Me and Andy got engaged in November and knew pretty much right away that we wanted to elope. A big wedding did not suit either one of us. However, we still wanted to throw a party for our friends and family for being so wonderful and supportive of our relationship. The idea was simple, throw a party that was casual and filled with elements of things we love. And it was a simple party filled with homemade touches but a word to anyone trying to plan a low budget event for ALL of the loved ones in your life- it is incredibly stressful no matter how seemingly "easy" your plan is.
We added a lot of really personal touches to our invitations - all of which was designed by my sister, Hannah. The map I wanted to include because most of our guests were going to be traveling from another city. It was important to both of us that people come not just for our celebration but to experience New Orleans.
The sticker was all Hannah's idea and it is my favorite design element from the event! The stearman is Andy's favorite type of plane so it was an easy decision to make that the focus. The quote comes from early in me and Andy's relationship. We must have only known each other a couple of months at that point. But I was staying late at work to change out a window display and he came to help me. The previous window display was Moonrise Kingdom inspired. I had a little makeshift tent with a map inside and a note on top that said "meet me in New Orleans my love." At the time Andy was making the drive from Biloxi to New Orleans pretty regularly to see me so I gave him the note. It was one of those sweet moments. When me and Hannah were trying to decide on some quote to put on the sticker Andy immediately suggested that.
Now most of this stress I brought upon myself. I am a master procrastinator and I didn't actually start working on the details of the event until a month before the date. Mostly because up to this point I had started two new jobs and I was participating in the chaos that is Mardi Gras in New Orleans. We had a general idea of what we wanted and we had a location and a date because we needed those things for the invitations that my sister, Hannah, designed. The location was my friend Alia's friend Martin's house. He has a double shotgun, one side he lives in and the other he lists on airbnb, with a spacious yard that runs alongside the house. Because Alia is good people he was totally up for hosting his home as a venue for our party. And since it was his home the date was completely flexible so we decided on April 1st - it was after the Mardi Gras/St. Patricks Day madness in the city and before the weather starts to get really fickle with rain and humidity. But what to call a party celebrating a future elopement that is taking place in a friend of a friends backyard with no other details planned - backyard barbecue! We slapped that on an invitation and just ran with it. In hindsight I wish we would have just called it a backyard party and not set ourselves up for it being a barbecue. It was later that I found a bunch of other really cool buffet ideas like a taco bar which would have been awesome and we wouldn't have had to rent a barbecue pit which was just another thing we had to haul in Andy's truck.
Down to the nitty-gritty of party planning. First things first, we needed a rough headcount. People don't RSVP so counting on that as your method of ordering food and tables and chairs is a pipe dream. From the guest list I tallied how many people and their dates would realistically drive from another city, rent a hotel, and come to this party. We were shooting for 50-70 people which ended up holding true till the end. So we have our headcount, we have our venue, we have a name for the party, and we have our invitations sent out. I created a website with the Knot which was super easy - it has links to our registry and I was able to add hotel suggestions and fun things our guests should do in the city. Next order of business, because our venue is a residential home and not set up for 50-70 people to all be using the restroom in one night we had a problem. We needed to rent a porta potty for the event. This was a constant stresser. I just couldn't get past this. I hated that there was no other alternative. Well actually you can rent a restroom trailer but it is $1,000 which is freaking nuts. I was constantly pinteresting ways to dress this up or hide it or make it less trashy to have this giant eyesore there. It did make me feel better to know that I was not the first to have this issue. Somewhere along the lines I found a blog with photos of someone who used an E-Z up tent to create a makeshift restroom. They had a table with hand sanitizer, lotion, tissues, etc., walls around the tent for privacy, some lights in the canopy of the tent, and decorations to make it more festive. Seemed easy enough, I already had a tent that I used for art markets and I would just get an assortment of decorations to tie inside the canopy and some side walls. I was so wrong. First, the porta potty is huge. Even when I asked for the measurements it was taller than I expected and barley fit inside the 10 x 10 tent I had let alone add any kind of decoration in the canopy. Then I could not find matching sidewalls anywhere for my yellow tent and I really didn't want to buy a whole new one. So I ended up with a porta potty in the center of the tent, mismatched sidewalls, and all of this had to be situated in the front of the yard and not tucked away in the back - they needed it to be close to the road so they could drain it before pick up. This porta potty stressed me out so much that at one point I was regretting even throwing a party in the first place because it had to be there. My friends were so sweet and so supportive and listened through all of my absurd rants about bathrooms and reassured me that my guests are here because they love me and Andy and won't give a shit where they have to shit. The day of the party we opened the porta potty to discover that it was filthy and had graffiti on the inside - Seriously, I had been in cleaner porta potties at festivals with thousands of people. My dear, beautiful friend Alia got inside and stood back to back with me. Both of us doubled up with latex gloves, bleach, and scubbers ready to clean the hell out of this and make it party ready. My sister, Sarah, is smart and called the company and they had a new clean one delivered in an hour. It honestly wasn't that bad in the end. No one complained, at least not to my face, about it being there and I could finally breath easy.
Next came tables and chairs. The biggest place in New Orleans to get this is Event Rental. We weren't having a formal event and I didn't really want to worry about table cloths so natural wooden picnic tables along with some matching wooden chairs seemed like the obvious choice. I thought I would be able to get 4 chairs around each side but I could only get 3 so I ended up having a dozen or so chairs that didn't fit around the tables. This worked out because we needed extra seating around where the movie was going to be showing. When I was originally planning out the movie area I wanted it to be a little cozier than the folding chairs. This was another obstacle, we could not find a rental company that had outdoor furniture and we didn't necessarily want to purchase new items that we didn't have room for. I looked at garage sales, Craigslist, and even on the side of the road hoping that someone was getting rid of decent, cheap outdoor benches or chairs. My sister, Hannah, suggested that we get hay bails and stack them in a semi circle and cover it with sheets and blankets and assorted pillows. I loved that idea! It would look awesome but the hay bails were $14 each and as Andy lovingly pointed out "what are you going to do with 15 hay bails on Sunday morning?" So we spend exactly what we were planning on spending on hay bails on a nice wicker bench and planned on bringing that along with 2 outdoor chairs we already had and just moving around folding chairs for more seating if needed.
I'm really happy we brought logic and reason into a lot of our purchasing because we ended up buying several things for the party that we could then reuse in our apartment instead of just tossing. We also used the movie area as a photo booth spot while the sun was still out. I used the same setup Allison had at her wedding which was an iPad with a photo booth app and a compatible tripod. It was super simple - you could text or email the photo to yourself. I ended up with a lot of really fun pictures of our guests! The photos are pretty grainy but I actually really like it.
Speaking of grainy photos. We bought a projector to have for outdoor events like this so we didn't get the highest quality available. It was around $100 from Amazon. The reviews were a little spotty. Some people complained about it being fuzzy around the edges. I noticed if I had it tilted at an angle it did that but if it was evenly raised up on boxes or books it was totally fine. Also, projectors are the bomb! I would highly recommend getting one so you can host some epic movie nights. We did bring speakers to hook up - without it the sound is just too low.
Word to the wise: keep your receipts! Get a folder and every time you purchase something, anything for whatever event you are planning throw them all in there. There are so many odd little things that we ended up not using and is still in it's packaging. Stuff like fuel for the chafing racks that I don't see myself needing in the foreseeable future and don't really want to just throw in the trash.
We wanted all of the food to be prepared by family - Andy's brother, Frank, barbecued and his wife made tres leches cake, my mom made a brisket, my good friend Louise made mac n cheese, my sister, Sarah, made a chocolate cake, my good friend Brooke made chocolate coconut cupcakes, and so many people helped put together the rest of the spread! It all turned out so yummy but we had a lot of leftovers. I was told after the fact that there are several articles about how much food to get for whatever size the crowd is. Here's one that I found just now by literally googling "how much food to buy for an event." Information my porta potty obsessed brain could not think of at the time. We bought nearly everything at Sam's which is like the Walmart version of Costco.
I didn't really go crazy with decorations. At least I don't feel like I did. Most of the items had a reason for being there. Like the strips of fabric Allison and Ian zip tied to the chain link fence. The fence was an eyesore and it also provided some additional privacy from people passing by on the sidewalk. The rope was super long so they ended up cutting it and layering it on top of the sidewalls of the restroom tent as well.
The yard is super dark at night so we definitely needed to add some lights. String lights are a really easy and quick way to add magic to any outdoor event but we didn't have anything tall enough to hang the lights from overhead. Not to mention we didn't really want to be using that much electricity and deal with extension cords so that idea was out. The movie screen would provide some light and we knew we wanted to have a fire pit for roasting marshmallows but we still needed a little more. I ended up purchasing 4 shepherd hooks at Walmart and my mom had several more in her backyard that I borrowed. I bought a set of white paper lanterns and battery operated tea lights from Amazon and put those everywhere. The wind was crazy and kept blowing them off, I should have brought pliers to pinch the metal snug around the hook.
I collected used glass jars from sauces and jams - cleaned off the labels and used them to put fresh flowers in. Again, the wind kept knocking these down, I should have filled the bottom with rocks or decorative vase filler so it was heavier. For the flowers we didn't bother with a florist. We just bought bouquets from the grocery store and I cut and arranged them myself the night before. At the end of the night I gave pretty much all of these vases away to guests. I had so much fun giving my friends a hug and sending them home with fresh flowers! In addition, we also decorated the tables with assorted colorful lanterns that had battery operated tea lights which all had a very soft glow.
We had a table near the entrance to the yard with photos of me and Andy from the elopement, a photo book from the past year, and our guest book sign in. We used a trellis from Lowe's that I wrapped in yarn and tiny clothespins to attach paper hearts that people used to write their bucket list idea. Later in the night we put our party favors on this table - we had little bags with his and her favorite candies inside brown paper bags pinched shut with a clothespin and one of the stickers Hannah designed.
Another DIY touch we had was some handmade bubble wands me and Allison made one day. They didn't work all that well but they were super cute! I put some bubble solution in small jars along with some coloring sheets and crayons all set up in a shallow wooden crate.
Word to the wise: if you are personally setting up for your event don't forget to wear sunscreen! I did not and I was firetruck red for the party. My arms were warm to the touch. My friend Virginia hugged me and went "oh my God you are as hot as the brisket."
As far as the events of the night nothing was really planned out. We didn't do speeches or a toast or have a time set aside for family photos. There was no first dance or cutting the cake for a photo op. The result of cutting all of those small wedding reception traditions meant that we had the entire night to spend with our guests. I heard over and over again that the night will fly by and you'll barely get to eat or talk to people. I'll have you know that I got to talk to every person there and eat half a plate of food!! I even got to sit down and enjoy a cocktail on more than one instance.
The night was special for so many reasons. Number one, me and Andy had just got back from Phoenix, where we eloped, the day before. So it was the first time seeing anyone as a married couple and that really added to the excitement of the party. Then just seeing all of these people from different parts of our lives meeting each other and having a good time. Looking at pictures of my friends from Louisiana and his friends from Texas hanging out. My boss hanging out with my mom. Andy's flying buddy hanging out with his dad. All of this made us so happy to see.
I really wasn't concerned with photos leading up to the party and didn't plan for there to be an official photographer outside of having the photo booth setup. I just assumed that everyone would snap photos because everyone has a camera on their phone. That didn't really happen. However, Hannah did take it upon herself to take a photo of every guest at the party and for that I am so grateful!!