WELCOME TO OUR HOUSE!!
We’ve just become homeowners and are sooooo excited to call Birmingham “home” for real. 🏡💕📦
P.S. Thomas wants y’all to know he plans on cutting the grass, stat. ⠀⠀⠀
WELCOME TO OUR HOUSE!!
Yesterday my favorite human and I shared a special milestone and added another anniversary to our life we have together.
2 years of love and adventure, heartache and celebration, East coast and West coast, and everything in between.
You’re my person and it’s been a joy to conquer these past two years victoriously with you, T. 💕
We went shopping for our Christmas tree, strung the lights and hung the ornaments while watching How The Grinch Stole Christmas tonight. Man, it's my favorite night of the year! More of this to come (stay tuned)! But, in the meantime, I wanted to fill you in on some of my recent favorites that made tonight so much more enjoyable!
I wear these anytime I'm in our house because it's mostly hardwood floors and my feet start to hurt. These are comfy and keep me warm (and all the cold natured people said "amen"). It took me forever to find them online because the picture looks a little different online than I thought they did in person. But, I did find them! I just fold them down to make them more "slipper-like". If you follow me on Instagram, you probably saw these details in my story the other day.
Oh goodness. I love World Market. It is absolutely my favorite place to find anything big or small and trinket-y. They have the best Christmas decor of the season so when I saw this tree skirt I had to snag it! This tree skirt is burlap looking but has a little glimmer of stitching to make it shimmery under the tree lights. It's lined with faux fur so it gives a fab finish.
3. Our Favorite Hot Cocoa
Go to the grocery store and grab hot cocoa packets (with the mini marshmallows of course.) Heat up your favorite mug with half water + half milk until warm. Add the cocoa packet. That's how you make good hot cocoa. Add a candy cane to add a peppermint twist if you wanna. That's what we do!
We're (relatively) not too far from San Francisco and we were already in Sacramento for a John Mayer concert, so we made the trip to see the shiny red bridge, the famous fog and a little more hustle and bustle than we're use to at the Ranch. The trip was unforgettable to say the least. Who knows? We may be going back again soon, very shortly ;)
Where we Ate
The sweetest bakeshop, super small so the line goes out of the door, but so so worth it on your trip. It may be out of your way but the yummy cruffins and donuts make up for the detour! Every part of this store is creative and makes for a great photo op!
1042 Larkin Street San Francisco, CA
Mango's Taqueria & Cantina (Fisherman's Wharf)
If you love Mexican, this is for you! Their pomegranate margarita was so perfect after a long day of walking around San Fran. Ask for outdoor seating to be seated on the side of the pier at Pier 39 - Fishermans Wharf - that gets a great view of ships coming in and out and all of the sailboats on display! Bring a jacket, it gets a little chilly on the water.
39 Pier San Francisco, CA
If you're like me and you love donuts - everyone know's this about me - then you'll really appreciate this "hole in the wall" restaurant. This sweet little shop is run by an Asian family who makes the donuts in front of your face and serves them until their gone. They're also known for their giant, bigger than your face, donuts. Their old fashioned are my favorite. If you like donuts and San Fran, this place is for you.
1621 Polk St San Francisco, California
Xian House of Dumplings (Chinatown)
When going to Chinatown, it's good to get a feel of authentic Chinese food, but not too authentic if you know what I mean. Thomas and I are adventurous but not to the point we'll try something that we just don't know exactly what it is. So, Xian House of Dumplings was perfect! They had an authentic menu, an authentic feel but also served your regular chicken fried rice, chow mein, dumplings and wonton soup.
925 Kearny Street San Francisco, California
Where we Played
Known for their appearance in the opening intro of our favorite TV show, Full House, the Painted Ladies are known for the Victorian colorful look. Across the street is a park that's great to grab some lunch at the nearest grocery store and throw yourself a picnic.
700 Steiner Street San Francisco, CA
Golden Gate Bridge
The Famous Gold Gate Bridge cannot be missed. Of course, there's plenty of places to go in order to leave with your perfect picture. We chose to look at the bridge at Kirby Cove Campground. There's a beautiful road, often with cyclists climbing the hills, that you can drive up. Along the side of the road, there are parking spots for visitors to take pictures! Make sure, if it's a foggy day, to tag @carlthefog on Instagram in your foggy picture!
DT San Fran
If you love shopping, this area is for you! There's every store and every department store you could think of within a few blocks of one another. Try and find a parking garage and then walk around where ever you're planning to go - you won't find parking anywehre else than garages.
Powell Street Trolley Station
This is the famous station that has trolleys running up and down San Fran streets. You may have seen these featured in "The Princess Diaries" when Mia accidentally runs in to one on the street.
33 Powell Street San Francisco, CA
This was the perfect place to round up our day. It has tons of fun stores, a carousel, any restaurant to fix any craving, and it's on the water. You may want to take a jacket because it gets chilly the closer to the water that you get. There's a market around several corners, too, to pick up some fresh fruit to eat while you stroll through the crowds.
Not only is this a neighborhood full of tall Victorian houses on the side of steep streets but it's also home to boutiques and other walk-in shops, cafes and the very new LiketoKnow.it mural right around one of it's corners. We stopped and took some pictures, of course.
The LiketoKnow.it wall: 2298 Fillmore Street San Francisco, CA
This is a great place to roam around if you have a few extra hours but I would not recommend it as an absolute "go-to" during your time in San Fran. It's proximity to other must-see places is what makes it worth seeing. The streets are strung with Chinese lanterns that are said to glow at night, dozens of Chinese restaurants and tacky, but fun, San Fran tourist shops with the "I love San Francisco" tees and kimonos.
Where We Stayed
We stayed on Nob Hill (right next to Chinatown) in the Ritz Carlton. It's proximity to other locations was great. They accommodated us well - we told them that we were celebrating our one year anniversary so they treated us to a complimentary bottle champagne.
There are great places close to the city on Air Bnb! Wherever it's located, you can take a taxi or an Uber into the city for your adventures and then use the cable car system to get around throughout the day.
We loved our quick day adventure in San Fran and would go back in a heartbeat. It's the beautiful people, variety of cultures, Hollywood features that you pass by easily on the streets and tons of fun that make this place so special.
SHOP THE POST
We try and get a date night every so often - always married, forever dating, am I right?
Our favorite things to do are
- drink wine
- listen to music
and by chance last night, all of the three above happened!
Last year we found a sweet vineyard tucked away in the hills of Medford, Oregon (this is about 2 hours from where we live in California). It's called Dancin' Vineyards and goes off of the theme that everything they do from growing and picking the grapes to serving people is a dance. Love that.
All of their seating is out side - first come, first serve. It's lit by sweet market lights outside of a yellow stucco Italian looking home with vines crawling up each corner. In the back, they raise chickens and have their Chardonnay grapes.
This particular night, there was a musician, an incredible guitarist, covering some of our favorite songs to sip our wine flight to. We both got the wine flight and tried a variety of white and red wines from their winery. We also ordered the charcuterie board with Willamette Valley Cheese Co. Brie, Rogue Creamery Brutal Blue, Briar Rose Chevre, Fruits, Bee Local Cherrywood Smoked Honey and Focaccia Crackers. YUM!
We were told the pizzas were big enough to split, so we did. We each had three pieces of the Passo E Mezzo with Duck Confit, Easy Valley Spinach and Pumpkin Seed Pesto, Buratta. It sounds super fancy but it was basically a pizza with duck meat, spinach, pesto and great great cheese.
To top off the lovely evening, we shared an ice cream with chocolate shavings and a Pinot Noir port before walking around some of the garden trails to see the coy ponds and the rest of the grounds.
Date nights are so special to us. We spend these evenings chatting about our dreams, our weeks and where we feel like the Lord is calling us in the next few days and years. It opens up great opportunity to hear each other and to understand each other without the pressure to be understood first. Needless to say, this date night was one for the books and this memory will be cherished forever.
What's your favorite thing to do on a date night?
It's been about a week since one of Thomas and I's greatest getaway and I can't wait to share all of the details and pictures we were able to capture on our trip!
We arrived on Monday evening and checked into our inn in Sonoma Valley, got dolled up and headed out to our dinner to celebrate our first wedding anniversary together. We chose to eat at a quaint and intimate restaurant that sits in the hidden corners of Saint Helena (a small neighborhood that sits in Napa Valley) called Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen. It's the sweetest place with the kindest servers. When Thomas made the reservation, he snuck in the small detail that we were celebrating something special and when we arrived and were seated at our table, they brought us complementary glasses of champagne to start the evening. How thoughtful! It's not just the menu that takes your breath away - we'll get there - but the interior decor as well (the wallpaper is so perfect!). I didn't grow up in a meatloaf loving family but thanks to Thomas, he's turned my tastebuds towards loving it. Cindy's had the most flavorful meatloaf I have ever eaten, Thomas admitted it was his favorite too. To top the evening off, we had their Campfire Pie (s'mores pie) with a marshmallow top that's torched to perfection. It's big enough to split, for sure.
The next morning we woke up and needed to grab a good but quick breakfast to go because we wanted to make sure we weren't late for our reservation on the Napa Valley Wine Train (eeek!)
Because of the crunch we were in, we ate flaky, warm chocolate croissants and ham + cheese breakfast sandwiches and a dark chocolate and cherry muffin from Bouchon Bakery. Again, another aesthetically pleasing place with the greatest goodies. They have a large selection of macaroons, and all baked goods. They don't have seating inside the bakery but there's outdoor seating right outside so we highly suggest this for a morning that has perfect weather and little rain. Bouchon Bakery sits in the sweet neighborhood of Yountville. If you're not in a hurry to get anywehre that morning, take some time to roam around this sweet town that holds so many Michelin-rated restaurants as well as great boutiques.
Like I said, Yountville is so stunning, it deserves more time than what we had leftover after Bouchon so we continued on our way to the Napa Valley Wine Train Station. Thomas had reserved us a train ride through the valley, passing all of the vineyards with a four-course lunch with a fabulous wine selection. We sat in the Vista Dome, seated higher than the other cars, which gives you a glass roof view of the entire valley. It is so so worth the extra few dollars to grab a prime seat like the ones in the Vista Dome.
The lunch selection is more delicious than you can ever imagine. To be completely honest, Thomas and I had expected a meal that is mass produced for everyone on the train. However, the Vista Dome received an exclusive menu that was only made for the few people sitting in this section of the train. There was a first and second course followed by an entree and dessert. Each course also had wine pairings from vineyards and wineries in the valley. Throughout the train ride, you're brought your courses by an incredible server with the greatest waiting service.
We chose the Ambassador train tour which takes you to two vineyards after the train ride: Charles Krug Winery and Raymond Vineyards.
Charles Krug was the most "traditional" styled winery that we visited our entire trip. I loved it for its green gardens, carriage house exterior, and Tuscan feel. You're immediately transported to a vineyard in the outskirts of Italy. When we arrived, we were poured a tasting of their house made Pinot Grigio, which was refreshing on this sunny day. They take you through a guided tour inside of the fermentation process, the certain rooms that act as venues to wedding ceremonies and then you end up at the last tasting room that holds a "museum like" feel to get the historic background of the vineyard and Charles Krug. Thomas and I snuck away to visit the carriage house a little more up close than the far away look we got from the gardens - so worth it!
We were then taken to our second vineyard spot on the tour, Raymond Vineyards which has a fun vibe, less traditional more modern. There were purple and pink lights glowing in most of the rooms. This is a well-known place for celebrities to host their most extravagant parties. Before you're taken inside, though, they let you wander through their farms and gardens which is a super fun part that we thoroughly enjoyed. We got to feed the goats, see the chickens and get the beautiful view of the vineyards from afar.
After all of the vineyard tours, we needed a little bite to eat so we headed into the town of Napa to explore and snack a little. We wandered around to find a super cute market, a great boutique called Hunter and Gatherer and finished up the evening snacking on Redd Wood's well known flatbread pizzas and appetizers and unique bar concoctions. Yum! Highly suggest their procsuitto pizza.
We wanted to end our evening early because of the big adventure that was waiting for us the next morning: a sunrise hot air balloon ride. This has been on our bucket list for a while so we were so so thrilled to be able to mark it off while being in the famous Napa Valley with Napa Valley Aloft. Thomas and I have gone skydiving before, and other adrenaline filled adventures, so we were nervous to know that this hot air balloon ride is more peaceful than eventful. And although it was, it was a memory we'd never forget. Hot tea, hot chocolate and coffee was served to us when we arrived early that morning. We were able to see the hot air balloons being filled up and took off shortly after. Although there's no drop or quick elevation, we were in need of a peaceful experience like this. Getting a bird's eye view while being calm is one that you'll never forget.
After our ride ended, we wandered back over to the town of Saint Helena where we ate a quick bite before brunch at Model Bakery and shopped around some of their boutiques before going to Archetype for their famous brunch. This greenhouse type of restaurant, with incredible landscaping, has the most flavorful menu, so it took us a while to decide on something. I ended up with the Norwegian Eggs and Thomas with the brunch burger. Great choices!
Our last vineyard experience was the greatest to end on: Sterling Vineyards. First and foremost, you have to take a gondola ride to get up to the actual quarters. We paid extra for the "Silver Experience" and we can't recommend it enough. You're swept away to a balcony/terrance view of the property while given three tasting paired with local cheeses, meats, fruits and nuts. After this experience, you're on a self-guided tour, at your own place, for the rest of the tour. The last tasting ends on the rooftop terrace with a spectacular view. It offers tables and chairs and outdoor seating with umbrellas to relax and take everything in before the gondola ride back down to the Valley.
Thomas and I are so so thankful that we got this sweet time to take in another great part of our country, to roam through vineyards, to learn new processes and to have an "adventure" that also offered more rest than we ever knew existed. Napa, we will see you again very soon.
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We went to Waco, TX because it was on the way to our destination out West: California. We took little detour off of our route but we were oh so thankful.
You may have heard about Magnolia Market, the bakery and Silos because of the HGTV show, "Fixer Upper" with Chip and Joanna Gaines but I fan-girl'ed and begged Thomas to take me. He loves me so much so we ended up starting our road trip at the greatest store on the planet, if you ask me.
If you're planning on going, I suggest going in the morning time or heading over on a weekday (we went on a Saturday). Because we got there so early, we were able to find a parallel parking spot right on the side of the road. If you get there later, there are tons of spots in local churches parking lots for $10 a spot. The great part of being there so early is that we were able to get in line for the store and head right on in. Usually, you wait in line for a while until a few people exit and then they let a few people in. I was not about that so we were there at opening.
The store was much more than I had imagined! There was a section for everything: kitchen, home decor, bedding, candles and scents, greenery, Chip's corner with all the manly stuff, kids decor and then rugs + wall decor. Although there was some kind of organization to it, it was still overwhelming - in a good way. They have fake flowers that look real as every so you can put together a bouquet and take it home to remember your trip forever. The staff is so nice, excellent and polite so you'll never feel un-welcomed. If you're traveling, like us, they have an option to ship your item but we were suggested to try and stuff them in our car (so we did). Otherwise, we would have had to pay a large shipping and boxing fee - at that point you might as well just shop online.
As soon as you check out, there's a turf lawn outside with outdoor games and seating to rest your feet or grab a meal from the food trucks that surround the lawn. Dogs are welcome! Hallelujah because Remi had to stretch his legs just as badly as we did! He loved the smell of the food trucks, especially their kettle corn. There's plenty to chose from, the bakery truck, BBQ truck, hot dog truck, pop corn stand, plenty of local Waco business to propel and support.
There's a greenhouse with a beautiful garden right outside to walk through and you can hit up the "Seed and Supply" right after if you want to stock up on your gardening supplies. Make sure to take a look at the Silos and the bakery. The bakery will also have a long line, so anticipate that but apparently it's worth it. With the timeline we were on for our road trip we didn't have time to stand in the line but we smelt it walking by! They hand out cards with the different cupcakes and cookies they have that day so that you can chose which one you'd like best before you get in the bakery - it makes the line move quickly. You can get your goodies to-go or you can eat it outside in the beautiful patio they set up for customers.
Every detail is excellent and I think that's exactly how Chip and Jo wanted it. We so so enjoyed our trip and think everyone should make an effort to experience the Magnolia Market. Who's down for a road trip?
You may have seen it on Instagram and Facebook but we completed a road trip from Birmingham, Alabama to Etna, California and y'all, it was a blast! I highly recommend taking a few days to travel across the country and see our America - it's remarkable!
Birmingham, AL to Waco, TX
Our drive from Birmingham to Waco included us going through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana to finally Texas. We stayed right outside of Waco that night and got up the next morning to head to Magnolia Market (the famous store of Chip and Joanna Gaines from HGTV's "Fixer Upper"). The entire trip we stayed in hotels that we found along our way that were dog friendly because we brought Remi the whole way.
Remi did well! We saved him a little spot in the back seat with his bed and some of his toys. We stopped for frequent water breaks and he occasionally found his way up to the front seat over the console. There's was lots of snuggling on this trip but I didn't mind :)
Waco, TX to Albuquerque, NM
We got up the next morning and headed over to Magnolia Market and gosh, this was a sight to see! If you're planning on going, I suggest going in the morning time or heading over on a weekday (we went on a Saturday). Because we got there so early, we were able to find a parallel parking spot right on the side of the road. If you get there later in the day, there are tons of spots in local church's parking lots for $10 a spot. The great part of being there so early is that we were able to get in line for the store and head right on in. Usually, you wait in line for a while until a few people exit and then they let a few people in. I was not about that so we were there at opening time!
After Magnolia we headed West to Albuquerque, NM where we were met along the way by sweet Texan towns and lonely roads. We loved it though, the windmills, the lack of road signs, the two lane highway and Ranch signs on the left and right.
We stopped for a Mexican lunch in Hico, TX in a small town that had a market going on as well. We window shopped and went inside a sweet home decor boutique called, "Hill Country Dwelling" where I couldn't walk out without a coffee table book and other fun knick knacks for our new cottage-home in California.
We got to Albuquerque later than we had expected so we headed to bed to prepare for our long day at the Grand Canyon.
Albuquerque, NM to The Grandy Canyon (AZ)
The drive from Albuquerque to the Grand Canyon was stellar! The difference between the desert view to the mountainous view was incredible. We drove up the windy road to the entrance to the National Park and headed right in. We parked at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon where you can find the most spectacular view! There's even a short passage way where you can skip around the fence and see the Grand Canyon from a "less tourist-y" view by standing on a rock that overlooks the Canyon. Dangerous but worth it. After we saw the Grand Canyon and a lot of what it had to offer, we came down the mountain and grabbed a bite to eat at a local pizza shop. After diner we kept driving to Kingman, AZ and spent the night there.
Kingman, AZ to Los Angeles CA
What a drive! It took forever because we didn't exactly account for the LA traffic. Yikes! So we stopped in the famous Coachella Valley, CA for a short pit stop, to pretend like we actually went to "Coachella" and to play fetch with Remi.
Once we finally got into LA, we stopped at the sweetest place for donuts and most of their selection was gluten free/vegan so our tummies thanked us after all the to-go food we had been eating. We walked down the street, a little outside of Beverly Hills, and took Remi into Vanderpump Dogs and got to see their store! They had a great grooming section, retail section and other dog treats available for Remi. We hopped back in the car and drove down Sunset Blvd, onto Rodeo Drive. We got out, walked around, saw all the stores and went back in the car to chase down the Hollywood Sign at sunset.
After seeing everything that we could fit in the few short hours we had in LA, we grabbed sushi at this awesome sushi bar called Blue C Sushi. There was a conveyer belt that went around the entire restaurant that had different types of sushis and appetizers. The plates were labeled with different colors and each colors indicated a price. You'd grab a plate off the belt and share it and then stack your plates. Your bill was based on the colors and amounts of plates on the table after you were finished. It was the perfect, unique LA dinner experience we were aiming for! Must go to Blue C Sushi, right outside of Beverly Hills in Hollywood.
LA to Yosemite to Etna, California
That day we drove to Yosemite National Park which is a sight to see! It's not like the Grand Canyon where you drive up, park and walk up to the view. At Yosemite, there's plenty to see, different views and different things to do besides walk around. We stopped at two different views along our drive through. Our favorite viewing spot in the pictures below was at Tunnel View on the South Entrance of Yosemite. We got out, took a few pictures, climbed some rocks and then headed out of the park to make good timing to JH Ranch.
We stopped and visited a friend in Chico, CA before finding out Remi had eaten a pack of gum and destroyed a water bottle in our car. We called the vet, everything was fine! Praise! But, we hurried to the Ranch and finally were able to lay our head on the pillow in the place we'll call "home" until September.
Woo, what a whirlwind but I wouldn't trade it for the world. We have the fondest memories from this time together and yes, we still like each other. :)
To be honest, the real reason we swung by Nashville in the first place was to pick up a washer/dryer set that we bought #adulting. But thanks to that, we were able to spend the day walking up and down the streets of The Gulch and 12 South in Nashville, TN. If you've never been, you're missing out -- incredibly. If you have, you'll probably read this and the whole time be nodding your head and saying "yes!"
Here's a look at our itinerary and the places we found along the way.
On our way into the 12 South neighborhood, we stopped in the Gulch to grab some Biscuit Love coffee to-go. I'm convinced they have the best brew. I grabbed a chai and Thomas got his regular order, iced coffee.
We ended up parking at the very end of the 12 South strip so we could walk all the way from Jeni's ice cream all the way down to the White Mercantile and we didn't miss a thing.
Places to Shop:
Amelia's Flower Shop
The sweetest flower truck that parks in different corners around Nashville carries the greatest selection of flowers to create the bouquet of your dreams. It was just my luck and I was able to put together a Vday bouquet with the help of Thomas. Lots of carnations, eucalyptus and other beautiful flowers. Praise!
A super cute and funky place to just walk around and enjoy all the beautiful knick-knacky things. They have beautiful bar cart stocking items, coffee table books, things for your office that are rather odd and lovely. Not to mention, the music you're shopping to is always on point and the manager could easily become one of my best friends.
If you love antiques, the farmhouse look or anything that has to do with rustic contemporary, be sure to stop by. The White Mercantile has antiques and odd-ends in one room and the other has everything from women and mens clothing to toys to really great socks and journals and thing to make your pet super happy.
This store, owned by Reese Witherspoon, is a great fun shop if you love being identified as a "southern belle." Almost every clothing piece has the word "y'all" incorporated, they offered Thomas some sweet tea and they have the cutest nooks full of classic southern decor.
Places to eat:
I can't rave about this place enough. If you want authentic Mexican food with a great atmosphere, personal servers and want to sip on a margarita while you're at it, Bartaco is your place. They make their tequila in house so you can imagine how magical their margaritas are. Their menu is sushi-style meaning that you order at your own convince and fill out a paper with how many of what tacos you want and they come by, pick it up and your tacos come out in no time. We, however, ordered the large tray with 9 tacos and 3 sides and 2 tamales. It was the perfect amount for the two of us since we've been walking around all day until then. Greatest news - if you eat outside, they're dog friendly. So, Remi got to join us and eat his dinner right next to us.
Five Daughters Bakery
The pink neon lights, the white subway tile, the lines and lines and options of donuts, it's truly magical. I love Five Daughters because of their tiramisu and maple bacon donuts. They're filled with a buttery cream (I normally don't like cream filled donuts) so the donuts are well worth the four dollars. Must go. If you don't have time to go in, no problem! You can order them and pick them up to-go!
It's our first Saturday (not snowed in) in our new town, Birmingham and man! Did we enjoy getting out and exploring or what!
It was a beautiful 70 degree weather day so of course we took the motorcycle and took a few (accidental or purposeful?) wrong turns. We wandered around some windy roads by Cahaba Heights, found a running trail, park, waterfront park and so much more fun! We meandered our way to a sweet nursery called "Leaf and Petal."
Naturally, I fell in love with a few succulents that would go perfectly in my new gold distressed planter I picked up in Anthropologie my last visit. My brother, Hamilton, was in town staying with us and he went to grab coffee with a friend so we met him afterwards back near our home at a great burger joint: Flip.
Seriously, their turkey burger with avocado and pomegranate ketchup was to die for. We chose to sit outside on the patio because, again, the weather was magical. At the Summit (a nearby shopping center) there's an overlook that looks over the mountains in the near distance. So, we were able to enjoy lunch and a view. Too bad we were too full to not enjoy their Nutella milkshake topped with marshmallows.
But, we bounced across the street at Steel City Pops for our second visit of the weekend to grab a coffee and cookies + cream popsicle. It was seriously just the best lounging day.
I could do this every Saturday, honestly. A "welcome" to a city has never been sweeter.
If you follow me on social media, it's no question that this family likes to move around. We've been from California (seasonal location for Thomas's job), South Carolina (so I can graduate from the best university), and now Alabama. I guess you could call us pros at this point and since we've been moving so frequently, this pack up was super easy. There wasn't much to pack since most things were already in boxes from the last move. Sheesh. Thomas's parents made the move up with us, following us in their car + a trailer holding Thomas's beloved motorcycle. We got to Birmingham pretty late Wednesday night and we unloaded the truck 'til mid-day Thursday. With all the contents in the apartment we started moving things around, finding arrangements that we agreed on and now, I'd say we're all set.
The packing process, like I said, was light -- but, I did find some pretty great diy/alternative ways to make sure all of my dishes and China made it here safe and sound. And it worked! (Tips at the bottom).
Y'all, we could literally fit all our entire home in South Carolina in the living room of our Bama house. PRAISE. Because things were starting to get a little small for my liking. Hallelujah for an upgrade!
We had some beautiful pieces "donated" to us (couch, table, chairs, bed frame). We are so blessed beyond belief because I can't imagine a furniture shopping trip right now...
We bought some chalk paint and repainted some of the furniture to fit the scheme of our "minimalist farmhouse" look.
After Thomas's parents left, a few friends from high school joined us for the weekend. We would wake up in the morning, cook breakfast together while sipping on our coffee, do a little unpacking laughing and dancing to music. We'd take a break and cuddle and catch up and then cook dinner and head out to venture in our new town. It was dreamy. Thomas and Allan hung up decor on the walls, hung curtains, all the manly stuff. Marissa and I took paint brushes to these furniture pieces and gave them a renovation, place eucalyptus and small decor (candles, frames, knick knacks and such), girly stuff.
We are so thankful to have had them to help us adjust emotionally to this "newness." Having a piece of home here in the area was an answer to plenty of prayers. The four of us brought in the New Year with us sitting in a local Waffle House watching the ball drop in NYC early (since we're in the Central Time Zone now). Ugh, adjusting, ya know?
We finally have all the lamps plugged in, placemats on the table, dishes put away, comforters on the bed, etc. We're nesting now and waiting for our "finishing touches" to appear and then you can expect a fun "Home Tour" on the blog soon. Stay tuned.
1. Use styrofoam plates in between each plate to move
2. Use clothing from dressers to wrap dishes instead of purchasing lots of bubble wrap
3. Saran Wrap drawers or cabinets from pieces to avoid having to un-pack and re-pack that furniture.
4. Tape cords together and label them so (a) they don't get tangled and (b) you can tell which appliance they go with.
5. Set aside toiletries, clothes or cleaning supplies you'll need when you first get there and put them on the back of the truck so that you have them handy at your final destination.
6. Use trash bags and wrap them around your hanging clothes to avoid missing hangers, clothing items and you can easily transfer them from the truck, hang them in your closet and cut the bag off.
Joining forces on traditions is the most fun -- especially Christmas, I love Christmas. We never officially purchased our own stockings but my mom let us borrow ours from her house. Christmas Eve, we baked cookies, finished wrapping, put presents under the tree while watching Home Alone 2 with hot chocolate steaming in our mugs. We packed up Remi, in his Christmas sweater, and hopped in the car and headed down the road to some Christmas lights. When we came home, we plugged in the Christmas tree and kept it lit all night.
Yeah, sounds dreamy until your dog (*cough* Remi *cough*) threw up all night because he ate all of the wrapping supplies that we wrapped presents with the day before. Ugh.
Also, I went out and ran errands with chocolate on my face from making cookies so really Christmas Eve was just a blast.
We did stockings for each other this year and it was the most fun, getting things for other people is my love language so BOOOYAH. It's tough to put together the stockings for each other without each other seeing. So, we assembled stockings and put them under a blanket on the couch for the morning.
Christmas morning, I woke up to the sound of the Hallelujah Chorus playing. This is special to me because that's the song that woke us up every Christmas morning at my home. We lifted the blanket and opened stockings and gosh, my man knows me. All of my fave candies, nail polish and gadgets were in that stocking.
We packed up our car with gifts and duffles and Remi, of course, and headed down the road to our home town to see our families. the car ride was full of jazzy Christmas music, and our travel book -- Me Before You. When we got to my family's house, we unwrapped presents after brunch with the smell of fried oysters, with excited shrieks and dogs running around each other eating wrapping paper. We unwound by taking a quick nap before heading to Thomas's parent's house.
There, we had a blast opening presents, smiling until our cheeks hurt and sat down for a huge Christmas dinner. Needless to say, we went to sleep with stomachs completely full to the brim with food, incredible memories that will always last when we recall the first Christ we shared as husband + wife.
Magical, indeed. We spent two days at Magic Kingdom because of it, no need to feel rushed right?
We started off at Tomorrow Land
The best of the best: Space Mountain, Monsters Laugh Floor, Stitch, and lots more.
One time, true story, we went on Space Mountain and there was a malfunction and we were escorted off so every time I ride Space Mountain, I truly know what the inside looks like, with the lights on. However, every time I ride it is still as exhilarating! Monsters Laugh Floor is quite hilarious, and different every show! So, we went a few different times. There's a Stitch ride that I would suggest not to go on if you have a sensitive nose, like me. Let's just say there are some planned "not so pleasant smells" that aliens may introduce to the ride so I'll be avoiding this in the future.
New ride alert! Man, is it fantastic! The Mine Train based off of Snow White is a new roller coaster in Magic Kingdom and we had the most incredible experience. While we were on the ride (which is partly indoors/outdoors) we got to witness the Castle's fireworks at the same time. Can you say, "wow?!" Seriously, my most favorite part of our trip. Because the show was going on and we planned to watch it the next night, we hopped back in line because it was such a short wait. Honestly, worth the wait, however long it may be.
It's a Small World, eh, it's just tradition, nothin' special. Afterwards, we got some coke floats, coffee and sundaes (on Mickey) because Dane left on his "It's my birthday!' button a day late. Hehe, oops.
Magic Tea Cups, go! Almost wet my pants it was so fun! We laughed so hard and were so dizzy. Avoid this if you just ate desserts, like we did. Yikes.
There's a quaint lunch spot at Liberty Square that serves chicken and seafood and their upstairs is pretty much abandoned because no one knows there's even an upstairs. It's a great spot to watch the hustle and bustle of Magic Kingdom.
Gotta get the Nutella and fresh fruit waffle sandwich from Sleepy Hollow. I didn't, biggest regret.
Frontier Land has the best turkey legs and churros, hands down.
We honestly probably rode Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad probably eleven times, combined. It's just that fun. Thomas was super impressed with Splash Mountain because inside there's an incredible story with the best decor and then you get a thrill at the end. Best of all worlds. Ride Row 1 if you want to get soaked and Row 4 if you don't want to get touched with water (words from the wise).
Pirates of the Caribbean is not worth the wait unless you're a serious fan. It takes you through the movie, which is pretty neat but it's pretty slow, no thrill and the animatronics aren't as impressive as others. Just sayin'.
The second day we were there was Todd's birthday and the Dapper Dans sang him Happy Birthday, quintet-acapella style.
I got a little lost on the second day, plus I really loved the light up balloons so sweet Thomas bought me one for everyone's sake. Also, another quick tip, get to the Castle ASAP because about 15 minutes out from the fireworks show, it's a maze and quite stressful. No one likes to be anxious at Disney, right?
On Main Street, you can meet a talking Mickey (also worth the wait) at the Town Theater, there's a great candy shop that you must try the caramel apples at -- says Thomas and Hamilton -- and you have to go inside the ice-cream parlor on the corner. Across the street from the ice-cream parlor is Casey's Corner Hotdogs. I'm not a huge hot dog fan but mmm they were delicious!
After the Wishes nighttime spectacular and Once Upon A Time show, the Castle shuts down for the night and there's a "goodbye message" from Mickey. You must stay till closing and see it!
If you leave with the rest of the world, the monorail is packed. Honestly, the worst. But, if you get on the other monorail, that takes you to the Contemporary Resort Hotel, you can basically walk on and it takes you through a few more stops before the Ticket Station, but you'll get there before the rest of the crowd.
This might possibly be my favorite park: Hollywood + roller coasters + Star Wars? Oh yeah, baby. The Rockin' Rollercoaster was having technical difficulties pretty much all day so we took it and waited in line for a pretty long time. Worth it.
We're thrill seekers, adrenaline junkies so Tower of Terror and Rockin' Rollercoaster and all that jazz is our jam. My brothers and Thomas love Star Wars, I love Hollywood and neon lights so Hollywood Studios is the perfect combination to keep everyone happy.
While we were there, it was Dane's birthday so we got all kinds of special treatment. A reservation was made at the Italian Restaurant, Mama Melrose's Ristorante. They brought out a cupcake for Dane, Thomas and I got to sit at a seperate table and sip our presecco and slurp up some noodles before heading back out.
Muppets 4-D is right next door. Thomas and I loved it. We almost forgot how creative and clever the Muppets are, it's perfect for every age. You wear glasses, you get misted, you laugh, it's a great show!
Star Tours is Landon's favorite ride so we got a fast pass for that one. Each ride is different he says, similar to the Tower of Terror. There's a computer that makes sure there's a different combination for every "ship." Therefore, according to Landon, you can't ride it too many times.
Star Wars Launch Bay is a new-must. Inside is the ultimate place for Star Wars junkies. There are replicas of all the light sabers, you can meet Chewbacca and chat with Jawas. Here's a secret with the Jawas: if you trade them something from the park (a glowing ice cube, balloon, etc.) they will give you droid pieces. Chewbacca was totally worth the wait. He's the real-deal, complete with noises, humor and his fuzzy personality.
Make sure you don't miss the March of the First Order down Sunset Avenue in Hollywood Studios. The Storm Troopers march down (like a parade) to where the magic hat use to be and preform a short show.
Another show that is a must-see is the Indiana Jones stunt show. It's hilarious, really thrilling and you can't see if too many times. Hamilton and I still love it after seeing it for years before this trip.
Quick tip: If you can catch the Tower of Terror while Mickey's Fantasmic show is happening, the line is ridiculously short- we rode it three times in a row.
Hollywood Studios is the great "adult park." Ya gotta go.
Today we spent the day in one of my favorite parks: Epcot. Not only does it have the fun and impressive rides (Soarin', Mission Space and Test Track) it has a World Showcase as well that brings you literally all around the world.
Our fast passes covered Mission Space and Test Track so we booked it to Soarin' when we first got to the parks in the a.m. Y'all, Soarin'. I'm telling ya. Last time we were at Disney World, this ride took you in a hang gliding experience all over Florida and California. Now, it has broadened to different locations all over the world. Soarin' takes you from Switzerland, Antarctica, the Great Wall of China, Paris, and much much more. Wellll worth the wait, with or without a fast pass. However, your experience will be heightened if you chose to sit in Gliders B, Row 1. You can ask a cast member to seat your party in this section if you please.
After Mission Space (a space flight simulator with added G's if you like "intense") and Test Track (another great rollercoaster), we grabbed a quick lunch before shopping in Mouse Gears. Right across from Mouse Gears is the meet-and-greet with characters. Compared to having to find them all over the park, this is an indoor (air conditioned) space that puts all of your favorite characters in one locations. However, the line can get a little long so make sure to go at a prime time.
A great indoor market with plenty of the authentic knick-knacks you'd find overseas. You can find this inside the beautiful temple when you first enter Mexico. Inside is also a slow ride chasing Donald Duck around Mexico. Enjoy a break for your feet here. Make sure to jump across the street to the Mexican cafe and buy some churros with caramel sauce (seriously delicious).
This is as authentic as it gets, I asked one of the cast members. Frozen apparently takes place in Norway so you can meet all of the Frozen characters here along with riding the Frozen Ride!
Make sure to catch China at a time where the Dragon Acrobats are preforming. They are seriously amazing and you'll be missing out if you don't plan to see their show. Head all the way to the back of China to see authentic toys and fun shops with chopsticks, noodles and learn to say your name in Chinese.
Grab a German craft beer at any of the snack stands in Germany. While you're at it, you can sip and look at German chocolates, teddy bears and take a bite out of a Wiener Würstchen (or German hot dog)-a great snack.
There's bongos, face painting and beads for a quick little trip to Africa
So romantic and so real. There's leather shops that sell Prada bags, there's the square with the fountain and statues in the middle, the greenery growing up the sides of the cobble buildings, the umbrellas selling wine flights underneath. When I say they had me fooled, they really did. If your a carbs girl like me, there's a fabulous Pizzeria in the back of Italy if you keep walking.
Plan around to see Sergio preform-another great act.
If you're an American native, imagine that you stepped back in time to the historic Revolutionary times. If you go for the Holiday season, there's gingerbread making and you can meet Santa Claus.
If you're a Japan fan, this is for you. If you like sushi, hibachi and all that jazz, make reservations at the Japanese restaurant to get the full hibachi experience. Underneath the restaurant is the largest gift shop I have ever seen. They sell everything from Japanese groceries, candies, drinks, toys, makeup, jewelry, decor, accessories, and so so much more.
Belly dancing, Aladin and Jasmine, and beautiful architecture is what you're in for when walking to Morocco. There's a really great restaurant that has fun belly dancing shows for dinner if this is your type of food.
The French restaurant is seriously amazing. If you don't have time to make a large break, or didn't make reservations, go to the very back of France to get more scenery, and you'll find a bakery in the back selling all of your favorite pastries. I grabbed a box of macaroons, and the boys got sandwiches and creme brulé. It's a win-win.
If you love tea, like me, make sure to stop in the Twinnings Tea shop selling all of the original English tea. Head across the street to grab authentic Fish and Chips.
This was probably Thomas's favorite (probably because Canada is known for their fly fishing). They had the rustic feel with maple leafs, red and white everywhere. Make sure to go inside the gift shop and check out the Niagra Falls in the back that will lead you to the 360 show!
The great part about the World Showcase is 1. If you don't feel like walking all the way around, there's a ferry that can take you from one entrance to the other. 2. Every country has cast members that are originally from that country. This means you get the full experience, the fun and the information!
If fireworks are your thing then you'll be extremely impressed by the Illuminations show in the lagoon between the countries in the World Showcase. Seats are hard to get (I use "seats" loosely because you'll be sitting on the ground or on the fencing) so make sure to get "seating" ahead of time.
It's been a magical day in Walt Disney World with the fam (all in matching Lion King shirts) and today was spent in Animal Kingdom. Honestly, it's one of our least favorite but was still so very incredible.
Today was filled with melting chocolate Mickey snapped ice creams, Mickey pretzels, walking around "Asia" and "Africa" being submersed underwater with the Finding Nemo show and dancing with lions and monkeys at the Lion King show. The Lion King show is a must see. It was our absolute favorite.
We saw exotic animals on the Kilimanjaro Safari and danced with Africans in the middle of Harambe Market. Like I said, it was magical. We grabbed fast passes for Expedition Everest, Dinosaur and the safari (highly recommend fast passes to all the Disney newbies). The most fun part about this trip is that Dane, Caleb, Todd and Thomas have all never been to Disney before so we get to show them the ropes.
After the crazy long day of running around the parks, screaming on rides and laughing at shows and each other, we gobbled up some fantastic food at the all-you-can-eat buffet at the Tusker House (mid-Africa) with all the characters.
I wish everyone could be here, so join us on Snapchat: rachel.awtrey
Everyday we're in the parks, we're putting together a quick little video to our day, feel free to follow along!
1. Grab preferred parking when entering the parks instead of standard (you get up close parking, bottled waters and VIP treatment.
2. Make sure to plan your day around fast passes. Get the Disney Experience App on your phone to add showtimes, etc. It helps us A-type people stay on track.
3. See if the park has "magic hours" (hours that are only available for those staying on property. It either opens early or stays open late, aka short lines.)
4. Make reservations at a restaurant in the park if you plan to eat a sit down dinner.
Oh yeah. We're the "real" Christmas tree people, despite the fact that I'm highly allergic to the environment (specifically trees). It's a tradition that we go with Thomas's family to the Farmers Market in Columbia, South Carolina and pick out the perfect tree. The search is accompanied by frisbee throwing, measuring sticks and negotiating.
This year, we brought Remi (all wrapped in my shaw with me). Honestly, the tree we left with was the first tree we laid our eyes on. How easy!
It's all about the fresh smell of pine, the pine needles on the floor, the consistent watering of the tree, the strapping of lights, hanging or ornaments and addition of the ribbon and angel topper.
We picked out the tree, wrapped it up in netting and threw it on top of our car and headed back up to the Upstate.
Thankfully, the Awtrey women took me shopping on Black Friday and we found all of our ornaments and ribbon at Michaels for waaay cheap! Can I get a "hallelujah" for that newlywed budget? The best part: Thomas's parents bought our tree for us, so the best gift is the one over the wrapped presents. Super sweet!
The next night, we threw on my mom's Christmas contribution of flannel Christmas pjs, heated up some water in the tea kettle, opened the packets of hot cocoa, unwrapped the candy canes, made a quick trip to Target because (oops) we forgot the lights...
We turned on a Netflix Christmas movie, put Remi to sleep and went to decorating the tree. If you're married and have never shared the pleasure of wrapping a tree in lights and hanging ornaments in the perfect spot, I dare you.
At the end of the process, we turned off all the lights, finished our hot cocoa and plugged in the strands. Voilà!
Merry Christmas to all and to all a goodnight.
I was raised in a great home with a wonderful family. We prayed over meals, watched Veggie Tales, went to church every Sunday, we were involved in multiple church plants, we prayed for the missionaries we supported as a family, we met the "Christian criteria" and I thought that was enough. I played the part the other days of the week too, had great friends, never touched alcohol, had an occasional boyfriend but that was about it. So when I'd hear about forgiveness and Jesus died on the cross for my sins, I was frustrated because I had a hard time grasping at anything in my life I needed forgiveness for. (HA!) I only saw sin as the things kids my age were doing on the weekends, not the pride and lying and disobedience in my heart.
I also heard all about how God was our comforter in time of need. I had a hard time with that one too because I had never really been in a "time of need" where I had to lean on the Lord more than the day before. My life was "normal", my family was together, I got along with my friends and I didn't really have any regrets. The only "catastrophe" I could ever think of was one time when I was in a car accident.
Because my "lack of tragedy," I was left really confused. The confusion led me to lean heavily on my parents as my rocks and providers when it came to faith and what I knew about it. There was no pursuit on my own, nothing that I was really initiating on my own because of my own curious desires.
Then one day I woke up, got dressed and headed to the orthodontist with my mom to get my braces removed. We went to lunch afterwards to celebrate and order and eat all of the foods that I hadn't been able to enjoy before. My mom's phone rang, it was my dad. Actually, it was my dad's phone but it was his friend. My dad left for a rock climbing trip the morning I was headed to the orthodontist. On the other end of the phone came some news that we are never prepared to hear. News that still to this day is hard to believe it actually happened because it happened way too fast.
My dad past away in a rock climbing accident three days before my 17th birthday. All I remember is all the flowers, all the smells of food and meals being brought over when I felt nauseous. I remember that huge birthday party my friends threw for me in the backyard so that I felt celebrated in the midst of tragedy. I remember the bagpipes at his funeral and all the support and love that came that week.
I remember laying in bed the next week, house quiet, thinking "so this is life, huh? This is what they talked about, needing God as comfort." It was sort of humorous to me that when things were well, I felt him near and when I was closest to despair, it was hardest to know He was comforting me.
I used this confusion as an excuse to grieve unhealthily. I turned to things to take my mind off of what was really happening. I pushed away my friends, pretended to be someone I wasn't, made some really poor decisions that progressively impacted me until I got to a point I just didn't care anymore.
Obviously my family life looked a lot different and some people came into the picture that really hurt me when I was vulnerable, they too were capitalizing on the situation. It was all too much. It became much easier to be silly and immature than face what was really happening. I started to pity myself. It got to a point, my freshman year of college, where I started to feel like I was in a box and I was watching other people, outside of my box, have a lot of fun, they were free. I was frustrated and pouting in my box watching them. I became bitter towards them and realized it was easier to stay in the box than it would be to get outside of it and join in on the celebration.
I then realized a lie that I had always believed. I saw Christianity, Jesus and faith as rules and regulations and the things I can and can't do. I saw it as a restriction on my freedom to live the way that I wanted to live my life. I'm giggling even writing this because it's just the opposite.
Jesus came to set me free, to take off the chains that were holding me down, to pick me up out of the box that I just went and climbed back into again. A relationship with Jesus is the definition of freedom. I was being held down by my own grief, my anger, my confusion, my obligation to continue to be this fake person and live the way I thought I was expected to in the midst of tragedy. I was held down by depression and bitterness. I was held down by my inability to forgive.
I realized the only person that was holding me to that box was me.
I had always considered my relationship with Jesus to be me, Jesus and my dad. Or me, Jesus and my mom. Or me, Jesus and (whoever). When really our relationship with Jesus is just between the two of us. The day has come where my dad is no longer able to support that relationship here on Earth. There will be a day when I lose someone else that has had a huge impact on the way that I view Jesus. But, if the way I see Jesus is based on the emphasis of someone else, I will never have ownership of my own faith.
Being a believer isn't meeting the checklist. Because I'll be the first to admit many days pass by where not only does the checklist not even get marked, I forget the checklist exists!
Thank God for a graceful and forgiving God who just wants us to want him back, that picks us up out of our misery and who fixes the typo we made from "victim" to "victor."
The coolest part, my story isn't over-my heart is still beatin'. So I say, "bring it on!" Who knew death could bring so much Life?
This is not meant to intimidate to you. The last thing I want is for you to read this and get to the end and think, "gosh, I don't have a testimony like that" because that is not my heart. I once was that girl. I was the girl that would hear and listen or read someone's testimony and think that my life wasn't extraordinary because my story wasn't extraordinary like the one I was hearing. If you're nodding your head in agreeance, you're story isn't over. Your story is extraordinary no matter how many details it contains or how many details it lacks. There's no way we can compare our testimonies to the other and think that somehow one is more marvelous than the other because the God that wrote my story is the one writing yours and He is marvelous, therefore your story is marvelous and that should be enough.
This is for my friends who think that Christian music is boring + those that just want to dance out of their box.
If you don't agree that the thought of your husband picking up the fork with a steaming creation inching closer (in slow motion) to his mouth gives you a little anxiety, you're either 1. Paula Deen, herself or 2. completely confident.
I, at first, was not either of the above to be honest. Thomas has a mom that is phenomenal in the kitchen so I knew that expectations were a little high. If you're a married woman a little apprehensive about whipping up some great meals for your family or unmarried and dreading the day, this is for you.
One time I tried to make beer bread. I followed the recipe, poured the batter in the bread pan, poured on the glaze and popped it in the oven. Three minutes later and there's smoke starting to seep into our tiny home. I glanced at the oven and double take real quick when I saw a flame in our oven. Yeah, go Rachel. I didn't know what to do so I yelled, "fire!" followed by a few other words I would never claim and I frantically went for our fire extinguisher.
Thank God for a calm husband that grabbed my shoulders (yes, the fire is still going at this point) and say, "Calm down, it will be okay." He let the fire die down in the oven on its own and long story short, the beer bread was never fully baked.
Another time, we went to Greenville for a while and knew we weren't coming back until later so I put some spaghetti squash and sauce in the crockpot, following another recipe, and we came back, hangry (hungry + irritable) to absolute mush. Oops. My bad.
Here are a few things that save my tush in the kitchen.
I highly recommend getting a cookbook and figuring out which recipes look a little manageable to ya. They're the best! They're like picture books for adults. I flip through until I see a picture that I love and drool over, dog ear the page and continue to flip. It makes it so much more manageable and also gives you some hope of what this mean could look like.
This one, The Newlywed Cookbook, is the best because it is made for the simple wife, the "let's just try and see" woman. It's easy and even gives some tips how to incorporate your hubby into the process. Hand over the knives and towels and let him put some sweat in, too!
Pinterest is more than wedding planning and outfits, y'all. If you don't pin food, I don't even know who you are. Create a board with some of your favorite recipes and stock up. A lot of times these are food bloggers that are great to follow but also give additional advice for the process, not just the ingredients and directions.
The kitchen is more than cooking the food. It's about the savory smell and reaping what you sow. It's about the time, energy and effort you're putting into serving your significant other. He will understand and be grateful regardless. I'm blessed with a husband that scarfs down even the nastiest of foods that I mess up or make the best of.
One of my favorite books that stresses this concept is Bread and Wine. She does an incredible job of describing the real reason of the kitchen: to fully know, remember, serve and glorify the Lord. Seriously, there's room to acknowledge him in everything. While pouring your sweet tea or red wine, flipping your burgers or rotating your chicken, seasoning your carrots or peeling your sweet pot remember communion with your community. Remember what Christ did for us. This makes your time cooking in the kitchen so much sweeter with a greater purpose than making a tasty meal.
I'm no pro, I'm still learning how to chop, peel and not make my home all smokey. But, there's grace and room for improvement. If your is better in the trash than your mouth, light some candles, play some jazzy music, pray over the meal and own it. Someone once told me, "burnt food tastes better under candlelight" and I fully agree.
B E H I N D T H E S C E N E S I N O U R K I T C H E N
A wedding day: every girl's biggest dream. I can't describe how much fun we had and how much of a thrill it was to see the fruits of all the labor at the very end. Planning seems like a nightmare to most, but I, with the help of my mom, lots of friends and an incredible party planner, would consider it one of my favorite parts of being engaged.
Here's a tip for the newly engaged or the soon-to-be fiancés: your wedding day is not what you are preparing for in this time. It's not the wedding, it's the marriage. If you put your heart into this day, tell those you love the (sometimes hard) truth of what matters to you most, and enjoy it-you've done it right. As soon as it becomes overwhelming, obnoxious or consuming, take a break, go on a date and host a conversation with your significant other about something else besides the wedding. Just some free advice..
I'm sharing a little bit of my inside experience as a bride. The truth, honesty, fun + messy parts of the process-not just what you see in the pictures or in movies. I'll share some secrets, fun tips, great vendors and helpers in the process along with some pretty fantastic pictures from our day shot by the beautiful, Jessi Nichols.
V E N U E
We found our venue out of happenstance. Mom suggested it to me when we were first considering locations and of course, because it's what all daughters do, I said, "no." Fast forward a few weeks later, Thomas and I drove by the property, located in the heart of Historic Columbia and thought, "gosh, what a beautiful place to get married." My mom smiled and nodded in polite agreeance and we scheduled a tour.
The Robert Mills House and Gardens in Historic Columbia, is a large white house with two brick buildings on either side with a grand front yard entrance and a large grassy backyard with tall oaks occupying the space. On either side of the house are gardens. One is a rose garden with a gravel pathways weaving in and out. Another is a wildflower garden with a fountain and another grassy lawn we used as a cocktail hour.
The contrast between the white painted brick, the historic touch of the South, the modern feel of the outdoor garden venue paired with the archways that lay underneath the patio made for the greatest party location. No driving, no relocating, simple. (Highly suggest).
F L O W E R S
One of the parts of planning I loved the best: people were so eager to help and step up. We had people popping out of everywhere running all of their talents and hobbies by us and asking if we would appreciate their service. I am so grateful that an extended family member did. Our florist was Thomas's aunt's mother-in-law. She owns a quaint florist shop in Columbia and has always helped with all of the family's weddings. She had a great eye and the most unique contributions when it came to deciding which flower for which costs. It's important to find a florist that will 1. listen to you and what you want and 2. team up with you to make the best bouquets or centerpieces without all of the additional costs.
T H E D R E S S
I feel like I'm saying that every part of my planning process was my favorite, but for real: shopping with your bridesmaids, family and friends for your wedding dress, the wedding dress, is one of the most exhilarating experiences. You get to try on lots of fun dresses, with a pile full of people to affirm you, love on you when, let's be honest, us women aren't the kindest to ourselves. We get to see that, "oh wait, that Pinterest dress actually does not look the same on me" and you find something that fits your style not your board's.
I walked away with a dress I would have never drawn up for myself. But, with the help of my best friends, family members and myself (remember your own opinion, too), I carried out a beautiful, classic yet modern dress I was so proud to wear.
E X T R A H E L P
I highly recommend that you have at least a "day of coordinator." I was blessed to have an entire planner that is a dear and close family friend that is not only good at loving people but is phenomenal at doing her job and making your day goes as plans. Of course, there are plans that go a little nuts the day of because everyone is trying to do what they know to do but to have that one person to keep it all together and arrange things is perfection. Taylor Batt, with Alyson Taylor Events (aka super woman) was the one to think of all the disasters waiting to happen before they did. she put out the fires before they arose. What a gal! Everyone needs a Taylor Batt on your wedding day. In fact, in your life!
P H O T O G R A P H E R
When you start planning, sit down and list out all of your priorities, in order of importance. Photography sat at the top of mine. I was willing to pay a price to get moments captured by someone I trusted. Once the memories fade, the pictures will always be there. And, if you can't tell, I'm a picture-girl. I love me some beautiful pictures.
I found our photographer on Instagram (highly recommend) because I knew what her work looked like: beautiful, bright and consistent. I sent in an inquiry and she invited me to coffee (another plus).
You want your photographer to end up being someone you can rely on for that day. Someone you can go ahead and warn what the hard parts will be and give them the social freedom to step up and be your advocate in those situations.
Jessi Nichols did that and I could not flaunt her any more. I am so so thrilled with the way our pictures (these pictures) turned out.
Photography is worth the splurge, people.
V I D E O G R A P H Y
Not only was photography worth the splurge to me, but videography was as well. I knew that what pictures wouldn't always capture, video would. I am grateful to have two great friends that are stellar behind a lens. Max Huggins and Austin Koon shot and edited our video and created the best montage of memories that we will always cherish and re-watch again, and again, and again. These two also acted as our body guards throughout the day, they scooped us up and escorted us through people to get the shot we knew we would regret not getting.
Communicate your needs to your vendors/people before the day of and if they're good, they'll keep you accountable. On that day, the detail shot or all the other things that were important to you will not be on your radar.
I N V I T E S + A L L T H I N G S P A P E R
I did a big "no-no" and order too many Save The Dates for too much money. That really hurt me in the budget that my mom and I created. When it came to invites, because I had shot myself in the foot with the Save The Dates, I had to be creative, think a little outside of the box. I turned to some of my really great and wonderful friends that love graphic design and showed them what I was envisioning for my invites and they created it! I mean, right down to the font, they were perfect. I went on Etsy and found really great floral watercolor images that I would carry out through my RSVP cards, Information Cards, etc. I ordered my inner and outer envelopes online and had my invites and other paper items printed at a local printshop.
People, my invites + all other paper items (including the programs) were all under $100. Try and match that price online...
Advice: step outside of the "norm" and use your brain to come up with alternative ways to do what you want. These website, and sometimes vendors, are pretty sneaky and try and getchya where they can because they know you'd pay almost anything to make this day "perfect."
F O O D + C A K E
Oooooh, I wish there a rewind button just for our buffet. Forget the fancy menu, we wanted the deep south combo! We had all of our food catered from Palmetto Pig, a local BBQ restaurant. With BBQ, fried chicken, mac and cheese, green beans, baked beans, cole slaw, hush puppies and biscuits, no one left hungry (I hope). We aren't really "fancy people" so a "fancy menu" just didn't fit us.
The only food that was not catered by Palmetto Pig was the pimento cheese that my mom whipped up 20 pounds of and the fresh cut watermelon for cocktail hour. Thankfi;
I've been to a few weddings where I just haven't really been in the mood for cake, not because I don't like cake (ya girl loves cake) but because I wasn't really a fan on the flavor. One of our biggest hesitations about the cake was the flavor because everyone has a different taste pallet. We came up with a solution: a cake bar. We had 7 different flavors from chocolate to carrot to vanilla and raspberry to caramel and more. That's a great way to please the entire crowd.
Honestly, this was the part I was most anxious about. Not because I would be walking down the aisle to my soon-to-be husband; but, because of all the people that would be there to watch. Ceremonies are great but a little weird if you ask me. It's a great celebration with an audience, I think they call that a play...
There's a lot of pressure to make sure everything goes as plans: don't trip down the aisle, don't stutter on your vows, don't lose your veil in the middle of your ceremony (guilty). But, it was critical to me that in the midst of everything going on that our ceremony felt real. I didn't want it to seem like a show. We got rid of a lot of the traditional stuff that you'll normally find in the program. We added the parts that were significant to us: communion, a prayer from our guests and bridal party, a music selection that would remind us of "the day" every time we heard it, etc.
Thomas and I decided that we would write our own vows: we wanted them to be similar to each other's yet incorporate a lot of our promises in our relationship to help the transition be as smooth as possible, spiritually and emotionally.
I asked Thomas in the midst of the wedding planning process, "what means the most to you on our wedding day? What is one detail you cannot live without." He answered, "I want you to come through doors." It was a silly request because we were married outside. Naturally, there are not doors. But, we were able to put our hands on some and rent them for the day to fit Thomas's wishes. He still had the "grand entrance" he had always imagined and I still got my breezy, birds chirping ceremony that I had always dreamed of.
This, my friend is what you'll have to make your wedding day all about: compromise. Listen to one another, be up-front about your dreams, aspirations and desires. This will avoid a lot of conflict when decisions are made out of assumption and tempt the other to get upset over something that could be really silly and pointless (like for us, what point the groomsmen walk down the aisle LOL).
A topic for another conversation, what it's like on your wedding day if you've lost a parent. But, honestly, this was one of the hardest hurdles for me. I thought about my dad greatly in the planning process but it never seemed like he was actually missing out, until that day. If this is something that you are preparing to go through, it will be okay. In all the ways that I knew I would have to find a stand-in, I did so with purpose and affection so that I would be comforted in these moments. My brothers walked my down the aisle, one on my left side, one on my right. My grandfather gave me away to Thomas (a sweet moment I will never forget).
We wanted our ceremony to also be a worship service. We included music from our favorites, Hillsong, Phil Wickham and more. We took communion together as our first act of marriage and afterwards we had our bridal party and congregation pray over us. Thomas crafted and made by hand a cross that was draped in a floral arrangement for our alter. It was a time that we dedicated to our relationship not being the "end goal." Thomas and I wanted to take the opportunity to have all of our friends and family gathered to declare the purpose of our marriage: to glorify the Lord. I hope we did just that.
All we wanted was a party and, I may be biased, but it was exactly that. We had a DJ (Carolina Dance and Sound) that brought his own laser lights, had a dance floor laid down, turned up the music, said, "yes" to requests, had glowing market lights strung from oak to oak to light up the night and we had a hard time shutting the party down.
We, like a lot of weddings, ate our dinner during the reception. Thomas and I decided to eat out with everybody else. However, we switched it up a bit and ate at a table just the two of us. This was my favorite because we were able to enjoy our supper with each other while also still enjoying the company of our guests and being involved with them since we knew this time would only last for a short while.
We both had 10 people on our side the day of and we don't regret it one bit. We'd get the "oh my! That's a lot of people" response quite frequently. But, we asked for a party, didn't we? There was always someone there to fix my hair, fan me when I got hot, have a glass of water for me ready to go, have a joke for me to laugh at, put my veil back in when it fell out. We loved it.
Thomas's guys were a blast as well, they kept us girls cool, calm and collected. While the bridesmaids and I were getting ready, the groomsmen and my groom went skeet shooting the morning of. I'm jealous.
All of our cousins, nieces and nephews went down the isle as our flower girls and ring bearers. Yep, all of them. Again with the party thing. They loved the parade of throwing flowers, one of them even ran. I was told it was the cutest thing ever and I'm pretty sad I missed it (I was behind the rental doors).
At the end of it all, I am thankful that we made adjustments when we saw fit. We made that day ours but also kept with tradition and loved every bit of it. It was more than just the wedding to us, it was the start of an embarkment that is still continuing today. So, after the curtain falls, what will you want to remember most? A sigh of relief or tons of giggles and "that was so much fun!"?