Equally Wed

Equally Wed: The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your LGBTQ+ Wedding

Equally Wed: The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your LGBTQ+ Wedding by Kirsten Palladino (May 30, 2017, Seal Press)



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By and large, most wedding books in the market are still centered around one bride and one groom. And yet, the advent of full marriage equality in the United States has made a new, polished wedding planning book dedicated to guiding LGBTQ couples both timely and essential. Kirsten Palladino will fill that need with this definitive book to inspire couples everywhere who are seeking a meaningful, personal ceremony and a momentous beginning to legally married life.

Equally Wed brings author Palladino’s expertise as the founder and editorial director of the world’s leading online resource for LGBTQ wedding planning to the page. Palladino walks readers through every step of the notoriously costly and arduous planning process with wisdom and accessibility. From how to incorporate hot trends among LGBTQ couples to advice on how to incorporate children into a ceremony to more serious hurdles like dealing with homophobia among family members, Equally Wed has it all. The author importantly includes an accurate picture of wedding budgets for couples from all backgrounds, and shares her invaluable insider tips for making the most of each vendor; she also addresses fashion advice specific for LGBTQ readers, such as suiting up a masculine person or attending fittings as a butch lesbian or a transgender woman. And best of all, she does it with the celebratory, joyful approach that all couples deserve.

With a beautiful 2-color package, a total absence of heteronormative terms and assumptions, and a wealth of advice on every wedding-related topic imaginable, Equally Wed is set to be the go-to LGBTQ wedding guide just as every couple is finally free to wed.


Join us in Atlanta, the headquarter city of Equally Wed, for the launch party of Equally Wed! Get your copy of the book signed by the author, Kirsten Palladino, co-creator and editor of Equally Wed.

WHEN: Thursday, June 1, 2017

WHERE: Phillip Rush Center

RSVP / MORE INFO: Facebook

COST: Free (but bring some cash for our charity fundraising for Georgia Equality!)

TIME: 6-8 p.m.

BOOK SELLER: Charis Books


“No matter what kind of relationship you’re in or what kind of wedding you have your heart set on, one thing is guaranteed: You’re going to need the right guide if you want to get hitched without losing your mind. Luckily, Kirsten Palladino has got you covered. From using social media to get friends and family buzzing about your upcoming nuptials to effortlessly navigating the in’s and out’s of registry etiquette, her beautiful new book, Equally Wed, is all you’ll need to make your dream wedding a reality.”
—Noah Michelson, Editorial Director, Voices at Huffington Post and Executive Editor, Huffington Post Queer Voices 

“We are thrilled to recommend Kirsten’s book to our LGBTQ community! Her expertise and personal experience make this an invaluable resource with a unique perspective.”
—Carley Roney, cofounder, The Knot 

“When I first met Kirsten, she said something that I will never forget. She said, ‘I’ll know I can stop fighting when my job is no longer needed.’ How beautifully stated and how true in its purest form. We have a long way to go before Equally Wed is no longer a resource that this world needs but every day, Kirsten and her lovely wife, Maria, get us closer and closer to that goal. The idea that a wedding is a wedding is a wedding—and love is, indeed, just love—are what we hope our children will know as truth. Without hesitation or doubt. I feel grateful to be a part of this book in some small way and am thrilled for the soon-to-be’s that get to experience it so fully.”
—Abby Larson, founder, Style Me Pretty 

“Equally Wed seeks to simplify the wedding planning process for the LGBTQ+ community in a safe, comfortable and fun space! Take it from me, wedding planning is a laborious task to begin with—add to that the uncertainty surrounding the LGBTQ+ traditions and customs. My favorite feature in this book is the personal stories from real couples that have gone through the wedding planning process from a similar point of view. It’s always important to be reminded that love is the reason behind every wedding, because love is love and love never goes out of style!”
Colin Cowie

“Finally, the wedding guide we’ve been waiting for! Not just for brides and brides, but for everybody on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, Equally Wed is a smart, savvy, and life-saving guide to getting married, your way. Kirsten Palladino, the undisputed authority on wedding planning for our community has you covered. With traditions explained and trendsetting encouraged, Palladino offers a banquet of options, from budget building to bouquet toss. Her firsthand expertise means you don’t have to stress out on your big day.”
—Merryn Johns, editor-in-chief, Curve Magazine

Articles, Features

5 Blueprints for Your Brand’s Story | Entrepreneur Magazine

This article appeared in Entrepreneur Magazine’s April 2016 print issue.

Entrepreneur magazine cover April 2016






















You’ve got a great product. Or service. Or both. Your packaging, website and tagline are cohesive. That’s not enough. To be a brand, you need to have a story. As a ’trep, you may feel your founding tale, the one that literally gets you out of bed in the middle of the night, is unique. It may be. But your brand’s story needs to take that personal background and combine it with your company mission to make customers and investors listen. We deconstructed five of the most universal stories brands tell, with some advice on how to use them to write your brand’s next chapter.

Story 1: “The old way had to change.”

It used to be enough to be the fastest, the cheapest, some kind of -est. Now companies talk in terms of disruption — an overused buzzword, without question, but there’s a reason this story is so sticky. “To be a disruptor, you have to maintain driving speed of the process and get the formula right,” says Clark Howard, best-selling author of Living Large in Lean Times. You’re saying that your way of doing things is so spot-on, it changed the competition. That’s a powerful endorsement. Consumers always like a leader.

As a disruptor, you’re willing to launch a business that others thought was crazy. Uber sounded nuts — people jumping in stranger’s cars instead of hailing a cab? So did Casper — selling a mattress without a showroom? But Howard offers a word of caution: Don’t frame yourself as a disruptor until you’ve really disrupted something. That’s the difference between empty hype and, as he says, the “fresh and exciting” company you want to be.

The story in action: Like nearly everyone on the planet, Ernie Garcia was not a fan of the way used cars are sold. So he created the Phoenix-based Carvana, a used-car-buying website that allows consumers to search for, finance, purchase and take delivery of their car without dealing with a salesperson. “We decided to build something that’s better by creating a better truth — and then tell that story,” he says. “People regularly complain about buying a car, yet the industry has, strangely, been immune to change for 75-plus years. There has been technology to improve the car industry for a while, but the transaction process is complicated.”

Consumers like seeing the old way knocked down. And that’s why, since launching in 2013, Carvana has raised $300 million from investors and is on its way to ringing up annual revenues of $200 million.

Story 2: “Nothing else like this existed, so we made it.”

This is perhaps the most common of all the brand stories: I wanted it, I couldn’t find it, so I made it. It’s compelling because it’s so simple and relatable: The CEO was once like you, dear customer. “Building successful brands today requires a mix of business smarts and being clever,” says Chadwick Boyd, a brand marketing executive. “Consumers want that. They want to be offered something that fulfills a need in their lives.”

And there’s a trick to this kind of story: You can tell it even if, well, a product like yours did already exist before you came along. Why? Because it wasn’t your product, hitting your niche. Look at how Harry’s, the subscription razor company, describes its origin: “Like most of you, we’ve long had to choose between over-priced, over-marketed razors that disrespect your intelligence, and low-quality, cheap razors that disrespect your face.” Is that true of every razor that came before them? Maybe not — but if Harry’s can convince customers of its story, the company just convinced them of its value.

The story in action: “If you go in a Whole Foods, you’re going to see 48 mustards and 57 salad dressings,” says Reggie Milligan. He traces the explosion of options back to the recession, when foodies began launching small-batch food products out of their homes. Now there’s amazing stuff out there, but Milligan figured consumers were all thinking, I need someone to make a choice for me, and I need a brand I can trust. So he created that brand: Mantry, a monthly delivery of small-batch foods for men, which has spent $1.5 million buying such products since 2012. (Why just for men? Because it gives him a filter — a specific customer to serve. “If you’re talking to everybody,” he says, “you’re talking to nobody.”)

Now “too many choices” is his brand’s story. It does all the searching, so his customers can just focus on the eating.

Story 3: “We know your problem  and have a solution.”

If your business doesn’t solve someone’s problem somewhere, it’s obviously going to be a short-lived enterprise. But this story is more specific than problem solving: It’s about identifying a problem that your customer may not even be thinking about. “Speak to specific needs,” says Heather Stephenson, who heads up brand strategy at Super, a home-repair subscription service that raised $3.6 million in seed capital. “You really have to know your customers. ”

This story shouldn’t take long to tell. Sometimes it takes just a few words. Here’s how The Grizzly Labs pitches its product, a smartphone app that scans documents: “Equip your employees with Genius Scan and you won’t need them to be back in the office to access their documents.” The story isn’t really about the product; it’s about the worker on the go. For the right kind of user, it’s totally relatable.

The story in action: HoneyBook offers a whole lot of complex services — bookkeeping, purchasing, invoicing, contracting and more. It’s the stuff that overwhelms people in the events industry, who are HoneyBook’s target customers. But go to HoneyBook.com, and the first thing you see is a big line that says get your life back. That’s the company’s story: “It’s around benefits, not the features,” says Shadiah Sigala, its cofounder. And quite frankly, the features can sound daunting at first. That’s why Sigala keeps the focus on simplicity. “We solve the problem by alleviating personal pain points,” she says.

How many people want to relieve that pain? The company has raised more than $32 million, and sales grew 25-fold in the past year.

Story 4: “We give back.”

What could be more warm, fuzzy and human than a socially responsible business model? This: A socially responsible business model that customers feel is done right, and for the right reasons. Companies like Toms used to get great attention by telling their philanthropic story — but then hordes of other businesses followed, and questions started being raised about just how helpful some of these companies were being. A consensus has since emerged: A program that changes lives is far better than one that merely gives out free stuff. “Helping people by allowing them to utilize their talents and strengths to become employed or get out of poverty improves their economic, psychological and sociological state,” says Laura Ullrich, Winthrop University’s assistant dean for innovation and productivity.

The story in action: Susty Party makes eco-friendly tableware that’s sold in Whole Foods. And the tale it tells borrows from two types of stories. There’s the “nothing like this existed” part: Emily Doubilet was hosting events in Brooklyn to raise awareness about environmental issues but couldn’t find nice, festive but compostable silverware and more. So she and cofounder Jessica Holsey made them. But wait, there’s more! Most of their wares are manufactured by nonprofit factories in the U.S. that employ the visually impaired. Together, that enables Doubilet to pitch her company this way: “Want to change the world? Change the system.” Susty Party has made changes at every step of its system; now it’s inviting consumers to do the same (starting, of course, by using its tableware).

Story 5: “Trust us; we have nothing to hide.”

“My inbox is flooded daily from people who want me to buy their products and services,” says Kim Gorsuch, founder of Weeva, an Austin-based startup that designs personalized books. So how do people decide whom to do business with? Gorsuch says they ask two related questions: “Whom shall I trust? Whom shall I believe in?”

For some brands, the answer becomes the core of their story. These brands aren’t just reliable — as all brands should be — but also promise to reveal things about their business that competitors never do. That’s how, say, T-Mobile got back in the game: It kept calling out the phone industry’s pricing tricks, earning great press. Transparency can be a powerful statement. Just be sure to back it up.

The story in action: The online apparel company Everlane ran a thought-provoking sale this winter: For many products, shoppers could pick among three prices — but each came with information. The cheapest “covers our cost of production and shipping,” the company said. Go up, and you help cover overhead, investment in growth, and so on. It’s part of the company’s “radical transparency,” as it calls it — which extends to offering details on its manufacturing, pricing and more. Its tagline: “Know your factories. Know your costs. Always ask why.”

The story resonates with users: The 6-year-old company’s annual sales are now estimated at north of $35 million (though, ahem, it won’t confirm that). But perhaps more important, the story Everlane tells becomes the story others tell about Everlane. Press — like this article right here! — is almost always about its transparency and prices, reinforcing Everlane’s message. It’s a storytelling cycle.

—Kirsten Ott Palladino

LGBT, News

Georgia Governor to Veto Anti-LGBT Bill



Gov. Nathan Deal said he will veto the “religious liberty” bill that placed the rights of anti-LGBT people above LGBT citizens in Georgia.

The measure “doesn’t reflect the character of our state or the character of its people,” the governor said Monday.

“Their efforts to purge this bill of any possibility that it would allow or encourage discrimination illustrates how difficult it is to legislate something that is best left to the broad protections of the First Amendment,” he said.

Continued on equallywed.com

Articles, Equally Wed, featured

Feeling visible: filing together as a married lesbian couple should


It’s tax day, and I’m feeling visible, which is a pretty damn spectacular feeling for someone who has felt invisible in her country for the past five years of being married to the woman I love. We have been together for 10 years, married for five, and, in the legal eyes of New York and every other state that recognizes marriage equality, we’ve been legally married for almost three years.

I can’t say I love tax day now. Who loves tax day besides the IRS and the accountants who make a steal of a living off of us? Nobody else! But this year, my wife and I were able to file our federal taxes together. It was huge! A victory! I feel accomplished and validated and recognized—our love is real, it is tender, it is meaningful. We make our home together. We’ve made two children together. We are in love and, most of the time, we like each other, too.

Last year, in June 2013, SCOTUS declared that the federal government would recognize our marriage if we had been issued a legally recognized marriage certificate. My wife and I, who live in Georgia, had flown to New York in August 2011, to become legal spouses. What did that mean for us as Georgians and Americans? Nothing on a technical level. Not on the surface, at least. But it recorded our relationship and commitment to each other in a legal form that suddenly was no longer discriminatory. But more than that, it enabled us to be seen as a valid couple by society at large.

Every time I am able to tell a Georgia resident that I have a wife—and they pause but say nothing or they look me square in the eye and say, “Is that legal now?” I am afforded an opportunity to gracefully share a learning experience that my wife and I are just the same as that person and their spouse, and we deserve equal marriage rights.

maria-kirsten-lesbian-legal-marriageOftentimes, nothing more is said. It’s not needed. No one wants to be lectured to. Not my 3-year-old sons, and not the 40-year-old cashier at my grocery store who just asked me if one of my children looks like his daddy. I take a more vocal stand when I can, going on CNN to discuss marriage equality, writing letters to my senators, reporting on marriage equality news and showcasing same-sex weddings in our magazine, giving visibility to lesbian, gay, trans and queer couples. But in my day-to-day life outside of Equally Wed, my stand is subtle yet strong: I live my love out loud. Even in Georgia, where our marriage is not recognized in the slightest bit.

Thank goodness we were able to both become legal parents of the children we created and are raising with love and devotion. We took great legal and financial measures to ensure that we have all the legal powers we need to make decisions for each other and our children should we ever need to. But if Maria and I were able to have marriage equality in Georgia, we wouldn’t have to get those documents drawn up or shell out thousands of dollars to acquire the protections our straight neighbors are afforded the moment they sign their marriage licenses. And there are many counties in this state where we dare not travel without these papers.

It is my sincere hope that we will have a bill for marriage equality in Georgia drafted soon (Karla Drenner, I’m looking at you, dear). The state’s constitution explicitly banned gays and lesbians from legally marrying in Georgia in 1996. Because it wasn’t enough to just not allow it before then. They had to get it written into their books, dammit. Before the crazy gays took over marriage and burned their traditions of love and long-lasting commitment to the ground! We make up less than 4 percent of the population of this country, and even if we were larger in number, I just cannot understand the threat to humanity of letting us marry each other. For the love, it’s not like we’re asking for the legal rights to forcing a straight person to be married to us. Oh, I could go on and on. But one day soon, I hope we do have countrywide marriage equality. I am so thankful to the work that Freedom to Marry, the HRC and many other organizations are doing on a national level, and that Georgia Equality is doing on a state level. To that end, Georgia Equality has set up a petition for Georgia to allow legally married same-sex couples to file state taxes together. If you’re a tax payer in Georgia, we could use your voice. Please add your name to it!

We have much work to do, but I am reveling in the victory of filing our federal taxes together. Commence happy dancing feet!

Photos: Our Labor of Love, Entwined Studio

This article was first published on equallywed.com on April 15, 2014.

Articles, featured, travel, weddings

Oceanside wellness: A bliss-filled Caribbean adventure on the Riviera Maya

The second longest coral barrier reef in the world stretches from Roatan, Honduras, to Cancún, Mexico. In the lush tropical jungle of Cancún, a host of activities await travelers, from the adventurous set, such as snorkeling, scuba diving, ruins exploring, swimming in cenotes (sinkholes) and sailing to the honeymooners seeking respite from months of charting seats, writing vows, interviewing vendors and managing the full-time job of planning a wedding.


Cancún is situated on the Riviera Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula. As vacation destinations go, Cancún is relatively new on the scene. Up until about 30 years ago, it was a dense jungle. Underneath, water runs freely from the river to the peninsula to the Caribbean Sea. An easy drive from Cancún is the sanctuary of Banyan Tree Mayakoba, a luxury resort attached to a heralded brand of international hotel chains known for its superior service.

Duck breast with chipotle, tequila and honey at
John Gray Restaurant in Playa del Carmen

Everything that goes on behind the gates of the Banyan Tree Mayakoba caters to the guest. It’s a honeymoon destination all on its own. Though there’s plenty of exploring to be done off property—from visiting ruins of ancient cities like Tulum and Cobá, and exploring eco parks with knowledgeable guides to shopping and dining out in Playa del Carmen at notable restaurants such as John Gray—there’s so much to keep you occupied and satisfied at the resort. It all depends on the type of honeymoon you want to have.


Guests stay in private villas at the Banyan Tree Mayakoba. Every villa is outfitted with its own small pools, in-ground hot tubs, a hammock and a view of the water, whether it’s the canal or the Caribbean Sea. The villas are discreetly built into the carefully conserved landscape, which preserves four ecosystems in balance—the mangroves, dunes, low forests and coral reefs. To get around the property, guests can call for a golf cart pick-up or rent a bicycle from the front desk for $10 a day. Without a doubt, rent bikes for you and your new spouse. The resort’s property extends all the way to the Caribbean Sea. When you hop on your bike, you can cycle by mangroves, along canals, wind your way through the resort’s award-winning golf course, spot lizards sunning their dry bodies in the Mexican warmth and arrive at the sugary white sand and turquoise waters.

Sands, Banyan Tree Mayakoba’s ocean-front restaurant

Here, the resort’s al fresco beach restaurant caters to refined palates with fresh sea food, authentic Mexican dishes and light fare. The bright white building is U-shaped and spills into an inviting pool with swim-up bar, leading to the ocean. Bartenders service at any lounge chair, so go on and relax.

A myriad of dining experiences abound at Banyan Tree Mayakoba with trained chefs at all the restaurants, from the elaborate breakfast smorgasbord laden with food from around the world to the aforementioned beach club to the upscale Asian-inspired Thai restaurant situated over the peaceful canals.

Because the resort is built around canals, the spiritual sense of moving water is quite calming. Boat operators are stationed around the property to taxi you back and forth from the beach to the main building. To better understand the eco-system, charter the taxi with a nature guide to tour the canals. Mangrove boat tours run three times a week, and provide a special opportunity to spot wildlife, from blue herons, gray herons, snowy egrets, crocodiles to great blue herons, the biggest in North America. There are 13 kilometers of artificial canals on property, but natural water from the sea flows throughout.


There’s no shortage of romance at Banyan Tree Mayakoba, and the staff is generous with its pampering for all couples, straight or gay. To customize your love-themed visit, the property created an Experience Department, staffed with a romance and events manager and a romance coordinator. Options range from in-villa dining, where a chef privately prepares a lavish barbecue by your pool for you, to assisting you in planning your wedding ceremony at the resort. The expansive property boasts ample rooms for any size reception, as well as its own florist and catering staff. But the allure of marrying here is having an authentic Mayan ceremony, performed by a real shaman, who doesn’t discriminate against same-sex couples. Tied together through a spiritual ceremony celebrating the bonds of nature and each other, marrying in the Mayan tradition is a rare experience. Couples can arrange it all through the Experience Department, even ordering custom traditional Mayan wedding attire. The ceremony is available in your villa (for up to 10 guests) or surfside, and includes local floral decorations, Mayan musicians and a traditional performance during the ceremony .Packages starting at $2,200 include all of the aforementioned with an in-villa wedding, plus one 90 minute massage session for two at the award-winning spa and a dinner for two at Saffron, the resort’s fine dining restaurant, which includes one bottle of wine.


Though most resorts can boast a spa, Banyan Tree Mayakoba has the market on the serenity with its exclusive Rainforest experience, involving an intense pampering session through seven stations which titillate all the senses, from showers replicating tropical waters with a rainbow of lights and a medley of sounds to an avocado body mask to an invigorating body scrub of papaya to a plunge into the warm bubbling indoor vitality pool. Finish it off with an authentic Thai massage from a limber table-climbing therapist, and collapse on each other in your villa until you’ve got enough energy to hop on the water taxi to take in more of the Caribbean Sea.

The temperature is a comfortable 80 degrees year-round. For a beach wedding at sunset, April is ideal. September is the rainiest month. Hurricane season runs from June through November.

Fly into Cancún International Airport. Banyan Tree Mayakoba is an easy 45-minute drive. Arrange transportation through the resort.

All activities referenced can be arranged through the resort.

Villa rentals start at $565 a night.

Banyan Tree Mayakoba
Carretera Federal Chetumal-Puerto Juárez Km. 298
77710 Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Tel. +52 984 877 3688

John Gray’s Downtown
Av. Xpuhil, SM 19 Mz 2, Lt 24. , Cancun
Tel. 998.883.98.00

Photos: duck dish courtesy of John Gray; all others courtesy of Banyan Tree Mayakoba


Editor’s note: This article was first published on Jan. 30, 2012 on equallywed.com.


Articles, featured, Fitness & Health, Food & Health, writing

A juice cleanse before the wedding

Warning: This isn’t a “how to lose weight in X amount of days before your wedding” article. Fact: I loathe those types of articles.

I was the kind of bride who eagerly showed up to cake-tasting appointments hoping to try all the flavors, not just the three I’d selected. Sorry, not sorry.

But beyond my personal weakness for sugar, there’s a difference between getting skinny for someone else’s vision for the perfect bridal size and achieving a state of wellness. That’s what I want to talk to you about today.


There’s a new nutrition book that piqued my interest: The Rainbow Juice Cleanse: Lose Weight, Boost Energy and Supercharge Your Health by Dr. Ginger Southall
 (Running Press,
 April 2015, 
$17.00). The tummy-toning tome focuses on how juicing popular high-glycemic vegetables will affect the intricate physiology of the body. Each day of the program focuses on a different color of the rainbow—that is, drinking different colored veggies each day of the cleanse—ensuring the best possible nutrition profile and guaranteeing positive results.

While Dr. Southall’s book, The Rainbow Juice Cleanse, does promise losing seven pounds in seven days, those are likely seven pounds of gross things you don’t even want to know about. Toxic sh*t you need to get rid of. She also boasts that her book will help you boost your energy levels and supercharge your health. Well, I took her challenge—not the seven-day one (yet!), but I have felt extra wonderful when I’ve drank her recipes, so without further ado, let me show you what I did with her book, a trip to the farmer’s market, my newest kitchen toy, Omega juicer (NC800 series), and my Kenwood X-Pro blender (which I seriously don’t think I could live without in the summer or winter because it blends both hot and cold foods).

The first recipe I made was what Dr. Southall explains is definitely not juicing. It’s a smoothie. It’s a way to get your taste buds ready for the change that’s coming your way when you start replacing meals with liquid veggies. And these are veggies, not fruit. One tip I’ll never forget from her is “Eat your fruit, drink your veggies.” She’s still pro-fruit, but she explains over several useful pages how fruit is full of sugar, and how “eating whole fruit, with its fiber and full nutritional and phytonutrient package, is entirely different than drinking a glass of condensed fruit juice or even adding a few pieces of fruit in your veggie juice. This is especially true for someone facing a health challenge (as most of us are today) and for those trying to lose weight. From a healing and weight loss perspective, try to keep your total fruit consumption between 5 and 10 percent of your total daily calorie intake. The cleaner and healthier you become, the better your body can handle fruits and even fruit juice.”

Eat your fruit, drink your veggies.

— Dr. Ginger Southall

OK, doc. With that lesson, I think we’re ready to dive into Drink No. 1 that I tried, the Green Cilantro Smoothie, which was positively delicious, tangy, refreshing and filling.



Next, I made the Thai One on Tonic. Honestly, this one made me want to break up with cauliflower, for like, forever. But, it’s packed with many of the B vitamins, zinc, magnesium and omega-3s, which promote healthy sugar metabolism, according to Dr. Ginger, which she says helps with blood sugar stabilization. So I mentally pushed myself to finish it, and I was proud that I chugged it down. It tasted good, but it was more like a creamy soup. Mixing in some (pure) stevia and pouring it over ice could really help.


The Red Pepper-Mint Juice might resemble a Bloody Mary in appearance, but don’t add any vodka if you’re going for a cleanse. It’s full of vitamin E, manganese and more than 30 known members of the carotenoid phytonutrient family!



All photos except book by Kirsten Ott. Recipes copyright Dr. Ginger Southall, The Rainbow Juice Cleanse.

This article was first published on Equally Wed Magazine.

Articles, featured, Portfolio

Transcending time

Atlanta author Colleen Oakley wins hearts with first novel ‘Before I Go’

This article was originally published in the Jan./Feb. print issue of The Atlantan. Written by Kirsten Ott.

before-i-go-book-cover-colleen-oakleyThe looming threat of mortality is inescapable in our lives, but most of us can shrug off thoughts about it. But for Daisy, a witty Athens, Ga., graduate student who is lucky enough to have found lasting, meaningful love early in life is also painfully unlucky enough to have twice developed cancer before she turns 30. The protagonist for debut author Atlanta author Colleen Oakley’s novel Before I Go (Jan. 6, 2015, Simon & Schuster) is faced with a heartbreaking challenge when she learns that her breast cancer has returned, it’s in stage four, and she will not survive the year. Daisy’s husband, Jack, is a devoted guy with terrible life skills when it comes to pulling together the four basic food groups into an assemblage of a healthy meal, and unsurprisingly, Daisy’s more concerned about Jack’s future than she is her own. Putting his needs before her own health, Daisy starts looking for a replacement wife for him before she makes Jack a widow, employing her best friend Kayleigh to scout out potential suitors for her husband on dating sites and in coffee shops. Naturally, hilarity and hijinks ensue.



Colleen Oakley

Author Colleen Oakley Photo: C. Noel

Oakley expertly woos readers into Daisy and Jack’s love story with well-woven story arcs and characters you can root for. Her career as a former magazine editor and current freelance magazine journalist make Oakley a natural narrator, and it was one particular subject who sparked the creative juices for this book. “The inspiration for Before I Go hit when I got an assignment from an editor to interview a woman who was dying of metastasized breast cancer. It was a powerful interview for many reasons, but what struck me the hardest was the fact that she was around my age — late 20s at the time — so I couldn’t help but put myself in her shoes. I was a newlywed, and it surprised me that my first thought wasn’t ‘what would I do if I was dying?’ but ‘what would my husband do?’”



KO: What have you learned from this experience of writing (and publishing) your first book?

CO: “I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I can actually do it. Writing a book is one of those things that I always vaguely said I’d do — like becoming fluent in Italian and moving to Capri — but I’m not sure I ever really believed I could. You type that first sentence, or first page, and realize you still have 300+ pages to go. It seems impossible. But then there’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment when you write those two little words: “The end.” I imagine it’s a lot like running one of those ultra 100-mile marathons, but with less sweat and blisters. (Probably the same amount of cursing though.)”


Benefitting Susan G. Komen for the Cure

WHEN: Jan. 6, 2015, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

WHERE: Room & Board, 1170 Howell Mill Road NW

COST: Free; raffle tickets and book available for purchase at event

RSVP: colleenoakley.com

Blog, family, healing, writing


Six years ago today, on a Friday morning full of promise, my wife, her best friend and I had just left our home en route for Florida to visit Maria and Cristina’s childhood friends. We were less than a mile from home when my cell phone rang. I was in the backseat with Lucy, our squatty white labrador-dachshund mix. It was my brother, George. I answered cheerily and cautious. I hadn’t been able to get in touch with my father or stepmother for two days before. I had called my brother in tears just 24 hours ago. I had a terrible feeling and I wanted to speak to our father. But he hadn’t heard from him either. And now my big brother was telling me in a croaking voice full of sorrow, “Dad’s dead.”

“No way,” I responded as my world went from sunny and light to gray and bleak in a matter of seconds. There was no possible way that my father, 61, healthy, loving and wonderful, could be gone. I choked on my own air that I was gasping in far too fast as my brother explained what he knew: that it appeared he’d had a heart attack while his wife, our stepmother, was at the barn checking on their horses. He’d died alone. That crushing new knowledge bent me over. George said he was headed to Athens, and we hung up, exchanging “I love yous” as we always did.


What happened next was unbearable as I looked up at my wife and Cristina and said that my father had died and could we go back home. It was an absurd request, but I wasn’t thinking clearly, that of course my wife would be turning the car around and driving the half-mile back to our home and that Cristina would get on the phone to try to fly back to New York while I curled myself into a crumpled ball of hideous heartbreak on the cold tiles of the bathroom floor, unable to do anything but moan as salty tears soaked my cheeks, meeting a runny nose, connecting to the saliva pooling at my open mouth, jaw slack.

My wife came and checked on me but there was nothing she could do. My world had come crashing down and I was shaking from the shock and the grief.

In the week to come while we took time off from work and life to grieve at my father and stepmother’s home in a lake community outside of Athens, my brother and I bonded more than ever before. We were already incredibly close and now this – the loss of our shared hero – had left us clinging to one another in a state of devastation. Every year on Oct. 3 since my father’s death has been difficult as I remember the punch to my chest of the shocking loss. But every day without him has been far more challenging. Every time something big has occurred, like my wedding or the launch of my own magazine or the birth of my twin sons, I’ve wanted him there to celebrate with.



My dad never missed an opportunity to tell me how proud he was of me, and it meant the world to me to have a parent like that. And when things have gotten rough, as they often do, like when my mother disowned me or I found out I had a life-threatening genetic heart disease or I watched my brother suffer in a hospital bed for 14 weeks before passing away from organ failure at age 36, or when my son was diagnosed with autism, it would have been soothing to have my dad to lean on. And then the lazy, normal days, when there’s nothing going on but an ambling walk on a dirt road, surrounded by eager, wet-nosed dogs and our precocious sons my dad never met, sunlight glinting through the green-leafed oak trees, my heart hurts for him, then, too. Sometimes I just want to call him up and say hi, and hear him say again in his sweet Long Island voice, “Hey, darlin’. I’ve been thinking so much about you and what you’ve been up to. Tell me everything.”




Articles, changes, pain, recovery, relationships, writing

Why We Stay: One Woman’s Lens Into Psychological Layers of Suffering Abuse

The country is abuzz about abuse again, and the talking heads and twittering fingers are asking why people stay in abusive relationships. Why is Janay Palmer Rice standing by her man even though he punched her in an elevator and dragged her body out? (And then she proceeded to marry him one month later.) Why did Rihanna have such a hard time leaving and subsequently going back to Chris Brown, even after the world saw her blood-crusted, bruised face after Brown crunched his knuckles into her eye socket? Why did Tina Turner take Ike Turner’s slaps and punches again and again?

Guess what? You’re not the only person to wonder this. People currently in abusive relationships and those who have successfully escaped them ask themselves that very same question. Why do/did I stay?

In order to truly understand the answer to that question, it’s helpful to think of abuse, whether it’s physical, sexual or emotional, as a series of tiny subconscious extensions of permissions. Each time he hits you or she tells you you’re worthless and you—for whatever reason—don’t take a stand right then and there that you will not tolerate such abuse, you’ve made a docile statement that it’s OK to treat you this way. Of course, it’s not OK and you don’t want it to happen—you never did and you never will. But each time it happens and there is no serious repercussion for the abuser, they are granted more permission and you’ve given them more rope to tug you around with, much like a master with a dejected mutt on a leash.

For victims of abuse, the internal question often is “How did I get here?” and one part of the puzzle is all of those tiny permissions.

So there you are, a scared, frightened pup on a leash, right? But that’s not all of who you are. You might be brave at work, pumping your fist in the air and demanding your employees follow the rules. You might never lead on about the troubles at home when hanging out with your girlfriends, and possibly even telling elaborate stories about what a good man you’ve got, how he spoils you like a princess. Or you’ve been so desecrated for so long that you no longer recognize your former spirit and you walk around with empty eyes, shoulders slack, wondering when you’ll have the courage to just walk out into the middle of the street and let a bus hit you because that would be easier than leaving.

Not everyone being abused is suicidal and not every survivor would agree with being likened to a gnarled stray dog, jerked around on a chain. In fact, the abused can get downright defensive about their situation, telling you things like, “You don’t know him like I do,” “You don’t know the whole story,” “I made him do this to me,” or “She’s a good person; this only happens when she’s stressed.” But in the quiet darkness or in their quick trips out alone, they’re lost in a reverie at the red light, wondering how their life spiraled out of control and what can possibly be done about this. If you leave, he’ll come looking for you. Maybe she’ll take the children and hurt them instead of you. Maybe he has all the financial control and you don’t have a dime to your name. Oh, and then the bone-crushing shame of admitting to anyone that your life has fallen apart—that you chose an abuser. There’s that, too.

We still exist in a world where the victim is blamed: A rape victim’s experiences of consensual sex are paraded in front of her in a courtroom as if an experience of forced sex isn’t as big of a deal if the victim wasn’t a wholesome virgin. A child molested again and again by an adult is outrageously asked what he did to encourage the abuser. An emotionally abused middle-aged woman is asked if she’s just being too sensitive. Talk show hosts say you must have provoked him. Friends say there’s no way that he could be so different behind closed doors—it’s you who is failing to see things as they are, not the friend.

And, then, if there are emotional ties between the abused and the abuser, it’s a thick, tangled web of thorny branches and it feels like no one can escape unscathed or at all.


But then, there’s hope.

Even prisoners of war, locked in dank cells for years, beaten routinely until they’ve lost both health and self, are miraculously able to retain hope.

And survivors of domestic abuse know that feeling all too well. The abuser doesn’t always abuse you. Oftentimes he’s sweet as pie, reminding you of why you fell in love with him. It can even feel like you’re being courted, receiving flowers, chocolates and poetic texts. And you wonder—for a moment, albeit fleeting—if you shouldn’t take the bait this time. But your sense of danger is warped now. He’s successfully convinced you that you’re not a victim, this isn’t abuse and you two are madly in love, and you can make this work. So you bite the apple, and ingest more of this charmer’s poison, waiting with hopeful baited breath for things to get better. But they don’t. And they won’t.


It’s a bit like falling down a rabbit hole when you choke down the forbidden dry, crusty cake, which turns everything upside down and suddenly you don’t know what is normal or OK even is anymore. It’s all an illusion. Is everyone laughing at you? Have you hidden the bruises—internal or external—enough? Is that a trick mirror you’re looking into? Is this really your life? Is your partner your friend when he says, “Come here, love. You know I can’t live without you.”? Or is he a foe, when he says, “Why do youmake me so angry? Why are you so fucking slow? Get out of my fucking way, you fat bitch!” as he kicks you to the ground, causing the plates in your hand which you couldn’t put away fast enough to collapse beside you, clattering in slow motion, sharp pieces flying. “Jesus, you’re so fucking clumsy!” as he takes one last swing at your head, rearing his leg back like

Beckham and pointing his toe right into your temple, making you so dizzy you’re unsure if this is even happening, and why, oh, why is it happening again? “Clean this mess up, bitch.” And he walks out the door while you hold back your anguished moan because between two bloody clumps of your hair you can see your children standing solemnly in the kitchen entrance, holding each other, curious, scared and masking their fear with false bravery at their tender ages, seeing too much, learning the wrong thing. And yet. You’ll stay for their sake.


As for those asking the abstract victim the inflammatory question of why stay, know that the very inquiry places blame on the struck, the raped, the broken.

“Why did you let him do that to you?” The haughty superiority in this question is enough to make us want to choke you, not the abuser. You think you could have done better? You think you would have fought back, run, gotten away, gotten help? You. Don’t. Know. Anything.

When are we going to start hashtags such as #handsoff or #wewillhelpyou or #leavethemcomehere? Instead of gnashing our teeth at each other on social media, how about extending your hand to someone in need? You don’t have to know them. Send comforters and comfort to women’s shelters. Show up for the soup kitchen line. Say something when your friend is entering into an odd relationship where she is giving up all power. Say something when that kid who used to have light dancing in his eyes is all burned out, can’t look you in the face and is struggling to hold his life together. Step in. Step up. Show up.

It is not enough to just tell a victim to “just leave.” It is always complicated. And she (or he) needs your help. We need your help. #helpusleave #wewillhelpyou #wecanbestrongtogether

Kirsten Ott Palladino is an award-winning editor and writer working on a memoir about surviving repeated gang rape, emotional and verbal abuse and child molestation. She’s the co-founder and editor in chief of equallywed.comthe world’s leading digital LGBTQ wedding magazine. She can be reached on Twitter at @kirstenop.

This was first published on The Manifest Station.

family, healing

Waiting to Live: Fighting an Insurance Company for a Life-Saving Surgery


I felt a lump in my throat as I padded down the stairs, having just kissed my darling twin toddlers goodnight. “I love you, Mommy,” my youngest called after me. “I love you, too, sweet boy. Get some rest,” I replied rather hoarsely, as my throat was swelling with a wail I couldn’t let out. “I’ll see you boys in the morning.” But would I live that long?

That is the question I lay awake with until the wee hours of the morning, unless I self-medicate with over-the-counter sleeping aids. And even then, I toss and turn, sitting upright to check my pulse on the heart rate monitor my wife insisted we purchase the day our insurance company decided it wasn’t going to cover my life- saving surgery.

On Jan. 2, I was diagnosed with Brugada syndrome, an incredibly rare genetic heart disease that sharply increases my chances of dropping dead from sudden cardiac arrest. That’s when your heart suddenly stops beating—not like a heart attack, where blood stops pumping to your heart and you’ve got some time for someone to bring you back to life. With cardiac arrest, someone must be performing CPR within mere seconds for you to have a remote chance to survive. That’s a lot of pressure for my twin 2- year-olds and my graphic designer wife to live under. And it’s quite a heavy wet blanket of fear for me to try to exist under. Though I’ve managed to face most days optimistically, I must admit that it’s been a struggle to keep that oft-seen smile throughout this ordeal.

Eleven months ago, I lost my good-natured 36-year-old brother, my only sibling, after a 15-week hospitalized battle with severe acute pancreatitis. I was by his side throughout it all, working with both the hospital and hospice to ensure he had the best care. I took on that role because four years prior to that, we lost my 61-year-old sweet father to either a heart attack or cardiac arrest. The men I loved most died far too young.

It would be far less stressful if I had a defibrillator implanted in my chest, which would shock my heart if I ever go into cardiac arrest. That’s the understood course of action for someone with Brugada syndrome: to surgically place an ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) inside the chest, wiring the heart with tech-savvy skill to send electrical shocks of power to jolt my heart back into normal rhythm. I’ve heard it’s much like a horse kicking you in the chest. I’ll take that over death any day.

So why did Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia decide mere days before my scheduled surgery in late January that my ICD “is not medically necessary” and merely “investigational?” Because some mystery determiner of my fate didn’t care for my results on one of the tests I had done in December called an EP study. The procedure, which was performed by my electrophysiologist, a respected cardiologist specializing in the electrical workings of the heart, involves threading two catheters from the groin to the heart and watching it on multiple screens while simultaneously injecting medicine meant to provoke abnormal rhythms in the heart. In other parts of the world, ajmaline is used. It’s not legal in the United States, so procainamide is used instead.

The EP study is just one way to view the inner workings of a person’s heart, but it is not the deciding factor for a diagnosis of Brugada syndrome. The American Heart Association, the Oxford Journal and Dr. Brugada have all published studies indicating that there are numerous Brugada patients who do not have a positive reaction to the EP study, and there are cases of false negatives as well. A more indicative factor for Brugada syndome is the unmistakable pattern on the EKG, which I have without a doubt. It’s a cove shape, recognizable at once to electrophysiologists and apparent to anyone else once their attention has been drawn to it. The Brugada pattern appears on multiple EKGs of mine. It is my understanding that no one has this distinctive pattern on their EKGs if they don’t have Brugada.

The specific EKG readings of a Brugada patient were discovered in the early ’90s by Dr. Ramon Brugada, a cardiologist from Spain, during his and his brother’s investigation into a dizzying number of sudden, unexplained deaths. It was a joyous moment, I’m sure, when the brothers realized that there was a link, not only on the EKGs of patients with Brugada, but also in a lot of other scientific evidence that you can read about on brugada.org, such as sodium channel blockers and even a possible gene mutation.

Since Dr. Brugada’s a-ha moment, the arrhythmia specialists the whole world over have been learning about this rare disease. Currently, it’s believed that 1 in 10,000 people have it, it’s inherited from one parent, it usually occurs in men, it’s most often seen in Southeast Asia, people who die from it tend to be around 40 years old, and it often strikes in the early morning while the person is sleeping. I’ll turn 36 on March 1, two days after the year anniversary of my brother’s death. I don’t want to die young. I want to watch my children grow up; to teach them to love to read and, from them, to glean patience and how to better enjoy the small details; to hold hands with my wife and share a watery glance when our boys graduate high school and then college; to help my brother’s children never forget their dedicated father who left this earth too soon; and to soak up the sunshine, walk on crisp leaves and welcome the stomach cramps from laughing with my friends.

I have a responsibility to myself and to my family to strive for living. And I believed that my insurance company had a responsibility to honor the comprehensive plan my self-employed wife and I have been earnestly shelling out hundreds of dollars for on a monthly basis.

But what has happened instead has surprised me. After I read the rejection letter from BCBS, I called my doctor’s office. They were as surprised as I was, though they’d received the letter a day before I had, and had already attempted on numerous occasions to get in touch with BCBS to demand answers, a peer-to-peer review (in which my doctor would speak to a doctor employed by BCBS) or to file an appeal. During the last two weeks of January, voicemails for the insurance company were left by my doctor’s office and by me amidst perilously long holding times, during which an automatic recording would say over and over that the long wait times were due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. One time, the recording told me that because of the Affordable Care Act and the increased call volume, they knew they’d be unable to answer my call that day and then I heard a dial tone. It was only 1 p.m. I was enraged and quite scared of the implications. Finally, during the first week of February, the wheels have slowly begun to turn as my electrophysiologist (EP) was at last able to speak to the doctor who turned me down for my ICD. And yet, that wasn’t enough. Because surprisingly, the doctor who decided my fate is not qualified in electrophysiology, but instead is a general cardiologist. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by thinking that this doctor likely does not know that much about my rare disease, and, of course, I’m reeling that he gets to decide whether or not I shall live based on something he isn’t informed about. My EP is now waiting for an electrophysiologist employed by Blue Cross Blue Shield to review my case.

Will I die waiting for a simple procedure that’s afforded to people with much more mild heart issues than mine because of this mysterious denial? If only my insurance company would listen to the extensive expertise of my personal doctor, the one who knows me better than anyone of the anonymous reviewers who aren’t immersed in specialty cases for rare life-threatening diseases like mine.

It does not seem to matter that I might have a familial history of sudden cardiac death or that I’ve had frequent bouts of dizziness and an unexplained galloping heartbeat. Why does an American company that doesn’t personally know me get to make money off of my hard-earned monthly premiums to what I thought was medical coverage in case of emergency while I sit here with my family wondering if this is my last breath? Sadly, I’m learning quickly that insurance isn’t guaranteed medical coverage at all, despite the slick speeches delivered by a president I still admire, but rather a sick and greedy conglomerate that takes and takes and takes, and sometimes doles out pennies for situations it cannot legally extricate itself from.

Since the denial, I’ve spent hours on the phone with attorneys and my doctor’s nurses and administrative team, as well as opening an investigation with the Insurance Commissioner of Georgia and filing my own personal appeal with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia. My doctor and his staff at Piedmont Heart, an affiliate of Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, Ga., continue to valiantly work to have my surgery authorized because my doctor believes—as six of his colleagues do—that I could drop dead at any moment because of this disease that may have also killed my father. But BCBS claims that, because of the Affordable Care Act, under which no American can ever be denied insurance, it cannot help me survive this deadly disease in a timely manner. And so I continue to wait in fear for the chance to live.

This article was first published on equallywed.com, and subsequently on Huffington Post and CNN.com.