Recently, I asked my Facebook friends: What are the seemingly small details of your wedding that you found, in hindsight, you should have knocked out way sooner?

The answers included song lists. Seating charts (though one person outright vetoed the need for seating charts). Wedding favors. One friend advised, "Anything that you can do in advance should be done in advance, otherwise you'll find yourself in a crunch."
And another replied, any small crafts you're doing yourself.

See how well I listen? Five days later, my ever-growing jar collection and I made the trip to my mom's. She and I had plans today anyway: We taste-tested (and happily agreed we should contract with) our caterer. (Steven was out of town groomsmen-shopping, so he missed the food. Of all things to miss, right?!) More on the blog later about the company that will serve our guests some truly tasty food.
Before the crafting could begin, we covered her dining room table with plastic (as the label on the glue suggested). Then, we broke out our foam paintbrushes, opened the Mod Podge and the supplies I snagged on Black Friday and embarked upon our DIY project.

My Facebook friends were right: It is best to start early. I thought we'd get every jar wrapped in lace, ribbon or twine tonight. We completed TEN. So far.
I also completely underestimated how much lace and ribbon we'd need, which actually worked out for the best because we decided we want to make every jar different, and new supplies such as dark brown lace and some small flower appliqués will help us accomplish that.

I love them, especially the ones my mom made. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. Here's one all lit up with one of my fake votives:
Luckily, though the jar journey will be a longer one than I anticipated, it won't be a panicked one because people warned me to start early. What else should we do sooner than later?
It doesn't take a reporter to know when someone's come prepared to an interview.

Harleigh M. Hodge contacted me in late August after I posted to and caught my attention immediately when she wrote, "I would trade you comments in blogging and future opportunities instead of pay."

And, in a first for The Bartering Bride, I'm not the only person who stands to benefit here: Harleigh is offering any bride and groom who mentions this blog her ceremony services for free (!) during the summer of 2013. Email her here.

Sound too good to be true? I feared the same. But, if you know me or if you've been reading how exhaustive I've made my search for the right dress or the right vendor, you know I do my research. Because, let's be honest: Paying for something quality is always better than receiving something that doesn't impress for free.

But, I'd been here myself as a businesswoman. When my sister and I launched our company back in August 2011, I asked a friend of mine if we could create a Story of Your Life
for her for free. We did, and now our business is all paid work (thankfully). All businesses must start somewhere, and sometimes the only way to start creating a track record is to go gratis. I get it.

Harleigh ultimately convinced my future husband and me to hire her over Chinese food. We'd agreed to meet for lunch to discuss, among other things, why she'd just become a certified wedding officiant in the summer of 2012. I liked her answer: She'd seen the joy in weddings (including her own) and wanted to be a part of creating that joy for others.

Harleigh (see picture below) struck me as soft spoken, but confident, and my interest in becoming her first bridal client grew when I learned she's a teacher. Clearly, one must be able to speak before an audience to command a classroom.

But what really cinched our interest was how prepared she was. She brought outlines and worksheets to help us decide which elements we want to include in our ceremony. Maybe every officiant does this, but it impressed us still.

Here's the outline we're using to delineate what we want:

And here's an example of a worksheet Harleigh, who is certified through a non-denomination church and prefers to perform small weddings, provided. It offers several options for each step in our ceremony, so we may choose the one best suited for us. And no worries, Harleigh told us. If there's nothing on the page we like, we're welcome to share one from another source.
My love has circled the options he likes, and I put hearts around them. Now, we're working gradually to decide what we want our ceremony to convey, which parts of the outline we feel are essential and which we'd rather not have. What we know definitively is this: We want to write our own vows.

It won't be easy. When, as a newspaper reporter, I sit down to write a story I know is incredible, it's always hard because I feel the pressure of doing it justice. So the question of the next several months is: How will I ever write vows to a man who's been so incredible to me, who is my everything?

For starters, I took notes at a wedding we recently attended. This couple also wrote their vows, and I teared up at much of what they said. Some excerpts:

"Every day that we're together is the best day of my life."
"I will love you as you are, not how I want you to be."

Of course, one shouldn't steal vows from another couple. The point of writing your own vows is for them to be precisely you two. That's what makes this whole intimidating process worth it in the end, right? So, one thing Steven and I have decided to do is collect and read every card we've ever exchanged in what we've dubbed our "card party." Here's the rainbow of cards we've amassed:

See any common denominator in many of the cards I've received? Hint: There's a live clue present (as she is whenever I'm doing something that involves paper on the floor).
And a couple months ago, my husband-to-be gave me this pretty little number and wrote his own description on it. He's a.d.o.r.a.b.l.e.
Being a writer and writing my own vows is akin, I'm sure, to being a composer and writing one's own first dance song. Inspiration is going to be key.

So, my love and I are having our card party. From what did you draw inspiration to write your vows?
Meet Bill.
He's been tending bar off and on since he was 21, and now, he'll be tending ours. What cinched this deal was a combination of Bill the Bartender's experience and his overt desire to please and work within our budget. (Never, ever hesitate to ask for a discount; more vendors are willing to do it than you might expect.)

We found Bill's business card at the venue the first time we toured it. The venue has a bar, and the ability to bring in our own alcohol was attractive (it helps keep costs down). But we definitely wanted someone behind the bar, keeping things sane, clean and, well, did I mention sane?

When Bill offered to stay within our budget and emailed us information about how much alcohol he'd suggest we buy for the number of guests we expect, he established himself not only as flexible but as a resource, too.

"I never truly liked the corporate world of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.," Bill wrote to me. "Bill the Bartender was officially created during a shift at a restaurant. A regular asked me for recipes to ‘umbrella drinks.'  I told her she needed a bartender. And as they say, the rest is history."
That was October 2004. Today, those who hire Bill can expect him to show up with his portable bar, garnishes and mixers and a canopy, in case an outdoor bar is desired. He also has a staff of part-timers upon whom he calls when second and third bartenders are needed.

"Your guests should not have to wait for drink service," he said. "Understand that the first ‘slam’ at the bar is always stressful, but leave it up to me to keep the line moving."
Will do, Bill. If you, too, desire a bartender who comes across as incredibly eager to please and helpful, click here.

And now, an unrelated story:

I received my first "gifted" glass jar from a coworker last week. Then, I went and bought pasta sauce, a different brand than ever before because I liked the jar.
Then, using whole wheat pasta (see previous blog), I whipped up a turkey sausage pasta dish for me and Handsome.
And then, there were two!
We're going to be grocery shopping a bit differently from now on.

A former reporter colleague of mine recently wrote me and suggested something  over which my frugal husband-to-be squealed with delight. (OK, that may be an embellishment.)

"This might be weird info to share," she began, "but I keep our spaghetti sauce jars for vases and such... some of them are kinda 'decor-y' under the label."

And with that, plans to buy Mason jars flew out the proverbial window and plans to buy lots of jarred groceries flew in. In fact, I'm regretting throwing out that expired jar of uneaten grapefruit, especially since the HTB says I'm never allowed to buy $5 jars of grapefruit again since I forgot that one existed and let $5 go to waste. (I told you he is frugal.)

Naturally, all of the jar talk has me obsessing over what we will do with the jars we collect. So, I turned to the one place a bride can't live with and can't live without: Pinterest.

We could fill some jars with water, wrap them with lace or twine and float candles in them like this:
What I like about the candle concept is in our dark log cabin venue, I think candles would lend a supremely romantic ambiance as dusk falls.

Of course, we could place flowers in some:
And I literally gasped when I saw this:
All images, Pinterest

I love, love, love the lace, and without giving too much away (because the aforementioned frugal one may read this blog entry, too), lace anything would complement the dress waiting for me at David's Bridal. (Yes, it's in!)

In other wedding planning progress, today I mailed our deposit and contract for another vendor, with whom I won't be bartering but did strike a bargain. More on him later. And, I've agreed (though contracts still need written and signed) to barter my services, specifically a Story of Your Life, with two wedding planners so I can have both a day-of wedding coordinator (who will handle the vendors and details on the Big Day) and a planner to help conceive and execute the centerpieces and general decorating. More on both of them later, too!

The HTB and I likely still will look at thrift stores for jars (since they are super cheap), but we'll keep our eyes peeled for the most attractive spaghetti sauce and pickle jars the grocery aisle has to offer. For one, it means free. For two, as my glass jar informant noted, it's better for the environment than recycling or tossing jars to the landfills.

"If you tell people what you're looking for, they'd probably help out, too," she suggested. "I have some friends that pass along brown glass to me."

Looking to pass along glass jars yourself, or willing to now that you know a certain bartering bride you know wants them? Write me!