(Living)

How I Planned My Happily Ever After in the Middle of a Global Pandemic

Courtesy of Afrik Armando

Wedding planning is a trip — even before you add in the complications of coronavirus. Having my wedding during a global pandemic came with a bundle of all-over-the-place emotions. There was excitement about marrying my match and reaching this milestone moment; anxiousness for the ever-growing to-do list; nervousness in stalking news, RSVPs, and checking the weather forecast — and a whole slew of uncomfortable and stressful conversations surrounding the reality of executing my wedding vision, and gulp — the finances to fund it all. Then there was the added bonus of crippling "pandemic panic" and never-ending changes and uncertainties that made for a total whirlwind, emotional rollercoaster sh*t show.

In choosing to move forward with our Dec. 5, 2020 date, we fully understood the situation, the compromises, and the concessions that would have to be made leading up to it. It’s hard to prepare for the unknown, especially today, and we were certainly met with challenges and decisions I hope most brides are never faced with when planning their special day — like dozens of phone calls with loved ones juggling heartache at the thought of missing your special day, but crippled in fear at the thought of attending a gathering. Then a dozen more calls as guest counts are cut in half, and then in half again.

I was forced to breathe and gain perspective daily, reminding myself what this was all about in the end: marrying my husband. In keeping hopeful that we would be able to couple this milestone moment with some type of celebration — even if it looked a little different — we held course. And the dress ... it had a little bit to do with the dress, too!

Courtesy of Afrik Armando

How I Planned My Wedding During Covid-19: The Venue

Apart from being one of the most unbelievably beautiful places to get married, Cedar Lakes Estate has been the setting of many of my favorite memories from weekend getaways, birthday parties, New Year’s celebrations, and holiday markets. While summertime at Cedar Lakes certainly brings Dirty Dancing dreams to life with lake activities, zip lining, and bonfires, there’s something undeniably magical about that crisp winter air and snow covered cabins. Knowing the magic of wintertime at Cedar Lakes first hand, we took a leap of faith to be the first winter wedding for the venue, leaning into the cozy, elegant, mountain vibes for a winter wonderland wedding escape.

Courtesy of Afrik Armando

One of my favorite things about the venue — apart from the uniquely inspired menus, exquisite farm-to-table cuisine, and genuine one-of-a-kind service — is its warm, familiar home-away-from-home feel. Only 90 minutes from Manhattan, it’s just far enough away to feel like an escape, while also being comfortably close to home. The place is exceptionally elegant and refreshingly homey, balancing the rustic mountain setting with luxuriousness and a special touch you have to experience for yourself to truly understand.

How I Planned My Wedding During Covid-19: The Vision

The vision was 'Winter Wonderland', playing into the festive, wintery vibes that innately come with the start of December. I also felt a personal responsibility to provide a boost of holiday magic for my guests, many of whom were struggling to find this year in the midst of pandemic life. After years of admiring the décor and floral installations of Faye & Renee on Instagram, I connected with founder Joanna Nollet for the job. I was confident she would bring this concept to life in a way my brain couldn’t even imagine and with that I gave Joanna full creative control to do what she does best — create.

Courtesy of Afrik Armando

How I Planned My Wedding During Covid-19: The Rules

I hate calling them this. It sounds like a whole list of restrictions and cant’s when in reality it played out to be a huge part of what made this wedding so intimate, special, and safe. For starters, our guest count was limited by New York State to only 50 people, which felt impossible given our starting 300+ person guest count. Guests were to be split into five groups of 10 guests each, called “pods” and would sit, dine, and keep to these small groups throughout the weekend to prevent mingling. All pods would be graciously spaced out to promote social distancing, masks were required when not seated and a dance floor was a no-no (sigh) — a hard pill to swallow, but ‘tis pandemic life.

As an added precaution, we also provided onsite COVID testing upon arrival to Cedar Lakes. Nothing says “lets party” quite like a cotton swab shoved up your nose, but thankfully, all in attendance received a passing “negative” result and the wedding weekend was underway.

While I worried our guests would be frustrated and discouraged from attending our wedding weekend with so many rules in place, we found the reaction to be the exact opposite. Guests were incredibly appreciative for all the safety measures being put in place and after months at home with social calendars wiped clean, they were insanely grateful to be included in such an intimate weekend of celebrating life.

How I Planned My Wedding During Covid-19: The Dress

Wedding dress shopping is quite the experience. It's a time consuming and exhausting process — one made extra glamorous these days thanks to mask-wearing required by all the bridal salons during the pandemic. Wearing a mask has become commonplace at this point and I’m certainly not knocking the safety measure. However, I must share an ounce of sympathy and understanding for my fellow COVID brides, whose experience hiding their smile, and their mom’s or sister's or best friend’s smile behind a mask when you say "yes to the dress" certainly looked a bit different than you imagined. Then again, perspective equalizes all, and having special moments like this to focus on during an otherwise disheartening time sure helps to fuel happiness during a time we need it most.

Courtesy of Lindsay Colameo

I was on a tight timeline, with only four months of wiggle room to have my dress ready for the big day. From the start of my search, my mission was an Elsa from Frozen, Snow Queen style with long sleeves and a whimsical feel to fit the winter wonderland vision. After an exhausting week of appointments with no luck, I made a last-minute attempt at Angel Rivera Couture (in Ridgewood, NJ). I wasn’t overly confident in the five dresses I selected from the floor to try on, but when I slipped on the third dress in the lineup, I got goosebumps. It was the no-brainer, take-your-breath-away, exactly-what-I-envisioned, oh-my-goodness moment where I quite literally felt like a Snow Queen, and the search was over.

How I Planned My Wedding During Covid-19: The Army of Angels

Organizing a wedding is a lot — even for the most organized among us. That's why I entrusted the help of the wedding and events angel, Amanda Savory of Amanda Savory Events. Grateful doesn’t even come close to describing my love, respect, and appreciation for this miracle worker and her team. Even during the rollercoaster of disheartening pandemic-related changes that continued up to the final hour (like guest limitations, dancing restrictions, and curfews), Amanda kept order and peace in the midst of chaos.

As guest counts were cut in half and the scope of the weekend was forced to change due to new rules and regulations, Amanda continued to come up with safe, creative ways to reimagine things, which felt less like a constant compromise, and more like a cool never-been-done before newness — from hand-painted ornaments to serve as escort cards and cute takeaways, to specialty hot drinks to keep guests cozy during the outdoor winter ceremony, and a laundry list of personalized details that made each event feel intentional.

Courtesy of Afrik Armando

Then there was the man behind the lens, Afrik Armando, who captured every special moment throughout the weekend. His energy was radiant, with a smile that was easily detectable even behind a mask — it was hard not to smile in his presence. He created such a naturally comfortable, easy-going vibe hard to come by with wedding photographers who are challenged with capturing 12,342 different photo combinations with a group of rambunctious guests. Something about Afrik’s delightfully cheerful personality set the most fluid, happy scene, and resulted in thousands of stunning photos that resonated the same vibe.

Courtesy of Afrik Armando

How I Planned My Wedding During Covid-19: The Ceremony

During the winter, Cedar Lakes transforms its adorable garden into a temporary ice rink, draped with a ceiling of lights. Choosing to do an outdoor ceremony in the beginning of December was risky, but a necessary evil to get married under the insanely whimsical twinkling lights. Joanna of Faye and Renee and Amanda Savory took it one step further transforming the space into the coziest cathedral, complete with rolling fires, heaters, blankets, and holiday festiveness sprinkled throughout. The end result was straight out of a fairytale which got more magical as the sun went down and the twinkle dialed up. While some guests arrived at dusk, greeted by hot mulled rose and hot cocoa, others cozied up in their pajamas at home to tune in virtually through Zoom. Onsite guests were graciously spread out to ensure safe distancing, while and Amanda and her team seamlessly navigated around the action with a laptop to give virtual guests a front row seat to the action.

Courtesy of Afrik Armando

I’ve always wanted my wedding to be personal and intimate. With that in mind, we had our dads complete their online ordained ministers certification and do the honors of leading the ceremony. Together they have almost 80 years of successful loving marriages, and it’s their advice we cherish the most as we begin this next chapter as husband and wife. There was something undeniably heart-warming about having the most influential men in our lives share in this moment with us. Per my request, my husband and I prepared original vows for one another. Sharing these words with each other — with our family and friends as witnesses — tapped a level of vulnerability and accountability that I hope will continue to fuel our relationship for a lifetime to come.

Courtesy of Afrik Armando

How I Planned My Wedding During Covid-19: The Celebration

Our wedding reception was held in the stunning barn at the center of Cedar Lakes Estate. As you can imagine, it took some extreme creativity to make the giant 5,400 square foot space feel full despite the mere 50 bodies filling it. While it was certainly hard to envision from the start, Joanna of Faye and Renee transformed the space into the most breathtaking, winter wonderland that lifted the spirits and dropped the jaws of every person who entered. The meticulously arranged set-up felt nothing like rule-following with “pods” and social distancing, and every bit like an organic flow that encouraged quality time, deep conversations, and living in the moment.

Instead of your traditional wide-open dance floor with tables sprinkled around it, the barn was set up with tables and corresponding lounge areas for each. This made it feel like the coziest, most romantic dinner party of all time, and one that organically kept guests safely spaced in their “pods”. Guests soaked up a feel-good, soul-fueled evening of live entertainment, compliments of Jersey Joint, keeping in their respective VIP lounges. Despite the lack of mingling and a dance floor, every square inch of that massive barn was filled with the most palpable, heart-bursting love that will be remembered by all.

Courtesy of Afrik Armando

It was breathtaking in every sense of the word decked out in crushed velvet and emerald green accents, covered in greenery and white florals, and flickering candlelight everywhere you looked. The whole room twinkled with romance bringing the winter wonderland vision to life in a very, very real way. Despite the restricted 50-person guest count there was no absence of love filling the space and every inch of décor accentuated these feelings of pure bliss.

Courtesy of Afrik Armando

Despite the rollercoaster of emotions and challenges faced when planning a wedding in the midst of a pandemic, these breathtaking memories will fuel my soul forever. We are unbelievably grateful for the army of kind hearts and creative minds that helped to bring a slice of magic to life in a year that challenged us all to find the light. To our family and friends, those in attendance and those whose love and presence was felt from miles and miles away, we love you and look forward to hugging, smiling, and dancing through life together forever. And to my fellow COVID brides who were met with their own heartbreaking decisions and extreme compromises during one of the most special times in their lives, you are not alone. Here’s to you and the power of love.

Courtesy of Afrik Armando