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The One Where Jesse and Johanna Eloped in My Backyard

The sweetest thing happened in my backyard at the beginning of this month: Jesse and Johanna got married in it. And I married them! (As long as we are standing in New York City, I have the power vested in me, having been ordained by the Universal Life Church, of which I am considered a member of the monastery. Anyone can be, providing they agree with the church’s only doctrine: “Do only what is right.”)

We met a few weeks earlier to discuss the logistics of everything and talk details.

“I don’t really need a bouquet.” said Johanna. I narrowed my eyes at her, then typed into my laptop, “Amber gets the flowers.”

My intern Alex was thrilled to photograph her first wedding solo. And listen: to get married in New York City, all you really need is two people in love (and with ID), an officiant, a witness, a marriage license, and a 24 hour waiting period. But really, you should have photos if you can. When I presented the opportunity Alex, she was thrilled, and I was relieved. Of course I’d have taken photos after had she not been there, but having her handle it was incredible, and we got wonderful ceremony photos I just couldn’t have pulled off while officiating. I edited them afterwards, and we make a good team. We were all so thankful for Alex.

I wrote their ceremony using various sources and added my own heart-felt words. Writing the whole thing made me cry, so I married my two dogs to each other that morning for practice, until I could read the words without my lip quivering.

They wrote their own vows, and exchanged rings that Sophia made for them. A friend of hers and his brother attended as witnesses, and her parents, grandma and brother were Skyped in. They blew bubbles at the screen afterwards. I hung twinkle lights on my clothesline and made $10 worth of corner store daises into a bouquet, tied together with some blue ribbon I had. We broke out bubbly at home before going around the corner to the local bar where many more friends descended to wish them well. I made a tipsy speech, as I tend to do. Matty and Leeloo crashed post-ceremony.

It will be one of my favorite days of the year.

I love them so much.


Here is the ceremony I wrote for them, although I’m leaving their personal vows out. (I’m really protective of this, actually, which is why I sat so long before sharing anything about it.)

I took a page out of the Barack Obama speech writer handbook to craft my opening words: three bullet points after each main thought. Have you noticed that? I thought it worked out well.


Dearly beloved,

We are gathered here today to witness the marriage vows of Jessie Bowline and Johanna Johnson. If there is anyone present who knows of any legal reason why these two should not be married, please speak now or forever hold your peace.

Do you both come here to be married of your own free will?

Opening words:

Our societal narrative often paints marriage as a cage – “The old ball and chain” – but marriage actually gives you great freedom.
It is a safe harbor, so you may feel free take risks!
It is a constant, from which you may test your limits fearlessly.
It is proof of love that that allows you to transcend your insecurities.

I encourage you both today to do these things:
Climb high secure in the knowledge that if you fall, someone will catch you.
Embrace marriage as a starting point from which you reach your greatest capacity as individuals.
Bravely forge new paths, secure in the warm knowledge that if you becoming lost, there will always be someone there to help you find your way back home.


You will exchange rings now, so please join hands.

To reach out to someone and be acknowledged and loved is a human need. Taking the hand of one who loves you is a powerful symbol of that unspoken bond. Your hands are also the part of you that you use the most, and as you go about your days, your wedding rings will be a tangible reminder of the promises you’ve made to each other today. They will always be with you, visible, worn openly; a symbol to the world that this person is already taken, already spoken for. Wear your symbols of love and family with great pride.

Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife? Do you promise to love, honor, cherish and keep her all the days of your life? If so, say I do.
As a symbol of your promise, place the ring on Johanna’s finger.

Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband? Do you promise to love, honor, cherish and keep him all the days of your life? If so, say I do. As a symbol of your promise, place the ring on Jesse’s finger.

Personal Vows:

You have chosen to share you own vows with each other.
*Jesse’s vows*
*Johanna’s vows*


Jesse, Johanna, because you have consented to be united in the bonds of marriage, and have exchanged you wedding vows with all of us here today, it is my privilege, by the power vested in me by the state of New York, to pronounce you husband and wife.

You may kiss the bride!

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life list the dogs

Life List: Commision a Piece of Art – Check!

When Paul Ferney last offered slots in The Commission Project, I bought one and picked this photo to be turned into a 5×7″ oil painting in Ferney’s pretty, impressionist style.

Only one living figure was was allowed in the painting for the discounted price, so I chose Tino. Of all three dogs, he was the most rejected and downtrodden when we found him.

You remember the story. It was 2007 and we were on a tour bus in Puerto Rico that stopped at a beach. I wandered away from everyone and heard a crying noise over by some trucks. When I saw what was making all the racket, my stomach flipped over, and even though I didn’t realize it at the time, nothing was ever the same again.

Years later, I still think about what I saw; often it promts me to scoop Tino up into my chest and nuzzle my nose on the top of his fuzzy head. If I think about it too long, I start dripping tears down his ears and snout.

Someone had broken his back, and his hind legs were completely paralyzed and laid out behind him, useless. He was dirty, skinny, starving and dehydrated. We gave him a water bottle out of cupped hands, which was all we had, and asked around about him. A few locals shrugged.

“He’s been there for five days.” they said. “No one really cares.”

I became a whole other, stronger person that day as I jumped through hoops and endured a disheartening level of scorn from family to get him rescued, fixed up, and sent to live with us.

Today, he is the worst-behaved and least-loved* of our three dogs. He’s wary around strangers, barks crazily at strange dogs, and bites anyone who dares attempt to pet him (Rob and I can, but no one else.)

But he can’t help it. He tries to be a good dog, I can see it in his body language. He’ll cuddle with a few of our more trusted (and mostly female) friends, and as long as they keep hands off, he’ll fall asleep with his chin on their knees. That was something we never thought we’d see when we first got him. He learned a few tricks, too, and despite how frustrating he can be sometimes, I’m enormously proud of him and how far he’s come.

I know it sounds a little ridiculous, and Tino doesn’t understand, but I thought he deserved this anyway. A throw-away dog turned into a cherished oil painting is a good happy ending.

*By others, of course. I’m not allowed to have favorites!

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