Hitched on a Hilltop


A North Carolina Family Elopement 

all professional photos by Candi Leonard Photography

The last of our 12-hour drive consisted of winding roads with rustic barns and plenty of October wind. The leaves were vibrant yellows, brilliant oranges,  and roasted reds. The hilly mountainsides cast a gorgeous shadow upon the cow ridden valleys. We were definitely not in Kansas  Miami anymore.


By Friday evening, our families had arrived. The craftsman style lodge we rented accommodated all 11 of us comfortably. After saying our hellos, we called it an early night to prepare for the wedding the next day.


screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-6-15-30-pmclp_0310I wasn’t nervous in the least. As a wedding planner, I was used to the hustle and bustle of wedding day, with strict timelines, giant wedding parties to keep track of, complicated décor … and I wanted none of the above. Which is precisely why we decided to do things differently. We hired Candi Leonard Photography, a husband and wife team, who really understood our vision. The only other “vendors” we had were Ali and Andrea, hair and makeup stylists, to primp me for the day. We used wooden benches from around the porch for the ceremony, and there were no bouquets or centerpieces or ceremony structures. The natural backdrop was all we needed. 


backyard wedding elopement


See what I mean? I woke up Saturday to the smell of my dad cooking bacon. Some of the family had gathered in the oversized kitchen off of the master bedroom I had slept alone in the night before. Warren and I had agreed to not see each other until the ceremony, and in a two story house with 11 people, it proved to be a little difficult. I often found myself shuffling from room to room while shouting, “Don’t come up the stairs, babe!” Of course, our dog had decided to stick by Warren’s side the entire morning, which didn’t surprise me in the least. 

Screen Shot 2016-11-08 at 4.49.37 PM.png

Our dads and brothers, who had never met previously, played Pool and chatted about sports until it was time for me to walk down the aisle. Now, that was the beauty of our private elopement. We had no timeline. We had no caterer needing to plate food or DJ waiting for his music cue. When asked when the “ceremony” would start, I shrugged and said, “whenever.” If it rained, we could push it back an hour. If the sun was due to set early, we could move it earlier. We had no where else to be but here, in the moment.

Andrea and Ali completed my hair and makeup with loose barrel curls and a golden natural glow.  I listened to Halloween music on Pandora and drank chocolate milk while getting ready. It really doesn’t get any better than that.

hair and makeup wedding

I was completely relaxed. Every so often, my mom would come in to check on me. My older brother, Kyle, provided a lot of laughs that made me relive our childhood. As “Irish twins”(born less than 12 months apart), we always had a special bond.

here we are writing “REDRUM” with fogged glass breath. #typical

Like Rapunzel, confined to the bedroom, I rushed to write my note to Warren since moments earlier, he had slipped his envelope under my door.clp_9948clp_0142



Everything about this wedding had a sentimental meaning attached to it. My wedding gown was custom made. The base of the white dress was a Ralph Lauren steal from Macy’s. A one-shoulder, spandex/rayon mix and the most comfortable material I’ve ever laid on my body! My mom had saved her wedding gown from 1987 but the shoulder pads just weren’t “2016”. I decided I’d find a way to somehow incorporate her dress. My mom’s train had enough lace to trim the edges of my cathedral length veil. With plenty of lace to spare, pieces were hand sewn on to the dress leg slit, and neck line. Skin-toned mesh created long sleeves finished with a lace border grazing my top knuckles. My ring shyly peaked through. 

My shoes were a $7 find (no, really!) with a comfortable 3 inch heel. The heel was covered with the lace of Warren’s grandmother’s dress that had lasted as long as her 60 year marriage (and going on more). When “Grandmama” Glenda saw the “something old” piece that I’d be “walking down the aisle” in, her eyes teared. She didn’t immediately recognize the fabric adorning the shoe. As the photographer captured her reaction, it finally hit her. She gave me a giant hug filled with deep appreciation.


At roughly 3:00 in the afternoon, our family made their way to the backyard. The sky was a radiant blue with the sun shining brightly. The 50 degree weather was chilly to my Florida blood, but it was the Fall weather we wanted. Warren walked with Rogue to “Marry Me” by Train. I knew that song was my cue to walk out the front door and start making my way to the stone stairs on the side of the house. It was the closest thing to my childhood staircase I had always wanted to walk down. 

At the top of the stairs, it hit me. My stomach got all fluttery and I could feel my body shaking. I took deep breaths, as I heard Piano Guys instrumental rendition of “A Thousand Years” begin to play. At the 3rd stone step, it happened. My veil got stuck! The tears in my eyes dried quickly while I silently mouthed, “one minute” and readjusted myself. I’m the world’s clumsiest person, so that was so “me” for it to happen. Meanwhile, I couldn’t have had a better reaction from my groom. 


screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-6-38-12-pmAnd the minute I saw the love of my life standing right there in front of me, I became a giddy school girl.screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-6-39-03-pm

Our dog, Rogue, was the ring bearer Best Pet. She got a special sparkly collar and pristine white leash for the occasion. As the gag reel for the entire ceremony, she promptly chewed through said leash and thought it was belly rub time when Warren went to detach the rings from her collar. 




Warren’s grandfather officiated the ceremony with Bible passages and some heartfelt marriage advice. 


In less than 10 minutes, we were husband and wife. 

first kiss bride and groom

After a few family photos, and some bride and groom portraits around the property, we changed into comfy clothes, and grilled some burgers!

burgers wedding



screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-7-02-42-pmWatching our families interact like they had known each other forever was such a neat experience. We made s’mores by the campfire and played Catchphrase, HeadsUp and Cards Against Humanity until past midnight. I have never seen my father-in-law laugh as hard as he did that night. Our brothers became quick friends, and our families shared moments that they otherwise never would have had. We couldn’t have asked for the day to go any better.


I know everyone says their wedding was perfect. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a single thing. Not the fact that my veil got caught. Not even that Warren had a giant bruise on the side of his nose from Jiu Jistu!  I am so glad we decided to have a family elopement! I love being a wife , having a “new name” and getting to say “husband”.  But the thing I love most about being married is that every once in a while, during the most routine movement like drinking a water bottle or scratching his head, I see a ring on his finger. And I get butterflies every. single. time. 






Happy Planning!

(Mrs.) screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-8-58-25-pm

all professional photos courtesy of Candi Leonard Photography


4 thoughts on “Hitched on a Hilltop”

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