The offbeat bride: Ashley, U.S. Coast Guard

Her offbeat partner: Oliver, full-time student/Army reservist

Date and location of wedding: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire, MI — September 23, 2011

Our offbeat wedding at a glance: Probably the greatest factor that made our wedding offbeat was the amount we did ourselves. I made my dress and shrug, my daughter's dress, my sister's dress (which was reversible), our table runners, my necklace, the boutonnieres, our hairpieces, our sashes, our flask garters, our photo booth props, our invitations and thank-you cards, and our barefoot sandals. I didn't originally plan on doing so much, but it ended up being so much fun. Most of the other awesome wedding items were scavenged over months from the Salvation Army and Etsy.


Tasks we didn't do ourselves were picked up by friends and family. My friend Tana made our cupcakes and cake. My friend Vince, Etsy seller beanforest, made us some awesome buttons to go with our favors. And my awesome friend Amy did my hair.


Tell us about the ceremony: We wanted everything to be very intimate, casual feeling, and woodsy. One of the coolest things was that about a month before our wedding, Sleeping Bear Dunes was voted the most beautiful place in America on Good Morning America. It just seemed really cool to have that happen so close to our ceremony. We all met in the parking lot at the 9-10 pull off of the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. The wedding itself was small and limited by park regulations. So we mainly had immediate family attending.


We are not church goers per se, but when we have gone we went to a Unitarian church. However, my spiritual notions tend to be pagan. So we incorporated vows from both of those origins. We had a handfasting after the reading of some Unitarian vows. It was pretty simple and sweet. Oliver was kind of silly while reciting his vows and our daughter was loudly reciting her own version. There were quite a few giggles and snickers from all of us throughout the ceremony.


Our daughter was our “ring bear.” I made a moss basket for her to carry our rings to us and a fabric flower crown complete with bear ears.


All the bridesmaids and myself had matching fascinators and “barefoot sandals” I made since we were in the sand and couldn't really manage shoes.


Our biggest challenge: Definitely the scariest part was showing up to the site of the ceremony and not being able to find the officiant. Our computer with the vows and his contact info had three percent battery life, and we had only had contact with him via email. So as I fidgeted awkwardly and nervously in the parking lot my husband-to-be was hiking the sand dune looking for our officiant. Oh! And did I mention we were missing a bridesmaid and my father still? We finally got a call from the missing bridesmaid who happened to find the lost officiant. Within a few minutes, everyone was there and we were able to hike to the ceremony spot as a group.

The photography was an issue because we had a small budget. A friend of my sister's who was an amateur photographer volunteered to do the photography for a very affordable price. Unfortunately, while I loved what we got from them, I couldn't shake the feeling of disappointment since we missed some posed shots. We ended up buying a nice camera, and did a post-wedding photo shoot ourselves. I also learned that it can be a lot less expensive to plan a pre- or post-wedding photo shoot with a professional photographer. The key word there is plan. Getting one at the last minute was impossible, hence the DIY photo shoot.


My favorite moment: One of the most meaningful moments was the car ride to the ceremony. Being a DIY bride got to be VERY stressful the day before and day of the wedding because on top of the projects that I put together, I was everyone's go-to person. I was one hundred percent frazzled by the beginning of the ceremony. The car ride from the Coast Guard cabin we rented to the ceremony was about 30 minutes and it was just us. We were able to just be with each other and breathe for a little bit.


I also want to emphasize how amazing the photo booth/DJ company and our reception venue were. Encore Event Group did our music and photo booth and not only were we able to request music online prior to the wedding, they had cards we were able to send out to guests with the invites so that they could request music before the wedding. They made an awesome book for us of all the photo booth pictures and we got a zip drive of all of them as well. The Cabbage Shed was SO helpful too. Their food was delicious and they were so helpful and awesome. I couldn't have been happier with either.


My funniest moment: One of the groomsmen fell off the dune. After the ceremony, a few members of the wedding party ran down to stand on the enormous sand dune. As they were standing there, all of a sudden one of the groomsmen disappeared. The sand eroded under his feet and he ended up running almost all the way down the steep dune before he could stop!


Was there anything you were sure was going to be a total disaster that unexpectedly turned out great? We ordered a bunch of flowers in bulk from a local store and were going to DIY all of them, bouquets and centerpieces. I was really worried it would be a disaster. Luckily, my amazing mother volunteered to do the bouquets. Then she and my mother-in-law arranged all the flowers in the various vases, jars, and containers exactly how I had envisioned them. The bouquets were very different than I had envisioned them, but I think they were even better than what was in my head.

I would recommend local florists for anyone planning their wedding because, while you will probably spend a little more at a local florist, you will have to do less, there is less risk involved, and your money will stay in your own community. This last reason was really the deciding factor for me because Michigan has been one of the hardest hit states economically, and the idea of sending my money elsewhere made me feel awful.


What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding? Plan out what types of photos you want, especially if you don't have a professional photographer. Make a list! Also, if you aren't having your wedding on a Saturday, spell the day out and make it big on the invitation. We had about five people not show up because they thought it was going to be on a Saturday and accidentally missed it.

Be prepared for post-wedding blues. It might not happen, but it sure did take me by surprise. For me, I think the let-down of going immediately back to work after being surrounded by loved ones for a week was jarring. Plus, you go from having all this anticipation and all these projects to a normal, no-project everyday life. I had to take a week or two to find some new activities to plan. I think this is one of the reasons immediate honeymoons are a good option. I definitely think I would make that happen somehow if I were to do it all over again.


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Comments on Ashley & Oliver’s homemade wedding on the dunes

  1. Your dress is simply beautiful! And what a wonderful DIY wedding! I am doing many DIY projects for our wedding this September ( in Michigan fellow Michigander here!) Great job!

  2. Yay Michigan! Another Michigander here with a Sept. wedding. Sleeping Bear Dunes is super lovely and your wedding looked beautiful. Congrats!

  3. Gorgeous ceremony site. Your daughter is absolutely adorable. I love the “ring bear” idea. Congratulations!

  4. A&O, I love your sand dune ceremony, your ring bear and your DIY style! My fellow and I are going to DIY a lot of things at our wedding too, and though it’s a lot of work and can be stressful (I’m already feeling the need to have backup plans ready, just in case) you’ve shown that it can be a really lovely and important part of a wedding! Cheers to you both for your hard work! You look amazing with your eyes are sparkling in your beautiful lace, and he’s just beaming out of that lovely picture of the two of you with the water and fall leaves behind. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Your dress is absolutely gorgeous, well done!! Love the sunflowers and the mason jars too. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Wow! Beautiful wedding. I was searching Google for any weddings that were held at the Sleeping Bear Dunes when I came across yours. The funny thing is that I am getting married at the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive #9-10 this July with the SAME officiant as you! His name is Ken Grimes, right? I knew he looked familiar. I am so glad I found this blog, it has given me so much insight, being that our weddings are very similar. Congratulations!

  7. LOVE the Dunes! I’m from that area (TC), getting married there next month, and we kept everything local to town, so *highfive* to you on that.

  8. This was an awesome post to find. My Daughter is getting married within the year and wants a destination wedding. I am encouraging the dunes. We are not from there however and I am very confused on how to begin planning. It is a very small intimate affair. Probably 10 at the ceremony. We are going out to dinner after and reception when we get home to Indidna. Where did you find the spot and who can I contact for permission? Any suggestions on places to stay and eat afterwards?

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