A horse, three dogs, and 25 people celebrated this couple’s I do’s in this intimate destination celebration under the trees.
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We have social media to thank for many things: viral cat GIFs, the ability to speak in #cleverhashtags, click-baiting headlines, and now the marriage of Nicki Rayl and Mike O’Neil. In 2009, the former classmates—whose one and only date had taken place 13 years earlier, when they were high school students in California—reconnected on Facebook. The two soon began e-mailing, she from her home in Los Altos, California, and he from Afghanistan, where he had been deployed. “I thought, ‘Wow, quiet Mike O’Neil from school is this incredibly handsome, brilliant, and funny man,’” recalls Nicki, a project manager for NASA. One year later, that man was transitioning out of the Army and en route to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. His mission: to meet Nicki, who was working there on a space shuttle launch. “Her career gave us hours of conversation fodder,” says Mike, who currently is a manager for a government contracting firm, “and the relationship took off like a rocket ship!” (Pun intended.)
After two years (or 16, depending on who’s counting), Mike was ready to propose. Along with their dog, Jack, the couple spent the day romping around the Northern California redwoods, where, in an open reserve next to a pond, Mike dropped to one knee with Nicki’s great-grandmother’s diamond in hand.
The next spring, on May 18, 2013, the duo, who today live in Alexandria, Virginia, returned to Redwood Valley—specifically, 4,000 acres of private land known as the Leonard Lake Reserve—with 25 people, three dogs, and a horse in tow. For three days, the happy group hiked, canoed, and sat around a campfire. The highlight was the wedding itself, which included a string quartet, four-legged attendants, and the bride’s entrance on horseback.
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The Stationery Suite
“The text was playful and goofy, like us!” says the bride of the invitations.
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Welcome to the Woods
Welcome bags included images that represented patches from the Army units in which Mike served.
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A swath of organza, strung from a tree, marked the spot where Nicki and Mike said “I do.” The ceremony was officiated by the newlyweds’ siblings.
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Their Beloved Pup
Including their dog, Jack, in the ceremony was important to the animal-loving pair. “We had to marry in a place where we could bring him with us!” says the bride of their canine ring bearer, who wore a dapper bow tie for the occasion.
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The Bridal Bouquet
Passion vines and ferns framed Nicki’s peony and lily of the valley bouquet.
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A Special Surprise
As a surprise to Mike (and as her something borrowed), Nicki had his “O’Neil” name tape from one of his old Army uniforms sewn into her dress.
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The Bride and Her Father
Nicki strolled along the property with her dad, who chose Steve Tyrell’s version of “The Way You Look Tonight” from Father of the Bride for their dance.
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Turkey sliders and corn-and-green-onion puffs were on offer during the cocktail hour.
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Ricotta toasts with shaved fennel, radish, and fresh herbs and flowers were also served as predinner bites.
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After stealing away for a brief, private canoe ride around the lake, Nicki and Mike joined their guests for a family-style meal of braised short ribs, grilled chicken, and glazed vegetables. Neutral table settings on the dinner tables were punched up by colorful centerpieces of poppies, roses, passion vines, and ferns.
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At Each Seat
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A Sweet Moment
“The evening was a bit brisk,” recalls Nicki, who layered cozy flannel over her ABS by Allen Schwartz gown.
Beneath strands of vintage bistro lights, the two had twirled to Phillip Phillips’s “Home,” a tune with special significance for a couple who traveled so far, and for so long, to find theirs.
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After dinner, guests grabbed one of four flavored cupcakes to eat around the campfire.
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Twine-tied kraft bags held packets of redwood seedlings that guests took home as favors.
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Location: Leonard Lake Reserve
Event Planning and Design: Shelter Co.
Catering: Leif Hedendal
Flowers: Brown Paper Design
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Cakes and Cupcakes: Moustache Baked Goods
Music: Saga Strings
Rentals: Classic Party Rentals; La Tavola Fine Linen; Shelter Co.
Bride’s Accessories: Debra Moreland hair clip; Seychelles shoes; La Vie Parisienne earrings; Sara Gabriel veil
Hair: Carlos Soto of Hair 2000, 925-254-0990
Makeup: Mendocino Beauty
Groom’s Attire: Men’s Wearhouse