The Offbeat Bride: Kelsey, wanna-be writer
Her offbeat partner: Heather, teacher
Date and location of wedding: ZJ Farm, Solon, Iowa — June 16, 2012
Our offbeat wedding at a glance: Our wedding was very grassroots, all while being planned entirely from abroad. I formerly worked on an organic farm in Iowa, so we decided to have the wedding right on that very soil, in a state that allows it.
The food was almost entirely grown in the gardens and pastures there, and the breads, flowers, pies, cake, iced tea, and cheeses were made and/or grown by generous friends in the local food scene of the area. Our plates were compostable, and much of our waste was left behind on the farm's compost pile. We brought napkins from our home in Tanzania, made with local fabric by our local tailor there. The cutting boards were designed and made for us by a woodworker in Michigan, which later became our thank-you gifts to our parents.
We both wanted to look like our most genuine, real selves for the wedding, and encouraged guests to do the same. Heather wore jeans, and I wore a skirt made by my mom. (It included pieces of my mom's wedding dress, and a series of buttons gifted to me by people in my life that symbolically represent the old, the new, the borrowed, and the blue.)
Neither of us wore any make-up, as per usual, and I wore my glasses and kept my legs hairy, as per usual. Before the ceremony, we had our two witnesses surprise our parents and lead them in a private ring warming/blessing. Our ceremony was very personal, full of laughter, tears, cheering, and spontaneous kisses. We asked everyone to turn off cameras and cell phones to be fully present with us.
One friend traveled across the country to be there, while in the midst of chemo. She had her bald head covered with a henna wedding design for us, based on the art from our Tanzanian-made wedding invitations. Best. Gift. Ever.
The evening was very unscheduled after the ceremony, skipping traditions that didn't resonate with us (no formal sit-down-and-eat time, no cake cutting, no dances designated for special things, etc.), but including some traditions that were important to us (a family friend singing The Lord's Prayer, as he previously sang for all the weddings in my family).
We had live music by Edie Carey (who also played a bit acoustically during the ceremony) for the first hour, while people talked and mingled and ate, and then our siblings put on a playlist of dance music that they had jointly compiled as a gift to us. Finally, we had a fantastic double rainbow spreading across the fields, perhaps our blessing from above.
Tell us about the ceremony: The ceremony was written partly by us, with inspiration from books (especially Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert) and poems (especially Rilke) and Offbeat Bride tips. The rest was written by my cousin, who officiated. It spoke of the history of marriage as an institution, which is ultimately defined not by the powers-that-be, but two people at a time.
Our wise officiant offered her overwhelming love and support and thoughts on the work of marriage, as if we were talking across her kitchen counter with 90 people eavesdropping. Guest involvement was included throughout (including moments of bleating like goats and acting like they were surfing), and especially through Community Vows. We each had one person standing up for us, and they individually wrote vows on behalf of the larger group they represented. These were dispersed into our respective clans, and read to us in acknowledgment of their role in our lives and marriage.
Our biggest challenge: Our biggest challenge was moving from our home in Tanzania with our six-year-old son (who, in route, we found had head lice), managing jet lag, and seeing families that hadn't seen us in a year and a half, with only five days until the wedding. It was an emotional chaotic blur. Every single guest we saw involved a reunion of some sort, and there just wasn't enough quality time to go around in five days. Besides which, Heather still had never even seen the wedding location, and I hadn't been there in years.
So, we spread out the party. As people arrived during the week, we brought carloads of us to the farm, hanging lights, harvesting vegetables, and cleaning and laughing and planning together. Our only in-person meeting with the caterer was integrated into dinner at his restaurant, with about 15 family and friends. We had a huge picnic the day before, as half the guests had arrived to Iowa by then.
Instead of a rehearsal dinner, we each had parties with our respective family and friends, which included a cabaret performance on the streets, and Christmas caroling in June. We walked in a Pride Parade on the day of the wedding (what a nice coincidence of timing!) with many of the guests. We had a group of loved ones committed to logistics, so we could try and be committed to spending time with people in the few days we could share with them.
My favorite moment: While visiting Rwanda a month before the wedding, we learned of their tradition of Peace Baskets. These baskets are given to your future in-laws before a wedding, with gifts inside. We made our own version of this, first buying Peace Baskets in Rwanda that had been woven by Hutus and Tutsis, side-by-side. We each filled them with gifts that represented important parts of ourselves that we were bringing and offering to our new family.
The day before the wedding, at our community picnic, we presented our Peace Baskets to our respective in-laws, explaining each of the small gifts and what they meant in the bigger picture of who we are and what it meant to join their family. There was much crying, partly from sharing with everyone the innermost things we deemed had forged us, and partly from the deliberate welcome that it instigated between parents and brides.
My funniest moment: When we were standing up front, with the ceremony about to begin, my sister called out, “Heather, your jacket is buttoned crooked.” She was buttoned ridiculously lopsided. So we all waited and watched and laughed while she unbuttoned and fixed her shirt and then began the ceremony. I forgot to do my hair, or put on my necklaces… apparently our minds were elsewhere and we weren't overly concerned with our appearances!
Was there anything you were sure was going to be a total disaster that unexpectedly turned out great? Thunderstorms. Actually, we heard there was also a tornado warning nearby. The ceremony site was supposed to be a 10-minute walk through the gardens and out on the edge of the prairie.
When it was go time, we took the opportunity to set the stage for the wedding's participatory nature. I stood on a chair and took a guest vote for who wanted to wait out the rain, and who wanted to get the show on the road and have the ceremony in the corner of the barn. We stayed in the barn, to the pounding rhythm of rain overhead. The farmers were thrilled that the drought had lifted, and later the sky cleared with an amazing double rainbow and sunset.
My advice for Offbeat Brides: Ask the wisest person you know to officiate. They will offer the best thoughts during your wedding and your marriage. Honor them by asking them to serve that role on your wedding day and in your lives. Give weight to the fact that your community is attending your wedding by finding creative ways to involve and acknowledge that they also play a role in your marriage. In planning, ask friends and family to contribute in unique ways, in lieu of gifts. If you're having festivities instead of eloping, then your guests are there for a reason. They will support you when you falter, they will hold you each accountable. Include the guests and show them that they are a really important part of the whole picture.
What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding? You won't be able to give back or thank people enough for all the love that is being poured onto you. We had to learn to just accept it, to accept all the time and energy and expense and care that people endlessly doled out, and not worry that there was no way it could all possibly be reciprocated in kind. It was a lesson in humbly allowing ourselves to be loved.
Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?
- Venue, vegetables, meat, flowers, eggs, bread: Local Harvest CSA
- Photography: Arancia Scura Photography, Greater San Francisco Bay Area, California
- Kelsey's skirt: Homemade by her mom, inspired by designs on Etsy
- Heather's shirt: Harrods
- Catering: Many friends and The Motley Cow in Iowa City
- Music: Edie Carey
Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!