It’s become somewhat of a tradition now — when a close friend or a family member sets a wedding date, I get a text within seconds of the ink drying on the contract. You’re the first to know, they’ll tell me, considering my crazy calendar — so you better be there! How could I not comply?
When my cousin Kirsten, who is really more like a sister, called to let me she and her high school sweetheart Steve had set a date — a mere twenty years later — I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
After a fun — and food-filled — few days exploring Chicago tourist-style with Ian, it was time to get back into marriage mode. We checked out of the Freehand and shifted over to the Swissotel, the official wedding hotel where my mom had generously reserved rooms for the whole family. While the hotel felt like your standard business hotel compared to the quirky lodging we’d just moved from, we luxuriated in the generously sized rooms and the views stretching out all the way to Navy Pier.
We didn’t linger long though — as soon as my mom and Miller arrived from Decatur (yes, this was the second decades-later wedding of Illinois high school sweethearts I attended in two weeks), we hopped in an Uber and rushed up to Ravenswood for the rehearsal. Lollapalooza traffic was insane, and we ended up arriving just as the wedding party was headed to the rehearsal dinner. Oops.
The super low-key rehearsal involved taking over nearby sports bar Tavern on Little Fort for a surprisingly delicious buffet, a bevy of champagne toasts, and an impromptu family reunion as I caught up with family members I hadn’t seen in eons.
I even got to give one of those champagne toasts. A few years ago, when Kirsten and my mom and my sister Olivia and I went to Central America, I penned ‘Twas The Night Before Belize in celebration. Kirst loved it so much she asked me to write a rehearsal dinner version, ‘Twas The Night Before the Wedding — how fun is that!
Finally, we took family photos. This next set of the new cousins is my favorite — first, the one you frame, second, the one you pull out and laugh at for years to come. Isn’t Steve, over on the left there, lucky to join this crew!
As with most rehearsal dinners, we stayed up way later than we vowed to — I feel like there’s a real flaw in this whole wedding weekend plan that means you always wake up exhausted on the big day!
One of the bridedsmaids told me that her brother had held his rehearsal on a Thursday and then had a quiet, low key bride-and-groom-only night on that Friday. I loved that idea — consider it mentally filed for any future wedding I might be a host of.
But beauty waits for no woman — especially not a sleeping one. We dragged our bums out of bed and up to the bridal suite for a morning of hair, makeup, and girly giggles.
This is always one of my favorite aspects of participating in a wedding. Things get so crazy once the whole walking down the aisle thing happens — I love having a little bit of alone time with the ladies to freak out over what’s about to go down.
This wedding, we had a lot of tiny adorable company! Kirsten is beloved honorary aunt to a whole gaggle of cute kiddos, and they truly couldn’t have looked sweeter. The moms of all these munchkins were part of our amazing Nashville bachelorette weekend — we sure clean up nice, eh?
Once the bridal party headed off on the trolly for photos, Olivia and Ian and I reunited for a little photo fun of our own. I’d yet to show Ian the major tourist tick-offs The Bean and Millennium Park, so we strolled over for a gander and an iconic Chicago photo backdrop.
No surprise — the crowds were insane! It was Lollapalooza weekend, and we could actually hear some of the music extending all the way to The Bean.
Once we snapped a few shots, we sought refuge from the street up at Cindy’s Rooftop. Cindy’s is one of the most sought-after reservations in Chicago, but we managed to squeeze into a spot at the bar for a pre-wedding drink and snack in our finest formal wear. With tons of festival-goers crammed in for a pre-show drink, it was a lively and full crowd and a fun atmosphere.
While we were on the balcony, we even ran into an Alex in Wanderland reader — how fun! Usually when that happens I’m in my sweatpants and no makeup and haven’t slept for three days, so it was very exciting to meet someone on a day I wasn’t embarrassed to appear in photos, ha!
Cindy’s truly has the best views in the city — if you can’t get in for a meal, just stop by for a drink and the best aerial photo of Millenium Park around!
And then we were in an Uber singing “Going To The Chapel…” except we were going to Ravenswood Event Center! I absolutely fell in love with this industrial chic space the moment my cousin sent me photos of it, and I couldn’t wait to see it transformed into her and Steve’s vision on that day.
We made our way up to the third floor, where a full wall of windows would frame the “I do’s.” And just as the sun began to set, the procession began.
When Kirsten walked down the aisle, I couldn’t help it — I cried!
Olivia and I were honored to be asked to read in the ceremony, along with Steve’s cousin — I shared a passage from my man Mark Twain. It was a beautiful and heartfelt ceremony with vows that left us laughing and smiling. From their first kiss at thirteen to their wedding kiss a few years later, it was a beautiful moment to see these two crazy kids finally make it official.
Five stars on Yelp, for sure.
And then the party got started! I was a little too distracted by the fun of being at a wedding with not only Ian but also my immediate and extended family and a whole bunch of Chicago folk I’ve known since I was wee. Which means I didn’t get photos of the cute champagne cork place cards or the wall of vintage family photos. But suffice it to say, no detail went forgotten!
I love loft weddings. When I worked doing wedding set up and tear down for extra cash in New York City in college, these were our speciality and I was always swooning at the amount of creativity allowed by a big blank slate like this!
The reception room at Ravenswood was once home to an industrial printing and binding machinery warehouse — now, it houses a collection of vintage neon signs and sports cars (I couldn’t help but think of the much-beloved Neon Museum in Las Vegas!)
Time to party! Dinner was crazy good, which meant I had plenty to dance off in the ensuing hours. Even better? The bride’s mother is a talented baker and made an overflowing dessert table for over three-hundred guests, by hand! I almost went into a sugar coma, a hospitalization I wouldn’t have regretted in the slightest.
What a night! The next morning, we gathered at Kirsten and Steve’s beautiful new home to wish them well on their honeymoon to Bali. While I strongly weighed the pros and cons of trying to hide in their suitcases, I had a flight to New Orleans to catch, and that was a pretty enticing trip as well.
Next stop, NOLA!
Are those wedding bells you hear in the distance?
I hear them too — it’s definitely wedding season in Wanderland these days! This summer, I attended four. While that might seem like quite a few, they were all so incredibly unique and different, pretty much the only thing they all had in common was that two people signed a marriage license at some point.
First, there was the ritzy extravaganza in Sarasota. Next, the beautiful barn-yard fete in Maine. And then, there was the flapper wedding in Decatur, Illinois, with my Uncle Dave as the groom.
This wedding could not have been more special. The younger of my mom’s two brothers was getting married in her hometown to — get this — his junior high school sweetheart and first kiss, a few decades and winding roads later. His amazing bride Laura is the director of Decatur’s Staley Museum, which they used as both their ceremony location and a spring-board for the 1920’s wedding theme.
After a super early morning flight from Albany and a long drive from Chicago, we arrived in Decatur just in time to get my mom ready for her role as bridesmaid. So sweet!
At this point, I’m a little sad that I’ve jumped out of chronological order to share this summer’s travels more promptly, since I’ve never really had the chance to properly introduce you all to my mom’s hometown of Decatur — site of so many of my childhood trips. I returned for the first time since launching this blog in the summer of 2016 and I was just about to blog about it when I pressed pause to jump ahead to 2017.
But alas, here we are. I’ll give you the real scoop on this sweet small town in Central Illinois later. For now, this is a wedding story.
After an intimate ceremony in the main parlor of the Staley Mansion, the new family paused to say hello to Laura’s oldest son, who couldn’t make it to the wedding, but woke up in the middle of the night to Skype in from Vietnam, where he’s positioned for work.
This was such an incredibly joyful day, not only because I now have the most incredible new aunt — who has already felt like part of the family for a while now — but also three new cousins in Laura’s three kids! (I mean officially, I guess they would be step cousins? My family tree making skills kind of peaked in elementary school.) I have a pretty small family on both sides — my mom has just two brothers with three kids between them, so I’m always cheering when it expands.
And then, it was off to the reception! I wasn’t surprised in the slightest when I learned that Dave and Laura would be traveling in ultimate style — a 1930 Ford Model A. While Laura is a history buff and a museum curator, my Uncle Dave owns a local Coca-Cola museum and DJ business.
Growing up, we couldn’t have dreamed a more fun uncle — he always had some fancy new gadget or crazy toy to play with. So I knew there was no way we’d make it through the day without the wedding version of one — and I think a novelty getaway car fits the bill just right!
After nabbing a few more family photos (how could we resist, in these getups?!) we followed right behind them.
Next up was the reception at Beach House on Lake Decatur, and on the chance that any of you might someday find yourself in this particular corner of Central Illinois, I can’t recommend a prettier deck on which to have a drink. My childhood is filled with happy memories on Lake Decatur, where my mom’s other, older brother has a beautiful home. Oh, the hours we spent flinging ourselves off his deck into the water, playing in the pool, screaming on the back of the jetski while our older cousins whipped it around the lake!
In the narrow vision of childhood, the entirety of Lake Decatur existed in my Uncle Mark’s backyard. So imagine my surprise, as an adult, to find that there were such things as restaurants with beautiful decks on which to dine that also shared the waterfront.
I smiled all the way through the article the local paper wrote on this special wedding. But my favorite line was this one:
“I’m vintage and history. He’s pop culture, modern and high-tech,” Jahr said. “But when it comes to having fun, we do that really well together.”
You could see so at the reception, where a live band kept us on the dance floor — and my uncles moves kept us in stitches! Table numbers from a photo of the newlyweds when they were in high school had me swooning, as did the heartfelt speeches from Laura’s daughter, my own mom, two employees my uncle has mentored, and to my delight, one of the bride and groom’s high school teachers!
I always look forward to the speeches at any wedding, and these really hit the spot in emphasizing what a positive impact Uncle Dave and Laura both have had on the people around them. Laura herself put together a touching story of she and my uncle’s love story told via three songs — their cute puppy love story when they first met, their friendship over the years that they both married other people, and Laura moved to Spain for three decades, and finally, Laura moving back to Decatur and their reunion and all the fireworks. What a love story!
The weekend flew by! The morning after the wedding, we barged over to my Uncle’s house, where the newlyweds and three of their four kids were packing up for the long drive to their family honeymoon in Orlando, and insisted they get a late start in order to join us for one last meal.
Over a loud and rowdy breakfast at one of Decatur’s hopping breakfast diners, we went around the table and recounted our favorite moments from the day before. And you know what? That might have been my favorite moment.
With my sister on her way back to Philadelphia and everyone else on their way to Orlando, my mom and Miller and I spent a quiet night at my Grandma’s house winding down from one wedding and gearing up for the next — my cousin Kirstin’s, in Chicago the very next weekend!
And the next morning, I woke up before dawn to fly there and help her get ready for it. Having been a passenger for the three hour drive from Decatur to Chicago more times than I can count, I decided to try a new transportation method — the $59 flight on AirOne.
Considering my recent confession, it should come as no surprise that I was a little uneasy when I first spotted this plane on the runway. And yet I was so intrigued by the whole experience and so physically comfortable on the short flight, I never had time to get nervous about any bumps or jostles. I was one of three passengers, and the plane felt like I imagine a private jet would with my seat essentially a massive cushy recliner. It was so unique and affordable — why can’t they have this route between Albany and New York?!
As I watched the world below change from one of cornfields to one of skyscrapers, I knew we’d hit The Windy City. And my summer of family time continued…
look how tiny navy pier looks!
Next stop: Chicago!
Guys — I finally went to Maine!
So, I know destination weddings elicit a groan from some guests, but for this travel-and-champagne-addict, it’s a swoon-worthy combination. So when my friend high school friend Liz announced the location for her very own destination wedding, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. It’s a goal of mine to visit all fifty states someday, and with less than half ticked off the list, I do try — and frequently fail — to squeeze in at least one new one per year. Maine has topped the list for years! Turned out that for the summer of 2017, I would finally get there — my twenty-second United State of America.
The wedding was located in Harpswell, Maine, and I originally planned to build a full one or even two week trip around it. Unfortunately, life got in the way and I ended up with just four days — but I was determined to make the most of them. And that involved using as many Maine themed puns as humanely possible.
With my mom as my wedding plus one and travel buddy, I hopped a flight from Philly to Boston, she swooped up with the car from Martha’s Vineyard, and together we headed north.
Our first stop, after a short swoop through an art gallery in Wells, was Kennebunkport. This little coastal town is famous for being the vacation destination of the Bush family, and as Martha’s Vineyard residents, we do love our destinations steeped in presidential lore. Unabashedly preppy Kennebunkport is a quintessential East Coast destination I just couldn’t miss.
We kicked off our rainy visit with lunch at the fantastic local favorite Federal Jack’s, overlooking the cloudy harbor. It was incredibly scenic even covered in a coat of gray — I can’t even imagine how quaint it would be on a bright sunny day.
After lunch, I was tempted by a tasting at Maine Mead, which is based in Portland but recently opened their Kennebunkport tasting room. It was a nice mid-day pick-me-up, and I ended up buying a bottle of the Lavender Lemonade and the Habanero Lime.
Before heading out of town, we did one lap of the charming town center shops. I treated myself to a pair of Sperry’s tennis shoes and a slice of fudge, classic New England purchases.
Eventually, we said a reluctant goodbye to Kennebunkport and made our way up to South Freeport to check into our highly anticipated Airbnb. I admit that when I started researching this trip, one of the things that prevented me from extending it was the cost of Maine’s accommodation in the summer.
Prices were shockingly steep, even for fairly nondescript motels in the rural area around the wedding venue. I suppose with a very limited warm weather window, hoteliers have no choice but to make hay while the sun shines — literally. Airbnb to the rescue!
For cheaper than even the wedding rate at the local Best Western, we scored this adorable renovated barn on the property of the sweetest local couple. The wife is a clothing designer who imports fabrics from Bali, and the husband teaches Tai Chi lessons in the barn when they don’t have guests. He left us little treats like fresh strawberries and local chocolates every day, and was incredibly helpful in doling out recommendations for the area.
New to the magic of Airbnb? Use my link for $40 off your first booking!
That night, we hopped back in the car to head to Frontier Café in Brunswick. We were pretty tired from a long day behind the wheel and considered sticking closer to home, but as soon as we arrived at Frontier we knew the twenty minute drive had been well worth it.
This gallery, theater and restaurant was the kind of place I like to think I’d be a regular if I were a Brunswick resident — organic, locally sourced healthy meals, screenings of documentaries and indie films, and shows by local artists. Plus, killer sunset views — and the waitress genuinely thanked me when I asked for no straw in my water (a kindred single-use plastic loather!) It might have been one of my favorite meals in Maine, and there was a lot of competition.
The next morning, we woke up bright and early to walk the four minutes from our Airbnb to the Harraseeket Harbor. While the rest of the day would be taken up by bridesmaid duty in Portland, it was nice to kick things off with another peek at charming, small town coastal Maine. The harbor was deserted but for a few fishermen in the early morning hours, though my mom told me when she returned later for lunch the line for lobster was wrapped around the building.
This two day wedding extravaganza was special enough to warrant a post of it’s own — so stay tuned for that. For now, we’ll fast forward to our fourth and final day in Maine, which arrived all too quickly.
We were sad to say goodbye to our adorable Airbnb — but I was pretty thrilled to be rocking day-after wedding braid.
We’d decided to spend the day in Portland but made a quick detour when we saw a sign for DeLorme mapping, home of Eartha. Eartha is the world’s largest rotating and revolving globe, conveniently located right on our path of travel in Yarmouth, Maine. What travel blogger could possibly pass by without stopping?!
Unfortunately it was a Sunday and so the building was closed — but we managed to admire it just fine from the outside.
Next stop, brunch at Hot Suppa. Portland, Maine, much like its West Coast namesake, is known for it’s insanely high quality restaurant scene. We were so hungry we inhaled our beautiful entrees — including a pulled pork breakfast burrito with local peaches, and a fried chicken and biscuit sandwich — before I had the chance to snap a photo.
Bad blogger, but great burrito. So far, Portland was really living up to its reputation, and I can’t recommend Hot Suppa more highly if you’re in the area.
Next, we drove down to the harbor area to stroll around, do a bit of gift shopping, and get a feel for Maine’s largest city. Portland was nothing like I expected Maine to be — Kennebunkport was more the vision I had in my head for the Pine Tree State (which also, in my opinion, could work on its official state nickname.)
But while Portland was more modern than I expected, even after our short trip I agreed with Lonely Planet assessment of it as “one of the hippest, most vibrant small cities in America.”
Leaving Portland proper, we headed out on a mission to tick off two final Maine must-dos off our bucket list: blueberry ice cream and lighthouses. While there had been plenty of ice cream opportunities in Kennebunkport, our first two days were pretty chilly — this was really our first beautiful sunny day of exploration.
First up, Bug Light. Bug Light Park was just moments outside Central Portland and offered gorgeous views of the city’s skyline. With kites blowing in the breeze, residents relaxing on quilts and lawn chairs and sailboats dancing in the harbor, it would be hard to paint a more idyllic scene. A World War II Memorial in one corner was a touching tribute.
Next up, Portland Head Lighthouse in Fort Williams Park. Be careful if you’re headed here — though it’s alleged to be the most photographed spot in Maine and shouldn’t be too tricky to find, we almost got tricked by a Google Map error that marked it at a different location in Cape Elizabeth.
Thankfully, we followed our instincts and found the iconic lighthouse, which was every bit as impressive as its reputation promised.
And then, in what felt like the blink of an eye, we were on our way back to the New Hampshire border, starting our four-state crawl back to New York.
Our time in Maine really was fleeting, though we managed to at least glance at several of Southern Maine’s most enticing destinations — charming Kennebunkport, quirky Portland, rustic Harpswell, sweet South Freeport, and crunchy Brunswick. While the major destinations of the North were calling to me — Acadia National Park, I’m dying to camp in you! — I’m quite certain this won’t be my last jaunt to Maine.
Stay tuned for my dispatches from bridesmaid duty in Harpswell!