Photography by Andrea Boller.
When you have a family property featuring its own magical woods, and it’s the very same property where your parents got married thirty-five years before, I think the venue hunt is over before it begins, don’t you? Rather than go down the rustic route, Megan and Chris decided to go for an elegant, pared-back feel, to let all that natural beauty shine through. My favorite details? Megan’s tulle Monique Lhiullier gown in the palest possible blush, bright florals just right for summer, and the tent (complete with furniture lovingly made by the father of the bride!) set up for dinner and dancing right in the middle of the prairie!
What advice do you have for other couples in the midst of planning a wedding? Everyone says it, but do everything you can do be present on the day of your wedding. I think that has to be an intentional process. For example, we hosted welcome drinks and a morning after brunch so that we wouldn’t feel so rushed to spend quality time with every single guest on the actual wedding day. I also carved out some special time with my family over breakfast, for alone time while getting ready, and with Chris after our ceremony and during our last dance. I also promised myself that once I put my dress on I would let go of any last worries about details and just let the rest of the day unfold. Those intentional elements, along with some awesome vendors, really allowed us to be present!
Megan told us that she and Chris decided not to do a first look, as “we wanted to experience all of the intensity of the emotions of seeing each other for the first time during the processional. (If you do this too, definitely invest in some waterproof mascara! I cried both up and down the aisle!) But I did do a first look with my father, and it was so special to have that time with him and my immediate family before the ceremony.”
What was the best advice you received as a bride? You won’t remember what your wedding looked like; you’ll remember what it felt like. Don’t stress too much about things being cohesive or matching a theme or color scheme. If you like it, it will all be cohesive in the end because it will be a reflection of you!
Why did you choose this location for your ceremony? We got married on Two Horse Farm, which has been in our family for decades. It’s no longer a working farm, as the land has been restored to its native Iowa prairie and woodland habitats. My grandparents lived there when I was growing up, and I spent my summers exploring nature there. The place has so much meaning for my family and I; my parents got married there almost thirty-five years ago! There are many beautiful settings on the farm for a ceremony, but the woods have always been my favorite place to feel a little bit of magic, which seemed perfect for our wedding day. The ceremony site was about a ten minute walk from the house and reception site, so our journey to and from the site also felt like an important transitional time for us, individually and as a couple. In addition to all of the meaningful elements of the farm, it also worked well in terms of aesthetics and practicality, as we were able to change scenery for our guests for different parts of the day. Our ceremony was in the woods, our cocktail hour was in the garden by the house, and the reception was in a tent amidst the prairie.
Who officiated your ceremony? How did you choose him/her? My aunt Jodeane officiated the ceremony. She has been an important influence on me throughout my life and has also served as a guardian of the farm in many ways. One day during our planning, I asked Chris if he thought we might know anyone who could officiate our wedding. (I already had Jodeane in mind but wanted to see what Chris was thinking.) When he suggested Jodeane without my even mentioning her, I knew she was the person for the job!
What was your ceremony music? We had a string quartet and an acoustic guitarist; since music is so important to us both we wanted it to be live.
Processional: Always With Me from Spirited Away
Bridal Processional: Us by Regina Spektor
Surprise (for the Groom) song during Ceremony: Green Eyes by Coldplay
Recessional: If You Want to Sing Out by Cat Stevens
What was your favorite thing about your wedding ceremony? When I walked down the aisle, my dad whispered in my ear, “wlow down.” We were running a half hour late due to a late guest shuttle arrival and I was so ready to get to the altar. When I got up to Chris, he grabbed my hand so tightly that I couldn’t even give my mom a quick kiss, and he didn’t let go until our first kiss! I’ll never forget the depth of the emotional connection I felt with him, with myself, and with our guests throughout the ceremony, especially during our personalized vows.
Your ceremony in three words. Personal, romantic, intense.
How did you go about planning your ceremony? We wrote our ceremony and vows ourselves. We spent a lot of time reviewing ceremony outlines online and ultimately crafted our own to reflect our values for our relationship. After we got engaged we selected twelve values for our marriage and we used those to inform our ceremony. Writing our ceremony was an incredible opportunity to really consider the commitment we were planning to make to each other on our wedding day and to find some language that reflected what we wanted our marriage to look like. It was a lot of work, but I highly recommend it to other couples as a way of clarifying your shared values for your marriage!
Did you include any traditions in your ceremony? We wrote our whole ceremony and in many ways structured it very traditionally, including the processional, readings, vows, exchange of rings, pronouncement, kiss, and recessional. We viewed the ceremony itself as a traditional ritual and opted not to include any additional rituals for that reason.
What were your ceremony readings? We included a portion (which we put together ourselves) from The Little Prince, a reading from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, and Union by Robert Fulghum.
What were your vows like? We included some traditional wording, and also wrote our own vows. We loved the ritual aspect of making the traditional vows, but also wanted to take an opportunity to share something we each wrote from the heart. Since we wrote the rest of our ceremony together, we decided we wanted our vows to be the only part that the other didn’t know about beforehand. It felt important to us to include something that we would be experiencing for the first time that day. (So, there were the vows, and I also surprised Chris with a rendition of Coldplay’s Green Eyes performed by my sister!)
Is there anything else that you’d like to share about your wedding ceremony? The ceremony is the most important part of the wedding day and it so often gets overlooked because of other details. I highly recommend putting lots of thought into your ceremony; it will include some of the most intense moments of your entire life!
If you had it to do over again, is there anything you would do differently? I would have made sure to have a guest serve as point person for directions for our shuttle driver, as they ended up being over a half an hour late! I was already so anxious about the ceremony that the extra time waiting was excruciating. Fortunately our other vendors really came through for us and didn’t have any other issues as a result of our delayed start.
Do you have any budget tips for other brides? We kept track of every single expense in a giant spreadsheet – it all adds up! But this helped me to keep things in perspective throughout the process. It can be hard to create a budget when you don’t really know what things cost. My best advice is to choose your priorities and spend there first. Our priorities were food, music, photography, and videography, so we selected those vendors first and then worked out everything else with what funds remained. It also helped to shop around. We were able to save money by doing some things ourselves and by keeping things simple. (For example, we chose a beautiful tent and settings that meant we didn’t need much décor.) And definitely save some money for the end, when there can be lots of last minute expenses!
Megan wanted to share with other brides that she recommended to “take some time to explore the emotional aspects of getting married. It’s a huge change in your life, and it’s easy to get distracted from the significance of getting married by wedding planning details. To help prepare ourselves beforehand, we did pre-marriage counseling and I read The Conscious Bride, both of which I highly recommend.”
Did you have a signature cocktail? We had two signature cocktails inspired by our two cats, as well as our Italian honeymoon. They were the Avey Spritz (an Aperol spritz) and the Shio Mule (a Tuscan mule – ginger beer, lime, and Tuaca). The other biggest hit was definitely the French rosé we served, in honor of our Parisian engagement!
How would you describe your reception? A playful, joyful celebration of love with our nearest and dearest!
Why did you choose this location for your reception? Our reception was also on Two Horse Farm, which was awesome because it allowed our guests to get the party started right away. We wanted our guests to feel both at home, and as if they were on an adventure, so we provided watercolor maps when they arrived at the property and had a wine and beer station on the way back from the ceremony so our guests could explore the property as they made their way back to the garden for cocktail hour. The prairie seemed like a perfect spot for our reception because we were able to surround the tent with prairie grasses for an intimate and special vibe, which also allowed us not to have to do too much in the way of decorating the tent.
What inspired you when you were planning your wedding? Design wise, our biggest inspiration was the landscape of the farm. Even though we got married on a farm, we didn’t want our wedding to feel too rustic. Between my ethereal dress and the magical woods, I felt inspired loosely by A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Our color scheme was inspired by the many beautiful sunsets we witnessed on our drives to and from the farm throughout our wedding planning process (a necessity, since we live in Chicago!) In general, our biggest inspiration was all of the people who showed up for us in different ways throughout our planning process. We viewed our wedding day as being as much about our families and loved ones as about us, so it was really important to us to create an experience for our guests to enjoy.
What was your favorite moment or part of the reception? I have never felt so much joy as when we finally sat down to our sweetheart table to eat after the ceremony – the official papers were signed, our photos were taken, we had nothing left to do but be present and enjoy ourselves. Our vendors were awesome in taking care of our night for us to make sure we could all relax and have fun. We really took a moment to soak in all the love and joy around us, and I cherish that feeling even now.
Also, Chris and I stayed behind in the tent for a last dance to All Night Long by Beyoncé while our guests prepared for our sparkler sendoff. This is easily one of my favorite memories from the whole day and was such a perfect way to end our night, since I really did not want it to be over!
What was your wedding menu? Dinner included family-style salads and entrees of chicken, lasagna, or salmon served with roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes.
Are there any DIY details you’d like to tell us about? My dad built all of the wood tables for our reception from trees that had fallen on the property. They are absolutely beautiful. He got a ton of offers from our guests and vendors to buy them! We have one in our dining room now. In addition to all of their work to prepare the property for our wedding, my parents also built both of our bars (including that beautiful round bar in the tent) and the benches and arch for the ceremony. Chris and I came in to help on weekends when we were able, and working on these projects are some of my favorite memories of the wedding. We made our favors ourselves, which are pocket-sized tins of fleur de sel, the first gift I ever gave to Chris and one of our kitchen essentials today. On the Wednesday before the wedding we had a big welcome bag assembly party with both of our families. We also assembled all of our paper goods; as it turns out Chris was the most skilled at making wax seals! We also made use of a lot of my grandparents’ beautiful antiques throughout the wedding, like the teacups at our coffee station. We didn’t want to take on too much in the way of DIY projects, but what we did take on really helped make our wedding special and memorable.
What type of cake or dessert did you serve? We served a traditional white cake with strawberry filling and vanilla frosting. We also had a s’mores bar around the bonfire as a late night snack for our guests.
Did you include any other traditions in your wedding? Chris, my father, the best man, and one of my bridesmaids gave toasts at our reception, which was absolutely lovely. We didn’t do a garter toss (although I did wear a garter) or bouquet toss. But we did an “anniversary dance” which was so beautiful since my grandparents have been married for over 60 years. I carried a handkerchief that my grandmother received at her wedding which served as something old, blue, and borrowed. My gift from Chris, earrings, was something new! My favorite tradition was something we adapted from a southern tradition to bring good weather. We buried whiskey at our wedding site a month before the wedding. Traditionally people bury bourbon, but my grandfather who has passed away loved Jack Daniels, so we buried that at our wedding site. If you know anything about Iowa summers, they can be torturously hot and humid, but the weather for our entire wedding weekend was perfect, clear skies and mid-70s. I still tear up just thinking about how grateful I am for that.
What was your first dance song? Father/daughter or mother/son dance? We had two first dance songs. We slow danced to a minute or two of ‘our song’, Fade Into You by Mazzy Star, and then we did a playful choreographed dance to Do You Love Me? by The Contours, from Dirty Dancing. Dance lessons with Chris were one of my favorite parts of wedding planning! Afterwards, I danced with my dad to Landslide by Stevie Nicks and Chris danced with his mom to Crazy by Patsy Kline.
Please tell us about any other special details or moments from your reception. Our whole reception was so lovely. One memorable moment was when the local sheriff showed up! Apparently they had received a noise complaint. As soon as he realized it was a wedding, he basically shook my dad’s hand and turned around to leave. Since it was the fourth of July weekend, I had hoped to make fireworks happen, but they just weren’t in the budget. But right after sunset, fireworks started going off in a neighbor’s yard, perfectly in view of our tent. Meant to be!