Hosting a Homestead Wedding

Jason and I got engaged in January of 2011, but long before that, I knew that I wanted a backyard wedding.  I had this image in my mind of a hayfield with just the ceremony site mowed out: simple white chairs, a rustic arbor, country flowers.   I had no real experience with wedding planning beyond an interest in wedding blogs like The Broke-Ass Bride, Green Wedding Shoes and Wedding Chicks.  I had a lot to learn.

One of the most stressful parts of planning our homestead wedding was lining up the vendors.  I knew we’d need tents and chairs, though I had no idea just how much tents and chairs for 100 would cost (roughly $1,500).  Beyond that, there was food to consider.  I definitely wanted to work with someone local, but it was hard to find someone willing to cater to an outdoor wedding for 100 in July that was 15 miles outside of town with very few options for electricity and water.  I was lucky enough to discover the catering branch of our local U Maine system, which produced delicious meals for under $15/plate and offered a reduced child’s rate.  They were also more than willing to help us with linens and extra glassware rentals to cut back on waste.

Photo by Allison Emmerich
Tents and chairs… well worth the cost.

Strangely, the least stressful part about our wedding was the marriage, itself.  I’ve said this to a few of my friends, but marrying Jason was the first big decision I’ve ever made that I was 100% certain about.  I couldn’t wait to be his wife and partner, and my confidence in that really carried me through the piles of mundane tasks that awaited us.

There are a few things that I feel we did right that saved us time, money and anxiety.  By allowing ourselves a full, 18 month engagement, I was able to do all of the big planning (tent, food, dress) a year in advance, allowing for a much more relaxed few months before the event.  We also decided to eschew the wedding planner that several family members suggested we get.  While this meant having to deal with more of the details, myself, it saved money and really let me interact with my own wedding and ensure that nothing got too out of hand.

By hiring a local caterer who served on china, glass and silver outside and choosing two kegs over bottles of beer, we were able to create no more than two 30 gallon bags of trash (including gift wrap), despite the number of guests and scope of the event.  We were careful to recycle what we could, but this lack of trash was important to me.  I was also careful in creating wedding signs that could either be passed forward to friends getting married or used around our homestead.  The Christmas lights are being donated to the school I teach at for an event I host every year, and the cupcake tower has already been loaned out to another bride.

Photo by Allison Emmerich
One of our many, reusable wedding signs.

Jason’s family provided all of our flowers, from the wild flowers on the tables to the four huge buckets of white hydrangeas from their gardens that provided bridesmaids’ flowers and dressing for our homemade arbor.  This not only saved money but provided a really nice connection to those we love as we were able to integrate them into our ceremony and the day.  And rather than doing vases on the tables, we used quart mason jars for the wild flowers and pint mason jars for the dianthus that held the table numbers and can, ultimately, be reused.

And despite numerous horrified family members and friends, we successfully made our own wedding cake (117 cupcakes and a small cutting cake).  We used as many local ingredients as we could, and it was, surprisingly, the least stressful part of the entire day.   I plan on writing a full post, including recipes, next week.

Photo by Allison Emmerich
Homemade Wedding Cake

So what did we learn?

Our friends were invaluable.  My best friend Allie and her boyfriend Dave came early and may be one of the only reasons we managed to dress the tents on time the day of the wedding.  They not only helped us set up the ceremony site and take care of the chickens leading up to the event, but they also wrangled kids, ensured that a few early (and late!) photos got taken, and generally did everything that I didn’t have time to think of the day of the wedding.  And Allie reminded me to drink water.  Constantly.  Invaluable.

Photo by Allison Emmerich (tripod)
Best friends really do make the difference in wedding planning!

Give yourselves extra time!  Nothing happened quickly or easily the morning of the wedding.  I was so glad that we’d planned for a 4 p.m. ceremony because with only four of us doing initial set-up, it was a miracle that Allie and I got out the door at 11:30 a.m. to drive into town for hair.

Count everything you rent.  Somehow, during our rental process, five chairs disappeared.  Since the manifest was signed without counting the chairs, we ended up paying for five chairs that I’m pretty sure never got dropped off at our home, but there was really nothing we could do.

Have a casual rehearsal dinner.  We wanted an outdoor rehearsal BBQ that was as low-key as we are.  It allowed us to invite the close friends we’ve made who were not in our bridal party and kick back with family and friends from far away.  It is still one of my favorite memories of the weekend, and the kids in our bridal party had an awesome time with the ring bearer’s gift: a kite.

Photo by David Todaro
Perfect Rehearsal… and look at that sky!

Pen up or send away animals for their own protection.  Although our flock regularly free ranges, everyone spent the three days before the wedding cooped up in their outdoor tractors because the last thing we had time to do was chase chickens.  In addition to this, we opened a basement window so the cats could go in and out as they pleased and sent Abby (our Australian Shepherd) to Jason’s Mom’s house for the weekend, as she has a deep love of both cupcakes and running in front of cars – it just wasn’t safe to keep her on site and I was more relaxed knowing that she was relaxing at her grandmother’s.

The chicks on wedding weekend. Note: they were in their indoor coop the day of the wedding. They were one of many stops for the children at the event.

Let go of your expectations.  Some things didn’t work out the way we’d planned, but at the end of the day Jason & I were the only ones who knew.  We got married.  We had one of the best days of our lives together with our family and friends.  Letting go of some of those early expectations was the best way to have fun and relax and enjoy our new life together.

The day after.





Preparing for our Backyard Wedding

What no one tells you when you start planning for a backyard wedding is to be prepared to see your home/yard and surroundings in an entirely new and uncomfortable way.  I remember when Jason and I first started dating, my response to the snow melting and those first spears of grass thrusting up was: wow, this place would be awesome for a wedding!  The rolling hills, the huge expanses of verdant field, it all reminded me of a Martha Stewart magazine photo from 2007 (the year my mother remarried), featuring a wedding in the middle of a freshly mowed field (if anyone could link me to that image again, I’d be deeply grateful, though I fear it is lost to the internet forever).

Well, now that that snow is melting, we’ve started on a few pretty major projects in earnest, the largest of which will commence today, our new roof!  Living in an A-Frame, the roof is such a focal point to our home that when we decided to hold our nuptials here, we realized that it was also a good time to replace our roof and its 3-Tab shingles that are just past their 30th birthday.  Today, our contractor is coming to begin placement of a new set of 30 year shingles in the architectural style.  To say we’re excited is such an understatement!

On top of that, we’ve built a new chicken coop, and as soon as its warm enough, we’ll begin painting trim and staining porches and the old shed where we house the tractor and winter coop. There are also a ton of wedding and gardening projects in my future, but I find that small steps makes it all seem more manageable.

My only advice to brides is to plan your dress fittings around these stressful events because nothing cheers me up more than getting a chance to slip into that gown that so embodies the day we are both waiting for, even if I have given up the occasional second beer and chocolate binge to ensure that it fits as beautifully as possible.

Wedding Updates

I am currently trying to pull myself out from under a huge pile of grading, so I’m going to have to keep this post a bit brief (my apologies).  The last 24 hours have been an unexpected flurry of wedding activity.  I received a call from Andrea’s Bridal that my veil is in(!); and although I’ve had my gown in my closet since December, hearing that the final piece has arrived has made everything just a little more real.  Now, I’m just eagerly awaiting its arrival, particularly since the day I went to select it, I was so sick that I don’t quite remember it as vividly as I’d like.

While at the grocery store, I also found a table of sale items, which included lamp oil, and since we’ve been collecting antique oil lamps for the tables for months, I was thrilled to be able to purchase eight quarts of it for the price of four (a savings of roughly $35).  And though the clerk asked if I were preparing for “a giant solar flare”, I just smiled and politely explained that, no, I’m using it for a wedding.  He looked a little perplexed.  So my best advice continues to be: come up with a list of items you need and constantly be on the lookout for them, particularly in post holiday/seasonal sales!  Through this method, I’ve managed to find more than 500 yards of bridesmaid dress-color-coordinated ribbon for $5, cake decorating kits for $1.50, a mosquito net for my cupcake tower for $15, and cupcake pearls for $3 (after Valentine’s Day).  So if you are planning a wedding, and you are fortunate to have a year to plan, think ahead to holidays that might offer some interesting options and keep an eye on sales!

And when I arrived home last night, after scheduling veil delivery and lugging eight quarts of oil and my groceries up the steps, I discovered that our wedding invitations had arrived!  They are lovely, crisp on creamy card stock, and as soon as I catch up my grading, I will begin operation addressing envelopes and a post to go along with it.

My first dress fitting is Monday — I’ll keep you posted!

Wedding Planning Wednesday: Reserving Hotel Room Blocks

In my mind, as I prepare for the wedding, I keep a mental checklist, largely of the chores that I find the most tedious and the things I want to do least.  Way up at the top of that list was blocking hotel rooms.  Now that I’ve accomplished that task, I really can’t articulate why, specifically, this was on my list.

Blocking hotel rooms was possibly one of the easier and more pleasant experiences I had.  I called a few local hotels, easily decided which ones not to go with based on customer service and a general refusal to return phone calls despite multiple messages left, and ended up having a lovely chat and tour of one of the newer, local hotels this morning. The rooms were immaculate and bright, the staff was friendly, and breakfast will be included as part of the guest rate (which is great since we’re having a late afternoon wedding and I anticipate some guests arriving the night before).

I went in with a list of questions and specific things that were important to me as a bride.  We are marrying at home, so Jason & I will not be staying in a local hotel immediately before or after the wedding, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want my guests to be comfortable and well cared for during their stay in the Great White North.

What we were able to do was put together a package that is both cost effective and comfortable for our guests, offering the option of a king room or a double queen (space pending), for folks who might want to split the cost.  And unlike a few of the other hotels we looked at, the hotel we are going with did not require any kind of deposit or credit card hold from us, which given our tight budget and my penchant for constant worry, was a tremendous relief.    On top of this, the hotel we’re going with will allow us to add rooms to the block as the weeks go on, just in case someone still needs a room and will let me drop off goody bags for guests (if my time allows leading up to the wedding).  A month before the wedding (and the same day we’ve asked for our RSVP’s to be returned) the block is removed and guests will have to pay the regular rate, but it is my hope that by the time folks RSVP for the wedding they will have already made their accommodations.

So brides out there who are putting off this task, just get it over with!  I would suggest going in person, as getting to see the rooms and their level of cleanliness helped me make this crucial decision.  It was also nice to have a contact person at the hotel whom I can go to if any questions or concerns arise as the big day approaches.

And after a long walk with Abby, I feel like another tremendous bridal-related weight has been lifted from my shoulders.  And in other accomplishments of the last seven days: invitations are ordered(!), portable toilets have been reserved (stop by later this spring for a blog post on making portable toilets feel wedding-ready), and we’ve finally finalized the guest list.

With my first dress fitting in just over a week, I feel like the pieces are finally coming together!

Abby: Ever Excited about All Things Wedding!

Wedding-Planning Wednesdays (a day late)

On Valentine’s Day, I was greeted by an email to my personal account reminding me that my wedding was only five months away!  Five months, I thought, feeling that oh-so-familiar butterfly-panic sizzle quickly from my toes to fingertips.  Where did the time go?  Where does it continue to go, as this first Wedding-Planning Wednesday post was supposed to go up yesterday morning: before my morning workout, before a crazy-long day of work that left grocery shopping bounced forward another day along with all of those other household chores that I’d love to be a bit more proficient at.  I will say that I did stop for essentials (supplies for Jason’s lunch & last night’s dinner & the brownies that my fellow faculty members so desperately need at this time of the year).

I also want to note that I probably had the best Valentine’s Day ever.  Not because Jason & I spent scads of money or went out to a romantic dinner (he was on call and I was supposed to have a late meeting so we ate in), but because I’ve finally found someone who really understands me.  After weeks of my talking about wanting an old-fashioned egg scale, but also needing to save money for the wedding, guess what arrived in the mail?

Vintage Egg Scale

And on top of that, he brought home a really beautiful bouquet of flowers and didn’t grumble at Oscar too much when he knocked them over in the night severing the beautiful pink rose that sat in the middle of the bouquet (note: it has been saved and is currently residing in the top of an old milk-bottle until it can be pressed).

The Rose - Post Oscar

But in wedding news, I have a few pretty big tasks to check off my list this week.  I’m currently in the process of ordering invitations from the fabulous Wedding Paper Divas, whom we ordered our Save The Date photo-personalized post cards from in October.  Not only was the quality fantastic, but they arrived quickly and fit right into our modest budget.  For those brides currently seeking paper goods, they are offering 25% off on wedding invitations until 2/21 (note: I am not affiliated with the site, nor getting anything from this post; I just like their product and want to share a great sale!).

The two bigger projects that I need to complete this week involve blocking hotel rooms in town (something that my shy personality has allowed me to put off and put off, but the time is here!) and finishing up the wedding signs I started a few weeks ago.  With February Break on the horizon (eight hours and counting!), it’s time to finish up what craft projects I have that can be pre-assembled before the summer projects (wedding, chicken & garden) start.

Have a great week!

Planning a DIY Wedding

In July, Jason & I will be celebrating our marriage.  We’ve been engaged for just over a year, and one of the things that I value most about our extended period of engagement has been the opportunity its afforded us to really plan a wedding that incorporates things we value as individuals and a couple (without breaking the bank!). We’re both committed to keeping the wedding budget reasonable (at or under $5,000), and through thrift shopping and creative-thinking, we’re going to get both the wedding we want and, more importantly, that we can afford.

Over the summer, I purchased my dress, and selected bridesmaids dresses with my best friend, Allie, and in the past few months things have been coming together.  We plan to get married at our home ~ with a large ceremony in the field behind our house and the reception in a pair of tents, catered by a local university catering company (again, to help keep the costs more reasonable). Our officiant is a dear friend, and our location will allow for both privacy and attention to detail.

1930's Westinghouse Cooler Before Restoration Efforts

But what I’ve really loved about planning our wedding is incorporating “found objects” and antiques,  most of which we’ve discovered on our own property, including an awesome 1930s Westinghouse Coca-Cola cooler that we, literally, dug out of the back field one afternoon on a walk (I spotted the top corner sticking up out of the ground and thought the italicized “Coca” worth investigating) and refinished. We plan to use it to store cold beverages at the reception.

This is the cooler after Jason & I refinished it. His father was nice enough to build us a hardwood lid (which is still in process in this photo).

This weekend, I’m planning a variety of wedding projects, as its the first weekend that I don’t have any grading obligations (besides a bit of lesson planning).  I’m looking forward to sharing some wedding sign making and the refurbishment of an old parlor stove that we found in the shed that is now our chicken coop.

So stop back in this weekend for some DIY wedding fun! And if you planned your own DIY, project-filled wedding – what was your favorite project?