I know why I danced the night away with Randy and Todd at the closing night Engage!10 gala: it was the only thing that came close to expressing my pure joy after what we had experienced that week. We danced and laughed and genuinely celebrated life, relationships, the past, failures, hurdles overcome, and
the very bright future. I looked at my roommates, Jasmine Star and Harmony Walton, at one point and whispered, “How lucky are we?”

To say that our time in Cayman was inspiring would be a serious understatement. Yes, it was inspiring, but there aren’t words big enough to describe the feeling I left with and still have after that week. This is the largest post I’ve ever written, and y’all know I tend to write some epic blog posts. So, without further ado… my favorite week of all time.

I got on the plane, nervous but ripe with anticipation. My first trip to Cayman last year was magical. The air, the sea, the Ritz, the palpable feeling of hope and possibility in being surrounded by the industry’s best was all I could think about. A last-minute first class upgrade upped the excitement a little more. Thank you, Delta! I was still uncomfortable and relished the extra room. I sat down next to a gorgeous woman with long dark hair and great shoes. Who would happen to sit in front of me? My dear friend Simon T. Bailey, whom I met at the very first Engage event I attended in 2008. Simon has been a constant source of inspiration and guidance for me. I was so comforted in seeing him. Halfway through the flight, I started editing a blog post on Southern Weddings, and the lovely lady next to me said, “Are you Lara Casey?” I was delighted to meet Hilary from Alta Moda Bridal in Salt Lake City. She is a gem and we instantly connected. Also on my flight: my friend Kathy Strukel, Karen Tran (who sat right behind me the whole flight and we never noticed!) and Editor-in-Chief of Utah Brides, Tessa Woolf. I was in great company, and my butterflies started to melt. A huge thank you to Matt and Stevi Savage of Avery House who photographed most of the images here (unless otherwise noted).

In Cayman there are no jetways, so when you arrive, you walk straight out into the salty hot sunshine. In the not-so-far-off distance, there’s live music, and smiling faces greet you as you make your way to customs. [images below :: me… taken with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3. Thank you Nate at Image is Found for the camera rec! Love it.]

We loaded a bus and were given cold water and iced towels to refresh us from the long flight.

I was delighted to finally meet Cassandra Santor, Dena Brummer, Chriscia Jackson-Nesbitt, Jules Bianchi and many more at check-in.

I got my key and rushed up to see Harmony and Jasmine as fast as I could, as if we were long-lost sisters reunited. [image :: Jasmine Star]

From the moment I walked into that room, I knew the week was going to be far better than I could fathom. I sat on the bed and chatted with Harmony and Jasmine and prayed a silent prayer: God, thank you. Thank you for this opportunity to learn, to grow. Thank you for these brilliant women and the opportunity to get to know them better. Help me to let go and just be me. Thank you, thank you! [below :: Avery House]

This was my fourth Engage and by far the most significant for me. It was a turning point.

Egos were checked at the door as 155 of the best in the luxury wedding market came together to discuss big ideas, market shifts, and the future… which, my friends, is looking really good. You hear the term “game changer” used too often these days. Engage attendees don’t change the game… they create a whole new one. New rules, new players, new paths, new ideas. At the helm: Rebecca Grinnals and Kathryn Arce. I liken them to the presidents of Wedding Nation. Although, their oval office is so much more stylish than his.

To me, the location had a large hand in making us all focused. Now, you’re probably thinking, “How could going to a tropical island with fruity drinks make you more focused?” Easy. It was an escape. It wasn’t a familiar stodgy conference room like most conferences we are used to. The locale, the scenery, the sunsets took our breath away and made everything we left back in the US disappear. Being in Cayman is like pushing the reset button. You forget the past and concentrate on the relationships and the beauty right in front of you. I was able to find so much clarity in that. I love these images from Matt and Stevi. They take me right back.

The water in Cayman is the bluest I’ve ever seen. I don’t like getting in large bodies of water. I imagine fish nipping at my toes and stingrays leaping at me. But I could swim in this azure heaven forever.

Last year I attended Engage Cayman as a first-time speaker, but was so nervous about making a good impression that the whole thing flew by in a blur. This year, I saw relationships that I had started many moons ago really begin to take root. There was something magical in the Caymanian air, and I wasn’t the only one who sensed this. Pictured below last year with Jeff Fowler and Kym Bichon who will be hosting us at The Breakers in October for Engage.

[below :: Avery House]

Shortly after we settled into the hotel room, we went to the Engage Welcome Lounge to pick up our conference materials. Seeing everyone for the first time always gets me fired up! [images below :: me]

Love, love, love these folders and enclosures from Envelopments, letterpress cards from Bella Figura and Engage designs from Trisha Hay at We Are Chariot.

Read below carefully. L.O.V.E. this! Bravo, Envelopments.

[below :: Avery House]

How fun are these canvas swag bags from Tulla Belles?! You will see this appear in my travels again. The owner, Cindy, is one of my favorite people to see at Engage. The bags were filled to the brim with goodies! [below :: Avery House]

I was so excited about the gorgeous illustrations from artist Kristy Rice. Kristy always does lovely work and she is genuinely one of the most kind-hearted people in the industry. [below :: Avery House]

We sat in on a welcome session with my roommate Harmony as well as five-time Engage alums Ali Phillips, Liene Stevens, and Donna Von Bruening. The atmosphere from day one was electric. This session really helped us break the ice. We got into small groups toward the end and Harmony asked us three questions:

1. What do you do now?

I am the Editor-in-Chief of Southern Weddings magazine, CEO of luxury wedding market consulting firm Lara Casey Reps (which I launched at Engage last year), principal designer for Bliss Event Group, founder of MTH2010, wife to Ari, mom to Abby Kitty Pants, and I love the gym, singing hymns and great food. In my spare time I am getting my PhD, enjoy weekly triathlons, and breed Cattle. Kidding. No, really.

2. Where were you 10 years ago?

Probably in ballet class dreaming of the day I wouldn’t have to wear a leotard and tights 24/7.

3. Where do you want to be 10 years from now?

Aaaand this is where I always get stuck. All I could think of was that I want to be teaching Sunday school. !?!? I am not good at future, goal-setting, planning questions, believe it or not. Sean Low (who was sitting right next to me) and I instantly had the same reaction. I have no idea where I’ll be on 10 years or what I want to play out. Everything in my life thus far has exceeded anything I could possibly have dreamed up myself, so it’s hard to think ahead. By the end of the trip, I was able to answer this though. Read on.

[images below :: me]

Then, the ever-fabulous Darcy Miller (I don’t think I’ve ever described someone like that. She really is always stunning, always charming, and pretty much who I want to be when I grow up) gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the Martha Stewart brand.

After Darcy’s lovely presentation, I went straight back to the room with Jasmine and Harmony. All you could hear was the furious clicking of computer keys as we pounded out work between Engage events. [images below :: Jasmine Star]

You want to know what makes successful people… successful? Passion and sacrifice. There were long stretches of time where we could have been at the beach, but the three of us would be clicking away, making things happen. Oh, we definitely got to the beach. Don’t worry. But, I was encouraged to see I’m not the only one who has to focus and sacrifice play time now and then to keep the wheels turning. My greatest take-away from my first Engage conference in 2008 was being surrounded by like-minded passionate people. There is a great comfort in knowing that there are people out there who work harder, smarter, faster. Jasmine and Harmony have me in complete awe. They are the real deal: genuine, humble, brilliant beyond words, and so giving. I never had sisters, but I’d like to dub these two my honorary ones. We laughed, talked till 5am most nights, shared industry news and encouraging words. As Jasmine said, “Epic times.” Epic times, indeed.

Harmony turned the camera on Jasmine at one point. The girl has some skills….

I turned my iPhone on snap-happy Harmony. Love Jasmine’s face here.

Monday night, we put on our beach best and headed to Seven Mile Beach for the big welcome party. [images below :: Avery House]

When you are catering to the who’s who in weddings, the pressure is on with party planning. The Celebrations Cayman team seriously pulled out all the stops with the flowers and decor all week.

We were greeted by a shoe valet and happy waiters with fruity drinks as we made our walk on the blue carpet. Too fun!

I had to pick my jaw up off the floor with this massive piece below. Wow wow wow. As a floral enthusiast (I used to design for this guy), the sheer volume of yellow dendrobiums (which I have never seen before) took my breath away.

There was one moment in the night when a gust of rain blew in, forcing us all under a few small beach cabanas. Soaked to the brim, it was quite the bonding experience. We all laughed it off and shared beach towels that were rushed out by swarms of Ritz staffers.

Engage never ceases to be wildly exciting. Now that I know so many of the faces, it’s like a big family reunion. A few favorites I encountered: Randy Fenoli and Jennifer, his agent from Abrams (Randy’s other agent Mark at Abrams was the reason I almost moved to LA after college back in my acting days… way, way back when. Such a small world.), Sean Low, Marcy Blum, Millie Martini Bratten, Michelle Rago, Kimberly Fink and Rebecka Nave, Danielle Cococcia, Alexandra Jusino, Aiesha Panton, Amy Rubbins, Carla David, Jennifer Stein (who I totally hit it off with and adore!), Katie Martin, Tim O’Neill, Maya Kalman, Ami Price, Maria Cooke, Rosalind and Siri of Two Bright Lights, Christy from Junebug Weddings, the incomparable and hilarious Calder Clark, Kathryn, Rebecca, and Rebecca’s amazing parents. They always make my heart smile. Mr. Grinnals and I shared some rum raisin ice cream and s’mores at one of the dessert stations that night… to die for! I met too many amazing people to name that night.

We attempted to go to bed early, but failed miserably. After such a brilliant first day in paradise with so many inspiring greats, my heart was racing with anticipation for Day 2.

Day 2:

The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism got things started with a bang. Seeing how much they value the wedding industry and our presence there really makes you appreciate the island even more. They take great pride in their land and culture and it’s impossible not to feel their warmth and hospitality. Many thanks to the Cayman Islands crew for making us feel so welcome! [images below :: Avery House]

I’m pretty sure you could count 155 huge smiles from 155 attendees as Rebecca and Kathryn took to the stage. Rebecca’s State of the Luxury Wedding Industry address is always my favorite. I get a very clear picture of where the wedding market stands and what to watch.

A few highlights:

A must-watch. The Social Media Revolution:

78% of people trust peer recommendations. Only 14% trust advertisements.

Listen first, sell second.

Wondering why I think Jasmine Star is one of the most genuine, brilliant, humble women I know? This video says it all:

Jasmine Star 2010 from Anton Lorimer on Vimeo.

Pictured below: Jasmine, Harmony and Maria Cooke of Ritzy Bee who was just featured as an expert in Martha Stewart Weddings! Go Maria!!! [image below :: me]

When I first started to conceptualize the magazine, I was living in Ventura, California, where Ari was stationed. Jasmine was one of the first people to reach out to me when we put our test issue out (and I’m pretty sure she’s one of only a handful of people who have seen the test issue!). We tried to meet a few times but never were able to coordinate schedules. It took me moving to North Carolina and going to WPPI years later for us to finally meet. I was really grateful to get to know her more on this trip.

I am wildly impressed by Canada’s WedLuxe video editorial integration. Stunning. This one deserves a whole blog post. Angela Desveaux wrote me a very sweet email this week and noted that she and I have something in common… we’re both in our early thirties and we not only hold the title of Editor-in-Chief, but Publisher. I suppose that is a rarity nowadays, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. OK, back to said gorgeous editorial film… I have to admit that when I watched this, I said out loud, “Oh my goodness, I am so far behind.” Learning that Angela’s husband is the genius behind this film somehow made me feel a little better. There is infinite value in what they’ve created, and I started to imagine myself buying lottery tickets to pay for this kind of gem. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous!

WedLuxe Summer/Fall 2010 from Cloud Nine Creative on Vimeo.

Next, we sat in on a panel discussion with Sylvia Weinstock and Marcy Blum led by one of my industry idols, Millie Martini-Bratten of Brides. Best quote from the very spunky Sylvia: “Make love to the magazines!” [images below :: Avery House]

Carley Roney of The Knot is always so refreshing to listen to. For someone who helps to run such a massive global company, she is surprisingly candid, approachable, and warm. It was great to visit with her again and learn from her. I really admire all that she and David have built from the ground up.

Some takeaways from her presentation:

Luxury weddings are recession resistant. -Carley Roney

A brand is a promise of the value received. -Tom Peters

55% of luxury brides go over budget, 23% on target, 20% don’t have one, 3% under budget.

40k or more weddings spend 9% of budget on photography, 40k or less spend 12%. Luxury brides spend more than $4,500 average.

41% of luxury brides begin planning more than 12 months out. They want to have the best and be educated well in advance.

90% of brides use wedding magazines to plan their weddings as compared to 81% for non-luxury. No surprise to me. I may be biased.

A world without bad reviews is fake. -Carley Roney

Keep your blinders on and focus on what you need to be doing for YOUR customer. -Carley Roney 100% agreed.

Next up, powerhouse Cindy Novotny. To explain what she does in simplest form: she tells big businesses how to do things better, faster, and with a fiercely focused game plan.

Nuggets of wisdom from Cindy:

You are too busy? So what? Get over it! Integrate work and personal time.

The world is changing so fast… big will not beat small – it will be the fast beating the slow. – Rupert Murdoch

Email should never replace real in-person conversation with customers

The luxury consumer will never stop working with luxury vendors. They want custom, personal, over-delivered service.

I was lucky enough to get invited to dinner with her that evening. Jasmine and Harmony threatened to fight me for my dine-around card. No joke. They did. [images below :: my trusty iPhone]

Everyone is upping the ante. It is about who creates more passion and connectivity with the client. Yes, yes, yes!

Never say: It’s too risky, it can’t be done, it won’t work, why can’t we do what we have always done?

Brilliant advice. Take 1 hour a week to just think. No music, no distractions, no writing. Genius comes of that.

10 Keys: observe, think, change, dare, banish, try, question, grow, do, enjoy.

Cindy garnered an instant standing ovation as she closed. Thank you, Cindy, for all of your wisdom! On a high from Novotny knowledge, we were invited to lunch in the ballroom next door. Engage is always full of surprises and we eagerly anticipate each transition. Naturally, the room was decked out and the food was divine! I love love love this teal capiz paillette overlay from Nuage Designs. I wanted to take it home with me, but someone might have noticed if I was stripping tables mid-gazpacho. [images below :: Avery House]

I had a lovely lunch with Randy, Sylvia, Christy and Jennifer. Since meeting him last year, Randy and I have become good friends. I always appreciate his insight and love dishing with him about personal style, love, adventure, family and the future. I’ll be honest… I don’t watch “Say Yes to the Dress”. I’ve seen about 10 minutes of it. I don’t really watch TV and I didn’t really grasp Randy’s celebrity until a swarm of squealing fans come up to him in an elevator in Vegas last year. I gravitate towards him because he truly celebrates life to the fullest. His joy is contagious and he always makes me feel good. I can see why 80 brides flock to him a day to find “the one” at Kleinfeld.

Christy from Junebug Weddings is one of those people that lights up a room. I was so glad to spend more time with her in Cayman. She and Blair were guest speakers at my Seattle Making Things Happen stop and it was an unforgettable day. I’m so grateful for all they do for our industry. [images below :: me]

I’m not a big lunch person, but I devoured this. Every. last. bit.

Below: Randy and Rebecca, who is the accessory queen at Engage. No, really… she literally has three drawers in her room full of color-specific accessories to choose from for her Engage outfits. I loved this yellow jacket! At right: Sean Low, Randy, me. Sean has always been a great support to me and it was fun to catch up with him. I got to sit in on a wildly exciting conversation between Sean and another industry great at the dessert reception the night before. All I can say is it was epic… like a tennis match between two powerhouses, but instead of tennis balls they were firing diamonds. OK, sorry to be cryptic. Just marking this for my own memory.

When I lived in California I did some work for Colin Cowie. I had never met Colin, but I worked on logistics for one of his biggest events. He spent most of his presentation outlining the creation of that event which was really exciting for me to see. [images below :: Avery House]

Colin’s voice alone made pretty much every female in the room swoon… and probably most of the guys. He is the epitome of dashing, debonair, any word you can think of in the incredibly charming family. On top of that, he is a brilliant designer and leader. I was captivated as he spoke.

There’s no reason to do anything ordinary when you can do extraordinary. -Colin Cowie

The ultimate luxury is proactive, personalized, detailed service. -Colin Cowie

Then, the presentation that blew my statistical mind: the survey results from Two Bright Lights. We just received a copy in my office and Katharine and Emily are just as gaga over the results as I am.

A few key points:

Planners and designers who use Twitter for business made 92% more revenue than those who just tweet personal info.

Photographers who blog make an average of 26% more revenue. Planners, only 1%.

Take note: 56% higher revenue for planners who submit real weddings to mags and blogs. 73% for photographers.

Higher revenue wedding businesses do NOT negotiate on pricing.

Publishing your complete price list filters out lucrative customers prematurely.

The biggest takeaway from the survey: print ads give a significantly higher return to photographers than online ads.

There is so much more to share, so watch out for our post coming up on Southern Weddings next week with key findings.

After such a full day of brain goodness overload, it was time to cut loose. We didn’t waste any time and got a little camera happy on stage. [images :: Jasmine Star]

Oh yes… we did…

I love this one. Thanks, J, for not publishing the one of me looking like a giraffe.

We had a quick 45 minutes to get dressed and head to dinner. There are over a dozen hosted dinners all over the island and about 10ish people go to each. We all met in the Ritz lobby to be taken to these various locations. It’s a pretty exciting night and a fun chance to experience the island. [images below :: me]

I am a bit of a foodie (thank you French chef mother) and I have to say… the food in Cayman is better than anywhere I’ve been. From fine dining at Eric Ripert’s Blue to the casual but expertly created island fare we had at Cracked Conch that night, Cayman has it all. Pictured below with (clockwise from my right) Kristy Rice, Rebecca Davidson, Xochitl from Always a Blogsmaid, Donna Von Breuning, Cassandra Santor, Beth Helmstetter, Carolyn Steere from Destination IDo Magazine, Hilary Anderson, Tara Bradley from Destination Weddings and Honeymoons Magazine, and Cindy Novotny to my left. The food was fabulous that evening, but we were so focused on every word that was coming out of Cindy’s mouth that I wasn’t paying too much attention to what was going into mine.

After dinner, we were taken back to the Ritz for a poolside dessert reception. It’s always fun to hear about everyone’s dinner experiences. Pictured below: Rebecca’s parents, Trisha Hay, Cindy of Tulla Belles, Kathryn and friends dip their feet in the pool.

The decor, again, was magical. I rarely want to freeze time. I like moving forward, action, and making things happen. Engage changed that. It all started with a moment…

We were enjoying a decadent spread of made-to-order crepes, home made ice cream and souffle. I looked around to see Carley Roney and Marcy Blum in front of me, Colin Cowie to my left, Michelle Rago to my right, and Millie Martini Bratten behind me. In that moment I felt very small. It was barely 10 years ago that I was in college, obsessed with Preston Bailey, pulling tears from magazines of Colin and Michelle’s work, day-dreaming of meeting them some day. And there I was. I’ve known Michelle as a colleague and friend for several years now and met Millie, Carley and Marcy at past Engage events, but things have moved so fast for me that I’m just now starting to take it all in. In that moment, I remembered the feeling of awe. I was overwhelmed with emotion.

These people are and always will be celebrities to me. Not because of their names, but because they have consistently taught me. They inspired me many years ago to dream in flowers, fabric, light and expertly-crafted space. I’m grateful to them for guiding me, without knowing it, into an industry I truly love. I couldn’t ask for a better job to wake up and do every day. OK, maybe if our office was in Cayman…

So, I literally stopped and –not caring if anyone saw me– pinched myself. Was this really happening? Anthony Luscia, special projects editor for Martha Stewart Weddings, was talking to me? Me?! I met him at Engage09 :: Something Blue the previous year too, but this year somehow felt different. My nerves were calm and my eyes were finally open. I took a deep breath and everything around me seemed to slow down. This is real. It’s not just a one-time occurrence. You’re in this, Lara. I can’t really put into words the feeling of gratitude and responsibility that overtook me in that moment. All I can do is say thank you. Thank you Rebecca and Kathryn for believing in me and for opening doors for me that I never knew were possible to open. It’s not about what those relationships will do for me. It’s just the relationships themselves. I wholeheartedly believe this: “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” Truly successful people are who they are because of drive, humility, kindness, innovation, and honesty. Spend a week with inspiring creatives who have in many ways mastered those traits and it starts to sink in… it’s time to grow up.

Day 3

We started at 8am with a series of breakout sessions. There were 6 one-hour sessions and we got to choose 4. My schedule: “The Business of Being Creative” with Sean Low, “Style Sells” with Randy Fenoli and Todd-Avery Lenahan, “Shift” with Simon T Bailey, and “How To Do Everything Well” with Todd Fiscus. [images below :: me]

Sean has a great blog called The Business of Being Creative. Definitely a must-read.

Something I learned the very first time I heard Sean speak at Engage08 is to add value to your services (your art) first in order to command a higher price, not the other way around. Art has exponential value that no one can replicate. Read his blog for more. I am paraphrasing.

Simon T. Bailey‘s new book, Simon Says Shift, comes out later this year. [images below :: Avery House]

It’s impossible to drive into the future looking in the rear view mirror. -Simon T. Bailey

Randy and Todd-Avery’s presentation was very powerful for me. Personal branding is something I am fascinated by. I truly believe you are your brand.

The bottom line: If you’re going to sell luxury, you better look luxury. -Randy Fenoli and Todd-Avery Lenahan

The always fashionable, Sylvia, gave her thoughts on personal branding and style as well. Her famous glasses have defined her image from the moment she started her business at age 50. Yes, 50! How’s that for inspiring!? We all laughed as Randy recounted the story of Sylvia and her husband Ben coming down for breakfast in Cayman last year in just their bathrobes. I will never forget that moment. If anyone can pull it off, it’s Sylvia.

Todd Fiscus was a conference favorite for several reasons.   1. The guy is brilliant. He runs multiple extremely successful businesses… very well.   2. He is an innovator, always pushing the envelope with style and design. [images below :: Avery House]

3. It blows my mind that he only started his company 5 years ago. Unreal.   4. Just look at his website. It’s hands-down the best site in the industry. [images below :: me]

5. He’s a warm, funny, genius true Texan. I love his big personality and big Texas accent!

We wrapped up Day 3 and finally headed to the beach! [images below :: Avery House]

How lovely is this!?

Thanks to these two crazy cats for most of the images in this post.

We watched a storm off in the distance. The sky against the pure aqua water was incredible. [images below :: me]

I have such fond memories with the next set of images. Some of my favorite times ever.

It’s not easy to find true friends in the industry that you can really let your guard down with and talk about anything… fears, insecurities, hopes and dreams.

I found that in Harmony and Jasmine. Such a blessing to know these two.

Great to see Ami from Elizabeth Anne Designs who also writes a fantastic blog called Edit and Post.

I had some soulful convo with my cabana neighbor Christy. Love this lady.

Can we please go back now? Pretty please!?

I. Love. This. Picture. Fresh sliced green apples delivered straight to our beach chairs. Whaaat!?!

This looks like a terrible green drink mess, but it was divine. It’s just a lot of mint, not some healthy weird wheatgrass thing. I promise.

Boxed lunch, Ritz-style.


After a long afternoon of fun in the sun, it was time to get gussied up for the big closing night gala! [image below :: Rebecca Davidson]

This beats any red carpet event any day. This is the same big conference room you saw on Day 2. Unbelievable transformation. Thank you, Celebrations Cayman, for making us feel like such VIP’s! [images below :: Avery House]

The linens, the lighting, the flowers, oh my!

A highlight at the past three Engage conferences has been Randy and Sylvia’s spin around the dance floor. Epic!

No one… I repeat… NO ONE has ever gotten me out on an empty dance floor in a room full of people. It’s easy to feel a sense of total abandon and comfort with Mr. Fenoli. [Image by David Wolfe]

Cue Randy and Lara dance party. [image below :: Rebecca Davidson]

There isn’t a single person on earth I have more fun dancing with. Randy is joy personified!

I think the world of Marcy Blum (below left). Her witty writing is top notch, she is an eventiste extraordinaire, she’s gorgeous and … she’s a red head. I feel lucky to know her and learn from her. Below right, Randy joked that he was Hugh with his two red head bunnies. I think Marcy needed to be in this pic too! [below :: me]

And to think just a few hours earlier we were a mess with salt water and sand. We clean up pretty well, no?

Nothing makes me happier at an event than great lighting. Sending a collective thank you hug out to all the lighting designers of the world. Yes all of you. Bear hug.

Randy’s agent, Jennifer, had never been to a wedding conference of any kind before. I think we spoiled her. She was so kind and down to earth. So glad to start a great new friendship with her.

How beautiful are Rebecca’s parents? Get to know them and you will see where Rebecca’s charm comes from.

With event planner Beth Helmstetter and calligrapher Laura Hooper. I always love seeing these two. Laura always created gorgeous maps and illustrations for Engage.

Joined by the Belle of the Ball, Ms Harmony Walton. OK, she did not want to wear that dress that night but J and I twisted her arm. Harmony, you look stunning!

There was no shortage of dancing. The last half of this video from IDo Films is proof.

I was so busy dancing and chatting it up all night that I forgot to eat. I never forget to eat. Harmony came up to me and said cryptically, “go to the curtain in the back. Trust me.” I gave her a funny look thinking it was just the mojitos talking and she quickly escorted me to “the curtain”… aka the kitchen door in the back.   A gentleman came right up and asked me what I wanted.  I felt so bad asking for something after the food was already gone so I tried to just say thank you and leave.  He would not let me leave until I ordered something.  I told them to just bring whatever and 5 minutes later a waiter came out with a full dinner on a silver platter… all my favorite foods that I had previously ordered from room service over my stay. Three people came out afterward just to make sure I loved it.  I am pretty sure I high-fived waiter number 3.   I’m not sure if he’s supposed to high-five people, but I just couldn’t help it.  Customer service WIN!  Like Colin Cowie said, “there’s no reason to do anything ordinary when you can do extraordinary.”

On a hospitality high, I finished my decadent meal and did a little blue carpet walking with (from left to right) Stevi Savage, Matt Savage, Kathy Strukel, Belle of the Ball, me, and Maria Cooke.

Pictured below with Desiree Patterson, Jasmine and Paige Levy. [below :: Harmony]

And now for some photo booth fun. [below :: Jennifer Domenick of Love Images]

Don’t ask. I laughed so hard my sides hurt.

Try to caption these. Just try.

After going to sleep at the ripe hour of 5am, we woke up late… OK, correction… I woke up late and headed straight down to the beach with my roomies to enjoy one last day in paradise. [images below :: me]

Another storm brewed off the coast, making for towering clouds and distant flashes of lightning. I love fierce storms. I don’t know why, but they always calm me down and make me want to curl up on the couch. Or beach lounger.

A big black pirate ship passed in the distance as I began to reflect on such our magical week.

When I think about my favorite parts of the week or the things that changed me the most, the first thing that comes to mind, besides the speakers, is the long walk Jasmine and I took down Seven Mile Beach that day. Life moves so fast that we don’t take time to just let go and really dream. Do you want to know what Jasmine’s magnetism is? Authenticity. Her honesty and zest for life make you feel like it’s ok to be you. I have a hard time with future-thinking and identifying what it is that I really want. It always changes, it seems. I don’t know what came over me, but as we walked along the beach, chatting about family, marriage, the future and failures, I started to find a little grain of clarity. I started to dream. So many people tell me to stop dreaming. “You are so busy, how do you do it all, you can’t possibly do more, take a break, do you ever stop!?” Well, I don’t want to do more.  I want to be more of myself.  I want to give more of myself. I want to use everything God has given me to teach and be taught. I want to let go every day and say, “whatever your will is, I’m there.” It’s a hard thing to do… to let go of control and stop making our own plans. As the sea lapped on our feet, I took a deep breath and mentally took a picture. I unknowingly made a lot of decisions in that moment. When you find clarity, you have no choice but to act on it. I am so grateful for that time. Hi, my name is Lara and I love candlelit dinners, snow-capped mountains… and long walks on the beach.

We came back and sat with Harmony as the sun dipped into the sea. Harmony and I met at the first Engage I attended in Celebration, FL. She is so knowledgeable, connected and business savvy… I could go on and on.   She has been my cheerleader through so much.  Harmony tells it like it is and doesn’t take no for an answer. I tend to let some people take advantage of me. I am a people pleaser. I’ve have had to learn how to say no and tell people when I’m really hurt by them. I learned so much from being in the presence of her no-nonsense strength that week. She doesn’t know it (well, now she does) but she helped me make one of the biggest decisions I’ve ever made.

Being with Harmony and Jasmine made me take a good hard look at my life and start to pull weeds. And some big honkin’ trees. Thank you, ladies, for your honesty and generous hearts. It’s so hard for me to find female friends who don’t have a competitive spirit with me and, being around you both, I felt like I could completely let go.  Our time in Cayman will always stay close to me.

If you’ve been following Twitter over the last few days, you’ve been flooded with a barrage of Engage10 talk. If I hadn’t gone, I can imagine I’d feel a little left out. Well, you weren’t (and, luckily, Engage happens twice a year). Engage is like the G8… it’s the meeting of the minds that sets things in motion. If you didn’t go, you will still benefit from its effects. You will see how the relationships and ideas formed there will change the industry for the better and benefit everyone around us. Great quote from Sean Low: “Engage10 is just another wedding conference like the Hope Diamond is just another rock.” Not even a week after our return, I’m seeing the positive momentum continue to grow like wildfire. A few posts from attendees:

Jasmine Star
Hilary from Alta Moda Bridal
Harmony Walton part I and part II
Sean Low
Liene Stevens
Tom McCallum
Kristy Rice Part I, Part II

JoAnne Brown of Celebrations Cayman

Rebecca Davidson

Avery House

Exquisite Weddings

Jules Bianchi

Ami Price 1 and 2

Love Life Images

If I missed yours, leave a comment and I’ll add it!

Here I came to the very edge
where nothing at all needs saying,
everything is absorbed through weather and the sea,
and the moon swam back,
its rays all silvered,
and time and again the darkness would be broken
by the crash of a wave,
and every day on the balcony of the sea,
wings open, fire is born,
and everything is blue again like morning.
-Pablo Neruda

With love,


P.S. Have questions about Engage? If you’re thinking of going for the first time, feel free to email me or leave a comment here. I’d be happy to answer any questions about my past experiences.

Past recaps: Engage08 :: Celebration, Engage09 :: Cayman MegaPost!, Engage09 :: Encore Las Vegas.

41 Show Comments
  1. Ami

    this just took me RIGHT back to cayman! it was so amazing to spend the week with you and all of the other fabulous Engage! attendees – truly an invaluable time and something i too will cherish forever! xoxo

  2. Kristy R.

    Reading your mega post was like re-living the magic of Engage10 all over again. Thank you for sharing your kinds words, mindful observations and sincere revelations. I am honored to know you and call you a friend.

  3. Eric

    I was on the fence about attending this conference, but now I know I have to go next year. Thanks for the great re-cap!

  4. Amy Nichols Special Events

    Lara – Thanks for the AMAZING megapost – this was such a fantastic recap and got me VERY excited about Cayman/Breakers in October! On a side note – I had to chuckle when I read that you lived in Ventura for a few years. I grew up there but now live in SF. My family is still all down there!
    Thanks again!

  5. Sharon

    Thank you so much for sharing your Caymen experience. I feel like I learned a bit about myself through your post. Thank you! I cannot wait until I can attend Engage for myself.

  6. Poser

    That was bigger than one of my wedding blog posts.

    I’m so glad you had a wonderful time, and yes, Harmony is the shiz.


  7. Trisha

    Thank you for being so wonderfully candid when chatting about your journey! I am headed to Engage in October and am giddy with excitement – especially after reading your post! It sounds like it will be amazing. Thank you thank you!

  8. Matt Savage

    Thanks for such a wonderful post, and thank you for the credits! Looking forward to seeing you again soon!

  9. Jasmine*

    EPIC TIMES, indeed! :)

  10. Maria

    Thanks for the shout out…the event was amazing and just FLEW by!

  11. Porche

    I’m excited after reading your mega post! Thank you for taking the time to document the experience.

  12. Heidi @ Zenadia

    Love the post!! I just read the entire thing. =) Loved your insights, and thank you so much for this post, as it made me feel like I could have actually been there myself!! Hoping to be able to attend an Engage in the near future. =)

  13. Lawrence Chan

    What a phenomenal recap of Engage 10! I am completely convinced to attend the next conference.

    Looks like you had a wonderful time while being at “work” :) All the best! xo

  14. bridalbar

    I’ll second Jasmine’s ‘EPIC’ for sure! Let’s just say I re-read this once already just to relive it. How we all ended up in a room together I have no idea, but I’m go thankful that we did. You’re stuck with me for life lady! xo

  15. Jules Bianchi

    Wow!! What an amazing post. I wish The Breakers wasn’t starting on a weekend that I have TWO weddings because I would LOVE to go again! So glad I got to meet you, Lara!

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  17. Lacy Branch

    Wow! What an amazing recap! It made me remember how amazing those few days were. They were truly magical! One of my highlights were watching you and Randy dance to Dancing Queen by Abba on the last evening!

    thanks for sharing your experience with all of us!

    • Lara

      Haha! Too funny, Lacy. You know that phrase “dance like no one is watching” … well I was. And you were! Such an epic night. So happy to have met you!

  18. Brit

    Lara – Thank you so much for sharing these details. It’s great to have individuals such as you (and the many others) who are willing to share their experiences. I can only hope that next year I can squeeze Engage into the schedule. Truly inspiring.


    SERIOUSLY beautiful post! I loved reading every single word. Engage has to go up on my Vision Board like right… NOW! Thanks for sharing your experience Lara…. truly made my heart smile! xoxoxo ~ Dawn

  20. Ciara Daykin

    Lara great post! We were sad not to be there this year but with baby Daykin only weeks away there was no way I could fly to paradise! Thanks for the great update. It was fantastic to hear your insights too. Great to meet you last year, hopefully our paths will cross soon.

    • Lara

      It was so great to meet you last year at Engage, Ciara! Congrats on baby Daykin! So excited for you!

  21. Amy

    Not only does this post make me want to go to Engage, but the excitement about life, learning, relationships … it is all very inspiring to me to be myself, be a better me. I loved how you opened up about not only your “business” experiences but also the fun you had just being you and bringing yourself to a place of peace … ready to make another leap of faith. Thanks for the post Lara.

    • Lara

      Oh Amy… You always read my mind. I’ve been trying to start another post and have been having the hardest time taking the leap. Thank you for your kind words. I’m so grateful for you and the encouragement!

  22. Tab Mccausland

    This looks like it was sooo amazing! Any information on your next one??


    • Lara

      Hi Tab! Yes, you can find details on the next Engage at http://www.Engage10.com. Hope to see you there!

  23. marcy blum

    Unbelievable that you can chronicle the whole week so precisely and still look ridiculously hot during the entire proceedings. If you weren’t so smart and lovely, I really would take offense! Thanks so much for helping my memory chips

  24. Jesse Ryan

    Great post Lara! So looking forward to spending time with all you great peoples again! Looking forward to WPPI again this year and hopefully I can run into you and the crew soon enough! I need you positive and remarkably amazing people around me more! Keep doing what you do!

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