Ali Gee and Nick Engel met at Baker Beach, where it was he who had butterflies when he saw her in a yellow skirt. He doesn't remember if he shook her hand, hugged her or both, but says he felt "immediately comfortable."
For their first date, they found a spot on the beach and drank wine as they watched the sunset, talking about "all the good things," from their jobs to family. It was then that Engel confessed his creepy new hobby.
"How could this go wrong? You just met an amazing woman and everything is going great. Why not tell her about your weird hobby of taking pictures of strangers?" laughs Engel, who has a thing for capturing unwitting selfie-takers in the act. "She loved it, and we ended up sending pics of strangers taking selfies back and forth immediately."
Though it took several weeks to make the second date happen, it was a nine-hour affair including multiple meals, a couple bottles of wine and, of course, taking pictures of strangers. "Nick kissed me right next to my bus stop," she recalls. "I smile daily while waiting for the bus."
Never mind that there had been clues—including the mysterious 1,000 miles that suddenly appeared one day on their brand new Subaru, which Engel had driven more than 200 miles to ask her parents for their blessing—Gee was completely taken off guard when her bf proposed. When they went to Baker Beach at sunset, she divulges that she acted bratty when he refused to park in the parking lot, instead opting to walk the dirt path and stairs—you know, the more romantic route. It was then that she tripped and fell, leaving her a bit bruised and bloodied and covered in dirt. Her beau nursed her back to good humor with a glass of Champagne—a weekly ritual for this couple—and then led her out into the water. He got down on one knee and presented her with a custom-designed and handmade diamond and rose gold ring (bonus: he is a jeweler!); his buddy, a professional photographer, was hiding in the distance with a long lens camera to capture the surprise.
But back to the jewelry, which was to become a key component of this romance. Gee, a finance and accounting professional, conspired with Engel's team to melt, bend, hammer, twist, saw, sand, and polish a metal wedding band for her future husband. It wasn't perfectly symmetrical, but was made entirely by her hand, and he loved it. Later, Engel made custom initial earrings for the bridal party, and "something blue" earrings with diamonds, sapphires, and tanzanite (her birthstone) for his bride. He even surprised her with a wedding band and an additional diamond infinity ring, and also made an initial pin for his suit.
They chose Lake Tahoe for their big day, and welcomed their people with a party at Truckee River Winery, where they served a cocktail they'd created together, called a Drop Kick Fizz (gin, Champagne, and blood orange San Pellegrino), while hanging out at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.
Vintage and handmade touches made for a personalized romantic feel throughout the wedding day: Vintage doors draped in eucalyptus and flowers announced the entrance to the wedding aisle; recycled wine, whiskey, and gin bottles that had been drunk by the bride and groom held flowers and eucalyptus too; and Engel hand-painted all the signs. Tufted sofas and old trunks were arranged into photogenic vignettes. The bride carried a bouquet reminiscent of wildflowers.
But ever since that proposal, Gee had been racking her brain on how to surprise her hubby at the wedding. She remembered a Pixar short film they'd seen, called Lava, in which a hopeless volcano searches for his soulmate. "We quickly upgraded from 'I like you' to 'I lava you,'" she says. So she conspired with some of her musically inclined friends to perform, and dance to, the Lava theme song; of course the tears flowed.
Venue: Truckee Donner Regional Park
Beauty: I Do Weddings Truckee
Jewelry: Nick Engel & Co.
Floral designer: Susan Forde
Photography: Just West Co