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SunBride's AHR reviews and advice (UPDATED with link to our dance)

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#1 SunBride

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    Posted 26 August 2008 - 01:41 PM

    We get so many wedding reviews posted on this forum but rarely to we hear about how the AHRs go so I thought I would post a “review” of mine in an effort to provide some ideas, inspiration and advice to others! Sorry it’s insanely long (I put littel summary sections for those who just want to read a little bit). I just wanted to give an overview, but as I was writing it I got a bit carried away I guess! I have had full intentions of writing this for a while now (my 2nd AHR was almost 2 months ago) but have been so busy with summer stuff and clearing out all the wedding stuff.

    As a reminder, we only had our parents and sisters at our wedding. We had invited our closests friends (Best Man and Maid of Honour/bridesmaids) but when they couldn’t come we stopped there and didn’t invite anyone else. So the AHRs were important as an occasion to celebrate with everyone.

    First of all, yes, you read the title correctly, I had TWO AHRs. We both come from out of town and our hometowns are halfway across the country (Manitoba and New Brunswick). We never would have asked our relatives to come to Ottawa for an event that was not our actual wedding, so there was really no choice but to have two AHRs (or none).

    We got engaged at the end of November, booked our trips in early January and as soon as that was done I jumped into planning for the AHRs. I took care of the immediately important stuff (i.e. deciding on locations, table and chair rentals), which took a couple weeks, and then moved back to wedding planning for Feb & March. We were married April 1st and when we came back we had 6 weeks before our first AHR and then another 6 weeks before the 2nd. The timing overall was tight, 3 events to plan in 7 months! But at least things were spread out and actually the timing and planning overall worked well.

    I want to note that during all the lead up to the wedding I was so so happy we were doing an AHR because I felt like it gave me the chance to do all the wedding stuff that we would be otherwise missing out on with a destination wedding, which is in part because we had a really small destination wedding with only immediate family. I really enjoyed dong a ton of DIY projects and planning all the decorating. I want to become a wedding coordinator! If we hadn’t done the AHR I think I would really feel like I missed out on something with just the DW (but this may not be the case for everyone, especially if you spend tons of time planning your DW and have lots of guests). Also I was heart broken about my best friend not coming to our wedding, but the fact that her and my other close girlfriends were going to be honorary bridesmaids for the AHR made me feel so much better about it. It wasn’t the same as coming to the wedding, but at least it was something, and they were totally looking forward to wearing matching dresses and we planned to all get our hair done at the salon and everything for the AHR.

    1st AHR

    It was held at the Gowan Brae Golf Course in Bathurst, NB. I originally wanted to hold it outside in my in-laws huge yard but the only person renting party tents in the area only had a huge tent available (his smaller one was broken) and it was going to cost 1200$ just for the huge tent. So I decided to spend that money on food rather than simply a roof over our head. The cost of a reception at this place was extremely reasonable – dinners were 15-20$ pp and 400$ to rent the room and you have to spend 1700$ minimum between the room cost, dinner, wine and bar. We only had 50 guests so we were able to keep the cost to the minimum (and they are light drinkers).

    There wasn’t that much planning involved for this one. Once the hall was booked we just had to choose our meal / wine. Other than that there was the decorating of course. You can see that in the pics. Many of the items I used for the wedding and both AHRs, some were bought specifically for the AHRs. I made my own table runners like 2 days before the AHR and I think they were well worth staying up until 1:30am to make!

    On the day of the AHR me and my SIL spent a few hours decorating the hall and went to get our hair done at a local salon. One of my regrets was that we didn’t have as much time as planned to decorate (got a late start to the day). I really wanted to do the ceiling with tulle and lights but we ran out of time. By the end of the afternoon we were running around like mad women (going back to the hall quickly after our hair, when we were suppose to be going home to get ready) and so I was obviously not at all relaxed when the reception started. But overall the event was very little work except for the few hours of decorating, which would have been fine if I hadn’t slept in!

    We had a cocktail hour for an hour and a half which was a nice duration because it gave us the time to actually chat a bit with everyone. If you have a large reception even allow 2 hours. You won’t chat much with people during and after dinner so cocktail hour is the right time to do this.

    We didn’t have an MC for the dinner, it was much more low key than that. A few different people went to the mike at different moments (i.e. welcome words, toast, announcing first dance). The in-laws didn’t want to do speeches (I don’t think it’s something they are used to with their family weddings) and my husband hates public speaking so I was the only one to do a speech which thanked his parents and sister for being so wonderful and supportive during all the planning (they really were, we had no problems like the nightmares I hear from other brides on here!)

    After my speech we did a wedding presentation, first it was our wedding highlights video, then a slideshow of pictures of us (both growing up and throughout our relationship), then wedding photos, and then pictures from the wedding trip. Each of the three slideshows was to a different song (plus the highlights video to a song) so it was about 15 minutes long. My husband was worried that it was too long but I think it was okay seeing as it wasn’t all the same thing. People loved the video the most.

    Afterwards we had a dance, no DJ, we just played music from my laptop through a sound system borrowed from a family member. I didn’t think it was worth getting a DJ because I knew with this crowd it would be an early night. We started off the dance by doing a first dance – we had taken lessons and had a dance choreographed. People thought it was great. Many people left after that and so there was only about a dozen people dancing from 9:30pm – 11pm and then it was all over! I knew it was going to end early but it ended even earlier than I thought.

    Summary first AHR : Anyways, my overall feelings about the reception were that everything went as planned, no problems at all, but yet I didn’t feel like it was that great. I think this is partly because it started on a bad note with us being so pressed for time so I was a bit stressed and partly because it just wasn’t a big party crowd. Probably mostly it was just that my expectations were too high (thinking it would be almost as fun as if it was my real wedding reception) and it was difficult to get back in the wedding mood so it all felt a little anti-climatic. So it was a fun night, but was it worth the 2000-2500$ it cost? Not really. Lucky for us my in-laws paid as their wedding gift to us (only told us a couple weeks before that they were paying) so I am happy we did it. If they hadn’t paid I would regret spending our own hard earned money and wished we had just done some really casual backyard family gathering for like 200$!!!

    2nd AHR

    The second AHR was very different than the first because it was held in my parents backyard and we served the meals ourselves, no caterers, for 70 people. It was way more work, both for the months beforehand as well as immediately before and during the event. This was not just a casual backyard party: we rented actual dishes & cutlery, covered the tables in real tablecloths and served a delicious steak dinner. My parents built a triple car garage just in time for the event (they were going to build it anyways, but now they had to work extremely hard to have it done in the spring instead of taking the whole spring and summer to do it). Luckily my parents did a lot of the work, I only arrived from Ottawa 4 days before the event. I brought all the decorations and stuff like that, but my mom bought all the food and took care of borrowing stuff from the neighbours (BBQs, serving platters, peoples’ garage fridges to hold the food, etc)

    The party took place 3 months after the wedding, which overall was too long. But the timing worked well for the event because I needed to space out the first AHR and the second one sufficiently. Also we had TONS of out of town relatives for this one (not just within the province but halfway across the country) and it was better to ask them to come during summer holidays. So in retrospect I would not change the timing, it really couldn’t be helped for those 2 reasons, but I would not recommend to others to wait this long. The timing of the first AHR was better (6 weeks after).

    It cost us 600$ to rent tables, chairs, tablecloths and dishes from Party Stuff / U RENT IT in Winnipeg. Most of the cost was related to the dishes – it seems cheap (i.e. 3$ for a dozen forks) but add up the cutlery (6 dozen of each), wine glasses, water goblets, coffee cups and saucers and dinner plates and it got expensive!

    We didn’t get caterers because there was none out where we were, so we would have had to get some from the city which I assume would have included some travel related costs. Also we thought it was totally possible to do it ourselves and still have a nice meal, as long as we choose the menu carefully to keep things fairly easy. For the meal we served steak, baked potatoes, carrots, garlic bread and ceasar salad. We tried to choose meal items that could be prepared in advance or outside on the BBQ – I didn’t want a group of women stuck in the kitchen preparing food during the cocktail hour. The steak was obviously the more challenging part (we had 4 BBQs, some making rare, medium, and well done). Chicken would have been so much simpler. But the rest of the menu wasn’t bad (pototes cleaned and wrapped in foil the night before, ceasar salad prepped the night before than just toss with dressing right before the party, etc). For dessert we bought a whole bunch of cheesecakes, mousse cakes and a carrot cake from Costco and Superstore. I am a dessert lover so I wanted a huge selection – it was something I wanted to splurge on. I really wanted a real wedding cake but didn’t want to pay the high cost so we didn’t bother.

    We saved a lot on alcohol too obviously versus if we had done an open bar at a reception hall (my side of the family are big drinkers compared to my husband’s family!!!) Plus we saved even more because my parents go to the U.S. all the time and buy up to the duty free limit so they had a big supply of booze stocked up from trips in the past 6 months. Also my dad makes his own wine, so we saved a lot of money there too as they are big wine drinkers.

    We rented sound equipment from a place in the city (Long and McQuaid) for less than 100$ which includes two huge speakers on stands, a control console and a microphone.

    We also got 2 port-a-poties for 150$. I didn't want to but my parents were worried 2 indoor washrooms wouldn't be enough for 70 people. There was also the issue of mosquitos going into the house every time somebody opened the door to use the washroom (at night when it was dark). Mosquitos are really bad in MB, especially cottage country. My dad set up a sink with running water next to the outhouses, and mom put some soap from Bath and Body works which I thought was hilarious (port-a-potty with bath and body works soap!)

    So the total cost for the party was about 600$ for the rentals, 700$ for the dinner (500$ of that is the steak!) 200$ for the dessert (10 cakes at only like 15-20$ each!!!), 500$ for alcohol (saved so much because of the homemade wine and the hard liquor and beer all purchased in the US for duty free) and another 300-500$ on random other stuff. So the total cost was somewhere between 2300-2500$.

    We did a lot more decorating for this AHR than the first, because we had a bit more time, and more help. We did all the decorating the day before. We wanted to have nothing left to do the day off (yeah right, see below!) so that we wouldn’t be stressed. I had a few girlfriends helping me, plus my mom’s friend (my unofficial “day of coordinator”! And later my sister too. But it was crazy lots of work. It was too much to do all in one day, by the end of the day we were exhausted. I had wanted to spend quality time with my girlfriends (these are old super close friends from back home who I only see twice a year) in the evening having fun, playing games, pouring over my wedding photos (which they hadn’t seen yet, I had saved them specifically so we could look at them together) etc but we had no time for any of that L So again, I wish I had allowed more time for these preparations. I thought one day was plenty seeing as we had so many people helping (like 6 woman and 2 men doing the more manly tasks), but considering it was not only decorating, but also table/chairs/dishes set-up, a bit of food preparation (potoatoes & salad), a few other last minute projects I couldn’t bring on the plane (card box, seating plan, wrapping favors) we should have allowed 2 days. We could have split it to do some stuff two days before (i.e. tulle on the ceiling and the railing) and save some of the stuff for the day before (like setting up the rentals which could only be picked up one day before).

    The decorating looked awesome if I do say so myself (after all it was a garage!) The only thing I wish we had done better was the tulle on the railing and ceiling. For the ceiling, we should have spread out the tulle so that it looked wider rather than all hanging together (i.e. it has a “ribbon” look). We kept trying to pouf it up but it wasn’t working so we gave up. It was 5’ wide but just fell all together and looked so narrow. We should have taken each edge of the end and tied it wide apart to help it look more spread out. Whatever, no big deal. And for the railing we should have swagged it (like the head table) rather than again having the kinda “ribbon” look but whatever.

    The day of was supposed to be relaxing, not much to do besides our hair appointments and making ourselves beautiful! There ended up being a lot of last minute running around though. I can’t even remember what it all was. I know that some of it is stuff that should have been done the day before but ran out of time (ironing husband’s shirt, writing up label “flags” for all the different desserts, putting the favors on the table). Other stuff was things that had to wait until the day of so there wasn’t much choice (we didn’t think there would be much to do but lots of stuff popped up at the last minute). So the day was crazy. We were so rushed in taking pics with my girlfriends, but luckily the result was great (we were efficient and took several pics in like 15 minutes as the cocktail hour was starting) but still not as enjoyable as it would have been if we had been less rushed. The men started BBQing halfway through the cocktail hour. My dad asked several of his friends to help him out. They did a wonderful job. After dinner and dessert we did speeches by my parents and my honorary bridesmaids. Then we did our slideshow presentation (the same one as the first AHR). My bridesmaids went around (and I think a couple of my teenage cousins) and cleared everyone's plates - we didn't want the guests doing that themselves (luckily we were able to return the rented dishes dirty). Then we ushered everyone outside for about 10 minute as we cleared the middle tables out of the way to create a dance floor. There was a crowd of maybe 10-20 people who danced for a few hours and had a wonderful time. Most other people hung out just outside of the garage chatting and drinking. Most people stayed till around 1am. Everyone thought it was an awesome party, I think it probably really exceedd their expectations.

    There was so much clean up to do the next day, luckily we had guests stay overnight (at our place and nearby hotel) who helped a lot! But compared to the first AHR where it took us like half an hour to tear it all down and pack it up it was crazy lots of work. I honestly had no energy to deal with it, luckily others helped out and I hardly did any.

    Another thing that would have made it less work was just going with paper plates and plastic cutlery. Would have saved us from setting up the tables (although they looked beautiful!) clearing plates after dinner (as everyone could have just thrown it all out!) and packing up all the dishes in boxes the next day. At least we got to return them to the rental place dirty though! Really, renting the dishes was not that much work, but it's yet another thing that added a couple hours work before and a couple hours work afterwards. Put all these "couple hour" tasks together and you have a party that was a whole lot of work!

    Sumarry AHR two : Similar to AHR one, although the party went really smoothly and I it was a great party (definitely a better party than the first since people were dancing, drinking lots and stayed late) I still felt it was a bit anti-climatic. Once again maybe my expectations were too high and it was hard to get into the wedding mood. Mostly I think it’s just not the same when it’s an AHR as your real wedding day. Sure you are less stressed by separating the ceremony and the reception rather than having it all in one big super busy crazy day, but you are also breaking the mood and excitement. I didn’t expect it to be the same as a wedding, but I guess I expected it to be kinda the same and it really wasn’t. Hard to explain! But at least all the guests had an awesome time, they said so over and over again.

    The other thing is it was just way too much work. Having 2 days to prepare would have made a huge difference. I thought we had allowed plenty of time and had planned for plenty of people to help but it was still too much work and not enough time! Having more people help probably wouldn’t have made a difference. A lot of the stuff has to be done by the people who planned it (in this case me for decorations and set-up, my mom for the food) because sometimes it takes so long to explain to others what to do! So we would have needed more time rather than more help. Also it was not fun to have to deal with the clean-up after.

    In terms of cost, again if we had paid ourselves I might have felt like it was a lot of money for an event that was not our wedding, but likely a lot less so than for the first AHR as all the guests were very generous with cash gifts. My parents were concerned about an AHR looking like a money grab and one way to avoid this was by putting on a nice party, serving a nice meal, etc.

    Finally my parents loved hosting the AHR. They agree it was a lot of work but they really enjoyed it and I think it was great for them too to not feel like they “missed out” because their first daughter’s wedding was an AHR.


    So the overall conclusion is that I really enjoyed all the planning for the AHRs and before the wedding the AHRs made me feel like I wasn’t missing out on anything by having a small destination wedding. But in the end, the actual events were not as amazing as I was expecting (expectations too high?), we didn’t allow enough time to do the preparations, and lastly, considering the amount that we enjoyed the events, I don’t really think it was worth the costs (approx 5000$ for the two of them, I know not much compared to other people or at home weddings, but still a lot of money – I would have enjoyed myself a lot more using that money for a really fabulous vacation instead!).

    Just also want to reiterate that everything did go really smoothly and perfectly (besides being stressed with the last minute stuff). If it sounds like I’m being overly negative it’s just because I am focusing on the negatives to try to help others learn from my experience.

    A few pieces of advice to other DW brides contemplating an AHR:

    1) Make an exaggerated estimate of the amount of time decorating and other prep will take, THEN DOUBLE IT. Things I thought would only take half an hour and so I estimated 1 hour thinking it was generous and it totally wasn’t enough. It’s amazing how much time all the little details take, from setting up Christmas lights, hanging tulle, tying chairs bows, etc. So allow yourself 2-3x the amount of time you think you need so that you can finish everything on time and be relaxed. Don’t make the mistake I did (twice!!!) and be stressed when your reception starts.

    2) Just do a really casual backyard party (i.e. hamburgers/hot dogs/ chicken, paper plates & plastic cutlery) for very little cost. Obviously other peoples’ opinions may vary on this one, but this is my suggestion based on my experience. If you are somebody who enjoys the decorating and DIY projects like I do you can still do all those for a low-cost party, you don’t have to do a formal or semi-formal event to be able to have fun with planning. I personally would have had just as much fun with two casual backyard partys as I did with our two semi-formal events and for a lot less money (probably like 1000$ for both!).

    The only problem here is having the event look like a “gift grab”. If you know people are going to give gifts, and if you do a really cheap and casual party, then it seems a bit unfair that people would be just as generous as they would on your real wedding, but that they aren’t getting the nice meal and alcohol they would get for a real wedding reception. This was a big concern for my parents. I guess the best compromise would be if you are not spending a lot of money on a nice AHR for your guests, than put “your presence is your gift” on the invitation, so that nobody can feel like it was a “gift grab”.

    3) Give yourself enough time after the wedding to prepare for your AHR, but not too much time. I think about a month or a month and a half is ideal. Some ladies on here had theirs like 2-3 weeks later and said it was a nightmare, way too soon, too much stress. I had one 6 weeks later (good amount of time) and one 6 weeks after that (12 weeks after the wedding) and for the 2nd one it was too long, I totally was not in the wedding mood anymore (even though I was looking forward to the party. It felt like a party in my honor, but just not a wedding event).


    ***watch to the end because that's where it gets fun! After the waltz we do a chacha!***

    We took private lessons (10 one hour sessions, 500$) to put this dance together. We did it at the first AHR but not the second because my husband sprained his ankle very badly. I was devastated we couldn't do it again. My parents never got to see it, and all my relatives would have gotten a huge kick out of it (more so than my husband's did, although they enjoyed it too). It had always been a dream of mine to "put on a show" for our wedding dance. And I took dance lessons for 12 years as a kid for fun (nothing serious, tap and jazz). So I was really sad. But luckily my SIL caught it on video at the first AHR, although the quality is crappy and we don't have one photo of it! I had to change dresses as the instructors said I absolutely could not waltz in a wedding dress.

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    Head table

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    One of the tables

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    (Okay, I have to say I love what I did for the table numbers. I got this idea from somewhere on this forum. It’s a little vase wrapped in vellum with our information printed on it. Inside them I had tealights. They looked awesome when light up!)

    Guesbook table

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    AHR 2 (My parents place, namely in the garage!)

    Tulle and lanterns around the cottage

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    The garage

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    Head table

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    Close-up of the guest table set-up

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    #2 SunBride

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      Posted 26 August 2008 - 01:44 PM

      Guestbook & gift table

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      Dessert table

      (My grandma made a cake that looked like a barbie doll! I used to play barbies (yes like 17 years ago!) and my grandpa and her had made me a barbie house, so it was very appropriate. It was so cute because she did the barbie's hair to look like mine, right down to the pink flower in the hair!)

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      All the BBQ and 2 outdoor fridges (3 BBQs and 1 outdoor fridge borrowed. Never would have thought of the fridges but they were crucial and minimized trips inside the house too)

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      My husband and I and our dog! The only wedding picture with our baby :)

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      Favors (seashell chocolates)

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      The english ones (for AHR 2, the one in the photo is for AHR1) read:

      X and X
      are please to invite you
      to celebrate the wedding of
      Stephanie and Jean-Yves

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      Table numbers

      Looked so awesome lit up with tealights. And the vases only cost 1$ at dollarama so overall very cheap

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      Seating plan (with a bit of tulle blowing in the way)

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      My parents put up a bunch of Christmas lights outside, looked awesome (crappy pic! And this was only half the trees) Luckily they did this a few weeks in advance, we never would have had time otherwise.

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      #3 Alyssa

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        Posted 26 August 2008 - 01:51 PM

        Wow!!! you are so detailed - your reviews are awesome!!! great advice - thanks girlie! PS - i love the decorations - you really made both events look classy and simple :)

        #4 Kristy!


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          Posted 26 August 2008 - 02:08 PM

          Thanks for all the advice. It's nice to see a review for an AHR (or 2). That Barbie doll cake is so precious.

          #5 Dez921714

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            Posted 26 August 2008 - 02:32 PM

            Wow! Both events looked wonderful and I might "borrow" your idea for center pieces! Thank you for the review and the suggestion not to wait too long after the wedding to do teh AHR....Ididn't think of not being in the wedding mood anymore...
            http://ticker.7910.o....25vdCBpbiA.gif27 Confirmed with Plane Tickets...5 with rooms booked!

            150 INVITES / 6 YES / 13 NO

            #6 Jenn3878

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              Posted 26 August 2008 - 03:16 PM

              WOW, great review! I loved the way everything came out!! If I was having an AHR I would steal your ideas :)

              #7 kate.com


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                Posted 26 August 2008 - 03:30 PM

                Thanks for the review Stephanie!
                Great advice.... I am going to LOWER my expectations, I would have been a little disappointed too!

                My AHR is 5 months after the wedding... that is a long time, but we wanted to 1) Host it outside, and in Minnesota I wouldn't dare do that any sooner and 2) Host it after school is out... which is the main conflict for people not being able to attend.

                Honestly, I have a feeling that ANY TIME after a destination wedding would be anti-climatic due to the FABULOUS time we are going to or have had at our DW... so I am not going to get too hung up on that.

                All in all your wedding turned out beautifully! I take it your dress cleaned up well after your TTD?

                #8 SunBride

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                  Posted 26 August 2008 - 04:19 PM

                  My dress was in perfect condition after TTD, did not even bother dry cleaning it. After AHR one it has teh smallest mark on it but I wet it and wiped it off. After the 2nd AHR the bottom was quite dirty from the gravel in the driveway (we wantd to have cocktails in the front yard facing the lake, but due to a short burst of rain in the afternoon we had decided to set up the chairs in the back near the garage) but with lots of scrubbing of the hem and some shout and spray and wash stick I managed to get the dress totally cleaned (by hand, no dry cleaning!). Then I sold it to somebody near toronto and CANADA POST LOST IT! (I started another thread about this). Oh well, I had it insured.

                  #9 DanielleNDerek

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                    Posted 26 August 2008 - 04:24 PM

                    Great reviews. I have to say that is the cleanest/nicest garage I've ever seen. The decorations for both AHRs were perfect.
                    ***Married November 6, 2008***Gavin Born February 28th, 2010***
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                    #10 Carolyn

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                      Posted 26 August 2008 - 04:36 PM

                      wow you did a great job on AHR.

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