A Ceremony Everyone Will Remember: Engage Your Guests Friday, Mar 7 2008 

Imagine this scene. It is your wedding day and you have just walked up the aisle, where you now stand in front of your closest family and friends. You recognize that this is one of the most significant moments of your life that you are sharing with everyone present. How would you like to embrace them?

What message do you wish to communicate to those present?

Are there individuals that you would like to acknowledge in a personal way?

A San Francisco wedding officiant, I recently experienced a very intimate gathering where the couple chose to personally acknowledge each of the dozen guests that surrounded them. As I delivered the personal message to each guest, I could see how touched they were. Afterwards the bride told me that the talk over dinner was about how meaningful the ceremony was for everyone there.

Here are some examples of the kind of sentiments that can touch the hearts of your guests:

  • To your parents, acknowledge their love, support and contributions to your life
  • To your close friends, the role they’ve played in your growth
  • To other family members, their influence and guidance
  • To children from a previous marriage, their acceptance and understanding
  • To loved ones who have passed, for their ideals that you bring to your relationship

Weddings provide a unique time in our busy lives where we come together in the spirit of love and heart. Recognize your opportunity to make your ceremony one that everyone will remember.


Do You Invite the Officiant? Thursday, Jan 31 2008 

As a San Francisco wedding officiant, it’s not uncommon for couples to ask me near the end of an initial meeting whether I stay after the ceremony. I’ve learned that this is their way of opening the dialog to determine whether they should invite me to the reception. While certainly not all officiants feel the same way, here are my thoughts on the subject.

Do not feel obligated to invite me to your reception or your rehearsal dinner. I understand that every single plate adds up to the incredible cost of your wedding. For me, the most fulfilling part is the honor of standing up with you as you exchange your vows.

If it is important to you that I participate in the party celebration, consider thinking of my invitation like you would your other guests. Consider offering me the opportunity to bring a guest, too, so that I can share your event with someone I love.

If you want to get your head count from your family and friends first before determining whether you can invite me, I totally understand. Please don’t feel like you need to apologize if you extend an invitation two weeks before the wedding. I’ll be honored that you value my presence enough to try to squeeze me in. But again, don’t feel obligated.

Please let me know if I can answer any questions. Enjoy your planning!

Has Tradition Fell by the Wayside? Thursday, Aug 30 2007 


by Susan Hanshaw, OMC

As a San Francisco wedding officiant, I have the honor to work in one of the most progressive areas of the United States. So when couples ask me how a certain aspect of a wedding ceremony is traditionally handled, my answers are two-fold. First I explain the tradition and then I tell them about many of the unique ways that couples now do things to more meaningfully express their story and what feels right for them. Here are some non-traditional elements that have enabled an authentic touch to a wedding ceremony that you might not have seen even a handful of years ago:

  1. Fido as ring bearer. For many couples, their dog is a cherished family member. So what can’t their canine child participate in one of the most important days of their life?
  2. Best Woman or Man of Honor. See our article, Man of Honor, for a deeper look at this modern-day practice which honors the significant role that can be played by a friend of the opposite sex.
  3. Groomswomen and Bridesmen, following on the dynamic described above.
  4. The bride getting escorted by both her parents or both her paternal father and step-father.
  5. The groom escorting his mother up the aisle before taking his place up front.
  6. Instead of asking, “Who gives this woman to this man?”, the officiant asks “Who supports this woman in her commitment to this man?” So that both families can have the opportunity to publicly express their support, the officiant can also pose this question to the groom’s family.
  7. Decreased popularity of the veil.
  8. Combining rituals from different heritages.

And here’s one final sway from tradition that falls into the category that I vote to turn back the clock—the groom and bride seeing each other before the ceremony. Sure, I know that many couples now choose to get as much of the photographs taken before the ceremony so they can move more quickly on to the reception. But from my officiant’s eye, I can tell you that one of the most magical moments I witness is when the groom takes his first glimpse at his bride as all the guests rise to welcome her. Why spoil that once-in-a-lifetime moment of heartfelt anticipation for the sake of efficiency or convenience?

Bridalloans.com: Alternative Methods to Finance Your Wedding Saturday, Aug 18 2007 

by Dean Guadagni

Wedding expenses and the costs associated with that big day have taken on Mt. Everest proportions. According to www.weddingvendors.com, the average wedding in the United States costs between “. . . $16,000 and $20,000.” If you are eloping or short on funds, and you do not have a rich aunt or uncle, then alternative methods of financing a wedding may be necessary.

One such source of alternative wedding financing can be found at www.bridalloans.com. Bridalloans.com is a Irvine, California based company providing “personal loans” to couples from $1,500 up to $25,000.

Bridalloans.com’s program has the following criteria for their “Unsecured Personal Loans:

*No collateral

*No home ownership necessary

*No application fee or pre-pay penalty

*Terms are 48 to 60 months

*Co-Signers accepted

*Interest free option available

Bridalloans.com claims to have a wide variety of interest rates dependent upon a couple’s credit rating. They also claim to provide “competitive” interest rates for these personal loans.

In addition to these claims, Bridalloans.com also states “We work with multiple lenders, not just one, and we frequently combine loan offers, when the credit line offered by one lender is less than needed to defray all desired costs.”

Bridalloans.com also allows consumers to apply for financing online, via fax, or through traditional “snail mail.”

If you are searching for methods to finance your wedding, take the time to investigate all sources of money. Ask that valued family member or friend for a loan. Go to a credit union or a bank you have been utilizing. If you own your own home, with equity, check out a possible “cash out” refinance.

The last step to alternative financing would be the wedding loan industry. If this is the method best suited for your situation, then investigate Bridalloans.com. Make it a day to remember for the wedding not the financing headache.


Napa’s Ultimate Romantic Getaway: Yountville’s Vintage Inn Saturday, Aug 11 2007 


Contributed by Dean Guadagni

Nestled in the tiny burg of Yountville, CA in the Napa Valley wine country, resides the Vintage Inn. A sister property to the Villagio, the Vintage Inn is one of the finest French country inns in the United States. The combination of estate-like spacious rooms, country quaint lushly appointed grounds, and supreme service provided by the staff gives the Vintage Inn a leg up on it’s competition.


The best characteristic the Vintage has to offer is its staff. Most are young kids with a never ending positive flow of helpful suggestions and “can do” cordialness. The generosity is obvious. On our recent stay, we were given an unlimited supply of free Mumm’s Champagne, served an incredibly delicious buffet style brunch, and were encouraged to take nearly everything that was not bolted or nailed down to the ground, home as a souvenir for free. We discovered that we received well over $100 worth of food, wine, and souvenirs within our room rate during our stay-an incredible value given the 4 star designation this property enjoys.

The staff’s wonderful service, positive attitude, and generosity was not the only draw to this resort. The rooms and grounds are picturesque and guaranteed to place you in a relaxed mood.

The rooms are spacious and fully appointed in French country colors (blue/white/earth tones). The king sized bed, with pillow top, was magnificent. The bathroom, the size of a Manhattan studio, had a very large jacuzzi tub, candles, mirrors, and a beautiful vanity. A mountain of fine linens were provided as was a very comfy terrycloth robe. Suffice it to say it was very romantic and worth the price of admission alone.


The final piece to any resort is the ambiance they wish to create from the outside. The grounds are a lush green combination of ferns, wild flowers, well coiffed hedges, and an assortment of emerald green grass spots. The walk ways are adorned with ground lighting and a beautiful canal is etched into each path with flowing water. There are multiple fountains on the property giving you the feeling you are on an estate property. This has the feel of a perfect place for your wine country wedding or anniversary celebration.


The amenities include a fantastic cabana like furnished lap pool area. Lounge seating and large dramatic furniture adorn each corner of the pool. Included in this equation is a large hot tub providing a great hot-cold experience from tub to pool. The Vintage Inn’s formidable restaurant provides pool service of their entire menu and full bar service.

Meadowwood, Auberge du soleil, and Silverado have long been the platinum gold standard of resorts in the Napa Valley. But if you are looking for a fantastic experience without the $600+ per night freight, try the Vintage Inn in Yountville, California. They aim to please; they fulfilled every expectation and more so on our trip.

Breaking of the Glass: From Wine to Light Bulb Tuesday, Aug 7 2007 

by Susan Hanshaw, OMC
San Francisco Bay Area Wedding Officiant

As a non-denominational wedding minister, it is not uncommon that I include a ritual at the end of the ceremony that honors the Jewish heritage of the bride or groom. While many are familiar with the festive shouting of “Mazel Tov!” which brings cheer to the end of this ancient tradition, not all are aware of the symbolism of the ritual itself. Could it be because this is a ritual that offers an assortment of symbolic messages? Some of these include:

A reminder of the impermanence of this world even at the height of our greatest joy.

Hope that the couple’s love for one another will last forever.

A reminder of the frailty of human relationships, that even the strongest of relationships is subject to disintegration.

The humorous implication that this will be the last time the groom is able to put his foot down.

I have begun to see light bulbs replacing the traditional wine glass as the object to be stomped on. The bulb is said to produce a louder pop and not provide the risk of cutting through shoes like its wine glass counterpart. Just like the wine glass, the light bulb in wrapped in a cloth napkin or pillow and placed on the floor for the groom to break with his foot.

Mazel Tov!

The Dilemma of Personal Vows Wednesday, Aug 1 2007 


by Susan Hanshaw, OMC
San Francisco Bay Area Wedding Officiant

I met with a couple last night to talk about their wedding ceremony. We were discussing various components that they might bring in and we came to the topic of personal vows. These are promises or words that the bride and groom share publicly that go well beyond the legal vow requirements. They’re an expression of heart. This particular couple shared a very common dilemma. They recognized the beauty that this element brings to a ceremony, yet at the same time they cherish their private space for expressing to one another the sentiments they hold most deeply in their hearts.

As a wedding officiant I truly understand and respect both sides of this dilemma. Yet I also have a different perspective as the person who faces the crowd. I see the ceremony as one of those unique opportunities in our busy modern lives to bring everyone together in the spirit of love. The guests are invited not just to witness, but to participate from their hearts. As such, the ceremony can be a reminder to everyone present on the virtues of love. A couple’s expression of personal vows can be received by the guests as either a reminder to appreciate what they have in their own lives, or a statement of faith and hope for what remains possible for them. We often recognize the potential in ourselves by seeing it in others.

If this is a dilemma that you are facing, my suggestion would be to revisit your higher vision for your ceremony. What statements do you wish to make to your family and friends present?

Good luck and best wishes,


The Diamond Wedding Ring Part 2: Tradition Meets Real World Concerns Tuesday, Jul 24 2007 

Written by Dean Guadagni

The following is a question that was sent to CNN’s “Where money and ethics meet” column written by Dr. Jeanne Flemming, Ph.D and Leonard Schwartz:

His question:“I’m planning to ask my girlfriend to marry me, and here’s the problem: I’m building us a new home, so cash is tight. While I want to give Stacy a diamond solitaire, I don’t have the money. My plan is to buy her a synthetic “diamond,” then replace it with a real one as soon as the house is finished and I get a little ahead. Must I tell Stacy the truth about the ring up front, or can I wait until I give her the real diamond?”

My first thoughts on this question are why is this being posed to a money related business world web site such as CNN? My immediate impression was that the young man was “looking” for a specific answer. He was not really interested in the emotional and heartfelt side of this issue. Instead this man was hoping to hear a practical, money related answer that would provide justification for his belief. In my opinion his belief is that the wedding ring is far less important than the financial investment a house represents.

Even more disturbing and surprising was the answer provided by Flemming and Schwartz. Here is their direct advice to our young man:

Their answer: “Tell her when you give her the ring. Unless Stacy is different from most women, she’s going to show off that ring to all her friends and family. Imagine how foolish she would feel, then, if she were to learn later that the stone she’d told everyone was a perfect diamond was nothing more than a perfect fake. She’d be humiliated, of course, and you’d look like a loser for putting her in that situation.”

My answer to Dr. Flemming, Mr. Schwartz, and our young man: Are you kidding me? How in the world do you WAIT until the night you are on bent knee to tell the woman you love, for the rest of your life, that the ring you ask her to wear (a symbol of your love together) is a fake? The answer provided by the good doctor and her accomplice is nothing more than a “justification” for our young man to act in poor taste, show very little class, and forever damage his reputation as a man’s man.

The rest of this answer I will provide as if I were speaking directly to the young man.
In my opinion, if your relationship is as strong as I hope it should be, you go to this woman and you sit her down long before the night you “ask” her to marry you. You tell her that you want to provide a beautiful home, a secure financial future, and the love that comes along with it. You ASK her to consider foregoing a real diamond ring temporarily for the good of your financial future. You ASK her for her permission to buy her the real diamond ring she deserves at a later date. Ask her if a simple tasteful gold band or any other substitute would be an appropriate temporary ring. Then if she is in agreement, you both decide on a date and time when the real ring will be purchased.

By approaching your “wife to be” long before you ask her to marry you, you demonstrate a few very valuable characteristics:

1. You are mature.

2. You are sensitive to her needs.

3. You want to share decisions as a joint effort.

In my opinion, if you approach your love in this fashion she will greatly respect you. You may be able to avoid the disaster that awaits you if you take the advice that was given by Flemming and Schwartz. Good luck!

Honoring a Blend of Cultures Sunday, Jul 22 2007 


by Susan Hanshaw
San Francisco Wedding Officiant

The wedding ceremonies that I am honored to officiate in the San Francisco Bay Area constantly remind me of what a melting pot our country is. Yesterday I performed a ceremony for a couple whose union is a blend of Indian and French-Belgium cultures.

The first part of the couple’s ceremony honored the rituals of the Jain religion. Both sets of parents along with one of the bride and groom’s closest sibling sat under a canopy called a Mandap while the Indian priest led the couple through a number of prayers and symbolic rituals. Once these traditions were complete, I began the ceremony which honored Western traditions, the legal vows and ring exchange. The end result was that both families had the opportunity to participate in their own sacred way while embracing the others’ heritage.

Wedding ceremonies which honor a blend of cultures can be very rich and steeped in meaning. More and more it seems that couples are seeking to blend both heritages within one ceremony rather than holding two separate gatherings. I officiated one ceremony where the Chinese Tea ceremony was held at the end of the Western ceremony. A lion dance graced the end of another. And the breaking of the glass is a natural way to honor the Jewish heritage at the end of a non-denominational ceremony. From my perspective as an officiant, anything goes. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the symbolism of the ritual should be explained to all guests present so that it can be received in an effective way.

The Diamond Wedding Ring: Tradition Meets Real World Concerns Wednesday, Jul 18 2007 

by Dean Guadagni

The wedding ring is a tried and true tradition which symbolizes the joining of two hearts into one love. It is a significant ritual and it represents one of the biggest days in your life. The wedding ring is the final piece and a perfect adornment to a relationship well worth a lifetime of commitment.

Although the above sentiments are shared by the happy couple, the male tends to have a few “other” thoughts on the significance of the wedding ring. Should the ring be an expensive diamond ring or should it be a more inexpensive purchase? According to suite101.com here are a few of the considerations that go into this important purchase:

  • For many women, a gorgeous ring will make them ecstatic. For the rest of her life, she can look down at her finger and remember how delighted she was to see that beautiful ring.
  • Many women will be very disappointed if they don’t get that beautiful ring. The marriage fairy tale is programmed into women’s brains from an early age, and part of the fairy tale is the diamond.
  • Romance aside, a diamond is a high quality and beautiful product that is difficult to damage. With proper care, the diamond ring will stay beautiful for a lifetime.
  • Quality diamond engagement rings can last for generations. The ring can become a family heirloom that your great grandson can use to propose to the girl of his dreams.
  • It’s tradition. For some people, tradition is very important, whether it’s the woman taking the husband’s name, the father walking the daughter down the aisle, or proposing with a diamond engagement ring. Failure to follow tradition may result in disapproval from family and friends.
  • The ring symbolizes an investment in your future together. Three months salary is a sacrifice that grooms are willing to make to symbolize a commitment they will not break.

And now the other side of the coin as described by suite101.com:

  • Three months salary is an awful lot of money. A newly married couple needs money things like a mortgage, car payments, student loans, and wedding expenses.
  • Consumerism is out of control in the world today. The expectations of what we need to spend to be happy have been pumped up by marketers for years. Do you want the diamond industry and the bridal industry to tell you what you need to spend on your engagement ring?
  • Some brides prefer a stone that is unique and perhaps has personal significance. Couples are personalizing their weddings in all kinds of ways, from writing their own wedding vows to purchasing unique wedding favors, so why not buy a special ring? Other couples prefer to use an heirloom ring from their families.
  • Some couples reject the idea of an engagement ring altogether because they feel it promotes patriarchy and a sense of ownership of the woman.

All of the above points are valid and important to consider. Even more important, in my opinion, is for the man to “get a grip” on his main reason for buying that giant diamond ring-jealousy. Men’s insecurity never rings more true (pardon the pun) when they drop a 3-carrot giant diamond on their bride’s hand. To the woman it means: “He must really love me!” To the man it does mean he loves his new wife. More significantly though it really says: “Don’t mess with this woman.  She is mine and she is married!” It is like marking territory; men understand this concept.

In my opinion, a couple should talk about what they want and expect from each other when it comes to wedding rings. They should agree on a price range that fits their lifestyle and financial situation. Finally it is important that both people recognize their selfish (if selfishness exists in this situation) reasons for wanting “their way.”

Remember to listen to your partner, respect one another’s wishes, and have fun with this big decision!

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