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Finding Perspective In 2017- A Necessary Year of Tough Metamorphosis & Grand Adventure

As we reflect back upon our past year of life, one word stands out to me the most: CHANGE.

So much changed for me personally and for our family, both immediate and extended, in 2017. In many ways we have been pushed to the breaking point, and yet we have survived and thrived in this year of major life transitions. Even taking it piece by piece seems like a crazy whirlwind of a year, but here is a little of what the Bradshaws were up to, month by month.

January 

In January, we rang in the New Year with precious friends at Fort Sill. We had such a tight knit Army family in Oklahoma, and although we are spread out all over the world now, I know that those bonds and relationships will remain despite time and distance. What a very special season of life Jesus placed us in on Lauman Avenue.

I got to experience my first snow in the Midwest, and we had a blast tromping through the white streets.

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In addition to my job at Chick-fil-A, I began a new position as an adjunct instructor at Cameron University.

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This is one instance proving that perseverance pays off! The communications department chair told me he did not have any openings after we first moved to Oklahoma, but I essentially bugged him for months until something came up. What a blessing to have had the opportunity to spend a semester with a class of students whom I am sure taught me as much or more than I taught them.

February

My younger brother, Ethan, moved to Rogers, AR in February to begin his new job in cyber security with WalMart corporate- only 5 hours away! Luke and I made the drive up to help him get settled into his new home, and spent the weekend visiting with my Dad, who also made the trip out. I love this town, and seeing the Sam Walton Museum and other local sights was pretty cool!

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Here is a snapshot of our much needed Valentine’s Date Night, which you can read about here.

And, the Ladies of Lauman had a fun girls’ night at the local Japanese steakhouse.

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Despite the fun, this was a stressful month, as I felt a lot of pressure to choose where we would be spending the next 3-4 years of our lives. Would it be Austin, TX, my alma mater in Tuscaloosa, AL, Gainesville, FL or Baltimore, MD? Each campus offered its own appeal and a completely unique experience! After a few campus visits, it was up to me to decide which Ph.D. program would be best for my future career goals and which locale would be best for our family post-Army. I made this decision unilaterally, at Luke’s firm insistence. He believed that because I moved for him twice with the military, it was my turn to choose. He was good for his word and literally refused to give me the slightest bit of input, agreeing to move wherever I wished. He is always so kind and supportive of my goals, but can you say SO MUCH PRESSURE! Haha I am grateful we will be deciding our next move together. 🙂

To this day, I so clearly remember the plane flight to visit Gainesville…As I flew over Charlotte, I felt this nagging in my spirit to move back East, closer to family (9 hours as opposed to 17-24+). Sure enough, I fell in love with the campus and the program here, and after much reflection and prayer, I officially set our course for Florida. I knew Luke was interested in shipping/logistics, so I figured this state by the sea would serve him well also.

L & A Gator Flag

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Luke began his job search in this area right after I signed the acceptance letter for UF with a trip to Savannah, GA to attend the Service Academy Career Conference, a huge potential employment matching opportunity designed specifically for service academy grads to meet representatives from major corporations all over the world.

I tagged along, and we invited his brothers Jacob and Samuel and Jacob’s wife Adrianna to come along to simultaneously celebrate Luke’s 27th birthday. We had a great time returning to the city we fell in love with on our honeymoon and spent plenty of time exploring and celebrating once his official business was finished. I even ran into my long lost AOII sorority sister and bridesmaid, Lauren Killen (now Kirkconnell), for a meal. It was so wonderful to catch up with this dear friend.

March

March began with a progressive dinner party on Lauman Avenue.

Our friend group went from house to house and enjoyed a Mexican fiesta with a different course at each home. At the Gonzales’s, we sang a belated Happy Birthday song for Luke and had cake. It was SO MUCH FUN, and made even better because no one had to drive anywhere since we all lived within walking distance.

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Otherwise, March was an extremely tough month for us. In short, Luke’s parents announced their decision to officially separate after 25+ years of marriage, something we found out just before flying back to NC to celebrate his aunt and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary weekend. Needless to say it was an extremely bittersweet, painful, weekend for Luke and his siblings and parents. I do not wish to share more details about this, but I do want to ask for prayers for all parties involved as we all continue to process and sort out what our new family normal entails moving into the New Year. I am extremely glad we live MUCH closer now and that I listened to that nudging in my spirit that led me to choose Florida, even before we had added incentive to be closer to home in this season.

Here are a few photos from the NC weekend visit, including one with a very reluctant leprechaun on St. Patty’s Day! Luke’s Uncle Howard and Aunt Sue were so surprised by their 50th anniversary dinner party. Their children, Ben and Natalie, did a wonderful job organizing everything.

In the meantime, our family has become closer than ever as we refocus on what is really important in life and prioritize our relationships with God and then one another over all else.

Our parents are always good about visiting us where we are at, and my Mom came to Oklahoma later in March to spend a few days with us. You can read all about it here.

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We spent some time playing tourists in our own town, exploring the area around Fort Sill. We saw several bison at the nearby nature preserve, ate some delicious meals, and simply relaxed a good bit.

April

They say April showers bring May flowers, and sure enough, the month began with a sad farewell to our dear friends, the McClellands. Bound for Fort Bragg, NC, this family has been super special to us ever since Scott and Luke were in the same class at West Point. We knew them during BOLC (Fort Sill the first time around) and again this time. It was a sad see you later, but how special to get to celebrate Aaden’s first communion together.

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In fact, it seemed a lot of this month was preparing to say goodbye while enjoying precious memories with friends in the meantime. Here are a few images from our ladies’ brunch at Kelly’s house, dinner with friends and coworkers, West Point Founders Day, and a rodeo in Texas!

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My Mom and brother came into town to celebrate Easter weekend with us at Fort Sill. We had heard great things about the annual Easter pageant at the Holy City of the Wichitas, and it truly was a spectacular sight. The play tells the living story of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection over a three-hour span, ending at midnight, to officially welcome Easter Sunday. Several friends joined us for church at Crossroads Baptist in Elgin that morning (I really miss this very special church), and then we had lunch at our house afterward. Read more about our wonderful Easter weekend here.

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Finally, I had our last class meeting for my public speaking students at Chick-fil-A for free breakfast day! What a wonderful way to wrap up the semester with a very special group.

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May 

May was a month of lasts– last game night, last neighborhood cookout, last dinner, etc.

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As hard as it was to say goodbye to so many special friends, God reminded me time and time again how lucky we are to have people in our lives who make saying see you later so tough. Until we meet again, I wish you well…I hope your light shines easily.

May also brought another visit to Rogers, AR. Luke flew out for another Service Academy Career Conference, this time in Washington DC, and since I had wrapped up my job at Chick-fil-A to begin prepping for the move, I took advantage of the opportunity to head up and visit Ethan.

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We went hiking and out to eat, and while he worked during the day, I visited various coffee shops around town to work on writing my Christian fiction novel for young adults. Luke joined us for the weekend after the conference, and we explored the nearby tiny town of Eureka Springs (Little Switzerland) together. Read more about our Arkansas adventures here.

I also headed to my hometown, Huntsville, AL to surprise my MOH, Jessica, for her Gender Reveal Party. She had no idea I would be able to make it, so it was really fun to see her. Plus, I was Team Blue, and she is now the mother of a happy, healthy baby boy. #CalledIt

Meanwhile, Luke was wrapping up his job as a Battery Commander of a basic training unit, and I was so proud to attend the graduation ceremony he officiated. He is such a great speaker and leader! #ProudWifeMoment

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June

Officially moving month, June brought our final days at Fort Sill. We spent the first two and a half weeks wrapping up everything Army related, carefully supervised the packing and loading of everything we own, and cleaned our rented base housing from top to bottom.

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I continued to work on my novel despite the chaos, and even attended the Southern Christian Writers Conference where I ran into my old professor and mentor from the University of Alabama, Dr. George Daniels.

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The last week in Oklahoma, we were nomads and lived with our downstairs neighbor, since we had to be out of our home before Luke was officially free to leave town. My goodbye dinner with Kirsten, my CFA co-worker and friend, was another tear jerker. I miss this girl!

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Our last dinner as the Ladies of Lauman (already missing Rachel!)

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Pokeno night with my sweet church/Army wife friends, Lindsay and Brooke. Miss them so!

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In exciting news, Luke officially signed his employment contract with Target during this time frame! He was a man with a plan, and we felt so grateful God brought this opportunity to us with plenty of time to prepare.

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There was something so gloriously sweet about watching Luke’s last official ceremony as a Battery Commander sitting beside my good friend, Lydia Redmond, and then going with him to out process for the last time; he looked so handsome in his active duty uniform. A wave of emotions hit me as I realized this was it, the last time he would ever wear this uniform.

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The Army was all we had ever known in the 7 years of our life together. When I met Luke he was a West Point cadet, and from then on, the Army was our life. Luke went from a Cow to a Firstie to Second Lieutenant, First Lieutenant, and Captain, and he did one heck of a job serving his country. I will always be so proud of him. However, it was bittersweet because we were equally excited for our next chapter and transition to civilian life. For many reasons, I knew Luke was/is completely at peace with his decision to ETS, and so life as we know it was forever changed.

As I followed him in his brand new Chevy Equinox (bye bye, Old Bessie; you will always be the very best Chevy Silverado around) onto the interstate, I took one last look in my rear view mirror at Fort Sill. It was a year so well spent; God so clearly had us in that place for that exact season, but not a moment longer.

Fun Fact: Our PCS move was literally the most ambitious ever. Here is a road map of our travels from Point A to Point B (and everywhere in between!)

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To begin our adventure, we headed up to Arkansas one last time as our moving day was June 19th- Ethan’s 24th birthday!

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We took him out to dinner, bought him a gift and a birthday pie, and spent a great 24 hours together (No, the boys didn’t plan to match. LOL). I sobbed the next day when we had to leave because I do not know when I will see my brother again. It could easily be a long, long time with all of us in new jobs and living very far apart. We are praying our paths will cross in 2018, sometime, somewhere.

We went to see Greg and Jenae Young at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri next. They were some of our very best friends at Fort Benning, GA, and we had not seen them in over a year.

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We went out to eat Korean food (they now live in Korea, per Uncle Sam’s orders), and had a great evening reminiscing and playing board games. I am so glad we got the chance to reunite with them.

On our way South, we stopped in St. Louis, Missouri for only 2 hours and for 2 reasons: 1. To see the arch 2. To try the ribs. We did both and felt satisfied checking this city off the bucket list.

48 hours later we made it to Florida for a long weekend of house hunting and one piece of delicious key lime pie!

We decided to purchase our first home here for a variety of reasons, but namely rent is super expensive in the area, and we wanted to start building equity. Plus, we really, really wanted a house after years of Army/apartment housing. It was a hot, hot, hot seller’s market (literally and figuratively…temps here in June are no joke!) and we lost one bidding war before winning a second with an offer well above asking price. Mission accomplished. (I thought we had a lime tree based on the photo above, but turns out this is an orange tree! Haha they were just tiny at the time.) We checked out of our hotel and drove the 9 hours back to Huntsville to spend some R&R time with my family, including a great day trip to Chattanooga with my Mom.

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July 

June faded into July in a blur of lazy days; we spent the 4th with my Dad and grandmother, enjoying the pool at my uncle’s house followed by a fireworks show.

Luke worked the house sale from afar, and I continued to edit my novel. Meanwhile, we played cards, stayed up late, ate out way too much (to the point we were literally begging any family member to cook for us; shoot we would cook! Just let us use your kitchen.)

We then traveled to NC to spend some time with Luke’s side of the family. His mom rented a pontoon boat, and we spent a very nice day on the lake. We also took our sister, Hannah, and her boyfriend, Will, to Carowinds for a belated birthday trip and went to a Jason Aldean concert in Charlotte. Luke really enjoyed growing out his post-Army facial hair.

On the 15th we flew out of Charlotte for a two-week journey to Italy! We had planned this trip for over two years, and worked so hard to live mostly off of one income in order to make this happen.

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We saw Rome, Venice, and Florence as well as Burano, Murano, Tuscany, and Positano. Here are a few of our favorite images from this vacation for the memory books.

August

After returning from Italy, Luke and I had to work out several kinks with our pending home. The whole thing needed new plumbing, a new roof, and some other minor repairs, equivalent to thousands of dollars. We had a couple of scary days when we thought the sale might fall through, but through much prayer and perseverance, it all worked out. However, we could not close a single day before the Thursday the week before we both started our new jobs. Talk about mega stress overload!

We visited Luke’s brothers in Charleston and then stayed in a hotel in Florida for a couple days leading up to closing.

Meanwhile, I sent my finished novel out to several publishers and am anxiously holding my breath…publishing a novel turns out to be a very long multi-month and even multi-year process, so stay tuned. I just feel so satisfied to have completed this lifelong goal of writing the book I felt called to write.

And then, we went to see a man about a house!

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The day after closing, we had Army movers, the cable guy, and four other contractors all milling about the property, trying to get everything set up for us. It was a mad house! But, somehow we survived. We did not get everything fully unpacked/organized for a month or two, but we were in.

We started our new jobs Monday, me at UF and Luke at Target.

A few photos from orientation days! #DocumentingTheJourney

 

 September

Oh, September…the 1st brought our 4th wedding anniversary (yay!); hard to believe it’s been that long already. Seems like forever and just a short time all at once.

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Luke always works so hard to make anniversaries a special day for me, and he succeeded yet again! We knew it would be the last date night we would get for awhile, which made it even more precious when we got all dressed up for a nice dinner out.

It was the perfect getaway from the boat load of changes we had been experiencing each and every day since our move just 2 weeks before. Suddenly we were thrust into this whole new world with no clue which way was up. I blogged more about this here, and I am so glad I did, because it is hard to fully put into words now all of the emotions I was experiencing then.

I’ll just say the first semester of a Ph.D. program is notoriously difficult, isolating, and incredibly stressful. It pushed me to my limits, changed my thinking, took me to the next level as a scholar. It was such a painful process at times! Mix in working opposite schedules to my husband, and I felt like a zombie on autopilot for most of this month. Change is hard for anyone, but when you take all of our changes in 2017 and compound them, you get the perfect storm that was our first few weeks here in Florida. It took me a little while to sort through all of this.

Here are some photos after the first week of perspectives class! We all went out to lunch to celebrate.

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Unfortunately, Hurricane Irma drove us from our new home a couple of weeks later. We evacuated to Huntsville and spent some time with my family in hopes of avoiding the storm (which ended up chasing us up that way! Lol).

They say that hurricanes bring babies, and sure enough, my friend and MOH Jessica went into labor during that time, a few weeks early. Luke and I got to stop by the hospital and visit with her and Will, and even though we have not had the pleasure of meeting baby Wesley yet, he is simply perfect. I am grateful for the hurricane for that moment alone.

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My cohort is full of some incredible people from diverse backgrounds, many of whom  have expressed feeling alone here in FL at first too. The military spouse inside me played social coordinator and tried to plan some fun activities to get all of us together and outside our comfort zones. A faculty member has said we are one of the closest classes  she has ever seen, and I must say I agree with that statement. My fellow classmates are definitely a blessing to me– just another sign God knew exactly what He was doing in moving us here to this place at this time for this purpose. Here we are celebrating Donghee’s birthday, a very fun occasion!

October 

Another month passed in a blur, although I was definitely getting my bearings better and began to figure out this whole Ph.D. program thing…a mixture of wine nights and papers, a couple beach trips to both St. Augustine and Cedar Key, adjusting to new schedules, and tons of girls’ days unfolded.

The fun side of home ownership (note my sarcasm) included the need for a new HVAC much sooner than anticipated. My MIL wasn’t faring much better when a tornado hit her property later in the month and took out a good chunk of her barn! Yikes. It was not a great month for us, but fortunately, no one got hurt, and at the end of the day that is what truly matters.

On a brighter note, I turned 27, and we hosted our annual Halloween party on my birthday for the whole class. It was really fun getting to wear our Carnival masks that we bought in Venice!  And, the party gave us an added incentive to get our house (mostly) organized.

To be honest, behind the smiles in the photographs, my birthday was a tough day. I remember sitting at the hair salon that afternoon crying my eyes out. I felt so lonely here despite the camaraderie with my fellow cohort members. I missed my friends from home and my mom and even my husband; with opposite schedules it sometimes feels as if I see him less than in the Army. But, that evening, I was reminded just how blessed we truly are here with my class gathered at our home.

 

We laughed for hours playing the Werewolf game, and I think everyone truly had a great time. They also brought me the sweetest, most unexpected gifts. What a blessing it is to have these people in my life! Yes, this is a season of change. Change is hard. But, there is almost always something better waiting on the other side! You just have to get there.

Here we all are celebrating our SECOND perspectives paper down! Just one to go…The semester both flew by and somehow crawled, depending upon the day.

My mom recently talked with me about periods of metamorphosis. Before the caterpillar goes into the cocoon, he feels perfectly happy being a caterpillar, exploring out in the sunshine. Thus, he feels confused and unhappy, when he finds himself suddenly cramped up in a dark place all alone. But, something so much more beautiful emerges at the end of that painful period when he transforms into a butterfly. Suddenly, that little caterpillar can do what he never dreamed to be possible before: he can fly! Life is cyclical, and so the hard times never last forever. I think this first semester, for me, felt like that caterpillar going into a cocoon. I felt more lost and lonely and unsure than I had in my memory. And yet, I grew. I feel as if I have emerged stronger from the experience.

October was a season of pruning back the weeds, both figuratively and literally. Something beautiful may lie beneath a bunch of thistles if you are just willing to put in the work to find it.

November

November brought so much to be thankful for, which I explain more here.

For one thing, a little puppy named Bear was coming into our lives not too far in the distant future. Meeting Bear for the first time…he was so little. He could fit into my palms! (Jeremiah 29:11 right here.)

We took a girls’ trip to St. Augustine on Veteran’s Day and enjoyed a great lunch and explored the first Spanish fort at no charge due to the holiday. It was a blast but SUPER WINDY! Haha

Luke and I also spent a fun afternoon exploring Marjorie Kinaan Rawlings’ home, citrus grove, and (now) state park. The house is usually closed on Luke’s off day, but we happened to catch a very nice tour guide who had come in to take a private book club through. We became honorary members for the day and enjoyed hearing about this famous author’s history of living and writing right here near our own town!

I attended my first football game here with the Graduate Christian Fellowship Group and learned how to chomp (Go Gators!).

Then, my Dad and grandmother came to visit for Thanksgiving.

Luke had to work, so we had an early lunch, and then I took them to explore the local state parks to see the real alligators, to St. Augustine for an epic marathon of Black Friday shopping, and to some of my favorite local restaurants, such as Satchel’s (the best pizza around!) I sent them off with a big box of oranges and lemons from our own trees which have bloomed and cried buckets (I’m just a blubbering sentimental mess when it comes to family these days). But, we soon resumed our new normal as I prepared for finals and Luke worked hard getting food out for the holidays at Target. We truly have so much to be grateful for this year.

December

Well, I did it!! I survived perspectives, the hardest class of the program, and turned in all of my final projects. I also got accepted to my first conference in health communication. I cannot tell you what a high that was for me–followed by previous lows of not getting IRB acceptance on the first or second go round. Another huge high for us was Luke’s official acceptance into the UF MBA program, which he will begin in January. We are now college sweethearts X 2, this time at the same university together!

At the end of finals week, Luke and I went to NC for a weekend so that he could be a groomsman in his childhood friend, Logan’s wedding. The weather cooperated just perfectly for a white wedding, and we loved getting to see relatives and friends.

Right afterward, we came back to Florida and picked up our precious labradoodle, Bear. We have a blog post on bringing Bear home, so for now, I’ll just leave you with this picture with Santa Paws. Too much cuteness to choose from!

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More change, but so very positive. I continue to repeat that God knows what we need when we need it, even if it’s uncomfortable at first. Life as a new puppy parent isn’t exactly restful, but it is wonderful all the same as we find our new rhythm as a family. Finally, my mom and MIL, BIL, and SIL all came to visit us in Florida for Christmas this year! We had such a blast recreating old traditions and starting new ones. Besides, if you cannot have a white Christmas, why not go for sunny and 75? 🙂

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This was a long way round to emphasize that for us, 2017 was full of change. I have learned to rely upon myself and God in a way that I probably didn’t before when Luke filled more of that gap for me. I think He is using this season to draw me ever closer to Him, to help me to reach my fullest potential, just like the butterfly. I think He is using this season to grow our marriage, to help us to appreciate quality of moments over quantity, to be intentional about our time together, and to fully cherish the times we are together. On one hand this was a season of challenge, but looked at from another perspective, it was a season of tearing down to build back up, stronger, better, wiser. 

I asked Luke for his input on our year and he said that 2017 pushed him in 2 ways: first in gaining patience. Second in growing his faith.

You cannot become a butterfly until you have lived through the process of the cocoon. The dark times and the light made this year one of our very best (certainly most exciting) yet. The highs were high and in contrast, the lows were low. And yet, it is all about how you focus your attention and perspective…I choose to chase joy, to experience life to the fullest, even if this chapter may be both everything and nothing like I envisioned one year ago today.

I cannot wait to see what God has in store for 2018, because His plans are ALWAYS, CONSISTENTLY, FOREVER better than anything I could dream up. Luke’s grandmother was recently hospitalized following an emergency surgery after breaking her hip…(yes, we have had a few sick relatives this year, too. It’s been a Bear of a year–pun intended.) Anyway, we had just been visiting the weekend before, and I remember distinctly asking her what her favorite decade of life was. I expected her to say maybe as a young wife, a mother, or even during her golden years of retirement before dementia and declining health. But her response to me was simple: “Today is the very best day. Right now. Every day that I am alive is just such a wonderful blessing.”

This wisdom touched my heart because she is so right. What is the best year of my life? This one. Today. 2017, for better or worse, has been the very best….and oh how incredible that God promises us the best is always yet to come.

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Happy New Year from our little family to yours! Thanks for being part of our journey. See you next year!

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Bringing Bear Home: How A Total Non-Dog Person Grew To Love A Little Puppy In One Week Or Less

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Meet Bear, our family’s newest addition. Bear is a 12-week-old labradoodle, and those adorable puppy eyes have absolutely melted our hearts and wormed their way into stealing Luke’s Braves blanket. Haha

I say this from the perspective of a total and complete non-dog person.

Yes, you read that right. I am a non-K9 human, a dog avoider even….I have never, ever, ever REALLY wanted a pet dog before. This is the last time I had one.

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My parents had to get rid of our miniature dachshund, Shelby, before I was even a year old because we just didn’t take to one another very well. Apparently their beloved companion was so jealous of the new baby that she started destroying things all over the house…knocking over trash cans, scratching up doors and the like.

After Shelby left for the farm (an actual farm with another loving family,) we never got another pet dog. Growing up, my brother and I had hermit crabs once, and then in our teens, we adopted a stray cat, Lucky, who lived outside of our home in the woods. I liked Lucky well enough, but I am notoriously allergic to animals. Thus, I did not pet him much since I didn’t want to sneeze and feel itchy afterward. One time, we put extra money into a coffee can for a few months and called it a “dog fund,” but when Dad said no, I happily spent my portion on new clothes and didn’t really look back.

And thus, I lived a perfectly normal, happy, pet-free existence. A bit of a clean freak, I liked not having pet hair everywhere…for some reason the thought of an animal in the kitchen while I’m cooking was particularly unsettling. I did not like furry friends to jump on me, to lick me, etc. Somehow dogs especially picked up on this and thus paid me MORE attention, trying their best to get me to love on them. Many a dog has stared up at its owner with those sad puppy dog eyes asking, “Why doesn’t she love me, Mom?” As much as I love my friends and want to love their pets too, I never caved from my standoffish stance toward animals.

That is until I met Sadie, our friends’ goldendoodle. She and her humans came to visit us at Ft. Benning, GA, a bit to my chagrin. I could not wait to see these friends but again felt a bit iffy about having a dog in our apartment. Luke asked if she could stay isolated in the guest room, but when she felt lonely, we quickly relented to have her out with the rest of us. And so for an evening, Sadie tromped through the living room, ran loops around the kitchen, and provided endless entertainment and cuddles. She was well trained and well behaved, and for the first time around an animal, my allergies did not bother me a bit! I even petted her on my own, without prompting. Looking back, this planted a small Doodle seed in the back of our minds, and we began to plan for the far away day in the distant post-Army future when we might have a house with a yard and consider getting a pet.

Completely opposite of me, Luke loves dogs! He would often refer to my friends from college by their dog’s name…for example, “How are Blitz’s owners today?” Lol. And he would look forward to seeing this dog as much or more than their humans! Luke grew up with dogs all his life, typically in pairs. His very favorite dog was called Tramp (partner to Lady, of course,) and his parents have always kept dogs since I’ve known them. When we would go visit, I got to see a new little boy side of my husband emerge as he roamed and played and wrestled with his pets. Although my allergies still kick up pretty badly around most dogs, even after years of allergy shots, I came to love Bailey, a golden retriever, in my own way. She was mild-tempered, sociable, and yet not annoying in her quest for attention. Sadly, Bailey passed a few years ago, and Luke’s mom now owns Lucy and Charlie. (Lucy is pretty cool; Charlie, on the other hand, isn’t my favorite. Anyone who jumps up and down underneath trees for hours on end and for no reason at all just has to have a screw or two loose. ;))

Regardless of the dog, Luke’s eyes literally light up when he spots one. Friend or stranger, he typically can’t resist hugging them or giving them a quick belly rub. Again, I didn’t get it. I would stand awkwardly to the side while he rubbed the dog, smile politely, and breathe a sigh of relief when we continued on our way.  Even some of our dearest friends’ dogs, such as Jayce Sampler, never really got much attention from me. When we would go on walks at Ft. Sill, Rachel would scoop up his poop into one of those small bags matter of factly, and I would smile but internally shudder, feeling so grateful I didn’t have to touch or tote around some smelly, squishy dog mess. (True story!)

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Luke walking the Freemans’ dog, Bailey, at Ft. Sill. (Note my position, several steps back, safely behind the camera!)

I always say there are dog people and non dog-people, and I am simply the latter. That is why it is so incredible that I feel so much love in my heart now for this little puppy.

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Luke and I started to seriously consider getting a dog about one month after we moved to Florida. Our opposite schedules made the idea of a little companion seem ideal. First, we would have plenty of time to care for a new puppy on an alternating basis. Secondly, we would each have a buddy while the other is working.

We talked about it on and off for about two weeks, both slowly mulling over the idea. After I rewatched Marley and Me and began to see dogs practically everywhere I turned (maybe I was paying attention for the first time lol), I became hooked on the idea. I would see a dog bakery for example, and think hey, that could apply to me! This whole new world might be opened up by having a pet, and it just might be a ton of fun! Luke had similar thoughts (well not those exactly, but he also felt super excited about having a dog of our own,)  and then we became more serious, sending each other photos of dogs almost daily and actively searching for the right one who would join our family. We talked through the logistics of owning the puppy; where he would sleep, what supplies he might need, etc. And, we realized we are actually doing this! We are getting a dog.

We knew we wanted a doodle because of my experience with Sadie, but we were open to either goldendoodle or labradoodle. The smaller the dog, the better, since our yard isn’t super huge. We wanted something big enough not to step on though. 😉

Meeting Bear for the first time…He was so small he fit into the palm of my hand! (The breeder originally named him Angus, but we had to rectify that…he looked just like a Panda Bear, so problem solved! Luke now thinks we should alternate naming our dogs Bear…Bryant…Bear…Bryant. Lol.)

Bear was the runt of the litter, just what we wanted. However, it looks like his name may be more appropriate based on his latest measurements and weigh in at the vet office. He is going to be a literal bear when he grows up… Ahh!

We spent some time with him and then went home, and my allergies were just fine. I became tentatively excited and super nervous about being equipped to bring this dog home. He was not able to leave his mother until 11/29, and I pushed that to 12/13 because I knew I would be right in the middle of finals week for the first semester of my Ph.D. program. Waiting was one of the smartest decisions I have ever made, even though it became tough to wait on Bear to come home, especially on evenings when I felt lonely. Once we had made the decision and put down the deposit, I wanted him, like yesterday! I spent lots of time shopping at PetSmart and on Amazon for the perfect toys, bed, crate, etc. Boxes would come in one by one, each taking us one day closer to actually having Bear. The breeder was phenomenal and sent us pictures just about weekly so we could monitor his growth and progress.

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It wasn’t long before I was head over heels in love with the idea of Bear.

However, as the reality of bringing him home crept closer and closer, my nerves took over. I had never liked dogs before. How was I supposed to own one? I wouldn’t know the first thing about what to do with him.

I finished my final paper and felt such relief followed by an intense round of anxiety about picking Bear up the following day. Luke reassured me that people all over the world have pets; how badly could I mess this up? That helped…a little.

We drove the 9 hours back from NC where Luke was a groomsman in his childhood friend’s wedding, dumped the bags, and got back into the car to drive an hour in the opposite direction to get our little labradoodle. Bear had grown in the weeks since we had seen a picture…at his vet visit on 11/29, he was 13 lbs. The breeder warned us we would be shocked at his size, and we certainly were!

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Full size, he will be close to 15-20 lbs larger than we had expected! Standing in that shed surrounded by doodles, Luke gave me a last chance to back out. He said it would be OK if we needed to leave him since his size is so much more than we bargained for. But, my heart was already hooked! I could not imagine getting back into that car and going home with that empty crate without our Bear. And, so we began this adventure of a lifetime.

The car ride home went pretty well…I was fully prepared with lots of urine pads! (Sometime I’ll blog about the best cleaning supplies for dog owners. I am currently experimenting with about 20 different products; I told you I cannot stand dog smell. Haha) But, on that first car ride, we didn’t have any accidents. The breeder bathed him that day, and he actually smelled really good. Doodles are mostly non-shedding too, which is exactly what we were after! Even after having him for one week, we hardly find any dog hair, and our Roomba, which we run daily, barely picks any up.

We arrived home, and the look on Luke’s face bringing Bear over the threshold melted my heart. I love my boys!!

 

The grosser part of dog ownership unfortunately began right away. Fortunately, my husband is super knowledgeable about  dogs, and as Bear begin to sniff and walk in circles in our entryway, Luke rushed him outside in the nick of time to hurl his cookies in the grass. We had been warned he might be a little carsick after his first ride, but he’s been in the car a few more times since and no issues at all!

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We took him for his first quick walk around the neighborhood to see the Christmas lights, and then Luke went to grab us food for dinner while Bear and I explored the sunroom. He immediately rejected his new orange chew toy in favor of staring at his own reflection in our big windows! Haha he is fascinated by this. Otherwise, we have a stereotypical fire hydrant-loving, squirrel-chasing, cat-barking creature.

The rest of Night 1 was terrible, complete with several potty accidents and literal ALL NIGHT whining and barking in the crate. It is to be expected, but coming from not ever having a dog, I don’t think anything really prepares you for bringing him home for the first time.

Luke took him out to Home Depot in the morning to get baby gates to section off rooms in the house, and I was just so grateful and relieved to have one quiet moment to myself to load the dishwasher without worrying if Bear’s nose would be in it or if he would be using the bathroom nearby. He was absolutely attached to us that first 48 hours, and where we went, he went. How quickly that has passed! Lol.

I seriously wondered what in the world I had gotten into. Fortunately, I am on Christmas Break and don’t have to do too much work right now–just what is needed for the settling in stage. Luke left us to go back to work that afternoon, and then it was just Bear and I. What in the world was I going to do with this dog on my own without my partner and resident dog expert??? I have barely even petted a puppy before, remember?! I cannot stress enough what a non-dog person I am/was.

But, we have made it, and honestly we have had the most wonderful time bonding together these past few days.

Some of our misadventures:

  • Jumping out of our collar to lurch at a couple mulching their yard…thankfully, the man was kind enough to hold Bear down for me so I could safely reattach his collar.
  • Scaring the bug man to death while outside pottying…”Does he bite?!?”
  • Eating ALL the plants in the yard…sigh
  • Going to look at Christmas lights…Bear especially loves a nearby display with a singing bass.
  • Playing with the tennis ball in the backyard-one of Bear’s favorite games
  • Meeting the neighbors, who are absolutely gah-gah over this black and white ball of fur
  • Watching TV together at night
  • Going to see Santa Paws at PetSmart
  • And the latest–as of today, this pup is both smart and big enough to climb/jump over said baby gates designed to enclose him in an area. (Sigh/eye roll.) New plan, anyone?

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We also had our first vet and groomers’ visits, had a family photo shoot (images coming soon!) and delivered Christmas cookies to the neighbors. It has been a whirlwind of a week. Bear started sleeping on the third night (half of the night) and from the fourth night on has taken to his crate pretty well. I will never forget the second morning we had him. I curled up in the laundry room next to him just wanting the whining to stop. I remember crying wondering what in the world have we done, and can’t we give him back?! My allergies had flared up (maybe from being around all those dogs at once at the breeders’?) and this thing kept trying to lick my face. Yuck! We still don’t lick faces. I will probably never like it, and that is OK, because I honestly would not trade Bear for all of the world. I absolutely adore this little one.

Besides, my husband is in dog heaven. Literally. He could hardly stand to leave him at the vet for his shots, and I completely relate.

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Excuse the mess on the table…We have found that new puppy parenthood comes with its own challenges. In addition to cleaning up Bear’s little “presents,” and watching him constantly to prevent additional accidents or mischief, it takes forever to do anything! I have a newfound respect for my friends with multiple dogs or….gasp…children! Haha 😉 Either way, my husband is going to be one heck of a co-parent if this puppy experience has been any indicator. He is so patient. So calm. So good. I am beyond blessed to do this thing called life with this guy. We have been having so much fun sending updates and photos about our little puppy, and we both miss him when we are at work.

Speaking of which, I am now that person who cancels plans on occasion to be with the puppy. Mostly we are trying to go about our normal lives, but we canceled plans to go to St. Augustine for a date night to see the lights because the puppy is just too young to kennel (hasn’t had all his shots yet either,) and we could not leave him alone that long. So instead, we had a great local date night — taking our Bear for a long walk followed by dinner at Bonefish Grill — the absolute perfect compromise.

I also had quite a scare the other night when Luke was at work! Bear and I had been outside for three hours (yes, that’s 3 hours), and I could not get this pup to use the bathroom. I needed him to go because I was going out to dinner with friends and would be crating him for a bit. Instead, Bear was more interested in chewing the bushes. So, I (always interested in keeping things smelling nicely) gave him a dental cleaning bone to chew on. Unfortunately, I only read the bag AFTER he ate half of it….the bones are designed for dogs 25-50 lbs and 6 months or older. Insert ahhh!!! First dog fail/mom freak out. I didn’t realize they would come in different sizes like that. (In hindsight, duh!) I  called the vet and was told it should be fine but to monitor him for stomach sickness. Fortunately, my sweet friends rearranged their plans and brought the food to my house so we could watch over my puppy. I was a wreck, but all’s well that ends well. No more dental chews till we are of age. Although our weight is already closer than I thought…He currently weighs 18 lbs. #MyBabyIsGrowingUp. If paw size is any indicator, this is going to be a fairly big dog…all the better to guard us with, I suppose.

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And, so this is the story of how I, a non-dog person, came to love a dog. I am still a non-dog person with other dogs. I don’t really have any desire to cuddle them. I am a bit more comfortable with my friends’ dogs now. But, nothing compares to having your own. God always knows exactly what you need when you need it. And in this Ph.D. season of stress, a little light at the end of the day who bounces around and greets me like a celebrity, even when Luke is working, is truly a joy. I look forward to coming home in a whole new way. Whether we are just hanging out or outside romping around, Bear finds a brand new adventure for us each and every day. Owning a puppy is messy and lots of work and kind of gross at times — just as I feared. But the unconditional love makes it so so worth it, and you truly do get back so much more than you give.

The three of us have formed a wonderful little family already, and I look forward to so many more weeks, months, and years to come!

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A Time for Gratitude

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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! 🙂  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.

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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.

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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:

    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

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! 🙂

xoxo

Manda

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. 🙂

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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. 🙂

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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. 🙂

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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. 🙂

 

 

It’s the Little Things

First, let me just say that The Lord sure knew what He was doing when he created a day of rest after a hard week of work! Lately the work days simply blur together in a fog of long (VERY LONG) days, especially for Luke who gets up hours before the sun for his morning PT and meetings. We see each other briefly in the evenings before I go to work on graduate school and dinner. Then, we watch a TV show or two and hit the bed, rarely past 10:00 these days. Our little evening routine is nice because we get to catch up and unwind from the day before the exhaustion sets in to begin anew in the morning.

Since it is the month of Gratitude, I have been keeping a gratitude journal to remind us of all of the things that we have to be grateful for despite that mundane feeling that can creep up when you have adult responsibilities, bills and jobs! I am also trying to surround us with small reminders of the blessings in our lives in and around our home. The things pictured below give us a small boost of joy even on the most difficult days. Maybe you keep a few of these in your home as well?

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This plate was given to me at my first bridal shower, and it has the signatures and notes of encouragement several women who mean the world to me. Even though they are scattered all over the country now, this plate provides a reminder of their friendship, love and well wishes for our marriage. Even though we are far apart, I know that they are only a phone call or text message away.

 

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This little platter was the very first Fall decoration that I purchased for our home last year. The message is of course self explanatory, and I enjoy looking at it in my breakfast nook every morning as a small reminder to be glad and joyous for the start of another day and the chance to make a difference in someone’s life! Rather than count the things that are missing or dwell on regrets and missed opportunities, we are to GIVE THANKS in all things for the life that God has given us here and now in this season. This is a tough one sometimes, but it is so true! By thinking of the positive things through my gratitude journal, I find that truly there is so much that the Lord has provided for Luke and I during this first chapter of our marriage.

 

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This mug was given to me as a birthday gift from a sweet friend here in Columbus who knows some of the struggles of my heart on days when I am not feeling so grateful. She is always there for me, as a confidante and fellow Army spouse, and Luke and I are so blessed to have developed a close relationship with her and her husband over the last year. The message on the mug seems so simple, but it is too easy to dismiss the small things, which provide the greatest joy. This week, I found myself getting excited over the treat of a Dr. Pepper in my lunchbox, which provided a needed caffeine boost for the afternoon’s work. I had a blast giving out candy at a fall festival and making macaroni joy with sweet little ones. I enjoyed turning up the heat in my car on my daily drive to and from work to obscene temperatures Luke would never approve of if he was with me. (For those that know me, I am perpetually cold this time of year!) Finally, I rejoiced over the opportunity to get out of the office for lunch with a friend on Friday. Taking time to appreciate the little things can definitely make a big difference in your day.

 

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I have always been an avid reader, and this week I bought a new book from my favorite author and have especially enjoyed reading every night before bed with my husband. There is something about that quiet time and unwinding in a good story that takes your mind far away from little problems and worries. We sometimes share a funny quote or interesting part with each other, and I would not trade this peaceful companionship for all of the money in the world.

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My last “Little Thing” around the house is candles. I LOVE the way a candle makes the apartment smell so cozy. Most of my candles this time of year are Fall-themed, and the pumpkin spice or apple cinnamon aroma can really help you to unwind from the day and transition for an evening or weekend together. They are a favorite indulgence of mine, whether I am taking a bubble bath or enjoying a meal with the hubby.

These are just a few of the little things that are very prevalent in our lives right now. There are plenty of other things to be grateful for, such as the health and ability to work and provide for our family, the new opportunities we find every day at work,our relationship with friends, family, one another and Jesus, most importantly. Lately I have especially looked forward to the weekends, where we get to really cherish relationships and the PEOPLE that make up our life here that isn’t always possible during the hectic work week. Last night, for example, we invited a couple over for a cookout and to cheer the Tide on to victory over LSU, and what an amazing evening that was. (ROLL TIDE ROLL!) Today, we are blessed to head to a hockey game in Columbus with some other friends and grab dinner together. I am eternally grateful for the Army, which has brought us to this place for this time to connect with the people He knew that we needed in our lives.

Although this year brings a new challenge for for us as the holiday season approaches, and we will be staying at Fort Benning for both Thanksgiving and Christmas for the first time ever, we are trying to keep a positive focus on the chance to start our own traditions as a married couple. While we will certainly miss our traditional celebrations with extended family, we are thankful for the amazing friends here who will be helping us to celebrate, and that my mom is able to make the trip down for Thanksgiving Day. We will try to see my Dad and Luke’s side of the family as well at some point in December or January.

My point of this post is finding little ways to celebrate the joy of life every day, so I wish you much joy and happiness this week and always. If you took the time to read this post, THANK YOU for being a part of our lives and taking time out of your day to keep up with our little journey. 🙂

 

Overcoming the feeling of failure

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As a child growing up, I was drawn to the older black-and-white TV shows, the shows that my grandparents and parents liked to watch, such as Leave it to Beaver, I Love Lucy, Bewitched, Dick van Dyke Show, the Andy Griffith Show, and the Brady Bunch. Then, came Full House, the Cosby Show, Boy Meets World etc. I watched more modern shows too, but I really enjoyed the slow-down and break from reality that a 1950s/1960s/1970s show afforded me. I liked the way that all of the “perfect families” appeared on TV- clothes neatly pressed, homes nicely arranged, everyone gathered around the dinner table each night telling stories about their days over a home cooked meal. This was a far stretch most nights from our house, where my mom juggled putting dinner on the table in between the car rider line and driving my younger brother and I to endless practices and club meetings.

Sometimes we’d grab a bucket of KFC chicken on our way home and a few sides, sometimes she’d throw together a quick meat and three (one main dish and three canned veggies and a few rolls.) Many other nights we would simply go out to eat- cheap Mexican, Burger King, a diner in town. As ashamed as I am to admit this now, I found myself judging my mother, who worked full time and took care of our family, running the house, keeping up with our schedules and helping us with all of our school projects. I had the kind of mother who was THERE– for everything. She was the room mother, PTA volunteer, in charge of my middle school’s First Aid room, and our main cheerleader at EVERY SINGLE SPORTING EVENT that Ethan and I ever had, which was a lot since my brother played several competitive sports and was on both school teams and travel teams. She was basically superwoman, and I didn’t know it. I was too busy mentally comparing her to the other moms–on my TV shows and those in my neighborhood. I pieced together tiny snapshots of my friends’ lives from when I was invited to their homes to play, and everything always appeared perfect to me, an outsider looking in- perfectly clean home, smiling, welcoming parents, homemade dinner on the table each night. The siblings all got along, and everyone always took special care to make me feel at home. I never stopped to think that our house appeared that way too, to anyone looking in. I often had friends tell me we had the cleanest prettiest home in the neighborhood, and everyone loved my mom. All of my friends knew “Ms. Lou,” and growing up, she was as likely to be driving them to practice or to games as their own moms. She was one of the most involved parents in my class, and at the time, I did not appreciate that as much as I should have.

Now, that I am a young wife in my 20’s, without any kids yet, I find myself struggling. I can relate in a small way to how my mom must have felt during the daily, never-ending grind of life- taking care of a family, working, pressuring herself to do it all. I mean really– who has time for the gym? And, I don’t even have children! I am sure she compared herself (at least mentally) to her peers too, and to the women on those TV shows who make it look so easy because, of course, it’s fiction! I know that my brother and I did not help things with our snide comments about so-and-so’s mom who had cookies fresh from the oven for them every day after school. Well, what we did not know or care to realize is that Mrs. So-and-So did not work a full-time job AND had a housekeeper to help her out! I can only imagine how I might feel if my husband came home and told me that he wishes I was more like someone else’s wife. And, this was in the age BEFORE social media. Now, I think it is even more difficult to gain perspective and separate yourself from how things appear on the surface and reality.

Because, honestly folks, it’s HARD. As a modern career woman and full-time wife, it is nearly impossible to balance professional pursuits and home life and excel equally well in both arenas– Throw grad school into the mix, and I am beyond thankful I do not have children yet because I have zero clue how I would manage it all. As a lifelong over-achiever, I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to manage all aspects of my life perfectly. And many times, I succeed.

This weekend, I have been sick. Actually, this whole week I have been sick and trying my best not to let it show. I can’t take a sick day at work, can’t miss that meeting, can’t not see those friends, can’t miss date night with my husband. And this morning, it really took a toll on me. So today, friends, I have literally been sitting on the couch while my husband did it ALL. He drove me to the Clinic, dropped off and picked up my prescriptions, folded laundry, brought me drinks, cooked a quick dinner and washed and dried our sheets. And, I have felt extremely guilty to take even this one day for me. Scrolling through Facebook, I see my friends who have freshly prepared dinners for their families this evening, friends who have already bought fresh fruits and veggies for the whole WEEK while my refrigerator is currently stocked with junk foods, and others who spend their days at the gym training to run marathons or 5Ks while I honestly could not tell you the last time I hit the gym. I began feeling BAD and INSECURE. How do these women do it all and make it look so easy? And, what must my husband think of me, in comparison, when he looks over and sees me sitting here in my pajamas all day on the couch?

A friend’s blog post inspired me this week, because she wrote a lot about putting things into perspective. When you look at all of these friends’ “Facebook lives” versus their real lives, I would bet you that many of them are struggling as much as I am and just don’t publicize it. After all, my own life looks pretty darn perfect on Facebook. If you scroll down my wall, you’ll see a date night with the husband, a post about filling water balloons together, another date night, and a home-cooked meal with us at home on the couch watching TV. These are the happy little snapshots of our daily lives, but what happens in between– the chaotic, less fun parts–aren’t posted for everyone to see. I don’t want my Facebook friends to know that yes, laundry may pile up in the laundry room for several days before it finally gets washed. I may toss a shirt into the dryer to “fluff it” rather than pull out the ironing board– or I may pull out the ironing board and have it sit in the living room for several days, unused. Other times, I’ll fork over the $100+ and send our clothes out for –gasp– dry cleaning!!

If I am being honest here, many times I feel like a somewhat lazy, unmotivated, terrible wife. Those times usually come when I am comparing myself to others via social media. Facebook is great, but it shows everybody’s “best self”- the self they wish to portray to the world. Luke tells me I am amazing wife and that he couldn’t imagine anyone better for him. That’s what matters right? Ever the self critic, I would guess that I am doing better than average in the homemaker department, all things considered. So what if we order pizza more than we should or go out to eat instead of eating in? The most important thing is that we laugh together every day. We hug and cuddle and enjoy quality time together that I cherish far more than spending my hours on the ironing. We do little things for each other– I make an effort to make the bed in the morning, he cleans the dishes, I wash his ACU’s every Saturday. I try to cook a true homemade meal at LEAST once per week, but mostly averaging 2-3 times per week. Other times, we enjoy socializing with friends or eating out together at a restaurant in town, and that’s OK. It is what we enjoy and what our current lifestyle affords, so why do I stress over it when I see that Suzy Q is making 7 home-cooked dinners a night with desserts too? My husband doesn’t even like dessert, so that would be a wasted effort.

Overall, our apartment is very clean and comfy. Some days it is more “lived in” than others, but we have a beautiful place to call home. So rather than stress over the laundry or buying all organic produce for my Super-Wife meal plan this week, I think I’ll make myself a cup of hot tea and call it a night.

By the way, I completely admire those wives and moms who take the time and effort on meal plans and hope that one day it is in the cards for me too! But, I have to be OK with the fact that the time for this is not now. I also have to know that it’s OK to take a sick day or a personal day occasionally. And if you are reading this and feeling anything like me, please know that it’s OK to not have it all together, wives. I promise that most of us don’t! At the end of the day, if we love God and then our husbands above all else, we are doing pretty well. And, don’t pay too much attention to your Facebook friends– I guarantee that your friends have a lot more going on underneath the surface than the happy, upbeat posts and photos that appear on their walls.

Finally, here’s to you, Mom. Thanks for always doing your best by us kids and making it look easy. I hope to follow in your footsteps someday and have it “all together” as well as you always did.

Welcome back to the world of Luke and Manda!

Hi everyone! So it has been a while..My last post was in the winter before I went to Spain to put together the fifth issue of Alpine Living. Everything quickly transformed into a whirlwind that left me with little time to blog, so I thought I’d do a quick recap of the last few months and plan to renew my dedication to blogging. I am a writer, and as any writer will tell you, only so much time can elapse before you are again called to put words to paper. Here goes my long overdue update!

February– We left off after celebrating Luke’s 23rd birthday in Georgia with many of our new friends here, including: Kim Freitag, Bill Choate and his roommate Ben, and Ace Alviso. Of those friends, Kim and Bill have already PCS’d (Army lingo for moved to a new post very far away), and Ace will be leaving us for North Carolina once he finishes up Airborne School in a few weeks. Army Life Lesson # 1: Friends will come and go. The Army ties you together for a short time, and you have to make the most of it while it lasts. But, on the upside, the Army is small. Sooner or later, you’ll probably see those same friends down the road at another post, which is encouraging when saying those tough good byes.

March– I headed off to Spain and Portugal for two weeks as the editor of my college’s international travel magazine. The trip was absolutely incredible, to say the least. I made it to the top of the construction site of La Sagrada Familia on a private tour in Barcelona, met and interviewed Albert Raurich (the protege of the world’s most famous chef), saw flamenco dancing firsthand, explored the medieval fishing village of Getaria and interviewed several of the locals, tried the best raspberry cheese ice cream to ever exist, toured some of the lesser-known but still beautiful art museums in Madrid, went to a Spanish opera (and promptly fell asleep..oops!), tasted Iberian ham and toured a ham-making company out of Seville, visited the Rock of Gibraltar and met many monkeys along with the former mayor, and toured the original Pasteis De Belem pastry shop in Lisbon and interviewed the owners. (After creating the longest run-on sentence to ever exist, I think I’ve provided a pretty succinct synopsis of my trip.) The downside was that Luke and I had very little contact with the time difference and lack of Wi-Fi during my travels. It was tough on us, but we came through just fine. After working countless hours upon return, our staff published 140 pages of editorial content and had the printed magazine in hand upon graduation day. Our magazine recently won an honorable mention in a national Excellence in Journalism competition, and two of our writers won awards for their individual stories, so I am satisfied with the outcome.

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Mallie, myself, and Taylor at the Rock of Gibraltar

April- This month truly blurs together for me with publishing the magazine, finishing up finals and tying up all of the loose ends in Tuscaloosa. I did have a Linens and Things shower hosted by the lovely Grace Hagemann and Jessica Ruffin, which was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed spending time with some of my sorority sisters before we all split and went our separate ways.

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Grace, Jessica and I – April 2013

Luke spent this month (and the previous couple) working in his new role in 3-1 Cavalry. He adjusted to his new role, and he is currently in charge of about a dozen soldiers. His days became pretty steady (6 am to 6 pm or so), with the occasional late night thrown in when things are busy. Army Lesson # 2: Staff duty is frequent, and most junior officers’ wives dread this particular task of “paying your dues.” (No one told me about this prior to coming to Benning, but apparently every so often Luke has to work 24 hours straight.) However, we’ve learned to make it fun. Luke loves that I stop by with dinner on the nights when he has to work, because still I want to make sure he gets a healthy meal. We can generally steal about thirty minutes to talk and eat together, so I look forward to that.

AND THE MOST EXCITING NEWS FROM APRIL…DRUMROLL..My best friend got engaged! Will proposed to Jess on April 28th in front of Samford Hall at Auburn, where they both go to school. She said yes! They are getting married next June, and I could not be more excited.

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Of course, we threw them an awesome engagement party afterward 🙂

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May- I graduated summa cum laude from The University of Alabama!! Graduation day was a lot of fun. My mom, dad, brother and Luke’s mom and cousin all came down to see me graduate. The day was warm and sunny, and we enjoyed taking pictures all over campus after I walked across the stage. I made sure to get photos in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium, Denny Chimes, Reese Phifer Hall and the other important landmarks that represent my time at UA.

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Closing this chapter was exciting, but a bit scary, because I was not really sure what would come next. A few days after graduation, I resigned from my Teach for America position in Atlanta due to personal reasons, and thus no longer had a guaranteed job or income. I am still examining this new chapter to figure out where I’d like to go! For now, it’s safe to say I am exploring several different avenues and am hoping to begin graduate school in the Fall and/or find a full time job.

After graduation, I spent a lot of time with Luke and my family, working on wedding plans, relaxing after a hectic semester, and catching up with my loved ones, whom I had pretty much unintentionally neglected during the course of Alpine Living. At Fort Benning, I made some new friends- Amy Zeng, Emily Malone and Jenae Young, to name a few, and began to form a new life here. Luke and I really enjoy hanging out with these women and their significant others!!  We are looking forward to getting to know all of them better in our remaining time at Benning (which is looking like it will be a WHILE!) Luke’s softball season also kicked up (he joined the team earlier in the year), and I was FINALLY able to go out to see him play!!

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Josh’s birthday dinner- Luke, Josh, Emily, Sean, Amy, and me!

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Luke’s softball team- May 2013

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Lunch after church with the Youngs

June/July- Oh, summer! Even though I am not working, it has still been extremely busy due to all of the wedding plans and moving to a new apartment in addition to tons of travel! We have traveled about 60 to 70 percent of the weekends thus far, and will continue to do so until the beginning of August. How we have loved celebrating with our friends though! We went to Holly and Matthew Tucker’s wedding on June 15th and truly had a blast. I was so honored to stand up with her as a bridesmaid.

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Holly and I, right before she became a Mrs.

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Then, there was my Huntsville bridal shower, hosted by Jessica Belue, Yolanda Belue, Katlin Baugh and Ashley Sams. We had so much fun!

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Ashley, Aunt Lisa, MJ and I!

Right after the shower, Jess asked me to be her Matron Maid of Honor! Of course, I said yes 🙂

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I had eye surgery briefly after that, and it went very successfully. My eyes have completely healed now, and I feel blessed to have had one of the best surgeons in the Southeastern U.S. to perform the procedure. We spent the 4th of July with Luke’s folks in Hickory, NC, and this past weekend, Luke and I went to an Atlanta Braves game (his VERY belated birthday gift from me! lol)

Coming up, we have my good friend Tara Northington’s wedding near Tuscaloosa, my cousin Mary-Susan’s wedding in Mississippi, and our couples shower in North Carolina. Stay tuned 🙂

Bring On 2013!

So I have not posted on this blog in quite some time because Luke and I have been extraordinarily busy loving life, so this will be something of a mega update/synopsis of our last month or so. What have we been up to, you may ask?

  • I aced my finals and somehow pulled off all A’s for the semester, including an A+ in science. Still not sure how I managed the science grade, but I’ll take it.
  • I battled the flu during finals week and the following week and despite being sick, started my SMDC internship back up for the holidays.
  • Luke finished up his Palidin course and drove 12 hours straight through the night from Oklahoma to come see me in Huntsville.
  • Luke, Cassie Wells, and I attended the wedding of one of my childhood friends, Whitney Pirtle, and her new husband, Josh Gravelle, in Savannah, TN.
Luke and I at Whitney and Josh's wedding

Luke and I at Whitney and Josh’s wedding

Cassie and I, Dec. 15, 2012

Cassie and I, Dec. 15, 2012

  • We watched my cousin’s son, Jaxon,(and our ring bearer) open his Christmas gifts early since we were heading up to North Carolina to visit Luke’s family for Christmas. It’s so fun to have a baby in the family again!
  • Luke moved all of his stuff into his new apartment at Fort Benning! We consider ourselves extremely blessed to be the proud new owners of a hand-me-down double bed, kitchen table, couch, coffee table, chest, and various other misc. household items. The generosity of our family is greatly appreciated as we are just starting out, although I must admit, I look forward to possibly replacing these things, piece by piece, once we get married and find out what our first home will look like! If only furniture weren’t so expensive…
  • Our families met for the first time at Cafe Berlin in Huntsville…and no one killed anyone!
  • We traveled up to Hickory, NC to spend 8 days with Luke’s family for Christmas. During this time, we saw his old friends Jon and Garrett and their respective girlfriends, the sweet Sherrill family, the Goforths, and of course, all of Luke’s family. I finally got to meet the infamous Uncle Howard, and we all had a blast playing cards, eating good food, and catching up over the holidays.
Bradshaw family Christmas tree 2012

Bradshaw family Christmas tree 2012

Christmas Eve service

Christmas Eve service

Merry Christmas from the future Mr. and Mrs. :]

Merry Christmas from the future Mr. and Mrs. :]

Opening gifts at Grandma Reid's' house

Opening gifts at Grandma Reid’s’ house

  • Luke took me on an awesome date (our first in nearly two months because we have been so busy!) We ate at Kobe Japanese Steakhouse and then played putt putt at an indoor ice cream shoppe/dairy putting green course thing. It was lots of fun.
  • Luke, Hannah and I attempted to make homemade Christmas cookies. I say the word “homemade” loosely. Epic fail!
  • Luke took his brothers, Jacob and Samuel, to watch the Panthers play, and I went to church with his parents and Milos’s lovely girlfriend, Lauren Oakley. So happy I got the chance to meet her, and all I have to say is- Milos, if you are reading this, don’t let this one get away! She is adorable.
  • We headed back to Huntsville so that I could finish working at SMDC, and celebrated New Year’s Eve with my MOH and her boyfriend. We lost track of time actually, and hurriedly searched for the ball drop on TV with less than a minute to spare. Luckily, we found it just in time (darn Eastern time zone!) and I shared a wonderful first kiss of 2013 with my handsome fiance.
New Year's Eve!

New Year’s Eve!

So glad we got to ring in the New Year with two of our best friends. Such a fun night!

So glad we got to ring in the New Year with two of our best friends. Such a fun night!

  • Luke headed down to Benning to start his new job, and I finished up a few last details on the Technical Center website and did some last-minute cramming for my GACE tests. (teacher certification tests in Elementary Education for my new job with Teach for America).
  • I took my tests in Atlanta, and I THINK I passed them. They were old-fashioned, paper-#2 pencil tests though, so I won’t technically know for 3 more weeks.
  • I visited Luke in Georgia for the first time, and Mr. Aristotle Alviso made us some delicious homemade lasagna that took him hours to prepare. We greatly enjoyed this feast with Mr. Bill Choate! It was wonderful seeing these two guys again (two of Luke’s groomsmen), since I had not seen them since West Point graduation day in May.
  • Luke showed me the technical intricacies of playing Halo 4, and I snoozed on his couch.
  • We finished registering at Bed, Bath & Beyond, Sears and Target! Yay for teamwork.
  • I had a lovely SMDC farewell luncheon at Cantino Loredo, hosted by Ms. Joanna Brunson. They presented me with a framed letter from the director, thanking me for my service, and a gorgeous leather planner to use in my new teaching job. I am definitely going to miss the staff in the Technical Center Business Management Office and Concepts Analysis Lab.
Ms. Joanna and I, Cantino Loredo 2013

Ms. Joanna and I, Cantino Loredo 2013

  • I started school on Wednesday and already have mountains of work to do, writing articles for Business Executive and preparing for my trip to Spain with Alpine Living. T-minus 2 months until departure, and we have a LOT to do, but I am looking forward to it.
  • Luke came down to Tuscaloosa for the weekend, and we spent a fairly chill weekend hanging out together. I made beef stew for him, we watched Alabama narrowly beat Tennessee in basketball, visited a few antique stores looking at furniture/tea sets/decanters we can’t afford, went to church, had lunch at O’Charley’s, met with our wedding photographer and then relaxed and watched “How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days.”
  • I had dinner with the lovely Lauren Killen FINALLY at long last, after several weeks of separation. She made me try real apple cider. It was delicious, I must say.

That about sums it up, folks! This next week should prove to be fairly busy for both Luke and I, as we settle into our new routines at Benning and UA, respectively. We plan to head to Savannah, GA next weekend for a Martin Luther King celebratory road trip with Lauren Killen, Jess and Will, so I am definitely looking forward to that. Is it Friday yet? In the mean time, I plan to catch up with my little, Jessica Evers, and my other little, Grace Haggemann this week, as well as my old roomie, Lauren Hendrix Sprinkle. Can’t wait for some girls’ nights to hopefully make the time pass more quickly until I can see my love again.

I will add that you may have noticed that this post is a bit sparse on pictures…It’s because I honestly have not been taking many. I have left the camera at home more and made a conscious effort to live in the moment instead. It is amazing how much of life that you miss when you are constantly behind the lens of a camera, attempting to capture every moment. However,  I do miss taking pictures, and I definitely wish I had more of the holidays, looking back. So, I promise to post lots of pictures of Savannah and of course, Spain, college graduation, and all of the other exciting events that will be coming along this year.

So, with that being said, Bring On 2013!

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: