lukeandmanda

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Archive for the category “Fort Benning”

Becoming Bold: Bring on 2017

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2016 was a year of both endings and new beginnings, a strange year, split exactly in half with the first half occurring in Fort Benning, GA and the second in Fort Sill, OK.

This past January, my good friend, Michelle, and I were out to lunch at Thai Thai one of our usual restaurants on our weekly lunch rotation. We were both in a state of transition and wondering what the next year might bring for each of us. I wonder where we will be this time next year….And, I must say that my year ended up everything and nothing like I had envisioned over that plate of sweet and sour chicken and our favorite cream cheese roll appetizer.

I grew stronger this year–mentally, physically, emotionally. 2016 brought many challenges as well as opportunities and adventures.

The first half of the year brought another unexpected eye surgery preceded by countless trips to my traveling ophthalmologist who works several hours away, and I was able to handle this obstacle with a grace I have not possessed with my five previous operations. I was somewhat proud of how calm and collected I was in the face of this adversity. Here is some of the background behind that and the condition I was born with, known as strabismus. It is a condition I have lived with and battled my entire life, and one that I eventually hope to publish a book about in order to encourage others with a similar struggle. But, that is a tale for another day.

In May of this year, we picked up our entire life and left our comfort zones, my job, my sense of community and moved farther away from my hometown than I have ever lived before. We are no longer a quick four-hour drive from family, and creating our new home in the Midwest was both scary and exciting.

The transition out of my job was a whirlwind; I worked until the Monday I left town, our possessions already loaded on the moving truck. I produced six new commercials, trained my replacement and hosted a huge event during my last few days of work. I am always committed to doing my very best at work and felt a very strong sense of loyalty to my company. Thus, I had a hard time adjusting to no longer having that role. As Luke and I traveled around to see family, to vacation in the Bahamas, to our new life, I still felt a need to check in, wanting to make sure my former bosses and staff were doing well. It was a very strange feeling, like ripping off a part of myself, my identity, everything I had invested in and worked so hard for over almost three years. And, it was now going on without me.

In its absence, I found a new sense of peace and a new sense of identity as I began to recognize my preconceived ideals, ingrained for most of my life, that what we do or what job we have can define us as a person. Without my job, I felt that my identity did not exist to the same capacity. It is hard to explain, but Jesus used the time after we moved here, the time when Luke was so sick and I was so scared to learn to rely upon Him alone for my sense of worth and identity. I had more than a month off of work, something I was not used to, and without the busyness of my job to fill my days, I spent more time in the Word, time reflecting and journaling. I used my time to find out more about who Amanda is and what she believes as opposed to what society tells me I should believe and be.

I learned that while it is important to work hard at my Earthly job, and I will always have that same work ethic where I give 110%, my job is not my most important mission to fulfill in this life.

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 2:11.

My identity and worth is as a Daughter of the King of Kings. No salary, no job title, no duties or responsibilities or bonus compensation defines me or my worth. Or yours. We are all equal in the eyes of God and equally valuable no matter what tasks our hands may find to do. Our job is simply to work at it with all of our heart.

When I started with Chick-fil-A, I saw immediately that I was right where God wanted me. And, He had so many lessons for me to learn in this season and still more to come. As I look back over this past six months, I can say that God is shaping me and defining me in new ways.

A few things that God has spoken to me that have really resonated these past few months:

“Look for the gift of being lonely. Look for the gift of solitude and silence.”

When I first moved to Oklahoma, I was the New Girl again. I didn’t have friends here yet and I was just getting to know my coworkers. Luke got pretty busy in his new job and I found myself alone a lot. And, I found the huge rewards in that time, in getting to know myself in fellowship with Jesus. I have found a new meaning to introspection and am grateful that I began this season somewhat alone, which forced me out of my comfort zone in this area.

“Every difficulty is an opportunity to prove God’s sufficiency to others.”

“Life is a journey, and the less we try to control it, the happier we will be.”

“His grace is enough for me.”

“The Devil’s lies and false accusations are powerless in my life. I stand on the truth of the Word.”

“The enemy will not be victorious in my life.”

“God always fulfills his promises in His appointed time.

These are just a few of the revelations I have been reflecting on during my bible study and devotional reading that I thought to share, both to bookmark where I am in this journey and to possibly encourage you as well.

Oh! What adventures we have had in 2016. We have been so very blessed, no question about that. Here is a look back over the past year.

We started off right with another Roll Tide victory as we rang in the New Year with our friends Michelle and Jeffrey in our apartment in Phenix City.

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A few weeks later, our good friends Jessica and Will came down to visit us for a weekend. It was so nice to spend some time with them, go out to dinner, Escape from the Room in Columbus and attend a hockey game with our Army friends and neighbors, Jenae and Greg. Attending hockey games was one of our favorite pastimes in GA, one that we miss here in OK.

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February was a busy, busy month as we celebrated Luke’s 26th birthday and traveled to NC to celebrate his sister Hannah’s college scholarship signing day for soccer. It was also my friend Jenn’s Confirmation Day at church, so we took her out to lunch to celebrate.

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With March came Easter, and my Dad and grandmother visited us for the weekend!

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In April, I had my last eye surgery to date. My mother-in-law came down to stay with Luke and I for a few days. We had a fun trip to Pine Mountain to get lunch and go shopping on the last day of her visit before I had to return to work and she had to get home.

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A few days later, I had word that we were officially moving to Oklahoma. The timeline had been up in the air until Luke’s unit was officially shut down at Ft. Benning and our orders sent us on ahead to Ft. Sill. I gave my boss notice and began to organize our home for the move. My heart was a little tougher–I had trouble adjusting to the idea of leaving this “home away from home” where we started our marriage, built strong friendships and a great life together.

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This was one of my last days of work filming our last set of commercials. It had been a great day getting more than 35 actors through and scenes shot. I knew I would miss my coworkers!

In May, the end was truly here for our time at Ft. Benning. I was sent off with a lovely going away dinner with my bosses at Buckhead Grill, one of our favorite restaurants, and a going away lunch with my team. They almost made me cry with their thoughtfulness and generosity. It was certainly a tough goodbye.

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And so, just like that, I said a final Good bye to my train car-shaped office on South Railroad Street. It was truly the ride of a lifetime. Until next time, Phenix City.

I came in the next morning to wrap up the Bible study I had organized with my coworkers at ironically, place of all places, Chick-fil-A. We had been meeting every Tuesday before work during the past quarter to share our love of God’s word and some fellowship before beginning the work day. The last one was tough because I wanted to continue to see God work in the lives of these sweet ladies; fortunately, with social media, I can still do that, even if I am no longer working with them every day! You see I am in a t-shirt here because my car was literally packed to the brim for our long journey and immediately after our study, I was hitting the road for good!

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May brought so many adventures, a week spent in my hometown of Huntsville, a week in Luke’s hometown, Hickory, NC (and his brother’s wedding to boot), and a few days in the Bahamas, just the two of us. Here are just a few snapshots!

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We finally made our way to Ft. Sill on the first of June. We drove separate cars of course, and I was excited albeit anxious to reach the destination and begin our new life. Little did we know Luke would get so sick.

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By the time we reached Arkansas, Luke was not doing well at all. He was having some stomach issues and we thought it was just a stomach virus. 10 days later with no food or drink, three hospital visits and several tests and scans we are pretty sure it was not just a minor stomach bug. But, we made the last leg of the trip, thanks to God alone with Luke throwing up the whole way and still managing to drive his own vehicle. We were so relieved to check into our hotel and to see the Welcome sign for Lawton.

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The days that he was sick and I moved into our home alone are hard for me to think back on because I felt so alone, scared and worried about him. He is not the type of person to lie in bed all day, and for over a week straight he was too weak to do more than exactly that. It was terrifying not to know a soul in town. Some kind West Point wives offered to help through social media, and I am very appreciative. Our friends and family from the Southeast were very supportive virtually, and his Mom and brother were on standby to board a flight at any time. But, our biggest comfort came from the ever constant presence of Jesus. We might have been alone in a new land, but God was here with us, walking beside us every day.

The day Luke finally got better was a miraculous one. He had been given antibiotics at our last ER visit, but had been on them for a few days without much in terms of results. He was still severely dehydrated and could not even hold down broth. I had to meet the movers the following day and would have to leave him alone at the hotel for an entire day. Before this, I would only leave in short two or three hour stints to clean the house and return to help him, but I knew this would be impossible on Move In Day. The night before, I messaged all of our friends and family in a group text and requested for everyone to please sign up for an hour to pray for Luke the following day.

We ended up with two people per hour because everyone was so eager to do what they could for us. I felt better knowing that others would be praying incessantly on his behalf while I completed our move in. And, I tell you the truth when I say that when I returned to the hotel that evening, he held down his dinner for the first time in 10 days! Do not underestimate the power of prayer!  Luke made a very swift recovery, was out of bed the following day, and helping me move out of the hotel the day after. God is good. Some may argue with me about timing, about a sickness running its course, about modern medicine, and while all of this may be true, I faithfully believe that God had his hand on Luke that day and heard all of our unceasing prayers. I could not let our 2016 story go by without sharing this God experience with you because it was truly life changing for our family. We still do not have a definitive diagnosis for what made Luke so ill; our best guess is some sort of parasite perhaps? But, God knew. And God healed.

And so, we began our life in Oklahoma six months ago with a clean slate, full of endless possibilities. What would we do with it?

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In July, my mom and brother came out to visit for Independence Day Weekend. We had a great time with them! The week after, I began my new job with Chick-fil-A and began to complete my training. I am very excited to be taking on my new role as the Director of Sales and Brand Growth this coming year.

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In August, we set out for Freedom, OK to attend our first Rodeo, Oklahoma style! There is a whole blog about that adventure and the inspiration for our Christmas Card here, so I’ll just leave you with this image.

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September 1st brought our three-year anniversary. Since it was the leather anniversary, our gifts could not have been more fitting–my purple leather cowgirl boots and Luke’s brown leather hat depicted above. We went out to eat at Woods and Water Winery in Anandarko to celebrate at the recommendation of a coworker. They had delicious food and cocktails!

Later in the month, we officially joined our church, Crossroads Baptist in Elgin, OK. We love it!

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October brought unseasonably warm weather, Luke’s promotion to Captain, Manda’s 26th birthday and our annual Halloween party in addition to our good friends Rachel and Kevin Sampler moving just down the block from us!!!

 

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November was mostly uneventful except I joined the Lawton Chamber of Commerce’s Redcoat Ambassadors team AND completed my very first 5K. This was a huge goal for me; here is another blog post about it if you care to read more about my journey to running the race. We then celebrated Friendsgiving with our Sunday School class, and then my Dad and grandmother came out for Thanksgiving.

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December has brought frigid temperatures to our neck of the woods! I excitedly headed home to Alabama for my brother’s college graduation on the 7th, in hope of warmer weather, but no such luck! It appears Winter may be here to stay. It was great to celebrate Ethan’s accomplishments with our family though.

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Christmas is coming now, and we cannot wait to celebrate all of our blessings, our journey through this year, the trials we have walked through and the lessons we have learned.

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As 2016 culminates, I can say that I lived out my word of the year that I established last January at that long ago lunch. I wanted to be “bold” this year. And, in my transition, in my adventures, through good times and bad, I can truly say I am on my way to Becoming Bold. I want to live boldly for Jesus, live out my faith and my life in a way that is impactful and meaningful for those around me.

I am excited and thrilled to have a new platform to live boldly through my work at Cameron University. I will be an adjunct professor of Advanced Professional and Business Speaking this Spring and look forward to mentoring and teaching students to shine throughout the coming months!

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xoxo and all the best for 2017!

Manda (and Luke) 😉

 

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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. 🙂

 

Welcome Fall! An update on the Bradshaws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Fall, Y’all!

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 🙂

Making every moment count.

As I lounge on the couch at Luke’s apartment in Columbus listening to him quote random history facts to me that I am halfway listening to, I looked over at him just now and realized just how lucky I truly am. He is proudly sporting his birthday scruff (one of his gifts from me that he didn’t have to shave his face today!) and reading a book about George Washington on this evening of his 23rd birthday and I couldn’t think of anywhere else I would rather be at this moment and time. The urge suddenly struck me to write it down, and so here I am, updating this blog. Even though it is nearly midnight, I don’t want to go to sleep because I don’t want this day to end. There is something to be said for being young and in love and being able to visit your fiance at will at long last.

I know I haven’t updated in a while, but like I said today is Luke’s birthday. His golden birthday in fact. Turning 23 on the 23rd isn’t something one does any old day. I really wanted to make this one special for him, but driving down here yesterday, I didn’t really know how I was going to make that happen. His family had wanted to come down to visit as a surprise, but due to scheduling conflicts were unable to make it. We don’t have a ton of friends in Columbus just yet, but I learned a valuable lesson yesterday: It doesn’t matter the number of friends that you have in your life but about the quality of those friends that you do have. My mother once told me that if you have a handful of close friends in your life, you are truly blessed. And by that count, we are indeed among the blessed ones.

Yesterday, I texted Luke’s good friend and groomsman, Aristotle (Ace), and asked him if he could help me throw something together for dinner. Sure enough, he was super helpful and even went out and bought a cake to bring to Luke’s surprise dinner at the Cannon. He also brought a couple of friends to dinner that were visiting him from out of town that Luke also knew from West Point. I then texted Bill Choate, another of Luke’s groomsmen and invited him and his roommate, Ben, to come, and they gladly accepted. I didn’t want to be the only girl in a crowd of guys, so I next invited Kim Freitag, a great girl that we have hung out with a few times now while her husband is at Ranger school. She rounded out the group of 8 that came out to celebrate Luke’s birthday.(Sadly the DeCostas were out of town, but we would have loved for them to be there too!)

Luke birthday at Cannon 12

The Cannon in Columbus

Group for Luke's birthday dinner!

Group for Luke’s birthday dinner!

I love him!

I love him!

Luke birthday at Cannon 10

Make A Wish!

We all sang Happy Birthday and properly embarrassed him of course

We all sang Happy Birthday and properly embarrassed him of course

We truly had a blast at dinner and Luke was extremely surprised. I found myself being so grateful for the closeness of the Army community that night. It was wonderful to bring together a group of friends – both old and new- to celebrate this special time for Luke. The good thing about the Army family is that even when people inevitably leave and move on, there is always the chance you’ll run into them again down the road somewhere! We are enjoying the time we have with these great friends now, because if there is one thing the Army will teach you that’s to enjoy every moment you have been given and to cherish every single friendship that comes your way. You don’t often meet strangers in the Army, which is a blessing; And by the end of the night, we were all laughing and joking like we’d known each other for years. In fact, we were having so much fun that I eventually had to make up the excuse that I wasn’t feeling well to get Luke to leave to find the second part of his surprise for the night.

Surprise Part Dos: My maid of honor, Jess, and her boyfriend Will drove down from Auburn to surprise Luke for drinks and board game night, something that we always enjoy with them. We played Pandemic until the wee hours of the morning and had a wonderful time. He said that it was one of the best birthdays ever, and I am grateful for all of our friends that helped to make it that way for him. It was every bit as special as I’d hoped it would be, new post or not!

Luke and Will taking the mandatory "birthday picture" lol

Luke and Will taking the mandatory “birthday picture” lol

It was a night to remember. In terms of gifts, well that’s another story. I bought Luke tickets to see the Atlanta Braves for his birthday this year, not knowing that he gets free tickets through the military. (I am still claiming I got us better seats anyway though!) In addition to getting him something he technically already has, Luke was looking at my computer last weekend and found the email from TicketMaster, so he already knew about the Braves game. Oh well! He is still excited about his gift, I think. The only surprise I had for him then was a hardback copy of The United States Constitution with gilded pages. Yes, he was genuinely excited about this, as he is as American as apple pie. I think he has already broken open the Constitution and started reading it again (I don’t know how many times he has read through it before, but I know it is several.) I was glad to be able to surprise him with that at least.

Today, we went to Buffalo Wild Wings to watch UNC beat North Carolina State, which was exciting! (I say the Tar Heels pulled it off just for Luke for his birthday!) Then we just hung out for the rest of the day, ate a very late dinner of leftovers, and he is currently sleeping soundly beside me. I should probably get off to bed too now, since the clock struck midnight about ten minutes ago.

I love weekends like this where everything just feels so right, and I loved being able to celebrate his birthday with him on the actual “day of” this year. It will be my last weekend in Georgia for a while because I am throwing a bridal tea for my friend Holly next weekend, so Luke will be coming to visit me, and then the following weekend is my first wedding shower in Tuscaloosa. And then, after that, I am bound for SPAIN! That trip is really creeping up on me..Less than 3 weeks and counting. I am very excited but also extremely overwhelmed with all of the prep work I still have to do before departure. All of that can wait though. For now, I am going to get some sleep and dream happy dreams of September 1, 2013.

More soon.

The start of something new

As I sit writing this from my T-town college apartment, it is comforting to know that Luke is FINALLY just a hop, a skip and  a jump away from me in Columbus. It’s amazing to think that he is just three hours away and after class in the morning, I will be heading to join him for his Hail and Farewell at Fort Benning (a celebration to welcome us to his new unit over Mexican food!). I am very excited to see what Columbus has to offer in the way of fajitas, nachos, and quesadillas- three of my favorites.

Luke is adjusting to life in Columbus rather well I think. He has just finished in-processing, so he will begin a month-long training course starting next week. I am kind of getting used to seeing him every weekend now at long last. I’ve been spoiling him a bit (probably too much for his own good), so I don’t know what he’ll do with himself when I head off to Spain in a couple of months. haha jk. Seriously though, I cooked for him, cleaned his apartment and finished his laundry up last weekend, and bought him ingredients on Sunday to cook himself easy-to-make recipes all week so that he will stop eating canned ravioli and protein shakes and actually get some nutrients! I’d have to say, I am being a pretty good fiancee at the moment haha Luke joked with me last weekend and called me Suzy Homemaker, which he likes to do on occasion, but I have been enjoying taking care of him a bit now that he is finally in the same region.

"Doing laundry" at Luke's

“Doing laundry” at Luke’s

OK, so as you can see, the laundry part didn’t exactly turn out as planned. Since his dryer is broken, we took all of his laundry up to the laundromat to wash and dry them. We paid $10 for the three loads only to find out that THEIR dryers are broken too. (Come to think of it, some of our friends said their dryer in Columbus is broken too…Weird Georgia dryers)..Anyway, since we used up ALL of our quarters by this point, we turned Luke’s entire apartment into a hang-dry rack. We laughed for a while over this pretty scene!

Other than the laundry mishap, the weekend wasn’t terribly eventful; instead it was NORMAL, STABLE and WONDERFUL. Luke headed up to Atlanta for two days to become re-certified as a soccer referee. He plans to ref games on week nights and during his down time on weekends this Spring, so he passed his certification test with flying colors (which I knew he would!) I was excited to surprise him with an athletic workout type shirt to take to “soccer camp” only to find out that he would just be sitting in a classroom all day studying for the test. Oh well..At least he got a new shirt out of it!

It’s not all domestic chores and boredom on my end either though. Let me assure you that I have been extraordinarily busy preparing to graduate and working on Alpine Living. That magazine (happily) consumes hours and hours of every day, and you can ask Luke that we barely talk on weekdays lately. The sad part is, I actually ENJOY the work. I am such a nerd and am loving being an international travel magazine editor. We leave in less than 6 weeks and I am sooo excited I could scream! I have never been to Europe before and am greatly looking forward to this new adventure. And of course wedding planning has been consuming time as well, although not as much as you would think. Getting the all-inclusive package from our venue has helped a lot, and there is not much to do until Mom and I head up to Nashville in February for the food and cake tasting and to meet with the florist. It is hard to believe that our wedding is really just 7 months away now!

I cannot promise a ton of blog posts between now and Spain with my busy schedule, but I will try to post updates periodically so that you (whoever you are..that weird collective you that implies SOMEONE is reading this blog) don’t think that we dropped off the planet! I can say that we are both very ready to be married and begin our lives as husband and wife. Luke looked at me some time over the past weekend and told me that we are going to be just fine because no matter what we will always have each other and our own little family and that makes everything perfect! That made me so incredibly happy, you just wouldn’t believe it. That man always says the sweetest things. And yes, beginning this Army adventure together is scary and uncertain for a Type A-mega planner like myself (trust me, I’d be the one to make myself a To-Do list for the next 10 years and stick to it line by line), but God had a better plan for me. By forcing me to leave my bubble of comfort (Aka the illusion of control, planning, figuring out MY version of a picture-perfect life with a stable permanent address), God has opened the doors to something so much better. I look forward to the adventures that the Army has for us in the future and the people that he will bring into our lives as we travel around wherever the Army may send us. The important thing is that at the end of the day, wherever we are and whatever we find ourselves doing, we are (mostly) together now and we are in this for the long haul.

End Soap Box.

More soon :]

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