December 5, 2013

Tender Tennessee Christmas

We all have that one holiday tune that sparks a certain warm and fuzzy feeling in us this time of year. There is a song that plays in the background of my favorite childhood Christmas memories as my sister and I practiced piano duets in our family room lit by the twinkling glow of a beautiful tree. The December before I began kindergarten, my family moved to Michigan from Knoxville, Tennessee. I don't remember much about living there, but for my mom it was a place she loved full of friends who became family. Listening to Amy Grant's "Tender Tennessee Christmas" that holiday season helped her settle into a home she would grow to love just as much, if not more than the one she had to say goodbye to. Something about the song stuck, and we have continued to enjoy it every Christmas since. Although a bit odd that I have such strong emotions for a song about a state I can hardly associate with, perhaps it was life's crazy way of giving me a sneak peek into my happy future.

Our last holiday in the home that houses all of my best memories

Twenty years later, the song has true meaning for Brad and me. With orders to report to Fort Campbell in January, we celebrated my birthday weekend scoping out what is soon-to-be our new hometown. We made the road trip with hopes that we would return to Missouri with a better understanding of the area and where we'd like to focus our house hunt in January. Instead we returned as homeowners! We fell in love with Clarksville, Tennessee, a city that has it all: a patriotic military community, a bustling shopping street, a cute boutique college town, and a quaint residential area. About halfway between Fort Campbell and Nashville, Clarksville is the fifth largest city in Tennessee and one of the fastest growing in the country. We've always liked to have a bit of separation from military world, and we will be a quick drive from Nashville with unlimited entertainment, shopping, and dining as well as more nursing job opportunities for me.

We found our new home nestled on a wooded cul-de-sac in Parkvue Village, a neighborhood in the "quaint residential area" previously mentioned. To sum up how much we adore it, out of over 15 homes our realtor showed us, it was the only one that we both agreed was perfect. There is not a single thing we wish we could change or mix-and-match with other houses. It has three bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms plus an office and large bonus room. It has a fantastic open floor plan, more than enough room for guests, a big fenced in back yard for Ruby, tons of storage space, an updated kitchen...did I mention lots of room for guests? Start planning your visit please!

I am so ridiculously proud of Brad and myself for working hard to earn this. It is the most rewarding feeling to recognize that the life we are building is a direct reflection of our success, savings, and work ethic together. When we signed our contract with the sellers we learned what the home has meant to them. They built it in 2009 and have since brought two new babies through the front door and will likely welcome their third just in time, a few weeks before we close on the house. I'm glad we will have the opportunity to respect their family's history and fill the house with our own family memories and milestones.

And of course, with Amy Grant on repeat, I am already dreaming about decorating our home for our first Tennessee Christmas together next year!

November 1, 2013

Friday 5's

I've been feeling rather uninspired regarding the blog lately. To the contrary, my life has actually been full of fun! You'd think I'd be bursting to write. Here are a few updates I managed to scrape together to celebrate this beautiful, sunny Friday: 

1. Home Sweet Home? I spent the past two weeks in Michigan visiting friends and family (Brad was gone for a field training exercise). It was a blast to introduce everyone to Ruby, she was a big hit as always.

 I love the smiles she puts on all faces (and how good she looks in green and white)

I have to admit, though, I quickly found myself itching to get back to Missouri. I used to think it was cute but kind of cliche when people would say "home is where the military sends us." Lately I actually believe and feel it to be true. Each return to Michigan feels a little less like home, and wherever our current home may be pulls at my heartstrings more and more. It is very bittersweet.

2. 25. November is here, and a big birthday is approaching for me. A quarter of a! As I look around at my happy little married home full of spoiled fur babies with two framed, hard-to-earn degrees hanging on our wall I can't help but feel pretty darn proud.

3. Eat Worms. Feeling disappointed about our measly showing of trick-or-treaters, Brad and I whipped up a treat of our own and loaded Ruby into the car on All Hallows' Eve for what may become a Witt family tradition.

Graveyard dirt seemed to be just the thing to surprise our friends with at their front doors to show them how much we love and appreciate them! Simple acts of unexpected giving just feel so good sometimes.

4. House Hunters. We finally unpacked the last box from this move (or so it seems) just in time to begin the search for our home near Fort Campbell. To rent or to buy, that seems to be the big debate lately. Advice and your own experiences, especially from our military friends, would be greatly appreciated. Either way, I simply cannot wait to be in a real home with a backyard and space for our family to grow.

5. Weekly Favorite Photo. The two goons in the front drove me and Ruby back to Missouri and toured Fort Leonard Wood. The goon in the back is very happy to have his girls back home.

Happy Friday! Happy November!

October 9, 2013

Baby's Big Reveal

Have you ever found yourself in one of those moments when you have the opportunity to really help someone out but at the small cost of your own sanity? You absolutely know you should keep your mouth shut, but you can't. And you don't. And you most always end up biting off more than you can chew.

Well on Monday afternoon I sent a good luck text to my friend Sondra who was having an ultrasound done the next day that would reveal her baby's gender. I asked if her husband Erwin had been granted time off to go with her to hear the big news. Naturally, the Army does not care about such matters, and as any superwoman military wife would do, Sondra seemed to have accepted that that was just the way it had to be. After I decided that simply would not do, I found myself once again in one of those 'can't keep my mouth shut' moments. Gender reveal party planning in 24 hours? No sweat!

Brad said it well post-party last night as I collapsed into the couch, cursing my sore back, depleted bank account, and tired eyes: "It wouldn't have been true Kayla if you hadn't put your whole heart into it." Half the battle was finding everything I wanted to make my vision come together at our only local store, Walmart. Ugh.

But it did come together! Quite fabulously if I do say so myself. And even though we will be finding pink and blue glitter confetti hidden away in obscure places all over our home for the next few months, it was so worth it. What a privilege it was to be the first to lay eyes on that one simple word that means so much to a growing family and will define the next years of their life.

The actual reveal was done with cake pops, and they turned out so cute! I made them with just the inside core colored pink or blue, so the mom and dad-to-be found out if it would be a little princess or prince after biting into them. I've had many people ask how I made them, so I thought I'd share the idea here:

Colored-Core/Gender Reveal Cake Pops


Inner colored-core:

1 box funfetti cake mix
1 jar funfetti frosting
Food coloring of your choice
  1. Mix cake batter according to box directions, adding food coloring of the desired core color
  2. Bake as directed and allow to cool completely
  3. Add food coloring of the desired core color to frosting 
  4. Break cake into crumbles and mix in entire jar of colored frosting
  5. Roll sticky mixture into balls the desired size of core, keeping in mind that the outer later will make them much bigger (mine were about .75 inches) 
  6. Place in the refrigerator for a few hours

Outer layer:

1 box funfetti cake mix
1 jar funfetti frosting
Lollipop sticks
  1. Mix cake batter according to box directions (NO food coloring)
  2. Bake as directed and allow to cool completely
  3. Break cake into crumbles and mix in entire jar of frosting
  4. Cup small amount of sticky mixture in the palm of your hand and create an indentation in the center with your thumb
  5. Place colored cake ball that has been refrigerated into the center and continue to add to it until an enclosure has been made and you cannot see the color anymore
  6. Roll until smooth and place on a cookie sheet
  7. Press lollipop sticks into the middle of each ball
  8. Allow at least a few hours or overnight to chill in the refrigerator

Cake pops:

1 bag white candy melts
Cake pop stand (optional but helpful)
  1. Melt candy melts according to bag directions
  2. Dip refrigerated cake pops into the melts, holding onto the lollipop sticks
  3. Place upwards in cake pop stand and immediately add sprinkles
  4. Allow candy coating to melt and refrigerate until served

Congratulations Sondra and Erwin on your sweet baby BOY! We are so happy for you and honored to have been a part of your celebration.

October 1, 2013

Ruby Tuesday

Brad grew up with an incredible canine companion named Red Rover, or simply, Red. He was handsome, a self-proclaimed lap dog (although very large), loyal, and a bit of a doofus at times, but above all he was very loved. Red passed away peacefully of old age this December. Although, much to Oliver and Lola's pleasure, Brad now classifies himself as a "cat guy," I have always known that his heart carries a special place for dogs because of Red.

Now we all know I am about as crazy as the crazy cat ladies come. Owning a dog was never something my heart truly yearned for, and the training challenge always felt beyond my scope of knowledge. As an all around animal lover, I of course enjoyed time spent my friends' playful pups, but I even more so enjoyed watching them pick poop up out of the grass after scolding he or she for attempting to eat it. YUCK.

Well, karma and puppy fever have finally won. My days of poop scooping are here as are days full of what I am finding to be one of the best kinds of love --- puppy love. Brad brought this sweet girl home to me last Thursday.

Although she is not quite the same bold hue of Red, "Ruby" just seemed to fit. Her name is a small tribute to a great, old dog and a new one, who will hopefully bring the same amount of happiness to our lives. Ruby amazes us every day with her abounding love, trust, and expanding world. It is such an incredible thing to watch her learn. Her most recent achievement has been successful stair climbing. You would have thought Ruby just won an Olympic gold metal the way Brad and I cheered for and praised her at the top of the steps. We are proud pup parents, to say the least.

So far Ruby has been a dream to train, and her temperament really cannot be beat. When it's quiet time, she cuddles. When it's play time, her happy puppy prance says it all. She has not had one single accident inside. Yes, you read that correct. Not one! She doesn't make a single peep from her crate at night. She trots happily right along beside us on our walks. She lays right down in the passenger seat and rides quietly in the car. When you pick her up she leans hard into your chest, which is possibly the best feeling in the world. In the words of one of Brad's friends, "Is this real life?! It's like I'm snuggling a fluffy cloud!" Everyone who has met Ruby has fallen hard in love with her. She has absolutely stolen our hearts.

And the best part? Ruby is so gentle and calm with Oliver and Lola. My biggest fear of getting a puppy was that it would ruin the personalities of our perfect cats. I researched very in depth how to appropriately introduce them, and so far it is going really well. It will be a slow and cautious but worthwhile process. Right now we have a gate up between Ruby's room and the rest of our place. The cats have been creeping closer every day for a view of the (fluffy and harmless) beast of the master bathroom. We joke that they think they are at the zoo peeking between the bars. So far they have gone nose-to-nose through the gate with no hissing, escape runs, or fear in general. Stay tuned for future pictures of the three of them snuggled up together. Is that too much to hope for?

Even though she is already so well behaved, we will soon be enrolling in some basic puppy training classes together. My ultimate goal is to train Ruby to become a therapy dog. I've experienced first hand on the oncology unit I used to work for how they can completely change the mood of a hospital room, and Ruby's personality is perfect for the job. Everybody can use a little canine love in their lives. Even me. The crazy cat lady who is currently in transition to equally crazy dog lady, all thanks to our little Ruby.

September 20, 2013

Friday 5's

So I have been seriously slacking in the world of blogging. What in the world, one may ask, have I been doing instead with my mass quantity of free time out here in the woods?
  1. Breaking Bad. I'm completely addicted. Not to the blue (obviously), but to Heisenberg and the whole dang crew. So much so that I am now proud but also a little ashamed to say I am officially up to date and ready to watch the last two episodes in real time with the rest of the BB addicts out there. I'm feeling a tad nervous though that I'm getting overly attached. My heart breaks a little and I tend to mourn like I've lost loved ones when I finish a great series of books or shows. 

    The moral of Breaking Bad

  2. Pup Adventures. I have a new walking pal! His name is Scout, and he is a four-month-old bundle of cute...and perhaps a little bit of naughty every now and then. My friend Kristin recently landed an unexpected new job, thus filling my afternoons with endless adventure with her fur baby. Scout and I pride ourselves on mastering the sit, stay, and come this week with a Cheerio treat at the end. It has been so miserably hot here still, our walks usually involve me sweating to near death and daydreaming about a cool, fall afternoon walk together in our hopefully very near future.

  3. Better buy stock in JoAnn's. I've been doing some serious crafting lately. Here is my latest favorite - old house keys turned into sparkly Christmas ornaments! I'm really looking forward to taking the time each holiday season to think of the memories we made in each home.

  4. Viva Las Vegas. We are officially booked for a trip to Vegas to celebrate the 21st birthday of Miss Meredith Witt on New Year's Eve. Not too shabby of a way to end an incredible year for us. 2013, you've been a pretty good one so far.

  5. Pizza Stone Cookies? Yep. You heard me right. I believe Brad's quote was, "You have officially mastered the chocolate chip cookie." A friend suggested I bake my next batch on our new Pampered Chef pizza stone. Why have we been missing out on the perfect cookies all these years?! Try it. I dare you.                                                                                                   

That is all.

Oh, except for one more thing.

Wedding thank you notes are consuming/ruining my life.

Happy weekend everyone!

August 23, 2013

5 on Friday

The past month has been all about new friends and many new things to learn, mostly about Army world, but even about the blog world too. My new friend Kristin of Kristin's kNook has been coaching me in the realm of blogging. She got into blogging as one of many means of surviving life in Alaska during her hubby's two deployments. Army wives really are super women! Anyways, Kristin's "blog of food and thought" is just as fabulous as she is, and it has given me some inspiration for my own blog. So here we go, my very first (drum roll please)...

5 on Friday! 
{five things I am currently loving, five things I'm currently hating, or five things that are just on my mind}

  1. Oh so Pinterest-y. So these mythical new Missouri friends I keep bragging about do exist! We got together this week for a lunch and craft date. It seems as though we all arrived to town expecting the worst and are finding happiness in the comfort of knowing we are all in it together...and have an extensive list of Pinterest crafts and recipes to tackle together as well. 

  2. I knew he was good for something. In our first month of full-time cohabitation, I've discovered some thing new I absolutely love about Brad. Don't get me wrong, I've also discovered some things I definitely could have done without. Hence the reason our guest bathroom has transitioned into my bathroom. Sharing a bathroom with a messy man will be a Fort Campbell thing for me (or in my ideal world, a never thing). Anyways, every morning I find my Kindle and glasses not on my own night stand, but on my husband's. The stubborn book worm in me insists every night I can stay awake for just one more chapter. It gives me such warm fuzzies to know I will always have him there to take such good care of me, even if it is just simple things. After all, it's the little things in life that make it a happy one, right?
  3. Seats for eats. As it turns out, dining room chairs are expensive. Welcome to adulthood! But after one too many of our new friends fell through the tops of moving boxes during dinner, we caved (pun completely intended) and invested in solid seating for our company. I'm also considering Oliver and Lola's career in furniture modeling. 

  4. "Oh my gosh, sir!" What a beautiful ring. One year ago Brad received his West Point class ring, kicking off a very fun firstie year. In all honesty, it has been an interesting adjustment here, one that has given the ring we all 'oooh-ed' and 'aww-ed' over a bit of a hiatus in it's snazzy box. We had many conversations even before moving here that the arrogance of a select few West Pointers ruins things a bit for everyone else. My friends have even confirmed that their husbands are not too fond of many (but not all!) West Point graduates they work with. Just as I knew he would, Brad has been doing a killer job of finding the right balance of being rightfully proud of his education but also humble and respectful. We are crazy happy for our friends in the class of 2014 as they receive their rings today!

  5. Rumor has it. Sunday night. NSYNC reunion. Enough said. 

Happy Friday everyone!

August 14, 2013

Adventure is out there!

Hello, from the Show-Me State

Due to our recent adoption of the military family lifestyle, we have officially become nomads. We will most likely be packing our life into boxes and relocating according to the Army's needs every 2-3 years, sometimes even shorter if Brad is only completing a training course as he is here for six months at Fort Leonard Wood for ENBOLC (Engineer Basic Officer Leadership Course). Rather than seeing this unusual lifestyle as unfortunate, I prefer to think of it as a grand adventure! How many newlyweds our age have the opportunity to experience so much of our country? I've also decided to just embrace it after discovering during the last two years of real adulthood in the work force that I do indeed thrive on change. Some people love it, some people hate it. Me? I'm loving it. Here are a few quick tid bits to give you a historical, geographic, and cultural flavor for where we are, or maybe help you win some fantastic prize on a game show someday, you never know!
  • Capital: Jefferson City
  • History: Missouri was acquired from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase. It was admitted as the 24th state into the union on August 10th, 1821.
  • Fun Facts: Missouri was the starting point for the Pony Express and the Oregon Trail as well as the departure and return point for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, earning it's nickname, the "Gateway to the West." Missouri is a friendly neighbor to eight bordering states, as is Tennessee; no other state in the United States borders more than eight other states.
  • Climate: HUMID (very bad hair days)
  • Geography: The Missouri River runs east to west, separating the plains of northern Missouri and the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri.
  • Famous Natives: Mark Twain (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are set in his hometown of Hannibal, MO), Maya Angelou, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Tina Turner, Cheryl Crow, and Bob Barker among others. Walt Disney founded his first artistic studio, Laugh-o-Gram Studio, which launched his successful career, in Kansas City, MO.
  • Fort Leonard Wood: Home of the United States Army Combat Engineer School, Chemical School, and Military Police School, Fort Leonard Wood was created in December of 1940. It is named after General Leonard Wood, a physician, medal of honor recipient, and Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army in 1910 under President Taft.
  • Holiday History: The popular Christmas song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was originally written for and introduced by Judy Garland in the play Meet Me in St. Louis. The original lyrics included the lines "Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past / Have yourself a merry little Christmas / Pop that champagne cork / Next year we may all be living in New York." Quite humerus considering we just came from the big apple!
  • Sights to See:
    • Rocky Ridge Farm (Mansfield): Historic home of Laura Ingalls Wilder where she wrote the famous Little House on the Prairie books.
    • Missouri State Penitentiary (Jefferson City): Once the largest prison in the U.S. known as "the bloodiest 47 acres in America." The MSP housed 5,200 prisoners at it's peak and is famous for it's paranormal activity. I've already started working on convincing Brad we should go on one of their ghost tours around Halloween!
    • St. Louis: Of course the Gateway Arch, the City Museum (described to me by a new friend as a "giant playground for adults"), a St. Louis Cardinals game, the St. Louis Zoo, the Anheuser-Busch Brewery (me for the Clydesdales, Brad for the beer), and definitely some Christmas festivities.
And those are just a few! As you can see, I've been doing my research. Whoever warned us Missouri would be a dull place to live must not have looked hard enough. Not to mention I've already made some spectacular friends here. We all have been previously warned prior to arriving that we would hate it here, so just to disprove the naysayers we've adopted a similar mentality that it will be what we make of it together. One of my new girlfriends, Kristin, married her husband Alex on the same day as our wedding and celebrated their honeymoon at the same resort in St. Lucia at the same time as us! As if that isn't enough proof that it's a very small world, check out this shot from Kristen's album of honeymoon pictures.

Look very closely...recognize anyone?

In summary, we are here and we are happy, healthy, and ready to explore. Much of the thanks for simply getting us here belongs to our parents. We are so grateful to them for helping us accomplish our first big move and settle into our new place. Brad's mom and dad bounced their way from Michigan to Missouri in a giant U-Haul for us on their anniversary weekend. It doesn't get more devoted and loving than that! And Momma Sue spent a few extra days here with me tackling every single box. I've decided she is the queen of unpacking and making a new house feel like home.

 New favorite cozy nook

I intend to follow through with this master blogging plan at each new post we find ourselves setting up a new home. Some fun facts, a few famous landmarks...what better way to stay on track with what we hope to see and do than to have the blog world anxiously waiting on the edges of their seats to hear more. You are on the edge of your seat, right?

After all, adventure is out there, even at Fort 'Lost in the Woods'!

Please note: Oliver and Lola are having a rough time adjusting to their new life here. They seem entirely uncomfortable and unhappy...

In all seriousness, they think life lost in the woods is just fabulous!

June 26, 2013

Whirlwind of Perfection

Where to begin? The past two weeks have been the biggest emotional whirlwind of my life. Mr. Bradford and I officially became husband and wife on June 15, 2013.
As cliché as it may sound, there is only one word to define our post-wedding feelings: perfection. The only bad part of the day was that it had to come to an end. The ceremony was intimate and romantic as we had hoped it would be (and I somehow managed to refrain from becoming the sobbing bride). Mother Nature blessed us with the most perfect weather. I experienced quite the welcome to the Army during the saber arch that plastered ear-to-ear grins all over the faces of our guests from the very start of the celebration. Beautiful, tearful toasts and blessings were given by some of our favorite people. The dance floor was literally never empty or lacking in the goofiest of moves in true Brad and Kayla style. And every hug we received was followed by a heart-felt sentiment noting how incredibly happy we both looked. It's because we genuinely had never been happier!

Many of you are becoming quite familiar with our friend and photographer Jill Knight of Jillography; she is the mastermind behind the lens of our beautiful engagement pictures as well as those from Brad's graduation day. Well, she has outdone herself once again. If you haven't already, you must visit the sneak peek she posted on her blog (click on the "Hooray!" above). Be forewarned: the happiness of our day captured in these pictures will consume you and force you to feel all warm and fuzzy inside. We can hardly contain our excitement to see all of the pictures she shot from the rehearsal dinner BBQ on Friday, the wedding day, and the farewell brunch on Sunday. The sneak peek from Saturday alone is the bee's knees, the cat's meow, the bomb diggity (Brad's descriptive contribution)...we could go on for days. Enjoy!

So after the best weekend of our lives, we jetted off to Saint Lucia together for our honeymoon. We spent our week in paradise consuming an ungodly amount of ice cream treats and reminiscing about the whirlwind of perfection we had just experienced. One of the highlights for me was an afternoon spent in a very luxurious beach side cabana. We were served breakfast, lunch, and tasty tropical drinks and spent the day just lounging and reading in blissful peace listening to the ocean. In those moments I was finally able to feel myself unwind and truly relax. When we did decide to venture out of our cozy haven of a personal cabana or suite including a patio with a private pool and stunning ocean view (spoiled rotten, I know), we went on some pretty incredible island adventures.

One afternoon we found ourselves soaring through the rainforest treetops on a ziplining excursion. That trip ended on a sour note for me when we stumbled across a very hairy, large tarantula friend. I suppose it is the rainforest after all. On another day we took a speedboat tour around the island. Pit stops included a mineral mud bath and hot springs, a refreshing waterfall swim, an authentic and delicious home cooked Creole meal, and a visit with rainbow-colored fish friends while snorkling some beautiful reefs. It was the best way to see the best and most of Saint Lucia outside of the golden resort gates. We were far from disappointed! The natural beauty of the island is completely breath taking. Experiencing it alone would have been fabulous. Experiencing it hand-in-hand with my new husband was something I will never forget.

So now what? Life does not slow down for us. No way, no how! We are in New York for just long enough to unpack, do laundry, post this blog, and repack. Then we are on our way to Orlando to celebrate the wedding of great friends on the Fourth of July at Disney World. We fly back to New York on Friday, attend another West Point wedding of more dear friends on Saturday, pack up my beloved river oasis apartment on Sunday, and drive back to Michigan on Monday. Say a prayer for our sanity please. As soon as life slows down a bit, if ever, I promise to post all of the graduation, wedding, honeymoon, and summer adventure pictures for your viewing pleasure. Until then, I hope you enjoy Jill's blog and a few of our favorite honeymoon memories below.

Looks as though life will continue to be a whirlwind of perfection for awhile for the newly-wedded Witts!

Welcome to Saint Lucia!

Panorama of our patio, private pool, and ocean view

Cabana day

Cabana view

The famous Pitons behind us on our boat cruise

Sunset from our patio

Tanned and happy Mr. & Mrs.

May 27, 2013

The Long Gray Line

Before Brad left for West Point's 'Beast' boot camp, he gave me a CD to listen to while he was away. "All My Loving" by Jim Sturgess {listen here!} from the movie Across the Universe was track number one. There were many lonely days that I listened to it on repeat more times than was probably healthy. I wrote to Brad every single day as our only form of communication, and he still has a hard time expressing how much those letters meant to him. Our relationship was still so new at that point, but there was no denying we were falling in love.

Track number one again played on repeat for me recently, but this time silently in my head. As I waited for the commencement ceremony for the United States Military Academy Class of 2013 to begin, a wave of nostalgia hit me. As I sat in the freezing rain in my bright red poncho and rain boots I had begrudgingly worn rather than my adorable planned sundress (yes, the weather was that bad), I thought about the lyrics, what they meant to me then, and what they mean to me now. Four years have come and gone, and so much has happened! I was accepted to and graduated from nursing school, we adopted two kittens, I moved to New York. We traveled together to Key West, Las Vegas, Boston, San Francisco, Alaska, and France. We watched Michigan State win a lot and Army lose a lot of football games (sorry love, couldn't resist). We both said goodbye to our childhood homes as our parents moved on to bigger and better things. Brad asked a big question, and I said yes. A lot can happen in four years, just to name a few.

And now we can add one very big one to the list. Brad has joined the long gray line as a West Point graduate. He is now a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army and will join the 36th Engineer Brigade at our first duty station, Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

One thing that did stay the same as Brad journeyed from lowly plebe to officer rank was love. The love we share, love from our families, and love from new and old friends alike. Just as my daily letters got Brad through boot camp and a silly love song helped me survive, it is because of all of the love in our lives that we celebrated a very big accomplishment in rainy Michie Stadium on May 25th together. The weather of graduation day, although a bummer, did not dampen the happiness of the graduates, family, and friends one single bit. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise to hide the tears of joy that fell like waterworks down my cheeks as I got that much anticipated first hug on the field.

To 2LT Witt: Okay, okay. I guess you can take some of the credit. Maybe it wasn't entirely love that got you to graduation day. I suppose a good deal of late nights, physical challenges, hard work, and lessons learned in leadership were necessary on your part too. For some odd reason I expected you to come out of the barracks for the big reveal in your new officer's uniform as a different person. Much to my delight, you are the same exact guy I fell in love with four years ago, just with a spiffy new get-up and admirable title and career to match. You earned this, and I could not possibly be more proud of you. In fact, watching you graduate and commission was the proudest moment of my life so far. Choosing to serve our country in a time of conflict and uncertainty speaks volumes of your selflessness and courage. No matter where Army life takes us from here, together or far apart, know that I am always right beside you. You have "all my loving," always.

From R-Day...

West Point would post pictures of the new cadets every day during boot camp. My summer was spent in a tiny cubicle in the call center at Whirlpool Corporation. Needless to say, I spent many hours scouring their website searching for a familiar face in a sea of soldiers. Here is what I found... Graduation Day!  

As captured by the photojournalism queen (who we are blessed to call our dear friend), Jill Knight of Jillography
We are forever grateful to you for giving us the gift of such awesome and emotion-packed pictures.
© Jillography 2013 /

May 11, 2013

South Circle Five

"To do what nobody else will do, a way that nobody else can do it, in spite of all we go through; is to be a nurse."

I walked onto south circle five in 2011 as unprepared as every new graduate nurse. I will be the first to admit I was completely, but innocently, ignorant regarding exactly how unprepared I truly was. You come out of a rigorous, nationally ranked nursing program feeling on top of the world, proudly displaying your new badge with 'BSN' in bold and all capitals. But then your first patient's heart stops beating; you call your first code blue. Or a red-faced physician screams in your face. The most self sufficient patient in your assignment consumes all of your time and energy, leaving you feeling guilty about the ones who may have needed you more. Your time management skills (and bladder capacity) are tested far beyond your wildest dreams, and you start to wonder what you got yourself into. Is the stress of this career worth it? Am I really making the difference I set out to make when I decided to become a nurse?

In addition to the typical challenges of novice nursing, my first acute care position opened my eyes to something that those who know me best know is actually one of my biggest fears: death. Many of our patients on south circle five, also known as the Oncology Care Unit, are dying. Bad things happen to the best people and families. That is the cold, hard reality I had to face. One of my most memorable patients gave me a handwritten recipe card of her favorite family dessert as a gift. She wrote,

"To Kayla, my angel. Thank you for your care, 
your hard work, and above all, your love."

She died about a month after. I cried so hard that night as I held on tightly to her card, but in that moment I made myself a promise. Each fall using hand-picked granny smith apples (her specific recommendation for best results), I will smile and honor her memory with her famous apple crisp. I know that is exactly what she would want me to do.

I think people and challenges come into your life at exactly the time you need them most. Being surrounded by something so many people try hard not to think about and something that is very scary to me has helped me see the bigger picture. We have to acknowledge death as a part of life in order to live it better. Death is often unfair and too soon, and that simple truth has helped me make a conscious effort to let the little things go and be happy with the simplicity of day-to-day life.

So right now you might be feeling totally impressed by all of my wise realizations and deep sentiments, but I can't take credit for making the journey alone. My nurse manager told me during my interview that she has the best team. She was absolutely correct. I remember being forewarned by professors about workplace violence and experienced nurses eating their young. If there was one thing I did show up prepared for on day one it was this, but what I witnessed was the exact opposite.

There was not a single shift that I felt unsupported or berated for my lack of experience. My craziest days physically always included an extra set of hands or two to help me catch up, and my toughest days mentally always ended with a hug from a co-worker. My preceptor Renee, who I am convinced may have one of the kindest hearts on this planet, told me something in the very beginning that stuck with me: if we aren't aware of and open to our insecurities, we won't succeed. Whether applied to a career like ours that literally involves life or death or even just to everyday life, this is such an important thing to understand. I was never made to feel that my questions were stupid, and I am still learning new things every single day. It is such a great feeling to reflect on all of the confidence I have gained because of all I've learned. I'm not sure that my co-workers realize the role they have played in my life (but I am hoping many of you will read this and smile!). The same nurse manager that boasted about having the best staff now includes me in that incredible team. Her goodbye to me was something along the lines of,

"Your OCU family is always here for you. 
We raised you and love you." 

Again, she was spot on. The fabulous ladies (plus Jim and Mike too of course!) of south circle five are the most compassionate people I have had the pleasure of knowing personally and professionally. They have helped mold me into the nurse I have become and am still growing into. Instead of feeling upset about having to say goodbye, I am trying to cling to the hope that our military lifestyle with frequent relocation will lend itself to many more opportunities to meet different groups of equally wonderful nurses and friends.

As I move on to my next nursing opportunity I am overwhelmed by how fortunate I was to have had this one as my first. I will always carry it with me. The challenges, bad days, and difficult patients really are as tough as they seem, but I've definitely come to the conclusion that I am in fact making the difference I set out to make when I decided to make this my career. Nursing is worth it.

To every single person that helps make south circle five at Vassar Brothers Medical Center what it is - thank you, I love you all! You will be greatly missed, thought of frequently, and cherished always.

April 22, 2013

My Soap Box

Crazy cat lady steps onto soap box.

When I was four years old, my dad and I stumbled upon two precious tiny tabby kittens in a local Tennessee pet store. Later named Emily and Ella, our new feline friends quickly earned a place in our hearts and there they will forever remain. My very first memories as a child include Emily and Ella; I grew up with their love. Ella became our first angel in 2009, and Emily joined her sister in 2012 just shy of her nineteenth birthday but not lacking in feisty spirit. Anyone who knows the Rantz family well knows that our cats are of the utmost importance to us. All four of us, even my sister whose eyes instantly redden and swell within five feet of cats, are the definition of crazy cat people. Emily and Ella were not just our pets, they were family.

As my relationship with Brad grew stronger and we began to plan my move to New York, I knew there was only one thing that could make my new place feel like home. Brad surprised me on the eve of my graduation from Michigan State with an eight-week-old brother and sister kitten duo. When you lose a furry friend you think your heart will never recover or love another as you did your new angel. I discovered in my first moments with Oliver and Lola that the best part of being a true animal lover is realizing that there is always more room in your heart for an animal in need. Their mom had abandoned them immediately after birth in the woods, but fortunately a kind soul contacted Always Hope Animal Rescue in time for them to swoop in just prior to their scheduled date to be euthanized. Every first big move away from home comes with a few moments of fear and loneliness. Mine were always eased by Oliver's constant smile (yes, I swear he is always smiling) and Lola's loving purr. Words cannot accurately describe how much we love them.

Even though Emily and Ella were perfect childhood companions from a reputable pet store, Oliver and Lola helped me develop a new found appreciation for the extreme importance of caring for and adopting rescue animals. It is upsetting to me that puppies and kittens are bred and sold for huge amounts of money when an unimaginable number of perfect pets are killed every day in over-capacity shelters. I once saw a graphic social media picture bringing awareness to this issue of a pile of literally hundreds of euthanized shelter cats. I don't think that image will ever leave my mind or heart. Rescue animals have such kind, gentle, and trusting personalities because they were raised by loving human hands from an early age. Certainly all animals deserve safe and happy homes, but why not focus more attention on spaying, neutering, and adopting from rescue shelters to help fix our overpopulation problem?

Rather than just standing on my soap box and shouting at the top of my lungs, I have recently decided to practice what I preach. I have opened my home and heart to rescue kittens. How could I resist an orphaned brother and sister pair whose mom had just died? Not to mention the little boy is Oliver's doppelgänger! I'm proud to report the little rascals are healthy, growing, and melting the hearts of everyone who meets them. When presented with a fostering opportunity by a co-worker, I'll admit I was hesitant for a few reasons. Could I learn to take care of kittens that are too young to be apart from their mom? Could I love them with just enough emotional separation that I could say goodbye at the end of my time with them? Brad was actually the one to suggest we keep them, not me! I knew I loved that guy for a reason. But even with his blessing, the logical side of me admitted four is just too many. Not to mention Oliver and Lola are just too perfect to risk any jealousy or health mishaps. Perhaps my first fostering experience has become a little easier knowing we won't have to entirely say goodbye. The little peanuts will be following in Emily and Ella's perfect paw prints as happy new additions to my mom and dad's home!

Please consider adopting your next furry family member from a rescue shelter. Or even make a small donation to one! April is the ASPCA's "Prevention of Animal Cruelty" month, and every loving effort helps.

Crazy cat lady steps off of soap box. Probably to go cuddle a cat.

"Adopt a rescue pet! Pretty please?!"

March 21, 2013

Life is sweet, love is sweeter

The wedding festivities have officially begun!

On Friday afternoon, all of the lovely ladies who make up my half of the bridal party gathered together for one last fling before the ring. These girls are busy saving lives, educating our youth, crunching real estate numbers, and...baking cakes? (Love you, Meredith!) But seriously, how incredible that six people can be so selfless as to rearrange their busy work and school lives to spend the weekend with me. I'm still speechless and so thankful. Don't get me wrong, living near Brad is wonderful, but I forgot how perfect life feels when laughing with my best friends.

All of the weekend events were a complete surprise to me and planned entirely by my family and friends. It was a very welcome change to not worry about any of the day's details. We started off at Renewed Spirit Spa with manicures, pedicures, and massages for all. After a few glasses of champagne and a blissful massage, Despi's massage therapist came out and said to us with an ear-to-ear smile, "She's toast!" We laughed as each of us came out in the same dream-like state with noodles for legs, lion's mane hair, and the goofiest grins plastered on our faces. Needless to say, we all really needed and enjoyed an afternoon of pampering and complete relaxation.

Beautified bride and bridesmaids

Next we indulged in one of my favorite cravings from college: Clara's basil cream chicken tortellini and a jolly rancher cocktail to drink. YUM. More lovely friends from college met up with us here to join in on the fun too, and of course I donned the classic bachelorette sash and tiara overdosed in glitter. Afterwards, we headed to a hotel suite big enough for all of us and did what all reunited girlfriends should naturally do to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of one of the crew. We jammed to 90's feel-good tunes (primarily NSYNC), played "pin the junk on the hunk", and guessed who bought me each set of cute new lingerie. I loved every minute of it and would not have done it any other way. What I appreciate most is that my friends know me so well and love me as I am; they knew I did not want to be taking shots at the bar from strange men and completing embarrassing scavenger hunt tasks. It's just not who I am. Instead they tailored the night to be exactly as I would have planned it myself. You know the day has been perfect when it ends with three snuggled into a bed for two, carefree and chatting until the wee hours of the morning.

 "You are the bikini to my bottoms"
With my happy-meter completely full, could things possibly get any better? YES. Anyone who knows me and/or my family knows we are planners and detail perfectionists. Even though I know this to be true, the bridal shower my mom and sister Whitney planned for me brought me to tears. The loft my parents live in above their restaurant in downtown Lansing was completely transformed into a beautiful cupcake themed party for 30 of my closest female friends and family.

The transformed loft

We snacked on heart shaped sandwiches and brightly frosted cupcakes while Meredith and Aura earned top marks for knowing the most about us nearly newlyweds. My bride's luck even came through for me with a near perfect guessing game estimate of 78 for a jar full of 77 colorful cupcake papers! My handsome fiancé joined the party (late...typical Bradford) to open gifts that will soon help make our first house together feel like a home. We all know and lovingly accept that Brad is chronically late, but his poor timing was actually quite comedic this time. I had just opened a fun cocktail shaker with built in drink recipes and said to the beautiful (inside and out!) gift-giver Lauren Blaine, "I so wish Brad was here, this was the one thing he put on the registry and really wanted!" As if we had planned it, he walked in at that exact moment. It is in situations like these that rather than wishing he had been on time as I had begged him to be the day before, I love learning to embrace the unexpected laughter of life. On a more sentimental note, we also received a handmade picnic quilt from my Grandma Marge. As the entire room was oohing and awing I was choking back tears feeling like the luckiest granddaughter in the world. It is something so special that we will cherish for the rest of our lives and as our family grows. The day's laughter, sentiment, and loads of generosity left us positively overwhelmed. It is a very rare treat to have so many of the women and girls you admire and love the most in one room celebrating a special occasion together. We are so blessed.

 Stitched with love

  My nanny girls

Now all we need are those handsome groomsmen

Either due to a cupcake sugar high or simply an emotional high, we headed back to New York feeling on top of the world. Thank you to everyone who helped make my weekend so extraordinary. To my mom, Whitney, Meredith, Aura, Despi, Michelle, and Erin: everything was absolutely perfect. I could never say thank you in a way that would express it to match the enormity with which I feel it. I love you all!