Part I.  Why We Held Our Wedding On Escarpment Weekend

Aaron and I decided to get married in June.  To clear up any potential misconceptions about rose petals and moonlight, Aaron’s proposal had the phrase tax implications in it.  And in keeping with the pragmatism theme, I suggested we just go down to the DC court house.  To be ultra-efficient, we could do it on the day of his birthday, June 15th.  Aaron finds celebrations onerous, particularly on his birthday, and that way we could spend the rest of our lives celebrating our anniversary instead.  Kill two birds with one stone.  Aaron loves killing birds!  But instead of declaring Yes, let’s do it, Aaron equivocated Let me think about it. I’m afraid Aaron discovered the stiff price to pay for deliberation.

Aaron could have said 'Yes' right away, depriving the world of Momma Jill's dance moves

Aaron could have said ‘Yes’ right away, but would have deprived the world of Momma Jill’s dance moves

Aaron's extra glad he didn't deprive the world of Sean's dance moves

Aaron’s extra glad he didn’t deprive the world of Sean’s dance moves

By the time I got home that night after dinner with my parents, Aaron’s window had passed.  If you want to get married at a court house, it turns out you have to do it before the parents find out.

Momma Jill: Wedding Planning Maven

Momma Jill: Wedding Planning Maven

But at least I came up with a sensible plan.  Okay, maybe not everyone agrees that combining your wedding with a famously tough trail race the same weekend is sensible.  But there was a lot to be said for holding the wedding in conjunction with the Escarpment Trail Run (ETR) at the end of July.  Being six weeks away, we had enough time to plan something small and simple at the house of a friend or family member, but no so much time that it could snowball into something elaborate (once Wechslers get planning, it doesn’t stop).  Furthermore, Joe had already rented out a big house in the Catskills for all the trail runners, and had planned a beautiful mountain run for Saturday.


And ETR has a special place in my heart as the birthplace of my trail racing career.  It was my first trail race ever, in July of 2006.  I have a particular fondness for that twenty-five year old version of myself: fearless, stupid, up for anything.  My Penn State running buddy Ken Davis had been trying unsuccessfully for a decade to get some of the Nittany Valley road running crew to join him on his crazy mountain race in New York.  Everyone thought Ken was nuts.

But I was twenty-five, and I was just getting unleashed on the world.  That year, I’d moved to State College, begun a PhD in Biology, run my first Boston Marathon, and somehow convinced everyone to do the Beer Mile.  If there was a new crazy adventure, I was IN.

For the race I decided to pay homage to the Ken Davis 'windmill' style of flailing your arms while running down hill

For the race I decided to pay homage to the Ken Davis ‘windmill’ style of flailing your arms while running down hill

My friends pointed out that I had no experience with mountain endurance events.  One concerned friend knew a thing or two about summer hydration from his single-speed mountain bike races, and dropped off a Camelback, some Cytokine drink mix, and some gels, and helped me get a proper fit, wishing me luck.  Another friend didn’t know anything about trail racing, but decided last-minute that he should really come along just to make sure I didn’t kill myself.

Everyone starts at once in a giant clump

The start of the race: a disorderly clump tries to funnel into a narrow trail head

I’m not sure which is crazier: (a) that I carried no water during the race, (b) that the only reason I wore trail shoes was because RD Dick Vincent told me someone had actually died in the race after slipping off a ledge.

Somehow I had decided to scrap the Camelback.  It was only 18 miles and there were aid stations.  I figured I might get hungry, though, and as a precaution I started the race with a Clif Bar clenched in my hand.  How very prudent of me!

By mid-race my mouth didn’t even have enough saliva to eat the Clif Bar.  For the last 4-5 miles I was so extremely dehydrated that I started falling for no reason, as vividly captured by my friend’s video footage of my classic wipe-out (one of many….).

As long as I was paying homage, I decided to give a shout out to CSTC

As long as I was paying homage, I decided to give a shout out to CSTC.  Because I’m 25.  And an idiot.

I survived the race, and even finished first female in just under 4 hours.  I had dirt in my teeth and blood all over.  My body was in such shock I actually needed a blanket.

Still, I loved the trail racing experience.  Ten years later, I can still remember the sense of discovery as the race unfolded.  Learning for the first time that it was acceptable to walk the climbs.  Being wide-eyed at the overlooks.  Storming down the hills with reckless abandon.  And feeling so alone on the trail that I actually decided to just pee straight through my shorts while running instead of stopping to take a squat (my bottom was soaked from sweat anyway, I reasoned).

Somehow, I’ve never been able to return to ETR, but not for lack of effort.  Some years I couldn’t run because of injuries; other years I had travel.  Last year I ran Manitou’s Revenge, which includes sections of the Escarpment trail, but couldn’t run ETR because I had a work conflict.  But I promised to return in 2016 to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of my first trail race.

My mom recalls our many years of friendship and great parties with Jean Briggs

My mom recounts our many years of friendship and great parties with Jean Briggs at the start of the wedding ceremony

I should mention there were other compelling reasons to hold the wedding in conjunction with ETR.  I had my cousin Sarah and her exquisite taste (and no-nonsense efficiency) to help with arrangements on the ground (Sarah’s family and my uncle Jon live in Rhinebeck, NY, a quaint town just across the Hudson from the Catskills).  And we had a long-time family friend, Jean Briggs, who had a beautiful wooded property on a lake just outside of Rhinebeck, where I had been to many tented birthday celebrations as a kid.  Jean had passed away just a few months earlier, but her children hadn’t put the house on the market yet.  They thought that having one last bash there would be a great curtain call.

Cousin Sarah runs a tight ship while gathering flowers for the wedding (with Cousin Olivia and Aunt Winnie)

Cousin Sarah runs a tight ship while gathering flowers for the wedding (with Cousin Olivia and Aunt Winnie)

~              ~                 ~

Part II.  It’s Not a Real Wedding Unless it Almost Doesn’t Happen 

Dave executes the wedding's best photo bomb

Dave executes the wedding’s best photo bomb

Aaron and I arrived at the Rhinebeck Town Clerk’s office to obtain our marriage license 15 minutes before closing time.

Clerk: Okay, I’ll need some ID, a driver’s license.

Marthon: (fumbling with wallets) Check.

Clerk: And, as proof of age, a birth certificate.

Marthon: (silence)

The bad part is not the major f%*( up.  The bad part is when you realize you have to tell your parents.  And they are going to say all the Parent Things like They might be smart, but they still can’t get their life together.  And Didn’t someone tell you what documents you needed to bring? as if the Rhinebeck Town Clerk was someone we’d been regularly FaceTiming with.

Cecile is a very good person to talk to when you're in the midst of a wedding emergency

Cecile was a calming influence during the wedding emergency

But we needed their help.  To make a long story short, Aaron and I obtained our birth certificates, with a little help from our friends.  Aaron’s parents’ neighbor (Wedding Hero I) was able to locate his birth certificate in his parent’s apartment in Rosslyn.  And I have a major debt to Stephen (Wedding Hero II), an NIH intern who was taking care of our cat Leda for the weekend,  who found mine in a desk drawer.  I think Aaron and I set a record for fist-bumps.

Isn't it ironic?

Isn’t it ironic?

Yet another tricky maneuver before Aaron and Martha can get married

Aaron’s gonna need a bigger umbrella

~              ~                 ~

Part III.  The Rhinecliff Hotel is a Big Fat Liar, but it Works Out for the Best Anyway

Aaron's mom Rosemary was a happy cat once we got married for real

Aaron’s mom Rosemary organized a beautiful Friday night dinner

Next drama: the Rhinecliff Hotel, where the Schwartzbards were hosting the Friday night dinner, did not have a liquor license for hard alcohol, just beer and wine.  We knew this wasn’t a *real* drama.  No one was going to throw their wine and demand bourbon.  But it was Aaron’s father’s sole stipulation that the venue have an open bar option, and frustrating to be misled.

Aaron's dad, after the wedding ceremony, as a much happier cat

Aaron’s dad, post-wedding ceremony, as a much happier cat

To make up for the mishap, the Rhineclif Hotel upgraded us to a fancy room with a better view of the Hudson River and a beautiful balcony.  With wine, beer, prosecco, and a beautiful sunset to boot, no one was missing their gin.  Well, maybe my father.

Beautiful view of the Hudson sunset

Our consolation prize for the lack of booze

Uncle Jeffrey and Cousin Jacob

Cousin Jacob was plenty happy with beer

Helaine with Daniel and Alexander (second cousins?)

So were Alex and Daniel

~              ~                 ~

Part IV.  Hiking Over Hair, Sandwich Over Makeup

Trail runners clean up!

Trail runners clean up!

Keith wins big points for the seersucker suit

Keith wins big points for the seersucker suit

My mother’s single request for the wedding was that I don’t wear running shorts or high school track pants.  I think this brings up an important lesson: if you really want to knock the socks off your guests at your wedding, spend the decades prior priming them to have very low expectations.  Hair drier?  Forget about it.  Make up?  Please.  So when you step out at your rehearsal dinner with blown out hair, people will notice.  One of our friends literally did not recognize me.  Girls who are always put together probably have to spend all day grooming to nudge their bar a little higher.

Rosie and Ben both agreed with the description 'Hike from Hell'

Rosie and Ben both agreed with the description of Saturday morning as ‘Hike from Hell’

Without all that grooming to do, I spent the morning of my wedding hanging out with friends.  Aaron and I were staying in a big house with a dozen other trail runners.  Saturday morning we all went out for a monster brunch and then set off into the Catskills for a 9 mile hike organized by Joe.  A pack of my best friends from childhood came along (although some of them didn’t quite know what they were in for).

Joe leads the wedding party into the wilderness

Joe leads the adventurous part of the wedding party into the wilderness

I will always remember the glorious hike with all my best friends: picking four-leaf clovers, spotting birds and mushrooms, taking in the views, munching on snacks, seeing gorgeous waterfalls, and, of course, getting lost.

Rosie exhibits her clover stash

Rosie exhibits her clover stash

Aaron and I actually had to run the last couple miles so that I wouldn’t completely miss my 3pm hair appointment.  I ended up being 20 minutes late, but weighing hiking with friends versus hair, I absolutely made the right decision.  The hair stylist rocked (although she admitted she’d never done a bride before).  We speed-did my hair in 40 minutes.


the magical 40-minute hairdo

The only problem was that I didn’t have any time for lunch.  Aaron kindly plopped a sandwich in my lap, but it was not possible to eat a sandwich without it getting completely doused in hair spray (I believe the stylist was aiming for my head and not my face, but in fairness she was a bit rushed).  Keith and Tracy magically showed up at the hair salon like fairy godmothers with paper towels to spare the sandwich from the bombardment of toxic hair spray.

Is it just me, or are Sean and Tracy sharing a moment here?

Sean and Tracy share a moment, it seems

Wait a minute, now Sean's sharing a moment with PJ. That guy gets around!

Wait a minute, now Sean’s sharing a moment with PJ. That guy gets around!

I arrived at the wedding about a half hour before the guests were set to arrive.  I was clean, but still in a t-shirt and shorts.  The moms were already trying to corral people for family photos.  With the clock winding down, it came down to sandwich versus make-up.  Sandwich 1 – Make-up 0.

I knew I was in trouble when Tara arrived: 'Whoa, you're in shorts!'

I knew I was in trouble when Tara arrived and said, ‘Whoa, you’re in shorts!’

~              ~                 ~

Part V.  Bug Hunt is the #1 Wedding Highlight


Joe got dem green frogs!

Despite early efforts to skirt most wedding traditions (toasts, white dresses, vows, bouquets, bridesmaids, flower girls), in the end I pretty much went along with much of the wedding rubric.  I even got a long white dress, although ordered from Zappos and technically not a wedding dress.  But I did get my bug hunt.

Amanda peers by the pond's prime amphibian habitat

Amanda peers by the pond’s prime amphibian habitat

You know how you spend the first quarter or so of your life excited about getting older?  Getting to drive a car, go off to college, go to fancy parties and travel the world?  And then gradually the allure starts to fade.  You decide high-heeled shoes stink.  And cocktail parties are boring.

These two took some convincing re: Bug Hunt

I managed to convince these two that bug hunts are entirely compatible with adulthood

Fred helps Cecile and Bernard identify their bugs

Fred helps Cecile and Bernard ID their catch

For my 28th birthday, I decided I was done with bars.  Hence the birth of Lobsterfest.  We would do Run for the Birds, play tennis, march around the creek in Shepherdstown, and, resurrecting an old Martha birthday tradition from when I was little, we’d have a bug hunt.

Rain never stops a bug hunt

And they thought rain would stop a bug hunt

I heard the frogs croaking in the background during the ceremony. At least some guys were happy about the rain.

I heard the frogs croaking in the background during the ceremony. At least some guys were happy about the rain.

A bug hunt is pretty self-explanatory.  You get a jar, and you try to find bugs.  ‘Bugs’ is a fairly loose term.  Worms are included.  One year a newt was allowed.  There is one important rule: do not kill your bug.  And you must (at least loosely) identify your bug.  Prizes go to (a) Biggest Bug, (b) Best Bug, and (c) Most Bugs.

The one that didn't get away (could have been our wedding theme)

The one that didn’t get away (could have been our wedding theme)

In the days leading up to the wedding, I was surprised to discover that my family didn’t seem to understand I was dead serious about the bug hunt.  The day before heading up to New York:

Me:  You’re bringing plenty of jars for the bug hunt, right?

Mom: Huh?  You’re not seriously having a bug hunt at the wedding.

Me:  Mom, we’ve been planning this all along.

Mom:  Well I don’t have many jars.

Me:  Whatever. Tupperware.  Plastic containers will do.

Mom: How about tennis ball cans?

Me:  Perfect.


Sometimes you have to pull your Bride Card

On the day of the wedding, it was raining too hard during the cocktail hour to do the bug hunt before dinner, as planned.  But after dinner the rain let up, and there was a brief window before it got too dark.

The rain finally abated after the sun went down

The rain finally abated after the sun went down

 Me:  Fred, the rain has let up.  We have to do the bug hunt soon before it gets too dark.

Fred: Bug hunt, eh?  And what are said categories for the bug hunt?

Me: Biggest Bug, Best Bug, and Most Bugs.

Fred:  What’s the criteria for best bug?

Me:  I’m judge.  Color.  Rareness.  Coolness.  Whatever.

Fred:  And there are rules?

Me:  Bugs must live.  Bugs must be identified.

Fred:  Sure.

Me:  Okay, you’re the Grand Master of the Bug Hunt.  Let’s get this going!

Fred kind of shrugged and walked away.  I furrowed my brow  I turned to my friends sitting at the table, folded my hands in front of me, straightened my back, and asked indignantly, ‘Did he just say No to the bride?’

Cecily and Sean needed some help from Deb

Cecily and Sean probably needed some help from Deb

Realizing I was on my own, I kicked into fierce marmot mode.  Under the table I found the paper bag with the collection of miscellaneous jars, tennis ball cans, and plastic food containers my mother had amassed.  I passed them out to each of the tables, explaining their purpose.  When I got to Fred’s table, he accepted that he wasn’t getting out this Grand Master thing.  I added one more amendment: this year, amphibians and reptiles would be permitted.

Fred assumes his role as Bug Hunt Grand Master

Fred fulfills his destiny as Bug Hunt Grand Master

I realized this was going to be an exceptional bug hunt as soon as I saw Deb on her knees scooping a frog directly from the pond water with her bare hands.  (As a molecular ecologist who studies newts, Deb had a distinct advantage.)  But other wedding guests also discovered that the rain had brought the frogs up onto the grass.  It became a race of man against beast, as hands and jars darted to intercept the slippery frogs as they mad-dashed back towards the pond.

Handing out the prizes is an important (and apparently hilarious) part of the bug hunt

Handing out the prizes is an important (and apparently hilarious) part of the bug hunt

Michele delivers the best bug hunt prizes ever

Michele delivers the best bug hunt prizes ever

The bug hunt was an amphibian bonanza.  Fred and Summer caught a frog.  Daniel caught a frog.  Deb caught two frogs.  Somehow even Uncle Jon ended up with a frog.  Summer’s enormous frog won for Biggest Bug.  Best Bug went to a huge carnivorous water beetle extracted from the pond.  Deb’s two frogs won Most Bugs based on mass, and I think Cecile and Bernard’s large ant colony won for Most Bugs based on quantity.  The Lapointe boys cleverly tried to convince me that their canister of pond water contained millions of micro-organisms, but I’m afraid one of the rules is that you have to identify the bugs.  In the end, all participants got prizes, which consisted of a scoop of the personalized M&M’s Michele had given us, complete with my and Aaron’s faces printed on the shells.

The bride almost succumbed to the bowties and clever arguments, but managed to uphold the letter of the law at the bug hunt

The bride almost succumbed to the Lapointe boys’ clever arguments and cute bowties, but managed to uphold the letter of the law at the bug hunt

Nope, not falling for bowties

Nope, still not falling for those bowties…

~              ~                 ~

Part VI.  Sean’s Wobble is the Wedding Highlight Runner-Up

Wobble, baby!

Wobble, baby!

A bride only gets so many you-have-to-do-what-the-bride-asks-on-her-wedding-day cards.  I’d already cashed in most of them for the bug hunt.  But Sean had already been well briefed that he was expected to learn how to dance the Wobble, along with Sarah, Rosie, Cecily, and myself.  I had even sent him YouTube instructional videos.  The morning of the wedding, Sean was still trying to get out of it.  Excuse #1: he had never danced at any wedding before in his life.  Excuse #2: his March knee surgery.  But I’m afraid it’s an uphill battle to claim injury when the bride is on to the fact that Sean had spent the previous month climbing 14,000 ft mountains in Colorado.

Bob shows Winnie his dance moves, while Winnie averts the Splash Zone

Bob shows Winnie his dance moves, while Winnie shrewdly avoids the Splash Zone

Clearly got my moves from my dad

Clearly got my moves from my dad

But I have to give Sean credit for exceeding all expectations on the dance floor, Wobble++.  And a shout out to Scott, who emerged as our Wobble Grand Master.  It turns out that Rosie, who typically resides in the I-refuse-to-dance camp, also has some killer Taylor Swift moves when sufficiently hydrated.

Wobble, baby!

Click on this GIF to see the Wobble in action!

~              ~                 ~

Part VII.  Muffing Wedding Traditions

Summer and Savannah were right about my needing flowers girls

Summer and Savannah were right about my needing flower girls

I have a distaste for staged events.  I shrivel inside at the idea of a bride and groom’s first dance.  Aaron and I agreed to have a ceremony (as brief as possible), and to break the glass.  Stomping on the glass actually sounded like fun, and I was disappointed to learn it was the groom’s job.  But we nixed a host of other wedding traditions: the bride carrying and tossing a bouquet, smooshing cake in each other faces, bridesmaids and groomsmen, and any kind of bride-groom, groom-mother, or father-bride dances.  I relented on having flower girls at the behest of my nieces Summer and Savannah.  I also conceded that my father could give a time-limited toast.

Bob expresses his disdain for numbers by going ~300% over his allotted 2 minute toast.

Bob expresses his economist’s disdain for numbers by going ~300% over his allotted 2 minute toast (which you can listen to in its entirety below)

Michele uses a PhD in statistics to help Bob quantify his overage

Michele gives Bob an intoxication citation

I had hoped that I would be able to skirt the tradition of the bride and groom kissing and the end of the ceremony.  One of the strategies I entertained was asking Judge Sanchez to finish the ceremony with a rousing You may now fist-bump the bride.  But I figured that in all the commotion and excitement, Aaron and I would easily slip out before anyone noticed.

I did like the tradition of having Star Wars sandpeople as part of our procession (Jen is somewhere under there)

I did like the tradition of having Star Wars sandpeople in our procession (Jen is somewhere under there)

I was wrong.  Kiss, kiss, kiss, they chanted.  I had entered my photo op nightmare.  I flashed Aaron a deer-in-the-headlights look.  I was squirmy, and we mostly got each other’s noses.  Maybe he managed to get the side of my mouth.  It wasn’t as traumatic as I’d feared.  Fortunately no one made us try a re-do.


The bride totally muffed the kiss. Fortunately the groom kind of expected it.

Aaron and I also muff the cake photo op...but not as noticeably

Aaron and I also muff the cake photo op…but not as noticeably

The cake was another example of the bride messing up the photo op.  When Aaron and I were told to cut the cake, we took it literally, and started doling out slices.  It turned out the cake thing was just for show.  We weren’t actually supposed to cut pieces for our guests.  With a little effort, I managed to convince the caterers just to cut up the cake where it was, scaffolds and all.  Weddings are silly!

Fortunately, any cake photo op snafus were forgotten as soon as the guests had their first bite of its moist and varied layers.  The cake design was another one of the bride’s wild and crazy ideas.  At one point my mom had informed me that we’re going to have a chocolate cake, since that’s what the girls preferred (‘the girls’ being my adorable nieces Summer and Savannah).  I had to play my bride card: one layer almond, one layer lemon, one layer pistachio.  There was a quizzical response.  No one had ever heard of such a cake.  In fact, Terese, our cake maker, had never even made a pistachio cake before.  I, myself, struggled to explain where my cake vision came from.  It was partially inspired by my friend Sarah’s triple-layered wedding cake, but the only layer in common was almond.  But somehow it worked.  Go figure.

Did I mention they were popular?

Did I mention they were popular?

To cover the girls’ chocolate requirement, Aaron’s baker extraordinaire friend Jen made very popular cupcakes and ‘cookie within a cookie’ concoctions.

~              ~                 ~

Part VIII.  Final Remarks

I wore the starfish earrings given to me by Alice and Isabella

Starfish earrings given to me by Alice and Isabella

Aaron and I were astonished by how many people actually came to this wedding, given the six-week notice.  Of course, the short notice meant that some of our important friends and family couldn’t make it, and I hope the pictures and descriptions here help them feel like they were a part of the experience.  In particular, my cousin Claire, who has always been the closest thing I have to a sister, couldn’t make it from Africa, where she and her husband Josh recently moved to from Germany.  My oldest running friend (going back in time and forward in age) and long-time frustrated fashion consultant Tom also couldn’t make it, an absence that was particularly conspicuous on the dance floor.  But I hope he at least saw all the dresses.

I got excited in the ceremony about receiving Aaron's grandmother's ring, which was impossibly perfect, matching the turn-of-the-century art deco style ring I already have, and even having tiny clovers etched in it.

The highlight of the ceremony was receiving Aaron’s grandmother’s ring.  It was impossibly perfect, matching the turn-of-the-century art deco ring I already have, and even having tiny clovers etched in it

We tried to keep our wedding party very small, which didn’t permit us to invite every one of our friends and family.  But I particularly regret that we didn’t invite Aaron’s ActivTrax boss Gary.  It wasn’t my call. But Aaron and Gary go way back, and sometimes you have to pull your Bride Authority card.  My dear friends Alice and Isabella from Padova, Italy, also could not make the wedding on such short notice, but I wore the earrings they gave me so they could at least be there in spirit.  It was also nice that the wedding ring Aaron gave me was his maternal grandmother’s, another person whose absence was felt (she passed before I had a chance to meet her.)  And the spirits of Jean and Jim, with whom I had spent so much time  at this summer house, coursed through the entire event.  I bet Jean would have rocked the Wobble.

~              ~                 ~


Keifie! photographer extraordinaire

Keifie! photographer extraordinaire

Jen knows chocolate

Cookie Jen!

Mark's brother is a pro photographer. We didn't want to burden him with taking photos, but he snapped a couple gems any way

Mark’s brother is a pro photographer. We didn’t want to burden him with taking photos, but he snapped a couple gems anyway


2 Responses to Escarpment Trail Run/Marthon Wedding Extravaganza

  1. Michele says:

    Love the blog post Martha! You so accurately captured every detail of your fabulous wedding weekend! Congratulations again to you and Aaron!

  2. So sad that this amazing event and weekend happened on the same weekend as my parents’ 50th anniversary bash. It looks like it was absolutely perfect. Love the bug hunt!!

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