lukeandmanda

The most amazing love story since Romeo and Juliet haha

Archive for the category “Fort Sill”

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. 🙂

 

 

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) 😉

 

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.

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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?

Finding Freedom in Freedom

Did you like my play on words there? 😉

I realized that I never published my promised update about mine and Luke’s anniversary trip to the rodeo in Freedom, OK a few weeks ago. It was one of our most unforgettable trips, so I most certainly have to share.

Texoma has many, many rodeos but there is none quite like this one. Nestled on the banks of the Cimarron River, Freedom is a tiny blip on the map; the town is so small there is no stoplight at all. There are no hotels in the quaint little Main Street area, and the closest place we found to stay was actually 45 minutes away. A throwback to Old Western days, all of the storefronts maintain an authentic Western facade, and there is literally no cell phone service for miles. We spent two nights and three days in total freedom of no connectivity, no worries about work and the outside world. In a rare throwback, it was just us, exploring Oklahoma and enjoying (my) first real rodeo–the 79th Annual Freedom Rodeo and Old Cowhand Reunion!

boots If you’re going to a rodeo, you have to look the part! These beauties were my Anniversary gift from Luke! We have always given one another “traditional” anniversary gifts. (Year 1- Paper, Year 2- Cotton, Year 3- Leather.) It worked out really well that we could incorporate our gifts into our trip. Luke got a cowboy hat!

We both took three days off work and headed out for Freedom, a 3.5 hour drive away. As we drove down winding country roads, past the massive wind turbines that are so common in this part of the country, and farther and farther from modern civilization, we relaxed into peaceful, companionable silence at times and excited chatter at others as we discussed all topics from future dreams to current ones. Then of course were the loud, off sync singing sessions to our favorite songs on the radio! There is nothing like being “stuck” in a car for a few hours to get in some good quality one-on-one time with nothing but miles and miles of green, gently sloping hills, a lot of soil and cattle.

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After we checked into our hotel, we were ready for the first night of the rodeo!

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We grabbed a quick dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, and the rain began to pour. It had been gray and cloudy all day, not ideal weather for our long-anticipated rodeo weekend. But, as we drove the 45 minutes to the town of Freedom, the sky really fell out. We were about 10 minutes out and hopelessly anticipating a cancellation of the whole event. However, the sky cleared up as we were pulling into the parking lot, and in spite of a few sporadic showers during the evening, the show went on! It was less crowded than a normal Friday night at the rodeo, according to the locals, but it was lovely just the same!

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I thought Luke truly looked like a real cowboy; he looked ruggedly handsome, and we got compliments from a few of the very sweet hospitable residents of Freedom on what a cute couple we made!

We called it an early night after the rodeo since we were exhausted from traveling, and because the events did not start until noon the next day, we enjoyed sleeping in and a leisurely breakfast at the hotel before heading back to Freedom for the Chuckwagon Feed on the town square. You have to keep in mind that the Freedom Rodeo is entirely a volunteer event, and church ladies, local stores and even McDonald’s made it possible for every single person to enjoy lunch free of charge! The sense of tightknit community here was impossible to miss, and just like in days gone by, we could tell it is the kind of place where you never leave as a stranger!

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During our brief stay, we met some of the kindest old ranch hands, business owners and rodeo fans. The Freedom Rodeo is considered part of the PBR circuit, so the clowns, commentators and many performers were professionals who come back year after year because it is their favorite rodeo to participate in!

After lunch, we enjoyed just exploring this tiny town! The charm of these buildings drew me in, and I could have taken pictures here for hours. Here were a few of my favorites:

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“You plug ’em, we’ll plant ’em!” The undertaker’s sign truly cracked us up! While we waited under some much-needed shade for the Longhorn Steer Drive to begin on Main Street, a crusty old man in denim overalls approached us on the steps of the Post Office. He spent a few minutes describing days gone by; he has spent his entire life in Freedom, OK. Born and raised, he spent many a day ‘rebel rousing’ in these streets and hanging out at the Cimarron Saloon. He told us of his Pa’s many “punishments” including forcing him to eat raw meat and plow a field under the hot summer sun after he had one too many as a teen and was too sick to help with a pre-planned project. As he described his life between a piece of straw perched precariously between his teeth, leaning against the blue mail box, I could not help but think of what life must have been like here one century ago. Kids played in the street near the General Store, dressed in period clothing for a skit that would be performed later in the afternoon. “Saloon Girls” swarmed the street in front of the saloon, and the butcher stood slicing his meat under a small awning. With no modern amenities in sight, life seemed simpler for a moment, easier. More free.

The Longhorn Cattle Drive is one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the weekend. They bring this herd up from Texas, and it was over so quickly that I am very glad I snapped a few photos to truly appreciate the magnitude and sheer size of these Longhorns.

Next was the Bank Robbery and Shoot Out, a skit performed again by volunteers of the town! This was Luke’s favorite event of the weekend, and it was quite a sight to see. I was grateful for the complimentary ear plugs because rounds (even blank ones) are quite ear jolting.

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At the end of the reenactment, Luke  I could not resist getting a photo with the Outlaws AND Sheriff’s deputies!

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We had a few hours to kill before the evening’s rodeo activities began, so we decided to do a little exploring. We had heard talk that the Alabaster Caverns State Park was something to see, so we went down into the Cave for a brief tour. The coolness of the darkened cave felt heavenly compared to the hot Oklahoma sun that had been beating down on us all day. (Rain, Rain, Go Away!) It was nothing but clear blue skies the entire rest of the weekend!unnamed

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The recommendations had been right–it was a sight to see! The guide had us experience “total darkness” for about two minutes, and I was shocked at how pitch black it actually became. You could not see your fingers in front of your nose!

We got in a much needed nap (Yep, we’re old folks now!) and headed back for the closing night’s festivities.

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The Cimarron was illuminated by the most incredible orangey-red sunset; this photo truly does not do it justice. The skies out here are expansive and the sunrises and sunsets go for miles and miles.

Our last night at the rodeo was much more crowded than the first; it seemed like everyone for 50 miles was there to cheer on the local boys (and gals!) And, others, like us, had traveled much farther, some coming from Texas, Arizona, Kansas and Arkansas.

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I didn’t quite know what to expect, but found myself enjoying the competition, the fast events, the clown’s antics. Laughs and good times were held by all, and even though only one rider qualified in the bull riding event, it was still quite an experience!

I was saddened to head back to Reality the next morning, but so grateful for the opportunity we had to get away from it all and spend one weekend together in Freedom.

Well, I am off to some adventures for THIS weekend, now. (Nothing quite so grand, but looking forward to some relaxation with the hubby.)

Manda

Hello- From Halfway Across the Country!

As I sit in our hotel lobby in Oklahoma at the end of our cross country move, I can’t help but reflect on the wonder and adventure of the last few weeks, getting to spend precious time with friends and family and wrapping up our life in Georgia. I am also so thankful and joyful for this new chapter in our lives. On our drive across 7 states, I watched the rolling hills give way to flat prairies filled with cows, quaint farm houses perched in little valleys and a horizon that allows you to see for miles and miles. This new landscape holds such promise and adventure for us, a brand new fresh start, and I am trying to focus on that aspect of our lives versus my fear, anxiety or homesickness about all of the question marks still ahead.

When I told people that we were moving away, they mostly responded the same way. There was an immediate sadness followed by excitement for me as they inquired about the destination. When I responded with “Oklahoma,” their faces would fall in this kind of grimace/pitying look usually followed by, “Oh no,” “Why?” or “I’m so sorry!” Well, when I became a military spouse, I learned this lesson early and it has stuck with me: Any post/home/duty station is what you make it. It is not the place that defines your life but rather your mindset/attitude, the relationships in your life and the memories you make that transform any city into a home. I am unbelievably excited to be in Oklahoma, in a region of the country I have never before lived, and I am determined to make this a year filled with joy and adventure for our family. I hope that through this time, I can also show my friends and family all of the amazing things here, which I plan to find ASAP, so that when they think of Oklahoma they have a reference point beyond those pesky tornadoes. (For the record, our home out here WILL have a basement or storm shelter. No survivor of the April 27th tornado in Tuscaloosa would move here without one!)

But, before I tell you any more about that, let me fill in some of the details from our month of travels! We left Fort Benning at the beginning of May, and Luke was able to take a few weeks of PCS leave to give us time to enjoy one another, our loved ones, and a nice, long vacation before jumping into our new life! We began this time with my family in Alabama.

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The day pictured above was one of my very favorite days of all, a day for just me and my Mom! Because Luke had to work at Ft. Benning a few days after I was free to leave, I headed home early and planned a fun Girls’ Day with my Mom. We enjoyed a shopping spree, going to see a chick flick, tea at Emma’s and chocolate martinis together. It was so wonderful to see her and felt a bit like the old days when I was growing up (minus the martinis of course!)

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I also got a full day with my Omi (my grandmother; she is German, so she was supposed to be “Oma,” but I could not say that as a baby so she became Omi forevermore.) When I was little, we spent so many days at our local State Park with my Pa-Pa fishing, swimming in the beach area, enjoying picnic lunches and playing Frisbee on the playground. We haven’t been back together in years since I went off to college, got married and found a full-time grown up job, so it was such a blessing to go and sit in “Our Spot” again with our chairs and fishing poles. The weather cooperated beautifully, and I will always cherish this day with her.

Luke came in that night, so the next day we spent out on the boat with my Daddy. He also likes to fish, but we spent most of the day driving around and enjoying the breeze in our hair and sunshine on our faces. One of our family friends brought his boat out as well so we could do a little tubing and potentially water skiing, but none of us was up for braving the skis this trip! It was a lovely day though, topped off with pizza and bowling with the Sams side of the extended family. I am so grateful that my brother came up from college for the weekend so that he could be there too.

 

We spent several more days in Huntsville and even gave in to my Mom’s idea for a family photo shoot. Here is a big throwback for you: JC Penney’s still has a portrait studio! Luke, Ethan, Mom and I went there after church and got some images that surprisingly turned out so wonderfully! I know we will always cherish them. Here are a few of my favorites:

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My brother Ethan and I

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Momma and I

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Acting Silly! Sibling Love is uncomparable.

 

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My One and Only! So grateful that Mom included him in our Family Photo Shoot. It means so much to me that we are now one big family and that our tie of marriage makes him another one of her kids now! 🙂

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All 4 of us!

After the photo shoot, we met up with our longtime best friends Jess and Will at one of Huntsville’s Escape Rooms. And, we all made it out in under the time! That was a fun afternoon/evening. After the Escape Room, we joined Jess and Will for dinner. My parents always told me when I was younger that good friends are truly rare to find, and they were right. We are so fortunate to have these two around for the long haul!

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Always a “Daddy’s Girl” growing up, I also loved my time with him. We got to join him for several meals and a few nights of card playing. I haven’t spent a whole week with my family of origin in over 5 years, so these 8 days were such a blessing!

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However, even the best blessings can be exhausting, and Luke and I knew that time with both sets of family would be busy whirlwinds filled with so much adventure. And, sure enough we were on The Go constantly from the time we left Georgia, although we wouldn’t have had it any other way. I am a notorious planner and squeezed as much as possible (literally) into the days we had. Luckily, we planned for this in advance and knew that a period of vacay and relaxation would be necessary, just the two of us! So, from Huntsville, we headed for Charleston where we got to spend a day with our brother Samuel before boarding a cruise ship destined for the Bahamas.

Day in Charleston with Samuel

Samuel was even able to take the day off, which was so nice, and we walked around Battery Park for a while before going to watch the European Soccer PlayOffs at an Irish Pub(#ProudLiverpoolFansEvenThoughTheyLost #LukeIsReppingTheJersey). Muel treated us to dinner at a delicious seafood restaurant, and we all enjoyed a stroll on the beach afterward, much to Luke’s chagrin. But, you simply cannot visit that beautiful Oceanside city without at least dipping your toes in the frigid water.

The next day, our trip on the Carnival Ecstasy began! It was an overcast, rainy day as we boarded our ship, and as I looked ahead to the weather forecast, I was saddened to see nothing but rain predicted every single day, including in the Bahamas! However, Jesus had other plans and besides that first day, we experienced nothing but sun and sail on our voyage. There was one brief rain shower in Nassau, but we spent our day exploring the extensive water park at Atlantis, Paradise Island, so it didn’t affect us at all. The best part about the cruise was disconnecting from all technology; we didn’t touch our cell phones from the time we boarded until we were back on shore. There is nothing more relaxing than spending your days reading, talking and sleeping with a frozen Pina Colada in hand and no pressures to be anywhere or do anything. Luke got himself a new Citizen watch at the Duty Free store, but otherwise, we really didn’t spend any money on the trip since we had already purchased the all-inclusive tickets. I was somewhat skeptical of the Carnival cruise line based on all of the horror stories of no bathrooms at sea and ships trapped in the ocean, but we had nothing but positive experiences. The ship was clean and well-stocked, the staff was friendly, and they offer a great mil discount on tickets too. It was more of a “Party Boat” than our previous cruise on Royal Carribbean, so if you are wanting to bring kids along, I would think another line may be preferable. But for just the 2 of us, it was wonderful and just the R & R we needed! Here are a few pictures from our cruise:

After the cruise, we headed back to Charleston to help my sister-in-law Adrianna since it was WEDDING WEEK!

Adri and I Middleton

Adri and I at Middleton Plantation in Charleston, SC

We were so thrilled to welcome Adrianna to the family, and she and Jacob absolutely honored us by asking Luke to be the officiant of the ceremony and for me to help out as the Wedding Coordinator. Thus, we knew we had our work cut out for us to make the day absolutely perfect for Jacob and Adri! We spent most of the week at Luke’s parents’ home in NC, and enjoyed this breathtaking view:

Carolina sunset

There is literally nothing in this world that compares to a Carolina sunset from the Bradshaw farm! Luke got to help his Dad with some of the cows, and I spent most of my time helping his Mom and wedding planning with Adri. Some of Luke’s high school friends dropped by during the week, and it was great to see them. We moved into Jacob and Adri’s lake house/wedding venue later in the week, and they were so generous to give us the Penthouse view/room, which made planning and attending the events so convenient. This house was incredible, and y’all (You can take the girl out of the South but can’t take the South out of the girl ;)), their wedding was so beautiful looking out over the lake. Adri was a stunning bride, and I am so glad to have gotten some good quality time with her. Growing up, I always longed for sisters, so it is wonderful that in addition to my cousin Ashley who I always considered a sister, I now have Luke’s sister Hannah and my sisters-in-law, Lauren and Adri. A few pictures of the rehearsal dinner/wedding:

Adrianna

Breathtaking! And this was just snapped with my phone! Can’t wait to see the photos that the professional photographer captured.

We got to stay and enjoy this beautiful home during Memorial Day weekend and had such a blast with the extended family there swimming in the pool, playing cards, laughing, talking and eating. It was so wonderful to see Aunt Mary, Aunt Brenda and Uncle Tommy, Aunt Susie and Uncle Howard, Autumn, Wesley and their family (minus Summer,) Kelly, Aunt Lynne and Grandma Bradshaw. Plus, it was Hannah’s 18th birthday! So we celebrated that AND her high school graduation too. It was truly a week of celebrations. So proud of the 12-year-old girl I met who is now a kind, strong woman of God and a graduate.

We also got some time with our favorite (and ONLY) niece, Marlee, who is about to turn 1 already! Time surely flies.

Kelly and Marlee

Marlee rocking her adorable shades with Kelly!

Miss Marlee didn’t quite know what to make of those sunglasses…LOL!

Luke and Marlee 2

Uncle Luke helping to feed Marlee. 🙂

Extended Family Memorial Day Weekend 2016

Group Picture of the Family Memorial Day 2016

Right after Memorial Day, we began our Westward trek after saying tearful goodbyes to family. The goodbyes were more difficult because although some of them have assured us they will visit in the next year, we know we won’t see others for awhile. Since we are no longer just a quick drive away, we won’t be able to come up for a weekend visit like we used to.

map

 

We divided our journey into three days, and the first day landed us back in my hometown to pick up Luke’s truck and see my parents one last time. We stayed one night with Mom and then headed out for Arkansas in our separate cars.

The trip to Arkansas was pretty rough because Luke had started feeling nauseous after we left NC, but it was manageable. On the drive to Little Rock, he felt pretty sick but hadn’t yet thrown up. That night though, he got maybe 1-2 hours of sleep and spent the rest of the night up vomiting. It was so horrible for him, and I felt terrible for him. We ended up staying in Arkansas until the very latest time we could check out (Noon), and he was so weak and couldn’t hold any breakfast down. Somehow though, we were able to drive the remaining 6.5 hours to Oklahoma by taking frequent stops and giving him an entire bottle of Pepto Bismol along the way. We arrived in Oklahoma and checked into our hotel, and Luke went straight to bed. He tried to eat a little rice for dinner but couldn’t hold that down.

Thus, our very first stop in Oklahoma early the next morning was the Urgent Care Center. They diagnosed him with a stomach flu and pumped him full of saline solution to hydrate him and some anti nausea medicine. He started to feel slightly better after that and was able to do a walk through of our potential home on base! (More on that later and pictures to come!) However, after the tour, he was feeling pretty weak so he came back to the hotel and slept as much as he could between bouts of sickness. Today is our second full day in Oklahoma, and while I want to say the sickness has passed and he is much better, that isn’t the case. He is still pretty sick to say the least. He is not one to get sick usually, and this illness has been pretty bad and has really thrown us a curve ball. I have not gotten it as of yet (Praise Jesus for that!) so I can help take care of him the best that I can, but he mostly just needs to rest. The doctor gave us some anti-nausea medication, which he is taking, but with little improvement thus far. My goal is to keep him hydrated (bring on the Gatorade!) and rested. We are still on the BRAT diet right now, but are hoping to introduce some other foods at dinner to give him some more nutrients.

This has been an absolute crash course into life far away from family and friends, completely on our own as we do not know a soul here. My sweet friend Jessica knew I needed some encouragement last night and texted me the following, which really made my day and gave me a new perspective on our current situation:

IMG_2223 (1)

The reminder that HE is in control of all of this and that we can give our burdens to him was so appreciated. I am so grateful that we have a God who is so good and loving and is all powerful. Plus, He is here with us in Oklahoma, reminding me that we are not really all alone after all.

This sickness took us totally off guard because it was so unexpected and sudden, and not at all how we would have pictured our arrival to our new home, obviously. But, we are doing our absolute best (me especially) to handle it with grace and fortitude. We are so hopeful that Luke will be feeling his normal self soon, especially since he is supposed to begin his new job on Monday. We are thankful to have arrived safely in our new home and look forward to all of the adventures that are to come here in the Midwest!

It is my sincere hope to stay more connected through this blog during the upcoming season, since we are farther away from most of you. For those who follow our story and support us in our lives, thank you so much for everything. Your love and friendship means the world, no matter the distance!

xoxo from the Sooner State,

Manda

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