Saturday, May 16, 2009

Expect Something to Go Wrong

I know what you're thinking. How can this book go on and on aD0Ut now t0 prepare for and organize a perfect wed-ding and then mention the need to expect impending disaster?
You've dreamed of this day. You planned for it in exacting detail, to the point that every moment runs through your mind like an Oscar-winning movie. So, with all your notes, your memos, and your endless instruction sheets, how can a blessed thing go wrong?

As Rod Serling opened every episode of the Twilight Zone, . . . here is your special day, "submitted for your approval."

You wake up on your wedding day with a stress blister on your mouth. It's raining. Four guests have called to cancel, but one couple has left word that they have to bring their six kids. The hair salon just called — your stylist is out sick. Your mother is crying. You throw up your cereal. It's still raining. The flower girl's mother is on the phone — the sweet little child has smeared peanut butter all over her $200 designer dress and refuses to wear anything but her "Barney the dinosaur" nightshirt. A bridesmaid shows up on your doorstep — she broke up with her boyfriend last night, who just happens to be her bridal party partner. Can you rearrange the couples, please, oh, please? Your mother's still crying. The dog was just sprayed by a skunk. Your little brother says you're ugly. Now you're crying. Did you just hear thunder? You spill your coffee every time the phone rings. One of the ushers is on the phone — his dress shoes squeak; can he wear sneakers? Your mother manages to dry her tears and find you a hairstylist. She's your Great Aunt Millie who hasn't practiced her trade since Elvis cut his first record. It's still raining. Another bridesmaid calls — she has an abscessed tooth, and the only time her dentist can see her is two hours before the wedding — but don't worry, she'll be there. You rearrange the bridal party a second time. Lightning strikes and the dog dashes under your bed, dragging your wedding veil with him. The lights go out. It's still raining. Your father is bathing the dog in tomato juice. The rest of your bridesmaids show up. The maid of honor will be there soon — one of the girls saw her car being towed on the interstate. The best man calls — he can't find the groom. Aunt Millie shows up with a tiger-striped drawstring bag full of sponge rollers. It's pouring out. Finally, the maid of honor arrives. She walked six blocks in the rain, holding her dress over her head. But relax — your little brother just put the dress in the dryer. You throw up for what you hope is the last time, and get ready. Luckily, the maid of honor fits in your old prom gown. The photographer arrives. At least he has his camera. You line up for pictures. The dog runs in and shakes all over everyone. It's definitely time to go. At least the limo driver has an umbrella — you know because he accidentally poked you in the eye with it. You get to the church. You start down the aisle. Where is the groom? Oh, there he is! Guess what — he fainted . . .

Okay, okay, so no bride has ever experienced a wedding day disaster such as this. But in my many years of wedding planning, these kinds of mishaps have really occurred. It is important to realize that things will happen beyond your control! Now, I'm not referring to gross negligence. That is totally inexcusable. I'm referring to the little mishaps that come and go without too much fuss, like a broken heel, or a forgotten garter. Expect it, conquer it, and laugh. No small problem is ever going to destroy your day.

But let's pretend that your reception coordinator comes to you with a real problem. Don't scream, fuss, fume, or faint. Allow him or her to explain how the facility is going to make amends. And if the solution is acceptable, let it simply blow over.
And what if it isn't acceptable? What if the facility is definitely not coming through with something as promised, and you rationally know that the mistake shouldn't have happened. Now, I know it sounds difficult, but do the best you can with the situation. When you .get back from your honeymoon, you can bring your complaints to the executive manager of the facility. And whatever happens, don't let it ruin the rest of your day!

Whatever happens on your wedding day (and may it be as minor as a brief rain shower, which, by the way, is good luck!) always remember that you have the strength of family, the devotion of friends, and the love of a special someone "from this day forward"!

You will be a beautiful bride. You will have a beautiful day. There is no doubt in my mind.

My best to you both in your future together as husband and wife. May you share good health, prosperity, and happiness all the days of your lives!

When You and Your Fiance Have Called It Quits

Every couple has a tiff or two before the wedding. With all the fuss and planning,and excitement and expenses, it's almost expected. But if you can see through the smoke of emotional stress and sense danger in your future, take a long, hard look at things and talk to each other until there is no talking left to do.
You may find (with a surprising sense of relief) that you are better off apart.

Then what happens? Contact your coordinator and all the other professional service people that you are contracted with for your wedding. (If you can't handle it, ask your maid or matron of honor, or some other trusted, well-spoken friend or family member, to do it for you.) Expect to lose all your deposit funds. If you and your "ex" can communicate like adults, you may wish to split the burden equally. For example, if you or your family put down all the deposit money, your "ex" should reimburse the proper person or persons for half the total.

Look into the "recall" notices available to you through your local printer if you have the time for printing and mailing. If not, gather your bridal party and start calling your guests. Determine what you want said. Don't be embarrassed to let people know that the wedding is off due to mutual consent. Let the knowledge that you are saving yourself from a future of hurt and pain be your shield. Return all wedding gifts. You might want to include a brief note of thanks for the donor's concern and understanding. Assure them that you are doing just fine. And then get on with your life.

But what if your fiance wants to break things off for no apparent reason? This is one of the most emotionally difficult ordeals you will ever have to face in your life. And it can be worse when you didn't see it coming.

Some men are just afraid of marriage. Although this may, in some cases, be a good reason not to get married, it is no excuse for being rude, and certainly not a good excuse for canceling a wedding that has already been planned. And your fiance is even more of a coward if he waits until the last minute to let you know.

Everyone reacts to shock and pain differently. But if I may, I would like to point out something I've seen from experience. The. ladies in your wedding party will undoubtedly feel almost as shocked as you do. But they will not know what to say to you until you indicate''that it-is okay to talk about it. Their silence is only out of respect for your feelings. As soon as you are ready, gather them up and go out together. It will most likely be a therapeutic evening for you. Complain; Laugh. Cry. It's the beginning of recovery.

From this side of the page, I can't tell you if the marriage is worth fighting for. Only you know for sure. But never let your pride be your sole warrior (although sometimes that's easier said than done). If the trust has gone out of your relationship, you have nothing to build on, so don't try. When a man cannot give you one good solid reason why he has decided against marrying you, there is no communication. And trust and communication are fundamental to a lifetime of happiness between two people. If it is you who solely and truly feels that the wedding should not go on, know your reasons, state them frankly and clearly, and face the consequences of your decision like an adult. It is only fair.
As I mentioned, you, or someone close to you, should contact all the service people or industries involved with your wedding. If your decision to split has occurred early on, you may be able to recover some of your deposit funds. Given enough notice, your banquet hall, band, photographer, etc. may very easily replace your booking. And should this happen, it is not unreasonable to expect some if not almost all of your money back. (It's fair to lose a small percentage of your money towards a service fee.) One way or the other, it doesn't hurt to ask.

If recall notices can safely be sent to your guests, do so. If it was your fiance's sole decision to end the engagement, request from either him or his family full payment for printing and postage, as well as any deposit funds you could not recover. If you are met with opposition, let it go. It's not worth making yourself sick.

If lack of time necessitates phone calls, once again decide who will do the calling and what should be said. Return all gifts and include that brief note, if you can. Assure the ones who love you that you will be fine. Because you will!

Postponing Your Wedding Due to the Loss of a Loved One

Wen a death in the family obliges you to postpone your wedding, contact your coordinator as soon as possible. The death of a loved one is a devastating blow, particularly when the passing is a sudden one. When you have lost a mother, a father, a brother or a sister so close to your scheduled wedding date, it is understandable that you may feel you can't go on as planned. In such an unfortunate circumstance, enlist the aid of your bridal party in phoning all your guests. A future date can be announced when you and everyone else concerned are ready to proceed.

Try to realize despite your distress that it may be impossible to move any or all of your deposit money to another date. You will feel angry and frustrated. No one is denying that. But things happen, and business is business. Just make the best of the situation. Enlist the help of your maid or matron of honor, or any of the bridesmaids, and make sure that everyone you are contracted with has been made aware of the change.

In the case of a grandparent, or anyone who is terminally ill at the time of your engagement, it is best to determine in advance what you might wish to do if that person leaves you before your wedding date Many times this individual will tell you personally to go on with you: wedding plans. But there are other people to consider, as well. For example, if it was your mother's mother who passed away, please allow your mother time to evaluate what all this means to her. Each situation is different. And each requires patience and tender loving care.

Gratuities (Tips), Expected and Otherwise

Gratuities, Expected and Otherwise
With so many people dedicating their time to making your wedding day a memorable one, it is customary to want to express your gratitude in some way. But how much and when? That is the question!

Thanking your friends is always easy. You seem to know just what to do for the person who watched your house, or ran your errands, or even just gave you a shoulder to cry on! But when it comes to thanking people in the service industry, we are never sure when we've given too much or, worse yet, too little. The following represents all the possible facets of your perfect day, complete with suggested gratuities. Of course, only impeccable service need be rewarded above and beyond the norm, so "respond" accordingly!
  • Your church and/or clergy: In most instances, a requested "donation" has already been asked of you. But if this is not the case, ask your church's secretary what might be appropriate. And always present your clergy (and his or her spouse, when applicable), with an invitation to your reception.
  • Your limo driver: Unless the gratuity is already included, a standard tip would be 10%-15% of the full service price. Of course, if your driver was less than courteous, don't bother! And, in such an unfortunate case, be sure to call the company at some point, and express your displeasure to the manager. The company really should know.
  • Your banquet sales representative: Was he or she extremely helpful and courteous? Did he or she stay past normal office hours on more than one occasion to meet with you? Were you given assistance with creative ideas and/or budgeting problems? One of the nicest gestures you can make is to write a letter to the facility's general manager in praise of this person. Then send a separate thank-you card to your sales rep. You might also considering letting him or her know that you would willingly act as a reference for any future bride. Just be sure to note that you will call about any inquiry yourself, therefore keeping your phone number private.
  • Your reception coordinator: If your banquet sales rep not only assisted with your plans, but went on to be your wedding day host or hostess as well, you may wish to do a little more than I mentioned above. A special desk memento would be nice. Or, if you conversed on a personal level during your planning sessions, you may know of something more meaningful to him or her. A gift certificate for a favorite restaurant in town? A music box? You needn't spend a lot. It's the gesture of your appreciation that counts.
  • If a separate coordinator worked with you on your wedding day, a cash gratuity is always nice if that person was attentive, courteous, and personable beyond your expectations. (In other words, was he or she just doing a job, or were you made to feel incredibly special?) Did your coordinator see to the comforts of your guests as well, making sure that everyone was pleased with the food, etc.? Did your day go as you planned it because of this very special person? (That is, were minor problems handled quietly, efficiently, and to your satisfaction?) There is no guideline or percentage to consider when tipping such a person, but somewhere in the range of twenty to twenty-five dollars is quite acceptable.
  • The serving staff: Banquet servers have a guaranteed percentage of the gratuity you have already paid. But in many facilities, it doesn't always chalk up to 20%. Was your head waiter or waitress extremely attentive to the bridal party's needs? Then multiply the number of guests the head waiter or waitress was responsible for serving, and multiply that figure by two. (For example 18 x 2 = $36.00.) And if the serving staff in general acted above and beyond the call of gracious-., ness, give the head waiter or waitress $10.00—$15.0.0 per server and ask that he or she distribute it with your thanks and appreciation. * The bartender (s) will generally be tipped well by your guests. But if you find that they have gone out of their way to be helpful you may wish to present them with $10.00-115.00 cash as a thank-you for the extra service. (For example, have they brought your drink orders to the head table, themselves? Have they carried drinks to the tables for ladies? Did they assist the serving staff by pouring coffee at dinner time?)
  • Valets and coatroom attendants: If such people worked a part of your special day, their gratuities should have been amply covered by your guests.
  • Entertainment: Providing your band or DJ with a meal shows your appreciation for their efforts in making your day a special one. But if you'd like to take it a step further, you could offer to buy them a drink or two.
  • Photographer and/or videographer: Aside from a complimentary meal and a drink or two from your bar, I would suggest making a cash gratuity when your photographer or videographer agrees to stay later than he or she was contracted for without charging you an additional fee. Figure roughly $20.00 per extra hour.
  • Your florist and baker typically do not expect to be tipped for their services. But if you felt their efforts deserve recognition, be sure to write letters of praise to each shop.
Once again, these gratuity figures are merely suggestions. After all, good service is to be expected! Only excellent service need be rewarded

Letting Friends and Family Help

Good Ideas for Wedding Day Volunteers!
Since the moment you announced your engagement, you were probably besieged with offers to "do whatever needs doing." This is wonderful. By all means, you'should allow people to lend a hand. After all, you can't do everything yourself. But be sure that the person making the offer is reliable! Many a friend or family member will talk a good game, but will they actually go to bat for you?

The following are ideas of what can be done by volunteers outside of your bridal party. I have already covered some, but will repeat them here for good measure:
* Obtain a house sitter for your parents' home and your home, for the hours of your wedding and reception. This unfortunately means someone who cannot attend your wedding. The groom's parents may also wish to consider doing the same, as a safeguard against burglary.
* Will you need babysitting service for the children of out-of-town family or friends? If your parents are willing, the children can be watched at their home, alleviating the need for a separate house sitter.
* Finalize all volunteers to take pictures and videotapes of your wedding day. Find out what film you need for each person and buy adequate quantities. Assign one person to collect all film. Whether or not you have that person drop it off for development is up to you. If your honeymoon plans keep you away longer than three weeks or so, that person should notify the shop of your estimated pick-up date. Otherwise, the shop may consider your photos abandoned material.
* Select "guardians" for your open bar and hors d'oeuvres. These volunteers should not be a part of the bridal party. Give your hors d'oeuvres guardian a list of what you have ordered. Your beverage guardian should place himself or herself at the bar. While maintaining an easy flow of conversation with their fellow guests, your bar guardian should keep one eye on the bartenders. Too much'over pouring? If an adding machine or cash register is being used to calculate prices, is one price entry being made per drink? Are top-of-the-line brands being used only when requested? Now, should a problem with either service occur, the guardian should approach a waiter or waitress and ask for the reception coordinator or manager, in order to solve the problem quietly and efficiently.

Are delivery people needed on your wedding day? For example, are you providing a cake top that you didn't wish to leave with the banquet office three days before your wedding? Were your ceremony programs inadvertently left at home on rehearsal night? A volunteer driver comes in handy in situations such as these.

And, speaking of drivers, do you have to go to your final hair appointment alone? Ask someone to bring you. You're going to be nervous and excited, which affects your driving skills. Also you're going to have a huge veil on your head which only makes your peripheral vision even worse. So, take along a calm friend who knows everything you are supposed to bring with you (such as pins, barrettes, combs, flowers, your veil, etc.) I Pack a large cosmetic bag (preferably one with a strap or a handle)

Include any other items of personal preference, such as your favorite perfume, and ask that a female friend not in the bridal party pick up this bag at your home or your parents' home on her way to the church. This volunteer should be invited to the picture room, in case you should need anything.

If you have provided your own wedding cake, chances are the support columns and dividers need to be returned to the bakery. Any volunteers?

Did you supply your own bar service? All the unopened bottles will either have to go back to the store for refund, or brought to your parents' house, or wherever you dictate. Is someone willing to do this for you?

Any specialty items that you rented (such as a champagne fountains, chairs, etc.) will also need to be cleaned and returned. If you are dealing with several rented items, it is best, not to mention thoughtful, to ask a "team" to help. After all, many hands make light work!

The tuxedos must be returned. Of course, between the ushers and the best man, someone in the wedding party should be in charge of this function. But, if for any reason, no one is, seek out someone who can do this for you. Just keep in mind that if the rental store is not open on Sunday (or more important, if your wedding is on a Sunday), that volunteer must be able to return them by the time limit indicated on Monday!

The same request applies if you rented your gown. Airport transportation may be necessary for you and the groom. Of course, you can always rent a limo and go in style. (Just make sure, however, that someone is on hand to pick you up when you get home!)

Finalizing Your Reception Plans: Putting It All in Writing

Finalizing Your Reception Plans
The months have flown. And now you can easily chant the very number of weeks, days, hours, and minutes 'til the time you say, "I do!"

Six to eight weeks prior to the big day, your calendar should spell out every duty left to do. Look now for days that seem overloaded with tasks and distribute them more evenly. Don't try to do the impossible.

During one of your final appointments with your reception coordinator, he or she will be giving you some room diagrams and seating charts to work with. Your coordinator will need these listings in order to double-check your place cards and guest count. And your on-site host or hostess will need a copy just in case you have any last-minute deletions or changes on your wedding day.

If you have a choice in the numbering of your guest tables, I would suggest placing all even numbers on one side of the room with odd numbers on the other. The lower the number, the closer that table is to the head table. And yes, you can skip number 13 if you so desire.
During this appointment with your coordinator, you should also verify:
* Are all outside service aspects provided by the facility confirmed, such as the limo, band,- photographer, bakery, and florist? If you have not spoken directly with the limo company, band leader (or DJ) or photographer yet (package plan only), make note of this to your coordinator. The limo company may not need to speak with you until a week or so before the wedding as they will just be reconfirming your address and time, but you will still want to be sure that everything is fine and going as scheduled!

Verify all service aspects that you will be providing. Make sure that your reception site has contacts and phone numbers. The reason is simple. If on your wedding day your cake is not showing up on time, your on-site coordinator can call the bakery direct and hope- ' fully avoid upsetting you at home. Without a phone number, your wedding day host or hostess may be forced to wait until your arrival to do something about it. And by then, it will most likely be too late.

Reconfirm linen colors. Thoroughly go over, all the scheduled events of your wedding reception/Has adequate time been allotted to every detail? If your coordinator is making up a printed schedule, ask for a copy when it is ready. (A sample schedule appears later, should you want to do your own.)

Know when you have to finalize your dinner and hors d'oeuvres menus. When is the exact or "guaranteed" guest count due for meals? Arrange your appointment for final payment. This is typically done three business days before the wedding. List everything that you will have to bring with you, such as place cards, table listings, guest book, keepsakes, etc. And make your coordinator aware of any item you do not wish to bring early, such as a valuable cake top. Inform him or her of when and how such items will arrive.

Reconfirm all prices. Have your coordinator run another tape list of costs based on the guest count you expect to have. In your count include all the guests that have informed you they are coming to your Wedding, as well as those that have not yet replied. Make sure that all your deposits have been accounted for. Your correct balance due will be calculated when your guest counts and menus have been finalized.
* If you are dealing with a hotel, reconfirm all your overnight reservations before leaving.

Coping with Room Diagrams and Seating Charts
Don't wait until the last minute to contact guests who haven't yet replied to your invitation. A few days past the response date is fine for making phone calls. After all, you don't want to have to rearrange your seating charts every time a late reply comes in. The earlier you get your table arrangements done, the earlier you can enjoy all the parties and attention a bride receives in those last few weeks before the wedding.

Dealing with seating arrangements can be a very stressful time in a bride's life. And this can be especially true when both sets of parents are contributing financially to your wedding. Why? Because no one wants their guests "seated out in left field." (Yes, that's what they'll call it.) So what can you do?
To begin with, your parents — along with the friends or family of their choice — should be seated at table number one. The groom's parents and selected company occupy table number two. The only exception to this is when the groom's parents have paid for the wedding. Then they are seated at table number one.

Traditionally, the closer the family member or friend, the closer they are seated to the head table. Dividing the room in half may help your particular dilemma. If your parents are at table one, number all the rest of the tables on that side of the room with odd numbers and assign those to your parents. Thus, the groom's parents at table two get all the even numbered tables on their side of the room. Each party is then welcome to seat their tables as they wish. (Just give them a deadline or you'll never have it done on time!) You and your groom should be allotted one third of the tables by taking the "middle" section from each side of the room. Just remember to seat older guests far from the band to avoid the loud music. And count any wheelchair arrival as taking up two "chair" spaces for extra comfort.

If you are personally writing out your own place cards, try not to do too many in one sitting or your exhaustion will show in your penmanship.

Make sure that your guests' names are easy to read. Watch out for name duplication, which typically occurs when a father and son with. the same name are invited. In such a case, add Sr., Jr., I, II, III, or whatever is appropriate. When you're not sure of the title, add the spouse or date with each, (such as: "Robert and Betty Harrison" on one and "Robert and Sue Harrison" on the other). When a guest has informed you of an escort's name, it is a nice gesture-to write out that person's name. Just remember that the initial invitee's name goes first on the card, regardless of alphabetical order.

Putting It All in Writing
As soon as you can finalize menus and schedules with your reception site, do so. Then you can put the events of your day down on paper and see for yourself if there is anything else left to be done. And by giving your banquet facility a copy of your list, you just might notify them of a minor detail or two they unintentionally overlooked.

The following sample schedule assumes you are providing every service aspect of the wedding reception except food and beverages. Alter it to meets your own needs. (For example, next to Band, type in the name of the band and indicate "provided through facility")

Detailing Your Wedding Day

Your Ceremony
Well in advance of your wedding day, you will want to perfect the details of your wedding vows. Understand from your officiant all the dos and don'ts. May poetry be read? (If so, make sure that your clergy has adequate time to approve your selections.) Would a vocalist be permitted to sing secular music? Get a listing of all the traditional, accepted, and sometimes demanded choices available for readings and music and make your selections early.

Select music that best suits the musician(s) you plan to have. And read your contract carefully. Due to the costly value of musical instruments, some performers reserve the right not to play in severe changes of humidity. If you are hiring a vocalist, he or she should be able to provide you with a list of material they perform best. If you have a different song or two in mind, check with your church for approval first, and then contact the vocalist.

Assign readings. And have "back-up" people ready just in case. The speakers will appreciate the ability to become familiar with their readings in advance.

Your Reception and All its Trimmings

Your Receiving Line
To save time, the best moment to receive your guests is directly after the ceremony. A hundred or so guests will easily flow by in 25 minutes. If you wait until the reception — particularly after everyone has had a drink or two — you can count on it taking roughly 45 minutes per every 125 guests! This can result in a lot of wasted "party" time!

You will have to ask your house of worship if you can conduct your receiving line right after the ceremony. You may be denied your request is if a service or another wedding immediately follows yours. The best location for your receiving line would be the front walkway. But if there is not adequate space — or the weather fails you — you can always set yourselves up in the entrance foyer. Ushers could be asked to direct the guests accordingly.

Who is in the receiving line? This is entirely up to you. My suggestion for a perfect gathering would be, in order: your father, your mother, the groom's mother, the groom's father, the best man, the bride and groom, and last but never least, the maid or matron of honor. If the groom's parents are primarily hosting the wedding, they would simply change places with your parents. And of course, if there is any difficulty of divorce with your parents, you will want to alter this accordingly. Definitely include grandparents if they are willing and able. It's a wonderful moment for them.

Including all of the bridesmaids and ushers can be time consuming. Instead, ask a bridesmaid and usher to stand a few feet away from the end of the receiving line and hand out maps to the reception site. (Use more of the bridal party if your guest count is over 200, or if the directions need some explaining.) Other members of the bridal party can be assigned important jobs. Remember the altar flowers (if they're yours to take). Someone can check the pews for forgotten purses, etc. And ushers can make sure that cars are starting and people are safely on their way.

Your Reception
Your banquet coordinator has probably informed you that approximately a month or so before the wedding you should get together and discuss the details of your reception. The timing is right for the most part, for it is only closer to your wedding day that you will know how many guests are coming. But in order to have your day go your way, you will have to do some planning and thinking in advance of this appointment. Don't let such important decisions wait until the last minute when you're so overwhelmed by everything you end up not caring what goes on.
The following is an outline of wedding day events. Now these are only descriptions and suggestions. By reading through this together with your fiance, you will be better able to finalize your special day when the time comes, fully confident and hassle free!

Your Arrival
The very first thing you will need to let your reception coordinator know is the exact length of your ceremony. Make sure to add time for the receiving line if it is to be held at the ceremony site.

Will the bridal party be pausing en route for pictures at an outdoor location? Let your coordinator know. You also should have contacted your photographer and limousine driver with all the pertinent information.

Next, you will need to let your coordinator know when you expect the bridal party to arrive at the reception. Your on-site host or hostess will want to be on hand to greet you! Will additional formal pictures be taken at the reception site? If so, you will want to settle the following questions:
1. Forty-five minutes to one hour is generally devoted to taking formal portraits. If you are stopping on the way from the church to the reception for pictures, estimate how much additional time, if any, you might wish to have at the reception site for more pictures.
2. If formal pictures are being taken at the reception site, ask if a waiter or waitress will be available to take drink orders in the picture room. Will you be paying for these drinks, or will individuals be responsible for their own charges?
3. If a full hour of pictures is scheduled at the reception site with a receiving line to follow, you may wish to provide your bridal party with a small hors d'oeuvres tray. Select neat, easy-to-eat finger food, such as cheese and crackers and raw vegetables.

If any of your family or friends not in the bridal party have offered to take pictures for you, tell them to come to the picture room with camera ready. A polite professional photographer will always step out of the way after every formal grouping and allow a few moments for others to take pictures.
Your Guests' Arrival You can't leave your guests stranded during formal pictures.

The bar at your reception site should be set to serve guests approximately 15 minutes after the close of your ceremony. The following also applies:
1. Decide how you wish your bar to be handled. Will it be open bar, cash bar, or a combination of both? (That is, for example, open bar for the first hour, then cash.)
2. Will you need hors d'oeuvres? This depends on the time of day, what kind of meal you're serving, and if more than the first hour and a half of the reception is devoted to formal portraits followed-by a receiving line. If a full dinner is being served, you will need to provide only about four pieces per person. Decide what offerings intrigue you, and place your order approximately two weeks before the wedding, when your guest count dictates your need.

A lovely hors d'oeuvres idea is a cheese, vegetable, and fruit table centrally placed on the dance floor. This arrangement requires no cumbersome chafing dishes or trays. The food is instead colorfully arrayed on different levels, which are created by placing support bases of various heights under the tablecloth. The effect is like a sumptuous still life oil painting! The table is then moved off the dance floor when it is time to announce the bridal party.

It's a very sad fact, but some dishonest hotels and banquet facilities make money by serving only half the food that has been ordered. And wedding reception hors d'oeuvres are an easy money maker. The reason is simple. Typically, the people who have placed the order —• you or your parents — are usually preoccupied in the picture room when hors d'oeuvres are being served and don't notice. But you should. Ask someone who is not in the bridal party to keep an eye on things for you. Make him or her aware of exactly what you have contracted to serve. Keep honest people honest, and have the satisfaction of knowing that what you ordered was actually brought out to your guests.

Guest Comforts
Do any of your guests need special attention? For example, if your function facility has a separate entrance for handicapped guests, be sure to indicate your need for this service. Any dietary problems? Does someone need to bring medication that must be refrigerated? Whatever the case, make sure the facility knows all about it.

Your Announcement Into the Room
After formal pictures, the bridal party is announced into the room. However, if you prefer to do without the fanfare, a quiet group arrival during the cocktail hour is quite acceptable. When the receiving line has been completed, the bridal party simply walks in procession to its place at the head table.

You may design the seating of the head table in any way that suits you. There are no rules to follow. It is merely suggested that the bride and groom occupy the center seats. You can have parents with you, or seat them at the tables of prominence (numbers one and two). You may also include clergy at the head table, or with your parents. You can have all women on one side with the men on the other, or seat them as couples. Whatever pleases you.

The announcement of the bridal party usually begins with both sets of parents. If this is uncomfortable.for anyone because of separation or divorce, alter it accordingly. There are a million suggestions for a million different situations, but I'd like to offer one thought. If your mother has no one to escort her into the room, an usher — particularly one who is a son, relative, or a good family friend — can enter the room with her, and then return to the line and enter once again with a bridesmaid. Just do what is best for everyone involved.

If you have very young children acting as flower girl and ring bearer in your bridal party, and wish to include them in the announcements, you will need to position their "call" in the easiest manner possible. It is recommended that a relative or parent of each child be standing in the function room as a "goal post" (if the dance floor is central to the room's entrance, have that person stand there) and instruct the children to walk towards them. Announcing small children right after the parents is typically best.

The bridesmaids and ushers are next. The easiest way to call them in is by their seating at the head table, working from the outside to the center. But this is also up to you.

Next follows the maid or matron of honor with the best man. And then — take a deep breath — this will probably be the first time you'll hear yourself called "Mr. and Mrs." over a microphone! Your band leader or DJ should have supplied you with a form to fill out for your wedding day information. If you are dealing with a package plan facility, your reception coordinator might do this for you at your appointment to finalize details. Whatever the case, be sure that difficult-to-pronounce names are written out phonetically for the ease of the emcee when announcing the bridal party. If you were unable or unwilling to conduct your receiving line at the church, now is the best time to have it.

Your on-site coordinator should be on hand to direct the incoming bridal party to where they should stand. Those members of the bridal party not in the receiving line should simply be instructed to walk behind the head table and pause there until the receiving line begins.

The band or DJ is then instructed to announce that the bridal party is ready to receive guests and call up by table number the tables closest to the host of the receiving line, and so on until all tables have gone through. The on-site coordinator will most likely step forward and assist the first table to the receiving line.

As I mentioned, a receiving line that occurs during a reception always takes longer than one held immediately after the ceremony. After a few drinks, guests always seem to want to tell you their firsthand impressions of your wedding. (It's like being at work the morning after a violent thunderstorm. Everyone has a "where they were" story!) If you find anyone lagging, politely interrupt them with a greeting to the person directly behind them and keep the line moving. Every minute of a receiving line during a reception represents one less minute of dancing!

During the receiving line, the best man usually collects all gift envelopes. Provide one of those satin drawstring bags, or some other means of holding these money envelopes. Your on-site coordinator should be on hand to take any large boxed gifts to the gift table, but if he or she is busy with other duties, ask a bridesmaid or usher not involved in the receiving line to do this for you. Any money envelopes found on the gift table should be brought directly to the best man. Don't remove the regular card envelopes from gift boxes, however. You will have difficulty later trying to figure out who sent what!

The Blessing and the Toast
After the receiving line, the bridal party is escorted to the head table. The best man (or whoever was asked to collect them) brings the gift envelopes with him to the head table for safekeeping. Everyone is asked to stand. Your clergy is then asked to give the blessing. Be sure to have a back-up person if your clergy cannot attend. If there is no one in your family or close friends who wishes to speak publicly, your band or DJ can give a general blessing.

Everyone is then asked to remain standing except the bride and groom. The best man then gives his toast, and the meal begins. Before going to your appointment with your coordinator, have a good idea what you would like to have for your toast and your meal. the groom and best man to the sate-deposit box where your girt envelopes will be locked away. Both the best man and groom should sign the authorization lines. The best man generally holds the key, in case more gift envelopes are presented. Each time he makes a deposit to the safe, he will be asked to sign in and out. At the end of the night, the key is given to the groom. Your coordinator will probably warn you that there is only one key. If it is lost, you will have to pay a locksmith's fee to get the box open. So be careful!

Your First Dance
After the first course of your wedding dinner, I suggest that you and the groom come to the floor for your first dance. Try not to wait until the meal is over, because traditionally no one is supposed to get up and dance before the bride and groom do. With this in mind, if you really prefer to wait, or to cancel the ritual altogether, have your band or DJ announce that both of you (by name) invite everyone to the dance floor at any time. Keep in mind that if you and the groom are nervous about dancing alone, the band or DJ can be instructed to call up the rest of the bridal party to join you as early on as you wish! In between courses is the best time to conduct the special events of your reception. During these times, you will have everyone's attention. And it gives people something to do during the clearing and serving of plates.

Parents' Dances
If you are dancing with your father and/or the groom is dancing with his mother, this can be done in between courses. For example, you have your first dance after the soup course, and parents' dances after the salad course. If the traditional numbers don't appeal to you ("Daddy's Little Girl" for you and your father and "Sunrise Sunset" for the groom and his mother) select songs that hold special meaning for you.

The dollar dance
This is an opportunity for your male guests to share the dance floor with the bride for cash (something like a kissing booth at a fair). Each gentleman hands you a bill which you hold between your fingers. It's not so common a custom these days, but really is harmless fun, all the same.

Special Guest Dances
Make note to inform your coordinator of any special anniversary dances or birthdays that you would like the band or DJ to celebrate. If you are dealing with package plan entertainment, your coordinator will need to list this on his or her activities sheet, if you haven't already contacted the band or DJ on your own and confirmed these special request songs!

"The Bride Cuts the Cake"
If the wedding cake is to be served with dessert, you will need to have your cake-cutting ceremony just after the main course. Don't worry if you despise the silly song and all the fanfare. If you like, the band or DJ can announce that anyone who wishes to take pic-tures of the bride and groom cutting the cake can proceed to the cake table. Then your on-site coordinator and professional photographer will quietly guide you through the steps. No song. No smooshing cake in each other's faces. (Or be a sly one and smoosh anyway!)

Awarding Table Centerpieces
Unless you have someone special in mind to whom you'd like to give the centerpiece at each table, your band or DJ can create a "game" competition for the centerpieces. The most common asks one person at each table to take out a dollar bill. That dollar bill is then passed around the table until the music stops. Then, the band announces that the person holding the dollar keeps it, and the original donor ot tne Dili gets me centerpiece. But if many of your guests have been to weddings, they'll know this one.

Be creative. You can even somewhat "prearrange" your winners if you wish. Let's say you'd really love your grandmother to have a centerpiece. Have the band announce that the oldest person at her table number wins the centerpiece (if that is the case). Go by the birthday closest to your wedding day. Have a "sing the next line of the song" contest. This is accomplished by the lead singer going from table to table with a wireless microphone. He or she sings a song up to a certain point and then surprises one of the guests at each table with the chance to go on with the song. Be crafty. For example, do you and "the girls"' from work have a bowling night? Award that centerpiece to "the worst bowler at table number ten." In other words, make it fun and involve your guests!

The Bouquet and Garter Toss
If you and your groom intend to leave the reception before the majority of guests, you will need to coordinate the last hour of your reception to include the bouquet and garter toss, enough time for you and your groom to change into your "going away" clothes, sit for some formal portraits, and return to the ballroom for your final dance.

But if you are not leaving the reception before the guests, the bouquet and garter toss can be done at any time. Often it is best to just mingle, circulate, and dance after dinner. The bouquet and garter toss is always more fun towards the end of the evening, anyway. Just don't wait too long. You will want to have this fun while the band or DJ and photographer are still there, not to mention a good number of guests!)

Keeping the Hall Late
A five-hour wedding reception can fly by like five minutes. With all the planning and hopes you've had for this day, why not keep the party going?
The band or other musicians can be booked for additional hours or a DJ can be brought in for a change of pace. Another possible suggestion would be to book a DJ or singer with karaoke hook-up. Karaoke can be great fun when everyone has had a drink or two and is willing to "give it a try." You will, however, want dance music, too. Of course any arrangement for entertainment should have been made well in advance of that day!

Get all the formal pictures you need before the photographer leaves Most brides don't feel like surrendering their wedding gowns just yet so the final shot in your going-away clothes may not seem all that important to you.
Holding the hall for extra hours gives you another option I have not as yet pointed out. If between you and the groom, you have a lot of casual friends you just couldn't afford to invite for the full meal, etc., you can now invite them for a special evening celebration of your marriage.

You may want to consider holding an open bar for any or all of these additional hours. But don't, if you are concerned about the people who have been drinking for the last 5 hours who might be staying. One possibility is to give your newly arriving guests "drink tickets." But for those new guests, as well as those who will be staying and may need some help sobering up, some delectables would be a good idea.

Suggestions for Late-Night Food and Beverage Service
A deli buffet is a great idea. People can make a sandwich, a salad, or a meat platter — Whatever they wish. Sweet tables with coffee service are also nice. Depending on your taste and budget, arrange an offering that best suit your needs.

Your Last Dance
This is when your guests form a circle around the bride and groom, and smile and cry as you join together for the last dance of the evening. A good guide to selecting what should be your first dance and what should be your last is to consider how they will be performed. If a band opens your reception, pick the song they can easily do. (In other words, it takes a terribly talented vocalist to match the depth and dynamics of a Whitney Houston or a Mariah Carey!) And if a DJ closes for you, he or she has the true artist's rendition of your special song, complete with full orchestration. But of course, there's no reason not to repeat the same song for your first and last dance, especially when it's one that means so very much to you.
Aside from the events outlined here, you may also have some wonderful ideas based on the traditions of your family's heritage. By all means, incorporate these family traditions, but be sure to let the proper service professionals at your wedding know well in advance what they will need to do.

Yes, this is the time to plan, to design, and to dream. The days ahead will be happier ones if you meet them fully organized!

Wedding Gifts: Yours and Others

Register with the store or stores of your choice as early as possible. Be specific about the items you'd like to have. China is easy. Flatware is simple. But don't just say "blue towels." Between all the famous-maker companies, there are probably no less than a dozen different shades of blue. And the same goes for table linens. Don't just say "floral." You can easily indicate your preferences by listing the maker's name and pattern code and/or descriptive color. And try to utilize at least one store that is convenient to your out-of-state guests.

Select gifts for your bridesmaids and maid or matron of honor early. Jewelry has always remained a traditional gift, and the best prices can be found directly after Christmas and Valentine's Day. You can also be creative. Knit, sew, or embroider if you have the time and the talent! Remember that not every bridesmaid need receive the same gift. Consider each personality and what it is that bonds you together. Was one particular bridesmaid a dearest friend since childhood? When you were little, did she fall in love with your teddy bear? Then get her a special one all her own. (No one is ever too old for a stuffed animal!) Did another give up her ski weekend to stroll down the aisle with you? Get her a couple of lift passes. And so on. Traditionally, your maid or matron of honor should receive a gift somewhat better than the rest. But with each token so truly custom designed, who could ever place a price tag on gifts of such thought and love?

Whatever the case, select your bridal party gifts early. If you wait until those few short weeks before the wedding, you won't be able to devote individual attention to each offering.

Special Music Selections for Your Ceremony and Reception

Ceremony Music: Finalize your selections based on the accompaniment you plan to have. If your musicians do not have a tape for you to listen to, go to your public library and borrow copies of the pieces appropriate for your wedding day. Reception Music: Your first dance number is typically an easy decision. But unless you make your band or DJ aware of any other songs you like to hear, the choices will be left to them.

Sometimes it's hard to remember what songs were important to you and your fiance two or three years ago. And radio is such a fickle medium. Many stations play only the music of the moment. But songs from the past can not only bring happy memories to you, but to many of your wedding guests, as well.

You know those sometimes silly television ads for multi-record or CD collections — the ones that bring back the 50s, 60s, and 70s ... love songs, rock songs, and disco? Well, I think we can all confess to remembering a song or two from those ads that reminds us of some good time, and we smile. So, why not have a pad of paper and pen by the TV? Whenever one of those ads comes on, jot down any titles that strike you. Don't forget to*list the band or vocalist's name whenever possible. Then contact your bandleader or DJ and ask if they can play these numbers. DJs usually have a vast inventory of songs. And if bands have been around awhile, they have dabbled in the top 40s through the years. Having the artists' names will help when the song title alone isn't enough to refresh their memory. Now, if the band doesn't know the song, and it's important for you to hear it, do your best to locate the sheet music and/or the original recording, in ample time for the band to learn it.
While we're on the subject of music — are there any special guests attending your wedding who will be celebrating their wedding anniversary on, or very near, your special day? Then why not present them with a thoughtful gift? Ask your band or DJ to call them to the floor with a rendition of their first dance number! It's easy enough to find out their special song. If they're good friends and didn't get married all that long ago, give them a call. Express some sense of difficulty in choosing your own first dance selection and ask how they came to choose theirs. They'll most likely tell you the title without your even asking!

For older guests and relatives, your undercover work may require some assistance. Contact a friend or family member who may know, or can easily find out for you without causing too much suspicion. And even if your own parents' wedding anniversary is months away, you may wish to honor them with some appropriate song. The same applies to your future in-laws.

Any special birthdays? Have the band sing "Happy Birthday." Will your work friends or college buddies be there? Is there any song that conjures up great memories of the past? You get the idea.
Celebrate your day with song!

Deciding What Makeup Is Best

You probably apply your own makeup every day, and do quite well with it. But what the eye sees and the camera reports are two different things. Visit the cosmetic department of any fine department store, or a specialty makeup boutique, if one is available in your area. Each offers highly trained technicians who will spend an hour or so with you, applying different eye shadows, liners, foundation, blusher, and lipsticks.

How do you pick the right technician? Wait for the one whose own personal makeup you admire the most. (Of course, if there are any male technicians, observe their presentation and personality.) What should you tell them? First of all, your own preference. Do you generally wear little or no makeup by choice? Do you want something slightly exotic, or just a simple enhancement of your own features? You will also want to tell your technician whether your wedding will be during the day or evening. Do you plan on making regular visits to the local tanning salon before the big day? This figures a great deal in your choice of base foundations. And last, but not least, select a lipstick that stands up well to all the kissing you'll have to face on your wedding day.

Afraid you won't be able to apply this makeup in the same way? Is your maid or matron of honor skillful? Or, perhaps one of the bridesmaids? Then bring that person, as well as a camera, with you. Take close-up pictures — one with your eyes open, and one with eyelids closed, but the eyebrows lifted so that the shadow design will show clearly.

No one in the bridal party and/or in your house confident enough to play makeup artist? Call your hair salon. If there aren't any stylists who excel in makeup application, they certainly can refer someone to you!

There are those who are going to tell you that buying "name" cosmetics is a terrible waste of money. Well, they are right to a certain degree. Some technicians do push those "top notch" items while the everyday brands are just as good. As a matter of fact, I have a lot of great everyday cosmetics. But for my wedding, I wanted to pamper myself in the make-up department. And I did, somehow, feel "prettier" because of it. I maintain that visiting a technician teaches or refreshes you on photo basics. You'll learn not to line your eyes (makes you look tired) and when less eyeshadow is more. It's up to you. But it's your day — why not pamper yourself?
he day will come — if it hasn't already — that you realize all J the initial groundwork has been laid for your wedding day. At first you're truly amazed, and then perhaps a little depressed. You look at the months and months that lie ahead of you and sigh. Seems like there's nothing left to do, doesn't it?

Wrong. You see, this is where most brides make their first unfortunate mistake. We all rush out there and get the basics done. And then we think, "Oh, I won't have to finalize that until a week or so before the wedding," and we file it all away for later. The problem with "later" is that there will be so much to think about. And the brides who save it all for later are generally the ones who fold under last-minute pressures, and end up wishing the whole thing was over.
Don't be one of these unhappy brides. Get organized for the future now. After all, wouldn't it be a pleasant surprise to actually enjoy your own wedding?

During the Lull
Never put off 'til tomorrow what can be done today. It's a well-worn adage but all too applicable.

The very first step is to create a schedule of all your future activities. Use a calendar or pin-up lists — whatever organizes you best — and list everything you have to do: deposit deadlines, meetings, fittings, important decision-making days, whom to call and at what number. Remind yourself along the way what it is you should be thinking about. Don't ignore even the tiniest detail. In those last few nerve-racking weeks before your wedding, it is easy to forget even the most obvious of duties.

Helpful Hints for Hair and Nail Care

Any experimentation with hair color or style changes should be tried at least six months prior to your wedding. If the effect is great, you can repeat it. If a disaster, you have time to repair the damage.

Adding highlights to your own natural color is a subtle but lovely change. The procedure, takes approximately two hours, and typically costs three to four times what a standard "color rinse" would. But it lasts far longer (four to six months as compared to an average of four to six weeks for the regular color application). And if you have long, full hair, you may want to consider sweeping it up and adorning it with flowers and/or pearls. This is a breathtaking alternative to wearing a veil.
Whatever the case, visit your hairdresser six months prior to your wedding date. If your normal stylist does not have experience pinning up hair, and that is what you want, have him or her refer you to another stylist in the shop. Bring pictures of styles that intrigue you, or arrive extra early for your consultation appointment so that you'll have time to browse through any design books the salon may have. With six months' advance notice, you can grow out any layering problems that conflict with your chosen bridal style.

You will want to book your appointment for your wedding day six months in advance. Check with the stylist as to how long this appointment will last, and schedule according to your special day's events. If you're getting married on a Sunday, make sure the stylist knows this, and is available to assist you. Because most salons are closed on Sunday, he or she will most likely have to come to your house. Check with your bridesmaids and ask if they might want to have their hair styled as well. Depending on how many will request service, that one stylist might be able to accommodate everyone. (Any bridesmaids who are interested should come in to the salon for a consul ^a prior to the wedding day.) Each person should get a price quote for the service requested. If the stylist(s) come to your house, please be prepared to pay by cash or check payable to the stylist (s) directly. They are, after all, working on their own time.

Now back to you, the bride. If you are wearing a veil, book a second appointment with that stylist and bring the veil so that he or she can work with it. This appointment should be fairly close to your wedding day so that the design stays fresh in the stylist's mind. Reconfirm all details for your wedding day, and get a list of everything you should be supplying (such as flowers, pearl barrettes, etc.).
Wherever your hair is done — at the salon, your home, or the ceremony site — remember to wear a button-down shirt so that you can change into your wedding gown easily. And of course, if your hair is being done at the salon, bring your veil! It is much better for the stylist to pin it on for you. Someone else may not set the crown of your veil in the right place and unintentionally dismantle all of the stylist's hard work.

Some of us have long, beautiful natural nails. And some have lovely acrylic nails. And then there are those of us who type, do dishes, or garden... and have lengthy lists of excuses as to why our nails look awful.

For those of us with very short nails who need help, a French manicure is a lovely finishing touch. If you are dealing with a full-service salon, book your nail appointment prior to having your hair done on your wedding day. This way, any accidental smudges can be repaired on the spot. But if you're getting married on a Sunday, and the manicurist doesn't make house calls, have your nails done on Saturday. Just give yourself ample "drying" time at the salon.

Choosing the Gown That's Right for You

Choosing your wedding gown can be one of the most memorable highlights of your life. It can also be one of the most emotionally exhausting ordeals you've ever endured.

Browsing through bridal magazines can almost be a mistake. You see, falling in love with the gown in a full-page ad can spell disaster, for the general rule is: The larger the ad, the larger the price tag. So what can you do?

First, establish your budget. This makes your shopping much easier. Second, ask friends and family for their recommendations of bridal shops. You will want to visit only the best. And this doesn't necessarily mean the ones who charge the most. This means the ones who have been around awhile. Out of my file of wedding stories comes to mind one in which a bride I worked with found out at the last minute that her boutique went out of business. Just like that! No phone call. No refund. And no dress. She had to rent one. If you have the willpower, visit a few shops without trying anything on. This is the time to be critical. Browse through the dresses in your price range and evaluate the service help. Are they helpful or pushy? Down-to-earth or "snooty"? You must like the shop and its employees. After all, you're going to be together a very long time!

Narrow down the field and return to the shop or shops you liked best for an afternoon or evening of "fun-filled" fittings. Just remember to:
  • Wear or bring heels much like you will wear at your wedding.
  • Wear a strapless bra if you are interested in trying on gowns with mesh or fine lace around the upper chest and shoulders.
  • Sweep up your hair in a simple knot with tendrils on the side, if you think you'll want to have your hair up on your wedding day. This will help you envision the total effect.
  • Try not to wear too much makeup, especially base foundation. No matter how careful you are, it can easily smear on the dress.
  • Avoid wearing dangling earrings or bracelets that can snag on the delicate material of the gowns.
Try on only dresses that are priced within your budget. It is useless to disappoint yourself. And try on as many different styles as possible. You can't always judge a gown by its appearance on a hanger. When I got married, I went to the boutique with one definite style in mind. The salesperson—who reminded me of a wonderful Italian grandmother — did not disagree with me. She simply brought me some "other" choices as well. No hype. No push. But she had a "favorite" in that bunch. Well, I ended up with that favorite. And it cost me less than what I intended to spend!

Sample gowns are generally made in sizes 8, 10, and 12. So, if you just happen to be out of the "norm," make sure the sales representative assists, by displaying the gown on you to its best advantage. And for that matter, if you are a perfect size 8, 10, or 12, you just might want to check out the sample gowns on sale. (That's where I got mine!) The deals are fabulous! True, the dresses are most often last year's models. But who, besides you, is going to know that? Don't worry about any makeup stains or wrinkles. The boutique will remove these, and usually at no extra charge. You may get a designer wedding gown for a fraction of the cost!

You'll know the gown of your dreams the very moment you try it on. Hopefully, your mother and/or maid or matron of honor is with you and has brought a camera!

When you have made your choice, listen carefully to all policies. Know exactly what you are paying for. Will this particular gown require additional articles of clothing, such as full-hoop petticoats or a special brassiere? Does the style of dress require a very formal veil? (These things will strongly affect your budget!) Are alterations included? If not, what are the fees? If hourly rates are being quoted, don't be afraid to ask for the estimated number of hours involved in completing your gown. What kind of deposit is required? Whenever possible, use your credit card. If the boutique does not come through for you as promised, you may have some recourse through your credit card company.

Now if your budget isn't quite up to "boutique," there are other sources available for bridal gowns, as well. You can rent. (Check your Yellow Pages.) You can read through your local want ads for used or never-worn bridal attire. And, if your mother preserved her gown, you can restore and/or alter hers to fit you. Don't be afraid of saying the style doesn't suit you. Just say it nicely.

You also needn't wear traditional white. In Victorian-style Christmas weddings, often the bride will be in emerald green and the bridesmaids in lush red velvets (or vice versa). I've even seen weddings with the bride in blue, which is true to 18th-century tradition. The choice is yours. And the sky's the limit!

Okay, it's time to be brutally honest with yourself. Are you really planning to lose weight before your wedding? If so, inform your salesperson or seamstress. (They're used to hearing it, believe me.) Then lose that weight before your first fitting, and do your best to maintain your desired weight. The problems are all too obvious when you gain or lose more than a few pounds before your final fitting.

Losing weight on your own? That's fine when you have about ten pounds to lose. Just figure on a pound a week, and safely schedule your first fitting around that if time allows.
Want to lose more? Seek out a professional weight control service. They will set up a program for you that gets you where you want to be in a reasonable amount of time. The money is well worth it.

Never, never starve yourself. It doesn't teach you any good habits, and often destroys your health if you do too much of it. And above all, please don't feel under pressure to be someone you're not! After all, your fiance proposed to you the way you are. The need to trim off a few pounds is normal. But to carve yourself down from a size 12 to a 3 is ridiculous!

Your Bridal Party: What Does the Maid or Matron of Honor or Groomsmen Do?

By now, you've gathered your best friends and family to i act as your bridesmaids and maid or matron of honor. And you've probably vowed, as all brides do, that the bridesmaids' attire will "definitely be something they can wear again." Well, this is. a nice gesture. But judging by all the bridesmaids' apparel I've seen over the years, that means these young ladies dine regularly at the Captain's table on the Love Boat.

Unless you select tea-length or shorter skirts, it is nearly impossible to come up with a outfit that can be worn "in real life." So what do you do?

The bridesmaids are traditionally responsible for the cost of their dresses and accessories. You provide their bouquets, as well as overnight accommodations, when necessary. With this in mind, consider the following options:
* When browsing through bridal magazines, be realistic about the heights and figures of your bridesmaids. If anyone is on the heavy side, or very short, you will not want to adorn them in dresses that will detract from their lovelier features. Where do sashes cinch? Avoid off-the-shoulder gowns if someone in your party is "well endowed," or ask her confidentially if she is comfortable in a strapless bra.
* Show your bridesmaids a variety of pictures that appeal to you, quoting the range of prices. You will get a good feel for their budgets without specifically coming out with the question.
* One of the most economical options your bridesmaids have is to rent their outfits (if you are fortunate enough to live in an area where such an offering is available) or to purchase used, sample, or never-completed bridesmaids' attire. Most bridal boutiques carry these now, and so do specialty shops. Unless your bridal party is astronomical in number, you can often find some truly fantastic deals.

Things Happen
What if one of your bridesmaids becomes pregnant? If the timing of your wedding means she is going to "show" too much, she may want to beg out of the proceedings. Try to understand. She might not want to "stand out" in your formal pictures. Instead, you might want to consider asking her if she will do a reading at your ceremony. This offer shows how important she is to you, and will most likely be accepted.

What Does a Bridesmaid Do?
Essentially, not much. They precede you down the aisle and stand witness to your marriage. But they can do much more, if you want them to, such as:
* Ask a bridesmaid to help an usher hand out directions from the church site to the reception. Two people keeps the line moving smoothly.
* If your reception is at a hotel and you have hired a babysitter to watch the children in a guest room, ask a bridesmaid to periodically check on how things are going. The best choice would be someone who also knows that babysitter (if you found a sitter from your neighborhood). But if not, especially in the case of a sitter contracted through the hotel, it's an especially good idea for someone to "drop by" once in a while.
* If you have a table or two of mixed single people, ask any of your more outgoing bridesmaids to visit these tables and promote conversation if things don't seem
to be going well. This particular bridesmaid need only know one person at any given table to get things going. She can introduce herself to the others and ask how they are acquainted with either you or the groom.
* Ask your bridesmaids to dote on your elderly relatives. You and your newly christened husband, as well as both sets of parents, will probably be pulled in all directions, so make sure that grandmothers, great aunts, and other relatives don't feel left out.

What Does the Maid or Matron of Honor Do?
Depending on how close she lives to you, your maid or matron of honor can assist you with any aspect of your wedding that you'd like her to. Typically, she would be in charge of organizing your bridal shower. At the party, she would make a list of your gifts and who gave them to you, just in case tags get misplaced during the display. And if she has good penmanship, your maid or matron of honor can help you with invitations and/or place cards.

Having a problem deciding between your sister and best friend for the post as maid of honor? Choose both! Just keep in mind that you may need an extra usher to create an even number at your head table. (This may depend on whether you choose to seat clergy or a single parent at the head table.) Or, the best man can escort both ladies. A single friend or sister is a maid of honor, and a married one is a matron, but always let a divorced woman decide what she wishes to be called.

The Ushers
Ushers have it easy as far as attire goes. They rent it. The groom and best man should coordinate all fittings, and the best man is in charge of making sure that all tuxedos are returned in good shape to the store within the allotted time. The only exception to this would be when the best man is from out of town. In this case, a reliable usher is elevated to the position of "Keeper of the Clothes."

Is it a problem when some of the ushers don't live in the area? No, especially if you check the franchise chains that rent tuxedos. Ask the sales representative to locate the store nearest to each usher who resides out of town. Then, if you like their prices, let them make arrangements with their sister stores for your "long distance" ushers. But if this does not work out, ask for size chart cards that the ushers would take to a local men's clothing store. A sales clerk there would take and list all appropriate measurements. This is a courtesy that any fine establishment will offer to do. The cards are simply mailed back to your local store, and — voilai — little or no problems. Any out-of-town usher should, however, do his best to have a local fitting the week of your wedding, just to be sure all is well.

What Do the Groomsmen Do?
The best man is in charge of the wedding rings. Together with your maid of honor, the best man signs as witness on your marriage license. If desired, your best man can also act as your spokesman during the reception. If the band is too loud, or the bar has run out of beer, it is generally the best man who seeks out the proper person to remedy the problem. But aside from their "ushering" guests into the ceremony, the groom's attendants seem to have little else to do. They can, however:
* Pass out directions from the church site to the reception.
Make sure that everyone who will appear in formal pictures is accounted for after the ceremony, and in cars that start! (Don't laugh. I've hosted more than a few weddings where the wedding party had to wait for people who had car problems.)
Make sure that everyone who is in formal pictures proceeds to the proper picture site. It's a good idea to have these cars travel together.
* At your reception, single ushers could be asked to invite your single female friends to dance. (Who knows what if may lead to!)
* And for receptions that end after dark, ushers might be asked to escort unattended ladies to their cars.
Whatever the case, and whatever they do, gather your most cherished of friends and family and share the special joys of the best day of your life!

Invitations: Selecting Your Invitations, Writing, Mailing

The Pleasure of Your Company
Remember that guest list you were working on with "the powers that be"? Well, now it's time to tackle the arduous task of getting out your wedding invitations. Since the announcement of your engagement, you've probably been hard at work perfecting your guest list. More likely, you've been pulling your hair out over the way your guest list is going, especially if your parents have had anything to do with it.
You see, parents have a penchant for wanting to invite all their friends and business associates to your wedding. And when you ask them why, parents always say, "Because they invited us to their daughter's wedding." Now, this isn't always the whole truth. Your parents are proud of you. They want to gloat. They want to brag, "See? We got her this far!" And, if your parents are contributing solely, or even in an equal manner, to your wedding, they have a right to all, a half, or a third of the guest list. Way back in the very first post of this series, I talked about learning how to compromise. Well, grit your teeth and try to smile. This is it.

When more than one person controls the guest list, things get frustrating. It's a plain fact, and you must deal with any problems accordingly. My suggestion is that any person who wishes to invite more than his or her allotted amount should personally pay for those additional guests. Just remember to keep within the capacity limits of your banquet room!

Now what if you have eight wonderful friends at work that you definitely want to invite, but including their spouses puts a strain on your wallet. By all means, invite those friends. Just let them know verbally as soon as possible that you're sorry, but your budget doesn't have room for extra people at this time. You might make an exception if you are very good friends with one or more spouse or "significant other." Certainly include them if you can. The others should understand.
Should you invite your boss? For the same reason your mother and father want to include theirs, you might want to consider doing the same. Inviting the boss is good for business. Now, I don't suggest sending an invitation to some high-powered executive whom you've never seen. But if your direct supervisor is a decent person — did he or she bend over backwards to get you extra time off for your honeymoon? — then definitely invite them. And this is one of those exceptions where you should include a spouse or companion.

The only' other time I would suggest sending an invitation that includes "and guest" is when the person you are inviting is not acquainted with anyone else at your wedding and may feel terribly awkward attending alone.

And what about children? If you are inviting a lot of couples with children, it is best not to include any kids at all (with the exception of your flower girl and ring bearer, of course). Simply address your invitation to "Mr. and Mrs. Robert Jones." Sending an invitation to "Mr. Robert Jones and Family" indicates that you wish to include everyone in the festivities.

If an entire family is planning their vacation around your wedding — and that means the children are coming — the decision is entirely up to you. If you don't care that a few disgruntled parents will be muttering under their breath, fine. But there's an even happier solution to this problem: If your reception is being held at a hotel, provide a babysitter. The safest option is to contact someone you know from your neighborhood. Most hotel facilities offer babysitting service with advance notice, as well. And although this employee may be honest and trustworthy, I would always opt to place children with someone you are comfortable with. Everyone will feel better for it and have a worry-free time at your wedding.

Selecting Your Invitations
The days of black print on white stock are long gone. Today's bride has a wider selection than ever of styles, colors, and ink shades. And anything from Victorian scented scrolls to electric purple laminate goes! The choice is yours, lucky bride.

Happy hunting.
Seriously, however, you should visit as many print shops as you can and view their sample books with your style of wedding in mind. Will it be formal or festive? Black tie or barbecue? This should assist you in deciding what stock and printing style convey your message best. Study each variety of wording for the one that says it all for you. You needn't feel concerned if each and every sample says "Mr. and Mrs. Allen Smith requests the honor of your presence at the wedding of their daughter. ..." The wording of the host line is determined by your own personal situation and needs.

When getting your price quote, add 50 to the total number you think you will need. This provides you with leeway for mistakes and/or extras for any last-minute additions. The golden rule of printing seems to be that the more you print the less per invitation it will cost. You may find that ordering a hundred extra invitations doesn't add any significant amount to the price.

Colored inks add to the cost of your invitations. If the sample that catches your eye is printed in dusty rose, compare what the same one would be with standard black ink.

One cost-cutting option is to contact local technical schools about printing your invitations. Just make sure that they can do all the inserts you need, .and in the time frame you need them. And allot time for proofreading.

Proofreading is a funny thing. We're all very particular about checking the spelling of our names, but we aren't as meticulous about the wedding date and ceremony time. We assume the printer can spell the state we live in, so we don't look very carefully. That's a mistake. Be certain to carefully proofread the information you give to the printer. When you receive the invitations, proofread them again to be sure they are correct.

Never proofread when tired. Share the duty. Block each and every word with the blank side of an index card if you have to in order to concentrate. Even read it backwards — once you say "print," you pay.

In any event, get your invitations printed early. It is far more relaxing to address them at your leisure than to wait until the last minute when every other detail of your wedding seems so pressing.

Who is the Host!
Traditionally, the bride's parents are the host and hostess of the wedding, and the opening line of a wedding invitation reads something like this:
Mr. and Mrs. Martin Beigh request the honor of your presence at the marriage of their daughter Jessica Ann
(and so on)

Now, if your mother has remarried:
Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Spencer request the honor of our presence at the marriage of Mrs. Spencer's daughter Miss Jessica Ann Beigh

If your father has remarried, and is the primary host:
Mr. Martin Beigh requests the honor of your presence at the marriage of his daughter Jessica Ann Beigh

If your parents are divorced and have new spouses, but are on friendly enough terms to host your special day together:

Mr. Martin Beigh and Mrs. Jonathan Spencer request the honor of your presence at the marriage of their daughter Jessica Ann
(include your last name if desired)

Here's the tricky one. If your divorced parents are hosting your reception together, but only your father has remarried, you will want their approval on how the invitation is worded. To call them Mr. and Mrs. Martin Leigh may cause your guests to assume that the second Mrs. Leigh is acting as hostess. Your mother could, if so desired, utilize her maiden name to distinguish herself from your father's new wife, either allowing her maiden name to stand by itself, or by hyphenating it with "Leigh." You can even drop the "Mr." and "Mrs." part, such as shown here:
Martin Beigh and Victoria Allen-Beigh

Whatever the case, let your mother be comfortable with the wording. If your parents are deceased, and a family member (such as an uncle) is assisting you with your plans, the wording could read something like:
Mr. Andrew Beigh requests the honor of your presence at the marriage of his niece Jessica Ann Beigh

If you and the groom are solely doing the inviting, your names simply head the invitation. You can dispense with the "Miss" and "Mr." if you prefer:

Jessica Ann Beigh and Robert Dean Williams request the honor of your presence on the occasion of their marriage
When the groom's parents act as host:
Mr. and Mrs. Roy Williams request the honor of your presence at the marriage of their son Robert Dean Williams to
Jessica Ann Beigh

And, finally, if all parents are alive, happily married, and want to share the spotlight:
Mr. and Mrs. Martin Beigh and
Mr. and Mrs. Roy Williams request the Honor of your presence at the wedding of their children Jessica Ann and Robert Dean
(add your last names, if desired)

All of these are merely suggestions. You will know what suits your needs the best. Don't fuss over etiquette and tradition just because you think you have to. The best invitation need only speak from your heart!

When to Mail Your Invitations
* For Thanksgiving and Christmas time weddings: Phone important family members and friends as soon as you have selected the date. Then mail all your invitations four months ahead of schedule.
* For weddings occurring over long weekends: Once again let close friends and family know as soon as you do. Then mail all invitations three months in advance.
* If your wedding coincides with a "special event" in town: Give your guests ample opportunity to find hotel rooms if they need them. (See the previous posts on hotel accommodations.) Send your invitations approximately two to three weeks in advance of the last available day to make sleeping room reservations.
* If your nuptials occur during a popular month for weddings, such as September or October: Send out all invitations eight to ten weeks in advance.
* For all others: Six to eight weeks is acceptable.

Finding Hotel Accommodations for Out-of-Town Guests

I always seem to be pushing hotel facilities as the best all-around location for a wedding reception. This is simply because they offer the most for your money. And overnight rooms for your guests is another one of those pluses.

But whether or not the facility of your choice is a hotel, you will need to provide your out-of-town guests with some idea of where they can stay. Even your local guests may wish to avoid the risk of driving home after having a few drinks at your reception.

Call for rates early! In the first place, you tend to get a better rate when calling a year or so in advance. And once a rate is quoted, it's golden. Second, if your wedding date happens to fall on a convention weekend, or during fall foliage or any other special event, you will need to know this as soon as possible so that your guests who will need rooms can get them!

If your reception is booked at a hotel, contact your banquet sales representative. In larger operations, you might be referred to a Group Sales Manager. In any case, you will want to get information on rates for the day before, the day of, and the day after your wedding. And, if you are speaking with a representative of the hotel other than the banquet sales-rep, you will want to point out that your wedding is being held there. Be sure you know the following:
1. (Based on your wedding occurring on a weekend) Is this the best weekend rate available? Is there an additional discount if a certain number of rooms are booked by your wedding guests?
2. (Based on your wedding occurring during a weekend) What would the weekday rate be per night for guests arriving earlier in the week, or staying later into the next week?
3. Are these rates per person or per room?
4. What is the rate with tax? Are there any other fees or surcharges?
5. What is the cost for cribs? For rollaway beds?
6. Are handicapped rooms available?
7. Are there any special events coinciding with the weekend (or surrounding the date) of your wedding?
8. Is there a toll-free reservation number that out-of-state guests can call direct to reach the hotel?
9. Up until what time of day can a room be held for guest arrival without a credit card number to secure it?
10. What credit cards are accepted at this hotel?

If the hotel sees no danger of filling up well before your wedding guests have received their invitations:
  • Ask that a "rate quote" card be filled out with your name (use your maiden name), the groom's name, and the weekend or date of your wedding. This method does not guarantee rooms for your wedding day, so you have no financial obligations. It simply provides the reservationist with the proper rate quote for your group. You will be responsible for supplying any necessary information to your guests. But don't worry — it's very simple!
  • Ask if you may have some brochures to mail to your guests. These should be supplied to you without charge. Ask for enough for one-half of your total guest count.

The best plan of action is to mail the hotel brochure separately from your invitation, with the rate information for all guests, and a list of "tourist activities" included for those coming from out of town. Your hotel information notice can be simply typewritten, copied, and folded into the brochure. Here's an example:

of Belmont Hills, Massachusetts
is pleased to offer specially discounted rates for our wedding guests!
$49.00 per room per night on the weekend ($55.00 per room per night during the week) plus 9.7% tax
In-state call direct: Out-of-state call toll free:
(617) 555-1776 1-800-555-0001

Remember to tell the reservationist that you are with the Hamilton-Cartwright Reception
A VISA®, MasterCard®, American Express®, or Diners Club Card® number will be necessary to hold your room for arrival after 4 p.m. Call early to ensure availability. See? It's that easy!

But what if there is a special event scheduled for the same weekend as your wedding? If rooms are currently available, you should definitely reserve a "block" of rooms for the ease and comfort of your guests.

How many rooms will you need? The average wedding results in 10% of the guests booking rooms. So, if your anticipated guest count is 200, reserve 20 rooms. However, if you plan on inviting several out-of-town guests, increase that number accordingly!

Avoid using your credit card to hold a block of rooms. Instead, get a cut-off date. This simply means that these 20 or so rooms will be held until a certain date without obligation. On that specified date, any and for reservations made by your wedding guests after the cut-off date would then be subject to availability.

Keep in mind that you will have to give your guests adequate notice! If your cut-off date is five weeks prior to your wedding, you must send your invitations out approximately eight weeks before your wedding day! You can send out a notice like the example shown later, but remember to replace the "Call early to ensure availability" line with something like the following:

PLEASE NOTE: Due to the increased demand for rooms during fall foliage season, you must make your reservations prior to September 1st!

In any case, remember that you will want to book rooms for your bridesmaids, ushers, and other important friends and family members coming from out of town. Count up the number of rooms you know you will need and add half a dozen to that number. Remember to ask for nonsmoking rooms for your friends and family who do not smoke.

Give a credit card number to hold these rooms and get a written copy or computer print-out of your reservation. This should state the latest date you can cancel what you don't need. Securing the six extra rooms helps in two ways: (1) You may have unintentionally forgotten someone special on your list. (2) Because of your credit card hold, these rooms will be available longer than the general block of rooms held for your wedding guests. In this way, you might be able to assist anyone who waited until the last minute to get a room. Just remember to cancel what you don't need by the date specified! If you don't, your credit card will be billed for at least one night's room and tax on any and all unclaimed rooms. And if the hotel can prove that you understood the policies, you will have little or no recourse through your credit card company.
Now, if your reception facility does not have overnight accommodations, call or visit all the hotels, motels, inns, and bed-and-break-fast facilities in your immediate area. Get rate quotes for your wedding day and ask if the facility has a toll-free number. I would recommend taking the time to see a guest room at each facility. This helps you to avoid referring a property to your guests that might not be quite up to your standards.

Depending on the style and mailing specifications of your invitation, you can either include this list as an insert to your invitation, or mail it separately with a "tourist activities" list for out-of-town guests. And, as previously mentioned, if your wedding date coincides with a special event in your area, indicate to your guests that they should make their reservations as early as possible.

Having reviewed all of the overnight accommodations in your area, select the best site for your bridesmaids, family members, or whomever you will be providing rooms for, based on where you believe they might feel most comfortable. Bed-and-breakfasts often appeal to couples, and many of these homes or small inns provide truly romantic atmospheres. They are not, however, always suitable for a group of giggling bridesmaids. Your friends might wish to "party" and have a good time, and may not feel quite at ease doing so in someone else's home. Just use your best judgment. Not all your personal guests need to stay at the same place.
And once again, as tiresome as it may be to hear, remember to get in writing all the deposit and cancellation policies!

Tourist Activities for Out-of-Town Guests
Once your closest friends and family from out of town hear the happy news of your engagement, they may possibly decide to work their vacation plans around the day of your wedding. And even for those just coming for the weekend, what nicer gift can you give them but some great ideas on what to do!

If you, your fiance, or any immediate family member belongs to AAA, or any other fine travel service, you're in great luck. Visit your local office, explain that you're getting married, etc., and ask for information on all there is to do within easy driving distance in the season in which you will wed. Know in advance approximately how many mailings you would need. Some agencies will have stock supplies of brochures, coupons, etc., just for the asking. Even if you don't have any professional contacts in the travel world, there are still some options open to you:
  • Visit your local Chamber of Commerce for ideas.
  • Drive to your closest tourist information facility.

If you have no way of getting, or for that matter mailing, all of the tourist information available to your guests, you can simply type a list and send it out with your hotel notice. Just remember to include a variety of activities and restaurants to appeal to both couples and families. And for courtesy's sake, include church service schedules for as many denominations as you can. (Note: If your reception is being held at a hotel, the front desk usually has, or posts, such a listing. You can either copy this information, or indicate on your packet that the hotel will provide schedules upon request.)

If you have enough time and the desire to do so, you can write your own Personal "Travel Guide" for out-of-town guests! Just visit all the fun places to go to in your area (if you haven't done so recently) and write your opinions down in letter format to copy for your guests. Be sure to include everything — amusement parks, museums, walking tours, aquariums, historic buildings, beaches, gardens, nature trails. . . . Are there any interesting arts and crafts galleries, or any other specialty shops, particularly in "restored" areas? What sporting events are going on? Are there any special celebrations in or around town, such as a blue-grass festival or Oktoberfest? Is there a lovely dairy farm nearby that offers tours of their cheesemaking process? How about bicycle tours, or boat rides? Just keep in mind the time of year in which your wedding will occur. And for basic information, list movie theatres and local restaurants. If you have a favorite romantic or fun restaurant, be sure to let people know, but also include the "family" type eateries so that everyone can dine well according to their budgets.

This personalized travel planner can be as informative and as fun as you want to make it. And don't be afraid to ask each place for coupons you can pass along to your guests (restaurants included). They'd most likely welcome the added business. And your wedding guests will feel honored that you did so much to make their stay special!

Designing Your Very Own Cake Top and Reception Table Centerpieces

Cake Tops
Sometimes it seems a shame to crown a beautifully handcrafted wedding cake with a second-rate cake top. The standard choices (generic bride and groom figures, feathery doves, and plastic bells) are rarely nice enough. But there are ways to complete a wedding cake that make it truly yours.

Are your parents still happily married and wonderfully in love? Then why not adorn your wedding cake with a very special bride and groom — your parents!

First, you will need to know the dimensions of the top tier of your wedding cake. Then find a picture of your parents on their wedding day and place it in a frame that complements the color and design of your cake. Hand-painted china or porcelain frames are lovely, and you can often find something with your wedding colors in it. Another solution is a filigree frame of silver or gold. This particular style would allow you to wire tiny tea roses or any other variety of small fresh or dried flowers through the openwork of the frame.

If one of your parents has passed on, you may still wish to consider this idea as a loving tribute. Discuss the idea with your remaining parent for approval. As long as it won't seem too maudlin (or create a problem with a new spouse) it's a beautiful way in which to have that very special loved one with you on your wedding day.

Another "framework" idea is to obtain pictures of everyone in the bridal party that will fit or be cut down to fit those 2 1/2" x 2 1/2" heart-shaped frames. Then you can ring the layers of your wedding cake with the faces of those you love best.

Now if these ideas seem too sentimental, or just don't fit your particular taste or style, there is yet another avenue you can pursue. Adorn your cake top with a symbol of your courtship. Not sure what to do? Well, it does require some thought. But something will come to you.

For example: is your fiance a baseball fanatic? Was your first date at the home season opener? Is there a baseball player that your future husband idolizes to distraction? No problem!

Contact the sales office at your ballpark. (If they can't help you directly, they'll point you in the right direction.) Explain that you are getting married and that your future husband has been a fan of the team since he was in diapers. Now the real question is: If you offer to make a donation towards the team's favorite charity, will that special player autograph a baseball in bold marker with "Best Wishes to (bride and groom's names) on (date)"? Because you are making a donation, it is doubtful they would refuse. You can easily locate a stand for the baseball in any bric-a-brac store — perhaps an ornate filigree soap dish? And you can add that feminine touch by streaming ribbons to match your bridal colors from the base of your cake top down the sides of the cake.
Obviously such an idea won't work if your fiance is a football or soccer fan. And maybe a baseball just isn't your idea of romantic. But you get the general idea. Sit down with friends and discuss the history of your relationship with your husband-to-be. Somewhere along the way, someone will have a brainstorm.

Yet another option would be a treasured figurine, such as a Hummel or porcelain Victorian lovers. But with anything so valuable, I would suggest assigning a friend or family member to bring the piece to the reception hall on your wedding day, and take it back the minute you have finished your cake-cutting ceremony. If all else fails, hand-blown glass or silk or fresh flowers can beautifully enhance your wedding cake. Remember that fresh flowers should be free of insects and pesticides.

Just keep in mind, however, that whatever the design, your custom cake top has to fit the dimensions of the top tier of your cake.

Guest Table Centerpieces
Flowers don't have to be your only choice in adorning the reception guest tables. Given your time, your budget, and your talents, a world of ideas is open to you. Are you hopelessly wishing you could have candles, but your state or county has restrictions on open flame? Well, you could ask your facility representative about the policy regarding "floating candles." This involves your supplying large brandy snifters in which a colored oil is placed. This oil supports a clear plastic wick which stays lit because of the oil. You can typically find inexpensive snifters at outlet bargain stores. The wicks and oil can be purchased wherever crafts are sold, and often the oil can be found in a color to match or at least complement your bridal colors. You'll have to assign some volunteers to set these up for you at the reception site. And for safety's sake, do not fill the snifters too high with oil. You'll want to avoid fancy dress sleeves from coming into contact with the flame. But, despite the effort needed, floating candles do create a lovely effect for an evening reception.

If your wedding date falls close to the holidays, you might consider table centerpieces with a theme. Pumpkins can be carved in interesting bowl designs to support wildflowers or other autumnal displays. Just make sure that your wildflowers are insect free. And the possibilities at Christmas time are endless. Poinsettias are typically inexpensive and make lovely centerpieces. Ringing the base of the pot with pine boughs makes a nice effect. If candles encased in hurricane lamps are allowed at your facility, create a wreath around each one with holly, ivy, or pine boughs with velvet ribbons to match your bridal colors. Brandy snifters can be filled with colorful glass ornaments, resulting in a keepsake for each person at the table. You can also set up small Christmas trees, or baskets of arched pine branches that hold tiny dove and bell ornaments, symbolic of weddings. And to make your head table special, drape ivy across the front skirt of the table and attach big red velvet bows.

Whether it's Valentine's Day or not, think hearts. Fill brandy snifters with colorful candy hearts. Then encircle the snifters with ivy and attach heart-shaped ornaments to the twine so that each heart lies flat on the table facing a guest's chair. Once again, a loving keepsake your guests will always treasure.

This next idea is time consuming. But the rewards are worth the effort.
Take your guest list and group people as you would place them at guest tables. You will have friends from work, friends from college, relatives, neighbors, etc.

Now consider each "table group" separately and decide what it is that draws you all together. For example, your business friends — do you all work together, say in a secretarial pool? Then find a toy typewriter and attach balloons to the keys that match your bridal party colors. Did you and your college friends have a favorite hangout? Even if it's out of state, call that restaurant, pub, or whatever — explain that you're getting married etc. — and ask if they'll mail you a menu or something with the establishment's name on it. Then ask your reception facility if you can borrow a table display holder (the coiled chrome or clear plastic device that restaurants use to display wine lists and dessert specials). If they don't have one, they should be able to refer you to a restaurant supply store that does. Then, on your wedding day, your college buddies will have a grand time recalling the good ol' days. Make a painted cardboard copy of your street sign for the neighbor's table and attach balloons through small punch holes in the sign.
Family pictures are nice for the parents' tables. As mentioned in the "Cake Top" section, filigree frames can be enhanced with fresh or dried flowers. And porcelain frames can be found to match your bridal colors.

Are you worried that a room full of balloons, bells, and baseballs will seem rather chaotic? Don't be afraid of your wedding day being less than uniform. It's a festive day and the joy you will create by making your guests feel cherished and special will be remembered for years to come!