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.
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?
This time, it was my turn to pop the question.
I wanted to ask her in just the right way -- something not dripping with sappiness, but also something that reflected that she -- and the question -- are very important.I walked the aisles of Target, Googling unique ways to ask someone to be your maid of honor. While I didn't dislike any of the ideas -- a scrapbook with the question on the final page, for example -- I also didn't want to over think or over spend to ask a question. (I am the bartering bride, after all.)As is often the case, I found my best inspiration on deadline. (Remember, reporter.) Headed to David's Bridal for a bridesmaid dress shopping appointment this past weekend, I stopped at a grocery store to grab bottled water and snacks for the girls. (Best to keep your lovely friends well fed and watered if they're trying on sometimes not-so-lovely dresses for your big day, right?) Then, I journeyed to the cleaning aisle and found the perfect *hint*:
Good thing it's Valentine's Day season, as I didn't want to use a congratulatory balloon (seemed a bit pretentious) or a thank you balloon (seemed a bit generic).
The woman who tied the balloon to the broom and dust pan didn't get it until I explained it.
I hid the balloon in my trunk and drove to the bridal shop. Now, it was the girls' time to try on umpteen dresses and find the one they wanted to wear. Remember: I'd already tried on dresses of the white variety not one, but two times.
The morning before we all went dress shopping, I'd asked the girls via text message what they'd like to spend. I figured that avoided anyone feeling pressured to spend more because others might want to, and it allowed me to provide our spending limit to the dress consultant without revealing who might want to spend less and who might not have a limit at all.
Interestingly, two of my bridesmaids will be a bridesmaid for the fifth time at our wedding, and even more curious, they both said this was the first time a bride left choosing the dress to the bridesmaids. Most brides they know, Amy and Katie told me, have selected the dress or a few choices their bridesmaids may choose.That's just not my style, particularly after I swooned over a few bridal gowns, only to feel HIDEOUS in them. While, yes, I want the girls to wear a dress that suits our rustic theme, I also want them to look and feel beautiful. Selecting a dress I like and forcing them into it is no guarantee of either. So, we embarked on what I now call Dress Democracy, Take One. These were the favorites. Bear in mind, the girls will be in plum.
One time, right after the dressing room doors closed, I took off. I ran past brides in eye-catching white gowns out to my car, grabbed the balloon and the little card I'd written and ran back inside. I hid it all behind a rack of veils.
I was shaking a little. I was excited to reveal to Stephanie that while she may have not known it-known it, I knew she should stand beside me when I marry my best friend. We grew up together, driving Barbie cars through the snow on days off from school. And just three years ago, in one of the most touching things anyone has ever done for me, she secretly arranged for three girls who later would become my bridesmaids to hide and surprise me with a night out when I moved back to Ohio after nearly five years of working and living in other states.
I waited until the others emerged from their dressing rooms because I wanted them to witness this, too. Then, I reached back and presented the balloon.
Like the woman at the grocery store who'd tied the dust pan and broom set to the romantic balloon (lol), Steph didn't get it at first. It was when she started to cry that I knew that she did.
I popped the question, and she said yes! I now commiserate a little with all of you grooms out there who more often than not have to find the *perfect* way to ask.Importantly, the other ladies have said yes, too, and I couldn't be more grateful to have had them by my side all these years and soon, on a day I've never anticipated so much. Amy is the most loyal and giving friend a girl could ask for, Michelle and I have much more in common than our first names (for one, our lovable yet spicy natures), Maggie is my college roommate (for three years!) and the friend who drove cross-country with me, and Katie and I often talk for hours (preferably over Melt grilled cheese, please).
I've reflected on all of their friendships since becoming engaged, and I love them even more for trying on, with a smile, some of the less desirable dresses inflicted upon them."It looks like a Hefty garbage bag," Steph said of one short variety. "I feel like I'm a mushroom," Amy agreed."I'm just glad I'm not trying that one on," Maggie chimed in.In the interest of keeping my bridesmaids my bridesmaids, and given that I am the queen of untagging pictures I don't like on a certain social media site, we'll keep that dress and others the secret of this bride and her very best friends. :]
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!
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.
I came mostly prepared. I'd made voting cards and stored snacks in my car should hunger strike my judges. But what I didn't come prepared for was the moment I exited the dressing room for what probably was the 12th time, looked up and saw my sister tear up.
If you've ever tried on wedding dresses, you know there are no mirrors in the dressing room. So I hadn't seen the dress now making her emotional.
Then, I did. I turned around to show off the train. When I returned to face my peanut gallery, my consultant asked, "Are you crying?" I totally was. Then, I really started crying.
What ensued was a moment I'd come to think probably wouldn't happen (not that I'd expected it to). I literally was on my 12th or 13th dress and no one had cried yet. I hadn't felt unquestionably beautiful yet. Isn't that what The Dress is supposed to do, even if a girl dislikes her arms and her hips?
My mom jumped up and hugged me, tearing up, too. My sister cried more and grabbed me in a hug. Then we fixed the veil and I stood, soaking in what could very well be The Dress I wear to marry the love of my life.
It certainly made a mark on my bridesmaids and my mom:
Other dresses did not. (I'd show you them, but the husband-to-be might see!) See how assertively my mom is saying no?
I almost paid for the dress that made us cry. But I wanted to mull it over. And I'm glad I did. I know myself. I'm a reporter. My best work and my best decisions are made when I feel comfortable with the extent of my research, and I knew, even amid the excitement of the find, that I wasn't there.
So this Sunday, we visit another bridal boutique, and if nothing beats Contender No. 1, nothing beats Contender No. 1.
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.