Friendship, Food & Fredericksburg

Friendship is a funny thing. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes friendships completely die out, never to be rekindled. Others may fade but remain significant. I especially appreciate the friendships that last – even without phone calls or Christmas cards or frequent visits. I’m learning to appreciate and give thanks for the friendships in my life that have truly endured through decades. Though they look different now (years later), though some are more “Facebook friendships” than real life friendships, they still mean the world to me.

This weekend, husband and I traveled to Fredericksburg, Virginia, to witness my middle school best friend get married. I haven’t seen her in at least eight years, and it’s been even longer since I’ve seen her family (seven siblings who are all grown now). It was a sweet time of catching up, rehashing old memories, talking about mutual friends and our awkward home school years.

I feel incredibly blessed that some of the best friendships I’ve ever had still remain in my life, even if it’s only through the occasional Facebook message or wedding ceremony.

When we moved from Boiling Springs to Burlington, NC, I thought my life was over. I was 12 and incredibly emotional, insecure, and terrified of starting over. As we said goodbye to our dear friends (who drove with us to help us move in), we said hello to a new family (the very same day) – who would later become my own family. The strange boy standing in the driveway with the oversized shirt and glasses would become my husband. Sixteen years later and that boy would accompany me to Fredericksburg to witness my dear friend (who helped us move in and said a tearful goodbye 16 years ago) marry the love of her life. Isn’t life funny? Everything comes full circle. And though friendships change, I never want to forget the gift that friendship is.

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Downtown Fredericksburg

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Fredericksburg, please go. Please. The area is beautiful and we welcomed the break from hot and humid Augusta (the evenings are already cool up in Virginia!).

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We spent Saturday and Sunday morning walking around, meandering through historic streets, taking in the beautiful architecture, and scenery. According to the official website, there are more than 100 boutiques, antique shops, book stores (my favorite thing), art galleries and studios just in the downtown area! Downtown Fredericksburg is on the Rappahannock River, which is a short walk from the city center.

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Another perk – parking was a breeze (and it’s free). We’ve visited enough cities in the last year where parking has been incredibly stressful and expensive (New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston, etc.), so I pay attention whenever we visit downtowns with free and easy parking!

Food

Brunch: There are so many amazing restaurants in Fredericksburg, but unfortunately we did not have the time (or money) to try all of them. My belief is that you can’t really experience a new place without experiencing the local cuisine. Thanks to the recommendation of some friends (and Yelp), we decided to eat brunch at FoodE, a rustic farm-to-table eatery located on Princess Anne St. in downtown Fredericksburg. The restaurant is housed in a historic building with gorgeous hardwood floors, high ceilings, and giant windows. And if you’re lucky (like us) you may be seated in the vault.

Menu recommendation: Chicken & Waffles (moist and tender, perfectly seasoned and crispy – absolute perfection)

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Donuts: Donuts are my love language. I love donuts – I rarely eat donuts but I love them. And when I visit a new city and learn that there’s a local donutery (donutery?) creating their own versions of delicious and creative donuts, naturally I want to visit and sample them myself! We enjoyed a late breakfast at The Sugar Shack (on the outskirts of downtown Fredericksburg) Sunday morning. Fun fact: there’s a coupon on their Yelp page for a FREE house donut (you’re welcome). The donuts are fluffy (not flat and sad like Krispy Kreme donuts- sorry Krispy Kreme fans) and delicious paired with coffee or a Yoohoo.

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Coffee: My sweet friend, Lindsey, introduced us to Agora Downtown Coffee Shop & Used Books. Coffee and books are two of my favorite things, so this was instantly a favorite little discovery. The shop is quirky but cute and artistic, with local art displayed on the walls, and shelves of books and pottery for sale. It’s a great place to sit and talk, sip an iced latte, and relax.

An amazing weekend with friends and delicious food. A new city, and new adventures.

On Thrifting: An Essay

My future dream home is one filled with beautifully cultivated treasures and furniture pieces that reflect a good eye for interior design. One where people say, “Wow! Where did you get that coffee table?” (for instance) and I casually respond, “Oh, I found that in a ditch and slapped some paint on it and now it looks like a million bucks!”

Side-of-the-road Good Fortune

I’ve always envied people who have side-of-the-road good fortune when it comes to discovering gently used cast offs. I know several people who have literally found beautiful pieces of furniture (that just need a little TLC) in ditches and garbage dumps! As observant as I try to be, the only non-garbage items I’ve stumbled upon have been mattresses. Lots and lots of mattresses. So of course, I keep driving.

But during the past couple of months, I’ve decided it’s time I learn how to become the thrifter I’ve always secretly wanted to be. I’ve been deterred from thrifting for various reasons: a) It’s time consuming b) I have never (seriously, never) found anything that I’d actually label a true treasure c) Thrift shops smell musty and everything is covered in a layer of grime d) All the cool stuff is already taken e) Does anyone under the age of 85 (besides me) donate to thrift shops anymore? f) There are some things that cannot be upcycled no matter how creative you are, which is probably why the only things I ever seem to find are really old Christmas decorations and outdated bed frames g) I fear I lack “the eye” for finding treasures amongst the junk.

Thrift Shop Competition

After reading the “The Nesting Place” by Myquillyn Smith, I was encouraged to stop putting off projects and making excuses, and start visiting our local thrift shops on a regular basis. I tried to visit places without any expectations – realizing I probably won’t find anything but I definitely won’t if I don’t try.

Maybe it’s an Augusta thing, but thrifters here are cut throat. I have visited several Goodwills, Habitats for Humanity and Salvation Army’s, felt that rush of excitement when my eyes land on a decent dresser or side table or accent chair, only to be immediately discouraged by the “sold” tag. There is seriously an ever growing “sold” section at my local Salvation Army (would people please just come pick up their furniture so that I won’t be constantly reminded of the happy thrift story that could have been?) This has happened repeatedly over the past couple of weeks and the only things left are hideously shaped lamps, teddy bear portraits and old workout VHS’s.

Disappointments

The other day, I walked into a Habitat for Humanity that had clearly recently received a giant donation from some sort of office that had finally ditched their 80’s style furniture (there were at least 15 tables and probably 30 maroon office chairs). I scanned the building, quickly past over the orange sofa and mildewy recliners, and settled on a gorgeous antique side board (probably the only beautiful piece in the store) and of course it was sold. I felt like I had been robbed, which is completely ridiculous because five seconds before, I hadn’t seen or even dreamt of this sideboard. And for all I know, it could have been a $500 side board or some astronomical figure that was way out of price range. I’m realizing very quickly that just because something winds up at a thrift store does not mean it will only cost a dollar (especially if it’s on consignment). But I digress. Anyways, the moral of this story is that thrifting is a competition. And it’s one I’m currently failing at (thrifted finds so far: one hardback book in excellent condition – $1.00, one wooden bowl – $1.00, two dining chairs, which I can’t decide whether I love or hate – $8.00/each).

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The truth is though that I am very picky when it comes to thrifted treasures. Having moved several times over the last two years, I lean more towards a minimally decorated home rather than one teeming with thrifted tchotchkes (though I secretly desire to be a free spirited bohemian with a thousand plants and random junk that all flows together in a beautifully, cluttered, yet cohesive way). Packing is easier when it’s just the essentials and I’ve made enough trips to Goodwill with donations to prevent me from mindlessly purchasing anything in the near future.

How to be a Good Thrifter

To be a good thrifter requires a great deal of patience and perseverance. It means having a game plan and not giving up because there’s always going to be junk and ONE day I will land on a piece of junk that isn’t junk to me. One day, I’ll be the cut throat thrifter who spots the side board or cupboard or accent table first. One day soon, I’ll withstand the extreme Augusta heat long enough to browse the flea markets and haggle for a ridiculously great price (that I can later incorporate into a story about how this such-and-such-piece is worth $10,000 and only cost me 20 bucks!).

The right brained, super creative part of me has accepted this thrifting challenge. I may not possess a lot of experience right now, but I’m working on it. My home is (quite literally) a blank canvas, just awaiting treasures that my husband hopefully won’t roll his eyes over.

To quote Smith, “I’ve finally figured out that almost no one is living in their dream house. And I don’t know anyone whose life has gone exactly like they would have planned. You make the best choices you can at the time with the information you have, and then you deal with the consequences, and that’s the part where your life happens.”

For the love of grits

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“It’s easy to impress me. I don’t need a fancy party to be happy. Just good friends, good food, and good laughs. I’m happy. I’m satisfied. I’m content.” [Maria Sharapova]

There’s a coffee shop in town that serves the best grits I’ve ever eaten – and they’re only $5.99 a bowl.

Now I know shrimp and grits is a staple southern coastal dish, but this particular bowl is even better. Its simple, cheap, surprisingly creamy. Hot grits, topped with melting pimento cheese, crumbles of real bacon (note: not bacon bits), avocado and Cholula hot sauce. The combination is absolute perfection.

Something happens when unappetizingly cold, mayonnaise-y pimento cheese melts into hot grits. The bacon adds a whole level that only bacon can add. And the avocado makes it healthy. Just kidding – it’s not healthy. But the calories are worth it. It’s the definition of comfort food.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve found that this is no ordinary menu item. And certainly it’s no ordinary grits bowl. It’s a bowl that brings people together in mutual murmurs of awe and admiration. It’s a meal that leads to full stomachs, copious cups of coffee, and good, deep conversation.

As spoons scrape the sides of our grits bowls (getting every last bite), and locally made bread dips into the stringy pimento cheese and bright green avocado slices, as we slightly crunch freshly fried bacon, we also find ourselves listening to one another. Sharing our hearts. Talking about our new town (since so many people in Augusta are transplants themselves). Asking questions. Swapping stories. Sometimes shedding a tear or two.

It’s only been a few months since I made this delicious discovery, but now I recommend it to everyone. When meeting up with acquaintances for coffee, I suggest the grits bowl.

Grits and conversation – two of my favorite things.

 

Never give up on community

Several months ago I wrote this post about our experience “church shopping” here in Augusta, which was written from a heart of love and concern. But also (if I’m being honest) genuine longing and loneliness. I craved community and fellowship. I desired friends. I desperately wanted to be known and know others.

Last summer was long, hot, and lonely. And I remember thinking, just three more years and we can get the heck out of this place and hopefully land in Colorado or Washington – some place with no bugs or humidity.

But slowly, things started to change. And little by little, community began to happen. I guess it started in small ways. Like in the first month when my husband’s sponsor, a young and single sailor, came over for dinner (our first guest in our new base house). And in June when we sheepishly went to our first FRG meeting – fighting my own insecurity as a brand new, unknowledgeable Navy wife. In October we went to our first military ball, and in November, we found our church (which we officially joined in December).

Relationships here took time to cultivate, community took time to discover, the loneliness took some time to dissipate.

When you move a lot, there is a temptation (even as an extrovert) to keep people at a distance and avoid deep connections and meaningful relationships. That’s something husband and I talked a lot about in those initial weeks and months here. There was the question: what’s the point of investing when we’re just going to move and start all over again in a few years? But really what a mistake that would have been. We would have missed out on countless blessings, beautiful friendships, and significant opportunities. I absolutely love this reminder from Jim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be ALL there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

We are not even guaranteed tomorrow, let alone three years from now. But we are here. Today. Right now. So we should be ALL here, investing, giving, serving, loving the people and community we find ourselves in. How easy it is to give up on the search for community when it’s sometimes hard to find. But then again, community isn’t always what we expect it to be. Sometimes it’s the homeless man downtown who engages you in conversation, or the barista who remembers your order, or the mailman, or the waitress, or the grocer, or your neighbor. Community happens wherever there are people, and sometimes we can be completely shocked and happily surprised to discover community in the most unlikely of places.

Over the past couple of months, we’ve been blessed to be in fellowship with some amazing people. The Lord led us to a church where we’ve seen Acts 2 played out everyday. Community is not only happening within the walls of the church, but outside. Down the street. In the neighborhood. Person by person.

My heart is full of gratitude as I’ve been reflecting on the Lord’s kindness. My perspective has changed dramatically. Though I still long for travel and adventure, we’ve found a home here. The place I was so discontented with nearly a year ago, is now precious to me. I’ve been reminded to never give up on community.

God desires His people to be in community, to have fellowship and work towards common goals, breaking bread together and opening our homes to one another. It might not happen right away. You may have to fight for it, extend invitations and even be rejected. But don’t give up on it, because through community comes ministry. Through hospitality comes a genuine display of love for others (though they be strangers or old friends).

 

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.