Marlena and Ryan met in Walnut Creek, where each had relocated for work. They matched on a dating site, and Ryan asked her to go out to a local beer bar. “We chatted and ended up sharing a pizza,” remembers Marlena. “After the date I told my sister I’d finally met someone I wanted to spend more time with.” Ryan consulted his best friend on how to arrange date two. Over the next year, they spent dates at farmers’ markets, wineries and exploring the coast before Ryan proposed on the beach in Capitola.

The couple’s biggest priority for the wedding was to have their friends and family with them. Having their help made an otherwise overwhelming process much more manageable.

Marlena says the best moment of the wedding planning was when they finally decided on having the reception at Backroad Vines Winery. “Deciding to have the reception there fit our personalities perfectly and set our reception against the most beautiful backdrop we could imagine,” she says.

The pair exchanged vows at a Catholic ceremony at the chapel at Saint Mary’s College, where Marlena studied. “My mom walked me down the aisle,” she says. As Ryan’s father is a fermentation engineer, the priest, Father Hai, reminded Ryan to treat their love like the process of fermentation, an experiment to yield great results. “We think this metaphor may have been lost on the audience, but we found it hilarious,” says the bride. “It’s quickly become an inside joke between the two of us—‘ferment our love!’”

Dinner at the reception was served family style so guests could pass the food around the table and connect with others. They also had a live band with traditional Arabic music, a surprise professional belly dancer, as well as a DJ. “Our dance floor was packed the whole night,” Marlena says. “We had a huge dessert bar as well as a taco truck and a silent disco toward the end of the reception.”

Marlena says Ryan and she often leave little notes for each other to find. For our wedding day, they decided to write letters to each other to read privately before the ceremony. “We were excited to make our public commitment through marriage, but also wanted to sneak  in a private moment without a first look,” she says. “Our photographer skillfully captured us writing these notes and later reading the letters that the other had written. This was the perfect way for us to begin the next chapter of our lives.” 

— Darren Elms