This past weekend I traveled to Fort Collins Colorado to attend the wedding of my cousin’s daughter Rachel.  What does that make Rachel, my second cousin?  I always get mixed up on the proper terms and we just stick with cousin to make it easier.  At the end of the day, who cares?  We’re all blood, and that’s what matters.

I got back last night and I feel both exhausted from travel and exhilarated by the wedding weekend.  While any chance to visit family is a welcomed opportunity, this one was particularly special for several reasons.

First, this is my dad’s side of the family which is family I have never had the good fortune to see as often as my mom’s side.  My mom’s family pretty much stayed exclusively in New Jersey where I grew up.  My mom’s side is the family we spend holidays with and see regularly.  Even though my dad grew up in New Jersey as well, his two older sisters moved out of the area quite a long time ago.  My dad’s oldest sister, My Aunt Margaret Ann, moved to Colorado before I was born and raised her family, and my dad’s middle sister, My Aunt Eileen, moved to Florida in the 80’s to raise her family.  As kids, my sister Beth and I spent a few weeks during the summer in Florida just about every year (thanks Mom and Dad for sending us to Florida during the swampiest time of the year) to spend time with our three cousins, my aunt and uncle and my grandparents (my dad’s parents) who retired down there in the 80’s.  My Colorado family were more of a mystery to us.  Mainly, we could only go by photos and what we envisioned of more rugged people wearing cowboy hats, square dancing and living in the mountains.  I’m not kidding, my oldest cousin Teddy is a pretty well known square dance caller.

The second reason this wedding was a must was because my cousin Rachel spent a summer in NYC doing an internship back in 2012.  Despite the fact that the last time we actually saw Rachel prior to her coming here for her internship was when she was in a baby carrier at my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary in the mid 90’s, this is what family does.  We welcomed Rachel into her northeast coast family and we made sure she was safe, loved and comfortable during her time in New York.  During her internship, she would even visit my mother-in-law’s with my husband and me for dinner every Friday to get a home cooked meal.  Regardless of there being no actual blood relation, my mother-in-law treated Rachel like family and a few years later when Rachel came for a quick visit to NYC, she stayed with my mother-in-law, proving that family doesn’t even have to be bound by blood, it simply needs to be bound by love.

The third and most sentimental reason for our trip, my dad passed away 20 years ago.  For my sister and me, the connection to this family is the connection to my father.  At one point during the wedding I looked at my Aunt Margaret Ann, my dad’s oldest sister by eight years, and felt a pang in my heart that felt like a rush of my dad’s spirit breezing through the wedding tent and I knew he was there, if only for a second.  I hugged my aunt and said something so simple and uninspired, “You’re my dad’s oldest sister.  He was your baby brother.”  It was like I could really get how painful it must have been to lose a sibling, especially one who was not only the baby in the family but only 46 when he died.  It was a bittersweet moment and I wished I could have thought of something more profound to say, but the hug we shared seemed to capture it perfectly.

wedding weekend

Top left: my sister with my three Colorado cousins: Bryan, Teddy (Rachel’s dad) and Kim, Top Right: with my cousin Steffany, Top Middle Left: With my cousin Kim and my sister, Top Middle: My Aunt Eileen (dad’s sister) and her partner Dan, Top Middle Right: Being silly with the Colorado cousins, Bottom Middle Left: with my cousin Bryan, Bottom Middle Right: my sister Beth and our cousin Kim, Bottom Left: Me, my Aunt Margaret Ann and Deb (Rachel’s mom), Bottom Middle: with my cousin Garrett (Rachel’s Brother) and his girlfriend Camilla, Bottom Right: My cousin Bryan and his wife Angie

Yet, here is the amazing thing about family, you just pick up where you left off.  Some of my cousins I hadn’t seen in over 20 years.  There were children of my cousins I had never met before, essentially making us strangers.  But it didn’t matter.  We laughed, we danced, we took silly photos, we noted similarities created by a shared bloodline, and it was priceless, all of it.  It also gave me and my sister this wonderful time to be together.  My husband couldn’t make the trip so my sister, brother-in-law and I made it out.  With three kids, my sister and I rarely have time like we had this weekend to nurture our relationship as siblings.  Even if the wedding was a colossal fail (which it wasn’t), getting this alone time with her was worth the trip.

The Venue

wedding weekend

Colorado has natural beauty making it impossible not to have an exquisite wedding.  The event was held at a ranch in Loveland Colorado and was simple and elegant affair.  Literally, a tent was pitched, some decorations were placed, tables were organized, delicious food was put out buffet-style, there was a band and that was all you needed.  The mountains served as the backdrop and were breathtaking.  The ceremony was held up in the mountain on the ranch  and we were all warned to be mindful to wear flat shoes in the invite.  Did most of listen to these wise words?  No.  As we trekked up the side of a mountain (okay, more like a steep hill) to the most stunning setting for vows to be exchanged and I learned how to walk through red dirt in heels.  On the way back down the side of a mountain I also learned to lean all your body weight back on an angle and walk on your toes.  Try it the next time you are stuck in this predicament, it works.  I should also note there wasn’t a stain to be found on my tan suede shoes.  I’m that good.

Coming from the east coast, we are known for over-the-top weddings.  In Colorado it’s much simpler.  When the ceremony was over the pastor asked for a few volunteers to take the chairs from back to the tent so we could be able to sit at the reception.  There was something so down-home and perfect about that request.  However I didn’t dare carry a chair back with me.  I had a hard enough time getting back down the mountain in heels.

wedding weekend

This was me climbing up the mountain to the ceremony on one of the few parts of the trail that wasn’t dirt.

What we wore

wedding weekend

wedding weekend

The attire varied incredibly at the wedding.  Some people dressed more casually and others were more dressed up.  There were a lot of cowboy boots (even the bride wore cowboy boots under her gown), some wore suits and ties, others looked just as good more casually dressed, and so on.  Despite the variety everyone looked appropriate, and given the joy of the day nobody really cared what anyone wore.

Choosing my look just meant pulling something from my closet.  I knew an over-the-top blingy evening formal dress wouldn’t be necessary, so I wore a ruched form fitting MM Lafleur dress in navy.  The style isn’t available anymore but MM does a variety of this style most seasons.  Of course, they don’t at the moment but when they do I will update this post.  It’s a stretch jersey, machine washable style that takes some finagling to get into (my sister had to help me) but incredibly comfortable once it is on.  Given the weather fluctuation in Colorado, the long sleeves were perfect.  I wore my favorite Sam Edelman Telsa d’orsay pumps in oatmeal suede and my feet didn’t even start to hurt until I was walking to the car when the wedding was over.  Keep in mind, I walked up the side of a mountain, danced and, with the exception of the dance floor, the reception was held on compacted dirt.  I kept my jewelry simple and just wore a pair of Swarovski crystal drop earrings and my bag was a python style from Judith Leiber that I borrowed from my mother-in-law.  Of course I wore my Apple Watch because I am obsessed with closing my activity rings.

Finding a dress for my sister took more work.  Being a stay-at-home mom, her need for dresses like this doesn’t happen as often as it does for me.  So we searched together.  My sister’s style is much different than mine.  My style is more refined classic while hers falls more into an upscale retro-rockabilly look complete with a sleeve of tattoos, plus some more.  We found her dress from a site called Unique Vintage that has some really cute stuff.  Having super tiny, wide feet, she settled on a pair of Rockport pumps in tan and wore a family heirloom necklace I grabbed from my jewelry box and gave to her to wear the day of the wedding because I knew it would be perfect.

The Bride

wedding weekend

When Rachel got to the aisle I gasped at how stunning she looked.  Finding a gown that is formal yet perfect for a rugged outdoor venue is tricky, but Rachel nailed it.  The color was warm antique peachy rose color that perfectly complemented the landscape, the bodice and fine straps were jeweled and the skirt was layers of organza and she wore a simple beaded headband and veil for the ceremony that hung from the base of her head.  Sitting next to her mom, Deb, at the reception I couldn’t help asking where they found such a stunning gown.  I figured it must have been one of the bigger investments for the event, that is how good it looked.  Cut to me falling off my chair when Deb told me it came from David’s Bridal.  No, I’m serious.  What happened was they visited some better bridal shops in Denver, found nothing perfect and decided to stop in David’s Bridal.  I have nothing against David’s Bridal but I think we can all agree, it’s not the first place people think to go when looking for something of quality.   I got my wedding gown at Saks 5th Avenue and feel bold enough to say that Rachel’s gown looked no less in quality to the gown I wore to my own wedding.  So, go David’s Bridal for this one.  Here is a link to the dress.

There have been studies done that spending money on experiences leads to greater happiness and after this weekend I couldn’t agree more.  What I got back on my investment to make it out to Colorado was truly priceless.  I will carry the love I felt from time spent with my family for the rest of my life and I am grateful, given how far apart we all live and the fact that our lives don’t afford us time together in one room (or under one tent, in this case), that this blip in time was possible.  To my family: despite our differences on many things like politics, religion and even culture, what I am most grateful for is that we all choose to rise above these differences and, instead, seek out the similarities and focus more on what is most important, love.