Lori & Raj’s Rented Beach House Wedding

* Lori, Special Ed Teacher & Raj, Doctor *

The cake was pink. Hand to God, I didn’t notice until the next morning at brunch when I asked someone when the cake turned pink. “It was always pink. We thought that must have meant something to you guys.” So I guess there’s an argument for having lots of personal touches at your wedding: if something goes wrong, people might think it was intentional.

Our wedding day turned out to be the coldest day of the year in Pensacola. I wish I could tell you I didn’t notice that, but to be quite honest, my internal monologue for the first minute of our wedding was, “Don’t shiver, don’t shiver, this is on video.” The temperature in December had, for the most part, been in the 70s. Right around the time people started coming into town, it got cold and rainy, though the sun did come out on our wedding day. So except for the winter coats during dinner, you can’t tell from the photos that it was below freezing.

Our programs only got handed out because as guests were arriving, my sister-in-law Dawn asked me if there were any, then went and passed them out herself. We left the sparklers for our exit at home. Of 150 people on our guest list, fewer than fifty came; some of the no replies really stung. And it was a lonely several months leading up to the wedding, living in a new place far from all of my friends while Raj did training there, doing most of the wedding stuff on my own. Plenty of times, particularly in the last few weeks, I wondered whether a wedding was really worth all of the work and stress.

I am here to tell you that, for us, it absolutely was. Every bit of it. Because of the people who did come.

Hands down, the best decision we made was to rent a huge beach house. We wanted a laid-back wedding, and our top priority was to be able to spend as much time as possible with our guests, who are scattered around the country and beyond. The house ate up a third of our budget, but served as our venue for the rehearsal dinner, wedding reception, and post-wedding brunch, as well as housing our families and most of the wedding party. It was the turn-around for our wedding morning 5K and the site of an epic game of Scattergories with fifteen of our closest friends. It gave us the gift of time with our loved ones outside the official events and the fun of watching them get to know one another.

I took the advice I’d read here on APW and sat down soon after the wedding to write my impressions of the day. It didn’t turn out to be what I expected, but it is what I want to remember most:

They say that once the wedding is over, all that lasts is the marriage and the photos. And while I’m incredibly happy to keep both of those, I’d argue that we have much more that will last beyond our wedding day. We have the knowledge of just how loved we are by our family and friends. Of course we knew these people cared about us, but it’s overwhelming to see it acted out in the way people come together to make a wedding happen. We saw it in the groomsmen who worked with Raj in the cold to set up lights, tables, chairs, heaters, and luminaries, then went out into the cold wind after dark to relight the luminaries so we could have pictures with them. It was in the twelve-hour day my brother spent making cookies for our reception and everyone who pitched in to help him. It was bridesmaids splitting their pre-wedding time between making sure the tables and decorations were set up right and making sure I always had a glass of wine in my hand.

We saw it in our parents who every time we turned around were cleaning something up. It was in the guests who sat out in the cold for the ceremony and, without exception, only told me that our pictures would be beautiful. It was in our friend/officiant who took it upon himself to run our reception since I hadn’t ever gotten around to designating an emcee. It was my sister reminding me when I worried that I’d dragged people to Florida during a cold snap that people had come for me, not for the weather. And they did. And they danced and celebrated with us and then reheated leftovers for brunch the next day and did all of the dishes too. I’m writing all of this down so that the memory of all of that love shown to us through acts of service will last as long as the photos and the marriage. I wrote in our ceremony that our wedding day was a celebration, not only of our love for one another, but of the love from our family and friends that had made us the people we are. I had no idea how fitting that statement would be.

Afterward, I went to see the caterer with every intention of bringing up the pink frosting and maybe getting some money back. But she was such a sweet lady and invited us to her daughter’s baby shower and I realized I really didn’t care that the cake had been pink, only that everyone thought it was delicious. We burned all one hundred sparklers out on our dock with friends on New Year’s Eve, which was kind of more fun than a grand exit anyway. I married the best man I ever met and had a blast celebrating with so many of my favorite people, not only at our wedding, but during the whole long weekend we all had together.

Just days before the wedding, Raj got the orders we’d been hoping for: Okinawa, leaving just over a month later. So our wedding was also our going-away party and we couldn’t have asked for a better send off. Even without the sparklers.

The Info—Photographer: Amanda Summerlin / Location: Pensacola Beach, Florida / Venue: The Dolphin House / Lori’s Dress and Shoes: J Crew / Lori’s Hair and Makeup: Fusion Spa Salon / Lori’s Henna: Paul Hernandez of Hennawi HouseRaj’s Suit: Jos. A Bank / Raj’s Shoes: Dillard’s / Flowers: Fiore of Pensacola / Catering and Cake: Adonna’s Bakery & Cafe / Cake Toppers: Made by Raj / Cookie Buffet: Made by Lori’s brother Dan / Band: The Cool Rayz / Here Comes the Bride Sign: Made by Lori’s sister-in-law Dawn / Globe Lights: Hometown Evolution Inc.

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  • Hannah

    The pictures are GLORIOUS! So, so beautiful.

    Wishing you all the best in Okinawa. I lived on Kadena AFB for 3 years in junior high–loved the beaches and the easy access to so many amazing places in Asia.

    • Thank you! We live on Lester, but I go to Kadena all the time for the exchange and commissary. I manage to get lost almost every time because everything there looks alike!

  • “I am here to tell you that, for us, it absolutely was. Every bit of it. Because of the people who did come.”

    Yes. YES. That, exactly that. So many things went wrong leading up to and during our wedding, and many people didn’t come, but it was absolutely perfect that reading your essay today made me teary eyed, remembering.

    Congratulations a thousand times. Good luck with the next part of your journey together.

  • Beautiful! Thank you for sharing. I’ve been worried about planning on my own (made a few comments yesterday to that effect!) and this post really helped. It looks like you had a wonderful wedding. Congratulations!

  • Jashshea

    I was coming here to comment, quote, WEDDING SCARVES!

    And then I saw that you were WEDDING TABLE DANCING!

    You rule.

  • Your guests were 150% right: your photos are gorgeous!

    Cheers to you for pushing on through a less-than-smooth planning process. Revel in all the good vibes that resonate from your wedding day. It seems like they’ll be the source of smiles for a long time to come.

    Congratulations and enjoy Okinawa!

  • Stephanie

    What a great post! I love the picture of folks all bundled up, still dancing their hearts out. Congratulations on your marriage!

  • tess

    Thank you for this – for the reminder that as much as we worry about doing everything right and who will show up, the guests that come will not be there with any expectations except to celebrate and support us. And that’s all that matters.

  • Manya

    I love this sweet and gorgeous wedding! We only had about 35 guests and we loved the intimacy. Sorry you froze your ass off! Bummer!

  • Manya

    Also? You guys are truly the cutest. What a gorgeous couple you are…

  • Even if it was cold, it certainly was beautiful! Absolutely! Thank you for sharing your grateful thoughts. Sometimes it’s hard to remember them later on.

  • Love that your cake was accidently pink. That memory will always make you smile. Our florist somehow decided that the basket floral arrangements for our two tables of 8 needed to be huge. No one could see over them, so we moved them to a table in the corner. Later that evening our two Moms were THRILLED to be given them to take home, where they lasted for well over a week. Yeah. That was pretty great.

    PS Also love the pics from Amanda. She shot one of my weddings in NH last summer, and it’s obvious that her technical “eye” is informed by her heart.

  • Dancing on tables! Wedding perfection in my eyes :-)

  • Beautiful photos and beautiful wedding. congratulations. It doesn’t matter if 200 or 2 guests attend the wedding it’s about 2 people commiting to spend their lives together.

  • Catherine

    I absolutely love the beach in winter! So beautiful. When I saw the first beach picture I got excited and thought it was in North Carolina (where I’m from) but it was still an EAst coast beach :) This was beautiful! Love the rented beach house idea too…maybe we will do soemthing like that.

    • I originally hatched the beach house wedding plan (years before I ever met Raj) in the Outer Banks! We used to go every summer the first time I lived in DC and I love it there.

  • Hannah Smith

    Thank you for this post! I’m also trying to make our wedding about the people who love us, including renting a house with 1/4 of our 100-person guest list. I also love that it didn’t mattered who didn’t come, it only mattered who did come.

  • Thanks, everybody! What a lovely bunch of comments to wake up to! For the record, around 50 guests was my ideal going in. I freaked out a lot when the guest list ballooned to 150, but we figured about half wouldn’t come since it was a destination for pretty much everyone but us and was around the holidays (Dec 29). I was sad about a few specific people on my side, but mostly it was hard for Raj that some people he really thought would come didn’t. And hard for me to watch it be hard for him, especially since the date was chosen mostly to accommodate my teacher friends, which included four of five bridesmaids. We loved having such a small wedding in the end. We got to really spend time with everyone who came and still eat the fantastic food at our reception. In case any Pensacola folks are reading, I would still go with Adonna’s again in a heartbeat, pink cake notwithstanding.

  • I really like that she talked about some of the planning flops. It happens to every bride at every wedding. It may help future brides to know that even though you plan the details just right, things can and will still not be completely as you expected.

  • I love this wedding story and the things you wrote about how meaningful it all was. Beautiful! Congratulations ~ and best of luck in Japan (jealous–I’m a bit obsessed with Japan)!

  • Krystalee

    Your wedding looks amazing! I’m getting married at the dolphin house in may and I’m looking at vendors now. Is there any advice you can give me? I live in Missouri so I’m nervous planning a far away wedding. And what vendors did you use? Feel free to email me! Knsantiago@gmail.com