Sunday, September 22, 2013

DIY Backyard Wedding Do's: Round Two

*photos, again, by Lake Tahoe Wedding Photojournalism.

About a week after our wedding fiesta in July, I was out with some friends and after about a half hour of silently enduring their conversation revolving around people and experiences totally foreign to me, I started ribbing them a bit, hinting that I'd like to actually, you know, talk to them while we were hanging out.  In response, one of them asked, "Well, what do you want to talk about?"  Half-joking (but only half), I replied, "My wedding."

His response? "STILL?!"

As I've written, at that time our wedding still weighed heavily on my heart and mindt.  So yes, I still wanted to talk about it.

Two months out, though I've diversified my conversation topics a bit, I still love talking weddings and parties.  I thought maybe my interest was just situational, brought by the fact that I was in the thick of planning my own wedding (don't we all become situational short-term fanatics from time to time?).  As I reflect on this more, though, I realizing event design and planning is what makes me tick.  I love the logistics, the aesthetic play, the collaboration, the balance between creativity and precision.  I love the meaning inherent to celebration.  Of course, I love love love the giddy joy and energy.  It's all SO FUN.  So, I've been thinking about this a lot.  About how to give myself permission to get caught up in this path, to turn it into work I can do regularly.  It's probably another post (and a lot more thinking on my part), but for the moment, there it is.

I've been keeping a running list of more reflections on our wedding over the last couple of months with the intent of sharing them; I got some feedback that the last list was helpful and I hope this one is, too.  As ever, ask questions should you have them.

(Side note: went to the wedding of some dear friends last weekend and let me tell you, it was perfect.  There was so much joy I feel like I got enough fill to last a good long while.  Congratulations, Mike and Drew!)

*I'll preface this by saying I sense I was a little more blunt than usual in this post.  My brain is worn out and it feels more important to get these words out than to wait until I'm more rested.  Forgive me and know the bluntness is from tiredness, not judgy-ness.  xo


I'm an eater.  Prior to the wedding week, I think I'd missed a total of four meals in my entire life.  Then wedding week hit and my regular eating schedule went to hell in a hand basket.  With everything that happened that week, I didn't put any effort into grocery shopping or cooking, and if I remember correctly, we had some old carrots, almond milk, a half stick of butter and some plain yogurt in the house.  The general hub bub killed my appetite, and it wasn't until I sprung for takeout the Wednesday before the boda that I realized how much my body needed calories.  I thought I had just been exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed.  Turns out I was mostly  just hungry.

Stock your kitchen well with things you always enjoy eating that don't require a lot of prep, then eat the damn food.  Make sure you have plenty of snacks around the day of and keep a stockpile in whatever room you'll use to get ready, as that might be the only opportunity you have to sit down with unoccupied hands.  Ask a couple of friends ahead of time if they'll be kind enough to remind you to eat a few times that day, ideally while handing you a spoonful of peanut butter or some sliced apples and cheese.

I know it can be tempting to just not eat, especially if your hunger signals take the week off, but ugly things happen to our brains and bodies when we don't have regular calorie intake; you'll function a whole lot better and enjoy yourself a whole lot more if you feed yourself at regular intervals.

Accept that we're not all planners

I am the planner in our relationship.  When we go on a hike, I'm the one who makes sure we have food and water and some sense of how long the hike will take (two hours?  three days?).  As a teen, H randomly met some people hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and hopped into their hike right at that moment, jeans, Chuck Taylors, no food, no water, no worries.  Just thinking about going shopping without a snack in my purse makes me hyperventilate a bit.

I think we both view our differences as a mostly good thing; we each pull the other a little closer to balance (H is less likely to starve in the woods, I'm slightly less neurotic).  However, filed under "cultural wedding mysteries," there seems to be big push on women in the throes of wedding planning to "include" (i.e. pressure) their partners in the process (note: I'm being heteronormative here, since that's my experience.  Forgive.).  The internet is rife with stories of couples who spent their Friday nights co-designing and letter pressing their save-the-dates, Sunday afternoons making jam together to give as favors, discussing each registry item at length and yadda yadda yadda BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT PERFECT COUPLES DO.  I don't buy it.  I think usually one partner gets into it and the other would rather remain only peripherally involved (or, in my case, tapping out after choosing the keg).  Your partner's interest in wedding planning has very little bearing on the value and security of your relationship.  In fact, unless there are other big red flags going up related to the health of your relationship, it doesn't really mean anything except that you've probably fallen prey to a senseless cultural story that DIT (doing it together) is an essential component to a meaningful wedding.  It isn't.

A happy wedding planning process starts with knowing yourselves and working from that knowledge.  H and I never fought about wedding planning because we both knew from the outset that this kind of stuff isn't H's jam.  Instead of pressuring H to be my planning partner, my mom and I bonded over the planning and H and I connected and decompressed together in other ways that fed, rather than stressed, our relationship.  Sure, I made a point to keep him clued into big decisions and made sure he knew his input was welcome if he wanted to share it, but I also made a point of giving him the space to not care about much except marrying me.  Maybe (probably) your relationship is different from ours, so how you approach this might manifest differently.  Just remember--you and your partner will probably continue to be the people you have been up to this point in your relationship.  Being those people is what got you to the point of thinking it might be a nice thing to get married to each other, so don't try to force radical change just because the wedding industry said that's what couples do.

Hire a  coordinator

Okay, I didn't do this one.


There is absolutely no way we could have had the reception we had if we had done the ceremony on the same day.  I loved loved loved having a private ceremony on a different day, but I get that most people don't do it that way and don't want to do it that way.  For us, however, in addition to giving us the private ceremony and the big party we wanted, splitting the ceremony and reception let me be my own coordinator.  My entire day (really, the entire week before) could be dedicated to prepping and managing the reception.  I wasn't distracted by an impending big life commitment.  I wasn't off hiding from my guests before a walk down the aisle.  I wasn't practicing vows.  I was working my tail off (happily) to coordinate our reception, knowing the actual big important ceremony part was behind us.

You can obviously have an awesome wedding without hiring a coordinator, but if you're doing the ceremony and reception on the same day and it's really important to you to have lots of details and/or vendors and/or a big guest list, get somebody to help you.  Having somebody 100% available to coordinate, whether that's you or someone you hire (or the best, most reliable friend in the whole world who is not in your wedding party or related to you) will make you, your spouse, your family and your guests happy.  Think of it as the key piece that makes sure all of your other hard work and money invested doesn't go to waste. 

Be excited!

You know what really gets my goose?  PATRIARCHY.  When are we going to get some equality in this place?!

In all seriousness, there is SO MUCH pressure (both covert and overt) on women to find and then marry a life partner.  But then, when we actually find a great partner and decide to get married, we often get slammed (sometimes subtly, sometimes not) for buying into it all and caring about decorations and dresses and cake flavors.  So we go from, "You're not a valid person until you find somebody who will marry you!" to "How can you be a feminist and think any of this is actually important?!"

Here's what I think: if you're excited about your wedding, it is, by definition, exciting.  Sure, not everybody's going to want to hear about what's going on with your planning at every moment, but when somebody seems interested, be excited with them!  Be happy!  Talk about the damn flowers!  The cultural pressure to play it cool about your own fabulous wedding is total bullshit.  It is a great time, so have a great time with it.

Side note: I don't buy into the belief that keeping details about your wedding a surprise makes it more fun for anybody.  The unfortunate fact is most of your guests aren't going to notice the majority of the details you pour your heart and soul into.  Be real: the details are more for you than for your guests, so enjoy them!  Talk about them!  Share the excitement!  I'd argue that most of the fun of the wedding happens during the planning process, not on the actual day, so live it up during those months.  Bonus: your guests will be more clued in to notice the details if they know ahead of time what they're looking for.  It's kind of like telling your spouse "I'm getting my hair cut" so he/she knows to notice it rather than keeping it a secret and then getting hurt feelings when he/she doesn't notice you chopped a 1/4 inch off the bottom.

Buy a loose dress

Oh my goodness.  A friend of a friend is getting married this fall and lost a ton of weight for some reason or other last summer then had her dress fitted to her much-smaller-than-normal frame.  BAD CHOICE.

I get it.  I get that there are thickly woven cultural messages flying around that you have to be skinny on your wedding day, but really, you don't.  Trying to force your normal (for you) sized body into a smaller dress isn't going to make your day better--it's going to make you miserable, not only on the day itself (wearing uncomfortable clothes that restrict breathing isn't my idea of a good time), but also in the weeks leading up to (I don't know about you, but I'm not at my best when I'm hungry).  As a general life rule, it's a good idea to feed yourself, and this becomes even more true when you have so much extra stuff going on.  Give yourself the gift of stable blood sugar and energy levels.

Buying a dress that I knew would fit and be comfortable even if my body size changed a bit was one of the best decisions I made.  I felt awesome in it, I never worried about weight gain leading up to the wedding (which probably sneakily contributed to my body staying pretty stable size-wise) and I was able to be totally present at my wedding (no sucking in, shallow breathing, or swooning from hunger).  Give yourself permission to be comfortable on your day.

Skip the wedding colors

There are definite exceptions to this, but I think more often than not, using only two or three colors in a wedding is a quick way to make the wedding look dated and can also lead to unnecessary stress (Do the flowers match the fabric of the ties and tablecloths?  What about the cake?  Does my makeup clash with the color scheme or complement it?  On and on and on.)  I loved being able to bring in any colors that caught my fancy without feeling restricted by feeling like it all had to match, because seriously, what is with the matching?

Hang with your guests as much as possible

I've said it before, but I could not believe how fast the reception day went.  It truly felt like maybe two hours, and I got nowhere near to feeling satisfied with how much time we got with our guests.  If you're doing the ceremony and reception on the same day, you'll have even less time than we did.  If at all possible, try to get your portraits done before guests arrive, and if you can bring yourself to, hang out with your guests before the ceremony instead of hiding in preparation for a big reveal.  Having so many of your loved ones in one place at the same time is a big deal and may never get a repeat.  Be with your guests; you won't regret it.

Note: we recently attended the wedding of some good friends who had drinks and dinner first thing, then the ceremony, then cake and dancing.  They got to mingle with their guests the whole time.  Genius.  Remember, just because most people do weddings a certain way doesn't mean that's how they must be done.

Food trucks...

Having a food truck catered wedding has been big for a couple of years now, and for the first several months of planning, we thought we'd get one of our yummy local trucks to come up to cater our wedding; it was actually one of the pieces I was initially most excited about.

But then.

We went to eat at the food truck we were thinking of hiring and it took 20 minutes to get our food.  Most food trucks I've eaten at take about this long when you factor standing in line, ordering, then waiting for whatever you ordered to be prepared (this is no diss on the people running the trucks--15-20 minutes seems totally fast/reasonable for a normal quick meal out).  At any event I've been to where there are 20 or more people wanting to order from the same truck, the wait becomes looooonnnnnngggg.  It's all fun and games when you expect that kind of experience and know that you could ditch the wait and go to the restaurant down the street if you want to.  But a wedding is different.  Guests need to be fed on time and relatively quickly (and not stand for an hour in heels waiting for food).  I felt like as a hostess, it was more important to feed our guests good food with relatively little waiting/effort on their part than to impress everybody with my clever idea of food truck catering.  Under normal circumstances, if I arrived to a food truck and saw 110 people waiting in line, I'd ditch it.  Keeping that in mind, it didn't make sense to ask our guests to go through that just because it was our wedding and we decided it would be cool to have food truck catering.

Guys, it was a dream that died a painful, reluctant death.  (This blog post helped expedite the process.)

I suppose some of the issues could be side-stepped by hiring more than one truck, but then you're dealing with trying to figure out how many guests will want to eat at Truck A and how many at Truck B.  You're probably going to have to sign contracts for minimums, meaning you'll spend a lot more than necessary just to make sure the trucks' business expenses are covered and none of your guests end up with limited options just because they're last in line.  Food truck food also tends to need to be made individually, which tacks on significant additional cost (making individual tacos to hand to guests takes a lot more time/staffing than putting out a taco buffet for your guests to make their own, and what about mistaken orders?  Who pays for those?)  Of course, you could just give guests a couple of options rather than access to the whole menu (if you go the food truck route, do this), but then you're really just paying for the symbol of the food truck and the additional employees' time--money that could have just gone into better food.

At the end of the day, while I love the concept of a food truck catered wedding and think it could work beautifully for a 40 person wedding, it was more important to me to a) spend every penny of our catering budget on getting the best food our budget allowed, rather than heaving a good chunk of it into having a food truck serve and b) prioritize our guests being able to party and have fun rather than stand in line at a truck (most guests stay at a wedding for about 4 hours total--you will be sad if they spend a big portion of that waiting in line for their meal).  The food truck idea just seemed like it opened too many opportunities for one of the most important elements of the night to go wrong.

The truck we were going to hire also has a regular catering business, so we just had them do it as a normal catering gig, buffet style.  It worked beautiful and the food was fabulous (seriously, nailed it).  Nobody complained that it wasn't served from a truck window.

At some point during planning, I read a letter from somebody asking for input on her idea to have her wedding ceremony on a lake with all the guests in row boats.  One of the responses was spot on: "If it's about the experience you will make everyone wear life jackets.  If it's about the pretty pictures you won't."  I think the food truck thing (among lots of other creative/different wedding ideas) fits within that response.  Is it about a dreamy idea about a magical wedding that very well may not to as you envision it or is it about making your guests well-fed and comfortable?

p.s. Can you tell I over thought this one?

DIY Invites

I LOVE PAPER.  I'm a little obsessed with letterpress and fonts and all that jazz.  Initially, I was so excited to choose pretty save-the-dates and invites to send out to our guests, but wedding paper gets very expensive very quickly and then mostly ends up in the trash.  I ended up spending $120 total on our wedding paper (about $1 per) by having a graphic designer friend do a very simple layout for the save-the-dates (which I then doctored by sewing crepe paper onto each with gold thread) and buying the design for our invites from Printable Press.  I had all the paper printed inexpensively online and skipped RSVP cards and other extra, instead creating a wedding website using a free template.

I can't say I absolutely loved our wedding paper (the printing was where I saved the most money, but it also made them look undeniably cheap-ish), but it was a budget sacrifice that was totally worth it.  There will be lots of opportunities to do beautiful paper on a smaller scale in the future, and I'm grateful we had the $1,000 we could easily have spent on paper to invest elsewhere (videographer>pretty save-the-dates, no contest).

Side note: I think it's helpful to give guests a general sense of what will be happening when even if you don't plan to have paper programs printed.  We went with a chalkboard--easy to make, does the job, less trash.  Win win win.

Wedding Website

I did a pretty in-depth wedding website and had guests RSVP there rather than dealing with a bunch of returned paper RSVP cards.  I liked this method because I'm an over-communicator (shocker, I know) and having a website allowed me limitless space to give information about location, whether kids were invited, parking, favorite local spots for out of town guests, registry, acknowledge people who contributed to the fiesta, etc.  I know a handful of our guests never looked at it, but I still think this is a great way to get guests involved and excited for the shin-dig, and it reduces the amount of paper you need to buy and organize when you're brain is already overfull of wedding plans.

Invite kids

If you're planning for out of town guests, you have to either invite kids or find and pay for a sitter.  In my opinion, it's totally not cool to ask out of towners to find and pay for their own childcare when they've traveled to attend *your* wedding.  We did gently encourage people who live in town and have readily available childcare (either family or a frequent baby-sitter) to not bring their kids, mostly due to cost and space (10 extra kids would have required an entire extra table we didn't have room for and about $300 worth of food and rentals), but I contact out of town guests to make sure they knew we wanted them to bring their kids and to not worry about it.  Also, kids are free entertainment.

Send your photographer inspiration photos

Obviously, it's important to choose a photographer whom you like (you're going to be spending quite a lot of time with this person on your wedding day) who has an aesthetic that jibes with yours.  However (and this is probably a rule with anybody involved in the aesthetic of your wedding), words only take you so far in describing what look you're going for.  I made a small Pinterest board dedicated to wedding photos that I liked and shared it with our photographer.  Monique then was able to look at the photos and see elements they had in common, which helped inform what she focused on when shooting our wedding (i.e. more sun washed lighting).

I spoke in the last list about the importance of hiring talented people and letting them do their thing.  I think giving your vendors ideas of what you like and also letting them work their own talents and creativity can co-exist--the key is to communicate well ahead of time about what you're generally looking for, get on the same page, then let them do their work without much in-the-moment input from you.  There's a fine line between giving input and micromanaging.  That line happens well before your wedding, so communicate your style then hand the photography off to your photographer and be grateful to have one less thing to think about.

Talk to your partner about the photography

Monique had the brilliant idea of showing H a couple of wedding website blog posts with examples of typical wedding photographs.  If you're the type of planner to get totally engrossed in the world of planning, you're probably developing ideas about how you want your wedding photos to look.  If your partner isn't spending every free minute on Pinterest and wedding websites, he or she probably has no flipping idea what you're thinking and may be less than enthusiastic when the photos end up taking (what feels like) forever with the two of you sitting on a vintage couch in the middle of a field of wildflowers in full hair and makeup with forced emo facial expressions for a half hour.

So much of maintaining a happy relationship through wedding planning and the day itself is regular communication, with a good portion of that dedicated to discussing expectations.  The photography was one of the more important elements to me, so I made sure to communicate that to H, in addition to discussing what he was comfortable with on the photography front (his only condition was no full frontal nudity, which I guess I can live with).

Incidentally, Monique also suggested having a drink pre-photo sesh.  Smart lady.

Do the wedding portraits

Get photos of all your important people all together, in various combinations.  As life changes, people move away, people pass away, realities become more'll be grateful for a visual reminder of that one day when you were all together, celebrating love and life.  Sure, it may get a little tedious.  Give everybody a drink and soldier through.  You'll be grateful you did.

Think about what you'll wear to get ready

You'll likely want some photos of you and your spouse getting ready.  You don't necessarily need a fancy outfit to put on post-shower and pre-wedding dress, but you'll probably at least want something that's clean and vaguely presentable, since whatever you wear will be documented in you wedding photos.

Do not cut alcohol out of your diet to lose weight (unless you want a teetotaler wedding)

You do not want to get drunk at your wedding, at least not until 90% of your guests have left and it's just you, your spouse and your old high school friends sitting around polishing off the leftover bottles of wine.

If you're somebody who wants to be skinnier than you usually are for your wedding (I won't belabor my take on that any futher), it might seem reasonable to cut out alcohol for a few months before.  Don't do it.  If you do lose some weight, your alcohol tolerance will be lower than usual.  If your body isn't accustomed to alcohol due to months of abstinence, your alcohol tolerance will be lower than usual.  If you haven't eaten much on your wedding day, your alcohol tolerance will be lower than usual.  This all means you stand a good chance of getting shite-faced on the one drink you're going to slurp down at the earliest opportunity on your wedding day.

If you plan to having a drink or two at your wedding, you want to be able to handle that without getting sloppy.  I get that this might sound anti-Puritan, but practice drinking however much alcohol you plan to consume on your wedding day, make sure that amount isn't going to get you beyond slightly tipsy, then try not to surpass that when the big day arrives.

Dial in who will give toasts 

The only regret I have from our reception is not dialing in toasts ahead of time.  I was probably overly concerned about the toasts droning on and on, so we set up ahead of time that my dad would speak, one of H's good friends would speak, then I'd go and we'd be done.  My brother ended up giving a toast last minute, which was beautiful but made me realize I should have let him know ahead of time that we'd have toasts so he could have prepared.  H told me afterward that he felt moved in the moment to say something and I inadvertently cut this off by trying to avoid the dead air that inevitably comes when toasts are opened up to open mic.  It still stings a bit that he didn't get to speak--he told me what he would have said and it was deeply beautiful.  Part of me accepts this as the one necessary glitch in an otherwise smooth wedding, but part of me wishes I hadn't been so concerned with trying to control the thing and instead had allowed the toasts to take on their own life.  I think the lesson here is to plan ahead, then let go.

So, that's it.  I can't say I won't be talking about parties or weddings anymore, because hopefully there will be good reason on the future to break that promise.  But for the time being, I think that's it with ours.  I love it more sweetly as the days pass.  Thanks for reading, friends.




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