Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Sea Was Angry That Day, My Friends....

A Wedding on the Beach an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.

Wedding Details - Ceremony Site

Wedding Details - Altar

A sneak peek of our wedding on the edge. More to come...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

We Did It!

We did it! We tied the knot!

(Come back in a couple weeks for gorgeous photographs from our photographer. And in the meantime, visit our Wedding on the Edge Facebook page to share your own pictures from our wedding!)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Come on, Irene!

Hurricane Irene touched down in the Outer Banks, NC, at around 7 AM this morning, with intense winds and heavy rain that could throw quite a hurricane-sized kink into our wedding plans twenty days from now.

Jeff and I are keeping our eyes on the news and waiting to hear from the realtor and our vendors over the next few days as they assess the damage. Though this is a large storm, we are cautiously optimistic that we'll be able to hold our wedding as planned on September 16. But just in case things don't go perfectly smoothly, we'd like to ask our wedding guests to stay in touch with us via email and to check out this blog for updates and information as we get closer to the Big Day.

Thank you all for your love and support! And keep your fingers crossed!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What to Wear to Our Wedding

Never been to a (Pagan) beach wedding? Neither have we! So we did some googling to find out what kind of attire all those "experts" out there recommend for our Big Day on the threshold. Below you'll find some basic Do's and Don't's that we've discovered in our research.

Beach Fence Posts in Later Afternoon

Wedding Attire Do's

Definitely do wear whatever you want! We don't care! We want you to feel comfortable and relaxed so that you can enjoy celebrating our wedding with us. Most of what follows are tips and suggestions to help you plan and prepare, but they're not hard and fast rules. We strongly believe in the come-as-you-are (because-you-are-awesome) philosophy of wedding day style.

Do embrace the casual, playful spirit of our wedding! Sundresses, khakis, hippie skirts, even Hawaiian shirts are all a'okay! Bright, fun colors are encouraged — they'll stand out beautifully against the sand and the sky in our wedding pictures.

Do dress comfortably in loose, light clothing that breathes well (such as cotton or linen). You'll feel more at ease in clothes that move with the breeze and keep you cool at the same time.

Do remember that you'll be walking in sand! Treat your feet with care. Now's your chance to break out those adorable sandals or fly flipflops you love. Flats, casual shoes and even bare feet are all appropriate, too.

Do be prepared for the elements. Hats and sunglasses will protect you from the sun and keep you from glaring while we're exchanging our vows. A shawl, wrap, shrug or casual jacket will be helpful if the ocean breeze gets a bit too chilly. Whatever you wear, make sure it can stand up to sand, sun and a bit of salt spray.

Wedding Attire Don'ts

Definitely don't feel pressured to go out and buy a whole new outfit for our wedding! We are all about the eco-friendly principles of the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle. (It even took some convincing to get Ali to buy a new wedding dress, instead of just wearing a dress she already had!) We promise to be pleased and proud if we notice you wearing that favorite skirt you've worn a thousand times before, or that faithful button-down shirt you wear to the office every week. Your care for the earth will help to make our wedding day all the more special!

Don't wear or carrying small or expensive items (such as jewelry, cosmetics, cell phones, etc.) that could easily be dropped or lost in the sand. That would be sad! And also, it's littering. (If you need to carry such items with you, avoid large, clunky bags. Try something small, light-weight and, ideally, with a zipper to keep it safely closed.)

Don't wear heels, please! We would be heartbroken if you turned an ankle!

For more information and wedding day details, check out the For Our Guests page!

Friday, August 05, 2011


Well, we have forty-two days to go until the wedding (and only ten days left to RSVP!), and things are moving right along in more ways than one. This past week we made the final reservations for our honeymoon — two weeks of camping out west in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks with a short but sweet stay in a Santa Fe B&B — and we also received our first official wedding presents (thank you!) from our main gift registry with REI, a nonprofit co-op for camping and outdoor gear. We're nailing down last minute details with our vendors, finishing designing our ceremony and writing our vows, and figuring out "plan B" alternatives in case of inclement weather (because it's always when you're well prepared for disaster that things end up going perfectly!).

Non-wedding-related life has been a bit crazy as well, with unexpected business trips and happy holiday visits with dear friends, birthdays and beach vacations for the kids and an early start to their homeschooling year. Jeff and I are working to keep our heads above water and de-stress as much as we can with our yoga and running — not to mention get-togethers with our friend, Arthur, for marathons of Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica.

It's still hard to believe that in only forty-two days, we'll be married. I have to admit, although I was always adamant about having a year-long engagement (not too short, not too long, or so I thought), I think a full year's worth of wedding planning is about as much as I can take. And since we've been unofficially planning this wedding since about March 2010 — I'm about four months past burn-out. I could be quite happy never to hear the words "wedding planning" used together in the same sentence ever again.

Still, I am psyched about the actual getting married part. Jeff — who doesn't much like ritual or public speaking — is a bit worried that he'll be too overwhelmed for the ceremony to be really meaningful for him. I know what he means, but personally, I'm a bit worried that it'll be too meaningful and we'll both end up crying like babies. We have a tendency to do that. (We cried when he proposed, we cried when our custom wedding bands arrived, we even cried when we first sat down together back in March 2010 to talk seriously about saving money for an engagement.)

But whatever happens during the ceremony itself, I'm looking forward to being a wife. I'm looking forward to settling back down into the simple, daily process of living our lives together in partnership, now with that promise of commitment and community support and love behind us. (It helps that my side of the family got to meet Jeff's lovely kids at the engagement party back in June, and are hopefully now a little more reassured that I'm not stepping into a dysfunctional family situation.... or at least, no more dysfunctional than most!) I've heard from some brides that it's easy to get so caught up in the excitement and busyness of wedding planning, that returning to "ordinary life" afterwards can feel like a bit of a let-down. But I for one could use a bit of down-time right about now, with only a little more than a month to go. (True confessions: I am really really excited about the honeymoon! Nothing like a desert night sky full of unbelievable stars stretching off into infinity to help you recover from the mundane hustle and bustle, eh?)

In the meantime, there is something all you lovely people can do to help me chillax a bit over the next month. Be sure to check back here for updates, especially regarding helpful info about the ceremony and reception. We're doing things Druish-style! And that makes me a bit nervous that people won't know what to expect. That's what this blog (and our guest "wedsite") is here for, to keep you all in the loop so we can all relax, kick back and enjoy ourselves on that special day!

Oh, and if you haven't RSVPed yet — there's no time like the present!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Gowns of Green

It seems only a few months ago that I was having a minor breakdown about trying to find an eco-friendly wedding dress. (Oh, wait! It was!) Googling the subject to take a look at my options, I seemed to find a lot of websites that recommended things like: buy a used dress, or buy a dress you can wear more than once! Really? If I asked you where I could buy sustainably-made tee-shirts, and you told me, "Just buy a regular tee-shirt, and wear it more than once!" ...I would probably point out to you that that's not really "eco-friendly," so much as just not conspicuous consumption. Wear clothes more than once? Well, duh.

Then, of course, there were the dresses made from organic hemp and cotton, or sustainable raw silk... These mostly looked like they were constructed out of cardboard and guilt. But every once in a while you'd find a few that were absolutely gorgeous, in the "more suitable to a Paris runway in the FUTURE than a casual beach wedding" sort of way — with a price tag that agreed.

So time passed, and I was beginning to panic. Then I went through that blissful stage when you shrug your shoulders and pretend like the problem doesn't exist at all. ("Maybe we could go skyclad after all," I thought to myself. "I mean, are we Pagan, or are we Pagan, am I right?" And the little voice in my head would reply back, "Um... we're more, you know, Druish than Pagan, really, and kinda shy, and our parents will be there, and it could be chilly, maybe, and we still need to lose some of that winter weight, and, and... remember, Druids are all about the white gowns, don't forget, right? Please don't make us go skyclad.") This went on for a month or so, while I was busy with other things.

Then one day, Jeff and I were out at the local Panera, which is right near the local bookstore, which is where we like to spend a lot of our time. The bookstore happens to be across the street from a department store which I've set foot in maybe twice in the six or seven years I've lived in this city. But on this particular and particularly special day, something in my poor wedding-sick brain snapped... and I turned to my lovely groom and said, "Want to go in and see if they have any white dresses on sale?"

So we did. And they did. And I got a cute little summer dress made from all-natural materials for less than $50, perfect for a Pagan beach wedding, and casual enough that I can most definitely wear it again (and again and again!). I think we can count that as a solid 2.5 on our Two Outta Three rating system.

I won't spoil the surprise by sharing any pictures of the dress — but rest assured, my parents have seen it, and agree that it "suits me" quite well. So while I don't recommend that you go out and buy your wedding dress from a random department store after months of panic and denial, I have to say: Stress-Driven Shopping Spree For the Win!

Just for fun, though, here are a few examples of what my wedding dress most definitely does not look like, but which are pretty kickass nonetheless:

From "Weedrobes" by Canadian environmental artist, Nicole Dextras

The "Robe Vegetale" wedding dress by Patrick Blanc

The "Sprinkle Dress" by Italian designer Linda Schailon

Thursday, June 09, 2011


Yesterday our very first wedding gift arrived!

All over the world, gifts are the glue that hold societies together. Gifts are given to create new relationships, and strengthen existing ones, and sometimes — as with an engagement ring — to mark a change in the kind of relationship. Somehow, the arrival of this first wonderful gift makes our wedding seem even more real. After all, a wedding is about the union of families, the binding of community, as much as it is about two individuals.

The word gift comes from Proto Indo European ghabh, "to exchange", which descended into Proto Germanic as giftiz and Old Norse as gift or gipt; the Norse used it to mean both "gift" and "good luck". In Old English, giftiz became gift as well, but only referred to a dowry (bride-price); but in Middle English the Norse meaning was borrowed. Among the Germanic tribes, kings were chiefly esteemed by their gift-giving: the more wonderful gifts they could bestow on their followers, the greater their honor and prestige. It was the same with their gods: Odin, for example, had a magic ring called Draupnir, "dripper", which dropped eight golden rings every ninth night. This gift-giving was a custom similar to that of the potlatch of the tribes of the American Northwest.

Spiritually, gift is such an essential concept that the sound 'g' is associated with gift-giving. The word gift specifically indicates an offering which is raised up, held poised, and then released, free to follow its own path.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


An ancient word, from Proto Indo European quei, literally "at whom?" Related to what, who, and where. In Proto Germanic it became khwi, and in Old English hwi, the instrumental case of hwaet ("what"). Hwi could be used to mean "why" or "how", but as how became more popular, why came to mean only "for what reason"? Spiritually, the word indicates a willful energy initiating thought, mind, art.

I was poking around on a forum the other day, and someone asked for feedback on why a man would get married in 2011. After all, a man no longer has to actually get married to get many of the traditional benefits of marriage: a loving partner, children, solid family life... For that matter, the same is true for women. At least, this was the argument put forward.

I feel like the answer is obvious. I’m getting married for two reasons: (1) because I'm committed to Alison, and I want to codify and set that commitment in a way that goes beyond simple words, beyond easy promises -- I want ritual, and oath, to show my devotion and loyalty. And (2) because a marriage is not just a private contract between two people, but a social act — one that involves the recognition and support of the entire community. When we marry, we will perform a ritual of commitment that is witnessed by our families and friends, and that means a lot to us. We’re literally asking you to share our joy with us, and to recognize that we consider each other to be family.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

What Do You Get When Two Introverts Go Traveling?

Lots of pictures of each other, but no pictures together!

Ali at the Beach

Jeff at the Beach

Oh, well. Our awesome wedding photographer will make up for that in September!

And since I don't think we've shared a picture of him on this blog yet, and he is most displeased with our oversight.... Here is a picture of a very important family member, indeed:

Cu Gwyn, The Best Cat Ever

Cu Gwyn, Best Cat Ever

Cu says, "All Ur Windowsill R Belong to Us!"

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fiancé, Fiancée, Betrothed

The Proto Indo Europeans of the Asian steppe had a word, bheidh, meaning "advise, encourage, command", much the same as its rather stuffy-sounding English descendant bid (as in "He bade me come inside," "I will do as you bid"). The word came into Latin as fidare, "to trust", from which was derived the noun fides, "trust, confidence, faith." This went into Old French as feid, and became faith in Middle English. Meanwhile Latin also had a derived form, adfidare, meaning roughly "to state on faith," which descended into Medeival Latin as affadavit "he has sworn". The two paired terms went into Old French as afier and fier; they were converted into the French nouns afiance and fiance, "confidence, trust", and two verbs in turn derived from that, afiancier and fiancer, "to promise". They were borrowed into English as the verb affiance ("to become betrothed") and the noun fiancé (the one promising). The feminine form of fiancé was borrowed as fiancée.

The two words replaced the old Anglo Saxon betrothed, which literally means "become pledged", and is related to truth, in the sense that a promise literally makes something true.

The words fiancé, fiancée have a spiritual trajectory of high, tense freedom being gathered up and grounded, with a release of sunlight, energy, and motion.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I don't know about you, but after such a long cold winter, I am totally ready to hit the beach. Well, emotionally, I'm ready. I think I should lose a few pounds and establish a bit of color to my skin first... But a wedding on the beach to the woman of my dreams: yes, I'm ready!

Beach is from Proto Germanic bakiz, meaning a stream. In Old English this became bece, and in Middle English beach. In the late 1500's, the word was extended to mean the sandy, pebbly stream bed, and from there to sandy, pebbly shorelines.

Spiritually a beach is a place of challenge and change: a burst of energy, high and tense, resolved with a difficult achievement. We chose the beach, not because it was an easy or relaxing place to get married, but because of the beauty of the clashing and mixing elements. It's a challenge, but so very worth it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Bad Dreams & Wedding Worries

Well, it's Wedding Wednesday once again here in the Shaffer-Lilly household, and it's finally happened. I had my first wedding-related nightmare.

Okay, not so much of a nightmare as a bad dream, really. But still. Waking up, heart-pounding, at 4:30 AM and being unable to fall back asleep as wedding plans stampede back and forth across the backs of your eyelids… not a pleasant way to start the day.

The dream wasn't even all that bad.

There we were, hanging out at some relative's house with a bunch of family members, when my mother and one of my aunts start putting their heads together and conspiring — I know! they declare suddenly, Let's just have the wedding right here, right now! And up they get, clearing a space in the living room, moving couches and other bits of furniture aside, elbowing folks out of the way. At first, I'm all for it. Getting to skip ahead to the fun part of actually getting married to the person I love, without having to stumble through the next four months (and one week and five days) of stress and planning? Sure!

But then… people start coming up to me saying things like, "There wasn't much notice, you know," and "We weren't really prepared for all this"… A small bit anxiety starts to rise in me. I explain to them, "Well, we were going to wait, we were going to have a lovely wedding down at the beach in September, it was going to be beautiful…" That phrase repeats over and over in my mind as I try to keep up with the bustling rearrangements of my mother and her helpers. When I try to slow them down, to say maybe we don't need to rush and wouldn't it be nice to just stick to the original plan, she hurriedly shuffles me aside, reassuring me, "Oh, but we'll save so much time and money this way!" I object, "But, I don't want it to feel rushed. I mean, it's an important day, I want it to feel important to everyone else, too." But she smiles brightly and shakes her head. "Oh no, no — you were just going to do some weird Pagan thing anyway, and you hardly invited anyone. What's the difference between that and just getting it done with now?"

"But… it was going to be lovely, it was going to be beautiful…" I murmur helplessly as the rushing continues on around me. "But it was going to be…" Until the anxiety in my chest has become an intense mute protest of panic in my throat, choking off my words, and I can't find Jeff anywhere, they've rushed him off because it's unlucky for him to see the bride before the wedding, and I'm feeling overwhelmed and helpless and I try to cry out, but….

Then I wake up. And I still have four months (and one week and five days) to go.

The winter here seems to be lasting forever. Today's high is 54º F, nearly twenty degrees below the average high for this time of year, with a chilly rain set to fall all day. The trees have barely leafed out, though by this time most years they're full-to-bursting with new green. We're already into the first week of May, and when it comes to wedding planning, we only really have four months to go (by this time in September, we'll be packing and preparing for our drive down to the Outer Banks the following week).

Part of me feels like that's no time at all — probably the same part of me that works seven days a week without a day off for months at a time, trying to squeeze in wedding planning whenever I can. Another part of me says, don't panic, stick to the original plan, September gives you plenty of time and the wedding will be beautiful.

And still another part of me worries, just a little, that if I don't spend more time obsessing over details and getting everything perfect, then people won't think of it as a "real wedding." When the pressure's on, I can make decisions like a… um… efficient decision-making machine of some kind. I can cut through complicated issues with a machete — tuna or flounder? tuna, swipe! candles or flowers for the table centerpieces? candles, chop! turquoise or purple ink for the invitations? purple, hiyah! But on the other hand, obsessing over little details imbues these choices with a certain amount of power and significance, and part of me worries that my efficiency will rub off and translate into nonchalance. I mean, I'm already having a "weird Pagan wedding" on the beach, instead of a normal ceremony with all the pomp and circumstance of huge poofy dresses and veils and expensive shoes and identical bridesmaids and everything. What if no one takes it seriously?

So this is a glimpse into Ali's current wedding anxiety. The planning is going smoothly — we've found another officiant and we're back on track with the ceremony planning. Invitations are in the works. All the little details are starting to fall into place, and we're right on schedule. All we really have to do now is stick to the original plan, and keep things in perspective, and maybe pray for a bit of warmth and sunshine around here before, you know, July would be nice.

And I bet some chamomile tea before bed should clear those bad dreams right up! Which is excellent, because Jeff and I recruited the kids to help us start our very own Eco-Victory garden in the backyard this spring, and the chamomile will be sprouting any day now…

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


The time is fast approaching when Ali and I and our officiant will start nailing down the details of the wedding ceremony. It's going to be awesome, because (a) it'll be pagan, so rather different from the Christian ceremonies of most weddings, and (b) Alison will be having huge input. The officiant and I will have lots of input too, of course, but Ali has an amazing genius for ritual -- she has a deep understanding of what makes them work, coupled with an artist's intuition.

We've had a bit of a hiccup with our officiant; the one we'd settled on months ago had to back out at the end of March for personal reasons. But it looks like we've found another, one who's excited to be working with us to design our ceremony, and we're going to be in great shape.

In the 5th and 6th centuries BC, about 50 miles northwest of Rome, there was an Etruscan city called Caisra. Caisra, nestled between lush, protective hills and the Tyrrhenian Sea, was quite rich and powerful, and a traditional friend of Rome. It had three ports, and handled a wealth of trade between the Mediterranean sea powers (Greece, Carthage) and the Etruscan towns further inland and in the Po valley. But at the height of its power, it was defeated by the Greeks, and was made to pay tribute. Later, during the wars between Rome and Carthage, it lost its ports and quickly dropped in population and prominence. Today it is only a third of its original size, and the villagers farm on top of their necropolis.

But the name Caisra was borrowed into the Roman language -- Latin -- in the adjective caerimonia, "pertaining to Caere" (the Roman name of the city). Caerimonia was used to refer to rites of divination, and so it has been supposed that the Etruscans of Caisra were known for their ability with prophetic ritual. The old word came into Medeival Latin as ceremonia, and was borrowed into English in the 14th century as cerymonye. The spelling was later standardized as ceremony.

Spiritually ceremony is a word which brings energy, sunlight, and growth into manifestation, and grounds it.

Lillies Among the Lilies

The Lilly kids enjoy an afternoon of drawing and coloring at the Phipps Conservatory Spring Flower Show.

Lillies among the Lilies

Lillies among the Lilies Lillies among the Lilies Lillies among the Lilies

Lillies among the Lilies

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jumping Off: Cake vs. Pie

Challenge the status quo. Especially in the name of Awesome.

That's pretty much been our motto in planning this wedding so far. (Only four months, three weeks and five days to go!) Sustainably harvested and crafted wood engagement ring: AWESOME. Caterer who provides local, organic food with many delicious vegetarian options: AWESOME. Wedding registry at a nonprofit cooperative camping gear store (oh, wait, I haven't announced that yet! but still): AWESOME.

In light of this clear and evident trend, I would like to put in a word about cake versus pie. We've put my mother in charge of finding and commissioning the wedding cake, since Jeff and I have only so much awesomeness that we can handle at a time. We've talked a little bit with her about the kind of cake we might like. After all, there are some pretty gorgeous ones out there.

Still, if she's reading this, we'd also like to encourage her not to be afraid to aim higher. Why settle for awesome when you can achieve AWESOME? She may want to take into consideration, for instance, this latest scientific research in cake versus pie dessertology:

(Find out more from Hyperbole and a Half)

Strive for excellence, Mom!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


We've been laying down the final plans for the honeymoon (and it's going to be awesome -- I'll have a special post up about it one of these days real soon now), so I thought I'd dig into the origin of the word...

Honey is of uncertain origin, but may go back to a Proto Indo European root something like kanek, meaning "golden". It became khunaga in West Germanic and was probably applied to "honey" at that time. (The word gold comes from a PIE root meaning "yellow / green".) In Old English it became hunig, and honey in Middle English. Spiritually it has qualities of heart and hearth, earthiness, and groundedness, but also high energy.

Moon goes back to Proto Indo European menses or meses, meaning "moon" and "month". This probably is related to the PIE root me, "measure", because the moon was of course associated with measuring time. In most daughter languages of PIE, this root was only retained for "month"; the moon itself got other names (eg selene in Greek, meaning "brightness", luna in Latin from the same root as lux, "light"). The Germanic languages, though, retained the pairing as mænon for "moon" and mænoth for "month". mænon became mona in Old English, and moon in Middle English. During this time it retained is association with time, measurement, and months. Spiritually the word evokes a manifestation of flowing, subconscious energy.

The honeymoon, then, is a month, a season, of flowing, half-conscious sweetness grounded in the heart and earth.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


"Where does the family start? It starts with a young man falling in love with a girl - no superior alternative has yet been found.” -- Winston Churchill

"When a parent gives to a child, both laugh; when a child gives to a parent, both cry." -- Shakespeare (paraphrased)

Family! It's a word that makes some people shudder, and others feel warm inside. But oddly enough, it's a relatively recent concept in English.

Among the Anglo-Saxons, there was no word that meant "family". Most often they used hiwscipe, which meant something closer to "household": it included the husband, wife, children, servants, slaves, pets, animals, buildings, and lands. It was centered unambiguously on the husband, who was legally in charge of it all. In the 1500's, however, the Latin-derived word family (which came from familia, "servants") became widely used to mean everyone in the household. By the 1660's the meaning of family had been changed to referring to primarily those people connected by blood.

Even today, family is a vague term, at its edges. Depending on context, it could refer to the whole human race (the "human family") or to a single pair of unmarried adults (and their dog). At its core, though, is a special notion of intimate kinship between souls that perhaps not even death can sunder.

“Writers will happen in the best of families.” -- Rosa Mae Brown

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jumping Off: Getting Weddinged (And Other Alternatives)

On the heels of yesterday's post about the legal and religious aspects of tying the knot, I wanted to point family and friends towards the wonderful and inspiring website Offbeat Bride, where they have a whole subcategory for brides who celebrate their wedding day with family and friends after they've gotten the legal ceremony out of the way. (They call it, tongue-in-cheek, "getting weddinged.")

As one writer explains, there are also many nonreligious reasons why couples choose to hold a civil ceremony prior to hosting a wedding day celebration with family and friends: military deployment, pregnancy, financial constraints, and immigration issues, to name a few. Even though this practice is far from rare in America, it can still stir up controversy, inviting accusations of "playing pretend" or "making a gift grab." But as the writer points out:

Those reactions are extremely North American-centric. In most European countries, all couples who wish to get married first have to do so in a civil ceremony. Then, they are free to have a religious wedding if they want. The city hall wedding is often very simple, with only immediate family and witnesses present, and the bride wears a nice but casual short dress, saving the long white dress, veil and big reception for their religious wedding. The most famous example known to us here in America is certainly Eva Longoria’s wedding to French basketball player Tony Parker. She was wearing a short pink Chanel dress to her civil ceremony officiated by the Mayor of Paris, but wore a white and satin silk designer dress with a fifteen foot train for the religious ceremony in a Catholic church the next day. Yet, no one would think of screaming "gift-grab!" or "just playing pretend!" Why? No, it's not just because she's a celebrity. But because it was in the groom's culture to do it that way. In France and almost all of Europe, a bigger wedding after a civil one is not only accepted, but expected.

Offbeat Bride has been a fantastic resource for inspiration, insight and perspective over the last year, and I encourage you to hop on over and check out some of the amazing "Wedding Porn" and crazy-cool themes from couples of all backgrounds, cultures and religions from all over the world. It's helpful to remember that no matter how kooky or weird you're own wedding might be, there's someone out there who did it weirder and wilder than you, with no regrets! Time and again, the story of Offbeat Brides everywhere has been the same: be true to yourself, and your family and friends will support you.

Jeff and I hope that will be true for our wedding. And it also helps take the pressure off to know that if things get too intense, we can always just elope and have a Doctor Who themed wedding in Vegas. (I mean, seriously, how cool is that?!)

Monday, March 28, 2011

How Many Druids Does It Take to Make a Marriage?

On Friday, with five months, three weeks and one day to go until the wedding, it seemed like smooth sailing. Everything had gone wonderfully so far, and we were on schedule for all of our major wedding planning deadlines. Jeff and I were excited for our meeting with our officiant the next morning, looking forward to sitting down to a long talk about how to incorporate Druidic themes into a beautiful ceremony that would honor our families, our heritage, the land, our gods and one another.

On Sunday, with five months, two weeks and six days to go, and Mercury about to go retrograde (in fiery, combative Aries!)…. well, let's just say, it probably shouldn't be a surprise if the next few weeks get a little bumpy.

Clear Sailing, Rough Waters

To be honest, after some of the horror stories I've seen circulating online, we should probably be thankful that we've only just had our first major snag during the past six-plus months of wedding planning. We were able to choose our preferred date at a beautiful venue and book our first choices for photographer and caterer. We've narrowed down our bride and groom attire to some gorgeous and inexpensive outfits made from sustainably grown hemp and cotton, and we're in conversation with a local florist who might be able to provide in-season bouquets and arrangements from their earth-friendly gardens and flower fields. We're in the process of setting up gift registries with a few co-ops, nonprofits and charities, and we're starting to plan our honeymoon trip to some of the sacred landscapes out west where we'll be able to camp beneath clear night skies full of amazing, blazing stars. And we're happier and more in love than ever.

But we don't have an officiant.

Having an officiant willing to perform a Pagan wedding ceremony is immensely important to both of us, and so from the beginning we made sure that finding one was at the top of our wedding to-do list. When the possibility of marriage first came up last year, I spent hours and hours online doing research into the marriage laws in different states. I sent out a call among my various Pagan network contacts looking for people in the Outer Banks area who might be able to perform a Pagan wedding, and I got in touch with some folks who'd had Pagan weddings or handfastings of their own, to find out how they'd handled it and what advice they had to share. We'd found our officiant even before we'd commissioned the engagement ring. We talked with my parents about having a Druid wedding, and we began spreading the word among family and friends that our ceremony would be a bit different from what they were used to (though it would still be about love, and promises, and community, and Spirit). We thought we'd covered all our bases.

The irony, of course, was that finding an officiant so early meant that there was plenty of time for things to go wrong. The officiant we've been working with recently received some personal news that has thrown his schedule for the coming year into chaos, and he's no longer able to commit to our wedding date in September. We were sad to get this news this past Saturday when we called to confirm our meeting with him — in part because chaotic situations are never easy, and we're wishing him well that everything works out and settles down soon — but I've always been a Girl With the Backup Plan, and we do still have more than five months to work things out, so I wasn't too phased.

What did phase me was the reaction of my parents when they heard the news on the phone. Jeff and I had been trundling along with our plans for a Pagan wedding, confident that we had the support and understanding of our family and friends, many of whom come from diverse religious and spiritual backgrounds themselves. We began this blog as a place to talk about our spirituality and its role in our upcoming wedding and marriage so that our guests would feel comfortable participating and celebrating with us on our special day. Every once in a while, my parents would inquire about the legality of a Pagan wedding, but by assuring them that our officiant was certified to perform marriages in the state of North Carolina and we'd have all the legal documents set straight just like any other wedding, I was able to put their anxieties to rest — or so I thought.

But revisiting the problem of finding an officiant has brought all the questions about religious tolerance and legitimacy, and the role of government in marriage, right back to the surface again. These are difficult conversations to have even at the best of times, and Jeff and I will be the first to admit that we're far from wishy-washy in some of our opinions. Heck, the stress of an up-coming wedding can make it difficult to discuss even unimportant things like invitation deigns and centerpieces. And did I mention, Mercury retrograde in Aries? Yeah.

What Makes a Marriage

What it all boils down to is really just this: What makes a marriage? What is it that makes a wedding "legitimate"? When do two people go from being engaged, to being officially married?

Is it the ritual itself, exchanging rings and saying vows? Is it the legal document they sign that grants them special privileges and rights as a married couple under the law? Is it the support of their families and communities, accepting and acknowledging them as a couple joined in matrimony? Is it some combination of all of these — and if it is, how exactly do we go about combining them?

Jeff and I have had long conversations about these questions, because in many ways they're the same questions that we asked ourselves when we first started to talk about getting married. What exactly would "getting married" mean? How would it change our relationship? How would it change the familial and community structures in our lives? These kinds of questions become very important for divorcés with children, because kids expect answers and deserve thoughtful replies from the adults that they look to as examples and role models. We needed to be able to explain why we were taking plenty of time to make that commitment instead of rushing in headlong, and why marriage was different from simply living together. We needed to explain why we were choosing to have a Pagan ceremony, instead of a Christian-flavored civil ceremony officiated by a family friend like their mother had for her second wedding. And we needed to explain about the importance of marriage equality, and why their friend up in Massachusetts could have two moms who were married to each other, while a kid living in another state couldn't have two married parents of the same sex, no matter how much they loved each other and their children. We needed them to understand that what makes a marriage isn't just the government saying it's okay.

These distinctions — between church and state, community and government — are vital not only to same-sex couples fighting for their rights under U.S. law. They're also immensely important to religious minorities in a country where Christianity (and its close relative, Judaism) receive a certain amount of privilege that most people take for granted or may not even notice. Although freedom from religious persecution is protected in the Bill of Rights, the freedom to enjoy all of the same privileges as the majority are often only won through long years of hard work and drawn out legal battles.

When it comes to marriage, Christianity enjoys an unrivaled privilege in this country not shared by other religions. In some states in the U.S., the only religious clergy who can perform legally binding marriages are "ministers of the gospel." In others, this privilege is extended to any licensed clergy-person of a "recognized religious society" within that state. But this often excludes Pagan traditions that are perceived as merely "occult" or "superstitious," that might not have established religious communities in the local area, or that structure their religious communities in ways that differ from the Christian norm. This restriction doesn't just apply to Pagans, either. Quakers, whose wedding ceremonies involve the couple declaring their marriage before a committee, require a separate civil ceremony in every state except Pennsylvania (where the strong historical influence of Quakerism has resulted in more religiously tolerant laws and a unique "self-uniting marriage license" available to religious and nonreligious folks alike).

For this reason, it is not uncommon in the United States for members of non-Christian religious minorities to have a civil marriage for legal reasons that is separate from their religious wedding ceremony. In fact, in many countries in Europe, including France and Germany, this type of civil marriage is mandatory, sometimes excluding religious language altogether. Couples who wish to hold a religious wedding ceremony must hold a separate ceremony only after they've secured a legal civil marriage in the eyes of the law.

There are many reasons why Jeff and I are ambivalent about the role of government in our marriage, not least of which is the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" which enshrines discrimination and intolerance at the federal level. Some Pagans (and Quakers, and even some Christians, for that matter) choose not to register their marriage with the government as a protest against religious discrimination, or in solidarity with those who are disenfranchised or robbed of their rights. Because Jeff has children from a previous marriage, however, seeking legal status for our marriage is our best way to safeguard his rights as a father and legally recognize my role in their lives as a step-mother. But in the end, the legal details are about as important to us as applying for a passport — some hoops to jump through and some paperwork to sign just to make sure things don't get messy or problematic down the road.

When we found an officiant who had both experience and a willingness to perform Pagan weddings, and the legal status of an ordained Christian minister, we hoped that we could get the "legal stuff" taken care of in one fell swoop to save us some hassle. But we'd always known that a separate civil ceremony might be necessary to make our marriage "official" in the eyes of the law. Now, even though we are still looking for an officiant who has the credentials to combine the religious and legal aspects of our wedding into a single ceremony, it seems we may also have to consider a separate civil ceremony as a possibility.

Love Makes a Marriage

Which brings us back to the question: what makes a marriage? Christians will be familiar with the idea that a couple can be married both "in the eyes of the law" and "in the eyes of God," though they may be unaware that they are privileged to be able to accomplish both in a single ceremony. For those of us without this privilege, who may have to hold both a civil ceremony and a religious ceremony, the question becomes: which is the one that really "counts"?

We can't look to the government for an answer to this question. The law has already told us that our religion doesn't always count as legitimate, and that our clergy cannot perform legally binding marriages unless they obtain special licenses or supplemental Christian ordination.

Jeff and I already know which kind of ceremony is the one that "counts" for us. It's the one where we exchange vows of fidelity and love before our gods and the spirits of the land. It's the one where our family and friends gather to support us and celebrate our marriage, and to acknowledge the importance of our spirituality in our lives and in our partnership. To us, the wedding that begins our marriage will be like the proposal that began our engagement: a simple ritual and a simple promise, out beneath the open sky, overlooking blue-brilliant waters, feet firmly planted on the solid earth. We needed no government paperwork to acknowledge our engagement — we are engaged in the eyes of our families and friends, in the eyes of our gods, and in the eyes of each other. The same will be true of our marriage. We will celebrate our anniversary on that day in September when we stood together on the shore, on the threshold, on the edge, and took that leap into our future. Regardless of when the paperwork got done.

As Druids, we believe that ritual has power, that it resonates on levels beyond the physical world. Ritual changes who we are, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. We would not tell our Catholic family members that their religious rituals didn't "count" unless they were government-sanctioned. We wouldn't suggest that two Jewish friends could go off and have their quaint little ritual on their own time, as long as the "real" wedding was a civil ceremony presided over by an atheist government official who didn't care about their religious views. We would want our family and friends to celebrate and support our union even if we were a same-sex couple denied the right to marry by a government still deeply entrenched in the prejudices and biases of a homophobic religion.

And so, we feel strongly that the role of government in our marriage should be limited to the technicalities of paperwork and should not be enshrined in our wedding ritual as the primary authority from which our marriage derives. Our marriage will be built upon a foundation of love and reverence for Spirit, not on the legal technicalities of the State. It is that love and reverence that we want to celebrate and acknowledge at our wedding. The government is more like that embarrassing uncle nobody likes, whom you have to invite just to keep the peace. (That's a metaphor — all of our uncles are awesome.) But we'll be damned if we're going to cater to Uncle Sam when he starts dolling out the religious intolerance. If that's how he's going to be, then he can just bloody well not come, thank you.

With that in mind, we want to ask our family and friends to meet us halfway — to help us make our wedding day special and celebrate our love with us, without getting bogged down by worries about who signed what and when in front of which county judge. None of that matters to us. What matters to us is that our family and our community support our choice and our right to hold a religious wedding ceremony in the spirit of our tradition. What matters to us is that, at the end of that day in September, we're married in the eyes of our gods, in the eyes of our ancestors, in the eyes of each other and in the eyes of our community. If the law has blinders on, this is a minor technicality that Jeff and I will work out.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Beer & Budget Meeting

Rumors have surfaced that every few months, Jeff and I travel to my hometown to visit my parents and hold a "Beer & Budget Meeting" to go over wedding plans and finances.... and that, at these alleged meetings, I ply my parents with alcohol and force them to watch PowerPoint slide shows.

Alas, the rumors are true! In fact, our third Beer & Budget meeting is tomorrow night, and I have the dazzling graphs and animated check-marks to prove it. But before Jeff and I wrap up work for the day and hit the road, I thought I'd share a few choice slides from the 20-slide presentation that I'll be subjecting my parental figures to like Chinese water torture. Enjoy the sneak peek (and thank your gods you don't have a perfectionist for a daughter)!

Beer & Budget Slide 1

Beer & Budget Slide 2

Beer & Budget Slide 3 Beer & Budget Slide

Beer & Budget Slide 4 Beer & Budget Slide 5

Beer & Budget Slide 6

Saturday, March 05, 2011

We Need Your Feedback!

Hello, readers, family and friends! Believe it or not, we're fast approaching that special day — only six months, one week and four days to go!

As the date of the wedding approaches, Jeff and I will be relying on this blog more and more to share important information about travel, accommodations, pre-wedding events and other facts vital to our guests (like, say, group hotel rates, gift registry information and beach wedding dress code ideas). As part of our earth-friendly principle, we hope to make the best of what the internet has to offer for communication and organization, so that you can get all the dirty details in as paper-free, tree-loving a way as possible! (Don't worry, we'll still be sending out traditional invitations, but you can get the inside scoop here first, on our "For Our Guests" page.)

But to make the most of this website, we need to know you're actually reading along! So please take a minute to fill out our Wed/Edge Reader Rollcall to let us know who you are and how you read the blog. Even if you're not sure you'll be able to attend the Big Day itself, it never hurts to stay in touch, so check-in and let us know you're out there! We'd love to hear from each and every one of you on the guest list so that we can be sure all our family members and friends are getting the information you need when you need it. (For those of you who aren't invited guests, but are simply here as curious readers or fans of our writing, we'd love to hear from you, too!)

Click on the link below to take our mini-survey and let us know how we can reach you! Sixty seconds is all it takes!

Click here to take the survey!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Ode to the Weekend Dad

This past Saturday and Sunday, Jeff and I had an actual weekend. No work, no kids, no travel plans or scrambling to meet family obligations. Just an actual two whole consecutive days off to hang around the house. We haven't had one of those since (drumroll please).... August! That's right, it's been six months — half a year. You should have watched us stare at each other slack-jawed with disbelief, unsure how to handle the idea of having guilt-free free time.

In honor of that experience (now that we're back to the grindstone of work and kids), I wanted to share here a post I wrote back in January 2010. Of course, things have changed since then. My change in jobs means that my weekdays are no longer my "off days" and my weekends are devoted more and more to the kids, for whom I will soon be a step-mom even if I'm never really a "parent." I understand better, from experience, the deep guilt that comes with only seeing your kids two days a week, and how unthinkably selfish it feels to take "time for yourself" during those precious hours.... And so I understand, from experience, the fatigue that quickly creeps up on you when all you have are a few hours in the evening after work to claim as your own. Between wedding planning, spiritual practice, creative work and the work we do to make rent, it's no wonder that Jeff and I feel a little burnt out! So in honor of all of his hard work, and in praise of the man I love, please enjoy these reflections on the hard-working, often under-appreciated Weekend Dad.

Earlier this week, before he passed the cold onto me, my partner Jeff was in bed with the sniffles, bundled up in his bathrobe, happy as a clam in flannel. He would blow his nose with a rumbling, gurgling blast that filled the whole house, and smile at me with bleary eyes, and tell me how glad he was to be sick. It was, he said, as if all the stress of the holidays and work and family and bills that he had been carrying around with him for the past month had finally been shrugged off, and his body could relax enough to address those pesky germs that had invaded. Good riddance!, the message of every sneeze. And watching him cuddle into the blanket and nod off to sleep, I thought how unsung his particular kind of heroism is in our culture.

It is popular, I'm sure you've noticed, to portray fathers these days as fat, laughable buffoons tripping through life on the heels of a wife who is way too attractive and intelligent for them and who is constantly patching things up and smoothing things over and nodding sagaciously when the credit that's due never comes.[*] Check out any family sitcom on television in the past few decades, and ask yourself why Marge stays with Homer, or Lois with Peter, or Lois with Hal, or Debra with Raymond, or Doug with Carrie, or Jill with Tim... or any of the wives who stay with clownish husbands on the numerous family sitcoms that I, admittedly, don't watch for the most part. Of course, once dispossessed of the stabilizing and sensible force of the Marge-d'œveur, the buffoon of a husband becomes something much worse: the embarrassing, bumbling and sometimes criminally negligent single dad. Sometimes the single dad is an endearing and heroic figure — if he loved his wife, who died of cancer or some tragic accident that left him scarred and unwilling to risk falling in love again... that is, until the chipper, compassionate, young heroine comes along — but for the most part, he is shrugged off as mediocre and foolish, undeserving and just maybe incapable of raising the children he helped to father in the first place.

I suspect this cultural trope is thanks, at least in part, to the feminist movement and the revolution to throw off the shackles of patriarchy and reassert the essential grounded practicality and intuitive wisdom of the feminine. And I'm all for that. But I also know that smiling condescendingly at the Weekend Dad because he lets the kids leave the house with mismatched socks or orders out for pizza for dinner every Friday night is about as mature as snickering at the freshman girl wearing last year's style in striped tees. In other words: not very. Rather, it suggests that while we as women (and as a culture) have reached a point where we can balk at overt patriarchy, we have not yet understood that real equality is that of partnership and complexity, not of reducing the men in our lives to one of two stereotypes: ruthless oppressor or (in)sufferable fool. As if, as far as we've come, we haven't quite got the knack of being simply adults, but are stuck in the role of mothering. As if, to quote Pratchett (in Carpe Jugulum), "just because they'd got the label which said 'mother,' everyone else got a tiny part of the label that said 'child'..."

But watching Jeff relaxing into his well-earned rest (after putting in a full day's work despite the blocked-up nose and disorientation), I thought about just how hard Weekend Dads do work, at least the good ones. I may sometimes complain about having to work weekends, putting in long hours on my feet without breaks, dealing with sometimes belligerent, hung-over or senile customers for measly tips, but during the middle of the week, my time is my own (and as a natural introvert trying to kick a writing career off the ground, this suits me just fine). Yet here is a man who works non-stop, seven days a week: not an hour after he's finished his salaried work late Friday afternoon and set his computer aside, he's tackled by four lovely, energetic children who quickly claim every room in the house (except the somewhat messy and sparsely furnished "grown-up's bedroom") with their toys, books, blankets and games. All weekend, while I get to slip away to a job where most of the people I interact with will at least behave like polite adults if I treat them as such, he entertains and instructs and comforts children for whom "important" can mean anything from "Jake beat me in Othello by exactly sixteen points, twice!" to "Jocelyn ran into a tree on her sled!" to "I told Sarah to stop and she wouldn't, so I kicked her!" And this man, this mere "weekend dad," engages with these children with unending patience and love, sifting through the inane and the ridiculous, supporting and encouraging wherever support and encouragement are needed. And then, when he's dropped them back at their mom's house each Sunday night, he buckles down and tries to work in an hour or two of personal writing or meditation before it's back to the quiet, industrious, analytical work of the computational linguist the following morning.

And if sometimes he doesn't notice the color of the kids' socks, or only knows two good, healthy recipes to cook for a family of six in a tiny kitchen with about a square centimeter of counter space, I'm not going to be the one to fault him, or smirk, or think secretly I could do better. After all, I'm certainly no mother myself, and much of the time I think I'm not cut out to be one. When it comes to that, motherhood is no longer the only archetype of mature and self-possessed femininity available to the modern woman, who has the potential to be so much more than merely maiden, mother or crone. The priestess, the witch, the queen, the shaman, the bard, the warrior, the basket-weaver... And if we can liberate women from the archetypes of fertility and servitude, surely it would be strange to expect men to step in and take over those roles, just as it would be misdirected triumph to scoff when they do so ineptly or inadequately.

Perhaps instead we can celebrate the complexities and subtleties of contemporary gender identity and family life, and the mixed blessing of divorce that allows for a redefinition of roles and the redress of relationships that were inclined towards dysfunction or disrespect. Because in the end, matching socks only really matter in a world where socks are the only way a woman can express her competence and care as a mother and wife. But this is, thank the gods, no longer the world we live in. Now we can set aside the trivial, wade through all the social pressures to be good women, and rise to the occasion of being simply good people, who demonstrate our love through attending and sharing, and who put the real needs of others ahead of our own need to appear Large and In Charge.

(And now and then, we can revel in our headcolds and allow others to care for us, and soothe us with hot tea and honey, and assure us that we have been good parents, and partners, and children, and humans.)

[*] Granted, the fact that these women remain in such dysfunctional relationships belies certain flaws in their own characters, so that usually after Season One the audience has come to appreciate that, despite their constant (and hilarious) mishaps, these couples were made for (and deserve) each other.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ocean, Sea, Deep

I chose these three words to examine this week because Alison has been doing some dream and meditation work with the Ocean's deities recently. Also, it's February and there's four inches of snow on the ground, and quite frankly I'd rather be at the beach.


From Greek okeanos, of unknown origin. The Greeks used the word to refer to a great river which was supposed to run around Europe, Africa, and Asia, and its god, Oceanos. He was a Titan, the son of Uranus and Gaia, and the husband of Tethys (the Titan-goddess of the Nile and other mighty rivers). This great river is often associated with monsters of the deep in other mythologies — such as the Norse Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent and son of Loki, an ouroboros encircling the world.

The word was picked up in Latin and used in the phrase mare oceanus, "Ocean Sea" (meaning the Ocean Sea as opposed to, say, the Mediterranean Sea or the Black Sea). This is why, when Columbus crossed the Atlantic, the Spanish named him "Admiral of the Ocean Sea." It reached English through Old French in the 13th century, and began to be used as a moniker for the Atlantic and other large bodies of water in the 14th century.

Spiritually, it begins with wholesome energy, passing through protective turbulence, and is released into grounding.


From Proto Germanic saiwaz, meaning a large body of water. The word is unrelated to any in other Proto Indo European daughter languages, and does not appear to have come from Finnish or the other Baltic tongues. Saiwaz became in Old English, and sea in Middle English. It was first applied to the moon's mares in the 1660's.

Spiritually, sea is a word of sunlight, fertility, and growth, developing into high, tense energy. As such it may more naturally indicate the surface of the water, rather than its depths.


From Proto Indo European dheub, referring to hollowness and depth. In Old Irish, dheub became domun, "world", because of the world's deep foundations. In Proto Germanic, it became deupaz, and in Old English, deop, maintaining both its literal sense and metaphorical senses of profundity, awe, mysteriousness, seriousness, and solemnity.

Spiritually, deep has the same high, tense -ee- sound as sea, and contains the same high, tense energy; but this energy is engaged through a doorway, a decision, and is drawn to a definite location or point. Its phonosemantics is similar to that found in weep, reap, seep, leap, and keep.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Valentine's Day Love Spell

It was Valentine's Day. Another one, alone.

February is always a bleak month — the cold, gray, bitter days lingering even after the brief, teasing promise of spring at Imbolc, when the groundhog pokes his head from his borrow cautiously and the serpent rises from within the mound towards the warming sun. But it will be a while before the daffodils began to sprout, pushing their way up through the mud. And even longer before the trees, most hesitant, will start to bloom and green again.

And in the middle of it was another Valentine's Day alone. Maybe a care package from Mom with some red and pink candy-coated chocolates or a vase of flowers I bought myself at the grocery store to bring some life and color into my little one-bedroom apartment. In past years, Valentine's Day had been rough. At work, college kids seemed to congeal into smooching couples at every table, holding hands, gazing longingly, making their poor lonely waitress roll her eyes whenever her back was turned. At home, the apartment was quiet and empty, a snug den against the dark and cold... but an empty one.

Love Altar, detailBut this year, things were somehow different. Over the Christmas holidays, when I had been visiting my parents, an earthquake rocked Lancaster County just past midnight. My mom called me on my phone (I was out with a friend) to check if I was all right. And I was. Something was shifting in me, as sure as there was a shift in the land. Something had been shifting for a long time, the tension building up in the stillness of my solitary existence. And that winter, like the earthquake under the rolling hills and desolate, brown-stubbled farmland of my hometown, that tension finally moved within me to a new place of stability and ease.

Another Valentine's Day alone, and yet I couldn't feel lonely, or sad. I felt... gratitude. For my life, and myself. It might sound silly to say that it had taken years to finally be okay with being single, but after a bad break-up with a man I'd been head-over-heels in love with, and the years since filled with false starts and unrequited crushes on losers and jerks, I had seriously started to think maybe there was something wrong with me, maybe I was unlovable. But such a fear was in tension with the love and gratitude I always felt during my time in nature, out walking in the woods, watching the birds flit from tree to tree, or the wind dance through the fallen leaves. Even as I felt alone, isolated and misunderstood by the other humans in my life, the more-than-human world seemed to embrace me and court me with its attentions and elegant soul-songs. Each leaf, a gift. Each star, a marvel.

I couldn't tell you when the shift happened that winter, but by that Valentine's Day, the tension had begun to ease. I felt loved, and alone with the world in an intimate, lucky kind of way. And so, to honor that relationship — a love affair that had never paled or faltered in all the years I'd taken it for granted — I decided to perform a love spell, in honor of the day, in honor of the earth that my own body, too, was made of.

I'd sworn off love spells years earlier, after a botched one that had, I'd assumed, never worked and only left me feeling embarrassed and bitter, like that song by Ani DiFranco where, after listing all the qualities she wants in a partner, she wails over and over, "Do you think I am asking too much?"

Love AltarSo this Valentine's Day, I dug out the stones and charms I had blessed for that ritual. I poured myself a small glass of mead, sacred honey-wine, into a tiny chalice. I scattered handfuls of dried rosebuds in the tub and drew a bath scented with luscious lavender and vanilla essential oils, and I set up an altar with candles and rose petals and twining pink ribbons on the flat top of the toilet's back. I spoke prayers of gratitude and praise for the earth, and the winter, and the coming spring still so fragile as to be only half a dream within the sleeping, frosted ground. I anointed myself with oils, and stepped gently into the warm, steaming bath, sinking first to my knees to cup the water to my face, washing away the tension and loneliness of previous years. This was not a spell to find love or bring love or attract love — this was a love spell of gratitude and celebration.

After my bath, I gathered together the rose petals and rosebuds, the stones and charms and ribbon, and I collected them into a bulky pink jar. I took the chalice of mead out to my balcony and, after a sip to honor the Spirit within me, slowly poured the libation over the offering stone resting on the rail, watching the golden-brown liquid dribble down sticky and sweet along the woodgrain and brick. Back inside, I placed the sealed spell jar on one of my dressers, where it promptly became just one more bit of my carefully cluttered home décor.

Only a few days after this, my correspondence with another Druid online (who'd agreed to talk with me about meditative and trance techniques) took an unexpected turn. Poetry and inspiration were seething in my skin, and he told me he'd been having experiences with the Celtic goddess Brigid, who mischievously suggested that something was in store that was going to knock his socks off. Of course, I wasn't a devotee of Brigid then, at least not by that name, and this Druid was a divorcé living up in New England whom I'd known for years as an online friend and fellow blogger, a guy who had an ex-wife and kids and was probably way too old for me.

Love Altar, detailAnd then I was madly in love, and so was he.

And a month later, on St. Patrick's Day of all days, he drove fifteen hours down from chilly, snowy Massachusetts to meet me in person for the first time. And we've been a painfully adorable couple ever since.

And we've had Valentine's Days and anniversaries and birthdays and other special days to mark and celebrate and remember. But in some ways, I think I'll always think of that year, that Valentine's Day, as my first Valentine's Day with him. Because in so many ways, it was my first Valentine's Day with myself as the person I could become, and the person he helps me to be.

Who says there's no such thing as magic?

Thursday, February 10, 2011


It's no secret that Ali and I don't share the same taste in music. On the face of it, this is kind of odd, because I enjoy just about anything ...except the more extreme kinds of alternative and rap and heavy metal. And Alison will listen to anything... as long as it's alternative rock.

Well, that's a vast oversimplification. I actually do enjoy some kinds of country (especially bluegrass) and alternative (especially the older stuff) and heavy metal (especially the more Zeppelin-influenced stuff). And Alison does like a lot of the music I listen to, and her absolute favorite music is folk/jazz/punk/funk/alternative in the style of Ani DiFranco, who we both agree is a genius.

Our tastes do overlap, but the 'centers' of our musical tastes are in very different areas. I usually like things that I can either (a) play in the background while I work, or (b) lose myself in musically; and this means I gravitate towards jazz fusion, new age, and instrumental folk. Alison prefers things she can deeply engage with lyrically, and which she can give all her attention to. And even when we do like the same song, we often enjoy it for different reasons.

So when we started making a list of songs we might like to hear at our wedding reception, we ended up with quite a motley list...

Today I took our list and put all those songs and artists into Pandora.

Pandora is an internet radio service that allows you to create stations based on things you like. It has a vast database of music, cross-indexed every which way; so once you 'seed' a station with songs or artists, it will seek out similar music and play it for you.

So I put in artists like Spinal Tap, Ani DiFranco, and R. Carlos Nakai, and songs like Harbor, 500 Miles, The House of Tom Bombadil, Bottle It Up, Lucky Ball and Chain, Somebody to Love...

And I got out some pretty great stuff: Norah Jones's Sunrise, The Presidents of the United States of America's Video Killed the Radio Star, Sky Sailing's I Live Alone, Spinal Tap's Stonehenge, Ani's Swandive...

This isn't a plug for Pandora or anything — and I got some not-so-great music too — but if you want a sense of what our wedding reception might be like, you can listen to the station here. I've been exploring for a while in this odd, small space where our musics overlap, and finding it very pleasant indeed.

Now, if we could just figure out some way I could practice my banjo without driving her insane...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Her Own Square

"How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?" -- Oscar Wilde

Sage words indeed! Be warned, ye men of the Earth: do not treat your wife as if she were a perfectly normal person. For if you think she is normal, that means you think she's pretty much just like everyone else; and if that's true, then why oh why did you marry her? You might just as well have set your sights on the woman down the street, or the pretty girl at the grocery store, or just someone at random. You might, indeed, have set your sights a bit higher. Why did you settle for a perfectly normal person?

In fact most women are normal. That's what normal means. But Alison... well, anyone who knows Alison at all knows she's anything but a perfectly normal human being. The word normal comes from Latin and referred to a carpenter's square: a normal thing is one that stood at the correct angle, conforming to the rule. Alison, of course, conforms to no rules. She has her own religion, her own politics, her own art and writing, her own goals and dreams — there is not anything about her that she has not thought about, weighed, and consciously chosen. And she chooses what she chooses regardless of whether it stands at the "correct" angle to the carpenter's square used by normal people.

Actually I lied: she has rules, of course. In fact, she has her very own carpenter's square in her heart, branded there, I think, by the goddess Bridget herself. (It would be appropriate, since Bridget is a goddess of crafts and artisans.) She holds up the world to it to see whether it's square, and when it's not, she lets us know, eloquently and vehemently.

She also holds Bridget's square up to herself. She has no harsher critic than her own standards (and that's saying something). And if she doesn't stand true, she beats and hammers herself until she does.

So I cannot treat this woman as if she were a perfectly normal human being; she simply isn't one. Instead I treat her like the perfectly odd human being she is. I try to help heal the hurts she feels from standing straight in a crooked world. I try to lend a hand as she tells her truth to those that will hear. I try to give her the gentleness and forgiveness she does not give herself.

And so, perhaps, if Wilde is right, there is a chance she will be happy with me.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Our wedding is all about the edge — the edge of our new life together, the edge of conventional religion and ceremony, and of course the edge of the ocean. I thought it might be fun to look deeper into this word edge and see what it's all about.

It's one of those words that goes all the way back to Proto Indo European, to the tribe of horse-herders and farmers who lived on the edge of Europe, Asia, and India. They had a word ak, meaning "sharp" or "pointed", used to speak of weapons, corners, edges, and even tastes and smells (it's related to acrid). When the word descended into Proto Germanic, it became agjo, keeping these same meanings (related to German Eck, "corner"). Then in Old English it became ecg, pronounced much like the modern word egg, meaning "corner, edge, point" and also "sword". It was not uncommon in Old English to speak of ecgplega "edge play" for swordplay, or ecghete "edge hate" for battle. The verb egg as in "to egg someone on" is from this word. But after Middle English, ecg shifted in pronunciation, spellings, and meaning, losing some of its pointedness and corneredness, and gaining associations with fringes, cliffs, and thresholds — becoming edge.

Spiritually, the word indicates an approach to a place of decision and judgement. The edge is not just where something stops and something else begins; it is a place one moves toward, leaving behind what is familiar, and a place where one must make a choice, and proceed mindfully and consciously. Standing here, one is not contained in one world or the other, but poised -- to jump, leap, or step carefully. Or maybe even move the edge.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Welcome to the Sun" (Anonymous)

Into the Sun

Welcome to the Sun

Welcome to you, sun of the season's turning,
In your circuit of the high heavens;
Strong are your steps on the unfurled heights,
Glad Mother are you to the constellations.

You sink down into the ocean of want,
Without defeat, without scathe;
You rise up on the peaceful wave
Like a queen in her maidenhood's flower.

An anonymous poem, 19th century,
from The Book of Celtic Verse: A Treasury of Poetry, Dreams & Visions (edited by John Matthews).

In honor of Brigid, Celtic goddess of fire and inspiration, as part of the Sixth Annual Brigid Poetry Festival.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jumping Off a Bridge: Wise Advice

There are so many odd little things on the internet that start jumping out at you when you get engaged — so many things that seem suddenly relevant, or amusingly familiar. And since I'm sure you've already started to think that this blog is All AliAndJeff All The Time, I thought maybe I'd start a new category to share some of those weird little things here with you. You know, just for kicks. And because I have a sense of humor about stuff (honest, I do), I thought I'd call this new category, "Jumping Off a Bridge."

(See how clever it is? A bridge as that expanse that connects, crossing a threshold... Plus, remember when your mother used to say, "If everybody jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?" I thought about naming the category, "Hey, look! Other people also get married!" But it just didn't have the same ring to it.)

(Ha. "Ring" — get it?)

(Rumors of my sense of humor may have been slightly exaggerated. Slightly.)

So to kick start this new category, I thought I'd share an amusing little bit of advice from one of my favorite Pagan bloggers, Anne Hill. In her recent post, "How Nora Ephron Ruined My Life," Anne reminisces about adolescent days and her first discovery of the wild world of bold, quirky, feminist writers. But the bridge-jumping comes near the end, when she paraphrases and updates Ephron's wise advice:

"Never marry anyone you wouldn't want to be divorced from."

Anne bemoans not having benefitted from this advice earlier, but I for one count myself lucky for having read it just in time! I've had the privilege of seeing divorced-Jeff firsthand. I've watched him cope — with compromise, understanding and seemingly unending patience — with the many difficulties that come with trying to handle a sticky situation, made stickier by young children (and I don't just mean that figuratively). He copes so well, he's copacetic. I think I can safely say I wouldn't mind being divorced to this man.

But not half as much as I want to be married to him.

But there I go making it about AliAndJeff again! So here's another idea: in addition to news and bits of internet flotsam, I want to invite our friends, family and readers to share their own stories about weddings and marriage. So send an email our way:
wedding.on.the.edge [at] gmail [dot] com

Need a prompt? Here's one: What advice have you learned in recent years that you wish you'd known as a fiancé(e) or newly wed?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Engagement Ring

The Engagement Ring
Two Outta Three Rating:

I'm so glad that Jeff finally shared the story of his proposal on the summit of Mount Acadia in the stunning national park of the same name off the coast of Maine during our family vacation last August! Because that means that now I can finally write that post I've been dying to write. You know the one. The one that starts, "And I said, 'yes'!" and ends with "And that is why my engagement ring has to be the most thoughtful, amazing and meaningful gift ever. EVER."

I am about as far as you can get from a girly-girl jewelry nut. I've been wearing the same silver stud earrings since high school (not that you can tell through the tarnish), and I have exactly one necklace that I wear regularly, day or night (my golden Brigid's Cross). I've shuddered and sneered at women who proudly announce their opinion that an engagement ring should cost at least two month's worth of the would-be suitor's salary if it's supposed to mean anything. How shallow and silly. Plus, I'm a Gemini — I tend to wave my hands around a lot and bash whatever rings I try to wear into misshapen lumps.

But I have to admit, I am thrilled with my engagement ring. Thrilled, and honored. I can't help but feel cherished and blessed when I gaze at its warm, rose glow on my finger or feel the soft strength of its interior encircling me. It has to be the most thoughtful, amazing and— but I'm getting ahead of myself!

The Story Before the Story

The Engagement Ring And I said, "Yes! Let's do it! Let's actually get married!" But this was back in February, soon after Valentine's Day. The anniversary of our first date was coming up soon, the first time we met in person after corresponding online for more than three years. We were caught in a whirlwind of warm-fuzzy reminisces of romance in the midst of gray winter doldrums. I honestly can't remember who suggested it first, but suddenly it was a real possibility. We were actually going to get married.

Not as romantic sounding as a proposal, I guess. These days, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of couples decide to get married this way. They talk, they joke, they make overtures. And somewhere along the way, they decide if it's feasible, if it's smart, if it's the next step they really want to take. And only then do they start saving for a ring. That's what we did, anyway. We started saving money, and I started day-dreaming about engagement rings. Because I still wanted a story to tell, and time in which to tell it. I wanted Jeff to do some soul-searching in the meantime and be sure it was what he wanted. He'd been down this road once before, after all, though this time there was no impending third party tipping the scales. So at first, it was just day-dreaming during dreary end-of-winter months, thinking about what kind of ring I might want, and what kind of wedding I might want, and what kind of marriage I might want. I knew they weren't going to be your average run-of-the-mill deal, at least that much was certain.

So we looked around, and talked, thought about when it might be a good time to get married, and how long before that would be a good time to "get engaged." The proposal itself was a rite of passage, and I knew I wanted a year of fiancée-hood to prepare and plan for a wedding. So we worked our way backwards and penciled in the possibilities. And then, I found the perfect ring on the perfect website. Custom made, a dream of eco-friendly, Pagan-friendly, budget-friendly awesomeness. So we set to work saving, got in touch with the makers, and half a year later, there we were, on top of Mount Acadia, with sun and sea air and tears in our happy, shining eyes.

For Love of the Earth

The Engagement RingThis engagement ring hits all three of our Two Outta Three criteria: it is eco-friendly, Pagan-friendly and, well, despite being the most expensive thing I've ever put on my body, it's pretty gosh-darn budget-friendly, too, all things considered.

And yes, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you: it's made of wood!

So before I get into my little spaztastic rant about the Pagan symbolism of this gorgeous little piece, I want to take a moment to thank Nicola and David Finch of Touch Wood Rings. A couple living simply and sustainably in British Columbia, they thrive solely on solar power and naturally-fallen wood on their fifty acres of land up in the blessed wilds of Canada. David crafts rings from wood harvested sustainably from their own property, gathered by family living nearby, or collected from scrap wood that would otherwise find its way into a landfill (check out the Warmth of Wood blog for more pictures of his beautiful work). These artists take seriously their commitment to "right livelihood." On their webpage, they write:
We do our utmost to cause no harm to people or the environment. We certainly have no illusions that our wooden rings will change the world, but each wood ring we make means perhaps, that a little less gold or another diamond is not mined. David uses such a tiny bit of wood to create a ring that we couldn't use up a tree in a lifetime of making wooden rings. We are always striving to lighten the load on our planet.
Jeff and I are proud to support (and brag about) independent artisans like David and Nicola, whose lives are devoted to creating things of beauty born of their love of the earth and each other. In an age when blood diamonds and dirty gold desecrate the land and exploit the resources of the earth as well as the people who share it with us, my heart breaks with gratitude to know that there are people out there doing such blessed and important work. Thank you, David and Nicola!

Beyond the earth-friendly source of its raw materials, and the creative and independent source of its craftsmanship, this engagement ring also embodies a great deal of meaning and symbolism. Crafted of beautiful rosewood with a light oak interior, a band of crushed turquoise and jade runs through it. Each of these has a special significance to the relationship that Jeff and I share, as well as the marriage that we hope to create together.

The Sacredness of Trees

Being Druids, Jeff and I are unabashedly tree-huggers. So the fact that this ring is crafted of wood is itself of great spiritual significance to us. We honor trees as ancient beings of wisdom, as bridges between the realms of land, sea and sky. Reaching ever deeper with their roots to touch dark waters at their source, while striving ever higher with their outstretched limbs to catch the sweet sunlight as it falls, trees can teach us about patience, endurance, receptivity, ancestry, hope, renewal and connection.

The Engagement RingThe oak tree is especially sacred to the Druids, whose very name connects them with the great tree as a symbol of wisdom, truth, strength, stability, and a doorway between the worlds. A beneficent and holy tree to the ancient Celts, it was a fitting choice for the inner lining of the engagement ring: a symbol of a sure foundation rooted in trust and truth, balanced between the worlds while also acting as a doorway, a threshold into a new life.

To balance the light, masculine energies of the oak, we chose the dark, feminine (but fiery) rosewood for the exterior of the ring. A tree of strong associations with passion, love and romance, rosewood echoes the themes of our engagement — a prelude to our more formal commitment in marriage, the energies of rosewood celebrate the beauty and passion of our relationship, as well as its more playful aspects (while grounding that sense of fun and humor without it giving way to frivolous or callous triviality).

Where Jeff proposed to me — on the summit of Mount Acadia — we were surrounded by scraggly oaks and flourishing pines, graced all around us with the golden humming of honey bees and the buzzing of blue-green dragonflies dancing in the sun.

The Silent Lives of Stones

Jeff and I also honor the Earth, and the ancient bones of the earth giving structure and form to this landscape that we love. Stones have always been symbols of commitment and enduring relationship — they hold in their smoothed or jagged surfaces the memories of millennia, of the winds, rains and glaciers that wore away the rocks in the dance of erosion, of the forces arising from the earth herself jostling and shifting in earthquakes. Crystals embody in a very literal way some of the basic structures of form, mirroring the patterns of atoms bonded to atoms, acting as conduits and conductors. Crystals even play a role in everyday life, making LCD ("liquid crystal displays") possible in everything from laptops to mood rings. So naturally, we wanted to include stone in the engagement ring.

The Engagement RingI knew right away that I wanted to incorporate two stones in the band: one to honor my past as an important part of who I'd become, and one to symbolize the new future I was hoping to create with Jeff. For the first, I decided to include a stone from a Valentine's Day love spell I'd performed nearly five years earlier — a spell that, I had long assumed, had failed — and had re-consecrated the Valentine's Day just before meeting Jeff in person for the first time. It was a small piece of tumbled, dark green stone, most likely jade, which I had chosen for its resonance with energies of peace, harmony, healing, balancing and good luck. Jade has long been considered a lucky stone, as well as a stone connected with love and prosperity. In ancient China, a butterfly carved from jade was worn as a love charm. And though I didn't know it then, jade was also the mystical birthstone of March, the month when Jeff and I first met and finally began our romantic relationship.

For the second stone, Jeff and I decided to go together to our local New Age gift shop, where they had a large display of stones and crystals. Eventually, we chose a small piece of turquoise. Known in some cultures as a "sky stone" or "stone of heaven," turquoise is a stone of power and blessing, with strong ties to the western plains in this country where Native American Indians still craft it into beautiful jewelry. This made it particularly meaningful for Jeff, who has deep emotional connections to that land and its indigenous peoples. A symbol of generosity and affection, it has also been associated with love and marital harmony, as well as the joys of music, celebration and a happy home.

With these two stones, I performed a small cleansing and blessing, before Jeff packed them carefully and mailed them off to Canada where they would be carefully ground down and blended to create the band encircling the engagement ring. When Jeff asked me to marry him, we stood together on the summit of Mount Acadia, a rounded top of smooth, pink granite speckled with the green and blue lichens that thrived in the fresh, clean air.

Afterwards, we hiked back down that great mountain, following the winding wooded path over tree roots and boulders, following the stream that murmured over its rusty-red bed until it found its wandering way all the way down to its cascading outlet into the sound far below. The morning was bright and glorious, the water a blazing blue rivaled only by the sky. There on the shore, on the threshold between land, sea and sky, we paused for a little while, enjoying the sound of ocean water lapping gently against the rocky shore, the tangled growth of the seaweed rustling and swaying with each movement. The tiny snails making their way through a great big world so much grander and more beautiful than they could ever imagine. I think I have never felt more a kin of the snails — life sometimes moving so slowly, so delicately over the great landscape of Spirit and love.

The warmth of wood and stone on my finger, the love and gratitude in my heart for a man who will share his life with me, and allow me to share mine with him, as we celebrate and honor this lovely-crazy world we live in. Who is just a little bit weird, and a little bit nerdy, and a little bit perfect.

The Engagement Ring

And that is why my engagement ring has to be the most thoughtful, amazing and meaningful gift ever.