Kelsey & Russell

Today’s wedding is something we don’t get enough of on APW – a religious active duty military wedding (for the win!) So I’m extra indebted to Kelsey. She read APW, she rocked her wedding, and she sent it in (and it is amazing). So without further ado, Kelsey’s amazing brewery wedding, paid for by the couple themselves (go you guys):

When I was planning my July 31 wedding, a girlfriend sent me a link to APW. I fell in love with it immediately, the ideas, the contributors, and the community, and it became a habit to check APW everyday like checking my email. (Although I quickly discovered I couldn’t read it at work, since a lot of stories bring me to tears.) I’m still here, even though my wedding is months past.

My husband and I are both active duty military officers in the US Navy, which is where we met… on a ship, in the middle of the ocean. (You never know where you’re going to meet that someone… or how you’re going to look when you do). For two people assigned to operational tours on Navy ships, dating can be a little unusual, but we both knew the risks involved and took our relationship step by step. And things worked out amazingly well. We learned how to juggle time together with duty, time underway, and I deployed for six months last year to the Middle East (talk about a relationship tester). But we made it through those challenges just fine, and ended up on shore duty together in Washington DC, which is where we live now. He proposed to me last November, 2 weeks after I returned home from deployment, in the shadow of the Washington Monument. It was wonderful, I was crying. We called our parents that night to share the news, and wedding planning began.

We felt really out of place in DC, since we had just moved there, and quickly decided an East Coast wedding was not “us”. Russell’s family is in Orlando, mine is in Seattle, and we didn’t really care to get married in those places, either. We had just moved from San Diego, which is where we met, and dated, and most of our friends still lived, so we decided to have the wedding there. It seems like we chose a destination wedding, but really we picked the place that felt the most like home to us.

Russell and I planned to pay for the wedding ourselves. Our families get by ok, but we were adamantly opposed to placing any financial burden on them. We have great jobs, no kids, and had enough in savings to absorb the cost. (Note: our parents insisted on helping a little. Russell’s Mom and Dad graciously hosted our rehearsal lunch, and my Mom paid for wedding day hair, make-up, and getting our dresses cleaned/pressed). Now, I’m not someone who has been looking at bridal magazines since I was five, and I had NO IDEA how to plan a wedding. I did a lot of research before I started making any decisions. The first thing I did was determine our budget. Russ and I looked at our savings, talked about what we were willing to spend, and came up with a figure of 12K.

I kept that in mind as I did all my shopping (always know your bottom line). I printed out a little percentage cheat sheet I found online and used it for picking vendors (for example, flowers should make up X% of your overall budget) and tried hard to stay within that amount. We did away with anything we didn’t find personally important. We got rid of a lot of stress that way, and were free to use that money to splurge on the things we DID find important. For instance, we only had a maid of honor and best man. Neither of us wanted the whole entourage (and accompanying stress). Our photographer (although very decently priced) cost more than my cheat sheet allowed, but we really wanted great pictures, and I made up the cost in other areas. My dress (from David’s Bridal) only cost $250, much less than the cheat sheet told me I could spend, so in my mind it evened out. In the end, including our plane tickets to San Diego and hotel, we spent 13K.

So planning a wedding from across the country is quite a lot of work! I made things easier on myself by picking a venue that sold us a package deal (think hotels, restaurants). They hosted both the ceremony and reception, catered the whole event, did all the set-up/clean-up, and the cost of the DJ and the cake was included. I was on my own to find a photographer, florist, and any extras. Russ really wanted to get married in July. Of course the summer months are the most expensive wedding-wise, but we saved by getting married during the day and hosting a lunch versus an evening event. Our venue was a brewery/restaurant, which was surrounded by a few acres of landscaped gardens with a koi pond.

Not the traditional church event, but very casual and very us! (At first, I felt a little weird about that. My Christian faith is important to me, and I didn’t want to discount that by having our wedding be so casual. And at a brewery! Is that sacrilegious? But in the end, it was perfect. We made sure to mention God and our faith in the ceremony, and it was fine). From the beginning, we told our families and friends we wanted them to come as they are, and just HAVE FUN. We hosted a lunch buffet and open bar (beer and wine) for 55 people. The food and drinks were fantastic, everything was so laid back, and everybody had a blast.

If I could impart some wisdom to brides-to-be, I would say this: 1. Enjoy your engagement, and remember to count your blessings throughout the whole planning process. 2. Be nice. Vendors are much more helpful and willing to cut you some breaks when you are kind and respectful of the work they are doing for you. 3. Be organized about the whole thing. If you take your planning seriously and shop smart, you’ll cancel out a lot of stress up front. But I don’t think I need to stress that to APW readers! You already get it.

Photographs by: Eric Richards and Ryan Anderson of Izlas Photography

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  • love it!

  • I have to say this – Kelsey, how STUNNING are your eyes in that photo with your bouquet?? You look incredible (and also amazingly serene.) Congratulations to both of you!

  • Jillian

    “You never know where you’re going to meet that someone… or how you’re going to look when you do”.

    I love that statement, because it’s so true. Congratulations on your marriage, your wedding pictures are gorgeous!

    • Trisha

      So do I! I met my husband on a night I wasn’t expecting to go out, and had on jeans & a t-shirt, no make-up, and was sweaty from biking.

  • Ah, so awesome. Loved hearing about the brewery, the budgeting, and especially where you met – so true that you really can meet the right person anywhere (while you’re wearing anything!) Also, that first picture is spectacular!! It blew me away. Congratulations, and I hope being an active duty Navy couple continues to work well for you both :)

  • The 2 attendants, the budget, the focus on being casual and fun…your wedding looks like everything we hope ours will be. Congratulations on your marriage!

  • Wow, thank you guys so much for the wonderful comments! And APW team: I had no idea my wedding would be featured today. I was checking APW like usual on my way to work, started screaming and jumping up and down waiting for the metro! You guys made my day in a big way! Thanks!

    • Sorry about the SHOCK Kelsey – Although yay for a fun surprise. I prepped this quite a while ago and we were waiting for the right time to STRIKE. :) YAY!

  • As a fellow SD bride planning a wedding from the East Coast (I am originally from San Diego so it feels like home for me as well), I completely understand some of the struggles of planning. I hope our wedding turns out half as lovely as yours!

  • being born and raised and still living in san diego i can tell exactly where they had their wedding, and frankly, it makes me proud. not because my city is being featured on APW, but because people will realize that yes, san diego is a military town, but the military also adds such a character to the community. people fall in love here, whether it be by land or by sea, so many transplants meet in this beautiful city (i have multiple family members who met their spouses in san diego because of them being stationed here). worlds colliding, literally. and because of that, i am proud.

    random notes: kelsey is gorgeous and wooohooo, karl strauss…YUM! :)

    • Uh-huh! Karl Strauss and Sunset Cliffs? So so pretty!

  • clampers

    Thank you both for defending us and our country. Beautiful wedding.

    • It’s an honor and a pleasure. Thanks for the compliment!

  • Sarah

    First … ohmygod gorgeous.

    I (like Angela) recognized Karl Strauss right away … nice choice!

    Having ALSO planned a SoCal wedding from DC … you are not even joking about the package deals. So, so helpful.

    Your family/friends look like they’re having an amazing time. What a wonderful celebration! And seriously, hats off to you both for having such a strong bond, even when you’re apart. It’s flat out inspiring!

    • Heck, I was planning a local wedding and I still feel going the venue package route was a major sanity saver. Attempting to do cost comparisons between different venues that had different lists of caterers (and you always had to use one of their caterers) just about broke me. And that wasn’t even getting as far as having to coordinate all the multiple pieces as the planning progressed. It’s not for everybody, of course, and not all venue packages are created equal, but they can be a great option. (Especially if one can find a venue as cool as this brewery!)

      • Sarah

        Oh, totally. We were VERY lucky with ours. The venue was actually run by one of my favorite caterers (I had no idea they were, so that was a total surprise blessing), and the set-up/tear down/food/cake/staff/rentals/day-of coordination was all included. Flowers, music, photography, ceremony leader and paper goods were up to us.

        Funny how it still felt stressful at times … but at least I had one point of contact when I was 3,000 miles away most of the year. I have a feeling it would have felt the same way if I was 5 miles away the whole time. =)

  • Beautiful! About your three things: 1. Enjoy your engagement 2. Be nice 3. Be organized; you have hit the nail on the head. People who work in the WI do it because they love weddings- our vendors bent over backwards for us- in part because we were nice, easy going and respectful.

  • Alyssa

    A brewery wedding with a military couple and a tattooed bride?

    I think I might pass out from the amount of awesome this wedding has.

    NOT kidding. I’m an Army brat, (Hooah!) so when I see a military couple I automatically fall in love with them a little bit. Plus, BEER. Oh, the love I have for you two.

    Plus you’re smart and seriously practical. I love that you took the percentage sheet along with you, it’s so easy to get caught up in the shiny and forget about money when pricing vendors and such.

    But I demand a reclaiming wife post on being married in the military.

    And a better picture of that tattoo.

    • meg

      AGREED. Both my grandmothers did it, and one of my best girlfriends did it (though they were military wives, not wives in the military). That sh*t is HARD, and I think the rest of us have a lot to learn from it. Those women taught me a thing or two about sacrifice, exepecting it, and sucking it up and living a fullfilled life anyway.

      • Ali

        My fiance is about to join the military, a month or so after we get married. It will definitely be a change for me.

      • Emilie

        Yes, please! My fiance has been in the army for 7 years and we’ve been together for 5–I knew what I was getting into, but at the same time, I had no idea. We’ve been engaged since March, and have moved the wedding date a grand total of 5 times already based on deployment schedule changes / rumors. Although I wish the wedding planning process was easier, I am still very thankful–all of the uncertainty and changes have really made us all the more certain that our marriage is the most important part of the wedding.

        • Yeah, the military definitely adds a whole other layer of complexity to our lives. It can be quite a game changer, up until the last minute, whether you’re planning a wedding, a move, a deployment, whatever. We’re pretty used to rolling with the punches, but it can be hard, and we’ve had a sucker punch or two take us by surprise! But such is life. I would love to write a reclaiming wife post about being married to the military/in the military. Yay!

          • meg

            You are so on, girlfriend. I’m expecting to see that post…. soonish :)

          • Alyssa


            AND a better picture of that tattoo. That’s an order.

    • Jess

      Me too! My fiance joined the Army (Medical Corps) in April; we’re getting married in October… luckily he has 8+ more years of medical school before any Army stuff kicks in. My brother just surprised us all in November by enlisting in the Navy… he’s going to boot camp in April and his first AVAILABLE month for leave is October. That makes me more than nervous but I would be one million times okay with changing our date last minute if we had to so my brother could come. Deposits be damned.

      In 6 months I’ve become a future Army wife and a Navy sister… here we go! Bring on as many military wife posts as you can find, Meg!

  • Awesome photography! Nice work :) Thanks for all the Wedding Grads this week Meg, have a great holiday!

  • “It seems like we chose a destination wedding, but really we picked the place that felt the most like home to us.”

    I love this statement and it’s exactly how I feel about where my husband and I got married. We live in Denver, but got married in the small college town in IN where we met and dated. It felt so much more like home than Denver or either of our hometowns in the Midwest.

  • mere…

    I’m dating a Navy Corpsman right now and just wanted to throw out an extra “you’re awesome!” for surviving and thriving in a military relationship. The wedding and your perspective are beautiful. Congratulations!

  • Mattingly

    First just wanted to say that this is a lovely story, with gorgeous photography. You obviously spent your budget on quality!
    Also, this made me laugh: “My Christian faith is important to me, and I didn’t want to discount that by having our wedding be so casual. And at a brewery! Is that sacrilegious? But in the end, it was perfect.” And made me think, ‘You know, Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine AT A WEDDING…’ So I bet He’s ok with a little beer going around too. =)

    • meg

      True that.

    • emilyrose

      some friends and i once calculated how much wine that was. i think it came out to 12-15 kegs! so, yeah, jesus probably would have loved this wedding :)

      • In fact, one can argue that Jesus would be adamantly opposed to the wine running out… ;)

  • I teared up from the emotion and experience in this grad post. It’s true and wise and provides great ideas for how to get started.

    Kelsey, your eyes took my breath away, the bouquet was beautiful, and I’m a teeny bit in love with you for having it in a brewery! (gorgeous space)

  • Gorgeous wedding, wise words, and probably the best post-bouquet/garter toss photo I have ever seen. (Unless I am completely misinterpreting the 3rd photo from the bottom, in which case, it is just an awesomely fun picture.)

  • sophia

    I love this wedding–the wisdom, the practical, the emotion, the pretty. It seems like every week APW posts my new favorite wedding grad post. Congrats!

  • emilyrose

    reading that you only had 55 guests at your wedding was reassuring to me this morning, as last night my fiance and i decided to cut our guest list almost in half – it had gotten too big and impersonal, and we want an intimate celebration… but we keep getting told by vendors that we “need” a certain guest count if we want the event to be “fun.” this wedding looks full, joyful, celebrative, and seriously fun, though small by typical standards. stupid WIC.

    • Sarah

      I will never understand vendors who think their personal opinions need to be injected into a couple’s wedding day. It’s like “Hey, I’M paying YOU. You’re here to facilitate MY day. Not the other way around.”

      We would have LOVED to have a 55 guest wedding. But large families tend to nix that idea. It’s totally possible to have the day be fun and joy filled and everything you want it to be with a smaller number. Wanna know a secret? One of my favorite memories of my wedding is actually from the night before. Where there weren’t 100 guests, there were my 5 favorite people … and there was a TON of joy and fun going on in that room. It’s not about how many people you have around you, it’s about who those people are. =)

    • I think vendors can offer some good advice, simply because they’ve been through the wedding process a bunch of times, but ultimately I think it comes down to what you’re comfortable with and what you can afford without breaking the bank. I had to be pretty clear up front, meaning not budging from the figure I quoted them and the general idea of what we wanted our wedding to look/feel like. If they couldn’t support us, fine, but after a little kindness and conversation most vendors were more than willing to work with our criteria. As far as number of guests, again, whatever YOU’RE comfortable with is what you should do! We found that 55 people was plenty joyous, and intimate enough that we could talk to every guest during the reception. At the end of the day, you will be surrounded by family and friends who love you and want the best for you on your wedding day, so it will be joyous no matter how many or few people you choose to invite!

    • Ashley B

      Hey first time replying here, but I wanted pipe in about small weddings. Last year I was the MOH at a 60 person wedding and it was a blast! It was great getting to to talk to everyone (for more then a minute) and had a completely different feel from a huge wedding (not that I’m against big weddings). Every person there had a special connection to the bride and groom and it was intimate, special and a perfect fit for the couple!

  • OK, so maybe this isn’t exactly the place (certainly not the post), but I’m kind of ecstatic that Prince William and Katey sent their save-the-dates out by email! Hooray for royals/public figures/the people who every English and American 7-year-old will base their wedding on for years to come doing practical, environment-friendly wedding announcements :)

    Back on topic, HELLS YES to a brewery wedding. Gorgeous. Love.

  • LOVE that 3rd photo from the bottom too! And the one of the 4 women dancing. This post brightened my day in a serious way. Congrats to you both! (And thank you for your service too. You’ve been through deployment to the Middle East AND wedding planning? I stand in awe, lady.)

  • Inspirational wedding, Kelsey! I am planning on working within a similar budget so it’s great to see that it CAN be done!

  • Congratulations! What joyful pictures! Good job picking such a talented photographer & happy guests! ;)

  • Carolyn Comeaux

    Kelsey and Russell I am so happy that your lovely wedding story was posted on APW.
    May you be blessed with a very long happy and loving marriage! I love you both dearly!

  • What wonderful surprise to see this!! All I have to say is I’m glad I was sitting down when I found out about it. This is a wonderful site and so thrilling for people to see, especially the family members. As the mother of the bride and the second from the right in the picture of four dancing, even that didn’t explain how much fun and proud I was with the union of these two wonderful, loving people. I’m so grateful to GOD for putting these two people together in the middle of the ocean to form a beautiful new family. I’m so blessed to have Kelsey as a daughter-in-love and daughter–in-law. Thanks to her, we now have a beautiful blended family with her family. What a wonderful time we had at the wedding and the laughs too. Since Russell’s Grandfather’s at the age of 85 was able to be there to witness this union, may Russell & Kelsey have as many wonderful years together as he is old. Also, don’t EVER say you are to old to do things…..”Papa” may have been 85 years old and walking with a cane but he still was spry enough to get to the garter before all the younger men!! GOD BLESS YOU TWO!! Thanks to this wonderful site for sharing weddings like this for inspiration for others to come!!!

  • I so identify with the desire to get married in the town you call home, even if you don’t really live there anymore. It can be hard because, like Kelsey said, it feels like a destination wedding, which means that people you invite might not come, people you love might complain about having to travel, and you have to do all the planning from a distance. From my experience, though, it’s worth it to get married in a place you feel like you belong. I think Kelsey’s post, and how incredibly confident and comfortable she and Russell look in the photos, support that idea.

  • The package deal was what really saved us planning a long-distance wedding too. We could’ve included flowers in the deal but did them separately and then we had to find a photographer. Everything else was lumped together and it really reduced the stress.

    And I LOVE the picture of you with your bouquet. That is gorgeous!

  • Alexandra

    So much awesome. As was said earlier, thank you both for serving our country [my grandpa was a Navy “lifer”], and congratulations!!!

  • EmmyLou

    Oh my i love your pictures. Especially the last one. Congrats.