How does a 45-year old plan a wedding that reflects the person she is and the love she has found? After all of my journeys and lessons, I was getting married to a person I adored above everything, and couldn’t be more thrilled. I would have never gotten married if I hadn’t found the right person, but knew that ultimately it was my life’s dream to find this kind of connection. Kevin and I had already enjoyed the most stunning courtship, filled with grand adventures and sentimental journeys. The wedding would need to be, above all, personal to us and reflective of us. We wanted to have family and close friends involved, and we wanted to make it uniquely our own.
After Kevin proposed, I knew I wanted the wedding venue to be one-stop shopping: ceremony, reception and place to crash. Once the festivities began, we would be able to keep on rocking, and not have to drive anywhere. So finding a special hotel or bed-and-breakfast was the first order of my wedding planning business. Kev and I looked at a few places locally-Partridge Inn, Willcox Inn, and a BNB in Harlem. Each had great potential but just didn’t fit perfectly. So when I learned in my online searches that Chateau Élan had an affordable “Intimate Package” for small weddings, I was immediately intrigued.
Kevin and I had been to Chateau Élan a few years ago for their annual wine festival (see “Kevin-Year One” photo album to see us stomping grapes). We enjoyed wine tastings, live music, food sampling, cooking demonstrations, wine classes and more-all in an elegant atmosphere with impeccable customer service. Because of this experience, the resort held for us great wedding potential and sentimental value.
The “Intimate Package” is a perfect concept- a couple need only show up with their attire, photographer and a small posse, and the rest is arranged. Chateau Élan provides the food, officiant, music, flowers, cake, champagne, bridal suite, wine, and best of all- a wedding planner. You can enjoy the day without worries, knowing that everything is in the hands of the experts. Looking at the photo gallery on their website, you can see that this place does A LOT of weddings. There were 4 on the day we were there, and the bellman told me that was an easy Saturday in comparison to the spring and summer season.
Although the package, in theory, allows the bride to relax and show up with a dress, I started to tweak the package and got a little carried away. As an event planner myself, I felt compelled to get involved in the minutiae of the arrangements. My wedding planner Alyssa was very patient throughout all of this. I’m sure she copes with a wide range of bride personalities, and she handled my excessive inquiries with grace. She allowed me to start the planning process much earlier than they normally do, which meant that she and I had an email relationship for close to a year before the big day.
Alyssa worked with me through all of my edits to the package. Since I didn’t like the idea of a stranger officiating at our ceremony, we asked Judge Sheryl Jolly to serve, and we were thrilled when she accepted. I also decided to purchase the fancy draping for our ceremony room, and augmented the flowers in the package with additional arrangements and corsages. I added colored table toppers for the luncheon, colored sashes to the ceremony chairs and reserved the arch for the ceremony room. Really the only thing in the package that I didn’t alter was the standard 2-tier wedding cake, which, despite having little ornamentation, was absolutely perfect, and really quite delicious.
Kevin was also quite patient with me during this tweaking process. Although he signed up for the cost of the initial package, he was soon giving me the OK on all of the extra expenses. A continuous loop of our favorite pictures and songs to show during the luncheon? Sure. Purchasing breakfast coupons for all of our overnight guests? Absolutely. He never once reined me in from my excessive arranging. I would periodically submit our updated event cost spreadsheet to him, wondering if we would have our first serious money conversation, but never received anything but full support. My sister Lora told me, “Of course he is not going to say no to YOU!” Ok, I’ll admit he has me a little spoiled. But that is acceptable as long as I acknowledge and appreciate it, right?
There were a few things we added that made the day uniquely our own. One was during the ceremony, when we did a “Wine Lock Box”. This entailed Kevin and I placing a bottle of wine, along with love letters to each other into a box and locking it up. The wine was chosen to age so that we could open the box on our fifth anniversary, enjoy the wine at its peak, read the letters, and renew our commitment. This was appropriate at Chateau Élan, since it is a winery, and a good fit for us, being faithful fans of great wine. To make this part of the ceremony even more special, the box was hand-crafted by Kevin’s Dad, who does the most amazing woodwork you have ever seen. The top of the box was carved with our names, the date, and 2 lovebirds. It was absolutely beautiful.
In addition to Kevin’s Dad supporting our day, family involvement also included my niece Mary Catherine and Kevin’s son Forrest serving as our Maid of Honor and Best Man. Mary Catherine was amazingly supportive throughout the process, and even created the beautiful place-cards for the luncheon. Forrest nailed the champagne toast at the luncheon, offering a perfect balance of humor and sentiment. My brother-in-law Phil offered the prayer for the ceremony and the luncheon, asking for blessings on the proceedings and safe journeys for all who traveled there. My sister Lora read the selected poem, which an unsuspecting groom would learn was written by the bride. Lora delivered the poem with such grace and elegance, that there was hardly a dry eye in the house.
The Intimate Package dictated that we could have no more than 25 guests, and we came in just under the wire at 22. We were blessed to have close family and friends on hand to share the special day, but we were also able to have other friends share their messages to us via video. In August my sister Lora and my friend Laura had hosted a local party with friends: each of them kind enough to be interviewed on camera, offering favorite stories and advice. We had Paul McGowan from Blu Wave Video record the interviews and edit them into a 15 minute message, and showed it at the end of the luncheon. (This video is posted on my page. Chateau Élan’s AV team helped with the showing of the video, and for that I am very grateful.)
Many miles were traveled to make this day happen. It was a 2 ½ hour drive from Augusta, which is a very kind gesture for everyone to make on our behalf. Kyle had just returned from a conference in Vegas, so Misty had picked him up at the Atlanta airport and they drove straight to the resort. Sheryl Jolly couldn’t stay the night, so she had a full day of driving up, performing the ceremony, joining the lunch, and driving back. Mom also did both drives the same day, as she was embarking on a week-long vacation to Florida the next day. Kevin’s family traveled from Missouri. Having his brother Pix and wife Kelley with us on that day meant a great deal to us. They had driven 12 hours each way, and stayed 2 nights at Chateau Élan to share in the celebration. This was after visiting us in Georgia a few weeks prior. Kevin’s parents were also there from Missouri, and my sister Lisa traveled all the way from Colorado.
Another tremendous story of travel was my college friend Misuk, who learned of my nuptials on Facebook and made the most amazing offer. When we lived together in Athens in the 90’s, she had just completed school as a hair stylist, and really wanted to launch her career in California. I encouraged her, and she said I even signed over my week’s paycheck to make sure she would have travel money. A few years later, I was the only non-family member at her wedding. (See the fourth picture in the photo album “Fun and Friends” to see us together on that day.) While I had long forgotten my gestures of support, she had not, telling me she had waited 20 years to attend my wedding. She actually flew in from California to style my hair, meet my new extended family, and make the day even that much more incredible. She was exactly the same after all that time-a person of calm confidence who lives fully in each moment-and my family was immediately smitten with her. They are still talking about her presence with us that day, and how much she felt like a vital part of the moment.
The travel seemed worth the effort when we took advantage of the wide range of Chateau Élan amenities. By having a destination wedding, we hopefully were able to allow guests to craft out a weekend get-away that was suited for them. Misty, Lisa and I enjoyed a pampering manicure in the spa. Dad, Kyle, Phil and Forrest played the par-3 course on Saturday morning. George and Crystal stayed over on Saturday and turned it into a 20-year anniversary celebration. They were also kind enough to let Forrest join George’s golf round on Sunday. We all enjoyed the Irish Pub on-site, and visited the gift shop complete with anything remotely related to wine.
A couple final details made the wedding different: we didn’t do print invitations, keeping all the details for the big day on a custom website that I built for free on weddingchannel.com. Kevin and I also discouraged wedding gifts. We didn’t register, saying only that if you feel compelled to make a gesture, a bottle of wine or a charity donation would suffice. My friends were kind enough to throw a couple of showers, and I insisted that all shower gifts be fun and frivolous. Bed and Bar only. It made for quite a collection! My friends have good taste and kind hearts. A few local charities received gifts, and I don’t have to pretend to have domestic skills with traditional wedding presents.
In the end, the entire experience was overwhelming and astounding. I cannot express how pleased I was with how perfectly everything turned out on October 8th at Chateau Élan, as well as all of the festivities and planning leading up to it. I have to offer the most heartfelt thanks to everyone who shared their love and encouragement to us, and made it a day that I will treasure always. You will be soon be able to see many of the photos from that day, made possible by the amazing Brook Facey, who drove to the resort with his wife Lynn, and assured that we would have beautiful pictures to help us remember the occasion. When you see them, I am confident that you will see all of the love in this group of 22 people, nestled into a splendid resort in Braselton, Georgia, amidst the vineyard and the castles, to launch a marriage that was 45 years in the making.