After the informal engagement, we sat down and budgeted the wedding, the results of which appeared in Part 1 of this series. This took a large chunk of time–much longer than I had anticipated. We subtracted a hundred here, added a few hundred there, juggled and brainstormed and discussed and calculated. We thought that if we could keep the expenses under $8000 for 250 people, we’d be happy. And the closer we kept the budget to $7000, the happier we’d be! The total we tentatively came up with was right around $7200.

Our big-ticket items are similar to most couples’: The hall. The photographer. The music. The food. Fortunately for us, my attire doesn’t fall into this category, because I have a wonderful seamstress at my disposal who offered to do the sewing. Doug’s tux will be free with the other rentals (a fairly common practice). Neither will the decorations and flowers break the bank; more on that to follow next time.

The Hall
We didn’t choose a wedding date; we let the availability of the reception site dictate the date (within about a six-week timeframe). My preliminary examinations to continue my Ph.D. program will take place in the fall of 1997, so that shot the idea of having the wedding in September or October of 1997. I’d be too busy studying to plan a wedding, or, more likely, vice versa!

I called and set up appointments at about six sites. We had two major criteria in mind for retaining a site: it had to let us do our own catering, and it had to be available for a spring wedding, sometime between the middle of April and the middle of June.

Several of the sites were in bingo halls or municipal golf houses, and we left shaking our heads at the stale cigarette smell and dingy walls in these places. As it is so often with houses and wedding dresses, the first site we saw ended up being the one we went with. The site is called Town Square Park, and it is in downtown Saint Paul. It’s an indoor park, mostly glass and plants, with a small waterfall and a dance floor. Rental was expensive by Twin Cities standards, about $900, but we knew we could save by doing our own catering. The date was set for May 31, 1997.

The Photographer
Again I got on the phone and did interviews with close to a dozen photographers. I visited several on my own. My criteria here were price and “comfort” of the photographer–I don’t feel I’m terribly photogenic, and any photographer who can make me feel comfortable and still get good pictures is high on the list.

At least one of the studios I visited did its planning through “wedding consultants.” These are individuals who meet with prospective clients, show them the albums and discuss prices and details with them. I didn’t understand that I wouldn’t get to meet the photographer assigned to us. When I asked if I could meet some of the photographers and select the one I felt would be the best fit, I was told that all of the photographers were equally pleasant and easy to work with, and all were busy most of the time. I told the consultant that I was sure this was indeed the case, but for my peace of mind I would really like to at least meet a few of the staff photographers. When I was refused, I looked elsewhere.

The photographer we booked was one I had met at a friend’s wedding. His name is Ray Urbaniak, and he is the owner of Dreamasters Photography in New Brighton. He is very low-key and affable, and I was pleased with his portfolio. We had an engagement sitting with him, and I had the “bright” idea of bringing Kali, our cat, along for a few shots. She is completely black with yellow eyes, and we were concerned that she would end up being a black blob with eyes in the photos. But Ray did an excellent job setting us all at ease, and the portraits with the cat turned out great. In fact, one of those portraits will be the first one in our wedding album.

The Music
As I noted in the previous installment, Doug and I are both music aficionados. We decided that having a lot of music was important to us. We booked a DJ for two hours of music during dinner and four hours of dance (Jukebox Express, again with a very affable owner who was just a delight to work with) and a woodwind quintet named CrossWinds for the ceremony itself. Our total music bill will come to at least as much as the hall rental, but this was one area we permitted ourselves to splurge on.

The Food
With a guest list of 250 and a small budget, we had very little choice but to do our own catering. We didn’t really want to cut the guest list, because both of us are in our 30s and have had several jobs and social environments that account for a lot of close friends. My friend Ann, also the seamstress, has overseen a number of events like these for her work and her family. She generously offered to handle our reception as well. (I keep telling her she ought to go into business for herself! She is just great!)

Ann, Doug and I planned a menu around things that he and I enjoy and that we have made for other parties and for ourselves. It will tentatively include the following:

◾ tomato-basil soup (Doug’s favorite, from a recipe he has made many times)
◾Chinese potstickers (from a recipe a good friend gave me)
◾chicken wings (Ann’s original recipe that Doug and I have modified over the years)
◾cheese and cracker tray
◾vegetables and dip (with my mom’s wonderful veggie dip)
◾antipasto tray (roasted and marinated vegetables and cheeses)
◾sandwich tray (several meats, cheeses and bread choices, with condiments)
◾pickles and olives
◾coffee, tea and punch
◾wedding cake for dessert (and we are also planning a groom’s cake)
I am very excited about the menu. It turned out to be a little eclectic, but we are happy with it because we believe it reflects us better than would an ordinary caterer’s menu of chicken cordon bleu and green beans almondine! However, there are days I wish we were just hiring a caterer to do all the work, because it will be a lot of work, even with the hordes of friends we’ve enlisted to help out.