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Editor of Northwest Florida Weddings Magazine Weds

Zan and I attended the same private college in Lakeland, Florida. While the school was small and we were only two years apart, we knew of each other but can’t recall a time we ever met. Fast forward to January of 2016, we were both living and working in Tallahassee, Florida, along with a handful of other Florida Southern College alumni. At some point, one of our mutual friends organized a bar crawl. Three guys and myself were the only ones to show. Zan was one of them. We spent the night people watching, drinking and staying up talking until the early hours of the morning.

Even then, Zan was a traveling musician on the weekends, so we didn’t cross paths again until St. Patrick’s Day, when I saw his band set up outside of a bar that I was at. We hung out that night and have been together ever since. We officially became a couple in May of 2016 and first said “I love you” to each other in my childhood bedroom on Aug. 6, 2016. In 2017, we made a bold but certain move to Nashville because we wanted to live in a big, artist-centric city. Zan pursued his dream and is a full-time touring bassist. I too am living out my dream as a writer, editor and professor.

On Aug. 6, 2016, Zan told me he loved me. On Aug. 6, 2019, he promised to love me forever. It was a Tuesday, and I had a final exam for my master’s degree that night. I knew Zan’s sister Malena was flying in that night. She told me that the trip was a gift from her husband, to have a few days in Nashville without her two young sons. After my exam, I went to the airport and picked her up. We then headed to Nudie’s Honky Tonk on Broadway because that is where Zan plays every weeknight. None of this was out of the norm because Nashville is a party any night of the week, I was celebrating being finished with exams and Malena was a free mom for the night. Malena was talking to me (distracting me) about books when the lead singer announced that Zan would be singing a song that was a special request. This was a little questionable because the bass player doesn’t always get special requests, but Zan does sing and Malena was there; anything was possible. Then Zan began singing Amazed by Lonestar. It was then that I knew this wouldn’t be just another night; that song was for me. As he got to the chorus, he stopped singing, but the crowd kept singing. The singing stopped when he reached for my hand, pulled me on stage and got down on one knee. The crowd’s singing turned to screaming with excitement. I still get goosebumps and teary-eyed thinking about that. There were so many emotions occurring and so many reactions from the crowded bar, but luckily he had hired a photographer to capture it all.

There were so many, too many special moments on our wedding day. As a couple, we are very sentimental people. There wasn’t an aspect of our wedding day that wasn’t thought through in great detail to honor our family, our friends and our love. Zan and I did a first look where we read handwritten letters to one another. This moment, between just the two of us, was something I’ll always cherish. I’m a writer, and I can confidently say Zan’s words to me were some of the most beautiful sentences I’ll ever read. At the ceremony, we read our own vows aloud. We then put our letters and vows in a wine box my dad made out of wood from my childhood home. Every anniversary, we will open it. For the mother/son dance, Zan rolled his mom’s wheelchair onto the dance floor and gave her a bouquet of her own. There was not a dry eye in the room. To me, the best part of the day was having everyone on the dance floor. I looked around to see every person I love smiling, drinking and dancing — all in honor of us. It was an immeasurable feeling.

The year 2020 — that about sums it up. I always told myself that I would be the chill bride. After all, I’ve spent years studying the art of wedding planning, but a global pandemic does not let you be the “chill bride.” Regardless, through all of the changes that my wedding went through, my planner, my vendors, my husband, my family and my friends were what got me through. I will endlessly be thanking these people for their attentiveness, their communication skills, their creativity, their belief in my vision and constantly assuring me my wedding would, in fact, happen. I have long respected those in the wedding industry, but I see them in a new light, as people who dedicate their lives to the complete happiness of others. While I did not enjoy all of the curveballs, I did very much enjoy the creative process. I was very much hands-on, knowing what I wanted and working alongside my vendors to make it happen. I would be remiss not to acknowledge the absolute pain and tragedy of 2020. Planning my wedding was one of the only moments of beauty and hope in that year.

Zan was involved in, I would say, 95% of the planning. The very small details and the aspects that I wanted to be a surprise, such as my dress and the florals, he didn’t help with. We have always been equals and partners that consult one another on pretty much all life matters. We toured venues together, did tastings and I consulted him on every aspect. He is creative and has a great eye for design. I very much value his opinion and wanted this wedding to be as much his as it was mine. Zan is a Nashville musician, and he took complete control of selecting and securing our band. He hand-picked the singer, bassist, guitarist and drummer, who all live in Nashville. He even got on stage and played with his own band for a few songs. The live music was without a doubt one of our best wedding decisions. There was not a single person who was not on the dance floor at some point. It was exactly what we wanted. I am immensely grateful that Zan was as involved as he was. I couldn’t imagine the day without his input and insight.

I would describe our wedding as eclectic, unique, vintage, colorful and heartfelt. A freaking blast! Believe it or not, before getting engaged, I did not plan any aspect of my wedding. Sure, I’ve long been inspired by other weddings, but I never said, “That’s how I want mine to look.” Once I began planning, I knew I wanted a lot of color. This is uncharacteristic of me as my everyday wardrobe consists of neutrals. Even so, I knew I wanted the day to be bold and bright — eye-catching. While I respect the sophistication and beauty of white weddings, it just wasn’t for me. Essentially, it all revolved around my florals, which my florist Missy Gunnels exceeded my wildest dreams with. I showed her photos of bright, deep jewel tones — burgundy, fuchsia, indigo, navy, etc. My bridesmaids selected their own style of burgundy velvet dresses. They were absolutely stunning. The groomsmen were dashing in all-black. My husband changed into a black paisley dinner jacket, which he looked so snazzy in. I’m a big vintage and antique gal. For my centerpieces, I used vintage mirrored trays, antique gold candlesticks and the same gold vases my sister used at her wedding. As favors, Zan and I selected our favorite song lyrics and book quotations to go on library cards that were in the drawers of a vintage card catalogue. Our altar, which my dad designed, consisted of my childhood desk and my dad’s first guitar. These pieces symbolized our careers and passions as a couple. My dad also built our archway from a tree from my grandpa’s yard that was struck by lightning. My sister had used it at her wedding as well. I wanted the décor to be pre-loved and have a history. That felt symbolic and important to me.

For couples, I say enjoy every moment of it, even when the planning gives you headaches. It’s cliché, but I’m finding sometimes, where love is involved, cliches are valid. Create a wedding that is uniquely you. Yes, in the wedding industry we love a trend, but what do we love even more — a wedding that showcases you, your personality, your quirks, your passions, your love! I don’t believe the saying, “Don’t stress the details, no one will notice.” If it’s important to you, do it. People will notice and appreciate. Make sure you and your partner are aligned through it all. Communicate. Invest in a photographer. Get on the dance floor and bring everyone with you. Hug your family, hold your grandparent’s hands, take tequila shots with your friends. And please, above all, remember that the day is about your union. We can get so caught up in the details and the perceptions of others that we lose sight of the person at the end of the aisle. Keep your eyes on them. They are your future, your forever.

Venue: Shiloh Farm

Photographer: Sarah and Paul Photography

Flowers: Missy Gunnels Flowers

Videographer: Kaiser Cunningham

Catering and Bartending: Social Catering & Events

Cake and Doughnuts: SoDOUGH Baking Co.

Wedding Planner: Dent Ward

Makeup and Hair: Top Knot Artistry

Dress: Watters

Band: Laura Walsh, Brian Russell Collins, Devon Dumstorff, Brandon Wiggers

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