Category Archives: wedding

backdrop by me, Clare Mullins Photography and Meg Burrell stationery

Back in the Wedding Business?

As many of you know, I used to run a wedding dress shop in Ann Arbor Michigan, which was completely staffed by volunteers, where the dresses were donated, and where the proceeds were used at the Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor.  It was a fun and fulfilling endeavor and sometimes I miss being around brides and their families in their happy moments.

Last weekend, I felt like I was back in that world, while collaborating on a styled wedding photography shoot with Clare Mullins Photography. Clare pulled together her vision for a Monet-inspired watercolor and gold theme and brought in her sister to model. I painted a 9.5 ft x 5 ft backdrop in shades of white, green, gold and pink, andMeg Burrell created a clean and modern stationery suite.

It was the first time I had created a work this large or created a backdrop of any kind (save for maybe those huge clothes we made for sorority skits haha) and it was a challenge but fun!

Quick: Google “how to make a backdrop!” That’s what I did! I ordered a few rolls of the biggest canvas and heavy duty paper I could find. But not wanting to buy poles and such, we decided to go with paper that could be hung directly onto the wall of the room Clare had rented for the shoot.

In my tiny apartment, I unfurled the longest length possible and painted, waited for it to dry, rolled it in from the end and unfurled another section, working to integrate all the parts seamlessly.

When I was finally able to unroll the whole thing across the room on the shoot day, I loved the way it all came together!! We chose to hang it vertically for the shoot, but I would love to see it framed hanging horizontally behind someone’s couch. It definitely has a watery/Monet-y quality to it.

From the 90s pop soundtrack to elegant beaded wedding dress Clare had chosen, the shoot was perfect and so much fun. I had never met Clare or Meg in person before but I was in awe of how well we worked together and got along. It was such a fantastic experience, and I cannot thank these ladies enough.

More photos coming soon, and the painting will be listed for sale here shortly.

1 Year In…

Happy anniversary! It’s just been one year of marriage, and I cannot believe how quickly it flew by. I’m still thinking about what a fun time our wedding weekend in Jamaica was and miss that great party. Our favorite part was everyone up and dancing to a spot-on DJ.

But married life is pretty good too. Now if I would only get to making those wedding albums….

Thank you Natalie Franke for the GORGEOUS photos 🙂

MoBay Wedding Part I: The Planning

As you may or may not know, Mark and I are getting married in Montego Bay, Jamaica this year.  We’ve been to “MoBay” many times both together and separately with our families as kids, but neither of us had ever been to the actual resort where this is happening.  So we figured maaaaaaybe we should check it out.  Maybe.  We’d heard good things.  So we were off!

We headed out Memorial Day Weekend to check out the scene, meet with our on-staff planner, and taste the food that we’d already selected for our menu.  The weekend started off with some good news/bad news:

Good news: We were traveling business class, and while we technically weren’t supposed to be allowed into the Delta lounge at Detroit’s airport (because it wasn’t a transatlantic or transpacific international flight), the lady at the front desk thought we looked okay so she let us in.  Score – free (good) coffee!


Good news: Welcome mimosas on the plane!


Bad news: Guy in front of my spilled his mimosa down the side of his seat and the wall, and I didn’t notice that my purse was wet and smelled like sour baby barf until just before we landed.  Ick.

Bad news: The lady behind me had a persistent and hacking cough.  And I had just contemplated taking expired Airborne the night before, but decided I would probably be fine and threw it out instead.  Double ick.  (Luckily I didn’t get sick, which is like, the first time ever.)

Okay, so we got there in pretty much one piece, and the rest of the weekend was smooth sailing minus a crazy amount of bug bites.  Note to self: bring mosquito repellent!

Since our planner couldn’t meet with us until Monday because they had 3 weddings on Saturday, we had Saturday and Sunday to ourselves to relax, eat lots of good smoked jerk chicken and pork, and scope out the other weddings.  We didn’t actually go in and crash them, but we hovered on the periphery, noting the ambiance, lighting, etc. So far, so good!IMG_3524

IMG_3535View from our balcony. IMG_3539 IMG_3540 IMG_3542Lounging on the beach.


We met with our planner on Monday for a full day of meetings (with the florist, DJ, lighting guy, booking agent, etc.) and cake tasting (YES!!!!) and actual food tasting (everything was so so good; I’m so excited).  We made a lot of decisions, and I think we were able to better show and verbalize our vision for the event (okay, let’s be honest, my vision and some of Mark’s input too….I think he was incredibly bored at the florist 😀 ).

We had new one hiccup: the issue of a tent vs. no tent.  We were planning on going no tent…what’s the point of being outside if you’re just going to be in a tent?  And they have done it without a tent on the property before, and it looks lovely.  So that’s the assumption under which we were operating coming into the weekend; it wasn’t even an open question.  But then we met with the Food & Beverage Manager, and he basically told us No you must have a tent.  Huh?  As he explained, with our particular situation (plated dinner, over 80 people), they wouldn’t be able to move us indoors in case of rain (because that’s too much food to move across the property to a ballroom, as opposed to a buffet where they could just pick up the chaffing trays and run, and the pavilion right next to our lawn doesn’t hold that many people).  And even if it didn’t rain during the event, if it rained during the afternoon, the team wouldn’t have time to set up.  Hm.  Makes sense.  Just frustrating though that this is coming to light NOW, when we are down there….if we haaaadn’t gone down….okay I can’t go down that train of thought.

Tents are not cheap by the way.  It’s not like, oh okay, here’s five dollars, please set up a tent.

After much contemplation, back and forth, and heartache at losing the stars and shelling out more money, I think a tent will give us peace of mind in the end.  However, don’t be surprised if you show up and there isn’t one.  Or surprised that there is one.

Other than the tenting debacle, everything shook out pretty nicely.  My mom was super excited to learn that the lighting guy plays in the band for Toots and Maytals (one of her favorite Jamaican bands).  If you don’t know their music, listen to some of their greatest hits and tell me you don’t want to at least tap your foot, if not break into a full-on step-together-step.

Since the weather’s now warm here in Michigan (dare I say it’s actually summertime?) and generally State-side, you won’t be too jealous of these tropical pics.  Enjoy!


Sugar Hill restaurant is the resort’s best restaurant, located across the street beyond their golf course.  The free shuttle will take you there, where you can eat on the porch or have a cocktail at the indoor/outdoor bar.  There’s an old water wheel, stone well and canon.

IMG_3550 IMG_3553Beautiful sunset. IMG_3555 IMG_3559

IMG_3564 Our lizard friend, Richard (according to the bartender at the Cedar Bar off the main hotel lobby.)

IMG_3582 IMG_3583 IMG_3586 IMG_3594Lovely evening on the beach.

Come to Ann Arbor, Get a Wedding Dress

As I discussed in my wedding dress post, I purchased my previously-worn wedding dress from a not-for-profit, volunteer-run shop called The Brides Project in Ann Arbor.  Dresses are donated second-hand by brides or donated new by boutiques or designers that have overstock.  (To manage inventory and make sure that the dresses have some market value, they typically only accept styles from the past 5 years.)  All proceeds from the dress sales (which are priced at least 50% off the true retail price or more depending on the condition) benefit the Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor.


(Photo from

A) I had so much fun working with my two bridal consultants at the shop (open by appointment only for now), B) I was impressed by the selection and range of sizes and styles available, C) I was touched that so many people had donated their dresses, and D) I loved the idea of benefiting a good cause in buying this dress, that I just had to sign up to become a bridal consultant myself!

I had my training a few weeks ago: half at the Cancer Support Community (CSC) itself and half at The Brides Project (TBP).  I went in initially interested in being a bridal consultant at The Brides Project wedding boutique, which would mean helping brides try on and pick out dresses (yesssss, so fun!!!), and I did sign up to do that.  But being the volunteering overachiever that I am (I just get really excited about projects, okay?) I may have checked the boxes for all sorts of other volunteer opportunities too: yoga teacher at the CSC, photographer/blogger/social media correspondent for The Brides Project, dress intake/inventory/processing assistant, special events volunteer (the CSC holds a number of annual events such as an Ann Arbor version of Amazing Race, so you know I had to sign up for that!!).

I hadn’t realized that the CSC is a national organization and this is the local chapter, which is great because it means they have national resources but local autonomy to create programming that meets their members’ needs.  They offer so much, all for free, to those in all stages of cancer/remission, as well as to loved ones and care givers who are either dealing currently with the effects of cancer or have lost someone from cancer.  Not only do they have support and grief groups, they also hold weekly yoga and meditation classes, kids karate, nutrition and cooking demonstrations, knitting circles and “walks with docs” where a different volunteer doctor will host a nature walk through one of Ann Arbor’s parks, where members can informally ask questions or chat with him or her.  Here is a seriously touching video on the Kids Kicking Cancer karate class, which was started at Children’s Hospital of Michigan; I was trying not to cry watching this during the training!  There are lots of other videos out there if you google “Kids Kicking Cancer youtube”.

At first, I will be a bridal consultant trainee, which means that I will shadow a more experienced consultant on appointments.  I will do this until I feel comfortable dropping the trainee designation to become a full-fledged bridal consultant able to run appointments myself.  Every bride is given a two-hour appointment, and they try to only schedule one bride at a time so that she can have the run of the store.  They also typically schedule two consultants for every appointment so that one can help with the trying on and one can run/return dresses to and from the racks.  They are very good about creating a true bridal boutique experience with great customer service and selection.  You don’t feel like you are shopping in a second-hand store by any means.

Since the shop is run out of donated space, The Brides Project has had to move locations a fair amount since its inception, as landlords tend to want to lease out space to a paying tenant if possible.  The current location isn’t quite large enough to house all the dress inventory that they’ve collected, so they decided to experiment with a weekend trunk show held at the main offices of CSC.

The trunk show was my first hands-on training experience, and it was fantastic.  They opened up the CSC (a larger space than TBP) from 10-4 on Saturday and Sunday.  Even given the crazy snowstorm going on all weekend, 42 brides came through the door.  We helped them pick dresses that suited their styles and try on the gowns, advised them on how they could be tailored, and closed the sales.  The mood was upbeat and fun, with music pumping and families swooning and clicking away with their cameras.  They raised $8400 for the CSC over a goal of $5000, and sold 21 dresses, which is typically what they sell in a month!  Most of the brides came to the show because they had heard about it through social media and word of mouth, and I hope that the event will have a ripple effect on TBP’s brand recognition in the community.

Already the show has created a demand for weekend appointments at the shop through February.  Two other consultants and I helped a bride, who had lost her mom to cancer when she was young, find a great dress last Saturday (you know someone loves the dress when she cries seeing herself in it! So touching!), and I’m scheduled to meet with brides both days this weekend and the following weekend.  I can’t say enough about how much fun it is combing through dresses, swooning at new arrivals and fancy designers, and seeing the look on brides faces when they know it’s the one (or definitely NOT the one).

I’m excited to continue helping brides and have even offered to staff some afternoon hours to keep the shop open for walk-ins…there goes that volunteer-overdrive again.  So come visit me in Ann Arbor and together we’ll find the perfect dress!

A Second Engagement!!!

Congratulations to my amazing sister and her long-time boyfriend who just got engaged!!!

I’m so excited that we’re both in the fiance-stage together.  We can conspire and plan and laugh and read wedding mags.  We can do all sorts of stereotypical weddingy things and be super annoying to everyone with constant wedding talk.  Excellent!

Maybe we can even have a double wedding?!?!?

Just kidding.  That would be weird.

Here’s a pic of the lovebirds from our Texas vacation in January:


This ring (which was our grandmother Honey’s) looks amazing all polished up and fitted!

ring pic

I can’t believe she didn’t see it coming.  Her fiance called me back in December to conspire about getting to Baltimore to ask our parents’ permission formally and to discuss when he was going to pop the question.  Good thing our parents were on vacation for much of January so that they didn’t have to keep the secret in frequent phone conversations.

I felt like I was giving it away left right and center.  When we went to the bridal expo in January, I signed us both up as brides saying we could both get the bride-swag (which was disappointingly none).  When we were out at dinner, I mentioned that I had recently watched our grandparents’ wedding video, and when my sister asked why she’d never seen it, I said, Are you sure? I know your boyfriend’s seen it.  He gave me the death stare across the table, knowing that he had seen it when he made the secret trip to Baltimore to speak with our parents.  Oops I had forgotten those circumstances.  We quickly covered it up by saying that we were mistaken, that it was actually her Bat Mitzvah video he had seen.  She got up to use the restroom and he just about strangled me (good-naturedly of course…I hope).  When she got back, I think it was forgotten.

I was also suspicious that she may have been anticipating the proposal because it seemed like she was getting her nails done an awful lot recently.  Maybe that’s typical and I just don’t know.  Or maybe she was sprucing them up to gear up for showing off her hand constantly.  😉  No, it does sound like she didn’t see it coming, at least not in the moment, so that’s super cute and exciting.


I’m so so so so happy for her, I can’t stop grinning 😀


Everything’s Bigger in Texas, Like A Bridal Extravagaaaaaanza

You won’t blame for wanting to get away, right?  I mean, on Tuesday, January 7, The Weather Channel said Ann Arbor was -3 degrees with a wind chill of -26.  This isn’t what I signed up for in moving here.  Oh wait, I guess it was.  So let me try to take advantage of my surroundings: Never having been outside when it feels like -26 (that I can remember), I went out in the morning and did some science experiments. First I slowly poured a cup of water out to see if it would freeze before it hit the ground.  It didn’t.  Then I threw the rest of the cup into the air to see if it would turn to snow before hitting the ground.  It didn’t.  I may have seen a few white wisps come off the water pellets.  But it also could have been my eyes seeing what my mind really wanted to see.  So there you go!

Oh, you wanted to hear about the other ways I took advantage of the sub-zero weather?  There aren’t any.  Not that I was lazy and decided to avoid the arctic tundra (although I wouldn’t blame you for making that assumption).  There just literally are no other advantages to this temperature besides doing sixth grade science experiments.  So if anyone has any other “earth science” tests I can run with minimal equipment, I’m ALL EARS.

Instead we went to Texas!  Yay!  It was like summer there.  Not really, but by comparison.

We were in for a low-key weekend of  hanging out with my sister and going to dinner with some work friends.

But also….

The Houston Bridal Extravaganza Show!!  Woo woo!!

A bridal expo is not normally a place I would ever consider going, and I may have even laughed at other people (probably behind their backs) who would think about attending such a debacle.  So when my sister asked if I wanted to go, of course I had to say YES!

What better place to go to a bridal extravaganza than in Texas, right?  Preconceived notions:  1) It’s going to be a cattle herd  2) It’s going to be tacky  3) I will get lots of free samples  4) There will be a lot of cheesy bridal tiaras worn  5) It will be AMAZING people watching.  Sounds like an excellent way to spend the day.

We signed up for the more expensive ticket ($20 vs. $12.13 – yes: 12 dollars and 13 cents – tax included I guess) so that we could see Darcy Miller, Editorial Director for Martha Stewart Weddings, speak.

Our tickets said to arrive by 10:30am for the 11:30am talk, so I’m thinking, Whoa, this place is going to be packed and this woman must be presenting to an auditorium or something.

Nope.  We got there around 10:45 and breezed right in.  Literally, we were the only people entering the special “VIP” area for those who had bought the more expensive tickets, and thus we were bombarded with “helpful” volunteers wielding clipboards asking us to fill out detailed information about ourselves and our wedding plans (sorry for the ensuing junk mail, Mark).

We were then led up to a kiosk where we could have what looked to be envelope return labels printed.  They were like, “You get 30 labels for free, and then you can buy more for $5.”  My sister and I were like, “What are you talking about?  Why would I need address return labels, and why would I ever consider buying these?”  It was as if we were bridal show experts and should know ALL about labels.  Um.

It was explained to us that they printed these labels so when we were going to various vendor booths, we wouldn’t have to write out our information over and over again, we could just affix an address label to the sign up sheet, and voila, we’d be added to whatever mailing lists we wanted!  I used a total of 3 labels.  My sister used 1.

We were then hustled into buying a $2 synthetic tote bag to schlep around all the “giveaways” we would be receiving.  And by “giveaways” they meant sales brochures and tins of mints.  Look at this huge bag, I must be getting lots of stuff!! What’s in it?  A tiny tin of mints.  Fail.

Luckily, by getting there so early, the rows of booths were fairly empty and we didn’t have to contend with any crowds.  Unluckily, by being some of the only people there, we were the sole targets of every vendor’s hawking cry.  We mostly got away unscathed because we weren’t looking to book any local farms or country clubs for our affair.  Nor were we in need of photographers, lighters, or cake decorators.

We did get sucked into David’s Bridal, where in exchange for a $25 gift certificate, you physically had to make an appointment at your local shop, including an actual date and time that you would be there to try stuff on.  You sidle up to the counter and say, I want my $25 gift card, and they then point to calendar and say, what day can you come in?  I was like, “Uh, I’m not actually going to come in for like, a prescheduled appointment.”  The girl looked at my slyly and quietly said, “It doesn’t matter, just pick any day so I can write it down.”  So I picked January 30th at 11:30am.  “Which store do you live closest to?”  “Uh, the one in Michigan?”  “Oh.”  Pulling out her binder, she located the David’s Bridal in Ann Arbor and booked the appointment.  Damn.  I thought I had thrown her for a loop.  Well, maybe I will go in and see what sort of accessories they have.  But I refuse to go at my scheduled date and time.

Next, I kinda really wanted this white tote bag from Men’s Wearhouse (fyi, I JUST realized this store is spelled Wearhouse and not Warehouse…clever) with a heart on it that was made up of various words like “Fun” and “Love”.  But how do I get said tote bag?  Obviously by giving out all of Mark’s personal information including social security number and eye color.  Sorry babe, I really wanted that bag!

Two large and empty tote bags in hand (well, we did have the $25 David’s Bridal gift card in one), we made our way over to the Darcy Miller area, which was boxed off with some white pipe and drape and contained maybe 50 chairs.  Much smaller than anticipated.  The space doubled as the “couture” runway area for the high-end fashion shows to come, for some who’s-ever-heard-of-these-designers designers, as opposed to the “regular” runway area, where the David’s Bridal fashion show would take place.

Darcy Miller was a cute little woman who seemed a little bit anxious and dove right in to the topic at hand – how to make your wedding personal with these ideas-that-now-everyone-in-this-room-is-going-to-use-and-will-no-longer-be-personal – without much of an introduction or background.  She had some good practical ideas too, such as putting out cellophane bags so that guests can take home some of the centerpiece flowers.  We didn’t take notes like some people (I know, that’s so unlike me), but that was fine because most of the ideas were either currently or previously featured in the Martha Stewart Weddings magazine, a current copy of which we were each given, which was the most exciting giveaway of the day because those wedding mags are expensive!  We just got half our money back!  Score.

I did like seeing the photos of her own wedding: a Jewish ceremony at the Four Seasons in Manhattan (a venue that both my sister and I immediately recognized without being told, due to its featured prominence on various Bravo reality TV shows).  Black tie, 300 people, obviously so out of anyone’s normal price range, but beautiful nonetheless.  She HAS been the Editorial Director of Martha Stewart Weddings for 20 years so she clearly knows what she’s doing.

After she answered some benign audience questions, everyone evacuated the area as if it were on fire to get to the pending David’s Bridal runway show across the convention center.  Alternatively, some people jumped up to stand in line to meet Darcy and buy her wedding planning/scrapbooking book.  I think I can figure out how to glue pictures of wedding dresses into a binder without having to be told that this is the page for wedding dress pictures, thank you very much.

Which reminds me that there were women in the room with serious color-tabbed binders.  My sister pointed to a girl wearing a Maid of Honor sticker who was involved with writing in her oversized organizer and questioned whether or not I was disappointed that she too didn’t have a MOH wedding planner.  I think I’ll live.  Of course, we were not wearing our free designee stickers (Bride To Be, Maid of Honor, Mother of the Bride), since my sister has a serious sticker phobia and cannot even be near them.  Also, it’s embarrassing and we are obviously too cool for cheesy stickers.

After the presentation, we wandered down a few uncharted aisles, and then called it a day. It was starting to crowd up a bit, and we had pretty much seen what we’d come for.  We didn’t stay for any of the fashion shows, but we did find one craftswoman who makes beautiful paper flowers.  I may just order some from her to have at home rather than incorporating them into the wedding somehow.

image_8 These are paper flowers on this cake!

We wished there had been more crafty things or cool design elements, rather than mostly vendors from whom you could rent lighting, linens, Rolls Royces, or venues, or those selling flowers or cakes.  There were, however, some truly amazing cakes: towering ones, ones shaped like a animals, football helmets, Starbucks frappucinos, and more.

image_7 Huge!

image_4 These cakes would be good for a Superbowl party.

image_1 Fish cake with Frappucino cake behind it.  And then that lame little white cake that looks so sad next to them.

image This deer head with the shotgun shells was my absolute favorite cake.  I feel bad for the deer.  So morbid.

There also weren’t as many silly people as I had expected there to be.  Yes, there were a few veils (one involving Mickey Mouse ears), and some matching t-shirts; one white stretch limo with a bride decked out in a white mini dress, complete with satin pageant sash, but for the most part, people were disappointingly normal looking.

image_3 image_9

It was a fun experience overall, and I’m glad we went, just to have done it once in my life.  If my sister wants to go back one day when she’s planning her wedding, I suppose I could be convinced 🙂

Some other fun photos:

image_6A seriously glittery tablecloth, neon flowers and black and white striped chair covers:  Circus wedding?  Bat Mitzvah?  (Actually there was a fair amount of propaganda targeted at the Quinceanera crowd, so I suppose this would appeal to 15 year old sensibilities.)

image_5 This shiny-suited slickster was a “magician” meaning he did one card trick to get you in the seats and then proceeded to sell you a “magical” lighting, DJ, flower package deal.  His barker tried to rope us in.  I just wanted a photo, Lady!

image_2 One of the “runway” models.

I Got A Wedding Dress!

Okay, obviously I’m not going to post a picture of the one I’m actually going to wear – it has to be a surprise!  But keep reading to see some of the options 🙂

Two weeks ago in Texas, my parents, sister and I went to the Nordstrom Bridal Suite (the Nordstroms with bridal departments are so few and far between we had to go to the one in Houston) and BHLDN, the bridal store associated with Anthropologie, of which there are only 3 stores in the country, and luckily one of them is in Houston also!

I tried on lots of pretty dresses, and I was contemplating one at BHLDN and one at Nordstrom.  However it is shocking and disheartening how different a dress can look in the mirror versus in a photo.  (Sorry dad for getting annoyed at all the photos – they were quite helpful in the end.)  For instance, the one that I liked at BHLDN was a V-neck, ivory colored, sheath style with art deco-patterned beading.  It was different than what you might consider a traditional wedding dress and looked great in the mirror.  It was definitely the best one I had tried on during the day and because BHLDN creates sizes that you purchase and then have tailored at your own seamstress (as opposed to many bridal collections where the designer makes a dress to fit your measurements and then has fittings to get it just right…a process that can take over 6 months), the size 4 pretty much fit me and probably only needed an inch off the hem and tightening of the straps.  I was so excited to maybe have found THE dress!  Later in the day, I asked my dad to show me the photos he had taken of the various dresses, and I was distraught when I saw the picture of this dress.  The golden color, the empire waist and the very delicate beading on the bodice made it look like I was wearing a huge, nude-colored maternity bra!  Ew! Not flattering!  I will spare you an embarrassing picture and let your imagination run wild with this.  How disappointing that #1 in the mirror actually looks like poo in the pictures.

At Nordstrom, I tried on all sorts of cuts, from sheath to A line to modified ball gown.  Surprisingly, I really liked the full organza skirting and sheer straps on this Anne Barge “Emmanuelle” gown (this link will only get you to the collections page, then you have to hit “Anne Barge” under “Fall 2013,” scroll over to the right 7 clicks, and then the Emmanuelle style will be the dress farthest to the right at that point…the model is wearing a flower and net fascinator), which isn’t the style I was anticipating liking going into the day.  I think the wide cummerbund-style waist was very flattering, but the $3000+ price tag was not as attractive.  Next.

Here are some of the others I tried on that day:

dress 2This was the first one I tried at Nordstrom, and I really liked it for the beading and interesting sheer cut out pleats at the bottom.  The straps were thin and delicate so as to show off the back.  Contemplating the dress later, however, I didn’t love it, and I wouldn’t want to face buyer’s remorse, seeing as I have more than a year until our wedding.  That’s a long time to change your mind/find something better.

dress 3This is the first one I tried at BHLDN.  Sort of a ’20s art deco style (as were most of their dresses this season) with the silver beading in triangle patterns, translucent buttons down the front leading to a high front slit and flouncy cap sleeves.  I liked this for the artsy styling, but I don’t think it flattered my body all that well, and I would have nixed the cap sleeves, although looking at this photo now, I kinda like them.

Not feeling 100% confident about any of the ones I tried on that day, I figured I would keep thinking and keep looking, probably back in Baltimore next time I was home.

My sister came to visit this past weekend, and she said she wouldn’t mind, and would even be happy, to keep looking for dresses in Ann Arbor if we could get appointments.  I knew there was a gown shop on Main Street, but after looking at their website, it seemed that most of their dresses would be out of my price range.  They even said on the website that there is a separate showroom for dresses under $1500 and that most of those are short dresses or samples.  Not wanting to spend thousands and thousands on a dress, I didn’t get the most promising feeling from this shop’s website.  And how icky to separate out those of us whose budgets might not be all the huge?  I still want to look at the crazy-expensive ones!

The weekend after our Texas trip, I went to NYC for a friend’s birthday party.  Her good friend went to grad school at UMich and suggested a shop called The Brides Project.  She said one of her friends found a dress there.  The Brides Project is a volunteer-run shop of “pre-loved” dresses that are donated by previous brides, as well as new dresses donated by boutiques and designers that have overstock.  All the proceeds from the sale of the dresses go to support “families touched by cancer through the Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor.”  I thought it sounded like a place I should check out – at the very least because I knew the dresses would be reasonably priced.

My sister and I made an appointment for Saturday morning and were met by two super cute and friendly girls about my age.  The volunteer wedding stylists run the shop out of donated space so it’s not the fanciest of bridal salons, but it clearly serves the purpose of warehousing many many many dresses.  After washing our hands (because the dresses on the racks are the ones you buy – there’s no making dresses to fit your specifications here – and they don’t want them to get dirty), we started combing through the racks and racks of dresses, sorted by size.  We pulled anything that caught our fancy, no matter the size, because The Brides Project works with a seamstress who discounts her rates and apparently can work miracles resizing, tailoring and changing the dresses.

dress 1I really liked this one – especially the neckline and straps, – and would go so far as to say it was my runner up.  But it was a bit heavy for a beach wedding and I would have had to make some semi-major changes to the waistline, ruching on the front skirt panel and taken out some of the extra skirt material.

Here is another one I liked for the lower waistline (after realizing that empire waist is not my jam and just makes me look preggers) and low V-neck.  Also the back was beautiful with a little bit of draping falling to the waist: see the second photo below.

dress 4                               dress 4I think the back was my favorite part of this dress.

The straps would have had to be taken in a bunch and there was some weird stiff puckering in the boob area.  It would’ve been too much of a risk to see how the tailor could have managed that since you have to buy it first before tailoring.

Then I tried on a dress that seemed to be perfect (or as close as I’d gotten to date)!  It had the details I was looking for:  V-neck, not too long, very tiny train.  That’s all I will divulge, except that I do need the tailor to do a bit of touching up and shortening of the straps.  There’s no label in the dress, so I have no idea if it was handmade or what its story is.  I do think it was worn though and not a new overstock designer dress.

I also tried on an Amsale gown and a Pronovias dress (two well-known wedding designers that would have been a lot more expensive in a traditional bridal boutique), and apparently a Vera Wang gown recently came through that was obviously bought quite quickly.

My dress was $300, and I couldn’t be more excited about it and the fact that I’m helping a great cause in the process!  Also, they said they are always looking for volunteers to be wedding stylists in the shop and that they only come in 1-2 times per month when there are appointments (they are open by appointment only), so that may be a super fun volunteer activity for me.  The only downside would be if I saw some other amazing dress come into the shop.  Although at these prices, I perhaps could afford to change my mind one time! 🙂

Wedding Planning 101: An Emotional Roller Coaster

In a prior post I lamented that picking an engagement ring was a trial in emotional, indecisive, internal turmoil.

IMG_0044 (Gratuitous ring photo just because I love it.)

Well, we got that out of the way to great success, and I was happy and content for a moment.  I had reached the first apex of the wedding planning roller coaster ride…ready to dive, hands-up, into the rest of the up-and-down journey.  Hold onto your sunglasses!  (No, seriously, I lost a pair of Oakleys that way.)


Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Subject: Millennium Force at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio *Author: Nick Nolte *Taken: August 8, 2004

Unfortunately, as with life and roller coasters, what goes up, must come down when it comes to my wedding planning emotions.

Why?  Why is planning a wedding such a crazy, all-consuming time-suck?  Forget what everyone who’s never planned a wedding has ever thought about fairy tale ball gowns and bounties of red roses…it stinks (not the roses, those smell delightful).  Yes, looking through wedding magazines is fun…clipping out pretty pictures, Google searching dress designers and getting ideas for centerpieces.

And then you close the magazine, realize all that you’ve accomplished is adding ten more things to buy/make/want, feel completely overwhelmed, and proceed not to think about it for the next three days.

First of all: Everything is seemingly-unreasonably expensive.  Everyone who has planned a wedding does say this.  But you don’t really know what they mean (unless you’re their accountant or financial advisor) until your own proposals start rolling in.  $65,000 for 100 people for the ceremony and reception, and that doesn’t include napkins?  I really thought that was a joke.  I’ve helped plan corporate events for 250 people for half of that.  Where’s the extra expense?  Fine, our corporate events don’t have DJs.  Well there’s $500.  Where’s the other $32,000?  Those corporate events have multiple meals, open bar, room rental fees.  But they aren’t WEDDINGS.  $$$$ (I really wish I could input some emojis in this post right now…imagine smiley faces with dollar sign eyeballs or greedy grins.)

The scary thing is that you start becoming numb to the large numbers: $1,000 for a dance floor that you thought was included with the price of the DJ (because if you have dancing, you would assume you have a dance floor, right?  Haha you’re silly) becomes like: “whatever it’s FINE” (eye roll, sigh).

So far, the most stressful part was finding and nailing down a location.  We thought we wanted to do a destination wedding, which would be a way for all of our friends and families to come together and enjoy some quality time with one another.  It would also give us an opportunity to hang out and bond with our guests over the course of a few days, rather than feeling rushed to say “hello” and “thank you for coming” to everyone within the two to three hours of the reception alone.

We had vacationed in Montego Bay Jamaica a few times and appreciated how easy a trip it was: direct flights from Baltimore, short taxi ride from the Montego Bay airport to a resort, where even if you’re not doing all-inclusive, you still don’t have to leave the property for meals or activities.  We’d gone a few times for long weekends, which were perfect do-nothing get-a-ways for reading and napping.  Funny how when it’s warm out and you don’t have anything to do all day, you really don’t get too hungry.  We never did an all-inclusive (because no one needs that much alcohol) and we never felt like we should have (monetarily).  We were always well fed and always fulfilled our daily pina colada quota.

Unfortunately, the resort where we had stayed during each of our visits was recently purchased and closed for renovations.  It is scheduled to reopen next year under new management and branding, but who knows what it will be like or if it will be available for a wedding.  So time to look elsewhere.

We had heard great reviews of the neighboring resort, Half Moon, from various sources, although we had never been there ourselves.  While it is seemingly fairly expensive, they quoted us a very fair and reasonable guest room rate.  The rest of the wedding was another story…Plan B?

Not knowing what other options might be available to us in Montego Bay, we started randomly Googling venues.  But what can you really tell from websites, stock photos and Trip Advisor reviews without having seen the places firsthand or knowing someone who has?  We enlisted the help of a wedding planner and her associated travel agent to do some digging into other Montego Bay locations.  They came up with a comprehensive spreadsheet of 14 alternatives that was so big it took grab-a-snack/watch-a-movie/do-a-crossword-puzzle-amount-of-time to open in Excel.  After more Google searching and wedding planner phone calls, we started narrowing the list based on particular requirements: this place doesn’t allow kids – cross it out; this place looks overrun with kids – cross it out; this is just a venue, no hotel – cross it out; etc.

It was stressful feeling like there might be other options out there but not really getting a firm understanding of what each place was really like.  I contemplated bringing it back to Baltimore because at least there I know generally what the different venues are, what feeling they exude and what sort of party our guests would experience.  But then I circled back to our main goal of wanting to create a relaxing, vacation-like atmosphere for our guests.  (Especially a warm vacation for a December wedding….y’all can thank me later.)

At the same time as we were analyzing the various options the wedding planner had found, I was going back and forth with Half Moon to see if we could chop out chunks of the original proposal to get the cost back in line with our budget.  I had them price up an a la carte wedding (um, no, that was not cheaper) as well as the next package down.  These destination places have various pre-arranged packages that include everything from flowers to meals to DJs all for one price.  So instead of using the package that had everything we could possibly want, we looked at the one that had the bare minimum of things, and then added a few extras on a la carte.

Like when choosing an engagement ring, I was again fraught with indecision about what the right choice would be.  I hadn’t seen any of these places in person.  I didn’t know what I might be missing or forgetting about.  It’s hard to hit the “go” button just to find out down the road that you hadn’t considered an essential element, and that it’s going to be an additional cost.  Like the dance floor issue.  Too-many-options paralysis.  Is this a diagnosed medical condition?  If not it should be.  I’ll send  a white paper to JAMA.

I’ve read lots of conflicting material about following your first instinct versus doing more research before making any decisions.  So far in this process, I’ve tried to do more research, but in the end, I inevitably come back to my first find.  I’m not sure if this is a case of turning up my nose at new information because I’m tied to my original idea (some form of clinging to the familiar) or if I’ve done a bang up job at uncovering the best option first (clearly just my impeccable taste 😉 ).  This is pretty much what happened with the engagement ring, and it’s pretty much what ended up happening with the venue.  Read on…

What pushed me over the edge on Half Moon was that some former colleagues went there for a conference in September.  Upon their return, they had nothing but fantastic things to say about the site and the service.  They all agreed that it would be a wonderful place to get married.  Well that pretty much confirmed my gut feelings and settled it in my mind.  After a few weeks of contract negotiation (and some much needed and appreciated help from a lawyer friend), we finally put pen to paper and swiped a credit card (I’d better be getting double Delta miles for this!) and put the wheels in motion.  Or more like brought the wheels to a screeching halt.

After feeling insomnia-inducing, all-consuming stress about nit picky venue details, making sure I got the best deal possible (as if you ever really can know), crossing as many “T”s and dotting as many “I”s as I could think of, all I wanted to do after putting the deposit down was take a nap, watch TV and not think about wedding stuff at all.  So I didn’t.

That was over a month ago, and I’m just starting this week to slowly put the roller coaster back in operation (hopefully gently because I know the wheels will start spinning out of control with the slightest push), making appointments to look at invitations, sorting out the guest list (my next foreseen stress-inducing activity), and booking a photographer.

My problem is that I know what I want in some areas of the wedding, and I could care less about certain other aspects.  Unfortunately, the things I know I want are fairly amorphous (making sure my guests feel relaxed, welcomed, and well-taken care of), and the things I’m not too concerned with are easily defined (tablecloth colors, centerpieces).

For now I’m going to reduce my stress by making lists, and with each accomplished task, I’m hoping to find that exhilaration that comes from swooshing down the side of a roller coaster, even if I feel like I’m about to fly out any second, shaking in my little, wooden car.

Michigan Second Impressions, an Official Engagement, and More Pizza!

Last Thursday, I went to visit Mark in Ann Arbor for the second time ever.  The weather was nice, if not fall-like, which is making me concerned for how cold it’s going to be when fall actually gets here.  Maybe we’ll be going to fewer UMich football games and more Detroit Lions football games (since they have a dome).

For some reason I thought it might be a good idea to take a 6am flight out of BWI that landed at DTW at 7:30.  I must’ve still been in work mode when I booked it, since I did a lot of 6am flying over the past two years.  I also must’ve forgotten how miserable it is to set your alarm for 3:30am, and how even a few cups of coffee can’t keep you from falling asleep on the plane with your mouth open, head jerking side to side every few minutes like a possessed marionette.

Upon landing ridiculously early, I took a cab to the Residence Inn and had plenty of time to work out, check emails, Yelp some good Ann Arbor hair places and book an appointment for Friday, before meeting Mark for lunch at 11:30.

We ate at Biercamp, a BBQ and artisan jerky restaurant/deli counter in a small house on the southern part of State Street near the hotel.  The pulled pork sandwich was melt-in-your-mouth delicious, if slightly buttery for my taste.  Mark liked how they actually seemed to have cooked the meat in the BBQ sauce so that each piece was coated, rather than making you put your own sauce on top of dry pork, where you really can’t get the sauce distributed evenly.  The small things in life.  We wanted to try some of the homemade dill pickles, but they were currently out.

After lunch, I went to the local mall to find a cover for my new iPhone.  I was thinking I wanted a cutesy artsy case, but my sister reminded me that those probably aren’t the best damage control if you actually drop the phone (which I’m definitely prone to do). So I got a hearty case at the Apple store (ugh I’m not into the Apple store Kool-Aid – it tastes like conformity) and will go about my klutzy life hopefully a bit better prepared.  The mall there is pretty nifty.  It’s sort of smallish – all on one level – with not the best anchor stores (Penny’s, Macy’s and Sears) but all the rest of the stores are great!  There’s the usual Banana, J. Crew, etc., but then there’s also Michael Kors, Vera Bradley, L’Occitane and Lush.  Alright!  Mom would love it, as those last two are some of her faves!

I then decided I needed a “wedding vision book.”  Actually I had no idea it was called a vision book until someone else called it that….I just wanted an old school photo album with the peel back sticky pages so I could conglomerate all the scraps of magazines that are currently lying on the coffee table, and the bedside table, and the dining room table, and stuffed in corners of my purse.  I tear scraps out of all magazines – it’s really getting to be a problem – recipes, yoga poses, inspiring color combos, etc.  I have a shoebox full of yoga-related magazine bits that I’ve NEVER looked at again.  Maybe I should make an album for those too, so at least they are arranged in some semblance of order.

Well back to the photo album quest: it’s really hard to find photo albums these days since everyone keeps their photos online.  And when you do find an album, it’s of the newer, slip the photo into this perfectly sized slot, kind.  I tried to find a Wal-Mart near Ann Arbor on the car GPS but it kept telling me that the closest one was about 450 miles away.  That GPS is terrible for that kind of search.  I reluctantly went for the iPhone.  I know that’s what it’s there for – to look up every last bit of information that you could ever want – but it sort of feels like cheating, like I should just be able to find these things without it, and I don’t want to waste the data! LOL

Well, as far as I could tell, there isn’t a Wal-Mart close by to Ann Arbor, so I looked for a KMart.  See, my thinking was that Target might be too classy to carry such things as tacky photo albums with sticky paper, which is why I was sticking to the lower end big box stores.  Just in luck – a KMart not too far away that did indeed carry TWO fly paper photo albums!  Perf!

I got Mark from work and we went up to the new apartment to do the owner’s punch list before dinner.  And that’s when IT happened!!  I was taking an initial walk-through when Mark got down on one knee and did the “official” proposal!!  Here is a glamor-shot of the bling.


And then we cracked a bottle of wine and did the punch list.

For a celebratory dinner we went to Mani, a modern Italian restaurant downtown.  I may have been laughing a little too loudly and was certainly very animated.  The people at the table next to us kept giving us the eye.  Ooops.  Just happy.

We each got appetizers and split a margherita pizza.  The pizza wasn’t amazing.  A bit too dry and cheese that fell off in clumps when you bit into it.  BUT the burrata appetizer I had was SO GOOD!!  Fresh, cool and creamy burrata cheese with macerated sour cherries, mint, fennel, micro greens and salty olive oil crostini.  I could’ve eaten two of these and skipped the pizza altogether.  It was perfectly sweet, salty, sour, crunchy and creamy all together.  Best burrata of the season (and I’ve had at least 3 others at various restaurants).

Friday I got my hair cut (not bad and reasonably priced) and started piecing together the photo album.  It took a lot longer than anticipated given I didn’t have any scissors!  That evening, we drove out to Grand Haven, about 2.5 hours west of Ann Arbor on Lake Michigan to visit a former co-worker at her summer home there.  Grand Haven is also called Coast Guard City, USA, as dubbed first by the locals, then officially by President Clinton.  There didn’t seem to be a great story behind the name that I could glean, other than there is a coast guard station there.  We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Spring Lake about 2 miles from downtown Grand Haven because the city was packed with 250,000 people for Coast Guard Week which culminated Saturday with a 2 hour parade.  Friday night we walked around and ate a yummy dinner of steak and salads at Kirby House.  There were lots of teeny boppers out at the street fair dressed in their summer cutoffs (I was feeling old and cold in full-length jeans) and lots of campers lining the parking lots with their grills going.  Different tents held various bands – everything from Beatles to 80s hair band covers.  There was definitely that beach town vibe going on.  Also, we noticed that people had already staked out patches of grass with blankets or bits of string to rope off seating for the fireworks display – Saturday night.  We were told later that you weren’t allowed to start saving spots until Thursday night….2 days in advance!  These must be some good fireworks we thought!

Saturday, we walked the 2 miles into town to set up at our friend’s house for the parade.  She has an awesome house on an elevated corner lot right along the parade route.  There were marching bands, old and new cars and various floats in the street.  And out back there were great summer drinks, including Bloody Mary’s made with dill juice and a pickle (yum!) and amazingly juicy pork tenderloin and half chickens grilled up by her husband’s high school friend who’s a butcher.  You know it had to be good since the man deals with meat all day everyday.

After taking an afternoon siesta, we went downstairs to watch the fireworks across the river from the hotel lawn, where the mosquitos were buzzing and humming all over.  We didn’t stay too long out there for fear of giant bites, so we only saw a bit of the show.  It was odd because about 10 fireworks went off and then it stopped.  We thought, hm I’m sure that can’t be the end of it.  And then a woman behind us said, “Was there another fire?”  We said, “Huh? Was there a fire earlier?”  And she said, “Oh a few years ago the fireworks caused a fire and they had to put it out before they could resume.  Ya know, it’s Grand Haven,” shrugging.  And we said, “Oh hm.”  And she said, “I guess you’re not from around here.”  Nope.  So we went back upstairs and heard the fireworks resume a bit later.  Oh well, I’ve seen ’em before.  I subsequently found a YouTube video of the 2005 fireworks fire – it looked pretty massive, like the whole hillside was on fire.  I’m not sure they could’ve resumed the show after that!

All in all we had an excellent time visiting Grand Haven and thank you to our wonderful hosts for having us!  I’m liking our Michigan explorations, from Traverse City to Grand Haven.  We still need to see downtown Detroit, Mackinac Island and perhaps some other small towns along the way.

Sunday we grabbed some fresh salad, local Michigan cherries and a Michigan hard cider at Produce Station – a boutique grocery, garden center and cafe near the hotel.  I loved this place – it has a lot of gourmet-y type food products that you wouldn’t find at the regular grocery store, as well as very fresh produce (as the name suggests) and locally-made products, like the cider, ice cream, bread and desserts.

Monday I flew back to Baltimore at the more reasonable hour of 2pm.  This week I’ve really got to buckle down and sort through things I want to take with me or give away.  I’ve also got to create an area for items that we will move ourselves, since once the movers take our stuff next week, it will be 2-9 days before we get it in Michigan.  I can’t believe the move is almost here.  I can’t believe I’ve been out of work for almost 2 months.  I’m done volunteering, which was a great experience, and now I’m on the farewell tour of lunch dates with various friends.  My friend Graham and I are going to hit the pool and work on our blogs.  Graham is leaving Bmore to travel the world for a year or two and has started cataloguing his planning and future travel at – check it out to see where he’s going – I’m jealous of that adventure!

Next time I’m in Ann Arbor it will be for real, and that’s going to be an adventure all its own!

Engagement Ring Crazed – Oy!

I’m a girl of marrying age, so I think most people would assume (myself included) that I should have some idea of what I want out of an engagement ring.  How wrong could I (and everyone else) be?

As I noted in my prior post, Mark has courageously handed me over the reins in picking out just what I want in a ring.  Now, if only I knew what I wanted.  Well, I thought I did.  So Mark and I went to a few jewelry stores to look around, but when I tried on various rings of that particular so-thought-desired style, they seemed to fall flat on my finger.  Shoot.  As I slowly made my way around the store, hovering over case after case of sad-looking empty settings, trying to envision what they would look like with a center stone, I got frustrated.  There are so many choices – cut, size, metal, “trimmings” if you will.  How am I going to decide?  And how do I know I’m seeing all the options?  What if I make a decision today and then see a much more interesting and BETTER ring 6 months from now?  I try to be decisive in life, I really do, but as my friends know, I’ve been searching for a table lamp for 2 years, and I just can’t seem to pull the trigger on buying any of the gagillion I’ve seen.  God forbid I waste $39.99 on a lamp and then see a better one two weeks later on sale at Marshall’s.  No, no, that just won’t do.  For now, I’m content to continue squinting at magazines in the semi-darkness on the far end of the couch until just the right lamp presents itself to me (in my price range).

I certainly have a much better understanding of the crazy stress guys must go through in buying an engagement ring for their girlfriends now.  Not only are making THE major life decision to commit themselves to another, they are shelling out some potentially serious $$$ to purchase that “perfect” ring.  And a lot of times, there’s an assumption that this must all be done without actually asking for said girlfriend’s opinion about what she may want, so that the ring, and often the actual proposal, is a surprise.  I like the idea of all this mystery, but it’s just gotta amp up the stress hormones.  Take for instance this guy’s guide to buying engagement rings from the infamous wedding website “The Knot”.  (Full disclaimer, I too have a “Knot” profile…please don’t judge, it seems really helpful so far!)

Entitled “Rules of Engagement Rings”, there are some potentially helpful tips about shape (for those that failed kindergarten) and style, but then it goes so far as to advise that you SPY on your girlfriend.  Now I understand they aren’t telling you to read your girlfriend’s text messages and go through her diary, but it still feels a bit creepy to follow her around and take “mental notes” as to her style choices.  I mean, why don’t you just go ahead and create a “case file” notebook like the kids on “Ghostwriter”…does anyone else remember that awesome PBS show? No? Okay, nevermind. It was great.

Well anyway, suffice it to say I think I’ve made a decision and committed to a style.  (But you’ll have to just wait and see once it’s officially on my finger…unless I already showed you a picture, and then, well, good for you.)

Although now the next hard part is upon me in where to actually purchase it.  I started with a standard style and then decided to make all these adjustments to it, so it’s not like I’m going to get to see the final product and then say “Eh, this looks like crap, nevermind, I’ll keep looking.”  I will have to be committed to this from the get-go so I better well enjoy working with the people who have my little ring’s fate in their hands.  My choices seem to stand in two camps at the moment: 1. Work with my local retailer where I can walk in and harass them about all the details of the design up until the finished product is on its way; or 2. Work with a remote designer that, while I won’t have that same person-to-person experience, will likely save me some dollars and cents.  Either way seems risky to me in that, as previously stated, I’m super paranoid that the end piece won’t be what I want (don’t worry, I realize this is obnoxious of me since I’m getting a pretty ring at all, but I can’t help worry about it).

So I can only imagine that guys going through this same sort of decision tree process blind to the tastes and peculiarities of their girlfriends find the whole thing overwhelming and a huge time-suck.  Or maybe not?

If anyone has any suggestions or pros/cons on going with a store vs a designer I’d love to hear them!  (However, be forewarned that I will likely promptly ignore your advice and continue to stress out until the money is on the table and there’s no turning back.)