Saturday, June 30, 2012

Afterthoughts on Wedding Photography

I had originally put these thoughts in my earlier blog post outlining the list of things I wish I had a do-over with during My First Daughter's Wedding.  But, that list was really meant to be more of a summary, and my ramblings on about it grew too long and detailed.  Since quality photography is something that I now realize I am very passionate about, a much longer discussion of what I learned about visually documenting a wedding is in order.

I am somewhat of a shutterbug myself, and I am visually oriented.  I come by it honestly -- my father was a good photographer (and an excellent artist as well.)   My daughters also seem to be gifted in art and photography, so we are passing down the torch.  Coming from a background like this, it is no wonder that the wedding photos were so important from my perspective.

I am not alone.  From my browsing of wedding literature and websites, and real-time communication with other Mothers of Brides, the wedding pictures are the wedding aspect that many MOB’s are the most disappointed with.  I learned a very important lesson through my experience.  If quality photos documenting a wedding day are important to you, the photographer choice is something you should take your time with and be very selective about. Don't just look at the bottom line. When my Second Daughter gets married (or any important occasion for that matter) if I am paying for the photography, it would be so worth it to me to spend more, if it meant having the type and quality of visual memories I would prefer.

I really hate to write anything less than positive about the photographer we used for My First Daughter's Wedding (who has since retired from the business).  He and his wife who assists him were professional, honest, reasonably priced, dependable, hardworking, and really nice people – those are all important, and I have no complaints in those areas. They did an absolutely awesome job of the outdoor formal bridal portraits, taken a few weeks before the wedding, and the posed pictures of the bridal party and families at the wedding were decent.

Having said that, I have to honestly say I was underwhelmed with most of the wedding day photos, especially the candid shots and images of of the wedding decor.  Maybe I have just looked at too many gorgeous wedding magazine and wedding blog spreads, but the end-product just did not have the hoped for wow-factor for me.We waited for nearly 3 months to get the photos, which turned out to be a bulk collection that did not appear to have been edited much.

The main issue was with the actual style and content of the photos, and then to a lesser extent the "unedited" quality of how the finished product came to us, and the frustration and inconvenience of actually putting together a nice collection of wedding memories in our new high-tech world of do-it-yourself photojournaling.  I blame myself partly, for not communicating more with the photographers ahead of time, conveying our wishes and expectations, and for not doing more research ahead of hiring them as to the type of work they generally do.  But then, the last time I had to hire a wedding photographer was 25 years ago, and the industry has definitely changed.

Gone are the days of the big coffee-table album of gorgeous retouched pictures that the photographer puts together for you.  Now, it must be ironed out before hand if the photographer will retouch/edit the pictures for you and put together an album, or will he just hand you a massive high-resolution digital collection of photos which you are expected to edit and photo-shop yourself. Because we opted for a lesser priced photography package, an unedited collection is what we got.  I found this to be... well...overwhelming.

I think I actually prefer the old fashioned way, when the wedding images you bought were a finished product, not a work in progress.   After we finally got our disc containing hundreds of shots, we still had hours of our own editing to do to select the "keepers" and make the shots more to our liking. (This is not necessarily a negative to the younger tech-savvy generation, it seems they would rather edit the photos to their own liking and put together their own albums using photobook services like Shutterfly, as my daughter did.)  Over a year now post-wedding, I have yet to make my own hoped-for wedding slideshow or memory album with my own favorite pictures, although I did order a copy of my daughter's Shutterfly book.  I just have the basic photo-editing software that came with my computer; it is not user friendly and it is slow, tedious, and time-consuming.  At this point, I don't know if "my album" will ever happen.

Now, I'll move on to the discussion on wedding photography subject matter and style, which is really what I am passionate about.  Yes, the wedding is mainly about the bride and groom, but I think it is about the families and guests, too, and to a lesser extent, they should serve as a record of the events and how the venues looked.   I suppose this was really important to me also because I was highly invested in putting the wedding together, both monetarily and emotionally.  I wanted a decent visual record of all those hours and dollars spent planning for this event!  Here are a few examples of the questionable photo style and content, and "missed shots" that I perceived:

- The bridal dressing shots were taken in the church bathroom - not exactly the most appealing backdrop, and not much attempt was made to "disguise" this venue.
- For the ceremony, most of the photos were taken at the back of the church, so they were all distance shots.  There were few closeups of the couple.

- At the reception, we have the usual traditional photos of the bride and groom, numerous candid shots of the younger crowd (mostly strangers to us) out on the dance floor, but where were the nicely-done photos of some of the older guests (including many close family members and long-time friends) who remained at tables? We get a glimpse of them (sometimes in awkward poses) in crowd shots, but that's about it.
-There were no professional photos taken of the pre-function area for the appetizer time, and only one messy shot of the ice cream sundae bar, after most of the guests had already gone through it.  We have no photographic history of the appetizer spread, and the sundae bar was one of the top special features of the wedding - and we also have no pictures to show for it.

-Isn't the couple waving goodbye in the limo a standard wedding shot?   Didn’t seem to get one of those either.

-For many of the photos, it seems to me the crowd or unattractive backgrounds could have been blurred, or edited out the focal point of whatever the shot was about would stand out.

And, this is my biggest regret -- as the Mother of the Bride, I would have loved a pre-ceremony, sweet,  "just the two of us" shot of my daughter and me.  The only nice photo of my daughter and I together that day was taken by the wedding planner's daughter, and the wedding planner was also in the picture!  (At least, there is a shot of my husband and daughter together as he walked her down the aisle.)

My First Daughter had a college friend who is an amateur photographer, and she had the foresight to ask this friend to go in and take photos of the hotel reception venue before the guests arrived, knowing that our professional photographer would be tied up at the church wedding venue.  Those are actually some of the nicest photos we have of the reception decor. (However, the amateur photog had left for the wedding ceremony by the time the hotel staff set up the appetizers.) 

So, what did I take away from this experience?  I am willing to shoulder the bulk of the blame, because of the basic lack of communication with the photographer.  (And granted, there were also some situations that were out of their control.)

First, I should have vetted the photographer more carefully during the selection process to make sure that their style would fit the vision we had for the wedding.  Our photographer was apparently more experienced and comfortable with the posed genre of photography than he was with the candid photojournalistic style.   The group/crowd pictures our photographer took just seemed very similar to the reception images that guests took and shared with us.

Second, if I knew then what I know now, for a wedding of this size and held at two different venues, I never would have hired a photographer who did not work with at least a second shooter.  That way, the action at both venues could have been covered simultaneously, and we may have had some different choices of the same shots (i.e. different angles, or closeups.)

I never did make it a priority to talk to the photographer or give him a shot list of things and people that my husband and I would have liked to see in the photos, and I do not know how much direction he got from the bride and groom, either. There should have been better communication and planning beforehand on the logistics of how, where, when, and the subjects of the pictures that would be taken.

Thirdly, I never investigated or discussed in detail how the finished photos would be presented to us.  I really presumed the photos would be better edited before they were given to us than they turned out to be.

Most definitely, we should have come up with a way to include photos of more of the bride's and groom's extended families. (Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, etc...)  I shoulder the blame now that they were not asked, ahead of time, to stay behind at the church and participate in the "bridal party/family photo session"  before going over to the reception venue.  And at the reception, there needed to be some way to include guests in photos who remained at the tables rather than coming out to the dancefloor.

These are things to consider next time...At one wedding I attended, the photographer made his way around the room taking pictures of all the guests at the tables; the guests could even use "props" like dark glasses or mustaches if they wanted to.  Many people are doing photobooths at wedding receptions and they seem to be a fun activity for the guests, as well as another way to provide photos of a variety of those who attended the wedding.  Also, I have seen posed photos similar to the one shown below, which I think is a great way to show that those "Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins" were actually there at the wedding!

The bottom line is, I give our photography team credit because they were friendly, courteous and professional, they were great with the outdoor formal bridal portraits, and on wedding day they did the best they could, with one camera, and with little planning and direction. (But I will know better what to look for, and ask for, next time!)

Friday, May 25, 2012

One year later...

Well its me again...thought I'd post a few final thoughts and express some feelings upon the one-year anniversary of My First Daughter's Wedding! (And I really mean final this time!)

First I would like input -- if anyone is out there following this.  I am considering publishing this blog into an edited hard cover memento of the wedding for my family's eyes only, and "canning" the online version.  Is that a bad idea?  Is this blog really helping anyone?  My blog host statistics show me there have been considerable hits, but there haven't been an abundance of comments.  I never bothered to monetize the blog anyway; it was mostly here for me as an outlet.  And it concerns me when I see some of the search terms that people were using which landed them on my blog.  (Lets just say - there are some messed up people out there, and I don't necessarily relish the thought of them reading my blog or viewing my family wedding photos.)

So it's been a year or so since the wedding day.  I am happy to report that the kids are still happily married, relocated to Colorado, and are settling into a new apartment and new jobs.  They just completed a big trip to Europe (Germany and Austria), echoing what my husband and I did in the first year or so after we got married.  Jamaica was also one of the stops on their honeymoon cruise; my husband and I honeymooned in Jamaica too -- so there are a couple of travel bonds we have shared.

We got to visit with my daughter and her husband the day before their anniversary, and they said they planned to eat the top tier of the wedding cake, obligatorily saved from the wedding.  We talked to them soon after and they reported the same thing we experienced; the cake was so stale and freezer-burned that they could barely eat a few bites of it.  My daughter made chocolate chip cookies instead!  Maybe some old time-honored wedding traditions need to be reviewed....!!

Now that I have some time and distance and life has progressed in between, the majority of my memories of the wedding are still good.  There are a few things I still would have tweaked, but even the things I groused about have faded.  Looking at the wedding photos again as part of the 1 year anniversary observation, (at least the high-res versions rather than the low-res); I honestly thought..."Well they aren't THAT bad after all..."  I am sorry to say that we didn't get around to getting wedding photos made into prints until just before our kids visited us just a week ago; and the wedding slide show set to music and memory book that I had planned have never come to be.  (My daughter did publish a very nice memory book using Shutterfly and I simply ordered a copy of her book for us!)  Our photography team has since retired, and I still think the world of them, so I really hope they have a very happy ever after!

The wedding binder is actually still intact -- I haven't gotten around to filing anything away.  I did crunch the final budget numbers; and well...I'm just glad that part is in the past now and the Good Lord provided the means to pay for it. 

Now that our younger daughter has basically moved out for good though, we are truly Empty Nesters, and the house is in need of a "purging" and organization on a scale we haven't approached in a while.  The wedding binder contents will get filed away this year, I vow!   Some of our furniture has disappeared, bequeathed to the rooms need to be re-arranged, re-decorated and re-purposed.  I think that is what will be occupying my time in the coming years (other than my job, of course.)  I also have discovered Pinterest...and oh my, the time I can waste on that...

Retirement is not too far away; my DH and I are starting to kick around options for that.  One day I still hope to at least have a small part in planning the Second Daughters Wedding (utilizing Pinterest, of course), and grandchildren may come along in the meantime...I hope not TOO soon!  I want my First Daughter and her husband to relish these first few years of marriage, focusing on eachother.

I still have not started another blog. I'm still exploring my options there. But if and when I do, and if this blog is still up and running, I promise I will post the link!

I wish you, my Dear Readers, (if there are any) health and blessings!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Final Conclusions --Things I Loved and Would Not Change

As promised, I will end this last post on a positive note.  The year of wedding planning was mostly fun, sometimes difficult, and something I will always remember.  Here are the things that gave me the most joy in the process:

-  The Pre-Wedding Photography -- I thought the engagement shots taken by Abigail Criner of Waco were awesome! Great poses, nice Waco scenery, and the couple looked adorable together. (And the price couldn’t be beat – the photo session was done pretty much as a wedding gift to the couple.)   And, the formal bridal portraits by Wendell and Mary Sanford of Chapel Hill Photography were so beautiful!  They did a great job of capturing the "Old South" images inspired by our beautiful bride in her princess ball-gown, and the gorgeous plantation-style background of the Earle Harrison House and Gardens.  They really made you think of "Gone With the Wind!"

- I thought everyone connected to the wedding looked awesome – from the Bride’s exquisite gown, all the lovely bridesmaids in their light blue gowns to match the wedding colors, to the Mothers and Grandmothers of the bride and groom in their coordinating darker blue gowns and dresses, the guys in their dapper tuxes and light blue ties, and even the Dads in their new suits!

- The unified color scheme of light blue and ivory carried on from the Save the Date cards, to the bridal showers, to the invitations and other stationery, to the ceremony, and through the reception.

- The service reflected the couple's beliefs and highlighted the blessed union they were undergoing as man and wife, and featured beautiful and moving music, which was important to them.

- The Maid of Honor (sister of the bride) and Best Man (brother of the groom) using their talents singing special music and playing the guitar for the wedding ceremony…such a nice touch of family involvement!

- Using some lace taken off my wedding dress to wrap around the bride’s bouquet, – after deciding my dress was beyond cleaning and repair (as if either one of my girls would wear it) – at least it served some sentimental value!

- All the beautiful flowers. Blue hydrangeas will now forever remind me of My First Daughter’s Wedding! Our wedding coordinator, Denise Harlan, did an excellent job fulfilling the bride’s vision with the bouquets and all the florals.

- Renting the big white limo to carry the bridal party from the church to the reception site, and to use as the “getaway” car for the newlyweds – the bridal party was surprised and impressed, but it also kept them together and ensured a timely arrival at the reception; allowed the newlyweds a nice ride for the farewell moment.

- Renting the dance floor – it looked nicer than the ballroom carpet and was easier to dance on, and I think the dancers got into the party/dancing spirit seeing it there at the reception venue.

- Making the feathered floral hairclip for my daughter to wear at the reception – I think it looked fabulous on her, it was truly “one-of a kind” and gave me some personal satisfaction that I could add something fun to her day! (Even if I did not get to clip it on her myself…)

- The table markers that my daughter and her fiancé made using photos of themselves at favorite locales in their town. Added personalization and a unique touch.

- Hiring a professional DJ instead of using an IPOD for the reception . Was he the best DJ ever? Maybe not, but he was professional, got the job done and served as Announcer and “Master of Ceremonies” so my hubby didn’t have to do it, and so that we did not have to risk technical difficulties with an IPOD system.

- The guests blowing bubbles at the couple during their last dance. (The bubble favors were definitely worth the time and effort!)

- The cake balls were also a hit! They were unusual, there was a variety, they were free, and there were no leftovers!

- It was fun being able to share some of the leftover flower arrangements with out of town wedding guests at the hotel -- it kind of made up for the lack of  "welcome bags".  We even left some floral arrangements at the hotel desk and "elite hotel club" area...and they seemed appreciative.  We also shared leftover cupcakes with the serving staff, the DJ and his assistant, the wedding coordinator and her assistant, etc.

- Hiring the weekend-of wedding coordinator. I really don’t know what we would have done without her! Thanks again, Denise Harlan!

- Last but not least -- the knowledge that I was entrusting my daughter into good hands with her new husband.  We even like the in-laws!   Couldn't have asked for anything better.   I have read about, and corresponded with other Mothers of the Bride who were planning their daughter's weddings, all the while having doubts about the union, or with tales of terrible strife between the families.  I can't even imaging having to go through that.  We were/are so blessed!

So, this is me, former MOB, signing out! I have lots of very happy memories of the year of wedding planning, but am ready now to put it behind me. I don’t know what’s next…I loved blogging and plan to continue, but need to figure out what it is that I am now as passionate about as planning My First Daughter’s Wedding! In a perfect world, I think I would be signing up for classes to become a Certified Wedding Planner, and seeing if I could launch a second career!

But this world is not perfect… like so many others these days, some months ago my job was eliminated. For the time being, I have been shuffled elsewhere within my department in a position that I have to admit, I do not like as well.  Not ready for retirement yet -- we still have another daughter to put through college. 

I leave this blog as inspiration and advice to any other mothers of the occasion who may be looking for ideas or pointers for their own son or daughter’s wedding! (As well as notes to myself, if and when I need to help plan My Second Daughter’s Wedding!)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Final Conclusions -- The "Do-Over" List

Now that we are several months post-wedding, the excitement and obsession with wedding planning has faded considerably.  I am ready to put this blog to bed and file away the stuff in the big planning binder I have had sitting around on my home desk for nearly a year and a half, and move on to…well, who knows?

I do not plan to be in wedding planning mode again anytime soon.  With all my heart, I believe Amanda and Ian’s marriage will last their entire lifetimes.  Who knows where my younger daughter’s life story will take her, but it is not in the marrying direction for at least the next few years.

Anyway, now that the year of planning and the Big Day is a fading memory,  I thought a good way to end this blog would be to list the things I wouldn’t have changed for the world about my daughter’s wedding, and things which I wish we had a “Do-Over” with.  The rest of this post will allow me to get the grousing out of my system once and for all, if my Readers will indulge me!  The final post (coming soon) will list the kudos and end on a more positive note!

Things I Wish We had a Do-over With, In a Perfect World: (With an unlimited budget of course!)

We are not a wealthy family. The budget was not unlimited. We did the best we could, with what our budget allowed us to do, and I have to be satisfied with that. You kind of have to pick and choose from among the vendors (and venues) you can afford. In Waco, the pickins’ were kinda slim, as we say in the South.

I had first thought I would list the vendors, one by one, with ratings of how I thought they did.  But, I felt that might be just a little awkward, in case one of them were to stumble upon this blog.  I think reading carefully between the lines of my blog posts during the last year, it was implied which vendors I thought did an outstanding job, and which ones I had second thoughts about.

We had some nice extra touches.  And, at least it was convenient that we didn't have to set the reception tables up ourselves, bring in outside caterers, hire a security officer, and clean up the mess after the party ourselves, like we would have had to do at some of the other Waco reception venues!

What would it have cost us to do what is on my Do-Over List?  I calculate the least would be another $7000.  Would it have been worth it?  Pretty doubtful….

Overall, if possible, I would be willing to spend a bit more on the venue and food, photography and videography next time around, to make sure most of our expectations are met and to ensure good memories of the day. Transportation is another area that we might take a second look at. However, I honestly don't think spending more on the flowers and decor would have added much to this particular wedding. Our guests were, for the most part, a crowd that did not have big expectations, and the wedding definitely turned out nice enough for our families and for the mostly young, college crowd we had. Was it over the top? Not at all, but I am satisfied that it was a pleasant, comfortable, nicely decorated backdrop for all of our guests!

Here, more specifically, is my Do-Over Wish List. (Some things to keep in mind for those who might be following this blog to get ideas for their own wedding!):

- A more laid-back, fun Rehearsal day!  -- Would have loved to have less drama and to have checked into our hotel a few hours earlier so that we could relax and freshen up before the wedding rehearsal on Friday night!  It just started the whole weekend off on a frantic note. 

- Try to have the wedding start later in the day!   A 12 Noon ceremony time makes the day before and the morning of just too hectic!  We felt rushed and frantic all morning...and guess what we forgot...the pre-wedding prayer circle

- Making “Emergency Kits” for the bridesmaids was a total waste of time and money. I put emergency items like deodorant, toothpaste and toothbrushes, safety and bobby pins, breath mints, etc. in pretty gift bags tied with bows.  Some of them didn’t even get opened and came back home with me, and the wedding coordinator and the "style team" had everything they would have needed in their kits anyway. I probably should have done “welcome bags” for the out of town guests at the hotel instead!  Maybe they would have felt more like their long trip was really appreciated and worth it...

- More limo rides!  For instance another chauffeured car or cars for the families to ride in.  Maybe that way I would have been around and available to bustle my daughter’s dress, rather than helping my hubby find our way back to the reception site in our private car!

- I wish I would have been more the Mother of the Bride, less the “Hostess of the Occasion” – as it turned out I was pulled in too many directions and we just didn’t plan the flow of events on the wedding day out well enough.  I missed a lot of the important stuff!    Related to this…As a woman of faith, I now regret that there was no pre-wedding “Prayer Circle” for the bride.  Something I, as the MOB, should have initiated?

- Professional Videography -- at least of the ceremony.  After all, our older daughter was getting married, and our younger daughter (the maid of honor) sang two songs during the ceremony!  Then we could have shown it to older guests who were not up to traveling to the wedding. (Like my own mother, for instance.)

-  Wedding Day Pictures with More Pizazz -- I found the photographer choice is something you should take your time with and be very selective about.  Don't just look at the bottom line.  Make sure the photographer's style fits with the vision for the wedding, and make sure they unerstand clearly what that vision is.  For a large wedding, there should be a second shooter at least.   If I knew then what I know now, I may have chosen another wedding photographer.  There were just too many missing shots, and the wedding day pictures just did not have the "wow-factor" I had hoped for.  I will write more about this in a later post.  (To be fair, the photographer and his wife were really sweet people and professionals all the way...I shoulder a lot of the blame for poor communication of what we wanted.  They did an excellent job of the formal bridal portraits, btw!)

- More Food Options -- Although I’m told most of the appetizers were good, and no one has reported that they ran out, they sure seemed to be in short supply by the end of the appetizer hour, and the lunch was unmemorable.  I like the plated sit-down dinner style, but perhaps we could have sprang for more options?  Also, maybe if we had a few more flavors of cupcakes available to choose from, we would not have had so many leftover plain white cupcakes?

- Grander Décor – although the florals we had were beautifully done, the decor sort of got lost in the huge church sanctuary and ballroom we had them in.   The ceremony definitely could have used more of an architectural (or drapery?) “focal point”, and the large reception space could definitely have ”popped” more if we had been able to use some fabric draping and added some professional lighting effects.  And for heaven's sake, I would have made sure the table coverings went all the way to the floor at least, since we did not opt for the fancy chair covers.  Metal ballroom table legs AND chair legs peeking out from under tables is not a pretty sight.  It looked more like a business conference meal or banquet, not a formal wedding reception.

- On to the reception venue…well,  I’m going to go ahead and speak my mind here.  Let’s just say I give the Waco Hilton mixed reviews.  Their wedding marketing materials are outdated and misleading…ask lots of questions!  The photographs they use show upgraded chairs and linens – which I found out later you have to arrange for and pay for yourself.  They just neglect to tell you that…unless you ask.  They say they supply the dance floor as part of the package…well…if they mean an empty space on the ballroom carpet, I guess they do. 

They definitely dropped the ball on having the guest rooms ready on check-in day.  The banquet coordinator was personable throughout the planning process and very attentive in the early stages, but did not seem to take ownership closer to the wedding when it really counted.  They did not have the A/V set up in the reception area as expected.  Concerning the food and service; we have no complaints about the waitstaff, or the presentation of the food.  Food quality gets mixed reviews though,..  we had some excellent food in the hotel restaurant, but I found the reception luncheon to be generic banquet fare.  I give high marks to the overall friendliness of the Waco Hilton staff.  Professionalism and customer service...not so much. You would think that with having the reception there, the block of guest rooms, and the resulting business their restaurant got with our function, our venue would be bending over backwards to try to accommodate us.  We did not find that to be the case; in fact my husband had to fight to get a reduced room rate for the guests; and to get Hilton Honors points for having the function there.

- Finally, I wish we could have come up with a way to avoid “The Great Divide” – the separation between the two families, and the generations.  Now I know why people do Receiving Lines!  Perhaps the DJ could have come up with a “Mixer” of some sort?

Next post coming soon:  What I would NOT change about my daughter's wedding!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Flower Photos

Nearing the end of this blog, I wanted to include a photo essay of the flowers used for the occasion.  To me, flowers are a huge part of the essence of a wedding.  I know that some people go with silks for weddings; they are a better value.  To each his own,  but to me there is no substitute for the real deal.  The fragrance, the texture -- there is just no way silks can mimic the natural beauty and romance of real flowers and plants.  Don't get me wrong; we did not spring for large showy displays on every guest table.  We did for a few, and for others we opted for more simple arrangements; but for all of our floral decor we used real floral and plant materials (mixed with some candles too.)

Again, kudos to our wedding coordinator, Denise Harlan of Waco, Texas, who also did the flowers for my daughter's wedding.  They were on target with respect to the color scheme and overall "feel" of the wedding.

Here is a Memory Board of the bouquets:

And here is a collage of the florals used at the ceremony and reception:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mother of the Bride, or Hostess of the Occasion?

So what is the BIGGEST regret I have of the day?  Here it is -- I think I forgot about my main role of being the Bride's Mother, and got a bit too focused on being The Hostess of the Occasion. (A dichotomy I had not really thought about before -- both roles are important, but if your ceremony and reception are in two different locations like ours was, for a while at least, you cannot be BOTH!)

And the weird thing is, we had hired Denise as the day-of wedding coordinator whose job was to help things go smoothly. But I don't blame it on her.  Things DID go smoothly...just without me in a lot of cases.  She definitely took up the slack and did what she needed to do, when I wasn't around.  The question boiled down to -- when did I need to be around, and when didn't I?

The main culprit was lack of planning and communication -- Denise and I and the Bride should have ironed out ahead of time who would be doing what, and who would take on what roles. In hindsight, I wish I had sent the coordinator over to the reception to be Hostess of the Occasion - and I should have stayed with my daughter!

I was being pulled in a lot of different directions --(wife, mother, hostess, caregiver to elderly relatives).  My elderly father-in-law, incapacitated by a stroke in recent years, had stayed behind with us to be in the family photos, so getting him transported to the reception as quickly as possible and comfortably settled in with family members weighed heavily on our minds. But mainly, if truth be told, I was anxious to get back to the reception venue to make sure things were going smoothly.

So, because we bailed out almost immediately after the family photos were taken, I missed out on helping to get the train of my daughter's gown bustled; it did not occur to me that the bustle would best be done BEFORE she and the bridal party got into the limo for the ride back to the reception. (For some silly reason I always envisioned that task being done at the reception venue.) It also did not occur to me that someone needed to make sure the limo arrived and all the bridal party were safely deposited within it for the ride over to the reception.
The coordinator bustling the dress.
Wedding Coordinator Denise Harlan poses with the Bridal Party

So, as you can see, guess who was NOT in the bustling photos? And who was in the photos of the bridal party lining up to get into the limo?  Not me.  The Mother of the Bride was missing in action, as far as the photographic history goes.  Oh well...I have to comfort myself with believing that I was exactly where I needed to be, and try not to feel too guilty for "abandoning" my daughter! With our coordinator Denise, she was in capable hands, after all.

My husband and I took some wrong turns going back to the hotel; I ended up having to put on my navigator hat to help us find our way there.  So ironically by the time we arrived at the reception site, we were too late to be of much use there either.  Our guests had been enjoying their appetizers and punch in the pre-function area, had figured out their table assignments, and were just starting to get seated in the ballroom.  I escorted my father-in law into the building and turned his care over to family members, while my husband parked the car.  By that time, the hotel staff had already started disassembling the appetizer spread in the foyer.  The guests had pretty much consumed all the munchies. (I never saw, much less got to taste, any of them!)

Donning the feather headpiece!
When the bridal party arrived at the hotel and my daughter was ready to change into the trendy feathered hair accessory I had made for her, it could not be found--it was locked in our car! Instead of leaving it with the bride or the wedding coordinator, I had absent-mindedly brought it back with me when I returned with my husband to the reception venue.

I was finally sitting down at our family table, after having been on my feet for hours, drinking my much-needed glass of iced tea, when one of the wedding coordinator's assistants notified me that the headpiece was missing in action. I had to literally run out to the parking lot (in my long taffeta dress) and run back in with the headpiece. I was so rattled, that once again, my brain refused to fire on all cylinders.  I suppose the wife and Hostess of the Occasion roles called to me, and I felt compelled to get right back into the reception room to join my husband and my guests, leaving the coordinator to clip the hairpiece on my daughter's lovely brown curls... So, guess who landed in the pictures of such? Again, not me.

I learned an important lesson.  The wedding planning needs to include that interval between the ceremony and reception.  Think out and communicate your plan of action to all parties concerned, especially if the ceremony and reception are in two different locations.  What are the logistics?  Who will be where, doing what, and who will ride with who? 

We had thought out our plan clearly for the bridal party.  We hired a limo expressly for the reason of transporting them quickly all together from the ceremony to the reception.  For the rest of us, I guess I figured we would just "go with the flow".  Big mistake.  I learned that the pressure of the moment fogs your thinking.  A pre-planned logistical map of the entire day is needed not only for the bridal party, but for the MOB, FOB, and the elderly relatives and young children involved with the wedding too. 

Now I see why David Tutera and most high-dollar wedding planners prefer that the ceremony and reception are in the same location. The logistics are just easier!  When they are in two different locations, the question becomes who will be staying with and assisting the bride and bridal party after the wedding, and who will be going to oversee the reception?  In my experience, if it is important for you to have those memories of being with your daughter during all the important moments of the wedding day, stay with the Bride, if at all possible. 

The best laid plans may fall through, however. A MOB must expect to be pulled like taffy in multiple directions.  She will face the decision on which role she needs to be playing many times during the events of her daughter's wedding day -- "Mother of the Bride, or Hostess of the Occasion?"

Monday, September 19, 2011

Behind the Scenes on Wedding Day - Part III. "The Reception"

And so we came to the reception...much of which is honestly a blur in my mind. And no, there was no alcohol served!  I vaguely remember we ate lunch.  I remember visiting with some of our guests.  There were the traditional wedding activities.  I remember the young people (and occasionally the old people) dancing.  I've been told the appetizers were good and there was a nice ice cream sundae bar.  I will have to take people's word for this--I never laid eyes on either the appetizer spread or the sundae bar and there is not much of a photographic history of them, either.  I remember bubbles, and cupcakes and cakeballs - and they were just as we had hoped and planned for.

Something I do recall, and not too proudly, is what I have come to call "The Great Divide."  The bride and groom had organized what appeared to be (on paper) a wonderful seating chart, and the way they worked it out was that all the bride's family and friends were at tables on one side of the dance floor, and the groom's family and friends were on the opposite side.  On paper this makes sense...the two groups on each side of the room had at least something in common...they knew or were related to the bride or the groom, and perhaps had crossed paths before and were at least acquainted.  But the way things turned out, no one seemed very willing to cross over that dancefloor line very much at all to mix and mingle (including me).

My husband and I did try very hard to visit briefly with everyone on "our" side of the room, but we never got over to mingle much with the groom's friends and family, or vice versa. In hindsight, I should have at least made sure that some of our closest relatives (my sister, nephews, my in-laws, etc.) met the groom's immediate family. In that area, I felt like I failed as the Hostess of the Occasion.  

Then there was the generational "Great Divide" as well.  We did not have a receiving line at the ceremony or the reception, mostly because we felt it would take up too much time.  The couple had very limited availability at the reception because they needed to allow time to drive 5 to 6 hours to Galveston, where their honeymoon cruise ship was departing the next day.  I noticed that between the traditional reception activities (first dance, father/daughter and mother son dance, bouquet and garter toss, cake cutting, last dance, etc.) the bride and groom spent what was left of the afternoon visiting with their college-aged friends and hitting the dancefloor periodically.  They were not able to "work the room" to visit much with the older guests who remained at the tables.  Understandably so...the main object was for them to let their hair down and relax a little!  And I have to admit, I spent most of my time visiting with relatives and friends closer to my own age as well.

In hindsight, I'm thinking a receiving line is not such a bad idea -- that way everyone at least gets to greet the bride, groom, and immediate families if they so choose!

Putting on my Hostess of the Occasion hat again, I had to run a bit of interference, because the wedding coordinator and the DJ were not seeing eye-to-eye on the order of events. The DJ, Johnny Bradshaw of Central Texas Talent, had an awesome "radio" speaking voice and made a good master of ceremonies. But, I think he was disappointed that because it was so early in the afternoon, and alcohol was limited to those few guests who had purchased and brought drinks in from the hotel bar, there was not much action on the dancefloor until the reception was almost over.  He actually made a comment to the crowd about this, something to the effect of, "I'm not sure what to do with a sober crowd!"  This met with mixed reactions, to put it mildly.

He also felt the Wedding Coordinator let the toasts and activities take up too much time, when actually she was just adjusting to the wishes and schedule of the bride and groom. The Coordinator got a bit defensive, but I assured her that I knew and agreed exactly where she was coming from.  But, I also assured the DJ that everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time, so he shouldn't fret so much about the lack of dancing! 

Overall, I have to say the reception went well and we got good feedback from guests.  As I mentioned we had the fun traditional wedding activities, including an "anniversary dance" which got some of the older couples out on the dance floor.  The groomsmen even spontaneously did the Jewish thing of lifting the groom up in a chair. We did the "Chicken-Dance" and the guests loved it -- (a polka nod to the groom's family who are from New Braunfels - the German Hill Country of Texas.) Thanks to my dear husband, the slideshow worked. The bubble favors, cupcakes, cakeballs, and ice cream sundae bar were all hits. Judging by the leftover cupcakes, everyone was well-fed, and when the DJ started to play some good dance music like "Poker Face" by Lady Gaga, the guests finally started dancing, and the young people especially seemed to be having a good time.

All too soon, the afternoon was over and the bride and groom had their last dance, the guests opened the bubble tube favors to fill the air with cascading bubbles, and the happy couple departed in the white limo. It's comforting to know that in the long run, no one knew about or noticed the mishaps that were happening, and everyone really seemed to enjoy the day, from the feedback we heard. Especially the bride and groom! (The ones that count the most!) 

Here is a Memory Board from the reception:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Behind the Scenes on Wedding Day - Part II. "Wardrobe Malfunction"

By the time I got back pre-ceremony to the bride in the church ladies' room, after getting called out to the foyer to speak with the FOB, the bridesmaids had finished corseting her dress (very tightly!), and photos had been taken in that unsightly backdrop.  Guess who wasn't in them?  Me.  Of course, what did the Bride forget to do before getting that heavy dress on? guessed it.  Hello! -- remember bodily functions come before getting the gown on!  I think one of the bridesmaids helped her with that piece of detail.

Our wedding coordinator seemed to be a bit rattled whenever I would run into her -- she had heard about the snafu at the reception site with the big screen not being set up by the hotel staff. I think at this point, she was not even telling me half of the issues that were going on, just to keep me from worrying about them. (This is why you pay to have wedding coordinators!) I found out only after the wedding, that one of the groomsmen had a shaving accident that morning, and had bled on the collar of his shirt, so that was something else she had to deal with at the last minute, besides getting the guys a dressing room together in the first place (other than the common Men's Room.)   For some reason that was something that had not been worked out with the church beforehand.  Until she contained them in a room, we had the groom, groomsmen and ushers wandering about freely in the building, and that would not do.

Well, back to the bride...! After finally donning her dress and veil, and remembering to put on her jewelry at the last minute, (yes, I had forgotten all about it, too...) she was sitting in a chair, looking very pale and literally struggling to breathe!  It was very warm in the room and my daughter did have a few pre-wedding jitters, I think.  But the main causes of her discomfort were that she was laced so tightly into her gown, and also evidently her longline bustier had shrunk.  I had washed it after the hot, sweaty outdoor Bridal Portrait shoot on one of the warmest, muggiest spring days in Waco, and she had not had the opportunity to try it on again since then.

I had noticed the undergarment was harder than it had ever been to get it hooked up on her that morning, and I really doubted she had put on much if any weight, either, so I knew something had to be up with it.  I had washed it in cold water and did NOT put it in the dryer--just hung it to dry, so I do not understand why it shrunk.  Chalk it up to trying to save some bucks by buying it at David's Bridal, I guess.
Me, the Bride, and our Wedding
Coordinator, Denise Harlan

The wedding coordinator and I were not sure what was going on or how to help her, and talked to her about just relaxing and breathing. She seemed to be feeling so unwell that the photographer did not take many shots of her before the wedding.  (Not even posing with her parents before the ceremony as he did with the groom, or even some last minute shots alone with the MOB, much to my disappointment. The only good picture we got of her and me beforehand was taken by the wedding coordinator's daughter, and the wedding coordinator was also in the picture.)

Well, now it was really Showtime... and I wrote several months ago how things went, overall, with both the ceremony and reception. Remarkably true to our vision, I would say.  The ceremony honored the couple's Christian outlook on marriage and family, was personal, and featured some beautiful music. My daughter was physically uncomfortable through the whole wedding ceremony, through no fault of her own, but seemed to perk up a bit upon seeing her groom, and she hung in there during the ceremony and during the obligatory family photo session afterwards.

Looking back, one thing I definitely would change is that we should have had at least the ceremony videotaped. Your First Daughter's Wedding is a mighty important occasion. Not to mention, our younger daughter sang beautifully twice, and she doesn't sing in front of us often.  Also, my elderly mother was not able to attend, and I think she would have loved to have the opportunity to view a tape of the events of her first grand-daughter's wedding day!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Behind the Scenes on Wedding Day - Part I. "Almost Showtime!"

Well, the events of the previous weeks and day left me a bit drained, but I got a few hours of sleep and finally THE BIG DAY had dawned!  In this blog I have already written a glossy-magazine style perfectionistic overview of the wedding, as well as my own personal gratitude to God on granting a wonderful wedding day for my daughter.  Well, I thought as a final dose of realism, I would offer a behind-the scenes, glitches-included, record of the wedding day!  (Often taking stock of what didn't work is what is most helpful in wedding planning for the future!)

The wedding ceremony was to begin at 12:00 noon, and the bridal party ladies were scheduled for hair and makeup and due at the church by 7:30 or so.  Thus to allow for pre-wedding photos, the day had to start out pretty early.  (TOO early...note to self, try to talk my younger daugher into a later start time for her wedding festivities!)

The bride, bridesmaids, and I had all spent the night at the Waco Hilton, so the plan was to meet in the lobby at around 7:00 AM and carpool to the church.  Besides waking up and showering, I had to figure out what I needed to bring.  Besides my MOB outfit, I still had the Bride's gown and veil and undergarments with me.  One very important item I had forgotten at home was my dressy silver clutch handbag, so I just loaded smaller items in my big everyday purse and plastic grocery bags, and had my hubby get out of bed to help me carry all the clothing down to the lobby.  The wedding dress literally must have weighed at least 20 pounds by itself!  (I figured I would just do without a purse for the ceremony - couldn't tote that big thing with me down the aisle!) 

My husband stayed behind at the hotel -- his white dress shirt still needed to be ironed.  He also needed to get the digital projector that he had brought with him set up and loaded with the slideshow down in the reception room.  (Of course, at this point, the bride and groom still had the digital file of the slideshow --somehow we were going to have to get it from them before everyone had to be at the church for the ceremony!)

The ladies and I loaded up a couple of cars with our wedding attire and accessories and headed to the church.  Our wedding coordinator had graciously offered to have juice and sweet rolls waiting for us at the church, and when we arrived at the bridal dressing room, about 10 minutes late, they were indeed ready and waiting, as were the young ladies from Trendz Salon in Waco.  And what delightful, helpful young ladies they turned out to be!  Their informal banter helped to calm all of us down a bit, and they also shared some helpful advice and forgotten supplies.   (I think they must have a few weddings under their belt!)

"Backstage" - in the Brides' Room
This is where the pre-wedding hours reminded me of getting dressed for a performance or a play!  Hence, getting ready for "Showtime!"  Our star, the bride, had one hairstylist attending solely to her and that stylist got started on her first, knowing that she would require the most time.  The secondary hairstylist started working on the bridesmaids, while the makeup artist started on other bridesmaids. 

We opted to have all the bridesmaids (and me) getting their makeup done professionally, and that became a line item on our wedding budget.  This was to ensure that the makeup style and colors were all complimentary and done at the same level.  The hairsyling was up to each individual attendant -- they were to pay for it themselves if they wanted their hair styled by the professionals.  I paid for both my daughters' hairstyling, (the bride and the maid of honor) knowing that the bride and my younger daughter, with the important role of MOH and singing two solos in the wedding, would want to look her best.  I'd say about half the bridesmaids opted to do their own hair, and half opted to pay for the professional touch.  (I must say that they all looked gorgeous in the end!)

That's me on the left after
getting dressed and "made up".
The Bride is getting her makeup
done on the right.
I just opted for a blowout and style of my short hairstyle, rather than a fancy "do" and took my turn in the makeup chair.  (We offered the services to the Mother of the Groom too - but she opted to do her own.  Note: -The MOG is such a pretty lady naturally-- she looked amazing without the professional services!)

We had one last minute challenge to deal with.  My daughter the bride had purchased lovely matching pearl pendant necklaces and earrings for the bridesmaids to wear.  In her haste to pack things up and leave our home a few weeks before, she had forgotten to bring the boxes of jewelry that she had not already given out to the maids, and she forgot to ask me to bring them with me.  So, some of the maids had the sets, and some didn't. 

My younger daughter, the MOH, was dispensed to Kohl's to try and find something similiar.  Not being familiar with the town, she had to rely on her phone's GPS navigator to get her there and back.  Unfortunately, she was not able to find jewelry identical to the others the bride had purchased, so she just had to buy similar pearl jewelry.  As a result, she was the last one to get her hair and makeup done, adding to the case of nerves she already had about being MOH and singing in the wedding!  (She and her singing patrner for one song, the groom's brother, had not had much time to rehearse together.)   So as the noon hour drew closer, she, the bride, and I were all starting to feel the pressure!

It was now about an hour before the wedding ceremony was to begin.  The hair and makeup session was drawing to a close, the bridesmaids and I had already dressed, and the bride was finally to the point of getting her dress on.  The photographer arrived just before this and started snapping pictures. The bridesmaids and I started to help her get into her undergarments.  In the back of my mind...something was bugging me.  I had seen lovely portratis of brides dressing in romanticly decorated rooms.  We were in the church bathroom, surrounded by institutional sinks, towel dispensers, and stall doors.  Really?  But I had no time to rethink (or ask to redo) anything...

Just as I was starting to lace the corset of the bridal gown up, I got called to the foyer.  My hubby had finally just arrived, and had tales to tell of the unfortunate turn of events at the reception venue.  The groom had to swing by there (out of his way) before going to the church to give the FOB the digital file of the slideshow, then they discovered the big screen had still not been set up by the hotel personnel. My husband and the wedding coordinator's two assistants (her very lovely and capable grown daughters) had to set up the screen themselves!  Another issue with the Hilton that should not have happened!

But on the positive side, one of the groom's grandmothers had an extra purse that she had brought with her - a sequined black bag.  We had mentioned that I had forgotten my dressy silver clutch at the Rehearsal Dinner, so she had made sure to deliver the extra bag to my hubby when he came over to the church, in case I wanted to borrow it!  So sweet of her -- and I took her up on the offer!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Counting Down the Hours: Frantic Friday

Friday morning of the Wedding Weekend dawned. We knew that Saturday (wedding day) would be extremely busy and stressful, but we figured Friday would be more of a laid-back type of day.  Little did we know...

My younger daughter packed up and headed out ahead of us in her own car because the bride and bridesmaids were having a Pamper Day at a spa in Waco with a catered lunch, instead of a Bachelorette and Bridesmaids lunch.

My husband and I loaded up our car to almost overflowing, and made the drive in fairly heavy thunderstorms. We arrived around lunch time, and we had a nice lunch at a restaurant near our hotel with my sister and her husband. We went back to the hotel to check in, but were told our room was not quite ready -- neither were the other rooms we had reserved for the bride and bridesmaids.

No matter, we thought. Our daughter the bride had texted us on the drive down to Waco and asked if we could run a quick errand for her, since she would be tied up with the Pamper Day activities with her maids until almost time for the Rehearsal at the church that evening.  We had planned to display one of her formal bridal portraits prominently at the reception, in the true Southern wedding tradition. So, she had ordered an enlarged gallery-sized print at a local camera shop, and asked us to pick it up for her. She had purchased a large frame for it on sale at Kirklands, and we were to pick that up at her apartment and take it with us to have the camera shop people put the portrait into the frame. We figured we would run that errand and be back in an hour, and our rooms would be ready-- the official checkin time was 2:00 anyway. That would give us plenty of time to relax a little and change clothes for the wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner.

Well...we hit our first big Wedding Weekend snag. When we got to the camera store, they had the print ready all right, but they said they did not have a big enough cutting board to trim it off. So, they could not frame it for us. They suggested we take the photo and the frame to a Hobby Lobby or Michaels. Bear in mind, we are not familiar with this town at all. They tried to give us directions to Hobby Lobby but it went in one ear and out the other, and we do not have any GPS unit or apps on our phones. We called my daughter and she basically talked us to the street that Hobby Lobby was on. I spied a Michaels on the way, so we decided to just pull in there.

The framing assistant at Michael's was helpful but very slow-moving. He just did not pick up on the time constraints we were under. He suggested that we actually would need a thicker mat to make the portrait look nicer in the frame than the flimsy one that the Kirkland's frame had come with. We agreed that he had a point, so he selected several types and colors of mats and leisurely tried them all out against the portrait and the frame to find the best "look". Finally we all decided on one. Well, he said, he did not have a big enough mat of that particular material and color in stock, but he could order it and it could be here in 3 to 5 days! My husband and I just looked at him, probably wild-eyed, and said, "We need it done today! The wedding is at noon tomorrow!"  

So, the framing guy disappeared in the back and eventually re-emerged with several large mats that he had in stock. Once again my hubby and I tried to remain patient while he tried them all out. We finally decided on one and placed the order, with the understanding that we would be back before closing time that evening to pick it up. By the time we left the store, it was pushing 3 pm. The rehearsal was scheduled at 5 pm, and we had to get back to the hotel, change, and make the 20 minute drive to the church.

Then we hit Snag Number 2. We pulled up to the hotel entrance and my husband suggested to save time, he would go get us checked in if I would start unloading the car. I figured he would be gone 5 or 10 minutes max. I located a wheeled cart, and started the unloading. Well after 20 minutes, I basically had the car completely unloaded and still no sign of my husband. I waited another 5 minutes, and could wait no more. I just left all our stuff at the curb and ran inside to see what was going on. He was standing at the desk, with a frown on his face. Our room was still not ready, although most of the other rooms were. He handed me the keys to the bridesmaid's rooms and I went back outside to wait with our things.

The bridesmaids pulled up about then, all fresh and relaxed from their spa day. I handed them their keys, then waited, waited, and waited some more in the hotel's driveway on that muggy, warm Texas afternoon. We did not get into our room until after 4 pm! I was so angry I could have screamed. We had to rush around getting changed, and we were definitely feeling sweaty and disheveled. I also quickly had to figure out what things I would need to re-pack in the car to take to the church with us, in order to hand them over to the wedding coordinator. We arrived 10 minutes late to the rehearsal. (Would you believe we still beat those bridesmaids there, even after they got into their rooms a good half hour before we did?)

The rehearsal went off without too many glitches (other than a slight disagreement between the pastor and the wedding coordinator about some ceremony details and positions of the bridal party.) I honestly do not remember much about it. While we were there, a typical Texas late afternoon spring storm blew up and we could hear the thunder booming outside and rain pouring down torrentially. It had stopped raining by the time we left the church and made our way to the restaurant for the Rehearsal Dinner, but the streets were still wet and halfway flooded, some traffic lights were flashing off and on, and the Friday evening traffic was horrendous.

The ceremony rehearsal
The groom's family had booked a family-style Italian restaurant close to the church for the dinner. The food was good and plentiful, but the evening wore on a bit because the groom's grandparents (from out of town) were late arriving due to the storms, traffic, and the conditions of the streets, and then we only had one waiter working the entire party of 25 people or so. The evening was very informal -- there were no slide shows or speeches or toasts, just visiting amongst the guests and eating the dinner. In the back of our minds my husband and I knew we still had to go back to Michael's to pick up the bridal portrait before it closed, and as the time drew nearer to closing time for the store, we ended up having to leave the party rather abruptly.

We got a bit lost and barely made it to Michaels 10 minutes before it closed. Our framing guy had even begun counting his cash and closing out his register when we got there, so we all had to traipse across the store to the main registers to check out. The portrait did look very nice, although we were pretty stressed and perturbed after literally having to run around town all afternoon and evening long, for an errand that should have taken no more than an hour if the camera store had just had the right equipment!

We made it back to the hotel, changed to casual clothes again, and relaxed just a little, but I knew we still had some work to do downstairs in the ballroom. Denise, our wedding coordinator still had to finish up the bouquets and floral arrangements for tomorrow, and I knew she would not be down there, but I wanted to see what, if any progress had been made on the reception space setup. The cake-ball stand had been damaged a bit in the car trip, and we had to repair it and put the tiers back together and deliver it to the ballroom too. We had run into the groom's parents in the lobby downstairs, and they had brought the cupcake stand with them, and had already dropped it off in the ballroom.

We had to track down a hotel security guard with a key, but we finally got into the ballroom around 10:30 pm. I felt some pleasant relief then...the room was looking very nice already. The tables were all set with the linens on them, and the dance floor was in place. My husband and I re-organized the dessert table and got the stands put together and in place. For the first time, I could see it all starting to come together! This wedding was really going to happen, and even though I was exhausted and stressed out to the max, I was also getting pretty excited to see if it all turned out the way we had envisioned it during the last year of wedding planning!  At this point, I thought, "It is what it is..." and just had to let it go and trust that all the planning would pay off.

Here is the infamous framed bridal portrait, displayed at the reception!