lukeandmanda

The most amazing love story since Romeo and Juliet haha

Archive for the category “Military”

A Visit to the Natural State, Our Pending Transition & More!

With our move to Florida just a hop, skip and a jump away now, we decided to make the most of our time out West and closer geographic proximity and took most of last week to visit my brother, Ethan, in Arkansas.

Well, I spent most of the week with Ethan. Meanwhile, Luke drove up with me and then flew out of Fayetteville, headed to Washington D.C. for the Service Academy Career Conference. He is evaluating a few different career opportunities in the civilian world, and the SACC was great for connecting him with different companies in the area and providing networking opportunities. He also got to catch up with some former West Point classmates!

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Ace (holding up the peace sign in the first picture) was a groomsman in our wedding, and we unfortunately haven’t seen too much of him due to Uncle Sam positioning us at different duty stations. I think the guys had some fun amidst all of the work they had to do!

I got to do some work of my own in Arkansas. While Ethan was at his 8-5 job each day, I went on a hunt for the best coffee shop in his small town of Bentonville. I am trying to finish writing a Christian fiction novel based partly on my own childhood, and I am currently close to 80,000 words in. Once I get this first draft completed, I hope to find a publisher who might be interested in helping me to complete this project! I feel God calling me to write this, so even if it doesn’t sell a copy, that is OK. My hope is that it will be a help to someone out there; it is primarily targeted to teenage girls who may struggle with self esteem issues.

Here are a couple of the contenders for best coffee shop!

Fork & Crust (pictured above) has literally a dozen different pie choices in addition to quiche and a couple of other brunch options! At 10 in the morning, the shop was very quiet, and I enjoyed my slice of strawberry rhubarb and hot tea in peace, without the hustle and bustle of a busier place like Starbucks. The only downside? I could not get the Wi-Fi to connect. It was OK for the writing portion, but for the Internet research piece, it was a no go.

Iron Horse Coffee Company (pictured below) is technically in Rogers, AR as opposed to Bentonville. Ethan and I met for lunch down there, so it was a perfect spot to spend the afternoon. I sat outside at a patio table for much of the time, and when the rain began, I moved inside. Their banana nut bread and coffee were heavenly, and the Wi-Fi was spot on.

Kennedy Coffee Roasting Company (not pictured) was another fantastic option! It had a very modern feel, and even during lunch hour was mostly quiet. It is divided into two different rooms, and I selected the one with smaller tables and more people working on laptops, which was perfect for my purposes. The other room had longer tables for group sessions and lunches. I cannot attest to the food here (I was absolutely stuffed from lunch), but it sure smelled delicious!

There are SOOO many quaint coffee shops and places to choose from in this area that I could not have visited them all if I tried. You would have to be there a month! I walked through Onyx Coffee Shop in Bentonville one evening and tried to go there, but it is right in the middle of downtown, so parking was extremely crowded. Otherwise, it looked like a neat spot!

I also visited tried and true Starbuck’s one day, mainly because it was half off frappucino week AND I had a gift card. (Thanks for the awesome Easter present, Mom! I got two drinks for the price of one.) However, I must say, Starbuck’s was my least favorite place to write of all. It was loud and echo-y in this particular store, and it was hard to concentrate. I ended up venturing outside for a bit just so I could hear myself think. When given the choice, I choose Mom &  Pop or small business all the way! I just wish Lawton had some of the cool places that Arkansas offers; here, I mostly write at home or at Starbuck’s.

Ethan was able to meet me for lunch both Thursday and Friday. On Thursday, we tried Hammontree’s in downtown Rogers. They sell the BEST gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade tomato bisque soup. I tried the caprese sandwich, made exactly as it sounds, with fresh mozarella, tomato, basil and a drizzle of light balsamic vinegar.

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On Friday, we met at Smash Burger. I know this is a chain, but I had never eaten there before, and my first time was incredible! I ordered a burger topped with Swiss cheese, mushrooms and truffle mayo, and paired with fries coated in olive oil and rosemary, it was delectable. I was a bit spoiled on food options while in Arkansas; as mentioned, Lawton doesn’t have nearly as many choices, so I enjoyed every bite!

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That evening, Ethan and I went to Table Mesa Bistro, a Latin American style restaurant. I can vouch for their homemade guacamole, pineapple pico de gallo and chicken and steak fajitas! My brother got the Mahi Mahi tacos and said those were delicious too. We topped it all off with dessert at Coldstone Creamery.

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I loved exploring the neat sites in Bentonville. On our last visit, we did the Wal-Mart Museum and some other typical things, so this time we had more time to go off the beaten path. I loved all of the street art that can be found along the Crystal Bridges Art Trail and also just around town! The best way to describe Bentonville is that it honestly feels like a mini Austin meets small town USA; hipster and eclectic with lots of Mom & Pop artisan shops and that old school, traditional feel with the town square, kids out playing unsupervised etc. Ironically, it is WM Headquarters, and rumor has always had it that Wally World put these kinds of places off the map. This is certainly not true in a town that has more than 7 WM stores in addition to countless boutique style shops; you can find everything from exclusive yoga studios to spice & tea stores to bike shops and clothing stores. It is a mecca for small town shopping and for family living. Families of all ages meandered the Greenway, gathered by the central fountain to hear music after dinner and to eat at some of the higher end places along the downtown strip.

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**Note that the Tortoise won the race! The hare, which thought he had it all locked up due to his natural agility, sat back across the sidewalk, scratching his ears. Meanwhile, the tortoise made it all the way to the gate! Perseverance is always the winner; slowly but surely, one step at a time, you can do it! And, often, the person who works the hardest will win, regardless of natural talent.

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Look closely at this old car sitting in the middle of town. It is covered with more than $5,000 of pennies and nickels, a town landmark!

When Luke got back from his trip at 11:00 at night, we knew he would want one of two things: his favorite scotch or sleep! Ethan and I had identified this cute little bar, Scotch & Soda, and when we suggested a pit stop on the way home from the airport, Luke was all too happy to go along for the ride! Something about a drink makes a two-hour late evening flight, sandwiched between two not-so-small people, seem so much better! We had fun talking and catching up until last call an hour or so later.

Since we were out late (and are old people now), we slept in a bit the next morning and then enjoyed a leisurely lunch at a local pizza place before heading to explore Eureka Springs about an hour away. We made a couple of stops on the way, one at the Inspiration Point overlook (what a view!) and another at Thorncrown Chapel.

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Thorncrown Chapel has received numerous awards and accolades for its unique architectural structure, and the windows and natural light pouring in make it the perfect, serene setting for worship. The volunteer instructed us to take seats in the pews and just soak in the beauty. Soft classic Christian hymns played in the background, and it was nice to take a moment to reflect and pray. Luke was so enthralled by the structure that he wants something similar in the way of a sanctuary within our future dream home! It was the perfect indoor modern amenities meets nature.

We finally reached the tiny town of Eureka Springs, deemed “Little Switzerland,” since it is nestled in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, and the structures are literally chiseled into the stone on the hillside. There is a LOT of walking in this small, hilly town, but it is worthwhile! If you have been to Gatlinburg in the Smoky Mountains, that is a fair comparison for the town itself; lots of small ice cream shops and soda fountains, tiny shops and tourist sights. I could not resist buying a University of Florida Christmas ornament in one of the stores; I know it is only May!

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This 300-ft. statue of Jesus is best viewed from atop the Crescent Hotel. Built in 1886, the Crescent Hotel was considered one of the grandest of its day.  It was the perfect day trip adventure, and we all got a little sunburned. My naturally blonde hair is starting to lighten up for the summer too, and this day gave it a boost!

On the way back from Eureka Springs, we stopped at the Pea Ridge National Military Park for a driving tour. To tour the museum it costs $10-$15 per person, but if you go after 4:00 p.m., you can tour the park until sunset at no charge. We chose to save a bit of money and just do the outdoor portion.

Commemorating one of the lesser known battles of the Civil War, this park told a neat story and had about 12 different driving stops with placards and sights. I will say it is a one hit wonder though, and I would not have any desire to go back again. Luke enjoyed reading some of the history and made a great narrator with his extensive knowledge of military history. If he had not been there, it would probably not have been as compelling and I would say, stop if you are in the area, but if you are limited on time, this is not necessarily a Must See. We had a good time though, driving around and looking over what are now just empty fields and imagining how they must have been in the dead of winter when the battle between Union forces and Confederates raged.

Saturday was a full day, and we quickly changed clothes for dinner that night at Tavola, a wonderful upscale Italian place owned by the same people as Table Mesa Bistro, our dinner of choice on Friday. One of their signature touches throughout their restaurants is special fruit infused water, and since I am a sucker for this anyway, and we were all very thirsty after a hot day of exploring, we went through several pitchers! The dinner was incredible, from the cheese board appetizer to my homemade gnocchi, Luke’s fresh sea bass with prawns and pasta and Ethan’s classic spaghetti and meatballs. We had a slight incident with the tomatoes on the cheese plate; apparently, we kept stabbing them the wrong way so they squirted all over the table (and our outfits) making a mess. Yikes! This was as amusing as it was ridiculous, so we shared a good laugh while requesting extra napkins to clean it up.

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As evident by the empty dishes, you can see we thoroughly enjoyed our food! We took a short walk along the Garden Trail to lose a few calories before adding them right back on with dessert!

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Ethan was a great host as he showed us around the town, and he took us to The Hive for dessert. It partners as a small art museum, and so we sipped our drinks and walked around viewing the exhibits for awhile.

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Like everything else, the dessert was delectable!

Stuffed and happy, we called it a night and went back to Ethan’s house to watch some TV and unwind before bed. The next morning dawned bright and early, and I went out to get breakfast for us. Luke had an English soccer game he wanted to catch, so we agreed to do a later church service and have doughnuts for breakfast. Ethan had been telling us all weekend how good Love’s Doughnuts, a local place, is. The guys at work bring in boxes, and Ethan’s favorite is the sausage kolache. I, however, swear by Krispy Kreme, and since we don’t have one in Lawton, I was bound and determined to have some! We ended up getting both and the Battle of the Doughnuts ensued as we all voted on which was better.

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They were all so good that I’m not sure there was a clear frontrunner! From Love’s, I tried a blue iced doughnut covered in Fruity Pebbles for a creative and unique twist, and Luke and Ethan ate the sausage kolaches. I think I am still a sucker for KK, but it was nice to try something new! I have to admit the Love’s doughnuts were fluffier, bigger, and airy, but I liked the icing on the KK better. Ethan pointed out the Love’s doughnuts weren’t hot, while Krispy Kreme was, and that could be the differential. There is something about hot doughnuts….yummy!

We headed to Cross Church for service since it is close to Ethan’s place. It was a bit bittersweet since it was Mother’s Day and they were honoring all the Moms, and ours wasn’t there. But, I had mailed Mom and my MIL cards earlier in the week, which they received, and we were able to talk to them both later in the day.

Mom Facetimed with us for awhile before brunch at The Press Room, and it was nice to see her and wish her a happy holiday from all three of us at once. Brunch was wonderful; they specialize in a few dishes here, so the menu isn’t extensive, but each thing we tried was delicious.

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It’s about a five-hour trip back to Oklahoma, so we left shortly after lunch. We had an absolutely fantastic time with Ethan and are grateful we were able to get that time together. There is nothing in this world like family!

Monday marked back to work for Luke and piles of laundry for Manda! We are working hard to get our house back in order….only to tear it apart again soon! The movers are coming to do a walk through shortly to assess our belongings, and my friends Rachel, Lauren and I are attending a move out session with Corvias Military this afternoon to get a sense of their expectations for moving out of our on post housing. Rachel leaves before me again (so sad!), but I am grateful we were stationed together with the Samplers not once but TWICE now.

My groceries tell me our move is coming soon as well…When things start to expire on or past Move Out Day, you know it’s time to stop shopping and start clean-out the-freezer mode with upcoming meals.

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Hope you all have a fantastic week, wherever in the world you might be! Until next time….I may be writing to you from the land of oranges, the beautiful Sunshine State! 🙂

xoxo

Manda

Becoming Bold: Bring on 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“His grace is enough for me.”

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

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

“God always fulfills his promises in His appointed time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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xoxo and all the best for 2017!

Manda (and Luke) 😉

 

Captain Luke Bradshaw’s Promotion Weekend

 

Well, it’s Tuesday night, and we have just about recovered from the excitement of this past weekend, which was certainly one for the memory books…Luke is officially a Captain in the U.S. Army, and as his wife, I could not be more proud. We are so blessed to have family and friends who care about us and who helped to make his big day last Friday so special; near or far, each of you have such a special place in our hearts, and your well wishes truly made our weekend as we began this new journey as a family. His career will be changing a bit in the months to come, but your love and support have fully prepared him to step up into whatever role may be next.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so a majority of this post will just be some photos that share a special story in and of themselves. I must begin of course with credit to the photographer, my lovely friend Brooke Rutherford. Also a West Point Army/Field Artillery wife, Brooke said goodbye to her own husband for 9 months just three days before these photos were taken. While a deployment is never easy, it is an especially difficult undertaking with two little ones at home. Brooke went to a lot of trouble to arrange a babysitter (special shout out to our mutual friend Nikki and her mom who graciously agreed to watch Brooke’s kiddos, even though Nikki just had her first baby within that week!) while Brooke came out to photograph Luke’s big day. Super Woman that she is, Brooke even had the photos edited and posted for us later that same night, knowing I would be eager to see them. The Army Spouse Club is such a special sisterhood, and I am fortunate to have already made some relationships with women here whom I already know will be my friends for life.

Without further ado, here is a glimpse into Luke’s ceremony from Brooke’s perspective. Logistics issues and an almost-panic attack (on my part) aside that she wouldn’t be there for the ceremony, she managed to capture every moment.

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A couple of notes on the pinning ceremony; the Colonel was kind enough to loosen the shoulder boards for me and gave me a quick run through in advance. Thank goodness too, because it’s been awhile since I did this with the LT boards, and they can be a bit tricky! Also, my heels kept sinking into the grass, so I tried to stand on my toes the whole time haha. I didn’t realize the ceremony would be outside until the day of, and although the day was slightly chilly with a breeze, it was a beautiful day for a ceremony! No rain to speak of, and the cloud cover provided great lighting for photos. Plus, I got to wear my red Field Artillery officer’s wife dress; I picked this out on sale over the summer for just such an occasion, and I was thrilled to get to wear it, short bell sleeves and all! I was a little afraid October in Oklahoma might be too cold, but Antonio Melani is one of my favorite designers, and his clothes seem to fit me the best, so I really wanted it to work out. Well, all’s well that ends well. 🙂

After the ceremony, Luke gave a short and sweet speech. I was so happy to hear him thank God first and foremost. He also mentioned me as his Rock and every other person in the place….except his own parents! They noticed that somewhere in all of his efforts to include everyone else in the audience he accidentally skipped two of the people who have supported him the most throughout his life. He referred to his “folks” (i.e. Kevin and Sally) but didn’t say Mom and Dad by name so they thought he meant the entire extended family. Fortunately, they didn’t take offense and pointed it out later in a joking manner! :0

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It was time to eat! Luke let everyone know to join us inside for wait for it….Chick-fil-A! No real surprise there that we would serve the very best for his big day (and I may have a connection or two!)

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Luke’s favorite Chick-fil-A menu item is Chicken Minis, and since we held the ceremony right around brunch time, we were able to feature those along with the more classic lunch nuggets, fruit and lemonade. We also had my personal favorite CFA “secret item;” the Chilled Grill Sub. I say it’s a secret, but it is actually available to everyone, just on the catering menu only. This cold sub is served with Honey Roasted BBQ sauce and is simply delicious! My bosses from my Chick-fil-A family, Angie and Jonathan, came out to support us and personally served the food throughout the whole event. They did such a nice job, and Luke and I really, really appreciated that they were there for us.

CFA catered the entire event except the cake, which we ordered from Johnson’s Bakery. We had originally wanted to use Cool Cakes by Lindsey (Shout out to Lindsey DeLozier from our Sunday School class,) but she was booked solid that weekend. Johnson’s came through for us though and the classic sheet cake (half vanilla/half chocolate) with buttercream icing served us nicely.

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Anticipated numbers fluctuated a bit, and we planned for 40 people at the reception. I even added a tray of food the day of just to be sure we had enough. Well, we ended up with more than 40 because we ran out of plates toward the end! We found some extras, and it all turned out OK, but we were so honored to have everyone there to celebrate with us.

Luke’s commander Grant Redmond and his wife Lydia and daughter Ella came out for our big day (also our dear friends and neighbors!) Lydia has been such a Godsend here, and she let me borrow her fridge to store the cake since my own fridge was chock full of food for our out-of-town guests! She also let me get ready and shower at her house the morning of the ceremony because it was important to me to let my in laws have the space to take all of the time they needed to get ready at our house; our home on Fort Sill is charming, but it’s one drawback is that it only has one bathroom. It can make for cramped quarters any time, but entertaining becomes more challenging for sure. Lydia came through in a big way for us (even if she is a Tennessee fan!) I hate that we didn’t get a photo of all 5 of us, but here is a pic of us girls, anyway!

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We had family come from far and wide to celebrate with us for the weekend. Luke’s parents, Kevin and Sally came in from North Carolina with his Uncle Howard and Aunt Suzy, his Aunt Mary flew in from Ohio and his Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Susan made a long detour in Oklahoma on their annual trip from Alaska to Florida. Thus, I thought it might be the perfect day to drag everyone utilize Brooke’s talents to get a few photos of all of us together by the historic cannons and artillery vehicles on base.

The guys are especially not big picture fans but I promised them that they will treasure them for years to come, and I really think Brooke outdid herself. Here are a few of my favorites from our photo shoot!

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Luke and I striking a pose.

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Luke and his father, Kevin.

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Luke and his mother, Sally.

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The four of us all together…We were really missing his sister, Hannah, and his brothers Jacob, Samuel and Milos and their wives, Adrianna and Lauren.

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The whole extended family that came to visit- from L to R: Aunt Mary, Kevin, Sally, Uncle Jimmy, Aunt Susan, Luke, Amanda, Uncle Howard and Aunt Suzy

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Uncle Howard and Aunt Mary both served in the Armed Forces as well, so this was an especially big day for these guys. So honored and proud to be part of this patriotic family.

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Just Luke…We couldn’t resist getting a couple of individual snapshots!

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Luke with all of the women in his life–well most of them anyway! 😉

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And the guys!

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Aunt Susan liked this particular cannon because it matched her outfit…This is where all the men began to sigh. Haha

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Proud wife…Luke took this photo because “Happy Wife, Happy Life.” Haha just kidding; sort of.

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Posing solo…

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These two photos were meant to emulate the traditional Trophy Point cannon photo we never took at West Point. Luckily we had plenty of cannons around to accommodate!

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I wanted to show the entire area as well as our family, and I think these last pictures turned out super cute! Thank you again, Brooke for your hard work and for being such a good friend to us here at Ft. Sill.

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The rest of the weekend was so much more stress free! We chilled in our pj’s and played cards, explored Geronimo’s Grave, ate some delicious food and just enjoyed being together as a family.

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Meer’s is our absolute favorite burger joint in town, and taking visitors here is becoming something of a tradition. You really can’t get much better than this hole in the wall for a stellar piece of beef!

Sunday we enjoyed taking the family to our new church home, and they got to meet the friends in our Sunday School class, which is one of the most tight knit classes I have ever attended. They are such a blessing to us, week in and week out. Then, we explored Mount Scott with Brooke’s son Luke (told you we’d get you back for the photo shoot, sweet friend!) The views from up there were amazing.

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And, that’s a wrap! We are now back to our work week grind, but I could not let this event go by without writing a blog about the fun time we all had…and of course, huge props to my husband, Luke, for his accomplishments thus far. I know he will continue to succeed no matter where life may take us!

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I’d Rather Fight With You (And Pick Up Your Dirty, Smelly Socks) Than Be With Anyone Else

One day early into our marriage, Luke and I were screaming at each other over something ridiculous after a heated “discussion,” and suddenly he looked at me and started laughing. “What’s so funny?” I fumed.

“Oh, nothing. I would just rather fight with you than be joyful with anyone else,” he replied.

I stopped for a moment pondering the utter craziness behind his statement and then realized he was right. We both started laughing at the idea that we both prefer to be “miserable” together as opposed to experiencing a moment of sheer bliss with anyone else.

When people say that love isn’t enough to make a marriage work, I say that they’re both right and wrong. Love is a driving force that can lead you to being loyally devoted to one another (and forgive your partner of wrongdoing much more easily), but it is also a lifelong commitment. It is a day in and day out decision to choose your love and your relationship over the temptations of this world, over the exhaustion and “Hangriness” that can occur after an exhausting day at work, and over anything else in your life. You must decide to love each and every day, and some days are easier than others.

Luke and I have had a tough few weeks here lately; between the two of us, we have been sick for almost a solid month with a sinus infection/flu type illness that one or both of us can’t seem to shake. When you’re not feeling well and naturally more cranky and irritable, your spouse is unfortunately the one who gets the brunt of it because you’re so caught up in “faking it till you make it” with the rest of the world. We’ve had unexpected car repairs and now a broken washing machine (when it rains, it pours) that caused some unanticipated financial strain with the upcoming holiday season. We’ve one or both had back-to-back weekend duties for the past month, leaving very little downtime together. And finally, we are in a major life transition as Luke has his promotion ceremony for Captain in 3 weeks and we navigate through what his new role in the Army might look like for our family.

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With all of that, there have been some tense times, some less-than-kind words spoken by one or both of us, and we have both looked like the man in the picture a few times! Real marriage is not a fairytale story, and there are challenges and obstacles that even the best couples find themselves facing. The question is whether you are prepared to weather those storms together and remind yourself that you are in it for the long haul or give up when the going gets a little rocky.

What I know about life thus far is that it is cyclical; ups and downs, highs and lows, good seasons and bad. If you weather the storm, you get to enjoy the Rainbow on the other side. And, there is ALWAYS a rainbow. I am so proud of Luke for his promotion to Captain; a promotion that I (biased wife and all!) believe is extremely deserved. Luke worked more hours & long nights than almost any other Lieutenant I know and sacrificed a lot to get to this point in his career, and I could not be more thrilled for him. This is one of those Rainbows I was talking about.

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This promotion is such a blessing for our family, and we are so excited that his parents and a couple of his Aunts and Uncles are coming out for the ceremony. Chick-fil-A is of course catering, and a couple of my “Chick-fil-A Family” are also coming out for the big event. We are very much looking forward to the day when I get to pin those two bars on him.

When I first met Luke, I joked that he was an equals sign because the symbol on his chest (the Cow West Point Cadet Rank) looked just like an equals sign with two lines stacked horizontally. We have now come full circle as those lines will flip vertically on October 14th.

The point is that marriage is a journey for a lifetime, and as a couple, you stick together–through richer through poorer, through sickness and in health, till death may us part. We have had all of those times thus far in our marriage; times of financial prosperity with unexpected bonuses and financial favor and times where the wallet was much thinner, where our spending far outpaced our earnings. We have had times where I literally wanted to throw all of his clothes out the window if he left them beside the hamper just ONE MORE TIME, and times when he wanted to break down the bathroom door because I was taking too long to get ready AGAIN. Are those minor annoyances going to break you or make you stronger? Today, I was walking down the hallway and saw Luke’s pair of PT socks, cast hastily to the side, with his shirt a few feet away in the guest bedroom. Instead of making a scene about it as I might have done a few years ago, I quietly picked them up and put them in the hamper for him. There are quirks he has to deal with about me too, and rather than try to constantly change the other one, we have learned to more or less “live with it.” One thing that we both consistently do is thank the other one for little chores around the house. We rotate who makes the bed because our work hours vary, so we never know who will be sleeping a little longer. Yet, it gets made about 90% of days with no argument at all. We actively thank each other for making the bed because we both enjoy coming home to a clean room. It is a nice easy way to show gratitude and to make the other feel loved and appreciated (fight free!)

A counselor we saw early in our marriage talked to us about finding our “non negotiables,”and he was not talking about big things. All couples have those annoyances they can easily tolerate, and those they just can’t stand. He told us that for him and his wife, it was wearing shoes in the house. He absolutely hated it, so rather than adapt his thinking, he asked for that to be one of their “non negotiables.” And his wife agreed, because it meant more to him to not wear the shoes than for her to wear them. Goodness, we had so many at the beginning! I had a “thing” about my couch; I wanted it to be extremely clean and I really didn’t like for us to eat on it, EVER (just ask my friend Jenae about some olive oil dipping sauce in 2013.) I hated when Luke used metal spatulas in my Teflon skillets because it scratched them. I hated that he folded the towels “backwards” and that he put the pillows differently on the bed if he made it. Meanwhile, he hated that I hung my keys on “his” key ring; he hated when I left the meat wrapped in Publix bags in the fridge so it wouldn’t drip. He hated that I wanted the temperature so high because I get cold easily, and he hated that I would leave countless water bottles by the bed in case I got thirsty at night. These are just a few examples, but we learned to compromise. The Great Lamp War of 2013 concluded with no official victor; I still love lamps and he still hates them. We have lamps all over the house, and if I turn one on, he doesn’t fight and if he happens to turn one off that I was using, I let it go. Compromise is a big part of a happy marriage.

But, it is also knowing that at the end of the day, your spouse has your back; he has seen you at your literal worst (morning breath, wild hair, mismatched pajamas and all!) and he has loved you through it. He/she has cared for you through the best and worst times in your life and knows you better than anyone else on Earth. You have endured all seasons together. And, at the end of the day, it is so very worth it to endure those tougher times, those days when as my old roommate used to put it, your “couple mojo” is just out of whack, and you can’t seem to get on the same page, because you are still together and loving one another through it. And, of course our biggest secret isn’t a secret at all. It’s Jesus Christ, front and center. As we both work toward improving our personal relationships with God through Bible study, constant prayer (even when we don’t feel like it,) and regular church attendance, our marriage also tends to improve. You have to each have that strong foundation of faith that you bring to your marriage; and a cord of three strands is not easily broken! We have actually missed church due to the aforementioned sickness the last couple of weeks, and I know that is not helping our marriage. We are so looking forward to getting back into Sunday School and church this coming Sunday and are actually planning to join Crossroads Baptist, a wonderful God-honoring church that we have already come to love in Elgin, OK. We are beyond excited to have a church home again that we can call our own and look forward to becoming more actively involved and serving here.

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Well, that is just a little of where we are right now–just keeping it “real” today, friends. I pray that you all have a very blessed, relaxing weekend, whatever your plans may be. I have a big work event tonight (my first with Chick-fil-A), that I am both excited and nervous about. Luke works in the morning, and then I think we may hop on away to find some “us time” on a quiet local beach area, decompress and enjoy some R&R.

Thank you all as always for following our story and being part of our lives!

xoxo

Manda

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Hello- From Halfway Across the Country!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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My brother Ethan and I

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Momma and I

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Acting Silly! Sibling Love is uncomparable.

 

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

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All 4 of us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adri and I Middleton

Adri and I at Middleton Plantation in Charleston, SC

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

Carolina sunset

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

Adrianna

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

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

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

Kelly and Marlee

Marlee rocking her adorable shades with Kelly!

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

Luke and Marlee 2

Uncle Luke helping to feed Marlee. 🙂

Extended Family Memorial Day Weekend 2016

Group Picture of the Family Memorial Day 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xoxo from the Sooner State,

Manda

Welcome back to the world of Luke and Manda!

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

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

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

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Mallie, myself, and Taylor at the Rock of Gibraltar

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

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Grace, Jessica and I – April 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Luke’s softball team- May 2013

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Lunch after church with the Youngs

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

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Holly and I, right before she became a Mrs.

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

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Ashley, Aunt Lisa, MJ and I!

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

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

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

The start of something new

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

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

"Doing laundry" at Luke's

“Doing laundry” at Luke’s

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

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

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

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

End Soap Box.

More soon :]

Can’t we just hit rewind and live it all over again? Labor Day Lovin’ 2012

Another ecstatic airport reunion and heart-wrenching goodbye has come and gone along with Labor Day Weekend 2012.  I just put Luke onto yet another plane and drove back home alone again to an empty apartment, but this time was just a little bit different. This was our third Labor Day Weekend together, and we pray that it will be our LAST spent so far apart! The tearful airport departures are down to single digits now, as we are getting closer and closer to the day when Luke will move to Georgia for his first permanent post assignment (just three short little hours away from me!) He has been in Lawton for almost two months now, and if all goes as planned, he will graduate from BOLC on November 20, 2012 and move to Fort Benning shortly afterward! We have already booked our next flight for my Fall Break in October, and we are hoping to squeeze in a Veteran’s Day visit as well, but other than that, I don’t think we will be purchasing any more flights since we hope to be within driving distance of one another before the New Year! So, although I am missing him more than ever right now and am not looking forward to our impending five-week countdown, I am comforted to know that it is one of our last times apart for awhile (God-willing.) Besides, I am still reeling from joy after another wonderful weekend spent together.

So here is a recap of our Labor Day Weekend 2012:

Picking Luke up from the airport- Labor Day 2012

I wore my most patriotic outfit to pick Luke up from the airport last Thursday evening! He loves anything American, so I knew he would get a kick out of my outfit, and besides, it WAS Labor Day after all! I thought this dress would be appropriate to celebrate the last symbolic day of summer and to say a special thank you to all of the men and women in uniform who tirelessly serve in the Armed Forces day after day so that Americans can be free. When I saw Luke was just wearing shorts and a t-shirt supporting his favorite basketball team, I wasn’t at all surprised because he never likes to dress up when he flies haha. This picture perfectly describes us in a nutshell, actually.

It was pretty late by the time his plane landed, so we just headed back to my apartment to relax. On Friday morning, Luke dropped me off at my 11 a.m. class and went and picked up a dozen of my favorite Krispy Kreme doughnuts as a special surprise for me. I am somewhat ashamed and embarrassed to admit that between the two of us, we somehow polished off an entire dozen doughnuts by the time night fell. To be fair, we hadn’t had Krispy Kreme in several months, and it is pretty much impossible to just eat one or two of them. Still though– I have no idea how we ate 12 doughnuts in one day. But it would seem that we did. Haha. Since good food is an extremely vital part of any successful holiday weekend, I will also mention that he took me to Bento for lunch on The Strip right after class (before the doughnut consumption lol). Bento has the best teriyaki chicken in town in my opinion, and we also got an order of California Rolls, my favorite sushi, sans raw fish. (Yes, I do realize “sushi” and “sans raw fish” are contradictory, but it is the only kind that I will order.)

In proper accordance with the laziness that should accompany a holiday like Labor Day, we proceeded to lounge around all afternoon and watch TV, consuming massive amounts of glazed originals, in typical American-fashion. (NO, we don’t usually do this. Yes, I realize America has an obesity/laziness epidemic. But, if you can’t necessarily beat ’em, it sure is fun to join in every once in a while!) That evening, Luke took me to The Cypress Inn, a seafood restaurant on the Black Warrior riverfront in Tuscaloosa. It is one of the more romantic places in town, and we enjoyed sitting at a table right by the window that overlooked the water.

Date Night at The Cypress Inn!

After dinner, he took me to the movies to see ‘Hope Springs’ starring Meryl Streep, Steve Carrell and Tommy Lee Jones. The comedy depicts a middle-aged couple who goes to counseling to try to save their marriage, and while some scenes are pretty funny, I wouldn’t say this is a “must-see” movie by any means. My favorite part of the date was convincing Luke to take pictures with me in the Photo Booth at the theater.

Our Photo Booth experience!

I think our pictures actually turned out to be pretty good, albeit goofy in some frames! We were actually quite proud of ourselves for going to the 10 p.m. movie showing, which meant the movie ended around midnight. By the time we drove back to my place, it was around 12:30 a.m., and since we are both “old people” now, this was quite late for our normal schedules! But who can really blame us, since we both have to get up early every morning now? (Luke would not be happy with this statement, since his version of early is 5 a.m., while mine is closer to around 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. lol).

Anyway, on Saturday, we wanted to go to the pool or lake, but the weather just didn’t cooperate with our plans, so I pulled out some of the cookbooks that my mom gave me and put together a menu for a homemade dinner that evening instead. Since I just moved into a new apartment, we had to buy a lot of spices and supplies and Luke jokes that our “homemade” meal was actually the most expensive dinner of the weekend. But it was very well worth it, if I do say so myself! I made corn-and-potato chowder, baked turkey pastries, biscuits and baked beans (Luke’s idea — not such a good one with the rest of the menu, but he DID learn the importance of thinking about the best way to mix flavors when planning a meal. He also discovered that cooking isn’t quite as simple as he thought :p)  Our favorite part of the meal was actually “orange sweet potatoes”- literally the shells of oranges filled with mashed sweet potatoes and spices and topped with marshmallows. You slice the oranges in half, scoop out the pulp, mix the sweet potatoes and spices together, spoon the mixture into the orange shells, and bake! I got this recipe from my great-grandmother’s cookbook, and it actually turned out pretty well!

Delicious sweet potato-filled baked oranges!

We shopped for food together, and then I spent most of the day cooking, while Luke helped with odd jobs around the apartment and hung a bunch of pictures for me, which was very helpful! It was really nice to sit down to a hot meal and watch Bama stomp Michigan from right here on my comfy sofa!

On Sunday, Luke got up early and cooked waffles and bacon for breakfast, and then we headed out to Moundville for the day. Moundville is an archaeological site sponsored by the University of Alabama, and it is just fifteen minutes or so from Tuscaloosa. The site is well known for its preservation of Native American heritage, through a museum and findings from archaeological digs. The mounds are fun to explore, and there is also a short nature trail as well.

Moundville visit 2012!

We had never been to Moundville before, and it was really neat to learn about Native American religious and cultural heritage in the museum. I also bought a yummy jar of honey that is made in the area! Each Fall, Moundville hosts a festival to honor Native American heritage, and local artisans come out to show off their crafts. I may have to go back for the festival this year, because all of the brochures looked pretty neat, and I want to buy some more of that honey! I tried some in a cup of hot tea last night, and it was truly delicious.

We had a fun Sunday afternoon walking around all of the mounds and along the nature trail.

View from the highest mound!

Me standing in front of the former Moundville Chieftain’s home!

Hiking along the short nature trail at Moundville

Luke outside the gift shop at Moundville

After a memorable adventure to this new place, Luke and I decided to head back to my apartment for a swim. He got to show off his mad basketball skills with the ball and hoop in the pool. We had fun shooting around for about an hour or two, and then went inside to order a Domino’s pizza for a late dinner and had a movie marathon until the wee hours of the morning (i.e. 1 or 2 a.m. ooohhh we are living dangerously now! Lol)

This morning, we got up pretty early to meet our friends Jessica and Will at The Cracker Barrel in Birmingham for breakfast before Luke had to go to the airport to catch his flight. It was pouring down rain this morning so he experienced some short delays but is currently en route back to Lawton. All-in-all, we had an amazing weekend together that I will not soon forget! 5 weeks and counting! ❤

Tacoklahomayo and other adventures in Lawton!

Adapted from Wikipedia's OK county maps by Set...

Adapted from Wikipedia’s OK county maps by Seth Ilys. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While visiting Luke at Fort Sill this past weekend, I learned four important lessons:

1. If you are a gambling person, the number of casinos in the Comanche Nation must be pretty much unrivaled except for Vegas; Luke and I saw at least three different casinos during the ten-minute drive from the airport to his apartment building in Lawton! Another two can be found on the way to the local movie theater lol.

2. You are never too old to act like a little kid! Luke and I had the best marathon “play” date on Saturday. And yes, it felt like we were in middle school again due to the absolutely absurd amount of fun that we had while doing “little kid” activities. (more on that later).

3. The West Point Girlfriends Facebook Group certainly has its saving graces! I had the best (and LONGEST) lunch date on Friday with Mrs. Lindsey Niblack Oliver and Mrs. Rosa Greeson Stevens while our significant others were busy at work. It was so neat to arrive in Lawton for the first time ever and to already have two girl friends to hang out ( and gossip) with!

4. Tacoklahomayo is the absolute best “fast food” restaurant to EVER exist! Tater tots with your tacos? Genius. Pure genius.

Lawton, Oklahoma. It’s a fine place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there permanently. I think that’s the best way to describe the area surrounding Fort Sill. I arrived in Lawton late on Friday night on the tiniest plane to ever exist and stepped into the tiniest airport to ever exist! Seriously. This airport has two gates (only one of which is actually used), and the same two or three employees check passengers in, guide the airplane in, unload baggage and man security. On my outbound flight, I discovered that there are not even any restrooms once you step through security (but that’s OK, because trust me, there is plenty of time to step out, use the restroom and walk BACK through the security line, even up to ten minutes before flight time!) The airport only provides service to Dallas Fort-Worth, and I think there were about 20 passengers or fewer on both my arriving and departing flights.

Anyway, so Luke picked me up at the airport, and I was able to find him in the “crowd” pretty easily! It was already 10 p.m. or so by the time we left the airport, so he took me to get some Sonic for a quick bite, drove by the aforementioned plethora of casinos, and went back to his place for an early night since he had to be up at 5 a.m. on Friday. Friday morning dawned dark and early, and Luke left me on my own for the day to explore Lawton (with no vehicle)!  So, really I planned to just hang out around his apartment. I had very noble intentions of cleaning his place from top to bottom, washing and folding all of his laundry, and possibly cooking him dinner. (And watching plenty of Grey’s Anatomy, which I am currently addicted to.) But, you know what they say about the best intentions, right? I found something a little more fun to do instead :]

Around 11:30 a.m., Rosa Stevens picked Lindsey Oliver and I up to go out for lunch! I had met Rosa once before at St. Barbara‘s, and I knew Lindsey from the West Point Girlfriends webpage (basically a FB group for girlfriends and fiancees of West Point cadets to chat and get to know one another. It’s much less creepy than it probably sounds lol, although Luke might disagree.) We went to lunch at this local sandwich shop called the Silver Spoon (they have the BEST Raspberry Sweet Tea), and Lindsey acted as tour guide of the downtown Lawton area for Rosa and I, since she has been living out there for about a month now.

Lunch date with the girls

After (a two-hour) lunch, we headed back to Luke’s apartment complex and laid out at the pool until our guys got off work. The funniest part of the day was when alot of the military guys showed up in the late afternoon and started cramming into this tiny little pool Jersey-shore style. One group of guys wanted to set up a volleyball net, and they were having all kinds of trouble getting this net put up. They kept debating how to tie the knot correctly and tried setting two chairs on either side of the shallow end so that they could loop the net through. After about 20 minutes or so, Rosa looks at them and yells, “What? Didn’t they teach y’all how to tie knots up at West Point?” Lol. This elicited quite the response from many of the guys, who did not in fact, attend West Point. (It was really funny, but you probably had to be there to really take in all of the shocked reactions and horrified faces!) They started trying to talk to us a little bit after that, and luckily our guys showed up soon after to rescue us.

Then, we all headed to dinner at this wonderful little Mexican restaurant  in town (Las something..Lindsey, help me out here?!), and they truly had wonderful margaritas and sopapillas. Then, Luke and I headed back early (about ten hours after our “lunch date” began) and regretfully, missed Rosa’s game of cornhole (which we are sooo definitely playing when I  come up for Fall Break!) This group was so much fun, and I cannot wait to hang out with them again in October. I definitely had more fun than I would have had cooking and cleaning all day.

On Saturday, Luke and I got up “early” (around 10 a.m.) and began a marathon date in Lawton. First, he took me to Tacoklahomayo, which is literally the best fast food restaurant I have ever been to. It only exists in Oklahoma, and they serve yummy Mexican dishes with tater tots, of all things, on the side. I had the nachos, and it was wayy more than I could eat by myself. If we end up PCSing to Sill in the future, I will be Tacoklahomayo’s best customer! The restaurant was so good that I named this post after it, which I never do. If you are ever in Oklahoma, this is a MUST VISIT! Thank you for the great recommendation, Mrs. Oliver. :]

Next we headed to the water park, which I absolutely loved! It is a pretty small water park right off of the interstate, but it has five slides, a lazy river and wave pool. We had to buy a two-person float, since those were the only ones left, and since we weighed about 300 pounds collectively, the water slides were a REAL blast! We almost flipped over twice, and I thought I would lose my voice from shrieking so much. Of course, Luke egged it on, by grabbing the handles and rocking us back and forth, making sure we got “air” on the green tube slide and flipping me over on purpose into the pool at the bottom. It was truly a great time though, and after all of the excitement on the slides, I was more than content to float around on the lazy river with him. We eventually hit the wave pool, which was also fun, except for one unfortunate incident with a bee. It flew onto the front of our float, and I unwittingly put my legs down directly on top of it. I got bit three times by the time I realized what was going on and was able to move. My knight in shining armor killed that nasty little bee for me though, so I felt that justice was served lol.

We had a blast at the water park in Lawton

After several hours at the water park, we headed back to his place to get ready for dinner. I had butterflies while I was getting ready, because we haven’t been able to go on a date together in so long! I got to wear my pretty new turquoise dress with the bubble skirt and white wedges, and he wore khaki shorts and a button down. He took me to an Italian place called Luigis, and I had the ravioli filled with ricotta cheese, and he had fetuccini alfredo. The restaurant didn’t offer wine or any other alcoholic beverages, so we got sodas, and Luke made the comment that it felt like we were in middle school again and our parents dropped us off on a date haha. Needless to say getting ice cream at Braum’s afterwards (mmm Butter Pecan) and then going to see Ice Age 4 only contributed to the feeling of being two kids again. But it was one of the best dates ever, and everything was just so relaxed. I think we laughed more on that date than on some of the ones at elegant restaurants in NYC where we have paid $$$$ for dinner and a bottle of wine. It was fun to mix it up a little!

Date night

On Sunday, he got up early and cooked me breakfast, and  I got to watch my Grey’s marathon while he did some homework. We had an early dinner at another local Mexican place — nothing beats Mexican food out West — and then, we went to the commissary to buy some Gatorade and other items. It was such a settling feeling to be a “normal” couple again, going shopping together on Sunday afternoon. We watched some of our favorite TV shows that night and stayed up way, way too late haha but it was so worth it, even as we were dragging on our way to catch my 6 a.m. flight to Dallas on Monday morning.

The whole weekend was absolutely exceptional, and I promise to post pictures later! I have not had the chance to upload them yet, since I have been so busy packing to go back to school on Friday. The whole Lawton trip made me look forward to Fort Benning even more, when I will get to see him nearly every weekend. I can’t wait to see what the next few months will hold for us :]

Right now, I just know that I have to stay patient and enjoy the relationship that God has given us here and now, which means embracing the long distance and looking forward to seeing him in Tuscaloosa over Labor Day weekend. And then it will be Fall Break before long, and I will be heading back to Tacoklahomayo! More soon.

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