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The most amazing love story since Romeo and Juliet haha

Archive for the category “Love”

Pilgrims in a New Land: The First Friendsgiving

Perspectives Last Class

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

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

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

On the Menu:

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

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

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

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Green Bean Casserole

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

I also made this no bake cherry pie.

cherry pie

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

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

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

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

pilgrims

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

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

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

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

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

What I Am Thankful For This Year Part 1

What I Am Thankful For This Year Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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When Fear Comes To Call…Adjustment Anxiety, Impostor Syndrome and A Whole New Life

I am writing this blog from my new home in Sunny Florida! It is still hard to believe I am writing that sentence and that our whole lives went through a topsy turvy shake down over this summer that has left my head spinning trying to adjust to all the change.

Just to recap: Luke and I left Oklahoma in June, and he has been on terminal leave ever since. He will be officially out of the Army come September 13th (10 days!), and God has blessed Luke with a civilian job in a logistics/managerial role for a Fortune 100 company right here near our new home. We spent the summer traveling the country; visits to see family and friends, plenty of R&R, and I FINALLY finished the novel I have been trying to write for years….and then we went internationally to spend two weeks in Italy. Due to a shortage of time/money, our honeymoon was a short journey to Savannah, GA back in 2013. It was fabulous, but we had been planning a longer European trip ever since, and a Get-Out-Of-The-Military, Pre-Ph.D. present to ourselves sounded just about perfect. Oh, and we bought a house!

SOLD (2)

We arrived in Florida on a Tuesday, closed on a Thursday, the Army (Semi) moved all of our things in on a Friday (long story–it was pretty disastrous), and then we both started work the following Monday. Talk about a whirlwind! I want to go back and provide more details on so many of these experiences when I have the time, but for now, suffice it to say we were nomads for 40 days and 40 nights plus. I can’t tell you how good it felt to sleep in our own bed again! As wonderful as traveling was and as hospitable as each of our hosts were, there is just something about having your own space and routines that we both missed more than we anticipated during our The-Most-Exciting-Summer-Ever-That-We-Never-Plan-To-Do-Again!

A month later, we are just now beginning to scratch back the surface of what our New Normal looks like. And, here is where some blunt honesty comes in. In my teaching class, our professor has talked a lot about it being OK to show vulnerability sometimes; it is alright if you don’t have everything perfectly together. And, as a first-year Ph.D. student I DEFINITELY don’t have it all together.

I will say I am extremely fortunate to be in a top program in my field where everyone is so supportive from the faculty members to the second and third year students. Orientation was very comprehensive, and we have also had several BBQ/social type events with plenty of opportunity to ask questions, find out more information and learn about what grad life is all about. Yet even still, it’s like drinking through a fire hose.

There are days (sometimes many hours during one day) where I feel like I am paddling upstream trying desperately to keep my head above water. The classes are fast and furious; the reading is intense. One of the hardest classes in the whole program is mandatory in Semester 1; this class is completely based on theory in mass comm, and coming from an industry/professional background, it is foreign territory for me. I am that person taking way too much of the professor’s office hours trying to make sense of what I am learning. And, I still feel like I am retaining half…and sort of, kind of, maybe getting it.

It is hard to believe classes only started two weeks ago; these have been two of the most surreal, incredibly joyous, and yet terrifying weeks of my life. It feels as if I’ve been in school for much longer, while simultaneously flying by. ¬†I feel like on one hand, this is what I am meant to do with certainty. I am loving it, soaking it in, enjoying every page of the readings (yes, I am a nerd at heart. Hence the Ph.D. school thing. ¬†OK, maybe I’m not enjoying EVERY page. haha) And other days when I am asking myself what in the world I’ve jumped into. People tell me these feelings are perfectly normal; they’ve been through it. It will get easier. I eagerly look forward to that time. ūüôā

Meanwhile, I have felt something others have referred to as Impostor Syndrome, and it really seems to make sense of how I’m feeling. What makes me qualified to be here and do this? Even though I know in my mind and on paper that I “deserve” to be here….there are many days when I feel so out of my element. Our cohort is comprised of some brilliant minds, and often classmates’ remarks in class make my own thoughts seem sophomoric or inadequate in comparison. That’s when I have to remind myself that we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, and it is OK to have divergent thoughts and different points of view. Sometimes someone will say the exact thought I was too unsure to voice, and the professor affirms it is “on the right track” to being the “correct” (if there is such a thing in this new land of theory and social constructs of reality) answer. Impostor Syndrome is a thing, and I’ve been told it doesn’t necessarily go away with time. As a kid growing up, I thought adults had all the answers. Now I think a large part of adulting is “fake it till you make it.”

In addition to the studying and making sense of my new life in the Academy, we are just NOW (and I mean literally this weekend), finally hanging pictures on the walls. We had our very first guest last night to watch part of the Bama game and eat dinner, and that motivated us to jump into high gear and finally clean up the mess that is moving. Our home is much more livable, and I am thankful. When you feel like everything around you is in this new state of chaos, it becomes even more imperative to come home to something resembling peace and calm. If you know me, you may know I value a clean house, so it’s been driving us super nuts to live amidst clutter for a month-ish. Here is a sneak peek at our sunroom/aka super chill study space!

Sunroom

I love curling up in that swivel chair to do some readings, and it’s bright enough that some of the greats like Thomas S. Kuhn don’t quite put me to sleep! (He is a good cure for insomnia though, IMHO…no offense Kuhn.) If you’re having trouble sleeping, just buy a copy of his Structure of Scientific Revolutions to keep on your bedside table. It will do wonders.

With all of the other changes, I thought, why not cut my hair too?! So, in addition to my new life, I now have a new look. I think it is pretty cute while still being practical enough to tie back into a ponytail in this scorching Florida heat. An Alabama girl born and bred, I am shocked at what an adjustment this humidity is. Our recent home, Oklahoma, was much hotter temperature-wise but the humidity was nothing compared to The Swamp.

Haircut

I’ve talked about this on the blog before, but when Expectations Don’t Meet Reality, disappointment is sure to ensue. In my case, disappointment crashed down pretty hard when I realized that despite the blessing of Luke’s job (and it is the most amazing blessing, the way we could afford this home, for one, because on just a student stipend to support two people, my Plan B was Married Couple Dorm Life), the job, like all others, would have its downside. In this case, it’s not his job at all or my job in a vacuum but the combination that has made it tough: our schedules are totally and completely opposite. Granted, my schedule is fairly flexible, as flexible as a job can be besides mandatory classes and meetings, I can study as I want (basically all the time.) But with our “Required” hours occuring at different times, our dream of spending WAYYYY more time together after the military is absolutely not to be. I write this with a lot of audience awareness in mind. My tribe of military soul sisters are dealing with sooo much more than Luke and I are…Their husbands may be deployed overseas to Iraq or Afghanistan, many of my friends’ husbands are taking 18-month commands soon with next to no home life. And yet, the divergence in schedules isn’t something I anticipated to this extent. When Luke was hired 2.5 months out, he had to be open to any schedule, based on the needs of the company. And, weekends are certainly a big need, one that he is more than happy and able to fulfill. It just so happens weekends are my “off time”; a much needed break or mini breaks between long bouts of studying to recharge and unwind.

In our past lives, I could power through the week, but I always lived for the weekends and holidays and made special plans during those times for the two of us and to socialize with others. Working weekends will change our social life for sure since most other people have weekends off, and although it’s not at all how I have always planned our lives thus far, all is not lost. I will rework my schedule to the best extent that I can so we can maximize our time together and enjoy it to the fullest, not that there was ever going to be a lot of time as a first year doc student to start with.

But, I am embarrassed to admit that when expectations did not meet reality, I’ve behaved in the most unChristlike way. I’ve cried buckets, stomped my feet when he has to leave for work, and basically reduced myself to a two-year-old having a temper tantrum when Mom serves spinach for dinner. I’ve chased the rabbit down the hole so many times, arguing in circles that we have done our time; coming out of the military, we spent many, many days and nights apart including 2.5 years of straight New York-Alabama long distance. Not in the last year of course; Oklahoma was something of a reprieve for us. In Basic Training Land, Luke was on more of a 9-6 schedule (well, 6-6), and without my master’s degree coursework to occupy my evenings, I played Suzy Homemaker with dinner on the table every night. We spent good quality time together there, time that I see here will be limited in a way I just didn’t expect.

So, I have been in serious need of an attitude adjustment. We moved here to give me a chance to fulfill my dreams of becoming a college professor, and I should be willing to give up a few weekends–well really, ALL weekends– to make that happen. I think this is a blessing in disguise; it took me awhile to piece together the “blessing” piece, but I’m getting there. Instead of bemoaning how short our time together actually is week to week, I need to sit back and enjoy it, adopting the mindset that when we have many more years together (God willing), this time will fly by. Additionally, I have PLENTY of time to work on my studies without distractions. On days when Luke is working, I almost feel like an undergrad again, staying late in the library, grabbing fast food or a bag of popcorn for dinner, studying until the later hours with no distractions, no husband to rush home to feed. I miss him though, and just his presence, even when I am shut in a room doing homework, is calming for me.

Luke has been a godsend, dealing with my moodiness and anxiety and cray cray state as well as possible. Some days I’ve really felt like I was losing all my marbles, y’all. Meanwhile, he’s really set his mind to fixing up our yard and went above and beyond to make our fourth anniversary special for me. It was the most memorable evening and we cherished it all the more perhaps because date nights here are most definitely going to be more rare. But Friday night he was off, and we went out to eat and read our traditional anniversary letters over a bottle of wine from Italy.

Anniversary 4.0Anniversary 4

How in the world has it been 4 years?

Luke Wedding Day

Reading those letters reminded me marriage may take extra commitment and work in some seasons, but love does endure all. We have faced our share of obstacles in the past in different forms, and we will get through this as well. We have all of the resources and tools to make a real life here, even if it doesn’t exactly resemble my imagined mental picture of this season. Most importantly, we have love.

So let me rescue you (and myself) from my self-induced pity party and a large box of Kleenex: Life is good. God is good. He knows the plans that He has for my life (and your life), even when things don’t always make sense at the time. It has never been more clear to me, even during this state of self-diagnosed adjustment anxiety, that I am right where I am supposed to be, in the program I was meant to be part of, with the people God brought into my life for a purpose. One of the biggest blessings so far has been joining the Graduate Christian Student Fellowship group, an organization that prioritizes being intentional about your faith despite so many competing priorities. I love our small group meetings on Mondays; we have just started reading through The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis, and it has a phenomenal message so far.

Mine and Luke’s personal goal for the next week is also to start visiting churches. Luke is off on Sunday mornings (YAY!) so we want to find a new church home here. I confess I have been clinging to the past with both hands. I desperately miss our church home in Oklahoma, and the past two Sundays we have spent “Church” in our sunroom watching Pastor Curtis’s sermons from afar. But, I know we need to “move on” and find fellowship here. I may still go back to those sermons sometimes…He was such a phenomenal speaker, and we really learned and grew in our walk with Christ at Crossroads Baptist Church in Elgin, OK. But, our life is here now, in Florida. And, we need to find a body of believers to join sooner rather than later.

To close, I will say it is amazing how God orchestrated this season, just as He has orchestrated every other season for us: there are clear lessons to learn, growth to experience and unique challenges to face. But, as Luke and I discussed this weekend over glasses of Prosecco, each year keeps getting better than the last. Our marriage would not be as strong as it is today without some of those tough times in the past. And the best thing is that tough times never last. Life is cyclical; I am quite sure despite the busyness of our lives here, there will be great, everlasting joy as well. We have already experienced some of this in forging new relationships, new friendships, and new adventures in this chapter. We have been remiss in that all the busyness so far has prevented us from visiting the beach even once, something we plan to rectify in the coming week. BECAUSE IT’S ONLY 45 MINUTES AWAY!

And the reminder that always, always, through Jesus, the Best Is Yet To Come.

Focus

P.S. You may wonder how I am “so busy” and yet have time to blog….In short, blogging is therapeutic for me, and I am a fairly fast writer so word vomiting my thoughts onto this online space to “document” this time in our lives is not a long process for me. I do hope someone out there will get something out of our story, and I enjoy connecting with those near and far. ūüôā Now off to lock myself in a room and study until eternity….

The Blessing of Luke

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My husband officially hates compliments and being the Center of Attention. So, this post will probably embarrass him to some extent. Thus, I plan to keep it short and sweet. But, leading up to our third Wedding Anniversary in just a few weeks, I could not resist sharing just a little about this man and the undeniable impact he has on my life each and every day.

Most importantly of course, Luke loves God above all else (including me.) Yes, that’s right. I am starting this sappy post about my husband off telling you he loves Someone so much more than me. And, I am beyond grateful for that. God comes first and then your spouse. Luke has had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ for years, and I have loved watching him continue to grow spiritually and take over as Spiritual Leader of our household when we got married in 2013. A cord of three strands is not easily broken, and Luke helps make it easy to keep perspective and Christ front and center.

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Next though, he loves ME above everyone else and puts me first (as much as Uncle Sam will let him by law!) Not all spouses do this, and I have seen firsthand what happens when you put someone other than God himself above your spouse. No one deserves that place; not a parent, not a friend, not a sibling or even a child. You have to be a spouse first and then a daughter, friend, sister and mother. Sometimes, I truly wonder how I got so lucky because I really won the marriage lottery with this Godly man who loves me so.

That smile of his lights up my world, and the laughter and humor that he brings home with him daily, even after a tough day at the office, is my sunshine. Like most Army officers, Luke works exceptionally long hours doing a lot of physical labor in inclement weather. Hot or cold, rain or shine, there is usually a good chance Luke is spending at least part of his day outdoors, working hard for our family. He will never know just how much I appreciate his dedication to providing for us. He goes above and beyond at work, never settling for the bare minimum or “just wanting to get by.” His work ethic is just another reason I love him so very much.

work

Luke, like most guys, is able to compartmentalize his day. Meaning no matter how stressed he may be at work, he usually does not bring it home with him or take it out on me. He just closes the “work box” and opens the “Manda box” when he comes through the door. At home, you can find him willingly helping out with household chores, even when his day is almost always longer and more physically strenuous than mine.

(Now, he’s not perfect, ladies….We still have ACU’s left on the floor, dishes left in the sink, etc.) But more often than not, he will help me or WOULD help me if I asked him to. We actually got into ¬†a small “discussion” about that this past week. I was feeling particularly tired after a long work day and didn’t want to cook that night as planned. I called Luke and tried to beat around the bush about not cooking…But, I never directly asked if HE would cook or if we could go out to eat. Like most men, Luke isn’t the best about hints. So, when he didn’t agree to change the plans, I drug myself to the commissary to get the supplies for dinner and came home a half hour later in a bit of a bad mood. As I set about to make the dinner, he came up and gave me a hug and asked me if we could please talk about this.Frustrated, I started trying to get pots and pans out to just get the cooking over with. But, he insisted we talk it out first. Turns out, it was a miscommunication on my end. He rightly pointed out that he never gets upset if I don’t cook, and if I had only asked him directly, clearly communicating what I wanted, he could have made something, we could have ordered a pizza, etc. Instead, my unwillingness to just state what I wanted in plain terms could have led to resentment on both our parts and ultimately a bigger argument. This is what I call a “Rookie Mistake” in marriage; it is typically ineffective to expect my very manly husband to respond with the sensitive intuition of a female friend. Whereas girl friends typically just get up to help you because they PERCEIVE that you could use a hand, husbands don’t always have the same intuitive powers. They like things spelled out, and when my requests are put out there in a straightforward manner, Luke is happy to help.

luke cooking.jpg

Another night this week, Luke cooked our dinner all by himself. To celebrate the end of my training in the Kitchen at Chick-fil-A, Luke made breakfast for dinner. He went by the Commissary himself (a true testament to his love for me because he hates that place worse than I do on Pay Day!) and picked up my favorite breakfast item: hashbrowns. He asked me for my other menu requests and ended up making cheesy eggs, hashbrowns, biscuits and bacon for us. It was such a perfect meal! And, the kicker was he even cleaned afterward too!

And then he did this all on his own…

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The Bane of My Existence for the past 2 months has been the weeds in our front flower bed. Before we moved in, Corvias Military did NOT clean out our flower beds properly, so it looked something akin to a mini jungle. (You can see a little of what it looked like on the left, where our neighbor’s weeds are currently.) On his off day, Luke spent 3-4 hours cleaning up this flower bed for me. He still plans to fill in those holes with some mulch/fertilizer, but he had it all done for me as a surprise when I got home from work. He also hung this American flag for me because he knew I really wanted one! I love our front yard now, and every time I walk out the door I can physically see Luke’s love for me.

Now, Luke and I neither one are huge household chore people. We both work a lot of hours and find ourselves tired more often than not. So, when my friend and neighbor recommended a Cleaning Lady to us, we were more than happy to sign on with her once a month or so, to help me with some of the deeper cleaning tasks. I am beyond blessed to have a husband who sees my need for help and is either willing to pitch in himself or get me someone who can!

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Luke recognizes and appreciates my love for travel and adventure! The military has given us a variety of opportunities for that and to get all dressed up for balls and formal dinners. This picture was from Savannah, GA in January of 2015. But, having a travel buddy who is willing to explore new places with you is such a blessing in a spouse. We have a shared dream of a Grand Italian Vacation somewhere between our 4th and 5th Wedding Anniversaries, and planning that with him has been probably half as much fun as actually going will be! I love that our goals are like-minded and that we have similar dreams for the future and where we hope life will take us.

Finally, Luke tells me he loves me every single day. I KNOW how blessed I am to have this, and I try so hard not to take it for granted because it is so very valuable and important. Ever since we were first in a long distance relationship he did this, first over text and then the phone. But, not a day goes by where I don’t know he loves me with all his heart and that is because he takes the time to vocalize it. Sure, all of his actions, his help around the house, the date nights he plans, the adventures he wants to share with me, the flowers he brings home, show it.

flowers

But, there is literally nothing like hearing those three little words from your spouse every day. Each anniversary and Valentine’s Day, we take the time to write each other a private letter expressing our feelings about the other one for that year. This tradition began even before our Wedding Day, and these letters are so special to me. I treasure them all in a private scrapbook album. But as much as I adore holidays (any of my friends or Luke could tell you that!), the day-to-day love is what keeps a marriage going. And this man is simply exceptional at loving me.

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Here is a small snippet of the fairytale proposal he planned for me back in 2012. Luke flew down to GA from Oklahoma for literally 18 hours to ask me to be his wife in the middle of the Azalea Bowl at Callaway Gardens. I truly could not have asked for a better, more thoughtful and considerate husband to share my life with. And, my answer today is still YES. (Well, “of course!” is how I actually responded.) But, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Luke, you are my best “yes.” I love you, Forever & Always, Sweetheart.

My Husband’s 26th Birthday Is Tomorrow. But, We’re Not Really Celebrating…Here’s Why.

Tomorrow is Luke’s 26th birthday. I can’t believe it; time has really flown by, and we have truly grown up together. I’ve been so blessed to spend birthdays with this wonderful man since he turned 21!¬†And after 5 tries, this year, I am hoping I finally got it right and have learned to love & celebrate in his language, which to me, isn’t really celebrating much at all. But I love him enough to try! #sixthtimesacharm

At church on Sunday, our pastor spoke about Gary Chapman’s Love Languages and loving your spouse in THEIR language versus your own. This one is tricky, because it’s easy to do what comes naturally, and growing up, my family made a huge deal about birthdays! We had a huge cake, party, lots of gifts-the whole 9 yards. Well Luke’s family didn’t make such a huge fuss about birthdays and instead viewed them as a day to celebrate being together without all the unnecessary hoopla. Needless to say, coming from such different backgrounds, my high expectations for a couple of my birthday celebrations were unmet, as were his expectations for a low key fun day. Our interpretations may be different, but after all, shouldn’t his birthday really be all about him?! The older we get and the more fun we have growing old together, the better we seem to do at expressing love in each other’s love language versus our own. A quick journey through Luke’s birthdays with me in his life. (You’ll see what I mean about how our Birthday Languages in particular were all out of whack!)

Luke turned…

21

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We had only been dating for about 6 months, and not knowing better yet, you’d better believe I went ALL OUT. I later learned it made him very uncomfortable, as he hates being he center of attention. We celebrated in Tuscaloosa, and I made a Pinterest worthy homemade dinner at my apartment complete with traditional birthday cake (not knowing he isn’t really a dessert fan unless it’s cookie cake or brownies.) I bought him several gifts that required him to complete an elaborate scavenger hunt around my apartment complex to find! One gift was wrapped in a tiny box inside a million bigger boxes! You know the kind I mean. Truly maddening stuff! ūüėĀ I think I even did the trick candles that take forever to blow out and a singing birthday card! If you know Luke, you know that’s so not his style. The whole thing was cheesy, and while he made it fun for me, it was not the birthday he would have wished for! It was his 21st, so at least he got to legally drink through it…

22

We celebrated (or rather attempted to celebrate) this one in New York. However, my flight was extremely delayed and instead of getting into the NY airport around 4 pm, I landed in Philly at 2 am by the time I got out of the snowstorms that had kept me grounded all day! The airline said it was Philly or bust; it was literally the closest they could get me to the state of NY all weekend.

Needless to say, instead of doing the previously planned expensive dinner and a movie, Luke drove 6 hours round trip to pick me up in PA! We got in around 6 am and just crashed for hours. West Point had the 100th Night Ball that evening, so we celebrated in style! His friend Ace was kind enough to bring birthday candles, and we topped the cheesecake dessert with them and sang  Happy Birthday in an impromptu mini party. His gifts from me were still over the top and quite Pinterest worthy- I even made him a deck of cards with 52 Things I Love About Luke and a homemade roll of toilet paper with the Duke Blue Devils Logo on it!! Lol (I did not account for the fact that he hates compliments or that the toilet paper would be so scratchy. Oops!)

23

Luke had just moved to Fort Benning, and we didn’t really know many people yet. He had a couple of college friends down here, so I texted them to see if we could throw together a surprise birthday dinner/party. (Still thinking wishfully that Luke liked surprise parties at this point..he loved seeing his friends, but surprise parties are more my speed! He has learned this about me and threw me the most amazing surprise ice skating birthday party last year, but more about me later! I’ll also have to tell you about the year he “forgot” my birthday ūüėČ ) anyways, Bill and Ace helped me arrange a dinner at The Cannon Brew Pub in Downtown Columbus. We got a group of about 10 people together and had a great time, complete with a cake! Round 2 included yet another surprise back at his apartment where I had arranged for our friends Jessica and Will to come down for a board game night! We had a fun time laughing together, and all in all, it was a great night, but looking back even that wasn’t really Luke’s style. He hates the spotlight, and that’s exactly where I had put him- again.

24

The year after we were married, Luke actually asked for 2 really big gifts for once! He wanted a big screen TV and a new gun, so that’s what we got–along with another “surprise” party. Nah- he knew about this one! I had gotten a little better at reading him 4 years in. We got a group of our Columbus friends together and all went out to eat at Johnny Carrino’s, this little Italian place that no one but him ever liked! It is since out of business, but Luke swore by their meatball calzone. After dinner, we came back to our place and played our own version of The Newlywed Game! It was such a blast, getting together with 5 other couples in a similar stage of life. (Word to the wise, if you ever play this game with your husband, he is ALWAYS Batman, if there is ever a choice between Batman and some other character, such as Daffy Duck ūüėā. ) And, of course, I did a cookie cake and we all sang Happy birthday. But I promised him only 2 photos, and that’s all we took!! More cheesy than he would have preferred no doubt, but he thanked me for the effort, and I think he genuinely had a good time! Removing the surprise element was a biggie, and since the party was at our place he got to show off his new toys! ūüėČ

25

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Luke laid down the law when I asked what he wanted for his birthday. I offered to get him several things but he said No. He wanted nothing. This wasn’t a joke; he truly wanted me to show my love for him by getting him nothing- just once. He also didn’t want a party or a gathering. He just didn’t want to be the center of attention that year. I can’t tell you how much this went against everything in my nature as a person, as a woman and as a wife! My coworkers could tell you how much I agonized over this, but in the end, I simply honored his request. I knew it would be the greatest expression of love I could give him. I did buy a cookie cake, but no candles and no song! ūüėČ no presents, no nothing. On that day, we went to eat somewhere of his choice. I can’t remember what it was, but it was very low key. (He had suggested Wendy’s at one point!) He told me it was the best birthday ever at the end of the night, just the 2 of us, because he finally got to have his day his way. It shocked me how wrong I had been, and that’s when the realization struck I had been doing everything MY way and loving him how I wanted to be loved instead of trying to please him. (Remember my forgotten birthday I mentioned above? Well he didn’t truly forget. He gave me a sweet note, a birthday hug and an I-O-U kind of present as he hadn’t had time to pick one out. No cake, wrapped gifts or anything fancy…and, we had one of our biggest fights ever until we figured out we just experience birthdays differently. Neither way is better- just different! We laugh about It today about how we both kept trying to give each other what we ourselves actually wanted from the other!) After his birthday, I laid down the law in return and said “never again.” Never again will I do absolutely nothing at all, because everyone should have some sort of birthdays celebration. It just felt so wrong. He thanked me again for trying it and told me how much it meant to him that I loved him in that way and would be willing to do that. ¬†And, he agreed that was fine, realizing holidays are a HUGE deal to me, and I wanted to express my love for him in a bigger way . But his point had been made, and I agreed to bring it down a few notches. We both learned a lot from the Birthday That Wasn’t, including Luke, who in return threw me the most phenomenal surprise birthday party EVER a few months later. He loved me so perfectly that year, and this year I want to strive to do the same. Which brings me to…

26

This year, I tried for a combination approach of years 23-25. No surprises. Instead, we Planned a low key dinner with just a couple of good friends at a casual place in Auburn that he loves! I did buy him some gifts I knew he wanted, but I didn’t wrap them or make a big production. I just let him open them out of the Amazon boxes as they came in; as wrong as that still felt to me, I knew he would much prefer that to a big gift opening Ceremony with all eyes on him, and that’s OK. We went shopping together for the rest of his stuff over the wekeend and had fun picking it out together. We are sharing a Cookie Cake again tomorrow, and that’s it. No big surprises, and while that still feels a little unorthodox to me, it’s becoming our new normal.

Tomorrow, we will celebrate Luke, and I will find joy in having spent another year with him. I pray that I can continue learning to love him well and will continue to be flexible and love him in his language during this 26th year. May each birthday be richer, better and sweeter than the and last!  Forever and Always, sweetheart!

P.S. I may have one crazy birthday scavenger hunt in me yet, but I’ll save it for your 100th! ūüėć

 

Navigating Life After “I Do.”

With Valentine’s Day approaching this weekend, it is only natural to think about romantic love and all that goes along with that! As I wrote this blog about marriage and the things that Luke and I have learned over our 2.5 year journey together as newlyweds (still calling us that, although I don’t think the title really applies,) I almost did not post it multiple times, mostly out of fear of people thinking I am silly for daring to speak on this vast of a subject as building¬†a successful marriage when I myself have such limited experience so far. 2.5 years isn’t exactly a world record for longest marriage, and our total of nearly 6 years together in a relationship¬†isn’t as extensive as many couples have experienced either! But, as I prayed throughout the day today and wrote exactly what was on my heart I was convicted to post it, in hopes of maybe helping other newlyweds, like myself, find their way in a very new chapter that is far different from any they have experienced so far. So, here goes! First comes love, then comes the proposal, followed by the Big. Wedding. Day.

proposal

Most little girls grow up with a version of their own real-life fairy tale wedding, the Prince Charming who will some day sweep them off their feet, and the perfect life that will follow. If you’ve ever watched a Classic Disney Fairytale, you know exactly what I mean. The conflict of the movie always occurs in the girl’s life leading up to finding this perfect man- Cinderella was scrubbing floors, Sleeping Beauty was essentially in a coma, and Rapunzel was trapped in a tower. And, then the man came in and saved the day. But the real issue with these stories is that they portray marriage (or essentially a Wedding Day) as the magical end to all life’s problems….”And they lived happily ever after…”

Prince and Princess Wedding

Well, once they ride away into the sunset toward their castle to rule over the land, they have to actually live in that castle day to day. And life does not magically become simpler with marriage. Suddenly, you have to deal with two different people’s expectations, issues and commitments on a daily, 24/7 never-ending basis. You also get all the bliss and joy of being married, but my point is that it is certainly not entirely a bed of roses. Marriage is hard. That’s why the divorce rate is so high at 50%. Only 1 in 2 couples make it; that is staggering. And, those are the daunting stats facing us. That’s why it is so important to me to invest in our marriage early and to never stop investing, focusing on this above all else aside from my relationship with God.

Society has such an emphasis on engagement, wedding planning and The Big Day, that sometimes there is not much thought to what comes next. It will all just work itself out, right? Wrong. Real marriage takes work, long after you have worn the lacy gown, eaten the ten-tiered cake and exchanged beautiful diamond rings. Sure, we all know that in theory. And, I thought I did. I knew we would have challenges, and life would not always be perfect. But, it was still rose-colored for me, glossed in that unique Wedding Day glow, that our marriage would make everything perfect. And after the honeymoon, I found myself struggling with the day-to-day life of being married when everything didn’t immediately fall into place.
Wait a minute…In all the fairy tales I read/watched, the Wedding Day was the end point. What now? I felt deceived and then confused. Who is going to teach me how to¬†be married and live with this man day after day? This is not to say that Luke was not amazing, because he is/was, but I had no idea how to be his wife.¬†I felt alone at first, as I tried to stumble through and do what I thought was right. Always an avid reader, I was quick to seek counsel from a book. And, fortunately, I found the perfect manual for marriage in God’s word.
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But, if you just look at the requirements for love in a God-honoring, biblically based marriage, they are pretty tough to uphold. This classic definition of love was read at our Second Wedding (yes, we had 2!), and here is what it is supposed to look like, according to Jesus:
“Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others. It is not self seeking , it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
So, I was the girl with all the answers and God on her side. Should be simple now, right? No! Does our marriage always look this way? Of course not!  Because we are fallible humans, and all husbands and wives sometimes fall short of these goals. I think you just have to try to succeed more than you fail and see each day as a new start to strive to love in the way God commands.
Love
In my opinion, society as a whole & especially the Church needs to focus more on mentoring young people to be husbands and wives versus brides and grooms. I recently read that the average price of a wedding tops $30,000! People are willing¬†to spend that much for a¬†Day of¬†Their¬†Dreams (myself included, although I don’t¬†want to share an exact¬†figure for our wedding), but they go into¬†a marriage with this big¬†Launch Party, and suddenly find themselves kind of lost, wondering how to proceed next. It’s not¬†so much a Fairy Tale as an extension of real life, albeit with a gorgeous/handsome,¬†wonderful partner by your side! Then comes the wondering of who to speak to for advice and what to do when you encounter your first big fight, first financial difficulty, etc. How many books, manuals and friends are there to chat with you about wedding planning, dress shopping and planning bridal showers? But, when it comes to being married, it can be much more challenging because it’s just the 2 of you, and your issues may be deeper than what color bowtie for the groomsmen to wear. I learned early on that while I love our families,¬†I do not go to my parents for advice on my¬†marriage, as a general rule. It is a hard habit to break, because I know they would be there for me whenever needed, and I have gone to them my whole life for advice. But, in a fit of rage, you just¬†don’t want to vent untrue things about your partner that will color their opinion of that person¬†in a negative way forever. For us, we usually try to work things out just between the 2 of us and God, but I know every relationship is different. I just urge caution with words, because as the Bible points out repeatedly, our tongues can be the most dangerous of swords and can do a lot of harm toward the one we love most in the world if we are not careful in how we speak of them to others.
But, regardless, you find that after the wedding, you¬†are suddenly living out a lifetime together. You become each other’s Number 1 aside from God. He is my Emergency Contact now, not my Mom, which was a weird shift. He now has a say in how my paycheck is spent and vice versa, etc. As you tackle life together, it can be¬†disheartening to think about the number of weddings versus the number of marriages that last more than 30, 40 or 50 years. The numbers are sadly disproportionate!¬† And, to be very, very honest,¬†sometimes, it can feel lonely trying to “work out the kinks” in order to love the 1 Corinthians 13 way. But, to me, Happily Ever After doesn’t happen on a Wedding Day; it happens in two side-by-side rocking chairs on a wraparound porch, holding Luke’s gnarled and weathered hand in mine while surrounded with our family that we built together¬†during a lifetime of love. It is that feeling of, “Hey babe, We did it. Here is the finish line!” Everyone can have a Wedding Day, but few experience that kind of great accomplishment of a lifetime. And, the race to get there is not easy. But, I know we want to keep at it.
In my just over 2 years of being married, I have learned at least 3 tenets of what I see as a successful marriage in my very limited experience. At least it works for us. It may not be much, but it is a start, and these things have helped me out in my still early journey of being a wife.

1. God has to come first.

Most marriage ceremonies mention that a cord of three strands is not easily broken, but that cord can only come when God is first and foremost in our thoughts, minds and actions. It is so easy to become distracted and lazy in your spiritual life when so many other things are vying for your time and attention. But, the times when we have been happiest as a couple are when we are both regularly attending Church, making time for Bible study and daily walks with God. Anyone in my family can tell you I am just NOT a morning person. But, I have been making myself get up earlier to have some “me” time, to eat breakfast and gather my thoughts for the day. As I have been incorporating a little Bible study into that protected time of the day, I have found myself to be happier as a person, a wife and a Daughter of God.
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In our pre-marital counseling, our Pastor told us about the most intimate marriage experience of all. (This is NOT sexual.) It is rather the act of holding one another as you lay in bed at night and pray aloud together¬†about your day, the day to come and for one another’s triumphs and struggles, hopes and dreams. This is something Luke and I work so hard to incorporate in our lives, and we succeed 98% of the time. Pastor was right– It is my very favorite part of the day, always. It is such a restorative, refreshing experience for both of us. Occasionally, we will text Scripture verses and encouragement throughout the day, but nothing beats that time when we can be physically together praying for those we love. I think you can find God wherever you are, and He will meet you there.

2. Divorce is not an option. EVER.

My grandmother who was married for 45 years before her husband passed away, once told me, “People give up too easily these days. They are more selfish, and when some little thing doesn’t go right, they throw in the towel instead of sticking together and working it out.” She went on to explain that in her day, she perceived that people still had issues but they worked through them more often and stuck it out. Divorce was a rarity, not a common occurrence. Today, “Divorce” has become a societal buzzword that gets thrown around too casually and is implemented far too often. It can be seen as an easy fix-all solution. But since we are all human, who is to say the next partner is going to be any better or fulfill all of the needs that the last partner couldn’t? Truly, no one can fulfill all of any person’s needs, aside from Jesus Christ. There is no perfect person, and that includes a spouse. I think that building a good marriage with anyone takes a LOT of hard work and the daily decision to keep at it.¬†
**Just to be clear: This tenet¬†applies to our marriage and is not meant to condemn divorce as a whole. The Bible recognizes divorce as acceptable in the case of adultery. But, I would never pass judgment on anyone who has chosen divorce. As the old proverb says, I have not walked a mile in anyone’s shoes but my own, so I could not begin to delve into the depths of anyone’ else’s marriage or evaluate their decisions. It is not my place, and many divorced people are rightly divorced. It was the best or even only decision for them to make to get out of a scary, dangerous, unsafe situation.
But for Luke and I, we know that we will not choose this path because we are choosing to do our very best to apply the Biblical principles found in 1 Corinthians 13 to our marriage, and for us,¬†“love perseveres.” ¬†Plus, we said a vow to one another in front of God and all of our friends and family in 2013, “Till Death Do Us Part.” This is not something we take lightly.
vows
Luke said it the other day that often, Love is a choice that you make over and over again. We are both pretty stubborn (which can work to both of our detriments at times), but in this case, it is a positive. We know that we have a good thing, and we are both committed to staying in it for the long haul. This means dealing with a lot from each other. “Through better or worse.” Although we have been so fortunate not to have had to endure any major tragedy in our nearly 6 years together, we have been through some rough situations together. Ironically, I was the one in our early years who would¬†often threaten to break up with/leave him after a fight or silly squabble. That was the course of action I would throw out. And, it really hurt our relationship for a long time. He couldn’t feel safe that I would stay and tough it out with him for the long haul.
In church last week, our pastor gave a sermon about dating in honor of Valentine’s Day. He said that one question a person involved in a dating relationship should evaluate about their partner is: “Is this person a quitter?” Marriage is forever, and you cannot make it if both parties are not fully committed. Luckily, I have long since learned my lessons about threatening to leave, and we have both agreed to never throw out the “D” word (Divorce) in the heat of the moment again. Divorce should not be a threat, even a half-hearted emotional one, and it has to be removed from the table to be able to experience the kind of love that God has designed for marriage.

3. Marriage is NOT 50/50.

 
I have heard this said before, but marriage is truly 100/100. Both people have to give 100% all the time. Because marriage is not self seeking, you also have to be willing to serve your spouse at 100% with the expectation of nothing in return. There should not be a score that you are trying to settle or a tally of who does what for whom.
In the early days of our marriage, I also struggled with this. I would do something, whether it was cooking dinner, cleaning a bathroom or doing him a favor, and immediately want my reward.
sweet and sour chicken
Well I¬†made this Sweet and Sour Chicken¬†for him….What will he do for me? For a while, we even made it a routine to choose at least one nice thing to do for each other every week. This was a nice way to keep us accountable, but it eventually phased out.
It wasn’t until I turned the question and my mindset from “What will he do for me this week?” to “What can I do for him, regardless of what he does for me?” which made all the difference. Right now, my husband averages a 70-hour work week (on a GOOD week.) Some weeks, it is a lot more than that. There are sometimes not enough physical hours in the day for him to spend more than 20-30 minutes with me, and he is ¬†running on little sleep after doing physically exhausting work all day. Despite this, he still does lots of little things for me that I was taking for granted in my desire to prove I was doing “more.” For example, he came home at nearly 10 p.m. the other night, and I had cleaned our home and had dinner ready for us. I figured we would eat, he would hit the bed, and I would clean the kitchen, which I was fully OK with. But, the first thing he did, before eating, changing clothes or flopping on the couch was to go to admire my Master’s diploma, which had come in the mail. He made a big deal of telling me how proud he was and then carefully took apart the frame he had purchased for me a few months earlier and painstakingly mounted my degree, making sure it was straight from every angle. The process took 5-10 minutes, and he hadn’t even removed his boots after being on his feet for 15+ hours! It was only when I reframed my expectations and chose to do more while lifting the burden off him, that our marriage became much happier. Sure, I had done “more” that day. But what he did meant the world to me!
When I was in grad school, there were many nights when I would come home too exhausted to do anything but finish my homework and fall into bed. On those evenings, Luke served me completely, wholeheartedly with no expectation of getting anything in return. He would fix or pick up dinner, clean the kitchen, pick up around the house and entertain himself while I plugged away at my computer. Sometimes, the most I could do on those nights was stop work to watch a 30-minute sitcom with him and that was our “quality time” for the day. The key is that we both give it all to the best possible extent that we can during that chapter of our lives.¬†It’s like a see saw–some days I do more, some days he does, but the balance remains because we are both giving 100%. God calls us to love at¬†100% in a selfless manner, always, in all circumstances.
My friend and fellow Christian blogger, Jen DeFrates, published a great story on her blog, Heaven Not Harvard, called “The Secret Service.” You can read more about it here, but it examines the idea of giving to your spouse while expecting nothing in return. I gained so much insight from this blog and have tried my best to apply a similar concept in my relationship with Luke with great results. I would highly recommend it.
marriage
As you can see, we are slowly trying to work our way through 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and apply the principles to our marriage, but it isn’t easy. Bad habits are so thoroughly ingrained and the “Me, Me” mindset of society is so hard to overcome. But, for those couples who are engaged or dating, I would recommend more of a focus on the relationship and the marriage than some big, grand Wedding Day. The Day is great, but it ends in just 24 hours. The marriage is forever.

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.

Bring On 2013!

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

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

Luke and I at Whitney and Josh’s wedding

Cassie and I, Dec. 15, 2012

Cassie and I, Dec. 15, 2012

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

Bradshaw family Christmas tree 2012

Christmas Eve service

Christmas Eve service

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

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

Opening gifts at Grandma Reid's' house

Opening gifts at Grandma Reid’s’ house

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

New Year’s Eve!

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

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

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

Ms. Joanna and I, Cantino Loredo 2013

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

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

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

So, with that being said, Bring On 2013!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You still give me butterflies

Last Thursday found me (Amanda) excited, hopeful and in the famous words of Thumper, rather twitterpated as I excitedly sat in a chair at the nail salon in Tuscaloosa, getting a manicure with my friend Rachel, in preparation for my visit to see Luke that afternoon (and also in preparation for her surprise proposal the following evening! Little did she know of course…So here’s a quick shout out to my friend Rachel Childers and her new fiance Jeffrey! Wishing you both a lifetime of happiness.)

Anyway, back to the nail salon. As I sat there while the manicurist mumbled to himself in Chinese and halfheartedly filed my nails, I started to get those never-failing butterflies that always arrive on the day when I am headed to see my love. It amazes me that even after more than two years, I still get so blissfully excited to see him! Since my car had broken down the day before, I paid my brother to rush me to the airport in time for my 12:30 p.m. flight, and my excitement continued to build, even as I sped up the interstate with Ethan and his sweet new girlfriend, Ashley, trying to clear my head above his never-ending rap music that was pounding away about six decibels too loudly. We screeched to a halt in front of the American Airlines terminal, and I rushed inside to check in and find my gate. I walked up to the American counter and asked the kind, patient, ever-willing to help elderly lady who was working at the counter to please check me in for the 12:37 p.m. flight to Houston. She looked at me calmly and said, “We ain’t got no more flights to Houston today. We have one to Dallas at 5 though.” She then popped her gum and stared at me. I said, “Ma’am there must be some confusion, as I am on that flight.” I knew that I had glanced at¬†read the Expedia confirmation that Luke had forwarded me the night before, and make no mistake about it, I was on that flight. I was also scheduled to arrive in Oklahoma City by 5 p.m. so this lady must be incorrect. Since I am one of the last people in the population of this planet to not have a smart phone with Internet access, I asked the kind lady to please check again for me. She sighed three times and then did as I requested. It turns out that I was NOT in fact on the American Airlines flight at that time because I was actually booked on a UNITED flight..Oh boy, did I feel silly. The woman gave me a self-satisfied smirk as I walked away, quickly, toward the United kiosk. However, one small little embarrassment was not about to ruin my day! After all, I was headed to see the man of my dreams in just a couple of short hours!

I arrived in Houston with no delays and actually had an extremely productive flight. I read all about the mindset of the criminal underworld and the inner workings of the Mafia in preparation for my poli sci Human Rights class midterm. (I also got to read about fun torture methods such as waterboarding and the gruesome practices of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay during the Dirty Wars. Fun stuff). I was excited to see that the Houston airport has a Schlotzky’s inside, and I helped myself to a large sandwich while I waited at Gate B84D (yes, this gate did exist! I had never seen one with 2 letters before). My flight to OKC was on time as well, and the flight was quick with no turbulence, which was a nice change of pace for such a small plane. Luke, however, was delayed. He was supposed to get out at 3 p.m. along with all of the other guys in his BOLC class, but his platoon worked four hours late, so he was unable to come to pick me up in OKC. The costly airport shuttle ride up to Lawton was well worth it though, as my driver thought it his duty to compare religious beliefs, share relationship advice and generally chat with me about all topics under the sun for the entire ride to Fort Sill. It was quite entertaining at times, although I will confess that I called my best friend Jessica for about 20 minutes for a quick respite from the conversation. The driver dropped me off at the front of Luke’s apartment complex, and I FINALLY saw my guy for the first time in almost 5 weeks.

He was looking dashingly handsome in a blue and green plaid shirt that I had picked out for him this summer, and he grabbed me into a big, bear hug the second I got out of the taxi, making the entire waiting period since Labor Day and the long journey up to Oklahoma so incredibly worthwhile. We were both slightly nervous and just so excited to be with each other again! He took me to eat at one of the 10 million amazing Mexican restaurants in Lawton, and I honestly can’t even remember what I ordered for dinner, but I do remember that we had the best conversation. We both relaxed of course, and we had a great time. He even bought me a sopapilla for dessert! And of course, I forgot my camera for this trip, but luckily, Luke recently got an Android, so the few pictures that we have this time were taken on his phone. Surprisingly decent quality pictures too, although I certainly did miss my camera!

Waiting for our food, and Luke couldn’t wait to take this picture for his new phone background lol

On Friday, Luke had to work, so I tried to sleep in, but his apartment complex decided to host an all-morning fire drill with fire alarms continuously blaring around various buildings. So, I was up earlier than expected and tried to start studying for midterms again. I also did all of Luke’s laundry and cleaned his apartment to some extent with the limited cleaning supplies he had, so I felt like a very accomplished girlfriend. After the morning cleaning, Lindsey Oliver picked me up to meet our friend Rosa Stevens for lunch at this Thai place. I got the sweet and sour chicken (so original, right?) and it was pretty good. I had a great time catching up with them! Lindsey and I talked for a while when she dropped me back off at the apartment, and she is such an inspiration to me as a military wife. She always maintains a positive outlook and is just so much fun to be around!

Luke came home a little after lunch since all of his instructors were ready to get off for the holiday weekend, which was nice. We headed out for an early date night since he was starving! We ate at Rib Crib and then headed to the movies to see Looper, which we both liked more than we thought we would. It was very thought-provoking, and I thought the movie was well made. I made him take me by Sonic for a late-night limeade, and we promptly passed out around 1 a.m. which is late for the two of us these days!

On Saturday, we decided to head down to Oklahoma City to see the sights. First, we headed to the Stockyard Exchange, which is the largest live cattle auction in existence in America. Auctions are held every Monday and Tuesday, and it was interesting to see the town and read about some of the history.

OKC Stockyard Exchange

Awesome bull statue on the square across from Cattlemen’s Steakhouse

We had a great time wandering around the shops, and Luke got a new pair of jeans and a pullover in the Western store. I never knew how much money you can spend in one of those stores, but all of that cowboy bling adds upРbelt buckles, boots, socks, dishes, everything! You could literally decorate  your entire home with rustic picture frames, vases, pitchers and more from one of these stores. I just bought a little postcard to remember the city and add to my postcard collection, and while we were thinking about it, we ran to Hobby Lobby to buy an album for me to put all of my postcards in. This is adding to a tradition my mom started with my brother and I when we were young. We collect a postcard from every place we visit and then write details about the trip on the back. Collecting these in an album makes it fun to look back on years down the road.

After Hobby Lobby, we randomly stopped in this furniture store that was having a sale and quickly realized that we are going to be broke as a joke for the next few years as we begin our lives together. Furniture is seriously NOT cheap, y’all! We may have to settle for a couple of really nice pieces and make the most of yard sales, discount stores, and the graciousness of our respective families for a bit in the beginning. Haha it was fun to browse though!

After window shopping, we headed to Cattlemen’s Steakhouse back at the Stockyard Exchange for dinner. Cattlemen’s has seriously some of the best filet mignon that I have ever eaten. It was juicy, tender and delicious, even if their definition of medium rare is a bit more “red with a heartbeat and falling straight off the cow” than mine is. So, I avoided the middle and enjoyed my steak to the fullest. The entire meal was wonderful, right down to the salad and dinner rolls.

With full bellies, we decided to brave the cold and explore:

Hoping to walk off a bit of our dinner, we meandered for a few blocks around this area before making a beeline for our destination: Michael Murphy’s Dueling Piano Bar.

Exploring Bricktown (& Luke’s awesome photography skills)

We were really not prepared for the frigid weather this weekend! I definitely did not bring a warm enough jacket, but it did give me an excuse to cuddle up next to Luke for warmth ;]

I must say, Michael Murphy’s is one of the coolest places we have been to in a while. The “dueling piano bar” features two pianos facing one another and multiple musicians who will play any requested songs for tips. It turns out the dueling comes more from the musicians cracking jokes at members of the audience than from facing off against one another. We heard everything from “Jessie’s Girl” to “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga to “Forever and Always.” The two bachelorettes in the building had special songs sung to them, and though the humor was a bit crude at times (as it was a comedy show), the establishment was pretty classy overall. I loved that there was no smoking inside! I also found their extensive martini menu to be pretty wonderful. (My new favorite drink is the Thin Mint ‘Tini– creme de menthe, Godiva chocolate vodka and cream). It tastes just like a Girl Scout cookie.

Totally grainy, discolored picture of Michael Murphy’s

Dueling piano bar– you get the picture.

That was a really fun night. Sunday morning consisted of Luke cooking me breakfast (yes, he is that wonderful!) and the two of us settling in to watch a very romantic…torture video…? Yes, you guessed it. More studying for my human rights midterm (which I took today, and did very well on!) So, we settled in and watched ‘Taxi to the Dark Side’ and he patiently waited for me to complete my assignment on the video. We got Taco Mayo for lunch (always a favorite) and then relaxed for the rest of the day. We watched TV, talked, laughed and had a great time. At some point during all of this, he was tickling my stomach, and I was laughing uncontrollably and for whatever reason I yelled, “Monkey! I mean…Uncle! Uncle, Monkey, whatever. Just stop.” So, he now calls me “Monkey.” Lol I think he is still laughing over this one. I am wondering if this nickname will stick…

We had a great weekend though, and I missed him the second I stepped into the airport yesterday morning. We have a 6.5 week countdown this time since I won’t see him until Thanksgiving Break, but the good news is that it is our next-to-the-last countdown for a very long time since he will be moving to Georgia at Christmas. So, I am determined to tackle this last hurdle of distance with a positive attitude, knowing that we are almost done paying our dues :]

43 days ‚̧

18 days and counting!

Well, we have entered the teens in our latest countdown until Fall Break/Columbus Day, when I will travel to Lawton to visit Luke for three days and four nights! A lot has been happening as the days go by though.

I have been buried in homework and extracurricular responsibilities as  school has really entered full swing. I have a test and presentation due this week, and I am leaving for Fort Lauderdale on Thursday to attend the National Convention for The Society of Professional Journalists, since I am president of the UA student chapter. Today, I spent a couple of hours in Barnes & Noble poring over travel magazines and guidebooks about Spain, since we will be heading there in a few short months to compose the fifth edition of Alpine Living. I could not be more excited about this amazing opportunity, and I am enjoying every bit of the research so far.

I am also trying to make lots of time for my friends, since it is senior year and all — possibly our last chance to all be together for a while. I am making an effort to attend every home football game, despite a less-than-desirable home season and am really enjoying the fact that I attend the nation’s best school for college football. 3 national championships in 4 years of college? Yes, please. I fully believe The Crimson Tide is fighting its way to #15 and am so proud to be an Alabama student.

My good friend, Laura Metcalf, and I before the Western Kentucky game

I ran into my friends Lauren Killen and Rachael Jones on our way into the stadium!

4th Quarter! The game was a complete shut out.

I also joined a girls’ Bible study group that meets on Thursday nights. My good friend Rachel Childers leads the study, and it is such a pleasure to become immersed in God’s word with these amazing ladies. All-in-all, school is going pretty well, and I only have the slightest hint of senioritis thus far. I could do without the four-hour weekly science class on Wednesdays, but I think I will tough it out since I truly need these credits to graduate in May.

Meanwhile, Luke is enjoying his time in Lawton immensely…(This is sarcasm in case you didn’t catch it.) He has another major test tomorrow, so right now, he is helping tutor some of his classmates in hopes that they will all pass and not get into trouble. On a positive note, his dad visited this past weekend because Luke’s brother, Jacob, graduated from basic training from Sill on Friday. I think they had a fun guys’ weekend and watched plenty of sports and ate lots and lots of wings. It was good for the boys to spend time with their dad because they don’t see him all that much since everyone is so spread out now.

We have a web cam date scheduled later tonight, which I am pretty excited about since we haven’t talked all that much lately with our busy schedules. It is really nice to just have 18 days left on this countdown though!

I realize this is an exceptionally boring update, but I try to write at least once a week and after reflecting on our week, I guess not a lot has happened after all. But, boring is good sometimes.¬† In my opinion, it beats tragedy and chaos any day! One thing we have learned after being together for more than 2 years, is that everything isn’t going to be exciting every single day. Since we know a lot about each other now, conversations are sometimes going to be less riveting than they were when we first met. And that’s OK.¬† I am truly enjoying this stage of our relationship too, which comes with a certain amount of consistency and stability. Life may not be the whirlwind it once was (and yes, I still miss jetting off to New York on random weekends to visit West Point), but I am content with where we are now too.

So, for today, I will end with a sweet poem that I found online about love and overcoming the obstacle of long distance, which I know we are doing each and every day. It is encouraging to think that each day that passes brings us one more day closer to being together again.

I Love You True

I love you true
No matter the miles in queue
Nothing can split us two
Even if our times together are few.

I love you true
No one else in this world will do
Though you are not in view
In my mind there’s only you.

I love you true
I want you to know it too
So together we can make it through
To look back one day and see how time flew.

-Author Unknown

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