Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Timothy S. Hopkins Catering: My Experience

In my experience, Timothy S. Hopkins Catering was another wedding vendor who was not friendly to a bride having a small wedding in Massachusetts.  I ended up going with A Haute Dish (now located in North Andover, MA) instead, because I want my wedding to be just as elegant as a large one, just for fewer people, and she clearly conveyed that she understands and will help make it special.  But I wanted to recount my experience with Hopkins here so that any brides out there who are considering them know what they’re getting into.

I went to an event that Timothy S. Hopkins Catering hosted a couple years ago, and I thought their food was exceptional, both in taste and visual appearance.  So I saved their pamphlet in my folder of preferred vendors.  It was really between them and Jennifer of A Haute Dish because she was just so personable (and her food was also great).  I made my selections from both caterers and sent out an inquiry to both.

I got an Email back from Hopkins, “Thank you for our information request.  We are available and would love to cater your wedding.  One question, is your wedding for 12 people?  That's what is says on the computer form.  :-)”

That should have been my first clue that they were not used to catering for small events.  But hindsight is 20-20, and I gave them the benefit of the doubt that they were simply being diligent and pursued them further.

After going over my choices and options, the woman I spoke to told me she would send me a proposal.  I explained that I was waiting to hear back from one other caterer and I planned to make my final decision next week.  So she said, “If I’m going to be competing, what is your budget?”  I told her I was unsure, so she gave me a per-person figure and I said that was fine.  It was right where I was hoping, actually, and I didn’t have an idea what the range was going to be.

Well, she Emailed me the proposal.  And the bottom line was DOUBLE what she had said.  And I’ll admit that part of the misunderstanding was probably my fault.  The “per person” figure was for the meal only.  It didn’t include the cost of the chef.  But then there was also a hefty “service charge” tacked on with all the other fees that made me go “hmm.”

I got back Jennifer’s proposal, and it was far less.  Once again, within the range I was hoping, and it included all taxes and fees.  And since Hopkins did say they wanted to be competitive, I called them up and let them know how low I would need the cost to come down, and what I was willing to give up to accomplish this.  Bear in mind, these were very comparable menus!

Well, the woman at Timothy Hopkins told me, “We don’t know you.  And this is a business.  We need to make sure you’re going to be a money maker for us.  If we start paring down too many of the displays it might not be worth our time to work with you.”

Shocked, I told her to let me know what her boss decided.

I felt horrible for the rest of the day.

I slept on it.

I woke up and realized there was no reason for ME to feel upset.  Why would I even consider paying someone who spoke to me that way?  I called Jennifer from A Haute Dish that morning and told her she was hired.  When the woman from Hopkins emailed me later to say, “I talked to Tim and he feels it would not be in our best interest to go any lower than the price we quoted you.” I wrote back to say, “Thank you for your time.  I found a different caterer who is excited about my event.”  Because that’s what Jennifer told me.  “I love doing dinner parties; I’m excited!”

So again, I enjoyed Timothy S. Hopkins Catering’s food very much.  But if you are planning a small wedding in Massachusetts and you’re looking for a caterer because reception halls are too large for your needs, be forewarned about this vendor. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Wedding Reception Catering: A Haute Dish in N. Andover, MA

After the ordeal with the seamstress I almost didn’t want to think about catering for my wedding, or anything else wedding related.  But I started to feel the first bout of pressure and time constraints.  Here I have 3 days off; I should be making the most of them, not wallowing in one bad experience. 

And yet, I was NOT going to make the same mistake twice.  I would NOT be blindsided again.  I was determined to educate myself this time about what I might expect when it comes time to talk to caterers.  So I Googled “Wedding tasting,” and Google Suggest gave me “Wedding tasting etiquette” so I went with that, and I made myself some notes on what to ask:
  • Do you have tastings?
  • Is there a fee?
  • Can I bring my mom?
  • I have a variety of dietary needs:  Chicken, fish, vegetarian and vegan
And before I sign a contract, I should ask:
  • For pictures of staff attire
  • If I bring my own wine, do you serve it? 
  • An estimate for price per plate
Next, I dug out two of the caterer’s information that I liked best and had set apart from the rest.  I made a list for each of them, for each course, that had both my likes and would satisfy my guests’ needs.  And I took a deep breath, and called A Hot Dish Catering in Haverhill, MA.

And found that the number was out of service.

That didn’t help the anxiety I was still feeling from just one hour ago.  I had previously messed up the seamstress’s number too.  So I looked online, got the new number (they moved to North Andover and changed the name to "A Haute Dish"), and called.

The owner/executive chef Jennifer was just as personable as I remembered.  Just like my JP, she got to a clearer phone so that we could communicate better.  I told her about our dietary needs, and she was okay with it.  I went through her menu and picked out items that would cover our range of needs.  And sure enough when I told Adam about my menu choices after, and he was happy about the crab, goat's cheese, salad, and palette cleanser.  He wasn't thrilled when I told her I almost don't want dessert because we have such a big cake for what we need, but then I remembered our vegan can't eat it so I'd like fruit.  But she said that would work well (don't worry Adam: remember, TWO different cake flavors.  Mmmm).  Plus she got me thinking about a few things I was unsure of:

1.    She asked if I wanted a chicken meal and a vegan meal that everyone with dietary restrictions could select and I said that I’d really prefer a chicken, a fish, and a vegan dish, but that she could just add cheese for the vegetarian and she’d be happy, and she said that could work.
2.    She mentioned that instead of salad we could have soup, and I was tempted at first since it WILL be the winter.  But when I thought about how many soups I’ve made for their lunches I decided that they’d be sick of soup.  Plus the salad with goat’s cheese and nuts sounds awesome, and easy enough to make one without cheese for our vegan guest.
3.    She asked me if we like potatoes or rice with our chicken and I faltered, haha.  I really don’t eat EITHER.  Although it hasn’t been a conscious decision, for the last few weeks I haven’t been eating carbs with my meals other than corn and carrots.  And Adam, well, he likes potatoes, I know, but on the other hand he likes rice with Indian food.  But since we’re not doing Indian food I told her potatoes.
4.    She asked if we’d have hors d'oeuvres during the photos, and I said I did want that.  But when she learned I’d have so few guests, she said we’d be finished with photos so quickly we might not need it.  I said that on the other hand, those few guests not involved with photos would have nothing to do in the meantime, so a little something might be nice, and she said maybe she could do a platter, so I was happy.
5.    She asked if I was going to have a meal count for her in advance and I said I can do that.  What I didn't say is I'm looking forward to creating a menu to put in with the invitations, hehe. 
6.    She asked me if I needed a bartender, and I said I’m not sure; I was really thinking of just wine.  She said we could do wine, beer, and a signature cocktail, and to make it more classy we could have a bartender, but when I told her 12 people she again said maybe I don’t need one because they can take care of themselves.  I’m a little iffy on what that means; I hope we don’t just have a cooler somewhere of beer and bottles, haha.  So I said maybe she could go over costs with me with and without later on. 
7.    She asked me if I need linen and flatware.  I was SO glad she brought that up!  Mom told me caterers might be able to take care of that for me and I sort of didn’t believe her, haha.  I said we have silverware but DO need linens, plates and cups.  That made me feel good.

And when it was all said and done, instead of telling me a day I should come in to taste things like I expected (and was prepared to ask about a fee, because I learned online that sometimes they do charge) she said she’d Email me a proposal!  I was so psyched!  So I can have time to really look it all over, decide if I can afford it, and have no pressure to say how I felt about it right away.  Perfect.  In the meantime, I think tomorrow I’ll call the other place.  Because even if they give me a harder sell, I’ll have to say, “I am awaiting a proposal from one other place.”  And they’ll know that I’m an informed consumer.  Phew.

Wedding Dress Alterations: Pins and Needles in Danvers, MA

I’m going to write a review of my experience at Pins and Needles in Danvers, MA because I started this blog in order to help other brides.  This company looks like it does fine work (their pictures on their website are nice) but their initial process, well, it didn’t go smoothly in my mind.  I don’t know if what I experienced was typical or not, but it would have been helpful for me to know what I was getting into.  Please chime in in the comment section below with your thoughts.

A year ago a coworker recommended that I use Pins and Needles for my wedding dress alterations.  I’ve given up on losing more than a few pounds before my wedding because it’s getting to be too late to put this off any longer.  Since I had the day off I called and the woman who answered said I could come in today.

There was construction on the ramp from 128 North to get to the shop.  And the shops in the area are so crowded together that it was difficult to find them (and difficult to find a parking spot).  I had a little bit of a walk with my garment bag with a really heavy dress and two pairs of wedding shoes, but it turns out they are directly across the street from Cakes for Occasions!  When I got to the third floor, there was a sign that said, “Please remove your shoes.”  I thought that was strange, but after I did and I opened the door I saw that their carpets looked brand new.  So okay.

The place is REALLY cute inside.  And soon a woman came out to greet me, walked over to a dressing room, pulled open the curtain and said, “You can go ahead in here.”  I walked in and she pulled the curtain closed and went back into the other room.

Is it me, or was that a little odd?  No, “You can change into your dress so that I can see what needs to be done,” or dates or timelines or pricing or any sort of wedding related chit chat.  She just went back to her sewing machine while I got dressed.

So I put on the gown, not even sure if I should have my shoes on at this point because of the sign, and stepped out.  She came back out and told me to stand on the platform, and quickly got down and started pinning the bottom of my dress!  I hadn’t hired her yet!!!

I was feeling even more awkward at this point.  I had gone on Yelp and saw that this place had 3 stars, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt because some reviewers seem to enjoy being sarcastic and shocking, and as I said, a coworker recommended them.  But I mention this because I had seen a reviewer say, “They charged $10 for a consultation and didn’t even tell me they were going to.”  I figured that $10 in the grand scheme of things was not a big deal; I could give them 10 bucks and walk out if they were too expensive.  But as I stood there on the platform getting pinned, I saw a sign that said there was a $35 dollar consultation fee.

Now I really felt blind sided.  This woman started working on my dress and was going to charge me $35 and I didn’t even know what she was going to charge.

Then once she got the front pinned, she stopped and said incredulously, “You’re not wearing your shoes!”

Well…no.  I didn’t really have a chance to ask about the whole process.  All I had to go on was a sign out front that said I need to take them off.

So she got my shoes for me, and repinned me.  I thought she was NICE; and her pinning was quick and neat, I just would have liked a little preparation.  She did tell me that although she was pinning the bottom, that was just for the measurement; she’d actually take it up from the top of the skirt (since there was so much bead work at the bottom) but I already knew that.  At least she explained that part though; had I not known that I’d have been REALLY concerned!

When she finished, she said, “So that’s it.  When you come next time we’ll do the bodice.”


“Uh, can we talk about PRICE?”

“Yup, it will be $350.  Once you get changed we can go over stuff.”

I felt dizzy.  I was really hoping she’d be LESS than the bridal shop, not more.  That was more than I paid for the dress itself.  But if I left, I lose $35 and it’s awkward.  It’s not like I knew of another shop that would do a good job.  I tried researching them online but I didn’t really know what I was looking for, and prices aren’t listed.  Everything in the wedding industry is so SECRETIVE until they’ve got you there; it’s frustrating.  At least with cakes and flowers you’re expected to do a little shopping around to see if they’re a good fit for your style.

I tried to make myself feel better knowing that she was personally recommended to me.  So although I would have liked to hunt for a better deal, it’s not like I had NOTHING to compare them to.  But I still didn’t have a nice feeling.  And having to leave my dress with anyone would have probably been a little gut wrenching, but leaving it there along with a 50% deposit was really rough.  I have my receipt, and an appointment for my next fitting in December, but an empty space in my closet.

Plus, I was a little surprised she didn’t ask me about the value of the dress.  When I worked at a frame shop we always asked about the cost of the print they were leaving with us in case we damaged it.  I mean, what if something went wrong, or there was a fire or the roof leaked or something beyond their control?  Are they even insured?

So brides, I’m not saying don’t go to this place.  Like I said; on their site they look like they do beautiful work.  But if I had read a blog like this about Pins and Needles before I went, I would have felt a lot more in control than I did.  I would have:

1.    Called somewhere else FIRST and asked if they charge a consultation fee
2.    Right away said, “Before I get changed, I have a few questions”
3.    Asked what the range of price is for the length and bustle
4.    Put on my shoes despite the sign
5.    Asked what kind of bustles they do
6.    Asked if they were insured

And maybe I would have gotten answers that satisfied me.  But I just wasn’t quick enough on my feet to think of them on the spot.  : (  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bridal Show Expo: Ethan Allen in North Andover, MA

Although a power outage that threatened to cancel the show, the lights came on in time and mom and I spent a couple hours at the Ethan Allen in North Andover, MA, checking out the few vendors I still need amidst beautiful décor.  But the bridal show expo had its share of ups and downs.

As with most bridal shows, the majority of vendors were photographers (why is this?)  There were also not one but 2 wedding cake places!  And as much as I love my cake place, Chickadee Hill is a FIERCE competitor!  They were every bit as good and every bit as pretty.  I don’t know what the cost was (Jacques isn’t the cheapest, but I feel their prices are very reasonable for the quality they provide).  The other place, well…it was very average.  They had cupcakes, and I felt they were a little on the heavy and dry side, although they had a fairly rich nice taste.  Plus I’m just so not interested in cupcakes as opposed to a traditional wedding cake that I’m biased. 

Although mom and I had fun (I love that each room in Ethan Allen looks like a different house.  It’s like eye candy around every corner!) there were a few snags.  First (don’t freak out, Adam, I’ll sort it out) I ran into guys from the company where I ordered my tuxes.  I said I already had them from them, I think, and they’re in Saugus, right?  “No.  Beverly.”  THAT was a surprise; they closed shop and moved.  So they called to find out if my order was transferred.  No.  I wasn’t even in the system.  So I said, “Well, I have the contract, so I’ll be bringing that in to the shop.”  Sheesh. 

Another issue was with the Mary Kay consultant.  She told me I’d get this and that if I book a consultation.  I played that game before.  Wasn’t really interested in doing it again.  But boy, was she good.  She didn’t ask me IF I wanted a consultation.  She said in a conspiratal tone, “Don’t worry if you have to change the day” *looks over her shoulder to make sure the imaginary person behind her isn’t hearing this fantastic opportunity she’s allowing me* “You can still get these free brushes valued at $80 on the day of the makeover.”  And then she straightened up, “So what’s good for you?  Afternoons or evenings? 
“Evenings, but I don’t think…” 
“Later in the week or earlier in the week?” 
“Later, but I’m not sure…”
“Let me just see what’s available.  We can do next week *looks at a calendar filled with Xs because she is in SUCH high demand* but actually that’s not going to work, how about December 1st at 5pm?”
I knew I wasn’t going to ease my way out of this.  I mean, I could have been direct and said, “No thank you,” but I just smiled and nodded.  And when I got home I sent her an Email saying “Whoops, that day doesn’t work for me; don’t call me; I’ll call you.” 

But these little uncomfortable moments aside, what really surprised me was the number of vendors at this show who regarded me with thinly veiled  CONTEMPT.

1.  There was one photographer who, when I asked if I had chosen a photographer and I answered yes, asked if I considered video.  When I said I was not having video, he went into the spiel of how photos don’t capture this and that.  I said, “I know, I was interested but my fiance said no.”  So he said, “Well come on, who’s the boss?”  Nice.  You think you’ll get my business if you try and drive a wedge between me and my intended?  “Well, it’s all about compromise,” I came back with. 

He didn’t stop there.  He told me he was married for 32 years and still regretted not having a video.  Um, okay.  Maybe time to get over that.  Maybe it’s hard when that’s your job, but pressuring me isn’t going to ease your pain, guy.

I said that he is just not comfortable with the idea, but thank you, and he said, "We'll be 30 feet away at all times."  I said oh, cool, I'll think about it then, and started to walk away, but he kept talking!  So I muttered to mom extra loudly, "If they were 30 feet away Adam would be fine with it, since they'd be out on the lawn."  


"It's a small house."  I told him.  But he still refused to give up.  He said that I should go on his website and look at the collection of commercials (right away how fun does that sound, right?) about “How to decide if you want video.”  And on it there are these 2 little girls, one of them who cries because her mommy and daddy don’t have a wedding video.

I am not making that up.

2.  The makeup artist who gave me a trial pulled the old “tear them down so you can build them back up” trick with me.  When I PAY for a haircut, I get compliments on my hair.  Because they want a tip.

I guess with a freebie, comes abuse because they’re not getting paid and they subconsciously want to take that out on you.  That and they’re trying to get more business so saying “You’re a natural beauty” isn’t going to help.  So although she could have said worse, she steered the conversation to:

 “Do you wax your eyebrows?”
 “No, I pluck.  Just a few to clean them up.”
 “Oh I could totally shape them for you…”
 *I make a face*
 “They won’t look thin!”
 *I look up at her shoestring brows*
 “They’ll just give you that lift.  It will make your face look thinner.”
 Mom:  “Or surprised that you actually got a man to marry you?”
 I laughed.  The stylist got defensive that that’s not what she meant at all.  Mom laughed.  “Seriously,” the stylist said desperately, “You could get them cleaned up, it’s easier than you think and it would make a huge impact.  You’d open the area up, you could put more highlight up in here, you should come in and I’ll do it.”
 “Ugh!  Do it NOW!”  Her coworker chimed in.
Thanks.  I’ll just wear a bag over my head until I can get an appointment.

My eyebrows are FINE.  Thank you. 

3.  The next vendor was a woman who designs invitations.  She asked me if I had mine and I said yes.  And she asked, “Who did you go with?”

Now, it’s one thing if you’re going to make polite conversation instead of an awkward, “Oh.” before turning your back on the person so you can get to a potential customer.  But she clearly wasn’t going for polite when she said, “You didn’t get them off the internet, did you?”


I’ve seen PLENTY of really nice invitations on the internet!  There are some folks at Etsy who are every bit as good as a professional; they just don’t have a brick and mortar store yet! 

I told her, “No, I got them at Michaels.” 

“Ugh.  WHY?”


I probably should have walked away at that point instead of justifying myself to her.  But two wrongs don’t make a right, so I wasted my time trying to be polite. 

“Because I liked them.  And I only needed 12.”

“I could have done something for you…”


“…and I do my own calligraphy, so I wanted to give them something really special and personal.”

Now, I DO do calligraphy.  I do a pretty good job of it.  But I don’t even plan on doing it for my invitations, haha.  They are just not a priority for me, in terms of the time, effort, and cost.  I would much rather put that money towards the food and cake.  Has there ever been a wedding guest who said, “The food was awful but this clever/gorgeous/picture of them with their dog invitation totally made the wedding special.” 

Vendors, please don’t “Ugh” a bride just because she didn’t pick you.  Her wedding is about celebrating the fact that she’s making a commitment, not wondering what could have been.

4.  The above issues made me laugh.  But the one that had me walking away feeling angry was a caterer.  And not just because they didn’t bring food to sample, but that didn’t help.  No, they asked me about what I was looking for for a menu, and I told them, “meat, fish, vegetarian and vegan.  For 12 people.”  And at first they were all interested and said we could talk more.  “I said, “that would be great!”  And they said I could spin their prize wheel, so I said I’d like to.  I did…and it landed on a free limo!  I was about to jump for joy, when they moved it and said, “That’s only if you book with us.  Why don’t you spin it again?” 

I was so shocked that I didn’t even say anything.  I just did what I was told, and got a sewing kit.  You know the sort that fits in your purse.  What the HELL?  Here I was, WANTING a caterer, I would have been happy to set up an appointment with them, and they took a free limo right out of my grasp.  Mom was all, “Why didn’t you say something?”  I somehow doubt a little dry erase board on a wheel that no one but us saw is exactly legally binding, so if they didn’t want to give me a limo that’s their prerogative.  But I do not plan on setting up an appointment with them.  They obviously have little desire to make their customers happy! 

So all in all, we didn’t have much luck.  I did get a really nice makeover, which helped me figure out what I do and don’t want for my wedding day.  But otherwise, I don’t have much farther to go.  I’m starting to outgrow bridal shows!  I’m a little sad.  But then I think of how much free time I’ll have.  And how I’ll get to spend it with Adam.  After the abuse I got tonight, I think I’m trading up : ) 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wedding Cake Tasting: Jacques Fine European Pastries in Suncook, NH

I hate driving.

I drove an hour and a half to get to Jacques Pastries to look at wedding cakes. 

I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I've known for nearly 2 years that I wanted Jacques to make my wedding cake.  I'm pretty sure it was the second bridal show mom and I went to that I saw them.  The first was at Spinelli's, and while they were very good, they wouldn't make me a small cake.  At the second show I went to, they were there along with one or two other bakeries.  And there was just no comparison, Jacques' cakes were by far the best tasting cake there.  Mom encouraged me to ask, "Can you make a small 3 tiered cake?  I'm having fewer than 25 people."  They said yes, so that was that.  I've had my heart set on them ever since.  I tried other cakes at other bridal shows and never changed my mind.

So I made the 90 minute trek up to Suncook, NH.  I have to say, much as I hate driving, heading up the highway in New England in the fall on a crisp day will put ANYONE in a good mood.  It was beautiful.  The foliage lit up in the sunlight against a cloudless blue sky, the bridges, the rivers, it was like looking at postcards for an hour and a half.

Another thing that put me in a good mood was the fact that I am alive during a time when GPS exists.  If I was driving there prior to that little innovation I probably would not have made it.  And if I had attempted to drive there prior to MapQuest I am certain I would not have made it (seriously; I gave up on a job interview once because I got too lost).  I only hit one small snag getting there; the GPS said, "You have reached your destination," and I clearly had not.  So after a few minutes of looking for a place to pull over that had a sort of landmark I could give them, parked, and happened to look across the street.  It was right there.

And perfect timing too; I left early, drove pretty fast, but only had 10 minutes to spare.  So if you're traveling from Massachusetts to visit them, keep all this in mind but trust me when I tell you it's worth it.  I was one of 3 other groups all scheduled for a tasting at the same time.  The shop was really cute, and the staff seemed friendly.

We sat down and talked about the day and location of the wedding.  I asked if it was possible for them to deliver it to my mom's house because it's about a half hour closer to their shop (and it's a small cake) and they said sure.  She even checked for me a little later on and it turns out I'd save $60 that way, yay!  We agreed on a 9 am delivery for that day.

Then we talked size.  I told her I was only going to have 12 people, and that I was told I could get 3 tiers.  She balked a little and I said that I didn't mind having some left over.  I wasn't thrilled when she told me it would serve 25, (everyone, please take TWO slices) but I bit the bullet.  My cake topper will fit, it won't look like a cupcake, and she even said the top tier can be a little shorter in order to make it proportionate.  

Next we talked design.  I showed her a printout of 9 wedding cakes, basically white with some filigree/swirly sort of designs, with 3 round tiers.  One of them was even on Jacques' website.  It looked a little on the simple side, and not really intricate and elegant.  But my priority was more that it would just have that traditional feel to it, and that's achieved with the color and silhouette more than how tight the filigree is, I think.

My cake will be this but 3 tiers and no flowers.
So when she confirmed that the more lacy-looking design was going to cost more, and the one I printed from their site is their most basic design, I was okay with that.  After all, at the last bridal show I went to, they had their "mock wedding," and the couple went over to the stunning work of art that was actually a real cake from Jacques, I was horrified when I thought they were cutting into it.  I flinched, I turned away, I said to mom afterwards, "They didn't actually cut it, did they?!?"  It was like a horror movie.

I decided that I want to enjoy how yummy my cake is, not feel like I'm destroying something beautiful when I cut into it.  And I already know that feeling; Adam has gotten me custom made cakes for my birthday and it always kills me to watch them sliced.  No, there's too many expenses when it comes to the wedding; I'd rather save the money than have the most ornate design I can come up with.

On the other hand, when it comes to the TASTE of the cake, I wanted something a bit special.  I've heard that people expect the wedding cake to taste bad.  That form is paramount to function when it comes to wedding cakes.  Well, like I said I've tasted their cakes before so I already knew that does not have to be the case.  And I was prepared to spend $5 per slice (plus delivery) for a cake that people were going to really enjoy, as opposed to $3 per slice that they eat out of obligation.  That was the real reason I made the trek.  And I overheard a group at the next table say that they came from Maine, but it was totally worth it.

So I told her what Adam and I discussed last night:
  • Top tier:  (For our anniversary) Spice cake with cinnamon frosting
  • Middle tier:  (For Adam) White or Red Velvet cake with vanilla or black cherry frosting
  • Bottom tier:  (For me) Lemon cake with raspberry or strawberry preserve
She recommended black Russian frosting on the red velvet, which I said I'd be happy to try, as well as chocolate filling for the white cake, which I'd never turn down even though I knew Adam felt chocolate in a wedding cake is blasphemous.  She came out with the 4 cake flavors we talked about with "vanilla" frosting, and little cups of the other flavors so that I could mix and match how I liked.  That's exactly how I was imagining this tasting would happen!  Otherwise how would they have everything stocked that I wanted to sample? 

So I tried everything, and the top tier was good, my tier was easy to decide (raspberry beat strawberry by a good margin).  Adam's was trickier because, well, I had to guess what he'd like!  I thought the cherry and black Russian were both really good, but really different and I'm not sure which he'd like better, or if he wouldn't like either and prefer plain.  She said I could wrap it up and bring it home for him, and I explained that home for him is England, and I assumed that a month out from the wedding would be too close to make changes.  She said no, they only needed 2 weeks notice to change things, and that gave me an idea.  "What if I took a piece home to FREEZE for him?"  And that's just what I did.  I got a piece, the remainder of both little cups of frosting, and put down vanilla for now.  Paid my deposit, finished off my slices of yummy, yummy cakes, and left happy!  One more task checked off of the wedding to do list!

Top Wedding Planning Tips:
1.  Bring your cake topper with you when you go for your tasting so they can put it on for you.
2.  Bring a palette cleanser!  I put some shredded wheat in a small container to eat after each bite.  This was especially important when eating the same flavor cake with different frostings.  I overheard someone at a nearby group say, "I don't know what's wrong with me; it's all starting to taste the same!"  I didn't have that problem, nor did I have the problem of too much sugar making my mouth hurt and pucker.  The baker provided water but that doesn't really help.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wedding Hair Trial: On Broadway in Revere, MA

Today I had my first wedding hair trial.

At a bridal show.

Mom and I went to the bridal show at the Andover Country Club.  This was the same place that I got to bring Adam to last April, so I felt nostalgic when I walked in. :)

Mom and I arrived at almost exactly the same time, I signed in quickly, and we went in.  It looked like there were fewer vendors than usual, and not even as many people or tables as usual.  Or maybe I'm just used to them now.

We walked around and there weren't many vendors I needed to see!  Wedding dress, done.  Tuxes, done.  Wedding photos, done.  Flowers...well, pretty much done but I talked to them anyway.  We had some cheese and crackers, hit the mashed potato bar (not as amazing as those lobster mashed potatoes at the Methuen Golf Club last week, but chicken, onions and masala gravy are not bad either!) and had some bananas foster.  We made our rounds in about 20 minutes.  Which meant we had 2 hours before the raffles started.  Ouch.

As we met with the last vendor, Jenna with On Broadway Hair Salon, she asked if I knew how I wanted my hair yet.  And I said probably down and curled because I don't like it up.  She told me in February that's fine; I couldn't wear my hair down for the wedding if it was in the summer because it gets frizzy (I'll add that to my list of "pros" for having a winter wedding, heh).  But she said I should have the sides of my hair up in order to give my veil a "base" so it doesn't slide down.  I said I wasn't sure I needed that (and I don't like my sides of my hair up) since the tiara is on a headband, and she said, "Well, I'm doing wedding hair trials tonight, so if you want I can show you what I mean."

A wedding hair a bridal show?

I looked behind her and she had all sorts of hair styling equipment set up on a tray.  We had 2 hours to kill; we'd just be sitting anyway.  "Do you mind?"  I asked mom.  I knew it would end up taking at least an hour because my hair is so thick and fairly long.  She said she didn't, so I went for it!

I have to say, the back looks REALLY cool.  She pinned some curls up so they look like a cascade.  But the  Like I said, I just really don't like my sides up.  And the curls are so tight that I feel like my hair looks really weighted down.  It doesn't help that it's a really formal hairstyle for a button down blouse, hehe.  But I decided to reserve judgement.

After winning nothing in the raffles because I didn't have Adam for a lucky charm (there were 5 $200 cash prizes, and two cash $500 prizes!!!) I went home and put on my whole wedding ensamble.  The dress, the tiara, the veil, the jewelry, and the gloves.  And I was THRILLED.  It was the first time I'd tried on everything together, and it was everything I hoped it would be.  I wasn't lamenting that I'm 20 pounds too heavy, I didn't feel unsure about my hair, I didn't feel like my jewelry clashed with my tiara.  I looked like a princess bride and it was amazing :)

So I learned that each detail really doesn't matter.  I have cheap jewelry, a cheap tiara, cheap gloves, the dress was on sale, and I didn't even wear the shoes.  You don't have to go all out, just pick pieces that you like and you think will work with the overall look, then choose the cheapest.  And as for the hairstyle, once the veil was on, you can't even see the hair style!  The weird little bumps on the sides are completely covered.  And, unfortunately, so are the amazing cascading curls in the back.  So don't worry too too much about the exact style either, if you're going to wear a veil. 

Feeling really good about how everything was falling into place, I took out all the bobby pins and fluffed up the curls slightly.  And I liked the look even better:

I plan to bring the pictures with me when I go to my own stylist to point out how large I like the curls, and to point out those bumps that I don't like, in case she can improve on it.  But even if she can't, I'm not worried about my wedding day hair style any more.  :) 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Flowers By Darlene at North Shore Fruits Baskets in Salem MA

Today I went to Flowers By Darlene at North Shore Fruit Baskets on the recommendation of a coworker.  It didn’t start out well. Traffic was TERRIBLE.  Salem in October is awful.  So I get there, and the neighborhood is, well, on the edge of town.  I walked in the shop and it wasn’t as fancy as the other wedding flower shops I’d been in.  But I looked carefully at the actual flowers around and there was nothing wrong with them.  No wilting.  Nice, full blossoms.

So I met Darlene, the owner, sat and showed her the bridal bouquet I liked.  She had a form and wrote down prices for everything like the manager I met at Rennie’s, except it was all on a single page, nice and clear.  And I got to keep it at the end, unlike the other.

She didn't get into as much detail about the design of the wedding flower arrangements. She seemed to understand that the scale of the bouquet I like is modest.  I mean, I want everything to look gorgeous, but with only 12 guests in a small home I don’t feel like I need to fill the place with as many flowers as if it was a huge hall.  So instead of going big with the bridal bouquets and then leaving out the cymbidium orchids from everything else, she said our table arrangements would be the same as our bouquets.  And instead of talking about wax flowers (gag) or hydrangeas (eh) she talked about white roses and/or roses for the moms’ corsages and all the boutonnieres.  And she suggested long stem white orchids for the alter pieces.  All flowers I like, which she understood from the photo; no further discussion needed.  I was in and out in about 15 minutes.

And the cost was LESS than I was originally hoping!!

Right away I was shocked and elated because while the other florists said my bouquet alone would be $250 and $150 respectively, the first thing Darlene told me after I showed her what I wanted for my bridal bouquet was that it would be $85.  YES!  I told her I'd think about it because I wondered, "Is this too good to be true?"  But I trust my coworker because she's very particular about decor like I am, plus I looked around online and this place got good reviews.

Darlene told me I could come to the shop prior to 10 am on Saturday and see their floral arrangements for weddings; I’d love to do that because it would be nice to see for sure how well put together they are.  The only trouble is the traffic this weekend will pretty much close off the entire city.  Hopefully I can do it next week.  And although the traffic in Salem is a detriment in October, the distance from this place to my venue is a LOT better than Rennie’s in North Andover.  I’ll be a lot better off with such a nearby florist in the winter.

So I'm psyched; I had this number in my head for what I wanted to pay for wedding flowers.  I really didn't want to pay more for a bunch of plants that are going to die in a week.  I might actually also ask my coworker if I could see pictures of her wedding flowers from Flowers by Darlene, just to be sure they really do look okay.  I mean, it's a HUGE price difference between this place and the other two.  I guess when you're not paying to update your shop to look all fancy, you don't have to charge so much on the flowers!  And since my wedding won’t be held at the flower shop, and the flowers looked just as good as the other shops, it looks like I’ve found my florist.  I decided not to call the other wedding florist I was considering.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Wedding Florist MA: Rennie’s Flower Shoppe, North Andover

Today I had an appointment with the florist at Rennie’s Flower Shoppe in North Andover.  And although I liked both places, and found both wedding florists ma de good first impressions by being eager to please yet realistic, and have good design ideas about floral arrangements for weddings, this was a very different experience than my one at Evan’s.

I met with the manager, who started out by taking down a lot of information, and continued to work on that form once I showed her the bouquet I wanted.  She had a designer come join us to determine the types and costs of the flowers involved before moving on to come up with ideas for all the other floral arrangements was going to need.

As we worked, her priority seemed to be to get me the best possible price on my flowers.  The only exception was the bridal bouquet.  She said that should be my priority, and she did not try to talk me out of any part of it.  But after that, she kept to a fairly narrow range of options.  Since the red cymbidium orchids featured in my bridal bouquet are really pricy, there would be no more orchids in any of the other flower arrangements or bouquets.  But I wasn’t too bothered with that since the cream colored roses and red berries would be a consistent theme throughout.

The floral designer who she brought in seemed to be more on the same wavelength as me in terms of color (sticking with mostly white with touches of red, but no other arrangements would need peach) as well as in texture (hydrangeas would be a good texture to introduce into the table arrangements, and stick with cedar as opposed to introducing other greens).  The wedding florist ma de me feel at ease; I feel confident in his eye for design.

As the designer and I hashed out the flowers and colors, the manager wrote furiously on what was probably a 10 page document, and once we’d finished she tallied everything for me (although once again I had my spreadsheet open and entered in all totals as we talked).  It was clear the manager was a businesswoman first, but had a good floral designer on staff for the artistic part.  I liked that about this place.  Both aspects are important when planning a wedding, and one person is not usually good at both.

So when it came to the very bottom line, the difference in price for my wedding flowers (including tax and delivery) between Rennie’s Flower Shoppe and Evans Flowers was just over $100.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.  I’m going to have to look at some reviews online for Rennie’s (Evan’s has won awards from The Knot so I’m sure they’re a safe bet) before I let price dictate.  But I was satisfied with the planning process, and of course $100 is a decent savings.

Oh, and not only did the flowers and prices talk go well; she also said chocolate brown would be a great choice for my maid of honor’s dress.  Better than black, anyway.  YES.

I still plan to look at two more wedding florists.  Unfortunately Rennie’s is a little bit farther away than I’d have liked (so it’s weird that their delivery charge is less than someone a couple miles away).  And like I said, the floral design process is FUN.  I got two very different takes on altar flower arrangements from each florist I visited.  I’d love to get two more florists’ opinions.  But I have a pretty good feeling at this point that Rennie’s might be my florist for my wedding.

The cost is still more than I was hoping, though I now know it’s fair.  I mean, after getting rough estimates of 6 different florists in Massachusetts that had some arrangements with prices posted online, they had the lowest prices, just like Marcia claimed.  So my plan is once I see what the others have to say, I’ll go back to Rennie’s, book her, and see if I can’t get that bottom line just a little bit lower.  I looked online for winter wedding flowers so I know what’s seasonal (and hopefully cheaper) so I have some ideas in mind already for floral substitutions that might bring down the price.  Hopefully within the next week or two I’ll have selected the best wedding florist in MA for my needs.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Visiting Evan’s Flowers for Wedding Flowers in MA

After collecting business cards from 2 years worth of bridal shows and Googling “Wedding flowers, MA” I met with a florist at Evan’s Flowers this afternoon.  I almost didn’t get in because they told me their wedding person had the day off.  But today was the only day I had this week to go in, so although I said I could call back for next week, they made it work.

The flower shop was nice; I didn’t have much of a wait even though they saw an impromptu-last-minute-bride-to-be right before me.

The first thing the florist asked me was if I had done any research or talked to anyone else so far, and I let her know she’s the first florist I saw, but I had looked at plenty of floral arrangements for weddings online, and I brought those in.  On my netbook, hehe.  Along with pictures of the wedding ceremony and reception site.  And a spreadsheet preformatted with the quantities of my all my floral needs.  Yeah, I did my research, hehe.

I had narrowed my search to 9 photos of flower arrangements for weddings that I like, with one that, if she could replicate for me exactly I’d be happy (The image is copyrighted but you can view it here).  I wasn’t 100% sure it was an orchid (because it looked huge).  She said it was not a true red, and, well, that was obvious, hehe.  But as she started referring to it as being on the pink side, I worried a little.  She said closer to the time we'd need to look at precisely what color I have in mind.  She mentioned the greenery too, echoing my own thoughts EXACTLY.  It’s wintery, but not so literally Christmassy that it looks tacky for late February.  Said she LOVES it.  And that overall the floral arrangement has great texture and would be fun for her to do.  I agree; it’s pretty cool!

Then we talked about my maid of honor’s dress.  I told her I was actually hoping she could give me advice on that!  She told me we don’t need to match the house, we just need to look okay in it, hehe.  Which I knew.  But then I told her that my sister didn’t want to wear red.  And It was clear that this was a ridiculous request in her mind, though she stayed professional.  She told me that the dress choice is MINE.  She doesn’t realize that my sister would probably just not show up if I tried to dictate what she wears if she’s not on board.

I could understand her concern, however.  The bouquet has red and white.  If she doesn’t wear red, that leaves white.  And that’s obviously unacceptable for a maid of honor dress!  So I mentioned that I like chocolate brown…and she told me that would look too fall-like.

That broke my heart.  I mean, obviously I need to do what I want.  But she said exactly what I feared.  I like fall colors, but my wedding’s not in the fall.

Next we talked about scale.  I let her know I thought the flower table arrangements should be on the small side because the room is small and the tables will seat 4, so they’ll be small, and she agreed.  I said I want my “altar” flower arrangements to be larger, and she agreed.  She mentioned using branches (thin, curly sort of branches), which I’m not certain about.  Once upon a time I liked the natural look, but I think I’ve outgrown it.

She also talked a bit about the containers.  Just as I thought, she recommended that I do NOT go with the standard glass cubes, and I should get my own somewhere.  I was a little disappointed they didn’t have options for me, but she was helpful in suggesting Micheals or A.C. Moore as a cost effective way to go.

She talked about boutonnieres, and agreed with me that cream colored roses for the men would be best, and red not so much, haha.  And for the mothers of the bride and groom, I was a little unsure.  She told me probably cream for them too, since we don’t know what color their dresses are.  She suggested an orchid that I wasn’t familiar with, so she went and got me one.  It had thinner petals than some orchids, which I was okay with.  And I told her I like that idea because when I go to visit Adam’s family, his mum always puts an orchid in my room.  So that sort of settled that!

When it came down to flower prices, it was higher than I HOPED, but it wasn’t on the high end either.  Really fell right in the middle in terms of price.  So it went okay!  Design-wise we were on the same page 80% of the time!  That made me feel good.  I’m almost glad we weren’t 100% because I don’t want to be patronized; I do want to hear the professional’s ideas, and I got to.

So it went well!  I might hire her.  But this is probably the most artistic I get to be in the wedding planning process.  I don’t want it to end yet!  I’m going to keep playing with the designers for a little longer, and see a couple more wedding florists before I put this to rest, hehe. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Selecting a Justice of the Peace in Massachusetts

I really wasn’t looking forward to trying to find a Justice of the Peace in Massachusetts.  I hate calling people.  There’s no price shopping.  I feel like there’s this pressure to “find someone you click with.”  Really?  I’m hiring a stranger to talk for 20 minutes.  How am I going to find out if I “click with him?”  I know they do consultations to “get to know the couple.”  But I’ll be on my own until January so it’s all on me to make small talk with a Massachusetts marriage officiant over coffee or whatever.  Ugh.

But it had to be done, so I started in.  The first Justice of the Peace in Massachusetts I called had a really impressive looking website.  I mean, that doesn’t mean he’s a great speaker, it just means he invested in a good webmaster, I’m thinking.  But still, it shows some commitment to the profession.  And it helped me learn a lot about what to expect from him.  It said he doesn’t charge extra fees other than a rehearsal, which I don’t feel like I need.  And the website details how he will direct guests and other professionals (such as cueing the musicians and helping the photographer if I so choose).  He even said he’s willing to videoconference for long distance couples!  This guy sounded like he’s just what Adam and I need in a justice of peace for our wedding ceremony.

So my plan was to call, ask about his availability for my day, explain that I had my program completed (though I’m open to suggestions) and secretly assess his voice!  I mean, other than being licensed to make our marriage ceremony legal, the second most important thing to consider, I’m thinking, is is this a voice people are going to be able to take for 20 minutes nonstop?  I wanted a wedding officiate who was articulate, had a nice tone, and sounded at somewhat animated.

That first Justice of the Peace in Massachusetts I called was Rick Perry.  (No, not the governor from Texas and vice presidential candidate.)  He told me, “Let me tell you a little bit about the process and then I’d be happy to answer your questions.”  Right away I was impressed with his professionalism.  He took charge, yet was prepared to listen as well.  He agreed to look over my wedding program and said he would check his Email tomorrow.  I was pretty satisfied, and sent it along before calling the next guy.

The second JP told me he charges $200 for a ceremony, and that includes a consultation.  He seemed, well, a little bored.  I just wasn’t impressed.  And I thought requiring a consultation in the price was shady way of getting around the legal fee he could charge for the ceremony.  He was a no.

The third guy’s phone was disconnected and the fourth guy wasn’t home.

The fifth Massachusetts wedding officiant, John Ford out of Peabody, was also pretty impressive.  I really liked his voice.  He was also willing to use my program, didn't charge extra fees and agreed I didn't really need a rehearsal.  And when I told him we’d have about 15 people for the ceremony and it would be seated and formal, just small, he said, “That sounds right up my alley.”  So I liked him just fine too.  I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to choose for my wedding ceremony.

But then that night, Perry Emailed me back to say my program looks great.  Except it was missing one thing, which legally needed to be in there, haha.  Well, I was pretty much sold on this guy by this point.  Not only did he get back to me within a few hours, sooner than he had said, he had something positive to say about the work I did, AND he let me know in a straightforward way what was required.

After a few days of phone tag I let him know he’s hired and he’s sending me a contract, yay : )  I’ve got myself a Justice of the Peace for my wedding: Check one more thing off the to do list! 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Picking a Bridal Hair Tiara

Choosing just one bridal hair tiara was kind of hard!  On the one hand, I didn't want to spend a lot on it (there's just SO many other elements that go into paying for this wedding, I didn't want accessories to eat up a huge proportion of my wedding budget).  On the other hand, it's closer to my face than say, my shoes, so it's going to be in all the photographs; it had better be a good looking cheap bridal tiara.
I decided that a "bridal headband tiara style" would be preferable to a comb.  Since I'm probably going to have my hair down and curled, I need something that's going to stay in well without having a bun to stick out of.  Plus I'm definitely going for the formal, "princess" look, so I wanted something that's reminiscent of a crown.  I wanted it to wrap around more fully than a comb.

That didn't narrow my options too much!

So next I looked at different bridal hair tiaras that would mimic the lines of the beading on the bodice of my wedding dress.  It would need to be a beaded, rhinestone, or crystal bridal tiara.  This was definitely the most fun part!  

If I was going to get a peaked tiara, I’d have gotten this one.  The lines have pretty scrolls; it's tight enough to look nice and detailed without being too cluttered to notice from far away.  And the center forms almost a heart shape.  If I had a rounder face and could pull off a tall peak like that I would have gotten this classic looking rhinestone bridal tiara.    

I like this one because it’s so classic looking. It has nice detail that matches the beading in my dress probably better than any of the above examples. I just think the peak is a little too high for me. If only it didn't have that fleur de lis at the top I probably could have pulled it off. 

The only problem was, I wasn't sure what they would look like on me.

I went back to a photo taken of me when I tried on my wedding dress.  I loved the dress, and the way it fit my body type, but something wasn't exactly right. I assumed it was my short haircut at the time.  But I wondered if the tall, pointy bridal hair tiara wasn't helping.  So I looked online for advice on how to choose a tiara to suit my face shape.  And to sum up, a "taller" tiara will elongate your face.  A "shorter" one will have the opposite effect.  Since I believe I have an oval face that is longer than it is wide, I think I'm better off with a squattier one.  So I had to rule out the above tiaras. 

But that's okay!  There's plenty of gorgeous tiaras that don't have a tall point.

This one has the best of both worlds: a little peak in the very center, but it’s not angled up too high. In fact, the rounded lines along the top make it look a lot like a crown, would would make me look like a princess, I'm sure.  This rhinestone bridal tiara was a real contender.   

I like this tiara because it doesn’t come to a peak. And the fact that it archs out a little makes it unique.  The lines of the scroll work are very pretty, and I like how close it looks to a crown without being over the top. Really elegant for a cheap wedding tiara!

I really like the shape of this tiara a lot. There’s no peak, and it’s very rounded. It also said it had beading, like my dress, as opposed to all the other rhinestone bridal tiaras I'd seen so far. If they had taken the plastic off so I could get a better look at it I probably would have picked it!  

I like this one a lot because it doesn’t have a peak. It’s pretty unique, and has nice detail.  The lines are very ornate for a tiara at this price point.

I like this one because it’s streamlined and gently tapers away from the center.  The center forms a heart, which is sweet.  And it's a good value.

I like the shape of this one a lot, because it has a gentle peak. But there’s no way to enlarge the picture so I can’t see the detail well enough to make a decision.

The headband style is understated, so I do like it. This style is really hot this year.  It would look great if I wasn't wearing a veil and was going with a more casual spring or summer outdoor wedding dress style. Or even if I was planning on an up-do.  But I'm not going for either of those looks, so I didn’t go with it.

This has a nice compact design, and it has a peak.  I feel like this design wouldn't be too distracting.  It's simple and elegant.

But the winner was...

This!  I like the way it gently tapers away from the center.  I think it strikes a nice balance, not being too streamlined but not being too ornate.  I think that the detail of the design won't be lost in photographs. And I like the line of the design; how it looks a lot like hearts without being too literal.  I think the lines mirror the beading in my wedding dress's bodice pretty well.  And finally I think it's the best value I've seen.  

It was a lot of fun looking at all those cheap wedding tiaras.  I found my perfect bridal hair tiara and didn't spent too much on it.  I can't wait to see how it looks. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When Simple Wedding Ceremony Vows Make Life Easier

Today I realized that I can't ask Adam to do the reading I put into the wedding program.  And in the same moment, instead of getting upset, I realized that’s okay.

Adam was clear from the start that he doesn't want to do a speech and he wants to say as little as possible in the ceremony.  So when I looked at sample wedding ceremonies and saw that readings by the couple is customary, I knew all along that it was going to be a problem.

My first thought was if we stuck with someone else’s wedding ceremony wording instead of writing our own vows, that would be easier.  But it’s not just the writing that is the issue; it’s speaking in front of people.  So my next worry was that if he did it, he'd be more nervous the whole wedding ceremony.  So to soften the blow I worked really hard to find something meaningful that was only 4 lines long.  I wrote our wedding program over a year ago, and I’ve been very proud of it all this time.  But a couple weeks ago I realized that it doesn't matter how short that reading is; if I ask him to do it he's still going to say no.

I thought I’d try to ease him into it, so in the week since he asked me to find a Justice of the Peace, I've been sharing bits of the program with him.  It’s been tough going so slowly through it with him, but I tried very hard to be patient because I didn’t want to get into a fight over the readings issue.

So tonight after doing 2 parts, I continued my efforts to be patient and respect the fact that he didn’t want to talk about wedding stuff for a half hour.  So I said, "Do you want to look at one more part, of leave it for the night?"  But instead of saying, “Yeah, I’ve had enough,” he said “Let’s look at one more.”

But I couldn't do it.

I skipped over it to look at a part I felt like he'd be more open to.  And he was!  He liked the rose ceremony better than the idea of a sand ceremony.  That part of the wedding talk went well.  And that's when I realized there's never going to be a good time to bring this up.  He doesn't want to do it and it doesn't matter if he's in a good mood, he's not going to suddenly "forget" that he doesn't want to.  And do I REALLY want to try and force him to say some loving words that he doesn't want to say?


It would be better if he could just relax and enjoy our wedding ceremony and at the end say, "This really was nice; I'm glad we did it."  Or something else sweet that he says that day, in his own words, just off the cuff some time after the ceremony once he's feeling relaxed and having a nice time.  That would be much more meaningful and unforgettable than forcing him to say a few lines that I picked out for him in front of people.  Like he said, he's already marrying me, and saying the vows in front of people.  For someone with social anxiety, that's plenty.  We have nothing to prove.  People aren't going to be thinking, "What?!  They didn't do any readings?!  What a huge oversight!"  Nah, they'll be happy that it's nearly time to eat, haha.

So I'm okay with it now.  This WAS important to me, and suddenly it's not anymore. Maybe it's because we've gone over almost the whole wedding program script at this point and I'm happy that he's been fine with everything I've picked out so far; so I realized it was time for me to compromise.  Or maybe it's because I am feeling more confident that this wedding will be beautiful so there's no reason to over complicate it.  And this would have made things really complicated, created animosity, and I just don't need it.  I would much rather keep Adam happy than have 100% of the prescribed wedding ceremony.  So much so that I even went through the other readings and took out a few lines so that it would be even a little bit shorter.  Not much.  But Adam started to question the length of the ceremony so again, so why not.  I kept all the sentiments I wanted, I just cut out the verbiage. I want to make this work for both of us.  

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I Try to Choose a Justice of the Peace in Massachusetts

With the weight of the venue selection off my shoulders I felt a huge sense of, “Phew!  Done!”  And the fact that Adam booked his one-way ticket (and then changed his ticket to come even earlier, but that’s another story) well, I just felt like I was all set.

Of course there’s still PLENTY to do. 

But I told Adam I’m not sure where I want to start?  Flowers?  Hair and makeup?  He suggested finding a Justice of the Peace in Massachusetts.  Always practical!  But I figured why not; it needs to be done. 

The thing is, usually a justice of the peace wants to meet before wedding ceremony.  So while Adam picked the most necessary detail for me to tackle, it’s a tricky one.  I can’t just show Adam a picture and say, “That’s pretty, right?” like I can with the flowers.   And I can’t exactly price shop since the state sets the rates they charge (it looks like the cost of justice of the peace in Massachusetts is $100, but then can tack on another $50 for travel expenses.  Plus a Justice of the Peace in Massachusetts can get around the fixed price by adding on rehearsals, meetings, and so on).  It’s really just a question of their public speaking ability, personality, and professionalism, which is not as easy for me to judge on my own. 

So I looked up “Massachusetts Justice of the Peace” online and got together a list.  It was really nice when they had a complete website with prices and biographies and even sound clips.

Then I looked up tips for choosing a Justice of the Peace.  There were some great tips that were mainly just empowering.  It basically says that the couple should be making the decisions; the wedding officiate shouldn’t insist on his/her way.  That’s important to me since I’ve already got our wedding program completed!  I don’t want someone who has a set repertoire that I need to choose from.  Not after I put in all the work of finding meaningful components.  The site also explains a good wedding JP should also work with the other professionals, and not act like his/her role is more important.  It’s a shame he’s out of Connecticut because I thought he sounded very professional. 

The next site that was helpful for me provided a list of questions to ask a Justice of the Peace.  I especially liked the one that asked for examples of how he has worked with the other vendors.  To me, that’s nice and open ended, and you can really stop and anylize how comfortable or uptight he or she is.  If s/he gets defensive at this question, it speaks volumes.  If he or she gets nervous or vague, it tells me he lacks experience.  If his/her tone is even and calm, s/he’s probably going to act professionally on the big day. 

And lastly I made note of this site which explains how to officiate a wedding ceremony with your OWN JP.  It says that for $35, anyone can become justice of the peace for a day in Massachusetts and marry us.  Which is nice and cost effective, but I can’t think of someone who is so important to Adam and I that I would give them that role who isn’t already on the guest list.  I want all the important people in our lives to be witnesses not working the event.  It is a cool idea though.

So once I got a sizeable list of names and annotated them, I realized that when I start calling and asking questions and answering questions about the kind of wedding we want, I’m going to need to do the talking for Adam AND I.  Which doesn’t seem right.  I really want Adam to be aware of what he’s going to be agreeing to when he says, “I do,” because I know he’ll be too nervous to hear it on our actual wedding day. 

So before I actually call anyone, I decided I need some input from Adam on our ceremony.  So we started going through the program a little bit at a time.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

We Have Our Perfect Wedding Venue!

I’m so proud I could burst. I saw the house, loved it, and put down the deposit! I have a house to marry Adam in. A house where his family can spend the week when they visit from England for the first time, that's close enough for me to get to easily even in winter.

When I arrived the owner was just as sweet as she was on the phone, and the house looked just as nice, with a few nice surprises!
We went through the living room that I plan to use for the ceremony. I loved the way the double windows framed the room, and I figured Adam and I could stand in front of the dresser.  But when I got there, I saw THIS:

And I thought the place didn’t have a fireplace!!  It doesn’t…but it has a mantle, which is just as weddingy!  Now I’m a little torn over which spot will work better. The windows look dramatic, but might put us in silhouette. The mantle looks great, but doesn’t “feel” like the front of the room.  Plus I might need to cover the mirror.  And I have the wedding arch that I can put in between the windows, so it’s fine.  Maybe I can put the guest book near the mantle!  It can be easily decorated.

My second surprise was upstairs.  I had seen from the street view photo that there was an interesting bay window jutting out of the front, but didn’t see the room in the house with it on the website.  Well, here it is:

It’s just a little sitting room.  But it will be PERFECT for our formal photos!  So two of the things I thought I was going to have to give up with this place is (at least kind of) there!  This place really was meant to be.

And then I got a third surprise.  Something I didn't even think about (it just wasn't at the top of my list of things to worry about).  The photographer (yeah, I already booked one, but that's another story) wanted to know where the bridal prep area would be, so I figured it would just be in one of the bedrooms occupied by Adam's family; no big deal.  The bedrooms were pictured on the website and looked fine, even nice.  Nice and neutral.  But then she pointed out a framed piece on the wall not pictured online:

It just happens to be a piece from an ethnic bridal costume.  Um, I think I just found my bridal prep room.

I knew the place had been part of a commercial tour of historic homes in the area at Christmastime 2 years ago.  The owner said, "You should have seen how they decorated it."  I said I'd love to, and she promised to Email me photos!  So I'll have ideas on how to decorate!!  Maybe not the colors, but the scale for sure. 

The house was as small as you’d expect in Salem.  But there is going to be such a small amount of guests that I think we’ll be fine.  I took measurements of the dining room, then looked online to see how many square feet you need per person and it checked out.  Barely!  But it checked out.  This place is going to work beautifully.  The owner even told me I was free to use whatever flatware and silverware that I wanted; there would be plenty for 12 people.  I could Email her with questions.  And she'd send me photos of the fourth bedroom that I didn't get to see.  I can't wait.  I've found our venue.  I can start booking the rest of the vendors.  And I can finally officially say, when someone asks me if we've set a date: "Yes.  February 21."  :) 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Massachusetts Wedding Venue Search: Things Are Looking Up

The wedding venue search is just not going the way I hoped.  I looked at places a YEAR ago so that I'd be ready when Adam was, but nothing is coming together.  I went to look at one in Rockport yesterday and it didn't go well.  And when I tried to tell Adam and mom they were all about starting over instead of "we'll make it work."

There's problems, but I LIKE the place.  When I started to tell them my worries, I just wanted a sounding board.  I just wanted to tell them how it went.  I didn't want to hear how it can't happen (even though I knew in my heart it couldn’t). 

I'm so frustrated that I can’t have my summer wedding like I wanted.  Cold winter weather is going to ruin everything.  It could even cause us all our vendors to cancel on us that day.  If the JP doesn’t show up there IS no wedding.  These venue troubles are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems that lie ahead, so if I can’t even work this out I feel like we’re just doomed.  

I’m still hoping to hear back from the expensive home in Marblehead (the other place in Rockport never even bothered to reply to my inquiry).  I called today, but still no answer.  Frustrating, but I'm guessing it's not meant to be.  In a way I'm happy because it's a lot of money, but of course I'm feeling slightly desperate. 

I got an Email on the 21st from the “white home” in Marblehead saying, “The house is currently available then but I am considering a long term rental.  I will get back to you over the next week.  I hope that works for your schedule.”  So I Emailed back today saying I was looking forward to a reply.

In the meantime, I feel like I have no other choice than to broaden my search.  Like it or not, the wedding MUST be this winter unless I want to start the whole visa process over once this one expires.  And I’m 100% sure that Adam would rather break up with me than start the paperwork over.  So my new priority HAS to be proximity and not fireplaces or balconies.  I just would not be able to entertain his family that week otherwise.  And although it is my wedding and I should be able to have what I like; I need to be able to do that.  They’ve never been to America, never seen my home, and they’ve always taken me in for the summer and made me feel welcome.  They deserve to see where Adam will be living. 

So I found a place right in my hometown, with the right number of bedrooms and really nice décor.  It’s not “palatial.”  It doesn’t even have a fireplace.  I don’t know where we’d have our formal photos.  But the living room is very pretty.  I can imagine having a ceremony there, even if we might be a little crowded.  The dining room might not be big enough, and I don’t know how all our vendors will park what with only one space, but I’m desperate now. 

She called me back already.  And she could not have been nicer. 

This place might not be as big, or on the coast, or have really high ceilings, but I feel this is the place for me.  I started out asking her about parking, and she told me on street is fine, the next door museum is fine, she will probably have a plow guy, plus she lives 3 houses away and could help out. 

Unlike the place in Rockport, with the woman who didn’t let me see inside, I even admitted to her that I'm having a wedding there because I've seen on her website she's hosted some (I’m always afraid to say the word “wedding” because vendors tend to jack up the prices as soon as you do).  I told her I was worried about the caterer, photographer, etc having a parking space and she told me there was street parking, a nearby lot, and a museum with free parking.  She just wanted to confirm that there will be 3 people and possibly one more couple sleeping there, and I told her 12 for the reception, mostly over the age of 50, haha. 

I asked if it was possible if I could come see it and she said she's happy to do that; she usually gives tours and can answer any wedding type questions so I could come on Saturday morning.  That even gives "white Marblehead house" this whole week to get back to me.  That is plenty of time, and if they can't then they clearly don’t want my business.  Besides, I have a pretty good feeling about this Salem one now.  Like I said, it's not the grandest looking, but there's not going to be 30 people, I guess practically speaking we need a close house more than we need a big house.  When I go, if it goes well I have to pay half the (nonrefundable) deposit and I'll sign the contract.  Yay :)

I feel so much happier :)

The woman from Rockport has been leaving me messages asking if I drove by the house and if so could I give her some feedback.  The feedback I wanted to give her was, “Since you didn’t let me look inside I don’t really want to work with you,” which is true, but not fair because it’s not the MAIN reason I couldn’t go for that house.  There’s nothing she can do to change the location (or my wedding date).  So I wrote, “I did drive by the house, thank you.  I will be touring another vacation home on Saturday, so if yours is still available then I will let you know my decision next week.”  

It's nice to have TWO options instead of hearing, "no, sorry" all the time.

Readers, what is your relationship status?