It's been 3 years since I blogged. I'll catch you up.
The Husband and I have celebrated 3 wedding anniversaries and bought a house (it turns 100 next year, and I'm seriously contemplating throwing it a birthday party to commemorate).
We also had a baby (and though I'm dubious that I'll ever enjoy another full night of sleep, raising him is the most winding, memorable, and special chapter I've ever written).
We both also have changed careers (I'm now a content marketer and a freelance journalist, plus a speaker on brand storytelling), and I actually did what young Michelle dreamed someday of doing: I've published a book! I remember, the night when I wrote the final sentence of "Stuff Every Bride Should Know," turning to Steven and asking, "So. How does it feel to be married to a published author?" I can still picture his proud, yet teasing, eye roll.
This is the book (see top left) I wish I'd had when I planned our wedding. (While this recommendation is obviously my own, this post contains an affiliate link, which means I receive a small commission if you buy this book using the above link.) It shares the questions any bride should ask of vendors. It's chock full of tried-and-true ways to save on costs, it addresses how the betrothed can handle delicate situations such as divorced and unfriendly parental units, and it touches on every detail I worked so hard to report and cover in this here blog, from writing vows to selecting a gown to choosing a wedding registry.
When I was interviewed about the book, I told them: The crown jewel of the book to me is its checklist. I dare say it's the most comprehensive one I've encountered, and I organized it not by specific timeframes, for example, eight months out or two weeks away, but by general timeframes such as "Early Choices," "About Halfway There," and "Last Weeks." I don't know if the brides who buy this book are getting married in two years or two months, I told my editor, so I felt this better served those in the throes of wedding planning.
Happy reading, brides and grooms! If (when?!) you buy the book, I want to know what you think.
Remember those jars my mom and I spent weeks creating? They're no longer mine.
I remember walking into our venue on the morning of Sept. 1 and feeling stunned by how well everything was coming together, thanks to the early-morning efforts of our wedding planners, Kim and Meredith. The burlap runners, the jars wrapped in burlap, twine and lace, the simple and pretty daisies from Robyn's Nest, a Vermilion, Ohio florist, complemented each other and our log cabin venue, Vermilion on the Lake Historic Community Center, so well. (If you decide to book the same venue we did, Aunt Ruth's Family Store is right across the street and will deliver all of your bar needs.)
I recently sold the jars my mom and I made, along with the burlap runners, the burlap signs I created and more to a bride I know. It was a little bittersweet: A part of me was sad to let go of things that were crafted over so many weeks with my one and only parent during such a special time in my life. But the other part of me is happy to imagine those beautiful things bringing to life another couple's special day.
The Bartering Bride now has a page, where those of you who *like* and follow it can be among the first to know when I post new blogs and perhaps divulge bigger plans for the brand I've built. I'm hopeful, too, that having a Facebook page will encourage more people to ask the wedding planning, bridal blogging and bartering questions on their mind. I've learned far too much NOT to share it.
With engagement season upon us (I don't know about you, but sparkly rings were cropping up on my Facebook feed for a while), I figure it's time for me to come out of blogging hibernation and share some of the best vendor decisions I made for my new husband and me. I know many of you newly engaged get right at it, after all.
One thing I urge you not to do as those first price quotes roll in: expect the world for nothing. I said this during my recent chat with a magazine writer (who interviewed me about bridal bargaining and negotiating): Wedding vendors are small businesses, not nonprofits. They are here to share their talents and to make your wedding tasty, memorable and successful, but they also are here to feed their children, pay their mortgages and achieve financial success using the skills they've spent time and money to build.
I hear too often brides complain that wedding vendors take advantage of people getting married, that they charge WAY too much for photos and that they charge more for wedding cupcakes than they would for corporate events. Well, of course they might! Don't you want them to take extra care to ensure your once-in-a-lifetime event's treats are fresh, stunningly piped and delivered without a hitch? Shouldn't a cupcake baker, or a florist, or a photographer be prepared to meet your expectations, which likely are higher for your wedding day than they would be for a family reunion? Remember: You get what you pay for -- or barter for, of course!
These were the cupcakes delivered by SweetPea Sinsations. We received so many compliments about these, even weeks after our Sept. 1 wedding. (All photographs in this blog are by our easy-to-work-with, talented and kind photographer, Ken, of Cavanaugh Photography. I could tell you all about his work, but I think I'll let it speak for itself.)
I also accidentally fed my new husband a cupcake liner. (There were two on each one -- who knew?!)
Jenn from SweetPea Sinsations was professional, had exquisite pride in her product and delivered to our venue. I never even saw her on our wedding day; she was in and out, took care of business and provided exactly what she promised she would in our barter agreement.
You know who else I never saw the day of, but would hire again without hesitation? Elegant Assets Events. The linens were delivered early in the morning to our wedding planners, just as we asked and for every size table we needed, the linens were steamed on site as the company's owner promised they would be, and they were picked up at the end of the night. We asked their company to do very simple ivory tablecloths, but they do a heck of a lot more. See it all on the company's Facebook page.
There are so many perks to hiring professionals to handle your wedding, not the least of which is having them take your event very seriously and deliver as they promised. And then, you may find as we did that some vendors OVER-deliver.
Something New Entertainment was incredible. They impressed for all of the reasons we expected -- playing our party's music, manning our party's karaoke, which was sung on the best equipment we've ever used to sing, and really transforming our venue with amber uplighting. They played every song we selected for special moments, including for our outdoor ceremony, and they were right -- the wireless microphone they provided did ensure our vows were heard, loud and clear.
Yes. We do take our karaoke seriously.
Something New Entertainment also designed and executed this lighted monogram on our dance floor, using the same fonts we used in our invites and printed materials. It may just be the journalist in me, but I think consistency, even in fonts, elevates an event.
Look at the uplighting they did, but better yet, look at the party Something New fostered. Photos like these are my absolute favorites because I wanted our family and friends to let loose and have fun, and it sure looks like they did.
Something New's Anna-Jeannine and Justin did more than handle the entertainment, though. They brought us water. They asked more times than I can count if they could do anything for us. They were there not just to do the job we hired them to do; they were there to ensure our wedding was a success in all ways they could.
I wouldn't hesitate to hire Tom's Country Place again, too. They catered our event, and the food was tasty, the mashed potato toppings bar was executed just like I requested, and importantly, their service was top-notch. Their staff was incredibly attentive. I kind of felt like a movie star. Empty plate on our table? Gone quickly. All night long.
We struck gold with the vast majority of the people we paid or bartered with, and I think we did it in a few ways:
I'll leave you with a little more vendor love and some other vendor-selecting advice.
Before Harleigh M. Hodge stood before our guests and married us, she met us to get to know us better, provided us with documents that helped us know how ceremonies are structured typically and also gave us page after page of readings we could select. Later, she recorded herself reading through the ceremony we wrote so we could hear her delivery before the big day. It felt like she really revels in the joy of weddings.
I loved that I wasn't yanking my heavy dress up all night long, and Miranda, my alterations expert, was easy to work with and suggested something I hadn't considered could be done: She transformed my gown into a sweetheart neckline, which I adored. That dress fit like a glove, thanks to her. And I found my bracelet and earrings in her adorable shop.
Shoes? Payless. I never bought things for my wedding based on brand. I bought based on what I liked.
I love our wedding invite designer. Literally -- she's my sister. If you haven't seen the incredible invitations Stephanie designed, read this past post and see below. Of course, brides and grooms can order wedding invitations off any number of websites. But you also can hire a custom invitation designer (like my sister), who will listen to the type of event you are planning and create invites that reflect it. Ours were rustic (with a wood grain touch) and tied together with the same materials my mom and I tied around some centerpiece jars. Email my sister for more information.
My lovely friend, Lauren, then extended the motif my sister started, designing with the same fonts and colors the signs for our venue and our programs, which featured the caricatures for which I bartered with Laura Hayes.
This was a little detail, but such an affordable, nice added touch: my personalized hanger from Whiskey & Wedding Bells.
Our wedding planners were clutch. Of course, they decorated the venue in the morning and distributed vendor checks and tips (yes, we still tipped most vendors with whom we bartered). But bottom line was this: It was nice to have Kim be there to handle the timing of everything, to direct people and answer questions, to help tear down at night. It was nice not to be the one people were turning to for instructions, and it was nice to let my mom be a guest at her daughter's wedding.
When it comes to finding a wedding planner, you'll want to go with someone who fits your style of planning and orchestrating. Kim is caring, but serious as a heart attack, and, after all of the research and planning I did, I wanted someone to handle the day as if it were her own. She was on top of things all day and all night long.
To say I am glad we had a florist for our event is an understatement. (And frankly, flowers were the wedding touch I might have cared about least.) For whatever reason (I'm no expert in floral matters, but I'm told it was all of the rain), this year's baby's breath did not smell nice. One of my co-workers told me he attended a wedding where the baby's breath smelled like body odor. If I had not hired Holly of Robyn's Nest, if I had just decided to buy and arrange wholesale flowers, I might not have known until our arrangements were cut and the whole venue smelled.
But we did hire a professional, and she learned in a seminar mere weeks before our wedding that she'd need to swap all of our baby's breath for white daisies. And she did it for the same price she'd quoted us all along. This, folks, is why you hire professionals when you can. Yes, they can be more expensive than doing it yourself, but as you can see here, there are tangible and intangible reasons for their prices. Well before the baby's breath discovery, I'd been convinced to hire Holly because she has this nurturing sense about her (very calming for a Type A bride), and because she said she only works one wedding a day. Our event would be her focus.
I think it showed.
I'd never seen or heard the word delphinium until our wedding. I told Holly our groomsmen were wearing blue ties and Steven, a yellow one, and she knew just which flowers to match AND fit to our price range.
Makeup and hair is one wedding service you can try on before the big day, and I did -- twice. In the end, the ladies of Fringe and Foundation Studio delivered on their promises: They arrived on time to the bed and breakfast where the girls and I met to get dressed, they finished every woman's look and even the looks for some who asked for one service or another last-minute, and when Allison said the product she used would keep the frizz at bay, she didn't exaggerate.
Despite it being 80 degrees and it misting rain throughout our day, see how tame my curls stayed?
Finally, one of my favorite vendors we hired is our videographer, the trained journalist, Ryan Loew. We just received our video and watched it last night, and I cried. A lot. It was incredible to be able to not just see images of our day, but to hear our loved ones' voices and watch them and us live our wedding. Ryan's camera work was superb and surprising -- in no way, shape or form was it run-of-the-mill or predictable. The way he weaved together moments of our day with an interview he videotaped that morning made our wedding videography fun and so sweet to watch.
So there you have it: the men and women who made our wedding a professionally executed, memorable and happy event. To them, I say: Thank you very much, and I wish you many continued successes into the future. You deserve them.
To those of you planning a wedding, I say: Hire them.
I am no longer The Bartering Bride.
Because I am a wife! Fourteen days ago, Steven and I made it official right around 3:30 on Sept. 1. It drizzled on our guests a little bit right before our outdoor ceremony, then, the rain stopped and our processional started.
I'm not going to share too many pictures quite yet because we hired (and bartered for) a professional photographer for a very good reason, but here's a picture that our day-of wedding planner, Kim Lehman, captured of the ceremony in progress:
I would publish my reviews of our wedding vendors today, but I'm a journalist, and there's a rule in journalism: When possible, a writer should SHOW readers something, not tell them. So, I am waiting on images we should receive within the month before I tell you all about how pretty our florist's simple arrangements turned out; before I tell you how incredible our DJ's karaoke system sounded and how fun it was to see so many of our guests brave the stage; and before I share how cohesive and warm the venue looked, thanks to the linens that were delivered and steamed on-site, the burlap runners and jars my mother and I made and the decorating by our wedding planning team.
Can't wait to share many, many details, but I will tell you this: There is not one vendor we hired that I wouldn't rehire again in a heartbeat. They did their jobs and they did them well.
In exchange, we paid them or bartered my writing skills for them, fed them the same buffet our guests were welcome to, tipped them (where wedding web sites recommended it) and tried our best to show our appreciation where we could. (I even emailed all of them while on our honeymoon in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.)
What did we -- and our vendors -- eat? Here was our menu:
One might think the bacon-wrapped meatloaf -- and our deviled egg appetizers -- seem nontraditional. But, like the karaoke entertainment, the craft beer selection at the bar and the football-related surprise that capped off our ceremony, the food reflected us. We didn't throw a wedding to try to impress anyone. We didn't throw a wedding to keep up with the wedding Joneses. This was the wedding of Steven and Michelle. Steven wanted bacon-wrapped meatloaf. Michelle could eat capers out of the jar (hence the juicy chicken piccata). Michelle has slowly convinced Steven of the merits of delicious deviled eggs.
This brings me to Advice No. 1: Do you. Not everything is going to go perfectly. (Things got a little behind for us during pre-ceremony photography, and there simply was not enough time to do everything we wanted. Plus, it spitted rain off and on, which was concerning since we were to be married outside. In the end, though, it all worked out, which leads me to Advice No. 2: Smile. Laugh at the things that go awry. Do your best to not only look pretty, but BE pretty. I had one small zilla moment, and I regret it.)
Back to doing you, though: Not everyone will like your food selections. Not everyone will appreciate how much time and effort went into the day (because Lord knows I didn't until I actually planned a wedding). The best feeling, in the face of all of these truths, is knowing that you threw a party that reflected you two.
I gathered from our caterer all of the recipe specifics for the menu sign (which was placed at the beginning of the buffet) because I thought it elevated the experience a tad. At the conclusion of the buffet was a station for slathering one's mashed potatoes, announced by this sign:
My friend and colleague, Lauren, designed every one of the signs for our venue, keeping with the design my sister set with our invitations. By the way, here is the full invitation we sent to our esteemed guests, which I haven't shared until now to ensure our event's privacy. (This blog did have 3,060 unique visitors since Aug. 16!)
The responses we received on our mad lib RSVP cards allowed us to order three vegetable lasagnas for those guests who wouldn't eat chicken, meatloaf or pork chops, and also enabled us to request that Something New Entertainment make certain that songs our guests said they wanted to dance to or sing would be available, at the very least. (Due to the number of rock stars who ended up wanting to sing, not every dance song could be played. We karaoke fiends were happy to have that be the case.)
We also sent the following map and information. I'm not sure if placing our honeymoon registry information on a card that we sent with our invitations was in bad taste, but I'm comfortable with the decision. One: We made it clear that our guests' attendance, period, was their gift to us (and we meant it), and two: why force our guests to go look for a web site to find the registry? As a wedding guest, I would rather have it right there in front of me rather than need to log on to XYZ web site in the name of some form of propriety. Maybe that's just me.
The above card brings me to Advice No. 3: Make your commitment to the comfort of your guests indisputably clear. Vermilion, Ohio is a pretty remote place; we drove around for four or five hours one afternoon, writing down directions with landmarks, researching things our guests could do and visiting restaurants. I was pretty stoked to hear from at least one guest that her boyfriend and she used our suggestions to enjoy some breakfast in town.
I also was irrationally happy on the night of our wedding to see women slipping on some flip flops from the box of flip flops we provided so they could keep dancing comfortably.
From my perspective, it matters that the bride and groom demonstrate that they aren't the only important people of the day. Our wedding planners placed at each place setting this note we had printed to share our gratitude:
Advice No. 4: Understand, if you're doing a lot of do-it-yourself stuff, that you may need to tear down, and even if you don't, you'll need to account for who can take and keep hold of everything until you return from your honeymoon. This is one detail I don't feel I adequately prepared us for, and it meant that Steven and I were helping to tear down and now are needing to track down where all of those pretty little jars, tree trunks and more ended up.
If you have your wedding at a place that decorates using its own items, I have to presume you avoid this complication. That said, I don't regret doing DIY. The jars on each table were jars I made with my mother. That makes them priceless, and that makes them us. The same goes for the burlap runners.
Advice No. 5: Hire a limo. If you are having a time in your day when the presence of multiple people at multiple sites is necessary for the photographs you desire, a limo is a must. I am not exaggerating. I can only imagine the mess that would have been made of our timeline if we had five or more vehicles all trying to navigate an unknown town to get to the beach, to the boardwalk, to the venue.
Advice No. 6: Speaking of timelines, understand this: Yours will have hiccups. Ours had a few, mostly for the pre-wedding photography, and it was the reason I had a mini-zilla moment. Before you think that yours is super detailed and it won't happen to you, behold the timeline I sent multiple times to all of our vendors. It just is what it is: When you have a number of people needing to do something together at various places, things can fall behind.
I will suggest this: Brides, don't get your hair and makeup done last. Have yours done more in the middle. I thought waiting would mean my look was "freshest," but I ended up feeling (and probably unnecessarily so) rushed. To be clear, our on-site hair and makeup stylists were incredible. Kind. Talented. Funny. And really listened if a girl wanted something changed or wanted something super specific.
Advice No. 7: Use multiple wedding countdowns as the day nears. In the final two or three months, I was reviewing a total of three timelines at least once every two weeks to check my progress and to remind myself of things that needed to be done. My timelines came from The Knot, a photographer I didn't end up hiring and a Today's Bride magazine. Using more than one helps to ensure that you're covering as many bases as you can.
And remember my first advice: Do you. When a timeline told me to order the unity candles or to book ice sculptures, I ignored it. They weren't necessary for OUR day. That's not to say they aren't for yours.
Advice No. 8: Eat. Because we regret not eating more than one mini cupcake each when our guests RAVED about them, I've actually ordered the same flavors for a mid-October delivery from SweetPea Sinsations. By the way, here is the Story of Your Life I bartered for Jenn's scrumptious treats:
My final advice for now, Advice No. 9: Put a good amount of effort into your ceremony, too. The reception and all that goes into it is all-encompassing, it can seem, but the ceremony is really what the day is about. Steven and I worked to make every part -- from the way we introduced our mothers to our personally written vows to the surprise football toss at the conclusion -- meaningful and fun to listen to and interesting to watch for our guests.
In the end, it is the ceremony that was our favorite part of the day. When we rehearsed, we chose not to rehearse anything but the processional (where the bridal party enters) and the recessional (where everyone exits) because we wanted the ceremony to be experienced live by the friends and family we love most, just as it would be by the rest of our guests.
Mind you: Our officiant, Harleigh, already had provided us a private link for us to listen to her reading through the ceremony we'd drafted, so we trusted she was ready. And she was.
Other questions for a woman who just married her best friend 14 days ago? Ask, and you shall receive.
The husband-to-be and I are compiling two lists currently: our must-shoot list for our photographer, and our must-shoot list for our videographer.
I know this: I want Cavanaugh Photography and our videographer, Ryan Loew, to capture all of our day's little details: the jars my mom and I spent many a night gluing and crafting, the signs my friend, Lauren, has designed that we will frame. I won't reveal all of the signs we've made (because I want some to be a surprise for our lovely guests), but here's one:
An editor of mine who teases me for being a tad wedding-consumed was incredulous when I mentioned we have this.
"Michelle, this is what I mean," she sighed. "You made a cupcake key?"
So I explained myself: I've been to events where several varieties of cupcakes were served, but no one knew what the pretty little things were. So, I asked Lauren to look at my blog post about our cupcakes and draw cartoon versions of them for pairing with descriptions provided by our culinary school-trained baker, Jenn with SweetPea Sinsations. (Speaking of Jenn, I pick up her finished Story of Your Life, which I bartered for cupcakes, on Monday!)
In case you decide to make and frame signs for your big day, too, we've found an easy way to make sure all of our different size frames match in color. I picked up some fairly cheap, raw wood frames from Jo-Ann Fabrics and dark brown spray paint. Then, Steven got to work today.
They now are drying on the patio.
On to our videographer, whom I have yet to introduce. Ryan Loew actually attended Kent State University's journalism school with me back in the day. Like me, Ryan is a working journalist who puts his skills to use outside his full-time position for brides and grooms. He is the EXACT type of videographer I wanted for our big day because he does much more than pointing, shooting and piecing film together in the order it happened.
He interviews people and inserts their reflections. His cinematography and composition are gorgeous. He intertwines B-roll and images with the video and audio he captures on the big day.
Want to see what I mean? Click here, and scroll down to the second video. Fast forward to 10:25, and watch how Ryan blends the conclusion of this couple's emotional ceremony with their first married moments. And that shot beneath the leaves? Swoon! It's art AND journalism. His focus on the details (both in subject matter and in execution) produces the only form of videography I'd pay for. Lucky me, I knew him and thus knew it could be done!
Same video, scroll to 19:37, and watch how Ryan does what any journalist is taught to do: show, not tell. The end of this couple's video is so fitting. He allows their personalities to shine without narration, without audible leading. I can't say enough about how excited I am to see what he captures on our day.
There again, I don't have to say much. Click on the first video on the same page, and scroll to one of my favorite parts: 2:40. The story of what this couple faced down is touching and heartwarming, and the way Ryan led them to tell it just works.
Oh, and want to see the best recovery ever by a minister who accidentally speaks the wrong name for the groom? Watch from 7:05 to 8:20.
He's a Pittsburgh-based visual journalist who shoots one or two weddings a year. I'm brimming with excitement that we fit into his 2013 schedule. (Remember, he has a full-time journalism job, so like my sister and me, this is work he does all year, only a lot more outside weddings than inside them.)
(For those of you who don't know, my sister is a working magazine designer, and I'm a working newspaper journalist, and together we offer her design and my writing to clients through Story of Your Life, which we co-founded in 2011.)
When Ryan started shooting weddings, for which he offers both full-day and half-day coverage, he told me he wanted to bring something different.
"I approach it as, let me tell your story as opposed to shooting your wedding," Ryan said. "I approach a couple's wedding as though it's an assignment or a story I'm working on. When they watch that video, I don't want them just to see that day. I want them to see themselves."
These are the types of stories Ryan says he enjoys doing most as a journalist: those about people.
Couple Ryan's intentions with his tools (DSLRs, large sensor cameras and cinematic tools such as dollies and steadicams), and the end product is a modern, high-definition video including the feature (which hones in on the key moments) and other separate video he knows brides and grooms want to see again in their entirety, such as toasts and the ceremony.
While he wouldn't say it's a regret, Ryan wishes his wife and he had video from their Aug. 23, 2008 nuptials.
"It just wasn't in our budget," he said. "I would really love to, five years later, watch some video of that. I have memories (and) you can look at photos, but it's just not the same as seeing things, hearing people laugh."
Frankly, were it not for all of the people who've shared with me that they were sorry that they hadn't hired a videographer, I probably simply would've written it off as something we couldn't afford. But I guess I'm of the mindset that not having it and later wishing we did is a greater cost than finding a way to afford it now. They say the day flies by. I'm glad we'll have video for remembering and relishing all of our special moments for years to come.
I already cannot wait to see ours for the first time. Watching these other couples' videos, I'm struck by how close we are to our own vows, to our own party, to the unfolding of all of these details I've researched and worked to make happen for the man I love so much and our family and friends.
Last week, after confirming that our florist had received our final payment, I asked her (as I ask all of our vendors) if she needs anything else from me in advance of our big day. Her response made me smile.
"No. I don't worry about you like I worry about most brides."
Me: "Did you receive the timeline of our day?"
That, she replied, is why she doesn't worry about me. The timeline accounts for every little thing: hair and makeup, flower pinning, toasts. I've edited it several times based on feedback from our vendors, whom I've relied on to tell me if we are allotting enough time for our ceremony, for first look photography, for all of these things I've never planned before.
As an example, I had been planning to get to the venue much closer to our start time, until I was reminded by one of my wedding planners that I'll need to be inside and out of sight of early bird guests. Valid!
I am privy to invaluable advice, know-how and some very fitting accessories for our wedding because I've hired Kimberly Lehman from Love, Laughter & Elegance, Wedding and Event Planning out of Massillon and Meredith Masaveg from Rain Wedding Planning in Painesville. They answer my questions, Kim has sent me wedding ideas for months now and they both will report the morning of to decorate the venue.
Here's Kim, at a few weddings she helped coordinate. She did seven last year, and is available to help brides in all of Ohio and contiguous states.
"I've been obsessed with weddings since I was about 12," Kim said. "All I had to do was watch Princess Diana get married. That was it, that's all it took for me to get hooked. I guess I believe in the fairy tale for everyone."
In exchange for a Story of Your Life, created by the company I co-own with my sister, Kim and Meredith are Steven's and my wedding planners. Kim will serve as what the industry calls our "day-of coordinator," and Meredith will help decorate the venue and lend us some cute, rustic cupcake towers, among other things. I've provided Kim and Meredith with a drawing of how we want the venue site arranged and a description of our centerpieces, and they will decorate the ceremony and reception sites, using the jars my mom and I made and a lengthy list of other items Kim will pick up from us soon. She also will deliver to each of our vendors remaining payments that need made, manage any issues and hiccups that may arise and tear down at the end of the night.
I am very much a do-it-myself type of woman because I would rather do things on my own rather than badger others to do them the way I want them done. But, I can tell I can trust Kim. She is extremely detail-oriented. She took notes during our recent venue visit. She's collected all of our vendor contracts from me, plus the names and numbers of our bridesmaids, groomsmen and mothers.
I know there are many brides who don't hire planners. But I have my reasons for hiring Kim and Meredith.
1) I didn't want my family and friends to lift a finger to execute our day. I wanted them to be our guests, to experience that magic I've felt walking into a venue and seeing the finished space without having made it the finished space.
Kim actually told me she felt bad after she put her mom to work on her wedding day 14 years ago. "When I saw my mom running around the day of the wedding, trying to keep tabs on the caterer, on the bridal party, I thought, 'This isn't fair to her,'" she recalled. "My mom should be beaming as the mother of the bride, enjoying every moment. This wasn't fair to her."
2) I wanted someone who would handle any issues that arise. Someone running late? I don't want to have to deal with it. Selfish as it might sound, I want to savor every moment of this day, not fuss over the details. People tell me it flies by, so I don't want to waste time worrying.
3) Wedding planners have know-how, experience in tackling issues in a graceful, effective manner, wedding materials a bride can borrow and industry connections. The shepherds hooks from which we're hanging jars of flowers along the aisle will be borrowed from Meredith, too.
Here's what a shepherds hook looks like (courtesy of The Knot):
Getting married this year, or even this month? Both Kim and Meredith offer day-of coordination separate from full and partial wedding planning services, so it's not too late to hire a helping hand.
Kim's one-woman business was founded in 2000. She prides herself on her ability to organize and to keep people on schedule. And she's thoughtful, too. When we had our planning meeting a few months ago, she brought me a pretty, bright plant. It survives on my patio, despite my inability to remember to water it.
I asked both Kim and Meredith for their wedding planning advice, so I could share it. Kim stressed the need to be organized and to delegate where possible.
"The best kind of wedding is one from the heart," Meredith told me. "The worst kind of wedding is when you forget that it comes down to two little words -- 'I do' -- when you worry that you have to have the best of everything and if something doesn't go right, your day is ruined. In my book, everything else is just a party. Mission accomplished if you both say, 'I do.'"
Meredith founded Rain Wedding Planning in 2008. The company employs four, including her. She named it Rain because, "as the old wives' tale goes, rain on your wedding is good luck."
Tangent time: Rain on our wedding day would derail our plans for an outdoor ceremony. Steven, my husband-to-be, is wrapping up a collegiate class in statistics, and one day last week spent an hour analyzing 50 years of weather information for the city where we will wed on the date that we will wed. (We are nerds, we know.)
Here were his results:
"So it seems like a very fat chance it's going to be a rainy, thunderstorm-y kind of a day," my meteorologist informed me.
My ideal would be 70 to 75 degrees and sunny. (Please, Mother Nature?) But, if you married on a very warm day or a rainy day, feel free to comment below and tell me how you coped. How'd you cool off? Best stayed dry?
Back to Meredith. This is her at a wedding she coordinated, and the second image is of a wedding she set up. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.
Meredith's favorite part of a wedding is when it hits a couple "that they had their perfect day." The part she enjoys most, she continued, is being able to take someone's idea and executing it the day of so that they and their friends and family can be guests. It makes sense, she noted, that it'd be easier for a wedding planner to remember all of the things that need to get done because they aren't as emotionally involved as the bride and groom.
"Don't forget that those friends and family who have offered their services (for a wedding) are going to want to have the guest's experience," she told me. "Somewhere down the road, they mentally check out. They have a guest mentality, rather than a vendor mentality.
"It's my job to worry about how things are going to get done," Meredith continued. "If there's a problem, I have to fix it. Something that would fall on somebody else's shoulders, it falls on mine."
When our big day arrives, I'll be happy to eat what minimal breakfast I (and my rabid butterflies) can stomach and have my hair and makeup done and my dress slipped on, all the while surrounded by my family and friends and knowing that the decorating, vendor coordination, solving of problems and general management of the largest party I've ever planned are in the hands of two people who've been there, done that.
Sound good? Ask Kim or Meredith what they can do for you.
This year's top wedding colors, says Jessica Gabrenas, are bright. Pool blue. Neon green. Fuschia. Orange.
And Jessica would know. Her company, Elegant Assets Events out of Elyria, offers a service I've not heard other linen companies advertise: They color-match, to ensure that a couple's linens match exactly the colors they're incorporating into their big day.
"We offer it because no one else does," she said. "Everybody seemed to have a book or a stack of swatches, and that was all they had."
Elegant Assets has gone as far as importing material from vendors overseas, or making linens themselves, to ensure a match.
Jessica's website explains: "In the process of planning my own wedding, I saw a need for honest, down-to-earth service that provided professional options with affordable pricing. I since have obtained my MBA and am working to expand Elegant Assets as a one-stop shop for event services in our area."
Before I go any further, I want to share: Elegant Assets is offering 10% off their services to anyone who mentions The Bartering Bride blog. So, scroll down to see their work, like what you see (because I'm confident you will) and email Jessica soon!
Given that our wedding colors are namely ivories and browns (the whole rustic motif), Elegant Assets is delivering to our venue simple, floor-length, ivory tablecloths. (We have a pale yellow and Dallas Cowboys-esque blue involved in the women and men's attire and flowers outside, but inside the log cabin venue, we're keeping it natural.)
It was my bridesmaid, Katie, who convinced me to rent linens rather than buy. "Wouldn't it be 'smarter' to buy my own linens and then resell them?" I'd asked her.
I told her simultaneously that Elegant Assets builds into its pricing delivery, on-site steaming and teardown, which would mean I wouldn't have to worry about a thing, theoretically.
Katie was adamant. Time is money, she told me, and you'll have enough to worry about without buying your own linens, transporting them there and steaming them, or leaving them wrinkled.
She's right; sometimes in the planning of the first, and often only, large orchestrated event of a woman's life, she needs to be reminded that if you can pay someone else to not only do something for you, but to eliminate a worry you might have had otherwise, that's more than worth it. So, Elegant Assets is hired.
Jessica founded the company in 2010 after she found herself feeling disappointed in the "overpriced" offerings on the market when her husband and she wed.
"Every little thing was extra," she told me. "Mileage costs, setup, removal."
So, she did what I was planning to do and bought her own linens. But, she says, she learned the hard way that linens, while seeming simple, can take an inordinate amount of time to arrange.
"The day of my wedding, I wanted to pull my hair out," Jessica said. "I was like, 'Oh my goodness, what did I do?' I had my mother, my sister, all of us crawling on the floors. Our bows were crooked. It took us about 6.5 hours to set up the chair covers. I was running in circles, trying to micromanage.
"I never want my brides to freak out," she told me. "You'll see in September."
There's nothing that sets this bride more at ease than a vendor with confidence. And, Jessica has going for her company not just the color-match (something she chose to do because so many brides voice disappointment with the inability of others to match the colors they've chosen), but she also has a price-match.
It's simple, but it goes a long way with penny-pinching brides like me: If, even after you've contracted with Elegant Assets, you find someone offering a better price than Elegant Assets did initially, they'll match that better price. It's a business model rooted in Jessica's own experience as a bride: "I really was wary to sign any contracts," she remembered. "I always felt I was going to go somewhere else and find something better."
Without further ado, here is some of the past work of Elegant Assets, which, by the way, offers lighting, draperies and backdrops, too. I'd not seen a chair sash quite like this before:
And is drapery not super romantic?
While Steven and I would love a burlap backdrop (OK, I'm sure Steven hasn't thought once about it, so maybe it's just my wish, lol), it's one of those would-if-we-could items. Like the following image, though, we have chosen to have a sweetheart table, where we alone will sit -- one, so that we can spend time together, since so many people have told me the day passes by in the blink of an eye, and two, so our bridal party can sit with their dates and/or their friends, rather than at a head table where, frankly, I'm not sure many people can converse anyway. (My own perspective. To each their own!)
Elegant Assets is providing full service linens for our wedding, but they offer a do-it-yourself option, too, wherein they'd deliver all of the items to you, including a steamer for your own use, and leave you responsible for returning the items the following Monday.
I asked Jessica: What's the biggest mistake couples tend to make involving linens? She replied that not paying attention to the way that linens can finish your look can result in an unfinished, disjointed feel to a room. From her perspective (of course!), linens mean a lot to the overall look of your venue. I've heard former brides say the same in answers to my 30 Days of Wedding Questions.
"Everything fits together like a puzzle," she said. "If you leave out one piece, then it's not money spent very well."
The final vendor we contracted with was our limo company. After much indecisiveness, I decided the cost would be worth avoiding multiple cars getting lost in multiple ways, thus, delaying our grand entrance and the start of our party. We do not want to keep our guests waiting.
Additionally, I won't lie: Having a limo bus sounds fun. I like the idea of sharing the time inside one with our mothers and our closest friends.
So, after gathering multiple quotes from area limo companies, we've selected Lifestyle Limousine Service, which came recommended by my bridesmaid, Amy. Carl the Limoman's rates were the most reasonable rates out there, and he suggested a limo bus because it's easier to get out of (especially when wearing a wedding dress) than a lower-to-the-ground limo.
As I hunted for our limo, I learned a few questions to ask: One, does the company have a business license? Two, does it have a livery sticker on the limo (or proof of insurance)? What is its vehicle substitution policy, and what's its minimum booking? (Most say four hours.) Oh, and how many people can fit into the vehicle?
Now that I've introduced these vendors, I only have three more and you've met the entire vendor cast for our impending nuptials. I cannot believe how time has flown. Truly. My focus now is on creating our burlap runners, framing signs for the venue, contacting guests who haven't RSVP'd (hint!) :], making sure vendors are paid when vendors need to be paid and assembling our programs.
Brides who've been here: What were the loose ends you spent your final weeks tying up? What did you forget altogether?!
Here it is: the final magazine my sister and I completed as part of our barter with Cavanaugh Photography. (Have I mentioned how generous she's been?!) As with the wedding and senior portrait magazines, I interviewed the Cavanaughs and a few of their clients and wrote all of the text, and Steph designed it. Isn't her work (and the Cavanaughs') simply stunning?
If you own a business and want something similar, I think it's safe to say we're open to doing more.
And now, a look at our invites! We included a quotation from "The Notebook" that really speaks to Steven and me; a map with directions to the venue, hotel information and places to dine and things to do; and a fun Mad Lib RSVP card that asks, among other things, if guests have foods they can't or won't eat and songs they'd like to hear or even karaoke. Once everything was printed and delivered by Vistaprint, we tied everything together with twine and burlap thread.
Excuse the blur. I made my sister do it for privacy reasons, and she makes me tell you that they looked clear, not blurry.
Have a special event coming up and want custom invitations? Email my sister. (You can hire her no matter where you are, since design and edits can happen virtually.)
Word to the wise on invitations: Remember that you do not need 80 envelopes or 80 postcard stamps or 80 Forever Stamps if you're inviting 40 people with a guest. Steven and I may or may not be sending anything and everything we can in brown envelopes to use up a stack of them that a certain someone, who surely suffers from wedding brain and shall remain nameless, purchased. Oops.
And finally, a word to the wise for those of you receiving invitations this wedding season, or next year and so on: RSVP, on time. I have a friend who also shall remain nameless who's had to try to track down guests who haven't RSVP'd for her wedding, which is in days. The postage is paid for you. A date by which the couple needs your reply is kindly provided.
Here's why RSVPing is important: For one, brides and grooms have enough on their plate without needing to track down adults and ask them whether they can make it, what food they'd like served, etc. If you're forgetful (and I am the QUEEN of forgetfulness, so I get it), write the wedding date and the RSVP deadline in your planner. Or put it in your smart phone. Whatever will make you remember.
I can't speak for my friend, but your RSVPing on time for our wedding tells us:
I feel genuinely sorry that I didn't RSVP for others' weddings as promptly as I will now that I've planned my own party and understand why it's so important. In fact, I'm fairly positive that from now on, I will compete to be the very first response a couple receives.
I just mailed in my second to last David's Bridal payment. Let's all have a moment of silence in commemoration of a year of payments winding down. Ha.
Of course, the job here is not done. Alterations are a must, for one, because I'm a short woman who needs roughly four inches hemmed even while wearing three-inch pumps, and for two, I didn't spend this much on a gown to not have it fit like a glove. Of course, there's also the need to have a bustle added, and in lieu of buying a whole bunch of undergarments, my tailor is adding cups, too.
There's also something she's doing to transform one part of the gown, but I can't say what since a certain groom of mine tends to read his fiancée's blog. I'll be sure to share before and after images after we're married.
Now, meet her inspired, vintage shop in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood.
One of the reasons I'm so drawn to Miranda and her store is her obvious attention to detail. Her intricate dresses from the past (and from the present) hang on a rustic ladder. And even her scissors are cute.
'Course, any seamstress can buy cute scissors. Not every seamstress is of Miranda's caliber, though. Before she opened her quaint shop in Cleveland in April 2012, stocked with dresses she finds online and at antique malls and vintage stores, she was lead seamstress at a local bridal shop. In all, she's worked as a bridal seamstress for nine years.
Even before that, she was sewing. She made a shirt, a scrunchie and a belt when she was eight. Eight! And, she was a young 4-H, state fair-going girl.
Let's back up a moment. Initially, I planned to hire David's Bridal. But my day-of wedding coordinators raised a red flag, and true to form, I asked why. (Have you seen? I like asking questions.)
To be clear, they aren't saying David's Bridal does poor work. But what they did say made enough sense that I decided to look elsewhere: At a corporate shop, it can happen that one day, an experienced seamstress is working on your gown and the next, a less experienced person is. I wanted experience all the way.
Miranda certainly has her share. She estimates she's altered more than 2,000 bridal gowns during her career, from hems and neckline changes to all-out transformations of mother of the bride and grandmother of the bride gowns. Her love of the latter is one reason why Miranda's shop displays so many vintage dresses.
"It's so special," she said of revealing the vintage dresses she transforms. "The mother would always cry. The whole family would come."
I absolutely SWOONED over this one:
Of course, no vendor visit of mine would be complete without asking the vendor lots of questions.
Q: I wanted to know: What should a bride make sure to ask a seamstress or alterations department?
Miranda: Experience is important. Bridal work is not like a pant hem. It's a whole 'nother world. Also, ask the professional when you should commence alterations and how much you can expect to be charged.
Q: What tends to be a wedding gown alteration no-no?
Miranda: Remember that weddings are classy affairs. Steer clear of cheap alterations and super-plunging necklines. And don't drop or gain significant amounts of weight following the fitting that takes place six weeks before the big day.
It's not just experience that convinced me Miranda was the one to hire; for one, hanging right in the shop for all to see are cards from her happy past customers.
For two, Miranda is very sweet-spoken and happy to offer her opinion when asked. For me, that's been most helpful in deciding what jewelry I want to wear. I've gone up and down, back and forth about the style I think I want, only to try on certain pieces this past Friday (my first of three fittings!) and LOVE what I didn't expect to love. Of course, I won't reveal what I'll wear, but I can say this: I'm pretty sure I'll wear one of the sets of earrings pictured below.
I'll leave you with a non-Miranda-related photo. My mom, day-of wedding coordinator and I visited our venue not too long ago to draft a plan for where everything will go (which I've since sent to all of our vendors), and I am pretty pumped with how neat the burlap and tree trunk centerpieces look in the venue. (If you see this and want to know where the venue is, I'm happy to share privately.)
It'd be inaccurate to call our dining room a dining room right now. It's been overcome. Overcome by a large box of 48 pairs of flip-flops, which I bought for a dollar apiece from Dollar Tree for this intended use. Overcome by a large basket I bought to hold the flip-flops and supplies for our restroom amenity baskets. Don't know what those are? Here, another bride blogger explains the idea. Also crowding the "wedding room" are a scrapbook and supplies I purchased a few weekends ago because I've decided, since we've not purchased a professional photo album, to create a scrapbook where we'll place our wedding pictures on the very pages where people write their well wishes and signatures.
There also are ever more jars in our former dining room, lol, but my mom and I likely won't need to transform all of them because, voila! We are probably five or 10 crafty jars away from being done!
We used lace, twine, ribbon, burlap and other materials to craft more than 40 jars for the centerpieces. Making them with Mom made them even more beautiful.
Want to do something similar? Start early (I'm still roughly three months out), buy supplies on sale from a place like Jo-Ann and adhere the materials using foam paintbrushes and Mod Podge.
Of course, the wedding industry and people who've been to their share of weddings have told me our guests will notice the food on the table more than any centerpiece, so it's high time I introduce our third-generation caterer, Tom's Country Place.
Led today by owner Billy Hricovec, Tom's Country Place was started in 1959 by Tom and Mary Hricovec, Billy's grandparents, on the land his great-grandparents farmed starting in 1855. The company, which averages around 60 weddings a year, hosts them on site, and also offers off-site catering. The most popular wedding entree? Some type of chicken, Billy replied.
I could tell you that we chose Tom's Country Place because it's won awards, which it has, but really, it won my mom and me over when we joined dozens of brides and grooms at a taste-testing event in April when the company served its most popular wedding entrees.
Intended as a way for people to try foods they've considered serving and others they haven't, the event really impressed us.
"Superb," Mom said upon tasting the roast tenderloin of beef with Demi-glace. And those mashed Yukon Golds with pan gravy? "The mashed potatoes are to die for," my mom marveled. When I asked someone whether they are homemade, the woman replied that they were the product of 200 peeled potatoes. Yum.
I contacted no fewer than a dozen catering companies before we contracted with Tom's. Some charged our entire wedding budget for 80-something meals, and then charged additional fees for cutting the wedding cake, for flatware and china and for linens.
If you are seeking a company that provides a price that's all-inclusive, look no further than Tom's. Their buffet service is priced to include china and flatware, salad and dinner rolls, a dessert or appetizer buffet, coffee and tea service and wait staff. And from my perspective -- and I do feel I've done my research here -- they are one of the most reasonably priced caterers in Northeast Ohio. Not the cheapest, but nowhere near cost-prohibitive.
We initially planned to do two pasta stations, where guests would choose a pasta, a sauce, vegetables and proteins and watch it all sautéed right in front of them until piping hot. But, when we learned that it probably would take each guest two minutes to get through the line (because people can be indecisive and reheating the food takes time), we realized it meant some guests would have to wait up to 40 minutes to eat and reconsidered. We have a party to get to, right? Plus, when I posed the question to my Facebook peanut gallery, the answer was unanimous: People don't want to wait to eat at a wedding, even if waiting nets them super-personalized meals. I didn't expect that, but it's what they said. Do you agree?
I won't reveal the whole menu of our day here because there are certain details I want to save for those we're inviting to share in our celebration, but I will divulge this: We will be serving Tom's melt-in-your-mouth mashed potatoes, complete with a mashed potato toppings bar (read: scallions, pan gravy, shredded cheese and bacon bits). Given that ours is a rustic event, the scoops of potato-y goodness won't likely be served like this, but we trust our guests will love us -- and the eats -- the same. :]
Before I wrap up this blog, I want to share a few things I've done recently as a bride who's getting married in a matter of weeks (yikes!). Not only have I been focused on completing the details I can NOW, so I can somewhat chill out in the weeks heading into the wedding, I also visited the venue with my day-of wedding coordinator to plan how we'll decorate the space, and I sent a floor plan of the venue (which I drew poorly) to each of my vendors, so they're on the same page.
In addition, I've become a book worm bride. When I first became engaged and checked out books from the library about wedding planning, they were oh-so-intimidating. They told me things I knew I needed, such as entertainment and a caterer, and then they told me things I never would have thought about, and it all left me feeling like I could take pages and pages of notes and never really absorb a thing.
Reading these books now, when we've contracted with almost every vendor we'll have, enables me to focus on the little details, those things we never would have thought were important until we had the time and energy to tackle them -- like now, as the months wind down to weeks and the weeks wind down to days and the time when I marry my best friend draws impossibly (and incredibly) near.
The seed was planted when I read this here; in a list of 40 DIY ideas, #3 caught my attention.
I got to thinking: Aside from the weddings for which I, too, have been a bridesmaid, I've rarely known who the bridal party actually was and how they know the bride and groom. I wanted ours to be different. I wanted our guests, be they family, former colleagues or friends, to know who my bridesmaids are and how they've been there throughout my life, and Steven wanted the same.
Since ours is a DIY, rustic wedding, we thought caricatures would be a neat, fitting alternative to photographs. It was by chance, in an email she sent brides after a bridal show, that I met Laura of Design Interactive. After a series of emails, she got to work, sketching our bridal party. I could tell you that she is talented, but I figure showing you is better.
Here's the picture of my little sister and maid of honor, Stephanie, that I sent to Laura:
And the caricature:
And here is Steven's best man, Ben, with his fiancée and my friend, Emily:
And the caricature:
I LOVE them. All of them. And I couldn't help but ask Laura: How does she do it?
She usually starts with sketching the eyes and nose, she replied, and looks automatically for distinguishing features. It helps that she's been drawing her whole life. She went to school for art (Columbus College of Art & Design) and she was trained in drawing caricatures at an amusement park.
"I guess it's like everything else," she said. "The longer you do it, the better you get."
Through her company, which she founded in October 2011, she not only creates caricatures, but also save-the-dates featuring the caricatures.
Want to take it further and have live drawing at your special event? You're in luck: Laura does that, too:
A lot of the time, Laura said she works with out-of-town clients just as she worked with me. The client emails pictures to her (I emailed two per person at her suggestion), and she emails back the caricature file. When it comes to events, she'll drive up to an hour from her home base in Sandusky.
"I absolutely love working in the wedding industry," she said. "It's a really creative industry. It's really happy. I meet people who are all really excited that they're getting married."
She's worked for more than 20 weddings, she estimates, including drawing live at some events and creating save-the-dates and invitations for others.
Her art is VERY FUN to share when you're out to dinner with some of your bridal party (true story). Here are a few more. This is my friend and former newspaper coworker, Katie:
Here's Russell, Steven's groomsman and childhood friend:
Next up, my same-named friend, Michelle, who took me as her *little sister* back in our sorority days.
And here's Mike, again a longtime friend of my husband-to-be. (Steven has known every single one of his groomsmen since at least the 10th grade, if not earlier.)
This is Maggie, my college roommate and fellow hamster breeder (this is an inside joke few will understand, sorry).
And here's Darren, Russell's brother. Steven's known both of them for virtually all of his life.
Finally, you meet Amy, who's been one of my best friends since we pledged the same sorority and learned of our mutual appreciation for karaoke. (And she's actually GREAT at it.)
We didn't need any, but Laura assures: Revisions are most certainly done when requested. "I like knowing people like what I do," she said.
We certainly do.
Next up is a tougher task: Finding a way to write in a paragraph or less why each of these lovely people is in our bridal party. We plan to put their caricatures and our brief descriptions on the back of our ceremony timeline in what will be a two-sided program.