It doesn't take a reporter to know when someone's come prepared to an interview.

Harleigh M. Hodge contacted me in late August after I posted to and caught my attention immediately when she wrote, "I would trade you comments in blogging and future opportunities instead of pay."

And, in a first for The Bartering Bride, I'm not the only person who stands to benefit here: Harleigh is offering any bride and groom who mentions this blog her ceremony services for free (!) during the summer of 2013. Email her here.

Sound too good to be true? I feared the same. But, if you know me or if you've been reading how exhaustive I've made my search for the right dress or the right vendor, you know I do my research. Because, let's be honest: Paying for something quality is always better than receiving something that doesn't impress for free.

But, I'd been here myself as a businesswoman. When my sister and I launched our company back in August 2011, I asked a friend of mine if we could create a Story of Your Life
for her for free. We did, and now our business is all paid work (thankfully). All businesses must start somewhere, and sometimes the only way to start creating a track record is to go gratis. I get it.

Harleigh ultimately convinced my future husband and me to hire her over Chinese food. We'd agreed to meet for lunch to discuss, among other things, why she'd just become a certified wedding officiant in the summer of 2012. I liked her answer: She'd seen the joy in weddings (including her own) and wanted to be a part of creating that joy for others.

Harleigh (see picture below) struck me as soft spoken, but confident, and my interest in becoming her first bridal client grew when I learned she's a teacher. Clearly, one must be able to speak before an audience to command a classroom.

But what really cinched our interest was how prepared she was. She brought outlines and worksheets to help us decide which elements we want to include in our ceremony. Maybe every officiant does this, but it impressed us still.

Here's the outline we're using to delineate what we want:

And here's an example of a worksheet Harleigh, who is certified through a non-denomination church and prefers to perform small weddings, provided. It offers several options for each step in our ceremony, so we may choose the one best suited for us. And no worries, Harleigh told us. If there's nothing on the page we like, we're welcome to share one from another source.
My love has circled the options he likes, and I put hearts around them. Now, we're working gradually to decide what we want our ceremony to convey, which parts of the outline we feel are essential and which we'd rather not have. What we know definitively is this: We want to write our own vows.

It won't be easy. When, as a newspaper reporter, I sit down to write a story I know is incredible, it's always hard because I feel the pressure of doing it justice. So the question of the next several months is: How will I ever write vows to a man who's been so incredible to me, who is my everything?

For starters, I took notes at a wedding we recently attended. This couple also wrote their vows, and I teared up at much of what they said. Some excerpts:

"Every day that we're together is the best day of my life."
"I will love you as you are, not how I want you to be."

Of course, one shouldn't steal vows from another couple. The point of writing your own vows is for them to be precisely you two. That's what makes this whole intimidating process worth it in the end, right? So, one thing Steven and I have decided to do is collect and read every card we've ever exchanged in what we've dubbed our "card party." Here's the rainbow of cards we've amassed:

See any common denominator in many of the cards I've received? Hint: There's a live clue present (as she is whenever I'm doing something that involves paper on the floor).
And a couple months ago, my husband-to-be gave me this pretty little number and wrote his own description on it. He's a.d.o.r.a.b.l.e.
Being a writer and writing my own vows is akin, I'm sure, to being a composer and writing one's own first dance song. Inspiration is going to be key.

So, my love and I are having our card party. From what did you draw inspiration to write your vows?

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