Guest Ellen Byron, Big Fat Italian Functions, plus #giveaway

News Flash: Pat Christensen is the lucky winner of Maria DiRico’s giveaway! Please check your email, Pat.

Edith here, happy to hang out under any auspices with Ellen Byron, one of my favorite author buddies.

Ellen’s second Catering Hall Mystery released Tuesday. Long Island Iced Tina is written as her alter ego Maria DiRico, and she’s here to tell you all about it. And give away a copy, too!

In the second installment of Maria DiRico’s Catering Hall Mystery series, Mia Carina is back in the borough of Queens, in charge of the family catering hall Belle View Banquet Manor and keeping her nonna company. But some events–like murder at a shower–are not the kind you can schedule…

Mia’s newly pregnant friend Nicole plans to hold a shower at Belle View–but Nicole also has to attend one that her competitive (and mysteriously rich) stepmother, Tina, is throwing at the fanciest place in Queens. It’s a good chance for Mia to snoop on a competitor, especially since doing a search for “how to run a catering hall” can get you only so far.

Mia tags along at the lavish party, but the ambience suffers at Nicole’s Belle View shower when a fight breaks out–and then, oddly, a long-missing and valuable stolen painting is unwrapped by the mom-to-be. Tina is clearly shocked to see it. But not as shocked as Mia is when, soon afterward, she spots the lifeless body of a party guest floating in the marina . . .

My Big Fat Italian Functions

The Catering Hall Mystery series, which I write under the pen name Maria DiRico, is very much inspired by my own life. (“Maria DiRico” is actually my late nonna’s maiden name.) The series revolves around an Italian-American family that runs a catering venue in Astoria, Queens. In real life, cousins by marriage ran not one, but two banquet halls in Astoria. I spent many weekends of my youth at engagement parties, weddings, showers, anniversaries, and yes, even funeral luncheons at these locations.

Have you ever heard of the Italian term, bella figura? Technically, it’s defined as “fine figure: fine appearance or impression.” A less technical definition would be “showing off.” In my family, bella figura translated into lavish events that seemed to one-up the lavish events that preceded them. One cousin’s wedding included a set by a comedian, a performance by a dance troupe doing to a number to the song “Memories” from Cats, and a framed blessing from the Pope. But this bride merely plighted her troth at a local Astoria church, so when her cousin got married, she upped the stakes with a High Mass at Manhattan’s St. Patrick’sCathedral, departing the ceremony in a white Rolls Royce while fascinated tourists looked on. Another wedding featured an oyster bar, waiters juggling pepper mills to the theme from the movie Rocky, and fireworks. The event was so over-the-top that it inspired a one-act play on my part.

While my relatives generally put the most bella figura effort into weddings, no function was completely spared. I was at a cousin’s baby shower when men wheeled in two giant boxes on dollies. The cousin’s mother-in-law had bought her a brand-new washer and dryer as a shower gift.

The plot of LONG ISLAND ICED TINA, my new Catering Hall Mystery, is kicked off by a series of circumstances involving baby showers. One shower is tame – aka, normal – but the other, plotted by a competitive stepmother, is bella figura on steroids. I had a blast coming up with Extreme Baby Shower moments. A band, an endless parade of food, an entire gifted room of nursery furniture wheeled out like on a game show, and yes, fireworks. As over-the-top as this shower may seem to the average reader, I can totally envision a family member hosting one just like it.

My husband and I had our East Coast wedding reception at one of the two venues my family ran, which happens to be the location that inspired the Belle View Banquet Manor of my series. I’ll end this post with a photo of us posing next to our wedding cake. Pretty impressive, huh? Sorry, but no bella figura here. If this was one of my cousins’ weddings, the cake would have been three times as big. And probably brought into the banquet room by a dance troupe.

Readers: Have you ever been to an over-the-top event? Comment to be entered to win a copy of LONG ISLAND ICED TINA.

Ellen Byron’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won the Agatha award for Best Contemporary Novel and multiple Lefty awards for Best Humorous Mystery. She writes the Catering Hall Mystery series, which are inspired by her real life, under the name Maria DiRico. Ellen is an award-winning playwright, and non-award-winning TV writer of comedies like WINGS, JUST SHOOT ME, and FAIRLY ODD PARENTS. She has written over two hundred articles for national magazines but considers her most impressive credit working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart.

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102 Thoughts

  1. Nope, I have never been to a crazy, over-the-top event in real life. I am enjoying my read of LONG ISLAND ICED TINA!

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  2. No I haven’t but I think it would be fun. My husband probably wouldn’t like it but I love to get all gussied up and do and go to different places and events. The more fun the better. Thank you for this chance!! pgenest57 at aol dot com

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  3. I have never been to any kind of over-the-top event. Of course, I limit the chances of that happening by pretty much avoiding going to any kind of event where that might happen in the first place.

    Good luck with the new book!

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  4. I went to a wedding in the early 2000s where the entertainment included a set by a 70s disco star. It was completely over the top, and I had a blast dancing.

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      1. The singer was Maxine Nightingale – Right Back Where We Started From. My friend Elaine loves disco so much that she’s got a disco ball hanging from her high living room ceiling.

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  5. My first job was as a coat check girl, back in the 70’s. The venue was a nice one and boy did I see some things. One of the most memorable, the Grandmother of the Bride got so drunk she fell off the platform that the bridal party was seated at.

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  6. No, but I once had an over-the-top day. I was IN 2 weddings on the same day. The gowns were even the same color, unfortunately they were 2 different styles. I had to leave one reception to drive 45 minutes to the next wedding.

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  7. I’ve been to just one over-the-top wedding: my cousin’s. A huge Catholic wedding and big reception. They divorced a couple years later, but they certainly went all out for that wedding!

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  8. I love this post – and all the comments. I went to my cousin’s wedding in northern central California in 1973, at a time when my sister and I were all about ecology and the peace movement, wearing thrift store clothes. My cousin, a year older than me, had EIGHT attendants, all sorority sisters (my university, UC Irvine, didn’t even have sororities, by design) in fluffy dresses. My aunt from San Francisco, the bride’s mother’s sister, was astonished at this throwback affair. The reception was in the back yard with the sorority girls singing around the pool. I went outside the fence and smoked dope with two other cousins…

    Still, that cousin is going strong on that marriage, with four kids and a big crew of grands. Go figure!

    I picked up my copy of Long Island Iced Tina yesterday and can’t wait to dive in!

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  9. Congratulations, Ellen!

    No bella figura here. My wedding reception was at the local Knights of Columbus hall. But I did have to keep telling my aunt “no” as she kept proposing increasingly expensive (and to my mind ridiculous) additions. One that sticks out was renting sculpted topiary trees in pots sheathed in white satin and decorated with heirloom white roses. For the price of the rental I should have been allowed to take the darn things home!

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    1. LOL! Lucky for us, my cousin always cut us breaks. Which could be why he made the news for an unexpected bankruptcy that had bride-to-be’s who booked the place banging on the chain-locked doors and screaming!

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  10. I can’t wait to read this Ellen! I was in an over the top Italian wedding in St. Louis. A sorority sister was getting married — 12 bridesmaids, three junior bridesmaids, flower girls, and a ring bearer. The cake was huge with bridges and a fountain, there was a massive buffet, endless booze, and dancing. It was so much fun and the marriage lasted a year. I grew up in a church where you had the wedding and cake after in the reception hall. I was fascinated by the whole event.

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      1. I feel like the Hill is where we got our bridesmaid dresses. The woman who owned the shop said she hadn’t seen a wedding this big since the mayor’s daughter got married. I said well this is the Godfather’s son.

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  11. Congrats on the new book!
    I was once at a party of race car driver after he won a race on his home track. The house was gaudy enough, but the sheer amount of food and drink could have fed a small country for months. And the seven car attached garage was decked out well enough that you didn’t know it was a garage unless you looked closely at where you were. It was pretty crazy.

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  12. I can very easily say I have been to a few “over the top” events. Hubby and I were clowns for several years – back when people liked clowns and they were funny and not scary. I’m not talking just birthday clowns (although we’ve done our share of those events too), but were members of group that met and performed all over the United States. With multiple meetings each year, cities worked hard to make their place THE place for the next function which brought in not lots of clowns, their families, friends and money to the local economy.

    Imagine how hard clowns work to bring a smile to the face and laughter to the air and then figure out what outlandish stunts and things not seen before that have to occur to those same clowns to bring spontaneous and genuine laughter from a whole banquet room of clowns. One thing that sticks out so much in my mind and maybe so because it involved hubby, was when a formal event was disrupted by a jilted bride showed up to claim her husband (the man in the tuxedo overseeing the whole event who just happened to be having a major milestone birthday and swore he couldn’t be got). The bride (my hubby) was dressed in full bridal gear and makeup wearing (so good you couldn’t see his mustache), a blonde wig and fitted with a mic so the whole room could hear what was going on comes in the back announcing that she will NOT go through her wedding without her groom. The whole interaction was so comical the audience was rolling with laughter. It ended with the bride throwing the groom over her shoulder and being carried out to the tune of “Happy Trials”.

    These type events might not be materialistic, but each one was most definitely over the top and trying to out do the last one in one fashion or other. Plus they were tons of fun and are now greatly missed. The passing of such greats as Emmett Kelly Jr. – son of Ringling Brothers Emmett Kelly but a famous clown in his own rite and the world’s most photographed clown who holds the record for the world’s largest photo ever being made by Kodak at the World’s Fair, others like us that have gotten older or with medical issues that it’s not an option any longer and the world’s changed view on clowns where they are not scary and not lovable, the gatherings are fewer and further apart and we no longer are able to attend. Glad for the memories of good times and great friends!

    Thank you for the chance to go down memory lane and for the fabulous opportunity to win a copy of “LONG ISLAND ICED TINA” which has been on my TBR list since you first mentioned it. Shared and hoping to be the very fortunate one selected.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

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    1. What I great story, Kay. I’m sorry I missed that wedding. Would have been even funnier if the one your husband carried out had actually been the groom rather than the MC!

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    2. Kay, where to begin?! What a fantastic story and a fascinating life you and your husband led. It sounds amazing. I feel like there’s a whole potential cozy series here! It’s sad that society’s attitude towards clowns changed and the events don’t happen as much or you can’t attend. But it sounds like you have wonderful, wonderful memories.

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  13. No over the top stories from me, but one that’s memorable. My cousin’s son got married at a winery in Napa in the midst of last year’s fires! The fires kept getting closer & closer, but the wedding continued through the cake cutting & first dance before we had to evacuate. We all had to check out early from the hotel, most people moved to another but my brother took me & my sister to his house before our flight out the next day. A truly memorable day.

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    1. Wow, Judith. How memorable and yet scary. I’m in Los Angeles and saw wedding happening during the fires on the news. I wonder if one of them was your cousin’s son?

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  14. Congrats on the new release, Ellen! Hope you’re having a fab week. Can’t say I’ve ever attended an over the top event. From your descriptions, I m ed to figure out how to make it to one. 🙂

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    1. Ha, J.C.! They’re truly a hoot. AND – you get favors, a concept alien to many non-ethnic wedding guests. I think the trend finally spread but for years, people would look at me like I was nuts when I went on about favors I got at various weddings.

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  15. I worked as a building supervisor for the park district and took care of many, many parties. One wedding stands out, unfortunately.

    The wedding cake didnt arrive until the banquet had been going for a hour and a half. But with the cake, the brides family tried to smuggle in a case of booze. Except the park district insisted on alcohol-free contracts for their events. When the family refused to set aside the alcohol, I had to shut the party down and send everyone home. Imagine my surprise when I went into the venue room after the last guest had left to find the bride, in her wedding gown and veil, pushing a broom around the floor! (She was still hoping to get her deposit back.)

    That was, unfortunately, the most memorable of my weddings.

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    1. WOW. I feel for you. My friend works for L.A. Parks and Recs and the stories she tells me make my jaw drop. She’s written a book about it. If it gets published, I’ll let you know!

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  16. Hi Ellen,

    You know how much I loved the first book in the series (Here Comes the Body), so I was a little bit anxious when Long Island Iced Tina hit my Kindle this week.

    I should have know better. I’m about 3/4 through the book, and it’s hilarious. That over the top shower is even more over the top because of the behavior of the hostess. If I spoke Italian, I’d insert an appropriate phrase expressing the sentiment, “Oh my Gawd!”.

    That reception takes place in the former France pavilion on the grounds of the 1964 Worlds Fair. Does that building still exist? I went to that Worlds Fair (along with a troop of Boy Scouts on their way to the National Jamboree in Valley Forge). I remember a lot about that visit, but I don’t remember visiting the French pavilion.

    I didn’t actually visit France until much later (around 1980), and I do remember feeling a bit disappointed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. However I remember being awed by the Orangarie and the grounds in general.

    The two most memorable weddings I ever attended were both on the same weekend. The first one was reasonably over the top with about 300 guests (most of whom I think were bridesmaids). My most vivid memory is of the bride running around through the whole wedding stage-managing everything. She wasn’t exactly a bridezilla, but she came close.

    The other wedding was just the opposite. There were about 25 guests, and after an extremely beautiful ceremony in a Unitarian church a block from the couple’s home (the groom started crying during the ceremony, and that got all the rest of us going). Music was provided on a Boom Box brought by the bride. After the ceremony, the reception was at their home. All the food had been prepared by the bride along with her sisters and cousins (including the wedding cake, which I think was two tiers high). Everything was indescribably beautiful. And I doubt the total cost was much over $100.

    Guess which one I preferred? With a small number of guests there was plenty of time to sit on the sofa at the reception and chat with the couple. I didn’t know anyone other than the couple at either wedding.

    At the mammoth affair, people who knew each other chatted animatedly, while those of us who didn’t (me) sat in silence at the fancy table. At the small affair, I got to know all the bride’s relatives and was able to tell them how wonderful the food was and actually got to know them.

    So I decided then and there that the best weddings were about the relationship of the two people, and their relationships with their friends and family.

    Finally, I just noticed that the THIRD book in the series (It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder) is on sale at Amazon and will be released October 26! Yay Ellen!!! I’ve already pre-ordered it!

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    1. Oh yes, one other thing I meant to mention. At one point in the story, Mia is given memorable driving lessons by her friend Jaime.

      I swear you were channeling my late mother when you wrote those passages. It irritated me to no end that, in my early lessons, she would clutch the window crank as I drove. She would also brake for me, pounding her foot on the floor of the passenger side.

      I was just as clueless about my level of expertise as Mia. I remember, just after I got my license, we drove to San Simeon to visit Hearst Castle, taking California Highway 1 down through Big Sur.

      The scenery was incredible. Highway 1 is a two-lane road that goes along cliffs that drop several hundred feet below you into the Pacific Ocean. I was very put out that my mother wouldn’t let me drive. I haughtily informed her that the State of California had determined that I was fully qualified to drive on any road in any condition. For some reason, she wouldn’t budge. I was most miffed.

      Today the thought of a 16-year old who has only had his license for a few weeks even THINKING of driving two feet from disaster gives me the shakes.

      Thank God, we (hopefully) become less stupid as we grow older.

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      1. That’s so funny. When I was learning to drive, I refused to drive with my mother after she panicked as I pulled out of the driveway! And I didn’t for ten years – until she broke her arm and couldn’t drive herself!

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    2. Lee, thank you so much!!! Whoo hoo! No, the French pavilion I describe doesn’t exist BUT the location is inspired by the real location of the World’s Fair, which is now Flushing Meadow Park. The hemisphere is still there. And the New York State Pavilion was turned into Terrace on the Park, which inspired Versailles on the Park in my book. (A cousin got married there but I missed the wedding because I was off at college.)

      Yes, talking at a table at a big wedding was brutal. You were miles away from everyone else and the music was usually deafening.

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  17. Don’t think I’ve ever been to an over the top event, but I loved reading about the one in your book.

    And, if you haven’t read the book yet, do so. It’s marvelous.

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  18. When I was in my early twenties and my college friends were getting married off I went to an over-the-top Jewish wedding in Scarsdale, NY. The bride was a tough-as-nails war correspondent who was far more comfortable in a flack jacket than a gown, but she was an only child whose mother wasn’t giving away her shot, so the bride and groom grinned and bore it. That marriage didn’t last, which was entirely predictable, but both of them are happy now having achieved their very different dreams in life.

    Back in my waitressing days I did a bunch of banquet waiting which involves learning to carry heavy trays on one shoulder and is very different from restaurant or diner waiting, which I also did.

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  19. Congrats, Ellen, on your new book. Looking forward to “attending” the over the top shower. I’ve been to several events that were a lot fancier than they needed to be. In the late ’60s.I have a cousin who had 13 bridesmaids, junior bridesmaids and flower girls. This was in a small town in southern Illinois. They must have had every young female in town in that wedding. I’ve never been to a huge wedding where the family could afford it. That makes me sad. All that money could have been spent to help the couples get off to a good start. And, like Lee, I much prefer small weddings. When hubby and I got married there were 5 people besides us, and that included the minister. It was outdoors in a park gazebo next to a pond. Oh, I forgot about the big red dog that ran through the pond and shook all over us. He was welcome even if we didn’t know him. After 46 years, it’s still the nicest wedding I’ve even attended.

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    1. Ginny, your wedding sounds absolutely lovely. And LOL about all the women in town being in the wedding. I get what you’re saying about the cost. I had cousins who spent tens of thousands of dollars and then got mad when the money guests gave them as gifts didn’t cover the cost.

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  20. Ellen, I love the new book so much — congrats!
    You and hubby look gorgeous — and I think that cake is pretty impressive!
    Great stories, only now I’m feeling slighted that I’ve never been to a reception with a juggling performance!

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  21. A formal bridal shower – the bride to be and the mothers of the bride and groom were all attired in gowns.
    Only shower I’ve ever attended with a dress code.

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  22. My girlfriend had caviar at her first wedding. Yuck, too salty. That’s about as over the top as it gets for me. Stay safe and well. Looking forward to the new book!

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  23. I have been to a couple of over the top weddings. One a couple of years ago, catered buses, to church, hotel and venue. Roof top for cocktails and appetizers and pizza before leaving. It was a beautiful day and wedding. Looking forward to reading the new series, love the Cajun Country mysteries.

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  24. Congrats on your new book! I have not been to an over the top event. I would love to though! How fun that would be!

    Thanks so much for the chance!

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  25. I’ve never been to a over the top event that I can think of right now .lol. but congratulations on your new book and I’m looking forward to reading glasses it . Thank you !

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  26. Yes I had to go to a large elegant party once that required a expensive dress. . it was such a bore I left early and returned the dress LOL . Most recently I had to go to a very elegant expensive over the top wow wedding . It was intimidating to go and I felt out of place.

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  27. I have never been to an over-the-top event. I have social anxiety disorder and would prefer to stay home if something was anything more than calm.

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  28. I just finished reading and reviewing the first book in this cozy series! I loved it and I would LOVE to win this book! Thanks very much for the chance!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Linda, thank you so much!! Good luck! I’m going to use random.org to pull a number. I wish everybody could win. But then I’d have no sales and my series would be cancelled, lol.

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  29. For some reason, my reader always delays this blog posting for almost a whole day. Your book sounds like great fun, Ellen!

    I’ve been involved in several over the top social events, thanks to having friends with lots more money than we have! Three different friends had daughters who were debutantes, so we got invited to deb balls and a couple of the fun parties they also had to host. There were some very froufrou weddings, too, but I think the best one was for friends who were much older when they married: he was in his 50’s, and she was late 30’s. Her gown was rust-colored silk, very non-bridal, and the theme for the outdoor-in-a-tent October wedding was pheasant hunting. On the hors d’oevres table was a stuffed pheasant, and the display was magnificent with fall colors. The groom had a company that provided displays for conventions, and he has exquisite taste.

    They had three different musical groups: A bagpiper for their walk to the minister, a chamber trio for during and immediately after the ceremony, and a rousing band for the reception. I don’t think there were more than 100 guests, but it was so lushly produced I’ll never forget that day.

    sewstorm at gmail dot com

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  30. Congratulations on your new book! Sounds good and I love the cover too.
    A few years ago. A Insurance company I had worked for up until I had my first child was celebrating their 100th year Anniversary. My husband and I was invited and all the other employees that had worked there also.
    It was at the tallest building in downtown Indianaopolis and at the top floor. The view was beautiful! Very fancy! The food was great . Darrell and I got all dressed up and loved visiting with past employees. It was definitely over the top for us!

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  31. I’m adding another over the top event. Lol!
    We were celebrating my nieces 21st birthday and booked us a room for the night. We went to get our room and they had over booked our room. So the only thing they had open was the Penthouse suite! For the same prize! Well, of course we took it. 😂 This place was definitely a over the top experience for us!!!

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  32. Our family went to an over the top wedding – and traveled from out coast to coast for it – the bride’s father was trying to out do his friend. It was out of his budget so then the decided to include in the invitation that a $150 per person was the suggested “gift amount”. It kept many of our family members away. We went and gave them a gift from their registry in the normal wedding price range figuring we already had airfare, hotel, rental car, and expenses. I think I would skip it the next time.

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  33. We had a medium size reception, but did not not serve food to keep the cost lower. Wedding costs have become so expensive. I am so glad that we were married 32 years ago. Thank you for sharing your time and your talent. God bless you.

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  34. I was in a wedding back in the stone ages that was over the top in a very elegant, very expensive way that made me a total nervous wreck. I was one of eight bridesmaids and eight groomsmen, who were coached very seriously on how to walk in together down the aisle, then separate, bridesmaids on one side, groomsmen at the other and ascend a set of broad steps leading up to where the ceremony would take place. The first bridesmaid and groomsman would stand at opposite sides of the top step, the next couple at the second-to-the top step, etc. In this way, we were told, the bridal party would “frame” the bride and groom. I, of course, in my terror of getting it wrong, got it wrong. Somehow I got it into my head that we were supposed to stand on every other step, so that’s what I did, leaving a step between me and the bridesmaid in front of me. By the time I realized my mistake, the ceremony was half over and it was much too late to move up. Plus, all the photographs had been taken. To this day, my face burns when I think of those photos, with the wedding party “frame” ruined by yours truly. And yet the lovely bride never said a word about it, bless her heart.

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  35. that is so cool. especially that you have much to draw from for your books.
    Yes. when our cub scouts were crossing over to boy scouts there is always an event with a dinner.
    Well this year the lady that was in charge went way over board. It was like we were at a wedding reception and these cub scouts were the five minute attraction. So wrong and it really didnt encourage the cub scouts at all. Rather the opposite. But our troop made up for it when they joined the boy scout troop we had a full troop celebration and these boys felt like they could conquer the world. And most of them did. quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

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