A New Home for the New Year

Last Thursday we did something kind of crazy, a little surprising, and incredibly exciting.

We bought a house!

After living in base housing for eight months, we decided to break our lease and move across town (same city, different state). It’s been a chaotic few days (our fourth move in less than two years). We’ve discovered junk that has somehow, despite my best efforts, continued to accumulate. Boxes are strewn around the house in jenga-like towers, clothes remain in piles waiting to be hung. The house is a mess but we’re home, and so incredibly thankful for God’s provision.

Over the past year and a half, we’ve felt a little like gypsies moving from space to temporary space. But we’ve learned a lot about appreciating the space we occupy – even if it’s not our “dream home.” We’ve also learned we don’t need much to be welcoming, loving, and giving to whomever may walk through our front door.

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Eventually everything will be unpacked and organized, but for now here’s a little peak of our new home!

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2016 reflections & 2017 desires

I don’t really know how it’s possible that yet another year has passed and a new one is literally a day away. It feels like just yesterday that everyone was panicking and hoarding in preparation for Y2K…and here we are nearly 17 years later and our lights are still working, our computers still humming, our iPhones chiming…

It’s that time of year when our jeans are tight, our wallets slim, our emotions a little frayed and even raw as we reflect on the past year – the failed resolutions, the mistakes, the disappointments. And at the same time, there is renewed hope at the prospect of turning a new leaf – no matter how many new years we may have ushered in – 15 or 95 – it doesn’t matter. Every January 1 is a fresh start. A new beginning. An opportunity to try again. Make plans. Dream. Resolve.

A lot was packed into 2016. It’s been a very busy year with a lot of traveling and one really long – but amazing – road trip. We left Pensacola at the end of April and embarked on a week-long trip through 11 states. We ate beignets and drank rich cafe au laits at Cafe Du Monde, and wandered through the French Quarter in New Orleans. We stayed the night in Houston and ate bison burgers washed down with ice cold Lone Stars at a tiny dive underneath an overpass. We drove through the Ouachita Mountains of Oklahoma, and camped in the middle of the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas. We made a quick stop in Memphis at the tiniest and somewhat sketchy hole-in-the-wall (which really was just somebody’s kitchen) for award-winning Memphis barbecue, and camped outside of Nashville where we enjoyed giant, flaky and delicious biscuits for breakfast the following morning. We then spent a week and a half with family and friends in North Carolina before heading down to Augusta, Georgia (our new duty station).

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Oklahoma

We had a lot of fun in 2016. Made new memories. Laughed. Decorated our home. Explored our new city. Visited new places. Joined a new church. Connected with new friends. But there’s been hardship too. Occasional loneliness. Bouts of discouragement. Feelings of isolation during the long and brutally hot summer months. We grieved this year as we said goodbye to Pappaw. We gathered together to celebrate his life – reuniting with some family members we hadn’t seen in a while. We shared countless stories, loved on Granny. A bittersweet week honoring a life well lived that we all miss terribly …

There are a lot of resolutions I could make for 2017. (Drink more water, lose 10 pounds, run a half marathon, make more money on Etsy, etc.) But what I really want as we head into 2017 are more opportunities to love, serve, and listen. Three simple things really, but they’re so hard. We’re moving in a few weeks. Which is exciting and kind of insane, considering we just moved seven months ago. We’re buying a house and it really is perfect timing. A new home is exciting for a lot of reasons, but my main desire is that this home will be a haven. A welcoming, and hospitable place where we sit around the table with friends and strangers. Where people can feel free to come and go and know that if nothing else, there will always be coffee.

A few months ago, my mother-in-law gave me a book called First We Have Coffee – a memoir about the author’s mother during the early part of the 20th century. I’ve read a lot of wonderful books this year about hospitality and creating welcoming homes but I think this one was my favorite. Not because it was full of tips or wonderful recipes. But because it was a genuine glimpse of real love. A roaring fire. A welcoming table. Homemade bread. Generous cups of coffee. I think this book is a beautiful reminder that there is indeed a lot of pain, grief, and loneliness in the world. But we should never underestimate the power of listening ears, compassionate hearts, and a hearty meal. That’s what I want for our new home.

That’s what I hope 2017 will bring.

 

My Favorite Books of 2016

 

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In January, I made a devastating self discovery. I realized I had made it through 2015 having only read one lone book. That’s pretty pathetic. I mean, I grew up with my nose stuck in a book – I absolutely adore books, and bookstores, and libraries. But after graduating college, as countless people can attest, I just could not seem to find the time to read anymore. And the sad thing is that my evenings are more likely to be spent watching Netflix than devouring a novel or leafing through a biography. I’ve grown lazy and I realized I missed reading. So I decided that 2016 would be the year that I rekindled my old love affair with books. I created a Goodreads account – possibly the best app ever. And I started a reading challenge. I’m not even close to the 40 books I thought I’d somehow manage to read. But here we are, 18 days away from the New Year and I’m pretty excited to say I have officially finished 24 books (6,372 pages according to my Goodreads account)!

I stumbled across some amazing books this year: a few novels, a handful of classics, a timely political book or two, a few on theology, and just for fun, a couple of biographies. The more I read, the more I crave. This year, I was reminded of a time before Netflix. Before Facebook. Before E-mail. When one of my greatest sources of entertainment and distraction was books. I’m not going to share reviews of all 24 books because that would be absurd. But I thought I’d share my top five favorite books of 2016 – not necessarily books that were written in 2016, but books that I either discovered or finally got around to reading this year. I’ve been challenged and blessed, emotional and contemplative as a result of thoughtful, deep, educated, and compassionate authors. I hope you will be too!

1] Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

This, quite possibly, is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and most definitely my favorite book of 2016. If you are not familiar with Rosaria’s story, I’d recommend starting with her first book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.

This year, I’ve listened to several podcast interviews with Rosaria. I devoured her books and I’ve been so impacted and blessed by this woman’s heart of compassion, hospitality, and deep knowledge of scripture. I finished Openness Unhindered feeling absolutely challenged about the way I engage and interact with unsaved souls, the openness of my home, my own compassion (or lack of compassion) for my neighbors and people in my community.

In this book, Rosaria talks about the history of of sexual and gender identity in the universities and our present culture. She pulls from her own years of research and study as a highly educated woman. She also beautifully and lovingly details Christ’s design for creation, and the beautiful and distinct differences between men and woman. She talks about loving people where they are, cultivating an atmosphere that is open and welcoming – even to people who are different and even sometimes uncomfortable to interact with. She talks about being purposeful and intentional in relationships. Loving people where they are.

If I had a book on hand to just pass out to people, it would be this one.

2] Hiding in the Light by Rifqa Bary

I’m a huge lover of true stories. I devoured Unbroken in four days, and many of the books on my Goodreads to-read list are biographies and true accounts. I first heard Rifqa’s story on a podcast (confession: I discovered a lot of books this year via podcasts), and I knew I had to get my hands on her book. Rifqa was raised in a strict Muslim home in the United States, but had an encounter with God as a young child. This is the story of her salvation, God’s protection and deliverance, a battle with her family and the court system, and ultimately the Lord’s mercy in a situation that seemed impossible. The book is captivating and beautifully written. It’s also incredibly sobering, and convicting in the kind of way that forces one to examine their own hearts and think about what truly matters.

3] Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist

I loved this book for 1,001 reasons. If I could mirror anyone’s writing style, it would be Shauna’s. She’s hilarious, descriptive, and down to earth. Her writing is infectious, her stories so beautifully and wonderfully illustrated. But I think more than anything, I appreciated her genuine approach to just writing about life – the ups and downs, the kitchen successes, and little life disappointments. I found myself relating so deeply to her love of food: discovering new places and associating some of the best memories with delicious food. I can also agree that one of my favorite places to be is around the table, immersed in conversation, passing plates, clinking classes, pouring wine or coffee. Throughout this book, I found myself constantly exclaiming, yes!

4] 1984 by George Orwell

It’s a classic I somehow failed to read in high school. So I read it this year (a super timely book, by the way). This is not a happy book by any means, but it’s an absolutely interesting storyline and one worth reading. It’s gripping. Thrilling. Incredibly interesting. I read several novels this year, but 1984 was certainly the best. And while current New York Times Best Sellers have their place, there’s nothing quite like classic literature.

5] All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

It probably took my two months to finish this novel. It was long, and dealt with difficult subject matter  – Nazi occupied France, a blind girl, and a German orphan. I’ve noticed a lot of readers disagreed about this book. Some thought it was just another predictable WWII novel. But I thought it was brilliant. I was captivated by the storyline, the characters, the mystery. Like 1984, it was not a happy book. It certainly did not have a happy ending. But that’s not always a reason to read books. Sometimes a story cannot possibly end happily. That’s a reality, but it doesn’t mean the story shouldn’t be told. This was a fictional novel, but it was obviously based on non-historic fiction (unlike 1984). I’m a little picky when it comes to novels, but this is a good one that I would definitely recommend especially on a snow day, or a long trip, or just a few hours lounging in a hammock.

Three Thanksgivings

Thanksgiving has long been a favorite holiday of mine. It’s the beginning of the Christmas season, a time for delicious calorie-heavy food, and a welcome opportunity to break from the craziness of life and catch up with family we haven’t seen in months. It’s a season of reminiscing; lots of laughter, sometimes tears.

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For my family, this was the first Thanksgiving without Pappaw. It was different, and a little sad. But also sweet. Because sitting together and digging through boxes of old pictures and memorabilia sparked so many stories and memories. We found childhood drawings and letters we’d sent to Granny and Pappaw decades ago. We laughed at awkward family pictures, and passed around old family photographs from the early 1900s. I think this year, more than ever before, we were all reminded of our beautiful inheritance.

I’ve recently realized that most people don’t have cousins they can sit around a table with for hours, drinking pour over coffee, sipping red wine, eating buttery pop corn, laughing out loud, playing hand after hand of Oh Shucks, quoting movie lines, loving life together. We are a family of laughter and joy. Even with the heartache of this past year, the difficulties of life in general, the miles apart (many of us spread out in different states and countries). This year, we all returned. My sister from Mexico, my brother from college, my husband and I from Augusta. This year, for the first time in many years, we all met together again at the home that holds some of the happiest memories.

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I am thankful for these 28 years with my family. Twenty-seven with pappaw. Almost three with my husband. And as we’ve left the nest, and started this new military life, it’s been so important to me that we carry on a legacy of hospitality with our Navy family here. This past week, we enjoyed three separate and uniquely different Thanksgiving meals. Yes, it’s a lot of food. But more importantly, it’s a lot of fellowship. A table full of beautiful souls.

A few months ago, I commissioned my brother to build us a six foot farmhouse table. Now I realize everyone and their mother currently has a farmhouse table or is making one, or at least dreaming about one. It’s a trend that has caught on like wildfire – and for good reason. Farmhouse tables are beautiful and welcoming. I wanted a space where people could gather, converse, laugh, swap stories, enjoy food, drink wine, break bread. I told my husband to invite everyone. Our house is small. Parking is a problem. The turkey was only 13 pounds. But I didn’t care. Come one, come all. I decorated for Christmas, roasted a turkey, turned up Bing Crosby, made a bowl full of homemade cranberry sauce (boiled down from plump cranberries in water, orange juice, and sugar, with a just a hint of cinnamon). Last Tuesday night, we had a house full of sailors. One soldier. A few wives. The house was loud. We ran out of chairs. But somehow, there was plenty of food. I made homemade hot apple cider and passed around tupperware overflowing with brownies.

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And once again, I felt grateful for this opportunity. I knew very few of the people gathered around the table. But it didn’t matter because I absolutely believe that the walls of separation diminish when you sit down to share a meal with a stranger.

Our third Thanksgiving took us back home to North Carolina for two days. After far too much turkey, casseroles, and pie, my mother in law decided to bake a few lasagnas instead – a very welcome reprieve from all the leftovers we’d been consuming for days. This time, we gathered with my husband’s sweet family. Grandparents. Sister. A brother home from college. It was intimate and welcoming. We ate leftover pumpkin cheesecake, and turned on the fire as the temperature dropped outside.

I know it’s a cliche to say I’m thankful for family. But I am. I have a rich, beautiful heritage that has only grown sweeter with age. We’re surrounded by a growing group of supportive sailors and soldiers who actually enjoy hanging out with us, pet sitting, or coming over for a meal. And to top it all off, I married into a loving family of servant-hearted individuals.

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

 

An Editorial: America, we still have it pretty good

I was pretty shocked yesterday. I know I shouldn’t be shocked by emotional and dramatic political Facebook statuses anymore. But I was. Not because I don’t understand the disappointment of waking up to a Trump presidency (I certainly do), but because I don’t understand the “woe is me” mentality of the masses. I saw countless admonishments against celebrating (I was not celebrating Trump, by the way, but there is great relief knowing Clinton will never be president, which I think is why most people who chose to celebrate were celebrating at all). Other statuses literally reminded us to be kind and compassionate because we don’t want to trigger *all* minority groups who are mourning and (basically) in fear of their lives.

Meanwhile, the upset people of America are declaring that the election results prove one thing: hatred, misogyny, and bigotry is alive and well in America, and at least half of the country (the idiots who voted for Trump) are seething with prejudice and racism. America, apparently, has gone to hell in a hand basket. Please don’t gloat. Don’t even talk about this election. We’re going to our safe spaces because we’re all too sensitive to deal with democracy and an outcome we didn’t like.

I know I’m a little biased, but I honestly wonder how the feelings of fear and worry of the unknown could have been any different had we awoken Nov. 9th to another Clinton presidency? Many argue Trump is worse. But I would say we had two pretty terrible options – one is brash, obnoxious, and offensive, the other is a lot more polished but is calculating, manipulative, and dishonest (not to mention a criminal).

We don’t know what the future holds. But we do know that right now, America still has it pretty good. I’m not saying things are perfect – racial divides remain, poverty still exists, and yes, even hatred, misogyny, and bigotry are present in some pockets of America. It’s something we have to keep fighting against (which will never happen so long as we’re all divided and attacking one another). It’s easy to bemoan whatever lemons life hands us, but we’re blessed here in America.

Not too long ago, much of Europe was steeped in Communism – do you really think anyone living under a communist regime had any freedom whatsoever? Especially minorities. If you don’t like your dictator, too bad. And the consequences for speaking out about such a thing were far worse than they are here. In America, you might get a nasty comment on your Facebook status. In the USSR, you’d be sent to Siberia or worse. Today, countries throughout the world truly suffer things we here in America cannot even imagine: persecution, genocide, terrorism, censorship, extreme poverty, human trafficking, droughts, hunger, dirty water, etc., etc., etc.

And yet, Americans are worried about trigger words and finding safe spaces because the pain of a Trump presidency is too much to bear. I’m not lacking in compassion. I know our situation is not ideal. But friends, this is democracy. I was not a fan of President Obama – my alma mater had a campus wide celebration the night he was elected. The thought did not even cross my mind to find a “safe space” to cry it out. Many of us may not have wanted such an extreme president (with socialist leanings), but we woke up the next day and moved on. Every election cycle, a major chunk of America is inevitably disappointed. I mean, we dealt with the Nixon scandal, and then the Clinton scandal, and later Bush’s poor judgment and a very controversial war, and then Obama and some major bad decisions (including a failed attempt at a new health care system). And now we’ve arrived at another cycle, with a third of America indifferent, a third overjoyed, and a third (instead of disappointed or bummed out) is either rallying in the streets or hiding in their “safe spaces.”

It’s time to grow up. We’ve been given some major lemons. It’s ok to be disappointed. Like an athlete losing a major game – be bummed out, shed a tear if you need to. But then wake up the next day and figure out how to move on.

Maybe there’s comfort in believing the fallacy that at least half of Americans are haters, bigots, and misogynists. I wrote yesterday on Facebook, that unfortunately, hate and depravity have existed since the fall of man (when Adam and Eve blatantly disobeyed God in the Garden). Sin entered the world, bringing with it decades of deviancy, immorality, prejudice, vile hatred, and misogyny. Evil has existed for a long time, and because of that evil is alive and well in America, as it is in the rest of the world. This isn’t a cop out. It’s just a reality. But evil is not necessarily the embodiment of one political party over another, and is certainly not encapsulated in the entire group of people who voted for Trump. It’s incredibly idiotic to declare that Trump’s victory indicates that Americans are racist. Just as it’s idiotic to declare that anyone voting for Hillary is a crook or a socialist. Many people went to the polls with noses held. We knew our choices weren’t great. But when it comes down to it, the choice between an offensive, brash, and arrogant candidate, versus a compulsive liar who defended a rapist, attempted to silence and discredit her husband’s alleged abuse victims, violated national security, lied about Benghazi (was potentially responsible for the unnecessary slaughter in benghazi), advocated for late term and partial birth abortion (was the recipient of the Margaret Sanger award – founder of Planned Parenthood who was a eugenist and outspoken racist), stooped to racist and divisive tactics in 2008, etc., many decided they’d rather have Trump.

It was not only privileged, white (and racist) men who turned out to vote for Trump. It was also women. Blacks. Latinos. Unexpected minorities who are tired of being used and abused by a system that really only cares about them for one reason: votes. Most voters who voted for Trump do not naively believe he’s the answer to our problems. But we know Hillary certainly is not. We were faced with an impossible choice really. Some chose not to vote. Others wrote in third party candidates, or Harambe, or Leslie Knope. Ultimately, I honestly believe most of us – whatever we did on Nov. 8th – attempted to make decisions according to our consciences. And our consciences did not all match up. And that’s ok. We did the best we could. And now we’ve got to make lemonade.

We’ve got to stop crying, America. Stop complaining about trigger words, because I hate to break it to you, but we’re going to be hearing Trump’s name a heck of a lot for the next four years at least. And if you can’t deal with it, then maybe you should move to Canada (if you can get in). The beauty of America, the blessing of America, is that a president’s career has a time stamp on it. We do not have a monarchy or a totalitarian government. We have a system of checks and balances, states with rights to govern individually. And we have the freedom to speak out and even complain as much as we want.

We still have it pretty good. But the question is, what are we going to do to make it better?

October 2016: A Little Life Update on Moving + Friendship

October has arrived in all the glory of less humidity (thank goodness) – a welcome reprieve.

Photo by Sarah Southern

Photo by Sarah Southern

I’ve found myself buying more pumpkins than I know what to do with, wandering around the local produce tents and admiring all the fall things (while still wearing tank tops and shorts because even though the humidity has died down, the temperatures are still in the mid-eighties). In Augusta, we make chili, light pumpkin spice candles, and turn down the AC – pretending that outside it’s brisk and cool enough for boots and sweaters!

Photo by Sarah Southern

Photo by Sarah Southern

In all seriousness though, our fall has been glorious. While missing the beautiful colors of a North Carolina autumn, I am rejoicing in the glory of church fellowship, new friendships and opportunities, and a growing appreciation for the area. It’s been a long time coming – a hot, slow, and rather dull summer (with a few fun trips thrown in). Battles with loneliness and discontentedness, many tears, many coffee dates with me, myself, and I. Honestly though, I think I needed it. I needed to go through this lonely period because I’ve learned a lot through it. I’ve learned to persevere and not give up on finding community and friendship. I’ve learned how to extend myself far beyond my comfort zone (often going into unknown territories – strangers homes full of dozens of people I’ve never met). I’ve learned to be observant of others just like me – women longing for friendship and not really knowing how to initiate. I’ve learned (and am continuing to learn) that a new adventure or experience is what we make it – we’re either open to opportunities (regardless of the zip code), or we waste our time, counting down the days until we can get the heck out of here.

Gracious, that’s a lot of lessons to learn. And I’m still learning, still being challenged, and (Lord willing) still growing.

Yesterday, we realized it’s been a year since my husband graduated bootcamp. In many ways it’s been the most emotional and hectic year of our lives! So much has happened since his inaugural day as a United States sailor! There have been moments I’ve wondered what the heck we’re doing. Why leave a solid community, good jobs, a great church, loving family, and fantastic friends? I think the answer is that growth often comes in the pursuit of the unknown. Not everyone is called to leave their hometowns – and that’s a good thing. But I do think we’re all called to take risks, venture outside our comfortable bubbles of familiarity, and give the uncertain future to a God who is entirely trustworthy.

Photo by Sarah Southern

Photo by Sarah Southern

This is something that requires a lot of practice. I’m learning so much. Failing often, and starting all over again and again. But I guess I can see a little more clearly now, as is often the case. The hardest thing about our move to Augusta was the overwhelming feeling of loneliness. It’s the same feeling I experienced 16 years ago at 12 years old when I stood in the driveway of our new house in our new hometown. I felt so alone – believing I’d never make friends (oh, the many insecurities that come with youth). And yet that was the date I met my husband (God indeed has a wonderful sense of humor). That move led to lasting friendships, wonderful opportunities, an incredible church. At 27, I was confronted once again with 12-year-old Sarah. “I’ll never make friends. No one wants to hang out with me! Everyone else already has their cliques and girlfriends!” And yet God was pushing me. Quietly whispering, “Say hello. Invite them to dinner. Go to that event. Don’t be afraid of rejection.” And you know what I’ve discovered? Other people are longing for friendships too. Other people are lonely. They’re also just waiting for an invitation, a kind smile, an intentional greeting. And when we can brush aside our feelings of awkwardness, our own self awareness, and take risks, friendships are formed. Walls come crumbling down. Expressions of helplessness turn to expressions of gratitude and joy.

 

Photo by Sarah Southern

Photo by Sarah Southern

It’s true what C.S. Lewis says: “to love is to be vulnerable.” When we love, we risk rejection. And that’s a scary thing. But when we withhold love and distance ourselves we are potentially missing out on the glory of fellowship. We are wired to desire community. And that’s what I’m learning – becoming a recluse, staying home, and waiting for friends to line up at my door is never going to happen. I must be proactive – become vulnerable. And I have been. More and more so these last few months. There have been some rejections, but mostly budding and blossoming relationships. It’s amazing, I’ve found, the power of a meal shared between strangers. Afterwards, we often find we’ve already arrived at friendship – isn’t that a beautiful thing?

One Year Later

Savannah River, Augusta, GA

Savannah River, Augusta, GA

My husband reminded me last week that we’ve just passed our one year anniversary in the Navy. A year ago, I dropped off my soon-to-be-sailor at a hotel in Raleigh (after squeezing his neck and sobbing into his shirt collar for half an hour). We had two more phone calls before all communication was cut off (with the exception of an occasional letter). In the past year, we changed careers, sold our very first home, moved to Pensacola (where we continued to live separately for two more months); and after six months in Florida, ventured on a seven-state road trip, returned to North Carolina to pack up our things, and relocated to Augusta, Georgia.

A lot has been packed into one year. A whole heck of a lot of new. Lots emotions. Some loneliness. Countless blessings.

I heard a beautiful reminder recently about the importance of remembering our journeys. I think about the Israelites who erected pillars in remembrance of what God had done… These days, we move on, get over, run past the tough stuff. We forget to slow down, reflect, thank the Lord for His goodness. I don’t want to forget what God has brought us through, or the lessons He’s taught us together and separately.

“…set up road markers for yourself; make yourself guideposts; consider well the highway, the road by which you went…” (Jeremiah 31:21)

I did not want to move to Augusta. I was beyond ready to experience something other than the South. I wanted to live in a new state, explore new surroundings (preferably near mountain ranges). The last thing I expected was orders for hot-and-humid Augusta, Georgia. It’s been a tough three months. It’s taken a lot of diligence to meet people (me venturing into uncomfortable and unknown situations to get involved). But as I’ve pushed myself, as husband and I have extended dinner invitations, visited churches, and gone to military and local events, our dislike for the area has begun to fade.

Augusta may not have been our first choice, but there’s a reason that we’re here. We’re starting to notice beauty, we’re making friends, and learning to appreciate our current duty station. And we’re also reminded of how far we’ve come in the last year. My husband is home again, we’re living together again. We finally have our furniture and belongings (after six months in Pensacola with ugly rented furniture and just a suitcase full of clothes). He left for bootcamp a lowly seaman recruit. Now he’s a genuine sailor. I couldn’t be more proud.

It’s been a good year. A very different year. A year full of learning curves. But I certainly wouldn’t change anything – even the hard stuff. Even Augusta.