A Special Way to Welcome Your Wedding Guests

Welcome Bags

These days, families and friends are spread all over the country (and even the world!), so there’s a good chance that many of your wedding guests will be traveling to celebrate with you. To make out-of-town guests feel welcome and right at home, a lot of my brides and grooms create a “welcome bag” for those staying in their designated hotel block. It’s a really fun way to kick off the celebrating—and it doesn’t have to require a lot of time or money.

A welcome bag can be as simple as a letter with important information and a little treat, or it can be as extravagant as a bag full of your local favorites.

The first step is to verify the regulations for welcome bags with the hotel where your room block is located. Some hotels may charge a fee for placing the bags in your guests’ rooms versus having them passed out at the front desk as guests check in. Also, if you’re planning on including a local brew or a mini bottle of booze in the bags, make sure that they allow alcohol.

Here are a few other ideas for what to include in your welcome bags:

A little note

I encourage my couples to add a letter or card to greet and thank the traveling guests for sharing in the big weekend. Make sure to list all the important details:

Ceremony Location

Address / Time


Reception Location

Address / Time

Then, if you need to share any special instructions about parking or navigating to either location, this note is a perfect place to do so. Some of your guests will have forgotten their invitation or the wedding website address, so this is a great opportunity to give them a little reminder.

Local activities and restaurant recommendations

Every city has fun activities and restaurants that your wedding guests might like to check out during their visit. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those spots and ask if they’re willing to provide brochures or coupons. Many small businesses are open to giving brochures as it gets their name out there for little cost. Just remember to be super grateful, especially if they are willing to give you coupons for your guests! J One idea that is a big hit during these hot summer days is a local water park brochure or coupon.

Your favorites

I am a strong advocate for making sure that the couple’s personalities shine through in their wedding. So why not kick off the weekend by incorporating a few of your favorite things into your welcome bags? Here are just a couple ideas for what to include: something that captures a memory of your first date, a hometown brew, your favorite coffee shop’s coffee beans, or something related to an activity you and your fiancé enjoy doing together. Get creative! For example, if you both like to go fishing, slip a pack of Swedish fish in the bag.

Your hashtag

With all of the different social media platforms your guests have at their fingertips, it’s a good idea to develop a unique hashtag so you can find the awesome pictures everyone posts of your special event! These photos are especially fun to look through because you won’t get all of your professional pictures back for anywhere from a week to a couple of months after the big day. Be sure to share your hashtag as a part of your welcome bag note or as a separate insert.

No matter what you decide to do, keep in mind how many guests will be staying at the hotel and how the welcome bags will fit into your overall budget. Even if you don’t have a lot of time or money to put toward this part of the celebration, a sweet and informative note goes a long way. It’s a small gesture that will make your guests feel at home, help their visit go smoothly, and get them excited for the festivities!


Christine M. Darden

An Instagram-style Update on My Summer Adventures

With all of my amazing clients over the past couple of months, I know that the blog has taken a backseat to my to-dos for them. Of course, I want to share what I have been doing during that time with you all and I vow to work ahead so that this fall’s blogs don’t get placed on the back burner! (THERE! I put that in writing and now I will definitely stand by it.)

What have I been up to lately? Many absolutely stunning Kansas City weddings, a romantic summer wedding in Topeka full of peonies and sparkle, AND a trip to D.C. for an incredible adventure running a successful networking event—all while booking six more amazing Celebrations of Love weddings for the 2016/2017 season.

I hope you enjoy some of these amazing moments from all of my adventures! Each snapshot definitely tells a true love story!


As you can see, there are so many wonderful memories being made this summer. I am ever so thankful to have been a little piece of these big days!


Christine M. Darden

How my FOCUS technique can help you save money

Entry 6 picture.jpg

One big question I receive as a planner is: How can I save money on my wedding?

My answer? Focus on the top three most important aspects of your wedding day, which will be personal to you and your fiancé. List them on paper so you both know what they are and you can easily share them with whoever is helping you plan your big day. Think of them as the three FOCUS points of your wedding day.

That’s the hard part… Now comes the money-saving part!

F – Form a budget

Make sure that everyone involved in paying for the wedding is aware of their financial responsibilities and open about how much they can contribute. If they are offering a set monetary amount, discuss which parts of the wedding they would and would not like to use that money for. Then share what you and your fiancé have chosen as your FOCUS points. This will help everyone to know which areas you’d like to prioritize and prevent anyone from splurging in an area that isn’t as much of a priority.

O – Outside the box

For the areas of the wedding that are not as high on your list, think outside the box. There are so many different places to find talented professionals, so many opportunities to DIY (but be mindful of your time, abilities and stress levels here) and so many ways to reduce costs while maintaining quality. Just get creative! For example, if fancy catering isn’t one of your three focus areas, see if a local restaurant—perhaps one that’s known for a specific type of dish—would be able to serve large quantities for your wedding day. (Just remember you’ll need to ask them about providing a group of service staff who’d be able to replenish and clear plates.)

C – Coordinate

Work together with your planner to coordinate your wedding in a way that highlights these three items. For example, if you’re focused on live entertainment, look into venues that have a unique area for your band to be set up in. By coordinating that special venue to match your highlighted area, you will have a built-in focal point for the band and will not have to utilize extra money on décor to turn attention toward them. Or if florals are a priority, consider having your wedding in a garden or an indoor location overlooking a naturally blooming area to add even more of a “wow” factor.

U – Understand

Always understand what you are signing before you sign on the dotted line. This point is very crucial to ensuring that your vendors meet your expectations, especially in the focus areas for your wedding. It will also save you so much money to read through contracts very carefully before signing. The last thing you want is to come to the final weeks of planning and find out you’re missing something that you thought you had covered or paying for something you don’t need, resulting in extra time and money spent.

S – Surprise

By really focusing on your three areas, you may be surprised to find yourself a lot less stressed throughout the process. Your families and vendors will be on the same page about what is important, and you’ll be able to say “That’s not necessarily something we’re focusing on” to any unsolicited advice-givers. And you might even discover that you were so great at focusing on your priorities that you saved enough money to actually make a fun addition to your night… Maybe a food truck? Just saying.


Christine M. Darden

The 5 Must-Haves for Every Bride’s Big Day!!!

Photo By Jason WinkeLer  http://jasonwinkelerphotography.com/

Photo By Jason WinkeLer http://jasonwinkelerphotography.com/

I’ve only been a Mrs. for a little over three weeks, so all of my memories of the big day are still so fresh. To help future brides-to-be, I wanted to share the five small-but-important things that made our big day as successful (and amazing!) as it was.

Of course, as with every wedding, there were unforeseeable things that "went wrong" on our wedding day, but none of those little mishaps affected our complete delight in being married—and guests didn’t notice that anything was off!

With that said, here are my top five things that every bride should consider for the big day:

Wedding planner
I promise, this is not just because I am a wedding planner! I honestly do not know how I could have made it through all of the detail-filled last days of my engagement and the wedding weekend without an incredibly reliable wedding planner who noted every last detail and was there to help with anything we needed.

An untouched moment
Of course, this may not be possible in every wedding situation, but having a moment to view the venue as a couple before guests start to arrive is an incredible way to simply drink in the moment. If it is not feasible on your wedding day, try to arrange for your photographers to have access to your venue so they can capture a few photos of the space prior to guests’ arrival.

Comfy shoes
Now, some brides will decide to change their shoes but others want to keep the same pair on all day! My experience: After having my dress altered four times until the hem was perfect, I wanted comfortable shoes I could wear from morning to the middle of the night. That way, I was assured that my dress wouldn’t get stepped on while dancing or drag on the floor during the reception.

Simple hair refresh before the reception
I had a Catholic ceremony at 2 p.m. and then took pictures around the city between the ceremony and the evening reception. But even if you have a back-to-back ceremony and reception, it’s a long day—and a long time for your hair to stay in place. Appoint someone who will bring a curling iron, hair spray, bobby pins and a hair tie, just in case you need to freshen up after the ceremony, during pictures or before the reception.

Late night snack
With all of your guests enjoying and celebrating the evening, it’s a good idea to make sure they have something in their stomachs before they head off for the night. And it’s kind of a little last impression of the wedding night too. This snack can be as simple as an edible favor left on a table as guests are leaving or, in our case, a station of chicken nachos that’s rolled out about an hour before the final call.

I hope these five little tips help make your wedding day even more enjoyable and memorable!


Christine M. Darden

How to Set Your Wedding Date...

The winter—and especially the holiday season—is a popular time for couples to become engaged! This is one of the most exciting periods in a couple’s lives, but it also brings about a lot of new experiences and unchartered waters.

The first of those is setting the big date—the special date that will hold meaning for you and your future spouse for all the days of your life!

One thing to note: If you are planning a fall (September/October/November) or June wedding, there may be a little more competition for a Saturday wedding date, unless you are planning more than a year ahead of time.

Here’s the process I typically use to guide couples through the process of choosing a date.

The big question: Do you want your ceremony to be in a separate location from the reception location?

If you answered “yes” to that question, you will first direct your attention to churches, chapels, or gardens that are in line with your vision for your ceremony space. Gather possible dates from those places by contacting them and finding out which dates they have available in your desired season. Then come back to your and your fiancé’s immediate families to narrow down the best date.

If you answered “no” to that question (meaning you would like to have your ceremony and reception at the same location), then you will start by building your guest list.

You will have to make a pretty realistic guest list before looking for a venue because the first questions you will discuss with the possible venues are: 1) your desired wedding date/month and 2) how many people you plan on attending. By already having an idea of how many guests you expect to attend, you’ll be able to rule spaces in or out more efficiently.

To create your guest list, list all of the people you would like to invite. Be sure to consult your families too, especially if they will be contributing to the wedding budget. A good way to stay organized is to make a spreadsheet with Suffix, First Name, Last Name, Street Address, City, State, Zip Code and Response column (which comes in handy later when you’re mailing invitations and receiving RSVPs).

To estimate how many guests will attend, expect an 85 percent response rate—unless most invited guests live in town, in which case use 90 percent, or most guests will be traveling from out of town, in which case use 75 percent. You do not want to get to the final weeks before the wedding and be crunched for money, so these numbers are slightly overestimated to play it safe.

This may sound like a lot of work upfront, but the date and the venue dictate many of your other decisions… so once those are set, the rest is that much easier.

As long as you stay flexible and open-minded, you will be able to find the perfect location and set that all-important date that you’ll celebrate as your anniversary for years to come.


Christine M. Saxer

How to prepare for Productive Vendor Meetings

It was the best feeling…

Last weekend, my family, my fiancé, Tim, and I traveled to Saint Louis, Missouri, where we met our wedding vendor team. We were at our menu tasting (yum!) when the realization hit me: Thanks to a lot of planning and a talented team of vendors, my parents and loved ones will be able to relax on our big day, while the two ladies who were seated next to me—Alyssa, the venue event lead, and Holly, our “wedding planner to the wedding planner”—orchestrate our dream wedding.

If you are in the midst of creating your own dream wedding, it’s a good idea to meet with your vendors (venue, caterer, florist, cake baker, photographer, videographer, DJ/musicians, etc.) in the weeks leading up to the big day. Usually you’ll meet with each vendor separately, but for some brides, it may make sense to invite some vendors to a group meeting.

To make your vendor meetings as successful as possible (more productive! less stressful!), prepare beforehand by taking these steps:

- Work with one of the professionals you’ve hired to outline a preliminary timeline of the wedding day. Your wedding planner will be a great resource for this timeline. Because your planner has access to your vendors’ contracts, he or she will be able to pull all of the delicate details together into one place—a day-of timeline.

- Set aside time for you and your fiancé to review the preliminary timeline and talk through the full wedding day, so that during your meetings, you won’t have any surprises as to the other person’s ideas and wishes. There’s no need to completely set a schedule upfront, but through this conversation with your fiancé, you will find out what’s important to both of you. Of course, there will likely be changes that come out of the meetings, so keep an open mind.

- Send your preliminary timeline to each vendor you’re meeting with (or have your planner send it). This step gives your vendors a chance to look through the timeline for potential problems or conflicts.

- If you are working with a planner (which I highly recommend, of course!), make sure that she is copied on the preliminary timeline emails and able to communicate with each vendor prior to the meetings. Having her know as many details as possible before coming to the meetings will enable her to provide direction that is exactly in line with what you’re envisioning for your big day.

There are so many benefits to having the opportunity to get to know your vendors face-to-face prior to your wedding day! Establishing a relationship of trust and open communication is invaluable. But most of all, the meetings allow you and your fiancé to give your team of vendors a full picture of how you’d like your big day to unfold.

I want to give a huge thank you to Alyssa with the Renaissance Grand Hotel, Holly with Simple Elegance, Bret and Jason with Millennium Productions, Jason with Winkler Photography Studio and Jenny with Stems LLC. These incredible professionals showed amazing teamwork and collaboration through our meeting and created such a sense of peace for me, my fiancé and my family.


Creative at Heart Conference Recap ♥

What I Learned at the Creative at Heart Conference

I kicked off 2015 by attending the Creative at Heart Conference, and the time I spent there has totally set the tone for the year ahead.

After those four days, I felt completely inspired, but honestly, I didn’t know how to wrap up all of what I experienced… until I flipped over one of my 25 pages of notes and saw a long list of quotes I captured!!!

Here’s what I learned from the incredible speakers:

“Don’t sit on dreams!!!”Katelyn James

I have this ingrained belief that if I say something, it has to happen, and I will never settle for less than my dreams. I was always too scared to put my dreams out there in words or put a voice behind them because I thought, What happens if I can’t achieve them? Well, after hearing this quote from Katelyn and listening to Kat’s talk, I felt a new confidence. They put all my fears to rest by outlining the steps I need to design and achieve my big dreams. I definitely can’t thank Katelyn and Kat enough!

“Don’t compare. Be creative on your own.” – Katelyn

“Comparing yourself is like a hamster wheel.”Natalie Franke

As a small business owner, I so often would define my success by looking at other people’s accomplishments and thinking that I needed to have that kind of success too. But honestly, I have to write my own path and my own definition of what success looks like for me and for Celebrations of Love. That definition is a work-in-progress. But now when I find myself on that “hamster wheel,” I smile and think to myself, I don’t want to be a hamster. I want to be a wedding planner, small business owner, encourager of making it happen. 

“Life changer, not a money maker.” – Katelyn

God gifted all of us with a unique set of talents and skills. I am incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to work alongside brides and grooms as they make one of the most important decisions in their life. Katelyn’s words stuck with me because, yes, I am a business owner so money does need to come in, but we can have a HUGE impact on people’s lives—and that means so much more than money.

“Piles are scary; pieces are not.”Alexandra Beauregard

This quote came up during Alexandra’s talk, and I want to post it in my office somewhere J I am not really a pile person as far as paper organization, but in my mind, “piles” are large tasks. Whether it’s a difficult email I have to send or TAXES (dun dun dun!), I need to reorganize those large scary tasks into pieces. Then I can get through all of the little pieces in less time than I would have spent worrying about the big “pile.”

“The only difference between try and triumph is a little ‘umph’!” – Kristan Higgins, as quoted by Alexandra

“Umph” comes in the form of coffee some days, but other times, it’s a matter of believing, committing, and working. I truly believe that as long as I keep trying to live out all of these new, amazing things I have learned, I will triumph. With hard work and dedication, these lessons will become a part of my daily routine and help my dreams come true.

As I sit here with my notes out in front of me, I am so encouraged by the memory of all the amazing ladies I was so lucky to have met. I can’t wait till our paths cross again!


Christine M Saxer

P.S. If you’re interested in attending the Creative at Heart Conference, round two is coming up in March! Get the details here—and let me know if I can answer any questions about the experience!

A New Year, A New Blog

Inspirational Card made by Restored 316 Designs

After coming back from the Creative at Heart Conference in Staunton, Virginia, my head was spinning with ideas and tasks that I wanted to get done right away. So after allowing myself a couple days to regroup, I am tackling my first to-do item: START A BLOG!

You all have to know up front that I am dyslexic (and I’m not sure why they made that word so hard to spell, by the way). It scares the pants off of me to commit myself to updating everyone two to three times a month. My spelling may not be perfect and I might have a grammatical mistake here or there, but I really would like to share the behind-the-scenes of my life as a full-time female entrepreneur, business owner, wedding planner, runner, Jesus-lover, soon-to-be-wife, sister, daughter and most of all, ME. I have a plan and we are in this together!

So here we go with my business goals for 2015:

 - Start a blog. (CHECK!)

   - Update the blog two to three times a month.

   - Have two “Coffee Dates” a month.

   - Get published on a big-time wedding blog.

   - Plan and execute three weddings outside of the Kansas City metro area.

These goals excite me and motivate me… and I will definitely be keeping you updated on my progress. And so it is set in electronic stone, I will be updating you all on my personal and professional adventures, as well as featuring my AMAZING couples and enriching you with wedding tips that can come in handy when you’re trying to plan your own big day.

Now I’ll leave you with a Tip of the Month: Your wedding day should reflect you two as a couple and have your guests saying “That was so them!” Weave in personal details, meaningful moments and special traditions—those things will ensure that your wedding is truly one-of-a-kind!