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Hello, ladies + gents! You’ve waited patiently enough: I’m back with another wedding planning update! This time I thought I’d tell you about our ceremony and reception locations.

Contrary to popular belief, I was not the girl who had her wedding planned down to the last detail years in advance (I love weddings in general, not my wedding, specifically!). In fact, there were always just two things I knew:

1. I wanted to be married in September.
2. I wanted to be married in Connecticut.

Happily, John enjoys the month of September, as well, and he just so happens to also hail from the fine state of Connecticut.

Though it took weeks of frantic searching to find a reception venue (more on that below), our ceremony spot came together quite easily. We knew we wanted to be married in a church, and we knew we wanted our pastor from North Carolina to be able to lead the service. We ruled out both of our childhood churches fairly quickly (mine doesn’t have a center aisle, his is not the most scenic, and neither of us are that connected to the current pastors), which left one obvious answer: the Memorial Chapel at the US Coast Guard Academy in New London.

A few reasons why we love the CGA Chapel:

1. The Chapel welcomes visiting clergy, meaning there were very few obstacles to the pastor from our church in North Carolina performing the service.
2. It’s in a spot central to many of the reception locations we were considering, and only about 15 minutes away from the location we finally landed on.
3. My Dad is retired Coast Guard and taught at the Academy for 25+ years, so I have very happy memories associated with the base.
4. It is gorgeous!

Love that blue and all that gorgeous light!

With our ceremony spot secured, we put our heads back down and plowed on with the reception venue search. Ready for another list? Here’s what we were looking for:

1. A spot that was scenic, by the water, and able to be tented.
2. A venue without excessive restrictions or requirements (including but not limited to noise ordinances, lists of vendors from which you’re required to choose, and overly restrictive time schedules).
3. Somewhere that was not terribly expensive. Since we planned to tent and knew our “infrastructure” costs would not end with the site fee, we didn’t want to pay excessively for just a pretty spot of land.

WELL. I think it’s safe to say that we looked at most typical venues in southeastern Connecticut, and some atypical ones as well. Harkness, the Branford House, Jonathan Edwards Winery, Saltwater Farm, the Inn at Mystic, Florence Griswold, the Mystic Seaport, Lower Farm… oh yes, we looked at them all and then some, and came up empty, whether because of cost, space, date availability, or a combination thereof. (If you’re planning a wedding in Connecticut and are interested in all the details, you can check out the posts I wrote on my personal blog here + here.)

Yes, friends, we finally got so desperate that John literally sat down and began scrolling along the Connecticut coastline in Google Maps, calling out “Here’s a piece of lawn! Here’s a piece of lawn!” And you know what? It actually worked! One of the pieces of lawn he stumbled upon happened to be the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and that, my dears, is where we will be holding our reception. In their Sunken Garden, to be specific. I had never once considered this venue before John found it, but now I can’t imagined celebrating anywhere else!

Pictures? Of course! Here’s the stone wall of the garden, with water view beyond:

Keep in mind that poor Connecticut suffered serious damage from Ms Irene a week or so before these photos were taken, so hopefully all these trees will have leaves next year!

Below: The view of the garden from one corner. There will be mowed grass and a tent here next September!

Next door to the garden is the porch of the Yellow House, where we might hold cocktail hour (minus the picnic tables, obvs).

Here’s the view from down below, looking back up toward the house and garden.

Stick a softly glowing Sperry tent in there and you’ll have our wedding. Maybe something like this?

So there you have it: our ceremony and reception venues! What do you think?

Tell me: Did you have a hard time finding your spots to celebrate, or was it the easiest part of the whole process?

Up next: I think maybe we should talk about my first two dress shopping trips — what do you think? They were pretty fun!

In case you missed a post…
I introduce the happy couple

All photos personal except final, which is from the Sperry website

emily Written with love by Emily
20 Comments
  1. avatar Whitney reply

    We had too many venues that we liked so we decided to only visit 4 because it became to overwhelming. Two came out as our favorite and then by the end it was what felt more like us as a couple and where can we see ourselves saying “I Do!” and dancing all night long with our family and friends. Your venue is beautiful Emily! Congrats :)

    • avatar Emily reply

      Sounds perfect, Whitney! We actually didn’t visit a single venue in person (though I had been to many of the ones we considered over the course of my life, living in the area). I’m so glad we loved our reception spot once we actually saw it in person! :)

  2. avatar Laurien reply

    Beautiful! Can’t wait to see the rest : )

  3. avatar Madelynne Miller reply

    I spotted the venue we chose online – I was out of town and sent my parents there to check it out. They called me back and said, this is your venue. I put my faith and trust in them and God, and let them sign the contract before I even saw it in person! When I saw it, I knew they were right. An art gallery in an old factory-like building in downtown Birmingham. Check out the link to see a reception there – http://www.elizabethannedesigns.com/blog/2010/03/03/real-weddings-tessa-blake/

  4. avatar Amanda reply

    Congrats on finding your venue! It’s definitely such an exciting time and you realize that, you’re getting married there!! CRAZY! My wedding is next November in Raleigh and the reception venue I picked happen to be because I saw Megan and Steven’s wedding on HERE at the stockroom and fell in LOVE! I wanted the Cotton Room or Bay 7 in Durham but they were a little pricey and as soon as I saw the wedding in April I emailed immediately to find out the pricing even though I wasn’t engaged yet! Luckily I got engaged on July 6th! Whew!

    But as for dress shopping.. don’t get me started. It almost felt like I would never find the one… It was daunting! How do you choose one when you can barely choose what to wear in the morning?! AH! GOOD LUCK and best wishes! I’m sure you’ll be b-e-a-utiful! P.S. Nitsa’s is amazing and Alexia’s in Cary! ;)

    • avatar Emily reply

      Hi Amanda! SO glad you found the Stockroom through SW!! Megan is actually a good friend of mine, and I know she was very happy with it! Also, have heard great things about Nitsa’s and Alexia’s, and I think my Mom and I will be heading to Nitsa’s next month!

  5. avatar Kelly reply

    Oooh ooh! I love it! Those tents are divine. And the ext. of the church is my favorite!! Good choices! And yes, please tell us about your dress adventures next!!!!!

  6. avatar Emily Plans a Wedding: Our Photographer! « Southern Weddings Magazine reply

    […] do? :) Who will be photographing your wedding? P.S. In case you missed a post: The main characters Where we’re getting married Something for the bride to wear xo Emily October 19, 2011 | view Emily's blog 10 […]

  7. avatar Emily Plans a Wedding: Bridesmaid Style « Southern Weddings Magazine reply

    […] price to ask your ‘maids to spend! P.S. In case you missed a post… The main characters Where we’re getting married I go dress shopping We choose a photographer xo Emily November 2, 2011 | view Emily's blog […]

  8. avatar Emily Plans a Wedding: Big Rentals « Southern Weddings Magazine reply

    […] No, today I wanted to talk about the big blocks – the big rentals. As you may recall from one of my first posts, our reception is being held outdoors. The tent will be in the Sunken Garden of The O’Neill, […]

  9. avatar Lauren reply

    I love the Sperry tent, wow! I’ve been engaged for four months now and I’m beginning to panic over selecting a venue and finally having our date set. My fiancee and I live down in Atlanta, GA and both of our families are up in Michigan, Metro Detroit to be exact. I did go and venue hunt during the holidays, ten sites to be exact and I just feel lost. Not one captures my heart as I had hoped for. Some of the pricing was beyond our means and the other places looked very tired. I’m really leaning towards a tent as well but where to put it is the problem. I’m a bit frightened by the DIY process but it feels like that’s the only way to get exactly what you want in your venue. Am I the only one with this problem? Oh and our guest count is between 275 an 300 :) that can really make things difficult. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

    • avatar Emily reply

      Hi Lauren! I’m so sorry to hear about your venue troubles, but if it makes you feel any better, I think a lot of brides are in the same boat! If you’re interested in a nontraditional venue, I think it really helps to be planning in an area you’re very familiar with. In my experience, planning from scratch hasn’t been too difficult; you just have to be very realistic about the additional costs (lighting, generator, rentals, restrooms, tables, chairs, dance floor, etc., etc., etc.). I also thinks it’s almost a necessity to hire a planner to make sure everything is delivered, set up, and runs smoothly. I hope that helps a bit, and that you have a venue breakthrough soon!!

  10. avatar Laura Anne reply

    Would you consider 4 hrs at the reception sight to be too limited? I’ve found the perfect venue, but they limit the actual event to that length of time :-/

    • avatar Emily reply

      Hi Laura Anne! If 4 hours only includes the reception, and not the cocktail hour or ceremony, then I think that would be enough time! If you’re trying to squeeze in both a cocktail hour AND reception, then that might be a tough squeeze.

  11. avatar Kat reply

    Hi Emily!! I have loved reading all about your wedding :) I remember you wrote this post and came back to re-read because I just recently got engaged (insert a huge smile and a big YAYYY!). My fiance and I would love an outdoor reception and I adore Sperry tents. However, I’m nervous about implement weather. Are you planning your reception under the beautiful tent rain or shine? What if theres a huge thunderstorm? I know the tent will keep guest dry but I’m more worried about potential high wind or lightning. I’m a huge planner and implement weather is definitely a fear of mine. Any suggestions or wisdom you can pass on to a fellow bride-to-be?? Thanks so much :)

    • avatar Emily reply

      Hi Kat! Thank you so much for your kind words, and congratulations to you! We are planning to hold our reception under the tent rain or shine, which does make me a bit nervous. But one of the great things about Sperrys is that they all come with beautiful side flaps (clear on top, white on bottom), and there is a technician there throughout the reception, so if they need to come down immediately, it’s not an issue. Other than that, there’s not much we can do except pray for good weather! There will always be a certain amount of risk/uncertainty you have to accept if you’re going to use a tent, so it’s important to make sure you’re okay with that before you make the decision. Best of luck to you – I’m sure it will be beautiful either way!!

  12. avatar Emily Plans a Wedding: The Ceremony, Part I – Southern Weddings Magazine reply

    […] next post, too! But let’s start at the beginning! For those of you who weren’t with us back in September, John and I will be saying our vows at the United States Coast Guard Memorial Chapel, on the […]

  13. avatar Emily Plans a Wedding: Reception Style – Southern Weddings Magazine reply

    […] like blackberries and crab apples. For our ceremony, we’re keeping things super simple. Our chapel is absolutely gorgeous, in my opinion, and there’s really no need to dress it up. In fact, we […]

  14. avatar Emily Plans a Wedding: Something for the Bride to Wear – Southern Weddings Magazine reply

    […] The top dress is by Augusta Jones, and the bottom is the “Melina” by Amsale. I don’t think either is “the one,” but they are awfully pretty, aren’t they? Now with two shopping trips under my belt, my Mom is coming down to North Carolina for what will hopefully be a final weekend of dress shopping. We’re hoping to visit Nitsa’s in Winston-Salem (so I can try on my beloved Christos gowns!), as well as somewhere we can see Watters gowns. I also want to make sure we visit David’s Bridal (there’s one Oleg Cassini I think could be beautiful). So what do you think at this point, my friends? Do you have a favorite from the dresses I tried on? I would love to hear from you in the comments! Up next: I think it is time to talk about our PHOTOGRAPHER! P.S. In case you missed a post: The main characters Where we’re getting married […]

Southern Weddings reserves the right to delete comments which contain profanity or personal attacks or seek to promote a business unrelated to the post.  And remember: a good attitude is like kudzu – it spreads.  We love hearing your kind thoughts!

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Y’ALL. We have SO much to catch up on, wedding-wise.

Yes, this is my fault: I dropped the big news and introduced you to my pretty ring, and then left you hanging. But believe me, I’ve been a busy little bee over here! Things are clicking into place, and I can’t WAIT to share!

When I asked on Twitter a few weeks back what you all wanted me to share first, I got a variety of answers including location, photography, fashion, and inspirations. The consensus, however, seemed to be to go in the order things developed for us. That makes sense to me, as well, which means we will be starting with the ceremony and reception locations. However, I really want to have photos to illustrate with before we chat about venues, so I promise I will share after I’m back from my visit home next week (for an engagement party — woo!).

In the meantime, I thought it might be fun to give you a little more of the back story on these people getting married before we jump into the nitty gritty! Y’all already know me pretty well (just read this and this for a refresher course!), but John is a little bit more of a mystery. Allow me to enlighten you…

John and I grew up in the same small town in Connecticut. We went to different elementary schools, but had many of the same friends. Despite this, we did not meet each other until middle school, when all the elementary schools pooled into one school. Let me tell you, John was one of THE coolest kids in middle school. Athletic, handsome, and just shy enough to make the girls all come to him (ha!). I was not immune to his charms, but sadly, the feelings were not mutual.

Moving on. Fast forward to high school, where we still were in interlocking groups of friends, but more acquaintances than anything else. I still thought he was cute, of course, but he was dating someone else.

Fast forward again to senior year. We had a class together with a mutual good friend, so we began to hang out more (though just in school). Our two groups of friends gradually seemed to mesh. Unbeknownst to me, John had developed a crush on me, but didn’t really know what to do about it. He even resorted to loudly talking about how much he liked me while sitting a few seats away from my younger sister in the cafeteria (hoping she would overhear and report back to me), but to no avail. (Darn you, Kim!)

Finally, in January of our senior year, he mustered up the courage to say something. He called me up out of the blue and blurted out “So… I think I like you.” To which I responded with nervous giggles, obviously. We eventually arranged a first date (ice skating), and have been together ever since. Happily, this means we will have awesome senior prom photos to share with our future children:

We went to different colleges our freshmen year, and then he transferred to Wheaton to be with me (all parties were much happier). Here we are during a freshman year visit, in 2006:

And here we are again, at our college senior formal (May 2009):

The summer after graduation, he again moved for me, accompanying me down to North Carolina to start my job at Southern Weddings (below, November 2009).

Now, two years later (and almost seven years after we began dating), we are planning a wedding! John is so much smarter than me, eternally patient, hilariously funny, filled with love for God, devilishly handsome, and my very best friend in the world. I am SO EXCITED to be marrying him! Here we are today:

Thank you so much for letting me take a little trip down memory lane! I promise, the good stuff (wedding details) is coming soon. Until then, tell me: how long did you and your fiance date before getting engaged?

emily Written with love by Emily
35 Comments
  1. avatar Lisa reply

    Oh my goodness, Emily! I’m so happy you wrote this post! I love a good love story, and yours is amazing :) You two are SO precious together and I love that you have prom pictures!! Adorable. I can’t wait to read lots more about your plans for the wedding…wishing you and John all the best along the way! :) xoxo

  2. avatar Erin reply

    Only six months. But we know pretty much from day 1 that we were going to get married.

  3. avatar Nancy Ray reply

    Love this post so much! The back story here is so fun to read. Will and I dated for 3 years, then were engaged for 1 before we said I do. Much like you, I fell for Will long before he fell for me! Glad our boys came to their senses ;)

  4. avatar mackenzie reply

    What an enduring love story! You guys are super cute- especially in your prom photo :)

  5. avatar MacKenzie reply

    So cute! I love that you actually have prom pictures together. Wow. We dated for just over a year before our super-short engagement. I wish we could show our kids awkward prom photos….not that yours are awkward ;)

    • avatar MacKenzie reply

      MacKenzie: oh my gosh. do you know what is awkward? commenting on a blog post twice because I didn’t think i’d submitted the first comment :)

  6. avatar Nam reply

    CONGRATS, Emily!! I love hearing stories about life-long friends/childhood sweethearts! :) That said, my wife and I had a very different story. We only knew each other for about 7 months before getting engaged!

  7. avatar Ali reply

    My FIancé Eric and I just got engaged back in May…we have also been dating 7 years! We met the summer between our freshman and sophomore years of college and have been together ever since! I knew he was the one for me after his Valentine’s Day surprise for me back in 2006. He showed up at my house with a blindfold and told me we were going for a little drive. He drove around for about 10 minutes, then walked me around through what seemed like a maze of hallways and steps. When he took off the blindfold, I was standing on the 50 yard line of Florida Field (only my favorite place in the whole world) looking at a picnic basket filled with lobster, steak, champagne and peach cobbler. A blanket was laid on the grass and candles were lit all around it. From that moment on, I knew he would be my husband!

  8. avatar emily hansel reply

    Long courtships rock! We started dating at the beginning of my sophomore year in college (after being friends for a year) and got engaged 7 and a half years later, and married a year after that. We’ve not yet been married a year and a half but it was our 10 year anniversary last week! I think Drew actually liked me first (or realized he did) It never crossed my mind he would be interested in me :) I poked fun at us with our save the dates, listing our the numbers of our wedding date with other things that took an extremely long time (ie 10 decades to build Notre Dame cathedral, bc we got married on the 10th). It was a little tongue in cheek but I wouldn’t re-write our story in any way!

  9. avatar Melissa Hopkins reply

    Great story Emily! Planning a wedding is such an exciting time. MY husband and I did not have a one courtship at all. We meet in February of 2007, were engaged by September and married in July of 2008. It was one of those instances where we knew when we met that this was it!

    • avatar Emily reply

      Wow, Melissa! Well, sometimes when you know, you know!

    • avatar Melissa Hopkins reply

      Emily: Wow I just noticed all of the spelling and grammatical errors in my comment! Kudos to you for figuring out what i wrote! ;)

  10. avatar Jordan reply

    My fiance and I went to high school together and were super close friends (that liked each other, but didn’t realize it was mutual), so we have a prom picture together :) We dated for two years, and our wedding is planned for next summer.

  11. avatar Ann Marie Leveille reply

    Y’all are precious! And remind me of me and my hubbie! He’s 2 years older than me and were good friends throughout high school. But the spring of my junior year (he was already graduated) we became closer and closer, until one day that following summer, we realized we liked each other! I was 17, he was 19, and we have been together ever since! (that was 1997) We knew by my 18th birthday that we would stay together! We dated for 3 years, when were engaged Valentines Day of 2000. Then, the long-haul engagement of close to 2 years! (to finish school) We finally married in November of 2001! So we are so excited to be coming up on the first big milestone anniversary of 10 years this fall!!
    Good luck planning!! I know it will be fabulous!

    • avatar Emily reply

      I love your story, Ann Marie! Even though we knew we were going to be together way before seven years, I just couldn’t do a long engagement — so we waited until the time was right for us!

  12. avatar Bri @ Posh Purpose reply

    Congrats again, Emily! I just got engaged two weekends ago. We had been dating for almost 11 months – he proposed 364 days since we had met (for the second time).

  13. avatar madelynne miller reply

    My fiance and I got engaged after dating for just over 3 years. We were BEST buddies for about 6 months after both getting accepted in the architecture program in Auburn and then it dawned on me that I was hopelessly in love with him. I told him on my birthday how I felt, and we have been together ever since. We wanted to finish school – and now we’re both working and living in Atlanta and loving every minute!

    PS: I love wedding blogs so much, he created a fake blog url and “subscribed” me to it in google reader, I clicked on it and didn’t realize it was his proposal until I saw his picture at the end holding the ring (appropriately, I was watching the bachelorette too)! http://ourengagementmandc.blogspot.com/2011/01/our-engagement.html

    Best wishes!!

  14. avatar Summer reply

    My husband and I dated for over six years before he finally popped the question! I guess that’s what you get though when your high school sweethearts, but the wait is so worth it!

  15. avatar ashley reply

    My now husband and I started dating our freshman year of high school, thirteen years ago this December! We took a two year break at the beginning of college, but remained close and visited each other all the time. We started dating seriously again for our last two years of college, moved to Boston together and finally got engaged in April 2010, almost 12 years after we first started dating. We got married on Sunday and are currently on honeymoon in Thailand (where clearly I’m catching up on my wedding blogs in between laying out and eating)!

  16. avatar Amy C reply

    Congrats! What a sweet story. My fiance and I dated three different times before it “clicked.” :-) 9 years ago, 4 years ago, and then last fall when everything finally fell into place. I suppose “third time’s the charm” was true in our case!! This “round,” as we like to call it, we dated for 8 months before he proposed in June, and we’re getting married Memorial Day weekend. Yay!!

  17. avatar Emily Plans a Wedding: The Venues! « Southern Weddings Magazine reply

    […] shopping trips — what do you think? They were pretty fun! In case you missed a post… I introduce the happy couple All photos personal except final, which is from the Sperry website xo Emily September 21, 2011 […]

  18. avatar Emily Plans a Wedding: Something for the Bride to Wear « Southern Weddings Magazine reply

    […] Up next: I think it is time to talk about our PHOTOGRAPHER! P.S. In case you missed a post: The main characters Where we’re getting married xo Emily October 5, 2011 | view Emily's blog 0 […]

  19. avatar Emily Plans a Wedding: Something for the Bride to Wear | Gift Registry News reply

    […] In case you missed a post: The main characters Where we’re getting married VN:F [1.9.6_1107]please wait…Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)VN:F […]

  20. avatar Emily Plans a Wedding: Our Photographer! « Southern Weddings Magazine reply

    […] Tanja as much as I do? :) Who will be photographing your wedding? P.S. In case you missed a post: The main characters Where we’re getting married Something for the bride to wear xo Emily October 19, 2011 | […]

  21. avatar Emily Plans a Wedding: Our Photographer! | Gift Registry News reply

    […] In case you missed a post: The main characters Where we’re getting married Something for the bride to wear VN:F [1.9.6_1107]please […]

  22. avatar Emily Plans a Wedding: Bridesmaid Style « Southern Weddings Magazine reply

    […] is a reasonable price to ask your ‘maids to spend! P.S. In case you missed a post… The main characters Where we’re getting married I go dress shopping We choose a photographer xo Emily November […]

  23. avatar Emily Plans a Wedding: Bridesmaid Style | Gift Registry News reply

    […] In case you missed a post… The main characters Where we’re getting married I go dress shopping We choose a photographer VN:F […]

  24. avatar One of Our Brides… Meet Emily Ayer | a jubilee event :: wedding inspiration for the jubilant bride reply

    […] The main characters Where we’re getting married I go dress shopping We choose a photographer I ponder bridesmaid style Mini food! The music We’re renting a tent! We discuss bouquets + boutonnieres We send out our save the dates I gather hair and makeup inspiration We talk cake and sweets I introduce you to our videographer We create a registry We buy a tuxedo […]

  25. avatar Emily Plans a Wedding: Videogaphy – Southern Weddings Magazine reply

    […] in that department, and I’d love to learn from y’all! In case you missed a post… The main characters Where we’re getting married I go dress shopping We choose a photographer I ponder bridesmaid […]

  26. avatar Emily Plans a Wedding: Accessories! – Southern Weddings Magazine reply

    […] let me know! Up next: I’ll share our engagement photos! In case you missed a post… The main characters Where we’re getting married I go dress shopping We choose a photographer I ponder bridesmaid […]

  27. avatar Emily Plans a Wedding: Our Photographer! – Southern Weddings Magazine reply

    […] Tanja as much as I do? :) Who will be photographing your wedding? P.S. In case you missed a post: The main characters Where we’re getting married Something for the bride to […]

Southern Weddings reserves the right to delete comments which contain profanity or personal attacks or seek to promote a business unrelated to the post.  And remember: a good attitude is like kudzu – it spreads.  We love hearing your kind thoughts!

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