Archive for the ‘Guest Blogs’ Category

I recently guest blogged for BravoBride. I invite you to read my piece Writing your own wedding vows: To Have, and to hold, and … {fill in the blank.}

Thanks, Susan, for the opportunity. Read more about BravoBride here.


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 Erika Dreifus

Writing expert Erika Dreifus kindly invited me to write a guest blog entitled, “Writing Your Family History: Five Hints.”  Erika’s blog Practicing Writer and her newsletter  are incredible resources for writers. When I need some advice, I always turn to her list of resources. I hope you will check it out.


My mother, a professional photographer, and I compiled a collection of paired poems and photographs documenting our family’s emigration from southern Italy to New Jersey. These pieces are based on visits to the town where our family originated, oral histories collected with Americans and Italians, historical documents and cultural history about the towns and time periods involved. What we created contains an emotional truth and some facts, but the stories mostly contain facts as we experienced them or as they were told to us. We continue to translate the experiences in the form of our art.


Here are some of those poems published (sadly without the photographs):


Poem “Question of Return” in Lumina.

Poems “Spring Pool Water,” “Noisier Than the Milk,” and “Statue of Liberty, 1890 Spiralbridge.

Poem “Teresa serves dinner at 20:00” in Conte: An Online Journal of Narrative Writing.


My personalized wedding poem company, Word Arrangement and this blog grew out of these experiences. I enjoyed collecting oral histories and translating them into poems and found a way to continue with this interest. Through wedding poems, I am lucky enough to be able to hear other people’s stories. I particularly enjoy hearing love stories!


If you are interested in learning more on the subject of Writing Family History and you are in the Ann Arbor area, here are two upcoming opportunities:


I am presenting a workshop entitled, “Writing Your Family History” at the Ann Arbor Book Festival on Friday, May 15th from 10 – 11 am.

Here is the program description: Researching and writing your family history doesn’t have to be a daunting task. In this session, learn tips on how to gather information and brainstorm ideas before translating the stories and research into a form that you can share with family members.



I will also be teaching a related one session class through the Ann Arbor Rec & Ed the evening of May 7:

Here is the class description:

Preserve Family History

Don’t let the intimate stories of your unique family history pass on with loved ones. Learn how to collect these special stories from your family. Discover how to get started and complete an interview. Develop a better understanding of how to craft the questions, answer questions and what to do with the final product. 1 class.


6:30 – 8:30 pm

(Page 12, Spring 2009 catalogue)



An essay of mine about writing about your family history was published in the Canadian geneology magazine Family Chronicle last summer. Thanks to the Anglo-Celtic Connections Blog for the shout-out!



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When I saw a picture of Bethany and Josh’s Obama cake, I knew I had to ask her about her wedding. In her post below, read about everything from their first married fist-bump to a reading from the Massachusetts Supreme Court case, Goodridge vs. Department of Health.


Obama cake

Partisans can be like sports fans and perhaps there’s no better example of this than Obama supporters. Maybe the sports fan analogy explains how the Obama cake came about. We were half-heartedly leafing through pictures of cakes, when we came across a particularly elaborate groom’s cake devoted to UT’s football team. Josh and I are currently living in Texas and I’m guessing that football themed wedding cakes are pretty typical here. I laughed at the cake, but then I joked that we should have an Obama cake. Josh’s face lit up and there was no going back. We opted for a chocolate zucchini cake, because if a cake is going to be liberal, it should have some veggies. We explained the design to our wedding coordinator Abby: the sun, the blue background and the red and white stripes underneath. We know she’s heard crazier requests before, but Abby informed us that the red was not possible. Our wedding location only works with organic products and there’s no way to get a decent red. It may have been the most politically sensitive cake ever.

There was never a self-conscious, let’s tie our politics into the wedding discussion, but the wedding was planned during a year of when our normal obsession with politics became extreme. We took trips to Iowa and Pennsylvania for canvassing, made phone calls from home, and were beyond excited to see our candidate go the distance. Politics just seeped into the wedding: we followed our first kiss as a married couple with our first married fist bump. Ever since a commentator speculated about the “terrorist fist jab,” we just can’t help ourselves. Our first dance was to “Stay with You,” by John Legend, who also did lead vocals for “Yes We Can”. “Yes We Can” was not a part of our wedding, but now that I think about it, what a fantastic motto for marriage. We also danced to “Sign, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours,” and of course we served what my friend Andrew dubbed “cake you can believe in.”
These were light-hearted touches that we loved. The more serious political matter was gay marriage. This was pre-passage of Prop 8, but we didn’t kid ourselves that the government’s conception of marriage was becoming consistent with our ideals. I’ve learned that the history of rights in the United States is not one of simple expansion- we inch forward and jump back, again and again. We wanted to acknowledge the current political context and our own beliefs about marriage.

We tried to do this through a reading from a Massachusetts Supreme Court case, Goodridge vs. Department of Health, in which the Court found that the legal implications of marriage should not depend on whether a couple is heterosexual or gay. The portion read at our wedding was about the special privileges and responsibilities of marriage, and there was no specific mention of the legality of gay marriage. The pro-gay marriage message in the reading was for us. We made this decision because our friends and family are politically diverse and they were there to celebrate our wedding. Some guests did get the political implications of the reading, but most just thought it was an odd choice that was in keeping with our quirky ceremony. My friend who did the reading first mentioned the decision and noticed some puzzled looks in the crowd. She looked at us and shrugged while she said, “hopeless romantics,” and everyone laughed. I think she’s right, though since we’re Obama supporters and it’s Inauguration Day, I prefer to say that we’re hopeful romantics.

Bethany and Josh on Caucus Night in Iowa

Bethany and Josh on Caucus Night in Iowa

Bethany Albertson is an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington.







In the news: I hope you’ll read Ann Keeler Evan’s January ’09 article entitled Election Year Wedding: cake you can believe in.

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I first met Alli at Sarah Lawrence College, where we were studying poetry.  A year or two later, I ran into her and her boyfriend at a poetry reading in New York City. I remember looking at their smiles, seeing how they were holding hands and thinking, “these two happy lovebirds are going to get married one day!” And they did.

Here is the story of a “Jewish girl from Long Island” and a “British man with a Christian upbringing” getting married and discovering how differences can be similarities. I think you’ll particularly love the readings they chose and the vows they wrote themselves.

Thanks for sharing, Alli!


Alli & Ed at their wedding 

Ed and I are not two people who you’d say “stand on ceremony.” We are not terribly traditional. Our backgrounds could easily have pigeonholed us as such—me, a Jewish girl from Long Island, and he, a British man with a Christian upbringing—but put us together and we’re a pair of odd ducks. Take, for example, our engagement: he had no ring in hand and I had a mouth full of lox and bagel when we decided, at our dining table, one Saturday morning in late August 2007, to get hitched (not to mention I actually had gotten tipsy and proposed to him the night before!). We immediately decided that the person to officiate our ceremony would be a neutral, non-religious, justice-of-the-peace type. Heck, what about having one of our friends ordained for the occasion? Let’s throw in some henna, recite the whole thing in iambic pentameter, hire a flutist, and so on. (I’m actually joking about almost all of these things.)

About a week later, my whole family was helping my sister move into her first apartment, in Brooklyn. Sometime in between laps to her 3rd floor walkup apartment, my father said to me, “So, you’re going to have a rabbi.” Something in his voice made me realize that was not a question. “Uh…” I stammered, searching my fiancée’s face for help. My dad explained to me that there were no options in this situation; we would have a rabbi marry us. Strange, I thought, we’re not even a religious family. I believe his next words were, “He can be a Hare Krishna for all I care, but we will get someone who is called rabbi.”

And then Ed, god love him, piped in. “Well, then we’ll have to have someone to represent my side.”

Thus began our quest. Both of us, while atraditional, love our families completely. We wanted everybody to be happy (also remember, this was the beginning of our engagement), and my father rarely makes absolute requests like that.

We thought back to a wedding we went to in 2005, for our friends Sherrill and David. They were also an interfaith, international couple (Sherrill is a friend of mine from elementary school, David was born in Brazil and moved to New York when he was a teenager). Their rabbi, we remembered, gave a beautiful ceremony, blending religions and languages—he delivered his words in English, Spanish, and Hebrew. The sermon was not overly religious, and was careful to include both families, whatever their beliefs. I got his phone number and called right away. Rabbi Frank, I learned, was raised in an Italian interfaith family; his father was Catholic and his mother was Jewish. He had decided, after learning much about both religions, to explore his Jewish side and become a rabbi. This was after teaching high school Spanish and Italian for over 30 years. He called himself a “humanistic rabbi.”

Rabbi Frank sounded like the one for us! I booked an appointment for us to meet him.  Our meeting went smoothly as he asked us questions about our relationship, what we wanted out of life and marriage, and how we envisioned our ceremony. He also made one of the most generous offers I’ve ever received: that he would not only be our rabbi for the wedding, but through life, as we would indeed have questions in the future about how to incorporate religion into our family.

We told him that we were looking for another officiant, one who could represent Ed’s upbringing, and asked if he worked with anyone regularly to provide this service. He said he didn’t, and actually told us a couple of horror stories about working with various priests and ministers who, let’s say, didn’t see eye-to-eye with him on his humanistic way of officiating weddings.

So our next order of business was to find a Catholic priest who a) would perform a wedding ceremony outside the church, and b) one who would perform an interfaith ceremony at all. I had awful visions of didactic priests who would malign me on my wedding day, or worse, reprimand Ed in front of our guests that he was committing a sin by marrying me. We did internet searches and wracked our brains for a few weeks. One afternoon, Ed was chatting on the phone with his mum about our dilemma when she asked him a question that should have been obvious to us: “Why don’t you just ask your cousin Michael, the vicar, to marry you?”


Cousin Michael is an Anglican Reverend in Sussex, England, and we should have thought of him right away, except for this: Ed was raised Catholic by his Irish mum and was only thinking he’d have to find a Catholic priest. Ed asked Michael if he would do us the honor, and he graciously accepted. Problem solved!

Or…was it?

There was the new problem of having a rabbi and a reverend who lived 3,000 miles apart try to coordinate the particulars of a complicated wedding ceremony. We spoke with both of them extensively about the traditions of both faiths, what was the usual order of events, which religion held which parts of the ceremony most dear, and many other things. Apparently, in the Jewish faith the rings are the most important part of a marriage ceremony, and in Christianity it’s the vows. We decided we’d definitely incorporate some traditional Jewish elements: we’d drink wine from the same glass, get married under a chuppah (canopy), and Ed would stomp on the glass (what Rabbi Frank stated was “the breaking down of barriers” and also symbolic of “happiness as abundant as the number of pieces of glass and problems that are as easily shattered.”). On Rev. Michael’s end, he’d deliver the all-important declarations and vows.

It was wonderful getting to know both clergymen through phone and email, especially Michael as he would soon be my cousin, too. This also gave us the freedom to work outside the boundaries of a typical Jewish or Christian wedding. We would get to have our wacky ceremony after all!

We also knew that we wanted secular readings, rather than religious ones. Since I am a poet, and Ed is also a fan of good literature, we asked our sisters to choose literary readings they would perform at the ceremony. They both chose gorgeous pieces, which almost made me cry when they read them on our wedding day.  Tami, my sister, read “Sonnet #17” from Pablo Neruda’s 100 Love Sonnets. Lavinia, Ed’s sister, read “Marriage” from The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran.

So after several months of planning, and one very funny and delicious lunch meeting between our families and both clergymen the day before our wedding, we were all set. Oh! But I’m forgetting the most important thing: our vows.

We decided since we were floating in and out of the boundaries of tradition, we’d write our own vows based on the traditional ones and memorize them for our wedding day. I was a little reluctant to share them with all of you, since they’re very personal. But considering I already declared these words in front of almost 200 people, here they are:

Alli/Ed, I love you with all of my being, and I vow to respect you as my wife/husband, share with you as my equal, and honor our marriage.

I will be generous with my happiness and laughter, celebrate your accomplishments, and treasure our life together.

I pledge to honor your freedom and individuality.

I promise to protect, comfort, and support you. I will always be your friend.


Let us strive for excitement, adventure, and passion in everything we do.


After we said these words to each other with no trace of hesitation or faltering, we exchanged rings, shared wine from the same glass, received the final blessings, Ed smashed the glass into a thousand pieces, and we were pronounced Mr. Brydon and Mrs. Shaloum-Brydon…

…your typically atypical husband and wife.


Alli Shaloum-Brydon is a children’s book editor and poet. She meets fabulous, creative people all over the place, but thinks her new husband is the most interesting person she knows.



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Here is the final installment in my fiancé’s blog on tradition. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.




Yesterday, I wrote about the value of tradition, even to a tradition-shunning couple like us. We don’t want to do anything just because everyone else is doing it. But we will be following some traditions. Why?


Yesterday’s reason was that traditions help to connect us to other people, across time and space. They build connections, and as humans, we crave connection.


The second reason I think tradition might be worth respecting is that if it stood the test of time, that might mean it works pretty well. Of course, it might “work” for some people and not others, and it might not work as well as something we haven’t tried yet. Improvement is important. But people in the past weren’t all stupid, and they often have had to try to solve the same problems that we have.


To put it in game theoretic terms, traditions are ways of identifying or even selecting an equilibrium. By equilibrium, I mean a solution to an environment of human interaction. For example, think about traffic. As we drive down two-way roads, we need to make sure that cars going in opposite directions don’t crash into each other. The solution is, as you approach an oncoming car, you move to the right. If everyone does this, we’re in great shape.


The stakes in the game of traffic are pretty high, so we don’t just rely on the tradition of passing to the right. We legislate it. But check out the sidewalk. In the United States, people tend to move to the right as they approach each other. Not always, but it’s a useful norm. And we do it because, well, it’s a tradition.


A lot of traditions help solve coordination and cooperation problems. (Thinking of tradition and culture in this way is not a new idea. It’s common in social and political sciences.) The weekend gets a large number of us to take the same days off, so we can schedule social events at a time when many people can participate. Holidays are the same thing.  Traditions identify an equilibrium solution and popularize it, so we all don’t need to figure it out on our own.


And of course, there is no reason why we have to pass on the right. The left works just fine, if that’s what we decide to do. And if we all took Tuesday and Wednesday off, that would also be a weekend. Any of those would do. There, we say there are multiple equilibria. And culture, or tradition, helps us choose.


Chloe’ and I are thinking we don’t like the long aisle for our wedding. We also don’t want the usually parade of people from the back of the room. But the truth is, if you are going to have an event that people will watch, it makes sense to put it at one end of the room and then point all the chairs at it. And then you need to have some way of getting all the key players to the front of the room. “Here comes the bride” is a pretty good solution. And when everyone hears that tune, they will know what is happening, and know what they are supposed to do. If we change things around, it will be unfamiliar to people. A little unfamiliarity can be fun, but we can’t count on everyone to react in a particular way.


The wedding registry is another such tradition. Typically, a wedding marks a couple’s entry into the world on their own. They need furniture, dishes, linens. That’s expensive, so we decide to help out. And if everyone in society can expect a little help when they are setting up their household, that’s great. When we get older and are in a better position to help out a new couple, well, we’ll help them out.


The problem for us – and for many couples in our generation – is that we lived on our own for several years before we got together. We don’t need a new blender. We already have two. So how do we participate in this tradition? We could be magnanimous and say we don’t want any presents. But our friends are generous. They want to do something. So we, along with many couples, need to adjust the tradition to accommodate our new situation. We need something that is consistent with the past, since many of our guests are expecting a registry with duvet covers and silver forks.



Our solution: We’re going to register for our honeymoon. A lot of couples have started doing this. We think it’s a nice approach. If you’d like a suggestion from us as to what we’d like to start our life together (which is basically what the registry is), we suggest that, instead of a gravy boat, you consider ferry tickets to Santorini.


The best thing about this solution is that it doesn’t mess with the tradition too much. Our guests will surely be able to roll with it. We are sticking with the basic equilibria – everyone helps out couples as they are starting off – but we are merging it with another tradition – couples get away alone together shortly after they marry.


Now, if we can just figure out how to get us to the stage.




I said yesterday that “tradition” can be a dirty word. And I meant it. But tradition serves a purpose. Just think about what that purpose is.


Remember: There are a million ways for a wedding to be. You won’t even be the first person not to wear white, not to throw the bouquet, not to not see each other before the ceremony. Think about wedding traditions like a cafeteria menu. Choose what you want. Think about why you want them, and what they will mean to you. Then do what you like.


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My fiancé and I have been discussing tradition at length. He kindly agreed to share some of his thoughts on the blog. Hope you’ll add yours in the Comments section.






If you haven’t noticed, tradition isn’t going to figure heavily in our wedding. Chloe’ doesn’t want the traditional dress, the traditional ceremony, or the traditional anything.


And, as a good modern liberal, I agree. Colored-only water fountains were a “tradition.” Marriage limited to a man and a woman is a “tradition.” Employer-provided but largely unregulated health insurance is a “tradition.” If the best argument you can give for doing something is that we’ve always (or even just lately) done it, it’s probably time to stop doing it.  “Tradition” might even be a dirty work.




I can think of two good reasons why a tradition should be respected simply because it is a tradition. Questioned, maybe, even abandoned, but at least considered.


The first is that traditions help to build connections across time and place. If every year, on your birthday, you go to a favorite restaurant, that helps to remind you of where you’ve come from and how you got where you are now. Every American family I know celebrates Thanksgiving a little differently, but there are enough common threads that we know we are connected to each other. It’s something we can share, even when we aren’t together.


From a social science perspective (which is what I usually take), this is the stuff that defines your group, defines your identity.  It is the stuff of culture. Of course, some elements of our culture are bad, and we should change them. We do that by picking and choosing, casting aside those that have little meaning to us, and gathering up those that are important.


But that’s a choice, and it should be made consciously. For example: The Rose Bowl used to be a game between the top Pac-10 and top Big Ten football teams. When Northwestern went in 1995, we knew our team was doing something that other, usually better teams had done. It was an accomplishment precisely because it was just like every other year. The BCS has undermined that (and not even gotten us a national championship, but that’s another issue), and something is lost.


Culturally, traditions like this help a couple create their identity. Having a “Jewish wedding” or a “Korean wedding” or a “Southern wedding” is a choice, and it connects to a cherished culture. Couples with a mixed heritage can choose elements from one tradition and another.


You protect the traditions that connect you to people and experiences you want to connect to. Chloe’ is not going to be “given away” at our wedding, because that’s a practice that we don’t think makes sense for us. She is not property, and I’m not prepared to take ownership.


We can also choose how to interpret our traditions. (For other couples, being “given away” may mean something else.) It seems sad to me when we follow a tradition without knowing why we are doing it. Then we are connecting to nothing. But we also can change the meaning to suit the modern world. The Jewish tradition of crushing a glass underfoot at the conclusion of the ceremony has multiple interpretations. Some say it represents the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Others say the breaking of the hymen. I heard one Rabbi say that the marriage should last as long as it would take to reassemble the glass, split into many shards. I’m inclined to believe the research that suggests the practice originated a way to trick evil spirits. If they saw that a glass was broken, they would decide that enough trouble had been caused at this wedding and move on to another.


We probably won’t be breaking any glasses, but we will be choosing our traditions, and thinking about what they mean. We may even adopt some traditions that no one in our families has ever practiced. What matters is that they mean something to us.


To that end, please share with us any and all traditions that you have seen or practiced. We’d love to hear about them.


Hans and Chloe' at Smith College 2007


Tomorrow: Traditions as equilibria, or ways of selecting from among multiple equilibria.

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Poet Elisabeth von Uhl, author of Ocean Sea, shares her search for a beautiful wedding invitation. Thanks, Elisabeth!


            Like the relationship, the wedding is also a practice in compromise.  Luckily for me, my husband-to-be was pretty supportive of the decisions I made regarding the wedding.  He had bought into the idea that girls plan their weddings from infancy.  Of course, I was highly offended by this idea (as if I did not have better things to think of as a youth?!?!), but then realized it gave me license to make many of the decisions. 


            One of the decisions was the announcement of the wedding: the invite and the save-the-date card.  Of course, I, like Chloe, obsess over the written word so any announcement regarding the rest of my life in words had to be perfect.  Sadly, though, people like Emily Post and social expectations have already decided the words for you;  You only have a say in the aesthetics of the announcement.


            Sadly, I do not really remember any of the invites from the previous weddings I had attended.  Most of them were kits bought at Target or Staples and printed out on home computers.  Others were invites bought from printers that looked exactly like those printed at home.  So I spent time at Target and at Staples looking at their off-white invites with their smashed white bows.  Likewise, the save-the-date cards were generic and simply blah.  Other save-the-date options were magnets or calendars, both of which were not priority in which to spend money.  So I decided to download an old vintage template for a Chicago (the location of our wedding) postcard.  Then I went online and had them printed from vistaprint.com.




Viola!  Money still left in the pocket. 


From this experience, I was even more motivated that a deal was to be had in the invitation department.  I consulted the do-it-yourself Diva, the Martha Stewart.  I love her Weddings magazine and found many, many DIY ideas to trim my budget.  But I also found lovely, lovely invitations in which to salivate over.  Almost all those beautiful invites featured in the Weddings magazines (yet I had yet to see such beautiful invites in person) were letterpressed, a process involving raised, metal type.  Because of this, letterpress demands high-quality paper for this process.  The process also demands an artist to set the press and design the blocks used for printing, hence letterpress is a bit pricey and, not necessarily accessible or sold in any old store.  But I was hooked; even more convincing, my mother who was married in the Seventies had a simple, white 3 by 5 inch, cotton-paper invite with simple, block raised words announcing her marriage to my father.  You could run your hand over it and feel the words.  It was quite delightful and “regal”.   So even though, most thought me crazy to invest in invites, because “people throw them away”, I still wanted a beautiful record of the wedding.  I also wanted a work of art, not some generic piece of paper in which my public commitment to my husband was announced.  So after scouring the internet, I settled on beautiful thermograph (a modern-day alterative in which the type is raised by heat and then the ink is dusted on) invites.

 Elisabeth and Jay's Wedding Invitation





































Below are some links to letterpress websites:













I hope you’ll pre-order a copy of Elisabeth’s forthcoming book, Ocean Sea. I already ordered mine and can’t wait to read it.

Ocean Sea by Elisabeth von Uhl 

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