That’s the brilliant advice from today’s couple who built in a lot of personal elements, unique to their lives and relationship to create a truly meaningful and memorable, pure and sacred wedding ceremony.
Elliot is a rabbi and Abby is a writer with musical background and together they worked in a lot of spiritual, literary, and musical touches. Their whole W-day was a truly handcrafted affair and the creative couple beavered away on several projects to create their charming mid-century woodland wedding… the exquisite home-made jam favours that doubled up as table numbers, the fifties-style dress, the handmade wedding programs, the challah and cake, the privacy tent (more on that later). Almost every detail was created by Abby, Elliot, or one of their talented family and friends. There was even an appointed ‘decor captain’ so that their woodland theme permeated effortlessly throughout!
Both Abby and Elliot report on their wedding and they have a gorgeous set of images from Miki Vargas that truly capture the emotions and spirit of their day.
OUR PERFECT VENUE… ALMOST ON OUR DOORSTEP!
Our wedding was at the Sequoia Lodge in Oakland, CA. We wanted a warm, woodsy experience, and hadn’t found what we were looking for. Then, one day, Elliot was driving along a road about two miles from our house, and saw a wedding being set up at the Sequoia Lodge. He quickly detoured to take a look, and saw that it was the perfect place for us. It was just the right size (about 80 people), surrounded by lovely forest, with a wraparound porch surrounding a mid-century, relaxed and intimate wooden lodge. Elliot texted photos to Abby, and the rest is history.
A MID-CENTURY WOODLAND THEME
Our unofficial theme was “mid-century woodland delight.” We wore mid-century clothes, asked our guests to dress as if for a garden party, and everything had a fancy-picnic-in-the-woods feel. We didn’t have an official colour scheme, but everything ended up being in the range of deep reds and pinks with some green and gold accents.
INVITATIONS WITH A MID-CENTURY VIBE
We used Minted, which is a great website that works with independent designers. We chose a chalkboard theme to go with the mid-century vibe.
DESIGNING THE DRESS
I worked with a local designer, Theresa LaQuey, and we designed the dress together. She was wonderful, and helped me make the dress into something really special. I hadn’t seen anything that I loved (that was in my price range) that was already made, so I went fabric shopping at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco, and let the fabrics inspire me.
I wanted it to have a fifties feel with a bateau neckline, and a hit of colour (the red sash). I hadn’t originally pictured myself in a white dress, but I loved the way the ivory with little black polka dots looked, so I went with it.
I wore ivory patent leather mary jane kitten heels. They were incredibly comfortable while still looking lovely, which was the goal!
HAIR + MAKE-UP
My hair and makeup were both done by Shana Astrachan of Fox and Doll. She did an amazing job. She specialises in retro-vintage looks, and really achieved what I was looking for, but in a very non-costume-y way. Nothing was over the top; it was authentic and lovely and fresh, and I felt amazing.
A THREE-PIECE SUIT FOR THE GROOM
Elliot wore an exquisite, hand-sewn three-piece tweed suit made by the lovely geniuses at Duchess Clothier. The colour was a kind of plummy, brownish grey that looked different in different lights, with a pale pink button down shirt and a burgundy paisley silk tie. His boutonniere was made from succulents and a little air plant. He just looked absolutely incredible, and I felt so lucky.
HANDMADE WEDDING PROGRAM
We had a beautiful little program printed up for all of our guests, bound with cord, featuring the order of events and ceremony, some information about why we chose to structure things as we did, and plentiful thanks for everyone who helped us in so many ways. We couldn’t have done this wedding without all of our loved ones coming together to help.
We wanted something simple and beautiful, with fresh flowers. We worked with Susie Nadler of The Cutting Garden at Flora Grubb Gardens in SF, and she created a lovely chuppah with a white, cheesecloth canopy and beautiful dahlias winding around the poles.
Elliot is a rabbi and Abby is a culturally Jewish, atheist writer with musical background, we worked in a lot of spiritual, literary, and musical touches. We worked with close friend Rabbi Eric Weiss in creating a service that was both traditionally Jewish and incorporated secular, atheist, and political themes.
Elliot is transgender, and both of us are queer, so it was crucial to bring in themes around queerness, chosen family, and community in thinking about marriage. We based our ketubah text on Rabbi Dr. Rachel Adler’s Brit Ahuvim, but changed much of the language.
We brought in scientific and literary examples as well as examples from the Torah in our definition of “covenant,” and expanded the clauses describing the terms of our agreement to include the specificities of our marriage, as well as our commitment to our community and loved ones.
In the ceremony, we both loved the Sheva Brachot. The traditional Hebrew was chanted by close friend Rabbi Reuben Zellman; instead of offering English translations, we chose seven pieces of modern literature (ranging from Charlotte’s Web to Audre Lorde to Jonathan Franzen to Dorothy Allison) that reflected what we consider the core themes of the Sheva Brachot. We hand-picked loved ones to read these excerpts at the ceremony, and it was deeply affecting and wonderful.
At the end of the ceremony, close friend and Unitarian Universalist Minister Rev. Darcy Baxter and her wife, Katherine D’Amato, delivered a short speech about the role of the broader community in supporting our marriage over time. It was the perfect way to pull all of our guests close to us as we made this life transition.
MUSIC FOR THE CEREMONY
The amazing Valerie Troutt, an old friend of Abby’s, sang us down the aisle, first with “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green, and then with “You Send Me” by Sam Cooke. The songs reflected the mood and aesthetic we were aiming for, and Valerie’s gorgeous voice transported everyone into a different reality from the beginning. At the end, we walked out with close friend Rabbi Dev Noily on trumpet and her son, Jesse Felder Noily on oboe, playing a lovely and adorable instrumental version of “You Send Me.”
The table settings had California native flowers in reds and pinks, as well as succulents and air plants. Susie Nadler did an incredible job, and we’d recommend her to anyone.
FAMILY GROUPS, NOT BRIDESMAIDS
We didn’t have bridesmaids but what we did have each was a “family group,” consisting of both birth and chosen family, walk us down the aisle. They were big groups, and everyone wore what they felt most fabulous in.
We worked with photographers and Miki Vargas and Sarah Deragon. They specialise in queer/LGBTQI weddings, and we knew as soon as we saw their pictures that they’d capture the day intimately, respectfully, and with great humour. They fit right in, and were a joy to work with.
Our challah for the motzi (blessing of bread), bits of sourdough that were handed out at the beginning of the ceremony, and our cake, were all made by close friend Nick Yapor-Cox. He owns Nick’s Pizza in Oakland (so delicious!), and has been a baker and a high-end pastry chef.
The cake was a white sponge with lemon curd and strawberry jam, topped with a delicious buttercream and fresh flowers. It was so good, and we ate extra pieces of it later that night at home.
The catering was done by S+S Gastro Grub, an Oakland caterer focusing on locally sourced, organic meats and veggies, with an Asian-South American fusion influence. The food was incredibly delicious, and they were wonderful to work with.
We had a DJ, the brilliant Ashleyanne Krigbaum, who works in public radio and brought a great variety of soul music and ’60s girl groups on vinyl. She was an absolute joy to work with, and has become a friend since then. Everyone loved the music, and the dance floor was full of people from all generations.
BEAUTIFUL SEASONAL JAM FAVOURS
This was one of our favourite parts! Abby spent the six months before the wedding making and jarring seasonal jams (nectarine-blackberry-pluot, aprium-earl grey, strawberry-basil-balsamic, strawberry-blueberry-rhubarb, and apple-pear-cardamom butter). She put them in beautiful glass-topped Weck jars and made pretty tags with everyone’s name and table number hand-written on them. When the guests arrived, they grabbed their jam and found their table… and later, they got to eat delicious jam!
Our close friend Max was our decor captain, and helped carry out the woodland theme throughout. We had a burlap aisle (the ceremony was in the woods), candles, blackboards, moss, flowers, little paper butterflies, etc. Elliot’s goddaughter Emilie set up our privacy tent with flowers and lovely decorations as well, and it made all the different for us.
ADVICE TO OTHER BRIDES
Take the time to make the ceremony really meaningful; go beyond the template to something that truly represents your spiritual and personal beliefs. Make sure you have someone put aside plates of food for you, and make sure you actually eat them. Take some pauses throughout the day to notice what’s happening, and take it all in. Put people in charge of keeping guests away from you at times when you’d like privacy and quiet. Try to make sure the wedding reflects what you love – visually, ritually, gastronomically, etc.
ABBY + ELLIOT’S LITTLE WHITE BOOK
Photographer — Miki Vargas
Venue — Sequoia Lodge
Bride’s dress — Theresa LaQuey
Groom’s attire — Duchess Clothier
Catering — S+S Gastro Grub
Cake — Nick Yapor-Cox from Nick’s Pizza
Hair + Make up — Fox and Doll
Flowers — Flora Grubb Gardens
DJ — Ashleyanne Krigbaum
Stationery – Minted