Wedding Section: Planning the perfect wedding

EAST MIDDLEBURY — Mairead Harris and Andrew Stein first met during a summer session at the Middlebury College Language School in 2007, where they were both studying Mandarin Chinese.
“We may have exchanged a couple of ni hao’s,” Harris recalled, referring to a Chinese greeting, “but we were at different levels and didn’t spend much time together.”
A year later, the two met again after they happened to join the same study abroad program in Hangzhou, China. The rest was history.
In the language-intensive program run through Middlebury College, Harris and Stein grew to know each other’s Chinese accents. They called each other by their “Chinese names” before they ever spoke together in their native tongues or knew each other’s given names. Their friendship grew over lunches together on the streets in China.
“We first bonded over our mutual impression of Kung Pao chicken,” Harris said. “We both thought it needed more peanuts and fewer cucumbers.”
At one point in the semester, Stein convinced his lunch partner that they should begin talking to each other in English.
“For some reason it really clicked for me when we started speaking in English,” Harris recalled.
It seemed to solidify the connection between the two and they quickly developed an affinity that led them into a deep and committed relationship.
Both abroad in their third years of college (she was a Williston native enrolled at Middlebury, he was a Pittsburgh native studying at Kenyon College), they entered their final year of school in a long-distance relationship. While this would be a test for any couple, Stein and Harris visited each other often and made it through the year speaking on the phone often and planning for the next stage.
With shared interests in education and research, Stein and Harris considered many options for traveling abroad again. They ultimately decided that they wanted to return to China together and began looking for opportunities to teach English and applying for a Fulbright scholarship. An English school back in Hangzhou was the perfect opportunity, and the couple returned to the city where they first fell in love. After a few months, Stein was granted the Fulbright to conduct research on Chinese tea, and Harris continued teaching English to elementary school children.
Their relationship continued to deepen.
After a little more than a year in China, the couple decided to return to Vermont, Mairead’s home state and one that they both had grown to love. Middlebury College offered Harris opportunities to work with the Middlebury Monterey Language Academy programs, and Stein was hired as a reporter at our very own Addison Independent.
Stein bought the engagement ring in the middle of last summer. For close to two months that ring burned a hole in his pocket as he tried to set up the perfect scenario for his proposal to Harris.
“Without knowing it, I thwarted a lot of plans,” Harris said, as she recalled the times when Stein would invite her for a hike or a dinner or a special outing and she would invite other friends.
Finally, on that dark and stormy day in August of last year that we all remember too well, the time came. The rains and winds of Tropical Storm Irene kept Harris and Stein alone in their Middlebury home, with little to do.
“He wanted so much to make it special,” Harris recalls, “but we were stuck at home and it just happened. It was so us.”
The proposal brightened up even the gloomiest day, and the happy duo spent the rest of that day dreaming of plans for the big day in front of them. They went through many options in the planning process.
“At first we thought we wanted a really do-it-yourself kind of a wedding,” Harris said, “but what we thought was supposed to be low-key details ended up being the most difficult to figure out.”
The venue was the hardest part. They wanted to find a space that would both be low-key and comfortable for all of their guests. After many visits and meetings with owners of venues around Vermont, the couple chose a local favorite, the Waybury Inn in East Middlebury.
“They’re just on top of everything,” Harris said. She and Stein knew that with the excellent help of the staff and their strong support from their families, they wouldn’t have to worry about the big jobs getting done. Instead, they focused on the details that make a wedding unique.
With about 135 guests in attendance on this past Labor Day weekend, the details mattered. A bus was hired to drive guests from hotels in Middlebury to and from the site, which solved the frequent transportation challenges. As wedding favors, the couple gave handmade soap scented like ginger and white tea (made by an aunt) bundled in silk pouches collected specifically for the occasion by friends in Hangzhou.
“We wanted all the pieces to represent something special to us,” said Harris, and it turned out to be well worth the extra efforts.
The rehearsal dinner was held at American Flatbread in Middlebury. While the dinner and rehearsal were reserved for close family and the wedding party, Stein and Harris extended a bonfire party late into the evening and invited many friends and other guests to join. Around the hearth, they ate s’mores and introduced close friends and family members who were coming together for the first time.
The day of the wedding went off as smoothly as they could have hoped. While not a traditional religious ceremony, the couple incorporated four of seven Hebrew blessings that are traditionally recited at weddings. “We picked our four favorites, adapted them to our liking, and had our parents each read one,” explained Harris. The couple wrote their own vows for the event, and kept them secret until the final hour.
Andrew also broke a glass, which is a traditional Jewish wedding custom. The glass was made by his father, a talented glass-blower who also made each of the vases set on their reception tables.
The evening gaiety reminded all why weddings are so revered. With bands playing bluegrass, jazz, rock and covers of many favorite dance tunes, the party was lively and even the quietest guests were out of their seats.
“I have never seen my grandpa dance,” Harris said, “but he was out there, you know, getting down!”
When asked one piece of advice or lesson learned from the wedding process, Harris mentioned the common tendency for others to tell the bride and groom that it is “your day.”
“While that is true and all these people did join together for you … the reason to have a wedding is that it is also your family and your friends’ day,” she said. “I think it’s important to think about what that day means to everyone that’s present.”
As the newlyweds opened this new chapter of their lives, they also began new careers and set up a new home in Burlington. Andrew Stein is now working at the online publication “VT Digger” as an investigative journalist, while Mairead Harris is teaching Chinese language classes at Saint Michael’s College and teaching Spanish at a Rutland elementary school.
Harris and Stein are optimistic about this next chapter in their lives, and look forward to sending roots down into the Vermont soil.
Do they still speak together in Chinese?
“Sometimes, but not often,” Mairead admits. “Though we do slip into our own kind of Chinglish, once in a while.”

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