Amelia & Ben's books and fairy tales Quaker wedding

March 28 |
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Photos by Ann Oleinik

The offbeat bride: Amelia, Museum Professional and Writer

Her offbeat partner: Ben, Folklorist

Date and location of wedding: Swedish American Museum, Chicago, IL — June 4, 2011

Our offbeat wedding at a glance: We tried to create a celebration that was authentic to our values and joys. To do this, we spent a lot of time discerning what our core motivation was for each aspect of the wedding, then let that motivation shape our decisions. Sometimes this was an easy, fun process, and sometimes this was a difficult, soul-searching process. In the end, I feel that all of our conversations made the process of getting married and getting weddinged feel like a road trip we took together, complete with awesome sights and less-than-awesome detours.

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Since we both love narrative and words, our wedding ended up incorporating lots of stories. Some people told us it was like a fairy tale… but less in the style of Disney and more in the style of Grimm's tales illustrated by Arthur Rackham and directed by Tina Fey and Wes Anderson. Some fun details: we made a save-the-date video in the style of a silent movie, and Ben wore a custom Converse and a custom vintage style coat that was lined with cartoon printed material. We created a short folded book that told our story with Victorian images, and our friend David Tanimura made a steampunk-y theatre-style program with bios of the bridal party and ethnographic explanation of the ceremony.

Here is our save-the-date:

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Tell us about the ceremony: We put a lot into our ceremony and the process of getting married, but the ritual itself was very simple. We both identify as Quaker, and the Quaker practice of the clearness committee and the wedding certificate is important to us. However, our home meetings are far away and we haven't connected to a meeting in our new city. So, after a lot of thought, we decided to try to follow the spirit of the practice, if not the letter.

We had a clearness committee, but we weren't married under the care of a particular meeting and we wrote our vows and certificate to reflect both the traditional wording and our individual beliefs about marriage. I found that the clearness process was very meaningful and intense, and I'm glad we found a way to make it work for us.

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The ceremony itself was a pretty traditional, silent Quaker meeting. We had more laughter than is typical, which I think is a great reflection of our community. I loved getting to hear the thoughts and blessings of our loved ones, and it felt like we were being acknowledged as a couple by those who were most important to us.

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Our lives aren't flawless, our future won't be flawless, so why should our wedding be flawless?

Our biggest challenge: Life. I think what makes planning a wedding difficult is that your life doesn't stop happening just because you're planning a wedding. We were both looking for work, dealing with terminal family illness, getting ready to move, and struggling with all the daily minutia that takes up your time. We did the best we could, and at some point I let of go of the expectation that our wedding would be flawless. Our lives aren't flawless, our future won't be flawless, so why should our wedding be flawless? I tried to refocus on having a life full of love and a wedding that reflected that.

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On a practical note, we supported each other by dividing up the work according to our talents. I am comfortable contacting strangers and I enjoy being crafty, so I set up a lot of the initial vendor meetings and made lots of our crafty items. Ben has a background in event and stage management, so he organized all the folks who offered to help and he acted as coordinator on the wedding day.

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My favorite moment: There were moments I will remember until the end of my days. First, dancing with Ben to "I'm Your Moon" by Johnathan Coulton. I always thought that "everything faded away" was a poetic metaphor, but I really felt that we were dancing in a moment out of time. Second, I loved dancing with my father and my stepfather. We were so happy and I felt like I was paying homage to the little girl child I used to be. I will also remember Ben's pacifist papa getting down to "War, What is it Good For." I love him dearly… and the man can dance!

_MG_0114My funniest moment: There were lots of laughs throughout the whole day. We are a nerdy bunch, so there were a lot of geeky references in toasts and blessings, including a friend that brought down the house by just pointing at us and saying, "Mawwiage." Our toddler god-daughter wavered between being thoroughly adorable and being thoroughly (and understandably) exasperated at how long it took us to get to the cake.

A family friend and the official wedding seismologist presented us with a pair of geodes. He gave a faux serious speech along with them that ended up being very touching. He explained that the gift was symbolic, since geodes are mundane on the outside and unexpectedly beautiful on the inside, like marriage, and that the gift was also very practical, since rocks are good for chucking at invading barbarians and zombies.

My most bizarre and funny wedding experience happened the night before. I couldn't sleep, and knowing that I'm a lightweight, I finally went to the nearest 7-11 to buy some wine to make me sleepy. The poor clerk had to explain that in the state of Illinois, you can't sell alcohol after 2:00 a.m. He was very sweet (and I think a little afraid of the crazy sleep-deprived bride) so he warmed me up some milk and I spent the wee hours of the morning before my wedding sipping warm milk and getting relationship advice from the clerk and bartenders that were coming off their shifts. I did manage to get to sleep in the end.

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Was there anything you were sure was going to be a total disaster that unexpectedly turned out great? We asked friends to help us with decorating the tables and I was terrified that the project wouldn't come together. We had sets of tables that had a story theme, like "Greek Myths" or "Grimm's Fairy Tales," and each table in that set was decorated in the style of a particular story that fit the theme. For example, one of the Grimm Fairy Tale tables was decorated as Rumpelstiltskin, another as the Frog Prince, etc. On the seating chart, people were assigned to a set, but not to a specific table or seat. I loved the idea of themed tables and semi-assigned seating but I was scared it would seem to weird to guests, or too confusing, or that the decorations would clash. It ended up being amazing! No one got confused, and it felt very communal and personal.

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My advice for offbeat brides: It's difficult to do everything, so make a list of the things that are most important to you. For us, it was having as many of our family and friends there as possible, feeding everyone a meal that we would enjoy, having a ceremony that was true to our beliefs, and not going into debt. Even though we didn't get to do everything we wanted in our wedding, we did stick to those initial goals.

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Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?

  • Photographer: Ann OleinikThey ♥ OBB; we ♥ them. Ann is an incredible artist and thoughtful professional. I highly recommend her and her husband as wedding photographers.
  • Jewelry: My fairy godmother, Leslie Perrino, made all the wedding jewelry for the bridal party and my beautiful tiara. She generally doesn't do wedding jewelry, but I highly recommend all of her work and her jewelry classes.
  • Engagement ring: Christopher Duquet made the engagement ring from a gifted stone. He did a beautiful job of resetting the stone and creating an amazing piece.
  • Flowers: Harvest Moon Flowers is owned by another family friend and does beautiful, eco-friendly arrangements. I loved having a piece of home in my hands on our wedding day.
  • Program: Our friend David Tanimura created the program. He is a gifted designer, artist, and judo instructor located in Chicago.

Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!

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  1. This gave me the warm and fuzzies! I adore that save the date – it looks like they had so much fun making it! And 'The Raven' on the table is brilliant. And I think the balance between 'quirky personality stuff' and 'thoughtful life changing stuff' was perfect. I love the idea of your pacifist father in law dancing to 'War, What is it Good For?'! Gorgeous – congratulations.

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  2. Love this wedding! I really adore your tiara, it's gorgeous. Also love the literary touches. Congratulations!

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  3. I love your beautiful tiara! Your theme is wonderful, your tables dreamy. Thank you for sharing your inspirational day.

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  4. I love fairy tales, books, and Quakers, and this is absolutely gorgeous and so meaningful.

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  5. Thank you all so much! It was a lovely day and I appreciated all the support I got from Offbeat Bride.

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  6. I'ma Quaker too! I was wondering about how much pre-explaining of Friends traditions you did to non-Friends community members? Like, how comfortable were people with the silence?

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    • We went to a Quaker college, so our college friends were familiar with Friends :-) Our friends who weren't as familiar seemed very comfortable with the silent worship. We put a brief explanation about silent meetings and clearness on our wedsite, and an explanation on the program. The clerk of our clearness committee also gave a brief explanation right before we started. A lot of guests told us that they enjoyed experiencing different type of tradition and found it meaningful–I know that when I attend a religious/cultural event that I'm not familiar with, I like a heads up on what to expect and how to interact, so I tried to provide that for our guests.

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  7. I love the jewelry and the fairy tale theme! And what a cute story about the gas station! Also, I think it's pretty awesome that the groom is a folklorist, that's pretty much my dream job, haha.

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  8. "I let of go of the expectation that our wedding would be flawless. Our lives aren't flawless, our future won't be flawless, so why should our wedding be flawless?"

    THIS. This is just what I needed- I really struggle with perfectionism, and there were some things that went wrong on our wedding that still niggle at me. But, life is not perfect, just full of love- and our wedding (and yours) was definitely full of love! Thanks so much. *hugs*

    I also love the fairytale theme, your STUNNING head piece, your story about the store clerk warming some milk for you (now *that's* customer service!) and that gorgeous photo of you dancing with your father- which seriously almost had me bawling!

    Massive congrats, Amelia and Ben!

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    • Yeah, that clerk will always have a special place in my heart. And I'm sure I will always be a wacky retail story for that store :-)
      I'm glad the advice helped, it's so hard to let go of perfectionism. My partner had a great phrase I kept repeating, "Let's not let perfect get in the way of good."

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  9. Just wanted to say that I loved your advice! It's so perfect, and true :) Gotta focus on what's meaningful! :D

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  10. Such a sweet theme :D And the hair bling is WONDERFUL

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  11. I'm agnostic (but usually self-identify as Quaker- fewer angry relatives-in-law that way), but the only Friend in either of our families is my mom. I'd love to have an intimate and meaningful traditional ceremony in our meetinghouse, but I'm afraid that it wouldn't work out. Did you have any people who were unfamiliar with Meeting that embraced it and were moved to speak?

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    • Yes, many of our friends and family weren't very familiar with Quaker meetings but several of them were moved to speak. I was worried about that too–for me, part of letting go was accepting that I had no clue what would actually happen during the ceremony. Maybe lots of folks would talk, maybe no one would talk. I decided to just let go of any expectation.
      If the idea of pure silence is uncomfortable and stressing you out, I've also participated in Quaker weddings that had a few preplanned readings, those ceremonies were lovely.

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  12. You're so beautiful! You're wedding looked like so much fun! LOVED the Phillies rally towel!

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