How We Planned a Playful Children’s Museum Wedding on the Summer Solstice

Pizza, piñatas, and pineapple upside down cake a-plenty!

Madison Children's Museum Wedding

Katherine, Administrative assistant by day (superhero-in-training by night) & Matt, Copy editor by day (accordion player by night)

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: Summer solstice garden wedding featuring play, pizza, and a piñata.

Soundtrack for reading: “XO” by Beyoncé

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Planned Budget: We did not have an overall budget from the start. We took about a year and a half to plan, paying for things and/or saving for things as they came along. We picked out the big-ticket items very early in the game, so we had the longest time to put aside money for them.
Actual Budget: Around $20,000, give or take. After a while, I stopped keeping track, because it wasn’t useful to me.
Number of Guests: Invited: 176 adults, 36 children. Attended: 102 adults, 16 children.

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Where we allocated the most funds

Venue ($3,500), food ($2,028), drink ($5,280), and photography ($3,165)

Where we allocated the least funds

Decorations, including flowers and favors.

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What was totally worth it

All four “big ticket” items were well worth the money and the advance planning. The venue was a big expenditure and the first big check we wrote, but it was really worth every penny. It was a great location logistically (about two blocks from the hotel and right downtown where our out of town guests could experience Madison easily) and allowed us to have an outdoor wedding with a super easy back-up plan for rain. (It did rain much of the morning, but cleared up in time for the ceremony.) It was already a visually fascinating and beautiful place, so any extra decoration was optional. The staff was easy to work with. The layout was flexible enough to accommodate many more guests than what we had, but also would have felt warm and full if only half of our guests had come. And it was super fun. Everyone had something to do.

The photography was also worth it. As an amateur photographer who also hates being in pictures, I knew a good photographer was essential for me. Every time I look at our photos, I can’t help but smile and think of the day. She really captured the feel of things.

And yes, the food and drink were worth it. Everything was tasty, everything was abundant, and we were able to suit the dietary needs of many guests without a lot of trouble. Having a buffet of gourmet vegetarian pizzas as the main course with more vegetarian snacks and finger foods (fruit skewers, caprese skewers, etc.) allowed our guests to eat at their leisure throughout the night and eliminated the need for table assignments, place settings, and even most utensils! We had some gluten-free and vegan options as well, and there was really something for everyone. Best of all, we really only needed a rough head count for finalizing our order, which saved quite a bit of RSVP angst.

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What was totally not worth it

My dress turned out to be the most expensive, least flattering thing I own. I had my dress custom made in Seattle, and while some aspects of that were great (mostly the travel), it was mostly an experience in frustration and disappointment. So many rounds of alterations and it never quite was what I asked for or what I pictured. I probably would have been better off shopping for something ready-made. I gave up worrying about it and knew that, even if I pulled something out of my closet, I would have something to wear and that the day would be great. And it was. (I did buy and return several last-minute J.Crew bridesmaid dresses, just in case the last alterations didn’t save it from disaster.)

Also: tablecloths. Nope. Didn’t want to deal with them at any point, and it turned out that I could have gotten away with not having them after all. Ha! That being said, I was glad that I bought them rather than renting them, because I was able to sell them all on Craigslist after the wedding and make most of the money back. I didn’t even have to wash them, post-wedding. I offered them for sale with a “cleaned” and an “as-is” price, and someone was willing to pay a little less to haul away a big bag of giant, unlaundered table linens.

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A few things that helped us along the way

APW, both book and website, were my main planning resources. They were invaluable. Advice in the open threads, the spreadsheets, the how-to posts: everything. My only wedding pinning tended to be APW articles I wanted to make sure I remembered.

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My mantra for planning was

Will it be fun and/or meaningful? Will it be a pain in someone’s ass? If it was going to be a pain, it needed to bring enough fun and/or meaning to outweigh the hassle. We would have a very tight turnover from when the museum closed (5:00pm) to when the wedding started (6:30pm) to get everything set up. Since we took a long time to plan, I rarely had to rush to do anything or decide anything.

I was also not afraid to ask for help from people who were skilled in what we were asking. My day-of coordinator is a good friend who stage-manages operas for a living, and who knew the questions to ask in order to make things happen. She was assisted by a crafty friend, who has done set-up for other weddings and events. Our officiant, a dear friend who is also an ADA, also played our entrance music. Our co-celebrant was also our DJ. Several friends who are kick-ass bakers made more of our desserts. Other friends sang, braided hair, helped us wrangle presents, etc. Doing things in bits and pieces over the whole span of the engagement helped with the stress and the cost.

I designed all of the stationery, from save-the-dates to thank you cards, myself. I downloaded a nice, free font called “Solstice” and used that as the unifying design element, in order to avoid “wedding colors.” I did keep a file with a palette of all the colors I had used, just to make sure nothing clashed wildly. I bought Groupons for VistaPrint every few months, and had various bits printed as I could. Save-the-dates were business card magnets, invitations were large, double-sided postcards, and RSVPs and thank you cards were regular postcards. All of that, plus address labels and cute stickers to “seal” the envelopes, cost less than $100. We used regular envelopes from the office supply store, and ended up spending more on postage than on any other part of the deal. We built our playlist by asking our guests to give us their favorite dance song on the RSVP, then we added some of our own and our DJ friend pulled it all together, which lead to a mix everyone loved.

As I mentioned, decorations from us were minimal. My one DIY craft project was sewing pennant banners from decorator cloth samples I had gotten for free. It was easy and something I could do during long winter nights. We also collected cheap, old science-fiction/fantasy paperbacks with cool covers to set around all of the tables. Since there wouldn’t be place settings, the books served as centerpieces and then went home with our guests as favors. They were great conversation pieces as folks looked for their favorites. Our guest book was a collaged white canvas that the guests then signed with colorful Sharpies.

My bouquet was put together the morning of the wedding with flowers I picked up at the farmer’s market and a few co-op grocery store roses. I followed the APW guides and put together several practice bouquets in the year before the wedding. Since we were using seasonal, local plants, my bouquet ended up involving peonies, clover, and wheat!

Since the wedding was in a children’s museum and many of our family and friends have children, we knew it was important to make the wedding inclusive of children *and* their parents. I wanted to be sure that parents who brought kids could actually enjoy the night, and not have to spend all their time chasing a child and then leave early for bedtime. (Particularly since it was an evening wedding.) We dedicated the five-and-under area of the building to the smallest guests, and hired three college students as child-minders. I also pulled together a small group of pack-and-plays, so that the actual babies could go to sleep in the quiet room if that time came. Feedback from the parents was that this was great.

Instead of a bouquet toss, we decided to smash a piñata (made by friends), which got all of the kids very excited, and brought part of the main action to them. Pardon the pun, but it was a big hit.

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My best practical advice for my planning self

I was actually pretty chill throughout the course of the planning process. Having a lot of time in which to plan and being an APW reader had me in an easy mindset.

My biggest advice would seriously be not to worry about the clothes. That was the biggest stressor for me, and as noted above, not worth the angst. We also had a long-running disagreement about the groomsmen. Matt wanted all of his guys to match and I vehemently disagreed. I thought everyone should just wear their own clothing. Moreover, I really hated the outfits he had chosen. Ultimately, I let both issues go. For his side, I knew that I wouldn’t care what he or they were wearing on the day, and it was more important to him that they match than it was to me that they didn’t. And it was true. I really didn’t care about what any of us where wearing. I just cared about what we were doing.

My next piece of advice would be to provide bit more communication and guidance to guests for certain things. The printed program invited the guests to sing a song as the bridal party entered, but no one did. Ultimately that was fine, but having someone make a verbal announcement about it and someone to take the lead on singing would have helped get the ball rolling. Similarly, the posted schedule noted that the cake and desserts would be served at 8:30, but by the time we finished with the receiving line and having our quiet time together and made it to the buffet area, every single dessert had already been cut into, so no charming cake cutting photo. Better communication might have prevented that, but honestly it was more amusing than problematic. People enjoyed the desserts and I made sure to grab a cupcake before they were all gone.

Favorite thing about the wedding

Matt: Dancing at the reception; also tooling around town with folks the day after the wedding.
Katherine: Everything was amazing. It was so great to be surrounded with so much love, playfulness, and joy. My heart could barely hold it all.

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Anything else

My seven-year-old nephew, when asked what he wanted to wear, told me that he wanted to dress like The Doctor (the Matt Smith version). Since I knew it would be very warm, we skipped the coat, but assembled an outfit for him based on that look. It worked really well: he was happy and comfortable, and it didn’t look like a costume.

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The Info:

Photographer: Maureen Cassidy | Location: Madison, WI | Venue: Madison Children’s Museum | Katherine’s Shoes: Flamencista | Katherine’s Earrings and Pendant: Elise Matthesen | Hair Clip: Etsy |Hair Braiding: Ray (A dear friend!) | Rings:  Jeweler’s Workshop | Matt and Groomsmen’s Outfits: Gentlemen’s Emporium | Matt’s Flask: Etsy |  Matt’s Watch Fob: Etsy | Matt’s Tie Tack: Etsy |Catering and Drinks: The Roman Candle |  Desserts: Batch Bakehouse, Greenbush Bakery, and various amazing friends | Flowers:  Dane County Farmer’s Market | Piñata and Paper Cranes: Etsy

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  • Lynee

    love those shoes!!!!!

  • Bsquillo

    Shoutout to solstice weddings! Ours was on June 21st last year too. Can you believe it’s almost been A YEAR?!

    • Kayjayoh

      It’s gone by so fast.

    • Angela

      Ours too!! Crazy.

    • That’s my birthday! not that it’s relevant!

  • Kayjayoh


    I do want to note: while I hated the groomsdudes’ vests in the time leading up the the ceremony (and was a bit of a brat about that fact when we argued) I actually now think they all looked quite nice. All the more reason to take a deep breath and let do of things like that. Not only do they not matter, you may discover that you were wrong, they were right. :)

    • VKD_Vee

      Is this YOUR WEDDING!? Hell YES, girl! So effing spectacular! **JOY**!!

      Let me just echo everyone else’s comments that the dress looks… RAD. Especially in that cute pic of you hanging off that climbing structure! Go KJO!

    • FancyPants

      This is EXACTLY how I felt about my husband’s vest- I tried really hard to realize “This is not my deal. He gets to choose his own outfit. He is an adult.”

      And in the end, he was right, and I was wrong. He looked fly and I was so happy he did!

      • Kayjayoh

        Yup. He pointed out to me that, for him, being in a big group of guys with a “uniform” has always been a favorite part of being in a wedding party. Whereas I was coming from the “bridesmaid gown nightmares” perspective.

        I also had the idea that people would decide that it had to have been my idea, because obviously the bride is the one who makes everyone where matching outfits. So I would get “blamed” for it. Which…yay for internalized cultural baggage. :)

    • FancyPants

      Also! Congratulations, Kayjayoh!

      This is some seriously happy color!!! It looks like a day filled with joy and FUN!! Wahoooooo!!!!

  • Lizzie

    Everything about this wedding is adorable! We had a pinata too, though it was an end-of-the-night bonus for anyone who lasted until closing time.

    Katherine, is the dress that wasn’t worth it the one in the photos? I’m sorry it wasn’t what you wanted, but FWIW it looks FANTASTIC.

    • Kayjayoh

      I have come to like the dress again, but the amount of stress that it caused wasn’t worth it to me. By the end, I was literally “I don’t care. If these alterations don’t make the bust work properly then I’m just going to grab something nice out of my closet.”

      I didn’t see the dress at all until it was mailed to me finished a few weeks before the wedding, and not only was it not what I asked more in terms of coverage, the fit was *awful*. The bust was too small. Even little things, like bra strap keepers that were sewed down…no way to open then to actually get the straps in. So I communicated with the dressmaker and mailed it back. When it arrived back to me the fit had actually gotten worse. I took it to a friend who pinned it for me, and we mailed it back once more, with the pins. It came back better in some places, and (once again) even worse in others. And at this point, it was a week to the wedding and I was freaked.

      Blessings upon blessings to the referral I got for the woman who fixed it for me. She showed up at my house Thursday night, the week of the wedding, with a dress whose bodice actually fit.

      If I hadn’t had to get it altered three times (including sending it in the mail twice) and if the designer had actually listened to what I told her when I first met with her, it would have been a different experience. But no dress is worth that amount of stress and uncertainty at the last minute.

      • Lizzie

        That is the most insane dress story I’ve ever heard.

      • Lizzie

        That is the most insane dress story I’ve ever heard.

  • emmers

    So colorful! I love all the colors and the fun!

    • Kayjayoh

      Thanks. :)

  • Laura C

    I guess I can see where the dress might not have lived up to the vision in your head, and I know it was stressful getting there, but it’s still pretty cool and if it’s the least flattering thing you own, then I am jealous of your closet.

    • *snaps* I know, I was thinking that when I was working on this piece. Hah. I should be so lucky to have a dress like that be my least flattering item! Phew.

      • Kayjayoh

        The bodice needed so much work. So much. And the sleeve/straps fit super weird. The local seamstress who helped me out last minute (and who has since become a friend) did *amazing* things to make it happen.

        And now that I am about a year past that strum und drang, I am starting to see the dress as it was worn, rather than the dress that kept coming out wrong and was just a source of headache.

  • NewHere

    This is amazing and somewhat close to what we are striving for. How did you find the college student babysitters and were parents ok with the random people watching their kids? We are planning long distance and even though its not really a destination wedding, most parents will be traveling 2-3 hours to get there and won’t have local baby sitting. We definitely want to encourage little ones attending and I’m struggling with how best to help families feel welcome and have fun.

    • Kayjayoh

      It helped that I was working in a college. One of the students was a work-study student of mine, one was a friend of hers, and one was the work-study student of one of the faculty. So they had all been vouched for.

      It also helped that they were being cared for right on site, so the parents could easily see who the child minders were and how they were doing. If they’d been off-site or segregated, I’ll bet some would have been less comfortable with it.

    • Kayjayoh

      Also important for the college students: we paid them each about $50 for around 4 hours of work, and made sure that they knew they were welcome to eat. And we gave them a full list of the names and ages of all the kids, which included the cellphone number of at least on parent per kid, in case they needed to track someone down,

  • lady brett

    not that *every single bit* of this isn’t fucking amazing, but: those shoes!!!

    • Kayjayoh

      They are also comfortable.

      • lady brett

        oooh, that’s the gold standard, there.

        • Kayjayoh

          Dance shoes. Granted, they are *still* heels, and by the end of the night, I had changed into a pair of shiny silver Saltwater sandals, but they gave me hours.

  • Kayjayoh

    For the dress: the local woman who rescued it pulled off a feat of engineering, which turned the bust and shoulders from a hot mess into a garment that looked good on my actual human body. (It always looked great on the hanger.)

    • I’m surprised about the dress! I think it’s fantastic! Is it a Wai Ching? I almost went to her studio and then ended up making my own dress. And yes, your shoes are fantastic! I think I need some for just, well, wanting some.

      • Kayjayoh

        It is. (I did not include her info since I didn’t want to publicly talk her down.)

        The part of the dress that wasn’t worth it to me was the uncertainty and frustration and the way I felt like she didn’t really listen to me. The dress has always been gorgeous on a hanger, but it took a lot of stress, money, and last-minute rescue to actually be something I could wear myself.

        A year on, I am ready to wear it again for something: definitely for Halloween (get some wings and I’m the Blue Fairy!) and maybe for an aerial dance piece, if I wear a bodysuit underneath.

      • Kayjayoh

        The shoes, on the other hand, were a joy. The place I got them basically has you custom design your own shoe: colors, heel style, heel height… And so reasonably priced. Flamenco shoes, man, they are the way to go.

    • And also, your hair is spectacular!

      • Kayjayoh

        Ray, who also did a reading for us, used to braid hair at a regional Ren Faire. He is an amazing man. He also braided my sister’s hair and the hair of our officiant.

  • guest

    oh gosh. i love this. the children’s museum is amazing :)

  • Lisa

    One of us, one of us!! It looks like you guys had such a fun time, and I love your shoes!

    Now my big question is: did one or both of you study classical music, or were you just fortunate to have so many talented people surrounding you?

    • Kayjayoh

      Just lucky. We have awesome and delightful friends.

  • Lulu

    This is my favorite flavor of APW wedding– simultaneously relatable (“looks like me”) and aspirational (“but so much cooler”) with actual practical insights (people will buy your unlaundered tablecloths! or you can just skip them altogether!).

    I have a shopping bag at my feet filled to the brim with suit-related returns to seven (!) different stores, I am haunted by the clucking and huffing and muttering of my seamstress at my last fitting, and “don’t fret about the clothes” was exactly what I needed to hear today. Congrats on making it all so beautiful, and thanks for the perspective!

    • Kayjayoh

      Thanks, I’m glad it was helpful!

  • Sara P

    Yay Kayjayoh!! What a lovely and joyful wedding! It’s so helpful to see all your ideas for the kids and hear what worked. And yay Midwest weddings! (I seriously need to get down to Madison someday.)

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  • You did an awesome job!
    Your ceremony was one of the best I have witnessed too! Your wedding ruled! Great work guys!

  • puja44347

    I’m getting hitched at that venue in a few months, and am nervous about the short set-up time! Any tips you can offer?

    • Kayjayoh

      One thing is that the staff are *super* helpful. Definitely have a day-of-coordinator with a couple of minions. Between the staff and three people from our side, everything got set up with plenty of time.

      Having everything organized ahead of time, in clearly marked boxes with packing lists was useful. It really cleared up the “what goes where” questions. And taking advantage of the decor of the space, you can get away with not as much stuff to set-up. We ditched “details” in favor of streamlining. And you’d never notice. Man, I love that building.

      We did a walk-through with a couple of staff members and our stage managers about a week before, which helped a great deal, being able to discuss the space and where and when things would be happening. It got us all on the same page.

      There was another MCM wedding on here when *I* was still in prep mode, so you should definitely submit your wedding when all is done. Best wishes!

      • puja44347

        Thanks so much for the info! I’m definitely going to consider a day-of coordinator…given how big the space is, that might be the way to go. We also aren’t going to do a whole lot of decorating with how funky the museum already is. Can I ask what time your ceremony and reception started?

        • Kayjayoh

          The ceremony started around 6:30 (running a little late, of course) and the reception started immediately after, around 7. Since we had the ceremony on the roof, the tables and food were all ready to go for people when they headed downstairs. And since people either had to take the stairs or go on the elevator in groups, that helped keep it from being a sudden giant rush on the buffet line.

          (At least, I think it did. We didn’t go downstairs until a while later, having hugged everyone in the receiving line and then taken about 15 minutes to sit by ourselves and chill in the clubhouse.)

  • Jess

    Yes! I have been waiting for this post! I love it – it conveys so much happiness and fun.

    • Kayjayoh


      • Jess

        It doesn’t hurt that I also love Madison. What a rad venue.

  • Kayjayoh

    BTW, for those of you who love the shoes: Flamencista (linked above) custom-makes flamenco shoes that cost in the neighborhood of $150, give or take. (I know, right?!) You pick the color or colors of the leather (regular, patent, or suede), you pick the type and height of your heel, and you send them the exact measurements of your feet. The make the shoes for *you*. As disappointing as my custom dress experience was, the shoes did not disappoint, and I will totally buy more from them. Seriously, it was amazing. Great customer service, too.

    (Look in the Gallardo collection.)

  • NTB

    As a children’s librarian, I am totes jelly of this wedding. JELLY. I want to do my wedding all over again just like this because it’s cool as hell. Nice work…truly unique and beautiful and best of all…fun.

  • NParekh

    hey writer, I loved your concept of a wedding based on children’s theme. I think it is totally unique to create food, drinks and the decorations around it. The pictures you have updated look very dreamy and everyone looks so happy with the set up, both the guests and you guys.