Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Minnesota Chic!

Hello, lovelies!

From here on out, all posts will be shifting to Minnesota Chic, which will allow me to keep blogging on the same account after I am married (without feeling weird about my username). Check it out!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It's What You Make Of It ...

Perception: We keep running into road-blocks and snags.
Reality (according to people who have planned weddings): This is actually going fairly smoothly.
Truth: Wedding planning is like everything else – it is how you choose to approach it, and what you choose to make of it.

Here’s the thing: it’s not so hard to plan a budget wedding. It really isn’t! I am planning a wedding with a budget that made friends (good friends) laugh in my face, a wedding that I worried would, no matter what I said, not be elegant or classy. I worried that it would end up looking like junior prom with streamers and balloons, that the appetizers would be awful and the guests would hate every second of it.

When the first venue was not what I hoped it would be, C (my Maid of Honor) and I launched into floor plans and brainstorming, we found all sorts of ways to make it an amazing reception. I truly think it would have been a good time for everyone. But when it happened that the first venue did not work out at all, we rolled with that punch, too – again, C and I started brainstorming, and my fiancĂ© and I also brainstormed, coming to the conclusion that what we really wanted was a series of smaller, more intimate parties.

We found another venue, and this one did not work, either – the prix fixe menu started at $45, before tax, before drinks, before gratuity. I was bummed. I crunched numbers. Then, at the perfect time, our favorite date-night restaurant in the area responded to my email to let me know they could offer us something within our budget. Another restaurant, swanky in the extreme, turned out to have really affordable brunch (and who doesn’t love brunch? Mmm, eggs benedict!).

We were left trying to find someplace for the wedding itself, but within three days I had managed to find an historic mansion that would host the wedding for half the price of a church. (Yes, most mansions and beautiful homes will only agree to host the wedding if you’re also bringing the catering/reception dollars, and some will charge you outrageous fees – but the point here is, it never hurts to ask.)

At this point, at most, we are looking at

$2800(food)+$1200(photography)+400(venue)+165(cupcakes or cake) = $4565

Yes, we have to factor in my dress, and a hotel room the night before, and gifts for the wedding party. This puts us over $5000 by a smidge. BUT … at lowest, we are looking at:

$2100(food)+$900(photography)+150(venue)+165(cupcakes or cake) = $3315

…and that, my friends, is quite fine.

Questions? Thoughts? Leave a comment!

Eye Candy: Cake Alternatives

The cake is a fairly iconic piece of the traditional wedding. In fact, in this era of ballooning wedding costs and complexity, the cake is one of the only pieces that is actually traditional. (White dress? Church? Sit-down dinner? Bridesmaids? Bouquet? Nope.)

But does that mean you need a cake? Absolutely not. If you're staring, horror-struck, at a piece of paper telling you that tier cake is $3.75/guest, or you're feeling overwhelmed after trying 53 varieties of chocolate cake, or if you just don't like cake - whatever your reason, you absolutely do not need to have a cake.

And so, without further ado, I present you with an eye candy buffet of alternatives! There are actual candy buffets...

Cookie buffets ... (for an adult twist, have Bailey's and Kahlua out for those glasses of milk)

There are also all-purpose dessert bars, for when you just can't choose ...

There are pie buffets...

And for a retro (and wonderful!) twist, there are Sundae bars!

Questions? Thoughts? Pictures of your own alternative dessert? Leave a comment!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Oops: The Things I Didn't Think I'd Have to Worry About

When one abruptly about-faces and ponders a different strategy for a wedding reception, details start to creep out of the woodwork. With an appetizers-and-sweets reception, I did not need to worry about seating charts. Or placecards. Or centerpieces. Or menus.

Suddenly, all those things I pinned to pinterest with, "Well, we aren't doing ___, but wouldn't this be lovely if we did?" are things that are actually quite relevant. Do we want place cards? Do we want just to give people table numbers? What should the place cards look like? (Luckily, it looks like I can find quite respectable-looking place cards online at $4 for a pack of 60 - that's far better than I was expecting!)

Then, seating charts! My thought is to have people in "pairs" at tables, but a group that can mix well - i.e., two of the groomsmen who may not know each other well but who can strike up a conversation, two cousins, two family from one side, two from another? It's best to try to mix people, yes? Or is it better to separate the families out? I don't know these things!

And then, menu - I think it would be best to send the menu to people ahead of time so they can choose their menu option, and then perhaps just print a menu board and put that by the gift table, or at the entrance to the room. It seems silly to print menus for everyone if they already know what they'll be eating (although it does look quite nice folded into the napkin!).

In short, new and exciting diversions! What are your thoughts?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Planning: And Now For Something Completely Different

Well, after my exciting little melt-down last week, we've started brainstorming for other ways to do this. Because in the end what we need is the officiant, the witnesses, and the two of us!

I forget how it even came up, but one of us said something like, "if only we had a really tiny guest list, we could do something like rent [neighborhood cafe] and give everyone a super amazing meal." And then we both stopped, looked at each other, and went, "Ohhhhhhh...."

It seemed like a huge weight was taken off my shoulders. A tiny wedding! What was my emotion when people said, "well, there were only 30 people at our wedding"? Envy. That was my emotion. A reception intimate enough that we could give toasts without a microphone, laugh together, spend meaningful time with everyone... That would be nice. REALLY nice.

And, because this IS a budget blog? Let's look at a budget breakdown.

Say we now only need brief use of a chapel, and we want to keep our food budget to $3000, INCLUDING sales tax (6.875%) and 15% gratuity. Assume 50 guests (rounding up), and say:

$3000 = 50X(1.06875) + 50X(.20) = 63.4375X, X = $47.29

This means we could arrange a pretty amazing prix-fixe menu and arrange for a couple or three glasses of wine apiece!

Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Freakout (the First Major One)

The first curveball showed up today, right as I got home from work. It turns out that if we book this venue we've been looking at, not only can we NOT do a midday wedding, we can't start anything in the building until at least 7PM.

Wait, what?

I tried to stay calm, but the freakout escalated very quickly. One moment I was freaked out because this wonderful, ideal wedding spot wasn't working out and my one-and-done approach was in ruins, the next moment I passed through the territory of it's-all-going-to-fall-apart-and-maybe-we-should-just-elope, and then I was off (off!) into the land of why-does-any-of-it-matter-anyway-because-I-suck-at-throwing-parties-and-no-one-will-want-to-come.

So, that was exciting.

The fact of it is, no matter how hard you work to separate yourself from perceived norms, those norms are still there, lurking, in your head. There are only so many layers of stress the human mind can take before it begins to freak out, and there's a layer of stress that comes with expectations. In fact, double that - because you're dealing with your expectations, and other people's expectations as well (both real and perceived). Add to that the fact that weddings are a huge event that could be described as a turning point, a rite of passage, or a major life change, and you have three layers of stress.

I don't know about any of the rest of you, but when I'm stressed it helps me to make lists, isolate things into discrete parts and figure them out. (Divide and conquer?) However, the sheer amount of lists and details inherent in wedding planning can really be overwhelming. Very overwhelming. And then the lists don't help as much as you hope they will.

So, let's go back to an earlier post where I blithely assumed that I would just roll with the punches and adapt my wedding to what came up, because it's totally that simple. As naive as my assumptions were, however, there was a definite grain of wisdom in them:

Your wedding will not turn out the way you plan it.
Things will come up.
Curveballs will get thrown.
It is all going to be okay anyway.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Reception Ideas - Appetizer Reception

So, as we discussed earlier, our choice of venue has created some changes in our reception structure. There is not enough space for everyone to sit at once to eat, which means that refreshments should, ideally, be things that can be eaten while standing up. Our soup-and-lasagna buffet now seems...unsporting.

So! We are shifting more towards the salad-and-sandwich end of the spectrum OR appetizers, and now the questions are:

  • How to do that?

  • How much food do we need?

First, how do we do this? Well, we are hoping to steal an idea from Meg Keene over at APW and borrow the Jewish tradition of yichud - basically, the bride and groom take 15 minutes alone after the ceremony to be together and reflect on everything. (In less elegant terms, "Holy crap, we just got married!")

So after the ceremony, we will process out through the sabre arch, and then my fiance and I will duck down a side aisle and go off on our own for a few minutes. After that, a few posed shots with family and wedding party, and then we will congregate in one of the two rooms for toasts and cake-cutting. People can have hot chocolate, punch, and desserts in the parlor room, where there will be music, or they can go out to the Narthex and eat at the tables, perhaps playing board games (Scrabble, Clue, Parchesi ... come on, that would be fun!).

And how much food do we need? That depends on whether we want sandwiches or appetizers!

For appetizers, conventional wisdom says to expect people to have 4-5 apiece, and more if there are several kinds of appetizers. If we say 7 apiece, we're at about 100 appetizers. This would be a good place to bemoan the fact that almost every catering menu I have come across switches units across the menu, "feeds 15-20" in parts, and then in other parts, "priced per piece," or, "$35.99 for two dozen." Makes it difficult to estimate things!

Nevertheless, I've whipped together a few sample menus:

  • Two bruschetta baskets (25-30 people) at $32.99, three Spinach-Artichoke baskets (with bread, serves 20-25) at $39.99, two fresh vegetable platters at $39.99, two fruit platters at $69.99 apiece (holy cow!), two apple-cranberry brie-en-croute at $46.99, two meat-and-cheese snack platters ($64.99) plus three cracker baskets ($12.99), and 60 cocktail meatballs at $23.99. This adds up to $652.84.

  • 4 orders of 50 wings at $39.99 apiece, 2 antipasto tasting platters at $59.95, 3 EACH of Pancetta-and-green-onion and spinach-artichoke-and-feta dips at $29.95, 4 orders of sliced fresh fruit at $39.99 apiece, and 4 orders of caprese salad at $47.95. This adds up to $811.32.

Thoughts? Is this adequate for 100 people?


I am absolutely thrilled to say that a post I wrote ran on APW today. For those of you who aren't familiar with APW, I highly recommend that you check it out - it's full of independent-thinking couples and down-to-earth advice.

Without further ado:

Sweet Moments During Deployments: Planning a Wedding Over Skype

Friday, January 13, 2012

Picture Post: Bridesmaid Attire

Mmm, delicious fall colors. We're overdue for a picture post, and the concept of bridesmaid attire fits nicely with the general budget them. I've had a lot of friends over the past couple of years who have accrued significant credit card debt from being a part of the wedding part: hair, makeup, manicure, pedicure, bridesmaid dress, bridesmaid shoes, bachelorette party, bachelorette party GIFT, wedding gift, travel costs, hotel costs ...

...I can't do that to my friends. I'm trying to make my peace with the fact that most of them live out of town and they can't avoid travel costs, and I'm trying to set them up to stay with in-town friends. But the shoes, the dress, the hair, the makeup, the endless cosmetic costs? I can't do that.

As much as I know, intellectually, that it will be fine if I don't do all of that stuff, there is still the idea that I'd rather have the whole thing look relatively cohesive, and two bridesmaids in black, one in lime green, and another in aqua would look just plain ODD. J, a close friend (and bridesmaid) helped me brainstorm last night.

I had been thinking of asking the bridesmaids to choose a knee-length dress in a fall color - warm browns, pumpkin, golds and yellows, bittersweet, that sort of thing. In my head, it was going to look something like this, only with delightfully, exquisitely mis-matched, indie-chic dresses.

J pointed out that this would be really, really hard to make work without people clashing, and that those colors aren't very commonly sold, anyway - so if I wanted things to be easiest on the bridesmaids, that might not do the trick. I'm still a bit sad to say goodbye to the fall assortment, but I don't want people to stress themselves silly over colors, either.

As much as I don't want to choose wedding colors (more on that later), we already have some by default - an off-white/cream (my dress), and dark blue (the dress blues). Half of the groomsmen will be in dress blues, and half in tuxes, so it's not like we'll have varied dresses on one side of the aisle and military snazziness on the other.

And these colors will be the key. We've tentatively decided to go with dark blue, which will stand out nicely against the fall decor at the reception AND go nicely with the groomsmen. So more of this sort of a vibe:

And that's just lovely! So, so lovely.

Thoughts? Objections? Advice? Leave a comment!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Reflections: Slowing Down

My mother sent me an e-card today, and as I’ve been working, her message has been rattling around in my head:

Your life is changing so fast.

Take time to enjoy the journay

and to savor each simple step.

I don’t, as a rule, move slowly. Generally, I’m pushing towards something, and if I don’t have anything to push towards, I tend to get stressed. It doesn’t matter if the respite has been going on for a week or for 20 minutes, I get afraid that I am stagnating and will make nothing of myself. At this point, I usually find something to push towards, be it creative writing or working out; I make up a goal, and an action plan, and this soothes my little inner work demon.

The demon has been relatively quiet lately because I have plenty of things going on. I have enough presence of mind to know that wedding planning is a huge goal and decision fatigue will set in if I go too deep or try to do too many things at once, and my drive to Avoid All That Bullsh*t has managed to make peace with my If You Don’t Work On Something You’re A Failure demon, thus leaving me with (a) a goal, and (b) a somewhat reasonable to-do list.

But my mother is absolutely, unequivocally, correct. I don’t want to go into too much backstory, but the short version is this:

I moved away from all of my family when I came to college (that’s just how it happened, no tragic tale there), built a surrogate family sort of community here, and ended up staying after college, because I found a job here and I think we can all agree that, in this economy, jobs with benefits are Good. The job hasn’t been in my preferred industry, so in the meantime I have run another blog of economic research on my industry of choice, written a YA fantasy novel and started two other novels, gotten my second-degree black belt, managed to get a promotion every year, applied to graduate school, launched a long-term fitness plan (which was been going pretty well, actually!), and started planning a wedding. (You see? I wasn’t kidding about my demon.)

There has been almost no time in the past 6-7 years when there was not a major stressor in my life. Some of these stressors are good (new job! Wedding planning! I broke concrete with my hand!), but that doesn’t make them NOT stressful. Somewhere in there, I have gotten accustomed to the stress level, and I am actually scared of what will happen if I try to take my mother’s advice.

(This got a bit more introspective than I was planning.)

The point is, however scary it is, that she is correct. If you’re reading this, you’re probably planning a wedding as well, and (like me) you are focused on the goal: you want to have a wonderful wedding that celebrates you, and have an awesome marriage, too!

But you aren’t there right now. Right now you’re HERE. You’re engaged (or pre-engaged, or just in a good relationship, or maybe you’re not in a relationship at all, and are daydreaming of the future), and you’re planning a massive, emotionally-charged event that is going to be the catalyst for a huge change in your life. So, take a deep breath. The future is going to be wonderful, but take a moment to take care of yourself right now. Go get some coffee – not because you need coffee, because you’re sleep-deprived, but because you’ll enjoy getting up and moving about, and the coffee will taste good and warm you up and make you smile.

Oh, and just in case you’re not in a smiling mood, I present to you this ad for “A Practical Wedding,” both book and blog, which is a wonderful, WONDERFUL place, full of sound advice and laughter:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Design: The Decorations

So, C and I did a walk-through of a church last night. It was the first church, but we both fell in love with it, and when he saw the pictures, my fiance did as well! It fits nicely within our budget, and it's not exactly what I was looking for - which concept I am trying to embrace (more on that later).

The sanctuary itself is huge - really! It seats 1200 at maximum capacity, and we'll have less than 10% of that number for guests. Although the space is gigantic, it is also warm - warm-colored wood, warmer colors of stone on the walls, red pew cushions. An inviting space. It also allows us to use the back half of the aisle for a sabre-arch, as we will not be exiting the church between service and reception, and for a receiving line.

The reception space is not what I had dreamed: a big room with space for buffets, seating, and dancing. Instead, it's a parlor that can easily hold 100 standing, but not seated, and a narthex outside the sanctuary. Two very distinct spaces. But this is where it gets interesting, and we can start to do some real brainstorming.

We were already planning not to do a sit-down dinner, and now we really don't have the space to do so at all. So any pretensions of doing that are out, unless we want both spaces set up for dinner, and then have the tables moved. It's an option, but another is to have desserts and dancing in one room, and food and gifts table in another, allowing people to dance, mingle, eat, and rest as they wish (while my fiance and I drift this way and that, trying to say hello to everyone).

Exactly what I was looking for? No. Insurmountable problem? Also no. (Although we may want to move from soup-and-salad to pasta-and-salad or sandwiches-and-salad, so people can bring their food with them as they drift about.) I think part of what I'm really enjoying is that, when I'm open to what comes along, a lot of decisions get made FOR me. For those of you planning weddings, you probably know just why that would be helpful. For those who are not planning yet, simply let me say that a lot of decisions need to get made, and it can drive a person bonkers.

So, I encourage you - instead of looking for a space that's exactly what you imagined, be open to find a space that really speaks to you. It may cause some shuffling in your plans, but it will also spark creativity and a decision-making ease: in itself, it shows you that many different choices can be equally good, rewarding, and fun! C and I are now doodling furiously on drawings of the two rooms, trying to figure out how to arrange drapes, lights, lanterns, flowers ... and it's really, REALLY fun.

(Like everything else I'm writing about, pictures are absent at the moment. More will appear closer to the wedding, and yet more will appear after.)

Thoughts? Objections? Comments? Stories? Leave a comment!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Hot Chocolate Bar!

I love (LOVE) the idea of a hot chocolate bar. And with pictures like the following, who could blame me?

I'm looking at the following for toppings:

  • whipped cream

  • sprinkles

  • marshmallows

  • pirouette cookies

  • crushed peppermint candies

  • peppermint, caramel, vanilla, and raspberry syrup

  • shakers of cinnamon and chili pepper

  • some way to incorporate maple (ideas? Leave a comment!)

That would mean I would need two BIG bowls (whipped cream, marshmallows) with ladles, two smaller bowls (sprinkles, crushed peppermint), shakers for the cinnamon and chili pepper, and a jar for the cookies.

Now to figure out the logistics of mugs and hot chocolate urns ... I am worried about finding a way to serve 100 people's worth of hot chocolate without it separating or getting cold. Or spilling any on my dress (yes, I'm that girl).

Comments? Questions? Leave a comment!

Decisions: The Food

Oh, my god, the food. *cries softly*

Way back when, I heard a family friend talk about her daughter doing a potluck wedding reception. It sounded fabulous to me - I mean, potluck meals are awesome. Everyone brings something that they make really well, people eat buffet style and sit around and chat, and everything is just wonderful and happy. It's a kind of a large-family-brunch-across-a-lazy-morning vibe, and to me, that just sounds perfect for a wedding. (Well, that and dancing.)

However, it turns out that potluck wedding receptions are an issue about which people have strong opinions. Either they'll say, "Oh, my god, that sounds fabulous," or they launch into an explanation of how rude it is, how I'll end up with 85 pies and one loaf of bread, how I absolutely must not tell people what to bring, and how everyone will die of dysentery while fording the river (okay, they actually said, "food poisoning" ... ). Even one of my best friends, with whom I am usually in accord, was not in favor of the idea - "I'm not sure you understand how much work you're giving someone to organize this."

I know this must be possible, and I have emails out to various people at the moment. In the meantime, I'm going to be looking at other options, and it turns out we should be able to do this in a fairly reasonable way, even looking at upscale food:

  • A well-known local Italian caterer can provide pasta dishes for about $6 per person ($36-$45 for 6-8 servings, looking across dishes and serving sizes) and salad for about $2.90 per person, coming out to $880 in total. Another option is their soup buffet - I could overshoot 100 and still end up with soup, salad, and bread for $620. Not bad!

  • A local luxury grocer has a gallon of soup (10 servings) for $55.99, and salads at about $3.00 per person. This would end up at around $900, NOT including bread.

And what occurs to me is that we could do a hybrid approach:

  • potluck desserts (or ask a few choice friends to make cakes, pies, etc.)

  • soup buffet for 60: $68.99x4=275.96 (or a more generous estimate would put us at $344.95)

  • 40 servings of quiche, say 10 pie-sized quiches: I estimate a cost of $6 per quiche, putting us at $60.

  • Total: $404.95 (leaving a good amount of room to negotiate upwards on soup, salad, and bread)

I have to say that the hybrid approach sounds the least stressful - I don't have to worry about making some odd combination of food (to compensate for what might or might not be brought at a potluck), I can crowdsource very specific things (cake), and quiches are about the easiest thing in the world to make. Further, I will not be stressing about having dropped $1000+ on food before adding in beverages.

Sound off! Tell me what you think of potluck wedding receptions! Did you have a formal sit-down dinner? Did you do something less "traditional"? Tell!