Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Beautiful Disaster

So it's the day before Thanksgiving.  I'm sitting here, watching my husband play with our dog, and I can't help but smileI'm a WIFE.  So much has happened this past year - and obviously the milestone that sticks out the most to me is our wedding.

Last year, on the day before Thanksgiving, I didn't even think we would have a wedding.  I got the call I had been dreading.  Our wedding venue had finally made a decision regarding the damage they suffered from Hurricane Sandy.  They would not be able to repair and rebuild in time for our June wedding.  They were terribly sorry for the inconvenience.  Our deposit would be returned to us in full.  Oh, and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

We delivered the news to our families over Thanksgiving dinner: Our wedding was CANCELED.

We very seriously considered eloping.  As much as I wanted a big celebration with all our friends and family, the most important thing to me was marrying Brian.  Neither of us was up for looking at more wedding venues.  We saw practically every venue on the Jersey Shore when we first got engaged and they all just seemed so ordinary.  I have absolutely nothing against a reception hall or fancy restaurant but I envisioned a really unique space for us.  Something laidback and beachy without feeling like a cliché.  Casual elegance.

Our original venue had everything we were looking for -- a small, intimate location for the ceremony, a tented outdoor space with water views for the reception.  I couldn't fathom finding anything like it again.  Here I was - a beaming bride in the middle of planning her dream wedding and then BOOM - all my plans were literally swept out to sea. 

If Hurricane Sandy gave me anything positive, it's perspective.  Brian and I had just survived the worst natural disaster of our lifetime.  We are both born and raised beach kids.  Our connection to the Jersey Shore runs deep.  It has been home to us both separately and as a couple.  In a matter of hours, we watched family and friends lose their homes, local businesses get destroyed, childhood memories reduced to rubble and our beloved boardwalk disappear.  We still had our health, a roof over our heads and jobs to return to - which is a whole lot more than most of the other "locals" we knew.

It was time to hatch a new plan.  It was time for a "Plan B Wedding." 

My parents offered to host our wedding in their backyard.  We would have to cut down our list... A LOT.  We would also have to change our expectations.  Their home is near the beach but it's not on the beach, like we wanted.  Once we said goodbye to a big, expensive beach wedding, we realized the possibilities of a backyard wedding were limitless. 

We treated my parents' yard like a blank canvas - a blank canvas with the potential to have one hell of a party.  We mapped it out into specific sections just like any other wedding venue, only this time we had complete and total control.  The side yard would have plenty of seating and a trellis for the ceremony.  The patio would act as the place for the cocktail hour and then morph into the dance floor.  The wrap-around porch would become the bar.  The backyard would be tented with a massive buffet and lots of round tables for our guests to eat, drink and talk.  The front yard would be for mingling and yard games.  It was actually perfect.

I'm going to be very honest here.  We were totally unprepared for the work that goes into a DIY backyard wedding.  We definitely drove a lot of people crazy, including ourselves, in the process of planning this wedding.  We spent every single weekend doing manual labor to get my parent's 36-year-old home ready for 85 of our nearest and dearest to enjoy themselves.  Brian and my dad laid bricks and put up a fence in 90 degree weather.  My mom and I weeded and planted and raked and mulched until our fingers bled.  And don't even get me started on the stress and full-blown crying fits that ensued in those last days leading up the wedding, especially when the weather called for 70% chance of thunderstorms.

But we also had a lot of fun.  A DIY wedding turned out to be the best outlet for my unbridled (no pun intended) creativity and craftiness.  I had this really specific vision of how I wanted the day to look.  And not only did our wedding turn out just as I pictured, it was even better.  Of all the events I've planned in Corporate America, I had never been more proud of an event than I was at my own wedding.

If Hurricane Sandy had never happened, we would have never had a backyard wedding.  And I never would've discovered my calling as a wedding planner.  And Backyard Bride would never exist.

The whole thing was really just a beautiful disaster.

Brian and I happily exchanging vows right in the yard where I learned to walk as a baby.  So cool.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Backyard Bride's Holiday Gift Guide

Okay, brides, the holidays are upon us and I bet you're stressing just a tiny bit about how you're going to buy gifts for your loved ones and pay for your dream wedding.

I was in the same exact spot last year during the holidays.  It seemed that every single penny of my (tiny) disposable income had to go to some incidental wedding-related cost.  I even took a second job to help pay for Christmas presents.  (Thanks, Bentley Diamond!) 

Since my goal in life is to reduce the stress levels of brides everywhere, I decided to put together a Holiday Gift Guide.  Each gift is specifically categorized under "Parents", "Future In-Laws," "Bridesmaids", and of course, "Soon-to-be Hubby." 

Oh and the best part, every single gift is under $50

Happy Holidays, happy wedding planning and my favorite - HAPPY SHOPPING!

Gift Ideas for Your Parents:

Mom: She's been dreaming of your wedding day for as long as you have.  You want to get her a gift that says "thanks for being there with me every step of the way."

A Personalized Handkerchief for her to use on your wedding day.
Price: $23 (Etsy)

Dad: He's going to give you away soon but you want to get him a gift that tells him he'll always be the first man you ever loved. 

Father of the Bride Cufflinks for him to wear on your wedding day.
Price: $20 - $27 (Etsy)

Gift Ideas for Your Future In-Laws:

Mother-in-Law: You know how proud she is of her son and you also want her to feel included in the planning process.  Let her know you'd love her to join you on the morning of your wedding and get all glammed up together.

Personalized Mother of the Groom Robe
Price: $35 (Etsy)

Father-in-Law: Let's face it - he just wants to drink his beer and stay as far away from the wedding planning as possible.  Let him know you support his stance!

Beer Brewing Kit & Personalized Bottle Opener
Price: Beer Kit $49.99 (Northern Brewer); Bottle Opener $19 (Etsy)

Gift Ideas for Your Bridesmaids:

They are counting down the days right alongside you.  They are your best friends in the whole wide world and you want to give them a small token of appreciation for all they have done for you.

Mani/Pedi Gift Certificate + Bottle of Nail Polish in the color you want them to wear on your wedding day
Price: Mani/Pedi Gift Certificate $35 - $50 (depending on the salon); Bottle of Nail Polish $8 (Essie)

Gift Ideas for Your Soon-to-be Hubby:

You probably promised each other you wouldn't "do gifts" this year because you're already spending so much on the wedding.  But there's no reason you can't get him one of these cute little stocking stuffers (and don't forget the card!).

"In Case You Get Cold Feet" Socks
Price: $33 (Etsy)

After-Party Tuxedo T-Shirt
Price: $26 (Café Press)

Do you have any great gifts to add to the list?  Leave 'em in the comments below!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"Fall in Love" Themed Bridal Shower - Part 2

The "Fall in Love" themed bridal shower I planned last weekend was full of little touches that all tied in the look and feel.  I used burlap and gingham fabric wherever possible, and I also found the most perfect gingham-patterned ribbon for the "little stuff."  When it comes to events, the little stuff is just as important as the big stuff and it often gets overlooked. 

For example, in order to alleviate the homeowner (in this case, the bride's grandmother) from having to do dishes, I purchased "upscale" plates and silverware from Costco.  Instead of just putting the fork, knives and napkins loosely in a basket and making everyone fish out what they needed, I individually wrapped the silverware sets and tied it off with that perfect ribbon.  It made such a difference!


While some bridal shower games can be downright cheesy (Bridal Bingo - no thank you), I have found a few tried and true games that are always a big hit.  This game, in particular, is all-inclusive and requires the guests to pay attention to the bride so it's ideal to play it right before she begins opening her gifts.

We called the game "Fall in Love... with Shannon & Chris."  A few weeks before the shower, we emailed the groom-to-be a list of questions about his relationship with his bride-to-be.  The questions can vary in their seriousness or silliness, depending on the personality of the couple.  I usually like to ask about 15 questions and then choose my favorite 10 answers to use for the game.

These are the exact questions we asked Chris:

  • Where was your first date? 
  • Where was your first kiss? Who initiated? 
  • When is your anniversary? 
  • Who said "I love you" first? 
  • Was the proposal a surprise? 
  • When did you know she was "the one"? 
  • How many kids do you want to have? 
  • What is your favorite thing about Shannon?  
  • What is Shannon's worst habit?  
  • What are you looking forward to most about marriage?

(For Chris' privacy, I won't reveal his answers but they were absolutely adorable and he got a lot of "awwww"s from the crowd!)

I typed up the questions and answers on cardstock and made enough copies for each guest to have.  The instructions are as follows:

We asked Chris some questions about his relationship with Shannon.  We will ask Shannon the same questions.  Guess how many of their answers match!

 There's that cute ribbon again!
On the reverse side were the questions and answers with a checkbox next to them.  We encouraged the guests to interact by placing a check mark next to each answer Shannon got "correct." 
Shannon did remarkably well - 9 out of 10 of her answers matched her fiancé's.  Whichever guests guessed that she would get 9 out of 10 before the game started were the "winners" and got to take a centerpiece home.
My favorite moment of this game was when we asked Shannon what Chris liked most about her.  She said, "Oh, that's easy - he loves my butt!"  Chris's actual answer was her smile and warm heart.  She had her guests in stitches!  I LOVED this bride!


I'm a big fan of brunch for any kind of shower.  Brunch allows you to keep the menu versatile because you can serve a few popular breakfast items and a few creative lunch items.  Plus, you can really stretch your dollar with a lot of the brunch food staples like bagels, eggs, bacon and home fries.  And I think the best part about brunch is that you can get an early start so your guests don't feel like they've devoted their entire day to the shower. 
Tip: Most people take an "all or nothing" attitude when it comes to catering a party but you should consider a half-and-half approach.  That's exactly what I did for the food this shower; I catered out for half the food and I made half the food myself (with a lot of help from my wonderful mom).  I recommend sitting down with the caterer and pricing out all the food options.  Choose simple, classic dishes that you feel comfortable making and let the caterer take care of the more complicated dishes.
I was given this advice by the owner of Mr. Shrimp**, Vinnie Pettruziello. Mr. Shrimp ended up providing the French toast, home fries, bacon, penne a la vodka and chicken with artichokes.  My mom and I rolled up our sleeves, slapped on some aprons and made 5 different quiches, an Autumn salad and all the desserts.  I literally saved the M-O-H hundreds of dollars by making some of the food myself. 

The dessert was an ode to Fall - mini pumpkin pies and apple caramel cupcakes.  My mom's kitchen smelled just like it does on Thanksgiving Day... happiness.
We served assorted juices, red and white wine and of course - everyone's brunch favorite - mimosas.  I also saved the M-O-H money by talking her out of bloody marys and other drinks requiring hard alcohol, which can quickly drive up the liquor bill.  In my experience, the guests are perfectly happy with whatever drinks you serve them.  They are there for the bride; the booze is just an added bonus!

Serve mimosas in a pretty glass drink dispenser with a spigot - no one ever has to know you used cheap champagne.  :)
I'll leave you with this candid photo I captured of the guests - just eating, drinking, mingling, talking, laughing.  It's exactly what an at-home bridal shower is all about!
**If you need a party catered, or "half-catered," check out Mr. Shrimp in Belmar (Monmouth County, Jersey Shore).  The food is not only affordable, but totally delicious and the owners are some of the nicest people I've ever met.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Fall in Love" Themed Bridal Shower - Part 1

Even though I'm a summer girl at heart, I have to admit I was able to "Fall in Love" with Fall this year thanks to the themed bridal shower I planned last weekend.

The M-O-H hired me to take care of the shower start to finish since she lives out of state.  All she requested was that I stick with a Fall theme.  I found my inspiration in Fall colors (deep reds and bright oranges/yellows) and Fall fruits (crisp apples). 


I chose the favors first.  I'm obsessed with anything in miniature form and I'm also obsessed with edible favors since they never go to waste.  I decided to combine those two obsessions and DIY mini jars of apple butter.  I ordered the jars from The Jar Store and apple butter in bulk from  Then I hit the fabric store for the perfect gingham fabric and the craft store for cute little labels for the jars. 

I did my research and discovered I could actually buy pre-made mini jars of apple butter from several websites, including Etsy.  When I did a price comparison, I realized I could save about $100 if DIY'ed the favors. 

Tip:  When it comes to DIY, it usually comes down to money vs. time.  When you DIY, you will always save in money what it costs you in time.  If you have patience and time to spare, it's worth it to DIY.  However, DIY projects usually take twice as long as you anticipate so be prepared!

Martha Stewart's kraft labels read: "Spread the Love" Shannon's Bridal Shower

 Trace circles on the reverse side of the fabric and but them out with fabric scissors to top the mini jars.  Secure with rubber bands.

I displayed the favors in an apple picking basket on a burlap runner.


Since the shower was at the bride-to-be's grandmother's house, a gorgeous old Victorian home just a few blocks in from the beach, I wanted to keep the decorations understated while keeping with the "Fall in Love" theme. 
I used the left-over burlap runners from my wedding for the food table and the favors table.  The centerpieces were potted Gerbera daisies in vibrant yellows and oranges.  I wrapped the flower pots in the same gingham fabric I used for the favors. 
I made a DIY burlap banner (also with the left-over burlap from my wedding) that read "Fall in Love" and hung from the mantle of the beautiful fireplace.  This was the focal point of the room and where the bride sat and opened her gifts.
Lastly, I took short cylinder vases and filled them with 3 apples to spruce up the food table. 
I purchased the flowers from Wegmans... only $5.99 each and you can plant them!

Black acrylic paint and stencils made the lettering a cinch.
 I did a test run on my own mantle.  I used thin ribbon (taped to the top of the mantle) and mini clothespines to affix the burlap flags to the ribbon.
This is the banner hanging at the shower...
And this is the bride "falling in love" with all her gifts!
Check back for Part 2... the FOOD, the GAMES and the happy GUESTS!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hump Day Humor #6

As I sit here and tie endless bows around favors for an upcoming bridal shower I'm planning, all I can think is, "I love my job."  I really, really do. :)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Wedding Coordinator: PRICELESS.

If MasterCard were to ever make a commercial about the average wedding, it would probably look something like this:

Wedding Dress......$1,200
Wedding Venue.....$12,000
Wedding Coordinator.....PRICELESS

I have exactly 2 regrets about my wedding day:
1.  I should've worn higher heels because I stepped all over the bottom of the dress and it's basically shredded and looks like I've participated in a "Trash the Dress" session.  :(
2.  I should've sucked it up, swallowed my pride, and hired a day-of wedding coordinator.

My sister's good friend Karina graciously offered to help me out with the set up on the day of my wedding so I could do the things brides are supposed to do that day - get my hair and make-up done, drink mimosas, and pose for a trillion "getting ready" photos.  Since the ceremony and reception were at my parents' house, I left Karina detailed notes on how I wanted everything to look.  I even drew pictures.  She came over the morning of my wedding and did a flawless job getting everything ready for the guests' arrival.  I even found out later that our burlap table runners had creases so she ironed them.  This girl was good.

Since Karina refused to accept any kind of payment and she was really just doing this out of the goodness of her heart, I didn't think it was right to ask her to commit her whole entire day to making sure my wedding went smoothly.  I insisted she leave before the ceremony.  I was convinced that once the set-up was taken care of, everything would fall into place and the wedding would sort of just run itself.  As an event planner, I should have known better.

If I can make you one promise as a bride-to-be, it is this:
I'm not saying that to scare you.  I'm saying that because it's true.  You can go over your final to-do list a dozen times.  You can call your vendors until they consider blocking your number.  You can make spreadsheets.  You can make a spreadsheet for all your spreadsheets (I did). 

Once Karina left, unbeknownst to me, tiny disasters ensued at my wedding.  Our alcohol was supposed to be delivered at 1 pm.  At 2:30 pm there was still no sign of it and the guy wouldn't pick up his phone.  The caterers couldn't find the wine glasses anywhere.  My four-year-old nephew insisted on wearing his Giants uniform instead of the ring bearer outfit I meticulously picked out for him.  All the while I was blissfully unaware of any of this because Brian and I were doing our "first look."

My brother's girlfriend, Carrie, stepped in and Got. Shit. Done.  She (literally) ran around, finding things, making calls, fixing things.  When the mailman attempted to deliver the mail in the middle of our vows, she shoo'ed him away.  When the servers forgot to fill the champagne flutes with champagne before the speeches, she rounded them up and even helped pour.  When the DJ had the background music for Sara Bereilles' "Love Song" instead of Taylor Swift's "Love Song," Carrie pulled it up on her iPad and saved my sister's M-O-H speech/song.

Carrie inadvertently became our wedding coordinator when she should've been a wedding guest.  No one asked her to do these things.  She did them because she wanted to me to be able to enjoy my day and she's just an all-around wonderful person.  But still...

I wish I hadn't been such a martyr.  And I wish I hadn't been so cheap.  If I'm going to be honest, I didn't hire a day-of wedding coordinator because I was tapped out and simply didn't want to spend the money on yet another wedding cost.  I viewed having a wedding coordinator as a luxury, not a necessity. 

Now that I'm "on the other side" and I'm a wedding planner, I find myself telling brides all the time, "I know you think you can't afford a wedding coordinator, but you can't afford to not have a wedding coordinator."  If you work the cost of a coordinator into your budget from the start, you'll realize it's marginal but well worth it. 

I coordinated a wedding just a few weeks ago for a bride who was on the fence about hiring me since her venue provided her with a maître de.  I explained to her that he was most likely not communicating with any of her vendors who didn't work directly with his venue.  I was right.  When her photo booth was M.I.A., I asked the maître de if he had spoken to the company.  I didn't want to overstep my boundaries and call them if the maître de had already reached out. 

He smiled at me and said, "That's really not my problem, sweetheart.  I'm concerned with feeding 250 hungry guests." 

I got in touch with the photo booth people and there had been a simple miscommunication.  They were at the right venue but they were setting up in the wrong room.  Problem solved.  Wedding coordinator to the rescue.  The bride never found out and that's the point.  The bride should never have to know about all the little things that go wrong.  And neither should the guests.

The whole reason I got into this business is because I know firsthand how stressful it can be to be a bride.  Peace of mind on your wedding day is absolutely priceless and the only person who can provide that for you is a day-of wedding coordinator. 

I hope my brother marries Carrie one day not only because she'd make a fabulous sister-in-law but also so I can act as her wedding coordinator.  For free.  I really owe her one!