This post contains affiliate links. Catalyst Wedding Co. may receive compensation or products from companies linked to or mentioned in this article. This helps support our site.
I (Alex) am a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner working in community medicine on the west side of Chicago. I come from a fine arts background, studying fibers in undergraduate. I am from Wisconsin; though I’ve lived all over, I’m a Midwesterner at heart. Frances is a gender queer HIV researcher from Lakewood, Colorado who loves to garden, cook, and cultivate safe spaces for friends.
We fell in love over a BLT and a vanilla milkshake to "Forever and For Always" by Shania Twain at a 24-hour greasy spoon diner. Frances proposed to me in our kitchen, on a morning that was sun drenched and sweltering. It was quiet and simple and perfect.
I have always wanted to be married outside, surrounded by quiet nature. Our wedding venue is in Spring Green, Wisconsin — Frank Lloyd Wright country — which is a surprisingly hilly and majestic area for the Midwest. It's also pretty remote (coming from Chicago), but surrounded by stunning farmland. My parents have been traveling to Spring Green for years to see theater at their outdoor Shakespeare theater and to canoe the Wisconsin River. When seeking locations this area immediately popped into my head. The venue itself is breathtaking; designed by one of Wright's students, it was, among other things, a girl's summer camp. The first time we visited, I knew it was meant to be, and for weeks I just couldn’t shake the feeling that we had truly found the perfect place. Every time we made the 6 hour round trip in the year leading up to our wedding we left more and more excited to be able to spend the day there, enjoying the bounty of the surrounding land. I truly couldn't have asked for a more perfect place to marry my best friend.
Dress shopping was a nightmare and really highlighted that the wedding fashion industry just isn’t made for women who are of substantial size. Additionally, I am not the most feminine woman, and dresses often do not feel like my “truest self,” so finding something that I would feel confident wearing and being photographed in for an entire day was stressful. I actually bought two dresses. The first was purchased about a year in advance and when it arrived it was the completely wrong fit (a manufacturing error). I bought my actual dress with about 3 months to go, off the rack, and no alterations made. It was perfectly minimal, comfortable and me.
Frances, my mom, and I spent the year before thrifting and going to flea markets for all of our vases, champagne glasses, buckets, baskets, and oil lanterns. I hand dyed all of our linens and placecards, printed everything at home, and made all the signage (table numbers, bar menus, etc). Our candle holders were hand poured concrete forms and we made unicorn and star shaped crayons for the kids. I even spent the year ordering ribbon piecemeal from the Wish app to tie to bamboo poles so it could fly in the wind throughout the property. One of my favorite details (that due to electrical issues was mostly in shadow) was the giant copper moon cutout for our DIY photo booth that we made one afternoon with my dad’s help.
Our stunning flowers all came to us directly from the farmer who also made my bouquet/hairpiece and the boutonnieres. For the arrangements she just gave us buckets of bulk flowers; Frances and our friends spent the day before the wedding creating our beautiful centerpieces.
Our ceremony took place under an ancient Catalpa tree on the top of the hill in the late afternoon of an unusually hot day for mid-September. Our guests were rewarded for their 1/4 mile walk up the hill with champagne and popcorn. My parents walked me up the hill to our family and friends standing around us in a circle while my brother played his guitar and sang “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” We stood in a ring of flowers that Frances placed for us, and a long time friend was our officiant. We wrote our own vows and our ceremony was peaceful and short, about 25 minutes all told. We lit sage and passed it through the group, a favorite poem was read; the only tradition was ending with a kiss that I will remember for the rest of my life.
The things that were the most helpful in the end were:
Planning ahead! I was DONE and had everything packed two days before the wedding; I was determined not to be a person who was staying up until midnight the night before her wedding putting bows on bags or making name cards. Instead I got to enjoy the company of our friend who showed up two days early thanks to Hurricane Florence!
Family and friends. I was a pretty huge control freak leading up to the day and took care of almost every DIY detail myself. The day before and of, though, holy cow did people show up for us! My cousins, who flew in from across the country, were out in the humidity being bitten by mosquitoes to help me tie ribbon on twelve 15-foot bamboo poles, and my sister-in-law showed up with an amazing sandwich spread for lunch the day of the wedding. My sister was up with me at the crack of dawn on the day of the wedding making 75 pb&j sandwiches to have for late night food...I could go on and on.
My favorite things about the wedding:
The look on Frances' face when I walked up the hill to them, and the fact that I was late for my own procession because I suddenly and absolutely had to pee right before we started
Getting married in the sun surrounded by people who love us
Having the luxury of sitting back on the actual day and seeing all of our hard work come together in a beautiful way that felt so genuinely like us
Seeing my nieces and nephews have as great of a time as the grownups; we gave them all headlamps, substituted pinwheels for flowers, and set up a tent near the reception; some of the best photos of the day are of them!
We both said it throughout the day and it still rings true; for many reasons, neither Frances nor myself ever thought we were going to be people who got to have the big, beautiful, LEGAL wedding... and we did, and it was fabulous. It still makes me tear up to realized how fortunate I am.
Words by Alex as told to Amber Marlow. Photos by Heidi Uhlman.
Heidi Uhlman is a Midwest-based wedding photographer living in Detroit, the greatest city in the world. In between smashing video games, petting dogs, and eating chips, Heidi is helping folx build their visual legacy through photos.