Laura & Tim’s Homegrown Backyard Wedding

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Dear Laura (the twenty-one-year-old college graduate, who has no idea how to plan a wedding):

First step: breathe. Second step: smile. Third step: Let your inner-child shine!

Tim, your boyfriend of four years, has just proposed and you are already set on the theme of your wedding. You want it to be homegrown, because that is what the two of you are, homegrown. Family is the most important thing, so you both choose your aunt’s house as the location. You were blessed to be able to fit into your mother’s fabulous 70s wedding dress. Food comes next, so you plan menus with your mom and dream up wonderful ideas involving farmers markets and family reunions. Then you go back to college for your last semester.

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You’re sitting in your dorm room, looking at some Etsy page for customized wedding hangers (something you don’t want and you really don’t need), worrying about whether your wedding will be the “right kind” of wedding instead of finishing your sixty-page senior research paper. Don’t you remember, Laura? This is a paper you’ve wanted to write since you started college, and it’s here. So stop looking up how to make felt balls or what song is best for your bridal entrance and instead write that awesome paper, screw around with your friends, sleep in hammocks outside, and stay out all night having a blast and doing cartwheels on the lawns of your college with your fiancé. That is what matters most, that you always find true Joy in life.

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But okay, I know, it took a while to learn that lesson. You graduate and come home with your fiancé to live with your parents while you plan your wedding. Now you are sleeping in your bed from eighth grade while your soon-to-be groom is sleeping on the futon couch in the office. In your eyes, you went from badass college graduate to “tween” bride-to-be in one week. You tried to plan the perfect wedding, but everywhere you looked, all the photos, blogs, websites, albums were about “women” getting married. Not twenty-one-year-old post-college chicks, but thirty-two-year-olds, with savvy jobs, awesome vacation spots, who are always photographed looking sexy and pulled-together while holding some cocktail that’s pink or orange and has a flirty name like “Between the Sheets.”

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The problem was that you were stuck in a cycle you knew too well, where you kept comparing yourself to others and feeling nothing but guilt. You looked at other weddings and wondered if you measured up, if you were confident and capable of being a perfect “grown-up” bride. You saw the photographers, the chefs, the table settings, the whimsical decorations that look hand-done yet professional at the same time. You told yourself you had the skills to do everything DIY even though your last craft project resulted in a C- and a disappointed sigh from your teacher. You decide to go to an event rental place called “Chic” and felt small and awkward while standing in their showroom instead of feeling, well, chic. You didn’t know what was wrong and why you felt so unaccomplished, when you should have felt amazing.

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Well guess what. I can tell you exactly what was wrong. You were feeling guilty about your age, your youthfulness, your child-like pizzazz. You looked to your peers who were also getting married that summer for support, and instead of seeing weddings like the one you wanted, you saw thirty-two-year-old-inspired weddings with three photographers, a castle location, and pashiminas for every guest. You panicked and felt unsuccessful in all your ideas and plans. You didn’t know what to do.

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But Laura, I am so proud of you, because you figured it out! Didn’t it feel freaking awesome once you did realize it was ageism you were dealing with? You understood the most important concept of your life that summer: that you are a kid-at-heart and you love your husband because he is a kid-at-heart too. No matter what age you get married at, it will never be the “grown-up” wedding that you see in magazine spreads, because that is not you. You are youthful, you are joyful, you are free and bright and you want to dress only in flowers.

So know what you did? You turned your thought around, you blessed everyone in your family that had supported you with suggestions and ideas, and you grabbed your groom’s hand and created the wedding of your dreams. Bridesmaid dresses being all floral: check. Pluot pie instead of wedding cake: check. Gift bags for all the kids attending the wedding: check. You let go of ideas that weren’t harmoniously coming into place, and instead of mourning you turned around and let all of the new ones come into your life, and you cheered and smiled like the child you reflect.

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Here’s your wedding day recap: Both your and Tim’s families came together and made all your dreams come true. Your wedding favor was homemade paper filled with the seeds of your favorite herbs; the food was from your favorite restaurant and absolutely scrumptious. Your sisters did you hair and makeup and your mother’s dress was stunning on you. Your groom got ready in the room next to you, and you both drove to your wedding together. The tables were covered in flowers from the farmers markets and your napkins where made by your talented aunt out of vintage floral tablecloths. The decorations were tissue paper flowers you made with Tim’s youngest sister and Nepalese prayer flags. You made a wedding sign out of a wobbly painting, and your guestbook was a pile of Bananagram pieces. Your cousins were called your “flower cousins” and all seven of them pranced down the aisle only to dump all the flower petals on the altar. Your and Tim’s sisters were your beautiful wedding party and both of your parents walked you both down the aisle. Your bouquet was vegetables and herbs and you had flowers in your hair. You’ll remember very little from the ceremony except that it was full of light and love and you couldn’t stop smiling. Your close friend was your photographer, and your mother made every pluot pie with love and care. Your little cousins stole the dance floor, and you made your debut as a singer by singing duets with Tim to your small gathering of friends and family. Best of all, dear Laura, you were deliriously happy and full of love.

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The best part is you are still deliriously happy. Your life will always be full of love and joy, and your inner-child will never dim, no matter what age you are.
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Laura (the twenty-one-year-old wife who still does cartwheels with her husband)

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  • Oh I loved this post. As someone who (at 32) is still a child at heart, and I think will always be, I was smiling all along. I wish you, Laura and Tim, all the joy in the World.

    I also had flowers in my hair, we had an old-fashioned ice-cream car, plenty of toys, bubbles and coloring books for the kids, as well as a photographic game for them, and our photobooth full of props that added to the “childish” fun for everyone.

    So beautiful this:

    “You understood the most important concept of your life that summer: that you are a kid-at-heart and you love your husband because he is a kid-at-heart too. No matter what age you get married at, it will never be the “grown-up” wedding that you see in magazine spreads, because that is not you. You are youthful, you are joyful, you are free and bright and you want to dress only in flowers.”

    • Cleo

      Yes — the part you quoted was poetry

  • Rosie

    I love reading wedding graduate posts and seeing the wedding pictures as you read: it’s like a sneak preview of the ending, or watching a film and knowing that it’s going to have a happy ending :) I also got married at 21!

  • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

    I just love this post to bits. I’m a couple of years older, but I feel in the same boat. Doing something different than the weddings the family has seen in the past couple years, and feeling very young and insecure at times. I have a very supportive family, and future husband, so I shouldn’t really be feeling this way. A little chapel, and a reception with fiddle music, sandwhiches, and pie, is just as lovely as several hundred people in a very ornate church. And it’s ok to not feel quite grown-up enough.

    I am book marking this post. In fact, I’m going to read it again right now.

    • Miranda VanZ

      Just wanted to say that I’m from Nova Scotia too! You, me and my sisters could be the only Nova Scotian APWers.

      • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

        YAY!!! Hello fellow Nova Scotian!! :)

    • I loved this post so much!!! I am going to read it again, too! I am also a few years older, but my fiance and I are definitely kids. This post was so beautifully written. Thank you!!! :’)

    • Oooh, fiddle music! That sounds like a wedding I’d LOVE to go to!

  • KEA1

    Oh wow. I am someone who has NEVER really been a kid–I’m pretty sure I was born 40–and yet your post still resonated with me. I hope that the joy from your wedding day multiplies over the years for you and your husband!

    • Jessica

      I too, feel like I was born middle-aged! It’s odd when you’re the best of your friends (ages 21-33, give or take), at being an adult. My SO and I got engaged in June, wedding this October, and at 25 I have also paradoxically felt “too young” for everything the WIC has thrown at us. This post hit the nail on the head with just about everything, and I’ll definitely be bookmarking it as one to come back to. Love the Bananagram guest book idea, by the way!

      I did want to add, though, that choosing vendors who sync up with our personalities and values (more than a few of them are APW finds!), has allowed me to feel even more comfortable with the planning process. Shop around, you will find someone who can execute your vision AND that you actually like!

  • PAW

    I’m a comfortable person, a homebody, a person who likes to laugh. I am not the polished hostess, the perfectly-dressed woman, or—as it turns out—the type of person who can turn out 834 gorgeous DIY projects. One of the interesting paradoxes of wedding planning, for me, was how it brought me up so clearly against who I really am as a person. Wedding planning was all at once more subtle, more intensive, and less successful than other attempts at aspirational marketing and consumerism. Pictures of delightful origami place cards were just pretty, right? Right? It wasn’t as obvious as slowing down and saying, “whoa, whoa, if I buy this suit, I am not automatically going to become a businesswoman with glossy hair.” It was, “Oh, I bet I could make those,” conveniently disregarding the fact that I had a full-time job, a new house, no place to store all t hose crafts, and no desire to launch into that many projects. I skipped facts and went straight to guilt.

    It wasn’t just the wedding dress that could make me look like a princess (I never wanted to be any princess except, maybe, Cimorene) or the professional makeup artist that could make me look like … well, like I’d been to a professional makeup artist. It was the pretty menus and thoughtful touches and beautiful decorations. Whoever you are, there is some aspect of wedding planning that will get under your skin and make you feel like if you were just a better version of you, you could pull it off. I’m sure that the people who were born with the elegance, well-dressedness, and organizational genius I lack were wondering at some point in the process why they couldn’t be whimsical/playful/low-key enough. Guilt. Guilt, everywhere.

    I loved this post!

    P.S. Your wedding looks both gorgeous and full of joy!

    • KC

      Hooray for Cimorene! (and her wedding: dragon as matron of honor and Willin as best man and everyone-is-invited; how tradition-busting is that?!)

      • Cleo

        OMG! A Cimorene reference!!!! More proof APW has my kind of people!

        I have read all the Enchanted Forest Chronicles books at least 4 times (and I want(ed) to emulate Cimorene’s wedding when I get married) and I never agree to a favor before knowing what it is (important life lesson there, kids).

        • KC

          The only problem: where on earth can you rent a Cauldron of Plenty for a reasonable sum? ;-)

          • Denzi

            And you’ll still have to make your own dessert…

  • LOVE!

  • Kess

    I’m 22 and my SO and I just got engaged. I’m already feeling a lot of the feelings that you mention in the beginning of your post – that I’m not going to do things ‘right’, that I’m actually too young (especially as I just graduated with my BS and started my MS and therefore haven’t had a ‘real job’) to do anything properly.

    I’ll always take a trip down the toy isle, I sleep with a stuffed animal, I won’t give two hoots about how I look if I’m doing something interesting, I dance (badly!) in the middle of the street, I skip a lot, I play with legos a lot, my favorite movies are pretty much all pixar, I love playgrounds, etc.

    But, as my SO nicely puts it, I’m very childlike, but not childish.

    So even given 20 years, I probably still wouldn’t feel at home with the ‘grownup’ wedding, because I frankly will never really be a grownup.

  • Shiri

    This is so wonderful. I think that it resonates with me because we can all, regardless of what age we were/are/will be when we married/marry, relate to the feeling of not fitting in to what we expected or what we felt was expected of us. There are so many little details in our lives that don’t jibe with the images we’re bombarded with, and it can be hard to reconcile those details, which are what make us who we are, with what we imagine or think we need our weddings to be. So thank you for celebrating who you and Tim are and being honest to that. Your celebration looks SO joyful! Congratulations!

  • Moe

    At wise ripe old age of 40(ugh! How did that happen?) I can assure you that the same feelings of insecurity, doubt and the fears of not-measuring-up will still sometimes be there. I wish that I had been so grounded and aware at 21! You are off to a very solid start and your dress was absolutely adorable!

    • Maybe the WIC is driven by agism, but I what you see is really more about targeting premium-priced products to demographic brackets that can afford them.

      I think the sweet take-home here is to embrace who you are at the moment you are planning your wedding, to make conscious choices for reasons that feel right and good at that time, and then to love the wedding you thoughtfully choose–even if you end up looking back at it and laughing at your sky-hook bangs.

      I look back on my 21-year-old self with a lot of fondness. There are things about her that I truly love (her body was AWESOME–though she thought she was fat WTF?!), some that I miss (she trusted people so completely), and some that make me cringe a bit. She was the cartwheeling type. At 37 I don’t literally do many cartwheels but I still have a love of the whimsical, a edge of mischief and an effervescent sense of adventure.

      I believe I have better taste now, but I don’t have to look any further than my dorm room decor decisions vs. our master bedroom to realize that cultures evolve, trends and styles change, and that for all of our belief in our uniqueness we are products/victims of the Zeitgeist, our generation, and current (and completely arbitrary) notions of style.

      (This is kind of an aside, but I was truly FLOORED to realize everybody my age (myself included) wanted to name their girl babies Emma or Ella. WTF?!) While love and joy are timeless timeless few of the choices we make for our weddings transcend time or the age we are when we get married. Weddings are wonderful archiological sites comprised of little artifacts. And that’s just one of the reasons they are so great!

    • oops… sorry my ultimately unrelated post came up as a reply to yours, Kess. I started out by saying I agree with you–no matter how old you are weddings can feel intimidating!

  • Melissa

    I needed this post–such wisdom!– today. A lot of people I know recently got engaged or married, and their wedding plans are all stunning, right off of the blogs and pinterest. I feel inferior, and too young (at 23, the same age or older than a few of the aforementioned ladies), like my hopes to be married soon and my not so secret injestion of wedding planning material is terrible.

    Laura, your letter reminds me to be me, and to heck with anyone or anything that makes me feel inferior.

  • Jashshea

    Laura – Maybe there’s some phantom age that you’re SUPPOSED to be when you get married and neither of us were it :) I got married at 34 and felt like sites were marketing to/targeting much younger people. It was really tough for me to find “people like me” getting married as well (older but still goofy, age-appropriate clothing but not stuffy).

    And, she proudly admits, we have more than 1 honeymoon picture where I’m turning cartwheels. Nonsense and shenanigans don’t have to stop just because of chronology.

    • KC

      I got to see the absolutely amazing Dame Judi Dench turning cartwheels on stage 6 or so years ago. So, I think cartwheels are totally not restricted to the chronologically-young*. (and no one could say that she lacks dignity… she just complements it with a sense of humor!)

      * okay, fine, that said, my shoulders and knees started complaining about cartwheels on hard surfaces about 10 years ago, and I’m less than half her age; my joints are not taking the years anywhere near as gracefully as hers, sigh, so maybe many people “age out” of being able to do cartwheels at some point. But I can still do cartwheels on squishy surfaces (lawns, etc.) at least!

  • mimi

    This wedding and post are beautiful and happy! Congrats! I just got engaged at 32, but I’m not sure yet if any marketers are targeting me. I definitely feel old enough to be getting married, but I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet that I’m the bride.

  • We got married this summer too, at 21, in a similar homegrown type of wedding and for us, so many of the “you’re not adult enough for this” thoughts came from other people: vendors thinking my parents were the ones getting married, extended aunts actually (meanly) laughing at the fact that I wasn’t going to wear shoes. One of them even said “Oh, honey, if you don’t have money for shoes, I’ll buy some for you!” I’m not joking with this stuff. All we heard from the outside world is that we should wait to get married. That it’s something grown-ups do and we weren’t grown-ups yet.

    But just like you, we embraced the wonderful things about being young and had the best wedding I could have ever asked for, with ice cream, and dancing in the rain, and ending our first dance after about a minute cause we were bored and wanted to get the party started. Those same extended relatives that poo-pooed us during planning all came up to me, telling us that it was the most fun wedding they’d ever been to. So there is something to be said for getting married young after all :)

  • Laura

    Thank you for this! I’m 24 and have been struggling with feeling old enough to get married and have a wedding. I remember thinking in my teens that I hoped I wouldn’t get married until I was 30 so I could have grown-up enough tastes. This is a great reminder that I don’t have to guess at what my 30-year-old future imaginary self would like when I’m planning our wedding now.

    Congratulations! Your day looks wonderful and filled with love!


    Thank you.

  • My boyfriend Griffin and I have been conscientiously eyeing our impending engagement this holiday season, and we are thinking we will “reassess” this summer, or potentially over the holidays next year. I find myself very, very happy and at peace with the idea of becoming engaged to this man over the next year or two, but as it stands, the in-between steps towards announcing one’s engagement and hunkering down to plan a wedding seem so ephemeral to me. As I write, I am 22 and he is 20, and I am surprised that I even FEEL this way, as I always imagined myself as getting married somewhere between 28 and 32. How arbitrary, really–but I DID want to have the experience of living on my own, paying my own damn bills, and financing most if not all of my future wedding myself.

    Here’s the thing about G and I getting engaged now, having dated over two years but still being so young and still pursuing our undergraduate degrees. We both have very little $ to our name, and while our families both love and support us as a couple, I can’t help but feeling like… if we announced our engagement, it would come off as, “Surprise!! Tricked you! Now you have to bankroll our wedding!” My family never buys costly gifts, and has a history of economic uncertainty and staunch frugality. His family is much, much more financially-blessed and also very generous, but I can’t help but feel like I am being rude and presumptuous that our families would contribute AT ALL to our wedding costs. (I know this is kind of irrational. I know. I know.)

    I loved this post, and I am really curious if Laura felt at all like I do now. There’s just so much uncertainty at this age, and I’ve always personally used my own secure finances as a way to feel more independent and Grown-Up. Did you feel, like, awkward asking your family to throw you a wedding?? (Ugh, this is such a terrible question. I am so sorry.)

    • Cynthia

      Erica, I am Laura’s mom (the one who made all the pluot pies!) and I can truly say that never once did we feel resentful about financing Laura and Tim’s wedding. As I sit here and write I think about why this was….I think it’s because their marriage was such a right idea. It made (and makes!) complete sense. As you can read from Laura’s post, she was willing to give up what the expectations were and just let it unfold naturally, authentic to who they both are. My husband and I didn’t have a big savings to draw upon so we did as much as we could ourselves and spent money on those things we couldn’t do. In the end, it was those things (the homemade food, my wedding dress, flowers (and veggies!) from the farmers market) that made it so very special.

      I can understand your concerns with your family’s finances. I was unemployed for a year so I realize that asking your family to pay for your wedding might feel presumptuous when making ends meet in daily life is tough. Planning the wedding, there were times when I wasn’t sure how we were going to make it all work. But it always seemed like when a certain plan wasn’t coming together, a new idea would present itself that harmoniously fit. It helped an awful lot that both Laura and Tim were flexible and willing to let new ideas come forward without sacrificing their vision of what the day should be. It was a balancing act to be sure. Because of our finances, it forced Laura and Tim to be mindful of the decisions being made (“How does this support the vision of who we are and how we want to be married?”) and ultimately resulted in a very lovely day.

      All the best to you as your wedding plans unfold!

      • Oh Cynthia, thank you so much for this. I feel 1000 times better!

  • Liz

    What a beautiful wedding! And I’m really tempted to borrow your vegetable bouquet idea. :)

    Laura, you summed up the sentiments behind not feeling mature enough to get married really well! I will be 27 when I get married in a few months, but what with my coworkers and friends still being single (and in some cases older) I sometimes get the feeling they think I’m such a naive kid. Probably it’s all in my head, but thank you for the reminder that even naive kids can have lovely, meaningful weddings and relationships!

  • Laura

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for a post of a beautiful wedding in which the bride and groom are young! I wish there were more examples of this, as it’s the path that I look like I’ll be taking.

  • I just wanted to say that the sixth photo is just gorgeous. It looks and sounds like you guys had a wedding that was perfect for you, and I bet it was a wonderful wedding to attend. Congrats!

  • Justine

    I love the joy that comes across in your wedding day pictures, and you seem more self-aware than I am (I’m 26, as of 26 minutes ago, when I write this.) Cuddos to you for that.

    I finished Grad School last May, and my fiance (we’ve been together for 10 years, and we’ve talked about getting married for the last 4) proposed during the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, since his plans for a Halloween proposal got thrown off my the storm. We both still have strong inner children (see plans for proposing on Halloween, so sweet, and so my fiance), and both still live with our parents, so even though we’re older than you and your husband, we’re in many ways in a similar engaged state as you were.

    I’d love a homegrown wedding, but our numbers are too big and our parent’s houses too small. And my parents (who are paying for the wedding) are too against a homegrown wedding. So we’re going for a big-community-freindly, simple, fun, Rustic or Rustic-like, wedding with trees and nods to Doctor Who and maybe Lord of the Rings. We’ll see how it goes. Right now we’re just at the beginning of planning the wedding day.

    Congratulations! Keep cartwheeling!

  • Kayla


  • Oh my. Yes, this. Exactly this. With some changed details, I could have written something very similar about our wedding. I was 21 as well, and my wife-to-be was 25, and we had an amazingly splendid country wedding that was ‘homegrown’- as you say – as well, just like us. It looks like you had the most perfect wedding you could have for the two of you. Congratulations a zillion times.

  • karina

    It is so wonderful to see that some of the sweet, traditional, genuine stuff is still there. What a beautiful labor of love! Hoping my dream can come true just that way too :’]

  • Jen

    I love, so much, this.