Advice, Family

Wedding Planning 101

Several people have asked me to share what I learned about wedding planning after planning Annie’s December wedding. 

This might be more than you ever wanted to know…

dad and annie

The most important thing I learned is that it can become tedious, frustrating, and filled with tension if you let it.

So, decide at the beginning that you will have fun, and make it memorable. I told Annie our motto was, “When we stop having fun, we have to take a break.”

We took several breaks!

Some parts of it were not all that fun — like dealing with a soiled, stained wedding dress after the first photo shoot.  (Thanks to the genius and patience of dress designer, Nancy Barrus at Avenia Bridal, the dress was repaired and was perfect on Annie’s wedding day.)

Other lessons:

  1. It’s deeply personal and emotions run high. Just plan on a few tears and moments of exasperation.
  2. People have different stress levels and their limits don’t always coincide with the wedding planning timeline. You can’t stop the planning because someone is tired of it, but, like I mentioned, you need breaks. break
  3. If you use Pinterest as your only idea board, your wedding might look and feel like every other wedding in the universe. Also, florists and decorators don’t want to copy what’s on Pinterest. They want to have their original work pinned!

cambree4. Having a blog or a social media presence, and calling yourself a professional, doesn’t really make you one.  For example, anyone with a camera can call him or herself a photographer. But, you should look carefully at experience, equipment, credentials, references, and background before you hire someone.

5. Utah is the best place to get married. Professionals know how to do it beautifully, creatively, simply, and affordably. And, they’re just so nice.

IMG_31136.  If you get married in the DC area, you have to, think carefully about what you really want. Once you drop the word “wedding” to a caterer, you’re instantly beginning your planning with anywhere from $130 to $180 per person. This is probably a separate blog post but here are some highlights on this point:

    • The types of venues come down to historical inns, taverns, plantations and manors; hotels; community centers; and country clubs, and your church. There is a venue rental fee and you need to find out exactly what comes with that fee — tables, chairs, kitchen, parking, etc. Sometimes all these things are additional costs.
    • The majority of venues require you to use their in-house caterers, bakers, and other preferred vendors, which can make things easier for you, but be ready for their inflated costs, and talk to them about what they can offer. Try to get a sense of whether they will be creative and work with you to personalize your event. Some of them want you to stick to their standard menus, which may not appeal to you. I worked with some self-proclaimed “high-end caterers” in DC and felt like they were too rigid and inflexible. I didn’t want the menus used at other events. I wanted a menu that fit our event. And, Annie didn’t want any food with names she couldn’t pronounce. And, there is a lot of that fancy-schmancy stuff out there.
    • If you come from a Mormon Do-it-yourself culture, like I do, you will be appalled at how much everything costs, because, of course, you know someone who can cater, design flowers, make wedding cakes, decorate, be more creative, etc. You know how to stretch a dollar because you’ve planned a thousand church events with a total budget that is less than the per-person cost of your caterer, and you are not used to having to pay just to use a big room. This means you either have your event at the church or find one of the handfuls of venues that let you bring in your own caterers, etc. Then, you rely on your friends to do everything or you suck it up and pay what you know are exorbitant rates. (We did a little of both.)
    • Before you even think about venues, set a budget — a steel-clad, hard-edged budget. If you don’t set it, and respect it, you will absolutely exceed it. I know this from experience… Enough said. Be prepared because when you set the budget and adhere to it, you have to make hard choices and a lot of compromises because “all of the above” is not an option.

7.  Create a guest list first. This will help you decide what kind of venue you need. Then make some decisions about the scope and type of your event.  If it’s a formal, sit-down dinner, and you are living within your budget, you might need to really trim down your guest list.  Because we are a social family and love our friends, we struggled with this, but our D.C. venue had a capacity that we could not exceed.  So here is what I came up with to help us stay under capacity:

      • Start with family first
      • Then add best family friends – you know, the ones you have Christmas Eve with or the ones that are like your family, especially if you don’t live near your family.
      • Now comes the hard part, friends who have been important influences in your child’s life and will likely always be in your child’s life forever.
      • If you still have room for more, then you consider friends who have been important in your lives in the past but may not be central to their daily lives now.
      • Next: people you adore but don’t have occasions to see often. BUT, you still want them to celebrate this occasion with you and your family because if circumstances were different (like if you lived near each other) they would be up higher on the list.
      • Then, you have your “other” category – the people you would love to see but may have to cut because of cost, room capacity, etc.  I know. Ruthless and calculating but unless you are a Rockefeller and do not have a hotel-sized mansion of a home, and a budget to match, you have to make some hard decisions.

8. Listen to the opinions of others. Politely nod, and freely ignore if their ideas don’t match your vision, budget, priorities, or taste. (I had to ignore Caren’s strong opinions about engraved invitations, for example.)

9. Prepare to feel like a hemorrhaging ATM.  Block all thoughts like, “This is enough money to buy a private island.’ Or, “These kids could pay their full tuition or buy a house for the cost of this wedding.” Or, “We could educate and feed a third world country for this.” As Doug kept saying, “It is what it is.” Forget practical. Repeat this mantra daily.

10. Most important of all – remember this: It is worth it.  Every bit of planning, cost, negotiation, and everything else, is worth it. It will be the best party of your life.

11. Have a DJ and/or a great playlist. That makes it a real party.IMG_3148

Memoir, Uncategorized, Writing

A little bragging is in order

I know I haven’t posted as often as usual; and I’m going to take care of that… soon.

Really, I am.


But, remember when I wrote a blog called “Cheerleading Envy?”

You know the one, 12-year-old-me sitting in the bleachers, hating on the cheerleaders because I wasn’t one?

At least Sara was a cheerleader and I could live vicariously...
At least Sara was a cheerleader and I could live vicariously…

Well, I won an award for it.

Turns out, there’s this blog on women’s memoirs and they had this contest, asking authors to write stories about seasons.

Yes, seasons, like winter, spring, summer, and fall.

I submitted “Cheerleading Envy” for the fall edition because autumn and football season sometimes remind me of it.

And, it won.


The grand prize is that is published and people can buy it.

In addition to having my essay published, readers get to read lots of other award-winning essays too when they buy these books.

winter spring summer

In case you think I’m making this up, I will quote a very official press release I received that said, “The true stories in the four volumes of Seasons of Our Lives will charm, intrigue, captivate, and inspire you because they speak of our lives almost as much as they do the authors!” (And, yes, they had the exclamation point at the end of that lead sentence.)

It goes on to say, “The details of childhood, coming of age, adulthood, and aging — of passion, friendship, love, sacrifice, betrayal, disappointment, survival, and unexpected joy — of lives intersecting with history — of ordinary yet extraordinary experiences are unique to these award-winning authors and yet at their core these stories tell of our lives.”

Okay, so I added the emphasis on award-winning authors because it just feels so good to be called that.

And, in a very official press release, at that.

So, if you want to help me become not only an award-winning author, but a best-selling author, you can buy the book  on Amazon.

Just search Seasons of our Lives on Amazon.

And, if you believe the press release… I mentioned the press release, right?

The one about me being an award-winning author?

Very official —  or as my daughters’ say, “legit” —  press release.

It also says when you read these stories, “They’ll make you laugh. Cry. Feel Joy. Experience sorrow. Collectively they form a kaleidoscope of life’s multifaceted seasons.”

(Don’t go blaming me for the weird punctuation in these sentences because I’m just quoting the release.)

If you’re a writer, you might appreciate that there is a little lesson at the end of each essay, designed to motivate you to write your own life stories.

Isn’t that something?

In addition to being an award-winning author with the very real possibility of becoming a best-selling author, I also am an inspiration for others?

Who would have thought this little girl, who sat on the wooden bleachers at little league football games, envying the cheerleaders, would turn out like this?

An award-winning author.


Go me.

Oh, look at that… I am a cheerleader, after all.

(By the way, I hope it’s abundantly clear that I am having fun with this little award and that I am not really, truly bragging and puffing myself up!)