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Brides, grooms and brooms write about their wedding-planning experiences, and wedding vendors share tales from their professional experiences.
Wedding vendors blog from their perspective.
Let me start by saying that I am not gay and that my "coming out" story can in no way be equal to the kind of struggles many LGBT people face when going through the daunting task of coming out to their family and friends. I do not pretend to know what that is like, and my intent of sharing this story with you is in no way trying to make light of a situation you or a close friend may have gone through, nor do I mean to belittle the challenges many LBGT people face daily.
What I can tell you is the story I am about to share with you involves the darkest days of my life and the shame I felt during this time and continue to struggle with -- though I am getting stronger each and every day.
Last week, in a room full of more than 250 of my industry peers, colleagues and friends, I was awarded the “Shining Star Award” by the Chicago chapter of Wish Upon a Wedding. WUW (as it more commonly and affectionately known) is “the world’s first nonprofit wish granting organization providing weddings and vow renewals for couples facing terminal illness and serious life altering circumstances, regardless of sexual orientation.”
Since its founding in 2010, WUW has granted more than 50 wishes nationally to incredibly special and deserving couples who may not have had the finances, resources, or even the time, to have a wedding of their dreams while being surrounded by the friends and family members who stood by them through the trying times they faced – or continue to face – as a couple in need.
I am thankful for being part of such an incredible community of caring, selfless, and creative individuals who make other people’s dreams come true.
I am thankful that after only 3-and-a-half short years of being a part of this industry, I was recognized by my peers as one of “the most inspirational, motivational, and giving professionals in Chicago. A Shining Star Award candidate will have demonstrated an ongoing and substantial commitment to the community and have consistently demonstrated honesty, integrity, and the highest ethical standards in his or her profession.”
I am thankful because just four years ago, I would never have believed anyone if they told me that I would be thought of this way.
Four years ago, I was at the bottom of a hole so deep, that I thought I would never be able to dig myself out. After nearly 40 years of fighting genetics from both sides of the family tree, a strong Type A personality, and never being able to say “no” to anything that was asked of me, my world crashed.
Well, I crashed, actually. Though there were probably signs my entire life, the façade finally cracked. I went from being in a bad mood to being in the emergency room in less than two weeks.
I had a nervous breakdown. A real one. Like many, I had used that terms dozens of times – when my job was stressful, my kids were driving me crazy, or I just had a few too many things on my “to do” list.
But let me tell you. There is a difference. I lost seven pounds in three days, did not sleep for almost a week, could barely walk because I was shaking uncontrollably, and literally only saw the world in black and white.
When I was diagnosed with "borderline personality disorder," I became even more depressed. This is part of the bipolar spectrum, a term that makes people think of people that are truly crazy. (Well, at least I always felt that people that were bipolar were crazy. Certifiable, even.)
I felt defective. I felt horrible about myself. What did I do wrong? Why did I "turn out" this way? How can I "change" myself to not make me this way so I could just be "normal?"
What would people think? Would they ever let my kids play with theirs again? ("No John, you can't go over to Jason's house. His mom is a bit... unstable.")
Would my husband leave me? He didn't sign up for this. He thought he was marrying a "normal" person.
To be perfectly honest, if I did not have two young children, I may not have made it. I lived minute-to-minute, thinking only of them.
With the help of an incredibly supportive husband (he did NOT leave me), top doctors I was fortunate enough to be introduced to, and the commitment of a few close friends with whom I shared my “secret,” I slowly began to rebuild – and reinvent – myself.
For over 15 years I had been known as either “Dan Bernstein’s wife” (my husband is a local radio talk show celebrity) or “Zoe and Jason’s mom.” I’m not sure some people I saw on a daily basis at my kids’ activities even knew my first name. I had no identity outside of identifying myself as “someone’s something.”
It took several months and the hardest work I have ever had to do, but I slowly began to climb out of that hole. I saw color again. I found joy in the simplest pleasures – reading my kids a story, meeting a friend for coffee and gossiping about the latest celebrity news, and taking a shower (that was a major accomplishment in the early days of recovery).
Then, just six months after hitting rock bottom, I received an email that would change my life. It was from a woman in Indianapolis who was getting married at the venue where I had previously planned, designed, and coordinated my son’s preschool fundraiser. She wanted to know if I could help her plan her wedding. She had seen photos of the work I had done and wanted to hire me. (I had spent the previous six years doing various fundraising galas while I was a “stay-at-home” mom after a decade-long career in advertising.)
“But I’m not a wedding planner. I’m a mom. Just a volunteer.” She told me that was fine – I knew the space, she was out of town finishing her degree, and desperately needed help.
With the support, friendship, and invaluable guidance of my dear friend Stephanie Pither (who owned and operated her own wedding planning business for 10 years), I helped Brittany & Dave make their wedding dreams come true. And though I gave them something, what they gave me was much, much more.
They put their complete trust in me, when I wouldn’t trust myself with anything more than getting my kids to school on time. They believed in me when I did not believe in myself. They gave me a reason to get up in the morning, take a deep breath, and say, “I can do this.” And I did.
Ultimately, they gave me my life back. They allowed me to see myself in a new light – as an individual with her own identity, not as a modifier to someone else’s.
Needless to say, that first wedding hooked me, and I wanted to do more. Again with the support of my husband, my family, and my close friends, I entered unchartered waters – this time facing the daunting task of building my own business with only one wedding under my belt.
Pretty sure I had nowhere to go but up (I had already seen the bottom and I would try everything in my power never to go there again), I followed the simple mantra from one of my kids’ favorite movies. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” from “Finding Nemo.”
And with a lot of help, it worked. I am truly humbled to receive the Shining Star Award and honored to be part of such an inclusive, supportive, generous, and talented industry.
I recently shared this story on my SQN Events blog and was very nervous about the reaction I would receive. Would my clients dump me, thinking I was unstable? Would my industry friends look at me differently and lose trust in me when we worked together? Would everyone think I was a complete fraud?
The response to my piece was just the opposite. People thanked me for sharing something so personal and almost every person said they or someone they knew had issues of depression or anxiety or an eating disorder, or something else that other people may judge them on. I hope that by sharing my story I can help at least one person get the help they need to deal with whatever it is they're going through, and that they have the type of support from family and close friends that I was fortunate enough to have.
So, what am I thankful for? Life.
Photos courtesy of Simply Jessie Photography
Tags: bipolar, borderline personality disorder, crazy, friendship, health, husband, mom, nervous breakdown, nervous breakdown, plan, support, weddings
Blog post sponsored by Restaurantware.com
Have you been planning your outside wedding reception recently? Is it time to decide on the catering aspect of the event? If so, this means you have to decide to cater it yourself or to have it catered by a professional catering company. There are many objectives to consider before you make this type of decision, like money, for instance. If you are on a pretty tight budget it might be smarter to have your family help you out and simply take on the task of catering it yourself. Although, you might be a little nervous catering your reception, the fact is, you shouldn’t be. It really can be a very exciting endeavor.
The excitement starts by preparing the menu. The easiest and most productive way to go about creating a great menu is to get together with your fiancée and combine your favorite dishes into the feast that your guests will be eating during your celebration. However, just remember to incorporate some recipes that showcase your outside theme. A few examples of this could be some sort of grilled meat, a green salad as a side dish and a variety of fresh seasonal fruit for dessert.
After you have decided on the menu, it will be time to pick out your catering tableware products. The key to this task is to use high-quality classy disposable catering items. The reason you should use striking disposable tableware is because it makes clean up a snap. In addition, this type of tableware can add depth and character to any kind of outside table setting especially if you mix different colors and styles together.
Here’s a little hint that might help you out with the purchasing of unique classing catering tableware products. Simply visit Restaurantware.com because they offer high-quality cleverly constructed catering items. Matter of fact, you can buy products like classy White or Seagreen Plates, earthy Bamboo Bowls, stunning Black Canoe Dishes, beautiful outdoorsy skewers and many other fantastic catering items. So finding the perfect products for your project of catering a wedding reception is very easy, indeed.
Think about how exciting it will be for you to cater you own outside wedding reception. Don’t you think figuring out the menu, purchasing dynamic catering tableware products and arranging it all in your own stylish manner is a great idea? Surely, it’s something worth considering for everyone who is getting married in the near future.
Last month, I wrote about the "B" word -- budget. Today I am going to talk about the "C" word. Commission. They go hand in hand. Like couples do.
It's a dirty word and one that is whispered often in this industry, but rarely spoken about in public. Especially to clients.
Recently, the highly respected wedding designer, Preston Bailey, blogged about this controversial topic.
"Let's say a bride is spending $100,000 for her wedding," Bailey wrote, "and the planner is getting 15% (the going commission rate) from all the vendors. The bride thinks she's getting a $100,000 wedding. But, in reality, she's being shortchanged. $15,000 is a lot of money and can make a big difference in the look and feel of an event."
Of course not every wedding budget is $100,000. But it still adds up. A $30,000 wedding would really be a $25,500 wedding. That money (which is going to the planner) would go a LONG way for the couple.
Aside from the moral problem I have with this issue (I have complete transparency with my clients), I think it leads down a very narrow path. As prevalent as this practice is, there are still many vendors (photographers, musicians, florists, etc.) who just don't accept this policy (good for them!) and have to turn away potential business. And the planners that only refer vendors who pay commission have fewer wonderfully talented, creative, and professional people to bring to their clients to create the best team for their wedding.
I use the word team because that is how I feel about my "vendors." (I don't even like that word too much because it sounds very impersonal.) It does take a team of people to make a wedding fun, memorable and seamless for a wedding couple and their guests.
Yes, I am good at my job. But I would not be able to do it without my team. I can't hang chandeliers or sing if my life depended on it. Flowers die when I look at them. My cooking skills are limited to the microwave and take-out. I can't even take a decent picture with my iPhone. I need my team to make me better at my job, and in turn, I make them better at theirs by eliminating stress and confusion on the wedding day. A happy team makes a happy wedding. Plain and simple.
I have 15 weddings this year and I have a different team for each and every one. Yes, I may be working with the same photographer or florist for more than one wedding, but the entire team is never duplicated.
It says directly on our website, blog and contract that "SQN Events does not accept commission from vendors. We pride ourselves on recommending and working with the best fit for our clients and maintain strong relationships with a variety of venues, caterers, florists, musicians, photographers, and more."
"Best fit for our clients." Not best fit for our wallets. We work with budgets and guest lists of every size. One size does not fit all. If I only worked with a handful of vendors because I knew I was going to get a kick-back, I would be doing my clients a huge disservice. No two weddings are alike. That's why no two teams I work with are alike.
Another reason this issue bothers me so much is that some planners who take commission (on the sly) have lower rates than I do. Well, of course they do! They are making their money elsewhere -- from the vendors they recommend to their clients. So, when a couple is comparing my proposal to another, I may be perceived as more expensive, when in fact I am saving them money in the end.
My tip for the day is to add this question to your list when interviewing planners.
Commission. It's a dirty word and a dirty practice. Let's clean this mess up.
Coming out is such a pain, right? Coming out to ourselves is often hard enough, but then having to tell other people over and over and over again gets really old really fast.
If you meet someone special enough to marry, you’ll find that coming out while planning your wedding is seriously annoying.
But one of the most important considerations to think of when planning your gay wedding is: how comfortable do you feel with coming out?
Did you know that the average wedding has 43 vendors? This means that you may come out more than 100 times throughout the course of your wedding planning – to the vendors you hire and the vendors you don’t!
As you begin your planning, it’s critical to work with vendors you trust. You’ll find that many vendors will be thrilled to hear from you and will be amazingly supportive. But you may find that some vendors will assume that you’re straight, put you in a box and otherwise make you feel really awkward and sometimes, downright awful.
When you call or email a vendor or venue, come out right away! Say very explicitly “this is a gay wedding!” Don’t give them a chance to assume that if you’re a female calling, that you’re marrying a male. Trust your gut instinct. If you get a weird vibe from someone, move onto someone else.
Make sure that all staff are comfortable, not just the person cashing your check. In my experience, this is especially true with limo drivers, servers and bartenders. Don’t be afraid to ask the caterer, “Is your entire staff going to be comfortable with this wedding?”
Remember – you’re going to be spending your hard-earned dollars on this wedding. Don’t take any chances with vendors who aren’t your ally.
On most first dates, each person is a little nervous, not sure what to say, and afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. As a wedding planner, this is also true of many of our initial consultations with couples. Everyone has a lot of questions, but wants to keep the conversation fun and upbeat – after all, we are planning a wedding!
But there are three important questions that I must ask in the beginning of our relationship that may make you a bit uncomfortable. But trust me, if we are to have a second date and ultimately sweep you off your feet “until death do us part” (or at least through the wedding day), we must be open and honest from the start.
Number One: The “B” word. It’s everyone’s least favorite topic, yet the most important. Budget. Knowing your overall budget for the wedding is the only way for us to make the most of our time together, bring you only the best options, and save you, your partner, and your families much of the stress that accompanies wedding planning.
Setting the budget sets the foundation upon which all other decisions are made. A good planner will only recommend venues, photographers, florists, etc. that you can actually afford, instead of taking you to site visits and meetings that may set your expectations too high and lead to disappointment later if they don’t work within your budget. This can easily lead to family strife – your parents really do want you to be happy and have everything you want on your wedding day, but it just may not be possible. Set the budget, stick to it, and I assure you that planning your wedding will be way less stressful for everyone.
Number Two: Make your guest list early. This actually goes hand-in-hand with setting your budget, as the number of guests dictates the size of the venue (and any necessary rentals, depending on if you are booking at a hotel or country club that has everything you need, or going with that cool industrial space that only comes with four walls and a floor) and the food and beverage costs – two of the largest line items on your budget.
The number of guests will give you a very good idea of the dollar amount you can spend per person on food and beverage. It also tells you how many tables you will need floral and linens for. Larger budgets don’t necessarily mean a more luxurious wedding. $30,000.00 can go much further when you have 100 guests versus 250.
Number Three: Set your priorities. Are you and your partner really into music? Do you want an 11-piece orchestra or an energetic DJ? These costs vary widely – a great DJ may cost only $1,000 to $2,500 while a band can be upwards of $8,000-$12,000.
Foodies? Do you have to have a full four-course meal with filet mignon and lobster? Or will food stations with pasta, salads, and crudite with some cheese & crackers suffice? (This also goes hand-in-hand with the overall vision you have for your wedding – more formal/traditional or a fun cocktail party vibe.)
Figure out what is most important to you and work from there.
Covering these three areas during the initial consultation with your planner will give them the key information they need to help you plan your wedding and make the process as fun, stress-free and productive as possible. So, don’t be afraid that you’re going to make a “bad impression.” After all, being open and honest is crucial to any good relationship.
My husband is a sports radio broadcaster in Chicago. It must have been a slow sports news day last week, as I received the following text from a friend: “Dan is discussing tuxes and weddings. It’s cracking me up.”
Intrigued, I decided to tune in. (I don’t normally listen to him – on the radio or at home, for that matter.)
He was in an argument with his recently-married producer about whether or not all men in the wedding party should wear the same tux.
Producer’s opinion: "Absolutely."
Dan: "No. I own my own tux. I wore it in my cousin’s wedding before I got married, wore it for my own wedding, and have worn it to every other wedding I stood up in since. If I have my own, why would I have to rent one?"
Producer: "So you match."
Dan: "A tux is a tux!"
I agree with my husband (which is rare). A classic black tux is just that. Classic. If you want your male or butch attendants to all wear the same tie, that’s fine. Ask them to rent the tie or even better, provide it for them.
If you own a tux, it should come with both a cummerbund (for people who got married in the 80s) and a set of suspenders. So you can decide which look you would like all of them to have and those that own a tux can be consistent with the others.
The latest trend in bridesmaid fashion is for women to wear different style dresses so they can choose one that fits their body type best. Even wearing different shades in the same color palette is in vogue. If women don’t have to match, why on earth do men?
Unless you are going for a completely different look for the men than a traditional black tux (light blue with wide lapels circa 1978 perhaps), please don’t ask your friends and family to spend money on renting when they have already invested in purchasing one. (Which every man should do, but that’s a different post.)
Full disclosure: When my husband and I got married in 1999, I was informed that his cousin would be wearing his own tux in the wedding. It was double-breasted. I was 28, a complete bridezilla, and freaked out. “But no one else has a double-breasted tux! It’s going to look awful, just awful! He MUST rent one.” The response I received from Dan’s family was clear: Brian would wear his own tux and that’s that.
Guess what? He looked great because he was in a custom-fitted tux, it was black just like the others, and no one noticed it was slightly different. Not even me. I was too busy being blissfully happy, as I was about to marry the person with whom I would spend the rest of my life
A tux is a tux, but a partner for life is not as easy to find the perfect match for.
Photo courtesy of Garbo Productions
I was really thrilled to be asked to blog for Equally Wed. I’ve been in the wedding industry a long time—eight years—and have been planning LGBT weddings this whole time through my company, 14 Stories. It’s been so much fun to see the resources for same-sex couples increase—and the quality of those resources get even better. Equally Wed is totally unique and very well done, so I am proud to be part of it.
Sometimes people ask me, “Why does anyone need a gay wedding planner?” From my perspective, it’s simple. I really do believe that there is an LGBT culture, just as there is a Jewish culture, an African-American culture, an Indian culture and so forth. And with cultures come history, baggage, traditions, rituals, jokes and stories. Who better to tell those stories than someone who can relate?
We have clients who have been together dozens of years and can now finally legally marry in their home state. We have clients who have been living with HIV and have seen friends and role models die before them. We have clients who seriously debate whether or not their parents will be invited to the wedding. We have clients who have had commitment ceremonies and civil unions and legal weddings in other states, and are working with us to do it again! We have clients, who like myself and my wife, are raising children together.
Our community is super diverse and we all have stories to tell. I encourage you to find the story of your own relationship and find a way to tell that story in your wedding. It could be in the food you serve, or the way it is served. It could be in the first dance song. It could be in the words spoken during your ceremony. One way or another, tell your story, because I’m sure it’s lovely—and can really impact your guests.
One more thing I’m passionate about—having the right to legally marry is still rare for same-sex couples. Most places in the world it’s illegal. If you are getting legally married, please don’t take that right for granted. When you’re planning your wedding, maybe ask your guests to make a donation to support marriage equality in lieu of gifts. Or maybe you make a donation to marriage equality charities in lieu of favors. Or maybe there’s some acknowledgement during the ceremony that this is a moment that is historic, sacred and special.
Please consider those options or some others as a way to pay tribute to those who cannot legally marry the person they love. Love is the best thing ever, but it’s so much better when you are legally, equally wed.
I am thrilled and honored to have been asked to be a contributing writer to Equally Wed’s new blog section. Before I dive right in, I thought I would tell you a little about myself and one of the most memorable experiences of my career thus far (and arguably will be forever).
Same-sex couples were finally allowed to apply for a civil union license in Illinois on June 1, 2011. Dear friend and Life Celebrant Anita Vaughan wanted to celebrate this historic day in a meaningful and genuine way.
Together with Lauren Smith of Catalyst Ranch (quite possibly the most unique venue we've ever seen), Heather Vickery of Greatest Expectations and myself, Anita put the wheels in motion for "Under a New Moon" (UaNM). June 1, 2011 was a New Moon, which is considered a harbinger of good fortune and new beginnings—so fitting for this incredible milestone.
Six couples were selected from entries on UaNM's Facebook page and awarded a wedding at Catalyst Ranch sponsored by several of the top wedding vendors in Chicago.
The evening began at 10:30 p.m. with a cocktail reception featuring Americana late-night snacks from The Entertaining Company, including mac-and-cheese bites, mini sliders and other nostalgic fare. All rental items were provided byClassic Party Rentals.
At the stroke of midnight, I guided the six couples as they walked down the aisle with bouquets and boutonnieres from Pollen, while Etta James’ “At Last” played. At last, indeed.
Anita welcomed the group as a whole with a special and warm greeting and then called each couple up individually to exchange personally written vows and of course, rings.
Anita asked me to read a poem during the ceremony, “Moon in My Bed” by Paul Kelly. I am shocked I held it together to get out the words.
Moon In The Bed by Paul Kelly
I have the Moon in my bed
Every night down she falls
I have the Moon in my bed
I had nothing, now I have it all.
And I have the sun in my heart
When I rise by her side
I have the sun in my heart
Even through the darkest night
She can save me from myself
Make me feel like someone else
Where I hardly know myself
I have the Moon in my bed.
I have the sun in my heart
I have the stars at my feet
I have the moon in my bed.
The group sealed the deal with a kiss, recessed to Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” and off we went to a kick-$%* reception! With even more food from The Entertaning Company, a sweet table from Luscious Layers Bakeryand a to-die-for cake from Bleeding Heart, no one went home hungry. Toast & Jam spun the couples' favorite tunes, while Jeremy Lawson Photography and I Do Films captured every special moment. Nika Vaughan made sure everyone looked picture-perfect with fabulous hair and makeup.
I am so honored to have been part of this incredible night and wish all of our couples—Katie and Esther, Ron and Jason, Amanda and Katrina, Chris and Sam, Kimm and Jo, and Steve and Felix—the best for many, many years to come. I have stayed in close contact with each of the couples (Kimm and Jo actually babysit my kids on a weekly basis, and Amanda is a professional wedding photographer with whom I am working next month), and consider participating in this event as one of the highlights of not only my career, but of my life.
Learn more about SQN Events at www.sqnevents.com.
Photo by Jeremy Lawson Photography
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