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

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Your Help

I get lots of e-mails with prefaces like, "My budget was over $2,000 but..." They always make me a little sad. I want to look the person in the eye and say, "You don't have to preface your idea/insight/question by explaining your budget! I know that different couples work to find budgets that work for them. And besides, the budget is just one piece of planning a meaningful and memorable wedding without losing your savings or sanity."

When Matt and I started this blog back in December of 2007, we named it 2000 Dollar Wedding because we wanted to use our budget to prevent us from kowtowing to the wedding machine. If we only had $2,000 to spend, there was no way we could become convinced that we absolutely needed chair covers. Wedding magazines featuring $2,000 dresses? Useless. It meant that we had to ignore all the consumer static that surrounds weddings and instead focus on what really mattered to us. It meant that we had to get creative and tap into our friends and family in a way that strengthened community and made the whole thing a lot more fun.

Our budget became our personal challenge. Then, when we decided to move from Denver to Houston right after our wedding, our budget became a necessity. Although we could have spent more of our savings on our wedding, we wanted to funnel those funds into a down payment for our first house.

We could have tapped into the generous support of Matt's family, but factoring in the opinions and preferences of family members is hard enough without actually giving away decision-making power by accepting financial contributions from others.

In the end, we did manage to stick to our budget. But our wedding experience (and the wedding experiences of others who continue to inspire this blog) is bigger than just our budget. It's about community, commitment, connection, and fun. It's about tying the knot in a meaningful and memorable way without losing your savings or sanity. It's about starting with the big picture of what you want your wedding experience to be and planning backwards from that vision (instead of dwelling in too many details and completely stressing yourself out). It's about resisting all the pressures that tell us what a wedding HAS TO BE and instead creating a wedding that is what we want it to be. It's about planning a wedding that strengthens your relationship and marriage instead of overshadows it.

So, long story short, I'm thinking about renaming this blog to capture all of that and I need your help. If you have any ideas for new titles, please e-mail me. You are seriously smart and creative people, and I would very much appreciate your input!

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Creating What We Need

Image courtesy of Sabrina Ward Harrison

I'm currently enrolled in a Mondo Beyondo course about living the dreaming life. I came across this quote that I keep going back to again and again:
"We must create what we most need to find."--Sabrina Ward Harrison
As I think about what I most need in my life (community, connection, joy, analytical and passionate conversation, parties under the stars, pure food from the earth, meaningful work, friendship, love, family, picnics, blue skies and trees, creating, writing, and neighborhood interdependence), I am reminded that our weddings are an opportunity to create what we most need to find.

What do you most need to find?

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Monday, March 29, 2010

How to DJ Your Own Wedding with an iPod

Matt and I decided to DJ our own wedding reception with an iPod for several reasons:
  • A $2,000 budget does not leave much room to hire a band or even a DJ.
  • We've been annoyed with DJs at wedding receptions in the past*.
  • Matt loves music and was excited about the opportunity to pick all the songs.
  • We thought that eliminating as many wedding vendors as possible would help eliminate a lot of the stress of wedding planning. We would have to do less searching, less interviewing, less haggling, less following-up, less worrying about their reliability.

However, DJing our own wedding was no walk in the park. It took careful planning and follow-through. Here's the step-by-step process we went through (plus a few things I wish we would have done):
  1. Figure out a way to project the sound professionally. I love dancing and wanted our wedding reception to evolve into a thumping, jumping, full-blown p-a-r-t-y. However, I worried that with anything less than professional sound equipment we would have trouble corralling enough energy and interest for true, get-down dancing. In the process of researching options for renting such equipment, we realized that we had a friend in a band. Matt contacted him, and Nick agreed to let us borrow his stuff for the night. He also volunteered to be in charge of transporting it, setting it up, and breaking it down. There are lots of rental companies out there, plus lots of amateur musicians have really nice equipment. Also, a post on Craigslist might turn up some interesting leads.
  2. Create separate play lists. Once the speaker situation was settled, Matt got to work with creating the play lists. He created a pre-ceremony play list (since a quartet was also not in the budget), a post-ceremony play list, a dinner play list, and a dance party play list. I think coming up with play lists is one of the most difficult parts, but there's no right or wrong answer to the question of what to play. We started with the music we liked and thought about which specific songs would create the kind of ambiance we were going for. We used music we already had in our iTunes library, as well as the website Hypem or Elbows to download songs we didn't have already. There are lots of free resources out there that include lists of suggested songs.
  3. Match the arc of the evening to the arc of the music. One of the reasons why DJs are a potentially appealing option is because they can be skilled at matching music to the mood and using the music to further shape the mood. With the absence of such an omnipotent observer, you have to take matters into your own hands by anticipating the arc of the evening and creating songs that align with that arc. For example, we started our dinner mix with relaxing yet upbeat music. By the time we wanted the dancing to start, we switched it up. We decided to start with a few classic, popular dance tunes to get people out on the floor early. We also folded slow songs into the mix to give people time to rest. The good news is that you don't have to stress out too much about this process because you can always advance to different songs throughout the evening, if needed, to match the energy of the crowd.
  4. Plan way more music than you think you need and bring a back-up iPod. It's better to be safe than sorry. We created really long play lists and then brought a back-up iPod in case something went wrong. We made sure to write these items on our centralized "To Bring" list, so we didn't forget them in the stress of packing.
  5. Plan any intros or transitions. We wanted someone to introduce our "first dance," so we asked Nick to do the honors. After that, we didn't think it was necessary to include any other transitions. However, you could easily insert your own transitions by creating your own mp3's (such as "This song goes out to Grandma.")
  6. Clearly establish roles and responsibilities in advance. Who is responsible for bringing the speakers? What time will they bring them? Where exactly will they need to be set up? How many outlets are required? Will any additional cords need to be provided? Who is bringing the iPod? And the back-up? What time should the music start? Who presses the play button? Answering these questions (and any others) will ensure smooth execution.
  7. When you've planned everything, let go and completely immerse yourself in the moment. You don't want your wedding to fly by, and you don't want to be a stress ball. Once you've planned everything that is in your control, surrender to the universe and truly experience the sheer loveliness of bringing together your nearest and dearest to witness and celebrate your commitment. Even if there is a major snafu, trust that someone will figure out a solution and it will all work out in the end. It might even interject some good comic relief and provide everyone with something to remember. Case in point: the power went out at my friends' wedding, and some of her former students banded together and started singing. It was very moving and memorable.

Overall, we were really pleased with our DIY iPod wedding reception. The dance party was a blast. The money we saved (and diverted toward a down payment two days after our wedding weekend) was definitely worth it. Plus, we had a great experience working with our friend, Nick, and he seemed to feel even more connected to the experience because he played an integral role in it.

However, here are some things I wish we would have done:
  1. Get really, really good dance songs. We had some good dance songs, but most of the music we listen to is not dance-inspiring. I wish we would have gathered more really classic songs (I'm thinking back to my middle school days in the rollerskating rinks). If we had known about programs that let you download other people's music libraries, that would have been a really good option for getting good music for free.
  2. Get suggestions from friends. I love the trend of asking friends and family to request songs on their RSVPs. We could have easily done this with our online RSVPs, but it didn't occur to us. I think it's a fun way to build community and connection.
  3. Decide what your policy is for touching the iPod. Matt and I didn't figure out our policy before the wedding, and we ended up having a particular friend who didn't like our choice in music. She tried to use our iPod to achieve her own musical agenda during the reception. In retrospect, I wish we would have secured the iPod beneath a sheet of paper (with edges taped down) that read, "Please respect our wishes and keep away from the iPod." It could be fun to let your guests interact with the iPod if you decide that's what you want, but for us, it ended up feeling really scattered when our friend would change the music and we would change it back.

I wholeheartedly recommend the DIY iPod wedding reception route for a variety of reasons, and I would love to hear your suggestions and questions in the comment section!

*I am in no way suggesting that all DJs are annoying. In fact, there seem to be really cool ones out there.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pictures from Our Honeymoon

I just came upon these pictures from our honeymoon to Greece last year, taken by one of our travel companions, Alice.

We mainly spent our days sailing around the Mediterranean, but one day we rented a car and drove around one of the islands. We spotted an old, abandoned church at the top of a hill and decided to climb the mountain. Then we spotted an old, rickety ladder and decided to climb the church!

Good times. I can't wait to go on our next Annual Adventure this summer. We're still debating between Kauai and British Columbia...

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Making Conscious Choices

When planning a wedding, there can be a lot of pressure to follow a particular formula, to adhere to a set of "traditions" that have been passed down through many generations. Sometimes these "traditions" are things we've been looking forward to incorporating into our weddings for a while. Other times, they can feel like shackles--uncomfortable binds that prevent us from moving freely and being our true selves.

When we're planning our weddings, it can be easy to get caught up in the pressure to plan the wedding of somebody else's dreams. The truth is, the control is largely in our own hands. We have to enter into the process consciously. Of course there will be lots of conversation, conversion, and compromise needed. But at the end of the day, the vision, values, taste, and preferences embodied in our weddings should be ours, not everyone else's.

Books like One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding or this article (thanks, Sophie!) can be get places to turn to for a reminder that there are real economic forces at work trying to persuade us to have more and more expensive weddings. The truth of the matter is that the things we purchase for our weddings may or may not be connected to our more authentic reasons for getting married: community, connection, commitment, and fun. The choice is ours, and we can make those choices consciously.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Q & A: Family Drama

Reader Question: I would love to have a wedding like yours. To me, a great wedding would be where our friends and family (about 40 people) are with us for a couple days (similar situation to yours where guests can stay at the reception site), we're all together cooking our own food and everyone's having fun and laughing playing card/board/video games. I see beautiful wedding photos, yours included, where everyone is having fun, laughing, looking great. Things look effortlessly wonderful. Then reality kicks in.

We just spent Christmas vacation with his parents, and I'm not really fond of his dad. I don't think his dad and my dad would get along. Like to the point if his dad said some of the things he said around us in front of my dad, there might be yelling. (His dad is racist and sexist and I really can't stand it, but I don't think it's my place to correct him, so I at least try to ignore him or not encourage it.) I inevitably argue with my mom whenever I see her. I don't have that many close friends and even with my best friends, I'm not as close to them as they are to each other. I don't really talk to my brothers (not that there's anything bad between us). All of that leads to a not very social person, without the connections you seemed to have with everyone at your wedding. Everyone will be coming from out of state, so I want to make sure their trips are worth it.

So when I really picture our wedding, I think of having to avoid and ignore his dad, do everything I can not to fight with my mom while trying to be something I think I'm terrible at: a good party thrower and host. It makes me want to run away from all of it. (My boyfriend's the one who wants to have a wedding, not me.) It's not that the ideas we have aren't us, or me, or are things that make me feel uncomfortable, it's that I don't see any way to get the outcome (happiness, fun) I want for our wedding. It seems so simple, but in my mind I can't think of how to achieve it.

Yes, the underbelly of wedding planning. Too bad it's not all flowers, taffeta, and centerpieces!

I think one of the keys to making it through the tumult of wedding planning (and life, for that matter) is to draw a big, fat line between the things you can control and the things you can't. Once the line is drawn, you should focus only on the things that are on the Can-Control side of the line.

You can't control the relationship between your dad and your father-in-law. You can't control the type of person your mother is. You ultimately can't control whether people have fun at your wedding (you can do everything within your power to set up a fun environment, but you can't actually make them have fun).

It's very liberating to free yourself from being responsible for the things that are beyond your control. It also frees up a whole lot of energy to start thinking about the things you can control.

You might want to consider these questions:
  1. What can you do to strengthen the friendships you have? More frequent phone conversations can go a long way in terms of helping you reconnect.
  2. What can you do to make new friendships?
  3. What can you do to distance your problem relatives from you at the wedding? One idea is to select a B&B that is only big enough to accommodate your friends and then find alternate accommodations for family.
  4. What can you do ensure that you don't feel like a "party thrower and host" at your wedding, if those are roles you're not comfortable with? Although I love planning parties, I don't actually like being the center of attention. (This post talks more about not wanting to be the center of attention at your own wedding.)
  5. What can you do to prevent drama at your wedding? First, talk to your dad to prepare him for potential interactions with your father-in-law. Take the opportunity to express to your dad how important it is that the situation doesn't devolve into yelling or anger. Also, consider minimizing your interaction with your mom. If that won't work, make a personal resolution to let the things she says or does roll off your back. Again, you can't control your mom, but you can absolutely control your reaction to your mom.
  6. Are you going to be ready to let it all go once your wedding day arrives? There's a lot that you can control about the wedding planning process, but once the actual day arrives, you have to let it all go and immerse yourself in the moment.
If you think through all these considerations and still can't get excited about your own wedding, then I highly recommend you talk to your partner about coming up with a different plan. You don't have to follow anyone else's wedding formula, if you don't think it's going to work for you.

Wishing you the very best...

(2000dollarwedding kindred spirits, please jump in and share your insight!)

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring Break

Ya-hoo! Matt and I had a rompin' Wild West adventure last week for spring break. I say "ya-hoo" because it's a phrase we picked up from a seven year-old we saw at The Gage Hotel. We watched him walk out of the hotel, jump on a lion statue, and shout (with the most endearing Texas accent), "Ya-hoo!" Matt and I have been saying it ever since.

Our trip started on Sunday. We didn't leave earlier in the weekend because I really wanted time to finish up my work, so I could be entirely free during our vacation, and Matt was eager to play in his soccer game on Sunday. At the last minute, we learned that we couldn't take our bloodhound, Hoss, into Big Bend National Park with us, so I had to take him to Camp Canine.

After a brief spat with each other (we were both irritated about various things), we drove six hours to Uvalde, a small Texas town that offers concealed handgun classes for a mere $25. We checked into a cheap hotel and attempted to swim. We quickly realized, however, that the pool was quite arctic, and that we would rather cozy up under the comforter and watch the National Geographic station (which, by the way, was showing an amazing special about sperm).

The next morning we indulged in the delicious free breakfast (they actually had a waffle iron that made Texas-shaped waffles!) and headed west. Thanks to my iPhone, we realized that we were heading into some nasty weather and that it might not make sense to camp at Big Bend that night. Again, thanks to my trusty iPhone, I booked us a room at a very fancy hotel for a mere $97. We indulged in the most scrumptious veggie burgers we'd eaten in a long time and started a game of Scrabble. We also stopped by the local book store, and I wrote down some books I want to read. Specifically, This Organic Life and Farm City.

The next morning, we headed into Big Bend. The weather was still sub-optimal, but we were eager to camp. As we entered the park, we saw a sign that indicated all the camp sites were full. Fight #2 ensued as we debated about what to do. Finally, we decided to stand in line for a primitive camping permit, even though our chances were looking quite abysmal.

Much to the shock of the obsessive planner that dwells within my head, a spot opened up at a primitive campsite right when it was our turn in line. The ranger booked us in the spot quickly, and gave us the run-down about what to do in case of mountain lion and bear spottings.

We trekked approximately 1.5 miles to our campsite and set up shop. Our spot was completely secluded from the main trail and also secluded from the side trail it was on. Heavenly! After ditching our heavy packs, we continued to follow the South Rim trail for about 12 miles. Then we hiked back down for dinner at the lodge. That night, we barely slept due to the frigid temperatures and the fact that my Therm-a-Rest had a dreadful hole in it, and I essentially had to sleep on the rocky ground. Ouch! No worries. The night sky completely made up for our discomfort. I've never seen so many stars. God bless rural Texas!

The next day, we headed to Marfa, the artist mecca of rural Texas. We ate at the Food Shark, imbibed delicious drinks at Squeeze, got our burning questions answered at the Chamber of Commerce, met Lorna Leedy of Fancy Pony Land fame, and relaxed at our B&B. That night, we journeyed up the mountain to the McDonald Observatory and then to the platform of the mysterious Marfa Lights.

At some point, we stopped along the highway to take photos in the Blue Bonnets. Anyone from Texas understands that it is very important to take annual photos in the wildflowers.

The next day, we ended our trip by driving all the way home. Matt then headed to Austin to hang out with his brothers and friends at South by Southwest. I flew to New York for a consulting job.

The trip reminded me of how lucky I am to have found my Partner in Adventure and Awesomeness. He makes me laugh. He challenges me. His hand always feels good in mine. I'm trying my best to savor this time in our life. We're healthy. We have complete mobility. We have energy. We can drop our dog off at Camp Canine and head west into the sunset.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Ideas for Having Fun at a Wedding

One of the best weddings I've ever been to was at a Children's Museum. It was simply so much fun to play with the bubble machines, climb on the vertical mazes (see photo above), and talk into the echo-tubes.

Matt and I also wanted to saturate our wedding with fun, beyond the standards: drinking, eating, and dancing (although we definitely wanted those, too!). Over the course of two days (both our reception and the Welcome Picnic on Friday), we incorporated the following fun activities:

1. Cooking S'mores around a campfire
2. Soaking in a hot-tub
3. Playing volleyball
4. Offering a swing dance lesson
5. Playing board games (e.g., Jenga, Scrabble, Uno)
6. Playing horseshoes

I keep adding to a list for other couples who want to introduce an element of fun into their weddings, too:

7. Taking pictures in a photobooth
8. Playing lawn games (e.g., Bocce Ball, Croquet, Badminton, Horseshoes, etc.)
9. Jumping on pogo sticks
10. Having a hula-hooping contest
11. Doing a scavenger hunt
12. Playing BINGO
13. Hosting a talent show
14. Hiring a fortune teller, palm reader, etc.
15. Playing middle school games (e.g., tetherball, kickball, dodgeball, hopscotch, four-square, etc.)
16. Playing ping-pong or pool
17. Competing for prizes (e.g., potato sack race, bean-bag toss, etc.)
18. Making big bubbles
19. Playing card games (e.g., poker, rummy, hearts, uno)
20. Playing Frisbee golf
21. Playing charades or pictionary
22. Renting an air-hocking table
23. Offering chair massages
24. Busting open a pinata
25. Eating fondue
26. Making crafts at a craft table
27. Renting a juke-box
28. Playing casino games
29. Sidewalk chalk
30. Graffiti wall
31. Hosting a parade
32. Contradancing
33. Renting a segway

Please add any additional ideas in the comments!

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Q & A: Scaling Back

Reader Question: I wanted to tell you how grounding and lovely it is to read your blog. I wish I had found it when I was rushing and panicking and trying to accommodate my selfish and frustrating family's needs. I can only assume your family is totally awesome and therefore all your 'in-between' times were actually filled with joy rather than witnessing pursed lips and whispers under people's [mom's] breath.

I also wish I had stuck to my guns [we should just have paid for it all ourselves] and not made it so that I needed my family's help. But now I am stuck with a big fat wedding in a space I LOVE with the man I love, and I am grateful for that and now want to figure out how to get the easy feeling I so wanted with this wedding to begin with. Any thoughts on how to scale back after I have already jumped in to the 4500K space and the 150 ppl guest list?

Any thoughts would be much appreciated!

First of all, truly appreciate everything that's going well! The space you love + the man you love = Awesomeness!

Second, I suggest you go back to the very beginning and talk with your partner about what your vision for your wedding is. When you say you wanted an "easy feeling," what do you mean by that?

The big picture is the best place to start. Once you have the end vision in mind, you can then work backwards to plan all the smaller steps that align with the end. It sounds like two of the major pieces have already been decided (the location and the guest list), but there's still a ton of stuff that is within your circle of influence. Plus, it's never too late to "scale back."

If by "easy feeling" you mean relaxed and fun, you can certainly still create that feeling through your food choice, your seating arrangement, the music, the flow of events, the formality of the attire, etc.

Dearest Readers, do you have any other words of wisdom?

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Book Recommendation

Matt and I have entered the "pre-mester." Translation: In less than three months, we will probably start trying to have a baby. (Keep in mind, we fully understand that having a baby can take years. The only thing we can decide on is when we want to start trying.) Editor's Note: Don't worry, this is not turning into a baby blog. That's what Feeding the Soil is for (well, kind of).

Anyway, this post is not about pregnancy or babies. It's about a book you should consider reading in order to strengthen your relationship with your significant other.

The book is called And Baby Makes Three: The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance After Baby Arrives. I'm more than half way through the book, and I find that it's honestly not very focused on the baby part at all. It's about how to strengthen your relationship during times of stress (which may be a baby or may be something else--like planning a wedding).

The book shares lots of good strategies like how to "cool down your conflicts," "soften how you bring up a problem," "calm down by self-soothing," "compromise," and "the importance of repair." I've been practicing a lot of these strategies for the past year and a half, but it's a good review to hear them again.

I'm definitely in the Marriage-Takes-Conscious-Work club.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Club: Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

I'm delighted to kick off the first ever 2000dollarwedding book club discussion about Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert. You all are such an insightful and smart bunch--I just wish we were discussing this book in person over chocolate fondue!

I chose this book for a couple reasons. First, I'm a big fan of hybrid genres. I am engaged by narratives injected with interesting factoids and tangents. I also wanted to immerse myself in the topic of marriage. Before I head too far down the baby path, I want to spend sufficient time holding marriage in the palm of my hand, savoring it, and investigating its nooks and crannies.

All in all, I'm glad I read the book, although I'm not going to gush about it. I'd give it three out of five stars.

Here were my major take-aways:
  1. We should enter into marriage with seriousness and gravity. She says, "I had jumped into my first marriage, at the totally unfinished age of twenty-five, much the same way that a Labrador jump into a swimming pool-with exactly that much preparation and foresight" (19). Now, I'm not saying there's some sort of age cut-off as far as being prepared for marriage goes, but I do believe that we should enter into the commitment much more consciously. There are so many forces at work that can easily distract us from the seriousness of the undertaking: centerpieces, cake-toppers, hair pieces--oh my! It's sometimes hard to clearly see the Marriage through all the Wedding static. Getting married is a big, big deal. It's a commitment that changes the path of your life--for better or worse. It deserves more forethought and consideration.
  2. The poetry. Something about Elizabeth Gilbert irks me. I can't quite put my finger on it (perhaps I subconsciously know what it is but won't admit it to myself because I realize that what I don't like about her is probably something that I don't like about myself--thanks Carl Jung). However, I do love the way she can serve up poetic phrases like stuffed mushrooms at a cocktail party. For example, she said, "Flopping in the meantime from country to country, we came to resemble nothing more than an insomniac couple trying to find a restful sleeping position in a strange and uncomfortable bed" (22). I find her prose enjoyable to digest.
  3. Breaking off into smaller and smaller family units can put a strain on our marriages. I loved her discussion of the Hmong people. They structure their families and clans much more broadly, and they don't expect their partners to be their everything--"your best friend, your most intimate confidant, your emotional advisor, your intellectual equal, your comfort in times of sorrow" (32). When I was dating and scouring the planet for my one true soul mate, I had unrealistic expectations about finding a partner who would fulfill all of my needs. As Gilbert describes: "For the first time in my life, it occurred to me that perhaps I was asking too much of love. Or, at least, perhaps I was asking too much of marriage. Perhaps I was loading a far heavier cargo of expectation onto the creaky old boat of matrimony than that strange vessel had ever been built to accommodate in the first place." Although Matt does fulfill many, many of my needs, I still need to analyze life with my best friend Andy and talk educational policy with my friend Brent and brainstorm next steps with my friend Alisa. I don't expect Matt to complete me; we both continue to make connections outside our marriage in order to to live whole, full lives. We also go out of our way to build community around us. We host monthly potlucks, we strike up conversations with our neighbors, we make a conscious effort to make new friends. Also, pursing lives apart from each other always helps to renew our appreciation for the times when we are together.
  4. Romantic love is not the most important indicator of a good marriage. Gilbert says, "The emotional place where a marriage begins is not nearly as important as the emotional place where a marriage finds itself toward the end." I agree with the idea that prioritizing partnership over passion can help contribute to a relationship's longevity.
  5. Interesting interludes. I love books that give me something to talk about at parties. For example, her discussion of the vasopression receptor gene and its role in creating men who are "trustworthy and reliable sexual partners, sticking with one spouse for decades, rasing children and running stable households" (107) was intriguing. I also appreciated her discussion of Shirley P. Glass's work on marital infidelity. Glass proposes a very interesting theory about how casual friendship can lead to infidelity (e.g., you start sharing a lot of your emotional self with someone new and that feels good) and how you can be conscious of the signs and intervene before it's too late (e.g., by talking to your spouse about what's happening rather than feeling shameful and keeping it a secret--which causes you to feel even more connected to the new person with whom you share everything). And I was fascinated by her description of the Laotian wedding loan system: "When a Laotian couple is about to get married, they send invitation cards to each guest. The guests take these original invitation cards (with their names and addresses on them), fold the cards into the shape of a small envelope, and stick some money inside. On the wedding day, all these envelopes go into a giant wooden box. This immense donation is the money with which the couple will begin their new life together....Later, when the wedding party is over, the bride and groom sit up all night and count the money. While the groom counts, the bride sits with a notebook, writing down exactly how much money was given by each guest," so that the exact amount (plus a little for interest and inflation) will be returned as a gift to the original giver on his/her wedding day. "The wedding money, then, is not really a gift. It's an exhaustively catalogued and ever-shifting loan, circulating from one family to the next as each new couple starts a life together" (140).
I also thought a lot about our tendency in Western cultures to privatize our marriages, and I want to heed Gilbert's advice to not privatize our marriages so that they become "deoxygenated, isolated, solitary, vulnerable" (145). Yes! We should talk more openly about our common experiences and struggles as a way to support each other.

And I worried about the "Marriage Benefit Imbalance" that suggests that women do not reap as many benefits from marriage as men do (167). Gilbert discusses the research and says, "If there was ever a good moment in Western history...for a woman to become a wife, this would probably be it. If you are advising your daughter on her future, and you want her to be a happy adult someday, then you might want to encourage her to finish her schooling, delay marriage for as long as possible, earn her own living, limit the number of children she has, and find a man who doesn't mind cleaning the bathtub. Then your daughter may have a chance at leading a life that is nearly as healthy and wealthy and happy as her future husband's life will be" (168).

I also loved hearing about Gilbert's mom. She "had been a hard worker her whole life, but this job--this career--became an expression of her very being, and she loved every minute of it" (180). Yes, we should all find jobs that are the expression of our very being and that bring us immense joy.

All in all, I enjoyed reading the book. Although I found myself skimming some of the slow parts, I got a lot out of the book.

So what about you? What was your overall response to the book? What resonated with you? What bothered you? How will your life be different after reading this book? Also, do you have any recommendations for the next book club title? I'm thinking we should do something less cerebral and more practical--something about how to continue to build and develop strong partnerships (something like Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts with the accompanying workbook?). Other ideas?

Do share!

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Building Relationships with Wedding Vendors

Matt recently got an e-mail from Cathy and Cory, the owners of the bed and breakfast where we held our wedding reception (and generally sprawled out for our entire wedding weekend). Here's an excerpt:
The winter was nice and peaceful and relaxing. But now we are starting up with our weekend retreats again that will keep us busy until summer. Cathy is the race director for the 2nd Annual Allenspark Run Like the Wind 5K and 10K. It’s on your anniversary weekend – July 17th, 2010 – so if you guys are in the area come on up and run the race. Hope all is well!
I adore Cathy and Cory. Seriously. We couldn't have had the same wedding without them. When we were stressing about how to compost all our plates, cups, and utensils, they said, "Don't worry about. We've already contacted the right people." When we were stressed about whether our guests would be able to park along the state road in front of the B&B, they said, "Don't worry about it. We'll contact the local police." When we told them we had 80 guests, which was more than they could accommodate with their existing chairs, they said, "Don't worry about it. We'll borrow some from a local B&B."

The list goes on. They let us borrow tons of white Christmas lights for decoration. They lent us their coolers so we could keep our ceremony drinks cool. They bent over backwards to work with us and help us plan the right wedding for us.

When we arrived a few days before the wedding to drop off a bunch of stuff (which they willingly stored for free), it felt like I was pulling into the driveway of a relative. It felt like we were coming home. The kind of peace, acceptance, and friendliness we felt from Cathy and Cory was exactly what we needed on the eve of a major life transition. They grounded us.

When I think back about our relationship with them, I wonder how we did it. How did we move from a vendor relationship to a friendship? I hope that Matt and I continue to build such relationships as we progress through life together.

Of course there was a huge dose of luck, but here are the very concrete things we did to cultivate an awesome relationship with our reception venue:
  1. We ventured off the beaten path. Cathy and Cory had hosted weddings at their lodge before (although I think it was just one--if my memory is working properly). Although I'm sure they continue to be utterly and completely amazing hosts to any wedding that comes their way, I think they were willing to help us more because they didn't have to do it every weekend.
  2. We went out of our way to build a relationship. For example, we volunteered to help them in their garden one Saturday (and we took them out to lunch before digging in). By spending quality time together, we were able to get to know each other.
  3. We showed appreciation whenever possible. It's so easy to think nice things about people, but it's an entirely different story to verbalize those comments and to do it regularly.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Relaxation Ritual

According to this questionnaire, getting married is the 7th biggest stressor in life (behind death and jail terms).

When I was getting ready for my first acupuncture appointment last week, I went back over my calendar for the past two years and recorded the number of days for each of my menstrual cycles. I'm worried about the extended length and irregularity of my cycles. As I flipped through my calendar, I quickly saw a pattern related to the number of events on my calendar and the number of days in my cycle. In other words, there seems to be a correlation between stress and my irregular periods.

Most of my cycles are in the 30-40 day range. But guess how many days it was between periods when I was getting married, buying a new house, starting a new job, and moving to a new state?

Have you made your guess already?

108 days. Seriously. More than a hundred days. Egad.

And that was after we made every attempt to plan a wedding that was as stress-free as possible.

Analyzing the literal connection between stress in my life and my health and wellness has given me a renewed sense of commitment to reduce stress in my life.

I know I talk a lot about stress, but this time it's different. This time, I literally see the impact of stress on my body. I'm seriously trying to figure out how to significantly reduce my stress levels.

My primary strategies are:
  1. Analyze why I invite stress into my life by stretching myself too thin.
  2. Breathe more deeply (all the way into my abdomen).
  3. Exercise regularly (at least 3-4 days of running per week).
  4. Eat better (no caffeine or alcohol, less sugar and flour, more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains).
  5. Institute a nightly Relaxation Ritual.
I've been doing the nightly Relaxation Ritual for a week now, and I'm loving it. At 8:15pm, I stop whatever I'm doing and start winding down. I spend a few minutes picking up around the house (since I'm one of those people who is more relaxed in a tidy environment).

Next, I do 15 minutes of yoga with this video.

Finally, I spend the rest of my time reading, watching a movie or TV shows on hulu, or talking with Matt. At 9:30, I go to sleep (so I can get eight hour of sleep before my 5:30am alarm). It wasn't easy to uphold the sanctity of my Relaxation Ritual every night. On Monday, I had to go speak about the Houston Heights Time Bank at the Transition Houston meeting. I also had to finish a consulting deadline. Tuesday I went to a museum preview for educators. Thursday I had a dinner commitment with colleagues. It wasn't easy to prioritize time for myself, but it's a commitment I need to make to myself and my family.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Using Online RSVPs for Your Wedding

One of the strategies that Matt and I used to reduce our wedding's impact on the environment and our wallet was online RSVPs. It helped us lower our postage costs and paper usage.

We embedded a form on our wedding website, but if I were going to do it again, I would use my friend Kevin's company, Wufoo. I'm getting ready to use Wufoo for another project I'm working on right now, and I adore it.

Specifically, I love how witty and personal the interface is. After I signed up, I received a message that started with "A Glorious Welcome!" When I log in to create a form, it says, "Holy tabula rasa! You don't have any forms! Let's go make one!" And the tagline under "Form Manager" says, "O, what men dare do!"

It cracks me up.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Contest Winner

Thank you to Amy of Swoon Creative Design for using her graphic-design and aesthetic skills to produce lovely and affordable designs for couples looking for a hybrid-DIY option for invitations.

The winner is...

Amanda Ho.

Please e-mail me so I can put you in touch with Amy!

To everyone else, thank you for entering! As always, I love reading your comments.

Be well,


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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Book Club: T-Minus One Week

I am so looking forward to discussing our first book club book next week!

For those of you who want to jump on the book club bandwagon, please do! We're reading Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert (see description below).

I'm about 3/4ths of the way through the book myself. If you are running short on time, I recommend my two favorite chapters so far:
  1. Marriage and Expectation
  2. Marriage and Infatuation
I'm looking forward to discussing the book next week!

Happy reading,


Book Description:
At the end of her bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert fell in love with Felipe, a Brazilian-born man of Australian citizenship who’d been living in Indonesia when they met. Resettling in America, the couple swore eternal fidelity to each other, but also swore to never, ever, under any circumstances get legally married. (Both were survivors of previous bad divorces. Enough said.) But providence intervened one day in the form of the United States government, which—after unexpectedly detaining Felipe at an American border crossing—gave the couple a choice: they could either get married, or Felipe would never be allowed to enter the country again. Having been effectively sentenced to wed, Gilbert tackled her fears of marriage by delving into this topic completely, trying with all her might to discover through historical research, interviews, and much personal reflection what this stubbornly enduring old institution actually is. Told with Gilbert’s trademark wit, intelligence and compassion, Committed attempts to “turn on all the lights” when it comes to matrimony, frankly examining questions of compatibility, infatuation, fidelity, family tradition, social expectations, divorce risks and humbling responsibilities. Gilbert’s memoir is ultimately a clear-eyed celebration of love with all the complexity and consequence that real love, in the real world, actually entails.

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Monday, March 8, 2010

In Good Times and Bad

I talk to my 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders about how each of us has multiple urges to do things that often conflict with each other. In an attempt to simplify the concept for 6, 7, and 8 year-olds, I try to talk about it in terms of one voice that tells us to make choices that bring us up and another voice that tells us to make choices that bring us down.

One of Matt's family members just died, and I almost listened to the voice that was advising me to bring myself down.

You see, I was really looking forward to this weekend. I've had a tremendously stressful week (and year, for that matter), and I was eager to run, walk through the forest, get ahead on my work, do yoga, read, cook good food, finish my chores--you know--get my act together.

As Matt got updates from his family about the situation, I kept asking, "Do you want me to go with you to the funeral?" He kept saying that neither he nor his family thought it was necessary for me to be there.

When I woke up Saturday morning, Matt said he had just booked his flight to Indiana. He needed to leave within the hour. Again, I tried to be a good partner by asking, "Should I go to support you and your family?" He kept insisting that it wasn't necessary.

I almost listened to him. I wanted to listen to him. I wanted to be off the hook. I wanted to make the argument that it's too complicated to find dog care for four days in an hour. I wanted to believe that it was too expensive to spend $1,000 on two last-minute plane tickets. I wanted to think that it was impossible to coordinate a substitute for my class for two days of missed instruction.

And then I listened to the voice that urges me to make choices aligned with what I value. I value family and being there for each other and dropping everything to show your love, to provide a shoulder, to hold a hand. Those things are way more important than a relaxing weekend.

These are the commitments we make to our partners and our family members and our friends. I am there for you. I am your person.

Our wedding vows come to mind:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • I love you because we create adventures together, like Halloween scavenger hunts or road trips out West.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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, I will be my best for you, Matt, even when I am instinctively selfish and self-centered. I will always try to be my best for you.

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Guest Post: E-mail Save-the-Dates

By Christina

I wasn't planning on doing save the dates until we planned our wedding on a weekend that most people go out of town for (Labor Day).... so against all my wishes I set out to look for some cheap save the date options. I wasn't happy with Evites as I think that site is a little bit too 1990's clip art.....and then I stumbled upon pingg.com.

OK - AMAZING. I really want to tell every couple-to-be, ever, to use this website. The invites are actually good looking, uploading contacts was super easy, they show you all sorts of information as people receive them--and it's FREEEEE.

They have e-cards and e-invites (the invites manage a guest list and RSVPs for you, while e-cards are just sent out). ALSO, with a click of a mouse you can ask pingg to just send the cards out for you snail mail. Give them the address, and they stuff it in an envelope, stamp it, and send it for you (this in not free however.) I just sent mine out yesterday and everyone seems to like them. Can you believe this is free?? I think I might do my invites through here too.

Ok - rave completed!

Christina is a recent college grad who is planning a wedding while trying to open her first business (a local-foods cafe!). When she's not working she's singing along to Neko Case, going for joy rides on her scooter, and finding the best salted dark chocolates the city has to offer.

Michael is a national sales manager in the lawn & garden industry, but he'd rather be playing D&D with his friends. When he's doing neither, he likes to make Christina's day a little brighter.

It was flirt-at-first-site four years ago when Christina decided to move to San Francisco. She interviewed with Michael's household to be their new roommate. She didn't get the room then, but we're fine with it! Four years later Michael proposed to Christina while on a walk through a vineyard in Calistoga.
Your turn: Do you have something you want to share with 2000dollarwedding kindred spirits? Maybe you want to write a post about how to DIY your wedding invitations or you want to share a profound realization that helped you approach wedding planning a little more sanely. Maybe you want to write about the name-changing dilemma or a creative idea for making your wedding more eco-friendly. If so, e-mail me your idea. for inspiration, check out other guest posts. We're looking forward to hearing from you!

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Lifetime of Parties

I really believe that weddings would be a little less stressful if we would commit to hosting a lifetime of parties rather than attempting to a host a single, "Once-in-a-Lifetime" event.

And yet I find it can be difficult to do. Entire months can go by and I look back at my calendar and realize I haven't planned very many social events at all.

2010 is the Year O' Parties for Matt and me. We host a monthly get-together for the Houston Heights Time Bank, and this year we decided to make them a little more fun.

Here's the line-up:
  • January = Fondue and board games
  • February = Bowling
  • March = Bocce ball
  • April = Backyard movie (projector + screen + popcorn + blankets = fun)
  • May = Cinco de Mayo (with pinata, of course!)
  • June = Putt-putt
  • July = Bingo
  • August = Night at the movie theater
  • September = ?
  • October = Halloween party
  • November = Campfire with s'mores
  • December = Ice-skating

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dealing with Stress

Stress. It's a topic I come back to quite often. It's a topic that has even earned itself a category heading in my sidebar.

I'm always seeking to free myself from the tight clench of Stress (even as I willingly climb into his hand time and time again). I decided to enroll in a two-hour class entitled "The Tao of Stress Management."

The presenter started the workshop by emphasizing the direct relationship between stress and nutrition. He argued that when we eat processed foods, we put unnecessary stress on our cells. He railed against refined sugar, flours, pasta, etc.

Then he moved into a segment about accepting personal responsibility for our stress levels. Ultimately, we are the ones responsible for our emotional state. We create stress for ourselves by being too hard on ourselves, wanting to control things we can, escalating stress, or blaming things on other people. Our reactions to external stimuli determine our stress levels (not the stimuli themselves). It made me feel so silly for all the times I let bad drivers frustrate me on the road. Seriously? Why escalate my stress level over something so stupid?

He talked about deep breathing as one antidote for stress. He discussed the important of breathing all the way into your stomach--really letting your belly expand with each inhale. This particular technique has already worked wonders on my stress levels. If I'm really, really stressed, I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth to release all my pent up emotion. I'm trying to condition myself to breathe deeply as a habit.

He also touched on the importance of regular physical activity. Even though I have personally experienced the beneficial effects of exercise on my stress levels, it still helps to hear the message over and over again.

Because he is an acupuncturist, he also discussed the benefits of acupuncture. Even though I'm a little weirded out by acupuncture, I think I'm going to start using it to help regulate my menstrual cycles.

In terms of next steps, here's what I generated during the workshop:
  1. Find a natural, whole foods cookbook (maybe this one?)
  2. Set aside time to relax every night before bed
  3. Practice breathing all the way into my belly
  4. Stop complaining
  5. Do yoga (for crying out loud!)
  6. Start taking walks after dinner
  7. Take 25 deep breaths as I fall asleep
In short, I loved his closing summary about how to reduce stress in your life: "Breathe more deeply, eat more simply, and move more frequently."

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Contest: Enter to Win DIY Printable Invitations

I'm happy to host this contest to promote Amy's new Etsy shop--Swoon Creative Design--where you can download unique and aesthetically-pleasing invitations and print them yourself. I'm intrigued by the hybrid-DIY idea.

You simply purchase your design and then e-mail Amy your details. She plugs them into the design, sends you a proof, and then sends you the final image to download and print. The invitations even include crop marks, so you can cut them to the precise size.

To enter to win one of her available invitation designs + reply cards:
  1. Leave your first name and first two letters of your last name in the comments section.
  2. Enter to win by Tuesday, March 9 at 11:59 EST.
  3. Easy-peasy!
Happy Entering...

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Q & A: Pay-Your-Own-Way Wedding Etiquette

Reader's Question: I have an etiquette question that I can use your advice on. My partner and I are, like so many other people, trying to plan a September wedding on a tight budget. We'll have a good number of family and friends coming in from out of town. We'd like to spend as much time with our out-of-town guests as possible and want to make more of a wedding weekend than just the one night event. My question is: If we plan to have a morning-after brunch, is it considered tacky to not host/pay for and it and just, well, invite people to come out to brunch (and pay their own way)? Thanks in advance!

I'm totally biased about this question! I'm the kind of person who loves to coordinate events with my nearest and dearest, and yet I'm also extremely frugal and don't like to spend too much money hosting things. I often find myself planning events and then asking folks to pay their own way. (I don't even want to know what official etiquette books have to say about my "egregious" behavior!)

From my perspective, there are a couple things to keep in mind when attempting to pull this off without offending people (too much):
  1. Be Clear about the Expectations from the Beginning: For my 30th birthday party, for example, I rented out a camp cabin and hosted a big slumber party for a dozen of my friends. I sent out an agenda well in advance that clearly laid out each component and what I was paying for versus what they would need to pay for. If you're clear with people from the get-go, then they can make choices about what they think is reasonable. The wedding website is a good place to clarify these kinds of details.
  2. Cover as Much as Your Budget Allows: Matt and I wanted to honor the fact that our guests had to fork over a lot of cash to join us for our celebration of love and commitment by paying for as much as we could. For us, that included the Welcome Picnic (make-your-own-sandwiches, chips, watermelon, and chocolate cherry dessert with vanilla ice-cream) and the Wedding Reception dinner. Whenever possible, I would recommend spending less money on things that benefit the fewest number of people (the dress, shoes, hair, makeup, centerpieces, etc.) and spend more on the things that affect the greatest number of people (food, drinks, etc.).
  3. Keep the Costs as Low as Possible: People often expend large amount of money to attend weddings, especially out-of-town guests. Once you add up the airline tickets, rental car, present, accommodations, meals, and incidentals, you're looking at a serious tab. The host can really help by providing low-cost options for guests. For example, in your case, I would intentionally pick an inexpensive place for brunch to respect your guests' pocketbooks. Matt and I tried to be as kind to our guests as possible by booking accommodations that cost $25-$35/person/night.
  4. Remember that "Those Who Matter Don't Mind and Those Who Mind Don't Matter": It's an adage that can really help take the stress out of wedding planning (even though it's not entirely true and there are certainly some gray--rather than all black-and-white--cases. In general, though, the more you limit your guest list to people you are truly friends with, the less you have to worry about being judged. For the most part, people will be ecstatic to have more opportunities to celebrate with you during your wedding weekend.
I'm definitely expecting to hear divergent opinions on this topic, but those are my quick thoughts!

2000dollarwedding kindred spirits: Please take it from here!

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