Hindsight 20/20: Wedding Planning Tips After the Fact

Oh, hello readers!  Did you miss me while I was getting married and honeymooning over the past three weeks (#humblebrag)?

Well, even if you didn’t, I’m back, and I’m bursting with wedding-related memories, tips, and ideas now that my own big day is over.

All things considered, everything went off without a hitch.  Sure, there were some hilarious (and not-so-hilarious) debacles that seemed like crises in the moment (think: mixed-up hotel reservations, lost decorative items, and an ice delivery that came three hours too soon), but I can honestly say that the 13 months I spent planning my wedding really paid off, and we were rewarded with an organized, well-run, and fun event.

That is not to say I couldn’t have done a lot of things better.  Which is why I want to offer this little primer for those of you out there who have weddings to plan (or hey, any big event) and/or want a little insight into the world of DIY wedding planning.  So, here we go, in no particular order:

THINK BAR.  I had to write this one in all caps because it seemed as if the greatest number of mishaps were related to the bar and bar service, and yet the single most important part of a wedding (well, other than the actual marriage ceremony) is the bar and

I wish we’d had an ultrahuge bar area like this!

bar service.  For example, I did not specifically outline to the bartenders that the kegerators (keg refrigerators) I rented were actually supposed to CONTAIN KEGS, and found out later that the bartenders were “shipping beer” back and forth from the truck in plastic pitchers (sigh).  Second, we had reversible bar signs that had cocktail hour menus on one side and reception menus on the other side, but the signs never got flipped and replaced and so there was exactly zero information on drinks at the reception.  Third, we had drinks designated for the cocktail hour and drinks designated for the reception, only to find out that a) the bartenders didn’t know where to find the white wine set aside for the reception, and b) the groomsmen drank a good part of the reception alcohol prior to the ceremony (goodbye, Fireball supply).  So in summary, the lessons learned on this point are as follows:

  • make your bar instructions as EXPLICIT as possible, even if you are hiring pro bartenders and “think they’ll know what to do”
  • do NOT let your groomsmen/groom have access to (i.e know the whereabouts of) any wedding-designated alcohol prior to the wedding
  • designate a “booze baron” (think family member or bridesmaid) to enforce the above as well as have all the answers when it comes to the bar (such as the aforementioned sign swap, ice location, etc. etc.)

Audition the musicians.  Yeah, I know – a lot of people already do this.  And to some extent, so did we – we hired two musicians that play at restaurants and festivals that we’ve attended and whom we really like in those venues.  Key words: in those venues.  When you hand your musicians (who aren’t exactly pros in the English language) some sheet

These weren’t our musicians…but maybe they should have been.

music that, despite being really well-known, is way outside their comfort zone (“Here Comes the Sun” and “Wedding March,” were my two choices), you may not be pleased with the results (i.e. completely unrecognizable versions of both tunes).  So to that end:

  • despite that it’s “cheesy” or “corny” or whatever, just hire freaking wedding musicians to play wedding songs.  They’re the pros.
  • no matter how much you like a singer or group, if you can’t communicate clearly with them (due to language barriers or unresponsiveness or otherwise), you probably won’t end up with an ideal outcome.
  • make sure to hear the versions of the songs you request prior to the wedding.  You’re paying them to provide a service so make sure the service is up to par.

Stick to the checklist.  I made a super-detailed checklist for all “phases” of the wedding, from the day before to the day-of to the pool party the day after.  However, what I didn’t make was an “exit checklist” – a way to ensure that everything we brought IN to the event

A nice little OCD checklist never hurt nobody.

was actually packed up and brought OUT of it (think personalized cake cutter, gift card box, reusable items like extra glassware and napkins, etc.).  Sure, we had a great inventory on setup – but after the fact, when the mess has set in and everyone is tired and you just want to be DONE with it – things get stuffed in boxes (or garbage cans!) and you end up losing stuff in the process (like our top layer of cake for the 1st anniversary!).  Thus:

  • make an “exit checklist” with everything you need to bring OUT of the property with just as much detail as your initial inventory
  • share this checklist with your wedding planner so she can start to move things to their proper “exit” location even while the wedding is still finishing up

Number, label, and double-check everything.  Per the checklist above, I also had an inventory checklist, which listed every single thing we needed for the weekend down to the basic supplies like garbage bags.  Except that the garbage bags didn’t make it (despite

Label everything. Number everything. Be vigilant!

being “checked off” the checklist, they fell out of their original box and weren’t located until well after they were needed, at which point we’d had to send for reinforcements).  An inventory is great until you realize that the items ON the inventory need to be accounted for individually and with systematic organization.  I suggest:

  • number every single item you receive using garage-sale style price stickers, then pack it in a box (also numbered) and keep track of which numbered items are in which numbered boxes.  We thought that having boxes like “reception” or “ceremony” would be clear enough – but they weren’t.  Numbering is a system everyone understands – so instead of asking a groomsman to grab the “orange chiffon ribbon spool” you can just say “grab item 7 in box 2.”  Much better.
  • do NOT check any item off the inventory/packing list until you’ve personally witnessed it entering the property.  We would’ve saved a lot of stress looking for garbage bags if we’d known they weren’t IN the box to begin with.

Let them bring gifts.  I mistakenly thought that only a few select folks would actually bring gifts to the wedding, seeing as we had received so many wonderful registry gifts prior to the big day.  Boy, was I wrong.  We ended up with nearly as many gifts “on site”

Make it clear: gifts go here.

as we’d had sent to us, and apparently the sign at the gift table (which, by the way, was placed directly in front of the ceremony entrance with an 8×10″ sign saying “GIFT TABLE”) was not clearly designated enough, leaving some guests confused, some handing us cards directly during the reception, and even some going home WITH their gift and mailing it back to us.  Le sigh.  To fix this:

  • even if it feels showboat-y, make your gift table LARGE and CLEARLY MARKED (maybe even throw a couple pre-wrapped gifts on there to make it clear)
  • keep your gift table “moving” through all the events of the party – ceremony, reception, and post-party/brunch (should you have one) – this way no one will feel like they “missed it” or didn’t know where to properly leave their generous gifts!

When all else fails, roll with the punches.  We had a team of groomsmen meticulously hang 50-foot strands of carnival lights….that were never turned on.  We had nice, bright bathroom lighting provided for our guests…that was also not turned on until someone nudged us nicely about having gone to the restroom in the dark (!).  We asked our hairdresser to do a quick hairstyle for our flower girl…and found out later we were charged full adult price for her ‘do.  We forgot to bring envelopes for the vendor gratuities…and ended up having our wedding planner thrust cash into their palms, shady-style.  We rented $1200 worth of heaters in fear that our guests would be chilly….and barely turned them on.  These are the sorts of “little things” that they’re talking in the old adage, “don’t sweat the small stuff – and it’s all small stuff.”  What seems like a big deal in the moment is hilariously minute in the big scheme of things, and if you can figure out how to get past it, you won’t even remember it when you look back on the overall event.

  • don’t let a minor hiccup become a major event – just solve the problem and move on
  • allow your wedding planner to take care of most anything that happens during the event – you relinquish your title as “planner” as soon as the day starts and you become “bride” – so don’t feel guilty about just telling your planner to “handle it” when it comes to this piddling stuff

Again, our wedding was perfect – fun, chic, colorful, modern, and festive, just like I’d always hoped it would be.  Everyone I spoke to had a great time and I truly believe Nick and I had the best time of all.  If I could do it again, though I’d definitely take my own advice (!), I’d keep most of it exactly the same.  It was the best day of my life.

And now – onward to the honeymoon update!  I’ll be posting pics and a full review soon, so don’t go too far…

What is your best wedding/event planning tip?  What do you wish you’d done differently?

12 Days of Fit-Mas: A Gift Guide

Wondering what fit people really want for the holidays?

Well, if you’re me, you want simple, high-quality functional items that you can use/wear/enjoy every day.  

I scoured the internet to find my favorite practical gifts for the fitness buff in your life this holiday season – and I hope you can find something just right!

On the first day of Fit-Mas, my trainer gave to me…

a massive 64 ounce water “growler”

On the second day of Fit-Mas, my trainer gave to me…

two running gloves

On the third day of Fit-Mas, my trainer gave to me…

three resistance bands

On the fourth day of Fit-Mas, my trainer gave to me…

four monkey-face kettlebells

On the fifth day of Fit-Mas, my trainer gave to me…

five pairs of printed leggings

On the sixth day of Fit-Mas, my trainer gave to me…

six Crossfit dice

On the seventh day of Fit-Mas, my trainer gave to me…

seven pairs of rundies

On the eighth day of Fit-Mas, my trainer gave to me…

an 8-piece vacuum-seal food container set

On the ninth day of Fit-Mas, my trainer gave to me…

a nine-pocket hanging toiletry bag for the gym

On the tenth day of Fit-Mas, my trainer gave to me…

ten-toed socks

On the eleventh day of Fit-Mas, my trainer gave to me…

an eleven-dollar stackable protein shake bottle

On the twelfth day of Fit-Mas, my trainer gave to me…

twelve inspirational hair ties

What are you asking for from (fit) Santa?  What healthy gifts do you love to give?

Sunday Special: On My Radar

I swear my brain is programmed to desire shopping more during the holiday season.  We’ve been indoctrinated from a young age that the holidays are for gift-giving, and with Black Friday less than a week away, my urge to shop is rising.  And I’ve been giving in.

Case in point?  This weekend brought mini-splurges at the Bella + Canvas sample sale, a friend’s Chloe + Isabel show, and even Bed, Bath & Beyond (where I found this amazing hashtag light-up sign for the wedding!).  Sigh.  Who am I to fight the power of the season?

That said, I haven’t done an On My Radar post in a while, so here we go – a special holiday edition of OMR – perhaps more like a Dear Santa?  Enjoy!

Is there anything more calming than the scent of chamomile?  I was recently tipped off to an amazing eye makeup remover that smells of it, and I am now obsessed with slowly making every scent in my bathroom include some hint of chamomile (even better: with honey!) by the end of the year.  Come to find out – the Body Shop has a whole line of the stuff, in varying levels of intensity.  Just say ahhhh…..

I’ve gotten so used to my old, stinky, black gym backpack that I forget there are actual cute, stylish options out there.  This one is deceptively glam, with a Birkin-bag look and amazing functionality (yes, it actually holds a water bottle, gym clothes, and shoes in there!).  I have no idea how much shipping would be as this one’s only available across the pond, but dang, is it nice to look at.

I’ve been really hooked on this metallic teal eyeliner I’ve been wearing lately, and it’s got me thinking: what other colored eyeliners would really pop?  Cue the Dior Addict-It liquid eyeliner in hot pink – I am pretty sure I need it, whether I layer it with black (the subtle way) or lay it on thick across my eyelids (the Manda way, let’s be honest).  I found it once at Sephora but haven’t seen it again since, and I fear it will be discontinued before I actually get up the courage to bite the bullet.

Of course I love jewelry – my favorite mug (given to me by a dear friend) reads, “Accessories are Necessities” – and it’s true!  But what I don’t have is the perfect simple-yet-statement necklace that is versatile (gold-plate goes with everything!) but creative enough to actually make a statement – oh, and did I mention it’s cheap to boot?  This is a total find and would be adorable for any world traveler – or those with world traveling aspirations.

If any of you out there reading are my personal training clients, you know I love me some Bosu.  The Bosu (which for the rest of you is that weird half-ball thing you see floating around gym floors) comes in one color: blue.  That is, until recently.  They introduced a beautiful hot pink one (priced almost 50% higher than the original, natch) to raise money for breast cancer research and as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to have it.  Who wants a plain ol’ blue Bosu when you can have PINK?!?!  I mean, come on.

I just realized that pretty much everything I’ve posted here is either a beauty or fitness product (what does this tell you about my life?).  Let’s break the mold here with something really wild – home decor!  Ok, maybe not so wild.  And I just realized that I already have the map theme established with the necklace above – but whatever, I love maps.  And this Cost Plus 6-Canvas Map Set is such a cool way to display a map in your home without looking cheesy or overdone.  I can totally see it on the massive white expanse that is our living room wall.

And finally – the piece de resistance – even though I just bought two amazing pairs of sneakers from the Adidas outlet sale, I can’t get my mind off the sweet sweet kicks that are Nike Flyknit Free 3.0.  They just look so dang light and socklike, yet still functional and appropriate for both work and looking awesome on the street.  One day I will have you, my pretties (and hey – they’ve already marked down from $140 to $99, so anything can happen).

That’s my Christmas list in progress, guys, but I’d love to hear what you’re looking for this holiday season!

What’s on your Dear Santa list?  What can’t wait for Christmas – i.e. what’s on your Black Friday list?

Sunday Special: Building a Home Gym on a Budget

Very nice condo gym

As many of you know, I am an independent personal trainer.  What that entails is this – I work in various locations, ranging from actual gyms (where I “rent” the gym space for hour-long intervals) to people’s home gyms (think shared condo spaces) to outdoor parks and private backyards.

Because of my diverse client needs, I carry a lot of fitness stuff in the trunk of my car.  Like, a lot.  At any given time, I am hauling:

  • three kettlebells
  • two sets of dumbbells
  • a Perfect Pushup set
  • two jump ropes
  • various resistance bands
  • a medicine ball
  • two yoga mats
  • ankle weights
  • boxing gloves & pads

Let’s not even get into my gas mileage when it comes to driving all this equipment around Los Angeles.  But that said, given the large amount of stuff I bring all over town, I had a client ask me the other day which items I find essential – what I would recommend for building her own home gym – on a budget.

What a fantastic challenge.

First, make sure you have a designated space to set up and store items for your home gym.  Whether it’s just a nice, flat piece of pavement and a Rubbermaid box or a garage with some shelves, you want to feel like your home gym is a separate, contained space – not an afterthought or just another mess to worry about.

Next, I suggest finding a bencha sturdy, padded bench, 18-20″ high, adjustable if possible (but flat works, too).  This will run you between $100-200 (more if you want bells and whistles) and can also be found all over Craigslist with a simple search for “weight bench.”

Myofascial release is the best release

Equally important is a mat for your floor work (and for stance stability, if you need it) – but all you really need here is a yoga mat, unless you want to go all-in with a gym-quality mat or rubberized interlocking tile.  If you tend to get tight muscles (and honestly, who doesn’t?) I recommend keeping a foam roller nearby your mat as well.

Once you’ve got your mat and bench, you can build around it with resistance.  Think about your intended results – are you trying to build muscle (heavier weights)?  Maintain flexibility or work on range of motion (resistance bands)?  Lean out (lighter weights)?  Work on balance and strength simultaneously (resistance trainer like TRX)?  Dominate your workout with a combination of strength and cardio training (kettlebells)?

Whatever your primary goal, make sure you purchase the resistance equipment to match it – and then add on from there once you’re progressed.  For most, dumbbells are the cheapest and most convenient option – I recommend purchasing three pairs in increasing weights (for women; 5, 8, and 12 pounds; for men; 10, 15, and 20 pounds).

Next, consider your cardio.  This is where your lifestyle and fitness goals really come into play.  Are you a runner?  Skip the treadmill and head outdoors – it’s free, better training, and the variable terrain gives you limitless workout options.  Need to be home while the kids are napping?  Consider investing in a single cardio machine, such as a rower (my personal pick), treadclimber, or stairmill, and commit to using it regularly.

Jump for joy…and pain

Can’t commit (or afford a large machine)?  Then consider a cheaper – and more portable! – option: the jump rope.  I am always encouraging clients to “rediscover” the jump rope of their youth because it’s cheap, goes anywhere with you, burns more calories per minute than running, and has tons of variations to keep you progressing and getting more fit.

If you have all of the above on hand, you’ve got yourself a pretty decent home gym – and any trainer you work with will be able to guide you through safe and effective workouts with just those items.

Of course, there’s always the “extras” – the luxury upgrades, if you will (hey, Christmas is coming, right?). In my dream home gym, I’d also recommend the following add-ons:

Pinchy pinch

Oh yeah – one more thing.  If you are truly committed to home fitness and want to make sure you’re making measurable progress, invest in a decent home scale and a pair of body fat calipers.  This way you will know exactly where you stand fitness-wise and can easily keep track of your goals and make adjustments to your program on a regular basis.

Do you work out at home?  What are the must-haves in your home gym?

Splurge & Save: Fitness Edition

We all have those things – those expensive-but-worth-it things, those gotta-have-it-at-any-price things, those splurge-but-i-need-it things – and then there’s the other stuff.  The stuff that’s not worth putting your life savings into, but can be fun for a little impulse buy or pick-me-up.  And I want to address both of those categories in today’s post.

For example, I always splurge on running shoes.  AL.  WAYS.  There is no substitute for proper fit, alignment, and form when it comes to distance running gear, and going into an actual running store, getting professionally fit, and purchasing your first pair of “real” shoes from a pro shop is a must.  That said, once you know your style and arch type, you can go online and search out the best deals for your shoes (for my Asics, Kelly’s Running Warehouse is tops) – and save a bit o’ cash.  (I’m currently running in these lovelies – Asics Gel Evate – which I bought for under $80 at the Asics factory outlet).

That said, I never spend more than $30 on walking/crosstraining shoes.  Granted, I am on my feet over 10 miles a day (friend me on Fitbit for proof!) but all I need in this arena is a nice, supportive, decently stylish shoe – I’m not as worried about mechanics as I am long-duration comfort.  So I hit the shelves at Nordstrom Rack, Marshall’s, or even Ross for these (and have picked up several name-brand, last-season pairs – Adidas, Nike, New Balance, and Brooks – at my price point!).

Another splurge?  You guys just read the most – waterproof longwear makeup.  There is no fooling around when it comes to my cosmetics, and I will accept nothing less than the best when it comes to my products.  But a dedicated save?  Makeup remover.  A friend recently turned me on to the magic of using Johnson’s baby shampoo (no more tears!) to get off my most stubborn eye makeup (yes, even liquid eyeliner, waterline pencil, and mascara) and it changed my life.  Buy a bottle and believe.

Speaking of workout necessities, lululemon pants are a must.  Disclaimer: they’re about a hundred bucks (!).  But also know this: they last forever (I recently just wore out my first pair ever from 2006, and remember I wear them at least once a week).  I don’t care if you have a thousand pairs of black capri workout pants; if you don’t have at least one lulu (my fave is the Inspire Crop), you have nothing.  Your butt has never looked perkier, your legs never smaller, and your torso never leaner than you will look in these pants – and I’m serious.

But whereas the pants are worth the cash, workout tops are (somewhat) a dime a dozen.  Once you’ve got yourself a sturdy sports bra, what you put on top is going to get covered in sweat, makeup, gym filth, etc. – so it’s really not worth paying a pretty penny to put on your bod.  I actually find that some of my favorite tops are from the clearance rack, or even not workout tops at all – I wear a racerback lacy black shirt that always gets compliments and is definitely from Wet Seal.

And finally – when it comes to healthy living – you gotta feel confident splurging on organic and healthy food.  Sure, the organic kale is twice the price.  Yeah, I known the organic apples don’t last as long, and the organic grass-fed beef is about a zillion times the price of the Wal-Mart ground chuck.  I get it.  We’re all on a budget.  But whereas people will shell out four bucks for a giant coffee drink, they shudder to pay a couple extra dollars for premium food in the supermarket – a decision that makes no sense for your wallet, your body, or your waistline. 

If you want to save a few bucks in the supermarket, go for bulk – bulk bins, that is.  Grocery stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts have bulk-bin areas where you can buy what you need by weight – at significantly lower prices.  I rely on bulk oats, nuts, flaxseed, spices (this is a boon when you want to try a new recipe but don’t want to commit to a whole $6 bottle of za’atar), and even freshly ground natural peanut butter to stretch my grocery dollar a bit further while still getting the natural, whole foods I love.

What healthy stuff do you consider “essential” splurges, and where do you try to cut costs?