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Destination Weddings at Rincon Creek Ranch

Here’s a gem in the Sonoran Desert that I am excited to share with you: a special place in Tucson called Rincon Creek Ranch, located by the Rincon Mountains and Saguaro National Park East. Not only is it a tranquil and scenic natural setting for intimate destination weddings, elopements or vow renewals, it is owned by a gracious couple who make you feel right at home. Turns out I’ve learned Bill and Gretchen Shirley and I enjoy serving similar kinds of clients: discerning folks seeking relaxed and smaller scale events where the emphasis is upon being with close friends and family, plus enjoying time in the desert. I got the chance to talk with Bill and Gretchen recently. Here’s a bit of our conversation:

Kristine: What qualities separate Rincon Creek Ranch from other destination event venues or locations in Southern Arizona?

Bill & Gretchen: The sheer stunning beauty of our natural setting combined with the luxury of the upscale accommodations. We have 95 acres and share a half mile long border with Saguaro National Park giving us unspoiled views that simply don’t exist anywhere else in Tucson. Also, the “boutique” quality of our Ranch. We have the “just right” Goldilocks fit.

Bill & Gretchen on the front porch

Kristine: As owners and hosts to your guests, what are your creative specialties?

Bill & Gretchen: Gretchen and I have independent talents, and we anticipate different needs of our guests. Mine are more practical and functional while Gretchen’s are more pampering and aesthetic. What we share is the desire to do the best job possible. It’s not a job. It’s a passion. Together we try to make sure that our casitas are truly “Little Homes”. We do our best to make sure that every detail, necessity, and amenity has been provided to give our guests a luxurious, relaxing get away. If a guest requests something that we didn’t think to provide, you can be sure there will be one in every casita as soon as we can get it.

For events at the Ranch, it is Gretchen’s aesthetic design talent that shapes how the location or project will look and feel. My construction and engineering skills bring her ideas to fruition. And, sometimes its a feature I want to provide, but she shapes it with her input, and the collaborative end product is always better than our initial individual idea.

Kristine: Who are your ideal clients or guests? What do you enjoy about working with them?

Bill & Gretchen: For guests, it is those who are truly on a vacation retreat. We have hosted numerous guests that are here visiting relatives, attending an event, or on a working retreat, but the ones that are really here to enjoy themselves are always the most rewarding. For those booking the Ranch for an event, the smaller intimate groups always seem to have the most rewarding time. We’ve found “destination” wedding parties to be absolutely wonderful. Generally its groups of about ten couples that arrive from out of state and stay for about five days. They have the entire Ranch to themselves. They are on vacation, but also have a wedding ceremony and intimate reception. We are now getting those couples back to celebrate their anniversaries. Reunions are also a lot of fun.

Kristine: Do you have any tips to share for couples or families before they choose a location for their wedding or special event?

Bill & Gretchen: Don’t try and “make it work”. Be realistic about your budget and the attributes of your event. We’ve had many cases where a host has fallen in love with the Ranch, but the sheer size of their event exceeds the capacity of what we can offer. Its like falling in love with that spectacular pair of shoes or stunning outfit, but its not available in your size. If you try to force it, it ends up being a very uncomfortable experience and defeating to your initial vision.

Kristine: Anything else you’d like to share?

Bill & Gretchen: Universally, our guests have all said “two days is too short”. Maybe that sounds like a marketing ploy, but its the truth. Check out what our guests have said on TripAdvisor.com. For wedding couples, remember it is about your relationship. You are forming a union, and you are celebrating that partnership. Its not about the party or the trappings.

Kristine: I agree, Bill and Gretchen! Forming a union through marriage is a major milestone, one to be celebrated in a way that reflects a couples’ own unique shared stories, beliefs and values. Thanks for sharing your insights and thank you for making an incredibly thoughtful place available for guests to celebrate meaningful celebrations throughout life! 

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Amor para todos!

I have been asked a handful of times lately, “Do you lead same sex weddings?”

My reply: “Yes. I have been doing so since before it became legal in Arizona. And I will continue, no matter what.”

Most often folks want to know because they may be planning one themselves. And sometimes, it is important for straight couples with relatives and friends who identify LGBTQ to know that I am accepting of gay marriage. Since it’s come up, I thought posting a short but sweet note would be worthwhile for anybody wondering, yet reticent about asking. I took this photo in Argentina, in ‘Del Fin del Mundo,’ the town at the tip of South America known as Ushuaia. Kinda says it all, doesn’t it?

Tips for Writing Your Own Vows

So this whole vow writing thing . . . easy-peasy, right?

Well, maybe for some folks.

But almost always, when couples I work with set out to write their own vows, it seems easier for them at the outset than it actually is in real time. I offer couples a few vow writing question prompts to ease the process, but more than anything, an important aspect of the process is agreeing upon what kind of vow format feels right for you.

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I suggest that couples give these questions about structure a good bit of reflection together before setting out to write wedding vows:

  • Do we want our vows to be a ‘repeat phrases after the Celebrant’ experience?

(My experience is that true introverts who aren’t into speaking in front of guests leap up and say “YES please!” to this question.)

  • Do we want our vows to reflect the ‘tradition’ of any belief system or combination of beliefs?

For example, a couple I worked with this past spring, wanted to incorporate the format of Buddhist wedding vows because both draw from the wisdom of Buddhist tradition.

  • Do we wish for any family members (children in blending families, for example) to participate in the making of vows? 

Often I find myself marrying mature couples who are beginning anew in a second marriage, which means there are children involved who may be in their teens, or even adult children in midlife if the marrying couple is in their late 60’s.

  • Do we want our vows to reflect more of a conversational style, a give and take, rather than “I read my 327 words and then you read your 281 words”?

If you’re having a relaxed and informal ceremony with your nearest and dearest, you might feel more at ease exchanging vows in a conversational way, kind of like real life.

  • Do we want anybody to review our vows for length and the tone of content if we wait until the day of to exchange or do we share them with each other prior?

Sometimes waiting until the day of is a wonderful surprise, yet I find this true only if somebody (like me! or an objective friend) has read them first to give a sense of comparable length and tone, and then see if any revisions are needed.

These structural questions are a good starting point, but then go and HAVE FUN with it, too! The photo above shows lovely hand-written vow booklets from a couple who I wed last fall. I loved how they read their vows to each other in their own hand writing and their vow booklets could be something they revisit on anniversaries in the future, add to, and enjoy. Lastly, if these ideas leave you wanting more, this article has some good pointers in it, too. Especially, #8: “Practice by saying them aloud.” Yes, it’s different hearing the words outside your heads compared to reading it on a computer screen silently. Trust me on this one!

 

 

 

 

An Alternative Blessing for a Wedding

Are you looking for a blessing or a reading that isn’t something you’ve already heard many times over? Chances are what I’m including here could be a good one to consider. It’s titled “A Prayer for a Wedding,” by Joel Oppenheimer.

I am weaving it into a relaxed fall wedding ceremony I’m presently writing, for a laid back couple who loves to be outdoors together. They aren’t affiliated with a single religion, yet have family members who are from varied religious backgrounds. Sound familiar at all? Sometimes this situation can get complicated. But I find complication comes only if you let it.

Offering an element of familiarity in the ceremony, not necessarily with an outright prayer if that doesn’t fit your beliefs, although some kind of blessing, may feel appropriate. This may give guests an anchored feeling by honoring a nod to “there is something bigger than us”. Whether we name it God, or Great Spirit, or Universe – or use no name at all – the reverence lends a sense of the sacred to a ceremony in an alternative way.

I like this reading by Oppenheimer because of it’s honesty and straight forward sensibility. (No, it’s not for extreme romantics!) Since I marry quite a lot of folks getting married for their second or third time, this kind of sensibility works.  So if this reading suits you, I’m guessing it fits well. Here is the blessing:

IMG_4843because everyone knows exactly what’s good for another

because very few see

because a man and a woman may just possibly look at each other

because in the insanity of human relationships there still

                  may come a time we say: yes, yes

because a man or a woman can do anything he or she pleases

because you can reach any point in your life saying:

                  now, I want this

because eventually it occurs we want each other, we want


to know each other, even stupidly, even uglily

because there is at best a simple need in to people to try

                  and reach some simple ground

because that simple ground is not so simple

because we are human beings gathered together

                  whether we like it or not

because we are human beings reaching out to touch

because sometimes we grow

                  we ask a blessing on this marriage

                  we ask that some simplicity be allowed

                  we ask their happiness

                  we ask that this couple be known for who they are

                  and that light shine upon them

                  we ask a blessing for their marriage

Fall Weddings in Tucson

Yes, it is Spring! A beautiful time for weddings in the desert, with all the trees and cacti a bloomin’ their hearts out. But couples planning fall weddings, you are busy people right now! So I’m writing this post for you, many of whom I’m meeting to envision fall ceremonies. This video gives glimpses of a September 2014 wedding I had the honor to co-create with Elise and Scott and their families. From the moment we first met on the patio at Cup Cafe, to the funny moments at rehearsal, to the tear-filled time when this Groom first saw his radiant Bride, I was thrilled to be with them.

One element of their wedding I enjoyed creating with them was a unity ritual in the form of a citrus tree planting. Since Scott is a landscaper, it only made sense to bring a tree into the mix. And fall is a good time for planting! Here is an excerpt from their ceremony:

Before you exchange rings, we will witness you share in a unity ritual, to further symbolize your connection. We have a citrus tree, which represents fidelity and love in many belief systems. In addition, both of you believe that we come from nature. You will add soil and nutrients to this decorative container, thereby covering its roots and completing the planting. Please go ahead and do this, as I speak words and a blessing about what this ritual represents:

Just as you feed and water this tree, be sure to find ways each day to protect, affirm, and nourish each other, and to treasure the ways in which your oneness bears fruit. Enjoy the intertwining of your growth within your closeness, like the roots with the soil. May God bless you in your rootedness; and may we all bless this tree as it symbolizes your unity!”

And for the delicious eye-candy that beats any little quotes from a ceremony I can muster, you must see this video, created by Blacksheep Filmworks in Tucson. Enjoy!

Tubac-Elise & Scott from Stepheny Keith on Vimeo.

Stories + humor + honesty = Heartfelt Wedding

Sometimes I work with couples whose connection and their families become particularly well-etched into my heart. This couple, Jill and Eric, are a beaming example of this heartfelt etching. Their ceremony happened all the way back at the end of August (okay, somebody please tell me where the autumn went?) and I’m happy to share a few pieces of it with you today.

unnamed-1We worked over the course of six months or so to co-create their wedding long distance. They live abroad and for many reasons, chose to have a destination wedding in Tucson. We met via Skype and felt instantly at ease with each other and enjoyed our conversations. When we finally met in person over the summer, it felt like we’d known each other for a long time. What did I enjoy so much about working them? Their love of stories, their humor and their intrepid honesty. These three ingredients, in my humble opinion, are the natural forces that made their ceremony shine. All I did was reflect their adventurous hearts back to them during the narrative of their wedding. And this is how their guests felt so close to the experience, too. Every word we spoke was honest and true – to who they are as a couple – and to who they love in the world.

It was mighty important to both Jill and Eric that their families and closest friends, almost all of whom travelled from afar to be at this event, would feel involved, connected and uplifted by the experience. Turns out, according to their guests, we achieved that multi-faceted goal. Nothing could make me happier than for everybody present to feel more connected and in love with life after a ceremony I guide! As Jill shared, she had never seen all of her friends and family so attentive as in this photo below . . .

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I loved gathering pieces of story from their Couple Reflections and weaving them together into a coherent and meaningful experience. They shared their experiences openly, even the tough stuff. And I’m always grateful when this happens. Here is a passage from the body of the ceremony:

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“You both understand that marriage takes work and you do not enter this commitment lightly. You both know you’ve received many gifts in your first 31 years of life and having a partner to share your life with is one of the greatest gifts of all. You trust that belief in God, in something bigger than you both combined, will help you get through the tough times. You both acknowledge there will exist opportunities for you to grow individually and as a couple.

You know that when you are truly trusting and living in your wholehearted connection, your bond will strengthen. You will be able to get through anything while you grow older together, as long as you are present for each other. As you say Jill, “Our marriage will strengthen so long as we learn together, grow together and experience life’s gifts together.”

And here is a reading that the Groom’s Sister shared; lyrics from a John Lennon song called ‘Grow Old with Me’ (proof that wedding readings can be more than the tired worn out stuff you hear all too often!):

Grow old along with me

The best is yet to be

When our time has come

We will be as one

God bless our love

 

Grow old along with me

Two branches of one tree

Face the setting sun

When the day is done

God bless our love

 

Grow old along with me

Whatever fate decrees

We will see it through

For our love is true

God bless our love

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Thank you, Jill & Eric! May God bless your love, always.

All beautiful photos are courtesy of Krista Rae Photography. Thank you, Krista Rae!

Floral design by the awesomely talented crew at La Fleur Plantscapes in Tucson. (I heart these women.)

Venue of course, the scenic JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort . One-of-a-kind Tucson Mountain gem.

A Blended Family Unity Ritual

“How do we include our children in the wedding?”

This is a question I hear from couples who are choosing to marry a second or third time and blend their families from prior marriages. It’s a simple question that can be handled mindfully and respectfully to children of any and all ages, from young ones to adults.

This colorful handfasting cord is an example of an answer I co-created with a merging family this spring:

Six colors represent each family member.

Six colors represent each family member.

After the ring exchange, I introduced the family unity ritual by saying:

“Before we close with the highly anticipated kiss, we are going to witness a Family Unity Ritual. This ritual further and symbolically affirms your pledges and the ring exchange, along with the participation of your whole family, who stands beside you during this ceremony. This is an adaptation of a handfasting, an ancient Celtic ritual wherefrom the saying “to tie the knot” came.

 

For this family version, each of you have chosen a color of ribbon to symbolize who you are, with six ribbons total. You will keep this handfasting cord in a visible place in your home, getting it out to renew vows or just fondly recall this day. The colors represent you as follows:

 

Kayla – yellow; Gracie – pink; Sydney – blue; Nick – green; Andy – red; and Michelle – white.

 

Please place your hands together now, Michelle and Andy. Each of your children will make a loop around your hands with the ribbons, saying a wish to you as they do. Please come forward and step in one at a time to place the ribbon gently . . . (Each child, from youngest to oldest, stepped in to gently wrap the ribbons one time around couples’ interwoven hands and speak their gratitude or good wishes to them. . .)

IMG_3272 Celebrant: Thank you, good work! Now that you are ‘tied’ together in love, I will say a closing blessing on behalf of all your guests present, based upon your hopes for your future:

 

“Andy and Michelle, now that you have chosen to live in marriage as a family,

may you continue to enjoy the foundation of unconditional love you have built.

May you put each other first, finding time to laugh and cry with one another;

May you continue raising your children in a healthy and nurturing environment;

May you realize a life full of love, fun, travel and exploration!

And we wish that some day far, far into the future

You feel the contentment of looking into each other’s eyes,

Knowing fully the pure joy of living your dreams together!”   

And with that, as the guests all rose to share a community pronouncement declaring the couple as “Mr. & Mrs”, the music played and all the kids processed out of the chapel with their Mom and Dad, plus helped them ring the chapel bells. It was a ceremony I will always hold dear in my heart, where everyone felt connected and SO joyful! 

Tucson Wedding Gem: MC Weddings & Events

As a Life-Cycle Celebrant® who co-creates custom ceremonies, I get to work with mature couples who are madly in love. Sounds crazy fun, right? Yes! It is a joy. Add that joy into working along side creative event professionals who love to exceed couples’ expectations and voila: double the joy.

Yikes. I’m sounding a bit like a certain candy bar commercial here, aren’t I? But, I can’t help myself! A central part of my work while creating ceremonies for unions of all kinds is working with talented professionals who are totally committed to their crafts. People who do this work to create a meaningful and fun experience, (not just a boring product or insipid outcome). Meagan Crain is one of those ‘committed to her craft’ kind of people. Through her business ‘MC Events’ she plans and coordinates a range of life milestone events for couples, families and even organizations. I’m so happy to highlight her, specifically her wedding services, on my blog today. I thoroughly enjoy working with Meagan and think you might too. Here’s a chat we had recently:

One of many happy couples who worked with Meagan!

~ One of many happy couples who worked with Meagan~

KB: As an experienced event planner and coordinator, what is your creative specialty?

MC: My creative specialty is making sure a wedding or event represents the client.  When guests walk into a ceremony or reception I want them to be able to immediately see little details that are special or unique to the couple.  The goal is to make sure the couple’s personalities and styles shine through the whole day!

On the creative level I also work with my clients on expanding their vision.  Typically, a bride has an overall idea of how she wants the day to look (e.g. colors), but she doesn’t know how to bring it all together or how to make it original so that’s what’s we work on together.  I feel that planning a wedding should be a collaboration between bride and groom with the planner tying it all together.  The main goal is to stay true to who the couple is so through inspiration boards, lots of communication and experimenting, we discover exactly how the day is going to look and feel.  Weddings should be an experience from start to finish!

KB: Who are your ideal clients? What do they enjoy about working with you?

MC: That’s a tough one!  My ideal wedding client is truly in love!  They’re fun, original and not afraid to try new things.  They’re up for experimenting with new ideas, colors, textures, foods, and so on, to create an experience not just an event.  It’s also nice if they’re a little flexible. It makes the process easier on everyone!

KB: Do you have any tips for couples or families to consider before they choose a wedding planner and/or coordinator?

MC: I definitely recommend hiring a wedding and event planner because they can be true life savers during the planning process by saving you time, money and a few stress headaches!  BUT, my number one tip for choosing a planner or any other vendor for that matter, is to make sure that they actually like who they hire.  Of course, it’s essential that their planner be organized, experienced, honest and so on, but I truly believe that the client and the vendor should “click.”  If during an initial consultation the planner has completely different ideas than the client or if they just seem to have very little to talk about I don’t think it’s a good fit.  Same goes for hiring a DJ or photographer – if they rub you the wrong way don’t hire them!  A bride and groom will literally spend all day with some of their vendors on the day of, so they should like and enjoy them.  If personalities clash or if everyone is not on the same page it will show through in the wedding.  A wedding is the most important day of couple’s life so they should surround themselves with people the love and enjoy – vendors included!

Meagan Crain of MC Events ~ doing what she does best behind the scenes!

Meagan Crain of MC Events ~ doing what she does best behind the scenes!

KB: Anything else you’d like to add?

MC: I’m blessed to be planning events in Tucson and I’m a firm believer in using as many amazing, local vendors, businesses and resources as possible.  Being chosen as someone’s wedding or event planner is truly an honor and I do my very best to create a fun, stress free, memorable experience for all involved!

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KB: Thanks for your insights, Meagan. You’ve touched upon a lot of helpful points. When a couple makes choices about who they work with in the planning leading up to and then the experience of the whole wedding celebration itself, these are important decisions that influence how much they enjoy a very important day in their lives. It is an honor and a joy to be chosen as part of their creative team. So true!

If you want to learn more about Meagan’s services at MC Weddings & Events,  visit her site here or give her a call! I’m sure she will enjoy hearing from you.

Love wine? You’ll love this wedding.

Sometimes, by way of a Couple’s Reflection process, a custom unity ritual will emerge through stories or shared passions they describe to me. Other times, it is clear from the beginning what kind of unity ritual will add depth to the ceremony. And this was the case with an entirely wine-themed wedding I had the joy to be a part of last fall.

0200Ryan and Kylee chose the warm and inviting atmosphere of Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch and Resort for their wedding. It is one of those special places in Tucson, where upon arriving you feel a relaxing sense of “ahhhh, I’m home.” The people are so welcoming and the outdoor and indoor spaces are all comfortable, with just the right presence of southwestern touches. Nothing feels ostentatious or over done.

Because this travel loving and adventurous couple enjoys learning about and sharing wines together, they chose to have a wine motif throughout their celebration. Naturally, their unity ritual involved drinking wine, too! Here is a fun glimpse into what it looked like (thanks to Chris Richards Photography), along with a little excerpt from their ceremony included below.

 

Blending Wine in a Unity Ritual

Blending Wine in a Unity Ritual

Here’s how I worded the passage that went with this ritual:

“One facet of marriage is to achieve a blending of hearts and lives, while still recognizing and nurturing the individual growth of the other. Through this awareness, you build a robust marriage while you respect the life and spirit of each individual. A wine sharing ritual represents this blending in a symbolic way.

 Kylee, you’ve chosen a white sweet wine, to symbolize the bright and lightly joyful experiences in life; tempered with the humility and honesty of knowing life isn’t always perfect. Ryan, you’ve chosen a full-bodied red wine, to symbolize the care and deep work of marriage; tempered with the reality of the hardships that may occur when living life to the fullest. Your glasses are full and ready for you to enjoy, just as your hearts are full on this day. Go ahead and sip individually from your glass. After you’ve done this, please pour your wines into this third glass – to make a symbolic blend.

 (They sip from their own glass, before pouring into third glass to make a blend.) Before you drink your blended wine, let’s look at what you’ve created!

 (Groom holds up the blend for guests to see while Kristine explains . . .)

 You’ve combined your wines into a beautiful Rose, an emblematic blending of your hearts and lives; the joy and the work, into a delicious combination. Please each take a long sip from this blended glass now, knowing as you do, we wish for your joys to become more intense and your burdens lighter, because you will experience all of these together.

 (Couple takes turn sipping the blend they made.)

I’ll always remember the way the light came through the Palo Verde trees and made the wine glow, along with Ryan and Kylee’s faces. They totally beamed love to each other! These kind of moments are definitely what make life worth living. So vivid, true and heartfelt! Congratulations to you Mr. and Mrs. Blue. I hope you continue to enjoy sharing wines and the adventures of marriage for many, many years to come! Thanks for having me be a part of your meaningful autumn celebration.

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With gratitude,

Kristine

Couples’ Choice Award Winner ~ 2014

It is with a VERY grateful heart to the couples who have reviewed me that I announce receiving this award:

Tucson, Arizona – January 22, 2014 – WeddingWire, the nation’s leading online wedding marketplace, named Kristine Bentz of Sweetgrass Ceremonies, LLC as a winner of the prestigious WeddingWire Couples’ Choice Awards™ 2014 for creating and leading custom ceremonies in Tucson, AZ.

The WeddingWire Couples’ Choice Awards™ 2014 recognizes the top five percent of wedding professionals in the WeddingWire Network who demonstrate excellence in quality, service, responsiveness and professionalism. The esteemed awards are given to the top local wedding vendors in more than 20 service categories, from wedding venues to wedding photographers, based on their professional achievements from the previous year.

The WeddingWire Couples’ Choice Awards™ 2014 recognizes the top five percent of wedding professionals in the WeddingWire Network who demonstrate excellence in quality, service, responsiveness and professionalism. The esteemed awards are given to the top local wedding vendors in more than 20 service categories, from wedding venues to wedding photographers, based on their professional achievements from the previous year.

While many industry award winners are selected by the host organization, the WeddingWire Couples’ Choice Awards™ winners are determined solely based on reviews from real newlyweds and their experiences working with Sweetgrass Ceremonies. Award-winning vendors are distinguished for the quality, quantity, consistency and timeliness of the reviews they have received from their past clients. 

“There’s no better way to start the year than by honoring the hard work, commitment and success of the top-rated wedding professionals within the WeddingWire Network,” said Timothy Chi, CEO, WeddingWire. “It is exciting to celebrate a sixth year recognizing businesses whose clients believe they are committed to quality, professionalism and all around top-notch service. We are honored to recognize Kristine at Sweetgrass Ceremonies for her meaningful work within the wedding industry.”

IMG_1889As a Couples’ Choice Awards™ winner, Kristine Bentz is highlighted within the WeddingWire Network, which is comprised of over 200,000 wedding professionals throughout North America and abroad. Ms. Bentz is proud to be one of the top Wedding Officiants in Tucson, within the WeddingWire Network, which includes leading wedding sites such as WeddingWire, Project Wedding, Brides.com, Martha Stewart Weddings, and Weddingbee. She shares, “I would like to thank my past clients who took the time to candidly review my business on WeddingWire. I value all of my couples and truly appreciate the positive feedback that helped Sweetgrass earn the WeddingWire Couples’ Choice Awards™ 2014.”

For more information about wedding services, please visit her WeddingWire Storefront today!

To learn more about the Couple’s Choice Awards™, please visit here.