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.

Meet Miranda.
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.