Army 101 / Wedding planning

My big fat Jewish Army wedding

On September 22, 2013, a large family of Jews met a large family of Army-bred Baptists on a farm in rural Maryland. They braved drives and flights from places like Fort Benning, Georgia; Los Angeles; Fort Polk, Louisiana; Orlando; London; Chicago; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Houston; New Jersey; and Washington, D.C. The corners of the country (and everywhere outside and between) came together to celebrate a strange but magical occasion:

My big fat Jewish Army wedding

Horah chairs

Photos by Ben Powell Photography and C.W. Houston.

But first let’s back up a tick.

When Jonathan popped the question, I knew I’d have enough time to plan the wedding. And by “enough time,” I mean an entire deployment plus before-and-after wiggle room. And while the chronological value of that time was roughly two years, its emotional value was something like several decades and a gallon of vodka.

So I took my time. If anything can put wedding planning into perspective, it’s a fiancé who is 6,000 miles away with a machine gun and a terrorism problem. I told myself that, no matter what happened, Jonathan arriving home (in mostly one piece) for the wedding was the only requirement necessary for a perfect day.

But the beautiful weather didn’t hurt.

Barn wedding venue

Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

The wedding came together piece-by-piece over those two tumultuous years. At first, the wedding colors were black and white. Then they were black, white, and Dress Blues. Then they were black, white, and tan, and Dress Blues. Then they were black, white, tan, pink, gold, Dress Blues, and nothing-really-matches-Dress-Blues-anyway-so-I-quit.

Hindsight: Two years is too much time to plan a wedding.

Pink shoes pink flowers

Photos by Ben Powell Photography.
Scroll to bottom of post for list of brands and vendors.

But once you go pink, you never re-think.

I’m really clever now that I’m married.

There were days during Jonathan’s deployment when his timeline made wedding planning torturous; after we set the date, there was always a chance his nine-month deployment would be extended, and and the wedding day would come and pass with him still in Afghanistan. In which case I would have put on an outrageously expensive white gown and been 99% drunker.

Groom getting ready

Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

Luckily he made it, so my blood alcohol level was safe.

Saying yes to the dress was probably the easiest part of wedding planning. Though I’m still trying not to dwell on the gorgeous gowns I didn’t choose, finding the dress was as easy as stepping into a perfect silk chiffon skirt and knowing I’d look the right amount of glamorous for trudging across a farm wearing white all day.

(That having been said, I doubt there’s a wedding dress out there that won’t get dirty after you’ve trudged across a farm in it all day. Especially when it rained the night before and your perfect pink satin heels sink into the mud with every step. If anybody knows a really good dry cleaner, I’m in the market.)

Bride getting ready

Dress by Justin Alexander, Blush Bridal Boutique. Shoes by Badgley Mischka, DSW. Hair and makeup by Ashley Schwartzbeck. Pearls by my mom.
Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

But since the dress choice was easy, that means something much smaller and more insignificant had to be proportionately difficult.

That thing was nail polish. Finding the right color for my manicure was the wedding decisions it took me the longest to make. Though I’m somewhat of a nail polish enthusiast, I rarely get manicures, and somehow finding the right shade for the smallest possible detail that most people didn’t even notice became my wedding-planning Achilles heel. About a year and a half into planning, I was convinced that the perfect nail polish shade for my bridal look didn’t exist.

So I made my own.

Bridal accessories

Bracelet by Carellya. Nail polish OPI “Princesses Rule!” over ULTA “Encore Pink” with pink sparkle accent nail. Pink and white flower belt from Blush Bridal Boutique. Veil as my “something borrowed” from my beautiful bridesmaid Rachel.
Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

Bridal portraits Ben Powell photography

Photo by Ben Powell Photography.

Jonathan and his groomsmen, however, needed very little planning for their accessories. Though, in their defense, it does take a while to get all those bars and pins on their Dress Blues straight.

Jonathan’s best men (his two older brothers) are both, clearly, in the Army, and his friend Kevin carted his Blues from Fort Campbell for the occasion. And just when you thought that maybe everybody Jonathan knows is in the Army, his groomsman Will broke the pattern with a sleek black suit.

Don’t worry, though; Will used to be in the Army.

Groomsmen in Dress Blues

Photo by Ben Powell Photography.

My favorite wedding gift was intangible: By marrying Jonathan, I inherited a slew of outrageously adorable nieces and nephews who have really set the bar high for the cuteness of our future babies.

(The KtichenAid stand mixer from my aunt and uncle is a close second.)

Nieces and nephews

Photo by C.W. Houston

Our wedding was the first time in about seven years that Jonathan’s entire immediate family and their kids had all been together at once (and there have been several additional kids since!). It’s indescribable how meaningful that made the day. With three sons in the Army, all the stars and deployment schedules had to align to get everybody there, and that in itself made the day perfect.

Throughout Jonathan’s time in Afghanistan and Fort Campbell while I hung back in the D.C. area, I was lucky to be able to spend time with his family in Maryland. Alongside getting to know and love his parents, the biggest blessing in our long-distance relationship was hanging out with his sister, Michelle, and her kids Brendan and Mackenzie—my ring bearer and flower girl.

Michelle is not only the perfect partner-in-crime for the Renaissance Festival, but she’s raised two kids who are growing up to be the second loves of my life. And one of them looks great in a Spider-Man bow tie.

Ring bearer Spiderman bowtie and flower girl

Spider-Man bow tie by Sew Fairy Cute. Bridal bands by Zales. Groom’s wedding band by Wedgewood Rings.
Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

Jonathan’s wedding band was one of my favorite details of the day. If you haven’t noticed his mild preference for Jack Daniel’s (a preference that’s now leaked into our interior decorating), this ring should remove any doubt; though the outside of the ring is titanium, the inside is carved from a white oak barrel of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel.

As our wedding favors announced, love is the most important thing in the world, but whiskey is pretty good too.

And the only thing Jonathan likes more than whiskey is getting his ass kicked by his brothers. See below.

Army brothers

Photo by Ben Powell Photography.

My bridesmaids and I decided not to chance a fist-fight before the ceremony.

Bridesmaids in black cocktail dresses

Photo by Ben Powell Photography.

What you don’t see in any of these pictures is just how instrumental each of my bridesmaids was in keeping me alive the day of the wedding, and for the years leading up to it.

My maid of honor (and also my twin sister) Joanna hand-fed me popcorn that morning when I realized I’d forgotten to eat breakfast. Which is second in importance only to her speech at the reception, which deserves its own spotlight so you’ll hear about it later. And when my spray tan experience went horribly wrong (CLASSIC BRIDE MISTAKE: never get your first spray tan four days before your wedding), she reamed out the salon’s manager in order to get me my money back while I stood in the shower exfoliating my skin until I bled and cried. (P.S. When I went back to the salon before Joanna called the manager, they said there was nothing I could do to help the bad tan fade from my skin, but they could give me another spray tan for 50% off. When I pointed to my splotchy, damaged skin and asked the technician rather rudely if she thought getting another on top of it was a smart idea, she just kind of frowned.)

My bridesmaid Rachel, who had a one-month-old baby at home, showed up at the venue the morning of the wedding only three seconds after I did. With her hair and makeup already professionally done. At which point she volunteered to put the complicated escort card arrangement together and convince me not to burst into tears when I realized I’d lost two of my bridal party’s hair accessories.

My bridesmaid Jacki got into a car accident the morning of the wedding, and still made it in time to corset another bridesmaid into her dress. Helpful wedding tip: Get yourself a bridesmaid who used to work at a bridal salon. Jacki gets bonus points for currently being a ballroom dance instructor, and not saying a single word about how Jonathan and I danced our first dance in a six-inch circle on one isolated spot of the dance floor.


Rachel, Jacki, and Joanna.
Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

About a week before the wedding, when I found out that a third groomsman wouldn’t be able to make it, I drove to my bridesmaid Shelby’s house to drop off her bachelorette party tutu, and she and her boyfriend Danny patiently listened to me lose my shit about how everything is going wrong and the wedding is probably going to catch on fire and I forgot to get a guestbook what would Jennifer Lopez do. Shelby laughed with me instead of at me, and offered me a large glass of wine, and if that’s not a perfect bridesmaid then I don’t know what is.

Lindsay, who is the kindest person you will ever meet, also braved the wedding with a one-month-old at home. Though all my bridesmaids have excellent shoulders to cry on, Lindsay’s shoulder has magic empathy powers that make the biggest problem in the world something that can be cured with frozen yogurt. Not to mention that she pulled out every stop that exists for my bridal shower favors, and has made me very popular on Pinterest for them.

The most important task of the day, however, was handled by Michelle, who provided the juice boxes of wine for the bridal party to chug while we were getting ready. Also, she’d packed some emergency snack Gogurt for her kids, and didn’t even bat an eye when I asked if I could have the Gogurt. P.S. Eating Gogurt is weird, and it’s weirder in a wedding dress.

Bridesmaid portraits

Shelby, Lindsay, and Michelle.
Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

And they all politely did not kill me me when I changed the color of the bridesmaid dresses three or four times, only to end up deciding on my initial choice. Seriously, though, YOU try matching the color scheme of your wedding to Dress Blues. Things get tricky.

Bridal party in black cocktail dresses

Photo by Ben Powell Photography.

I mentioned when talking about my wedding details that I chose three splurge categories for my wedding: favors, venue, and photography. And after our engagement session with our top photographer choice, we were hooked.

Ben Powell Photography lived up to their hype. Ben and Taylor not only studied my Pinterest account to get a feel for the style of photographs I wanted, but they arrived with an organized agenda, and executed it with perfect professionalism while still being personable. They knew the photos were my top priority that day and, even when the schedule turned unexpectedly cramped, they never lost their cool.

Bonus: Taylor even carried my shoes for me when the walk down to our first-look photo shoot proved to be a particularly muddy one.

First look

Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

My struggle to walk through the squelchy grass in satin heels was apparently very funny to Jonathan.

I am 100% satisfied with our decision to do a first-look photo shoot. Though the idea of the bride and groom seeing each other before the ceremony isn’t as taboo as it used to be, I know Jonathan was initially a bit weary of breaking such a time-honored tradition. But seeing as I didn’t go into total hysterics when Jonathan decided to have his bachelor party the night before the wedding, I think he let me have this one.

First look photoshoot

Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

Also…I sort of showed him a picture of my dress before the wedding anyway. DECISIONS ARE HARD; I needed his help. I kept the pink flowery belt a secret until the day of, though; that’s assuming he never saw one of the 50 pictures of it I had flashing across my screensaver constantly for the past year.

Bride and groom portraits

Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

Although I’d describe my experience with my wedding venue as disappointing at best, the farmland they boast is really the ideal backdrop for wedding photos on a nice day.

I’d wanted our wedding to reflect the rural Maryland areas where we both grew up, and the venue delivered that and then some: If you grab a pair of binoculars and squint a little, you might be able to see one of Jonathan’s old homes from the venue’s property.

Bride and groom portraits Ben Powell Photography

Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

Choosing which photos to frame is more difficult than choosing a college was. We need more wall space.

After the first-look photo shoot, everything became a big fat wedding blur. So often we get lost in the details, and forget that a wedding is about a bride and a groom: two people who fell in love and then asked their friends and family to buy them frying pans. And although spending the day with our friends and family was the most important part of the celebration to both of us, those few minutes alone with the photographers are an equally as powerful memory.

Also, nobody got us the frying pans.

Bride's family

My big beautiful Jewish family.
Photo by Ben Powell Photography.

Wedding party at barn

Photo by Ben Powell Photography.

Groom's family

The best in-laws a girl could hope for.
Photo by Ben Powell Photography.

Wedding party celebrating

Photo by Ben Powell Photography.

Take a look at my wedding sequel post for more from the ceremony and reception, and to find out what Aaron Samuels and Gretchen Wieners had to say to me on my wedding day.

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13 thoughts on “My big fat Jewish Army wedding

  1. Is it crazy that I teared up through this whole thing. Maybe it’s the Army wife in me or thinking about my own wedding. Congratulations again! Thank you for sharing all the beauty that was your wedding, and you being the most beautiful of all of it!

      • Blues. I wore my grandmothers dress. We planned it over the phone in 2 weeks (we had been friends for 15 years). Facebooked/called family and all 100 people showed up (even flew in from the east cost and Afganistan, coming back from contract work with the military). Married in our high school teachers back yard (she is a master gardener). A high school friend (ordained) married us. My kids walked down before me in dresses they picked. My high school friend did my hair. A dear friend did the pictures. My MIL’s friend played the harp. My best friend since high school made my flowers from the garden. Our art teacher and her husband made iced vanilla coffee and lemonade. My grandmother popped popcorn and put it in popcorn bags. I made our three tier rice krispy bar cake (plus 10 extra pans). We wrote our vows. It lasted 2 hours and was perfect for us! Then we ran a 5K for our honeymoon and did lots of fun stuff with the kids before he went back after block leave. Then he had a quick deployment for 9 months. We have been married for 16 months and have seen each other for 5 weeks of it, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I didn’t have a formal proposal or all the time to plan but being his wife (even though we live apart) is worth everything. We are going to have a huge family picnic for all of our friends/family with lawn games when he actually moves home. P.S. totally teared up at your pics again. I love people in love 🙂

        • P.S. he had his bach party after the wedding, golfing with his high school buddies..he came home giggling like a girl cause he doens’t drink. So funny. My bach party was the night before with my SIS in law and best friend Ross…we drank wine and wore mustaches 🙂 all good fun.

  2. I have so much to say, Wedding twin! 1) That is the best proposal I’ve ever heard of, and that’s saying a lot because mine was pretty rad too. 2) I will tell every bride ever that the first look is the best decision I’ve ever made. Both Zach and I were so freaking nervous before, and after it was just all relaxing and let’s get married! 3) He had his bachelor party the night before the wedding!? You, my friend, are a cool wife. I definitely would have gone Bridezilla on that decision,but based on how Zach was after his, my outrage would have been justified.

    BEAUTIFUL pictures! I love the colors, they looked amazing together. What a lovely bride, and a lovely day! Congratulations again 🙂

    • You better make good on that promise to blog about your wedding, newly-Mrs.!

      Obviously I’m in total wedding-twin agreement about the first-look photos. Getting married is horrifying; I would have been twice as nervous during the ceremony if we hadn’t had that time together beforehand. No amount of champagne can replace that (or at least not an amount I’ve had…yet).

  3. So beautiful 😀 Could’ve used a tissue warning, though! I absolutely love the photos that Ben took! They’re GORGEOUS! I think your first look photos got to me the most 🙂

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