Tag Archives: wedding planning

Recommended Reading: A Practical Wedding

Having now been engaged for over a year, I have spent a lot of time reading about weddings and marriage.  My go-to source for thoughtful commentary on weddings is the blog, A Practical Wedding.  Recently, they had two posts which really resonated with me.

First, Kandise writes about tackling wedding planning as just another project to be planned.  She and her husband are both project managers, so arranging logistics, negotiating with vendors, and managing a budget are everyday challenges for them.  I love her perspective that, if she messes up on a project at work, “My boss gets dragged before Congress—and nobody likes that”.  In comparison, most wedding project challenges are easily fixable.  That said, weddings are about family.  Specifically, about forming a new family and negotiating how this baby family will define itself both as part of and separate from the two families that created it.  And planning anything with family is complicated and sometimes frustrating.  Kandise’s observations about how wedding planning is both easier and less romantic than she anticipated really resonated with me.

Second, A Practical Wedding has wedding undergraduate interns who write about the planning process.  Zen is one of these interns and her writing is amazing.  Recently, she wrote a fabulous piece called “Going Public” in which she articulated how getting engaged moves your relationship into the public realm.  She observes that engagement has a parallel with moving out of your parents house as a young adult.  Growing up you are sheltered by your parents, they provide a screen between you and the the outside world.  Similarly, when you are dating someone you can keep the relationship private and sheltered in a way.  Once you announce your engagement you are opening up your relationship to the wider community, inviting others to be part of your commitment.  With legal marriage comes public recognition and legal benefits,  and with that also comes a publicly recognized and scrutinized relationship.

How to Create a Free, Nice Looking Online RSVP (in 10 Easy Steps!)

This post is part of our semi-regular How To Series.

As regular readers know, Jay and I are engaged to be married and I am the project manager for this exciting event.  Planning our wedding has given me an opportunity to find creative ways to get organized and save money.  For both of those reasons, Google Documents are my essential allies in wedding planning.

Above is the finished example of the kind of free, nice looking online RSVP that you can create using a Google Form.  Below I will show you how to create one step by step.

1) In order to create a Google form you first need a free Google account.  If you use Gmail for email, you already have a Google account.  If not, just start at http://www.google.com, click “sign in” and then “sign up”.

2) To start the form, sign into your Google Account and go to the Google Documents home page (click on “documents” on the upper task bar).  Once in Google Documents, click on the red “Create” button, and then click on “Form”.  That will bring you to the screen shown below.

3) An online RSVP is basically an online form or survey.  You will need to think ahead of time about what you want to ask your invitees and how you want to ask it.  Typical questions to include, “Will you be able to attend”, “Name of guests attending”, and “Do you have any severe food allergies we should be aware of?”.  For each question you can choose between different types of answers, such as “text” or “checkboxes”.  I used checkboxes for guests to mark yes or no for attending (see below).

4)  For each question you can also choose whether or not it will be required.  Required questions will show up on your form with a red asterisk and the guest will not be able to proceed until they answer the question.  Sometimes it is helpful to offer the “other” option on a multiple choice question if the question is required.  This allows for any scenarios you may not have anticipated (such as yes I can come, but only for 30 minutes, or I would really like to come but will not know until the day before).

5)  In order to edit a question, click on the pencil icon in the right hand corner of the question box.  In order to add a new question, click on “Add item” and select the type of question you need to add.  When you are done editing each question, just click “done” and it will go from highlighted to white.  You can always go back and edit or delete a question after you have added it.

6)  Now comes the fun part.  In order to make your online RSVP nice looking, you can choose from over 60 “Themes” that are already in Google Forms.  Just click on the “Theme” button, next to “Add Item”.  For my RSVP I chose a very formal classic wedding theme, but they have a ton of different themes to choose from.

7)  By clicking on the theme it will generate a preview of your form in that theme (shown above).  If you don’t like the look, just click “cancel” and try another one.  If you love it, click “apply” and it will take you back to your form editing page.

8)  When you are done with creating your form, just close out the window to go back to your list of Google Documents.  You will see the name of your form at the top of your list of documents.  Click on the form and it will bring you to a spreadsheet like the one below.

9)  The spreadsheet is the tracking document for your form.  Whenever someone uses your form to RSVP, their responses will show up in this spreadsheet, including a timestamp of when they responded.  This is one of the best things about Google Forms since you can quickly and easily access the RSVPs and then you can even download the spreadsheet into Microsoft Excel or another data program to manage the list and create mail merges for name tags or thank you notes.

10)  In order to actually see your completed form and get the link to send out, click on “Form” and then “Go to Live Form” (from the spreadsheet screen above).  This will bring you to your form online (shown below).  You can then copy and paste the URL/web address for the form to send to your guests.  Of course, I would recommend creating a hyperlink if you are sending the link by email (LIKE THIS) or even creating a Custom URL through a link shortening site such as bit.ly if you will be writing the link on a paper invite.  If you have questions about that, please let me know in the comments.

And that’s it!  This process only takes a few minutes once you get the hang of it.  There are lots of additional tweaks and tips that you can use to enhance your forms, so I encourage you to experiment.  It’s free and easy and if you are a bride or groom to be this may be one big step on the way to wedding Zen!

10 Tips for Wedding Dress Shopping

This post is part of our almost weekly How To Series.  Since I spent most of last weekend on a marathon wedding dress shopping adventure, I decided to share what I learned.

Sharon enjoying a mimosa after finding the perfect dress

  1. Do some research online beforehand, but only to get an idea of the different styles that are out there.  I spent so much time looking online that I narrowed in on a certain style and then when I actually got to try on a dress exactly like what I had picked out online I didn’t like it.  There’s nothing quite like trying on the dresses in person so allow yourself time to do that.
  2. Know your budget ahead of time.  You need a very clear budget range BEFORE you start shopping.  This probably means you should wait to go dress shopping until after you have figured out some of the big budget items: venue, catering, photography.  Assuming that the dress is coming out of an overall budget, it needs to be dependent on the cost of other large ticket items.
  3. Bring your shape wear and heels, but realize that you might not actually need them.  Depending on the shop and what types of dresses you are trying on you may end up trying on dresses that have built in corsets in which case you don’t need shape wear.  If the dresses are new and you are trying on samples you also won’t need heels because they are made extra long and hemmed to fit you during alterations.
  4. Most sales people will ask you standard questions, “What silhouette do you like?”, “Straps or strapless?”, “What fabrics do you like?”.  I had trouble answering these questions and I was finally able to get to what I wanted when I started describing how I wanted to feel and what the wedding was going to be like.  For example, I wanted to feel feminine and romantic, so I ended up liking the silks and chiffons rather than the satin.  A good salesperson can help put your ideas about your wedding into an actual style.
  5. Try different types of shops to see the range of what’s available.  We went to everything from department store, thrift shop, David’s Bridal, off the rack discount wedding shop, and couture boutique.  I had initially shied away from the fancy couture boutique assuming everything would be out of my price range, but it turned out that the dress I ended up buying there was less expensive than some of the dresses I liked at the consignment shop and David’s Bridal.  
  6. Don’t bring your entire bridal party.  Dress shopping is tiring and the more people the longer it will take and the more drama may ensue.  For me, two guests was an ideal number.  This was very helpful because one would take notes while the other one took pictures.  
  7. Make an appointment (preferably not on a Saturday since they’ll be super busy).  Our appointments lasted between 90 minutes and 150 minutes.  Ask ahead of time how long you have for your appointment.
  8. Other things to bring: tissues and a hair tie.  You may cry, your mom might cry, or perhaps it will be the salesperson!  We saw a lot of people crying, but I only teared up a little bit.  Even if you normally wear your hair down it’s helpful to tie it back for trying on veils or hair accessories.  
  9. Ask about alterations and factor that into the overall cost of the dress.  Alterations generally run $200-500.  Some dress shops require that you use their alterations department.  Some places have a set cost and others are specific to your dress and what needs to be done.  Gowns with corset backs usually require less alteration where as a dress with a lace overlay or lace appliques may have expensive alteration costs.
  10. Bring a camera.  Most shops will let you take photos.  I found it very helpful to see myself in the dress in the photos and to compare photos from one shop to the next.  Especially if you are doing a dress shopping marathon, you may need a reminder of what you tried on and how it looked.

3 Non-Wedding Books to Read During Wedding Planning

When I was back home doing wedding planning two weeks ago, I was immersed in the wedding industry, The Knot magazine, Wedding Wire, Bride magazine, and a ton of other wedding websites, magazines, blogs, and pamphlets that said they would help me plan this important day.  Well, I tired quickly reading that stuff and was grateful for Meg Keene’s new book, A Practical Wedding and the chance to attend her book talk.

During the wedding planning process I have had to remind myself that my resources are not limited to things that say “wedding”.  A wedding ceremony is a ritual and a wedding reception is a party.  The planning process requires listening, negotiation, organization, working in a team, and social design amongst other skills. That is to say, your wedding planning reading list can expand beyond checklists and how to look beautiful on a budget.

Jay and I at his brother's wedding last year

Here are a few books I am reading that I would recommend:

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher, William L. Ury and Bruce Patton – This book is a classic, used by business leaders and ambassadors, and now, brides and grooms.  Whether you are working with vendors or friendors, there is a lot of negotiation that takes place to make sure that you are on the same page and will be able to have a win-win.   I love this book because it shows you the alternative to either hard or soft negotiation (hard on the problem, soft on the people), so that you can maintain a good relationship with those people who have agreed to help on your wedding day.

Community by Peter Block – One of my pet peeves is when people imply that the host of a meeting or party has little to no control over the outcome, in particular in terms of attendees feeling welcome and having a good time.  This awesome book by Peter Block talks about how we as party planners, or in his case, community organizers, can create the future we want by designing a space that welcomes that future.  I love this book because it combines theory and practice.  It can help you understand the difference between seating your guests at round tables or at rectangular tables.  It helps you understand why everyone hires florists for important community gatherings and how you can incorporate nature into your meeting space.  If you are hoping to bring your family’s together into one cohesive community, I would highly recommend this book.
Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone- Meg, on the site A Practical Wedding has a lot of great stories and explanations about why this wedding planning time can be so difficult for couples and families.  It is really a time when you are forming a new family unit, and that may take some adjustment or changes to your role in the family you grew up in.  Anyways, I guarantee at some point with someone you are going to have to have a difficult conversation, a conversation that is backed by a lot of emotions and probably some hidden fears or anxiety.  This book is a quick read and can be very helpful during this time and for your marriage.

Do you have any recommendations for other non-wedding books that would be helpful for wedding planning?

How to Write a Strategic Plan for your Wedding

When I tell people that I have written a strategic plan for our wedding they laugh and look at me funny.  I expect that, but as we move into the main planning phase and things start to go wrong or get complicated, I feel more and more that a strategic plan is not a laughing matter, it is vital.

When you are surrounded by vendors telling you about their vision for your wedding it is important to have done the pre-work and be firmly grounded in why you are having a wedding and what your first principles are.  This can be true of bringing family and friends into the wedding process as well.  Knowing why you and your partner are choosing to have a wedding (vs. elope or live together and commit to one another without a ceremony) and what is most important to you will help you immensely in making the thousand small (and big!) decisions in wedding planning.  By sharing your strategic plan with those family and friends who are helping to plan and execute you can keep everyone on the same page and feel more comfortable delegating.

Angela Valerino's wedding

Angela Valerino posing with her rugby friends (Photo by Jay)

So what goes into a strategic plan?

Mission –

The mission is the simple what of your wedding.  Try to state as plainly and concisely as possible what it is you are actually doing by planning a wedding.  You may get so lost in the tulle netting and silk flowers that you can find wedding zen by just reading your mission statement.

Example: Jay and Sharon are legally wed in the presence of family and close friends.

kate and seth osborne

Kate and Seth pose with a surprise wedding cake (they chose to do ice cream at their reception so Kate's mom got a wedding cake for the pre-wedding event to be able to use the family wedding topper and cake knife). (Photo by John Tewksbury)


The vision statement is aspirational, it is the picture you see in your head when you imagine your wedding at its most successful.  You strive for the vision, but outside forces may prevent you from actually achieving the vision.  It is sort of like running a race and keeping your eyes on something in the distance so that you do not slow down right before the finish line.


Our relationship is strengthened through the experience of making a commitment in front of those we love and who support us.  Our ceremony and reception reflect our values and provide an opportunity for both sides of the family to get to know one another better in a fun, beautiful, and comfortable atmosphere.

blitz torte

Beautiful blitz torte made lovingly by Cindi and Millie and Ken for Nate and Nicole's wedding


I think it is most important to include a statement of shared values when you are planning something together for the first time.  You and your future spouse hopefully have some shared values and these are what will be expressed on your wedding day.  You may also have areas where your values are not shared, so it’s important to discuss what is most important to each of you to find the common ground to build from for the first day of your life as a married couple.


Note: You may want to describe each value or discuss how it would be expressed in the ceremony or reception.
terri hugging mom

Terri Defazio hugging her mom while family looks on at the beginning of their ceremony


The goals are where we move from what to how.  Goals are behaviors or actions that you want to see based on your mission and vision.  Focus on no more than five goals.  Goals are different than action items in that they can be accomplished in multiple ways.  This is important to have in the strategic plan for when your action plan falls apart.  Maybe you decided to have your ceremony outside in a park because you value nature and want to connect to the natural world during this important ceremony.  Well, if it snows or there are hurricane force winds or the park kicks you out because you didn’t have a permit, it is important to come back to why you were getting married in the park to begin with.  Perhaps it’s time to bring live plants inside for the ceremony or get married in a green house or indoor garden.  If it was important enough to write a goal about it, do not just let it go, but find a new way to accomplish that goal.


We create a warm, welcoming environment where our guests can feel that we value their support.
Our wedding ceremony is an expression of our values and our relationship.
melinda bloom dancing

My mom in the conga line in a great Albert family tradition at Kacy Gerst's wedding (photo from Kacy Gerst's collection)

Indicators of Success

You’d be surprised how common it is for a couple to get to the end of their wedding day and not actually be wed.  There’s paperwork to sign and local laws to follow…  Maybe, you already know that you can not be legally wed in your state and that is not actually the point of your wedding day.  So what does success look like?


1.  Sharon and Jay are legally wed.
2.  We spend our wedding day smiling and laughing with our closest friends and family.
3.  Our wedding guests are active participants, telling stories or dancing, lending a hand because they are welcome to do so.

27th Week in Review: Wedding Overload

We are back in my hometown of Fairfax, Virginia to celebrate Terri Defazio’s wedding.  Terri D was born 3 days before me and lives life a week in advance so that she can pass on great advice.  We have grown up together, following similar paths in life – learning ballet from Debbie, swimming for the Cudas, going to State schools for undergraduate and then moving back to Fairfax and earning masters’ degrees from George Mason University.  She is of course older and wiser and is currently pursuing a 2nd masters’ degree (which she was doing while working full time and planning a wedding!).  Anyways, needless to say this is a wedding we were looking forward to celebrating and knew we would have to come back for no matter where we were.  Congratulations Terri and Phil!

Terri Defazio and parents

As much as we enjoyed seeing our friends wed, it was a bit stressful at the same time because this week we have started planning our own wedding.  We have no idea when we will be back in Virginia for another visit, but we are currently planning to have our wedding here, so we are trying to look at possible venues.  I also had the opportunity to go dress shopping with my sister.  It is both fun and overwhelming.  In between all of the wedding craziness we are finding time to visit with friends and family and volunteer for our local passions.


Pretty flowers from my dad's garden

Hours volunteered: 2 at Ronald McDonald house pulling out bushes with my dad and 7 building trails in Meadowood Recreation area with the Bureau of Land Management in Lorton

States & Provinces: 1 Virginia, Fairfax, Arlington, Charlottesville, Afton

Budget: under!

People Visited: Terri Defazio & Phil Jordan, Earlene & Al Defazio, all of Terri & Phil’s family and friends that attended their wedding, Aunt Madelon & Uncle Chris, Aunt Mariel & Uncle Nathan, Aunt Anne, Dan Bloom, Dennis & Hadyn Kihm (& Soren), Stephanie Kihm (& Natalia), Janet Giampapa & Franklin & Aki, Panah Bhalla, Andy Browne & Margaret Olivier, Carmelita & Julius Lewis, Lisa Dorsey, Aaron McCready, Hanna Tadesse, Kelly Pugh, Chris Hannemann

Nights under the stars: 0 – our tent is in Spokane … we miss it

Best meal:  Bacon cheeseburgers on homemade buns at Aunt Madelon and Uncle Chris’ house

Best beer:  Dark and Evil by Blue Mountain Brewery

tomato on the vine

there are lots more where that came from!