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.
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.
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?