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Pilgrims in a New Land: The First Friendsgiving

Perspectives Last Class

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

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

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

On the Menu:

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

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

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


Green Bean Casserole

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

I also made this no bake cherry pie.

cherry pie

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

What I Am Thankful For This Year Part 1

What I Am Thankful For This Year Part 2

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


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

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

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

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


How We Cut Our Weekly Food Budget In Half

If your family is just starting out like mine is, you may find yourself in a similar boat to where Luke and I were at Fort Benning, GA. Many times, it’s just easier to eat out. More cost effective? Not necessarily, but easier, most definitely.

In GA, Luke and I were both adjusting to “adult jobs” and in addition, I was completing my master’s degree. Excuses are a dime a dozen and for whatever reason, we ate out far more than I cooked about 80% of the time. We spent hundreds upon hundreds of dollars on food; we are amateur “foodies” so we do have expensive tastes, but even those “cheaper” meals, including fast food, took a toll on our wallets as well as our bodies.

I would make a massive Publix trip every week or two and spend a couple hundred dollars in addition to all of the eating out. We never consumed as many groceries as we thought we would, so we ended up throwing a lot out. I am embarrassed to admit how much we wasted–everything from spoiled produce to leftovers neither of us ate to half-used condiments. When we moved to Fort Sill we had a just-opened jelly jar (literally only one spoonful had been taken out) that was thrown into the trash!

As we moved to Fort Sill and adopted a new family budget with a higher focus on some longer term savings goals, our food money was reduced dramatically. At first, I was really worried and just didn’t see how it could be possible to live so “cheaply” and still eat “well.” And, yet it is!

I’ll share¬†a few of my secrets (which aren’t really secrets at all), as our dinner tonight– salmon with asparagus and new potatoes– simmers in the oven. This is my brother Ethan’s recipe, and it is by far my very favorite way to make salmon! I will have to share sometime.


Secret No. 1- Work at Chick-fil-A and eat free food. (Just kidding, everyone!) Although that is one perk of the job that is one of my very favorites…But really…here goes.

Secret No. 2-¬†There are no excuses–you buy the food and cook it, regardless of how the day has gone.¬†I am working just as many hours here in Oklahoma if not more. I am not completing my master’s degree, but I am working more hours in my job as well as working towards a couple of other goals and running my social media marketing business on the side. It would be so easy (and it is tempting!) to say forget it–let’s grab a burger. However, since we have lived here and I’ve been working almost three months now, I am very proud to say we have only had an unplanned fast food type meal twice! That is a far cry from the once per week (at least) it usually happened in GA.

Secret No. 3-Plan ahead.¬†Many of my friends shared meal planning tips with me in the past, but I can’t tell you how much of an impact it has had to come up with my own system that works for our family and stick to the plan. I typically like to do this on Sunday’s when I come up with five meals we might like to eat during the week. We mix up the cuisine–usually a Mexican or Asian night, home-cooked Southern night, pasta or Italian dish, maybe some seafood or another lighter option (chicken is more of a rarity these days for obvious reasons!) and one easy night such as Hamburger Helper, steaks on the grill or tomato soup and grilled cheese. I have found that planning my five nights works well. I have a white board where I list “Our Weekly Menu” in the kitchen. We then mix up the meals during the week and pick and choose based on the day; if it is going to be a late night at work I’ll do a crockpot meal that day and maybe a longer, more intensive meal on a day when I’ll be off much earlier. I am very blessed that Luke is not as much of a picky eater anymore, and he is usually up to try whatever I make. (We have expanded his horizons tremendously over the past 6 years of our relationship!)

Secret No. 4- Grocery Shop Strategically.¬†I of course, first and foremost, never go when I am hungry. That always, always, always gets me into trouble. After church works well for my schedule, and I’ll come home and build my list based on what we already have in the cabinets. This alone has been a huge money saver! No duplicate canned goods, condiments or unnecessary spices that I used to buy when I got to the store because I couldn’t remember if I had it at home.

As a military spouse, the commissary is a literal gold mine in terms of savings. I wish I would have utilized it more at Benning, but we lived 30 minutes away and I never felt it was worth the time and gas. Here, we are just down the street, and groceries are much cheaper! I have learned to avoid the pitfalls (aka holiday weekends and pay days) that make the whole experience miserable. I love Monday morning grocery shopping–it is always dead! If/when I have a morning off, I always maximize my time by doing my shopping then. Sunday’s aren’t too bad either.

The other thing is buying ingredients you can use in multiple dishes; this week I bought new potatoes to go with tonight’s salmon and tomorrow’s beef stew. It minimizes the number of ingredients to purchase and saves money because you don’t have so many excess.

Secret No. 5- Freeze extra meat to use later (same for leftovers). There are only 2 of us, and most meats (especially at the Commissary) come in pretty large packs. In older days, I would have maybe tried to make a couple meals out of it in the same week and one set would go bad. Now, I know that we like a little more variety in our dinners, so I will freeze the excess meat immediately, before I even cook the stuff I am making. This way, it safely goes into a dated Zip Lock bag and I can use it for the future. If I am wanting to make a more expensive recipe one week or buy more fresh herbs and produce, I might supplement with meat from the freezer to stick to our pre-determined weekly grocery budget.

Secret No. 6-Have a budget and know what you are spending!¬†At Benning, we had general guidelines for expenditures, but we “just winged it” a lot too. We had two separate bank accounts and it could be hard to track what the other was buying. Plus, we typically gave in to “wants” a lot more than we do now; a “need” vs a “want” is very different. Tonight, I wanted to make my poppyseed ham rolls because I have been craving them. But, instead, I am making the salmon because it will go bad if I wait until tomorrow. Cooking foods in order of expiration date (even if you prefer a different meal) is key.

Secret No. 7- Look for deals and stock up then, which can help supplement a more expensive week. Today Manwich was on sale, and even though we aren’t having Sloppy Joe’s this week, I went ahead and bought two cans. I knew I would still come in under budget, and another week, I can just buy buns and use the sauce and meat from the freezer.

Secret No. 8- Ask your spouse to pitch in.¬†I do this more now than I did at Benning. In GA, I never wanted to “bother” Luke, even if I was exhausted so I would suggest we grab something on the way home. However, he honestly doesn’t mind cooking one of the easier meals (think paninis, tacos, anything on the grill, breakfast for dinner.) It helps a lot because it relieves all of the pressure from one person, and I get a night “off” too. Between the two of us, we have the art of making dinner down to a science.

By following these few easy tips, we have formed a habit of eating at home during week nights 5-6 days per week. We always have one weekend “cheat night” where we get to eat out nicer; now this isn’t necessarily the $100+ meal we enjoyed too frequently at Benning. But, it is a good date night that we look forward to. On Sunday afternoons we also enjoy going out to eat somewhere less expensive–we have a nice rotation between BBQ, Mexican and Chinese¬†each week. But, other than those two meals, we typically eat all the rest at home. I eat Chick-fil-A for lunch of course, and Luke comes home for lunch and eats leftovers and sandwiches (yay for living on post and close to his work).

It isn’t a perfect system, but it works for us. We also realized how much we enjoy the quiet time of dinner just us, in the comfort of our home, in our PJ’s if we prefer. We don’t have to get dressed up and go out. We sometimes watch TV with dinner and just laugh together over a show and enjoy our meal at a leisurely pace which is hard to do when you’re out to eat on a week night. We find that we are eating healthier, spending less and enjoying the food more. Last week, we even got to cook together; Luke helped me flip the quesadillas and it was like a mini “date night” in; a fun experience we would not have had at a restaurant.

Let’s Chat! What are some other tips you have found for saving money on food¬†for your family?

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