Thursday, July 30, 2009

Our Very Own Wedding!

Having never been to a wedding before, I was not quite sure what to expect of my own. From the very beginning, the whole process of preparation was a bit beyond my normal sphere of expertise -- a computer scientist is just not trained for making color-matching decisions, choosing the number of tiers and toppings on a cake, or helping his soon-to-be-wife with hemming her wedding dress. So, with that in mind, not only would I like to offer full credit for the wedding to Katrina and her mother, but I should also say that I was absolutely amazed at how beautifully the wedding worked out!

Anyone reading this knows that Kat and I are unique in our tastes, to say the least. We wanted our wedding to be outside, in a pretty place, with flowers and fragrant fresh air; we wanted our wedding party to be clad in beautiful renaissance costumes; a grand piano with classical music and renaissance dancing; a cake adorned with pretty designs and ripe colorful berries; perfect weather -- bright sky with just a touch of clouds, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 68-69 degrees... What is remarkable is that after a year of preparation, all of the above -- including the unpredictable mid-May weather! -- was indeed granted to us!

Our wedding took place at Powell Gardens -- a beautiful botanical garden in western Missouri, half an hour east of Kansas City. The wedding was mostly attended by Katrina's numerous relatives, but we also had a few friends from Evansville who were able to make it (it is a day-long drive), my parents (who drove all the way down from Alaska, taking a month and a half for the round-trip!), two friends from high school (Erik and Ian) who acted as groomsmen and flew down from their respective colleges, and three of Katrina's friends from high school (including her two bridesmaids, Anna and Lauren). For the wedding party, Katrina had meticulously sewn beautiful Renaissance costumes throughout all of the previous year, and some of her relatives likewise chose to buy (or, in the case of Katrina's parents, hand-sew) appropriate Renaissance attire.

We (the wedding party, minus Katrina) arrived to the gardens an hour early, and -- while Katrina was getting her hair braided -- walked around the gardens. Then, an hour before the ceremony, we (plus the now hair-braided and blissfully smiling Katrina) changed into our festive costumes, ready for pictures. We began to stroll through the majestic gardens again -- but this time, like a royal procession, dressed in rich attire, with flowers about us, bouquets in the girls' hands, and a photographer to document these splendid moments. It was a remarkably surreal experience, not only because the wedding -- this mysterious event, to which so much effort and thought and emphasis had been given, and whose purpose I had not clearly understood until that very moment -- had finally begun, but because we did look so natural and yet so out of the ordinary as we strolled down the wooded paths, amidst the flowers and the completely bewildered but admiring visitors!

We had a very efficient, thorough, and confoundingly-quick-speaking photographer. He took pictures of the two of us (standing, walking, leaning towards each other, facing each other, facing the chapel, kneeling, kissing, dipping…), of the whole procession (Bride's parents, bride's parents and the bride, Katrina and each of her parents separately, groomsmen only, bridesmaids and Katrina, the in-laws, and any combination of the above), of various groups in and out of the chapel... (If you have not yet seen the pictures, and the ones in this post are not enough, by all means visit

After the "garden tour", we made our way to the picturesque chapel where our wedding ceremony was to take place, muttering our still-needing-to-be-memorized vows as we went. Inside the chapel, classical music (courtesy of an iPod) was playing, and friends and family were talking amongst themselves, getting ready to sit down. At exactly five o'clock (or, potentially, some ten minutes later, but we were in our own time zone -- quite literally, as we had our own recording of a five o'clock bell chime!), our ceremony began.

We (mostly Katrina) had put some deep thought into the program -- or, really, into most anything throughout the whole wedding! Katrina was also particularly fond of traditions (whether real or created on the fly!), so they were numerously interspersed throughout the program. For the seating of the parents we used "Sunrise Sunset" from Fiddler on the Roof, much as it was used in Katrina's parents' wedding. Similarly, for the wedding processional, we played a recording of my father's own arrangement of "The Swan" by Saint-Saens, which was played to my parents at their wedding. During the ceremony we exchanged rings that we had hand-made ourselves out of Alaskan birch during the previous summer, and which, as per the Russians, we wore on our right hands. Also in honor of my Russian cultural heritage (and because Katrina wanted a pretty new rug for our new home), we said our vows while standing on a special carpet. Not to forget my Jewish ancestors, though, we sipped grape juice out of a beautiful goblet at appropriate times during the ceremony, and had the bridesmaids carry lit candles (symbolizing the presence of God, as in the fire on Mount Sinai when God chose Israel as his chosen people). In the middle of the ceremony, to give everyone -- and us -- a chance to meditate and to breath in the moment, I sang "Adon Olam" ("Lord of the Universe", a lovely Jewish prayer), which we balanced nicely with an equally traditional-Christian "Ave Maria", in a beautiful recorded rendition by the Libera Boy's Choir.

After the seating of the parents and grandparents, we began the ceremony by playing a segment from Carl Asch's "Nature Boy", during which the two groomsmen and two bridesmaids walked up to the altar. This was followed by a perhaps-eccentric fairytale that Katrina and I wrote, and which I narrated to clips of music from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake (the full text of the story, along with a recording of my narration, can be found in my previous blog post, here:

Then Judy, our pastor, walked up the aisle, to the triumphant processional music from "The Sound of Music", followed by Katrina, to the graceful, flowing melody of "The Swan". Judy spoke beautifully of love and marriage and of a personal prayer for us, and of how we were gathered here in the presence of our friends and in the beauty of these gardens to celebrate the bonding of our souls. It was a very special moment, though so surreal did it feel, that I can hardly remember anything particular about the ceremony, except for a haze of happiness and the feeling of something profound happening about me. I looked about me throughout the ceremony, observing Judy and the chapel and our friends... yet all I truly saw was Katrina, with her braided hair, her astoundingly-blue veil, and an expression of radiant bliss upon her face. We exchanged our hand-made rings, recited our vows to each other, listened to more of Judy's talk... and, rather suddenly, were pronounced man and wife and, still dazed, were prodded gently by Judy to walk down the aisle, to the accompaniment of "Le Mariage" from the French "Les Miserables": "be happy, cherish each other forever, and make many children of love".

The ceremony over, more pictures were taken in the chapel -- of various groups, of Katrina and I, and of Katrina herself in the full glory of her trailing blue veil (the photographer assigned me my first task as a husband: to stand on one leg upon a bench, holding my arms ridiculously to the sides of me, so as to cast a shadow upon Katrina's face for the picture). This done, we asked the photographer to take more pictures of Katrina and I in the gardens -- now at a more leisurely pace than our earlier entire-wedding-party procession towards the chapel -- as we headed, this time, towards the reception building, on the other side of the gardens. Meanwhile, our groomsmen and bridesmaids (and also our devoted helpers, Leona and Josh) took everything from the Chapel to the reception building, and helped put some finishing touches on everything, including Katrina's car, which they decorated with lavish pink-ness and just-married-ness!

The reception took place in Powell Gardens' beautifully-transformed Cafe, decorated with garlands and centerpieces and flowers and fancy chinaware. To the side was the wedding cake, ornately decorated and surrounded by colorful berries and a swan sculpture on top. My father played upon a grand piano, brought in for the occasion, and was joined for some of the Jewish and Klezmer music by his friend Marcus Bishko, playing the flute, which whom he had recorded a CD some five years ago ( At each table there were ornate place cards and shiny golden bells (which were rang to prompt us to kiss, along with shouts of "Gorko", meaning "Bitter" in Russian -- a Russian tradition whereby guests tell the couple to kiss so as to "sweeten the bitter wine", much to the enjoyment of Katrina's relatives! [Note to self: never again hand out embarrassment weapons to such a rowdy crowd!] ).

We were greeted by a receiving line, where I was introduced to some of the relatives that I had not yet met, and Katrina's parents, in turn, were introduced to some of our friends. As he passed through the line, Kris, Katrina's computer-science brother, "upgraded" me from a handshake to a hug, followed -- with the help of a few drinks, no doubt! -- by a "hug 2.0" at the end of the reception (a bone-crushing hug while being lifted off of the ground)!

While the musicians proceeded to entertain us, dinner began, followed by a series of toasts. Erik told three entertaining toasts in the Georgian (country Georgian) tradition: of Successful Transactions, Real Men, and Best Friends. Georgian toasts always begin with an often-convoluted story, which then transitions -- sometimes rather unexpectedly -- into the "message" of the toast. For those who were not at the wedding to experience this fun aspect of Georgian culture, here is one of the toasts (borrowed and modified slightly from
Two friends were traveling on a hot day to a market to sell their wine. On the way, they stopped to rest and eat. "How good it would be to drink a glass of wine now", sighed one. "Good indeed", said the other. "But we are bringing this wine to sell and can't waste a single drop." The first rummaged through his pockets and found a five-kopeck coin. "Pour me five-kopeck's worth of wine", he said. His friend poured the wine and, handing him back his money, said, "Now pour me some". So the money went back and fourth until the wineskins were empty and the two friends snored drunkenly, well-satisfied with their deal.

So let us drink to successful transactions!

Then Ian got up, proclaiming that he can't be outdone by his fellow groomsmen, and proceed to charismatically deliver a story of his own making, also modeled after the Georgian tradition: (Ian, thou art remarkably clever!)
Three friends were hiking through the woods. They came to a sunny patch of forest, and the first friend said, "The sun is nice here, the breeze is cool, and the mountains please me. I think I will stay here."

But another friend said, "No, we must cross yon ravine." So the first friend stayed behind and the two others continued forward. They went down into the ravine and the air became cold and the wind began to blow. Soon they came to a wild and frothy river. The second friend said, "Let us turn back, it is too dangerous."

"Nay," said the third friend, "we must accomplish this task." So the two friends felled a tree across the river as a bridge, and began to make their way to the other side. The sky was dark, the wind blew violently, and the waves splashed up against the tree.

Halfway across, the second friend began to lose his grip. "Help!" he said. The third friend tried to turn to grab him, but it was too late. A gust rushed down and pushed the second friend into the tumultuous waters, and he was gone.

The third friend said to himself, "I can't stop now, I've come too far." So he inched his way down the log. He was within arms reach of the far bank when he heard a noise. He looked up and saw the bushes quiver and shake.

Just then, a wild and frothy bear bounded forth, and gobbled him up in one bite.

So, this toast is to that first friend, Michael, who taught me to take it easy, and enjoy the sun, mountains and trees when they are around.

Then Larry, Katrina's father, got up to deliver a very touching toast, speaking of Katrina's unique nature, and of how lucky she is to have found someone equally unique. A little while later, Anna delivered a toast that too was very touching in its simplicity: "Katy and I knew each other since 8th grade... and now she's graduated from college, and bought a house, and gotten married... so here's to Katy!"

Dancing ensued, first the "formal" variety (where Katrina and I showed off our newfound Waltzing abilities, having taken a couple of classes in preparation for the wedding), and then the more "fun" renaissance folk dancing. Ian -- whom I had taught the Renaissance dances the previous evening, yet who, in that half an hour, had grasped them better than I! -- led the rest of the guests in "Korobushka" and "Strip the Willow", filled with twirling, clapping, accelerating music, and much frolicking.

After the quick-paced dancing, we took a moment to step outside, where the photographer lost no time in taking romantic-sunset- [and groomsmen-jumping-into-the-sky-] pictures. Once back inside, we cut the cake, Katrina tossed her bouquet (twice -- a skilled Frisbee player, but an amateur bouquet tosser, Katrina forgot to plan for the low height of the ceiling on her first toss), and we spent the rest of the evening meandering about our assembled friends and relatives. Then, after a ceremonial sendoff (accompanied by more bell ringing and the prompting of "gorko!"), Katrina and I headed to Chateau Avalon, a Renaissance-themed hotel in Kansas City, where we happily spent the following day, in an absolutely gorgeous suite (complete with lavish breakfast, an hour-long massage, a winding staircase leading to the bedroom and the Jacuzzi, and the feeling of splendor and luxury…)! And, only a few days later, Katrina and I began our three-week-long hiking-scubaing-and-camping trip to Hawaii, to which I shall dedicate its own separate post.


Jbutz said...

Looks beautiful! Congratulations and I wish you and Katrina a very happy marriage.

Kitchen Sister said...

Ditto. Congratulations! I wish you both all the best - together.

Unknown said...

What a remarkable, innovatively styled and wonderful occasion. I wish you every joy and happiness and pray, do remain joyous and spirited!