October 27, 2012

A Year in an Hour: B's 1st 365

First birthday celebrations in Hawaii are a big deal, and everything is *bigger* in Texas, so naturally, Bryson's first birthday demands a BIG celebration. We're on it.

In honor of our little guy's first birthday, I've put together a one-hour video to commemorate our first 365 days as a family of three. I'll add more to it after his first birthday PARTY today, but for now, this video sums it up!

Enjoy :)

October 23, 2012

Here Comes the Hurricane: Planning Our Wedding

It's a commonly accepted assumption that most little girls start planning their weddings at a young age. Aside from playing dress up a time or two thousand, I never really had a clear vision of what I wanted my wedding to be while growing up. (Although at the age of 13, I had a pretty good idea of who my groom might be...)

Once we got engaged (more on that in another post), I realized that I wouldn't be one of those brides who wanted to pore over all the wedding magazines, tabbing options and ideas. Yes, I wanted options, but I prefer decisions. Crossing to-do items off of the list. Keeping it simple when possible.

I created a binder - nothing fancy, just some construction paper for the cover, some lists, photo inspiration, and a few tab dividers. We'd always imagined getting married on our dating anniversary, 10/24, and in addition to picking the tuxedos, and that was Jeremy's one big decision. Done deal.

The rest, for the most part, was up to me.

Issue #1: Say yes to this dress, and that one, and that one...
I am known to be a bit of a Frugal Fanny, so in an effort to save my generous parents some money, I originally ordered a custom dress from a company in NYC for a fraction of what the "actual" dress would have cost. I don't remember why, but for some reason the box was delivered to me when (or just before) I was working my part-time job tutoring TCU student athletes in the John Justin Athletic Center that night. In between sessions (and with the door closed), I slipped it on over my clothes. For real.

I thought it would be glorious, but I just couldn't convince myself that it was right. It was, after all, about three inches too short with a bust line cut for a six-year-old. When I got home and really tried it on, my heart sank. Some of the seams were visible through the fabric (which was too sheer in places), the panel in the back was off-center, the hip area was too tight.....it just wasn't going to work. I called my mom.

"Look, sweetie. I appreciate that you wanted to save us some money here, but it's my money, and at this point, I say we order the real deal."

So we did.

We ordered the actual dress - Aleta by Maggie Sottero - from Ventura's, a go-to Houston dress shop, and breathed a sigh of relief. We ordered it with just enough time to get it altered and ready for bridal portraits the month before the wedding.

Or so we thought.

The details are fuzzy now, but I'm pretty sure the "estimated arrival date" came and went, and there was no dress. I was concerned. I called the store and asked what was going on. Eventually the boss called me back (never a good sign) and mentioned something about the Beijing Olympics and how all production in China had stopped. The dress would not be made and shipped in time.

Thanks for telling me now, people.

Whew. Taming my inner bridezilla, after shedding a few tears, we canceled the order. It was time to start from scratch. We called in the reinforcements (my sisters), and headed to Brickhouse Bridal, where we found a dress I loved even more. We ordered it and had it within a week.

A few alterations and bridal portraits later, I knew in my heart that it all worked out for the best.

Issue #2-2,000: Hurricane Ike - The game-changer.
Some people believe that "THE dress" is even more important than the venue. Those people were probably not Houston brides in fall of 2008. When it came time to pick a spot to say our vows, we decided on a brand new, beautiful venue called the Tuscany in Garden Oaks (now under new ownership and called The Bell Tower on 34th). Sounds fancy, right? We thought so. I loved it. While it was still under construction, we had a personal tour from the owner/designer/chef, who had an entire career of Houston wedding experience under his belt. He said he took the best from each venue he'd worked with and put it all into one. Gorgeous design, grand staircase, classic columns, dramatic balcony, rustic wine cellar for the rehearsal dinner, romantic waterwall, a great value...it was dreamy. Almost too good to be true. Jeremy came in town and took a tour, and he loved it too. It was a bit troubling that they kept pushing back the opening date, but we weren't worried that come October, everything would be ready to go.

One we picked a venue, the rest was pretty easy. The Tuscany had preferred vendors, so we met with each vendor to be sure we preferred them, and that was that. Flowers, cake, DJ, photographer, videographer. Check, check, check, check, check. I ordered the invitations, we mailed them out, and that was that!

Or so we thought.

Enter Hurricane Ike, the costliest hurricane in Texas history. It was intense. We boarded up and hunkered down at my parents' house with a generator. I spoke with Jeremy on the phone, who was watching the news reports of over 120 mph winds.

I think the power was out for an entire week. (Truth: I actually enjoyed the opportunity to "live" with my sisters again - nieces and nephew were an added bonus!) While it's tricky getting by without power, we knew that many people were suffering in ways that we couldn't begin to imagine. A few flashlight showers and spending most days outside was no big deal.

Once we had power back, I resumed my pre-wedding workouts on the treadmill upstairs. I'm pretty sure it was Sunday, September 21st when my parents told me I needed to come downstairs quickly. They had something to tell me. When they pulled out the bar stool and offered me a cup of water, my heart jumped into my throat. Did someone die?!

"The Tuscany has gone bankrupt."


"We swung by on our way home from the office, and someone had written 'bankrupt" on a piece of bright pink. It's all locked up."

 Thoughts started flooding my bridal brain. First, I'm glad they didn't just tell me a loved one died. Next - What did that mean for us? My parents already paid in full. Our wedding was set to be there in 33 days. Hundreds of our friends and family members had already received and replied to the invitations. How would we find a new venue (and notify all of our guests) in time?! Would my parents get their money back?!

Thirty. three. days.

I wanted to freak out, may have even started to tear up, but through what had to be a heaping dollop of God's grace, I was able to keep calm and carry on. I remember my thought process like it was yesterday:

Okay. It could be worse. Some people just lost their homes. Some even lost their loved ones. Our wedding date is not going to change. What matters most is that the people we love are there to share our special day with us. If it has to be in my parents' (coincidentally beautiful) yard, that's a pretty great worst-case scenario. They paid with a credit card, not a check, so there's hope they can be refunded for services not rendered. Note to self and all others: I can only guarantee this blind optimism until Wednesday. If we don't find a new venue by then, all bets are off.

And so we got busy that week, booking appointments left and right. It was a tour de Houston's finest wedding venues. They knew we were coming, and they were ready to help.

You see, we weren't the only couples scrambling. Some had been scheduled to get married the week of the hurricane or immediately following. In those early days, we were never informed by the owners. It was so bizarre. Our main source of information was a message board on The Knot - all hearsay and word of mouth between brides, as more and more of the story came to light.

We eventually discovered that Ike had caused so much damage to their other venue, Bella Terrazza, that their business just collapsed. They'd already been in trouble, and this was the nail in the coffin. [If you're interested, you can read articles with more details here and here.] The only official word we got from the people who had our money was a strange voicemail set up to field calls. Even more bizarre.

Many of these other couples paid with checks - also in full (or almost in full) to receive a discount. (Many of us also paid the vendors through the venue, which meant the vendors were also on the raw end of this deal!) There was no way they would get their money back. Thankfully, Rachael Ray caught wind of the story and offered a fun alternative for those who decided it was for them. Click here for more on that story.

Our story continued as I went with my parents and sister to check out other venues. I'd have to pick one without Jerm this time. After touring the first one, The Parador, we sat down with the sales representative. I started to cry. I couldn't help it. Looking at other venues made it real. I may not have imagined my wedding for my entire life, but for the past several months, I thought I knew where we were going to recite our vows in front of our family and friends. I thought I knew where our first dance as husband and wife would be. That wasn't my reality anymore. It was strange. I was mourning the memories that clearly weren't meant to be. (Full disclosure: I still feel weird when I see images of brides who actually did get married at "our" original venue!)

Spoiler alert: Blinkies were a wedding favor!
We kept going in and out of Houston's go-to wedding venues, checking out menus and price lists, vendors and floorplans. While these places were nice, I wasn't excited about any of them. They didn't make me feel like the Tuscany did.

One of our last appointments was at Hotel ZaZa, a fun and funky, upscale hotel in Houston's museum district. I never once thought we would get married there, because I knew it had to be waaaaay out of our target price range. Honestly, we canceled our first appointment with them. I knew I would like it. I didn't want to go in there, fall in love, and not be able to say YES because it would break the budget. But something in me said to reconsider. So many of the other venues were offering great deals for "Tuscany brides" - maybe they would too? When Lisa, the Catering and Sales Manager, greeted us in the lobby with a handful of delightfully fun blinky rings, I knew I was in trouble.

Some talks, some tears, some discounts and great customer service later, my parents (and vendors!) decided that we were ready to move our big day to ZaZa. I cried like a baby. I was so thankful that this was all coming together. So thankful that my parents would move forward with this, not even totally sure what the outcome would be from the "first wedding." I didn't deserve such a beautiful and fun venue - this was crazy! Truly beyond my wildest dreams.

As the big day got closer, it became more and more evident that this was all playing out just how it was meant to. God's (wedding) plans were way better than ours, if you will. My "new" dress was SO very ZaZa. My bright red wedding shoes were so very ZaZa. My heart was ZaZa.

It was on.

Neither Olympic Games nor hurricanes could rain on our parade.  All we had to do now was wait for Friday, October 24th, 2008.

P.S.  This post is not related to my business, which is about helping bright entrepreneurs attract their dream clients, one brilliant message at a time. HOWEV - if you like my writing and want help with your own, sign up for free tips at www.nikkielledgebrown.com!

October 1, 2012

Oh, October!

My 2010 Masterpiece
I don't know exactly when October took its place as my favorite month of the year, but it has reigned supreme for as far back as I can remember. In honor of the first day of this fabulous month, here's a list of some of my favorite things about October:

Football Games
While I wouldn't say that football is my favorite sport, football games are my favorite sports events to watch and enjoy! Whether it's high school (Go Mustangs!), college (Go Frogs!), in-person or on TV,  the school spirit, dance teams, cheerleaders, proud parents, crazy fans, and pumped up players bring communities across the country together during this time of year. Everybody gets behind their favorite teams to join the collective conversation, and I love that.

Candy Corn
When I was little, I'd eat candy corn one color at a time. I was obviously limited in my portion size back then, since I couldn't shop for my own and my parents were responsible. Now that I can run to Target and buy a giant bag (or three...), I very well may consume my body weight in candy corn this year. We'll see. 

Real or craftable, carved, painted, or glittered, pumpkins are a symbol for October. In candy corn form, in candle form, the scent, smell, and feel of pumpkins embody the essence of fall. It's not October without a pumpkin or ten in and around the house.

Holiday Decor
It's around this time of year that not just Halloween, but Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations make their debuts in craft stores across the country. I definitely believe each holiday should have its time to shine, but I can't lie - I love them all. I miss them during those first nine months of the year. I've even been known to bust out Christmas music for a project or two before Thanksgiving (like while working...in September). I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Fall TV Premieres
I am a bit ashamed to admit how much I love fall TV, but I have to be honest. It's part of my love affair with fall. My DVR gets lazy in the summertime, when there aren't as many shows I like to watch. This time of year, however, brings new season premieres of all of my favorite shows. It's like going back to school and catching up with friends who you haven't seen all summer! Except they're fictional characters who didn't really have summers...and they aren't really your friends. I also love when family channels play old school seasonal movies all month long - Hocus Pocus, Halloweentown... you get the gist.

Speaking of school, it's worth mentioning here that if I were still an official student, back-to-school time would be another reason why I love the fall - school supplies, butterflies, and getting to see old friends and make new ones... Once B starts preschool, I will add it back to the list!

Leaves Changing
Even though it doesn't happen in Hawaii and doesn't always happen on time in Texas, I love how the leaves turn from green to yellow, orange, red, and brown, falling on the ground and making the perfect crunch when you walk over them. One of these days, I'd like to drive through a part of the country where fall is undeniable. In the meantime, I will use my imagination. And Google images.

Cooler Weather
True fall weather is my favorite weather. While I miss Texas the most during these last few months of the year, I'm blessed that my favorite "Texas fall" weather is a lot like the weather we get year-round in Honolulu, plus or minus a few degrees. Our 2008 wedding weekend in Houston was the most perfect weather I could've dared to pray for... blue skies with just enough fluffy white clouds to add personality, highs in the upper-70s... it was perfection. Shorts and flip-flops are great and all, but my favorite weather requires a great pair of jeans with a suggestion of long sleeves... and maybe even a scarf! (Don't get me started on boots.) You just can't beat the feel (and smell) of the crisp fall air that lingers over the Lone Star State this time of year.

Our Family's FY
Not only do I love the month for all of its festivities, but it's the official start of our family's fiscal year. Mmhmm. The Navy and the National Park Service start each year in October, and we do too!

Our Anniversary
We started dating 10-24-98 and got married 10-24-08. October has been our special month of memories for 14 years now, but our best anniversary yet came last year.

Bryson's Birthday!
Not only is October the birth month of many people I love dearly (shout-out to my Octobabies - Stacey, Jason, Court, Ashleys, Lizzie, Katie, Deuane, Katelin, Elaine, Hank...), but this is the month we celebrate our OWN October baby! We officially became parents on October 24, 2011, our 3rd wedding anniversary. I think it's safe to say that our future child(ren) will probably not be born on 10/24. That's quite alright. I just hope s/he/they won't feel left out, as it will always be the day we celebrate the start of our family! I can't believe it's been almost a year already.

True story: When we decided we were ready to start our family, I actually took the time to Google when we'd have to conceive in order to have a baby in October. Ridiculous, I know, but that's me. Hey. If you want to make God laugh... He ended up being due in November, but must have heard my "wish." He decided to arrive two and a half weeks early, just in time for our third wedding anniversary, and topping the ever-growing list of reasons of why this is my favorite month of the year.

On Facebook I used to call October "Anniversary Month," posting my favorite (and some delightfully embarrassing) pictures of Jerm and myself over the years, leading up to our actual anniversary. Now I'll be mixing in my favorite photos of our sweetie boy as he's grown. We all know I have plenty.

I'm not quite sure how we'll handle our actual anniversary celebrations from here on out, as we will never want to leave him on his birthday to go out on a date night! In future years, the Navy will undoubtedly leave me and Bryson to celebrate on our own while Jerm's underway somewhere, but we will always figure something out.

Every day, whether it's meant to be "ordinary" or special, is what you make of it, and making our 10/24s memorable seems to come naturally to us. Plus, when it comes down to it, our precious boy is the most tangible evidence we have of our love story, and that's what it's all about!

So here's to October and all that it brings. May it be full of pumpkins, football, candy corn, and plenty of time for sweet family memories, old and new.

P.S.  This post is not related to my business, which is about helping bright entrepreneurs attract their dream clients, one brilliant message at a time. HOWEV - if you like my writing and want help with your own, sign up for free tips at www.nikkielledgebrown.com!