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THEPALMER/iStock

(THEPALMER/iStock)

Lifestyle

Bargain bliss

Wedding planner helps couples 'make the main thing the main thing' on their big day

If you've watched TLC's "Say Yes to the Dress," you know that many a bride considers her gown to be the one crucial ingredient for a happy wedding, and by implication, marriage. Who wouldn't spend a small fortune to get that guarantee?

When New York wedding planner Mary Hines sits down with a bride and groom she tries to get them to change their perspectives, to ask, "What's going to matter in 30 years?" Most of her couples are Christians going through marriage counseling. They share her belief that marriage is a covenant and that vows should be at the forefront, but they also feel the pressure to have a gala event.

I asked Hines how she advises brides who have limited resources. What should they be thinking about? Her answer is simple: "Make the main thing the main thing. Spend your time and money on the things that are most important. Don't compare yourself with others. If your day is to honor God and the marriage, yes you want it to look nice, but it's not the most important thing."

What would that mean practically? She tells brides to concentrate on their vows, the photographs (since they'll want to remember the occasion), and their wedding night. "We get so caught up in decorating the house we forget what's actually happening," she says.

Many brides complain afterwards that they can't remember the day, so Hines advises them to pad their wedding day timelines, leaving enough time to enjoy friends, family, and out-of-town guests. "Plan for traffic," she says. She said in Florida more couples are taking photographs before the ceremony, renting a limo, and heading out with the bridal party to scenic locations around town before going to the church. (She says the superstition about grooms not seeing the bride until the ceremony comes from the days of arranged marriages when the bride's family feared the groom would bolt if he wasn't pleased with her looks.)

Getting photos out of the way before the ceremony allows the reception to start earlier, which means the newlyweds can leave before they are ready to pass out from exhaustion.

Places to economize? "I can't tell you the number of wedding favors I've thrown in the trash," she says. People rarely remember the music played before and after the ceremony. She recommends using the internet to find ideas-and getting married on Friday or Sunday, when venues are cheaper.

In Hines' 14 years in the business she's done 60 to 70 weddings with budgets ranging from $100 (family and friends donated just about everything) to $250,000. Nothing major has ever gone wrong, although a couple of episodes make for vivid movie scenes (and good memories). Once a mother-of-the-bride hired for $50 a videographer she met at a homeless shelter, thinking it was a good thing to do. When he showed up drunk and realized he'd missed the ceremony completely, he sat in a corner and cried.

Another time the couple forgot the rings. One of the attendants managed to tell Hines as they processed up the aisle. She had time to grab a fake silver ring out of her emergency bag, where she also carries smelling salts, along with her husband's wedding ring for use during the ceremony.

When one groom had his heart set on an outdoor reception in his backyard in Florida in September, Hines didn't argue with him. Instead, she arranged a planning meeting outdoors in the summer sun. When he wanted to move the meeting indoors with the air conditioner, she said no. Better yet, he should go inside and put on a suit and come back out. Once he realized how hot it was, and how tents with air conditioning would take away the charm of an outdoor wedding, he was able, Hines says, "to get over his idealism."

That's the point: "Getting through the idealism to realism and being content while realizing it won't matter in 30 years."

Weddings and the web

Mary Hines recommends several websites, including . . .

theknot.com

stylemepretty.com

weddingwire.com

Other helpful sites . . .

100layercake.com/blog

mydiyweddingday.com

diybride.com

Etsy.com has many shops selling wedding-related items, and Etsywedding.blogspot.com has many links to wedding treasures.

Wedding stats

26 . . . Average bride age

28 . . . Average groom age

$50 billion . . . Amount spent yearly on wedding-related purchases

$22,000 . . . Average amount spent on a traditional American wedding

80% . . . Percentage of traditional weddings performed in churches or synagogues

60% . . . Percentage of brides who say they'll be changing their surnames

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Phil McCarten/Reuters/Landov

(Phil McCarten/Reuters/Landov)

Lifestyle

An open book

With policy changes, Facebook brings users' information before many more eyes

Facebook is at it again-and internet privacy advocates aren't happy. Two recent changes make available to "everyone" information that the social networking giant previously considered private. According to the site, "Publicly available information includes your name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, friend list, and pages."

But the definition of pages has changed. Previously businesses, movies, bands, magazines (WORLD has one), retail stores, and nonprofit groups established fan pages, sometimes offering discounts to people who became fans. You could set privacy controls so only your friends or even subsets of your friends could see those pages.

Not any more. Say when you signed up for FB you listed five favorite movies, six favorite books, and two hobbies. Maybe you also said you graduated from Michigan State and became a fan of some sports teams and a couple of bands. Several friends asked you to become a fan of their small business or organization. And Dunkin' Donuts offered a discount if you became a fan.

Now all those fan pages and interests have been converted to the new "community" and "connections" pages. All of them are now public. You might limit who sees them on your profile, but all of your public information is available through those public pages.

But that's not all. Last month FB revealed to developers a plug-in that extends to other websites (The Washington Post and CNN, for example) FB's social aspects. Those who visit plug-in equipped websites while still being logged into FB carry their FB public information with them.

This has worrisome privacy implications, an article in the (London) Times explained, because "in effect, the 'identity' of Facebook users will follow them where ever they roam on the Internet, as long as they are already logged in to Facebook."

Some information will only be activated, though, if you click a "like" icon. "Personalized" websites, including Yelp, Pandora, and Microsoft Docs, will have instant access to your information in order to customize your experience.

FB's help pages are notoriously difficult to understand. They convey a reassuring message that FB is merely trying to expand the social web-but critics claim that the website is trying to cash in on the mountain of data it now possesses.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently published a timeline showing the evolution of FB's privacy policy from its inception in 2005. At that time the site pledged, "No personal information that you submit to The facebook will be available to any user of the Web Site who does not belong to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings." In April 2010, FB's policy had shifted: "When you connect with an application or website it will have access to General Information about you. The term General Information includes your and your friends' names, profile pictures, gender, user IDs, connections, and any content shared using the Everyone privacy setting." (The EFF's "Handy Facebook-to­English Translator" explains the new Facebook terminology and how to control some features.)

What to do? One simple solution is to log on to FB only for short periods of use, and then be sure to log out. Otherwise, FB users have the frustrating job of making sure their privacy settings reflect their desires-and that's hard when FB policy changes so often.

Here are other suggestions: Check your privacy settings (listed under the "Account" tab). Check each setting, including "Friends, Tags, and Connections" and "Applications." To see how your profile appears to non-friends, click on "preview my profile" at the top of the Friends, Tags, and Connections privacy page. It is possible that Facebook will change things again before this article goes to press. That means you need to stay vigilant. Some people are glad to share everything, but for those of us who aren't: Pay attention.

Copied & stored

Here's another threat to privacy: information stored on digital copiers manufactured since 2002. Most businesses aren't aware the copiers have hard drives that carry an image of every copied document. When they sell the machines, they transfer sensitive information as well. A CBS reporter purchased four used machines that contained Social Security numbers, addresses, and even health reports. One of the machines had come from the sex crimes division of the Buffalo police department.

Email: solasky@worldmag.com

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Katie Ratkiewicz for WORLD

(Katie Ratkiewicz for WORLD)

Lifestyle

'It all clicked together'

How one Christian volunteer found herself in the right place at the right time at a crisis pregnancy center in Texas

According to Care Net, more than 30,000 Christians volunteer in pregnancy centers each year. They make up the unpaid, compassionate wing of the pro-life movement, offering friendship, counseling, and material assistance to men and women facing unplanned pregnancies or dealing with the aftermath of abortion.

Care Net opened its first center in 1980. Maybe some of those volunteers are still laboring in the trenches, but their ranks have been joined by a constant stream of new volunteers like Jen Heininger, 32, who started volunteering last year in Austin, Texas.

Heininger, the mother of two (with a third child on the way), describes herself as an idealist whose previous attempts to volunteer had been frustrating. She started with the Junior League and was only a handful of hours short of her first-year commitment to the League's thrift shop when she asked herself, "What am I doing?" and quit. "You live and learn," she says.

Gary Haugen's book, Just Courage, helped her clarify issues she'd been struggling with: "We are all called to justice. It doesn't mean I have to move to Africa or India. I can be anywhere." About that same time a friend reminded her that LifeCare, a local pregnancy center affiliated with Care Net, needed volunteers.

Heininger didn't know much about LifeCare, so she checked out the website and decided to go with her friend to an informational session for potential volunteers: "I really thought I would go and there wouldn't be possibilities, but there were so many opportunities to volunteer. It was crazy. 'If you can give us 30 minutes, we'll take 30 minutes. You don't even have to come in. You can have a PAL.'. . . I left and felt as though the Lord was saying, 'There's a wide open door and if you don't walk through it's your own problem.'"

Heininger began volunteering at "Hannah's Closet" one morning a week, helping pregnant clients find maternity clothes, and new moms find clothes and other baby items for their children. She liked it because she got to meet lots of clients and get an overall sense of what the center does.

She discovered that the closet is a team project. Donations come from churches throughout Austin, as well as from individuals. One person brings in a seemingly unending supply of baby wipes. Occasionally, donated clothes have stains or need repair. One volunteer mends things. Others like Jen, who "loves Oxyclean," take clothes home and work on stains.

Heininger also decided that she wanted to be a "PAL," to have a friendship relationship with a client. She and a friend decided to share one client. They went through training and an interview before the center paired them with a woman about their age who was expecting her second child. The relationship has been easy. The client has a job and a good support network. Heininger worried at first that the woman would be suspicious of their motivation and ask, "Why are you even doing this?" But she says that hasn't been an issue at all. The PAL was grateful to have women her own age with whom to talk and cry. When the PAL gave birth in December, Jen was able to drive her and her new baby home from the hospital.

Heininger says the hardest thing is "feeling like you want to do something more for clients. . . . You want to solve all their problems, and you can't." She's learned to "pray more for them. It's brought me to my knees more. It also makes me want to beat the drum for my church to be more involved."

Since Heininger started volunteering, her church has become more involved with LifeCare. She says the church was moving in that direction anyway because people were frustrated with giving money and not doing anything. "When I found LifeCare it all clicked together for me. This is where I can plug in and this is where I can be involved." The way she sees it, she was in the right place at the right time. She pictures church staff saying, "There's Jen-ding, ding, ding, ding, ding-she's doing exactly what we want our lay people to do," and suddenly she became the poster child for pro-life volunteering at her church. "I don't know that I did anything. I'm just idealistic. If I think that's what we should be doing, then we really should be doing it."

Heininger says that through volunteering she's learned the importance of "being available, loving whomever you come into contact with, and praying that they will know that love as the love of Christ." One side effect: "My own family and friend relationships have benefited greatly from seeing this kind of love in action-it's almost backwards to me. . . . I wish that every believer could/would be involved in an organization like LifeCare or with folks in great need on a regular basis; the regular (and tangible) staring in the face of our need for the gospel is what it's all about."

Special effects

Increasingly, web-based applications are competing with software that must be downloaded to your computer. Picnik.com is an award-winning free photo editing website that allows you to upload photos, edit them, and apply different effects. The free version doesn't have all the bells and whistles of Photoshop, but users willing to pay a fee get access to advanced features. From the website you can save and print your photos, or share them on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites.

Factoid finding

Perhaps you've made a New Year's resolution to learn something new this year, or you want to learn to talk like a politician. Learn Something Every Day, a British website by a design/branding company, offers all kinds of interesting, mostly non-verifiable, factoids, illustrated with doodles (learnsomethingeveryday.co.uk).

Birthday countdown

Tired of your friends asking when your baby is due? Babystrology (babystrology.com/baby-tools/baby-tickers) offers a "Baby Ticker" to post on web pages. It counts down the days until a baby's expected due date and features a small unborn baby of the proper prenatal stage floating in a little bubble.

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