Amy & Bracken’s Colorado Picnic

My husband and I got married in July 2009 in Crested Butte, CO. It was a morning ceremony, with the  reception immediately following. The site we chose was outside, overlooking fields of wildflowers and mountains surrounding us. Three out of 125 guests actually lived in the town. Everyone else (including us) drove or flew in for the weekend. We hosted a Friday night welcome BBQ for everyone. Saturday morning was our ceremony and reception. We also had an impromtu bonfire later that evening and Sunday morning we met at a local park as people were leaving town for last-minute good-byes and extra time to just sit and visit.

The entire experience has been something I find difficult to articulate in words. There was the romance, beauty and absolute rightness of the proposal. Then the first month of letting everything sink in. I was really getting married?

I’d spent years feeling cynical and wary of the whole hoopla and here I was immersed in it… finding myself tempted by pretty colors and expensive trinkets. I heard myself saying words like, “but we have to do this,” or “it’s a wedding, of course we do it this way.” (Luckily, with the help of my fiance, I was able to pull myself back to reality and into the person I was, regaining a more pragmatic perspective.)

The eleven months of planning wove together such a surge of varied emotions: bliss, panic, stress, frustration, confusion, happiness, guilt, peace, excitement… I will be forever grateful that I found a few sane wedding blogs at the beginning of this process that helped me feel normal, human and in control (APW was at the very tip-top of that list!). They opened up the idea that the kind of wedding I wanted was possible.

And then there was the event itself: A weekend we’d spent months anticipating and planning that flew by in just a few short days. Days filled with family and friends who traveled many miles to bear witness to the ceremony and to celebrate with us. I wanted to treasure every moment. Every smile. Every emotion (okay, maybe not some of the stressful moments, like when we showed up late to the ceremony because my hair and make-up took longer than I’d expected; or when I started to cry after the reception was over because our pictures had taken so long and people were leaving and I didn’t want it to end). But there was the emotion of unabashed love and support from everyone. Gratitude. Appreciation. Awe at the full scope of the community surrounding us.

There is no one defining moment. No one, over-arching lesson (or even groups of lessons). Each moment, no matter how big or small, is taken and woven with the next moment, creating a tapestry of experience that evolves over time. And each time I look back, I gain new perspective and hold a new memory close to my heart.

As I think about what to write for your readers, the sense of community we set out to foster, and how what we planned for and experienced, is what I’m most proud of.

We agreed early on that we wanted a wedding that included our families and friends. We wanted to create an environment of love, connection and celebration. We wanted to honor our families and friends, and their part in our lives in a way that was meaningful. And for me, it was important that our families had time to sit and talk to each other. To get to know us a little better and to connect and build bonds between our families. And it was equally important to me that our friends from all eras of our lives came together, and were able to meet and create new friendships.

The details of the weekend (the decorations, the plates, the music, the food, the invites) provided a lovely backdrop for these connections. Yet they were just that: the backdrop. They weren’t the main event and we were able to compromise on a lot of the little things because we were able to remind ourselves of what was important to us. Community kept us grounded.

We wanted everyone to feel comfortable, and we wanted the weekend to feel like a true reflection of us as individuals and as a couple. Creating an environment that felt comfortable for deeply conservative religious family members (who don’t drink) on one side, very liberal manhattan-drinking family members on the other,  a plethora of children ages 4 mos to 16 years, and a little bit of everything else in between was definitely a challenge.

The first thing I did was ask for help, and accept help from those who offered. (This was not necessarily easy for me to do.) My cousin officiated. I had friends managing the flow and execution of the set-up. Friend and family coordinated and helped with the set up and clean up. I had family taking care of all the flowers. A good friend helped me make the decorations, and also surprised me with a hand-made necklace and earrings at the last minute.

I had friends responsible for making sure I ate during the reception. We had family bring homemade caramels for the reception.

I couldn’t have done it all without everyone’s help. Don’t assume you have to do it all. Do let go and allow magic to happen.

I chose to welcome each person with a gift bag. They were by far the most complicated aspect of the weekend, so I tried to keep them simple, yet fun. We included practical things like a water bottle (good for the altitude), a welcome note, map and itineraries of the events, and some candy & chips. For the kids, I bought a few coloring/activity books and gathered the names and ages of each child. I tore out a few age-appropriate pages for each and rolled them up inside the bag along with some crayons.

On Friday night, we had a BBQ. Our venue was ideal for lots of games and running around. We had a croquet set, a slack line, smashball, burlap sacks and a few other games set up outside for the kids. And on a few of the tables, we put out instructions to a couple of games that Bracken and I had played as children.

At one point in the evening, I stood at the doorway just watching. I saw Bracken’s sister and her family playind a game with my cousin and his wife. I saw my sister playing ball with five different kids (some were friends’ kids, some were from Bracken’s family, some from ours). People were laughing together and telling stories, helping where ever it was needed. I felt like I was witnessing pure magic as the sun went down behind the mountains. This was a community. I wanted to cry and laugh and cheer on the spot.

The morning of the ceremony I was a nervous wreck, calmed only when I set eyes on Bracken after I finished dressing and we headed up for pictures before the ceremony. The overwhelming sense of calm I experienced in just being with him amidst all the activity and heightened emotion of the morning was comforting.

When we finally arrived, we heard a huge cheer from our guests. I looked down and saw everyone lined up along the path. My heart was full.

I’d asked a close family member, Jordan, to help out with the flowers for the weekend. She was amazing. Early in the planning process she’d expressed an interest in working with flowers and so I reached out and asked if she’d be willing to handle everything flower-related (to which she responded with an enthusiastic “yes”).

As part of my intention to foster community, I wanted to include everyone in the ceremony, but wasn’t sure how to do it without it becoming complicated. I decided that in lieu of a formal bouquet, I wanted to build my bouquet as I walked down the aisle.

I  shared my vision with Jordan (knowing full well there were a lot of challenges involved), and she immediately agreed to it, offering a few simple recommendations. I put my trust and faith in her confidence and was overwhelmed at how magical it became. She very consciously chose flowers with thin stems from the wholesaler. The morning of the ceremony, she, along with my flower girl, set out two large buckets of flowers for guests to choose as they arrived.

As I walked down the aisle with my parents, I was greeted with smiles, good wishes and beautiful flowers. It felt indescribable walking among my nearest and dearest, making eye-contact, and interacting with everyone as we made our way slowly down the aisle. The gratitude and appreciation I felt for such an amazing community of loved ones was overwhelming for me.

Toward the end (as my hand was getting full and I was thinking I was going to have to start a new bouquet), Friends suddenly raised their flowers overhead and provided an arch for us to walk through to where Bracken was waiting patiently.

The love and good wishes that washed over me with each stem presented stayed with me throughout the ceremony (and quite frankly, is still with me eight months later). I felt the flagstone strong beneath my feet as I met my husband’s eyes. We read the vows we wrote to each other and exchanged our rings.

When I think back over the weekend, these moments of connection—to my husband, to the earth, to our community of loved ones—overrides everything else, weaving together a lasting memory of the brilliance of the love and sense of community we share.

Oh goodness, the photo credits on this wedding are going to kill me, since they had love on all sides. But I’ll give it a shot: Wedding photos by Studio J Inc, based in Las Vegas; Getting ready shots by Adria Ellis Photography; picnic shots by friends and family.

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