Army 101 / Wedding planning

My big fat Jewish Army wedding: the sequel

The wedding so big and fat it needed two blog posts.

You’ve seen the gorgeous portraits from part one of my wedding, but believe it or not there was also a ceremony and reception. Though, admittedly, after the after the initial photos is when the real wedding drinking started, and the day became a big, bubbly blur. Which is probably because I got over-zealous in my pre-ceremony toast with my bridesmaids and sprayed fresh, foamy champagne into my face and eyeball.

(Luckily my instincts told me to protect my dress instead of my face, and I hopped back just in time to avoid a crucial stain. CLASSIC BRIDE MISTAKE: Don’t drink your champagne too fast. Amateur.)

I owe about a thousand thank-yous to friends and family for making our ceremony fun and unique, but the first unsung thank-you belongs to my friend Liz.

Liz was one of my first elementary school friends when I moved from Los Angeles to Maryland. In the fourth grade, she told me she used to be a cat, and then we turned a school economics project into “Liz and Aileen’s shop of aliens” and the rest is the kind of history that’s still happening every day.

Ceremony musician

We did a remarkably terrible job of getting photos together during the wedding, so here are some remarkably old photos instead.

Having done theater since the age of nine, I’ve been lucky to know some ridiculously talented people who I am still in awe of every day. Liz is at the top of that list. Before Jonathan was even in the picture, I knew I wanted to go Ursula-the-sea-witch on Liz and steal her voice for my ceremony. But when it came time to plan the real event, I decided just to ask her to use it herself instead.

Liz learned the piano and voice parts for a strange collection of Rogers and Hammerstein and other showtunes I asked for, and I still can’t listen to her sing them without crying (there are few things I can listen to Liz sing without crying). Though there were some problems with the venue’s sound system, every note that came from Liz’s mouth and hands was perfect to me, and I can’t imagine what the ceremony would have been without her.

And speaking of stupidly talented people who deserve gigantic thank-yous for performing at my wedding ceremony:

Here he is, boys! Here he is, world! It’s…

Wedding officiant

Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

David Randall Melnick. One of my closest friends from college who flew from his home in London to officiate our wedding. Dave and I met as freshmen at Washington College, and ended up spending three summers in our college town living together with our dear friend Sylvia (the greatest woman you will ever meet). We worked as musical director (him…duh) and clarinetist for a local community theater where Sylvia directed summer shows.

Before we graduated, Dave and I traveled to Europe on an educational grant to study music and theater (most days I still can’t believe that happened, and that it involved seeing Patti Lupone in Gypsy on Broadway). And though I stayed in the States after our time at school, Europe pulled Dave back in. I really put him to work for his American wedding tour by asking him not only to officiate, but to sing a duet with Liz during the ring ceremony. Obviously it was “One Hand One Heart” from West Side Story. And that’s all I can say without crying again.

But enough with the sap, and down to the…sap.

Walking down the aisle

Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

The secret to avoid crying while walking down the aisle: your mom reciting stand-up comedy routines in your ear.

We wanted the ceremony to be light and fun with a hint of tradition, and the script my sister wrote fit us to a tee. In addition to the duet, we had a poem, a reading, a traditional wine blessing, and a heaping handful of jokes. Which is another secret to avoid crying through your entire ceremony. Because, CLASSIC BRIDE MISTAKE: I didn’t wear waterproof mascara.

Wedding Ceremony

Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

My cousin Jackie was gracious enough to present a short explanation of the Jewish glass-breaking ceremony, in case any of our friends and family members were very confused when Jonathan appeared to be stomping on something angrily during an otherwise peaceful wedding ceremony.

Mazel Tov

Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

The gorgeous birch chuppah was Jonathan’s wedding gift to me; he and his father assembled it on site the morning of the wedding, topped with the tallit my sister and I wore during our bat mitzvah. The chuppah was easily one of my favorite wedding details, and I’m still trying to convince Jonathan to up-cycle the wood into a coffee table and some rustic votive holders.


Photos by Ben Powell Photography.
Celebratory high-five by nephew Chaz.

A special thank-you to Gretchen for not only playing make-up artist for some of my bridesmaids, but for her enthusiasm with the pink ribbon dancers during the recessional.

Wedding party recessional

Photo by Ben Powell Photography.

When the ceremony ended, that’s when I began to get a hint that we were behind schedule. CLASSIC BRIDE MISTAKE: I planned and printed out an intricate schedule spreadsheet for my wedding party and vendors, but I didn’t have the forethought to bring a watch.

Luckily our photographers zipped through the family portraits in an organized fashion, and managed not to skimp on the quality at the same time.

Groom's parents

Photo by Ben Powell Photography.

Bride's parents

Photo by Ben Powell Photography.

Another CLASSIC BRIDE MISTAKE: I didn’t hire a wedding coordinator. When the ceremony ended and it became my job to round up our family and wedding party who had sneaked off to cocktail hour to take shots of bourbon, that’s when the hindsight really kicked in. Although my venue came with a rehearsal and day-of coordinator, both the rehearsal and the wedding were riddled with coordination and organization problems, much to my disappointment. After the ceremony, the people-moving part of the coordination fell on my shoulders; at which point I realized I wasn’t entirely sure where to send people, or what was going on, because I had no watch, and I left my wedding binder on one of the reception tables during setup.

So I did the only rational thing I could think of: I stomped down to cocktail hour with my train gathered clumsily into my fists to take shots of bourbon with my guests. And obviously to grab some cheese.

Cocktail hour

Photo by Ben Powell Photography.

Eventually the wedding party gathered for introductions, and I chugged my half-spilled bottle of champagne in the hallway while all six of my bridesmaids tried to negotiate my intricate bustle. CLASSIC BRIDE MISTAKE: I didn’t take down the bustling notes from the seamstress.

Since Jonathan prefers classic country music and I have a weird obsession with Ke$ha, we had to pull out a huge compromise for our first dance. Apparently when one end of the spectrum is Johnny Cash and the other end is Kelly Clarkson, the middle ground ends up being Bob Dylan.

First dance

Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

We asked one more gigantic favor of Liz, and she accompanied herself with “Make You Feel My Love” for our first dance. That’s right: a Bob Dylan song that was covered by both Garth Brooks and Adele. If marriage is about compromise, we’re off to a solid start.

Luckily there was no compromise needed for the centerpieces, as I think it was impossible for Jonathan to care less about them. Which was good news for me, because I’m not sure I was ever totally honest with him about just how much pink I’d incorporated into the wedding plans.

Wedding Table Decor Centerpieces

Floral arrangements and cake by Le Soleil Catering.
Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

During the reception, I avoided a standard classic bride mistake: I made 100% sure Jonathan and I had a chance to eat dinner, and I even found a moment to sneak out to the bar for one of our signature cocktails (Buffalo Trace bourbon with ginger ale).

Though Jonathan rarely passes up a glass of bourbon, his main indulgence for the night was a special whiskey he was saving for a big occasion.

Sinatra Select Jack Daniels

Jack Daniel’s put out a limited edition Sinatra Select bottle, paying homage to a late Jack-drinker who also happened to play Nathan Detroit in my favorite musical.

Jonathan had his groomsmen sign the bottle with a gold glass pen so he can hang onto it as a souvenir. And just to remove any doubt, yes; we’re probably going to turn it into a lamp. I tend to get fixated on specific craft ideas.

Parents dances

Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

Maybe blame the two full bottles of wine on our sweetheart table, but the reception was the biggest blur of all. Brides across the universe will tell you that the night goes by like lightning, and the best advice I got before my flash of a wedding day was to remember to find a moment to take it all in.

And I did.

The wedding was more than a month ago now, but I can still close my eyes and feel like I’m in the moment when my sister decided to recite a haiku we wrote about poop during her maid-of-honor speech.

Maid of honor speech

Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

She also threw in a couple heartfelt moments.

But the greatest moment in her speech (and perhaps the greatest moment in any maid-of-honor speech of all time totally not biased) was when she had our friend Martin, dressed as Santa Claus, deliver me Mean Girls-style candy cane grams. FOUR candy cane grams. YOU GO, GLEN COCO. I mean, you go Aileen Houston.

You go Glen Coco

Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

Wedding Mean Girls candy cane grams

And none for Gretchen Wieners, BYE.

Jonathan’s brothers took a more traditional approach to their speeches, which was bad news for me because it was getting difficult at this point in the night to suppress tears. The plus side is that nobody chose to mention that we met at a bar, which was very polite of them.

Best men speeches

Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

The best men had some words of wisdom for us about the Army lifestyle; one of them mentioned that, however difficult our relationship has been, it will only get harder. Maybe this sounds a little harsh, but it was a heartfelt reminder our wedding day needed.

When the wedding was said and done, at the core of the day and its festivities for me was that I became an official, public Army wife. And when I said “I do” for richer or poorer, in good times and in bad, I knew that the richer may always be limited, and that the bad times will mean deployments and lonely holidays and a year at a time as a single mother. But if I get a chance for the good times, Jonathan is the only person I can see myself taking this journey with.

And to ring in that journey, I decided it was best to smash cake all over his face.

Cake cutting

Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

Being in a military lifestyle makes me especially appreciative that we were able to have a traditional wedding—not to mention a wedding that so many of our friends and family members were able to attend. And although in a perfect world the wedding would have been a week long so we could have spent enough time with each of those friends and family members, the short time we shared will be remembered in the pictures we hang on our limited wall space, until we retire to a cruise ship and spend all our time snorkeling.

Wedding friends DC

My fabulous Washington, D.C. friends, who I stuck in the barn’s loft so they could all be cordoned off to get wasted together. You’re welcome.
Photo by Ben Powell Photography.

Groom's friends

The life of the party.
Photo by Ben Powell Photography.

Wedding friends

Becky and Brandon; Sean and Gretchen, and Gretchen’s fabulous purple hair.
Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

My gorgeous family. Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

My gorgeous family.
Photos by Ben Powell Photography.

Wedding friends WAC

The Washington College wedding guests! And also apparently the moment when Jonathan decided he’d had it up to here with smiling.
Photo by Ben Powell Photography.

Wedding guests

Brandon, Chelsea, Barney, THE HAPPY COUPLE, Rachel, Gretchen, and Sean.
Photo by Ben Powell Photography.

Barn wedding horah

Photo by Ben Powell Photography.

Now that the wedding is over, the question on everybody’s lips is “Where is the honeymoon??” To which I’d like to officially respond: Our honeymoon is a luxurious Mediterranean cruise that departs from Baltimore in approximately never.

I was beyond fortunate that, not only was Jonathan back from his deployment in time for the wedding, he was able to get a few days off work to travel to Maryland for it. And that’s as far as we chose to push our luck. With Army responsibilities and our impending PCS (and, spoiler alert, there will likely be at least two more PCS moves shortly after the coming one), an immediate honeymoon is not in our cards. Instead, our honeymoon is that, after years of long-distance dating and deployments, we’ll finally get some time in one place together, even if that one place needs to uproot a few times before it is stable.

Thank you again to everyone who made it to our wedding, and to those of you taking the time to read about it. Now it’s your turn: If you are married, what’s your favorite memory from your wedding? If you haven’t tied the knot but hope to one day, what do you think the most important part of wedding planning will be?

Vendors and Brands

0 thoughts on “My big fat Jewish Army wedding: the sequel

  1. This really was the most fairy-tale wedding I’ve ever seen!! You amaze me!!

    There are so many favorite parts of my wedding! Starting with champagne and cupcakes while we got ready at my house (and then realizing we probably needed lunch and could my sister’s boyfriend please run out to Subway?) The fact that Carlos and I individually worked Elvis Presley lyrics into our vows (I sang mine of course!) The salsa band. But I think my favorite was walking back down the aisle as a married couple under an arch of bubbles being blown by our guests, and watching their faces as they realized that the recessional song was in fact the end theme from Star Wars: A New Hope played on the keyboard.

    Congrats on a gorgeous and happy wedding!

    • If Jonathan sees that you used a Star Wars song for your recessional and realizes I never presented that to him as an option, he’s going to be really angry with me.

      Your wedding sounds like it was a blast, Eileen! It’s those little details that get the awww factor.

  2. I got married just over a month ago, and while there are lots of the typical “favorites” moments there is one that as it happened I knew I just wanted to remember: I was sitting on the counter in the bride’s room at the church waiting for the photographer to come take the shots of me getting in the dress, just chatting with my bridesmaids. It wasn’t necessarily wedding related chat, but it was so nice to have those moments of calm and friendship before the craziness of the ceremony and reception.

    • Getting ready with my bridesmaids was a definite highlight as well. The room was cramped and we were all a little crazy, but it was such a blast. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I loved getting to read about your wedding– I’m so happy for you and Jonathan! Reading about yours made me remember mine, and now I want to share all of my favorite moments. Instead, I’ll pick one– Kelsy gave such a beautiful toast that I want to frame it and keep it forever. Other highlights were our grand exit, and our ceremony which was just the right blend of hilarious and heartfelt.

  4. seeing my husband tear up when he saw me outside the church in my dress and the mosh pit at the reception where they had my husband up in the air while dancing to the Ramones….Congratulations – absolutely beautiful! Wishing you the best.

  5. Pingback: Oh, the places we’re going | Army Pants and Flip Flops

  6. Holy cow! Your wedding looks so beautiful it makes me want to cry, and I wasn’t even there, but I felt like I was from these two posts.
    Am I married? Nope! Not even close!
    Have I given any thought to my future wedding? (Because yes, I am hopeful it will happen one day) A little. I think the hardest/most important thing to me will be the venue, because I’m less of an inside-hall-kind-of-girl and more of a middle-of-the-woods-girl.

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