We Did

Almost exactly one-point-five years ago, I started this blog and discussed our intentions to plan our wedding, and exactly one year ago (and, ironically, on our third anniversary), I wrote about our decision to be indefinitely engaged.

Today, on the fourth anniversary of our first date, I get to write about our wedding.

(So, I did write the introduction and half of this post when the above was true, but then I put off writing the rest, and so technically none of that is true now.)

Sometime in December 2014, Kevin and I finally agreed that A) we needed to get married (for financial reasons, of course), B) we wanted to get married (for love reasons), and C) we wanted to keep it simple.

We went through several iterations of what “simple” meant and finally landed on a three-course wedding format—one that would please our family, friends, and financials.

And, when we discovered that 2015 would include a Super Pi Day, and also that this day fell on a Saturday, we knew we had to get married on that date.

But it was December, and no one knew of our plans but us.

On January 4, 2015, while lunching with some of our friends at Bangkok Square (best Thai in GNV!), we discussed our wedding date and were disappointed to learn that half of the people at the table were busy on Pi Day. Dismayed, we realized that, if we wanted people to attend, we had to get to work right away. Since I don’t believe in save-the-dates, and since paper invitations would have taken too long (oh yeah, and would have been ridiculously expensive), we used Facebook to invite our friends and an email blast to invite our family and non-Facebook-using friends. Imperfect? Maybe, but we didn’t care; it was cost-effective, and it allowed us to easily track who could come.

Part 1: The Ceremony

Having been to many weddings, I knew that the ceremony was not something that everyone would want to attend, no matter how short we made it. Also—and this is just me being weird—it felt arrogant to expect people to come watch me parade around in a pretty dress and say some fancy things. So, while we told our friends about the ceremony, we let them know that it was 100% optional. To our surprise, many of our friends still came, which truly warmed my heart.

Covered pavilion at Bivens Arm looking toward the seating area.

We held the ceremony at Bivens Arm Nature Park, a gorgeous, free park near downtown Gainesville. Originally, I wanted to get married at Cellon Oak Park, which is about 20 minutes north of Gainesville and boasts the largest oak tree in Florida (though when I drove Kevin there in 2014, the park was closed because one of the tree’s largest limbs had fallen, so who knows if it’s still the grand champion), but it’s devoid of seating, which meant we would have had to rent chairs and truck them out to the site. Since we planned to have a very short ceremony, it didn’t seem worth the cost to do this. While I had been to Bivens Arm before, it had been several years since my last visit. When I Googled it and saw that it provided comfortable seating and a pavilion perfect for a ceremony, I knew it was perfect for our event.

While I was content with the decorous natural setting, Kevin and his friend from work, Lina (who graciously volunteered to be our day-of ceremony coordinator), thought the site could use a bit of sprucing. Together, we scoured Michael’s for cheap wedding decor. I found some amazing owl vases (50% off!), which we planned to rest on our newly purchased bar stools (a gift from Kevin’s parents) from our bar, white tulle (buy one, get one 50% off), and blue and white fake flowers (50% off)—just enough decoration to add a personal touch without detracting from the rustic beauty of the park. And, better yet, after the big day, we had so much tulle left over that I returned one of the rolls to Michael’s, and while we did keep the owl vases and some of the fake flowers as decorations in our house, I sold the used tulle and half of the flowers on Craigslist for $20!

As for the colors, my preference would have been seafoam green (my oddly specific favorite color), but since my sister was my only bridesmaid (actually, my matrón of honor), and since she also had to buy a flower-girl dress and a ring-bearer suit, I told her to pick any dress she wanted in any color (except red) and that would be my color. I wanted the dress to be something she would actually wear again (and not something the bride tells you you could actually wear again but then never do), and though she chose a super fancy floor-length gown, I think she goes on enough cruises to reuse that baby at least once on those fancy-schmancy dinner nights.

For the officiant, well, that’s a funny story that involves me and the Internet and being creepy (or really good at the Google, depending on how you look at it), but we ended up finding the fiance of our wedding photographer, who happened to be a notary and who happened to have never officiated a wedding. But, he did have a lovely baritone voice, and I had no problem gambling on his ability to read words from a piece of paper and sign his name nicely. In the end, he did a great job, and now we’re actually friends in real life.

As for the ceremony itself, it was really important to Kevin and me to write it ourselves and make it meaningful to us, even if it did not adhere to customs or the religious beliefs of anyone other than us. We loved what we came up with; it was traditional enough to follow but uniquely us. Lina, who is from India, told us that in traditional Indian weddings, people close to the bride and groom speak during the ceremony to honor the couple. Kevin really latched on to this idea, so we asked his dad and brother and my sister and aunt to prepare a little something. At first, I wasn’t fond of the idea, but I’m glad Kevin insisted on it, because I think it turned out well and made the ceremony even more personal.

Wide shot of the site.

Our beautiful ceremony venue.

I know everyone says this, but the ceremony really did go by in a blur. Though we spent hours writing our wedding ceremony, it took only a few minutes to complete, and it felt like a surreal, out-of-body experience. But it happened and, in under 15 minutes, we were husband and wife.

After the ceremony, we spent a few minutes chatting with our friends and taking family photos before we headed into the woods for a brief photo shoot of just us. The one thing I regret is not budgeting more time here, as we felt very rushed to get photographs in before heading to our next event, but in the end, our photographer (Tyler K. Reed Photography) got plenty of great shots. (I mean, let’s be honest; how many photos does anyone really need of their wedding day? The answer is not that many.)

Part 2: Family Luncheon

Because all of our family came from other cities (and some from other states), we wanted to do something nice and a little fancy for them as a thank-you (which is why this event was called a luncheon and not simply a lunch). We decided to treat our family to a meal at Francesca’s Trattoria, my favorite Italian restaurant in GNV and one of the first restaurants Kevin and I visited for a date.

This turned out to be the single most expensive transaction for the entire wedding, but it was worth it. The food was great and we had the chance to hang out with our families before the chaos of the party began.

Part 3: House Party

Homemade fire pit and wood benches.

While we always knew we wanted to host a party in lieu of the traditional, formal reception, we originally planned to rent a house or venue and throw the party there. In the end, however, we decided that it would be more advantageous to host it at our house. We had never thrown a housewarming party when we purchased the house, and we thought we could make better use of the money we would have needed to rent a place to make some small improvements to our own abode, like building the bar and adding a permanent, homemade fire pit with benches.

When we first started dating, Kevin (though he swore he never wanted to get married) told me that the best wedding he had ever attended was one that was held in a park and included hot dogs and beer. Having been to many weddings myself, I knew that the real recipe for success/fun was not how cute and clever the table centerpieces and party favors could be (and the last thing I wanted to do was throw the same uninspired, “look what I found on Pinterest,” rustic-chic wedding that every other female human is throwing these days); all we really needed was alcohol and food.

So we rented a keg, picked up some handles of liquor and mixers, concocted a red sangria, and made lime-infused water for the DDs. In honor of Pi Day, we ordered 25+ pizzas from Domino’s and 8 freshly made pies from Publix, and we also served some appetizers/finger foods.

We converted most of the rooms in our house into seating areas to give people different areas to roam. We set up dual beer pong tables on the side of the house, and we had a bonfire going (at least for a little bit) in the backyard. We put up minimal decorations but enough to feel festive, and we had a diverse playlist (curated by yours truly) going while Darren Aronofsky’s film Pi played on our TV in the background. (Looking back, I should have played Life of Pi instead, as Pi ended up being an obscure choice.)

For our guest book, we agreed that we did not want a framed photo, painting, or other physical object that we would then feel obligated to tote around with us for the rest of our lives. Instead, I used Google Forms to create a fun survey, the results from which are more fun than signatures and will last until the sun blows up and destroys the Earth (and thus the Internet). We were also then able to email a link to the guest book to everyone subscribed to the Facebook event for those that missed their opportunity to fill it out at the party.

What I loved most about our party, though, was how generous people were. We had asked our guests to not bring gifts (since we were not throwing a traditional, costly reception); we just wanted people to come have fun with us. Though several of our friends still contributed to our honeymoon fund, others brought us homemade gifts, like a giant jug of cherry-infused kombucha, a pitcher of white sangria, and fried chicken. Kevin’s aunts took it upon themselves to purchase all of our paper decorations and even lit up our driveway with luminaries. These were unexpected surprises and made us feel very loved.

The downside of the party was that only a few people took photos, so I don’t have much to show for it. But the experience was a blast and exactly what we had hoped it would be. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and most of the food and beer disappeared. I’d call that a success.

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The Rundown

Here’s a breakdown of everything we spent money on and our grand total for our wedding. While we missed our $1,000 goal, I’m satisfied with what we spent. In the end, we both agree that it was exactly what we wanted: our friends and family hanging out, having some drinks, and being merry. In truth, I can’t imagine the evening being anything else other than what is was: perfect for us.

  • Marriage license: Alachua County, $94
  • Invitations/guest book: Facebook/Google Forms, free
  • Music: Various playlists curated by us using Google Play All Access, free (though we did pay $30 for a Bluetooth player to have music at the ceremony, and we pay a monthly subscription fee of $8 for Google Play)
  • Ceremony:
    • Venue: Bivens Arm Nature Park, free
    • Photography: Tyler K. Reed Photography, $188
    • Notary: Kody Latham, free
    • Planner: Lina Khan, free
    • Decorations (tulle, owl vases, flowers): Michael’s, $60 – $20 resale on Craigslist – $7 returned tulle = $33 net
    • Bouquets and boutonnieres: Alix Mathia, free
    • Flower girl basket: Amazon, $10
    • Flower girl flowers: Random person’s hibiscus bush on my way to the ceremony, free 😀
  • Attire:
    • Kevin’s suit: Already owned, free
    • Wedding dress: David’s Bridal, $212
    • Shoes: Amazon, free (generously gifted by my mom)
    • Jewelery: Amazon, $35
    • Hair & Makeup: Did my own, free
  • Lunch venue: Francesca’s Trattoria, $351
  • Reception:
    • Venue: Our house, free
    • Snacks and accessories: Sam’s Club/Dollar Store, $160
    • Liquor, wine, and keg: Sam’s Club/Publix, $180 (and we had extra beer, which we delivered to local friends the next day, and tons of extra liquor, which we will just keep for future use :D)
    • Dinner: Domino’s Pizza, $190 (and we had extra, which we donated to a few friends but mostly to our little brother, Tim, who is in college and lives off of pizza)
    • Dessert: Publix pies, $57
    • Decorations, plates/cups, favors: Oriental Trading, free (generously gifted by Kevin’s parents and aunts)
    • Serving dishes: TJMaxx/Goodwill, $50

Total: $1,615

How We Saved Money

Obviously, our style of wedding isn’t for everyone, and I know a lot of brides spend years dreaming up their perfect day, no expense spared. But here are the major ways that we saved money, and maybe future brides will find just one or two of these (rather than all of them) helpful in planning their own weddings.

  • We held the party at our house (instead of renting a venue).
  • We served pizza and pie (instead of serving an elaborate, multi-course meal).
  • We used electronic resources for our invitations and guest book (instead of using paper, stamps, knick-knacks, etc.).
  • We made our own playlist and used our own sound system (instead of booking a DJ).
  • We scoured the Internet for a talented but flexible photographer and then booked her only for the amount of time (and photos) we really needed (instead of booking an all-day, thousands-of-photos affair).
  • We used a notary to marry us (instead of using an officiant). (By Florida law, notaries cannot charge more than $30 for marriage ceremonies, though many do them for free.)
  • We used minimal decorations and fake flowers that we arranged ourselves (instead of buying real flowers and maximum decorations).
  • We used paper flowers for the bouquets/boutonnieres (which we still have and will have forever), and we stole a few petals from a random bush for the flower girl basket (instead of paying for real flower arrangements that die in a few days).
  • We used what we already had (when appropriate) for our attire, hair, and makeup (instead of renting tuxes or having a professional stylist slather my face and hair with products).
  • We uses paper plates and cups, and we raided Goodwill for serving dishes and then filled in the gaps with inexpensive items from TJMaxx (instead of buying high-end dishes that no one would notice).

To wrap up this post, Kevin and I would like to extend a very humble thank-you to everyone who helped make our day special. We couldn’t have done it without the love and support of our family and friends, and we are very grateful to all of you. Thank you!!


Say “Meh” to the Dress: What I Wore

In my previous wedding-dress post, written before the wedding, I expressed my dissatisfaction with wedding-dress shopping and my hope that Kevin would love my dress. I’m happy to report that he did, indeed, love what I picked and my makeup—which is saying a lot because, usually, he complains that I don’t wear enough makeup. As I arrived next to him at the end of the aisle, his eyes lit up and he told me I looked beautiful. Mission accomplished.

My dress was from David’s Bridal (hell on Earth), but it was from the store’s party-dress section and is technically not a wedding dress. But when I tried it on and found that it fit perfectly and would require no alterations, and that it was affordable and flattering for my body type, I didn’t care; it was a good-enough dress for me. (You can see even more photos of my dress and our wedding here on the blog.)

Straight-on shot of my dress.


Front detail and accessories.

All of my accessories (except for my earrings, which I already owned) were from Amazon. Since the dress had a Grecian/gold theme, I bought a snake armband, though I had difficulty finding one that was more decorative than terrifying. For the plunging neckline, I needed something delicate yet long, so I went with a simple chevron necklace. I wanted a little bit of bling for my hair, so I thought I would try a gold headband. I discovered, however, that this particular headband looked terrible on my forehead (where it was supposed to go) and did not provide the subtle effect I had hoped it would. My mom suggested wearing it on the back of my head and pinning it into place, which looked much less obtrusive, so we went with that.

For shoes, my mom purchased me some appropriately themed gladiator heels that we didn’t know until the last minute were the perfect height for the dress. They were annoying to snap in place, and the heels kept getting stuck in the grooves of the wood planks at the ceremony site, but they were fun and Kevin loved them.

My shoes, which were hidden by my dress but I wore them nonetheless.

Early on, I had decided that my mother and I could take care of my hair and makeup ourselves. Having put one daughter through competitive baton twirling and one daughter through musical theater and competitive dance, she had made up her fair share of faces. Plus, she spent years styling our hair into up-dos for proms and homecomings, so she’s no novice. In the end, I did most of my makeup and hair myself, but she provided guidance and a helping hand for pinning in my headpiece.

Since I had jewelery in my hair, I wanted to keep my mane simple; I just straightened it and pinned the front back into the headpiece. The humidity of the morning caused my hair to frizz a little, but that’s life.

As for makeup, I spent some time watching YouTube videos on wedding-makeup ideas and techniques. Most videos advocated for piling tons of concealer and goop on one’s face to be the epitome of perfection on one’s wedding day. I, however, wanted to keep it simple and real, though I did follow the basic advice and color combinations of this makeup tutorial. I wanted a natural, light look, since we were having a daytime, spring wedding. For my entire face, I started with the present by Philosophy (a clear makeup) and topped that with a CoverGirl foundation + sunscreen in “classic ivory” (which is a nice way of saying, “you’re so pale you’re almost clear”). For my eyes, I used my E.L.F. box of a bajillion eyeshadow colors (OK, so there are only like 50 colors, but it’s more eyeshadow than I’ll ever need), Tattoo Liner (the best eyeliner ever and probably the single most expensive makeup item I own), and some random mascara. For an amateur, I was proud of how it turned out; Kevin was surprised that I did it myself!

Since I was going natural, and because I know how much Kevin loves a girl with lipstick, I decided to have some fun with my lips and chose a “British Red” lipstick.

Here you can see my eyeshadow colors.

Close-up of makeup and hair.

And that’s that! In all, it took me about an hour and a half to get ready, plus about ten minutes the night before when my sister, niece, and I painted our toes and fingernails together. Not having to rush around to a hair stylist and a makeup artist made the morning more enjoyable and less chaotic—and, of course, much less expensive!


Build-a-Bar Workshop

(Warning: This is a long one with lots of pictures. If you don’t like to or can’t read, just scroll to the bottom to see the end result. <3)

Once upon a time, we bought a house, and this house had a very annoying wall between the kitchen and living room. The wall blocked light and air from flowing through the house, making it feel small and stuffy.

Hi, I’m a wall. I like to divide spaces for no reason!

To my relief, however, our home-closing inspector assured me that this wall was indeed not load-bearing and could be removed.

For over a year, I dreamed of everything this wall could be instead of a wall: a basic hole, a bar, a doorway with bookshelves on both sides. Kevin, however, spent the majority of that year reminding me what a pain constructions projects are and that removing the wall would be a lot more work than just cutting it out. But his negativity did not deter me. I kept dreaming.

Eventually, in January 2015, when we decided that we wanted to have our wedding at our house, Kevin flipped sides. We decided we would build a bar, and he got to work right away planning our new construction project. In his enthusiasm, he made the first cut (mostly just to look for the electrical wires):

The first cut!

Kevin enlisted the help of his dad, a seasoned construction project manager, to cut out the wall. The two spent an entire Saturday in January cutting, reinforcing, and dry-walling our new hole:

And what, you ask, was I doing during this part of the project? Attending my little bachelorette party, of course, planned and executed by my wonderful sister.

Nothing raunchy. Just some yummy food and a fancy hotel in Orlando.

But once I returned and Kevin’s dad was gone, the rest of the project was up to us.

Our next big decision was what to build the actual bar out of. Our first idea was to buy a piece of tree, since there are several folks in these parts who cut down trees and make them into other things. We searched but couldn’t find a piece that really wowed us, especially given the $250+ price tag of these humongous tree parts.

We started brainstorming other materials we could use and the ways in which we could morph them to look fancy. We considered butcher block, tile, laminate, and about a hundred wood options from the aisles of Home Depot and Lowe’s (because they really do stock different products!). Needless to say, we spent a lot of time in big-box construction stores before finally settling on a beautiful piece of plywood (which, by comparison, was only $30).

The plywood was about 1.5 inches thick, which we thought was too thin for a bar, so the plan was to cut it in half and glue it to itself to double the thickness. We used liquid nails, actual nails, and 122 pounds of Carly to fuse the two pieces together.

Always use protection…especially when sanding!

Once the glue dried and we were sure that it was sufficiently sturdy, it was time to sand. Home Depot’s cuts, while convenient, were far from precise, and so the two pieces we glued together did not match up perfectly, plus we needed to smooth the edges. Using a palm sander borrowed from my friend Jason and the tiny sander piece from Kevin’s Dremel accessory kit, I sanded all of the edges and rounded the corners.

Meanwhile, Kevin continued working on the never-ending sanding and dry-walling required by the hole in our wall. If I had known ahead of time the level of sanding required by this project, I would have declined. Kevin was quick to criticize my pitiful drywall-sanding attempts, but I reminded him that my small lady arms were no match for his testosterone-rich man arms and that he was really the best sander out of the two of us. This logic worked for a little while, but inevitably I was roped back in to drywall sanding.

Next, it was time to mount the bar…or for the bar to mount the hole…yeah, there’s no good way to phrase it. We used the strength of my thighs and some water bottles to hold the bar level (enough) while Kevin use liquid nails and regular nails to place the bar.

It may look like I’m using my arms, but my legs are doing most of the work.

Here’s a super creepy picture of Kevin, just for fun. Yes, he’s wearing a robe.

Trying to nail the bar into the wall was a most unpleasant experience, especially because failing at these sorts of tasks is especially frustrating for Kevin. We couldn’t decide whether it was our higher-end nails or our low-end drill bit that was the problem, but Kevin kept stripping the nails before they made it all the way in to the wall, leaving us with little nail heads poking up every few feet. I promised him we weren’t screwed (haha…ha…ha….) and that we’d find a creative solution. Using another attachment from his Dremel tool kit, he sanded down the nails until they were slightly lower than flush with the bar, and I filled the holes with wood putty.

Sanding down the rather unruly screws.

We also added heavy-duty shelf brackets under the bar, mounting them to the underside of the bar and the studs in the wall, just to make sure it wouldn’t budge.

Then, it was time to stain the wood. After another long, drawn-out discussion in Home Depot, we finally decided on a Minwax ebony stain. To me, it seemed the most interesting, even if it wasn’t the same color as our kitchen floors. Plus, the bar would extend mostly into the living room, where our furniture is black and white, so ebony seemed to make the most sense.

Unfortunately, having already tested the stain on the underside of the bar, we knew that the wood putty stained differently from the actual wood. It was then that we decided to go for a more distressed look. Once again, Kevin resorted to his magical Dremel accessory kit and used several tools to achieve a “we rescued this piece of wood from the side of the road” look. The wood putty areas that we stained now looked like additional “distresses” in the wood rather than glaring mishaps.

Next, it was time to paint. We wanted to keep the same neutral color in the living room, so Kevin saved a small sample of the wall he had cut out, and Home Depot used it to match the color perfectly. (Pro tip: If you need to have Home Depot match a paint color, go to the store first thing in the morning. We learned that this is the best time to go because the paint machines are freshly calibrated each morning and will produce a better match than they would later in the day.)

We also had to choose a color for our accent wall in the kitchen. Now, for me, this was one of the most difficult decisions because I am terrible at visualizing. It is the one skill I regrettably lack. While Kevin found it easy to visualize the room each time I taped up a new paint sample, I struggled to see the color outside of its tiny space on the sample paper. Plus, I kept trying to match the paint to other things in the kitchen, like our curtains or our clocks, and Kevin reminded me repeatedly that decorations can be replaced while paint is permanent. (OK, I know, paint isn’t permanent, but getting Kevin to agree to paint is harder than getting him to pick out new decorations.) I brought home at least 30 paint samples (who knew there were so many shades of blue??) before finally settling on Blue Agave (which happens to also be our favorite Mexican restaurant in Gaineville).

Finally, after over a month of work, it was time to add the finishing touches: glaze and moulding. We spent (literally) another four hours in Home Depot debating the pros and cons of epoxy versus polyurethane before choosing the latter. While the epoxy would have made our bar more resilient, I didn’t want our hand-crafted piece of wood to lose its wood-like qualities. I wanted to be able to put my hand down on the bar and have it still feel like a piece of wood, not a piece of plastic. Plus, the epoxy (~$50 after purchasing the two boxes we would need) was waaaay more expensive than the polyurethane (~$7 for 8 ounces), and we thought the polyurethane would be less of a bane to apply. Indeed, it was relatively easy (we got the three coats we needed out of one can), and we ended up loving the way it looked.

To cover up where the uneven drywall met the bar, and to add some final pizzazz, Kevin wanted to get a few strips of moulding. Picking out the moulding was the easy part; cutting it was horrific. We don’t own the proper tools to cut moulding, but that didn’t deter us because Home Depot provides a moulding-cutting center in its stores, complete with a variety of saws and these plastic boxes that help you cut angles accurately. The saws, however, are tired, old, dull saws, and plastic is never a good material to use with a dull saw. What we thought would be six easy cuts turned into six cuts featuring sound effects from 1980s slasher films. EEEEK EEEEK EEEEK EEEEK. We drowned out the aisle; anyone who entered it left shortly after. And even after enduring the nails-down-the-chalkboard saw music, we still had to sand down the edges at home because the cuts weren’t precise enough. Next time, I think we’ll bring our own saw…

Meanwhile, our house had devolved into a renovation nightmare. Dust was everywhere, as were the sheets that were supposed to protect our stuff from the dust. The kitchen was…well, I’ll just let these next few photos speak for me.

Cleaning was a bitch.

As a side project, we decided to use the leftover wood stain to upgrade our kitchen light-switch covers. Originally a boring, country-ish, light shade of wood, they now match the bar and look great contrasted with the blue of the wall.

As a final touch, we purchased some funky bar stools from IKEA. We finished the project just in time for our wedding, and it served as a great gathering point for our guests.

Overall, the project took 2 months to complete, but we only worked on weekends, so it could have been done in much less time. We’re so glad we did this project. It really opened the living areas without sacrificing the separation of spaces. (I am not really a fan of the “open-space” concept.) Air and light flow so much better, and we’re excited to have added some character to our little home. We’re also incredibly proud that we were able to complete this project without looking too much like amateurs.

For your viewing pleasure: the “after” pictures:

Say “Meh” to the Dress

Ahhhh, dress shopping…the most wonderful day for a bride. It’s that special day when she gathers up her female entourage and heads to a fancy store, where she is waited on, hand and foot, as she tries on dress after dress (accompanied by “ooo”s and “aaah”s) in search of that heart-stopping ensemble that will remind her betrothed exactly why he (or she…) chose her. It is a magical day full of giggling, champagne, hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars, and, yes, even a few tears.

But that’s not how it really is…at least, not for the bride on a budget. For the budget bride, wedding-dress shopping is more like a frustrating trip to the Walmart clothing section.

Despite spending nearly 2 years checking thrift stores for used dresses, all I ever found were A) dresses from the ’80s in styles that aren’t yet vintage enough to be considered eclectic or flattering and B) my sister’s wedding dress. My dream of organically finding an amazing vintage dress abandoned, I gathered my mother, sister, and very patient 5-year-old niece and headed for the Walmart of dress shops: David’s Bridal.

Now isn’t that special?

David’s Bridal (DB) tries to exude a feeling of luxury and uniqueness. You get paired with a dress consultant (AKA, a minimum-wage worker bee whose job is to take dresses out of bags, hand them to you, and put them back into bags, and also to scorn you for either A) wasting her time because you’re buying an inexpensive dress or B) being a spoiled bitch who has no budget) who parades you around the store trying to figure out your “style.” Their real job, of course, is to up-sell you and show you dresses that are out of your very clearly stated price range (as close to $100 as possible, please!), bring in all sorts of over-priced accessories hoping you’ll fall in love with them, and remind you that you’ll need a “going-away dress.” (I realize this has been a thing for some time now, but I still think it’s completely ridiculous!)

Now, my lady was very nice, and she didn’t seem too put off when I told her my budget. For me, the wedding dress, while important to this one particular day in my life, is virtually meaningless. Like my mother and sister, I will most likely never wear this dress again, and it will hang in my closet until my niece decides to marry someone, at which point she’ll try it on just for shits and giggles and then laugh at how out of style it is. Why would I want to spend more than $100 on that?

The job of the DB sales ladies is to convince you otherwise. They will try to convince you that this is your special day and money does not matter. But there is no place or time in this universe where you can ever tell me that money doesn’t matter and I will take you seriously.

So we looked at the $100 dresses and a few dresses that were marked down to the $150 range. I had seen two dresses on the DB website that I thought would be perfect for me, but, of course, they weren’t quite as adorable when not on a size-zero, Photoshopped model. In fact, I hated nearly everything I tried on, because with every dress I tried on, I felt myself die a little on the inside. The best way I can describe how I felt would be to say that I felt like I was searching for a unique craft beer in a store that sold only Natty Lite. Boring dress after boring dress, all of them looking like every other wedding dress I had ever seen. Everything lacked personality and uniqueness.

The dress I almost picked. This was taken the third or fourth time I had tried it on. Look at my FACE.

I finally settled on this satin-y, backless dress, but the store didn’t have my size. Desperate to make a sale, my dress lady called the nearby DBs and found the dress in my size in the Jacksonville store.

At this point, my sister was done with dress shopping. If you’ve ever been to Walmart, you can relate: you can only spend so much time in these stores before you feel yourself losing touch with reality. My mother, however, having made a solemn vow during my sister’s and my births to never let anyone get the best of us, seemed rejuvenated by the the idea of more driving. So we saddled up her giant SUV and burned rubber north.

Once in Jacksonville, I tried on what I thought was “the” dress, except now — 90 miles north and 60 minutes later — I despised this dress too. It hung on me like my grandmother’s moo-moo, despite being a smaller size than the dress in the previous store, and I just knew there was nothing about this dress that Kevin would like, except maybe the fact that it accentuated my shoulders (supposedly his favorite body part).

In an attempt to help me make a decision, the dress consultant at this store suggested taking in the dress to accentuate my waist. She retreated to the back of the store and returned with what I can only describe as a sewing Gollum — a homely, frumpy lady whose job is to sit in a part of the store that the customers can’t see and sew her little hands off all day. I felt sorry for her and gave up on the dress because A) I didn’t want to pay money to alter a dress I already didn’t want to spend money on in the first place and B) I didn’t want to create extra work for this poor creature.

Frustrated, the dress consultant brought me more and more dresses. I must have tried on 15 more dresses, and each time I exited the dressing room, I didn’t come out beaming and teary-eyed; I came out scowling and underwhelmed. My mother even offered to pitch in for the dress, thinking, as she always does, that more expensive things make people happier. I obliged her and tried on some more expensive dresses, but none of them wowed me. They were all just as lame as the cheap dresses, except they had more sparkles on them.

Part of my indecisiveness stemmed from the fact that I was considering whether Kevin would like the dress. My mother told me that finding a dress wasn’t about him, but if you know Kevin, you know how he feels about women’s fashion. And, oh yeah, I most certainly want Kevin to like what I look like just before we sign a contract that binds us to each other for the rest of our lives. I don’t need him getting any last-minute insecurities because my dress fits me like a house-elf sack. Being the attentive, wonderful fiancee that I am, I knew Kevin would want one of two (but preferably both) things out of a wedding dress: short and tight. Thus, if a dress I tried on didn’t meet at least one of those requirements (along with my own, more practical requirement of “hide my crooked scoliosis body”), it was out.

Now, in the background of my own dress crisis were two other women, one to my right and one to my left, who were also trying on dresses. Unlike me, these ladies were surrounded by a horde of women who claimed that every dress their bride-to-be tried on was “the one,” and they were trying on the most ridiculous dresses I have ever seen: gigantic monstrosities of lace and beads that were so over the top I couldn’t help but laugh a little (on the inside, of course). They each loved so many of their dresses that they couldn’t decide which one to pick, while I had the opposite problem: I couldn’t pick because I hated everything.

This met both of Kevin’s requirements, but I look like a bedazzled mummy. Next.

Finally, and because she was probably bored to tears and ready to kill me, the dress consultant brought me a dress from the non-wedding side of the store. (DB also sells party dresses.) I had noticed the dress when I had entered earlier and had pointed it out to my mother, but I hadn’t considered it for a wedding dress because, well, it wasn’t that.

I’m not going to lie and say that when I tried the dress on tiny birds descended from the heavens and fluttered around my body while tweeting a merry tune, but I felt something other than complete disdain.

I strutted around in the non-wedding dress, frowning at myself in the mirror, trying to determine if I really wanted to spend double my budget on this dress. But DB had worn me down. It had eaten me up and spit me out, and so I caved and spent $212 on the dress.

Perhaps it was my nonchalance, or perhaps it was because I didn’t buy a wedding dress, or perhaps it was because the dress consultant wasn’t completely convinced that I was convinced I wanted the dress, but no one rang the stupid “she found the one” bell like the other DB employees were doing for the other brides-to-be. But I don’t think I need to convince any of you that being exempt from yet another cheesy part of this canned experience was fine with me.

So my dress is not what I would have imagined for myself (I wanted short and simple and vintage), but it’s not completely mind-numbing either. More importantly, it was the only dress the invoked more than a “meh” from me. Hopefully, Kevin will feel the same!

Planning Poor Does Attic Insulation

Think of the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. Also, think of a time in your life when you have felt the hottest (temperature-wise).

DIY blown-in insulation is worse than everything you just imagined. It blows. (haha…ha…ha…)

Our home inspector had noted that the attic insulation was embarrassingly bereft; the A/C duct was completely uninsulated and exposed. We passed this off as something that we could do many years down the road. Besides, it’s not cheap, especially if you don’t do it yourself. Home Depot (HD from here on) charges $1 per square foot. It sounds cheap, but our humble home is 1,476 square feet, and it would cost us the dollar equivalent of that figure (plus tax) to have them do it for us.

And why have someone do for us what we can easily do ourselves??

Required materials: masks, protective eyewear, headlamps, long sleeves, and long pants!

As summer rolled around, our GRU bills began a steady climb towards $200 (and any GNV homeowner will tell you that this is actually very low for a summertime energy bill, thanks to Gainesville having the highest utility rates in the state). When our July bill showed that we owed $249.36 (1,168 kWh used), the attic-insulation project was moved to the front of the queue, but the price tag still deterred us.

In an effort to postpone, we began looking for inexpensive ways to improve our home’s efficiency. We updated the weather stripping on our exterior doors (<$20), and I started shutting my computer off when not in use (which not only saves energy but also keeps our office much cooler). Begrudgingly, we set the A/C to 80 during the day and used ceiling and floor fans to keep cool. (Kevin somehow agreed to this in exchange for the 72 degrees he insists on setting the thermostat to in the evening).

We were excited to learn that our efforts and suffering had paid off: our August bill was slightly lower ($205.82, 916 kWh used), even though the average daily temperature and rainfall numbers had remained the same.

Then, in September, HD advertised a deal: if we opened a store credit card, we could get 10% off any purchase. And because we are masochists with excellent credit, we decided to take the plunge and insulate the attic…in September…in Florida…in swampy Gainesville.

And did I mention that this task requires one to wear long sleeves and pants??

Our attic is very shallow, which is good (we didn’t need to buy a TON of insulation) and bad (it was extremely difficult to maneuver around). We estimated we would need 28 bags of the itch-free, recycled insulation, and at HD if you purchase 25 bags, you can rent the blown-in insulation machine for free. So that’s what we did.

This is what a Mazda Tribute full of insulation (and Carly) looks like.

During checkout, we were asked several times if we wanted to rent a truck to tow all the materials and the machine. But we declined, confident that we could fit everything in the back of my small  SUV. Indeed, it took only two trips (one with Kevin and the machine and one with just me and 28 bags of insulation) to bring everything home.

We had read reviews on HD’s website and knew that we would have to make some adjustments to the hose connected to the machine. Made from flexible plastic, the hose was not sturdy. This is great for maneuvering through a house and an attic if your attic is tall and allows you to stand and roam easily. However, it is not so great for shallow attics that require one to lie on her belly and slither through the rafters.

Our hose addition (minus the pole).

To make the hose work for us and reach the spaces where we could not crawl, we took an old Trader Joe’s coffee canister and duct-taped it on to the end of the hose. We then took a wooden pole we had removed when redoing our master-bedroom closet and duct-taped it to the end of the hose too. This allowed us to extend our reach and angle the end of the hose, controlling the direction of the flow of insulation.

We have two attic access points: one on the north side of our house in the laundry room and one on the south side of our house in the hallway. We decided to start at the laundry room, since it was close to the exterior side of the house where the machine would be. Since the laundry-room access point is the hardest to shimmy into (it’s right where the roof starts to slope, leaving not much room to crawl in, let alone maneuver), we agreed that I would start in the attic and Kevin would start on the machine.

Me, readying myself for round two in the attic.

At first, it was great. I was getting a breeze, the air was breathable, and the heat wasn’t too unbearable. After about 15 minutes, however, the dust from the insulation was so thick that I could no longer see. When I realized it wasn’t really necessary to use my eyes, I began aiming the hose randomly. This worked very well for about another 15 minutes, but then I needed a break. Kevin and I switched places.

I thought it would be better to be outside and work the machine, and while this job was definitely the lesser of the two evils, it was still evil. I had to cram tightly packed cubes of recycled material into an archaic machine and then use a meter stick to jam them down into a terrifying mechanism that would chop them up and shoot them through the hose. Despite being in the shade and the fresh air, I was still sweating my ass off and standing in a cloud of insulation dust.

Kevin working the machine.

Dragging the hose through the entire house to get to the other attic entrance. This exacerbated the dust issue.

What’s worse, once we moved to the other attic entrance, the insulation-stuffer had to constantly run down the hallway to the insulation-blower to make sure they weren’t dying. The machine was too loud for us to communicate using our voices, and the hose was too long to communicate using hose signals. Walkie-talkies would have been very helpful, but I’m not sure we would have understood each other over the roar of the machine and through the face masks we were wearing.

We continued like this for hours. Based on reviews we had read, we estimated we would need three to four hours. In reality, we took at least six. Eventually, I got so fatigued that I insisted Kevin be the insulation-blower permanently. Because he is such a gentleman, he obliged, but I checked on him every 5 minutes and brought him drink after drink. He also donned a headlamp, though it really didn’t help him to see through the dust storm.

The heat was extreme and stifling, despite Kevin lugging one of our portable fans into the attic to try to keep the air flowing. We both sweated so much that we changed our clothes and then sweated completely through those. Our lungs were thick with dust (our one downfall: not getting high-grade face masks), but we couldn’t breathe anyway, so it didn’t really matter. Our house was also covered in dust, even rooms that we didn’t enter and had closed off.

By the evening, we had finished, but our work was hardly over. We still had to drag the machine back to HD. When we returned home, we had the entire house to clean, because EVERYTHING was covered in a thick layer of dust. I would not be exaggerating too much if I said it looked like ground zero.

When our GRU bill arrived the next month, I was gripped by anxiety as I opened the email, fearing that we had gone through hell for nothing. But there it was, our amount owed: $183.95 (804 kWh used).  In October, our bill was $154.32 (579 kWh used), though it was 7 degrees cooler on average that month.

In all, we spent just under $400. I suppose we won’t know until next summer if it paid off. I’m eager to compare this year’s usage to last year’s.

Kevin, heading up for one of his final trips. (You can see we’re nearing dusk based on the darkness of the room at the end of the hall.)

A few weeks later, I found a cube of insulation that we had forgotten to return. Somehow, it had nestled itself among our things and we’d overlooked it. I returned it to HD, and the lady at the customer-service desk was the same one who had signed me up for the credit card and sold me the insulation. She looked at me in awe.

“You’re the first person I’ve ever met who actually did this themselves!” she gawked.

“Really?” I asked. I found this quite unbelievable, considering how cheaply it can be done by oneself.

“Yeah. Everyone else just uses our service!”

I beamed with pride. Yes, it sucked, and we probably have lung damage, and though we may have to do this project again in the future, it was undoubtedly worth the effort, considering we saved over $1,000 by doing it ourselves. (Though next time, we will probably splurge and use the AttiCat brand, which supposedly produces significantly less dust.)