1. My partner and I are of different faiths. Neither one of us is converting but we'd like to celebrate our ceremony with elements of both faiths. Our families are a bit unhappy about our mixed marriage and we'd like the wedding ceremony to reassure them that we honor where we came from. Are we asking too much?

Absolutely not! I get positively gleeful when a clergy person tells me they don't perform ceremonies for mixed marriages. All the more for me -- They don't know what they're missing! The world today is a very complex place. People move all over the world and meet and love people who don't look or sound or worship like they do. And that's a beautiful thing. There is nothing richer than working to integrate the ritual elements of your faiths to reflect the way you've integrated your lives.

Many times, if we do it right, you can walk away from your wedding with a blueprint for celebrating ritual holidays with your families that will have everyone clamoring to show up and celebrate together. I've lived in different cultures, lived in families and made friends in different faiths and ethnicities, and spent a lot of time studying the wedding customs around the world. You can use your wedding to gently woo your parents past tolerance to celebration. It doesn't always work, but it works a lot better than I dreamed possible in the beginning. Your parents want to know you honor who they are and what they taught you. This is an opportunity to show them that you take them and your family very seriously. I'll be delighted to help you find ways to express the beliefs and the rituals you find most meaningful.

2. I'm not having a religious ceremony -- can I have more than a five-minute civil ceremony?

Of course! There is no reason not to have a fabulous wedding ceremony. So many of my clients define themselves as "spiritual, not religious" and are not affiliated with any particular faith or religious denomination. Your wedding ceremony can and should reflect your beliefs and values -- whatever they are -- and enable you to make promises worth keeping.

3. Does the ceremony have to be so formal and stuffy? Plus my parents are insisting on a huge formal dinner that's not at all about who we are. Is it unrealistic to believe that we can have a ceremony that's truly ours?

Weddings should not be stuffy. They should be beautiful reflections of you and your relationship. One of the reasons I work with an outline is so we cover every important element that needs to be in a wedding. Getting married is a serious event in your life. But we can treat it seriously without being heavy handed! Getting married is also a wonderful joyous event. I was flabbergasted the other day when someone told me they'd never seen a minister smile at a wedding, let alone laugh. Your ability to take things lightly in marriage cannot be overwhelmed by your willingness to take things seriously. Both of those elements should be evident at your wedding. My goal as celebrant is for you to enjoy your wedding as the wonderful people you are.

4. I don't know where to start to design a great ceremony!

Most people don't. Why should you? Rituals marking huge life events aren't everyday occurrences in our lives. To get what you want, work with a celebrant whose expertise and resources will support and shape your ceremony to reflect your relationship, your values and your community. I probably can't do your job either -- but I have had over 20 years of experience designing and performing ritual and I'll enjoy gently guiding you to the wedding of your dreams.

5. Can I include poetry and music in my ceremony?

Please do. There is so much beautiful poetry and music out there. Why not make it a part of what and how you celebrate. There are wonderful traditional words and there are words from poems and songs that are favorites of yours that are perfectly appropriate in a wedding celebration. Why not use the words of someone who expresses themselves elegantly? After 20 years of doing this work, I have a large collection of wedding poems to offer you and lots of helpful hints about where things work and where they don't in wedding services.

6. Can I include pieces of my family history and tradition?

Most certainly! The more of yourself you include, the more meaning your ceremony will have for you and the people who love you. I have worked with many cultures and faith traditions and there are many great resources out there now to get information about wedding customs. It is exactly those inclusions which allow people to walk away from your wedding saying "Wasn't that ceremony a perfect representation of the people we love?" I'll help you find an elegant solution to integrating your significant rituals into your ceremony.

7. I have a really good friend who I'd like to perform the ceremony, but I'm not sure she has the skills to put together a ceremony that says what we want it to. Any suggestions?

I have worked with many clients who have friends and family members who will perform their ceremony. Some of these clients are here in the Bay Area, some of them are spread around the world. Sometimes I will write the whole ceremony, sometimes I will work with the celebrant to guide the ceremony's development, sometimes people just want to buy my book, Promises to Keep. I will work with you in whatever capacity you choose and at whatever level of involvement you wish.

8. I've heard you like to have a lot of meetings. While we would really like to do that, we're living on the East Coast, even though we're getting married in Napa. Is there any way to get the support and do the work with you even if we're far away?

Thank goodness for technology. Many of my weddings have been developed for clients who live somewhere else. I've had conference calls with Palo Alto and Australia, e-mail with Hong Kong and just plain ol' three-way conversations with couples in Vermont or Washington, D.C. Some couples I haven't even seen face to face until their wedding day -- and what a lovely "reunion" we've had as we scramble to put a face on our voices. I always thought we had to at least hear voices, but, you know, when I finally met my bride and groom from Hong Kong, right before the wedding, we all just wept and giggled with joy. So, pick up the phone, send a fax or send me an e-mail, and together we'll create a ceremony to remember!

9. My fiance's parents are still married after 43 years. My parents, on the other hand, have had 5 marriages between them. There's still bad blood and I don't want my wedding to be only about my parent's fighting. I'm still really close with one of my dad's former wives and would like to have her at the ceremony. Is there any way to make this go smoothly?

It's important to know that for the most part people are on their best behavior at weddings (or any large public occasion). But there are some things you can do to prepare beforehand so you don't feel sandbagged on your wedding day. First and foremost, it helps to deal with your feelings up front. Get clear what you want from your families. Find out what your parents expect of you -- but don't make promises until you know what you're comfortable giving up.

I came home after one particularly horrible wedding declaring I would never let parents ruin one of my couples weddings again, if I could possibly help it. I've put together a questionnaire for divorced parents (although it's sort of fun for still married parents to take!). I'll help you do careful and painstaking planning to help you clarify what you want, what you think you can and can't get and who's going to help you deal with the fallout while you're busy being the fabulous bride and groom. You're not the first person to deal with this -- and this won't be the first time that I've helped people allow their wedding ceremony to stay the center of the day. Unbelievably, people have told me that parents have worked out their problems and figured out divorce settlements at their children's weddings. My job, in addition to helping you plan your ceremony around the life you lead with your partner is to be another voice of reason and calm in the midst of wedding chaos.

10. My partner and I have considered eloping. Why should we go through all this? What can you give us that the Elvis imitator can't? At the end, we'll be just as married, won't we?

Legally that's so. But spiritually and emotionally, I doubt it. And in the long run, it's the spiritual and emotional ties which will last. The wedding license is a piece of paper required by the government. Your marriage covenant, taken before your community, is written in your souls and in the hearts of those who love you. When you and your partner tell the people you love about your relationship, in a ceremony especially tailored to you, your community will be able to support you in achieving your dreams for living happily ever after. Someone who has only met you once can't do that for you.

You won't believe what it means to have all the people you love gathered in one place. I've had clients rave about how they really never even thought what it would mean to see all those people they'd loved throughout their lives gathered in one place. If you do it right, your families and friends will get to know one another and form friendships of their own. This creates a very powerful alliance around your commitment. Very few traditions focus on this aspect of your wedding ceremony.

I'll help you design a wedding ceremony that reflects your relationship and your values, and I'll help you prepare so that you're calm and relaxed. On your wedding day, I'll help everyone focus on what this marriage means to you and how your love can lead us all to more joyous and meaningful lives. You can elope -- or you can stay home and have it all. Call me and let's set up a meeting for your consultation. (and, if I say so myself, I look pretty fabulous in a black velvet cape and a pompadour!)