This summer my brother Philip married his longtime sweetheart Emily. They chose to celebrate the start of their married life on the island of Maui.

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This summer my brother Philip married his longtime sweetheart Emily. They chose to celebrate the start of their married life on the island of Maui, much to the delight of everyone who attended. A couple weeks after Philip proposed to Emily (at 10,000 feet on a hike through the Grand Teton) they asked me if I would officiate their wedding ceremony. Now it was my turn to say, “Yes!”

In the months leading up to their big day, I got to feel all the excitement that came with being a big sister of the groom and also enjoy their wedding preparations through the eyes of a celebrant. Here are some of my favorite behind the scenes moments that went into the their wedding weekend celebration.

Lei Making
The day before the wedding, 4,500 plumeria blossoms were picked at sunrise on the island of Molokai, lovingly packed and brought to the airport. The fragrant flowers then made a 20 minute inter-island flight to Maui’s OGG where my father and daughter picked them up. The plumeria were then placed in the back of my dad’s ancient Mazda MPV minivan and driven “up the hill” to Makawao, the hippie cowboy town I grew up in, where family and close friends had gathered at my parents house.

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My mother taught the mainland-folk how to make a traditional Hawaiian lei, and then everyone spent the morning talking story, eating Komoda donuts and making enough leis for every guest who would be coming to the wedding.

On the morning of the wedding, my sisters and I got our hair and makeup done by a high school friend MeiLi Coon. Meili now heads the top beauty company in Hawaii, Meili Autumn Beauty. My daughter Elena even had some wings applied for the occasion. My mother taught the mainland-folk how to make a traditional Hawaiian lei, and then everyone spent the morning talking story, eating Komoda donuts and making enough leis for every guest who would be coming to the wedding.

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Zak Wass played the music, including an original song, “Paco the Lazy Cat” by my brother.

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Aloha! I welcomed everyone and talked about what it means to be a witness.

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Uncle Michael started the processional by blowing the conch shell three times, I knew it was coming, but it still gave me goosebumps.

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Adorable flower girl assisted by Grandma.

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Everyone waits for Emily’s arrival.

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Emily and her father walk down an aisle under a plumeria tree.

Philip and Emily exchanged leis with each other during the ceremony as a way to demonstrate their solemn promises to be partners for a lifetime as well as to adorn each other in their love. Emily’s lei was made of pikake, a traditional Hawaiian jasmine flower. Pikake is notoriously delicate and very fragrant. When a bride wears a pikake lei, it is another reminder of how precious life is.

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Emily’s lei was made of pikake, a traditional Hawaiian jasmine flower. Pikake is notoriously delicate and very fragrant. When a bride wears a pikake lei, it is another reminder of how precious life is.

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The highlight of the evening, the real stand out moment, was when Emily surprised everyone, especially her new husband Philip, by dancing a hula. All us locals agree, she nailed it!

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emily and philip cut their cake alisa tongg celebrant chelsea heller photography

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I can’t say enough about how wonderful it was to work with Chelsea Heller, who photographed Emily and Philip’s wedding. As a professional, she was on point unobtrusive and kind. Then when I saw her pictures and the moments she captured, I was blown away by the magic, the sparkle and the romance that came through too. I would absolutely recommend her to couples and families wanting important life moments documented in a loving way on the Valley Isle.