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.
 
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. 
 
It'd be inaccurate to call our dining room a dining room right now. It's been overcome. Overcome by a large box of 48 pairs of flip-flops, which I bought for a dollar apiece from Dollar Tree for this intended use. Overcome by a large basket I bought to hold the flip-flops and supplies for our restroom amenity baskets. Don't know what those are? Here, another bride blogger explains the idea. Also crowding the "wedding room" are a scrapbook and supplies I purchased a few weekends ago because I've decided, since we've not purchased a professional photo album, to create a scrapbook where we'll place our wedding pictures on the very pages where people write their well wishes and signatures.

There also are ever more jars in our former dining room, lol, but my mom and I likely won't need to transform all of them because, voila! We are probably five or 10 crafty jars away from being done!
We used lace, twine, ribbon, burlap and other materials to craft more than 40 jars for the centerpieces. Making them with Mom made them even more beautiful.

Want to do something similar? Start early (I'm still roughly three months out), buy supplies on sale from a place like Jo-Ann and adhere the materials using foam paintbrushes and Mod Podge.

Of course, the wedding industry and people who've been to their share of weddings have told me our guests will notice the food on the table more than any centerpiece, so it's high time I introduce our third-generation caterer, Tom's Country Place.

Led today by owner Billy Hricovec, Tom's Country Place was started in 1959 by Tom and Mary Hricovec, Billy's grandparents, on the land his great-grandparents farmed starting in 1855. The company, which averages around 60 weddings a year, hosts them on site, and also offers off-site catering. The most popular wedding entree? Some type of chicken, Billy replied.

I could tell you that we chose Tom's Country Place because it's won awards, which it has, but really, it won my mom and me over when we joined dozens of brides and grooms at a taste-testing event in April when the company served its most popular wedding entrees.

Intended as a way for people to try foods they've considered serving and others they haven't, the event really impressed us.

"Superb," Mom said upon tasting the roast tenderloin of beef with Demi-glace. And those mashed Yukon Golds with pan gravy? "The mashed potatoes are to die for," my mom marveled. When I asked someone whether they are homemade, the woman replied that they were the product of 200 peeled potatoes. Yum.
I contacted no fewer than a dozen catering companies before we contracted with Tom's. Some charged our entire wedding budget for 80-something meals, and then charged additional fees for cutting the wedding cake, for flatware and china and for linens.

If you are seeking a company that provides a price that's all-inclusive, look no further than Tom's. Their buffet service is priced to include china and flatware, salad and dinner rolls, a dessert or appetizer buffet, coffee and tea service and wait staff. And from my perspective -- and I do feel I've done my research here -- they are one of the most reasonably priced caterers in Northeast Ohio. Not the cheapest, but nowhere near cost-prohibitive.

We initially planned to do two pasta stations, where guests would choose a pasta, a sauce, vegetables and proteins and watch it all sautéed right in front of them until piping hot. But, when we learned that it probably would take each guest two minutes to get through the line (because people can be indecisive and reheating the food takes time), we realized it meant some guests would have to wait up to 40 minutes to eat and reconsidered. We have a party to get to, right? Plus, when I posed the question to my Facebook peanut gallery, the answer was unanimous: People don't want to wait to eat at a wedding, even if waiting nets them super-personalized meals. I didn't expect that, but it's what they said. Do you agree?

I won't reveal the whole menu of our day here because there are certain details I want to save for those we're inviting to share in our celebration, but I will divulge this: We will be serving Tom's melt-in-your-mouth mashed potatoes, complete with a mashed potato toppings bar (read: scallions, pan gravy, shredded cheese and bacon bits). Given that ours is a rustic event, the scoops of potato-y goodness won't likely be served like this, but we trust our guests will love us -- and the eats -- the same. :]

Before I wrap up this blog, I want to share a few things I've done recently as a bride who's getting married in a matter of weeks (yikes!). Not only have I been focused on completing the details I can NOW, so I can somewhat chill out in the weeks heading into the wedding, I also visited the venue with my day-of wedding coordinator to plan how we'll decorate the space, and I sent a floor plan of the venue (which I drew poorly) to each of my vendors, so they're on the same page.

In addition, I've become a book worm bride. When I first became engaged and checked out books from the library about wedding planning, they were oh-so-intimidating. They told me things I knew I needed, such as entertainment and a caterer, and then they told me things I never would have thought about, and it all left me feeling like I could take pages and pages of notes and never really absorb a thing.

Reading these books now, when we've contracted with almost every vendor we'll have, enables me to focus on the little details, those things we never would have thought were important until we had the time and energy to tackle them -- like now, as the months wind down to weeks and the weeks wind down to days and the time when I marry my best friend draws impossibly (and incredibly) near. 
 
Recently, I asked my Facebook friends: What are the seemingly small details of your wedding that you found, in hindsight, you should have knocked out way sooner?

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

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

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

I love them, especially the ones my mom made. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. Here's one all lit up with one of my fake votives:
Luckily, though the jar journey will be a longer one than I anticipated, it won't be a panicked one because people warned me to start early. What else should we do sooner than later?
 
It 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.
 
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.
 
We're going to be grocery shopping a bit differently from now on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking to pass along glass jars yourself, or willing to now that you know a certain bartering bride you know wants them? Write me!
 
I mailed our contract to officially secure the venue today. But, before that could occur, there was the Message Decision.

Toward the end of the contract, the venue coordinators ask each bride and groom to provide a message they would like displayed on the outdoor sign on their big day. 

We didn't just want congratulations, but we weren't sure what we did want. So I set a piece of paper and a pen in front of both of us one night this week and initiated the brainstorm. Here's what my super-focused fiance wrote:
"You said whatever comes to mind, and I went with that," The HTB (husband-to-be) retorted when I called into question the relevance of his last two suggestions. And G.O.A.T.? Apparently, it's an acronym for Greatest Of All Time.

In other wedding developments, our tree trunks are here, and they are exactly what we wanted. Straight-out-of-the-forest authentic! In the coming weeks, Steven and I plan to have a thrift-store hunt for some super-cheap glass jars and other centerpiece items.
And now, I reveal to you the reason there will be glitter in our rug and on the hardwood floors for, probably, forever: My first crafty project in, oh, a decade. My very best friends (minus one who's out of town), my sister and my mom will be my peanut gallery this Sunday as I try on my very first wedding dresses. (This is actually a moment I would want a videographer to capture, if, well, THAT was in the budget.)

I think first impressions say a lot, so to lend some uniformity to the rounds of first impressions I'll bear witness to, I created scorecards for my five judges:
As with anything that involves paper on the floor, a certain Cora cat found it supremely torturous that I insisted she not fluff all over my sparkly creations.
 
Some of the best lessons learned and moments lived have occurred for me immediately after rejection.

Of course, that's never easy to remember in the heat of rejection, when you're told by a photographer with whom you've been talking for more than a month, who told you she'd booked your date for you: Never mind. I don't want to barter after all.

I thought about not sharing this. It's humiliating, and it hurt my feelings. But, once again, in vulnerability, I've learned something about me, something about Steven and something about life.

Late Tuesday night, I started anew my search for photography. I found it hard to sleep. Wednesday morning, I awoke to discover that my husband-to-be had stayed up until 3 a.m., wedding planning. He's never done that before. But in my moment of defeat, he stepped in. (Reason #34,891 I'm so in love with him.)

He refined our invite list to make dinner more affordable. He spent hours researching centerpieces. And then, he proudly told me while I brushed my teeth that morning, he struck his own bargain on eBay. He managed to buy eight of these for $50 instead of six for $60 like the seller pictured below:
I think these could look beautiful with some sort of lace detail on our tables, maybe like this:
Tuesday night, at about the time I was lying in bed, restlessly worrying about my ability to find someone who had a need for a seasoned writer, an email arrived in my inbox from a photography company interested in a blogger. A surge best described as a flutter started beating its wings. My confidence was creeping back.

Another silver lining: The photographer rejected our agreement BEFORE the Today's Bride bridal show on Wednesday. So, I revised the flier I'd written (designed by my sister) to reflect that I still needed someone to capture our moments and set out to spread the word with Steven and my "entourage":
I wanted people to know that I have something to offer THEM, too.

The show was informative, yet intimate. I chatted with my DJ, for whom I'm ghost-writing, and PartyPix, the photo booth company with which Something New Entertainment collaborates often. Here's a photo we took wearing their ridiculously bright props:
Actually, we played in two photo booths. My advice: Proofread future husbands who can't read...
So it's the day after the show, and I've received a phone call from a different photographer potentially interested in my blogging for his company and creating a Story of Your Life about the 10-year-old enterprise. I also received an email from someone who shared her packages but said she didn't need writing or editing. I appreciated her honesty and her other cost-cutting suggestions: no engagement session, fewer coverage hours, the exclusion of a second photographer.

I also received an email from a photo booth company whose owner asked me to visit his web site and explain how I would improve it. I will. (I've been in talks, though, with another photo booth company for months, and I want to be fair. I guess it comes down to details and contracts, who feels I can benefit them most and who I feel will benefit us most.)

My confidence is at full-flutter again. If I may, I'm going to steal, while citing, a line written in a recent blog by Jasmine Star that really resonated with me throughout all of this:

"None of us are above doing what we need to do to get things done in the name of our dreams."

I'm certainly not. Indeed, it's the premise that drives all of this.
 
One of the perks of ghost-writing for my DJ's blog (other than her highly recommended entertainment, eventually) is sound wedding advice. Case in point: I recently completed a blog about how brides can guarantee guest comfort, and without it, I doubt I ever would have thought of providing flip-flops for all of the ladies. Or restroom amenity baskets. For each of these pieces, I interview my DJ and wedding planners, so this is solid, professional advice.

And yesterday, I interviewed a bride and groom for a profile I'll pen about their wedding and their musical selections (they outlawed the chicken dance, and I can't say I blame 'em), and from them, I gleaned a personal touch I want to, well, personalize.

They created picture frames for each table, and on each, they wrote memories. This prompted their guests to migrate from table to table when the opportunity arose to read the different memories.

So Steven and I have settled on a rustic theme, right? A la this:
And this:
(And don't think I'm too proud to go rooting around in the park near which I live to get twigs for this! Because the park can barter, too!)

Oh, and this, which is probably my favorite of the three:
So here's the related idea with which Steven and I are toying: For each table, we'll create cards (hopefully designed by my designer sister) titled "Rooted in Love," and on each, we thought we'd share some of the memories we've created together (like that time we went to Hocking Hills by ourselves and thought -- foolishly -- that bringing only horror movies would be enjoyable, but then, oh so surprisingly, it resulted in a nightmare so awful he woke ME up screaming, awesome). But I digress.
And now... the rustic touch we won't be incorporating. Not one person (not my mom, my sister or Steven) seems to find this appetizing, and seeing as we don't really want a cake, I'm not arguing the point. Sorry, tree treat.