Advice » Page 2

Category: Advice

2015 Savannah Wedding Location Review, Part 3- Squares & Forsyth Park

Here is Part 3 of my review of locations to be married in Savannah. Check for Part 1 on Orleans, Chatham, Johnson & Reynolds squares, and Morrell Park and Part 2 on Columbia, Troup, Whitefield, Crawford and Lafayette squares

Part 3 includes pictures from weddings I performed in Monterey & Madison squares and Forsyth Park.

Unless otherwise noted, the professional photographs are from It’s Megan Jones Photography. The collages are made of pictures I took with my phone and posted on Instagram. Reference material on how to have your wedding or elopement in a historic square Savannah is at the end of the post.

Monterey Square

Monterey Square features the famous Mercer House as featured in the book and movie Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil. It is a very busy square and might be best left for elopements and pictures. In addition to the Mercer House, it has many great historic buildings around it that make great settings for pictures.

Bill & Marie, May 2015

Monterey Square wedding in Savannah, GA

Wedding Pictures in Monterey Square

Jill & Gary, March 2015 

Jill and Gary took pictures in front of the buildings that circle Monterey Square as part of their Savannah Elopement Experience newlywed walk.

Savannah, GA wedding photography

Samantha & Vincent, October 2015

Elopement in Monterey Square
Instagram shot

Madison Square

I did not perform any weddings in Madison Square, but we used it as a setting for some of our Savannah Elopement Experience couples. The statue takes up much of the square.

Chad & Sheree, July 2015

Wedding picture in Madison Square, GA

Forsyth Park

I am not sure how to summarize Forsyth Park. In 2015, I married 30+ couples there! It is the most popular place to get married in Savannah, especially to elope. I could not feature all of the couples, but here are some highlights. Also, you can see pictures from our June 29 same-sex marriage celebration in a separate blog post.

Jill & Gary, March 2015 

forsyth park elopement

Olga & Alexander, July 2015

Forsyth Park family wedding

The following couples chose Forsyth Park as the location for their Popup Elopement Package.

Jan & Carlton, September 2015

Forsyth Park Fountain Wedding

Some friendly tourists stopped to applaud Jan & Carlton after they kissed and their reaction was priceless!

Forsyth Park Elopement

Marcus & Dennis, October 2015

Same-Sex marriage in Savannah, GA

Kristin & Noe, September 2015

Kristin & Noe’s weekday wedding day was rainy so we held the ceremony under the bandshell and took pictures in other parts of the park when the rain cleared.

Forsyth Park bandshell wedding

Spanish Moss Wedding Photography

Nikki & Candace, November 2015

Candace & Nikki also used other parts of the park to take pictures with their children. These two pictures were taken by Jana Butman Photography.

Wedding photography with children in Forsyth Park, GA

Forsyth Park wedding

Brittany & Andrew, New Year’s Eve 2015

New Year's Elopement in Savannah, GA

An international tour group witnessed Brittany and Andrew’s elopement and stopped to congratulate them.

Forsyth Park wedding, Savannah GA

 

Elopement photography in Savannah, GA

Elopements in Forsyth Park
Clockwise: Constance & Adrian, November 2015; Michelle & Quayland, New Year’s Eve, 2015; Karmen & Kitto, May 2015; Denise & Mark, July 2015; Dory & Sean, September 2015; Darrin & James, December 2015

Robert & Lanette, October 2015

Robert and Lanette could not wait to text their kids after their Forsyth Park elopement.

Forsyth Park romantic kiss

 

Susan & Kevin, October 2015

Susan had wanted to be married in Forsyth Park since she was a little girl and she finally got her wish.

Forsyth Park wedding

 

How to Have Your Wedding & Elopement In a Savannah Square

The City of Savannah’s regulations require you to reserve a square for an “exclusive event,” which means that other people cannot enjoy the square or watch you while you are being married. If it is just the two of you, you do not need a permit as long as you stay out of people’s way and are okay with the occasional tourist onlooker. If you have a handful of guests (16 or fewer) and your ceremony is on a weekday, you can likely also use one of the larger unpopulated squares if you are respectful of other people, you keep the pathways clear, and your ceremony is short and standing-only.

If you are planning a ceremony with guests, you need to reserve your square or park with the City of Savannah via the Leisure Services Bureau.  The cost ranges from $300-$600, depending on when your wedding is and whether you are a Savannah resident. We obtain the resident rate for our Intimate Destination Wedding Package clients.

Here are links to a map of the squares and information about each square’s history.

We are moving on from squares. Stay tuned for Part Four with a review of Greenwich Park in Bonaventure Cemetery and Tybee Island!

2015 Savannah Wedding Location Review, Part 2- Savannah Squares

Here is Part 2 of my review of locations to be married in Savannah! Check for Part 1 on Orleans, Chatham, Johnson & Reynolds squares, and Morrell Park.

Part 2 includes pictures from weddings I performed during 2015 in Columbia, Troup, Whitefield, Crawford and Lafayette squares.

Unless otherwise noted, the professional photographs are from It’s Megan Jones Photography. The collages are made of pictures I took with my phone and posted on Instagram. Reference material on how to have your wedding or elopement in a historic square Savannah is at the end of the post.

Columbia Square

Columbia Square was one of my favorite places to marry couples in 2015. Its fountain is pretty, there is a lot of space, and it has relatively little foot traffic. You will have the occasional trolley drive by with riders who will applaud you!

Kristin & Fabian, April 2015

columbia square savannah

Rachel & Deven, June 2015

I performed my 101st wedding of my career in Columbia Square!

Wedding in Columbia Square
Instagram shot

Stacie & James, October 2015

Stacie’s family drove up early from Jacksonville to surprise her at her Halloween Day elopement.

Elopement in Columbia Square in Savannah, GA

Michelle & Joe, October 2015

My third Halloween 2015 wedding was also in Columbia Square and a themed wedding where I dressed up as Wonder Woman and joined Michelle and Joe in wedded matrimony by the Lasso of Truth. It was so much fun! Joe’s daughter Maria wrote her own vows to her new stepmom and while it was fun, there was barely a dry eye in the house.

Cosplay Wedding in Savannah, GA

Elopements in Columbia Square
Jesse & James, July 2015; Anita & Wyman, Valentine’s Day 2015; Michael & Hayley, October 2015; Kathleen & Darrell, New Year’s Eve 2015

Troup Square

I am biased because Troup Square is where I was married. I think it is perfect because of its circle and its quiet feel.

Olga & Alexander, July 2015

Olga & Aleksander did not get married in Troup Square, but they took pictures there as part of their Savannah Elopement Experience newlywed walk. You’ll see more of them in other posts as they visited lots of squares.

Wedding Pictures in Troup Square in Savannah, GA

Luis & Angela, July 2015

Luis & Angela were married in Troup with their children and grandchildren present.

Troup Square Family Wedding in Savannah, GA

Savannah Elopements
Whitefield Square

Whitefield is a very popular square for weddings and elopements because of its gazebo. The only drawback is that it does attract a number of visitors and the benches are often full. However, it is a beautiful setting for weddings and great for cloudy and rainy days.

Kimberly & Chuck, June 2015

Whitfield1

Olga & Alexander, July 2015

Here is another square we visited as part of Olga and Alexander’s Savannah Elopement Experience newlywed walk.

Wedding Photography in Whitfield Square in Savannah

Whitney & David, June 2015

Whitney & David’s sons served as witnesses for their sweet elopement.

whitfield3

Elopements in Whitfield Square in Savannah GA
Robby & Donna, October 2015; Carmen & Christopher, March 2015; Jill & Beth, November 2015

Crawford Square

Crawford Square also has a gazebo and has some beautiful blooming trees that make it perfect for pictures. It also features a popular basketball court, so depending on the time of day, it may not always be the best place for an elopement.

Kristen & Fabian, April 2016

As you saw previously, this couple was married in Columbia Square, but they took pictures under the gazebo, trees, and Spanish moss as part of their Savannah Elopement Experience.

Wedding photography in Crawford Square

Wedding in Savannah, Crawford Square

Christian & MaLisa, July 2015

Christian and Malissa’s wedding party (and me!) posed for this fun picture in one of the corners of Crawford Square.

Christian & Malisa

Lafayette Square

Lafayette is a popular square to be married in. It has a gorgeous fountain, has beautiful trees, and is right by the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist which is a great background for pictures, too. The drawback to this square is that the space around the fountain is very small and there is not a lot of room for guests. You will be up close and personal with your officiant! Because of St. John’s, it also has a bit of foot traffic.

Lauren & Shane, December 2015

lafayette square elopement

lafayette square elopement

Wedding Picture

Chip & Jonas, November 2015

chip1

lafayette3

These couples took pictures in Lafayette Square as part of their Savannah Elopement Experience.

Olga & Alexander, July 2015

Family Pictures in Lafayette Square

Jill & Gary, March 2015 

Lafayette Square Wedding, Savannah, GA

Lindsey & Ryan, New Year’s Day 2016

lafayette1

Sara & Rhett, April 2015

lafayette6

 

How to Have Your Wedding & Elopement In a Savannah Square

The City of Savannah’s regulations require you to reserve a square for an “exclusive event,” which means that other people cannot enjoy the square or watch you while you are being married. If it is just the two of you, you do not need a permit as long as you stay out of people’s way and are okay with the occasional tourist onlooker. If you have a handful of guests (16 or fewer) and your ceremony is on a weekday, you can likely also use one of the larger unpopulated squares if you are respectful of other people, you keep the pathways clear, and your ceremony is short and standing-only.

If you are planning a ceremony with guests, you need to reserve your square or park with the City of Savannah via the Leisure Services Bureau.  The cost ranges from $300-$600, depending on when your wedding is and whether you are a Savannah resident. We can obtain the resident rate for our Intimate Destination Wedding Clients.

Here are links to a map of the squares and information about each square’s history.

Stay tuned for Part Three with a review of Monterey & Madison squares and Forsyth Park!

2015 Savannah Wedding Location Review, Part 1- Savannah Squares

I married 228 couples in 2015 across dozens of locations in Savannah and other locations in Georgia & South Carolina. It was a joy to get to know so many couples as they created their families!

One of the most frequent questions I am asked by potential clients is where you should have your wedding in Savannah, GA. I thought a photo review of the weddings and elopements I performed last year would be a great way to answer that question. I am most frequently asked about our 22 historic squares so let’s begin with those. In this post, I’ll show you pictures from Orleans, Chatham, Johnson, & Reynolds squares, and Morrell Park. 

Unless otherwise noted, the professional photographs are from It’s Megan Jones Photography. The collages are made of pictures I took with my phone and posted on Instagram. Reference material on how to have your wedding or elopement in a historic Savannah square is at the end of the post.

Orleans Square

Orleans Square is one of my favorites for elopements and small weddings. The fountain is bright, the trees are gorgeous and there is little tourist foot traffic.

Bettina & Michael, June 2015

Savannah, GA Wedding in Orleans Sqquare

Ian & Kurt, December 2015

Wedding in Orleans Square, Savannah, GA

Same-Sex Wedding in Orleans Square in Savannah, GA

Wedding Photography in Orleans Square in Savannah, GA

Couples Only Elopements in Orleans Square
Jazmine & Jamale, June 2015; Alisha & Scott, September 2015; Janice & Jimmy, September 2015

Chatham Square

Chatham Square is lush with trees and green space and in a very quiet spot in the city.

Emily & Josh, September 2015

Non-Denominational Wedding in Chatham Square, Savannah, GA

First kiss in Savannah, GA

Sara & Jason, August 2015

Sara & Jason had their ceremony in the courtyard at their bed and breakfast, put took pictures for their Popup Elopement Package in Chatham Square.

Savannah Wedding in Chatham Square

Lindsey & Ryan, January 2016

Chatham Square is not always blooming with flowers, but the warm weather on New Year’s Day provided some colorful flowers for Lindsey & Ryan’s ceremony.

Wedding Ceremony in Chatham Square, Savannah GA

Savannah Wedding Photography in Chatham Square

 

Couple's Only Elopement in Savannah, GA
Deborah & Kevin, November 2015. These were their first selfies!

Johnson Square

Johnson Square has two beautiful fountains. One drawback is that it is in one of the most popular parts of the downtown area so it can be crowded. It is also across from City Hall where you can take a fun shot like this couple did.

Jackie & Dan, May 2015

Johnson Square ceremony in Savannah, GA

Romantic Wedding Photography in Savannah, GA

Reynolds Square

Reynolds Square has an open area in the middle of the square as well as some green trees around the borders. It is a busy square, but right outside the Olde Pink House, one of the most romantic places to dine and celebrate your marriage.

Elopements in Reynolds Square in Savannah, GA
Kamlesh & Preeti, July 2015; Billie & Mike, New Year’s Day 2016

Morrell Park

Morrell Park is one of my favorite, but least requested places to get married. It is a park right on River Street with a great view of the river and ships passing by. It also has Savannah’s famous Waving Girl statue.

Gail & Joseph, May 2015

Elopement in Morrell Park, River Street, Savannah, GA
The first picture in this collage is one of the sweetest I took all year.

How to Have Your Wedding & Elopement In a Savannah Square

The City of Savannah’s regulations require you to reserve a square for an “exclusive event,” which means that other people cannot enjoy the square or watch you while you are being married. If it is just the two of you, you do not need a permit as long as you stay out of people’s way and are okay with the occasional tourist onlooker. If you have a handful of guests (16 or fewer) and your ceremony is on a weekday, you can likely also use one of the larger unpopulated squares if you are respectful of other people, you keep the pathways clear, and your ceremony is short and standing-only.

If you are planning a ceremony with guests, you need to reserve your square or park with the City of Savannah via the Leisure Services Bureau.  The cost ranges from $300-$600, depending on when your wedding is and whether you are a Savannah resident. We obtain the resident rate for all of our Intimate Destination Wedding clients.

Here are links to a map of the squares and information about each square’s history.

Stay tuned for Part Two with photos from Columbia, Troup, Whitefield, Crawford and Lafayette squares!

Is Your Marriage Healthy? Check Your Wedding Vows

 

When I pronounce a couple married, I am sending them off on the grand adventure of marriage. We have concepts and definitions for marriage, but what will happen after you walk out of your ceremony as a new unit is completely unknown. I talk about the journey of marriage in my ceremonies via romantic metaphors, and reflect on the importance of friendship, teamwork, and everything else that makes a marriage work. But how do you know if you are doing everything you can to make your marriage the best it can be?

One thing you can do is check in on your marriage vows.

My first year as a Savannah wedding officiant aligned with my first year of being married. Some weekends I oversee the wedding vows of as many as five couples. At the end of one wedding this Spring where a couple used personal vows that really touched me, I drove away wondering why I never look at my own vows. I decided to change that.

I promise to be there for you when you need me, whenever you need me. I promise to persevere when times get tough, knowing that as long as we stick together, it all works out.

I have posted the wedding vows that my husband and I used* on my ceremony example page. The second vow comes in part from Coach Taylor, a character on Friday Night Lights, a television show that at its heart is about marriage. These are the vows we rocked in our first year of marriage.

Of course this wasn’t hard because I selected an amazing person to partner with! But I also feel that when you make that big decision to commit yourself legally, emotionally, and spiritually, and sign that paperwork, it’s a natural instinct to dig into it and brace yourself for the tough times that were mentioned in your ceremony. I am the type of person who wants an A+ after any challenge. When you marry, you also become a literal team, not only where you have two people to tackle whatever you encounter- like the dishwasher- but a team where one can take a lead and another can assist and you can rotate your support as needed based on what the game calls for.

When I was single and had thoughts about being married, I was concerned with picking the right person who would be there for better or worse, that wouldn’t leave me high and dry when things got tough. Some of this anxiety came from literal experiences from failed past relationships, and some of it stemmed from the struggles of dealing with difficult things on my own and how terrible that loneliness felt. Years have passed, but the heartache and isolation of those memories are palatable. There was no way I was not going to be present during the hard times.

During our first year of marriage, my husband and I faced something very difficult that impacted us individually and together, the type of event that can tear people apart inside and wreak havoc on a relationship.** While we hoped this would stay a single event, complications left it a continuing part of our lives. Through it all, it was never hard to honor our vow to stick together through the tough moments that rolled in, even when they were unpleasant as all hell. We persevered because there was love and because we were a team- taking turns providing comfort and optimism to each other when despair creeped in, as well as helping each other face difficult realities.

So honoring our vow to being strong and staying together was easy. A+, indeed.

I promise to keep our lives exciting, adventurous, and full of passion.

This vow… a strong B. I was surprised to find that it was much harder to remember to be fun and passionate than to be tried and true. I suspect this is more common than not.

Luckily, I had reread our vows this June so when we planned our vacation, I focused on adventure as much as I could. It was wonderful! We drove to the Florida Keys for a four day adventure. We ate key lime pie, pulled off on the side of highway to spontaneously swim, and drank rum together. We flew up to Fire Island to relax on the beach for a week, admired the most beautiful sunsets in the world, and reconnected with friends in New York City. Lastly, we visited family in New England and stuffed out faces with clam chowder, quahogs, lobster rolls and fresh blueberries.

Summer Vacation

The world seems so much more manageable when you can stop to just have some fun. Together.

Do you check in on your vows to make sure your marriage is healthy? If you’re a past client of mine, you have a copy of what you promised. Are you laughing and supporting each other’s dreams? ARE YOU HAVING FUN? If you’re not today, how will you start again tomorrow? Hiccups happen, but in marriage, you have created a team that is equipped to stop the hiccups, not matter how frustrating they are. Doing it with some joy and laughter always helps.

The strength of vows is that even if you feel like you are lacking, there is opportunity to just pick and be better, wherever you are.

‘Til next time,

Tracy Brisson, Founder of Savannah Custom Weddings & Elopements

 

 

 

 

* MY wedding vows are for your use. I am tickled pink when a couple uses any part of them!

** I chose to be vague about this “event.” However, I also realize not knowing might be distracting for some readers. It is described here

If You Like It, Sign a Piece of Paper With It: The Benefits of Legal Marriage

It’s not a common question you expect to hear from a wedding officiant, but I’ll go ahead and pose it: should you get legally married before your wedding?

For many couples, the answer is yes. 

In November 2014, I introduced a new officiating package called the Simple Signing Service where I perform the absolute minimum requirements mandated by the state of Georgia to sign a marriage license and declare a couple legally married. I’ve performed dozens of these services (sometimes three in one day!), almost all at Savannah Coffee Roasters, a local coffee shop close to the Chatham County Courthouse.

coffee shop weddings savannah, ga
Cookie from Savannah Coffee Roasters and my favorite license signing pen

The truth is that I added my Simple Signing Service to my offerings quite reluctantly.

When I launched this website, I immediately received requests from people who just wanted their marriage license signed with no formalities. One of my responsibilities as an officiant is to spiritually, emotionally and ethically facilitate a couple’s journey into marriage. I like to remind people that you don’t need a formal wedding to have an incredible marriage… but on the flip-side, having NO ceremony… well, I wasn’t sure how comfortable I felt about that, either! Legal marriage is a big deal, wedding or not, and I did not feel quite at peace about working with couples who did not feel that a ritual was necessary.

I politely declined these requests as that was not my vision of “officiating,”… but it became harder to continue to say “No, I don’t do that” to people who had a need and wanted me to help them with it.

I decided the only way to explore my feelings and doubts was to offer the Simple Signing Service as an experiment. I discovered that I LOVED it, and that every service made me a better officiant for the next couple who hired me whether they were booking something simple or complex.

Who Decides to Use a Signing Service?

Many friends ask me about the types of couples who hire me to do a Simple Signing Service. Everyone assumes quick marriages are triggered by birth control failures, but that has only happened once (and they were happy about it, if surprised!). I’ve simply met wonderful, diverse people. Some have engaged in a Signing Service because that is all they can literally afford. I’ve felt privileged to offer a meaningful experience that fits their budget. I’ve also performed an emergency signing service to include a sick family member before they passed. As hard as that situation was, I was grateful to be a part of the sanctity of it, formal rituals or not.

The majority of couples choose the Simple Signing Service because an unexpected life change has occurred and the legal benefits of marriage are necessary right now. More than half of couples in this situation intend to have a formal wedding at a later date or even already have one planned. The more I work with couples like these, the more I believe that legally executing a marriage certificate before a formal wedding is a great idea for almost everyone.

Marriage License Signing Service Savannah Georgia
Two couples who participated in the Simple Signing Service.

Ironically, taking advantage of marriage’s financial incentives can help you save for the fantastic wedding you desire. Here are some examples from my own life on the financial benefits of marriage.

  • Car insurance. After we got married, my husband and I immediately received a significant reduction in car insurance. Our provider deemed us “less risky” now that we were married and not just living together. The annual reduction in our premium was just about the cost of my wedding dress.
  • Health insurance: If you are self-employed, you are likely paying high premiums for health insurance, even if you take advantage of the health exchanges provided by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). When my husband and I married, I was able to join his plan as a family member. The annual savings we experienced were more than twice the cost of the catering our wedding reception for 50 people.

I was only engaged for a short period of time before my wedding, but often think about all the money I could have saved in just that time if we had signed our marriage certificate earlier.

Benefits of Legal Marriage

My husband and I watch the television show Blackish and a recent episode focused on the parents’ upcoming wedding vow renewal ceremony. As they were planning the ceremony, the legality of their marriage came into question based on who performed it (lesson: always hire an ordained officiant!). To Rainbow, the wife, it was no big deal if their initial marriage was invalid: “It’s just a piece of paper.” Her husband Andre’s response nailed it: “It’s just a piece of paper if you have it, but it’s a big deal if you don’t. Like money!” The reality is that in today’s world. you are likely very privileged if you consider a marriage certificate simply a piece of paper.

Food for thought: Understanding the commitment needed to have a successful marriage is essential, no matter where you are in life. You need love, an open heart, a clear mind and the ability to recognize the solemnity and importance of your life change. I learned you might not need the traditional wedding rituals to facilitate your journey to a happy marriage in every situation.

Set up your Signing Service today. Couples who engage in a Signing Service are eligible for 30% discount on formal officiating services at a later date. PS: I can’t guarantee that I can keep it at this low of a price forever!

Parks and Recreation Inspired Wedding Vows

Parks and Recreation Inspired Wedding Vows

I think pop-culture, and in particular television shows, can be an important part of any relationship. Watching television shows together can be an incredible bonding experience and the portrayal of great relationships can provide us examples for our own unions. Sometimes pop culture references can also help you focus on a theme- one of my favorite wedding ceremonies that I wrote and performed took quotes from the movie The Wedding Crashers as the couple met on a yacht.

If you’ve visited my Ceremony Samples page, you know that my husband and I used the television show Friday Nights Lights as an inspiration for our own vows. To us, nothing epitomized the relationship we wanted for ourselves more than the marriage of Eric and Tami Taylor. If we had been familiar with the show Parks & Recreation before our wedding, we would have also included references from that show. Few things have made us happier than watching that show on Netflix and immersing ourselves in the great stories about love and friendship among the oddballs of Pawnee. I won’t spend time explaining the set-up, plot and characters of the show, but advise that if you’ve never watched it, go do that right now.

(My advice: start with season 2, episode one where Leslie Knope marries the gay penguins.  No, that is not my opinion because I am a wedding officiant!)

Parks & Recreation breakfast quotes at The Blue Door in Savannah, GA.

Tonight is the series finale of Parks & Recreation and we are very sad. My husband and I started our day with waffles at The Blue Door in Savannah (which features lots of Leslie Knope & Ron Swanson quotes about breakfast food on its chalkboard). Now, we’re about to order in calzones from our favorite pizza place to honor Ben. The finale not only inspired my food choices, but prompted me to re-watch episodes last night that focused on love and relationships so I could write some Parks & Recreation inspired wedding vows for couples who love the show as much as I do.

My goal was to put something together that applied to a diverse group of couples who may not be as quirky as Andy and April, or as earnest as Ben and Leslie, but were touched by the principles behind what they said during the show. These vows are longer than what I would usually recommend for a ceremony (5 promises or less are usually best), but couples who like this theme should feel free to pick and choose to construct their own Parks and Recreations inspired wedding vows. Many of the promises can also be broken up into separate vows.


XXX, you are the best person ever and I am the luckiest man/woman in the galaxy to have found you and spend the rest of my life with you.

I love you more than [insert nerdy pursuit] and I can’t wait to make and grow our [insert your equivalent of a unity quilt] together.

I look forward to spending my life shouting from the rooftops how awesome you are, helping you, supporting you, and doing whatever it takes to make you happy.

When you’re scared, I promise to do my best to karate chop your challenges away and tell you how much I love you.

I promise to protect you from danger, even when it’s because we jumped into something stupid together.

And when times are tough for me and I feel like I hate everything in the world, I promise not to hate you.

Taken from the NBC Parks & Recreation Pinterest board for Ben & Leslie's wedding.
Taken from the NBC Parks & Recreation Pinterest board for Ben & Leslie’s wedding.

I promise to help you spread your wings and fly, and find your own path as an individual in this crazy world.

I promise to support you in creating your perfect idea of being my wife/husband and loving whatever you invent.

I can’t wait to see how you’ll surprise me each and every day.

You are everything I need, including your cute butt.

Parks and Recreation Inspired Wedding Vows

XXX, will you take me as your wife/husband so we can shout everyday ‘OMG, we’re married!’?

OR

XXX, will you take me as your husband/wife so I can remind you how much I like you and I love you every day from now until eternity?


Yay! Off to watch the finale and take to Twitter and try not to cry too hard when it ends. When I watched the Leslie & Ben wedding last night, I forgot that Jerry was their wedding officiant. It looks like we have even more in common that I even thought.

Using Technology to Plan Your Perfect Honeymoon: Our Trip to Puerto Rico

If you’ve visited my blog before, you know that I am not big on tradition unless it supports my vision for fun, happiness, and joy. Planning my honeymoon was no exception. I wanted our time together to be intimate and authentic and the planning to be efficient as possible.

Scheduling conflicts delayed our honeymoon about 10 months, giving us time to think about where we wanted to go. I’d attended a bridal expo and walked out with shiny catalogs featuring tempting all-inclusive resort options and classic European destinations… but I knew I preferred something beachy and laid-back where I could come and go. Once I took into consideration safety, knowing the language, and availability, Puerto Rico became our first destination choice.

Watching the parasailers with Medalia on hand.
Watching the parasailers with Medalia on hand.

High Tech & Low Cost Honeymoon Planning Tools

Efficient planning and affordability were key to making our trip a success and I relied on technology heavily. Here are some tools that we used to plan our honeymoon that may be also be useful to you.

  • Travel and Car: We saved a lot of money by using Delta miles to cover our flights in full (we are both Delta Silver members with the Delta American Express card and thus accumulated a lot of miles). Delta’s online travel planner was able to show us options for a five week period which was nice. If you are not flying Delta, I also recommend Kayak. They always seem to have the best deals and you can also plan for a flexible time-period to get a great deal.

We would have used Delta miles to cover our car but none were available for us through Delta’s website. I’ve found that you will get the best rental car rates by Googling your destination and date versus using a travel site. In this case, RentalCars.com had the best deal.

 

  • Lodging: Over the last year, I have enjoyed booking my lodging with Airbnb. Airbnb allows you to rent a home (or a part of a home) directly from an owner. We used Airbnb to view properties, communicate with owners, and ultimately rent a delightful cottage to ourselves that was much cheaper than a hotel (we also had a significant sized Airbnb coupon to use). Our rental also had a kitchenette that could have saved us money if we cooked, but we didn’t because the food in our neighborhood was so amazing.

I constantly recommend Airbnb to brides and grooms who email me with questions about planning their destination weddings in Savannah. The right Airbnb can be a romantic, intimate and inexpensive place to stay, or even the perfect place to host a small elopement in a private courtyard. I have used VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) for some of my trips and also recommend that service.

 

  • Dog Sitting: We have a dog, Forrest, who needed to be cared for while we were gone for 10 days. We used DogVacay to find someone with great references who could take him in for the period we needed. Cindy lived close to us and was a great caretaker. She sent us pictures of Forrest playing in her backyard and cuddling on her chair.

We had previously boarded Forrest at a kennel and while the people there were great, he came back anxious (we rescued him at three years old and he had a long history as an outside dog and being abandoned). Having him in a home where he was spoiled made our lives easier during and after the trip.

 

When Forrest is happy, we are all happy.
When Forrest is happy, we are all happy.

 

  • Recommendations for Attractions and Food. Apps on your phone can help, too. I use Yelp for dining recommendations whenever I travel, but had not used Trip Advisor much. We found that consulting the top 25 things to do in Puerto Rico on Trip Advisor was helpful- people are honest and accurate about their experiences. We did do further searching on the things that appealed to us. For Puerto Rico, one of the best websites we used was Puerto Rico Day Trips.

Nothing beat recommendations from friends or our AirBnB host, but Yelp was a great tool for days where we visited new locations on the island.

 

The  unusual and delicious Eggs Benedict  found at the Ocean Park Cafe, a place we discovered on Yelp
The unusual and delicious Eggs Benedict found at the Ocean Park Cafe, a place we discovered on Yelp.

 

  • FancyHands: This was our honeymoon, but also our vacation and our annual time to unwind and disconnect. While we rented a car because we wanted to see a lot of the island, we didn’t want a packed schedule so we decided to make reservations while we were on the island and felt like going somewhere. It was often difficult to get someone on the phone, so we used our FancyHands assistants to call and make reservations for us when needed. If I’d done it myself, I might have spent hours trying to get people instead of leisurely drinking my mojitos. I’ve blogged before about how great FancyHands are at helping do research and schedule things for you at a low cost.
Mojitos, piña coladas & margaritas were drunk often.
Mojitos, piña coladas & margaritas were drunk often.

Our Puerto Rico Trip

If you are interested in visiting Puerto Rico yourselves for a honeymoon or vacation, here are some of our highlights that might help you plan your trip.

We stayed in a neighborhood called Ocean Park, part of Santurce, in a small, beautiful Airbnb cottage just two blocks from the beach. Our hosts Sylvia & Stephen, were great. They also maintain another property, the Dreamcatcher, where we had an amazing breakfast. I am now following their Instagram account with pictures of their beautiful dogs, Pippa and Malta, and it reminds me that I wish I was still there.

The amazing map our host Sylvia provided with us to help us shop and eat.
The amazing map our host Sylvia provided with us to help us shop and eat.

We had a kitchenette, but the food in Ocean Park was amazing so we just ate out. We had a ton of Puerto Rican food, but also great Italian, Mexican, and French. Our favorite meals were at Molinis, the Ocean Park Cafe, Kasalta, la B de Burro (amazing ginger & tamarind margaritas), Nona Cucina, La Cueva del Mar (my favorite meal was here- black rice and octopus) & Tresbe, a food truck that was open late with delicious tacos. You can find listings for all on Yelp.

The medianoche at Kasalta. President Obama ordered the same thing when he visited.

Ocean Park is a great neighborhood where you can walk everywhere and if you want to go to a nearby city, cabs are inexpensive. We rented a car because we wanted to take day trips.

One day we went south to Hacienda Buena Vista, a coffee plantation and the thermal hot springs in Coamo. The drive to both through the mountains was about 90 minutes from Ocean Park and beautiful. Hacienda La Buena Vista had gorgeous waterfalls and other nature.

Hasta Buena Vista Coffee Plantation
Hacienda Buena Vista Coffee Plantation

I really enjoyed the hot springs! The hot springs were the original Fountain of Youth that Ponce de Leon was searching for and many people have visited them for their healing properties. They were so hot and relaxing. It doesn’t sound incredible to sit in a pool with strangers, and it is hard to capture in a photo, but the springs are at the top of a mountain and the clouds are so close that you feel like you can touch them.

The original fountain of youth
The original fountain of youth

We also went east to Luquillo and to Fajardo to kayak. We LOVED Luquillo and want to do a whole return trip there. The water was calm and gorgeous and we left very tan, relaxed and honeymooned.

 

The sunset at Luquillo.
The sunset at Luquillo.
Tan, happy, & in love.

We also went kayaking in the bioluminescent bay with EcoAdventures. That was a lot of fun, if hard and a test in marriage communication at times. That is a whole other blog post!

Paddle right... No, your other right!
Paddle right… No, your other right!

Finally, we took a cab to Old San Juan and spent an evening there eating & drinking and looking at some history. My goal for 2015 is to be as chill as this cat who was just sitting on one of the monuments.

Guarding history.
Guarding history.

And there you have it! I hope that you have as wonderful honeymoon as I had wherever and whenever it may be- and with stress-free planning!

Same-Sex Wedding Planning in Savannah, The Lowcountry & Georgia

UPDATE ON 6/26/15: The United States Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states! If you would like to learn how I can help you get married, please read about the officiating services I offer!

This blog post went through dozens of updates as I tracked the legal battles in Georgia, South Carolina, & Florida from October 2014 to June 2015. I am not going to delete it, but most of the information is outdated as of the SCOTUS ruling. The bottom line is that same-sex couples can get married anywhere they’d like. Woo hoo!

——————-

ORIGINAL POST:

You might decide not to have a “wedding,” but marriage is still a big deal.

It may not seem like receiving that official piece of paper will change things for you and your partner, but it absolutely will. There are spiritual and emotional transformations that come from making your commitment, of course, but just the legal implications can be life changing.

In the United States, the legal shifts you experience as part of marriage are almost all positive. It’s in the government’s best interest for us to have families because families make us happier (!), and more productive workers and citizens. Legal marriage impacts your access to health insurance, your tax liability, and your ability to assign ownership to property and other assets. It also can determine your eligibility to be a parent and add to your family.

So yes, marriage is a big deal. It’s why people have been fighting for the right to its benefits for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals all over the country, as well as in Georgia.

On Monday, October 6, 2014, the Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from five states with gay marriage bans that had been ruled unconstitutional by lower federal courts. This decision led to rapid changes in same-sex marriage laws, including the following:

  • Same-sex marriage became legal in our neighboring state South Carolina on November 20, 2014. South Carolina is just a few miles away from Savannah via the Talmadge Bridge.
  • As of January 6, 2014, same-sex marriage is also legal in Florida, just a two hour drive away.
  • Same sex marriage also became legal in North Carolina this fall. While further away, Asheville is still just a 5 hour drive from us.
  • Finally, on January, 16, 2015 the Supreme Court decided to hear arguments concerning four same-sex marriage cases. Arguments will be heard beginning April 28, 2015 and the outcome of these hearings could decide marriage equality for the entire country by June.

If you are an LGBT individual in Georgia, you might have been planning a commitment ceremony within the next year or waiting for the same-sex marriage laws to change. The changing laws in states around us may have led you wonder if any of this should impact your wedding planning. With that in mind, I’ve put together the following Q&A to help you with your decision-making, including key dates to track, reading suggestions, and social media accounts to follow. I warn you that in an effort to be thorough, this post is epically long.

As things change, I’ll update the post at the bottom and strikethrough or delete outdated information. I am not a lawyer, but a professional wedding officiant who works with all sorts of couples, and an advocate for anyone who wants to legally bind his or her love to their partner in a meaningful way. That’s reason enough for me to stay on top of this! If you are an attorney or same-sex couple, who would like to add your advice or story to this post, please contact me.


SameSexM


 Q: Is same-sex marriage legal in Georgia? If not, what is going on to make that so?

Same-sex marriage is NOT currently recognized in Georgia. It is banned by state law. In April 2014, a group of LGBT plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Georgia in the federal court system because they believe the state’s same-sex marriage ban violates their federal constitutional rights. Their goal is to have the state ban overturned.

Georgia’s attorney general filed paperwork related to dismissing the case on October 22nd, but the judge has not yet responded. On January 19, 2015, federal Judge Duffey of the 11th Circuit denied the State of Georgia’s motion to dismiss the case. On February 4th, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed further action on this case until after the Supreme Court case is settled.

Georgia was one of the last states where a  same-sex marriage ban was challenged in court (it’s now happened in all 50). As of January 28th, Georgia is one of only 3 states in the country where a court has not ruled on a same-sex marriage case (the others are North Dakota and Nebraska).

Key Dates: October 22nd Waiting for next steps from Judge since October 23rd Waiting for a hearing date and response from the State of Georgia Waiting for Supreme Court case on April 28

Further Reading Suggestions:

I also suggest creating a Google Alert for “Georgia marriage equality” so you can get updates as they break. You can also create a Google Alert for the case name, “Inniss v. Aderhold.”


Q: How likely is it that same-sex marriage will be legal in Georgia?

Based on the consistency of previous rulings by the federal courts, experts believe that it is very likely that Georgia’s same-sex marriage ban will be ruled illegal once the current case makes it’s way through the system.

The legality of same-sex marriage in Georgia is now in the hands of the Supreme Court. Experts believe that the court will rule against the remaining states’ same-sex marriage bans, paving the way for marriage in Georgia. Same-sex marriage is legal in 37 states and the court has made a number of pro-marriage equality rulings in the past. It seems improbable that the Supreme Court would allow same-sex marriage bans to continue to exist in the small number of states who still have them.

Further Reading Suggestions:


Q: Are there other states I should be watching that impact the legal status of same-sex marriage in Georgia?

Not currently. The 11th Circuit Court covers Georgia, Florida and Alabama and rulings by the Circuit Court of Appeals can impact all states within the circuit. However, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed all cases in these states that impact marriage equality until after the same-sex marriage case before the Supreme Court is decided.

However, Florida and Alabama have had their cases heard.

Gay marriage is now legal in Florida. Florida had its day in court on August 21, when Judge Robert Hinkle of the 11th circuit ruled that Florida’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. However, the judge stayed the decision until January 5th.

Attorney General Pam Bondi in Florida has appealed the ruling that threw out Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage to the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, but it has been put on hold.

A federal judge threw out Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban on January 23rd and couples began marrying in early February. However, the Alabama State Supreme Court issued a conflicting order on March 3rd that prohibited county judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples which effectively put marriage back on hold, pending further legal action.

Key Dates: October 15th,  November 15th, November 21st, January 5th, Waiting for updates on Florida’s appeal before the 11th circuit Waiting for Supreme Court case on April 28

Further Reading Suggestions:


 Q: I had never considered getting married out-of-state before because it seemed so expensive, but South Carolina is a short drive away. Now that same-sex marriage is legal in South Carolina (and Florida), should we plan our wedding there instead of having a commitment ceremony in Georgia? What are the benefits?

(FYI: I have written another blog post on the legal benefits of marriage- straight or same-sex- called “If You Like It, Sign a Piece of Paper With It.”)

We all want marriage to be legal in Georgia. However, if you marry in a state where same-sex is legal, you will still experience benefits even though your state does not legally recognize your marriage. For some, that is the best decision to make right now for yourself and your family.

If you legally marry out of state, you’ll receive the federal benefits that come from marriage. The federal government agencies that will recognize your marriage and provide you the benefits that come with it are the IRS and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The Social Security Administration will NOT recognize your marriage.

You may or may not receive health insurance as a family, depending on your employer. Some national employers recognize out-of-state same sex marriages that are not recognized in the state the employee resides. You should speak to your employer about their policy. As of January 1, 2015, your same-sex marriage WILL be recognized for health care obtained through an exchange (Obamacare), even if your current state does not recognize it.

Of course, you will not receive benefits governed by the state, including those that concern property and adoptions. However, if same-sex marriage was to become legal in Georgia, you would then receive those state benefits with your now-recognized out-of-state marriage. You would not have to marry again in Georgia.

And of course, there are other benefits to marriage. I asked some friends who lived in states where same-sex marriage was not legal and decided to get married out-of-state for their thoughts.

This is what my friends Leah & Rachel had to say. Some of their answers made me choke up. Bolded emphasis on certain statements was added by me.


Me: What prompted you to decide to get married out of state?

L&R: I wanted to get married in my home state (Massachusetts) and a town (Provincetown) that would be a good destination for guests, but also because we lived in a state that did not yet have marriage equality at the time (New York).

We both felt really strongly about having our celebration in a place that would welcome and affirm our relationship as equal to any other. We wanted to be married – not civilly-unioned or domestically partnered. That word holds so much meaning in our society we didn’t want to settle for “marriage-lite”

 

Me:  Were there any immediate benefits you felt or experienced after returning home? Any hurdles?

L&R: Being able to change our names without having to go to court and file a petition was a big deal for us. Our new last name represented us as a family.

Even though we lived in a state that recognized out-of-state marriages, we had some trouble at a New York social security office – sometimes the processes at the state and federal level take time to catch up. Luckily we knew the law and were able to advocate for ourselves.

After marriage equality passed in NY, we ended up moving to Colorado, which at the the time had very limited state-wide relationship recognition laws, to work with the Gill Foundation, which was front and center in the marriage equality movement. Colorado is Rachel’s home state, so we were both very invested both personally and professionally in seeing marriage equality advance here. Because of changes in DC, we were able to be married in the eyes of the federal government – which makes a huge difference for us with taxes, social security, and health insurance costs.

Eventually a state-wide civil union bill passed in Colorado, which made some things better, but also created a sort of patchwork of protections, especially when our twins were born. Couples in a civil union are presumed to be the parents of children born during the relationship, so I was listed on their birth certificate. But states that don’t recognize our relationship may not recognize my status as a parent. A second parent adoption is legally binding across all 50 states but the twins have 2 legal parents according to Colorado, so it’s not currently an option. National marriage equality will solve this in the long run, but for now, it is nice to know that there are more states we can travel to or live in without worrying about or rights as a parent.

 

Me: Anything you wish you’d known before you planned your wedding?

L&R: We originally picked our wedding location because it was a very gay friendly place we loved spending time in, but I think I underestimated how important having the legal designation of marriage would be. We definitely got choked up when we received our marriage license – way more so than when we received our domestic partnership form. Being married means something – it means we are a family and no other word or list of protections can equal that. I never get tired of calling Rachel my wife and now she’s my wife in 30 states. That feels like progress to me.


Q: Okay, that was helpful. I think I want to get married in South Carolina or Florida and not wait for the Georgia case to resolve itself. What are my options?

If you and your family are comfortable with the short drive to Hilton Head or Beaufort County, there are many wonderful venues and wedding professionals who can help you plan your day there. There are also many Savannah wedding professionals who work in South Carolina because it is so close (I am one of them). You should be able to proceed with ease.

If you would like to have a formal event in Georgia because it’s your home, you can also consider eloping in South Carolina before your formal wedding. You can then have your legal marriage AND your Georgia commitment ceremony as a day to have a more personal ceremony and celebration with family and friends.

If you are considering this option, here are the requirements for a marriage license in Beaufort and Charleston Counties. Both applicants must apply in person. Unlike Georgia, there is a 24-hour waiting period between applying for your license and having it issued. An officiant can marry you the same day that you receive your license.

You could drive an hour to Beaufort on a Thursday and drive back on a Friday to get married, or plan a long, romantic weekend in South Carolina before your formal wedding together. It could also be a wonderful way to spend some time together alone before your big (but probably hectic) day.

You can also get married in Florida and North Carolina. Here are the requirements for Duval County in Florida. There is a three day waiting period without a premarital education course.


Q: I am curious… how did gay marriage become legal in South Carolina?

These are excerpts from the original blog post.

On October 8th, a county court accepted marriage applications from LGBT couples because of the October 6th Supreme Court declination to hear further appeals of a Fourth Circuit ruling that declared same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional (South Carolina is in the Fourth Circuit). The South Carolina State Supreme Court required counties to stop accepting applications pending an official ruling from the Fourth Circuit on South Carolina’s case.

A couple filed federal suit requesting an injunction that would allow same sex-marriage to move forward immediately. On November 12, Judge Mark Gergel ruled that South Carolina’s ban on gay marriages was unconstitutional and that effective November 20th, county courts must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples who otherwise meet the requirements to get married. The Supreme Court refused to hear all appeals. 

On November 18th, Judge Childs also ruled that under the constitution, same-sex marriages performed out of state must be recognized by South Carolina immediately.

Further Reading Suggestions:


Q: Where else should I look for updates on the changing legal status of same-sex marriage in the lowcountry?

I would suggest Southerners for the Freedom to Marry on Facebook, Georgia Equality on Facebook and The Campaign for Southern Equality on Twitter.

You can also follow the local news, but reports coming from these outlets has varied in accuracy, and many are not even covering the issue. I’d stick to organizations and publications that are following the legal issues closely. A great news site for this issue is GAVoice. The best reporter I have found is Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed.

I hope this blog post gives Georgia LGBT couples who are ready to get hitched some clarity so they can move forward with their marriage and wedding plans… or decide to continue to wait for Georgia to overturn its ban on same-sex marriage, which is okay, too. If there is anything else I can do to help you, please send me a note!

With love, 

Tracy Brisson, Founder of Savannah Custom Weddings & Elopements

 

 

 

 

POST UPDATES:

2014

OCTOBER 15 UPDATE: Updated court dates for Florida and South Carolina and added a profile of the judge overseeing the South Carolina case in the 4th circuit.

OCTOBER 24 UPDATES: Updates on motions filed in Georgia and South Carolina this week, as well as a new federal suit filed in South Carolina seeking immediate recognition of the 4th circuit ruling.

NOVEMBER 13 UPDATES: Updates on January 5th stay in Florida case and both cases in South Carolina.

NOVEMBER 20 UPDATES: Updated the victories for South Carolina that allows same-sex marriage to proceed and requires recognition of out-of-state marriages.

2015

JANUARY 12 UPDATES: Updated information on Florida and the denial of Georgia’s motion to dismiss.

MARCH 23 UPDATES: Updated information on 11th Circuit Court of Appeals stay, the April 28 Supreme Court hearing, and status of Alabama’s case.

personalized wedding vows

Why You Should Personalize Your Wedding Vows

Last week, I found myself watching The View while I was waiting for my car to be serviced… and my ears perked up when they started talking about wedding vows!

The wedding vow conversation started with catty gossip about how Jessica Simpson flubbed the vows she wrote for her July ceremony, but quickly turned to Jenny McCarthy, who is planning a wedding to Donnie Wahlberg. It seems that Jenny and Donnie cannot decide whether it’s worth it to personalize their upcoming wedding vows.

Sherri Shepherd gushed that she loved personalized vows because they were “romantic.” Guest co-host Sunny Hostin said, “I just did the traditional. You don’t really remember what you said 20 years later anyway except ‘I Do.'”

What??

personalized wedding vows

There are many ways for a couple to express their love to each other during their marriage ceremony. Writing unique, lengthy vows is not for everyone and it’s perfectly okay to use something pre-written that reflects the relationship you have with your partner. But both Sherri’s and Sunny’s arguments are lousy reasons to choose or not choose personalized vows for your wedding ceremony.

In my opinion, here are just two reasons to personalize your wedding vows.

1. You should remember- and revisit– what you commit to on your wedding day to keep your marriage working.

First, Sunny’s argument that you won’t remember what you say on your wedding day is invalid because every married couple should have a copy of their vows from the ceremony. If your wedding officiant doesn’t provide you a copy of your wedding vows after the ceremony as part of his or her services, consider hiring a new officiant.

Women spend hundreds of dollars preserving wedding dresses they’ll never wear again. Why wouldn’t you also at least keep a digital copy of what you promised to do for the rest of your life?

We all know that when you decide to marry, you accept your spouse for better or worse. But when things are actually at their worst, it can be hard to make good on that promise even though we’re well-meaning human beings. Pulling out your vows and reminding yourself of the words you said, and the sense of that optimism you felt that day you said them, can go a long way to helping you become the partner you know you’re capable of being. Likewise, it can be a reminder how important it is to celebrate the good times when they occur.

2. Who you marry and what you vow for your marriage is not only the most important decision you’ll make for your family, but also for your career- especially for women.

As a career coach, I have many issues with Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, on women and the workplace. I find much of her advice dated and targeted toward women who want to be second in command, which is not where I think women should aim to be. But there are nuggets of wisdom in the book, including a chapter that lays out clear arguments that who you choose to marry and how you decide to structure your marriage is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make for your career.

Here are just two stats from the book on this issue.

  • Of 28 women who have served as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, 26 were married and many said they could not have succeeded without the support of their husbands helping at home
  • ln a 2007 study, 60 percent of well-educated professional women who had left the paid workforce cited their husbands’ lack of participation at home as a significant factor in their decisions.

Choosing to marry someone is not a professional transaction, but it does no one good to ignore that how you feel about your job, career, and livelihood will impact your future marriage. 

Traditional vows were written during a time when women’s ambitions weren’t perceived to be as important as men’s. We now live in a time where women’s dreams are, and they vary and change and it’s amazing. Don’t you want your partner to vow to support your ambitions from day one?

Your marriage is about so much more than your romantic wedding day and you can position it for success through the power of words. So please, spend as much time thinking about your vows as you do about all the other items on your wedding planning checklist! In 20 years, the words you say before “I Do,” will actually matter.