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Joined Together: Unity Ceremony Ideas February 8, 2019

Weddings celebrate the joining together of hearts, families, and homes. The unification of a couple pledging vows to each other is the key component of the ceremony, and unity rituals are common during both traditional and nontraditional weddings. Unity ceremonies represent the magic of two people coming together as one.

Unity rituals may be built into certain religious or cultural weddings as a normal part of the festivities. Other couples may want to embrace the idea of a unity ceremony to add something special to their ceremonies.

Couples seeking creative options for unity rituals as part of their wedding ceremonies can explore these ideas:

· Candle lighting: The lighting of a unity candle is one of the more recognizable and traditional unity rituals. During this ritual, the bride and the groom each light an individual candle and then together light a larger candle, which celebrates them coming together as one.

· Sand pouring: The pouring of sand into a vessel also is a popular unity ritual. In this custom, couples choose two sands of different colors and then pour their respective colors into a vessel, allowing the different hues to mix together. This ritual can be expanded to include other family members, with a rainbow of colors blending for a now-unified joining of families.

· Unity cross: Christians may enjoy including a unity cross ritual at their ceremony. A unity cross is a decorative cross with a holder, and the cross is held in place by three pins, which symbolize the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. During this ritual, the bride, groom, and officiant will each set a pin in place.

· Tree planting: Planting a tree or shrub that can grow with the marriage is a green idea and one that takes unity rituals to a different level. Couples can place the sapling in a decorative pot and then take turns watering it. Later, the tree can be planted outside the couple's first home.

· Lasso ceremony: This ritual is traditional in many Spanish- and Filipino-speaking countries. After vows are exchanged, the officiant wraps a floral garland or rosary around the couple. At the end of the ceremony, the garland is saved as a symbol of unity and love.

· Handfasting: This custom comes from an ancient Celtic tradition that binds right hands of the bride and groom together during the wedding ceremony. Handfasting symbolizes the couple's commitment to one another.

· Flower ceremony: In this ritual, couples can exchange roses or a favorite flower and then place them in a vase or basket. All members of the family also are invited to place a single flower into the vessel, which ultimately results in a beautiful floral display.

· Creating a painting: In this unity display, couples create a painting on a blank canvas during their wedding ceremony. The bride and groom can work together to paint a specific design (a heart is an appropriate choice), or they can each pour a different color of paint onto the canvas so that the two colors combine for a more abstract masterpiece. The artwork can then be displayed in the couple's home after the big day.

Couples can create their own unique unity ceremonies. The blending of any two materials, such as wine, tea, or glass beads, or even the traditional tying of knots will convey the symbolism of joining as one.

The Ties That Bind

When Lancaster, Pa., residents Meghan and Eugene got married on Aug. 4, 2018, they took the expression "tie the knot" literally. Meghan and Eugene, who are high school sweethearts originally from Wilkes-Barre, PA, included a special unity display in their ceremony, during which they tied a square knot together in the center of a large macrame hanging made by local artist Amber of Ropes and Roses of Lititz, Pa.

"I had seen the idea once or twice and thought it was perfect for us, because I have made a few macrame hangings myself," explains Meghan, a school psychologist, noting that she taught Eugene, an executive chef, how to tie a square knot in the lead-up to the wedding. "Even though I'm the one that actually makes macrame occasionally, Eugene still appreciated and liked the idea behind it," she says.

In addition to the symbolism a unity ceremony affords to a wedding, it can also provide newlyweds with a tangible memento of the big day, which is something that appealed to Meghan and Eugene. "I loved the idea of having something from our ceremony that we would want in our home for years to come that would really be an heirloom of sorts," says Meghan. "It's currently hanging in our bedroom and is a really beautiful reminder of the day."

Meghan and Eugene's friends and family responded positively to the couple's original and customized wedding ceremony. "So many people came up to tell us how much they loved every part of the ceremony," recalls Meghan. "Many remarked that it included things they had never seen before, and they thought everything really worked beautifully together and seemed to represent us as a couple."

"It was important to us that we were picking ceremony elements that were meaningful to us," adds Meghan. In fact, when asked what advice she has for other couples who are interested in including a unity ceremony in their wedding, Meghan says, "My best advice is just to make sure whatever you're doing has true meaning to the two of you as a couple! It's hard when you're wedding planning to not let what's popular at the time or what you think you 'should' do influence your choices. But the day - and especially the ceremony - is meant to be truly celebrating your relationship and future ... so you can do whatever you want, and it's all about what's important to the two of you!"

macrame hanging: Ropes and Roses Macrame, Lititz, PA (shopropesandroses.com)

photographer: Emily Grace Photography, Elizabethtown, PA (emilygracephoto.com)

wedding and reception venue: Friedman Farms, Dallas, PA (friedmanfarms.com)

"Our wedding included a rose planting ceremony, symbolizing the roots of our relationship and our continued growth of love. We will plant this rose in our backyard to always be a symbol of our love for each other. Our mothers provided the foundation for the rose with soil from each of their homes. We then watered the rose, symbolizing the joining of our two families.

-Kelly and Zach,

married May 19, 2018, at Riverdale Manor, Lancaster, PA

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The Wedding Budget: A Few Nips And Tucks To Save Big Bucks December 20, 2018

Tying the knot can be an expensive endeavor. According to The Knot 2017 Real Weddings Study, which surveyed nearly 13,000 brides and grooms in the United States who got married in 2017, the average cost of a wedding was more than $33,000. That figure may surprise some people planning their weddings, many of whom may not be able to afford spending so much on their ceremonies and receptions. Couples may feel pressure to compete with friends and relatives whose weddings they have attended in the past, and that may compel some to stretch their budgets and even go into debt to finance their nuptials. However, there are ways for couples to curtail their wedding spending and impress guests at the same time.

· Trim the guest list. The 2017 Real Weddings Study found that couples spent an average of $268 per guest in 2017. Many couples are recognizing that smaller guest lists are a great way to lower wedding spending, and The Knot study found that the average guest count decreased from 149 in 2009 to 136 in 2017. Trimming the guest list may seem harsh, but couples that work together can likely find between 10 and 15 acquaintances on their initial lists who won't be offended if they're not invited. Couples who spend the 2017 average per guest can save nearly $3,000 by removing just 10 people from their guest lists.

· Expand your venue horizons. A greater number of couples are looking beyond traditional wedding venues and opting for more unique locales to tie the knot. The 2017 Real Weddings Study found that 15 percent of 2017 weddings were held on farms, on ranches, and even in barns, while just 2 percent of weddings were hosted in such venues in 2009. The growing popularity of unique wedding venues may make some locations more expensive than couples anticipate, but a willingness to tie the knot in a unique venue greatly increases couples' options, improving the chances they will find more affordable venues.

· Cut back on guest entertainment. Customizing experiences for guests is a major reason that today's couples are spending so much more per guest than their predecessors. Spending for customized guest entertainment, which includes elements like photo booths, sparklers, and video booths, tripled between 2009 and 2017. Couples may want to give their guests unique experiences, but they should not stretch their budgets or go into debt to do so. Couples may want to try to narrow down the perks to one or two experiences that are particularly meaningful to them in order to save some money.

· Tie the knot in winter. Summer and fall were the most popular wedding seasons in 2017, and that does not figure to change anytime soon. Couples can take advantage of those trends by getting married in winter, a slow season for wedding venues and vendors, who might be more flexible with their prices. The most popular months to tie the knot in 2017 were June, September, and October, so couples that don't want to wed in winter but want to avoid paying top prices should avoid those three months.

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Marital Ð and Financial Ð Bliss December 20, 2018

Happy couples experience various changes after tying the knot. One of those changes concerns couples' finances.

According to an analysis of data from the National Survey of Families and Households, arguments about money are a frequent concern with married couples. Furthermore, there is a correlation between the risk of divorce and the prevalence of financial disagreements. While fights about money do not necessarily cause divorce, they can create rifts in relationships.

Even couples that have plenty of money may have disagreements about their finances. Arguments may stem from spouses not understanding how their partner views money or from the disparities in spending habits among partners. Couples that make early efforts to get on the same page concerning finances may have smoother waters ahead than those who delay such discussions. The following are a few ideas to help couples get on track financially:

· Establish goals together. Couples should define their financial goals together. Is it a goal to save for early retirement? Is a house in the immediate future? Is frequent travel a desire? Does the couple plan to contribute to future children's educations? These questions and more need to be addressed early on. By creating a financial plan together, couples can more clearly map out their financial futures.

· Combine accounts. Some couples want to maintain their full financial independence. But combining accounts can help couples avoid arguments about secrecy and concerns about partner spending. Combining accounts also affords couples a clearer picture of their overall spending and saving habits.

· Assess debts as a team. One person may be bringing more debt to the marriage than the other. It's important for all cards to be on the table and for spouses to work together to eradicate debt. If a person will be coming to the marriage with poor credit, it may be worth it to keep things separate until that spouse works on remedying his or her finances, according to Credit.com.

· Decide how to split expenses. One partner may make more money than the other, and one may spend more time handling household needs or future child care responsibilities. Couples need to agree whether one person will pay for certain bills exclusively, whether they will spend from one salary and save the other, or whether they will combine finances completely and spend equally, suggests NerdWallet.

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I Do, Take Two December 20, 2018

Taking a chance on love and marriage for the second (or third) time is certainly worthy of celebration. The Pew Research Center reports that at least four in 10 new marriages now include at least one partner who has been married before, a trend that is on the rise.

Planning a second wedding can be challenging, as individuals may be worried about proper etiquette, superstitions, or meeting the expectations of others. But there are no hard rules governing second weddings. Now that couples are older and a bit more experienced, wedding planning may be met with greater enthusiasm and patience. Take note of these tips when planning a second (or third) marriage:

· Dress it up. Brides need not eschew white if they prefer to wear it for their second weddings. White, cream, ivory, or other similar shades are perfectly acceptable. Also, brides can make their gowns as lavish or as simplistic as they desire. The length and style of the dress should reflect the formality and scope of the event.

· Make it unique. Couples that have been married before may want to set this new occasion apart from their previous weddings. Discuss previous celebrations and what can be done differently this time around. Couples can use this opportunity to get to know each other more intimately by personalizing their festivities.

· Don't feel like the wedding has to be small. Second weddings tend to be more intimate, as guest lists tend to be smaller and couples tying the knot again may prefer less hustle and bustle. But couples should not avoid inviting people simply because second weddings are typically small affairs. Couples should invite as many friends and family as they want and as their budget allows.

· Set up a registry. Established couples may have the household basics already in place, but registries can include fun or entertaining gifts that speak to couples' interests. These may include home theater systems, fancy cookware, athletic equipment, or even funds for travel.

· Involve the children. Couples that have children can make them a special part of their second wedding celebrations. Children can play any role in the ceremony, depending on their age. If the second marriage comes after an amicable divorce, couples can invite their former spouses to provide support to their children so they can feel comfortable in the wedding.

· Be prepared. The marriage application process is similar the second time around, but additional documents, such as a divorce decree or death certificate, may be necessary. These legal documents also will be needed for men and women who intend to change their last names after getting married.

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Selecting A Squad December 20, 2018

Making the important decision to get married can fill couples with joy and excitement as they imagine spending the rest of their lives together. Naturally, brides- and grooms-to-be are anxious to share the good news with others and to include their family and friends in the festivities. One way couples exemplify inclusion is by asking their closest friends and loved ones to be part of their wedding parties.

Being asked to serve as a bridesmaid or groomsman is an honor. Some couples may be tempted to ask every friend, sibling, or cousin they have to be in their wedding parties - and some do. In fact, ancient Roman law required 10 witnesses to be part of the wedding ceremony.

However, the larger the wedding party, the more people couples have to coordinate and the more personalities they must manage. There isn't any one-size-fits-all formula to decide which size party is right for a particular situation. Trends also vary based on geography and culture. The following tips can help couples decide on the size of their wedding parties.

· Match it to scope and style. Wedding planners may use a standard ratio for a proportion of guests to wedding party members. That ratio is one pair of wedding attendants for every 50 guests. This creates a balanced feel where the more people in attendance, the larger the wedding party and vice versa.

· Consider expenses. Wedding party members may be asked to spend considerable amounts of money to be in the wedding, but the couple will have certain expenses tied to the wedding party as well. These can include limousines to ferry people between the ceremony and reception, photography costs to arrange and photograph large wedding parties, the cost of boutonnieres and bouquets, and attendants' gifts, as well as extra mouths to feed at the rehearsal dinner. Small wedding parties can be easier on couples' budgets.

· Know your expectations. Couples should discuss what they expect from their wedding parties. Do couples want their loved ones to be very hands-on in planning and helping with the wedding? For those who want a lot of input from their wedding parties, asking distant friends or family to be included may be impractical. If couples' only expectation for their attendants is that they show up on the big day in the correct outfit and ready to walk down the aisle, coordinating with far-flung friends may not be too tricky.

· Select reliable, easygoing people. Wedding party members should be people that couples can rely on, and it also helps if wedding party members are not prone to overreacting. Choose a wedding party that can be trusted and people with whom everyone can get along.

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Weather Woes: Overcome Mother Nature's Wedding-Day Obstacles December 20, 2018

Some feel it's good luck for couples to get rain on their wedding days, but many couples would trade in a little of that luck for clear skies. However, weather can be fickle, and couples that build contingency plans into their wedding festivities will be able to "weather" any storms.

· Have solutions for sun and heat. Couples don't want their wedding guests or bridal party members passing out due to heat exhaustion. Make sure to offer shade if the ceremony or reception is outside in summer heat. Stock the area with cold bottles of water or a chilled lemonade stand. Have fans and umbrellas available in case guests need a way to protect themselves from the sun.

· Be ready for strong storms. Over the course of hot and humid days, storm clouds can develop and roll in. Afternoon thunderstorms are quite common on summer days. Accommodate for sudden downpours by hosting early luncheon receptions or ensure there is a plan B that includes a covered area. Couples can stash spare shoes or even rain slickers in a car to keep their wedding attire protected against rain as they dash between venues or take photos.

· Embrace the rain. Vivid skies with lightning or overcast days can make for unique and striking wedding photography. (But be sure to stay safe!) Couples need not look at the downside of rain, but rather they should see the opportunities for one-of-a-kind memories.

· Keep a generator on standby. Storms may knock out power. Some reception halls or banquet facilities may have their own backup power, but be sure to address how power outages are handled. If need be, bring in a portable generator to keep the reception room cooled by fans.

· Plan for wind. Coastal outdoor weddings present beautiful backdrops for weddings. But being near the shore may mean accepting windy conditions. In these locales or anywhere where it is expected to be breezy, tie down tents and use weights to keep wedding programs or other papers from catching a current. The bride and her wedding party should opt for free-flowing tresses so they needn't worry about intricate up-dos coming undone.

· Maintain a sense of humor. It's impossible to predict wedding-day weather, but staying calm, going with the flow, and laughing at things that can't be controlled can help couples make memories that last a lifetime.

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A Piece of (Wedding) Cake December 12, 2018

Wedding planning is no small task. From sending out engagement announcements to gifting guests with take-home favors, a couple will pore over scores of details as they plan their weddings. As if selecting a photographer or choosing the right appetizers is not challenging enough, some unknown variables are sure to pop up on the big day. Couples can take their cues from others who have walked the aisle before them with these tricks of the trade, which may help the day go smoothly.

1. Host everything at a single location. Couples that want to simplify their wedding day can select a site that can host the ceremony and reception and also house guests. The cost of such facilities may be more affordable than couples think, as transportation costs will be minimal and the venue may offer discounts on group packages.

2. Think about a day-of coordinator. Couples that cannot afford a wedding planner to handle all of the details often find that a day-of-service provider is within their budget. This person can handle all of the details on the wedding day itself so brides and grooms can fully immerse themselves in the festivities.

3. Bring extra cash. Unexpected expenses may pop up. Couples may have to feed an extra member of the band or a guest who was able to get a babysitter at the last minute. Brides and grooms may want to offer a bigger tip than anticipated to the wait staff or disc jockey who went above and beyond.

4. Learn how to bustle. Walking around with a free-flowing train all day can become tiring for brides. Brides should make sure that one person practices how to bustle the train and will step in to do so for the reception. Also, it may not be the height of fashion, but have a garbage bag on hand to keep the train clean during inclement weather or if the bride has to trek across grass or soil for photo opportunities.

5. Give an outgoing person a job. Enlist a boisterous friend or family member to wrangle guests for photo opportunities. He or she can be the photographer's helper and give the happy couple one less thing to do.

6. Stock the bathroom. Some venues will have courtesy items for their guests, but couples also should bring their own necessities, such as breath mints, toothpaste, extra pantyhose, hairspray, lip gloss, and sanitary products.

7. Be all smiles. Couples can't predict everything that will happen on their wedding day, but they can help create the mood. Smiling couples can make things better for everyone, even when zippers break or someone gets the chicken instead of the salmon.

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Shop Local For Your Big Day December 12, 2018

As the "shop local" movement grows in popularity, weddings present a prime opportunity to embrace this movement. Local vendors have intimate knowledge of the areas they serve, and that can make for a more personalized wedding.

Local vendors are often a go-to choice when couples are planning their wedding ceremonies and receptions. Once couples choose a town or city to host their weddings, whether that is their own hometown or a far-away locale, they can begin exploring the benefits of working with locally based vendors.

Familiarity

Local vendors will be familiar with the area and possibly the venue where the wedding will be held. That can help couples avoid having to give directions, discuss venue protocols, and handle other tasks that must be worked out with nonlocal vendors. For example, local photographers familiar with a particular venue will know all of the best places to get shots, and some vendors may have pre-existing relationships with venue representatives that could ensure wedding-day operations go smoothly.

Proximity

Local vendors can meet with brides and grooms more readily throughout the planning process, making things less stressful for the happy couple. This also makes it easier to drop off deposits, attend meetings, make fitting appointments, or attend styling sessions.

Savings

Couples that travel for their weddings and employ local vendors will not have to pack as much. Using local vendors eliminates the need to bring decorative items, flowers, and much more. Plus, couples needn't pay to transport and house vendors brought along from back home.

Environment

Individuals who are conscious of protecting the environment and conserving resources by reducing their energy consumption often find that shopping local is beneficial. Local vendors are more likely to source their materials from other nearby businesses, reducing their carbon footprints along the way. For example, local caterers may rely on area farmers for their foods, affording couples the chance to host eco-friendly or even farm-to-table weddings.

Customization

Working with local vendors often translates into getting more personalized service and attention than mass retailers or merchants can provide.

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A Celebration To Geek Out Over January 18, 2018

-If you hope to be married May the Fourth, not because May is a good month to get married but because it is Star Wars Day...

-If your "something blue" is related to Doctor Who's Tardis...

-If you plan to serve drinks named Polyjuice Potion, Felix Felicis, and Butterbeer during your cocktail hour...

-If you refer to your engagement ring as "one ring to rule them all"...

...then you might be planning the epic wedding of a superfan. For some quirky couples ready to take the leap into wedded bliss, no ordinary wedding will do.

A quick Google search for Harry Potter weddings nets a number of incredible celebrations covered by major news or wedding entities (like Martha Stewart Weddings) within the last two years. These weddings were complete with Hogwarts-style venues, floating candles, guests in full costume, golden snitches, wands, and "Always" galore.

Disney princesses and other characters inspire true devotion among their superfans; so much so that whole lines of gowns have been modeled after Ariel, Cinderella, Belle, Tiana, and other princesses. Not only can you look like a princess on your wedding day, couples even have the option to get married at "The Happiest Place on Earth." According to wdwnews.com, "Couples have traveled from every state in the U.S. and from international locations such as Japan, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands to get married at Walt Disney World Resort." In fact, the site notes that more than 50,000 couples have tied the knot at one of Disney's affiliates (Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland, Aulani, and Disney Cruise Line) since 1991.

A Pinterest scroll for "Game of Thrones"-inspired weddings covers every aspect of a wedding one can think of, from romantic hair and makeup to Westeros-worthy clothing, jewelry, and cufflinks to rustic decor, dragon-clad cakes, opulent centerpieces, and medieval table settings. Ideas for save-the-dates, invitations, and wedding programs abound, and don't forget the meat and mead. It is easy to see how a couple could transport their guests to the Seven Kingdoms with the right touches ... with happier ever-afters, of course.

Whether you "geek out" over comic books, "Lord of the Rings," video games, or Hello Kitty, now is a great time to be a fanboy or fangirl getting married. Theme weddings are rising in popularity, and vendors ready to provide the services and accessories can be found locally as well as at the touch of a keyboard. We were in touch with two Pennsylvania couples who recently celebrated their big day with some fantastic thematic elements that ranged from the subtle to the dramatic.

Rachael and Seth, Oley, PA

Married Sept. 9, 2016

Brasenhill Mansion, Lebanon, PA

Photography: Emily Grace Photography

The Wedding Planner: What "theme" was your wedding? What made you choose this theme?

Seth: If there was any overarching theme to our wedding, it was probably just "us," or "nerdy" things we like. Admittedly, we both can be very indecisive about things, so we were really having a hard time with picking a theme for our wedding. Eventually, we decided to take the advice of "making it our own" literally and just started incorporating lots of little details from things we liked.

TWP: What kind of thematic details did you incorporate?

Seth: Many of the details fell under the Batman/comic book category. Some things may have been a little more subtle, such as the color scheme. Purple and lime green, in the Batman context, immediately brings to mind the Joker. Other details were a lot more obvious, such as comic book-style action bubbles ("Kiss" and "Smooch") that were held over us during our ceremony, the Batman logo-shaped cake topper, and the Batman aprons we wore during the cake cutting. Other "nerdy" details outside of the comic spectrum were things like "Lord of the Rings" and Lego. We cut our cake with a sword (a replica of Sting from "Lord of the Rings"), and my wedding band actually has Elvish inscribed onto it similar to The One Ring. Legos made an appearance in helping our guests find their tables via little mini-figures holding flags with the guest's name and table number. Our officiant (Melinda Angstadt - Celebrations of the Spirit) also joined in the fun and added a couple references to Batman and "Lord of the Rings" into the ceremony.

TWP: Was the theme meaningful? How so?

Seth: The theme was absolutely meaningful because it truly represented us. Once we settled on simply making the wedding our own, planning the look and feel of it became a lot easier and more fun.

TWP: How did your guests react to the theme?

Seth: We heard over and over again that our wedding had a unique feel to it and that it was exactly what people would've pictured our wedding to be like.

TWP: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Seth: To all the couples reading this who are unsure about a theme for your wedding, we can't recommend making it your own strongly enough. Pinterest is great and all, and it can be a great jumping-off point, but be sure to make your wedding about you. It is so much easier brainstorming ideas related to things you know and enjoy than it is trying to pull off someone else's vision, and in the end it's going to feel a lot more genuine to both you and your guests!

We'd also be remiss without giving a shoutout to all of our amazing vendors. They were really the ones that took everything above and beyond what we could've imagined, and we cannot thank them enough!

Lisa and Thomas, Lansdale, PA

Married Oct. 21, 2017

Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, Manheim, PA

Photography: Dana Crosby, Owner - Silent Film Photography

The Wedding Planner: What "theme" was your wedding? What made you choose this theme?

Lisa: If I could pin any specific theme on the wedding, it would probably be a general high fantasy sort of theme. Dragons, knights, fair maidens, that sort of thing. There were certainly some "Game of Thrones"/ "A Song of Ice and Fire" elements added in, as we're both massive fans.

Since I was very young, I've always loved high fantasy. One of my favorite books as a child was a picture book version of "The Hobbit," and that only grew as I got older. What better place to encompass that feeling than the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire?

TWP: What kind of thematic details did you incorporate?

Lisa: My shoes, which were handmade by UK-based Etsy seller The Elusive Rabbit, were ivory and gray lace peep-toe pumps topped with a red dragon's head and accented with dragon wings and a tail wrapped around the heel. The shoes perfectly matched our cake, which Rosie's Creative Cakes did an absolutely amazing job designing. The cake was a two-tier castle tower resting on top of a base of red sparkling dragon scales, and on top of the tower sat a curled-up red fondant dragon with its wings outstretched.

We also added our cheeky little nod to "Game of Thrones" as we walked down the aisle to the infamous "The Rains of Castamere." The Faire provided us with not only their harpist but also a cellist to make it particularly haunting and beautiful. After the ceremony, they played us out to the "Game of Thrones" theme.

One of our groomsmen, a tattoo artist based in Temple, PA, also designed our own medieval-styled crest, which we had incorporated into our burned parchment-themed invitations and placed onto our mint tin favors.

In lieu of a traditional veil, I chose to wear a fascinator with a small bird cage veil that took an abstract sort of inspiration from the old-fashioned style of a queen's crown. I had a friend of mine design it for me, and she perfectly intermingled modern whimsical touches with the exact old-school look I was trying for.

TWP: Was the theme meaningful? How so?

Lisa: For me, it was realizing something I've loved since childhood. For the both of us, it was a way to express our personalities and make "our" day something that actually represented who we are as individuals.

TWP: How did your guests react to the theme?

Lisa: Our guests loved the theme and found the entire experience to be really just plain fun. In our invitations, we specified that attire with a medieval flair was encouraged, and I would say that more than half of our guests got into the spirit. From little touches like a flower crown or an accessory to a full rented themed costume, we wanted to let people have a good time with it and express themselves while carrying our theme along. I feel like our guests playing along played an absolutely pivotal role in the theme's success.

TWP: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Lisa: I could not recommend the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire enough for any couple thinking about doing something themed or just a little different in general. Their wedding coordinator, Nicole, was a rockstar through all the planning process and made things so incredibly easy. The Faire also included full-day tickets for all of our guests as well as entertainment, which made it incredibly simple to make our entire high fantasy theme a very natural thing.

Special thanks to:

Emily Grace Photography

Located in Lancaster County, PA

717-940-8431

www.emilygracephoto.com

www.facebook.com/EmilyGracePhoto

Dana Crosby, Owner - Silent Film Photography

Located in Upper Bucks County, PA

215-804-8383

www.silentfilmphotography.com

www.facebook.com/silentfilmphotography

Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire

2775 Lebanon Road, Manheim, PA

717-665-7021

www.parenfaire.com

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All In The (Blended) Family January 2, 2018

Families come in all shapes and sizes. During special events - particularly those steeped in tradition, such as weddings - blended families may have to employ certain tactics to ensure the events go off without a hitch.

When planning their weddings, couples must give consideration to the needs of their families. Even though a wedding is about the union of two people, oftentimes couples engaged to be married must contend with the politics of divorce or other familial issues. This includes if and how to incorporate stepparents and stepsiblings into the ceremony and celebration.

There are no traditional rules regarding how to handle blended families, so brides- and grooms-to-be can customize their decisions based on their own unique situations. Plus, the unique circumstances and traditions surrounding the nuptials can dredge up former insecurities for all families, and certain aspects may require extra patience and tact. Here are some tips to help navigate the process.

· Consider stepparents and stepsiblings VIPs. Brides and grooms who are not particularly close to their stepfamilies still have to recognize the role they play in the family dynamics. These people are still family, so respect and courtesy should be offered. If there is any lingering animosity, extend the olive branch on this day and try not to let anyone be made to feel as if they are unimportant. A simple announcement of who stepparents are at the wedding reception or inclusion of their names on wedding itineraries can help smooth over any potential bumps.

· Put others' needs before your own. While the wedding may be about you and your future spouse, you must respect the feelings of others. To help biological parents and stepparents not feel uncomfortable or hurt, try to consider potential areas of conflict. For example, a mother might be hurt if her ex-husband's new girlfriend is asked to be in a group family photo. Instead, select separate times to have everyone included. Remember to give parents and stepparents priority seating as well, and they each should be seated next to someone they love and someone with whom they can converse comfortably.

· Recognize that some families break the mold. Recently, a father went viral on the internet when a video of him pulling the bride's stepfather up to assist in walking her down the aisle went viral. Although this scenario might not play out for all, find ways to impart a special touch, especially if you're close to both your biological parents and your stepparents. For example, your biological father may walk you down the aisle, while your stepfather may enjoy the first dance.

· Order flowers and gifts for all. Purchase flowers and wedding party gifts for all of the special people in your lives, including your stepfamily.

Weddings can be complicated affairs when factoring in blended families. With patience and compassion, such families can enjoy a beautiful and happy day.

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Newlyweds In The Golden Years January 24, 2017

When they tied the knot on April 9, 2016, Wendell Rockey and Ruth Fender were not typical newlyweds, as they exchanged their vows at the ages of 92 and 86, respectively. The couple married in the Commons building at Quarryville Presbyterian Retirement Community (QPRC), where they are residents. As both Wendell and Ruth were married previously, they brought a wealth of marriage wisdom to their new union.

Wendell is a former U.S. Navy man and pastor. He has three children with his first wife, who died in 1962, and one with his second wife, who passed away three years after the couple moved to QPRC in 2008. Ruth, who was formerly employed as an activities director at a skilled nursing facility, moved to QPRC in 2012. She had been previously married for 25 years and has one child. Ruth had been a widow for 40 years before she and Wendell tied the knot.

Several months after their wedding day, The Wedding Planner checked in with the Rockeys, who were happy to share their insights on life, love, and marriage, drawn from decades of living and the first few months of their union together.

"Enjoying life together is beneficial at any age and arguably even more so later in life," Wendell said. His new bride concurred, saying, "When you get to this stage in life, love and marriage prove there is hope for companionship, regardless of your age or circumstance."

Ruth and Wendell first met in the Windows on Park Dining Room at QPRC when Ruth was looking for a place to sit and, always the gentleman, Wendell offered her a seat at his table. During their ensuing courtship, the couple realized they share many interests, and they incorporated a main one - music - into their wedding ceremony. As for planning the wedding, Wendell said, "I pretty much yielded to Ruth but offered some suggestions and she honored them. We planned our wedding ourselves. At a certain level, you probably need the help of a planner. It would save an awful lot of stress!" To that end, Wendell had one more piece of advice for couples embarking on planning a wedding: "Keep it simple. Simple can be beautiful."

The new marriage was not something Ruth entered into lightly. "I spent a long time thinking about getting married to him and thinking, 'Is this the best plan for these years of my life?'" she recalled. While being married again has been an adjustment, Ruth noted that she doesn't regret her decision at all. "Has it been worth it? Indeed! It's definitely better to be married," she said.

"Realize there are differences and you have to respect that and work through them," Wendell said. "Even in our advanced age, we're working through that." He noted that conflicts can sometimes arise over even simple things like what kind of music to listen to or what to watch on TV. "You're not going to change a person's tastes, but you have to make accommodations," he stressed.

No couple can expect to travel through life together without facing conflicts. "You have to talk about it," Wendell advised. "You have to identify what the other person is doing that upsets you and discuss the differences. Sometimes it is helpful to have an outside person give their perspective."

Ruth noted that the importance of compromise is something she's been adjusting to after being single for 40 years. "I was completely unaware that I made all of my decisions; I was just used to doing it," she explained. "Now someone else has input into our lives. Something I was surprised to learn when I married Wendell that I didn't know is that there are two right answers: mine and his," Ruth noted.

When asked what is important for couples - of any age - to know as they contemplate marriage, Wendell remarked, "Hopefully you know one another. To know a person is different than having information on them. You could have two people who are married but don't really know each other." He noted that truly knowing your spouse-to-be involves thoughtful, honest discussions of hopes for the future, as well as fears and anxieties.

Ruth said, "Be daring. Take initiative. Believe that you have something to offer somebody else. It's having a mindset that it's not what's in it for me but that I have something to contribute."

"Some people marry for what they get out of it, but marriage should be about serving each other," Wendell explained. "You should make your mate a better person and they should make you a better person. (Good candidates for marriage are) people who enrich one another and make each other better. You fill a need in each other's life and desire to make another person's life better."

Photos by Dale Brady.

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A Sense Of Place January 24, 2017

Destination weddings have become popular for a variety of reasons, but not all couples can jet off to an exotic locale for their nuptials. Sometimes budget and logistical restraints make a destination wedding unfeasible. But couples who are still dreaming of a picturesque wedding at an exciting destination need not despair; they can bring the "destination" home. There are plenty of ways for a wedding celebration to incorporate inspiration drawn from a faraway place, whether it's a favorite vacation spot, the location of the planned honeymoon trip, or simply somewhere the couple dreams of visiting. Here are a few examples of how brides and grooms can translate a sense of place into the decorations, attire, cuisine, entertainment, and other elements of their special day.

Hawaii

A wedding that draws inspiration from the Hawaiian Islands' legendary beaches, lush vegetation, and well-known tiki culture will offer a fun, comfortable vibe.

Flowers - Select tropical flowers such as orchids, birds of paradise, or hibiscus for the bouquets of the bride and bridesmaids. Skipping the bouquets and having each member of the wedding party wear a floral lei would also be particularly appropriate, since leis are traditionally given in Hawaii in honor of important events - including weddings.

Decorations - For centerpieces, opt for tropical flowers or potted mini palm trees or embrace island kitsch and decorate tables with vintage hula dancer dashboard dolls. Turn a surfboard into a functional decoration by affixing photos or table assignments to it like a bulletin board. Or, turn a surfboard into an innovative guest book alternative by inviting guests to write their warm wishes for the couple directly onto the board with a permanent marker. If your wedding is outdoors, play up the tropical ambiance by ringing the space with tiki torches.

Food and beverages - One sip of a mai tai will transport attendees straight to the Aloha State. Guava and pineapple juice make for tasty nonalcoholic options. A pig roast will play up the luau feel of the reception, and pineapples, mangoes, papayas, and other tropical fruit can be incorporated into the menu. Coconut and Kona coffee flavors will also make guests feel like they're dining in a tropical paradise. For dessert, opt for pineapple upsidedown cake or white chocolate macadamia nut cake. Another option would be eschewing the cake in favor of a Hawaiian shave ice stand, where guests can enjoy an icy treat with their choice of tropical flavors.

Mexico

A festive fiesta with Mexican-inspired details will ensure that members of the wedding party and guests have a great time while celebrating the happy couple.

Decorations - Cheery fiesta decor will set the stage for the celebration. Beautiful picado tissue paper banners can be liberally strung around the reception space, and colorful folk art pieces can be incorporated into centerpieces. In honor of Mexico's strong tradition of observing Day of the Dead, couples may even consider honoring the dearly departed members of their families through a traditional Dia de los Muertos altar, complete with photos, flowers, and food offerings.

Food and beverages - The popular cuisine of Mexico provides couples with numerous options for wedding day fare. Set up a taco bar where guests can create their own tacos from a choice of beef, chicken, or beans, as well as a variety of toppings. Or hire a food truck that serves tacos and other Mexican-style food items to be on-site. For beverages, offer guests margaritas and Mexican brands of beer. Consider providing a dessert buffet offering tres leches cake, churros with chocolate sauce, and - of course - Mexican wedding cookies.

Entertainment - Couples can hire a real mariachi band to play at the reception. Guests will love dancing to mariachi standards, as well as a modern love song or two, performed mariachi-style. Piñatas make for another fun form of reception entertainment. Since piñatas are available in a variety of styles and colors, couples can go with classic shiny star-shaped orbs or find a piñata that showcases their love of a particular sport or animal. Allow the children in attendance to get the first whack before letting the adults join in the fun. The bride and groom can even give guests a mini piñata as a wedding favor.

Swiss Alps

Couples can play up the beauty of a winter wedding and give themselves and their guests a mountaintop experience by embracing a Swiss Alps theme.

Attire - To help the bride's and bridesmaids' dresses to stand up to the winter chill, top them with a faux fur or knit wraps. Stylish coats or sporty parkas will also keep wedding party members toasty and warm in chilly weather. If you'll be taking photos outdoors, outfit the members of your wedding party in matching scarves and mittens to ward off winter chills.

Decorations - Deck out your reception venue to look like a posh Alpine ski chalet by incorporating cozy, rustic elements. A fireplace with a crackling fire will set the ambiance, and vintage snow sports gear such as skis, snowshoes, toboggans, and ice skates can be used as decorations. Add a sense of warmth to the room by using woolen blankets instead of tablecloths or runners. Purchased or DIY snow globes featuring winter scenes make for charming centerpieces. Other decorative ideas include displaying a collection of Swiss cowbells or even an authentic alphorn.

Food and beverages - Whether as the main meal or an appetizer, you can't go wrong with classic cheese fondue. Consider offering the Berner platte (the Bernese platter), a regional specialty that consists of an assortment of meats and sausages, along with juniper-flavored sauerkraut, potatoes, and dried beans. A main course could be Alplermagronen, or "herdsman's macaroni," made from cheese, potatoes, onions, macaroni, and milk or cream. Help revelers stay cozy and warm by offering mulled wine and hot chocolate. Speaking of chocolate, the Swiss are known for theirs, so be sure to play up that ingredient when dessert time arrives by serving Swiss chocolate mousse in addition to an array of decadent pastries. A wedding favor that sends guests home with a few pieces of Swiss chocolate is also sure to be popular.

Japan

Borrowing from Japan's ancient traditions will create a truly lovely and elegant fête.

Attire - The bride and bridesmaids can incorporate the Japanese theme into pre-wedding preparations by donning kimono-style robes featuring bright, floral patterns while styling their hair and makeup. Kimono-style design elements and silk accents can be incorporated into the wedding attire, as well.

Decorations - Go heavy on the cherry blossoms, incorporating them into the bridal bouquets and reception centerpieces. Scores of paper cranes made with beautiful paper also make for charming decorations, whether sitting on tables or strung up and hung in garland form. Paper lanterns, Japanese-style fans, and oil-paper umbrellas can also be used as decorative elements, and miniature versions can make a unique and memorable wedding favor for guests.

Food and beverages - The traditional Japanese tea ceremony is highly revered in Japanese culture, so providing guests with a selection of teas (hot or iced) is a natural choice. So too is serving sushi, though be sure to include rolls featuring all-cooked ingredients or separate Japanese noodle dishes for guests with less adventurous palates. A Kobe beef dish is another option for those who dislike sushi. Other popular Japanese imports that can be served include sake cocktails and mochi, daifuku, and other sweets.

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Wedding Website Essentials January 24, 2017

Personal websites are an invaluable resource for couples planning their weddings. Wedding websites provide a great platform for couples to share all sorts of information regarding their big day, making them an essential element of modern-day wedding planning.

Wedding websites need not feature all the bells and whistles of more permanent sites. Couples should be mindful to share certain information to ensure their guests stay in the know about the pending nuptials.

Participants

Wedding websites can be used to inform guests about the couple getting married as well as the various participants, such as the bridesmaids and groomsmen. Extended families of the bride- and groom-to-be may not know much about their loved one's betrothed, and the wedding website can help guests get to know both people getting married. Include information about the bridal party as well. A brief story about each bridal party member's relationship to the bride and/or groom can be a great way to illustrate just how much each person in the party means to the couple tying the knot.

The Big Day

Invitations were once the go-to source for information about couples' wedding ceremonies and receptions. But unlike invitations, websites won't get lost around the house or in the mail, making them more reliable resources for guests. Include all the pertinent details about the big day on your website, including the time and location of both the ceremony and the reception. Include directions to and from the venue (both the ceremony and reception venues if they are separate locations), and include a maps feature if possible.

RSVP Info

Couples can save guests the trouble of returning RSVP cards by including an RSVP section on the wedding website. Establish an email address solely for RSVPs and check it regularly so you can update who is and who is not attending your wedding. Couples can save the expense of postage by requesting that guests RSVP exclusively through the website. Be sure to include that request with the invitations if you still plan to mail more traditional invites.

Accommodations

Many couples arrange for discounted hotel rooms for out-of-town wedding guests. Include this information on the wedding website and aim to include at least two hotels where guests can register under your party and receive discounted lodging. In addition to the hotels, include some extra information about other lodging options in the area. Out-of-town guests will appreciate having as many options as possible, and having that information provided saves guests the trouble of researching certain neighborhoods to determine if they are safe or close to the ceremony and reception sites.

Registry

Wedding websites also provide a great way for couples to share registry information. Include links that take guests directly to your online registries.

Wedding websites are a great resource for couples who want to share information about their weddings and guests who would like to share in the excitement. As the big day draws closer, couples can update their sites to reflect any new developments.

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Neat Nuptials January 24, 2017

Weddings require a lot of planning. Couples hosting large weddings or even intimate gatherings can easily be overwhelmed by the amount of planning they must do to make their weddings into events they will remember and cherish forever.

Staying organized when planning a wedding is a tall order. It is wise to expect the unexpected when organizing a wedding, and the more organized couples can stay, the more fun they can have during the planning process, and the better they can handle the unforeseen circumstances that are bound to arise in the months leading up to the wedding. Couples may consider trying the following strategies.

· Create separate filing systems for each aspect of the wedding. Rather than maintaining one massive file with information about various elements of the wedding, maintain a separate file for each aspect of the wedding. For example, keep all quotes from prospective florists in a single folder that remains separate from information about other parts of the wedding. Separate filing systems make it easier to find quotes and contracts when they are needed, saving couples the trouble of digging through pages upon pages of quotes, notes, and other information they had stored.

· Maintain a spending spreadsheet. Many couples plan weddings on carefully constructed budgets, but couples can easily exceed those budgets if they are not routinely monitoring and recording their spending or the spending they are committing to upon signing contracts with vendors. Couples should create spending spreadsheets that allow them to track how much they have already spent, how much they are committed to spending, and the due dates of various wedding-related bills. The couple should update the spreadsheet whenever they write a check or sign a new contract, and they should periodically examine the sheet so they can make sure they are still on track to remain at or under budget.

· Hire a planner. If wedding planning is proving especially overwhelming or if the couple simply does not have time to do all the legwork necessary, they can hire a wedding planner. Wedding planners are invaluable resources who can help couples quickly connect with vendors who can meet their needs while staying within their budgets. Planners can advise couples on ways to save money, but also when to splurge. Couples planning destination weddings should inquire about resort-affiliated wedding planners before choosing a venue to host their ceremonies and/or guests.

· Start early. It's never too soon to start planning certain aspects of a wedding, even if it seems like you have plenty of time before your big day. According to The Knot 2015 Real Weddings Study, the average length of engagement for couples who wed in 2015 was 14.5 months. That means today's couples have more than a year, on average, to plan their nuptials. By starting their wedding planning early, couples can avoid having to organize everything at the last minute, which can be hectic, nerve-wracking and sloppy. In addition, starting early affords couples more time to find great deals and stay within their budgets.

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Rain, Rain - That's OK! January 24, 2017

A beautiful backdrop like ocean waves or rolling country hills lends a lot to a wedding, making the day enjoyable for couples and their guests. But Mother Nature also presents risks to those planning to host an outdoor wedding. Weather is unpredictable, and couples who hope to tie the knot in the great outdoors must develop a contingency plan just in case Mother Nature decides to rain on their parade. While outdoor wedding venues often have backup venues in place, couples can take some additional steps to ensure a rainy day will not ruin the wedding.

· Find a place to take photos. Many couples arrange for outdoor wedding photos whether they are tying the knot indoors or outdoors, but couples should also arrange for a place to take photos indoors in case there is inclement weather. If possible, the couple should walk the grounds of the ceremony or reception site with the photographer in the weeks before the wedding to scout out potential areas to shoot indoors in case the weather does not cooperate. Ask a representative from the venue to recommend potential photo locations.

· Consider a tent. Some wedding venues are exclusively outdoors, meaning they do not have indoor backup options on their premises. If this is the case, couples may rent tents to serve as their safety nets. If a venue has no indoor alternatives, a tent should be considered and factored into the budget.

· Establish a cutoff time. Depending on how remote the ceremony location is, couples might be able to wait until a few hours before their weddings to decide if they will still tie the knot outdoors. Make the call earlier if the wedding is to be held at an especially remote location. At the cutoff time, let guests know where the wedding will be. Include information about the cutoff time on the wedding website and/or invitations. Use a social media platform such as Facebook or Twitter to inform guests of the final decision.

· Provide umbrellas. Some inclement weather may not be enough to deter couples or guests from braving the great outdoors. Couples getting married in the summer may be able to withstand a summer shower, but they should provide guests with umbrellas just to be safe. The umbrellas can be mementos of the event.

· Insure the wedding. Couples who are hosting destination weddings on tropical isles should look into insuring their weddings. Such islands might be susceptible to harmful storms like hurricanes, which can prevent weddings from taking place. Insurance can cover couples for a host of unforeseen circumstances, including weather.

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Quite A Sight In White January 24, 2017

Many brides walk down the aisle in white gowns, which have long been considered the most traditional choice. Wearing white can be a frightening prospect to some brides, who fear that white clearly shows every blemish or stain. Protecting a white dress so it looks pristine on the wedding day takes a little effort, but such efforts are well worth it.

Before The Wedding

When trying on gowns, brides-to-be should make sure their hands are clean and they are not wearing any makeup. They may want to wear a thin pair of gloves so any oils from their hands are not transferred to the gown. Anyone who helps the bride-to-be in and out of the gown should also make sure their hands are clean or covered.

The bride-to-be should try on the gown sparingly before the wedding, ideally only for fittings. When she is not trying on the gown, she should store it in a protective garment bag until it needs to be steamed just prior to the wedding. Some seamstresses or tailors will hold onto the gown until the final alterations are done and then steam out any wrinkles prior to delivery.

Wedding Day

On the day of the wedding, resist the urge to handle the gown early in the day. The gown should be the last thing the bride puts on during wedding day preparations.

Wait until just before departing for the service to get fully dressed in the gown. Again, the bride should make sure her hands and the hands of her helpers are clean. The bride should ask for help so that the dress can be placed gingerly over her head so no makeup gets on the gown. Some brides may find it helpful to make lipstick application their last step in getting ready, as bright lipstick on a white gown can be especially difficult to conceal.

Pack an emergency stain-fighting kit to bring along to the ceremony and reception. This way, should a minor stain occur, it can be treated right away. The bride should use the kit sparingly because she may not know exactly how a cleaning product will react with the gown's fabric, and overuse may make the stain worse. If possible, test the product on a small swatch of gown fabric prior to use.

After The Wedding

Use caution when removing the gown, and then promptly repackage it into its garment bag. After the wedding, take the gown to a professional dry cleaner to have it cleaned and preserved. Then the gown can be used by future generations or simply saved as a keepsake.

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Go Over "Board" January 24, 2017

Turning a dream wedding into a reality may require some creativity. It can be challenging to organize an abundance of ideas, but inspiration boards may be able to help.

Inspiration boards, sometimes referred to as idea boards, are commonly used by interior designers, artists, writers, and even wedding planners. Such boards can be important when starting a new project, especially if all of those creative ideas seem to lack cohesion. Sometimes it is helpful to see things together, rather than in bits and pieces.

Inspiration boards may include magazine clippings, photographs, fabric and color swatches, and quotes or literary passages. As a couple adds to their idea board, they may find a common denominator among their inspirational elements. This can help determine a theme for the wedding or jump-start other planning.

While poster boards may be the more traditional style for idea boards, creative ideas also can be compiled in binders or scrapbooks, which work especially well for keeping all items organized and concise. Plus, they are portable, which means a couple can take their scrapbook to a meeting with a wedding vendor and show the vendor concepts for the wedding.

Later, when photographers, florists, and other vendors have been booked, the couple can attach receipts or agreements to the inspiration board for future reference. This practice will keep all the important wedding information in one place so the bride- and groom-to-be do not have to search through folders or files for important documents. In addition, if friends or family members ask for advice when planning their own weddings in the future, the couple can look back at their inspiration board.

To start building a board or book, the couple should accumulate clippings of photos or articles that resonate with them. As they visit bridal shops and other stores, they can take fabric swatches and pictures of particular looks. Couples may attend bridal shows and take home promotional materials. Remember, inspiration may not always come from wedding-related sources. Anything in daily life may provide ideas.

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Wedding Budget 101 January 24, 2017

Couples engaged to be married have a lot on their plates as they begin planning their weddings. Whereas tradition once held that the parents of the bride paid for a couple's wedding, nowadays more and more engaged couples are completely or partially financing their own nuptials. That means prospective brides and grooms must develop wedding budgets that will ensure their first act as Mr. and Mrs. is not paying down debt.

In its 2015 Real Weddings Study, online bridal resource The Knot found that many couples still receive substantial financial support from their parents to pay for their weddings. The survey found that, on average, the bride's parents contributed 44 percent of the overall wedding budget in 2015, while the couple financed 43 percent. The remaining 13 percent was financed by the groom's parents and additional sources. Couples who hope to follow that formula or pay for their weddings on their own can heed the following tips to build wedding budgets that will not break the bank but will still ensure a day to remember forever.

· Examine your collective finances. Few couples know all of the details of each other's finances before getting engaged. While some may still hesitate to share their personal financial information upon getting engaged, an open and honest discussion and examination of each person's finances is the only way to develop a realistic wedding budget that both partners can live with. Once couples know what they can contribute, they can consult their parents to determine if their families intend to contribute.

· Develop a preliminary guest list. A preliminary guest list can give couples an idea of how large and expensive their weddings will be. According to the Real Weddings Study, the average cost per wedding guest in 2015 was $237. While that cost can vary greatly depending on geography and other factors, couples should keep that figure in mind when drafting their guest lists. If need be, keep costs down by trimming the guest list so it includes only close family members and friends.

· Don't count on gifts. Many couples justify runaway wedding budgets by telling themselves that they will ultimately get the money back in the form of wedding gifts. While many guests will give financial gifts, counting on such windfalls is a recipe for accruing debt. Do not build potential wedding gifts into a wedding budget. Couples that do so could be facing considerable debt upon returning home from their honeymoons.

· Gather quotes before choosing a wedding location. Where couples get married will have a great impact on how much money they will spend on their weddings. For example, the Real Weddings Study found that, in 2015, the average wedding in Manhattan cost couples slightly more than $82,000, while the average Alaskan wedding cost just over $17,000. Even within the same city, venues can vary greatly with regard to pricing and offerings, so couples should give themselves ample time to gather quotes and find an affordable venue they like.

· Research the average costs for vendors. Couples can conduct preliminary investigation to determine about how much they can expect to pay the vendors that provide photography, cake, music, and other services. Don't forget to budget for tax and gratuities.

· Build extra costs into the budget. When creating their budgets, couples must remember to include a little extra for unforeseen costs. Building such costs into the initial budget will make these unforeseen circumstances easier to handle.

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Meet Emily And Chris January 24, 2017

bride's hometown: Lancaster, PA

groom's hometown: New Castle, PA

current place of residence: Mount Joy, PA

bride's occupation: contact center specialist

groom's occupation: yard jockey

how they met: Emily and Chris were first introduced by mutual friends at a Halloween costume party. "We were two of the only attendees not in costume and later found out that we both worked part-time at the same bar," recalls Emily.

proposal story: While sightseeing on a family vacation in Muncy Valley, Sullivan County, Chris professed his love and devotion atop High Knob Overlook in the Endless Mountain Range, knelt down, and popped the question. "Shut up!" was Emily's response. Chris waited a few moments and asked, "Well, will you?" and Emily, of course, finally said, "Yes!"

length of engagement: 13 months

honeymoon destination: Rather than taking a traditional honeymoon, the couple treated Chris' mother, who was visiting from Montana, and Chris' son to a week in Ocean City, MD.

The Wedding

wedding date: July 3, 2016

ceremony location: Breezyview Overlook, Columbia, PA

reception location: Perfect Settings (owned by Daisy Pagan), Columbia, PA

wedding colors: beige and blue

wedding theme: elegant peacock

menu: mini crab cakes, beef bruschetta, cheese and fruit tray, roast beef, vegetable lasagna, broiled lemon pepper haddock, side salad, spiced carrots with apples and raisins, steamed asparagus, wild rice, and roasted Parmesan red potatoes

cake: a four-tiered cake, with two tiers of chocolate with peanut butter filling and two tiers of white cake with strawberry fruit filling

flowers: white roses, white ranunculus, and purple and Malibu blue orchids. "Half of the centerpieces were tall, live curly willows, and the other half were short white hydrangeas," Emily says.

first dance song: "Only You Can Love Me This Way" by Keith Urban

special elements included in the ceremony: a sand ceremony to include Chris' son, Malachi; a special Bible reading by Emily's grandmother, Claire Storm; and a blessing over the meal by Emily's grandfather, Albert Storm

favorite element: "It's impossible to choose favorites!" exclaims Emily.

favor: peacock feather bottle opener and/or wine bottle stopper

one thing worth splurging on: photography

Vendors

photographer: Emily Grace Photography, Elizabethtown, PA

music (ceremony and reception): DJ Fade (Jere Lefever) of Fade Productions, Lancaster, PA

flowers: Floral Designs of Mount Joy, Mount Joy, PA

officiant: Renee Heller, Celebrant, Lancaster, PA

day-of coordination: Daisy Pagan of Perfect Settings, Columbia, PA

hairstylist for bride and bridesmaids: Ashlie Clapper of Kauffman's Salon, Columbia, PA

bride and bridesmaids' dresses: David's Bridal

groom and groomsmen's attire: Men's Wearhouse

limousine rentals: Premiere #1 Limousine Service, Middletown, PA

catering: Classic Cuisine Catering, Palmyra, PA

outdoor chair rentals: Fricke Hardware & Rental, Columbia, PA

decorations: Edward Bullock Wedding Planning

linens: Special Occasions and Queen Street Linens, Lancaster, PA

cake: Mary Frances Kreiser, a family friend

videography: Mitchell Weaver, a cousin

wedding planning: Joan Barr, the bride's mother

The Wedding Planner: What was the first thing you did when you began to plan your wedding? What inspired you to start there?

Emily: We started by researching venues and catering. These two are the most costly and take the most room in the budget.

TWP: How did you select the bride's dress, the groom's attire and the outfits of the members of the wedding party?

Emily: Chris and I selected our attire based on comfort, and it definitely proved to be worth it when the big day arrived. The bridesmaids chose their own style to reflect their personality with comfort in mind! The groomsmen matched the groom except for the bowtie, so the groom would stand out.

TWP: How did you incorporate the tastes and personalities of both the bride and the groom into the wedding?

Emily: I was most concerned with keeping the ceremony meaningful and the reception fun. The celebrant and the disc jockey played a huge role in helping make that happen. Chris was most interested in the food and beverage choices, so he approved the menu!

TWP: What did you find to be the biggest challenge in planning a wedding?

Emily: Finding enough time outside of work and other obligations to meet with potential vendors. It's more time-consuming than we ever realized!

TWP: What is the most important piece of advice you have for other brides and grooms planning a wedding?

Emily: Enjoy the process, accept help from those who offer, keep an open mind and remember to toast often to your engagement!

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More Than A Dream January 24, 2017

Destination weddings can make for memorable moments for brides, grooms, and their family and friends. While the celebrations often take place in idyllic locales that make for a gorgeous backdrop to the celebration of the happy couple, setting the perfect ambiance for such a noteworthy occasion without breaking the bank can be tricky.

Destination weddings ask a lot of both the couple and their guests. Couples may need to visit the location of their wedding several times before the big day, and those costs can quickly add up. Guests will also need to budget for flights and lodging to attend a destination wedding. However, there are some ways for couples to rein in the associated costs to ensure that everyone has a good time without having to worry about finances as soon as the big day is over.

Look for Convenient, Affordable Travel. Some resorts may offer great prices on destination wedding packages, but be careful to avoid locations so remote that you and your guests will be forced to pay for expensive flights. With the rising popularity of destination weddings, many resorts now offer competitive packages; however, if keeping travel affordable for guests is a goal, it is important to choose a location that will allow travelers to book a reasonably priced flight rather than choosing the location based on the cost of the wedding package.

Shorten the Guest List. Trimming the guest list is how many couples curtail destination wedding costs. Invite only your closest family members and friends to the wedding and reception and then host a second, less-formal party for your remaining relatives and friends after returning from your honeymoon. Guests will understand, and you will ultimately get the chance to celebrate with all of your loved ones anyway.

Go Simple and Save. Many traditional weddings include all the bells and whistles, like lavish flowers and elaborate gowns. Destination weddings are often expected to be simplified, particularly if the festivities are at an island location. Let nature do the decorating and opt for native wedding attire if it's more affordable than potentially costly gowns and tuxedos.

Resist Peak Tourist Season. Much like there is a peak wedding season throughout North America, many popular travel spots' economies depend heavily on tourism seasons. Avoid that season when choosing a date for your destination wedding and you'll also avoid the higher costs that are associated with the more popular tourist times.

Go Discount Hunting. Popular destination wedding locations may be willing to negotiate prices on all aspects of the wedding, and those discounts may increase as more guests commit to attending. Resorts recognize that weddings will bring guests in need of lodging, food, and entertainment. Couples can use that to their advantage when negotiating prices. Couples may even be able to negotiate with airlines for discounted airfares if they can guarantee a certain number of travelers.

Buy Local. When planning your wedding, embrace the culture of your chosen destination and choose local foods, flowers, and entertainment. Not only will it make your big day more unique and authentic, but it will also save you money and benefit the local economy at the same time.

Don't Forget... Couples hoping to have a destination wedding in another country may want to plan for a longer engagement than those getting married closer to home. The longer timeframe gives guests more time to arrange for travel, and it allows the bride and groom more time to navigate the requirements of getting married in a different country. Paperwork should be expected, and wedding license applications may not be processed as quickly. Be sure to have a firm grasp of the country's application process, including the possibility of having birth certificates and other personal documents translated into the official language of the country. Also, be sure to check on residency requirements of the country that you hope to marry in. Take advantage of a professional wedding planner, if the resort you choose has one on staff. A professional can make it easier for couples to navigate the sometimes complex laws regulating destination weddings, and a wedding planner's services are often included in resort wedding packages. If no such service is included in the hotel package, consider hiring a local wedding planner to make the process go more smoothly.

Destination weddings can be significant undertakings, but if couples are armed with the proper knowledge and preparation, the bride and groom can enjoy the wedding event of a lifetime and create memories that will last forever.

Ben & Andrea's Majestic Rocky Mountain Wedding

When Ben and Andrea Singer of Lancaster decided to plan their dream wedding, they knew that it would involve travel for their family and friends. "Our family is spread out across the country," Andrea explained. "Regardless of what we did, half of our family would have to travel."

The couple began planning a lavish autumn wedding in their local area, but they soon decided it wasn't going to live up to their hopes for the big day. "We realized we needed to refocus and bring things back to what mattered to us," the couple shared. "We were planning a wedding for other people, rather than a wedding that would make us happy."

With their newfound focus, the couple zeroed in on a destination wedding in a location that was special to both of them: the Rocky Mountains. "Andrea spent her childhood vacationing at the YMCA of the Rockies, and as adults, we have shared this place together. When we decided to go with a destination wedding, it was a logical choice for us, given its significance and our great love of the outdoors," Ben said. "It seemed like a wonderful idea to bring our families together in a place with so many fond memories for the two of us, and it gave us an opportunity to share this place with the people we love."

In the week leading up to the wedding, the couple rented a 32-person cabin where their families could spend time and get to know each other. "It was a surprisingly drama-free week that culminated in our wedding," Andrea recalled. "There were certainly a lot of 'what-ifs' leading up to the wedding, but the YMCA of the Rockies did an amazing job of making our wedding work," noted Ben.

The Singers were thrilled with their Rocky Mountain wedding, and they have a few tips for other couples who are interested in saying "I do" in a special, far-away locale. "Destination weddings can be tricky because you may not even see your wedding venue until (the big day)," Andrea noted. "Plan how you want things to go way ahead of time so that there are fewer surprises when you get down to the wire." Ben and Andrea also recommend that couples decide what they are willing to sacrifice, noting that not all of their close friends and family were able to make the big day. "For some, that may be a sacrifice they are not willing to make. Even something as small as trying wedding cakes or catering options will be something you may miss out on," Ben said.

However, for each sacrifice, there is the reward of lifelong memories. "Destination weddings replace some of the sacrifices with memories you simply can't make elsewhere," Andrea pointed out. One glimpse of the Singers' incredible wedding photos with breathtaking mountain views in the background, and there's no doubt that the couple made a great decision.

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