Two October Weddings (twice father-of-the-groom)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

If I seem to be on a jag about weddings, credit my children. Three have gotten married since last Christmas and a fourth is planning nuptials in April. In October alone, we held two CA weddings, seven thousand miles apart. If raising five children has taught me that no two siblings are alike, this year has taught me the same about weddings. For Timothy and Danielle’s wedding, CA stood for zip codes: 92870, 93907, and 93291, one for the wedding and one each for home town receptions for the bride and groom. Three weeks later, for Lucien and Angie’s wedding, CA stood for flights: Air China 984 and 1509, thirteen hours from Los Angeles to Beijing and another two hours from Beijing to Hangzhou. Then we drove most of two hours to Jinhua.


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For Timothy and Danielle, the wedding rehearsal began about an hour late because the principals were stuck in Angels/Red Sox playoff traffic. (I never did hear who won.) After practicing the ceremony through once (and some parts twice), the party moved a few blocks for an Italian dinner. Rehearsals are not part of modern weddings in China, where ceremony is minimal and planning takes a back seat to spontaneity. But we did gather for lunch with the same participants who would have been invited to an American-style wedding-rehearsal dinner. We ate Chinese. (Well, that’s where we were!)

Invitations to Timothy and Danielle’s wedding suggested that guests (and perhaps especially the father-of-the-groom) not bring cameras, trusting that official photographer Shannon Leith would provide all the pictures anyone could desire. A nice selection of engagement and wedding photos are available at Shannon’s site. Invitations to Lucien and Angie’s wedding circulated via Facebook. There was no official photographer, and most of the pictures were snapped by the father-of-the-groom.

Even though Timothy (a very talented tailor) designed and made Danielle’s dress, they still followed the American tradition in which the groom does not see the bride on the wedding day until she walks down the isle.

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Photo by Shannon Leith

Lucien and Angie broke a Chinese tradition that the wedding couple should be the first to arrive at the location where they would together greet the guests. This wedding couple arrived alongside the early guests and organized the decorating committee. Then they slipped away to dress.

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Later, your photographer and the groom’s mother just happened to be present when Lucien appeared to escort his bride back to their shindig.

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At Timothy and Danielle’s Episcopal wedding, Father David of Blessed Sacrament officiated, while Timothy’s good friend Rabi Kevin canted a call-to-worship and blessings in Hebrew.

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Photo by Shannon Leith

Most Chinese weddings have no officiate, only a master-of-ceremonies. Lucien and Angie went one better. Angie served as her own MC. The languages were Chinese and English.

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For Lucien and Angie, the primary expression of the bride’s ethnicity was the Korean groom’s trousseau, a gift from the bride’s grandparents. For Timothy and Danielle, it was Kransekake.

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Photo by Shannon Leith

This Norwegian wedding cake is made from finely ground almonds, formed into a series of ever-smaller rings. The new couple (and some older couples) take one ring in their mouths, biting from opposite sides in a maneuver that requires proximity and coordination.

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Photos by Shannon Leith

Then there was dancing, elegant and fun to watch.

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Lucien and Angie also had a cake cutting followed by dancing. In this video, see if you can spot any differences. (For elegant dancing, watch for Angie’s 80-year-old grandparents.) Lucien may have started a new wedding tradition for the Chinese, bonfire jumping to his Uncle Forrest’s mandolin picking.

In the end, both weddings provided wonderful parties and great memories. We also come out of October with two delightful new daughters-in-law and . . . (just what is the correct English term for ones children’s’ in-laws? . . . in-laws-once-removed?) . . . friends-with-children-in-common.

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Photo by Shannon Leith

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Photographer yet to be identified

I think I have this straight:
Most expensive single item for Timothy and Danielle’s wedding: The Photographer
Most expensive single item for Lucien and Angie’s wedding: The Fireworks

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A Covenant of Marriage

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I've had weddings on my mind. Not only have three of my own children married within ten months (two just in October . . . more on this when I've gotten my life back together), but I had a long conversation about marriage with a seatmate on my flight from Beijing to Hangzhou, and my own state, California, is litigating a proposition over the very definition of marriage.

Yesterday I attended a beautiful wedding. I have known the bride almost from her birth, and watched her grow until we were colleagues, teaching at the same school.


Photo by David Taylor

Melinda did okay, but the groom choked up, the pastor choked up, the father-of-the-bride choked up, and I choked up as well. Yeah, I admit it: I could do a wedding like this every few weeks, and probably cry at most of them. Few things in life are as monumental as the beginning of a lifetime of marriage.

As part of the ceremony, Bob and Melinda did something I have read about, but never seen done. Publicly, they signed two documents. One was the marriage certificate to satisfy the State of California. At most weddings, the license gets signed in a side office, before or after the ceremony, and often with no more formality than the signing of an automobile lease.

But an automobile lease has a withdrawal clause. For a specified period of time after the signing, the buyer can back out. Increasingly, Americans have become a people looking for ways to back out of inconvenient commitments. My seatmate from Beijing to Hangzhou was a New York based lawyer working for Chinese companies who do business with America. Apparently, until recently, such lawyers were unknown in China, but so many Chinese suppliers have been stiffed by their American buyers (read: all the big chains we Americans buy from) that American-trained lawyers are now de rigueur for Chinese who do business with us. Our reputation precedes us. Our word is no longer good enough. We’ve demonstrated that where a loophole can’t be found, a strong-arm will do.

Unfortunately, our general disregard for contractual obligations has colored our ideas about marriage. No-fault divorce negates any and all vows made on the wedding day. They become, in the words of Daniel Webster, “a rope of sand,” not capable of binding anything. Yet marriage grows best in an environment of mutually-acknowledged permanence. On the one hand, knowing a marriage is forever encourages both parties to give it their best, while on the other, it allows each the freedom to relax and grow.

So Bob and Melinda elevated the signing of the marriage certificate, making it a centerpiece of the ceremony, performed in front of their closest 250 family and friends. That I had seen once before, at my oldest son's wedding in Brazil. But then Bob and Melinda went a step further. They publicly signed a second document, stating that while California may allow no-fault divorce, Bob and Melinda each renounce the right to that option. Each has given up the right to contact a divorce lawyer, or even the kind of pastor who would counsel in favor of a divorce.

My lawyer seatmate was in a quandary about marrying his girlfriend. They have lived together for four years, broken up and returned to each other twice, and now find themselves unexpectedly expecting. At the same time he was excited about the baby, he wasn’t sure that he was ready for the commitment of marriage and parenthood. I’m afraid we are a nation of lawyers, still looking for escape clauses when long ago we should have committed ourselves to making good on our promises. Instead of looking for new ways to define words that have held constant for centuries, we should protect those words and hand them unscathed to our children.

So when Bob and Melinda signed their Covenant of Marriage, I teared up. It was a beautiful moment, a burning of bridges, and the creation of something truly sacred.

And for Bob and Melinda, I pray a long and satisfying life together.

For Shawn and his girl friend, I pray they would have the courage to go for the gold.
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A favorite tree (and a college) are singed but spared: the Westmont fire

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Westmont College website has photographs of damage from the fire that raced through campus last Thursday evening. Few colleges offer the kind of beauty that Westmont does, nestled in the oak-covered hills of Montecito. I first visited Westmont when my daughter Aileen was a high school student trying to settle on a university. She did not submit a backup application to any other institution.

The downside of that beauty is a vulnerability to the windswept flames that almost yearly burn somewhere in Southern California. This fire approached from the woods north of campus and cut through Clark Residence Halls (a collection of 17 separate buildings: Aileen roomed there 1995-97). It took some parts of Clark and spared others. Then it descended through the center of campus by way of the wooded strips that make Westmont so distinctive. Flames destroyed math and physics buildings that had already been marked for demolition, the psychology building, and over a dozen faculty homes, but no one was hurt.

I last visited the Westmont campus in December. Aileen and Eduardo held their wedding in Santa Barbara and we used Westmont as a backdrop for their wedding photographs. We took most of our pictures in the formal gardens that stretch downhill from Kerrwood Hall.

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The gardens mostly survived, though the fire took the woods in the right side of this view. Aileen also wanted pictures outside the small white chapel that is flanked on both sides by oak groves, and then a playful series with Aileen and Eduardo playing peek-a-boo around the trunk of a nearby giant.
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The Westmont website pictures show that while the groves on both sides are cinders, the chapel still stands, and the peek-a-boo tree looks scorched, but alive. In fact, that’s a pretty good summary of the 47 photos in the series: Westmont is scorched but alive.

Benjamin Franklin in China

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Flying into Hangzhou, I was fascinated by the pattern created by apartment buildings lining the streets and canals, separated by wide fields of carefully striped fields of vegetables. I don't think I have seen anything like it in all my travels, though I was being a good boy and didn't power up my camera during landing.

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Once on the ground, I was even more impressed with a style of architecture seen throughout the suburbs. The buildings that form the hedges around these gardens are four or five stories tall with a square footprint, and stairs rather than elevators (there's a reason these people are all slim). Many of these buildings are topped off with ornate metal towers, some a series of techno-looking spheres, others resembling the Eiffel Tower, or the adornments on a Russian Orthodox Church. At first I thought they might be antennas or even merely decorative. But the week before my trip, I had been discussing Benjamin Franklin and his inventions with my 8th grade students.

I happened to be riding with a high-level executive of a building-materials company.
"What is the purpose of those tall towers?" I asked.
The answer: "For protection from lightning."

Franklin has been one of my heroes since I read his biography in third grade. I can testify that his work is still pretty popular in Hangzhou, as well.

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Wolfspider Afloat

Cleaning out the swimming pool just now, I spotted this lady atop an oak twig.

I'm assuming she's a Geolycosa sp., just based on her size (big), but if someone knows better, please correct me. This time of year, I see many of these drowned in the pool, or collected in the filter. I managed to role the twig over once maneuvering for this shot, so she's just come out of the water, ready for a wet t-shirt contest.
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Posted by Brian at 5:42 PM 0 comments  


It is housekeeping day here at Capers, having been out of town for four out of the last five weekends and a full half of the weekends since my last post (Aug. 28). I have not gone ten postless weeks for lack of something to say. These were the ten final weeks of the most interesting (albeit frustrating) election of my lifetime. As theater I give it five stars. The same ten weeks also saw an economic ("collapse?" "adjustment?" Choose one.) that I have been expecting since the late 1970s.

However, in August I began a new and strenuous teaching assignment. There’s something about teaching middle school, having to be constantly up for a straight eight hours, that leads to collapse when the kids go home. It’s hard to get much done in the evenings, even to grade papers. I’m also studying for an upcoming exit exam for my master’s program. Then, in October, I married off two of my sons. One of those weddings took us to China for seven days. (More on the weddings when I can sit here a little longer.)

So today I am tidying up. Wednesday I removed the McCain/Palin and “Vote Pro-Life” posters from my front yard. Vandals had relieved me of some of my task. I understand a local high school teacher gave extra credit points as a bounty for students to bring in the campaign posters of those on the Left’s blacklist. Had I done the same for my side, I would have been suspended without pay. What are we teaching our children?

Today, I am taking down the McCain poster (I never had time to change it to McCain Palin after the convention) that I’ve had in my sidebar since the California primary (where it replaced the Huckabee poster I hung up in January). It’s part of making my transition from McCain Partisan to Obama’s Loyal Opposition. He will be my president, and I want him to be successful. A failure for any president is also a failure for the whole country. I am committed to speak ill only of his policies, and not his person. I am committed to representing him in the best light possible to my middle school students. I am committed to pray that God will grant him wisdom and stamina. However, where he has made unfortunate promises to interest groups, I will pray that he has the fortitude to stand up to them and explain that their desires are not in the best interests of the country.

I must admit, I am only a short way into the grieving process. Obama’s election has been bitter for me to accept. Every vote I have cast since 1980 has been animated by my opposition to legalized abortion. Yet this election moves America’s most extreme pro-abortion voting record from the Senate to the White House. I fear the incremental Pro-life gains accomplished in 28 years and in all 50 states will be entirely lost even before the next mid-term elections. Obama has promised to do just that. I fear the coming Supreme Court will deliver disaster upon disaster throughout the rest of my life. Conditions will require a whole new level of commitment from those of us in the Pro-Life Movement. And yet, our own internal ethic refuses to allow us the kind of reactions displayed now by those who stole my lawn signs and who will seek once again to overturn a clear vote by the people. Somehow, when the same left-leaning voters who gave Obama a 60.9% statewide majority also vote to join the unanimous chorus of all 30 states whose citizens have ever voted on a definition of marriage, those in the streets try to insist that it is the majority which is out step with the mainstream. Go figure.

So I am mowing the lawn, sweeping out the pool, sorting the laundry, and getting ready to cull from among the 700 photographs I took in China.

If you watch carefully, a few of the keepers might even show up here