A Colourful First Birthday Party

We recently celebrated our son’s first birthday. Um, how has it been a YEAR already?!

It was a perfect Sunday, sunny and hot. I love late summer just before it tips into fall, and now we have an extra special reason to have a party every year around Autumn Equinox.

I created a Pinterest board to share our photos. Enjoy!

We love you, little man! You’ve brought so much love and joy into our life, wow. And we’re only one year in! Happy Birthday Baby…

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Christmas on a budget

calculator-christmas-budget-
‘Tis the season of giving, so it’s challenging when you don’t have much to give. But it’s still possible to have a beautiful Christmas and enjoy the holiday season without over-spending. In this post I’m going to share how my partner and I are doing it all for around $400.

Presents
We set a spending limit on gifts and we are sticking to it. No exceptions. We are only buying presents for our families and each other, so everyone knows our tight financial situation. Our gift budget is $50 for one another, and $15 for each family member, so for us that equals: $260

Decorations & Crafts
We already owned some decorations: string lights, a mini-tree, a few figurines and ornaments. I wanted our first Christmas as a married couple to be memorable, so I decided to get crafty. We went to Michael’s one day (we love their coupon program) and got a few wooden ornaments, tissue paper and one small bottle of acrylic paint. We also collected some pine cones from the forest, dried them out, and painted them white. Now we have some hand-painted ornaments for the tree, and lovely cardboard and tissue paper poinsettias. Grand total: $15
handmade_ornaments

Christmas cards
Like most people, we have family and close friends living all over the country, and it’s so nice to receive friendly mail these days. However, since we’ve sent out a lot of mail this year with the wedding invitations and thank you cards, we pared down our list to the most important people to keep postage costs down, and bought our cards on a -50% sale! Total cost: $20

Food & Drink
You simply cannot celebrate the holidays without the special extras at mealtimes. Those once-a-year treats are meant to be enjoyed! Keep costs down by baking from scratch, having pot lucks, and resist too many impulse purchases at the grocery store- know when enough is enough!
We are having a small Christmas dinner this year, just one other couple joining us at our place, and we’ll be sharing the food costs. We won’t compromise our values in this area to cut costs however, as we’ll be buying a local, free-range chicken to roast and buying produce from the Farmer’s Market. Add in some BC wine, and we’ll have a delicious, 100-mile dinner worth celebrating! Our portion of this will likely cost us: $40

Entertainment & Activities
On Christmas Day we plan to go snow-shoeing up Mt. Seymour in North Vancouver. Luckily, snowshoe rentals are only $15 per person! Other special activities over the holidays will likely include one big-screen movie (The Hobbit, I hope!) and outdoor skating. Our budget for holiday activities is: $60

This brings our total Christmas costs to $395. Of course, some of this is money we would normally be spending on food or going out anyway, so we didn’t need to save extra. We all know that the spirit of the holidays isn’t consumerism, and yet it’s all too easy in our society to lose sight of that fact. So I’m actually glad that our necessary budget constraints are forcing us to be a little more creative with our gift-giving and making us enjoy the simple things that don’t cost a lot but mean so much.

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more.”
(The Grinch Who Stole Christmas)

Please share your thoughts and advice on this subject!
happyholidays

Eco wedding decor


One thing that was very important to us in planning the wedding was considering the environmental impact of everything we were using.

Our guidelines were, it had to be second-hand, recyclable, biodegradable, and/or useful or re-sellable post-wedding. I’m proud to say we achieved our goal and created very little waste.

For me, being concerned about the negative human impact on our natural environment is not trendy. I was the President of my high school’s Environment Club! I am happy to see how our Western society has collectively increased its awareness and concern for this issue in the last few decades. “Green weddings” are definitely a trend I can get behind. I’d like to share how our wedding décor was eco-friendly.

Potted plants
For our aisle décor, we used potted mini rose bushes. They looked great, were easy to move around (our space was used for both the ceremony and reception, so required a quick turn-over), and doubled as a favour since some of our guests with gardens took them home to plant. We purchased them from Whole Foods, and they were very affordable.

Paper crafts
To save costs, my fiancée and I did a lot of DIY décor crafts involving paper: heart strings, petal cones, our custom designed guestbook pages, mini-banner for our Treasure Chest card box, heart buntings, as well as our wedding invitations.

Now, to be honest, if I was going to be super eco, I would have used 100% post-consumer recycled paper. But I didn’t. I bought a large booklet of acid-free scrapbooking paper from Michael’s that came in tons of patterns and colours. I still consider this eco-wedding décor however, because it is recyclable after the event, and also re-usable – the heart strings now decorate our home.

(check out my tutorial on how to make these!)


I have to give my partner credit for making our fabulous Treasure Chest card box


petal cones are pretty and practical aisle décor – I used the Aylee Bits template


we made our own photo prop for our Thank You cards

Mood Lighting
I must admit, I was getting stressed over lighting for our reception. We had already purchased white Moroccan lanterns for our centerpieces, to use with votive candles, but I wanted more lights to take advantage of the fantastic rafters in our venue. However, most options required extension cords, worrying about electrical outlets, or figuring out how to turn them on. I didn’t want someone having to go around with a ladder when it was getting dark! We see so many beautiful wedding photos with cafe lighting, coloured uplighting, or tons of paper lanterns- only to covet something we simply cannot afford. The expense of mood lighting! Oi.

Then I discovered Soji Solar lanterns and my lighting and budget concerns were solved! They are easy to assemble, and the solar panel charges during the day and automatically turns on when the sun goes down. They are an affordable, easy-to-use, eco option. One thing to note however, is that they won’t turn on if they are close to artificial light, due to the sensor. So they are ideal for outdoor weddings, and areas that are poorly lit.

one of my best Craigslist scores


solar lanterns saved the, uh, night

So that’s how we decorated our eco-wedding! It looked beautiful and didn’t all get thrown out at the end of the night. In fact, the venue ended up buying most of the Moroccan lanterns from me, on the spot! It sure was nice to receive a cheque after the wedding, Lol!

Weddings don’t need to be wasteful affairs. And you can still have a fabulously chic event! For a more complete list of how you can plan a green wedding, check this out. It’s worth it!

The Final Countdown – 4 weeks to go!


I must admit, I’m slightly stunned as I type the words four weeks to go. We’ve been engaged for just over a year now, and I cannot believe that the wedding, MY wedding, our wedding, is in one month!

Since my Ultimate 2-Month Wedding Checklist was such a hit, I have decided to follow up with another: How to get everything done in the last month before your wedding without losing your sanity or your grip on the budget. Or, The Final Countdown, for short.

(please note: I am not an expert on this matter, nor a professional wedding planner. I have however, been involved in throwing large-scale live events and festivals before, and I value authenticity and affordability over “perfection”- which is hugely subjective. Just sayin’.)

First order of business is to (ahem) finish everything that you haven’t got to on your two-month checklist.

Confession time: I still haven’t made our cocktail reception iPod playlist, compiled a list of responsibilities for our key players and wedding party, finalized the timeline and itinerary, or sent our rehearsal dinner invites. So, all those tasks are being pushed to the front-line now, since every day (tick-tock tick-tock) time is running out.

Similar to the Ultimate 2-Month Wedding Checklist, continue to use the optional add-on of “or get some else to do it” as necessary.

Gotta look good

  • Your dress might be ready to go, or you may have a final fitting. If you do, leave yourself enough time (2-3 weeks) before the big day just in case further alterations are needed.
  • Go to your hair and make up trials, if you have them. Or, DIY to figure out your “bridal look”.
  • Lots of brides whiten their teeth. Well, there’s all that white to compete with! Two weeks is sufficient time for the at-home process, or if you are going all out, visit the dentist.
  • Start breaking in your wedding shoes if they are new, wearing them inside the house. Your feet will thank you.

 
Ceremonial Matters

  • If you haven’t bought your marriage license yet or met with your officiate to finalize the ceremony, now’s the time. (This applies less to church weddings that provide the license and have a standard ceremony)
  • Talk to your signing witnesses and let them know what they need to do and when.
  • If you aren’t going to do a “dry run” of the procession with your bridal party, communicate the basic outline of the ceremony, the processional order and who they might be paired with, etc., so everyone has a good idea of how it’s supposed to go.
  • Talk to your parents about whether you will be doing a receiving line after the ceremony, what that will look like, and where that will happen.
  • Who is cueing your pre-ceremony and processional music? What format do they want it in (CD, mp3)? Or if you are having live musicians, touch base with the band leader a few weeks out to go over the details.

 
Getting organized

  • Usually you have to confirm your numbers with your venue and caterer 3-4 weeks out. Make sure they are clear on your expectations, and you are clear on theirs.
  • If you are having one, make plans and invite people to the rehearsal dinner.
  • Communicate with your photographer about the timeline for the day, when formal portraits will be taken, if any, and give them a list of “must have” photos if you so desire (I am!)
  • Speak with your wedding party and key players and confirm their day-of tasks and responsibilities.
  • Since you’ve already double-checked and confirmed your honeymoon plans (right?), you should now make a packing list. If you are leaving within a few days of the wedding, you’ll definitely want to pack beforehand.
  • Confirm with your venue when you can come in to decorate, when they want your guests to leave, all your stuff gone, etc.
  • If you haven’t already, make sure you have gifts for everyone you want to have gifts for: your fiancé(e), wedding party, parents, out-of-town guests (welcome bags), guests (wedding favours), maybe your officiate too.
  • Who’s looking after your place/plants/pets while you’re gone?
  • Know when your day-of deliveries are happening, confirm the addresses with them, as well as who is greeting them at your venue(s).
  • Make sure you’ll have a couple of emergency kits handy on the big day, one with each bridal party. This is a great task to ask your Maid of Honour, Mom, or fiancé(e) to do.
  • A couple of days before the wedding, prepare your tip envelopes and designate who will be in charge of them.
  • Confirm the day-of transportation for everyone in the wedding party.

 
Money Matters

  • Cheerfully make all your final payments on time (difficult, I know).
  • Don’t overspend at the last minute. It’s like impulse buying at the checkout. You don’t really need those extras.

 
The Tiny Print

  • Read your vendor contracts. Yes, I know it’s boring.
  • Know when your final payments are due, and how you’ll pay for them.
  • Inform your credit card company if you’ll be traveling for your honeymoon. No fun to have your card frozen when you’re in a foreign country.

 
As cliché as it sounds, the best advice for any bride who is four weeks away from her wedding (like I am as I write this) is BREATHE. That, and do the best time management and multi-tasking of your life. You/We/I will get through this! And no matter what happens (well… almost) our weddings will be beautiful, full of joy and love.

If you’re reading this, that means you are likely days away from your wedding– congratulations! I wish you the best. Let me know if this checklist helps… 🙂

Making “practical” your wedding theme

I think most of us start with the best intentions to be sensible in our wedding planning. Not many of us have an unlimited budget or sugar daddy, so us practical brides-to-be set the budget, make the spreadsheets, tackle the DIY challenges, and search for the best deals on everything.

Despite these goals, it can be surprisingly easy to get carried away by that nasty creature: desire. 21st century brides have it bad. We are overwhelmed by images of other people’s weddings online and in magazines, so we naturally begin to compare our future wedding to theirs. Some days, it may feel like you will never live up to your own expectations! But trust me, it’s not the burlap or bird cages or patio lighting that will make your wedding special (although they can all, admittedly, make your wedding LOOK awesome), not the “perfect” dress, or chivari chairs or the most expensive flowers, but the incredible love between the newlyweds and their family and friends.

I am glad that I discovered some excellent, down-to-earth websites and blogs early enough in my planning to keep me grounded. I’m talking about offbeatbride, apracticalwedding, intimateweddings, and even weddingbee. Sure, I looked through all the wedding dress images and used the timeline feature on theknot, but the advice on there seems to be for women who are nothing like me. And stylemepretty? Oh please.

In the last few weeks I am proud to say that I have made some practical decisions that left me feeling liberated! With little more than two months to go, I am finding that I can more easily discern what is important, and what is not. Confirming your numbers and catering order with your venue/banquet manager? Important. Having your bridesmaids’ dresses match the table overlays? Not so much.

Speaking of bridesmaids dresses, that was one area where practicality was paramount. I knew early on that I wanted them in different dresses, one that they chose that flattered their body. My partner and I eventually settled on coordinated mismatched, asking them to get a dress in shades of purple. We went shopping together one weekend, and couldn’t believe the prices! What started out as a reconnaissance trip to look at styles and see what was out there, ended up being a reality check.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve worn second-hand clothes all my life. I still buy new sometimes, but I have no issue with consignment and thrift stores. So I suggested that my ‘maids go that route, and continue looking on their own free time. Within 10 days they had both found dresses: one for $32 (silk chiffon!) and one at $7!!! My third bridesmaid, my sister-in-law, already owns some great dresses in purple so I think she’s set. Hooray!

Next was shoes. I had started a pinterest board of some possibilities for my feet. I discovered that Sears (a big department store in Canada) carried a lot of the brands I had been looking at. I immediately fell in love with one of them (really comfy Clark’s- strappy 2.5 inch heels), but they only carried them in brown or black. If I wanted the white, I would have to order through their website (meaning I wouldn’t get the 30% off sale that day).

To be clear, I don’t wear white really, ever. So why I was even humming and hawing over this seems silly now. I walked around Sears, considering the implications of not wearing white shoes. Huh? I finally got over myself, after talking to my sweetie, when I realized that if I bought the white pair I would probably never wear them again after the wedding. And for the good money I was about to spend, I wanted to continue to enjoy them. So I bought beige. Scandalous, I know.

Another area that my fiancée and I are trying to be really practical is decor. We naively under-budgeted for this initially, and had to eventually accept that we were going to spend more than we first intended. I’m planning to offset this extra expenditure after the wedding by selling as much as I can through craigslist. This fits with my “green” wedding M.O. that everything we use must be already second-hand, recyclable, biodegradable or edible, and/or have a life and purpose post-wedding. If that purpose brings some money back my way by another bride-to-be, all the better.

Now, let’s talk briefly about money. Oooohhh, such a touchy subject, I know. And certainly one in which to value practicality! Be very clear with yourselves and each other what you are willing to save, spend and go into debt over for your wedding. Early on, discuss with your parents (both sides) to determine whether they are willing and able to contribute anything. That way you know what kind of budget you have to work with before you book any vendors. Budget high, and try to come in under. Know that things will change (usually going up, unfortunately!).

Make lists: what is absolutely important to have, what would be nice to have, and what you are ambiguous about having and could let go. Don’t waste any energy and time on things that you don’t care about, even if every wedding you’ve been to had a, b, or c, or your Moms think you really need an x, y, or z. If anything feels like it’s more trouble (or money) than it’s worth, it probably is. Axe it- without guilt. At the end of the day when you aren’t starting your marriage in a ton of debt (whether you are actually carrying it, or it’s emotional debt for one of your parent’s carrying it) you will be glad that you didn’t waste the extra money on things you could care less about!

Ultimately, I feel that 21st century brides have more choices- and this can be negative and positive. It’s negative when, like I described above, we get sucked into thinking we “need” things for our wedding that we DON’T. (off the top of my head: air-brush make up, white limos, $150 bridal bouquet, dove release…)

But it’s a positive when we realize that we have more choices than ever before: meaning almost NOTHING is “required” anymore unless YOU want it. Don’t want to wear a white dress? Cool! Rather have burgers and beer and a backyard wedding? Awesome! Want to save your money for an extended honeymoon? Opt for a small courthouse ceremony and dinner at a fancy restaurant. Lovely.

So think outside the box! You can be imaginative and practical at the same time- in fact, it’s required. Tell me, what practical wedding decisions have YOU made?

Making paper heart strings

In my last post I talked about the pulling-out-hair moments that can accompany your DIY attempts. What’s that famous quote? “The best laid plans of DIY brides often go astray.” So true. Fortunately, they are not all grief and despair. Some craft projects are easy, pain-free, and so affordable that you just love making them. This was my experience making heart strings!

I first came upon the inspiration on Pinterest (imagine that!), and pinned it to my wedding DIY board:

I had to figure out how to make them by studying the photo, since there was no tutorial. They seemed to be constructed from four, identical paper hearts, glued together with a string down the middle. So, I went to Michael’s to get pretty paper. I lucked out and got a big book of 180 sheets of craft paper at 50% off, with lots of patterns and colours.

First we had to make a stencil. I downloaded a simple heart shape from the interweb (after my sweetie’s attempt at “free hand” didn’t work out so… symmetrically), uploaded it to a word doc, and made two different sizes. We also made a star stencil, since we plan to make star strings as well. My partner drew them onto the card stock, and cut out the shapes with an exacto knife. Then we traced as many hearts as we could fit onto the craft paper.

these are all the supplies you need

You need four to make a heart, and I chose to use two different colours that had the same background pattern. To assemble them easily, you will need to fold them in half.

make sure you fold them the correct direction

Then, take the glue stick and attach three of the hearts together, aligning as best you can with the center fold. The 3-D heart quickly takes shape.

ta da!

Have your twine/string ready, and put a line of white glue down the “spine” of the heart, on the open side.

mmm… glue…

Place the twine into the glue, where you want the heart to be on the string. I used my finger to push the twine into the glue, to make sure it adhered nicely.

gotta get a little sticky

Glue the last heart on, and make sure it’s all stuck together.

Trim the edges to your satisfaction. You can adjust the length, decide how many hearts per string, have various sizes or all the same- it’s up to you. 🙂

For a few days in a row I worked on this craft. I even started watching really bad wedding shows on Netflix as I traced, cut and glued the hearts. After three episodes of Bridezillas, I’d had enough. Of the show, that is- I love making these!

purdy heart strings!

We finished them off by tying two wooden beads at the bottom. In total I made 6 strings, and intend to make more. They are a cheap, easy, and pretty DIY craft for wedding decor, and I will definitely use them to decorate my home after the wedding, or if they are damaged they are easy to recycle. Bonus! Please let me know if you give these a try too!

The dark side of DIY

It’s almost a given for every couple getting married that they will do some DIY. The type, style and amount of DIY projects is up to the individuals involved, but gettin’ crafty and saving a few bucks is the norm these days.

However, it’s not always a sunny day in Martha Stewart’s craft room. Glue guns can burn you. Paper really can cut you. You may run out of a supply before you are finished, or realize halfway through a project that you are doing it wrong and need to start over. Or, such as in my case this week, technology can fail you.

Two weeks ago we received a package in the mail. Our invitation paper supplies had arrived!

Tree-free, recycled, handmade cardstock from sweetinvitations.com

I’ve been very excited for this- we just passed the 100-day mark, and putting the invites together and getting them in the mail really sends a clear message of “this s#!t is gettin’ real.”

We chose to assemble them ourselves at home because a) it would save us money, b) I wanted design control, and c) I thought it would be easy to do. I. Was. Wrong.

I spent hours getting the layout just perfect. We deliberated over the wording for a few days. We spent three evenings cutting the gatefolds, in preparation for the big assembly, and even had a friend who has fantastic hand writing come over to address all our envelopes.

we cut the gatefolds from handmade Hemp paper from Thailand

Then, when we tried to print a sample on the vellum paper, the printer didn’t like it. It pulled it through, but wouldn’t print on it. Angrily beeping, crunching noises coming from within, the warning on the screen read: Paper loaded incorrectly.

A quick google search and I discovered that vellum is notorious for being difficult with home printers. I called the lady who I purchased our supplies from, and she suggested we try it on a friend’s laser printer, that maybe it was the ink-jet printer that was the problem. One woman online said she had to tape it to regular paper and then it worked. We tried that, and it worked once, and then continued to chew up the others. As well, that one good print we got turned blurry after 10 minutes of drying. And really, I didn’t want to have to tape 70 invites- too finicky. Overall, it was a complete bust.

Was I upset? Did I cry and throw a tantrum? Surprisingly, no. I knew that I could eventually troubleshoot this problem and figure it out, and I wasn’t stressed about the time because we were doing this early.

Therein lies one of my best pieces of advice for all DIY brides: get things done early. If you want something done by a certain date, start it a month, or months, before. Pay no mind to your bridesmaids or co-workers who tease you for working on your wedding crafts/decorations/favours 6, 8, 12 months ahead of time. Who wants to leave it all to the last minute? You want to be able to enjoy your engagement, so spread out the work load (and yes, that means delegating tasks to your hubby-to-be-too!).

Fortunately, this warning tale of the Dark Side of DIY has a happy ending. Turns out, the business owner was right, and my friend’s laser printer worked perfectly. My fiancée and I went home and right away spent the 45 minutes it took to glue the vellum to the card stock.

Then we tested the Celtic knot rubber stamp on the invite.

putting our personal “stamp” on our invites

Here’s how it will look inside the gatefold, and then sealed with our monogram sticker.

our finished invites!

My other fabulous pieces of advice in regards to DIY-ing your invites are to have extra; address the envelopes while they are empty; and don’t stamp them until they are addressed. We did one and two, but eagerly stamped before they were all addressed, and one goof and you waste a stamped envelope.

Despite the bit of stress at not being able to print them on our own printer, I am glad we chose to DIY our invites. With the right supplies, time, and some imagination, you can create truly unique invites that reflect your wedding style and even, in our case, your environmental values. Best of all, these were affordable! 70 invitations cost us $137: that includes the cardstock and vellum paper we bought from sweetinvitations, the gatefold paper we got at a local paper store Ya-ya Paper, and the monogram stickers from Vistaprint. Add postage and our grand total is $168. That’s $2.40 per invite.

It’s been such a crafty week here at our place. I’ll leave you with a little teaser of the other DIY wedding decor we’ve been working on… heart strings!

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