Thursday, April 29

Wedding Week Series: Our "Engagement" Photo Session

Joe and I never really had official “engagement photos” taken. We’d considered it right after becoming engaged in December 2008 but decided instead to allocate that money elsewhere within our wedding budget. Besides the cost, I found that having engagement pictures taken with our photographer while planning the wedding from out of state was extremely difficult. Considering we live in Florida, the wedding is in Missouri, and the photographer’s home base is Colorado, it really made it difficult for us to coordinate a time for a practice session. But unlike some brides, it actually never really bothered me that we didn’t have “official” photos taken. After all, we already have over a dozen pictures of Joe proposing to me since our family and friends were all there to witness the event with cameras in hand. To me, engagement pictures can’t get any more genuine than ones that show the groom down on one knee in the actual moment that started it all! We even used one of the photos from the night of the engagement on our homemade save-the-dates.

Fortunately, I grew up just a few houses down from our wedding photographer and have known her for over ten years. Because we already feel comfortable having her around, I know there won’t be any problems of feeling shy when she begins snapping photos of us on the big day. But if you’ve never met your photographer before, I definitely think it’s important to have an engagement photo session with that person before the actual wedding. This way, a bride and groom can become more comfortable with the photographer and everyone can know what to expect (and be as relaxed as possible) on the big day. The photographer likely wants to know your personality as a couple so they can know how to get the best shots at your wedding, so they will probably recommend a pre-wedding photo session. It's beneficial to get to know your vendors as much as possible before the wedding to avoid any surprises on a day when surprises are typically a bad thing. The photographer has the biggest and most important role as a vendor, so you should invest some time in befriending them... they will likely be spending more time with you than anyone else will on your wedding day, after all.

So… since we don’t have any official engagement photos as of now, Joe and I decided to take advantage of our reception “table name” idea and have some engagement-style photos taken while we were in St. Louis. (If you haven’t read my blog about our plans for the table themes, read it here.) Basically though, we’re placing an engraved picture frame on each table that will feature a photo of us at one of our favorite St. Louis landmarks. We had set an ultimate goal to take pictures at each one of these nine landmarks during our wedding-planning week. While we didn’t get through every single landmark that we intended since it was the opening day of baseball season in crazy downtown St. Louis the day we set out to take photos, we did get a chance to visit a few locations on our list. Now, I wouldn’t DARE show the actual photos that we’ll be using at the reception as those are a secret until October 2nd, but I will share a few of my favorite “just-because” shots. (Special thanks to my Mom who drove around with us from place to place and dutifully served as our amazing photographer with no complaints!) We plan to finish taking the photos when we return in September, just one week before the wedding. Wish us luck!!

Have you had engagement photos taken? If not, do you plan to?

Monday, April 26

Wedding Week Series: A Piece of Cake Decision

Let’s face it: One of the best parts of every reception is indulging in the charming wedding dessert. Whether there is an array of tasty treats for guests to choose from or one featured delectable delight as the dessert of the evening, your guests will be sure to swoon over every sugary bite. To ensure you hit the sweet spot with each guest, the dessert is one thing you definitely don’t want to skimp on! Be sure to conduct plenty of research to find out which cake designers in your area are known to deliver on flavor and design. Read up on past customers reviews and don’t be afraid to ask for references from your cake designer so you can ensure they will arrive on time at your reception with a beautiful dessert that will wow you and your guests.
Fortunately, modern weddings offer exciting ways to personalize the dessert hour at the reception. These days you shouldn’t feel obligated to have a one-for-all cake dessert if you’re more of an offbeat bride, and there are plenty of ways to substitute cake with alternative appealing treats. From candy buffets to donut bars, chocolate fountains to cupcake tiers, there truly is no right or wrong way to serve it up. For our wedding, Joe and I have opted for the traditional route and will be serving just one large, 3-tiered cake as the main dessert. Since we only have one shot to impress guests with our dessert choice, we wanted to make sure we selected the very best in flavor and design. So while in St. Louis, we visited two different shops to taste their cake flavors and get an idea of which designers would fulfill our vision of a cake that is distinctive and unique, yet still reflects a traditional wedding style.
Our first stop was at a shop that was close in proximity to our venue, thus resulting in a minimal delivery and set up fee (bonus!). It was a one-woman shop that had recently been opened, and when we arrived, she first showed us a binder of her work examples. It was chocked full of photos displaying grand white cakes with beautiful draping detail and uniquely shaped tiers with fondant and gum paste flowers. After the consultation we left feeling good about her excellent ideas for our cake design but wishing she offered more variety in cake flavors to choose from.

The Whipt Cream shop lounge
Our next visit was an adorably modern shop in Chesterfield, Missouri called Whipt Cream. I’d come across their website several times when researching for cake designers in St. Louis and had always been very impressed with their online portfolio. When my photographer recommended we try them out since she’d encountered so many positive experiences with them, we decided to make them one of our top contenders and I arranged an appointment for us to put their treats to the test. Joe and I were exactly on time for our appointment and the lady working behind the counter was very polite in asking us to wait at one of the table areas set up in the lounge area. We obliged and began looking through their example binders displayed on a bookshelf in the corner and I noticed there were a few wedding magazines scattered on the shelves. One in particular suddenly caught my eye. It was the Spring 2010 issue of Get Married magazine!! I immediately snapped a photo of it and Joe seemed amused by how excited I was to see the magazine was there, much less placed at the very top of the stack.
Soon after, we were joined by our consultant, Jill, and we started discussing the basics. She was able to come up with some impressively creative ideas that really reflected our personality and what we were looking for with the overall theme of our cake.  Then we got to the good part – we were allowed to select up to four different cupcake flavors from their prominently displayed case of deliciously fluffy whipped desserts. After making our selection, it was the moment of truth… and the honest truth was, Whipt Cream definitely lived up to its name! Each unique cupcake touted the most delicious combination of whipped, creamy buttercream and moist cake flavor that I’ve ever tasted. I cooed as my tastebuds danced in delight and Joe nodded at me in total agreement. Without even a word, it was decided. Whipt Cream would take the cake!
It’s obvious that Whipt Cream is a different kind of cake shop. All of their cakes are handcrafted and individually designed for every event, but they also specialize in cupcakes and are most widely known for their signature sweet buttercream. Their menu boasts a variety of mouth-watering, unique flavors including Vanilla Malt, Double Chocolate, Peanut Butter Cup, Chocolate Banana, and Carrot Cake. Soon they’ll be adding Turtle as their newest flavor, and they also offer seasonal flavors such as Sugar and Spice, Strawberry Daiquiri, Pina Colada, Orange Dream, Chocolate Mint, Mudslide, and Pumpkin. Whipt Cream has a growing list of loyal customers and always welcomes new visitors to relax in their inviting lobby while enjoying a sweet cupcake treat, made fresh daily. And while you’re at it, you can pick up a few of their provided bridal magazines to read while you hang out in the shop…with Get Married in the stack, you can be confident that Whipt Cream offers nothing but the very best!

Wednesday, April 21

Vendor Spotlight: Makeup Artist D'Shannon Llewellyn

When I first contacted D’Shannon Llewellyn regarding her makeup services for my wedding day, I was feeling pretty discouraged. I’d already emailed numerous other makeup artists that either demanded monstrous fees to do my makeup on-location or else wouldn’t even bother following up to my questions and requests.  So it truly was a breath of fresh air when I got a response from D’Shannon just as I was thinking I’d never find a personal makeup professional for my wedding photos. Would I end up having to do my own makeup, thereby looking like a clown on the most important day of my life?

“We can work something out! Don’t worry!” D’Shannon told me in our first e-mail conversation. I was impressed by her prompt reply to my inquiry and felt reassurance from her positive attitude. I wasted no time in calling her the very next day to find out whether we’d make a compatible team. My first impression when speaking to D’Shannon was how genuine and understanding she was. I also took note of her amazing confidence and professionalism as I asked questions like, “What’s your experience and background with makeup artistry?” and “What kind of makeup do you recommend for the setting of my wedding?” I found myself relating to D’Shannon as if she were an old friend and felt comfortable enough to ask her every question that no other makeup artist would answer for me. I was so glad I’d found her website by researching wedding vendors on the internet and I knew after speaking with her that she was the only makeup artist that I could trust with my wedding day.

During my wedding planning week in St. Louis I had the opportunity to meet with D’Shannon personally for a trial session. She arrived promptly on time and ready to perform magic on my bare and blemished face. She brought with her an enormous case of makeup goodies and you would almost think she’d raided a Sephora store with all the eye shadows and lipsticks and foundation shades in her makeup bag. D’Shannon went to work on her blank canvas and I was relieved to find how gently and carefully she applied the product to my face. As she worked she was very upbeat and enthusiastic which really made the experience that much more enjoyable and relaxed. D’Shannon was careful to make sure she applied the makeup in a way that still made me look like myself, just a better version. “How do you normally wear your eyeliner?” she asked. “What color lipstick do you typically feel comfortable wearing?” The result of her talent was a flawless appearance that looked glamorous and romantic, yet she still managed to make sure I looked like “myself”. I was so excited when I saw my reflection in the mirror and knew that I could expect to look my very best on the biggest day of my life!

D’Shannon is in high demand in the St. Louis area for weddings but she also services numerous other projects such as fitness shows, runway, print, and television. She works with men and women of all ages, ethnicities, and professions, and additionally will mentor aspiring makeup artists or people who just want to learn proper makeup application. Recently she was a guest artist on TLC’s What Not to Wear and was the Creative Director for St. Louis Fashion Week.  She’s also being featured as Premier Artist for the Midwest in The Knot’s national magazine. To learn more about D’Shannon’s makeup artistry, visit her website at

D’Shannon kindly agreed to answer some questions I had regarding her professional experience and wedding day makeup in general. I really think her words of advice would benefit any bride who wants to look gorgeous and fresh faced on her wedding day! Read on for some invaluable tips…

What inspired you to become a makeup artist?
I was very dissatisfied in my career. I was successful at almost anything I attempted, but not happy. I had always wanted to be self-employed since graduating but didn’t know quite what I could do every day that I would continue to find fun and motivating. I decided with my sister’s encouragement to go out and try anything literally. I had an open heart and mind, and the very next day I was offered an opportunity to do makeup. The rest is history.

How long have you been doing makeup professionally?
Professionally I have been in business for about six years. I like to think though that many blemishes in my teen years gave me a ton of practice. I am a concealing queen!

What list of clients do you serve?
On this subject we could talk all day literally.  How about a laundry list in no particular order… Brides, Women Body Builders, Teens/Tweens, Corporate Professionals, Hair Stylists, Salons, Spas, Beauty Students, Pageants, Models, Designers, Magazines, TV Shows, Actors, Production Companies, Photographers, Wedding and Event Planners, or just regular people who want to learn how to do their own makeup. I help women in every stage of life, in every walk of life, and from every age, ethnicity, and profession. I also help men, though that’s not something they usually want to reveal. This year I have branched out to mentor several aspiring makeup artists. It has been a real pleasure to see other young ladies begin their careers in beauty, and play a part in their initial success. I have also developed a system for teaching ladies how to become masters of their own beauty by teaching application techniques for every woman, every age, from the most simple to the most glamorous.

What is your biggest challenge as a makeup artist?
My biggest challenge is overcoming my own fears and insecurities.  I think we can all relate on that. There is a lot of pressure in the industry, but overall it’s great motivation to always keep learning, stay humble, and hone your craft.

What is the best aspect of your job?
The very best and most touching thing is when someone looks in the mirror with complete amazement and appreciates every moment you spent with her that day.  There is really nothing better.  A new friend, a sincere hug, a touching thank you note in the mail… those all make my day extra special.  I know those people will be the ones I see again and again, and those long term relationships are really what make work a pleasure.

Do you have a favorite type of event or client to work for?
Well, ok, I love weddings.  It just suits me well.  I love to provide families and friends with a service that makes their day extra special.  I know most makeup artists dread the wedding scene, but for me, it is kind of my zone.  However, I cannot say that there is any part of my career that I don’t enjoy.  That one is just special because of what it’s all about.  Two people committing to a lifetime of love.  A lot of the beauty industry is based on much less valuable ideals. Other than weddings, working on “What Not To Wear” was my ultimate favorite project of 2009. I can’t say enough about how much fun it was to work with their crew and I would definitely do it again a hundred times over.  I am absolutely dying to get back on set.

What are your short- and long-term goals for your future and your career?

Short-term I am booked for upcoming music videos and other hot productions that I cannot yet discuss (wink, wink).  This year I’m also upgrading my website which you will see rolling out within the next few weeks.  Additionally, I am working on tons of new images for the gallery and portfolio, growing my destination wedding business, and enjoying mentoring several young ladies as artists in training.  I am being featured in The Knot national magazine as the Premier Artist for the Midwest region this year, and hope to gain a lot more exposure so I can continue to do what I love.

Long term, I hope to become synonymous with great makeup here in the Midwest. I would love to grow to the point that people automatically think of me when they think of great makeup. I have never sought after fame or fortune, and I am proudly a Midwest girl. It has never appealed to me to leave for LA or NY. I just want to be the best I can be right here in my own backyard and from time to time get out there and show ‘em what a Midwest girl can do.  I love to travel and work in other cities and countries occasionally and hope to find several more opportunities to do so. But I can’t really ask for much more than doing what I love, in my own hometown, and making a living at it. Every day is a blessing.

What makeup advice can you offer to brides regarding their wedding day?
My best advice is… Hire the best photographer you can afford, and with the help of qualified PROFESSIONALS, look the best you have ever looked. Your pictures will be the only thing left. The cake will be eaten and the music, food, flowers, and so many other minor details will be forgotten, but your pictures will be memories for generations to come. A top notch photographer and qualified beauty team is essential. Trust me, you won’t regret it if you take this advice.

Do you think it’s important for a bride to hire a makeup artist for their wedding day?
YES! And not just any makeup artist, but a professional, full-time artist who knows what works best for film and photography is what you need. We have inside information and experience on what lasts in all weather conditions. We know what works with snapshots versus pro photos. We have access to products, tools, and training that the average person or novice artist does not. We will be ready to handle any situation that arises on the wedding day… bruises, scars, tattoos, acne, hot flashes, mature skin, and every sort of detail you can imagine. Our kit will be ready with something for every thinkable challenge. We are able to effectively work within your timeframe and give a high level of care and attention to everyone in your group. Why is it important to consider a full-time artist? We are constantly honing our craft. If there is a challenge, it’s likely we’ve dealt with it numerous times and can handle it without a hitch.  A professional is much more than someone who can put on makeup.  We are well rehearsed, well prepared, and ready for anything. We will be there on time, and you will be ready on time, come heck or high water!

Can you offer any tips for brides who want to do their own makeup for their wedding?
First, do not go for a trend. Be the everyday you, but really perfect the look. Second, make sure you are wearing products designed for photography. Mineral makeup is not really designed for photography and you should only use it to accent. Third, ultimate health results in beautiful skin. Exercise, eat fruits and veggies, take an omega oil supplement, avoid stress, get sleep, avoid alcohol and caffeine, drink loads of water, and be happy. These factors all contribute to a radiant glow not easily duplicated by makeup.

Tuesday, April 20

Wedding Week Series: Dress and Tux Picks

It was such a relief to mark off the wedding party’s attire from my lengthy to-do list! Last Saturday I met my girls at a cute little boutique in St. Louis called Karen’s where each girl tried on a dress that I’d found while browsing the Bari Jay website. I wasn’t at all surprised to see that the dress was just as perfect in person as it had looked on the website! The sample dress in the store was black but the color the girls will actually wear is Celedon Green. The bridesmaids are going to look so gorgeous and I can’t wait to see everyone in the gowns once they arrive fitted and in the right color. My Maid of Honor (and lil’ sis) was first to try on the dress, and even though it was a few sizes too big you can still get an idea of the style…

My cousin also modeled the dress beautifully…

Once the girls placed their dress order and the selection was truly final, Joe and I wasted no time in going the very next day to pick matching tuxes at Men’s Wearhouse. For the groomsmen we went with celedon green vests (known as Peridot in their collection) and chose solid black vests from the same geometric collection for the dads to wear. Joe selected a champagne-colored vest from the same collection so that he’ll match the champagne gown I’ll be wearing.

Since he’s an usher for the ceremony, my little brother also had to get fitted for his tux and I couldn’t help but sneak some snapshots of him getting ready for his big sister’s wedding (too cute!)…

So have you chosen your wedding party’s attire yet? Where did you find the dresses and tuxes?

(Photo Credits: Tux photos from, all others are personal photos.)

Thursday, April 15

Wedding Week Series: Surprise Bridal Shower!

The Upbeat Bride is back and better than ever! Joe and I really accomplished a lot during our one-week trip to St. Louis. Between ordering the bridesmaid dresses and guys’ tuxes, designing our wedding cake, taking engagement photos, piecing together our centerpieces, and picking out stationery, no wedding detail was left behind. We visited our venue and tasted the menu. I had my makeup trial and chose a hairstyle. But the trip certainly wasn’t done without some Bridal Shower fun!! Stay tuned for a series of blogs that cover everything from my wedding planning week from start to finish, beginning with today’s blog covering the surprise bridal shower…
I actually wasn’t sure if my friends and family would find the opportunity to have a Bridal Shower. Nearly every one of our wedding guests live in St. Louis (including the entire bridal party) and considering Joe and I won’t be in St. Louis again until just one week before the wedding takes place, I just didn’t think there’d be a time or place to have a shower. So imagine my surprise on Sunday when I thought I was entering a low-key dinner party at my grandparent’s house and instead walked into a room full of people shouting “Surpriiise!” I’ve never had any kind of surprise party thrown for me before so it was a little bit intimidating but also very amusing.
The day had begun with Joe and I spending some time with the groomsmen and my fathers and brother at the mall for tux try-ons. We met at 11 am but didn’t walk out of the store until 12:45, just in time to grab sit-down lunch at a restaurant in the mall. Afterward we visited Victoria’s Secret because I just HAD to check out the new St. Louis Cardinals clothing line introduced at VS where naturally I took my time shopping and trying things on. Then we headed over to the Archiver’s scrapbook store to tackle the task of choosing our wedding stationery. I’d been waiting for months to visit that one specific store that carries a unique line of wedding paper and I’d always forewarned Joe that it would take a long time to finalize our selections so I was a little irritated that he wanted to leave the store so quickly. “Can we just pick out this paper tomorrow?” he pleaded (which really should have served as clue number one that he was rushing me for a reason). “No, this is what we came here to do and we’re not going to put it off!” I answered sternly. Besides, it was only 2:30 pm and in my mind, we had plenty of time to make it back to the house to change into something nice before the get-together at my grandparents’ house. Feeling a little frustrated that the store didn’t have everything we were looking for, I finally let Joe convince me to just purchase a few sample packages and then head straight to my grandparent’s house. After all, my dad kept calling to say they were all waiting for our arrival before starting the BBQ pit. The fact that the whole party would be waiting on Joe and I should have been clue number two for me, but I was oblivious.
The drive to my grandparents’ was short and when we pulled up near the driveway, I noticed about a dozen cars lined up outside. “I didn’t know there would be so many people here!” I told Joe. “If I’d have known it was this big of a party I would have dressed up!” Joe didn’t really say anything. With cars all over the place and Joe acting strangely, that should have been clue numbers three and four, but still I suspected nothing. As Joe and I approached the house I saw my grandpa outside playing catch with my brother and cousins and we all said hello. Then we made our way down the stairs to the basement area where house guests are typically entertained, and I do remember thinking it was strange that there were so many cars outside but there wasn’t a lot of chatter from inside the house. Maybe they are all in the backyard? I thought. And just as soon as I’d begun wondering where the party was, I saw Joe’s mom and sisters and aunts sitting in chairs near the bottom of the steps. Confused, I stopped dead in my tracks and began peering around the corner to glance at all the people in the room who were staring back at me. “SURPRISE!!!”
I’m not entirely sure what my first reaction was, but it was probably a mixture of embarrassment and shock. It’s definitely not easy to have an entire room of people watching you and waiting for your reaction, particularly when it’s a brand new experience and especially if you are wearing just a t-shirt and jeans with very little makeup. Initially I made a few comments that I wish I’d dressed up more and said thank you to everyone as I made my way around the room. It was so nice to think that everyone was there for me and the awesome turnout of people was evidence of what terrific family and friends I have. Immediately I was told I was supposed to have been there at 2 pm so technically I was 45 minutes late. Apparently the entire time we were at the mall, my mom and stepdad had been harassing Joe’s phone with calls and text messages to get me there pronto. No wonder he’d been rushing me along! Since we had been running so late, the party had already gotten started and everyone had enjoyed the nice spread of punch and snacks before I got there, which was fine by me since I’d had a large lunch anyway and wasn’t at all hungry. Next it was time for games and first on the list was the toilet paper wedding gown game. Groups of 4-5 girls dressed up a contestant from their team in a toilet paper dress and I was to judge which TP gown was the best. It was seriously a very hard decision! The dresses were all so different in style and honestly looked adorable, I almost forgot it was toilet paper! I finally chose the gown on the far left for its coordination between the veil, dress, and bouquet flowers. I think even Amsale would have been impressed with that ensemble!
Next we played a game show where my Maid of Honor and I both sat at the front of the room. She asked me several questions that had already previously been asked of Joe and the object of the game was to see how closely our answers matched up. It was a little embarrassing because I didn’t get a chance to prepare my answers and I easily get stage fright where I forget what to say. You know the kid that would forget their lines in a play even though they practiced a million times? Yeah, that was me. When I feel like I’m on the spot, my mind just goes blank. Even the silliest things like, What’s your favorite color? and What famous person would you like to be? was a majorly indecisive moment. The funniest part was when my answer didn’t match up to Joe’s in regard to where we shared our first kiss. How do you mess something like that up?!! His answer was totally different from mine and I didn’t even know what his answer meant. It turns out that he misunderstood the question and thought my MOH had asked where his first kiss was (when he was a young kid) and not necessarily the first kiss we shared. So that was kind of hilarious… no wonder I’d been baffled about why he answered that question wrong!!
After the games were over I opened gifts to find many wonderful items from our registries. It’s a good thing we registered earlier than we’d planned to! One of my favorite non-registry items was a set of beach towels with our shared last name, his saying Mr. and mine saying Mrs., complete with a beach bag embroidered with “Honeymoon 2010”, all in our wedding colors. I even got a huge box of wedding scrapbook supplies with everything I could possibly need for creating our wedding scrapbook after the big day! I received so many wonderful gifts that I really look forward to using.
The Bridal Shower was SO much fun and is a day I’ll never forget. It truly made the whole wedding seem very real, like things are finally happening and the big day will be here before we know it. My friends and family really put together an amazing party than everyone enjoyed and I feel so lucky to have such amazing people as a part of my life!
Have you had your Bridal Shower yet? Was it a surprise or did you know about it in advance?
(Arch photo from Google Images. All others are Personal Photos.)

Friday, April 2

Spectacular Cake Designs

Next week Joe and I are taking on the cake challenge as we attend a few tastings to choose the flavor and design of our wedding dessert. For me, this is one aspect of the planning process that isn't exactly a piece of cake... I just can’t seem to make any decisions! While I'm confident that the cake will be three tiers, whether those are round or square – or octagonal – I can’t decide. I’m not sure how much color we should put on the cake, or even what cake flavors we’ll choose. Most of all – I’m not sure how to choose just one design! I had a similar problem when selecting my gown. To me, the principles of choosing the cake elements are like choosing the gown. I don’t prefer things that are too plain or generic, but I’m also not fond of design with excessive decoration. The possibilities are virtually endless which makes the decision in narrowing down important decisions for the wedding day that much more difficult. (Oh, and it doesn't help that Joe isn't at all worried about the cake design. He seems to think it will just magically come together.) Still, I do enjoy the freedom to be creative and unique when planning our wedding and it’s exciting to think that after next week, a masterpiece will officially be decided upon.

To help prepare some ideas for our cake meetings I’ve been researching all facets of wedding media including magazines, books, and the internet. There are so many distinct cake styles and design concepts out there but I was truly astonished when I stumbled across the website for Chocolate Pi, a baker that coincidentally headquarters in Tampa, the very city I live in! Photo after photo, their dessert products are spectacularly aesthetic. It’s a shame I’m getting married out of state and won’t be able to take advantage of their wedding cake services. I would imagine they make their Bride and Groom customers very happy. Check out some of my favorite designs by ChocPi… maybe you’ll even find some inspiration for your own cake!

(All Photos by

How are you deciding on your cake? Are you creating your own design or leaving it entirely up to the cake artist?