SHOOTING WIDE OPEN: the rehearsal was enough.

When you plan a wedding in three months, you get pretty busy. So busy that the idea of organizing yet ANOTHER night during our wedding weekend wasn’t a pleasant one. It was already hard enough to find the right venues and finding the money to feed our guests at the reception, how could we be expected to pull that off twice? I was questioning the whole necessity of a rehearsal dinner entirely. Really, all we wanted was a night to visit with our families, bond, and eat well. Given that we already had the mansion available to us (an airbnb rental split between us and 10 of our best friends), a giant table, and a mother-in-law that can make a meal to take all of your blues away, we opted for a homecooked meal at what was our home for a weekend.

Really the idea was brought to us by Ganer’s mother (Paulette, Ms. Paulette is preferred). She expressed a desire to cook the rehearsal dinner and we couldn’t be more thrilled. For the last 8 years, we have been SPOILED by her cooking. Seriously. Think of your favorite comfort food. She’s either already perfected the recipe or she’s planning on making it in the near future. Catfish and corn macque choux, beef stew, and her jambalaya are some of my all-time favorite meals. In our many years of dating we’ve taken many friends with us to visit Louisiana and each talk about how much they miss her cooking. In fact, one of our friends gave up vegetarianism for a week to eat her cooking. Shortly after this rehearsal dinner Ganer tried to mimic her recipe and it was decided that Paulette’s was just better. She’s famous, people. I won the mother-in-law game so hard.

The other thing is, whether she’s cooking for 5 or 25, she makes enough to feed an army. We decided on gumbo and not only did it feed everyone who attended, we had enough for leftovers to drunkenly feast on upon return from the reception on the wedding day!

Let me tell you about this gumbo. Gumbo so good you could cry. Gumbo so good you don’t care if you fit into your wedding dress tomorrow. Gumbo so good it makes you a little disappointed in every gumbo you have after that (but are still plenty happy to eat).

What I’m trying to tell you is the woman has talent. Her love language is absolutely acts of service and providing us that warm your heart until it’s bursting over is her thing. We immediately accepted this plan and proudly checked it off our “to-do” list.

Let’s get back to the rehearsal, or really the day of. It began with a homemade breakfast in the kitchen of the mansion made by my sister-in-law and two dear friends. I had an emotional reunion with my family and got my nails done with my good friend Haley. It was a beautiful day outside but I was tired. Like exhausted. We had our bachelor/ette party the night before and I had been generally sleep deprived for an entire week. Also can I say that no one talks enough about the physiological experience of getting married. It kind of feels like having a fever. You’re so full of energy and adrenaline that it makes you feel a little nutty. Maybe that’s just my experience but I wasn’t expecting to feel so simultaneously electrified and worn out.

I climbed into our bed in the middle of the afternoon and put on Bob Ross videos (he helps Ganer and I sleep). Ganer ran to pick up our grocery store cakes and our fellow housemates explored the city. I am not positive, but I believe it was the only time I was alone in that epic mansion. Frustratingly, I couldn’t fall asleep. All I could think about were the “to-do’s” I still had to cross off before the dinner like:

Make my bouquet

Arrange the florals and send them to the venue

Make the garland to adorn the stairs we got married on

Gather requests for reception music

WRITE MY VOWS. AH. [insert all the panic emoji’s HERE]

So I tossed and turned until I gave up on my nap. I jumped in the shower and got ready. I knew that I only had an hour to get dressed and complete all of my tasks. I then accepted it would be another late night.

As family started to arrive, I was so over the moon. I had already been overwhelmed with joy upon seeing so many friends come into town the night before. But having our family come rushing in with hugs, pots, and gumbo was a special kind of happy I’ll never forget.

Ganer’s siblings along with his many beautiful nieces and nephews immediately blended in with all of our friends. They played pool, chess, and danced around in the front yard. Everyone was kind and welcoming to my family, who rarely venture outside of southern California. I remember seeing my shy, sweet, and kind little brother talking karate with Ganer’s nephews. Haley being chased around by an adoring niece. My sister helping in the kitchen.

This was the first true mixing of worlds. The gathering of everyone who is important to us, many of whom come from across the country and have never met. Yet, the experience was seamless and explosive joy.

Soon after taking it all in, I knew I had to get busy. I started trimming my flowers and was telling myself I could get it done quickly and be back to visiting. My friend Jessica saw my stress and offered to help. She simply sat by me and started gathering flowers. I asked, “what are you doing?” and she replied, “making your bouquet” dryly. I about burst into tears of thankfulness.

My sister-in-law Heather started stemming my succulents. My friend Sierra helped organize and trim flowers. My friends Ben and Jenny started arranging my centerpieces. My other sister-in-law Hayley started making and hanging our garland. Believe me, seeing it all, made me incredibly embarrassed. I really did not CARE AT ALL about the flowers and garland any more. Without their help I probably would have tossed it all. I hated seeing them be busy on a night that was supposed to be relaxing. However they could see that it was important to Carrie from the day before. They just jumped in without questioning or me having to ask. Instead of fussing any further, I just simply thanked them and brought out beverages to anyone who wanted one. I accepted that I can’t do it all and I can’t just throw it away. I have amazingly loving and talented people that are not just willing, but eager to help. I processed for the first time that a) we were going to pull  this off and b) only because we are spoiled with love. That is a thing you simply cannot buy.

Everything turned out perfect. The food warmed my soul. As I looked around to see my family and close friends sitting at the table, happily shoveling gumbo in their mouths, something clicked. This is what a wedding is for. No details, flowers, dresses, or fancy venues can substitute the incredible feeling of family bonding together over a homecooked meal. Our fathers gave their blessings casually and from their seats. We stood to toast the night and Ganer said some nice words. All I could manage to say as I struggled through my tears was: “this is all I ever wanted.”

We wrapped up the floral and decor stuff and many of the housemates went out on the town. Ganer’s mother, my family, and Moni gathered to look at a surprise my little sister Kalynn had brought for me. It was a leather bound wedding album containing images from my Opa and Oma’s wedding (and her sister’s, which I thought was funny). I had never seen it and was very curious as I know very little about their wedding. My Oma died when I was a baby and my Opa passed when I was 12. He was a quiet, stubborn man but reflected on her fondly. I never knew her but she has always been someone I can relate to. She was also a dancer and loved to pose for the camera. I have scans of photos of her posing in flower fields and on cars. She was beautiful. How I had never seen this wedding album is beyond me.

I expected to see some standard formals, maybe a few of the ceremony. What blew my mind the most was the thoroughness and artistry of the coverage. I NEED to scan it so I can study it some more but imagine the kind of black and white shots that are cinematic and quirky. Romantic posing and wacky candids. The party looked so drunken and silly I wanted to jump right in. I love how obvious it is that my Oma loved the camera and while my Opa could do without it, she made him beam. They danced and made funny faces at the camera. Some guy stuck his butt out of the window. It was clear to me that they invested in this service and hired someone with a lot of humor and heart.

Now imagine me, looking at these with my gift-from-the-heavens photographer hovering over my shoulder and expressing her own amazement. It was so meta. So inception. So crazy beautiful I found myself crying. I squeezed my sister so very hard for bringing something so thoughtful to me and just the time I needed to see it. I needed to see a part of my history I never knew. I needed to feel the honor that is unique to realizing where my approach comes from and celebrate that with my friend and photographer, Moni. I needed to see that this weekend and photos mean much more than bragging on social media. Preserving your personal history is incredibly important (for you and those who will come much later to marvel at your life). Reviewing those photos gave me the extra push I needed to keep going. The weekend was far from over and although I was more than satisfied with my rehearsal dinner, I had a party to attend the next day.

So Ganer and I departed from the group and went upstairs to the floor we had all to ourselves. We practiced our dance, wrote our vows, and took sleeping pills. When I awoke the next morning, I had finally reached my place of zen. My family had officially bonded. As far as I was concerned the rehearsal declared us married. My belly was still full of food. I had my love and my vows. I didn’t need anything else.

But boy, did we have a great wedding day. I’ll talk about that another time.

My point in sharing this is to say that a wedding can be many things. It can look a lot of ways. You can dress it up and spend a lot (or a little) money to make your marriage happen. Don’t do the rehearsal dinner because it’s obligation. Have a BBQ in the park if that’s all you can handle or afford. Also know that a casual family dinner may be your version of a wedding. There aren’t many rules here. Ask for help and be gracious when it is given. Embrace your people for all of their quirks and gifts. And please, get some sleep the week before your wedding. Advil PM is your friend.

Infinite thanks to the genius and beautiful soul that is Monica Muñoz for collecting memories of a day that will forever be one of our favorites.

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