Rachel Awtrey

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Thomas is an Air Force Pilot! 🇺🇸✈️

This is a side of our family maybe you didn’t know about or maybe you’ve never seen. But, it’s one you’ll see a lot more of. 🇺🇸✈️

Today, Thomas started a new step in his pilot and military career by combining both of these worlds completely and this military wife could not be more proud. It’s been a few years in the waiting season for a moment like this. My determined husband was just selected as the next KC-135 pilot for the Alabama Air National Guard. So, he’ll be flying one of these big guys behind us and we’ll call Birmingham home for a few years longer 🙌🏻

Cheering On My Husband
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Thomas’s dream was (and is) to fly. I didn’t know how I felt about it, all of the fears arose, I had too many questions to ask at once. But, I just knew that he lit up when he saw airplane pass by, it often occupied our supper conversation and I didn’t want to be the one to hold him back.
Lots of flights, miles and God stories later, Thomas is a pilot, accomplishing dreams and doing his thang and dang, I’m so proud and excited to be a part of it all. ✈️
Pray for your dreams!
Ask God the hard questions!
Cheer on your husband!

5 Lessons I've Learned in Marriage

Woah, today, Thomas and I have been married for one whole year. It's been a year full of fun, adventures, traveling, moving, graduating, and so much more! Through it all, we've learned a few key pieces that we use practically almost every day. Out of a spirit of vulnerability, we wanted to share those with you all because no marriage is perfect but there's so much we can share with one another.

1. You don't meet each other in the middle

For so long, I've imagined marriage as a "you give 50% and I give 50% and then we'll be at 100%." But, I was so wrong. Most days, I can't give 50%, much less 10% so, with my theory, that would mean Thomas is giving more than 50% a lot. That's not "fair." At least, that's what the world will tell you. But, if our motive is to serve each other well and out-give the other, it becomes fun to "out serve" one another. So when I aim to give 100% of myself and he aims to give all of himself. Then there's more room for improvement, for failure, for grace. And that's what marriage is all about: tons of grace.

2. Marriage is a covenant, not a contract

Along the lines of "meeting each other in the middle," the world tells us that we signed a contract when in reality, we are apart of a greater thing: a covenant. A contract can be broken when one doesn't uphold their part of the deal. It goes void. However, when I fail or I get upset or grumpy, Thomas still aims to love me well. Likewise, when Thomas isn't having a great day, that doesn't give me permission to give up on him. What binds us together is not the words, "I do" or signing a marriage license, it's the commitment that we made to do life together and believing that we can go farther together even though we may be able to go faster alone. Farther is better.

3. You can't love on your own

So many times I try and give love, give love, give love. But, y'all, that's exhausting. I try and cook meals, clean the house, make sure that Thomas is feeling respected and loved, that he has clean clothes, that I'm hugging him and greeting him with a kiss and gosh! That's a lot when you're doing it out of your own strength. Sometimes, I wake up on the wrong side of the bed and don't feel like hugging anyone, I don't feel like doing the laundry or the dishes, I don't feel like respecting Thomas, I feel more independent and not dependent. Those times that I feel like doing something other than what I've been called to do as a life leave me selfish and Thomas feeling unloved. Most of the times that I feel those ways are because I am relying on my own heart rather than overflowing from the Lord's. When I tap into the resources that I have with God, he gives me the strength, the desire and the craving to want to serve Thomas better than I ever would have wanted to if I tried it on my own. For so long I had it backward. I have to love Thomas so that I'm doing it right so that I'm a "good Christian." When really, I must first be in love with Christ so that I can then love my husband.

Just like a car, we have to fill up with gas and then we can run. When your gas runs out, your car doesn't work or go anywhere. The world and it's culture tells us, "your car isn't working" so you need a new car" when really all you need is to get to a gas station and fill up with some more gas. A car can't just run on its own just like we can't love on our own. Just because we're feeling empty and our gas tank is out doesn't mean it's time to go searching for a new car or give up on the spouse that we have.

4. You're constantly learning one another

I'm still learning what makes him tick, what grinds his gears, what he loves, what his childhood was like and it's a fun adventure! We're constantly "taking notes," discovering new things about one another that make us more efficient in fighting fair, conversations, daily routines and such. So the times that are hard and we're having to jump some hurdles in a relationship can't be times that we get discouraged. Instead, we should celebrate that we know each other more deeply and that we are making progress!

5. Community is key

Without the community that we've made in Birmingham, being a part of our small group, having people over for dinner and going to other's homes for meals, we wouldn't be standing still. It takes people to encourage you, rebukes you, reminds you of what marriage is. A community should be full of vulnerability and freedom! To be able to say "yeah, last week was not a good week for us, we were really struggling" and someone to respond, "it's okay, us too" or "yeah, we've been there" is a great relief! We are not doing this whole marriage thing alone. Hallelujah! You must have a community of people to uplift you when you need someone to pray and lift you up, someone to remind you how great your spouse is when you're just too frustrated to see through the clutter, to release the enemy's grip when you feel weak.

So, no. By no means do we have this figured out. However, we have learned so much and are still learning! From glory to glory, it keeps getting better and better. The best is yet to come!

Road Trip Out West

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!

DAY 1

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 :)

DAY 2

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!

Read about our Magnolia trip here!

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.

DAY 3

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.

DAY 4

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. 

Day 5

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. :)

5 Things Every Bride-to-Be Should Be Doing

The build up to the wedding day - sheesh. There's the venue planning, the caterer, the dress alterations, seat planning, making sure you won't run out of food, etc. But, if you're anything like me, you're an organizer and you want to make sure that there is not a thing that will get overlooked. Although, that's a silly expectation (because nothing really goes seamlessly) there are a few things that I found important throughout my engagement season that all brides should know about.

1. Perfume

Sounds crazy, but this was one thing that I did that I am so so thankful I remembered to do. Find a scent that you love and buy it. Don't use it until the wedding day, let it sit in the box (patience) or have your groom give it to you as a gift. Bring it out on your wedding day and spritz some on the morning of and then again before you walk down the isle. Bring it on your honeymoon and continue to use it on special and fun occasions afterwards. 

It's such a sweet concept: every time you spritz some on, you'll remember your special day, all the romance, all the love and your incredible adventures in the few days after your wedding day you spent in paradise. Whenever I go to put mine on, it's impossible for me to not remember the memories attached to that fragrance. 

2. Box of sentimentals you want photographed

Your photographer should set up these expectations with you. But, incase she hasn't: put together a box of valuable items that you'd want photographed. Your dress, the wedding party, the reception is all great and fun to look through when the album comes back but don't forget to cherish the details. This is why the box is so important. Stuff it with your invitation suite, his ring, your ring, anything you're carrying down the isle, ribbon, etc. 

Hand this over and designate this responsibility to someone else that can get this special box to your photographer before the chaos begins.

3. Writing letters

It's so sweet to receive letters that are delayed. Write letters throughout your engagement season. Write him what you're looking forward to, what you love about him, what's been difficult, what's been easy and hand them over the day of! You may not have time to read them then and there but those letters are something you can both work your way through and read in the weeks after.

4. Date! Date! Date!

Go on dates with your fiancé. This anticipation feeling and eagerness to finally call each other "husband" and "wife" makes date nights all the more fun. They include dreaming with each other about careers, houses, children, family, etc. So, soak it up! Don't forget to treat each other to a date night: dinner and a movie, mini golf, dessert and coffee, but please date! When you do go on the dates, the wedding and planning and such is off limits.

5. Block out the haters!

You'll get a lot of people that disagree with you about your decision to get married. My mom told me during my season of engagement, "if you wait until everyone's approval, you'll never get married." So, trust yourself, trust your fiancé, and block out the discouraging noise. Don't let their tainted view of marriage taint yours. 

People see marriage as a "lock down" as "you'll never be free again" but in my opinion, I've never felt more free. Marriage is really great and has challenges but anything worth it is worth fighting for. My marriage is not dead and yours will not be either as long as you continually serve one another and seek God's will for your family first. 

Enjoy this season - it doesn't last forever.

 

"He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6

Photography by Jessi Nichols Photoraphy

Moving Home Sweet Home

BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA

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. 

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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. 

xoxo


Moving Tips

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. 

Our First Christmas Together

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. 

 
what they're not telling you about marriage

There's a lot about marriage that is inexplicable until you are actually in the covenant of marriage. So I'm going to try, with words, to describe to you a few things that are extremely important when thinking of marriage. 

It's beautiful. But, the world has perverted it and it deserves a redefinition to it's original meaning. 

1. Marriage is not the end goal.

I overhear conversations in coffee shops (sorry for eavesdropping...) or the grocery store and girls are staring at the wedding magazine drooling over their dream wedding day. It's not about the wedding, it's about the marriage. It's about the thousands-no-millions of hours that follow after those eight that deserve the investment. 

Other conversations include dialogue like, "I just can't wait until marriage because ______"

  • Finances will become easier
  • I'll always feel loved
  • My problems will be fixed 
  • Etc. 

However, marriage was not given to us as a gift to fix our problems. We've put the stress on marriage to complete us, make us happy and be able to add to our value. This is why the divorce rate is just as, if not more, popular as the keeping the covenant of marriage. Because marriage was not created for our happiness. In fact, it was created to humble us. It's so that we learn the relationship between Christ and the Church. It will never be perfect like Christ's love. Marriage, our spouse, will fail us. That's the design. That's the gift. We are gifted with failure of one another so that we are continually pointed back to Jesus. If you had a perfect marriage, there'd be no room for Jesus to satisfy. So embrace the struggle, right?

2. Marriage is just  a piece of the amount that God love us.

Like I mentioned earlier, marriage is s gift because it gives us a picture of the way that Christ loves us. Just a picture. It's microscopic to the way that he pursues us. 

Confession time: last week was pretty nuts for me. I got overwhelmed quickly with the items stacking up in my agenda, dishes in the sink, Remi peed on our linen duvet cover (bitter about it still, I'll admit), we had no food in the fridge that looked appealing (angry) so I, in my sinful nature, came in the door and walked right back out. I didn't return home for about 2.5 hours and found myself finishing up some of the things that needed to be scratched off of my to-do list. On the way home I thought, gosh, I left Thomas, not telling him where I was going, he doesn't know when I'm going home and he knows that I'm upset. This immediately broke my heart, my speedometer sped up and all of a sudden I was anxious to get home, to be greeted by him, to snuggle Remi despite the fact he had an accident on one of my favorite things ever. 

Then it clicked. Why am I not as anxious to come home to the Father? Why am I okay avoiding Him, His home and His Kingdom when I think mine takes precedence. He waits for us to return, with open arms, but we have to decide to make the u-turn and be the prodigal son we've read about. Thomas missed me when I left. How much more does Jesus miss me when I storm out because things don't look the way I think they ought to?

Success in marriage doesn't come until eternity. I'm not successful because he feels loved or because I feel loved in return. Success is when Thomas stands before the Throne of God and is told, "well done good and faithful servant" and I may know that I am part of the reason why. There's something bigger than my family. 

"Return to me, do not forsake me" Jeremiah 2:19

When we get in a habit of being "happy" and satisfied with what we experience on Earth from our earthly relationships, we are neglecting the good gift which comes from Christ. Not our husband, ladies. 

3. Intimacy is not natural. 

"When I get married, then I'll feel loved." Ehhh, not quite. Intimacy and feeling loved and connected comes when the two of you fight through an obstacle together, when you do something for the Kingdom. Francis Chan made a good point when he compared intimacy to sport teams. Intimacy + community and the dog pile doesn't occur after they've been in the locker room holding hands and singing with one another. No. It happens after a touchdown, interception or first-down. It happens when a goal is completed, there's a celebration. Intimacy is the same. It's not something that is always a part of the relationship, when the two of you combine forces for the Kingdom, intimacy is rewarded.

"Intimacy is the by-product of living on mission with one another" -Francis Chan

Some of you may be thinking, "gosh. That's a lot different than I expected" or "mmm maybe marriage isn't for me." Let me repeat, I think that marriage is a gift. It's a beautiful display of the way that Jesus loves us and is sacrificial for us, it shows us that when we are vulnerable, there are blessings. It shows us that there is a greater mission than loving ourselves and loving others. It shows us that we are loved more than we can ever imagine or experience here on Earth. It displays "faithfulness" and the replication of the way that we are called to be married to the Lord. 

It's beautiful friends. I pray that you get to experience the ultimate love of Christ. Anything other is incomparable. 

Christmas Tree Shopping

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. 

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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.

xoxo,

Rachel

A Diary of a Newlywed Kitchen

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

Behind the Scenes of a Wedding Day

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. 

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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. 

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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!"?

 

xoxo,

Rachel

My summer in a tiny home

We’re placed in Northern California this summer up in the mountains in an itty bitty town named Etna with the cutest breakfast spot, glorious sunsets, amazing locations for off days, and fields full of cattle that run as long as the eye can see and eventually meet the purple mountains majesty we’ve always sung about. 

Who wouldn’t want a newlywed adventure up in these secret spots? We asked for exactly that: an adventure. We received nothing short of one, that’s for sure. 

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The hectic days of Thomas running around checking on ropes courses, being able to gobble up a meal together so he can run back and check up again, pass by so quickly. And with working on a guest ranch, you’re also being hosted by the ranch. We eat our meals here, we take a four wheeler to work or, like we’ve begun recently, we walk.

There’s so many people to see, things to get done, books I want to read, but at the end of the day I look forward to our time to connect. 

Because of our desire for adventure + a place to connect, we took the opportunity to live this summer in a camper. A quaint, small  camper that we get to call “ours”. 

When it arrived, it got cleaned and handed over. Gosh, what a fun first home, right?

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I was just so happy that we got somewhere to ourselves. Thomas was just so happy to have a project, he loves to tinker. 

So here we are, a month in as “happy campers” (literally). We bought patterned contact paper and Thomas, the handyman, cut the edges to exact measurements to fit on our wall to replace the other wallpaper. We bought white canvas fabric and reupholstered the couches to make our home light and clean looking; “dreamy and creamy” as my friend Edith would say. Thomas picked out the perfect throw pillow and with a couple of organization tools, we’d say we fit in perfectly. Our lofted bed with the fluffy pillows and white thick duvet and linen duvet cover (that just was delivered!) complete the “home.” I’m recently grateful for the love of my life because he installed an AC unit-that tiny place turns into an oven after noon. It’s the small things that make it ours and I’ll never be more grateful for this “first home” we share together. 

Yes, living in a camper at a ranch is quite a change from the all inclusive resort honeymoon lifestyle but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. A place I get to call mine with the man that’s mine forever is something that I can’t express in this brief blog post. “Home” is late nights playing card games at the table and getting in small tiffs over what rules are fair, it’s the early, cold mornings complimented with the smell of coffee brewing that fills the air quickly, or the cereal dates before the work day, the small squeaking hinges on the doors or the rattling wheels when we walk, the natural light coming from the right at dawn and the left at dusk, the scooting around each other so we can spit our toothpaste out in the sink. It’s lovely. It’s home. 

It’s not about the large house with spacious rooms with hardwood floors and high ceilings. Home is the people, not the place. It’s the feeling, not the location. 

Whether you’re in a camper, shack, apartment, cave, lake or beach house, what makes it “home” for you?

Photography // MaryGrace Baker

His side of the story
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I'm not a great writer, but it's easy to write about your favorite subject huh? Rachel and I met through youth group at the church we attended. It wasn't until my senior year in high school that I stepped my game up. We went on a mission trip together to a place called Ambassador Camp. Throughout the trip we had many "coincidental work locations together", meal, and hang out times, I was hooked. I came up with a new nickname for her as we painted buildings, flirted and hung out on the trip. We had a great week together and at the end I got her number before we left. I figured I should give her ample time after the trip before I texted her. So I was patient and waited till the van ride home obviously. I mustered up the courage and sent a very manly, enticing, romantic two word text. "Hey Squirt." (nickname) She had to be hooked after that right? We're officially talking, smooth moves. 

After that trip I came home spoke with her dad and told him that I wanted to pursue Rachel. To which he responded, informing me that there would be a series of four dates at home with Rachel and the family in order to make that happen. The first of which consisted of a 25 mile cycling ride at 7 AM with just the two of us, him and I, so that he could kick my butt, but that's beside the point. Our relationship continued to grow, and we had an amazing time in high school getting to know each other, hanging out with our friends, and dating each other for over a year until I graduated. After my senior year, I went straight into basic training for the United States Air Force. I was gone for 8 1/2 weeks. It was difficult to be long-distance in every sense of the word, and afterwards on the night I graduated basic training, we broke up. Curveball. "If we're meant to be together, we will be together," we said. We had some very wise counsel and we broke up until Rachel was a freshman in college. 

Life brought us back together and we would never be the same. I asked her out that semester, and we picked up where we left off. We were both very different, we were both really excited, and we were both a little confused. But it was amazing to start again and make up for lost time. Over the past two years, i've continued to fall. We are two people that together love Jesus, adventure, family feud, shagging, road trips, spontaneity, and each other. And that's pretty cool. I've learned to love, cherish, and confide in my best friend. 

Now? I can't wait to marry the girl of my dreams.

 

The Proposal

Thomas and I worked together this summer in Etna, California at a guest ranch (clearing up myth number 1 that he flew to Cali to propose). This summer was amazing. I got to see him lead, serve, grow, be humbled and had the unique opportunity to share a community together. Because we are long distance, this is the first time we’ve had this experience of being neighbors. Being proposed to away from home was probably not ideal to most people but for me it meant so much that we were able to share this moment with everyone including all of our lovely friends at the ranch because they had been a huge part of the maturation of our relationship. 

On this specific evening, I had finished work early and showered and put on a nice outfit for dinner but was a little early. I hung out at the lodge with a few friends chatting, laughing, looking at pictures-a couple of them knew what the night had to offer. Thomas came up and said he had been packing (we were leaving California to come home to SC in the next few days) and asked if I wanted to go on one more motorcycle ride before the end of the summer. (He brought out his motorcycle to the ranch-it was our date nights). “Yeah! I’d lov- wait…I have to finish some laundry. I can’t tonight, what about tomorrow?” All of a sudden, my friends at the table persisted and gave me reasons why laundry was unimportant and even offered to do it for me. So, I said yes that I would go with him.

We left dinner early to preform a skit for the guests at the ranch. Conveniently, it was the “dating skit.” When we left dinner, everyone on staff was informed of what was happening that night. After we finished preforming the skit, we hopped on the motorcycle and headed off property. At that point, I had NO idea anything was happening; however, I did realize everyone was being so friendly to me. He offered to take me to “the bridge,” a special place we’ve had this summer to watch sunsets and such. So we headed there.

When we ride on the motorcycle, he turns his right side-view mirror to face me so he can wink and flirt while we’re riding. This time, he told me later it was to see my reaction when we pulled up. 

When we were getting closer to the bridge, I realized it was glowing and kept glancing at the sun to see if maybe it was a reflection. “No, no sun tonight. What is that?” We drove up, he down shifted and we stopped. The bridge was covered in candles and daisies (he left me daisies on my belongings when he didn’t have time to talk some days). All of a sudden, our song came on-“Forever Like That” by Ben Rector. At this point, I caught on and my heart started racing. He brought me over to the set up and started telling me all that I meant to him. He sat me down on the bench that was placed there and went back to the motorcycle and retrieved the ring. He came back over, got down on one knee and asked, “Rachel McAfee, will you marry me.”

And here’s how it goes from there.