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Book Review: The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant

October 30, 2015 2 comments

Book Review: The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy BryantSummary:
Running from his demons, a man crashes his car and wakes up being assisted by a deceptively primitive people–the kin of Ata. He discovers that he’s been mysteriously brought to an island inhabited only by these people.  As time passes, he comes to learn there is much more to them than first appears.

Review:
I can’t recall exactly how this ended up in my tbr but I am certain it had something to do with it being older feminist scifi/fantasy, which I collect and read as much as possible.  What I was expecting, particularly from a book from the 1970s, was a wishful book about an impossible utopia.  What I got instead was a spiritual parable that left me breathless, surprised, and craving more–not out of the book but out of life.

The book starts slowly.  The entire first chapter has the main character driving angrily down a road just after committing a murder during a fit of rage.  He is not a character with which you can particularly empathize at this point, and it is confusing as to just when the titular Kin of Ata will show up.  I admit that the first chapter moved so slowly and was so difficult to relate to that I was expecting the book to be a slog, but I persevered on, and in retrospect I appreciate the first chapter quite a bit.  I’ll discuss why at the end of my review.

The man wakes up to people getting him out of the car and bringing him to a cave.  They then bring him out of the cave to their hut-like homes.  He perceives of them as primitive and judges them harshly.  Gradually over time he comes to better understand them and their ways and to understand that he is not with primitive people hidden in the woods near his home.  He is on an island, and he somehow was spirited there.  I won’t discuss much more of the plot, because it could ruin it, but essentially the man is a stand-in for the reader.  The Kin of Ata have spiritual lessons and teach them to the man, and in turn to the reader.  It comes across much like a parable.

The Kin believe that humans need to remember and respect their dreams (actual dreams we have at night).  They view our sleeping lives as just as important, if not more so, than our waking ones.  They thus design their waking lives to be lived in the right manner so as to elicit the most powerful dreams.  This means things like working but not too hard.  Thus making yourself tired enough to sleep but not so tired that you sleep the sleep of the dead.  It also means discussing your dreams every morning upon awaking.  It means listening to your dreams and choosing daytime activities that suit what they are telling you.  Put another way, the Kin choose daytime activities that fit the callings of their deepest souls.  They essentially live a very mindful life that helps them achieve happiness and a peaceful community.

The main character starts out as a deep blight on the community.  He keeps trying to force his ways upon them. He comes across as an angry cloud.  In addition to being a murderer he also rapes one of the female Kin early on in the book.  I found the depiction of this rape fascinating.  The man sees people having sex with each other in what appears to him to be whenever one person demands it.  In actuality, the people are choosing each other and subtlely letting each other know whether they want to have sex or not.  The man decides he wants to participate and goes after one of the women.  She indicates to him through cultural body language (these people do not speak much) that it is the wrong time.  He does it anyway and she does not resist but she also does not participate.  The whole community judges him as it being a wrong and a rape in spite of the fact that the woman never said no.  The whole community views sex as only consensual if joyous consent is given, not just if the word “no” is not said.  The man is startled and yet also immediately understands their point.  He felt dirty and wrong after the sex and wasn’t sure why but now he understands and doesn’t know why he never thought of it this way before.  He is utterly ashamed of himself.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I struggle with plots that ask us to empathize with a rapist.  It honestly surprised me that this scene didn’t turn me off the book entirely.  Yet this is also a huge turning point for the main character.  He realizes that his way of doing things leads to him feeling bad and wrong and negatively impacts others.  The woman spends several days in a cavelike place, which is basically where the Kin go to meditate.  When she comes out, she forgives the man, because harboring a grudge against him would hurt her own ability to live the right path.  I found the whole event of how the community confronts the man about his wrongdoing, how he responds to this confrontation, and how the woman handles it to be incredibly thought-provoking.  It made me think about how much culture impacts people’s ability to even recognize when they’ve done something wrong.  Also, much as I had heard many times growing up how harboring hate in your own heart poisons yourself and not the one who harmed you, seeing a character fully embrace this after a traumatic experience made it sink in much more for me than just hearing the saying ever did.

This scene also served another purpose.  It reminded me that we’ve all done things we’re ashamed of and showed a path of redemption.  The man starts to pursue living the right way.  He has set-backs and stumbles.  It sometimes takes years for him to see the results of certain actions that he starts doing the right way.  It takes perseverance, unlike living the easy way, like he used to.  It’s a powerful parable for practices such as meditation, for which you often don’t see results right away.

Similarly, again, I don’t want to spoil it, but the book demonstrates how it takes a community living right for a truly peaceful and happy community to exist.  It also demonstrates, though, how one person who is very strong in their commitment to this right path can impact a whole community that is lost.

I promised to touch back on why I came to appreciate the first chapter.  I appreciate it because it shows us the main character living his life following the wrong path within his own original community.  It shows us where he came from before showing us how he develops into a life so much better through his work with the Kin.  It also makes for a powerful bookend with the final chapter, whose surprise I will not reveal.

This is a powerful parable that demonstrates how much impact living mindfully can have, and also how important developing healthy communities is for the happiness and peace of all.  It shows how wrong cultural ideals can lead people astray and hurt even the perpetrators of violence.  Some may struggle with parts of the book, but that is part of the process of learning the lessons in the parable.  I highly recommend this short book to all seeking a thought-provoking read.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Counts For:
Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge

Book Review: Smokin’ Six Shooter by B.J. Daniels (Series, #4)

October 27, 2015 Leave a comment

Book Review: Smokin' Six Shooter by B.J. Daniels (Series, #4)Summary:
Dulcie Hughes comes to Montana from the big city of Chicago when she mysteriously inherits property.  She immediately runs into Russell Corbett, a local rancher who isn’t too keen on some city woman sniffing around the old Beaumont property.  Dulcie doesn’t want to be distracted from uncovering the years’ old mystery at the Beaumont property, but Russell just can’t let himself let her investigate on her own.

Review:
I may be an academic librarian, but I also have public librarian friends, and one of them gave this book to me as an extra she had from the publisher.  I kept it around because who isn’t in the mood for some light romance sometimes?  Plus, there are definitely Harlequins that strike my fancy.  This….wasn’t really one of them.

Here’s the main problem with the book.  The title and the cover are incredibly misleading for what you’re actually going to get, and that’s a pet peeve of mine.  As a friend of mine (who also read it) said to me, “There’s no six shooter in the book.”  It sure sounds like it’s a big plot point doesn’t it?  But….there’s no six shooter.  There are guns, yes. But not six shooters.  The cover and title make it sound like the hearthrob is some sort of sharpshooting cowboy, but he’s…neither.  He’s a modern day rancher. Who drives a combine. Oh and he and his father hire a rainmaker to try to make it rain because the ranchers need rain.  Sorry but none of that strikes my sexy bone the way that a sharpshooter would. WHICH IS WHAT I THOUGHT I WAS GETTING.

Let’s ignore for a moment that I would have self-selected out of this book if the title, cover, and the actual blurb (not the one I wrote above) had been accurate.  What about the actual book?  Well, the mystery is good…ish.  It had lots of twists and turns, and the final chapter just had one too many.  I read the last chapter out loud to my husband, and he said it felt like an episode of “All My Circuits” (the over-the-top robot soap opera on Futurama).  Which is true.  That said, I certainly didn’t figure out the mystery. Because it was so ridiculous.  But there’s an entertainment factor in that that I appreciate.  However, if over-the-top twists and turns are not your style, you’ll be disappointed by the last chapter of the book.

The romance and sex was sorely missing.  Our heroine gets one incredibly quick (and I don’t just mean quick to read, I mean a quickie) sex scene, and that’s it.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t pick up Harlequins for the story.  I do expect a lot out of the sex scenes though, and this one felt like a throwaway. A “oh do I really have to write one? Fine, but it will be ludicrous and quick.”  I kept reading thinking that surely this was just a teaser and there’d be a nice long steamy scene in here somewhere. But no.

So, Harlequin readers who don’t mind the love interest being a combine-driving modern day rancher who does not have a six shooter with most of the focus of the book being on its over-the-top mystery with just a touch of a romance scene will enjoy this book.  The quality of the writing is fine, so long as this is the type of story the reader is after, they won’t be disappointed.  Just don’t be misled by the title….or the cover….or the blurb.  And maybe grab some popcorn for the last chapter.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Counts For:
Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge

Previous Books in Series:
Shotgun Bride
Hunting Down The Horseman
Big Sky Dynasty

5 Things That May Surprise You About Planning Your Wedding

October 24, 2015 Leave a comment
5 Things That May Surprise You About Planning Your Wedding

Oh, Bohotats, I had no idea what a hit you were going to be.

When you first get engaged (maybe even before that), you have a whole set of ideas in your head about how both wedding planning and your wedding will go.  I am here to tell you that many of those ideas will be wrong. Some of them in a good way.  Some of them in a not-so-good way.  But they will all surprise you.  So here is a list of things that surprised me about our wedding planning and wedding.

  1.  You might not have an “omg this is the one” moment with your dress.
    I did not.  Many of my friends have not.  I had more of an omg I have to pick one and this one is the right price and works with my body so I guess I’m going with it moment  I did have an omg this is the one moment with my wedding boots, though.  So you will have one of those I feel like a princess moments.  It just might not necessarily be with your dress. And that is totally ok.
  2. Who is super-excited about your wedding and who reacts like you just announced there’s a sale on broccoli will surprise you.
    It’s difficult to write this part without specifically calling out any people who disappointed me, and I don’t want to do that.  Suffice to say, there was one relative in particular who I had always just assumed would be at my wedding and who never RSVPed.  I called them thinking something happened with the mail, and they proceeded to give me the world’s lamest excuse about not coming (it involved deer hunting season), promised to send a card, and then never did.  In contrast, we had a friend come all the way from Texas (for my non-American readers, that’s 3,160 kilometers of travel), and we had friends who we had not known very long be incredibly enthusiastic and generous about our wedding.  To sum it up, a lot of people will show enthusiasm and generosity about your wedding. It just might not be who you were expecting.  As I told one friend who asked me about what wedding planning is like, wedding planning shows you who is really truly invested in you as a couple.  And sometimes that’s great and sometimes it stings.
  3. You will make a wedding website. And no one will read it. (Ok, ok, many people will not read it, and it will feel like no one did).
    I cannot count the number of times someone good-naturedly asked me a question the answer to which I knew for a fact was on the wedding website (and had been from day one), and I had to bite my tongue hard and answer politely and not say “Didn’t you even read the wedding website?! Do you have any idea how much time and effort I invested into that thing?!” Yes, some people read the wedding website and never asked me about things like parking or the weather or where they should stay. But a ton did not. This is a fact of life you are just going to have to accept. You can’t make them read the wedding website but you also can’t not provide it.  As Buddhism teaches us, accept reality for what it is.
  4. You do not have to provide seating during the ceremony. Or assign seating for dinner. Or [insert tradition that you don’t want to do but that everyone on the internet is judging you for not wanting to do].  You will worry about it incessantly but it will actually be fine.
    We didn’t provide seating during the ceremony because we wanted people standing.  I was nervous about this, so I offered to provide chairs to anyone who felt they couldn’t stand for the duration of the ceremony.  No one asked for a chair.  Our venue randomly had a picnic table near our ceremony location that we last-minute moved to the audience section as a seating option, and no one sat on it.  It was totally not a big deal.  Neither was not assigning seating during the dinner.  Now, I’m not saying this wouldn’t be a big deal for every crowd, but it wasn’t for our particular group of friends and family.  The bottom line is, you know yourself, your partner, and your friends and family best. You don’t have to do the traditional thing that the whole internet thinks you have to do.  You just have to think about what will work for you and your partner and your friends and family.  And even if you pick to do something that annoys the crap out of your guests, they’re not going to say a peep to you about it (at least not on your wedding day).  Because the worst wedding taboo of all is complaining to the celebrants.
  5. There is bound to be one throw-away, last-minute thing you do that winds up being a smash hit, and you never could have predicted it.
    For us, this was my last-minute acquisition of a ton of temporary glitter tattoos.  About a week before our wedding I remembered wanting to put on a couple of glitter tattoos for the ceremony. I found some on Amazon, but they came in huge packages.  I bought them anyway. Because wedding.  The day of the wedding, I selected out which ones I wanted and had applied them.  When my girlfriends arrived at the bridal cabin, they were all really excited about the extras I had spread out on the bed.  I told them to feel free to take them (just not in the same colors I was wearing), and it turned out to be a smash hit.  In an instant the bridal suite transformed into a group of giggling women putting on temporary tattoos, and the whole vibe changed from nervousness to excitement and celebration.  I had no clue that my girlfriends would all be super-into this.  I didn’t plan it.  But it was a hit.  Just another example of go with your gut and be generous with your friends and family, and everything will work out fine.

I think what all of these surprises point to is this.  You can plan all you want, but at some point you just have to let go and watch what happens.  So long as your planning was honest and loyal to who you and your partner are, everything will work out ok in the end.  It’ll probably even work out amazing. 😉

Book Review: UnWholly by Neal Shusterman (Series, #2) (Audiobook narrated by Luke Daniels)

October 21, 2015 1 comment

Book Review: UnWholly by Neal Shusterman (Series, #2) (Audiobook narrated by Luke Daniels)Summary:
Picking up where Unwind left off, UnWholly finds Risa and Connor managing the Graveyard full of unwinds themselves with no adults in site, and Lev struggling to find a purpose now that he’s both free of clapper chemicals and under the watchful eye of the government.  Into the mix comes Cam, the first ever “rewind.”  He’s been assembled completely from the parts of unwinds of every race and religion.  And his creator intends to meddle with the runaway unwinds too.

Review:
I picked this up right after finishing the first on audiobook, because finding a fast-paced story with a good narrator can be harder than it sounds.  So once I found that with the first book in the series and I saw the rest of it had the same narrator, I figured I may as well continue along with it.  While I found the first book engaging and thought-provoking, I found myself periodically bored with the plot in this one, and also found it more difficult to suspend my disbelief than before.

The basic premise is that Connor is all torn up over having the arm of his once-rival (who also just so happened to threaten to rape his girlfriend, Risa).  He thus holds Risa at arm’s-length (pun intended) because he’s afraid of what his own arm will do.  While I appreciate the fact that it must be truly atrocious for your boyfriend to now have your attempted rapist’s arm, I think the fact that Connor lends the arm so much agency is a symptom of one particular idea in this world-building that just doesn’t work for me.  The idea that body parts have their own spark of soul or agency or thought.  It’s rife in this entry in the series, and it’s just plain weird to me.  I can understand a character not bonding with a transplant that was forced upon him. I can understand it being weird for loved ones.  I don’t, however, find myself able to suspend my disbelief enough to believe that someone’s arm has their personality in it so much that the person who it was transplanted onto would be afraid of it.  It’s an arm, not a piece of brain or even a heart. The author does provide links to sources about transplant recipients feeling connected to the person whose body part they received or having memories or what have you.  I appreciate that.  But for me personally this plot point just does not work.  Other readers may be able to suspend their disbelief better than I was able to.  I for once can’t imagine not going near my own girlfriend because I was afraid of my arm.  I also just disliked how much agency Connor removes from himself for his own temper.  If he hits the wall when he’s angry it’s not him hitting the wall, it’s the arm hitting the wall.  The arm got mad. The arm got out of control.  There’s just a ridiculous lack of agency there, and I’m not super comfortable with that level of lack of agency being in a book marketed toward teenagers, who are at the best point in life for learning agency and responsibility.

I similarly have a hard time believing, from a neurological perspective, that the rewind boy, Cam, could exist.  His brain is dozens’ of peoples all wound together.  I could believe replacing a brain piece here or there with transplant technology, I couldn’t believe mish-mashing many together and having them actually function.  Let alone with the only issue being that Cam struggles to learn to speak in words instead of metaphors.  While Cam did strike me as grotesque, he mostly just struck me as an impossibility that I was then supposed to have sympathy for because he’s a person with his own feelings…but are they really?  The whole thing was just a bit too bizarre for me.

On a related note, I found the scenes where Cam wakes up and learns to talk and slowly realizes what he is to be very tedious to read.  They move slowly, and there is an attempt at building of suspense, but it is clear nearly immediately that Cam is a Frankenstein’s creature like experiment, even without Cam himself knowing it right away.

The other big new character is Starkey, a boy who was storked who is brought into the Graveyard.  He’s basically exactly the same as Connor (he’s even still a white boy), the only difference being that was a stork and that he has no Risa to ease down his temper.  I found his characterization to be uncreative, even if the building up of strife between the storks and the rest of the unwinds was a good plot point.  It would have been better if the leader of the storks was more creative.  Similarly, Starkey’s two main assistants are a black girl and an Indian-American boy.  Just as with the first book, non-white people exist, but only as seconds to the white people.  Why couldn’t either of them have been the leader of the storks?

All of these things said, there was still a lot of plot to keep the interest.  I’ve barely touched on a couple of them.  The world is still engaging, even if it’s hard to suspend the disbelief for it.  I doubt I’d keep reading if I was reading this in print, but the audiobook narration makes it feel like listening to a movie, and it’s the perfect match for my commutes and doing dishes and such.  Plus, now I’m curious as to where else the plot will go.  I’m betting it will end up going in a direction I find it even harder to suspend my disbelief for, but it’ll be a fun ride seeing where that is.

Overall, fans of the first book may be disappointed by the slightly more meandering plot in this one.  The addition of two new characters to follow will be distracting to some readers while others will find it adds to the interest and suspense.  Some readers may be turned off by the continued lack of diversity in such a large cast of protagonists.  The plot is engaging and the world is unique, though, so fans of YA dystopian scifi will probably still enjoy it.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
Unwind, review

Book Review: The Veiled Mirror: The Story of Prince Vlad Dracula’s Lost Love by Christine Frost

October 19, 2015 2 comments

Book Review: The Veiled Mirror: The Story of Prince Vlad Dracula's Lost Love by Christine FrostSummary:
Vlad the Impaler, a Wallachian prince, inspired the story of Dracula with his bloodthirsty, iron-handed ruling.  This, though, is the story of his long-time consort, Ecaterina Floari, mother one of his sons and a daughter.  She loves him deeply but is haunted by his ruling style, as well as spirits in a helmet he brings into their home from one of his battles.

Review:
I picked this up during the Smashwords Summer/Winter sale years ago but it took a while for my mood to be just right to read it.  It is a historic piece set in 1400s with splashes of the fantastic, and I tended to be in the mood for one or the other but not both.  Finally in the heat of the summer, I was ready for a dark historic fantasy that would take me away to heavy gowns and ancient rulers.  I was surprised by the level of historic research and detail in the book, as well as the tie-in to the Dracula story, making it a marriage of two genres.

This is a long book with a lot of rich setting detail.  That doesn’t tend to be my style but it works with the feel the book is going for, and many readers will enjoy the pace at which the book moves.  The dark fantasy elements take time to set up, but when they get into motion they really add to the story.  The story strikes a nice balance of Ecaterina working with the culture of her time-period and being bothered by certain things Vlad does.  For instance, it bothers her that he has mistresses, but she comes to accept it as is expected of her in the time-period.  This trajectory acknowledges the feelings the modern reader may have about the situation but also lets the character be true to her time-period.

The author toes a finely-held line of showing Vlad’s cruelty but also keeping him human and not demonizing him.  He was a cruel ruler but he wasn’t a monster.  Similarly, although Ecaterina loves him she is still disturbed by his actions when ruling.  This lends both characters depth they would not have if Ecaterina’s love was blind or Vlad was monstrous.

In spite of appreciating the historic fiction plot covering many decades, I did sometimes feel that the plot meandered a bit too much.  I also felt that sometimes the book told too much instead of showing.  Similarly, there were a few too many typos and grammatical errors for a book that is in its final version.  It was not enough to make me stop reading but it was enough to detract from my overall enjoyment of the story.

I appreciated how much of the book is from women’s perspectives.  Not just Ecaterina’s but her mother’s, servants, and other consorts and even a spy are featured.  The female cast is strong, and that would be easy for a less thoughtful writer to pass over in favor of showcasing the men history chose to record more thoroughly.

Overall, readers seeking to learn something about the 1400s in Romania will be pleased by how much they will learn reading this book.  Those who come to it due to the Dracula connection will enjoy the fantastical elements toward the end in particular.  Recommended to readers of historic fiction and fantasy who do not mind a long book with a slow burn.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Smashwords

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10 Tips to Have a Wedding for Under $5,000 That Still Suits Your Personality as a Couple

October 17, 2015 Leave a comment
10 Tips to Have a Wedding for Under $5,000 That Still Suits Your Personality as a Couple

The bridal pie made by myself and my father. The groom’s pie was made by my mother-in-law and sister-in-law.

The average wedding in the United States costs $26,444 (source).  Depending on your region of the country, that average may be higher or lower.  In Massachusetts, the average is higher than that.  When my husband and I sat down to plan our wedding, we knew the average cost, but we also knew that our personal value system didn’t align with spending that much on one day.  We set a budget of $5,000, and I am happy to report that we came in under that by about $500.

I immediately sat down to research and discovered that the three biggest chunks of the wedding budget go to:

  1. The Venue
  2. The Photographer
  3. The Food and Drink

These are followed closely by:

  1. The bride’s outfit
  2. The wedding rings

I thus set my sights on these five things to help us come under budget.

There are a lot of sites out there that talk about general tips for how to save money on your wedding.  Here then I’m only going to talk about tricks that we actually used for our own real wedding that worked.  There are more tips than this, but we didn’t choose to use them.

Tips From Amanda and Phil on How to Have a Budget Wedding:

  1. Keep it small. Under 100 will save you a lot.
    Every single guest you invite (and their plus ones) will cost you more money.  For every guest, you need to send a save-the-date and an invitation.  You also need to feed them, give them drinks, and probably give them some sort of party favors.  In Massachusetts, if you have 100 people or more, you also need to pay to provide a crowd control officer.  This is a law.  My husband was on the fence about having a smaller wedding until we found out about the crowd control officer.  We then agreed to invite under 100 people.  After we made this decision, we discovered that many vendors also up the price starting at 100 or more.  Inviting fewer guests gave us a trickle-down money-saving effect.  It also made us focus on who really mattered the most to us.  Who we most wanted at our wedding.  It led to our wedding having a very intimate and personal feeling, which we both really enjoyed on the day of our wedding.
  2. Seek out venues that might be a good wedding venue but don’t know it themselves yet OR look for non-profits that need to make money in the off-season.
    We knew we wanted to have a campground wedding.  When I started googling, I discovered that campgrounds that had discovered this wedding trend had wedding packages that were…..more than our entire budget.  What I ended up looking for instead was campgrounds that rented out to events but didn’t necessarily specify weddings (or had only one or two weddings there previously).  I also looked for nonprofits and charities that had a significant off-season during which they needed to make money.  One important thing to know about venues is most of them will not post their pricing online.  However, a lot of the venues that don’t market themselves as wedding venues will post event prices.  This is a good sign.  Once you have a list of potential venues, even ones that post their prices online, contact them via email (you want this in writing).  Fill them in a bit on the vision for your wedding, ask for their price points, and ask your top 3 questions for your venue.  For us, we needed to be able to serve alcohol, have guests stay overnight, and have access to a kitchen.  Figure out your top three.  You should be able to get those.  It is unlikely you will be able to get everything on your extensive list.  Once I had responses from the top 6 venues, I ranked them by cost.  We scheduled and went and visited the two cheapest first.  I think this was a key part of our planning process.  It was impossible for me to be swept away by the most expensive because I hadn’t even gone and seen it yet.  We saw the two cheapest and then consulted with each other on if we liked either of them well enough to book it.  We did, and we booked it.  We ended up going with Clara Barton Camp in North Oxford.  They hadn’t done many weddings before but were very enthusiastic about starting to.  They also are a camp for girls with diabetes, so we felt good about our venue money going to a good cause.
  3. Ask your friends and family if they would be willing to gift you services or items you would normally need a vendor for as your wedding present.
    My husband’s sister Olivia is a professional photographer.  Knowing that she had just graduated, we knew she was still working on building a portfolio and also might not have tons of cash around for a wedding present.  We approached her and asked her if she would be willing to gift us wedding photography as our wedding present.  She was all for it, plus it will help build out her portfolio.  I have a friend who got married recently who has an aunt who is a baker, and she asked her to bake her wedding cake as her wedding present.  Both of these gifts saved us money and also made our weddings more intimate.  Phil and I never had to worry about building a rapport with our photographer, because we already had one since she’s family.  The key here is, think through the talents of your friends and family, and then ASK them.  Many people won’t offer because they don’t want to seem like they’re impinging upon your dream wedding.  But they will be excited to do it if you ask.  Just be sure to be clear that it is in lieu of a wedding gift or you might be asking too much of people.
  4. Buy your alcohol yourself.
    You will pay far less if you buy alcohol and supply it than if you do so through the venue.  Find out from the store you buy it from if they will accept unopened alcohol returns.  Many stores do.  We wound up just giving away some of the alcohol as party favors and keeping the small amount that was left for our own future use.  I also want to mention that we had an open bar and bought a relatively conservative amount of alcohol, and we still had lots left over.  Both of my friends’ weddings also had alcohol left over.  You will probably need less alcohol than you think you will.
  5. Use thumbtack.com to find vendors.
    Our venue required us to hire a bartender.  When I first googled, I kept coming up with expensive, high-class bartenders, which is great but we were having a campground wedding!  That’s when I found thumbtack.com.  Thumbtack lets you basically list a job ad.  You put in precisely what you are looking for (location, hours, special things to note, etc…) and then vendors have 24 hours to submit a bid to you.  You then can contact them and talk more to get a feel for them and either accept one or reject all of them.  This was such a time-saver!  I literally just plugged in what we were looking for and then let the bids come to me, and they came in far cheaper than I was expecting.  A lot of the people who use thumbtacks are small family businesses who might struggle to afford to pay for big advertisements or SEO.  This helps you find each other.  We were extremely happy with our bartending service, and it was quite reasonably priced.
  6. Find out if any of your favorite restaurants will do pick-up catering.
    We were really struggling with how to feed people.  Traditional catering was incredibly expensive, and I was personally uncomfortable with asking people to potluck. (Many of our guests were from out-of-town).  Finally one day I remembered reading about pick-up catering orders.  I checked out a couple of our favorite restaurants, and they did indeed offer this option.  One of them even provided all of the serving ware.  So we placed pick-up catering orders and assigned wedding party members to pick up the catering the day of the wedding.  Phil’s mom organized the food as it arrived and set it up in a buffet.  No one had to cook, and it was extremely reasonably priced compared to traditional caterers.  Plus, our out-of-town family and friends got to try our favorite two restaurants.
  7. Buy your wedding outfits from non-wedding companies.
    Don’t search for “wedding dress.” Search for “white dress.”  Once the word wedding is added to anything, the price gets jacked up.  Now, I didn’t want a traditional wedding dress, so I was helped out some by that.  But if you do want one, search for a white prom dress.  It’s practically the same style but much cheaper because it’s for prom.  What I ended up doing was selecting a few stores that I love but that cost more money than I am willing to spend on average everyday wear.  I then searched them for a “white dress.” I ordered the top three, tried them on, and returned the other two.  My dress still feels special because I normally would never buy something for myself from that store, but it also was only $348.  Because it was not a wedding dress.  Similarly, my husband just found clothes he likes and put together an outfit in the color scheme and vibe of our wedding.  He found his shoes thrift shopping, his blazer on Amazon, and he got his jeans from a jean company he really loves (my husband really loves jeans).  If you are assembling your outfit from multiple non-wedding stores, it helps to sit down with your future spouse and lay out guidelines for colors and fashion sense.  Our rough guide was red and orange 60s mod biker, and it worked.
  8. Keep your wedding party small.
    You have to invite the whole wedding party to rehearsal dinner, and you have to buy them each a gift.  Just like with the guest list, the fewer people the fewer you have to do this for.  We wound up having a best man, maid of honor, officiant, and two ushers, plus all of their significant others.  If we had added even one more person per side, it would have cost us at least $400 more between rehearsal dinner and wedding party gifts.
  9. Don’t hire a band or a DJ. DJ yourself.
    My husband researched and rented speakers (less than $250). We made a playlist together on Spotify for both during food and during dancing.  The day of the wedding we had a good friend announce us, but for everything else we took the reigns by grabbing the microphone and informing the crowd of what was up.  This meant we kept the exact timeline we wanted, got to hear exactly what songs we wanted, and we still got to be announced to the crowd.
  10. Buy inexpensive wedding rings.
    My husband and I are both active people, as well as people who aren’t super-comfortable with wearing expensive jewelry.  We ended up buying two silicone wedding rings.  These rings are designed to break off if they get caught on something, which is necessary if you work with machinery or in the outdoors.  They also are cushioned so you can lift weights in them, and they stay on when they’re wet, if you enjoy swimming or if you sweat a lot.  We talked about it and agreed that we would start saving up scraps of metal to have melted down into fancier wedding bands as a celebration of an anniversary in the future.  The band is just a symbol.  It doesn’t have to be expensive.  It just has to work for yours and your spouse’s lifestyle and own personal fashion sense.  Plus, you can always upgrade at a future anniversary if you want to.

As an unofficial final tip, just remember, your wedding is about you and your future spouse.  It should include things you enjoy. You should be happy and comfortable.  Don’t let yourself get sucked into or guilted by the wedding industry (or the wedding industry mentality of various vendors you may deal with) into having a different wedding from the one you want.  It is totally ok to have a small wedding, a casual wedding, a wedding where you serve pie instead of cake, a wedding where you DJ yourself.  As long as you and your partner are happy the day of the wedding, that is all that matters.  And it’s a lot easier to be happy when you haven’t broken the bank.

Announcement: I Am Married!!!!

October 11, 2015 11 comments

Hello my lovely readers!

You may have noticed things have been kind of quiet around here the last month or two.  That’s because I GOT MARRIED!!!

On September 26th I married my best friend, and our wedding was amaaaaazing!!!  It was more than I ever dared to hope for.

weddingshot1We had a small wedding at a girl’s summer camp in Massachusetts.  What mattered the most to us was that our wedding matched our personalities. Every time we had a choice, we just basically did what suited our personalities the best.  Phil’s shoes he found while we were thrift shopping one day the year before the wedding.  For me, I knew I wanted go-go boots, and I think yoga pants are the most comfortable thing, so going with that plus a mini-dress was practically a no-brainer.  Where our personalities really shined through though was our ceremony.

ceremonyshotWe each had one person stand up with us.  We walked to the fire ring at the camp (rather than “down the aisle”) together.  We each came around the corner of the dining hall, which had a beautiful wrap-around porch, and saw each other for the first time then walked down the steps to the fire ring holding hands while “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes played.  Our good friend officiated for us (this is legal in Massachusetts), and the ceremony opened with our maid of honor and best man playing drums and digeridoo.  We had a handfasting (since we are both of Irish descent) and a san san kudo ceremony (since my husband is baptized Shinto).  We wrote our own wedding vows and didn’t know each other’s ahead of time, and yet they matched up incredibly well.

I will write a few more posts about the wedding.  I’ll write one with more details about exactly how it went and how we planned it.  I also plan to write a post on wedding planning tips with all of the many things I learned about the horror that is wedding planning (on a budget–we threw our wedding for under $5,000).  I also plan to write a post about some of my favorite parts of the wedding, and the things that were the biggest hit the day of.

I will also write up a post about our incredible 2 week honeymoon we just got back from! We went to Mexico, Nashville, and the Smokey Mountains (where we motorcycled the Tail of the Dragon).

For right now, though, just know that I got to marry my best friend, and while wedding planning was terrible, the wedding itself was incredible, the honeymoon was awesome, and being married is amazing.  Also, my married name is Amanda Nevius, but I will still be publishing under my maiden name, which I now dub my pen name, Amanda McNeil.