Wedding Planning Adventures: Dress Shopping

No matter how traditional or non-traditional you are when it comes to weddings, to all of you brides-to-be out there: Go dress shopping! Even if your wedding dress will be the first dress you even lay down your dollar bills on, I promise, it’s really fun. Well, in theory, it should be really really fun. I definitely have some feedback on dress shopping to all of your bride-to-bes and also to your bridesmaids, friends and family who decide they would like to give input.

If you didn’t know, I love Say Yes to the Dress. I am really really a sucker for it. It’s so fun to watch all of the brides shopping for their dresses, see all of the styles, and hear some great love stories. The drama many families bring with them dress shopping on these shows also makes me glad that isn’t my entourage. So on that note, one of my recommendations is to leave that drama at home. 

I tried on dresses for the first time in Virginia and the dress I found was a combination of many things I loved (btw – it also had a lot of things I loved from photos I took along). I definitely thought it was the one. But, it was unrealistic to order it in Virginia, so I made an appointment at the only store in Alaska that carried the wedding designer (Maggie Sottero – beautiful dresses!!) that I wanted. They didn’t have the dress in store, but I knew ahead of time that they could order it. Of course I love to try on dresses, so I had planned to try on more in a similar style that I was drawn to and was flattering on me and compare it to the photos of me in the first dress I picked in Virginia. At first, every dress I tried on was just as “nope, not as great as the other dress…”

But then I tried on this beautiful dress that made me feel even better than when I tried on the dress I found in Virginia. This was it. There was no other contender. I even compared photo to photo, and still, the one I had just picked was more than I could have wanted. In Virginia, I had chosen my top 3 of dresses. They each had something I loved. This dress has all of the things I loved in those dresses in one. This was the dress. I said yes to the dress! It was a bonus that it was $500 less than the other. I am so so glad I decided to try on more dresses. If not, I would have not found this more than I love even more than the one I thought was it.

I would post a picture but… that would ruin it for all of those coming on the big day. 😉

Tips for your wedding dress adventure:

  1. Do NOT wait until the last minute. Unless you want to buy something off the rack, its not in your best interest (actually its never in your best interest). When I ordered my dress, they said it should arrive in late April/early May. If you aren’t doing the math yet, its only December, so that’s 6 months away and 2 months before my wedding. Its just enough time to get my dress and get all of my fittings/alterations in. I live in a faraway land, of course, but it still typically takes anywhere from 4-6 months to order dresses.
  2. When you know you are ready find your perfect dress, make an appointment. You need all of that time committed to you.
  3. On that note, keep an open mind and don’t have your heart set on a certain dress you see in bridal magazine or pinterest. You may try it on and it looks nothing like the phone.
  4. Check out dress styles online and print some of your favorites. You’ll want them as a starting point when you get to the shop.
  5. Many say to bring a strapless bra. I recommend that or a white one, but I didn’t wear a bra when I tried on any of my dresses. Most have some built in support and its more accurate for you to go bra-less, but bring yours just in case.
  6. Wear a thong or low-profile underwear. It’ll help you to see how the dress will lay and what it will show. I tried on a couple of dresses that showed my low-profile underwear line – and that was a kicker for me.
  7. Bring along the shoes you plan to wear or ones with the same heal. If you are planning to wear flats (like me) or a small heal, see how much you would need hemmed and if you need to order a shorter dress (see below).
  8. TRY ON ALL THE STYLES! All different necklines, ballgown, strapless, mermaid – try them ALL on. First of all, its so fun to try on dresses and the dresses that look ridiculous are just as fun to laugh about. I promise, you may fall in love with something totally different than what you thought you liked.
  9. Set a realistic budget and STICK TO IT. When I started looking at dress prices, I realized my dress budget was not realistic so we set a new dress budget and definitely stuck to it.
  10. Leave your dramatic friends and family at home. You don’t owe it to anyone to tell them you’re going dress shopping or to take them with you. This is supposed to be a magical experience for you, so share it with those you love and those who will embrace the experience with you. These people will chose not to tell you that you look like a “peacock” or give you other notes of how unflattering a dress looks because lets be honest, they may be talking about the dress you’re trying on, but the reality in, it sounds like a bunch of judges telling you how you don’t fit that dress.
  11. And my biggest piece of advice from my experience: Go to more than one store, even if you think you’ve found the one. 
  12. Did I mention you should enjoy yourself? You should. It’s all about you, girlfriend. YOU need to love the dress and if you love it, your groom-to-be will too.

Questions to ask and things to talk about with your dress shop:

  1. Do they provide any free alterations?
  2. Discuss the alterations! For me, I live 6 hours from the shop where I ordered my dress, so we talked extensively about alteration options and they gave me a recommendation for my dress alternation in my town. Make sure you talk about what alterations you might need, pricing, if you are required to get alterations there, etc.
  3. Can you order a shorter dress? Many dresses come 3-4 inches shorter. It may have an extra cost and take a couple more weeks for the dress to arrive, but if you are short, you should really consider it.
  4. Did you order the color you wanted and can you see how all the colors might look to make a decision? Sometimes you can be shown a dress overlay on a different color you might want that can give you an idea of what it’ll look like.
  5. If needed, do they ship and for how much?
  6. The place you are buying your dress from is now one of your vendors – get a contract so you can ensure you get the right dress and everything is understood up front. Most places will already have one, so make sure you read over it before you sign your life away.

What it’s like to grow up in a blended family

This year, I turned 30. I also graduated from graduate school with my masters in social work, got engaged to the love of my life and lost my job. This doesn’t even include my fitness bumps in the road. I’m not sure which one of those caused me to dig so deeply into self-reflection, but here I am.

wnMany social workers go into this field for one of two reasons: (1) They are following in someone’s footsteps or (2) Their own experiences have led them to wanting to help others that are likely on a path similar to the one they experienced. I ended up in this work because of the latter (mostly).

I come from a blended family, and one that is more complicated than the norm for blended families (aren’t they all complicated though?). I was recently doing a little research to find some posts about others peoples’ experiences growing up as a stepchild, adopted child, or in a blended family. What I instead found was mostly posts, websites and articles about how to deal with step and adopted children and how to make your blended family successful as a parent. This was really concerning to me, because as with most things, we again forget about what is important in these situations: The children. We are thinking of them as objects, things to control and figure out how to mold into our own expectations. Instead, we should be (1) Teaching them how to be human, (2) Honoring their experiences, and (3) Helping them to heal from trauma they may have experienced.

So I decided that for all of you with my similar experience, I would write just what I was looking for: My experience in my unique blended family.

My family. My biological father (bio-dad) died in 1988, when I was 3 years old. By this time, my mother was already with my step-dad (dad), who I have only ever known as my dad – my father – since he is the man who raised me. My mom and bio-dad split up when I was just a baby. I have two older siblings, brothers, who also left our family unit when I was 9 months old and spent years in the foster care system until they were adopted by another family. They are 4 and 7 years older than me. They grew up together with their adopted family who also have a daughter. When I was 7, my half brother (little bro) was born. So at this point, my family unit consisted of my mom, dad, and little bro.

Are you keeping up? Some other notes to make: I only met my mother’s family a handful of times in my life and have never met my maternal grandparents (who are still alive and wandering around in West Virginia). I grew up spending all my holidays with my  dad’s family. They were the only family I ever knew. My dad’s parents were divorced. So, I then had two sets of step-grandparents out of that, since they both remarried.

Are you still keeping up? Well, here’s the twist. I didn’t know my dad wasn’t my bio-dad and didn’t know anything about my older brothers until I was 13 years old. Until then, my blended family wasn’t a blended family. It was just my family. My perfect, un-divorced, beautiful family. Then when I was 15, my parents did divorce… and the only family unit I had ever known came crumbling apart. My mom wouldn’t let me live with my dad, and I was forced to move from apartment to apartment to basement to hotel to apartment with my mom until I was 18 and chose to move out on my own.

You can imagine what it was like to find out the news that would change my life forever at age 13, and then lose my family security 2 years later. This is the kind of stuff you process in different ways throughout your life, it seems like, and for different reasons. So if you are an adult reading this, I ask you, do you know a child – or an adult – who has – or is – experienced anything like this? I want you to ask yourself if you have taken a moment at all to consider:

  • If this child has been able to or learned how to process their experience
  • If this child has been validated in their experiences
  • If this person has experienced trauma
  • What the hell they might be going through??
  • Are you trying to fix this child or help this child?

Here’s what kids in blended families (step, adopted, crazy like mine) often experience, even into adulthood: 

  • Getting called the wrong name. Whether its the wrong pronunciation, or a slight variation of the name, it happens. It is also not OK. When you can’t say a child’s name that is a new member of your family correctly, what message are you sending?
  • Exclusion from the family. Sometimes its at family functions, and sometimes its family functions all together, especially into adulthood.  Hearing stories at the holidays of what the rest of the family did together or how your cousins went out on the lake together this summer is not a great feeling.
  • Once we are all grown, we aren’t your “problem” anymore. When a child becomes part of a family, the expectation is that they have them forever, not that they will be abandon when (1) they turn 18 or (2) they do something “wrong”. Just because a child is not flesh and blood, does not mean they can be discarded or unforgiven for their mishaps.
  • Inability to meet expectations. No one should ever be in their 20’s or 30’s trying to gain the acceptance of their family. Ever. Ever. Ever. They should know from the time they are brought into a family (whether by birth, adoption or marriage) that they are accepted, supported, and part of the family.
  • Constant feeling of walking on eggshells. One of a person’s most comfortable places, including children, should be around their family. Throw on your sweats, have smelly socks, say how you feel about anything and everything because you can’t say it anywhere else, burp, fart, and laugh until milk comes out of your nose. But kids in blended families often don’t fully feel comfortable enough to do any of the above, which means they grow up never getting to show their family who they are are a wonderful, beautiful person.
  • Feeling lower on the totem poll than other siblings/family members. We know when they don’t get as much as their siblings who are full blooded in the family and we noticed when they get more praise, attention, and support. Spread the love, adults. Spread the love.
  • Blame for their other parent’s mistakes. In instances such as mine, I was brought into a family by marriage, and then that marriage was disintegrated. A child brought into a family this way shouldn’t then be removed when the circumstances change or be blamed for their parents “mistakes.” Remember that (1) children are not their parents and (2) children are not their parent’s mistakes. They are their own people navigating the world.
  • Blame for their family being blended. Don’t ever, ever blame your children for your marriage not remaining enact. I promise you, those words you speak will stay with them forever. You cannot take what comes out of your mouth back.
  • The effort to be a family member is all on us. There is the feeling of having to put in 110% to be the perfect family member (child, grandchild, cousin, niece, nephew, etc) to show the rest of the family that we care. Just like in any other relationship, its not all on us to pick up the phone or put forth an effort.
  • We don’t like seeing family pictures that don’t include us. This may not seem like a big deal or there’s usually no implied insult, but its hurtful to see what seems like our parents, siblings, family members moving on as a whole without including us.
  • We know when you don’t see us as an equal member of the family. 

Whether you are the mother, father, sister, brother, cousin or friend of someone who is welcome a new member into their family by adoption or by dating someone with a child you should remember these things:

  1. This person is your family member. They have accepted this child into their life as their wholehearted child, as should you. Welcome this new grandchild, niece, nephew, cousin, etc. as just that.
  2. This child is not a problem that your family has to deal with. This child is an opportunity for your family to grow. You now have a new person to teach your skills to, share your life experiences with, learn how to be a human, and wrap your love around.
  3. Honor this child’s experiences now and forever. Remember that they will alway be a member of a blended family, and will always have a different lens that they have to view life through. Don’t make it any harder for them.

Most of all, remember these kids who turn into adults love you and these experiences are hard, so don’t make it any harder. Open up your heart – your WHOLE heart – and remember this child is part of your life forever.

Are you the child of a blended family? What have you experienced? What advice do you have for the adults in your life? What would have helped you as a child? Please share you experience!

A Journey to Self-Discovery: Part III

Another journey on my road to self-discovery: Self-Worth. 


I envisioned my time to Virginia to be completely relaxing, and to learn how to just – be. Literally to just be. But what I realized is I naturally keep myself busy. I cannot spend days doing nothing. Whether I fill my days helping others, working on wedding planning, or getting on a bike and spending my days outside – it is just not in my nature to spend all of my time (or most of my time) doing nothing. But to have the time in my life right now to really see that this is just who I am as a person, rather than being forced in my life to be busy, is really blissful.

But this is definitely a two-fold (three-fold, four-fold?) story. My trip, which again, I envisioned to be completely relaxing, was met with a lot of angst as well.

  • Am I a good enough social worker to find another job?
  • Am I choosing the right path for myself in my career?
  • Licensing? No licensing? Part time? Full time?
  • Will the money be enough to last until I find a job?  Money management. Don’t buy this. Save your money for that. What will happen at Christmas? Can we afford a trip at the holidays?
  • What happens when I no longer have health insurance?
  • worry…
  • worry….
  • worry…..

This list goes on and on… I had a constant internal struggle with feeling like I don’t have a purpose, yet also feeling OK with having this time to reflect. I do so much volunteer work in the community, how can I not feel fulfilled? While I was gone, I also joined our Fairbanks Cycling Club Board of Directors because there are visions I have for our cycling community. I am no stranger to giving back and loving my community wholeheartedly. So the time here to reflect goes on and on as you can see from my rambling. But what I didn’t anticipate was probably what hit the most…

The feeling that I am not good enough to those I love. The obvious looks that say more than words ever could: “why are you here when you are unemployed?” Feeling the cold shoulder, feeling the failure of losing my job – as if I have not met the expectations of what I should be.

Then there was this: the discovery of my SELF-WORTH. I have met and exceeded every expectation I ever set for myself. I have broken the cycle of poverty and violence that maternally preceeded me. I am not the statistic and I am no one else but me. I am not here to make anyone else happy. I am here to make me happy.

I moved to Alaska 4 years and 7 months ago. Four years and 1 month ago the love of my life, my soon-to-be husband, walked into my life. It was a moment that set into motion what would be become a future in Alaska, a forever life in Alaska. One I don’t regret and one I am not sorry for. Not to my friends, not to my family. I left home for adventure, and what I found was home. I found myself, I found my soul wandering around waiting for me, I found the love of my life, my best friend.

I recently read a post called 26 Ways to Take Your Life Back When You’re Broken and it is well worth the read. Every bit of it. There are a few that especially spoke to me in this regard (although they all very much spoke to me):

  • #3: Rewrite your story. The past is our story that we repeat to ourselves, and it is an opportunity for growth. We are not bound to these experiences and should not let them hold us back, but instead let them release us.
  • #5: Share your story. This one is especially important to me. Starting to acknowledge the feelings of my story, and who I am and what has molded me or has not molded me is important. It is truly liberating to begin to release instead of repress this.
  • #13: Strengthen relationships with the people who love you. There are people that love you because they have to, and people that love you because they want to. When life has chosen to give you tough moments to get through, its in those times that you will find the people you can lean on. So you lost your job? Who has called to check on you? 
  • #17: Establish a health source of validation. This one is tough, and there maybe a moment when you find that your source of validation is not what you thought it was, or should be. Find a new one. You do not need the approval, so seek those you want it from that can both help you in the tough times, help you discover your strengths and continue to grow personally and professionally. See #13 for help.
  • #25: Look at how far you’ve come. I can’t begin to describe who I once was, and this is how far I’ve come. Don’t forget that for you. For You.

Remember you are worth it. Do things that make you happy. Set goals and expectations for yourself and no one else. 



Adventures in Wedding Planning: Finding a Caterer

Well ladies (or couples)…the adventures in wedding planning continue. We have a lot of big things done including finding our venue, photographer and even the baker for our cake. Deposit checks flying left and right. Finding the caterer was our most recent adventure and was, yet again, one that proved to be like the other things in trying to plan a wedding in Fairbanks.

As is my experience so far, not a lot of businesses (wedding vendors) in Fairbanks have websites. So I do a lot of asking around and searching on Facebook. I got a few recommendations and they included a mix of having decent to crappy websites, only Facebook pages, and only a phone number to call. So – here we go! I made a lot of Facebook message contacts. Some people never got back to me, one returned my message and it took forever to get her on the phone and another contacted me via message and by phone. So I started by started to one caterer and went from there.

Well, she ended up being pretty flakey. I was able to contact her and send her some basic info to get started and try to set up a meeting with her. She called and asked how sure I was I wanted to book with her (before even meeting her) and said she had another bride wanting the same date. Since I had contacted her first, she was willing to hold the date. She flaked out on our first meeting and called the night before the rescheduled meeting time to say she was too busy during this holiday season and wanted to know if we could do it over the phone. She then asked what exactly I wanted to meet about in person and said we should probable meet in person. I should also mention that when talking about the kind of food I wanted, she had no suggestions and expected me to come up with food options that didn’t have bread or dairy in them and even said “it would be great if you have any recipes you like, if you could share them.” So, the end of our last conversation was that she wanted to check in after the new year and was willing to hold my date.

After this unhappy conversation and fear of not finding another caterer if I ended up not wanting to work with her, I looked more in-depth into other options. I found and met with a great caterer who was available, willing to work within my budget, and uses almost 100% local farmers and our local organic co-op. She was very open, honest, and most of all very organized and thorough. She had a lot of great ideas, was interested in me as a bride and my wedding and had a lot of great suggestions and referrals for other part of my reception. There was no mistaking when I left my meeting with her, that I wanted her to be part of our wedding.

So watch out for suggestions on catering and review of our vendors post-wedding. Our good and bad experiences will be shared so people don’t have to make the same mistakes we have or have the same encounters we have!