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.

My lovely friend, Lauren, then extended the motif my sister started, designing with the same fonts and colors the signs for our venue and our programs, which featured the caricatures for which I bartered with Laura Hayes.
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.
 
Last week, after confirming that our florist had received our final payment, I asked her (as I ask all of our vendors) if she needs anything else from me in advance of our big day. Her response made me smile.

"No. I don't worry about you like I worry about most brides." 
Me: "Did you receive the timeline of our day?"

That, she replied, is why she doesn't worry about me. The timeline accounts for every little thing: hair and makeup, flower pinning, toasts. I've edited it several times based on feedback from our vendors, whom I've relied on to tell me if we are allotting enough time for our ceremony, for first look photography, for all of these things I've never planned before.

As an example, I had been planning to get to the venue much closer to our start time, until I was reminded by one of my wedding planners that I'll need to be inside and out of sight of early bird guests. Valid!

I am privy to invaluable advice, know-how and some very fitting accessories for our wedding because I've hired Kimberly Lehman from Love, Laughter & Elegance, Wedding and Event Planning out of Massillon and Meredith Masaveg from Rain Wedding Planning in Painesville. They answer my questions, Kim has sent me wedding ideas for months now and they both will report the morning of to decorate the venue.

Here's Kim, at a few weddings she helped coordinate. She did seven last year, and is available to help brides in all of Ohio and contiguous states.
"I've been obsessed with weddings since I was about 12," Kim said. "All I had to do was watch Princess Diana get married. That was it, that's all it took for me to get hooked. I guess I believe in the fairy tale for everyone."

In exchange for a Story of Your Life, created by the company I co-own with my sister, Kim and Meredith are Steven's and my wedding planners. Kim will serve as what the industry calls our "day-of coordinator," and Meredith will help decorate the venue and lend us some cute, rustic cupcake towers, among other things. I've provided Kim and Meredith with a drawing of how we want the venue site arranged and a description of our centerpieces, and they will decorate the ceremony and reception sites, using the jars my mom and I made and a lengthy list of other items Kim will pick up from us soon. She also will deliver to each of our vendors remaining payments that need made, manage any issues and hiccups that may arise and tear down at the end of the night.

I am very much a do-it-myself type of woman because I would rather do things on my own rather than badger others to do them the way I want them done. But, I can tell I can trust Kim. She is extremely detail-oriented. She took notes during our recent venue visit. She's collected all of our vendor contracts from me, plus the names and numbers of our bridesmaids, groomsmen and mothers.

I know there are many brides who don't hire planners. But I have my reasons for hiring Kim and Meredith. 

1) I didn't want my family and friends to lift a finger to execute our day. I wanted them to be our guests, to experience that magic I've felt walking into a venue and seeing the finished space without having made it the finished space.

Kim actually told me she felt bad after she put her mom to work on her wedding day 14 years ago. "When I saw my mom running around the day of the wedding, trying to keep tabs on the caterer, on the bridal party, I thought, 'This isn't fair to her,'" she recalled. "My mom should be beaming as the mother of the bride, enjoying every moment. This wasn't fair to her."

2) I wanted someone who would handle any issues that arise. Someone running late? I don't want to have to deal with it. Selfish as it might sound, I want to savor every moment of this day, not fuss over the details. People tell me it flies by, so I don't want to waste time worrying.

3) Wedding planners have know-how, experience in tackling issues in a graceful, effective manner, wedding materials a bride can borrow and industry connections. The shepherds hooks from which we're hanging jars of flowers along the aisle will be borrowed from Meredith, too.

Here's what a shepherds hook looks like (courtesy of The Knot):
Getting married this year, or even this month? Both Kim and Meredith offer day-of coordination separate from full and partial wedding planning services, so it's not too late to hire a helping hand. 

Kim's one-woman business was founded in 2000. She prides herself on her ability to organize and to keep people on schedule. And she's thoughtful, too. When we had our planning meeting a few months ago, she brought me a pretty, bright plant. It survives on my patio, despite my inability to remember to water it.
I asked both Kim and Meredith for their wedding planning advice, so I could share it. Kim stressed the need to be organized and to delegate where possible.

"The best kind of wedding is one from the heart," Meredith told me. "The worst kind of wedding is when you forget that it comes down to two little words -- 'I do' -- when you worry that you have to have the best of everything and if something doesn't go right, your day is ruined. In my book, everything else is just a party. Mission accomplished if you both say, 'I do.'"

Meredith founded Rain Wedding Planning in 2008. The company employs four, including her. She named it Rain because, "as the old wives' tale goes, rain on your wedding is good luck."

Tangent time: Rain on our wedding day would derail our plans for an outdoor ceremony. Steven, my husband-to-be, is wrapping up a collegiate class in statistics, and one day last week spent an hour analyzing 50 years of weather information for the city where we will wed on the date that we will wed. (We are nerds, we know.)

Here were his results:

  • The average high temperature: 78.72 degrees
  • There's a 52% chance that it will be at least 80 degrees (a bit warmer than I'd prefer)
  • There is a 68% chance that our day's temperature will fall between 71.71 (yes, please) and 85.74 degrees (sizzle)
  • 68% of the time in the 50-year period, it didn't rain on our date in this city (oh Mister Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun...)
  • There's a 92% chance that there will not be significant rainfall (woo!)

"So it seems like a very fat chance it's going to be a rainy, thunderstorm-y kind of a day," my meteorologist informed me.

My ideal would be 70 to 75 degrees and sunny. (Please, Mother Nature?) But, if you married on a very warm day or a rainy day, feel free to comment below and tell me how you coped. How'd you cool off? Best stayed dry?

Back to Meredith. This is her at a wedding she coordinated, and the second image is of a wedding she set up. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.
Meredith's favorite part of a wedding is when it hits a couple "that they had their perfect day." The part she enjoys most, she continued, is being able to take someone's idea and executing it the day of so that they and their friends and family can be guests. It makes sense, she noted, that it'd be easier for a wedding planner to remember all of the things that need to get done because they aren't as emotionally involved as the bride and groom.

"Don't forget that those friends and family who have offered their services (for a wedding) are going to want to have the guest's experience," she told me. "Somewhere down the road, they mentally check out. They have a guest mentality, rather than a vendor mentality.

"It's my job to worry about how things are going to get done," Meredith continued. "If there's a problem, I have to fix it. Something that would fall on somebody else's shoulders, it falls on mine."

When our big day arrives, I'll be happy to eat what minimal breakfast I (and my rabid butterflies) can stomach and have my hair and makeup done and my dress slipped on, all the while surrounded by my family and friends and knowing that the decorating, vendor coordination, solving of problems and general management of the largest party I've ever planned are in the hands of two people who've been there, done that.

Sound good? Ask Kim or Meredith what they can do for you.
 
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. 
 
Today, the very first thing bearing my soon-to-be name came in the mail. Of course, I mauled the box before remembering that maybe I'd like a picture of it for this here blog, but such is life. 
Can you guess what it is? 
Hint: It's not something I ever would have thought to order until I read an article called "20 Details Every Bride Forgets" on The Knot. As a matter of fact, I clicked on that article with a touch of arrogance, confident that I'd have most of these details in the bag, or that they'd be unnecessary and/or ridiculously expensive. Then, the very first detail The Knot featured stared me right in the face, and I wanted it.

Enter Whiskey & Wedding Bells, a company I discovered on Etsy. The company, I would learn later, was founded by best friends, 
Brianna and Becca, as a way for them to save for trips to see their favorite musicians, such as their most recent travel to Athens, Ga., to see Patty Griffin.

As a woman who also co-owns her own company, I am in AWE of these two. Listen to this: Within a month of their getting serious about the business in March 2012, Brianna had to quit her job and go full time with Whiskey & Wedding Bells, and two months later, Becca quit her job to do the same.

Here they are, followed by the creative product that now is their full-time job:
They now sell roughly 1,000 hangers a month and have fulfilled more than 7,000 orders since July 2011. 

Whiskey and Wedding Bells' hangers are made of solid wood to ensure they can hold heavy wedding dresses (a must for mine, I must say). Each of the letters they sculpt is sculpted with 12-gauge aluminum wire to ensure the keepsake holds its shape over time, and there's a notch on each side of the hanger for dress straps.

They offer four hanger colors and 16 ribbon colors, available in satin and organza.

And, the care and attention to detail that the company puts into its product is evident, too, in its packaging. Even Tyrannosaurus rex Michelle, who was foaming at the mouth to see hers, had to navigate first past a box marked fragile and sealed to the nines, layers of bubble wrap and a cardboard wrapping to see what they'd crafted for her.

But, it was worth my wait, for sure. I love it for two reasons: One, it'll be the perfect touch for suspending my dress before I actually wear it to marry the man whose last name I soon will take.

But more importantly, and the bigger reason I grew a little misty (other than my being an incredibly sappy person) is this:

"That's the first thing with my new name on it that I ever owned," I told Mr. Lazette just now, this late Tuesday night.

"You mean, my name that I graciously loan to you," he teased back. Then, he raised his eyebrows and wiggled his tongue at me.

Have I mentioned how excited I am that this is my future?
Want one, too? Email Whiskey & Wedding Bells or shop their Etsy site.
 
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'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.
 
I love it when a plan comes together.

As I browsed the pictures I took during a recent visit to the venue with the Husband-To-Be, my little sister and designer extraordinaire, Stephanie, and my event-planning friend, Katie, I realized: We have chosen most of the vendors  who will transform this wonderful place into our wedding. So, so happy to have such an incredible *cast*!

Capturing it all will be Cavanaugh Photography, which recently gave us access to all of our engagement proofs. We are thisclose to selecting which will be the image for our save-the-dates.

Doesn't this stage seem built for the karaoke and DJing Something New Entertainment will deliver?
And we're excited to have Bill the Bartender behind this rustic bar, too. Nice and spacious:
Here's where our officiant (whom I will introduce in my next blog entry) will marry us. Interestingly, those who get married here have to pay a fairly nominal fee for security because otherwise, there's really nothing separating guests from the cliff into the lake (except common sense, lol):
We still are looking for ideas as to how we can transform this simple gazebo into something rustic and whimsical, perhaps using fabric of some sort. Have some thoughts? I await your email: mrandmrslazette@yahoo.com.

There's another vendor I have yet to introduce: OUR CATERER!! But I'm waiting until our taste tests, which are scheduled for January, so I can show off their food. Our wedding meal will be served up for our guests in this enclosed patio overlooking Lake Erie. We figured it'd be a nice view for people to take in while they wait. I'm not revealing our menu yet, but here's a clue: Every plate will be completely customized to each person's tastes.
What remains to be determined is what style and color flowers we'll use. My mom is somewhat allergic to flowers that possess strong scents, so I'll need a florist's opinion on which would least harass her. (Hint, hint: If you're a florist with ideas, I'd love to hear from you!)

I also am contemplating crafting one or more of the 40 DIY projects presented here. Namely some variation of numbers 3, 13, 20 and 21. Maybe you'll see some ideas you like?

In the meantime, I am quite pleased with the collection of pickle, spaghetti and Mason jars we've amassed, as well as the 20+ tree slabs. We're planning to outfit each table with an ivory linen and a contrasting lace overlay, topped with three tree slabs and an assortment of twine- and lace-wrapped jars, a la this (though we only had two slabs during this particular visit):
A word to the wise: Always take a second (or third) walk through your venue, especially if you're responsible for the decorative vision. Top reason I'm glad we did? It solidified for us that chair covers are a MUST:
Waiting to hear why this blog's title references a bear? Behold, our furry friend. My handsome HTB joked that we should dress him up. There will be no toying with the big, dead bear, I retorted.
I guess, when you ask for rustic, a taxidermic animal isn't such a stretch.
 
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."
 
Sometimes, a discovery makes you bubble with excitement. Like, want to get up and dance a really embarrassing dance, all the while clucking cheerfully.

Or maybe that's just me.

I was responding to a Northeast Ohio photographer who wrote me today, explaining that she'd seen the blog and wanted to photograph our wedding, and I wanted to give her a sense of the type of exposure she could anticipate if she were to become a vendor of ours and receive mention (probably multiple mentions) on this blog, not just in a "hey, this is our vendor" way, but also in entries that share wedding advice.

So I accessed the traffic counter on this blog, and added up each day's unique visitor count, and OMG, was I pumped. In the past month, since The Bartering Bride really got going, it has been visited by 905 unique visitors. Today alone, nearly 190 different people visited this domain. How exciting and humbling.
My head's not bigger. My resolve is. If so many people are visiting, that means I need to step up my game: Offer more bartering and planning advice. Keep sharing my journey and my missteps, so others may learn from (and avoid) them.

Part of that, though, is knowing what other brides and grooms want to know more about, so please don't hesitate to comment below or email me at mrandmrslazette@yahoo.com.

In the meantime, no matter who you are -- another bride, a vendor, a friend -- I thank you for taking an interest in me and my bartering/planning/trying-not-to-become-a-zilla journey.
 
We'd been at it for hours (again) -- bless my friends and family for their patience (again).

After today, I've logged more than seven hours of trying on more than 20 dresses. We narrowed it down to two at the boutique today, and then I asked my peanut gallery to accompany me back to David's Bridal, where I'd fell in love with (and cried about) one particular dress (which shall remain undescribed in case a certain husband-to-be actually reads the blog I pen about our wedding, ha).

When I stepped out and faced the mirrors, a lot of the same feelings rushed back to me. I love the dress itself, but I love more the way it makes me feel. Beautiful. Like a bride. And it makes me think about him and how he'll react.

My friend, Amy, was gunning for another dress back at the other boutique. But she'd missed last week's shopping marathon, so I was most curious about her reaction to this one.

That's the dress, she declared.

Why? I asked her in typical reporter fashion.

When she responded, she cited something about the dress, but what resonated most was when she said I looked happy in it. Indeed, I feel happy in it. The bridal consultant asked me if I was sure, and I most definitely am. Then, they asked me to make a wish and ring the bell, signaling I'd made my decision.

So, this is the one, and I am THRILLED. I cannot wait to see his face when he sees me in it, when I am HIS bride.

And that reminds me of another question I've been weighing: When should he first see me in it?

I've come to find out through my ongoing photography research that there's something called "first look" photography, where the groom and the bride actually see each other before the ceremony and are photographed as they do. I've actually cried upon seeing such images, notably that of Cavanaugh Photography. But I wanted to gauge other people's opinions (part of my whole need-to-do-research schtick): 
The responses were varied and helpful. As I suspected, some see the beauty of stealing away for a few intimate moments with your betrothed. Others see the beauty in the anticipation of, and the experience of, the aisle reveal.
If I had to choose today, I think I'd choose to have a "first look." But I don't have to choose today, which is good because I can only handle so many choices in a day.

What I will say is this: If you're a bride who's going dress shopping and plan to make a marathon out of it like I did, bring water and snacks (even if they have to be stored in your car for your "judges" because the shop doesn't think food and dresses mix, imagine that). And, if I may say so myself, my decision to bring scoring cards was clutch. Opinions get muddled, but when people are asked to rate a dress in a uniform system like the one I created, it becomes very clear when a dress is adored.

Above all else, find a dress that makes YOU feel transcendent.