Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Comfortable Digs

It's disturbing to me that The Knot's Shopping 101: Gown-Buying Checklist has little to no mention of comfort. I manged to find one tiny little allusion to it under the heading "4-5 weeks before" the wedding. (Keep in mind that the guide starts 9-12 months before the wedding.) When you're in the final fitting stage--according to The Knot--you should then ensure that you can "move comfortably" in your dress.


One of the smartest things I did was prioritize comfort from the beginning of my dress shopping experience. Of course the most beautiful things are often the most uncomfortable, but there are plenty of items that bridge the gap between beauty and comfort. And since your wedding day should be about your enjoyment first and foremost, you better think about comfort.

Personally, I didn't think about comfort enough. Had I thought about it more, I would've tailored the dress so it wasn't so low cut (I did feel a little over-exposed). I also would've sewn little strings and snaps into the straps to secure my bra (like Ann Taylor does in their dresses).

For the most part, however, I was super-comfortable. It helped being able to wear normal undergarments.

A lot of different things go into minimizing stress and maximizing happiness on your wedding day. I'm convinced that being comfortable in your clothing is one of those things!

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Wedding Feedback #4

I talked to my cousin, Brittany, on the phone today, and it sounds like she thoroughly enjoyed the wedding. She talked about how nice all of our friends were and how she enjoyed multiple opportunities to talk to people (e.g., the Friday night Welcome Picnic, breakfast on Saturday and Sunday, the ceremony, and the reception).

It's particularly cool that the wedding affected her life in two distinct ways:
  1. She met one of Matt's friends who is in medical school, and they followed-up via telephone so Brittany could ask a lot of questions (she's an undergraduate now and trying to decide on her next steps).
  2. She was so inspired by how connected Matt and I have stayed to our friends that she's figuring out how she can stay better connected to her own friends.
A wedding with a lasting impact on the guests. Mission accomplished!

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Quality Time

It's fun to see the new photos that our friends and family upload to our flickr account. One of my favorite photos was added yesterday. I'm not even in my wedding dress; I'm in my pajamas.

This photo was taken during Sunday breakfast after our Saturday wedding. Sunshine Mountain Lodge cooked the most delicious breakfasts, and all our friends would gather from 8-10am for good food and conversation.

The weather in the mountains is usually in the comfortable 80s, and the mornings are even more refreshing. These casual and unplanned times were among my favorite. Sunshine Mountain Lodge was able to accommodate almost all our friends. There were 40 of us altogether. Our families both stayed at other B&Bs up the road. I'm glad we purposefully built this kind of quality time into the weekend. I got to enjoy this time on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday morning!

The breakfasts were so relaxing, and I think they helped contribute to my generally anxiety-free wedding experience. Plus the food was just really good.

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Wedding Feedback #3

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was insecure about how the wedding would turn out. For the past seven months, I've been an advocate for reclaiming the real purpose of a wedding by refusing to kowtow to the pressures of the Wedding Industrial Complex. We purposefully stuck to a very strict budget in order to keep our focus on what mattered.

We stripped away professional caterers, florists, dress designers, photographers, DJs, and wedding planners and tried to make the event special with sincerity rather than money.

I suppose the most important thing is for Matt and I to enjoy our wedding. But our friends and family are a close second. It's validating to hear positive feedback from them. Here's the latest from our friend Patrick:

"Thank you so much!!!!! Not only was it a fantastic vacation but it was the most beautiful wedding I've ever seen. Your family is also amazing and it was great to be around 80 accepting, laidback, nonjudgmental people."

[Editor's Note: I recognize that the people who didn't enjoy the wedding will likely never e-mail us with their negative feedback. Argh!]

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Wedding Ceremony Script

One of the most important things Matt and I did to reconnect with the real purpose of weddings was to write our ceremony from scratch.

We didn't want any of the standard fare: "with this ring, I thee wed," "love is patient; love is kind." Since I got married at the ripe old age of 30, I figured most of my friends and family had already heard it. Plus, we aren't religious. Even though our families are, we wanted the ceremony to reflect us, not them.

Because we paid for the whole thing ourselves, we had a leg to stand on. We were able to select our own officiant (my best friend, Andy) and do things our own way.

I started by reading around on the internet (of course) just a little bit. I read about wedding traditions from other cultures and the ways people have adapted them to fit their own ceremonies. Then Matt and I did a rough outline of things we wanted to incorporate: other folks talking (inspired by Quaker ceremonies), a tree planting (inspired by our own environmentalism and poetic sensibility), a quilt wrapping (inspired by American Indian tradition), and the essential usuals (i.e., vows and ring exchange).

After the rough outline with time estimates assigned (we wanted the whole thing to be 30 minutes or less), I talked through the draft with Andy. He added his stamp of approval and I went back through to flesh it out more. Andy wanted it in bullet-point form so he could improvise; I wanted more of a script so I could control the exact wording (again, it's that poetic sensibility thing). We decided to see how it went.

In the end, we pretty much scripted the whole thing. I think it worked out best that way because I think it was easier for Andy to read something.

Here's the script in case you're interested. We tried to incorporate a mix of funny and serious elements. We wanted to drench the whole thing in sincerity (hence some of the cheesy language), but we also wanted to lighten the mood and make the experience more comfortable.

The five different speakers did an amazing job, and each one was perfectly unique. Their messages were so profound and touching. It was particularly cool to be both comforted by a script we knew well and surprised by the unknown element of their monologues.

In the end, I wasn't at all nervous. It was weird, really. I think my nerves were calmed by the fact that we mingled with our guests right before the ceremony instead of having a here-comes-the-bride moment. There wasn't the same build up and anticipation. It was just Matt and I and our wedding party talking with our friends and family. Then we started the cue song and assumed our positions. It worked well for us, but I think each couple has to figure out what makes them the most comfortable.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Article in the Newspaper

The Denver Post published a short first-person essay about our wedding experience. I had to write the piece before I was actually married, so I am completely relieved that it went according to plan. Here's a segment:

"A popular wedding website advised: 'The more guests feel involved with your wedding, the more likely they will have a great time.' So what was the website's advice for helping guests feel more involved? Creating a detailed ceremony program.

We took the advice more literally. We asked our friends and family to serve as the photographers, caterers, hair stylists, DJs, bartenders, officiant, traffic directors and videographers.

Everyone took a small piece, and when we put it all together, it made a whole. Everything about the wedding was an expression of our love and our relationship. Not only did we feel connected to every aspect of the wedding because we did it ourselves, we also felt connected to everyone who partook in the important occasion. Who could be disappointed with that?"

I am so, so glad that we weren't, in fact, disappointed. Honestly, our friends and family volunteered in ways that completely superseded our expectations. Hooray!

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Clapping During the Ceremony

I have a confession to make. Even Matt doesn't know my dirty little secret (I guess he will after I post this).

I, Sara Cotner, planted secret agents in the crowd at my wedding ceremony.

Let me back up and tell you the whole story.

At most weddings I've been to, there have been guests from the audience who get up to do a reading. When they are done, no one usually claps. Instead, the performer finds his/her way back to his/her seat in complete silence. It's so awkward! And it always makes me feel horrible because I have the overwhelming urge to clap but no one else is clapping and I don't want to be the one to violate the sanctity of the ceremony.

At our wedding, I wanted it to be different. I wanted our speakers to feel valued, loved, and appreciated by the audience. So, I sent out a super-secret e-mail message (yes, it was manipulative and sneaky) and asked four of my friends and family members to clap after each speaker. Then at the rehearsal, I also asked the wedding party to participate in the plan.

It worked beautifully. And it lightened the mood (I am a big fan of anything that lightens the mood at a ceremony, including a barfing dog who has to be excused because he ate too much grass).

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Brotherly Opinions

A few days after the wedding, my mom apologized for not helping me more. The comment was a little confusing because a) she did several key things to help me (like bringing the tree sapling we planted during our ceremony, driving into town to purchase four helium balloons on the wedding day, searching for boxed wine, etc.). And, b) she did everything I asked her to do.

When she told my 15-year old brother, Dustin, that she was sorry she didn't help me more, my brother said, "Don't worry, mom, I'm going to have a wedding just like Sara's and you can help me out."

What a compliment!

The truth is, I had a lot of fun with my brother at the wedding, too. Because we only had 80 guests and because we had several different events spread out over a lot of days, I got to hang out with him many times. We went hiking on Wednesday and horseback riding on Thursday. I also got to talk with him and hug on him at the Welcome Picnic, the ceremony, and the reception.

I honestly can't imaging having more than 80 guests. Although I do feel like I spent quality time with folks, I don't think I could've spread myself any thinner. It was difficult as it was.

Plus, I imagine that the fewer guests you have, the less it feels like a show. The more you have to "meet and greet," the harder it is to be your true self and sincerely connect with people. At least that's how it seems to me.

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Many Years in a House > One Wedding Day

What a week! Married on Saturday. Hiking with friends on Sunday. Picking up and packing the moving van on Monday. Driving from Denver to Oklahoma on Tuesday. Finishing the drive to Houston on Wednesday and arriving at the closing meeting on our house at 3pm.

And then there was the unpacking (thanks to the help of our amazing H-town friends).

I won't go into details because this is still a blog about weddings, not post-wedding life (even though I'm now getting e-mails from The Nest instead of The Knot). But I thought it was important to express how happy I am to be a homeowner. I now feel like all the time/energy/resources we expend on our house is an investment in ourselves, our life, and our future family.

We couldn't have afforded to purchase a house if we had spent any more money on our wedding. As it was, we nearly wiped our accounts clean. Luckily, we ended up owing a little less than we anticipated (thanks to our amazing mortgage lender who purposefully overestimated). We can use the spare money to pay off the credit card bills we racked up this past month. We hate paying interest on credit card bills. What a waste!

We definitely could have spent more on our wedding if we had used other people's money (i.e., our families' dough). But then we would've had to share the decision-making. Don't get me wrong; I adore Matt's family. But it was hard enough trying to reach a consensus with two people, yet alone four or six.

I honestly feel like I was able to have the best of both worlds: an inexpensive and memorable wedding that was a true representation of us. What a concept!

A wedding is--after all--only a day (or a week, depending on how you do it). A wedding is not even really the start of a life together (e.g., Matt and I have been in a monogamous relationship for nearly three years; we have lived together for two; and we have moved across the country together). It's so easy to become consumed by the details of wedding planning. It's much harder to remember that the "special day" should really just be one of many "special days" in your life together.

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More Photography

I highly recommend the flickr route for all couples-to-be, even if you do hire professional photographers. It's so fun to capture everyone's photos in the same place (even if it is a lot to sift through!).

I simply started a flickr account (separate from my personal one) and created a username and password that I shared with everyone via e-mail. I also upgraded to the pro account. For $25 a year, I have access to unlimited storage for photos and videos. Wow!

It's entertaining to check back and see what's been uploaded. I didn't realize that one of Matt's guest--Swan--is a lovely photographer. She uploaded some shots today (see photo above).

Hooray for democratizing wedding photography!

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Our First Dance

The first video of our First Dance has been uploaded by a guest (thanks, Peter!) to YouTube. Unfortunately, the very first part is missing (I don't think he knew it was actually going to be a non-traditional dance). However, it's still a solid video.

Matt and I uploaded tutorials to YouTube so our wedding party could learn it from afar, but many of them actually learned it during the rehearsal. We only practiced it for about 40 minutes.

Both the rehearsal and the actual dance were so much fun (see photo below). I'm glad we decided to go this route.

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Our Photographic Experiment

So far, the photography experiment is working out. Instead of spending thousands on a "real" photographer (our budget, after all, was only $2,000), we decided to ask three of our talented friends to do the duties.

Plus, we sent all guests a post-wedding follow-up e-mail to ask them to upload their photos to a centralized flickr account (i.e., I gave everyone the username and password).

Thus far, the only downside (knock on wood) has been that some goofballs are messing with our welcome message. They changed it from "Of a Feather" to "Sawubona" (sorry, Grandma and Grandpa).

I guess it's a small price to pay for 1,641 photos (so far!).

Five minutes later: it's now up to 1,675!

[Editor's Note: I just learned that "Sawubona" is a Zulu greeting that flickr cycles through. I'm an idiot!]

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Monday, July 21, 2008

From Conception to Reception


People pretty much thought we were crazy. A wedding for under $2,000? On a Saturday evening? In July? With just seven months of planning?

At times, we thought we were crazy, too. As we piled 64 rock-hard avocados into our shopping cart at Sam’s Club four days before the wedding, I wondered, “Can we really make guacamole for 80 people on our wedding day? Will these avocados even ripen in time? What were we thinking?”

But it was important for us to make it work. We were tired of all the propaganda from the Wedding Industrial Complex telling us that we needed the perfect flowers or the perfect centerpieces to make our day perfect. We didn’t want to obsess about surface details or let the wedding overshadow our relationship. We wanted our wedding to be sincere, authentic, and memorable—a wedding focused on community and connection, not my wedding dress. We were convinced that we could make it work in a budget-minded, hand-crafted, eco-friendly way.

And—with the help of good-natured friends and family, a little luck (the rain stayed away), and a solid plan—we managed to pull off a stress-free wedding that was the truest expression of ourselves. It was better than we expected. It was full of seriously fun quality time with our friends, family, and—most importantly—each other.

Here's the story of our wedding planning process from its conception in a Mexican Restaurant to its climax with a choreographed dance to Prince’s “Kiss”.

Our Planning Process

My friend got engaged a few months before I did. By the time I baked a celebratory engagement cake and showed up on her doorstep, she had already purchased several bridal magazines and started a file folder to capture all her wedding ideas and inspiration.

Instead of starting with the details—dress, flowers, centerpieces, invitations—Matt and I took a different approach while planning our wedding. We headed to a good Mexican restaurant to brainstorm our goals and vision for our wedding.

As a teacher, I learned to create lesson plans though a backwards-design approach. The idea is to start with the end vision first. You ask yourself, “What do I want students to know and be able to do by the end of this lesson?” Once you’ve answered that question, you can then plan the smaller activities that align with the end goal.

Matt and I applied the same approach to our wedding. We wanted to figure out the big picture before we let ourselves dwell in the details.

Over chips and salsa, we reached consensus about the goals of our wedding:

  1. We want to bring family and friends together to reconnect and form new friendships.
  2. We don’t want the experience to feel overly-orchestrated. It’s a celebration of our love, not a show.
  3. We will fight consumerism by spending only $2,000 max. The Wedding Industrial Complex is conspiring to make us think we have to spend more money. But we want to make the event special with sincerity, not money. Plus, we need to save money for a house, and we certainly don't want to start our life together in debt.
  4. It will be good for the environment and connected to nature.
  5. We want to have real time to spend with guests. We want to be able to spend quality time with our friends and family. We don’t want to follow the traditional pattern of a few wedding “events” where the bride and groom only have time for a “meet and greet”: rehearsal dinner, reception, brunch the following morning. We want more of a family and friends reunion. (Side Note: One of my favorite memories from the wedding was waking up and eating the homemade breakfast provided by the B&B. My friends and I just sat and talked for two hours every morning.)
  6. We will make all the decisions ourselves so our wedding represents us (hence another reason why we need to pay for it ourselves).
  7. We only want to be surrounded by our closest friends and family.
  8. We want to be relaxed and fully present.

Our goals helped us stay focused on what really mattered to us throughout the entire process. For example, when we were working on the invitations, I was convinced that we had to have photo stamps. I couldn’t imagine anything cuter than our faces on a postage stamp. But it wasn’t in the budget. And frankly, when I reviewed our eight goals, I just couldn’t seem to connect the photo stamps with a single one. Darn.

Early on in the wedding planning process, there were other factors that complicated things. Namely, my mother-in-law. She was kind enough to help us search for locations, but she kept pushing us toward venues that were way out of our budget. Being the amazingly nice and generous woman she is, she continuously offered to help finance the wedding. However, we didn’t want to violate Goal #6. We knew that as soon as we accepted financial contributions, we would be forced to widen the circle of decision-makers from two to four. And the wider that circle gets, the more difficult the process is and the more likely the wedding starts to represent our parents’ tastes and preferences instead of ours.

Needless to say, those first few weeks were a bit stormy. Luckily, we anchored ourselves with our goals and hunkered down for the bumpy ride.

Two Big Decisions

Honestly, one of the most difficult parts of the wedding planning process was trimming down the guest list (or should I say, “going at it with a machete”?). The list started out gigantic. We knew we had to cut it back because of Goal #5 for our ideal wedding: “We will have real time to spend with guests. We want to be able to spend quality time with our friends and family. We don’t want to follow the traditional pattern of a few wedding ‘events’ where the bride and groom only have time for a ‘meet and greet’: rehearsal dinner, reception, brunch the following morning. We want more of a family and friends reunion.” We knew that the bigger our wedding got, the less opportunity we would have to genuinely connect with our guests.

We had to look at the wedding guest list through an honest lens. I noticed that there were people on the list who were pretty much only there because I had been invited to their weddings (even though we aren’t particularly close friends). I cut those people from the list. I also noticed there were people on the list with whom I wanted to be closer friends. I just wasn’t. Those people got cut, too. Finally, I noticed there were colleagues whom I felt obligated to invite. I applied the following litmus test: “When I move on to my next job, will I still be friends with _____?” If the answer was no, they were off the list, too.

Luckily, we had the primary say over our guest list because we paid for the wedding ourselves. Of course we consulted with our families and made a few adjustments, but we made sure we would only be surrounded by our closest friends and family (none of our dads’ golf buddies, for example, or family friends we hadn’t seen in ten years).

While we were dwindling down the guest list, we were simultaneously scouring the state of Colorado for a suitable location. We didn’t want to get married in Matt’s hometown (Bloomington, IN) or my hometowns (Tampa, FL and San Diego, CA) because we didn’t want the wedding to be dominated by one side. We were living in Denver, and we figured it would be much easier to plan a wedding that was within driving distance of our home.

We quickly realized that finding the perfect location was way more difficult than trimming the guest list. The wedding location determines a lot about the wedding. It’s like the first domino that starts a chain reaction of other falling dominoes. It determines how casual or formal the event feels, what the catering options are, what kinds of fun things your guests can do, how many people can attend, how much decoration will be needed, etc.

Matt and I had a very difficult time selecting our wedding venue. The mountains of Colorado are a hugely popular wedding destination (especially in the summer), which drives up costs everywhere. Our budget kept us out of the more traditional wedding venues in the area, as well as our desire to avoid the “wedding factory” feel. We didn’t want to be “just another wedding on today’s agenda.”

We also knew that we wanted to be able to rent out an entire place because we wanted all of our friends and family to stay together. We were trying to create the feel of a friends and family reunion.

By the time we started planning our wedding in late December, there weren’t a lot of weekends left that had full availability of the entire site. Argh!

Then there was the beauty piece. We wanted a placed that was aesthetically pleasing. And we wanted our guests to be comfortable. And we wanted it to be affordable for them (since they were already paying for plane tickets and rental cars).

In the end, it came down to two choices (which, ironically, had opposite names: Sunshine Mountain Lodge and Shadow Mountain Ranch). Shadow Mountain was more beautiful. The cabins were cuter and the property seemed more situated in the mountains. But, the owner wasn’t as great as Cathy and Cory, the owners at Sunshine Mountain Lodge.

Cathy and Cory were so kind, welcoming, and helpful. We decided that it was better to go with the less aesthetically-pleasing place because relationships matter more to us than photographs or guests’ first impressions.

Originally, we wanted our ceremony and reception at the same site because it’s more environmentally-friendly. But we couldn’t figure out how to make it work at Sunshine. Then we came up with the idea of having the ceremony at a B&B up the road (which we could also use for overflow guests). We managed to find a lovely lake with picnic tables already there. No need to rent chairs! All of the dominoes started to fall in exactly the right way because the initial domino was the right one.

With the guest list and location decided, we were able to breathe a huge sigh of relief. Then it was time to focus on some of the fun details like doling out jobs, making the invitations, and finding rings.

Community, Connection, and Commitment

When you undertake the seemingly crazy task of planning a wedding with a small budget, you have to think outside the box. When it came to the idea of traditional wedding vendors and wedding rings, we did exactly that.

At one point in the planning process, I received the following e-mail advice from The Knot: “The more guests feel involved with your wedding, the more likely they will have a great time.” So what was the website’s advice for helping guests feel more involved? Creating a detailed ceremony program.

We took the advice more literally. We asked our friends and family to serve as the photographers, caterers, hair stylists, DJs, bartenders, officiant (see photo above), florist, traffic directors, and videographers.

This approach had multiple benefits: 1) We saved a ton of money. We didn’t have to dish out thousands of dollars to multiple different vendors. 2) We avoided much of the stress associated with Wedding Industrial Complex interactions. We didn’t have any of the oh-this-is-a-wedding?-then-it-will-cost-three-times-more. 3) Our friends and family felt more invested in and connected to our wedding because they helped make it happen.

We tried our very best to give each person one small piece so they weren’t overwhelmed. And—with the exception of all but the fajita maker—every job happened before or after the ceremony and reception, so people could fully participate in the action. We hired the owners of the B&B where the reception was held to heat up the food, set it out, refill it, and clean up.

One of my favorite memories took place in the hours before our ceremony. Matt and I worked elbow-to-elbow with our closest friends, chopping lots of stuff for homemade guacamole, salsa, seven-layer dip, black bean and corn salad, fajitas, and quesadillas. We worked with urgency while laughing and chatting. People constantly passed through the kitchen in the main lodge and offered their support. It reminded me that weddings are about community, connection, and commitment.

In addition to our DIY, budget-friendly approach to staffing our wedding, we also had an unconventional approach to our wedding rings. We asked our friends and family to donate their old gold to an environmentally-friendly jeweler, greenKarat. The company melted the donated gold, credited our account with more than $1000, and created new rings. Our invoice came to $109.

vintage ring pillow

During the ceremony, the rings were carried on a ring pillow crafted from the hat Matt’s grandmother wore in her wedding 54 years ago. We acknowledged the longevity of their love and thanked our friends and family for letting us incorporate a piece of their history into ours through their donated gold.

We tried to carry the DIY, budget-friendly, and eco-friendly ethos throughout the rest of the wedding planning process, too. Luckily, we were able to do this for the next phase of the planning process: attire.

Wedding Attire

Many of my friends got married the same summer I did. It was fun to compare notes during the wedding planning process. During one conversation, a dear friend said, “Yeah, our wedding isn’t too expensive either. Aside from the food at the reception, everything is pretty reasonable.”

I reminded her, “Aren’t you having your dress custom designed? How expensive is that?”

“Oh, that. I forgot. The dress costs about $2,000.”

That was our entire budget!

I wanted something comfortable. I wanted to be able to dance and walk around and hug without limitation. I didn’t want to have to change into a more comfortable dress for the reception. I also didn’t want something that was dragging on the ground.

And there it was. On Target clearance. A perfectly suitable white sundress for a mere $15.

I say “perfectly suitable” rather than “perfect” because it had its flaws. Number One: there was so much extra fabric it made my waist look bigger than it is. Number Two: it was a little plain.

I decided to remedy both these problems with a little DIY, handmade action.

I fixed the first problem by creating a simple sash. Because I was trying to be friendly to the environment and my budget, I simply used fabric from an old piece of clothing. The clothing had significance to me because I purchased it while traveling through India right after I met Matt. I used some thick interfacing to prevent any crinkling, and I sewed on some buttons.

In terms of the second problem, I decided to do some customized embroidery along the bottom. First, Matt and I designed the story of our life together. Since our first date involved a frolic in the sprinklers, for example, we depicted two birds splashing around in a bird bath.

In order to save even more money, I used the same fabric to fashion a tie for Matt. Even though I had never undertaken such a feat before, I knew I could turn to the internet for help. After a Google search and an online tutorial, the tie was complete. Voila!

For the final touch, I used the fabric to make flower pins for our wedding party (thanks to another internet tutorial!) and a matching bandanna for our dog, Hoss.

As fun as it was to spend time hand-making items for our wedding, I had to pull myself away to focus on more significant undertakings: writing our own ceremony.

The Ceremony

Matt and I wanted a ceremony that engaged our family and friends—that inspired them to listen and reflect. We wanted them to think “Wow, that was meaningful,” rather than, “Thank goodness that was short and the party can start.”

That’s why Matt and I decided to write our ceremony from scratch. Basically, we invented our own symbolic gestures that were both more interesting because they were novel and were more representative of us and our lives.

wedding quilt ceremony

  1. Quilt-Wrapping: Instead of signifying unity through a candle lighting ritual, we were wrapped in a quilt made from the fabric of friends and family to signify unification, the warmth and support of friends and family that are needed to sustain a healthy relationship, the comfort we bring to each other, and the bond between us that will continue to develop. On our wedding website, we asked guests to send us a small piece of fabric. Then—thanks to the help of another internet tutorial—Matt and I turned them into a quilt.
  2. Tree-Planting Ceremony: Instead of reading something about how love takes effort, we planted a resilient Live Oak sapling to represent the growth of our love and symbolize that marriage—like a tree—requires constant nurturing and nourishment.

We also wrote our vows from scratch. We decided to follow the following format: “I love you because…” followed by: “Because I love you…”

  1. Matt, I love you because you make me laugh out loud on a daily basis, like when you come up with alternate names for our dog, Hoss, such as Hoss-tage, Hoss of Pain, or Hoss-car Myer Weiner.
  2. I love you because you challenge me to be a better person, like when you made me promise to tell the Penske truck people that we scraped the moving van.
  3. I love you because we create adventures together, like Halloween scavenger hunts or road trips out West.
  4. I love you because you care so much for other people that you inspire all of us to be more caring. You do things like put toothpaste on my toothbrush and leave it out for me or come home on the worst day of winter with slippers and a Chia pet herb garden.
  5. I love you because I smile every time I wake up to you and when I come home to you. We play together, brainstorm together, create together, read together. Your hand always feels comfortable in mine.
  6. Matt, because I love you, I promise to treat you the way you want to be treated and with the respect you deserve. I promise to build trust with my words and actions. I will be your cheerleader, your nurse, your editor, your therapist, your teacher, your student, and your partner in adventure. I will deeply appreciate all of your positive qualities and not let the passage of time dull that appreciation. When life challenges us, I promise to focus on the resiliency of our love. And if I stumble and fail to live up to my promises, I will look you in the eyes, hold your hands, and apologize with sincerity. I will be my best for you.

Yes, we worried that we would freak out our families (Matt’s is Irish-Catholic and mine is Presbyterian). But in the end, people said it was so beautiful and sincere (even our families).

The Welcome Picnic

At a lot of weddings I’ve been to, I’ve either felt like I was part of the “in crowd” or I was on the outside. If I’m in the wedding party? I’m part of the in crowd. If I’m not invited to the rehearsal dinner? I’m on the outside.

Matt and I didn't want to have those kinds of divisions at our wedding. We wanted to spend quality time with everyone. That’s why we opted for a Welcome Picnic instead of a traditional rehearsal dinner. In order for it to fit within our strict budget, we had to simplify: make-your-own sandwich bar (including organic meat from Whole Foods!), chips, watermelon, iced-tea, lemonade, and homemade chocolate cherry dessert with vanilla ice-cream.

The event was held at the same B&B where the reception was held. Approximately half the wedding guests were staying on site with us, so it was a very casual affair. People helped themselves to food and an assortment of fun activities: football, hot-tub, S’mores around the campfire, board games, a swing dancing lesson, volleyball, etc.

One of our main goals for the wedding was to give our friends and family an authentic opportunity to get to know each other. It’s a hard task, especially when small talk is the norm among strangers.

To combat the small talk conundrum, we fashioned name tags for our guests to wear at the Welcome Picnic. Instead of “Hello, my name is…” the tags read “Ask me about:” Each guest has three or four quirky things on their tags.

diy nametags

The tag of my friend, Camella, for example, said: “Ask me about: Ashtonga yoga, raising chickens, DJing a radio show, and why you shouldn’t buy corn.”

It was quite a bit of work (aren’t most DIY projects?), but it was well worth it in the end. They really helped build the kind of connection we were going for.

The Welcome Picnic helped connect people from different families and friend groups. When it was time for the reception the next day, people had already formed new friendships.

The Reception

Sometime in the middle of planning a $2,000 wedding, it occurred to me, “Why not think of it as a reunion instead of a wedding?” Weddings tend to focus on surface things like flowers, attire, and centerpieces. Reunions tend to be about fun.

When it was time to plan the reception, we focused on just that: Fun. We rented out an entire B&B in the mountains of Colorado. We set up tables in a grove of trees, and our guests feasted on homemade fajitas, tamales, guacamole, salsa, nachos, seven-layer dip, black bean and corn salad, frozen margaritas, and six different types of cakes.

After dinner, we gathered everyone on the flagstone patio for our first dance. Matt and I stood in the center of the dance floor, surrounded by a semi-circle of our wedding party. Our friend, Nick, announced that it was time for our first dance. Matt and I stared lovingly into each other’s eyes. The music started. It was “Kiss” by Prince. We immediately started scissoring our hands and gyrating our hips. The entire wedding party joined in and we performed a choreographed dance, complete with a semi-strip tease by Matt’s brother.

The dancing continued on the patio, while other guests traded their wedding finery for bathing suits. Some trekked to the campfire to tell ghost stories, while others broke out Scrabble and Uno. We also showed a video of our lives together.

The guests helped themselves to wedding favors: hand-made cilantro seed packets with directions on the front and our personal guacamole recipe on the back.

seed packet favors

I danced and talked and cooked a S’more and played some games and talked some more. Late in the evening, I donned my bathing suit and got into the hot tub with my best friends from college.

It wasn’t about the dress, the flowers, the centerpieces. It was about community, connection, commitment, and old-fashioned fun.

Wedding Advice

There’s a line from one of my favorite songs that says, “I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger” (Ooh La La by Roonie Wood and Ronnie Lane).

So, dearest brides and grooms (or brides and brides or grooms and grooms), here’s the advice I would give myself if I were planning another wedding:

(10) Start with the Big Picture, Not the Details

Sit down with your fiancé and figure out what kind of wedding you want. What do you want to be able to say about it when it’s over? What do you want your guests to say? How will you make your wedding memorable, relaxing, and fun? Develop a list of your goals and vision and then move on to the smaller details. Always ask yourself, “Does this small detail align with my broader goals?” Make decisions accordingly.

(9) Make It Happen

Once you know what kind of wedding you and your fiancé want to have, make it happen. Don’t let your parents’ preferences and tastes, your insecurities, or your budget get in the way. Have courage, stand your ground, and be creative. Your wedding should represent you and your fiancé, not anyone else.

(8) Limit the Guest List to Your Nearest and Dearest

Your wedding is not a show. It’s a celebration of your commitment and your community. You will feel much less stressed and nervous if you are truly surrounded by your closest friends and family. It’s your day. Don’t let anyone else commandeer the guest list for their own purposes.

(7) Distinguish Between Wants and Needs

When you’re planning a wedding, everything feels like a must-have. Use the 10-10-10 rule that was featured in O! Magazine: when making a decision, ask yourself: “What will be the effects of this decision in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years?” It will help you keep everything in perspective. Not everything is important.

(6) Don’t Let Your Wedding Overshadow Your Relationship

Planning a wedding takes a lot of compromise and consensus. It’s highly likely that you will disagree and probably even fight. Just remember that your wedding is only one day of your lives together. Don’t get too wrapped up in it.

(5) Build Relationships with Vendors

Working with others to bring your wedding to fruition is a very stressful process. There has to be a lot of trust. Do your best to build relationships with people along the way. They will have more investment in the wedding and be willing to go above and beyond for you. You will have fewer doubts about their reliability.

(4) Don’t Forget the Ceremony

Don’t get so caught up in the invitations, dress, flowers, reception, music, and catering that you neglect to put the same kind of thought and attention into your ceremony. The purpose of a wedding is to publicly declare your commitment and seek support from your community. It’s important! (And make sure your guests can hear everything that’s said during the ceremony.)

(3) Dress Comfortably

It’s your wedding. You should enjoy yourself. Make sure you can walk, dance, and move comfortably from head to toe, from ceremony to reception. Seriously.

(2) Moderate Your Wedding Porn Viewing

Don’t spend too much time reading wedding magazines and blogs. Yes, they give you ideas. Yes, they are fun. But mainly they just make you doubt things you’ve already decided on.

(1) Just Breathe

Planning a wedding is stressful. Your expectations are high and the stakes feel high even higher. But remember: No matter what happens with the details (the weather, the vendors, the food) you will be married in the end. And anything that goes wrong will make a great story.

When you become too irrational, just curl up next to your partner and remind yourself that the marriage matters more than the wedding.

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Wedding Recap

Honestly, I was utterly insecure about my wedding in the days leading up to the big event. I was really proud of ourselves for pretty much adhering to our $2000 budget (the final tally is still being calculated). I was also really content with the planning process. Yes there was stress and disagreement at times, but mainly there was fun, creativity, and authentic connection.

However, I had major doubts about how much fun our $2000 wedding would ultimately be. Our goals were to:
  1. Create the feeling of a "family reunion" instead of a traditional wedding comprised of "meet and greet" events, so we could spend quality time with our closest friends and family.
  2. Pay for the whole thing ourselves so we could make all the decisions and truly have the wedding represent us.
  3. Only invite people with whom we are authentically connected.
  4. Try not to obsess about details that are actually very irrelevant to our guests' enjoyment or the grand scheme of the universe.
  5. Host a casual affair so everyone is more relaxed and more likely to have fun--including us.
  6. Make the festivities special with sincerity rather than money.
  7. Dance outside.
I was especially worried because the longer I usually plan something, the more my expectations build. The more my expectations build, the more disappointed I typically am.

But I can honestly say--from the deepest, more sincere depths of my heart and mind--that our wedding was everything I wanted it to be.

Over the course of the next several posts, I will talk about how the wedding met each of our goals (and even exceeded them sometimes).

In the meantime, I want to summarize each of the five days of our wedding extravaganza while it's fresh in my mind. My goal had been to post every day, but a lack of consistent internet access thwarted my good intentions (plus, I was having too much fun).

Day 1, Wednesday: Matt and I packed the car and left Denver to head to Sunshine Mountain Lodge. When we arrived, we unloaded all of our food and sundry supplies. Then we met up with my family at Meeker Park Lodge. We enjoyed conversation in their cabin, and then we drove into Rocky Mountain National Park. We went high into the tundra (above the tree-line). We picnicked on a mountain top and slid down a snowy hill on our butts. I was with my Floridan brother as he experienced snow for the first time.

That afternoon, Matt and I met up with his mom at the place where she was staying: Lake Mary's Lodge. Matt's mom treated me to a relaxing manicure and pedicure in the resort's spa, and then we dined together on the premises.

Day 2, Thursday: I enjoyed fresh blueberries and strawberries with Matt's mom and then headed to Meeker Park Lodge for some horseback riding with my family. We followed a trail right on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. Afterwards, we hung out on the front porch waiting for our dearest family friends to arrive.

Once they arrived, we headed into the one-street town of Allenspark (at least it was a seemingly one-street town) and managed to score an 8-person picnic table on the front porch of a delicious cafe without any wait.

Afterwards, I went back to Sunshine Mountain Lodge and finished up some small preparation like ironing our wedding clothes and setting up the nametags for the Friday night Welcome Picnic. My college friend, Marsha, and her husband arrived and we began hanging white Christmas lights (lent to us by the innkeepers, Cathy and Cory) all along the flagstone patio to ensure there was just enough light for night dancing.

We played a few games and then trekked to Estes Park for dinner when our hunger got the best of us.

Day 3, Friday: We ate a yummy, homemade breakfast on the flagstone patio (cobbler, blueberry muffins, fresh fruit, etc.) for a leisurely two hours. Then we finished hanging the rest of the lights and began preparation for the Welcome Picnic. Matt and I made and decorated a cookie cake for his brother's birthday, and we made a chocolate-cherry dessert. We also mixed some iced-tea and lemonade.

People started arriving in the early afternoon. We helped ourselves to a Make-Your-Own-Sandwich bar, chips, and watermelon. The dessert was a huge hit. People congregated in different areas to talk and connect. The nametags were a major help. Underneath everyone's name, we wrote "Ask me about:" followed by three personal things. It helped people have deeper introductory conversations.

People moseyed up to the fire to cook some S'mores, while others found their way to the hot-tub. Around 8pm we had a swing dancing lesson on the back patio. People somehow knew to bring their own alcohol, and there seemed to be enough to go around.

Day 4, Saturday:
We started the day with another, two-hour, leisurely, homemade breakfast (frittata, scones, fresh fruit, etc.). Then the wedding party headed to Meeker Park for rehearsal. We ran through the ceremony two times and then found a shady patch in which to practice our rehearsal dance. Very fun!

Next we headed up to Mary's Lake Lodge to attend the luncheon that Matt's family planned for our families and the wedding party.

When we returned to Sunshine Mountain Lodge, we started the preparation for the reception dinner. One crew worked on the fajitas, another crew worked on the 7-layer dip, my crew worked on the guacamole, and others worked on the salsa. There were about 15 of us in all, just chopping and talking. Some people helped Cathy and Cory move some tables and such. Various friends stopped by to ask what we needed help with.

I asked my friend, Laura, to hike through the woods around our cabins to collect wildflowers for my bouquet.

About 45 minutes before we needed to leave, I showered and started to get ready. My friend, Beth, came in to do my hair. My friend, Marsha, was there to document the whole thing with her camera, and, my friend, Marie, was in and out to pack up the drinks for the ceremony. Andy was staying in the second bedroom of our cabin, so he was busy ironing while Matt showered. It was like a little spontaneous party.

Then Matt and I hopped in our car and drove ourselves to the ceremony site. We mingled with our guests as they arrived, and I realized I desperately had to go to the bathroom (even though I went right before we left). So Matt and I walked a little into the woods and he acted as my look-out as I squatted and peed. When I said, "Matt, I'm going to need to stay here and drip dry a little longer than I usually do," he pointed right next to me and said, "Look, there's some clean toilet paper right there." Much to my serious disbelief, there was, in fact, a strand of perfectly clean toilet paper to the left of my foot. It turns out that I was peeing in front of an old, locked outhouse that somehow had toilet paper coming out from under the door.

After the guests finished arriving and received programs and root beer (or bottled water), we started the special song that signaled to the wedding party that it was time to make their way to the front.

Right when the ceremony started, our dog, Hoss, who was standing in the wedding party with Matt's brother, started throwing up all the grass he had eaten. They quickly walked away from the front to take care of the situation.

Then, I felt awkward with my hands at my side and realized I had forgotten my bouquet. I sprinted back to the table to retrieve my wayward flowers.

Those things didn't feel like flaws, however. They felt like well-timed bits of comic relief to inject levity and humor into a potentially serious situation.

I thought the ceremony went exactly as we wanted. The five people who spoke on our behalf (with complete autonomy to craft their speeches and surprise us during the ceremony) said such beautiful and different things.

The tree-planting and quilt-wrapping were exactly the symbolic gestures we wanted them to be, and our vows had the intended effect of making people laugh and cry.

After the ceremony, the photography session was quick and painless and then we followed our guests to the reception site. Matt and I had alone time during the drive to bask in each other's presence. Once we arrived at Sunshine Mountain Lodge, the reception was in full-swing. There were tables set up in a grove of trees, and people were helping themselves to drinks and appetizers. I helped myself to some 7-layer dip, guacamole, salsa, and nacho cheese. I can't believe the $1/bag chips we procured at Sam's Club were actually tasty.

Brent, Laura, and Chong-Hao worked on the fajitas and delivered up a seriously delicious spread. We didn't seem to have any problem getting 80 people through a two-sided buffet line.

The quality of the sound system that our friend-in-a-band provided was so superior that my friend, Jamie, said, "I tried to find where the live music was coming from!"

Matt and I were able to chat with our friends and family as we ate.

After dinner, we had a brief cake ceremony. We decided not to make the cake ceremony all about us and instead used the time to thank our friends and family for making the event possible. Then our guests helped themselves to six different cake options. Many of the guests opted for small slices of several different ones.

After cake, we called everyone to the flagstone patio for our "first dance." Our wedding party stood around us in a semi-circle and pretended to watch. Our friend announced our first dance and started the song. Then the entire wedding party broke into dance to "Kiss" by Prince.

During a free-style section, Matt's brother, John, stripped off some of his clothes and did a bit of a lap dance on his cousin. Even my grandparents were cracking up.

Then the general dancing started and several guests joined us on the makeshift dance floor. The patio turned into a bit of a frat party with keg stands and stripping. Other guests played word games in the living room, while others hung out around the campfire. Some headed for the hot-tub.

One of the innkeepers of Sunshine Mountain Lodge, Cathy, joined us on the dance floor for a while. She and Cory even gave us a present.

I danced a lot on the dance floor, played a game, passed by the fire, got in the hot-tub and mainly just chatted with my close friends. What a night!

Day 5, Sunday: We started the day with yet another, two-hour, leisurely, homemade breakfast. Then people packed up and started trickling back to the airport. Brent, Laura, and I went for a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. We picnicked and hiked and talked.

Afterwards, I headed to Mary's Lake Lodge to nap at Matt's parents' place. When I awoke, I snacked on cake and looked at photos and video from the wedding. Then we walked to dinner and I went to sleep pretty shortly after we returned.

Day 6, Monday: Hoss and I headed to Sunshine Mountain Lodge one more time. Cathy and Cory treated us to a free homemade breakfast (pancakes, poached pears, and fresh fruit). I just hung out with Jeff and Paul, two of my closest friends from college.

I've heard so many people say that there weddings just flew by in a blink of an eye. Mine did not. I was fortunate to be able to turn it into a vacation and a reunion all in one. I had so many different days for different activities and time with different people. I felt completely relaxed for nearly the entire thing, and I am rejuvenated and ready to start the next chapter in my life. Now I'm on my way to pick up the moving van!

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Day Three of the Wedding Extravaganza Part 1

I started my day by waking up next to Matt in our comfy, cozy bed at Sunshine Mountain Lodge. We talked and cuddled and then walked down to the main house for breakfast. Four of my friends and four of Matt's were already here, so we chowed down on a very yummy, homemade breakfast on the flagstone patio.

Then we played a very fun game with Scrabble tiles (remind me to post the directions when I have more time).

After breakfast, some friends went into the mountains and into Estes Park for the day, and some helped us finish putting up white lights on the deck and in the grove where we'll be eating dinner for the reception tomorrow night.

Then our helpers took off for the day, and Matt and I did some final things on our to-do list.

Matt just went for a run and I'm chilling. So far (knock on wood) this has been a very relaxing event. [Editor's Note: I'm knocking on more wood!]

After Matt returns and showers, we're going to make a brownie-cherry dessert for tonight (with vanilla ice-cream on top). Again, remind me to post the directions when I have more time.

For now, I'm off to hang out with my friends on the deck!

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Full Moon Fun

One of the drawbacks of planning a wedding in seven months is securing a location. If you want to get married in the summer in Colorado and only give yourself a seven-month head-start, you are in for some trouble.

When we decided on Sunshine Mountain Lodge for our reception site (back in January), they only had one available weekend in all of July. So July 18 and 19 it was!

I was ecstatic when I realized the full moon would be on July 18. I mean, the thing I wanted most from a reception was outdoor dancing. And who could ask for more than dancing in the moonlight?

It's also been exciting to count down the days by the cycle of the moon. And now the moon is almost full. Time flies!

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Day Two of the Wedding Extravaganza

Another great day!

I started the morning with Matt's mom, chatting over fresh strawberries and blueberries.

Then it was off to Meeker Park Lodge to go horseback riding with my family. Then there was the down time on the front porch, while we waited for some family friends to arrive. Lunch at a quaint small-town cafe followed.

Afterwards, I headed to Sunshine Mountain Lodge to iron our wedding clothes and set out the name tags. When my friends, Marsha and David, arrived, we headed to Estes Park for some grub.

It's been a very relaxing day. And I love breathing in the mountain air. I'm excited folks are arriving tomorrow.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Day One of the Wedding Extravaganza

The start of the day was a bit stressful. We awoke at 6:30am (well, I awoke and proceeded to get frustrated that Matt wanted to continue sleeping, despite how much we had to get done before 8:00am).

First, I started raking the yard. Yep, I was raking the yard at 6:30am. You see, since we're moving next Tuesday, I sold all of our raised garden beds on craigslist. Before the new owners came to pick up their goods, Matt and I dumped all the old dirt in big, dark piles on our lawn.

Since we desperately need our deposit back, I felt responsible for smoothing out the garden dirt and trying to normalize the backyard again.

When I was finished, Matt had woken up, and we began packing the car (e.g., 20 or so bags of tortilla chips, 25+ pounds of tomatoes, 80 avocados--you get the picture). We were rushing to get out the door, so we could meet my family at 10:30am in the Estes Park area.

In the end, we met my family at 11:00am and drove through Rocky Mountain National Park. We stopped for a picnic lunch and even played in a patch of snow. I was able to completely relax and embrace the moment once our major preparation responsibilities were finally complete.

Then Matt and I headed to his parents' hotel and checked-in for them. His mom had scheduled a manicure and pedicure for me, so I was able to soak my feet and relax even further. Then it was off to dinner with Matt and his mom for some good conversation.

So far, so good!

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On the Road

We're packing the car and we're about to be on our merry way. Or should I say "tired way"?

Word of advice: don't get married and move at the same time. Aaaahhhhh!

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Wedding Disappointment #1

Matt and I have to take both of our cars tomorrow because we have to haul so much stuff for the ceremony and so much food for the Welcome Picnic and the reception dinner (plus our dog, of course).


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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Are We Crazy for Catering Our Own Welcome Dinner and Reception?

Phew! Matt and I just completed Trek #1 of 3 to procure food for our Welcome Picnic and the reception.

Wow. We are truly in the thick of this DIY process!

I find it exhilarating (kind of like throwing a dinner party). And exhausting (kind of like throwing a dinner party).

We shopped at Sam's Club first and found all sorts of bargains. We have stacks and stacks of food (see photo above).

Now we're off to King Sooper's. What we don't feel comfortable buying there (like sandwich meat for the Make-Your-Own-Sandwich Bar) we'll get at Whole Foods.

My calculations show that we have $900 for Friday and Saturday food. We spent $400 at Sam's Club. I'm crossing my fingers that we're going to make our $2000 budget!

The next two stores are more expensive...

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