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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Food on a Budget

Sheesh. Trying to plan the menu for Henry's budget birthday party brings me back to the difficulty of trying to plan dinner for 80 of our nearest and dearest at our wedding.

Right now, we've got $50 allocated to food. I'm not sure how many people will come. I'm guessing about 20 (including us, plus guests of the guests). Um, that breaks down to $2.50 per person.


We'll definitely need to make the food ourselves on that kind of budget, and we'll need it to be easy. Plus we'll be eating outside, so we'll have to think about temperature issues. Some ideas:
  • Make-Your-Own-Pizzas (although this might be slow with 20 people, plus we'd have to go in and out of the house)
  • Make-Your-Own-Sandwich Bar: This could work (it's what we did for our Welcome Picnic), although I'm not too thrilled about it as a vegetarian. It's just hard to make your own really good vegetarian sandwiches.
  • Make-Your-Own-Grilled-Cheese: Hmm...this is an interesting idea for a kid's birthday party. We could set up an electric griddle and people could make gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches!
  • Tacos/Burritos: We could set out a crockpot full of black beans, rice, shredded lettuce and cheese, tomatoes, onions, etc. We could make guacamole and serve queso. This option might be fun, especially because I want to make a pinata for Henry.
  • Lasagna: These are easy to make ahead, but keeping them warm wouldn't be very fun.
  • Chili: We could borrow a couple crock pots and make different kinds of chili. We could set up lots of different toppings.

On this kind of budget, I think we'll have to ask people to bring their own alcohol. We could do a big batch of a signature drink, but it is going to be 11:30 in the morning after all. We have a giant glass dispenser, so we could use it to set up water with orange slices. Maybe a soda bar if we have enough money?

I guess we'll have to decide on the main dish before we start planning the sides. (Oh, and the reason I'm not talking about Henry's preferences in this process is because that kid loves to eat basically anything at this stage in his development.)

Today on Feeding the Soil: A letter to my son, Henry Jones, on his 11-month birthday.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Birthday Party Budget

Henry's birthday is coming up, and I find myself wanting to jump right into the details (ahem, I may or may not have already started creating the invitations on Tiny Prints). The problem is we haven't even set a budget. If we continue along the planning path without a budget, it will be so easy to spend a little here and a little there without even realizing that the grand total way exceeds what is sane and reasonable for a two-hour celebration that the kid will only remember through photographs.

And honestly, we can't afford to throw around cash we don't have. We're trying to save up enough money to build our dream house. And it's a two-hour celebration forcryingoutloud. (So I may not get those invitations from tiny prints after all...).

So, given our monetary constraints and the fact that it's only a birthday party, what feels like a reasonable amount for us? We do need to factor in that we'll have to serve lunch, since Henry's best time is from 11:30-1:30. My gut says $100. That number feels high enough to serve lunch but not too high to feel over-the-top-wasteful (although $100 could buy a trio of rabbits, a flock of ducks, and a flock of chicks for a family in a developing nation).

Hmm...if $100 feels right, maybe we should spend $50 of it on the party and then make a $50 donation in Henry's name? Or maybe an $80 party and a $20 donation to Heifer International?

I put it into an Excel spreadsheet and played with the numbers to see how it feels. In the budget, I also included the percent of the total to help ground myself in reality. For example, even though $10 feels okay for invitations, 13% of the total budget on something that most guests will throw away might be a bit much.

I'm eager to start planning this party now that we have a budget in mind!

Today on Feeding the Soil: A farewell letter to the fair city of Houston.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Anniversary Party: The Vision

Matt and I sat down to chat about our big-picture goals for our 5-year Anniversary Party & Reunion. Our hope is that these goals will serve as a foundation for all of the smaller decisions we have to make along the way. Here's what we came up:
  • Fun, fun, fun: First and foremost, we want this event to be fun for ourselves, our friends, and our family (which includes good food and dancing!).
  • Community-oriented: We're having this party to bring together our nearest and dearest. We want to spend quality time with everyone, and we want them to get to know each other. We want to share our new home and our new city with our friends and family (especially those who weren't able to attend our original wedding).
  • Budget-friendly: Although we have more money in our savings account than we did when we were planning our wedding (and buying our first house), we still want to keep it reasonable. It's just a party, after all.
  • Relaxed: For us, this is part of keeping it fun. We have more fun when we're relaxed and casual.
  • Handmade: Doing-it-ourselves is how we feel more connected to the world, it's how we save money, it's how we enjoy spending our free time, and it's how we express our creativity.
  • Eco-friendly: We seek to lessen our impact on the Earth through our choices, and this event is another opportunity to do that.

As important as this step is, it's so much easier to jump into the details. My mind is already brainstorming ideas for the invitations (scratch offs!). But this vision is what it's about. This is the core, the nucleus. These intentions are the compass we will come back to we're trying to decide on a venue or when I want to spend too much money on photostamps. It's not about any of that. It's about community, connection, and fun in a hand-made, eco-friendly, budget-minded way.

Photo courtesy of Cockroach on on Etsy

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Wedding Invitations from Target

Although I heart the internet for making life (and wedding planning) easier in so many ways, I also think it makes wedding planning harder. Looking at image after image of carefully styled (and oftentimes expensive!) wedding details can make you doubt your choices or make you eager to spend more money in order to create a blog-worthy wedding.

I've seen my fair share of gorgeously designed invitations (shall I dare mention letterpress?). But I think we need to carve out space in the indie wedding planning blogosphere to say: Your wedding can still be meaningful and memorable without having an artist design your invitations or creating a studio in your house. In fact, you might make the whole wedding planning process more affordable and sane if you head to Target and buy a box of invitations for your home printer.

And honestly? They're really pretty!

(Of course, if you want to express your creativity by designing your invitations, by all means do it. I'm pondering what to do for Henry's first birthday invitations right now. But don't feel any pressure to live up to the impossible ideal that's being established out there. It's not healthy for your mind or your budget.)

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Monday, January 23, 2012

The Bane of Budgets

Working within a budget isn't always fun or easy. When Matt and I were working to come in under budget during the wedding planning process, we had to spend a lot of time thinking creatively, making things ourselves, and saying no to things altogether (sorry, photostamps!). Working within a budget forces you to prioritize and compromise.

Although prioritizing and compromising are not always fun or comfortable, the short-term sacrifice is often worth the long-term gain. For example, sticking to our wedding budget instead of dipping into our savings allowed Matt and me to put 20% down on our first house three days after our wedding and allowed us to start our formal partnership without any debt.

Now that we're selling our first house and moving to Austin, we find ourselves once again working within a budget which forces us to prioritize and compromise. We've been struggling to find a rental house within our budget, so we can save up money and build a house in a year or so. We haven't been able to find everything on our "Ideal List", so we've had to focus on what's most important to us. We weren't able to find a house in our budget that had wood floors and an abundance of natural light, but we did score a house on the edge of a park (with a public swimming pool!). If I start to whine when I have to turn on more overhead lights, I'll remind myself that the compromise is worth it.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wedding Dress Makeover

In my book about how to plan a meaningful and memorable wedding without losing your savings or sanity, I wrote a section on what to do with your wedding dress (or wedding attire) after the wedding.

It's something we don't talk about enough during the wedding planning stage, but our conversations about it might inform the decisions we make about what to buy/make in the first place.

I started thinking about this topic again because Sebrina (who's quoted in my book because she did something super-creative with her wedding dress post-wedding--I won't ruin the surprise) is up to wedding dress makeover antics again.

She wants to transform a 1980s wedding dress in all its puff-sleeved glory into something that she will actually wear, inspired by the blog Where Did U Get That (thanks for the photo!).

I can't wait to see what she comes up with!

Today on Feeding the Soil: Talking about dreaming big and making it happen.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Anniversary Party: Establishing the Vision

When Matt and I decided to get married, we sat down over a dinner of Mexican food and brainstormed our "goals" for our wedding. Rather than start with the details, we wanted to start with the big picture.

It turns out that spending some time upfront to spell out our vision was one of the smartest decisions we made. At the time, we didn't know that the wedding planning process would be tumultuous. We didn't know that we would be pulled in all sorts of different directions (both by others, as well as our own internal pressures about what makes a wedding). Our "Mexican Food Manifesto" turned out to be the lighthouse that gave us direction and kept us on course throughout our seven-month planning journey.

Now that we're gearing up to plan a 5-year anniversary party, we need to start in the same place. We need to start with the vision, so we don't lose sight of where we're trying to go. I look forward to sitting down with Matt and seeing what we come up with. In the meantime, here were our goals from our wedding:
  1. We want to bring family and friends together to reconnect and form new friendships.
  2. We don’t want the experience to feel overly-orchestrated. It’s a celebration of our love, not a show.
  3. We will fight consumerism by spending only $2,000 max. The Wedding Industrial Complex is conspiring to make us think we have to spend more money. But we want to make the event special with sincerity, not money. Plus, we need to save money for a house, and we certainly don't want to start our life together in debt.
  4. It will be good for the environment and connected to nature.
  5. We want to have real time to spend with guests. We want to be able to spend quality time with our friends and family.
  6. We will make all the decisions ourselves so our wedding represents us (hence another reason why we need to pay for it ourselves).
  7. We only want to be surrounded by our closest friends and family.
  8. We want to be relaxed and fully present.
Today on Feeding the Soil: Birthday planning!

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Comparing Options

Matt and I moving to Austin at the end of this month. Crazy! While we're busy completely purging and organizing our house before we pack everything, we're also trying to find a rental house in Austin.

I thought it would be helpful to create a simple matrix to compare all the options. I made a basic table in Microsoft Word and wrote the criteria we'll be comparing across the top. Then each rental house will get entered down the left column.

This kind of chart is helpful during wedding planning, too. For example, if you need to compare different venues, you can write different criteria across the top (cost, catering options, etc.). That way, you can factor everything into your decision.


Today on Feeding the Soil: A letter to my 10 month-old.

REMINDER: The next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy starts this weekend on January 15. Register today! We'd love to have you join us!

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Book Recommendation

I love taking surveys that help illuminate aspects of your personality. Now that I'm in my 30s, I've moved away from the quizzes in Seventeen magazine and instead gravitate toward things like the Myers-Briggs.

That's why I'm excited about a book that my best friend gave Matt for Christmas that's based on decades of research: StrengthsFinder 2.0. The book comes with a code to take a free assessment online. I took my assessment already, and apparently my strengths are:
  1. Futuristic
  2. Significance
  3. Focus
  4. Responsibility
  5. Strategic

The book contains information about how I can better interact with other people, as well as information about how others can better interact with me. Once Matt takes his quiz, I hope we get some good insight into ways to continue to strengthen our relationship. I'm excited!


Today on Feeding the Soil: An overview of my daily organization system for motherhood.

REMINDER: The next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy starts this weekend on January 15. Register today! We'd love to have you join us!

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Anniversary Party: The Idea!

Eep! I'm so excited! I just came up with the idea to host a 5-year anniversary party and vow renewal (which will mainly be a family/friends reunion in 1.5 years after we've moved to Austin and built our new house). Matt is totally on board, and I am so eager to start planning. I've already got details swirling around in my head (like eating fondue at long tables under white lights!). But I have to stop myself.

First, Matt and I need to sit down and delineate our fundamental goals. Before I get carried away with the little details, we have to get down on paper what this event means to us, what our intentions are, what matters to us, what we value. That way, we can hold up every decision next to our goals and make sure they match up.

Easier said than done!

REMINDER: The next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy starts this weekend on January 15. Register today! We'd love to have you join us!


Today on Feeding the Soil: My lengthy list of intentions for 2012.

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

The $30,000 Baby

First comes love, then comes the $20,000 marriage, then comes the $30,000 baby in a baby carriage.

Sheesh! If the Wedding Industrial Complex wasn't enough to make you feel sick to your stomach, now there's the Baby Industrial Complex trying to convince us that we need to spend $600 on a changing table.

Henry is not a $30,000 baby. I change him on a towel folded nicely on the bathroom counter (it's nice to have access to running water!). But the top of a second-hand dresser would also work.

Those of us who don't have $600 for a changing table or don't want to spend that kind of money on such a thing shouldn't feel any sense of inferiority or insecurity. That's the real problem with all these message about what you should do to have a real wedding or to be a real mother.

(Thanks for sharing the link, Sebrina!)

Today on Feeding the Soil: Registration is now open for my next e-course!

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Book Manuscript Submitted!

Dear Book-I-Wrote-About-How-to-Plan-a-Meaningful-and-Memorable-Wedding-Without- Losing-Your-Savings-or-Sanity,

I can't decide if this is a love letter or hate mail. You seriously kicked my butt (and will no doubt continue to keep on kicking it, as I spend the next couple months revising you based on my editor's feedback).

The idea of you came to me easily and quite romantically all those years ago. I was insecure throughout our wedding planning process because I had no idea how all our ideas would turn out.
  • Self-catering a reception? Sounds like a great way to have fun with our friends in the hours leading up to the wedding but what if everyone gets sick from food poisoning?
  • Mingling with guests before the wedding instead of walking down the aisle? Sounds like an awesome way to calm our nerves, give us more time to connect with friends and family, and help the wedding feel less like a show, but what if it's a big flop? What if people don't realize the wedding is starting and just keep on talking?
  • Many small cakes from Whole Foods instead of a real wedding cake? Sounds like a great way to save money and provide more tasty options for our guests, but what if it makes our wedding look like an imposter?
  • [the list goes on and on]

When all of those things (and a gazillion other unconventional choices) worked out and helped us have the most amazing wedding--for us--I knew that I wanted to write a book to say to others: "You can do it. You can make choices that make sense for you, regardless of all the pressure you feel. You can prioritize community, connection, and fun, while letting go of anything else that doesn't feel right. You can plan a meaningful and memorable celebration without losing your savings or sanity."

And in the 3.5 years since the idea of you was born, you have taken me on quite the roller coaster ride of ups and downs. First there was the daunting task of learning all about how to write a book proposal (thank you, Google). Then there was rejection after rejection from agents who didn't think the idea was a good fit for them. And then there was the agent who approached me. Yippee! And then there was the long, arduous process of revising the book proposal (all 20,000 words of it!) before it was ready to be submitted to publishers. And then there were more rejections. And then nibbles and bites and phone interviews that caused hope to surge through my body! And more rejection (it's hard to publish books in the age of blogging and a difficult economy). And then an offer! Woo-hoo! And then another long and arduous process of actually producing a 65,000-word manuscript.

This is a love letter to you, dear Book, because you have proven that big dreams do come true with intention, hard work, perseverance, humility, dedication, and support from friends and family.

And it's hate mail because you made me work so hard to learn that lesson!

But it is one of the most important lessons to learn. Each of us has the capacity to dream big--to dwell in possibility and conjure up a goal that scares us. Once we identify that destination, then we can tuck our chins down and walk toward it--through gusts of winds that threaten to knock us off course, naysayers who tell us we're walking in the wrong direction, fatigue, and internal doubts.

Dearest Book, I hope you go on to inspire and comfort thousands of other people who are at the start of their wedding planning journey and wondering where they're trying to get to and whether or not they'll be able to make it.

With gratitude,


Today on Feeding the Soil: A few of my reflections on 2011...

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Wedding Planning Courage

My friends and I have a ritual every year at New Year's. We fill out a form to reflect on the previous year and set intentions for the new year. Then we make a collage to visually capture the kind of year we want to have in the upcoming months.

This year, my friend Beth had the awesome idea to start a blog about doing things that scare her. She wants to undertake a FearKick Challenge every week for the entire year to push herself out of her comfort zone, to try new things, to face anxiety head on, and to generally kick some major butt all year long. As we were talking about her fears and our own fears, I was also busy revising my book about how to plan a meaningful and memorable wedding without losing your savings or sanity. I was reminded of just how much courage it can take to step off the well-trodden wedding planning path and blaze a trail for yourselves that leads you to the place you want to go.

Then I got an e-mail from kindred spirit Elizabeth about her wedding. She wrote, "Everyone who was there said it was the best, most authentically joyful wedding they had been to. I never would have had the confidence to do much of that without your blog."

Confidence and courage can be such difficult things to muster when you're undertaking something monumental like planning a wedding. It's not like we get a lot of chances to practice. We have to be patient with ourselves if we experience any fear throughout the process. Fear is not the problem; our reaction to the fear has the potential to be the problem.

I'm looking forward to exercising my courage this year--to paying close attention to the space between my fear and my actions and not letting my fear hinder my actions. Here's to a year having the courage to make dreams happen!

Anyone else planning to do something that scares them this year?

Today on Feeding the Soil: My step-by-step plan for getting our house packed up and ready to move!

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Monday, January 2, 2012

The Power of Partnership

Phew! What a crazy month!

I've been siting in front of my computer during every free moment for the entire month of December (sometimes typing, sometimes staring and thinking), trying to corral my thoughts (and the thoughts of others) into a 65,000-word manuscript about how to plan a meaningful and memorable wedding without losing your savings or sanity. It's officially due to my editor tomorrow.

Once again, I am reminded of the Power of Partnership. Every night, Matt comes home and takes Henry from 5:00-7:30pm, so I can write, write, write. He gets no break. He wakes up at 5:30am, goes for a long run, heads to work for a full day, comes home to watch Henry by himself (rather than splitting it equally like we normally do), and then works some more before going to bed. He does it to support me, to help me attain one of the goals I set out to accomplish. He reminds me that I can do more and reach higher with him as my partner. I am so grateful for and humbled by his sacrifices.

Yes, this is what planning a wedding is all about. It's about formalizing a commitment to your nearest and dearest, your partner in adventure, your support system.

Today on Feeding the Soil: Find a link to a year of vegetarian meal plans!

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