Picking a Wedding Venue

Everyone has different priorities when it comes to picking their wedding venue. Maybe you want something inside with lots of exposed brick, or maybe you’re looking to get married outside at a farm or at an old plantation. Maybe you have no idea where to start looking!

At the beginning of our wedding planning process, I fell into the latter of those categories. I have been wedding-obsessed for years, so I felt like I was super familiar with all the venues located within a twenty-mile radius of my house, and I just really didn’t feel particularly drawn to any of them because they were just too familiar. I had seen so many weddings at all of these venues that I wouldn’t feel original or unique at all if I went with one of them, and those were two things I definitely wanted my wedding to be: original and unique.

Of course, something else that played a huge part in our decision was the budget. I’ve mentioned before that we are paying for this wedding ourselves, so we definitely couldn’t just pick anywhere! I started poring over websites like The Knot and Wedding Wire, looking on the ‘Affordable’ section for something that caught my eye. After many unsuccessful hours of looking, I decided I had to chat with Stephen and prioritize.

What were things we really wanted in a wedding venue? I knew I wanted an outdoor wedding and I knew I wanted to do our sparkler send-off in a boat, so waterfront was important! Stephen knew he wanted a nice view from our venue, so that supported the waterfront idea. When we put these priorities together and searched for a venue with these characteristics, a name immediately popped up that we hadn’t seen before: Bella Collina Mansion. We clicked on the link and immediately knew we were hooked.

The Bella Collina Mansion is a Tuscan style mansion that sits right on Belews Creek in Stokesdale, North Carolina. Right away we were drawn to their all-in-one pricing: you pay them one price and tell them which of their preferred caterers, florists, DJs, photographers, etc. you’d like to help assist you on your wedding day, and they handle the rest!

Between the breathtaking water views and the affordable price (plus the fact that it is super unique!), Stephen and I had to go check it out.  Incorporating my grandparents into as much wedding planning as possible is super important to me (especially since my Granddaddy is the one marrying us!), so I texted my Mimi to see if they were available and we worked out a time to meet at Bella Collina.

The drive to Stokesdale in itself is such a pleasant experience — many miles are driven through tree-lined back roads and Stokesdale is just covered in small-town charm. When you pull onto the gravel drive that takes you to Bella Collina, you catch a view of rolling hills in the distance, and eventually the trees open up to reveal a breathtaking view of the mansion and Belews Creek! I am still stunned by the beauty of that view every time I drive around that bend! I can’t wait for my guests to see it next year!

This is the deck where the reception takes place! Stephen and I are actually standing in the exact spot where the sweetheart table will be located 🙂


This sweet balcony is right off the bridal suite – perfect photo op for the bridesmaids 🙂

I am sooo glad I put so much time and effort into finding the right venue. It can be so easy to just go with whatever you’ve heard the most about or have seen the most pictures of, but if you are looking for something unique, I highly recommend discussing your priorities with your fiancĂ© and putting in the work to find a venue that is unique to you — I promise it will be worth the effort!


Picking a Wedding Date

One of the biggest discussions to be had between Stephen and I was the ‘When’ of our wedding! I am a very “full speed ahead” type of person and so I wanted to get married in 2017 (we got engaged in 2016!). Stephen is of the “slow and steady wins the race” mindset and so he preferred setting a date in 2018. We went back and forth on this issue for months. It is so easy to become impatient when it comes to getting married! I was (and am) so ready to call Stephen my husband.

I have found that sometimes, sooner is not better (and sometimes it is). It depends on the situation, and it’s important to look at the facts to determine what wedding date is best for you. My head often stays in the clouds; I’ve always had a wild imagination and I love conjuring up the biggest, craziest ideas for all sorts of occasions.

I was dreaming of an 11/11/17 wedding. I thought for sure I wanted to get married in the fall and I thought for sure I wanted to get married in 2017. Stephen much preferred a November 2018 wedding, which I did not even want to entertain the thought of! At the time it was 28 months away!

Stephen had to remind me several times that our circumstances would be making our wedding planning process a little bit different from everyone else. We are both graduate students and are paying for our wedding almost completely by ourselves. The more we looked into how much weddings cost (even small ones), the more we realized we needed a lot of time to save up, and so I started coming around to the idea of a 2018 wedding.

Once we decided on 2018, I began to feel like the idea of a fall wedding was not sitting as well with me as it had been before. I was still uncomfortable with just how far away it was and realized how quickly the sun sets in the fall (my best friend and MOH is a wedding photographer and clues me in to some of these things!), plus, although North Carolina weather is unpredictable every month of the year, this past fall in NC had terrible weather — every weekend seemed to be stricken with a hurricane or some other form of extreme weather and my dedication to an outdoor wedding indicated that maybe fall was not the best time of year for us. When we decided on our wedding location, we discovered that November was the rainiest month of the year there by far, and that solidified our decision to change our wedding date.

At one point Stephen asked me what anniversary we would use when we got married, and I told him our wedding anniversary of course! He jokingly said he wasn’t sure he’d be able to remember any other anniversary dates and would just like to get married on our dating anniversary (May 5th) so that he wouldn’t forget! He was kidding of course, but the statement gave me pause. I hadn’t even thought about a May wedding and certainly hadn’t thought about getting married on our actual anniversary. I told Stephen I was actually really liking the idea of getting married on our dating anniversary and he said, “Is it on a Saturday in 2018? If so, it was meant to be!” I opened my calendar app on my phone, thinking there was no way it would work out that way, but there it was: 5/5/18 was on a Saturday! And just like that, we had our wedding date set.

All the way up to May 5th of this year, people would squint their eyes and scrunch their nose when they heard we had set a date so far away. I’m not going to lie, I got to a point when I would blush when I told people our wedding date because I was a little embarrassed about the fact that it was almost two years away. Now that we are less than a year away and the funny looks have stopped, I regret having ever been embarrassed. Your wedding is just that: your wedding. You can set a date for whenever you want to get married! Whether it’s six months away or three years away, don’t let anyone make you feel like you don’t fit into the norm. The truth is, I’m proud of the circumstances we face that  caused us to pick a further our wedding date. I’m proud of the fact that we are both working super hard for advanced degrees and that we are working super hard to pay for the wedding ourselves.

I’m also proud of the fact that we will have a two year engagement! This is such a fun season of life and I am glad I get two years to call Stephen my fiancĂ© before I call him my husband. Wedding planning has been so much fun! It has not been stressful at all (except for a few financial discussions that will be talked about later on!) and I have not felt rushed at any point because I’ve had so much time to do everything. I’ve been able to get started booking everything early and have been able to book all my dream vendors and didn’t have to worry about my vendors already being booked because I was inquiring a year and a half in advance! I’ve had time to do research and have not booked anyone haphazardly.

Now that we are less than a year out I am all the more thankful I have had so much time to plan! I can’t wait to keep y’all posted on all the fun things we have coming up 🙂

Thanks for stopping by!


The Day We Got Engaged

Most of my friends and family already know the story of how Stephen and I got engaged, but in the event that you’re new here, I figured I had to share the story!

This story really starts with a shopping spree I went on in the fall of 2015 (yes, if you know me you know any of my good stories start with a shopping spree!).  I went in Urban Outfitters and happened to come across what I thought was the most gorgeous crocheted white dress I had ever seen! When I saw it I instantly saw myself facing Stephen down on one knee. This was the dress I had to be proposed to in. It was a creamy ivory color with a high neck and bell sleeves. It was the perfect combination of subtle and vintage and I loved it. I mean, really loved it. And it was on sale!

On my way out of the store, shopping bag and dress in tow, I called Stephen and announced to him that I had just bought the dress I would be proposed to in. He thought this was hilarious! We had talked about marriage many times, of course, but Stephen did not appear to have any intentions of proposing any time soon. Also, he pointed out to me, the chances of me actually wearing the dress when he did propose were slim because he loves surprises and if he ever told me to wear the dress, I would know something was up!

Months passed and there sat the dress in my closet, looking as pretty as ever! Occasionally I would pull it out and feel ever so slightly impatient at the waiting period I was in. There were many times I had to remind myself to trust in God’s timing and that when Stephen felt called to propose to me, he would.

Last March (2016), I got hired at my first Teaching Assistant job. I was in love. I was (and still am!) enamored with those sweet kids but the transition from my previous career in real estate to my career in teaching, while so worth it, was tough at times. The last day of the school year was June 30th.  I entered the day feeling sad that the year was ending, but proud of my accomplishment and excited to see what the next year would hold. Stephen told me he was leaving for his parents’ house for a few days so I was disappointed I would not get to celebrate the end of the school year with him, but the teacher I was working with invited me to a nice dinner that night with the rest of the ladies on the Kindergarten team.  She informed me that all the girls were wearing white lace dresses and were planning on taking lots of pictures and asked if I had anything I could wear that fit that theme. I told her I did have this one dress that would be perfect, but was sort of saving it for a special occasion! When I sent her a picture of it she said it was perfect and that I just had to wear it! I had to accept that the chances of my dreams of this being my proposal dress coming true were just not very high because of how much Stephen loves surprises, and put the dress on for dinner.

My cooperating teacher picked me up that night for dinner and told me that the restaurant we were headed to was in downtown Raleigh. I was giddy! Downtown Raleigh is my favorite place in the world. It holds so many memories for me and I jump at any opportunity to go back. What made it even better was that we drove through NC State’s campus on the way there — another area filled with nostalgia for me! I was feeling all sorts of emotions when we pulled into our parking spot downtown after having driven though my favorite route.

I had butterflies in my stomach as we neared the restaurant that I couldn’t explain, but my stomach quickly fell when we got to the restaurant and realized it was closed. I turned to the two teachers I was with and they said there was a note on the door of the restaurant and that I should read it! Still not suspecting anything was up, I read it and it said “Sydney, I have something for you on the bridge.”  At first I assumed there was no way I was the Sydney the note was referring to, but after some prompting from my friends, I walked around the corner to the bridge behind the restaurant, and there stood Stephen!

My first thought walking up to Stephen was “I thought you were out of town!” My second thought was “What an amazing view from this bridge!” And my third thought was “What is happening?!”

I had hardly gotten up to Stephen when all of a sudden he got down on one knee and tearfully asked me to marry him. The ring he held out for me was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen! I was floored. After hugs, tears, and saying goodbye to my friends (who were in on it the whole time), Stephen and I walked down the street to where his car was parked. I asked him lots and lots of questions and said “I can’t believe this!” over and over and over again, but then we spent a few minutes in silence, holding hands and just enjoying each other’s company. Sometimes it is the quietest moments that mean the most.

Of course, the first thing I wanted to do was tell my family! My mom lives right up the road and so while Stephen was driving us to her house, I called my grandparents and my aunts and uncles to inform them of our news. This was super important to me because I wanted my family to hear it from me rather than hearing about it for the first time on Facebook!

When I texted my mom to find out where she was (so I could tell her the best news of my life!) she told me she was at my favorite restaurant with my siblings and that I could meet her there if I wanted. I tried to stay as casual as possible and told her I would be there soon, amused at the fact that she had no idea I was texting her with a ring on my finger!

When we walked into the restaurant, we were immediately greeted with both of our families and closest friends and lots of balloons and flowers! Turns out they were all in on it too! We spent the night eating, drinking, and celebrating. It was perfect. Right down to my outfit 😉 Best day of my life to date!

Our story was also featured on How He Asked and Southern Weddings!

Thanks for stopping by!


A Little Introduction!


Hi there! So glad you decided to join me on my blog! My name is Sydney and I am currently a graduate student at NC State University working on my Master’s degree in Elementary Education. I work full-time as a Teacher Assistant in a Kindergarten classroom and love every second of it! There is nothing more gratifying than helping to build the foundation that 24 little kindergarteners will use for the rest of their educational careers!  On top of all that, I am planning a wedding happening next May! Stephen and I have been together since high school and he served me with the surprise of my life last June when he proposed in my favorite place ever — downtown Raleigh! Stephen graduated a semester early from NC State in December 2015 (just like me!) and is now going into his second year at UNC Law School.  So far life with a fiancĂ© in law school has been a wild ride — only made all the more complicated by me working 40 hours a week and going to school at night! Needless to say it has been quite an adjustment for us, but with a little effort (and a lot of prayer), we are learning to make it work!

Believe it or not, wedding planning has provided the perfect escape for me from all my schoolwork (and gives me something to do while Stephen spends hours upon hours at the library!).  Wedding talk is my favorite and anyone who has asked me how it’s going knows that I can’t just say “It’s going well,” because I just have to launch into detail about the latest developments and what’s new in my wedding plans! I have also had the pleasure of being involved in two of my friends’ weddings (one that just passed last Saturday and one that is in October!) and have loved comparing notes with them, talking about our different wedding styles, and getting tips and tricks as well as sharing them! After sharing so many wedding plans with friends and family all the time, I figured starting a blog to document the process would be a great idea for anyone who wanted to follow along!

If you’re interested in seeing how our wedding progresses, I would love to see your name pop up on my Instagram (@sydneybaysden)! I can’t wait to share more with you on budgeting, timelines, bridal parties, decorations, keeping your wedding true to yourself, remaining focused on Christ through all the craziness, and so much more!

Thanks for stopping by!



all photos in this post by krista with six foot photography