- Some level of comfort with handiness
- As much as you want to spend
- A least a few months
I find it embarrassing to admit, but with every boyfriend I have had, there is an imagined wedding. Depending on the length of the relationship, some are more thought out than others. There’s one where I am walking down the mustard-painted aisles of my childhood church, one on the roof of a body shop, one where we are in the middle of a Wisconsin prairie—the list goes on. For someone who is turned off by the marketing of "wedding culture," I am ashamed I am a victim of it, and that this habit has followed me from childhood into my thirties. (I blame TLC’s A Wedding Story.) And in the summer of 2020, as my boyfriend of seven-ish years, Brady, and I considered a peak pandemic move triggered by the impending sale of the building that housed our Philadelphia loft, that meant my long standing idea of our wedding (said loft full of multicolored Christmas lights, I walk down the aisle to an instrumental of Katy Perry's Teenage Dream, catered by Primo Hoagies party trays, the night ending with an epic dance party) would also become a memory stranded in time.
We gathered all of our belongings from our crumbling party loft and moved them into an equally crumbly farmette in Lancaster county that came with a barn full of trash, 12 old chickens in another smaller barn full of trash, and more space than we knew what to do with, all for the same price as our former apartment. Following a summer of clean-up, as we were enjoying the new-to-us home that even came with rooms and doors (also new to us), our new possible wedding started to come together in my head at the same time that it was coming together in our conversations. We settled on sometime in September of 2022, and so the gears began grinding for my inner to-do list. We had a lot of work to do.
Prep the Outdoors
The back field where we wanted to do the deed featured a tarped-over cow shed, an overhang on the outside of the barn with a dubious roof and dirt floor, and a concrete slab stage area that was once the foundation of a silo. We would rent a tent, chairs, and tables. The only bathroom would be in our house, roughly 200 feet from the ceremony, so we decided we could just build a composting toilet. Brady was insistent on not having a bachelor party, but his friends were equally pro the idea. They compromised on a bachelor weekend at our place where they could do "guy stuff," AKA all the manual labor we couldn’t do on our own, for which we made a to-do list:
- Shovel out the dirt under dubious roof overhang
- Cut down dead trees
- Burn the dead trees
- Build a compostable toilet
During toilet planning (Where would it go? How deep is the hole? How much would it stink?), Brady compiled a list of all the tools needed, and they came to a hefty price. So we double-checked the cost of a porta potty, and it turned out you can get a nice one (hand washer included) for four days for about $350, which costs less than creating one of your own. That ticked off a significant project and allowed us to focus on shoveling out what ended up not being dirt, but six to 10 inches of compacted manure covering a pristine concrete slab under the barn overhang. After some power washing, we had a location for our cocktail hour bar and hors d’oeuvres.
Grow Pretty Things
My wedding daydreams have always depended heavily on DIY creativity. I am also cheap, and this shindig was to be no different! Now that we had space, I started diving full force into gardening, trying out new plants, vegetables, and flowering annuals.
Naturally, my plans started out grand. Winter was slow and dull, and the field behind our house (beside the stage) had a huge pile of manure in the middle of it where the former tenant piled up the sheep and later cow poop they created. I figured we could plant giant pumpkins in the space, which covered an area of 30 x 15 feet, and surround it with wildflowers. Unfortunately, the manure was still too fresh for plants to thrive—we got one pumpkin followed by a tangle of dead vines. By the time September came around, it looked just like it had in December, a barren manure-filled spot. My mother-in-law filled her Mini Cooper with mums, which she planted throughout the pile, and then dotted the bed with decorative rocks she found around the property.
The wedding flowers, on the other hand, were a success! I had littered a bed with Calendula, Zinnia, Celosia, and Dahlia seeds in the late spring, and became nervous when the flowers started to bloom in July. Luckily deadheading is your friend, and I had more than enough flora to fill my bouquet and all of the bud vases I could collect from thrift stores in a 60 mile radius.
Feed People and Communicate
Along with the flowers, I had a plan that I was going to grow delicious local produce and create a beautiful meal for our guests. It wasn’t until six months into planning when I realized I couldn’t be the one to cook and serve the meal—I would be busy getting married and being the center of attention. We didn’t want to shell out for a caterer, and Brady nixed my original plan for BBQ, with the caveat that I consider his alternative suggestion: We order 30 pizzas from our favorite local spot and call it a day. I agreed, and the delivery driver showed up in a bright orange car covered with decals and let me pose in front of it in my wedding dress.
I did make things more difficult for myself by insisting on making the cake and creating a spread of cheese and snacks for cocktail hour. Luckily my friend Matt was our cheese source and expert, and as I threw the random bits and bobs I had compiled into his arms and spurted out half sentences, he got my vision. He transformed my bags of nuts and jams into a lovely spread, harvested Concord grapes from our neglected vine, and nearly every bit of cheese and snack ended up devoured. The cake also turned out okay! It may or may not have had tiny glass shards in the decorative batch of icing because a glass may or may not have broken over the mixer. Luckily, we haven’t gotten any complaints, and I was very thorough when picking the pieces out of the freshly whipped Italian meringue buttercream.
Brady and I were running around the property the week of the wedding, randomly drilling, sweeping, or sawing—whatever needed to get done or popped up in our heads. Half of the things I wanted to do or have happen didn’t because I never put pen to paper. Handing projects over was indeed the best way not to go completely crazy, even though we (kind of) did. In a similar epiphany to the food, I realized I would also not have time to make flower arrangements, let alone be able to set them up in a way I would find aesthetically pleasing. I called on my friend Joe who had some experience in this field, and they ran with the task beyond even my grand ideas. With the help of a few of our friends, Joe picked through my garden, foraged the field, and even grabbed some decorative grasses from our neighbors and turned the former silo foundation from a bald concrete octagon on a hill into a lovely stage. More of our friends helped set up tables, went on ice runs, set up the bar, and even put the sound system in order.
By the time wedding week rolled around, we had finished much of the outdoor work that needed to be done. The tent was to arrive on Thursday, the decorations were in manageable piles and locations, and all we had left to do was execute the plan. Then the rain started. It rained for at least three days, and on the third day, I opened our back door only to see a massive top of a tree down in the field directly behind our stage. It was too wet, heavy, and expensive to move, so it stayed. A big flaw kicked off the execution of what ended up being a wildly imperfect and lovely day. Did we figure out our vows a day before? Yes! Did I make the wrong kind of hair appointment and make my officiant do my hair? Yes! Did we figure out the song we would make everyone sing while said officiant was doing my hair? Yes! We also ended up saying yes to each other. My brother walked me through the field to an instrumental version of Carly Rae Jepsen’s "I Really Like You," we ate pizza, had a killer dance party, and our sound master Ryan closed it out with spontaneous karaoke. It was ours and better than any of the scenarios I had spent my life dreaming up.
Top image by Emily Wilcox.