lukeandmanda

The most amazing love story since Romeo and Juliet haha

Pilgrims in a New Land: The First Friendsgiving

Perspectives Last Class

Yesterday was a huge day for the UF first year doctoral students in mass communication. We completed our last class session and presentations for the hardest class of the program, Perspectives, and now it is smooth sailing. Well, almost. We still have to complete our final papers, but essentially WE MADE IT! **If you did a double take, yes some clever photo shop work was done to add that professor to the picture, and a couple classmates too! ūüėČ

Life is good. Our kind classmate, Kelsy, planned a Friendsgiving celebration for the evening in conjunction with the last class and before people begin traveling for the Thanskgiving holiday next week. This turned out to be SUCH a special event, that I wanted to share a little snippet with all of you here on the blog. First, we had so much fun that we forgot to take any pictures (very uncharacteristic of me, I know.) But, I will go back to my journalism days and try to paint a word picture of this experience and why I will remember it so fondly for years and years to come.

Nine of us gathered together in the clubhouse at one of the local apartment complexes, from many different backgrounds and bearing many different dishes. It wasn’t a traditional Thanksgiving dinner; Kelsy had the brilliant idea that in bringing us all together, it might be fun to prepare dishes from our heritage for the potluck.

On the Menu:

  • Chicken wings (Jamaican Jerk and Lemon Pepper)
  • Kabobs (extra, extra spicy, but so colorful and delicious)
  • Chicken and rice with Indian-inspired spices
  • Deviled eggs
  • Green bean casserole
  • Chips and salsa
  • Popcorn
  • Rum from Barbados (and Coke)
  • Cherry pie for dessert

As you can see, we had a very eclectic menu, but all of the dishes were so delicious! One of my favorite parts of getting to know this cohort which has quickly transformed into a family is learning about the cuisine from different parts of the world. You can probably guess which dishes us Southern girls brought (me from Alabama and shout out to Brett from Mississippi for literally making my day with her deviled eggs, one of my all-time favorite dishes.)

I made my typical green bean casserole, yes the one from the French Fried Onions can. It is a favorite in our family (and in my friend Rachel Sampler’s family), so we have this dish at almost all of our holidays and celebrations. It was fun sharing this with new friends, and I was surprised by how much some of them loved it, even the non-bean lovers! I shared the recipe with them this morning, and here is a copy for all of you if you’re interested. Like I said before, nothing original, but super easy, affordable, and a great side item.

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Green Bean Casserole

(Note: this picture came from the recipe above. My food never turns out that presentation worthy, but it is always made with love!)

I also made this no bake cherry pie.

cherry pie

(Again, not my picture!) It was really yummy, and we ate every bite, but I will say as the recipe stands, it was very runny. I made it the day before and chilled overnight, so I was surprised that it did not solidify. I am an ingredient follower to the T, so I know I did exactly as these instructions say. Many of us got second (and third) helpings, so it is a sure hit, but there may be a way to tailor something to make it more pie-like and less liquid in texture. ūüôā But I digress.

As we filled our plates with heaping helpings of wings (for me), chicken and rice, green bean casserole, and cherry pie, the group was in high spirits. We shared much laughter, inside jokes formed over the course of a semester lived side by side in a high stress program, and so many stories. It was my honor and privilege to say grace before the meal even though we all come from very different walks of life and not everyone is a believer. It was so special to pray over the group and thank the Lord for so many blessings this year.

The rum from Barbados added a special spice to the gathering, and as we ate, we played simple and yet hilarious table games. If you know me at all, you know I can’t carry a beat to save my life, but I tried my hardest in an interactive version of Scattergories (this isn’t the right name, but it’s the best way to describe it,) and everyone howled when I messed up time and time again. But, we all did. Every bit of laughter and humor was shared in love without the competitive, cutthroat vibe that so many programs are known for having. We are in this together, and that cohesive feeling of support is immeasurable in this new environment.

I mentioned in the title of this post feeling like a pilgrim in this new land, and at times I really and truly have.

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It’s not that Florida is so very far away but just a brand new life experience with a level of challenge and rigor that is unmatched in my professional experience. We came here knowing no one and have banded together despite personal and professional obstacles to survive and thrive and make this place home. And, that is such a special nearly indescribable feeling.

As I met the eyes of others around our dinner table, now my friends, many expressed feeling this exact same way. We shared our gratitude for camaraderie and shared sense of community in these final days of Semester 1. It is something many people don’t expect going into a Ph.D. program, an experience that is traditionally known to be extremely isolating (did you know depression rates are extremely high among Ph.D. students nationwide? Part of it is the nature of programs like this.) But in removing that element of isolation some, most of us are feeling much happier than expected even despite extreme stress still to come with upcoming finals and conference deadlines.

While I know each and every one of us has individually had our very tough moments and times of doubt these past few months, we have come through it all with one another to lean on. One articulate friend shared the Biblical reference that iron sharpens iron, and in that way so we sharpen one another–a whole tiny Army here in Gainesville together. So in this way, we came and gathered from many far away lands to include Saudi Arabia, Barbados, Jamaica, Korea, China, and all over the USA to share a meal and holiday in our life together. For some, it was their very first Thanksgiving dinner. I am honored to have gotten the chance to break bread with them.

At the end of the meal, in this modern apartment complex with tangerine leather couches, a complete kitchen and mini fridge, pool table (which I enjoyed earlier in the night), and a TV with ESPN, we turned on our disco ball; yes, you read that right we had a disco ball. And amidst brilliant hues of red, green, blue and gold, we stood up one by one (some to the microphone! this was legit), and others just to project their voices in a sincere expression of thanks. We were asked to share exactly what was on our hearts– what we are thankful for this year. And, y’all, I¬† am breaking out of my comfort zone by sharing my video(s) here with you. (I’m not that long winded, I promise! Just had a couple of distractions.)

I am in communications but am not a technology pro, and I do not wish to pay $8/month for the privilege of embedding these videos in the site; sorry WordPress, we are budgeting! Ha. But, you can follow each of the links below in order to Youtube and learn exactly what I am thankful for this year and hear from my heart about the 3 things I sincerely treasure.

What I Am Thankful For This Year Part 1

What I Am Thankful For This Year Part 2

Here are a few screen grabs from Kelsy’s videos, our only “pictures” of the night.

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As we played Phase 10 into the wee hours amidst a professional modeling photo shoot, my heart simply overflowed with joy at the love and friendship that can be found at the most unexpected times, in the most unexpected places. I could have spent Friday night hammering out research work–and trust me, I have plenty to have made that happen. And, I have spent many Friday nights and other nights of the week in this way with so many more to come. But instead, all of us put our own agendas aside for a time to come together to play and laugh and love.

You read that right above: a professional modeling photo shoot. I simply have to elaborate on this but don’t think I can do it justice. About 8:30 p.m. in the middle of a profound speech of gratitude from my classmate, a woman came into the room looking for “Antonio.” We affirmed he wasn’t there; she disappeared for a while and came back with two men, presumably Antonio, and the three sat for awhile by the pool table and preceded to clap for our remaining speeches. Why thank you, thank you very much. (Awkward?!) A rather rotund woman in a striped dress showed up a half hour later with a white background, professional lighting, and camera.

Within the next three hours the room was literally transformed to include a professional beauty salon (complete with two hair stylists and make up artists) and photo studio. About 20 women came one by one to be photographed along with many bystanders, some of whom asked us for refreshments and wanted to join in Phase 10. It was the darndest thing. The modeling was quite intense, coming from a former modeling instructor that’s saying something, and we sorted through our cards amidst screams of “Work it, girl, do your thing, show me those cat eyes.” Meanwhile, a procession of mermaids, dancers?, and girls in bikinis and fur wraps meandered through, patiently waiting for their turn behind the lens. We are not really sure the photographer knew what she was doing, and I would simply love to see those photos someday. It was quite amusing to say the least, and at the end of the night one of our classmates even found a new salon recommendation, and we have yet another memory to share at graduation 3 years from now.

So, that was my Friendsgiving experience, the good, the bad, and the ugly. There wasn’t really any bad or ugly actually, just a positive, uplifting time. The speeches were my favorite part of the night, many much more eloquent than mine, and listening to each classmate’s heart, one by one, I felt grateful that if we are going to be pilgrims here completing this Ph.D., at least we are pilgrims together. #TheFirstFriendsgivingOfManyToCome #AnnualCohortTradition #OneStepCloserToDrBradshaw

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A Time for Gratitude

Bear Bradshaw

November!! Whoa, where did Summer go? Well, here in Florida it kind of still feels like Summer. I passed the University pool today and saw several people out sunning in 80 degree weather; if it doesn’t feel cold, is it really Fall? My calendar says it is.

Each year around this time, I become extra focused on my many blessings and what I am thankful for as we approach Thanksgiving. Yes, I am a cheesy cliche like that. I absolutely had to begin the list this time with the Bradshaw family’s newest addition pictured above. Meet Bear, a medium-sized labradoodle, who we CANNOT WAIT to bring home after finals week in December.

We were originally planning to get him right after Thanksgiving, but I decided the last week of my first Ph.D. semester filled with 2 conference deadlines and several final projects, was not the best first week for a new puppy. So, he will be my reward for a job well done (or at the very least, Mission Accomplished.) Stay tuned for more photos! Although, I cannot promise you won’t get tired of seeing this fur baby before too long because I just might be a teensy tiny bit obsessed.

I spent this gorgeous Saturday morning exploring a new part of Gainesville; a few friends from my program decided to go to see Devil’s Milhopper State Park, and I thought some fresh air and a hike in the sunshine might be just what I needed to break out of my computer-induced robotic state from completing several days of coding on some research projects. The girl talk was very welcomed, although the trail was extremely short since the park is still recovering from 60 feet of flooding from Hurricane Irma back in September. The actual Milhopper may sink in at any time, according to a Ranger carefully guarding the sinkhole. Thanks to his presence and our natural integrity, we didn’t hop any fences to explore anyway…although we may have been tempted to!

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(Photo credits: Aantaki).

We topped off our stroll with lunch at Piesanos, a yummy (chain) pizza restaurant. Some of our more athletic/ambitious colleagues biked over an hour and a half to join us for food. It was definitely a fun morning study break. There are so many State Parks and beautiful places within a 45 min.-1 hour drive of Gainesville. I cannot wait to explore some more sites, such as the Springs everyone keeps talking about! When Bear arrives, he will be my adventure buddy when Luke is working! ūüôā¬† I am currently on the hunt for the best dog beaches in Florida!

In not-so-fun news, our Welcome to Home Ownership Initiation has included the need for a brand new HVAC/heating unit (and a really not-so-fun price tag) that we were not anticipating so soon. However, we took our time shopping around for the best quotes, and I am so grateful since the company we are going with was able to offer us HALF of the original quote. When the first contractor told me a number, I just about fainted on the spot. But, on the bright side, our unit which came original to the house in 1994 was puttering on it’s last leg anyway, and any new unit we can get will be a MAJOR improvement in terms of energy efficiency which should translate to monthly savings on our power bill. This improvement should also help our home resale value down the road. Unfortunately, we will be stuck with the green carpet the seller chose for a bit longer….BUT, Bear can get all of his potty training accidents out of the way now, and we will hopefully be able to transition to a pretty wood look-alike sometime in the next year or so.

Side not: Bear at 9 days old; ignore the Angus label from the breeder. This pup is already capturing my heart.

Bear

AND, you see why I need to wait until after finals week to bring him home. ūüôā #PuppyDistraction

To get back on track with the purpose of this post, I am extremely grateful that my Dad, grandmother, and sister-in-law Adrianna, will be joining us in Florida for Thanksgiving this year. My dad and Omi are able to stay for one week, and I. Cannot. Wait. I think the combination of brand new life/schedule/home/rigor of Ph.D. work has really had me feeling out of whack and homesick this last week, especially. I may or may not have contemplated buying a spontaneous plane ticket to my hometown! I have been craving a change of scenery, but I think bringing some familiar people into this scenery will do wonders as well. Luke will have to work this holiday, so having some of our extended family around to keep me company will be such a blessing!

I really love Thanksgiving foods and can already taste the turkey, sweet potato casserole, and my Granny’s dressing recipe! In wonderful news, our new kitchen comes with a double oven so I won’t have to borrow a neighbor’s oven anymore to cook all of my casseroles a-la-Fort Sill.

Having a home of our own, maintenance needs at all, is such an incredible blessing after years of Army housing/apartment living. Luke worked so hard to make this house happen for us, and I am grateful for his diligence and patience to look at real estate day after day for months on end preceding the move to find us the perfect place to live here in the Sunshine State. I know I brag on him ad nauseum, but y’all, this husband of mine is seriously my biggest supporter, the kindest hearted person I know, and the best spiritual leader for our family. His humor and love are unparalleled, and I don’t know what I did to deserve him, but I am beyond grateful that he is mine forever and always.

Having said that, I am missing his handsome face these days. Opposite schedules stink, plain and simple. That being said, we have accepted that we are in this season for a reason, and our purpose here is becoming more clear every single day. Opposite schedules are going to really come in handy when we have a new puppy who will crave constant attention, and it really allows for devotion and single-minded focus in my graduate school work that would be harder to emulate with the lifestyle we shared at Ft. Sill. I know God is doing something great here, and I am just taking it day by day trying to be the very best me that I can be in all aspects of my life. On days when we are apart, we try to send an encouraging text message or squeeze in a quick phone call just to say “I love you.” And, those small gestures to fill each other in on our day-to-day activities really go a long way to bridge the gap.

One of my all-time favorite TV shows right now is “This Is Us.” It leads me to tears almost every single episode, and I watch without fail.¬† The other day, I was feeling lonely before Luke had to go to work, and he hugged me close and reminded me, “This is us.” Those words really resonated with me as a poignant reminder that we have endured other challenges and obstacles together during the seven plus years we have been a couple including 2.5 years of MUCH longer distance (we are talking New York to Alabama with visits only every 4-6 weeks.) This opposite schedule thing is easy peesy compared to that; we still get to sleep in the same bed every night. And, no matter what we have faced as a couple, we have always come through the other side stronger and better for having had the experience. We are Luke and Manda (and with God’s help and strength) we are making it through this too.

Which brings me to the next part…I haven’t shared too much publicly about the topsy turvy year our entire extended family has experienced just out of privacy for everyone, but we have had some serious setbacks and ups and downs this year, from fear of and actual illness, to family dynamics changing unexpectedly, to a cross country move and major life (and financial) transition, to most recently a tornado that really took a hit on the barn and land at Luke’s childhood home.

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Despite it all, I am grateful. Barns can be rebuilt, and no one got hurt in this storm. Together, we are Bradshaws. We are in a season of rebuilding right now, but through God’s grace and strength, we will prevail. The Bible clearly instructs remaining joyful and prayerful in hard times as well as the good, and while the former is much more challenging, it just makes the smooth times so much more appreciated. The brothers share a love of this land and a vision for the future of their home that could turn into something even greater than before; all in God’s timing with His guidance.

Ecclesiastes 3 really resonates with my heart lately.

A Time for Everything

3 “There is a time¬†for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2     a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3     a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
4     a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5     a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6     a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7     a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8     a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

9¬†What do workers gain from their toil?¬†10¬†I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.¬†11¬†He has made everything beautiful in its time.¬†He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a]¬†no one can fathom¬†what God has done from beginning to end.¬†12¬†I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.¬†13¬†That each of them may eat and drink,¬†and find satisfaction¬†in all their toil‚ÄĒthis is the gift of God.¬†14¬†I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.”

As this Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I cannot help but feel immensely grateful for the friends and family (near and far) who make up our lives, who walk with us through the daily journey, through the good times and the less fun times too. I am grateful for this country where we have the freedom to make choices to pursue our dreams, to live the life we want to live, to turn imagination into reality. I am grateful for plenty of food to eat, for a roof over my head, and (come Monday) for central heating and air, both of which we might need to use in any single given day in this state!

I am grateful for being (ALMOST) 1/9 of the way through this Ph.D. thing and for Luke’s opportunity to potentially begin his MBA at UF this Spring as well. Hey, we always wanted to go to college together…Here is our chance! ūüėČ As our 20’s are rapidly coming to an end, we are planning to make the most of this experience even though some days feel absolutely nothing like I envisioned. It’s so hard to explain, but my life feels a lot like I’ve jumped through a time warp right into undergrad again: Nights out with the girls, flying solo to most events, only having to feed/worry about myself most dinners. I miss our couple friends/double dates/old married people events. But, I must say, I am getting a richer element from this program I would not be getting otherwise. I am building deeper connections with my cohort members who come from such diverse, unique, amazing backgrounds. We are all able to learn from each other as we bond (eat-sleep-literally breathe together day in and day out.) One of my professors said we are the closest cohort she has ever seen; and that daily support and encouragement that we give to one another is just another thing I am so grateful for. I truly work with some amazing women (and two men), and I know I can learn something from each and every one of them, as they continually inspire me as we trek through this journey together.

May your Thanksgiving table be merry, may your feast be bountiful, and may your cup overflow.

Countdown to Bear: 38 days

We’re Going To Make It After All!

The Mary Tyler Moore Show is one of my all-time classic favorites, and lately her theme song has been stuck in my head as I have officially made it past the midterm and am halfway done with the first semester in my Ph.D program.

I last wrote right after we moved in when I was experiencing all kinds of feelings about the transition. Two months later, I am still experiencing some feelings, albeit of a much more reduced and calm variety most days. As a first-year graduate student, I remind myself sometimes daily to give myself grace as I adjust to our new life here; it was truly a drastic adjustment from working full-time in industry to becoming a full-time graduate student, from uprooting our life across the country and once again moving to a new city where we knew no one, creating new routines and schedules, owning a home for the first time, etc. Differing work schedules and a disconnect between expectations and reality made for the perfect storm in our first month here.

As the semester goes on, I have found myself getting my stride back, feeling more confident in why I am here and focusing my eyes on the end goal: working in my dream job as a communications professor. Luke has had his own adjustments transitioning from Army life to civilian life…The first time an employee didn’t show up for a shift he was “shocked” you cannot simply go to their house and pull them out of bed haha It is a different world for sure, but he officially completed his training period at Target and is flying solo in an operations management role. I am so proud of him and how hard he works for our family. As you might guess with retail, the holiday season is absolutely the busiest, and on the food side of the house, the distribution centers are working extra hard to pump out lots of pumpkins and turkeys for everyone’s dinner table. I like to joke that we both enjoy getting thrown into the deep end; if you may recall, my first day at Chick-fil-A in 2016 was Cow Appreciation Day of all days, the most momentous day of the entire year. But, when that happens, you either swim or you drown, and even if that swimming sometimes takes on more of the appearance of a doggy paddle, we are both making it at work.

I have been really excited to get to know the members of my cohort better, and we have tried to do some fun things to relieve the stress of semester 1, and one of the hardest classes in the program. At the beginning of the year, we formed a Friday lunch routine, and while not everyone can go every week, fellowship in small groups has been fun for whoever may need a break from work. We have also tried to celebrate our victories together by going out for dinner after our two major papers so far and to do a few fun things in between. Here are some pictures of a few of my favorite memories here:

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Sushi lunch with Kelsy and MJ right after Perspectives class.

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Photo taken on a lovely walk around campus with my friend April…we are trying our best to get some exercise in despite very busy weeks. The scenery here is so beautiful and peaceful, even if it is still pretty humid for mid-October.

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Donghee’s birthday celebration with Yewande, April, Brett, Kelsy and I!

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Going to see the movie When Cancer Calls presented by the STEM Center with Donghee and Brett!

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Celebrating completion of our second major paper at Boca Fiesta. I finally got to wear my new green dress! Yay.

I am also really looking forward to our annual Halloween party that we are hosting for the cohort next weekend…the theme this year is *MASK*erade (intentionally misspelled…) Stay tuned. ūüôā

While there has certainly been some fun mixed in, and I am feeling more connected as I get to know my fellow students, a lot of my days look like this…just me and my textbook.

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I will be honest when I say grad school can feel isolating at times. So much of the work is independent, and it is hard to work with other students when you are trying to comprehend in depth readings. I tend to work from home a lot on those days because I find my sunroom to be cheerful and peaceful, and if I need a break I can always run outside for a walk around the neighborhood.

We have met several of our neighbors, but our next door neighbors are truly a godsend. It is neat how Jesus knows exactly who you might need in your life at any given time! We have never owned a home before, so when something would break around the house we would usually just call maintenance. Since we have been here we have had a series of unfortunate happenings welcoming us to home ownership and associated costs: broken AC unit, clogged garbage disposal, dishwasher glitches, a tree that fell in the yard after Hurricane Irma came through, etc. I have to give a shout out to Arnie, an older retiree whose garage resembles the most complete and intricate toolshed. He has something for every possible issue and is happy to lend a helping hand. He and Luke have worked together on a few projects, and in the absence of parents or grandparents nearby, it is neat that we have this person to call on for advice. I absolutely miss our neighborhood in Oklahoma; I don’t think we will ever find the same sense of community that Lauman Avenue had in terms of tight knit neighbors all in the same exact stage of life, but the group here has been very kind and welcoming so far! Several also work at UF, which is a neat connection.

I mentioned before about mine and Luke’s differing work schedules which we are still working to formulate into a blessing in disguise. I am grateful for more time to work on my schoolwork and for this amazing husband that supports me in that endeavor 100%. I do miss him a lot though, so as we have in other stages, we just try to make the most of the time we do get; it’s about quality not quantity. Today for example, we only had an hour or so before he had to go off to work, so we threw together a quick chicken stir fry for (our) dinner tonight and put it into our separate tupperware containers. I think we just have to find joy in those small moments as we are both focusing on our careers right now.

Since Saturdays have turned into work days for each of us, we have made Mondays into our Adventure Day this Fall. It really works out that I don’t have Monday classes and can be more flexible in my work. We didn’t feel like true Floridians until we made it to the beach! Each coast is only an hour and a half or so away, an easy day trip. We visited St. Augustine on a bit of an overcast day, but with a storm brewing, the waves were perfect! We enjoyed a day of R&R reading books, relaxing, and swimming together topped off with seafood for dinner.

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I cannot even begin to tell you how much we needed this day. And, the wait was well worth every minute!

Another Monday we made the drive to Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast. A bit of a small town treasure nestled beside a “secret cove” (it was pretty deserted, one benefit of Monday beach days when everyone is at work!), we had a phenomenal day here as well. The beach area was smaller, but it would be a perfect place to take kids with easy bathroom access and a playground right there. It was a bit chilly; the Fall wind was definitely starting to blow, so even though we wore swim suits we did not really get into the water. It was the perfect place to read and relax though; if I have to read long textbooks, why not do so with surf and sand, right?

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To conclude, we are enjoying our new life here, while it is not without its challenges and ups & downs. My Army wife motto was always “Each place is what you make it,” and we are doing our best to make this a home. Here are some photos of one of my favorite rooms in the house; after years of military housing I FINALLY have my dream kitchen! Woohoo!

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The house is really coming together I think…I finally got my Fall decor up, and my overall goal moving in was to have everything finished for the annual Halloween party. I think we are (Semi) there. It may not be perfect, but just like us, it is a work in progress.

I keep thinking of the word “perseverance” since we arrived here. This is a season in time when things are going to be tough just by their very nature as Luke and I are stressed to the max, both completing graduate degrees and working so many opposite hours. But, we are investing in our future. Through perseverance and continued effort, day by day, we are going to survive and thrive here, and I hope to look back on this time with nothing but wonderful memories of the community we built and the family we formed here, just as we look back on our times in GA and OK now.

It is all going to be OK. God’s got us in the palm of His hand, and we are exactly where He wants us to be to accomplish His purpose. OK, I am off to spend part of this beautiful Saturday exploring a local Fall Festival with a sweet friend from Bible Study, and then it’s work, work, and more work on some research stuff. But, what a blessing that I am being paid to do what I love! What better place to be?!

We’ve got this! One day, and one palm tree at a time…

MJ Palm tree

When Fear Comes To Call…Adjustment Anxiety, Impostor Syndrome and A Whole New Life

I am writing this blog from my new home in Sunny Florida! It is still hard to believe I am writing that sentence and that our whole lives went through a topsy turvy shake down over this summer that has left my head spinning trying to adjust to all the change.

Just to recap: Luke and I left Oklahoma in June, and he has been on terminal leave ever since. He will be officially out of the Army come September 13th (10 days!), and God has blessed Luke with a civilian job in a logistics/managerial role for a Fortune 100 company right here near our new home. We spent the summer traveling the country; visits to see family and friends, plenty of R&R, and I FINALLY finished the novel I have been trying to write for years….and then we went internationally to spend two weeks in Italy. Due to a shortage of time/money, our honeymoon was a short journey to Savannah, GA back in 2013. It was fabulous, but we had been planning a longer European trip ever since, and a Get-Out-Of-The-Military, Pre-Ph.D. present to ourselves sounded just about perfect. Oh, and we bought a house!

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We arrived in Florida on a Tuesday, closed on a Thursday, the Army (Semi) moved all of our things in on a Friday (long story–it was pretty disastrous), and then we both started work the following Monday. Talk about a whirlwind! I want to go back and provide more details on so many of these experiences when I have the time, but for now, suffice it to say we were nomads for 40 days and 40 nights plus. I can’t tell you how good it felt to sleep in our own bed again! As wonderful as traveling was and as hospitable as each of our hosts were, there is just something about having your own space and routines that we both missed more than we anticipated during our The-Most-Exciting-Summer-Ever-That-We-Never-Plan-To-Do-Again!

A month later, we are just now beginning to scratch back the surface of what our New Normal looks like. And, here is where some blunt honesty comes in. In my teaching class, our professor has talked a lot about it being OK to show vulnerability sometimes; it is alright if you don’t have everything perfectly together. And, as a first-year Ph.D. student I DEFINITELY don’t have it all together.

I will say I am extremely fortunate to be in a top program in my field where everyone is so supportive from the faculty members to the second and third year students. Orientation was very comprehensive, and we have also had several BBQ/social type events with plenty of opportunity to ask questions, find out more information and learn about what grad life is all about. Yet even still, it’s like drinking through a fire hose.

There are days (sometimes many hours during one day) where I feel like I am paddling upstream trying desperately to keep my head above water. The classes are fast and furious; the reading is intense. One of the hardest classes in the whole program is mandatory in Semester 1; this class is completely based on theory in mass comm, and coming from an industry/professional background, it is foreign territory for me. I am that person taking way too much of the professor’s office hours trying to make sense of what I am learning. And, I still feel like I am retaining half…and sort of, kind of, maybe getting it.

It is hard to believe classes only started two weeks ago; these have been two of the most surreal, incredibly joyous, and yet terrifying weeks of my life. It feels as if I’ve been in school for much longer, while simultaneously flying by. ¬†I feel like on one hand, this is what I am meant to do with certainty. I am loving it, soaking it in, enjoying every page of the readings (yes, I am a nerd at heart. Hence the Ph.D. school thing. ¬†OK, maybe I’m not enjoying EVERY page. haha) And other days when I am asking myself what in the world I’ve jumped into. People tell me these feelings are perfectly normal; they’ve been through it. It will get easier. I eagerly look forward to that time. ūüôā

Meanwhile, I have felt something others have referred to as Impostor Syndrome, and it really seems to make sense of how I’m feeling. What makes me qualified to be here and do this? Even though I know in my mind and on paper that I “deserve” to be here….there are many days when I feel so out of my element. Our cohort is comprised of some brilliant minds, and often classmates’ remarks in class make my own thoughts seem sophomoric or inadequate in comparison. That’s when I have to remind myself that we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, and it is OK to have divergent thoughts and different points of view. Sometimes someone will say the exact thought I was too unsure to voice, and the professor affirms it is “on the right track” to being the “correct” (if there is such a thing in this new land of theory and social constructs of reality) answer. Impostor Syndrome is a thing, and I’ve been told it doesn’t necessarily go away with time. As a kid growing up, I thought adults had all the answers. Now I think a large part of adulting is “fake it till you make it.”

In addition to the studying and making sense of my new life in the Academy, we are just NOW (and I mean literally this weekend), finally hanging pictures on the walls. We had our very first guest last night to watch part of the Bama game and eat dinner, and that motivated us to jump into high gear and finally clean up the mess that is moving. Our home is much more livable, and I am thankful. When you feel like everything around you is in this new state of chaos, it becomes even more imperative to come home to something resembling peace and calm. If you know me, you may know I value a clean house, so it’s been driving us super nuts to live amidst clutter for a month-ish. Here is a sneak peek at our sunroom/aka super chill study space!

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I love curling up in that swivel chair to do some readings, and it’s bright enough that some of the greats like Thomas S. Kuhn don’t quite put me to sleep! (He is a good cure for insomnia though, IMHO…no offense Kuhn.) If you’re having trouble sleeping, just buy a copy of his Structure of Scientific Revolutions to keep on your bedside table. It will do wonders.

With all of the other changes, I thought, why not cut my hair too?! So, in addition to my new life, I now have a new look. I think it is pretty cute while still being practical enough to tie back into a ponytail in this scorching Florida heat. An Alabama girl born and bred, I am shocked at what an adjustment this humidity is. Our recent home, Oklahoma, was much hotter temperature-wise but the humidity was nothing compared to The Swamp.

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I’ve talked about this on the blog before, but when Expectations Don’t Meet Reality, disappointment is sure to ensue. In my case, disappointment crashed down pretty hard when I realized that despite the blessing of Luke’s job (and it is the most amazing blessing, the way we could afford this home, for one, because on just a student stipend to support two people, my Plan B was Married Couple Dorm Life), the job, like all others, would have its downside. In this case, it’s not his job at all or my job in a vacuum but the combination that has made it tough: our schedules are totally and completely opposite. Granted, my schedule is fairly flexible, as flexible as a job can be besides mandatory classes and meetings, I can study as I want (basically all the time.) But with our “Required” hours occuring at different times, our dream of spending WAYYYY more time together after the military is absolutely not to be. I write this with a lot of audience awareness in mind. My tribe of military soul sisters are dealing with sooo much more than Luke and I are…Their husbands may be deployed overseas to Iraq or Afghanistan, many of my friends’ husbands are taking 18-month commands soon with next to no home life. And yet, the divergence in schedules isn’t something I anticipated to this extent. When Luke was hired 2.5 months out, he had to be open to any schedule, based on the needs of the company. And, weekends are certainly a big need, one that he is more than happy and able to fulfill. It just so happens weekends are my “off time”; a much needed break or mini breaks between long bouts of studying to recharge and unwind.

In our past lives, I could power through the week, but I always lived for the weekends and holidays and made special plans during those times for the two of us and to socialize with others. Working weekends will change our social life for sure since most other people have weekends off, and although it’s not at all how I have always planned our lives thus far, all is not lost. I will rework my schedule to the best extent that I can so we can maximize our time together and enjoy it to the fullest, not that there was ever going to be a lot of time as a first year doc student to start with.

But, I am embarrassed to admit that when expectations did not meet reality, I’ve behaved in the most unChristlike way. I’ve cried buckets, stomped my feet when he has to leave for work, and basically reduced myself to a two-year-old having a temper tantrum when Mom serves spinach for dinner. I’ve chased the rabbit down the hole so many times, arguing in circles that we have done our time; coming out of the military, we spent many, many days and nights apart including 2.5 years of straight New York-Alabama long distance. Not in the last year of course; Oklahoma was something of a reprieve for us. In Basic Training Land, Luke was on more of a 9-6 schedule (well, 6-6), and without my master’s degree coursework to occupy my evenings, I played Suzy Homemaker with dinner on the table every night. We spent good quality time together there, time that I see here will be limited in a way I just didn’t expect.

So, I have been in serious need of an attitude adjustment. We moved here to give me a chance to fulfill my dreams of becoming a college professor, and I should be willing to give up a few weekends–well really, ALL weekends– to make that happen. I think this is a blessing in disguise; it took me awhile to piece together the “blessing” piece, but I’m getting there. Instead of bemoaning how short our time together actually is week to week, I need to sit back and enjoy it, adopting the mindset that when we have many more years together (God willing), this time will fly by. Additionally, I have PLENTY of time to work on my studies without distractions. On days when Luke is working, I almost feel like an undergrad again, staying late in the library, grabbing fast food or a bag of popcorn for dinner, studying until the later hours with no distractions, no husband to rush home to feed. I miss him though, and just his presence, even when I am shut in a room doing homework, is calming for me.

Luke has been a godsend, dealing with my moodiness and anxiety and cray cray state as well as possible. Some days I’ve really felt like I was losing all my marbles, y’all. Meanwhile, he’s really set his mind to fixing up our yard and went above and beyond to make our fourth anniversary special for me. It was the most memorable evening and we cherished it all the more perhaps because date nights here are most definitely going to be more rare. But Friday night he was off, and we went out to eat and read our traditional anniversary letters over a bottle of wine from Italy.

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How in the world has it been 4 years?

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Reading those letters reminded me marriage may take extra commitment and work in some seasons, but love does endure all. We have faced our share of obstacles in the past in different forms, and we will get through this as well. We have all of the resources and tools to make a real life here, even if it doesn’t exactly resemble my imagined mental picture of this season. Most importantly, we have love.

So let me rescue you (and myself) from my self-induced pity party and a large box of Kleenex: Life is good. God is good. He knows the plans that He has for my life (and your life), even when things don’t always make sense at the time. It has never been more clear to me, even during this state of self-diagnosed adjustment anxiety, that I am right where I am supposed to be, in the program I was meant to be part of, with the people God brought into my life for a purpose. One of the biggest blessings so far has been joining the Graduate Christian Student Fellowship group, an organization that prioritizes being intentional about your faith despite so many competing priorities. I love our small group meetings on Mondays; we have just started reading through The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis, and it has a phenomenal message so far.

Mine and Luke’s personal goal for the next week is also to start visiting churches. Luke is off on Sunday mornings (YAY!) so we want to find a new church home here. I confess I have been clinging to the past with both hands. I desperately miss our church home in Oklahoma, and the past two Sundays we have spent “Church” in our sunroom watching Pastor Curtis’s sermons from afar. But, I know we need to “move on” and find fellowship here. I may still go back to those sermons sometimes…He was such a phenomenal speaker, and we really learned and grew in our walk with Christ at Crossroads Baptist Church in Elgin, OK. But, our life is here now, in Florida. And, we need to find a body of believers to join sooner rather than later.

To close, I will say it is amazing how God orchestrated this season, just as He has orchestrated every other season for us: there are clear lessons to learn, growth to experience and unique challenges to face. But, as Luke and I discussed this weekend over glasses of Prosecco, each year keeps getting better than the last. Our marriage would not be as strong as it is today without some of those tough times in the past. And the best thing is that tough times never last. Life is cyclical; I am quite sure despite the busyness of our lives here, there will be great, everlasting joy as well. We have already experienced some of this in forging new relationships, new friendships, and new adventures in this chapter. We have been remiss in that all the busyness so far has prevented us from visiting the beach even once, something we plan to rectify in the coming week. BECAUSE IT’S ONLY 45 MINUTES AWAY!

And the reminder that always, always, through Jesus, the Best Is Yet To Come.

Focus

P.S. You may wonder how I am “so busy” and yet have time to blog….In short, blogging is therapeutic for me, and I am a fairly fast writer so word vomiting my thoughts onto this online space to “document” this time in our lives is not a long process for me. I do hope someone out there will get something out of our story, and I enjoy connecting with those near and far. ūüôā Now off to lock myself in a room and study until eternity….

A Visit to the Natural State, Our Pending Transition & More!

With our move to Florida just a hop, skip and a jump away now, we decided to make the most of our time out West and closer geographic proximity and took most of last week to visit my brother, Ethan, in Arkansas.

Well, I spent most of the week with Ethan. Meanwhile, Luke drove up with me and then flew out of Fayetteville, headed to Washington D.C. for the Service Academy Career Conference. He is evaluating a few different career opportunities in the civilian world, and the SACC was great for connecting him with different companies in the area and providing networking opportunities. He also got to catch up with some former West Point classmates!

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Ace (holding up the peace sign in the first picture) was a groomsman in our wedding, and we unfortunately haven’t seen too much of him due to Uncle Sam positioning us at different duty stations. I think the guys had some fun amidst all of the work they had to do!

I got to do some work of my own in Arkansas. While Ethan was at his 8-5 job each day, I went on a hunt for the best coffee shop in his small town of Bentonville. I am trying to finish writing a Christian fiction novel based partly on my own childhood, and I am currently close to 80,000 words in. Once I get this first draft completed, I hope to find a publisher who might be interested in¬†helping me to complete this project!¬†I feel God calling me to write this, so even if it doesn’t sell a copy, that is OK. My hope is that it will be a help to someone out there; it is primarily targeted to teenage girls who may struggle with self esteem issues.

Here are a couple of the contenders for best coffee shop!

Fork & Crust (pictured above) has literally a dozen different pie choices in addition to quiche and a couple of other brunch options! At 10 in the morning, the shop was very quiet, and I enjoyed my slice of strawberry rhubarb and hot tea in peace, without the hustle and bustle of a busier place like Starbucks. The only downside? I could not get the Wi-Fi to connect. It was OK for the writing portion, but for the Internet research piece, it was a no go.

Iron Horse Coffee Company (pictured below) is technically in Rogers, AR as opposed to Bentonville. Ethan and I met for lunch down there, so it was a perfect spot to spend the afternoon. I sat outside at a patio table for much of the time, and when the rain began, I moved inside. Their banana nut bread and coffee were heavenly, and the Wi-Fi was spot on.

Kennedy Coffee Roasting Company (not pictured) was another fantastic option! It had a very modern feel, and even during lunch hour was mostly quiet. It is divided into two different rooms, and I selected the one with smaller tables and more people working on laptops, which was perfect for my purposes. The other room had longer tables for group sessions and lunches. I cannot attest to the food here (I was absolutely stuffed from lunch), but it sure smelled delicious!

There are SOOO many quaint coffee shops and places to choose from in this area that I could not have visited them all if I tried. You would have to be there a month! I walked through Onyx Coffee Shop in Bentonville one evening and tried to go there, but it is right in the middle of downtown, so parking was extremely crowded. Otherwise, it looked like a neat spot!

I also visited tried and true Starbuck’s one day, mainly because it was half off frappucino week AND I had a gift card. (Thanks for the awesome Easter present, Mom! I got two drinks for the price of one.) However, I must say, Starbuck’s was my least favorite place to write of all. It was loud and echo-y in this particular store, and it was hard to concentrate. I ended up venturing outside for a bit just so I could hear myself think. When given the choice, I choose Mom & ¬†Pop or small business all the way! I just wish Lawton had some of the cool places that Arkansas offers; here, I mostly write at home or at Starbuck’s.

Ethan was able to meet me for lunch both Thursday and Friday. On Thursday, we tried Hammontree’s in downtown Rogers. They sell the BEST gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade tomato bisque soup. I tried the caprese sandwich, made exactly as it sounds, with fresh mozarella, tomato, basil and a drizzle of light balsamic vinegar.

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On Friday, we met at Smash Burger. I know this is a chain, but I had never eaten there before, and my first time was incredible! I ordered a burger topped with Swiss cheese, mushrooms and truffle mayo, and paired with fries coated in olive oil and rosemary, it was delectable. I was a bit spoiled on food options while in Arkansas; as mentioned, Lawton doesn’t have nearly as many choices, so I enjoyed every bite!

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That evening, Ethan and I went to Table Mesa Bistro, a Latin American style restaurant. I can vouch for their homemade guacamole, pineapple pico de gallo and chicken and steak fajitas! My brother got the Mahi Mahi tacos and said those were delicious too. We topped it all off with dessert at Coldstone Creamery.

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I loved exploring the neat sites in Bentonville. On our last visit, we did the Wal-Mart Museum and some other typical things, so this time we had more time to go off the beaten path. I loved all of the street art that can be found along the Crystal Bridges Art Trail and also just around town! The best way to describe Bentonville is that it honestly feels like a mini Austin meets small town USA; hipster and eclectic with lots of Mom & Pop artisan shops and that old school, traditional feel with the town square, kids out playing unsupervised etc. Ironically, it is WM Headquarters, and rumor has always had it that Wally World put these kinds of places off the map. This is certainly not true in a town that has more than 7 WM stores in addition to countless boutique style shops; you can find everything from exclusive yoga studios to spice & tea stores to bike shops and clothing stores. It is a mecca for small town shopping and for family living. Families of all ages meandered the Greenway, gathered by the central fountain to hear music after dinner and to eat at some of the higher end places along the downtown strip.

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**Note that the Tortoise won the race! The hare, which thought he had it all locked up due to his natural agility, sat back across the sidewalk, scratching his ears. Meanwhile, the tortoise made it all the way to the gate! Perseverance is always the winner; slowly but surely, one step at a time, you can do it! And, often, the person who works the hardest will win, regardless of natural talent.

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Look closely at this old car sitting in the middle of town. It is covered with more than $5,000 of pennies and nickels, a town landmark!

When Luke got back from his trip at 11:00 at night, we knew he would want one of two things: his favorite scotch or sleep! Ethan and I had identified this cute little bar, Scotch & Soda, and when we suggested a pit stop on the way home from the airport, Luke was all too happy to go along for the ride! Something about a drink makes a two-hour late evening flight, sandwiched between two not-so-small people, seem so much better! We had fun talking and catching up until last call an hour or so later.

Since we were out late (and are old people now), we slept in a bit the next morning and then enjoyed a leisurely lunch at a local pizza place before heading to explore Eureka Springs about an hour away. We made a couple of stops on the way, one at the Inspiration Point overlook (what a view!) and another at Thorncrown Chapel.

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Thorncrown Chapel has received numerous awards and accolades for its unique architectural structure, and the windows and natural light pouring in make it the perfect, serene setting for worship. The volunteer instructed us to take seats in the pews and just soak in the beauty. Soft classic Christian hymns played in the background, and it was nice to take a moment to reflect and pray. Luke was so enthralled by the structure that he wants something similar in the way of a sanctuary within our future dream home! It was the perfect indoor modern amenities meets nature.

We finally reached the tiny town of Eureka Springs, deemed “Little Switzerland,” since it is nestled in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, and the structures are literally chiseled into the stone on the hillside. There is a LOT of walking in this small, hilly town, but it is worthwhile! If you have been to Gatlinburg in the Smoky Mountains, that is a fair comparison for the town itself; lots of small ice cream shops and soda fountains, tiny shops and tourist sights. I could not resist buying a University of Florida Christmas ornament in one of the stores; I know it is only May!

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This 300-ft. statue of Jesus is best viewed from atop the Crescent Hotel. Built in 1886, the Crescent Hotel was considered one of the grandest of its day.  It was the perfect day trip adventure, and we all got a little sunburned. My naturally blonde hair is starting to lighten up for the summer too, and this day gave it a boost!

On the way back from Eureka Springs, we stopped at the Pea Ridge National Military Park for a driving tour. To tour the museum it costs $10-$15 per person, but if you go after 4:00 p.m., you can tour the park until sunset at no charge. We chose to save a bit of money and just do the outdoor portion.

Commemorating one of the lesser known battles of the Civil War, this park told a neat story and had about 12 different driving stops with placards and sights. I will say it is a one hit wonder though, and I would not have any desire to go back again. Luke enjoyed reading some of the history and made a great narrator with his extensive knowledge of military history. If he had not been there, it would probably not have been as compelling and I would say, stop if you are in the area, but if you are limited on time, this is not necessarily a Must See. We had a good time though, driving around and looking over what are now just empty fields and imagining how they must have been in the dead of winter when the battle between Union forces and Confederates raged.

Saturday was a full day, and we quickly changed clothes for dinner that night at Tavola, a wonderful upscale Italian place owned by the same people as Table Mesa Bistro, our dinner of choice on Friday. One of their signature touches throughout their restaurants is special fruit infused water, and since I am a sucker for this anyway, and we were all very thirsty after a hot day of exploring, we went through several pitchers! The dinner was incredible, from the cheese board appetizer to my homemade gnocchi, Luke’s fresh sea bass with prawns and pasta and Ethan’s classic spaghetti and meatballs. We had a slight incident with the tomatoes on the cheese plate; apparently, we kept stabbing them the wrong way so they squirted all over the table (and our outfits) making a mess. Yikes! This was as amusing as it was ridiculous, so we shared a good laugh while requesting extra napkins to clean it up.

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As evident by the empty dishes, you can see we thoroughly enjoyed our food! We took a short walk along the Garden Trail to lose a few calories before adding them right back on with dessert!

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Ethan was a great host as he showed us around the town, and he took us to The Hive for dessert. It partners as a small art museum, and so we sipped our drinks and walked around viewing the exhibits for awhile.

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Like everything else, the dessert was delectable!

Stuffed and happy, we called it a night and went back to Ethan’s house to watch some TV and unwind before bed. The next morning dawned bright and early, and I went out to get breakfast for us. Luke had an English soccer game he wanted to catch, so we agreed to do a later church service and have doughnuts for breakfast. Ethan had been telling us all weekend how good Love’s Doughnuts, a local place, is. The guys at work bring in boxes, and Ethan’s favorite is the sausage kolache. I, however, swear by Krispy Kreme, and since we don’t have one in Lawton, I was bound and determined to have some! We ended up getting both and the Battle of the Doughnuts ensued as we all voted on which was better.

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They were all so good that I’m not sure there was a clear frontrunner! From Love’s, I tried a blue iced doughnut covered in Fruity Pebbles for a creative and unique twist, and Luke and Ethan ate the sausage kolaches. I think I am still a sucker for KK, but it was nice to try something new! I have to admit the Love’s doughnuts were fluffier, bigger, and airy, but I liked the icing on the KK better. Ethan pointed out the Love’s doughnuts weren’t hot, while Krispy Kreme was, and that could be the differential. There is something about hot doughnuts….yummy!

We headed to Cross Church for service since it is close to Ethan’s place. It was a bit bittersweet since it was Mother’s Day and they were honoring all the Moms, and ours wasn’t there. But, I had mailed Mom and my MIL cards earlier in the week, which they received, and we were able to talk to them both later in the day.

Mom Facetimed with us for awhile before brunch at The Press Room, and it was nice to see her and wish her a happy holiday from all three of us at once. Brunch was wonderful; they specialize in a few dishes here, so the menu isn’t extensive, but each thing we tried was delicious.

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It’s about a five-hour trip back to Oklahoma, so we left shortly after lunch. We had an absolutely fantastic time with Ethan and are grateful we were able to get that time together. There is nothing in this world like family!

Monday marked back to work for Luke and piles of laundry for Manda! We are working hard to get our house back in order….only to tear it apart again soon! The movers are coming to do a walk through shortly to assess our belongings, and my friends Rachel, Lauren and I are attending a move out session with Corvias Military this afternoon to get a sense of their expectations for moving out of our on post housing. Rachel leaves before me again (so sad!), but I am grateful we were stationed together with the Samplers not once but TWICE now.

My groceries tell me our move is coming soon as well…When things start to expire on or past Move Out Day, you know it’s time to stop shopping and start clean-out the-freezer mode with upcoming meals.

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Hope you all have a fantastic week, wherever in the world you might be! Until next time….I may be writing to you from the land of oranges, the beautiful Sunshine State! ūüôā

xoxo

Manda

My Reflections on 4/27/11- The Day I Thought I Would Die

28¬†And we know that in all things God works for the good¬†of those who love him, who[a]have been called¬†according to his purpose,‚ÄĚ Romans 8:28

April 27, 2011 was a typical Wednesday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, AL. The clouds had been a bit overcast, and there was a certain humidity in the air that was a little unusual. But hindsight aside, I had no idea that this day would alter not only my life, but thousands of others as well.

I was a sophomore at the University of Alabama, and it was the week before finals. I had pulled an all nighter studying the previous evening and was exhausted, with more studying ahead.

My mom sent me a few texts about the weather during the day; apparently tornado warnings were in effect all over the state, but as any young, na√Įve college student such as myself might have told you before April 27th, tornado warnings in Alabama are as common as pop quizzes.

As the newly selected News Editor of the student newspaper, I planned to head to campus to edit the day‚Äôs stories. But, when I called my assistant editor around 2 p.m., I distinctly remember him saying, ‚ÄúAmanda, do not drive over here right now. We are all about to die! ‚ÄĚ

I figured he was exaggerating, but the wind had picked up a little and I could hear it through my bedroom window in my second story apartment. As I sat down on the bed to finish sending some emails, I heard a tornado siren. My roommate came in and asked me to go downstairs with her to wait out the storm. I remember becoming a little frightened at this point, and this was the first time I uttered a quick prayer, ‚ÄúLord please keep us safe,‚ÄĚ I silently thought while trying to devise a plan to finish all of the work that loomed ahead after the storm passed.

I quickly grabbed some sandals, a jacket and my cell phone. When we got downstairs, our neighbors were watching the local weather. I saw a huge funnel cloud on the screen that was clearly picking up speed as the meteorologist described the storm’s path across Tuscaloosa. My heart began to beat faster. All of a sudden the power went out, and the TV went black. Simultaneously I saw a huge bolt of lightning through the glass doors to their balcony.

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I texted my boyfriend and told him I was really scared, as I hustled to get inside the closet with the others. There were about 9 people in total, squeezed into the narrow space. We huddled together on the floor sinking as low to the floor as possible. I was fervently typing text messages, but nothing would send due to lack of service. I was still trying to text, and then I heard the roar of a tornado. It was as if everything happened at once.

My body became paralyzed with fear. I could no longer read or type. I hunkered down in the closet and prayed for dear life. I could hear my roommate whimpering beside me, as the air pressure intensified, and glass shattered. It was as if all of the air was being sucked out of the closet. My ears popped from the pressure. I thought the tornado was going to suck all of us up into it at any moment. I knew I was going to die. And then just as suddenly, it was over. We slowly ventured outside and found broken tree limbs scattered about. One girl found a chair inside her car. All around us, trees were down. Pieces of siding and roofing had come off of some of the buildings. But, that wasn’t the worst of it.

A few brave souls ventured out onto 15th Street, which was a main area of town populated with restaurants and businesses. They came back almost immediately. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs all gone,‚ÄĚ they were saying, incredulously. ‚ÄúEverything across the street is completely flattened.‚ÄĚ

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As I walked to the edge of the complex, I saw the stop sign was almost lying down, and the apartment‚Äôs gates twisted sickeningly inward. The car dealership next door had collapsed in on itself, and across the street, the homes and trees that made up the skyline were simply gone. It was so deadly quiet. The verse, ‚ÄúBe still and know that I am God,‚ÄĚ from Psalm 46:10 encompassed my spirit, and I knew at that moment that despite the total wreckage and decimation of a city, He had a plan for my life and the lives of those around me. He would again form beauty from these ashes.

I later learned there were 64 fatalities that day, six of whom were UA students like myself. One person died just 250 yards from where I lived. For a while, I struggled with why I lived when so many others perished.  I have had faith since I was a young child; I was baptized at age 5, as the youngest person my pastor had ever baptized. But, I didn’t understand the purpose in this yet. But, then again, I didn’t have to. I just needed to trust God to work something even as ghastly as this for His glory. I then accepted that God has a purpose for my life, and know with 100% confidence that I am alive for a reason.

In the aftermath of that horrific day, I made a renewed commitment to share Jesus with all of those around me in my words and my actions. April 27, 2011 reaffirmed for me the brevity of a human life. Even when it seems that you have the whole world in front of you, and nothing but time ahead, everything can vanish in the blink of an eye or in the roar of an EF-4 tornado. A near death experience helps you take less for granted and realize that in that final moment of your life truly nothing else matters–not a career, not family, not friends, nothing, but your personal relationship with the Savior. As long as you have that relationship, you can release that paralyzing fear of death once and for all through the knowledge that your final destination is already mapped out. I find comfort knowing that even though I don‚Äôt know the number of my days, God does, and He has a purpose for each and every one! Keep your eyes on the prize, and you will find Him there, beside you, every single time, when chaos reigns, when tragedy strikes and when nothing else matters but the cross.

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‚ÄúFor I know the plans I have for you,‚ÄĚ declares the LORD. ‚Äúplans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.‚ÄĚ — Jeremiah 29:11

 

**Note The tornado photo credits are not my own. I pulled them from a news site several years ago, and I cannot remember which one currently. The story ran all over The Associated Press for over a week and in local news for much, much longer. Our student team of Crimson White reporters won awards for diligent reporting in the aftermath of this tragedy, and I was proud to be part of the team writing some of the stories that we were never supposed to have to cover and were by far our hardest, most emotional to ever write.

 

 

 

 

Easter Weekend Reflections, A New Family Tradition and Exciting Changes Ahead

At our house, we absolutely adore holidays (mostly Amanda, but Luke gets into them some, too.) We love decorating, sharing food and fellowship with friends and family, and just the opportunity to unwind from work and the daily routine and focus on things that are truly important in this world.

Easter is one of our very favorites because it is the true meaning of all joy: Jesus’ resurrection and victory over death and the only way that we too can conquer death and have eternal life in Heaven with Him. We invited my Mom and brother out for Easter a few months ago, and we were excited at the idea that we could all reunite in the same city and be together again after my brother’s big move to Arkansas to work for Wal-Mart corporate.

Additionally, the¬†military has opened our eyes to a lifestyle where many people don’t get to go home for holidays or have others nearby to share them with, so we always try to open our home to as many people as possible when we stay in town, just as they do for us. We always see it as the more the merrier! Our space-constrained historic on post housing is not really equipped for hosting large parties, but we always find a way to just make it work. God has really been speaking to my heart lately about maximizing meal time and inviting other families into our home to break bread with us. So, with that being said we prepped for a group of about 8-15 people, not sure who would actually be able to join us but utilizing the opportunity to reach out to church family, neighbors and co-workers.

In the end, we had this wonderful group join us for Easter Sunday.

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And, we had a blast!

Now, to back up. My holiday weekend started early Friday morning. I knew I would need most of the day to prep, so I ran to the commissary to skip the lines and get the ingredients I would need to make the various dishes. Then, I knocked out some work for Chick-fil-A while my cleaning lady helped prep the house. (Yes, I cheat and get her to come about once a month just to help out, and it is SO WORTH IT and is such a STRESS RELIEF. I could not have picked a better time to book because I knew we would be having company, and she even helped me put my tablecloth on and fix some of the little decorations on the table. Absolute life saver!!)

After she left, my good friend, Rachel, and I headed out to pick up the food table and folding chairs from my church. Can I just say that THIS happened recently?

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Since we had literally just traded in our truck for a more gas efficient Chevrolet Equinox, Rachel was so sweet to drive me in her husband’s truck to haul the table and chairs. We LOVE our new car, but will most certainly miss the truck for occasions just such as this.

It all worked out though since we made it into a girls’ day, tried a new (to us) Thai place in Lawton and then visited Hobby Lobby. We both wanted some pretty Spring flowers, so we also went to Flowerama. They do fresh flowers for Chick-fil-A each week, so I knew she (Jackie) could help me design a pretty centerpiece for Easter. I was trying to decorate on a pretty tight budget, so I took my own basket and plastic eggs in earlier in the week, and THIS is the design she came up with for less than $15.

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They are so talented at Flowerama, so I definitely recommend them for any floral needs around Ft. Sill. And, they work with any budget and create beautiful custom designs.

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I spent the rest of the afternoon moving furniture, arranging tables and chairs and trying to maximize space. The group of 9 (10 with baby) we ended up with was the perfect size for the space. I used my dining table and just butted a card table up to the end for a couple extra seats, and then displayed appetizer, dessert and food tables in the living room to keep a nice flow. Our kitchen is very tiny and gets very hot, and so any time I can redirect people from gathering in there, the better. ūüôā

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I got the colored flower-shaped chargers on sale at Hobby Lobby, and I loved them because the variety of colors would be pretty for many occasions beyond just Easter! The mix-match end result was vibrant and eye catching.

I went with paper goods this time for easier clean up, festivity and cheer, and I am so glad I did. It was certainly worthwhile last night when we just swept everything into the garbage including the tablecloths. Forget handwashing crystal glasses until the wee hours. Even the silverware (in the adorable bunny shaped container–thanks Hobby Lobby!) was plastic. I got a couple pieces such as that silverware holder that I plan to save and use again next year.

After finally getting my table set up, I ran to get ready for West Point Founder’s Day Dinner, which was held at the Patriot Club on post Friday night. We had a good time reuniting with¬†some of Luke’s classmates he hadn’t seen in years and meeting some other grads. It was kind of special and also bittersweet because it was our last official Army gathering while Luke serves¬†active duty (MORE ON THAT IN A MOMENT! Or skip to the end of this post to find out what’s next for our little family).

Saturday morning dawned dark and early as I got up to start prepping some of the cold foods while waiting for my Mom and Ethan to arrive. Since they would only be visiting for about 30 hours, I didn’t want to spend the whole time cooking.

I made really good progress, and Luke helped tidy up the house for them to arrive, so team work makes the dream work! When they arrived just before lunch, I was at a good stopping place and we headed off to explore.

We went to Ann’s Country Kitchen for lunch (best homemade pie this side of the Mississippi!) and then out to the Wildlife Refuge for a bit of hiking.

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It was a perfect day for the outdoors, a bit overcast but not rainy, and temperatures were comfortable in the 70’s without being unbearably hot. Of course this time of year in Oklahoma, snakes and all kinds of critters are out and about, so the guys kept a good eye out for us. We hiked to the end of a short trail with a pretty natural waterfall, and really enjoyed our little adventure. Ethan and Luke climbed up to the top, while Mom and I preferred to relax toward the bottom.

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(Those tiny little figures up there are the two of them. Ethan is to the right in the blue shirt!)

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We really enjoyed each other’s company, and my brother got to utilize the skills he learned as a certified rock climbing trainer, so it worked out well. We then walked over to look off above Treasure Lake near the trailhead and then finally headed to the Holy City where they were setting up for the Easter pageant scheduled for later that night.

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We had heard rave reviews about this pageant all year, and apparently people drive from all over the region to see the performance at the Holy City of the Wichitas. When the pageant first started, it began at 3:00 a.m. and ran until sunrise, when Jesus would Rise. Now, they begin around 8:30 p.m., and Jesus rises at midnight to officially welcome Easter Sunday.

We had an early dinner reservation at the Dry Beaver Supper Club (some of the best steaks in Texoma, but it’s only open one night a month!), and after savoring shrimp, steak and homemade bread pudding, we headed back for the pageant. We brought folding chairs and set up on the hill overlooking the City. The pageant organizer we met earlier in the day suggested we bring blankets, and Mom and I both did because we get cold easily. But, at a balmy 74 degrees, the guys didn’t think they would at all need blankets. We were wrong! That wind was whipping, and the hills get cold at night. Even though the forecast showed 74 degrees, it felt much cooler. Poor Luke shivered his way through the second half of the pageant, but stubborn male that he is, refused to share my blanket. haha.

The production was lengthy but well worth it, as it depicted Jesus’ life from birth to death and Resurrection. Definitely a Must-See if you are ever in the area.

We got home after midnight, so Easter Sunday was again a dark, early one for me as I got up to finish the food prep. I found a new themed breakfast recipe I wanted to try also–Resurrection Rolls or “Empty Tomb Rolls.”

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Basically you put a buttered, cinammon-sugar covered marshmallow inside the roll, wrap it up and bake it, and the marshmallow bakes away leaving an Empty Tomb! I thought it might be a neat concept that we could use when we eventually have kids to teach them about Jesus and how his body disappeared from the grave. They were soooo delicious and easy! I paired them with some boiled eggs, and wah-laa, perfect Easter breakfast. I will definitely be making these every year, children or no children. I have linked the recipe above if you want to give it a look.

We loved the service at Crossroads Baptist. Pastor Curtis did an excellent job as always, and the service ended with a baptism, which was so fitting. Of all the things in Oklahoma, this church family is one we will miss the most. It was great to have my Mom and brother join us for church, along with a couple of friends.

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Lunch wasn’t until 2:30 to give us some post-Church prep time, so I decided to do a few appetizers and have people come whenever.

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This pink sparkling¬†punch¬†was one of the easiest and best I’ve made, and people seemed to LOVE it. I’ve linked the recipe here, in case you are looking for a nice Spring-y recipe; the mint sprig garnishes really helped to dress it up.

All of the food turned out pretty well, I think! Most of my recipes were tried and true, but I did try a new dish: Pineapple Casserole. My boss’s wife gave it to me, and it was really delicious with the Ham. ūüôā

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My sweet friends all brought the most delicious dishes, and these bunny cupcakes by Rachel, were some of my favorites of the day. They are just so darn cute! I had “Make-Your-Own Mini Strawberry Trifles,” and so these two dessert options were more than plenty, and really hit the spot.

 

All in all, it was the perfect Easter Sunday. And, as mentioned, one of the best parts was that clean up was such a breeze. ūüôā

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As the work week begins again, we have some exciting news…We will only be in Oklahoma for about 9 more weeks total. Our time here has gone so quickly, and we are now officially beginning our transition to leave both this post and the Army as a whole. (Well partly–Luke still owes them 3 years of Reserves time, but he will be leaving Active Duty service this summer.)

What’s next?

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Team  Bradshaw is moving to Florida!!! Amanda will be starting her Ph.D. in Communication at UF this Fall, and we are ecstatic about this upcoming move. In addition to the Reserves, Luke is also actively looking for a civilian job utilizing his systems engineering degree, so if you know of anything in the central Florida area, give us a shout! We are excited to be closer to family, and while it is bittersweet to leave all of the wonderful people we have met here and grown close to in a short time, we look forward to staying connected through social media. We are anticipating lots of beach and Disney World visitors, too, and are even fixing up TWO guest rooms. So, make plans to come down and see us.

I will write again soon as I transition out of both teaching and Chick-fil-A and devote my time to (hopefully) finishing a book I began writing last year and orchestrating our move in addition to¬†finalizing an exciting international vacation that we see as a big Second Honeymoon in the time between leaving OK and settling in FL. More to come about our big excursion to……ITALY. ūüôā

 

 

Life As We Know It Oklahoma Style-March 2017

 

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My mom came out to visit us this past week, and she joked that we live in the middle of nowhere. Which is true. But, where else can you drive just a few miles to find a beautiful herd of bison in the world famous Nature Preserve nearby? You can find beauty in just about everything and every place that God has made if you just take the time to look for it. And with these bison, we didn’t have to look far! They were just enjoying a snack on the hillside, within two car lengths of us. They didn’t appear threatened and just munched on as if we were not there, giving us ample time to admire and photograph them! It was quire remarkable.

When we were first told we were moving to the Midwest, Luke and I heard horror stories about the area, the post, everything. But, instead of believing those stories, we chose to reserve judgment, and I am glad we did because we have found ourselves in the middle of a wonderful adventure! Since I’ve lived here, I have had countless people ask me how I like it, some with smiles, others with grimaces. My response? The motto of an Army wife: Every place is what you make it. So, yes, we love it here.

I said the same thing about Fort Benning. I am not being insincere, just stating a fact because there is something to love and learn about every place you may find yourself in this world.

Oklahoma isn’t our forever home; we know that. But, we also are trying to make the most of it while it lasts! That’s why when my Mom decided to come for a visit, I requested a few days off work to play tourist in my own home and see what there is to see of this place! Since it’s Spring Break too, I did not have to worry about teaching, and there is something to be said for immersing yourself in nature and just spending some time unwinding with family that is restorative.

So, adventures we did have! We did the usual Girls’ Day stuff-lunch out and pedicures, a little retail therapy and milkshakes at Chick-fil-A. But, we also went on a couple of excursions around post, to Geronimo’s Grave¬†and to the Nature Preserve, including a short hike. Mom is the photographer, so she snapped bison and longhorns and unique flowers to her heart’s content. Even though it was rather chilly several days (don’t let that sunshine fool you!) we wore layers and still ventured out of doors for big chunks of the day. Here are a few scenes from our eyes recently:

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She reminded me there is beauty in taking the road less traveled and in stopping to smell the flowers-literally. It was neat to see things from her eyes and take the time to notice the small beauty in things around me. The little well house and creek in the photographs is known as Ambrosia Springs and is literally only a few blocks from my house, but I had never been there before because I never thought to turn down that road. Most of my journeys are purposeful, and I realized all the things I could be missing by keeping my eyes so focused on the destination. When you live somewhere and see the same scenery day by day, you can begin to take for granted even the remarkable!

In other news, things have been going pretty well for Luke and I overall. We do have a few unspoken prayer requests at the moment. We will share more when the time is right, but for now, if you find yourself thinking of us or our family at all, please say a little prayer in our direction. Those¬†prayers¬†are appreciated more than you may know! We are grateful for God’s providence and direction in this season of our lives and draw comfort knowing He is beside us every step of the way in this amazing journey called life.

We currently live in Mayberry–I’ve said it before, but I quite literally feel like we have found the most perfect little neighborhood and community here on our block. It’s like one of those streets on old TV shows where someone is always walking a dog or playing with kids or grilling out. When you can see three of your good friends within a stone’s throw of your house (even if one does like that tacky orange Tennessee flag blowing in the wind!), you are blessed.

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We recently held a Progressive Dinner Party for our friend group, because what better place could there be to hold such an event where literally no one had to drive?! We had never been to one before and weren’t quite sure how it would go; we just knew we wanted to do a Mexican Fiesta theme and assigned each house with a different part of the meal within that theme. We started at the Samplers’ for appetizers, ventured to the Yosuas’ for soup, came to our house for the main course (with help from the Redmonds) and then finished at the Gonzales’ for dessert and Luke’s belated birthday celebration.

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I am certainly going to miss this bunch. We are more than just neighbors but good friends. We take food to each other when we are sick, celebrate birthdays together, go through joy and sorrow and day-to-day life as a tight knit group. Something about the military brings you together to become close friends rather quickly.

We’ve gone tromping through the snow together, hosted an awesome Gender Reveal party for Kelly’s fetus and have celebrated the comings and goings of the various seasons together this past year or so. And, something about this neighborhood feels special. I have never lived in a place quite like it.¬†Luke and I felt¬†fully welcomed from Day 1 from some of these neighbors and others who lived here before and have since moved on, and in turn, I am trying to do my part to welcome all of the new neighbors that come and go.

But, as suddenly as we all moved here, we will all begin to leave, one by one as this is just another Pit Stop. There is always a moving truck on our street, at least once a week, the nature of the military. For our group, this goodbye cycle will start next month. It makes me sad to think of everyone moving on to begin new adventures but also excited for a new chapter. In the meantime, I am enjoying our life here, our circle of friends and the neighbors who feel like family.

More soon.

 

 

Strawberry Shortcake With Two Spoons

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Last night,¬†we had the most delectable strawberry shortcake with real whipped cream. As we are coming upon our 7th Valentine’s Day as a couple (fourth married), I want to explain why this kind of image is so important to us and for sustaining¬†our love for each other “forever and always.”

Dessert is a treat…often we are counting calories (and dollars), so if we do go out to eat, which is fairly rare¬†these days,¬†we don’t indulge in dessert.

Also, because we are two busy, young, working professionals, we are usually running from Point A to Point B and most often¬†never take the time to¬†add another course to our meal. We simply don’t have the time to eat it.

Last night was different. We celebrated our official Valentine’s Date a few days early by visiting the Apache Casino Hotel’s 360 Restaurant. (There are not a lot of date places in Lawton, but we have heard great things about this one and wanted to give it a try. And, it was just like I pictured–nice, spacious, modern and delicious!) But, I’ll get to that in¬†a moment.

Leading up to this date, we have¬†had a very, very hectic few weeks with zero time to breathe in between. Lots of traveling here and there, not much relaxing on the weekends, combined with Luke getting sick for over a week in late January meant we had not had much couple time alone together¬†in a WHILE. For those of you with kids scoffing at the idea that a married couple without kids must have all the time in the world together, that’s simply not our reality, at least in this season.

There are many days our work schedules are totally opposite and depending on Luke’s Army field schedule, we may see each other 1-2 hours or less on week nights (if that) before we drop into¬†bed exhausted.¬†And, even that time is not uninterrupted conversation time; we are rushing to get dinner ready, I am prepping my lesson plans and Luke is working to complete his PMP (professional project manager) certification. Needless to say, we were in sore need of a good date night.

We had it planned for weeks; Luke took me to the mall late Wednesday night to get my Valentine’s Day gifts, and I picked out the perfect red dress for our big night out. That is truly all I wanted this year–a new outfit!

This may sound silly, but I cannot impress upon you enough how excited I was to get all fixed up for this date. Luke and I both wear uniforms to work every day, and thus do not have much opportunity to wear “regular clothes.” The idea of having an hour plus to get ready, put on my make up, wear my hair down for once and wear my fancy new dress made me so happy.

To be very honest, I have felt a lot like an old frumpy married lady lately. I come home after a long day with my typical ponytail and my make up worn off my face from hours of wear, and then I change into lounge wear for the evening, and I feel that these are the only two bedraggled states my husband sees me in 90% of the time; not exactly attractive!

Last night, I felt like ME again. It’s amazing what difference taking the time to get ready can have for your self confidence. I know beauty is internal, but occasionally I like to look my best externally as well.

Anyway, I wasn’t even sure this date would happen because Luke came down with a stomach bug the night before. Fortunately, it was a 24-hour thing, and he was OK to go for dinner. I said half tongue in cheek that I feel Satan has been attacking our marriage lately. For the last few weeks every time we have something fun planned, literally every time, something happens, whether that be a work commitment, illness or other obstacle. When Luke called to tell me he wasn’t feeling well Friday morning, my stomach dropped, because I hated that he might be sick and was also sorely disappointed about our date possibly being canceled. I was so excited that he was so much better by¬†early afternoon¬†and fully¬†up for going out! I had begun a Plan B V-Day celebration in my head–wine, fancy dishes¬†and a home-cooked dinner, but there is just¬†something about going out that is extra special for an old married couple like us.

So, we were playing the radio, both excitedly¬†getting ready in our cramped cozy single¬†bathroom, when I went to put on my dress and found that the lady at the mall forgot to take off the ink blotter security device. If we broke it, the dress would be ruined. We didn’t have time to go back to the mall, and there was a time I would have completely lost it over¬†my expectations for both¬†the evening and my attire being ruined. Fortunately, I have matured a little and was able to put aside the disappointment and pick another outfit. I knew I would have to rewear something, which is what I usually do, and had been hoping not to do for our special night, but I decided to settle on a dress I had bought for our cruise last summer and used my new brown booties (another part of my V-Day shopping excursion) to accessorize. The final effect (while not super Valentines-y), at least made me feel human again! I think we cleaned up pretty well; isn’t my date handsome in his charcoal sports coat, gray undershirt and perfect Justin Bieber hair flip? ūüėČ

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I had to rework my jewelry scheme; the rhinestone bracelet, dangling earrings and black clutch didn’t go anymore so I settled on simple heart shaped brown dangly earrings with touches of navy and my gold Michael Kors watch (Christmas gift from Luke last year.)

Someone commented on our Facebook photo that our outfits matched, and I thought how ironic because it was absolutely not planned!

Dinner was incredible (and came with an incredible price tag), but for once it didn’t matter. We treated ourselves to not one but TWO appetizers, a couple of cocktails, dinner AND dessert. The whole meal lasted almost two hours, and we had lively conversation the whole time. I cannot tell you how much I needed this connection; in the day-to-day chaos of just surviving, I miss that kind of deep heart-to-heart discussion about our lives, hopes, dreams and future. It was literally the perfect Valentine’s Day with my husband, even without¬†the red dress my heart had been set on.

At the end of the meal, Luke didn’t partake of the shortcake; he is not big on sweets, so I was happy to help him out by eating his part too. I savored it alone; I’m just so giving like that! ūüėČ

We came home, and he opened a couple of his gifts. Because his birthday is in the next couple of weeks, I usually just order him a big batch marked V-Day/Bday and let him open a few at random. He found a Sonos Play 1 Speaker so we can continue to blast music throughout our house (some of our most fun couple time is getting ready and/or doing chores together with music in the background!), some undershirts (I’m nothing if not practical,) and a big stand-up party cooler he’s been eyeing for awhile. Our neighbors and good friends let us borrow theirs for New Year’s, and I knew I would get him his own when I saw how much he enjoyed that.

I have to give a shout out to my dear friend Lydia who kept me grounded this week when I was struggling that Luke and I have been apart more than¬†we are together lately, and for helping me order and wrap all the gifts and prep for our big¬†Valentine’s Day¬†evening.¬†She is truly a godsend in my life at Fort Sill.

I am going to get off of here now, grade a few papers and enjoy this beautiful sunshiney day with my husband. It’s 80 degrees with not a cloud in the sky,¬†and for once we are both off work!

If you are in a long term relationship, I encourage you and leave you with this thought: There will be seasons that are hard, seasons that are lacking in quality time, seasons that seem bumpy. But, there is always strawberry shortcake, something to look forward to, something to get you through and something that just truly makes it all worthwhile. Of course, too much dessert can make you sick, and you may begin to take its value for granted. But, an occasional, well timed, intentional treat for just you and your spouse is literally invaluable in my book.

Disclaimer: Please¬†know and truly understand that someone’s rosy social media pictures are not always accurate depictions of what is going on inside. Remember you are seeing their strawberry shortcake moments nearly exclusively and there are hard times and real struggles¬†between the happy snapshots. But, it’s those hard times and getting through them together that makes or breaks a couple, in my humble experience.

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Happy Valentine’s Day from my heart to yours!

Manda

Why “I’m Too Busy” Just Doesn’t Fly This Year

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Cheers to the blank slate of 2017, a slate that began slowly amidst relaxing holiday celebrations and snowy days in, but is quickly ramping up to be a full plate for both Luke and I.

I begin teaching at Cameron University on Tuesday, and while I am beyond excited, it has been challenging to create an entire syllabus and all of the content for a course I have never taught before with only three weeks’ notice. I think I am almost there, and while this will be a learning experience for me as an instructor, I am excited about the public speaking and business knowledge¬†I have the opportunity to impart upon my 15 students this Spring. One of my students is actually deployed overseas for the first two months of the course, and because I have a special heart for the military and want to do the best job possible in all circumstances, I know making sure he is up to speed with the curriculum will be yet another challenge (and reward) to my new role.

Meanwhile, my full-time Chick-fil-A marketing job is also ramping up full speed ahead to meet some lofty yet attainable brand growth goals for the 2017 calendar year and the Chamber of Commerce Ambassador group is kicking off the year with a running start, too. On his part, Luke is coaching little league basketball for our Church team and continuing his full-time XO job with a basic training unit here at Fort Sill. They just began a new cycle, and with the trainees back from the holidays, I know he has some long days ahead.

Yet, despite these professional commitments, my focus is mostly on priority management in the coming weeks. I do not want to let my relationship with God, my husband, or friends and family slip by the wayside just because I have a lot going on in my career. I correspond occasionally with a highly respected professor, the Director of a huge research facility, and the direct mentor and supervisor for at least 20 students. His calendar books up a month ahead of time, so to even schedule a phone call takes some shifting and adjusting. And, yet, he always makes time to converse with me. He even has a “Zero Inbox” email policy, and always responds to every single email he receives (which must number in the hundreds per week at the very least) within 24 hours of receipt. I realized then that if an individual who is THAT busy and pressed for time can take time to maintain communication with others, than certainly I can do the same.

You see no one who really wants to converse with you or see you is “too busy.” There ARE enough hours in the day; it’s just about how you prioritize your day. I may not be blogging as much in 2017, but I am only a phone call or text message away for my friends. You never know what someone else is going through and I don’t want to miss any of the important milestones or moments or even just every day need for friendship and companionship because I am “busy.” Those who value your presence in their life will make time for you, and those who don’t may not. This is not to say there aren’t seasons of our lives when we have to focus more internally, on self care and immediate family, due to various trials and obstacles. But, as Americans, we are ALL busy. We rush at breakneck speed to get all of these things accomplished each day. But is checking off each line item on that To Do List even half as important as beginning and maintaining lasting relationships?

At the end of the day, people may not remember what all you did, but ¬†they will always remember how you made them feel. Much as Jesus made time for everyone, most especially those who were hurting, sick or suffering, I too want to make time for those around me. How many times do you get a text, glance at it, and decide to “respond later.” Then, weeks go by and you think of that person and realize you never responded. What if I choose to be like that professor, and whenever it is within my ability to do so, I will simply respond right away to the messages I receive?

At my adjunct instructor training, the Dean found it pertinent to remind all of us to “be kind to the students.” Apparently this past semester they had some issues with various adjunct instructors who just refused to respond to student correspondence in a timely manner because they were “busy.” Sure, as adjuncts, we have full-time day jobs and myriad responsibilities, but by committing to teach, I am also making a commitment to my students that I will be there for them with whatever they may need. I am supposed to be a source of support and guidance for them as they work to complete this next step of their college degree. And, I can’t be supportive if I am simply “busy.”

Likewise, Luke has committed to the kids and parents on his basketball team. He spent some time this weekend letting them all know that the game was cancelled due to inclement weather. It is his responsibility to communicate that information so that no one braved treacherous snowy roads only to arrive at an empty gym.

Perhaps because I am a communicator by trade, the art of communication is one that I value so highly. It is as much about valuing another person and his or her time and thoughts and feelings as anything else. If you take the time to type out a text or call a friend only to receive no response in return, you may wonder why bother. So if someone takes the time to reach out to me, I want to be certain I am responding in turn.

Sometimes, former acquaintances will reach out to me about one thing or another–advice on majoring in journalism perhaps, or Teach for America, or marketing…and when those situations occur, I cannot always be of much help but I do try to at least give the issue some thought and provide a detailed response with my thoughts. I feel like it’s the very least I can do when I consider what all has been done for me in my own life and career.

A person I hold in high esteem once moved several mountains for me to have a particular career opportunity. This person could have easily not given me the time of day. Her career was very established, and she did not have to take the time for me. She didn’t even know me personally. When I asked her why she did it, why she took time out of her day to make phone calls and send emails on my behalf to her superiors, her response was simply, “When you get where you’re going, you turn around and help those who are following the path behind you.”

How insightful is that!

2017 is a new year and a new start and one I plan to take full advantage of. One of my goals this year is timeliness, especially in my correspondence and relationships. Why put off for tomorrow what can and should be done today? I’m not too busy, and if you really think about it, you probably aren’t either.

Here’s to making 2017 the best yet!

Amanda

 

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