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Pilgrims in a New Land: The First Friendsgiving

Perspectives Last Class

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

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

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

On the Menu:

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

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

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

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Green Bean Casserole

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

I also made this no bake cherry pie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I Am Thankful For This Year Part 1

What I Am Thankful For This Year Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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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! ūüôā

xoxo

Manda

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

Life as we know it

I have not been diligent with blogging, but for all of our friends and family (at least those of you out there who actually take the time to read our little blog,) here’s a glimpse into life as we know it:

The New Year started off with a bang, or rather a quiet evening at home! Luke worked so hard to make it the perfect day. I had originally wanted to go out to celebrate with a fancy dinner and watching the peach drop in Atlanta, but he knows me best. After a long day at work, I wanted nothing more than to fall right into bed! He cooked steaks on the grill and some veggies, and we stayed in and watched movies together until the ball dropped. So much fun.

 

New Years

Then, we entered wedding season early, with Liz and Alex Mileshko’s big day in Mobile, AL early in January. We enjoyed road trippin’ it down to Mobile to celebrate with them! They had such a cool getaway car, that we could not resist getting a photo beside it. This was such a fun weekend, catching up with some of my sorority sisters.

Liz and Alex wedding

 

Then, came a week full of snow days; Luke ended up coming home from the field early for two of them! I still went into work though. Such is life at a pediatric office; kids are bound to still get sick. But, we did enjoy some cozy mornings sleeping in together and eating home-cooked breakfast for once ūüôā

snow

Reality kicked in, and Luke was back to the field for another week. But, my sweet friend Nikki and I went¬†on a shopping spree all over town to decorate our apartment to surprise Luke upon his return! I have been remiss in posting photos of our first little “nest” together, but here are a couple after our trip to Kirkland’s, Pier One, Target, and a couple of hundred dollars later (oops!) Luke was very surprised, and this project helped me to pass the time while he was gone. Gotta love girls’ nights/shopping!

kitchen

Here is one of our dining area. ^^ Thanks to all of the friends and family who bought us our lovely place settings for the wedding!

living room

Our living room! To the left in the photo is the door that goes out to our little patio. Most days, we just use it as the “front door” since we live on the first level. It is an open concept and leads right into the dining area pictured above.

entertainment center

And (excuse the terrible lighting here), the awesome entertainment center we got from IKEA. The walls are so large here that we needed something to actually fill the space. And, of course I had to fill all of the little cubbies with cute, colorful things. Since the photo, Luke has upgraded to a bigger TV for his “bday gift”– along with another gun and several other things ūüôā

In addition, we have a man cave, guest bedroom and the master bedroom as well as two bathrooms. These are still works in progress, but I will do a complete apartment post later on.

We got the apartment fixed up to the point where we could have a bridal shower here for my co-worker Bethany! During another weekend when Luke was off for training, Nikki and I were able to pull of the surprise and have all of our coworkers over here. She had a blast!

Bethany shower 1Bethany shower 2Bethany shower 3

shower 3

Of course, we celebrated Luke’s birthday in February with a Newlywed Game Night. We had several couples over– Sean and Amy Rabe, Josh and soon-to-be Emily Money, Kevin and Rachel Sampler, Will and soon-to-be Jessica Tilson, and Jenae and Greg Young. We had a blast playing this game and enjoying all of our favorite snacks and drinks.

Luke bday cake

His favorite — cookie cake, all the way from Auburn. Who knew Columbus didn’t have a Great American Cookie Company? Boo.

Luke bday 2

Love this guy ‚̧

The following weekend was the military ball with 3-1 Cav. For the past 15 months, Luke was attached to an armor unit, even though he is a Field Artillery officer. This was our last major event with 3-1, and we certainly had a blast. We will miss all of the great people that we met in this unit. It truly was the BEST first unit one could ever hope for in the Army, and we really enjoyed the mentorship of the other officers and their wives.

Luke and Manda 3-1 ball

Going to miss that Stetson..It’s an armor thing, but I really liked the hat. Luke, however, will probably be happier without it.

3-1 Ball

Love those girls…We will miss them so much now that our husbands are no longer in the same unit. At least, they aren’t too far away ūüôā

St. Patty’s Day came and went, and par for the course, Luke had a three-day weekend while I had to work. (I cannot really begrudge him that time since he works SO MANY 24-hour days and has a LOT of field time.) But, we made the most of it at PMG. Several of us girls dressed in green for the occasion.

St pattys

 

Dr. DeRamus, Ph.D. (my favorite  lunch date every Friday; she appreciates good Mexican food too), Caroline Wade the social worker, and Bethany, one of our nurses.

We have also been trying to make the most of the time we have with Jess and Will before they graduate from Auburn University and move to Huntsville to begin their lives as a married couple. Therefore, we have been trying to get together at least once a week while they live so close. Here was a particularly fun trip, hiking for the day around Providence Canyon (the mini “grand canyon” in AL)

Providence Canyon

And, what’s a good marriage without a little alone time? We have been trying to get date nights in each week. We especially enjoy our Wed. night church services together. We went up to ATL for one weekend and enjoyed the aquarium and shopping, although I cannot find any photos from that trip :/

One weekend, he also treated me to a nice dinner at Buckhead Grill (one of the best places in town, in my humble opinion,) and a movie. We have become regular movie fiends actually and have started going every Tuesday to catch the latest movie at the Carmike, when concessions are on sale at a special price. It’s becoming a fun tradition!

Anyway, here is the delicious creme brulee from Buckhead. If you are ever in Columbus, you MUST try it:

creme brulee

And, like any normal couple, we run errands together! Grocery shopping is more fun together– although, Luke much prefers I go alone haha.

grocery list

We stay fairly busy with two full-time jobs, my grad school and my early attempts at writing a novel, but we make the most of the time we do get! For now, it’s just the two of us, although we did seriously consider adopting this adorable ferret that showed up on our patio just a couple of weeks ago.

ferret

He didn’t quite mesh with our lifestyle though; he rejected Luke’s french fry offering, squirmed into every single nook and cranny in our apartment — right up to burrowing ¬†a hole INSIDE the under part of our couch–, and exacerbating my allergies after only one night in the same space. Luke took him to the vet for a check up and then handed him over to a sweet lady in town who helps lost ferrets find homes through Facebook. She had a cage for him and all of the food that he likes, so we hope his owner finds him soon. He was temporarily named Oscar ūüôā

We truly feel so blessed and fortunate during this chapter in our lives as newlyweds.We have some AMAZING friends here, and we enjoy every moment with them because we know how fast the time goes. We try and double date one or two times each week, which is always such a treat.

Here was Cosmic Bowling with Rachel and Kevin:

Cosmic Bowling

Rachel and Amanda

So Kevin isn’t actually pictured, but now that Luke has transitioned units back to the 1-10 Field Artillery (effective April 1st), those two will be working in the same battery. We are looking forward to seeing a lot more of Rachel and Kevin, including a fun upcoming Memorial Day weekend couples’ beach trip!!

Another favorite couple: The Youngs.

Hockey

Recently, we all had a blast at the Columbus Cottonmouths’ ice hockey game!

And, I can always count on so many sweet people to help me with my very hectic   fun work events promoting Preferred Medical Group. At our recent Easter Egg Hunt and Family Fun Night, Jenae was right there as the raffle prize announcer, and Luke and Greg were working the grill to help us sell more than 100 hotdogs to hungry attendees. We had nearly 400 kids in attendance, so the help was so appreciated.

Egg HUnt kids

**Can I just point out that I have the best husband in the world for always supporting me in these endeavors?

Egg Hunt Luke

There he was, bravely handing out goody bags as hundreds of kids stormed the table.

And, here is the group of PMG volunteers. If you are like me, and you like to put names to faces, from R to L, we have Nikki, Bethany, Dr. Chandra (the founder), April, and me.

Egg HUnt group

 

Well, that’s it for now. This extremely long update shows life as we know it!

We are currently looking forward to Easter weekend in Huntsville with my parents, Memorial Day at the beach, the weddings of three couples who are very special to us — Emily Malone and Josh Money at the end of April, Jon Teague and Laura Moose in May and Jessica and Will in June. Also, we have a late summer/early Fall anniversary cruise plan in the works ūüôā

Wishing anyone who read this all the way to the end a SAFE and HAPPY EASTER!!

 

 

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 :]

Bring On 2013!

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

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

Luke and I at Whitney and Josh’s wedding

Cassie and I, Dec. 15, 2012

Cassie and I, Dec. 15, 2012

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

Bradshaw family Christmas tree 2012

Christmas Eve service

Christmas Eve service

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

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

Opening gifts at Grandma Reid's' house

Opening gifts at Grandma Reid’s’ house

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

New Year’s Eve!

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

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

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

Ms. Joanna and I, Cantino Loredo 2013

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

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

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

So, with that being said, Bring On 2013!

Reflections following Veteran’s Day Weekend

A quick recap of our weekend together:

The weekend really started on Friday I guess, when I attended the candlelight for one of my good friends and sorority sisters, Liz Abbott. She got engaged last week, just a couple of days before her new fiance, Alex, was deployed overseas for several months as an officer in the Army. I was so honored to be there for her special ceremony, and I must say, her ring is just gorgeous! Alex did so well.

AOII Seniors at Liz’s Candlelight

Brides to Be!

I am so excited to pick her brain as we begin wedding planning together! I think she and Alex are planning to get married shortly after he returns from his deployment, so this is such an exciting time for both of us. Liz has been one of my inspirations for a while now, and as a fellow military girlfriend fiancee, she absolutely always keeps a positive attitude and helps me through the tough times when I am missing Luke. I will be praying for safety for Alex and peace for Liz in the coming months as this newly engaged couple faces a whole new set of challenges that Luke and I have been blessed not to have to endure thus far.

After the candlelight, I ran 10239204 errands and cleaned my apartment in preparation for Luke’s visit on Saturday morning. He arrived in Birmingham early Sat., and we battled gameday traffic on the way back down to Tuscaloosa to watch the Texas A&M game. Sadly, Alabama lost, and so my last game as a student was a tad bit disappointing, but certainly very memorable. Both teams kept us on our toes throughout the game, so at least it was an interesting one. (The Aggies gave us plenty of chances to win, and Alabama just did not see it through…I will always love my Crimson Tide though! I will always bleed crimson no matter what.)

Luke and I in the student section for Texas A&M

We were having so much fun yelling and cheering for Bama, even though we ultimately lost.

Every Bama girl has to get a ring picture with the houndstooth background!

Flag display for veterans and active duty service members

4th Quarter, hoping for a comeback down to the last few seconds…Sadly it did not happen for us.

After the game, Luke and I dejectedly  walked back to my apartment. I had cooked chili in the Crockpot earlier in the day, and my mom and her friend Ms. Deborah came over to eat with Luke, Ethan, Ashley and I. It was the first time I had seen my mom since September, so it was good to see her and to meet Ms. Deborah! After they headed back to Huntsville, Luke and I ended up falling asleep really early since we were both so exhausted from our busy day.

On Sunday morning, we slept in a bit and then went to Olive Garden to meet my friend Casey and her boyfriend, Bryant for lunch. (Luke even got a free meal for Veteran’s Day, which was really nice!) We had a great time, and the guys really hit it off too, which is always good on a double date. And, I even have leftover pasta for lunch tomorrow. :]

After Olive Garden, we went to Starbucks for a frappacino and to meet with a possible wedding photographer! Meeting with our first potential vendor was exciting, as everything is finally starting to seem more real. We even have the wedding date decided for sure now, and I will become Mrs. Luke Bradshaw on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013!! That gives us about 10 months to plan, which I think is a good time period so that we are not rushed but also not engaged for too long before we actually get married. On an exciting note, my minister, Bro. Bobby Eads will be officiating our wedding ceremony in Sept. and plans to start our pre-marital counseling sessions after the New Year, when Luke is FINALLY in Georgia.

After meeting with the photographer, we went to the Student Center to watch my friend Lauren’s fashion show, but since we were a few minutes late, they did not let us in. I was so sad that I did not get to see my gorgeous friend model. I am hoping to make it to her next event though! To top off an already busy day, we came back to my apartment and picked up my brother and his girlfriend, Ashley, for a double-date at Chili’s for dinner.

Chili’s!

We had a lot of¬† fun with them at dinner, and had even more fun playing the board game ‘Sorry’ after dinner (which I am proud to say I WON! Finally…after nearly 20 years, I beat my brother, the King of All Board Games.)

While the three of them battled it out for second place, I went to my room and called Professor Meredith Cummings to get some quotes for a story I am working on for my educational studies class. She was so helpful and is even letting me assist with her elementary and middle school journalism classes in the Spring so that I will gain some experience teaching actual students before Teach for America Institute. I feel like early preparation cannot hurt, right? :]

Anyway, so once the board game was finally finished (amid much yelling, cheering and shouting), Luke and I attempted to watch Rocky IV before falling asleep.

Thankfully, we will see each other again in just 8 days for Thanksgiving Break, and he will officially be a BOLC graduate at that time! (Although, Oklahoma is not quite done with him yet…Luke will have to report back to Sill for a few weeks after Thanksgiving for additional training.) I plan to spend the next few days hanging out with girl friends and spending lots of time in conversation with the Lord, attempting to maintain a positive outlook on everything.

On this Veteran’s Day, my thoughts and prayers go out to all of the other military couples who are struggling with challenging circumstances on a daily basis, such as long deployments, etc. May the Lord keep you and comfort you in the face of all of these challenges, whether you are the military service member, the spouse, or family member of the service member. May you maintain a sense of peace despite any distance that separates you, and may your love remain strong, faithful and true.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
(James 1:2-4)

Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory.
–George S. Patton

Sunday evening ramblings…Counting our blessings!

Luke and I just finished our Love & Respect Experience weekly Bible study, and now he is off to bed with a headache, leaving me in the mood to blog for a few minutes before going to sleep myself! Our Bible study tonight was about remaining thankful to the Lord for His blessings despite any negative circumstances in our lives (both as a couple, and as individuals.) In fact, it even suggested that we THANK God for everything, INCLUDING the obstacles and challenges in our lives. This really resonated with me tonight, as this past year has been full of changes for Luke and I. We have certainly grown stronger as a couple in the Lord, but we have had our fair share of struggles as well! Looking back, it is amazing to see how far we have come.

– 1 year ago, my mom had just filed for divorce after 25 years of marriage to my dad. Even though my brother and I knew it was coming, it was still a bit of a struggle to see our family ripping apart at the seams. The divorce proceedings are still ongoing today, but looking back…WOW! Luke and I have made it through some pretty tough stuff and never broke as a couple or lost our faith in God. Luke was there for me every step of the way and continues to comfort me and support me to this day. We both have relied heavily on the Lord to make it through. So why would we ever not be thankful for the blessings in life or be fearful that God can’t or won’t see us through till the end? He has already proven His never-ending faithfulness, even in the face of this struggle.

– 1 year ago, Luke and I had no idea what his branch in the Army would be after he graduated from West Point, and we had no idea what post he would end up going to. He could have ended up in Germany, Korea, Hawaii, Texas, New York, Washington…really anywhere. And yet, the Lord worked it out just perfectly for us so that Luke would get his first choice of Fort Benning, Georgia! It is still hard to believe he will be living only three hours away from me before the year is out!

– 1 year ago, I was struggling to decide what career path I wanted to take and had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduate in May of 2013! After lots of prayers and discussions with trusted mentors and advisers (including Luke, my most trusted human adviser and best friend,) I have decided what I want to do with my life! I want to write, and I want to teach! I hope to eventually become a college communications professor so that I can fulfill both of my passions! In the meantime, I plan to pursue a master’s degree after graduation and work in education or in communication, depending on the job opportunities that I may come across, before pursuing my doctorate degree.

– 1 year ago, I could not legally consume alcohol. I had never seen the Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum of Art or eaten a hotdog in Central Park. I had never been to an Iron Bowl at Auburn University, seen Charleston, or gotten a promise ring from my beloved.

– 1 year ago, l had also not yet been hired as a student worker at Business Executive magazine (the Culverhouse College magazine for business school alumni), been elected president of The Society of Professional Journalists’ student chapter or been named editor-in-chief of Alpine Living, an international travel magazine through the UA journalism department.

– 1 year ago, Luke was just a firstie at USMA. He was griping about his numerous classes and being charged with safety/admin duties for the Corps of Cadets. He was using Pro Model, the program that I think he hates the most of any engineering programs. He still had a “curfew” and mandatory breakfast, which he didn’t eat, and was required to drill every day or two. He had not yet taken and passed the FE (professional engineering exam), received some really awesome 22nd birthday presents, including a roll of toilet paper with Duke University’s logo printed all over it, or graduated from the Academy.

This was Luke and I one year ago:

UA v. Vanderbilt- 2011

Tuscaloosa Fair 2011

The Cypress Inn, Tuscaloosa, Fall 2011

We had some really, really great times back then, and I wouldn’t change them for the world, but I am really looking forward to see what God will do in our lives¬† in the upcoming 8 months before I am officially a college graduate! I know that He has an amazing plan for our lives, and I am confident that He will never let us falter. So, even though life gets tough sometimes and challenges come our way, I can remain secure in the knowledge that He will carry us through.

The Bible study lesson suggested that we make a list of the things we are grateful for, and here is just a short (and incomplete) summary of some of the the blessings in our lives:

  • God’s Son who died on the cross to save us from a plethora of sins.
  • The gift of each other and our unconditional love, even in the midst of challenges.
  • Our family members, and the support and love that we often find from them.
  • Our friends, who continue to laugh with us, love us and support us no matter what circumstances life throws our way.
  • Luke’s job as an officer in the U.S. Army, and my opportunity to pursue higher education at The University of Alabama.
  • The long distance, which has allowed us to grow closer together spiritually and emotionally during these past 2 1/3 years.
  • Having enough food to eat and a safe place to sleep at night.
  • The multitude of private struggles that we have both encountered throughout our relationship and the perseverance and strength that God has blessed us with to overcome each and every one of them.
  • The uncertainty of what lies ahead in our future, because it allows us to rely on God and His perfect plan to carry us through.

“In everything, give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

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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