Forget Everything You Know About Wedding Planning:

I've just returned from our mini Honeymoon at a quiet cabin on the Kenai River, and all the while I've been thinking how do I even begin to tackle a blog post about our wedding?! The day was perfect. Absolutely perfect. Many things you hear about weddings rang true-- the day goes fast and you'll hardly remember all the moments-- but the overall feeling I'm left with is that we put on a wonderful wedding!

I'd planned our wedding within an inch of its life (if you can even do that) and still, I didn't really know what to expect. I didn't know how I would feel or how all the little pieces would come together. I think when you spend over a year looking at stunning wedding photos, you get this false idea of what it will be like. In truth, I still felt like myself, just in a really awesome, fluffy dress.

So, while I was sitting on the Kenai reflecting, here are the things I wish I'd known (and/or listened to) before our big day.  These are the most valuable things I've learned as a bride:

Ask People For Help:
This was the most valuable advice I got when I began planning. People love to help with weddings, because it makes them feel a part of it. You also will be so amazed at the talents of those around you! My Aunts Patty & Kathy—with the help of the Mother of the Bride and my sister (and Bridesmaid) Laura-- jumped in to make our wedding cakes. My Aunt Susan is an amazing gardener, so we asked her to arrange centerpieces. My sister, Emily, makes stunning hand-sewn books; she made some for us so we could write our vows and ceremony in them. Family friends grilled caribou sausage (from my now-Husband’s fall hunt last year) and wild Alaska salmon (caught by my parents). My Dad brewed six different kinds of home-brew to cut down on alcohol costs. Our friend wrote & delivered the most stunning and personal wedding ceremony. Another friend runs a sewing business and helped make the bunting that decorated the ceremony and reception sites. The list goes on and on, and I know I’ve probably forgotten people. The point is though: use the talents of your loved ones—they are amazing people and want to help you!

 

My Aunt Patty & Aunt Kathy took on the task of making our wedding cakes. It was a huge undertaking to have a table of Fifteen (!!!) cakes, but my Aunts were wonderful help. The days leading up to a wedding are so chaotic, and I relished the chance to help them in the kitchen-- as it was one of the only chances we really had to visit.

 

My Aunt Susan works wonders with flowers at her home in sunny California, and she was more than willing to help arrange centerpieces. We ordered flowers from wholesale distributor, Fifty Flowers, and were so pleased with the boxes and boxes of flowers arriving from around the world.

My Mom reacts to opening a box of gorgeous peonies from Fifty Flowers.

A box of 200 roses, 100 peonies, and a variety of greens and babies breath. Ordering wholesale and doing it ourselves cut down on costs by about 75%! (A florist quoted me $20-$30 per peony from them... we paid about $2 per flower!)

Hire People You Trust:

After I recruited all the talents of my loved ones that I could think of, I turned to professionals I trusted. Take the time to find the style of vendors that you like, describe your vision, and then trust them to do their best.

As a photographer, relinquishing the photography to someone was difficult for me—and I looked at many different ones in my area. Definitely take the time to find someone you feel comfortable with. Your photographer will be with you during very intimate moments during the day (I don’t even let my now-husband see me do the awkward putting-on-Spanx dance, but my photographer was in the room for that during getting ready photos, thankfully sans camera!) Erica Rose did a stunning job capturing our wedding, and I feel completely confident she will have captured moments that we will cherish forever. I am so glad I took the time to find someone who's style I loved, and it felt like we had just another friend at the wedding.

Photo: Brandon Hafer

Ask locals for recommendations if you don’t know where to start. That’s how I found Malia at the Girdwood Styling Salon and TAMS Card/Bartender extraordinaire, Shannon Markley. I found Natasha Price—better known as Alaska Knit Nat—when she hosted the AEDC’s “I Love Anchorage” Instagram account and she made floral crowns for my bridesmaids that fulfilled my “woodland fairy” vision. My makeup artist, Caitlin Gilpin, is an old friend from when I worked at Sephora and is a true artist. For all of these ladies, I briefly described what I wanted and then let them take over and I’m so glad I did! The only thing I would've changed is allowing more time to get ready.

Malia at the Girdwood Styling Salon gets the Mother of the Groom ready.

Caitlin Gilpin, makeup artist extraordinaire, made us all feel like the prettiest versions of ourselves!

 Floral Crowns by Alaska Knit Nat transformed my bridesmaids into "Woodland Fairies". Photo: Brandon Hafer

Floral Crowns by Alaska Knit Nat transformed my bridesmaids into "Woodland Fairies".
Photo: Brandon Hafer

Ignore Traditions that Mean Nothing To You:
The day after we got engaged, I bought a stack of bridal magazines. It made sense-- most brides (including myself) have no point of reference for planning a wedding, so you're looking for any guidance. What I didn't realize at the time is that these magazines will freak you out with their articles about "If Your First Dance Isn't Perfect, People Will Judge You" or "Planning Your Wedding on a Budget" (only to find that budget was $40,000!) It took awhile, but I realized I needed to trust myself and our vision.

Throw out the pieces of the ceremony and reception you don't like. No one is going to miss the garter toss! My now-husband and I thought unity candles were kind of stupid. Ever since I was little I've hated the idea of lighting this candle and then shortly after blowing it out. Nope. We researched a bunch of alternatives and found lots of things about sand ceremonies, planting a tree, even creating your own blend of wine. Tony and I originally settled on the idea of a Unity Rocket, but that was vetoed under the venues' "No Fireworks" policy. And that's when our Unity Blueberry Muffin celebration was born.

Photo: Don Speulda

My Mom says I'm probably the only bride in the history of weddings to don an apron halfway through the ceremony and whip up a batch of muffins. The Backstory: Tony and I love all that Alaska has to offer in the Great Outdoors, and we fell in love with each other while picking blueberries. So we decided to assign a quality of a healthy/delicious marriage to each ingredient and whip up a batch during our ceremony...

1 egg: commitment to each other—holds all of it together.
1 cup milk: love and support of our friends and families
¼ cup canola oil- communication to help things run smoothly
2 cups flour: substance, foundation, roots
¼ cup sugar- keeping life sweet, romantic, and humorous
3 tsp baking powder- offering encouragement and support to each other
1 tsp salt: the challenges we will face, & the way we work together to overcome them
1 cup blueberries- teamwork and love of adventure

(Tony and I planned to cook them in a Dutch Oven during the ceremony, but due to a burn-ban in affect, we used the "magic of TV" and had a pre-prepared one ready. We each took a bite from the unity muffin right before being pronounced husband and wife.)

Find what is important to you, and go with it. If getting married in a church isn't you, don't do it. We love Alaska and the mountains, so getting married outdoors was important to us, and thankfully we didn't need our rain plan! We also showcased our personalities by choosing non-traditional music: Tony walked down the aisle to an instrumental version of "The Middle" by Jimmy Eat World, and I walked down the aisle to the beautiful & dramatic "Sound of Music" overture. Tony's sister, Adrienne, stood on his side during the ceremony and we called her a "Groomsmaid". We also didn't put anyone in charge of making announcements during the wedding reception, and Tony and I took turns doing this which kept things informal and fun-feeling.

You can do whatever you want for your ceremony-- even take time to take a selfie at the altar! Tony and I set out to have a unique wedding, and I'm so glad we did!

Don't let the small stuff get to you:
Things will be forgotten or they won't go to plan. They just will and that's okay. The key to not letting the little moments get to you, is knowing you did the best you could. (This includes not getting your arms as toned as you wanted to!)

In our rush to get everything set up at the reception site, we forgot to bring the vegetarian food option. Our Best Man offered to run and get them, and we made sure that the vegetarians were in the know that their food was coming, and in the meantime there were veggie side dishes. It could have been a disaster, but everyone was really great about it and people helped to solve the problem.

I had a bunch of little crafty signs and things that I'd slaved over that never even saw the light of day. At first it was disappointing, but then I took a step back and realized the venue still looked amazing without them. And the ones that did make it out, looked awesome!

On another note about the small stuff:

You will miss things. You can't even begin to see all of the little moments happening during your day. Encourage people to take photos and use a hashtag to share them. One of my favorite parts of the wedding was a photo scavenger hunt I created-- and we got some of the most hilarious videos/pics of things I never even saw going on! (Email me for a free Photo Scavenger Hunt printable template!)

Take a moment to appreciate all your hard work! The centerpieces, home-sewn napkins and bunting, the scavenger hunt at the table... all of it made our day amazing and fun!
Photo: Brandon Hafer

Cut Costs Where You Can:
Weddings are expensive-- like, stupidly so. Identify what is important to you and where you can cut costs. We knew we wanted to provide all the alcohol for our guests, so put money in the budget for booze and tipping the bartender. (Costco is amazing and took back all of our unused alcohol!) We thought a photo booth would be fun, but weren't willing to splurge on one. Instead, we set up a point-and-shoot camera on a tripod and I made a bunch of paper props on dowels. The outcome was perfect!

Photo: Brandon Hafer

Find ways to cut costs. Rather than printing programs, I designed a chalkboard program that had all the information about the ceremony guests needed to know.

Homemade Favors: Jars of Jam using wild blueberries that Tony and I picked in the fall.

 My favorite wedding decoration: this adorable cake topper I made (and sell in  my Etsy Shop ).

My favorite wedding decoration: this adorable cake topper I made (and sell in my Etsy Shop).

Our cake table! We had antique floral dishes and fifteen different cakes-- some homemade and the rest supplemented by Celestial Sweets. My favorite is still my Mom's Carrot Cake!

Close up on our centerpieces: wooden boxes made by Tony, flowers from Fifty Flowers, arrangement by Susan Galagaran.

I could go on and on about our wedding and what I loved, would do differently, or would do exactly the same all over again. I think in a way I'm still processing the day, and see something new with each new photo shared. The day did go faster than I could have ever imagined, and I wish I could relive it in slow-motion. The one thing I was not in any way prepared for-- and that I didn't read about anywhere-- was how loved and supported Tony and I both felt throughout our day. It's amazing to hear personalized vows and that declaration of love from your partner, but it's also amazing to connect with friends and family and feel like a community is supporting us in this journey. Tony and I occasionally would say we should just elope, and after experiencing that feeling of love-- I'm glad we didn't. It wouldn't have been us.

If you're currently planning a wedding, the best advice I could give you is: be true to yourself. No magazine, reality shows, or pinterest boards can completely capture who you are as a couple. Don't feel like you have to do any one thing. Use traditional wedding formats as a guideline and don't feel bad about sticking to your guns.

And if at the end of the night, you want to wear your new-husband's suit coat and pick up your camera-- by all means, go for it!