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

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Q & A: Fighting with Parents over the Guest List

Reader Question: I read your article about your wedding day and how you needed to cut the guest list shorter. I just got proposed to two weeks ago and I am already having a hard time minimizing my list. We have about 200 people on the list and I want to cut it down to about 150. I am a Pastor's daughter so my parents want to invite the whole flippin' church and I don't want the whole church!!! I am not close to certain people there. I don't know what to do! I do need some wisdom. Can you help?

Dearest Reader,

Whenever I was faced with a wedding dilemma, I pushed myself to go back to the purpose of a wedding.

A wedding--in my opinion--is:
  1. An opportunity to publicly declare your commitment and your love to one another, immersed in the support of your closest friends and family.
  2. An occasion to reunite friends and family in one place.
  3. A chance to bring two disparate sides together to form new friendships and connections.
  4. An opportunity to have a relaxed, enjoyable, memorable, and fun(!) experience.
  5. A chance to showcase and share your values and commitments to the world.
When I look at those criteria, I am not convinced that parents should have license to invite their friends. If your parents want to reunite with their friends or their extended family, they should plan their own reunion or party.

Seriously! I understand when people argue that weddings are about family (see #1, #2, and #3). But why does that mean you should be forced to invite people you are not close to?

Matt and I predicted that the bigger our wedding got, the less connected we would feel to individual people because our wedding would turn into a "meet and greet." You know what I'm talking about. While everyone else eats a sit-down dinner, the bride and groom make an appearance at each table, with the photographer trailing behind. There are so many people to smile at and engage in small talk with that the wedding ends up passing by in a blur. When it's over, you're left to truly live the experience through the photographs.

Additionally, I personally felt that the bigger my wedding got, the more nervous and stressed I would feel. But that could just be me. I'm an introvert, and I don't necessarily enjoy being the center of everyone's attention.

Matt's family is very social and they are very connected to the people in their town. We purposefully avoided having the wedding in Matt's hometown (Bloomington, IN) or my hometown (Tampa, FL and San Diego, CA) because we didn't want our wedding to be dominated by one set of friends/family. Since we happened to be living in Colorado, we had the wedding there. It was a good middle ground.

Matt's family definitely had a ton more people that could've been invited to the wedding. Instead of haggling too much over the guest list, someone suggested that we have a second reception in Matt's home town several months after the actual reception. That way, Matt's parents can invite all of their friends and family. Matt and I are not involved with the planning at all. It's just like a big party that we're invited to.

My family also had people they would have liked to invite. Just the other day (more than a month after the wedding), my mom said, "You know, Cathy was upset that she wasn't invited." Well, the fact is, I haven't seen Cathy since I was 10 years-old.

I understand that we all have to make political choices now and then. There may be a few people whom you really are obligated to invite. But, for the most part, if you apologize and say, "I'm so sorry. We had to cut the guest list way back." the majority of people will get over it. Several of my colleagues are still my friend, even though they weren't invited. My mom's cousin will still be my friend the next time we run into each other.

And, no matter how many tiffs you and your parents get into while a planning a wedding, they are still going to love you after the wedding is over, even if you've made your own choices. Sometimes it's hard to imagine. But it's true. Your relationship with your family is bigger than a one-day event.

Trust me when I say that I understand how difficult the guest list piece is. No one wants to hurt other people's feelings. But at the end of the day, it's your wedding. Your parents--more than anyone else--need to recognize and understand this fact. They need to deprioritize their preferences/tastes/styles and remember that your wedding should be the fullest expression of you and your partner-to-be.

Most of the time I want to vomit when I hear the Wedding Industrial Complex say, "It's your day!" Really, they're just saying, "Go ahead and spend more money. You can justify it because a wedding only happens once in a lifetime."

But in the case of making major decisions that affect the ultimate quality of your wedding and the kind of experience you create for yourself, it is your day. Put your foot down!

E-mail your questions to: saracotner@yahoo.com

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Wedding Industrial Complex Propaganda #1

Yesterday at the airport while on route from Indy back to Houston, my friend and I stopped by the magazine shop so she could pick up an escape magazine for the relaxing ride back home.

While she was looking around, I opened up the most recent issue of Bride Magazine.

Luckily, I mostly kept myself away from Wedding Industrial Complex propaganda while I was planning my own wedding. That stuff is mainly advertisements anyway.

But I was intrigued by one of the stories on the cover: "58 Little Ways to Make Your Wedding Unique."

Yes! I am all in favor of unique weddings. The more weddings you go to, the more cliched they start to feel.

We tried to make our wedding unique with a choreographed first dance, a quilt-wrapping ritual during the ceremony, personalized name tags at the Welcome Picnic, etc.

I was interested in reading about new strategies for making weddings unique.

The magazine's suggestions for making your wedding unique?

Table details.

Yep, that's right.

Here's what they had to say:

"Guest gaze at them all night, so each little accent--place cards, menus, and votives should be a tiny treasure."

Ugh! Do you really want your guests staring at the centerpieces all night because there's nothing better to do?

When we obsess about all the little surface details (details, by the way, which tend to bring in more and more money for the Wedding Industrial Complex), we take time away from figuring out how to genuinely make our weddings unique. What will we say to each other during the ceremony? How will we plan serious fun for our guests? How will we help friends and family from two distinct sides come together and get to know each other?

Those are the kinds of things we should be reading about.

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How to Make a Wedding Website

Reader Question: I really like the design of your wedding website (so interactive!), and was wondering if you'd be willing to share how you created it. It looks sort of Wordpress-y to me, but I thought I'd just ask.

Editor's Note: Just for the record, I'm not a very private person, and I'm willing to share anything. Just ask!

So, I've had a couple questions recently about wedding websites. I explained a bit about our wedding website here, but let me explain a little more:

We created our website using a Wordpress blog (the specific template we chose was Cutline 3-Column Split 1.1). Wordpress is a cool way to create a free blog. However, it's less user-friendly and a little more difficult than Blogger (which is how I create 2000dollarwedding.com). But as a result, you can do more with it. For example, I was able to add a plug-in to my Wordpress blog that allowed guests to upload their photos and bios. Also, I was able to create separate pages (for carpooling, info about our dog, a story about how we met, etc.). Blogger is more limited in terms of what you can do with it.

Luckily, my best friend, Andy, is a total tech guru. He was able to guide me through the process of adding plug-ins and getting my own domain name (http://ofafeather.us) instead of using something like http://ofafeather.wordpress.com.

We purchased our domain name from http://1and1.com for $6.99/year. If you're going to go the route of creating your own wedding website through a blogging site, I highly recommend you tap into a technologically savvy friend for help!

In other words, the route I took is not necessarily the route I recommend for other people.

The easier route is to go through an internet company that allows you to create a wedding website by using their templates. I was very tempted to go this route myself, because the features are specifically designed for wedding websites.

For example, over at ewedding, you can post dates, directions, and registries. You can also send electronic Save the Dates and/or have your guests RSVP online (including specifying their meal choices). You can upload photos and videos and songs. You can also insert polls and quizzes.

All of that is free. If you want to have your own domain name (e.g., www.mattandsara.com as opposed to http://www.ewedding.com/sites/ajones3/), then you have to pay $4.95 a month or $49.95/year (I think you purchase the domain name through them, not another company like I did).

If you aren't technologically savvy, I would recommend going with a company like ewedding (there are a lot more companies out there if you want to look for other options). I found it pretty challenging to create a wedding blog that had all of the additional features like online RSVPing. As I mentioned earlier, my friend Andy pretty much guided us through most of the process.

In terms of the difference between a website and a blog:

A blog is a special kind of website that can be easily updated every day. Every time you make a new entry, it gets added to the top, and the other entries get pushed down. This format works well for a diary of the wedding planning process or your life together, but it doesn't work well for static information about your wedding.

We did actually use a blog for our wedding website, but we only put one entry on the front page.

Websites can also be updated with new information (on a daily basis). They just aren't as user-friendly when it comes to posting daily entries.

You could consider having two sites:
  1. A wedding website through a company like ewedding. It could have all the information guests need for your wedding (since a lot of people misplace the invitations anyway!). For five bucks a month, you could have a customized domain name.
  2. Then you could have a free blog through Blogger or Wordpress that you use to update people about the wedding planning process and then your subsequent life together. It's very easy to buy your own domain name (from a company like http://1and1.com) and connect it to a Blogger blog. That's what I do here at 2000dollarwedding and Meg does at http://www.apracticalwedding.com.
I hope I've clarified rather than confused!

Please leave questions in the comments section if you have any. I promise to respond to them.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Let Go of Wedding Planning Stress

If you find yourself in the midst of wedding planning stress, just imagine yourself married. No matter what happens during your wedding, you have the rest of your life together to look forward to.

Here's my partner, Matt, starting our Weekend o' Labor Day Fun by trying to spin our dog on the slick floor.

Happy Labor Day,


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Picking the Right Venue for Your Wedding

Over at Peonies and Polaroids, there's an awfully sad quote from the newly wed:

"Not that I didn't have a wonderful time and the wedding wasn't utterly wonderful. I did, and it was. It's just that the venue let us down so spectacularly, behaved in such a shitty way to us, our friends and our families that when I think of the wedding those wonderful memories that include moments where I was happier than I could ever have imagined I would be are competing with memories that make me really, really fucking angry."

I'm obsessed with backwards-planning. When anyone sits down to plan an event, for example, they should think, "What do I want to think and feel when the event is over?" After you have the end vision in mind, then you backwards-plan all the smaller details that align with the end vision.
No one wants to say that their venue let them down "so spectacularly" and "behaved in such a shitty way."

So how do you prevent this? What choices can you make during the wedding planning process to create a different outcome?

It's hard to say. I guess we'll have to see what caused the problem before we can pinpoint a definitive answer.

Venues are tricky business. It's difficult because you typically have to secure the venue at the beginning of the process, before you've had a whole lot of time to think about what kind of wedding you want to have.

On top of that, the venue you choose is like the first domino that starts a chain reaction. For example, your venue may dictate that you can't have an outside caterer or that you can't bring in outside alcohol. In a way, you start to get locked into making other choices because of the initial choice.

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 design to avoid the "wedding factory" feel. We didn't want to be "just another wedding on the wedding docket."

We had additional difficulties because Matt's family had a different vision of what would make a good venue. Even though we were paying for the whole thing ourselves, we still wanted to invite them to participate in the process. We wanted to avoid any tension, while simultaneously planning a wedding that represented our tastes and preferences, not our families' tastes and preferences.

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. Even if they went off in their own directions during the day (e.g., golfing, white-water rafting, hammock-laying, hiking, etc.), we wanted everyone to come together for breakfasts and the Welcome Picnic and reception in the evenings.

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 was more beautiful. The cabins were cuter and the property seem more situated in the mountains. But, the owner wasn't as great as the 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.

One of the smartest things we did during the wedding planning process was make decisions based on relationships. Cathy and Cory went out of their way to help us create the exact wedding we wanted. Every time we asked them for something, they delivered. They let us use their white Christmas lights, composting bins, dog rope, packing tape, iron and ironing board, tablecloths, tables, flowers, chairs (and I think they went out of their way to borrow chairs from another B&B), cake server, cooking pots and pans, and cumin. They dressed up for the wedding reception, gave us a wedding present, and Cathy even joined us on the dance floor.

Not only were they the best wedding vendors ever; they are now our friends.

We did our best to cultivate a relationship with them during our planning process. We helped them in their garden, and they took us out to lunch. We tried to clearly communicate our desires and plans to them and asked for their feedback and suggestions. We occasionally sent them postcards (and they responded with pictures of their Halloween costumed-selves).

By the time the wedding rolled around and we pulled up to the Sunshine Mountain Lodge to unload our stuff for the wedding weekend, it felt like we were coming home. Seriously.

And we just got an e-mail from them two days ago asking how it's going.

I'm so glad we went for the less beautiful, more rustic, seemingly less desirable option in favor of a solid relationship with the innkeepers. In the end, it made all the difference.

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Recipes for Self-Catering a Wedding, Part I

a.k.a. Recipes to Cook for Dinner If You're Not Self-Catering Your Reception

Yummy fajitas prepared by the man in the cowboy hat (who also happens to work really hard to close the achievement gap on a daily basis through his work with Teacher U):

For the marinade: 4 garlic cloves, minced and mashed to a paste with 1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil

Make the marinade: In a large bowl whisk together the garlic paste, the lime juice, the cumin, and the oil.

2 pounds sirloin (or other nice steak), trimmed and cut into large pieces to fit on a grill or broiler pan or in a ridged grill pan
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 assorted colored bell peppers, sliced thin
1 large red onion, sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
twelve 7- to 8-inch flour tortillas (recipe follows or store-bought), warmed (procedure follows)
guacamole and tomato salsa as accompaniments

We used 1.25 pounds of meat (which we splurged on and bought from Whole Foods). I think even a pound of meat makes more sense, honestly.

People said they were absolutely delicious (of course people are going to be nice on your wedding day, so take the compliment with a grain of salt!).

Bon appetit!

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cute + Comfortable = Good Wedding Shoes

I've been in Indianapolis this week doing some educational consulting for a KIPP school. It meant that I had to get out of my pajama pants and get into some professional dress.

Today, I actually wore my "wedding shoes." I put that phrase in quotes because I didn't actually buy them for the wedding (remember the $2,000 budget?). I've had them for a long time. In fact, I've worn them to a lot of other people's weddings.

I just thought it was cool that I wore those same shoes to work today (they are comfortable enough to wear for 10+ hours). I looked at them and was flooded with a sentimental feeling, "Awww...the last time I wore these was on the dance floor at my reception."

Very fun.

[insert Public Service Announcement about how you should be sure to wear comfortable shoes at your wedding. There's so much talk about cute shoes--don't forget the other C!]

P.S. These are Dansko--which happens to be my favorite brand (it's apparently the preferred brand of nurses and teachers).

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Tip #5: Ideas for Building Successful Relationships

If you do an informal interview with married couples and ask them the number one cause of their fights, a high percentage of them will probably say money.

It makes sense. Different people have different approaches with money. For example, one parent in my family is a saver; the other picks up plastic, blow-up football figures for the lawn just because.

Matt and I happen to both be savers. But we still had to come up with a plan for our joint, financial approach. We had to sit down and talk through how we would merge finances in the most agreeable, amenable way.

In the end, we came up with a system that seems very complicated on the surface. It involves a lot of accounts and a lot of banks, but, if you remember that everything happens electronically and automatically, you'll begin to see it's actually pretty simple.

Our goals are to maximize our savings (for things like vacation, home improvements, cars, and retirement). We also want to avoid having to ask permission from each other to purchase things (while also avoiding unfair spending by one of us).

That's why this system emerged (see photo above):
  1. Account #1: This account is home base. All of our paychecks are electronically deposited into this central account at ING Direct. From this account, we have set up several automatic transfers to happen monthly.
  2. Money is transferred into another ING account. This account is used to pay for joint things like groceries, dinners out, entertainment, Netflix, yoga classes, etc. We don't pay for this directly out of home base because we put a cap on how much we can spend monthly. If we just took out of our central pot of money, we would be much less conscientious and frugal (i.e., you spend what you have).
  3. Money goes into my Bank of America account for my personal allowance. I can spend this money on whatever I want. New books, clothes, craft classes, etc.
  4. Money goes into Matt's Wells Fargo account for his personal allowance. We do not have to ask for any sort of permission to spend our own allowances. Despite the fact that we have different incomes, we both receive an equal allowance.
  5. Money is automatically transferred to our home improvement fund. When we have enough money saved up, for example, we can fix our fence.
  6. Money is automatically transferred to our vacation fund. Right now, we're saving for a trip to Florida, Christmas vacation, and our honeymoon (oh, there's also Thanksgiving--oi vey!).
  7. Money is automatically transferred to our car fund. Both of our cars are currently paid off, so now we're trying to save money for our next cars. We want to be able to pay in cash, so we can avoid paying unnecessary money for interest.
  8. Retirement money is set aside in a Roth IRA through Vanguard and Matt's 401k (we only put in as much money as his company will match; the rest goes to the Roth).
I'm not suggesting that this system will work for you. Everyone needs to figure out their personal system. I do think, however, that it's important for couples to discuss what will work for them. Some important questions to ask are:
  • What are our financial goals together?
  • What will help us achieve those goals?
  • What are potential areas for disagreement related to our finances?
  • How should we prevent those potential disagreements?
Find other tips for a successful relationship here

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Wedding Songs

This song makes me smile. My cousin asked for a copy of it, so I did a quick search and came upon this site.

Matt incorporated it into the video of us we showed at our reception.

It was super-easy to make. He simply put some of our photos into iMovie. We took the video footage using just a digital camera. Then we added music. Voila!

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Stealing Ideas for Our Honeymoon

My grandparents and I have different approaches to travel. They typically sign-up for the all-inclusive, luxury package; they just show up and everyone else takes care of the rest.

I, on the other hand, usually grab the Lonely Planet Guide, my hand sanitizer, and my backpack and hit the road.

However, I see the appeal of pre-packaged tours, and I have even been on one. When I traveled by myself to India, I felt more comfortable tagging along with a tour group. I guess it wasn't exactly grandparent-style because it was the economy version of the tour and we stayed in budget accommodations and traveled on public transportation, but it was still a tour.

I appreciated traveling with a group. During the days we would do our own things, but we would always come together for dinner at night. Since I traveled with a British company that focuses on eco-friendly, community-minded tourism (Intrepid Travel), my travel companions were mainly Australian. It was fantastic to meet new people and build camaraderie.

For our honeymoon, I don't think we'll want to go on a tour because I think we'll want to focus on each other. But, I realized I can get good travel advice by looking at tour group itineraries--for free! It's brilliant!

For example, if we go to Italy, I can find tours that travel in Italy and look at their sequence of cities and activities for ideas. It's very fun.

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Don't Let the Wedding Overshadow the Relationship

I keep a document on my computer entitled "Quotes."

Well, "Quotes.doc."

I add to it every time a quote resonates with me. I love the way quotes are simultaneously so simple and so profound. (As a side note, I think those are lovely words to describe a wedding: so simple and yet so profound.)

Today I came across a William James quote that appeals to my sense of self-agency and improvement, especially because I spent my day in a charter school for low-income students: "The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives."

As I entered into my quotes document (under the category "Living Life"), I came upon another quote that I had apparently added but forgotten. It's a quote that is particularly relevant to the wedding planning process.

The wedding planning process is a complex one. It's so full of excitement and anticipation and decision-making and compromise/consensus/conflict. It's so easy to let the Wedding overshadow your relationship.

This quote from Emily Dickinson reminds me that the months and days leading up to our weddings are just as important as the actual event. They provide us with ample opportunity to cultivate and practice love and kindness and forgiveness and patience.

Her quote is this: "Forever is composed of nows."

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Using Vintage Postcards for Save the Dates or RSVP Cards

A few of my hobbies: reading, making documents in Microsoft Word, eating cookie dough, running (to offset the cookie dough), planning for Halloween, and sifting through vintage stores.

In the past three days, I think I've pretty much hit on all of those hobbies. Hooray!

My recent foray into the nearby vintage store led me to some fun old postcards. There's one from Guatemala that I plan to send to my friend Amy because we traveled there together, and one that will go to Matt for the same reason (but it's of Carlsbad Caverns). Then there's the Texas Longhorn Cattle just because I live in Texas now and I may need to send the unexpected postcard. I purposefully bought ones that haven't yet been written on, so I could really use them.
It gave me the idea that vintage postcards would make great Save the Dates (my friend, Camella, also used them for her RSVP cards). You could just print your message on clear labels or colored sticker paper that can be cut into labels.

I tried to do a quick search for others who had gone this route, but all I could find was this fake vintage postcard.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Tip #4: Ideas for Building Successful Relationships

Matt and I did a lot of cute things for each other when we first started dating. I would surprise him with cookies at work. He would leave a CD for me on my car windshield. I would cut out photos of myself and stick them to things. He would stick stamps on photos of himself and mail them to me.

But I don't want to lose that kind of cuteness just because we're three years into our relationship. That kind of cuteness--hey, I like you so much I'm going to exert some time and energy to come up with something creative to make you smile--should never go away.

I think it's important, however, to give ourselves permission to make something a little less than oue very best. If we're always putting our all into all our creative side projects, we won't be able to fit as many into our lives.

For example, Matt is out of town right now. When he returns on Thursday, I'll be out of town. I made cookies this morning to bring to a lunch with a friend, so I went ahead and set aside three of them for Matt. Then I took two seconds to write on sticky notes. Voila! It certainly isn't my most ingenious or creative effort, but it's the thought that counts.

Find all tips here

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Wedding Websites

Decision-making doesn't come easy for me.

Back in 2000, when I was deciding whether to accept the invitation to join Teach For America and move to rural Louisiana for at least two years, I had to call the national office and ask for an extension on the deadline. And then I had to fly there to visit. And, even then, I was lying on my sofa--staring at the ceiling fan with hopes of a divine sign in the cracks--just four minutes before my second, final deadline.

Maybe it's because on the Myers-Briggs Personality Test I am a T (thinker) who is close to being an F (feeler). And, unfortunately, my thoughts don't always match my feelings, and yet I want to give them equal credence.

Maybe it's because choices feel so heavy to me. Each choice leads you down a particular path, away from other potentially better paths.

I once read a book called, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The lightness of being is this idea that once a decision is made it only occurs once. Moments don't play out for all of eternity. It happens once and the world moves on.

I, on the other hand, subscribe more to the theory of The Immense Heaviness of Being. Each decision opens a door but it closes other doors. And the door you opened leads to new open doors, but it leads away from other doors, too. Thus, according to this perspective, we must make each decision wisely. We must fully consider all the ramifications and implications of our choices. This approach reminds me of my Seventh Generation dish detergent. The box reads: "In every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.--From the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy"

Long story, short: I have issues with decision-making. However, I have come up with an approach that works for me:

My strategy is to do a lot of thinking and a lot of feeling (while sitting, walking, and writing). Then I come up with a tentative decision. I then live with the decision as if I have already made it.

For example, if I'm deciding whether or not to accept a new job offer, I make the decision (let's say it's yes in this example). I then live as if I have decided to accept the job offer. I start preparing for it in my mind. I think about what I need to start doing to get ready. I also tell people that I've accepted the job offer (in my mind!). I'm basically testing out the decision. Seeing how it feels. Asking myself: Do you feel exhilarated or do you feel queasy?

(Editor's Note: Despite all the heaviness I attach to each decision, I also give myself permission to make any choice, knowing that even if it turns out to take me down a path I didn't want to go, it will also take me to new doors that I never would have found otherwise. It all works out in the end.)

Needless to say, I had a hard time deciding to marry Matt (and even date him, for that matter). It wasn't anything about Matt. It was about me and my own neurosis around decision-making.

When I eventually made the secret decision to marry him and tried to test it out in my head before I said anything to the world, I actually bought a website name for us, so we would have a place to capture our life together.

That website name eventually became our wedding website. If you're interested in seeing it, you should take a look before it gets repurposed as a website about our entire life, rather than just our wedding.

Our approach to our wedding website was to provide people with all the information they needed. We wanted to minimize the wasted paper associated with printing all the necessary travel and reception information. We only have a few non-tech savvy people in our close circle, so we just printed the information for them. We even asked people to RSVP online to eliminate the wasted paper associated with reply cards and envelopes, the wasted energy and the pollution of moving those reply cards across the country, and the wasted money with more stamps. We also encouraged people to post comments on the Carpooling Page, so they could coordinate rides from the airport to the wedding. We also had an interactive feature where people could upload a picture of themselves and write a little bio blurb. We did everything we could to build community among our friends and family before the actual event.

Even though everything was on the website, people still needed reminders. Once a month, I sent a Wedding Update (T-Minus __ Days) to remind people to RSVP, send us a scrap of fabric, pack their umbrellas, etc.

It was fun to try and personalize our website and share our lives with our guests. I highly recommend it.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Avoiding Wedding Debt

In the months leading up to our wedding, Matt and I were a little stressed about our finances. Although we were only dishing out a mere $2,000 (is "mere $2,000" an oxymoron?), we realized that most of our wedding expenses needed to be paid near the end of our planning time. In other words, all the things we bought up front (my dress, the tablecloths, our invitations, etc.) were the least expensive things in our budget. The more expensive things--alcohol and food--needed to be purchased at the end.

On top of paying for a wedding, we were also trying to save like mad for our house. And even though we picked something relatively small (two-bedroom, one-bath, just over 1,000 square feet), we still needed to fork over $51,000 for our closing (that was 20% of the total cost + thousands of dollars in closing costs).

Combined, our families pitched in $12,000, which left a whopping $39,000 for Matt and me to bring to the table. Holy moly. I'm still stunned when I see that number.

Sometime in the middle of June, we realized we needed to start putting everything on our credit cards. Normally, we avoid this tactic because paying interest feels like an absolute waste of money. If we won't be able to pay for something in full by the time our credit card bill comes, we usually don't buy it.

But desperate times call for desperate measures. We starting putting everything on the cards: gas, food, wedding stuff, plane tickets--oh my!

Our biggest credit card bills just arrived. And, lo and behold, we actually have enough money left in our accounts to pay them off. I still can't believe it.

I only share this saga of ours because it's important to think through the implications of your wedding budget before you actually establish it. Maybe you won't need to buy a house four days after you walk down the aisle, but do you really want to start your life together in debt?

A wedding can cost anything from the price of the marriage license to well above the average cost of $25,000. Despite what the Wedding Industrial Complex tries to make us feel, we really do have a choice.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Free Wedding Vendors

I've already mentioned two of my post-wedding-planning projects: Halloween and the honeymoon. There's one more that's worth mentioning because it very much connects with weddings.

I'm trying to start a Time Bank in my neighborhood.

Time banks are a national movement to build community and connection within a neighborhood. Here's how it works: people in a localized neighborhood create profiles on the webpage for their particular time bank. They indicate what skills and labor they would be willing to do for fellow neighbors (e.g., dog-sitting, plumbing, sewing, etc.). Every time a fellow neighbor takes you up on your offered skills, you then get to bank the number of hours that you spent doing the task. You then used your banked hours to "purchase" other people's services.

How cool is that?

It's such an amazing way to strengthen bonds within a neighborhood, showcase individuals' talents, and help everyone save money!

You should check and see if your neighborhood has a time bank already. If not, consider starting one! You can order a start-up kit for $50, and the only other costs is a $100 yearly subscription fee for the software (which, by the way, is stellar). If you charge each member an annual membership of $5 or $10, you won't actually lose any of your own money.

What an amazing way to procure vendors for your wedding! Photography, catering, floral design, sewing...the list goes on!

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Honeymoon Update

I am totally procrastinating from my real work and am instead indulging in planning fun.

I remembered that I bought Matt a book a few years ago called, Classic Hikes of the World. I figured that flipping through the photos would be a great way to find the heart-stopping beauty I was referencing earlier.

I played a little game with myself. I would look at the pictures, try to guess the location, and then confirm or revise my answer by reading the caption.

The first heart-stopping beauty I came upon was the John Muir Trail in Southern California. But, I've already been on the John Muir trail in Northern California, and I'm originally from Southern California, so that option was quickly ruled out.

And Canada. Wow. The Pacific Rim National Park in British Columbia is stunning. So are the Yoho and Kootenay National Parks in Alberta and British Columbia.

South America only had two entries, both of which were in Patagonia. It looks beautiful, of course, but everyone in the pictures looks dressed very warmly. A commentor on this site kindly informed me that Patagonia is, in fact, very cold. Hmph.

And then there was Hawaii. On the surface, it seems like a very trite honeymoon destination. I would even bet that it's the premier honeymoon destination for North Americans. My friend just returned from her honeymoon in Croatia, and that sounded much more unique.

But wow. In particular, my book highlighted the Na Pali Coast in Kauai. It's so lush. And so humbling. And heart-stopping. Besides, I would never prevent myself from doing something I wanted to do, just because others consider it cliched.

And then Carrie left a comment on the last post about her honeymoon in none other than Kauai. I didn't even think about the fresh fruit! (I honestly think I'm as addicted to fresh fruit as I am to raw cookie dough.)

There's a lot to consider. Honestly, I'm very glad I wasn't trying to plan this trip and the wedding at the same time. That would have been overload.

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Planning the Honeymoon

It's time to start planning Halloween and the honeymoon.

No, those two H's aren't related. Those just happen to be my next two projects, now that the wedding is over.

It only seems appropriate to talk about the honeymoon on this wedding-minded site, but I'm sure I will slip in Halloween once in a while.

The first thing I do when planning something is start with the end in mind. It's one of the seven habits of highly effective people, according to Stephen Covey. I think about my end goals. I think about what I want to say about the experience once it's over.

So, honeymoon:
  1. I want us to experience something new and exciting together. I want us to go somewhere we've never been.
  2. I want us to spend quality time together: reading, running, playing Scrabble. I imagine Matt doesn't want us to spend too much time traveling to different places. He likes to settle (although a train ride would be nice). And I can't bear the thought of going to a new country and only seeing one spot.
  3. I don't want to explore anything historical on this trip: no museums, no ruins, no tours.
  4. I want us to be surrounded by beauty. Stunning, heart-stopping beauty.
  5. I want us to be active: hiking, swimming, biking, strolling through quaint cities.
  6. I don't want to be cold.
  7. I want to eat good food.
  8. I want us to meet unique and interesting people.
  9. It would be great if we could make the world a little better through our travel (I hate being an obnoxious American consumer of other cultures.)
  10. It would be cool if we could learn something new by taking a craft or cooking class.
Hm...maybe Patagonia (see photo)? Maybe Italy? Canada? Hawaii?

I have accumulated more than 100,000 frequent flier miles over many years (from traveling for work), so that should certainly help us keep our expenses down.

Plus, our honeymoon is likely to be at the end of March or June, so we definitely have time to save.

And plan! I need to run my ideas by Matt and see what he says.

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Will your guests look forward to and remember your wedding?

A dear friend of mine was passing through Houston on Wednesday on her way home to Baton Rouge. We walked our dogs to a nearby cafe and settled onto the patio for some yummy vegetarian sandwiches on ciabatta bread.

Conversation eventually went toward the wedding (she was both a guest and the person who read that wonderful poem during the ceremony). She confessed that she hates weddings. She says they tend to be very trite and predictable. She said, however, that she hasn't been able to stop talking about our wedding. (Editor's Note: I do realize that the things she says to my face may not be the same things she says behind my back.) She said it was wonderful.

Then this morning, I read something on another wedding blog that got me thinking more. Guilty Secret (over on What Guilty and Baddie Do Next) expressed the following hope for her wedding: that her guests "will look forward to it, and dress up for it, and remember it."

Her hope seems like a pretty common one (although the extent to which I care whether my guests dress up is debatable). Even though a wedding should ultimately be about the couple making the commitment to each other, we also care about our guests--our dearest friends and family. We want them to look forward to it and remember it.

But what do we spend our time obsessing about? Flowers, our dress, shoes--oh my! There are entire blogs devoted to the "style" of a wedding.

Now, I'm not one to bash aesthetics. When I first move into a house, I have to get it organized right away because otherwise I feel completely out of whack. I even buy sticky notes with beautiful, crafty designs because I like looking at pleasing things and making people smile with beautified notes.

And I get the idea that decoration and design evoke feelings. And those feelings will affect our guests, too.

But I think we need to increase the conversation on how to plan a wedding that guests a) look forward to and b) remember.

I think part of the discussion needs to center on how to turn your wedding into an event, not just a ceremony and a reception. In my mind, "an event" means guests have many opportunities to connect with each other and have fun.

I've traveled to weddings where they provide you with a list of "Things to do" in their city. It's a nice touch, but it doesn't turn your wedding into an event. If you already have friends attending the wedding, then you hang out with them. You eat with them. You stay in the same hotel room. But no new connections are formed. You don't feel any closer to the couple or their other friends/family.

On the other hand, I was invited to a Louisiana wedding that included several activities to allow friends and family to mingle and form new connections. There was a swamp boat tour and a crawfish boil and some other things I can't quite remember.

Matt and I also wanted our closest friends and family to come together and get to know each other. With that goal in mind, we made several decisions that were designed to authentically build community.
  1. We looked closely at our guest list and tried to make sure that everyone knew at least one other person. We didn't want people to feel isolated.
  2. We booked an entire B&B and filled it with our friends and family. That way, if someone passed by someone else on their way to the main lodge, they knew it was one of our friends or family members. It also meant that we all ate breakfast together. Further, people were around when we started setting up, and they pitched in to help. They got to genuinely contribute to the experience and help make it happen.
  3. We purposefully picked a location that would appeal to people. The Colorado mountains are beautiful in the summer. Even though my family isn't particularly outdoorsy, they made a vacation out of it. They hiked and went horseback riding. My grandfather almost made it to a square-dancing lesson! Our friends took day trips into Rocky Mountain National Park to look for elk and waterfalls (see photo).
  4. We had a Welcome Picnic on Friday night instead of an exclusive reception dinner. We wanted everyone to be able to mingle before the wedding day. We also asked everyone to wear a name tag that listed three interesting things about them, in an attempt to spark meaningful conversation among guests. There were many different entertainment options (e.g., board games, a swing dancing lesson, volleyball/football, hot-tub, s'mores around the campfire, etc.) and many places to hang out (e.g., a living room, the kitchen, a patio, a deck, chairs outside, etc.).
I'm not saying everyone was friends by the end of the weekend (and, no, we didn't break into a round of Kum Ba Yah). There were still natural divisions between friends and family, between his friends and my friends, between his family and my family. But people definitely felt more comfortable and connected at our wedding, which goes a long way in making people "remember it."

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Making Less Waste

I just got an e-mail about a website that facilitates the buying and selling of used wedding goods. For example, you buy forty glass vases to use as centerpieces at your wedding. When it's over, you can't exactly put them to good use. So this site (and others like it) allow you to sell your goods.

It brings me back to three R's:
  1. Reduce
  2. Reuse
  3. Recycle
I love the fact that websites like these promote reusing. Reusing is way better than recycling. People tend to feel all high and mighty when they recycle plastic water bottles, for example, but think about how much energy goes into making, shipping, and recycling that bottle. It is much better to reuse the same water bottle--like a Nalgene, Sigg, or old juice bottle. The same goes for canvas grocery bags. Unless you reuse them as trash bags, there's really no reason to use anything but a canvas grocery bag. Reusing is much better than recycling.

But the same holds true for the other R: reducing is better than reusing. Before you buy 40 vases, perhaps you could ask yourself if you really need them? Do you need a centerpiece on every single table? What's the effect you're going for? Could it be accomplished in a less wasteful way? Could something you're using at the ceremony be reused at the reception?

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Dogs in the Wedding Ceremony

Yesterday's post featured a picture of our dog, Hoss, on his new dog bed. It reminded me of how amazing it was to have our dog with us throughout our wedding weekend. He's such an important part of our life, and we were so happy he got to meet all of our closest friends and family.

When Matt and I were first talking about getting a dog, my mom warned us against it. Even though she's an avid dog-lover herself, she explained that having a dog would severely dampen our spontaneous spirits. It definitely makes life more difficult at times (like finding a hotel during road trips), but the benefits certainly outweigh the drawbacks. We pretty much try to bring him with us wherever we go.

That's why he had to come to the wedding. Fortunately, the innkeepers at the reception site are also dog lovers, and their entire facility--Sunshine Mountain Lodge--is entirely open to dogs. They even let us borrow a stake and a rope (since 90% of bloodhounds cannot be let off the leash; they will catch a scent and be gone!).

Because Hoss is such a chill dog, he wasn't a hassle at all. He pretty much slept in the middle of everything. Plus, the old adage--"it takes a village"--was true at our wedding, too. Our friends and family helped look after Hoss and entertain him. Two of our guests also brought their dogs, so he had some canine company.

Hoss was even in the ceremony. Unfortunately (or, fortunately--depending on how you look at it), right when the ceremony started, Hoss threw up. Maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was all the grass he kept eating. Maybe his bandanna was too tight. Either way, it left all of us laughing and really lightened the mood. Hooray for comic relief! I love both children and dogs in wedding ceremonies because they add such a humane element. They keep it real (unless the kid is a brat; then it's just obnoxious).

I imagine that having our dog around throughout the entire wedding weekend helped keep us relaxed. Hoss really is like a therapy dog. It's soothing just running your hands through his soft ears. Plus, remembering to feed and take care of an animal during your wedding is one way to keep you from getting too self-centered!

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Q & A: The Budget Explained

Reader Question: I don't mean to throw a wrench in it but I didn't notice the cost of the rings in the budget breakdown. Did they turn out to be completely free because of the gold donations? Or did you forget them?

Matt and I decided at the very beginning of this process that our rings would not be included in our $2,000 budget. We felt like rings--unlike nearly everything else associated with a wedding--were something we would have for a lifetime (sure, you could have that $2,000 dress for a lifetime, but do you really want to store it for that long?).

However, to be true to our ideals and philosophy (i.e., save money for a house, do good for the environment, don't get wrapped up in the Wedding Industrial Complex or our consumeristic/materialistic society), we only spent $157 on our rings combined because greenKarat recycled and reused the donations of old gold from our friends and family. (Editor's Note: This is the price for two wedding bands. We decided against engagement rings, since we really only want to wear one ring for the rest of our lives.)

The budget also does not include our honeymoon. That's a relief because the Penske rental truck and the hotel in Oklahoma City (between Denver and Houston) were quite expensive! In all seriousness, we had to spend our savings on a house before a vacation. We're in the process of saving up for a honeymoon in the spring!

The +$60 for lodging could seem sketchy, so let me explain. Originally, our guests had two options for where to stay: 1) at Sunshine Mountain Lodge, the rustic B&B where the reception was held 2) at Meeker Park Lodge, another rustic B&B where the ceremony was held. Forty of our friends picked Sunshine Mountain Lodge, my family picked Meeker Park Lodge, and Matt's family wanted something a little more upscale, so they found their own resort called Marys Lake Lodge.

At the time, the price was $750 per night to rent out the entire Sunshine Mountain Lodge. We then set our own price for lodging. We decided on $35 per person/per night in the cabins and $25 per person/per night in the main lodge (which was more like a dorm). We felt like these were really reasonable prices (especially compared to what people usually pay for lodging at a wedding!).

We knew we would have money left over, but we weren't sure how much. We were uncertain about how many people would elect to stay at Sunshine Mountain Lodge. We were going to use the extra money to pay Cathy and Cory, the innkeepers, for their help during the reception. We hired them for six hours (at $50/hour) to set up the area, heat up the food, set it out, refill it, and clean it up. We wanted to be able to fully enjoy our reception and not worry about a thing. We also used the extra money to pay for our own lodging for the three nights we stayed at Sunshine (the other two nights we stayed with Matt's family). Finally, we used the money to cover the cost of lodging for two people who took on extraordinarily big jobs for the wedding (i.e., letting us borrow the sound system from his band and setting it up for us and picking up the kegs in Boulder and setting them up at the reception site).

When that was all said and done, we still had $60 left, which went back into the budget.

We also included thank-you cards and stamps in our wedding budget. We had lots of food & drink left (entire containers of vodka from the margaritas, unopened brownie mix boxes from the Welcome Picnic, unopened graham cracker boxes from the s'mores, etc.). One of our friends volunteered to take a lot of the unopened food boxes to a homeless shelter for us. But all of it is still included in our expenditures, since we bought this stuff specifically for the wedding.

The budget should include everything else that's typically associated with a wedding. If not, let me know! I tried to double, triple, quadruple check the thing, but there could still be a mistake.

E-mail your questions to: saracotner@yahoo.com

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wedding Porn Addictions

Have you ever read what the Victorians used to say about the pernicious effects of masturbation? This reprehensible act was referred to as "self-pollution" or a "secret vice." It was named as the cause for many diseases, such as "leucorrhoea, uterine haemorrhage, falling of the womb, cancer, functional disorders of the heart, spinal irritation, palpitation, hysteria, convulsions, haggard features, emaciation, debility, mania--many symptoms called nervous--un triste tableau."

I don't mean to wax Victorian here, but I will assert that constantly subjecting yourself to "wedding porn" is likely to cause all sorts of problems--if not physical, then definitely mental.

We do it because it's fun. It gives us ideas. It makes us smile. It helps pass the time. But--unlike masturbation--it really is bad for you. Looking at other people's wedding pictures all the time does more harm than it good. Seriously!

First, consistently gazing at other people's wedding choices makes you doubt your own. When you constantly compare your own stuff to other people's stuff (which is what happens in a materialistic society), you often feel like your stuff isn't good enough. You need to buy new stuff. Spend more money. Trade up.

Second, wedding pictures don't tell the whole story. Especially if the photos are taken by a professional photographer, they are constructed. They are purposefully taken to create a certain effect and evoke certain feelings. Sure the bride and groom look natural, content, and glowing. But on the inside, they are often thinking, "Enough already! Can't we just get to the reception?" or "If my mom and I get in one more fight I'm going to scream!"

Third, they convince us that every detail matters. When we see beautiful photos of the place settings or the bouquets, we prioritize these details. They suddenly seem so important. I'm sometimes embarrassed to post pictures of my own wedding because we didn't obsess about the details. Our cake table, for example, is covered with a dreadful plastic flower tablecloth that was thrown on by the amazing innkeepers at the B&B where the reception was held. It didn't affect the quality of our wedding one bit. And the fact that everything wasn't perfectly coordinated probably helped the whole event feel more down-to-Earth and comfortable. And the fact that I didn't worry about the tablecloth on our cake table meant that I had more time to write our ceremony, figure out how to help our guests feel more connected to each other with personalized name tags, make a quilt to represent the comforting support of our friends and family, create Matt's tie from old fabric, and write personalized notes on all the invitations.

But that doesn't change the fact that I feel like I'll be judged by the Wedding World for not having a Martha Stewart table. And it doesn't stop me from feeling jealous sometimes when I look at wedding porn.

I'm not suggesting that we ignore it all together.
After all, it's fun. It gives us ideas. It makes us smile. It helps pass the time. But we should limit ourselves to small doses!

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Genital Diversity in the Wedding Party

Yesterday, Ariel over at Offbeat Bride posted this picture of a wedding party. She loved the red-hot dresses, the tattoos, and the cute white shirts. I love the fact that there are both men and women on the groom's side. What a rarity!

I think the wedding party should be comprised of your nearest and dearest (tangent: no one should feel like an obligation!). But I'm always surprised to see wedding parties fall along very strict sex lines: girls on one side, boys on the other. It's reminds me of fifth-grade recess!

Of course it makes sense to be segregated like that if all the bride's closest friends/family really are female and all the groom's are male. I'm not suggesting that you fudge your relationships in order to get more genital diversity. But honestly, people, should your fiance's sister really be on your side?

I wonder if it's partly about aesthetics. Maybe some brides worry that it won't look as good because the outfits can't be as matchy-matchy.

What are your thoughts?

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An Almost $2,000 Wedding

Phew. All the number-crunching is done. After seven months of planning and five days of partying, the final spending tally is in: $2,012.

We only went over by $12 [insert huge sense of relief!].

At one point in the wedding process, a friend of mine--who was also planning a wedding at the time--asked, "Don't you think you're making yourself more stressed during this process because you have to worry about whether every single detail fits in your tight budget?"

To a certain extent, she was right. It was stressful trying to figure out how to host a Welcome Picnic for 80 people on $290. But it was also like a fun LSAT puzzle--trying to put all the pieces together, rearrange them, and make it work out.

Plus, there was a lofty purpose and goal attached. Matt and I wanted to pay for the whole thing ourselves because we wanted to make all the decisions ourselves. We had a hard enough time reaching consensus between the two of us. We didn't want to expand the circle of decision-makers to four or six or eight or ten (depending on whether grandparents got involved). And we truly wanted the wedding to represent us, not anyone else.

We also wanted to save money for our first house (the one we bought four days after our ceremony or two days after the wedding weekend was officially over). We acknowledged that our wedding was an important event because it only happens once (knock on wood) and it's a chance to bring so many friends and family together. We wanted everyone--our guests and ourselves--to have a splendid time.

However, we speculated that the less money we spent, the more fun our wedding would actually be for three primary reasons: 1) It would be a more casual and comfortable event (read: it would feel less like a show) and 2) Our guests would have to step up and help out, which would bring us all closer and help them feel more involved and 3) Our strict budget would prevent us from stressing about inane details. We'd have to cut stuff out, and we would have to be okay with it. We couldn't get lured in by the Wedding Industrial Complex.

We were up for the challenge of making our event special with sincerity, rather than money.

Of course it all sounded well and good during the planning process, but I was nervous about the actual implementation. I was worried that people wouldn't follow-through on their jobs or the homemade food wouldn't taste good.

But once the wedding weekend started, it was smooth sailing. We got to spend serious quality time with our friends and family: hiking, horseback riding, chillin' on the porch eating homemade breakfast, soaking in the hot-tub, playing board games, dancing under an almost-full moon, chopping tomatoes for salsa/guacamole/seven-layer dip.

Our friends stepped up to the challenge of helping us pull off a wedding. They alleviated any stress I might have felt. It wasn't on my shoulders; we were doing it together.

Our $2,000 goal was an arbitrary one (early on in the planning process, I suggested we increase it to $2,500, which would be 10% of the average American wedding). What mattered is that it was an amount we felt comfortable spending on one event. It was an amount that forced us to cut out the fluff (oh, how I wanted those photo stamps!), focus on what matters, and not get caught up in all the insanity that surrounds wedding planning. It was an amount that could get paid off in full every time our credit card bills came around (and left our savings in tact so we could buy a house). It was an amount that left the creative control in our hands and ensured that our wedding was the fullest expression of us and our love.

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Tip #3: Ideas for Building Successful Relationships

Matt and I tend to bicker when we're tired. Unfortunately, we've been tired a lot because our dog, Hoss, has been rustling around on his new bed all night long (new house anxiety?).

When we're tired and arguing, we have a tendency to go around in circles. It's really quite frustrating. He'll state his argument. I'll argue with his argument. He'll argue with my argument. Sometimes we're arguing about nothing. When that happens, we're pretty good about cutting ourselves off by saying, "We're both really tired; let's go to sleep."

Sometimes, though, we're arguing about real stuff--real frustrations or resentment. Last night it occurred to me that we should use one of the techniques I taught my 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders when I taught at a public Montessori school last year. Basically, when an argument goes around and around, one person stops and asks, "What do you need me to do so you can feel better about this?" The person lists his/her needs, and the other person tries very hard to commit to them. Then it flips and the process reverses.

It's simple, but I think it's a great way to shift the conversation from reactive to proactive. Instead of wallowing in misery, you refocus on concrete next steps for fixing the problem.

Find all tips here

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Q & A: Beyond the Unity Candle

Reader Question: "We like the idea of having something symbolic happen at the wedding like the unity candle, but we don't like the message of the unity candle. I'm wondering if you--or your readers--have any great ideas for alternatives to the unity candle... we're thinking something that symbolizes our two lives coming together--but not becoming one..."

Great question! Last summer, I went to a very traditional wedding.

It was a classic wedding: stained-glassed windows coloring and diffusing the light, the priest commanding the audience with his noble presence, the flowers framing the scene, the bride and groom posing picturesquely.

And next to me in the pew was a fellow guest, bent over his cell phone, sending text messages to his friend.

Although texting is, by far, pretty high on the thermometer of wedding rudeness (up there with playing tic-tac-toe on the wedding program or having a thumb war with your date), his obvious disengagement left me wondering: How many people are equally bored with the ceremony but just too polite to do anything but look forward and smile blithely?

And to the ceremony’s credit, there was nothing explicitly wrong with it. There were readings and vows and a kiss—the things that make a wedding a wedding. But they were all the familiar things: With this ring, I thee wed. Love is patient, love is kind. To have and to hold from this day forward.

Once you’re in your twenties or thirties and have heard the clich├ęd phrases for the twentieth or thirtieth time, your brain loses focuses and starts to wonder, “How much longer until the reception starts?”

When it came time to plan my own wedding, I didn’t want to fall into the same trap. I didn’t want my guests sneaking Suduko into the ceremony.

I wanted a ceremony that engaged the audience—that inspired them to listen and reflect. I wanted them to think “Wow, that was great,” rather than, “Thank goodness that was short.”

That's why Matt and I decided to write our ceremony from scratch (you can read all about that process here). 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.

  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.
  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.
Yes, we worried that we would freak out our families (Matt's is Irish-Catholic and mine is Presbyterian). And honestly, my grandfather declined the request to speak for two minutes during our wedding. But in the end, people said it was so beautiful and sincere (even our families).

Just today, for example, I got a message from one of our friends. He wrote: "The wedding was, without exception, the most personalized one I've ever been to (and I've been to 6 this summer alone). Simply fantastic."

Creating our own traditions was such a powerful experience. It's funny to me that people spend more time thinking about their dresses than they do their ceremonies. Case in point: 250 people have come to this blog looking for "wedding script" while 350 have come looking for "dress."

Very interesting.

Dearest readers, we would love to hear your ideas for other symbolic ceremony rituals. Great topic!

E-mail your questions to: saracotner@yahoo.com

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Tip #2: Ideas for Building Successful Relationships

As much as I love the idea behind self-help literature (i.e., you can and should work to improve yourself on a daily basis), I often can't stomach its cheesiness and the way it disgraces real literature.

Sometimes, however, I can have my cake and eat it, too--just by reading the back of the book, the Table of Contents, and the introduction.

That was the case with the book: The Five Languages of Love. The author argues there are five primary languages of love and it's important to learn which language you speak and which your partner speaks. If you speak different languages, it's particularly important to learn how to "speak" to the other person in ways that make them feel valued, loved, and appreciated.

Without further ado, here are the five languages:
  1. Words of Affirmation: You feel loved when people tell you or write to you about why they appreciate and love you.
  2. Quality Time: You feel loved when people make time to hang out with you.
  3. Physical Touch: You feel loved when people hug, cuddle, and are physically affectionate with you.
  4. Acts of Service: You feel loved when people do things to show their love for you (e.g., get you a glass of water, make the bed, etc.), things that are typically your responsibility.
  5. Receiving Gifts: You feel loved when someone cares enough to think about you and express their love through tangible gifts.
Of course all of these ways feel great, and we are certainly a combination of various languages, but most people find themselves strongly identifying with one of them.

One of my couple friends had issues because they both spoke in different love languages. One of them needed her partner to spend quality time with her in order to feel loved. Instead, the other partner showed love by doing acts of service. So one person was always up doing something to show love, while the other person just wanted to sit down and be together. Argh!

I just hope people don't spend too much time obsessing about wedding details that they neglect to do the important work of continuing to grow their relationships.

Find other tips here

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Q & A: Wedding Tableware

Reader Question: The idea of using paper plates for serving food outdoors, picnic-style, really pains me. I would hate to have bags and bags of trash full of paper plates and napkins and other nasty plastic-ware. Any ideas on how to get around this?

The tableware issue was tricky for us. Most people insist on having real tableware because it's classier and they can't imagine their weddings being anything but classy. For Matt and me, we weren't striving for classy. We were striving for comfortable and connected.

However, we, too, wanted real tableware because it's better for the environment. It takes a lot more energy to produce throw-away products and then a heck of a lot of landfill space to store them for the next thousand years or so, as opposed to the energy it takes to run real tableware through the dishwasher.

Unfortunately, our venue didn't have quite enough real tableware, and Matt and I quickly vetoed the idea of renting some. We tried to avoid wedding vendors as much as possible, just to cut down on our own stress and the need to follow-through with said vendors to make sure they were going to follow-through. We were also holding ourselves to a very strict budget so we could a) afford the down payment on the house we bought four days after our wedding and b) resist the urge to get crazy-obsessed about details.

In the end, it worked out well for us (although myriad other options could've worked out, too). We decided to seek out biodegradable plastic wear. Our reception venue volunteered to set up composing bins (and take it all to the recycling center when it was over). We made signs for everything, as well as cloth napkins (simply by using pinking sheers to cut fabric into squares).

Yes, we did have big trashcans full of stuff, but it felt good knowing that it was at least compostable. It was also a great way for us to model our values. Many of our guests didn't even realize you could compost food, yet alone special biodegradable tableware. One of our friends even said the wedding weekend inspired her to start composting!

It also helped our wedding weekend feel casual and comfortable, which is what we were striving for. Our assumption was that people would have more fun and enjoy themselves more if they were comfortable. Our second assumption was that the more casual an event, the more comfortable most people would feel. Those assumptions worked out for our wedding. (Not to mention the fact that I felt completely composed and relaxed through the entire ceremony and reception, which seems to be a real rarity for most brides, based on other blogs I've read.)

Obviously, many people aren't going for the comfortable and casual thing when it comes to their weddings. The trick is to figure out what you are going for--What do you want guests to think and feel?--and then make the smaller decisions that align with that end goal. It's important, though, to figure that out on a macro-level first. If you start applying that strategy to all the smaller details, you'll lose sight of the bigger, more important things that really matter. A wedding should be about community, connection, and commitment, not tableware.

E-mail your questions to: saracotner@yahoo.com

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Wedding Thank-You Cards

The thank-you cards arrived from Snapfish. Hooray!

The collage of photos looks great. A few of the pictures are super-small, but we just couldn't cut any more out of the final selection.

The best part is that I'm actually looking forward to writing notes to my friends and family to thank them for making the trek to Colorado. I imagine Matt and I will do the same thing we did on our invitations: split the writing space in half and each write a little note to the recipient. It creates twice as much work, but it's worth it in my book. At least we kept the guest list to a manageable minimum, so it won't be too time-consuming!

P.S. All the guests are getting thank-you cards, not just those who came bearing gifts. This is a wedding pet-peeve of mine. I think it's important to acknowledge that people who spend hundreds of dollars to get themselves to the wedding are, in fact, giving a "gift."

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Non-Cheesy, Non-Trite Wedding Poems

My friend, Brent, left a message on my voicemail this morning, pontificating about the name-changing dilemma. Apparently he doesn't read this blog, or else he would not have recapped the same dilemmas I already delineated. That's really okay; I don't think any of us should read wedding blogs on a daily basis!

Anyway, his rambling about two people coming together to start a life together, reminded me of the amazing Alice Walker poem my friend, Laura, read at our wedding:

Beyond What
Alice Walker

We reach for destinies beyond
what we have come to know
and in the romantic hush
of promises
perceive each
the other's life
as known mystery.
Shared. But inviolate.
No melting. No squeezing
into One.
We swing our eyes around
as well as side to side
to see the world.

To choose, renounce,
this, or that --
call it a council between equals
call it love.

She went on to say:

"I love this poem for the way it departs from one convention of weddings. There is a moment in most ceremonies that leaves me a little mournful: the one when it's pronounced that two amazing individuals, each of whom I love separately, have become One. It makes it seem as if love's ultimate effect is to reduce by half the number of wonderful people in the world, and I'm pretty sure that we can't spare them. I prefer to think of it as a pooling of resources; a collaboration that will allow each of you to better reach for destinies beyond what we have come to know.

Today, in my mind, rather than melting, rather than squeezing into one, your vow is to forever amplify one another's unique capacity to live well, to engender beauty, to nurture justice, to generate love. Thinking of it this way allows me to celebrate without reserve this most inspiring and joyful council between equals. My wish is that the destinies for which you together reach will enrich your own lives and spirits and immensely as they already do ours, you beautiful two."
Ah, I get teary-eyed re-reading her words. What a powerful message. The most amazing part is that Matt and I had no idea what she was going to say (or what any of our five speakers were going to say, for that matter). Here's what we told them:

"We were wondering if you would be willing to speak for two minutes during our wedding ceremony. Matt and I want to have five of our favorite friends and family members say something (it's kind of like a Quaker wedding, except that we're limiting the number of people and we're asking you in advance).

There are very few parameters involved. You could read a poem or a book excerpt, tell a story about Matt and me, give wedding advice, talk metaphorically, pontificate about love..kind of like a toast.

You could even go under two minutes if you want (and perhaps a little over two minutes if someone else wants to go under; we'll have to see how it goes).

I want you to feel free to say no if you'd rather not speak. If it makes you anxious, you'll dread the wedding, and that would not be a good thing.

Let me know what you think (and if the answer is yes, let me know if you want less than two minutes).

Hoping you feel more honored than annoyed,


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