Big Wedding, Small Budget

Guest Books

I definitely want to have a fun guest book at our wedding. I don’t want just a book where people write their names; I want something we can look over later, something we’ll enjoy looking at and remembering all of the people who came to our wedding. There are lots of creative ideas out there! Here are a few (as always, sources are listed below pictures):

Linda Carol Arts

A wedding sign in board would provide us with something fun and pretty to hang up, and it does give each guest the chance to write a message. But I’m sorry; it just reminds me too much of my bat mitzvah, even without a photo on it.

Must Love Weddings

One of my friends did the Polaroid guest book at her wedding. I think it’s such a fun idea; it’s like getting a bonus photo album of your guests! But with 250 people, I think it would get too expensive and too bulky. Also, I worry that the line to take photos would be too long and people would just give up. Even though our wedding is in Orlando, it isn’t Disneyworld, after all; we’d like to minimize lines.


I love the idea of a photo guest book; it’s a great way to share our lives with those guests that we don’t see or talk to very often. I’ve liked looking through these at other weddings I’ve been too. Also, a photo guest book would be easy to pass around tables, so there would be no waiting in line. And I love making Shutterfly albums, so that would be fun!

TexturedInk on Etsy

A poster-sized map would serve as a great guest book for our wedding. Our guests are coming from near and far, and I think it would be really fun to have guests sign in on the place where they live. But poor New Jersey would fill up really fast! And, so would Florida. So I’m not sure how practical this actually would be. But I think it would look really cool hanging up in our house.

PuzzledOne on Etsy

I am totally in love with this puzzle guest book! It’s available in several different colors, and I just think it’s so pretty! But the bigger ones are pretty expensive. I guess we could ask for one piece per family, but that seems pretty nit-picky and controlling. Also, I’m not sure how we would display it. I guess we could glue it and get it framed, but I think that process might be too expensive as well. It’s worth investigating, though.

Mendocino Weddings

The Jenga guest book is an idea I have seen popping up all over the wedding blogs. Steve and I do love some Jenga (and we love to play it with Emily), so it would be really cool to have the guest sign blocks. I think it would be so much fun to play a game of Jenga and chuckle over our wedding at the same time! Of course, with 250 guests, we’d have a couple of Jenga sets, but who cares? Plus, it would be really affordable, so obviously, I like that.

As with most things wedding, there are so many ideas out there. These are just a few of the guest book ideas I’ve come across. Who knows what else I’ll find?

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Seating Charts

One thing we’ve been really conscious of while planning this wedding is wanting to treat our guests well. We are super aware of the fact that everyone will be traveling just to celebrate with us (as I’ve mentioned, the venue is out of the way for even local guests) and we want to make everyone as comfortable and happy as possible. This has come up a few times so far.

First, it came up when choosing a date and time. We wanted a date when Steve’s family would be able to attend and when I would be able to have at least a couple of days off. Conservative Jews (of which I am one) don’t get married on a Saturday until after Shabbat ends, and even though our marriage will not really be recognized by Conservative Judaism (that’s another post for another time), I just wouldn’t feel right getting married on a Saturday. So, we chose lunchtime on Sunday, assuming that anyone who really needs to get back to work on Monday will be able to go home that night.

Our guests’ comfort came up again when finding a caterer. With our budget being small, finding catering we could afford for so many people was a daunting task. As I’ve mentioned, our caterer came through and helped us make it happen. But there was a point where we were considering a smaller meal of sandwiches. Neither of us felt quite right about that. Even though we understand that people are not coming to the wedding for the food, we both felt strongly about serving people a hot meal, especially when they’ve traveled to get there.

When choosing the hotel for our block discount, I definitely looked for somewhere that offered breakfast, because I know how much that adds to the convenience factor (even though the hotel is right behind First Watch…just saying). We also wanted somewhere family-friendly since there will be so many babies and kids attending.

And now, I’ve been thinking about whether or not to do table assignments. Originally, I planned to do free-for-all seating. I figured that it made more sense given the casual picnic atmosphere that we aiming for. It felt more informal, and I liked the idea of people just mingling around. Plus, it was one more task I could delete off the old to-do list, right?

Wrong. My family quickly set me straight. I was shocked that they actually all agreed that we should have assigned seating; we rarely all agree on anything without some debate, so I figured I should listen. They pointed out that if we were going to have anything structured during lunch (toasts, first dance, etc), then we should make lunch more structured by having people sit down. They could mingle after they ate. And who walks around visiting people with a plate full of (delicious) pasta, anyway?

Also, I realized that there are a handful of people we’re inviting who don’t really know anyone else. And it really is kinder to those guests to seat them at a table where we know people will be outgoing and friendly. Of course, we could ask some friends to just keep an eye out for them, but I think I would be worrying about that when I should be enjoying myself. So having assigned seating is really better for those individual guests and for me.

What it comes down to is that for such a big, diverse group as we’ll have, having assigned seating is more thoughtful. It releases guests from that momentary hectic-ness of trying to get seats with their friends and family. It ensures that individual guests will have people to talk to. And it also will give us the opportunity to introduce friends and family from the different parts of our lives. Sharing a meal with strangers, breaking bread, can turn you into friends. It can really help bring our two sides together.

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Hotel Room Blocks, or How to Learn to Treat your Guests like Adults

Over the past week, my mom and I (well, mostly my mom) have been working on securing the blocks for hotels rooms for our out of town guests. This is an important step, because most of our guest list is from out of town and I don’t want to send save-the-dates until the blocks have been secured. Like everything else with the wedding, the process has been more complicated than I expected.

Here’s the thing. Our wedding, as I’ve mentioned before, is at a venue that is about an hour away from us. The fact that we’re getting married on a farm in a National Forest means we will have a lovely, organic setting. It also means that there are no hotels close by. None. The nearest hotels are about 25 minutes away, but that makes them pretty far from our house/neighborhood, where any other wedding events (TBD) will be taking place, and even further away from the theme parks, for those guests who want to visit them. Also, the two hotels near the venue are nothing to write home about, trust me.

So, we moved on to looking for hotels in Altamonte Springs, where we live. These are close to our house, and about halfway between the venue and the theme parks. We narrowed it down to two, and then found out that one (the one I liked best) was just charging more than we were comfortable with. We thought about getting two blocks, one at the more upscale choice, and one at a more mid-range hotel. But I don’t want two blocks; it’s too complicated and I like the idea of everyone staying in the same place. So, it looks like we will be going for the less-upscale (but still very nice) hotel.

And I’ve been second guessing myself. What if people want a nicer hotel than the one we are offering (Again, the hotel we picked is very nice)? What if they don’t want to make the long drive to the venue after flying/driving all the way into Orlando for the wedding?

Then, I remembered some great advice from A Practical Wedding. Wedding guests are grown-ups. Or if they’re not (many of ours are not), they are at least attached to grown-ups. They can make their own decisions. If they want to stay somewhere else, they are welcome to use a different hotel. Our block is just offered as an option. If they would like to stay closer to the venue, they can do that. If the wedding is too far away, or too hard to get to, or too inconvenient, they don’t have to come. I’m at peace with that (although, we’ll see if I still feel that way when RSVPs start coming in).

We’re trying to make things as easy for our guests as possible, because we do appreciate that they will be coming from far and wide to celebrate with us. But I’ve traveled far and wide for weddings before, and I’ve never regretted it. I’ve only regretted it when the wedding really was too far and wide (and too much the day before Passover) to attend. In hindsight, I wish I’d gone. Celebrating someone I love starting a new family of their own is definitely worth the inconvenience. And I’m going to respect our guests enough to realize that they can make this decision on their own.

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I had a great post planned for today, insightful discussion regarding things I’ve learned about myself during this planning process. But it got sidelined today by some happy news: Steve’s family booked their flights!

I’ve been operating all along with the premise that not everyone whom we want to be at our wedding will be able to come. Some people might have other obligations, for others it might be too expensive, and a (hopefully) select few might just not want to come. And that’s ok. But of course, deep down, I’ve got my list of must-haves, and of course Steve’s family was on it. Unfortunately, there was also the chance that they wouldn’t be able to make it, seeing as how they live in England and all. And Steve’s sister and brother-in-law have three kids, so it’s quite a journey to make.

But! They called yesterday to tell us that they found a good deal and wanted to book it. So, they’re officially coming!

And this news has made everything seem so much more real and exciting. It’s so much easier to picture the wedding and how things will go now. We can make concrete plans for things I was holding off on. I can actually imagine walking down the aisle.

Most of all, it means that I will have more people to help me get everything ready in the days before the wedding.

Psych! Actually, it means that we will really have our two families coming together on the wedding day. And that is what I’ve been hoping for all along.

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Creating a Community

I remember when my friend Ilana got married. The cantor talked during the Ketubah signing about how we were all there, witnessing, singing, and creating a community. And her wedding really felt like that, especially since the bridal party stayed at the estate where it was held for the weekend, hanging out with each other and with both families. I remember feeling sad to say goodbye at the end of it, not just to my best friends but to family members that I had never met before.

When my friend Candice got married, she and her husband rented a huge house in Bar Harbor for friends to stay in with them for the week. Even though I had just started a new job and couldn’t join them until the last few days, I was immediately welcomed in by her friend, who drove an hour and a half to pick me up at the airport and promptly took me out for lobster and to get my eyebrows done. I didn’t really know anyone very well at that wedding, but we all hung out together and it also really felt like a community.

This is what I really want for our wedding. We will not have a huge house on property or a beautiful estate for everyone to stay in. People will be spread out since there are no hotels really close by. Guests will be coming from far away; most of the guest list is out of state. But on the day, I hope everyone comes together. I hope everyone joins together for the hora, for lunch, for lawn games. But this is challenging. As I’ve mentioned before, we have a large guest list. So things like introductions or a ring-warming ceremony are not practical. So, how do we create a sense of community?

This actually isn’t something I’m even worried about because it is already happening. This blog is making it happen, which is an unexpected joy. I have gotten such an outpouring of support from the blog posts, not just from people reading, but from people mentioning how much they like it, giving suggestions, helping out. It really makes me feel like we are already supported by a community who is excited for our wedding. It already feels like people are coming together. Living so far away from most of our loved ones has made it difficult to share the wedding with them, but this blog has done it.

One last anecdote: I remember my brother Steven’s bar mitzvah. I looked around the room and realized how many people were there that I loved and who loved my family. It felt like being wrapped up in a warm blanket. Feeling that on my wedding day will add tremendously to the joy of marrying my partner; it wouldn’t be the same without it.


The Guest List

Choosing the venue this weekend definitely made it real. As we took a tour, I could almost picture the wedding actually happening. And one thing that brought up was not just the breadth, but also the depth of our guest list.

I’ve talked before about how this will be a big wedding, in terms of the numbers. I have an enormous family, one where we keep in touch with everyone. Even though we have a relatively small budget, I always knew it was super important to celebrate with our families and friends. That’s just how we do things.

But. In all of the budget talk, and spending diets, and obsessive number crunching, it is easy to lament the big family, the long guest list, the complications that comes with it. With so many people, everything is more expensive. There have been a lot less venues that we could choose from. Wedding weekend events are way harder to figure out (I’m not even tackling that one for a while). And all of those cute DIY ideas? When you multiply them by 250, they just seem like an impossible amount of work.

Then, I wandered around our beautiful venue, picturing all of the people from our guest list there. And, wow. In that moment, I realized how complex and rich our lives are, and how our wedding will reflect that.

We’ll be inviting people from the US, UK, Germany, and Hungary. Our invitations will be traveling as far domestically as Washington, Oregon, Texas, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Chicago. We’ll be inviting friends we have had for decades, as well as some we’ve only known for a couple of years. Our families will (hopefully) be celebrating with us, helping us move into this next phase of our lives. And our community here in Florida will also be there.

This is what a wedding is about, for us. We are so lucky to have such a wide, deep network of connections all around the world. The thought of them all coming together to the same place makes my heart sing. So the wedding will not just be about celebrating where we are going, it will be about celebrating where we have been as well.