Monday, November 30, 2009

Fun, Easy Save-the-Dates

As you might recall from my earlier engagement photo post, Stephen and I decided to take the DIY route, saving time and money by letting my talented sister take a few fun snapshots this spring. To keep the savings coming with our save-the-date cards, we turned to Shutterfly, which offers a good variety of classic and contemporary templates to choose from.

Once we decided on a design, we were able to test different photos, select the one we wanted, and then enter our own text. After submitting the order, Shutterfly printed the cards and sent them to us in less than a week.

The result? A fun yet polished save-the-date for only $0.65 per card, with zero stress for the two of us! If you like this idea, check out the options at Shutterfly or another photo website you like. We loved the cards, and so did our guests.

What are your plans for save-the-dates? If you’ve already sent them out, what style did you go with?

(Photo Credit: Shutterfly)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Wedding Reception: Hosted vs. Cash Bar Dilemma

I need your advice, ladies.

As I've mentioned before, Stephen and I are funding our own wedding and are trying to stick to a budget, which has already increased since we’re getting married in an expensive area. Well, we've hit a bump in the road when it comes to choosing between a hosted or cash bar.

As much as we'd love to offer a fully hosted bar, we simply can't afford to. As of today, we're thinking of going with a package that offers unlimited soft drinks, tea and coffee, as well as a complimentary glass of champagne or sparkling cider for toasting. We’re also planning to feature a signature sangria that will be available either for purchase or as a complimentary drink throughout the night, depending on the cost estimate we get from our venue. Other types of alcohol, including wine and various hard liquors, will be available for purchase.

I've heard and read tons of opinions about how tacky a cash bar is, and I agree with some of those views. After all, we're asking our guests to be, well, our guests! And that's not to mention the money they'll have already spent traveling out of town to attend the wedding, as well as purchasing gifts for us.

We've thought about offering a hosted bar for just an hour or two, but even that is looking like it might be overly expensive. Do you think a cash bar is acceptable? If so, is it best to let guests know beforehand?

(Photo Credit: istockphoto)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Real Wedding Inspiration: Simple Meets Trendy

Though I'm destined to be a June bride next year in California, I love the fall wedding season on the East Coast. The cool weather and lush colors in nature make it a popular time for tying the knot, including in the Washington, D.C., area.

Here are a few fun and inspiring ideas I picked up while celebrating our friends' marriage last month. Theirs was a wedding truly intimate in its simplicity and beautiful in the use of deep apple red as a signature color. To add a modern twist and keep things trendy, the bride and groom also added classy black and white to their color palette, along with a few touches of damask.

At the church, red candles encircled by rocks cast a warm glow.

One of the best signature drinks I've ever had at a wedding! It combined 2 oz. black cherry, 1 1/2 oz. raspberry vodka, 1 oz. syrup, 3/4 oz. lemon juice, and a lemon wedge for garnish.

The bride carried a simple red bouquet, which matched the sash on her gown.

The bridesmaids' white bouquets popped against their brown gowns and red sashes.

Instead of numbering tables, the couple named each one after a favorite Washington, D.C., museum or monument. Photos of the two of them at each location served as table markers.

I loved these simple but elegant fishbowl centerpieces, which featured floating flowers and stones.

The centerpiece at the sweetheart table included two floating red flowers to symbolize the couple.

Instead of a traditional cake, the bride and groom went with a pretty cupcake tower, with a single round layer of cake at the top for cutting. Each cupcake was topped with a mint marked with the initial "S."

Our friends can display this fun alternative to the traditional guestbook in their home.

Martini glasses filled with chocolate candies were colorful, easy favors.

(Photo Credits: Stephen Walrath & Heather Warren)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What Matters Most

This week, while I was busy blogging, researching wedding flowers and daydreaming about favors, one of my colleagues sadly lost her father to a long-term illness.

While it’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement, stress and emotion of planning a wedding, news like this reminds me how truly important it is to keep things in perspective, realizing that some of the frustrations I’m experiencing really aren’t significant at the end of the day.

Because while no one will remember the small wedding day mishaps that we as brides so frequently worry about, and will probably over time forget all about the bridesmaids’ dresses, color schemes and cake flavors, everyone will remember the smiles, tears of joy and loved ones who are the most important part of the day.

I’m looking forward to taking the Thanksgiving holiday to simply spend time with those I love, talk to those I can’t be with, and celebrate the things in my life that can’t be quantified by guest lists or budgets. For me, the best part of planning my wedding is truly the journey and the process, which have already given me memories to last a lifetime.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday, and that you'll savor the joys in your life on Thanksgiving and every day.

Thanksgiving Registry Inspiration: Five Under $50

Happy Thanksgiving! Since Stephen loves to cook and is fantastic at it (lucky me!), we’re usually in pretty good shape when it comes to having the latest kitchen gadgets on hand – at least when we’re cooking for two.

But when it comes to hosting a big get-together for the entire clan, we’re still missing a lot of the essentials. In this week’s spirit of food and family fun, here are five must-haves to help you host your first Thanksgiving as a married couple without forcing your guests to shell out a fortune. Have a great holiday, everyone!

Elk Lake Carving Set -- $42.99

Thanksgiving 101 Cookbook -- $15.95

Taylor TruTemp Instant Read Digital Thermometer -- $10.49

Oneida Heavy Gauge Commercial Carbon Steel Roasting Pan with Rack -- $34.99

And one fun splurge…

Bayou Classic Aluminum 30-qt. Turkey Fryer -- $52.99

How are you and your fiancé celebrating Thanksgiving this year, and what’s on your kitchen registry wish list?

(Photo Credits: Target)

'InStyle Weddings' Folds

I’m so disappointed to hear that Time Inc. is folding InStyle Weddings magazine after the Dec. 25 issue is released.

More details:

How sad to see another great bridal magazine go down with the rough economy… 

(Photo Credit: InStyle Weddings)

Heirloom Engagement Ring

For a few brides I've known, being completely surprised with a beautiful, never-before-seen ring during the proposal was part of the fun. But when Stephen and I started talking about tying the knot, I told him that I hoped to choose my own engagement ring.

After all, my ring is something I plan to wear every day for the rest of my life!

This spring, before the proposal, Stephen's father honored him with the ring that belonged to his grandmother, Jan, who sadly passed away several years earlier. As we started to envision our engagement, wedding and life together, we hoped to find a way to honor her memory while also celebrating our own history as a couple.

To do so, we decided to have his grandmother's diamond placed in a ring setting of my choosing. Today, I have a lovely ring that is both an heirloom and uniquely my own. When I look at my ring, I see not only a symbol of a truly special person, but also a reflection of my own individuality.

As our wedding approaches, we may use the gold from Grandma Jan's ring as part of Stephen's wedding band, or may instead have it molded into a pendant for one of our future children. Either way, we'll continue to keep her always with us.

What about you? Did you choose your ring, or at least give your fiancé a hint about what style you wanted? How do you plan to honor special family members or traditions during your engagement and at your wedding?

(Photo Credit: Stephen Walrath)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wedding Day Butterflies (But Not the Nervous Kind!)

My dream of being showered with rose petals at my wedding is no more.

The bummer came after learning that our ceremony site -- a Catholic church -- doesn't allow items of any kind to be thrown at the couple following the I-dos. After I got over my initial disappointment, I started scouting around for possibilities that don't involve tossing anything into the air.

Releasing doves seemed a bit over the top for us, but I was excited when a family friend told me about a wedding she'd been to where butterflies were released instead. Searching different websites, including Swallowtail Farms', I found tons of options, including ordering an individual monarch butterfly for each guest, or arranging for the bride and groom to do a mass release.

According to these sources, the butterflies "hibernate" in small cardboard cases until it's time for the release. As long as the weather forecast is sunny with a temperature of at least around 60 degrees, the butterflies will take flight once their boxes are opened.

What do you think? Should I go for it? Would you like to watch or be part of a butterfly release at a wedding?

(Photo Credits: Swallowtail Farms & Butterfly Sales Outlet)

Postcards = Escort Cards

To put a fun spin on our table markers and escort cards, we recently had an idea to use postcards depicting our favorite California cities.

Here's what we're thinking:

Each table will be named for a city or place in California that has meaning to us. But instead of simply printing the city names on cardstock, we'll use postcards to identify each table.

So far on our list, we're including Disneyland, Stephen's hometown of Sacramento, and Napa - one of our favorite places to visit on vacation.

To get a table assignment before entering the ballroom, each guest will find a postcard with his or her name on the back. To personalize things, we're planning to also include a special message of thanks to each guest on the backs of the cards.

And to add even more of a twist, rather than using traditional escort-card holders, we've decided to go with wine corks, since we've always loved visiting wineries.

Check out these samples we put together, and let me know what you think!

(Photo Credits: Stephen Walrath)

The Anniversary Dance: Celebrating a Lifetime of Marriage & Love

When I was little, I loved looking through my grandparents' wedding album as we gathered together to celebrate their anniversaries. Today, as Stephen and I prepare to set out on our own lifetime together, my grandparents continue to celebrate nearly 60 years of being married, happy and in love.

To honor them, and all of our married relatives and friends, our reception will feature an anniversary dance set to Kenny Rogers' "Through the Years," a favorite of our family members and a song with beautiful lyrics about a love that has stood the test of time.

Throughout the song, the DJ will eliminate couples until only the longest-married pair remains, and we'll then honor those two by giving them a special gift, although we've yet to decide exactly what it will be. And to make the dance more unique, plus let those who aren't participating still feel included, we'll simultaneously play a slideshow featuring the wedding photos of our married guests, including a few favorites from the album I used to love perusing as a kid.

While I know our wedding day will come and go in a flash, this dance allows us to truly honor marriage as the lifetime partnership and commitment that it is. And in my opinion, there's no better way to kick off our own life together than by recognizing those who've already been at it for years or decades.

Do you plan to include an anniversary dance or other special tradition as part of your reception? If you're doing a dance, which song will you play, and what are you giving away as the prize?

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Super Sweet Giveaway

As a fun way to kick off the holiday season, be sure to visit “A Chocolate Lover’s Confessions” for your chance to win a cookbook featuring recipes for over 100 delicious confections!

Who couldn’t use a chocolate pick-me-up?

(Photo Credit: A Chocolate Lover's Confessions)

Unique Registry Inspiration

Since we both already have oodles of traditional kitchen, bath and home goodies, Stephen and I are definitely on the hunt for registries that offer more than just the usual fare.

And because we're planning a long-distance wedding, our suitcases will surely be bulging before and after the cross-country flights - even without the added extra of gifts that were brought to the wedding.

Here, two of our favorites so far:

Honeyfund --

At Honeyfund, you can customize your registry by creating a personalized wish list of honeymoon-related "gifts," like a stay at that great hotel you've been dreaming about, a fun sightseeing daytrip, surf lessons at the beach, or even airfare to help you get there!

Once you've set up your free account, simply enter titles and descriptions for the activities you'd like to fund, along with the cost and how many you'll need. For example, two tickets for snorkeling, one rental get the point. Guests can then visit your registry, select an item, and send you a check, along with a gift certificate explaining which "gift" they're giving.

Since our honeymoon is a weeklong Hawaiian cruise, we're using this site to register for shore excursions, romantic dinners and other special extras!

Planning our wedding celebration has been a constant reminder of how truly lucky we are, and has driven home the importance of helping those in need. JustGive is simple to navigate, and the site offers a wealth of charities to choose from, along with stats and detailed information about each one.

While we're celebrating with our families and friends, we'll feel good about helping others realize their dreams, too.

Do you have any other interesting suggestions for us?

(Photo Credit: Honeyfund)

Bridal Shapeup

I never thought the day would come when I'd say what I'm about to.

I love to run.

A former couch potato in the truest sense of the word, I've been inspired by my upcoming wedding (and gorgeous dress!) to finally whip myself into shape. So inspired, in fact, that fitness has become an important, and yes, fun, part of my life.

For me, variety is the key to meeting my wedding shapeup goals. I've tried to keep things fresh by including a wide range of activities as part of my program, including running my first 5K, taking aerobics and toning classes at the community center, and walking with my work buddies during our lunch break.

This summer, Stephen and I even took a wedding dance class, where we learned the basics of the waltz, foxtrot and rumba, along with easy routines to use during our first dance. (Like this idea? Check out your local community center's website, or try calling dance studios in your area. I've found that many offer fun and affordable programs, either as private or group lessons.)

Here, my other top strategies for shaping up before the big day.

• Do you hate to run? Maybe give dance a whirl. Two left feet? Walk instead of driving to run errands. Simple, enjoyable activities keep me motivated.

• Focus on one or two areas that you most want to tone, based on the style of your gown. For me, those are my abs (for a sleek silhouette) and arms (to showcase my shoulders). Setting a couple specific goals has made exercising much less overwhelming.

• Start slowly. When I first started running, I could barely last for a mile. Now, I can keep going for more than five. Building strength at my own pace has helped me stick with it and see lasting results that I hope will carry me through to my wedding day and beyond.

Do you have any helpful tips that are working for you? Let me know, because I'd love to give them a try!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Shoes for a Steal

As a lifelong flip-flop aficionado (hey, I'm from Southern California!) who wears high heels on an only-if-I-must basis, spending a fortune on bridal shoes I'm sure to kick off halfway through the reception was not an option.

To my excitement, I found the perfect solution in the cute and incredibly affordable Unforgettable Moments by Lela Rose collection, available online and at select Payless stores. Though I was initially skeptical that the shoes wouldn't look as nice in person as they do on the website, I found them to be comfortable, sturdy and elegant in a simple, understated way.

As I left the store with my $25 on-sale Audrey peep-toe slingbacks (first shoe pictured below) in tow, I breathed a sigh of relief that I could cross one more item off my list and that I'd saved tons of money in the process!

Looking to dye your shoes or your bridesmaids'? That's also doable with this line. Check them out!

Money Saver – DIY Engagement Photos

If you're anything like me, you can pinpoint the moment when the initial phase of engagement giddiness gave way to another feeling associated with many things wedding-related - sticker shock.

For this bride, the moment came while researching engagement photography packages, only to be blown away by the high cost of securing a few precious "we're in love" snaps. Since Stephen and I are paying for our own wedding and are trying to be as budget-savvy as we can, we decided that professional engagement photos were one tradition to ax.

Instead of splurging on professional portraits, we headed to the beautiful Gardens of the World botanical site in Thousand Oaks, California, where Kellie - my sister, maid of honor, and an amateur-but-very-talented photographer - took a range of fun and unique shots.

After three years together, Stephen and I also have a treasure trove of additional snapshots to pull from. No, they're not professionally done, but some are nonetheless special, and capture us in ways that truly reflect who we are as a couple. Snaps of the two of us exploring our favorite wineries, cruising to Panama and Costa Rica, and screaming on a roller coaster at a fun theme park capture infinitely more character and personality than staged photos ever could, at least in our case.

Most excitingly, we've decided to put some of the money we saved into working with a truly top-notch wedding photographer on our big day. Because if ever there is a time to go all-out, that will surely be it.

What about you? Did you or do you plan to take professional engagement pictures? I’ll share more shots from our DIY session soon!

 (Photo Credits: Kellie Warren)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wedding Florist Q&A – Part Two

As promised, here’s the second half of my Q&A with amazing Southern California wedding florist Jamie Mastright. If you missed the first part, feel free to check out my earlier post. Enjoy!

What are the most popular floral color schemes right now?

All-white weddings are always popular, and there are many flower options for these celebrations, including roses, gardenias, stock, snapdragons, chrysanthemums, calla lilies, lilies and hydrangeas.

Another popular mix combines chartreuse greens with vibrant shades like purple, pink and orange. Chartreuse greens can include cymbidiums, chrysanthemums, roses and hypericum, as well as many foliage options.

Pink designs are also very popular, with an unlimited number of combinations, such as white, cream, red, violet and brown. Pink flowers can include roses, hydrangeas, lilies, callas, orchids and sweet peas, as well as spring bulbs like tulips, hyacinths and freesias.

One of my new favorite spring color combinations includes bright yellow and white flowers tied with teal ribbon. The yellow looks absolutely amazing against the teal. Yellow flowers can include roses, orchids, callas, ranunculus, lilies, chrysanthemums, sunflowers and daffodils.

And while the color scheme a bride chooses may depend upon the season, in order to find the best flowers at reasonable prices, I always say that if there’s a will, there’s a way. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and make your flowers unique.

Are there any top resources (websites, books, etc.) you use or would recommend for a bride hoping to learn about different types of flowers?

There are many resources out there. My favorite magazine, Florists’ Review, is a great source of information, especially about popular trends in the industry. Also, the Internet has an abundance of info. I like to suggest that brides go online and use Google to find images of wedding flowers they like and dislike. Once a bride picks out certain types of flowers, anything is possible in terms of arranging them to fit the feel of the wedding.

Of all the floral designs you’ve created, which are your favorites?

For an autumn wedding, I used rust-orange calla lilies, red and orange roses, and red hypericum. The orange hues just popped against the chocolate-brown bridesmaids’ dresses, and the callas looked amazing alongside the beautiful bride.

Which floral color schemes are you hoping to use at your wedding? Where have you gotten most of your inspiration?

(Photo Credits: Jamie Mastright)

D.C. Wedding Hot List

Even though I’m getting married in Southern California, my love (obsession?) for all things wedding-related has me always on the lookout for the best venues and vendors on the scene wherever I may be.

Planning a wedding in the Washington, D.C., area? Don't miss the 2009 Washington Post Express Night Out awards for best D.C. bridal shop, Georgetown’s Hitched Salon, and venue, the historic Dumbarton House.

Plus, Here Comes the Guide, one of the most well-organized and helpful California wedding guides out there, is now featuring D.C. venues, from the classy Waterford at Fair Oaks, to the wacky, offbeat Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria. Visit their fun website for more details.

Where are you getting married, and what are some of your favorite venues?

Wedding Florist Q&A – Part One

I'm sorry to say I never inherited my grandfather's green thumb. Growing up, I was always the house-sitter who killed the plants, or the wannabe gardener who was better off sticking to weeding. And when it comes to choosing flowers for my wedding day, I need all the help I can get.

Luckily, Southern California wedding florist Jamie Mastright came to my rescue, and was happy to help set me on the right path. I hope her great advice, which I'll share in two parts, helps you out, too!

What are some of the hottest trends in wedding flowers right now?

Hand-tied bouquets are very popular, and a lot of florists are adding interesting textures, such as beads, crystals, pearls, and unique wrapping around the stems. Also, designers and brides are looking for different and unique ways to use inexpensive flowers and give the bride more for her dollar. For example, florists are using fewer flowers, but instead adding special touches like twisted and looped leaves or grasses. The different shapes are visually appealing, and the foliage is cheaper than most flowers.

Do you recommend that a bride try to "do it herself" to save money? Why or why not? What are your best DIY tips?

While a bride can, of course, try to do the flowers on her own, I always try to remind her that the hectic flower assembly must be completed right before the wedding, along with all the other activities filling her schedule. It's a very busy time, and there are usually hiccups in the design process for that very reason.

If a bride does decide to take the DIY route, my best tip is to not be afraid to experiment, because in terms of design, anything is possible. DIY brides should practice before the wedding. This will help calm their nerves and allow time to solve any design issues they might have. I recommend using an assembly line during the floral construction, and getting the bridesmaids and family members involved in the process.

What are some of your favorite unique bouquet, boutonnière and centerpiece ideas?

I love the look of twisted wire in corsages and boutonnières, as well as bouquets and arrangements. It helps add interest and is a fun design. I once had a bride who wanted to use fern fiddles - the newest unfurled growth on a fern - in the boutonnières, but was discouraged by the cost. So, I came up with the idea of using wire and floral tape to mimic the twisted design. I also love the use of fruit in arrangements, which can help add an interesting touch and give guests something new to look at.

A centerpiece idea I especially love right now is the use of everyday items, including cups and bowls, as containers for floral designs. It's fun to mix and match your favorite dishes, even those you might have found at discount stores and thrift shops. They can help create either a shabby-chic or elegant look, depending which containers you choose. And if you like a container that doesn't traditionally hold water, just add a plastic liner.

Which flowers, designs and trends are you tying into your celebration? Do you plan to DIY?

(Photo Credits: Jamie Mastright)

Long-Distance Wedding Planning – Strategies & Stress Relievers

A couple months ago, my bridesmaids went dress shopping without me. But I didn't mind. How could I? You see, my bridesmaids live in California, while I live all the way across the country in Washington, D.C.

As I mentioned in my first blog post yesterday, I'm a "bicoastal bride" - busy planning a wedding 3,000 miles away, with the added challenge of bridesmaids and groomsmen scattered all over the country. With one bridesmaid now living in Germany, I guess I should say scattered all over the world!

Challenging? Yes. Impossible? No.

Since I'll only be traveling to Thousand Oaks - my California hometown and wedding location - four times tops before the big day next June, I've had to become extra organized very quickly. Check out the top lessons I've learned so far (sometimes the hard way), and feel free to share with me your own tips and strategies. I can definitely use all the help I can get!

· Simplify, simplify, simplify. During my first "get-started" trip this summer, I discovered that I don't realistically have time when I'm in town to meet with 10, or even five, different florists, photographers, get the picture.

By zeroing in on what I want ahead of time, doing (a lot) of research, and reaching out to vendors by phone or email - in many cases having multiple conversations, I can easily narrow my choices to two top favorites long before I ever get on the plane. After all, I love a cake tasting as much as the next bride, but don't think that even with my extreme sweet tooth I would hold up too well hopping from bakery to bakery in just one day!

· Speaking of vendors, try to develop a good relationship ahead of time. While I definitely prefer to meet in person before contracting, in the case of our fantastic, highly-recommended photographer, I knew that by the time we got to town, our wedding date would have been long ago snapped up.

By asking tons of questions during a great back-and-forth web discussion, I was able to at least get a feel for whether our personalities would mesh. And in the end, he even agreed to sign with us ahead of time, but refund our deposit should we decide to go with another photographer after finally meeting face to face.

· Create an individualized timeline that works for you. Traditional month-by-month planning schedules may not be very useful for a long-distance bride. Instead, I chose a couple popular guides to rework into my own unique guideline, even if it has meant that I have to tackle certain tasks (like choosing my wedding gown) earlier than usual.

And finally...

· Ask for help, but not from those who will put their ideas before your own. I feel so lucky that my mother is a friend who is completely open to and respectful of my ideas for my wedding day, and, when she disagrees, offers truly constructive advice.

Since we'll only be getting to town a week before the wedding, Stephen and I also quickly decided that hiring a month-and-day-of coordinator was a smart idea, and made sure our chosen wedding party members felt up to the task of lending an even bigger hand than might usually be necessary.

And maybe that's the biggest lesson I've learned so far - that the key to a great wedding is having a truly great team that's got your back.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Bicoastal Bride

Ever since my engagement several months ago in April, I've enjoyed perusing the funny, helpful and heartwarming stories of blogging brides across the country. Now, with only seven months left until my big day, I've graduated to full-swing planning mode, and am eager to share my own best advice, tips and lessons learned with brides-to-be everywhere.

My name is Heather, and I'm a busy bride-to-be living in the Washington, D.C., area while planning a June 2010 wedding in my much-missed hometown of Thousand Oaks, California. A passionate writer, I have experience in journalism and communications.

Just a few months ago, the prospect of planning a wedding on a tight (and self-funded) budget from the other side of the country initially scared me as much as it excited me. But with a little time, organization, and the support of a wonderfully engaged and involved fiancé, I am learning to focus on the things that matter, forget about those that don't, and, most importantly, savor what has become the most fun and enjoyable time of my life.

As much as I'm looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you, I'm equally eager to receive your feedback, ideas and suggestions. Are you planning a long-distance or destination wedding? What are the biggest challenges you have faced? What topics are you interested in hearing more about?

Feel free to shoot me a message, and check back soon for more!

(Photo Credit: Jessica Wilbur)