Instead of sharing my latest cultural insights, this week I'm playing Martha Stewart. No, this isn't my guide to getting by in jail (although soap-based shanks make a thoughtful cell-warming gift). I'm doling out do-it-yourself tips on a topic with which I happen to have substantial recent experience. Clip & save time: Here's "Six Simple Steps to Planning Your Perfect Wedding (Without Killing Anyone)." Step 1: Quit Your Day Job Step 1: Quit Your Day Job Organizing your own wedding (or bar mitzvah or funeral) is easy, absent annoying distractions — like earning a living. Professional event planners make a decent living because doing it right is a big investment in time and energy. Theoretically, it can be done while also working a 40-hour week, but the relationship you're trying to celebrate will be sacrificed in the process. Luckily, my wife and I were both given our walking papers in the months leading up to our big day, leaving us plenty of free time to plan. Step 2: Break It Down Step 2: Break It Down People pile impossible expectations onto their "perfect day," setting storybook standards no single day could possibly fulfill. Instead of cramming everything into one celebration, we spread the love: first, a tiny civil ceremony for a few close family members, followed six months later with a larger (but still laid-back) party for a wider circle of friends. This technique separates your universes of acquaintances that may not mesh (will your octogenarian granny and drinking buddies really get along?) and distributes the financial blow. Best of all, you keep the good wishes (and gifts) rolling in long past their usual sell-by date. There may be a practical limit to how long you can milk it, but our "second" wedding was so successful that we're thinking of holding another every six months until people quit showing up. Step 3: Location, Location, Location Many couples tie the knot in a reception hall they've just seen or a church they attend once a year. It makes more emotional sense to marry in a spot you have a preexisting connection with, and it can be cheaper as well. For our first ceremony, we set our sights on sleepy Siesta Key, a small island near Sarasota that we fell in love with while researching an article a couple years ago; our second was on the lawn of Loch Haven's Mennello Museum of American Art, one of Orlando's under-appreciated gems. There are a million beautiful places around this city and state that are sorely underused; discover one, and you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you found a truly unique setting that hasn't already been seen on a billion wedding blogs. Step 4: Salvage + Scavenge = Savings Weddings are huge rip-off — slap a matrimonial marking on any product, and the price magically doubles. If you have an appreciation for vintage décor and lots of endurance, you can find everything you need — from tablecloths to tuxedos — at Goodwill and thrift stores for pennies on the dollar. Whatever you can't buy cheaply, you can probably find free from some friend who bought it for his wedding and only used it once. Step 5: Conscript Your Contacts Speaking of friends, instead of hiring strangers, forage on Facebook. This works best if you know a bunch of artists. Instead of hiring an anonymous DJ, we invited Eugene Snowden and members of the Legendary JC's, who put on a lakeside soul concert that would do Sam Cook proud. Decorations came courtesy of Doug Rhodehamel, who planted several hundred baby-blue mushrooms (part of his worldwide Spore project), and photography was provided by Orlando Sentinel staffer Matt Simantov. Performance artist Brian Feldman brought his light-up marquee. Can't afford catering? Call it a "potluck picnic": If you're lucky, playwright Stephen J. Miller will bring his brie and papaya pastries (gone before I got a bite), and critic Betsy Maupin will come with hummus in handmade pottery. Hints: don't ask Fringe producer Beth Marshall to off-road until she's out of her wheelchair, and expect Terry Olson to arrive fashionably late. Step 6: Chill the F' Out Step 6: Chill the F' Out Believe it or not, your wedding can be fun, and even relatively stress-free, provided you forget about perfection. Rain will fall, florists will fail, kids will contract explosive diarrhea: get over it. As long as you keep perspective, keep your head and keep laughing, everything will work out. We ended up getting married by an Internet-ordained "reverend" under the coolest tree, attended by Voci Dance faeries and 75 of our favorite people. It might not have been traditional, but it was all us — and that's what really counts. email@example.com
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