It’s been a very strange day (see prior post for more details) but I got some wonderful news last week that Offbeat Bride picked up one of my articles on wedding planning. I have always loved this site. It takes away the stereotypes and pressures placed on brides and weddings. I was so honored to be featured with this group and can only hope the article helps some nervous crafting couples.
It’s official! After nearly 5 years, I have purchased perhaps one of the longest URL’s in history: Maybetherewillbecupcakes.com. If you are willing to type that baby out, then you are a true dedicated reader, and I love you.
Five years ago I started this blog on an angsty afternoon in my Astoria apartment after a job interview asked me to submit a personal experience writing sample. I wrote some rambling story about my adventure on the subway once, and I did not get the job. The GOOD that came out of that was that the interviewer wrote back a very caring rejection email, mentioning that though I didn’t fit the position, he really enjoyed my writing voice and it got him thinking. That to me, was all that mattered.
A few months before that, my friend Christina has mentioned starting a blog for a class assignment and after seeing how cool hers was, I took a leap and started this little site. Now Christina and I still write, and I am very thankful for it. Each time I find myself slipping into the pits of theatrical despair, I come back to my writing and start fresh.
But most importantly, it was the overwhelmingly kind responses from all of you that kept this going. As much as we all hope to move ahead in life independently, it is truly our communities that give us the swift shove in the right direction when we need it. I cannot express my appreciation enough for helping me find my writing voice.
Just for nostalgia’s sake, here are a few posts I’ve been particular proud of over the past several years:
A poll for you! Let me know what you think!
About a week before the wedding, I was using our paper cutter at work to slice the ceremony programs (which is why they were all a little crooked). I texted my bridesmaid Helen to ask to if I should order a bushel of dried lavender so I could glue a sprig on each program and make them look better. Because right now they looked pretty busted.
And the great friend that she is (who always promised to tell me if I went to far), she finally asked, “But why?” And all I could think was, “Because it isn’t enough! I haven’t done enough!”
The crazy didn’t end there, oh no. After my failure to construct a ribbon curtain for our outdoor ceremony, I stopped on the way to our venue at a garden center for some potted plants. Ben asked me why we needed them to which I responded, completely in zombie bride mode, “My ribbon curtain failed. We have no ceremony decorations! You have to have those!” Later, during the ceremony, I remember snorting at myself a bit when seeing the $40 potted plants I fought so hard for, tipping over in the front of the lawn where we got married. The ceremony was outside. Why did I need plants?
Now it wasn’t until the end of planning that the stress caught up with me. I was told otherwise I stayed surprisingly low key throughout the process. But now that I look back, I see how the crazy seed was planted: Pinterest, The Knot, and all those budget bride blogs that only show the good (and never the ugly) sides of DIY. They were like crack for a budgeting bride, and the lanterns and birdcages were how I got my fix.
Buddha to the rescue
A friend of mine recently lent me the book “10% Happier” by Dan Harris from ABC, who chronicles his discovery of Mindfulness while reporting on various religions. I was excited to find that a newer “convert” of Buddhism was writing on this topic since its a goal of mine as well; and I often feel unworthy since I’m NOT a retreat-attending, yoga-for-the-people card holding, non-meat eating Buddhist (yet?). In the scheme of things, I am very early in my Buddhist education, and was excited to find that Dan Harris’ cynical yet quirky tone is similar to the one I aspire for on this blog.
At one point, he mentions that during a retreat a teacher of his talked about the common misinterpretation of the Buddhist idea of Dukkha, aka “Life is Suffering.” Most people hear this and think, “Why would I want to follow a religion that sounds so miserable? I’m supposed to accept that life is terrible? Fun!”
Well, we’re all missing the boat a bit, but that’s okay. It’s an odd phrase and very confusing if you aren’t told the rest of the message. Turns out it’s poorly translated as well. Dukkha actually translates more closely into “Life is stressful.” Yes! Yes it is! And the rest of the main message is that the stress (or suffering) comes from attaching ourselves to the idea that A. Things or events will make us complete and B. Those things are going be around forever. The more we let go of these ideas, the closer we come to enlightenment (which in their terms is a jolly mix of understanding, compassion, clarity and contentment…in a nutshell).
Stress relief is actually just a lovely side-effect of seeing the world clearly. The idea of Buddhism is not the notion that life sucks and we should learn to deal with it. It’s understanding that there is good and bad, and neither is going to remain permanent. Whether it’s the most delicious tiramisu on the planet, a root canal, or say…a wedding day…
(Whenever I do this, I hear “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof start to play but with the word “Transitiiiiionnn, Transition!”)
When planning a wedding, in regard to my own and while helping friends, there is the inevitable feeling that your list will never end.
And it’s not only your things-to-do list, but also your shopping list. Now there are a million blogs out there about small budget weddings, glitzy weddings, hipster weddings, the whole thing, and all of them seem to have a similar thing in common: lots of things and lots of steps. Personal touches and ways to impress your guests are wonderful, but when do these things start to overshadow the marriage itself? And once you’ve bought into the idea that someone else managed to make their wedding “that cute” with little money and “little effort” a modern day pressure to craft grows into an obsession with obtaining a blog worthy wedding. At least this is what happened with me.
There is a Buddhist idea wrapped up in the lesson of impermanence that we are always waiting for the next thing to complete us. This is another idea that came up is Harris’ book. We are waiting for the next relationship, the end of the week, the next paycheck, the next cup of coffee. That thing will make us complete. And because of all this waiting, we are missing the fact that the last thing arrived, and it wasn’t enough.
This was how my wedding planning snowballed for me. I was on a budget, yes, but we also wanted to throw the majority of our budget into our guests being well-fed, well boozed-up, and comfortable. So once that was taken care of, the money for all the tchotchkes Pinterest tells you to buy was slim. And this is when this weird panic set in as a bride.
I am throwing the money into the food and experience, but not into things like a matching cake, disco lighting, 500 paper lanterns, and a mashed potato bar (which I’ll admit, I was pretty sad the day we cut it). But nonetheless, I still tried to keep up with the Pinterest pressure.
It wasn’t until I was spray painting 150 small handstamped tambourines with glitter paint that I asked myself, “What am I doing???” Here I am with the wind blowing paint all over my apartment door (it’s still sparkly) two weeks before my wedding. I’m making inside joke wedding-favors that most people will not even take home. All because I learned that you are supposed to get personalized favors. I was proving my worthiness through homemade dollar store props. And with each addition of things, I never felt that complete feeling I was searching for. Even after the wedding was over, I still stressed looking through the pictures that maybe I hadn’t done enough.
But what actually matters is that I had one of the best days of my life. Everyone was incredible loving and generous, no one cared when little things went wrong, the food was delicious, the crazy idea to DJ it ourselves worked out, people DANCED, our made-up cocktail was a hit, and Ben and I got married!
The part of the blog where I relate this to other parts of life…
This realization continued to help me past the days of hot gluing ribbons to mason jars. When it comes to my job, my artistic career, decorating the house, and even on our honeymoon, I remind myself a lot that our Pinterest idea of things in not going to bring happiness. When these blogs and Pinterest were invented, they were created to share ideas, which is dandy, and I still love to use it for that. But when it comes to things in our lives that we believe we are judged for (money, career, weddings), it can become a social peacocking site. And clearly I’m leaving out the pressure from the wedding business itself, that isn’t a walk in the park as far as pressure, but since I mainly approached things from a DIY standpoint, I can only speak of this side of things.
But to all my friends who are planning now, remember that the personal touches and projects that bring you joy are the ones to keep around. But there is no need to go past that. There are plenty of other logistical tasks to throw your energy into, including caring about your relationship and your guests, the whole original reason you’re planning all this craziness in the first place.
Either way, planning a huge event is never going to be “easy”, but the more we remember that it is all passing (the good and the bad), the more we can take a step back and realize that it is all enough, and pretty wonderful.
All wedding photos by and linked to Kim Craven Photography because she’s awesssooommme.
Here is a message to all those about to get married, thinking about getting married, and those whose wedding is long past. It is also a message I suppose to anyone looking forward to anything, which I would hope, is everyone who has stumbled upon this blog.
I have often been accused of being a planner. If I’m getting brunch with friends, I will happily dive through Yelp and weigh the pros and cons of every damn eggs benedict/mimosa special in town. I love to research, imagine, and structure how a day is going to go. It gives me comfort. And to some people I’m sure I look like an anxiety-ridden crazy person, which, okay, fair, is not totally off.
But to my defense, I have a side that follows all this crazy planning that many people don’t see. It is the side that loves to throw these plans out and trust that my day will take me somewhere better than I intended. The planning gets me there, and this side allows even better things to happen.
I had a hard time with this whole “throw it out the window” thing come wedding day though, as I’m sure many do with a single day that costs as much as a semester in college. But months later, Ben and I have recently (and pretty spontaneously) made plans to go back to Cape May where we were married. I cannot stop thinking about what it will be like to sit on the porch of the Chalfonte and imagine sitting there months before the wedding, years before for the wedding, and of course the days leading up to it. Here I am, full circle, now in my retrospective glory.
Many things during our wedding turned out very differently than what we planned while sitting on that porch. And yet I am feeling pretty pleased and wonderfully nostalgic about the thought of going back. Because the reality, the day that actually got us married, was way better than any excel spreadsheet, any lace covered jar, or any schedule created. Those plans were the train that got us there, and then reality was out of our hands.
So if you are looking back on something you felt went “wrong”, if are worried about your upcoming day, or if are just down-right terrified of the wedding planning beast, read some of our stories, and grab a drink. All will be better than fine.
Plan: I will be in perfect physical health
Reality: I was a hormonal, exhausted, insomniac that had too much to drink the night before.
A few months before the wedding it hit me that my health and sleeping abilities tend to be pretty undependable when I’m traveling. Usually about three days into any vacation, my body decides to take a break from functioning. At some past family weddings, I’ve actually developed strep throat by the time the wedding arrived. So whaaaat was I going to do if THAT happened? Well, it wasn’t going to. I was going to will myself to be healthy, because being sick wasn’t an option.
Isn’t that just adorable? The three nights before the wedding, I lay awake, even a few glasses of wine and a few tylenol Pm’s in (probably not the healthiest mixture). I was a zombie, and even naps were painful because I would stare at the ceiling thinking about the hours counting down. I read blogs about wedding insomnia, I looked up meditation tactics, I day drank. Everything.
Rehearsal dinner came, and I was tired of pushing. Tired of planning, of calming growing family issues, and by being the one in control. So I broke all my rules, and sat down at the bar post-rehearsal dinner for a cocktail. I was finally having fun, and I finally stopped thinking about my damn schedule.
My friends and cousins very responsibly kept an eye on my hydration and what time I left the bar. But when I returned, I got back to a room full of some of my favorite people from college who, oops!, brought a case of wine from Trader Joe’s (which by the way, should be a new requirement of at least one wedding guest). So as one last horrah before the wedding, we popped open some wine and sat like we did in college, joking and throwing all damn caution to the wind.
Just then it began to downpour and a drunk, very happy and wet Ben came bumbling up the steps to join the party. I felt like we were all exactly where I wanted to be: in a room with my favorite people, drinking two buck chuck.
I slept like a rock that night, and though I woke up a tad hungover, I was not angry at myself at all. Never could I have written down “10pm: meet at Carla and Justin’s room, drink copious amount of wine, reunite dramatically with Ben in hallway.”
Plan: Vows that I had written for months which included quotes and stories about trees
Reality: Vows that came to me while tipsy in the West Village on a pretty Spring night a week before the wedding
We had a tree motif in our wedding. Everything down to my vows were tree related. And they were fine. But I had become so caught up in getting the candles and centerpiece orders, that I hadn’t had a moment of inspiration when it came to my actual ceremony. About a week before the wedding, Helen and I went to our favorite wine bar, Amelie in the West Village. I love these waiters. They are they sweetest bartenders in the world. I told them I was about to get married and they gave us free glasses of champagne and walked us to the door when we left. They gave us both kisses on each cheek (they’re delightfully French) and said they’d see me post wedding. Be still my heart.
Helen and I had plans to end the night there, so I went on my way and almost got on the train. But I knew that if I waited another 20 minutes, I would get to catch Ben after his class. So I wandered around the Village on that beautifully chilly night, on cloud wine, and realized that I actually liked New York City now, even the stressful parts, just as Ben had predicted when we met. Our relationship had transformed a city for me. It transformed many of my fears really. I will not write my vows down here as they cannot be recreated from whatever came out my mouth that day, but this is when they came to me. Goodbye tree motif vows! Hello wine-encouraged teary-eyed walk through the Village vows.
Plan: This wedding will reunite my family
Reality: Something way better than that
My extended family has always been spread apart geographically. I know that all families have difficult times, and those times often bring families closer. But it’s been hard for us to get things rolling again after so many years of lost traditions. Also, my grandmother passed away two months before the wedding and not having her there was very painful for a lot of us. She was on my mind all day and I know deep down she was there with us.
My hope was to get everyone back to the shore and perhaps restart a tradition of traveling together. Understandably, many people were unable to make it because of distance or the hard months we had leading up to May. Work plans even kept my mom from coming down until the day before. What can you do? I started to get discouraged thinking that I had put too much pressure on this idea. A wedding couldn’t fix years of separation.
But you know what? The ways my family reunited were far more poignant than anything I couldn’t have predicted. Since my dad came down sooner than my mom, we day drank on the porch of their rental house and caught up. I saw my parents dancing like silly teenagers for the first time in my life because we played a song they requested. My sister and her boyfriend helped us arrange flowers on the porch the day before. I got to meet my great-uncle and cousins we had just found on ancestry.com. And now we go to their barbecues! I finally reunited with my cousins from NYC, which was long overdue. My aunt, uncle, and cousins even chatted with my sister about coming to Cape May each summer (which yes, was my dream).
But it’s important to remember that family issues do not disappear at a wedding. If anything, it multiplies the elephants in the room. But once I took the pressure of my plans, I accepted that elephants were just going to have to hang around and join the dance. We had been a part for a long time, and now were are here giving it a shot. And I’m hoping that was just a beginning of a new chapter for us.
A little non-wedding story to tie this all together…
Plan: Get out of the house and go be social at a friend’s birthday party. You’ve been moping at home living with your parents, it’s time to accept an invitation somewhere.
Reality: I met the man I was going to marry, and four years later, I would write an emotional blog post about how reality is better than your plans:)
The night I met Ben, my highest hope was to get out of the house and stop feeling sorry for myself. I knew I would possibly see some people that night that made me uncomfortable so I put my regular defenses up and hoped I wouldn’t feel lousy the next morning. Instead, a door was opened to the land of Ben, and it really felt like we had known eachother for years, but were just waiting for some good timing to come along. My “plan” was not to go that night, I thought I was walking into another social situation I wasn’t ready for after a few really lousy months. Planning got me out the door, on the bus, and to the party that night, but the rest was out of my hands. And I’m pretty damn happy about that.
Whatever you are putting together right now: your wedding, your career, your hopes for a relationship, please trust that though plans get you from point A to point B far greater things tend to happen. And I am happy we don’t know about them. Healthy predictable evenings are great, but drunk unexpected nights in a room with friends and Trader Joe’s wine is my idea of a wonderful life. Thank you to all who are a part of it, and all who took the time to read this.
Happy “planning”, all:)
It has taken some time to figure out how to express our wedding planning experience. It’s like going on a life changing trip and then having people ask, “Well, how’d it go?” You have too much to say, and yet nothing you can think of seems to do it justice.
To begin though, it helps to clear up some reasons I was hesitant to share my thoughts for a while…
One of the thousands of messages sent my way via the online wedding industry was: “Don’t write about your wedding, it’s uncouth, and people may see you as an ungrateful or disorganized bride.” And Lord help us if people pass judgements on us based on old traditions and their own insecurities.
So I am slowly beginning to lay out what I learned in hopes to mold my ideas into a Buddhist-inspired wedding planning guide. I use guide loosely…how about: Suggestions on How to Not Lose Your Mind While Planning the Largest Party of Your Life While Still Remembering That You Are Focusing on the Beginning of Your Amazing Marriage. And Buddhism is Pretty Neat Too. I’ll work on that.
Here are some general ideas that I found did NOT aid us in planning our wedding. They will not make sense for everyone. You and I are different people, we have different relationships, so we’re going to have different wedding traditions. Take what you like, and ignore the rest. I LOVE feedback, but please don’t go all rainbow cake on me:) (What I mean by rainbow cake.)
Suggestions I didn’t care for…
1. The Proposal must always be a surprise, and if it isn’t, paint your nails.
Here is the approach Ben and I took: through some alcohol-inspired conversations, and a night where I stumbled upon the ring while looking for some wires for the Wii, I knew Ben was going to propose. Did that make it any less special? Of course not. Knowing ahead of time gave me the proper time-frame to process the idea of getting engaged. As Ben admitted later, the person proposing has months or years to process this giant idea and the person getting proposed to better decide in under ten seconds, or shit gets awkward. In the end, it still surprised me, and I was in good shape to say “absolutely”.
Now, many magazines told me that the benefit of knowing is the chance to paint my nails, hire a spy/photographer, and arrange all my friends to stalk us in the bushes for instant party time! My advice? Even if you know about it, you will be so full of adrenaline that you will forget what words you said, what the hell your nails looked like, and basically how to stand up (and we were on ice skates to top it off). All I wanted afterwards to was to be around Ben. I knew celebrating with friends would follow soon enough. Oddly enough, both our phone batteries died minutes after he proposed. So we couldn’t post anything or text anyone, and we were able to walk down Madison Avenue in blissful solitude.
I completely understand why someone would want to capture the moment or hug friends afterwards, I totally get it, and have seen some beautiful photos of friends’ proposals. And that depends on your personality. But I definitely don’t think fashion or your nail color will be the first thing on your mind. And all you really need is the person you just got engaged to.
Document everything, because it’s better to look back on it later than live in the moment. Oh and look pretty in pictures, damnit.
I learned pretty quickly that most advice online or in magazines is for presenting your engagement/wedding to the rest of the world and your future self, not for you and your significant other while it is happening.
This is not to say that I don’t believe in photography. I am super grateful for our gorgeous wedding photos from Kim. She and Dan were a huge part of our experience. It’s the other stuff that gets a bit questionable…
Here are some scary gems:
-Don’t wear a weird dress, you’ll think you look dumb in 20 years
-Photograph every moment and always look your best, people love how pretty brides are. Oh, and learn to smile in photos, no one wants to see that double chin.
-Spending money shows that you care about your wedding and your guests.
-Never get tense or stressed around family or bridesmaids, people will think you’re a Bridezilla.
-Be respectful of talking about your wedding too much (or at all to those not invited), it may upset people.
-Choose a date that’s best for every guest, and make sure they have endless information on how to get from point A to point B.
And my least favorite?
-Join a gym. Being in great physical shape will make you happier with your photos.
One of the ideas I want to primarily focus on in my writing, with the help of some Buddhist teachings, is the idea of living presently and compassionately. This is both to yourself and others. I have always loved the idea of “help yourself to help others and help others to help yourself.” It’s the version of the Golden Rule that makes more sense to me.
In wedding terms, being yourself and taking care of your health and mind will make people naturally celebrate with you. You want to work out? Great! Exercise is wonderful for you. You want to stop eating anything but green beans so you don’t have arm fat? Maybe rethink your priorities.
And being grateful and respectful to your friends, family, vendors, and guests (the same way you were to them before you were engaged) is all they need to feel appreciated during your special day. They don’t need their hand held, they don’t need proof that you’re pretty and organized, and they won’t judge you. If they are, that’s their own deal, not yours. They love you, which is why you are inviting them to your wedding. Your wedding is to give people a glimpse of the world you have created as a couple. And to eat a lot.
My wedding party has signed up to be indentured servants
Oh Lordy. Why why why? These people are your closest friends, the ones you want IN THE ROOM WITH YOU before you go take your wedding vows. They have agreed to spend money on a dress (or suit) they wear once, several expensive trips, and parties they are expected to plan. These are fabulous people.
I realized early on that having a bridal party was an excuse to get together with five very close ladies in my life and celebrate each other. They have cried with me on bathroom floors, gotten me home in one piece after parties, and celebrated each step of my relationship with Ben. You are blending your life with someone else’s life, and these people are a part of that. So have a drink, and don’t boss them around. Think of them as an extension of your constant party that is planning a wedding. Otherwise, the wedding will end, and you will feel stinky about being a jerk.
My goals was to make sure they were always a little bit tipsy on champange.
Everything has to be “Perfect”
I snort a little when I think of this word. A. Because I’m not sure what it means and B. It’s dumb. Life is never “perfect” and I prefer it that way. If life had been how I was planning it, I wouldn’t have been living with my parents the night I forced myself out of my moping stupor to go to Jenn’s party. I wouldn’t have met Ben, and wouldn’t be planning this wedding in the first place.
Stuff will happen on your wedding day and leading up to it. Money for your dream budget will not come through, your wedding craft project may look a little wonky (sometimes the wind blows when you’re spray painting tambourines and leaves get stuck on them), a guest you love has to back out, or something really hard happens, like losing a family member or friend.
Life keeps moving even while you’re planning, and it can be hard when your emotions are understandably in la-la land.
My advice? (And the basic theme of my book that will theoretically be written?)
Dream about how your want to feel on the day of your wedding, everything else (how it will look, who will be there, how everyone else feels) will fall into place. Figure out together how your thoughts differ, and find a happy balance.
I knew that when I imagined a “perfect” party, people would be so comfortable in their surroundings that they never want to leave. It was that feeling of nostalgia you get on a peaceful vacation. I’ve always had that feeling at the Jersey Shore, so that’s how we found Cape May.
Ben always wanted a Bar Mitsvah-like atmosphere of celebration, where everyone knew they could let loose, eat good food, and celebrate how much they love each other. And this is how we found the Chalfonte (they had famous fried chicken, we were sold).
All of the other options: colors, fabrics, flowers, clothing, were then flexible. If we didn’t have $500 centerpieces as high as the ceiling, would we be able to feel the way we hoped on our day? Yes. So screw it, we’ll make our own centerpieces.
I knew that physical distractions drive me crazy. So I didn’t get a corseted dress and I put flip-flops under our dinner table.
Also, since we are both in theatre, I expressed that I didn’t want our wedding to feel like a flashy production. We have enough of that. So we chose The Chalfonte backyard and made almost everything by hand.
It amazed me how all the ideas made sense by the end, and they all had a story behind them. We made friends with most of our vendors, and we want to return to the Chalfonte every year now. What more could you ask for?
Things did fall apart: my nails were totally chipped from arranging flowers, my body decided to shut down the week before, and it was 50 degrees days leading up to it. None of this ever mattered, and we still got married. And still felt nostalgic, relaxed, and ready to party the whole time.
So that’s a start for now!
My goal for writing down all my ideas in some sort of organized manner is to help any couples that feel the way we did about the wedding industry. There’s a lot of crap out there, and a lot of wonderful traditions as well. It’s all about finding what works for you as a couple, and enjoying the adventure of planning. At the end of the night, you want to be pleasantly buzzed, exhausted from hugging everyone and dancing, and ready to continue celebrating how awesome marriage is.
Clearly more wedding posts to come. This is just a start to get my mind rolling and write something down. Thanks for reading:)
Thank you to Helen for the awesome blog title idea. She is a thinker!
And all of the photos from the wedding day are by Kimberly Craven Photography. Check them all out at kimcraven.com!!