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!


  1. First, you were the cutest freaking kid and I just love that you have this picture of you in a wedding dress. I remember this day of dress up well, just as I remember every detail of your roller coaster wedding! Reading this gave me goose bumps and teary eyes, I was amazed at how well you pushed through all the ups and downs and kept a smile on your face. In the end, it couldn't have been more magical but you had no way of knowing that it would turn out that way and you just kept going without any major breakdowns or panic attacks. You are an amazing little sister; I've come to realize this is just another example of your amazing outlook on life and I am so proud of you! Love you!!! - Stacey

    1. Thanks, StaceFace! You give me WAY too much credit. Love you!

  2. Great article. Wedding venues in Houston is one of the best places for bride and groom to make their marriage day special and unforgettable for entire life. For proper planning of wedding see this.

  3. Excellent information on planning a wedding. Few months ago, my friend asked me to arrange his wedding. I took it as an opportunity for my wedding planning career and agreed to do it. Arranged an awesome event at a lovely venue Houston. Everyone appreciated all arrangements I did.