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My Wedding Story

I had a strong hunch (okay, I knew) that my honey was going to propose on our Valentine’s Day trip to Monterey, CA. We had talked about getting married there one day, since it was both one of our favorite places and made sense, since my family lives about 200 miles north, and all our friends live about 200 miles south. (His family hails from Pennsylvania, and was going to have to travel regardless).

We were even in the aquarium newsletter!

Though I forbade a Valentine’s Day proposal, my boyfriend stuck to the letter of the law and  instead decided to go for it the day AFTER Valentine’s, while we were visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium. While I was off staring at jellyfish or penguins, he was secretly in cahoots with the aquarium staff, whom he begged for him to find a neat place to propose. Their answer was to have us take one of their “behind the scenes” tours, which ended with the guide taking Sean and I into a special off-exhibit room filled with coral. Once in there, as I was excitedly examining the beautiful, multicolored coral tanks, he dropped to one knee. I hyperventilated with joy!

I had done some early research on Monterey venues and vendors, and discovered an historic Victorian home called the Perry House that had been recently purchased by an extremely well-reviewed catering company. They were still in the midst of reconstructing the house, which had been neglected for years, but they happily gave us a tour. We were sold immediately when we saw what a beautiful spot it was; a gorgeous yellow house with a sweeping balcony, large outdoor area, and perfectly beautiful bridal suite. The whole catering company was working on the restoration- we met the head chef when he took a break from sanding the staircase- and we were really overwhelmed by the love they were putting into this enterprise. We booked the date immediately: 9/10/11, giving us less than six months to plan.

 We live in Los Angeles, so I knew our chances to get up to Monterey would be quite limited during the planning. The one other decision I felt needed to be made on the spot was the cake, since I can’t taste cake from half a state away. Monterey has several excellent bakeries, but one in particular, Patisserie Bechler, caught my eye. They offer traditional French pastries and cakes, and their flavor choices were exciting. Additionally, they were significantly cheaper than many other well-reviewed places, and they offered free cake tasting!

I was practically sold before we went in the door, but one slice of Gerard Bechler’s delicate, supremely made white cake, and the decision was all over. We poured through their photo books of prior cakes, and I found one that met my style exactly- simple buttercream frosting covered with slightly tinted, 3-dimensional gumpaste flowers. The whole look was tropical, elegant, and understated- exactly what I wanted for my late summer fete. We decided to eschew a groom’s cake, instead making half the layers of our wedding cake chocolate with raspberry filling, the other half a complementary lemon with raspberry. To save money, we chose to have a small presentation cake and an extra sheet cake (this still ended up being WAY too much cake, but oh well).

If only there were taste-o-vision!

Back at home , I got to work on wedding planning via Internet. I found an excellent florist, Melody from Fleurish Floral, who had a marvelous website that really let me get a feel for her taste and style. I was able to send her pictures depicting the shape, flowers, and color contrast I wanted, both for the bouquets and the floral décor around the venue. Like all great vendors, she was responsive, honest about cost, and made great suggestions. I also told her I planned to do my own centerpieces, and she offered to purchase me the fresh materials that I needed when she went to the flower marts to buy my bouquet materials. This was a great arrangement, as I had been panicking over where I was going to find Ti leaves in Monterey the day before my wedding. This way, I had a great florist’s eye to get me what I needed while paying cost for the flowers. Excellent!

Holy Gorgeous Bouquets, Batman!

In terms of other decorations, Melody suggested covering banisters of the outdoor staircase, and doing two large floral arrangements with a fabric drape on the arbor where the ceremony was performed (during the reception, that became our sweetheart table). Since we had a mix of large, 8-person tables and small cocktail tables, I decided to make two different, simple centerpieces. For the large table, I took wholesale hurricane vases, filled the bottom with sand and rocks, then added a few preserved orchid blossoms and a large white pillar candle. Under the hurricane glass, I placed two criss-crossed ti leaves.

Large Table Centerpeice

Space was a serious consideration with the cocktail tables, so I settled on slim glass cylinders, filled them with water and a few more blossoms, and floated a simple white candle on top. We scattered the tables with extra orchid blossoms. To dress it up a bit farther, we also included a disposable camera at each table, and a small card that held a “fun fact” about our relationship. We draped a few chairs at each table with pashmina-like shawls in my wedding colors, for guests to wear and take home. That sounds elaborate, but my whole budget for the centerpieces was under $200, and the shawls were $2 a piece online!

Cocktail Centerpiece

 Although I found an invitation online that I liked, I wanted to save money by making the save-the-date, RSVP, and thank-you cards at home. My invites featured a beautiful purple floral motif, so I decided to use that for inspiration for the homemade cards as well. At a nearby paper supply store, I bought thick paper, a tropical blossom stamp, and a pad of purple ink. My sister, an artist, also created a black-and-white tropical floral design and emailed it to me. Using a nice quality printer, we printed her design and our text on the response cards, then printed the text of our inserts and thank you cards. I used the stamp to add one or two flower details, and voila! Invites covered. Our save-the-date cards, we made at home by taking one of our engagement photos, printing it onto photo paper that was blank on the back (this was hard to find) then printing our save-the-date message on them and mailing them as postcards. Didn’t even have to pay for envelopes!!

For my dress, I had the desperate luck (and I realize this isn’t an option for everyone) of having a genius mother who ran

Wedding Dress of my Dreams!

her own custom dress design business for years. I had fallen deeply in love with an Alvina Valenta couture design, and my sainted mother agreed to copy it- without even having a pattern. I chose a deep gold silk that set off my golden-brown hair and summer tan nicely, since white is simply dreadful on me. The dress was a bit of a nightmare, as my poor mother had to piece it together using several patterns, and often simply had to guess her way through the extremely complicated details (let it be noted: I offered to buy the dress. She would not allow me to do so.)

As a result, it took much longer than expected, and she wasn’t able to do the bridesmaids dresses as originally planned. This led to a last minute bridesmaid dress crisis, but my maid of honor solved it, in her fantastic, take charge way, by simply going to Macy’s with her elder daughter (my other bridesmaid) and finding a dress that fit my color scheme and looked nice on both of them. While I might like to gripe about not getting to choose my bridesmaids’ dresses- at this point I was simply grateful to let this insanity end. The downside was that I didn’t get to try on the finished dress until the wedding day! That was nervewracking, but it fit like a dream!

My fiance was nice enough to admit his style impairment, and allowed me to guide him through the process of renting a tuxedo. Using the Men’s Warehouse website, we found a nice combination. His groomsmen and best man wore black suits with orchid vests and long ties, to match my bridesmaids, while he wore the same suit with a gold vest and tie, to coordinate with me. The effect was very nice, and not super-uniform, which I liked.



For entertainment, we vacillated back and forth on a live musician for the ceremony for a while. We had finally definitively decided NOT to hire one, when a month before we had a change of heart. At that point in time, there were only a few people available, and we eventually chose a nice acoustic guitar player, who THANKFULLY posted many samples of music on his website. For the reception, we went with a well-reviewed DJ, Andrea, who was incredibly responsive and asked for extensive lists of what we liked and didn’t like, music-wise. I hadn’t really given it that much thought before talking to her, but I soon realized how essential music is to setting the scene of the wedding. This was a big learning experience for me, as she and I worked together to build the atmosphere.

I had...the time of my liiiiife!

We decided we wanted to do something a little bit fun for our first dance, but didn’t really have the budget for months of private dance lessons. I have taken some dance classes (nothing really formal), but I decided I thought I could probably choreograph us a short, fun dance. We’re both “So You Think You Can Dance” fans, and my fiance really thought the foxtrot was a cool looking dance.

Using online how-to videos of the basic steps, I was able to choreograph us a very simple, 2 minute long pseudo-fox trot with a couple of lifts. We practiced for half an hour a night for six weeks before the wedding- and ended up doing a pretty good job! I was so proud of the fiance for this- he’d never taken a dance class in his life, but really rose to the challenge.

Choosing the menu was a lengthy process for us, because we had some dietary restrictions that made picking the right combination tricky. I’m a vegetarian, while my husband-to-be is allergic to fish, nuts, and coconut. His allergies meant that we weren’t going to be able to coordinate our food with our tropical theme, and while I didn’t want the menu to be fully vegetarian, I did want to have some choice. Our guests also contained several vegans, lactose intolerant, gluten intolerant, and diabetic dietary restrictions, and we drove ourselves crazy for a while trying to figure this out.

 The beauty of our caterers was that they had a unique approach to the service; instead of using a buffet or plated style for the main meal, they set up “stations” around the outdoor section of the house, where different types of food were available. It kept everyone up and mingling, which was fantastic, since we had many guests who didn’t know each other at all. We finally opted to go with cocktail hours stationed hors d’ouevres consisting of fruit, cheese, and crackers, as well as passed hors d’ouvers of stuffed mushrooms and veggie quesadillas.

The wood-fired pizza station

Having thrown theme totally to the wind, we decided to go with a similarly eclectic main meal, consisting of wood-fired oven pizzas (we were able to work in a vegan/lactose free option here) grilled skewers of tri-tip and veggies, and the supreme winner of the night- a mashed potato bar. The mashed potato bar was an add-on to the catering package, because we couldn’t resist it and also had a kindly aunt and uncle who offered to cover the added expense as our wedding present. We were wary about it at first, even though it sounded cool to us, but as we watched our guests build towering sundaes of fluffy potatoes, cheese, bacon, onions, and gravy, we realized it was possibly our best decision of the day.

 For beverages, we decided to go the beer/wine/signature cocktail route. While the venue offered alcohol, they also were fine with us providing our own, and didn’t even charge a corkage fee!We both love mixing cocktails, so we spent several months perfecting a version of a sparkling drink called the “Hilo Hon eymoon”, which consisted of very, very cheap, sweet sparkling wine and mango and papaya juices from Trader Joe’s. These proved so popular that, at our Halloween party later that year, our guests demanded a repeat.

For beverages, we decided to go the beer/wine/signature cocktail route. While the venue offered alcohol, they also were fine with us providing our own, and didn’t even charge a corkage fee! We both love mixing cocktails, so we spent several months perfecting a version of a sparkling drink called the “Hilo Honeymoon”, which consisted of very, very cheap, sweet sparkling wine and mango and papaya juices from Trader Joe’s. These proved so popular that, at our Halloween party later that year, our guests demanded a repeat.

The best bartenders always help the bride first!

Beerwise, we incorporated both our theme and my fiance’s roots by offering Kona Longboard lager (a Hawaiian beer) and the down home, Pittsburgh favorite, Rolling Rock. Thank god he came from a place that prefers cheap beer.

As for wine, I poured through the listings of BevMo, seeking wines under $10 per bottle, but with decent ratings.

For non-alcoholic beverages, we chose a package the caterer offered that included soft drinks, lemonade, iced tea, and coffee service for $1.50 per head. Good deal!!

With the ceremony, we were once again able to take advantage of the talent in our families. My father is a Catholic deacon, and was able to get a dispensation to perform our wedding, even though we did not want a religious ceremony. Having Dad do this was really a beautiful way to include the family in the celebration. We used traditional vows, but did have an impromptu marriage on our couch a few months earlier, when we both made up our promises on the spot. This was largely because the fiance hates public speaking, and doesn’t really have any experience at writing his thoughts down. I knew it would make him insanely uncomfortable to write vows and read them in public, so this was a good compromise for us.

Our Rings

For our wedding rings, we decided to choose rings that would have some personal value beyond their symbolic importance. On a trip home to my hometown, we purchased my fiance’s ring at a local artisan jeweler.

When we visited his home, he bought my ring at a Pittsburgh jewelry store that’s been around for more than a century. We looked at our rings as a way to sort of give each other honorary citizenship in each other’s home base. This was actually the boy’s idea, which goes to show you that you should never underestimate the power of your guy to be creative.

One week before the wedding, I came down with a cold from hell. I couldn’t believe it. I’d been battling health issues all year, but this was just a bridge too far. I began an intense regimen of ginger tea, emergen-C, and most especially, zicam melting tabs. According to most research, zinc is the ONLY thing proven to help reduce the length of colds, and zicam is almost pure zinc. Unbelievably, after three days of this- my cold almost miraculously disappeared. I get sick a lot, and my colds tend to linger for a week or two, so the zicam, despite making everything I ate taste like metal, seriously performed a miracle for me. Could NOT believe that worked.

 We arrived in Monterey three days before the wedding, which gave us plenty of time to drop off the alcohol at the reception site, visit with our arriving guests, and have a little downtime together. Since the wedding site had a wedding booked the day before ours, we were unable to use it for a rehearsal, so we opted for a simple conversation between us and my father (the officiant) the day before. It was far less stressful that way, since we had a relatively basic ceremony to begin with.

 My husband had his bachelor party two nights before the wedding, and, well, I wish it had been earlier. I think the stress and exhaustion caught up to him during the evening, and he got so dehydrated that he woke up at 4 AM with agonizing leg cramps so bad I thought he was having seizures. We ended up rushing to the hospital so they could get some fluids into him, which soon restored him. The downside was that I only got about an hour of sleep that night, so I was too exhausted for my own planned bachelorette party that evening. Thankfully, I had a nice spa package booked late that morning and got to relax and get pampered a bit while the boy caught up on sleep. One mani-pedi, massage, and spray tan later, I was good to go for the rest of the day. I bless that spa package for restoring my sanity and keeping me from freaking out (too much).

 The day of the wedding, we had breakfast together at our B&B, which was really fun. The hosts and other guests were so excited when they found out it was our wedding day, and since they were mostly elderly couples, gave us some great advice. It was a wonderful way to start the day, and a nice chance to be together for a bit before we went our separate ways for the rest of the morning.

I took off to get my hair done at about 12 pm, the wedding wasn’t until 3:30. I chose to have a basic, down style, curled a little bit and pinned back on one side with a barrette. This took no time at all, since they didn’t even wash my hair- apparently the curl holds better if your hair is a little dirty. No complaints from me! Nevertheless, my much-smarter-than-me maid of honor also brought her curling iron to the wedding site, for last minute touch-ups.

Maid of honor always knows best!

 We arrived at the site as early as we could, at about 2 pm. I scurried off to do my makeup, while my mother/dressmaker was ironing out travel wrinkles from my dress. The site included a stunning bridal suite, so my bridesmaids and I could all chill out and get ready together. The caterers thoughtfully provided us with a nice plate of snacks, and the bartenders were ready with whatever we wanted- but I was too excited to eat anything!

 The ceremony was perfect, went off without a hitch (except for a bee landing in my bouquet for a minute. After the ceremony, the bridal party snuck down the hill to a beautiful public garden for photographs. I had given my photographers a strict 30 minute deadline for post-ceremony pictures, so we fired off a bunch of gorgeous shots, then ran back to join the party.

Plenty of time for great shots!

 We danced, we toasted, we ate lots of mashed potatoes. On the way out the door, my honey surprised me with a limousine- I had thought we were just driving back to the B&B in our van. Not wanting to waste the sweet ride, we asked the driver if he’d take us on a drive along the coast. It was a gorgeous, clear night, and we popped a bottle of champagne and snuggled as we watched the moonlit water slip by.

 My fiance insisted on waiting a full day before departing on our honeymoon, which I thought was silly, but agreed to anyway. It turned out to be a great idea. We got to have a leisurely breakfast with my parents (second breakfast of the day, actually- we ate at the wonderful B&B again first!) and got to bid his family farewell before they flew home. We then spent a few hours at the aquarium, where our whole wedding journey had began. Since our flight was at 5 AM the next morning, we drove up to San Francisco and stayed at a hotel near the airport. Next morning, it was off to the Big Island for two weeks of adventure, including a nearly-dangerous bitten-by-fish incident (oh well, no honeymoon is perfect- but this one came close!)