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I unknowingly scheduled my own upcoming wedding for the day of the Kentucky Derby in 2015, and while I won’t be taking too much inspiration from this famous Southern sporting event for my big day, I can’t help but have a soft spot for couples who do! Maryland residents, Ashley and Jim, drew upon their beloved Southern roots to bring a taste of Louisville to their home state. After their traditional church ceremony, they gathered with over 200 of their loved ones to watch the Derby live during cocktail hour–and as fate would have it, the winning horse, much like Ashley and Jim, was a perfect representation of Maryland-meets-Kentucky!

Thanks so much to Maria DeForrest for capturing this celebratory day and then sharing it with us!

Tell us about finding your wedding dress. My mom and I went to about four boutiques in the Baltimore area and found the dress at the third place we visited. All of the places let us take pictures of our favorite ones, which was a huge help. We went home and looked through all of the photos after being out all day, and the choice was clear once we saw the pictures at home. I highly recommend taking photos if you can–it is so worth it to help you make the decision!

Did you decide to do a “first look”? Why or why not? Yes, we did a “first look” and it was the best decision. One of my bridesmaids is also a wedding planner and she recommended we do a first look so that we could enjoy our cocktail hour and not miss any of our reception. We were on a tight time schedule because we were showing the Kentucky Derby live during our cocktail hour, and then heading straight to dinner. It was so nice to spend a few minutes with Jim before the craziness began, and the first look gave us some time to have a special moment alone together. We also had the most beautiful setting–an old stone bridge overlooking a lake on the farm where we had our reception. Our bridal party watched from the other side of the lake and were cheering in the background when Jim turned around and saw me for the first time.

Did you write your own vows? If so, what was your favorite phrase, verse or line? No. We had written each other love letters during our pre-Cana retreat weekend and those were so special that we didn’t feel the need to write our own vows.
What readings, if any, did you have at your ceremony? We used a reading from the Book of Tobit, Tobit 8:4B-8, which is about Tobiah and his new wife, Sarah. In the end of their prayer, they ask God to bless them to “live together to a happy old age.” We also used Romans 12:9-13–it ends with “practice hospitality,” which we thought was fitting with our Southern roots.

Being from Maryland, we are on the “edge” of the South, so I had to borrow many of my mom’s Kentucky traditions to amp up the Southern feel that I love. Since we themed our wedding around one of the most famous Southern sporting events, the Kentucky Derby, we had a lot of room to weave in Louisville details. We served mint juleps as our signature drink, along with Derby Pie for dessert. We also had a vintage “Kentucky Bourbon” tasting bar set up with homemade bourbon balls, another tasty Southern treat, on sliver platters. We also encouraged our guests to dress as if they were going to the Derby, so many women wore beautiful hats and the men wore lots of seersucker and bow ties. We also served hot browns, shrimp and grits, and mini Maryland crabcakes during our cocktail hour.

Our favorite detail of the wedding was: Watching the Kentucky Derby! We set up a huge projection screen in a restored barn on the property to watch the race before dinner. Our guests were really getting into it, and even placed bets against one another during cocktail hour! Over 200 of our favorite people in the world joined Jim and me as we cheered on Baltimore-owned Orb to a Kentucky Derby victory! Orb winning the race was the perfect blend of Maryland and Kentucky! Of course, I had my money on him, and had been telling guests for weeks leading up to the wedding that he was going to be the winner, so thank goodness I was right!!

Describe your wedding flowers. We actually ordered our flowers from Wegmans, a local grocery store. They were white (baby’s breath, roses), green (baby cabbages), and gray (lamb’s ear), to blend in with the natural beauty of our outdoor reception. Wegmans also grew grass for us and incorporated that into the tablescape by transplanting it into mint julep cups the day of the wedding. It fit very well with our horse racing theme, since it looked like turf grass!

In keeping with Derby Day tradition, my mom, a Louisville native, made fourteen “Derby Pies” for our big day. They were served with homemade whipped cream and were to die for!! We also had Jim’s favorite dessert, Key lime pie, and a coconut wedding cake–all Southern faves.

How did y’all meet? Tell us your love story. Jim and I met in 2006 when we were both working on political campaigns in Maryland. There was a 70-year old woman, Doris, who volunteered for Jim’s candidate one night, and then volunteered for my candidate the next night and told me all about this “cute, young guy working on Jim Smith’s campaign” who was my age. Ms. Doris was determined to see us together, so we owe a lot to her. Who knew commiserating over finding volunteers to fill a “phone bank” could lead to a marriage? Both of the candidates won their elections, and were both guests at our wedding almost seven years later.
Tell us all about the proposal! I knew I wanted to marry Jim within months of dating him. Jim, on the other hand, took some convincing :) After two years of dating, he enrolled in law school at night while working full-time, and he didn’t want to get married until all of that was behind him, so I had to wait four more years for him to propose. Finally, the day came when we were walking on the beach in Duck, NC at the Outer Banks, where Jim’s family has a beach house. We have been going there for the last six years to unwind and relax. It is our favorite place to get away, so it was the perfect place to get engaged, since we are both so calm and happy when we are there together. Our chihuahua, Javy, was walking with us on the beach when Jim got down on one knee.
When did y’all get married? 5/4/13
How many friends, family members, and loved ones attended your wedding? 225
Tell us about some of the songs you used throughout your wedding and why you chose them. The most special part of our wedding day was when my grandfather orchestrated a surprise sing-a-long with our jazz trio during the welcome at dinner. When I was a little girl, my grandmother, who died a few years ago, used to sing old songs (like “It’s a Grand Old Flag,” “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” “You are my Sunshine,” and “Yankee Doodle”) to me every single morning while I sat on her lap after my parents went to work. Since my grandmother couldn’t be with me on my wedding day, my grandfather thought that incorporating these songs would be a special tribute to her and to our relationship. He printed out song sheets with the words to these “oldies but goodies,” and encouraged everyone to “sing to the bride as her grandmother used to do.” It was probably the most special moment of the day besides saying “I do.”
Did you have something borrowed, blue, old, and new? If so, do tell! My something borrowed and blue was a lace handkerchief with our wedding date and names embroidered on it in blue writing. This is a tradition with my college roommates, who also have their names and wedding dates embroidered in the other corners of the hanky, and we have each used it (with one more girl to go)! My something old was my mother-in-law’s veil that she wore in her wedding, and that a few other family members have worn. I had admired it in her wedding pictures, so it was special for me to wear it in our wedding. My something new was my wedding dress of course!
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome while planning your wedding? Not having a professional wedding planner when both Jim and I have busy full-time jobs was a huge challenge, especially given all of the details you need to contend with when having an outdoor wedding on a farm. Outdoor weddings at venues that don’t traditionally host huge receptions can mean a lot more work for the couple and/or planner. Everything from having to find a place to rent restroom trailers, to worrying about the weather and which tent accessories to have on hand (thank goodness we had heaters on standby, because we ended up using them). Luckily, my bridesmaids really pitched in, and their collective event planning experience saved the day many times over. I owe them so much!
If you are comfortable responding, what range did your wedding budget fall into? $50,000-$75,000
What advice do you have for folks currently planning a wedding? Do it in steps, and give yourself enough time to research all of the vendors. If you are on a budget, this is especially important.
What’s next for you as a couple? What are you most looking forward to about married life? Starting our family is something that we both are really excited about. We are also looking forward to having more free time together now that all of the planning is complete!

Photographer: Maria DeForrest / Planner: Lauren Hanna / Ceremony Venue: St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church / Reception Venue: Cold Saturday Farm / Florist: Wegmans / Wedding Cake: Baltimore Cakery / Derby Pie: Bride’s mother / Caterer: Chef’s Expressions / Rentals and Lighting: Baltimore Tent Company / Band: The Leggz Band / Cocktail Hour Music: Bill Elliot Trio / Bourbon Bar: The Recipe LLC / Bridal Salon: Betsy Robinson Collection / Paper Products: Oakland Printing Company / Hair Stylist: Hot Air / Makeup Artist: Behind the Veil / Bride’s Shoes: Style & Co. / Bridesmaids’ Dresses: “Ruthie” in Caspian Blue by J. Crew / Men’s Attire: Vera Wang by Men’s Wearhouse / Bow Ties: Collared Greens / Restrooms: Gotta Go Now

lisa Written with love by Lisa
  1. avatar – Friday Rewind reply

    […] May! In honor of the Kentucky Derby this weekend, here is some Derby-inspired wedding inspiration. How cute are those […]

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    […] do’s.” Rachel and James‘ Georgia wedding was full of joy and sweet details. Ashley and Jim brought Maryland and Kentucky together at their Derby Day […]

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One of my favorite things about the South is that we have equally amazing cities and countrysides. While this makes the South so versatile, it can also present a challenge for brides–swanky city wedding or laid-back country celebration? I struggled with this decision myself recently, so I love Dana and Jeben‘s perfect solution–do both! Their ceremony and cocktail hour were held at the gorgeous Walnut Way Farm in the heart of Kentucky horse country, and then guests adjourned to the historic Henry Clay in downtown Louisville for dinner and dancing. As a result, their many out-of-town guests had a full Kentucky experience, and Dana and Jeben got to enjoy what they love most about both settings!

Thanks so much to Lang Thomas for sharing Dana and Jeben’s wedding with us!

We met in 2008 when we were both were working at Google (me in NYC, Jeben in California) and would often work on projects together. In early 2010, I transferred to San Francisco, and in the daunting process of looking for a place to live, Jeben conveniently rushed to my aid. He offered up his insight into the city and his car to help chauffeur me from Craigslist appointment to open house, and in the process of seeing over 33 apartments, the seeds of love were being planted. We got engaged a few years later in early 2013, and were married that fall.

Tell us about finding your wedding dress. I found my dress at Jin Wang Bridal in San Francisco with one of my bridesmaids, Lee. In order to make the deadline, I had to confirm it was “the dress” in 12 hours (not enough time for my mom to fly out from Kentucky!). The store wouldn’t allow photographs, but would allow video calls, so we did a video chat with my parents and sister on the farm in Kentucky. While I wished my mom and bridesmaids could have all been there, it was a ridiculously memorable, long-distance, technology-enabled process.

Our favorite detail of the wedding was: We have many friends who contributed their artistic talents to the wedding in the form of hand-painted murals, a custom monogram, hand-painted signs, bride and groom sculptures, a hanging string installation in the wedding barn (which we made ourselves and installed with brave friends), a custom quilt, a costume for our “flower girl” miniature pony Peekaboo, a monogrammed bourbon barrel, tables and chairs made from a felled tree from the Walnut Way Farm property, and more.

We followed the Southern tradition of burying a bourbon bottle one month in advance of the wedding, and it certainly paid off with perfect 78-and-sunny weather on our wedding day! To us, Walnut Way Farm epitomizes the best of the South and Kentucky’s horse country, so the setting provided the perfect Southern backdrop. We were so lucky to have Walnut Way Farm’s champion horses and historic carriages to bring the parents, flower girl, and me to the wedding ceremony barn. We had the official bugler to the Kentucky Derby/Churchill Downs announce the arrival of the carriages to the wedding location, and during the cocktail hour at the stables and gardens, we featured a local bluegrass band, The Slow Charleston.

Did you write your own vows? If so, what was your favorite phrase, verse or line? We wrote our own vows, and attempted to answer three things during them: what do you mean to me, how will I honor you for the rest of my life, and how am I better because of you. Our vows ended up very different in format, but we both touched on those themes. And we wanted to keep them at two minutes or less!
What readings, if any, did you have at your ceremony? In addition to our officiant’s remarks about loving one another, we had a reading of “The Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann, a poem that we feel reflects a universal approach to love and sharing a life together. This poem was also an important passage for my family and has been shared before at previous family weddings.

What is the one detail or vendor that you were so happy to have as a part of your wedding? Walnut Way Farm, our ceremony and cocktail reception venue. It was a dream come true location–the perfect venue for a contemporary, yet classic, Southern wedding. Our guests couldn’t stop raving about the farm and everything it provided. Their only complaint was that they wanted to stay there longer!

Describe your wedding flowers. I wanted a Southern-sophisticated-romantic-classic look (think more Ralph Lauren than rustic), with a touch of whimsy. It also needed to be appropriate for the farm setting, but able to transition to the downtown reception. Luckily, our florist was a genius and translated my vision into amazing arrangements at the farm and all throughout the reception. They featured soft whites, ivories, light pinks and peaches with lots of dusty miller and seeded eucalyptus. The bridesmaids wore three colors of dresses, so we opted for all-white bouquets of long-stemmed roses and astilbe. I grew up riding horses, so we displayed the flowers in silver trophies that I had won over the years, as well as other trophies from Marilyn MacFarlane (owner of Walnut Way Farm). It was both personal to me and appropriate for the farm!

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome while planning your wedding? Logistics! We had grand visions for our guests (80 percent of whom were out-of-towners) to enjoy as much of Kentucky as possible, so we had a lot to coordinate. Our guests stayed in downtown Louisville, our wedding ceremony was on a hill in the back of the 300-acre Walnut Way Farm property, our cocktail hour was down the hill at the stables and gardens at Walnut Way Farm, and our reception was at the historic Henry Clay in downtown Louisville. We were able to work it out, though, thanks to several shuttles and detailed logistics. Everyone got to experience several picturesque locations across the farm, a Kentucky sunset at Walnut Way, and the charm of downtown and the Henry Clay.

We opted to not have a wedding cake, and instead, had a spread of Silver Spoon desserts for everyone to enjoy and try–from bread pudding to chocolate ganache. We did, however, have a “Father of the Bride” cake, which was a dark chocolate cake with a Maker’s Mark-inspired red glaze over the top, and a groom’s cake which featured two of Jeben’s favorite things: a Nike Blazer shoe box with his Boston Terrier, Wally, popping out of it.

Tell us all about the proposal! Jeben created an elaborate book chronicling our relationship through photos, stories, poems and private memories, and planned to propose with the book in early February. However, when the book arrived, all the text had been erroneously replaced with hieroglyphics and WingDings font, rendering the book absolute gibberish. Jeben contacted the book company and was told to expect a replacement in mid-March. On March 1, after a long week, we left work a bit early and spontaneously went to a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where we enjoyed a bottle of wine, kettle chips, and a couple un-winning lottery scratchers. When we went home, Jeben saw a book-shaped delivery sitting on the doorstep, earlier than expected. Sensing the timing was right, he presented the book and proposed as I read the final pages.
When did y’all get married? September 28, 2013
How many friends, family members, and loved ones attended your wedding? About 175
Tell us about some of the songs you used throughout your wedding and why you chose them. For the ceremony, we wanted the songs to be familiar, but also to capture the reverence of the moment and the beautiful farm setting, so we chose contemporary songs performed by a string quartet. Our mothers and bridesmaids walked down the aisle to “Here Comes the Sun” and “What a Wonderful World,” respectively. Dana walked down the aisle to “To Make You Feel My Love,” and we walked out to “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch.” Our first dance was to “How Glad I Am” by Nancy Wilson. We first heard the song on a road trip to Palm Springs before we were engaged, and it immediately became our anthem.
Did you have something borrowed, blue, old, and new? If so, do tell! I borrowed an antique pearl bracelet from my mom, wrapped my bouquet in satin from her old wedding dress, wore a new custom veil, and donned some blue undergarments!
What was your most memorable moment about your wedding day? Standing together during the ceremony in the quiet Kentucky field, under the big blue sky, surrounded by all of our favorite people in the world. We’ll never forget it.
What advice do you have for folks currently planning a wedding? First, push yourself to write your own vows or say something personal at the wedding. It’s challenging, but in this once-in-a-lifetime moment, you’ll be glad you did, and your guests will enjoy hearing it more than you think. Second, work on projects as a couple or enlist your friends and family to contribute–it makes the entire experience a collaborative and memorable process, and produces one-of-a-kind details for the wedding.
What’s next for you as a couple? What are you most looking forward to about married life? We’re looking forward to throwing anniversary parties forever. The wedding was so much fun that we want to celebrate in style with friends and family for years to come.

lisa Written with love by Lisa
  1. avatar Emily reply

    What an amazing experience Dana + Jeben created for their guests! I would have loved to attend this wedding!

  2. avatar Jessica reply

    I LOVE the “you make me a happy camper” card. Absolutely adore these lovely letterpress beauties!

  3. avatar Shelby H. reply

    I must know who did these invitations! I tried perusing around to find credits but I’m too excited to stay focused.

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It’s not always easy to tell how a wedding day must have felt through the pictures alone, but that is not the case with Britt and Ren’s lovely Georgia wedding. There is such a calm and joy in these images, which makes me wish I could have been a guest and seen it all in person! Thanks to long communal farm tables, a charming country venue, and simple, sweet decor, Britt and Ren managed to make their 400+ guest wedding feel relaxed and intimate–no easy feat, I’m sure. I especially love Britt’s recollection of their most memorable moment, as well as the pictures that captured it all so beautifully!

Hugs to Paige Jones for sharing Britt and Ren’s day with us!

Last December, we took a visit to Ren’s family farm in South Georgia to drop off some wood and check on the property. As we walked around, Ren led us to his favorite field (mine too, now!) where he stopped to give me an early Christmas present. He pulled out a beautiful Anthropologie houndstooth coat from his backpack and told me to try it on. Inside the pockets were two tickets to New York for the next morning! I was pretty distracted by all the excitement, but the next thing I knew, Ren was down on one knee. Of course, I said YES to forever with my very best friend!

My dream Southern summer wedding post is coming up later today, but if I can update it already, I want to include this gorgeous bouquet! It’s perfect!

What readings, if any, did you have at your ceremony? Our pastor from our church in Oxford, Pat Ward, officiated our wedding beautifully. I felt like it was just the three of us up there as Pat spoke to us about Christ in the center of our marriage and our lives together. My favorite part was taking communion together, and then Ren and I served our wedding party and family communion while the musicians played “Live Forever” by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors.

What was your most memorable moment about your wedding day? Our awesome photographers, Paige and Michael Jones, stole us away for a few minutes to snag a couple pictures in the dwindling light. I loved having just a few moments alone after the ceremony and first dances were over. Paige told us to walk down the road a bit, so Ren and I raced each other there. It was just a sweet, sweet moment!

What Southern details or traditions did you include in your celebration? What was Southern about your wedding? We chose to get married at a beautiful horse farm just a mile away from where Ren grew up .We had a Southern food buffet that included macaroni and cheese, collard greens, cornbread, biscuits and sweet tea! Did I mention the huge communal farm tables?

This macaroni and cheese food truck can stop by my apartment any day–I don’t think there could possibly be a cuter way to get my favorite Southern comfort food!

Did you decide to do a “first look”? Why or why not? Yes, of course! We didn’t want to be confined by tradition and tried to make all decisions about the wedding based on what we truly wanted to day to be like. Ultimately, we wanted it to be sweet, intimate, and very relaxed. It was a definite yes to hang out together beforehand and spend as much time as possible on the dance floor post-ceremony!

Describe your wedding cake or dessert. I love the variety of desserts we had. The cookies were made by my sister’s best friend’s new business, Jimella’s Bakery. They were so fun and colorful.

How did y’all meet? Tell us your love story. We first met in middle school, where we became fast friends. We stayed very close friends over the years, and despite Ren’s many attempts, we didn’t start dating until our junior year of high school. We went our separate ways in college, Ren to Ole Miss, and I to UGA, but then decided sometime junior year that not being together was no fun. We did long distance until graduation, when I moved to Oxford to pursue painting and Ren worked for Young Life and a local restaurant. We just wanted to be together in a town we loved. Life ended up bringing us back to Atlanta where we were engaged and married.
When did y’all get married? June 8, 2013
How many friends, family members, and loved ones attended your wedding? Around 400
Tell us about finding your wedding dress. It was really a little too easy. I was initially looking for a delicate, lacey, beaded number. I found several that I loved at the first boutique we went to in Atlanta, but they were a little out of my price range. A couple days later, some girlfriends and I decided to stop by a little shop close to our hometown of Milton. As we picked out our favorites, one of my friends broke away from the sheaths to look at the A-lines, which I was avoiding. She found her old wedding dress from a year ago, and picked out the dress hanging next to it for me to try on. I tried that dress on last and it was the easiest decision of the whole wedding—we were all in love!

Did you write your own vows? If so, what was your favorite phrase, verse or line? This was something we talked a lot about, but ultimately chose not to do. I love the idea and if we had had a smaller wedding, we would have done it without a doubt. I was just too nervous to do so in front of 400+ people!
Describe your wedding flowers. The most beautiful creations I’ve ever seen! Lush and sherbert-y.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome while planning your wedding? To forget about everything everyone else was saying and do what we wanted to do!
If you are comfortable responding, what range did your wedding budget fall into? $10,000-$25,000
What advice do you have for folks currently planning a wedding? Enjoy being engaged, it flies by! Focus on the big things that are important for you and your fiancé. The rest of the details don’t matter!
What’s next for you as a couple? What are you most looking forward to about married life? We are just soaking up this busy, fun time. We’re loving settling in to our new home and learning how to love each other deeper and know each other better as newlyweds!

Photographer: Paige Jones | Videographer: Levi Mlinar | Planner: Jamie O’Dea | Coordinator: Jordan Alexander | Ceremony and Reception Venue: Chukkar Farms | Florist: Meredith Mejerle for Amy Osaba | Cookie Sandwiches: Jimellas Bakery | Cake Baker: Mac the Bakeshop | Caterer: Mac the Cheese Food Truck | Rentals and Lighting: The Rental Place | Band: Enturaj | Bride’s Gown: JLM Couture, Jim Hjelm | Paper Products: Silhouettes by Anna | Bride’s Hair Accessories/Veil/Jewelry: Sibo Designs | Hair Stylist and Makeup Artist: Claudia Mejerle | Bride’s Shoes: Frye Boots | Bridesmaids’ Dresses: Choice of Bridesmaids within specified palette | Groom’s Attire: Tommy Hilfiger |  Groomsmen Attire: Choice of Groomsmen

Paige Jones is a delightful member of our Blue Ribbon Vendor Directory!

lisa Written with love by Lisa
  1. avatar Dana reply

    perfect flowers and a beautiful dress! i love the pictures of them on the road.

  2. avatar Paige Jones reply


    Thanks for sharing. This was such a fun wedding :-)

  3. avatar Haley Sheffield reply

    Love this wedding! LOVE the way Paige captured it… so much joy. Beautiful photos.

  4. avatar Bridget reply

    I had no idea there was such a thing as a mac and cheese truck – that beats an ice cream truck hands down! That wedding looks like it was so much fun.

  5. avatar Kristin reply

    Those long reception tables were a gorgeous way to have everyone dine together!! Love this detail.

  6. avatar Gracie reply

    What a gorgeous wedding photographed by one of my favorite photographers in the southeast!!! Beautiful southern details and genuine joy :)

  7. avatar 7 Wedding Details That Make Us as Happy as the 'Laughing Chewbacca Mask' Video – Loverly | Your Virtual Wedding Planner™ reply

    […] Photo by Paige Jones via Southern Weddings […]

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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