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!