The Offbeat Bride: Sarah, Content and Social Media Director and artist by night

Her offbeat partner: Mark, Junior Developer

Date and location of wedding: Hoosier Grove Barn, Streamwood, Illinois — September 22, 2012

Our offbeat wedding at a glance: There were bears everywhere, including a costumed bear performer and hand-illustrated bears on our programs, menu, and honey bear favors. Mark and I felt it was important to add moments of levity to our ceremony to keep things sincere. We had originally talked about hiring a Kenny Rogers impersonator to sing us “The Gambler” as a cautionary tale. But who knew: Kenny Rogers impersonators command up to $5000 a performance!



Ring Bear vs Ring Bearer

Mark and I came up with a whole cast of bear characters that all have funny back stories, and I drew those characters in our menu, “po-gam” (how we imagine the bear saying that), and on our honey bear wedding favors. The po-gam (see it in full here) has a running joke that runs from one page to the next and is based on memories that Mark had of visiting ballparks when he was a kid.

Sign Outside

The sign outside the barn mysteriously said “Watch out for bears, Love Sarah and Mark,” without any additional explanation.

Family Portrait

In our ceremony, our officiant talked about the barn as a metaphor, and also paid tribute to our family members who taught us how to build and sew and grow and cook things. The venue was built in the 1800s, without nails, and is still standing. We decorated our tables with centerpieces that my dad made out of reclaimed pallet wood, and which my mom decorated with ribbons. My mom and I rescued a number of vintage embroidered dresser scarves.

Just Married Pie

Hooray for Pie

Whoopie Pies and Pies

We opted to serve pies and whoopie pies for dessert, and used jadite cake stands that my mom found at an antique store. The special thing about the whoopie pies is that they were made by Amish women who run a farm stand near my late grandparents' farm. I've seen the same women there since I was knee-high, and I couldn't imagine anything better for dessert. The fruit pies were made by a family-run cafeteria in Indianapolis, which are the same pies we eat every Thanksgiving. For the catering we found a BBQ vendor that smoked our meat on site!



Tell us about the ceremony: I didn't walk down an aisle. We wanted the ceremony to feel like a dinner party at our house, so we greeted people at the door in a receiving line with our families and the members of our wedding party.

We incorporated Seamus Heaney's poem “Scaffolding,” another nod to the metaphor of the building that we were in standing the test of time, and another nod to our relatives who are makers and builders. We adapted Hovis Presley's “I Rely on You” to make it a little less British. We also had our friend Julie read us a traditional Irish blessing after we'd exchanged vows.

Challah Ceremony

We decided to break bread with everyone as a ritual. Mark broke off a piece of bread for me to eat, and then we passed that loaf and two other loaves around for everyone to share. It was a representation of our first meal together as a couple, and of wanting our wedding to feel more like a dinner party. We also got married on the Fall Equinox, which is often marked by harvest celebrations, so it felt right on that level as well. Our friend and officiant Ira told us that challah is made for breaking — it's soft and easy to break off. We wrapped each loaf in cloth so that people didn't get icked out by everyone's hands touching the bread.

The Barn


Our biggest challenge: Our sound system totally failed during our first dance. We eventually figured out that our laptop, which had an internal mic in it, was creating feedback even though the mic was disabled on the computer. We backed up our playlist on an iPod and had a number of friends who are musicians jump in and troubleshoot the problem. While they were fixing the sound system, we ended up asking our guests to join us outside to make a tunnel of sparklers and that ended up being one of our favorite moments of the whole evening.


I severely underestimated how stressful the second part of wedding planning would be. The first part of wedding planning was a breeze for us. We sat down and talked about our budget and priorities and we had a similar vision for the event, so we went to one venue, one caterer, one florist and were done. I wasn't prepared for the emotional stress related to having to set a guest list, track down addresses, track down RSVPs, invitations getting lost in the mail, budget surprises, or losing my job right around that time. Pilates, a few good cries, Mark's help, and help from family was what made it work.


My funniest moment: Having seen ring bears in previous Offbeat Bride posts, we took that idea and ran with it, staging a fight between a costumed bear performer and our friend who we asked to be our adult ring bearer. Here's a video of the throw-down:

Was there anything you were sure was going to be a total disaster that unexpectedly turned out great?
I decided pretty early not to walk down an aisle, because I didn't want our wedding to feel that formal. I was worried about what my dad would think, but he was okay with it and contributed to our ceremony in a lot of other ways (he did our first reading, made a lot of our decorations, and we did a father/daughter dance). We processed as a group together to the front, and it wasn't really a big deal in the end.

Getting married in the suburbs of the city we live in made things a lot more complicated in that we had to arrange for shuttle service with our hotel, and communicate cab information and coordinate pick ups and carpools for our out-of-town friends. But in the end, it saved us a lot of money due to everything just being less expensive than in the city.

Quaker Style Marriage Certificate

My advice for Offbeat Brides: If you're planning on doing any of your own paper items like menus, I recommend this paper-cutter. It was cheaper than a regular paper-cutter and was a real time saver. We also found Staples to be much cheaper than Kinko's for printing. Get multiple quotes if you think something is too expensive (it probably is too expensive).

Back up your music and bring extra charging cords, extension cords, and power strips.

Here are some things that we'd wished we'd brought with us to our hotel: paper plates, cups, and a wine opener. That's because we ended up hanging out with our friends a lot and snacking and drinking wine and cocktails.

BBQ Buffet

What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding? An important lesson I learned was to get a day-of wedding coordinator. My amazing cousin Nikki filled this role, and it took a huge amount of stress off of me.

Wedding Party

Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?

Enough talk — show me the wedding inspo!

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Comments on Sarah & Mark’s BBQ in a barn with a big bear brawl

  1. What a wonderful wedding! This was a venue I considered as well! I wanted to ask you how good the food was- I am considering using BBQ on Wheels for catering! Just would like some feedback if you can!

    Gorgeous wedding once again 🙂 Loved all the bears and personal touches!

    • Just saw your comment – BBQ on Wheels was great. They are good people. The only thing that is tough is that you have to take a bit of a leap of faith because they don’t do tastings. But the food was delicious and BBQing on site was worth a few extra bucks a person. They can also take care of your plates and stuff – we paid for china and silverware rental.

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