A good love story is multi-faceted, and this one has a twist. To be sure, my son and his new wife Sally are a beautiful tale of romance, but her mother and I share our own sweet ode to love.

Forging the turbulent twenties without a mother’s comfort just a phone call away would be difficult, and planning a wedding without a mother of the bride could be bittersweet. But my lovely, resilient daughter-in-law faced both challenges with grace, efficiency, and joie de vivre. Sally’s mother armed her daughter well before succumbing to breast cancer during Sally’s senior year of college. Nevertheless, when my son asked Sally to marry him just shy of her 32nd birthday, I became not only the mother of the groom but a mother figure for the bride as well.

Jackie was a nurturing mother, a beloved college professor, and the witty heart of their big Irish Catholic family. Although I never met Jackie, it seems I know her through stories and accolades, and I feel a kindred spirit with this sublime angel. I would never presume to take her place, so it was essential for me to find a way to link ethereal arms with Jackie and walk together through that glorious time in Sally’s life as a bride.

After expressing ebullient joy over their engagement, one of my first assurances to Sally was that I would be there for her during the wedding planning… as much or as little as she needed and wanted. I was sensitive to finding the balance of involvement that this self-sufficient woman would be comfortable with, especially considering that we live 2,000 miles apart. To my great delight, my daughter-in-law-to-be pulled me into her bridal adventure with both arms and an open heart, exchanging countless emails and phone calls on top of my numerous trips to Chicago during their eight-month engagement.

My husband, two daughters and I were on a plane to Chicago within 12 days of their announcement to celebrate and begin the planning. The wedding date was already set in stone for Saturday, January 21st – the mother of the bride’s birthday – so now it was a matter of securing all the vendors for that unequivocal date. What could have been a daunting task was easily achieved with an off-season wedding. The bride and groom had their heart set on an historic 1920’s mansion in their Chicago neighborhood, so it was swell that we were all able to check it out together, agree that it was the perfect venue for them to begin their married life, and secure it for the chosen day.

Sal and I are can-do gals with experience in event planning, so we felt that the venue’s wedding coordinator would be enough for us. With a large wedding, we knew it was vital to have someone directing the show on the big day, allowing us to fully enjoy the merriment – especially with only one mother to juggle the quirky situations that invariably pop up. But we needed a streamlined system to keep us on track throughout the process of planning, so when a friend told me about aisleplanner.com, Sally had us up and running on it within a couple of hours. Most modern day weddings veer from traditional etiquette in all sorts of ways and for a variety of reasons. Our motherly duties couldn’t be divvied up according to tradition, so I took a load off Sally and happily shouldered the tasks that would have been pulled off with Jackie’s flair. The bride and I logged onto that website almost every day of the engagement, obsessively enough to make up for one less planning partner.

The only task that was simplified by missing our mother of the bride was selecting my mother of the groom dress. In keeping with tradition, my attire would have been based on her dress of choice, but in this case I had carte blanche. Yet I felt a certain sense of motherly camaraderie and wanted to find just the right gown that would reflect us both. Setting a theme for the wedding makes every aspect of planning more defined. From the moment we set foot in the mansion, the Great Gatsby was whispering to us. The first mother dress I found was a beaded sage-green number inspired by the Roaring Twenties, and I suspect that when I showed it to Sally, she too became inspired. In fact, her love-at-first-sight wedding dress was a perfect nod to the theme, which prompted me to search for a different dress that gave the beaded spotlight to our blushing bride. After 13 attempts, I think Jackie would have adored the mother dress I opted for. Incidentally, the bride originally envisioned a wintery sage green-plum-ivory color scheme, but once we hit upon the Gatsby theme, I acquiesced to her black-gold-white palette. If nothing else, motherhood teaches us to be flexible.

Playing the duel mother roles, I felt a deeper desire to bestow meaningful gifts upon the couple, perhaps to fill a longing that I imagined the bride might be feeling. For one of Sally’s bridal showers, I gave her their set of pots along with Haertl Family Keepers, a cookbook of our family’s favorite recipes including many from my son’s childhood. At another shower I gave the set of knives that I feared their guests would shy away from – superstitiously wrapping it up with a personalized cutting board and a shiny copper penny. And with the collection of photos, mementos, and schoolwork that I’d been saving for years, I finally made a scrapbook of Mac’s boyhood for Sally as a way to share that part of his life with her. My final bridal gift to them was his-n-her monogrammed handkerchiefs… partly as a way to grab a precious sliver of time with my son on his wedding day in the midst of all the nervous excitement. As mothers, it’s far easier to get caught up in the female frenzy than it is to find moments of nostalgia with our boys.

My most emotional mother duty took me by joyous surprise. Sally had spent a few weeks wedding dress shopping with some of her friends and bridesmaids in Chicago, keeping me in the loop by texting photos and giddy updates. But one day she called me saying that she really wanted to spend a day with me to try on all her favorites and share the final decision together. With happy tears in my eyes, I quickly booked a flight to Chicago. Knowing full well that this is one of the most sacred mother-daughter moments of an engagement, I wanted it to be as special as possible for my darling daughter-to-be. She made appointments at several shops, and we flitted around town playing dress-up with the favorites she had set aside. But the last stop was truly the charm. As we walked up to the second floor, we both gasped at the just-arrived gown on the mannequin. And when she slipped it on, we were misty-eyed with the magic of it all. To find her fantasy gown together was pure bliss.  

As we toasted our wonderful shopping excursion over mimosas, it felt natural to include her mother in our cheers and acknowledge how much we missed her physical presence. It also felt slightly dreamlike to give Sally my most sentimental gift on that day. I had found a vintage locket attached to a pearl-laden brooch tied with a baby blue velvet ribbon and put a tiny picture of her beautiful mother in the locket. I thought it would be just the right touch for her bridal bouquet, perhaps a tenderly symbolic way to carry her mother’s spirit with her as she embarked upon marriage to the man of her dreams – my son. A tinge of survivor’s guilt stirred my heart in a delicate sort of way, but by then I had fallen in love with our mother of the bride for gifting her daughter and this extraordinary piece of her life to me – the mother of the groom.

Wedding day photos courtesy of Colin Lyons Photography

 You can read more about this wedding at

Wrirren by; Jana Haertl



Are Weddings Getting Out Of Hand?

Are weddings getting out of hand?  I remember my wedding 33 years ago. For the time, it was a big, generous wedding…a sit down dinner with a band for over 200.  But as I see my own daughters marry, work as an event planner and witness others’ nuptials, I see a new trend.  I love all the creative, lavish ideas, don’t get me wrong!  But weddings today are much more “splashy”.

I was struck recently by the contrast of weddings of days gone by and today’s “standard”.  What  struck a cord?…you may ask… Well, the age old job of ‘cleaning the basement.’  I ran across so many of my wedding keepsakes, and the contrast between my special items, and those of my daughters’ gave me pause.

Below, my weddings shoes.  Granted, they were the most expensive shoes, at that time, that I had ever purchased.  But they are simple, and yes…I wore them for years after.  Because, hey!  Why let a perfectly good pair of white pumps sit dormant in the spring and summer!

My daughters’ shoes follow.  While I do think perhaps they were a little extravagant, I love them, and wouldn’t change a thing.  Seriously, how cute are they?!?!  Maggie’s are the top photo followed by KK’s. Kathleen has her little sisters playing handmaiden and buckling her wedding shoes.  What else are bridesmaids supposed to do – especially little sisters!

And one pair of wedding shoes was not enough for our KK.  🙂  She needed a pair of “dancing’ shoes”!  Actually, a good choice.  She was comfortable all night.

Photo creds: Hannah Colt

What about guest books?  In my day, you were living large if you had a book and a feathered pen.  The photo below is of my 33 year old pen. And yes!  Our names are engraved in tiny letters on the stand, JUST IN CASE, you forgot our names when you signed our book!

Below is an adorable “guest book” idea.  I worked this wedding, held at an old-fashioned airport hanger.  The groom was a pilot, their guest book, a wooden prop!  Love, love this!

And have you noticed the cake toppers lately?  Works of art.  Behold…blelow is MY 33 year old cake topper…

Really… It should have bothered me that the bride was a blond, and I am most decidedly a brunette!  But…it didn’t   🙂  My daughters had exquisite cake toppers, both gifted to them by their generous mothers-in-law.  As the wedding cake is often a focal point of your reception, a special cake topper is money well spent.  Please note the girls’ cakes below:

Hannah Colt photos

Patty Cloherty Photos

So what’s my final take on whether weddings are “getting out of hand”?  Perhaps on some levels…but not on items that count in my book.  Go for the creative guest book, the gorgeous cake topper, and especially the special shoes!

Wedding Etiquette and a Book Review

Weddings…does any one event conjure up more questions about etiquette?  The first thing my mother did when I became engaged was buy a wedding book about the “Do’s” and “Do Nots”.  I did the same for both of my daughters.

Why then, is today’s first featured photo of the delightful new cozy mystery “Waiting for the Detectives”, (available May 23, 2017), by the lovely Julie Mulhern? (Pictured below)


Well…let me back-peddle a little… I recently saw several ads for Julie’s “Country Club Mysteries”.  Each book looked like a fun read, so I ordered the first in the series, “The Deep End”.  I was hooked.  By the time I had read 50 pages, I just had to order the second in the series, “Guaranteed  to Bleed”.  What was it that made the books so enticing?  Many things.  They’re funny, (at times laugh-out-loud!), well-written, never drag, and…set in the ’70’s!  I love that era, partly because I grew up then.  I think perhaps I was born in the wrong time.  I think I would have fit right into Ellison Russell’s, (our heroine), world.  She’s beautiful, chic, rich, and most importantly, a strong woman.  And yes, the country club scene is a big part of Ellison’s life.  And don’t do messing with etiquette in Ellison or her mother, Frances’, orbit!

I would love to plan Ellison’s wedding, (of course she is tangled in a love triangle!), but she would need no help.  I imagine it would be something classic and old-fashioned like the photo above (which just happens to be of my daughter and son-in-law 🙂 ).

Here’s a little blurb from Barnes and Noble about “Watching the Detectives”

“Ellison Russell wanted a decorator, not a corpse. Too bad she finds Mrs. White in the study killed with a revolver. Things go from bad to worse when she finds Mr. White in the dining room killed with a candlestick. With so many bodies, is it any wonder Detective Anarchy Jones’s new partner considers Ellison a suspect? With the country club gossips talking a mile a minute, an unexpected cocktail party, a visit from Aunt Sis, and a romantic decision, Ellison hardly has time to think about murder. Unfortunately, the killer has plenty of time to think about her.”

Did I like this latest in the “Country Club Mystery” series?  No…I LOVED it…

Let’s Catch Up With Nova McLaren

It’s time to catch up with the brilliant wedding dress designer Nova McLaren.  Olivia, the artist behind the label, has been hard at work this wedding season.  I don’t know how she does it, and with such creative perfection too!

Olivia’s July weddings for this year, as always, are something special.  One in particular strikes me. The bride is from the mid-west; the groom’s roots are from India.  For the ceremony, as a surprise for her groom, the bride has commissioned a beautiful lace sari to drape over her wedding gown.  It will sport a gold belt, and traditional Indian gold jewelry she has had specially made.  This will be removed for the reception and then her groom and their guests will see her exquisite french lace ‘off the shoulder’ gown.   The look for this dress will focus on pearls, both on the gown, and as accessories.  Olivia confides they are two completely different looks, but beautiful none the less. (if you’d like to read a blog post about “Two in One Wedding Gowns”, clink on the link.)

While I can’t show you photos in progress, due to the “top secret” status, I can show you some lace samples — exquisite!

The photo below gives a brief glimpse of the time consuming bead work Olivia does.  I am in awe of her talent.

Wonder what’s in the photo below?  I did also at first!  They are lace covered buttons; covered by hand!  Olivia works with the precision of a surgeon.  A wedding dress designer is not just a seamstress, but an artist.  One must truly love this work, and it’s apparent that Olivia does.

Are these gowns out of most brides’ price range?  No.  While not inexpensive, when one takes into account that all alterations are included in the price of the dress, the value is exceptional.  I still have two daughters to marry off…I will definitely be knocking on Olivia’s door to at least see what our options would be…Kudos Nova McLaren. (Link to website below)  And don’t worry…there will be another installment about this brilliant designer soon…  🙂

Nova McLaren