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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The Registry Dilemma

With the wedding less than two months away,  items from our registry have started arriving at our doorstep. Every time I come home from a long day at work to find a package waiting, reminding me of my upcoming nuptials, it puts a smile on my face and I’m touched that people are thinking of us and spent their hard-earned money on things that make us happy.

However, our Registry didn’t always bring me so much joy. In the beginning, it was a huge source of stress for me. For one thing, I love to shop. At one point I was spending so much of my income on clothes, I went on a self-imposed shopping hiatus and only wore six items of clothing for a whole month (with washing, of course). I attempted to prove that I didn’t need a continuous supply of new clothes. I soon feel back in to my old habits, so it was only natural that when I got engaged the Registry was one of the first things I started working on.

But where to register? Immediately, I made spreadsheets of the best places to register for each type of thing; was I more interested in housewares or honeymooning? Which places had the best perks? Completion rewards? Free gifts? I was quickly overwhelmed by the choices. I liked small appliances from Macy’s and linens from Bed Bath and Beyond, but I liked flatware from Crate and Barrel. Instead of paring down my interests and making a decision, I did what I usually do- I didn’t decide. Instead I went with a “universal” registry where I could add any item from any site…and went a little crazy. Soon, I’d expanded to TWO universal registries: Amazon, and MyRegistry.

My Registry

Amazon RegistryMy level headed fiance attempted to pull me down to Earth. He patiently reminded me that perhaps we really didn’t need three sets of flatware and four kinds of wine glasses. And while I was inclined to agree, I was stuck in a mental loop thinking about my life to be…and not MY LIFE NOW. I was living in a Pinterest-inflicted wedding nightmare: shouldn’t I use this registry to craft the perfectly manicured home that was to follow? Wasn’t it my only chance??

The concept of “entertaining” suddenly became all too acute, and I was aware that I had nothing specific to serve cheese on, for example. What a travesty! I had to rectify this RIGHT NOW. Immediately I went down the rabbit hole; there are so many choices: wooden boards, marble boards, slate boards… different shapes (hearts! states! animals!), ones with accessories and ones with tools. Cute ones and Classy ones. How can I ever choose? Every now and then my mind would be blown: how can I  turn down a board that features little cheesy islands floating amongst a sea of swirling crackers that ALSO cutely says Cheese and Crackers? Obviously I need it! I need them all! I will become a cheese serving MACHINE! Muhahahahahaa!! Okay no, I didn’t add that one. But still, it’s an adorable idea.

Cheeseboard

Cheese & Crackers cheeseboard from Uncommon Goods

Just as I was the compulsive Registry adder, my fiance was the compulsive Registry researcher. I would add the first thing I saw that I marginally liked, then add ten more of the same thing, and promptly experience regret and then hopelessness when I found something better and realized I should choose only one. My fiance favored researching all the possibilities for one object then thoroughly and fully vetting each one before deeming it worthy to add.

Both approaches provoked disagreement and unrest, and I started getting anxious, as if furnishing our home together was a terrifying glimpse into the fate of our subsequent marriage. I lost sleep at night, I started to dread our registry conversations. But then I took a step back and a deep breath…and calmed down. I looked at the things we most wished for but couldn’t afford or needed for our life now (not our invisible future life) and I added those. I added things we would use, and better versions of things we had but wanted to upgrade. The registry started to take shape. I was stunned when I read Bon Apetit’s “The Kitchen Tools you actually need on your Wedding Registry” and found that our newly pared down list had almost all of those, but not too much extra fat.

I’ve learned it’s a process not to be taken lightly, but shouldn’t be overly stressful. As with most wedding things, a happy medium is the best, and freaking out too much doesn’t serve much good. Now let’s hope I can bring this zen attitude to the rest of the million things I have to do, and this wedding will be a breeze.

12 Days of Meals: Eating Inspiration

As the wedding draws closer (140 days away!), I’ve been trying to make an effort to eat healthier. Unfortunately, it’s easy to fall into a boring food routine, where branching out becomes take-out. And while I’m an expert eater, I shy away from the stove unless it’s for Mac ‘n Cheese or breakfast foods like fried eggs, pancakes, and french toast. Fortunately, my fiance more than makes up for my lack of stove talent by growing his cooking skills exponentially, and I just had to share some of his creations here.

For a several weeks now, my culinarily inclined fiance tried really hard to make interesting and delicious food to tempt me away from the ever present graduate school pizza. This is seriously no joke: during the last week, I had pizza for lunch three days in a row and twice for dinner! Extremely bad for my waistline. Eating home-cooked food is always better and cheaper than ready made meals, even if the foods we choose to eat at home aren’t the most calorically restrictive. For example, one of the meals we had is a burger, which is probably the least close to diet food, but having bison meat instead of beef is much leaner and just as delicious. We drew inspiration from many different cuisines to keep it interesting, and just had fun with it. If anyone has ideas for fun and interesting recipes, please send them my way!

From Left to Right, Top to Bottom:

  1. Puff pastry stuffed with ground chicken, currants, and parsley
  2. Roast Chicken with Quinoa, chopped Brussels sprouts and toasted almonds
  3. Roast lamb with Bacon collard greens
  4. Tomato poached eggs with ground beef and cous cous
  5. Chicken Mole burritos
  6. Tempura battered Fish with homemade tarter sauce
2014-02-23 21.09.417. Homemade Ramen with shaved beef and enoki mushrooms
2014-02-23 21.15.248. Roasted honey mustard and bacon Brussels sprouts
9. Spicy sausage tacos with guacamole and pickled cabbage
10. Coconut lime mussels
11. Kale and chorizo Portuguese stew
 
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12. Homemade Bison burgers with a fried egg and homemade pickles
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The challenge for this coming week is not to buy anything at the grocery store that contains added sugar. It’s going to be tough, but just the simple awareness of ingredients in the food that we are buying can help us become more conscientious eaters, on the path to healthier eating!

Getting a Fit-(ting) figure

It turns out that the Freshmen 15 in college is just a red herring- it’s graduate school where all the pounds fly on. Graduate school should be renamed carb city: for all the free pizza seminars, bagel-strewn lab meetings, and of course journal club donuts. Long story short, since joining this carb city club I have put on about ten pounds–all of which needs to come off before my first wedding dress fitting in four months time. Let the countdown begin!

My conundrum is this: yes, I COULD eat a carb-less diet, exercise, and lose it all in weeks. Other unattractive options include juice cleanses and developing a sudden distaste of chocolate. I’ve decided I will instead develop pizza blindness and eat more healthy carbohydrates: yes apparently these do exist. I’ve discovered this wonderfully chewy and indulgent oatmeal that I’ve fallen helplessly in love with, which can fully and completely satisfy my carb cravings, no pizza required.

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They are steel cut oats (what all the doctors say are the best), and just look at all that protein! I’m not going gluten free, but if you are it’s even more amazing. Half a cup of this, with some fresh or dried fruit is simply the best. If I want extra energy, I add a little chia seeds. Here I used dried currents and apricots with a teaspoon of chia seeds. It came out looking like this:

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3 cups water + 1 cup oatmeal+ simmer 15 minutes = 2 people having the best oatmeal ever

It has a wonderfully chewy texture which I absolutely enjoy, but if you like it softer like my fiance, you can simply cook it longer with a little more water. After this, I feel ready to tackle the day and, you guessed it, exercise! To move my exercise regimen along, I’ve committed to at least 30-45 minutes every 1-2 days, with aerobic weights and yoga. Apparently everyone has the same idea because 10lbs weights were virtually sold out everywhere during the New Year. I don’t do yoga usually, but it’s such an easy thing to do at home (since it’s -20 degrees out, and for the gym I have to go outside), so in order to motivate myself I whipped up a cute crocheted bag for my yoga mat, with a knit I-cord drawstring:

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It’s a great craft for those who want to sit down for many hours and watch football, but feel a little too guilty to just eat and drink beer the whole game. I had some extra yarn to use up and I’m not an advanced crocheter, so during the NFL playoffs I literally sat down for two whole games and crocheted the whole thing start to finish. I paired it with Jillian Michael’s Yoga Meltdown the other day and the result was fantastically sore muscles and an exciting new exercise regimen! Here’s to hoping I can keep it up.

Running for Wedding Planning

I meant to write this post months ago, in the throws of training for a (now complete) Half Marathon. Now on the heels of the New Year, I feel inclined to revisit my experiences this year, and this milestone in particular. As it happened, I shared my running experiences with only a few people, fairly self-conscious throughout the whole process and mystified as to why I had signed up.

DNA shoes for the running Geneticist

DNA shoes for the running Geneticist

Outwardly, I paid to run 13.1 miles for fitness, but inwardly I allowed myself to be swayed into registration to get a glimpse of understand into the limits of what my body could accomplish. I was in the middle of a very stressful period, having completed what felt like a marathon (no pun intended) of wedding venue tours and intense financial discussions, to finally book what I hoped would be the ideal location to wear my newly acquired White Dress without bankrupting myself. The location was secured only hours before flying 3,000 miles back to reality, and planning was put on hold again. Lapsing out of wedding planning mode gave way to a nervous anxiety in which I felt like I should be doing something, but what?

I have many runner friends, totally dedicated and awesome, who advocated running to me. Running, by all accounts, was the perfect way to clear your head, to think about exactly nothing, and that’s exactly what I wanted. With all the mental exertion of late, it was time for something physical.

In the beginning, I textbook trained, sticking to a rigorous schedule running up to 20 miles a week. That feeling of accomplishment when I pushed myself, all alone, to run farther then I ever had was peaceful. It’s a wonderful feeling actually, to know you are marching toward success slowly but surely. I liked to know unambiguously what steps should be taken, and lacking that elsewhere in my life, I was trying to create that with running. But little did I know that feeling I craved was much like walking up a downward escalator, what happens when you get to the top? You go down.

Leading up to the day of my half I barely slept at all. It didn’t help I was also sick, but the nerves prevented me from getting the rest I needed to get better faster. Being sick didn’t fit into my plan and jeopardized months of training. At the same time, it presented an easy out…the lurid prospect of not having to follow through without the social consequence of public failure. Who could blame a sick person for not running a marathon booked months ago?

Luckily, a friend stepped up to motivate me to push through, whether she knew it or not. During the race I wondered if I was using this activity to feel like I was accomplishing my goals without really accomplishing my goals. And so, disappointingly, after finishing my first half marathon I felt anything but accomplished. Why? I only felt tired. Defeated.

Now I understand that all this hunger to accomplish things without the satisfactory feelings has less to do with the literal things I do, and more with how I choose to feel about them. This is why everything wedding related that I tackle never feels done, I only mentally move on to the next stressful must-do thing without celebrating what I have already taken care of. How overwhelming! It was making the whole planning process feel like a chore, like an extra full time job rather than a dream come true. Running provided stress relief and an understanding of my state of mind at the same time…but it was so physically challenging that I may actually look to other forms of exercise in the future. I injured myself and spent the day after the Half hobbling around and avoiding stairs entirely…but maybe that’s just part of it, who knows.

As the new year approaches, I get nostalgic for resolutions and think more about accomplishments.  Changing my outlook about these accomplishments is now on my resolutions list for next year…more on that in the next post. Running was able to reinforce for me the idea that when you put your mind to something and be very proactive about it, you can accomplish very big things. I think Nike had it right after all: JUST DO IT.

Wedding Contradictions

I feel as though Weddings are deeply contradictory. Here are the contradictions I wrestling with right now:

  • Marriage is supposed to be an intimate and personal moment, in front of an audience of, on average, over a hundred people.
  • It’s supposedly all about the Bride, but a union of two people.
  • Blushing Bride vs. BrideZilla
  • I buy the most expensive dress of my life, only to wear it once.
  • I shouldn’t consider anyone else’s schedule when scheduling an event that is really just for everyone else.
  • A new couple without any money is expected to shell out exorbitant amounts for their “Big Day”
  • The Bride and Groom pay lots of money to spoil their guests, and yet attending a wedding can break the bank for those same guests.
  • “the best day of your life” can easily become the most stress you’ve ever experienced (although I’m not THAT far into grad school yet…)

Right now, as I visit venues to pick a site for my wedding, I’m torn between having fun with it and taking it extremely seriously. I want to share the fun with as many people as I can and enjoy the process, but some disagree and think it should be a closely guarded secret. Being too inclusive, I’m told, can lead me to agree to things I don’t want, be swayed by other opinions unnecessarily, and become caught up in the futile cycle of trying to please everyone.

Weddings are full of contradictions…so far I’m just trying to take everything in stride. And keep things in perspective. It’s a work in progress.

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.