Tag 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.

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 😀


Things To Do While Being Unemployed: Cooking and Crafting Experimentation

Yes, I realize that my wedding is a year away, but when it’s cold out, it’s fun to stay inside and do some wedding-related crafts (and cook some wintery meals).  All of the crafts and most of the foodstuff I’m detailing here is my first ever attempt at making them…You get a lot of take-out when both people are working.  Here’s the first wedding project I started (note “started” not yet finished):

ImageBasically I’m using watercolors to paint these gift tags in ombre blue and then I’m going to write guests’ names on them, stamp them with table numbers and use them as escort cards.  Originally I tried to dip them into water mixed with paint, but that just made them soggy and didn’t impart enough color (I probably should have used ink instead of watercolor paint but it was too late, that’s what I had bought).  I moved on to using brushes to paint them, and I like how each is slightly different and looks handmade.

I saw these tissue paper tassel garlands on Instagram and decided that I could make them myself, so I purchased (and scrounged in my gift wrapping box) some tissue paper and Googled how to start.


(Picture from bridalmusings.com and garland made by Confetti System.)

They take a little while and some concentration, but now that I know I can do it, I’m going to buy some more tissue colors to make all sorts of combos.  One trick is to iron the sheets of tissue paper on low heat first so that the tassels don’t have crinkles in them.

IMG_1675Fold the tissue paper in half twice and cut strips leaving about an inch at the top.  Unfold once, cut the paper in half to create two tassels.  Unfold again so that you get this tentacle-looking piece, then start rolling tightly from one end in the middle all the way down the crease.  Once you get it rolled, you’ll have a tightly wound middle part with sprays of paper fanning out on either side.  Pinch the rolled middle part in half and start twisting like a twist tie so the tassel parts come together and you create the top part through which you can thread a string or ribbon.  Gently comb the strips with your fingers so that they fall nicely into tassels.


Then you can thread some sort of wire/thread/string/ribbon through the twisted top.  I tied a loose knot after passing through each loop to keep them spaced equally.  Hang on a window like this, on the mantle, or wherever else might be festive!tissue paper garlands

Here is another Thanksgiving-themed garland I put together.  Full disclosure: this was a cute little crafting kit that my aunt gave me for Hanukkah.  It did take some work in terms of cutting, pasting, creating paper leaves and tying the burlap ribbons into perfect bows.IMG_1440It was super fun.

Making this necklace might not seem totally like a craft, but let me assure you that it took me at least three trips to Michael’s to purchase the correct clasp and clear plastic filament, so I think the effort exuded qualifies this as a legit project.  This peachy faux-pearl necklace was originally on cotton string and belonged to my grandmother Honey.  I was wearing it wrapped a few times around my wrist as a bracelet, when all of a sudden, the string broke and the beads rolled everywhere.  I swear, I didn’t even make any sudden movements – the string just disintegrated.  Coincidentally, this was during Friday night temple services that I was attending for Honey’s yahrzeit (remembrance of the anniversary of her death), and I was wearing it in her honor.  Embarrassingly crawling on my hands and knees to retrieve the errant beads around the pews and people’s legs, I stuffed them in my purse and vowed to restring them to make something wearable once again.  Although I don’t think I got quite all the pearls, it was fun parsing and arranging the ones I had collected in the correct order to remake the choker.IMG_1352

The necklace project got me excited to do more jewelry projects, and over Thanksgiving, I received some costume jewelry that belonged to Honey’s cousin, Janet, including many delicate metal and enamel flower brooches that I’m thinking of making into some sort of shadow box wall art.

In terms of cooking, I’ve been whipping up a storm of cookies and other cold weather treats.  A photo gallery of some of my faves so far:

IMG_0891Make your own pizza creations!

Pumpkin everything:

IMG_0885Pumpkin bread with pumpkin pulp that I roasted, scooped and pureed myself!  Look ma, no cans (of pumpkin puree)!

IMG_0879Roasted pumpkin seeds with butter and a lot of salt 🙂

IMG_1357Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.  Okay, this time I had run out of hand-scooped pumpkin and did use the canned stuff.

 IMG_1718Crunchy, flaky, melt in your mouth kale chips (again lots of sea salt).
IMG_1458 IMG_1457My new addiction is oven-roasted tomatoes.  Besides the fact that they take like 6 hours to bake, they are always a tasty addition to lunch and having the oven on all day helps keep me warm!!
I’m chalking up my first attempt at Maryland crab cakes as an overall success: Pro: They tasted authentic with Old Bay; Con: They fell apart because I refused to use mayo and only used half an egg.  Also I used a container of jumbo lump crab meat, so the pieces were pretty large and chunky.  Maybe I should have shredded them up a bit so that they would mix better.
My Hanukkah latkes (potato pancakes) where more cohesive since I used the proper amount of egg:
IMG_1483Grated potatoes and onion
IMG_1488 IMG_1489They were excellent with hot sauce.
I made a traditional chicken soup, even making the broth from scratch with chicken thighs:
Then I made an even better spicy jalapeno chicken soup with quinoa, chicken bits pulled from one of those supermarket roast chickens and chicken broth.  It was quick and easy and what made it click was that you pour the soup out over the quinoa and chicken so that those ingredients don’t get soggy.  And then you can store each part separately, again to prevent the sog.
IMG_1482 I had never roasted a whole garlic head before, but I did for this soup and it was DELICIOUS.  Just cut the top off the head of garlic, drizzle with olive oil, wrap in tin foil and roast in the oven.  When it’s done, you can gently squeeze the garlic cloves out into the soup.  I then put the broth and roasted garlic in the blender to puree the garlic and mix it in well.  (As an aside, I did two heads of garlic and saved the second one for garlic bread and snacks of garlic and roasted tomatoes on Kashi 7 grain crackers – yum!)IMG_1484 IMG_1485
IMG_1490I threw in some leftover pasta too.  I really loved using a higher ratio of quinoa to soup so that each spoonful was a warm, slightly spicy, slightly nutty quinoa bite and not just straight chicken broth.
In addition to these traditional chocolate chip cookies (super chewy centers with extra crispy edges) (not the first time I’ve made these), I also made gingerbread men cookies (first time for these), which were easier than expected.  I got the hang of it on the second tray in that I rolled the dough a little thinner so they were more crunchy like a ginger snap, rather than bready like a cake.
IMG_1622Choc chip cookies
IMG_1462Prepping the gingerbread men
I also made some spiced walnuts with ginger and brown sugar.
IMG_1475 IMG_1476
IMG_1479 IMG_1480
I am kinda obsessed with biscuits, and while I really do love those Pillsbury-from-a-can-biscuits (there are literally five to six layers you can peel back and put butter between), I wanted to see if I could make them myself.  In this six months of cooking and baking experimentation, I’ve gotten over the fear of doing things directly on the countertop.  I clean it down really well, flour her up, and roll out that dough, whether cookie or biscuit.IMG_1684These were not only flaky but also a little crumbly.  Delicious for breakfast with butter and honey and for dinner with baked breaded chicken and hot sauce.
Yesterday I had a friend over and we each chose a cookie recipe to make.  I chose oatmeal toffee and she chose peanut butter Hershey kiss cookies.  They were both wonderful.  She not only used peanut butter, but also added ground peanuts to the mix which gave them a little salty-roasted taste and an added crunch mixed in with the smoothness of the peanut butter.
kiss cookies
The toffee oatmeal cookies (with a smattering of Heath bar bits in addition to straight toffee bits) turned out soft in the middle with crispy-crumbly edges and texture coming from the chewy oatmeal and semi-melted bits of toffee.  This was also my first experience using coconut oil instead of butter in a 1 to 1 substitution.  Coconut oil is supposedly healthier than butter.  Since I’ve never made these particular cookies with butter, I have no basis for comparison as to whether the coconut oil altered the flavor at all, but they were light and delicious to me.
toffee cookies toffee cookies2
Along the way, I also made some oatmeal, chocolate chip, walnut, dried cranberry cookies.  Those were intense because the “extra” ingredients almost overwhelmed the batter.  They were hard to form into balls for baking but they turned out great.  Almost more of a trail mix snack than a cookie.
prep stationoatmeal batteroatmeal cookies
Those were some of the highlights!  Tonight for NYE, I’m going to try a Vietnamese Shaking Beef recipe from the cookbook written by the chef at The Slanted Door in San Fran, where we originally tried and loved this dish.  I’m off to the Asian grocery store to purchase light and dark soy sauce (I had no idea there were different kinds of soy sauce, but I guess that makes sense), fish sauce, rice vinegar and mirin.  I’m excited to see what other exotic treats I will come across there.  Have a Happy New Year!

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.