Sarah & Nick: A Destination DIY Vermont Wedding in my Mama's Garden (with so so much love)

I've been saving this blog post for a few months now because this wedding is the most dear to me this year.  Don't get me wrong, I've had some AMAZING couples and have fallen in love with this incredible job all over again but this particular wedding is so dear to me because it is the wedding of my extraordinary big sister Sarah to the love of her life Nick, and took place in the back garden of my family home in Vermont.  I genuinely don't even know where to begin with this wedding, I had such an emotional response to the events both on and leading up to the day but knew I needed to blog about it so bear with me as I attempt to get through this post!

My sister Sarah is the least judgemental person I've ever known.  I've shared secrets with her from the moment I could speak and she's solemnly guarded them: whether it was about colouring on the walls when we were toddlers, sneaking extra quarters from Pup-Pup Ted's stash for the skee-ball machines on Balboa pier in those magic years before we were teenagers and too cool for skee-ball, illicit wine-cooler drinking (and the subsequent hangovers that resulted) as teenagers and hopes and fears for an unknown future on that last Thanksgiving before I hopped on a plane to Germany and my life changed forever...Sarah has always stayed sensitive and smart and selfless in her care for our little sister Molly and I.  There is a delicateness underneath her strength and an openness with her heart that has made us sometimes worried that she wouldn't find someone deserving of her generous loyalty.  Because generosity and an unbelievable compassion for others are what truly define my big sister. 

When I left the United States in 2008 to move to Hamburg (thus changing my stars and sealing my fate forever), I never looked back.  I had finished university and was leaving the drama and tumult of my adolescence and early twenties behind but there remained so so much love and strength in my relationships with the incredible women I've been lucky enough to be bonded to by family and friendship.  Whilst I rarely have been homesick in these 9 years, my soul has periodically reached across the ocean for my sisters, for my mother, for my Kate & Cate, for my aunts and cousins and former roommates and confidantes and partners in crime whose love & support has defined my life.  My mama has moved a few times in the years since I've been gone but what has felt like home every time I've returned is the familiar faces: the whole families of Bartkes and Metz's who drove hours to hug me and my Michael (and squeeze a chubby 6 month old Hadley Pearl); the Goetschius/Murdoch clan who beckoned me back to Vermont when the legal ties to my adopted homeland were briefly tenuous and wrapped me into their own family celebrations; the awaiting rowdy crowd of college theatre friends who were ready for us with pitchers of beer (and comfy sofas to nap on the next day); my oldest friend and high school prom date Kate with our nearly 20 years of secrets and misdeeds and happy tears and comfortable late-night porch talks; my mama and her dining table of wine-rings and Scrabble tiles - it's warming feasts and too-strong martinis - my mama, who equally infuriates me and reminds me constantly how all the good in me is from her - my mama who defines grace and compassion and ferocity and mama who passed a bit of those defining traits onto fearless and bold Molly, and passionate me and kind and empathetic and beautiful Sarah.  Mama, Sarah and Molly and our complicated, love-stuffed, mis-matched relationship is what reminds me most of home.  And Vermont is just the most perfect setting, it's a sigh of relief when we cross into those green valleys because finally when we go back, the people and the place have lined up perfectly and it is a true homecoming. 

When Sarah and her Nick decided to move to Vermont and live in the house across the street from our parents, I thought they were just insane.  Chelsea has a population of just 1,250 people.  Nobody locks their doors, everyone says hello when you walk into the tiny town centre with it's general store selling both horse feed and pints of Ben & Jerry's alongside gallons of locally tapped maple syrup and neighbours regularly swing by in the evenings with extra cauliflower from their gardens or peaches from their trees.  It's idyllic in the summer and brutally isolating in the winter so I was curious what kind of life a young couple can have in such a place.  Turns out it's a pretty spectacular life, and those qualities that make my big sister such an incredible human (that we've always known about) have simply thrived in the town that values honesty and hard work.  Nick works alongside my step-father Tim building beautiful homes and Sarah spends her days diligently crafting the next great American novel.  Their Senegalese lodger, Mo, has become another piece of the puzzle and seamlessly joined our family.  When you see their beautiful life in person, it all makes pretty perfect sense.

Still.  I thought they were nuts again when Sarah and Nick announced a big fat Vermont wedding in peak summer.  The plan was an intimate family ceremony at Silver Lake (a mere 40 minutes outside the valley) and an old-fashioned knees-up barbecue wedding reception in mama and Tim's massive garden.  As with everything in Sarah and Nick's life, it was to be a full labour of love.  Michael, Hads and I arrived on Monday from Manchester and wedding prep was well and truly underway.  The days leading up to Saturday's celebration were a whirlwind of late-night family dinners in the garden with candles and fireflies lighting up our faces when it was too dark to see, a beautifully elegant bridal shower hosted by Nick's incredible mom Colleen and the women in her family; my dad's arrival on his Harley Davidson trike with his amazing partner Roz and her son Christopher and the great big bear hugs that never stopped from the minute they roared up; mornings spent watching mama walk a barefoot Hadley through her vegetable gardens and teaching her the names of flowers and how to pick mint for salads.  We hung lights from trees and made vats of pasta to feed the masses that trickled in as the week went on.  Family and friends from all over the US arrived to celebrate the joy of Sarah and Nick's union: we were in a fever pitch over two of the most wonderful people in this world and the pure dumb luck that they managed to find each other.  Because when Sarah and Nick met, the stars truly aligned and our big crazy family just got even bigger and more filled with love than we ever thought possible.  That Friday night we pulled up chairs in the empty marquee tent and Mo drummed a beat as Nick's friend Andrew strummed some chords and my Aunt Donna and I giddily sang out the lyrics to the songs we knew (and made up the ones we didn't).  We danced and we held on tight to each other and as with moments like these, it all felt infinite.


After a week of glorious sunshine and hazy evenings, on the morning of the wedding we awoke to the bustle of a bride and groom up since the crack of dawn setting up lawn games, adding finishing touches, setting out chairs and filling an old bathtub with bottles of locally crafted beer.  The weather in Vermont is notoriously mercurial and despite a sun-drenched morning, by early afternoon the clouds had gathered and the threat of rain was imminent.  By this point Sarah was already dressed in her simple and chic Bhldn gown with a hand-beaded pearl and seaglass sash (made in painstaking detail by our very talented grandmother!), she had done her own makeup and I had twisted her hair into a vaguely bridal shape, our flower girl Hadley was dressed to the nines in a dove-grey tulle pinafore, grey Converse, flower crown and purple wings.  The guests were on their way to the lake but the barbecue truck hadn't arrived.  And at that exact moment the heavens opened.  Tim rang us to say that the lake was a complete washout and guests were huddled in their cars.  Sarah was devastated.  But we had a perfectly good marquee! So our officient for the day Mollie and I sprung to action and, along with Sarah's friend Taylor who had been hired to organise caterers and finish setting up the reception whilst we were at the lake, we began moving chairs and bossing heavy lifters around to rearrange a reception tent for a ceremony. 

By this point we were closer to 6:00 pm, Sarah and Hads were set up with Moana in the living room so as not to spoil their attire and OF COURSE that tricky Vermont weather changed course AGAIN and brilliant golden sunshine quickly warmed the garden and dried the grass.  Mollie looked at me and we immediately began barking orders again, shuffling the chairs back out of the marquee and into rows facing the two trees framing my mama's studio - where Sarah and Nick held their tiny legal ceremony just a few months before. 

When Sarah FINALLY was able to emerge from the house to the bated breath of those 'gathered here' on our proud papa's tattooed arm, the waning sun burst through the remaining clouds and there was a collective gasp as she was framed in stunning Vermont golden hour sunshine.  And there the light stayed, framing the lovers as they made their handwritten vows in front of us all.  I have never cried so hard at a wedding, and certainly not one I was photographing.  But everything had led us all to this beautiful place, with this remarkable group of people I feel so grateful to call our family. 

The celebrations continued with a barbecue feast (that was definitely worth the wait!) of pulled pork and mac n' cheese and chicken legs and salads followed by a table of cakes and desserts courtesy of the talented student chefs at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier.  There were tin boxes of locally made tea from Taylor's Free Verse Farm as favours, wildflower arrangements by a family friend sat on heart-shaped log slices cut by the groom, that bathtub of beer and cases of wine.  There was dancing, so so much dancing until our wee flower girl was carried up to her bed (and not a peep was heard from her again that night!) until those staying out of town drifted to their accomodation and all that remained was Mo on the drum, Miguel on the guitar, Sarah and Nick wrapped up in blankets with their arms tightly around each other, my Michael holding my hand whilst Aunt Donna and I softly sang along, mama and Tim and dad and Roz looking overfull with pride and love and a bottle of whiskey being passed around.  This was all the good stuff, and we had Sarah & Nick to thank for bringing it all together.  What an extraordinary feeling it is to be so rich with the good stuff. 

Here are some of the images (FINALLY!) of this epic wedding celebration.  Thanks for reading!