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Posts from the ‘Real Sweetgrass Weddings’ Category

Fall Weddings in Tucson

Yes, it is Spring! A beautiful time for weddings in the desert, with all the trees and cacti a bloomin’ their hearts out. But couples planning fall weddings, you are busy people right now! So I’m writing this post for you, many of whom I’m meeting to envision fall ceremonies. This video gives glimpses of a September 2014 wedding I had the honor to co-create with Elise and Scott and their families. From the moment we first met on the patio at Cup Cafe, to the funny moments at rehearsal, to the tear-filled time when this Groom first saw his radiant Bride, I was thrilled to be with them.

One element of their wedding I enjoyed creating with them was a unity ritual in the form of a citrus tree planting. Since Scott is a landscaper, it only made sense to bring a tree into the mix. And fall is a good time for planting! Here is an excerpt from their ceremony:

Before you exchange rings, we will witness you share in a unity ritual, to further symbolize your connection. We have a citrus tree, which represents fidelity and love in many belief systems. In addition, both of you believe that we come from nature. You will add soil and nutrients to this decorative container, thereby covering its roots and completing the planting. Please go ahead and do this, as I speak words and a blessing about what this ritual represents:

Just as you feed and water this tree, be sure to find ways each day to protect, affirm, and nourish each other, and to treasure the ways in which your oneness bears fruit. Enjoy the intertwining of your growth within your closeness, like the roots with the soil. May God bless you in your rootedness; and may we all bless this tree as it symbolizes your unity!”

And for the delicious eye-candy that beats any little quotes from a ceremony I can muster, you must see this video, created by Blacksheep Filmworks in Tucson. Enjoy!

Tubac-Elise & Scott from Stepheny Keith on Vimeo.

Stories + humor + honesty = Heartfelt Wedding

Sometimes I work with couples whose connection and their families become particularly well-etched into my heart. This couple, Jill and Eric, are a beaming example of this heartfelt etching. Their ceremony happened all the way back at the end of August (okay, somebody please tell me where the autumn went?) and I’m happy to share a few pieces of it with you today.

unnamed-1We worked over the course of six months or so to co-create their wedding long distance. They live abroad and for many reasons, chose to have a destination wedding in Tucson. We met via Skype and felt instantly at ease with each other and enjoyed our conversations. When we finally met in person over the summer, it felt like we’d known each other for a long time. What did I enjoy so much about working them? Their love of stories, their humor and their intrepid honesty. These three ingredients, in my humble opinion, are the natural forces that made their ceremony shine. All I did was reflect their adventurous hearts back to them during the narrative of their wedding. And this is how their guests felt so close to the experience, too. Every word we spoke was honest and true – to who they are as a couple – and to who they love in the world.

It was mighty important to both Jill and Eric that their families and closest friends, almost all of whom travelled from afar to be at this event, would feel involved, connected and uplifted by the experience. Turns out, according to their guests, we achieved that multi-faceted goal. Nothing could make me happier than for everybody present to feel more connected and in love with life after a ceremony I guide! As Jill shared, she had never seen all of her friends and family so attentive as in this photo below . . .

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I loved gathering pieces of story from their Couple Reflections and weaving them together into a coherent and meaningful experience. They shared their experiences openly, even the tough stuff. And I’m always grateful when this happens. Here is a passage from the body of the ceremony:

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“You both understand that marriage takes work and you do not enter this commitment lightly. You both know you’ve received many gifts in your first 31 years of life and having a partner to share your life with is one of the greatest gifts of all. You trust that belief in God, in something bigger than you both combined, will help you get through the tough times. You both acknowledge there will exist opportunities for you to grow individually and as a couple.

You know that when you are truly trusting and living in your wholehearted connection, your bond will strengthen. You will be able to get through anything while you grow older together, as long as you are present for each other. As you say Jill, “Our marriage will strengthen so long as we learn together, grow together and experience life’s gifts together.”

And here is a reading that the Groom’s Sister shared; lyrics from a John Lennon song called ‘Grow Old with Me’ (proof that wedding readings can be more than the tired worn out stuff you hear all too often!):

Grow old along with me

The best is yet to be

When our time has come

We will be as one

God bless our love


Grow old along with me

Two branches of one tree

Face the setting sun

When the day is done

God bless our love


Grow old along with me

Whatever fate decrees

We will see it through

For our love is true

God bless our love

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Thank you, Jill & Eric! May God bless your love, always.

All beautiful photos are courtesy of Krista Rae Photography. Thank you, Krista Rae!

Floral design by the awesomely talented crew at La Fleur Plantscapes in Tucson. (I heart these women.)

Venue of course, the scenic JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort . One-of-a-kind Tucson Mountain gem.

A Blended Family Unity Ritual

“How do we include our children in the wedding?”

This is a question I hear from couples who are choosing to marry a second or third time and blend their families from prior marriages. It’s a simple question that can be handled mindfully and respectfully to children of any and all ages, from young ones to adults.

This colorful handfasting cord is an example of an answer I co-created with a merging family this spring:

Six colors represent each family member.

Six colors represent each family member.

After the ring exchange, I introduced the family unity ritual by saying:

“Before we close with the highly anticipated kiss, we are going to witness a Family Unity Ritual. This ritual further and symbolically affirms your pledges and the ring exchange, along with the participation of your whole family, who stands beside you during this ceremony. This is an adaptation of a handfasting, an ancient Celtic ritual wherefrom the saying “to tie the knot” came.


For this family version, each of you have chosen a color of ribbon to symbolize who you are, with six ribbons total. You will keep this handfasting cord in a visible place in your home, getting it out to renew vows or just fondly recall this day. The colors represent you as follows:


Kayla – yellow; Gracie – pink; Sydney – blue; Nick – green; Andy – red; and Michelle – white.


Please place your hands together now, Michelle and Andy. Each of your children will make a loop around your hands with the ribbons, saying a wish to you as they do. Please come forward and step in one at a time to place the ribbon gently . . . (Each child, from youngest to oldest, stepped in to gently wrap the ribbons one time around couples’ interwoven hands and speak their gratitude or good wishes to them. . .)

IMG_3272 Celebrant: Thank you, good work! Now that you are ‘tied’ together in love, I will say a closing blessing on behalf of all your guests present, based upon your hopes for your future:


“Andy and Michelle, now that you have chosen to live in marriage as a family,

may you continue to enjoy the foundation of unconditional love you have built.

May you put each other first, finding time to laugh and cry with one another;

May you continue raising your children in a healthy and nurturing environment;

May you realize a life full of love, fun, travel and exploration!

And we wish that some day far, far into the future

You feel the contentment of looking into each other’s eyes,

Knowing fully the pure joy of living your dreams together!”   

And with that, as the guests all rose to share a community pronouncement declaring the couple as “Mr. & Mrs”, the music played and all the kids processed out of the chapel with their Mom and Dad, plus helped them ring the chapel bells. It was a ceremony I will always hold dear in my heart, where everyone felt connected and SO joyful! 

Love wine? You’ll love this wedding.

Sometimes, by way of a Couple’s Reflection process, a custom unity ritual will emerge through stories or shared passions they describe to me. Other times, it is clear from the beginning what kind of unity ritual will add depth to the ceremony. And this was the case with an entirely wine-themed wedding I had the joy to be a part of last fall.

0200Ryan and Kylee chose the warm and inviting atmosphere of Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch and Resort for their wedding. It is one of those special places in Tucson, where upon arriving you feel a relaxing sense of “ahhhh, I’m home.” The people are so welcoming and the outdoor and indoor spaces are all comfortable, with just the right presence of southwestern touches. Nothing feels ostentatious or over done.

Because this travel loving and adventurous couple enjoys learning about and sharing wines together, they chose to have a wine motif throughout their celebration. Naturally, their unity ritual involved drinking wine, too! Here is a fun glimpse into what it looked like (thanks to Chris Richards Photography), along with a little excerpt from their ceremony included below.


Blending Wine in a Unity Ritual

Blending Wine in a Unity Ritual

Here’s how I worded the passage that went with this ritual:

“One facet of marriage is to achieve a blending of hearts and lives, while still recognizing and nurturing the individual growth of the other. Through this awareness, you build a robust marriage while you respect the life and spirit of each individual. A wine sharing ritual represents this blending in a symbolic way.

 Kylee, you’ve chosen a white sweet wine, to symbolize the bright and lightly joyful experiences in life; tempered with the humility and honesty of knowing life isn’t always perfect. Ryan, you’ve chosen a full-bodied red wine, to symbolize the care and deep work of marriage; tempered with the reality of the hardships that may occur when living life to the fullest. Your glasses are full and ready for you to enjoy, just as your hearts are full on this day. Go ahead and sip individually from your glass. After you’ve done this, please pour your wines into this third glass – to make a symbolic blend.

 (They sip from their own glass, before pouring into third glass to make a blend.) Before you drink your blended wine, let’s look at what you’ve created!

 (Groom holds up the blend for guests to see while Kristine explains . . .)

 You’ve combined your wines into a beautiful Rose, an emblematic blending of your hearts and lives; the joy and the work, into a delicious combination. Please each take a long sip from this blended glass now, knowing as you do, we wish for your joys to become more intense and your burdens lighter, because you will experience all of these together.

 (Couple takes turn sipping the blend they made.)

I’ll always remember the way the light came through the Palo Verde trees and made the wine glow, along with Ryan and Kylee’s faces. They totally beamed love to each other! These kind of moments are definitely what make life worth living. So vivid, true and heartfelt! Congratulations to you Mr. and Mrs. Blue. I hope you continue to enjoy sharing wines and the adventures of marriage for many, many years to come! Thanks for having me be a part of your meaningful autumn celebration.



With gratitude,


Winter Weddings in Tucson

In the desert, winter weddings are attractive for many reasons – both indoors and outdoors. In Tucson especially, we enjoy mild temperatures with gorgeous skies and often dramatic afternoon sunsets. While I’m hearing from many couples who are currently planning their winter or early spring weddings,  I thought showcasing  a real wedding from last January would be a timely and inspirational post!

Upon our first meeting, I felt completely smitten with this couple and their extremely loving and natural presence with each other. Amidst the beauty of these photos from uber talented photographer Amanda Rockafellow, I’ll add a few highlights from the ceremony we co-created.


The ceremony and reception were both held at historic Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch & Resort, in the courtyard. (We had a tent, just in case wind and rain entered the picture.) You can see the genuine love and care expressed in everyone’s faces here during the presentation . . . a moment that left me covered in goosebumps. What I appreciated deeply about being involved in this couple’s preparations AND the day-of experience was the profound sense of authenticity in their connection, as well as their gratitude for everyone surrounding them; the people who collectively influenced who they are today. They created a whole weekend experience for their guests and themselves; a series of events I could feel radiated with this appreciation and shared sense of connection.


Guest participation was very important to their custom wedding experience. The Bride’s parents came up together and her father read a message of thanks, along with the Lord’s Prayer. I led an ‘Asking’ and remembrance, where I asked both sets of families to please rise and offer their blessings and support to the couple. The Groom’s Aunt read a passage from Joseph Campbell about marriage. And to top it all off, the whole entire body of guests participated in a community toast after their first married kiss. Of course, there were non-alcoholic beverages involved for the young people, too! We all raised our glasses to toast “To Love and Happiness” based on a ritual the couple has shared together since they began dating.

toast setup

The theme that arose from the time I spent with them and their responses to my Couple Reflections was balancing each other with gentle hearts. I found the medieval idea of a ‘gentle heart’ entirely resonated with their bond. It is not a “fluffy starry-eyed kind of love” I shared during the ceremony, yet a “true and honorable commitment, a tenderly yielding and spacious kind of love.” The touchstone, for their partnership. It feels palpable in this gorgeously timeless photo, don’t you think?

Look of love!

Oh I could go on and on about the fabulousness of this ceremony experience – yet will stop myself there! I do believe everyone – including and most importantly, the Bride and Groom – had a most splendid time at this winter time celebration of family, commitment and love. Even though the weather became a tad dramatic in the afternoon, mother nature offered an unbelievable canvas for photos like this rooftop view.


As I look back over the past year, my heart is brimming over with gratitude for being a part of genuinely creative and expressive wedding celebrations like this one. Each completely unique. Every one a new experience for me as I co-create with aware and mindful couples stepping into marriage. And as I’m reflecting upon this particular wedding, I think winter may just be my favorite time of year for weddings in Tucson!

all guests

Custom Sand Blending Ritual Ideas

Have you seen the unadorned and not terribly relevant Sand Blending Ritual happen one too many times during weddings? This is something I hear from couples often. It’s no wonder, because it is a fairly simple ritual to put into a ceremony. Plus, there are countless spiffy sand blending kits out there for sale!

Despite any sand blending ennui I hear, options for truly customizing the ritual and creating an experience suited to who you are as a couple do exist. A wedding I just led in May lends a good example of this. The Bride and Groom enjoy being outdoors, including two activities in particular: hiking and beaching. They also LOVE and appreciate their families big time. These values all surfaced repeatedly throughout both of their responses to my Sweetgrass Ceremonies Couple Reflections.

So what did we co-create for a Unity Ritual?

You guessed it! A custom sand blending to reflect their love of meaningful outdoor places in their love story and appreciation for family.

Here is what it looked like before the ceremony:

Leah and Robert's Sand Blending Ingredients

Leah and Robert’s Sand Blending Ingredients


All six symbolic sands in a beautiful pattern.

All six symbolic sands in a beautiful pattern.

And so how, are you wondering, did we come up with this fun version of the ritual?

Here is a ceremony excerpt to explain what you see:

“You’ve chosen to blend sand because of how it represents the entwining of your families and your souls. As you pour each grain of sand into this shadow box, you symbolize how your lives become transformed today: forever combined.

Additionally, because your families are very close to your hearts, your parents will pour sand as well. The display they create illustrates how together, your families will create new patterns of family life in the days and years ahead. Lori and Greg, Donna and Bob, would you please come forward?

 First you will pour your sands as parents, the people who have set the foundation for Robert and Leah’s lives and what they know to be valuable in their own relationship. Lori and Greg, the sand you will pour comes from your home in Flagstaff. Donna and Bob, your sand comes from your home in Fontana, California. Go ahead and begin pouring now . . .

 {Music begins by Harpist: “One Hand, One Heart” by Bernstein and parents pour their sands. . .} 

Wonderful! And now our couple of honor each has sand from places dear to them: Mt. Lemmon where the first hiked and fell in love, as well as Hawaii, where they went on their first vacation together. They have green and purple sand mixed in there, too, for keeping it all lively and colorful like the wedding colors! Go ahead and begin pouring now . . .

 (Couple pours sands. . .)

 What a beautiful work of art you’ve created together! Thanks parents, you may take your seats again. Robert and Leah, keep this blending of sands in your home and enjoy it as a reminder of experiencing this ritual with your parents, plus the new and exciting patterns of living you have ahead of you!”

Do you have examples or stories of how you have customized this kind of ritual to suit your interests and values? If so, please share. I’d love to hear from you and I’m sure others would enjoy finding creative ideas.

A Persian Wedding in the Sonoran Desert

In April, I witnessed a family’s Persian wedding customs . . . immediately following the American style wedding I co-created with the Bride and Groom. We celebrated with these two ceremonies at the scenic Quail Creek Country Club in Green Valley, Arizona. Being the ceremony enthusiast I am, you might guess I was pretty over the moon about this! And you are correct.

First I must plainly say wow! There is some raise-the-roof NOISE generated by folks during the Persian ceremony and I LOVED IT. I want to figure out more alternatives to couples for bringing their guests the chance to get on their feet and enjoy themselves with their whole beings.


I’ll set my enthusiasm into some context with this statement: I think guest participation is VITAL to an uplifting ceremony experience. (I’ll try not to digress, though.)

The music, the singing and chanting, the clapping, the wedding party entrance with sheer exuberance . . . if that’s not enough then get ready for the symbolism. There is a whole array to feast upon. I got a tour of the altar from the Bride’s Mom, who assembled it with love. She positively beamed in her floor length sparkling dress as she explained everything to me. I’ll attempt a recap in a very brief way here.

As you can see in the photo, the Bride and Groom sit facing the altar and all the goodies upon it during the ceremony. The important women relatives and bridal party rub together fabric covered sugar cones and sprinkle this on the couple’s heads, to bring them sweetness and happiness.

The couple faces into a large mirror so they can see how well they are surrounded with love and enjoy the images of light reflected by the candles, to symbolically light their way into the future. Once the Bride removes her veil, this image is ritually ‘the first time the Groom sees his Bride’. Obviously, there exists deeper symbolism than I can begin to fully explain. Here are a few highlights:


Fertility: Represented in the bejeweled eggs, golden walnuts and greens.

Joyous Future: Represented by the apples, the connection to Divine.

Wealth: Represented by the jewels.

Sustenance: Represented by the flat bread and the milk.

Lighting way into Future: Represented in the candlelight, near the mirror.

Sweetness in Life: Although you can’t see it here, there was a glass vessel full of honey, into which the Bride and Groom both dipped their pinky fingers and put into each other’s mouths. (This caused a big joyous uproar amongst the guests!)


My favorite part of this whole experience happened when the man who led this portion of the ceremony came up to me SO excitedly after the ‘American’ ceremony and before the part he led and said, “I totally enjoyed your ceremony. You said everything I will say in Farsi during this version of a wedding. You see? It is all the same, isn’t? For it is only about LOVE!”

Thank you, Kevin and Nassim. I loved being a part of your very special celebration.

Wedding with Terminally Ill Parent?

Should we wait or should we hold the wedding with this special person present?

First, I acknowledge this is not an easy conversation to have or even a consideration any couple wants to make. And yet, with a growing number of mature people becoming wed later in life, aging parents are part of reality. I witness couples making decisions intrepidly, when situations unfold around a terminally ill parent or other family member. I’ve led brief ceremonies in ICU units or at homes — when the timing is urgent — yet perspectives are grounded. Since I’m finding little written on the topic, I hope this post will add to a dialogue that hopefully grows.

Candle light and shells were important elements in the ceremony.

Candle light and shells were important elements in the ceremony.

This month I led a living room wedding ceremony with a brave and brilliant Mother of the Bride present, who was living her final days in home hospice care. The experience felt surreal at times. It also prompted me to share a few ideas about what I respect as a very personal decision making process. These are relevant questions if you or someone you know is wedding planning in the wake of terminal illness:

Do we choose love or fear? The family with whom I led this recent wedding stared this question right in the face. They chose love; to have a wedding with those they hold dearest, along with a healthy dose of respect for an inevitable course of events they could not change. Choosing love meant asking each other tough questions about who needed what and how they would each be involved.

Whom do we ask to be present? Simplicity reigns supreme here. Keeping the guest list limited to the utmost inner-circle, especially when the person nearing the end of his or her life needs minimal to no external stimulation, is key.

When do we move a set wedding date forward? Do we cancel or keep the original date? Obviously, this involves countless variables. Venue reservations, vendors under contract, guests’ travel plans and so on might be just the beginning. Moving a wedding closer in time to involve an intimate circle of people — most importantly the person who is terminally ill — does involve being creative and taking risks. If a true ceremony is held where the couple and everyone in attendance knows marriage occurred, not just a ‘show’ for the sake of photos or egos, then another wedding ceremony itself may not be necessary. A wider circle of family and friends attending a reception and celebration later, though? Could be just what everyone would appreciate and enjoy.

What kind of ceremony or celebration is fitting? Again: think simplicity. Involving soft music and the elements (candles, water, soothing scents) may be more appropriate than usual. Keeping voices soft and messages brief are also important aspects. For the ceremony I mentioned earlier, I shared a family poem of deep meaning, written by the Mother of the Bride and read by her at previous family weddings. Then we shared short albeit heartfelt vows, a ring exchange and pronouncement. Simple. True. Real.

Beyond a home wedding, people may choose to hold ceremonies in a hospital or other care facility. With the presence of compassionate staff, many possibilities for families do exist. This article highlights an example where a couple and their families acted swiftly, in a hospital environment. The Mother of the Bride was failing quickly and the wedding was held very quickly to honor her presence and daughter’s wishes.

This is not easy terrain to walk. I wish you a calm heart and steady vision, based in love, if you or someone you love is walking it now. Feel free to contact me anytime for further conversation.

Engaged during the Holidays?

If so, I am sending my heartfelt congratulations out to you and your fiance. You must be thrilled!

The festive winter holiday season is so full of celebrations and special times with people we love, it is no wonder it is a popular time for engagements to occur. When you look ahead to a wedding in 2013 or beyond, you might find yourselves desiring a meaningful ceremony experience. Whether you envision an elopement in the balmy Sonoran Desert during the winter or a full-blown springtime celebration, a ceremony will definitely be part of your plans. But where do you begin?

Here is where I might enter your wedding planning fun: I’m a Life-Cycle Celebrant® who composes and leads custom ceremonies for couples based upon their stories, beliefs and values. And here is a quick peek at what I do and how I co-create uplifting wedding experiences with people throughout Southern Arizona and beyond:

I’d love to meet you for a complimentary consultation about your ceremony. Feel free to reach me using the contact form on my blog, call or email me at either: 520.609.8396 or

Thank you and I look forward to connecting with you soon!

P.S. Many thanks to Glen and Annyce Meiners at Beyond Video for their videography expertise.

Vow Renewals in Tucson

Will you celebrate a significant anniversary anytime soon? Have you thought about a vow renewal ceremony? Well maybe this couple will inspire you: meet Meredith and Justin. They celebrated their Ten Year Anniversary with a surprise Vow Renewal late this summer. They planned a relaxed getaway weekend (sans kids) to celebrate, at the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain, located northwest of Tucson. Meredith added the surprise element of a Vow Renewal Ceremony by enlisting me and some other supporting characters. Did we ever have a BLAST! So many little surprises happened along the way. I love it when the simplest ceremonies hold the most whimsical moments. This is a celebration I will always remember.

Prior to the big day, Meredith answered a few questions for me via phone and email. I composed a brief and poignantly custom ceremony to honor their ten years of marriage in chapters, acknowledging how their marriage already involved living on a few different continents and creating a family. I arrived the day of to be greeted by the ever professional and pleasant Ritz staff, ready to set up the outdoor space and make it special. I helped sprinkle a rose petal pathway to a grassy area where the couple’s last initial was set out in rose petals. While we set up, a woman sitting on a patio nearby asked if we were holding a ceremony. I half-jokingly responded, “Yes – how would you like to participate?” And to my huge delight she said, “Well I can sing!” And man, she really meant it. Meredith’s close friend and photographer concurred this would be a great surprise for BOTH Meredith and Justin. Keep in mind, Meredith planned what was happening yet Justin had no clue. He just thought they were getting a tour of the spa and facilities!

Once the couple of honor came through the gate into the area where we all waited, a staff member entered the scene with a tray carrying champagne flutes and a bouquet (the flutes were engraved with their names and the date). At this moment, Justin got the drift. Then came the tears and laughter! Just when he began to figure out what was happening, our jazz vocalist Julianne began singing, “Love makes me treat you the way I do, gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You” — presenting Meredith with her chance to be totally surprised. More happy tears . . .

With the song complete, we all moved to the intimate ceremony area with lush desert surrounding us. It was a quiet evening after a summer storm. So delicious! During the ceremony I spoke a few words about their ongoing Love Story and the chapters they had already written together. The couple spoke promises of renewal to each other privately, then I came back to stand with them and lead their ring exchange, while they repeated these phrases after me and placed their rings upon each others’ fingers anew:

With this ring,

I choose you again Justin/Meredith,

And renew my commitment to you,

For all the days

we are gifted to share.

Just after the ring exchange, a Javelina went running right behind us through the desert! (Another totally unscripted and way fun surprise.) And then they kissed to renew their promises of love! Congratulations, Meredith and Justin. Thank you for inviting me into this special occasion in your lives. I’d love to be with you when you celebrate your 20th Anniversary!

Sunset over the Desert, after the Vow Renewal