When rustic meets glam, my heart can barely beat fast enough. Sparkles just seem to shine brighter in the great outdoors, and the juxtaposition never fails to stop me in my tracks. Case and point? This Paradise Springs beauty designed by Southern Belle Events and captured by Geoff Duncan. The best part is that it was as personal as it was pretty, and you can see every gorgeous moment here.

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Fall
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Lodge

From the Bride…You can’t have a great wedding without a great love story. Of all places, Matt, from New Zealand, and Ashley, from Texas, meet in Spain.

As the story goes, my girlfriends dragged me out for a night on the town against my wishes. During a quick stop at our favourite local pub, I was introduced to a table full of kiwi blokes and there happened to be just one empty seat, right next to Matt. Three months and a cancelled flight home later, not knowing if we would meet again, we were forced to part ways as Matt set off to work as a sail maker on an around the world sailing campaign. Luckily, several months later, I took matters into my own hands. Matt was in Brazil for work and on the rare occasion of a day off, was standing outside of the hotel with his work mates ready for a day of sightseeing. Much to his (and everyone else’s surprise) I popped out of a cab and yelled, “surprise!” Before we knew it, the months of tears, flights, “hellos” and “goodbyes” had turned into three years and a once-in-a-lifetime love. Finally, with a one-way ticket in hand, I boarded a flight and moved to New Zealand.

After five years and countless miles, we finally acknowledged, that sometimes when you know, you just know. Matt was sneaky and pulled off a surprise proposal at the beach near his parents’ house in New Zealand (I seriously had no idea…and sadly was wearing yoga pants with a ketchup stain!). We wandered down to the beach, climbing out onto the rocks that overlook the snow-capped peaks of the South Island. While I was taking in the breathtaking view, Matt got down on one knee. At first, I thought he was tying his shoe because he wasn’t saying anything! Once he managed to pop the question, we celebrated on the beach with a bottle of bubbly he had hidden earlier in the day (complete with proper champagne glasses…this boy knows me too well!). Matt was smart enough to know that I have a very distinct sense of style and rather than propose with a ring I may or may not like, he popped the question with stunning pearl and diamond earrings and a strawberry ring pop. Once back in the States, I was able to work with a jeweler to design the perfect engagement and wedding rings. Sadly, Matt was due for work in the US the day after he proposed and again we were forced to part ways and spent the first month and a half of our engagement apart.

Due to Matt’s hectic work schedule, we had to quickly make the decision of whether to try and plan an international wedding in five months or to wait a year and a half. Always up for a challenge, we opted for five months and quickly set about finding a venue and checking off all of the other items on those silly wedding planning checklists that were supposed to have already happened. As many of our guests would be flying in from New Zealand, we tried to pick a venue that was near either San Francisco or LA (since you can fly direct from NZ). After a lot of research, we zoned in on Yosemite National Park. Although there are beautiful hotels within the park that do weddings, we weren’t happy with the wedding mill model, “you pay us $XXXXX and then we do your whole wedding and you have X number of hours before we shut down your party.” We were inviting guests from seven countries and nine states; we wanted them to have an extraordinary time, have the ability to get to know one another and have the opportunity to spend time with each person and convey how important they are in our lives—there was no way we were going to be able to accomplish this in a wedding mill!

…And then we found Paradise Springs. Knowing the time on the checklist had long since passed for “book your wedding venue,” I emailed them with a hope and a prayer to see if our date was available. Apparently, God was listening because I quickly got an email back saying they had just had a cancellation for our weekend! We ended up booking Paradise Springs for four days, giving us ample time to relax with our guests and for our family and friends from all corners of the world to get to know each other. Paradise Springs is a stunning location, set on one hundred secluded acres about a ten minute drive outside of the south gate of Yosemite National Park. With their beautiful cabins, lodge and public areas, almost all of our guests were able to stay on the property and just hang out.

With the perfect venue secured, we set about planning the remainder of our wedding, always keeping at the front of our minds that this is so much more than our wedding, but it is the only time in our lives that I will be able to have all of my friends and family, from Texas and New Zealand, in one place. With that in focus, we wanted to make sure that every detail was personalized and each person would leave the weekend knowing how important they are to us and how much we value our relationship with them. Although the visual theme of our wedding may have been a mix of traditional/elegant/gold/silver/rose gold/vintage/organic/nature/etc., the real theme of our wedding was love and relationship…we wanted to focus not only on our love for each other but to express to our family and friends that our love for them never changes regardless of the distance between us. We did our very best to highlight this in our décor (using family heirloom silver, my great grandmother’s chair, displaying a wall of our travel photos, using family recipes for the cookie bar, homemade jam as wedding favours, etc.) and in all of the little details (our wedding programs included a picture and bio of each guest attending, not just the wedding party; the seating cards had hand written messages to each guest; after the wedding, our thank you cards to each guest included a picture of us holding a sign that said, “thank you ______” while doing the activity they gave us from our honeymoon registry; etc.).

Every wedding has the stress that goes along with planning it; with five months to make our dream day a reality and so many travel plans included, ours was no different. Unfortunatley we had a few extras thrown in. First, were the devastating forest fires in Yosemite. We tried to ignore all of the press on TV, but we knew it was bad when NASA showed a picture of the fire from space! All in all, the devastation spread over 400 square miles and fire ecologists have said the damage is unprecedented and that, “fire has not left such a contiguous moonscape in the Sierra since before the Little Ice Age, which began in 1350.” Once the fires died down we thought we were in the clear, just to have the government shut down, shutting down all of the national parks with it. We were very lucky that our actual venue, Paradise Springs, was just outside of the park gates, meaning that our actual wedding ceremony and reception would not be impacted. Unfortunately, we had guests coming in from all over with travel plans heavily revolved around spending a lot of time in the park. Plus, we had hired our amazing photographer, Geoff Duncan, to do a day after shoot in the park. The wedding day came and went, and the park was still shut…so what do you do…why sneak into the park of course! Back in our wedding clothes and with our super-stealth photographer, we snuck into the park and had our day after session anyway. Seriously though…who’s going to mess with a girl in a wedding dress?!?

With such a short time frame we were definitely on a tight budget! The one thing we refused to compromise on was photography. We pulled that money straight from the budget and then made all of our other decisions from there. Instead of splurging on my dream Valentino wedding shoes, I wore a pair I already had (they really were perfect, rose-gold peep toe pumps), and I just added a pair of beautiful broaches to them. Both the bridesmaids and myself did all of our own hair and makeup. Rather than going and finding “bridesmaid” dresses, which instantly adds $$$ to the tag, I hired a dressmaker in China to make the fabulous sequined dresses the girls wore. They were only $99 each! I will say, the most impressive way we saved money was Matt’s idea. As the big day drew closer we realized that we didn’t have enough money left over for a band or DJ. We both love music, so Matt got creative and posted an ad on Craig’s List saying that we were on the hunt for an up and coming act who needed some reviews to help build their business. DJ Jaynotic responded and said he loved weddings and young love and would be happy to DJ our wedding for the cost of gas to the venue. We listened to some of his work on Sound Hound and took him up on the offer. He had all of the gear: speakers, mixing boards, lights, etc., and did a fabulous job—everyone was on the dance floor having a blast! A nugget of wisdom I offer to those planning their weddings now—don’t be afraid to ask. Because Matt asked, we ended up with an amazing DJ almost for free. With our caterer, I wasn’t happy with the first few menu options they sent over—I’m not a boring chicken picaata kind of bride. We wanted something unique and different, so we asked to speak with the chef directly. He and I clicked instantly as we both love experimenting with food and flavours. After our chat, he took $10 off per person, and changed out the typical wedding chicken picatta with delicious New Zealand lamb.

Since we come from different backgrounds and different cultures, it was important that we use both the NZ and US wedding traditions—we wanted our American friends to get a taste of NZ and our New Zealand friends to get a taste of the South! With that in mind, we decided to have both a rehearsal dinner (US tradition) and a post-wedding brunch (NZ tradition). I love to cook and have big parties. Although I’ve tried to recreate Texas BBQ in NZ, it just isn’t possible (no smoker, no brisket) and there is no local food that compares. For our rehearsal dinner we threw a low key Texas BBQ, complete with smoked brisket(!), coleslaw, yellow potato salad, cornbread and a whole lot of BBQ sauce. To give our Kiwi friends the full experience, we played country music and had s’mores over the fire pit. For brunch the morning after the wedding, we did a typical NZ picnic, complete with picnic baskets overflowing with fresh bread, cured meats, olives, cheeses and more. We hiked down to Hidden Pond…yes, I hiked in heels and a ball gown—if you can’ wear a ball gown to a picnic the day after your wedding, then when can you wear a ball gown to a picnic!? After the picnic we relaxed in the sun playing croquet and petanque/bocce ball. (P.s. I found the ball gown, brand new, on sale for $19.99!!)

On the wedding day, we were also able to incorporate both cultures’ traditions. With our Maid of Honour, Best Man and Pastor, we followed the New Zealand tradition and signed the marriage certificate during the actual wedding ceremony. During the reception, we had a close, and very funny friend serve as our MC, instead of the DJ as is common in the States. We followed the US tradition of the cake cutting, and rather than just slicing the cake as the do in NZ, we sliced it and fed it to each other…and to make sure the Kiwis got the full American experience, I smeared it all over Matt’s face! Lastly, and one of my favorite parts of the night, was speeches. In America we have “speeches,” but they are generally more of a toast. A few kind words to the couple, maybe a funny story from the best man, but the goal, from the speech-giver’s perspective, is to get in and out as quickly as possible. In New Zealand, wedding speeches go on throughout much of dinner and are given by the Father of the Bride, Father of the Groom, Best Man, Maid of Honour, Groom and typically a handful of other people. More often than not, they go on for several minutes with in depth stories and memories of the bride or groom, the couple and then finish with a toast. It was so fun at our wedding to hear the stories our friends and family told of us through the years, what some of their favorite memories are, and to hear how they have seen us grow throughout our relationship. There were definitely a lot of laughs…hearing the embarrassing stories of the American sayings I use in NZ that have very different meanings…and there were a lot of tears…when either of our parents spoke.

Since the wedding, Matt and I have sat around and talked, trying to figure out what our favorite moment from the night was. Speeches are near the top of the list, but I think what we loved most about the day, and the weekend, was how everything was personalized and that all of our friends and family were included and recognized in our big day. My young adult pastor from years ago, who I am very close with, was able to fly out, perform our ceremony and hang out for the whole weekend. It was so special to have him there as he has been a huge part of my spiritual life and who I am today. During the ceremony, when he was telling everyone how we knew each other and all of the crazy adventures we’ve been on, he teared up and had to stop for a moment. It meant so much to us and our families knowing that the person who was leading us into this next chapter of our lives cared so much for me and for Matt and I’s relationship.

Even with the little details, we tried our hardest to keep everything very personal and make everyone feel involved. Rather than splashing out for dance lessons, our close friends, who happen to be professional ballroom dancers, gave us a lesson at home. It was so fun after our first dance to rush off the dance floor, giving them high-fives and seeing their smile knowing that they contributed to our day. For our nibbles on the table before dinner, we served truffled popcorn—Matt LOVES popcorn and I’m slightly obsessed with anything truffle. The day before our wedding, all of our friends and family at the venue pitched in and helped to make all of the cookies for our Milk & Cookie Bar. Rather than the tried and true unity candle/sand tradition, we came up with the idea for a “unity canvas.” We both love art, so we found a beautiful wooden canvas that we stained to match our house. We covered the canvas with a custom created monogram decal; during the ceremony, we painted the canvas with gold and silver paint. Once the stencil was removed, we had a beautiful piece of artwork to hang in our house.

In addition to speeches, and all of the personal touches, another favorite moment of the wedding, was all of our guests gathered around the heaters surrounding the dance floor, trying to keep warm, talking and sharing stories. We had been told that October is one of the warmest and nicest months of the year in Yosemite. The day that we arrived at the venue to set up, it was snowing! Luckily, we have some very smart friends who are in the process of setting up a company called Wedding Weather, whose team of meteorologists sends detailed weather reports leading up to the big day. Even though everyone was freaking out that we would need to move everything inside, we knew that the weather was going to clear for ceremony and reception. Wedding Weather definitely saved a lot of stress and made the setup way more enjoyable! Even with the clear skies, it was still freezing outside. In order to combat the cold, the boys wore long johns under their suits and my bridesmaids wore yoga tights under their dresses. Although it was cold, we think it made our wedding more social. Everyone put on their beer coat, got out on the dance floor or chatted around the heaters, and had blast and getting to know each other better.

After the honeymoon was over, and the pictures came in, we’ve been reflecting over the whirlwind of the past few months. Seeing all of the little details that we put so much thought into, seeing the smile on our guests’ faces, and seeing our love for each other that so obviously shines through the photos, there isn’t a thing we would change. (Well, maybe the napkins, but there’s always one silly thing you would change!). A few words of wisdom for those planning now: Don’t be afraid to work outside of the box and do what works for you and your event, regardless of what “Dear Abby” says—we emailed our save the dates, did an online RSVP and registered for our honeymoon as we wouldn’t be able to get gifts back from the US to NZ. The quicker you plan your event, the less money you will spend on frivolous things you don’t need. Hire the best photographer that you can afford, even it if means cutting the budget in other areas. (We have ZERO regrets about this!!) Lastly, and most obviously, don’t lose sight of what this day is about—it’s not about competing with the events you see on Pinterest or blogs, but about celebrating your love and relationship with your fiancé and honoring your family and friends.

Photography: Geoff Duncan | Event Design: Southern Belle Events | Floral Design: Southern Belle Events | Wedding Dress: Maggie Sottero | Cake: Sweet Dreams Cakery | Ceremony Venue: Paradise Springs | Bridesmaid Dresses: Designed By Ashley (Bride) | Catering: Yosemite Catering | DJ: Jaynotic | Grooms Attire: The Silver Diva | Officiant: Brad Dorethy | Cake Topper: The Pink Owl Gifts | Gift Registry: Honey Fund | Grooms Accessories: Cyberoptix Tie Lab | Guest Book: Emerson Bindery | Personalized Dessert Spoons: Sycamore Hill | Rehearsal Dinner Catering: Supernaw's Bar-B-Q | Rentals: Best Party Rentals | Save The Dates: Paperless Post | Wedding Dress Alterations: Becky Fowler Bridal | Wedding Rings: Nasr Bros Jewelers | Wedding Weather Forecast: Wedding Weather