Tuesday, August 6, 2013

DIY Backyard Wedding Do's

*All photos courtesy of Tahoe Wedding Photojournalism.  Check out the original source here.

I was going to start this post with, "It's been two weeks since our wedding fiesta..." but then thought to check myself.  It's been three.  Somehow it feels both so recent and still oddly distant--do you ever get that?  Somewhere in there, I filed away wedding memories and let myself get caught back in the day to day current of life.  I pulled up the carpet in our "extra" room (can one really have an extra room in a 700 square foot house?).  I applied for jobs.  I caught up with an old friend who is moving away in a little over a week.  I learned how to cook a few things for my starving spouse.  I even rode my bike a little over 75 miles last week (almost as many miles as I've put in this whole summer).  That post I wrote about feeling so sad to say goodbye to the wedding-planning part of my life?  Those feelings have been filed away, too.  Every once in awhile I get a small twinge of wishing I could plan another big extravaganza, but those twinges are now less sorrowful and more a niggling in the back of my mind that I'd like to do something like that again, which I'll take.

So here we are.  While I was wedding planning, I devoured everything I could find on real-people wedding advice.  There is a lot of information available from commercial wedding sites, and while some of it was helpful, I wanted to know what had worked (or hadn't) for real people (especially people without a $100,000 budget).  A Practical Wedding became my main source for quality, balanced, realistic advice.  Can I strongly nudge you spend a lot of time with that group of smart people if you're planning a wedding?

I've wanted to take some time to jot down a list of what worked well for us (and what didn't work so well, though that might have be a different post) to share with those who might (or might soon) be in the throes of wedding planning.  I know this is long, but hopefully there are some bits of helpful information here.  Some pieces may be specific to the kind of wedding we hosted (at-home, budget, split ceremony/reception), but my hope is most of it can be generalized to other kinds of weddings, too.  If nothing else, I want planners to realize they may have more options than they realize.  If anything isn't clear or if this advice leaves you with more questions than you started with, don't hesitate to be in touch; I'm clearly not sick of talking about this stuff yet.

Decide on a budget ahead of time and do your damndest to stick to it

Holy moly.  I consider myself a pretty enthusiastic shopper, but our wedding created some kind of consumerist monster-beast; I was sick of getting packages delivered to our house by the end of planning.  Buying stuff for the wedding was fun, but it's easy to get to a place where it becomes compulsive (I really really really need this $500 drink dispenser because the beverage table I saw on that fancy wedding blog had one and our wedding will be totally ruined IF I DON'T GET IT!).  It helped to know we were trying to keep the whole shebang under $10,000 (yes, that number still sounds crazy high to me, but in wedding-world, it's considered low.  sigh.).  That number informed some important choices from the start (i.e. no expensive dress, having it in my parents' backyard to save $1,500+ on a venue, self-serve cocktails rather than having a bar tender, etc.)  You don't want to wake up the morning after, $20,000 poorer and wondering why you thought those Louboutins were so necessary to your perfect wedding.

Can I let you in on the biggest secret of wedding planning?  Your wedding will definitely not be perfect, and (perhaps unfortunately for some) you can't spend your way closer to perfection--the same things can go wrong at a $50,000 wedding as go wrong at a $4,000 wedding.  Don't get caught up in the (heavily pushed) idea that your wedding will be better if you spend more money, especially if spending more money means going over your budget.  Remember, most of those people telling you what you *must* do for your wedding are looking to make a buck off of you--consider your sources.  (For more, see: Can You Plan a Wedding Under $6,000? and Weddings are Freaking Expensive)

Can I break a social rule here and talk money?  We kept our entire budget at about $8,500 with 110 guests, and I feel like we had a pretty extravagant wedding.  Granted, we got a couple of screaming deals from two of our vendors, but even without those we would have stayed just under $10,000.  Still not chump change, but reasonable in wedding-world.  It can be done.

Have a long engagement

I know some people are really focused on just getting married already (what?  your main goal for your wedding is just to actually get married?  how novel).  I was not one of those people; I wanted the big party (note: I say "I" because H could have done without the fiesta, but he's a good husband and an even better sport).  We were engaged for about 18 months.  You know that old saying, "You can have it cheap, good or fast.  Pick two."?  I picked cheap and good.  We were already living together as a married couple (ifyouknowwhatImean), so a long engagement worked for us.  I took the first six months to figure out my basic aesthetic (the style of images I pinned the first few months was radically different from what we ended up with--I'm so glad I had time to check myself after the initial flurry of "pin all the things."), then started the DIY stuff about a year out.  Having a year to do it all meant a) whenever I felt over it, I could take a break without stressing about a timeline and b) I saved a ton of moolah because I had time to make everything myself rather than buying it all.  I also had a year to be REALLY EXCITED about it, which was pretty awesome.  Early in the planning process, I got the fantastic advice that a wedding isn't only about the day; it's also about all the anticipation, planning and excitement leading up to the day.  Having a long engagement means you get more time to enjoy that part of the process.  I'm so glad we didn't rush it.

Make a really involved to-do list

Seven pages, my friends.  When I started feeling a little nuts trying to keep all the plans straight in my head (this happened maybe 4 months out), I started writing everything down in a word document.  Once I started doing that (I was desperate for any reason to avoid working on my thesis), I broke the list down into "to do anytime before," "to do a month out," "to do two weeks out," then a day by day list for the week prior AND detailed individual to-do lists for the five or so friends who had offered to help set up the day of.  All the day-of stuff was broken down into timelines (i.e. 9:00: begin setting tables, 10:30: hang tissue fans on fence, etc.).  This list not only proved that my control issues might actually be a positive attribute (ha), but it also helped me remember I had everything dialed in, which in turn reduced my stress to a healthy level.  Though it felt pretty weird giving generous friends to-do lists, it helped me be certain they were really willing to show up and work the day of (I e-mailed everybody their list two weeks ahead of the party and asked them to confirm they were okay with doing what was on their list).  It would have been totally TOTALLY fine if they saw their list and said, "You are a crazy mofo.  Have fun with that."  I was more than okay with these friends tapping out and deciding they just wanted to be a guest.  However, having the lists and e-mailing them out ahead of time gave me time to know exactly what needed to be done and decide on a plan b if necessary--no last minute crisis due to everybody flaking (or having a life that didn't revolve around my needs).  I also sent the list to my mom (who was a complete saint through this all) so we could be on the same page and she didn't have to just trust on blind faith that somehow I had it all under control, which I think helped reduce her stress, too.  Make the list.  Don't judge it--if it needs to be done before the wedding, put it on the flipping list, even if that's "buy a jar of peanut butter to put in my makeup bag so I don't pass out while I'm getting my hair done."  Being able to refer to a written list was a life saver; it kept me on track, it kept me efficient and knowing it was all written down helped me sleep at night. (You laugh that I lost sleep over this.  Just you wait.)

Let friends help

You need help to pull this off.  I'm pretty organized and ambitious when it comes to events, but there is a lot to do, even if you're having a simpler celebration than we did.  I promise you will not have enough minutes to do it all yourself.  Early on, I considered hiring a day-of coordinator but felt uneasy about it because it would have taken a big chunk out of our budget.  Several friends made the offer,"If you want any help, let me know!"  and I took them up on it.  It's easy to get caught in the assumption that people don't actually want to help or that somehow you're imposing on them by accepting their help, but my hunch is friends want to help you not only because they're nice.  They want to help because it lets them be involved in your life events (does this make me sound horribly narcissistic?).  I'm lucky to have some pretty stellar friends who are strong, smart, capable, generous people.  Several lady friends showed up at various points throughout the day and totally rocked it with very little further guidance from me.  They were responsible for setting up and setting the tables, attaching tissue fans all over the fence, making cocktails, making desserts, laying out the dessert tables, making last minute supplies runs and much, much more.  It was amazing to have them there, not only for their willingness to do grunt work but also because I enjoy their company and they make me happy.

If you go the friend-helper route, I recommend a) accepting help only from people whose capabilities you trust (this isn't the time to include folks who may be well meaning but will require more work from you than they contribute), b) keeping your own to-do list pretty short so you're available to answer questions, take care of last minute tasks and, in the absence of those things, lend an extra pair of hands where needed and c) having way more people help than you think you need, as inevitably somebody will have something come up--the worst than can happen is you finish early.  Also, remember your friends will want to kick back and have fun once the party starts, so please don't ask them to work the party; plan to be finished setting up at least a couple hours early so they can go home to shower, relax a little and get ready.  Hire a professional to do the dirty work like clearing plates and refilling drinks.

Skip the wedding attendants

We both have good friends about whom we care deeply.  I realized early in the process I'd rather honor these friends in other, more personal ways than asking them to be attendants (i.e. having them make their special dessert for the table, making a point to hang out with them the night before, asking them to give a toast, taking them wine tasting to choose wedding wines).  I think it's easy to get caught in the belief that your wedding party is supposed to be your help crew, but really, asking somebody to be an attendant is a way of saying, "you're an important person in my life."  It doesn't automatically make it their job to work your wedding or deal with your craziness.  Also, the people I might have wanted to honor as bridesmaids maybe weren't the best candidates to help out--either they were travelling from far away or doing manual labor and decorating wasn't really their thing.  If I had had them as attendants, I would have felt the need to include them in all the planning and preparation while also managing a whole different group of friends who volunteered to help--it would have been too many people and personalities to keep organized.  It's funny, because although selecting attendants seems intrinsic to wedding planning, reading through others' experiences, this practice seems to often add more stress than it brings joy.  I also felt pretty strange about asking my friends to wear specific clothes and walk in a straight line while people they didn't know stared at them--does anybody else think that practice is the tiniest bit odd?  The only caveat with this is if you choose to skip the attendants but you still want some kind of shower/bachelorette, you might have to directly ask a very good friend to throw you one.  Just remember: you can still have all your people around you without them having an official title in the wedding.

Evaluate tradition

This rides off of the above.  While we may happily ignore most traditions in the rest of our lives, wedding culture is entrenched in outdated tradition.  There are lots of lovely wedding traditions (we did a cake cutting) but many are maybe less than great (I was not given away by anyone).  I think it's important to take an honest look at whether you're making choices based on what you feel you have to do to have a socially valid wedding versus what's meaningful to you as a couple and a family.

Skip the rehearsal dinner

I don't really get this tradition.  You know what I did the night before my wedding fiesta?  I hung out with two of my oldest friends (people who would have been in my wedding party--this is how I acknowledged them) who had traveled for the wedding.  We drank beer and ate salty fried food.  I'm so glad I didn't have to set up all day Friday and then feel I had to put on a not-exhausted face for a bunch of people I love but maybe don't want to hang with when I'm tired and a little anxious.  Obviously this one depends on the circumstances, but I was relieved to realize we didn't automatically have to do a big event before the big event (adding another big event would also have drastically impacted our budget for the reception).  It also helped to know the British don't do rehearsal dinners.  When in doubt, find a culture that thinks the tradition you want to avoid is ridiculous (usually, the British).


You know what I wanted to do the day after the wedding?  Look at photos of it.  You know what I've done every single day since the wedding?  Look at the photos and watch our video.  I can't emphasize enough how important it is to have beautiful documentation of that day.  To me, it's more important than having a $2,000 dress and a $50 per plate meal, easy.  Hiring both Mike Henderson and Monique Sady is the one things I'd do again without even thinking about doing anything differently, even it meant radically changing other parts of the day; their work is priceless.

While planning a wedding, it's hard to imagine how surreal the day after feels; to me, it almost felt like none of it had happened.  The photos and video help me realize a) it really happened and b) all that work was totally worth it.  Truly--it goes by in the blink of an eye and you'll want hard evidence to remember it by (a hangover doesn't count as hard evidence).  They even caught a lot of moments I didn't witness, so looking at their work felt like having two extra sets of eyes on the day.

Bonus: both of them were both super amazing to work with professionally AND really great people.  It's pretty rad when your wedding vendors are people you would hang out with.

Hire an awesome DJ but not necessarily a wedding DJ

Speaking of rad people...

Maybe if you live in L.A., there are amazing wedding-specific DJ's whose work is their craft rather than a job to earn a little extra on the side.  I didn't find any of those in my neck of the woods (though admittedly my search wasn't exactly exhaustive).  We were going to do an iPod playlist and call it good, but then we heard the person we ended up hiring (DJ Mojo Jojo) spinning at a local event and were totally taken with his work.  He agreed to do our wedding even though he wasn't specifically a wedding DJ.  HE WAS SO GOOD and a key piece of making it a good party.  I loved that he played unexpected (for weddings) music (old soul and funk, mostly) and didn't interrupt with any talking.  I know that sounds awful, but I have yet to think, "Wow!  He did a really good job of talking over the music!" about a wedding DJ.  He doesn't have  web site but if you want his info, let me know!  Music is important!  You don't have to settle for the standard cheese ball.

Hire talented people and let them do their thing

I guess this is basically the gist of my whole planning process.  Though I have some micro-managing tendencies,  I made a point of mostly staying out of our vendors' hair once we settled on the important parts.  If you make the effort ahead of time to find awesome people and you get out of their way and let them be awesome during your party, your party will be awesome.  See how that works?  Also, can I give a shout out to skipping the wedding-specific vendors (except your photographer--you want somebody who's experienced with weddings or you might miss a lot of great shots)?  I feel like we got a more fun, unique party because it wasn't put together by a bunch of professionals with canned "this is how a wedding is" ways of doing the party.  Everyone brought their own thing and it was all so mind-bogglingly amazing.

Invite everyone (but not everyone)

There were a handful of people I know would have liked to be there who we didn't invite due to my stressing about space.  We then had about 10 no-shows the day of (which I assume is pretty normal) and should have just invited everyone we wanted to--people were forced to get a little cozy, but nobody seemed to mind and it made for better photos and more interaction among our guests.  (Note: our "must invite" list was about 120 people.  If yours is 250, you might have to buckle down a little more than we did).

However, we didn't do automatic plus-ones.  I felt like a schmuck for a little while about this then remembered virtually everyone who was invited knew at least five other people who would be there.  We did plus-ones for the two or three out-of-towners who didn't know anyone else and, of course, folks in long-term relationships (I don't have specific criteria for this--you know if your friend's relationship falls into your definition of long-term).  I just had a moment where I realized if we had a bunch of random plus-ones we've never met (and maybe would never see again), we'd have a lot of friends we'd have to bump off the list.  Most of our friends seem to be in serious relationships (married or otherwise), so this didn't seem to be a major issue for us.  I know this is a delicate and potentially hurtful subject, so I certainly don't offer our way of approaching the issue at the right way, but it worked for us.  This is another example of examining your circumstances and making the best choice for you, regardless of official wedding etiquette.

Can I add here that it was more important to us to have our people there than to have a fancy wedding?  I kind of hate the advice that a budget wedding relies on a restricted guest list.  Yes, you might have to watch your guest list a little.  However, you're going to remember the people who were there much longer than you'll remember the food, booze, music, decorations, venue or what you wore.  Figure out a way to make your budget work around your guest list, not the other way around.

Don't try too hard to make it look classic

When people talk about how you should look classic for your wedding, they always point to Grace Kelly and how she looked timeless on her wedding day and don't you want to look timeless on your wedding day?  You know what?  Grace Kelly was not a normal looking person.  She was stunningly, timelessly beautiful, and for all I care she could have worn a cat skin head-dress and bikini to her wedding and still looked classically gorgeous.  My mother, in contrast, wore a daisy crown and a super hippie cream dress with long sleeves and lace trim to her wedding in 1973 and looked like a fairy princess.  Does she look timeless?  In a way, because she was glowing and happy and beautiful.  Is it obvious from my parents' wedding pictures that they got married in the '70's?  Yep.  But if she hadn't worn that awesome daisy crown and if my dad didn't have wavy long hair and slightly too enthusiastic lapels, their photos would not be nearly as touching.  The lesson is this: don't wear blue eye shadow, because every time somebody points to Grace Kelly as what you want to look like for your wedding, they point the other finger to '80's permed-hair blue-eye-shadow-wearing wedding photos as the look you want to avoid.  So maybe dial back a little on the trends, but otherwise have fun with it and don't try too hard.  Remember all weddings look at least a little dated--there's no getting around that.  Looking happy and relaxed and like yourself is the only shot in hell you have of hinting at timelessness in your photos/video.  (Note: I went a little more classic for our actual wedding and more diva for the party.  I kinda like the diva version--sequins, fake eyelashes and all--better.)

Have more decorations than you think you need

This might seem obvious, but seeing all your decorations shoved into a closet is way different than seeing them spread out over a large area.  I thought I had gone overkill on all our gold stuff but it ended up looking (I think) pretty lovely and definitely not like too much.  You want more than you think you need.  More than likely, once you feel like you're getting into overkill territory, you've almost got enough.  An abundance of decorations goes a long way towards turning a regular gathering into a party.

Skip the fancy floral arrangements

I love flowers and usually keep fresh ones in our house, but I didn't focus much on the flowers for our fiesta. Wedding flowers are SO FLIPPING EXPENSIVE but nobody seems to remember them after they're gone.  You might remember your bouquet, so do what you want with that, but don't worry too much about the centerpieces.  I bought 100 stems of dahlias and freesias from Trader Joe's and also grabbed a few pretty bouquets from there (they'll order flowers for you, they just can't promise specific colors), then made about 40 small, loose arrangements two days before for significantly less than $150, and I thought they turned out beautifully with minimal effort.  There are so many other ways to decorate that last longer and are much less expensive: succulents, air plants, gold leafed votive holders, wine bottles repurposed to hold water and patterned napkins made up the rest of our table decor.  All those pieces cost less than half of what I would have spent for just one floral centerpiece per table and now I have a nice little cache of party decorations to use again.

If you decide to go the traditional floral arrangement route, plan for somebody to collect them at the end of the night to be delivered to a retirement home the following day so others can enjoy them, too.

Have a dessert table instead of a big cake

I LOVED OUR DESSERT BAR!  I know this is kind of a trend right now, but it's a good trend.  Having a mega dessert bar (or three) was rad.  I asked six friends to bake a dessert to contribute (I'm lucky to have a bunch of great bakers in my life) and I made a couple of things ahead of time to freeze as well.  One superstar friend made 10 desserts, but if she hadn't gone so above and beyond, I probably would have supplemented with a few dozen cupcakes/cookies/bars from a local bakery (I did buy 5 dozen doughnut holes from the best doughnut place in town and am totally bummed I didn't get around to eating any).  The great thing about a dessert bar is it's like going into a bakery and wanting to try everything and then actually getting to try everything.  I'm a big fan of cake (A BIG FAN) but why just have cake when you can also have a million other sugary, buttery things?  I think this was the part I got the most comments on following the wedding.  Guests were stoked and we didn't have to spend $600+ on a wedding cake, which is about as perfect as it gets.

Buy to go boxes for guests to take desserts home

Because even though my sugar tooth skyrocketed for some reason right after the wedding, we had a lot of dessert left and we wouldn't have been able to eat it all.  Being able to send everyone home with a little goody box made my force-feed-everybody self happy.  (We used the kraft 6.5x3.5x3.5 boxes from here, then I stamped them with gold ink and this stamp.)

Stash away some dinner and desserts for you and your spouse

It's cliche, but I barely ate at our reception even though I knew most couples don't eat at their receptions and damnit, I wasn't going to be one of those people.  I made a point to make a plate, but as soon as we got around to eating, the sun was setting and we were whisked away for photos.  When we got back, I was too excited to eat much.  I did manage to eat about 7 mallobars around midnight, but wished I had set aside a little of everything to eat the next day when I had more time to enjoy it.

Provide toiletries in the bathrooms

We bought dental floss, breath strips, bobby pins, tampons, stain remover sticks, hair ties, acetaminophen, band-aids and a few other things then stashed them in the bathrooms for guests to use.  I'm not sure how many people actually used this stuff but I liked knowing the basics were taken care of if anybody needed something.

Have my hair done

For most of the planning phase, perfecting my appearance rated low on the list of priorities.  I didn't spend a ton of time on my skin, I didn't get a spray tan or manicure or try to lose weight or any of that stuff.  I decided on my shoes right before we started taking pre-party photos.  But I am so, so glad I hired my hair lady friend to come up to the house to do my hair, not only because she did a way better job than I could have done but also because it gave me an excuse to sit down, close my eyes and not talk to anybody for awhile.  If she weren't there to do her magic, I probably would have put off getting ready for longer due to the allure of getting caught up in other projects and then I would have been rushed and stressed last minute instead of being ready to go an hour before our guests arrived.  She kind of became my built-in down time and I was so grateful to her for that--I needed it more than I could have predicted.

Skip the bartender

You know what makes me feel right at home at a party?  Pouring myself a drink.  Aside from the obvious budgeting considerations, I think there's something about fetching one's own drink that helps people relax in a potentially awkward social situation.  This can also be a bit of an ice breaker as people gather around the beverage tables--it's an easy and natural place to make introductions.  I'm sure expectations vary a lot depending on social class and geographical location, but I'm happy we did self-serve drinks rather than hiring someone to serve them.  We invested in a few nice drink dispensers and had two kinds of cocktails (El Diablo and vodka thyme lemonade--one of my helper friends threw them together while I was getting ready) and also made sparkling mint lemonade and bought bottled sodas for non-alcoholic options.  We had lots of wine and a keg from our favorite local bar/beer and wine store, Craft (Incidentally, if you're hosting an event in Reno, go through Craft for your booze  Ty was amazing to work with and matched our $10 per bottle price point with some pretty incredible wines.  On top of it, he kept it cold for us until we picked it up a couple hours before the party.)  This approach to drinks was easy, accessible, and people seemed to congregate around the drink tables, kind of like how people gather in the kitchen at house parties, creating a homey, relaxed feel.

I know there can be some liability issues related to serving guests alcohol.  I don't fully understand them, but it seems to depend on what state you're in.  Make sure to double check the laws where you are.

Figure out sunset time and create your schedule/program around that

I wouldn't have thought of this one without our photographer but it was really smart--there's a sweet spot for photography lighting and the last thing you want is to be in the middle of toasts during those precious minutes.  It's easy enough to figure out when the light will be right for you to sneak away to get a few portraits in the golden light (search "sunset times" for the date and location of your nuptials), so make sure you leave a spot open in your program to allow you to sneak away for a bit.

Have a few activities for guests

I know.  This sounds like advice for a kids' party and I had a few moments in the planning process when I questioned whether guests would even want to partake of the few activities I threw in there or whether they'd be happy enough drinking and talking.  In retrospect, I know they would have been happy enough drinking and talking, but the little entertainments ended up providing a break from the normal wedding hub bub and as far as I could tell, people seemed to have fun with them.  I made a couple hundred cascarones, a bunch of temporary tattoos and we had hologram heart glasses for after dark.  It was all a little nerdy but fun, and the photos of our guests wearing those glasses are some of my favorites.

Take sleeping meds (ha)

I've never taken anything stronger than Valerian to help me sleep, but with all the excitement (and some stress), I didn't really sleep for the week before the fiesta.  I stubbornly tried all my tricks--yoga before bed, lavender oil on my pillow, sleepytime tea, no TV or computer for an hour before hitting the hay.  None of it worked.  Taking sleeping meds (Ambien) initially felt kind of like giving in (like somehow I'd be tougher if I just toughed it out without sleep?  I dunno.), but it was such a relief to get some good rest the few days before the wedding.  I guess this one just gets filed under "during the week before your wedding, take care of yourself like you would take care of a sick 2 year old."  You might have to baby yourself a little more than normal--fighting that fact doesn't make you any more noble but it will make your wedding less fun.  (Note: don't give Ambien to a 2 year old.)

Buy rather than rent

Obviously this isn't practical for everything, but in doing cost comparisons, I often found buying was about the same price (napkins) or less (tablecloths) than renting.  Plates, glasses, silverware, tables and chairs were all rented.  Pretty much everything else we purchased.  I think this went a long way toward making certain aspects a little different from the norm.  There's certainly nothing wrong with renting, but if you're going to spend as much to rent something generic as it would cost to buy something unique, it might make sense to go with the latter.  I love that we have a handful of beautiful items to hold onto to use for future parties.

Skip the expensive dress

I know it's tempting to get some big fancy confection dress (I was definitely tempted) but especially if you're working on a budget, there are a million beautiful options that don't cost a fortune if you're willing to think out of the box.  If a fancy dress is in your budget, go for it, but if it isn't, know it's not going to break your day.  I felt comfortable and beautiful in both of my dresses, which together cost well under $500 (still a fortune to some, I know).  I don't think either day would have necessarily been more special had I worn fancier clothes but I can almost guarantee I would have regretted spending more on my dresses (and I changed into my wedding dress behind a bush in the woods--a fancier dress might have made this more complicated).  If you're going to splurge, I'm a big advocate for buying some fancy shoes you'll definitely wear again.  (Word from the wise: You can search for white dresses on all the upscale department store websites.  You'll get much more bang for your buck if you take the word "wedding" out of your searches.)

Have the ceremony and the reception on different days

We're both somewhat private about our relationship.  I knew H would feel uncomfortable saying our vows in front of a bunch of people, even if those people were all friends (to be honest, I would have been, too).  I also knew I'd feel bummed if we didn't have a big party.  Realizing we didn't have to have the ceremony and reception on the same day was somehow a big revelation; I had taken for granted up to that point that we had to do them together.  At first I felt guilty, but then I realized we weren't bartering--it's not as though our guests were doing us a favor by coming to the party and we, in turn, owed them a glimpse into the most intimate parts of our relationship (remember: your wedding is not a show.).  I think a few people were disappointed or put-off  to not witness the ceremony, but I think it was a non-issue for most of our friends and family (note: we did let everyone know ahead of time that they we were having a private ceremony before the reception, so nobody showed up expecting a ceremony).  We got the intimate, sweet ceremony we wanted without any pressure to perform, then we also got the big bash (bonus--we got to spend every precious minute with our guests--I can't imagine missing out on that time with them).  Splitting the ceremony and reception was also a key piece of me being able to be my own day-of coordinator since I wasn't at any point tied up hiding from my guests, walking down the aisle, taking family portraits, etc.  It really was the best of both worlds.  Also, two dresses.

Have a backyard/at-home wedding

After deciding to split the ceremony and reception, choosing to have the party at my parents' house was one of the very best decisions we made.  I get the appeal of having your wedding at a beautiful venue designed specifically to host events, but with a little extra planning, an at-home wedding can be so much more special.  Instead of dumping money into a venue, my parents used that cash to do some updates on their home and yard (hosting our wedding was a good excuse to do what they've wanted to do for a decade on their 1993 construction house).  I loved being able to go to their house throughout the year to dream about how we'd use the space.  Being able to start setting up a week early helped prevent last-minute stress.  I also enjoyed being able to create little pockets throughout the home and yard (much harder to do in a sprawling venue) and it was fun watching guests explore.  Knowing their space so intimately also helped us make the best use of it.  My parents do not have an enormous yard or house and I was somewhat nervous about having enough room, but everything and everybody fit, no problem (really, you can probably fit more people than you think).  We set up tables on the patio, in the back yard, in the front yard, and into a couple of nooks and crannies.  I think the close quarters encouraged people to mingle a bit more than if there were more space--you know how a lot of times, groups split off at weddings?  There wasn't enough room for that to happen--I had several people comment that they felt less socially awkward at our wedding than they expected, and I think the forced rubbing of elbows might have contributed.  We also had the bonus of being able to stay as late as we wanted (no 11:00 "gotta be out" pressure), people could crash in the yard, we could sleep at the house and we didn't have to clean up right away.

I do recommend getting one-day event insurance just in case.  Also, if you only have one bathroom or your sewer system is touchy, renting port-a-potties might be a good idea, and you'll want to know your electrical system well to decide whether it can handle the extra electricity requirements (whatever the DJ needs, extra lighting, etc.).  Finally, if you live in a place where weather is touchy and you can't fit all your guests into your house in the case of a weather emergency, rent a tent ahead of time.  But truly, I can't recommend an at-home wedding enough.  Even if you think you don't have enough space, there's probably a creative way to make it work, and work well.  This is a great post on hosting an at-home wedding.

Control what you can and let go of the rest

This was definitely the hardest for me--it was incredible how many challenges life threw at us in the week before our wedding (I even started my period the morning of, which was magically a week earlier than expected).  I don't know if I wrote about it much, but on our actual wedding day, a typhoon came over from Japan, dumping more rain on Northern California than the region has seen is 30 years.  We planned to have our ceremony in that area far from any shelter, and after driving for two hours to our destination and spending 20 minutes searching for a protected area, we had to turn back down the mountain with the expectation of driving two hours back to Reno to have the ceremony in my parents' living room, well after dark (which was a bummer considering our photographer had schlepped along with us).  At the last minute, the rain cleared and we spent another 20 minutes driving around, looking for a suitable spot, all the while texting among the three car caravan with updated plans.

Both our ceremony and our fiesta felt, at certain points, like they were going to be a wash.  But then they worked out.  I'm big on planning and trying to control things that can be controlled, but you have to know when extra effort from you will pay off and when it's wasted energy.  During the planning process, I kept trying to predict and avoid calamities, as though we deserved a window in our lives where nothing uncomfortable or stressful could happen.  What I learned (if I believed in divine lessons, this would be one of them) is that you have to integrate the wedding into the rest of your life, rather than expect your life to make way for the wedding. I read once that when couples say their wedding was perfect, what they really mean is they knew when to let go and just enjoy themselves.  We had more bumps in the time surrounding our wedding and reception than we've had in the past couple of years combined, and both our wedding and reception were still perfect because we chose to allow ourselves to be so carried away by the excitement and joy that the bumps stopped being important.

So, that's it.  There are small things I could add in, but really, I wouldn't change much about our wedding, despite the bumps and bruises sustained in the process.  It was beautiful.  Deep-in-my-bones beautiful.  How lucky are we?



  1. I love this post! I just starting planning our wedding (the big day is 10 months away) and after a little consideration, we decided to make it an outdoor event at my parents' house. We're super casual people and it's my fiance's second marriage, so neither of us wants to go too formal. The challenge we're already coming up against is dealing with family that all have VASTLY conflicting ideas from each other. Mom wants a rented dance floor, Dad thinks the deck will do, mom wants port-a-potties, Dad thinks the plumbing is fine, etc. This should be fun!

    It sounds like you had a wonderful celebration, and I'm definitely taking a lot of your advice to heart. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Yay! I'm so excited you're doing at outdoor at-home wedding! Doing it that way opens up so much possibility. I totally understand the conflict that can arise when important people have different ideas about what needs to be done. There were several instances where people had very strong opinions about things I could never have predicted would be on their radar. It's kind of an interesting family experiment! Not that you asked, but we used the deck for a dance floor (just be mindful of whether there are any gaps for high heels to slip through) and our plumbing (with three available bathrooms) handled our guests just fine. Have fun and congratulations!

  3. I love everything about this post. I'm in the midst of wedding planning and am working hard to prioritize on things we actually care about. Congratulations on accomplishing a wedding that looks really true to you! I actually found your blog when searching for cascarones used at weddings. I think they're fun and unusual and a nice way to make things less formal. How did they work out at yours? I saw you weren't sure which filling to go with, what did you decide upon? Looking back, were they worth the effort? I'm 100% down for diy extravaganza wedding projects, but don't want to spend ages shaking out eggs if people won't really smash them on each other. Anyway, your thoughts would be appreciated.