Congress plays part in wedding timing

Most couples don’t have to consider Congress’s schedule when setting a wedding date, but for engaged Capitol Hill staffers, saying “I do” takes some extra-careful planning.

It was “Congress” that dictated a March 23 wedding date for Jessica Baker, the press secretary for the House Judiciary Committee, who planned her nuptials to coincide with the legislative break in early spring.

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“There’s only certain times you can get married when you work on the Hill, August recess being one of them, but who wants to get married in D.C. in August? It’s like a swamp here, so we decided to do the week before Easter, because there’s that two-week recess,” Baker said with a laugh.

Baker, 29, and her fiancé, T.J. Collins, 30, who is a researcher with the Department of Defense, met five years ago at the Capitol Hill Baptist Church and got engaged over this past Columbus Day weekend in New York City’s Central Park.

“[W]e started planning like the week after,” said Baker. Those plans include D.C.-themed details — from the venue to the dessert choice — fit for a Washington wedding.

Their reception will be held at the same Capitol Hill church where they first met, followed by a reception at the Mount Vernon Inn. Affordability, availability and style landed them at George Washington’s historic estate.

“[W]e decided to go with Mount Vernon, because they can hold a large number of people, which we needed, and also our feel is kind of rustic ... it’s like a colonial tavern, so it has really pretty old hardwood floors — we thought that would be something that would go well with the feel of the wedding. And it’s very intimate too,” she said.

Like many Washingtonians, Baker and Collins hail from outside of the nation’s capital, and the pair plans to incorporate elements from their home states into the wedding. In order to bring a piece of Baker’s California home to D.C., for example, the favors will involve the official Golden State flower, the California poppy. 

Baker didn’t have to venture far from the Capitol to find something from her fiancé’s hometown of Hannibal, Mo., known for being the site of Mark Twain’s childhood home.

At Riverby Books on East Capitol Street, she found a “whole stack” of 1920s “mint condition” Twain books, which they will use as part of the table centerpieces.

“[W]e thought that was pretty cool,” she said.

As for dessert, The Sweet Lobby, a boutique baker based on Capitol Hill’s Barracks Row, will be providing cupcakes.

“It’s really neat, too, because we’re getting married in the cherry blossom window ... and Sweet Lobby has a cherry blossom cupcake, so we’re doing some of those as well,” Baker said. “And their cupcakes are amazing, they’re so good.”

Hill staffers Rae-Lynn Raup, a legislative correspondent and press assistant for Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas), and Dan Ziegler, legislative director for Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), who attend the same church as Baker and Collins, are braving the summer heat in favor of an extended congressional recess.

“We’re picking our date because we’re out of session in August, and that’s when we’re going to get married and then have our honeymoon during recess,” Raup said.

Ziegler added that it would be “tough” to get married, go on a honeymoon and then jump right back into work during any other part of Congress’s schedule.

“We thought this would be a good time to have some more quiet and settle into an apartment and get used to being married. We’re also hoping to do a reception back home in Ohio, where my family is from,” he said.

Raup and Ziegler started dating “right around the debt-ceiling fight of 2011” and got engaged this past December in front of the National Christmas Tree by the White House.

“I wanted to make sure we got engaged before Christmas, so we could enjoy that time with family, friends while we were back home,” Ziegler said.

With busy lives, both are looking to family for some perspective to keep them grounded.

“We have a good network of people around us to help us through this time as well, and help keep us focused on the right things. We’re preparing for a marriage, not necessarily a wedding. A wedding is one day in a marriage. It’s an important day, but we’re looking a little more long-term,” Ziegler said.

They also set aside time for dates where they try not talk about the wedding, so that planning doesn’t dominate their time together.

“Don’t let it rule your lives. Enjoy engagement and look forward to marriage,” Raup said.

Her friend Baker has been able to use some of her congressional skills to her advantage to help plan the big day.

“If you work with press, you have to get things done. We’re based on deadlines and reporter’s deadlines, and so one of the first things that we did was come up with a timeline for when we had to get things done,” she said. “And then, too, I feel like with press we find ways to get answers, so if we don’t hear back from them with email, we call them, so I’ve done that with vendors too.”

For other D.C. couples who are planning a wedding, she said the best advice is to ask for advice.

“Ask people who have gotten married in D.C. for any advice or tips or spreadsheets that they found helpful, because most people have done their research,” she said.