A Retrospective: My Top Wedding Planning Tips

Fresh from crossing the threshold from fiance to Mrs in 2014, I’m looking forward to my first year as married woman in 2015 and it’s safe to say things look a little different from here. Going from knowing absolutely nothing about weddings, to having planned and had my own (ten years in the making), it’s crazy how different I feel about it now! I was so completely overwhelmed when I started, that I was ready to give up and elope several times. But boy am I glad we stuck it out and had a great big party to celebrate! It was worth it.

10649856_10102958486236693_1545313371434746882_nHere is my perspective on the process from start to finish, from a wedding newbie starting from scratch, getting married in California and planning from Boston.

Overwhelmed: Where to Start? How about The Dress. I know it’s seems like a strange place to begin, how can you figure out what to wear if you literally have no other details? Well, it’s one of the only things you can do without a date. Most dresses can be altered to add or remove sleeves, for example, if you switch the time of year you get married. It’s also a way to ease in to the wedding world without spending money or making a big commitment, since most salons allow you to try on lots of dresses for free without purchasing right away, or at all.

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Find a Venue before you pick a Date. We went through the process of picking our ideal season, best dates and times of year, but when we started searching for venues, that all went out the window. We found the ideal place: a historic walled garden in the heart of downtown old town Monterey, CA: gorgeous, affordable, central: booked two years in advance. They had ONE DATE left for the entire year: August 9th, which at the time, was over a year away. It was the place, we took it. That was after we told most of our friends we would get married in the spring. Oh well! The bottom line: most venues book so far ahead or have seasonal restrictions, that sometimes compromising when you can get married will smooth the planning process.

Invite only as many people as you can feed. It sounds weird, but it’s not a good idea to invite more people, and expect a certain number of “No’s.” Set an early deadline for RSVP’s so you can have a good idea of headcount well before the wedding, and then invite more people as a second tier if you have less than desired. Being underspent is much less of a shock than overestimating.

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Have one thing that inspires you. For us, it was our cake. I posted about struggling to find a theme and a color scheme for our wedding ages ago, and how we saw a picture of a cake that gave us the inspiration to start planning. We decided to give that picture to the wonderful ladies at Just Cake and she did an excellent job replicating the original design and preserving our thematic inspiration.

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Seriously consider a Wedding Coordinator. I thought it would be a waste of money, with a hefty pricetag and not much value. I decided to hire a coordinator for “Day of” services when it became apparent that planning from afar I would need some boots on the ground with experience. I used Yelp to find Patty Speirs of Every Last Detail. For those unsure of what “Day of” services entail, Patty actually began coordinating two months in advance to get everything organized, interfaced with all my vendors to coordinate set up and clean up, directed the rehearsal, timed the walking down the aisle and the flow of the day, and so many more things that I would never have thought of doing. It might be different for someone else with a lot of wedding experience, but for me, I was able to enjoy the day and be worry-free: a priceless experience.

The best planning resources.

  1. Google Drive: We kept all our spreadsheets here: guest lists, research on florists and venues, made it easy to access from anywhere and plan whenever I could regardless of whether I was on a phone or computer. Not only that, many vendors emailed us documents, and it was much easier to add them directly to a Drive folder, rather than printing everything out.
  2. Here Comes the Guide: Although this is only relevant for brides planning a California, Chicago, Hawaii, or DC wedding, it’s the most comprehensive resource for venues, vendors, pricing, etc, that I found that isn’t totally overwhelming and not user-friendly. It put together details about venues that I didn’t even know I should be thinking about, but having those things itemized gave me the outline of a mental checklist to keep in mind when I visited places in person.
  3. Evernote. I use my iPhone a lot, and this tool was the best way to keep checklists organized, updated, and synced across my computer, phone, and tablet. When something struck me I could just write it down immediately, and it would be in one place, and still everywhere I needed it. It came in most useful toward the homestretch, when there were so many tiny details to think about.
  4. Pinterest. While there is an epidemic or Pinterest-perfect wedding wishes and cliches out there, it’s still a good aggregate of styles, colors, ideas, and DIY’s. On Pinterest I was able to find some wonderful ideas that I made my own, such as the aforementioned cake. I also found my invitation vendor by browsing Pinterest: Elli, which is a unique collective of designers who make customizable wedding stationery so gorgeous, I wish they did more than just weddings!

If you’re planning a wedding, good luck! I’m looking forward to NOT having to plan anymore, and just revel in memories of a happy day!

Venue: Historic Memory Gardens, Monterey, CA

Catering: Grapes of Wrath Catering

Photography: Michael Keel Photography

Cake: Just Cake

Flowers: Kate Healey of Big Sur Flowers

DJ: RockBottom DJ

Wedding Planning: Patty Speirs of Every Last Detail

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Pinterest and the Perfect Wedding

Plenty of little girls are known to play wedding with their dolls and teddy bears, imagining their perfect day from infancy. Now it’s acceptable for grown women to fawn over flower arrangements and dresses, picking out their perfect ring before a wedding is in sight. I never thought about weddings in much detail: I had never even attended a wedding before two years ago. I didn’t have any idea how to plan a wedding when I got engaged: and suddenly everyone was asking me if I had a date. Overnight having a date had morphed into something much bigger than dinner and a movie. I needed guidance, direction, inspiration. And so I did what I thought was the logical thing: I followed everything wedding on Pinterest, and googled “Wedding Blog” and added Ruffled, 100 Layer Cake, and Green Wedding Shoes to my blogroll. Instantly, my Pinterest was transformed into a floral pastel wonderland, and I got that wistful far off look in my eye.

It was so incredibly easy for me to let those images of impossibly gorgeous flower arrangements and matching table settings convince me that anything short of having all of that would be inadequate, boring, and ugly. Isn’t this what everyone was expecting? Spending a fortune seemed like a prerequisite for a fairytale wedding, did that mean I wasn’t going to have one?? It was hard to ignore that on TLC’s Four Weddings the one with the budget under 50K never won. No, never. But I’m a graduate student on a fixed income, and no matter how much I balanced out the unattainably gorgeous pins with functional “Wedding Budget under $6,000: You’ll be glad you pinned this one day!!” I began to realize how much the two did not go together. My anxiety was through the roof. I began to feel increasingly like I was underwater paddling flailing for air every time I saw something wonderful that I knew was out of reach.The scariest part was still the unknowns- the questions everyone was asking me that I couldn’t answer: When? Where? What’s your theme? And all I was thinking was How??? I thought Pinterest held the answer- I even found a cake that provided my perfect wedding inspiration: and I thought things might just come together. I had gone on a Pinterest binge but now I had to divest myself emotionally: Pinterest cold turkey.

Flash forward six months and I hadn’t done a single thing in my wedding planning. Instead I’d focused on school: finished my graduate classes, chosen a thesis advisor, and passed my qualifying exams. Suddenly, I was feeling like a confident powerhouse and ready to marry the man I loved. Gaining control over my life helped me reconnect with how I was going to tackle this gorgeous overwhelming monster named Wedding. The How.

How turned out to be the answer for me. I found an invaluable and wonderful resource called Here Comes the Guide that helped me research California Wedding Venues from my Boston apartment, getting a cursory idea of what beautiful places were both in my price range and near my childhood home. I felt so much better after making an itemized spreadsheet (I know…) of my favorite places that were also within my price range; somehow having all the costs on *electronic* paper was a lot less scary than the unnamed skyrocketing costs I imagined in my head.

Now I’m taking it just one step at a time. Step 1: VENUE. It’s going to be 10 venue visits in 6 days, find one and BOOM. Done.

Why you should reschedule Valentine’s Day

Okay, V-Day was over a week ago, so why am I still thinking about it? As a young city couple on a student budget who are also saving for a wedding, the idea paying through the roof for a rose bouquet is not a welcome thought. I love chocolate, but does it really have to be twice as expensive a few times a year? Valentine’s Day comes too soon after Christmas when I’ve still got no money left, it’s also the week after my fiance’s birthday which I’ve already racked my brains to plan. Especially this year, all the hearts and pink things just put me in an obstinate “I refuse to indulge your manufactured holiday” mood.

That being said, I do like the idea of Valentine’s Day as a way to reconnect to the romantic side of being a couple, get adorably cheesy on purpose, and eat lots of chocolate. That is why this year my fiance and I made the joint decision to reschedule our Valentine’s Day for a time that worked best for us. We can enjoy the convenience of doing ours on a weekend where we don’t have to rush to dinner after work, have the luxury of sleeping in and cooking whatever we want, and the added perk of 75% off all things pink, flowery, and chocolate.

And while our Valentine’s Day may not be what someone else might choose to do with their loved one, a tailor made day enjoying simply being a young couple in love still sounds better to me than crowded dinner reservations.

Our couple’s day out:

Start with piping hot coffee and delicious homemade Strawberry Oatmeal Banana Pancakes modified from this delicious recipeImageAfter that, it’s gadget shopping fun and thrift store trawling together, lunch at a cheap new Falafel place we’ve been meaning to try in Davis Square earning rave reviews and to finish off the day we’ll see Silver Linings Playbook at the cutest theater ever, hopefully the perfect bit of comedy and romance. Lastly, since we’ve set up a nice crock pot soup to cook while we’re out, we’ll come home to a delicious dinner and watch the snow fall outside. Now that’s what we call a nice day out.

Things I now know about Blizzards

Driving from California to Massachusetts all those years ago, I thought I was over the culture shock within a year. But I had forgotten the kind of events that you may only experience once a year (or not at all some years) that life-long New Englanders have under their belts: a snow storm.

Now with Blizzard Nemo dumping 24 inches in 24, it marks only my second ever experience with over 12 inches of snowfall and my very first blizzard. I’m excited I’ve now experienced one of the top 5 biggest snow storms in Boston’s history! I look back and can’t help but think maybe I’ve learned a thing or two. As a Californian, my idea of being prepared for snow was having chains for your car tires and a hose to melt the ice off your windshield. Turns out, neither of those are a good idea here.

Lesson 1, Shoveling: shovel out as soon as humanly possible, but not before it’s stopped snowing. Do not, under any circumstances allow the snow to melt and re-freeze before shoveling or you’ll just get iced over. Surprisingly, pouring jugs of how water on the ground will not help you remove the ice. Do not wear cute knitted gloves, this will provide no grip and make handling the shovel impossible. You need something with grip, like leather. Figure out where you are going to put the snow, it has to be somewhere it can sit around for a long time.

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Lesson 2, The Car: Make sure you’re parked on the correct alternating side of the street. If you don’t plan to drive all winter, at least start the car once in a while–it won’t start at all by the end if you don’t. Put up your wipers up before the snow happens otherwise they will freeze to your windshield. Also, when shoveling around your car don’t forget there can be snow under it too, which will make getting out of your parking spot just as hard. Take the snow off the top of the car first though– it’s probably more than it looks like and then you’ll have to shovel the ground around your car twice. Brush off your car with something soft, like a broom. Ice + scraping = scratches. Keep such an implement in your car all winter. Your wiper fluid will be frozen, so don’t try spraying it on your windshield to remove ice. Learn how to parallel park: two big banks of snow on either side of your shoveled out spot takes an expert to get in and out, if you don’t do it, someone else will. Guard your parking spot like a maniac: use a stroller, lawn chair, whatever you can to save your spot while you’re away, shoveled out spots are good as gold and lots of people are lazy. My personal favorite: trash can.

Lesson 3, transportation: Just because you can drive your car in the snow doesn’t mean it will obey your commands. Public transportation may shut down in the middle of the day so don’t depend on that either. Even walking someplace takes twice as long in lots and lots of snow, do you really have to be wherever it is? Sometimes it’s best to stay home.

Lesson 4, Work: Weigh the cost of what you have to do versus how long it will take you to get there, sometimes it’s just not worth it. Also, if campus is closed, your swipe card may not work: they’ve thought of how to keep overzealous kids like you out.

How-Tuesday: DIY Bike Light from The Etsy Blog

How-Tuesday: DIY Bike Light | The Etsy Blog.

I’m hoping to get a bike soon and I’ll also have a free summer. Put those two together and voila! The perfect DIY project for me. Coming from the land of bikes (ie, Davis, CA) I had some withdrawal and nostalgia coming to Davis Square, MA without a bike. Now I have to stock up on the essentials once more so maybe I can save money in the process but where the heck can I get one LED light?

So far my DIY TO-DO list is stacking up, I’m actually making a list of all those things I would never have time for unless, well, I have time for them! We’ll see how long my DIY enthusiasm lasts.

 

(Not so) Spooky Salem

This weekend I ventured out to the town of Salem, trying to make a boring chore a little more fun. From Boston it’s just 25 minutes or so up the road and I’ve heard that October is the best time to go, when they are in full Halloween extravaganza mode. I don’t know what I was expecting, but Salem did not live up to the mental images swimming in my head. Despite being a beautiful 85 degree Columbus day, I was not too happy as soon as I arrived, shortly becoming swamped in bumper to bumper tourist traffic, everyone looking for a place to park mid-morning just like me. I tried in vain to parallel park my way into a particularly tight spot, and while I thought I had just gotten lucky, I realized too late that it was empty for a reason. I soon found myself in an Austin Powers moment inching forward and back between a big black SUV and a chunky Cadillac sedan.  I had to park far from the downtown in the end, walking over a mile to and from. Walking to downtown, I never felt so out of place. Although the tree-lined streets bordered the most adorable and well-kept houses, the people were anything but. Sweatpants and hoodies seemed the order of the day everywhere I looked, granted the only people about seemed to be coming in and out the liquor stores on every corner. Me in my skirt and flats seemed dressy, and drew looks from the lounging sweatshirt clad men, complete with their hood up and sunglasses on. I think there is something wrong if you’re lounging about in a sweatshirt in near 90 degree heat, but hey, I’m the clueless tourist here.

Finally in downtown Salem, the crowd was too large for comfort, and I kept tripping on little kids, then subsequently colliding with their frantic parents. Nasty witch statues were outside of every store, which the kids delighted in ripping the hair off and out, while their parents yelled at them to smile for the camera. All I wanted was a cute place to eat, and I was promised fresh locally sourced ingredients from a family owned artisan bakery that I read about in a magazine feature. The sandwich shop that looked so cute on the outside was like a diner inside, and somehow absurdly large with plates of food to match. I asked if they had sandwiches to go, to which the waiter responded “We do everything, Whaddya want?” I looked around and saw he was right, racks of lamb and huge steaks precariously piled atop potato and gravy mountains kept emerging from the kitchen. For lunch? I just ordered a sandwich to go and squeezed my way out. I wanted to find a nice shady bench to eat on and people watch. The only bench I could find looked right in to a tattoo parlor, which was surprisingly and almost suspiciously busy. I wouldn’t have thought tattoos did big business in a tourist area, especially since the biggest sign on the door was the surprisingly grumpy “This is not a shortcut to the mall.” I thought it was a joke until I realized there actually was a mall around the corner, the last thing I would have expected for a town founded in the 1630’s. Most of the shops were kitschy spell casting supplies or T-shirts announcing how you survived Salem, but there were a few cute home decor stores, a yarn shop, a vintage clothing shop, and a bead store. As I looked on a man in period clothing announced a trial for a suspected witch, reenacting the famous witch trials and offering tourists a spot on the “jury.” This is more like what I was expecting, but my curiosity turned to eye rolling as soon as the poor costumed man and his fake accent was drowned out by a college kid with a mic and amp shouting for people to come watch sexy coeds sing acapella. I’m sorry? Is that how coeds rock Salem? Strangely people were more interested in that then the period reenactment, and I sort of looked around wondering if I was in the right part of Salem. Was this all it was about? After circling most of the shops worth visiting, I was thoroughly sweaty and craving something cold. One cute shop was advertising “old fashioned frozen custard.” It sounded interesting at the time, but in hindsight sounds pretty disgusting. I gave it a shot anyway and starting walking back to my car. The only way I can describe it was like melted marshmallow turned soft serve, with plenty of corn syrup. I was sick by the time I got to my car, and thought I might vomit driving myself back, which would be hard to escape from.

So all in all not the best visit, but I’m sure it’s mostly not Salem’s fault. I didn’t want to pay to see any of the museums or galleries of historical stuff, so I had to make due with browsing the not so nice stores and fending off hoards of people. At least the walk back also afforded some nice seascape scenery, which I always enjoy. Too bad I was feeling too sick to really appreciate it. One unexpected upside to the drive to Salem, rather than Salem itself, was seeing the town of Swampscott. No, it doesn’t sound like a nice kind of place, but in fact it was beautiful. I would have loved to spend a summer day there, maybe next year.

A Craig’s List Adventure

I had only a few goals as I rolled in to work this morning: study for my upcoming midterm, get all my time-points done for work, and go grocery shopping. I still badly needed coffee since I was dragging my half asleep self to Starbucks every morning and ordering venti coffees.  All that changed as I sipped said coffee and browsed Craig’s list ads for appliances. I was on the hunt for a portable dishwasher, a much sought after commodity in a land filled with old pseudo-renovated houses. For months now I’ve made offers too little too late, and my eyes lit up when I saw one in good shape for the low price of $50. I saw the ad was recently posted, so I didn’t even think, just grabbed the phone.

Before I knew it, I had committed to purchasing an appliance that was over an hour away and needed transportation my small car could not provide. My Honda Civic was spacious, but not appliance worthy, so somehow I had to get my hands on a truck or SUV. Enter the Zipcar. Although I had never used it, I’d seen ads all over and knew it was popular in Boston. The only problem: the pickup location was over an hour south of the city, and I had to find a truck available both in this time window and within walking distance from my work. Miraculously, one was available, and leaving my own car parked at work, I got road trip worthy snacks and set out on my journey.

I’d driven that direction before to go to the Outlet stores in Wrentham, Mass, and if you drive for an hour or so south you hit the Mass/Rhode Island border. As the rocky cliffs along the freeway began to have graffiti  American flags plastered on them, I felt like I was in the boonies for sure, and became a little fearful as I proceeded to get lost. I was somewhere in the small town of Bellingham, where I was supposed to have arrived half an hour earlier. It was a town dominated by vacant office buildings spaced incredibly awkwardly between one chain store and another, all with huge spaces in between containing nothing but grass. There seemed to be no organization to the town, just a rambling road down which various stores scattered themselves along the edges.  It had the effect of making me feel aimless, until suddenly I missed my turn and found myself across state lines and into Rhode Island. I promptly made a U-turn, which has become my only foray into this state: lasting all of one minute. Finally, I pulled up to a house which was one of the few that was not (I do not kid) a log cabin. Two men in plaid shirts and baseball caps lounged outside the garage, and since I was a half hour late, I wondered how long they had been waiting. The whole cash transaction was quick, and they loaded the massive dishwasher in the hatchback with ease.

For the long ride I had endured to get there, the deal seemed laughably quick and easy. On the way back I stopped in a Walgreen’s for some refueling, but I didn’t delay because it was eerily empty and yet ridiculously large. Baskets in the isles full of loose women’s underwear advertised “4 for $10!” and I practically ran out of there.

But now I had a problem. The zipcar was due back in a little over an hour, and I still had an hour’s drive ahead of me, not to mention that I had to unload the dishwasher twenty minutes away from the drop off spot. A late vehicle incurred a $50 fee, which would almost negate the cheap price I paid for the dishwasher. By the time I got  back in to Boston I had barely ten minutes to get the car back, so I had no choice. I dropped the appliance right on the sidewalk, outside a friend’s house who lived close to the car’s drop off spot. We simply left it there while we returned the car, exactly on time. Safe! But the dishwasher was still sitting on the curb, how to get it to my house? Luckily, a co-worker who lived nearby and also had an SUV, agreed to help me transport it, and by 8pm I had it my kitchen, safe and sound. Now all I have to do is figure out where to put it and how to make it run! And hopefully, it really does work, especially after all the lugging around it endured. Success?