Lessons Learned: Wedding Experience – Tight Budget and Creativity

A couple of things that I learned from my wedding, back in 1998, is that it you don’t have to spend an enormous amount of money to have a beautiful and memorable wedding. The trick is to be flexible. Don’t be set on how it should look or turn out. Let what you find guide you and make sure that having fun is your top priority. I think the lesson still holds true today, as I learned again with my daughter’s wedding, 16 years and one day after mine.

For Mike and my wedding, we kept it simple. We didn’t want to spend our entire savings on one day’s event. We knew we could have the same amount of fun on a tight budget. A judge married us, the ceremony took place on the Judge’s farm, and our reception and dance were at the county fairgrounds. We had the dinner catered by Divine Swine—no china needed for a pig roast—and the food was awesome. My dress cost $125.00 at Dayton’s Department Store with a small alteration fee. Mike and the groomsmen wore black pants and white shirts. The bridesmaids wore black dresses from JCPenney.

My wedding

My wedding

We were also creative. We made our own wedding invites. Our flowers came from a wholesale shop, a wedding gift from our boss, and we literally had buckets and buckets of roses for under $100 dollars. We made my bouquet, the bridesmaids’ bouquets, the men’s boutonnieres, and part of the table decorations out of those flowers. We also used drinking glasses, found at a restaurant supply store, as candleholders for the rest of the table decorations (and we still use them as our everyday glasses today). My parents did buy us a small wedding cake, but our kids made and decorated three small cakes. They had the best time decorating them.

 My daughter married last weekend. She and Stu kept their wedding simple as well. Their wedding was a little more spendy, as wedding costs have increased over the years. And my daughter wanted a traditional wedding dress for her to wear and formalwear for Stu. They were both beautiful. The rest they kept on a tight budget. They had their wedding, service and all, at a small hotel. They had the dinner catered by a local meat store and they could bring in their own keg and liquor.

 They too were creative. I helped them make their wedding invites. My daughter bought silk flowers—all on sale—and we made her bouquet, the bridesmaid bouquets, and the boutonnieres. Their wedding cake and cupcakes were made by a lady who liked to bake as a hobby (unbelievable how good they were), and the tables was decorated with candles and felt-flowered baby jars filled with candy.

Men's boutonnieres made from bullet shells.

Men’s boutonnieres made from bullet shells.

Weddings don’t have to eat up your entire savings. Make what you can, like the invites or the bouquets. Buy as much as you can when it’s on sale or use coupons. We used Michael’s and Hobby Lobby coupons for regular priced items. And be flexible on color, style, or theme. For example, my daughter wanted real birch wood candleholders for table decorations. When she learned that the decorations wouldn’t work, her new mother-in-law found antique wine glasses at Goodwill. For $25.00, she bought 100 glasses to decorate the tables. The best part is that they looked great and the guests loved them, especially when they could keep their glass if they wanted.

 I remember the fun that I had at my wedding. We had things go wrong. We stayed flexible and made changes as needed. And I wouldn’t have changed any of it – the planning or the day. And seeing the way my daughter smiled on her day, I think she’ll feel the same way about her wedding.

My daughter's wedding

My daughter’s wedding

Lessons Learned: Day of Appreciation

My daughter was married this weekend in her new husband’s hometown, where they now live. Today my husband, my son, and I came back from the whirlwind of activities and events. Do I feel blessed? I do. My daughter has married a great guy, and she’s now a part of his wonderful family as well.

Today I’m appreciating what went into preparing for the wedding, the joy of seeing the many relatives and friends who’ve traveled across the world and from other states to help us celebrate, and how much fun we had with all the events. I’ll also spend the next few days with my son before he flies back to Germany, and then I’ll settle into routine and finish writing my next novel. I’ll be thinking, “All is good.”

Lessons Learned: First Time Traveling Fears

I admit that I was quite nervous traveling to Germany last month. My first time overseas, and it only took me 50+ years to finally venture out! For me, the fear was being out of my comfort zone. I didn’t speak German and I didn’t have a phone to use in case there was an emergency or if we were lost.

My rate of fear varied from when I booked the flight to when we landed back in the States. I wasn’t thrilled about flying over the ocean for 800 hours (yes, I’m exaggerating but it felt like a long, long time) until common sense kicked in. Whether land or sea, a plane crash statistically isn’t good and usually has the same outcome.

Once we landed, my fears surfaced again. Damn the movies for setting off my imagination! How many times have you seen a character sweating bullets as they waited to make it through customs? How the character and you would hold your breaths to see whether or not customs would pull him or her aside for further questioning. The good news is that we were “cattled” around to get through the gates. I had some trouble understanding the passport gatekeeper, but Mike understood him—accent and all. I’m glad we didn’t look suspicious.

The next fear was soon after when we took the airport shuttle to my son’s house. Having never been to his home or having seen any outside pictures of the place, I had no idea whether or not we’d reached our destination. We had no phone to call him. My son had described the place to us, but the outside of this place wasn’t anything like he had described in his email. Or maybe what we pictured.

We had the driver beep his horn, as per instructions from my son. When we didn’t see him after a minute, I was nervous about getting out of the van. That van was my security. What would we do if the driver left us with no son in sight? And by the way, the driver didn’t care. He was busy unloading our luggage.

I’m sure that if we were left in the small village without a phone, without knowing the language, without knowing where in the hell we were, we still would’ve managed. Luckily we were fine. Son showed up. Driver was happy that I removed my grip from the seat cushion.

The odd times when my fear kicked in came when Mike and I took walks around the village. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t understand it either. My only guess is that I didn’t have a phone to call Son if something should happen and because we didn’t speak German. Common theme here?

Another odd time was when we went to K-Town (Kaisertown). The area that we were walking in didn’t feel right. I didn’t get a good vibe. We were probably fine. I had two strong men to protect me. But I wimped. They respected my decision that it was time to head back to the car.

And then there were times when my fear probably should have kicked in. One was after Wine-fest in Bad Durkheim. We took the trains home and almost got off at the wrong stop. We decided to follow an older couple who were heading to the station before our stop. A somewhat drunk American, who has been living in Germany for the last three years, rushed to the open door and told us to get back on. We were getting off at the wrong stop. We believed her. She was part of the group, a family, which we had struck up a conversation with on our way back from the festival. We got back on the train just as the doors were closing. She got us back on track. But really? We took advice from a drunk instead of the older couple who seemed to know where they were going? I had no worries, thank you wine.

I know that next time I travel overseas, I’ll still have those fears. Hopefully they will be a little less now that I’ve been over there once. I’m hoping to go over to Germany again and hopefully soon, before the little bit of comfort that I’ve earned hasn’t left me.

Lessons Learned: Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, is quite the experience. I looked at the event as an observer and as a participant. We (me, my husband, and son) walked into Oktoberfest just as the cannons (or guns) fired to signal the tapping of the kegs. I was surprised that more people weren’t there, after hearing about how crowded it gets, but then I realized that it’s because everyone was inside these massive tents that hold 3,000 to 6,000 people.

Here’s what I learned about Oktoberfest:

Beer Tents

Getting into a tent is quite the production. You have to reserve a spot and order your food way before the event takes place. We’re talking possibly a year in advance. When I had looked in May/June to reserve a table, most tents were already full. Luckily, they also have outdoor seating as well. Most tents have tables available (outdoors) on a first-come-first-serve basis. Since we did not have a reservation to get in to any tent, we had to do the legwork (meaning power walk from tent to tent to see if we could get in). We scoured the streets, watching for side entrances to these tents where people were getting in. We wanted beer and the only place to get served beer was inside a tent. We scored. We were able to get into the outdoor section of the Augistiner-Festhalle. Yay! When we found a table with three open spots, we planted our butts until they kicked us out. When they figure that you’ve had enough to drink, they won’t serve you anymore.

One of the huge tents at Oktoberfest


Each tent serves one type of beer. You order by saying how many you want. The mugs that they come in are huge. Each one holds about 36 ounces (three American sized beers). My suggestion is to pace yourself and also to order food. We ordered a huge pretzel with each round and shared it to soak up all the beer we drank. We should’ve ate a meal. And don’t think about stealing a mug from the tent. My understanding is that they don’t take kindly to theft so if you’re caught, you’re charged. This is the same with being drunk. If they know you are smashed, they will cart you off to the First Aid tent or by ambulance to the hospital. We saw a lot of people on gurneys.

Me and my son

Me and my son


Bring cash. At least 160 to 200 Euros. I brought 160 Euros and that covered three mugs of beer, one big pretzel, one chicken sandwich, two coffees, two ginger cookies, and one t-shirt. I had some money left over, maybe 30 Euros. We didn’t go on any rides…can you imagine if we did after drinking all that beer? That wouldn’t have been good. Period.

Germany 441


Do not drive. Do not attempt to drive. The streets around Oktoberfest are filled with cars and people, parked and moving. We took a tour bus and our drop off/pick-up point was a 10-15 minute walk to/from the event. We didn’t have to worry, and we got to sleep on the long ride home.


Beer overcomes language barriers. We didn’t talk to the people at our table until after the first mug was downed. And then the friendships opened up. Our table buddies were three couples from Norway. Two spoke English, not fluent but impressive. They translated for the rest of their group. Very nice, fun, and friendly people. And everyone knows the universal language of a toast. At our table and surrounding tables, we toasted many times in different languages.

Bavaria Statue

If you go to Oktoberfest with a group or even with just one other person, have a place to meet if lost or when you need to reconnect. The best place is near the Bavaria Park statue. You can’t miss it. She’s huge. The area is also known as a sleeping point for many. The hill is littered with people. I stayed amused watching how people sleep without a care in the world, even when it started raining. Not so good was watching someone on the hill puke. I guess people will spend the night on the hill, crash when the tents close and then get up again in the morning to do the same thing all over again. If you want to people watch, this would be the place to hit.

The hill with the Bavaria Statue

The hill with the Bavaria Park Statue


I loved seeing the authentic German costumes worn, Dirndls for the women and Lederhosen for the men. The streets became fuller as the evening wore on. Most people were friendly, others were too drunk to care, and some (as at any event) were simply odd ducks that you did your best to avoid. For example, we were standing near the Bavaria statue and a German male, in his mid-twenties, asked where we were from since we couldn’t understand his drunken mumblings. We told him that we were from the U.S. and he said, “You were the ones who dropped the bombs.” Now how can you reply to that? Of course later that night I thought of some snappy comebacks…


All in all, I had fun. The experience of being at Oktoberfest in Germany was awesome. I loved the beer tents (even the outside area), seeing people dress in costume, and meeting people from other countries (Cheers to our table buddies from Norway!). There were some low points—when I worried that we wouldn’t find No. 1 Son before our time came to leave or when one man kept coming up to us to see how we were doing (still not sure of his motive)—but all worked out. Will I reserve a table inside a tent next time I go? Maybe. Half the fun was doing the leg work. The reward was getting a beer.

Oktoberfest at night

Oktoberfest at night

Lesson Learned: Recovery Time

My apologies…I thought yesterday’s blog went out (pre-dated) since I knew we’d be traveling on Monday.

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. My husband Mike and I traveled to Germany to visit my son. We planned the trip so we could attend both Winefest in Bad Durkheim and Oktoberfest in München (Munich). Let’s just say that some recovery time is needed. Germans do like their wine and beer. We were enjoying it right along with them!

With that said, my brain isn’t functioning as it should right now. My next blog will be about Oktoberfest – a different perspective.

Lessons Learned: The Toughest, Hardest Year

When growing up, my neighbor and “other mom” (she wanted a daughter and gave up after six boys so I became her honorary daughter) had said that the toughest year of marriage was the first year. She fought and fought with her husband as they adjusted to life together. Her words stuck with me, for over forty years. Today, I agree that the toughest year is the first year. The toughest, hardest year is when you have yours, mine, and or ours involved.

Mike and I had the yours and mine scenario. We had different opinions and ways of raising our kids. The first year was tough. The first year was hard. And it didn’t end there. If I were to give a little girl advise, like my neighbor, I would have to add that the first year is tough and the hardest year. However, it doesn’t end there. What’s also important is how you adjust from the first year to manage the following years. Too many people give up way too easily. Unless your safety is at risk, you should stay put and work at your marriage. It gets easier. You learn and blend your habits. Make sure to communicate, letting each other know what’s upsetting you. If you’re overwhelmed, let your spouse know. Work on your marriage together. Relationships take time.

After time, when the history starts to build, you’ll feel the stability and the accomplishment. The years will continue to have moments of tough or hard times, you can’t get around it. But knowing you have that rock who will help you in time of need, to comfort you, and laugh with you can be the ultimate reward. Some people fall out of love, and when that happens, remember what you’re beliefs are and how that can affect your future and others. Can you rebuild that joy? You won’t know until you try again.

For my other mother, she lost her husband to leukemia. His life ended way too early. But I do know that if he were alive, they would still be together today.

Lessons Learned: Routines are Temporary

Everyone has certain routines that turn into automatic pilots. For example, I get up at 5:54 a.m., exercise, get ready for work, eat breakfast, and then head out the door. I’ve been doing this routine for quite a while now so my body goes where it needs to while my mind wanders to other things. This routine has morphed from different routines throughout the years. When the kids were little, I’d have to get them ready for daycare or school. When I experimented with writing in the morning, I woke up 40 minutes earlier to handwrite my novel. Routines are great and keep you moving but they are not permanent. You can’t get so hooked on them that you can’t function without them. I’m guilty of it. My husband’s guilty of it. Just remember…routines are temporary. They need to or will change based on life events.

Getting up every morning and getting ready for work is pretty common and will change to a degree. Other routines are pretty drastic and can take their toll on you or the people around you. For example, my husband and I walked during our lunch hour for over ten years. Two years ago I started a new job. Our buildings are farther apart, and my schedule doesn’t allow for a set lunch hour so it’s rare when we have the opportunity to meet. In many ways you can say that we were blessed being able to walk for as many years as we had. But when you suddenly don’t have that time anymore, the routine is sorely missed. I had to adjust based on schedule. My husband was forced to accommodate. He still continues to walk like we used to which makes it harder on him to adjust. He misses sharing the time with me, and I feel guilty, having been the one to break that routine. It’s been two years since our routine has changed, and we still haven’t fully recovered. We continue to look for that new routine to help us gain more time together.

Being aware of routines and adapting when they have to change can help you transition to your next routine. Nothing stays the same. Even if your routine is changed temporarily due to an illness, you may not go back to the original way of doing things. Be accommodating. Try making it better. Work on compromises as new events or ideas come along. Sometimes you don’t have a choice. You have to adjust to new ways, try different things, until one can fit your needs for the time being.