It takes a vil­lage to keep a bride-to-be sane.

Milwaukee Weddings - - Content - By Claire Hanan

The storm be­fore the calm can de­scribe wed­ding plan­ning. A bride’s tale.

On Feb. 12, 2015, I opened an email from our wed­ding pho­tog­ra­pher, Eau Claire­based Kate Bent­ley. The venue we had cho­sen for our cer­e­mony and re­cep­tion, a North­ern Wis­con­sin din­ner theater-cum-sup­per club on a ridge over­look­ing the wind­ing Chippewa River, was clos­ing its doors the fol­low­ing month, she in­formed us. Had I heard?

What I heard was the voice of Sen­a­tor Clay Davis from “The Wire” in my head de­liv­er­ing his best line:


At that point, my fi­ancé Dan and I were seven months – a mere 219 days – away from the wed­ding we’d been plan­ning for more than a year, and now we found our­selves with­out a lo­ca­tion. (You don’t have to be Martha Ste­wart to know this is a key com­po­nent.) It was one of those worst-case sce­nar­ios you read about in ad­vice col­umns, or hear about hap­pen­ing to a friend of a friend. But now I was that per­son. Fleet­ing sym­pa­thy turned into the chest-bur­bling sen­sa­tions of an on­com­ing panic at­tack. What would we do?! Our guests’ plans were al­ready in the works. Rel­a­tives had al­ready booked ho­tel rooms near the sup­per club. Should we scrap it all and go to the court­house? Aghast, I won­dered, would I have to wear my fully-paid-for wed­ding gown – a gown whose price re­quires it be worn in front of at least 50 peo­ple – to a court­house full of strangers?

Our panic didn’t last long. When Kate saw the re­port of the sup­per club clos­ing on the lo­cal Eau Claire TV news, she just hap­pened to be sit­ting with the wed­ding co­or­di­na­tor for an area golf course sit­u­ated on a nearby lake. And, be­ing the thought­ful prob­lem-solver she is, she asked the co­or­di­na­tor if her venue had our date avail­able. It did.

Within two days, I’d locked down our date at the new venue, the Lake Wis­sota Golf Club in Chippewa Falls. The 18-hole course fea­tures gently rolling greens that run be­side the lake that is fed by rivers and streams, in­clud­ing the mighty Chippewa.

The golf club it­self looks like a boxshaped an­te­bel­lum plan­ta­tion with

a sec­ond-floor wrap­around deck for an ideal west-fac­ing lake view. It was roomier than the sup­per club, but its views of the Chippewa area were just as ma­jes­tic. The golf club was a venue we’d seen in pic­tures, but never thought we could af­ford. Our des­per­ate time, how­ever, called for des­per­ate ques­tions – and we re­ceived sur­pris­ingly af­ford­able an­swers. As long as we got our de­posit back from the orig­i­nal venue, which at that point was sell­ing its decor, we could make it work. We’d have to pick out new

bar and din­ner menus, but most every­thing else would stay the same: We’d still have pies from the Nor­we­gian bak­ery Norske Nook, we could keep our DJ, my mother’s dear friend would still of­fi­ci­ate, and my mother-in-law could still de­sign the most gor­geous wild­flower cen­ter­pieces with flow­ers from none other than Sam’s Club. More im­por­tant than ever, we’d still have Kate, our ears on the ground in the North­woods.

Although we’d avoided ma­jor dis­as­ter, that didn’t mean the re­main­ing months were breezy. To pre­pare for the wed­ding (OK, OK, and be­cause they’re guilty-plea­sure read­ing), I had read ad­vice col­umns of all types – Dear Pru­dence, Dear Sugar, Carolyn Hax, Ask Red­dit, even the god­for­saken Knot mes­sage boards – to be able to han­dle plan­ning crises large and small. Plus, I plan high-stress, com­pli­cated photo shoots for this mag­a­zine all the time. But how much harder could the re­main­ing seven months be?


It turns out pretty dif­fi­cult, but most of the dis­tress was of my own mak­ing. As the date ap­proached, the fre­quency of my panic at­tacks in­creased along with the pres­sure I put on my­self to do every­thing, in­clud­ing: im­press ev­ery­one, have fun, be gra­cious, be thought­ful in ev­ery decor choice, and re­spect the opin­ions of ev­ery­one who of­fered one. (In­sta­gram doesn’t help ei­ther, peo­ple.) My head felt like it had been put through a blender of wed­ding ad­vice and con­tra­dic­tory opin­ions. Most days, my men­tal state could best be de­scribed as a rub­ber-band ball whose out­er­most bands are be­gin­ning to snap. One piece of ad­vice from friends that stuck: I went to see a ther­a­pist. (Let it be known this nugget is al­most en­tirely ab- sent in the wed­ding ad­vice world.) And I was lucky enough to have a mother who would pick me up at work for brief cry­ing-with-cof­fee ses­sions.

About a month be­fore the wed­ding, I stepped out of the of­fice and sat in my car to make a few phone calls about our yetto-be-planned re­hearsal din­ner. It wasn’t go­ing well, and that fa­mil­iar feel­ing of breath­less­ness was slowly creep­ing into my air­ways. But I tried to com­pose my­self be­fore my mom was sup­posed to pick me up for a din­ner date at the for­mer Bay View lo­ca­tion of Pas­tiche. Af­ter I got in her car, my face still red from cry/wheez­ing, she chat­ted away while driv­ing in a di­rec­tion not to­ward the restau­rant. This must be one of her fa­mous “scenic routes,” I fig­ured, un­til we pulled up to Hum­boldt Park and my co­worker Ann was walk­ing to­ward our car. It wasn’t un­til they led me up the back of the hill and we came upon the rest of the mag­a­zine staff with pic­nic blan­kets, cham­pagne and baby pic­tures of me that it all be­gan to click. Their sur­prise shower at Chill on the Hill came on a day when I couldn’t have needed sup­port more. And it was a re­minder that I had plenty of ea­ger ears when the stress seemed like too much to bear alone.

De­spite my anx­i­ety and all the tens of minia­ture plan­ning bumps that arose, our wed­ding day, Sept. 19, 2015, was pre­cisely the mag­i­cal tor­nado of love I had hoped it would be. Like a day-long warm hug. There is no ex­ag­ger­at­ing the feel­ing of look­ing at the per­son you’re com­mit­ting your­self to, and then see­ing the faces of all the peo­ple who raised you and your

part­ner un­til that mo­ment. Af­ter din­ner, the sun even co­op­er­ated in paint­ing the sky neon hues of pink, or­ange and pur­ple. It was the best sun­set I’d ever seen. And not even my 8-year-old cousin’s nu­mer­ous re­quests to play 1990s-era Car­los San­tana could bring down the rev­elry at the re­cep­tion.

While the worst of my anx­i­ety had sub­sided well be­fore the danc­ing started, in deal­ing with it I’d learned im­por­tant les- sons about my­self, my lim­its, and the fu­til­ity of try­ing to mi­cro-man­age a day that in­volves more than 100 peo­ple.

What was most im­por­tant was that Dan and I made our jour­ney to foreverhood of­fi­cial, and we now share a cou­ple hun­dred pic­tures whose true pur­pose has just re­cently be­come clear. Those glossy prints cap­ture only the joy we felt that day – joy en­hanced by the shenani­gans of our friends, a lit­tle tequila, and the col­lec­tive eu­pho­ria ex­pe­ri­enced by in­dulging in 15 fla­vors of Norkse Nook pie. What they leave out is equally awe­some: There’s no sign of any of the jaw-clench­ing stress or tears, of fran­tic spread-sheet or­ga­niz­ing that led up to that day. Soon, I think, in my own retellings, I’ll leave that part out, too. ◆


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