Two sisters, six weeks: my slightly manic, yet tried-and-true tips for surviving wedding planning

Now that the dust of two spectacular weddings has settled, I feel like I can draw a deep breath of winter air and reenter the land of the living.

Planning one wedding would have been enough to land me in the Nutso Town, but my sister’s nuptials happening just a month and a half before mine added a whole new level of insanity. Sometimes I sit back in my chair, look at the ceiling and think, We did it.


I can hardly believe it myself.

The weather cooperated, our families were present, the loves of our lives were waiting with smiles on their faces. For me, my sister’s day passed slowly — and I was so emotional I almost needed to be propped up. My own wedding day was a blur of excitement and joy and tears and dancing (so much dancing), and I know I’ll remember both for the rest of my life.

But how did we get there?

It’s funny now, looking back upon the “wedding planning journey.” One year ago today, I had nothing but a tear-stained face, a sparkly new ring and an image of a man getting down on one wobbly knee to ask me a crucial question — and that was good enough for me. Across town at the very same time, my sister was actually being asked the very same question (by a different man, thank God).

Today marks one year since our collective engagement, and it’s surreal to think that 365 days ago I was in such a different — and exciting — place. We were just getting started. I figured today was a perfect opportunity to reflect on 2013: a year of love . . . and barely-contained insanity.

Before we get there, allow me to paint the complete picture for you:

Two close twenty-something sisters, born almost exactly three years apart . . .
Both living at home with their parents . . .
Getting engaged on the same day . . .
Choosing each other as their maid/matron of honor . . .
And selecting wedding dates for the same season . . . six weeks apart.

Kate and me - my wedding

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The Snider girls didn’t mess around.

In my completely unofficial capacity as both an “event coordinator” for one wedding and a bride for the other, I learned many lessons about planning the “perfect” day.

Many of them involve not sweating the small stuff.

Others require the presence of near-constant spreadsheets and Google Drive on your phone.

As there are entire websites — universes? — dedicated to wedding inspiration, assistance and guidance, I won’t bore you with a rehash of the planning process. I’ll give you my own hard-won tips for surviving the planning process — and hopefully offer some comfort along the way.

Go grab a sample of your signature cocktail, ladies, and let’s do this.

Signature cocktail

First things first

It’s hard to plan a wedding without a venue, and you can’t choose a venue if you don’t have a guest list. Or a date. Or a month, at least.

How many people you want to invite will dictate where you can throw this awesome party, so start by drafting up a guest list with your fiancé. Share it with your parents and his — and maybe your grandparents, too, depending on how crazy you want to get! Know your first pass will probably seem gigantic, but you will inevitably narrow it down before building it back up again.

Our initial invited guest list was around 190, but it eventually rose to 220 or so. But our final guest count? About 140. But to be on the safe side, we didn’t look at venues that couldn’t accommodate around 180 or so.

So then you look for venues.

And you experience sickening sticker shock.

But once you recover, you’re ready to start crunching numbers and call upon math skills you haven’t rocked since high school. And you eventually narrow it down to a few locations that are remotely feasible, visit them and make your final call: which is when you can get serious about choosing a date and moving on to any additional vendors you’ll hire (photographer, videographer, baker, etc.).

Everyone organizes their wedding materials differently. I put everything (and I mean everything) on Google Drive, accessible by app on my iPhone when I was on the go; my sister did nothing of the sort, relying on the advice of books like Mindy Weiss’ The Wedding Book. It became her bible — especially the month-by-month, week-by-week checklists at the back.

Figure out what works for you. You’re going to want to be organized to some extent, because you probably will have to refer back to contracts or find contact information for vendors or, honestly, just remember what type of flowers you actually chose in the end. After a while, the details blur together . . . it just happens.

If your phone is constantly linked to your hand and you prefer everything compiled digitally, including contracts, think about keeping everything on Google Drive or on a flash drive. If you’re the pen-and-paper sort, get a binder or a notebook (or both).

I used the spreadsheets created by A Practical Wedding to cobble together my own timeline, which I turned into a Google document, then used the checklists from The Knot to fill in some of the gaps. I know APW — and others! — scoff at The Knot, thinking it’s nothing but the machinations of the Wedding Industrial Complex at work, but honestly? I liked them. They kept me organized and thinking about what I wanted to get done and when, and I could delete any line items I didn’t need (like arranging for wedding day transportation).

I color-coded my Google calendar for the year to add important wedding deadlines, then crafted a separate spreadsheet to keep track of what I’d paid, how I’d paid it and when we needed to pay more. I referred to this list constantly to keep myself on budget and ensure my vendors were being paid promptly.

And as you move forward . . .

Throw ‘perfect’ out the window

Perfection is a fallacy. If there’s one thing I learned from becoming a devotee of A Practical Wedding, there is only perfect for you.

Want your girls to wear slacks, not dresses?
Want pie or cupcakes, no cake?
Not a big fan of the first dance?

Whatever. Do your thing. Interject your personality into anything you like — and don’t be afraid to get crafty. Heck, most people I know — um, all the people I know — were working with tight budgets and other constraints for their weddings, so they got bold and created many elements for their wedding themselves. And the elements they didn’t like? They got rid of.

Calling something “tradition” doesn’t mean it gets an automatic pass into your ceremony or reception. It’s okay to do things differently.

But with that being said . . .

Embrace tradition if it works for you. And talk about stuff.

Leading up to our wedding day, I was dead-set again the garter toss. Having been on the awkward end of a few bouquet tosses and witness to many brawls for the bride’s garter, I found the entire thing uncomfortable. And I nixed both with our DJ . . . before talking to my groom.


Unbeknownst to me, my guy was really looking forward to the garter toss. Having been on the “single guys” side many times, Spence was stoked to participate as the married man. It was something that mattered to him that I didn’t know mattered to him — because I didn’t ask.

I didn’t make that mistake again.

So talk about things. Get on the same page. Even if you think your significant other “isn’t interested,” ask anyway. Get other opinions, reach out, be involved.

And no, the garter toss wasn’t nearly as awkward as I was expecting.

Though my face might suggest otherwise.


Don’t fixate on Pinterest

Everyone’s favorite time-suck is a fabulous way to gather ideas on cakes, centerpieces, dresses — for inspiration. I definitely pulled up hairstyles I liked close to my wedding day, grateful I’d taken the time at some point to assemble a visual aid of styles. By the time we hit the one-month mark, when I started having makeup and hair trials, I was emotionally spent — and done making new decisions. So my Pinterest board? Super helpful.

But don’t get stuck on an idea of “Pinterest perfection” that is impossible to achieve — unless you’re comfortable hiring professionals and/or are ridiculously crafty. As I couldn’t foot the bill for pros nor create many visions myself, I relied on the advice of my good friend and venue coordinator, Jen, as well as the kind assistance of one of the most spectacular ladies I know: my coworker and officemate, Sandy. Sandy volunteered to help choose and deliver the flowers and put together the centerpieces, bouquets and more for our wedding. The results. were. amazing.

Which brings me to my next point . . .

Kissing balls

Get by with a little help from your friends

Unless money is no object (and is that ever really the case?), you’re going to need the assistance of your buddies — and not just bridal party — to pull this thing together. Don’t be afraid to ask for help because, more often than not, your friends will be there will bells on. Even if they’re not crafting bows or folding favor boxes, you’re going to want their moral support in the days leading up to your wedding and beyond.

Reach out while being mindful of others’ time and talents, and remember you’ll be paying it forward someday! (If, you know, you haven’t already. We’re all in this together.)


Make a decision and stick with it

Second-guessing every move you make will leave you standing perfectly still. Because some of us had wedding-themed Pinterest boards before we even had boyfriends, it’s so tempting to become obsessed with the many options available. Who hasn’t thought, “When I get married . . .” or “I’d love to do that, too!” at others’ events?

But the options only matter if the options work for you. Don’t buy into the hype. Once I had my dress, shoes and jewelry, I started deleting those pins and bookmarks. Wiping the slate clean. I didn’t look at more ideas, more choices, because the choices were made. I knew I’d make myself bonkers agonizing over whether everything I’d done was the “right” thing to do.

My mom is a font of knowledge and comfort, and she says it best: “We make the best decisions we can with the information that we have.”

And then we move forward.

Book centerpiece

Is ‘mistakes’ happen, they just make life colorful

So much will come to a head just before your wedding. For as organized as I felt I was, many last-minute decisions — and options — came down to the wire. For a type-A control freak like me, relinquishing control of the event was very hard to do . . . but I knew I was leaving “my baby” in capable hands, and I had to let it go. (Even if it almost gave me a nervous breakdown in the process.)

If the flowers are a different shade or the DJ flubs a favorite song or you stumble a bit leaving the ceremony, it just adds color to your colorful day. The little things I worried I’d agonize about during our wedding did not even enter my mind. At all.

Everything might not be “picture perfect,” but you’ll remember it that way.

Picture perfect couple

Just enjoy the time . . .

Many friends told me to focus on simply living in the lovely engaged state after Spencer proposed, and I’ll admit to not quite getting it.

Right after the proposal, I was in a dreamland leading into Christmas and New Year’s — but once January hit? I was a machine. I don’t regret throwing myself heartily into wedding planning because I got stuff done, but it’s never a bad thing to just enjoy the current phase before moving into the next one, you know?

And I don’t get to say “fiancé” anymore. Husband is awesome, too, but fiancé? Fiancé was special. Soak it up.

. . . And let yourself be emotional.

Wedding planning is stressful. It can be hard. It is often simple, too, but never without a torrent of feelings — some of which may make you feel like you’re going crazy. (And they will. I had a little breakdown the day before the wedding because I was really, really overwhelmed, but you-know-who got me down off that cliff.)

Regardless of whether you’re high school sweethearts, have been living together for years or have known each other a few months, a wedding marks a new chapter — a major transition — and could stir up all sorts of crazy, conflicting emotions. It certainly did for me. But guess what? You’re not crazy.

Being upset or emotional or anxious doesn’t mean you’re not making the right decision — or have “cold feet.” You’re just dealing with a ton of freakin’ stuff right now. Planning an event bringing together family and friends from every aspect of your collective lives is no small feat, so be gentle with yourself.

Whether you’re working with a tiny budget or a grander one, are getting married quickly or after a long engagement, have a “vision” for the day or are just showing up to have fun, well . . . I can promise you one thing: your wedding will be awesome.

Because it will be yours.

Walking with quilt

All photos by Birds of a Feather Photography

A love letter to yourself

When I was an awkward eighth grader preparing to leave middle school, our English teacher asked us to write letters to ourselves describing how we thought the coming year would go. “Think about the changes you’ll experience,” he said. “Write some advice you think your future self will need to hear.”

I was 13. Though ninth grade would definitely prove difficult, I wasn’t prepared for how the change of schools and loss of friends would manifest itself in the years to follow. I’m glad I didn’t know, of course; knowing something difficult is hovering just above you, ready to tear up your world, doesn’t make the transition easier.

The letters we wrote in eighth grade were mailed to us at the end of the following school year. I don’t remember what I said exactly. Ever the deep and melancholy teen, I’m sure it was something about how time marches forward and we must go with it. My mom had a favorite quote, even back then: “Give new situations a chance to turn out well.” I was nervous about high school, that’s for sure, but prepared to embrace the bonfire.

I just found a modern extension of that project — and it comes at the right time. I’m not one to really make New Year’s resolutions. Vowing to do something tends to have just the opposite result; the more I pledge to take some action, like writing more or going to the gym, the less I actually want to do it. And then the guilt follows, reducing me to an anxious mess.

So I’ve stopped making “pledges” — to myself or otherwise — and choose instead to be mindful of the things about myself I don’t like. Lack of patience, for one. Tendency to get overly emotional or dramatic. My desire to procrastinate at work and get in over my head on projects. All things I would like to change.

But there’s plenty I like about me, too, and that’s what I try to focus on. I put them all in a love letter . . . to myself. I found the World Needs More Love Letters project before Christmas and immediately jotted words of comfort to folks who could use them at the holidays. And now the site is asking for love letters as part of their time capsule project.

“Throughout the month of January, is collecting love letters through the PO BOX for the first ever New Year’s Love Letter Capsule,” they write. “We are giving you the entire month to find that time to sit down with your best stationery (because you deserve it!) and script a love letter for yourself. What do you want to accomplish in 2012? What are your goals? Who do you want to treat better? Write a love letter that will last longer than the typical New Year’s resolution.”

I want to be mindful of change, I thought. Of how I know life will morph and shape into something new this year, and everything might not feel good. There will be challenges. Plans might change. My ability to be happy will depend on whether I can roll with these things and embrace them, even when they’re hard.

Write a love letter to yourself, too. Visit the site for their address. Like my eighth grade teacher, the More Love Letters team will mail your note back to you next year. You can be serious or silly, pensive or funny — it’s all up to you. Just include your address and a stamp so you can recognize your own handwriting next January.

Embrace the bonfire, I wrote again. Embrace it. Step forward and embrace it.

Ending my literary narcissism

writing_bwWhen I originally started write meg!, I had very random concepts of what the blog would be. I’ve always been a writer and figured if I were going to chronicle my daily adventures in some way, I’d have to include my writing life in there. At the time, I was only a year out of college and still wistfully planning on scripting a few poems and getting myself into some sort of major poetry magazine.

Until, you know, I completely lost interest in that. I remember walking out of class with my good friend Erin, both of us chatting about the prose we’d whipped up over the weekend. We had so many stories to share about . . . everything. Living. Loving. And everything came easily — those lines I’d rip out of some corner of myself and tap out on my laptop, printing out my most recent poem for critique in class the following week.

I don’t know if that’s part of my problem — I’d gotten so used to writing on a deadline that the idea of just working on a project, long term, lost its appeal. Poetry was my preferred medium — succinct, powerful. I loved cramming so much into a tiny space, challenging myself to see if I could manage to convey something real in less than 20 lines. I’d spent all of my high school years writing poetry in massive documents in Word (I never write long-hand anymore, except in my personal journals) for the sheer love of it, and I spent my college years writing poetry in massive Word documents because . . . I was getting “graded” on it.

Though I’m proud of many of my poems and have even seen them published in regional magazines, I realized with a jolt that for as much as I loved reading novels, writing novels had to be my true calling. And when I discovered National Novel Writing Month with a few of my coworkers at the newspaper where I’d become an editor, it was abundantly clear that fiction was where I needed to be. (In fact, my second post ever was about NaNo — and this same subject.)

So it was all clear — I was a writer, and I was a writer of fiction. In the span of two years, I’ve completed three novels topping a total of 900+ double-spaced pages. I’ve sent out countless query letters, many of which received unintentionally hilarious responses. Of the three books, all have featured strong, assertive but ultimately vulnerable twenty-something women trying to, you know, figure out who they are and ultimately leave behind a louse of an ex-boyfriend — and everything about him that dragged her down.

They were all told in first-person. All three took place in Washington, D.C., or its suburbs. Each heroine had dark, shoulder-length curly dark hair, dark eyes and a biting wit she had no trouble unleashing upon whoever happened to be closest. Each of them had an ex in the picture that they couldn’t quite get over, even though years had passed. Two of the three had an obsession with all things British — and one of the three even made a pilgrimmage to London.

Sounding familiar?

Yes — they were me. All of them. Completely and entirely me, me, me. Did I realize this while I was writing each of the aforementioned novels? No, I can honestly say I didn’t. In fact, at one time I would have fought with you for suggesting that my main characters were just me talking in a variety of situations.

I know that “writing what you know” is old writing advice, but I don’t think that anyone meant it quite so literally — outside of the world of memoirs, anyway. And hey, I’m great, but that doesn’t mean I want to write and read about me all the time. And since I’m not trying out new voices and narrative styles through my poetry anymore, I’m now doing something really daring, something totally different, something shocking . . .

I’m writing in third person.

My heroine is no longer me.

She’s in her twenties, sure, and maybe she has a lousy ex still hanging around the picture’s periphery (don’t we all?). She’s gone through some things and come out the other side of it, even if it doesn’t always feel that way (again, nothing new). But just the idea of writing from a totally different perspective has made me feel completely energized, as has reading Jill Mansell’s Millie’s Fling, which I’m about halfway through now! Mansell does a superb job of writing from an outside perspective but still keeping everything personable, interesting and compelling.

So here’s to trying something different . . . and quitting my literary narcissism! Let’s hope the fourth book is the best yet.