It'd be inaccurate to call our dining room a dining room right now. It's been overcome. Overcome by a large box of 48 pairs of flip-flops, which I bought for a dollar apiece from Dollar Tree for this intended use. Overcome by a large basket I bought to hold the flip-flops and supplies for our restroom amenity baskets. Don't know what those are? Here, another bride blogger explains the idea. Also crowding the "wedding room" are a scrapbook and supplies I purchased a few weekends ago because I've decided, since we've not purchased a professional photo album, to create a scrapbook where we'll place our wedding pictures on the very pages where people write their well wishes and signatures.

There also are ever more jars in our former dining room, lol, but my mom and I likely won't need to transform all of them because, voila! We are probably five or 10 crafty jars away from being done!
We used lace, twine, ribbon, burlap and other materials to craft more than 40 jars for the centerpieces. Making them with Mom made them even more beautiful.

Want to do something similar? Start early (I'm still roughly three months out), buy supplies on sale from a place like Jo-Ann and adhere the materials using foam paintbrushes and Mod Podge.

Of course, the wedding industry and people who've been to their share of weddings have told me our guests will notice the food on the table more than any centerpiece, so it's high time I introduce our third-generation caterer, Tom's Country Place.

Led today by owner Billy Hricovec, Tom's Country Place was started in 1959 by Tom and Mary Hricovec, Billy's grandparents, on the land his great-grandparents farmed starting in 1855. The company, which averages around 60 weddings a year, hosts them on site, and also offers off-site catering. The most popular wedding entree? Some type of chicken, Billy replied.

I could tell you that we chose Tom's Country Place because it's won awards, which it has, but really, it won my mom and me over when we joined dozens of brides and grooms at a taste-testing event in April when the company served its most popular wedding entrees.

Intended as a way for people to try foods they've considered serving and others they haven't, the event really impressed us.

"Superb," Mom said upon tasting the roast tenderloin of beef with Demi-glace. And those mashed Yukon Golds with pan gravy? "The mashed potatoes are to die for," my mom marveled. When I asked someone whether they are homemade, the woman replied that they were the product of 200 peeled potatoes. Yum.
I contacted no fewer than a dozen catering companies before we contracted with Tom's. Some charged our entire wedding budget for 80-something meals, and then charged additional fees for cutting the wedding cake, for flatware and china and for linens.

If you are seeking a company that provides a price that's all-inclusive, look no further than Tom's. Their buffet service is priced to include china and flatware, salad and dinner rolls, a dessert or appetizer buffet, coffee and tea service and wait staff. And from my perspective -- and I do feel I've done my research here -- they are one of the most reasonably priced caterers in Northeast Ohio. Not the cheapest, but nowhere near cost-prohibitive.

We initially planned to do two pasta stations, where guests would choose a pasta, a sauce, vegetables and proteins and watch it all sautéed right in front of them until piping hot. But, when we learned that it probably would take each guest two minutes to get through the line (because people can be indecisive and reheating the food takes time), we realized it meant some guests would have to wait up to 40 minutes to eat and reconsidered. We have a party to get to, right? Plus, when I posed the question to my Facebook peanut gallery, the answer was unanimous: People don't want to wait to eat at a wedding, even if waiting nets them super-personalized meals. I didn't expect that, but it's what they said. Do you agree?

I won't reveal the whole menu of our day here because there are certain details I want to save for those we're inviting to share in our celebration, but I will divulge this: We will be serving Tom's melt-in-your-mouth mashed potatoes, complete with a mashed potato toppings bar (read: scallions, pan gravy, shredded cheese and bacon bits). Given that ours is a rustic event, the scoops of potato-y goodness won't likely be served like this, but we trust our guests will love us -- and the eats -- the same. :]

Before I wrap up this blog, I want to share a few things I've done recently as a bride who's getting married in a matter of weeks (yikes!). Not only have I been focused on completing the details I can NOW, so I can somewhat chill out in the weeks heading into the wedding, I also visited the venue with my day-of wedding coordinator to plan how we'll decorate the space, and I sent a floor plan of the venue (which I drew poorly) to each of my vendors, so they're on the same page.

In addition, I've become a book worm bride. When I first became engaged and checked out books from the library about wedding planning, they were oh-so-intimidating. They told me things I knew I needed, such as entertainment and a caterer, and then they told me things I never would have thought about, and it all left me feeling like I could take pages and pages of notes and never really absorb a thing.

Reading these books now, when we've contracted with almost every vendor we'll have, enables me to focus on the little details, those things we never would have thought were important until we had the time and energy to tackle them -- like now, as the months wind down to weeks and the weeks wind down to days and the time when I marry my best friend draws impossibly (and incredibly) near. 
It doesn't take a reporter to know when someone's come prepared to an interview.

Harleigh M. Hodge contacted me in late August after I posted to and caught my attention immediately when she wrote, "I would trade you comments in blogging and future opportunities instead of pay."

And, in a first for The Bartering Bride, I'm not the only person who stands to benefit here: Harleigh is offering any bride and groom who mentions this blog her ceremony services for free (!) during the summer of 2013. Email her here.

Sound too good to be true? I feared the same. But, if you know me or if you've been reading how exhaustive I've made my search for the right dress or the right vendor, you know I do my research. Because, let's be honest: Paying for something quality is always better than receiving something that doesn't impress for free.

But, I'd been here myself as a businesswoman. When my sister and I launched our company back in August 2011, I asked a friend of mine if we could create a Story of Your Life
for her for free. We did, and now our business is all paid work (thankfully). All businesses must start somewhere, and sometimes the only way to start creating a track record is to go gratis. I get it.

Harleigh ultimately convinced my future husband and me to hire her over Chinese food. We'd agreed to meet for lunch to discuss, among other things, why she'd just become a certified wedding officiant in the summer of 2012. I liked her answer: She'd seen the joy in weddings (including her own) and wanted to be a part of creating that joy for others.

Harleigh (see picture below) struck me as soft spoken, but confident, and my interest in becoming her first bridal client grew when I learned she's a teacher. Clearly, one must be able to speak before an audience to command a classroom.

But what really cinched our interest was how prepared she was. She brought outlines and worksheets to help us decide which elements we want to include in our ceremony. Maybe every officiant does this, but it impressed us still.

Here's the outline we're using to delineate what we want:

And here's an example of a worksheet Harleigh, who is certified through a non-denomination church and prefers to perform small weddings, provided. It offers several options for each step in our ceremony, so we may choose the one best suited for us. And no worries, Harleigh told us. If there's nothing on the page we like, we're welcome to share one from another source.
My love has circled the options he likes, and I put hearts around them. Now, we're working gradually to decide what we want our ceremony to convey, which parts of the outline we feel are essential and which we'd rather not have. What we know definitively is this: We want to write our own vows.

It won't be easy. When, as a newspaper reporter, I sit down to write a story I know is incredible, it's always hard because I feel the pressure of doing it justice. So the question of the next several months is: How will I ever write vows to a man who's been so incredible to me, who is my everything?

For starters, I took notes at a wedding we recently attended. This couple also wrote their vows, and I teared up at much of what they said. Some excerpts:

"Every day that we're together is the best day of my life."
"I will love you as you are, not how I want you to be."

Of course, one shouldn't steal vows from another couple. The point of writing your own vows is for them to be precisely you two. That's what makes this whole intimidating process worth it in the end, right? So, one thing Steven and I have decided to do is collect and read every card we've ever exchanged in what we've dubbed our "card party." Here's the rainbow of cards we've amassed:

See any common denominator in many of the cards I've received? Hint: There's a live clue present (as she is whenever I'm doing something that involves paper on the floor).
And a couple months ago, my husband-to-be gave me this pretty little number and wrote his own description on it. He's a.d.o.r.a.b.l.e.
Being a writer and writing my own vows is akin, I'm sure, to being a composer and writing one's own first dance song. Inspiration is going to be key.

So, my love and I are having our card party. From what did you draw inspiration to write your vows?