Party Back Home

One bride's journey from a destination wedding in California to an elegant Minnetonka reception.

As the music swelled from tiny computer speakers, a hush fell over the crowd. Oohs and ahhs, like the kind fireworks inspire, came from onlookers scattered in the foyer of the Conservatory at Carlson Center in Minnetonka. It was 45 minutes into our wedding reception and my husband, Joe, our guests, and I were watching a slideshow from our nuptials … in California.

Yes, I had a destination wedding. Joe and I selected Sonoma in California’s Wine Country to hold our wedding in May 2009. However, to keep the celebration intimate—and our budget down—we only invited 22 guests: immediate family, aunts and uncles. That meant a whole slew of people back home wouldn’t be attending our lovefest. And as I quickly found out, they all wanted to.

Joe and I decided early in the planning process to couple our destination wedding with a luncheon reception in Minnesota. Surprisingly, the decision came more from our parents than us. It was the first time I learned to include them in many of our “big ticket” decisions.

Since both of Joe’s parents have lived in Minnesota their entire lives, they had many close friends to invite. To them, it seemed almost cruel for us to get married and not invite those long-time buddies to the celebration. While my parents hail from Michigan, they relocated to the Twin Cities before my brother and I came along, so Minnesota feels like home to all of us. As a result, they had quite a few guests to include as well—from old neighbors and former Girl Scout leaders to our hairstylist of 17 years.

So it was decided: We would get married in California, take our honeymoon in Mexico, then come back to a second party in Minnesota—all within just over two weeks. Looking back, I thought we were crazy, but it was an immense weight off of our shoulders to have it all said and done in 17 days. But how to pay for it?

Two parties, one budget
Joe and I had already agreed upon our wedding budget, so after crunching some numbers, we allotted one-third of the total amount to the Minnesota reception. This gave us room to do what we wanted, but we still had to be smart in managing our money. Anything deemed non-essential—favors, for example—were cut. Any time I could save as little as $50, I went for it. In the long run, those extra hours of research early on were worth it.

Many of our choices for vendors came naturally. At the time, I worked for Carlson in Minnetonka and had gotten to know Dawn Crawford Dacut and her staff after planning a large soirée with them. The Conservatory at Carlson Center was the first and only place we looked for a reception venue, and choosing a location with which I had a history helped us to get a reduced rate.

The Conservatory came with a built-in caterer, Bon Appetit, which was one less decision to make. My mom, Jan Kentala, is a wedding photographer, so in addition to capturing our Sonoma wedding, she also agreed to shoot our Minnesota reception. She gave us some great vendor recommendations as well, one of which led us to Dawn’s Flowers in Shakopee, who we hired as our florist for the day.

Joe’s parents recommended our band, the Jupes, since one of the singers is an old family friend. Joe’s aunt gave us the name of her go-to cake baker, Queen of Cakes, which turned out to be an excellent choice for our second wedding cake. (Yes, one benefit of having two wedding celebrations is two wedding cakes!) These suggestions not only saved us time, but money as well. It’s amazing how interconnected vendors are in the wedding biz. I learned that all you have to do is ask.
A second look
Laugh if you will, but I had many debates with my mom that went something like this: “Trust me, Molly, no one wants to come to your reception and see you in a white cocktail dress. They want you in your wedding gown!”

I pooh-poohed that statement for months, spending every other night scouring the Internet for cute frocks. However, I knew there was more than a shard of truth to what she was saying and finally relented. We decided that Joe, the rest of our wedding party, and I would re-wear our destination wedding garb for this bash, though I opted for a different hairstyle and veil—my small victory. I had another old family friend, Sarah Sponberg of MN Bridal Makeup Artistry, do my makeup and one of her associates created my ’do.

Having two different looks made both parties more exciting for me, because I knew I would have two sets of wedding photos with unique characteristics. It also helped motivate us for our second event, as we’d returned from our honeymoon 48 hours prior and wanted nothing more than to relax on the couch. I got my second wind the morning of the reception thinking of the fun new hair and makeup I would get to wear that day.

The guest list
Joe and I knew from the start that we didn’t want to throw a huge wedding, hence the destination short list. So when it came time to draw up our Minnesota guest list, we kept it small enough to fit within our budget, but with enough wiggle room to include the occasional straggler.

Since we’d allotted one-third of our budget to the reception, after picking out the location and other vendors, we worked the numbers and learned that we could accommodate 135 folks. We divvied up the number between us and our two sets of parents. We all used the same equation for inviting guests, so cousins of our parents didn’t get an invite nor did folks we hadn’t seen in years (and probably wouldn’t in the next five either).

We also said no to kids. While we didn’t put “adults only” on the invitation, we spread the information by word of mouth and didn’t include children’s names on the envelopes. Most everyone got the memo, but we did have to call a few guests who had RSVP’ed asking for highchairs.

All those who attended our destination wedding also got an invitation to the reception in Minnesota. We figured since they ranked so high on the VIP list, they should be invited to both shindigs. But as I might have guessed, only the Twin Cities residents came to both parties. My Michigan relatives opted not to buy two plane tickets two weekends apart, and can I really blame them?

A “first” first dance
It was important to me that we weren’t merely duplicating the wedding we held in California. We were wearing the same outfits, using the same color palette—you see the trend here. I wanted two unique celebrations without completely reinventing the wheel. Then it came to me one night over dinner with friends: Make sure to have some “firsts” in Minnesota.

One idea that immediately popped into my head was our first dance. We were skipping dancing in California, so why not share this rite of passage with our Minnesota guests? Thankfully, our band, The Jupes, was more than willing to learn our chosen song, “Every Day” by Rascal Flatts, and we got to share this happy memory with all those in attendance. But we didn’t stop at dancing.

Because of our small headcount in California, we didn’t have a guestbook. In homage to our California nuptials and our love of dogs (we have a British Labrador retriever), I found a coffee table book online, “Winery Dogs of Sonoma,” and set it out during our cocktail hour for guests to sign. I also used Sharpie markers personalized with our names and wedding date to use when signing.

Just before dessert was served, Joe and I snuck in back with the catering staff and donned personalized aprons in our wedding colors that I had embroidered with Mr. B and Mrs. B. We then went from table to table with the servers, passing out our Queen of Cakes wedding cake. It was yet another chance to say hello to everyone, which was especially nice since we didn’t have a ceremony or formal receiving line like most weddings. The idea was a big hit as we posed at just about every table for photos in our aprons.

Overall, the reception went off without a hitch—partly because of my planning and partly thanks to the Conservatory’s expert staff. But like any good event, there are a few elements I would have changed.

  • Flowers: As our budget was creeping upward, I had to make a few cuts. One thing I took out were bouquets at our Minnesota reception. My initial thought was that since there wasn’t a ceremony during which to hold them, they’d just be taking up valuable food and drink space in our hands. So I cut them … which was a big mistake. Our Minnesota wedding party photos looked a tad off with no flowers. Even my mom mentioned a few times while photographing, “You ladies need some flowers. Your hands look awkward!”
  • Music: DJs aren’t usually my cup of tea at weddings, but the good ones know how to keep the reception moving. Hiring a band (and not a seasoned wedding band) to play our event meant that no one was there to announce what was happening next. The flow felt a bit off at times because guests didn’t know what to expect. While I wouldn’t have hired a full-on DJ, I would have ensured one member of the band was in charge of MC’ing.

Those details aside, as my gown and Joe’s suit were on their final trip to the dry cleaners, we looked at each other and knew we’d done the right thing. Planning two weddings amounted to additional headaches, but getting to party with everyone—here and in California—meant we’d done what we set out to do: Celebrate our love with the people we love most. And that’s worth every penny.