The Bartering Bride might not exist at all were it not for a Facebook message I received on May 17 from Anna-Jeannine with Something New Entertainment. She became the first to prove to me that this could work, that there are vendors who will barter.

Anna-Jeannine had seen that I'd posted on a Today's Bride message board about wanting to write/edit in exchange for wedding services. Did we still need a DJ? she asked.

We did. In fact, at the time, we'd not found any vendors for the wedding. The Husband-to-Be had only asked me to marry him a month and a day earlier. We were just getting started!

Given that Something New Entertainment is very plugged in (i.e., everywhere), I was THRILLED to hear from her. In fact, just last week, they were recognized as one of the top 10 wedding entertainment companies in
Beacon's Best 2012, compiled by the Akron Beacon Journal.

As a new mom, Anna-Jeannine explained to me that she could use a hand in writing her company's blogs.

"At the time you posted your inquiry, my son was just a few weeks old, and I really needed help with some writing," she told me. "I love to write, so delegating any writing tasks was NOT easy for me, but it just seemed like the universe was sending me a message: 'PSST!  Anna-Jeannine!  You need her and she needs you.'"

I am so lucky and grateful that she did.
Fast forward some weeks, and we'd signed a contract, setting forth that I would ghost-write nearly 20 blogs for her, and she would provide DJ, uplighting and karaoke services for our big day. Here's an example of one such blog. And here's another.

Oh, and here's Anna-Jeannine:
Anna-Jeannine and her husband, Justin, operate the company, which has been contracted as far south as Florida and as far west as Denver, but does 97 percent of its engagements within 40 miles of Akron, where the company is headquartered.
One of the perks of bartering with your wedding vendors, I've discovered, is you get to know them a whole lot better. I interview Anna-Jeannine for the blogs I write, so I have more than a surface understanding of her passion for the work she does and the clients she serves. I know we're in the very best of hands.

"I have never had a job where I really felt that I was using all my skills, until now!" she told me recently. "I love my work -- it's less like a 'job' and more like a 'calling.'"

It makes sense, considering that Anna-Jeannine is a trained theatrical designer and technician, and a musical theatre performer, musician, singer, actor and more. She's studied theatre arts and theatrical design at the undergraduate and graduate levels, plus she can MARRY you, too!

I'm working on a blog for Something New Entertainment about what brides and grooms should look for in DJs. Here are some take-aways from Anna-Jeannine:

*Watch out for someone who tells you repeatedly how they usually do things. Do you really want your event to mimic others' events? (Not me!)
*Beware the do-it-yourself mentality. DJs aren't just playing music. They're announcing your arrival, coordinating your important dances and making sure things keep moving. Here's a look at why some in the business call DIY destroy it yourself.
*Finally, make sure to ask what happens if your DJ falls ill or cannot make your party for some other reason. (Something New Entertainment always has staff on call for such occurrences.)

They also have a handy online portal where clients can browse their entire music library, connect to samples of songs, get song suggestions for special events, create song lists for "must plays," "do not plays," and dedications, and customize their itinerary.

What would be a "must play" or "do not play" for your wedding day? Or what were they?
Before I knew that Ken Cavanaugh had 21 years of photography experience and before I watched him kneel in mud to get a shot of us at the farm last Tuesday, I emailed Cavanaugh Photography because I'd cried when I saw a STRANGER'S first look images. Here's the gallery that got me.

How lucky and fortunate are we that this passionate photographer, who co-owns Cavanaugh Photography with his wife, Natalie, has a need for a writer. We will be trading their wedding photography package for three promotional magazines I will write to highlight their three specialties: weddings, senior portraits and family portraits. (I also am lucky and blessed to have a graphic designer of a sister who's agreed to design the project alongside me.)

Photography, Ken told me in an interview for this blog, just clicked for him. From high school to now, he's been drawn to learning about the people he photographs, and serving them.

"Everybody is capable of taking a great photograph," he said days after he photographed my love and me at Mapleside Farms. "You've got to believe that if you're a portrait photographer."

I wasn't so confident. I have my photogenic days, and then I have days when I de-tag umpteen photos on Facebook because they're just plain unflattering.

A word of advice: Always ask for something you want. I only learned how generous Mapleside Farms is when I asked. Ken couldn't believe we were given a private tour of the farm for nearly two hours, free of charge. I couldn't either.

Then, I asked a pair of makeup artists, who formed a makeup business called Miss Monroe's this year, if they'd be interested in doing my makeup for the engagement pictures as a trial run to the wedding. They'd reached out months ago, interested in a trade, after I posted to craigslist. I arrived to Brandy's home sans makeup, a scary thing for a girl who scarcely leaves the house without eyeliner.
I had never seen so much makeup in a person's home in my life.
The collection makes sense, given the women's years of experience doing makeup for fashion shows, photo shoots and more. They work for makeup companies, but they are not pushy. I didn't expect it, but I left with loads of free samples, namely this product they say alleviates dry skin on the backs of one's arms. Where has DERMAdoctor been all my life?!

Here they are, making me over.
"We love being able to help a client with a beauty concern and have them walk away from their time with us feeling beautiful and more confident!" Brandy told me.

Effective, they are.
And now, a sneak peek, or three:
Now, before you get all, um why?, about the last creep-tastic image, behold our patio, the place where our love for Halloween glows nightly:
Yes, we DO own fake blood. And yes, that is an old work shirt and jeans of mine. All for the cause!
I know this blog post is a novella, but I figure I should share the few words of advice I picked up through this experience. Ken said every bride and groom should ask prospective photographers:

*About their skills, but not just photography skills. Watch a person's people skills, too. (Ken has this covered. You know those people you meet who are genuinely that friendly? Yes.)
*About their experience. (Cavanaugh = 21 years.) Oh, and do they have backup  equipment? ("Of course," Ken said when I asked him for his answer.)

Finally, I'll add my own advice: Seek someone who will answer every question you have. When I asked Natalie what we should wear,  she responded in no time: "Avoiding patterns is always better. As for men -- we usually suggest minimal patterns and also that he compliment your colors. So, you don't have to match, but if one wears dark colors -- the other should wear dark colors and vice versa. Similar tones will be pleasing to the eye in the photo."
Enticed there by a Groupon deal I couldn't resist, I didn't know what to expect. Now, I do.

The first thing Mona Lisa Salon + Spa will ask you to do is change into a robe top of theirs, to be safe that hair dye doesn't stain the shirt you walked in wearing. Next, your hairdresser (Reagan was my hairdresser this day, and she's INCREDIBLE -- super down-to-earth and talented) asks lots of questions about what you want. (I brought pictures to help illustrate.) And then, as the professionals here execute the look you've requested, you're offered tea, red wine and other selections, and all the while, you're not subjected to the strong fumes you would be nearly anywhere else.


Opened in July 2010, Mona Lisa Salon + Spa in Mayfield Heights puts into play a concept that co-owner Mona Hirst says exists in other cities. To keep the salon "fume-free," they limit their offerings to certain services and they use a hair product line imported from Italy that changes your hair color without knocking you out with ammonia and other chemicals.

Mona and co-owner, Cristian Necsuleu, make a scary point right on the wall of the salon: "Our skin can absorb up to 60 percent of the product applied to it."

I won't lie; I worried a little about trying an alternative salon. Having grown up with a mom who bought almost exclusively natural products, I'd learned along the way that some simply don't do the job that the chemical-laden ones do. 

I am SO glad I chose Mona Lisa Salon + Spa, and I'll show you why. 

This is the *before*. My curly hair is combed out -- embarrassing, yes -- but you can see the color. I hadn't had my hair done in nearly a year, but with engagement pictures approaching, I decided to do what I normally do this time of year and go dark. (Besides, the Husband-to-Be loves me brunette.)
See my tea?

Now, here's the *after* following a cut, coloring, eyebrow wax and a form of styling I'd never seen before. (Twist your hair into twirls and blow them dry with a diffuser. Then, take the twirls apart to create these spirals.)
I likely have found my hairdressers for the wedding. In fact, Mona offered to come on location, which is huge!

Up first, though? Engagement pictures at Mapleside Farms this week! Where in Northeast Ohio would you want to be photographed?