The Most Epic Blanket Fort and the Nerdy Love Story That Made It So

Click for full image.

This fall, Nhu-An and I are getting married.

We've been together since November 18, 2000, back when we were seniors in high school. Despite a lot of obstacles like living on opposite sides of the country for much of our relationship and the glacial pace at which I completed grad school, we've stayed together and continue to be in love. To celebrate our engagement, we made this epic blanket fort.

Here’s the nerdy story that made all of this possible.

San Jose, California, June 2001

A nerdy love story

Nhu-An and I were very different people when we met. She worked hard, wanted to make a big difference in the world, and kept thinking about the next big thing. I only cared about enjoying the present moment with my friends and family. That's why our senior class voted me "most likely to be out of class" while Nhu-An was "most likely to succeed".

We seemed to be complete opposites. She was prudent. I was careless. She was anxious. I was laid-back. She knew exactly what she wanted out of life while I had no idea where I was headed but was confident things would work themselves out. People wondered why we were together, especially our parents.

I started dating Nhu-An because I thought she was cute and she was super nice to me. One day in English class I was sick and she handed me tissues so I could blow my nose. I was anxious about girls and didn’t think they noticed me, so this was a pretty big deal. Then there was the day I got my braces off—Nhu-An was the only one who noticed and I couldn't stop smiling the rest of the day.

Nhu-An says that when we started dating, she could forget about the serious stuff—school, recitals, extracurriculars. Hanging out together was fun. Our relationship was a break from her structured life. It gave her a chance to go to the movies, eat fast food, and hang out at the mall.

Corny stuff like that brought us together.

Los Angeles, California July 2004 

With a foundation like that, we shouldn’t have lasted too long. But things changed after I came out to Nhu-An about being a geek. The more I told her about my love of Star Trek, my collection of X-Men comics, and how I built computers for fun, the more she talked about the silly musicals and plays she put on as a kid for her family, her collection of Baby Sitters Club books, and how much she loved school. We realized that we're both really big geeks, just with totally different interests. Loving something passionately and wanting to share it became the glue that kept us together throughout the next decade.

It wasn't just about sticking together. Being geeks helped us grow. She told me all of her secrets to academic success and gave me hope that I could transfer out of community college. When I was clueless about what to major in, Nhu-An was the one who helped me realize that I loved psychology. When Nhu-An starting doubting the decisions she was making in life and questioned her "master plan", I helped her to live a life more true to who she is. That's why she left biomedical engineering and pursued media production.

Asheville, North Carolina, July 2007

We've even helped each other become better geeks. I used to hate musicals as a kid because I couldn't stand the 6-hour Bollywood movies my parents used to watch. I didn't realize it at the time, but Nhu-An used an old sales technique to ease me into the genre. She first made me watch Moulin Rouge, which was awesome because it had Obi-Wan Kenobi and Nirvana’s "Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Then she took me to see The Lion King (my favorite Disney animated movie) on Broadway. Nhu-An later talked about the social commentary of Rent, using the same language I spoke when describing a great episode of Star Trek. I was hooked and spent most of 2006 singing "Seasons of Love".

I wasn't as successful at getting Nhu-An into Star Trek. She's always supported my love of the final frontier and understood why it meant so much to me, but she couldn’t make it through an episode without falling asleep. She loves the new J.J. Abrams films, but I think that has more to do with Chris Pine than the U.S.S. Enterprise. But I knew Nhu-An loved politics. She devours every issue of The Economist and it takes her hours to watch Meet the Press because she pauses every minute to fact-check the politicians. After I described Battlestar Galactica as "The West Wing in space", she gave it a shot and ended up binge watching the whole series. Now she wants us to cosplay as Athena and Helo at the next Comic Con. 

Our his and hers scifi iPhone cases.

New York City, November 2013

After we got engaged, we wanted to plan a wedding that celebrated how important geeking out has been in our relationship. That’s why we were drawn to the Housing Works bookstore. It’s a cool non-profit that helps old books find new homes (a pretty nerdy endeavor). When we learned that all the proceeds would go towards fighting homelessness and AIDS in New York City, we knew this was right for us.

Since books will be a theme in our wedding, we wanted to recreate a scene from one of our favorite childhood stories for our engagement photo. But we couldn’t agree on a book. I wanted Where the Wild Things Are and Nhu-An wanted The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. That’s when we got lost talking about how much fun it would have been to hang out as kids and share our favorite books and toys with each other. That’s how the idea for our epic blanket fort was born.

An epic blanket fort

Nhu-An's original vision of our blanket fort.

Nhu-An and I searched the internet for blanket fort inspiration. Tumblr was a good place to start. The Community episode “Pillows and Blankets” was fun to rewatch, but didn’t reveal any blanket fort secrets. Things clicked when we saw The Holiday. The movie is really bad, but it features an awesome blanket fort. We loved how whimsical and cozy it was.

Nhu-An designed an elaborate pulley system of embroidery hoops and S-rings held up by jute twine crisscrossing the ceiling of the apartment (check out her nerdy engineering diagrams below). We spent a weekend gathering materials from arts and crafts stores and picked up some extra blankets and bed sheets. 

Construction started on February 1st, 2014. Everything was going well until we tried to install hooks into the wall. We needed to secure the twine to the hooks to hold the pulley in place. Unfortunately, the brick wall didn’t make for a straightforward installation. Everything collapsed.

In a panicked state, Nhu-An tried sketching alternate designs that didn’t require embroidery hoops. That’s when I got the idea to just start throwing around blankets and sheets and seeing what we came up with. When I told Nhu-An, she confessed that she never made a blanket fort before. I showed her how I used to make blanket forts when I was a kid and she quickly caught on. We had a ton of fun putting it together. It felt like we were coming full circle to the start of our relationship.

After 6 hours of construction in this tiny Manhattan apartment, it was ready.

A surreal photographer

Bill Wadman photographing our epic blanket fort.

We knew from the start that we wanted Bill Wadman to photograph our blanket fort. Bill creates portraits that look like paintings. His conceptual work blends in with some of our favorite surrealist art (check out his awesome homage to Caravaggio's The Calling of Saint Matthew which features both me and Nhu-An). Not only has Bill become a close friend of mine, but his imaginative approach to photography was exactly what we needed to bring our concept to life.  

Our favorite things

Nhu-An and I made a list of the most important influences on our childhood and selected items that were symbolic of these things. A lot of the stuff we’ve had since we were kids (our parents were kind enough to ship them to us) and others we’ve picked over the years as adults. A few key items were found at flea markets, eBay, Amazon, or the library, specifically for our blanket fort.

Here’s a rundown of everything that went into our blanket fort:

  • Lego Back to the Future DeLorean time machine
  • Star Wars Boba Fett action figure.
  • Welch's Fruit Snacks
  • Tab soda
  • Curious George lunchbox
  • Apple and Eve apple juice box
  • Kidrobot Street Fighter Ken (hidden behind juice box)
  • NASA patch (hidden behind DeLorean)
  • Space Invaders stress toy
  • Bowl of grapes
  • Kellogg’s Fruit Loops cereal
  • Ruffles potato chips

  • Doctor Who talking TARDIS plush toy

  • Nhu-An’s 1996 California Music Education Association honors award

  • Flag of the state of California
  • 1980s snap bracelet
  • Violin
  • Homemade crown
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • Tuck Everlasting
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Baby-Sitters Club #11, #12, #14, #15, #17, #19, #28, #35, #36, #37, #39, #42, #46
  • Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #1, #2, #3, #4 #5, #6, #7, #8
  • Ramona Forever
  • Little Women
  • Matilda
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Madeline and the Bad Hat
  • American Girls Collection: Meet Kirsten, Molly’s Surprise, Meet Josefina, Meet Felicity, Changes for Felicity, Happy Birthday Felicity, Samantha's Winter Party 

  • Stuart Little
  • Peter Pan
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
  • The Berenstain Bears and the Slumber Party
  • Treasure Island
  • American Girls Collection: Felicity’s Surprise, Felicity Learns a Lesson
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Art Asylum Star Trek: The Next Generation USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D
  • Coca-Cola
  • The Dark Knight Rises Batman vinyl figure
  • Toy Story Rex figure

  • Think Geek Star Trek USS Enterprise plush toy
  • Art Asylum Star Trek communicator
  • Isaac Asimov: The Complete Stories, Vol. 1
  • We
  • Jurassic Park
  • Skittles
  • Life Savers
  • Nestlé Crunch
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) cassette tape soundtrack
  • E.T. VHS
  • Blade Runner VHS
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade VHS
  • Jurassic Park VHS
  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day VHS
  • Independence Day VHS
  • The Magic School Bus Out of This World VHS
  • The Rocketeer VHS
  • Top Gun VHS
  • Toy Story VHS
  • Aladdin VHS
  • The Baby-Sitters Club VHS
  • Stargate VHS
  • Star Wars Han Solo in carbonite
  • Pressman Toy Saved By The Bell board game

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual
  • The Official Star Trek 30th Anniversary Magazine
  • Haribo gummi bears
  • Playmates Star Trek: The Next Generation tricorder
  • Super Nintendo Entertainment System controller
  • Sega Genesis controller
  • Kudos granola bar
  • Micro Machines Star Trek: The Next Generation Borg Cube
  • Micro Machines Star Trek: The Next Generation Klingon Bird of Prey
  • Underground Toys Star Wars Anakin Skywalker lightsaber flashlight
  • Donkey Kong Jenga
  • Wolverine #67 - Valley O' Death!
  • Star Trek X-MEN
  • Uncanny X-Men Vol 1 #300
  • Web of Spider-Man Vol 1 #100
  • Superman #78 Reign of the Supermen
  • Superman: Man of Steel Vol 1 #22
  • Adventures of Superman Vol 1 #501
  • The Maxx #1
  • Spiderman Unlimited #1
  • X-Men Unlimited #1
  • Madeline
  • The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Vacation
  • The Baby-Sitters Club #2, #6, #7, #10, #19
  • Matilda
  • Of Mice and Men
  • I Am Spock
  • Falling Up
  • Goosebumps: Monster Blood
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • American Girls Collection: Changes for Molly: A Winter Story, Molly Saves the Day
  • Strega Nona
  • Moon

  • Batman cape
  • Batman patch
  • Underground Toys Star Wars Anakin Skywalker lightsaber flashlight
  • Nintendo Entertainment System controller
  • Super Nintendo Entertainment System controller
  • Sega Genesis controller
  • Atari 2600 joystick
  • Kudos granola bar
  • Micro Machines Star Trek: The Next Generation Borg Cube
  • Micro Machines Star Trek: The Next Generation Klingon Bird of Prey
  • Micro Machines Star Trek: The Next Generation Klingon Negh'Var ship
  • Micro Machines Star Wars Star Destroyer
  • Simon game
  • Eaglemoss Batman: The Animated Series Batmobile
  • Crayola crayons
  • Star Wars Darth Vader action figure
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles / Star Trek Leonardo James T. Kirk

  • Rachmaninoff 6 Etudes Tableau for piano solo sheet music
  • Anne's House of Dreams
  • Anne of Ingleside
  • Charlotte's Web
  • Where the Wild Things Are
  • Corduroy
  • Madeline
  • Pitt #1
  • Action Comics #687 (Superman)
  • Adventures of Superman Vol 1 #505
  • Adventures of Superman #500
  • Superman: Man of Steel Vol 1 #25
  • Spawn #10
  • Bloodstrike #1
  • Wildcats Trilogy Vol 1 #1
  • XO Manowar #1
  • Sabretooth Vol 1 #1
  • Spider-Man 2099 Vol 1 #6
  • Sesame Street Big Bird stuffed animal

To learn more about our nerdy love story, check out the Valentine's Day episode of the Super Fantastic Nerd Hour.