Shana & Morgan


Every so often, a wedding graduate post has a line that just GRABS me, hard. And with Shana, it was this, “If you think this could never happen with your family and friends, neither did we. It could. Create it.” She goes on to say that you can’t expect it to be easy, but you can do it. And for me, that’s everything I think about life, and APW, and families, and all of it. Do you need it in a soul deep way? Than stop complaining that it doesn’t exist and create it. Add to that the way Shana laid the foundation for her wedding, and you have a woman so wise that I stand in awe of her. Shana, honey? Next time you’re in San Francisco? Drinks are on me.

Shana & Morgan  | A Practical Wedding

Our wedding, like our marriage, had a strong foundation. A year ago before deciding anything else, I sat down with my cousin and a notebook and we created the wedding from the deepest roots. We began by imagining what we wanted each individual person to get out of being there.

Shana & Morgan  | A Practical Wedding

At the top of the list was our grandmother. We imagined her beaming proudly as she sat back and took it all in, surrounded by the family she was responsible for and overflowing with a profound sense of how loved and appreciated she is. She passed away in January, eight months before the wedding, but I know she had that knowledge with her when she went. As for everyone else, I think they got it too.

Shana & Morgan  | A Practical Wedding

These were the important things. Once Morgan and I were aware of how staggeringly awesome our community was, the roots were in place, and this determined the whole outlook of the wedding. “Do we care if this happens? Is it important to have that?” Our answer: only if it will contribute to what people get out of this day. The centerpieces, the décor, and the details were more important to our awesome Martha-Stewart /Bob-Vila relatives than they were to us, so we enlisted their creative energies and focused our attention elsewhere. Someone would say, “This will look nice, and I’ll have fun making it. Can I?” Yes! So what if we never used the gold spray-paint I bought to decorate rocks and sticks? The whole thing was beyond beautiful in the end, and way better than anything I would have come up with.

Shana & Morgan  | A Practical Wedding

Shana & Morgan  | A Practical Wedding

The wedding process taught me a lot of things, and one of the best was how to play to people’s strengths. Know what they’re good at, find out what they enjoy doing, and ask them to do it. If you’re coming from the right place, they’ll say yes. People want to contribute to you, so let them. Give them some creative freedom – let them know which things (if any) are non-negotiable, and let them run wild with the rest. Make sure they have fun – and company – doing it. I know my cousins had a blast at the wedding, but it was also about the build up, and the participation that made the experience of that day so memorable. I’m sure they’ll never forget the week they spent together sculpting pies, mixing cakes, scooping cookies and baking brownies for 200+ people.

Shana & Morgan  | A Practical Wedding

If you think this could never happen with your family and friends, neither did we. It could. Create it. A wedding is such a remarkable opening to get people present to raw emotion. Ours was filled with love beyond our wildest dreams, so much that it physically hurt to say goodbye to everyone. I laughed so much on our wedding day that my cheeks hurt; I cried so much the day after that my eyes were sore. This was partly because we made sure everyone knew how much they mattered to us. We made it a point not only to thank people, but to really acknowledge them for who they are to us and what they contribute.

Shana & Morgan  | A Practical Wedding

Shana & Morgan  | A Practical Wedding

Do this, from the bottom of your heart. Thank people for the things they did, including the things you never even knew they did, and let them know it made a difference. (We discovered that thank-you notes are an amazing opportunity – people actually have to sit silently and accept acknowledgment, which we so rarely do.)

Shana & Morgan  | A Practical Wedding

Shana & Morgan  | A Practical Wedding

I’m making this all sound easy, but it wasn’t. Right up to the day before the wedding, we stressed and fretted over the balance of when to relinquish control, when to insist, and when to privately freak out with each other at how irrational people can be about weddings. There were so many times those last few weeks when we said, “What were we thinking? People should just elope!” But a couple of married friends said to us, “It’s worth it in the end. Trust me.” I didn’t believe them, but in the end it really was.

Shana & Morgan  | A Practical Wedding

I can’t advise the world on how much money is worth spending on “one day,” but all that work was not just for one day. We created something long-lasting. We showed our loved ones, and ourselves, what they are capable of pulling off. It was one day, but we will remember it forever, and they will too. (We know because they haven’t stopped telling us so!)

Shana & Morgan  | A Practical Wedding

Photos by Liesl at PhotoPink

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  • http://www.twitter.com/kahlia kahlia

    That’s wonderful that so many people were willing and able to help—and that you were able to let them! It’s obvious from the joy and laughter in every photo that everyone had a great time at your wedding. That alone would have made it worth it, I suspect, but the fact that they all had such a great time bonding while preparing the event just makes it that much better!
    Congratulations!

  • http://jolynn.wordpress.com jolynn

    Not only is this insanely beautiful (srsly, have to keep pausing on your pictures!) but it’s wise and just what I needed. This gave me really concrete ideas about how to create what I want within our families, and I’m super happy for that. Thank you!

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  • sarah

    What a beautiful and wonderful day! Congratulations!

    And also- your dress! Gorgeous!

  • Stephasaurus

    Beautiful wedding. LOVE the wedding dress + cowgirl boots combo.

  • http://www.stofnsara.com saartjie

    So.Gorgeous. And that frock is magnificent.

  • http://thinkingwedding.blogspot.com Rhiannon

    That’s a really good piece of advice about playing to people’s stengths.

    Why am I spending time worrying about the invitations I haven’t made when my scrapbook-lovin’ bridesmaid would do it quicker (and neater) and actually enjoy doing it.

  • AKP

    Beautiful! I admire your ability to just let go and give others the opportunity and freedom to help in their own way. For control freaks like me, it can be really hard to fight the need to do everything ourselves to make sure it comes out exactly right, and I think we all would be a little saner, and our weddings a little deeper, if we could take a lesson from you!

  • http://happysighs.blogspot.com Liz

    i am loving these photos.

    • http://webecomeus.wordpress.com Caitlin

      seriously. i can barely focus on the words!

  • http://www.betterinrealife.com Lauren

    When I was putting this together last weekend I emailed Alyssa to go look into drafts for a dessert table picture she would dive through her computer to get at. Holy Hell I want to be invited over to dinner with whoever made all of that deliciousness. (and of course the wedding story was waaay fun to read and put together for the site, but back to food….)

  • http://thisisjacksonriley.blogspot.com Jackson

    I’m making this all sound easy, but it wasn’t. Right up to the day before the wedding, we stressed and fretted over the balance of when to relinquish control, when to insist, and when to privately freak out with each other at how irrational people can be about weddings. There were so many times those last few weeks when we said, “What were we thinking? People should just elope!” But a couple of married friends said to us, “It’s worth it in the end. Trust me.” I didn’t believe them, but in the end it really was.

    THIS. exactly what i needed. you promise that it will be worth it? because me and Amos are having some mad elopement fantasies. even though we have like half the wedding planned, deposits and all. okay, maybe not straight elopements, but running off to the courthouse now, wedding later type of fantasies… (and, btw, does anyone have experience with that? what do you think?)

    • meg

      I think the huge power of a wedding is that you only get married ONCE. That’s my personal experance. Which is not to say don’t run off to the courthouse. More… if you run off to the courthouse, you’re married, and it’s done (and probably enough).

    • nutkin

      I had sort of a similar fantasy though I didn’t act on it. I kept saying, “getting married at your wedding is hard!” I was just tense over so many things happening on one day (and I am not a natural planner). It all worked out though. The getting married part only took about 10 minutes, then I was free to enjoy the rest of the wedding. :) I’m smiling ear to ear in almost all of the pictures, so I am pretty sure I had a good time.

      Good luck – and whether you run to city hall or have it all in one day, enjoy your wedding day(s).

    • Aiyana

      Yes, I was sick of our wedding before it ever started. I definitely thought “WHY are we doing this?” and fantasized about just BEING married and skipping the whole wedding business. But…

      But then it started–and there was nothing more to do but enjoy the day. Friends arrived, food was served, conversation flowed, everyone grinned, my husband and I couldn’t take our eyes off each other and smiled uncontrollably. We got married. And it was worth it.

      And we are still getting notes from cousins, grandmothers, friends about what a special time it was and how glad they were to be there.

    • http://www.emlovesben.com emilyrose

      jackson, right there with you. half-planned with half-serious elopement jokes.

      i’m just trusting all you wedding-ed ladies (& gents) out there when you say it’s worth it. but, not gonna lie, sometimes i’m skeptical.

    • http://amusinglist.wordpress.com Christina

      I was super skeptical that is would all be worth it, and I held on to every wedding graduate’s words that it would all be worth it in the end. My voice of “oh god why aren’t we eloping?” was VERY strong. And in the end, it wasn’t totally worth it for me. But I had that elopement voice from the very beginning. If you want an elopement because you want an elopement, then you should do it. That’s what I should have done. But if you want to elope because you want to run away from the wedding that you initially wanted and planned, then your wedding will probably be worth it in the end. Because it was what you wanted, and when there’s nothing left to stress over because it’s all done, you’ll have a great day.

  • http://gianttodolist.blogspot.com/ Pamela

    Gorgeous wedding! Wow!

    I have to ask, though – how did you go about playing to people’s strengths? Did they offer to help? Did you ask them? And how did that work? I’m really curious about this – not for my wedding, becuase that’s done now, but for my life. Because for me, the wedding was kind of a microcosm of life, and there were certain things I just couldn’t do for the wedding that I also can’t do in my life. The biggest thing is that I don’t feel comfortable asking for help when it’s not offered. My parents offered to help with wedding stuff, and they did a *lot*, as did my sister, and my (now) husband. But my husband’s family? Their way of helping is to stay out of the way, I guess, and they didn’t offer to help, so I didn’t ask. They wanted to be there, of course, but they’re not the types I could, say, hand over ceremony decor to. Not becuase I’m a control freak, but becuase they didn’t offer to do that, and I didn’t want to impose by asking. So I’m really, really curious about how this all played out in the very beginning – did people come to you asking what they could do?

    I guess what I’m getting at is – how do you create community with people who have vastly different ideas of what community means? For my family, we’re big DIY-ers, we show up at people’s houses to help them move, we have paint-the-house parties. My husband’s family will call you the next day to see how the painting went. Both are supportive, but in super different ways, and one of the challenges I’m finding in newly-married life is trying to balance the two “styles” if you will – so I’m really curious if you ran into this with your wedding.

    • Aiyana

      Step One is definitely to ASK. Ask for the help you need.

      Step Two is to be specific in your asking. I missed this step, and just asked people I thought would be willing to tell me what they would want to help with, and they responded “Anything.” or not at all. This didn’t give me much to go on. Eventually I just assigned people tasks and checked that they were cool with these tasks.

      Step Three is to be organized and clear with your expectations. When our guests arrived, most of them got a little slip of paper with how they could help–”Set tables for dinner on Saturday, between 1-3 pm” with all the details they needed and who they could talk to for help. If the silverware needs to be on the left side of the place setting or you will have a coronary, then be sure to tell your helpers of this need. But try to let go of perfectionist inclinations, and trust your helpers do their jobs to the best of their ability.

      Good luck!

      • Shana

        I am totally in agreement. I think lots of people are happy to help with weddings — and elsewhere in life, they’re at least willing to be bribed with promises of fun, babysitting, and/or delicious treats — but if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

        In the case of our wedding it helped that I was totally unconcerned with what a wedding is supposed to look like, because we then had several people who ARE concerned with those things step in and say, “Look, you really need to have X, so are you okay with having that if I promise to take care of it?”

        Also, in spite of our initial reservations about having a wedding party at all, in the end we were surrounded by a group of people who not only represented some pretty diverse talents, but who were also enthusiastic and willing to pitch in. Post-wedding, it still helps me to think in terms of teams. I have my artsy friends who inspire me, I have my college friends who keep me grounded, I have my family to count on for those things you can only ask family to do.

        Wedding-related or not, it’s important to be very clear in 1) what you’re actually asking of people, and 2) that “no” is a totally valid answer to your requests.

  • http://bunniesnbeagles.blogspot.com Ms. Bunny

    Lauren already said it, but I love this line too, “If you think this could never happen with your family and friends, neither did we. It could. Create it.”

    So simple and true. Love it.

    • http://sawtoothandthepetticoats.blogspot.com Emily Rae

      When I first read that line in Medg’s intro, I thought it would be a negative thing (the “this” that seemed impossible). How refreshing to read that it was a POSITIVE thing, and a community-building thing at that.

      I also like the paragraph about how the work was for more than one day. The “stuff” may have only been for the wedding day, but the camraderie and connection forged over the creation of all that stuff will last much longer. Yet another reason to grapple with having a community-created event.

    • Chantelle

      yes! this sentence, I need to cement it into my brain and have faith in the people who love me.

      and I LOVE the huge ass grins on all the faces in the pics, they say it all!

    • http://www.emlovesben.com emilyrose

      that sentence made me realize that every time i read wedding graduate posts, i’m subtly thinking to myself: “i wish that were possible with our family & friends, but it’s not. lucky them.” i think i have been discrediting how much agency we have to actually create an experience for our guests and ourselves.

  • Tracy

    There’s something captured in your photos that is exactly the essence of what I’m hoping for at my wedding – that we and our closest people will be thoroughly enjoying each other. It’s what we put as the core when we started planning, but it seems like a hard thing to plan for, you know? I love how it all worked out to have people contribute to the work too. I do completely believe that people have more fun at a wedding if they feel like they were important, and the act of doing a project with friends and family is a really good bonding experience. For myself, I’ve had the most fun at weddings when I had a role or project. However, I think translating that idea into practice is probably going to be challenging – how much is too much to ask, and all that. Knowing people’s strengths is solid advice, and it does give you the opportunity to get closer to people as part of the process. Thanks for sharing. I feel better about my own upcoming wedding every time that I see that my non-magazine vision has happened for others and was a good thing.

  • http://lilapuppy.blogspot.com Meghan

    I love this! Eric and I also spent a lot of time thinking of the weekend from the perspective of our guests. I think it helped make me feel less crazy during the planning phase.

  • http://discerningdilettante.blogspot.com ka

    This really spoke to me. So much. So many bits: the part about deciding what you wanted everyone to get, the creating the DIT environment you’re looking for, acknowledging people, and especially for me–because this is my big hangup: it’s OK to spend money, and put time into “one day” because it’s really about way more than one day. Thank you, Shana.

    And then! (You’re in NY?!) Your photographer is in NY! Email sent!

  • http://bride-sans-tulle.blogspot.com Sharon

    “I can’t advise the world on how much money is worth spending on “one day,” but all that work was not just for one day. We created something long-lasting. We showed our loved ones, and ourselves, what they are capable of pulling off.”

    These are the lines that jumped out at me. Exactly, exactly, exactly!

    • http://www.emlovesben.com emilyrose

      toootally blasting wedding-spending shame. pew, pew!

  • ddayporter

    “We discovered that thank-you notes are an amazing opportunity – people actually have to sit silently and accept acknowledgment, which we so rarely do.” such a great point. the whole post is full of great points, and the pictures, my word. and those desserts! yummmmm.

  • http://jennyandjimbob.com Jennifer Hall Pellitteri

    ooh! I cried reading this and seeing the pictures. I was lucky enough to have been able to attend this wedding. We laughed and cried as much as you see in the photos. There were times when I didn’t think we would be able to pull it off. And now I know how people felt at my wedding which was equally do-it-yourself. But I think what made it such an environment for creativity and contribution was that Shana said,”Yes! You do that!” to whatever was suggested. It gave everyone permission to do whatever they thought was the “perfect” way to decorate the tables or hang the lights or make decorations with the fabric scraps from the table cloths. Everyone wants an elated bride. As long as the bride was happy we had the freedom to contribute in our strongest ways. And, I will tell you, everyone who attended Morgan and Shana’s wedding fell in love with each other.

  • http://fionalynne.wordpress.com fiona lynne

    I love this. All of it. I want to eat the photos!

    Our wedding looked very different but I also loved the way so many people got involved. The day before was one big DIT party of decorating, cooking, cleaning, ironing… with about 25 people involved. Some offered the help (my aunt who made our beautiful cake) but some I asked because I knew they would not necessarily offer (my mother-in-law who I asked to do the table and church decorations).

    The additional bonus was that the working together created such a good bond between our two families who had not met before. We did not know exactly how that would work with the language barriers, but giving them all something to DO together was such a good ice-breaker :)

  • http://fionalynne.wordpress.com fiona lynne

    Another thought I just had: my family were all exhausted after the wedding – I have photos of my in-laws on the ferry back to Belgium three days later all passed out on the floor! But they had worked hard because they wanted to, and then partied hard because they were happy for us. There is definitely a balance to be found when you ask for help, but it can also be ok for people to be working hard – they might actually enjoy the wedding more! A key point is gratitude. If people feel appreciated for their hard work, it will feel like a gift rather than a chore.

  • ann

    “We began by imagining what we wanted each individual person to get out of being there.”

    i am SO doing this with my fiance this weekend.

  • L.

    I have nothing profound to add to everyone’s comments; I did want to chime in with “Yay” for men named Morgan! My SO is a Morgan and I get excited when I find others.

  • http://www.craigathenawedding.blogspot.com athena

    Thank you, Shana! Reading your words about playing to people’s strengths and participation creating the atmosphere for the wedding are exactly what I needed to hear. I have been making a tremendous effort to include all of our closest friends and family in planning, preparation and wedding jobs and it’s reassuring to hear that I am doing it all for the right reasons.

  • http://anotherringcoming.wordpress.com AnotherEmma

    “We began by imagining what we wanted each individual person to get out of being there.”

    EXACTLY! My fiance and I have been thinking the same thing about planning our wedding – rather than trying to picture colours we will use or the overall look of the day, I am finding it far easier to imagine how people will be seeing the day through their eyes.

    Thankyou for this post! As a new wedding blogger, I am so glad to find someone feeling the same way as me!

  • http://onabicyclebuiltfortwo.blogspot.com Tracey

    Thank you for sharing! As a same-sex couple we have only had one person offer to help at all with our wedding so you are incredibly blessed to have people that want to participate. I am thinking too that your very clear awareness of what is important to your friends and family is WHY it was important to them to take part in the event. Clearly those that know you are very lucky indeed.

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  • Alexandra

    So much awesome!
    Congratulations!