Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Flavor of the Week

Guess what?  This weekend, M and I are taking yet another roadtrip down to our venue-to-be... and signing the contract!  Thanks for your patience leading up to the big reveal.  I'd have hated to show off our gorgeous, awesome venue to you all and then have it not worked out.  Next week you can look forward to a bunch of venue posts, about all the lovely details of our site to the nitty-gritty logic and how we came to sign our contract.  It's been a month in the making, folks, and I'm excited!

Today though, let's talk about theme.  It seems like you can't have a wedding anymore without some kind of theme.  Whether it's just your wedding colors that inspire the decor, a motif or quote used throughout, or a full-blown creative choice that dictates the look and feel of the wedding.

An inspiration board showcasing lavender and pink decor [source]
It could be that less is more, but I want it all.  I'm in love with the large-scale themed weddings some brides have put together:

[sources credited here]
What's not to love about a carnival themed wedding?  It's the perfect mix of fun and love (without the carnies).  I even briefly considered this theme while having a small love affair with Glen Echo Park, but sadly, it was a short-lived fantasy.

All photos from WeddingChicks, Image created by MosaicMaker
Then there's the adorably whimsical Up-themed wedding that Lynnette and James created.  M and I have a special spot in our heart for all things Disney (we visited Disney World on our first vacation together!) and I love the giant balloons, pastel palette, and romantic touches (the mailbox??  *sigh*).  I doubt there's a bride out there who hasn't spent at least a second awww-ing at these pictures.

But even though I love these all-out efforts, it doesn't seem like it's in the cards for our wedding day.  Still, I want something to tie our wedding together outside of our color scheme.  Something we can repeat on signs and stationary, that will inspire the centerpieces and cakes, and remind us and our guests of our wedding for years to come:
All photos from WeddingBee, Image created by MosaicMaker
Like the super sweet typewriter theme that the erudite Mrs. Lovebug put together?  Adorable.  I'd rip this off right now if I felt like I was literary enough to pull it off.  Unfortunately, I've never owned a typewriter, and gave up my creative writing major after one semester.  This blog, and a certain love for Courier  is all I've got.

But wait, there's more....

Lovebirds [source]

Damask motif [source]
Music theme [source]
In the end, having our wedding at a vineyard will surely end up influencing almost every aspect of our wedding (I've already been browsing wine-themed centerpieces, invitations, escort cards, favors... and on.)  But I wouldn't call M and I master sommeliers, or even great wine-lovers.  We're just as likely to be sipping micro-brews or a mixed drink (we're equal-opportunity drinkers).  So I'd like to find something more personal to us to flavor our wedding.  What that is?  I have no idea.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sale Alert: Dressing up the guys!

In preparation for buying a suit for M and finding suits for his groomsmen, I started signing up for sale alerts to suit retailers that I knew offer some good specials.  We're still a few months away from needing to buy, but I wanted to know what kind of discounts I should be expecting.  I was looking for a nice Buy 1 Get 1 Free offer, but today's works just as well:
Shop JoA. A. Bank Clothiers
If you haven't bought big day clothes for your man (or 'men) yet, this would be a great opportunity.  Two day sale for 50% off everything, including suits, dress shirts, tuxedos, ties, and all accessories.  Happy shopping!

I am in no way being compensated for this post by JoS A Bank Clothiers.  I see a sale, I share.  ;)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Varied Venues: On the right track

Our venue search is dwindling down now that M and I have all but signed the contract on our dream location.  On our way to this point though, we stopped and viewed two other possible wedding locations, both of which had promise.

Bristow Manor:
It was a dark and stormy day when we arrived, sopping wet, at Bristow Manor for their Bridal Show.  I'd seen the golf club online and admired the historic building (much like Stoneleigh Golf Club), proximity to airports and hotels, and affordable price.  I found out they were having a Bridal Show through the Knot and figured it would be a good time to check out the venue and see some local vendors.  One of my college friends was visiting that weekend and she was a good sport to come along with M and I and take pictures for us!
The entrance to Bristow was open and welcoming, despite the monsoon-like rain
The Bridal Show was fun - we got complimentary mimosas and bellinis, tastes of cake and appetizers, and oh right, info about the site.  Our first stop was upstairs to see the ceremony location - held on the front lawn, the best view is from the upper balcony:

 We were a little... underwhelmed.  While ceremony pictures looked lovely between the majestic columns, we weren't loving the whole "turn around and walk toward... a hedge? A street?" right after we were married.  In addition, the hedge didn't really block traffic noise or sights (though in all fairness, it wasn't a particularly busy road).  Still, we didn't rule it out immediately, we wanted to see the rest of the manor first.

It really is a lot nicer from this angle!  [source]
We moved on to the reception hall, which is connected to the main building by a covered walkway to the left of the entrance (you can see the windows in the above picture).  It was a little perilous crossing the stone porch in the rain, but the reception pavilion was cozy and dry. 

Actually, it was a little too cozy.  With vendor stands lining every wall and about 6 tables in the middle, the reception hall felt packed!  We had a hard time imagining 12 ten-top tables plus buffet lines, dance floor, etc in the space.  I can easily imagine a smaller wedding (maybe under 100) held here, but it felt a little cramped for our 125 person wedding. We did like the brick patio off the front of the pavillion (not pictured) and had it not been raining that could have relieved the tight-space issue.  But every bride needs a rain plan, and being inside Bristow during that torrential downpour made us realize that space would be really tight if it we had the "good luck" of rain on our wedding day.

*All pictures are personal photos unless otherwise stated

The Inn at Kelly's Ford

We stumbled across the Inn at Kelly's Ford almost by accident.  It was recommended to us as a B&B to stay in on our wedding night by the owner of the venue we chose.  As I was searching their website, I noticed they also did wedding, and since we were still open to looking, we decided to check out their wedding package as well as their accommodations.  I don't have any personal pictures because my camera died (always bring extra batteries!) but they have a lot of pictures on their website.

The Inn has two reception sites, Ripley Hall and the Area.  The Area, which holds about 400 guests, was much too big for our wedding and already booked for the date we wanted:
This place was huge!
Ripley Hall holds about 150 and was much better suited for our party, plus, not booked yet!  We liked the warm oak to match with our gold color scheme, open floor plan, and amenities like a slideshow projector (for that embarrassing video of our childhood pictures that I know my parents are already planning...).

Also, the very back corner of the room had a fireplace and cozy chairs, which was a nice touch for any bride who has been bitten by the "lounge-furniture" bug.  Too cool, right?

The Inn at Kelly's Ford is an equestrian center, so the entire site was full of rolling hills, pastures, and views of the Rappahannock River.  We could have our ceremony in one of several picturesque locations, from a fountain outside the reception hall to a gazebo overlooking the river:

Ripley Hall (left) and the Area (peak and right wing) with fountain in front
They have a lot of different catering options and tons of cool add-ons, like a horse drawn carriage or vintage car to drive you around the campus for pictures.  I could see our reception getting pricey really quickly once we started adding on features, even though their base package was within our budget.

The Inn has 6 cottages which would be perfect for the bridal party to get ready, or for the bride and groom to stay in on the wedding night.  Their honeymoon suite, The Silo, was modern and unique (a two story suite housed in, yes, an old Silo) but I wondered about navigating the spiral staircase in a wedding dress.

Top floor of the Silo
Honestly, the Inn would have been a very good option for us.  We were slightly deterred by the connected reception halls, though the event manager we spoke too assured us that there were never any problems with parties running into each other.  Had we seen this place first we might have chosen it, even though it didn't meet all the criteria I'd originally dreamed about.  We're still considering renting one of the cottages for our wedding night though, so it's not completely out of the picture!

Did you start seeing closer matches to your "dream venue" as your venue search continued?  Was it a tough choice between two venues at the end, or were you completely sold on a location?

Varied Venues: See all Posts

Varied Venues: The search continues...
Varied Venues: How to not find a perfect wedding venue

Friday, March 18, 2011

And on a lighter note....

Let's all pray this doesn't happen at our own wedding!

Happy Friday everyone, have a great weekend!

NWR: Reading your contract

I'm going to take a small departure from talking weddings to discuss a recent legal issue I had.  Many brides tend to fit the mold of young women who have spent the last few years gaining independence, but are still inexperienced in many areas.  I'm one of them.

This January, my ol' faithful truck finally exceeded its value in repair costs.  I'd been thinking about replacing it for a few years, but my 1995 Toyota was nothing if not solid so it wasn't until my repair shop quoted me $500 to replace some parts that I figured it would be smart to use that money toward getting a new/used car instead of continuing to pump money into a dying car.
M saying goodbye to the truck right before we traded it in
I went into the process worried about being scammed, knowing that young women are looked upon as easy prey by dealers.  To reduce that risk, I brought M with me to all my appointments and only looked at what I thought were reputable dealerships - big names with multiple franchises, certified by the car makers.  I did some research, test drove a few cars, and decided to just buy a new car since the model I was looking at didn't have a huge price difference between the recent older models and the 2011. 

I was planning to finance with a loan through my bank, but when I got to the dealership they offered me a 0.0% APR, 5 year loan.  It sounded too good to be true!  They ran a credit check and my credit score was excellent, so the deal proceeded.  M and I read though the paperwork and everything looked great.  I traded in my truck for $400 toward the new car price, and drove home that night in my new car.  And that was the end, I thought.

My 2011 Toyota Yaris!
About 3 weeks later I got the first phone call.  One of the finance managers was calling to tell me they had made a mistake with my paperwork, and had accidentally offered me the APR for the 2010 model, not the 2011.   He apologized profusely for the mix-up - which he said was a unique and rare mistake - and said I had two options:

  • Trade the 2011 Yaris I'd bought for a 2010 model and keep the same APR, or
  • Resign my contract with a higher APR. The going rate for the 2011 was 3.74, but he was willing to resign at 2.74 to compensate me for the trouble

I was shocked, but not knowing any better said that I'd come back in to the dealership on Saturday and resign the new contract.  That night, when M came home I told him what a bummer it was that my great deal didn't pan out.  He was confused and angry on my behalf, and insisted I search online to see if they were legally able to force me to resign.  The whole situation screamed "SCAM" to him, and so I began googling to see if anyone else had been in a similar position.  I'm glad I did, because I found tons of message boards and attorney's pages describing what they called the "yo-yo", or in other cases, "spot delivery" scam.

In my case, it wasn't that my credit was bad, but that they offered me a deal that Toyota wouldn't finance.  Whether it was an honest mistake or a tactic to get me in the door and buy the car (bait and switch scam), the dealer was refusing to pay the difference in interest costs and forcing me, the customer, to pay for their mess.  I read through my contract with a fine-tooth comb and found two things:
  1. My contract was dependent on financing being approved.  At the time, I took that to mean my credit had to check out, and since I saw the credit report and was told I was approved, I didn't think I had to worry about it.  Now I realized they would use this clause to negate my contract since it wasn't approved by Toyota.
  2. The third option:  Instead of resigning or trading in my vehicle, my contract said I could return the Yaris if the contract wasn't approved, and receive my trade-in or downpayment back.
I contacted the dealer and told them I wanted to cancel the contract, and that under the terms of my contract, expected to be driving home in my Tacoma if I brought back the Yaris.  But of course, they had already sold or scrapped my truck.  He offered me the $400 that they trade in was valued, but I dug my heels in and said that $400 wasn't the same as a working car.  I pointed out that this meant they were in violation of their own contract, and were now liable under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.  The financing manager said this was out of his control and arranged for the legal department to contact me the next day.  Weeks ticked by and I heard nothing from them, after repeated attempts to get back in contact.  I wondered if I would need to find my own lawyer to settle the matter, and waited for the day when I would wake up and find out that my car had been repossessed.

Then, earlier this week, I got my first bill for the Yaris.  I held my breath, and went to their financial website to check out the terms.  My 0.0% APR was right there in black and white.  Is it over?  I'm not sure, but my guess is that the dealer's legal department decided it would be more profitable to just pay the difference in interest than to take back a "new" car with 1500 miles on it and try to resell it.  Not to mention the legal complications from them having sold my trade-in already.  And now that I've made my first payment to Toyota, I imagine they'll have even less of a leg to stand on.

The moral of the story (and how it related to weddings!)


READ YOUR CONTRACT.   We, as brides, hear this all the time, but it's not just about making sure the price and date is correct.  It's about knowing your rights as a customer and covering yourself if the vendor promises you one thing and delivers something else.  If there is a mistake on the big day or any of the days leading up to it, don't let your vendor push you around into paying for something that wasn't your fault.  Remember, weddings are a billion-dollar industry and there be sharks in them waters.  

Finally, be prepared to walk away.  I love my little Yaris and would have been sad to return it and have to start the car buying process all over again.  But I knew I did not want to sign another contract with a dealership that had already proven I had little value to them as a customer.  When I said I wanted to return my car and cancel the contract, I meant it, and was fully ready to walk away.

Monday, March 14, 2011

DIY - Do you?

This weekend M and I did absolutely nothing wedding-related.  We probably should have gone to see some more venues, but I think we were both burnt out and needed a weekend off.  Plus, I'm tired of writing about the never-ending venue search.  So let's do something a little more fun!

Let's Get Crafty!

I think one of the reasons I was so excited to start planning a wedding (um, aside from my love of M and how much I want to marry him of course) is that I love craft projects, but never get to do them.  They always fall to the bottom of my to-do list - where I spend a bunch of money on supplies and then get bogged down with the reality.  While I know that my wedding DIYs might end up the same way, that doesn't stop me from dreaming about all the cool artsy decor I can incorporate into our day.

When I first saw this sweet design on WeddingBee it was love at first sight.  I'm huge into fonts and lettering (don't get me started on how excited I am to design an invitation suite) and love this simple monogram featuring that curvy beauty, the ampersand.  I already use M and I's initials for, uh, everything (have you noticed?) and feel like this will be an easy and cheap way to add some fonty flair to our decor.

[1, 2, 3]

Without really realizing it, I've always been planning a vineyard-themed wedding.  And even though I'm not sure if we'll actually have our reception at a vineyard, I still love these cute winery touches.  I know there are several options for wine-themed escort cards, including the ever popular (and daunting) wine cork holders, but I like wine charms the best.  We're also considering etched wine glasses as favors, to tie the theme together.

And speaking of wine-themes DIYs, aren't these wine bottle luminaries gorgeous?  I imagine using a mix of dark and clear bottles to accent our centerpieces and other tables.  This is easily the hardest project I'm considering, since I have no idea how hard it will be to collect all the bottles I'll need and cut the ends off (though I have several friends who would be glad to come to a "bottle collecting" party...).  We don't own any saws or sanders, so I can see this being the most expensive project as well, though we might be able to borrow tools.


I love the romantic look of these lacy candle holders.  They're super simple to make (Bellenza has the instructions on their site!) and offer the impact of a fancy candle at a cheap-o price.  Plus, it perfectly matches the ivory and gold wedding colors we're using in addition to purple.  

What, if any, crafts are you planning for your wedding?  Have you attempted any of them yet, and did they turn out well?  Do you see DIYs as a way to add personality and save some money, or an added stress? 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Leaving you hanging

Alright, folks, I know I promised to post about the place we found last weekend.  You remember, the one that is gorgeous, not too far out of our budget, and fits the exact style we had in mind for our wedding?  Of course you do.

Well, I hate to leave you hanging, but...  We haven't exactly settled yet.  And until we check out a few more locations, and get back down to see that site one more time, I'm not going to do the big reveal just yet.  But it's coming.  Sooner, rather than later, I hope!

I'll leave you with a sneak peak as we go into the weekend...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Varied Venues: The search continues...

Let's go back in time about 1 week, and talk about the three wedding venues my cousin and I visited that I never wrote about.  I told you guys at the time that I was already having doubts and thinking about canceling my appointments, but we did in fact go through with them.  We ended up having a nice day driving through Virginia wine county, eating lunch at a cute deli with slooooow service, and getting no closer to finding "the one."

Bluemont Vineyard:

When I first thought about having a vineyard wedding, Bluemont is the place that came to mind.  M and I have been here many, many times and always enjoy hanging out on their patio, splitting a bottle of wine with my cousin and her husband, and admiring the absolutely gorgeous view:

With an elevation of 951 feet, Bluemont can easily boast the best views in Loudon County [source]
They have a dedicated event space called The Stable which is practically made for weddings, and when we visited, was undergoing renovations to add a bridal suite and front portico.  I had some concerns though, like the distance from hotels (about 30 minutes), the twisty windy roads that our guests would have to navigate to get there, and, of course, the price.  The site fee was steep, and Bluemont has an exclusive catering contract which meant that we couldn't shop around for a cheaper caterer to offset that fee.  Sadly, the more we looked the more we fell out of love - the ceremony spot wasn't quite as picturesque as I was hoping for (though some brides have dressed it up nicely) and was practically on top of the reception hall.  Plus, they had a minimal backup plan in case of inclement weather, which is something I worry about more and more.
In the end, I think I realized it was not for us, although I do encourage any NoVA bride to check it out for a vineyard wedding.
Ceremony Site
Front porch for cocktail hour
Inside The Stable reception hall
Stoneleigh Golf Club
I was attracted to Stoneleigh because it offered the rustic, vineyard setting with all the amenities of a country club.  The Club itself was gorgeous - rambling stone walls, tiny bridges for photo ops, creeping vines - but the wedding area wasn't as appealing.  First off, the reception site was tented on a concrete topM and I are leaning away from tented receptions because we know how unpredictable the weather in May is, and don't want strong winds or rain ruining our reception.  Concrete instead of grass was preferable, but still not exactly what we wanted.  In addition, the venue had no backup plan in case of rain during the ceremony, which was held in a grassy field directly adjacent to the reception tent.  We also didn't like how close the two areas were, feeling like our guests might get distracted during the ceremony by caterer set up or feel like there wasn't any place to go while we were out taking our gorgeously scenic wedding pictures. 

Ceremonies are held in the corner of the courtyard
Adjacent reception site (with tent down for winter)
Overall, I just didn't get a great impression from this venue, and we moved on.

Bowling Green Country Club
Our last stop was Bowling Green in Front Royal.  A bit of a hike from the airport for our out of town guests, but with nearby hotels and a very affordable price tag.  We were shown two reception sites and their dedicated outdoor ceremony location:

Lovely, no?
The first ballroom was huge and oh-so-very 80s.  Think gilt everything and run down carpet.  I won't bother posting pics, because we moved on very quickly.   The second ballroom was equally large, but had been updated within the last 10 years so it was a bit more modern.

Set up for a company party with a 1920s French theme.  Ooh la la.
Still, it had a very "ballroom" feel, while I was hoping for something a little more rustic.  We sat down to talk to their coordinator and he explained in detail their catering menu, flexible setup policy, back-up rain plans, and every other question we had.  I'll admit, he would have been a dream to work with, but when we found out that they were already booked for our preferred weekend (Memorial Day) I took it as a sign that it wasn't meant to be.

In the end, the trip went as I expected - good exposure to new sites, and I learned a lot from the questions my cousin (who was married 3 years ago) asked, but still, no real winner.  My dream location would have to wait until the following weekend...  but you only have to wait until the next post.  :)

*All pictures are personal photos unless otherwise stated
Varied Venues: See all Posts

Varied Venues: How to not find a perfect wedding venue

Friday, March 4, 2011

Great Expectations

My maid of honor, my sister, is probably screaming right now because she has been waiting for me to post about the wedding venues my cousin and I looked at last weekend, and instead I'm posting something about Charles Dickens.
What is this doing on a wedding blog??

In actuality, this post is about wedding expectations.  I've talked about the fact that M and I set wedding goals, and a budget, but what I haven't talked about is how both of those are spiraling out of control, without us even spending a single dollar.  I've known about this for a while, and watched our budget spreadsheet creep up a thousand dollars at a time as I try ourt different venues.  But yesterday, I realized how truly insane it has become.  My mom and I were emailing about wedding sites, and when I mentioned we were having trouble finding a location, she wrote, "Dad and I will talk tonight about your budget (I think it is too low)."  I think my eyes bulged out of my head reading that.

It's a point of pride for M and I that were are paying for over half our weddingOur parents graciously offered to chip in a certain amount (which ended up being the same amount, and roughly 1/4 of our budget) and since we are DINKs* we felt like we could cover the rest ourselves without going into debt or breaking the bank.  Maybe this means we can't have our dream location or unlimited resources, but we felt confident we could pull off a classy, fun wedding on what felt like a larger-than-average budget.  My previously mentioned sister, after all, held a wedding for 50 people on a shoe-string budget of $5000 - I could certainly plan a wedding for 125 with over 4 times that amount.

*Dual Income No Kids

But the longer I look, the more it seems that our "elaborate" budget is too low in the Northern Virginia area.  We've debated cutting our guest list, but we are social people and (believe it or not) we love all 140 people that we're planning to invite.  We've expanded our location and looked further out from NoVA, into Richmond or Charlottesville, but it seems like wedding-inflation has hit those areas as well.  We've cut flowers to the bare minimum, my dress limit is $500, I'm looking into catering at $20 a person....  There isn't much left to cut, except our vision of the wedding.  We never imagined having a Princess Di (or Chelsea Clinton) style wedding.  We're pretty simple people and we know our limits.  Still, we know want a seated dinner for the reception, with a cocktail hour and nice touches like a quality photographer and a DJ to keep people dancing.  But whenever I browse sites like A Practical Wedding or 2000 Dollar Wedding it seems like the only budget-friendly option is to rent a park pavilion, have a pig roast, and throw a big party without the wedding industry's helping hand.

From 2000 Dollar Wedding:  Fun? Yes.  Us?  No.
I'm starting to wonder where the middle ground is.  How we can still have something that looks and feels like the wedding and reception we want, without going way over our budget.  And the more I read about traditional vs. indie weddings, the less I want to do with any of them.  How do we plan a wedding that feels like us - M and Y? 

No answers to these questions yet, ladies (and gents?) but feel free to share your stories in the comments - how did you tackle your budget and avoid cost creep?  What have you planned to make your wedding unique?  Did you buck tradition completely to save money, or pay extra to have touches that made the wedding feel special?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Crunching the Numbers

One of these days I'll talk in depth about how we created our wedding budget... but today is not that day.

Instead, we're talking more about the never-ending venue search.  When M and I first started planning this wedding, we didn't realize how hard this would be.  Even after we wrote and revised our wedding goals, and came up with a budget, we thought it would be as simple as "This place is pretty and fits our budget - let's do it!"  How silly we were.

Maybe for some couples it really is that easy - and maybe we'll still stumble across a gorgeous location that is airport accessible, runs a free shuttle to hotels, and is a little under our budget.  But probably not.  I think one of the reasons for this is that our "budget" isn't as straight forward as we thought it was.  We've been basing our estimates off the big ticket items - site rental fees and catering.  Our spreadsheet has things like flowers, my dress, his tux, centerpeices, hotel rooms, etc factored in, but wedding sites are complicated - sometimes they include hotel rooms, sometimes they include linens, sometimes you have to pay extra for a tent.  Trying to keep all that in your head will drive you crazy.

Not me, but close

So I've started copying out my wedding budget onto multiple tabs and filling in each promising looking venue.  That way I can see what the end cost of site A over site B will be and take into account all those multiple factors. 

My other organization tip, is that is you haven't already, keep all your wedding emails in one place!  I have a label called "wedding" in gmail that I use to file every single contact with venues.  That was all that information is saved and easy to find.  It also helps to email yourself a description of why you're ruling them out if they don't fit into your budget or they don't have the amenities you need.  That way you don't waste time trying to remember if you've contacted a venue and tracking down their information all over again.

What are your tried and true methods for keeping track of wedding information?  Have you gone into data-overload mode yet?