March 2011

Maintenance Tonight

by Melissa on March 31, 2011

Hi All, the blog will be going down for maintenance tonight.  Hopefully this will solve those timeout errors that appear way too frequently on the site.

Also, for the month of April, I will be upping my posts to at least 5x/week, at least once, sometimes twice a day.  There’s just too much to talk about!  So make sure you check back here more often!


This is Part 1 of a multi-part series about having a budget wedding in the DC area.  There will be additional posts over the next few weeks.

Part 2, Venues

Oh. Right.  This Blog is Supposed to be about Budget Weddings in DC

For those of you who don’t know, websites and blogs can track their traffic and see, among other things, what keywords are used that drive visitors to their site.  It is interesting to see the traffic that is driven here about having a budget wedding in DC.

Here are some of the search terms that have led visitors to my site:

  • bring your own food wedding, va
  • what does 15000 wedding get you in dc
  • barbeque dc wedding
  • budget dc weddings
  • budget wedding caterers dc

So, I figured it was time to truly dedicate a post about having a budget wedding in the DC area, since, afterall, that was my original intention for this blog.

But wow, as I started writing the post, I realized that I could probably dedicate a book to the topic.  Err, well, perhaps a short story.  Either way, it was way too long for a single post.  Hence, my first series blog topic was born!

I am fully aware that this is a very negatively-written post.  But, I promise that the subsequent posts will include actual tips and will help you plan your budget wedding in DC!

A Visualization Exercise

So, for those of you newly engaged and planning a wedding in DC, picture your perfect wedding in your head.  Perhaps it’s at a swanky DC hotel.  Or maybe a nearby historical site.  Or something unique like an art museum or the Torpedo Art Factory.  Or, perhaps you already realize that those types of places will be too expensive, so to save money, maybe you are thinking of a nice Shenandoah Bed and Breakfast, or a winery an hour or so west of the city.  Now think about how you want your wedding to look.  The decorations and design.  The food. The music,  And of course, the dress.

Now consider your budget.  Let’s say that you want to invite about 100 people to your wedding and you want to keep costs somewhere in the ballpark of $10,000.

Stop.  Close your Eyes.  Take a Deep Breath.  And now proceed.

If you want a wedding like the one you likely pictured for $10,000, you will, without much trouble, be able to find a venue in the DC area for your reception and probably feed most of your 100 guests for that price.  You might also be able to have tables and folding chairs for them to sit at.  Maybe.

But that’s it.  No designer dress (even from a sample sale), no awesome uplighting or floral centerpieces, no phenomenal band and no open bar.

Collusion and Cartels.  A Recap of your Econ 101 Class

Did you ever take an intro economics class in college?  If so, you probably learned about collusion and cartels in the same lesson.  In a Cartel (think OPEC and Oil Prices), a small number of companies scheme together to ensure that prices are artificially high.  These companies (vendors) and a huge number of consumers (in this case, people getting married) is a perfect setup for a cartel in which companies join together and, even if it’s implicit, agree to keep prices high.  Why not charge a higher price when there is such a big demand for their services?  (Again, think OPEC).

I did more than four months of research on budget weddings in DC after I got engaged.  Even DC caterers that advertise themselves at budget caterers aren’t really budget.  The cheapest caterer we found wanted about $5800 for a buffet dinner for 125 people.  Still vomit-inducing, but not totally crazy for this area, right?  This is in addition to the $1800 site rental fee. But, once we factored in liquor, table and chair rentals, and a cocktail hour (because all weddings HAVE to have a cocktail hour these days, right?), we were right back up at the $10,000 mark.  (I also just want to point out that that Caterer ended up being a total flake anyway.  Wouldn’t return any phone calls or e-mails, and I wasn’t even being a bridezilla!)

Why Most of those “Save Money on your Wedding!” Tips are Crap

After we were heartbroken by our first venue falling through because of prohibitively expensive catering costs, I thought maybe I was looking too close to the city.  I expanded my search to places like Leesburg, and Virginia wineries.  Surely if I’m an hour or more outside of the city, it won’t cost so much!  Wrong again.  Once more I found that $10,000 buys the space and food from an area caterer for 100 people.

Oh, Fridays.  Of course a Friday will be cheaper.  We’ll have our wedding on a Friday evening instead of a Saturday to save money!  Oh, and let’s do it off season too!  Well, among the venues we looked at seriously, we would save about 20% for a venue rental fee for a Friday wedding during off-peak season.  Not bad, right?   You know the weird thing about Fridays and off-peak season though?  Nothing else is cheaper!  Nada.  Food, flowers, photographers, DJs, etc. charge the same amount for a Friday vs. a Saturday.  I can kind of see why.  Their costs are the same regardless of the day of the week.  But a venue, however, can’t make money if their space goes unrented.  So, to have our wedding on a Friday, we were going to save about $300.  Big whoop.

Oh, well I guess then we could decrease our guest list.  It will be tough to make those decisions, but it’s the only way to keep our wedding under $10,000.  Wrong again.  Most (not all, but most) caterers that I researched have a minimum food and beverage charge, making the guest list issue inconsequential.  Like the Friday night logic, I can kind of see why this is.  There are a lot of sunk costs that caterers have to compensate for, regardless of the number of guests, like equipment, personnel, delivery, setup time, etc.

I tried everything.  Looking at sole proprietorship caterers, corporate-oriented caterers, and restaurant catering  (Oh Hello Capital Q BBQ), they all up their costs for weddings.

No, Really.  I Need to Stick to my Budget.  What’s a Bride to Do in DC?

You have two choices

  1. Increase your budget
  2. Lower your expectations

(bonus choice: get married somewhere else at least a 4+ hour drive away, but it won’t save that much.  I looked into Pittsburgh-area weddings too.  Somewhat cheaper, but not by much).

We went the “Lower your Expectations” route.  And I struggle with using that phrase.  Because it’s not really about lowering your expectations.  It’s about reassessing your priorities.  For me, it was about separating my personal expectations from the expectations that wedding magazines and most blogs set for us.

The whole wedding research stuff left me totally disgusted.  Ugh, and just how vendors try to play on your emotions.  I was happy to reassess my priorities by that point.

If you want to get more than just food and a space for your 100 guests for $10,000 in the DC area, Self-Catering or a simple restaurant reception will be the way to go.  Yes Yes, I hear you.  “But I don’t want THAT type of wedding!”  **Whiny Voice**  Remember your two options.  Increase your budget or lower your expectations/reassess your priorities.

So, stay tuned for the next post in my series “How to have a budget wedding in the DC area”


Current Wedding Dilemmas Weighing on my Mind

by Melissa on March 28, 2011

Wedding planning has been going phenomenally well so far.  No stressors, no rushing, and a whole lotta fun!  (Even though we still have that one teensy detail that our wedding date still hasn’t been confirmed).  Even though things are going smoothly, I wanted to go over some things that I’m being indecisive about, and a lot of them have to do with the fact that we are self-catering our wedding.  I would love to hear from others who have experienced similar situations, or folks that just have ideas in general.  Help!

Dilemma #1:  Glass vs. Plastic. Since we’re self-catering our wedding, I’m struggling with the decision of whether to purchase inexpensive glass dishes and cups or to just use plastic dishes that look like glass, like these Chinet Cut Crystal plates.  Real glass and real silverware would look nicer, but is it worth the cost and hassle?  Ikea sells clear glass plates for $0.99, and we’d probably need about 150 plates and probably even more glasses/cups.  Is it worth the cost?  I mean, we’ll still be saving money compared to what we’d have to pay if our wedding had traditional catering.  Plus, we could probably resell the items after the wedding to another bride-to-be.  However, I wonder if glass dishes will be more hassle than what it’s worth, because we’ll have to worry about who will collect those dishes and who will wash them at the end of the night.  If we go with plastic, our guests can just throw away their plates when they’re done.  What do you think?

Dilemma #2: Staff and other helpers or let guests fend for themselves? Along the same lines as the glass vs. plastic dilemma, should we really put the responsibility on our guests to throw away their own stuff when they’re done?  Perhaps we could hire a few folks for the day to help clear off the tables as the night progresses.  I was already considering the idea of hiring one or two people to help refill the chafing dishes with food from the kitchen as the they get empty, and to staff up a bar area / drink station.  We will have a number of underage guests at our wedding, but of course all of them will be in the presence of their parents.  But I’m wondering if it would be better to have a dedicated station for people to walk up to and have their drinks served to them as opposed to having pour it themselves.  Plus, I’m not sure how our guests would appreciate having to put their hand in a cold bucket of ice water for their beer.

Dilemma #3: Ugly trash cans and who will empty them? What should we do about garbage cans?  We’ve been to our venue twice now, and for the life of me, I can’t remember if they have any large garbage cans in the pavilion where we’ll have our reception.  I looked through our pictures, and don’t see any.  Hmmm, I guess we’d have to buy some large garbage cans to bring with us?  If they get full as the night progresses, who will empty them?

Dilemma #4: Plan for indoors, hope for outdoors? We’re planning an outdoor wedding in November.  Crazy?  Not as much as you might think.  November weather is typically very pleasant here in the DC area, but folks seem to forget that.   Right now, we’re planning on having our ceremony in an outdoor, non-covered area, and then our reception in a covered pavilion (both areas have fire pits/fire places).   If the weather is too cold or too rainy, we can move it to the indoor backup location at the same venue (if the weather is great, we plan on having games and desserts set up in the indoor location). Although the daytime weather is typically pleasant,  it will get colder as it gets dark, so the idea is to move to the indoor location later as it gets darker and chillier for the games and desserts.  A few things bug me about starting outdoors and then moving indoors.  1) The DJ will already be set up outdoors, and 2) The food will already be set up outdoors.  We can’t just expect the DJ to pack up and move his equipment to our indoor location, and moving the food, or expecting our guests to walk back outdoors for food, sounds like a logistical nightmare.  Another option would be to look into how much it would cost to install temporary plastic sides on the pavilion to keep in the heat from the fireplace and keep out any wind and cold.  But that sounds like it could get expensive.  So, should we just plan on having it indoors and then hope we can do it outdoors?

Dilemma #5: Getting ready in a hotel vs. Getting ready at home. Our venue is about 20 miles south of our house.  Initially, I wanted to stay at a hotel closer to the venue, because even on weekends, traffic can be awful around here.  I would hate to sit in 1.5 hours of traffic on my wedding day.  So, I decided that it would be best to get a hotel closer to the venue and not have to worry about the traffic.  Well, I might not have to worry about the traffic, but there are tons of other things I’d have to worry about, including 1) Not getting a good night sleep on an uncomfortable hotel bed, 2) Worrying that I’m going to forget to bring something with me for the wedding day, 3) Not having as much space as what we would getting ready around the house.

So then I decided that staying at our house the night before the wedding would be better.  I wouldn’t have to pack up anything for the hotel and worry about forgetting anything, and I could be much more relaxed at home than in a hotel.  But, once again, I started to overthink it.  What about all those beautiful wedding photos taken of brides getting ready in hotel rooms.  Our house is nice, don’t get me wrong, but we don’t have amazing, plush bedding, and are curtains are kind of blah, etc.  And I don’t even have a full length mirror (except for one that is on the back of our bathroom door) to get one of those amazing reflection shots.    So, blogosphere, what should I do?  Stay in a hotel or stay at home the night before the wedding?  (although as I was looking for the links for this post, I came across plenty of lovely photos getting ready in a house, not a hotel.  We also have a big issue with natural light.  We live in a center unit of a townhouse, so we don’t have any windows on the sides of the house.  Just front and back.

Dilemma #6: Hiding the kitchen in our indoor-backup location. Our indoor backup location / location where we’ll have desserts and games (see Dilemma #4) is nice, and large and has a gorgeous fireplace, but there is just one thing that bothers me.  The large industrial kitchen that I am thankful to have because it will allow us to self-cater our wedding, is completely open to the rest of the dining area though a pass-through window type of thing.


Not exactly aesthetically pleasing.  Only problem is, I have no idea how to cover it up.  A basic curtain?  But I have no idea how to install it without damaging the walls.  Some sort of room divider thing?  Help!

Wow.  OMG.  No seriously, just as I was writing this, I realized that that might be a perfect backdrop area for a fauxtobooth!  Holy crap, blogging is useful!  I could get away with just tacking up some basic fabric (or do one of these PVC deals, but that looks complicated) and I would have the perfect excuse for having some random sheet just hanging down!  Yay writing!!

Speaking of hiding quasi-eyesores, the stage area in the pavilion is also less than stellar.

Pavilion Stage


I would imagine that we’d have our DJ set up everything right here, so that would probably cover it somewhat, but what about the rest?  Just leave it as-is?  Or should we install some sort of backdrop?

Whew, okay, I think that’s all that’s been bugging me.  If you have any advice or tips, for any of these topics, I’d love to hear them!


Weekly Roundup March 25

by Melissa on March 25, 2011

Links I’m Loving

I really like these wraparound stickers for invitation envelopes.  Is that in fact what they’re called?  Wrap around stickers?

Tips for saving money on your wedding.  I agree with most, but make sure you do true cost analysis for DIY projects, including printing things on your own.

The behavioral finance trap of engagement rings (and I think, weddings general).  Just because someone tells you that the average price of a wedding in the U.S. is $24,000, does not mean that you have to spend that!

I really like the idea of wearing my hair down for our wedding, especially since our wedding will be more casual

I tried to haggle with wedding vendors.  Maybe I’m a terrible negotiator, but it never worked.  I feel bad too, because I know they’re talented, but seriously, don’t tell me that you can “work with different budgets” and then not negotiate!  Damn I’m glad we eliminated wedding caterers!

OMG, a WAFFLE BAR??  LOVE!  *dies*

I always enjoy real budget wedding stories.  The part I like about this one?  Serving food to the guests.  Brilliant idea!

I’m really torn about whether to have a fauxtobooth.  Seems like fun, but I’m not sure if it will be too much work, something I definitely want to avoid

It’s pictures of food like this that makes me happy we’re not having wedding caterers.  We’re totally not impressed by “let’s-see-how-many-words-we-can-use-in-the-name-for-this-dish-type-food.”  (aka Coulibiac of salmon with mushroom duxelle and spinach wrapped in puff pastry) Nor are we concerned with presentation.  Bring on yummy, home cooked, non-pretentious foods!

My thoughts?  Discuss budgets with people first, then decide on the type of dress for your flower girl (or bridesmaids or whatever).

Good questions to ask your caterer during a tasting.

Geek Chic Boutonnieres!  Love this, especially since we’re so geek-ish

It’s okay that your wedding isn’t bridal-magazine ready or “Style Me Pretty” material.  Just think of how many weddings take place in the USA each year!  Then think how many are featured in such places.  Not many!  Your wedding is more in-line with the rest of the world!

I’m rooting for Kate Middleton too! (and I, too, hope that she can bring back a trend for wedding dresses with sleeves!)

We using pumpkin decorations at our wedding, so I love these photos!  In fact, I just bought two craft pumpkins from Oriental Trading Company to use as test subjects for decorating proofs-of-concept.  I especially love the aisle that is lined by pumpkins!  I may steal that idea!

Funny story of the week: A different type of “Trash the dress” session

Ponytails are definitely on my wedding day hair style list, and are definitely the style for our upcoming engagement shoot.

Wedding Fitness Goal Progress

Gained another 0.6 pounds this week.  Fuck.  That’s all there is to say about that.  That and, oh, i don’t know, how about that I should actually PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT I’M PUTTING IN MY FUCKING MOUTH WHEN I EAT.  UGH.  On the upside, I did continue to workout.

March Wedding Planning Goal Progress

(as part of our Wedding Planning Timeline)

  • Submit application for venue – DONE.  Our potential venue has a strict application process because it is part of the National Park Service.  We submitted our application on March 1, the date the application period opened, for our desired November wedding date.  We should find out in May if our date has been confirmed.
  • Design Save-the-dates, test-print – In Progress.  Probably about 80% of the way done with design and we’ll order some test prints soon.  We took advantage of last week’s Vista Print deal, which was $50 of merchandise for $10.  So, we’ll use VistaPrint to order the cards!
  • Interview officiants – DONE. My fiancé’s stepgrandfather, a retired Lutheran minister, will officiate.  ** Side note.  It’s his step father’s dad.  I say that “stepgrandfather” sounds like someone his grandmother married.  What is the appropriate term for the parent of a step parent?
  • Research local restaurants for catering accompaniments – NOT STARTED
  • Take some intro dance lessons – DONE!  See Wednesday’s post!  We scheduled a series of six private lessons, which entitles us to 12 additional group and practice sessions.
  • Develop content and design for wedding website – In Progress.  Almost done!

Also completed this month (not on our original schedule:

  • Booked engagement session for early May
  • Completed wedding table proof-of-concept design

Finances and Administrative

  • Wedding Related Expenses This Week: $100.00 (Down payment for subsequent dance lessons)
  • Total Wedding Related Expenses (all time): $367.98
  • Total Budgeted Difference (we have a $15,000 budget): $14,632.02
  • Estimated Hours Spent on Wedding Planning (not including blogging) This Week: 5 hours


Our First Dance Lessons! Success!

by Melissa on March 23, 2011

As part of our March Wedding Action Plan, My fiance and I went for our first dance lesson last night!  It was actually a lot of fun!

Outside of a handful of occasions in both our lives (high school prom, as members of a wedding party, etc.), neither one of us has danced.  And we have never danced together.  Yet for some reason, I have these grand plans of doing some sort of fun choreographed first dance.  So I figured we should learn some basics first.  We booked a free introductory lesson at Arthur Murray Dance Studio, which for those of you in the DC area, always pops up tops in the search results for “dance lessons dc.”  I was kind of skeptical.  Their website doesn’t offer any pricing information and their dance lessons schedule looked super confusing.  When I called them for more information, all I wanted to know were the prices for both group lessons and private lessons, but they just encouraged us to come in for our complimentary lesson.  I felt like they were going to use some used car salesman tactics on us, but it was actually quite pleasant.

We had our 40 minute introductory private lesson, and the instructor taught us elements of both the FoxTrot and the Waltz.  My fiance likes to be good at everything, and when he’s not good at something (there was an ice skating incident last year), he can get frustrated or mad, so I just asked him (er, told him) to go to the lessons with an open mind.  I had no idea what to expect either because I’m a terrible dancer, but I suppose it’s better that we look like idiots now and only have to look like semi-idiots when we dance at our wedding.  I also wanted to avoid the type of slow dancing where you basically just stand in place and put weight on different feet to give the illusion of dancing.

I am so proud to say that not only did he keep an open mind, he did exceptionally well!  Although apparently I keep trying to lead.  As our instructor said, “On the dance floor, gentlemen lead.  When you leave the dance floor, ladies lead.”  The instructor made it fun, and didn’t make us feel like doofuses when we messed up.  All in all it was a success!

A few folks, including the instructor, asked us what our first song is, but we don’t know yet.  (That’s on the schedule for next month).  We figure it will be something modern-country though, since we’re both big country music fans.  They said that the swing dance lessons and two step will be great for that type of music.

After the lesson, we talked with their “New Student Director” to hear their sales pitch.  This is the part I was dreading, but it wasn’t used-salesman tactics-like at all.  You know how when you go to a new gym and sign up for a membership they say they’re offering a “one day discount” or that they can give you “the manager’s special, but only if you book now!”?  Well, let me just be clear.  I hate that shit.  Who do they think their fooling?  We’ve been looking for new windows for our house too and salesman from windows companies are like that too.  Anyway, I digress.  But, thankfully, this place didn’t use any of those annoying tactics.  Their program is a little confusing, which is why I guess they don’t post it to their website.  But basically what you pay for are the private lessons, and then with those private lessons come one additional group lesson and one additional practice session for no additional charge.  So for now, we’re going to book six private lessons and hopefully take advantage of the corresponding group lessons and practice sessions too.

I’m really excited!  I hope that doesn’t wear off and that I don’t get discouraged as the moves get more complicated.

For just general “fun” dancing at the wedding, I was also thinking about buying Just Dance 2 or something similar.  Does anyone recommend that?  My primary goal for that would just to become more comfortable in normal types of dance moves, as opposed to formal, ballroom type dance moves.

Image: Foxtrot Steps.  Source


As I start to purchase items for the wedding, I wanted to share some tips with you on how to save money on the things you may buy:

1.  Sign up before you purchase. Whenever you find a store or company and you anticipate even of a slight change of purchasing something from them for your wedding, sign up for the company’s e-mail alerts, follow them on Twitter, and “like” them on Facebook.  That way you’ll be sure to be informed of good deals and coupons.  For instance, I ordered a few items from Oriental Trading Company as part of my wedding tables proof of concept design (photos of that to come soon!).  After I ordered and, by default, was signed up for their e-mail deals, I received an e-mail for 15% off my purchase.  D’oh!  Luckily my purchase was only $16, so 15% wouldn’t have saved me much, but it will definitely come in handy for future purchases.

2.  Buy in bulk.  Or not. In general, it’s almost always cheaper to buy things in bulk.  But, since that I’m early in the wedding planning process, I don’t want to order a lot of any sort of product without making sure I like it and it is what I expected.  For instance, I want to buy votive candles for our tables.  So, I found this website.  I can order 12 votive candle/candle holder sets for $11.99 (approximately $1.00 per set) or 288 sets for 149.99 (or just 0.52 cents per set).  And I would probably have a lower shipping rate if I ordered more.  But, the thing is, I don’t know which candle color and candle holder design to buy, so I wanted to try a few of each set.  But doesn’t that seem wasteful?  So, should I buy in bulk, or not?  In the end, I just ended up buying three different sets of 12 (square, round, and frosted square holder/candle sets) to see which one I liked best.  No, it’s not the best deal, but it’s better than ordering 288 frosted glass sets and not liking them!

3.  Think and research before you buy. Like you could probably tell in my registry post and my credit card hacks for wedding purchases post, I research things extensively to get the best price.  But, there are always some sort of mitigating factors.  For instance, Save-On-Crafts has floating candles cheaper than Quick Candles, but the ones on Quick Candles are ¾ inch larger, which would mean a longer burn time.  Is the longer burn time worth the extra money?  I created a spreadsheet (based on a spreadsheet my fiancé had developed to order LED lights.  Go figure) to compare per item costs and descriptions and websites to help me with my decisions.  Of course, then I struggle with the conundrum of whether it is worth my time to spend so much effort to save $20.  But, 20 bucks here, 20 bucks there, will all add up over time.

4.  Don’t be mindless in your research. Time spent is money spent.  In general.  I’ve spent hours perusing all sorts of wedding-related websites, with nothing to show for it other than a brain full of segmented and incomplete knowledge.  You need all the details, and in identical form, to do a complete analysis.  So, rather than jumping from website to website and just glancing at the information, pay attention.  Start to record the information in just a basic form, and then a template will eventually come to life to help you with your purchases.  I have also found that Evernote is great for taking screenshots of the information that I want to capture.

5.  Craigslist. I have to be honest, I was all gung-ho about finding a lot of used wedding-related items on Craigslist.  But, I’m lazy.  I hate leaving my house for things like errands.  I’d rather just search for it from the comfort of my computer desk, click “purchase” and have it arrive at my front door in a few days!  No time wasted in traffic, no time wasted trying to coordinate potential pick-up times.  Traffic and travel time are my biggest pet peeves.  DC traffic is so ridiculous, even on the weekends.  So, perhaps if I do look for items on Craigslist, I’ll just look for them in very close vicinity to our house.

6.  Save on Shipping, but be reasonable. I despise shipping charges. It’s a mental thing, I know.  I would feel much better if they just charged me an extra $10 for the product itself instead of surprising me with the sometimes outrageous shipping rates on some websites.  Hence, I always favor online stores that offer free shipping in general, or at least free shipping when you spend a certain amount of money.  So, I am always tempted to buy extra things just to get to the free shipping threshold.  I’d rather get goods in exchange for that money instead of just delivery!  But, just like tip #2, sometimes it’s better to spend more up front than end up with crap that you don’t need.  For instance, in that same order from Oriental Trading Company that I mentioned in tip #1, I paid for shipping.  They offer free shipping on orders over $49, but all I had was $16 worth of stuff in my cart.  Rather than searching for items I may not need, I just paid the $6 for shipping and placed my order.

I guess these tips aren’t just for saving money on wedding purchases, but really any purchases.  Does anyone else have tips to share?


Weekly Roundup March 18

by Melissa on March 18, 2011

Hi everyone!  I hope you had a good week.  I’ve been following all the news out of Japan really closely this week.  I don’t know why it is, but when something like this happens, I can’t peel myself away from the news.  I’m always refreshing the CNN homepage to see the latest developments.  I wanted to share a quick story with you all about my experience in Japan.

In Fall 2001, I did the Semester at Sea study abroad program.  We departed Vancouver on August 31, 2001 and we were traveling west across the Pacific for 13 days before our scheduled arrival in Japan.  So that meant that we spent September 11, 2001, completely unaware of what was going on at home.  As we woke up on the ship on September 12, 2001, we learned what had happened by reading faxed printouts of internet news stories.  We arrived in Japan the next day, September 13, 2001, just 36 hours after the attacks.  While there, people would walk up to us with tears in their eyes.  Blood donation trucks with pictures of Ground Zero were in every city we visited, and we waited in line for an hour at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to lay flowers.  Their hearts went out to us, and now mine goes out to them. 

So, with all the sad stuff out of the way, on to the weekly roundup! 

Links I’m Loving

I too am hiring a day of coordinator and luckily we were able to work out a barter deal.  I don’t want to have to think about any wedding details on our wedding day. 

I spoke about my doubt regarding “friendors” in last week’s roundup.  Well, here are some tips for when NOT to hire Friendors.

Five tips for enjoying your engagement.  Love these!

I really, really like all the signs pictured here

I may buy my wedding dress online, so I enjoyed these tips for buying a dress over the interwebs. 

Dude.  I’m totally stealing some of these song ideas!  This is why I love the internet! 

Once again, I’m so glad I’m not having bridesmaids!  I don’t have to worry about any of these types of decisions!  Although, might I point out that the last photo in that post, the one with the bridal party wearing cardigans, is really cute! 

Is this not one of the most adorable, yet simple weddings you’ve ever seen! 

Yay, another person who wants to go to Alaska on their honeymoonMe Too!  (Although I love cruises)

I like the tips in this post, makeup advice for your big day.  Especially the tip about going to a makeup artist and bringing your own products and they can show you how you can do your own makeup on your wedding day.  Brilliant!

I agree wholeheartedly with everything that is said in this post (a rarity) about taking the self-doubt out of DIY

As my fiancé and I design our Save-the-Date cards this month, I’m uber inspired by these creative cards and videos!  However, ours will definitely be very “us.” 

What do you think it takes to have a wedding in NYC for $10,000?

This is a hilarious idea!  Love it! 

Hopefully I will not have to use a disc sander for any wedding projects!  Yeowza!

My biggest tip for when you first get engaged?  Don’t try to do everything all at once.  We’ve been put in a situation where we won’t know if our desired wedding date is confirmed until six months before the wedding because it’s at a National Park.  For the most part, it’s been a huge blessing because it has allowed us to space out all our major to-do items. 

Bridesmaids get garters now?  That’s news to me. 

I am so curious if I will experience this type of stress in the weeks leading up to our wedding. 

My fiance and I just booked our first dance lesson for Tuesday night!  (A free trial).  I’m nervous.  Between the two of us, we have four left feet. 

Fascinating list of things you probably didn’t know about UK weddings!  No outdoor weddings?  Wha!?

How awesome would it be to use these facebook stamps on RSVP cards?  Like next to the “Yes I will attend” there can be a “Like” stamp.  And next to the “No, regrets” line, there can be a dislike stamp!

When I read posts like these, I’m left a little puzzled.  Why do brides stress over other people’s inputs into their weddings?  If you’re paying, then you can ignore them.  If they’re paying, then giving up some autonomy comes with the territory.  Pick your battles folks.  Grow a pair, express your opinions firmly, but don’t stress about it.  

Wedding Fitness Goal Progress

Weight loss was stalled this week with a gain of 0.2 pounds.  Ugh.  Hate it. 

March Wedding Planning Goal Progress

(as part of our Wedding Planning Timeline)

  • Submit application for venue – DONE.  Our potential venue has a strict application process because it is part of the National Park Service.  We submitted our application on March 1, the date the application period opened, for our desired November wedding date.  We should find out in May if our date has been confirmed.
  • Design Save-the-dates, test-print – In Progress.  Probably about 70% of the way done with design and we’ll order some test prints soon.  Although they won’t be complete until after we get our photos from our engagement session, scheduled for early May.  So for now, we’ll just test print using a placeholder photo. 
  • Interview officiants – In Progress.  I left a voicemail for the priest from my former church to see if he could officiate a wedding in a non-religious venue. 
  • Research local restaurants for catering accompaniments – NOT STARTED
  • Take some intro dance lessons – In Progress.  Going for our first lesson on Tuesday!
  • Develop content and design for wedding website – In Progress.  Template is installed and I’m customizing it, and I’m developing WAY too much content.  But so much fun! 

In addition, as I mentioned in last week’s roundup, we scheduled our engagement session, plus I purchased some items for a wedding table design proof-of-concept and started making some table runners.  More on that later! 

Finances and Administrative

For the first time since I started this blog, this section is changing!  I ordered some things to do a proof of concept design for the tables at our wedding. 

  • Wedding Related Expenses This Week: $161.48 
  • Total Wedding Related Expenses (all time): $267.98
  • Total Budgeted Difference (we have a $15,000 budget): $14,732.02
  • Estimated Hours Spent on Wedding Planning (not including blogging) This Week: 15 hours (spent a lot of time working on the wedding website, starting our Save-The-Date designs, online research for decor items, and doing a test run design of a table runner)


Over the last several years, as friends and family members have gotten married and gotten knocked up, I have been able to look over a lot of wedding and baby registries.  Some items on their registries look useful, while other items just look like they either went happy with the scan gun in the store, or just put something on the list without doing background research on the product. 

Example #1: I had budgeted a total of $100 for gifts for a wedding shower a few years ago. I skimmed  their registry and decided that I would buy multiple smaller items instead of one larger item.  But as I looked more in detail at the registry, I saw that many items that they had registered for had received terrible online reviews.

Now, maybe I’m a bit compulsive.  I can’t begin to tell you how much time I spend researching product reviews for things that I buy, whether for myself or for other people.  But, to be honest, I was a little offended.  They registered for a $20 hand mixer that had gotten an average of 1.5/5 stars, with nearly 30 reviews.  As I read through the reviews, it was evident that the mixer motor broke after just a few uses.  So, should I buy a hand mixer with better reviews?  Or do I buy the crappy one they registered for?  I was torn.  Well, ultimately I avoided the entire situation by just buying a gift card.

Example #2: More recently, I was reviewing a friend’s wedding registry. When I saw registry items for 80 dollar photo frames, cheesy reproduction artwork, a cat scratching post, and many, many other less-than-useful items, I was left scratching my head.

Yes, I realize that these are things that this couple wants and therefore registered for the items.  And no doubt they like the products, at least in a superficial sense, otherwise they wouldn’t have registered for them.  But I really wondered how much thought they put into the items on their registries.

Wedding Registry = One Time Opportunity

How many other times in life can you ask so many people to buy you lots of nice, useful things that you can request specifically?  Umm, not many.   I know that some people would just prefer to ask for cash, but since that is considered tacky in many etiquette circles, we should make sure that the physical products that we register for are high-quality and have a definite intended purpose and don’t leave your guests dumbfounded.  So, here are my thoughts.

This list focuses almost entirely on kitchen-related items, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on registering for other household items as well.

Watch Shows on the Food Network

While we may not like the recipes being presented on a particular episode, Food Network shows can teach you a LOT about tips, tricks, and methods in the kitchen.   I learned so much about food preparation by watching Rachael Ray’s 30 Minute Meals, and it totally changed my outlook on cooking.   No joke.  I know people have varying opinions of her and her food, but I have learned so much from her preparation and cooking methods. For instance, using a little hand grater for chopping garlic, using a garbage bowl to avoid repeated trips to the trash can, using a food processor to make homemade sauces (who knew spaghetti sauces could originate in something other than a jar!?), and the benefits of having a sharp, high-quality knife and cutting board.  Oh, and can I just point out that I used to completely butcher an avocado when I would try to peel it, but once I saw her technique, I never butchered another one!

There is a lot to be learned from other shows too.  So, set your DVR to record a variety of Food Network shows and watch the types of tools that cooks and chefs use to help you figure out what might be most useful in your kitchen.

Registering for entertaining supplies

While registering for every-day type of kitchen items is obviously a plus, don’t forget about those things you may need when entertaining a large group of people, like when hosting a party or a holiday get-together.  Some things that I have and love when we host parties (but don’t necessarily use on a regular basis) are as follows:

  • A high-quality punch bowl for a signature party drink
  • Quality wine corkscrew (shameful confession: I drink box wine on a regular basis, so I have no need to use a corkscrew normally)
  • Large Serving trays
  • Cookie and Dessert tiered trays

And for things that I take to parties that others are hosting:

Know what various kitchen tools are actually used for

I’ve got to be frank about this.  I have no idea how a wok is different than a big ‘ol frying pan.  Or what a dutch oven is actually used for except that certain recipes tell me to use it.  Or really, what serrated knives should be used for vs. straight edge knives.  So, a brief search led me to the book Alton Brown’s Gear for your Kitchen (take note of the excellent reviews).  I’ve been making my way through this book methodically.  I recommend that you do the same to get an idea of what would be most useful in your kitchen.

Trading Up

My fiancé and I have lived together for nearly two years in a home that we own.  I was 28 and he was 31 when we moved in together.  So, needless to say, we each had our own collection of low to mid-range cooking gear and supplies like pots and pans, knives, measuring cups and spoons, etc when we moved in together and we tended to keep both sets.  I have slowly started to accumulate better items as time has progressed, especially with regard to our entertaining-related items.  But, I need to take an honest inventory of our kitchen items and determine what we already have, but could benefit from having higher-quality items of.  And, of course, if we don’t get it, we won’t be heartbroken.

Here are some things that come to mind:

  • I use a blender a lot, and I’ve never found one that has worked exceptionally well.  They either don’t blend frozen things well, or the motor burns out in less than a year.  This might be the perfect time to register for a Vitamix.
  • When we cook burgers indoors or other things on a bun, we like to toast the buns.  We have a toaster that works just fine, but if my fiancé plans to eat two sandwiches, and I plan to eat one, toasting three buns separately gets annoying.  So, I’m thinking of registering for a dual toaster.
  • Excellent quality knives and sharpener to replace our low quality knives
  • A larger food processor

Similarly, look at what you already have, but what you could use an extra set of.  I use measuring cups and measuring spoons really often (all part of my WeightWatchers weight loss), so it’s nice having two sets in case one is dirty.  Think if there is anything else that you could use more of.

A few other random tips

  • Someone once told me that they didn’t want to register for any large items because they didn’t have room in their tiny apartment.  I doubt they’ll live there forever!  So I would not let space be a deciding factor in what you register for
  • Please, do your research.  We live in amazing, consumer-empowered age.  Consumers can go online and write their unbiased opinions on products.  In addition to Amazon product reviews, just Google the product name + “reviews” and tons of other review sites will appear.  I get caught up in reviews way too often, and they can be a bit overwhelming.  But I would never buy a product without first reading reviews.  Hell, I even read reviews for pens now.
  • Don’t register for things just because they’re the “in” items to register for.  The top two things I have seen on recent wedding registries?  1) Kitchen Aid Mixer, and 2) Dyson Vacuum.  I will definitely register for a Mixer because I like to bake, but I will not register for a vacuum.  We have a cleaning service, so we rarely need to vacuum, but even if we didn’t have a cleaning service, I wouldn’t register for one even though  it’s on everyone else’s lists.  So, will your Kitchen Aid mixer look awesome but then just sit unopened in its box for years to come?
  • And please, don’t register for things that are on ANY “must have” registry list unless you absolutely “must have” them.  Crap Example #1, and Crap Example #2.  The wedding industry likes to take advantage of brides-to-be and tell them that there’s all this stuff they “need” from decor items to registry items.  Just remember that these companies are in business to make a profit and they make money telling you that you need these items.  Don’t let them play on your pre-wedding emotions.  Use your head to make your decisions.

I’d love to hear from folks that are recently married and how they have used (or not used) gifts they received off their registries!


The Evolution of my Wedding Dress Hunt

by Melissa on March 14, 2011

Although I’ve mentioned it in a few weekly roundups, I haven’t written a post yet about wedding dresses.  That’s because I have never been all that excited about wedding dresses, and my efforts to find pictures of dresses that I find at least somewhat appealing have failed me.

Seriously.  I go through an entire issue of The Knot without folding down a single page.

Wedding Dress Criteria

So, let’s start with the basics.  My main priorities are:

  • Something that I can wear with as normal of a bra as possible(i.e, no strapless, no backless, no halter).
  • Something with movement.  I had searched for “grecian goddess” type dresses extensively.

And an additional preference:

  • Something with sleeves, but does not look boring or conservative.  This preference could be negotiable.

Let’s look at what I don’t want

  • Mermaid or Trumpet Style anything

That’s about it.  I’m pretty open on the options of fabric.  I don’t know whether I’ll love or hate any of the usual suspects, like lace, tulle, satin, chiffon (wait, isn’t that a food?), etc.

Boobs and Strapless Dresses.  Oh the Humanity

So, here’s my main wedding dress dilemma.  I’m chesty.  And I can’t wear anything strapless because I have never, ever, found a strapless bra to be supportive enough (in my lifetime, I have probably tried on about 25 strapless bras).  I chuckle at those strapless dresses or shirts you can buy with “built in bras.”  When I try those on it’s like a joke.  The weight of The Girls just completely overwhelms any sort of built-in bra.

And okay, so maybe wedding dresses are different.  Maybe they’ll build in some amazing miracle strapless bra that can hold up The Girls.  Two issues remain.  1) Spillover, and 2) Always feeling like I want to hike up my dress, even if it does fit me well and shouldn’t slide down.  You all know what I mean by spillover, right?  Not a look I really want to go for on my wedding day (see picture below).




But, strapless dresses seem to have a monopoly on the bridal market these days.  People are quick to tell me that I can have cap sleeves put on a dress, or that I can wear a bolero, but really, I just want a dress with some damn sleeves.  My ninja googling and internet search skills have failed me.  I have found plenty of dresses with sleeves.   And in fact, I submitted a request to the awesome Broke-Ass-Bride to find some dresses with sleeves, and she answered my request!  While a lot of the dresses I’ve found are lovely, they’re just not “the one.”

A Search for Wedding Dresses with Sleeves (or at least straps)

Here are some of the dresses I have bookmarked over the last several months.  These are in no particular order of preference and do not take into account the minimal amount of money I’m willing to spend on a dress.  In fact, some of them are pricey designer dresses.  But these are just a smattering of dresses, from a design perspective, that have caught my eye over the last several months.

Claire Pettibone V-Neck A-Line Wedding Dress with Empire Waist in Lace. Bridal Gown Style Number:31824675

Source: Kleinfield

Gown features pearl beading and embroidery.

Source: The Knot

Source: The Knot

Jenny Packham Fall 2010 Bridal

Source: InStyle

Amsale Fall 2010 Bridal

Source: InStyle

Source: Aria Dress

JS Boutique Beaded Lace & Chiffon Gown

Source: Nordstrom


Halston Heritage 

Source: Net-A-Porter


Redesigning an Heirloom Wedding Dress

Then I started to consider having my grandmother’s impeccably-preserved wedding dress (pictured below) re-designed into something that I wanted.  That way I could get exactly what I want – sleeves, but not too conservative.

Gram's Wedding Dress

But, I had a few major concerns about this idea.

  1. What if I had it designed, and then hated it?  I would be devastated about “ruining” my grandmother’s dress, and;
  2. It sounds expensive to have a dress professionally designed and made!  (Although to be fair, I have not done much research on it)

So, my search continued.

White Party Dresses as Wedding Dresses

More recently, I realized just how much I started to despise anything even remotely “bridal” looking.  I think I had come to the conclusion that all wedding dresses looked so much the same and it agitated me to no end. Strapless, shades-of-white, overpriced articles of clothing that I didn’t even like.  Gah!

So, I started looking for just white party dresses.  To give you an idea of what I found, here are some things I bookmarked (some of them aren’t necessarily white, but I just like the style).

Aidan Mattox 'Cold Shoulder' Sequin Dress

Source: Nordstrom

marc by marc jacobs

Source: Matches



Source: Ideeli (closed sale)

And then, The Perfect Dress?

Then, the other day, I’m not sure how I came across it.  I think I was looking for something, I think I may have been using the search term “bohemian wedding dress” and came across the designer Saja.  And holy crap, I fell in love with the following dress:

Source: Saja 2011 Collection

Okay, it doesn’t have sleeves, but at least it is not strapless, and the straps are thick so they balance out my top-heaviness.  I think it also fits well into our outdoor, woodsy, picnic-table autumn wedding that we’re having.  As an added bonus, it’s not overly bridal-looking.

And then, a few days later, I came across a blog post about a photoshoot of a “Tangled” inspired wedding.  I think that the hairstyle pictured below would look lovely with that Saja dress!  (wooo for my long hair and bangs!).

Source: Smetona Photo via Wedding Chicks


And, these blue shoes?  Awesome!

Source: Zappos

For once, I finally feel like my wedding dress stuff may be coming together.  But, a few concerns remain.  Although it will not be a deciding factor, I worry about how my family would feel about a shorter wedding dress.  Another person, after showing them a picture of the dress, pointed out to me that I should want to “stand out” on my wedding day.  But, does “standing out” mean that I have to wear something that I don’t like?

I plan on wedding dress shopping alone.  I do not shop well with others and find that people get offended if you do not agree with their opinions.  So, I’d rather just not deal with that.  Maybe once I narrow it down, I’ll invite some folks, including my mom.  But I think I’d rather just have it be a surprise!

Now, I just have to see if the wedding dress looks as nice on me as it does in the photo.

Did it take anyone else a really long time to find a wedding dress they liked?


Weekly Roundup March 11

by Melissa on March 11, 2011

I thought these painted balloons were really cute!  Not sure how they’d work for us at our outdoor venue, but cute nonetheless! 

I spent a very long time reading all these post-wedding regrets.  I highly recommend that other brides-to-be read them as well.  I found them useful and enlightening.   

Until recently, I was very discouraged at the prospect of ever being able to find dress (or even at least a picture of a dress) that looked appealing to me.  Why are they all strapless and/or sleeveless?  However, I finally found one (in a picture) that looks awesome.  (More on that in a future post!)  Now that I have a dress in mind that I can’t stop thinking about, other things are starting to come together, like hair style ideas.   I think I would wear my hair down and with a headband of some sort, like these

If I don’t wear my hair down, I really like the idea of a high ponytail like the one Reese Witherspoon is sporting here.  I also think I could pull off this hair style, given my long hair and bangs and all! 

And where can I get those head pieces pictured in the 7th photo down!?  Love that silver-ish headband! 

Dude.  This looks like an idea my fiancé would LOVE.  He builds computers from spare parts all the time.  No.  Seriously.  ALL the time!

Quick wedding planning tips!

Interviewing officiants is part of our Wedding Action Plan for March.    I’m not sure which direction we’ll end up heading.  Religious, or non-religious

Since we’ll be getting married in the fall, I would love a photo similar to this during a trash-the-dress ceremony maybe? 

I have very little faith in humanity.  Or maybe it’s just because I watch too much of The People’s Court.  So, asking any friend to take on a role as a vendor would make me very uneasy, just because I’d be afraid that they wouldn’t show up or something would come up and I would have no recourse.  Although we are doing self-catering, it’s family, so I do have a little more faith in them! 

A Facebook Themed Wedding?  Some of these Ideas are so cute!  Holding up “like” cards after the vows?  Awesome! 

I don’t think we’re going to have a wedding program, but I think this idea is super cute

Now, don’t laugh, but my fiancé and I spent our Valentine’s evening pouring over this year’s tax returns and analyzing our most recent paystubs to determine our adjusted gross income and modified adjusted gross income for next year when we are “married filing jointly.”  Neither one of us are financial professionals, I just have a huge interest in personal finance.  I’ll be very interested to see how close my estimations are to reality next year! 

I heart budget breakdowns like this!  It’s so enlightening (and inspiring when costs are kept so low!)   (and I LOVE LOVE LOVE her blue reception dress!)

Since we’re not having flowers, and just candles I really like these centerpiece ideas

Sometimes paying for things outright is worth it if DIY-ing it is just too much effort 

As part of my February wedding tasks, I contacted hair and makeup artists.  Which led me to consider my hair and makeup schedule for the day, and whether I want to stay at a hotel closer to the venue, or drive about 20 miles to the venue on the day of the wedding. 

I really like this chalkboard idea.  Perhaps a DIY thing I would actually do. 

I really feel bad for this couple.  I really do.  But take it as a lesson to never rely on money that is not there. 

We scheduled our engagement photoshoot for early May.  How cute is this idea

Working on our wedding website is on our action plan for this month.  So excited! 

As part of my quest for wedding dresses with sleeves, I love the dress pictured in the last photo here

Brides may feel pressured to do more, but it’s never necessary. 

Shit I’m not going to worry about for my wedding

There are some things that I come across in the wedding blogosphere that just make me go “hmmm, no wonder why brides stress themselves out so much over their wedding.”  In other words, things that seem to take too much time compared to the benefit.  (disclaimer:  because commenters have expressed … displeasure … with my use of the term “shit,” I just want to clarify that I do not think that the projects or ideas themselves are “Shit.”  In fact, they look awesome and you can tell that a LOT of time and hard work were put into them.  This is just my effort to poke a little fun at some things that I find over-the-top and what I think could be the source of a lot of wedding stress.)

No.  Socks are not important enough to get into an argument about. 

What is the appeal of Chivari chairs?  And why do people feel the need to spend so much money on them?  I don’t blame the brides though.  I blame the wedding industrial complex for trying to convince brides that we “need” such things as Chivari Chairs

Invitations to a rehearsal dinner?  Perhaps just a quick e-mail would have worked well? 

Wedding Fitness Goal Progress

I managed to lose 1.4 pounds this week, despite not working out.  My side, for whatever reason, really ached last week and it was making me feel really crappy.  I was just about to go to the doctor, but it started to subside.  So, back on the workout-wagon this week.  Total weight loss is 10.2 pounds!  I also started a new workout DVD as part of my DIY fitness programInsanity!   

March Wedding Planning Goal Progress

  • Submit application for venueDONE.  Our potential venue has a strict application process because it is part of the National Park Service.  We submitted our application on March 1, the date the application period opened, for our desired November wedding date.  We should find out in May if our date has been confirmed. 
  • Design Save-the-dates, test-printNOT STARTED
  • Interview officiantsNOT STARTED
  • Research local restaurants for catering accompanimentsNOT STARTED
  • Take some intro dance lessons – In Progress.  I E-mailed a few places and arranged some free intro lessons.  Will take some free ones and then arrange for an ongoing process
  • Develop content and design for wedding websiteIn Progress – I found a template I really liked, installed it with only minimal trouble, and started writing content for the site just yesterday!

In addition, having our engagement photoshoot is on our April action plan.  So I contacted one of the photographers that we really liked from our interviews (part of our January action plan) to schedule a shoot!  We’re all set for May 6! 

Finances and Administrative

I’ve finally started to look for things to buy for the wedding.  I should actually start spending money soon.  Not that that is anything to be excited about, but this section has never ever changed since I started my blog!

  • Wedding Related Expenses This Week: $0.00
  • Total Wedding Related Expenses (all time): $106.50 on magazine subscriptions and planning books
  • Total Budgeted Difference (we have a $15,000 budget): $14893.50
  • Estimated Hours Spent on Wedding Planning (not including blogging) This Week: 10 hours (did a LOT of online searching for decor-related items, setting up the wedding website, and writing content for the wedding website)