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My Reflections on 4/27/11- The Day I Thought I Would Die

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a]have been called according to his purpose,” Romans 8:28

April 27, 2011 was a typical Wednesday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, AL. The clouds had been a bit overcast, and there was a certain humidity in the air that was a little unusual. But hindsight aside, I had no idea that this day would alter not only my life, but thousands of others as well.

I was a sophomore at the University of Alabama, and it was the week before finals. I had pulled an all nighter studying the previous evening and was exhausted, with more studying ahead.

My mom sent me a few texts about the weather during the day; apparently tornado warnings were in effect all over the state, but as any young, naïve college student such as myself might have told you before April 27th, tornado warnings in Alabama are as common as pop quizzes.

As the newly selected News Editor of the student newspaper, I planned to head to campus to edit the day’s stories. But, when I called my assistant editor around 2 p.m., I distinctly remember him saying, “Amanda, do not drive over here right now. We are all about to die! ”

I figured he was exaggerating, but the wind had picked up a little and I could hear it through my bedroom window in my second story apartment. As I sat down on the bed to finish sending some emails, I heard a tornado siren. My roommate came in and asked me to go downstairs with her to wait out the storm. I remember becoming a little frightened at this point, and this was the first time I uttered a quick prayer, “Lord please keep us safe,” I silently thought while trying to devise a plan to finish all of the work that loomed ahead after the storm passed.

I quickly grabbed some sandals, a jacket and my cell phone. When we got downstairs, our neighbors were watching the local weather. I saw a huge funnel cloud on the screen that was clearly picking up speed as the meteorologist described the storm’s path across Tuscaloosa. My heart began to beat faster. All of a sudden the power went out, and the TV went black. Simultaneously I saw a huge bolt of lightning through the glass doors to their balcony.

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I texted my boyfriend and told him I was really scared, as I hustled to get inside the closet with the others. There were about 9 people in total, squeezed into the narrow space. We huddled together on the floor sinking as low to the floor as possible. I was fervently typing text messages, but nothing would send due to lack of service. I was still trying to text, and then I heard the roar of a tornado. It was as if everything happened at once.

My body became paralyzed with fear. I could no longer read or type. I hunkered down in the closet and prayed for dear life. I could hear my roommate whimpering beside me, as the air pressure intensified, and glass shattered. It was as if all of the air was being sucked out of the closet. My ears popped from the pressure. I thought the tornado was going to suck all of us up into it at any moment. I knew I was going to die. And then just as suddenly, it was over. We slowly ventured outside and found broken tree limbs scattered about. One girl found a chair inside her car. All around us, trees were down. Pieces of siding and roofing had come off of some of the buildings. But, that wasn’t the worst of it.

A few brave souls ventured out onto 15th Street, which was a main area of town populated with restaurants and businesses. They came back almost immediately. “It’s all gone,” they were saying, incredulously. “Everything across the street is completely flattened.”

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As I walked to the edge of the complex, I saw the stop sign was almost lying down, and the apartment’s gates twisted sickeningly inward. The car dealership next door had collapsed in on itself, and across the street, the homes and trees that made up the skyline were simply gone. It was so deadly quiet. The verse, “Be still and know that I am God,” from Psalm 46:10 encompassed my spirit, and I knew at that moment that despite the total wreckage and decimation of a city, He had a plan for my life and the lives of those around me. He would again form beauty from these ashes.

I later learned there were 64 fatalities that day, six of whom were UA students like myself. One person died just 250 yards from where I lived. For a while, I struggled with why I lived when so many others perished.  I have had faith since I was a young child; I was baptized at age 5, as the youngest person my pastor had ever baptized. But, I didn’t understand the purpose in this yet. But, then again, I didn’t have to. I just needed to trust God to work something even as ghastly as this for His glory. I then accepted that God has a purpose for my life, and know with 100% confidence that I am alive for a reason.

In the aftermath of that horrific day, I made a renewed commitment to share Jesus with all of those around me in my words and my actions. April 27, 2011 reaffirmed for me the brevity of a human life. Even when it seems that you have the whole world in front of you, and nothing but time ahead, everything can vanish in the blink of an eye or in the roar of an EF-4 tornado. A near death experience helps you take less for granted and realize that in that final moment of your life truly nothing else matters–not a career, not family, not friends, nothing, but your personal relationship with the Savior. As long as you have that relationship, you can release that paralyzing fear of death once and for all through the knowledge that your final destination is already mapped out. I find comfort knowing that even though I don’t know the number of my days, God does, and He has a purpose for each and every one! Keep your eyes on the prize, and you will find Him there, beside you, every single time, when chaos reigns, when tragedy strikes and when nothing else matters but the cross.

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“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD. “plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.” — Jeremiah 29:11

 

**Note The tornado photo credits are not my own. I pulled them from a news site several years ago, and I cannot remember which one currently. The story ran all over The Associated Press for over a week and in local news for much, much longer. Our student team of Crimson White reporters won awards for diligent reporting in the aftermath of this tragedy, and I was proud to be part of the team writing some of the stories that we were never supposed to have to cover and were by far our hardest, most emotional to ever write.

 

 

 

 

Welcome back to the world of Luke and Manda!

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

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

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

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Mallie, myself, and Taylor at the Rock of Gibraltar

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

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Grace, Jessica and I – April 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Luke’s softball team- May 2013

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Lunch after church with the Youngs

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

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Holly and I, right before she became a Mrs.

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

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Ashley, Aunt Lisa, MJ and I!

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

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

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

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.

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.

18 days and counting!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Love You True

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

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

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

-Author Unknown

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! ❤

Our beginning…to now! A condensed version :]

Celebrating Luke’s branch with our Field Artillery pose! “Boom, Boom!”

Welcome to the crazy, chaotic but amazingly wonderful life of Luke and Manda (written by Manda and read by Luke). Since this is my first post, I will tell you a little about us and where we are at this very moment in our lives.
I am a junior at the University of Alabama, majoring in journalism. I plan to go on to get a master’s degree in education and teach secondary Egnlish/language arts at the high school level for a few years before obtaining a PhD and becoming a college professor. Luke is a senior or “firstie” at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. After he graduates on May 26,2012, he will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army. As you see in the picture above, he recently found out on Dec. 2nd that his branch will be Field Artillery! I was so proud of him for getting his first choice for branch, and we can’t wait to see what the future has in store for us during his Army career.

Anyway, Luke and I met in the summer of 2010 at U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, located on Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. As a native of Huntsville, I have worked at USASMDC as a summer intern for the past five summers, writing feature stories and technical fact sheets for their Public Affairs Division. West Point sent Luke down to SMDC for a three-week internship in engineering, since he is a systems engineering major at the very beginning of that summer. We  met, talked non-stop for 40 hours a week (neither of us got much work done! haha), went on a few dates and began to fall in love. I was only 19 years old when we met, and it seems incredible that we found each other and have made it work as well as we have (although I must admit, he has been the glue that has held us together many times.) I consider myself to be an extremely lucky girl to have a man like him to love.

After that three-week time period at SMDC, Luke had to go back to New York to supervise Beast for the new cadets at West Point. That lasted six weeks, and we weren’t able to talk much during that time because he was very busy and spent a good bit of time in the field. He came back to see me for a weekend during his summer leave after Beast though, and we knew we wanted to make it work, even from thousands of miles apart. And so we began what has been the greatest l0ng distance relationship of my life.

Long distance isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but when you love someone the way we love each other, the kind of love that awakens the soul and makes you feel more alive than you have ever felt in your entire lives combined, we have found it can work (And work amazingly, I might add!) We have had many adventures together throughout our relationship so far, and I can say, we have both traveled a fair amount. He is from Hickory, North Carolina, so even over the upcoming Christmas Break, we will be traveling between Huntsville, AL and Hickory to visit both of our sets of parents. We have spent time together in Huntsville, Ala; Tuscaloosa, Ala; Auburn, Ala; Hickory, North Carolina; Raleigh, North Carolina; New York, New York; West Point, New York; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Gatlinburg, Tenn; the Bahamas (a cruise this last summer) and one ill-fated trip for our one-year anniversary to Jackson, Mississippi. Lol I guess you could say we are becoming somewhat experienced at traveling. (Since we started dating, I have learned to pack so concisely that I don’t have to check a bag, which is somewhat of a miracle for me!)

Our next stop? Lawton, Oklahoma, well Luke will go to complete his BOLC training next Fall for Field Artillery. That will last about four to five months, which is shorter than what some branches have to do, so I guess we are lucky there. After that, he will have to report to his first post location (which as of now is still up in the air, much to my dismay, until Post Night on Feb. 2nd!) We are crossing our fingers to get somewhere in the South so we can be closer together while I finish my last semester of college and begin graduate school.

I can’t wait to see him again in just three short days for Christmas Break, where we will have almost two whole weeks to spend time together! This is extremely exciting for us, as we are always living for the weekends when we can be together.  We were fortunate to see each other seven times over this past semester, which is really good, considering how far apart we live. Our last visit was actually only two weeks ago! I flew up to New York to surprise him for our 1 1/2 year anniversary and branch night! We had a blast celebrating with a chocolate and seafood buffet for dinner on Friday night at the Thayer Hotel and a champagne brunch at the same location on Sunday. We spent a lot of time on post, which was nice because I finally got the grand tour. (We usually spend our New York weekends in the city, sight seeing). Here is a picture from our Sunday brunch:

Posing in front of the Christmas tree in the Thayer Hotel

Hopefully, I will have many more updates over the Christmas holidays. But just in case I don’t find time to write on here between now and when Santa Claus comes to visit, Merry Christmas everyone!

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