Who are Hillary & Jess?
Jess grew up on a ranch in Colorado out in the country with lots of animals and riding horses down to her friends’ house to play. Hillary grew up in the mountains and loved being able to explore with her next-door neighbors, shoeless playing games like house amongst the rocks and picking wildflowers.
Together we love to camp, be in the mountains, and just spend time together playing games like Rummikub, cribbage, or old school video games on PlayStation like Crash Bandicoot or Rayman.
We met on Tinder! We have been together for almost two years. We moved pretty quickly as we knew we were the ones for one another! We moved in (the three of us) after a month of knowing each other (UHAUL MUCH!?) and got engaged in July 2019, and eloped February 2nd, 2020!
Tell us your engagement story.
H: So, we have two proposal stories!
The first is when Jess proposed to me July 5th, we were back visiting some of Jess’s family in Wisconsin, and Jess told me prior that she had a friend who was going to take our photos while we were there! If I am honest, I was slightly annoyed that we were doing another photo session! I mean, I LOVE pictures, but I think we had three different photoshoots we did in May and June – and we didn’t need another!
More-so getting our daughter, Harper, to wear something cute AND to convince her again that we’d be having our photos taken and that she needed to be on that best behavior,
The morning of the shoot, I was honestly annoyed to be getting ready for a photoshoot, which I feel awful about now, but we got ready, and Jessica’s Mom and her sister came along! I was so confused about why they were coming along. But, they insisted they just wanted to come along for fun!
When we got to the park where jess proposed [Grant Park in Racine, WI] we met our photographer and started the shoot! About halfway through the shoot, he was taking a while to set up a shot of just Jess and I, and Jess’ Mom insisted on taking Harper up this cute stone staircase so we could get some photos of just us.
We were standing on this beautiful bridge surrounded by the most amazing lush green forest, and Jess’ started saying all these nice things to me! I was kind of confused by it, well, actually really confused, and I was like I LOVE YOU TOO LETS TAKE THESE PHOTOS!
Then she pulled out a box.
I realized what was happening, and I think I like blacked out because I don’t remember what she said after that, but I guess she asked me to marry her three times and I didn’t say anything other than OH MY GOSH, OH MY GOSH!!!!
That day Jess’s Mom planned a lunch to celebrate our engagement with their entire family at a restaurant overlooking Lake Michigan! It was beautiful and so so kind. Harper and I are truly thankful to be welcomed with open arms into her family.
And the, I proposed to Jess! Honestly, I wasn’t originally planning to propose back to her, but with how special she made me feel when she proposed to me, I really wanted to plan something to make HER feel special too! I reached out to one of my photographer friends, Katie, to trade sessions so we could have it photographed! She agreed and we started planning.
I wanted to propose somewhere special to us, so decided to in front of the restaurant where we had our first date. Katie and I met there at the time when we were going to do the shoot to scope out the restaurant front and see exactly how it would be day of! We checked out some cute spots surrounding and kind of planned out the whole shoot before, which was SO amazing because I was super nervous to propose even though technically we were already engaged!
Fast forward to September 11th [our anniversary of when we met], I planned to blindfold Jess with a bandana that I bought for this purpose, but forgot it at home! So, Harper and I put a paper napkin in between her glasses so she couldn’t see where we were going.
I had Harper stand at the spot right in front of the restaurant with a book we made for her online of our love story [with a rainbow cover!] and our photographer was in place. I pulled Jess out of the car and held her hand to the spot! I got down on one knee, Harper held Jess’s hand, and we had her take off her blindfold napkin!
I planned to say all these nice things but couldn’t mutter the words and just asked her to marry us and gave her the book! SHE SAID YES! She was so surprised and shocked that I had hired a photographer! The catch: Jess didn’t want a ring, so that’s why I decided to propose with a book!
I surprised her by making a tattoo appointment with my tattoo guy right after!!! We walked around the area and took some fun photos, and then drove to the tattoo shop! Katie went along with us so the photos of us getting our rings tattooed are some of my favorite and most special photos ever!! It was a perfect day and I am so glad I made the decision to propose back to Jess!
What vibe did you have in mind when planning your wedding?
We are both pretty simple people, so we didn’t have a theme for our wedding as we were keeping it small and intimate. The vibe was definitely laid back and us.
Because we were keeping things simple, we didn’t do very much DIY for decor or anything. Spending money on decor didn’t matter to us whatsoever! I feel like So many people get so caught up in the decor and spend so much money on it and at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter…BUT I did make our own flowers! I went to our local flower mart and picked out blooms and put them together a day before our wedding, which was SO fun, and our daughter helped a lot with this, which was super special!
How did you go about finding the perfect outfits?
Finding the perfect outfit…it was really hard! When we were originally planning a tropical elopement, and Hillary went and found a dress she loved, but thankfully hadn’t put a deposit down on it!
When we decided to change plans, which Kelly, our photographer, was AMAZING about all our crazy plan changes, I knew I couldn’t get the dress I originally picked out because it was literally for a beach wedding and we were going to be getting married in winter in the mountains in a snowy wonderland! I was bummed but knew I had to find something else.
I ended up finding a long sleeve one at David’s Bridal that I loved, and my Mom kindly bought it for me, and the rest is history!!
Jess’s story in finding the perfect outfit was much different! Jess originally had purchased a pantsuit online, and when it came in, it just didn’t work! We didn’t have much time before the wedding since the pantsuit took forever to get in, so we went to David’s bridal, and she decided she wanted to surprise everyone with a dress! Jess says her favorite part of finding the perfect outfit was having our daughter help her in the dressing room! She felt so special helping Jess, and it was the sweetest thing ever!
Tell us all the details of your winter wonderland wedding.
The big day!! We really wanted our wedding day to be simple. We both woke up super early and couldn’t go back to sleep because we were so excited! We ended up playing Rummikub in bed for a few hours before we had to shower for the day, so that was really fun getting to spend a few hours before all the craziness happened!
Something that was also really important to us was spending so much time together on our wedding day! So we truly did just that.
We hung out the entire time we were having our hair and makeup done. It was really relaxing just to “chill” the morning of the wedding, and I definitely recommend every couple make sure to put in the time to do just that! We decided to do a first look, so after we had our hair and makeup done, we got into our dresses separately, and Kelly so kindly shoveled a ton of snow off the balcony so we could do our first look there with the frame in the back! Even though I knew what Jessica’s dress looked like, it was SUCH an amazing moment to see her dressed up (and with full makeup because I’ve never seen her with makeup like that! She looked absolutely stunning, and I can’t even describe how wonderful that feeling was!). Jess hadn’t seen my dress before and had NO idea what to expect, so it was a fun reveal because it was SO hard to keep it from her!
Our ceremony location had to be changed because I injured my foot and could barely walk the day of the wedding! We were planning on getting married on top of a snowy hill with a gorgeous view and had snowshoed out the spot the day prior but there wasn’t any way I was going to be able to make it up there! SO we ended up getting married on the frozen-over lake that I played at and spent so much time at as a kid, so it honestly worked out and was super special!
We had one of my brothers officiate the wedding and he did an incredible job! We gave him an outline of what we wanted, and then he took it and made his personal touches and adding in whatever details he wanted, so it was really fun to be surprised at everything that he added! We loved that! Another thing for the ceremony we loved was that since Jess wasn’t going to have a ring for the ceremony, we had our daughter hold a ring pop in her pocket and gave it to me to put on Jess finger when we did our ring exchange! It was SO cute and sweet and was a fun little touch of our humor for the ceremony!
We drove around to a few spots nearby and took the remainder of our couples portraits-which Kelly was SO kind and sweet and gave us really good direction of what we needed to do to make sure we looked the best we possibly could! I loved just being able to breath and hang out with my WIFE during that time.
Honestly, one of our favorite parts about our wedding was reading our vows privately. We were originally going to read them in front of everyone for our ceremony but decided that we wanted to share our favorite memories with the three of us together vs. sharing our most personal thoughts with everyone. We were in the car on the way to dinner and still had to find somewhere to read our vows! The sun was already set behind the mountains and the light was so gorgeous so Kelly had the fun idea to have us jump in the back of the truck and read our vows together there! It was SO special. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much. Reading our vows out loud really “sealed the deal” in terms of feeling like we were married!
Do you have any standout vendors from your wedding day?
We didn’t work with too many vendors but the clear standout is our amazing photographer, Kelly! She actually brought her wife along as well and both of them were so, so wonderful and kind to us, they really made our wedding the best day ever! I don’t think we could thank them enough for everything they did for us!
Also, Our hair and makeup gal, Brittany, shout out to her. She truly did such an amazing job as well! My hair extensions didn’t curl the day of SO she had to work extra hard to do the hairstyle I wanted and she went with the flow so can’t say enough good things about her work as well.
Photography Kelly Balch Photography