At the beginning of Love and Literature… Part 1, I talked about how fitting it was to have this wedding on Rock My Wedding this very week, as it epitomised our ethos… Your Day, your Way.
The very savvy Bride has written a few paragraphs about her planning advice and it is indeed quite a long piece, longer than any other bride. When it came to the editing however, I just had to leave it all on because not only is her advice very sound, but it completely resonated with me, Rock My Wedding and I hope all of you. Make sure you take the tie to read it and do share your thoughts in the comments box as always.
With thanks again to Catherine from Lily and Frank Photography for the images.
Fabric and Florals…
Flowers were not at the top of our list of priorities, but I knew I wanted something locally grown and in season. The week before the wedding a woman in our church and I went to the wholesale florist (Peter Graves in Girton) and looked at what they had in season. The Love-in-the-Mist (also called Nigella) took our breath away and so did the Lysimachia and Bridal Gladioli (miniature gladioli). So we decided to make those the focus for the bouquet and the rest of the arrangements just fell into place (white Asiatic lilies, yellow and green buttonhole mums, white roses and daisies and six huge living white hydrangeas which we tied with ribbons and used on the pillars at the church (and then as thank you gifts for our caterers, minister and organist) and a long, low bouquet for the front of the church and head table at dinner. We organized a couple of guys to carry flower arrangements from the church to the hall for the dinner.
Being in the US but planning a wedding back in the UK also meant that I wanted to have as much done before the wedding as possible. I found a pattern from Martha Stewart Weddings for cloth flowers and tried one out on a party dress I had and ended up liking the look of it, so we spent a few evenings making a whole bunch of them – for the bridesmaids’ clutch bags, the buttonholes and for our family and friends who were reading and playing at the ceremony.
This was one of the most important things to us, so we spent a lot of time a year in advance looking at potential photographer’s websites.
Dunstan and I narrowed it down to three photographers and met with them all. After a good night’s sleep and a day away from things we made the decision to go with Catherine Frawley of Lily & Frank Photography.
On top of her beautiful photographs, we really appreciated her willingness to trek across London to meet us. Her photography webpage was beautiful and the images she had there were really lovely, but her blog was a huge factor in our choice because it gave a sense of her personality, which was really important to us. It also introduced us to various sides of her work, which were really nice to see. For example, the excitement she expressed about a master class with David Beckstead really resonated with me.
There’s something wonderful about continuing the learning process and feeling like there’s a hidden depth to our abilities waiting below the surface. Also the posts about her husband made it obvious that she was going to ‘get’ what the wedding day was about. I still look at her blog and I like to think that we would be friends if we’d met in another context!
Dunstan: Catherine arranged to meet us in a great coffee and bun shop, which was a good sign from the start. She worked hard and imaginatively on the day but stayed cheerful and unobtrusive, and made the most of the inside of King’s College Cambridge. She likes to use a tint which I would call half-sepia – it’s a great retro look.
Double Duty Dessert
Cristine’s Patisserie is a fantastic little bakery just down the street from the college. We showed Cristine a picture of what we wanted and then she used it as her inspiration for our black forest gateau wedding cake. We used it as the dessert at our dinner because we wanted to spend every moment of dance time on the floor.
Dunstan: Chocolate and cherry is unusual for a wedding cake, but we wanted it to be unique. We didn’t realize that she would put marzipan on it – but it’s my favourite. We recommend the combination.
In the end, yes, but only because my mom and dad decided to carry 20 pounds of “Idaho Spud” Candy Bars in their hand luggage from the US. I grew up in Idaho, and this was my little hommage to home (you can’t buy these outside of Idaho). It was also important to have a little bit of Idaho there, since it’s not usual for the bride to be married outside of her hometown.
Dunstan: I can guarantee that none of the English guests had ever seen these things before!
I’ve had many formal dinners in King’s Hall, so I knew the room would be dark without a little extra light. The flowers on the tables and the tall silver candles were organized by the catering staff (I gave them the list of what I’d purchased from Peter Graves and they matched things), but we bought the votive candles from an eBay seller (Quality UK Wedding Supplies). It was definitely the right idea. The photographs look great with soft candlelight glowing all around the place and the candles have been passed on to another soon-to-be bride.
We also made a seating chart for the wedding that was inspired by one I saw on etsy (melangerienyc). We couldn’t afford a custom made one, and also didn’t know how many guests we’d have until five days before the wedding (some people are really bad with deadlines—and unforeseen circumstances (lost passports and denied visas) also played havoc with our list).
One of our favourite things was our ‘Guest Book’, a book of recipes my mum collected from all of the people invited to our wedding, which people were encouraged to sign. She called the book ‘Cooking 24/7’ (the date of our wedding).
I designed and printed our save the dates, invitations and programmes. These things weren’t high on the list of priorities, but they took a lot of time. Printing the invitations was my biggest headache and my husband rightly pointed out that sometimes it’s best to pay others to do the work—and he is by far the most frugal of the two of us. Our save-the-dates, an old LNER poster, actually ended up being the inspiration for the wedding (including the stag-do – punting on the river Cam).
Dunstan: I would have gone punting anyway, I love it… The candles came in little glasses, so they were safe to be used anywhere and carried. As for the invitation printing, the main headache was that we had beautiful thick card, but it was difficult to put through an office printer, and we got a bargain by buying a discontinued style, so we only had a few spares to practice on. Professional printers are better at tricky things like that. One of our guests used some save-the-date cards to make us custom book-ends and coasters.]
Dancing the night away
We wanted people to have fun and to dance and they did! We’d taken swing classes as graduate students and had, more recently, got hooked on Zumba at the YMCA in Grand Rapids, Michigan, so we were excited about dancing. There was a decibel regulator in the hall where the reception was, so we hired Darryl from Cambridge Sound, who was recommended by the college. And he was AMAZING! Not only was he incredibly nice and accommodating (when we accidentally sent him the wrong date, and he thought we needed someone in two days, he got in touch with us immediately and was ready to help us find a solution—what a revelation to work with someone who loves his work and takes it seriously), but he has a policy of only playing music you want to hear. We sent him a long list of what we liked (and what we didn’t) and every song that came on at our wedding made us want to jump up and dance. I hardly caught my breath all night! We were going to go with a diy-iPod list but in the end life intervened and we didn’t have time to pull it together so we just went with Darryl (who also offered a diy hire option).
Dunstan: He knew the hall could be gloomy, so he wisely recommended a pair of back-lights at one end. The lighting for the dance floor was perfect – there was a sort of rippling water effect, which suited the first song…
Our first dance was to ‘Somewhere, Beyond the Sea’ by Bobby Darin. My husband and I are living on opposite sides of the Atlantic (darn this economic downturn), so this song resonates with us. It’s also perky and great for swinging! Practicing for the dance also never quite happened and so we winged it on the dance floor and it was great!
We also had a last dance, to Nora Jones, Come Away with Me. This was my husband’s idea. It was brilliant. People gathered tea lights and stood in a circle around the dance floor while we swayed to the music. Then while we gathered our things, they lined the path over the bridge to the back gate with the candles in hand. We walked between the rows saying goodbye to everyone and then off to our house. It was amazing!
Dunstan: I had no idea what we would do when we first stepped out on the dance floor. Thank goodness we took some swing lessons once upon a time and some of it stayed! There was no nervousness at all, so we simply had fun.
Words of Wisdom
Years ago, a girl I knew at Uni told me that her wedding day was the most stressful day of her life. From the moment we began planning our wedding, it was my goal to truly enjoy my wedding day and to NOT be stressed. This did not mean that it wasn’t stressful planning the wedding. There were moments of tears and shouting (mostly to do with stationery), but I was determined to enjoy our wedding day, and as my mother-in-law rightly said after it was all over, it was the combination of organization and goodwill that made the day so magnificent.
I worried about how much this was all going to cost. It was important that we truly entertain our guests, particularly those who were coming from so far away, but I also didn’t want to spend all the money we’ve been saving on a single day, even if that day is really important.
So here’s what we learned:
Book the important things first: we had big things like venues and the photographer sorted out a year in advance, because they were the things that were most important to book early.
Follow your instincts, not wedding planning advice: We didn’t go into this with a big list of priorities or themes or plans, like so many wedding planning sites (e.g. knot.com) and worksheets said we needed to. We didn’t sit down and map out themes, colour schemes, or ‘traditions’ we wanted to include, or events that had to take place. My mom really wanted the bridesmaids to match, I didn’t, I went with my instincts and she admitted later that I was right. I also found sanity in the world on bridal madness at the blog A Practical Wedding. I still read Meg’s posts because it’s about being married and getting married.
Use the connections you’ve got (even if you feel you haven’t got any): I kept seeing amazing weddings, only to find out that one friend was a caterer, another a photographer, another a seamstress, hairdresser, baker etc. We didn’t know anyone like that, but we knew where we wanted to get married, who we wanted to do the ceremony, and where we wanted the dinner. These decisions were dictated by places we had connections with (we got married at our church so there was no fee, although we made a donation to the church after the fact) and the same was true of my college.
(I’d worked with the catering staff before, and knew I could trust them, and indeed, the person I worked with was on top of all the details – down to the types of flowers to be used on the tables, and how our unorthodox seating chart was to be displayed.)
Be flexible: The thing I found most difficult was actually convincing people that I really wanted them to do whatever was easiest for them. We were really very flexible on almost everything.
Being organized helps others: I made spreadsheets, for us, the caterers, for the groomsmen, bridesmaids, readers, ushers, and the families with a full list of contact details on all of them. I sent these in advance because I’ve been to weddings where the bride was too consumed with things in the days leading up to the wedding to be clear about what she needed people to do when and where they could go with questions. This also meant that people basically knew what they needed to do and if something didn’t happen or went wrong, they had the knowledge and the power to make decisions. They also knew my aunt was in charge on the day so they went to her with questions about things. Maybe things went wrong, if so, we didn’t hear about it.
Dunstan: There were multiple spreadsheets involved in the wedding planning. I thought it was a little over the top at first, but when you think of the number of guests, and things to keep track of like dietary requirements and thank yous for presents, it’s really essential.
Have someone take care of things on the day: There was no way we could afford to hire someone to coordinate our wedding day (the thought never crossed our minds). It was OUR wedding and it was a WEDDING for heaven’s sake, not an ‘event’. We organized things in advance with the caterer, the baker, the disco, etc. and put it all in spreadsheet and list form and handed it all over to my aunt who had full decision-making power on the day. In the end, a few things cropped up (some wilted flowers in the flower arrangements, some chairs out of order, and an extra guest at the dinner (the catering staff were great about this and dealt with it immediately)). It was wonderful for my aunt to be involved and it was fantastic for my mom and me to enjoy the day without worrying about whether things were going right.
Hire people you trust and let them do their jobs: We trusted the people we hired to do what they were being paid to do and they came through for us. We didn’t hire the least expensive people we could find, we hired people that were in our budget and whom we met and trusted. Notice it’s about trust, not about liking people. The caterer started to drive me a bit mad with questions about things I didn’t care about, but she knew her business, kept me informed, worked hard to make our day nice and did her job. That being said, Catherine, our photographer was both trustworthy AND likeable. It’s hard not to think of her and Lily as friends after spending so much of our wedding day with them.
Dunstan: The best example of this is the photographer – we were torn between two at first, but although the other one was a bit slicker and more talkative, we went with the person who took the best pictures, and she turned out to be wonderful!
Decide to be relaxed: I know this sounds crazy, but I think it really helps to be intentional about letting go of the wedding. I had organized my heart out and 10 days before the wedding there was nothing else to do, so I went to Bath with my best friends from Uni and had a wonderful weekend away. The days leading up to the wedding were spent getting my own research done, and as the wedding guests began to arrive we let go and had fun. During the stag-do our group of women decorated the church, after the rehearsal we had family and friends from abroad join us for a barbeque at the pub where Dunstan and I first met, and we enjoyed being in the community we’d always dreamed would exist for the few fleeting days and hours they were all together.
That being said, I wasn’t sure I’d actually be relaxed on the day, so I purposefully built in breakfast with our parents on the morning of the wedding, because I knew they would be a calming presence for us –and they were!
I also made sure that I built in more time than people said I’d need to get ready. That meant I took some time when I got back from the hair salon to be alone. It wasn’t easy to do with a house full of women and people wanting to get ready and to help. But it was really important. I wrote my fiancé a note, I read the card he’d left for me and I had a moment to be thoughtful, intentional, prayerful about the afternoon. It also gave me time to notice that his trousers were still sitting on the chair (I’d been planning to iron them and forgot to hang them back up so he was wandering around town in borrowed trousers held up with a hairband!)! And then the whirlwind of getting ready began.
Dunstan: Hmm, the trousers. I immediately assumed I was the one who lost them. I was glad to find that it wasn’t my fault, but more glad to get the trousers back in plenty of time for the ceremony!]
Being intentional about being relaxed meant that I laughed a lot and had fun getting ready. My only regret was that we rushed to get everyone to the church on time and in fact it meant I didn’t have the time with my mom that I had wanted even though we did HAVE the time (maybe this is one problem with giving people schedules ).
In the end it is the marriage that matters: Some things went wrong but we just went with the flow. The music I walked into wasn’t what I had expected, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was that we were surrounded by our far-flung community for this one day in order to celebrate this new family we were creating and in that light none of the details, as nice as they were, mattered. (I expected Wagner, but the cellist hadn’t finished her piece and I felt like it was daft to stand there having everyone stare at me so my dad and I decided we’d walk).
Thinking about “us”: I worried about how this wedding was going to reflect “us”. So many brides writing posts just like this talked about this “us” factor, and that’s actually really hard to get your head around until it happens. In the end, we did what we thought was easy and cost effective and fun, and that made it ‘us’. We chose things we liked, and again, that made it ‘us’. Black forest gateau with a marzipan layer at a wedding? We liked it – it was ‘us’. Homemade flowers and no bridesmaid bouquets—I liked it and it was ‘us’ because we made them together.
So far, this has all been about the ‘stuff’, but the thing that was most important and often seems to get lost in these bridal blogs is that REAL event that takes place – the marriage. And it was THIS that was most ‘us’ and most important. We chose some silly, some esoteric (we study Greek and Latin), and some deeply meaningful elements for the ceremony that reflected the way we felt about each other, the occasion and our feelings about life on this side of being married. Each of these elements somehow jived with us. If it was corny and sappy it was out, because that’s not us, but over-the-top goofy (a poem I’d known since childhood), beltingly loud hymns, loaded pieces of ancient poetry, and words that reflected our own feelings about marriage (which, by the way, came to the fore during our pre-marital discussions with each other at the suggestion of our minister) were all there. And so were the people we cared most about. It was important to us that people in our lives not only witnessed but participated in our wedding. Sisters, brothers, sisters-in-law and close friends each gave something of themselves in the service – music, readings, prayers. And it was this – seeing them offer these bits of themselves—that made it ‘us’. Because ‘us’ is bigger than Dunstan and me, it is the community that we had brought together, for that one brief day, and that continue to sustain us despite being spread across the world.
Dunstan: Grooms, just one piece of advice: leave or send her a romantic surprise present on the morning of the big day (though spring it earlier if she’s getting overwhelmed and you find a suitable moment to save her sanity). Plan ahead and aim high. It shows that you aren’t just passively going with the flow, and she’ll always remember it.
Very well said!
In fact, I think, for once somebody has taken the words right out of my mouth!