Lighting Candles in the Darkness: What I Know About Weddings, Part II

This Christmas Eve, December 24, 2020, my lovely bride Juliet and I were married in a short ceremony at our home in Roberts Creek, BC, Canada.

Why Christmas Eve? Because it is the traditional Danish Christmas celebration, when the family gathers and lights real candles on our Christmas tree every year. Our plan had been to stand beside the lit tree.

Why get have a wedding in a pandemic? We always wanted a small, intimate, family wedding. Originally we considered getting married on our favourite small schooner sailboat. But as the pandemic progressed, we realized that we had to downsize. Our provincial lockdown guidelines allowed just 10 people, and anyone not in your household “bubble” had to stay outside.  Juliet’s mum stayed with us for weeks ahead of the wedding to be in our “bubble,” along with my daughter and mother. Juliet’s son and his fiancee were not able to come from Alberta, nor was my father and his partner from Seattle. Our two best friends in Vancouver could only come up to the Coast for a couple of hours. They, our marriage commissioner,   and our two musician neighbours all had to stay outdoors, masked and socially-distant — one of the musicians in a bike shed next door.

So there was no place like home, in our own back yard. We decorated with candles, lanterns, a bonfire, and Christmas lights – literally lighting up hope in the darkness. And that’s why we did it this year. So many people – even complete strangers in stores – told us that just the idea of our wedding this Christmas cheered them up. “What a beautiful affirmative event at the end of this hard, hard year! Thank you!” wrote my cousin Nathan in Zoom chat.

For a tiny pandemic wedding, it was enormous. Over a hundred friends and family watched on Zoom, including Juliet’s friends in Ireland (where it was after midnight) and my 105-year-old grandmother in Wyoming. In our chat at the end, I “threw my bouquet” at the screen, to my stepson’s fiancee in Calgary.

Ensuring Zoom worked was, for me, by far the scariest part. We had a separate camera and mic for Zoom, run by my daughter. As well as playing two (very cold, metal) flutes, I ran the musicians’ mic and amp so our mums inside could hear.  (One hour before the wedding, at peak stress, I grumbled, “Next lifetime, remind me not to be the Tech Director of my own wedding!”) It had to work right the first time; even on Zoom, I feel it’s important to “be in the moment” for such a sacred occasion as a wedding, so I insisted that we not record it. (Though we saved the chat to read later.)

And the moment the musicians began the processional waltz, Juliet and I fell into step, dancing our way out to the back patio. From then on, all of our moods were filled with joy and gratitude.

Joy and gratitude for marrying each other, for the love of all our family and friends, for our cosy home in our wonderful cohousing community on the beautiful Sunshine Coast, and for all of our health and happiness in the years to come. There is hope on the horizon.

We wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Why I Vote Twice

Today, Oct 17, on behalf of the Sunshine Coast Alliance for Seniors’ Care Co-op (SCASCC), I will host an online Q&A forum with all three of our local candidates for our provincial Legislative Assembly. SCASCC is a nonpartisan group, and I am truly still undecided how I will vote. I’ll see which candidate woos me most. But whatever I decide will probably sway my mother, partner, and daughter’s votes too.

Today I will also send 20 hand-written letters to voters in Florida, where my young nieces live, begging strangers to vote. It’s the #TheBigSend Day.  Heather Cox Richardson, the phenomenal US cultural and political historian, has inspired me to get off my tush and Get Out the Vote.

Here are the (longer versions of the) stories I told those strangers, about why I vote.

I was born in the US but my family moved to Canada when I was 5 and became Canadian. Because I was a child, I retained dual citizenship – something I didn’t know until I returned to the US to attend a very liberal arts college (unbuttoned, you might even say), in a quite conservative town and state. I remained mostly in the US for 28 years until returning with my family to Canada in 2007.

Shortly before the 1980 US presidential election I turned 18, very excited to vote for the first time. At the elections office, they told me, “You can’t register to vote here. You have to register in your home state.” “My home state is British Columbia,” I answered. “Well then you can’t vote at all.” “Yes I can, I’m a US citizen,” I insisted. Finally, they let me – and a handful of other kids from our college – register. We all showed up together on election day to vote. Mysteriously, all of our registrations had gone missing. “That’s ok,” we said, “We’ll just sit here and wait til you find them. Maybe we’ll sing…” Astonishingly, all our registrations re-appeared instantly. Gee, funny…

Two decades later, I was working as a librarian at an arts college in Seattle. “Register to vote!” I urged the students. “Nah, it doesn’t make any difference,” they replied cynically. I told them the story of my first election, and added, “That’s what the grownup status quo wants you to think – that you can’t register, and that your vote doesn’t matter. Because they don’t want to let you vote. Because they’re afraid of your vote!”  That got them. “Grownups don’t want to let me vote? Afraid of my vote? Sign me up!”

And that year, in 2004, a progressive woman governor won by only 129 votes’ lead – after two recounts. I’m proud to say that my vote was one of those 129. I hope that 129 also included some of my students’ votes, and that they continue to vote in every election.

As a US citizen living in Canada, I feel it’s my duty to vote as what the US does affects the whole world. So many people outside the US wish they could vote in it. And this is how I recruit my fellow US expats: “We have to vote, because they can’t.” Last week I helped a fellow expat friend register, by finding her last US address in the 1970 San Francisco city directory (in Ancestry, available for free online through my awesome local public library.)

The American electoral system still astonishes me: that every county, not even state, has its own elections office (and its own policies)…that each state, no matter how small or big, empty or crowded, has just two Senators – and the Senate controls impeachment and Supreme Court… that the slaveholding states counted slaves as 3/5 of a person, even though they certainly wouldn’t let them vote…that the Founders envisioned the House of Representatives growing with the country, but the House froze itself at its current number of representatives nearly a century ago –  because they were afraid of immigrants changing the status quo.  And that we still have the outdated Electoral College – which, thanks to all of the above, has three times elected a president who lost the popular vote. The last two, both Republicans.  Gee, funny… Gerrymandering, fake ballot boxes, voter suppression, 10-hour-long lines to vote… If this were a Third-World country, we’d call it corrupt. What was all that hot air from the Founders about proportional representation and democracy?

As a Canadian living in the States for over two decades, it was super easy to register to vote in Canadian federal elections: I faxed a copy of citizenship paper to Ottawa, they mailed me back a ballot. Done. But as the Arrogant Worms sang about Canada, “We won’t say that we’re better, it’s just that we’re less worse.” A Conservative Canadian government disenfranchised all Canadians who’d been out of the country for over five years, until the Supreme Court of Canada caught up with them nearly a decade later and “guaranteed voting rights.” That has a nice ring to it, eh?

If you are an American expatriate, it’s not quite too late! Go to  to print out a registration and ballot request form or Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot. Many states now allowing emailing or faxing ballots. If you’re a BC voter, you can still request a mail-in ballot until 8 pm, Sat Oct 17; after that you can still vote in advance. And our lines won’t be as long as those down south.

Now go cast your ballot.


Step We Gaily As We Go: What I Know About Weddings

My weddings

In my first marriage, I had two weddings with the same partner: first the Big Fat Wedding of 100 family and friends from all over the world, in a boutique Victorian town several hours from our home in Seattle, in 1998 before there was really much Internet. We arranged everything, including our vows, the whole ceremony, website, directions, travel guide, accommodations, catering, and renting everything we needed on site. Whole 9 yards.

Unfortunately the Big Fat Wedding was not a legal wedding, as my partner and I were of the same sex. So five years later, as as soon as it became legal, we rushed up for a Very Tiny Wedding, on a beach in Vancouver Canada. We didn’t even tell most of our parents about it until it was over. They could read about it in the NYT (which despite their fact-checker had errors, and only published us because we were their first legal lesbian wedding announcement).

Many years later, my second wife and I had a tiny, pandemic-compliant wedding in our home, on Christmas Eve, with a very small number of guests in person and a large number on Zoom. 

I have also helped friends plan their weddings, including on top of a mountain in a daily thunderstorm. “It will all be fine at the time,” they assured us, and sure enough a rainbow miraculously came out right on time.

Your wedding is unique

Your wedding should be custom tailored to:

  • You and your partner
  • The words and spirit that are most meaningful to you, whether or not you write your own vows
  • Clothes that make you look fantastic while feeling amazing
  • Your cultures, traditions, religion and spirituality
  • Your tastes in decorations, invitations, food, beverages, and music
  • Your preference for small or large ceremony or reception. Some people combine them, some people prefer to separate them. It may be affected by factors outside of your control, such as who can travel to your location.
  • The location, scenery, season, and times that work best for you
  • Photography – type and timing that fits your ceremony and/or reception. A formal portrait session before the wedding? A mass photo of all the guests attending? Photos during the ceremony, or a ban on photography til it’s over, to keep people in the moment? (Even if you ban photography, someone will cheat, I promise. But someone behind a camera can feel intrusive on the mood of a solemn moment.) A hashtag for your guests to post all their own pictures of the wild reception on their social media? 
  • Your unique set of friends and relatives, and your unique relationships with them. Yes go ahead and invite Great-Uncle Victor, even though your list already has far more guests than you can afford, and you know for dead-certain that he will never come. If you don’t invite him and he hears about it (which guaranteed he will), his nose will be out of joint for decades, and so will all his side of the family’s. Invite him anyway. Who knows, he might even send a gift.
  • How you feel about receiving gifts. Even if your house is stuffed and you say “no gifts please,” gifts will come. Be prepared, before twenty toasters arrive. Registry? Charity? Cash donations for a honeymoon? Make a plan and let your guests know well in advance.
  • Your scale and budget. Try not to burden your shiny new marriage with debt: plan, and save up. Alas, gone are the days when the father of the bride paid for everything. You are lucky if your family chips in, as you’re probably footing the bill. Yes, you are getting married to your beloved partner for your own intimate reasons, and the wedding ceremony should be exactly the way you want it. However, a wedding reception is a floating party that moves around a family over decades, and now it’s your turn to host. The reception is really more for your guests than for you.

Why wear it just once?

Historically, most people wore their best clothes for their wedding. They may have had a new dress or suit tailored, but it was usually not the last time they wore it. Why not have wedding outfits that you will be able to enjoy again? For example, if you’re a fan of historical costume, why not dress up a bit? For my last wedding, a costume designer friend made me a Renaissance dress from purple silk. It has since come in handy for musical performances and recreating paintings

Poetry in its place

A wedding ceremony is the perfect place for a beautiful poem – if it suits your wedding. Otherwise it can be excruciating. Consider its length, author, enduring fame, themes and overtones, and raunchiness vs family friendliness. One of our wedding  party read aloud this lovely poem by Christina Rossetti: A Birthday Ask a librarian (like me) to help you find just the ticket for you.

Music makes the moment

Whether it’s a wedding ceremony or even a funeral, such an important event in your life deserves at least a bit of live music. (And do pay, or at least feed, your musicians! Start your marriage with good karma.)

Music makes the moment solemn, and can ring out memories from your family or culture. For example, the first waltz at a Danish wedding is usually the 19th C “Bridal Waltz” by Neils Gade. When my grandmother heard it, she turned it to my mother and said (in Danish), “Now I’m going to cry.” Not the sentimental sort, my grandma hadn’t cried in years, but hearing the waltz from her own wedding played again over 60 years later at mine brought tears to her eyes. 

I have been a semi-professional musician at weddings for over 30 years, playing flute, recorder, viola de gamba, and singing. I know processionals to play while watching the wedding couple process up the aisle, and stop at any two-bar cadence so you reach the end just as they do.  And if I don’t have the music needed, I can compose it. “Pavane for the nursery” by William Jay Smith is one of my favourite poems from childhood, and my musical setting of it was part of my Big Fat Wedding.

I’ve sung jazz standards as love songs and played them as dance tunes. And I’ve played lots rollicking tunes from the British Isles, like Mairi’s Wedding, to get reception guests up on their feet dancing together at the reception . “Step we gaily as we go, heel for heel and toe for toe.”

I have also been a sound designer and music director for theatre. I know how music can gather and define a special space at the beginning, smooth through transitions, be a centrepiece for the most solemn moment, and bring everyone together in joyfulness at the end. 35 of our 100 Big Fat Wedding guests performed in our ceremony, with only one short rehearsal. As I said to my partner right after the ceremony, “Not bad for Preview!” 

We had only one big glitch, when a new tradition we’d borrowed turned out to take much longer than expected: passing our rings round all 100 guests for each guest’s individual blessing. We should’ve known this would take forever, while we circled each other not only the traditional 7 times but many many more – it felt like 77. Our stage manager told us later her wish for the rings was, “Move fast to the front!”  But our cousin playing “Pavane for the Nursery” rolled with it like the pro she is. She repeated the chorus, humming it over and over. Guests all around the room began humming with her, until the rings finally came back round to the front. In retrospect, that long awkward moment had surprising beauty.

Your Three Graces: Officiant, Stage Manager, and Guest Wrangler

Really, on the day of your wedding you will have more than enough to do. Even if you are “on book” and reading your own vows from paper, you can easily forget organizational details. And you have far too much on your mind to stress about table seatings or Auntie Bea’s hurt feelings. 

Four-and-a-half Do’s:

  • Do have an Officiant – minister, rabbi, marriage commissioner, your friend with the piece of paper from the Universal Life Church, whatever. Even if you write your own vows and every bit of your ceremony, and have nary a religious bone in your body, you need someone to stand up at the front, host and welcome everyone to the event, and cue you at the right time so that you say and do what you need to, without having to think much. Trust me, your brains will be too full and you’ll be glad of the help.
  • Do hire an event organizer/wedding planner, or assign your most fearsomely-organized guest, as Stage Manager, to make sure that every thing and everyone that you need for the ceremony and reception are where and when they should be, on time; especially if you have scenery changing to do, like setting up tables after the ceremony, or moving tables to dance. She can also rope the spouses of the wedding party into her crew. Delegate any table seating charts to your Stage Manager, in consultation with your Guest Wrangler.
  • Do hire an event organizer/wedding planner, or assign your kindest but firmest guest who knows the greatest number of the other guests, as Guest Wrangler. Guest Wrangler answers everyone’s questions, keeps them out of your hair, gives the kids goody bags of quiet things to keep them busy (e.g. bubbles, drawing pads – no yo-yos!) and gently plucks kids off the walls. Most of all, your Wrangler will subtly steer your guests away from creating any extra drama – and there is always is something. Weddings can bring out the best and worst in people, and the greater the number of guests the more chances rise exponentially that someone will bump into someone who rubs them the wrong way. You, the wedding couple, deserve to be shielded from all this.
  • Do assign someone to push a plate of food in front of you, repeatedly, and make sure you eat some of it, on the day of the wedding. You’ll think you’re not hungry, but really you are. And, if you are someone for whom this is a good idea, take an Ativan or light sleeping pill the night before. If it won’t make you hung over before the wedding even begins, it will help you get a good night’s sleep – which is priceless. You might even be able to remember and enjoy your own wedding.

Don’t sweat the reviews

Most important is that you and your partner enjoy yourselves at your wedding. Nothing else truly matters. If well-planned, with enough good food and conviviality, your wedding will be a wonderful memory for you and your guests. If  homophobic Uncle Fred refused to be caught dead at your wedding, or your divorced parents cold-shouldered each other, or disapproving Grandma Ethel looked like she was sucking lemons, or Little Niece Mirabel upended and displayed her frilly undies to all, or Great-Aunt Gertrude kvetched afterwards about everything you should have done differently, that’s still not your problem

Even your vendors may surprise you. We rented a huge pile of party supplies from the one rental place in the small rural town of our Big Fat Wedding. They also rented backhoes, tractors, and pretty much everything. When we returned the stuff, they said, “Oh we heard about your wedding.”  “Oh yes?” we asked nervously.  In 1998, lesbian weddings were very new in those parts, and our ball-cap-wearing rental guys struck us city slickers as rather redneck. “Yeah we heard about your wedding,” they said. “It was an unusual wedding!”  “Yes?” We inquired even more gingerly. “Yeah,” they said, “we heard your wedding was a Jewish wedding and it had all this great music and dancing!”  “Oh!” All we could reply in our astonishment. “Thank you!”


How to Spread Fake News

We all instinctively like, link, and forward things that shore up our own beliefs. And that is exactly how fake news is spread, especially in social media. I know, I’ve done it. Almost. Here’s how I (nearly) spread fake news.

In May 2019, a Facebook friend of mine shared an article titled “According to Research, Being a Cat Lady is Actually Good for You.” I’m a certifiably crazy cat lady, I like the idea that cats are good for us, so I clicked the link to the article. It was published in House Beautiful – not exactly known for its scientific reporting. Hey, I’m willing to suspend disbelief, because I want to believe it. I read the article quickly and was just about to click to share it to my Facebook timeline, for all my cat-loving friends to agree with me. But then I thought, maybe I should check out this “research” a bit further.

First, the article says, “According to Psychological Medicine, there’s absolutely no link to owning cats and psychosis later in life.” This links to Cambridge University’s Journal of Psychological Medicine – hey, that’s scientific. But the article in it is titled, “Curiosity killed the cat: no evidence of an association between cat ownership and psychotic symptoms at ages 13 and 18 years in a UK general population cohort.” In other words, there’s no evidence that cat ownership makes you a psychotic British teen. But that’s not everyone, everywhere. OK, so she (the author) is generalizing some. Perhaps a lot. Let’s move on.

Next she quotes a 2009 study in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology which concluded that cat owners have a “”a decreased risk for death due to MI and all cardiovascular diseases.” Who exactly did they study, and when? Scroll down to the Methods and Results, and we see it’s based on a 1992 report on a 1976-80 study, that only asked those with allergies if they had pets – just 31% of the cohort. We never get to see exactly the questions asked. Still, with 4,435 male and female black and white American adults aged 30-75, it seems a reasonable sample size. It looks like a scientific conclusion. Chalk up one for the author’s credibility.

But then she asserts that “Kitties can easily reduce your levels of stress—especially for women above 50 years old—and the comforting rhythmic sound of their purring actually has healing powers.” I love a purring machine in my lap as much as the next cat lady but… healing powers? Really? Let’s see.“Healing powers” links to a short article and beautiful diagram on Looks impressive. This article claims that “When a cat purrs within a frequency range of 20-140 Hertz, nearby humans may be therapeutically benefiting from these vibrations. Purring has been linked to lowering stress, decreasing symptoms of Dyspnoea [difficulty breathing], lessening the chances of having a heart attack, and even strengthening bones.” The infographic quotes an “Old Veterinary Adage” that “If you put a cat and a bunch of broken bones in the same room, the bones will heal.” Even assuming those bones are in live animals, not skeletons, I’m getting doubtful. In 50 years I’ve never heard a vet say anything of the sort.

In small print at the bottom of the infographic are the URLS of seven sources for these claims:

  1. which would like to sell us super-foods. Scientific research? Nope.
  2. a personal kitty-fan blog by BJ Bangs, who describes herself as an “award-winning journalist, photographer and public relations professional.” No science here either.
  3. a personal research site by an actual scientist Dr Robert Eklund, PhD in Computational Linguistics. Nothing on the home page confirms anything in the infographic. Mostly it lists his papers presented at phonetics conferences – too many for me to read all. Dr Eklund studies wild cats, like cheetahs, more than house cats, but let’s try his acoustic comparison of the purring of four domestic cats. Does it prove house cats are good for you in any way? Nope. It proves they purr at 17 to 33 Hertz frequencies.
  4. sells cat books by author Ingrid King. King says she used to manage a veterinary hospital, and is a “a certified veterinary journalist and a professional member of the Cat Writers Association.” Vet? Scientist? Nope.
  5. No idea what that was, as the link is now dead. But as it’s on a Lifestyle site, I’m guessing it just regurgitated other “lifestyle” articles like House Beautiful’s. Scientific research? Unlikely.
  6. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America! That’s real science – even if it’s not the proper DOI citation, we don’t know the author, and the link is dead. We just browse volume 110 issue 5, page 2666, to find the abstract of “The Felid Purr: A healing method?” by Elizabeth von Muggenthaler. (Published in 2001 – not exactly red hot news in 2019.) Its abstract reports, “Every felid in the study generated strong frequencies between 25 and 150 Hz. Purr frequencies correspond to vibrational/electrical frequencies used in treatment for bone growth/fractures, pain, edema, muscle growth/strain, joint flexibility, dyspnea, and wounds.” Her article was sponsored by Endevco, which sells testing machinery, so they have something to gain from vibrations that heal. But the abstract gives no references or sources, and I can’t get the full text of the article for free or in public library databases.
    Rummaging with search terms on Google and Google Scholar, I find a “layman’s version” of it on, part of the Fauna Communications Research Institute. Apparently Von Muggenthaler is part of this institute, so this version will do for now. She cautions that this is “a speculative research paper. It is a hypothesis.” But at least she cites a bunch of her sources. She notes Dr Cook found feline purring relieves dyspnoea – in cats (not in humans). She gets excited about healing bones with vibration, especially Dr Rubin’s research and his “fantastic discovery [that] exposure to frequencies between 20-50 Hz (at low dB) creates the robust striations of increased bone density.” Great. But none of her bone-vibrating researchers worked with cats. She then speculates that cats purr at 20-50 Hz frequency range to heal their own bones and muscles. Which could be true. Does this prove that cats’ purring heals humans? Nope.
  7. And one more personal story, about a their cat comforting his wife after she nearly miscarried. It’s on a website that is “a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring the world to believe that anything is possible with hope, faith, and prayer”. Yeah, no science here either.

Only two out of seven sources are actual research.

If one of my students had handed me this list of references, when I was an academic librarian, I’d grade their assignment “D.”

So what do we conclude about “According to research, being a cat lady is good for you?” What does the research actually say?

Cat owners die from heart disease less often than others.
Cats’ purring may miraculously heal … cats. And comfort humans.

Is that ground-breaking science or red hot news? Nope.


Thank you!