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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  • I LOVE the idea of building your bouquet from friends and family! What a wonderful way to include everyone, to let them bless you.

  • MinnaBrynn

    I absolutely teared up at the flower arch part. What an incredibly powerful and wonderful wedding/community shaping day. These are the posts where I find the most inspiration (and the most jealousy). This is the kind of wedding I need.

  • What a beautiful moment for a bride to see the community forming around her. I love it! And the last few photos, so touching… way to make me tear up at work! I am actually one of the brides, feeling down trodden by everyone else’s designer friends, baker friends and florists friends. So I had to laugh when I read your intro. (My fiance is a graphic designer… so I guess I don’t have room to talk.) I do have friends willing to help with centerpieces and flowers (if I have them) and bunting (drool, bunting). But I wouldn’t have known that if I didn’t ask. A few days ago I emailed all of them asking for help. I got a reply from almost all of them with similar responses, “Are you crazy?! Of course!” So yes, we don’t need professional bakers or professional florists as friends, just a handful of loving people that care about us. *Not gonna lie, part of me does want a mis-shaped, homemade wedding cake. I may try to tackle that on my own!*

  • Oh gosh, and here I am tearing up too. This is an incredibly moving, simple, lovely post.

  • C

    LOVE this. I think people are less apt to accept help from friends and family in general because we feel pressured that the day must be *perfect* so we should only accept help from friends who are pros. What this wedding shows is that LOVE is just as beautiful as pro perfection. This wedding made me smile :)

  • What a gorgeous wedding! I’m biased because I’m also a CO person, but the setting is just gorgeous and it looks like an amazing community gathered around this couple. Awesome.

    Re: the “asking friends for help” advice — I think what the world-wide-wed (hee!) has been pushing back against is couples who assume that everyone’s time is theirs because they’re getting married, or who expect professional work from amateurs doing it out of love. One of the commenters on my blog mentioned that she showed up at a wedding a few weeks ago and discovered that she was expected to help with setup and event management. No one had asked her in advance if she’d be willing, and no one thanked her later. That’s not cool. But if you ask friends and family in advance to pitch in with specific tasks, I think that’s a different kettle of fish altogether — and, as we can see from this wedding, can make the event incredibly special to everyone there!

  • Katelyn

    Trying not to tear up at work. Beautiful post. Every photo is filled with joy.

  • Tricia Nason

    This is exactly what I want for my wedding and exactly what we have been working towards. Almost every picture here went into my inspiration folder (which has more to do with emotion and mood than details).

    The only big difference is that we have made a choice to ask for only limited help from friends and family. This decision is strongly influenced by my experience helping do the flowers for my cousin’s (her nephew’s) wedding. I enjoyed it and I think that it made it super-meaningful, but I also remember how stressed out she was about it and whether they would be good enough (I thought they were fantastic). I didn’t want to inflict that kind of stress on my friends and family.

  • Thanks for sharing, Amy! The photos where you and your husband are just hugging the life out of each other make me so happy, because that’s how we hug, too.

    • Thanks Jessica (and everyone here, for that matter, for such wonderful and kind comments). A good, solid hug is simply divine, isn’t it?

  • The flower archway made me cry!!

  • yep just totally teared up at work! Just beautiful!

  • This made me cry too, a couple of times. First at the idea of the the relationship being built amongst the different families and friends, and kids playing together. Then the bouquet got me. That was just so moving; what a beautiful, amazing life experience. You took the tradition of a bouquet that is often just Done Because That Is How It Is Done, and altered it so that it became something deeply meaningful and unique to you and your community. Beautiful and inspiring.

  • Jessie Decker

    BEAUTIFUL! I never tear up at other people’s weddings but I find myself weepy. What a stunning day. Congrats to you two.

  • I love the boquet idea. So much love behind that whole process.

  • Allison

    Okay, I’m officially crying at work. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
    I feel like I can realte to being a bundle of nerves, we’re still 3.5 months out and I swear the anxiety is already getting to me! I love that you didn’t get caught up in all of the details just the feelings, that is exactly what I want to accomplish with this whole wedding thing, LOVE and not STUFF.

  • Liz

    This is so beautiful. I totally got teary about all the flower stuff. What a great idea! I love the idea of having everyone involved, and with flowers it just makes it that much better. The whole thing makes my heart feel big.

  • Rachel

    Okay; who else is co-opting that bouquet idea? *raises hand*

    • Hooray! I cannot express enough how amazingly wonderful it turned out. (I can’t take credit for the idea, though… found it on a blog.) :) I love hearing that y’all may do similar.

      A few things to consider (if you go this route): choose stems that are small. You’ll have a LOT of flowers (of course, that also depends on the number of guests). The smaller the stems, the more you can hold at once.

      I also took the hem of my dress (since they had to shorten it a lot) and cut two 1″ strips of fabric, with the idea to wrap around the stems as I went. It was a great idea and worked moderately well, but in hindsight I’d do two things differently:
      1. um… practice. :)
      2. experiment with creating something to hold (that’s pretty) that the stems could actually be put into. Not sure what that would look like, but my hands did go a little numb trying to keep a hold of them (not sure if it was nerves, or they just went to sleep because i was clutching so hard because of nerves… )

      If our friends hadn’t have made the arch toward the end, my mom was ready to take my first bouquet as I would have been starting a new one. (Definitely have someone around to hold excess if that happens.)

    • caitlin

      oh definitely!

  • can someone tell me where that lovely dress is from? it’s BEAUTIFUL!

    • Hi Maria.

      Thank you! The dress is Nicole Miller. It is *the lightest* dress I’ve ever worn. Seriously… I felt like I was wearing a cloud. (And I had the mobility to run around and play with the kids, which was critical.)

      • I loved that dress, too, and the description of feeling like you were wearing a cloud is awesome! Good for you!

  • Margaret

    Wow, this is making me get all teary and I don’t even know exactly why… and those photos, man. I need a tissue.

    I was getting all worked up last night about how my dress was going to look, etc. (god, how have I still not managed to let that go??? It’s like every time I think I’ve dealt with this demon, it sneaks up on me again…) anyway, those photos of Amy and Bracken hugging… just gave me such a sense of calm.

    DUH, it’s not about how white my teeth are, or how many sit-ups I should be doing… it’s about how excited we are to spend the rest of our lives together.

  • What a lovely wedding! Doesn’t this just look like the kind of wedding you wish you were invited to?

  • Yep, sitting here tearing up at the flower bouquet and the arch…


  • Laurel

    I love this. I just recently discovered A Practical Wedding via Offbeat Bride and my fiance and I are getting married at the same wedding garden in September. We live here in Crested Butte and can’t wait to bring in all our family and friends.

    • Lucky you! When I saw the photo of the ceremony space I almost wanted to go out to Colorado!

    • Also, welcome! :)

  • yep, that was teary making for sure.

  • Ky

    Oh, the building of the bouquet and the flower arch are just gorgeous. How perfectly, wonderfully community oriented that was! I wish I’d thought of it myself. :)

  • So. This wedding made me cry. Reading about weddings online never make me cry.

    It could have something to do with the fact that it’s a Friday night…errr Saturday morning (around 1am) and I’ve been studying all night. But I think that only has a teeny tiny bit to do with it.

    The is the best bouquet story I’ve ever seen. In one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I’m inspired, yet again, to embrace simplicity…and the help, handiwork, and loving intentions of our friends and family. A lovely lovely post.

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  • me

    that build-a-bouquet idea is so prosh.

  • Jade

    I love the idea of having lawn games, etc. during a wedding celebration. That is something I am hoping to accomplish with my own wedding. For the wedding graduate, how did you encourage mingling of the guests and the participation in the various activities?

    • Hi Jade.

      I didn’t do any “formal” games (as in organized, everyone participating at the same time, etc.). I had a number of things I set out on the lawn and told a few key adults what was available so they could help the kids. Someone brought a croquet set (huge hit) and set up a slackline. I had a smashball set (from days at the beach) and I think a softball & glove (can’t remember), and such. I bought sacks for the sack racing and made ties for 3-legged racing (didn’t get used) and put them out where others could find them.

      For the table games, I just had two (and only one was utilized), but it’s a version of scrabble with just the tiles that Bracken’s family played a lot (may have even made up). I’d written up the rules and set it out on one of the tables.

      The most important thing for me was to let go of expectations. I realized that mostly people want to talk and catch up, but I wanted to provide the games more for the kids since we had a lot, but also as a good way for our families to connect a little easier.

      My best advice is to make a bunch of different stuff available, and allow the games to unfold organically. Congratulations and have fun with it. :)

  • marjani

    OMG! I’m in love with the bouquet idea. Also I’m getting married in Telluride and just looking at your pictures gets me so excited. Beautiful!

  • Allison

    Your wedding was so beautiful — especially the bouquet. After reading some of your blog, I know that your wedding was obviously a reflection a beautiful couple. Your hearts and spirits really shine in your photographs.

    I wanted to ask you about something you mentioned. Would you mind sharing about how you handled your two families’ very different approaches to alcohol? I am facing a similar concern and just wonder how you all addressed it.


    • Allison! I just now saw this (I’m so sorry for not responding earlier). I’m guessing you may have already come to a solution (hell, your wedding is likely already over… so congratulations for that!).

      But I thought I’d answer in case someone else has a similar question.

      So we had about half our guests who don’t drink and half (including us) who do. So we definitely wanted alcohol at our wedding, but also wanted to create an environment that was comfortable for everyone.

      We ended up having just beer and wine at the Friday BBQ, and the same for the reception, with an added gin and tonic signature drink. The ceremony and reception were in the morning/afternoon, so there wasn’t really a ton of drinking happening.

      I think cutting out the liquor and deemphasizing that it was available helped. Those who drank knew where to go, but the lemonade containers, soda cans and such were readily available and up front.

      And we’re not huge “partiers” so there wasn’t anyone (that I know of) who got particularly drunk or offensive. Most everyone was respectful, happy and responsible about it all.

      Hope that helps and sorry again for not realizing you’d asked before now. All the best!

  • K

    I’m really happy to read that it took a month for it to sink in that she was getting married. It all still feels so very surreal to me, with brief bursts of “this truly IS real.” Maybe another three weeks will help…

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  • Ash

    This community bouquet building session is defiantly giving me the warm fuzzies. I am so thankful to have found this creative solution to my situation. I do not for see my father coming to my wedding and if he did I would not want him to walk me down the isle #realtalk. I thought it would be both empowering and maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done to walk alone. But honoring everyone that has help us/me along like this is going to be so much more special (and so much less excruciating). I asked my twin sister to help me tie the flowers together before I join my groom :) THANK YOU for sharing!!!

    • Ash – This sounds like the perfect solution for you. Congratulations on your wedding.

  • G

    I love the community building bouquet…. like so many others, tears began flowing! As the mother of the bride, what I especially loved was that you included your Mom walking you down the isle — I found this especially touching. A great big THANKS for all the wonderful ideas and additional tips you provided.

  • Ali

    Congratualtions on such a beautiful and meaningful wedding! I was wondering if you have suggestions for venues in Crested Butte for BBQ’s like the one you had the night before your wedding. It looked like such a perfect setting. Thanks for any information.