Here it is: the final magazine my sister and I completed as part of our barter with Cavanaugh Photography. (Have I mentioned how generous she's been?!) As with the wedding and senior portrait magazines, I interviewed the Cavanaughs and a few of their clients and wrote all of the text, and Steph designed it. Isn't her work (and the Cavanaughs') simply stunning? 

If you own a business and want something similar, I think it's safe to say we're open to doing more.
And now, a look at our invites! We included a quotation from "The Notebook" that really speaks to Steven and me; a map with directions to the venue, hotel information and places to dine and things to do; and a fun Mad Lib RSVP card that asks, among other things, if guests have foods they can't or won't eat and songs they'd like to hear or even karaoke. Once everything was printed and delivered by Vistaprint, we tied everything together with twine and burlap thread.
Excuse the blur. I made my sister do it for privacy reasons, and she makes me tell you that they looked clear, not blurry. 

Have a special event coming up and want custom invitations? Email my sister. (You can hire her no matter where you are, since design and edits can happen virtually.) 


Word to the wise on invitations: Remember that you do not need 80 envelopes or 80 postcard stamps or 80 Forever Stamps if you're inviting 40 people with a guest. Steven and I may or may not be sending anything and everything we can in brown envelopes to use up a stack of them that a certain someone, who surely suffers from wedding brain and shall remain nameless, purchased. Oops.

And finally, a word to the wise for those of you receiving invitations this wedding season, or next year and so on: RSVP, on time. I have a friend who also shall remain nameless who's had to try to track down guests who haven't RSVP'd for her wedding, which is in days. The postage is paid for you. A date by which the couple needs your reply is kindly provided. 

Here's why RSVPing is important: For one, brides and grooms have enough on their plate without needing to track down adults and ask them whether they can make it, what food they'd like served, etc. If you're forgetful (and I am the QUEEN of forgetfulness, so I get it), write the wedding date and the RSVP deadline in your planner. Or put it in your smart phone. Whatever will make you remember.

I can't speak for my friend, but your RSVPing on time for our wedding tells us:
  • You are coming, and maybe so, too, is a date.
  • What you can't or won't eat so we can accommodate your allergies or your veganism. We also, upon receiving your RSVP, know to include you in our headcount for alcohol and cupcakes.
  • Ultimately how many tables we'll need, and with that, how many linens we'll pay to rent, centerpieces we'll need to have arranged, chairs we'll need to have set up for the outdoor ceremony, etc.
  • That you are excited enough to keep it top of mind! :] We're eager beavers when it comes to checking the mailbox. Every day. Even with the RSVP deadline weeks away.

I feel genuinely sorry that I didn't RSVP for others' weddings as promptly as I will now that I've planned my own party and understand why it's so important. In fact, I'm fairly positive that from now on, I will compete to be the very first response a couple receives. 
 
The seed was planted when I read this here; in a list of 40 DIY ideas, #3 caught my attention.
I got to thinking: Aside from the weddings for which I, too, have been a bridesmaid, I've rarely known who the bridal party actually was and how they know the bride and groom. I wanted ours to be different. I wanted our guests, be they family, former colleagues or friends, to know who my bridesmaids are and how they've been there throughout my life, and Steven wanted the same.

Since ours is a DIY, rustic wedding, we thought caricatures would be a neat, fitting alternative to photographs. It was by chance, in an email she sent brides after a bridal show, that I met Laura of Design Interactive. After a series of emails, she got to work, sketching our bridal party. I could tell you that she is talented, but I figure showing you is better.

Here's the picture of my little sister and maid of honor, Stephanie, that I sent to Laura:
And the caricature:
And here is Steven's best man, Ben, with his fiancée and my friend, Emily:
And the caricature:
I LOVE them. All of them. And I couldn't help but ask Laura: How does she do it? 

She usually starts with sketching the eyes and nose, she replied, and looks automatically for distinguishing features. It helps that she's been drawing her whole life. She went to school for art (Columbus College of Art & Design) and she was trained in drawing caricatures at an amusement park.

"I guess it's like everything else," she said. "The longer you do it, the better you get."

Through her company, which she founded in October 2011, she not only creates caricatures, but also save-the-dates featuring the caricatures.
Want to take it further and have live drawing at your special event? You're in luck: Laura does that, too:
A lot of the time, Laura said she works with out-of-town clients just as she worked with me. The client emails pictures to her (I emailed two per person at her suggestion), and she emails back the caricature file. When it comes to events, she'll drive up to an hour from her home base in Sandusky.

"I absolutely love working in the wedding industry," she said. "It's a really creative industry. It's really happy. I meet people who are all really excited that they're getting married."

She's worked for more than 20 weddings, she estimates, including drawing live at some events and creating save-the-dates and invitations for others.

Her art is VERY FUN to share when you're out to dinner with some of your bridal party (true story). Here are a few more. This is my friend and former newspaper coworker, Katie:
Here's Russell, Steven's groomsman and childhood friend:
Next up, my same-named friend, Michelle, who took me as her *little sister* back in our sorority days.
And here's Mike, again a longtime friend of my husband-to-be. (Steven has known every single one of his groomsmen since at least the 10th grade, if not earlier.)
This is Maggie, my college roommate and fellow hamster breeder (this is an inside joke few will understand, sorry).
And here's Darren, Russell's brother. Steven's known both of them for virtually all of his life.
Finally, you meet Amy, who's been one of my best friends since we pledged the same sorority and learned of our mutual appreciation for karaoke. (And she's actually GREAT at it.)
We didn't need any, but Laura assures: Revisions are most certainly done when requested. "I like knowing people like what I do," she said.

We certainly do.

Next up is a tougher task: Finding a way to write in a paragraph or less why each of these lovely people is in our bridal party. We plan to put their caricatures and our brief descriptions on the back of our ceremony timeline in what will be a two-sided program.
 
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. :]

The before:
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.
 
It wasn't that there was something wrong with the dresses my bridesmaids tried on the first time around. But, in hindsight, we weren't convinced we'd found the dress that best fit the wedding Steven and I are planning. Floor-length plum dresses seemed a bit formal for our outdoor ceremony and rustic party.

So this time, my bridesmaids and I went shopping at Bella Bridesmaid in Rocky River. First surprise: We were the only people in the shop -- on purpose.


Ours was an exclusive appointment with two women who not only know the brands they carry, but WEAR them, too. Here, shop manager Lori proves that some bridesmaid dresses actually ARE worn more than once:
Theirs is a stylish shop adorned with chandeliers that carries some pretty stunning dresses. Sandy, who owns the Rocky River location, and Lori provided a one-on-one consultation, pulling only dresses that stayed as close to the girls' budget as possible and keeping to our vision. No need for bedazzled dresses for a rustic wedding, y'know?

The story behind Sandy's becoming a Bella Bridesmaid franchisee actually begins with her becoming a customer. A bride living in Charlotte at the time, she had eight bridesmaids. Only one of them couldn't go to Bella Bridesmaid because there wasn't one nearby. Can you guess where that bridesmaid lived?

Hint: That bridesmaid's inability to find a Bella Bridesmaid drove Sandy's decision to locate hers in Rocky River. To date, Northeast Ohio only has one shop, and it can thank Sandy for it. Less than two months before she married, she quit her investment banking job, and nearly two months after she married, she opened the shop we found ourselves in one recent Saturday afternoon.

One of the perks that I probably would have shrugged off had I never shopped at Bella is the value of not feeling like you're a bunch of sardines stuffed into a bridal store. Here, the couches and tables were ours to monopolize. And, unlike the other shop we visited, I was welcome to bring inside the snacks and water I brought for my girls -- within reason, of course. I'm sure they would not have welcomed sloppy joes.
Initially, I found Bella Bridesmaid because they carry a Dessy gown that we all liked. I'd revealed to my friends that I wanted to try to find something shorter, something with some lace and something yellow. It was quite the departure from plum gowns, but I'm glad I said something: It was clear almost immediately that my bridesmaids were quite open to the new vision.

During our appointment, we tried on some LulaKate dresses, versions of which allow women to choose a top, a bodice waistband and a bottom and essentially build their own dresses. Here, Maggie and Stephanie wear two such dresses. So, if we had decided to, the girls could have bought dresses with the yellow top and a matching yellow version of the other dress bottom, or vice versa.
Here, they pretend to blend the dresses themselves, lol.
In all, Bella Bridesmaid currently carries 13 different designers. Stephanie (my little sister and maid of honor) also tried on what's called a convertible dress, which has straps that make it so a single dress can have multiple looks. Pretty neat, especially for brides who want their bridesmaids to dress similarly, but not the same.
And next, the same dress, only one-shoulder now:
There were a number of other dresses they tried on, including one with pockets. But, we were lucky: The dress we all ooo'd and ahh'd over online ended up being the winner. Here is Stephanie in it. Disregard the clips; the dress was too long on her -- something that's often the truth for us since we each measure barely more than 5 feet tall. (Oh, and since it just came to mind, I've been told in my consultations with florists that shorties shouldn't carry a cascading bouquet because it makes you look shorter. Just a tip!)
Now, it won't be black as pictured; it will be a sunflower yellow dress topped with an ivory lace overlay. To match, my groom will wear a sunflower yellow tie.

Given that yellow is a fall color and Steven and I are getting married on the cusp of fall, and given that I have plans to wrap the glass jars currently crowding our dining room with lace, this dress just seemed made for the day we've been planning. Just as important, I'm confident it will be a dress that will be flattering on women of different shapes. And finally, the wedding ceremony is outside. Floor-length just didn't seem right.


Perhaps most importantly, the dress is, in Amy's words, "romantic rustic" while the yellow halter dress pictured above was more "party fun." As Sandy noted, bridesmaid dresses really help to set and enhance the tone of a wedding, and romantic, to me, is just right.

Up next, we need to decide what color and style shoes the girls will wear. When Bella Bridesmaid's Lori and Sandy heard that, they proved they're not just here to advise on gowns. First, they recommended we visit Glass Slipper. And then, they introduced these puppies: 
When I asked Sandy the question I ask every vendor of mine -- what's the biggest mistake brides make in planning this part of their wedding? -- she replied, "Not being open. There's so much out there."

You don't have to take her word for it: Make an appointment and see what the little shop with the black awning has for yourself.
 
It's official! The Bartering Bride (yes, I'm speaking about myself in third person) officially signed her fourth bartering contract this weekend. This one is in addition to the contract I've signed with our DJ, our photographer and our officiant, and it buys us the talent and time of a culinary school-trained baker. She will be crafting six varieties of gourmet cupcakes for our big day, and I'll be introducing her (and the delectable flavors) to all of you very soon.

People tend to ask me two questions when I reveal that I'm doing this: 1) How do I work full time while planning a wedding, blogging about planning a wedding and bartering for the wedding while co-owning a business with my sister, and 2) How do I find vendors who will barter?


The answer to the first is useful advice for any bride, I have to imagine: I take each day as it comes. Really. I have colossal to-do lists, and I take them on as I can. In recent weeks, I've spent more time on the phone with more caterers than I care to admit, met with a chair cover company that says it's willing to order burlap chair sashes to complement the table runners that my mountain of burlap someday will become, met with a florist to conceptualize our plans and talked bartering over coffee with a videographer.

Keeping an organized day planner doesn't hurt. This doesn't either: Recently, as the stress of not having a caterer closed in (we only have about a half year to go, after all), I've reminded myself to ENJOY this -- yes, the planning -- too. It's a privilege to get to plan a wedding. It means I've found someone I'm in love with who loves me back.

As for how I find vendors with whom to barter, it's very similar to how any bride finds her vendors (I presume). Email. Phone calls. Bridal shows. But, unlike most brides, I throw in an additional question: Do you have a need for a writer or editor? Lucky for me, some vendors even want a Story of Your Life.

It's extremely important to make sure that a vendor who says s/he wants to barter REALLY wants the barter. If you've been following this blog since the beginning, you might remember that I talked with a photographer for more than a month and drafted a contract, only to find out that she really wasn't interested. So now, when I meet with a vendor, I'm very up-front. I make sure the project I would tackle for them is truly something they want. You can tell.

Speaking of bartering projects, my sister (and maid of honor) and I recently completed one of the three digital magazines we're creating for Cavanaugh Photography. This one is targeted to prospective high school senior portrait clients. Here's the cover:
And these are the inside spreads, written by me based on my interviews with Ken and Natalie Cavanaugh, plus some of their former clients: 
And last but not least, the page that describes the people and family behind Cavanaugh Photography:
Our work is nowhere near done! We now are designing the wedding photography magazine for them, and by we, I mean my incredible sister, Stephanie, who's agreed to help me barter so I can secure one of the best photographers in Northeast Ohio. I'm a lucky woman in more ways than one.

If I haven't answered your question about bartering, feel free to email me -- mrandmrslazette@yahoo.com -- or comment below. Bartering is hard work (way harder than writing a check), so if you do barter, make 110% sure that what you receive in the end will be a quality, worthwhile addition to your big day.
 
This time, it was my turn to pop the question.

I wanted to ask her in just the right way -- something not dripping with sappiness, but also something that reflected that she --  and the question -- are very important.


I walked the aisles of Target, Googling unique ways to ask someone to be your maid of honor. While I didn't dislike any of the ideas -- a scrapbook with the question on the final page, for example -- I also didn't want to over think or over spend to ask a question. (I am the bartering bride, after all.)

As is often the case, I found my best inspiration on deadline. (Remember, reporter.) Headed to David's Bridal for a bridesmaid dress shopping appointment this past weekend, I stopped at a grocery store to grab bottled water and snacks for the girls. (Best to keep your lovely friends well fed and watered if they're trying on sometimes not-so-lovely dresses for your big day, right?) 

Then, I journeyed to the cleaning aisle and found the perfect *hint*:
Good thing it's Valentine's Day season, as I didn't want to use a congratulatory balloon (seemed a bit pretentious) or a thank you balloon (seemed a bit generic). 

The woman who tied the balloon to the broom and dust pan didn't get it until I explained it.
I hid the balloon in my trunk and drove to the bridal shop. Now, it was the girls' time to try on umpteen dresses and find the one they wanted to wear. Remember: I'd already tried on dresses of the white variety not one, but two times.

The morning before we all went dress shopping, I'd asked the girls via text message what they'd like to spend. I figured that avoided anyone feeling pressured to spend more because others might want to, and it allowed me to provide our spending limit to the dress consultant without revealing who might want to spend less and who might not have a limit at all.

Interestingly, two of my bridesmaids will be a bridesmaid for the fifth time at our wedding, and even more curious, they both said this was the first time a bride left choosing the dress to the bridesmaids. Most brides they know, Amy and Katie told me, have selected the dress or a few choices their bridesmaids may choose.


That's just not my style, particularly after I swooned over a few bridal gowns, only to feel HIDEOUS in them. While, yes, I want the girls to wear a dress that suits our rustic theme, I also want them to look and feel beautiful. Selecting a dress I like and forcing them into it is no guarantee of either. 

So, we embarked on what I now call Dress Democracy, Take One. These were the favorites. Bear in mind, the girls will be in plum.
One time, right after the dressing room doors closed, I took off. I ran past brides in eye-catching white gowns out to my car, grabbed the balloon and the little card I'd written and ran back inside. I hid it all behind a rack of veils.

I was shaking a little. I was excited to reveal to Stephanie that while she may have not known it-known it, I knew she should stand beside me when I marry my best friend. We grew up together, driving Barbie cars through the snow on days off from school. And just three years ago, in one of the most touching things anyone has ever done for me, she secretly arranged for three girls who later would become my bridesmaids to hide and surprise me with a night out when I moved back to Ohio after nearly five years of working and living in other states.

I waited until the others emerged from their dressing rooms because I wanted them to witness this, too. Then, I reached back and presented the balloon.
Like the woman at the grocery store who'd tied the dust pan and broom set to the romantic balloon (lol), Steph didn't get it at first. It was when she started to cry that I knew that she did.
I popped the question, and she said yes! I now commiserate a little with all of you grooms out there who more often than not have to find the *perfect* way to ask.

Importantly, the other ladies have said yes, too, and I couldn't be more grateful to have had them by my side all these years and soon, on a day I've never anticipated so much. Amy is the most loyal and giving friend a girl could ask for, Michelle and I have much more in common than our first names (for one, our lovable yet spicy natures), Maggie is my college roommate (for three years!) and the friend who drove cross-country with me, and Katie and I often talk for hours (preferably over Melt grilled cheese, please).

I've reflected on all of their friendships since becoming engaged, and I love them even more for trying on, with a smile, some of the less desirable dresses inflicted upon them.


"It looks like a Hefty garbage bag," Steph said of one short variety. 
"I feel like I'm a mushroom," Amy agreed.
"I'm just glad I'm not trying that one on," Maggie chimed in.

In the interest of keeping my bridesmaids my bridesmaids, and given that I am the queen of untagging pictures I don't like on a certain social media site, we'll keep that dress and others the secret of this bride and her very best friends. :]