in the woods. There’s also a gorgeous wrap-around porch on the second floor of the lodge that made for a very relaxing evening. Keep it in mind if you happen to be in Tennessee next October!

Here Steve is on the bridge to the old mill.

Steve on the bridge at the Inn at Evins Mill

The next morning, we hiked out to Carmac Falls. They were really beautiful.

Anne at Carmac Falls

The next day was a Sunday, so no appointments were planned. Instead we decided to go out in a thunderstorm to see another waterfall! Actually, it wasn’t raining when we decided to go but, by the time we rounded up the whole family, it was looking pretty grim. We put on our raincoats and headed out anyway. Here are Reid, Merri, and Steve’s mom Pat.

Reid, Merri, and Pat

Steve and his sister Susan were getting ready to put on a little song and dance number despite the impending storm.

Steve and Susan

We finally got out to the main part of Burgess Falls and went onto the overhang for a look. The 2 waterfalls we saw in Tennessee were very different from those we saw in Hawaii. They’re much wider and squatter than the tall, thin falls in Hawaii.

Burgess Falls

While we were out on the overhang, it started to rain very hard and the thunder and lightning started coming in closer and louder. Finally, one particular crack brought us yelping like little dogs back to the shelter of the lightening rods called trees. We hurried back the mile to the car, trying not to slip in the mud and rivers of water now in our path. We were soaked through. But, one of the things Steve and I both miss about living in the Midwest are the summer thunderstorms. We like to walk in the warm rain. When it rains in California, it is COLD and it seeps into your bones. Strangely, this waterlogged walk in the woods was a very pleasurable experience for us.

One final event to note from our trip to Tennessee was being there for Steve’s grandma’s birthday. We spent that Monday in Nashville visiting some possible reception sites (including one god awful, tacky abomination) and then met the family for a birthday dinner at the Cracker Barrel. I think his grandma really enjoyed the evening. Here are Reid and Merri.

Reid and Merri

And here are Susan with Grandma Hoots.

Susan and Grandma Hoots

Finally, once outside, a very nice gentleman offered to take this group photo.

Shaw family at Grandma Hoots' birthday dinner

There were many other interesting happenings of this trip, but I will now move on to Illinois.

Tour of Illinois

By the time we left Tennessee, Steve and I had 3 very excellent choices for our wedding site and, frankly, Illinois had it’s work cut out for it. I think if we had had the budget to look in Chicago, we would have seen many interesting and beautiful places. But the places in our price range simply couldn’t compete. There was one place we did like quite a bit. The Cheney Mansion in Oak Park was quite lovely and joined our other 3 choices in the top 4.

But the really noteworthy events from Illinois were the fun moments in our “off” time. I knew that I had to reward Steve for his patience and efforts as we scurried from place to place. I needed to give him a break. He had read an article about an interactive Pirates of the Carribean game called Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Buccaneer Gold at the Disney Quest in Chicago. He is a big fan of the Pirates ride at Disneyland and was very interested in going. Then we learned that the Chicago Disney Quest was closing in September. This was our one chance to go. So, I planned a day where we ended up in Chicago in the middle of the afternoon and then could meet some of my friends for dinner.

Anne at Disney Quest, Chicago

The lines inside Disney Quest were pretty much the same as those at Disneyland: lengthy. Anyway, we finally got to the front of the Pirates line and put on our 3D glasses.

Anne in 3d glasses at Disney Quest, Chicago

Basically, you’re on a ship and you have to use the cannons to sink other pirate ships and get their gold. Then the ghost pirate who has been helping you turns on you and you need to defend your gold against him and his minions. Steve and I were in there all alone our first time through and we kicked ass! We totally won. Our next pass through, we were saddled with a couple of kids who got in our way and we ended up sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

We spent some time creating our own roller coaster simulations, fighting off aliens, and doing virtual parachuting. It was pretty fun, but very noisy and crowded.

Finally, we decided it was time to go see some friends for dinner. (I again apologize for making you guys wait for dinner.) As always, it was great to see my college buddies and catch up over some great food. It was a good crowd with Jose, Mandy, Zack, and Jae all there. Here is Jae with his girlfriend Caroline.

Jae and Caroline

And of course Jose and Mandy.

Jose and Mandy

By our final full day in Illinois, Steve and I had pretty well decided that we didn’t want to get married at a country club, so we cancelled that appointment and headed out early to visit with my brother, sister-in-law, and new nephew. It was really great to see them all, but the prime moment came right as we walked in the door. I had told Greg about getting Steve up on stage to sing with me at karaoke and he decided to have a little fun. He bought the Grease soundtrack and put The One I Want on his stereo using his special karaoke feature and tried to get Steve to take the mic. It was hilarious. More so because Greg was so excited he could barely wait for us to get in the house before starting the hilarity.

This visit was also my first meeting with Ian. He is a very cute baby, as I’ve mentioned earlier. He was quite a little bundle at 6 months old.

Anne holding Ian

As long as I’m talking about the little bugger, here are some more pictures of him. At 5 and a half months:

Ian at 5 and a half months

At 6 and a half months with Colleen:

Colleen with Ian at 6 and a half months

At 8 months:

Ian at 8 months

And, finally, in his Halloween costume at 8 and a half months:

Ian in his frog Halloween costume at 8 and a half months

And now back to our story. . . Another very funny moment came as we were sitting outside enjoying a beer and the sunset. Colleen started brushing Tessie the cat and had accumulated quite a little pile of fur. When she got up to go inside, it started blowing away and I caught it. Suddenly the devil got in me and I flattened it out and put it on my brother’s head. Greg, you see, is follicularly-challenged. And this fur toupee actually looked a lot like my dad’s hair. Greg took it in good fun and decided to pull Colleen into the gag. She was still inside and he wanted to have it on his head when she came back out. In a moment that both made me laugh out loud and frightened me to my very soul, Greg said in all seriousness, and I quote, “well, make it look natural”.

Greg in his cat hair toupe

And that was our trip to the Midwest this August. We left town struggling with our 4 top reception choices. While we were on the plane, we narrowed it down to 2 sites, both in Tennessee. From there, after a week of deliberation, we opened it up for comments from our friends. Each person had good thoughts and insights, but the votes were evenly split between the 2 places. No help there. So, we decided on a mansion in Nashville. It was gorgeous and close to the airport and the woman there would assist with the planning. But then, she turned into a real bitch on the phone. The contract we had to sign was really scary and she was ditsy and inflexible. Planning this shindig from 2000 miles away was going to be hard enough without the person in charge of the site pissing me off from day one.

So, we quickly changed our minds and finalized the deal with the Garden Inn in Monterey, TN. It is an hour or so from Nashville, but we have the entire inn for the whole wedding weekend and the innkeepers are very helpful and friendly. For those of you who haven’t seen them, here are the pictures we took of the Garden Inn while we were there. We will be setting up a wedding web page shortly to provide details as they come in.