The Offbeat Bride: Ash, café cook of many talents
Her offbeat partner: Adam, auto assembly dude
Date and location of wedding: The South Shore Community Centre, right on the lake in Barrie, Ontario — July 4, 2014
Our offbeat wedding at a glance: When we got engaged, Adam and I had a general feminist discomfort with more traditional weddings and we were pretty broke. So we did a bunch of research, field-stripped our concept of a “wedding” down to the studs, kept the stuff we thought supported the idea of an active partnership, and changed/threw out the stuff we didn't. Then we got reeeeally busy doing everything ourselves.
I've done a lot of event planning, and my background is in theatre, so from the start I knew I wanted the lighting and décor to create the sort of space where we'd be okay to relax and just party. We ordered SO many lights, draped vinyl tablecloth sheeting from the ceiling, and cut up a few dozen thrifted sheets, tied them into clown-vomit-coloured garland, and hung the lot of it from the ceiling beams. We hoarded cardboard and painted signs for a week; we carved some signs out and hung them from the ceiling, too. I took a few paper lanterns and pasted parchment paper to the structure wires until they were shaggy and Seussian and built chandeliers out of hula hoops to hang them from. It took a few hours to get the stuff up and running, but it felt so warm and fuzzy when it was all up!
We didn't want to rent tablecloths, so we ordered some bargain-basement sale fabric, a giant roll of kraft paper, and a class-set of pencil crayons, and let everyone doodle all over everything. We cut paint chips into little hearts, fancied up some aluminum tins with table numbers and little bunting, tied little heart knots into rope around the base, and filled 'em with snack foods for the cocktail hour. My wizard of a mother managed to find 200 mixed wine glasses from friends and garage sales, so we didn't have to rent those either!
I work in a kitchen, so I knew we could figure out some way to feed 160 people without having to go with professional caterers. Before I could make a million lasagnas, my aunt (a commercial caterer) offered to build a menu and source all the food for us. We had BBQ chicken and a bunch of delicious cold salads (all labeled with dollar-store dinosaurs), and a small handful of family friends managed the kitchen while we were partying. I'm still aghast at the generosity — we got all of them fed with loads left over for under $3,000!
And the cake! My 19-year-old cousin is a sorceress with flour, and she made the thing with her hands! it had four flavours plus a vegan gluten-free side cake, fresh fruit, and edible flowers, looking like a gift from the gods. And it was totally delicious! We couldn't have asked for anything better.
We threw together a cash bar menu with a couple of sangrias (White Wedding Sangria, with a little Billy Idol cartoon from my sister, and Red Wedding Sangria, with [spoilers ahead!] a little bleeding Rob Stark), a lemonade, and some classic mixed drinks.
It was important to us that we had a lot of non-dancing options to keep people busy. While we were designing our programs, we also made our postcard-style guestbook cards, Wedding Mad Libs cards, and little photo reference cards with our Instagram hashtag. I took a box and some crafty junk we had lying around and built a card monster bridezilla to collect all the cool written stuff. You had to pull on her tongue to get her mouth open, but I liked her anyway.
We also DIYed a photobooth (thank you Offbeat Bride!), and built all our music playlists with song requests from our guests. We didn't want to have a first dance for a million reasons, so instead, I asked my theatrical hunky cousins to start off the dancing. Their act started with a robot, crested with a slow-mo stage fight and ended in a conga line with everyone in the building, including the site supervisor. Someone took video:
The strangest part for me was the clothing issue. I didn't even want to dress MYSELF, forget about a group of gorgeous but diverse women. We basically put everyone on a Facebook thread, asked them to each pick a different bright, bold jewel-tone, avoid bling and floor-length dresses, and get something they'll wear again. And hot damn, they looked AMAZING! The dudes wore grey vests and pants, and I threw together some boutonnieres with feathers and a fancy little samurai knot (did you guys know that they sell magnetic boutonniere backs?! Genius.).
For myself, I found a $300 custom dress from an Etsy seller, Mary Jin Mei, found shoes on ModCloth, and Adam got me some gorgeous opal and sterling earrings, but I made my own necklace out of some spare chain and one of my dad's old fishing lures. I also made my hairpieces and bouquet with crepe paper and coffee filter flowers, and some of the feathers from my dad's last pheasant hunt. I also threw a photo of him onto the flowers, and wrapped the bouquet with some rosettes made from the lace of my grandmother's wedding dress. It was nice to have them with me.
But I also didn't want to give it away! So instead, I made a second bouquet out of scratch tickets and a rubber chicken (and put a liquor store gift card on a garter-wearing rubber chicken for good measure), and we threw THOSE to anyone who wanted to bandy for it, single, married, or whatever gender!
Tell us about the ceremony:
We had the ceremony on the terraces just outside of our venue, facing the lake. We put down vinyl sheeting to protect butts, and managed to seat everyone without chairs. We built the ceremony from the ground-up as well, trying to make it as participatory, fun, and celebratory as possible. Our officiant was my high-school drama teacher, who is one of the most warm and glowy people alive. She opened it with a “mawwage” reference and just sort of moved that way until the end! The wedding party led audience response bits with placards, YAY! flags, and high fives.
We put a huge length of rope around the entire ceremony area, and gave the ends to our moms. After we read our vows, they gave us a hug, gave us the ends, and everyone helped us literally tie the knot. The wedding party read Tim Pratt's “Scientific Romance” while we did paperwork, then we smooched, and left the way we came in, holding each other's hands.
Our biggest challenge:
We postponed our first date in 2013 when my dad passed away from colon cancer. When we were planning it the first time, I was approaching it as a gift to my family — planning an excuse for all of us to be happy in spite of the cancer, instead of feeling ground into the dirt. We rescheduled when we realized he wasn't going to make it and we had to focus on seeing him through to the end. He was quite young, and it was a hard struggle against the illness, so there was a lot of community support lent to us, but also a lot of emotional horror and brutality that we had to get through to even get to a place where we could celebrate something. Not being able to share it with him, or to give my family something to be happy about in the shadow of all this badness, felt like a failure.
Weddings can be pretty focused on father/daughter relations, which is why we cut things like official dances, or anyone else walking us down the aisle. We felt it with every step, so we didn't need anyone reminding us that he wasn't there. So when we were trying to plan for the second date, I had a lot of recalibrating to do, and it eventually came down to remembering that we were organizing a party for people that we love, and that after the years we'd had, we deserved it to be really, really good.
My favorite moment:
Oh the vows! We wrote them ourselves. We figured out our promises to each other, and kept our thank-yous a surprise until the big day. There was ugly crying the whole way:
You are the best man I know. You are goofy and understanding, patient and reliable, intelligent and loyal.
You're friendly and a good friend, which aren't always the same thing. And more than that, you're brave.
You've seen me terrified, hopeless and at my wretched worst, and instead of running, you came closer.
You've supported not only me, but my family, my friends, our pets.
When I feel like a mess, you bolster my self-esteem. When I AM a mess, you steady me.
You keep me company, and you take care of me. You make me smile when I need it and keep me safe.
I'm going to spend the rest of my life earning your presence in it.
I promise most of the trip planning, lots of the cooking, and less of the stuff collection. I promise to try harder to get those damn dishes done, even when I'm tired.
I will be there for you when things get hard, to support you like you've supported me. When things you do confound me, I promise to slow down, breathe, and find my way back to you.
I promise to remember and respect when we need different things, because our differences are what make us strong.
To be your navigator and to know where we're going, even when we've been there a hundred times.
I promise to do my best not to hurt you; when I do, I promise to do everything I can to fix it.
Above all, I promise you myself. I promise to be your friend and your companion, even when you're just blowing digital things up, or playing entirely too much subway surfer, or when you want to watch Farscape, even though it's horrible. I promise to never stop falling in love with you.
Also, after the photos, we made our grand entrance by busting through a piece of kraft paper with our hashtag on it. Seeing almost everyone I care about on their feet, grinning and laughing, was THE BEST, and definitely justified all the work we put into it.
My funniest moment:
Before the whole shindig started, we had hidden a few toasts… that is, cardboard cutouts of toast with different things worth raising a glass to written on them under random chairs. We had hidden five, but when we called people up to give their “toasts” to the crowd, we had six. My cousin's husband got up to the mic and said “I'm pretty sure you didn't put this there, but under my chair I found a card that says ‘Merry Christmas,' and rules are rules.” It was definitely the most rousing toast; we laughed so hard I almost shot wine out my nose.
When our MC announced the ceremonial first-shot-and-cake (or, whiskeyshoot-stufffacewithcake-highfive), we were somewhat unprepared and knife-less up there. All of a sudden, we hear a lovely feminine voice pipe up, “I've got a machete in my car!” We see my friend jump up from her table and bring back this rusty scythe! I almost used it, too.
During his speech, our best man surprised us with a heavy parcel for us to open. Unbeknownst to us, he got us a huge, concert grade gong as a wedding present, which he promptly set up as the new “Make The Couple Kiss” game. I cannot tell you how much better a sound it was than clinking glasses.
What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding?
Figure out your “get-rights”: the things that you've got your heart set on the most, or a few adjectives that need to be manifested in your day when all's said and done. Write them down, and go back to them when you're freaked out, or stressed, or needing to make difficult decisions. It'll help keep your head straight.
One more thing for crafty/ambitious planners: if you're DIYing, decide on your projects early, stay flexible, and start them early enough to change them twice and finish them with a few weeks to spare. Best case scenario: you're done early. Worst case scenario: you weather logistical screw-ups, inconvenient changes, and accidents without having to cut things you've already paid to make.
Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?
- Photographer: Yellow Butterfly Photography
- Hair and Makeup: Kristen Foote
- Dress: Mary Jin Mei
- Bride's Shoes: ModCloth
- Groom's Custom Vest: BeatB Custom
- Carbonite Cufflinks: Oh My Geekness!
- Game Boy Flasks: RK Grace
- Wedding bands: Engaged Jewelery
- Engagement Ring: Gemvara
- Cake: Ash's cousin Nat
- Ceremony Rope: Jolin Tsai
- Printing: Vistaprint