A Wedding Tale ~ Part VII: Finding The One (And Some Dress Shopping Tips)

November 18, 2013


Every girl dreams of that moment during her wedding planning when she finds The One. The dress, that is. A wedding dress is a woman’s moment to be a princess, a fashion icon, a Sabrina, an Audrey Hepburn, the graceful enchanting center of attention. That moment when you walk down in the aisle in your gown is your moment to show everyone your sense of style. Are you classic? Vintage? Cutting-edge? A perfect princess? Rustic duchess?

The only problem with this is that the average cost of a wedding dress is about $1,200. That’s no fairy tale. $12oo was a sizeable portion of my wedding budget; there was no way I was going to spend that much on just my dress.


Additionally, for those of us who haven’t known since we were 12 years old what kind of dream dress would mesh perfectly with the rest of our Dream Wedding, the prospect of finding a dress that will utterly define us, our sense of fashion, and our wedding can be a bit overwhelming.

There’s so many options – Ball-gown? Trumpet? A-line? Sleeves? Straps? No sleeves? Lace? Silk?


But pick a wedding gown every anticipatory bride must, and so I dove in. I visited a few local boutiques to narrow down the styles and then tried to match the styles at the typical budget avenues – David’s Bridal was of course my first stop, but I’m impatient and a little nervous about commitment and the idea of waiting 6 weeks to put on my custom-fitted dress for the first time made my already palpitating heart want to pack up and go to South Africa.


I began to scour other possible source. For all of you brides-to-be out there, Ann Taylor, JCrew, Macy’s, and Bloomingdale’s all have fabulous wedding dresses. If you’re shopping on a budget, check out the clearance sections. The dresses are generally 100% refundable and returnable so there’s very little risk involved and when you finally find one you like – there’s no wait!

I finally found a dress that I liked and that fit my wedding budget among the Ann Taylor collections. I ordered it and tried it on with my mom and sister looking on. It was lovely, it was white, and it essentially fit, which was pretty much all that I cared about at that point. (I’m a terrible shopper.)


But something was off. I had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that the dress just didn’t look that great on me. The feeling was confirmed when I tried the dress on over Christmas a second time with my mom and sister looking on. It looked terrible on me. It might just have been a difference of hair or lighting but the dress I had bought did not work. At. All.

Back to Square One. To boot, now it was December. The wedding was in June. In the calendars of wedding planners, my wedding dress shopping was already about 12 months behind schedule.


I began to panic. I started scouring wedding dress blogs for solutions. Sites like Off Beat Bride literally saved my sanity by assuring me that my range of options was a lot greater than I was allowing. It didn’t matter what the dress looked like on paper. It mattered if I liked it.


I was pretty sure at this point that I needed an off-white dress. My skin is pretty fair and Mark was going to be in his white uniform so a bit of contrast was needed. I started to search through formal dress departments.

Almost immediately, I found a gorgeous dress in Macy’s online formal dress selection. It was an off-white champagne color. It was exactly the fit and style that I had been searching for and fell well within my budget. I ordered it immediately. When it arrived, a whole three days later, the dress fit perfectly. I didn’t want to let go of it. The dress literally was a dream come true.


Tips for The Wedding Dress Search:

  1. Commit to a dress budget. There is an endless abundance of dresses and shops and accessories. Using your budget as a guideline will seriously keep you from going crazy with all of the options.
  2. Try a lot of styles on at first and go with your instincts. If certain dresses consistently just don’t look good on you, stop wasting your time on them.
  3. Don’t be afraid to try something that is different than your imaginary ideal dress. Sometimes we think certain things will look good on us that definitely don’t in reality, and vice versa.
  4. But let your taste be the starting point. If you have a style that you absolutely love, start there.
  5. Be willing to be a little uncoventional. For me, this mean that I bought a technically non-wedding dress that wasn’t white. For you, it might mean wearing a short dress or including a colored accent. Be willing to experiment and be willing to search for your dress in unexpected places. Remember, it’s YOUR wedding. The dress should be something you love. It doesn’t matter what it is called, who made it, or where it came from.
  6. Be careful how many opinions you solicit. I limited the number of people who knew about my dress ahead of time to my mom and sister, one bridesmaid, and my roommates. I knew I could trust their opinions; I knew they’d be honest with me; and I knew that all of them would respect my final decision even if they didn’t love the dress.
  7. You should feel beautiful in your dress. This is a non-negotiable. If you don’t like the way the fabric feels or falls on you, keep looking. It doesn’t matter what the dress costs; it matters that you love it and love the way you look in it.

Continue Reading


7 Tips for Selecting the Perfect Wedding Venue // 6.

September 24, 2013


IMG_9739 - Version 2

Only a few weeks into our 7-month engagement, Mark and I had settled on a Michigan wedding. We both love the outdoors and knew we wanted to have an outdoor wedding if at all possible. June in Michigan is temperate in a good year, chilly in a luckless one.

My family home, nestled on land in the middle of National Forest 90 minutes away from a major airport provided us with the perfect backdrop for the simple yet elegant wedding we wanted to create. A tiny church nearby and the ample space inside the house and barn provided us with backup in case of inclement weather.

IMG_0515 - Version 2

The wedding site ended up being more perfect than I had even hoped. The rehearsal dinner took place on the front patio of the house; we organized the reception and ceremony in the back of the house.

We had a brief brush with inclement weather – a few raindrops started to fall right as the bridesmaids were beginning to walk out of the house and down the deck stairs towards the waiting guests. But the drops had stopped by the time the piano had played the last notes of Canon in D. The clouds blew away and the reception was held under a partially sunny sky.

IMG_9728 - Version 3

IMG_9736 - Version 2

It was so special to get ready for the wedding in my family home, to eat lunch with the wedding party in our family kitchen, to chat for a few minutes with my bridesmaids and sisters in the rooms where we have all spent so many hours together through the years.


Although not everyone is able to organize a reception or ceremony in their home, no one needs to settle for a venue that is simply functional and effective.

When searching for a venue, frantic brides often feel a little trapped and often settle for spending substantially more money or a less inspiring location than they originally hoped for.

IMG_9819 - Version 2

The venue selection will affect almost all other aspects of a wedding. Venues often have rules about catering, drinks, and guest numbers that will limit your ability to make your day your own.

Peace of mind on your wedding day is priceless. If you sense that your choice of venue is causing substantial stress, creating financial strain, or is severely limiting your ability to make your wedding your own, consider being more flexible about your choice of venue.

Here are seven guidelines to keep in mind when you are seeking out a venue for your wedding.

IMG_0809 - Version 2

1. If you plan to be married outside, have an indoor backup ready nearby. 

Our indoor backup for the reception was on-site; if it rained, we were prepared to move all of the food and guests into my parent’s home. The church a mile away was our ceremony back-up and the woman who has the key to the building was one of our dear friends who helped extensively with the wedding, so there was no chance of suddenly losing access to the building.

2. Consider unusual venues rather than the traditional hotel or country club locations.

An art gallery, museum, or historical home all make lovely indoor venues. If you plan to be married outside, consider a local barn, public garden, city park, or state park. Even if the area is technically open to the public, the flexibility of a non-traditional option often provides you with more flexibility to make the wedding your own.

IMG_9772 - Version 2

3. Don’t underestimate the value of using the home or property of a family member or friend. 

The peace of mind that can come with a venue where the rules are more relaxed is often worth a little extra clean-up. Beautiful homes and yards often offer a backdrop and atmosphere that money can’t purchase, especially for a small wedding.

4. Consider having your ceremony and reception in the same place. 

Even if this means that you sacrifice some backdrop or atmosphere, your guests will appreciate the convenience and ease. The reception will be more comfortable and enjoyable for everyone if it doesn’t require the bride, groom, and guests to fight traffic or spend a long time rebooting after the ceremony.

IMG_0654 - Version 2

5. Keep the lighting in mind. 

Remember that lighting changes the look of an event and your photos. A garden might be lovely during the day but if you have an evening wedding and the area is not appropriately lit, your event could be dampered by darkness. Be sure to check out the venue during the time of day for which your ceremony is scheduled.

6. Using a venue that is already decorated will save you money on flowers and other decorations.

Mark and I were married against a backdrop of green fields and trees. During the reception, we were surrounded by open space, deer, green fields, and wildflowers. Because we selected a lovely place for our wedding, we were able to stress and spend less on the decorations. For instance, we didn’t have any kind of backdrop (an arch or table) behind us during our ceremony. We simply didn’t need the added elaboration.

7. Don’t fight your location.

Your location will, in many senses, determine the style of your wedding. If you are having a ceremony or reception in a modern art gallery or a new building with a lot of stone and clean lines, then try to incorporate those into your decorations and wedding-day style, rather than trying to battle against the look that is already present. Our wedding was outside so we tried to incorporate a lot of natural hues and textures.


A bonus tip: Relax and prioritize. 

Remember that the blessing of being surrounded by family and friends and the memories of a relaxed, special day are far more important than the decorations or the backdrop. Frankly, few will even remember your venue in a few years, but everyone will remember whether the day was stressful and frantic or relaxed and gracious.

The meaning of a wedding ceremony and the love you share with your guests on your wedding day trump. Focus on finding a venue that allows everyone to focus on what is actually important on your big day.

Need more inspiration? This book provided me with so many wonderful ideas during our planning process.

Want some more wedding insight? Check out the entire series below!

Part 1 – an overview of our day.

Part 2 – our DIY invitations.

Part 3 – outfit inspiration from our groomsmen and bridesmaids.

Part 4 – our magical barbecue rehearsal dinner.

Part 5 – how to re-create our DIY burlap flag banners.

Continue Reading


10 Memorable Free (or Almost Free) Dates in the DC area

September 17, 2013


Mark and I have never been one of those couples that spends a lot of money on dates. Sure, we like to go out to a nice dinner every now and then just like anyone else. But if we spend a lot on a date, unless the spending is really intentional, the chances of one or both of us just being grumpy and experiencing a lot of buyer’s regret is fairly high.

We also happen to live in Washington, D.C.. Besides being the capital of the nation, it’s also the capital of Great Free Activities. There are so many things to do and see in this city that don’t cost a dime and that are truly worthwhile.

So here are 10 free (or almost free) date-night suggestions for the D.C. area. Mark and I will definitely be checking off the items (again!) listed here as the weather begins to cool off. (If you’re not in the area, keep reading anyway . . . many of these ideas will still provide you with some date-night inspiration!)

1. Visit the National Portrait Gallery or the National Museum of American History.

Both of these frequently have new or visiting exhibits so they never get old! Mark and I love to wander through these and other museums, especially as the weather gets colder!


2. Have a picnic on the lawn of the Capitol.

Picnics are not as fun when the temperature registers at 95 degrees. The cooler weather means that impromptu picnics are fun again!

3. Spend an afternoon watching the planes take off at Gravelly Point.


4. Visit the beautiful Franciscan Monastery, located in Northeast D.C.

5. Rent or borrow bikes (or dust off your own!) and do a bike tour of the monuments around the Tidal Basin.

6. Play pickup volleyball by the Lincoln Memorial on any Saturday or Sunday morning.


7. Find a farmer’s market near you and wander. 

8. Make dinner together. 


9. Watch a movie at home.

This is seriously one of our favorite things to do. By the time we have time to just hang out, we are normally too tired (and probably too lazy!) to leave our cozy home to go out and spend money. We much prefer turning on a movie, opening a ginormous bag of Twizzlers or some wine, and watching a movie at home.

10. Visit Fort Washington. This little known but impressive landmark will fill a fun afternoon!


What are your favorite fall budget-date ideas?



Continue Reading


How We Decorated with Breathtaking Burlap Flag Banners // 5.

September 10, 2013



Many of our decorations and wedding pieces were DIY projects. But, next to the invitations, my favorite DIY wedding project was the burlap flag banners that we created.


I wanted to tie some quotes and words into the reception.




My sisters and mom and I tackled this project when I went home for Mother’s Day, a few weeks before the wedding. We had such a lovely time crafting together and having a large bulk of the wedding decorations completed gave us a lot of peace of mind later!


For those of you who want to try this, we started with a large roll of burlap fabric. We cut out dozens of flags that were all the same size, about 10″ across at the top. We used one as a prototype and then cut all of the others using the sample flag. A piece of paper cut to the right size would also work as a prototype.


Next, we mapped out the quotes and words we wanted to use. My mom, a genius seamstress, then folded the top edge of flags around a piece of twin to create banners that were the right length. (For instance, for the banner that said “Amour”, she attached five flag pieces together.


After the banners were sewn together, it was time to paint the letters onto the flags. First, each one of us lightly sprayed a bit of adhesive onto whatever flag we were working on before setting the stencil onto the flag. This helped ensure that the stencil didn’t slide around.


Then we used acrylic paint and a paintbrush to fill in the stencil, peeling off the stencil as soon as the letter was filled in. We tried both white and black acrylic paint. We definitely liked the way the white letters looked better although it occasionally didn’t stand out from the dark burlap enough and was a little difficult to read in some of the lighting.

The bolder, thicker stencils definitely were more readable than the elaborate, curly fonts.




Some of the banners contained strings of words. To separate the words, we included a flag of wedding-color-coordinating fabric in place of burlap. This added a unique touch to the banners and helped make the phrases and and words more readable.

IMG_1212 - Version 2

IMG_9927 - Version 2

We left the flags to dry for a few hours before folding them carefully and storing them with the rest of the wedding supplies.

IMG_0953 - Version 3

The burlap flag banners were a beautiful touch at the wedding reception. Some formed a fun backdrop for pictures, some helped direct people, and some were strung high across the yard helped create a sense of height in the reception area.

Need more inspiration? This book provided me with so many wonderful ideas during our planning process.

Want some more wedding insight? Check out the entire series below!

Part 1 – an overview of our day.

Part 2 – our DIY invitations.

Part 3 – outfit inspiration from our groomsmen and bridesmaids.

Part 4 – our magical barbecue rehearsal dinner.

Part 6 – some tips on venues.

Continue Reading


How We Planned the Perfect Rehearsal Dinner // 4.

August 16, 2013


Because our wedding required a lot of traveling on the part of the guests and families, the celebration wasn’t just limited to a five-hour event. Instead, the revelry stretched out over several days. Spending a lot of quality time with both of our families and our close friends was one of the best parts of our wedding (and the aspect that took the most strategizing and planning!).

We opted out of an intimate, formal rehearsal dinner for a large, casual barbecue at my parent’s home. Mark is originally from Dallas and we decided to center the evening around a Texas-cowboy theme.

8-16-13 2

We were expecting about 70 people for the rehearsal barbecue and so we rented a number of large round tables (the same tables we were planning to use for the reception) and set them up on the large  circle driveway. The food and drink tables were arranged on the brick patio immediately in front of the house.

8-15-13 9


8-16-13 9

8-16-13 4

Each table was covered with a red-and-white checked tablecloth. We layered a square of burlap and a red bandana over that and spread some small rocks on each table. We created a centerpiece using some of the flowers that we planned to use for the reception (more on that later). Each centerpiece consisted of a clear vase filled with daisies and two small mason jars, each containing a white votive candle.


The catered food also fit into the barbecue theme; we served pulled pork, beans, and pasta salad, red and white wine, and Blue Moon and Corona beer.

8-16-13 6

The relaxing evening with our friends and family was so memorable.

I loved the clothes that everyone chose for the evening. Ladies wore beautiful, elegant casual-chic dresses in every imaginable color and the guys wore bright polos or plaid shirts with jeans.

8-16-13 7

My dad’s large blue tractor served as a fun photo-station for the evening.

8-16-13 8


And Mark’s cousin made the groom’s cake, which we served as dessert at the rehearsal dinner.

8-15-13 9

The playlist was full of classic country music and by the end of the evening, everyone was dancing to the familiar tunes against the backdrop of twinkle light.

8-16-13 5\\

The evening before our wedding was celebratory, festive and fun and everything a Texas barbecue should be.

Need more inspiration? This book provided me with so many wonderful ideas during our planning process.

Want some more wedding insight? Check out the entire series below!

Part 1 – an overview of our day.

Part 2 – our DIY invitations.

Part 3 – outfit inspiration from our groomsmen and bridesmaids.

Part 5 – the fun DIY burlap banners we created.

Part 6 – some tips on venues.

Continue Reading


Our Groomsmen and Bridesmaids: Simple Navy Inspiration // 3.

August 2, 2013


It was so much fun to spend time with our wedding party. The bridesmaids and groomsmen were all either siblings of the bride or groom or dear friends. Special memories were made as we spent time with them over the weekend and on the wedding day.





The wedding party’s attire fit into the casual elegant theme. We asked the guys to show up in blue blazers and khaki-colored pants while the ladies were asked to pick out a navy dress of their choice.


The bridesmaids and I got to enjoy some time together while we waited for the guests to arrive.






The girls were stunning. Their beautiful dresses and smiles lit up the day.












The guys were dashing as well.

7-15-13 4




Since the wedding took place on our land, there were plenty of fun locations to take photos!



My dad’s barn provided us with all sorts of unique props . . . .





Need more inspiration? This book provided me with so many wonderful ideas during our planning process.

Want some more wedding insight? Check out the entire series below!

Part 1 – an overview of our day.

Part 2 – our DIY invitations.

Part 4 – the rehearsal dinner.

Part 5 – the fun DIY burlap banners we created.

Part 6 – some tips on venues.

Continue Reading


How to Create Memorable DIY Invitations // 2.

August 1, 2013


The invitations were one of my favorite aspects of the wedding planning process. I have never enjoyed crafts or DIY projects before this, but making our own invitations changed that. I was so excited about the finished product.

Bike 3

Creating the invitations was fairly time-and-labor-intensive. At one point, there were 7 of us around the dining room table, tying, stamping, and stuffing. If you are pressed for time, this step is probably worth outsourcing. But if you have the time to create your own invitations, the personalized result will definitely be rewarding!

When we began the invitation planning process, I knew that I wanted the wedding invitations to reflect the textures and colors of the wedding. (I also was pretty certain that we could make the invitations I envisioned for less than purchasing a similar product, since elaborate custom invitations can be a large investment.)

DSC_0302 - Version 2

Our wedding colors were navy and tangerine. The invitations were primarily navy, white, and brown, with a few touches of bright orange. The completed invitations included 9 pieces:

  • The navy back-piece
  • The white front-piece with the invitation text
  • The white tag that listed our wedding website
  • An orange decorative stamp on the white tap
  • The white RSVP card
  • The brown Kraft-paper RSVP self-addressed, stamped envelope
  • The brown Kraft-paper inner envelope
  • The brown Kraft-paper outer envelope
  • Tangerine-and-white striped string and burlap string (which we interchanged) tying all of the pieces together

DSC_0301 - Version 2

To create the set, we used the following supplies:

  • Back-piece – Heavy navy cardstock, 8.5″ x 11″
  • Front-piece with text – White slightly-heavier-than-regular-paper, 8.5″ x 11″
  • RSVP card – White cardstock, 8.5″ x 11″, pre-cut into quarters
  • Pre-perforated printable price tags
  • 3 different sizes of brown Kraft-paper envelopes  – one slightly larger than the RSVP card, one slightly larger than the 8.5″ x 11″ back-piece, and one large envelope to contain all of the pieces.
  • Orange and White string
  • A bright orange stamp of a small flower

DSC_0311 - Version 2

Most of the paper products we found at either Hobby Lobby or Office Max. The envelopes were ordered from bulk suppliers. Figuring out the sizing for the envelopes was a little bit of a nightmare. When ordering envelopes, remember that the envelopes need to be minutely larger than the paper itself so that the paper can fit comfortably inside.

The Kraft-paper and rough texture of the card-stock and burlap string reflected the rustic simplicity of our wedding theme, while the delicacy and bright color of the string and flower-stamp along with the white-on-navy color contrast and the formal font and wording of the invitations added elegant touches. The beautiful layout was designed by my creative mother.


We used a large paper-cutter to do all of our trimming. If you plan to make your own invitations, I highly recommend buying one. It’ll be worth the small investment! To construct the invitations, we followed these steps:

  • Cut the navy card-stock in half
  • Print the invitations (2 invitations per 8.5″ x 11″ white front-piece), RSVP cards, and wedding-website tags
  • Cut the slightly-heavier-than-regular white paper in half and then trimmed another 1/8″ off each side of it. (Making sure the text was centered after the trimming was tricky, but if you follow these steps, simply leave an extra 1/8″ margin on either side of the text when you are centering it in your word processor program.)
  • Attach the front-piece to the back-piece using double-sided scrapbook tape, which is thinner and lighter than glue.
  • Using the perforated hole on the website tag as an attachment point, tie the pieces together.


Once the inner and outer envelopes were addressed (we opted to print ours rather than hand-writing the addresses), we tucked each set into an inner envelope. Finally, we tucked the stuffed inner envelope into the large envelope and sealed it.

Need more inspiration? This book provided me with so many wonderful ideas during our planning process.

Want some more wedding insight? Check out the entire series below!

Part 1 – an overview of our day.

Part 3 – our wedding parties.

Part 4 – the rehearsal dinner.

Part 5 – the fun DIY burlap banners we created.

Part 6 – some tips on venues.

Continue Reading


Emily + Mark’s Wedding: Creating a Signature Day // 1.

July 31, 2013


On a beautiful June day in northern Michigan, Mark and I were married under a serene gray sky, surrounded by trees and fields and our wonderful family and friends.

I loved our wedding. It was magical and simple and beautiful and filled to the brim with joy. The weather was perfect (except for the moment two minutes before the ceremony during which the ominous sky started to sprinkle rain-drops) and the twinkle-lights didn’t blow down and everything about the day was truly better than I dreamed.

Head shot

I love talking about our wedding because it fills me with so much gratefulness and joy to remember how deeply we felt the generosity and love of our friends and family on that day. It was truly humbling to watch the energy and creativity of so many dear ones come together to help make our day memorable.


I love reliving our wedding, too, in part, because during the planning process, I was so encouraged by the ideas and advice of others planning weddings on a small budget. Our wedding day was unique and memorable and deeply personal and for that, I owe much to the inspiration of many crafters and photographers and bloggers and writers.  I only hope that our wedding can provide a little bit of the same kind of encouragement and inspiration to someone else.


My mom and sisters are wonderfully creative and we made many of the decorations ourselves. I have never enjoyed crafting before, but somewhere along the wedding-planning journey, I fell in love with it. We had so much fun creating together and made so many memories along the way and I love sharing the ideas we concocted and executed with others.




So over the next few weeks, I would love to share a bit of our wedding with you. Many of the ideas are not exclusively wedding-themed and could be used for a different kind of event. Some aspects of our planning were a little quirky or even non-traditional.



Some of our ideas simmered for months. A few of the details were the result of last-minute needs and would never have come together in the same way if we had planned them far in advance. But I hope all of my readers can glean a little inspiration from glimpses of a day I will treasure forever.

Need more inspiration? This book provided me with so many wonderful ideas during our planning process.

Want some more wedding insight? Check out the entire series below!

Part 2 – our invitations.

Part 3 – our wedding parties.

Part 4 – the rehearsal dinner.

Part 5 – the fun DIY burlap banners we created.

Part 6 – some tips on venues.

Continue Reading


Of Books and Gift-Cards: A Discovery

May 16, 2012

My book stack had grown a bit thin, so I visited Amazon to see what I could do about replenishing the supply and continuing to progress through my book list without breaking the bank.

Suddenly, I noticed a suspicious link on the right side of the screen. One of my painfully expensive textbook purchases appeared below the words "Sell back your copy." Underneath this catchy line was a tempting "Gift Card Value" and a hefty little sum. Could it be? Could I sell my boring expensive ugly textbooks back for more than just peanuts and actually get more books, better books, prettier books in return?

Creative Commons License: The Best Days Are Not Planned by Marcus Hansson on Flickr.

The process seems sinfully simple. I clicked "Trade in Now." and followed the three or four breathlessly easy steps. I printed off the label. Tomorrow I shall purchase an envelope from the post-office, assemble the package, mail it, and wait in suspense.

Supposedly I will receive a pleasant little sum into my Amazon account in return, money that can be applied towards resupplying my bookshelf!

Too good to be true? Maybe. Chronicles to be continued…. 

I'm fascinated by this deal. Am I the last one to discover this little gem of a trade? How do you expand your library without bruising the budget?

Continue Reading