Thursday, August 12, 2010

The dark side of DIY

If the spreadsheet yesterday wasn't enough to clue you in, I'm an organized person.  I actually create a Thanksgiving information packet for myself every year with lists of recipes, multiple grocery lists, do ahead and day of task lists and an oven schedule in which every dish is assigned a specific time slot. I love this stuff. I wasn't corralled into planning R's wedding for her, I happily volunteered and I was thrilled that she was willing to let me help. We come from a family that entertains a lot, so it didn't sound totally crazy to go DIY. Basically, we were as well prepared for this as any regular people could be.

That said, we underestimated the work that goes into a wedding. Neither of us had ever done more than simply attend weddings. A wedding is huge. It is 100+ people and a ceremony* where you have to express your undying commitment to each other and a party where you have to make sure that people are comfortable and fed and watered and hopefully also enjoying themselves and you have to make sure people know where to be when and what they should wear.  And it isn't just supposed to be a good party, it's supposed to somehow transcend all normal parties and become magical.

I think the wedding was lovely. It made my sister happy, I'm proud of it, I blather on about it way too often for something that happened almost three years ago (!) and my sister and I had fun together scheming over it. You can see all that in the recaps (overview, invitations, dessert buffet, cake making). But it was rough at times (and it was about as simple as a wedding can get, unless you're just going to the courthouse), and I have learned valuable life lessons about delegating and letting things go and biting off more than you can chew without choking and/or getting tipsy on your first glass of champagne because you forgot to eat for a few days running. I'm grateful for this, truly. Otherwise I would undoubtedly have been forced to learn these lessons while planning my own wedding, and it would have been a huge bummer. So really, this was the best of all possible worlds - I learned that I'm crazy and overly ambitious and my sister got a free, if somewhat bossy and unprofessional, wedding planner.

I looked over the last month of planning schedule that I'd drawn up and just starting jotting down memories as they occurred to me. This won't be a super intelligent summary of dos and don'ts but the rambling stream of consciousness will give you a better idea of how those last few days went anyways. Please note that I did experience frustration with friends and family during this process and for the sake of being honest I admit it in some places below. Sorry, guys. I love you tons. You already know that I'm impatient and easily frustrated so you probably won't be surprised.

:: We ditched the programs altogether and no one seemed to notice. No big deal. People will love your programs if you make them and if you don't, they probably won't notice and they will be able to figure out what's going on, I promise you.

:: I end up taking Wednesday - Friday off work to finish stuff up. I pick up the flowers from the wholesaler on Wednesday morning and that goes smoothly. I feel very optimistic. I have a car completely full of hydrangeas and there is no traffic on the 405 and this combination makes me feel uncharacteristically whimsical. What could possibly go wrong?

:: Wednesday afternoon - I realize that the cake pans we thought we had for the wedding cake weren't what we needed so I waste valuable time running around to stores to get last minute stuff. Also, we need specific color dyes for the cake, according to Martha. And cake boards. And dowels. We have to go to a cake store because regular crafty stores don't even have all this stuff. Why was this not all purchased earlier? Oh, right. Because my mom was chained to the sewing machine making the flower girls' skirts and ties for the men and a sash for my dress. I (wisely) resist the urge to yell at her (partly because I actually enjoy the cake store quite a bit and we had fun) even though it was technically on her list (I think). Sorry, Mom.

:: My sister realizes she doesn't have shoes, so we go to a couple stores trying to find a good pair. Note that by "we" I mean my mom and I, because my sister has just started a new job and can't take any vacation days leading up to the wedding. Luckily my mom has the same size feet as my sister and I have the same taste in shoes. Between the two of us, we work it out. I resist the urge to call up my sister and yell at her for not picking out shoes earlier. Even though I know she's been incredibly busy settling into her new job and dealing with more important wedding stuff like the ceremony. Sorry, Sis.

:: No one has made playlists for the reception music. I tell them I don't care because it wasn't on my list of tasks. Figure it out or have a music-less reception or just put the iPod on random. I don't even have to resist the urge to yell at people because at this point I. Don't. Care. They get the message. The best man takes over.

:: We have the rehearsal on Thursday. The lady at the chapel warns us that locking our knees while standing during the ceremony can cause you to pass out. I start having mild panic attacks, picturing myself passing out in front of over a hundred people. This could have been left unsaid, I think. Unless you are having a full mass, there really isn't enough time to pass out.

:: Rehearsal dinner was at the local pizza place with pitchers of beer. Best idea ever (my sister's, naturally). We go out for a joint bachelor/bachelorette bar hopping expedition afterward, but I bow out after two drinks, consumed with visions of uncompleted tasks.

:: All the rental stuff is delivered on Friday morning and I have to be there to supervise and sign off. It takes longer than I expected. I have to convince the delivery guys to take the stuff through to the backyard (clearly stated in the contract) instead of dumping everything in the driveway and abandoning me.

:: I spend Friday baking cake layers, a bit frantically, when I was scheduled to be leisurely frosting the wedding cake. I am so distracted that I accidentally forget to add the cream cheese to some of the batches of batter. Only realize it when I notice that I have several bricks of unused cream cheese. Still tasted okay, luckily. There was no way I am remaking anything at this point.

:: We have girlfriends over on Friday night to help us arrange the flowers while we all eat pizza and talk. They are amazing and I think this was the best part of the preparation.

:: We set up the backyard on Saturday morning and it was a bigger hassle than I expected. Helpers need to be told what to do, preferably with a scale diagram with exact measurements of chair spacing. People expect me to know EVERYTHING and I start to get a little snappy. All the serving pieces for the dessert buffet need to be put in place and non-chilled stuff gets put out. Loads and loads of ice need to be procured for drinks. Cookies have to be unpacked and arranged. I call my sister and tell her there's no way I'm going to make it to the hair appointment she scheduled for me. Sad.

:: D comes down to help (he'd been in school, and couldn't get out earlier) and as soon as I get in his car I start bawling and CAN'T stop. Physically unable to stop. I give myself a full 10 minutes to cry it out (this is a epic sob fest for me, as I almost never tear up) and then pull it back together.

:: I end up frosting the cake less than an hour before the wedding, stressed in a major way. You guys, it was a huge cake. With a lot of frosting. We were supposed to have shaved fresh coconut flakes and things to decorate the cake. Eff that. My mom helped with the frosting while my stepdad cut dowels to order. Team work. We slap a bunch of leftover flowers on it, only later learning that hydrangeas are toxic. Spoiler alert - no one dies.

:: Fifteen minutes to go time. I manage to shower, finally. We somehow lose the blow dryer and I have a total freakout, but we borrow one from the neighbor and I recover, more or less. (Luckily my sister was getting her hair done at a salon, so she wasn't exposed to the craziness). I may or may not have yelled at several undeserving people at this point. I don't remember.

:: Ceremony is lovely, no one passes out. Reception goes smoothly and we go through massive amounts of champagne. I am a champagne pouring machine, which gives me a chance to talk to everyone and also ensures that they are slightly loopy for my speech. People chat and catch up. I don't blow my (unscripted) maid of honor speech. Cake is cut and served and only one person gets a dowel in his slice. It's our grandfather. He can deal with it. Dancing commences.

:: Bride and groom make their retreat, guests trickle out, family and friends help us break down all the tables and chairs and bag up the tablecloths and scrape and box up all the plates and glassware. This takes a while. I break down the dessert buffet and pawn leftovers off on guests. Give the toss bouquet to my favorite cousin because we forgot about until after my sister was gone. Wouldn't be surprised to find out my feet are actually bleeding at this point but I'm pretty sure they are surgically welded to my heels and I'm anesthetized by champagne and exhaustion.

:: D removes me and we drive through In'N'Out and I attempt to eat everything on the menu before falling asleep in the car.

This is what I try to remind people of every time they mention DIY wedding stuff. It's fun (if you already love projects - this is key), it gives you some flexibility, it can save money. But the bottom line is that there is a reason why people hire professionals and pay them scads of money. It is a LOT of work and there isn't any way of getting around it. I enjoyed it, because I'm the type of crazy person who genuinely loves planning stuff, but I still felt out of my league at some points.

In short ...

Edit your projects
Pick your battles
Remember that every fun little detail you add has to get packed up, carried in and later packed up and carried out
Pad every single time estimate you make by about 25%
An excellent day of (or site) coordinator could be a lifesaver

* I had absolutely nothing to do with the ceremony other than being told when to show up and where to stand. So anyone looking for pointers on writing your own ceremony will have to look elsewhere.


  1. I love DIY and the spirit of DIY that blogs promote, but it's refreshing to finally see someone being up front and honest about just how hard DIY can be! We did a lot of things for our wedding ourselves, but our saving grace was letting someone else run the show on the big day. I wouldn't even have known where to begin, and now? I'm so grateful I chose to leave some things in someone else's fully capable hands.

  2. Wow. You are brave!!!! And I'm so glad I'm not the only one out there with. Thanksgiving file. I have one for my son's bday too.

  3. you are a goddess!! sounds so incredibly hard, and i do not think i could pull it off... but i know this wedding had to be so beautiful.

  4. hahahaha. "Helpers need to be told what to do, preferably with a scale diagram with exact measurements of chair spacing. People expect me to know EVERYTHING and I start to get a little snappy" reminds me of the night before our wedding when people are due to arrive for our welcome bbq any minute (i still have not showered) and my best friend asks (after a string of other people having just asked me a string of other questions) where i want the ice that i just sent her to get, and i look at her like i am the devil. and the next day where, even though i wrote out detailed instructions on What Is Left To Do (detailed enough to be handed off, i thought) but i still have to manage the work. "how many jars of roses per table?..." and so on. sigh.

  5. love this! so true--i find myself in the same boat perpetually. kindred spirits!

  6. Your title cracks me up! It's so true. My first job was at a wedding resource center (place to get info on locations, photogs, florists, caterers, order invites, etc.), and I don't know how many brides I had come through in the early stages saying they would do everything themselves. Sure, sweetie. Once you know just how much is involved, most opt to outsource as much as they can, or ignore it and go crazy. I'd MUCH rather actually enjoy one of the biggest days of my life, TYVM. :)

    Your sister is incredibly lucky she had such a support group to help her out!

  7. Your recap is AMAZING! I planned and executed a large majority of my mom's wedding last year and am really glad I did it. The budget was super tight but I still wanted it to be as nice as possible. I am pretty sure I wound up getting pretty snappy with people that didn't seem to take it as seriously as I did, but in the end everything worked out and my mom and stepdad were really, really happy...and relaxed. To me that was the best gift I could give them; to have their wedding day be as low stress for them as possible.

    (And I have to say that part of the reason I decided to take on the challenge of the DIY wedding was because of reading your blog. You're very inspirational!)

  8. Oh boy, am I with you. We DIY'd everything for our wedding except the food/cakes. I wrote the ceremony, embossed and assembled every one of the invitations myself, we chose every single song that was played and the order they were played in, we did the flowers & decor, my mom made table runners, etc. One thing I always recommend since then is people who are going to do their flowers should do a practice run. We were only putting roses in fish bowls, how hard could it be? I discovered the day before my wedding that I'm terrible at arranging flowers. Luckily my matron-of-honor was excellent at it. And as it turns out, I was much better at forming bouquets than she was. It all turned out in the end, but there are definitely those harried moments. Also glad to know someone can be as crazy as I am when it comes to planning.

  9. this was easily one of my favorite posts to read...i only wish i had gotten some credit in helping pick out the dress ;)

    and i couldn't help but picture you in the car pulling a Dawson. i'm sure it was tragic at the time, but such a fun(ny) story for me to read years later. x

  10. Oh, the title made me giggle. So so so true. And somehow no one talks about it; or if they do, they don't admit to snapping at people or having mini-meltdowns. (I definitely did both. Sorry, family; thanks for still helping me.)

  11. Rachel,
    This is one the most honest and hilarious posts. Sounds like a real labor of love and I think you deserve a sister of the year award.
    Thanks for sharing!
    (we had many lit classes together and I love your blog!)

  12. This is a wonderful and honest post! After 80 weddings, I still find myself getting snappy, frantic, or crying at some point. Weddings are high-stress, high-pressure events, and I'm a sensitive girl. It can take it's toll at times. I think you nailed it when you said a coordinator is key to bringing together all the DIY details you've worked so hard on- the bride and family of the bride should definitely be spared the mini-crises that inevitably occur on the wedding day. It's seriously not worth it!

  13. i just stumbled upon your blog via my best friend's blog (lily from bigbang) and adore it! i look forward to following you and your adventures!

  14. This post is hilarious!! Your descriptions are so realistic sounding. It is almost as if we were there! Love it! You are an awesome sister to do all that you did, and you are exactly right about DIY. The work is overwhelming and that IS why things like that cost so much. All the work that you are saving yourself from is what you are paying for! That being said, truly loved the story and thanks for sharing!


  15. oh rachel, you are a girl after my own heart (which i already knew). you are me, or i should say, i am you! this is exactly how i would handle this type of situation. i love DIY, i love planning, i love organizing, i love crafting, but as the time disappears, so does my patience, and get snappy. and frantic. and the best anyone can do is stay out of my wayyyy! it's something i have been working on, but when you feel like you have so much pressure on your shoulders (pressure you put there yourself, because you wanted the very best for your sister!), it's extremely hard not to have a few moments you later wish you could take back!

    my sister actually recently got engaged and i will be helping a ton in the planning - so this was perfect timing for me to read this. i think i'll have to continue to reread throughout the process, just to keep checking myself!

    thanks SO much for sharing :) you're the best!

  16. Wow do I love this post! That's exactly how I felt at my wedding. Then, as if to add to the mess, or photographer didn't photograph anything that I made! I still haven't talked about it on my blog because I don't know what to day without pictures! This post made me feel much better... thanks!

  17. i remember some of these moments when i did my sister's wedding years ago. the most memorable was ordering the champagne that no one drank....weird

  18. Thanks, everyone! I'm honestly impressed that you made it all the way to the end of the post! I think it's the longest one I've ever written.

    Obviously I love DIY stuff, but I hate to give the impression that it's a "snap your fingers and it magically appears" situation, so this was an attempt to be honest about it.

    I see so many gorgeous blog weddings where there are a million details (candles lit, hand sewn bunting strung, mason jars hung in trees) and all I can think is - "who the hell ran around stringing all that bunting right before the wedding? and who had to take it down afterwards?" Logistics are tricky.

    @ stephanie - I'm so relieved that you were happy you did your mom's wedding, because I would have felt terrible if I'd inspired you and then it was disastrously stressful! So sweet of you to do it so your mom could stay relaxed.

    @ Alicia - hello, fellow Scrippsie! So nice to see you here!

  19. In fairness to the church lady, as a wedding photographer I have seen MANY bridesmaids and groomsmen pass out during very short ceremonies. It was good advice to give, trust me :)

  20. Oh goodness. Reminds me of the wedding I baked cakes for about a month ago where we ran out of buttercream, had to make more with the cake already mostly frosted...and it was a different color. Fail. But still delicious :)

  21. !!! Just found you through your APW post today, now stalking (urmmm sorry!) through all your archives, and this nearly made me fist-pump at my desk at work. I've been looking for some kind of "here is what is actually involved with pulling off a DIY wedding" for a bit and this is great. THANKS!

  22. a new follower. This post is making me laugh... because it is so true


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