It was a pretty dull but beautiful summer day in my life: wrangling email, running errands, weeding a tad in the garden, being on time for some necessary appointments, and generally keeping life/work running smoothly (or so I was attempting, and was rather enjoying the mundaneness). At the desk where I had one of those appointments sat Kate, someone I’ve only lightly known for many years, and only even that much because I go to that office twice a year and get done what I need to get done. Unfortunately, I didn’t really “know”Kate …  at least not until this day. Lucky me, I took an extra minute on this full-with-stuff-to-do afternoon to ask the always-smiling and warm-spirited woman behind the desk that typically-phatic-but-not-so-on-this-occasion question: “So … what’s new with you, Kate?”

My silly little rock garden that was
needing a tad of weeding on this
mundane summer day.
Her answer opened the door to a new and budding friendship with a pal I now call “Great Kate.” And as part of that friendship, I’m privy (lucky me!) to a peek into Kate’s world, which is situated fully and lovingly with her amazing partner Pete. Their relationship — as you’re about to read in a series of upcoming posts — is precisely the ritual-rich, play-full, kind-and-then-some, intentionally-happy couple-creating life this blog has always and will always be about. And it was during one of Kate’s high-energy tellings about their crazy-wonderful-cool wedding that I had what I think is a rather crazy-wonderful-cool idea: to feature a series of uber-happy couples who are, you guessed it, doing precisely what happy couples could, should and can DO … and actually ARE doing!

And thus “A Host of Happy Couples (2014)” is born. The first installment is this one, and features – of course – Kate and Pete, a couple I know you’re going to love getting to know. 

One of the best parts of this series — which begins in about 10 seconds — is that you’re going to hear from the couple in their own happy words and images, each post an explanation of how the pair is working to live the authentic life of a really happy couple (and we all know work is always part of the equation, as each couple will, for sure, reveal in their tellings).

So now … drum roll please … meet super-great Kate and equally-neat Pete! Where to begin? She decided to start with a part of their early story, the significant and signature day our culture calls “the wedding.” In Kate and Pete’s case, I’d call it, well, something completely so-much-more, and fully so-much-THEM …

A Crazy Big Day
– by Kate Woodman Middlecamp

It all began with a pocket-sized, orange, spiral-bound notebook.  
A few weeks after returning from our engagement trip, during our first official wedding planning session, my husband-to-be grabbed the little book from atop the drafting table and we set to work jotting ideas.  For the next year, it was a constant. Wherever we went and whatever we did, the little orange notebook tagged along.  

There was only one rule: anything goes.  No edits, no limits, no judgements, no preconceptions; every silly, ridiculous, outrageous, happy, loving idea had a place in the notebook.  And after a year of the little book getting tossed about in pockets and purses, stowed in camping gear, and joining us on more than a few roller coaster rides, it was literally bursting with signature notions of our love.

In the end, one of the most difficult parts of wedding planning was sorting through our little orange book, saying goodbye to ideas that were – for lack of time, space, or money – beyond our reach.  It was particularly hard for us to let go of the idea of “Free Soup” signs around the reception, the lovely dream of feeding anyone in the area who was hungry on that special day, and of invitations in the form of custom chocolate bars with golden tickets (golden tickets did make the day, after all, but I’m getting ahead of myself…!).
While sifting through the ideas, a theme became apparent: Our little orange notebook read an awful lot like the description of a carnival.  In fact, it read EXACTLY like a carnival. The more we thought about it, the more a carnival wedding seemed the perfect celebration of our love and life together. 

And it was. Blissful. Beautiful. Hilarious. Loving. And perfectly, completely, “us.” 

We secured the Clarence W. Wigington Pavilion, a vast and gorgeous historic building on Harriet Island in St. Paul, Minnesota, and a portion of the surrounding park – the only space large enough and flexible enough to host a true carnival for our nearly 350 guests.  With such a large party, and not-so-large budget, DIY was a necessity, and our apartment essentially became a temporary print shop. Giddy, often frantic, hours were spent together cranking out custom bags, event posters, popcorn boxes and, of course, Wonka Bar-esque invitations complete with, you guessed it, Golden Tickets.  

Agates collected over years of dating tumbled noisily in the garage, being polished to receive guests’ blessings on the day. Skee-ball, volleyball, and mini-disc golf games were envisioned and customized. A photo booth and wedding photographer were hired, and photo props collected. Literal pounds of lollipops were arranged, in centerpieces, bouquets and boutineers.  A mini-donut machine was purchased, used to make the wedding cake, and to serve treats on the day along with popcorn, cotton candy, hand-dipped corn dogs, and snow cones. We had a veritable horde of family and friends volunteering to “man” the machines. 

Entertainers were lined up, many from the same horde of supportive friends and family: “Sprinkles” the clown making balloon creations; a professional yo-yo’er; a singer-songwriter who serenaded us in a spontaneous first dance; belly dancers; and even a surprise song by the bride and groom, the very happy couple. 

A simple white dress was tailored, as was a classic black tux. And, to pay homage to our mutual love of all things vintage, Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn-inspired his and her suits (each designed for dancing the day away) were tailored too. 

The ceremony took place overlooking the river, with our dear friend James, the man who counseled us in the months prior to the wedding, and who passed a few months after, presiding over the affair with his dog “Prints” by his side. A simple melody on guitar accompanied the my  walk down the aisle; my mother and father flanked my sides. The clearest memory I have of our signature day is this moment: walking out, into the sun and a mass of people, and seeing Peter waiting for me. My heart, and my eyes, overfilled – as did his – and together we knew a shimmering moment of perfect and utter joy, and of absolute gratitude for this day. This love. This life. 

There was laughter and tears and readings … but not readings from scripture (ours came from a stash of our crazy-wonderful love letters). Next was more perfect and shimmering joy as we recited our vows, kissed the best kiss, and giddily danced our way back up the aisle as husband and wife, ready to kick off the carnival of a lifetime. 

And the best part? We haven’t stopped … (editor:  … stories about which you’ll read in upcoming installments over the next 4 weeks of Kate and Pete, a very happy couple guest-writing for the very happy-couple-inspired What Happy Couples Do blog).