The Hitching

A while back, I wrote a post about simplifying my life.  Truth be told, I didn’t let you all in on just how deep that new idea was taking me.  In fact, I began simplifying all kinds of things, including our wedding plans.

Yes, CF got hitched at the end of May (5/26/12), in a simple little ceremony (which took all of 16 minutes!) in his mother’s back yard.  Simple simple simple.  But “simple” doesn’t always mean “easy”–and I have to say that while the way we planned our wedding was always in the interest of reducing stress, I found myself quite stressed out putting all that “simplicity” together.

Let’s take a step back:  yes, we had a simple ceremony in CF’s mother’s backyard with many friends and family looking on.  What I didn’t mention is that most of those friends and some of that family had NO IDEA that they were attending a wedding until dessert was announced.  See, CF and I threw ourselves, what we like to call, a “reverse surprise party.”  The reverse part being that all the guests were the ones being surprised (not just a single guest of honor), and the surprise being that we were getting married.   We invited our friends and family to a potluck garden party and told them we’d provide some drinks, the dessert, and the entertainment.  Sometime between potluck lunch and dessert ( a homemade wedding cake), we announced that we were in fact the entertainment—I got on the mic (we did have a stage area for musical entertainment later in the evening), and told everyone to head over to the garden in about 15 minutes to watch us get married.  The faces of our guests were priceless.

Actually, if I’m going to write about it, I might as well say exactly how it went down.  I got on the mic and said, “Since you’ve all been staring at a TBA sign on the dessert table, I thought I’d go ahead and announce what we’ll be having.  For dessert today, we’re having cupcakes!” pause “Oh, and wedding cake!” (a collective gasp shoots through the crowd) “But, before we can serve a wedding cake, I suppose there has to be a wedding.  So if you’ll all head over to the garden in about 15 minutes….”

At that point, I started calling out names of some of my closest girlfriends to come and give me a hand making last minute bouquets and boutonnieres from wildflowers in the yard–and I assigned some of them excerpts to read during the ceremony.

Crazy right?  Crazy simple right?  Yes, but not easy.  Planning a surprise wedding takes a lot of freaking work!  And deciding who to let in on the secret is a lot of stress (we did end up telling our immediate families…moms were thrilled of course…and my uncle who performed the ceremony).   And then keeping it a secret for FIVE LONG MONTHS while you plan the whole thing and make it happen pretty much all by yourself…even more stress.  Especially when you’re finishing out the semester, grading, grading, grading, getting wheeled off to the emergency room with a gallstone attack (more on that in a future post), and just generally getting on with your usually busy life.

Don’t get me wrong:  I freaking loved our wedding.  It was us through and through.  And it was FUN.  The whole day was a total blast (well, once I’d finally made the announcements and could stop stressing!)  It was beautiful and perfect and everything this bride could have wanted.  But it was also another reminder that “simple” does not always mean “easy” or even “convenient”.    In order to understand all the ways I went about simplifying, I think I’ll break down the planning/creating into categories.  (And for those of you not at all interested in wedding details, I suggest scrolling through to see some pictures and skipping the text, ’cause it’s about to get real here).

Deciding to Get Hitched by Surprise

We’ve had a lot of questions from people wondering how we even decided to get married in this manner.  Really it’s simple (ha!..simple!!!).  CF and I have been to many many weddings over the past few years, and I’ve been in several of them as a bridesmaid or some other official role.  We enjoyed ourselves and had a great time–but we also observed and learned.  Weddings with big budgets and lots of people involved are exhausting.  And stressful.  We also noticed how many questions the bride and groom were asked leading up to big day…well, let’s be real here…it’s really only the bride who gets bombarded with questions about every single detail.   We wanted to avoid the stress.  We wanted to avoid the deluge of questions and people “all up in our business.”  We also didn’t want people to feel obligated to spend lots of money on gifts or just to travel to our event.  But we wanted to have fun.  Lots of fun.  And we didn’t want to spend too much money ourselves.  The “Reverse Surprise Wedding” was our way of accomplishing those things.

Planning the Ceremony Itself

We wanted the actual ceremony to be short and sweet.  In our minds, the ceremony was important, but we wanted it to fit in with the flow of the party and of the day.  We wanted people to be partying and enjoying themselves, stop to watch us get married, then go right back to having a good time.  So, after we asked my uncle (who is a pastor) if he would both do us the honor of marrying us AND of keeping the purpose behind our party a secret, we sat down with him to discuss our short ceremony.

Being a teacher, I came prepared:  I pretty much wrote out a script (with places for my uncle to add/improvise) and added appendixes with the short excerpts I had chosen for friends to read during the ceremony (a poem by Billy Collins, an excpert from bell hooks’ All About Love, and two [non-misogynist] Bible verses).   CF and I re-wrote the traditional vows (“in sickness and health, for richer for poorer”…etc), and also decided that we would improvise a few words before the vows to talk a bit about what we love most about each other.   Embedded in our vows was the theme of our wedding, which was on a banner above us and engraved inside our rings: laugh. love. grow.    My uncle also did a beautiful job weaving those three words throughout the ceremony–into both his opening introduction and his prayer at the end.

The ceremony start to finish lasted 16 minutes.  We stood in front of the vegetable garden that we started together and continue to work in together year after year.  It was a great symbol of our teamwork and the hope of growth together.  It was perfect.  Just perfect.

Our Ring Fiasco

Part of “simplifying” for me implies that I support small business while also wanting to get a good deal.  For our rings, that led me to Etsy.  I found some great jewelry makers who make beautiful non-traditional rings (perfect for this non-traditional wedding!).  We asked for ring-sizers to be mailed to us so that we could get the perfect fit—since, due to the kind of materials they’d be working with (stainless steel), the rings could not be re-sized.

Unfortunately, even after all that, we got the rings and they were not what we had anticipated.  First, they were very thick (not width-wise, but thick as in how much material stood off your finger).  Second, CF’s was WAY too big.  Ugh!  We could have sent them back and gotten new rings made for half price, but since we didn’t like the thickness or the look of them, that seemed like a bad idea.

I wasn’t too upset about the loss of money because I do believe in supporting small business.  But at this point, the wedding was a month away and we had no rings.   So we ditched our “non-traditional” ring idea and went to a local jeweler so we could talk to real people face-to-face and try on rings before ordering.  For the record, we went to a small family business (woo!  still supporting small business!), but we did pay a lot more for our rings because we went with traditional (white) gold this time.

Honestly, it was well worth the extra money.  They are beautiful rings that fit great.  The engraving was free.  And they got them to us in PLENTY of time.  (Actually, we were told that even if we needed rings the next day they could have done it!  Wow!)  The guy we worked with was super nice and talked candidly about pricing, materials, etc.  He never tried to push a more expensive/fancier option on us.  It was great.  We are extremely pleased with our simple, plain matching wedding bands.  In fact, we’re going back to that jeweler to have an “engagement” ring (it will actually be an anniversary ring for me) custom made  using CF’s mom’s diamond that she wants me to have.

Attire: His and Hers

CF wore his usual black Dickies and black PF Flyers with a nice pale yellow dress shirt from the 70s that was his Uncle’s (who passed away several years ago).  It was a nice tribute because his Uncle’s family lives far enough away that they weren’t able to come to our ceremony.  CF wearing that shirt made it feel like they were with us.

I spot cleaned that shirt the morning of the wedding.  I remember thinking “If this isn’t a wifely duty, I don’t know what is.”

As CF was getting ready that morning he said, “I am so glad I get to wear my own clothes.” Meaning, he was grateful I hadn’t made him rent a tux 🙂   Love that man.

As for me, well, I started putting my outfit together 2 years ago.  I found this gorgeous dress at Goodwill for $5:

The flowers on the skirt are mirrored on the back

When I bought it, I thought to myself that it might make a nice simple wedding dress.  So I put it in the closet and never wore it.  CF even pulled it out once saying, “You never wear this one.  Why?”  I told him “I’m SAVING it.” with a pointed look.

One and a half years later I found myself putting together the rest of the outfit.  I found great earrings at the same Goodwill.  I made myself a necklace to match, after a couple of trips to the craft store for supplies.  I asked one girlfriend if I could borrow an anklet to wear for my “something borrowed” (she was one of the few in on the surprise from the beginning), and I asked another girlfriend to crochet me a lovely red shawl (she had NO IDEA why 🙂 ).   All that was left was the shoes!   One of the most important parts.

I found the most amazing shoes at a little store in San Fran while visiting my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew over my Spring Break.  It was also the week I told them that CF  and I were getting married.  How fitting that I find the last piece of my outfit there!   I knew I wanted flats (for comfort) but I wanted them to look fancy too.  I think I found the perfect pair (and I still wear them often!):

(yes, I took this picture on top of the washing machine…)

For my hair, I wore it down and pinned back, but I put my hair in rag curlers and sprayed  it down with my diy natural hair spray (flat beer and water 1:1) the night before.  So I had nice curls throughout the day 🙂

Flowers and Decorations

I made all my own decorations.  Ok, that’s sort of a lie.  My mom helped me gather and cut some of the fabric.  But, I did all the sewing.  All the creating.  All the crafting.  All the cursing.  All the re-dos until I had it right.  And I loved how it came out!

The “Just Hitched”  sign at the top of this post I made to take pictures with–see, CF’s mom used to have horses and there is still a hitching post on her property.  One day, after a hard day’s work on the yard prepping for the party, I said to CF, “Hey, we should take pictures there after the wedding!”  And then CF suggested that we have a sign that said “Just Hitched.”  So I made it 🙂

I also made a banner that said “laugh. love. grow.” to hang above our heads at the garden and a tassel garland as well.  The banner I want to put up in our future child(ren)’s room….the tassel garland is in our bedroom above the window.

I also made hundreds of little flags for bunting that we used to decorate the garden fences, the grape-vine fence, and pool deck.  The material I used was a mix of fabric from thrift stores, and fabric with sentimental value.  Some pieces were from altered clothing that CF’s mom gave me.  Some were the scraps leftover from when my grandmother made my mother’s wedding dress and her sisters’ bridesmaid dresses.  Some were scraps from bath robes and dresses my mother had made me.   I love all those little touches.  I meticulously took down and folded all the bunting for safe-keeping after the party.  I want to use it to decorate our home for special occasions and holidays.

I feel I should add that my decoration inspiration came from here and here.

As for flowers?  We didn’t buy any.  There were lots and lots on CF’s mom’s property!  Some from our garden (the sage plant bloomed into beautiful purple flowers just in time for the wedding), some from CF’s mom’s wildflower patch.  We put some in vases and I had my girlfriends make bouquets and boutonnieres out of others (they tied my bouquet with a blue ribbon for my “something blue”!).

I also made a little “guest book.”  My plan was to purchase one at a thrift store and simply recover it with material I picked out…but I couldn’t find a book that would really work for that.  So I studied the design of the ones I almost bought, and then made my own at home with some cardboard, fancy cardstock paper, and a spiral notebook wire cut from an old notebook. I covered it with a fun print and ribbons.

Food and Cake (and Cupcakes!)

To help with costs (and to help keep the fact that we were getting married a surprise) we had a potluck!  It worked out great!  CF and I decided that we would contribute by having some Mediterranean food (pita bread, falafel, hummus, tabbouleh) catered from our favorite place, getting a keg of beer (Spaten!), buying jugs of iced tea and some bottles of bubbly (for toasts) both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, AND of course providing the dessert!

I made our wedding cake.  It was tiered and vegan and DELICIOUS.  White cake with fugdy layers in between.  For our cake topper, I had my nephew and his second-cousins pick some sage leaves from the garden and stick them in the top.  Simple, beautiful, and natural.

I also made a couple dozen cupcakes, since the cake was small and would not feed everyone we invited to the party (over 100 people!).  My mother and sis-in-law also made about 100 cupcakes (not vegan), and my friend from work supplied a dozen gluten free cupcakes.  By the end of the night, only about 30 cupcakes and NONE of the wedding cake survived!

Paper or Ceramic?

We decided that we wanted our wedding to be as green as possible, so that meant we didn’t want to use paper plates.  Luckily, a friend from work was kind enough to bring about 100 plates with her and cutlery!  And I supplied our plates as well.  I put little pieces of tape with our initials on the bottom of the plates to help keep track of everything.  Then, at the party, we placed laundry baskets lined with garbage bags under the food table that were labeled so party-goers could tell where their dirty plates could go.  This was my friend’s idea.  She said she didn’t mind taking home all those dirty plates to wash them!  So so kind!

Ball Jars for Everyone

Along with no paper plates, I wanted to avoid plastic cups.  I decide we’d use Ball Jars for drinks at the party.  The bonus was that guests could also take the jar home (possibly filled with some water or tea to go, or some leftover goodies!) as a party favor.  Win!

My sister-in-law and my mother helped me wash and dry all 120 jars I purchased.  I found the best price at the local Farm n Fleet.  Only about $8.50 for a 12 pack!

Family Friendly Touches

Finally, we wanted our party to be family friendly.  We encouraged our friends with kids to bring them along!  (Which worked out really well–I had about 7 little “flower girls” all throwing flowers on the lawn in front of the garden for me!).  So, to keep little ones entertained, we had a pinata (filled with organic/earth-friendly candy and some toys and temporary tattoos!).  We also had a water balloon toss for little kids and big kids alike!  Everyone, including my brothers and my college professors, had fun with that one 🙂

That’s my brother in the foreground about to catch the ballon tossed by my other brother.

My college roommate’s mother told me that I was ruining those little kids for future weddings.  She said now when they go to weddings they are going to be upset when they discover most don’t have pinatas or water balloon tosses!  Ha!

So, that in a nutshell (and a REALLY LONG POST…sorry!) was our “simple” wedding.  It was a blast.  And it didn’t cost us all that much.  The biggest expenses were our rings and the tents and porta-potties we rented.  Everything else seemed to take care of itself.  And all our guests kept saying they had such a great time.  Part of me thinks I should throw more potluck parties in the future!

Just married. And thrilled. 🙂

If you’ve made it through to the end of this post, you are a real trooper!  I promise the next posts won’t be quite so long and detailed.  But I will try to keep explaining and reflecting on this new focus on simple living here at our dear Lot 26.

Until next time, may you all be well.

About Cathy G Gilbert

I am veggie-loving, community college professor who lives, teaches, and writes in Central IL.
This entry was posted in Events and Stories, Saving Money. Bookmark the permalink.

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