As mentioned in the first post in this series, our engagement began four days before Danny left for Bangladesh for two months. Throughout the spring, I had often told Danny that if he proposed before he left for the summer, I wanted to have enough time to nail down my big three things (photographer, location, and date) by the time he flew halfway around the world and became unreachable for quite some time. D proposed on May 15th, which told me that we had very different ideas about how long wedding decisions could (do) take. He left on May 19th, and we had done nothing (well, I did have a meltdown or two in that time, if that counts for anything). What do I think about this now? Stressful. Not a good idea to take off (literally) four days after asking someone to marry you, unless they agree to it beforehand. But hey, it (our being engaged) meant we got to Skype once a week (for ten minutes) while he was gone!
Very few things were officially decided at the very beginning of our engagement. I did go to a bridal shop with my mom, bridesmaids (minus Kristen), and mentor to pick out a dress (which I later sold online, but it was super special to have that experience with them). My thoughts? Definitely make your dress selection what you want it to be. I knew I wanted my mom to be there, as well as my amazing mentor, Jan. I didn’t want my bridesmaids to come, but it happened, and now I am so thankful. Treasure that time. This is (maybe) a once in a lifetime sort of experience.
Also, ever since I saw Sage + Whitney’s engagement photos, I knew that I wanted Caroline to do our engagement and wedding photos as well. I emailed her the day we got engaged and thus began my crazy (and only a little bit creepy) love for Caroline and her incredible photography skills. In June, we met for coffee and she became our wedding photographer, which was ultimately the most important part of our wedding day to me. Due to her own wedding in September, and our trip to China in September and October, we finally took our engagement pictures on Halloween, and my oh my. We made a fabulous choice with Caroline! My thoughts now? Photography is of incredible importance. As many people told me, it’s the only thing you’ll have to treasure (aside from memories) after the wedding. I will never regret spending on a third of our budget on photography because our photographs are amazing, and our photographer (CAROLINE!!) was exactly what I wanted (she loves Jesus, she focused on us and our day, she blended in, she loves me and Danny and all of our funny things…I could go on and on).
As soon as Danny got home from Bangladesh we hit the location search HARD. We were still thinking January (as the month of our wedding) at this point, so we were obviously only looking indoors. I wanted to get married in a church, but ours (Christ Community) seats 1,000 people, and we were looking to have about 110 people. Therefore, we were on the lookout for a church that was big enough for the amount of people we were expecting, but small enough that it didn’t feel like only a few people were there. I was also pretty staunch on the church being pretty, and having a fair amount of natural light so that we wouldn’t need overhead lights or a flash. From the beginning, I loved Saint Patrick Presbyterian Church, and heard great things about it from my dear Whitney who attended St. Pat’s throughout college. And now, a couple months later? I’m glad we looked long and hard. I’m thankful we didn’t leave one stone unturned. Thanks to our hunting, we found a place that was reasonable and had the feel and look I wanted. Our final choice (St. Pat’s) was (is) gorgeous and looks splendid in all of our photos as well.
For a long while, I wanted to have our reception at the church as well, to save money and hassle, but after having significant trouble finding a vegan caterer we could afford, and finding out that our university offered an extensive vegan menu, we explored locations on campus. We settled on the Panorama Room, which is actually just steps away from where I worked in the Office of Student Engagement and Dean of Students Office for 2.5 years during college, and is on the top floor on the University Center. It’s not exactly a pretty room, however, it has a wraparound deck with a nice view of campus, and my clever, crafty, and amazing friend Kaci took over decorating the room. It was incredible. Like, stunning. I saw everything for the first time when Danny and I arrived at the reception as man and wife. She blessed us beyond anything I had hoped or imagined. And aside from the white lights I bought on clearance after Christmas, just days before the wedding, the decorations didn’t cost our wedding budget a penny. Thoughts? It might not be the most beautiful place, and it might be the place I spent most of my time on campus while in college (and thus not where I wanted to have my wedding reception), but the low cost and high quality catering was worth it. I wanted to use a third of my budget on photography, so I had to sacrifice in other places.
In August, about four months before our wedding, Danny designed our save-the-date postcards with pictures that our very sweet and generous friend Amanda Neiges took of us. We used Vistaprint, which I was initially very skeptical of, but the finished product was beautiful, inexpensive, and so very us. And now? Excellent decision. Many of our friends that are now engaged/newlyweds aren’t/didn’t send save-the-dates, but I’m glad we did. They were cheap ($34, I think) but we loved them and they’re a fun keepsake. Plus they were made of recycled paper.
The bridesmaids’ dresses were one of the toughest parts, to be honest. I knew I wanted them to be yellow, but what I didn’t know was how hard it is to find yellow (and not the shade of mustard) dresses in the late summer/fall. All of the ladies helped me scour the internet in search of one that would not be scandalous, be kind of sort of suitable for the middle of winter, and of course, be yellow. J.Crew was (obviously) my dream dress store, and by some amazing stroke of luck (blessing), we found yellow dresses on clearance just a few days before D and I left for China. Classic gray TOMS completed the look, as well as gray scarves I found in China (and bargained really hard for ;) ). My thoughts? It was hard to find yellow dresses and gray shoes that actually existed AND fit the style of our wedding, but I am now very thankful for all of the hours of online research and mall wandering we put in. I was beyond pleased with how everything turned out and encourage brides-to-be to look until they find exactly what they want.
Speaking of exactly what the bride/couple wants…the wedding dress. Let’s talk about that important detail. I bought my first dress at a boutique that was out of business already and needed to sell the stock, so I paid less than a fifth of what it originally sold for. However, a couple months later, I decided I didn’t like it. Strapless just wasn’t for me, at least not on my wedding day, so I was back on the hunt. I didn’t want to go to different stores because I knew what I wanted and hadn’t even been able to find it online and didn’t feel that confident in my body either (which trying on hundreds of dresses can exacerbate). Essentially, I had given up, but was holding on to a tidbit of hope that I could find a dress I loved in China.
The day before we left the country to head back home, I realized that I still hadn’t started looking for a dress. Oops. So I talked to my two closest Chinese friends that were in the area, and found “Wedding Dress Street.” Within the span of about three blocks, we went in 25 different boutiques that stocked wedding dresses exclusively. I only tried on three dresses, however, as I knew exactly what I wanted, and very, very few of the dresses even came close. Eventually, I found one that had potential. The owner of the shop was incredibly sweet and helpful and was thrilled to have me (many of the women we encountered seemed to think I was just wasting their time and messing around). After I picked up my dress the next morning, I asked if we could take a picture together, so I could remember where it came from. One of my favorite pics of our trip. Or maybe ever.
All of my searching never produced what I was looking for. A few days before the wedding, at my bachelorette party, I cried with my friends as I told them I didn’t like my dress. I felt like it made me look fat, even after two rounds of alterations and a bit more searching. The most frustrating part for me was that everyone told me I was wrong, I was being ridiculous, etc. and of course it looked good on me and I didn’t look fat. To be honest, I didn’t really care what anyone else thought. I just wanted to love it myself, and I didn’t. I was devastated. So what’s the take away from my wedding dress saga? Look, look, look. Search, search, search. Never, never, never give up. If you know what you want, get it made (if you can). Extend your engagement until you find it. (Just kidding. Please don’t do this). Ultimately, though, as I look at our pictures from the day, I like 95% of them. I think I look good, and I’m mostly looking at my face, not my dress, anyways, so all my tears and anger and disappointment was (kind of) for naught.
And now, my final thoughts four and half months post-wedding…
- Flowers do not need to be a big deal unless you want them to be. I picked ours out about two weeks before the wedding and everything turned out great and we did them for around $150, if I remember correctly. Oh, and they were from King Soopers. Win/Maybe why they were so cheap.
- I had heard that people will talk about your food and cake for a while…and it has certainly proved true for us. At least the food part. Perhaps it has been a popular topic because we are vegan and the food followed suit. Regardless, everything has been positive. I haven’t talked to anyone under 15 about it though…
- Want to know what we’ve gotten the most compliments on? Our DJ. Neil and Beth Carlberg, from Too Much Fun! DJ, really made the evening incredible. Transitions (from eating to dancing to cake to dancing and so on) were smooth and the evening was just so fun. He did a pretty good job of playing what we requested, and definitely kept everything clean, just as we had asked. Oh, and THE PROPS. Hats, (fake) guitars, glasses, vests, and more. It was literally too much fun. On this, Danny and I trusted our instincts (my family has known Neil and Beth for years through church and ministry) and didn’t do a lot of research. We met with Neil one afternoon and signed a contract within hours. We knew he would respect our wishes and make the reception fun and lively, so we moved forward quickly. Absolutely no regrets on that.
- Relax. It will all come together, I promise, and what doesn’t come together, doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, we were (and still are!) married. We have nothing but good memories from our wedding day, and if we could do it all over again, we would, and we wouldn’t change a thing (except I would make sure to get a picture of just my mom and me, but that’s about it).
- Accept help. I am so terribly bad at this, and turned down so many people in the process, but when I did accept offers to help, I was so grateful. I was really hesitant to accept help because I felt that I could everything myself and I wanted to make sure everything was done e.x.a.c.t.l.y. how I wanted it done. Well, now I see that was just silly. Our friends and family are so generous and genuinely wanted to help and felt privileged to do so. There are so many ways people can help – assembling/stuffing/addressing invitations, making/picking up food, decorating, organizing, setting up and cleaning up. I could go on and on. Anyways, helpers are a (very, very, very) good thing.
***All photos (except the first one and the one of me in the Chinese bridal shop) courtesy of Caroline Leigh Photography.