The Cake Toppers

23 Feb

photo credit: bethany raelene

My dad joked when we first got married that he wanted to make bobble heads of us and sell them at a booth at the wedding to recoup some of the costs. On a whim one night at my Grandma’s house, I decided to look up how much it would cost. They were too expensive to make in bulk, but my dear Grandma insisted that we get those “bubble dolls” for the top of our cake. We did, and they were a huge success. And now, hello. We have bobble heads of ourselves. So sweet!… the place that made it happen. Great customer service- we didn’t like Eric’s nose in the first mockup they sent us, so they remade him.


Engagement Photos & Save the Dates

22 Feb

At first, we thought we might forgo the Save the Date- with Facebook, people already knew we were engaged, and it didn’t seem necessary to spend the money getting a Save the Date printed. A couple of things changed our minds.

1. We had a ton of people living out of state who would be coming, and we wanted to give them plenty of time to make travel arrangements.

2. We wanted to take engagement photos because we are vain and like pictures of ourselves.

Lucky for us, we know TWO amazing photographers. Ashley Forrette was going to shoot our wedding, so we asked our fantastic friend Bethany Raelene to take our engagement photos. We didn’t want anything generic for our location, so we picked the fabulous Hippo Hardware and a couple vintage stores for our shoot.

It was so much fun toodling around this old hardware store, using the insane textures on the walls and the cool props (like doors and ovens)… it made our photos so much more personal (not that there’s anything wrong with taking beautiful outdoor photos by the river, or lovely flowers… it’s just not us) and super rad. Plus Bethany is fantastic and sweet, so it made the experience awesome. It was also really helpful to spend time taking photos together- making the right kinds of faces, being cuddly in front of someone else… this made our photos for our wedding so much easier. For her blog on the shoot, click here.

We LOVED this image:

… and decided to use it for our Save the Dates. I edited the words on the stairs to reflect our date and names, and added a fancy border using the Jolby pattern that will one day have a post all its own. We didn’t try to make our Save the Date fit with any other theme in the wedding, but we did make sure it used that fancy pattern. And oh, I photoshopped a different face onto my head so I could be smiling in the pictures. Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone.

The Proposal

21 Feb

I started writing another entry, and I realized it would be ridiculous to continue on without giving credit to Eric for his absolutely incredible proposal. We had been together for a long time- and I am not a patient person. I had been bugging him endlessly about getting me a dang ring. I had already picked this one out, and ran it by him (he approved):

At long last (after 4 years of being together), Eric made a plan. I’ll tell you MY end of the story 🙂

A year prior, we had taken this photo for our Christmas cards. We sat on a bench, between two lampposts, on the bridge just feet away from our newly inhabited Portland apartment.

We had tried taking shots during other seasons (one snowy one came out cool but it’s gone missing). I told Eric I wanted more pictures on the bench, so it wasn’t weird when one day I got a text from him saying “hey, i got a gorilla-pod for the camera”… to which, of course, I responded, “oooh! let’s take a photo on the bridge!”… not knowing I was landing directly in the center of his trap!

We went out to dinner at Montage, one of our favorite spots. We went to the mall to get some new jeans. I fell down the stairs and busted my foot open (Eric, at this point, was crapping his pants, hoping I didn’t need to get taken to the hospital). We drove to the bridge, and upon seeing the bench, realized it was totally flooded. I said several times “let’s just skip it!” but Eric was persistent, so I swooshed as much of the water off as I could, and sat in the leftover puddle.

I sat in my position, smiled, and as the camera started taking photos, Eric got down on one knee and told me he always knew I was the one. He asked me to marry him, and I said (of course), YES!

He had set up the camera to take a photo every ten seconds, so we have incredible documentation of the glorious moment:

After that, I told him I wanted to show our friends the ring. My pants were soaking wet, however, so I told him I wanted to go back to the apartment to change. He said we could. We went upstairs, and as we made our way down the hall, he said, “just so you know, I had something brought up to the apartment.” Thinking I might open the door to a room full of flowers, I stepped across the doorway into darkness. We walked in, and suddenly someone turned on the lights. “CONGRATULATIONS!!!”… screamed my entire Portland family AND my Californian family… my sister, mom, dad, Grandma, and HIS mother and stepdad. Eric just knew. Portland is the place for us- it fits us in every way- and the only complaint (albeit a large one) that I have about the city is that it’s so far from my immediate family. I can’t barely stand it! He knew to have them there to celebrate the moment with us. It was the perfect way to spend the evening- our first as an engaged couple.

The Video of the Surprise

The Venue Inquiry

18 Feb

We needed a place to get hitched. We were getting married in Fresno and we knew we didn’t want to get married anywhere generic. If you know Fresno, you know that is a tall order. There are maybe 10 decent wedding venues, and we had been to all of them at least twice for other people’s weddings. We needed someplace novel, and US.

Simply entering “FRESNO WEDDING VENUE” didn’t bring up anything I didn’t already know. I added words like “area” and “quirky” and “unique.” This helped significantly, but I still wasn’t finding anything that caught my eye. Then I discovered forums.

Forums are sometimes overlooked when reviewing results from a browser search- but they shouldn’t be. Looking at posts titled “I am looking for a unique wedding venue in Fresno” was so much more fruitful. People had tons of ideas! Private residences. Museums. Vineyards. Whole worlds of venues opened up that I would have never found in regular searches. And paired with these results, there were personal accounts of how it was dealing with the venue. Magic.

At this point, I had a list of prospective venues that I thought were interesting, and from their sites I could usually glean their site fee and a few of their amenities. However, there were SO MANY HOLES in the venue picture. **Note: It took me several weeks to figure out that these holes were even problems- I wasn’t born knowing all of this. Promise.**

Capacity – usually not listed on the site. Weird.

Alcohol – is there an option to bring your own? This saves you a zillion dollars but is usually not possible.

Catering – do you have to go through them, or use preferred vendors, or can you choose your own?

Hidden Fees– Security, service, time restraints, coordinator… sometimes these things are automatically included but NOT mentioned on the site. These can sometimes double your site fee! No joke.

Rentals – are there any tables or chairs available there, or do you provide your own? Rentals can be super pricey, so if they are included in the site fee, you’re gonna save big time.

Some venues were amazing, and sent me full, fleshed out contracts with all hidden fees and estimated costs for rentals, alcohol, etc. Most did NOT do this, and it took several emails back and forth to get a reasonable estimate about how much things would cost. Honestly, this is a huge pain in the ass, and frequently, the site fee listed on the website was nowhere near the final cost estimates I made.

Of course, site fees and regulations will vary based on your city and state. In Fresno, all my estimates were between $2000 and $6000. In Napa, these prices were tripled (I was helping a good friend look at venues for her wedding and went through the same process).

The best advice I can give you: email immediately. Ask a million follow up questions. Hop on the horn if you are confused and get direct answers with WRITTEN confirmation of price estimates. Get as much information as you possibly can.

Because guess what? Price isn’t everything. You want your venue to be exactly what you want aesthetically and emotionally, too… so get a solid idea of your options that work within your price range, and then start visiting.

A Big Party About Being in Love

17 Feb

So, as it turns out, the whole reason for weddings in the first place is because you found someone you love (or that’s what it SHOULD be about, anyway), and you want to get a bunch of people together to tell them so. This is a concept that gets lost in the shuffle sometimes.

I can’t count the number of times I said to myself, “Don’t forget. It’s a big party. It’s just a big party.” Ultimately, that’s what the focus of this whole thing should be. It doesn’t matter if you are the skinniest you’ve ever been, or if the food is the most delicious, or if the usher’s gloves match the napkin rings. You might really really want those things to happen, but if they don’t… so what? Weddings are beautiful because it’s everyone you know and love, hanging out together, eating and drinking and dancing.

It can be hard to stay focused on that idea. Especially when your DJ isn’t responding to your emails, your votives arrive broken, you get 10 new RSVPs the day before the wedding and you have to reprint placecards while you get your makeup done the morning of, or someone steps on your billion dollar dress and puts a black footprint on it right before you walk down the aisle…. but you can do it. You CAN stay focused. Looking at your soon-to-be-husband in the face helps.

There’s a difference between Bridezilla and Bride-o-Rama. Bridezillas think that everyone should be doing what they tell them to, get pissed at people when they aren’t following their instructions closely, or freak out when EVERY.SINGLE.DETAIL isn’t exactly what they want. Bride-o-Ramas are so excited about their wedding that they want to spend every free moment researching, planning, creating, deciding. I think I was a Bride-o-Rama, but who really knows?

I will say this: the Bridezilla complex is not something you can plan against, change, or avoid. It’s a social construct. It doesn’t have to do with who you are. It has to do with the million details that YOU are in charge of- and each of those details is supposed to represent you, or you as a couple. That’s a lot of pressure. But remember. It’s a BIG PARTY ABOUT BEING IN LOVE. That’s the ticket, right there.

The Address Spreadsheet (and Guest List)

16 Feb

The other major spreadsheet I used was my address spreadsheet. This particular spreadsheet is not just for storing addresses, but also for keeping track of RSVPs, arranging tables, and logging gifts.

I sent out a mass email right after we were engaged asking everyone for their addresses. Of course, I had to ask my parents for a lot of addresses, and I didn’t have emails for everyone- so it was quite a process. In addition, this meant we had to decide THE GUEST LIST. Don’t start sending out emails until you are sure of who you’re going to invite. Nothing more embarrassing than asking for someone’s address and then not sending them anything.

Now, deciding your guest list can be extremely stressful. Once you decide on a few guests, whole worlds of people pop up who are suddenly in the running for a seat at your tables. In our situation, we had a huge number of family that were obviously on the list, so we started out at over 100 guests. It snowballed quickly to over 300. We ended up inviting 350, with less than 250 in attendance. We didn’t have any restrictions at our venue, so this amount of fluctuation was acceptable. However. This is not usually the case. Usually you want to keep a cap on your guest list- if you feel like there are several people who you would like to invite if spots become available, keep a B list handy, and make sure you send your invites out early enough to send B-listers their invites.

Also, remember: people understand that weddings are expensive and overwhelming. Folks understand if you can’t or don’t invite them. And if they don’t, and get butt-hurt, they aren’t worth the invite in the first place. We did end up inviting some people who we knew would want to come (who weren’t necessarily on our A-list) because ultimately, as I’ve said before, the wedding isn’t really for the bride and groom. It’s for the guests. So, if you know of someone who is just DYING to come, invite them! They’ll come with a smile on their face and feel honored to be a part of it.

Once your guest list is solidified and you have your B-list in place, then it’s safe to send out the email, gather your addresses, and start your address spreadsheet. The spreadsheet doesn’t lend itself to showing an example, but I will give you the column headers I used, and how I adjusted them as time progressed.

Adults- this was a number column dedicated to how many adults RSVPd YES.

Kids- same as above, but for kids.

First Names – this was used for placecards, kid bags, etc. As people RSVPd, I adjusted the names to reflect who was coming or not coming. I’ll cover how we handled plus-ones later.

Envelope Names – this was what went on the outside of the envelope. (The Roellke Family, Carolyn Doolittle and Martin Schneider, etc).

Street Address –  Originally I thought it would be easier to list the address line by line, but in hindsight it would have been more efficient to list them all in one cell. If you’re going to use a mail merge, that’s a different story, but I just copy and pasted the addresses into Photoshop. This is totally up to you. You can include an email column and a telephone column, but I didn’t have a use for them. Also, this is the area you will want to keep up to date as much as possible- even send out an update email right before you mail your invites to make sure everyone gets them.

Shower Gift – I had a column for what the gift was, and a column to check off when I sent the Thank You.

Wedding Gift – same as above

Table Area- this was what I originally used to group people into areas. Once I had specific RSVPs, I separated them out further into the next column.

Table – I kept a column beside this with a sum formula so I could track how many people were in each table. Good luck with table arrangements. They’re a pain in the ass.

Contributions – When people gave something to the wedding, helped with something, or provided a service, I kept track of it here. This helped so much when I was writing my final thank you notes- there are so many things happening while you plan your wedding- keep track of those people who help you along the way.


Get Organized: The Budget Schedule

14 Feb

This post is dedicated to my spreadsheets. Back in 1990, when I was first introduced to spreadsheets in Ms. Buffington’s 7th grade computer class, I wasn’t aware of the effect they would have on my wedding planning so many years later.

The benefit of having a digital to-do list is that you can change your priorities, add details, and hide the items you’ve accomplished so they’re out of your visual space. When I did my wedding, I had three major spreadsheets and a couple of auxiliary ones. Today we’ll talk about the Budget Schedule Spreadsheet, since it was the one I used the most.

Master Spreadsheet #1: The To-Do Budget Schedule

This spreadsheet was created very early on by compiling several different “Wedding To-Do” lists out of magazines and online searches. I weeded through the crap I didn’t need and added in stuff that is unique to our wedding. Then I organized those items based on which needed to be done first, and THEN….

THEN, I went through and estimated costs. This wasn’t easy, and took a ton of research, but when I was done, not only did I have a budget I could work with, but I could see the big ticket items. These big ones (deposit for catering, venue, dress, Eric’s wedding band) were spread out over the course of the year so that we could get some of them out of the way early on, and so that our big expenses weren’t jammed into the last two months before the wedding.

Even the best laid plans don’t always work, and our budget schedule fell apart when we both lost some income in late 2010. We still followed the plan, but ended up having to charge a good portion of our final expenses. It wasn’t the end of the world, but we did end up going into debt, which was our original NO-NO.

In addition, the budget schedule spreadsheet doubles as a To-Do list. There are plenty of things on the spreadsheet that do not cost money, but for the sake of coherence, I included all my items on this spreadsheet. This is a quick shot of what it basically looked like, before any items were checked off the list:

Note that each month is somewhat balanced with the other months as far as how much we had to spend. This was extremely helpful, since we knew exactly how much we should save each month to stay on track.

Then, I would highlight and “hide” the rows I had completed (only when I had TRULY completed them)…

The key to making these kinds of spreadsheets work is to update them frequently and adjust as necessary.  This particular spreadsheet of mine ended up being gigantic, heavily annotated, and absolutely invaluable.

Next up: Guest Spreadsheet