Wedding frenzy

How I survived planning a big wedding in seven weeks

I was restless the night before my wedding. My nerves got the better of me and I couldn’t sleep. Not a wink.

It wasn’t so much the details of the ceremony or reception that were bothering me, nor did I have cold feet. It simply felt like three decades of life were coming down to this one moment—and that I had very little control over what was going to happen.

Still, when I stepped out of that ’32 Chrysler at the ceremony I was calm. Composed even. We had planned as best we could in a short timeframe to make this day happen, and there was no turning back.

I guess there’s a certain freedom to knowing you have no idea what you’re doing and still going for it.

See, I never had visualized my “big day” as a child. I hadn’t played wedding, house or even Barbie. That kind of stuff wasn’t my thing. So, after being engaged for more than a year, I had no dress, no date, no clue. That’s when my fiancé, Matt, gave me a little, uh, encouragement. “We’re getting married this year,” he had decided. Fine by me, but now what?

It was mid-August and I knew if we were going to do something outdoors before year’s end, we needed to get crackin’. Choosing a venue seemed like a good start. There are a lot of beautiful local places, but I’m sentimental, so I was sold when my aunt and uncle offered their creekside walnut ranch near Hamilton City. Gorgeous old trees, a lovely perennial garden and large grassy areas … check.

Next up: a date. We chose the first weekend in October. Before the rains and after the heat. Oh, and Oct. 3 just happened to be a full moon. Perfect. That gave us a little less than seven weeks to plan. Yikes!

Next up was finding a dress. It usually takes months or a year to find, order and alter one, so I bought something off of the rack. I did the Chico wedding store circuit and ended up downtown at Betty’s on Broadway, which carries a very limited selection of wedding dresses. I think mine was the only size 2 in the shop. It was elegant and fit (almost) like a glove.

Weddings are expensive. That goes without saying. So far, I was doing pretty well. My dress (minus a few minor alterations) cost less than the suit rental for the groom. Bless my parents’ hearts for stowing away a generous amount of money for the occasion, but we were going to have to stretch every dollar, since we couldn’t cull our list of invitees below 250. Time for budgeting.

We lucked out and found Leslie Carrow, a professional photographer (with more than 400 weddings under her belt) who was new to town and cut us a sweet deal. She was an amazing find not only because of her talent but also since pictures were especially important to us. Score. Another thing I couldn’t bear to skimp on was the cake. We did a tasting about a month before the big day and chose a chocolate rum raspberry creation with buttercream frosting.

I was also set on having as little waste as possible, so we rented linens, flatware, plates and glasses—three types of glasses for the other thing we weren’t going to skimp on. Yep, alcohol. Wine, champagne and beer. No hard stuff.

Then there’s the food. How do you feed a couple of hundred people without blowing your budget? Bargain hunting! And with help from family, friends … and strangers. After getting quoted $600 for roasted potatoes from one caterer, we found another, in Paradise, who did it for less than half that price. They were excellent, by the way. My dad made a three-bean salad. My sister-in-law concocted these sinfully good gourmet brownie bites—each with a raspberry and sprig of mint. Dinner rolls and a spinach salad were the only store-bought fare. Our main dish was pork (a whole pig!) that had been slow roasted in the ground with herbs and spices by a guy in Capay. No kidding. It was delicious. A foodie friend of ours said it was the best wedding food he’d ever eaten.

All told, 232 people showed up to celebrate with us. We know that because that’s how many plates we hand washed over the next couple of days. Being on a budget means sacrificing some things, and for us this meant the cleanup would take our own elbow grease.

In addition to playing hostess, my aunt took on major dining duties. She went with the cook to help pick up the oinker and organized a group of her artist friends to serve everything up. These folks knew what they were doing, and they even came dressed in proper starched white kitchen jackets. I’d never met these people before. They were saints. Another saint was a neighbor we barely knew who offered to chauffeur me, my dad and my beautiful bridesmaids to the ceremony in a vintage Chrysler. Yet another was our officiant, CN&R Arts Editor/buddy Jason Cassidy, who crafted and delivered a wonderfully touching and personal ceremony that even noted our “ancient cats.”

I’m the type of person who has a hard time letting others do things for her, but I had to relent that day. I was going to have enough on my plate already, including writing my vows. Yes, I waited until the last minute for that minor detail. So had my fiancé, but his words and mine came straight from the heart. No fumbling or ums.

Now back to stepping out of that car for the big moment …

I suppose fretting the entire night before could have helped wipe out any anxiety, because I wasn’t the slightest bit nervous as I started walking down the grassy pathway leading to the creek and my future husband. And then came the first hiccup. Halfway down the aisle the guy in charge of playing this amazing recorded instrumental song we had chosen accidentally skipped to the next song—the upbeat one we picked for the ceremony’s close. Picture that. Whoops! He’d been wrangled into that task last minute, so I don’t blame him.

He recovered quickly, fortunately, and so did I, giggling for a second before starting back down the path.

There were other glitches, too. The guest sign-in book didn’t make its way outside. The wind picked up and the temperature dropped, chasing off many folks shortly after dinner. (I probably should’ve gone with my instincts and rented heating lamps.)

The rest of us roughed it—if you can call it that. We danced, laughed, snacked and drank for hours in the moonlit night. I’ve never smiled so much or felt so joyous in my entire life. It was magical. Afterward I wanted to do it all over again. I’d bet many brides feel that way. In hindsight, I just wish I had taken more time to savor everything leading up it—taken my time planning. After all, it goes by in what feels like the blink of an eye.