VIEWPOINT: Keeping it real while planning a dream wedding

When I was a little girl, I would imagine my wedding day as an extravagant affair in Paris complete with horse-drawn carriages, copious amounts of goodies and, of course, a show-stopping gown with an unreasonably long train. Perhaps I could even have my favorite songstress Joanna Newsom take the stage for the first dance.

No one ever stopped to tell me that I was living in a fantasy world.

I met Zachary Pfahler in 3D art class at Sonoma State University in 2008. He was an art history major while I was working on my studio art minor. Though neither of us were very good at creating 3D art, something beautiful did come from that class—our relationship.

After graduating, we moved to Claremont so Zack could attend the University of California, Riverside to get his master’s degree. He went to school while I worked. It wasn’t a glamorous life, but we made it through.

Zack asked me to marry him on Christmas Day 2013 after four-and-a-half years of dating. It was like a dream. Rose petals. Champagne. Our favorite song. I felt warm and fuzzy all over. This was it. I had done the time and now we were finally getting married!

This feeling lasted about a week until someone broke the spell with five little words: “Do you have a date?” With that phrase, reality began to break through my post-engagement euphoria.

Zack and I are what you might call “creative types.” We have grand ideas but we both have a terrible vice, procrastination.

In the weeks to come, we would continue to be asked when our wedding bells would be chiming, along with other probing questions, such as: “What’s your theme?” “What are your colors?” “Will it be a big or small wedding?” We spent the first month hiding under a rock and the second month considering elopement (a thought that has crossed our minds many times since), but after a few more months and a bit of soul searching, we decided on a small backyard wedding to be held in May.

As we began to plan this low-key gathering we ran into some serious issues, number one being that no one we knew had a large enough yard. We tried to make it work time and time again, but it seemed we were not meant to have the backyard wedding of our dreams.

My father, Ronald Gustin, suggested that we check out a location called the Bard Mansion located on Port Hueneme, a Navy base in Ventura County. I resisted because, with the word “mansion” in the title, I was convinced that we could never afford it. But with some goading, I found myself standing outside one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. Noted architect Myron Hunt, who also designed Pomona College and the Huntington Library, designed the Bard Mansion, a historic Antebellum-style estate. The moment I saw it, I was hooked. When a couple is as poor as a proverbial pair of church mice, fate—that incurable romantic—often intervenes. Thanks to my father’s status as a retired Navy man, we have access to this stunning venue and its incredibly reasonable prices.

Soon after, I found the most amazing wedding dress, a full-length, romantic ivory gown at Deborah’s Bridal in Upland. Deborah’s has also provided us with bridesmaids’ dresses and tuxes. Having secured my location and a dress, it finally felt like everything was falling into place. That is until reality struck again. The costs quickly started adding up, putting us in a panic and making us wonder why we didn’t elope in the first place.

We started calling in favors from all of our talented friends—flowers from one, photos from another and hair and make-up from my brilliant hairdresser. Being a crafty person has also helped considerably. With sites like Pinterest, I have been able to take on small DIY projects like the seating cards and guest book. So with help from our parents and a lot of generous support, we have been able to make it work.

However, we have had to downsize our dream almost every step of the way. Instead of the 300 guests we had hoped to have, we had to settle for a still-fantastic 125 attendees. We are also putting our honeymoon on the back-burner for the time being, as every spare cent will be going toward our ceremony. Instead, we will just spend a few blissful days off work together.

One of the biggest and most painful lessons I have learned is to let go of that childhood dream. You can have an unforgettable wedding, but you MUST be realistic. As can be seen in my move from a lavish destination wedding to hippy-ish backyard nuptials to a practical but elegant event, you have to stay flexible.

With this in mind, we have been chugging along nicely. We decided to create our own invitations, but left the cake to the professionals. With a little tweak here and a little pinch there, we have been able to create the wedding of our more realistic dreams.

Through the whole process, we have both had to learn how to prioritize, budget and compromise. It seems the trials and tribulations of wedding planning have left us more prepared for married life than when we began.

At times, things have gotten a little tense but, with perseverance and a lot of love, even two procrastinators like us can make it work!

—Jessica Gustin


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