Meal Planning: Easy & Economical

My wife and I have been meal planning for years now, so it’s second nature to us. I smile when I read articles about how to simplify your life or save money on groceries and they mention meal planning. Honestly, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it!

In case anyone is still unclear about how it works — and how easy it is! — I’ll break it down for ya.

You need two slips of paper for two lists, and maybe 15 minutes, tops.
meal_planning
One list is for your weekly meal plan, what you’d like to make and eat. For us, we just plan dinners since we take care of our own breakfasts, and lunch is often dinner leftovers, or we’ll make a sandwich, wrap, or grab something out if need be.

The other list is for the groceries you need to buy to make those meals, plus anything else you are running low on.

Before you go grocery shopping, spend this time planning, looking at what you have in your cupboards and fridge already, and what your week looks like. By knowing what you’ll be making, you know what ingredients you need to buy. Simple! This saves you money because you’re only purchasing food that you will use. We waste very little in our house because of how we plan.

Also, it’s fun having meals to look forward to. To make it even easier, you can theme your nights. For example, we often do Mexican Mondays, or Pasta Wednesdays. Meal planning saves you time at the grocery store, but also in your day, since you won’t be wasting half an hour or more figuring out what you can/want to cook when you get home from work!

Here’s a sample of our weekly dinner plan:
Sunday: Tuna Mac Casserole
Monday: Bean & Cheese Quesadillas
Tuesday: Solo (we both work late on Tuesdays)
Wednesday: Pesto Veg Pasta (soon I’ll post my recipe for homemade pesto which saves a lot of $$!)
Thursday: Coconut Thai Green Curry on Rice
Friday: Nachos
Saturday: dinner out

We also decide who is cooking what meal, according to our work schedules. It makes our life very smooth during the busy work week having these plans in place.

I should also mention that we are still open to spontaneity. Things come up, plans change, and that’s life. We can usually still make the missed meal a day or two later, or use the fresh produce in something else before anything goes bad. We find that having a weekly meal plan is a structure that gives us more freedom, not less.

Do you already plan this way? Or are you newly inspired to try it? Let me know!

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We’ve been blogged!

After so many months of planning, stressing, and crafting a wedding, it flies by in a matter of hours. So it’s satisfying when after the fact, prominent wedding sites and bloggers feature your special day!

I’m thrilled that Offbeat Bride, Vancity Bride, AND A Bicycle Built for Two have featured our wedding!!

Check it out: offbeatbride.com/vancouver-fairytale-wedding

onabicyclebuiltfortwo.com/wedding

vancitybride.com/real-vancity-brides

It’s such a pleasure and sweet validation that we did something worth sharing with the world wide web!

Newlywed musings
Two and a half months have passed; the thank you cards have all been sent, the photo slideshow emailed to all our guests, the photo books created and delivered to our parents and grandparents, and our personal wedding scrapbook is almost finished. As the “honeymoon phase” lingers, memories of our wedding day still bring smiles to our faces and warm feelings to our hearts.

Sure, I went through a post-wedding slump like most brides- sad about the things that “went wrong” or didn’t meet my expectations, and the photo ops that were missed- but I thankfully got over it, quickly! I want to only remember the good stuff: the giddy anticipation of our first look, the magic of our ceremony, seeing my beautiful wedding party all dressed up, feeling the love from all our family and friends, and ripping up the dance floor!

Now, with no wedding to plan (and no wedding debt to stress over- thank goodness!) we can simply enjoy being married. I didn’t know if I was going to feel any different after, but I do. It took a few weeks to sink in, but my sense of our commitment is stronger, our love is deeper, and I feel more secure than ever before that this relationship and our beautiful, passionate love for each other isn’t going away, ever. It’s a wonderful thing.

So, three cheers to romantic love and modern marriage, and making it last!

Why Marriage?

Today marks the one-year anniversary of our engagement. She didn’t wine and dine me and get down on bended knee to ask for my hand in marriage. No, it was a sunny Saturday morning that we were lucky enough to be spending together with a wide open summer day ahead of us. She made pancakes with fruit, and then asked if she could sing me something that she had been working on.

I was excited to finally hear some of the results of her recent guitar lessons, and completely taken by surprise when she asked me to marry her, in song. I said yes, of course, and we both cried, hugged, and laughed. I knew without a doubt that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

photo by belle ancell

In 5 weeks I will marry my best friend, my lover, and partner for life. I’d like to share this poem that so perfectly expresses my feelings on why I have chosen to get married.

Why Marriage?

Because to the depths of me, I long to love one person, with all my heart, my soul, my mind, my body.
Because I want a forever friend to trust with the intimacies of me,
who won’t hold them against me, who loves me when I’m unlikable,
who sees the small child in me, and looks for the Divine potential of me …
Because I need to cuddle in the warmth of the night with someone who is thankful,
with someone I feel blessed to hold …
Because marriage means opportunity to grow in love, in friendship …
Because, knowing this, I promise myself to take full responsibility
for my spiritual, mental and physical wholeness …
As I create me, I take half of the responsibility for my marriage
As together we create our marriage …
Because with this understanding, the possibilities are limitless …

-Mari Nichols

A year ago I said yes, and in 37 days I’ll say I do. Thank you, my love, for waiting for me when I was unavailable, for your unconditional love, and for believing I am worthy to be your wife.

Your Ultimate 2-month Wedding Checklist

*This post consistently gets the most hits. Please, if this checklist helps you out, let me know about it in the comments!*

I’m not usually one to sing my own praises, but seriously folks, this checklist is one of the most complete and kick-ass references you’ll ever find on the interweb. 😉

Necessity is the Mother of all invention, as the saying goes, as I am now at the two month mark. How did we get here already? Seems like not so long ago that I was thinking about this far-off daydream, and now I’m waking up and realizing this is happening in eight weeks!

Here I get to brag and report that my fiancée has been so supportive and helpful in this process even when she had to focus on her studies. If anyone reading is a bride with a partner who is not pulling their weight in this- kick their butt already! Clearly delegate some tasks to them, ones that they show interest in or can do easily. Think of this process as a metaphor for your marriage! Weddings, like a lifetime together, require people working together.

Well enough of the banter, here is the:

Ultimate 2-month Wedding Checklist!

Please note: to make this checklist even more awesome, you have the option of adding on “or get someone else to do it” to almost every item!

Gotta look good
• Schedule your dress fittings. Remember to bring stockings, shoes, the appropriate bra, hair accessories, jewelry, a camera, and your mom or best friend
• Personal wedding accessories; have them decided or if you’re going to order anything, do it now (hello, Etsy!)
• Finalize list of must-have photos. Give a copy to your photographer(s)
• If you want to start something new, begin pre-wedding beauty regimen now (milk baths? teeth whitening?)
• Go to your hair and makeup trials, or start doing your own
• Confirm hair, makeup and any other appointments on or close to your wedding day


Ceremonial matters
• Write your own vows, if you are. Let the officiate know of any readings or other special requests
• Meet with your officiate to finalize the ceremony, including attendant’s names and processional order
• If you haven’t already, confirm your ceremony music plans, as well as pre- and post-; whether that’s booking musicians or making iPod playlists
• If your venue is outside or has an open floor plan, think about how you want the seating arranged for the ceremony, and where the aisle/altar/chuppah/arch will go if you are having one
• Will you be making your own programs? Get started on that job now, or make your print order


Getting organized
• Assuming you have already sent out your invitations, you can now begin to keep track of your RSVPs, stalking your mailbox or your inbox every day (squeee!)
• Finalize list of responsibilities for key players and bridal party. Have a friendly get-together with everyone and delegate who is going to do what
• Make plans for rehearsal dinner
• Invite selected guests for the rehearsal dinner
• Confirm honeymoon plans with travel agency/hotel/airline/etc.
• Make checklist of items to bring for the honeymoon
• Finalize receiving line, timeline, and itinerary of the day/weekend
• Begin writing thank-you notes for bridal shower and early wedding
gifts you receive, and update your registry at the same time
• If not already done, purchase thank you gifts for your wedding party
• Are you doing favours? Figure that s#!t out


The Tiny Print
• If your venue does not provide it, find out where to get your marriage license, and purchase it
• Tackle outstanding legal matters if applicable (e.g. name change, pre-marital counseling, blood test, etc.)
• Do you want something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue? Lock that down
• If you need a passport to travel on your honeymoon, get that application in now

 
There. Now you are armed with the most comprehensive second-to-last-month-before-wedding checklist. Use it wisely, young bride-to-be, and all will be well. And before you get overwhelmed, remember to use the optional add-on: get someone else to do it! Weddings should be a team effort, even if it’s a team of two.

Let me know if this was helpful, and good luck!

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?

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!

The Right to Marry WHO and HOW we want to

This blog was featured on Offbeat Bride!

We didn’t start out wanting a big wedding. My partner proposed to me on a gorgeous summer morning in June. That afternoon we went for a hike, walking together on a blissful cloud of love, and naturally began discussing how we envisioned our wedding.

She revealed that she had always wanted a beach wedding. I wanted to incorporate elements of my pagan spirituality in the ceremony. We both agreed it had to be in the summer. Since we don’t have a lot of money, we thought a simple party in one of Vancouver’s lovely beach parks would be perfect. We’d invite 30 or so people, immediate family and our closest friends, and have a potluck picnic. Simple, inexpensive, no frills.

Then a funny thing happened. We announced our engagement by emailing everyone a photo slideshow I had created, and a lot of people got really excited. And we got more excited along with them. When we first sat and wrote down all the names of the people we wanted to be there, we had over 100! If we stayed with our original “intimate wedding” plan, that meant NOT inviting a lot of people that we loved, and who loved us.

We got to thinking- this is a major life event, and should be celebrated properly! We are undervaluing our wedding and treating it like a kid’s birthday party in a park! This isn’t good enough for family to fly across the country for! We are completely committed to building a life together ’til death do us part, so we might as well kick that off with a helluva party. We realized we wanted a real wedding.

What’s a real wedding?

Every couple has their own answer to that question, but it’s a very potent (and political) one for same-sex couples. We are lucky enough to live in Canada where it has been legal since 2004, and I am so thankful for that. We are also lucky enough to have supportive and loving families, so planning a more formal wedding wasn’t our way of making our relationship more “legitimate” in their eyes- but I know that IS the case for some. They want the whole grand affair to prove to their parents, friends, themselves, and society at large that this is a real wedding.

Same-sex weddings are still new enough that a lot of people wonder how different they will be compared to a straight wedding. I suspect that some straight people automatically think that all queers are alternative, counter-culture types and in their minds gay wedding = rainbow musical theatre circus. Or something to that effect. I guess they just don’t know how many conservative, mild-mannered queers there are out there, who plan black tie formals and get married in churches.

Interestingly, I see that more and more straight couples are throwing out the wedding rule book and getting married in a myriad of offbeat, eccentric and entirely unique ways, whereas it seems like many same-sex couples are adhering to traditional customs. Go figure.

Some people expect gay weddings to be different, for a variety of personal reasons and pop culture assumptions. Straight or queer aside, we hear more about the challenges couples face with their non-traditional wedding plans, but how about the challenges/criticisms/judgements we face when we choose to include tradition? I have personally experienced this- close family and friends expressing their disappointment in our more conventional ideas in not so tactful ways. My Mother hoped we would elope. Others have openly displayed their surprise that we were having a bridal party (?!). I was hurt- do they think my wedding is less cool now that they know there will be flower girls and a father-daughter dance? And I was confused- WHY should a same-sex wedding be so different from a straight wedding?

I didn’t set out to make my wedding gay, but by having two women at the altar we are put in that category by default. I feel that I am planning pretty much the same kind of wedding I would have wanted whether I was marrying a man, or a woman (personal note: I did at one point in my late 20’s get very close to marrying a man). This celebration will reflect who we are as individuals, not as gay people.

The heart of this party is the joining together of two people in love, and their two families becoming one. Truly, this is what has sustained us when we had our doubts about it all- we want our parents, siblings, extended family and our circle of friends to meet each other and share in this one special day together.

I know that it will be the first same-sex wedding for most of our guests- myself included! I hope that afterwards, even if they hadn’t thought much about it before, our guests will go home and muse on the fact that ours was just like any other wedding. And I hope that this realization will have a ripple effect that eventually encompasses the entire world, as more people will accept that our love is like any other love and can be celebrated in any way we choose.

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