Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Stag and Doe: Part I

Oh my dear bees. I have been a little absent lately for two reasons. One, because not a whole lot has been going on that is post-worthy in wedding planning, and two, because I have been very busy planning another event.

Now, before I jump into all of the gory details with you all I must preface this post with a disclaimer. I definitely considered not sharing this part of our wedding journey with the blog because Stag and Doe* parties are not a widespread wedding practice and I have read criticisms in the past. That being said, they are very popular in some areas of Ontario and Manitoba (particularly in small towns where there aren't a lot of things to do). Until I entered the wedding world, I had no idea they weren't done everywhere! When it came to planning our wedding, we discussed not having a one, but there was a lot of support and encouragement (perhaps even some "You have to's!") for us to throw one, and they are oh so much fun!

We all have different traditions depending on where we live (cash bars, dollar dances, for example),  so my disclaimer for my series of posts on our Stag and Doe are to keep things kind.

First things first, what exactly is a Stag and Doe?

Stag and Doe's are a party hosted by the wedding party, family and couple before their wedding for the purpose of raising money for the wedding. When you write it out like that, it's certainly cringe worthy. I get it. But the reason why I decided to share this part of the journey with you all, is to attempt to give them a better name on the interwebs and perhaps one day help someone out in their planning. Sure they're a take it or leave it party, but for the partying crowd, they're a blast. And, well, we like to party. 

The party is more so a community event, open to friends and family, and friends of friends and friends of those friends. It's not a wedding guest only event. It's a party where you can drink for very cheap (much less than a night out at the bar), play fun games, and win some pretty amazing prizes. I would put it in the realms of engagement party.

In Thunder Bay (where Mr. Narwhal is from), they're so popular that complete strangers will show up just to have a good time and win some cool prizes. They really vary depending on where you live.

When it came to planning our Stag and Doe I really came up pretty dry in the research. There are several sites with some advice on how to throw one and popular games, but most of what we found was mildly helpful. We have relied on past events we and our wedding party have attended and/or planned for the "how to".

Our Stag and Doe was this past weekend, and I have been moved to tears several times leading up to this event, during and after. Both of our hearts are so incredibly full from the love, support and more support we were showed this past weekend. It was clear that our guests were in it for more than just an inexpensive night out, our friends, family and community showed us more support and love than we could have ever anticipated.

All photos personal. 

Mr Narwhal and I getting ready before everyone arrived 

The amount of people that came up to us on Saturday, and the messages we have received since thanking us for such an amazing event is enough to make my heart burst. It's a wonder I'm still standing. I actually ran into one of my mom's employees a few days later and she thanked me endlessly for such an amazing night, and when I told her that I was the one that was so thankful, she said, "It was just exactly what everyone needed - a great night out."

Our priority was to make this a fun and worthwhile event for everyone attending, so we went about our planning a bit differently than usual, and I think this is why it was so well received. Instead of putting in a minimal effort, we cautiously and carefully planned out every aspect of the event (and spent a great deal of money upfront ourselves) to ensure that our guests had a great time, as well as hopefully making a profit for ourselves.We also decided in the week leading up to the event that it was important to us that we pay forward a portion of what we made (roughly 5%) to a local charity.

Today I'm going to give a breakdown of all of the steps we took to plan the Stag and Doe, and in my next post I will give a recap of how the night went. Spoiler alert: it was perfectly perfect.  While lengthy, my hope is that the details will be helpful to someone in the future. Instead of having many posts on the topic, I'm going to try and keep it to two, recognizing these posts will only be beneficial for a small audience!

Step one: Find a suitable venue
In preparing for our own Stag and Doe we started with a date and searched for a venue. After polling our wedding party, we had a clear winner for the end of April, and I set out to find a venue that would work for us. There are several venues in Huntsville that are regularly used for Stag and Doe's, but you need to be careful to find one that will allow you to serve your own alcohol versus having to hire a bartender and serve their liquor.

We landed on Port Sydney Hall, with a capacity of around 200 people, which included a full kitchen, tables and chairs in our rental. We also had to pay a fee to the venue for insurance and obtain a liquor license from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO).

Step two: Figure out how you're going to structure the night. 
Beyond the basics, you're left with a blank slate of how you would like to run your event. There are certainly a few classic games** at Stag and Doe's to include, but the possibilities are endless. BM Click has been to four Stag and Doe's during this season, and my parents have attended one, all in the city. We used their experiences as a learning opportunity for things that would be important for us to include in the event.

One thing that was very important to Mr. Narwhal and I in the planning process was that drinks would be affordable, prizes would be well worth the attendance and more than anything we wanted it to be fun! We weren't obsessive over how much money we could make, but wanted to be able to cover our costs and make enough of a profit to make the time spent planning the event worthwhile.

Based on the feedback from our wedding party and parents attendance at other Stag and Doe's, we decided to offer three all night games, one limited time game (the Toonie*** Toss), a penalty box, a pie in the face competition, a grand prize table, what we called "dime prize" (i.e., smaller prizes) table and a door prize table.

Step three: Figure out your pay structure 

There are several income streams for the event.

Ticket sales: We decided on $10 in advance, $12 at the door. Admission tickets enter guests into door prizes. These include the smaller prizes that were donated to us (e.g., alcohol promo/swag items, coffee, etc.) and were pulled at random throughout the night.

Prize tickets:  Tickets were available for grand prizes $5 each or 5 for $20 and the dime prizes $2 each or an arms length for $20.

I purchased way too many tickets. 

Drink tickets: Drinks were purchased through ticket sales, at $4 each, 3 for $10 or 7 for $20.

Game play:  Games cost $2 to play, winners were able to double their money (i.e., $4 back) or win prizes.**

Penalty box: We also had a hockey penalty box as a nod to Mr. Narwhal's role of a coach. People could pay money for people to put in the box for either 2 or 5 minute penalties. We charged $2 for a minor 2 minute penalty or $4 for a major 5 minute penalty. Mr. Narwhal and I costed double.

Working on signage the week prior

Pie in the face Competition: By the bar, there were two jars place to "save" either the bride or the groom from a pie in the face at the end of the evening. Whoever raised the most money gets to put a pie in the face of the other.

Bundles: We also put together bundle packages that included drink tickets and prize tickets.

Toonie Toss: In the middle of the evening we held a "Toonie Toss" to win a large prize, where the closest toonie wins the prize.

Step four: Obtain prizes and sell those tickets

Our wedding party took charge of ticket sales, and were wildly successful. We pre-sold in the realm of 100 tickets, and around 20+ tickets that were donated from those unable to attend. Most of the sales, and information for the event were shared on a Facebook event that the wedding party created.

Being from a small town, most people know and have connections to many small businesses in town, and the wedding party was able to get a huge amount of donated prizes from local businesses, and Mr. Narwhal and I purchased two grand prizes and a few of the smaller prizes to add to the pool**.

An example of some of our dime prizes 

Step five: Buy all the things you need to have a rockin' party

This includes all of the alcohol, drink mix, food, supplies and decorations. We offered rum, vodka, whiskey, red wine, white wine, two kinds of beer, Jagermeister and Jello shooters.

Our house was taken over by prizes and alcohol in the days leading up to the event. 

We planned to have lots of food (probably too much), including three kinds of meatballs, chicken nuggets, bruschetta flat bread, veggies, soup and your regular variety of munching snacks.

Step six: Set-up and party
After all of the set-up, it was time to open the doors and party the night away. In my next post, I'll share how it went in more detail.

Have you ever been to a Stag and Doe? 

*Also referred to as Buck and Doe's, Jack and Jills, Shag's and Socials depending on where you're from.
** More details in my next post.
***Toonies are $2 coins.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dressing the MOB

Momma Narwhal is the definition of a busy bee. As the owner and operator of a restaurant for over 36 years in Muskoka and an avid volunteer, penciling in time to go dress shopping meant looking a month ahead in time. At the end of March I was given the choice of three days from the middle of April to beginning of May and we settled on this past Monday as the day we could find the second most important dress for the wedding: the Mother of the Bride dress. 

Personal photo

Shortly after getting engaged, the mothers (and my grandmother for that matter) were asking me what I wanted them to wear to the wedding. I hadn't given it any thought, I just wanted them all to feel their best, but they wanted more guidance. 

After some brainstorming, I decided that I wanted my mom to stand out on her own, without wearing the same colour as the bridesladies. We decided a dark turquoise would play in nicely with the turquoise stone necklaces the ladies are wearing. I told Mr. Narwhal's mom that she could aim to wear navy to go with the boys

Momma Narwhal and I decided to go to Barrie rather than driving all the way to Toronto (one hour versus two). Our first stop was the mall to see if we might be able to find a dress for her. At approximately 4' 11'' (rounding up) my mom is quite petite, which makes dress shopping not exactly the easiest of tasks. The mall wasn't really our friend when it came to mother of the bride dress shopping. Stores are filled with prom, grad and summer dresses - basically a whole lot of pastels and patterns. 

Store after store, we were coming up dry. A little burnt out and out of options, I suggested it was time to hit up a bridal boutique. Google led us to Helen's Bridal. We were immediately greeted by an enthusiastic consultant that knew her stuff. She started pulling dresses that she felt would suit my mom the best and we were off to the fitting room. 

And, wouldn't you know it? The first dress she tried on was the winner. The dress needs some petite accommodating alterations (imagine less on the straps and length), but it was the clear winner. The dress came in the perfect colour*, it met my mom's wish list of having straps and not being too form fitting... and of course it made her feel like the mother of the bride. 

My beautiful momma! / Personal photo

After grumbling a bit about being the most she's ever spent on a dress (besides her own wedding dress), we left the boutique happy and satisfied to have another thing checked off the list. I'm really excited to see how amazing she looks with it altered to her size! 

Where did your mom find her dress? 

*This photo isn't the best representation of the colour in person.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Make me up

As someone that grew up in a household with a mother that didn't ever go anywhere without her "face" on, I developed an early fascination with cosmetics. I started rocking some colourful eyeliner in public school and my mom always allowed me to explore and find my own look and style.

My brother and I in high school - Bright eye shadow, lots of black eyeliner and no eyebrows / Personal Photo 

In my early 20s (and late teens for that matter) I too wouldn't be seen in public without my "face" on. Girls wore make-up and that's how it was in my world. Advancing from the drug store aisle to an expensive affair with Sephora, I loved spending my money on a new palette or the latest mascara. 

Then I met Mr. Narwhal. 

When we first started dating, I asked him what kind of look he preferred on girls and he told me it didn't matter to him, and I continued to wear my routine face and never thought anything of it. As time progressed, it became known that the "it didn't matter to him" actually was a preference for a more natural look. Mr. Narwhal grew up in a home with a mother that didn't wear any make-up and he appreciates natural beauty. 

So with time, I would wear less and less make-up and became more confident in a natural look than my more made-up look. It's funny how things change, but I started to feel better about myself and more confident in my own skin with this transition. 

Since I work from home, I slowly transitioned from wearing make-up every day, to make-up some days. If I wasn't leaving the house for anything other than the gym or grocery store, there wasn't a sense in getting myself all made-up. 

While I still have my love for Sephora, Youtube tutorials and the occasional eyeliner, my everyday look has become overly simplified in comparison to before. And, I like it better that way. I just feel more like myself. Insert cheesy line about how finding the one brings out the best version of ourselves.  

So where does this little back story leave me? Sort of lost on where to go with my bridal make-up.

Unless you're a celebrity, your wedding day is most likely the one day of your life when you will have the most photos ever taken of you. Being the centre of attention for an entire day is the part of the wedding that doesn't sit well with me. As an extrovert, you would think I wouldn't have any issue with this, but thinking about everyone starring at me and commenting on how I look for an entire day makes me want to reach for a paper bag to breathe into. So, naturally I want to feel confident in my bridal look, and part of that confidence will come from my make-up.

On the other hand, I also care about what Mr. Narwhal thinks about my bridal look more than anyone else. While I know he'll love what I choose regardless, I want him to really love my choices, and this includes make-up. 

So what's a girl to do? I know that when the camera is on I need more make-up than usual, but I also want Mr. Narwhal to love what he sees in person

Colour me confused.

You may recall that for our engagement photos I got eyelash extensions and did my own make-up. I was really happy with how it turned out and while I plan to do eyelash extensions again for the wedding, I think I want a little more oomph, a little more summer and a little more bridal for the wedding day. 

Engagement photo look / Photo by Isos Photography

And so, while I don't think I'll be figure it out until after my trial in June, my inspiration has come from a major love and admiration for the make-up artist Ania Milczarczyk. I love how her make-up pulls together a natural, dewy and fresh feeling, while still putting emphasis on the eyes and brows. 

How did you decide what your bridal make-up look would be?

After note: I showed Mr. Narwhal this post after drafting it and for the first time ever he loved a make-up inspiration photo (the first of Ania's photos). Every other Ania or make-up inspiration photo I had shown him in the past had been deemed "too much make-up" in his books. So I think we finally have a make-up inspiration winner! 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Blocking up with Ironman

One of the things I love most about Weddingbee is that you have an opportunity to learn from other brides. I vividly remember reading Mrs. Hen's post on picking a wedding date and how Pride caused issues with getting a room block and mentally noted that I would need to make sure I did my research. When we picked our date, I did a quick search and nothing came up in Muskoka the weekend of our wedding. I figured I was good to go.


When it comes to planning, we were quick to book our major vendors since once they're booked, they're booked. One thing on those early checklists that I had been patiently waiting to do was room blocking. I figured since my guests wouldn't be booking until the new year and there were about five possible hotels in Huntsville to choose from, we'd be golden. I didn't want to be the crazy bride calling too early.


Momma Narwhal is a Rotarian, and one of her fellow Rotarians runs a hotel in town, so I figured I'd do a room block with him. Check it off the list. Easy peasy lemon squeazy.


I think you get where I'm going with this. Sometime in the early fall I emailed my mom's fellow Rotarian and he politely informed me that I wouldn't be able to do a room block because the Ironman triathlon will be in Huntsville that weekend.

I think you can pretty well picture my face.

GIF captured from one of the cutest youtube videos 
I don't exactly know how I missed this, but I did. Fortunately for us, we only have about 22 rooms that need to be blocked. This includes Mr. Narwhal's family and friends that are coming from the other side of Ontario (15+ hour drive) and my family coming from the Toronto area (2+ hour drive).

Most of the hotels in Huntsville have reserved room blocks for the 3000+ people coming to our community for the Ironman. Every hotel was already sold out, required a two night minimum stay or had increased their prices by at least 50% and nobody was willing to offer me a small block.

After what seemed like months of emailing tag with a seasonal inn close to our home in Port Sydney (we live between Port Sydney and Huntsville) we were able to secure the entire inn of 14 rooms for the wedding. They asked for a two night minimum, and Mr. Narwhal and I decided to prioritize his family coming for a few days from the Thunder Bay area and a few of my work colleagues. This left us with a remaining seven potential rooms that we needed to find for my family.

This guy is still wondering where he's going to stay too / Personal photo

This issue became one of those things where instead of dealing with the problem I procrastinated and ignored it. Sometime in February Mr. Narwhal's mom was visiting and we drove past a little motel in town and she asked if we had tried there yet. I said no and that I had completely forgot about it because they didn't have a webpage.

The next week or so I called the motel and miraculously they had rooms! Hallelujah! She was a bit apprehensive to give them to me, and said she would call back. I waited, and no response. A few weeks later I called her back and she agreed to give them to me for a maximum of one month. I asked if I could come check them out and she said anytime and I said I would be there in the next week or so. This had been our biggest wedding planning obstacle thus far and it felt so good to finally have it sorted out.

Things got a bit kerfuffled in my schedule, and the next week I asked Mr. Narwhal to stop in and snap a pic of a room so we could send it out to my family and ask them to book as soon as possible to ensure they had a room.

Later that day my phone lit up and it was Mr. Narwhal. After exchanging hello's he quietly said, "You're going to be upset." As my stomach sank (naturally thinking something terrible had happened), he proceeded to explain to me that the lady at the motel was extremely rude and completely lost it on him for me sending him instead of going myself and taking too long to visit (even though it had been less than a week). While biting his tongue, Mr. Narwhal politely told the lady that he was disappointed with her customer service and we would no longer be requiring their motel. As she started back peddling he left. I completely agreed that this was the right decision, as I did not want to send my family there only to be treated poorly.

At this point, I decided it was time to resort to Plan Z: another town. I've mentioned before that Muskoka is a district with many small towns, and we live closest to Huntsville with about an 8 minute drive. Bracebridge is the next town over and is about 20 minutes from our house. So, after failing on the Huntsville front, it was time to get a hotel in Bracebridge for my family. Not ideal, but it was what we were left with.

A visual of the rough distances between locations. 

Fortunately, this was as easy as a phone call and emailing my family to get their rooms as soon as possible. The hotel we landed on didn't provide a block, but had more than enough rooms left. Since we're providing a shuttle, we have asked my family to drive to the ceremony, and offered to have the shuttle available take them back at the end of the night if they would like.

Many have told me I could have just left this one to our guests; however, I felt really committed to doing the legwork for them. I wanted it to be a simple process for everyone, and given the Ironman debacle, I knew it would be easier for me to do it for everyone else. So far, this has been the only part of planning we've encountered that caused us some panic. We were getting pretty worried that our guests would have nowhere to go* and while it took months to resolve, we finally came up with a solution!

So my dear bee friends, if you didn't learn it from Mrs. Hen, learn it from me. Do some research on your wedding date if you're going to need a place for people to stay before you officially set your date.

Did you have any issues with a room block?

*Our local family guest rooms are already occupied by other out of town family that were not included in the rooms we needed to be part of the block.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

What Things Look Like 5 Months Out

We are less than five months out from our wedding day, and rapidly approaching double digits. After hitting the six month mark, things started to feel very real, and my long mental to do list started to have a little bit more urgency than it had before. We're in this weird state of limbo, where there is much to be done, but little that can be done right now. We still have a lot of snow and that sort of impedes things a bit.

So, what sort of things are on the list right now, with less than five months to go?

We have all of our invitations and envelopes, sans details card. The details card is basically drafted but needs a few key details added first. We had to finish figuring out our room block (more on that next week) and now that that is done we have to secure our shuttle bus pick up information (waiting on a call back). After that, I can order the final piece of the puzzle and get ready to assemble and mail out in late May/early June.

DIY Project Time
Before the snow melts, and we get busy doing the outside prep, I have to finish up my tree block photo project, wedding belt and favours, so the indoor projects can be off my plate.

Photos in Image by Isos Photography / Personal Photo

Random Vendor Sorting Out 
I need to do a lot of vendor sorting right now. This involves things like finding a seamstress, getting the toilet vendor confirmed, securing the shuttle, connecting with our other rental vendor and booking  my makeup trial.

Shopping and Spending
I finally got my hands on a couple white dresses for upcoming festivities, we're going MOB dress shopping in a couple of weeks and I seem to be making random little purchases on the regular. Recent purchases include cute invitation stickers, thank-you cards, part of my bridesmaid gifts, a return address stamp and labels for our favours.

Mini Heart Stickers / Etsy shop: studiotreatsbynaomi 

Mr. Narwhal's List
Mr. Narwhal has been a sounding board and opinion giver up until this point, but with Spring and warm weather on its way (hopefully) his list is about to grow. This involves bench building (for the ceremony), Spring clean-up, landscaping and lots of tree pruning.

The snow has to go! / Personal Photo 

And the best part of five months out planning? A surprise trip to Florida from MOH Cass and her parents (my aunt and uncle)! Instead of a bridal shower gift, they graciously offered to fly me to their house in Florida for Easter to have a little mini-celebration in honour of everything to come. Mr. Narwhal missed out on the sunshine, but was oh so sweet and supportive of the trip.

Wedding planning perks sometimes involve palm trees / Personal photo

What does your wedding planning to do list look like right now?