Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Ultimate Adventure, Part 2: Getting Hitched

After nine years together, Matt and I decided to get married. Well, we had decided to get married before, but life happened, I decided to run for office, etc., etc. So this time we were really going to get married. And we were going to do it in Philadelphia, where I’m from. You would think that perhaps we’re a little crazy trying to plan a wedding from across the country. And while I’m running for office in San Francisco. And you probably wouldn’t be wrong. But it was actually easier than we anticipated. It only really required one trip to Philly to look at venues before deciding. We deliberately selected a venue that was all-inclusive (ceremony, food, bar, centerpieces) so we would just have to show up, and we were able to talk to most potential vendors via Skype or phone. We did schedule another trip about 4 months before the wedding, during which time we met with a florist and officiate and did our engagement photo shoot (included in our photography package) and our food and cake tastings. Considering how organized we were in the process, the planning went pretty smoothly.

I live much of my life by color-coded spreadsheets and calendars. And wedding planning was no different. I had one master spreadsheet with color-coded detailed tabs for things like

·         Budget and to-do lists;
·         Due dates;
·         Guest list (further sorted by local and out-of-town guests—those who would get an out-of-town gift bag);
·         Out-of-town gift bag contents (and when and where to purchase them);
·         Bridal party gifts (and when and where to purchase them);
·         Information for rehearsal dinner, including transportation configurations;
·         Seating;
·         Decorations list, including what, how much, where and when ordered, and to where shipped (some things I shipped to us in San Francisco, others I shipped to my dad’s in the Philly area);
·         Task list for rehearsal and rehearsal dinner (what to bring, who brings what, logistics, etc.);
·         Task list for day-of, including a point person for gratuities (all in separate, labeled envelopes) and a point person for things such as gathering cards and gifts at the end of the night and collecting all personal items;
·         Timelines in 15-minute increments for day before and day of wedding;
·         Potential vendors for each specific service, including name, contact information, price, notes, and specifics about the agreement with whichever one we chose (e.g., hair, make-up, dj, photographer, transportation, officiate);
·         Various traditions we thought about including (highlighting the ones that were ultimately included);
·         Music list (songs to include and do-not-play-under-any-circumstances);
·         Photography list (specific family configurations or other shots we wanted to have);
·         Hotel block information; and
·         Honeymoon options

It sounds complicated, but being obsessive-compulsive about organization is a survival method for me and ultimately makes my busy life much easier.

The travel part ended up being a little more complicated and not without some bumps. For starters, I left for the airport without my dress! For all of my organization skills, this was a huge “oops” moment. We scheduled a shuttle to the airport and got about 10 minutes away when I realized I didn’t have my dress (which was still hanging in the back in the guest room while the rest of our luggage was by the front door). The driver refused to go back because of his schedule, so I jumped out and took the bus home to get my dress and call a taxi. I’m usually annoyed that we’re always the first to be picked up and the last to be dropped off, but it worked in our favor in this case. Because we were the first to be picked up, we were still in the city and I could easily get on the bus. Had we been the last to be picked up, we would have been on the freeway to the airport and I would have had to get a taxi back home and then back to the airport. So, $70 later, I arrived at the airport only about 5 minutes after Matt. Our plane didn’t have a closet (silly United) so I lay the dress flat in the overhead (sorry to hog the space, fellow travelers). It worked out fine since I was going to have it steamed in Philly anyway.

When we arrived, we got a minivan since we would be doing some shuttling for the rehearsal (for the record, I was reminded why I will never own a minivan). We were fine for the first day and a half, and then on the way to my hair trial we got a flat tire! I must have run over something serious in a construction zone because the tire was completely flat and ripped on the side. My hair gal actually came and picked me up while Matt waited for AAA to tow it to a nearby rental place to exchange the vehicle. Our trial went quickly enough (or AAA took long enough) that she dropped me back off at the vehicle when we were done. Now THAT is customer service!

The rest of the prewedding days went fairly smoothly, although we had a lot to do. One of our guests was staying at a hotel about an hour away, so we drove out there to drop off the out-of-town guest bag, which took some time. But that area had a lot of the stores we needed to go to (and parking—thanks, suburbs!!), so it worked out well. In fact, one of our bumps was helped here. I had realized that a couple of pages of the escort cards that I designed were missing. Since I saved a master copy after spending hours upon hours perfecting the alignment on the cards, I figured we could just pop into an Office Max and buy more cards and print out the missing pages. That would have worked well, except that Office Max’s printers were configured in a way that wouldn’t align the Word doc to the template. Again, customer service was great! The guy at the print center spent two hours with us trying to align everything so it was perfect. We finally got it (even after a power outage in the area).

The next day, the day of our rehearsal, was pretty hectic, but also fun. We had stayed at a budget hotel near the airport for the free parking, and on the morning of the rehearsal we were going to check in to the Old City hotel where most of our guests were staying. Around 2:30 a.m., our room at the budget hotel began to stink like cigarette and marijuana smoke. It was so bad that Matt started to have an allergic reaction. We were able to go to an unoccupied room around the corner and get a few hours of sleep, but it was pretty draining. After a quick breakfast, we headed to Old City to meet up with some friends and family who had arrived the night before and check in to that hotel. My three bridal party members, my wonderful sister-in-law, and I walked around the corner for mani-pedis and then lunch at Amada, which was a lot of fun. We then came back to the hotel to freshen up for the rehearsal at Valley Green Inn.

Matt and I had only seen the venue during winter, so we were thrilled to see so much beautiful green. After wandering around the area and taking in its beauty and coordinating with the venue on some logistics, we actually rehearsed. My soul sister/maid of honor/voice of reason insisted that I wear the shoes that I would wear for the wedding to practice, which ended up being a very good idea. I knew then and there that those shoes were not going to last beyond the ceremony. :-)

I also had a chance to see some of the decorations that my dad and stepmother put together for us. Since we are avid travelers and wanderers, our wedding theme was vintage postcards and travel. My dad and stepmom found great old suitcases, which they decorated with tons of old travel stickers they found on ebay. The goal was to stack them and leave the top one open with luggage tags that spelled C-A-R-D-S strung across the top. The table that the venue gave us for cards/gift was a bit small, though, so we just put the smaller suitcase on the table and the larger suitcase (and it was large!) in front of the table on its side. It worked great! And even better, my stepmom brought a ton of postcards that we had sent them over the years to stuff into the side pockets of the suitcase to add to the effect.

After the rehearsal we piled back into cars and battled Schuylkill Expressway rush-hour traffic to get to City Tavern for our dinner. We were really excited about this—almost as excited as the wedding itself! We had been to City Tavern and love the food, the vibe, and the atmosphere. It’s the oldest tavern in the country, built in 1773, and the founders of the country and many revolutionaries broke bread there. The original building suffered a fire in 1834 and was demolished in 1856, but was rebuilt as a near-exact replica. The menu contains recipes the era, including lots of delicious wild game and other foods from the 18th century. Some of the dessert recipes are from Martha Washington, and some of the beers—the Ales of the Revolution—are recipes from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. The staff also dress in period garb and the tableware are replicas from the 18th century. Our waitress was also one of the restaurant’s historians, so we got a great schpeel on the history of the building and the area. This was exactly what we wanted for our rehearsal dinner since nearly all of our guests there (save my dad and stepmom and brother) were from out of town and many had never been to Philly before.


Later that night, we joined some of our extended family and friends who flew in and were staying in or near our hotel at the hotel bar. It was a lot of fun hanging out with everyone, although it was hard to try to divide our attention among so many tables of people who didn’t necessarily know each other. We didn’t stay too late, of course, because tomorrow was a big day!

Matt and I stayed in a suite that night, and after breakfast he went to one of the groomsman’s rooms to get ready and my bridesmaids, my sister-in-law, and my soon-to-be mother-in-law came to the suite, where champagne (and sparkling cider for the expecting) was waiting. After breakfast, it seemed like there was plenty of time, but then the hair stylist came and then the make-up person came and then the florist came and the photographers came and it just went so quickly! We had a hoagie tray delivered around 11, and I scarfed some food down before getting my make-up done. There was no way I was passing up South Philly cannolis!


A shuttle was collecting us at 1:00 to take pictures around the city (Elfreth’s Alley, Independence Hall, and the Art Museum), and Matt and I were doing our “first look” at 12:45. We were going to do it beside the hotel, but it was a little too windy so the photographer suggested a place inside, which worked out really well. We had written each other letters, which we read at our first look. By then the shuttle was there and we all loaded in for our first stop for photos: Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest residential street in the country, and Bladen’s Court off of Elfreth’s. It’s such a beautiful spot, and we had great timing as there weren’t many people there. While in Bladen’s Court, a large group of field trippers came and nicely waited for us to finish taking pictures. When we came out, they were all excited and clapped for us and yelled “congratulations.” It was very fun. We received the same reaction from so many people walking around at each location—and I got tons of compliments on my shoes, which I knew even then would not make it very long.


Our second stop was at Independence Hall. With the new security measures in place after 9/11, it’s hard to stop and take pictures, but we took a chance anyway. Our photographer is thankfully as adventurous as we are and has our same philosophy of “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.” This worked to our advantage because when we were nearly finished taking pictures a security guard approached us and told us that we were not in one of the nine preapproved photography spots and would have to leave. We, of course, thanked him for letting us know and were on our way. :-)


From there we headed to the Art Museum, where we could all do our best Rocky impersonations. It was at the top of the famous museum stairs where my feet finally had enough. We got some great shots at the top, but I lost the shoes coming down and then switched to flip flops in the shuttle.


By the time we finished with the photos we were hungry. We asked the shuttle driver to make a pit stop at a Wawa for some snacks. We were also tired! I think some of us dozed for a little bit on the way to the venue. After all that excitement, it was hard to believe we still had a wedding to do! When we arrived at the venue, I was so excited to see all of our details come together. The place cards that I designed looked great next to the seating chart that listed all of the table names (various cities around the world we’ve traveled to together). And the guest book table looked beautiful with the frames we put together describing the significance of our rosemary wreath (love, loyalty, and remembrance in Czech, German, and Polish tradition) and describing our donation to the Human Rights Campaign as part of our dedication to each other in honor of our friends and loved ones who don’t have the same right to marry as we do. The Chinese lanterns also looked great on the patio for the reception, and our cake was beautiful. We had hired a Ben Franklin impersonator to greet guests and mingle during the cocktail hour, so it was fun watching people talk with him from the bar. I was also thrilled with the weather! A week prior to the wedding weather.com predicted rain for our wedding day, but it turned out to be sunny and beautiful and not too cool or warm.




The second shuttle, which had collected all of our out-of-town guests from the hotel, was running a little late, and I was worried that we wouldn’t start on time, but they arrived just in time and I think we were only about 5 minutes late to start. Everything was a big blur from there! The bridal party walked down the aisle to an instrumental version of the Hawaiian Wedding Song, then I walked down with my dad to Train’s Marry Me. We had the Hawaiian Oli Aloha chant played after I arrived at the front of the aisle. It was actually supposed to start after we settled in, just before the ceremony was actually to begin. But the song seemed to transition right into the chant, so we missed most of it as my dad was giving Matt a hug and going to his seat and then Matt and I were saying hello to each other. Our officiate was great—we chose him because of his openness, his work performing same-sex marriages, and his work with the Native American population (some of his pay from weddings goes toward Native American causes). We also had a San Francisco connection: he had lived here briefly in the 70s. We had written the ceremony to reflect us and our story, and it came across beautifully, if say so myself. :-) We also did a log-cutting ceremony, an old German tradition that shows the couple can work together to accomplish a task.


We were most excited about our ring bearer shark, which I lovingly named Sheldon the Shark. When the officiate asked if we had rings, the best man shrugged and signaled that he didn’t know he was supposed to have the rings. Just then the Jaws theme music started up and Sheldon “swam” down the aisle (attached to a remote control shark car to make sure the wind didn’t take him away). Our rings were attached to the car (secret: the best man had them the whole time—we weren’t going to take any chances of the car accidentally going into the creek). Why a shark? I have a longtime fascination with sharks, especially great whites. I have been diving with galapagos and reef sharks in Hawai’i and with great whites in South Africa. I had read about a similar ring stunt on a wedding board and knew that we had to replicate it.

We finished the ceremony and exited to Vicente Fern├índez’s La Yegua Palomina, which started our Mariachi-themed cocktail hour. While guests were cocktailing, we took some more formal shots with family and with Ben Franklin. After only a few photos I knew that my feet were finally finished with those shoes and someone retrieved my flip-flops for me.

The rest of the reception went really fast. We had our parents introduced to Eye of the Tiger and the bridal party introduced to the Magnum PI Theme Song. We were introduced to I Think I Wanna Marry You. I had joked that we should be introduced as Dr. and Mr. Bacharach, but Matt wasn’t having any of that. J After that, we had a short compilation played that joked about our taking nine years to get married: It’s been a long road getting from there to here; We’ve been together since way back when; Took the long way round. Then our first dance song played: Christine McVie’s Songbird. It was a little weird being the center of attention for long. We were thankful for dinner to be served as we were starved by then. Matt and I both ordered the duck, and we also had a prime rib dish to share since we didn’t get a chance to taste it at our tasting. The food was good, and in between courses we tried to get to as many tables as possible to say hello and thank them for coming. After dinner, my uncle, a talented professional singer, sang Once in Love with Amy and had me sing The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow, which he recalled me “performing” often as a kid. It was fun, although I don’t know how many people may have enjoyed my karaoke-like singing! :-)


We then cut our beautiful cake to Kurt Elling’s I Feel So Smoochie and opened the dance floor. It seemed like people were having fun, although Matt and I were preoccupied trying to make it to every table and say hello to everyone. I felt really badly about not being able to talk more and spend more time with many friends who hadn’t seen in a long time, many of whom traveled quite a distance to be there. Suddenly, I was led to a chair and people started gathering around to lift me up. I had a feeling that would happen (although it usually comes after the Hora!), but I didn’t realize how frightening it was to be literally in the hands of others! At one point I was falling forward and sliding off of the front of the chair. I kept yelling that I was falling, and all of the guys kept yelling back that they had me. A friend realized what I was saying and pushed me back up into the chair from the front. When I was let down, it took a few minutes before I could get up. :-)


Everything just went so quickly, and before I knew it, Matt was telling me that the DJ was about to play our last song, I Left My Heart in San Francisco. And just like that, we were all getting ready to leave! But the party wasn’t quite over: the shuttle was making a stop at Tony Luke’s cheesesteaks in South Philly. We arrived at Tony Luke’s and everyone was very nice. The guy in front of us drunkenly “announced” us and then bought our cheesesteaks! He also gave us his ticket stub from that night’s Phillies game. It was a lot of fun, and hard to believe the night was nearly over!

The next day we met a bunch of friends and family at one of our favorite spots for lunch: Famous Fourth Street Deli. It was great to hang out in a less formal setting. There happened to be a street festival on South Street that day, so we moseyed along South to Front and then slowly made our way back to the hotel. We relaxed a bit and then went to an Afghan restaurant for dinner with Matt’s parents and a friend. We tried to get back early to pack to leave for Europe the next day.

Before heading to the airport, we met my dad and stepmom for brunch. We also gave them a bunch of things from the wedding, including my dress, to ship back to us later. It was nice to see them, although I was anxious to get to the airport since we were running a little later than I anticipated. On our way to the airport, we hit our final bump in the wedding travel: we got into a car accident! Rather, a guy in a very large truck backed into our vehicle and smushed in the front. Thankfully, we didn’t have a huge delay at the rental car return and made it to the airport in time. From there, we were off to Europe, which is a story for another blog!

Ps: See more wedding pictures here.

Pps: At the last minute (about 3 weeks before the wedding) we decided to also hire a videographer. I let Matt take care of that process since his background is in television and he knew what he was looking for, so it wasn’t included on my spreadsheet. I’m glad that we did hire a videographer because there were so many things that I missed. For example, while Matt and I were mingling with another table and taking pictures, someone wheeled my mother in her wheelchair onto the dance floor and everyone danced around her. My cousin’s husband busted out some serious Michael Jackson moves another time. I didn’t see any of that during the wedding, but was able to see it on the video. It was also fun watching our ceremony as an observer. I can’t say that we’ll watch it often, or maybe even ever again (even as the bride it got pretty boring about halfway through), but it was a good decision to get it and I’m glad we have it. And I’m sure that Matt’s relatives who couldn’t make the trip will enjoy seeing the ceremony part.

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