He took her to dinner, just the two of them.
"It was all a love story in the making," Michael said.
How does forever sound?
After graduating, Christa, who grew up in Newark, Del., did pharmaceutical market research for six years. She has since earned an M.B.A. with a marketing concentration from St. Joseph's Univesity and is senior marketing manager for a division of Independence Blue Cross.
Michael, a South Philadelphia native, graduated from the Philadelphia Police Academy in June 2007 and now patrols the streets he grew up on.
They live in Morrell Park, with puggle Jack and pit bull Lola. Lola was adopted from the animal control shelter on Hunting Park Avenue, where volunteer Christa walks dogs and uses her marketing skills to post photos and bios on adoption websites and Facebook. She also serves on the Philadoptables board.
"He does a lot for our family," Christa said of the way Michael treats her and their dogs. "He's realized what's important to me, and made it important to him. Anything that's going on, he's always: 'How can I support you? What can we do next?' "
Michael said Christa supports him, too - even "the crazy ideas I come up with," such as when he decided out of the blue he'd like to start making wine. "She's always willing to put other people, and animals, ahead of herself. She's smart, caring, and loving."
In July 2011, Christa returned home from St. Joe's, having just finished one of her classes.
"I told her I wanted to take her out to dinner, for finishing her class," Michael said.
"I thought it was kind of random - it was just a normal class," Christa said. "But he said he wanted to go to Capital Grille, and I was like, 'OK! I'll take it!' "
As she was getting ready in the bathroom, Michael put new dog tags on Jack and Lola, then tried to persuade them to join their mom in the bathroom. They were, naturally, not having it.
He gently nudged the dogs with one hand, while hiding something behind his back with the other. Christa's focus was on the mirror.
"Look at the dogs' new tags," Michael said.
Christa was a little miffed. "Why did you get them new tags? The ones they had were fine. I just got them new tags," she said.
"Just look," Michael said.
Christa saw that Jack's said: "Marry me?" She knew without checking that Lola's said "Will you," and looked up at Michael, who was kneeling in the hallway with a ring.
It was so them
The couple were wed in a traditional Catholic ceremony at Epiphany of Our Lord in South Philadelphia. The reception for 200 was at Cescaphe Ballroom.
Christa's friend Colleen made a model doghouse with pictures of Jack and Lola on the front in which guests put wedding cards.
Photos of Michael's late grandmother, Charlotte, and Christa's late grandparents, Ken and Joan, stood on a table of remembrance.
Each guest table bore a bottle of Michael's homemade Chianti. And in a nod to their love of summer trips to Ocean City and fall apple-picking adventures, guests received caramel apples and Johnson's Popcorn.
Christa will always remember the way it felt to look down the aisle at Michael waiting for her. "I thought I would be nervous, having all those people there. But when I got there, everything fell into place," she said. "I looked at him, and it seemed like we were the only two in the room."
That moment meant so much to Michael, too. "When I first saw her walking down the aisle, I was amazed," he said. "It was the day we had both looked forward to, and I was glad to share it with her."
A bargain: Their DJ is a friend of a friend, and gave the couple a discount.
The splurge: The cake topper - a handmade clay sculpture of the couple sitting on a wine barrel with their two dogs. It cost about five times as much as a typical cake topper from a craft store, Christa said, but it's a personalized piece of art they'll always cherish.
Advice for other couples
Set a budget, and stick to it. Rather than set spending limits, the couple made a list of estimates of how much each item would cost, Michael said. When something they wanted cost more, it was far too easy to say "our estimate was wrong," and spend more, he said.
Two days in Napa, eight in Maui.
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