Back in March 2009, Kate Harrison Photography (loooonnnngggg time APW sponsor and I) decided to hatch a plan to make some magic happen as the economy continued to fall apart in slow motion. So Kate decided she was going to give away wedding photography to an APW reader, and after some discussion, we decided that it should go to someone who was experiencing some economic hardship. The contest we came up with was called Local Squared, because we wanted to do some good for Northern California, which is home for both of us.
Needless to say, I’ve been waiting to post the winners wedding for a long long time, and today I get to bring you Christen & Seth. There wedding makes my soul sing in a million ways. It’s in the lovely Mendocino, where my grandmother lived for years, so each feature of the small down is familiar and well loved to me. It sings sweetly of the ocean, which I love. But more than I that, I love the way Christen talks about coming to grips with having a very traditional Catholic service. Because for all our wedding looked indie in pictures, we had a deeply traditional service, something I came to love for all the reasons Christen lists. So you’re in for a real treat today. And the pictures. Ohmygod. I, um, couldn’t help but use a lot of them, since I want to eat them all up. And with that, Christen:
Seth and I met seven years ago in the tiny, storybook village of Mendocino, CA—a windswept, coastal town frozen in time and in many ways isolated from the “real world”. Seth was living and working in Mendocino, 20 miles down a dirt road, in a one room cabin at the heart of a redwood forest. I was living in San Francisco and working as a theatre actress (while juggling other jobs) and jumped at the opportunity to perform in the bucolic village of Mendocino. The rest is long-winded and juicy, but I don’t have time to go into that. Our individual journeys up until that point were rambling to say the least— I’m still amazed that our paths crossed in the most unlikely of places. But wham, 7 years later, here we are.
We chose Mendocino as the wedding location because it represents our beginning and is dear to our hearts. We are California transplants, so all of our family and many friends are from far flung parts of the country and world. We realized that a Mendocino wedding would be difficult for many people– travel time and costs would be prohibitive. Therefore, we wanted the journey and weekend to be a magical escape for those willing and able to make the trip. Despite the obstacles and difficulties along the way, we tried to keep all aspects of the wedding focused on family and friends and our gratitude for the role they play in our lives. I am still amazed and exhausted that we pulled it off. While it was fabulous, worth it, and one of the best days of my life, I am also very glad it is over.
The wedding planning process wasn’t easy. I always assumed I’d get married, but never envisioned or imagined the details. Added to that– I’m a pleaser, a second guesser, and kinda shy. Many aspects of a wedding—the planning, the actual event—are a nightmare to someone like me. I worry too much about other people’s opinions, feelings, and expectations and I tend to put other people’s needs first. This makes me adaptable and flexible and easy to be around, but leads to difficulty when trying to plan a wedding and blend such a diverse group of people. Seth was raised by hippy, intellectual, non-conforming, artist parents in isolated parts of Newfoundland and Maine, while I was raised by devout, hardworking, but fun-loving, conservative Catholics from the Midwest. Though our family’s had met and got along swimmingly, I worried a lot about pleasing both parties and blending these diverse communities.
The idea that every aspect of the wedding would be a reflection of ME, the BRIDE was horrifying. I cared deeply about many things, those choices were easy. But despite the myth, a wedding is not the Bride’s Big Day. Or at least, I don’t think it should be. And it’s not even the Bride and Groom’s big day. In a lot of ways, it’s about everyone else (our parents, our families, our fabulous friends) and I’m absolutely ok with that. While Seth and I went into the process wanting to throw a party that reflected US and do things OUR way, I think this is naive. Weddings are all about bringing people together, so compromise is key.
Seth and I definitely wanted to be married in a hand-crafted, outdoor ceremony. We share a profound love for the outdoors and nature is our common church. For my parents, however, our marriage would not be real unless it was a Catholic marriage performed by a Catholic priest. But the Catholic Church sees marriage as a sacrament that must be performed inside a church, no exceptions.
At first it frustrated me that my parents would not budge, but I understood their position—it is their faith and my upbringing and I am grateful for it. (I am spiritual in my own way, and use tools from a Catholic foundation to create my own multifaceted, non-denominational approach to the mysteries of life. Nonetheless, I am inescapably a Catholic at heart.)
After much discussion, Seth and I agreed to do a private, immediate-family-only ceremony in the Catholic Church before holding a larger, outdoor ceremony to better reflect the merging of both our backgrounds. Of course, things got complicated. When will we hold the Catholic wedding—2 days before? Will this diminish the second ceremony? In order to be married in the Catholic Church we were required to attend a retreat and have meetings with a priest and discuss the merging of our lives, and then pick readings and music for the ceremony. After all that it became exhausting trying to think about crafting an entire OTHER ceremony. And what about RAIN…Mendocino is notorious for terrible weather…What if the outdoor wedding was rained out?
I stressed and fretted about these issues A LOT. It worried me deeply that Seth’s background would not be reflected in a church wedding. I lost sleep, I cried. I fretted obsessively over the very limited biblical reading options which seemed to have a male dominant/subservient female slant. (Please know, my wonderful husband was as cool as a cucumber during all this—I’m still amazed). I was disappointed in my parent’s lack of flexibility but was also angered when people told me to blow them off. I felt undercurrents of anti-conformity—as if it wasn’t as “cool” as other religions or non-denominational weddings. Perhaps I am too sensitive. Yes, I am frustrated by many aspects of the religion, but life, love and the spirit are complicated. And this is who I am.
So Seth and I made a trip up to Mendocino to see the little Catholic Church perched upon a hill, and our hearts soared. The entire wall behind the altar is an ocean seascape. Seth was raised along the coast and his work and identity are tied up in the water. The stained glass windows around the church show coastal scenes—a young boy on a boat, a young boy in the forest and field—mirroring all of Seth’s childhood photos. It was as if this little church was made just for us and our dilemma. And so, after all that confusion, we decided to scrap the second outdoor ceremony altogether, and perform one ceremony in the Catholic Church with a post gathering at the coastal headlands to satisfy our need for nature.
While our reading selections were limited, we put great care into selecting the music—one song as an homage to Seth’s father and one to my dad. We asked our friend’s to play the music. And we carefully crafted our own “Prayers of the Faithful”—the only part of the Catholic services that you can write yourself. In them, we gave thanks and prayed for the most important people and blessings in our life.
In the end, I’m still not sure if we compromised too much with the ceremony, but we did our best to make sure everyone was reflected in some small way and we honored those we loved by putting their needs above, or at par, with our own. We did the best we could and that is all you can do. Some moments were awkward, but there is a magic to repeating the same vows said my millions of people for thousands of years.
The Good And The Practical
- For me, the wedding was not a one day event. The best part of the whole shebang was the week leading up to the wedding. Our families travelled from far away to surround and help us. We rented lodging in Mendocino and got to share our favorite place in the world with the people who mean the most to us.
- We baked hundreds of cookies for wedding favors because my mom makes the best chocolate chip cookies in the world. We collected rocks and sand for the reception and ceremony at some of my favorite beaches. I’ll never forget the joy of seeing my nieces and family scurry about the beach like wild, happy animals.
- Post ceremony, we asked everyone to join us on the headlands to toss a stone into the ocean and make a wish. It was so simple and so easy and allowed everyone their own special moment of reflection.
- Our wedding day felt slow and full. My mantra going into the day was: be present. Everywhere I turned, there was a loved one. The day was not without some confusion and drama, but it was full of a joy that overwhelmed me in the best of ways.
- Everything was local, walk-able, and family friendly. Every vendor was either a friend or a local in the tiny village of Mendocino. Our friends brewed us beer and played music. Our favors were homemade cookies and Mendocino Mustard. All food was local and served family style. You get the point. I’m glad we put money into the local economy when it needed it most and am grateful for the overwhelming support from our community.
- Despite all of my worry, everyone got along swimmingly and formed surprising friendships. Seth’s friends and relatives are now friends with my friends and relatives on Facebook and in life. People have visited each other and hung out afterwards. It’s awesome.
- Kids rock. The more the merrier. I understand that it doesn’t make sense to some people to invite kids to a wedding, but weddings are lovefests that deserve to be shared with all creatures great and small. Kids are wedding magic.
- We made the wedding a weekend affair. I am very glad we had a gathering planned for Sunday before guests departed. Seth and I snuck out at the end of the reception on Saturday night without saying goodbye. It would have broken my heart not to have a little Sunday farewell.
- Have I mentioned our fabulous photographer Kate Harrison? Seth and I were blown away. Having Kate at our side was like having an old, dear friend as wingman. She was happy, easy, unobtrusive, always game, adaptable and extremely talented. I cannot recommend her more highly.
The Lessons and Tips
- Beware of wedding blogs. Seriously. A Practical Wedding rocks, but the world of wedding blogs—alternative, crafty, indie, whatever, is wonderful but dangerous. I lost myself for awhile and in the end, seriously, seriously, the details do NOT matter. I’m glad I did them, I stayed very very close to my core values and heart and kept it simple and enjoyed (almost) every minute, but I could have saved myself a lot of insecurity, jealousy, and confusion if I had spared some of my unemployed hours surfing the web. Weddings are not a time to be trendy. I honestly believe that. Who looks back at photos of themselves from 10+ years ago and is impressed by trends? Have fun, know your limitations, and forget about the rest.
- DIY or even DIT is not always the best way. We passed up a lot of wedding venues, etc, who offered us a package deal because of initial sticker shock over the price and feeling like it was too “cookie cutter”. In the end, we had so many different vendors and friends to deal with and so many details that had to come together, it was mind numbing. Know when to trust the professionals and get out of the way. Also, friends are fabulous, but contracts are important too.
- Know your audience. Seth and I searched and searched for a ranch or hotel where everyone could be together all weekend long. But rates in Mendocino are high and quality varies. We realized that our New York banker guests and hard core hippy guests may want to pick their own lodging for their own tastes and budgets. In the end, this was definitely the best choice for us. Give options, then get out of the way.
- I expected to cry when walking down the aisle. But the walk was kinda awkward and the whole thing a bit strange and surreal. I did not feel like a princess. I had moments of insecurity throughout the day, despite the joy. And that’s ok.
- Trust your gut, yes, but know that it is ok if your gut has no idea. The most important thing is being ok with your decision, no matter what, after the fact.
- Lastly, being married is way better than any wedding.
Final Note: I don’t always have warm and fuzzy feelings about the day or the process when I look back. In fact, it’s taken me some time to even WANT to look back. I honestly, wholeheartedly do believe it was worth it in the end, but I want people to know that it is ok and normal to have mixed feelings afterwards—even if your wedding from the outside was a tremendous success. The good news is—as time goes by, I’m more and more able to appreciate all of the good stuff and the emotional struggles seem to fade away. But don’t feel bad if you’re a bit insecure when talking or thinking about your wedding afterwards—you’ve been through the ringer and deserve some slack. People’s loaded opinions and complex expectations about the world of weddings don’t go away after you’ve been through it yourself. Throughout your whole life you will have to revisit your wedding and weigh it against all the hype, opinions, and expectations of yourself and others. At those times, it is especially important to hold onto the good things and remember the love. So good luck and thanks for being my sounding board.
Photos by Kate Harrison Photography. I love this woman. THEY loved this woman. This woman loves you guys. It’s a good thing like that. You can (and should) see more wedding pictures here. It hurt me not to include them all.