Emma & Kyle

Today’s wedding is an honest-to-goodness summer camp wedding with a s’more cake (!!!) and lake swimming. But that’s not what makes it awesome. What makes it awesome is Emma’s discussion of the true nature of weddings, how you learn from them, and how she learned to balance the fact that it was their wedding, and everyone’s day. It’s smart and fun at the very same time, and what could be better than that?

Weddings are funny things. They are everything you might expect and nothing you can see coming. That is just as it should be, because they are what they are. And that’s all I can come up with to say: they are what they are. Embrace it or prepare for a sh*tstorm (not because everything will go wrong, but because they will not be whatever you want them to be).

One of my biggest struggles (which isn’t saying much because I was unbelievably lucky to have an almost-painless process) was determining when it should be about me/my fiance/us, and when it simply wasn’t. There are definitely times that you must accept that even though everyone says it’s all about you, it really has almost nothing to do with you.

Enter showers. With my bridal party 100% out of town and my desire to have everyone watch me open presents at 0%, I felt as though showers might be a necessary evil, but hopefully would be kept small. After all, showers stem from the bride’s family needing dowry help (lame!), and they seem like a weird way to finagle double gifts out of women (no fair!). But as four showers grew from an astounding amount of support and excitement, I began to realize their purpose.

Would we see all of our guests at our wedding? No, we invited almost 400. Are having these pre-parties a vital chance to celebrate with new and old friends and families alike, answer questions about the event, and let people express their genuine love and support of you? Yes! So wade through the awkward present-opening, graciously defend your simplistic lifestyle when everyone gives you a hard time about your registry not being big enough, suck it up and play hostess because even though someone else might be throwing it, you are the only one who knows everyone, write your thank you notes with genuine appreciation, and hope that at least one of these groups is willing to call theirs what it is: a sprinkle (not a full shower, but rather a potluck lunch and decoration work party with a group gift thrown in for good measure).

But when it’s time for you to take the reins again, go for it. Don’t get stuck in people-pleasing mode and start trying to invent some weird bachelorette party that has to fit into two hours on a weekday that you don’t want because it’s on a wedding checklist somewhere. Step back, realize that it’s your call again, and have a lovely night with your wedding party who came in a day early to eat Indian food and go run last minute errands with you. No penis necklaces required, thanks.

My husband (still weird to type) and I met working at summer camp. We were both campers, on staff for six summers, and now volunteer and donate regularly. We had our reception at said camp. Because they were worried about traffic flow in the event of rain, they cut a new door in the old dining hall just for us. It’s about two feet from where we first met, as dishwashers at age 16. Our DJ friendor made music from the spot where I fell asleep with my sister and playmates as a kid, while my dad would watch from his spot onstage with his guitar and my mom from hers on the dance floor. (Oh right, did I mention that my mom worked there when she was younger and I’ve been going there since birth?)

One of our favorite parts of the whole thing was sending a big check to our home away from home instead of going into debt to pay a corporate banquet hall somewhere. If you can find good people/places to give your money to, it feels a whole lot easier to spend the dough.

Doing so much ourselves left us feeling oddly calm and confident, be it in the words we had chosen for our non-religious ceremony or how our moment of gratitude before the meal entailed playing the song “May I Suggest” covered by Red Molly (which, by the way, was an awesome excuse to slow down and spend two to three minutes gazing upon our kingdom, taking it all in). Choosing things created meaning for us, even if it did leave us saying, “Should we be freaking out more? I don’t feel that different!” throughout most of our day.

Even though everyone tells you that it will all be a blur and you will be overwhelmed, you might just have a really killer party with all your favorite people and feel totally present and joyful the whole time. And it might just be a magical weekend that you couldn’t feel blurry about if you tried. (I second Michelle calling shenanigans.)

And guess what? The things you did to save money or time or headaches will be the highlights. Who knew? Having all different sizes and shapes of used jars instead of renting or buying glassware became a hilarious way for people to watch each others’ alcohol intake (“Honey, we need to move you to a smaller jar”). The frames from the dollar store filled with pictures of us were a conversation piece and people were glad there were no assigned seats so they could move around and see them all. And the fabric flowers we made to avoid attracting bugs ended up pinned on people as corsages, and they didn’t even notice we didn’t have favors (except for opening up the swimming lake and giant waterslide the next day). Go figure.

And guess what else? You will learn things you never realized you didn’t know. Like how you can (and in my opinion should) ask engaged folks if they are doing things instead of how, eliminating the assumption that everything you’ve ever seen at weddings will be present at theirs. You’ll have clarity and realizations about the people in your life that somehow could never be verbalized before (for better or worse). And you will see that it doesn’t really matter if everyone agrees with all of your choices, nor does it matter if they work out or go smoothly, because they are what they are and it wouldn’t be your wedding if they weren’t.

The Info Photography: Darrell Mankin / Friendor DJ: Audio On Demand / Wedding Cake: The Cakery Bakery / Venue: Camp Ondessonk / Jewelery: Designs By Charity / Dress: Made by a friend and Emma’s aunt (awesome-sauce) / S’mores Cake: A friend, Lindsay

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  • Carbon Girl

    S’mores cake!!! I think that is the best cake I have ever seen!

  • I love this. I really needed a post like this – one that acknowledges that it IS possible to have a relatively painless engagement process.

    I understand that for many people, most even, that’s not the case, but after reading so many stories and wedding grad posts from people who said they went into engagement assuming that THEY wouldn’t have struggles or major stress or conflict over wedding planning, because they’re hyper organized and have a super-laid-back family – only to find that once they were engaged everything changed, and suddenly their typically laid-back family cared about strange things, and everyone was pressuring them to do things they didn’t want to – I was feeling really defeated and scared. That’s not to knock all those wedding grad posts that talk about the challenges they had with wedding planning and engagement, they’re beautiful, honest, and intelligent posts, but that doesn’t change how terrified they were making conflict-averse me that conflict was inevitable during engagement.

    Our engagement process has thus far been joyful, happy, smooth-sailing. Everyone has been supportive and excited about our decisions, our guest-list was easy and both families accepted it right off the bat, no random additions or arguments about who is or isn’t invited. My fiance and I haven’t been fighting more, there haven’t been tears. My future in-laws have been wonderful. I don’t say this in a ‘na na na boo boo, look how great our engagement is’ kind of way, but rather because reading so many grad posts about engagement being a struggle has up until now left me feeling that it’s impossible to have a smooth engagement, which has left me terrified that all this smooth sailing is the calm before the storm, and that everything’s going to blow up in my face any day now.

    This post gave me hope that that may not be the case, and that it is legitimately possible to have a peaceful, relatively conflict-free engagement. Thank you for giving me that peace of mind!

    • Manya

      Ours was pretty easy too… but I think it was because 1. we’re old and 2. we paid for everything ourselves and 3. it was a second wedding and everybody was all: oh, hell, do your thang.

    • Aww glad to hear it! Keep on with the smooth sailing.

    • I totally agree. Our main conflict has been division of labor. When I complained of this, my fiance said “well, give me a list.” We sat down, made him a list, and guess who already has all his vendors booked? My can-do guy :-)

      Rachel, I will say that if I think about it, there have been a few little rough spots in negotiation with parents (nothing completely weird or unexpected), but I am already glossing over those in my mind. We have just three months to go, and everything is just chugging ahead. I am guessing it is similar for you as it has been for me — part of the conflict is how you deal with it. Of course, that’s not to say I had any major conflict like some of the wedding grads have experienced. But we did initially have conflict about string quartets, and then I realized that they are pretty and if my mom was going to pay, then sure. Or suits — I don’t want our small bridal party to spend a lot on outfits, so we’re going with coordinated instead of matching. My mom balked for a minute, I sent her picture examples, and all was fine. To be fair, everyone else is also dealing with conflict easily too. Just saying, even if your other shoe does “drop,” the reaction of those involved can dictate whether the conflict becomes huge and worth mentioning or a minor blip on the radar.

    • Hypothetical Sarah

      I think in many ways it’s harder to write about a peaceful, conflict-free engagement — it’s easier to have that central conflict, the tale of overcoming, when you compose the story you want to share with everyone. Grad posts are a snapshot of the engagements and weddings they describe.

      May you have another peaceful year (I clicked through to your blog). And then write a grad post!

    • I know what you mean Rachel … at one of the APW book clubs I went to, I was the only person who said that I actually ENJOYED the wedding planning. And I really did … up until about the 3.5 month mark at which point the level of work I had to put in kicked up into high gear and now at two months I just want the wedding to happen already…. (And I’m a planner who kind of assumed I had everything major done by the three month mark, and I did … those little things add up though.)

      I wonder if it’s those last fairly grueling months that make people forget about the earlier months that were fairly easy, or if most people really do have grueling engagements the whole entire time, or if as Sarah says, it’s just about it being easier in some way to write about the hard stuff, than the good.

      • Good point, Ruchi! For me, I absolutely LOVED planning our wedding and seeing all of my visions become reality. For the first 10 months, planning was SO fun. I felt almost silly because I was excited about every little detail. The rocky road and emotional rollercoasters didn’t start until it was “crunch time” so-to-speak. That’s not to say that our engagement was particularly hard; Craig and I had some fights over miscommunications, but hell, we have fights over miscommunications all the damn time! Haha

        I guess what I am trying to say is that everyone has different experiences, but we all share them on APW, not to scare people, but to let people know they are not alone.

        • Rachel

          Oh yes :) I know the intention was never to scare people with all the posts about how hard engagement can be, I’m just relieved to see a post that talks about an easy engagement, as it gives me hope that it’s possible! :D

    • Annearky

      Srsly. No drama in these parts, either. When you’re paying for it yourself, and you know how to say “no” to things you don’t want, the sailing can’t help but be smooth! lol…

  • Megan

    I was reading this post and thinking “Wow, that summer camp looks a lot like mine. Wait! That is my summer camp!” What a beautiful, wonderful setting for a wedding. Heepwah! (that may only make sense to the couple)

    • Heepwah indeed Megan! It was so fun to be there :)

  • “The things you did to save money or time or headaches will be the highlights.”

    I so look forward to this bit!

    Lovely grad post and what a fantastic location, cake and dress :) I love the smiles you guys have in the last picture too. So sweet!

  • wait, a friend made your cake? awesome! how did she do the graham cracker bits so they don’t droop? I’m mad impressed.

    • Chantelle

      I SO need more info on this cake! Did you guys torch the marshmallow and chocolate before serving it? Seriously awesome :)

      • She is so hardcore! I don’t even know how she MADE graham crackers. Alas, we did not torch anything. It was hard to wait that long to dig into it, there was no way we were going to mess around with fire. Her strawberry cake was inside the marshmallow, which was counter-intuitive but delicious and one of our favorites!

  • Such a great post; those final words are particularly true. Your wedding is made your wedding by all the little things that are changed, go wrong and go wonderfully and uniquely right. Congrats!

  • Kira

    THAT WEDDING LOOKS SO AWESOME. Oh my goodness, I’m overwhelmed with fuzzy feelings. Thanks for your wise and well-spoken words, and congratulations!

  • THAT is a wedding I would like to attend.

    How wonderful a location for you guys. Sharing a place that is special to you with your loved ones just seems right for a wedding. (Thus we’re asking family to travel a 1,000 miles to southeast Utah.)


  • MEI

    I normally dislike the phrase “It is what it is” because so frequently I hear it used to stand by while injustice occurs. Like, there is a great disparity between the rich and the poor – oh well, it is what it is. Or a woman can’t walk alone on a street at night by herself – oh well, it is what it is. And I just don’t do/won’t stand for that sort of complacency. However, your post gave me a new appreciation for the phrase – as a sort of gratefulness for what you have right in the moment. That some things are beautiful if you just let them be unfold in front of you and don’t force them to be something else. It’s something nice to mull over on this beautiful almost-fall day. Thank you.

    Also you have a fantastic smile. And S’more cake!

    • Mei, I actually cringe when I hear people write things off with this phrase as well. It just seemed fitting for this, I’m glad you agree :)

      Also, thanks for your comment on my smile. I actually had Invisalign retainers in that day and now have braces (both are for dental reasons and not just vanity), so it’s been on my mind a lot lately!

  • What a great post, Emma! I especially liked your bit about the awkwardness of showers- letting it go so you can celebrate and get some one on one time with people because you just won’t get to everyone (if it’s a big wedding) on the day. Opening gifts in front of people IS so awkward, but the showers I had (friend and family separately) were both very fun and I love having all the pictures with such important ladies in my life. Once the wedding happens, it all feels like it went by too quickly, so I really value those moments.

    • Manya

      Oh my God… My friends brought out phalluses at every turn…and it was seriously bizarre and mildly embarrassing. I just have to think it was done ironically. One thing they did that I loved was to sneak into my house and film themselves asking my fiancé a bunch of questions about my preferences. I loved it that he made an “appearance” at the party. The best part about the party was that the women all liked each other, and it made hanging out together at the wedding much more fun. We’re having a boozy book club (no reading required) this weekend with the same group.

      • Dear me, Manya, I would have been mortified. I warned my sister (MOH) that I didn’t want a sex themed stagette, I wanted it to be about hanging out with all of my girls together. So we went high speed go-karting and then had a slumber-party themed party at my house with pop and chips and snack, 90s name that tune, Twister and SANGRIA! It was a blast and everyone liked each other too, after that they were all excited to see each other at the wedding. It was awesome to see so many different groups of women become friends.

  • april

    OMG. S’mores Cake. BRILLIANT. Abso-freakin-lutely BRILLIANT!!!

    What a fun wedding!!!

  • Congratulations . Just wanted to say this wedding looks like so much fun. And yes, definitely the pre and after wedding events are great to see everyone and enjoy having family and friends together. I am mexican, with family in Switzerland, and living in Holland so it was great to be able to hang out with everyone who came, going to museums and so on, or running last minute errands with friends, or sister. Fun memories.

  • Erin

    This was a wonderful post and looks like a great wedding. Sometimes we need to let go.

    As a side note, I’m totally stealing the jar idea. Thank you for posting (and you should put up some more pictures)

  • Remy

    “May I Suggest” is such a lovely song! I hadn’t heard it ’til now, but I suspect it will make its way into our (ever-growing!) wedding playlist at some point.

  • L

    Love, love, love this post! It’s so sweet and so *practical* (appropriate!) that reading it was like taking a long, deep breath. I feel calm and happy now. Thank you, Emma.

  • Denzi

    Sorry, the shallow part of me is just going to stand here and go EEEEEEEE because playing “May I Suggest” is a perfect, perfect, perfect “moment of gratitude” thing to do at a wedding. EEEEEEEEEEEE!

  • Just wanted to say thanks to all who commented, I appreciate your kind words and celebration! It was fun to re-live the day months later :)