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.
Before I knew that Ken Cavanaugh had 21 years of photography experience and before I watched him kneel in mud to get a shot of us at the farm last Tuesday, I emailed Cavanaugh Photography because I'd cried when I saw a STRANGER'S first look images. Here's the gallery that got me.
How lucky and fortunate are we that this passionate photographer, who co-owns Cavanaugh Photography with his wife, Natalie, has a need for a writer. We will be trading their wedding photography package for three promotional magazines I will write to highlight their three specialties: weddings, senior portraits and family portraits. (I also am lucky and blessed to have a graphic designer of a sister who's agreed to design the project alongside me.)
Photography, Ken told me in an interview for this blog, just clicked for him. From high school to now, he's been drawn to learning about the people he photographs, and serving them.
"Everybody is capable of taking a great photograph," he said days after he photographed my love and me at Mapleside Farms. "You've got to believe that if you're a portrait photographer."
I wasn't so confident. I have my photogenic days, and then I have days when I de-tag umpteen photos on Facebook because they're just plain unflattering.
A word of advice: Always ask for something you want. I only learned how generous Mapleside Farms is when I asked. Ken couldn't believe we were given a private tour of the farm for nearly two hours, free of charge. I couldn't either.
Then, I asked a pair of makeup artists, who formed a makeup business called Miss Monroe's this year, if they'd be interested in doing my makeup for the engagement pictures as a trial run to the wedding. They'd reached out months ago, interested in a trade, after I posted to craigslist. I arrived to Brandy's home sans makeup, a scary thing for a girl who scarcely leaves the house without eyeliner.
I had never seen so much makeup in a person's home in my life.
The collection makes sense, given the women's years of experience doing makeup for fashion shows, photo shoots and more. They work for makeup companies, but they are not pushy. I didn't expect it, but I left with loads of free samples, namely this product they say alleviates dry skin on the backs of one's arms. Where has DERMAdoctor been all my life?!
Here they are, making me over.
"We love being able to help a client with a beauty concern and have them walk away from their time with us feeling beautiful and more confident!" Brandy told me.
Effective, they are.
And now, a sneak peek, or three:
Now, before you get all, um why?, about the last creep-tastic image, behold our patio, the place where our love for Halloween glows nightly:
Yes, we DO own fake blood. And yes, that is an old work shirt and jeans of mine. All for the cause!
I know this blog post is a novella, but I figure I should share the few words of advice I picked up through this experience. Ken said every bride and groom should ask prospective photographers:
*About their skills, but not just photography skills. Watch a person's people skills, too. (Ken has this covered. You know those people you meet who are genuinely that friendly? Yes.)
*About their experience. (Cavanaugh = 21 years.) Oh, and do they have backup equipment? ("Of course," Ken said when I asked him for his answer.)
Finally, I'll add my own advice: Seek someone who will answer every question you have. When I asked Natalie what we should wear, she responded in no time: "Avoiding patterns is always better. As for men -- we usually suggest minimal patterns and also that he compliment your colors. So, you don't have to match, but if one wears dark colors -- the other should wear dark colors and vice versa. Similar tones will be pleasing to the eye in the photo."