Our $16K Bi-National Lesbian Lovefest In The Desert

Cacti, Tacos, and a Food Truck

Kelly, sales rep & tere, Student + Babysitter/Dogwalker Extraordinaire

Sum-up of the wedding vibe: Cacti, Tacos, and ’90s Hip-Hop: A Bi-National Lesbian Lovefest

Planned budget: $10,000
Actual budget: $16,000
Number of guests: 48
LOCATION: Pioneertown, California

Where we allocated the most funds:

Some folks think about the decor and crafts that will tell their guests who they are as a couple, and yet we found ourselves hyper-obsessed over pizza topping options and a raucous debate between carnitas and pastor tacos. Hands down, we knew that the most important thing for our wedding was for us to have craft beer and cocktails; food that was unfussy, yet delicious; and a fantastic DJ that could pivot between Missy Elliott, Juan Luis Guerra, and Sylvan Esso. We wanted a gorgeous natural setting that would allow our minimal decor (because we’re REALLY bad at crafting) to shine through. We also knew that at the end of the day, proof of the largest sum of money that we have ever spent on any single thing in our lives would only exist in photos, so we were willing to part with some decent cash for those hard artifacts.

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Where we allocated the least funds:

We bought our wedding cake at Whole Foods, and we actually had two friends agree to transport it from Palm Springs on a pot-holed dirt road in the trunk of a convertible that they’d rented, and they made it with the cakes intact! We spent maybe $60 dollars on those cakes. As I’m from Key West, my mom baked mini Key Lime pies to supplement the Whole Foods cakes. We got gorgeous flowers from a fancy florist for my bridal bouquet and Tere’s headpiece, and then we went to the Joshua Tree Farmers Market on the morning of the wedding and randomly found amazing florals for our guests of honor to walk down the aisle with. We decorated our tables with cacti and gold pots we bought at Ikea and Mexican style table-runners we found randomly online. We upcycled lots of glass vases that a colleague had lovingly found at thrift stores for her own wedding and donated to us when her wedding concluded. Tere’s outfit cost a whopping total of $90 dollars with alterations. We commissioned a friend’s boyfriend to make the geometric wedding altar for a practical price, and we hired a lot of vendors off Thumbtack who were just getting their start in the wedding industry.

What was totally worth it:

A day-of-wedding coordinator. Ain’t no one got time for putting out a million pieces of “decor” and trying to stick to a timeline on the big day. Having my best friend from childhood, who also happens to be a writer, officiate the ceremony. She wrote the whole thing without reading it to us beforehand, and we trusted her so completely that it ended up being the best surprise. She effortlessly captured our vibe. We wrote our own vows, and they were were so hysterical, touching, and moving that I cried so hard that I had to announce publicly that I had snot running down my face. We did a craft beer cheers at the end of the ceremony before announcing that we were wife and wife with everyone in attendance. Making room for special moments like a Taylor Swift dance-off with my ten-year-old niece. Having our guests hang out the night before the wedding at a barbecue bar where we bought chips, salsa, and pitchers of beer so that everyone could get to know each other.

What was totally not worth it:

So much stress! I was so concerned that because we were paying for the whole thing (mostly) ourselves, that our wedding would be subpar or deficient. Going through an immigration process while planning a wedding can make you both broke and crazy. Our guests didn’t care that we didn’t have four hundred types of florals on the table or that we didn’t have a photo booth. When it came time to dance to Robyn, it didn’t matter that we hadn’t purchased a “proper” dance floor and only had a vintage rug to mark the place to bust a move. We stressed that we had fewer guests than we thought we might have, but that night, it was the most curated group of people who all absolutely meant something to us and who we were beyond thrilled had made their way three hours from the nearest metropolis to the high desert for dances, late-night hot tub parties, and beers pre-ceremony. We rented a special Airstream trailer on the property as our “wedding night” getaway from our family that were staying in the main house of the venue. We were having so much fun with the guests who were up for an after-party that we ended up having a (semi-clothed) hot tub session and crashed in the room we had previously been occupying, never even utilizing the trailer we had rented.

A few things that helped us along the way:

Remembering that at the end of this entire process, we would be married and that this season of our lives was fleeting. Sometimes I succeeded at that and sometimes I didn’t. Wedding planning was not my favorite thing and sometimes that felt really tough. Everyone often made it seem like it should be the happiest time of my life, and I struggled with a lot of anxiety surrounding that expectation.

Allowing our friends to help us the day before and of the wedding. People are more willing to lend a hand than you can even imagine. I’ll never forget when I hired a handyman to string twinkly lights around the light poles on the day of our wedding and he did a really bad job, and a guy friend in his suit got up on a ladder in the burning desert sun and re-did the entire thing for us. (And he doesn’t even have hair so his head got sunburned!)

We also had a massive immigration process to keep us grounded throughout the party planning. I felt elated on the day of our wedding, but I sobbed when Tere got her green card three months later. Wedding stress pales in comparison to the idea that your partner may not be allowed to stay in your country, post-wedding.

My best practical advice for my planning self:

I wish I could have said to myself the following:

“You won’t love every photo of yourself. You’ll still wish you had lost a few more pounds. Your dress will fall off your shoulders when you booty dance too hard on your new wife. The cutest baby ever will puke on the flower girl’s dress two seconds before the wedding. Bruno Mars will be played. You’ll forget to take off your hair tie and wear it throughout the entire wedding around your wrist. A pretty important person will get lost trying to find the venue and will have to run to walk down the aisle in time. You’ll Irish-goodbye your new wife on your wedding night because those Old-Fashioneds were insanely good. And yet every single part of the evening will turn out beyond your wildest dreams. A huge full moon will rise as you and your new wife are cutting your delicious wedding cake. Your vows to each other will be four hundred–times more meaningful than you could imagine. Your ten-year-old niece will follow you both around in awe and tell you you’re prettier than Taylor Swift (a huge compliment from her). Your mom will cry when she zips up your dress and the look on her face will carry you through future tough times of poor health. Your friends will bring you something borrowed, old, new and blue. You’ll get so many hugs from people who traveled from Panama, Switzerland, London, Shanghai, Cleveland, New York City, Colorado, and beyond to celebrate your luck in love. The first look you share with your wife on a rocky outcrop against a background of Joshua Trees will feel like your future will be way, way more than just okay.”

Oh, and you know, try to be better at spreadsheets and thank you cards. And don’t be cheap: get a videographer, because married Kelly really regrets not having a video.

Favorite thing about the wedding:

Walking out and seeing the transformation of the venue for the first time. I couldn’t believe how incredible it looked. Also, we hosted a pre-ceremony cocktail hour and watching our guests (through a window) arrive and mingle was so exciting! But of course, my absolute favorite thing of all was how time stood still during the ceremony. It was like only Tere and I existed in the world, and the words we were saying to each other felt bigger than I ever could have imagined. It felt like the most natural thing, a ritual as old as time, yet also a privilege that we are both infinitely grateful to have, as marriage is still illegal in Panama, where we met.

Something else I’d like to share:

We started planning our wedding during the two least sexy things that can happen to anyone: an immigration battle and a long-distance relationship across continents. We had never visited Joshua Tree, had no idea where we would be living in the foreseeable future, and we booked Pipes Canyon Lodge sight unseen. It was a massive risk. We had to rent everything from forks to tables to ice bins. It was a huge project, and we’d never even visited the place. Something about images of this special California ecosystem felt “right” to us, and despite having no connections to California at all (not even a single friend that lives there full-time), we decided to go for it. A lot of times I had wished that we had chosen a more traditional catered venue because my stress levels were off the charts.

It was worth the risk in the end. It felt absolutely magical and was a landscape few of our guests had ever visited. Everyone got that “relaxed” vacation vibe in a place that they may not have chosen to randomly visit themselves. One other thing, if you’re going through a bi-national immigration process and you have ninety-days to marry from when your partner enters the country, don’t feel like you have to pull off a massive shindig in ninety days. We got married at a courthouse in Colorado, kept that hugely secret, drove to New Mexico for a romantic weekend, and then resumed planning for our “real wedding” in Pioneertown.


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