Saturday, November 22, 2014

Looking for More Ideas?

Photo by Laura Pennace Pennace

Come visit my ezine Love is a Small Word where you will find lots of new ideas about ceremony ideas, wedding locations, New York area vendors, wedding readings and much more!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Topping it Off!

Since becoming a wedding officiant in New York City, I have come to really appreciate individuals from the British Empire. As antiquated as it sounds, there is something wonderful and romantic about the grace and manners of the Kingdom. I have become particularly fond of the British affection for hats and so-called fascinators. The fascinators are a new-fangled hat--something akin to a cross between a traditional hat and a headband.....all of the glory of a hat, with none of the "hat head." I first became familiar with the wonders of the fascinator at my weddings of British and Australian brides. However, with the recent Royal Wedding, I share some of my favorite shots with you, including one of yours truly. I was in my office sporting a fascinator sent by my dear, dear friend Kirsty, who now lives in Australia. To our Dear Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge....please keep our new love affair with hats and fascinators!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

For the Love of the Game

I was recently asked to participate in an innovative wedding between a bride and her golf-loving husband. The wedding took place on a golf course, with numerous very humorous elements. Although I used only portions of this essay in the ceremony script, I enjoyed the opportunity to make the connections between a game we adore and a happy marriage. This usual ceremony language is a perfect example of how a skillful Celebrant can use any interest of a couple in their ceremony. Enjoy:

I, personally, have long been a fan of golf, not only as a complicated sport, but one that is filled with tradition, symbolism, pageantry and dignity. Golf is not a simple endeavor and most people who have played are struck with the ups and downs of their skill (and handicap). Golf, in general, doesn’t afford us the luxury of consistent improvement, rather—like life—unexpected challenges present themselves, perhaps when we least expect them. The typical golfer, who routinely keeps his ball in play in the fairway, may be surprised when he suddenly begins to develop a nasty slice. So too, a productive marriage that happily moves through time may, on occasion, come upon an unwelcome and inexplicable problem. To move through both sets of challenges, it takes time, patience, and a willingness to address the matter at hand, sooner rather than later. Like golf, when we stumble upon a vexing obstacle, in a good marriage we are afforded second chances—an emotional Mulligan, if you will. A kind, forgiving partner will routinely allow a gimme—assuming the best in his or her beloved.

Not only has golf been a game of gentlemen (and gentlewomen) over the years, even the casual weekend golfer is called upon to exhibit a level of respect and honesty. Whether on modest public links or a distinguished PGA course, innumerable situations arise that demand good judgment and a commitment to fair play. If a ball goes out of bounds, a true golfer will accept the outcome and uphold the commonly accepted rules of the game. In a good marriage, a well-intentioned husband or wife must always embrace fairness and own up to his or her part in whatever disagreement may arise. There’s no bending of the rules in a well-played golf game, and no emotional cheating in a mature marriage. An esteemable golfer will be considerate of others—making a tee time, for instance, or allowing other to play through when he is slow. He will leave a hole in the same fine condition he found it, fixing his divets along the way. To my mind such an orientation is akin to a kind husband or wife will be mindful of treating his partner with empathy and respect.

Golf, at its best, embodies humility and a willingness to learn and change. The prudent player will seek the advice of those with wisdom—whether it be a coach, club pro or Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book. And in marriage, the best lessons we often learn are from the loving marriages we saw as children. And, when something isn’t working, a serious golfer will honestly assess the situation. When reviewing video of a long held swing, he will be willing to try a different approach. Just because some grip or stance has been a lifelong habit, it just might not the best choice for a more productive outcome, anymore. In marriage, thoughtful husbands and wives will evaluate a marital impasse, and consider altering their style of communications and relating.

When I was coming up, we had an expression “Drive for show, and putt for dough.” A golfer at any level will enjoy enormous satisfaction from hitting that sweet spot on the club, yielding a long, straight drive and set up for the next shot. But it is with the finesse and prowess of his short game that he will save strokes and lower the all-important handicap. In marriage, as the writer Wilferd Arlan Peterson says, “The little things are the big things.” Grand romantic gestures have their place, but it is daily acts of kindness and generosity that are the foundation of a happy home.

While many consider this an individual sport, the opportunities for true partnership, shared values, and common objectives are innumerable. The interdependent relationship of a golfer and his caddy can be heartwarming. While one is in the lead, he willingly consults his partner and takes seriously advice that is offered. I suggest to you that the format of the scramble is one that is replicated time and again in marriage. The team prospers by capitalizing on the strengths of the individuals. Over time, reliance on those advantages goes back and forth—with one partner taking the lead, and then the other. But, always they are working in concert for the benefit of the couple and family.

A joy of golf is its reverence of history—all that has come before. Whether the fabled Green Jacket at Augusta or the homage we pay to Bobby Jones, it is important to recognize the sport in the trajectory of its rich history of centuries. And so, I invite you to prepare to exchange vows, promises offered by untold generations before you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Honoring Native American Wedding Traditions

Having been born and raised in Oklahoma—“Home of the Red Man”—I have always had some appreciation and understanding of the Native American history and culture. As we know, the story of so-called American Indians has, in many ways, been tragic….one that is filled atrocities that included the introduction of catastrophic diseases such as Small Pox, a disease previously unknown to the First Peoples. The land of Native Americans was confiscated, with Indians following a “Trail of Tears” of relocation to places like Oklahoma. Despite the cruelty of this past, the cultures of the scores of Native American “tribes” remains a treasure in many places in America. It was only after my sister married a member of the Chickasaw Nation (One of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes), did I delve into Native American affairs in any way.

It was just last week, that I had the honor to marry a young man who was a member of the Cherokee Nation. This union offered me the opportunity to do a bit of research on Native American marriage and courtship rituals. Certainly, the particular customs vary among the various American Indian Nations. But for couples wishing to pay respect to their Native heritage, many options exists. A helpful book by the late Leslie Gourse, Native American Courtship and Marriage Traditions (New York: Hippocrene Books), offers a variety of suggestions ranging from Native garments, rituals, dances, and music. Among the poetry selections included a Cherokee Prayer, perfect for this couple:


God in Heaven above
please protect the ones we love.
We honor all you created as we pledge
our hearts and lives together.

We honor Mother Earth
and ask for our marriage to be abundant
and grow stronger through the seasons;

We honor Fire
and ask that our union
be warm and glowing
with love in our hearts;

We honor Wind
and ask that we sail through life
safe and calm as in our father’s arms;

We honor Water
to clean and soothe our relationship
that it may never thirst for love;

With all the forces of the universe you created,
we pray for harmony and true happiness
as we forever grow young together.


Many resources exist for those seeking to learn about Native wedding traditions. The recently opened Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Indian is a perfect place to start.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

An Open Letter to Sir Paul McCartney

I think that everyone was happy when learning that Sir Paul McCartney was “tying the knot” with American businesswoman Nancy Shevell. McCartney’s love affair with his late wife Linda is the stuff of legends. After his sadly bitter divorce in recent years, we hope that the third time is a charm for him. On the heels of the Royal wedding, this announcement was another bit of welcome romantic news from across the pond. My only disappointment was learning that Shevell and McCartney were seeking a small, civil ceremony—in short order.

I certainly understand why distinguished individuals of a “certain age” might wish to avoid the media spotlight that inevitably accompanies a large, spectacular wedding. However, there is no need to rush off to the judge’s chamber! As a life-cycle Celebrant and wedding officiant, I am here to say that there is a most wonderful, extraordinary option for all couples, including those who wish to have an intimate, private affair.

Throughout my various websites and blogs, I often mention that I am a “Celebrant,” as well as a wedding officiant. Status as an officiant gives me the legal credential to marry people. Celebrancy is all about training and approach. As part of an ever expanding international association, Celebrants are educated in creating specialized ceremonies for major life events and transitions including weddings, funerals, baby blessings, and much more. And this I can guarantee—the principles of our approach work beautifully for weddings with any number of guests—20 or 200. From over the top Manhattan venues to little patches of paradise in Central Park, finely crafted ceremonies offer the happiness and emotional gravity that every marriage partnership deserves.

I won’t recite chapter and verse about what makes our approach so special. When meeting new clients, I underscore that from a philosophical and religious point of view, a Celebrant will come to the process making every effort to learn their view on life’s most important questions. Through conversations and the written word, I (and other Celebrants) get to know what makes brides and grooms, as individuals and as a couple, “tick.” A Celebrant-led ceremony will tell the story of the couple—from lighthearted stories of the early courtship to the deepest words describing their love for each other—in a special narrative portion of the ceremony script. Finally, a Celebrant will offer interesting options for every part of a traditional ceremony format from readings, vows, rituals, inclusion of guests, and more!

A good wedding ceremony is rather difficult to describe—but as with many things, “You know it when you see (and hear) it.” In trying to articulate the indescribable, I suggest to clients that a rich ceremony feels three dimensional, whereas a “cookie cutter” ceremony is, literally, flat. A standard issue wedding script, like a clear broth, will provide nutrition and will “get the job done.” But wouldn’t you rather have a rich stew, filled with interesting tastes and textures? (Of course, in my case, it would be a Goulash….out of respect for my Hungarian boyfriend!)

So Sir McCartney and Ms. Shevell, let’s respect your desire to have a small, private ceremony. But, please, realize that this preference should not preclude a spectacular, personalized script that you will never forget, a ready gift that a Celebrant will happily provide. Call me to schedule your special day!

Monday, May 9, 2011

On Saturday, I had the unique opportunity to participate in a “surprise” wedding for a happy bride and groom in Manhattan. The couple invited their friends and family members to an “engagement party” at the fancy Tribeca Rooftop. After a bit of mingling and some cocktails, they were told that this was really a surprise wedding. As you can imagine, the guests were thrilled with cheers all around!

I’ve heard of a few of these ceremonies, including the recent nuptials of singer LeAnn Rimes and actor Eddie Cibrian; however, I’d never been involved in such a sneaky affair. It was wonderful! In preparing the ceremony script and experiencing the happy occasion, I came away with several thoughts about why this was not only a fun idea, but a meaningful one, as well. Because the event was not surrounded by the typical anxieties associated with a standard wedding, guests were really “in the moment” as some would say. There were no worries about gift registries, seating arrangements, or the age old dilemma of “what to wear to a wedding,” so guests could just relish the excitement and cheer of the wedding. But, by offering this unexpected celebration, guests were—in my opinion—somehow more present for this all important rite-of-passage, carefully listening to words they were not expecting to hear on a late spring evening. The bride and groom had particular intentions for the night. The groom explained, “We want you all to enjoy the evening and know that experiencing the moment is more important than the details and planning.” The bride’s wish for the night? “Love, joy, celebration, fun, and laughter.”

Likewise, this event design underscores the value that two individuals place on their circle of loved ones. Couples who decide to get married on relatively short notice will often simply elope to an exotic location or marry at City Hall. However, reciting the all-important vows in front of a beloved community highlights the importance of family and friends. The bride and groom truly wished to share this occasion.

So on this Saturday evening, the bride was stunning and the groom beamed. It was a perfect way to spend the eve of Mother’s day. For, after I declared them man and wife, the bride followed up with another monumental announcement: the couple is expecting a baby in a few short months! It doesn’t get any better than that!

I'd like to thank Cheryl Fielding-LoPalo of Cheryl J. Weddings & Events for introducing me to our lovely couple.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Princess in Us All

After unparalleled fanfare, the much anticipated Royal Wedding has come and gone. As someone in the "wedding business,” I have been reflecting on what this celebration meant to the United Kingdom and what it says about weddings in American culture. Perhaps once this experience has marinated in my mind, I will have additional insights, but for now, here goes:

This wedding, like all weddings, can be a time to set aside the daily troubles of our individual lives and the chaos of the world to focus on some of the great gifts of life: the hope-filled love of a young couple on a new path to the future, as mutually supportive partners, perhaps joined by children some day. It is a new beginning, of sorts, and is treated with care and reverence not customary in daily life. For any couple, this is a most important moment that they publicly make commitments that they made to each other long before.

The wedding underscored the strength of this multi-generational family. Because of the high-profile lives of "the Royals," we sense that these individuals are known to us. With pictures of Royal weddings from Queen Victoria through Prince Charles and Lady Diana, we see the lineage of the Windsors. As I work with all of my couples I encourage them to consider their vows as a continuation of promises made by their ancestors many times before. While not all marriages survive the test of time, one can only imagine that each couple starts with a positive vision for their lives together. When brides and grooms are blessed with parents who have tended to healthy, joy-filled marriages, noting that in the ceremony is a small, but meaningful,way to honor their families. There is no greater instruction in the methods of building and sustaining a happy partnership than seeing it at home.

As Americans, steeped in a more egalitarian culture, we usually bristle at the notion of a divinely appointed monarchy. However, the majesty of the wedding must have moved even the most democratic among us. I must admit to being a bit of an Anglophile--one who reminisces fondly about the British Empire (focusing on the grandeur rather than the atrocities of colonialism). So the wedding is a romantic vision of a times gone by. Weddings of any size or sort offer a special occasion to draw upon traditions and customs associated with our motherlands (or in some cases fatherlands), regardless of how long we have been in America. Whether it is an American bride of Australian ancestry carrying a lucky horse shoe in her bouquet or a first-generation bride from the Philippines incorporating a lasso as a unity ritual, these acts of ethnic pride can resonate with guests. The customs may go virtually unnoticed by guests or may be highlighted in the ceremony script or wedding program. But, I have found that discussions of genealogical roots is a perfect moment for brides and grooms to have meaningful conversations with parents and relatives about their common ancestry.

A wedding can most certainly include a time to honor those who have passed. The Royal wedding commenced with a tribute to the the beloved Princess Diana, which included the singing of a hymn that was part of her funeral ceremony, more than a dozen years ago. Likewise, Kate has proudly worn Diana's engagement ring. On a more public note, now Princess Catherine placed a bridal bouquet on the tomb of Unknown Soldier as they recessed. Such gestures make known that while some are gone, they are not forgotten. We carry their memory with us, and this potent rite of passage is somehow tinged with bittersweet reminders of their absence. I notice that more and more couples integrate such remembrances into ceremony words, sometimes incorporating rituals to draw more attention to the loved ones who have passed. Counterintuitively, this choice heightens the humanity of the ceremony, rather than dampening spirits, as some might think.

The Royal Wedding was filled with beautiful music from the heralding trumpets to grand organ hymns. I try to remind couples that the processional and recessional music are a real opportunity to express themselves. I continue to be surprised to find that even among some of the most elaborate NYC weddings, the ceremony music is given little consideration. There is a standard repertoire of accepted music for weddings, and couples lack the time, energy, or desire to investigate alternative accompaniment. With the assistance of people who know more about music than I do, I am seeking to integrate music consultation into my service portfolio. Just last week, serving a destination couple from Brisbane, I decided to forego music played with my IPod and portable speaker, as we had discussed. As we held the ceremony in Central Park, I “hired” a street musician—an older saxophonist from Russia—to play music before and after the ceremony, as well as the requisite processional and recessional standards. It was a great, light-hearted touch. He played jazz standards and the most traditional processional and recessional tunes.

There is no disputing that this Royal Wedding was a feast for the eyes. Whether a wedding is a grand production or a small event, limitless ideas exist to make each and every aspect of the celebration shine. A million and one websites and books are easily available to offer up a cornucopia of suggestions for the DIY bride. Simple design programs allow the creative bride and groom to make invitations and save-the-date cards that look—but are not—supremely expensive. The crafting superstores such as Michael's (or Hobby Lobby, popular in Oklahoma, where I am from) are filled with rows and rows of baskets, flowers, ribbons and more to decorate the event in elegant style. Websites, television shows and style mavens such as Martha Stewart provide in-home tutoring that didn’t exist a few decades ago. One need only loiter around their local Barnes & Noble bookstore for a few hours to take home some ideas that speak to their style. In some ways, I believe that a couple on a budget is “forced” to identify interesting design elements that can be more unique than standard issue options of wedding coordinators and venues. Weddings are not just about tasty food, copious alcohol and danceable music, but they should serve up visual stimulation that we don’t find in our daily routines.

To use a favorite British expression, the Royal wedding helped the English to “mind the gap.” The fact that Kate is a “commoner” was ballyhooed in the lead up to the Royal wedding. Indeed, this matrimonial pairing heralds a new era of spousal choice by the monarchs in Great Britain. It is a far cry from the earlier fixation on finding a suitable titled member of the aristocracy (ideally a virgin). As with “regular” couples in America, William and Kate were, by all accounts, guided by their hearts. Just as the union of the Prince and new Princess bridged these two parts of Britain’s relatively stratified social hierarchy, so, too, in America, marriages facilitate the joining of individuals from two (or more) faith or ethnic traditions.

Finally, in listening to the television commentary about this morning’s wedding there was a sense that this wedding met the lofty pageantry standards of the monarchy, but it did so with the couple making many choices based on how they envisioned the day, from the decision to have an adult sibling as part of Kate’s bridal party to the publicized “after party” hosted by the rambunctious Prince Harry. Moreover, even though the service followed High Anglican requirements, there were moments of intimacy and authentic joy, visible to all. In a touching moment, the Archbishop of Canterbury read a prayer crafted by the couple. This emphasis on integrating the story, customs, and ideas of each bride and groom into a fairly standard wedding framework is at the heart of what I do as a Celebrant. For, at the end of the day, there are no flowers beautiful enough….no food delicious enough….and no wedding dress stunning enough to overshadow the pure emotion of a unique ceremony that belongs to this couple and this couple, alone.

I know we all wish this Royal Couple well, as somehow we pin our own hopes and fantasies on this union to provide us with a greatly desired “happily ever after.” But even in this day, there are reminders of how we celebrate weddings, and how we might celebrate weddings, that can inform us all.