Friday, August 6, 2010

Stacey's Big Fat American Wedding: Part One

So I never really got around to staying on top of updating what was going on with the wedding stuff. In retrospect, there are a lot of things I would have gone back and done differently. However, the wedding went beautifully and everything worked out in the end. And really, I married my husband which was the whole point of this fiasco anyway.

First I think I’ll talk about things I would have done differently. When we first started planning the wedding I was all about being penny pinchers on what we could do. I felt we found a reasonably priced caterer who would provide service at the wedding and cleanup for less than $1,200 for approximately 150 people. We also went to a rental place which had beautiful tents (the owner had used them for his own wedding) which included set up and tear down, no additional charge for the driving out to the wedding location despite it being out in the middle of the woods for around $1,500.

(also here was our wedding website I made mostly for the STD's)

That New Years Eve we finally attended a family party on his American families side. While I had met many of these people before, we never spent much time with them. Names were familiar but I couldn’t recognize faces if my life dependent on it. Needless to say, I stuck close to his American parents since I knew them well enough (I did live with them for almost four months) but was tired of the wedding talk. We were officially at our fifth month mark for the engagement period and I felt we were pretty much caught up on everything that needed thinking out. Bridesmaids dresses were chosen and at that point, every girl had ordered them and/or received them. Wedding colors had been decided on and tentative decorating decisions being made. Save the dates had been sent out as dual Christmas cards (I saw ours on the fridge of the house we visited – which is where we were to have the wedding). We were at that time sewing my dress and were well underway with that. All was well in my world, in order, in place, no need to worry.

Well my dear husbands family does love to worry. This I didn’t fully grasp until we were closer to the wedding date, so I was a little confused with all the questions being asked. Despite my answers, it never seemed to be enough information or something else that seemed minor should be given thought and action to that very night. I eventually tried to sit in a corner and remain quiet so people wouldn’t ask much about me. It seemed to work as I’m quiet naturally and not much of a social butterfly (large contrast to this family) and got through the rest of the night in relative peace.

As we were making our way out to head home, the hostess of the party and home decided to chat with us for a bit about the wedding plans. I told her, much like everyone else who had asked, about what we had accomplished with much pride and self-satisfaction. However, I was met with “How much did you pay for this?” and when divulging the approximate price, was met with an overwhelming amount of reassurance that they had connections to get things cheaper.

Instead of catering, they had a man who had just started his own BBQ business and he’d be happy to grill our meal as long as he got an invitation and was free to drink beer. That sounded reasonable enough to us, since I originally wanted a BBQ themed wedding, but had been unable to afford most catering business that offered it. We promised to cancel our deposit with the catering.

Then came the tents, to which they knew a family who owned their tents and rented them out which they used often for events held at their house. The tent company of which they spoke was about $500 cheaper, however I never personally saw the tents or tables before the wedding, and just went on the words of others that they were very nice and just fine for our wedding.

While I stressed a lot during the planning of the wedding that I wanted it to be a BBQ dressy casual setting – I had expectations that weren’t exactly met. In terms of the griller, he did great, he did above and beyond what I probably would have paid any catering business to do in the area and with more care and expertise than I imagined. However, we had our entrĂ©e set – but we had no sides, no salads, no vegetarian option, and worst of all – no servers.

A lesson learned for all people planning a wedding.

Hire a professional.

Family will promise up, down, left, and right that they will help you out. And they will, but not like a professional business would. Because in the end, family is family, and they know you will (or have to) be more forgiving for anything they might not follow through to do or not put as much effort into it. Businesses thrive on your good reviews. They have to work hard and give you what you want of they simply lose business.

Not to say people didn’t go above and beyond for me in my wedding. My mother was the coordinator for it all, my grandmother cooked and prepared tons of dishes for food and helped set it up (among my cousins and aunts), my dad built our chuppah and painstakingly set it up and took it down. My mother-in-law despite her constant fretting and worrying over things that seemed so minor worked her butt off for the tasks I assigned her to do – and she did them well.

But now as I look back, all that do-it-yourself really took away from what I wanted those people who actually followed through, to actually do on the day of the wedding.

To relax and enjoy themselves.

My grandma had to leave early since her feet and back hurt – undoubtedly from all the work she had put into making the food and setting up the buffet table, keeping it stocked. I request The Hustle to dance with my father at one point; because I remember at all my cousins weddings he would teach me how to do it (since I forgot every time). Yet when it started, I couldn’t find him or anyone who knew where he was. I later found out he was breaking down the chuppah so it would be ready to go that evening. My mom was running around taking pictures – which she is the photographer I always wanted – but she never really had much time to enjoy the work she did. Since when she wasn’t taking pictures, she had to eat, and after that it was more pictures, and then after that it was helping packing up all our decorations and leftover food!

My mother and father-in-law were running around doing things as well, I hardly saw them at all that day. And when I did they seemed hassled, distracted, or tired. Same with many of my cousins who were helping with the food.

Many of these things registered with me the day of my wedding and I probably could have fell into a depression – I was having severe emotional highs and lows leading up to the wedding. That whole morning and afternoon I was stressed out, which I will get to later, but I was determined to not let myself worry. I noted these things, felt bad for it, but put a smile on my face and tried to play the role of the bride and enjoy the celebration of our wedding.

Not to say I didn’t have a good time. I did. I danced, I ate, I sang, and I was impressed how everything fell into place and worked out just fine despite how it seemed it wouldn’t. I was amazed at the kindness and calmness people treated me that day (because I was the stressed out bride) and managed to not tear up when things didn’t go exactly the way they were planned.

There were so many things my family and my new family did to make the wedding perfect for us – and while I’m eternally grateful for it, I feel a little sadness that it wasn’t exactly a stress free-work free event for them to dress up pretty for and attend. We did it to save money and in the end, we spent probably close to $4,500 and our goal was no more than $5,000. So that worked out, but not without a lot of bumps and kinks along the way.

So, back to the catering, as we neared closer to the day, many times Fritz lamented over the fact that we had canceled catering. Myself having already tread down that road till there were grooves, could only agree with him sympathetically. It’s virtually impossible to get a caterer for a wedding of one hundred and fifty 3 weeks before the date. The biggest reason for us both wanting one, was because of how much work was required when it came to the food.

You have to have the food kept cold if it needed to kept cold. Which mean storage. Planning on when to set the food out and when to bring it back in to cool down again. On the other end of the spectrum we had food that needed to be kept hot. We needed people to set up the tables. To tear down the tables. To put the food away. So much of that we wouldn’t have had to deal with, had we simply stuck with the catering company we signed up with back in December.

Though the griller was good, I will definitely recommend him to any of my friends who need someone with talent in the BBQ business. He timed the food perfectly and even smoked most of the meat for us – a definite bonus since that wasn’t offered with many of the companies.

In regards to the tents. They were adequate but not at all what I expected or would have personally placed money down. Yes, they were cheap, but I sacrificed what I wanted for that price. The tables were wood topped painted over with white, I could see the grooves of the wood and where the nail heads were. They needed repainting. The chairs were wooden with off white padding on the seat and the backs. They were not what I was expecting. The tent people arrived the day before the wedding over an hour and a half late. And it wasn't even the adults who came over - they sent their two, sullen looking teenagers over to deliver and sort of try and set things up. We had to stop decorating and help them set up the tents which took a lot more time than was allotted for the day for set-up. We were only supposed to worry about decorations and constructing/decorating the chuppah. Despite instructing them to take the seats to the ceremony location in the front lawn, they set them up at the reception site, so then we had to re-do that.

The tents looked like tents. Not a wedding tent. Luckily I had bought some Christmas lights and my mother had a lot of decorations for the tables, which I think distracted from the overall shoddiness of the tents and the tables. I think that upset me the most the day before the wedding. How late the tent company was, how terrible their customer service was – they did not approach my husband or I at all to express their regrets in being late or explain why they only sent their two children (I later was told the hostess said there would be plenty of people there to do it – however it was not in our plan to set up the tent therefore leading us to be at the wedding site late into the evening rather than leaving early to get rest), and rather awkwardly came up and asked me for my husband to pay the bill – as if I couldn’t handle paying for it myself.

The original tent company met my expectations, but that is because I went into the business and viewed their merchandise. I spoke with the owner and we made a specific plan on how the tent was to be set-up (the Wednesday before the wedding) and the breakdown (we had to stack the chairs for him). He would have taken care of it all and for a minor extra charge I could have had beautiful sidewalls with pretty windows.

We were lucky the day of the wedding that it was not overly windy nor did it rain as those tents would have done little to help. Not all the tables (which was to fit 160) could fit under their set up and it looked cramped and awkward. I was livid, but everyone kept telling me that it would work out fine and it wasn’t important. It was my own fault for agreeing to paying for something I hadn’t personally seen and approved of. I got what I paid for, so really it’s no one’s fault but my own.

Though to say again, it looked beautiful in the end, since my mother, my bridal party, and many others put a lot of effort into making the tables look beautiful and the surrounding area decorated with flowers, tulle, and candles. The Christmas lights I bought at Hobby Lobby for a dollar in Georgia added to the ambience of the tent, and I eventually stopped thinking about the negatives and saw the positives.

So, advice number two: See what you pay for before you agree to it.

To summarize:

1)  Hire a professional if it is an option. You and your family have plenty on your mind and that is exhausting enough. You might think you’re saving money, but in the end you may be sacrificing precious time and memories for a couple extra dollars.
I took that advice with a DJ and I’m glad I did. We originally planned to do a IPod wedding, which would have been terrible to try and coordinate outdoors with as many people as we had doing all these other things. We should have done the same with the food and the tents.
2)  See what you’re going to pay for before agreeing to use it.
Just because someone says it looks, sounds, or will be great doesn’t mean you will agree. It is your money, you have every right to see it and find out to what extent the company and/or its product will do for you on your day.

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