lukeandmanda

The most amazing love story since Romeo and Juliet haha

Archive for the category “Senior Year”

Making every moment count.

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

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

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

Luke birthday at Cannon 12

The Cannon in Columbus

Group for Luke's birthday dinner!

Group for Luke’s birthday dinner!

I love him!

I love him!

Luke birthday at Cannon 10

Make A Wish!

We all sang Happy Birthday and properly embarrassed him of course

We all sang Happy Birthday and properly embarrassed him of course

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

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

Luke and Will taking the mandatory "birthday picture" lol

Luke and Will taking the mandatory “birthday picture” lol

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

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

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

More soon.

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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!

19 days!

No, not in our latest countdown until he has to go far away again. 19 days total. Yes, you read that right. Luke and I have just 19 teensy weensy days left in this extremely long distance relationship. Period! We will FINALLY be within driving distance of one another before Christmas! I honestly could not think of a better present for the holidays this year…That cheesy “All I want for Christmas is you” song totally applies right now.

My to-do list is longer than this blog post is going to be since I am winding down to finish out my last two weeks of the semester with finals, exams, projects and presentations galore, but I would be remiss if I did not post an update about our glorious Thanksgiving Break together.
Luke flew into Birmingham on Tuesday night, and we drove up to Huntsville to be with my folks for the holiday. On Wednesday, we got up bright and early to tour wedding venues in Nashville, and we have officially found the place that we are getting married at on September 1, 2013!! We put a deposit down on our beautiful venue, and while it is still going to be a surprise until I launch my wedding website, let’s just say that I am getting my Southern, historical, antebellum wedding that I always dreamed about! The venue could not be more perfect, and Luke and I absolutely fell in love with the mansion and grounds the moment we stepped through the doorway on Wednesday. I have no trouble envisioning our wedding here in September.

Our day of touring wedding venues was soo much fun! Luke was such a good sport about it and we laughed and joked all the way up to Nashville and back. No one can make me laugh like he does, and I could never find a more fun companion for a road trip. (It also helps that he happens to be my best friend too!)

Luke was determined to find BBQ for lunch since he has not been in the South in so long, but unfortunately, my outdated GPS was bound and determined to take us to random sketchy parts of town with BBQ places or to nicer parts of town with no BBQ restaurants in sight. So we settled on subs at Jersey Mike’s, which were surprisingly good. And, as luck would have it, when we got back to town, my dad took us out to dinner and he just so happened to pick a BBQ place, so Luke was happy. All in all, Wed. was such a successful day.

On Thursday, we got up and headed to my Uncle Gary and Aunt Stephanie’s house for Thanksgiving lunch. No words can describe the bountiful feast that was spread out before us, and I may or may not have helped myself to two plates! Nothing beats my favorite Thanksgiving dish though- Aunt Lisa’s famous sweet potato casserole! I look forward to it every year. During lunch, my dad had a surprise in store for us as well. As lunch was winding down, he stood up and made a toast to our engagement! He started it off with something like, “Now I don’t usually do this, but it’s not every day my little girl gets engaged either…” I so wish someone had video taped it for us. It was so sweet, welcoming Luke to the family and congratulating us. It took us really off guard, and I teared up a little, because my dad is usually relatively shy, so this is pretty out of character for him.

Another new “surprise” happened this Thanksgiving, as well. Apparently, we are the family that goes outside and shoots guns after dinner for the first time ever in the history of Sams family Thanksgivings haha. The boys practiced skeet shooting, and I learned how to use a .22 pistol. Ashley and I had a blast destroying a pumpkin target out back! haha (It was a new “tradition” for my family but turned out to be super fun.)

Yes, this is me decimating a pumpkin. haha go figure, right?

Luke and I partook in the Old Black Friday Shopping Tradition this year (my first time ever…can’t say I will be back any year soon), and headed to Old Navy around midnight on Thursday to shop for the kid we are “adopting” for Christmas. We waited in line for 30 minutes when my brother called and told us his car had broken down in a bad part of town. So, Luke left me to brave the masses and went to help Ethan push his car off of a bridge. I shopped around and got some great deals, but I am still not sure if that 2 hour check out line was worth the savings! (it literally wrapped around the entire store!!) We did get all of our child’s Christmas gifts for Make A Wish though, clothes from Old Navy and toys/candy from Wal Mart. And lots of great deals in the process. I hope he enjoys unwrapping his presents.

We slept in a bit Friday and then got up for our engagement photo shoot with the lovely Whitney Pirtle! She and I go wayyy back, and she is one of my oldest and sweetest friends!

This is the two of us in 2nd Grade

She did a FANTASTIC job! She already shared some sneak peak photos with us, so I will post a few of my favorites:

Needless to say, Friday was tons of fun and very eventful! We had so much fun with Whitney and her fiance, Josh, and then we met our friends Christian and Ben for dinner at a local German restaurant. The black forest cake was delicious!

Saturday dawned bright and early, and we watched part of the Iron Bowl with my mom before heading out. We met our friends Jess and Will for dinner in Birmingham at Carrabbas and then called it an early night. Luke flew out early on Sunday for more training, and the next time I see him, it will be time to celebrate the holidays! And the beginning of our life in the same general area!! I am so ready for him to move back to the sunny South. This was longer than promised, and I apologize, for that. If you made it this far, thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to read our little blog.

More soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the small things

I am starting to realize that the secret to finding true happiness in life is by taking joy in the small things that come along when you least expect them every day. For example, I forgot my hair straightener in Oklahoma, and Luke mailed it to me. When I opened the package today, I found that he had sent me the sweetest card with pictures of monkeys on the front (because he calls me Monkey lol) and it absolutely made my day! I also got to teach Professor Cummings’s 4th graders at the Magnet School today, and I am pretty sure they all know the 5Ws in a news story lede now. I also met my good friend Laura Metcalf for lunch at the Student Center, which is always fun. (She introduced me to her friend Kayla, so I made a new friend as well). Take all of that and add it to the fact that my political science class was cut blissfully short since we finished our group project early, and I am meeting my friend Lauren Hendrix for dinner to celebrate her upcoming wedding on Saturday. All of these little things equal a great big happiness when added all together. In my opinion, unhappiness often comes when expectations are unrealistic and therefore, not met, or when people fail to find wonder in the small things. I mean all it took was a card with monkeys on it to make my day, or rather relishing the fact that I have the sweetest boyfriend in the world who is just so perfect for me and completes me in so many ways and actually took the time to send that card to me.

I could so easily be focused on negative things this week, such as how many tests/projects I have in the coming days, how Luke and I have nearly 40 days until we’ll see each other again, etc. But, choosing to delight in the small things is really so much more fun, in my opinion. I think the power of a positive attitude and optimistic thinking is often underestimated. I mean after all, a day can be made or ruined by the way you look at it. I think I must provide an example of the power of perspective.

When speaking of these small things that bring joy, I really would be remiss if I did not mention my experience at the local pumpkin patch this past weekend. One of my best friends, Lauren Killen, called me up on Saturday and suggested that we visit the local pumpkin patch where it cost just $10 to get a pumpkin, a hayride and visit the petting zoo. I was all for this, of course, as I had just been thinking I wanted to carve a Jack-O-Lantern for Halloween. (It also provided me with a desperately needed diversion from the mountains of homework and assignments sitting on my desk).

So, I invited my brother and his sweet new girlfriend Ashley to come along with Lauren and I to (yes, this is the real name) Critter Creek to get our pumpkins. We decided to make a day of it and planned to bake pumpkin pies that night while we carved our Jack-O-Lanterns. We arrived at the pumpkin patch around 2:45 p.m. on Saturday (yes, we are terrible Bama fans. We chose the outdoors in lieu of watching Bama squash Missouri on TV). If you know me at all, you know how camera and picture-obsessed I am, and so the following pictures at all of the available photo opps really won’t be surprising:

Ethan and I at Critter Creek – Oct. 13, 2012

Lauren and I at Critter Creek – Oct. 13, 2012

We decided to visit the petting zoo first, and Ashley was extremely excited to pet the cute goats and bunny rabbits. Sadly, the bunny rabbit was not so excited to see Ashley.

Ashley dropping the rabbit (after it clawed at her)

Ashley and the Rabbit Part II

This moment was seriously priceless. We gave up on petting the animals at this point lol Although, Ethan did get to pet a pretty cool turtle. We also saw two black bears trapped in a tiny cage (sad), a puma, an emu and an exotic-looking ferret. Then, it was time for the hay ride.

Ethan and Ashley- Critter Creek Oct. 13, 2012

Although Ethan was trying to look coolly nonchalant in this picture, we were actually all having lots of fun! The bell for the hayride was rung, and we headed up a hill and down the other side to the pumpkin patch, where, my oh my, we found the tiniest pumpkins this side of the Mississippi. But seriously, this was no Tate Farms (in Meridianville, Alabama)…We got the biggest ones that we could find though.

Proudly holding the largest pumpkins in the patch!

On our way back up the hill on the “hayride,” the guide informed us that these pumpkins were basically impossible to carve. He said that he tries every year, but they are just too small. So, we basically scratched the Jack-O-Lantern idea and decided to sit at the picnic table and paint them instead with paint pens. They actually turned out pretty cute, if I do say so myself.

Meet Penelope and Roxy (our pumpkins!)

Our prized creations…E-daddy, Penelope, Roxy and Ashley’s initials

We left the pumpkin patch (since they closed at 4) and did not get to play a game of corn hole. But we still had an AMAZING time, and it was so nice to get out of the house for a while. Our pumpkins are proudly displayed on the bar in our kitchen, and we even had time to bake pumpkin pies AND finish all of our homework.

Now, the moral of the story is that it could have been so easy to be very negative about this experience. After all, we drove 23 minutes down winding country roads to Vance, Ala., paid $10 a piece ($40 total) for these TINY PUMPKINS. I’d barely call that tractor/hay bale contraption a hay ride, and all of the animals were so skittish at the petting zoo that I barely came within three feet of one. Unless you count Ashley being scratched by a rabid rabbit. And, remember, we still could not carve a Jack-O-Lantern because the pumpkins were so tiny…You catch my drift. I am sure you also can see how negativity could have ruined our day and this fun experience with friends. Instead of stomping off mad as hornets in a nest that has been disturbed, we came home with four painted pumpkins, lots of cute pictures, and a fun story to tell too! We also had a blast wandering around that hole-in-the-wall, dilapidated pumpkin patch! It is amazing how a simple thing like perspective and attitude can transform an entire experience.

It makes me think about how much negativity can ruin your life, too. If nothing is ever good enough or never lives up to your unrealistic expectations, are you always going to be miserable, wanting for more than you can ever have? After all, one of the 12 secrets of happiness is to be content with what you have. Another one is to keep a positive mindset no matter what life throws your way. So next time you are complaining about not having the nicest furniture in your college apartment, or the fact that your boyfriend lives hundreds of miles away, think about the person who has no furniture and is homeless or the person who would kill to have a sweet boyfriend who loves them even if he is far away. (hint, hint: read and take to heart, Manda. Listen to your own advice. Haha) This is a hard lesson to learn, but my taking joy in the small things or by embracing those small pumpkins if you will, has helped me to have an INCREDIBLE week despite being overloaded with midterms and other commitments. I think it’s something to remember in the coming days and weeks..It’s really all about finding joy in the small things.

You still give me butterflies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OKC Stockyard Exchange

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Bricktown (& Luke’s awesome photography skills)

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

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

Totally grainy, discolored picture of Michael Murphy’s

Dueling piano bar– you get the picture.

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

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

43 days ❤

One major advantage of an LDR…More time with girl friends!

So Luke and I have been doing this long-distance relationship (LDR) thing for more than 2 years now, and at the beginning, I found myself really focusing on the negatives of being so far apart. I hated the long countdowns, not being able to see him, not being able to touch him, rarely getting to go on dates together, not being able to cuddle up on the couch and watch TV on Saturday nights  and more. But, I am an optimistic person by nature, so I found that all of my negativity was getting us nowhere. There are in fact many advantages to an LDR. Some of these advantages would include more communication within the relationship (which builds a stronger emotional connection), lots of excitement and anticipation as our latest countdown diminishes to just a few short days, and plenty of time for work and individual professional development activities. However, chief among these advantages, in my opinion, is having lots of extra time to spend with girl friends!

Some days, I seriously could not make it through without having a girls’ dinner & movie night, attending my Thursday evening Bible study group (complete with various desserts), or grabbing lunch on campus with a friend and commiserating about our extremely stressful senior year-workload (This is a shout-out to you, Laura Metcalf! Haha) I decided that life is what you make it, and college in particular goes by way too quickly to do nothing except work all of the time. Therefore, I’ve been making an exceptional effort to spend extra time with my girl friends this semester since I know a few of them are graduating in December, and everything really is changing much faster than I’d like to believe. So, I’ve really enjoyed finding a fancy place for dinner every other Tuesday night with my former roomie, Lauren Hendrix, in the days leading up to her wedding to the love of her life, meeting my friend Rachel Childers for a quick lunch on 15th Street every Thursday on our break from school/work, and squeezing in Mexican/margarita night with my friend Lauren Killen and her roommates, Rachael and Jamie.

One particularly fun experience this month was attending The Society of Professional Journalists’ National Convention in Fort Lauderdale with our vice president (and my friend), Casey Voyles. It is always more fun to travel with friends! Casey had never flown before, so it was really neat to be there for her first flight ever, and she had an experienced traveler to navigate the airports with her! This is also where being in an LDR comes in handy. I can navigate airports like the back of my hand.  (I wont mention the fact that we almost missed our outbound flight after I accidentally led us to the Southwest “Fort Lauderdale” direct flight instead of the Delta “Atlanta connection flight.”) Oops…A quick sprint through the airport saved us, and we were able to board right before the doors closed on the plane. We arrived in Fort Lauderdale for the conference last Thursday, and had a great/productive time, despite the weather being overall stormy and cruddy and me getting sick and then progressively sicker during the trip. Here are a few pictures from our Ft. Lauderdale adventures:

Casey and I exploring the Harbor Beach Marriott’s private beach on our first and *only* sunny afternoon

SPJ National Convention in Fort Lauderdale- Sept. 20-23rd

I ran into my old friend Meg Wagner (from Scripps Leadership Institute) at the Opening Night Reception!

Scripps 2012 Reunion from L to R: Meg Wagner, Walter Middlebrook, Ali Trumbull (my roomie) and me.

We also ran into the JMU SPJ President, Lani Furbank (blue dress) and her VP, Kassie (tan skirt on the end) at the conference. Lani was my Scripps classmate as well.

We had so much fun catching up! Friday night dinner at The Oasis

After returning from Ft. Lauderdale, unfortunately, my simple sinus infection had spread into my chest and lungs. I spent all day that Sunday at the Student Health Center and missed Monday and Tuesday of classes. So, I spent the rest of the week playing catch-up with schoolwork and trying to fulfill all of my extracurricular commitments as well. I ended up selling my Ole Miss ticket for this weekend early in the week, because I wasn’t sure if I’d feel up to going to the game. I did begin to feel better by Thursday or so, but I thought a girls’ night might be more fun than standing in the stadium watching Bama crush the Rebels until all hours of the night anyway. Sure enough, we won 33 to 14 even without me there to cheer on the Crimson Tide. (True enough, I was there in spirit).

Instead, Rachel Childers and I had the most amazing girls’ day/night, in lieu of attending the football game. First, we decided to get lunch at Dreamland BBQ (which was fun until one poor Bama fan passed out in the middle of lunch and the EMTs had to come escort him away on a stretcher).  After a memorable lunch, we went shopping at Midtown (where I bought some much-needed sweat pants and a warm sweatshirt for winter), and then we went back to her apartment to watch chick flicks all night. We ate Gigi’s cupcakes and talked through watched ‘Water for Elephants,’ ‘Kate and Leopold,’ and ‘Wedding Date’ before falling asleep around 1 a.m. (We also may or may not have explored the Wedding Bee site in some detail, dreaming about our future weddings to our respective/wonderful significant others! And no, neither of us is “officially engaged” yet. Boo).

So, today, I am planning to study hard, do homework, have Bible study with Luke, prepare the agenda for our 7 a.m. SPJ Exec Meeting, and go see Pitch Perfect with Lauren Killen and Co. (We are going to a matinee, of course, to save money!)  Such is the life of an overworked, starving college student.

More soon.

P.S. Our countdown is now down to just 5 short days ❤ I love you, Luke Huntington Bradshaw.

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! ❤

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