Enjoy Your Engagement

As I’ve rambled on about before, I learned a lot in planning my wedding and would do lots of things different if I had a time machine. I don’t though, so let me pass on some tips to you! So many of the lessons I came away with after my wedding could come to one simple thing: I wish I had enjoyed my engagement, and the whole process, more. I get it: It’s super easy to get caught up in the details. You want to plan the BEST day ever and completely lose yourself while striving for a Pinterest perfect wedding. But it could come at a cost. Your sanity.

Save yourself from an embarrassing meltdown like I had and avoid having regrets.

enjoying your engagement tip picture

So without further ado, here’s some of my own tips for enjoying your engagement to the fullest:

-Be organized without overdoing it. Not everything needs to be color-coded and meticulously organized, but you do need a basic system so that you can easily find something when you need it. Keep all your wedding items and papers in one place (the corner of a spare bedroom or closet is great), and have a binder or folder with the most important papers, including a checklist, phone numbers of vendors, etc., that you can take with you to appointments or planning sessions with your bridal party.

-Ask for help! Seriously. Don’t suck it up and do it all yourself like I tried to, because you simply can’t do it unless you find a way to live without sleep. Enlist your bridal party, parents, crafty friends, co-workers, whoever you can get. Bribe them with candy. Whatever it takes to get some assistance in any area you need. And revel in the great people in your life that are willing to take time out of their day for you!

-Stick to (and make) a budget. When you get to the point you’ve realized you’ve overspent, there’s probably not much you can do to take it back, so don’t let it happen in the first place. Remember that it’s more important to invest in your marriage, not your wedding.

-Breathe. If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, sit back, close your eyes for a minute and simply breathe deeply. It’s crazy how much something as simple as that can help you calm down. If that’s not enough, walk away and do something else for awhile. Try yoga even!

-Have plenty of date nights with your fiancé. Make time for each other and be in the moment! It’s so important to not let your relationship slide to the back burner during this time. You’re engaged! Enjoy it! Prioritize spending quality time together and find fun ways to connect. I think it’s also important to talk a lot. Get to know each other on a deeper level. Ask each other hard questions. It’s amazing what you learn about your partner when you take the time to ask!

-Make lots of time for you. Go ahead, get massages leading up to the big day, schedule a facial and plenty of pedicures! Pamper yourself, because loving yourself is important too. If you’re tight on money, have an at-home spa day, or devote one entire weekend day to reading on the couch with your fave beverage. Go for a long walk in the park. Whatever it takes to relax your mind, have some fun and recharge your battery without doing anything wedding-related.

-Think about your expectations of your husband, bridal party and close family members and communicate to them what EXACTLY you want out of them. Never assume anything. (I assumed my mom would show up to help me get ready before the ceremony, but she didn’t because I didn’t tell her to be there. She simply didn’t know and wanted to help make sure the church was prepared and greet guests as they arrived, which was nice, but not what I had envisioned. That is 100% my fault.)

-Stick to your guns. Don’t let anyone else persuade you from wandering from your wedding-day dreams. If you really truly want to walk down the aisle to Spice Girls, do it. If you want to serve broccoli-flavored cake, do it. Who cares if someone thinks it’s weird or untraditional. It’s your day. Do what YOU want. They have/had their own day to do what they want.

-Accept the fact that things more than likely will go wrong on your wedding day and leading up to it. You probably will be disappointed in something, someone will make your big day all about them, and people you thought you could rely on may fail you. And as much as all of that sucks, it’s completely normal and there’s nothing you can do about it.

-Remember the big picture. What’s most important at the end of the day is that you get to marry the man (or woman!) you love. View your wedding as a success if that happens. As long as you and your spouse are happy with your decisions, you’re set.

The reason I think it’s so important to have an enjoyable engagement is so that you can carry it into your upcoming marriage. You want to set a good tone for your new life together. You don’t want to go into it frantic and frazzled! You (probably) only get to be engaged once, so you want to be able to look back on that time of your life and smile. It’s a happy time; enjoy it!

My Favorite Wedding Planning Books

When I was planning my wedding, I overresearched everything. I subscribed to tons of websites and wedding newsletters, got tons of magazines and books and scoured message boards. What I found was that most actually weren’t that helpful. None of the bridal magazines taught me anything, and much of the information everywhere was either common sense, or the same tips regurgitated over and over.

However, there were a few that actually were useful. Ones that I bookmarked, dog-eared and referred to several times. These are my highly recommended wedding reads!

book-3

Of course, The Knot website is well known, but I also found it the most comprehensive website out there for all my needs. I also used its virtual checklist to keep track of my to-dos, made my wedding website there, researched vendors and read tips lists, but I most loved their wedding shop. Their prices rivaled other websites and stores, and I bought about half of my decorations and ceremony/reception items from them. They also always had great sales and coupons, so I saved a good amount of money by ordering there too.

Real Simple Weddings. This book was given to me as a gift from a sweet co-worker who told me her sister found it super helpful in planning her wedding. It had chapters for all the big things to plan for in your wedding. It overviewed the different types of dress shapes, flower types for your bouquets, and had the most comprehensive checklist of any source I found. This was the first book I had that really helped me get a handle on planning.

The Knot Book of Wedding Lists. It’s no secret. I love lists. For everything I do in my life. This book had a list for every possible thing to consider in planning, and I found many of them incredibly helpful. Questions to ask your vendors. Order of events for the ceremony and reception. Items to put in guests’ welcome bags. Things to consider for the rehearsal dinner. Duties for the wedding party. Types of stationery to consider. Sample invitation wording. List of shots for the photographer. Dress types for you and bridesmaids. Items to have in your day-of bag. Top reception songs. Items to put on your registry. Organizing your honeymoon. Loved this book.

The Nest Newlywed Handbook. Another book from the folks from The Knot. This one was what I read on our honeymoon. It had great tips for starting your married life together. Tips for combining finances, dealing with new insurance choices, buying your first home, decorating as a couple, throwing parties, having date nights, combining families and dealing with in-laws, starting your family and having children, communicating as a couple, and your futures together. But what I liked most about this book was its list of questions at the end of each chapter. They were questions to ask your spouse and discuss together to get to know eachother and expectations better. One night on our honeymoon we went over most of them, and it was really nice to have those questions to prompt our discussions. Some of the questions included: What aspect of your parents’ relationship do you most admire? Say I get a surprise bonus…do we splurge on something big or save it for a rainy day? What belonging of mine would you throw out first? Who are the five friends you most hope to still have in ten years? What will happen when our parents get old?

The other book pictured that I didn’t write about is one that my husband read. It had very thoughtful ideas on marriage and comes very highly recommended. It’s on my to-read list when I get caught up.

For any newlyweds or future brides, I hope you find these as helpful as I did! For any married ladies, what other resources did you find most helpful in planning your wedding?

From Ms. to Mrs: The Story of Changing My Name

I was pretty certain my whole life that when I got married, I’d change my last name. Being a sociology minor though, I did have a period of doubting that. I actually met a few people who broke the societal norm – the chair of the department took his wife’s last name, and a classmate who got married made up a new last name that both she and her husband took. I thought it was super cool, and I totally got it. Why should the woman have to make the sacrifice? It’s essentially like a new identity, especially if you’re well into your career and have established yourself with your maiden name. My own mom has some regrets about changing hers for various reasons.

For me, in the end, I still wanted to take my husband’s last name. In several ways, I consider myself modern and sometimes even a feminist. But another part of me is very traditional. I liked the idea of being unified with my husband by name. It shows the world we belong together. It showed his family that I was proud to join them. If and when we have children, we’ll all share one last name. The idea of saying “the Hoflands” was really appealing to me.

At the same time, I spent 27 years of my life with one name, and parting with it made me a little sad. It became my identity. I was attached to it. My nickname in high school was my last name. Few people actually called me Amanda. Plus, I had many published stories from my time at the magazine and other endeavors in my maiden name. I didn’t have it in me to totally throw it away.

My compromise to please both the nostalgic part of me with the traditionalist was to make my maiden name a second middle name. In the eyes of the law, I’m a Hofland. That’s what I scribble on my checks now. But knowing that my maiden name is still legally a part of me, now as a middle name, is comforting. It’s just tucked in there whether I want to use it or not. For my professional writing post-marriage, I did decide to use both so my articles could be linked.

I gotta tell you though: Holy cow, I was not prepared for the process of changing it. It was for more involved than I ever could have imagined. If you’ve ever moved, you know how many places you have to change your address. But for changing your name? Double it. Or more.

To do it, I took a few name-change checklists from the Internet and combined them into what applied to me, adding and deleting till I had a complete list of every single place I could think of that had my name somewhere. Of course there’s the social security office, DMV, banks, credit card companies, TV and Internet service, etc., but so many other forgotten places like the library, magazine subscriptions, dentist, even your Amazon registration.

I printed out my massive list and carried it around with me for months. During breaks at work, I’d go through a few each day. What no one told me about this process was how many copies of my certified marriage certificate I’d need. Not just any old photocopy. A CERTIFIED copy. With some kind of “seal” from the courthouse. Which cost $10 for each copy. And most places wanted to keep that one copy that cost me $10. Awesome.

Thankfully not every entry on the list needed a certified copy, but probably at least 5 or more did. Some wanted that certified copy mailed to them with an application for a name change, some wanted a regular copy faxed to them with a hand-written cover sheet, some allowed me to just email them a scanned file of it, and a select few needed no evidence and took my word for it (God bless those ones).

Every single one required an initial phone call to find out what the procedure was, and that meant lots of time on hard-to-navigate automated systems that takes you in circles, talking to foreign people with such thick accents I couldn’t understand a thing, being transferred around multiple departments, multiple times, and playing many rounds of phone tag. I was on the phone so much over those few months changing my name that I went over on my voice usage. Which I’ve never done before.

It was a GIANT pain. That’s one of the things no one warned me about, how dang time-consuming it would be. The best part: Some still haven’t gotten it right. Many months later, Wells Fargo is still struggling to get it changed (three emails, many phone calls and two in-person branch visits later). DirecTV was the next worst. Because my old roommate was still listed on my account, they had to have her permission first, which in itself was a pain. She and I were both on the phone with them about three or more times each, each time getting a different story from each person we talked to. I wanted to scream. Actually, I did. I screamed a lot. I didn’t see why it was so hard and was taking so long.

But was it worth it? Absolutely. I love being a Hofland. One night I told my husband that I’m glad I have his name. His reply: “No, it’s our name now.” I melted.

Wedding Day Confessions and Regrets

(Sorry, really long post ahead)

Just yesterday I read this amazing and honest blog post from The Florkens about how she did not enjoy her wedding. In short, she enjoyed PARTS of her wedding, but was frustrated, stressed and disappointed looking back on it as a whole. (Read the whole post here.) I can’t blame her. She had some major mishaps.

The post really resonated with me, and I so appreciated her openness. Because honestly, I’m not 100% sure I did either. Now, hear me out. Overall, I think I am far happier with my own day than she was hers, but I definitely have lots of regrets. I often wish I had a time machine to go back and redo that day, and many days leading up to it, but then again, I do believe that you have to live and learn. A wedding is something you’ll probably only have one of, so I do feel a little sad that I can’t redo it like I could a birthday party or something. But, we can’t live a life full of regrets. So I try to move on and accept that in the end, the important part of that day, and its entire purpose in the first place, was to marry the man I love. I may not be able to redo it personally, but I can share some of the lessons I learned with bloggy land, and my best friend who is currently planning her own wedding. I’m inundating her with tons of advice, and maybe it’s too much, but she hasn’t told me to back off yet, and seems to want to hear it, so I keep giving it. I figure that hopefully she can learn from my mistakes anyway.

But then again, even if someone had told me everything that I’m telling her, I don’t know how much of it I would actually would have taken. It’s one of those things where you have to learn it on your own. You have to do it your own way, hope for the best, and deal with whatever comes up.

Just some of my lessons learned/reflections from/thoughts/regrets are:

-Not having a photo booth. I don’t have nearly as many photos of my guests as I’d like, and now I’m having a hard time remembering who was there for what parts.

-Investing so much in so much. I intended to have my entire wedding for under $10k. I know I went over that, but I purposely haven’t calculated how far over I went because I’m afraid to find out how bad it was. Instead of outlining and sticking to every expense within a budget, I just haphazardly bought things I liked whenever I found them. “Oh, this ribbon is cute. I’ll buy it. Hopefully I can use it somewhere.” I didn’t. That scenario happened a lot.

I also spent a lot on my bridesmaids gifts. Probably too much. I really wanted each girl to feel super special and to know how much she meant to me, so I showered them with stuff. No, not like all-expense paid trips to Hawaii or anything, but a lot for me and my budget. I bought personalized tote bags (which alone were my entire budget for their gifts), but instead of stopping there, I filled the tote. They each got a pair of flipflops, a necklace and earring set, a DIY survival kit that included items like sewing kits, gum, mints, chocolate, hair spray, body spray, nail files, nail polish, eyeshadows, combs, safety pins, bobby pins, and even more stuff that I just can’t remember, plus my maid of honor and matron of honor also got personalized compacts. They loved their gifts, which warmed my heart and made me think it was all worth it. But, now I’m questioning if it was. Because it made me max out my credit cards (yes, plural cards), I’m far in debt and ruined my credit score and chances of getting a house as soon as I wanted. So while I’m glad I got them so much stuff and they loved it, was it really worth it? Cal got his groomsmen engraved beer steins. That’s it. He spent on those what I spent on the tote bags alone. And they loved them just as much as my girls loved their stuff. So, was it quantity or the thought that counted? I’m torn on that one. Mostly because right now I hate how irresponsible I was with my money. I spent a lot that I did not have.

But it wasn’t just on our wedding party gifts. I overspent in every area that wasn’t big. See, I rationalized it by thinking I could get more little stuff because I got really good deals on the big stuff. My photographer was a good friend who gave me an incredible rate. My caterer also shaved off some of the price just because he was 5 minutes late to our consultation. My dress was from David’s Bridal and my budget was $1,000, but my actual dress was only $650. Win! I ordered nice but fake flowers on Etsy instead of using real flowers. So since I saved in those areas, I could spend a little extra elsewhere, right? Yeah, if I didn’t go overboard. But I did. I bought pretty much everything brand-new when I could have rented or bought used. I didn’t coupon and watch sales nearly as much as I should have. UGH. I am literally still paying the price for those decisions.

-I was too worried about everyone else having a good time that I didn’t allow myself to. By the reception, I caved, and man did it feel good. After the meal, I just sat at our empty table for a long time, acting like I was picking at my food so no one would think I was being anti-social, but really, that was my time to breathe. I tried to look kind of busy, but I really just needed to sit and not talk to anyone. I had been talking and smiling and hugging all day.

-During photos, we were a little rushed on time (not as much as the Florkens – they had only 20 minutes!). We did all the posed shots with family members first so that they could leave and have a small break before the reception, but I truly regret that now. Because I don’t have nearly as many photos as I’d like of the wedding party, and mostly, of Cal and myself. We have some, but I wanted tons. I really really want so many more of just us. Too late now. We had to end before I felt done so we could stay on schedule. I should have put my foot down and demanded we finish, because in that moment I knew we didn’t have everything I wanted, but everyone else was eager to leave, so I wanted to make them shut up happy. Was it their wedding day? No, it was ours. But I lost sight of that.

-I didn’t stalk my husband during the reception dancing. After my much-needed moment alone “poking at my food,” I really wanted to spend lots of time dancing with and talking to Cal. But, he ran off to the upstairs hotel bar, and was outside with his family probably about half of the entire reception. I was not happy about it, but instead of going to get him, I just complained about it and danced with my girls. Which I enjoyed too, but I really wanted my new husband! Where was he?!?! Someone grabbed him for the crucial moments like the cake cutting, garter toss and first dance, but those aside, I barely saw him. I knew he wanted time to catch up with his family and relax too, but he missed a lot of moments inside where I was. Some of the songs he had requested and that we were looking forward to he completely missed. I should have hunted him down and told him he will NOT leave me again. I had envisioned us spending that entire evening side by side, but I never really conveyed that to him. After my table moment alone, I went back to caring about everyone else but myself and let him do what he wanted. Maybe I should have joined him, but I didn’t want to leave the people that were still in the ballroom. What would they have thought if neither of us were there? But who cares? It was OUR day. The one day we had full right to do whatever we wanted. But I didn’t capitalize on that. Sighs.

-I wasn’t in the moment. I didn’t take time outs to just sit and breathe. It started like right away, too. My makeup took longer than I had planned for, so I had to ditch my mom and leave right away to rush to the other salon to get my hair done. Which made me feel really frantic. During my hair, I was delivered an Edible Arrangement from my friends who weren’t able to make it that day, and while I ate it, that’s the last moment I remember feeling any kind of calm. As soon as I finished it, I started freaking out that my videographers weren’t at the salon yet, and they were supposed to be filming me getting my hair did. Then, afterward, I ran to the hotel/reception site to drop off my overnight bag and pick up a bridesmaid so we could drive to the ceremony together. We were behind, but still needed to eat, so ran to get some fast food, and I sped on the interstate to make it to the ceremony site and finish getting ready. That is when the day really starts getting fuzzy. It may have been an entire hour, I really don’t know, but I swear, it felt like not even 5 minutes. I felt more frantic than I ever had in my life. At one point, I was trying to put my shoes on, and I was falling over, and I was yelling for help, but my girls were running around panicking just as much as I was (I think?) and I got upset that no one was helping me, even though I know they had to get ready too. When Cal’s sister was putting my necklace on, I remember feeling so overwhelmed that I was making this awful face that actually made it onto the video. Then, my mom never showed up to our dressing room. She was nowhere in sight. I hadn’t seen her since like 9 am at the makeup place. I had her corsage and was upset she wasn’t there. Granted I had never told her to be there, but I assumed she would be. So I made a bridesmaid literally run across the museum grounds to hunt her down so she could wear her corsage. I was actually really upset she wasn’t with me getting ready. Again, I had always envisioned she’d be there, but never told her to be. The next time I saw her was in the church as I walked in to Halo, my version of Here Comes the Bride.

I don’t remember much of the ceremony either. I know stuff happened, but the thing that stands out the most was Cal’s pocket square was crooked, and I kept staring at it. I think I actually tried to fix it while we were standing up there. I don’t recall the vows much if at all, and I have no clue what message the pastor gave. Something about cats was in there and that we met at Perkin’s to discuss the ceremony earlier. That’s seriously all I remember. Then all of a sudden we were skipping down the aisle, and next thing I know, I’m hugging 130 people in the receiving line and we’re walking through bubbles. Then photos, which were rushed, and the groomsmen were complaining about everything, which made me furious, but I let it go. In the party bus to the reception, I remember a little more, probably because I was forced to sit down. But I was worrying about the reception and how we’d do the grand entrance, wondering if everything was decorated properly, if the food was there yet, etc.

So in short, I was rushed, stressed, overwhelmed, worried and tired. And I should have not worried about anything that day. Who cares if the ceremony started a little late? It would have been worth it to take 5 minutes to just sit and savor the moment while we got ready. I had intended on finding a moment before the reception to just sit alone with Cal, but that never happened because we were rushing to coordinate the grand entrance.

Anyone else out there reading this who has yet to get married, I hope you can learn from my mistakes. I know I have even more regrets than I listed here, but I have to stop writing this novel sometime. If you are already married, what lessons did you learn? What would you do differently?

Wedding Planning Tips & Lessons Learned

For work a little while ago (I help a local wedding venue with their social media and marketing), we decided to create a little handout to use in mailings and at wedding shows; something that would be informational and helpful to brides. Thankfully I had plenty of personal inspiration to draw from my own recent wedding.

It’s sort of text-heavy from this view, but the front is designed all pretty and such. Here’s my tips:

avalon

-Start early. The more you do early on, the less you stress as your big day comes nearer.

-Be budget smart but splurge on the big stuff. While you may need to go outside your budget once in a while, you also don’t want to create large debt that follows you into long into your married life. It’s OK to skip the personalized reception napkins and welcome bags for out-of-town guests if it means you get the best photographer and tastiest food.

-Be you. You want your wedding to reflect your personalities as a couple, so break a few rules and insert special touches and moments into your day.

-Enlist the help of friends. Ask your crafty aunt and/or super organized friend to help you with the details. Making favors with friends is fun, and saves you money!

-Register wisely. Sure, you want to scan every kitchen knick-knack you see, but winding up with five different toasters doesn’t do you much good. Register for what you truly need first, then allow both your and your fiancé a couple of fun items too.

-Relax. You (probably) only get to be engaged once.  Savor the experience and don’t get too caught up in minor details. Remember, no matter how the day goes, you’ll still get to marry the love of your life.

-Be present. Your wedding day could be a blur, so make sure to cherish every moment with the special people in your life. Let your mom and girlfriends be there for you, and sneak off for some alone time with your man.

-If you’re not leaving right away for your honeymoon, invite guests to a day-after brunch. This gives you more time to visit with the people who came a long way that you didn’t get much time to catch up with.

-Honeymoon! You spent months planning the wedding of your dreams. Treat yourself to a relaxing break bonding as a married couple. You deserve it.

-Remember your vendors. You’ll make some great connections with various businesses, so show the extra-special ones some love with kind reviews online, referrals or even repeat business for future event needs.

The above was all very straightforward and “safe” for PR purposes, but for you bloggy friends, I’ll share a little more about some other regrets, and one embarrassing story.

Said embarrassing story goes like this: It’s maybe a month before the wedding, and it was just one of those days. I had entered into full-on panic mode a couple weeks prior. I had WAY too much left to do and not enough time to do it. I felt like I had to be superbride and do it all on my own (sure, I had my maid of honor help with a few things here and there along the way, but I didn’t ask for all the help that I hadn’t yet realized I needed). Hunting down missing RSVPs, doing seating charts, organizing schedules, assigning day-of tasks to family and friends, DIY-ing decorations, planning the honeymoon, writing our vows, I swear the list just did not end. One night after work when I was trying to tackle it all, I just had a meltdown. I had picked up some fast food for dinner, because who has time to cook when there’s a wedding to plan?! I was eating it with my then-fiancee and remember just feeling so overwhelmed and stressed and upset to begin with, but then the mushroom and swiss started dripping out of my burger and onto the couch and my clothes. I balled up the rest of the burger and angrily threw it in the bag. I moved on to my sundae. I had let it sit for too long, and it was drippy and soft. On the way from container to mouth, it fell. Enter meltdown. I screamed and put my hand in the container, picked up the rest of the ice cream and just smeared it on my face, shouting something to the extent of “I may as well miss my mouth because I can’t hit it even if I tried, and my life sucks and nothing is working,” then threw the rest of the ice cream on the coffee table and smeared it around.

My fiancee looked at me like he had just witnessed something straight out of one of those real housewives shows, and he had. But worse. About 30 seconds later, we laughed, because what I had just done was so ridiculous. And he cleaned up my whole mess. What a guy. That moment made me realize I was a hot mess and needed help.

Remnants of the table decorations

Remnants of the table decorations

Some time after, I gave him some to-dos and pleaded with my crafty friend to help me with the table numbers, escort cards and other crafty things I felt inadequate in my ability to do myself. She did, and thank God. Shortly after, we had a craft party at my apartment with me, four girlfriends, lots of colored paper, lace doilies, glue sticks and all sorts of unknown craft items she had brought with her. It was one of the best moments of the engagement. Not a big moment like the shower was, but a small victory. I had my wedding army, and we were attacking my to-do list. It felt amazing to accept help and get so much done. I really should have done it sooner. I didn’t get a great shot of my table numbers (dang!), but you can see one in this shot from the reception.

One other regret that I didn’t realize until recently was that I didn’t have a photo booth or disposable cameras at each table. I have plenty of photos of me and the bridal party, but not enough of my guests. I have some candid ones from the reception, but I really wish I had one nice posed photo of everyone who came. Sometimes I’ll have a hard time remembering who came, if they stayed for the reception, what they were wearing, etc. That day was such a blur that I just don’t remember as much as I would like. Sure, I have the guestbook, but it’s not the same. I want to see the smiling faces of everyone who came!

If I could get married again, I’d do a lot of things differently. But, that’s life, right? We live, we learn. I can’t go back in time, so for now, I at least get to help with my maid of honor, who is now engaged herself and guide her so she doesn’t make my same mistakes.

If you’re also married, what’s your biggest regret, or something that you learned? Did you have an epic meltdown like I did?