Leap of Faith
A Chevy Chase couple’s nature-filled wedding took equal parts inspiration from Jewish and Indian culture
By Dana Gerber
The couple: Emily Mirengoff, 34, grew up in Bethesda and graduated from Walt Whitman High School. She is a communication specialist at the American Institutes for Research in Washington, D.C. Srikanth Damera, 32, grew up in Rochester, New York. He is a medical student at Georgetown University. They live in Chevy Chase.
The introduction: In January 2018, Emily and Srikanth matched on a dating app called The League, where one of Emily’s profile photos was a shot of her twirling in the Swiss mountains, a reference to The Sound of Music. Srikanth messaged her, “Is it just me or are those hills alive?” Emily was impressed. “I was like, ‘Hey, he got it!’ ” she says. Soon after, they went on their first date at Service Bar in D.C., and the conversation flowed. “It was good back and forth. If you’ve been on dating apps, sometimes it’s very one-sided,” Emily says.
The proposal: On April 17, 2021, on Emily’s dad’s birthday and the day before Emily’s, she and Srikanth went to a family lunch at Emily’s sister’s house in Reston, Virginia. During the meal, Srikanth turned to her and popped the question. “He knew that I would think it would be on my birthday, so he punked me and did it the day before,” says Emily. “And I was sincerely surprised.”
The ceremony: Srikanth and Emily tied the knot on June 19, 2022, at Woodend Sanctuary & Mansion in Chevy Chase with about 150 guests present. “Sri’s ideal was to get married in the middle of the woods. My ideal would be an old historic house or structure,” Emily says. Woodend was the perfect middle ground. The ceremony took place outside in an area called the Grove. Dinner was a tented affair off the house, and dancing was in the mansion’s foyer. Emily’s high school friend Ashwin Shandilya officiated the ceremony, and the couple recited their own vows on the beautiful, sunny day. “Some guests joked that clearly we needed both the Hindu gods and the Jewish gods to bring about such a miracle of weather,” Emily says.
The cultures: When the couple embarked on the wedding planning process, it was a given that their respective cultures—Emily is Jewish, Srikanth is Hindu—would be front and center. “It was predictably challenging at times to figure out the right balance to strike,” Srikanth says of their effort to create “a union of the two ceremonies, because it’s the union of the two of us.” Among the traditions included throughout the day were the signing of the Ketubah, the Jewish wedding contract; the presentation of the mangalsutra necklace to the bride, a Hindu custom that signifies marriage; and a baraat, an Indian ritual where the groom travels to the wedding on horseback. Some customs lent themselves well to both cultures, such as a wedding canopy, which took inspiration from the chuppah in the Jewish faith and the mandap in the Hindu faith.
The dress: Emily picked a Justin Alexander ball gown with tulle, lace and a chapel-length train from Ellie’s Bridal Boutique in Alexandria, Virginia. “I liked that it was a little bit more detailed than a classic white dress,” she says. She also donned fresh jasmine flowers in her hair, a tradition for south Indian brides, and henna tattoos of the Ohm symbol on one wrist and the Star of David on the other.
The music: Srikanth curated three playlists: one for the baraat, one for cocktail hour and one for the reception. “I wanted to DJ the wedding, but I was told that I could not do that,” he says. “So the second best was to hire somebody to press play on my music.” For their first dance, the newlyweds swayed to “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai,” a song from one of Srikanth’s favorite Bollywood films as a child, before guests grooved to throwback hits like “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers and “One More Time” by Daft Punk.
The menu: In keeping with the multicultural theme, the couple turned to both a Western caterer and an Indian caterer. Cocktail-hour appetizers included vegetable samosas and a strawberry-and-goat-cheese crostini, and for entrees, guests had the choice of a curry trio, sauteed chicken breast paired with mushrooms, or pomegranate-roasted salmon. The couple opted for a dessert bar filled with treats like creme brulee spoons, fresh fruit skewers and mango mousse. “I just thought it would be more fun than cake,” Emily says.
The flowers: “I knew that his family would be in bright colors, because Indian weddings are bright, famously,” Emily says, so she wanted the blooms to be vibrant and joyful. Florals like flame-orange pincushions, hot-pink freesias and purple veronicas made the bridal bouquet pop with color, and similar blooms appeared in gold vases on each reception table.
The special touches: During cocktail hour, kids and adults alike were entertained by outdoor games of backgammon, Jenga and cornhole. A Polaroid was available during the reception for guests to snap photos, adding “a nice vintage feel,” Srikanth says. Emily, who pours candles as a hobby, whipped up two custom blends to serve as party favors. “I really wanted to give people something personal,” she says.
The honeymoon: Srikanth’s medical school schedule put the honeymoon on hold, but they have a trip booked for January to Patagonia in South America, where they plan to hike the scenic W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park.
The vendors: DJ, Chris Laich Music Services; drinks, Ace Beverage Fine Wines & Spirits; event planner, Kristi Hartig of Glow Weddings and Events; florist, Elegance & Simplicity Inc.; food, Catering by Seasons and IndAroma; hair and makeup, Updos for I Dos; horse, Harmon’s Horse Drawn Hayrides and Carriages; photographer, Shelly Pate Photography; rehearsal dinner, Masala Art; venue, Woodend Sanctuary & Mansion.
Destination ‘I Do’s’
This Bethesda pair turned their wedding into a family vacation, then continued the party back at home
By Kristen Schott
The couple: Ariana Kelly, 45, grew up in Bethesda and graduated from Walter Johnson High School in 1994. She represents District 16 in the Maryland House of Delegates and is the vice chair of the Health and Government Operations Committee. Stephen Taylor, 53, grew up in Spring Valley, New York, and moved to Montgomery County after earning his chiropractic degree about two decades ago. He owns Family Back & Neck Care Center in Montgomery Village. They live in Bethesda with their four teenagers, Jordyn, Dylan, Maeve and Leo.
The introduction: Stephen has Ariana’s cousin, Margaret Dayhoff-Brannigan, to thank for bringing them together. Dayhoff-Brannigan was sifting through Ariana’s matches on the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel to find her the “right” man. “The people I was dating were interested in me because of my work,” Ariana says. “People for whom politics is a hobby find it glamorous.” Stephen’s politics-free profile made him a prime candidate. The two went on their first date at Mon Ami Gabi in August 2018. They talked about the past, the future and what wine to pair with steak—Stephen had ordered a white wine, and Ariana teased him that it should be red. “It was a cute little conversation,” he says.
The big move: In the two years before getting engaged, the couple started taking steps to solidify their future. One of the biggest moves was combining households. They were purposeful about buying a new house together rather than moving into one or the other’s house; they wanted the kids to feel comfortable about the decision, too. “We made sure they looked at the house before we bought it and were excited, and it has a lot of fun places for teenagers to hang out,” Ariana says. “It was perfect because then COVID happened and we were trapped at home.”
The proposal: The couple got engaged in 2020 after living together for a little over a year. It wasn’t traditional: Ariana simply said it was time to get married. Stephen, who is a bit more old-fashioned, according to Ariana, said it was the “man’s job” to propose. Ariana, in turn, called him a sexist. But he got his way and popped the question the next week, getting down on one knee in the living room with a vintage sapphire ring.
The ceremony: As with their home, Ariana and Stephen were intentional with their wedding. First and foremost, they thought of their children. “We wanted them to feel like we were moving forward together,” Ariana says. The pair also didn’t want to plan a big reception in the middle of COVID. So they decided to do a destination wedding in Hawaii—starting with a trip to the Big Island and ending with a ceremony on a rugged clifftop in Hana on Maui, overlooking the ocean. “I thought it was metaphorically beautiful to get married on a rocky cliff,” Ariana says. “The cliche is the white sandy beach—maybe that’s your first marriage. By the time you’re brave enough to go through it a second time, you understand there are challenges that come with the beauty.” On hand for the union, which took place on Jan. 1, 2022, were their four kids and officiant
Kameran-James Kealoha Kamalu Fernandez, who doubled as the ukulele player. Right after he pronounced Stephen and Ariana husband and wife, one of the kids shouted, “Group hug!” It was one of Stephen’s favorite moments.
The reception: On May 1, Ariana and Stephen held their reception at Pinstripes in North Bethesda with 100 friends and family members, plus elected officials. “We were going back and forth about whether we should have the reception, but I’m glad we did because it was touching,” Stephen says. “It was the first time that my family met her family. It was great to have them all together.” The theme? A modified luau, with tropical flowers (protea, orchids and others in pink, orange and green hues) and photos from the ceremony as the centerpieces, plus a photo booth with cardboard cutouts of Elvis in a bathing suit and then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—in honor of Ariana’s daughter, Maeve, a fan of the congresswoman.
The entertainment: The couple paid homage to Ariana’s heritage with Irish dancing and music from Celtic Music for All Occasions, which also played the tunes for the Jewish couple’s hora—all while wearing Hawaiian shirts and leis.
The menu: The brunch menu included appetizers such as tenderloin sliders and pigs in a blanket. For the main course, guests ordered from the omelet bar and dined on waffles, breakfast potatoes and bacon. Tropical sangria was the signature drink. For dessert, an ice-cream bar supplemented a giant Napoleon cake by Stella’s Bakery.
The special touch: The kids led an extended toast complete with a trivia game about their mom and dad. “It was so sweet to see the four kids up there talking about how they liked this family that we built together,” Ariana says.
The favors: Guests went home with mugs bearing what Ariana calls “cheesy resort pictures” of the family in front of an “aloha” sign during their vacation.
The vendors: Cake, Stella’s Bakery; invitations, Evite; catering, Pinstripes (North Bethesda); ceremony florals, Hala Tropicals; reception florals, Petals to the Metal Florist LLC; entertainment, Celtic Music for All Occasions; hair and makeup, Maui Makeup Artistry; ceremony photography, Kevin Brock Photography; reception photography, Kate Lewis Photography; photo booth, Good Vibrations Entertainment Services; bride’s ceremony dress, Sottero & Midgley from Urban Set Bride; bride’s reception dress, Sachin & Babi from Anthropologie; bridesmaids’ dresses, The Dessy Group; groom’s attire, weddingtropics.com and Suitsupply; wedding bands, Tiffany & Co.
High school sweethearts honored their Cambodian and African backgrounds throughout their festivities
By Kristen Schott
The couple: Vannyda Mbimba (maiden name Kong), 29, grew up in Gaithersburg. She is a senior associate in governance oversight at Fannie Mae. JC Mbimba, 29, was born in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo and moved with his family to Gaithersburg when he was 7. He is a clinical pharmacist at Holy Cross Germantown Hospital. The couple lives in Gaithersburg.
The introduction: JC was not in a good mood when he met his future bride at her high school lacrosse game. His friend, also a lacrosse player, had dragged him to the match. “I probably didn’t make the best impression,” JC says. Regardless, they hit it off. They were friends first before they began dating in 2010, during their junior year of high school. Their first date: mini golf at Bohrer Park and milkshakes at Silver Diner.
The proposal: JC’s plan began to take shape when a mutual friend asked the couple to pose for portraits for his photography portfolio. JC realized it would be a perfect opportunity to propose. He set the occasion for July 2019 at the National Arboretum, after Vannyda returned from visiting family in Cambodia. A twist? “When she was away, she was texting me that she was having dreams that I proposed and she hated the ring,” JC says. But the psychic energy didn’t deter him. He surprised Vannyda by getting their friends and family to hide around the National Capitol Columns and come out once he got down on one knee. The day before the proposal, he had recreated their first date.
The cultural ceremony: The pandemic delayed the wedding twice to mid-2022. It was important to Vannyda and JC to pay homage to their respective cultures. “I always pictured myself having a Cambodian wedding, and he always pictured himself having a church wedding,” Vannyda says. So they did both, beginning with an intimate Cambodian ceremony on May 14 in the Germantown backyard of Vannyda’s sister-in-law, Yolande Mbimba. During the groom’s procession, his family brought gifts for the bride and her kin. During another traditional ceremony, guests pretended to trim the couple’s hair. “It symbolizes getting rid of your dead ends and old life and embracing your new married life,” Vannyda says. The festivities ended with a literal knot-tying—friends and relatives tied a red string around the couple’s wrists and offered a blessing.
The wedding: On June 3, the couple said “I do” at St. Katharine Drexel Catholic Church in Frederick and held an evening reception in Catoctin Hall at Musket Ridge Golf Club in Myersville. Vannyda describes their theme as “romantic summer garden.” The color scheme was coral, gray, cream, pink and green. Tall trumpet vases filled with hydrangeas, cream and pink roses, Italian ruscus and greenery served as the centerpieces. “Guests told us they were the perfect height so they could have a conversation at dinner,” the bride says. For table numbers, the couple used pictures depicting them at that age. The sweetheart table was decorated with Vannyda’s bouquet and a neon-sign backdrop that read “The Mbimbas.” And, on a table toward the entryway, the couple placed photos of their grandparents and other family members who had passed.
The menu: Appetizers included goat cheese crostini and chicken and waffles. Strawberry “Marry Me Margaritas” were the signature drink. The 156 attendees dined on filet, mushroom ravioli or flounder stuffed with lobster. And there were not one but two cakes: lemon-raspberry for him and Jamaican coconut rum for her. A dessert table was laden with mini fruit tarts, eclairs, chocolate chip cookies and raisin cookies.
The reception: The couple honored their parents during their parent dances. For hers, Vannyda changed into a custom dress of Cambodian fabric, and her dad wore a shirt made from the same material. For JC’s dance, his bowtie matched his mother’s traditional Congolese ensemble. “At one point, I started crying, then she started crying, then the whole room started crying,” JC says. “All the important women in my life came out and danced with us, too.” One of JC’s favorite elements of the ceremony was the exotic rental car—an Audi R8. “It was my favorite car growing up,” he says. “I got to keep it for the weekend, so that was awesome.” For Vannyda, one of the most special moments came as the sun sank from the sky in a spectacular sunset. Their best man, Rhyen Kinnear, brought the couple outside to see the gorgeous scene. “Then we turned around, and all of our guests were on the back patio enjoying the sunset, too,” she says. The DJ ushered everyone out so Vannyda and JC could have a private dance to Michael Bublé’s “Save the Last Dance for Me.” Afterward? A sparkler exit.
Vendors: Cake and desserts, Classic Bakery; invitations, Basic Invite; catering, Musket Ridge Golf Club; florals, Events by Jemie; entertainment, Just-Ice the DJ; event planning, Melody Wardak and Victoria Tucker (day-of) of Musket Ridge Golf Club; hair and makeup, Metropolitan Makeup & Hair LLC; photography, Sam Hurd; videography, Paperboys; bride’s dresses, Madison James from Couture Bridal of Maryland (ceremony) and Designs by Victoire (reception and groom’s bow tie); bridesmaids’ dresses, Azazie; groom’s attire, State & Liberty; cake topper, Rawkrft from Etsy; wedding bands, Masica Diamonds (bride) and Georgios Collections (groom).
After years of dating long-distance, a Gaithersburg couple planned a barn wedding featuring an abundance of flowers, a dessert bar and a bespoke beer can
By Dana Gerber
The couple: Gabby Duffy (maiden name Paolini), 28, grew up in Gaithersburg and graduated from Quince Orchard High School. Zach Duffy, 31, grew up in Boston. They both work as government consultants for Booz Allen Hamilton and live in Gaithersburg.
The introduction: Gabby and Zach met through mutual friends in 2012, when Gabby was a freshman at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and Zach was a junior. The pair kept in touch even after he graduated, enlisted in the Navy and was stationed in San Diego. They went on their first date in 2016 when Zach came to Boston while on leave, but they didn’t make their relationship official until Gabby visited Zach in San Diego the following March. They dated long-distance for a few years. “You had to really rely on communication,” Gabby says, adding that they exchanged more than 10,000 emails before they moved in to a Rockville apartment together just as the pandemic was starting. “We got to know each other probably more quickly than if we were in person.”
The proposal: Gabby’s family has a longtime tradition of going to Downtown Crown Wine & Beer in Gaithersburg every Friday night, which Zach joined once he was local. In October 2020, Zach arranged with the owners to display “Gabby Will You Marry Me?” as one of the beers listed on tap. The brew was described as being a “Maryland IPA with West Coast Flavor,” a nod to their long-distance beginnings, with an ABV of 20.22%, since they knew they wanted a 2022 wedding. “Eventually, she saw it, and she turned around and was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is happening,’ ” Zach recalls.
The ceremony: The couple wed on May 21, 2022, at Sweeney Barn in Manassas, Virginia, with about 140 guests present. “I always wanted a barn wedding, but not your rustic, slats, dirt barn wedding—more of a refined, renovated barn,” Gabby says. Her uncle officiated the outdoor ceremony, and the pair wrote their own vows, which included plenty of inside jokes and references to their favorite shared movies and TV shows. “We just spoke to each other’s personalities,” Gabby says.
The dress: In search of something “funky, something that you don’t traditionally see,” Gabby visited Love Couture Bridal in Park Potomac with her mom to try on dresses. She picked out a blush-pink ball gown with floral detailing. “My face did get a little red—I think that was the closest to the Say Yes to the Dress crying moment,” Gabby says. To complete the ensemble, she donned a pair of sparkly Keds sneakers, which she kept on even after switching to a long-sleeve, open-back dress for the reception.
The flowers: To achieve Gabby’s “enchanted forest” vision, William Thomas Floral set up a lush arch over the altar, festooned the aisle with flowers and constructed a pergola atop the head table in reception, incorporating blooms like roses, hydrangeas and eucalyptus. “The only time the entire wedding that I teared up was seeing the room and the flowers,” Gabby says. An outdoor escort wall—with a banner that read “You’re Simply the Best,” a reference to a romantic moment in one of the couple’s favorite TV shows, Schitt’s Creek—guided guests to their reception seats with place cards tied to petite vases of flowers.
The music: For the newlyweds’ first dance, the 10-piece Free Spirit band crooned “Simply the Best” by Noah Reid—a callback to the couple’s escort wall. Afterward, the band got guests grooving with hits like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “No Diggity.” “It did feel like a concert at one point,” Gabby says. The bride’s favorite moment from the big day was standing next to Zach just after seeing everybody dancing to a rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin’. ” “He just turned to me and was like, ‘Wow,’ ” she recalls. “Everything had just come together.”
The menu: During cocktail hour, guests munched on passed appetizers of mac-and-cheese bites and Hawaiian tuna poke, plus fare from charcuterie and guacamole stations. The plated dinner included asparagus and beet ravioli, jumbo crab-stuffed prawns and short ribs with fried shallots. The self-proclaimed “anti-wedding cake” couple opted for a dessert bar instead, serving up confections like red velvet cake pops, mini cheesecakes and s’mores cups. The standout late-night bite was the “pizzarita,” a Clark University delicacy that combines a chicken parmesan and a quesadilla. After the reception wrapped up around 10 p.m., shuttles took guests to the nearby Three Monkeys Pub & Chophouse, where midnight snacks and an open bar kept the party going into the wee hours.
The drinks: Two specialty cocktails named after the couple’s cats (“The Harry,” a tequila concoction, and “The Harvey,” a bourbon mixture) were offered at “Bailey’s Bar,” named after their dog. The couple’s love of craft beer was also on full display: Aslin Beer Co. in Alexandria designed a customized beer label for the pair, featuring their wedding hashtag, “#TillDuffDoUsPart,” on cans of IPA. “It was definitely a talking point,” Gabby says.
The honeymoon: The day after the wedding, the newlyweds flew to Denver for their honeymoon, spending four days hiking and checking out local breweries. In October, they did a “part two” in Amelia Island, Florida, lounging by the pool and playing golf.
The vendors: After party, Three Monkeys Pub & Chophouse; band, Free Spirit by Entertainment Exchange; beer, Aslin Beer Co.; catering, Occasions Caterers; dress, Love Couture Bridal; floral and decor, William Thomas Floral; hair and makeup, Georgetown Bride; hotels, SpringHill Suites Gainesville Haymarket and Tru by Hilton Manassas; invitations and menus, Kelly Joyce Design; lighting, Atmosphere Inc.; planning and design, Michele Hodges Events; photography, Steve Canning Photography; rehearsal dinner, The Black Sheep; signage, LeahLetters; suits, Men’s Wearhouse; transportation, Reston Limousine; venue, Sweeney Barn; videography, Bowen Films