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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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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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Excellent Accommodations November 9, 2016

Wedding planning can seem overwhelming at times, but couples also tend to have a lot of fun when making preparations for their big day. Whether it is sampling various cuisines for the wedding reception or researching potential honeymoon destinations, couples have much to look forward to as they plan.

One aspects of wedding planning that the couple may enjoy is finding lodging for out-of-town guests. Hotels come in all shapes and sizes, and visiting various hotels and seeing what each has to offer can be fun. As couples set out to find lodging for out-of-town guests, the following factors should be taken into consideration.

Number of Guests

Even if the couple has yet to pare down the guest list, they should peruse the preliminary guest list to determine how many of those potential invitees may need lodging. Some hotels will not offer discounted room blocks without a minimum number of guests, so the couple should try to find a hotel or hotels that can accommodate their group size and still offer discounted rates.

Location

Location bears considerable weight when choosing a hotel for out-of-town wedding guests. If the couple is tying the knot in a large city, guests are less likely to rent cars for the weekend, so the couples should look for a hotel with access to restaurants and other attractions the guests can enjoy. If the ceremony and reception are in a more remote location, the couples should try to find a hotel that is nearby so guests do not spend the bulk of their time behind the wheel while they are in town. If the couple simply cannot find a hotel that is close to the ceremony and reception locations, then they may arrange for bus transportation so guests can get to and from the reception safely.

Amenities

Out-of-town guests will have more free time on their hands than the bride- and groom-to-be, so the couple should consider the amenities of each hotel. On-site exercise facilities, pools and outdoor lounge areas can help guests fill the hours before the wedding and enjoy some rest and relaxation. In addition, hotels with on-site restaurants or those next door to restaurants can provide convenient places for guests to eat and meet up with fellow guests.

Cost

Cost is another significant consideration when choosing a hotel for out-of-town guests. Whether the guests are driving or flying in, the cost of travel is already hitting them in the pocketbook. For this reason, the couple should make it a priority to find hotels that offer budget-friendly rates for wedding parties.

Finding a hotel for out-of-town wedding guests can be an enjoyable element of wedding planning. Couples should consider several factors before making their final decision.

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Picture Perfect August 1, 2016

Photography is a great way for couples to capture all of the special moments that occur on their wedding days. Long after the final piece of wedding cake has been consumed, wedding albums remain to remind couples of the moments that made their big day so special.

Photography preferences differ from couple to couple, but when the weather permits, many brides and grooms prefer to take photos outdoors. Mother Nature can provide some awe-inspiring backdrops, and such beauty comes at no extra cost.

Couples using professional photographers should share their image preferences with their photographers, especially if outdoor photography is desired. Photographers may have to do a little more work to achieve great outdoor photographs, such as visiting a site in advance of the big day to scout areas that can produce great photos. Scouting and preparation can involve seeing the landscape, examining the way the light shines on photo subjects and getting an accurate light reading on a meter to adjust flash accordingly. Photographers also will need to ensure that there are no obstructions that will appear in the background of the photos.

It's also important for photographers to select locations that have shade. This way they can adjust the amount of light needed, rather than having to contend with the photo washing out from too much sunlight.

A photographer can do much in production to fine-tune photos, but the couple can help things along. Bring along some powder or makeup to touch up between photos. Warm weather can cause shininess or beads of sweat on the skin. A light dusting of powder can tame shine, while any remaining moisture can be blotted away with a towel.

Brides and grooms need not fret if clouds appear on their wedding day, as overcast conditions can actually contribute to better photos by producing richer colors and pleasing shadows. making photos even more appealing.

Couples may want to change into comfortable footwear as they traverse the landscape to get into perfect portraiture locations. This will help to keep fancier shoes clean, and photos can be cropped to hide feet.

Bring along some refreshments when posing for photos, as the process can be tiring. Couples can take frequent breaks as the photographer adjusts his or her camera for the next shot. Staying hydrated will keep skin looking supple and ensure that everyone feels refreshed when it's time to return to the party.

Not every family member will be able to join the happy couple for outdoor photos. Elderly relatives or those who have mobility issues may find it difficult to stand in the sun or make their away across certain landscapes. Arrange for indoor photo shoots with guests who cannot easily navigate the outdoors.

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Considering The Great Outdoors? Consider These Factors August 1, 2016

Many couples dream of tying the knot outdoors, as nature can provide an idyllic backdrop for such a special day. In many ways, planning outdoor weddings is similar to planning weddings that take place with a roof overhead and four walls surrounding couples and their guests. But couples planning an outdoor ceremony or reception would be wise to consider the following factors.

Location

Proximity to the reception venue and the hotel where guests are staying is another factor to consider when planning on hosting an outdoor wedding. A remote location might provide stunning views and privacy, but guests may tire if the ceremony location is far from the hotel and/or reception venue. Fatigue should not be very much of an issue if the ceremony and reception are held at the same locale, but couples should still look for nearby lodging before booking remote outdoor locations.

Weather

Weather is perhaps the biggest factor couples must consider when planning an outdoor wedding. Such weddings are best held during those seasons when the threat of precipitation is insignificant and temperatures are mild, but it is still necessary to have a backup plan in case Mother Nature has other ideas. If possible, couples should find an outdoor location that provides access to an indoor ceremony facility in case of inclement weather. If this is not possible, couples should monitor the forecast as closely as possible and arrange for a tent to be erected should rain start to fall. The cost of such tents can be considerable, so this expense should be built into the wedding budget. If the forecast calls for chillier temperatures than the couple hoped for, they may want to email out-of-town guests a few days in advance to remind them to dress in warm clothing.

Laws

Laws dictate what can and cannot be done in open spaces, and couples with outdoor locations in mind should confirm local laws and regulations before they commit to a location for their wedding. Couples should find out if they will need any permits and if there are any rules or restrictions at the locations they are considering. The cost of such permits may be negligible, but the rules may restrict what couples can do in a given space.

Logistics

No matter how beautiful a backdrop may be, photos of an outdoor ceremony can be compromised. Couples and their photographers should visit the site in the weeks before the weddings to determine arrangements for the ceremony that will guarantee photos are not compromised by sunlight or shade. Facility managers can probably offer advice as to the best places to hold the ceremony and seat guests, but a run-through at the location with the photographer in tow can help ensure photos come out perfect.

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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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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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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 - Reception Facility September 4, 2013

"The General Sutter Inn's beautiful ballroom is one of the finest and most unique banquet and wedding reception facilities in Lancaster County. Two rooms are accented in Colonial style and accommodate up to 150 guests. Banquets, wedding receptions, or private parties--your event will be handled with care by the General Sutter Inn staff."

Jeff Merk, The General Sutter Inn, Lititz

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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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The Do-It-Yourself Wedding September 4, 2013

Those thinking about tying the knot in the months to come may be discouraged by how expensive weddings can be. But with a little ingenuity and a hands-on approach, couples can have a wedding that is inexpensive and memorable at the same time.

One way to save a lot of money on wedding expenses is to throw a do-it-yourself backyard wedding. The DIY approach also ensures that couples can control the details of their wedding, making it as personal as they would like.

A DIY wedding will take much more work than simply hiring vendors and leaving the details to them. But the money saved with sweat equity can be substantial.

Careful planning is key to managing all the details of a DIY wedding. Start by making a list of all the things you will need, including a venue, tables and chairs, linens, food, silverware and glassware, invitations, photography, an officiant, music, centerpieces and other decor items, cake or dessert, lighting, attire, and flowers.

Money-Saving Tips and Tricks:

* Enlist the help of family and friends. Upon asking, many couples find there are members of the family who have skills in certain areas that can be tapped for the wedding. There may be a gourmet chef, a disc jockey, a photographer, or even someone who can officiate. Having these people on board can mean a great reduction in costs.

* Include postcard response cards in wedding invites. The postage is less, and you don't have to spend money on an extra envelope.

* Purchasing low-cost items at discount stores can be less expensive than renting. Stock up in advance on inexpensive glasses and silverware, candles, and other necessities. Later on, these items can be kept, sold, or even donated to shelters or other organizations that help those in need.

* Purchase pieces of fabric from a fabric store to use for tablecloths and dress them up yourself.

* Plan out centerpiece ideas and figure out which components can be bought in advance, stored, and assembled at leisure.

* Fruit is less expensive than flowers for centerpieces. Or, consider favors that also double as table centerpieces.

* Bouquets can easily be made with store-bought flowers, some floral tape, and decorative ribbon.

* Many different foods can be cooked in advance and frozen instead of hiring a catering service.

* Restrict the bar to wine and beer to save money on expensive liquors.

* Start preparing the venue several days in advance of the wedding, weather permitting. Be sure the grounds are well-groomed and landscaped. Ensure there are no tripping hazards and that there is a sturdy surface for placing tables or creating a dance floor. It may be a good idea to ask an electrician or someone who dabbles in electric work to help string some lights to better illuminate the area, especially for when the sun goes down.

* A small arbor can mark the area where the ceremony will take place and to provide a nice photo backdrop.

* Set up the tables and chairs to finalize placement the day before. Dress the tables with linens and settings the morning of the wedding.

* One splurge couples may want to make is hiring a waitstaff to help set up food service areas, serve as bartenders, and clear away dishes and other messes, freeing up the bride and groom to mingle with guests.

* For a backyard wedding, check with your town to see if you need a permit or variance for having so many cars parked by the house. Otherwise, you could face a fine.

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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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Simple Ways to Save Money on Your Wedding August 29, 2013

Weddings can be expensive, and many couples are interested in finding ways to save money so that their big day isn't a budget-buster. Unfortunately, such savings aren't always easy to come by, especially for couples with a distinct picture in mind of what the wedding should be. However, even couples strongly committed to a certain wedding style might change their minds once they realize how much that dream wedding will cost. Luckily, there are a few simple ways to keep costs down without venturing too far from your dream wedding.

* Don't go overboard on the gown. Styles are ever-changing, so there's a strong chance brides won't be passing down their wedding gowns to their own daughters someday. Keep in mind when shopping for your wedding dress that it is most likely something that will be worn only once. If you find an expensive dress you like, check to see if there are any other options that have a similar design but are made with cheaper fabrics, which should make them available at a fraction of the cost.

* Get hitched in the off-season. Many couples prefer to get married sometime between the months of May and October. During these months, venues and vendors, including limousine services, caterers, photographers, musicians, and disc jockeys, are often more expensive. If you are willing to switch your wedding date to the off-season, you may save a substantial amount of money. In addition, you likely won't face as much competition for the best venues and vendors as you will during the peak wedding season.

* Trim the guest list. Adjusting the size of the guest list is perhaps the easiest way to save money on your wedding. Caterers and banquet halls typically charge per person, so consider if you really need to invite 150 guests or if 100 will do. Such trimming can save you a substantial amount of money. For example, a banquet hall that charges $120 per guest will cost couples with a guest list of 150 approximately $18,000 for the reception alone. Cutting that guest list to 100 reduces that cost by $6,000. When putting together the guest list, remove those candidates who would best be described as acquaintances. This can include co-workers and other professional acquaintances with whom you don't socialize. Also considering cutting from the list old college friends and distant cousins you haven't spoken to in years.

* Host the reception at a private residence. Trimming reception costs is one of the best ways couples can save money, as the reception can account for a substantial percentage of a couple's expenses. Another way to reduce reception costs is to avoid banquet halls entirely and host the reception at a private residence, whether it's your own home or that of a parent or other relative. This option will save you the cost of renting the banquet hall, but it might only be doable for couples having a smaller, more intimate wedding or those whose families own large houses or expansive properties (like a farm).

* Choose a buffet instead of a sit-down meal with waiter service. Opting for a buffet-style reception is another way to save money. Sit-down meals in which guests are brought their plates can be significantly more expensive than buffet-style dining. Additionally, many guests may even prefer a buffet-style dinner, which will allow them to choose their own entrees and side dishes. A buffet might also have more options for guests, which is a benefit for larger receptions with guests of various palates.

* Trim your beverage budget. The bar tab at the end of the reception can be considerable, but there are ways to save money while ensuring your guests can still toast you and yours with a few libations. Rather than offering a full bar, you can limit the choices to beer and wine, which will be perfectly acceptable to most guests anyway. In addition, rather than paying the caterer for the wine, you may be able to buy your own and save a considerable amount of money. You may have to pay the caterer a fee to pour the wine, but that fee will likely be negligible compared to what you'd pay the company to provide the wine.

* Consider a package deal. Couples open to all-inclusive package deals, which typically include the cost of the wedding, reception, and possibly even the honeymoon, can save money that way as well. These deals are most common for destination weddings, but couples might be able to find a package deal in their hometowns.

* Hire a disc jockey instead of a band. Music presents another opportunity for cost-conscious couples to trim some of their reception expenses. Some couples insist on live music, while others are fine with hiring a disc jockey. If you're among the latter, go with the disc jockey, as they tend to be far less expensive than live bands. If you simply must have live music, look for a local band that might be willing to offer a hometown discount.

By making a few compromises and adjustments to the wedding day plans, a cost-conscious couple can save a substantial amount of money while still hosting a beautiful and memorable event.

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Traditional and Non-Traditional Ways to Celebrate August 28, 2013

Some couples want to celebrate their weddings in traditional fashion. Others want everything to be unique, new and exciting. Today's weddings are largely planned, financed and executed entirely by the couple getting married. Therefore, it is up to them how to celebrate their special day.

Here's a look at some of the traditional wedding elements and how they can be shaken up for a different spin.

Traditional: Father walks the bride down the aisle.

Alternative: A son, daughter, friend, or even both parents walk the bride down the aisle. She can also traverse the white carpet solo, if desired. Perhaps the groom meets the bride halfway, and they walk the rest of the aisle together.

Traditional: "The Wedding March (Here Comes the Bride)" plays when the bride enters.

Alternative: Any favorite classical or modern song is played when the bride enters, as long as it is approved by the venue where the ceremony is taking place.

Traditional: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

Alternative: Wear all new items or all antique items. Borrow all of your wedding day apparel -- it's the bride's choice.

Traditional: Mother-Son, Father-Daughter dances at the reception.

Alternative: Encourage everyone present to dance with a special member of their family so all eyes are not on the bride and groom, who may be self-conscious about dancing with their parents. These dances also can be skipped.

Traditional: Bouquet toss for the bride and garter toss for the groom.

Alternative: Toss beads or treats in the style of Mardi Gras to all of the guests, so it's not only about single men and women.

Traditional: A three-tiered wedding cake all in white.

Alternative: Choose cupcakes, a festively colored cake that matches the wedding theme or another desired dessert.

Traditional: Reception at a catering hall or hotel.

Alternative: Reception at an alternative site, such as an aquarium, zoo or museum.

Once a couple thinks about what is important at their wedding, they can cater the event toward their personal interests. Tradition can be followed or they can do something completely unique.

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A Reception to Remember August 28, 2013

Engaged couples make many important decisions regarding their wedding day. Among them is choosing a venue for their reception. The wedding reception venue is where most of the day will be spent and where the majority of the people will do their mingling. When looking for a reception venue, there are a number of factors to take into consideration.

The Accommodations

The facility itself should be able to accommodate the wedding size. Some weddings are grandiose events with large guest lists, while others are more understated and intimate, with only a small number of family and friends in attendance. Before visiting any facilities, couples should know which type of wedding they will be having and should have at least an estimate in mind of the number of possible guests. Once you have an attendance estimate, look for a facility that can comfortably accommodate that number of people, and ideally find one that has a done so in the past. Couples won't want a facility where everyone is crammed together, nor will they want one where a relatively small number of guests are in a large ballroom with lots of empty space.

Other details regarding the facility must also be considered. Ask if the facility is handicapped-accessible. If the wedding is in the warmer months, make sure the venue is air-conditioned. Since most weddings have a break in between the ceremony and the reception, ask if the facility has a room in which the bride and groom can freshen up before the reception begins.

The Date

Couples may choose the date of their wedding based on the availability of a church they attend or a specific wedding officiant they want to perform their ceremony. Once a date has been chosen, it's time to look for a reception venue. Couples who have a specific venue in mind might want to ask about the venue's availability before settling on a wedding date. When seeking out a reception venue, ask if the venue has any other events scheduled for that day. Some couples prefer to have the facility all to themselves and their guests.

The Location

The facility's location should be a priority. Couples won't want their guests to have to drive too far from the wedding ceremony to the reception venue or from the reception venue back to the hotel. Since many wedding guests come from out of town, they likely won't know the area well and could get lost if the facility is too far away from their hotel. Keep things simple by finding a reception venue that's close to the hotel or hotels where guests will be staying.

The Hours

Couples who want their receptions to last into the wee hours should inquire about the facility's hourly rate. A typical reception lasts five or six hours. If couples want to go beyond that, they might have to pay an hourly rate. Ask if the facility charges an hourly rate or if the venue can simply be rented for as long as the party keeps going.

The Price

Many facilities offer a flat rate to rent the venue. When discussing the rate, be sure to ask what's included. Will food, flowers, venue decor, and even staff tips be included in the rental fee? If not, is there room for negotiation? When facilities expand the services they include in their rental fee, that can save couples substantial amounts of money. Some venues are less expensive during off-peak wedding season or during certain days of the week, so those are factors to consider as well.

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