Molly and Michael’s Atypical Traditional Wedding

When Molly sent me her wedding, with the disclaimer that unlike a lot of APW weddings it was traditional, but she wanted to raise a flag for the traditional brides in the house. I thought, “Ok! Cool,” and then I opened her pictures and TOTALLY cracked up. Because…. yeah….. tradition is clearly in the eye of the beholder. Molly’s wedding, at a traditional wedding venue or not, was as f*cking vibrant and full of joy as Every. Other. Team Practical. Wedding. Ever. Which brings me to the traditional/ non-traditional dilemma. Ariel said something really smart at the OBB book reading, which was that the only couples she worries about are the ones that set out to have an “Offbeat Wedding,” because “there is no try, only do.” Which is to say, the best thing we can do is just to make our weddings what we need them to be, and that’s it.

I actually have been known to get slightly offended when people refer to our wedding as non-traditional… or worse as “casual” (What? Was I suppose to wear a ballgown and have David in white tie at our summer morning garden wedding? It wasn’t casual, it was appropriate). Non-traditional? Because why? Our bridesmaids didn’t match? We didn’t *have* bridesmaids? We said vows, didn’t we? We had a huppah, didn’t we? I wore a WEDDING DRESS for goodness sakes, didn’t I? Define traditional! So, with that rather lengthy preamble, this one goes out to all you other atypical traditionalists, in, you know, wedding venues, wearing wedding dresses, saying wedding vows and still being your bad-ass selves. (and *tell* me this wedding isn’t style-tastic…)

I thought about writing a wedding graduate post for APW a few months after I got married, but I didn’t think I had anything new to say. As time passed I kept reading other wedding graduate posts and thinking, “Me, too!” Then I read a few more and started to feel like my experience wasn’t represented among the fabulous, off-beat, style-tastic weddings. And then I started thinking that maybe if I’m feeling this way, other brides-to-be might be too and I could share with them.

What I want to share is what surprised me most of all when I look back at my wedding. My wedding was traditional! Whaaat?! My wedding wasn’t innovative? My wedding wasn’t a beautiful, unique butterfly the likes of which none of my family had ever seen? For a teeny-tiny second I felt bad. Then of course, I mentally slapped myself because if there’s one thing APW taught me it’s that ALL thoughtfully planned weddings are unique, beautiful butterflies.* So this is for all the practical brides who aren’t really bucking any big traditions, but are still pretty badass.

I knew I didn’t want our wedding to look like a “wedding” (to which my husband consistently replied “Honey, it IS a wedding”, but I also know our families and there were many conventional wedding bits and pieces that weren’t going anywhere. Namely: a large guest list, a DJ, seating arrangements, and a catered meal at a venue that specializes in weddings. Just because everyone’s ultimate happiness rested on having a traditional wedding didn’t mean our wedding couldn’t make people think “Oh yeah, this is definitely Michael & Molly’s wedding.”

Our most important decision was to get married in Flagstaff – a place that’s not our hometown, but is a town that feels like home. Our love of simple, outdoor loveliness made it’s way into our decorations Our music selection was a mix of guest requests and songs that just make us smile. We served those Lofthouse pink cookies because everyone knows that I die for them (and who doesn’t?!) We ended up creating a lot of the décor ourselves. The centerpieces were handmade (by the hands of some very good friends, but handmade nonetheless) with bulk flowers and old bottles my husband had collected over years of working in the woods. Our favors were nature-inspired pictures my husband took himself (mostly while out backpacking) in cardholders we made of sliced up pieces of wood.

The only element that we bucked tradition on was our ceremony. It was the one area that I couldn’t compromise on. The ceremony is the heart and soul of the celebration and it’s the part I spent the most time dreaming about. I envisioned us saying our self-penned vows on the top of a mountain with all our friends and family surrounding us – and nothing else. Our great friend helped us write our short, funny, sincere ceremony and also officiated (with a bullhorn, mostly because we knew he’d love it).

We scrapped chairs, save two for our grandmothers, and everyone gathered around in a huge clump. The only decoration was the plain aisle runner (solely for marking where not to stand), our beside table to hold our friend’s notes, and the kitchen stool that helps me reach tall things and give my husband hugs. It was and still is my favorite part of the day.

Along the way, I learned things – both good and bad – about myself. I am a great organizer (hello, color-coordinated schedules!) but a lousy delegator (hello, crying over working through our after-rehearsal party). Everyone advised me to dole out the projects and I wanted to think I had. I enlisted the help of dozens of friendors who own flower shops, work in organic bakeries, are hairstylists, & knit gorgeous green sweaters, but I held the really “important” projects close to my chest. It’s hard to let things go, but know that most DIY projects won’t matter in the end, especially if they’re costing you your sanity.

Sanity is a hard thing to come by in wedding planning and I’m jealous of many a wedding graduate who has had that elusive experience. Of course, it’s all relative, but I tried to keep the crazy to a minimum. I tried to go with the flow for things that obviously didn’t matter to me (“The flowers came in the wrong color? You want to take a taxi back from the reception? Oh-kay!”) and ignored nay-saying of what I knew mattered (“Mad that our friend is officiating our wedding first? Don’t want to stand during the ceremony? I’m sure you’ll get over it.”)

For us, staying sane came down to just remembering what mattered (the ceremony and having a frackin’ amazing dance party) and the people we were spending this best day ever with (family and friends who seriously cared about open bars and garter tosses). Weighing the expectations of our guests against our own let us make choices we could be happy with. It was difficult to let go of the things I thought would make our wedding original and cutting-edge, but I know it was the right choice for me and probably for lots of other brides too.

I will say this, though. If wedding planning sanity is hard to come by, wedding day sanity couldn’t be easier to find. On your wedding day, you Must. Not. Care. about anything except you and your husband. Don’t worry about making sure you talk to Great-Aunt So-and-So or how your super cute trail maker escort cards are lopsided or that the DJ started the music too soon.

So just wake up. Smile. Surround yourself with people you love and who are also smiling. Get ready leisurely and have a treat. Meet up with your soon-to-be husband. Tell him you love him. Smile some more. Hang out for hours doing what you enjoy doing (eating, dancing, not-dancing, etc). Go to sleep next to your husband with a smile on your face. If you do this, nothing else can matter. Even if you get your photos back and your hair looks stupid and you realize that no one took home your favors, you’ll remember the smile on your face and you just won’t care.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget to sign that marriage license either! We got all the way through dinner before we remembered!

Pictures by Melissa Dunstan Photography

*Meg’s note: I would add that also, NO weddings are unique butterflies. We’re getting married, the very point of getting married is to embrace an age old tradition, and in so doing, make it your own. All weddings are weddings, and that’s just it. And as my dad smartly said, “With weddings, tradition always wins. So as far as I’m concerned you can do whatever you want.” And once your realize all weddings are just weddings, AND that all weddings are unique… well… it takes a lot of the pressure off, no?

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  • C

    These photos are fabulous! Also, I was going to say something along the lines of what Meg’s dad said…but Meg’s dad already said it so I’ll just agree with his wisdom ;)

  • Allison

    This wedding is simple, joyful and lovely!! I think that the green sweater, choice of location and ceremony make your wedding VERY unique! Congrats!
    I’ve actually been dealing with this exact concept lately. Our wedding is going to be simple and well thought out but not over the top unique or “diy”.
    I am a crafty person by nature, so you’d think that I want to go all out and handmake everything, but in reality the only thing I’m making is the playlist and corsages and my fiance is making the invitations.
    I think I just don’t want to get caught up in all of the “extras” which I LOVE in other peoples wedding, but have no desire to do any of that myself.
    Isn’t that what makes planning a wedding kind of amazing? To each our own and when someone asks why we served a vegetarian pizza buffet, I’ll tell them it’s because we WANTED to and that’s all that matters.

  • Molly has been a champ at helping me with our own lil mountain wedding….hello color coded time-charts :-) And I love her green cardigan.

    I posted about their bodacious wedding earlier this year! I’m glad the entire APW community gets to read about their wedding now. Lots of gems in her words.

  • Everyone falls somewhere on the offbeat/indie/traditional/WIC line for weddings. I’ll be happy to be right there in the middle with you Molly. Your outdoor ceremony seems so beautiful, visually and emotionally.

    • mollymouse

      I’m so excited that you’ve written in one sentence what I was rambling on about! As a teacher, I’m all about the learning continuum and respecting each kid’s place on it, so your comment made me think that’s it exactly: Everyone’s wedding is at it’s own space on the Wedding Continuum (indie/traditional/WIC/etc) and (while there are common elements that link all weddings together) that’s what makes each couple’s wedding special.

      • Allison

        OOH! “Wedding Continuum”, that’s so perfect!!

  • Katie

    Lovely, lovely wedding. I’m constantly stressing about making my wedding not look like a wedding, a concept which is fraught with problems from conception. This wedding looks wonderfully fun and relaxed. I’m inspired.

  • Aine

    haha- another short bride. My cousins and brother are offering to “help out” by getting me a box to stand on and offering to drag it down the aisle on a string for me.

  • Haley

    This was so helpful for me. I look at wedding blogs constantly. (I’m basically obsessed), and while I could never come up with so many beautiful ideas on my own, I really want our wedding to be something special and unique. Something that reflects my fiance and I and people will leave saying, “wow, I’ve never been to a wedding like this.” Not because I’m so dang original, but because our relationship is something rare, and I want our wedding to reflect that. Thank you for reminding me that I don’t have to work my butt off to hand make every detail of our day in order to show the world that we are who we are. They already know.

  • Molly, what a gorgeous wedding. As a mountain bride myself I can think of nothing better than marrying your best friend with the sun on your face and the mountains surrounding your friends and family. Congrats!

  • Arachna

    Lovely, lovely, lovely and me too!

    On a superficial note yay green and orange! That’s me too! Can I ask where the bride got her pretty orange hair flower?

    • mollymouse

      My friend made the hair flowers for me (she’s the good friend who also did the flower arrangements – I highly recommend hanging out with artists!) She has an Etsy shop (EmyLewis); the flowers aren’t listed, but she might do an order if your message her.

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  • And yes, the marriage license. We forgot to sign it until days later. We took a magnificent drive over a summit get one signature and then it had to fly to PA to get another. I wasn’t worried, but for some reason my uber-laid back man was very worried about that piece of paper!

  • CaitStClair

    Absolutely beautiful!
    And Molly, you guys definitely aren’t the only ones to forget about the certificate. We signed our personal one during the ceremony but completely forgot about the legal one until the next morning!

  • liz

    isn’t it funny how some would hate to be labeled “traditional” while others squirm under the label “untraditional”?

    let’s all just have some damn weddings.

    ceremony in the mountains = gorgeous.

  • Olivia

    What a beautiful wedding!

    This is my favourite line: “Sanity is a hard thing to come by in wedding planning and I’m jealous of many a wedding graduate who has had that elusive experience.”

    For me, one of the most helpful aspects of the wedding grad posts has been seeing that I’m not the only one who has lost her sanity here and there in this process.

  • Alyssa

    Traditional or non-traditional, this wedding is lovely. Molly, you are SO adorable! Flagstaff is STUNNING and it’s great you got married in a place that was beautiful AND meant something. Someone told me (or maybe I read it on a blog, who knows…) that one of the best compliments a wedding can recieve isn’t, “Wow, wasn’t that fun/interesting/unique?” but “They looked SO happy!”

    And Molly, you and Michael looked amazingly and wonderfully happy. Congrats!

  • caitlin

    totally style-tastic! i love the green sweater, especially.

  • Jennifer

    Yay Flagstaff! How beautiful to be married with those lovely views — though (appropriately, given the bride’s closing thoughts) it’s those beautifully happy smiles that really stand out for me.

    Just to echo the “tradition is in the eye of the beholder,” though, one of my coworkers just saw this over my shoulder (um, it’s almost noon, I guess I can call this my lunch break) while I was on the pictures with the cardigan and commented “oh, a bride in green, is this that quirky bride website? I thought you were having a traditional wedding, why do you keep looking at those quirky ones?” Um, we’re trying to have a joyful wedding. Which means this certainly qualifies as inspiration, regardless of how traditional any of these weddings are. So there!

    And ours is going to look “traditional” (if your concept of tradition is primarily 20th century American WASPhood) in large part because, like Molly noted, sometimes the right choice is to let go of things that will make it more cutting edge and original in favor of other things. We *could* have a more interesting cake (or cake alternative) than the standard white-iced wedding cake included in our venue’s wedding package, but that would mean a) spending money on the cake-cutting charge that we’d rather put towards the bar, and b) spending time and energy into finding a baker, deciding on a cake, and then worrying about yet another vendor. A less traditional route would be worth it if either of us hated standard issue wedding cakes, but since we don’t? Traditional-and-unoriginal it is!

  • Alison

    When I first picked our venue (beautiful historic hotel) my sister looked at their website and said that “it’s so you”. And I freaked out a little bit. No, a lot. Did that make me predictable? Boring? Compacent? APW and your beautiful post are helping me to realize that it makes it RIGHT, because it is me, and that’s half of what it should be about.

  • AWESOME. As a fellow a-typical traditionalist, this is fabulous.

    “…I also know our families and there were many conventional wedding bits and pieces that weren’t going anywhere. Namely: a large guest list, a DJ, seating arrangements, and a catered meal at a venue that specializes in weddings”

    Hello, wedding twin! Two large families, plus ten years of accumulated friends; big guest list, check. Booty-shaking at an Epic Party required; so, DJ, check. Again, cross-mingling of friends; seating chart, check. Finally, the venue. We’re getting married at a venue that will organize almost every last detail for me. Why? Because I know that I plan things down to the nanosecond; I’m an event planner for a living. My fiance looked at me, considered the idea of watching me coordinate caterers and rental companies and alcohol delivery and chair layout on our WEDDING day, and vetoed it. He immediately decided that paying the extra money for a more traditional venue was worth every cent if it meant I maintained even a tenuous grasp on my sanity. So Mister Traditional is allowing me to have my bridesmaids in different black (GASP) dresses, he’s letting me wear Converse to the reception, and he’s forgoing the traditional receiving line. All for me. Compromise, ladies, compromise.

    “The ceremony is the heart and soul of the celebration and it’s the part I spent the most time dreaming about. I envisioned us saying our self-penned vows on the top of a mountain with all our friends and family surrounding us – and nothing else.”

    Yep. Except we’re in a field next to a barn. Perfect for our born-and-raised New England background, perfect for us. Open sky (weather permitting, dear god), a few cows, and our loved ones. The ceremony will be structured by the minister of the church I was raised in, because he writes a frickin’ awesome wedding, but the vows will be All Us. And I’m so psyched.

    So our a-typical, traditional, ever-so-slightly off-kilter big barn wedding will be very US. Boys in perfect tuxes, ladies looking fabulous (if mis-matched), and a bride and groom excited to become a husband and a wife.

  • That B&W photo of them in the field = stunning.

  • Kristen

    Molly, you rock. I’m with you in that my wedding is going to be the more traditional side and that that’s okay, too. If it’s what we want and need, it’s what we want and need. But that’s the whole point. If someone wants, needs, and can actually afford a big WIC shindig or whatever, power to them! If someone else just wants their closest family, some of their besties, and their favorite dress they always feel spectacular in regardless of the color, power to them, too!

    The whole point is getting to choose for yourselves.

    Those choices do also include what things you’ll make concessions on because they’ll make people you love happy and which things you’ll stand your ground on, even if they make people you love sad. Which is hard to keep in sight sometimes when you’re getting the hard sell from vendors. And friends. And family. And complete freaking strangers who have zero business in the matter.

    I love APW for reminding me of what’s important every time I start to get overwhelmed.

  • Mollie

    Molly, thank you.

    My partner and I went from a family-reunion-picnic-bbq type of wedding to a Traditional-Wedding-In-A-Wedding-Venue-With-Catering-Staff-And-A-Gazebo within 2 weeks of getting engaged… once our wedding was no longer just a dream in our minds but a real event that our families were aware of and felt strongly about. At first, I was really sad, but our choice really IS the best because this day isn’t just about us, it is about our families, too– who have been looking forward to this day for years and years.

    So yes, long white Wedding Dress, full buffett dinner, traditional bridal party, long list of “must have” posed photos, white wedding cake, first dance, mother/son and father/daughter dance, etc., etc. etc.

    But the other day, my mom said, “Your wedding is the least traditional I have EVER heard of… but you know what… I am realizing that is OK because it is your wedding and you can do what you want.”

    As in, bridesmaids don’t match, groom in a suit not a tux, no veil, DJ music for ceremony not live, Lutheran pastor rather than Catholic priest, outdoor ceremony, simple invites, homemade wedding cake, no favors, and bright yellow daisies.

    Traditional IS in the eye of the beholder, for sure! I suppose if I think that my wedding is VERY traditional, and my mom thinks it is COMPLETELY off the wall (but coming to terms with it), then maybe that means we’ve struck the right balance.

    • Kendall

      Oh my gosh! I was about to comment, but then I read this one and it says EXACTLY what I was going to write! My fiance and I went through the same transformation when we realized what “Wedding” means to our families, and both of our mom’s have been making similar comments about how non-traditional our wedding will be when we actually see it as being super traditional.What rocks the boat for our families (outside! colorful invites! pies!) is actually super tame for others (priest! traditional vows! sit down dinner!).

      It’s all about the happy medium, eh?

    • Nina

      After reading about the elements that are considered “traditional” in a wedding, I’m realizing we’re super traditional! I never thought this, because in the eyes of a few family members and even friends, we are not being all that traditional. So it is completely about your frame of reference. I’m happy to just scrap the few traditional elements that bother me and go along with the rest – because it does make life easier than trying to invent what a wedding looks like from scratch.

  • Michelle

    I am getting married in Flagstaff and could really use some help finding vendors. If you have ones that you really liked send them my way

    • hey! I’m a flagstaff bride too – and thanks to blogland I’ve befriended a few Flagstaff brides along the way. I have LOADS of opinions on vendors :-) I can recommend some great local peeps.

    • mollymouse

      Michelle, I’d be glad to email with you if you’d like. Jes has awesome contacts/information too! My email is Happy planning :)

  • I love this, because it’s so similar to the way I feel and to the wedding we’re planning. We never really thought of ourselves as “traditional” people… but here we are, with this wedding that is kind of becoming more traditional all the time, and that’s okay, because apparently that’s who we are inside.

    Molly, your wedding was gorgeous and I LOVE THE STOOL in the ceremony. My fiance is six foot six, and I’m five feet, so… yeah… even if I’m in fairly high heels, he’ll still be a foot taller than me. So we’re thinking about getting a stool too, and I thought that was so cute!

    • sara

      Agree totally about the stool! Such a fun touch. Even though my fiance really isn’t THAT much taller than me, he sure thinks so, and “short” has kind of become is favorite nickname for me. Now I’m thinking it might be kind of fun to surprise him with a little temporary height in similarly style-tastic way…

  • KD

    Interesting point that like so many things “Traditional” is very much in the eye of the beholder – but I feel like there have to be certain elements (or at least within each culture) that most of us can agree are traditional. Like the bride wearing a variation of white/ivory…

    The rest is pretty much all a blur of personal opinion. I mean, I wouldn’t consider having an alternate dessert besides cake really considered non-traditional these days and some people probably thing getting married outside of a church is non-traditional.

    I think that’s the beauty of planning a wedding in these days is that for the most part anything goes. And let’s face it – it’s all been done. The more people do and expose people to, the broader the definition of “traditional” becomes. If it’s a twist on the traditional, nothing really shocks people our age (probably doesn’t apply to our parents and grandparents as much).

  • Julianna

    Molly, thanks for sharing your lovely wedding, under whichever category it may be placed depending on the context of whoever is reading about/looking at/attending it! I too worry that sometimes my wedding will be “too traditional” (whatever the heck that means) and of course it turns out that it will be the *least* traditional wedding most of my family members have ever attended – I guess that is the betwixt & between land that is a ceremony officiated by a Catholic priest that is not a full mass nor held in a church. But your wedding grad post reminds me that it is ok to be who & what you are, and that “traditional” does not have to mean “bad”!
    (but the fact that I spent any brain cell energy worrying what my grandmother would think about the meaning behind my choice of a champagne-colored dress as opposed to a white one re: virginal status is just one more example of the type of crazy that seems to only come out thanks to wedding planning!)

  • brendalynn

    Love the postscript!!! It’s the 3rd or 4th or 5th step (or maybe 18th or something) in the whole “1st I WIC-ed out, 2nd I rebelled against the WIC, 3rd I realized…” Yep. Weddings are a tradition. And yours. And not yours too ;)

    • brendalynn

      hmmm, not sure that made sense. Sometimes I just get giddy reading APW posts that seem so sane right now!

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  • Jessica

    Boy oh boy did I need this today! I am so very thankful to all the brides who tell me that they felt crazy during wedding planning, as opposed to the ones who “loved every minute of it”. Yuck. Thank you for your honesty and making me realize I’m not a crazy person and that at the end of the day, what matters is I’m wearing my best friend. What a beatufiful, fun fun fun wedding!

    • meg

      (Shhhh: only nut-jobs love every minute of it). Or people who were smart enough to have a two second engagement (not me). Or perhaps the fabulously wealthy… but I doubt even that.

  • Ryan

    My fiance and I have been thinking about a mountaintop wedding, but are concerned about the travel time between the ceremony and the reception. I’m hearing that any travel time longer than 30 minutes from the ceremony site to the reception is too long, but it seems like if you two had your ceremony on a mountaintop, surely it took longer than that to get down the mountain, right? Anyway, I’m just wondering.
    Thanks very much for your time!

  • Shawna Johnston

    Hey, I was wondering who made your green cardigan? I’m looking for one just like it for my wedding and haven’t really been able to find any I like in stores.

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