As I write this post, it’s been exactly one year to the day since our middle child married the man of her dreams … and list.
No longer in the technically newlywed category, they’ve made it through their first year! As our daughter and her husband (that still sounds crazy when I hear myself say it!) came to Austin this weekend to celebrate, the four of us reminisced about the fabulous wedding we all enjoyed just 365 days ago. We only had three months to plan it – but we pulled it off without a single hitch.
Here’s what we loved and what we might do differently. Grab a tissue and join in the fun as we let you in on the behind-the-scenes events and decisions that led to the finest celebration our family has ever known.
In a world where couples are living together and having long engagements that lead up to elaborate ceremonies and expensive honeymoons, our little couple stood out as a bright beacon for those who prefer the romantic whirlwind of fast and furious.
Nick was a decisive suitor. After he graduated from Texas Tech, he spent some time working in the oil industry in West Texas where the men were busy and the women were nowhere to be found. I guess he had plenty of time to think about his future, because when he moved from Midland to Houston, he was a man with a plan!
Although Aly and Nick had barely met, there was this weird thing that happened before he even approached her for a date. One night, while Nick was up late face-timing with his mom, his friend kept photo bombing in the background talking about marriage. Nick declared right then and there that he was going to marry a girl with a good head on her shoulders like Aly McDearmon. What?
Well, of course, since Nick’s mom and I are friends from before these two kids of ours were a twinkle in our eye, she called me first thing the next day so we could gasp and ponder together about this very exciting new development in our friendship. Would our kids actually date? We had never, ever considered it. What an amazing thought!
The lace-collared Mamas of the 80’s!
These pictures were almost side by side in our church directory, before we birthed our second babies that later became Cinderella and Prince Charming. We were happy little families, with our sweet little girls, in our big hair and denim dresses.
When our second little blessings graced our lives, the O’Neals moved to Houston and we moved to Muleshoe. About 10 years later, after mostly keeping in touch through Christmas cards, my friendship with Robin rekindled when we met in Fredericksburg for the weekend to celebrate the 40th birthday of a mutual friend. What a special weekend we had, catching up.
There were five of us that weekend. We had all been friends together in our Sunday School class at First Baptist Church, Canyon. They called us the “young marrieds.” Under the direction of an older couple, and over styrofoam cups of percolated coffee, we had spent many Sunday mornings together, bonding through the pages of our Bibles while our kids played in the nursery. Those were some really sweet and simple times.
Fast forward through years of graduations, job changes, parenting struggles, school situations, health crises and deaths of parents – to July 2015 when Nick said he wanted to marry someone like Aly. In some ways, we four, as their parents stared, speechless, at each other in open-mouthed surprise wondering why we had never thought of it, and in other ways pondering in our hearts the majesty of a God who already had thought of it.
He knew. All those years ago as we sat side by side on folding chairs at church and gathered around each other’s dining room tables planning baby showers, we could never have dreamed this up. But in the plan of God, a wedding on a beautiful day in March 2016 was already etched onto the timeline of our lives.
Never doubt this one thing. God is a good, good Father.
The ring was bought, the surprise engagement planned, and then we threw ourselves into the throwing a fabulous Austin wedding on a 3-month timeline. Since Aly lived in Houston and worked 12-hour shifts, we struck an early rhythm in our method. I made phone calls and scheduled appointments. She traveled to Austin on her days off to make final decisions. (Note: all the hyperlinks lead to the websites of the vendors we used, and there’s a comprehensive list at the end of the post.)
Do this First Before You Do Anything Else
Whether you have a whole year to prepare or just three months like we did, doing this one thing first will help you tremendously as you plan. Have coffee in your jammies with your sweet bride-to-be, and discuss her three most important elements of the wedding of her dreams. If you have to cut costs, you can cut them in an area that’s not as crucial to the enjoyment of her day. For Aly, the perfect wedding didn’t have to be an elaborate event, but these three things were really important to her. She wanted a beautiful dress, orange flowers, and a classic, citrus cake. If you don’t narrow down the deal-breakers, everything can quickly become a big deal. When everything becomes a big deal, nobody will enjoy the planning!
Our Number One Best Decision
The best decision we made was to hire a wedding planner. A friend had recommended a planner who helped her sister plan a wedding the year before, so I called her one day on our afternoon commute. Mike was driving, and shaking his head side to side. I knew he was thinking we didn’t need to add that cost to the budget, but as I listened to Tracy Collins verbally list all the day-of tasks she would tend to on our behalf, I didn’t hesitate. You’re hired, I said. This is my greatest recommendation. Tracy’s help was invaluable and made the day so stress-free. Her professional services were worth every penny.
Two Things I Would Do Differently
Since we were running on a tight timeline and trying to reign in the details and dollars, I thought we needed a fancy organizational book to keep track of it all. I didn’t even use it. Things moved so quickly, and after one hour-long meeting with Tracy, the details were already in place. I had actually bought identical planning books for Aly and for me, but quickly decided that was money that could have bought a pair of shoes.
The only other thing I would change is that I might have had someone else address the invitations. Aly disagrees with me on this, but we spent a lot of time on it, and it was a little stressful. It’s expensive to hire a calligrapher, so we opted to do it ourselves, but in hindsight, I would have taken up the offer of a friend with beautiful handwriting who said she would help with addressing all those invitations.
The Surprise of the Cost and Two Big Things that Helped
Even a minimal wedding is expensive. It’s super hard to stay on the budget. Even as prepared as we thought we were, we were still surprised by the cost of a wedding. And unless you want to pay additional 3-5% more for each element of the wedding, you must pay in cash. We had consoled ourselves that at least we could rack up some airlines miles by using our card, but, once we considered fees, it made more sense to just shell it out, check by check.
One thing that helped us with the hefty cost of the flowers was this. Since the Smith Family Chapel at Riverbend Church is a very popular venue, there is hardly a day that only one ceremony is taking place. On our day, there were three weddings! Our service was at 10:00 a.m., followed by a wedding at 2:00. I called the mother of the bride for the wedding after ours and we conferred about whether sharing the flowers was a possibility. Amazingly enough, the colors chosen by our daughters were similar, so the two brides were totally fine with sharing the flowers in the chapel.
The other thing that helped was that Aly chose and paid for the photographer. Most brides have a visual already in their mind’s eye of what they want the pictures to portray. It’s almost not a decision that anyone can make but her. It’s also one of the most expensive elements of the day. If you are trying to stick to a wedding budget, it is extremely thoughtful of the bride to help with some of the expense. She did a great job choosing the photographer, and the pictures met all her wedding day expectations.
Everything was Perfect – Even the Weather
We’re such newbies to some Austin details that we didn’t even consider the dates of SXSW, but thankfully, our plans were made for the weekend before it all started. That really helped with the cost of hotel rooms, which was a big consideration, since most of our guests would be out-of-towners. So, our guests enjoyed a beautiful weekend in Austin, and when I say beautiful, I mean stunningly beautiful. Springtime can be iffy for planning, and the very next weekend was a rainy one, so we were so thankful for the sheer loveliness of the weather on our daughter’s special day.
An Element of Surprise
One great thing, really great thing about planning a wedding over a speedy timeline is this. The couple hasn’t had to discuss the details to the point that they’re sick of talking about it – and it’s easy to pull off an element of surprise.
Nick surprised Aly with a pair of wedding-day pearl earrings.
Nick surprised us all by wearing black tails to the morning ceremony and changing to a white dinner jacket for the evening reception.
We surprised the bride and groom with a pretty sweet getaway ride.
At the End of the Day
Talk to any parent who has married off their daughter and you’ll hear, “We offered them the money, but they wanted the wedding.” That was our story, too. But at the end of the day, we, as mother and father of the bride, laid our tired, elated heads on our pillows and said, “Wasn’t it wonderful? Wasn’t it nice that all those people came? Wasn’t she absolutely beautiful? Can you believe how everything was so perfect?”
At the end of the day, we were absolutely thrilled that, no matter what it cost, almost everyone we love the most in our lives was in one room together at the same time, smiling, dancing and enjoying the finest celebration our family had ever known.
Happy 1st Anniversary, you two lovebirds. We love you both and are excited to watch you enjoy the years ahead.
Encouraging intentional adventure as you help the brides and grooms you love celebrate the day of their dreams,
PS – Here’s a list of our vendors. We were too new to Austin to really know much about each one, so we relied on the recommendations of recent brides and on the advice of our coordinator. I know believe them to be the finest wedding vendors in Austin.
Coordinator – Tracy Collins Events
Bride’s Luncheon – hosted by Aly’s Aunt Bonnie at the historic Driskill Hotel, where Aunt Bonnie had enjoyed the famous Helen Corbitt’s Cheese Soup as a newlywed herself. This event really set the stage for the weekend. Thanks again, Aunt Bonnie and the Howe cousins!
Rehearsal Dinner – hosted by the groom’s family at the sunset capital of Texas, The Oasis, where all of our red lover’s locks are still attached to the fence. What a wonderful evening!
Wedding Venue – Smith Family Chapel at Riverbend Church on beautiful Hwy 360
Reception Venue – The Austin Club – an historic, classic venue with gorgeous chandeliers
Pastor – John Featherston – the “O’Neal Family Chaplain”
Photographer – Amber Kelley Photography
Flowers – Bouquets of Austin
Pianist – Rebecca Goldfarb
Reception Band – The Royal Dukes – Mike and I went to hear them and hired them with Aly’s permission, which was a little risky, but they were amazing. The dance floor was full the whole time!
Bridal Gown – Signature Bridal
Bridal Shoes – Dillard’s Galleria Bee Cave
Tuxedo Rentals – Men’s Wearhouse
Guys Orange Socks – TIES.com
Bridesmaid Dresses – J Crew
Hair – Jessica Olson (bride) and Miranda McGuire (bridesmaids)
Makeup – Texas De la Rosa
The Bentley (wedding) – Four Leaf Limo
The Horse Drawn Carriage (reception) – Austin Carriage
Printing (programs, etc.) – Jill F. Miller
Table Coverings and other rentals – Marquee Rents
Bride’s Cake – Simon Lee Bakery
Groom’s Cake – My Sweet Austin Bakery
And, of course, no wedding is complete without the guests who come to support the bride, the groom and their families. We could not be more grateful for the many family members and friends who came to celebrate with us!