4 Things You Should Know About Weddings

I love going to weddings. I have attended eighteen weddings so far, including my own. I have witnessed long-time friends become lifetime partners, cried at almost every heartfelt speech by loved ones, and tasted unbelievably delicious sweets from fabulously decorated dessert tables. Weddings are joyous occasions and celebrating love between two people makes me feel so happy and whenever there’s an open bar, extra happier.

But having been a bridesmaids to five dear girl friends and a bride herself, I know it is not all dandelions and roses leading up to the big day or on the day of. While the wedding itself is just for one day, the planning process could feel like an eternity. This is because you and your engaged partner are doing the best you can when you have absolutely no experience in wedding planning but suddenly have the societal expectation to plan the perfect event on the biggest and most important day of your lives, while maintaining some sort of sanity, your professional jobs, and flawless skin doing so. And on top of that, balancing a stretching wedding budget with external opinions darting left and right from all angles. It sounds completely absurd, but this is a cyclical reality every engaged couple gets dragged into before marriage.

If I have learned anything about weddings, it is that they are not easy to plan. It can take a psychological, financial, and physical toll on a relationship before it legally begins. Behind the exquisitely decorated dessert table was probably a ton of behind the scenes design coordination, numerous tastings, and budgeting efforts prior to its inception. Behind the table seating chart display was probably many heavy, and sometimes heated, debates among traditional parents over guest invites and count. Also, specific decisions regarding guests such as ‘plus ones’ require more time and open conversation with your partner than you think. Should you invite a cousin’s new girlfriend of 2 months to your wedding? Should you even invite this cousin at all?

This can get really overwhelming, really fast. There is no perfect recipe for planning a stress-free wedding, no matter how hard I tried. Some things will no doubt be difficult and not work out the way you want them to. For those who are planning a wedding for over 50 guests, I do have a couple of handy tips to help you go through this process. While I am not an expert in this industry and nor will I ever want to be, I was able to pull off an almost perfect wedding day for 150 guests without a wedding planner. You can do the same too and not lose your mind by your wedding day. Here are four things you should know about weddings:

1. You will need to make uncomfortable decisions.

I was not ready for this, but I still had to make them. My most difficult decision in the wedding planning process was choosing my five bridesmaids. Actually, it was not the act of choosing who they will be, but the act of choosing who was not going to be my bridesmaid, which was the gut wrenching part of it. It was easy to ask a close, longtime friend to be a bridesmaid, but it was much more heartbreaking to tell another close girl friend she wasn’t going to be one. Three of the women whom I was a bridesmaid for were not a part of my bridal party. It was a tough and dreadful conversation, but I still had to suck it up and do it anyway. They took it better than I imagined, as they understood and were busy planning for their growing family.

It is ideal to be upfront in the beginning about this so there are no misunderstandings about it later on. Choose your bridesmaids or bridesmen wisely because these are the people who will literally stand by your side at the altar and be with you for all the bride-related festivities, including your dress shopping, bachelorette and bridal shower. Also, when you ask your friends to be your bridesmaids/bridesmen, outline any financial expectations and requests you have before they commit to being one. This will save potential frustrations and uncomfortable conversations in the future or even a broken friendship by the time the wedding comes along. Losing a good friend over one of the happiest day of your life is not worth it.

Guest invites were my second most difficult decision I had to make because this involved my traditional parents who wanted to invite people they knew, including people I have never met before in my life. There were times when my parents and I would get into screeching arguments at a local Starbucks over something so menial like a few guests they wanted to invite. It was definitely not my proudest moment as a thirty-year old, but this conversation kept repeating itself with no resolution and tripled my frustration every time we talked about it. My partner and I wanted to keep an intimate guest list, but they wanted to invite the whole world. We later compromised with them to strictly invite their close friends, since the venue could hold a maximum of 150 guests and we were paying for the wedding ourselves. In the end, we had a total of 120 wedding guests and half of their friends were unable to attend due to schedule conflict.

The wedding planning process will involve hard decisions, especially if you have traditional parents. My advice is that while you cannot control the situation, you can control your actions and emotions, so keep your chin up high and stay focused. Your friends are more understanding than you think and there may be a silver lining or an opportunity for a compromise later down the road.

2. Use referrals or plan early to help save time and money.

Because my partner and I were conveniently one of the last couples among our group of friends to get married, we were able to use vendors referred to us from our married friends or friends experienced in the wedding industry to help us save time and cost. We did not need to do much research for some of our vendors because our friends have done them already for their own wedding. Our wedding officiant, florist, and make-up artists were all referrals from our friends. Because they were referrals, we were either able to get a slight discount for their services or had several things added to the service for free. Networking with people in the wedding industry is similar to professional networking, so definitely mention the referral whenever you first talk to the vendor. Also, if you and your partner can afford to pay for a service rather than DIY, then this helps minimize a lot of stress and additional coordination to purchase, transport, setup, and so on.

Also, it saves to plan early. The rumors are true; wedding prices do increase every year. But if you plan your wedding at least a year in advance, you have the opportunity to pay the current year’s rate and not the following year’s rate for a vendor. My partner and I were engaged for about two years before getting married last October. When we booked some of our vendors back in 2018, we were able to pay the 2018 pricing, not the 2019 pricing. If we waited to book them in 2019, then we would have needed to pay more, probably an additional several hundred dollars or so. This concept is similar to booking a flight or hotel early on to save money, so try to book your vendors sooner rather than later.

Sticking to your set wedding budget is probably one of the most important aspects of wedding planning. This is a number that you and your partner will both need to agree on and be committed to before the wedding planning begins. Once you know your budget, allocate how much funds you and your partner are willing to spend more or less on. Also, booking a vendor requires a deposit upfront, typically half of the total cost. If you have trouble making just the deposit, then perhaps you should re-evaluate your total budget or, if possible, postpone the wedding a little later to get the funds you need to make both the deposit and full payment later on, without getting a loan.

Be firm in maintaining your budget and try not to go rogue. I know Instagram and Pinterest are fun resources for wedding ideas, but try not to be swayed by the dreamy decor or nonessential details. If you can afford these additions, then sure go for them. But if you cannot, stick to the original budget.

3. Get ready to smile a lot with sore cheeks on your big day.

I consider myself as someone who smiles a decent amount each day, but I did not anticipate my cheeks would get so sore from just a few hours of smiling on my wedding day. My cheeks started to hurt by noon, after smiling so much for photographs during the tea ceremony that morning. There was still nine hours left to go and the wedding itself hasn’t begun yet. My partner was struggling with sore cheeks too. We were fortunate to take several breaks between our wedding ceremony and reception so we could rest our faces. It is both a relief and a mystery that nobody captured us frowning at each other while we took our breaks.

There are muscles in your face cheeks you probably never knew existed until your wedding day. This may be the oddest piece of advice in this post, but to avoid sore cheeks, try training your cheek muscles sometime before the wedding. If you were planning to work out anyway, might as well squeeze in some cheek training in your workouts too.

4. Bride-to-bes, you will feel like a celebrity on your wedding day.

Assuming no other guest tries to steal the spotlight, then all eyes, cameras, and focus will be on the bride on her wedding day. Now, I am an introvert at heart, so being the center of attention for twelve hours was kind of nerve-wrecking. Nobody in my family or friends has looked or stared at me for more than ten minutes before, but as a bride, I was their direct line of sight for a whole day. I was not used to 120 pairs of eyes staring at me and being the person everyone wanted to take photos with or talk to. It was a mind-boggling experience to take center stage for once, to feel like a celebrity and have ‘paparazzis’ and people come up to either greet me or take a candid Instagram story with me. At times, I felt like a deer in headlights and unsure of how to handle this newly found fame.

There is no other day in a regular woman’s life where she will receive as much attention when she is a bride. Being a bride somehow means to be social and smile constantly, while making certain to not show embarrassing habits or weird gestures in front of everyone that would be captured for life. So, I went out of my comfort zone to be an extrovert for my wedding day and it was more liberating than I initially thought. I was not forcing myself to smile in front of the photographer but smiling because I was enjoying the moment with my partner and being surrounded by loved ones. Eventually, my new celeb status wore off by evening, a big thanks to the open bar we had. By the end of the night, everyone was focused on having a good time with each other. The remaining hours of our wedding celebration was incredibly freeing for both me and my partner because the wedding planning was finally over.

Our wedding day was the most magical, happiest day of our lives. We planned it like it was our last so we would never have to through the wedding planning process again. Yes, we had a few mishaps on our wedding day, but nothing ever really goes as planned. As a bridesmaid, I have witnessed a bride having a meltdown right before the grand entrance and a staff from catering quit and leave while serving dinner during the reception at another wedding. In our wedding, one of our guests drank too much by the end of the night, blacked out, and had to be picked up by his parents at midnight. Some things just happen beyond your control, so the best you could do is to handle the situation as best and calmly as you can because there is a solution for everything. While our wedding was not totally perfect, it was to me because most things worked out and some things even exceeded beyond my expectations.

I am extremely happy that my partner and I are no longer discussing anything related to wedding planning anymore and we are able to have normal conversations again. For two years, wedding planning consumed our thoughts for many days and nights, with some decision or concern agonizing us for weeks at a time. Planning for a once in a lifetime event was exhausting for us since we were simultaneously maintaining full-time jobs, handling uphill battles with my parents, and making big and small decisions on a daily basis. It did become easier with time, help from friends, and patience. Know that you are not alone in this. Keep the wedding simple if you can, keep calm if you can’t. Congratulations on your engagement and good luck with the wedding planning!

How to Make Your Landscape Architecture Portfolio Stand Out

A few months ago, I recently accepted an employment offer as a landscape designer using a portfolio I developed six years ago, with minor tweaks to show updated work. I also got a park internship and my first employment opportunity with the same portfolio years prior. My portfolio has proven to be timeless after all these years and the techniques I have used to seemingly make my landscape architecture portfolio stand out remain applicable today. 

These techniques are gathered from my own experiences, learning from my mistakes and successes throughout my career. They could help your portfolio set you apart from other applicants and get noticed by prospective employers. It worked for me, so I believe there is some merit to these strategies.  

Here are a couple of ways to help your landscape architecture portfolio stand out:

1. Show YOURSELF in YOUR portfolio.

The first portfolio I developed early in my career was quite memorable – in a terrible way. My portfolio was a hot mess of colors, text, photos, and graphics spread into only 10 cringe-worthy pages. I am ashamed to have submitted this with my job application to several reputable landscape design firms and, not surprisingly, I did not get a response from any of them at the time. 

I am not sure why I thought this was a good portfolio then, but I know I was partially attempting to imitate what others were doing in their portfolio. I was showing my work in a way that looked “cool” like theirs with embellishment of unnecessary text and photos, but made no real sense to do so. I was trying to be something I was not and created some sort of Frankenstein result out of it, with bits and pieces of me, others, and nonsensical things in one unapologetic format. It is not that I was presenting bad projects either, I was just not displaying them properly. 

Ultimately, I was not showing who I am as a landscape designer and my own creativity. So after a few years of various career ventures, far too many Sunday morning hangovers, and an MLA degree, I scrapped my Frankenstein portfolio. I devised a new one, using fonts, a color palette, and organization of my own style. I made my portfolio simple and cohesive, with a variety of graphics, and wrote paragraphs briefly introducing and explaining every project. I also became incredibly detailed with how I wanted each page to be displayed: I wanted to control how the viewer would visually experience this collection of my work when mouse-clicking onto the next page, since this would be initially viewed on the computer 100% of the time in a matter of seconds. Each project also showed something different, dynamic, and new, to indicate that I was diverse in various skills and project types, while simultaneously keeping the portfolio unified. 

My new portfolio got me interviews with several prospective employers. I even got an interview with my dream firm, which was also one of the reputable firms I applied to with my Frankenstein portfolio years ago. (Side note: I did well in the interview, but actually took a job offer with a more local firm instead.) It is my best portfolio to date as it shows the real me and, along with it, my own originality and creativity. 

So find out who you are as a designer and showcase this in your portfolio. There will be nothing like this out there. It will probably take a lot of back-and-forth brainstorming, much keyboard slamming out of frustration, and maybe times when an indecisive measly detail will keep you awake at night. Just remember the reward outweighs this first-world and short-lived anguish and the outcome will perhaps even surprise yourself.

My portfolio revealed who I am, my talent, and my potential. Your portfolio should do the same. So be your good ole’ self in your portfolio.

2. Improve your project graphics.

Now, I know what you are thinking. Why on earth would I spend more time on these projects when I have already spent countless hours on them already? 

Well, because when you actually finished them to meet that 9:00 am class deadline, they are most likely a representation of your rushed work, not your best work. Perhaps you met the minimum criteria of graphic quantities and quality to get a decent grade, but this does not mean the same in the real world. Re-evaluate your project graphics and see what you can do to improve. Better yet, take the constructive feedback you have gotten from your professor and peers. Their criticism is generally meant to help you and, while sometimes it’s tough to hear after three straight all-nighters of studio work, you may find some truth in their words.

Do take some time to figure out what worked, did not work, and things the project lacked. I did this for all my projects in my portfolio, doing minor changes to some and major revisions for others. I discarded several mediocre perspectives and developed new renderings instead, to show the concept at different times of the year. I also made new graphics to help enhance my ideas further. This took many hours of intense computer staring, with some panic moments of Photoshop unexpectedly crashing in between, and lots and lots of caffeine. I probably spent more time doing this than the time to complete the project itself for the class. Though, in the end, I couldn’t have been happier with the results.

I used some of the same projects from my Frankenstein portfolio in my new portfolio, just a 1000x more enhanced than before. Here is a tip: if you figure out how you want to display your graphics and the overall layout beforehand, you do not need to redo or revise the entire section or perspective, just the part that will actually be shown. There may need to be some early coordination between InDesign and Photoshop, but this can help save time and effort. Also, smaller graphics on the page may not need as much revision as the larger graphics since they will not be as readable.    

There was a project that I had to revise the most, but it is my favorite project of all time and one that I did back when I was a sophomore in college 12 years ago. Yes, it is okay to include work that you have done in the distant past, as long as it is relevant to the position you are applying for. There is no rule against this and if it makes you feel any better, I did note down the year for all my projects in my new portfolio and no prospective employer has ever bat an eye or questioned it.

3. Be unique in your graphics.

While you are in the zone to update your project graphics, you might as well consider how to display them differently or in a way where they are not typically shown. Think of it this way: most web pages today have a beautiful UI interface with large photos of happy, good-looking people enjoying the atmosphere around them and symbols and text to make the content seemingly more user-friendly. Though, I feel this makes them all look the same and dilutes what they are trying to market. Nothing stands out. A hiring manager may experience something similar when going through hundreds of portfolios in a competitive market. 

A good portfolio needs to be interesting. Find ways to display graphics, particularly analytical data, that are both visually captivating and informative. For example, I did a public survey for my graduate thesis and I was intrigued to do an infographic of the results in my portfolio. I went out of my comfort zone to do this, as I have never done this before, and it became the first graphic in my new portfolio. I also found creative ways to transform my site analysis and collected data from GIS or written research into interesting graphics that would lead into the final concept.  Not only should you show your talent to make pretty renderings, but also your ability to interpret analytical information. 

Along with creative data related-graphics, hand drawn sketches are useful in a portfolio and can be a major part of the project in some instances. I voluntarily did a planting design for a small garden bed, roughly 64 square feet, in a local cemetery (don’t ask). I sketched my vision of the garden bed, planted the annual plants with another crew member, and tended to them as they grew within several weeks. I later took a photo of the garden bed in full bloom, and it looked pretty much like a replica of my original sketch. This hand-drawn graphic is the second largest on a page in my portfolio and has not been re-drawn or edited much ever since. Hand sketches are a display of your original ideas and could really help differentiate your portfolio from others. 

Part of this making your portfolio journey is to actually enjoy being creative and developing graphics to make ideas visually alive and exciting. This is the most fun aspect of the landscape architecture profession, so why not give the portfolio your best and show prospective employers your enthusiasm and personality? This is what an entry-level job description usually highlights anyway.

4. Little details matter.

The tiniest details in a portfolio can make a difference between you and another potential candidate. I made a personal logo out of a casual whim and placed this in my portfolio, along with my cover letter and resume, to make my application coherent. It impressed my new employer because I think that extra effort shows diligence and meticulousness. I also labelled all my graphics using the same font and size across all projects, to add consistency to the portfolio. I did the same with project cover pages, north arrow, and scale too. Because I like quotes, I added one to the beginning of some of the project introductory paragraphs. This was also noticed by my employer. 

Little additions and details can go a long way to making your portfolio stand out from the rest. You never know if the prospective employer will relate to anything that you show in your portfolio, but try and see what happens. If you are into watercoloring, show this side of you. If you are into plants, show your planting skills and ideas. If you like to write (like me), then write good paragraphs. As long as the content is not offensive or illegal, then you can really show other sides of you in your portfolio, beyond just standard course projects.  

If you made it near the end of this blog post and you are still not convinced in putting that much work into your portfolio, then read my last piece of advice. I will confront the elephant in the room and actually talk about the financial aspect of the landscape architecture profession. For those who are applying for a new job position after a few years of industry experience and are able to get a job offer, then you can perhaps negotiate a higher salary with an exceptional portfolio. It proves your hard work ethic, your talent to do great graphics, and your potential to do bigger things with the new company. I was able to negotiate the salary I wanted, about 20% higher than the national average of my experience level. My portfolio was probably a big reason for the salary increase, so hard work can really pay off.

It took a lot of time, thought, and patience to make my portfolio what it is today. I was not the best drafter or had the best grades in school. In fact, I was average compared to my peers, but I persevered and did a couple of freelance and side projects to help add to my portfolio. If you are willing to do the work, then you can create your own Frankenstein portfolio that you can call exclusively yours and nobody else’s. It could be your greatest creation yet.