Michelle & Tom

Today I’m delighted to introduce wedding grad Michelle and her beautiful DIY Pennsylvania wedding. She wore her mother’s wedding dress (with some modifications), figured out how to make her wedding her own, and dealt with a runaway vendor (by hauling him to court and winning… BAM!). To make this wedding graduate post even richer, the photos were taken by Kristy Rowe of Moodeous Photography, who is an exceptional person and photographer (Denver ladies, take notice!), but also happens to be one of the bride’s best friends. She notes that she shot this wedding ages ago, but it’s no less lovely for that. So dig in, and enjoy.

I found the planning process overwhelming. My husband Tom and I struggled to balance our decisions with what felt comfortable to us, and what we felt was best for all the family and friends involved. Some people say to just be true to what you want, since it’s your day, but Tom and I both felt strongly that at its core, a wedding is about celebrating family.

We both dislike being the center of attention and we are very laid back. All we knew was no church wedding. So after a lot of agonizing over destination weddings and endless research, we decided that what felt right (even though it was bigger than what we wanted) was doing a more traditional wedding in Pennsylvania, near my childhood home and family. All in all, it took us about three months to figure it out and just get a date booked.

After we booked a day at the Pearl S. Buck House, a lot of the other decisions seemed much smaller and easier to make. I wore my mother’s dress and we worked with a seamstress to alter it. Photos were shot by my best friend Kristy Rowe of Moodeous Photography plus a second shooter found on craigslist to shoot the reception so she wasn’t working the whole time. I am a graphic designer and really enjoyed the chance to be in creative control of  designing the invites and other paper items. Printing was gifted by an old family friend. Flowers were done with a local grower. My family and I baked the cake. While we wanted to write our own vows for the ceremony, we chose a nondenominational minister who created the ceremony, which felt more comfortable to us.

We tried to identify the priority areas and spend the bulk of our budget there. Having those priorities made it much easier to focus on the big picture stuff, while using resources other than money on some of the less important things.

We hit a major bump four months before the wedding when we found out that our caterer had gone out of business, taking our deposit and first payment with him. We lost a lot of money and it made an already financially stressful situation even worse. It made for a horrible month of scrambling around trying to find someone new and trying to rework our numbers. It’s very hard to continue to trust your gut and ability to make decisions when something like that happens. It’s sad. You’re trying to feel your way through planning this huge thing—probably the biggest party you’ve ever planned. You’re figuring everything out as you go along. And you try as hard as you can to do things “right,” but there are people out there who don’t care about you, who will take advantage of your insecurities because in the end they just want your money.

It’s so important to have that solid team that you can count on to work through the process. Don’t let people push you into taking on everything alone. I had a really hard time getting over the lost money. It meant giving up some things I had really wanted. We worked through it as a team, making every effort to stay focused on our priorities, which absolutely helped keep me focused on what mattered.

The day itself was a blast. It was so much more meaningful and fun then I ever hoped it would be. Sure it rained, and we didn’t get to have the outdoor ceremony we wanted (but we did get a rainbow), and there were a few family dramas. But all in all, it was not enough to change the focus of the day. The things I remember most are the feelings and emotions: the faces and expressions, hugs, tears and dancing my ass off. Remembering that the day is bigger than just you and your fiancé put things in perspective for me. There were (obviously!) problems along the way and yes, I would totally do some things differently, but in the end we did what we set out to do: celebrate the love we have for each other, our friends and our family. Remembering that we are a team, that we were lucky to have support from friends and family, made it easier to cut off the fights before they really got going and to help each other keep the stress in check.

It’s easy to get distracted from what really matters. All the blogs and magazines and reality shows constantly remind you of what you don’t have or should do. At the end of it all, sanity means priorities. If you have a firm grip on what your priorities are, you’ll be able to navigate the planning process no matter what gets thrown your way.

As an aside: I would encourage anyone who loses money to an unscrupulous vendor to not be afraid of pursuing legal action. Our original caterer screwed many families in the area. Some lost all their money and didn’t have nearly as much time as we did to find a back-up. All the affected families banded together and filed complaints with local law enforcement and the chamber of commerce. The guy was investigated and hauled to court. We are all currently receiving restitution checks for the stolen money. It was an extra headache during an already stressful time, but following through was the right thing to do, and he didn’t get away with it. Don’t take any crap from smooth talking vendors, and don’t let anyone who tries to jerk you around off the hook!

The Info Photography: Kristy Rowe of Moodeous / Flowers: Kate Sparks / Catering: Kate Conaway at The Temperance House / Venue and Rentals: Pearl S. Buck House through Larry Ott at Open Aire Affairs / Jewelry: Twenty East Vintage Jewelry, Doylestown, PA / Bridesmaids Dresses: Davids Bridal / Minister: Journeys of the Heart / Hair and make-up: Erin Konzelman

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  • pixie_moxie

    Congratulations on all accounts. I just had to comment because the photo of you tearing up and the look on your husbands face is the epitome of team and family and wedding all caught on film. Thank you for sharing.

    ps. your hair and dress are gorgeous!

  • Extremely thought and honest post. I especially like Michelle’s point that “It’s so important to have that solid team that you can count on to work through the process. Don’t let people push you into taking on everything alone.” I think I found pressure from myself into ‘taking on everything alone’ at first. I’m definitely the kind of person who tries to do everything myself–that’s how I almost had a crying fit in the bathroom last Christmas–but I have been so happy to be working with fantastic people for the wedding. We have great vendors that we trust and wonderful family/friends who are always asking what else they can do. There’s no reason to make yourself stressed on your own wedding day.

    • Michelle

      I found it hard as well because everyone, from prospective vendors to my father in law (who I love!) put all the emphasis on the bride being the only one whose opinions mattered. Vendors would talk to me like my fiancé didn’t even exist and it really pissed me off and stressed me out. Then I just started putting my foot down and refusing to always be the one to make the final decision simply because I was the bride. Making the big decisions weighed heavily on me…that fear of making the wrong one was crippling. You have to ask for (or insist!) on help where you need it!

      • Oh my gosh, that’s so much pressure! I haven’t experienced that attitude from any of our vendors, but I know people have said to my fiance “But you just have to show up, right?” Which is so unfair to him, because he’s equally excited about the day and in on almost every decision. And I think if the pressure were all on me, I’d feel horribly overwhelmed as well.

  • aww sweet wedding! I love all that you’ve said, but I can’t stop staring at your dress, with the little lace cap sleeves.. ahhh!!

    so glad you guys are getting your money back from that rogue caterer. how scary!

    • FawMo

      I had a serious droolfest over those cap sleeves too!

      • Michelle

        The cap sleeves were actually lace from the veil, which I decided not to wear. Originally the dress had long sleeves and a really high neck. It was really fun trying to figure out what parts of the dress we could reuse and where. My mom was totally into it and we had a great time going to fittings. I had a lot of anxiety about finding a dress on a budget, but the way it worked out it ended up being one of the most enjoyable parts of the planning!

  • I love this post because Michelle touches on the negative aspects of wedding planning without letting that overwhelm her perspective on the event.

    I’ve been struggling with feelings of disappointment and anger over our baker, who didn’t make our cake according to our order (we specifically hired them because they would do the design we wanted in buttercream, but then they did it in fondant), and then told us afterwards that their bakery is so busy the “little details” sometimes get overlooked. It’s so overwhelming that even after you make all the 1,000,000 decisions about your wedding (and paid $$$), you’re still depending on your vendors to come through that day.

    Michelle, you’re so strong to keep fighting to get your money back when you could easily have just said “oh well, we got screwed.” Applause to you and your husband.

    • Michelle

      That sucks Kayleigh:( Did you try getting any money back on the final bill? They gave such a B.S. excuse! It is much easier to sit back and say oh well…especially once the wedding is over it is such a relief and the last thing you want to do is deal with any wedding crap. But you paid good money and didn’t get what you ordered….that deserves something!

      • Yes, when I called the baker I said I wanted a free cake to make up for it, and they said they would do that. It does make me feel a little better to know that I called and we’re at least getting something, but it’s frustrating that the mistake meant so little to them.

        I think it’s especially easy for wedding vendors to take advantage of their clients because they know that no matter what they do we won’t be repeat clients anyway. I wish we could’ve used APW to find our baker, because the vendor we did find here — Katie Jane — went way above and beyond, and acted like the day meant as much to her as it did to us. That’s so hard to find. Especially on the food/venue side of things.

        • Michelle

          SO TRUE about the repeat client thing. I mean, I know they value referrals, but its like as soon as the word wedding is attached to whatever product or service it is, the whole attitude towards the customer changes. And the prices usually go up too. At the end of the day we ended up with a MUCH better caterer who was absolutely amazing, but I just feel like we got lucky. It could just have easily been worse.

  • Lovely wedding, and great perspective on how to get over the bumps and mishaps in planning. It’s such a beautiful dress and it looks like you had lots of fun.

  • Chris Bergstrom

    Congratulations – your wedding looks like it was wonderful! Also, aside from the fact that my husband isn’t named Tom, your first 5 sentences exactly describe how it was for us too!

  • CommuterChan

    “At the end of it all, sanity means priorities. If you have a firm grip on what your priorities are, you’ll be able to navigate the planning process no matter what gets thrown your way.”


    What a gorgeous wedding! Congratulations.

  • Class of 1980

    Love the dress. Very romantic.

  • I’m glad the catering story had a happy ending! Good for you for fighting them and getting your money back!

    I totally relate to you on the hating being the center of attention thing. I’m curious how that worked out for you with the vows/ceremony?

    Also, love your dress! So cool that you modified your mother’s!

  • Michelle

    That’s where going with a minister really helped us. We wanted things to feel personal but when we tried to put pen to paper and construct a ceremony, we just felt uncomfortable. Finding the right person was huge. She provided a lot of structure but asked for our input…it was perfect for us. We also decided to let our friends choose their own readings instead of giving them a predetermined selection. They picked amazing readings and we were hearing them for the first time at the ceremony. It worked out better than I could have asked for.

  • Corley

    Ok, so I am a pal of Kristy’s–I am a Denver gal who saw her awesome debut post on APW as a sponser, where she offered a free wedding package to a LGBT couple, and though we had already booked amazing photographers, I felt compelled to email such an awesome chick who lives in my area. As things have turned out, she is a fellow Pennsylvania native (I am full of Philly pride, and Kristy is from a town that is about 15 minutes from where my family hails from), and we really have hit it off. Because we already had a photographer for our (awesome, GAY) wedding, we asked if Kristy would come to our rehearsal dinner and take a few shots. She is amazeballs, y’all–just sayin. As if you couldn’t tell from the photos in this feature. Anyhoo…
    To focus on the wedding in this post–grrrrrl, we TOTATLLY understand about the poo-shit vendors–we just about came to arbitration with our coordinator (our contract prohibits suing). I echo the sentiment that you should NOT be afraid for calling vendors on their poor performance! ULTIMATELY, though, the vendors who poo out on you can not erase or mitigate the love and support your peeps are willing to put in for you, which is so much more important than your relationship with anyone you pay! Your wedding looks fun, and happy, and filled with the love of those close to you–that makes a memorable and wonderful wedding, not the butthead caterer. Yea for you guys and for your marrriage!