How does a southern bell plan the perfect wedding in the midst of COVID? By conquering one catastrophe after the next, The COVID Bride is the hilarious, straight-talking wedding guide that could put a 90s rom-com to shame.
Determined not to cancel her special day, Sara La Chapelle threw her fancy wedding checklists out the window and she hit the ground running. Laugh along with her as you learn how to plan the wedding of your dreams no matter what it takes, all while maintaining the poise and grace of a true southerner. Loaded with firsthand advice, you won’t get anywhere else, The COVID Bride is the ideal resource for brides in the post-pandemic wedding boom.
Pour a glass of wine and hang on tight as Sara grits her teeth and smiles her way through the wild bridal ride you won’t want to miss. Here is my conversation with Sara La Chapelle.
Welcome to The Author Hour Podcast, I’m your host Benji Block. Today, we’re excited to be joined by Sara La Chapelle. Sara, welcome to Author Hour.
Sara La Chapelle: Hi Benji, thank you so much for having me. I am stoked to have this conversation with you.
Benji Block: Absolutely, it’s going to be a fun one. You’ve just come out with a book. The book is titled, The COVID Bride: Lessons in Wedding Planning from the Girl Who’s Seen It All. That is quite the title so this is going to be a fun conversation.
Sara La Chapelle: It isn’t awful. Yes.
Benji Block: Explain a little bit, just give us some of your background first and talk a little bit about yourself.
Sara La Chapelle: Of course. I was born and raised in a suburb outside the City of Atlanta. It was just a very simple, very American suburban childhood and from a very young age, I was very organized and also really driven to anything creative, so singing, dancing, acting, writing, everything pretty much prepared me to have a very creative career and you probably would have guessed that from a young age.
I went to college at The University of Georgia and after that, I started working for various startups. I didn’t want any sort of traditional job. After a while, I noticed that I really needed to go and get my master’s in business in order to become an entrepreneur myself and really be able to start my own company. That’s what I did and on that journey is when I met my now-husband, Peter.
The COVID Bride: The Guide to Navigating Wedding Planning in Unprecedented Times
Benji Block: Nice, that’s where this kind of kicks off. Okay, you have this entrepreneur bend, you have this creative bend, a lot of people have an aspiration to write a book, where did that kind of come from? And then, when did it hit you that this would be what you would write about?
Sara La Chapelle: Of course! So I never intended to write a book. It honestly wrote itself. My entire engagement year kicked off at the beginning of COVID and it was a really hard time for not just me, everyone. During this time, where I wanted to be celebrating and happy and bringing people together, it was discouraged. I mean, the world shut down and everything that you want to do leading up to your wedding was pretty much a no-go. Couldn’t happen, couldn’t do it.
As a form of, I guess, it was really cathartic for me to write this book and it was written as everything was happening. It really takes place throughout the journey, written as very much like a journal, and after eight months of things going wrong time and time again, some of the craziest things happened to me and I’m sure we’ll get into that.
Benji Block: Yeah.
Sara La Chapelle: After eight months of journaling, I was looking back at notes on my phone, right? I just thought, “This has to become a book. There is so much here and I have to share it because I don’t think every bride needs to go through this experience in order to appreciate her wedding journey or her wedding day.”
It evolved from notes in my phone into a book a year later. To be honest, it feels like I wrote this book such a long time ago and that’s because I did. The very beginning chapters happened almost three years ago while Peter and I were trying to find an engagement ring and we had to cancel our proposal plans and really, just how our lives unfolded during COVID and that time.
Benji Block: Isn’t it crazy? I feel like we blinked and years went by because of COVID. Just the way that time moves right now is so crazy. I can’t imagine planning a wedding in that season.
Sara La Chapelle: Unfortunately, a lot of people went through what I went through and I think that’s why this book is really important. Even though we are learning to adapt and change with COVID, we’re very much in this post-pandemic wedding boom where it’s pent-up demand and all wedding vendors and suppliers are just completely strapped because there was a two-year period where people weren’t having weddings.
Unfortunately, a lot of these challenges that I faced will still happen in the future just because of the sole demand and pent-up demand for weddings. As much as I want to say that we’re coming to an end, we’re really just coming to a different phase in wedding planning.
Benji Block: For sure. Yeah, this is going to be an interesting book for a number of reasons, for different types of people to read. Tell me who you’re imagining picking up this book, who is the ideal reader to you?
Sara La Chapelle: I think the ideal reader is anyone that is currently engaged and planning a wedding. I think if I had this book on day one of my proposal, ring on my finger, here’s this book, I would have been in a much better situation. Apart from those planning a wedding, I really see it as a story where past COVID brides are really going to relate to it and find humor and all of the things that went wrong and say, “You know what? Me too, that was really horrible.”
I think it definitely speaks to those past COVID brides and then, to be honest, the way I wrote this book, it’s broken up into a narrative memoir as well as a planning guide. If you really want a good wedding tale or a wedding story, I think you’ll enjoy the story aspect and you don’t have to focus too much on the advice sections of the book or the planning guides and itineraries and the more formal aspects of wedding planning.
Benji Block: I love that you were able to pull off both in this book. It has a very distinct, specific niche as well for those that are in the season right now. Let’s do this, let’s rewind a little bit and just tell me how much did thinking about your wedding, having a vision for your wedding in your head, was that something that you always had when you were young growing up? Was a wedding a very big thing to you?
Sara La Chapelle: Absolutely. I have a very big Italian family, I’m the only girl and I have dreamt about my future wedding my entire life honestly. I think by the time I was five years old, I was playing, “I’ll be the bride, you be the groom” on the playground.
Let’s see… I would say in the South, weddings are a really, really big deal and so the combination of coming from an Italian family, being the only girl in my family, also, growing up in the South where weddings are a huge deal, it was almost the perfect storm for me to just have this desire of this beautiful wedding from a very young age. And then on top of it, my personality type is very much a planner.
Growing up, I would plan the proms and the formals, and then when I got to college, I was in charge of all of the sorority events for over 300 guests. In my career, I did all the event marketing and corporate events and so it’s truly in my blood and I think all of those experiences led to me to wanting this incredible fairytale wedding.
To be honest, I did have that fairytale wedding despite every obstacle that was thrown my way. I am here to say that with a positive attitude, you can pretty much achieve just about anything.
Benji Block: Did you have a positive attitude throughout or was it something you had to convince yourself back into? Talk a little bit about the rollercoaster of emotions because of all of the different obstacles that stood in your way.
Sara LaChapelle: Oh my goodness. I’ll give a very brief highlight reel. I’m not going to give away all of the things that happened but for example, I was working with a wedding planner for six months and one day, my texts just were not being delivered and she completely ghosted me and I never heard from her again. That was one instance and then this is so horrible and tragic but my venue coordinator unexpectedly passed away.
It was just all of these things. Another thing that happened, our RSVP cards were being sent to an invalid address that we didn’t have access to, so I had no idea if people were coming to my wedding or not. I mean, everything that could have went wrong, happened to me. I got a wedding gown altered, went through three rounds of alterations, still didn’t fit. A couple of weeks before the wedding, I had to barter for a sample gown off the rack to wear. There’s more things, there’s truly more things that happened.
Benji Block: What’s your attitude when you realize you’re going to have to do that with your dress?
Sara La Chapelle: Oh my goodness, I honestly panicked. I really did panic and I think what’s good about this story is it captures my emotions at the time and so it’s not coming from a place of perspective. It’s coming from me, freaking out a little bit and you’ll hear that in the story but ultimately, I don’t give up. I’m not — I don’t — I think it’s hard to explain but I would say, the readers will definitely get a sense of the emotions surrounding each of these events and I think it will actually be good because no matter what, pandemic or not, things are not going to go perfect with your wedding and no one talks about that.
No one lets you feel bad when something goes wrong. They’re like, “Oh, it’ll still be good.” You know what? I want to give readers a moment to say, “You know what? This is horrible, this happened to me and it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to be upset but guess what? We’re going to keep going and we’re going to figure out a solution. It’s not what I envisioned for myself and it is definitely not what I’ve dreamt about my entire life but guess what? This will be great too.”
I really think the story aspect of the book follows along the rollercoaster of emotions and it’s very vulnerable. I’m a little nervous for it to come out because I truly share just a very personal, intimate side of my life that I’ve never shared before.
Seize The Moment
Benji Block: I think it’s fun to get that glimpse, so I understand why there would be some fear there and some reservation but I also think it’s just so helpful because it’s something so many of us share, right? It’s the lead-up to a wedding, the planning, the expectation versus the reality, which is always something that’s interesting to manage.
One of those that you highlighted, that I thought was really interesting is, you brought expectation to the table when it came to the rings, right? The expectation versus the reality and how you were able to get to a place where you’re like, “Okay, this is good” but also, it wasn’t like the thing that you had in your head at first. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Sara La Chapelle: Yeah, sure. That’s one of the first chapters in the book. I never wanted a surprise proposal because if you know me or [my] personality, you would completely understand that Peter presenting a ring that I haven’t seen before would probably not go over very well.
Benji Block: I love that intricacy.
Sara La Chapelle: Yeah, I mean, there’s plenty of women that want it to be a surprise but I’m not one for surprises. I definitely tell the story, I was engaged previously and I was proposed to with this incredibly massive family stone that would put — it was just unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like that before and I was so young at the time that I truly didn’t understand what that ring meant and so that kind of jaded my expectations of what an engagement right should be or what it would look like.
At the time of Peter and I talking about getting engaged and the next steps of our lives, we were both in graduate school. He was getting his JD MBA and I was finishing up my MBA and we didn’t have any money but we knew we wanted to get married and we absolutely knew in our heart that we were ready to take that next step with or without a job lined up or savings or anything.
When you read the chapter, you’ll see my expectations of what kind of ring I think I’m going to get and then at the very end, being so proud of the ring that Peter was able to give me because it was so meaningful. I would not change the journey but along the way, I learned so much about the practical aspects of finding an engagement ring. In that chapter, you’ll hear the story but at the end, you’ll be equipped with, “Okay, I’m going shopping for a wedding ring. I need to know my four Cs: cut, color, clarity” and I’m blanking on the fourth one right now.
Knowing the four Cs, knowing what to look for in a jeweler, and then making sure you’re not getting screwed over, that does happen. If you read the chapter, you’ll get the story and then, in the end, I’ll give you everything you need to know before you go shopping for a wedding ring so you don’t make the mistakes we did and you don’t waste your time shopping for non-certified diamonds, which we almost bought, which would have been probably not the best choice for us.
Benji Block: Again, another interesting turn and wrinkle in the story but the advice is something that I find really compelling throughout the book and you talk about it actually when you’re talking through the proposal. You talk about the high pressure you can feel and I appreciated your advice there to not let society dictate things that are kind of in that season. There are so many things that you have to take into account but one of them is just the season of life that you’re in, instead of looking at everybody else and what everybody else is doing. That engagement season, what advice do you have for those that might be there?
Sara La Chapelle: That’s a great question. I think when it comes to proposals, it really is about showing the woman you love her in a way that she understands, if that makes sense. It’s kind of confusing but a lot of times in life, we do something for someone else but in a way that we recognize love instead of the way that someone else recognizes love.
Our original plans for the proposal — once again, this was no secret — I knew I was getting engaged. Peter and I had plans to go to South America on this fantastic trip to Chile and Argentina. I didn’t know what day it was going to happen but I knew it was going to happen and then COVID happened and we canceled our flight the day before.
Fast forward a couple of months later, we were quarantining at my parent’s house in Georgia and there was almost no rush to get engaged at that point because we had no idea what was happening with the world, so things were slow. It was just a very weird depressing time but we eventually realized, “You know what? This is our reality, this is our life. Even if it ends tomorrow, I don’t want to waste another day not celebrating our love even if we can’t celebrate it in the way that we wish we could.”
So Peter planned this backyard proposal, it was so adorable. He had French pastries and fresh-cut flowers and my favorite French champagne and he brought Paris, which is one of my favorite cities, to me.
Benji Block: That’s so cool.
Sara La Chapelle: That is just one example of Peter looking at a situation, knowing that it is not ideal but guess what? Let me plan something that we can do under these circumstances and it’s thoughtful and it speaks to her heart. Going to Paris was one of our favorite trips and so he wanted to recreate that love and it was perfect. I wouldn’t change that for a thing and I think a lot of times there’s pressure to do something extraordinary and if you want to do that by all means, get a helicopter, fly across the country, rent out an entire park, whatever it is but I would give the advice to others that don’t let perfect get in the way from really, really great and happiness.
I think a lot of times, we wait for that perfect opportunity and it may never come and that’s okay. So, seize the moment. Accept where you are in life, don’t hold back and I promise that if you’re proposing to the right person, it doesn’t matter if it’s in the backyard of your future in-laws’ house or if it’s in another country, it’s going to be equally special.
Benji Block: So good. When I proposed, one thing I did was I just started writing like level-one engagement and then I would try to one-up myself. So then I’d say take it to level-two and I’d add a couple of things and I just went up to like level eight or nine and I was like, “Okay, now we’re starting to get unattainable,” right? We’re way beyond budget, I can’t but just working your way up into like, “Okay, what can I do with what I have and then how do I stretch myself a little bit to go what would be beyond what I’m currently thinking?”
Then also, what I love about your story is I think married men listening to this, you could do something like that more regularly where you’re showing the woman that you’re married to or that you’re interested in that you love her on her terms. Just trying to go all out with whether it’s at your house — but I love that it doesn’t just have to be an engagement. You can use that kind of methodology for dating, for just showing that person you love them. I think that goes beyond even just that season and I love that, that portion of the book.
Sara La Chapelle: Absolutely and it doesn’t have to be crazy. I didn’t have a professional photographer. Peter just asked my best friend, “Hey, can you hide in the bushes and take pictures?” I feel like we do everything so over the top and sometimes it takes away from the actual experience so, I’m with you and I really think that a lot of the lessons in this book could be applied to other types of events. Truly just there’s a lot of good life lessons that I learned very quickly over the past two years and not that I am some old woman with wisdom but I do have a lot of wisdom from these experiences and I think there’s a lot of good to come from it.
Taking a Selfless Approach to Planning Allows Space for Intention
Benji Block: Okay, so you hit on a number of things that were kind of crazy about your specific story, obviously that leads to a book, COVID being such a big portion of this. Talk me through a couple of things that you specifically had to think through because of COVID and the timeline you were on.
Sara La Chapelle: The actual wedding day was impacted on so many levels from just the flow of the event, where I could host the event. I actually had to change the venue three weeks before the actual wedding. There are so many things that I could have done in order to adjust my event to COVID but a lot of what I did was instead of changing the date, I changed venues and changed every other aspect where a lot of people changed the date [and] had a micro-wedding.
Pretty much just changed the actual event itself, where I said, “You know, May 8th is happening no matter what and I will do whatever I can to have a wedding on that day with five people or 500 people.” But I think what you’re looking for is, you’re kind of wanting very specific examples of planning during COVID.
Benji Block: For sure, I mean that’s a great answer right there even because you’re talking about so many things that I don’t think people that are outside of the wedding planning segment right now even fully understand because the approach is so different. Why did you choose to say this date no matter? Did you want a big, big wedding because you have a big family?
Sara La Chapelle: Definitely, I wanted a huge wedding. We actually invited over 350 people so it was a big list and around 250 people came and we were so lucky.
Benji Block: For sure.
Sara La Chapelle: That we were able to celebrate with that many people because we fell in this little pocket where COVID had kind of stopped for a little bit. The vaccine was out, the vaccine was effective, other variants weren’t a threat to the event. We got married right in that perfect time before the talk of needing boosters and Omicron and other variants, so we absolutely lucked out.
I think for me, I wanted to stick to that date because similar to our engagement, I really accepted that this is our reality and I don’t want to wait to marry Peter. I love him and I want this to happen no matter what and I think for me, I look at life and how precious life is and how we don’t have a lot of time or I guess if you look at it this way, all we have is time and it’s a matter of how we spend it.
I wanted to make sure that I was making the most of that time and moving on because, to be honest, it was very uncertain and unknown what things would look like six months from now, a year from now, and if I were to push back the wedding a couple of months, who knows? I might have had to cancel due to the Delta Variant or Omicron, so I really just had to accept the fact that this is our reality.
If I have to individually call every single guest before the wedding and let them know that we have shrunken our list down to 10 people, I’m going to have to do that.
Benji Block: Yeah, you’re right.
Sara La Chapelle: It was pretty much all speed ahead. We’re going to make it happen if we can and if we have to pull an audible last minute, we will.
Benji Block: Which your event planning background helps you a lot in that regard and then obviously the book now gives your voice to others that would need to think through some of these things. One of the just practical sides — obviously, you have like a wedding website and some of that stuff. Was that how you were communicating changes on the fly or what? Did you literally have to call a bunch of people and tell them when the venue changed? What did you do there?
Sara La Chapelle: That’s a great question. We originally sent out our invitations, we were waiting to get responses back on our RSVP cards. We realized those were not being delivered so I had to individually call up every single person on the list and say, “Hey, chicken, steak?” Or “We no longer have scallops as an option because we’ve changed venues.” This was our first venue change, so there’s technically three venue changes.
I had to call up everyone, ask them if they could come and what they want for dinner. By the time I went through the list the first time, we had to switch venues again and so I sent out a change of venue card to all of the guests and by the time my guest received that change of venue card, we then changed the ceremony location. So I had to call everyone else back up and let them know that the ceremony venue had changed.
Even with an updated website, a change of venue card, and calling people, some of our guests still showed up at the wrong location. I did everything I possibly could but that’s just one example of something that you would think would be so simple to get done, you know, send out an email or whatever, it’s not because people were busy and people were dealing with their own lives with COVID.
I think there was just a lot of communication issues and on top of that, I don’t know if this was just my guest list but it seems like everyone moved during COVID, and trying to keep up with the guestlist for over 350 people was a nightmare because, from the engagement to the wedding date — which you still need their address for thank you notes — most people’s addresses changed at least once and in some cases, twice.
It was, “This is where I’m living now temporarily until I find my next move” and then the second time would be, “Oh look, I found a place in the suburbs. This is my new home address.” So, it was nuts. I’ve never talked to so many people constantly on a regular basis and it was almost embarrassing. If you look back at text threads it was me, “Hi, it’s Sara, new venue location. Hi, it’s Sara, another new venue location.” It was truly annoying. I felt bad pestering all my guests so much.
Benji Block: Well, you did a great job of pulling this thing off, and then you’re giving this resource to couples that are in this season and having to navigate that, which is a huge win. I wonder as you look back, and as we start to wrap up here, what from that whole season is now your favorite part of the wedding and the wedding planning experience looking back in some of the things you learned?
Sara La Chapelle: Well, that is a great question. I think my favorite part of planning is finding ways to incorporate meaning in the smallest gestures and that’s something you’ll see in the book. I think every step of the way, I planned with the intention of making my family and friends feel loved and appreciated and a huge part of our event, instead of audience members watching Peter and I up on a stage, right?
Each step in this wedding planning process, there was thought and meaning and you’ll see that when it comes to the bridesmaid proposal, where I’m asking my friends to be in the wedding. You’ll see that in the bachelorette party and the way I went about planning that event and making that convenient for everyone. You’ll also see that in the wedding weekend chapters as you read the story of our guests getting welcome gifts and a lot of people being asked to say speeches at the rehearsal and the dinner.
I had family members say a prayer in Italian and then asked everyone to join us [to] dance the tarantella, which is a traditional Italian dance. So really, making everyone feel closer and a part of our family instead of just watching everything unfold. I definitely think my favorite part of planning is figuring out how to make every step meaningful. Second, I would say something that I’ve learned from that and something I want to share with brides is don’t take the advice of “Do whatever you want, it’s your wedding. Everyone else will fall in line.”
I just couldn’t feel further from that and the book really does take a more selfless approach of planning a wedding with keeping your family and friends in mind because you have to take into consideration the expense of people coming from out of town and staying at a hotel and transportation and the cost of airfare and how to get to and from your events. All of that matters and if you put together a very thoughtful weekend, your guest are really going to appreciate that.
That’s one aspect and then I do have to say — I mean, I love so many aspects of planning — the last I’ll say is the aesthetic design aspect. I love, absolutely love, brainstorming about what I want the event to look like and then backtracking and figuring out the logistics of how to make that happen. In that process, you definitely have to make creative decisions because every single bride has to face the nasty B-word and that’s “budget”.
Everyone has a budget, so I give so much advice on how to make your wedding look absolutely beautiful especially if you have to make budget choices because not everyone can just spend the top of their budget on each aspect. If the music is really important to you and you blow your budget and you want to spend it all on a really great band, then you can refer to the other chapters and figure out how to make your ballroom look more romantic.
How to orient centerpieces that look like a million dollars but you could spend $100 at Costco and Amazon, right? All of that is available in this book and I just really, really can’t wait to share all of the little things that I’ve learned that I wish I had before I started planning my wedding.
Benji Block: I love that you brought it to aesthetic design here at the end because when we were starting, you were talking about your creativity from being so young and bringing — it’s like from beginning to end of this conversation, you see that shining through your ability to plan and then the aesthetics, I think people will really appreciate that one when they pick up this book and the intentionality that went into all of it.
It’s been really fun to talk with you, Sara. For those that want to connect with you further beyond just the book, what’s the best way for people to stay connected to you?
Sara La Chapelle: I’m most responsive on Instagram. You can send me a DM, I pretty much read all of them. That’s @saralach and I also have a website, so thecovidbridebysara.com or my website, saralach.com, so lots of ways to get in touch with me if you want to hear more about the book.
Benji Block: Fantastic. Again, the book’s title is The COVID Bride: Lessons in Wedding Planning from the Girl Who’s Seen It All. Sara, thank you so much for joining us here on Author Hour.
Sara La Chapelle: Thank you so much, Benji. Have a wonderful day.