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:
- One, we tried to be kind and transparent with our vendors. Isn't it easier to strive to do a great job for someone when you actually like them? So I tried to be the kind of bride people liked working for, albeit a bit Type A. That said, I made it abundantly clear what we wanted. No one can meet (or exceed) your expectations if they don't know what they are.
- Two, I did my research. I Googled these businesses. I read their blogs. I scanned reviews on various websites. I interviewed them myself. Though I didn't do this, one also could look up potential wedding vendors on the Better Business Bureau site in their region. I personally checked with the local health department to see which catering companies had clean records, and I also asked other brides what they wish they'd known when planning their own weddings in my 30 Days of Wedding Questions. You could do the same exact thing in your own geographic market. Harness the power of social media to your benefit.
- Finally, I didn't simply go cheap because we didn't have the money to hire high-caliber vendors. You get what you pay for in this world. The reason some photographers charge $2,000 for wedding coverage is because they've done enough of them, captured some pretty terrific images and generated enough buzz that the market will pay that price. Period. Of course, as you likely know, I bartered for vendors' work. I exchanged publicity on this blog for discounts. I did what I could to WORK for what we couldn't afford.
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.
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.
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.
- The average high temperature: 78.72 degrees
- There's a 52% chance that it will be at least 80 degrees (a bit warmer than I'd prefer)
- There is a 68% chance that our day's temperature will fall between 71.71 (yes, please) and 85.74 degrees (sizzle)
- 68% of the time in the 50-year period, it didn't rain on our date in this city (oh Mister Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun...)
- There's a 92% chance that there will not be significant rainfall (woo!)
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.
People say it to me all the time: Guests will remember two things about any wedding -- the entertainment and the food. So, it should come as no surprise that a reporter bride would take notes (and lots of them) during cupcake tastings.
Hey, I never said my shorthand was pretty.
What are pretty are the cupcakes Jenn from SweetPea Sinsations brought not once, but twice, to the city for a pair of tastings involving us, my sister and my mom.
Bear in mind, Steven and I will marry on the cusp of fall, so we were purposeful about choosing fall-esque flavors. Eventually, after two sugar-iffic mornings, we settled on six seriously tasty varieties. The plan is to serve 140 bite-size cupcakes so that guests may try more than one flavor after dinner.
Feast your eyes upon the s'more variety:
That's chocolate cupcake filled with ganache topped with a marshmallow buttercream, mini marshmallows charred with a blowtorch, graham cracker crumbs and a Hershey chocolate bar. Bonfires remind me of fall because high school football in my Ohio hometown always involved a bonfire.Up next is probably my all-time favorite (if picking a favorite is even possible): cranberry orange, which is cranberry- and orange-infused vanilla cupcake, orange buttercream and a sugared cranberry garnish. The cranberry orange flavor was so crisp tasting, so fresh, and I can tell from the cupcake ballots my family and future groom filled out that it was an instant favorite. Yes, I made cupcake ballots. Similar to the voting signs I created for my dress shopping, I figured these would help my budding cupcake connoisseurs organize their thoughts, which in turn helps me to organize mine.
This is Jenn. She is as sweet as she looks. She has bent over backward to ensure she delivered to us enough samples so that we could discern the flavors we really prefer.
But it isn't her sweet nature alone that has her business booming. Jenn is culinary school-trained and worked for some big-name Cleveland restaurants before launching her own company about a year ago. She talks cheerfully about the flavor dictionary she uses, and it comes across loud and clear that those who hire her will taste quality. The apple compote in the caramel apple cupcakes she'll bake for us involves fresh apples of varying varieties, she explained. The carrot cake cupcake is melt-in-your-mouth good and is created with fresh pineapple, golden raisins, carrots (does that need to be delineated?) and walnuts. Then, she tops it all off with cream cheese buttercream and a walnut garnish. Bunnies rejoice.
First up: the caramel apple (apple-spiced cupcake, apple compote filling, caramel buttercream and an apple chip and caramel garnish):
And the carrot cake:
Rounding out our six flavors are chocolate pumpkin (which was super moist and filled with some incredible pumpkin cream cheese), pictured immediately below, and turtle (a chocolate cupcake with a caramel center, caramel buttercream frosting, chocolate and caramel drizzle and pecans on top).
The turtle cupcakes are to the bottom left of the container.
Those turtle cupcakes inspired my artistically inclined husband-to-be to doodle turtles of another variety:
Doodles and notes aside, the taste and professionalism of Jenn's work is bar none. Lucky us, she and I have arranged a barter. She'll cook up and deliver the bite-size beauties, and I'll create for her a Story of Your Life about her business and its early successes. Want to taste why she's so busy yourself? Order here, or visit her Facebook page, where the number of compliments from satisfied customers is as plentiful as photos of her attractive treats.Beyond her willingness to bake up for us many more flavors than the six we actually chose, Jenn also was prepared to take charge of finding us a rustic cupcake tower. Luckily (again!) for us, Meredith, one of the wedding planners on whom I'll be leaning in these final months, has three towers she's willing to lend to us to keep our decor consistent. Fitting, right?