big island

Our Hawai'i Ranch Wedding | DIYs and Details

One of the things that made our wedding as special and memorable as it was, is that there were so many caring hands that went into bringing it to life. This wasn't only practical for us (because it cut costs where we needed them cut so that we could give a little more to the areas of our budget that we had prioritized financially), but it was also a way to make so many of the details meaningful — they weren't just pretty things we rented, or bought, or saw pinned on Pinterest...they were made by people we loved who loved us and wanted to gift us their time and energy.

So here are some of our favorite Wedding DIY's

Save-the-Dates and Invitations | At the time when these needed to be designed, I think I fancied myself a graphic designer (I'm not), so I basically taught myself a few Photoshop skills, said a quick prayer, and tried my best! And you know what? They turned out to be exactly what we wanted: simple, fun, and way less expensive than they would have been had we gone through one of the usual print shops. We printed the exact amount we needed through VistaPrint, bought some leather chord and a hole punch from Michaels down the street, assembled, stamped and sent those babies out!

If you're feeling creative, and if you have the time and patience, then this is definitely something I would recommend doing to lower your costs. Just be sure you're not looking for something too fancy like printing white lettering, or hand-cutting, because come on.

Florals and Centerpieces | There were quite a few hands that went into making our centerpieces. For the months leading up to our wedding, Nate and I drank a lot of milk since our grocery store carries Straus Family Creamery brand and those were the bottles I wanted to use as our vases. (Pro tip: check to see if your grocery store will take the bottles back for your glass deposit. Ours does!) My mom and stepdad also turned old wooden crates that they found into little square risers by cutting them down to about 10x10 and nailing them together (this wasn't the only wood working they did either. They also made dessert table risers out of a tree trunk!).

For the florals (which were all based around this photo I found on Pinterest), I knew I wanted to cut back on costs by ordering loose bunches of flowers instead of full arrangements. I found an awesome and affordable local florist I absolutely loved who was happy to provide us with all the loose flowers and greenery we needed for the centerpieces (these were the same types of flowers she used when creating our bridal bouquets, boutonnieres, flower crowns, and hanging garlands), and I also sourced some extra protea and greenery from a local protea farmer. Then our amazingly talented and generous friends spent the rainy morning of our wedding tucked under the reception pavilion making floral arrangements!

Lavender to toss | If you take look through some of the photos in my first wedding post, you might notice pretty little specks in the ones where Nate and I are walking back down the aisle after the ceremony. I wish you could smell as well as see, because if you could it would smell lovely.

My mom had the idea of tossing fresh Maui lavender after the ceremony instead of the typical rice (which wouldn't be the best for the birds) or anything that would cause trash, like confetti (because, outdoors). So somehow between making a million desserts (see below), she ordered a bunch of lavender, and mobilized a tiny army to make 100 little vintage paper pockets in which to hold it all. These pockets were placed on each seat during the ceremony, and Nate and I got a fragrant rain fall of flowers as we walked down the aisle.

I have a great photo of my sister picking lavender buds out of my hair right after the ceremony, and I found some that had fallen down my dress later that night. Probably why I smelled so good.

Favors | My mom and little sister/bridesmaid took the lead on creating our adorable favors, and I love the way they turned out! Somewhere along the planning process, the idea was tossed around to give away coffee and tea as favors to our guests. Seemed like a no-brainer, really: I'm a coffee drinker from an island that grows some of the best coffee in the world, and Nate is a tea drinker whose dad's side of the family comes from a region in southern China that grows delicious teas.

From there, my mom and sister helped to choose some great Big Island coffee to give away, and Nate parted with some of his favorite mini blocks of tea he brought back from his last trip. They divided them out so that our guests had a choice of one or the other (it always seems more fun when you have a choice of goodies), vacuumed sealed them, and stuffed them into little muslin pouches with tags that noted our wedding date. Then they found these great wire baskets to hold them in. Nate penned the sign (which now hangs above our kitchen sink), and our favors were fun, beautiful and ready to go!

Yard Games | One of the many reasons we chose Puakea Ranch as our venue was that it was as far from glass skyscrapers and hot asphalt as we could get. Instead, we had old plantation cottages, gardens, pools, and nicely sized lawns. And we definitely wanted to take advantage of them. Since I couldn't figure out how to manage giving folks the option of going for a swim during our ceremony or reception (but wouldn't you want to be at that wedding?), we settled on providing yard games and picnic blankets to really help us create the feel that this was a casual, intimate event. Nothing formal or stuffy to be found.

Instead, guests were encouraged to grab one of the colorful blankets I begged, borrowed and stole, cop a squat poolside or under the mango tree, and choose which game to play to entertain themselves (and their kids!) with during pupu/cocktail hour. We offered croquet, corn-hole, bocce ball, and a giant tic-tac-toe. (Okay, I didn't steal the blankets. I had a bunch, borrowed some more, and also bought a few which I gave away to family as a thank you for all their help with the wedding.)

All the games were either built by family members or were borrowed from them for the wedding. What I love most is that my niece and nephews helped to make a lot of them — including painting that awesome wave and surfer on the corn-hole box that my stepdad built!

Signage | Never let it be said that I didn't marry a talented guy. During the week leading up to the wedding, while I sorted flowers fresh from the farm, and organized baskets and supplies with my niece, Nate spent his time elbow deep in paint, hand-lettering signs. Between my mom, sisters, and my stepdad-the-builder, we had all the materials we needed for a directional sign pointing to Oakland (where Nate's from), Honomu (where I'm from), the ceremony, the reception, the food, and the bathroom (in several different languages), the games sign, the bar sign, and little tiny dessert signs to go on the dessert bar.

I think it added a really fun and homegrown element to the day. Among so many other things I love about him, Nate's an artist. And it was great to be able to incorporate his touch in all sorts of different places on our wedding.

Pupu's (appetizers) + Dessert Bar | I wish I had photos of our appetizers and desserts and I don't because we were obviously too busy stuffing our faces with all the deliciousness. Seriously, one of the most frequent comments we get about our wedding to this day remains how good the food was, how amazing the appetizers were, how many desserts everyone had to choose from. The secret? Stick to your favorite foods, especially if it's family cooking, and always listen to your mother.

We did sort of a mix of both for our wedding. For the pupu's, we asked my brother-in-law if he could make smoked meat (pork), which I grew up eating, will die eating, and maintain that over steamed rice there may not be a whole lot that's better in the world. We also served our favorite poke (raw fish salad) like shoyu ahi poke, spicy poke, and mussels poke, picked up fresh from Foodland — because when you know, you know. Then we had our amazing caterer who did all of our dinner items provide a few extra appetizers as well, just to round it out. All I can remember about the apps is having our day-of coordinator hand me a plate stacked high with poke, soy beans, smoked meat and lemongrass chicken skewers right after we finished taking photos, and me, shoveling them in. Maybe whoever said you won't get a chance to eat at your own wedding wasn't super excited about their menu?

And it's hard to even begin to talk about the desserts and all the love and heart and everythinggoodyoucouldpossiblythinkofintheworld that went into them. My mom made almost all of our desserts. All nine of them. For nearly a hundred guests. After months of testing recipes on my family, and spending the entire pre-wedding week baking up a confectioners storm, this is what she served for our dessert bar:

Hummingbird Cake (our wedding cake) Lemon Lavender Bars Cardamom Cake with Coffee Glaze Orange Blossom Cake Lilikoi Cream Cheese Bars Coconut Pie Bacardi Rum Cake Bibinka (Filipino Coconut Rice Dessert) Banana Bread with Chocolate and Nuts

And probably because who could say no to more goodness, one of my best friends also made red velvet cupcakes with butter cream frosting, and double chocolate brownies.

Wedding food, my friends. It can and should be spectacular.

Bar | We decided on a self-serve open bar because that's Nate's (and everyones?) favorite kind at a wedding. To make it happen, we enlisted the help of my mother and sister (who sourced beautiful vintage-looking beverage dispensers and found vintage wooden crates for risers), our caterer (who provided the non-alcoholic drinks like lilikoi lemonade), my dad (who hauled a truckload of ice from the harbor up to the ranch), and our friends (who concocted our signature drink). Those cute marquee letters of our initials came from the bookshelf in our apartment, and before that, Target circa 3 years ago. My favorite cousin — and any friends or members of my family who found themselves near the bar when supplies were getting low — played the crucial role of ensuring that the tin of cold beer, sodas and ice, as well as the dispensers of our signature drink stayed well stocked.

Given how it was surrounded at all moments, I'm pretty sure the bar was a huge hit. Even though we over-bought the booze. By like, a lot. I mean, we still have some left over...

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At the end of the day, a wedding is not only what you make it, but it's who you involve in it. It's a celebration of your love, and it's also a celebration of everything that brought you together, that made you the people you are today so that you could stand in front of one another and your community and make your promises.

For Nate and I, that foundation came from our families and friends. And there was just no having a wedding without them playing such an important role. We truly would not be where we are today without them, and we definitely wouldn't have had the wedding we had without them either.

For vendor and photography information, see my first wedding post.

Our Hawai'i Ranch Wedding | One Year Later

The best moment of my entire wedding day had to be when Nate — my partner of 11 years turned husband for all of 4 hours — leaned over to wrap me up in a bear hug on the dance floor and whispered, "This is the best night of my life." 

Now, on our one year anniversary, I thought I'd share a bit more about our Big Day, and some of the ways we tried to make it as special as possible.

Prior to our wedding, a lot of people told me that the day would pass by in a sort of blur, and that I'd have to be really intentional about taking in each moment, making time for each guest, eating. And I'm sure there are weddings where that's all very true — where everything feels like it's going by so fast and that there aren't enough hours to savor it all, to make everyone feel as special as they've made you feel, and to sort of bask in the glow of all the amazingness going on around you.

But that wasn't really my experience.

basked, people. I had an absolute blast celebrating this huge milestone with so many of our family and friends. While we may have run over time here or forgotten to do something there, it never felt that way, and I think that's the important part — when it came down to it, I loved every inch of our wedding day (give or take a freak wind/rainstorm that we won't ever mention) from start to finish because it was so genuinely us.

I think what helped was that, as we began planning our wedding, Nate and I knew right off the bat where some of our Big List Priorities were, and those few but important things helped guide everything that came after that.

We wanted a venue that ticked off all of our boxes | And thank God we found it! Now, if I'm perfectly honest, I did originally harbor dreams of a super intimate Yosemite elopement, but because I married a man who loves nothing more than a big party, we had to compromise somewhere. So I played my "must get married in the country" card, and Nate was pretty solid on wanting to get married on my home island. We also knew that we didn't want it to be the typical Hawai'i beach wedding because that never really felt like who we are. And we definitely wanted our family and close friends around not just for the ceremony and reception, but for the days surrounding the wedding too. So, 1) a country venue, 2) that wasn't the beach, and 3) could house 20-ish people for a few days as well as host the wedding and reception.

Oh hey, Puakea Ranch.

This place had it all: a beautiful reception pavilion overlooking a pool, pastures and the ocean in the distance, 5 different accommodations for our family and friends, farm fresh eggs and a garden you could gather veggies and herbs from, and there was even a horse! He came to our wedding too, and looked beautiful in his lei.

The venue was one of the big factors that made the wedding what it was. It didn't only offer an incredibly laid back and picturesque backdrop for the ceremony and reception, but so many of the people who loved got to spend the days surrounding the wedding hanging out at one of the 3 pools, BBQing, and motoring around the ranch of a golf cart.

I'm not sure I could have imagined getting married anywhere else. Not even Yosemite (maybe).

Our ceremony needed to reflect us rather than tradition-for-traditions-sake | The first thing we did when planning our ceremony was ask one of our closest friends to officiate. He was Nate's roommate when Nate and I began dating back in college, and remains one of our best friends today despite the fact that we have to travel to see one another (which we have been doing at least twice a year for almost a decade). He's always one of the first to know any of our big news, and even helped Nate to coordinate our surprise engagement! We just knew from the second we started talking Wedding that we wanted someone that really knew us, someone we know will always be in our lives, and someone that will always support our marriage, to be the one helping us to take this next step.

The second thing we did was make sure that the language of the ceremony was inclusive of our different faiths, our history and humor, and our families. We did this by incorporating special moments into the ceremony, like honoring the memory of my late grandfather (a rockbed in my life) and our families by gifting them with lei. We also offered each other our own, personal promises, and worked together to create common vows that we recited as well.

I think any and all wedding ceremonies are beautiful, no matter what you add to them or decide to set aside. As long as you both feel truly represented, and that what's said and done are honest reflections of what's in your heart, then it's all exactly how it should be.

We wanted our family and friends to be involved | Nate and I wouldn't be who we are without our community. So when we were planning our wedding, it was no surprise to us that everyone we loved chipped in. It's not easy planning a "destination wedding", so we couldn't have been more grateful for my family who took it upon themselves to do so much research and so much scouting. My older sister — a wedding coordinator and my matron of honor — also helped me to plan the entire wedding week down to a minute-by-minute schedule. And my mother spent months testing recipes until she came up with 9 different desserts and made enough for the dessert bar to feed all 100 wedding guests!

And these amazingly thoughtful and generous acts of love just barely scrape the surface of all the ways people helped Nate and I to have the most special day. There are so many to name that it'll take up a blog post all on its own, so stay tuned for a post specifically sharing all our Wedding DIYs and Details coming soon!

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Venue: Puakea Ranch, Kohala, Hawai'i // Bride's dress: Elizabeth Dye's Dunaway Gown // Bridal boutique: Alt.Brides, San Francisco, CA // Bride's shoes: Bryr Clogs (ceremony), Minnetonka moccasins (reception) // Hair + Makeup: Mara McMichael // Planning: Sister of the Bride // Officiant: Close Friend of the Bride + Groom // Florals: Grace Flowers (loose stems, hanging garlands, bouquets, flower crowns, boutonnieres and petal scatter) and Absolutely Protea (loose protea stems) // Yard games: Bride's Stepdad, Mother, Niece and Nephews // Rentals: Hawaii Island Events // Set-up and Breakdown: Family of the Bride, Friends // Pupu's (Appetizers): Bride's Brother-in-Law, and Color Catering // Dinner: Color Catering // Dessert bar: Mother and Friend of the Bride // Favors: Sister of the Bride (muslin bags of Big Island coffee + Chinese tea) // Decor: Bride's Stepdad (centerpiece risers), Friends (flower arrangements and centerpieces), Groom (signage) // Bar: Friends (signature drinks and decor), Father of the Bride (supplies) // Music: Hawaii Sound + Vision // Photography: Whitney S. Boykin (gifted)

Take Her to the Islands

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If you were to ask me where my favorite place on earth was, I'd give you tons of different answers. County Clare in Ireland. Vancouver, British Columbia. Seattle, Washington. A little house at the mouth of a valley in Abel Tasman National Park, Aotearoa (New Zealand). But if you were to ask me which of these places touches me most deeply, which is the one place I could never do without, it would and will always be the Big Island.

I know I'm home from the second I step off the plane. The air smells different there. The trade winds feel different from all the other winds in the world. My skin has this sense of knowing. I'm home. I'm here. I'm connected again to everything.

I grew up in a little plantation village about 20 minutes north of Hilo on the wet side of the island. There are less than 600 people in my town, but there's a beautiful waterfall just a little ways up the mountain. This town isn't where my Native Hawaiian ancestors are from — our family is traditionally from the Ka'u district farther south — but it's the place I always return to. Old buildings still standing from the days when the sugar mill was running, now with paint peeling from their sides. The same people sitting on the benches outside of the general store drinking coffee and reading the paper, keeping track of the goings on and sharing the news with familiar faces. My grandmother, who can still recall the names and locations of the plantation camps from when she was young, some of which have been swallowed now by pasture lands and untended cane fields.

Nate and I went back for a quick visit a few weeks ago to see my family, to see the islands, and to see one of my oldest friends get married.

The first day we arrived was my grandmother's birthday, and it meant so much to be able to spend most of the day with her, and then celebrate her at a dinner out with my entire family. It's always fun when the 15-17 of us get together because, as Nate always says, we're kind of a crazy bunch. We're definitely always the loudest in a restaurant, there are usually kids going in between our tables to talk to an aunty, Nana or Tutu Pa, and I can always count on at least three instances when someone in my family will know either a member of the restaurant staff, or other customers. So I was completely unsurprised when we heard "Uncle!" shouted out as we're walking in to be seated and my dad turns around to see his niece standing there, or when my grandmother started chatting with a woman in the buffet line who turns out to be someone she's known for three decades, or when my older sister leans over and points out a guy who's on her husband's soccer team and who also sold her their current car. This is something I'm proud of, really, since at heart I am nothing if not a small town girl.

The rest of our week was spent intentionally slowing down and hanging out with family, something I'd been missing for months. We made it to the beach on a particularly sunny day to clumsily (but hilariously) try some paddle boarding, Nate went throw net fishing with my brother-in-law, I couldn't miss going to the Merrie Monarch Craft Fairs with my sisters — so many amazing Hawaiian makers and products, and I'll be sharing my favorite purchase a little later this month! — and watching the Merrie Monarch Festival itself of course. And then we made our way to Maui for an amazing wedding.

Being home is always a reminder to me that, though I seem to forget this often enough, life doesn't need to run at a breakneck speed. I don't have to be on all the time, producing, producing, producing and never stopping to rest until I have no choice. In fact, turning off and tuning in turned out to be exactly what I needed after weeks of feeling a bit run ragged back in the mainland.

I know that my version of Hawai'i — a good amount of rain, a few great beach days, a sleepy rural town, lots of naps, hanging out with my mom's cats — isn't necessarily what we tend to think of when we think vacation, but I think it might be pretty similar to what lots of people think of when they think home. I always come home in search of something, and always leave feeling filled up again (and, yeah, pretty homesick). It might be being around family. It might be physically reconnecting with this particular island after so many months away.

But it's probably a bit of both. Family and connection — always what I need to re-center. It's just one of the many reasons I'm so grateful to call the Big Island home.