Monday, November 29, 2010

In search of my dress-tiny: Me getting knocked on my tush.

Like I outlined in my last post, before I even set foot in a bridal salon, I was already a bona fide wedding dress expert.  I had put in the (wo)man hours, flipped through countless magazines, scoured a plethora of websites.  My mom's a college professor and I'm a grad student, so we decided that knocking the whole dress task off the wedding to-do list would best be accomplished during the summer months, when our schedules would be most flexible.  With my massive wedding-dress-preparation ego, I made my first ever wedding dress appointment, expecting to waltz right in, immediately and decisively pick a winner, trying on a handful at most, and reign victorious over the wedding dress hunt.

Um, no.  Not so much.  Let's start at the beginning.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Just trust me.

Before becoming engaged, I occasionally browsed through a wedding magazine, here or there... nothing too serious. (Truth: I had two wedding magazine subscriptions starting freshman year of college and I inherited most of my SIL's old magazines after she married my brother).  So, when a girl who has weddings on the brain accumulates a five-foot stack (no joke) of wedding magazines, it's really no surprise that she'll give into temptation and officially start brainstorming wedding ideas.  For me, my eyes could only focus on one thing: the dress.

Monday, November 22, 2010

My besties!

During a wedding planning process, it's pretty much natural to become stressed, confused, upset, or overwhelmed (or all of the above) at least once.  These negative emotions can stem from a vendor you want already being booked, something being out of your budget, or a lack of inspiration for your wedding on a whole.  And it is exactly in those moments of distress that you have to turn to your besties... not your bridesmaids, sisters, or even your mom, but your best planning assistants!  Please allow me to introduce you to my besties.

1) The Wedding Book by Mindy Weiss

There aren't enough words to describe exactly how much I love this book as a wedding planning God-send.  For real... instead of being chock-full of ideas, it succinctly lays out the various factors that should be taken into consideration when making your planning decisions.  This book won't show you pictures of pretty bouquets that you can flag and keep in mind for your next meeting with your florist; instead, it will teach you about the flowers that are in-season during your wedding, how to cut costs on the wedding flowers, and questions to ask a prospective florist.  I think my favorite part of this book is that you just feel... smarter... about wedding-related things once you're done reading any single section in it.  You get big-picture and little-picture stuff all rolled into one.  Definitely a must-buy for any newly engaged gal.

2) Wedding blogs.  Don't get me wrong, I like informational sites like that tell me what I should be taking care of when, but there's a little something missing on those educational sites... fortunately, blogs step in and fill that void.  From my experience, wedding blogs, whether entirely personal or more "professional" with assigned contributors, offer a great look at weddings and wedding planning.  Instead of just seeing a pretty picture of a cake topper and wondering where it was purchased, blogs give you a picture of the cake topper, how the bride decided on it, all of the stores she visited to try and find it, and how much it ultimately ended up costing her.  It's almost like you have a more experienced BFF, holding your hand through the entire process -- you may not always agree with her, but at least you have a ridiculous amount of information at your disposal to help guide you in the future.  My personal favorites? and  I ooh and aah over these blogs on a pretty frequent basis, but my affection for these sites (and others like them) doesn't even COMPARE to how much I adore...

3)  Oh.  Mah.  Gah.  I love this site.  L.O.V.E.  For realz.  OK, let me collect myself and try to actually verbalize exactly how much I love this site.  It's a wedding blog, but it uses a collection of brides-to-be and newly married brides to blog about their own wedding experiences.  That way, you can follow about 20 different women from proposal all the way through their planning, ending with their wedding recaps.  You can contact these amazing women to comment on their ideas or ask for more information.  They are almost all affiliated with a large city, so you can see what vendors or local ideas they use that you could employ in your own wedding, if they happen to live in a city near your own.  They have totally cute handles to maintain their own privacy, so you get well-acquainted with the likes of Mrs. Cheeseburger or Mrs. Octopus, who have already gotten married, or Miss Lioness or Miss Panther, who are still prepping for their own big days.  Without a doubt, though, my favorite part of this site is that no one attempts to tell you how a wedding should be planned or how important it is to maintain this, that, or the other traditions... instead, all of these lovely ladies simply tell you how they are planning their own weddings... ups, downs, smiles, tears... the whole gamut.  No judgment, just ideas, explanations, and opportunities for feedback.  Love love love!

4) A wedding planning binder.  The reality is, even in this technologically advanced time, not everything is digital.  Some things, like signed contracts and price quotes, often come in hard copies.  Given that these documents often detail how many hundreds of dollars are going to be spent, I'd say it's pretty important to keep them in a safe place.  Enter: the binder.  You can either make it yourself with a basic trip to your local Staples store, or you can buy a pre-made one like this one:

It's a great way to stay organized, keeping all of your important documents in one place.  I proudly own this big, pink, polka-dotted one.  Subtle?  Not so much.  But I figure, when else can you go to a meeting with a vendor with a garrish pink binder and not have everyone look at you like you're crazy?  Take advantage of the opportunity!!

5) Last but not least, my absolute favorite wedding planning bestie... CTL+D.  I can't even tell you how large my "wedding" folder is in my browser's favorites is.  Anything even remotely wedding related... ideas for a gift for my parents, a picture of a centerpiece I like, an invitation wording that's different, and so on and so forth... boom.  I now punch my "control" and "D" buttons without batting an eye.  It's the easiest way for me to keep all of my ideas and inspiration in one place.  It's also kind of like a weird, techno-scrapbook of the wedding planning process... I have pictures of dresses I thought I liked, I have inspiration boards of color palettes that never came to fruition, and I have bridesmaid dresses that I like well enough now... we'll see how that all shakes out in the upcoming months.  It's a cute and easy way to see where you've been and how it compares to where you're going with the planning. 

What do you use as your planning besties?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Do we really need those?

Like a dutiful bride-to-be, after getting engaged, I immediately began researching what I needed to do and by when.  I looked at a whole bunch of checklists and timelines from a couple different sources, eager to make sure that I wasn't falling behind in the wedding planning mayhem.  Most of the items were straightforward, and I had no problem tackling them right away.  Get a church?  Sure.  Book a reception spot?  No problem.  Pick your bridal party?  Got it.  However, one item kind of gave me pause, since I'm not fully convinced it's a necessary step in wedding planning.

That item?  Save the dates.  For those of you who don't scour wedding blogs like it's your friggin' job, save the dates are little cards sent out approximately six months before your wedding date.  You send these cards to anyone who is invited to the wedding, giving guests a heads-up of exactly which date they should keep free on their calendars (in case you couldn't figure THAT one out), and helping out-of-town guests get a head start on booking any travel or lodging accommodations they may need for the wedding.

Sure, sure, they sound practical and nice and all that jazz.  However, here's my dilemma.  Pretty much all of our out-of-town guests (now called OOTers) know we're getting married and where and when it's happening.  Most OOTers are college friends or relatives who are pretty in-the-loop with wedding stuff.  Do I really need to shell out the time, money, and energy to create these cards so people can see information on a piece of paper that they already have in their brains?  And if they are a bit hazy on the details, is it fair game to just email them and sort it out on a case-by-case basis?  Maybe I'm a stick in the mud, or maybe I'm lazy, but a decent-sized part of me sees STDs (hee hee, I have the maturity of a five-year-old) as unnecessary time-suckers and money-wasters.

Buuuuuut on the other hand, I've recently discovered that STDs can be really cute and surprisingly not that expensive.  If you go with a popular printing site like Snapfish or VistaPrint, they are quick to make, too, since you pretty much pick a format, fill in the blanks, and *BOOM*, STDs!   
Image via Style Me Pretty / Photo by Kristin Vining

Image via Brooklyn Bride / Photo by Bright Fizz Photo

Maybe I'm getting sucked in by the wedding industry; while I still don't think STDs are necessary in our case, I think they could be super fun and a cute little wedding project for me.  What do you think?  Should my clearer head prevail and I scrap the whole STD phenomenon, or should I join the masses of other brides who fall victim to the excitement of kicking off wedding festivities many, many months in advance?

Small town weddings: big relief or big headache?

Finding our church, date, and reception venue barely had us breaking a sweat.  I was super impressed with myself for how easily this was all coming together and how I was probably well on my way to winning the title of "least stressed bride ever".  And then, our search for vendors struck.  And my stress level rose.  And I kissed my hopes of winning the trophy for lowest-stress ever good-bye.

Image via Hamilton & Bond

As I mentioned before, we're having a homestination wedding.  Johnstown is definitely not a booming and bustling metropolis, but at the same time, it's not a quaint little farm town, either.  It's somewhere in the middle, I suppose. With that being said, Johnstown's large enough to have a handful of each type of wedding vendor, but it's pretty rare for the city to have more than that handful to choose from.  Don't get me wrong -- there have definitely been times when having my choices automatically limited to 3-5 options is a blessing in disguise, since it prevents me from going off the deep end and creating the world's largest spreadsheet to compare all my 1000s of different options.  It's nice to pretty much take a quick look at the 5 options, contact the top 3, and book your favorite 1.

At the same time, there have been a few instances in which these 3-5 options are great, but not exactly matching my style or vision for what I would like from our vendors.  Or, when 2 of the vendors are already booked for your wedding day, your selection instantaneously drops from 3 to 1, which can be less than ideal.  Or, if what you have in mind for the cost of a service is not matching what you are being quoted, you can find yourself pretty darned stuck.  When you're forced to look outside of the small-town network, the real problems start to rear their ugly heads.
Image via Puma P.A.C.

For example, Johnstown is never an option for local planning guides on wedding sites.  When you're looking for new vendor ideas and you click on "Western Pennsylvania" or "Southwestern Pennsylvania," prepare to see 800 options... from Pittsburgh.  And only Pittsburgh.  Johnstown's only two hours away from P-burgh, so it's not a horrible solution, but a lot of vendors from that far away will tack on a travel fee and/or typically charge a higher base price because they service a larger population who generally have larger budgets.  Searching for "Central Pennsylvania" doesn't offer much help, either.  Now you have vendors located in State College or Harrisburg, which are even farther than Pittsburgh!  As a result, your best option is to Google your brains out, using phrases that include the vendor you're looking for and any small but not-too-small town in a 90-minute radius.  Usually this process yields some helpful results, but it's so frustrating that the wedding industry on a whole isn't too interested in catering to us small-town folk. 

Here's what I eventually realized: if you're planning a wedding in a town that doesn't have its own major league sports teams, don't waste too much of your time looking at regional vendor guides on wedding websites.  Instead, take advantage of your small-town benefits -- in my case, I had worked with a good number of prospective vendors in the past.  I had attended sports banquets at area venues and had prom pictures taken by local photographers, so I knew what to expect with their menu options and photography style.  When I didn't have the experience necessary to point me in the right direction, I could usually find a friend of a friend who could offer advice about who they had heard was fantastic, or who they had seen at other weddings who should probably be low on our list, etc.  Sure, we small-town brides may not have a ton of help from regional vendor guides, but what we lack in internet support we more than make up for in some stellar word-of-mouth networking.

Did you find that you were in no-man's-land with wedding planning?  How did you cope with your lack of vendor resources?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Great Monogram Debate

After looking at an infinite number of wedding ideas and photos online, I realized that I'm a sucker for incorporating a monogram into a wedding.  I love it when it's done on a small scale, like on DIY water bottle labels, and I love it when the monogram is on a larger display, like a cake topper.  I think it's an awesome and relatively easy way to personalize your wedding look and any little wedding details.  All you need is the bride's first initial, the groom's first initial, and their new shared last initial.  Easy peasy, right?

...Not quite.  You see, Mr. Snow Cone has a formal name that starts with one letter and an every-day name that starts with another.  For simplicity's sake, let's just say that his full name is Snow Cone, and he has gone by Cone every day of his life, with the exception of super-formal occasions like graduations and the like.  So, the big question: Do you put "S" or "C" as his monogram initial??  On the one hand, S is his correct, formal initial... representative of his birth certificate name.  On the other hand, C stands for the name that 99.9999% of guests at the wedding will know him as.  What's a detail-oriented bride to do??

 Image via Wedding Path

Disclaimer: I trust that, if we go with S, our guests are smart enough to connect the dots and understand where the S is coming from.  I don't expect people to look at a monogrammed cake topper (if we get one) and stare off into the distance for minutes on end attempting to figure out where this blasted S came from.  I think what I am worried about is looking back on pictures from the day and getting tripped up on the tiny little monogram detail, thinking "Darn it, we should have gone with (insert letter here).  That would have been better."

Like any doting bride who's trying to incorporate her groom into the planning process, I asked Mr. Snow Cone what he thinks.  This was his response:

"Well, let's go with S, since that's my name."

(10 second pause)

"No, wait, C is more me, so I want to do that."

(10 second pause)

"No, no... S is formal and this is a big, fancy wedding, so S.  Definitely S."

(10 second pause)

"Geez, I don't know!  You figure it out."

So, here we are!

Right now, I'm leaning toward just biting the bullet and doing a bit of S and a bit of C.  We're using his formal name on our invitations, so we'll get some S action in that way, but I think for the little details here and there, using C makes sense for us as a couple.  I have never once in my life called him "Snow Cone" without it being a joke on my part.  As one of my BMs said, "You guys are Miss SC and C.  Period."  Even though all of this discussion only impacts the tiniest of details, I still want to settle it soon, once and for all.  Why?  So I can make some purchases and decisions now to avoid wedding stress later.  Let me show you all of the monogram ideas I've been lusting after for a few months now:

 Image via Elite Bridal Concierge / Letters by Etsy seller SpottedLeopard

Image via Etsy seller DawnsCraftStore

(I realize this photo involves names versus a monogram, but the same quandary applies.)

What do you think?  S or C?  If I opt to do some S and some C, am I committing a big monogram no-no?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Winner, winner... chicken dinner!

In my last post, I outlined our three finalists for reception venue.  Obviously we could only have our reception at one location (DUH), soooooooo...

Venue 2, Sunnehanna Country Club!  After going over all of the pros, cons, and logistics for each location, we were already heavily leaning toward Sunnehanna.  Even though GG and I had been to Sunnehanna about a bajillion times beforehand, I demanded requested that we go do an official walk-through, you know, with our "wedding eyes" on (Hey, I figure you only get to be a bride once... which means you only get to look at potential reception venues as a bride-to-be once.  I wanted to do this up right.  So sue me.).  Thankfully, GG and my parents both "get" me and my need to plan this wedding the way a wedding "should" be planned, so the four of us traipsed off to Sunnehanna to take a gander... you know, an official gander.

Once we got to Sunnehanna, we met with Denise, the club's wedding and event coordinator.  Um, jackpot!  She was super energetic, enthusiastic, interested, involved, creative, open-minded, accommodating, and the list goes on and on.  Every idea I threw at her, she told me what a great idea it is, and how she has experience executing that idea during a reception, and she usually even leap-frogged off my idea, giving me an idea that I previously hadn't considered.  I don't think she uttered the word "no" a single time during the meeting.  We brianstormed menu, decor, layout, and scheduling options for the big night, and I really felt like she was hearing as opposed to listening, and she was eager to help us to create an awesome reception.

In addition to the bonus of working with Denise, we also have the benefit of having multiple spaces at Sunnehanna to use for our reception.  We have the ballroom, which we'll use for the actual dinner and dancing, the patio, a great place for cocktail hour, and the sunroom, a small alcove off the ballroom to be used for pretty much whatever we want... snacks, some sort of multimedia presentation, bouncy castle...!  (OK, maybe not that last one, but how fun would it be to have one of these at your wedding?!)

So even though our prospective guest list of 300 is pushing Sunnehanna's capacity, hopefully with all of these extra spaces, our guests will have enough room to spread out and enjoy themselves.

I have no doubt that Sunnehanna is the right spot for our reception.  Just looking at pictures like these makes me want to grab a pen and starting writing down ideas for our own party:

GG and I left that meeting, discussed Sunnehanna for about 3 minutes, and decided it was the right location for us.  I guess what it all boils down to is that I felt very... taken care of at Sunnehanna.  It didn't seem like a big money-making operation; instead, it seemed like a venue that was genuinely invested in helping you create the reception you truly want.  Denise told us she had "goosebumps" when meeting us as a couple, and even though she probably says that to everyone who books a wedding at Sunnehanna, part of me thinks she really meant it.  (And in case you're wondering, we probably will have some sort of a chicken dinner like the title suggests!)

Did you only visit one reception venue during your planning?  How did you know you had found the right spot?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Picking a place to paaaaar-taaaaay

For better or for worse, Johnstown and the surrounding areas only have a handful of venues that matched what we were looking for, either in aesthetics, driving distance for our guests, or size to handle the crowd we're expecting, making our reception research quite manageable.  When all was said and done, we had three realistic possibilities, all sprinkled around Johnstown.  I contacted all three sites and got some basic information about the facilities and their wedding services.  Here's the run-down:

Venue 1: Frank J. Pasquerilla Conference Center, downtown Johnstown

This location would definitely be large enough for our expected guest list (and then some), plus it's got a healthy dose of nostalgia since it also hosted the Snow Cones' high school proms.  Unfortunately, downtown Johnstown isn't the best location for outdoor photos, as it's cement as far as the eye can see, and the Center offers big, empty, sterile spaces that would require a lot of time and effort to really jazz up.

Venue 2: Sunnehanna Country Club, Westmont neighborhood of Johnstown

This venue has a great setting for outdoor photos, and is quite familiar to my family, as we've been members for 20+ years.  Unfortunately, the ballroom would just fit our guest list, the decor isn't necessarily my favorite, and some could argue that it has a typically pretentious country club air about it. 
Venue 3: The Living and Learning Center at Pitt-Johnstown, Richland neighborhood of Johnstown

Image via UPJ Geology

This is the only venue on our short list that allowed us to bring in our own alcohol, which could save some bucks, and it's super close to our guests' hotel rooms.  It's not uber-conveniently located in relation to our ceremony location, and it feels very manufactured banquet-y instead of personalized reception-y (if that makes any sense).  

After a bit of deliberation, we decided to actually go visit Sunnehanna Country Club.  Even though Mr. Snow Cone and I had been to Sunnehanna about a bajillion times beforehand, I demanded requested that we go do an official walk-through, you know, with our "wedding eyes" on (Hey, I figure you only get to be a bride once... which means you only get to look at potential reception venues as a bride-to-be once.  I wanted to do this up right.  So sue me.).  Thankfully, he and my parents both "get" me and my need to plan this wedding the way a wedding "should" be planned, so the four of us traipsed off to Sunnehanna to take a gander... you know, an official gander.

Once we got to Sunnehanna, we met with Denise, the club's wedding and event coordinator.  She was super energetic, enthusiastic, interested, involved, creative, open-minded, accommodating, and the list goes on and on.  I don't think she uttered the word "no" a single time during the meeting.  We brianstormed menu, decor, layout, and scheduling options for the big night, and I really felt like she was hearing as opposed to listening, and she was eager to help us to create an awesome reception.

I have no doubt that Sunnehanna is the right spot for our reception.  Just looking at pictures like these makes me want to grab a pen and starting writing down ideas for our own party:

All 3 above images via Sunnehanna Country Club

Mr. Snow Cone and I left that meeting, discussed Sunnehanna for about 3 minutes, and decided it was the right location for us.  I guess what it all boils down to is that we felt very... taken care of at Sunnehanna.  It didn't seem like a big money-making operation; instead, it seemed like a venue that was genuinely invested in helping you create the reception you truly want.  

Did you find your winning reception venue on the first try?  Or did it take a bit more work?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Here is the church, here is the steeple...

... open the doors, and see all the people!

In case you weren't able to tell from my oh-so-clever title, it's time to talk about our church selection!  This decision-making process lasted for about 30 seconds, making it my favorite (read: least stressful) decision of the wedding planning ordeal so far!  Here's the dealio: GG and I both grew up Catholic, and we both have some pretty Catholic grandmas, so getting married in the Catholic Church was simultaneously a no-brainer and a non-negotiable (no one really said it was a non-negotiable, but the vibes were definitely there).  We grew up attending different parishes in Johnstown, about 10 minutes away from each other, so the real decision was whose home church got to host this shindig.

Option 1: St. Clement (GG's church)


GG's family was very involved in this parish while they lived in Johnstown, GG had his Eagle Scout ceremony there, and its location was on a main drag in town, making it easy to get to.

Option 2: Our Mother of Sorrows (OMOS) (my church)

This has been my family's home church since we moved to Johnstown before I was born, all 5 of us kids attended the parish's elementary school up through 8th grade, and it's a whopping 5-minute drive from my house, where I'll be getting bride-ified.  

Two contenders, but there can only be one winner.  Because my family is still connected to OMOS and it's a smidge closer to Team Bride's headquarters, it came out victorious.  Although I'm not supremely religious, I am quite excited about our selection of church, since it's always been sort of my default church in my years of wedding daydreams.  It has a long aisle (at least in my opinion), which is obviously stupendous for weddings, high ceilings, cool architecture, and just the right amount of nostalgia for it to feel like a home church. 

Here's a picture of the interior:

One kind of quirky attribute of the church, that you may or may not be able to see in the above picture is the mosaic behind the altar.  Because the church is named "Our Mother of Sorrows," there is a massive mosaic of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by angels, with knives piercing her flaming heart.  I think it's safe to say that this may not be the most joyous or warm visual to use as a backdrop for a wedding, but what can I say, I've been staring at or past that mosaic for 20+ years by now, so it doesn't even phase me.  I am a little interested to see how newbies respond to the artwork, since it can be a bit jarring, so I'm told.  Either way, I'm confident that they'll be able to see the joy of the occasion being held in the church with the sorrowful namesake... right?

Did you have an easy decision regarding ceremony venue because of familial connections or nostalgia?

Oh, there's no place like home(s) for the holidays...

Even though GG and I have been dating for over eight years and we have this whole "being together" thing pretty much down pat, we still occasionally get thrown a curve ball that forces us to re-consider some things and come up with a new "normal," so to speak.  This month presents exactly one of those curve ball moments: the holidays.  We've celebrates eight holiday seasons together, but we've never celebrated a Thanksgiving or a Christmas together.  Instead, we usually bunker down with our own families and have significant other time on the days immediately before/after the actual holiday celebration.  Usually when people find this out about us, we're greeted with a face similar to this:

Don't get me wrong, I get it.  We've been together forever and yet we haven't crossed this bridge yet.  But, it worked for us.  It always seemed like a good compromise to have a mini-Christmas celebration on the 23rd and then focus on our own families for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, since holidays are about families, not significant others.  I also think neither one of us wanted to surrender our sacred time with our families, immediate or extended.  So, we had relationship black-out dates, and we made it work.

Personal photo of us at PPG Place in Pittsburgh, Christmas 2009

However, now that we're engaged, that system is officially defunct.  We've gone from being a solid boyfriend-girlfriend relationship to being an official, committed unit.  Where one goes, the other pretty much follows.  So, for the first time, we're doing the holiday circuit together.  This whole "dividing-the-holidays" thing is slightly complicated by the fact that GG's family now lives in Pittsburgh, as opposed to Johnstown.  Admittedly, not that difficult of a drive to make, but it's still one extra hurdle to jump over to make sure all of our fam feels the love.  Thus, we're dividing our time between the two western PA cities for all of the holidays for the foreseeable future.  It'll definitely be different, but different doesn't have to be bad.  Sure, it will be kind of a bummer to sacrifice some specific moments or traditions with my own family, like our annual game night on Christmas evening, or opening pajamas from our parents on Christmas Eve.  But, at the same time, it will be really nice to spend the entirety of the holidays with GG and to learn about his family's holiday traditions in-person.  

Fortunately, we split the holiday pot pretty easily this year, making the entire ordeal totally stress-free.  For turkey day, we're doing Thursday and Friday at my place and then Saturday and Sunday at his.  For Christmas, we're spending Christmas Eve and Christmas morning at my house and then trekking over to GG's extended family's celebration for Christmas afternoon, and then celebrating Christmas "morning," part deux, with GG's immediate family on Christmas night.  Sure, it's a decent amount of time in the car, but I figure that we should be happy that our respective sides of the family live close enough to make it feasible to split a day or a holiday weekend !

So, as the holiday 2010 season comes upon us, here's to new traditions and new holiday experiences!  Please let me know I'm not the only who who delayed dividing the holidays for as long as humanly possible, or am I...?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The one for me, times three.

When people find out you're engaged, it's pretty common for them to ask you "when you knew," that is, at what exact moment you discovered/decided/realized that he was the one you want to marry.  We've been engaged for over 12 months now, and I've received this question more than a handful of times.  Early in our engagement, I was a little bummed that I didn't have one specific moment.  I mean, we've been dating or engaged for over 8 years now!  Condensing all of that down into one perspective-changing moment seems to cheapen all of the days we've committed to this relationship.  However, I wasn't happy with my lack of an answer to these inquisitive acquaintances, so I thought back on our relationship, and I came up with three key moments.  I don't know if I would say that "I knew" at each of these moments, but they were definite game-changers, for sure. 

Moment 1: November 2007; we were sophomores in high school.  My dad suffered some sort of "episode," for lack of a better term.  We never really figured out what caused it, but the short version is that he turned gray, passed out, and spent the next 24 hours in the hospital.  Everything turned out to be fine, and he's been in good health ever since, but the handful of hours between when we left the restaurant and when my mom called to say everything was OK were some of the hardest of my young adult life.  The silver lining?  Mr. Snow Cone responded perfectly to the entire situation.  He was practically out the door, on his way to my house, before I could even finish the story of what had happened.  He gave me just the right blend of support and space, letting me cope on my own terms, my own time.  Even though I was only 16 years old, I still remember that, at that moment, I realized that this was not some average high school boyfriend nor some average high school relationship; it was something more.

Personal photo of us during our sophomore winter formal, 2 months after moment 1.

Moment 2: August 2006; we were fresh high school graduates, preparing to go our separate ways for college. And by "separate ways," I mean 400 miles away from one another.  Obviously part of me was super excited to move on to big, bad college life, but an even bigger part of me was supremely comfortable with the little life I had built and was not interested in rocking the boat.  Let's just say I spent about 12 of my last 14 hours in Pennsylvania sobbing hysterically (The two that weren't spent sobbing were spent sleeping.  Trust me, if there was a way to sleep and sob simultaneously, I would have been alllll over it that night).  Once again, it was like Mr. Snow Cone took a class called "How to Be an Awesome Boyfriend 101".  The part I remember most clearly is that right before I got in the car to head out, he hugged me and handed me a thick envelope, telling me to open it in a few hours into the drive.  I expected a super-long, tear-inducing letter about how much he loved and missed me.  Well, it was a super long, tear-inducing letter... but instead of talking about how much he loved me, he included page after page after page of jokes, knowing I would need a laugh, making me cry tears of laughter instead of heartache.  The basic message behind the letter was that there was no need to have a big, dramatic, final good-bye, since we weren't parting ways forever, just temporarily.  Whattaguy.

Personal photo of us at our HS graduation, about 2 months before moment 2.

Moment 3: Fall 2008; juniors in college.  I studied abroad in Spain for a semester, which had always been on my college bucket list.  But as the trip came closer and I was actually packing up, I was less than enthused about my decision.  I didn't want to leave my friends, Notre Dame, my family, and most importantly, Mr. Snow Cone, for three-plus months.  He had no patience for that nonsense.  During my last few weeks in the States, he shot down all of my concerns and anxieties, telling me how much fun I would have on this incredible experience.  He also sacrificed a great amount in order to come with my parents and younger brothers to visit me in Spain over Thanksgiving.  I can still picture him jogging toward me when he got off the train in Toledo, the biggest grin on his face.  Jet lag be damned, we were seeing each other for the first time in three months! Anyone who is selfless enough to support a plan that results in great hardship and inconvenience for himself because he knows how important it is to his girlfriend is someone I want in my life.

Personal photo of us in Spain, during moment 3.

So maybe I didn't have one moment.  But I think that's OK.  I'd rather have a slow but steady evolution of the relationship than a one-and-done "boom! he's the one" sort of experience. 

Did you have a series of moments leading up to you knowing he's the one?  Or, on the flip side, do you have a story of  a singular moment that set it all off?

Friday, November 12, 2010

The decision that wasn't really a decision at all.

Before I got engaged, when people asked me what time of year I'd like to get married in, I usually answered with an eloquent "umm... I dunno... summer... I guess...?"  I never really had my heart set on any one time of year, but I kind of gave the automatic advantage to the summer months for a few reasons of varied importance.  First, I figured it would be the easiest time of year for out-of-towners to travel.  I also assumed that our student and teacher friends and family would have more flexibility with their schedules during the summer than any other time of year.  I like bright colors, and you don't automatically think of hues of warm yellow when thinking of a December wedding.  Finally, I hate being cold.  I hate being chilly.  I hate not having an outfit that keeps me comfortable, temperature-wise, over the course of the day.  Hate hate hate.  So, the thought of shivering, having goosebumps, or needing a coat on my wedding day was far from enticing.  I guess my desire to have present family and friends, bright colors, and warmth all joined forces to encourage me to have a summer wedding... kind of like Captain Planet, wedding edition!

Despite my initial inclination toward summer months, I decided to try and be fair and open-minded when choosing a wedding date, you know, since I wasn't the only person actually getting married that day.  When GG and I first started weighing our options, it seemed like we had the whole year wiiiiiiiide open.  And then we actually started to look at our calendars with "real-life" glasses on.  Long story short, I'm a full-time student.  School and I have been BFFs for the past 16 years, and I have a feeling this relationship will continue into the foreseeable future (at the very least, until December 2011).  While I think I have some pretty stellar time management skills, planning a wedding to take place smack-dab in the middle of a semester would definitely max out whatever skills of any variety I possess.  We quickly decided that for my own sanity (and, as a consequence, GG's sanity), school and wedding are about as compatible as the classic oil and water.  I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that having a wedding during a full courseload would probably be the end of me. 

OK, so we take out our big, figurative red marker and start x-ing out dates.  With our "no school year" dictum, we eliminated all of January through April.  And the first week of May through the first week of August (hooray for summer classes).  And, finally, Labor Day through Christmas.  Meaning our "wide open calendar" quickly boiled down to some pretty limited options: a few days in May, a few weeks in August, and the Christmas season.  Awesome sauce.  We decided May was a no-go -- we wanted to have a wedding and a honeymoon all in one big hulabaloo, but my break between the end of spring semester and the beginning of summer semester is just too short to make it all happen.  We talked about having our wedding during the Christmas season, but that got the axe as well --  Christmas 2010 was a bit too close, Christmas 2011 was a bit too far, not to mention the aggravation of trying to get family and friends to squeeze in a mini-vacation so close to the holidays and the highly unpredictable weather in Western PA.  Pass.  So, without throwing a single punch, August became our wedding date winner!

Most of the month of August is free from school for me, so we just thought we could pick any dandy weekend we wanted.  Nay.  First weekend in August?  I'm in finals (or, at least, scheduled to be).  Third weekend in August?  My two younger brothers would be moving back into college for the school year.  Last weekend in August?  I'm back in school.  Once again, completely by default, we had a winner - second weekend in August, it is!  Up to this point in our relationship, August 13 had absolutely no significance to us, so practicality definitely beat out sentimentality in this fight.  But, on the plus side, I did find out shortly after we picked our date that a certain other couple is getting married that day.


Disclaimer: I have never read a single page of Twilight.  I don't really plan on it, either (Absolutely no offense meant toward Twilight fans).  So you can imagine my unbridled joy at finding out that my wedding date happens to fall on their fictitious wedding date.  As one of my friends put it, "It's a day just meant for love!" (Gag.)

Our calendar has 52 weekends, just like everybody else's, but after making a list of specifications we needed out of our wedding date, we officially found a big fat ONE that fit the bill.  Hey, I'm not complaining about a wedding decision kind of being thrown into my lap -- no big stress!  

Did you have a wedding date pretty much fall into your lap because of scheduling demands?  Or did you have more flexibility in selecting your date?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Finally, a winner... courtesy of an internet gem.

Picking a color palette was not nearly as easy as I had expected.  We finally reached a common ground by agreeing on purple, but that's really only half the battle.  Without a complementary color, if we just stayed with purple and purple only, we'd have a wedding that resembled Grimace:

Image via The OC Insider
...and nobody needs that.

So, Mr. Snow Cone suggested green as an accent color.  I don't know about you, but when I think of purple and green together, a certain childhood friend pops into mind:
Image via Ah Beng's World

Although I was initially reluctant to look at purple and green together, I had bombarded Mr. Snow Cone with all of my color palette suggestions over the past few weeks, so I decided it was only fair to look into his suggestion of purple and green.  I am partial to a plum shade of purple, so I Googled "plum wedding palette" and came across THE BEST AND MOST HELPFUL COLOR SITE EVER.

That's right, there's a blog called "The Perfect Palette" that has nothing but color combinations and inspiration boards to let you see how various colors match up against each other in a wedding setting!  Just imagine my glee at discovering that about 99% of the work of picking color combinations had already been done for me;  now all I needed to do was plop down on the couch for a while, poking around this newly-discovered and highly-adored blog.  

One of my favorite parts about this site is that you can sort by color, so instead of slogging through all of the color combinations, you can get right to the meat of it.  At the same time, let's say you have 3 colors picked out, for sure.  On this blog, you can easily scope out inspiration boards that show each of your three colors as the primary color, with the other 2 as the complementary tones, helping you to decide exactly how you see this color palette being applied to your individual wedding.  Some of the combos have two colors, a traditional and classic approach, while some have up to five, giving you an idea of how the hues can layer on top of each other without looking like you used a clown as your wedding designer.

Mr. Snow Cone was equally impressed with this website find (I think mostly because it meant that we could stop talking about color palettes in the very near future), so we hunkered down and spent about 10 minutes looking at pictures and debating until we settled on our final color scheme: purple, light green, and gray.  As of now, we're planning to use gray as our secondary color and green as more of a tertiary accent, but either way, I'm relieved we finally settled on something, not to mention totally in love with our selection.

Based on the conclusion we reached with The Perfect Palette's help, here's our final color palette board:
Collage created by me.  Sources, clockwise from top left
Cake: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Look Photography / Cake by Classic Confection Cakes
Pew flowers: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Alliance Photography / Flowers by Indigo Floral
Bridesmaids: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Melissa Jill Photography / Dresses by Priscilla of Boston
Boutonniere: Image via TheKnot / Photo by L Photographie / Boutonniere by Thorn Studio, LLC
Bouquet: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Kay English Photography / Bouquet by Bridal Bouquet Design
Groomsmen: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Elizabeth Messina Photography / Attire by Banana Republic
Menu: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Marni Rothschild Photos / Menu by Studio R
Shoes: Image via TheKnot / Photo by D. Bryant Photography

It's modern and traditional all at the same time, which is exactly the look/vibe that we're going for with the entire event.  Thank goodness for unexpected website finds that make life 100 times easier!

Did you have a surprise, lucky internet find that helped with your planning problems?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Color palette confusion

Pretty early in the wedding planning process, you need to nail down a color palette.  True, this decision won't necessarily have an impact on the other big-ticket decisions (like date or ceremony/reception venue), it shows up in almost every other decision you'll make.  You can't pick bridesmaids' dresses, table linens, boutonnieres, "mother of" attire, or centerpieces without knowing what colors you're working with.  Well, I guess you could pick all of your details without picking a specific color palette first, if you don't mind have your wedding kind of resemble rainbow throw-up.

Image via Gizmodo
To each their own, but I'm trying to avoid having anyone compare the look of my wedding to vomit.  So, a well-defined color palette decision, it is!

As I launched into planning our wedding, I figured Mr. Snow Cone would be the typical backseat groom that I've always seen in movies and TV shows about weddings -- you know the type, pretty much a magic 8-ball of supportive but nonchalant answers like "sounds good" and "whatever you want, honey."  I expected he'd want to be highly-involved in certain aspects of the day, like picking and sampling the menu, making bar selections, and other "dude-ly" tasks.  I also expected that he'd be more than OK with me taking the driver's seat with more of the detail-oriented, visual stuff, like color palettes.  I made the assumption that I would pick a color palette, tell him what I picked, and keep the ball rolling.  Simple as that.  When I started trying to envision what I wanted our wedding to look like, my brain immediately went to my favorite color combination of navy blue and sunny yellow. I had visions of this type of cheery, fun wedding:

Collage made by me.  Sources, clockwise from top left
Roses: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Lace/Hanky Photography / Bouquet by Flora Studio
Pomander: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Red Fly Photography / Pomander by Blue Parrot Playa del Carmen
Bridesmaids' bouquets: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Victoria Souza Photography / Bouquets by Hana Floral Design
Cake: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Heather Hughes Photography / Cake by Emily Uperti-Patti of Patti Cakes, Inc.
Invitation: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Antonis Achilleos / Invitation by Kenzie Kate
Bouquet: Image via TheKnot / Phot by Antonis Achilleos / Bouquet by Beautiful Blooms
Favor: Image via TheKnot / Photo by DVB Photographers / Favor by Savannah Bee Company
Lanterns: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Evrim Icoz Photography 

I was a little worried people would think we were having a Notre Dame and/or Pitt themed wedding, since coincidentally both schools' colors are navy and gold/yellow; but, at the same time, I kept telling myself that having a wedding that just happened to be in our schools' colors would be a reflection of us as a couple, which is what you strive for in wedding planning.  It turns out that Mr. Snow Cone had the same concern, plus he was plus-minus on the blue and minus-minus on the yellow.  Not quite the reaction I was going for.

Attempt #2: I refused to give up on my beloved yellow.  I thought if I masked it with another bright, strong color, he might be more of a fan.  So, I tried purple and yellow.  Not necessarily one of the first color combinations that comes to mind when you think of "awesome colors that go together, especially for weddings" (at least not for me), but I was pleasantly surprised about how the color inspiration board turned out -- dramatic but still upbeat and fun.

 Collage made by me.  Sources, clockwise from top left
Escort cards: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Ann Hamilton Photographer 
Flowers: Image via TheKnot / Photo by L'amour de Vie / Flowers by DesignWorks by Dave and Mike
Chairs: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Halberg Photographers / Rentals by Fusion Linens
Favors: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Missy Photography / Favors by The Knot Wedding Shop
Program: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Nelson Photography / Program by Paper & Inklings
Program: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Borrowed Blue Photography 
Cake: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Ian Johnson 
Flowers: Image via TheKnot / Photo by VUE Photography / Flowers by Twigs

Mr. Snow Cone's response?  He really liked the purple, but didn't fall for my attempts to sneak yellow into the palette.  To him, this color combination looked like a Minnesota Vikings-themed wedding, and I couldn't really disagree with him on that.
Purple and yellow?  Officially a no-go.

Attempt #3: Peacock-inspired color palette.  No feathers would necessarily have to be included, since it wouldn't be a peacock-themed wedding, but if they wriggled their way in there, so be it.  I mostly was envisioning pretty shades of purple, teal, apple green, navy, and the like:

Collage made by me.  Sources, clockwise from top left
Boutonniere: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Captivated Images / Boutonniere by Carol Gary at Dayspring Designs
Flowers: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Phase 3 Photography / Flowers by The Urban Blossom Floral 
Necktie: Image via Price Inspector 
Invitation: Image via Formal-Invitations
Program: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Melissa Grimes-Guy Photography / Program by More Than Words Fine Paper
Escort Cards: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Melissa Grimes-Guy Photography / Program by More Than Words Fine Paper
Lighting: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Goen South 
Cake: Image via TheKnot / Photo by Therese Marie Wagner Photography / Cake by Carlo's Bakery

His response: a hesitant "As long as there are no feathers involved...".  Once again, not quite what I was hoping to hear.  Adios, peacock-colors!

Synopsis: After creating these inspiration boards, we managed to give yellow the axe and agree that purple was probably a good choice, but we definitely weren't anywhere close to picking any sort of accent colors.  I was surprised at how active and opinionated Mr. Snow Cone was during this color-selection process.  Apparently pop culture was off-base as it conditioned me for 22 years to expect to pick my favorite colors and be done with it; it was kind of a hard day for me to realize that my countless hours of vegging out in front of the TV may not have been the best preparation for the real world.  Although we didn't land on an exact palette the first, second, or third try, we were honing in on a winner.  Fortunately for us, a lucky Google search gave us the answers we were looking for... to be continued!

Did you have an active groom-to-be in the decision-making process?  How did that impact your planning progress?

My Big Fat Wedding Reality Check

Suffice it to say, I think about weddings a lot.  Riding the bus, sitting in class, at work... weddings, weddings, weddings.  I can't even begin to estimate the number of hours I've spent perusing any even remotely wedding-related website, looking for invitation designs, centerpiece ideas, bridesmaid dresses, bouquet photos, escort cards, just to name a few.  Not that I'm complaining, of course.  It's my decision to pour all of those minutes and hours into scoping out good bargains, new twists, and creative touches to add to the upcoming nuptials. I would wager big money on the fact that if you ask a bride what she wants to experience on her wedding day, she'll say: "I want a fantastically memorable affair where I'm surrounded by all the people I love, celebrating the commitment I just made to the man of my dreams."  And I would wager even bigger money on the fact that what she really means is: "I want to have an amazing celebration that beats the beejezus out of any other wedding any of our guests will attend... EVER."  It's just one of those oft-unspoken realities of wedding planning!

So, in my attempts to fulfill the goals of having an awesome wedding day AND creating an impressive event that will leave our guests speechless at its awesomeness, I scour every source I can find for inspiration and ideas.  I try my best to stay on top of the details of the day... my goal is to take care of as much as possible far in advance of when it needs to be done so that I can keep spending an inordinate amount of time on prepping for the next phase.  These weddings don't plan themselves, folks.  Despite all my best intentions with planning and my lofty goals for the event on a whole, I still stumble in the planning process.

For example, earlier this week, I was completely knocked back when two of the members of our bridal party, completely independently of each other, said they expected to cry at our wedding.  Not because they are moaning Myrtles in general or because weddings always make them cry... because it's us and it's our wedding.  Obviously, as members of our bridal party, they know both GG and I pretty well and are big fans of us as individuals and as a couple.  But I was struck by how frank both of these people were (1 GM and 1 BM, mind you... not just two eagerly emotive lady-friends) about the sheer emotional impact of the actual wedding.  It definitely made me take a step back and think about the real significance of what's going on here.  Realistically speaking, who cares if we decide on short versus long bridesmaid dresses?  Who is going to even notice if we dress the groomsmen in tuxedos or suits?  Sure, people may leave our reception next August raving about how good the food was or how the dance floor was absolutely packed all night long.  But, truth be told, I'd much rather have people leave the reception with the memory of how much love and joy were present throughout the day.  Most people don't come to weddings to notice all the little details that the couple have lovingly spent hours stressing over, selecting, and preparing.  Instead, they come to weddings to notice none of the details except the most important one: the feeling in the room as the couple begin this new journey together.

I know this sounds so cliche and obvious, kind of like this:

but I can't get over exactly how much of a "light bulb" moment it was for me! Um, hello, I'm getting MARRIED.  And that's AWESOME.

... with that being said, of course, I still plan on being a quasi-perfectionist about all the details of the big day.  Now, at least, I'll hopefully have my head on straight enough to be able to balance the details and the reason for the season.