Marie & Mike's bi-coastal half-Catholic swingin' wedding

April 18 |

Just ask this dancin' couple: you can have a church wedding or a civil ceremony, but it don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing. – Becca

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Photos by James Reyes Photography

The offbeat bride: Marie, Archives Specialist (and Tribe member)

Her offbeat partner: Mike, Archives Reference Guy

Location & date of wedding: History Park, San Jose, CA — December 18, 2010; Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, Washington, DC — January 8, 2011

What made our wedding offbeat: We're an older couple who had two weddings on opposite sides of the country, and in planning the weddings stripped both down to the essentials to build them up with things that reflected us and who we are.

Photo_121810_003We both work in the history field, so our first wedding was at History Park San Jose, where Mike worked as an intern as a kid. It's a place with special meaning for him. And since Aqui is one of the few places in San Jose I love, love, love to eat at, it was the obvious choice for catering.

We are swing dancers and had been dancing socially for many, many years. We also truly value live music and musicians. So our reception featured live music with a band who had a previous relationship with us. We wanted the reception to be like the swing dance events that we were familiar with — a live band, water bottles, and a dance floor is all you need. Except we threw in some food, soda, and sparkling wine.

Wedding reception dance 6The DC reception was themed as a "Swing dance" reception. Though I had met Mike a few times on campus, our friendship and our relationship did not bloom until we had taken up swing dancing. At one point in our friendship we took advantage of the short lived Wednesday Jazz night at IKEA (yes, IKEA), where afterwards Mike would drive me home and our relationship deepened during those long car rides. The IKEA band was Amfujo and her Moodswings and we had them as our wedding band.

The two big themes for the DC wedding were community — dance community, family (a sort of related community), archives community, and neighbors — and reflecting who we are. The wedding and reception was held at a place we could walk to — a church in the community where we lived. Our three different tiered cakes were made by a woman who lives one block from our house. The caterer was a vendor at our local farmer's markets. My mom made the dress for the DC wedding. I wanted a dress that I could dance in for years to come, and she made it possible. Our co-workers in the archives community were nothing but supportive when we talked about our plans.

We are Christians. After figuring out what was the bare minimum we could get away with with the church, we added readings and hymns that had special meaning for us and our faith walk.

M&M's wedding favorsI'm a canner and since our first names start with M we had jelly jars filled with M&Ms for our favors.

We weren't interested in the fairytale wedding. I'm not a fairy princess, and he's only a prince of a guy. In our every day, and even on special days, I wear glasses, we eat one tiered cakes, we have dresses and suits we wear more than once, we walk and live in a walkable community, we garden, dance, and pray. That's who we are — and we brought it to the wedding.

Bride and groom at altar

Front of Immaculate ConceptionTell us about the ceremony: The San Jose wedding was super casual. There was no aisle to walk down. No music. I wore my favorite dress. He wore a suit we bought for the weddings that he could later wear to work. It was just a gathering of family. Once we were assembled and we figured we were ready, it began. Then once it was over, it became like a family picnic.

The DC wedding was a tad more formal — more business casual. We greeted friends, family, and neighbors as they arrived, then when we figured out our music cue, we walked hand in hand up the aisle of my neighborhood church to one of my favorite hymns, "Come Thy Fount of Every Blessing."

Bride and Groom enter

Wedding PartyThere was no one else in our procession. The best people were already waiting up front with the priest. No flower girls. No ushers. No flower bouquet. I'm my own woman and too old to be "given away" by anyone. I had what I wanted in my hand: my love, my husband.

The wedding was the Rite of Marriage Outside of Mass. I'm Catholic and my husband is Presbyterian and most of our guests were not Catholic. So we looked for something that was inclusive and reflective of our joint committment to our Christian faith and witness. The Bible readings, with the exception of the Pslams, had a husband and friend theme, as my husband had been my best friend before he became my boyfriend.

We decided to bring in the controversal Ephesians chapter five, but instead of that wives submit part we chose to focus on his duties as husband.

Also, the church still had their Christmas decorations up, so we didn't have to spend one dime on flowers.

As part of the homily, my priest read a letter he had asked us to write each other about the day. It was about our journey from friendship into a different kind of love. So even though the vows are pretty much set in a Catholic ceremony, part of the homily was a reflection of us.

Cut the cake

Groom's Cake
Groom's Cake
Our biggest challenge: Planning two weddings, one on the east coast where we live, and one on the west coast where his family lives, in six months with a $10K budget to cover both, was our biggest challenge. Also, my mom in Florida was making my dress and since I don't live in Florida, the sizing was off when the dress arrived.

Keeping things simple kept the price and some of the stress down. The dress I just sent to the neighborhood dry cleaner for resizing.

Staying in the realm of the familiar helped. We were having the DC wedding and reception at my church and the staff was familiar with us, so there was already a relationship there.

Brides Cake
Bride's cake
For the San Jose wedding, we focused on the bare essentials: get there from DC, get a license from county government, have a pastor and two witnesses. Everything else was gravy. Staying focused on the essentials made us not worry or stress about the reception food or the wedding location. We had a plan B.

A small stressor was changing the location eighteen days before the wedding. Thanks to the internet, email, cell phones, FedEx, and very flexible people (staff at History San Jose and Pastor Tom Coop), it was no problem.

Swing Out

Post ceremony singingMy favorite moment: At the San Jose wedding, it was having the wedding at a place that meant a lot to Mike. As a kid in high school and college he interned at History Park and the place has a great special meaning to him.

At the DC wedding, it was during the homily/sermon when Father Watkins asked us if we were willing to die for each other and the hymn "Lord of All Hopefulness" which I and the best woman ('matron of honor' just seems wrong) grabbed some programs to sing it until the end.

Man and wife 2

Batman and Catwoman Cake topperMy funniest moment:

  • San Jose: The reception food was nine feet away from where we exchanged vows. Our two year old niece was far more interested in the chips than us and so I had one eye on Mike and another on our niece who was heading for the chips. Luckily her siblings intervened. And our newphew's cell phone went off during our vows. We laugh now.
  • Washington, DC: At the reception, I described the cake to the crowd mentioning we had a Batman and a Halle Berry Catwoman cake topper, to which Mike's boss gave a loud "BOOOOOOO!" So many Catwoman haters!

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Was there anything you were sure was going to be a total disaster that unexpectedly turned out great? Ah, this fell under the wierd. One relative was concerned and warned us we might get a cursed gift from another relative. Lucky, no bad mojo given, just money, which was quickly spent.

Swing dance wedding

My advice for offbeat brides: This can be as complicated or as simple as you want to make it. Find out what are the bare basics and build from there. Stick with what actually reflects you and what you do, because the few stressors we had came from dealing with the unfamiliar.

Also, there are people out there who are very willing and want to be part of your vision. You just have to find them and not waste too much energy on trying to convince those who don't share it.

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Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?
San Jose, CA:

  • Wedding and Reception Location: Firehouse at History Park San Jose
  • Catering/one big takeout order: Aqui
  • Dress: Lord & Taylor

Copper Pot CateredWashington DC

Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!

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  1. "In our every day, and even on special days, I wear glasses, we eat one tiered cakes, we have dresses and suits we wear more than once, we walk and live in a walkable community, we garden, dance, and pray."

    I love this! Great philosophy to bring to wedding planning. I have to say, your line about one-tiered cakes cracked me up. Weirdly enough, that's the kind I eat too!

    Congrats on your wedding, and best wishes for your marriage.

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  2. Congratulations! This is my favorite wedding story I've seen featured on OBB. Best wishes to you both!

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  3. I'm a SJ native planning a SoCal wedding who WISHES she could have it at SJ Historical Park…it's too bad their website is kinda barebones, because their restored buildings are gorgeous. As a kid my very favorite was the general store! AND I love Aqui! Sounds like you guys had a blast, congratulations!

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  4. I loved reading about your weddings. It looks like they really reflected your interests and values, and as an older bride myself, I can definitely relate! Congratulations and I wish you many many happy years together!

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  5. I love these action shots! Your dress looks magnificent on the dance floor. Congrats!

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  6. Please, tell me where you got the CA wedding cake topper. God, I love teddy bears!

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    • The bears and the cake came from my Mother In Law. The bears are Boyd's Bears. According to the box they are "Mr. & Mrs. Bearlove… I Do".

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