by Katherine Gajewski
On a summer day in Washington Square Park, I exchanged rings in a made-up co-proposal with my now-husband, Ben, and we began our wedding planning adventure.
Initially everything was on the table: a small ceremony followed by a family dinner; a weekend celebration at a beloved lake; a trip abroad; a party. Ultimately, we decided that we wanted our wedding to be an extension of our life together, so a Philly wedding it would be.
I can plan with the best of them. At work, I have conceived of and organized major events, including the City Hall Open House and the Philly Spring Cleanup. With that experience under my belt, I assured myself that a little evening thing for 130 would be no problem. Yet somehow figuring out the logistics for 15,000 volunteers had paled in comparison to nailing down a single uncle’s hotel plans. We were “on top of it,” but there went another weekend spent in front of dueling laptops updating endless lists. Why had I so quickly dismissed Ben’s pitch to elope to Gibraltar?! I won’t lie: there were times that wedding planning brought me to my knees.
In an effort to minimize the second-guessing and overthinking, we agreed to go with our first idea for each decision along the way. We more or less succeeded. Bartram’s Garden is a place we both love, and it was the first and only site we looked into. A Saturday in June was available. Done. A thought to have a block party welcome dinner quickly turned into a more feasible version: pizza and beer under the Shambles at Headhouse Square down the street. Don’t look back.
Making an effort at sustainability was important to us. Sadly, no amount of recycled Mason jars or compostable plates can offset the environmental impact of having friends and family travel to be there for your special day, but we did what we could, where we could. Finding vendors who were open to working with us made it all the easier. We composted at the Friday night dinner and Bennett Compost was kind enough to accept a larger-than-normal collection from our stoop the next week. We chose a caterer who already sourced locally as much as possible, so our guests enjoyed bread from Metropolitan Bakery, coffee from La Colombe, and Bassett’s ice cream on top of their fruit pie. Just like in our normal life, a little bit of forethought meant we were able to incorporate sustainability in make-sense ways. We figured that if we were going to spend a bunch of money, it might as well go to organizations and businesses we like and were happy to support. Thinking about it like that made the mass outward migration of dollars seem a little less stressful. We even found a Philly-made tie for Ben.
Simplicity was key. I tried to limit my exposure to magazines and blogs so as not to get crazy ideas in my head for extra things to add on. “Keep it simple” was our mantra. (That and the less poetic, “No one cares!”) Keeping it simple also meant that there was just less stuff to buy and dispose of, and it kept us true to our own vision.
After all the local beer has been imbibed and the seasonal flowers have died, what you have left are your vows. Ben was raised Quaker and we had a Quaker wedding. The ceremony was far and away the part we enjoyed thinking about and experiencing the most. In the midst of all the planning, it was the most important part, and one that we couldn’t control at all. We sat in the silence of meeting for worship, surrounded by our friends and family, and meditated on who we are and the life we hope to build together. We committed ourselves to our community, to supporting each other in pursuing meaningful work, to contributing to the change we want to see.
We have our wedding certificate hung in our house, a daily reminder of that most special day —and a celebration of the fact that we never have to plan a wedding again!
Katherine Gajewki is the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability in Philadelphia. She lives in Queen Village with her husband Ben, a teacher at the Philadelphia School.