The F-word.


Finances in general are a stressful topic (especially for me, an already-neurotic person!), but the most important rules are generally the most simple:

1) Know what you have.
2) Don’t spend more than that. (In fact, try to spend less than what you have, if possible! </frugal!Alyssa>)

John and I have been very lucky to have generous family members who have been instrumental in helping us achieve our hopes for the ceremony and reception. But that doesn’t mean we’re looking to take advantage of these resources. How many of us have watched Bridezillas or Say Yes to the Dress and been horrified at not only the amount of money shelled out by the families, but the behavior these brides resort to to get their way?!

Now, I’m not saying that if you have the money, you shouldn’t use it. However, there is a balance that must be struck. As you might have read in a previous entry, John and I looked at a gorgeous location called The English Manor. It was beautiful and elegant with gorgeous outdoor space–pretty much exactly what we had envisioned for our reception.

However, the space was about $6,000 more than our best deal, and still a head-and-shoulders above the most expensive places we had seen thus far. And that wasn’t even taking into account how much more expensive the per-plate charge was! The $6,000 was simply the fee to use the space!

So, we had two options based on the resources we knew we had. 1) Go with The English Manor, spend the majority of the money on the basic space and food (no extras), and skimp on decor, flowers, music, etc.

Or 2) Find a space that is less expensive but almost-equally serviceable in accordance with our “mood”, and have more wiggle room to make it our own through the details.

To those of you that don’t have to compromise, kudos, but to the other 99%, figure out what the most important things are to you, and allocate your money accordingly. I personally feel that the location/food should be priority–it’s where the party will be spending the most time, and usually the food and locale go hand-in-hand. The food probably ties with the location–after all, if the food is bad people will definitely remember.

But then again, some people might make music their priority, or decor. It all depends on what you care about and what you might have access to. How big your party is also has an impact–for example, if you co-run a catering company and your guest list is 50, you can probably afford to splurge on your dress and a great DJ due to your great discount on food. Same with invitations, if you have artsy friends or are artsy yourself (John and I are lucky to have this benefit!).

With some discipline and creativity, you should be able to plan your perfect day without breaking the bank! Good luck!


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White Wedding.

I’m leaving tomorrow night to go back to my hometown in Western PA to start wedding dress shopping with my Mom.

I’ve been imagining what I want for awhile now, and my hopes for how it will look have shifted here and there (while remaining generally in the same white, full-length, full skirt ballpark). It is remarkable, however, that in my adulthood, it’s amazing how similar my present idea of a wedding dress is to the idea I had of my ideal wedding dress as a child/preteen. I loved a certain cartoon character who had a beautiful white dress that I envied so much (no, it wasn’t Cinderella), and many of the dresses I find myself drawn to now are eerily similar!

But, despite what I’ve been thinking of, I’m not married to any one look (so to speak). I’m excited to see what I can see, and hopefully find the perfect dress! Here are a few of the dresses I’ve been particularly taken by:

1. A vintage dress from the 60’s I found on Etsy–I love the way the front is a bit shorter than the back–makes for easier dancing, and you can show off those shoes!

2. Oleg Cassini for David’s Bridal–once again, that asymmetrical hem–although this one is a teensy bit shorter in the front than I’d like.

3. BHLDN–I want a dress with straps or sleeves! Strapless dresses are very flattering on girls with smaller chests, but I feel they look dumpy if you’re bigger on top/bigger in general.

4. The Vineyard Collection, “Lindsay”.

5. BHLDN again–love the hem, but I wish the seams weren’t done in black thread. And I’d go with a white bow, myself.

6. Vera Wang White for David’s Bridal–my only qualm with this one is that the removable lace top would get quite uncomfortable tucked into the strapless gown. I’d want mine secured in!

7. Vera Wang White for David’s Bridal–such a soft, light, romantic feel. This dress looks beautiful and comfortable. Just add some straps/cap sleeves and you’re good to go!

8. A vintage gown from the 50s–another Etsy find! I love lace and nipped-in waists, and this gown echoes my grandmother’s own wedding dress from 1961. (She and my grandfather will be married for 50 years this October!)

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A Midsummer Month’s Vacation

The last few weeks have been stuffed with outings and working inbetween!

At the beginning of July I went to Disney World for the FIRST time! I know, I’m behind. In fact, it was John’s 25th time visiting Disney. He’s (obviously) been going since he was a baby. His family are big on Disney! I met Belle my first day (I know, I’m a dork), and rode most of the rides (at least the best ones!).

After we left Disney, we stayed in Nickelodeon suites and John and I went to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (again, dork) and I spent way too much money on souvenirs for my family and–ahem–myself. We attended one day of a nearby Harry Potter Convention (uber-dork) and saw an advance screening of Deathly Hallows Part 2. I can’t believe it’s over! I have to be a for real grown-up now. What’s that about?

On the wedding front, we received our contract for The Mill, and are e-mailing with our contact, negotiating terms like adults (what?!). It’s been a bit challenging for me, because on top of the fact that I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with asking for things, I never want to come off as too clipped in my writing. I want to be friendly and easy-to-work-with, but that’s not the best stance to take when trying to strong-arm preferences for our big day! Thankfully John has been very helpful in taking my drafts and streamlining them to give them a lot more punch.

Finances have been falling into place better than I expected, and in order to start saving for our honeymoon, we’ve decided to use a credit card to get some rewards points for flights! John’s aunt was gracious enough to offer her timeshare to us for whenever (and wherever) we want to go–her timeshare has locations very close to London and in Florence, which were places we’re dying to go back to. So, the timeshare will take a load off regarding hotels, which is really nice!

At the end of this month, I’m going home to visit for the second time since I moved (the last time was April… :/), and Mom and I are going to look at wedding dresses! It’s scary and exciting at the same time. I have some ideas of what I want the dress to look like, but I don’t want to get too solid a design in my head in case we can’t find anything like it! I don’t want to be disappointed straight out of the gate.

I’ll update again soon!

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Bridesmaids’ Dresses

Firstly, my bridesmaids (so many parentheses!):

1. My younger sister Lauren is my Maid of Honor. Lauren is currently studying Elementary Education–she’s GREAT with kids! I’m lucky I have one awesome sister so I didn’t have a tough decision to make!

2. My college roommate (who I technically only lived with for a semester, but whom I grew closest to by far), Betsy, who is the only bridesmaid who lives in my state, and will probably end up being my Deputy Maid-of-Honor due to this fact! She’s an amazing photographer–keep an eye out for our engagement shoot, which will be done by her before the Summer is out!

3. My Godmother’s daughter Mary. We jokingly refer to each other as ‘Godsisters’ because her parents are my Godparents and vice-versa. She graduated from the Naval Academy last year and is learning how to fly jets right now! Needless to say, she is a badass.

4. and 5. My high school friends Emily and Drea–it’s hard to put them separately since I’ve only known them together! We became friendly through our church and classes (Drea and Em always came to church together, and Emily and I had AP Art together), and strangely, it wasn’t until after graduation that we became close. But I’m so, so grateful we did, because these two girls are some of the most intelligent and graceful women I know (not to mention hysterical)! They both studied biology and live in Boston: Em is now a research assistant at Harvard Mass-General, and Drea is devoting her time to a nonprofit organization called The Navigators!

6. Last, but not least, Mandee, my newest and feistiest friend (and soon-to-be cousin-in-law!). I actually met her before John and I started dating, and just after she and her now-husband Richie (John’s cousin and Groomsman) got engaged in 2009. (She was one of the first people to reassure John I was interested in him–thanks Mandee! 😀 ) She’s been nothing but warm and welcoming to me (after all, she was a part of this family a good five years before I was!), and has been a reliable source for all my wedding-related questions!

All of these women have been an integral part of shaping me and, subsequently, my relationship with John, and we’re both so grateful to have them as a part of our day! Now, about the dresses…

I had a few priorities re: bridesmaids dresses:

1) Simple/flattering/universally-liked. (A simple style, probably A-line)
2) Correct color (my green is complex)
3) Cost-effective. (Why would I want someone to shell out hundreds of dollars on a dress they may not wear again, or even LIKE?!

Thankfully, I found all three of these things surprisingly quickly!

I was on, and decided (intuitively, perhaps) to see if they had any green dresses I liked–I’d been looking for SOMEONE to capture the color I imagined in fabric, and I was still searching! I was pleasantly surprised to be met by a dress that was not only the color I envisioned, but a perfect, simple style that would be easy for all of my girls to wear on my wedding day and beyond.

(Let me pause to say that looking in bridal shops for bridesmaids’ dresses is great, but it’s usually bound to clean your wallet out. If you’re having a more casual wedding, don’t be afraid to look at more reasonably-priced “normal” stores like ASOS or ModCloth [a Pittsburgh-based company, by the way]. It’s a great way to find something beautiful and wearable while keeping costs down!)

This is the dress:

As good as all that was, ASOS did me one better and priced the dress at $70. I immediately forwarded the link on to my ‘maids (at least, the ones I’d asked by that point) and was thrilled as each one heartily approved. So, I ordered one for myself in order to see the fit and color in person so I could report back to the girls.

A few days later, I happened to check back to the website, and was delighted/mortified to see that the dress’s price had been slashed to $35! I was excited, because that was a better price than I could have dreamed, but also nervous, because I hadn’t anticipated to find a dress that quickly, and I hadn’t even asked Mary or Betsy to be bridesmaids yet! But I knew that if it was on sale now, it wouldn’t last long.

So, I called my other two bridesmaids-to-be and asked them if they would stand with me (they both enthusiastically accepted the honor), and I then spread the word to the girls about the dress. At this point, sadly, the sizes 2 and 4 were sold out. Three of my girls fall into that category, and I got hesitant. After about ten minutes of waffling–Should I wait for a dress that doesn’t need to be altered so much for the smaller girls? Was this too fast? Am I being a Bridezilla by making them do this with so little warning?!–I urged them all to buy the dress.

Obviously altering a Size 6 to a Size 2 is quite a lot, however, I figured that it would be better to have my ‘maids alter a $35 we all like than a $135 dress that was my second choice–which they’ll probably have to alter anyway. (Plus, a couple of 4s came back into stock after I made the announcement, so hopefully they snagged ’em!)

I was still a little uneasy after making the choice, but Mandee gave me some wonderful support: “How could we NOT like these dresses? Green looks great on everybody, the cut is precious, and getting them altered will STILL be cheaper than if we got dresses at David’s Bridal and never had them altered. So thanks!!” And now, my only regret is that I didn’t snag it at half-price!

So, as far as I know, all of the girls have the dress on the way, and we’re one step closer to looking as amazing as possible on my wedding day!

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Wedding Experience, and what to take from it.

The past few weeks have been full of wedding-y things–but the majority of those were not our own!

John’s cousin Richie married his beautiful fiancee Mandee weekend before last (June 11th) in a ceremony at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland (from whence Richie just graduated*), in the chapel.

Before May of 2010, the last wedding I attended was when I was 13 or 14, and I was not invited to the reception then or to weddings I had previously attended as a child. I had never been in a wedding–with the exception of being a flower girl at age six–until last year, when I was the bridesmaid of an acquaintance, Rheanna, (a lovely girl whose now-husband, Alex, I’d attended high school with). For the first time, I got a behind-the-scenes look at putting a wedding together. Granted, the wedding took place in Pittsburgh and I was finishing my degree in Baltimore, but I helped where I could.

The first time I met Richie and Mandee, they were very newly engaged, so I was around throughout the planning to periodically discuss dresses and colors and food and traditions,which got much more frequent as soon as John and I got engaged. I wasn’t a participant in Mandee and Richie’s wedding party (John was a groomsman) but I was present for the whole of the Wedding Weekend, which included the Wedding Rehearsal, the Rehearsal Dinner, the Ceremony, the Reception, and a family brunch the morning after the wedding. Having watched the Wedding Weekend from a bridesmaid’s perspective previously, it was nice to be an observer this time and just take a ton of mental notes on what John and I would love to try, as well as sorting out what wouldn’t fit in with our style. Other people’s weddings are a great opportunity to pick up new ideas (or vendors, if you live close to each other)!

This past weekend, John and I took a trip down to South Jersey to meet with Father Bill and get the ball rolling on the paperwork and “training” the Catholic Church requires of an engaged couple. He asked us questions together and separately about our ‘Freedom to Marry’ (not being forced into it, not divorced, not secret polygamists, etc.) and gave us a brief overview of how the Bible views marriage. (I have to admit, I had never noticed how completely the Bible is entrenched in marriage imagery, from Genesis to Revelation!) Then we talked about Harry Potter. (Because our Priest is AWESOME.)

During our trip we spent some time with Marie, one of John’s oldest friends and one of my favorite new ones, and I was really thrilled at how eager she was to help us with our wedding plans, and how many ideas she already had for us! It’s really heartwarming when people who aren’t even related to you get excited about something you care about so much!

Last time I wrote, we had narrowed our reception hall search considerably. At this point, we’re huge fans of The Mill, and if no other options open up, that’s our place. BUT, we want to make sure we’ve exhausted every option, so we’re going to do another search for a private rental with a large outdoor property where we could bring in our own caterer/decor and maybe save some money while we’re at it! The appeal of creative control is a big one, but so is the appeal of all-in-one ease (although we’d hardly be settling for The Mill–they’ve been so helpful and flexible with our requests)! And of course, the energy-to-cost ratio. We’ll keep you posted on what we find!

Posts about finances and bridesmaids’ dresses are upcoming, so keep an eye on Married in Pearl!

*I’m pretty sure this is the correct usage of ‘whence’–either way, how often will I actually get to use that word?

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Coincidence? Nah, Cosmic Assistance.

Lately, John and I have been a bit nervous–we hadn’t heard from the priest we’d been hoping to marry us in a while, even after we’d sent a couple e-mails. Especially since we’ve picked a date, we wanted to run it by him and be sure he would be 100% available for us.

Yesterday, John got an e-mail from Father Bill (remember, he didn’t know when our date was yet), explaining that if we intend to have our wedding in September 2012, it couldn’t be the weekend of the 15th because he has a retreat scheduled, and if we chose the 8th, it couldn’t be after 3:30. We managed to fit these precise requests to a T: our wedding is September 8th, 2012 at noon! I know it’s a little dorky to record this little serendipity, but I thought it was a very telling little alignment!

In other news, we’ve started to take down our ideas for the Save the Dates! Here’s a (very loose) first sketch of what we had in mind.

We want the Save the Date to tell our story. It’s a sort of timeline of the important ‘dates’ in our relationship, culminating in out wedding date! I’m an active diarist (although this rarely-updated blog might not indicate that!), and we both love handwritten-sorts of things, so we’re applying that to the design. We want the whole wedding to have a treasured, handmade sort of feel; maybe a little worn? Any feedback is much appreciated, especially from my designer friends! (I’m looking at you, Jess and Colin!)

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Reception Road Trip

When John and I first started thinking about our reception, we knew we wanted a space with a lot of room, preferably a lot of outdoor space, and a lot of creative flexibility so we could apply our own aesthetic and themes. We weren’t sure we could get that with a proper reception hall, so we decided to check out rentable homes and bed-and-breakfasts—the potential of a lot of land and a lot of creative control (not to mention a lighter financial load) were tantalizing.

However, upon searching, we didn’t find a lot of viable options. Either the B&Bs weren’t big enough or—honestly—gracious/lovely enough, or the places that were even close enough didn’t have any yards! (Having never lived anywhere near the beach, I guess I didn’t consider the distict lack of lawn space around!) So, we decided to research some reception and banquet halls online.
After looking at quite a lot of websites over the last ten days or so, we narrowed it down to about ten options. We arranged them in order of distance to Belmar/St. Rose, north to south, and took a little day trip today to check them out! Here was our list:

Molly Pitcher Inn-Red Bank (about 20 minutes away from Belmar, the longest travel time we’d allow)
Branches-West Long Branch (15-20 minutes)
Asbury Willows-Asbury (10-15 minutes)
English Manor-Ocean Twp/Neptune (10-15 minutes)
The Barclay-Belmar (Three whole blocks from the church)
Grand Victorian-Spring Lake (5 minutes—the next town over from Belmar)
Breakers-Spring Lake (Same as above—about 3 doors down from Breakers)
The Mill-Spring Lake Heights (10-15 minutes)
Lobster Shanty-Point Pleasant (15 minutes)
Crystal Point-Point Pleasant (15 minutes)

(The following is a bit of an overview of each place and how we came to our decisions about it—it’s a bit long, but it’s a good insight into the process.)

We decided to skip Molly Pitcher and catch it on our way back north, so we started with Branches, which was a really strong and pleasant start. To preface, today is Mother’s Day, and wasn’t the most opportune time to get one-on-one service, which we expected. We just wanted to take a ‘first-impression’ visit and grab a packet, get some prices and use that info to further narrow our list. We took a notebook and listed points we liked, plus concerns and eventual questions we’ll want answered.

Branches had a really lovely outdoor garden with a waterfall that we thought would be perfect for cocktail hour and for anyone just looking to get some air. The inside was full of guests, and the office was empty, but they had some info out for us to take down, which I was grateful for. The pricing was good, and the information they had available suggested that they’d be really accomodating regarding our own vision. The biggest drawback of Branches is that it’s the farthest away, save Molly Pitcher Inn!

As far as Asbury Willows, Google misled us a bit on location—we THOUGHT it was located in Asbury Park, about ten minutes from Belmar, but it actuality it was located waaaaay far out in WEST Jersey. So we crossed it off the list. (I didn’t mind—the website photos weren’t thrilling me.)

The English Manor was actually our last stop—since it’s solely a hall that opens only for events, no one was there, but it’s a pretty building that looks like a—yes—manor home with lots of foliage and woods surrounding it (which is what I REALLY had in mind when we were thinking about renting a house). Plus, their website advertises that they only concentrate on one wedding at a time, which is a very reassuring promise of personal service. Definitely worth making an appointment to go back and check it out.

We were looking forward to checking out Barclay because of its proximity to St Rose—how easy it would be to have guests walk to the reception hall! However, we were a bit disappointed. The all-white building was in desperate need of a power-wash and a new coat of paint, and on top of that, no one was there to show us around inside to change our minds. Our view through the windows showed a nice space though, and they just came out of off-season, so maybe a facelift is on the way for the building? Not a ‘no’ yet.

The Grand Victorian was another one we were excited to see—the website showed a really promising venue—but we were again disappointed. It was clearly popular: there were a ton of families eating there, but the space seemed a bit cramped and shabby—not exactly the charming, spacious place we imagined. The outside looked like it needed a wash and the white fire escapes were rusting. But we gave our info and expect they’ll call us. Looking like a no.

Breakers was suggested to us by John’s mom, who had her second wedding there. John was hesitant because it’s pricey and the only room that could accommodate our guest list was on the basement floor. (Besides, he wasn’t that interested in having a reception there since his mom and her second husband are now divorced. Bad juju!) We skipped it.

The Mill was another one we got a high recommendation about, and we were really pleased to see that it was well-deserved. It was busy with people having brunch, but we still got a price packet and got to look around the modern-but-still-warmly-decorated rooms and garden, which was not as well-laid-out as the one at Branches, but still very pretty. Plus, it has a really pretty view of the lake it sits on and the trees beyond. Definitely one of the top on our list so far.

The Lobster Shanty was another one John’s mom suggested—she brought back a packet after going there for dinner last week. The price is among the steepest, and the location is not ideal—sandwiched among three or four other restaurants and a motel, basically on a dead-end road surrounded by parking lots. It boasts a ‘deck’, which is really more of a wraparound walkway that can barely fit two abreast. The rooms themselves were expansive and pretty and full of windows, but I’m not sold on it (or on the name ‘Lobster Shanty’, for that matter). Probably a no.

Crystal Point was one of the first names I heard, and the website was full of good reviews. However, upon arrival, I was incredibly underwhelmed. Imagine a sort of Marina-Motel stripmall with an empty, extensive parking lot, right off the highway. That’s about what Crystal Point was for me. It is literally connected to the Crystal Point Motel, which I’m sure spells ‘convenience’ for some, but spells ‘low-rent’ and ‘tacky’ to me. Plus, the motel office staff didn’t even seem to notice that the Hall was closed for the day. Serious disconnect there. A no.

We headed back north toward Red Bank to see Molly Pitcher Inn, whose website really convinced me to check them out despite the distance. However, apparently there is more than one 88 Riverside Ave in Red Bank, because John’s GPS took us to Ft. Monmouth Military Base. We’ll have to do a little more research and go back when we have the chance, because I don’t really want to take it off the list just yet!

All these visits were super-short, mostly because we didn’t get any grand tours, which was fine by us. We were glad to narrow down the list pretty significantly—we’re only considering about half of the names we drove down with. We hope to narrow it down to two or three final choices before we get to the nitty-gritty details. (Our top three so far are The Mill, Branches, and English Manor.)

Next course of action is to call the places whose packets weren’t available in person (or online) and get the info over the phone. From there, we’ll look at prices to see what’s possible and what isn’t, and then make some appointments to talk to a representative of each place. I’m pretty excited to see what they can offer us, and I’m glad we’re getting this done early!

The map above shows the locations we’re still considering–just click on the little flags to see which is which!

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