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.
A few weeks back, after I contacted more than a half dozen hairdressers and makeup artists only to hear that they were booked for our big day, I had a bit of a panic attack. (OK, hyperbole.) But I did worry that I'd waited so long that I'd have to sacrifice quality to book someone at all. Luckily, that wasn't necessary. Having met Fringe and Foundation Studio at the Boutique Bridal Bazaar, where they'd applied my first-ever airbrush makeup, I made them one of the first salons I contacted. Upon discovering that they were available (!) and willing to travel to our hotel the morning of, I booked a hair and makeup trial.First, a bit of advice that I gathered before my visit:
1) Have an idea of what you want. I brought 11 printouts of hairstyles I liked so that Allison Bates, who opened Fringe and Foundation roughly three years ago, could glean what I liked. I also brought a printout of my dress so she could advise me knowing full well what I'll be wearing.
2) Just as importantly, be open to ideas you didn't think up, Allison advises. Too often, brides have a preconceived notion about what they must look like, and for one reason or another, it's not what they end up liking the best, she added.An example: I had been strict about it. I had to wear my hair in its natural curls because that's how I always wear my hair. That's ME. But... as the trial continued and Allison (after asking, I might add) started curling some of my hair with the iron, I realized I liked the softer look of the curling iron curl better.Here are the first two styles she tried, with my natural curl:
Then, Allison asked if she could curl ... my curly hair.
And I liked it ... more. I questioned, at first, whether I was straying too far from ME, something Allison said she's found in her 30-plus years of experience that both brides and grooms tend to end up disliking. Many brides come in wanting a look straight out of a magazine, only to realize that they don't like the look on themselves. Sometimes, it's too glamorous. Sometimes, the bride-to-be's hair is thin and the model's is thick and coarse, or vice versa. Sometimes, the lipstick is too red. (And -- this definitely got my attention -- Allison said it's grooms who most often don't like the over-the-top looks.)"You can have glamour and you can have a beautiful wedding style without looking like you're not you," Allison said. "He's marrying you because he already loves you, because he thinks you're beautiful."
Though, yes, the curls I've found that I like best aren't my own, I reminded myself that it's not every day that I wear airbrush makeup and a white dress either. It's a day for going a little elevated, right?3) Speaking of that white dress, one important piece of advice I followed is: Wear a shirt whose neckline and color is close to that of your gown. It enables you to see how the hairstyles you try will plug in with the rest of the look you're planning.4) Also, bring any veil, tiara or headband you plan to wear to the hair and makeup trial. Same reasons as No. 3: You'll want to see how everything ties together as best you can before the big day.5) Here's a list of 20 questions to ask a makeup artist that I found on a website. I asked the hairdressers I vetted many of the same questions because they apply to hair, too.Styling hair was supposed to be what put Allison through medical school. She wanted to be a doctor, started hairdressing as what was supposed to be a temporary paycheck, decided to get her license and the rest is history. "I kept thinking, 'Oh, I'll do it (medical school) next year,'" she said. But what she found was the career she hadn't planned on ended up being the one she really enjoyed and did well.
Allison is definitely a force of calm, an intangible quality I liked about her. She has a know-how air about her, and she whipped up looks on me that made it clear that she a) was skilled and quick and b) was listening. Many of the looks we tried incorporated details from my 11 printouts.Here's my favorite of the day, from three different angles, which leads me to tip No. 6.6) Have someone take pictures of each hairstyle you try from the front, both sides and behind. You will be photographed more on your wedding day than any other day, so it's important to know (and like) your angles. Special thanks to my fellow curly-haired friend, Emily, for being my photographer on this day.
The seventh tip I have to offer may not be for everyone. In fact, I almost didn't follow it. 7) Allison actually recommended showing the hairstyles to Steven, something I wasn't sure I wanted to do. He hasn't seen my dress, and we both like the element of surprise that still exists because he hasn't.But, I asked him and he said he wanted to see them. And, while he liked the updo, he expressed a hint of disappointment that I wasn't planning to wear some of my hair down like we'd discussed; he likes its length and an updo certainly won't put that on display. It was just a hint, but it was enough: In the coming weeks, Allison and I have plans to try a few half up, half down looks, including one like the inspiration I'd seen at a bridal show this past winter.Finally, I'll say this:8) Give some consideration to airbrush makeup. Kim, who did my makeup during this trial, says it stays on incredibly well, which is pretty important on a day when you'll be touching faces with family and friends more than you usually do. And, I can only speak for myself, but the airbrush makeup makes me feel like I look flawless. Here's a picture of me with my makeup complete (and updo undone).
You know Michelle feels pretty when she's taking *selfies* in her rearview. If they can make me feel this way on an ordinary Saturday, I knew I could entrust Fringe and Foundation Studio to make me feel radiant on our wedding day, too.
The husband-to-be and I are on a smoothie binge. Banana strawberry. Mixed berry. Cherry. And this morning: pineapple strawberry.Made with fat-free Greek yogurt, frozen fruit and whey protein, all of them make a surprisingly filling, carb-free breakfast. I have Steven, armed with the Ninja blender I gave him for our "askiversary," to thank for it. Askiversary, you might ask? April 16 marked a year since my best friend asked me to marry him, and we celebrated. Given how much Steven enjoys the smoothies from Liquid Planet, but also given how frugal he likes to be, I had a suspicion that he'd enjoy his very own blender with which he can make smoothies at a fraction of the retail price.
If the frequency with which he's used said blender to make smoothies and hummus is any indication, I do believe I've scored. :]
And the [yummy] after:
It was sweet to take some time -- in the midst of everything we have going on, not the least of which is wedding planning -- to enjoy each other and to celebrate the question that started it all.
Both of us ended up using anniversary cards as "askiversary" cards for the day -- something I suspect will become a tradition unless greeting card companies wise up to the need for "askiversary" cards, ha. Great minds, as they say, think alike!
I've been quite busy on the wedding planning front. After writing probably a half dozen hairdressers and bugging out when most of them said they were booked for our date, I've hired an incredible hairdresser and soon will share pictures from my first hair and makeup trial. We also have chosen our florist (more on her later) and ordered and received our invitations and RSVP cards (wait until you see them; we did mad lib!), and I am working out the menu with our caterer and have found a jeweler who's creating commissioned pieces for my big-day look (lucky me).All the while, of course, The Bartering Bride continues to work for her amazing vendors. I'll leave you with this, the e-magazine I wrote and my giving sister designed for Steven's and my photographer. I made sure that it's chock-full of advice for brides, so please read up! Suffice it to say, Cavanaugh's one to call -- now -- if you need a photographer.
"You don't expect me to smile, do you?" Steven teased me as he agreed to stand still for a picture at the entrance of the one place I'm sure every football fan wants to be during playoff weekend: Northeast Ohio's largest bridal show. He flashed his best version of surly man. Then, victimized man. Tell me that face doesn't make you laugh.
Having exhibited at the Today's Bride I-X Center show last year, I knew it was going to be one crowded, creative place. And, I was right. Peacock feathers found their place on cakes AND table settings,
and there was crystal-encrusted everything, plus this very sparkly setup:
With so much already chosen for our rustic wedding, the Husband-To-Be and I attended the show to find inspiration for those things we have yet to nail down (flowers, chair solutions and invitations).
I've received quotes from florists, but those quotes aren't probably as accurate as they could be because I never know how to answer the question: What do you want? When I daydream about how that day this fall will unfold, it's not flowers I see: It's his face upon seeing me. It's our friends and family enjoying a good meal and letting loose inside a candlelit, energetic dance party.
We walked away with new ideas from our visit with Vince from Forest Woods. For one, we think this bouquet is gorgeous:
And when I asked Vince what is the most common mistake couples make in choosing flowers, he said having their hearts set on off-season flowers. Have second choices, he advised.
He also planted a seed: One budget-friendly way to keep things simple and pretty for the one Mason jar we plan to fill with flowers on each table is to use Baby's Breath, Vince suggested. Upon looking at the bunch he had on display (below), I started to believe that Baby's Breath might make for a pretty, little touch to tables decked with ivory tablecloths, dark brown burlap runners, tree trunk slabs and lace-wrapped jars. Can you see it?
Carolyn from The Finishing Touch had on display a dark brown, cotton chair cover that would fit a wedding as rustic as ours so much better than most of the satin chair covers we've seen that seem to ooze elegance. A certain Cleveland Browns fan I know started talking about the perfection of the colors at play here, which gave way to the perfect opportunity to ask: Could Carolyn do something more rustic for the sashes?Carolyn's response has me hopeful that we've found the solution to the seriously ugly chairs our venue provides (described and pictured here). She told us that while she doesn't currently have lace or burlap sashes to use with the covers, she'd be open to obtaining them since rustic weddings are all the rage right now.If that could happen, I think it's safe to say we'd be happy to take advantage of the 10% off discount we received ... today.
Other inspirations included one for my curls,
the idea of providing a timeline to guests,
and this hot chocolate wedding favor idea, which seems like it would be relatively inexpensive and straightforward to make, but also fits our wedding theme and offers a source of warmth for the brutal cold Northeast Ohio often delivers this time of the year.
Last but not least, I received some jewelry insight from Nichole of Frosting Accessories, who actually names some of her custom jewelry pieces after the brides for whom she designs them. How does a bride pick jewelry to complement a dress she can't wait to wear and searched hard to find? I asked her.
She first recommended keeping true to the type of jewelry you typically wear, to which I said: What if my ring is about the only jewelry I typically wear?
The gown, then, will be the starting point for inspiration, she replied.
I wrapped up our conversation, asking if she creates jewelry using a certain type of material, the identity of which I won't reveal because, well, the HTB does read this, and there's a very dress-related reason I asked.
Tomorrow, we taste-test cupcakes. Among the flavors we'll be biting into are an apple caramel, complete with apple compote filling, and chocolate pumpkin filled with pumpkin cream cheese. More on these and the barter I've arranged with this culinary-trained baker later.
A final note: If you haven't heard of the Boutique Bridal Bazaar, you should click here. It's a small, intimate show with vendors committed to keeping you creative. Mark your calendars: Jan. 20!Oh, and as for the boy who met the bridal world today, he concedes: "It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be."
Enticed there by a Groupon deal I couldn't resist, I didn't know what to expect. Now, I do.
The first thing Mona Lisa Salon + Spa will ask you to do is change into a robe top of theirs, to be safe that hair dye doesn't stain the shirt you walked in wearing. Next, your hairdresser (Reagan was my hairdresser this day, and she's INCREDIBLE -- super down-to-earth and talented) asks lots of questions about what you want. (I brought pictures to help illustrate.) And then, as the professionals here execute the look you've requested, you're offered tea, red wine and other selections, and all the while, you're not subjected to the strong fumes you would be nearly anywhere else.
Opened in July 2010, Mona Lisa Salon + Spa in Mayfield Heights puts into play a concept that co-owner Mona Hirst says exists in other cities. To keep the salon "fume-free," they limit their offerings to certain services and they use a hair product line imported from Italy that changes your hair color without knocking you out with ammonia and other chemicals.
Mona and co-owner, Cristian Necsuleu, make a scary point right on the wall of the salon: "Our skin can absorb up to 60 percent of the product applied to it."
I won't lie; I worried a little about trying an alternative salon. Having grown up with a mom who bought almost exclusively natural products, I'd learned along the way that some simply don't do the job that the chemical-laden ones do.
I am SO glad I chose Mona Lisa Salon + Spa, and I'll show you why.
This is the *before*. My curly hair is combed out -- embarrassing, yes -- but you can see the color. I hadn't had my hair done in nearly a year, but with engagement pictures approaching, I decided to do what I normally do this time of year and go dark. (Besides, the Husband-to-Be loves me brunette.)
See my tea?
Now, here's the *after* following a cut, coloring, eyebrow wax and a form of styling I'd never seen before. (Twist your hair into twirls and blow them dry with a diffuser. Then, take the twirls apart to create these spirals.)
I likely have found my hairdressers for the wedding. In fact, Mona offered to come on location, which is huge!
Up first, though? Engagement pictures at Mapleside Farms this week! Where in Northeast Ohio would you want to be photographed?