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What made your wedding special?

We've been asked this many times, mainly by people who couldn't attend. Even those who were there have been curious about just how many cool things we considered, and how many we managed to squeeze in. This page is dedicated to all those extra bonuses on which we spent special effort to make just right.

... did you just call them "power ups"?

(Sean writes) ... Yeah ... let me explain.

Although we felt behind schedule throughout all our planning, when we look back at how many important elements, fun ideas, and casual notions we managed to successfully incorporate into the final experience — that is to say, all of them — it becomes apparent that we did spend a lot of our time and effort in exactly the right place. Early thought and crystallization of what we wanted paid off when we were later scrambling to make it happen.

Having the video game obsession I do, I think it's fair to consider the typical wedding package and accoutrements as a "basic" model, and everything we customized and added on as "power ups".

These are the things that made our wedding stand out. In combination, they made our wedding unique, and so much fun that we wish we could return to that day every year, if not every month, and enjoy the celebration all over again.

The Power Ups

Save the Date

Personalized. That's the word for our wedding. Right from the start, we wanted to do things OUR WAY. It started with the "save the date" cards. After rejecting lots of cute ones in magazines, the heart shapes, the pink, we came across and promptly stole the brilliant notion of affixing the date on a magnet.

Having the terrible sense of humor that we do, wedding-related puns began flowing fast and awful. tied "Tying the knot" was our best candidate, and so we roped our friend Acorn into a photo session of us "doing it wrong."

To make sure our guests with "advance scheduling needs" got all the information they needed, we included a ransom ransom note with the photo, containing the time and location of the wedding. Creating it also gave us an excuse to act like six-year-olds, with a big pair of scissors, a can of paste, and a pile of color Sunday newspaper inserts.

With these shenanigans, we somewhat unwittingly set ourselves up for a massive onus of overwhelming creativity for the event itself. We knew we were in trouble the first time we heard, "Great save-the-dates! I can't wait to see what you do for invitations!" Uh-oh.

Invitations

We figured this was going to be easy. When we first got engaged, Crissy's cousin mentioned that Carlson Craft — a company easily confused with Carlton Cards to poor, wedding-addled couples such as ourselves — had the perfect invitation: scratch-off style. So when it came time to order, we called up Carlson and asked for 120 scratch-off invitations. Our request was shuttled through many people, and eventually we got the bad news — they stopped making them in 2004.

invitation Being the stubborn people we are, we started scouring various wedding invitation printers and Googling like mad-men to find scratch-off anything. It paid off in the end. With Direct Check Marketing, we were able to submit a template of our own design, which gave us almost too much creative freedom.

Garden

It's a funny thing about Hakone Gardens. No matter what level our stress had reached, during early and late phases of planning, a trip to the garden always drained it right out of us and left us feeling peaceful and serene. Though we looked at 33 other locations (in person, mind you — there were over a hundred candidates scouted by web), this was the clear winner. By a lot.

Want to hear about a few of the ones we rejected?

  • "Lovely outdoor gardens" was a patch of grass by the parking lot. What a view, eh? Is that a Chevy?
  • Or how about, "idyllic walk up to wedding hill". Try, hot, steep, and bee-infested. With a view of a chainlink fence.
  • If you're going to insist on your own on-site catering, you really ought to offer tastings. Instead, they had a binder full of letters of recommendation, describing how pretty the food looks!
  • One place wanted our parents' contact info before even scheduling a visit.
  • Another seemed flawless ... until the motorcycles went by. All 50 of them. Regulars at the venue, it turns out.
  • Did we mention the "private setting" fenced off a mere 30 yards from the freeway? Whose owner insisted on being the wedding coordinator, so he could run it the right way?
  • It's great to have a health club, but you could at least close it during wedding hours? No surprise speedos, please.

The Formalwear

Crissy writes about her gown:

First of all, I wanted a gown I was going to wear again. Which meant probably not white. Which was a great plan, right up until I actually set foot in a bridal salon, and confronted a sea of white. Hey, no problem! I'll just get a bridesmaid's dress for myself. Only problem with that is, the industry's idea behind bridesmaid's dresses is to make sure the bridesmaids are uglier than the bride. So I gave in and looked at white dresses.

To my surprise, some of them were actually pretty. Some of them even had splashes of color on them. I decided that was good enough, and actually bought a white dress. With blue on it. And I was happy....

... until Sean decided to wear purple. I want to wear purple! Purple is so much cooler than white with a little blue. It was at that point I actually let myself talk to a custom dress designer. After getting a quote, talking to a dozen girlfriends (and Sean) — several times — I decided I would rather spend a whole lotta money on a dress I loved than a little money on a dress that worked.

Anybody want an unworn white dress with some blue on it? I'm selling it on eBay. Soon.

The final outfit was provided by The Dark Garden, to my specifications, based on their advice. It had a corset top, with a bolero jacket I could remove for dancing. The dress was crepe-backed satin, which is so much fun to twirl! They even found me a beautiful necklace to match.

Sean's monkey suit

The annual Dickens Fair is the gateway to madness. Most grooms are happy to rent a prefab monkey suit from the monkey suit professionals. Of which there are many. Just visit any bridal fair — they're not just for brides. Ok, they are, but they all assume the bride is in charge of everything, including the groom's attire. I'm fussier than that. In fact, if it weren't for me being so fussy, the whole shindig would have been done in Vegas before I blinked, to Crissy's delight. Where was I?

Dickens Fair, December 2003. Lots of really sharp outfits, should you care to assemble the pieces yourself. After trying on a few different style coats, I saw the reaction I was getting from Crissy and her girl friends with the straight-cut frock, and bought it on the spot. The top hat followed in minutes.

Now that I was committed to piece-wise assembly, a decent vest was nowhere to be found. Having set the wedding date for well over a year in advance, I got the opportunity to shop again at Dickens Fair the following year. This outing turned up a nice purple cravat and beautiful matching stick pin. But still no vest.

The vest was settled once Crissy had finalized her decision to have her gown custom-made. Why not take a bit more of the same material for my vest? And it was made so.

The pants came after searching high and low for something "just right." It was like a Dr. Seuss book. Too plain. Too itchy. Too bold. Too stretchy. Wrong material. Wrong cut. Wrong pattern. Wrong — you get the picture. Nordstrom came through with an Italian herringbone of varying grain. Solids were too boring, and most herringbones were too brash, but even Goldilocks would have jumped at this one.

cufflink The cufflinks were a game show prize at Curtis' and DeeAnn's wedding. Wearing them, I feel like Superman.

Fans

Stealing another idea from a website, we printed our programs on church-style fans. What could be simpler, right? It was also the perfect place to deliver 9 interesting wedding facts to our guests, a cleverly-disguised ruse to get them talking to each other. The reception tables seated nine, and each guest had a different fact printed on their fan. Wonder if it worked....

Mad props shout-out to our family for working all hours assembling the fans for us. They were polite the entire time, save for one topical-news-referencing threat issued by Crissy's sister: "If you decide to be a runaway bride, I'm going to hunt you down and BEAT you with these fans ... and I will make sure your gravestone has 9 interesting wedding facts on it."

Weather

The weather was absolutely perfect. You may think it silly to take credit for good weather, but then you probably haven't met Sensei Ito.

The weekend prior to our wedding, we visited Hakone Gardens to make final arrangements. Our visit coincided with a large festival, and it was there we met Sensei Ito. He was relaxing in the building highest atop the hillside, overlooking the gardens. This building was actually shipped here from Japan, and its presence evokes feelings of ancient timelessness. Sensei was gentle and kind, and showed us photos of his own daughter's recent wedding here. (Or niece, or some cherished relative.)

When we mentioned that we were to be married one week hence, Sensei told us, "one moment, please." He closed his eyes and stood motionless for a time. When he looked at us again, he said with a warm smile, "Your weather will be perfect. I have prayed for it."

Cultural note: "Sensei" is an honorific title, not a name. It is Japanese, and means teacher, doctor, or respected elder.

Harp

Sean's the musical one in this household. Preferring live musicians to recordings, he had a vague notion of getting a hammered dulcimer player*, maybe some flutes, to play for the ceremony. But when he heard harpist Juli Alexander at yet another bridal fair, there was no more searching needed. Anyone who could whip out Shubert's "Ave Maria" on a moment's notice was easily head and shoulders above most wedding performers. And it didn't hurt that her personality reminded us of a certain high-energy close friend.

If that wasn't enough, she was willing to learn a piece or two just for us. I sent her sheet music (thank you, Google!) to a theme that resonated with us, "Kyosuke #1" from the movie Shin Kimagure Orange Road.

* That is, a player of the hammered dulcimer, not a dulcimer player under intoxicating influences. Pun acknowledged, move along.

Ring box

box Since Crissy has never been fond of receiving flowers, it seemed appropriate to replace the bouquet with something more meaningful. Especially in a garden setting, where flowers abound already. This hand-carved wooden jewelry box was a gift from Sean on the day he proposed, with her engagement hidden inside. It seemed only right, since it has two compartments, to carry both wedding rings for this occasion.

Rings

Oh boy. Such an adventure we had with the rings. Very nearly we came to not having any rings ... at least, not in time for the wedding, anyway. But in the end they were beautiful, and exactly what we wanted.

Hand fasting

hands You learn about a lot of traditions when you're planning a wedding. Especially if you're inclined to borrow the neatest customs from a wide variety of religious and secular traditions, rather than follow any particular one. The one ceremonial feature that stood out most prominently was hand fasting, or binding of the hands with decorative cords. Since there are no surviving records of what a hand fasting originally was like, it is very adaptable to personal interpretation.

In answer to many people's question, no, we're not actually Wiccan, nor are the people who bound us. We just liked that ritual, and hope the Wiccans don't mind us borrowing it. You may be surprised to learn that the save-the-date cards had nothing to do with this idea, we had already sent them by the time we began considering hand fasting. Just another coincidence in the game of cosmic alignment.

Ceremony

We wrote our own ceremony, incorporating themes most meaningful to us. Our best creativity comes forth in the form of collage, of recombination and restructure. We scavenged the internet, bridal guides, our own memories, and many other sources to put together a formalized — but not stuffy — recitation and ritual to proclaim and solidify our togetherhood.

The full annotated ceremony text with source citations is available for reference and amusement.

Officiant

The ideal person for this role is someone who knows us very well. Someone who shares our view that spirituality is a part of everyday life, and conversely that spiritual occasions such as weddings should reflect the same joys that make life so rich. Someone who can successfully bring elements of levity and fun into a formal occasion without destroying its seriousness, or turning it into a farce.

Yet by law, weddings must be performed by members of religious clergy. As we do not regularly attend any church, synagogue, or other widely-recognized hall of worship, we instead took the path followed by many Californians and sought out the Universal Life Church. (The Silicon Valley nerd in me wants to describe them as the Open Source Religion)

While Sean's father would have been an ideal candidate, logistics made our good friend Loren Cheng a better choice. We have always known Loren to be fun-loving since we met, and over the years we've come to appreciate also how deeply he shares our belief that true joy comes from kindness, support, and sharing. And being a master showman, he pulled off perfect delivery of the text we'd written, as we knew he could.

Kazoos and Whistles

The pronouncement of "husband and wife" is always a time for great revelry. We chose noise makers over rice, bubbles, or confetti for two reasons: sound and music relate more directly to the happy couple (especially Sean), and the cleanup is much, much easier.

basket The whistles (called "whizzers" by our vendor) were the kind that make a rising "wheee!" noise just by blowing into one end. You may have heard them used by circus clowns. For the musicians in the house, kazoos offered a tuneful way to join in our recessional, Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."

Since we bought them in bulk at warehouse prices, we knew many of them might be D.O.A. Thus, we placed a disposal bucket near the dispensing basket and encouraged our guests to try them out immediately.

Origami

The centerpieces at our reception tables were folded by Sean, and chosen from our stock of instruction books by Crissy. Guest seating was assigned by printing on each fan the origami featured at their table. We had eleven shapes in all:
  1. Blue Tortoise
  2. Green Bird
  3. Yellow Duck*
  4. Purple Crane
  5. Yellow Crab
  6. Blue Seal
  7. Green Dragon
  8. Blue Sparrow
  9. Green Frog
  10. Purple Dinosaur**
  11. Yellow Butterfly
[*] One of our guests is listed in the Guiness Book of Records for the largest collection of rubber ducks. Naturally, she was seated at this table.
[**] Yes, the folks at the Purple Dinosaur table referred to it as the "Barney" table.

Favorite wines

What better way to discover and choose the best wines for service than to host a wine party? A few weeks prior, our dearest wine snobs hosted a tasting at a private residence in the Santa Cruz mountains. There we sniffed, swirled, and lapped away under the shade of the redwoods. Six whites and seven reds were sampled in all.

The scoring system was ingenious. Into a wine glass placed near each bottle, tasters were to drop one, two, or three m&mTM candies to indicate its quality. Red candies were special, and indicated a firm rejection. Each taster could employ as many rejections as necessary (though thankfully, there were only a few wines that earned them), but only one green candy was given to each taster for marking their favorite of all. Naturally, extra m&ms were served for snacking, and the votes were consumed upon conclusion of the tally.

Food

Tapas Party (n.): 1. A full dinner, consisting of numerous helpings of small portions. 2. A Spanish term for Texas-sized hors d'oeuvres from our French caterer.

Sampling the caterers is one of the best parts about planning a wedding. Heck, we're thinking about going wedding shopping again next year, just to sample all the food again!

Happily, we were able to bring our absolute favorite one to our reception, and share with our guests what is quite possibly the best food to be found in the south bay area. If you stop in to dine at Le Papillon in San Jose, tell them we sent you.

It is common at weddings for the bride and groom to miss out entirely on food service. Being the foodies we are, and knowing full well the quality of offerings awaiting us after the ceremony, we made extra special sure to be the first ones in line and enjoy a solid fifteen minutes of pleasurable dining before becoming derailed.

For once our guests began clinking their glasses to make us kiss, that was the end of peaceful eating. Sean stood up and announced, "We know what you want, but you only get one freebie. If you want us to kiss again, you'll have to kazoo us a tune that's either perfect for a wedding setting or else completely inappropriate." Henceforth, both bride and groom were too busy hustling from serenade to serenade, a non-stop stream of creativity until the best man's toast.

Toasting mead

We don't like champagne. We do like mead, and it has a much older tradition as being the preferred drink of newlyweds. Luckily for us, there is a rising star among meaderies that happens to be so close to our house we could walk there — Rabbit's Foot Meadery. At the tasting we were surprised to learn how many different types there are. We chose a sweet mead for toasting, and a harder cyser to share at the picnic the next day. toast

Toasting glasses

The beautiful glasses were a gift from Sean's mother and her husband. They bear the Claddagh insignia, matching the engagement ring Sean gave to Crissy.

Funk band

There's nothing like a live band to pump energy into a party. Crissy really wanted to dance, and Sean really wanted the verve of live musicians. Now, "our song" has been Funky Town ever since Crissy moved up from Irvine to be with Sean, after discussing it for nearly two years ("gotta make a move / to a town that's right for me / well, I talked about it / talked about it / talked about it ..."). Little did we know it would take us three years to fulfill wedding plans, once decided.... Anyway, funk was the clear genre of choice for our wedding party music.

The matter of which band to hire was decided at a street fair in Sunnyvale. Crissy noticed that Sean was actually dancing, without prompting — those of you who know him well may marvel at this. So did Crissy. We approached the band, obtained contact info, and the deal was done.

Busta-Groove performs many times a year, and the summer street fairs usually have free admission. Be sure to catch them if you get a chance!

Chocolate Fountain

Competing with the band for attention at the other end of the reception area was the game and coffee room, featuring an irresistable draw: The chocolate fountain. fountain

They're all the rage, apparently. Four tiers of cascading, mouth-watering, smooth chocolate, and a platter of skewer-sized nibbles. Dippable morsels included bananas, strawberries, rice crispy treats, apple chunks, and graham crackers. We were hooked the first time we saw (tasted) one in action. So hooked, we just had to taste-test with pretty much everybody who rents these things in the Bay Area. And decided on San Jose Chocolate Fountains, because they had Europeeeeean chocolate, ooooh.

It's tough to plan a wedding.

Madlibs

madlibs The purpose of the game room was to entertain guests who preferred not to dance. One of the activities we wet out for our more creative guests was a stack of blank invitations. That is, cards identical to our invitation but with blanks instead of scratch-offs. As the evening wore on, the post board began to fill with fabulous contributions.

Magnetic poetry

Another activity we offered was a set of good old magnetic poetry, the kind you typically find on refrigerators. This variety was "Shakespearean Love." Like I said at the top, we really did manage to get every great idea into the wedding, even little ones like this.

Trolls

As proof of the creativity of our guests, there was an additional activity we hadn't planned or counted on. When Crissy's brother Mike read on our registry page that we'd hoped to avoid receiving one hundred wedding trolls (as featured on Disturbing Auctions .com), he committed himself to making sure that we did. And we did, sure enough, in the form of one hundred postcards featuring that image. The observe sides were decorated by the whims of our guests, and collected in the game room along with the madlib cards.

Cake

cake There are two key parts to a cake: the way it looks, and the way it tastes. The look was inspired by the cover art of a Valentine's issue of Games magazine. The top of the cake was adorned with a bride figurine, while the groom figurine stood at the base, separated from her by a maze that traversed the entire surface of the cake. The details diverged from the magazine, since we couldn't find it when we needed it. I'm quite sure I put it in a special pile of urgent materials so I wouldn't lose it when the time came, because there was a conspicuous gap in my collection of back-issues. So much for organization.

Our choice of baker, therefore, was driven both by taste tests (did I mention how much fun it can be to plan a wedding?) and the creativity factor of the cakes they'd done before. The taste tests gave us a clear winner, no contest. And we also found a baker whose artistry and innovation was beyond any others, certainly up to the task of our custom maze. Most luckily, it was the same baker that fit both criteria: Marcus Coy, of Draeger's in Menlo Park.

The figurines themselves were a king and queen chosen from one of the chess sets I inherited from my grandfather, who passed away in 2002 shortly after we became engaged. He really wanted to be present at our wedding, and so we included him by this token in our celebration.

Just before the cake was cut, the women of the wedding party were invited to come forward and pull charms from beneath the cake. Since Crissy didn't have a bouquet to toss, this provided an alternate way to give limelight to our ladies.

Firefall

firefall Once it became dark enough, it was time for the grand finale of the night. Ever since we first contemplated throwing a wedding, we knew we wanted to hire Kiki and Scott to run the Cauldron for us, a dynamic artwork from their Firefall series.

Sean was honored with lighting the Cauldron. The crowd hovered in a ring about thirty feet back from the edge, but once it was lit and they saw Sean and Crissy dipping their hands in to hold the fire, people surged forward to join in, faces alit with awe. It was the coolest thing ever.

Kiki is fascinated by circles, and by spirals, which are like circles but they return you to a point not quite exactly where you were before. It is fitting, then, that our first unshakeable decision about what to feature at our wedding — to the point where our choice of location was strongly constrained by permission to run firefall — should come last in the day. We end where we started, bringing the entire event to a satisfying closure.