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Ex-Voto Personal Storytelling With A Wedding Cake Portrait

In the early part of 2008, still in the trenches planning the Delaware River Food + Wine Festival for that fall, I had heard of an artist who had gained some notoriety for creating a series of sainted kitchen appliances and aprons…the exact subject matter this Julia Child-admiring, vintage-apron-collecting, recent-Kitchen-Aid-owner was interested in. I knew I had to meet her.

When I stepped into Jennie Traill Schaeffer’s gallery and studio I discovered that she was full of colorful surprises--the kind of surprises that make you feel really good on the inside. The day I met her to talk about her larger-than-life coffee makers, Kitchen-Aids, egg beaters and striped aprons, I saw that she was in the middle of working on a portrait of a wedding cake. Before I left her gallery that afternoon, I had made arrangements for my own commission, for the most thoughtful, amazingly unexpected anniversary present, a portrait of my own wedding cake.

In the initial planning stages Jennie and I talked about composition and concept. I remember being kind of proud that every layer of our cake was a different flavor and the frosting was made of marzipan (not fondant) because we wanted every bite to be delicious and I wanted that to be reflected. The other element I wanted incorporated in the painting was the maile lei I wore during a surprise wedding hula, but I was comfortable with Jennie using her own creative license to figure out exactly how it all came together.  (You can see exactly just what she created at the bottom of this post).

Several years have passed and I am no longer married, Jennie has since moved her studio closer to the Atlantic than the Delaware, she now paints and teaches private lessons in West Orange, NJ. This month her Wedding Cake Portraits just launched a brand new website and to celebrate, I asked her to share a few of the stories behind a few of her favorite commissions.
A preliminary sketch

JTS: This painting depicts the wedding cake of a collector who I’ve come to know very well. Jill commissioned this as a Christmas gift for her husband in 2011. Jill’s son had been a long-time art student of mine and she had been interested in having me paint her wedding cake for awhile. In 2011, their home was devastated in a fire. After the fire, she commissioned the painting and once it was complete, it was one of the first new pieces of art added to her rebuilt home. They are a special family to me and I’m honored that this painting held so much significance for them as they rebuilt their home, but had an heirloom to remind them of their beginnings when they were married in 1994. 

JTS: This is an unusual painting because it is not glorious or refined, and some of it is hard to make out. But this was commissioned by my former hair stylist (who also happened to be very creative) for her daughter and son-in-law. She was a no-fuss bride that wanted everything simple and in lieu of a wedding cake wanted chocolate covered strawberries and cupcakes that were decorated as brides and grooms, made by the former Cheddar Alley in Newton. The wedding I believe was in Essex County and during delivery, the decorations on the cupcakes shifted. While most brides would be upset, she was not and so my hair stylist wanted to commemorate the day as it was, less than perfect, but filled with love.

JTS: Your cake is of course, one of my favorites. I was happy to work with such a vibrantly colored cake as subject matter, and have the openness from you to incorporate the date of your wedding, referencing the ex-voto element of the scroll used by Frida Kahlo. In spite of the parameters that you wanted for your portrait, I had a lot of creative freedom which made for a painting that was not only interesting upon completion, but that I also really enjoyed creating.

This past fall, I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico City with AFAR Magazine for one of their curated Experiences.  There were many different occasions when I was up close and personal with the work of Frida Kahlo--and it had a profound affect on me. The art of Mexico, vibrant in color and rich in symbolism, was something I knew I wanted more of in my life. The “ex-voto” I've come to learn, is a tradition of personal storytelling through images to tell narratives of gratefulness and appreciation for when a miracle takes place or a wish is granted. When I look at this portrait now, I love it even more! This portrait, is more than the sum of it's parts, it's definitely more than the sugar and flour that I had such fond feelings for at the beginning, over time it's come to represent so much more.

For a catwalk of cake fashion, head over to
And on Facebook at 

On a personal note, I loved Jennie’s lens from which she sees the world so much, that I signed up for a series of lessons with her too. In our lessons, I learned how to build and stretch a canvas (totally got blisters that day) and learned to paint with a knife. I love painting landscapes, sugarcane fields, the Delaware Water Gap and farm lands. To learn more about Jennie’s work as an award-winning artist and teacher visit TraillWorks.

Robin + Alex, Changed Forever By Love

My first conversation with Robin lasted close to two hours. She was completing her degree in psychology and had become fascinated in the science of love—what makes two particular people fall in love and how that bond forever changes us. She wanted her wedding to feel relaxed, fun and intimate while communicating the powerful connection that she and Alex had to their family and friends.

As a singer-songwriter, Robin found inspiration in authentic language; during the ceremony writing process, she shared with me, more than 50 literary quotes and passages about love she resonated with. I shared with her a set of 10 research-based vows written by Samantha Joel, based on attributes of healthy relationships, that I had come across in The Science of Relationships.

And Robin used this same intense passion when putting together all the details of her wedding celebration. Robin and Alex were married in amazing and thoughtful style at Terrain at Styers in Glen Mills, PA on a perfect spring day.

Here’s an excerpt from their Love Story told in their ceremony:
“In the fall of 2010, Robin and Alex were both in the middle of serious life transitions. During this exciting time, they found themselves working right down the street from each other, Robin at Starbucks and Alex at the Apple Store. Alex would come in 3-4 times a day to order a hot chocolate, he’d hang around the bar to chat with Robin during his breaks. After one and half months, and about 100 cups of hot cocoa, Robin told Alex that she was leaving her job. Determined not to let Robin slip away, Alex wasted no time in securing all of Robin’s contact information.

Not long after Alex’s thorough fact finding expedition, they went out on their first date. They call it their first-date-and-a-half, because they spent over 24 hours together. And it was a night of adventure that set them both apart from any other person they had ever met before. They traversed the entire city, saved a strangers life in the T station, met part of Alex’s family, and…fell in love.

Three days after their first official date, Robin was traveling back home here to Pennsylvania to spend the Christmas holiday with her family. Alex felt the urgency to solidify their relationship. There in the bustle of Boston’s South Station, he asked Robin to be his girlfriend.

Robin says she couldn’t argue, “Despite my doubts about how we hadn’t known each other for very long, he told me that he thought ‘we should take a leap of faith together, and if things weren’t going well down the road, we would figure it out.’”
"He’s brave and courageous, adventurous and kind. He’s intentional and relentless in pursuing the things he knows to be right, the things he believes in. He’s your perfect counterpart--a man who’s animated storytelling and inside jokes can make your cheeks hurt from laughter. This is the man who delights in kissing you every single morning before heading off to work."--Alisa Tongg, Celebrant
Alex and Robin clasped hands and took that leap of faith together. But it wasn’t always easy. Polar opposites in almost every way, Robin and Alex spent a lot of energy in those early days, simultaneously getting to know each other and learning the intricacies of partnership. A few months in, Robin told Alex that she thought they were both meant to be with people more similar. So, they took some time apart.

But Alex refused and went into full wooing mode. Robin says that, “his incredible, seemingly irrational persistence in winning me back, and his commitment to me from literally the first week that we knew each other, is the most comforting and inspiring thing to me…”
It wasn’t long before their undeniable attraction for the other and their best friend-like connection put this couple on a serious track. At the end of that year, they were planning their wedding.

Alex says that, “the two most opposite people can make something beautiful work. We work very well being two completely different people.”

Over the past three years, side-by-side, they’ve experienced moments of grief and loss, broken bones, the accomplishment of completing graduate school, the challenges of unemployment, the uncertainty that comes with starting out in a career, and the joy that comes from planning their future together.

When it came time for Alex to propose, he could hardly contain his excitement. While Robin was at home one day, Alex went to “work” taking the engagement ring on a parade to show it to all of their friends before coming home to surprise Robin.

Through it all, Robin says, “that no matter what comes up in our lives, choosing love will always be a constant, it’s made us stronger.”
"She’s passionate, loving, creative and thoughtful. This is a woman inspires you to be more and accomplish greater things through her unshakable faith in who you are. You can’t imagine a more “perfect mix of beauty and brains” being embodied in one person."--Alisa Tongg, Celebrant

Robin's surprise serenade for Alex during the ceremony, right before they exchanged their vows.

From Robin: “One of my strongest memories from the ceremony was performing the song, and knowing all along while I was practicing that what would really get me choked up was the line, "Like the river flows so surely to the sea, darling, so it goes: Some things are meant to be." This sense of everything in both of our lives leading us to that moment, as though divined by fate, was so profound to me that I could barely finish the song. Seeing the picture taken from behind me, where Alex is watching me perform, never fails to bring me back to that moment.

I had kept this a surprise from Alex, as I did with several things throughout the day; I wanted to show him in as many ways as I could how grateful I was for his total dedication to our relationship since the moment that we met. The song was the culmination of that.”

And in honor of their first Valentine’s Day together, they included the following reading Robin says, ”applies even more now than it did then…”

“Love is a temporary madness; it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of eternal passion. That is just being in love, which any fool can do.

Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.”--Louis de Bernieres
These beautiful moments and portraits were captured by Lauren and Matt Morrissey, the husband and wife photography team of The More We See.

If you’d like to see more of photos from their wedding (or if you just need more beauty and lifestyle inspiration in your life), I’d recommend following Robin Y. on Pinterest here.

Celebrant Alisa Tongg Awarded "The Knot Best of Weddings 2015", Couples Want Their Love To Shine

The More We See Photography
Four years ago, I studied and trained to become a Life-Cycle Celebrant with the intention of helping people mark the important milestone moments in their life with meaningful celebrations and authentic ceremonies. And even though each couple I have the privilege of working with has their own expectations and family dynamics to navigate, they all have something in common.

All of my couples, no matter their age or background, can’t imagine themselves “just going through the motions” and saying “I do” in a cookie-cutter ceremony. Instead, they say it’s important for their “love story to give context to all that is said and done throughout their wedding.” "We wanted something personal and memorable, something unique to us. We want our ceremony to be about us. Something that shows our guests how much love we have for each other.”

Often, couples feel that “a standard religious ceremony would not adequately express their unique relationship and hopes for the future.” They want their wedding ceremony to be about them and not a particular religion. Alternatively, many of my couples come from different faith and/or cultural traditions, and they want to “weave important themes and elements from their heritage into a broader story that celebrates them as a couple.”

Without a doubt, all of my couples feel that the ceremony is the most important part of the wedding day, “the reason why all our friends and family are coming together…” They want their ceremony to create an “experience that makes a lasting impression on everyone in attendance.” They want their guests “to have a great time”, “to be included”, to feel “the warmth, love and spiritual nature of their commitment.” They want their guests “to leave the ceremony feeling inspired and with big smiles on their faces.”

This year was filled with the moments my couples (and their families) dreamt about and through their generosity (by writing glowing reviews and telling their friends and co-workers about their experience working with me), I’ve been awarded for the second year in a row The Knot Best of Weddings 2015. This distinction is given to the top 1% of all wedding professionals nationally in every category. 

I continue to feel honored and privileged to have shared in so many unique and genuine expressions of love this year and to have made so many new friends. Thank you for making this possible, thank you for allowing me to share your story!

Here are a few highlights from this amazing year…
Amity + Jesse used chocolate to demonstrate "for better or worse" and invited all their guests to partake as well. Emily Wren Photography
Prayer Flag blessings. Emily Wren Photography
Even after the ceremony, guests waved their custom prayer flags to wish Amity + Jesse well on the road ahead. Emily Wren Photography
I became an enthusiastic member of the Philly Love Club (founded by Sara Murray of Confetti & Co.). Here I am with hand-letter artist Ashley Wrenn-Peterson, New Old Fashioned's Anna DeMarco-Mills and Ink & Mortar Design's Sharon McCullen who, like a shark, is owning the bottom left corner of this photo booth by Love Me Do Photography.
Shannon Collins wanted to make sure I had my couple's portrait with Ben. Shannon Collins Photography at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute.

My first wedding at the Franklin Institute's Fells Planetarium was out of this world! Shannon Collins Photography

Christian promised to be Michael's "Player 2 for life" and Xbox tweeted their congratulations.
Solemn promises were made. DeLorenzo Photography
After meeting as teenagers, Erin + Brent became husband and wife. DeLorenzo Photography
Fellow celebrant Lois Heckman and I hosted a Pop-Up Nuptials event at the Hotel Fauchere to celebrate Marriage Equality in Pennsylvania. Susie Forrester Photography
Newlywed Ean, signs the hand-lettered Pop -Up Nuptials Event poster created by Ashley Wrenn-Peterson. Susie Forrester Photography

Parents were reminded of their own wedding days. DeLorenzo Photography

Lori + Erman's love story was told in the style of a fairytale and their guests loved every moment. Douglas Benedict Photography
Tears were wiped away. Douglas Benedict Photography
There were fireworks and lots of kissing. Richard Suter Photography
There was some crying. I love how prepared Kyle is here! Richard Suter Photography
Okay, there might have been a lot of crying. DeLorenzo Photography
Terrain at Styers' rain location is a terrarium. Joyeuse Photography
Kelly and Richard prepare to finish their ceremony with a honey kiss. Joyeuse Photography
Wedded Kiss! Joyeuse Photography
The nerds won. Joyeuse Photography

Brittany and Kyle had a drone at their spectacular Skytop wedding. Richard Suter Photography
Erin loves this picture of her laughing and crying as we prepare for the ring exchange. DeLorenzo Photography
What did Lori's brother say as he delivered the rings? Only the four of us will know! Douglas Benedict Photography

The gorgeous ballroom at The Pierre Hotel for the Martha Stewart Weddings party.
Friends and family waved their ribbon wands and rung their bells to wish Erin and Brent well. DeLorenzo Photography
Rachael + Ed take their Seven Steps into the Sunset. DeLorenzo Photography
There were high-fives. Duca Studio
Linda + Jeremy tapped a keg during their wedding ceremony. With Love and Embers
I saw some amazing fashion. Here's a soon-to-be classic pairing: quipao + galoshes. Joyeuse Photography
As a Starbucks barista, Robin used to make her favorite customer, Alex, hot chocolate three times a day until he finally asked her out. The More We See.
Parents cheered! Douglas Benedict Photography
Singer song-writer, Robin Young serenades her husband in their Terrain at Styers wedding ceremony. The More We See
Linda and Jeremy drank from the "stein of life"--their special wedding beer out of a glass Jeremy saved from their travels through Germany for Oktoberfest. With Love and Embers

Photographer's featured
DeLorenzo Photography
Douglas Benedict Photography
Duca Studio
Emily Wren Photography
Joyeuse Photography
Love Me Do Photography
Richard Suter Photography
Shannon Collins Photography
Susie Forrester Photography

The More We See
With Love and Embers