Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Dress

I found her out in the barn, 20 minutes or so before the wedding was to start. She was still in her jeans, but she'd had her shower. She said, "Is it that late already?"

I said, "My only rule is that we begin when the bride is ready. And since you're the bride, we will wait."

She looked at me and I saw a flicker of desperation go across her face. I asked, "Are you nervous?"

She said, "Not about marrying John. We've been together 22 years and we have grandkids."

I prompted her, "What is it?"

She said, "It's that damn dress. My grandmother and mother have lost their minds."

"How bad can it be?" I asked.

"Have you seen it?" she asked me. "It's huge. I'm 42 years old. I raise horses. I'm getting married in a double-wide. There's not going to be room for the dress, and I don't know if I am strong enough to move in it."

I coaxed her out of the barn with a vague promise to get her through, no matter what it took. The groom, John, watched us walk towards the porch. "Brenda," he said, "I think you'd best wrestle into that dress. They're all waiting."

She nodded her head, and went inside. I followed her, and there it was. The Dress. It was hanging from a door, and its skirt seemed to reach for several feet. The sleeves were lace, and the skirt had ruffles from the waist to the hem. Brenda looked at me as if to say, "See what I mean?"

Her mother and grandmother sat in the living room, their eyes shining with pride. I soon learned that they had bought the dress years before for Brenda in the fond hope that the day would come that she would be a bride, even if it came after she was a mother and a grandmother herself. So, now that the day had in fact come, they were resolute that it was going to include The Dress.

I said to Brenda, "Put it on, and we will figure out how to navigate the double-wide."

In a few minutes, she called for me to come retrieve her, and we maneuvered her into the hallway of the mobile home. Her mother and grandmother gasped in delight. "Brenda, you look beautiful," they said. John quite wisely said nothing, and just smiled.

Brenda walked sort of sideways down the hallway of the double-wide, and we guided her to a corner of the living room where an archway filled with handmade paper flowers awaited. John stood quietly, and a little boy with a clip on tie said to me, "My mimi and papa are getting married."

"I know," I told him. "I'm the minister." And then we began.

Brenda's mother and grandmother signed the marriage license, and in an hour or so Brenda and The Dress had arrived safely into the realm of matrimony.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Extortion Factor of Weddings

I recently met with one of my favorite young couples whose wedding is coming up soon. In the course of what is now a relaxed conversation between us, the groom told me about another wedding of a (former) best friend who is being married in a few weeks. Apparently his (former) best friend (FBF) expects him to help fund a bachelor's party in Las Vegas -- airline tickets, hotel rooms, shows, etc.

I must have given my best deer in the headlights impression, because my groom went on to explain that it's a common problem these days. You are asked to be a wedding attendant for a friend, and you find yourself on the hook for hundreds -- even thousands -- of dollars in "must dos." Showers, bachelor and bachelorette parties, etc., etc. There is nothing optional about it, either. You take on honor of being photographed all day in rented plastic shoes or wearing a dress that looks good on everybody else but you -- and you pay, through the nose, for the honor.

My bride also told me that one of her friends was told to get a series of microdermabrasion treatments so she would "look better in the photographs."

I was truly stunned. What kind of self-focused, egotistical, delusional level of an attitude of entitlement does it take to make these kinds of demands? On bridal party members?

A final note: My groom told his FBF that because his own wedding was so close at hand and he and his fiancee were paying for everything themselves, he would have to bow out of the festivities for any wedding other than his own.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Parents NOT Behaving Badly

I officiated recently at the wedding of a couple who each had a complete set of parents and stepparents. They also wanted their mothers, stepmothers, fathers, and stepfathers to participate in the pouring of sand during the unity sand ceremony.

I watched the families gather for the wedding of their much-beloved (and I guess you could say multi-beloved)children, and just sent up a silent prayer that everything went smoothly and that everybody remained on their best behavior.

I could have spared myself a bit of anxiety. Regardless of what rancor might have existed in the past (and I did not ask, nor would I ever ask) -- not a whiff of it could be detected during the wedding itself. Everybody paid attention to the words being spoken, and did their best to maintain an air of affectionate decorum for every part of the ceremony.

The gift those parents and stepparents gave the couple being married was an example of true community, and unselfish love. They put aside their own issues, and acted like truly loving adults. The photos will reflect smiles, genuine good will, and a magical couple of hours when everybody offered true best wishes and congratulations to a very sincere couple embarking on one of life's most important journeys.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Etiquette versus Manners

We all know just enough etiquette to cause us problems -- especially if there's a wedding involved. It seems that once the ring is on the bride-to-be's finger, somebody's mother or grandmother drags out the etiquette book, and the tensions start to build.

Speaking as the daughter of a woman who authored several etiquette books over the course of her professional lifetime, I will quote my mother. "Etiquette is protocol, and most people don't really give a damn about how things were done in the royal courts for hundreds of years. But manners are what make it possible for ordinary people to deal with each other more comfortably."

Etiquette used to be (and probably still is) what divided the social classes. The great unwashed was not versed in the subtle nuances of "proper behavior." Manners are the small actions that convey respect and smooth interaction between people.

When you're planning any kind of event, rely less on what the etiquette books dictate that you do, and more on what your sense of kindness and compassion tell you should be done. (But write those thank you notes by hand! It's still a no-no to email them.)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Planning Ahead in Uncertain Times

The stationery stores and card shops all have beautiful wedding planning notebooks. There are books galore that would imply that every bride sits in a candle-scented room for months and plans each and every detail of a wedding that knows no bounds except her romantic imagination. This only happens in a parallel universe.

The simple fact is that brides -- even royal brides -- are real women living real lives. And right now, times are hard all over the world, and the only thing that can be counted on is that something is bound to happen that a bride hasn't counted on.

Does this mean that today's bride should abandon her favorite daydreams of ribbons and flowers (or feathers and beads -- whatever)? Absolutely not. When it comes to weddings, compromise and a willingness to be flexible are the keys to happy memories after a day that is thought back on for all the right reasons.

Taking reasonable precautions is also essential. When selecting a venue, be certain that it is one that will still be in business when your big day arrives. Do not select a venue strictly for its looks and the seemingly unbelievable deal you can get for no apparent reason. Ask the proprietor outright, "Do you own this location, or lease it?" And if the answer is lease, ask another hard question, "Is there any chance at all that you won't be in operation when it is time for my wedding?"

Slight variations to these two questions -- depending on the service being contracted for -- are a good hedge against heartbreak later on. Google the name of the florist, photographer, officiant, dress shop, etc. -- and see what may have been posted online.

But most of all, don't get yourself into situations that could break your heart along with your budget later on.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Weddings and the Recession

It's no secret that the country has been in a recession. Almost every facet of our existence has been impacted either directly -- with the reduction of income or the loss of jobs -- or indirectly in the form of the emotional toll that hard times take on the collection consciousness.

Initially, many wedding services and vendors clung to the folk wisdom that weddings (and funerals) are "recession-proof." What I have observed is that although people are not refraining from dying during the downturn (although many funerals are definitely feeling more hands-on and homespun than they have in recent years) -- many couples are definitely postponing the wedding until better days. That doesn't necessarily mean that they aren't getting married. But the celebration itself -- the dresses, cake, flowers, and photographs -- are often being pushed into the future.

Although many couples are choosing prolonged cohabitation over a civil ceremony, others are still tying the knot legally. A genuine deterrent, at least in Arizona, has been the steady increase in the cost of the license itself. By the time a couple leaves the courthouse, they are out about $100 just for the license itself. If they choose to complete the job before they leave the tender embrace of the courthouse, there are additional costs, and a marrying atmosphere about as tender as the department of motor vehicles.

I encourage couples who want to marry but can't afford a wedding to procure their license, and then find a sympathetic and affordable officiant (I am one) and a couple of witnesses to seal the deal. It can be a day that feels like a real wedding, but costs exactly the same as a stripped bare civil ceremony.

The recession will eventually ease up, or people will decide that life goes on, regardless of what the economy does. I predict that we will figure out again how to observe the special times and celebrate them. As a society, we always do.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Use Your Gifts

"Use your gifts." When my mom said it, she usually meant my creative gifts, or something equally as abstract.

As an officiant who sees a lot of wedding presents in the course of my work, I say, "Use your gifts," and I am talking about the coffee cups, tea towels, and all the nice things marrying couples get to celebrate their new life together. Except for many, the celebration never gets off the ground with the very items people have chosen lovingly.

I went to an estate sale recently, and noticed that many of the items appeared to be wedding gifts from the 1950s, still in their original boxes -- unopened, saved, and put away until later. The antique dealers who definitely came later in this couple's life were delighted. I wondered how many holidays, or just rainy Tuesday afternoons, might have been made more special if somebody had worked up the courage to break out a stack of dessert dishes or light candles in the silver candle-holders.

Use your gifts. Get them out, put them on the table or in the bathroom, and make them a part of your existence. Life is very, very short. Observe every day as if it is a gift, too. Because it is.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Remembering Missing Loved Ones at a Wedding

There are many ways to honor the ones who can't be present in body at your wedding, but are either there in spirit, or as a treasured memory. For example, a chair with a single rose can be used to symbolize somebody who is absent from the celebration. Or, a table can be set up with photos and/or items that represent missing family members. One bride with limited space displayed a single colorful bouquet with vastly varied flowers in a dramatic crystal vase. To each flower, she tied a person's name. The rose was for her mother, the daisy for her grandmother, etc. She also found some very ornate rooster feathers to complete the arrangement, for the groom's grandfather who had been a farmer.

If a visual representation isn't exactly what you have in mind, how about offering a selection of music that is meaningful? This can be done either during the wedding itself, or at the reception. If you can't face having a father/daughter dance without Dad, why not consider having a slide show during the song that reminds you of him?

Just because somebody you love is beyond the reach of your arms, doesn't mean that your heart can't hold him or her close.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Being a Gracious Gift Receiver

Engagements begin an onslaught of gift buying and receiving. Which end of the process you are on often depends on who you are in the wedding scenario. If you are a bride or groom, you may be up to your nuptials in wrapping paper. Most of the gifts to you will be from family and friends. However, many couples give gifts to each other, and therein lies the potential for a great token of love to be offered and received -- or feelings to be hurt intensely at an already emotionally-charged time.

In my experience (and after so many years, it is vast and varied)women tend to be the worst offenders when it comes to being lousy recipients of presents. There is a tendency to be a critic of what is being offered, and to ignore the intent of the giver. Of particular annoyance to me is the unrealistic expectation of many brides (probably spurred on by television commercials and the often predatory "wedding industry") over the appropriate size and cost of engagement rings. An engagement ring is a gift. It is a token of love and affection. Being a pill about carat size is not just ungracious -- it's greedy.

I knew one groom who spent weeks shopping for and outfitting a toolbox for his fiancee to carry with her in the trunk of her car when she traveled. He humbled himself and bought "cute" tools, and all kinds of road flares, reflectors, etc. His underlying message was, "I want you to be safe and taken care of no matter where you are." Fortunately, his bride understood his intention, and made a big fuss (in the good sense) over his gift. He loved her, he showed it in his efforts, and she responded with love in return. That's the way it's supposed to go.

It's a rough world, and the way we pay tribute to each other is incredibly important. Try to be sensitive to the underlying motive and message of what your beloved selects not only for an engagement or wedding gift -- but for anniversary presents, Mothers Day, birthdays, etc. I think the saddest words I ever hear anybody say about a spouse -- and one's that are a heads-up for potential problems later on -- are, "She/he never likes anything I do."

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Word to Photographers About the Marriage License

I take the proper signing of the marriage license very seriously, for my couples who are fortunate enough to be recognized as legal partners in the state where I officiate weddings. I also understand the "photo op" characteristics of the signing of a marriage license. I get it. However, I have begun to get testy when a photographer grabs the license away from a couple mid-signature to get a better angle, or otherwise interferes with the execution of a very important document. It's not a prop. It's an important piece of paper that has often created many challenges for a couple to procure.

I am tolerant of whatever photos a photographer and a couple agree they want. I will cooperate with almost anything. However, I am beginning to push back -- HARD -- when the license is manhandled or not treated with the seriousness that it deserves. It's my responsibility to make sure that it is signed, sealed, and delivered in accordance with the law. My couples deserve at least that much from me.

Virginia's House -- Yesterday Meets Today's Weddings

Natalie Stahl, owner of Virginia’s House and co-founder of the West Valley Wedding Association, takes pride in the family-like atmosphere and attention she devotes to brides that marry in her home. Virginia’s House is the West Valley’s original "boutique" event venue.

Founded in November 1998, this charming wedding and reception venue is located in historic downtown Glendale. Virginia’s House is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places as the CH Tinker home, built in 1913. The grounds include the home, a spacious lawn with gazebo for ceremonies, stunning flower gardens, and a covered patio for receptions.

While Virginia’s House can accommodate parties of up to 125 people, Natalie notes that a trend she has seen for fall 2011 and spring 2012 is that “weddings/receptions are getting smaller (guest size). Our economic climate has forced people to pare down their parties while still keeping them memorable and fantastic.”

Unlike many venues that are new to the wedding business, Natalie has more than a decade of experience “giving our brides the best possible wedding experience with the vendors that I love the most.”

This experience, she says, differentiates Virginia’s House from other wedding reception venues. “We have been in business since 1998 and have learned the ropes. We have lots of weddings under our belt and lots of continuing friends because of it. We love our brides like family and try to stay in touch with them,” Natalie added.

This personalized experience is one of the reasons Virginia’s House has won WeddingWire Bride’s Choice Award in 2009, 2010 and 2011. In 2010, they were awarded the Ruth Byrne Historic Preservation Award.

While Virginia’s House is known for hosting weddings and receptions, they actually hold many kinds of events, including showers, luncheons, retirement parties and even proms. Wedding prices range from $150-$3,675. For brides on a budget, Natalie stated, “Is our pricing outside your budget? Just ask. There are many ways we can help trim it down to fit. We even have all-inclusive packages if that’s what you’re looking for.”

Natalie’s dedication to making a wedding memorable and stress-free is evident in her advice to Phoenix area brides and grooms: “Have fun! This is one of the greatest times of your lives – make it memorable for the right reasons. And let us help where we can. We’ve been doing this a long time and can help take the stress away.”

Contact information:
Email: info@virginiashouse.com
Address: 6838 N. 59th Drive, Glendale, AZ
Facebook: www.facebook.com/virginiashouse,
Website: www.virginiashouse.com
Phone: 623.435.0878

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Interview with West Valley Wedding Association

Jody Serey of Spirit and Light is one of the founding members of the West Valley Wedding Association. Located in Glendale, Arizona, Jody is available for non-religious and religious weddings, vow renewals, commitment ceremonies, memorial services and funerals, and other observances and celebrations.
Jody founded Spirit and Light in 2001. She has won the Brides’ Choice Award for several years running, including 2011. Her complete services typically run from $150 to $200. She particularly enjoys officiating smaller events because “they tend to be more focused, intimate, and rooted in priorities that I can support with both written text and emotional conviction. Therefore, I try to keep my fees affordable so that almost anybody can secure the services of an officiant who is trained, literate, and really does give a rip about what is going on.”

In addition, Jody says her wedding officiant services set her apart in the Valley because “I do not use templates, and each ceremony is created for a particular couple or occasion. The service I provide is uniformly high quality, personal, and professional, regardless of the size of the gathering or the circumstances that have brought us all together.”

For Phoenix area brides who are looking to incorporate some sort of unity ceremony in their wedding, Jody has experience performing sand ceremonies, unity candle ceremonies, hand bindings, rose ceremonies (to honor or thank guests or family members), wine ceremonies, and a variety of other observances and rituals. She can also assist in creating an original commemoration for a particular occasion.

When asked about what trends she sees for fall 2011 and spring 2012, Jody stated, “I see a trend away from over the top displays of ‘edginess’ and a return to more meaningful, memorable observances.”

When asked what she advice she would offer to a couple making a life commitment, Jody recommends, “Keep your ceremony simple, tender, and worth remembering. It is so much more than just a momentary delay until you can get to the party and the reception.”

Jody’s passion for creating personalized wedding ceremonies shows in her work. She also believes it is important that both the wedding officiant and the couple believe they are a good fit for each other. She added, “Every wedding day is remembered. I want my couples to remember theirs for the right reasons.”

Contact information:
Email: jody@spiritandlight.net
Address: 7413 West Oraibi Drive, Glendale, AZ 85308
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/spiritandlight?ref=sgm
Blog: http://spiritandlight.blogspot.com/
Phone: Office, 623-561-0240; Cell, 623-451-0834

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hey Bartender!

Chad Zaneis founded Hey Bartender! Professional Bartending Services in 2006. Hey Bartender! is a mobile bar service which covers the entire Phoenix metro area. Hey Bartender!, a member of the West Valley Wedding Association, specializes in:

• Bartenders-4-Hire--available by-the-hour
• Portable bars and frozen drink machine rentals
• Full-service beverage packages for any event size/type/location

When asked what makes Hey Bartender! different from other Valley bartending providers, Chad stated, “All of our staff is state certified in AZ Liquor Laws and covered under our $2M Liquor Liability Insurance policy, which is double the industry standard. If you don’t have Liquor Insurance you really shouldn’t be serving alcohol on your property in these law-suit-happy times.”

Chad added that their flexible services, which start at just $23/hr., are available for all kinds of events, including weddings, birthday and retirement parties, corporate events and more. As the owner of Hey Bartender!, Chad is particularly proud of the local awards his bartending company has garnered, including Best of Phoenix, Merchant Circle top vendor, and Momentville Hotlist member. They were honored in The Wedding Chronicle cover article Best Weddings of 2008.

Their clientele include Arizona State University, State of Arizona, UofA Alumni Phoenix Chapter, AMC Movie Theaters, Microsoft, Bebe stores, Vitamin Water, many valley caterers, special event venues, party planners, concierges, professional athletes, political figures, local celebrities and various charitable organizations. In addition, Hey Bartender! will beat any written price quote from any other insured bar service. It’s our Best Price Guarantee and you simply can’t beat it!

When asked what trends he sees for fall 2011 and spring 2012 weddings, Chad said, “The classic champagne toast seems to be going away. Also brides and grooms are looking for more unique/untraditional venues for their receptions.”

For advice on fun champagne toast alternates, consult with your bartender for options such as a custom cocktail or drink that complements your wedding theme.

Chad, who clearly enjoys his job of bringing fun and great service to any event, loves the old Frank Sinatra quote, “I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day."

His advice for a stress free event is for brides and grooms to hire good vendors and let them do what it is they get paid to do and life will be good!

Contact information:
Phone: 602.410 ABAR (2227)
Website: www.HeyBartender-AZ.com
Email: info@HeyBartender-AZ.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hey-Bartender-LLC-Professional-Bartending-Services/160342796541

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why I'm Not Expensive

My work as an officiant falls somewhere between a ministry and a sole proprietorship. My goal is not money-oriented, but I do need to make something to keep going. However, my financial hybrid status also causes some conflicts.

I prefer weddings that do not resemble coronations. I find that the smaller events tend to be more focused, intimate, and rooted in priorities that I can support with both text and conviction. Therefore, I try to keep my fees affordable so that almost anybody can secure the services of an officiant who is trained, literate, and really does give a rip about what is going on.

However, because I am affordable, I am sometimes seen as being naive, "not upscale," and status deprived. Somebody actually said to me, "I think you get what you pay for. So I want to pay more than you charge."

I am actually okay with all of that.

If a couple wants to pay an exorbitant amount to somebody to marry them, and it will make them feel "more married," I say go for it. But you won't be hiring me.

In the meantime, I have made the decision to stick with my modest rates, because I think it's the right thing to do. Somebody has to draw the line, and I just did.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Les Enfants Terribles: When the Sugar and Spice Are Rancid

As an officiant, I am more than an a casual observer of small children. Many are members of wedding parties, and their willingness as participants in their parents' pageants varies dramatically. Others are young guests at the weddings in question. Over the past several years, I have noticed what I think is a distinct trend among very young girls -- particularly those ages 4 and younger. Many of them are adorable to look at, and demonic to deal with.

What is going on out there in Princess Land? And, if a little girl child has been cultivated into budding as a very tiny monster, what will happen when she hits the tween years?

I will freely admit that I haven't raised a small child in a couple of decades. But my experience is far more recent than prehistoric, and I am stunned at what passes as passable public behavior for very short females.

I think we could be in for a really rough ride with teenage girls in about ten years. In the meantime, I am considering investing in some shin-guards.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Small Wedding, Big Memories

Somebody commented to me recently that I must love doing "small" weddings because they are "easier."

There is nothing "easy" about any wedding that is officiated with the proper amount of respect given to the enormity of the life event unfolding -- however simple the setting or the observance. I am also keenly aware that the intimacy of a small wedding is far greater than anything that can be observed by a crowd. (How much "up close and personal" do you think Prince William and his bride will actually experience?)

As an officiant, I strive to do my best work when I know that every word, every gesture, every facial expression is in full view of everybody in the room. And because there are few distractions, there are fewer places to hide when something isn't exactly right. On the other hand, the closeness in proximity to each other of the participants in the celebration of a small wedding means that there is more genuine communication and less empty pageantry and posturing.

So no -- "small" weddings are not easier. In fact, in many ways they require more work on my part. However, they remain my favorite celebrations of any kind, and I am always delighted when somebody says of their upcoming special day, "It won't be very big..."