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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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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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Seasons of Love August 1, 2016

One thing can be said of most weddings regardless of size—there are a lot of details to attend to! Dates, venues, colors, flowers, attire, favors, food, cakes, showers, photography, invitations, oh my! One way to cohesively tie these details together and filter down the myriad options is to choose an overall theme for the event.

The word "theme" may scare some people, but a subtle or natural theme won't overshadow the nuptials. For that quirky couple, a 2016 "Star Wars" wedding will be fun and memorable, but for the bride and groom just looking for the key element to make all the smaller details fall into place, a theme drawn from the seasons may be just the ticket.

Here in Pennsylvania, we have the advantage of four seasons, each with its own lovely attributes. Brides- and grooms-to-be need not feel obligated to strictly adhere to the chosen theme, but they may find inspiration with a helpful starting point. Be inspired with these seasonal ideas!

Spring

"The spring season definitely inspired our wedding, particularly our colors. When we settled on a date in April, we immediately thought of pastel colors. We wanted something off the path of the typical light purples, blues, and pinks. Thanks to Pinterest, Jill became obsessed with the light peach and mint combination. The colors felt warm and calm, and they simply looked good together. We liked the combination of colors for flower arrangements and absolutely loved the way our bouquets and boutonnieres turned out. We got extremely lucky on April 18 when there was not a cloud in the sky, the sun was out, and it was 75 degrees. From our wedding party attire to the flowers and weather, we had the most perfect spring day." - Jill and John, Timonium, Md.

Rustic Chic/Garden Party

Spring colors lend themselves to a romantic rustic chic wedding. Light or faded pastel colors go well with distressed woods, lace, and other rustic and romantic elements, and many tend to be flattering bridesmaid dress colors, as well.

Bridal Shower - A late winter/early spring tea party bridal shower may be the perfect classy and understated prelude to a spring garden party wedding. Vintage floral teacups add an ideal shabby chic element.

Flowers - Early spring blooms like peonies, lily of the valley, hyacinths, tulips, and daffodils are readily available for use in bouquets or decor.

Favors - Hanging birdseed ornaments, small potted plants in tiny terra-cotta pots, or flower, herb, or vegetable seed packets may be given to guests to enjoy beyond the spring season.

Venue/Decor - There is always a chance of inclement weather, but late spring may be the perfect time for an outdoor wedding. Central Pennsylvania abounds with historic or rustic farm and homestead options that allow for indoor/outdoor mingling. Centerpieces and other decorations may include metal watering cans, chalk painted Mason jars full of spring blooms, a rustic birdcage card holder, or a cake topper decorated with birds or bunnies.

Photography - Outdoor shots with floral backgrounds and blooming blossoms, photos with umbrellas, and a shot of the couple's rings on the stem of a tulip or daffodil can make for colorful, beautiful photographs.

Summer

"I have always wanted a summer wedding because that is my favorite time of year. I love the warm weather! We picked the first Sunday in September because I knew the weather would still be warm, but hopefully not too hot. It turned out to be a beautiful day! Our nautical/beachy theme went along with my love for the summer and our venue. We got married along the Susquehanna River, so we had sand and shells as our centerpieces. We also had nautical knots around our flower bouquets. The groom and groomsmen wore gray suits with no jackets because of the weather and also because it looked less formal for the outside wedding. The wedding colors were coral and navy. The bridal bouquets had succulents in them, so as favors, we gave our guests a succulent plant in a small pot." - Cortney and Colin, Elizabethtown, PA

Nautical/Beach/Backyard Cookout

The bright hues of summer can paint a fun and festive atmosphere for a wedding. Whether planning a destination wedding to a beach or taking advantage of the backdrop of boats on the Susquehanna, couples that love warm weather have a host of options to capture the essence of summer in their wedding details.

Invitations - The classic white or cream wedding invitation gets a boost of color for summer wedding invites. Navy and coral, turquoise, pops of citrus colors, bright pinks and greens, as well as fun embellishments like anchors, starfish, shells, palm trees, and tropical flowers add some flair.

Fun Details - A sparkler sendoff, miniature tubes of sunscreen for guests, sunglasses, Adirondack chair place card holders, yard games, fans, and flip-flops can send the message that the day is indeed a celebration and that guests should feel comfortable and have a good time.

Food/Drink - In addition to a number of in-season fresh vegetables for the reception dinner, summer receptions can include s'mores, fresh fruit, lemonade and sweet tea, signature blackberry cocktails, coconut icing on the wedding cake, or tropical or backyard cookout fare.

Favors - Honey, jam, herbs, barbecue seasonings, s'mores kits, flip-flop shaped bottle openers, infused sugars or oils in miniature jars, lavender soap, seashell- or watermelon-shaped cookies, or personalized beverage holders are just some of the possible favors for a summer wedding.

Autumn

"We chose fall because of the cooler temperatures and the rich, warm, delicious colors. We had an outdoor wedding at Fort Hunter in Harrisburg in October to enjoy the backdrop of the changing leaves. The reception was held at the Crown Plaza Hotel in downtown Harrisburg. The bridesmaids' dresses were a rich, chocolately brown, and our bouquets and boutonnieres had calla lilies and other flowers in shades of autumn orange that were also reflected in the centerpieces. We chose a chocolate cake frosted in chocolate icing adorned with the calla lilies for an elegant fall look." - Melissa and Chris, Middletown, PA

Country Chic/Haute Harvest

Harvest season has become an increasingly popular time of the year to get married, and it's no wonder. The often warm days and cool evenings of fall combined with the colorful changing leaves can provide an enticing backdrop for the big day. There may even be an added bonus in avoiding peak vacation and wedding time, as well as extreme temperatures, for the best guest turnout.

Attire - Fall wedding colors can range from warm neutrals and harvest colors to rich, saturated jewel tones. Plum, cranberry, and emerald are just as comfortable against the backdrop of changing leaves as red, orange, gold, and brown. Shawls, chic suede booties, or cowboy boots can add coziness to the look.

Flowers/Decor - The decor for a fall wedding may or may not include pumpkins and gourds. Certainly these items are readily available, along with hay bales and corn stalks, but woodsy floral arrangements that include hypericum berries, twigs, and seed pods, as well as flowers ranging from calla lilies, roses, and dahlias to sunflowers, daisies, and chrysanthemums, provide couples with many other options.

Food/Drink - Pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies can easily take the place of the traditional cake for a fall wedding. Apple cider and wine, a caramel popcorn station, and hot cocoa pair well with savory comfort food appetizers and entrees.

Photography - Fall outdoor photographs can be some of the most stunning around, if the weather cooperates. The changing leaves, brilliant colors, gorgeous sunsets, and soft light of fall provide a perfect setting for wedding photographs.

Winter

"We are very excited about incorporating seasonal details into our December wedding. As part of my bridal attire, I have chosen a pretty rhinestone headband that looks like it is made of delicate silver snowflakes. I plan to carry a bouquet of light pink roses accented with cranberries and pine branches for a wintry feel. For centerpieces at our reception tables, we are making snow globes out of Mason jars. We decided to name every table at our reception after a Christmas movie; my favorite table name/guest combination so far involves having some of our friends who are priests and nuns seated at a table named "The Bells of St. Mary's." I think it would be fun to have a hot chocolate bar and Christmas cookies and perhaps even a gingerbread house or two! I am also sure that a number of the songs we dance to at our wedding will have a Christmas theme." Julie and Keith - Lancaster, PA

Holiday/Winter Wonderland

Brides embracing the magic of the holiday season or the beauty of a winter landscape can have fun with elegant long-sleeved wedding gowns, faux fur wraps, and color palettes ranging from deep blue and silver or sophisticated black and white to woodsy neutrals or the more traditional seasonal colors of burgundy, gold, and green. Holiday doesn't have to mean Christmas, as New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day weddings can also provide seasonal inspiration.

Decor - A potential benefit to choosing a December wedding date is that many venues decorate for the holiday season, and twinkly lights, wreaths, Christmas trees, and other decorations may already be in place. Centerpiece options include glass ball ornaments, pinecones, berries, and evergreens, or couples may opt for winter white and silver decor with "snow"-covered branches, sparkly snowflakes, white hydrangeas, and the glow of candles in clear or frosted sconces. Some wedding decor may be able to be used as holiday home decor after the wedding, as well.

Music - Sprinkling a couple holiday songs into the reception repertoire can be a nice touch for couples who are fond of the Christmas season. The holiday stylings of crooners like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin will fit right in with other music over dinner.

Favors - Mugs, ornaments, fuzzy socks or mittens, reusable hand warmers, and a host of scrumptious sweets like cookies, candies, and cocoa are all reminiscent of the season. Or, because Christmas is the season of giving, some couples may choose to donate to a charity in lieu of a traditional favor.

Honeymoon - Winter can be a great time to enjoy a ski resort or a popular vacation destination like Disney World or the Napa Valley off-season, with fewer people and cooler temperatures.

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Tips For Toasting The Bride And Groom August 1, 2016

Wedding toasts are a tradition to which many guests and wedding participants look forward. An opportunity for maids of honor and best men to express their feelings about the bride and groom, wedding toasts often touch on the heartfelt and the humorous while shedding light on the relationship between the happy couple and the men and women they have chosen to play such significant roles at their wedding.

While guests might enjoy wedding toasts, best men and maids of honor may be nervous about honoring the brides and grooms in such public settings. That anxiety is perfectly normal, especially for those who have never before been asked to serve as maids of honor or best men. Those tasked with toasting the newly anointed husband and wife can consider the following tips to make the task a little easier.

· Keep it brief. While there might be many things you want to say, try to be as concise as possible. Convey your relationship to the bride and/or groom, but avoid lengthy histories that might come off as rambling. While personal anecdotes that shed some humorous light on the relationship are great additions to wedding toasts, avoid going into too much detail when telling such stories, focusing instead on the parts of the stories that illustrate your feelings and generate a few laughs.

· Avoid being too formal. Even the most formal wedding can benefit from a toast that veers more toward the spontaneous. While you want to thank the parents of the bride and groom for hosting the wedding and the guests for being on hand to celebrate, there is no need to be especially formal. Giving a less formal speech also may help calm your nerves.

· Practice, practice, practice. Practice your speech ahead of time so you are not reading from cards or notepads during the toast. Reading from a piece of paper is less likely to engage the audience than speaking to them directly and sharing some heartfelt thoughts about the bride and groom. It's all right to hold onto some cue cards while delivering your toast, but practicing the toast as the wedding draws near will boost your confidence and make you more comfortable with the microphone in hand.

· Stay appropriate. Humor adds a lot to wedding toasts, but make sure to clean up any humorous anecdotes so they can be shared with all wedding guests, including children. In addition, avoid stories that, while humorous, may embarrass the bride and groom.

· Share well wishes. Before you raise your glass and ask guests to do the same, express some heartfelt well wishes for the bride and groom. Doing so is a fitting end to a tradition that's meant to highlight the special relationship brides and grooms have with their maids of honor and best men.

Maids of honor and best men making their first wedding toasts may be nervous in advance of the big day, but there are ways to calm those nerves and deliver heartfelt, memorable toasts.

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Dance Those Jitters Away With Lessons August 1, 2016

Apart from their initial nerves during their wedding ceremonies, many couples settle into a comfortable rhythm on their wedding day, surrounded by the ones they love. However, some couples get a bit of stage fright when dancing as husband and wife for the first time with all eyes on them.

First dances and parent-child dances are popular and enduring wedding reception rituals. The couple's dance serves as their first act as a married pair, often occurring at the onset of the wedding reception. Father-daughter and mother-son dances may take place at different points in the evening.

While some people relish the idea of having the spotlight on them, others are nervous about dancing in front of a crowd. Couples need not look like contestants on "Dancing With the Stars" to pull off a successful first dance, but taking dance lessons prior to the wedding can teach men and women some key moves and help calm their nerves.

Couples may want to begin dance lessons a few months before their wedding day to get acclimated to the experience. The more lessons couples take, the more comfortable they will likely be when it comes time to shine.

Private dance lessons may be more effective than group lessons, as they enable one-on-one interaction with instructors, who can point out any missteps immediately and correct form on the spot. Instructors also may suggest which routines couples should embrace and which they may want to avoid.

Preparation can stem nervousness and help couples feel more confident on the dance floor, even if their dances last only a few minutes. The goal of dance lessons is for couples to become better dancers, but improved skills on the dance floor are not the only thing couples can take from dance lessons:

· Exercise: Dancing is an excellent form of exercise that can help couples build their endurance. In addition, the cardiovascular benefits of dancing can help couples shed a few pounds prior to their wedding days.

· Stress relief: Planning a wedding is not always easy. Having a night of the week devoted to some fun couple time can help relieve some of the stress couples may feel when planning a wedding.

· Enjoyable memories: Taking dance lessons as a couple is something couples may look back on fondly long after they have tied the knot.

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Wedding Reception Games To Add Fun To Your Celebration July 28, 2016

For couples wondering how to entertain wedding guests who might not be interested in dancing at the reception, or for any couple that loves game nights and good competition, offering a few games at the reception is an excellent way to get people laughing and having a great time.

Keep the games casual and optional, and do not pressure guests to participate. Consider the venue and your overall vision and choose games that will fit the reception setup and timeline and also reflect your personalities. Here are a few ideas:

Wedding guest bingo. One variation of this great icebreaker is to print bingo cards listing interesting facts about your wedding guests. The guests need to find a person who can sign that space. Facts can range from obscure things that the bride and groom know only one guest has done ("recently met Joe Biden" or "climbed Mount Everest") to broader facts ("owns a motorcycle" or "married his or her high school sweetheart"). The first person to hand in a finished bingo card could win a small prize purchased ahead of time or be served the first slice of cake.

Lawn games. Outdoor receptions with ample space provide an ideal setting for cornhole sets, badminton, croquet, horseshoes, quoits, bocce, giant Jenga, or other favorite picnic games. Include signage directing guests to the games and have the Master of Ceremonies make an announcement reminding guests that lawn games are available.

Kissing game. Whether you and your future spouse are anticipating or dreading the wedding reception tradition of guests clinking glasses to have the newlyweds kiss, this game can put a fun spin on things. In advance, write down the names of married couples that will be attending the reception and put the names into a hat. When the glasses inevitably start clinking, the bride and groom will pull the name of a couple from the hat every time the glasses clink. The couple whose name is drawn has to stand up and kiss before the newlyweds can kiss.

Shoe game. The bride and groom sit back to back, take off their shoes, and give one shoe to the other person so they are holding one of each. The master of ceremonies asks the couple a series of questions (the maid of honor can write this list so it remains a mystery) that can include anything from "Who says 'I love you' more often?" to "Who is a better driver?" Each member of the couple will hold up the shoe that corresponds with his or her answer. Make sure the couple is positioned where everyone can see which shoe they hold up to answer.

Board games. Put a stack of fun, quick board games on a table with a sign that says, "Tired of dancing? Play a game!" While Monopoly or Twister might not be the best bets, Apples to Apples, Scattergories, Bananagrams, or other family favorites should be a hit.

The limbo. Give the band a break or have the disc jockey incorporate this classic into the lineup of music. But know your crowd and do not include this activity if you can foresee that only a handful of guests would willingly participate.

Photo scavenger hunt. Print a fun list of items for guests to capture in pictures - a group hug, the first dance, a bridesmaid's bouquet, a selfie of the whole table, someone making a toast, and so on. The scavenger hunt list can either be printed for each guest or just one per table, or it can be posted on a large chalkboard or sign where guests will easily see it. Include disposable cameras at each table or simply create a social media hashtag (#smithphotohunt) so the pictures can be easily uploaded, viewed, and judged later to decide on a winner.

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Make Note Of Potential Music Mistakes December 1, 2015

Wedding guests are usually anxious to head to the reception, where they can let loose and party. Music is an essential component of a lively and fun wedding reception, but there are some musical miscues couples should avoid so the music is not memorable for all the wrong reasons.

· Blocks of silence: Music helps everyone feel comfortable and creates a pleasing atmosphere, so there should always be a constant flow of music. This includes the time when guests are waiting prior to the ceremony and when they are entering the cocktail hour.

· Second-guessing a professional: In an effort to curb costs, some couples provide their own playlists via an MP3 player or music-streaming service. This is often a mistake. Hiring a professional means the couple will not have to worry about managing music on top of their other wedding day responsibilities. A band or disc jockey usually also serves as the master of ceremonies for the event, announcing key moments of the reception and getting guests on the dance floor.

· Playing only one type of music: Playing too many songs from one genre of music will alienate some of the guests who simply are not interested in that type of music. Professional disc jockeys or performers know how to offer a great mix that will appeal to the masses, and they are often well worth the cost. The music should span different decades and genres to keep as many of the guests on the dance floor as possible.

· Failure to make a song list: Couples may feel that some songs are essential to the wedding, while others may be associated with negative memories. Band leaders and disc jockeys are not mind readers, so couples should give the band leader or disc jockey ample time to review any requests, in case the musician must locate a song not already in his or her collection.

· Choosing songs that are not suited to dancing: Some songs just are not meant to be danced to. If the couple's favorite songs fit that bill but the couple still wants to hear the songs at the wedding, they may ask the disc jockey or band to play them during the cocktail hour or while everyone is eating dinner.

· Dancing to long songs: Pay attention to a song's length, and choose spotlight dance songs wisely. Couples should remember that guests will be watching them dance, and a five-minute song can seem interminable while others are waiting around. Avoid very long songs, as the mix of music should be upbeat. The wedding is not the time to play the full-length version of Justin Timberlake's "Mirrors."

· Inappropriate lyrics and volume: The music should be kept at an acceptable volume, and disc jockeys should avoid songs with suggestive language or curse words that are inappropriate in a family setting.

Music is a key element of any good party, including a wedding reception, and it is essential that couples take simple steps to avoid musical pitfalls.

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Nuptials In Nature January 5, 2015

Outdoor weddings are romantic when done right, and a growing number of couples are exchanging vows amid an expansive garden or with the splendor of the pounding surf providing a picturesque backdrop. If Mother Nature cooperates, outdoor weddings can go smoothly. But even if the weather does not cooperate, there still are ways couples can enjoy a memorable ceremony.

Preparation and planning can help keep outdoor weddings moving along. Weather can be unpredictable and unforgiving at times, so it is always best to account for various scenarios. The following are some tips to consider:

* Be mindful of hot weather. Many outdoor weddings occur when temperatures are at their warmest. As anyone who has had to sit outdoors in the blazing sun for an extended period of time can attest, it can grow quite uncomfortable, especially when everyone is dressed to the nines. Advise guests in advance that the wedding will be taking place outdoors and to dress accordingly. Arrange to have shaded areas for guests who may struggle with the heat. Keep chilled bottled water nearby so guests can stay cool and refreshed. Ask the officiant to keep the ceremony brief.

* Keep wind in mind. A stiff breeze can upset tents and wreak havoc on hairstyles. Be sure everything outdoors is properly secured and weighted down. Avoid lightweight or sheer fabrics on a wedding gown that will get swept out of place by the wind. A short, blusher veil may be more appropriate than a sweeping train. Couples should also advise their hairstylists that they will be getting married outdoors, and looks should be well secured by bobby pins and gel to keep hair in place. For the reception, stick to real dishes for food service, as plastic or lightweight materials may get blown away.

* Check for power sources. Choose a wedding location with easily accessible power outlets. Guests will certainly want to hear the vows, requiring the use of microphones and a sound system. Having power available also makes it easier for bands and musicians to set up their equipment for an outdoor reception. If the wedding or reception will stretch into the evening hours, electricity will be needed to power supplemental lighting to illuminate the festivities.

* Ensure accessibility. Outdoor terrain can prove tricky, especially for older guests or those with mobility issues. When scouting locations, select a wheelchair-accessible spot that can be easily traversed by attendees. Understand that turf can become water-logged and challenging to walk over should it rain the day of the wedding or just prior. Plastic or fabric runners may make things easier. Also, choose a location that is not too far off the beaten path. It should be an easy walking distance to a parking area and should not require guests to have to take an extended hike through nature.

* Face away from the sun. Glares can make it difficult for guests to see the ceremony. Be sure to arrange seats so that guests do not have to look into the sun. This is best achieved by having the sun behind everyone for the ceremony. It also ensures that the wedding pair will not end up with washed-out photos or pictures of everyone squinting.

* Ensure food is properly chilled or heated. Food safety is imperative when dining outdoors. Food that is supposed to be kept cool should remain on ice or be refrigerated until served. Hot foods should remain hot. Food in chafing dishes or served buffet-style should also be protected from insects. Improper handling of food can result in foodborne illnesses.

* Use potted plants and flowers. Cut flowers tend to wilt prematurely in hot weather. Rather than waste money and beautiful flowers, choose potted plants that will thrive if well-tended. Guests can then take the plants home as a reminder of the day.

* Budget for a tent. It is always better to have a contingency plan. Even if you have your heart set on an outdoor wedding, have a backup plan in place if the weather is uncooperative. A tent with surrounding sidewalls may be sufficient. Otherwise, determine if there is an indoor location that can be kept on standby.

* Mix up the candles. Intersperse citronella candles with the decorative ones to help keep bugs at bay. You can also consider placing small bottles of insect repellent on the tables. Guests will appreciate the gesture when biting flies or mosquitoes want to join in the fun.

* Remember the season. If a fall wedding is part of the picture, be mindful that cooler temperatures may be unavoidable. Select wedding party attire appropriate for autumn, such as attendant dresses that come with matching stoles or wraps and tuxedos or suits that are fashioned of heavier fabric or material. For picture purposes, keep in mind when the sun will go down so the photo sessions are timed accordingly. Consider renting heat lamps if necessary, especially if the reception is outdoors as well and festivities will continue into evening. Have hot chocolate or warm apple cider on hand for guests to savor.

To make sure Mother Nature does not ruin an outdoor wedding, couples should take care to plan ahead for all possibilities.

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Seating Solutions January 5, 2015

After all of the invitations have been sent and RSVPs returned, engaged couples who are including a sit-down dinner as part of their wedding receptions must figure out the seating arrangements for their guests. Such a task can be both fun and stressful.

The fun of making seating arrangements stems from reuniting friends and family members who couples feel will enjoy one another's company. But feuding family members can make the task of assigning seats somewhat stressful. Couples need not be relationship experts to plan seating arrangements that ensure guests have a good time. The following tips can help couples enjoy the process of mapping out their wedding reception.

* Make assignments by hand. While there is software designed specifically to help couples map out seating assignments, many couples find it easier to do the seating assignments by hand, which allows couples more freedom to rearrange tables. In addition, making the seating arrangements by hand ensures that couples spread out guests who might not get along.

* Do not seat guests in the hopes of quashing old conflicts. While the jovial spirit of a wedding ceremony and reception might seem like the perfect atmosphere for feuding friends or family members to bury the hatchet with regard to old conflicts, these feuds might instead escalate. To prevent this, keep opposing factions apart when assigning seats.

* Keep special needs guests in mind. Some guests at the wedding may have special needs, and this must be kept in mind when planning seating assignments. Guests with medical conditions may benefit from sitting close to the rest room, while those with mobility issues might be best served in a spot where waitstaff can more easily recognize when they need something. Consider seating older guests, whose vision might not be as strong as it once was, as close to the happy couple as possible so these guests can see everything and will not feel left out.

* Make sure the seating assignment table is easily accessible. The table on which seating assignment cards will be placed should be immediately accessible upon entering the reception hall. A table that is far off in the corner may confuse some guests, who might think the seating is a free-for-all and simply sit in the first empty seats they see.

* Consider flow between tables when making assignments. While you might have aced the seating assignments at each table, do not overlook the importance of mapping out tables as well. No couple wants their guests to feel isolated from friends or family members at other tables, so do your best to ensure there's a good flow between the tables. Plan for tables of family members to be placed near one another, and do the same with groups of friends. This encourages guests to mingle and can make the night much more enjoyable.

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Cheers! January 5, 2015

Toasting the bride and groom at a wedding reception is a responsibility that typically falls on the shoulders of the bride's father as well as the best man and the maid of honor. Though it is an honor to give a wedding toast, it also can be nerve-wracking, as no one wants to give a toast that's memorable for all the wrong reasons.

While the best toasts are often those that veer off the beaten path, coming from the heart rather than from a how-to guide found on the Internet, there is a certain formula guests can follow to ensure their toasts cover all of the appropriate bases without offending the bridal party or fellow guests.

* Acknowledge the guests. Families are more geographically diverse than ever before, so more and more weddings host guests who come from far and wide to celebrate with happy couples on their wedding days. It's customary for men and women making wedding toasts to acknowledge the guests, thanking them for being there. This is often a great way for best men and maids of honor to break the ice and calm their nerves, especially at larger weddings where they may only know a small percentage of the guests. When thanking the guests, be sure to thank the parents of the bride and groom as well.

* Explain your relationship to the bride and/or groom. Best men and maids of honor should devote a portion of their toasts to explaining their personal relationships with the bride and/or groom. Introduce yourself and explain how you met the bride or groom. Oftentimes, such stories have a comical twist that can further calm your nerves.

* Aim for a jovial toast. Wedding toasts are typically given at the wedding reception, when guests and the bridal party are ready to celebrate. Such an atmosphere lends itself to a jovial toast wherein best men and maids of honor focus on happy times with the bride and groom. Tell a funny anecdote that illustrates the special bond you have with the bride or groom. When choosing a story to tell, remember to keep things appropriate for guests of all ages, including young children.

* Steer clear of alcohol before giving your toast. Many people overindulge in alcohol at wedding receptions, but best men and maids of honor should avoid consuming alcohol until after they have toasted the bride and groom. Horror stories about drunken, inappropriate wedding toasts may seem more like an urban legend than a legitimate possibility, but the tendency for alcohol to lower people's inhibitions makes it dangerous for men and women to consume it before giving their toasts.

* Give your best wishes to the bride and groom before raising your glass. Raising your glass to toast the bride and groom is often the last step before your toasting duties officially end. But before you raise your glass, remember to offer your best wishes to both the bride and groom. Once those sentiments have been expressed, ask the guests to raise their glasses and toast the newlyweds.

Toasting happy couples at their wedding receptions can be stressful for best men and maids of honor who are unaccustomed to speaking in front of large groups of people. But following the above formula and speaking from the heart will ensure such toasts go off without a hitch.

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Nix Vendor Vexation January 5, 2015

Weddings are a careful balance of many elements that culminate in one special day. Making all of the components of a wedding come together seamlessly requires a well-organized bridal couple and the cooperation of professional wedding vendors who understand their unique roles. The ease at which couples navigate the world of vendors can have a major impact on their stress levels leading up to the event and, ultimately, on the outcome and success of their big day.

Vendors, including florists, caterers, transportation companies, musicians, and dressmakers, are essential to a successful wedding. Competent wedding vendors should help to eliminate some of the bride and groom's wedding-related worries and responsibilities. The problem is: where to start? Brides- and grooms-to-be are often overwhelmed with the enormity of their task in the initial planning stages. Which local florist has the best selection and prices? A motorcycle or stretch limo to the ceremony? Cousin Johnny and his band have promised to play dance music at the reception, but how to find a string quartet for the ceremony? It is easy to become anxious and flustered.

When tackling any large project, the first step is to break the task into manageable duties. The bride- and groom-to-be should aim to provide themselves with ample time to plan their events. Having an opportunity to research and consider options with care should greatly reduce accompanying stress. If dealing with a more condensed timeline, keeping to a schedule and remaining focused is a must. Consider delegating responsibilities and tailor undertakings to reflect individual strengths and talents. Perhaps a "foodie" groom can gather information about catering options or a bakery, while a bride who grew up attending car shows with her father can research renting an antique or luxury car for transportation to and from festivities. Individuals should be sure, however, to review their discoveries together and make final decisions as partners.

Prior to meetings or negotiations, couples should spend time thinking about what they want their wedding to entail. Having specific ideas about elements of the ceremony and reception should make assessing vendor options easier and making choices less time-consuming. It will also help couples to address pertinent questions and increase the likelihood that their wedding dreams become reality.

Additional tips to keep in mind when researching, preparing to meet, or negotiating with vendors include:

* Seek recommendations from trusted friends and family members. Talk to those whose insight you value about which wedding vendors they used. Think of a gathering that featured particularly well-done flowers or music and ask for the name of the florist or band. Word-of-mouth advertising is a great way to find quality wedding vendors.

* Prepare, prepare, prepare. Couples who blindly enter negotiations with wedding venues and vendors are far less likely to get a good deal. When working with any wedding vendor, whether it is a wedding venue representative, a local florist, or a disc jockey, couples should know what the going rate for the services are. Couples who find a venue they like should receive quotes from similar venues before negotiating a rate with the venue they most prefer. Estimates from other venues can vary based on what they include. Even if a favorite venue does not come down much on its original quote, representatives may be willing to add extra services, such as an additional menu option or an extra hour during the reception, to match a competitor's offer.

* Always ask for references and do not ignore them. Busy wedding vendors should be able to provide a list of names of satisfied customers. Talk with people who have used the vendor's services in the past and ask the questions that are most important to your decision-making process. Unbiased feedback may also be available through online review sites, but direct contact with references will allow couples to address specific concerns. If a vendor fails to provide references, this should raise suspicions about the person or business's reliability.

* Avoid making demands. Much like couples do not want to receive "take it or leave it" offers, vendors do not want to be issued commands. The right tone can go a long way with wedding vendors, who are typically more willing to work with couples who treat them nicely. While vendors often like it when couples know what they want, couples are not doing themselves any favors when they express desires as demands.

* Don't be afraid to ask for more. Making demands and asking for more are not the same thing. When negotiating, there is no harm in asking for additional services or time. For example, the worst a disc jockey can do when asked to play an extra hour at no additional charge is deny the request. Reception venues often have the most wiggle room, so do not be afraid to ask for free coffee with dessert or valet parking. Vendors are often open to suggestions and willing to honor requests, but it is not their responsibility to offer extras up front.

* Deposits should be a fraction of the total price. Avoid wedding vendors who insist on hefty deposits. A deposit is a good-faith agreement to hold the date of the wedding, and it should be a small percentage of the overall cost of the services.

* Do not pay balances too far in advance. Many wedding vendors require the balance be paid on the day of the wedding or shortly before. Good vendors realize couples will not want to pay the tally until they have received the products or services they signed up for. A photographer may ask for the final payment when albums are delivered. The exception may be a caterer or reception site that needs the funds to order food and beverages a few weeks in advance. Paying off a vendor too early means you run the risk of a paid vendor not coming through on the big day.

* Make sure all contracts are itemized and read them thoroughly before signing. Every agreement should be in writing. Couples will have a better chance of fighting for a refund or restitution as needed when services and obligations are detailed in writing. In addition, the negotiation process can be tedious, and contracts should spell out in detail just what was negotiated and how much each item costs. Couples may even notice items in the contract that can be removed, possibly reducing the overall price. Be mindful of "extras," as fees can add up. These fees will be listed in the contract, and it is up to couples to have them removed before they sign and the contract becomes official.

* Remember there are two parties involved in the negotiation process. Vendors are not the only ones who might need to bend a little at the negotiating table. Couples might have to be flexible in order to make their dream weddings come true. Some vendors charge considerably less during certain times of the year than they do during peak wedding season. If couples find it impossible to afford their ultimate wedding during peak season, they should consider tying the knot during a less popular time of year, when more competitive rates are available. Brides- and grooms-to-be cannot expect vendors to bend over backward if they are not willing to make concessions themselves. Individuals should not compromise the whole concept of their event, but they should consider sacrificing nonessential details.

* Consider wedding insurance. Even the best-laid plans can go awry on a wedding day. Anything from freak weather events to an illness or a vendor's absence can wreak havoc. The Better Business Bureau advises purchasing wedding insurance to protect investments when weddings are especially costly. Such insurance may cover vendors who fail to show up, cancellations, inclement weather, military deployment, medical emergencies, and travel delays. A basic insurance policy that covers loss of photos, media, attire, presents, rings, and deposits is usually not too expensive, depending on the amount of coverage desired.

Many engaged couples have grandiose visions of their wedding days. While such visions may eventually come to fruition, they often do so only after couples have researched and selected the best vendors for their needs.

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Something Old October 22, 2013

Everyone knows the recommendation that a bride should have "something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue" as she heads down the aisle, but, lately, many brides are lingering over the "something old" part. Vintage style has made a major comeback recently, due in part to a number of popular historically set movies and television shows. As "Downton Abbey," Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby," "Grace of Monaco," "Broadwalk Empire," and other period pieces have conquered pop culture, the vintage trend has exploded in the wedding industry, with couples pulling inspiration from the beautiful style elements showcased in these hit television and film projects.

"The vintage trend is HOT right now for the 2014 wedding season," exclaims Melissa McClain of Melissa McClain Photography, Harrisburg.

Sabrina J. Drouillard, IEWP, owner/coordinator of Decora Wedding and Event Planning, Mountville, agrees, explaining, "From the invites to the dress and decor, brides are loving this trend! If you are incorporating this into your wedding, you will have so many options."

Couples looking to include vintage elements in their wedding attire and decor must first decide what "vintage" means to them. Wedding elements can invoke a specific time period (for example, the Roaring '20s) or leave a more general old-timey or classic impression. "There are many views on what 'vintage' looks like these days, but I always think of lace, subtle colors, old books and dainty flowers," suggests Nicola Herring, owner of Nicola Herring Photography, Lancaster. "There are many ways to incorporate these things, even in a do-it-yourself wedding."

In addition to drawing inspiration from the vintage-inspired costumes and set design of movies and television shows set in decades past, brides and grooms can go online for ideas. "Pinterest is a great brainstorming tool for ideas, so pin everything that appeals to you, and your ideas will come together," recommends Herring.

A major way the vintage trend is being incorporated into wedding style is through the attire of the bridal party, especially the bride. Whether she is wearing a dress that has been passed down in her family, attire purchased from a vintage store, or a new dress that has a vintage look, the bride can channel classic style with her gown. Popular vintage twists for bridal gowns include lace, beading, crystals, off-white or ivory hues, and other romantic elements.

When it comes to jewelry, brides are favoring art deco, estate-inspired silhouettes and often choosing one or two standout accessories for a more minimalistic and classical look. Simple, elegant pieces are distinctive without being overwhelming and can be worn alone or layered. Wearing heirloom jewelry is a great way for brides to go vintage and honor members of their family at the same time. For her other accessories, a bride can turn to retro-style pumps, a tiara or a birdcage veil to continue the vintage theme.

The bride is not the only one who can have fun with incorporating vintage elements into her attire, however. "The Great Gatsy," "Downton Abbey," and other film and television period pieces supply plenty of inspiration for the groom's attire, as well as that of the bridesmaids and groomsmen. The bride and her bridesmaids can also incorporate the vintage trend via their hair and makeup choices (finger wave hairdos, red lips, subtle cat's eye eyeliner, etc.). But remember to be careful that you don't take the vintage elements too far; you want the bridal party to look classic, not costumey.

Another key way that couples can incorporate vintage style into their wedding day celebrations is through their choice of ceremony and reception venues. If you want your event to have a vintage vibe, starting with a venue that has inherent vintage charm will reduce the amount of effort you have to put into dressing it up. "Historic settings are a logical choice for vintage weddings, since their unique surroundings provide ample photographic opportunities that just can't be replicated in most other venues," explains Arlene Stewart, chairman of marketing and advertising for The Iris Club, Lancaster.

But no matter what venue you choose, it can be decked out to fit with your vintage theme through some creativity. Visit vintage and antique stores, as well as thrift shops, to see what catches your eye, whether it's an antique handkerchief, mismatched china teacups, old books, or pieces from retro board games. Chances are you'll be able to incorporate whatever vintage items you love into the wedding decor.

"Be cautious!" Drouillard advises. "Just because it says 'vintage,' that doesn't mean that it is!" If you desire bonafide vintage items, research the authenticity of the antiques before you make your purchases.

"Old glassware, such as mason jars and wine bottles, are a really popular (way to incorporate vintage style)," comments Emily Wilcox of Emily Grace Photography, Elizabethtown. McClain adds, "Couples (are) incorporating lace and burlap elements, Scrabble letters, and subtle yet delicate flower arrangements." McClain recommends, "If going vintage, consider shying away from common DIY projects featured on inspirational sites and customize your decor items for a more personal touch."

Think outside the box: everything from antique keys to vintage bicycles to old suitcases and furniture can be used as decorations. What is even better is when the wedding decor incorporates vintage items that hold special significance to the couple - such as a grandmother's china, a grandfather's military trunk, antique clocks passed through the generations or old family photos of the couple's ancestors.

"For couples on a budget, consider renting key decor pieces from vintage rental stores near you," suggests McClain. "If you have a little wiggle room in your budget, rent a few larger pieces of vintage furniture for a great post-dinner lounge area for guests to relax and mingle. (You can also) change out standard seating and tables for handcrafted items and think about (offering) old-school lawn games for guests to play during cocktail hour," she recommends.

And don't forget about the music. A band playing Dixieland hits and jazz standards will give the whole party a vintage vibe in a fun and memorable way. (If you can't find a band in your local area or price range, you can achieve a similar effect by having your disc jockey spin vintage tunes.)

Another way retro elements can be incorporated into the reception is by serving food and beverages with a vintage influence. Also, you can add to the theme through transportation choices such as horse-drawn carriages or classic cars.

"Be sure to carry your vintage theme throughout - from the design of your bouquet, to the style of your gown, to your place cards and invitations - for a fully developed theme. All in all, make it your own!" McClain encourages.

Brides and grooms who are interested in the vintage trend have many options - whether they want the vintage theme to infiltrate every element of their big day or just want to include a few subtle touches. "What makes the vintage trend so great is that it can be as subtle as wearing your grandmother's wedding ring on your big day (or as flashy as using) an eye-catching classic car as the bride and groom's gateway vehicle," explains Wilcox.

Couples looking to go vintage on their big day have many options to help them achieve the classic, glamorous style they desire.

Special thanks to:

Melissa McClain Photography

119 Aster Drive, Harrisburg, PA 17112

717-309-2440

www.melissamcclainphotography.com

Decora Wedding and Event Planning

416 Huntington Drive, Mountville, PA 17554

717-368-3512, contactdecora@gmail.com

www.eventsbydecora.com

Nicola Herring Photography

519 E. King St., Lancaster, PA 17602 (mailing address only)

717-413-0937

www.nicolaherring.com

The Iris Club

323 N. Duke St., Lancaster PA 17602

717-394-7811, iris_club@yahoo.com

http://irisclublancasterpa.com

Emily Grace Photography

120 Heisey Ave., Elizabethtown, PA 17022

717-940-8431

www.emilygracephoto.com

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A Tip from a Pro - "Destination" Wedding September 4, 2013

"Want a destination wedding, but guests can't afford to travel? Make the destination your wedding theme. Use exotic, tropical colors in your wedding candles and accessories."

Kathy Brown, Keystone Candle, Harrisburg

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A Tip from a Pro - Dance Lessons September 4, 2013

"Dancing lessons are not only a great date night and a way to be in each other's arms, but your guests will enjoy watching even the least choreographed first dance, rather than just the usual bride and groom swaying back and forth for three minutes. Starting a year in advance is not too soon, because it takes the pressure off trying to learn at the last minute and you can use your new skills at all your friends' weddings you go to during your engagement period."

Renee Roberts Kopp, wedding planner at Celebrations!, Ephrata

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A Tip from a Pro - Candles in Outdoor Weddings September 4, 2013

"If you are planning an outside wedding, glass hurricanes or cylinders are a wonderful way to help keep your candles lit on a windy day."

Kathy Brown, Keystone Candle, Harrisburg

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A Tip from a Pro - Purchase Your Own Items September 4, 2013

"Compare apples to apples. Break out packaging to compare with listed line items, so you know what you are paying for each. If you are able to purchase your own items, such as alcohol, you may come out ahead. Costco and The Restaurant Store have wedding tablecloths and wedding plastic ware that looks like china."

Joyce Perkinson, director of sales at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum, Lancaster

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A Tip from a Pro - Local Vendors September 4, 2013

"Shop local. You will be surprised!"

Jim DeFilippis, coordinator at Eicher Arts Center, Ephrata

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A Tip from a Pro - Tent Rentals September 4, 2013

"Renting a tent will make your outdoor event special. Whether you're going formal or casual, tents come in all shapes and sizes. Work with your local rental company to figure out what style and size fits your vision and your venue's spatial constraints. And make sure you choose a tent that works on your surface - pavement, grass, sand and so on."

David Kelley, owner of Golden Rentals, Dillsburg

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Location, Location, Location! September 3, 2013

Planning a wedding is no small feat, as couples are faced with many decisions seemingly from the moment they get engaged right up until they walk down the aisle as husband and wife. One of the biggest decisions a couple will make is where to host the wedding reception.

Couples must consider a variety of factors when looking for the right venue to host their reception. The wedding is a celebration, and the banquet hall or other venue is where the couple and their guests will let their hair down and hopefully enjoy a festive and memorable night. Because the reception is typically the lengthiest portion of a couple's wedding day festivities, it's important to find a place where everyone can be comfortable and enjoy themselves.

Receptions are traditionally held in a banquet hall, but couples also may choose to hold receptions in other alternative sites. If you decide to go with a traditional banquet hall, here are some tips on finding the ideal facility for your reception:

* Ask around. Word-of-mouth is a great way to find the right banquet hall. Ask friends or family members who got hitched in the same town where your ceremony will be if they can recommend a reception site. These friends or family members can provide a behind-the-scenes look at a reception hall, from how accommodating the staff was to how flexible the banquet hall was with regard to pricing. Wedding planning isn't easy, so if friends, family members, or co-workers can recommend a hassle-free banquet hall, that recommendation can remove a lot of the stress from planning a wedding.

* Consider the size of the facility. Some couples prefer an intimate affair with relatively few guests, while others desire a large wedding party with lots of guests. Look for a banquet hall that fits your party specifically. If your wedding party is small, avoid a larger facility that will appear empty. If the party is large, make sure there's adequate room so guests won't feel like they're sitting on top of one another during dinner and dessert.

* Don't downplay decor. A banquet hall with attractive decor is not only aesthetically appealing but can also appeal to a couple's finances as well. Such a hall likely won't need any additional decorations, while a banquet hall that's unadorned and lacks embellishments will, and those decorations can dip into a couple's overall wedding budget. Compare the costs of the more decorated banquet hall with the one that's more plain in appearance, factoring in the cost to decorate the latter, and you might find that the one with more aesthetic appeal is more affordable in the long run.

* Prioritize privacy. Few couples are open to strangers having easy access to their wedding reception. When shopping for a banquet hall, look for one that will give you and your guests all the privacy you need. Many couples have taken to hosting the entire ceremony at a hotel, which may handle the bulk of the planning and remove the hassle of transportation for out-of-town guests. However, couples considering a hotel should look for one that can promise privacy from other guests at the hotel who aren't there for the wedding.

As the reception facility is one of the main factors that determines the overall cost of a wedding, couples looking to conserve some cash might consider forgoing a traditional banquet hall and holding their reception in an alternative location. Holding the event in a nontraditional location is also a great way to set your wedding apart.

Instead of booking with the first catering hall they find, couples should comparison shop to find a venue they find affordable and unique to their particular tastes. Reception venues may charge less than $100 to several hundred dollars per guest. Couples who opt to do some of the work themselves by renting a space and bringing in their own food or using a private caterer may save a substantial amount of money.

Couples who don't mind forgoing a more traditional setting can consider unique reception locations:

* A farmhouse or bed and breakfast: For that country appeal, a barn or farmhouse estate can be the ideal place to hold a casual wedding reception. Farms are typically located on a large piece of land that can easily accommodate a number of guests.

* Botanical gardens: Enjoy the peak foliage of whatever season it is at the area botanical gardens. Many gardens offer some sort of wedding package and may contract with an outside caterer to provide everything from sit-down meals to passed appetizers. Couples looking for one-stop-shopping can also combine the ceremony and reception at the gardens for a magical experience amid flowers, trees, and more.

* Sports arena: Sports fans may dream of having their wedding on the field of their favorite professional team. Individuals can contact the stadium to find out if it holds any private parties. If not or if renting out the stadium of your favorite professional team exceeds your budget constraints, consider a stadium on a more local level, such as a college or high school field. The ambience will be the same, but the more local or smaller venue may be more affordable.

* Oceanside: Where there is a beach, there is the opportunity to have a wedding at the seashore. Beach weddings are usually casual affairs, and couples could have more leeway with regard to food and drinks. Be sure to check on the rules and regulations of the beach you're interested in.

* Clubhouse: For those who live in a condominium or a community managed by a homeowner association, there may be a clubhouse on the premises. Very often these clubhouses can be rented out for parties. Couples interested in an intimate atmosphere can bring in their own food and have a low-cost reception close to home.

* Castle, museum or estate: Dreaming of a fairy tale wedding? A historical building may make for the perfect backdrop. Certain historical societies may rent out estates and other buildings for weddings. At the very least, couples may be able to have their wedding on the grounds with the impressive home in the background.

* Boat: Dinner cruises frequently depart during peak sightseeing seasons from various locations. Couples may opt to have their reception aboard a paddle boat or larger cruise liner, and the cost may be on par with a stationary reception venue.

* Amusement park: If you want to get hitched at a favorite amusement park, speak with guest services to determine if the park has any accommodations for weddings. Thrill-seekers may want to tie the knot and then take a ride on a hair-raising roller coaster. Guests can dine on traditional foods and a mix of carnival treats.

* At home: Couples who really want to save money can opt to get married right at home. Potluck food and donations of other treats from family members can keep costs down without compromising on the fun factor.

Through careful research into wedding reception venues, couples can find the ideal spot for their party, whether it is a banquet hall or a less traditional site.

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Unique Ideas That Add a Special Touch to Your Reception September 3, 2013

Over the course of their lifetimes, many people will be wedding guests on several occasions. During the height of wedding season, weddings can blur together, as the format and the festivities are often similar at various ceremonies. While it is customary and often easy to follow tradition, that doesn't mean you can't buck tradition and offer a few creative ideas to make your event stand out. Couples interested in setting their nuptials apart may want to enhance the wedding reception with a few unique ideas. After all, at the heart of any wedding reception is the desire to present a memorable party for all in attendance.

Some ways to add extra indulgence to wedding receptions will result in additional expenses, and some couples are willing to splurge on special touches that will show guests how much they are appreciated and to set their celebration apart from others. However, there are also budget-conscious ways to make a reception stand out. Here are several ideas you can introduce to add something special to your wedding reception:

* Valet parking: Many wedding venues provide on-site valet parking, but if you're using a restaurant or banquet hall that does not provide this service, you can hire a valet company to do the parking for guests. While the members of the wedding party are often whisked from venue to venue in the back of a limousine, guests have to do their own driving. Being able to exit the car right in front of the venue and not worry about finding a parking space will add convenience.

* Butler-passed hors d'oeuvres: During the cocktail hour, guests mingle and take advantage of the opportunity to engage in conversation. This time may be their last real opportunity to chat with each other before the volume of the band or disc jockey drowns out discussions. Because guests making trips to the food stations can disrupt the flow of conversation, couples may consider offering butler-passed hors d'oeuvres, which are brought right to the guests. This practice also lends a feeling of indulgence to the reception.

* Skip the big entrance: Those who were kind enough to attend the ceremony have already been introduced to the newly minted happy couple. Instead of spending the cocktail hour in the isolation of the wedding suite, mingle with your guests from start to finish. Being with guests during the cocktail hour means you don't have to make that big entrance from behind closed doors.

* Choose one special component as an extra goodie for guests: If you want to go above and beyond the ordinary, instead of adopting a the-more-the-better attitude, which might be overwhelming to your guests, pick one thing that you absolutely love and offer that at the party. It could be a chocolate or candy bar, a carving station with your all-time favorite food (even if that's peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), specialty cocktails, a flambe dessert presentation, a cigar smoking area, or an automatic photo booth.

* Dance to an upbeat number: Guests are expecting a slow, sappy tune for your first dance as a married couple. Less expected is an upbeat song that shows you are willing to have a little fun. Feel free to choose a tune that shows your excitement and love for each other, whether it's "traditional" or not.

* Swap the garter/bouquet toss for something more meaningful: If you're part of a couple who feels the garter and bouquet toss has become trite, there are other ways to create special moments in your celebration - ones that don't single out the singletons who haven't yet found their special someones. For example, you can use this time to present a small gift or token of your affection to someone on the guest list who has served as a mentor or source of inspiration.

* Birthday and anniversary mentions: Another way to show that your guests are important to you is to notify the band or disc jockey of any guests in attendance who are celebrating their own special events on your wedding day or in close proximity to it.

* Emergency toiletries baskets: Rather than spending money on an extra floral arrangement for the men's and women's rest rooms, purchase items that can be grouped into handy emergency toiletries baskets. Consider including mints or mouthwash, dental floss, stain removal pens, spray deodorant, cologne, sewing kits, and other items that will save the day in the event that a guest experiences a minor mishap during the festivities.

* Let them eat ... cookies? Some people just don't like cake. If you're one of them, why should you have to cut a seven-tiered white confection at your wedding? Towers of different types of treats can be created from just about anything and still serve as the perfect backdrop for that classic cake-cutting photo. A pyramid of cream puffs, stacks of brownies, a cookie castle, or cereal-cake concoctions can work. Some bakeries will decorate a "dummy" styrofoam cake, and then you can serve apple pie a la mode, if you desire.

* Stage a costume switch: Let's face it: dancing all night in a long gown takes some stamina. Brides may want to have a more comfortable cocktail dress available to switch into for the latter part of the reception. Your wardrobe change will also add some variety to your wedding photos.

* Overnight accommodations: If your wedding will run into the wee hours of the morning, consider offering guests a place to stay nearby to remove the hassle of driving home at a late hour. Some reception halls have arrangements with nearby hotels. For those that don't, negotiate a discounted rate for wedding guests. Many hotels will set aside a block of rooms for your event with a discount code. You may want to treat guests who choose to stay over to a complimentary breakfast the next day as one final show of appreciation.

When planning your celebration, consider adding some extra touches that will set your wedding apart and make your guests feel welcome and important.

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