Jen & Rob’s More Than Traditional Wedding

There are a million amazing things about Jen’s wedding graduate post, so lets just start with the most obvious: THE DRESS. Normally, the amazing black color crinolined, corseted wedding dresses all end up on Offbeat Bride (even though I’ve been known to wear a corset or two myself in my day). But Jen is an APW Bay Area book club-ber, so I figured this was Team Practical’s chance to rock the black dress.

But mostly, Jen’s post is just smart. What she says about budgets? Is smart. Listen to it. Maybe take notes. What she says about her wedding being the best wedding she’s ever been to? Exactly. But this bit, maybe you should get tattooed on your arm: “While our choices didn’t always fit with what people know of weddings, they did fit with what people know of us.” Because you really need to remember how important that is. And with that, I give you Jen, herself.

I remember reading wedding grad posts and wondering how the hell all these ladies were so d*mn calm and composed. Now that my wedding is over and I’m writing this, it becomes clear. Reflecting on wedding planning, you remember that there were things that sucked. It’s hard to get worked up over them, since clearly they either worked or they didn’t. Obsessing even more about them now won’t fix the amount of obsessing and freaking out that you did before. I’m also picking and choosing what I want to talk about, because the internet is a scary place that already has archives of embarrassing things I said in 1994. So this is what you get.

Unexpectedly, I was pretty zen for the last 2-3 months or so before the wedding. There were many many things that I over engineered, over thought and over emphasized while in the planning phase. However, once the ideas were decided on, everything seemed to get a lot easier. It helped that we made some smart decisions. For example, I refused to choose a shade of purple, because I knew that I would go mad trying to get things to match. Also, we decided that we’d rather pay more to have our ceremony/reception/tables/chairs/food/drinks as a package, rather than deal with that many vendors. I also remembered to treat my friends, who volunteered their time to assemble invitations and programs, as friends not staff (and consciously didn’t let my perfectionist tendencies apply to them).

It also helped to sit down and decide what Rob and I wanted out of our wedding. A wedding can be many things- fun, beautiful, religious, charming, traditional, exciting, scary, quick, quirky, unusual, etc. Trying to plan a wedding that is *all* of those things would drive you insane pretty quickly. We spent the time to decide that what we wanted was the wedding to be fun and comfortable. We used that decision to help us with the other decisions. (Did we want an aisle runner? Would it make the wedding more fun or comfortable?)

Also, we made many of our decisions together- Rob didn’t get to just show up to the wedding, he helped make decisions and did most of the phone calls. I dealt with the fiddly bits of the decor, invitations and programs and tried to not pester him with too many boring questions about details that he wasn’t excited about. I did ok, but he’ll verify that I still asked about a ton of things that he didn’t care about.

I did two smart things the week before the wedding. First, I took most of the week off, even though I didn’t need to. Second, I had a ridiculous google spreadsheet schedule of all the things that everyone related to the wedding was doing for the week before. It included important info like flights, scheduled time for us to have dinner and brain dump with the best man and the officiant (my cousin) and allowed for important things like massages and a road trip to the Jelly Belly factory. There was wedding stuff to be done as well, but having the time off of work made it so there was also time for some fun life stuff, which was great.

The most important thing I learned while planning was how to better step back and let go of the right pieces while hanging on tight to what mattered. When it came down to it, we cut/avoided a bunch of things that sounded stressful to us – tent/table/chair rentals/flowers/transportation between ceremony & reception/aisle runners/wedding fairs/matching outfits, but the hard part came for me when I’d get excited about some complicated idea that sounded fun, but was a completely unreasonable amount of work. Like our centerpieces. At one point I had the idea to have each table themed around a board/video game that we both liked. It would have been amazingly complicated. It was well beyond my skill to make it work, and it would have never lived up to what was in my head. After stressing out about it and then realizing the stress wasn’t worth it, I was able to come up with a simple and elegant solution that ended up being all the theme we needed. (Our centerpieces were plush versions of a board-game piece, that we had also used in our save the dates. They were cute even if you didn’t get the reference. )

It bothered me a bit at the beginning that we were paying more for the convenience of having a single place handle so many things. There is definitely a vibe I’ve gotten from the internet that either you’re cool, thrifty and crafty or you’re a rich snob who is spending too much on your wedding (Editors note: APW-ers? Please never, never think this! I know it’s a tempting way to beat yourself up, but it’s so not true.). For us, it was most important that we didn’t go into debt for the wedding. It was also important that we didn’t spend so much that we’d look back and think about how we’d rather have remodeled the kitchen. We were lucky enough that we could afford the wedding we wanted entirely out of our savings and still have enough money to pay for a bit of convenience where it mattered.

The best thing about being able to use our savings to pay for the wedding was that everything didn’t fall apart when I was laid off a month after we were engaged and three days after our offer on a house was accepted. Calling Rob to tell him was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It also really drove home what we were committing to. Me being laid off suddenly affected this other person in a way that it wouldn’t have just a month before.

In retrospect, being unemployed for the first six months of wedding planning was super convenient- it gave me time to do house fixing work and wedding planning work. I was raised by bargain shoppers, so being unemployed while planning the most expensive party I’ve ever planned meant that I spent plenty of time online neurotically comparing prices of paper and sealing wax. There was a week where I obsessed over the choice between environmentally friendly ribbon and extremely cheap ribbon. The thing is, you have to know when to stop thinking about the money and start thinking about what it is you are actually buying. Meg has said this before- sometimes its worth it to spend money to not worry about something. We didn’t go into debt for the wedding and the peace of mind was well worth it. (Peace of mind isn’t a splurge. Color coordinated choreographed doves that launch fireworks are a splurge.) Depending on your priorities, hiring a DJ might be a splurge or it might be the most important purchase, only you will know.

One of my favorite details from the wedding was completely spontaneous. I gave my little brother a plastic viking hat when he got to town. He loves vikings and he can rock a hat like no-one’s business, so he loved it. He was wearing it in the hotel, on his way to the reception dinner when he met a guy in a tux going to another wedding at the hotel. The guy looked at my brother and said “We’re dressed for two very different events.” My brother wore the hat to the wedding and used some of the extra ribbon to fancy up the hat. This was pretty great on its own, but when he was wearing it next to the fire-pit outside at the reception, Emily hardly had to do any work to get some amazing shots… I’m so proud to be related to the kid.

Our wedding wasn’t traditional in many ways, but I’ve had friends describe it to people who weren’t there as the “Best wedding ever!” so I don’t feel like I dropped any of the important bits while making it mine. To steal a phrase from a friend it was “more than traditional.” We tried to have nothing that didn’t feel genuine which resulted in a mix of traditional and new. We walked down the aisle together, our ceremony was written to be simple and non religious and almost completely gender neutral. We had a hand-fasting, my outfit is the dream of a gothy six yr old princess, and we ate pie. While our choices didn’t always fit with what people know of weddings, they did fit with what people know of us.

During the ceremony, every time I’d look out at the crowd all I could see was purple and smiles. It didn’t hurt that the ceremony arch would creak and groan whenever the wind picked up, which caused us all to crack up. Apparently my uncle who was in the front row was ready to jump up and grab it if it went down.

When I look back on our wedding I still get a big grin on my face. When I think of that day I remember brunch with my best friends, sitting around playing Apples to Apples and killing time. Then an explosion of hair, makeup, and getting dressed, followed by many hours of not being able to do anything but smile and laugh and hug and dance like lunatics. Our DJ did a brilliant job of playing great music that we liked, and our friends and families did their part of keeping the dance floor packed. We even attracted a small crowd of twelve year old girls who were dancing in the hallway outside our room. One my favorite moments was Rob spinning me in circles to Dead or Alive “You Spin Me Round.”  I was wearing the very best spinning skirt and it was fun and cheesy and…. perfect.

While it wasn’t the ‘best day of my life,’ it was definitely the best party and the best wedding I’ve ever been to, and it’s likely to stay that way. As introverts, there is a special calm about throwing your own party- you are already friends with most of the people there!

Photos By: Emily of EmilyTakesPhotos, Bay Area wedding elf extraordinaire

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  • A-L

    Very cool wedding. You rocked the dress, and I have to totally agree about having enough free time before the wedding to relax and enjoy life events. I took Friday off (wedding was Sunday) so I had a few days beforehand, and it was wonderful. Thanks so much for contributing this!

  • I love it!!!! Such a beautiful dress!!! Adore the viking hat!!!

    It sounds and looks like a blast, and lots of wisdom to boot. I am enamored with this graduate post.

  • Gillian

    “Peace of mind isn’t a splurge. Color coordinated choreographed doves that launch fireworks are a splurge.”

    you are exactly right AND you made me laugh. congrats on a great day.

    • Claire

      For real. I think I just found my wedding-planning motto! What a great post.


      Jen – Thank you for this quote, gave me a huge smile during a crazy day at work! Great job on picking your words, too. They are great words to forever be on the internets.

    • aarika

      Oh man that’s my favorite quote as well. I have been having an ugly hard time coming to terms with the amount of money that is going in to our wedding day. It just seems like so much for one day, but we both want that day so I know it will be worth it but my accountant mind screeches every time I look up the price of things.. And I understand I could save bundles of money by coordinating everything myself, I did my twin sister’s wedding last year. But I stressed out constantly for 8 months, and I don’t want my wedding to be like that and I know if I plan everything, I will lose my sanity in the process. So we are going with the bundled package, and I have been feeling so extravagant about it, but honestly it’s not at all extravagant. So thank you for making me realize that having peace of mind can be priceless =)

  • lorna

    oooh i love this. i love the little pi sign on the pie menu- such a good wee detail- also loving the amazing colours in your dress and the EPIC viking hat. yay!

    • ka

      Omg, yes! Pi sign on a pie sign?! Can we be friends?

      “While our choices didn’t always fit with what people know of weddings, they did fit with what people know of us.”

      Is one of my favorite sentences in all of wedding-grad-dom.

  • Jen is a smart one. We also did away with many of the things that people expect to see at a wedding, because they weren’t really part of our idea of a good time. And guess what– we had a great time! And so did our guests.

  • Amy

    thanks, APW, for calming my nerves once again. we are also using the words “fun” and “relaxed” as a way of choosing what matters to us. My worry is that organization will go out the window. I know many of you have made what I imagine to be some pretty super duper hard core color-coded spreadsheets to help organize. I have read a lot of comments about this. For those of us who are not so spreadsheet savvy (but would like to be) and need something concrete to work from, would it be possible for anyone to show some examples of what was included and the layout?
    And bravo, Jen!

    • I’m not so sure about the spreadsheets, but the mention of keeping track of everyone’s schedules made me thing that Google Calendar would be really useful for this. If your friends use it, you can just ask them to share theirs with you; if not (or if they don’t want to share), you can make a calendar for each friend on your own account (“Sara’s calendar,” “Mom’s schedule”) and keep track of what they’re up to that week there.

    • Alyssa

      I’d reccommend leaving your email address in a non-bot stealing way (myemail at somewhere dot com) so that people can send you examples and talk to you directly. WordPress tends to filter out links because it thinks its spam, even if it’s really just people being helpful.

      • Amy

        Thanks! It’s amyoscar at live dot com.

        • Amy, I’ll send you the incredibly detailed day-of schedule that my coordinator had us make. In hindsight, I think we probably didn’t have to have a plan that was detailed to the minute (our ceremony ended up starting half an hour late anyhow), but maybe it can be helpful for you as a starting point?

        • jen

          Amy, I sent you an email, hopefully it went through. You should nag me there if you don’t get another email me in a few days with copies of some of my spreadsheets once I scrub out the bits that don’t need to be shared. (I suspect you’re not looking for my father’s cell #)

    • Google Docs has templates! I searched “wedding” and got a great spreadsheet template for budget tracking, RSVPs, vendors, etc. I had to delete a lot of it because we’re not doing a WIC wedding and therefore aren’t doing much of what’s on the spreadsheet, but it was a great place to start. If you and your fiance both have gmail, you can share it with him so that you can both easily see what’s going on (which is what we do) and since it’s on Google Docs, you can access it from anywhere (perfect for sneaking in some wedding planning while you’re at work…shhh…). I would also suggest scanning and saving any vendor documents to your Google Docs so you have backed-up copies, also accessable anywhere.

      To summarize, google is basically my answer for controlling my entire life : )

      • Amy

        holy cow – this is wonderful! big thanks!!

      • meg

        I think maybe we can do a post on this one of these days. Noted.

      • lorna

        oh this is seriously cool information- thanks!

      • yesss! we are using googledocs in the same way. my partners keeps joking that google owns our souls, which might be true. we have spreadsheets for everything that we share and update constantly: a list of dance party songs (so when a good one pops into your head you have somewhere to write it down!), a budget, a guest list, all our addresses, guests’ flight info… googledocs is magic. and you can share particular pages with particular people. and you can use it at work while appearing productive.

      • Nicole

        Thank you thank you thank you! I don’t know why I didn’t look at Google Docs before, as I’m a bit if a tech geek, but this is the most helpful thing ever!

      • So happy I could pass this on since so many are finding it helpful. It’s been amazing for getting our guest list addresses filled in and tracking the budget.

        As a side note, I also use Google Docs for our monthly household budget, which has been working very well for us. I feel like shared Google Docs allow us to both be involved in these things equally and at our own convenience without putting so much pressure on me to do it all or nag my husband elect. We can do it together, even if we aren’t physically together, which has been SO helpful.

        Now that we both have android phones, we also use the calendar extensively and sync to each other’s. It makes it possible for me to schedule appointments for us without having to wait for him to get off work so I can ask about conflicts. Maybe this level of technology in our relationship is too much, but so far its working for us and makes the wedding planning much easier.

        Sorry to derail the comments here!

      • Foxy

        I’m such a google geek and did not think to check there for templates. THANK YOU! I’m just getting started on planning and that tid bit is greatly appreciated.

  • Oh my lord, the viking helmets made my day. It sounds like you have an awesome attitude about your wedding and wedding planning in general. I especially like the point you bring up: “There is definitely a vibe I’ve gotten from the internet that either you’re cool, thrifty and crafty or you’re a rich snob who is spending too much on your wedding.” I think that a lot of times, the DIY thing can get surprisingly expensive and time consuming. It’s better to pick the things you want to work out yourself and let others handle the rest. And either way, there’s no reason to feel guilty.

  • I love, love, love the skirt on you dress. The whole wedding looks fabulous, and like it was a lot of fun. Congratulations!

  • Alyssa

    Ohhhh!! Gothy spinny princess dress of happiness!! I LOVE IT!!! (I’m pathelogically unable to wear a dress made for spinning and not spin or swish it just a little bit. I mean, why wear in it in the first place if you’re not going to spin?!?)

    I love your budget advice, also. There are SO few things in life worth going into debt for. And this is from someone who was deep in debt due to spending/medical bills. BUT, it’s also not worth the toll on your mental health to freak out over trying to save money on EVERYTHING.
    It’s a weird balance, but it’s easier to get to than people think.
    “Peace of mind isn’t a splurge. Color coordinated choreographed doves that launch fireworks are a splurge.”
    We need a list of all the amazing APW phrases that get said on here. Someone should keep track of those…

    Also? I want to be the lovely tattooed lady with pink hair at your ceremony.

    • Mel

      Yeah, few things are happier than a spinny dress! Great post.

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        AGREE!!! One of my favorite wedding photos is of me hanging out with the groomsmen spinning. You can’t see my face in it, it’s kind of blurry and Husband isn’t in the shot. Sadly I was the only person who thought this was worthy of 8×10 color printing. Happily, I’m not afraid to print things, frame them and hang them in my closet – totally brings a smile to my grumpy morning face.

    • Class of 1980

      Alyssa said: “I want to be the lovely tattooed lady with pink hair at your ceremony.”

      In ur dreams, Alyssa. In ur dreams. LOL

      • Alyssa

        I had pink hair! And blue! And purple! A long time ago….now HR unofficially frowns on public expression through crazy hair colors. :-(

        I’m not pregnant, but when I become so and then go on maternity leave, the second that kid pops out, I’m reaching for the bleach and the Punky Color and I’m rockin’ pink hair like it’s 1998 all over again.

        • Carla

          After? Just wait til the 2nd trimester and the danger of breathing in the fumes during the crucial development phase is past, then all that lovely hair that doesn’t fall out while you’re preggo can be the awesome colours ;) But then when you do give birth, it will fall out, so maybe you’re right and waiting would be better. Hmm.

  • This is why I love APW! Your aesthetic is kind of the complete opposite of mine, and yet I loved reading your story and looking at your pictures so much because its YOUR perfect wedding and that’s so beautiful and joyous in its own right. I love that there’s no “typical” APW bride and that all kinds of weddings are celebrated here. The pressure to have a certain kind of wedding is so intense, and every time someone shares their unique take on it, it makes it easier for us all to stay true to ourselves. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Wow! Excellent grad post! I want to exactly so many things, and no one could have said it better.

    “While it wasn’t the ‘best day of my life,’ it was definitely the best party and the best wedding I’ve ever been to, and it’s likely to stay that way. As introverts, there is a special calm about throwing your own party- you are already friends with most of the people there!”

  • Class of 1980

    LOVE, love, love the Viking hat, especially the photo at the fire pit. Your layered dress and wedding look fun.

    You said: “Reflecting on wedding planning, you remember that there were things that sucked. It’s hard to get worked up over them, since clearly they either worked or they didn’t. Obsessing even more about them now won’t fix the amount of obsessing and freaking out that you did before.”

    If you substitute the word “Life” for “Wedding Planning”, your words reflect what it’s like to get to middle age. ;) So that’s good advice for life itself.

  • abby_wan_kenobi

    I love your mismatched purples. My color scheme was kind of “jewel tones and peacock feathers” and my mom kept obsessing about finding things that were perfectly coordinated. I was like, “If you think the teal one doesn’t match, just buy the sapphire blue one right next to it. We don’t have anything blue yet so there’s nothing to clash with. Problem solved, let’s get lunch.”

    There’s certainly a fairy-tale allure to perfectly matched everything, but for me it definitely wasn’t worth the effort. And seriously, in our photos everything looks perfectly matched until you put an outside picture next to an inside picture and then it’s like two different weddings. Go figure.

    Lovely wedding, lovely post. Thanks!

    • Alyssa

      I had this same issue. People were like, what are your wedding colors?
      “Blue and green.”
      “Yeah, but what kind of blue and green?”
      “Blue. And. Green.”
      “Mother******* BLUE and god**** GREEN!

      I finally just took to saying country blue and rustic green to get people off my back.

      • Ariel

        Thanks Alyssa! I’m totally going to attach random adjectives to my colors to get people off my back about it. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that before.

        Also, lovely grad post.


      Can’t exactly this enough. For some reason, people can’t believe/actually have a problem with (which I can’t believe) that I actually don’t want to perfectly match every color to the exact shade. It just doesn’t fit my aesthetic, luckily my Mom always jokes that I’m not into her “Matchy-Match” thing, but trying to explain it to other people can sometimes feel like talking to a brick wall (a brick wall that thinks your nuts, too).

      Love the wedding and post Jen, keep up the zen!

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        Hee. My mom is super stylish and has fantastic taste, but it’s definitely more matchy-matchy than mine. She has been known to point something out and say “Do you like that? I can never tell. Your taste is so… eclectic.” So yeah, just because we *found* ribbon the exact color of the MoH’s dress doesn’t mean we had to use it. everywhere.

        • As Stacy and Clinton always say, “It doesn’t have to match, it has to *go*.” ;)

          • abby_wan_kenobi

            Yes! Stacey & Clinton – everything you need to know that hasn’t already been covered in your religious text of choice. Truly, they are the authority.

    • JEM

      My colors? Black and white.


  • I’m hearing you loud and clear regarding spending a bit more for the peace of mind.

    And as for packages? I’m kind of envious of people who find a good one and will end up having a great wedding, for actually less money and less stress.

  • Soraya


    I think this is easily one of the smartest posts I’ve read on APW. And that’s saying something, because there’s a lot of wisdom around here. But really, so much resonated with me. Congrats!

  • I love what you say about your budget and what spending money on certain things meant for you. It still (over a year later) annoys my mom that when they were picking up their rental car at the airport, the guy was making conversation and asked them what they were in town for and when they told him where the reception would be he made some remark about how well off we must be to afford it there. Which isn’t the case at all! We spent what we needed to for our peace of mind and didn’t break the bank doing it.

  • april

    OMG – This grad-post is so RAD-TASTIC I’m still picking myself up off the floor. Just – WOW.

    I’ll come back and say something more eloquent when my brain isn’t spinning in circles and gurgling over all of the the awesomeness I’m seeing in the photos. So for now: WOW WOW WOW!!! LOVE IT! xo

  • memery

    ok, my favorite quote (of many) from this excellent post:

    “As introverts, there is a special calm about throwing your own party- you are already friends with most of the people there!”

    I need to write this in sharpie on the refrigerator door. For me and the fiance both. Being the center of attention is SO not our thing, which adds some stress to thinking about a wedding. But when I think about it like this… yes! A wedding where I know every single person there? And see our personalities and taste in the details? yes!

  • And of course I love this. LOVE IT!!

    • jen

      Aww, thanks!

      Also, doubly thanks as obb and the obt definitely helped me shape my wedding into what it was. :)

  • LC

    Love this post! I have been worrying that my wedding can either be A-Over the top WIC wedding or B-inexpensive park grill fest. Hah. There has to be some in-between.

    Can you share the venue? The ceremony view is beautiful.

    • jen

      Chaminade (no r, that took me forever to get right) in Santa Cruz, CA.

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  • Yay Jenn! Yay Emily! Yay APW Bay Area!!


  • Kelly

    Portable companion cubes! Eek!

    P.S. Don’t tell anyone, but that was my Halloween costume last year. Also, I love you x10 Jen.

  • Chantelle

    I LOVE the picture of the older lady boogy-ing down! Seriously put a huge grin on my face. Thanks for the very wise post!

  • jen

    Eeeeeeeeeeee, thats me!

    Thanks everyone! I think I was supposed to be doing work today? That is why I’m sitting in this office? I’m going to attempt to do that now and respond to people tonight…

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  • I can attest to the great collective gasp that occurred when Jen showed us a phone picture of her super-awesome corset/skirt combo at the first Bay Area APW meet up. (Seriously, lady, soooooo pretty. I just want to take that first picture and lick it. Er, in a totally not weird way, of course…)

  • Elizabeth

    Incredible style & such amazing wisdom – exactly what we can count on from Jen at Bay Area APW book club meet-ups too. Jen, you’re awesome!

  • m

    “The Wedding of the Year!”

  • kaitlyn142

    Posts like this are why I start growling at the TV when commercials for “My Fair Wedding” come on. “You REALLY know you need David when…” “My dress is black!”

    The budget words were really helpful for me today. I’ve been struggling with the fact that while we won’t be going into debt for the wedding, the money could be going towards paying off my student debt. Unfortunately, my student debt is so high that if we waiting until it was paid off, we wouldn’t be getting married for 10 years.

  • jen

    Thanks, APW, for all the glorious warm fuzzies today. I wish I could find everyone who commented and give you all giant hugs, but I can’t figure out how to do that without being horribly creepy. Anyway, y’all are the best internet friends, thanks for reading the things I wrote.

  • LOVE.

    And your spinny skirt!!! My inner four year old just gave you +5,000.

  • Are those plush companion cubes?! :) Our recessional was “Still Alive”…in an instrumental version. Because I think the first words “this is a triumph” was just how we felt to a T.