I had the honour of being part of Robyn and Carlos' wedding who were wed on January 4th, 2008. A very sweet couple with a very unique vision for their day, I knew that even the coldest weather couldn't freeze this ultra hot affair.

Held at Lula Lounge -- a hip salsa club in the west end of Toronto -- the wedding perfectly captured the Latin influence.

The ceremony was held upon the main stage at Lula Lounge with nothing but a bright red curtain as the backdrop -- which put the focus directly on the couple. Directly in front of the stage sat a memory candle upon a delicately patterned silk linen -- a symbol for those who could not in person share in the couple's happiness that day. Both the bride and the groom's parents lit the candle before the ceremony began and Robyn -- in an absolutely stunning wedding gown -- was walked down the aisle by her brother. The ceremony incorporated the tradition of the chord/lasso and coins (also called the Arrhae). The chord or lasso is wrapped around the couple to insure the protection of their union and to symbolize unity and infinity. For the coins or The groom presents his bride with thirteen coins -- a symbol of his commitment to support her. The bride then carries these coins in a little bag.

After the ceremony the guests gathered in the Lula Lounge's front room where they were served hors d'oeuvres and placed their gift cards in a beautifully decorated birdcage.

In the main room, the tables were equally unique. Each table was dressed in a different style of silk, patterned linen and topped with a funky urn filled with a single floral stem. While simple in design, the different linens and unique vase added impact.

Dinner was absolutely delicious! Appetizers offered a choice between a marinated vegetable salad with slow roasted sweet peppers, red onion, zucchini, eggplant and tomatilla served with baked goat cheese, black olives and sundried tomato tapenade (whew! what a mouthful!) OR Norwegian smoked salmon on asparagus and English cucumber salad.

The main course also provided a wide variety:

Black Angus beef tenderloin in a pommery mustard glaze with honey roasted parsnips, Yukon Gold potato and green onion medallions, drizzled in a wild mushroom sauce
chicken breast marinated in Newcastle Brown Ale on herbed guinoa dressed with green mango, mixed sweet peppers and ancho chillies
vegetarian ratatouille with herbed couscous, deep fried chevre cheese, vegetables and papcone chips with mango chutney.

I myself had the Chicken breast and it was absolutely mouth-watering! And dessert was no different -- a choice of chocolate truffle cake or lemon strawberry mouse cake. The chocolate truffle cake was incredibly devine. And to my complete shock (but a pleasant one) at the end of the evening I had learned that the event manager, Mark, had created the delicious desserts himself!

But the best was yet to come. After an incredibly romantic First Dance, a beautiful and cheerful Salsa instructor appeared and gathered all the guests on the dance floor. With a little bit of humour, some exciting music and a whole lot of skill, this chickita had the guests on their feet and learning some very sexy salsa moves. The guests were clearly having a blast. Even I had to fight the desire to get on the dance floor!

Afterwords, the guests were in for yet another treat. Rather than have a traditional DJ for the dancing portion of the night, Robyn and Carlos hired a salsa band--
Caché -- to perform live. The band was extremely talented and had all the guests on the dance floor whether they knew how to salsa or not.

The cake was stunning and scrumptious and added just one more touch to an already entertaining and vivid wedding.

Despite the cold weather outside this was one hot wedding! Robyn and Carlos successfully created a uniquely entertaining evening for their guests and incorporated Carlos' roots -- introducing many to a new culture -- but in a way that made all feel welcome and right at home as though they've lived that culture all their lives.



© Melissa Nowakowski 2008

Speeches are a necessary part to any reception. It's a time for not only the wedding party and family members to tell the bride and groom how much they love them and wish them the best, but it's also a time for the Bride and Groom to thank everyone who had a part in their lives together and on the day.

But, everyone has been to at least one wedding where the speeches have lagged on for what seems like eternity and where it seems like everyone including the uncle's cousin's brother's friend is giving a speech. Here are just a few ideas for speeches and how to make them retain their meaning for everyone - whether it's the bride and groom, parents, wedding party or guests:

1. Keep speeches to a maximum of two minutes each. The shorter, the sweeter and more impact it will have.

2. Have one set of speeches happen after each course of the dinner so that guests are listening to them while they eat -- The Bride and Groom delivering their speech during dessert.

3. Have the Bride and Groom thank everyone as soon as they reach the head table after they are introduced by the DJ and have the rest of the wedding party deliver their speeches in between dinner courses.

4. If the Bride and Groom are present during the cocktail hour and are mingling, have all speeches/toasts except for the Bride and Groom and the parents during the cocktail hour.

5. If the Bride and Groom are present during the cocktail hour, have your wedding party (except the parents, MOH, Best Man and Bride and Groom) and any other family members who would like to deliver a message to the couple have their speech pre-recorded on video and have each speech played on screen sporadically throughout the cocktail hour. Have the parents, MOH, Best Man and Bride and Groom say their speeches during dessert.

6. Have ONE PERSON (normally the Best Man) do a toast. Don't have every person conducting a speech do a toast. This takes time for everyone to get a glass, fill their glasses etc and for some guests the repetitive toasts can get tedious. You can inform your wedding party that the Best Man (or whomever you chose) will be doing the toast and that while you appreciate the gesture additional toasts are not necessary.

7. Have the two sets of parents, the MOH and the Best Man do their speeches alone. If the BMs, GMs, grandparents and/or siblings want to say something, have them go to the podium in groups (BMs together, GMs together, grandparents together, Bride and Groom' siblings together) and limit the speech of each member of those groups to 1 minute.

I always tell my clients that weddings are such a personal event that they are a complete blank slate in terms of style. Of course there are etiquette staples (ie) thanking the appropriate people, not saying your speech drunk, not mentioning past relationships or details that may humiliate anyone, etc. But there is no "rule" that says when the speeches must take place. So feel free to play!



© Melissa Nowakowski 2008

Always have a glass of water on hand. Be sure to take a couple of sips of water in between cakes. (ie) have some strawberry cake, take a few sips of water, have some chocolate cake, take a few sips of water, etc. This cleans your palette so you can have an accurate taste of the next cake. Eating one type of cake after another without cleaning the palette will affect how each cake tastes and you won’t be able to effectively gage the taste. Avoid coffee as it affects the taste of the cake as well. Water is best.

Never be afraid to negotiate. If the price tag of the cake you really want is a little out of your budget, ask our cake decorator what they can do to bring the cost down. It can be something as simple as replacing one real tier with a fake one.

Remember, the more intricate and the more tiers, the bigger the price. Some alternative options are having a three tier cake on a cake stand to add height rather than tiers, having the two bottom tiers fake and the top three real, focusing the “uniqueness” of the cake in the flavours rather than the design, going with square rather than round (you get more pieces of cake out of one tier), etc.

Never be afraid to tell the decorator what you don’t like about the cake you’re tasting. If you find that the raspberry filling you had your heart set on tastes like jam from a jar but you really love the design, tell the decorator. Rather than decide “I don’t like the filling so I guess this cake is a no-go” tell the decorator what you don’t like about it and ask if there’s anyway to fix the problem (ie) can she add real raspberries to the “jam” can she make it more crème based, etc. The decorator wants your business and therefore wants to please you so never be afraid to speak your mind.

When looking through a cake decorator’s portfolio, focus on ALL their cakes and not just wedding cakes. While birthday, anniversary and shower cakes may not seem relevant to your wedding they most certainly are. You can get a really good sense of a decorator’s creativity and how unique they can go by looking at other cakes. For example, if you want your wedding cake to look like a giant purse you may find that by looking at birthday cakes that your decorator can certainly do it. There is no rule that a wedding cake has to be a round or square tiered cake. It’s your wedding – the sky’s the limit!

If you want real florals on your cake be sure to ask what kind of florals they use (ie) gumpaste, silk, organic, etc. Your decorator should know the golden rule but it’s your responsibility to ensure they follow it and so it’s your responsibility to ask. If the florals are not edible they must be organic or silk or there must be a form of barrier between the flower and the cake. This is because pesticides can absorb into the icing of the cake and could be deadly for your guests. Remember, if you choose real florals or don’t bother to ask about organic, silk or barriers and your guests get sick due to pesticides or other chemicals – it’s YOU that’s liable on the wedding day.

Be sure to tell your decorator about any restrictions – edible or not (ie) nut allergies, your tent reception is at the bottom of a steep hill, your venue is outdoors with no covering, etc. This will help your decorator to ensure that there are no surprises on the wedding day and your cake gets to its location safely and in one piece not to mention safe for your guests to eat.



© Melissa Nowakowski 2007

“The First Dance” dates back centuries where a couple (which included a person of highest social standing (ie) King, Prince, socialite, etc.) would signify the opening of the ball by performing “The First Dance”. Today, “The First Dance” still signifies the opening of the festivities but is also a deeply personal moment for a wedding couple that symbolizes the beginning of their new life together and conveys to their guests their joint personalities.

However some couples agonize over the First Dance – whether it’s finding that “special song”, the dread over being in the spotlight or finding the very idea tedious and boring.

The First Dance is your dance…your dance that conveys the two of you as a couple so why not own it and make it yours?

Here are some ideas:

The Music:
Choose a song that means something to the two of you – a song that you both adore, a song that you first danced to together, a song that was playing when you first met…while most songs are romantic in nature also remember that there’s no written rule that the song has to be a slow one or that it has to have lyrics. If you love the theme music to Braveheart go for it! Heck, if you absolutely love "Let's Twist Again", do the twist! Again, this is YOUR first dance.

For the daring or adventurous couple:
You love to try new things so why not take salsa lessons and have your first dance be a whirlwind of salsa? Group salsa lessons can be found all over the city and start as low as $15 for each drop-in class.

Or if you prefer the funky moves of hip-hop and R&B, take hip-hop classes and have a sultry R&B groove. You can find hip-hop drop-in classes around the city starting as low as $10 per class. Other fun dances can include swing, jive, etc.

This doesn’t mean your dance has to be choreographed. Just learn the moves and wing it if you want. Because Salsa, R&B, swing, etc. aren't everyday dances (unless it's part of your culture of course) , no one will know and you’ll still look good! Not only will you have fun together in the process of learning these dances but you’ll have a blast doing it on your wedding day.

For the fun-loving couple or the pranksters:
Why not start off your first dance with an ultra sappy song then part-way through the song cut into disco and start boogie-ing? Everyone knows at least one disco move (“Staying Alive” anyone?) so there’s no choreography required for Disco – you can have loads of fun with it and so will your guests!

For the uber-romantic couple :
A waltz has always been a staple of romance – with private lessons starting at approx. $55 per hour you have the freedom of taking as many or as little classes as you want.

Or for those who prefer to do a standard dance but have chosen a special song, why not have your DJ or MC announce it’s significance/background story before you hit the dance floor?

For the ultra shy couple:
Why not have your DJ or MC ask your guests to join you on the dance floor at the start of your First Dance? While the First Dance is typically performed alone, there’s no written rule that it has to be.

Or why not have both sets of parents be dancing together on the dance floor with you to signify the joining of the families and continuance of the generations?

You may also like to start off your First Dance alone and partway through have the slow music blend into your favourite upbeat song – the two of you can then either pull guests onto the dance floor to join you or you can have your DJ or MC ask your guests to join the couple for their favourite song.

For the couple with "two-left feet":
No one says your first dance has to be choreographed or has to be perfect. If you’re comfortable doing a standard first dance then do it and choose a song that has significance for you. If you want to mix it up a bit but have two left feet, just incorporate a few turns or a dip for fun.

Again, this is YOUR first dance, so however you choose to make it yours is the right way. So have fun and enjoy that first dance together as husband and wife!



© Melissa Nowakowski 2008

If there's one thing I've noticed over the last few years, it's that so many couples believe that their wedding has to fall into some sort of mold -- as though doing anything outside the norm might call out the wedding police. And so, with that belief, many couples focus the "unique" or "different" onto their centerpieces, their florals, their decor, etc. and leave the rest of the wedding to tradition.

And that's all it really is, tradition I mean. When it comes to weddings there are very few "rules" and those rules apply in the following three areas:

Etiquette - this exists for a reason: respect for your guests, your family and yourselves. So anything deemed etiquette correct should be followed. Whether it is the wording on your invites, handwriting your thank-you cards and personalizing each and every one of them, being on time for your wedding, etc., practicing etiquette is one area where the rules definitely apply.

Culture - while with many cultures certain traditions can be skipped over or you can be very selective in which traditions you incorporate into your wedding, some cultures and their cultural traditions are mandatory. If your culture plays an important role in your everyday life, then so should it in your wedding. If you're hesitant to incorporate all of its traditions, speak with your family about which traditions are most important.

Religion - let's face it, there is no mucking around with religion. Each religion has its own set of rules and if you hope to have that religion be a part of your wedding day then the rules must be followed.

Other than the three areas mentioned above, every other aspect of your wedding is fair game. There is no rule that states that your timeline has to be ceremony, cocktail hour/photos, dinner, speeches, special dances, party. There's no rule that states that your first dance has to be slow or romantic. There's no rule that your speeches have to happen one after the other following dessert. There's no rule that your favours have to be symbolic. There's no rule that says your venue has to be a banquet hall. The misconceptions pertaining to "rules" are quite lengthy.

Feel free to bend, break and play with the apparent "rules" when you're planning your wedding.

And this is what I do. Call me a rebel, call me off-the-wall, call me crazy even, but I strongly believe that weddings should be a reflection of your individuality and your personal style. And if that means you have to bend some of the apparent "rules" to do it, so be it.

Focusing the uniqueness onto tangible details -- while it successfully creates that 'wow' element -- can be quite costly. I adore mapping out florals, centerpieces and decor in unique designs. But for those clients whose budget doesn't match the design I often opt to focus the uniqueness in other areas. My clients' guests still leave the wedding saying "that wedding was so different" but the budget hasn't grown to ghastly proportions.

There are a number of areas in which you can play around with ideas -- here are just a few:

Your venue - keep your eye open for unique venues such as restaurants, clubs, historical venues, loft spaces, etc.

Your timeline - split up speeches between courses or have them happen during the cocktail hour, have your first dance as soon as you are introduced into the hall, if your not superstitious have your photos take place prior to the ceremony, have your ceremony and cocktail hour as one, etc. Anything goes with the timeline.

Your Dances - arrange these at different times in your reception, choose a dance or song that specifically reflects you as a couple whether it's disco, salsa, hip hop, etc. The same can be said for your father/daughter dances or your mother/son dances. This is your dance, so why cater to the norm?

Your garter/bouquet toss - it doesn't have to be a toss. Why not choose a game for your guests to participate in to get the bouquet such as an elimination dance?

Your favours, guestbook, moneybox, etc - they don't have to be a standard item. The "guestbook" can be virtually anything for your guests to sign whether it's a photo, a book, cards or even a piece of fabric. The moneybox doesn't have to be a fancy ordeal, anything that will actually hold cards will do whether it's a basket with lid, hat box, birdcage, vase, etc. By playing with ideas for these smaller details you can make your wedding quite unique and not go overboard in budget.

Your attire - there's no rule that the bride MUST wear white or MUST wear a dress even. That is a trend that Queen Victoria started. Your bridesmaids don't all have to match, your groomsmen don't have to be in tuxedos, and your flowergirl and ringbearer don't have to wear an over-the-top outfit that they won't fit into in two months.

Your photo location - this doesn't have to happen in a park or a floral setting. Classic streets, amusement parks, museums, etc. can provide a perfect and innovative backdrop.

These are just a few areas. There are so many ways to make your wedding unique and so many "rules" that can be broken to make that happen. This is not to say that I don't encourage having innovative centerpieces or very different florals for your wedding party, etc. That's always a lot of fun and a memorable look to your wedding. But again, there are other areas as well in which you can play.

As a planner, when a client comes to me and tells me that they want a unique wedding, I smile, my heart flutters and I tell them this "This is your wedding -- they sky's the limit -- now let's play"