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An insider’s view of the Bride and Groom’s joyful ‘First Look’ on their wedding day.

The very eager groom, (and who could blame him!) got dropped off at the out-of-sight starting point by his Uber driver a little too early, so he had a bit of time to kill.

Wandering around a cul-de-sac, maybe even pacing, in a tuxedo might have looked suspicious on it’s own.  But it also happened to be near an elementary school play ground. During recess.  The ole  ‘move along, nothing to see here, children’ didn’t really work that well.

Through the fence, they kids played guessing games as to who he was.  “He works for the government!” shouted one child.  And on it went.  When it was time to extract him, my assistant husband shows up, in a black suit.  Double trouble.  An adult from the school approaches…  Thankfully the groom’s wait was over and a simple explanation to the school rep, “You see, this is a wedding….” was sufficient, and they were on there way.

It’s certainly interesting times we live in when a man in a tuxedo looks like a suspicious government worker and the authorities are alerted!  Or maybe it’s all just because it was on a Friday afternoon.

In any case, this has got to be one of the funniest ‘groom waiting in the wings’ moment of mine to date. But I dare say, all was well, once he got a glimpse of his angelic bride, glowing in the sun, on a most perfect Autumn day.

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Highly recommend doing a First Look!

Some people are a little hesitant if they are unfamiliar with the concept.  Its when the bride and groom see each other for the first time, privately, earlier in the day before the wedding.

Some may think it ruins the moment of walking down the aisle, but in fact, it creates an entirely new, powerful (and private) experience that would otherwise not be possible during the course of a hectic wedding day.  Not to mention, setting aside any nerves that might still be lingering, and consequently, paving the way for a much more recollected start to the wedding ceremony.

No one I have ever had do a First Look ever regretted it.  In fact, it’s usually those who were initially unsure, ended up loving it the most!

Have you done one? Let me know you’re thoughts.

And don’t forget to see the video with some extra moments!

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Matt and Mary – aka M&M 😉 returned to their hometown in charming Hamburg, PA for a sweet wedding late last month at St Mary’s Catholic Church.

Lots of little personal touches and French country theme made their laid-back Friday afternoon wedding simply delightful and very memorable.

But, it was a hot one!  We all stayed indoors as much as possible, yet did manage to sneak out at the end at the day when the sun was setting for a little stroll and some photos.

On a personal note, I’m always so humbled when clients end up becoming friends.  That’s a special perk of documenting and sharing in life’s most meaningful moments.  It binds you.

This time, however, and old friend became one of ‘my brides’ as I call them.   Having only recently met Matt, I’ve known Mary since grad school, from some twenty years ago!  Let me tell you, it took some serious willpower to hold back the waterworks.  I’m just so happy to see Mary so happy!

These are the highlights of their unique wedding day story.  Enjoy!

Some, O so lovely, portraits of the bride and groom in the colorful stained glass window light of the new church.

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Hands down my most unique First Look ever!  The groom called out his bride to meet him with a sax solo.  Very smooth!

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Couldn’t resist some more portraits in that lovely light while they had their quiet moment before the wedding.

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Surprises not over yet!

The groom unveiled a refurbished pew as a gift for the bride, that was saved from the original St Mary’s Church where they met –three decades ago!

They will use this pew as their seat for the Nuptial Mass (and take it home!)

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One more surprise!  This is something you don’t always, well actually never, see…

The groom playing during his own preludes!

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He did make it to the altar in time to greet his glowing bride, escorted by her nephew.

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They made it to their special pew, while their friends provided the music for the Mass.

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Father delivered a moving homily about marriage and recounted Mary and Matt’s unique journey in their own words.

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One could say a ‘cloud of witnesses’! [Heb 12:1]

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The exchange of rings and the Nuptial Blessing.

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Communion time is a nice reminder that it does take “three to get married”.  (Referring to Fulton Sheen’s book, fyi.)

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A lovely visit to the Holy Family Altar where the newlyweds laid a vase of flowers and offered their prayers and intentions.

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Away they go!

Having known each other since high school, and then taking separate paths in life, Providence has brought them back together again.

(Love that the groom is walking out with a crucifix in hand!)

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Their entourage!

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Groom offering a kiss of consolation during the ordeal of getting bustled.  Let the silliness begin!

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Can’t forget the bridal shoes and bouquet.

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Off to the party at the parish hall… and 10 points to the groom for carrying her shoes!

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Simple details and decorations made by family members reflected the French country theme, with of course “M&M” favors. 😉

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Indeed, “It’s never too late, to live happily ever after”!

Their custom guestbook (made by yours truly) from their engagement session, will be a great keepsake and so fun to read in years to come!

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A variety of toasts: traditional, silly, and military inspired.

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Plenty of tasty hors d’oeuvres, treats, drinks, and full buffet to keep everyone going.  But, O, that chocolate fountain was fun!

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The newlyweds finally getting a chance to sit and eat after visiting all the tables.

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So, the groom gets to receive the surprise this time…

It just so happens to be his birthday, and he is given a special toast with all the guests singing “Happy Birthday”.

A great way to never forget your anniversary, for sure!

(And, yes, the running gag was someone always turning the M’s into W’s.)

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When you’re military, even retired military, you gotta cut the cake with a sword!

I see the bride likes to live on the edge! Either that, or is demonstrating her unwavering trust of her new husband!

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The sheer delight and joy of the first dance.  It’s been a long time coming for these two.

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Those would be the impressive medals of a Navy Commander.

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One of my very favorite images to make, recording those soft bridal details that live in the memory of that perfect wedding day.

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After dinner, and once it cooled down some, we snuck out into the dusk light for some photos on the soft rolling hills of Pennsylvania.

(Can’t help but read on their faces a big ‘sigh’ and the thought…”Wedding day executed: Check!”)

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What a lovely end to the day, a song and a stroll into the sunset!

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Best wishes and many blessings to you, Mary & Matt!  May you live ‘happily ever after’!

A friendly reminder: the images on this site are not to be removed or screen captured.  Thank you.

  • Mary Nelabovige - August 11, 2016 - 9:21 am

    Beautiful Renata…. Thank you!

  • Renata - August 11, 2016 - 9:33 am

    It was a joy, Mary!

  • Denice - August 11, 2016 - 7:18 pm


It’s been a while… I confess. I’m not on top of blogging or social media, which is, in effect the modern arena for letting people know you’re still kicking.  The reality is, I’m a bit too busy kicking to let people know I’m still kicking.  And keeping up with the ever changing algorithms of social media outlets like Facebook, I’m usually left so overwhelmed at times, that I just give up for long periods.

I also admit I have an aversion to any added computer or screen time, and social media just seems to suck minutes and hours like a high power vacuum.  I often get very frustrated when trying to sift through the mundane just to find the posts of value.

This is, in all honesty, another reason I don’t like to post too much myself.  I try to show you only my best, original content that adds value to your life and not to my internet ranking.

I know the experts say, in order to get seen, I’d need to post often, and everywhere.  But I just can’t bring myself to do that, either for my sake or yours.  So much of what I’m about is to get away from the digital and to embrace the tangible in a meaningful and reflective way.  But I understand there is a balance, and I will try to be better at staying publicly connected.

So, even though I may not have had much of a social media presence lately, there’s been a lot of activity on the back end, to include the business and web development side of things.  (For those of you who have ever owned a one-man show, or any small business, you know exactly what I’m talking about…there are just too many hats!)

Given my personal circumstances, I’ve been trying to simplify and reshape my services.  In particular, I’m cutting down on weddings, (since they’re booked so far in advance and too hard to plan around when hoping to start a family) and focusing more on some of my first loves, like fine art photography and painting, in particular, portraiture, still lifes, and landscapes.

Soon I will be offering some very unique fine art portrait packages and look forward to sharing more about that with you this fall.   Since I’m not that active on other social media scenes, the best way to stay connected is to subscribe to my blog by entering your email in the box at the top of the page.  (Don’t forget to check your spam folder and confirm the link in your email.  And don’t worry, I won’t share or sell your email!)

As a small sneak peek of one of my latest works that will become part of my future offerings, allow me to introduce one of my of encaustic landscapes…

Encaustic Sample by Renata Grzan Wieczorek - For The Love Of Beauty

Like?  Stay tuned!

01-Flags In at Arlington for Memorial Day

Flags In

The sky was drizzly and heavy grey on the Thursday before Memorial Day, also known as Flags In at Arlington National Cemetery.

On that day, the Soldiers from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) execute a very simple but incredibly moving mission: To place a small flag with precision in front of every headstone in Arlington in just under 4 hours. It takes about a 1,000 Soldiers to cover over 228,000 graves.

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I went back to document a particular headstone receiving it’s first flag after having photographed the funeral of Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Francis X. Duffy.

Each flag is placed exactly one foot, or one boot’s length, in front of every headstone.

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I also made a visit to another headstone, a friend of my husband’s who was buried two years ago, Scot Sturzebecker.

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Decorating graves of fallen Soldiers on a certain day is a tradition, almost 150 years old, that started after the Civil War. Who started it first is something else the North and South still haven’t agreed on yet, but Decoration Day later became know as Memorial Day, which is what we celebrate today.  Arlington continues this tradition by placing a flag at each headstone.  Many family members and friends also decorate graves of their loved ones with tender notes and mementos as seen below. The mother below sums up the essence of Memorial Day in her card to her son: “Ryan- I promise your sacrifice will never be forgotten! My Hero! Love Mom.”

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The ache of these families losses is incomprehensible to me.  I can only humbly be thankful and try to live a life worthy of their sacrifices.  I concluded my visit in Section 60, an area of Arlington that has graves of some of the most recent wars like Iraq and Afghanistan. When Soldiers working this section were finished with their mission, they passed through one more time, pausing at certain headstones and telling stories or just taking a moment to remember.

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If you can’t visit a military cemetery today, take a few extra moments with these images to gratefully remember those that have served in our military, with so many giving their lives that we may live in freedom.  May we endeavor to preserve what they have sacrificed for us.

Please feel free to share any memories, tributes, or names of those service members you would like to honor as well.


If you’ve never experienced a funeral service at Arlington, at the link below I have images with explanations of the iconic elements and traditions used to lay to rest our service men and women.

Burial Service at Arlington


You may also like to visit my other Memorial Day posts from previous years in Washington DC:

Flags In from 2010

Memorial Day Weekend 2010

Memorial Day Weekend 2011


01_Millitary Funeral _Fort Myer_Arlington National Cemetery

Caisson Platoon – The Old Guard

I recently was privileged to photograph a full military honors funeral and burial service at Arlington National Cemetery for Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Francis X. Duffy.  It was a mild winter day on January 22nd and Arlington was looking extra special with it’s Christmas wreaths still out.

A military funeral has some of the most beautiful ceremony you will ever see, fittingly, to honor those who have sacrificed much in service to their country.  Full military honors includes a casket team with caisson, color guard, firing party, military bugler, military band, military chaplain, and an escort platoon.

One of the most iconic elements you’ll see at Arlington is the caisson (pictured above).  It is a retrofitted cart that historically was used to pull cannons and carry ammunition into battle, and after unloading, would bring back the dead. Today the caisson bears the flag draped casket.

The caisson at Arlington is pulled or drawn by 3 pairs of horses, each pair or team has one rider on the left.  The horses on the right have no riders* as they would traditionally be the ones actually pulling the weight of the caisson and carrying provisions while the horse and rider to it’s left would guide them.  (*Not to be confused with the riderless, or caparisoned horse.  See end note.)  The seventh horse and fourth rider lead the 3 teams of horses pulling the caisson.

Below are some images and explanations that highlight the various solemn elements of a military funeral and burial at Arlington.  (Some of the rituals used reflect military traditions from Europe, or even antiquity, whose actual origins and meanings are lost.  This explains why there are many stories surrounding certain traditions like that of the riderless horse.)

While family and friends wait in the chapel for the funeral services to start, outside a quiet and dignified assembly of military stand by as the casket is brought into the Old Post Chapel.

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After the relatively short service, (to accommodate many services) the procession begins with the marching units leading the caisson, followed by the mourners to the grave site.

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Honors rendered at the grave site included three rifle volleys by seven riflemen (some have attributed this as a tradition used in battle to let both sides know to stop fighting in order to collect the dead) and not to be confused with a 21-gun salute using cannons….

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a bugler playing Taps as the final salute…

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and a sublime formal folding of the flag.

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The folded flag was then presented by the Officer in Charge to LTC Duffy’s wife while saying:

“On behalf of the President of the United States, The United States Army, and a grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

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A woman from the Arlington Ladies offers condolences.  This is a volunteer group of women who attend funerals to make sure no service member is buried alone.

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A lovely and tender personal touch added by the family was to have guests each lay a rose on the casket in a final farewell while a bagpiper played.

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Shell casings, retrieved from the ground after the rifle volley, are given to the family at the conclusion of the burial as a memento that the service member received full honors.

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*End Note

I asked a member of The Old Guard and a historian at Arlington to explain more about the meaning behind the “riderless horse”.   They said there isn’t clear historical documentation of the origins behind this tradition and that many countries have a riderless horse as part of a military or state funeral procession.  While there may be many plausible historical explanations for the practice, there is no definitive origin that reflects a specific meaning for its use in US military funerals.  Generally speaking, though, they both said the caparisoned, or riderless horse, follows the caisson and has an empty saddle with boots facing backwards in the stirrups, (as if facing the troops one last time), and that it simply signified a fallen warrior that would ride no more.  (Why specifically the boots face backwards appears to be a mystery.  The historian I spoke with said there appear to be many stories or legends, but nothing definitive explaining it’s origin and meaning that is used by the military today.  The Old Guard PR rep said that the boots were placed in the stirrups facing backwards in Civil War days after an officer was killed in battle.  The horse was then slapped in the back to return to the rear to indicate the officer has died and to send out a new officer to the front lines.)  The caparisoned horse today is reserved for an officer with a rank of Colonel or above, or for presidents, in virtue of them being the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.  You can find some more information about Arlington’s ceremonial horses here.
  • Mags - February 25, 2015 - 11:51 am

    I’ve been lucky enough to attend two family burials at Arlington, though they didn’t include full military honors like this. Still, the precision and attention of every soldier, not to mention the ceremonial flag folding and playing of Taps, is incredibly moving in its own right. Thanks for sharing these amazing photos!

  • Gabriella stevenson - May 24, 2015 - 2:52 pm

    May His face shine upon you and give you peace

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