Melissa & Eric

More wedding graduates! Hooray! Melissa’s wedding graduate post has been a long time in the making (by which I mean it’s languished in my inbox for a long long time, and for that, I’m sorry). What really struck me about Melissa’s post, is how she talks about finally discussing, and understanding, what both she and her partner want out of their wedding day. The way they untangle what’s expected of them, and what they are dreaming of, and put it into words and values, is perhaps the way all of us should start wedding planning. Really understanding our needs, making a wedding mission statement of sorts… well, I’m not going to say it will save you tears and screaming, but it will definitely give you a place to come back to when you’ve gotten the tears and screaming out of your system (or it did for us, achem). So with that, I’m thrilled to bring you Melissa and her love song to Team Practical:

I knew planning a wedding with my fiance Eric was not going to be an easy feat. I didn’t necessarily need a super traditional wedding, but I wanted a dress, a dance, and flowers. Eric on the other hand wanted a field, beer, and fire. Every wedding related conversation ended with me running upstairs and sobbing into my pillow. Bottom line: I was a girl who lived in a hoodie and jeans, yet I had been socialized (brainwashed) into feeling like I “needed” an over the top wedding. I wanted to sip champagne in a posh dress boutique with my girls without having to worry about a price tag. I wanted to import out of season flowers from Florida. I wanted killer wedding photos that I could gush over for years. We had plenty of money, and I wanted free reign. During the first few months of our engagement, I quickly realized that no matter how many hours I spent crying and stomping me feet, Eric was not going to give in to what I wanted…until I could tell him why I wanted it.

Blogs like APW helped immensely. We started reading them together. I slowed down my wedding porn consumption and started being a little less ridiculous. Eric started to realize that there were people who felt the same way he did about the industry and became a little less angry about the whole thing.  We were in love, we wanted a wedding, and through reading APW, we decided that we needed to actually talk- there was a compromise somewhere and we needed to find it. Finally over our weekly Tuesday night taco dinner we decided to complete a task that we had attempted a handful of times. We both wrote down what elements were important to us, and how much we were willing to spend. This time, after reviewing the list, we went through and asked each other why each of the things was on our respective lists.

Eric learned that I wanted the bonding experience that dress shopping offered, and I learned that Eric wanted late night, laid back fun with his guys.  It wasn’t that he didn’t want a cake or nice flowers, it was just that he would rather spend money on creating an event that celebrated not only us, but also our friends and families. I had always made fun of him for being my Vulcan (nerd alert), but around the dinner table that night, he also revealed to me how important the emotional side of the ceremony was to him. I left dinner touched and amazed by my fiancé.  He wasn’t anti-wedding, he was just anti-wedding that didn’t reflect us and our simple life that we lead. I pulled myself out of the wedding porn world and became determined to somehow create “our” perfect wedding. I took his list, combined with it with mine, took the average of the two budgets and went to work.

We were married on a Thursday night in an intimate, family only ceremony at my first choice of location. We sat in a circle and allowed each of our family members to speak. I was raised Catholic, and expected my parents to read from the Bible, instead they wrote a poem. My brother is a writer and instead of writing something, he just spoke from the heart. My sister cried, and Eric’s brother quoted A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It wasn’t the most traditional ceremony, but it couldn’t have been more perfect for us. It was about the joining of two families and we will always remember every word that was spoken.

We then traveled to a local state park where we fed and entertained 100 of our family members and friends for the weekend. By thinking outside of the box, and through ideas I gathered from APW, we still were able to include the majority of the things on our lists, pay for everyone’s lodging, and stay under our $12,000 budget. I bought my dress during a crazy weekend at Filene’s Basement Running of the Brides. I traded the champagne and comfy chairs for 7-11 coffee and sleeping in the snow on the sidewalk- but the bonding experience was the same none the less. I delegated the list of decorations and had shoppers scouring junk and thrift stores all over the east coast. I set a maximum budget of $1.50 for each vase, $5 for each plate, and $30.00 for the one chandelier. We ordered all of our flowers wholesale and my mother in-law lovingly arranged each of the 50 thrift store vases. I cut coupons, and would not allow myself to make a purchase at a craft store without one in hand. I made everything, including two make-shift photo booths, and enjoyed every minute of doing so.

Basically, APW helped us slow the process down. I figured out how we lived as a couple and created a wedding around that. With every decision we asked ourselves why we were doing it. The first time Eric had me over for dinner, we spent the night building a fort in the family room and playing with Play-Doh.  It is one of our favorite memories of the early days of our relationship. We aren’t chocolate covered almond people, so as favors, the story was framed with a basket of Play-Doh for our guests.

There seems to be a lot of talk about details. I thought I’d add my opinion to the debate. Eric and I had spent an amazing day at a winery in South Africa in June. Back in the States, I spent a month tracking down the US distributor in order to import a case for the Saturday reception. Once we got to the park, I couldn’t find the frame to display next to the wine that described our day in Cape Town. I had a melt down.  It was not a small one either. Fortunately, I had it in the safety of our own cabin and Eric was there to talk me down off the ledge. The framed sign was found and all became right in the world again, but at that moment the worst thing someone could have done was tell me that the details weren’t important. The chicken was under cooked (raw) at our wedding dinner and I could not have cared less. But that frame? It brought me straight to tears- and not the pretty kind. Looking back, as so many people have said before me, it didn’t actually matter, but it was a super emotional day (or weekend) and a little thing that I felt was important at the time set me off- and I think that’s okay.

Also, it’s important to prepare yourself for happiness. I was not prepared for things to go well and I found happiness to be a really overwhelming emotion.  I am an optimist, but because I was responsible for all of the planning, I read, researched, and attempted to prepare myself for every possible thing that could go wrong. I was prepared for rain, broken cameras and bee stings. But I didn’t prepare myself for everyone’s desire and determination to make sure everything went correctly. When I realized there was no room in the budget for a professional photographer, my aunt offered to video the ceremony. She drove down from Vermont early, attended the ceremony, and spent the weekend editing in her cabin. She then allowed us to show it to everyone at the reception on Saturday.  I had known for months that she would be doing that for us but throughout the weekend I couldn’t even talk to her because I was so touched by her generosity.

At the last minute I chose to have an ice cream truck instead of “camp” tee-shirts. It was a tough decision (because every summer camp needs tee-shirts), but I wanted to stay true to the budget. As a gift/surprise to us, my mom and her sister hand stenciled 100 tee shirts. Eric and I arrived at breakfast on Saturday morning to a sea of bright yellow shirts. As an avid gocco user, I spent the majority of breakfast counting the hours they must have spent using their antiquated method.  Once again, I was lost for words.
During Marion’s unveiling of the video on Saturday night, the projector broke and to break the tension, I jokingly asked if anyone if they had any camp songs. My cousin and aunt jumped up and passed out words to a song they had written about our quirky life. Everyone broke out in song about our dogs, our family traditions, and the weekend.

Every time I looked around, I saw someone doing something to help. People were scrubbing dishes, hanging pictures, and cooking food. I sat on a picnic table on Sunday morning as people left, in tears (the pretty kind this time) in total awe of what everyone had created. It was so much more then I could have ever imagined and saying “thank you” as they were leaving did not seem like nearly enough. So be prepared to be touched and perhaps lost for words- people will come together to celebrate you.

APW, and all of you, helped provide the confidence I needed to think outside of the box. The end result brought happiness to us- and all of our family and friends. It was truly a celebration, of love, family, and community.

Photos By: Rimas Rudys, Cat Holbert, and friends + family

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  • kireina

    Wow. Way to go, Melissa! And man, kudos for doing the Running of the Bride – your dress looks amazing! :)

  • Melissa-

    Your wedding was so wonderful, and so fun for all of us. I really think it was because you took the time to ask “why” about every piece. Every element of your wedding was there for a reason, and it really reflected you and Eric and your love of family and friends. Thanks for including us.

    the Aunt

    • The “most-amazing-wedding-videographer-and-editer-of-all-time” aunt Aunt? You’re a legend. (Even if you’re not THAT aunt, you’re proabably a legend too.)

      • I am that Aunt. Wow! I feel like a celebrity.

  • Ahh I just wrote a whole post and then lost it :( Boo. Here’s the short version:

    Thank you so much for writing this!

    This struck me: “I figured out how we lived as a couple and created a wedding around that.”

    We also tried to create our wedding around who we were as a couple, but what I found surprising and wonderful was how much wedding planning HELPED us to define ourselves as a couple. Trying to incorporate *who we are* forced us to articulate it, and I really appreciate that aspect of all the crazy wedding planning.

    Also, I love love love that first picture of you. I think I “aww’d” a little out loud when I saw it.

  • bbqbride

    Super-cute Melissa! Well written and very thoughtful. I really identify with your concept of preparing yourself for happiness. As the planner, it’s easy to be distracted by all of the things that can go wrong. Letting go and appreciating all the things that go well is the good stuff. Such a rewarding lesson!

    Would you mind sharing the details of the venues you chose? Camping around Vermont sounds like the bee’s knees!

    • Thanks for all of the kind words! Unfortunately, my aunt Marion was our only Vermont tie for the wedding. We were married on the lake we both grew up on outside of Richmond, VA and then stayed at Bear Creek Lake State Park in central VA. I totally agree, camping in Vermont would have been amazing!

  • Jen

    Oh man, this totally made me tear up. Your family sounds just amazing– I love that they made camp shirts for you all! :)
    Congrats on a gorgeous and meaningful wedding, and thank you for sharing it here.

  • So awesome! I totally want a camping weekend thing for the wedding. Glad that it turned into this amazing-ness for you. And congratulations to both of you for your braveness and persistence in defining what it needed to be.

  • I think I love you guys!

    I DEFINITELY would have loved to have been at your wedding. Sometimes I wish I could have had an initmate wedding, but Stof and I collect people, so that just didn’t seem to be an option. Melissa, you and Eric managed to “marry” intimate and ginormous party brilliantly. And that is one foxy frock.

    PS: (I can’t resist:) Hooray on your Saffa wine! Yay! Which wine did you quaff?

    • ddayporter

      I’m curious about the wine also!

      • Me too. My favorite wine of all time is from SA but it isn’t distributed here in the States.

        • Hi! Thanks for everyone’s love! The wine was from the Buitenverwatching winery in Constania. We were in SA for the world cup and that particular day, we drove from Cape Town to the Cape Point, stopped to see the penguins on the way and then ended up at Buitenverwatching on our return trip to Cape Town. It was one of those completely perfect, beautiful days. Such an amazing country!!

          • If I turn my head, I can see Buitenverwachting from my chair! (Now that I am living and working full time at the “commune” at my in-laws.) They do make yummy, yummy wine: so glad you had a special time here.

  • M

    Great post. The way you approached planning your wedding is inspiring. I have been struggling with getting my fiance to think outside of conventional wedding planning. For example: an argument about having a traditional head table because that’s how it is done and everyone needs to see us eat. At the end I felt like I bullied him into not having a traditional table! And felt bad about it!

    I think we need to sit down and write out whats important but mostly talk about WHY. Why does he want everyone to see us sitting there? etc….

  • I love your family, I love your wedding and if I were taller and skinnier, I would steal your wedding dress! Congratulations!!

  • I am in love with your ceremony.
    And how amazing it is when people surprise you.
    And that last photo.

  • Aw, this sounds like it was a fabulous weekend! Melissa, I love your dress and that last photo captures what looks to be such a wonderful moment. :)

  • Faith

    Great post and congratulations on your marriage!

    I LOVE your dress and I appreciate your wisdom (yes, you are wise!).
    Your description of the gratitude you felt really resonates with me…I am the same way in accepting gracious offerings.

  • abby_wan_kenobi

    I had the same experience being overwhelmed by the efforts of the people around me on my wedding day. It wasn’t the people I expected to go the extra mile (though most of those did) it was the people who I expected to show up as guests, enjoy the party and hit the road who bowled me over.

    I keep trying to write a Wedding Graduate post that expresses how much I was knocked over by love at our wedding, but I haven’t been able to properly put it into words yet.

    Thanks for sharing.


    “I had always made fun of him for being my Vulcan (nerd alert), but around the dinner table that night, he also revealed to me how important the emotional side of the ceremony was to him. I left dinner touched and amazed by my fiancé.”

    Aren’t those moments wonderful? Oh, and completely appreciated the Trekkie reference!

  • Jen M

    Yay to talking things out! I too am one of those girls that, while leading a pretty understated life was completely seduced by the WIC wedding. And yes, I still watch “Say Yes to the Dress” but since I found APW I can googoogaga over the pretty while laughing at the price tag. Melissa’s post absolutely illustrates the sanity that APW injects into the whole wedding world and, quite frankly, into the world in general. Neither me or my sister were engaged or married (and still aren’t) when she forwarded me my first APW post…but it seriously speaks to people. Yay for APW, yay for sanity and yay for Melissa and Eric.

  • Wedding planning, and the whole engagement so far, has been such a learning experience for us–about who each of us is; about who we are together… I’m learning about myself and about my fiance. It’s more from the things that have changed in our relationship because of the engagement: seeing each other’s families more; doing the holidays with each other (and thus sorting out what to do where and when, as well as actually talking about their importance in each of our lives); discussing the bigger life questions like kids and where to settle down and just what our lives will look like.

    It’s weird and scary and catches me totally off-guard sometimes (he’s way more spiritual than I realized; I’m way less than he’d hoped), but this is the good stuff; this is the stuff that we’re building our lives around.

  • Richelle

    That last picture just knocked me out. So much love! So fun! You’re together with your man, literally, and your people are behind you, literally. That’s one to frame in the front hall forever and ever. congratulations!

  • Class of 1980

    You had me at “got married in a circle” and a reception by a lake. ;)

  • Stephasaurus

    Beautiful!!! And I’m really curious as to which part of “Hitchhiker” Eric’s brother quoted! ;)

    • Hi! It was pretty sweet- he referenced the number “42” being the answer to everything, and then added a Beatles quote about love. It’s E’s favorite book, so it was a good moment (they were all good, but that one especially). I think my name is a link to my silly (no where near worthy of being mentioned on APW) blog, but the video link is on there a few posts down if you want the 9 min play by play. Beware of the bad dancing mid way through, it may ruin all of the pretty pictures above :)

      • Stephasaurus

        Aw! Referencing Hitchhiker AND The Beatles in the same sentence is pretty much 100% win. I love it. And what a beautiful video, too!! Thanks so much for sharing. :)

  • Ash

    oooooooooOOO I’m doing a state park reception, after a small family ceremony also! Loved this. Happy Marriage to you :)

  • Kate

    I absolutely adore your dress and the lakeside location (the ceremony, I think?)!!

    My husband and I had the same differences you two did, but reversed. I wanted a field, he wanted the National Cathedral, etc. I completely agree with you that it’s much easier to compromise about something if there is a reason other than “It’s just what people do.” I was able to be OK with things I wouldn’t have chosen myself because they were important to my husband. Having a reason also helps figure out a solution that works for both people – sometimes you can meet both your goals by picking a third option that you might not find without getting to the source of the desire. I’m so glad it worked out for you, it sounds like a great wedding.

  • Thank you for sharing! My fiance & I had similar differences &, yes, it really helped to talk about who wanted what & WHY. But really, I’m most impressed with the ice cream truck . . . that is soooo fun!!!

    Congratulations & best wishes~

  • tupelohoney

    The intimate ceremony sounds beautiful, really beautiful. I got teary-eyed when you described it and how family members spoke. What an amazing thing.

  • Amanda

    We have a weekly Tuesday night taco dinner, also! Dinner time happens to be when we sit down, turn the tv/computers/etc. off, and discuss the Big Things. I am glad you came to a compromise on the important elements for your wedding, it certainly sounds like a familiar story!

    And your dress is lovely, congratulations!

  • Nini

    Love it!! What a truly authentic wedding. Everything looks lovely and it seems like a wedding I would have been thrilled to be a guest at. Your ceremony sounded outstanding. I don’t believe I have ever been so jealous in my life :)

    Love and happiness? Can you really ask for more from a wedding? Your smiles say it all. I wish you and Eric all the best!!

  • ddayporter

    note to self: enact taco tuesdays immediately.

    we had one ‘meatless monday’ and then kind of, umm, forgot to keep that going. maybe tacos will stick! never enough taco in my life.

    ALSO absolutely amazing wedding, I definitely teared up at the story of your ceremony. and several other parts.

    and that dresssssss nice find at the running of the brides, I was lame and waited till 11am to wander in, didn’t find much that wasn’t being guarded by 6 bridal brigade members each.

    • Sarah

      I just had this exact thought. Never enough tacos!

  • This is one of my favorite wedding graduate posts ever. Not only for the teary happiness, but the comparing of lists and figuring out not only what you wanted but why? Is *so* exactly what I need to do right now with my partners. (Having worked in high-end weddings is proving to be a bit of a handicap in trying to plan my own, sane, celebration.)

    Thank you.

  • I love what you say about preparing yourself for happiness. So, so true. I felt like a helium balloon from all the communal joy on our day and it was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced in my life.

  • Shotgun Shirley

    Your wedding looks like so much fun! And I love the approach you took to compromising.

  • MELISSA! this was awesome. i learned a lot. but i also have a selfish question: how was your experience having a teeny ceremony and a large reception? i have been going back and forth like crazy about whether or not to do that. i want the ceremony to be intimate and real, not a show. but it feels weird to ask people to come to a reception to celebrate something that they didn’t actually witness. if you have insight, i would really love it.

    • Hi! Great question. That decision was a hard one for us too! Up until a month before we were still toying with the idea of getting married Saturday morning at the park because we were worried, like you, that someone would feel slighted coming to celebrate something that they did not witness.

      In the end, the decision truly came down to the fact that we knew that we both needed each other to be emotionally available during the ceremony. We wanted to separate the commitment from the big party, and concentrate on the joining of two families. I didn’t want to have to mingle, make introductions or stress over anything after our vows. It was amazing to just celebrate, relax, and process the HUGE, life-altering thing that had just occurred.

      We also split up the days up which helped a lot. We didn’t get married and then go hang out and party with people that weren’t invited. I think that by having the ceremony on a separate day from the reception, it also made people ask questions. We answered them truthfully and although our reasoning may have come across as selfish, our friends and family seemed to respect the fact that we had taken the time to really process what was important to us.

      Try to think of it this way- they are not coming to celebrate something that they “didn’t actually witness.” They are coming to celebrate you, your new partner, and the start of your life together. You may ruffle a few feathers if you go the small ceremony route, but if you feel like it’s something you need, then do it! It was (by far) the best decision we made and we survived with all of our friends and extended family intact :)

  • That looks and sounds so beautiful.


  • KT

    Can every wedding grad have a video to go along?? Loved the circle idea. Beautiful wedding!

  • Moz

    Wow, great grad post. What I especially love about it is that you both disagreed about what your wedding should look like. A lot of grad posts skip to the agreeing part, which I’m not dissing, but it’s great to hear that partners come at it from two totally different angles.

    Congrats on your marriage xx

  • Kim

    Ah, the conversations about why you want what you want. With a European husband, we had many, many of these conversations, and not just about the wedding. I think how the two of you worked it all out and met in the middle is indicative a quite a blossoming marriage.


  • Sarah M

    So happy to find another Running of the Brides survivor! Your dress is gorgeous, and if your experience was anything like mine (almost a year ago now), you DEFINITELY got the bonding experience you were looking for. It’s one of my fondest memories of wedding planning and I’m trying to spread the gospel…. I mean how can you beat getting a wedding dress for under $300?? My mom and friends and I have such great memories from that day that are far more hilarious and interesting than a glass of champagne in a bridal salon could ever provide. If you are willing to put in the work (took me 5 hours to find The Dress, although we did break for lunch), it’s totally worth it. Good for you for adjusting the situation to fulfill your goals in your wedding planning (aka wanting the bonding experience, but not the huge price tag!)… Just some comments from out here in the peanut gallery :)

  • Alexandra

    Congratulations!!! So much awesome.
    Small ceremony and camping-weekend are both things that we considered, but ultimately decided not to go with, for the sakes of ourselves and our families. It’s really fun to see other people’s interpretations of those ideas.
    Love the descriptions and photos!

  • Claire

    I know I’m a little late to the game, I’ve been searching for posts to see how people make the outdoor wedding work. I have to agree with what everyone has said so far; it looks and sounds beautiful and so authentic. Do you mind sharing more details about how that worked out? Did all the guests camp? What was your back-up plan in case of rain? That’s the part I keep getting stuck on…

    Thanks! And congrats!