lukeandmanda

The most amazing love story since Romeo and Juliet haha

Archive for the category “Fall”

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!

Hiking 2Hiking 3Hiking

Hiking 4Hiking 5

(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! 🙂  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. 🙂 #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.

barn 2barn

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:

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

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—this 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! 😉 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

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Welcome Fall! An update on the Bradshaws

With most of our friends and family so far away, I wanted to provide a brief update into our lives at this very moment! It is wonderful to connect with people who are near and dear to us from all over the country, and we are so grateful that the Internet and this blog provides a brief chance to interact with those we love from all chapters of our lives- childhood, high school times, college, Army life and beyond.

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First and foremost, we celebrated our first wedding anniversary on September 1st! We spent an incredible weekend in Atlanta, GA and got to witness the union of another sweet couple–my friends from high school. Going to a wedding on your anniversary is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience because it brings so many memories rushing back from your own big day. I would definitely recommend it if you ever get the chance. We also visited the Atlanta Zoo, the Natural History Museum and had dinner at the most amazing restaurant called Canoe. It is rated as one of the top 50 romantic restaurants in the United States, and we would HIGHLY recommend it. It is right on the waterfront, so you can enjoy an after-dinner drink and dessert by the river. We also went back last weekend for the Garth Brooks World Tour with Trisha Yearwood. (Tickets were Luke’s anniversary gift, and the concert was LEGEND wait for it DARY. The man’s truly a phenomenal performer, and Trisha Yearwood’s American Girl took me back to my childhood in a heartbeat.)

Married life is wonderful overall. It has its ups and downs of course, and I’d be lying if I said it’s always easy. But, it is truly incredible getting to come home to the one that your heart loves each and every evening. At this point, we don’t know how we spent the first 20 years of our lives without one another! We have settled into our cute little apartment, complete with a spare bedroom and man cave, in case anyone wants to come to visit! We have been blessed with several guests so far, and if you are reading this blog, know that our home is always open to you, too. Just give us a call! I have been trying out lots of new recipes on my guinea pig husband, and he seems to think I’m not too bad of a cook. So, please stop by for a meal sometime and give me a chance to use some of my wedding dishes and crystal glasses! (I am forever grateful that I did not register for a full set of china just yet, as I have nowhere to store it! With the Army, it seems to make the most sense to build up these things over time, as things often can get broken from one move to the next.) At our next post, we may go ahead and buy a house to fill with furniture, but for now, our cute little apartment is absolutely perfect for us.

As Fall approaches, so does my (Amanda’s) 24th birthday! Ooh, I feel old these days. As I reach my six-years-from-thirty benchmark, I seem to be checking off all of those pesky little boxes one by one– college degree, marriage, full-time job, graduate school. I read somewhere that 80% of life’s major “milestones” occur before age 30! I didn’t plan it that way, but it does seem that my life is following that trajectory too. But, for those who have asked or maybe WANT to ask as we have completed our first year of marriage, kids are still a ways away for this couple! We have a few more things we’d like to check off first, but no worries–kids are definitely in the cards some day, or whenever God wills it. A fur baby might be a sooner possibility though…Just maybe. We also have several trips in the works, that we are greatly looking forward to. 😉

Luke is a Platoon Leader in the 110 Alpha Battery for Field Artillery at Fort Benning, and I recently took on the role of Co-FRG Leader for his battery. (For those of you that are not familiar with Army lingo, I am helping to lead the spouses’ organization by planning events and communicating Army information.) It is hard to believe that Luke has been stationed at Benning for nearly 2 years now. He is enjoying learning all kinds of new things in the Army, and his unit is looking forward to some field time this Fall to put some of their training to the test. As of now, there appears to be nothing in the works for an overseas assignment. We are scheduled to stay at Benning for approximately 1.5 more years, but with the Army, orders can always change. We are loving being in the South though; not too far from our families and enjoying short drives to both Atlanta and the Beach.

Speaking of the beach, we just returned from a week-long vacation in Gulf Shores. Although Hurricane Odile threw a wrench in our plans to go to Cabo San Lucas, we were blessed to get some time away from work and enjoy some R&R on the beautiful shores of south AL. We savored excellent seafood at some of the best restaurants without all of the summer crowds. With all of the kids back in school (See, I told you I felt old), it was very peaceful and quiet, but the weather was still perfect and warm–just a little chilly in the mornings and evenings. No rain at all! It was also nice to get some time with my Dad, who we don’t see as much these days. With the Army, you quickly learn that time with any friends or family members is always a blessing not to be taken for granted. I only wish that my brother could have come as well, but he is working hard at The University of Alabama so he couldn’t make the trip. Maybe we can make it back to T-town for a Bama game before he graduates! With football season in full swing, I sure miss cheering on my Tide from Bryant Denny Stadium.

Graduate school is still consuming a lot of my time, but I am happy to report that as of December, I will be halfway done with my master’s degree! I am looking forward to surpassing this milestone. With a full-time job, I am only taking one class at a time, so it is taking a bit longer than I would prefer. But, the West Virginia University Integrated Marketing and Communications program is perfect for my schedule and for Army spouse life since it is entirely online. Luke is considering getting his MBA or his Master’s Degree in Engineering, but we are trying to space out our graduate school programs a little. He may be taking the GMAT or GRE soon though, in order to be ready to start a program!

Finally, this November, we are cooking our very own Thanksgiving dinner right here in Phenix City. I already have a few recipes, but I have never cooked this important holiday meal on my own, so if you have any yummy recipes, please don’t hesitate to share! We are surely going to miss our traditional meal at home with the extended family, but we feel blessed that my Mom and some of our best friends, neighbors, and a fellow Army family can join us!

That’s it for now!  A brief update for everyone as I procrastinate brainstorm how to complete my next homework assignment.

Happy Fall, Y’all!

19 days!

No, not in our latest countdown until he has to go far away again. 19 days total. Yes, you read that right. Luke and I have just 19 teensy weensy days left in this extremely long distance relationship. Period! We will FINALLY be within driving distance of one another before Christmas! I honestly could not think of a better present for the holidays this year…That cheesy “All I want for Christmas is you” song totally applies right now.

My to-do list is longer than this blog post is going to be since I am winding down to finish out my last two weeks of the semester with finals, exams, projects and presentations galore, but I would be remiss if I did not post an update about our glorious Thanksgiving Break together.
Luke flew into Birmingham on Tuesday night, and we drove up to Huntsville to be with my folks for the holiday. On Wednesday, we got up bright and early to tour wedding venues in Nashville, and we have officially found the place that we are getting married at on September 1, 2013!! We put a deposit down on our beautiful venue, and while it is still going to be a surprise until I launch my wedding website, let’s just say that I am getting my Southern, historical, antebellum wedding that I always dreamed about! The venue could not be more perfect, and Luke and I absolutely fell in love with the mansion and grounds the moment we stepped through the doorway on Wednesday. I have no trouble envisioning our wedding here in September.

Our day of touring wedding venues was soo much fun! Luke was such a good sport about it and we laughed and joked all the way up to Nashville and back. No one can make me laugh like he does, and I could never find a more fun companion for a road trip. (It also helps that he happens to be my best friend too!)

Luke was determined to find BBQ for lunch since he has not been in the South in so long, but unfortunately, my outdated GPS was bound and determined to take us to random sketchy parts of town with BBQ places or to nicer parts of town with no BBQ restaurants in sight. So we settled on subs at Jersey Mike’s, which were surprisingly good. And, as luck would have it, when we got back to town, my dad took us out to dinner and he just so happened to pick a BBQ place, so Luke was happy. All in all, Wed. was such a successful day.

On Thursday, we got up and headed to my Uncle Gary and Aunt Stephanie’s house for Thanksgiving lunch. No words can describe the bountiful feast that was spread out before us, and I may or may not have helped myself to two plates! Nothing beats my favorite Thanksgiving dish though- Aunt Lisa’s famous sweet potato casserole! I look forward to it every year. During lunch, my dad had a surprise in store for us as well. As lunch was winding down, he stood up and made a toast to our engagement! He started it off with something like, “Now I don’t usually do this, but it’s not every day my little girl gets engaged either…” I so wish someone had video taped it for us. It was so sweet, welcoming Luke to the family and congratulating us. It took us really off guard, and I teared up a little, because my dad is usually relatively shy, so this is pretty out of character for him.

Another new “surprise” happened this Thanksgiving, as well. Apparently, we are the family that goes outside and shoots guns after dinner for the first time ever in the history of Sams family Thanksgivings haha. The boys practiced skeet shooting, and I learned how to use a .22 pistol. Ashley and I had a blast destroying a pumpkin target out back! haha (It was a new “tradition” for my family but turned out to be super fun.)

Yes, this is me decimating a pumpkin. haha go figure, right?

Luke and I partook in the Old Black Friday Shopping Tradition this year (my first time ever…can’t say I will be back any year soon), and headed to Old Navy around midnight on Thursday to shop for the kid we are “adopting” for Christmas. We waited in line for 30 minutes when my brother called and told us his car had broken down in a bad part of town. So, Luke left me to brave the masses and went to help Ethan push his car off of a bridge. I shopped around and got some great deals, but I am still not sure if that 2 hour check out line was worth the savings! (it literally wrapped around the entire store!!) We did get all of our child’s Christmas gifts for Make A Wish though, clothes from Old Navy and toys/candy from Wal Mart. And lots of great deals in the process. I hope he enjoys unwrapping his presents.

We slept in a bit Friday and then got up for our engagement photo shoot with the lovely Whitney Pirtle! She and I go wayyy back, and she is one of my oldest and sweetest friends!

This is the two of us in 2nd Grade

She did a FANTASTIC job! She already shared some sneak peak photos with us, so I will post a few of my favorites:

Needless to say, Friday was tons of fun and very eventful! We had so much fun with Whitney and her fiance, Josh, and then we met our friends Christian and Ben for dinner at a local German restaurant. The black forest cake was delicious!

Saturday dawned bright and early, and we watched part of the Iron Bowl with my mom before heading out. We met our friends Jess and Will for dinner in Birmingham at Carrabbas and then called it an early night. Luke flew out early on Sunday for more training, and the next time I see him, it will be time to celebrate the holidays! And the beginning of our life in the same general area!! I am so ready for him to move back to the sunny South. This was longer than promised, and I apologize, for that. If you made it this far, thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to read our little blog.

More soon.

Ramblings from a college senior, new TFA Corps Member and military fiancee

As I sit here in my college apartment on a quiet Friday night in Tuscaloosa (it’s an away game so everyone is gone!) after talking to my sweet fiance on the phone for about an hour, I am in awe of the turn that my life has taken in the past couple of weeks. It’s like a giant whirlwind has swept me up and deposited me somewhere onto Cloud Nine in an alternate universe. It turns out that all of my dreams are swiftly coming true, one-by-one, proving that perseverance and hard work does in fact pay off!

You see tonight was very typical of senior year college life. My younger brother and roommate, Ethan, and I went grocery shopping at Target together and I cooked us a dinner of homemade meatloaf, mashed potatoes, peas and rolls with Halloween brownies for dessert. As we sat on the couch with his girlfriend Ashley, eating and watching the show that is my new obsession (‘Hart of Dixie’ – a drama starring Rachel Bilson that focuses on a big city doctor moving to take over her father’s practice in the fictitious town of Bluebell, Alabama), the song “It Won’t Be Like This for Long,” by Darius Rucker, entered into my mind. Everything is just happening so quickly, that I can barely catch my breath, and then again, I don’t want to! Within the space of about 12 days, I have become engaged, set a tentative wedding date, scheduled my last semester of classes with plans to graduate from The University of Alabama on May 4th and have been accepted as a 2013 Teach for America Corps Member! Whew…That’s a sentence jam-packed with major life transitions if there ever was one….

The next few months are going to be amazing, wonderful, chaotic and hectic, I do believe!  Ahhh I feel like I am 7 years old again, back on the spinning teacups at Disney World (my favorite ride by far), and that I am just spinning around faster and faster, struggling to stay upright but giggling uncontrollably as the stitch in my side grows with my unadulterated joy at the exhilarating ride.

I would not trade this life that God has blessed me with for anything in the world. I knew this post would be rather rambling and unorganized, but as I am still trying to collect my thoughts about all of this, I thought it might be therapeutic to write down some of the excitement, even if it does come out a bit jumbled and entirely too lengthy for anyone to actually read. So I apologize for the random thoughts thus far, and for brevity and clarity’s sake, I will try to organize this post from here on out into different topics to make sure I cover everything going on in this crazy life of ours at the moment:
1. First and foremost, the latest greatest and exciting news– Teach For America!

On Thursday, November 1st, around 4:10 p.m., I finally got the email I had long awaited– news of whether or not I got into Teach For America, an organization that recruits leaders to commit to teaching in low-income communities for a period of two years to help close the achievement gap, break the cycle of generational poverty and help to create equitable educational opportunities for all students. TFA has a competitive, arduous and lengthy application process, and to be completely honest, I was nervous every step of the way. I read in an article that TFA is the second hardest company to interview for in America, with an acceptance rate of about 10%. I was worried about how I would stack up against the plethora of Ivy League-rs that apply every year like clockwork, and during each step in the process, I questioned and double-checked myself to make sure I was putting my best foot forward in order to have a chance at obtaining my dream job right out of college.

After participating in several mentoring experiences during college helping students in low-income schools in Tuscaloosa, I know that I have a passion for helping children to achieve despite the challenging obstacles that they face every day due to growing up in poverty. I applied to TFA because I want to make a difference for these children, and I know that this unparalleled opportunity is going to give me a chance to do just that. In addition to teaching, I plan to utilize my experiences with my journalism major, the lessons I learned in my “Teaching in Journalism” course, and my role as a leader in SPJ’s weekly partnership with Oakdale Elementary’s student newsletter to establish a yearbook or literary magazine program in the school where I am assigned to teach. I am including an excerpt from my initial TFA application letter, a 500-word letter of intent that describes why I wanted to apply for TFA, what I hope to accomplish and how I will measure my success in the classroom.

I am applying to the 2013-2014 Teach for America Corps because the core mission matches my passion: to make a difference for children growing up in low-income communities, to help those children overcome challenges that go alongside poverty, and to teach them how to succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

I was determined to help break the back in the life cycle of poverty after participating in READ Alabama and Blueprints College Access Initiative, programs that connect college mentors with children in under-served schools in Tuscaloosa. Through READ, I mentor elementary-aged students who struggle to read at grade level. Last year, I learned that one student in a group of five had parents that read to her regularly, and none of my mentees had access to a computer at home. When I gave each child a book, their faces lit up like it was Christmas morning, and at that moment, I became invested in fostering children from low-income communities, helping them beat the odds, and providing them with a high-quality education…

If accepted, one of my first goals is to improve upon or begin a school yearbook, newspaper or literary magazine program. School media programs help students to advance their oral and written communication skills, connect students with their peers, and give them a constructive project outside of school, which decreases the likelihood that they will get into trouble….My goal is to make a difference, and my passion is to transform the lives of children. Teach for America is perfect for me.”

After the application processed, I learned that I would find out in a couple of weeks if I was invited to a phone interview with TFA. Somehow, (due to my detailed application I believe– thank goodness that I am such a long-winded writer, right?) I was fortunate to bypass the phone interview step and was funneled straight to the final interview stage. In the meantime, I had to complete an online activity, consisting of a multiple choice test focused on data interpretation and respond to an online role play scenario in a school setting. I spent several hours on my online activity, and in the end I was afraid my responses were too detailed to even be read. Before my final interview, I also visited a Teach for America Corps Member’s classroom for observation and attended a TFA Meet-and-Greet event at Carpe Vino to network with other TFA applicants and current Corps members. Teach for America- University of Alabama does a great job of helping you to feel connected during the lengthy application process, and I would like to give a shout-out to Jasmine Cannon, Tyler Rigdon and Ellie Friedman. You guys rock!
However, next came the hardest part of the whole process– The Final Interview. This all-day interview was divided into parts, and I had to create and organize a five-minute lesson plan to teach to the TFA interviewers and other interviewees, participate in a group interview, and engage in a one-on-one interview with a TFA representative. After much preparation for this interview, I can say nothing helped me more than practicing my lesson on real students. I am so grateful to Professor Meredith Cummings who let me teach my lede-writing lesson plan to her middle school journalism class before my actual interview occurred! Even though Mrs. Cummings was sick and I ended up expanding my five-minute lesson into a 45-minute lesson (and then later shrunk it back down again,) I gained valuable classroom experience and was able to modify my plan based on students’ responses to my activities. I incorporated Willy Wonka’s candy factory into my lesson so that I could create a colorful visual aid AND give students candy for participation, which they all loved and also allowed me to ensure that everyone participated! To maintain the integrity of the TFA interview process, I cannot go into more detail about the Final Interview, but trust me, when I say that if you are applying to this program, you need to know your stuff when you walk in the door. Read and re-read the TFA website a million times, research the 8 qualities TFA looks for in Corps Members and apply them to your life in multiple scenarios, and time your five-minute lesson plan to hit that exact five-minute mark. They will literally cut you off in the middle of a sentence if you exceed the time limit.
So, after a lengthy final interview day, I left the site feeling drained, excited and very emotional. I knew I had given the application/interview process my all, and now all there was to do was wait. And wait. And wait. On November 1st, I was ready to have an answer one way or another. And  I cannot describe the incredible feeling of happiness and pure accomplishment when an email hit my inbox saying, “Congratulations and Welcome to the 2013 Corps.” I logged onto the Applicant Center and learned that my assignment is to teach elementary school and/or secondary political science in Metro Atlanta (my first choice for regional placement!) I quickly scanned through the Regional page for Atlanta, and began to get more and more excited by all of the information presented about the transition, Institute (5-week “boot camp” for TFA members) and living in the Atlanta area. A smile has not left my face since I read those emails, called Luke and my parents to tell them the good news, celebrated with Lauren Killen at El Rincon and then received a phone call from my Metro Atlanta Regional Representative today to officially welcome me to the Corps. I am looking forward to this next step in my life, and while I know that this is going to be the most challenging thing I have ever done in my entire life, I am truly looking forward to doing my part in making a difference and living out my passion for helping children in the classroom. No words could express the joy I feel at being given this opportunity. Come August, I am going to be a real TEACHER, and I am going to have my own class of students with a sign out front that says, “Mrs. Bradshaw’s Classroom.” {Insert major freakout!!!!!}
2. Wedding Planning Update
Well folks, Luke and I have been busy bees, trying to plan from afar, and I must say, I think we have made a bit of progress. We have settled on a wedding date (Sunday, September 1, 2013), I have chosen my colors — hot pink, lime green and turquoise, and I have picked out gifts to give to my bridal party when I ask them to be in the wedding. (This is still a work-in-progress since some of my BM’s live far away and I won’t see them for a while!) But, our next major steps will occur over an extremely busy Thanksgiving Break. We plan to tour the 5 wedding venues that we have narrowed down, and we have an engagement photo shoot scheduled during that four-day break, as well. So in addition to all of the turkey festivities, we will be running around like chickens with our heads cut off in this brief stint together before Luke goes back to Oklahoma for his final phase of training. I am blessed beyond belief to have an incredible best friend who has agreed to go with us to tour venues, and I am so happy to have her help amid all of the madness! Engaged life is pretty fun, I must admit. I have yet to stop staring at my sparkly ring in all different lighting and am still looking at Pinterest and wedding magazines with a kind of addictive obsession.
3. School, A Spontaneous Visit, and Life in General
Since this blog post is quite long enough for most anyone’s standards, I will end with a quick summary of everything else in our lives (excluding TFA and Wedding Planning, we still have a lot of ground to cover! haha) Luke and I bought a spur-of-the-moment plane ticket, so he is coming down to see me for Veteran’s Day next weekend now, and I could not be more thrilled! We will be meeting Jess and Will in Columbus to celebrate her 22nd birthday and also APARTMENT HUNTING for Luke since he is moving to Fort Benning after Christmas! Woohoo! Luke has a major fitness test next week, has to spend a few days on a “mission” in the field the week after that, and then officially graduates from BOLC IN THE TOP OF HIS CLASS on November 20th. For me, school seems to have taken a back seat to all of the craziness, but I am still doing quite well grade-wise. I made an A on my political science midterm and on my last Human Development test, just finished a major project on school lunches for Educational Studies, and am currently conducting a fruit ripening experiment with Granny Smith apples for Interdisciplinary Sciences. We are planning a field trip to the Alabama Power Plant this week in that class, which seems somewhat interesting as far as science class is concerned. In other news, my parents have finally signed their divorce papers, and as soon as the judge signs them, my mom will be moving out and our whole family will be moving on after a 14-month long ordeal (insert huge sigh of relief). And, our friends, who have been BEYOND SUPPORTIVE AND WONDERFUL during this time, have been having quite a few successes of their own! I’d like to give a special shout-out to my sweet friend Laura Metcalf who will be studying in Washington (the state) this Spring in the program of her dreams…She has worked so hard for this and greatly deserves it! My model friend Lauren Killen has  several events coming up including a fashion show and major pageant in addition to a brand new super-sweet boyfriend who treats her well. You can bet I will be there on the sidelines cheering her on in each of her modeling endeavors! Also, my friend Lauren Hendrix (now Sprinkle!) just got married and is enjoying newly wedded life with her husband, Ryan, a UA law student. The list goes on and on. My life would be incredibly boring without all of these people and all of the others who spice it up on a regular basis and make it all worthwhile.
More soon. (I promise not too much more though! haha I have killed my computer keys this evening for sure.)

It’s the small things

I am starting to realize that the secret to finding true happiness in life is by taking joy in the small things that come along when you least expect them every day. For example, I forgot my hair straightener in Oklahoma, and Luke mailed it to me. When I opened the package today, I found that he had sent me the sweetest card with pictures of monkeys on the front (because he calls me Monkey lol) and it absolutely made my day! I also got to teach Professor Cummings’s 4th graders at the Magnet School today, and I am pretty sure they all know the 5Ws in a news story lede now. I also met my good friend Laura Metcalf for lunch at the Student Center, which is always fun. (She introduced me to her friend Kayla, so I made a new friend as well). Take all of that and add it to the fact that my political science class was cut blissfully short since we finished our group project early, and I am meeting my friend Lauren Hendrix for dinner to celebrate her upcoming wedding on Saturday. All of these little things equal a great big happiness when added all together. In my opinion, unhappiness often comes when expectations are unrealistic and therefore, not met, or when people fail to find wonder in the small things. I mean all it took was a card with monkeys on it to make my day, or rather relishing the fact that I have the sweetest boyfriend in the world who is just so perfect for me and completes me in so many ways and actually took the time to send that card to me.

I could so easily be focused on negative things this week, such as how many tests/projects I have in the coming days, how Luke and I have nearly 40 days until we’ll see each other again, etc. But, choosing to delight in the small things is really so much more fun, in my opinion. I think the power of a positive attitude and optimistic thinking is often underestimated. I mean after all, a day can be made or ruined by the way you look at it. I think I must provide an example of the power of perspective.

When speaking of these small things that bring joy, I really would be remiss if I did not mention my experience at the local pumpkin patch this past weekend. One of my best friends, Lauren Killen, called me up on Saturday and suggested that we visit the local pumpkin patch where it cost just $10 to get a pumpkin, a hayride and visit the petting zoo. I was all for this, of course, as I had just been thinking I wanted to carve a Jack-O-Lantern for Halloween. (It also provided me with a desperately needed diversion from the mountains of homework and assignments sitting on my desk).

So, I invited my brother and his sweet new girlfriend Ashley to come along with Lauren and I to (yes, this is the real name) Critter Creek to get our pumpkins. We decided to make a day of it and planned to bake pumpkin pies that night while we carved our Jack-O-Lanterns. We arrived at the pumpkin patch around 2:45 p.m. on Saturday (yes, we are terrible Bama fans. We chose the outdoors in lieu of watching Bama squash Missouri on TV). If you know me at all, you know how camera and picture-obsessed I am, and so the following pictures at all of the available photo opps really won’t be surprising:

Ethan and I at Critter Creek – Oct. 13, 2012

Lauren and I at Critter Creek – Oct. 13, 2012

We decided to visit the petting zoo first, and Ashley was extremely excited to pet the cute goats and bunny rabbits. Sadly, the bunny rabbit was not so excited to see Ashley.

Ashley dropping the rabbit (after it clawed at her)

Ashley and the Rabbit Part II

This moment was seriously priceless. We gave up on petting the animals at this point lol Although, Ethan did get to pet a pretty cool turtle. We also saw two black bears trapped in a tiny cage (sad), a puma, an emu and an exotic-looking ferret. Then, it was time for the hay ride.

Ethan and Ashley- Critter Creek Oct. 13, 2012

Although Ethan was trying to look coolly nonchalant in this picture, we were actually all having lots of fun! The bell for the hayride was rung, and we headed up a hill and down the other side to the pumpkin patch, where, my oh my, we found the tiniest pumpkins this side of the Mississippi. But seriously, this was no Tate Farms (in Meridianville, Alabama)…We got the biggest ones that we could find though.

Proudly holding the largest pumpkins in the patch!

On our way back up the hill on the “hayride,” the guide informed us that these pumpkins were basically impossible to carve. He said that he tries every year, but they are just too small. So, we basically scratched the Jack-O-Lantern idea and decided to sit at the picnic table and paint them instead with paint pens. They actually turned out pretty cute, if I do say so myself.

Meet Penelope and Roxy (our pumpkins!)

Our prized creations…E-daddy, Penelope, Roxy and Ashley’s initials

We left the pumpkin patch (since they closed at 4) and did not get to play a game of corn hole. But we still had an AMAZING time, and it was so nice to get out of the house for a while. Our pumpkins are proudly displayed on the bar in our kitchen, and we even had time to bake pumpkin pies AND finish all of our homework.

Now, the moral of the story is that it could have been so easy to be very negative about this experience. After all, we drove 23 minutes down winding country roads to Vance, Ala., paid $10 a piece ($40 total) for these TINY PUMPKINS. I’d barely call that tractor/hay bale contraption a hay ride, and all of the animals were so skittish at the petting zoo that I barely came within three feet of one. Unless you count Ashley being scratched by a rabid rabbit. And, remember, we still could not carve a Jack-O-Lantern because the pumpkins were so tiny…You catch my drift. I am sure you also can see how negativity could have ruined our day and this fun experience with friends. Instead of stomping off mad as hornets in a nest that has been disturbed, we came home with four painted pumpkins, lots of cute pictures, and a fun story to tell too! We also had a blast wandering around that hole-in-the-wall, dilapidated pumpkin patch! It is amazing how a simple thing like perspective and attitude can transform an entire experience.

It makes me think about how much negativity can ruin your life, too. If nothing is ever good enough or never lives up to your unrealistic expectations, are you always going to be miserable, wanting for more than you can ever have? After all, one of the 12 secrets of happiness is to be content with what you have. Another one is to keep a positive mindset no matter what life throws your way. So next time you are complaining about not having the nicest furniture in your college apartment, or the fact that your boyfriend lives hundreds of miles away, think about the person who has no furniture and is homeless or the person who would kill to have a sweet boyfriend who loves them even if he is far away. (hint, hint: read and take to heart, Manda. Listen to your own advice. Haha) This is a hard lesson to learn, but my taking joy in the small things or by embracing those small pumpkins if you will, has helped me to have an INCREDIBLE week despite being overloaded with midterms and other commitments. I think it’s something to remember in the coming days and weeks..It’s really all about finding joy in the small things.

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