How To Throw A Tiny, Meaningful, Easy Wedding (or at least how we did it)

wedding on Lake Superior

Kenny and I had the We Want To Marry Each Other conversation five months into our relationship on a lumpy mattress in Mexico. I remember smiling into the darkness, listening to the ceiling fan click overhead and thinking “Oh! So this is what it feels like when your life changes!”

It was another year and a half before we actually married each other. I wanted to drive around America, Kenny wanted to get his feet under him at his dream job, and we both wanted to give his boys as much time as possible getting to know me.  In that year and a half we spent a lot of time thinking about the kind of wedding we wanted and (much more importantly) the kind of marriage we wanted.

Like so many things, we knew what we didn’t want. We didn’t want a wedding that cost an arm and a leg. We didn’t want to send those obligatory invitations where neither the sender nor recipient is particularly sincere, but both are bound by familial and societal obligations. We didn’t want a bridal party or wedding favors or engagement photos or a wedding registry. We love it when other people do those things, but we didn’t want them for ourselves.

So, we simply didn’t do that stuff. Instead, we did things that were meaningful to us and created the wedding experience we wanted.

wedding on lake superiorwedding on lake superiortiny-wedding
We got married on The North Shore of Lake Superior, a beautiful, rocky place we’ve both visited many, many times. On our drive up, we stopped at Toby’s, home to our favorite green vinyl booths and The World’s Best Cinnamon Rolls.

We spent the day before our wedding poking around Grand Marais, clamoring over rocks, hiking. We spotted a little bear cub and took it as a good sign. We drank wine and ate Trader Joe’s appetizers with our wedding guests (all five of them) and after they left, we spent an hour scribbling our way through this book.

On our wedding day, we slept in, drank mimosas, and made my favorite breakfast. We found a tiny, hidden beach and dipped our toes in the freezing water. I snuck away and read a few chapters from a favorite childhood book.

wedding-with-stepkids

Kenny and boys got ready in our room and after all the shoe polishing and tie tying, Kenny gave the each of the boys a polished piece of Labradorite. Devoted Harry Potter fans, Kenny told the boys that the polished stones were similar to a Horcrux: they symbolized his never-ending, immortal love for them.

I got ready in my parents’ condo, doing my hair and makeup pretty much the same way I always do – because if there was ever a day to look like yourself, isn’t it your wedding day? I wore an $85 dress I bought from Asos with sandals from Marshall’s. My sweet grandma sent me an antique handkerchief with blue embroidery that read “With Love from Grandma Arleen.” I wrapped it around my bouquet of beautiful, weird, architectural non-flowers.

At 6 pm, Kenny and I joined our parents and the boys on a rocky outcropping and promised to have ridiculous adventures together until we die. We included the boys in the vows, trying to make them promise they’d never, ever question our rules or requests. (This was met with laughter.) Our lovely friend Meredith photographed our seven-minute ceremony and her boyfriend Bobby married us. I cried and sniffled through most of it but, like the pro she is, Meredith found other things to photograph while my nose was red.

Afterward, we  dined at a nice restaurant nearby. We ordered off the menu, laughed and told stories and generally wished we were wearing clothes that were a bit more comfortable so we could eat more.

In lieu of a reception, we’re having extended family over for brunch and next summer, we’ll alienate our neighbors by throwing a big one-year anniversary party in our backyard. There, we’ll indulge in all the thematic centerpieces and custom cocktails and perfectly curated playlists that we didn’t do this year. You know I’ve already got a secret Pinterest board going.

Are you married? What was your wedding like? What did you love about it? What would you change if you could do it again? Tell me all about it in the comments!

P.S. In case you were wondering, I’m not changing my name because a) I’m lazy and b) my name is awesome. We’re not planning to further expand our family; two stepchildren is the right number of children for me 🙂

all photos by meredith westin

71 Comments

Ailsa

Congratulations Sarah, it seemed perfect! I’m so happy for you!

We had a small wedding outdoors and afterwards we put on gum boots and had photos taken in a creek and frolicking in the forest. It was great! Unfortunately we still spent more and stressed more than we wanted to, even for a small low key wedding. Sadly I think there’s aomething inherent in wesdings that generally makes them more stress yhan they should be, but you guys seem to have bucked the trend. Kudos! Hopefully your life together is just as easy and wonderful 🙂

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Calluna

Congratulations! It looks beautiful!

We did a bed and breakfast wedding, outside in a gazebo. It felt small and beautiful to me. I could hear bullfrogs during the ceremony, and fireflies came out after. I got talked into a little bit bigger shindig than I’d intended, with catering and all, but it was fun and went pretty well.

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Anna

Congratulations, Sarah! I love your first paragraph – “this is what it feels like when your life changes” rings so true and gives me the good-writing chills.

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Jen

I love this so much! Congratulations! You look gorgeous and so, so happy!

We had a laid back, small-ish (70 close friends and immediate family) wedding at a park, with yard games and BBQ. I didn’t wear any makeup and my dress was from Macy’s and cost $100. No bridal party or registry or elaborate decorations. We didn’t have a photographer, we just asked our friends and family to upload pictures to a shared FB album. We had an iPod playlist instead of a DJ. We met trail running and we just wanted a wedding that was low-key like us, and where we could eat delicious food (and both cake and cookies!) with our most favorite people. My favorite picture of the day is of me walking on stilts in my wedding dress with my husband juggling next to me because it perfectly captures the sense of playfulness and humor that is in both of our personalities and our relationship.

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Lesley S

Congratulations! Beautiful wedding!
My husband and I decided we were only going to get married in a state that had marriage equality (this was 4 years ago – yay for equality today!). We drove from FL to Baltimore and spent a fun couple of days hanging out with my cousin-best friend-sister. She made us an awesome fondue dinner and then woke up super early to drop us at the train station. We took Amtrak from Baltimore to New Haven. We were married in the New Haven, CT court house by the sweetest lady. People stopped on their way into the records office to watch our vows and applauded when we kissed. I wore a white eyelet sundress and turquoise flats from Old Navy. We spent the day strolling around New Haven and had a wedding lunch of hamburgers at Louis’ Lunch (the birthplace of hamburgers). We then took the train into NYC and spent the evening celebrating with friends. We had delicious cocktails and an amazing dinner at a friend’s restaurant. We spent a fun honeymoon week in NYC doing exactly everything we wanted to do (go to museums and eat yummy food). While we were there, the Marriage Equality Act passed in NY – we took that as a good sign. A couple of months later we had a party at my Aunt’s farm in Tennessee. All of my aunts, uncles, and cousins chipped in and decorated and made food. We read parts of the poem I Like You by Sandol Stoddard Warburg and played lawn games until dark. We then spent the night drinking wine with my SIL and BIL in a gazebo at a Bed and Breakfast. So much fun! It was great to be celebrated by family and friends, but I’m just not a person who enjoys organizing something like a huge wedding and being the center of attention. Also, I’m cheap. (My SIL & BIL had a wedding the year before and invited 600 people, so just watching that come together and happen was enough wedding for me).
Wishing you many years of happiness! Cheers to weddings big and small!

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Sarah Von Bargen

Thanks you! They are such sweet buddies. I even share a birthday with the younger one!

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Sarah

Congratulations! Your wedding sounds perfect, and your one year anniversary party sound absolutely fantastic. I think I’ll copy that idea. I just got married this April and also gained two step children (girls).

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Sarah Von Bargen

It’s such a good idea! I’m telling all the newly engaged, not-that-into-weddings women I know about it!

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Mollie - Jennings Brae Bank Farm

We had the ceremony overlooking Lake Superior as well (but in WI). And are now working our way through the same book. 7 years into marriage, and that book is helping us have some fun and meaningful conversations. Keep at it!

Congrats on knowing what you wanted and going for it!

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Ardith

Sarah, congratulations to you, Kenny, and the boys. It sounds and looks like the perfect wedding.

My husband and I got married/eloped in 2009, taking a quick weekend from property management to get married about 4 hours away, in between formal weddings at a small town wedding chapel. By the time we reached our destination that Friday, we had about 15 minutes to get ready.

The owner of the chapel and the justice of the peace were wonderful. I asked my man to walk down the aisle (instead of me) and he graciously agreed. He looked so handsome. Then we had a fantastic dinner at a local restaurant. The following morning it was off to breakfast and a visit to the local outdoor market. We then blasted back home in time to greet another week of property management heck. All in all, it was the perfect wedding for us.

Cheers to all, Ardith

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Nomi

Mazel tov! You both look lovely!

We got married twice- once in the Czech Republic (legal wedding) and once in California (Jewish wedding) so that all our family and friends could make it. They were both a lot of fun. At the Czech one, we had the ceremony in an monastery (but with a secular ceremony) and the party at an old barn, with a klezmer band and then a rock band. The California one was at the zoo, and my parents surprised us with a puppet show!

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Sarah Von Bargen

Fun! I think if we would have had a big wedding I would have tried to strong arm my husband into a klezmer band. He’s Jewish but he wasn’t even into glass stomping!

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Ashley

I love this. I’m divorced and my first wedding wasn’t really what I wanted, but what other people wanted for me or thought I wanted. It was nice and I was appreciative, of course, but I know if I ever get married again I want a small, intimate gathering and a simple wedding.

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Megan

Congratulations! I love stories like this. My husband and I married last fall in a secret elopement in San Francisco and it was my favorite day. We spent the day before our wedding exploring the city, trying different coffee shops, and hiking in Muir Woods. We found awesome local vendors who were super flexible, our flowers were ordered and delivered a mere two hours before our event, and we took Uber to the courthouse. Random tourists filmed the whole thing on their iPads while our photographer tried to shoo them away, and then we celebrated with strangers at a fancy bar around the corner. We spent a few extra days in the city on ‘honeymoon’ and we loved having such a happy secret to share with friends and family, without any of the stress or expense of a traditional wedding. It was intimate, absolutely lovely, and most of all, fun!

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lindsay

YAY! congratulations! almost a year ago, my husband and i flew to san francisco, spent a week in an airbnb apartment in which the master bedroom had hot pink walls, and got married at city hall by a judge named claudia who magically seemed genuinely engaged and happy for us despite us being one of probably a dozen couples she married that day. we took my sister and my husband’s best friend (who introduced the two of us!) as witnesses. afterward we went to chez panisse in berkeley for a dinner that was the stuff dreams are made of. it was incredible and comfortable and so much fun.

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Rachel

My brother got married in September. His wife made her dress and the bridesmaids as well as all the table decs, davours etc. I hand wrote all the invitations. My brother made the cake and DJd his own reception. My favourite photo of the whole day is him behind the decks still in his three piece suit. #diywedding

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Melissa

That you read Anne’s House of Dreams makes me a little teary eyed. That’s a lovely wedding to have in mind heading into your own. We did the winter version of your wedding on our fifth anniversary last year, in our living room, and it was great. So happy for you.

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Sarah Von Bargen

It’s such a perfect book to read on your wedding day! I’d totally, totally recommend it 🙂

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Kate

This made me all teary! I’m so happy for you. It looks like it was a perfect, lovely day.

Also, thank you for sharing this with us! I was hoping you would, but, you know, didn’t want to assume 🙂

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Sarah Von Bargen

Thanks so much! I never even tried on another one! Though I won’t lie – it was quite an undertaking the find the right, um, bra situation 😉

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Erin

This is so, so lovely. I love every ounce of it and I am so happy for you both! I want something very similar, and I only hope I can resist the pressure of tradition and stick to my guns in doing exactly WTF I want, just like you did.

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Kjlangford

I love your wedding! It’s so you, all of it.

Been married for 6 years, my wedding was big (over 200 people) and I LOVED it. There was dancing and I made the playlist for a friend to deejay and that actually worked really well even though everyone told us it wouldn’t. I love my dress, I wore a feather in my hair and my bouquet included black/purple calalilies. My colors were black and white. I just had the best time. 6 bridesmaids, but no maid of honor, who all took a ballet class with me in the morning prior to getting ready for the day. I would change very little except that it was a dry wedding, but there were no drunk guests so that’s good! Best part is my husband loved it too and wishes we could do it again.

I always hear people say “I don’t want a big wedding.” Which is fine, it’s not for everyone. I can’t relate to the desire for a small wedding myself, I want to parade my love for all to see, I want a huge dance party. I want to escape a huge party to be alone with my love. Of course no one ever tells you that you may regret having a large wedding like they Do if you want a small one, which is so dumb. If someone had told me that I shouldn’t have a big wedding because I might regret it later I would have laughed in their face and said “have you met me???”

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Sarah Von Bargen

So smart that you know yourself (and your husband) well enough to have exactly the wedding you want!

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Ana

You look so happy, and everything about your wedding is lovely <3
Congratulations, Sarah!

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zoe

Congratulations!

I loved the line “because if there was ever a day to look like yourself, isn’t it your wedding day?” — if I ever got married, pretty sure that line would be my motto against all the ridiculous pressure to look like a “bride” rather than a human being 🙂

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Sarah Von Bargen

Thanks so much! It was a huuuuuuge relief to just say “You know what? I know how to do ‘beachy curls’ I’M JUST GOING TO DO THAT.” 😉

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Joy

Your wedding looks so perfect! Just what you wanted! I had a friend of mine throw her entire wedding out the window three weeks before the day. As she sat there in tears, worrying about money lost, people offended, I reminded her the day was TRULY about her and her groom, no one else. They needed to do what was meaningful to them and no one else. She got married in the forest and had dinner at a brewery. It was just what they wanted and they were so very happy. That’s what is important.

My husband was married twice before and I was married once. We both agreed, when we finally got around to getting engaged, that our wedding day would meet our priorities and no one else’s. We hosted 65 family and very close friends at our favourite place to dance, served them dinner, gave them an open bar but our best friend married us, we both had fabulous pink shoes and there were no flowers, no favours, no bouquet/garter toss.

My favourite thing from my wedding is my bouquet. I didn’t want flowers so I made a crystal bouquet over the summer. It sits on our dining room buffet and I smile every time I see it. My favourite moment was singing our vows to each other. I tripped over some words but my groom grabbed my hand and steadied me to a grand finish.

I would do two things differently. 1.) Would have done my own makeup OR had invested in a trial of my hair and makeup. Because we were designing on the fly, my appointment was tight on time, not very relaxing as I had hoped. 2.) I would have asked our one of our guest photographers (we didn’t hire one) to sneak off with us immediately following the ceremony to get a few photos of just us two in that moment. We don’t have any intimate shots of us, just one of us standing in front of the bar with a neon sign in the background.

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Sarah Von Bargen

Joy, that sounds like a perfect wedding! I love the idea of singing vows – how sweet!

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Emily

Congratulations!

I’m getting married in 37 days (but who’s counting?) & our celebration is going to be a little offbeat. We’re getting legally married at the court house, then going out to dinner with our parents & 2 attendants. The night before, we’re having a dinner with all our friends. Next summer we’re going up to Virginia (we live in Georgia) to celebrate with the big white dress fancy reception part thrown by my dad’s side of the family. Best part for me? I get to wear 3 different dresses. ?

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Stacia

I love this! Your small wedding looks lovely and I love how you both did exactly what you wanted to. As a wedding planner, that makes me happier than weddings with all the bells and whistles.

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Becky

I loveee this! You all look amazing & so happy, and the scenery is beautiful!

I never identified with the big, expensive, over-the-top weddings..it is about love, after all! Hoping to one day get to do something similar 🙂

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Erika

How beautiful! I definitely agree that you should do whatever means the most to YOU, and not let anyone else dictate what your wedding should be.

My husband and I got married at the OC Courthouse, just us (and his brother, who acted as our witness), then we spent the afternoon at Disneyland! One year ago today, actually! 🙂 We knew we didn’t want a big wedding, and we’re so glad we kept it just between us.

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Anne

I am getting married next week and I wish I knew what I want. I know what I don’t want and that is the type of wedding I am going to get. The reason for this is that I told my parents about my wedding. Now I have had to meet half way between their expectations, the groom’s, and my own. Everyone wants a big wedding except me!

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Sarah Von Bargen

How frustrating, Anne! I hope you find a few moments of zen amid the hustle and bustle <3

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Saryah

Congratulations!!! When I saw you mention your husband in a previous post I was all “whaaa”. I read your blog religiously and was worried I missed something! Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and personal day with us! I’m so happy you were able to celebrate the way both of you wanted! x Saryah

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Sarah Von Bargen

Haha! Yeah, we kind of kept it under wraps – I just posted a photo on Facebook and Instagram with a caption of exclamation points 😉

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Heidi

Congratulations! Your wedding seems like it was just my style. My husband and I got married at the Baltimore courthouse and had a close friend as our witness and photographer. We didn’t tell anyone ahead of time, though people knew we were engaged and were going to get married at some point that summer. After we got married, we went home, walked the dog in the park, went to a favorite bar and got a pint and ate crab dip, and then later that evening went out to dinner. We had a fun celebration weekend a week later with just our parents before going on a month long trip to Australia. For us, it was more important to be able to spend money on traveling than on a huge wedding we didn’t want. And we’d already been together for nine years before we got married, so it felt mostly like a formality. To me, small ceremonies like ours and yours seem so much more intimate and meaningful because they involve the people that truly matter the most and it makes the day about you and no one else.

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Terrell

I had been engaged for 2 years before I finally started planning our wedding. I am not a planner, and neither of us have family in the area, so I kept putting it off. When we finally decided it was time, we kept it small. We got married in a public park and had our reception at a local restaurant. I didn’t have engagement photos, bridesmaids, showers, etc., and I think that was the most difficult part for me. The pressure to have all those things is so high, I felt people expected me to make a huge deal out of everything. I worried at times that my wedding was too simple and that people would think it was boring. Of course, looking back on it now, the day was absolutely perfect. I’m so happy we had the wedding we wanted and not one we felt pressured to have.

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Rachel Marie Quintans

Sarah, I love your wedding story!

My husband and I have been married for a year. I absolutely love being married. someone the other day was teasing us that the honeymoon stage will be over soon and we will be at each other’s throats. 😉

We got married at one of our favorite parks. 🙂 It was on the date of our dating anniversary, so we get to keep that. We had 9 people attending, with our godfather being the officiant. It rained lightly later in the day and we had a beautiful picnic with wine, berries and cheese with the 9 people. <3

Being Filipino, however, we had to throw a huge wedding with 200 people 2 months later. 😉 I still managed to only spend $5,000. And didn't feel all the jitters and just counted it the most expensive dance party I ever threw! 😉

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Veronique

Thanks so much Sarah for sharing your wonderful story that is so YOU! When I read about “the person you’d been smooching” recently I, too, wondered if I’d missed the big event.

I had a big aha one day when someone asked me what I REALLY wanted for my wedding, came home and told my soon-to-be-husband about my insight. Within 15 minutes we had trashed our original idea of a wedding that kept getting larger than we wanted and decided to get married, just the 2 of us, in the Rocky Mountains a few hours away from our home (we’re in Colorado). We decided to spend our small budget on a few home renovations instead. We were so excited about the change in plans that we had trouble sleeping that night.

We spent some of our wedding $$ renting a house on a lake with incredible views, found just the perfect meadow 2 days before, and selected the actual day at the last minute. It was sunny and warm in June at 9000 feet – a coyote showed up just before we read our vows to one another and we had elk as witnesses on our walk back to the car. My husband grilled lobster for supper, which has become one of our most special celebratory meals.

Here’s to following our hearts!

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Caroline

Congratulations, Sara! What a wonderful wedding, and what a great post.

I just got married, too! Actually, since we are a bi-coastal couple, we had two weddings — a civil ceremony on the east coast, and a church ceremony on the west coast.

“because if there was ever a day to look like yourself, isn’t it your wedding day?” — YES.

That was important to me, too, as I’ve also been to weddings where the bride looked nothing like herself. (Awesome weddings! Fun weddings! I loved those weddings! But someone replace my friend, the bride??) Anyway — I wore my pixie cut with a headband and refused what seemed like a million suggestions about heels. (Do not wear heels, and will not wear heels.)

I did get a middling-expensive dress at a bridal shop, and I’m glad I did, because it was beautiful and classy and so me. My mom helped me make a black-flower sash, because I loved P!nk’s look and wanted to look that badass, too! (Happy coincidence: I’m a black belt, so there were karate-pose photos and lots of jokes.)

Anyway, I’m a regular reader but not a regular poster. Congrats again, and yay for weddings! And especially, yay for weddings that are over so we have great memories and less stress!

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Molly

Your wedding sounds lovely. Congratulations to all of you!

My husband and I decided to get married after 6 months of being together. A few days after deciding to get married we went to the courthouse with three friends and tied the knot. Neither of us has ever had visions of forever and ever (despite, or maybe because of, the fact that we both have parent who have defied the odds and remained together for many, many years) and our wedding reflected these feelings. I wore a red mini-dress and we went out to chinese food afterwards. It was *very* informal. At the time it felt right. But now I think I would like to have more of a traditional party. I want to wear a pretty dress and get the people that I love together to celebrate. We´ve been married for 11 years, so maybe for our 15th anniversary we can throw a big old party under twinkle lights on a hot summer night in someone´s back yard with everyone drinking mint juleps and Django Reinhardt wafting through the air from the speakers.

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Renee

What a beautiful story! It reminded me a lot my husband’s and my wedding this past June. We traveled to Alaska for the ceremony, just the two of us. We hiked out onto the Matanuska Glacier (in our wedding attire), accompanied by our officiant and her husband. We needed a second person to sign as we witness, so I asked a pair of hikers if they would help us out. We stood, in the most beautiful place I have ever seen in my whole life and were married. I was barefoot because I wanted to be more connected to the moment, so I was so happy when the ceremony was only 6 minutes long. Later in the summer we had two bbq receptions (one in Pittsburgh and one in Philadelphia (I moved from Philadelphia to live with my husband before we got married). It was absolutely perfect.

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