“Ranch in the Sky”


(Source: All photos by Orange Turtle Photography)

“You know when you know.”  That’s what it was like when we visited the location that ultimately became our choice of venue.  We almost skipped out on it.  There were already a few pretty good contenders on our list, the location was a bit further out, and we just assumed it would be outside of our budget.  But we decided to call anyway.  Luckily, they happened to have availability for an appointment that morning, so we figured why not and decided to pay a visit…and boy were we glad we did!

As soon as we arrived at Rancho del Cielo, we were greeted by the site coordinator and a couple, who all came out and hugged us like we were old friends.  We immediately felt so welcomed.  They showed us around the vicinity, which included beautiful grounds amongst the rolling green hills of Malibu, a breathtaking view of the ocean, and a charming little ranch house.  It didn’t take long for us to realize that Jill and Sparky, the couple, were the proud owners of the place.  In fact, it was their home that they resided in, which explained the attention they paid to every beautiful detail.  Some visuals to give you a taste of the beauty of the place…and I say “taste” because even these gorgeous images don’t do it justice:

The view out from the front of the premises…


Standing in front of the house, looking out:


The charming upper room where we got ready…


The reception grounds, set against the Malibu mountains…


A view of back of the house, looking out toward the ceremony grounds…


And possibly the most gorgeous view of all, the incredible backdrop to the ceremony:


We instantly had one of those chills when you know.  It had the perfect bit of Southern rustic charm plus a great view of some of California’s best beaches and the ocean…the perfect throwback to my roots growing up in the South and my love of mountains, as well as Mr. D’s Southern California upbringing and love of beaches.  It was unique and didn’t feel like a “wedding factory.”  Plus, we loved the fact that it was in such a private location – it was elegant yet had the feel of an intimate, rustic backyard event, which was perfect for what we were looking for.

But what really sealed the deal for us was the hospitality, dedication, and genuine nature of Jill and Sparky.  They wanted to hear all about our story – who we were, what we were looking for, why we were renewing our vows.  What was intended to be a short 30 minute visit turned into a conversation amongst friends that lasted throughout the morning.  Over tea, coffee and homemade biscotti, we shared what we had been through and how far we had come.  As a married couple who had been through the ups and downs themselves, they knew what it was like, and also shared some of their experiences and life lessons with us.  We could tell they were genuinely touched and were so excited for us that we had made this decision to renew our vows.  When we called and returned a few weeks later to seal the deal, we could see the joy in their faces.  It especially touched our hearts that Sparky even shed a tear in expressing how glad he was that we had chosen them.  What a contrast with our experience at some of the other sites we visited!

Since this is somewhat turning into a review of our venue, I’ll just include a few practical details as well – We loved the flexibility that came with it!  You could either rent the space out and bring everything in yourself, or you could use one of their packages with some of their already-negotiated vendors to keep things simple.  In the package option, the site coordinator would help with booking rentals (including the shuttle) and Jill herself would personally help out with some of the details, such as decor and appetizers.  We ultimately decided on going with a mix – We primarily used the package but was able to customize a lot of details and work with some of our preferred vendors to make it personal.  I do have to highlight an example of some of Jill’s work that she customized for us, which totally impressed and blew us away:


They also have a site coordinator, Avesta, who is available to help with planning questions along the way and who manages the event the day of.  She has an incredible amount of experience with the site and a good sense of how much time we would need for various activities.  We still had to handle the bulk of the planning ourselves, but she served as a great guide and resource along the way in providing suggestions, referrals, and putting our day-of schedule together.  She also played a key role in keeping things moving and on track the day of.

When the day came, our guests couldn’t stop raving about the place.  But what really made the day special was the attention of the site coordinator and Jill and Sparky themselves.  They were so flexible and adaptive to the various unexpected things that came up (such as adjusting the schedule to accommodate delays, personally jumping in to help out guests who were late or lost, or filling in when we had forgotten to plan for something).  They were so attentive to every detail that it made our experience feel like the day went without a single hitch!  Thank goodness we decided to check out the place – it was perfect, and we couldn’t imagine having our vow renewal anywhere else.

Next up – I’m excited to share the details of how we worked our theme in to make the day come to life!


Everybody’s Got An Opinion

When Mr. D and I finally decided “yes, let’s do this,” our first step was searching for a venue.  We were super excited to be doing this together – especially since the first time around we had to divide and conquer a lot of things due to Mr. D’s crazy medical school schedule, among other reasons.  It made us feel so “together” to visit sites and go through the process of planning something uniquely us and what would be a day to truly celebrate our renewed life as a couple.  We were ready!

What we weren’t entirely prepared for were some of the responses when venue staff and site coordinators found out we were having a vow renewal.  The inevitable question that followed would always be, “Really?  How long have you been married?” and when we said “Almost 5 years” and explained our story, we’d usually get a “hmm,” with some raised eyebrows.  Some even went further to actually say things like, “You guys are so young,” “Well, any excuse to have a party I guess,” or just gave a quizzical look as they muttered “whatever floats your boat.”  While we were able to take it with a smile and a light response, I have to admit it did catch me a little bit off guard, especially given how much this event meant to us.

I’ve often kind of wondered just what it is about the topic of weddings that seems to give a green light for someone to be more openly critical of another than they would under normal circumstances (I hear it gets even worse when it comes to parenting, but that’s a topic for another day!).   Of course everyone is entitled to an opinion, but it seems like folks are quicker to voice them directly and often not-so-tactfully when it comes to weddings.  During our original wedding planning process, I can still vividly recall when relatives or family friends would openly criticize a decision we had made, whether it was the location we chose, what was served for a meal, or even how too much or too little money was spent on what.  Many of my married friends often also talk about how vendors would become rude and impatient once they knew you were planning a wedding versus a corporate event.  And the worst of all is when, whether jokingly or not, brides get referred to as a “bridezilla”.

I have a few hypotheses:  a) perhaps weddings seem to some to be indulgent and self-centered, which makes some people feel like they are more entitled to cast judgment, or b) it comes from a place of defending one’s own (likely very strong) convictions about what is and isn’t appropriate for an event that involves so many people.  It does still somewhat baffle me why folks can get so worked up though.

Luckily, for us, we’ve learned over time that you really can’t please everyone, so we were able to take things with a smile and let it roll off.  As unconventional it might be, when it came down to it, we knew exactly what we were doing and why: we both knew what we had been through, we had miraculously come such a long way, and there was much to celebrate – and that was reason enough for us. 🙂

What are your thoughts on why people are so quick to share their opinions?  And for those of you who’ve been on the receiving end, what frustrates you the most?

Our Theme and Inspiration Board Revealed!

As I mentioned in my last post, it was really important to us that our guests would walk away with a deep understanding of the significance of the day and their role in it, all while feeling like there was some cohesion between that with the actual details and décor of the day.  So in coming up with our theme, we took a really non-linear approach of simultaneously taking a step back to think about how we would love our ceremony to flow, while also starting to hone in on a few types of details or décor elements that we liked.

In speaking with our pastor, who’d be officiating and had also been one of the folks who walked us through a lot of the roughest moments in our relationship, one of the things he had suggested was setting the stage by sharing some background on our story.  While all those invited were friends who had played a key role in our journey, many had varying degrees of understanding of what actually happened.  Given that significant others who were less involved would also be attending, we felt like it would be good to level-set everyone and provide the context before jumping into our vows.  So the personal sharing aspect was definitely something to take into consideration.  Examples of other details we took into account were that our outdoor venue was definitely more on the rustic side, the event itself would be really intimate, we wanted to go for simplicity and hopefully something that felt personal and unique, and of course my not-so-unique love of kraft paper and string. 😉  So with all that in mind, we landed on our unofficial theme.

Our unofficial theme was around the idea of “good stories”.  I say “unofficial” because we wanted it to be subtle, since we thought making it too overt would take away a little bit of the sanctity of the day.  Why “good stories” and how does that come to life?  Well, for one thing, we were going to be sharing our actual story, but at a more general level, in the best stories, there always comes a point when you don’t know if the protagonist is going to make it, and the journey of how they do is what makes the story.  We felt like that was a picture of our marriage.  There was a point where we really didn’t think we were going to make it.  And a huge part of the day would be telling the story of how things fell apart and the miraculous things that happened that saved us.

In terms of how that would come to life, well, here are some selections from our pinterest board pieced together into an inspiration board for our event!  We are both big book nerds – in fact, we even have our very own library in our home.  We also liked how the “literary” look fit so well into the overall rustic environment (kind of funny that books are considered more “rustic” and “antique” now).


From a color and floral perspective, we knew we definitely wanted to go with a light aqua blue – it is one of our favorite colors (in fact, much of our home is decorated in it!).  We also wanted to have a pop of color, and ended up deciding on a light peach.  This is the board that we came across that sealed the color deal for us.


So these are what set the tone for how we would begin our planning journey!  Of course, we did want things to be more subtle, so as I post about how the details, you’ll notice they don’t really look much like these boards.  But taking the time to think through a theme really helped us focus and ensure that all the various elements of the day would be tied together.

Image sources –
Daffodil inspiration board (clockwise, links from Pinterest): OnceWed, Melissa Baum Events Blog, Every Last Detail blog, Style Me Pretty, Matthew Alvarado, Style Me Pretty, Ruffled Blog
Peach & Blue inspiration board from Snippet & Ink  

“So What’s Your Theme?”

When we booked our venue and went in to sign everything, the site coordinator lost no time in getting down to business.  She sat us down and the first thing she asked was, “so what’s your theme?”  Mr. D and I looked at each other blankly – We had been consumed with merely finding available vendors and a venue on relatively short notice that we hadn’t even begun thinking about how the day would play out, let alone a theme.

As we drove home, we started talking in the car.  It hadn’t previously crossed our mind to incorporate a theme, especially for an event that seemed to be somewhat on the more sacred and serious side.  Even for our actual wedding, our “theme” was really just the color scheme more than anything else.  But as someone who loves party planning, especially themed parties, it got the wheels turning.  Upon further discussion, it seemed like a great idea – it could really pull the details of the day together and lend it cohesion, especially since this would be the first vow renewal most of our friends had attended and no one would be quite sure what to expect anyway.  Additionally, we loved that it would give the day and details a greater sense of intentionality behind it.

So we set out to come up with some ideas for a theme.  As we browsed online for inspiration, we saw plenty of cute ideas centered around a signature object, such as a fruit (we particularly loved the themes around lemons), or an inanimate object like typewriters (LOTS of typewriters!)…


(Source: Snippet & Ink)


(Source: Simply Peachy blog)

…we also saw a number of weddings themed in the veins of travel or places, such as nautical ones, or the beach, or just travel in general…


(Source: Style Me Pretty)


(Source: Pinterest)

And of course just themes of color or just a general style as well!   (I’m a huge fan of Snippet & Ink by the way – I tell all my engaged friends to go to that blog for inspiration!)

A green theme


(Source: Snippet & Ink)

The one below is just a theme of rustic country life


(Source: Snippet & Ink)

After getting inspired by all the different ways that themes could come to life, we took a step back to think about what we wanted our guests to really take away from the day.  For us, it would be really important for them to walk away with why we were renewing our vows and why the day was special, and to somehow symbolically tie that together with the decor and the venue itself.  Finally, after brainstorming through a number of different ideas, we landed on a theme…

…which is what my next post is going to be all about!

In the meantime, I’m curious: how many of you ended up going with a theme, and if so, what was it and how did you decide on it?