2016: A Year in Review

You know us, always living Murphy’s Law.

The end of 2015 was so chaotic that I ended up sending our 2015 Christmas cards with our 2016 Christmas card. On the back of the 2015 card I summarized the year, but I’ve had a lot of requests and questions about what we did in 2016. In all honesty, 2016 was so eventful it wouldn’t have fit on a card. I thought about writing up a letter, but figured three pieces of mail from the Murphys would already be too crazy, so below, you’ll find a lengthy summary of good ol’ 2016.

As you might remember, Ries got out of the Marine Corps on 30 December 2015. He had been applying to jobs since Memorial Day 2015, but as of New Year’s Day 2016, we still had no job. For those of you reading who are not familiar with separating from the military, it takes most people in Ries’ field anywhere from one to sixth months of being unemployed before a job presents itself. I took a look at the finances and we discussed our options to make the best of the money we had set aside for this period of time. We were allowed to break our lease without penalty within a month of his discharge date, so we came to the conclusion that we would submit our 30 days notice, put all our belongings in storage, and drive to New Mexico where Ries’ mom, Polli, was renting a three bedroom house for the months of January-April. This was perhaps one of the wildest decisions we had come to, but we were trying to make our money stretch, and having no idea how long it would take to get a job offer, we thought we might as well enjoy the scenery of New Mexico while we waited anxiously hoping to God that a position would become available in Maryland or Texas.

At the end of our first week of unemployment, Ries got a phone call from a company based in San Antonio, asking if he could start work on Monday. “In San Antonio?”

“No, the position is in Augusta.” Now, this was not what we wanted, and most of 2015 we had spent comforting ourselves with the thought, “Wherever we end up, at least it won’t be Augusta.” Ries had lived in Augusta for four years at that point, I had lived there for two, and (while we know a lot of people who love the area) it was a toxic environment for both of us. Ries thanked the man for the opportunity, but he was trying to find a position outside of Georgia. Ries paused, “If you could offer me that salary, it is something I would have to discuss with my wife.” We consulted parents and friends that night and concluded it was a mistake to turn down a job offer when you were unemployed. A week of unemployment had felt like three months. We took the position, reluctantly. Ries started his first job on 11 January. (And as wild as our New Mexico plan had been, we were both a little disappointed not to run off to the desert and spend our time hiking, writing, and working in hippie dippie cafes or crepe shops in Santa Fe for a couple months.)

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Later in the month of January–yes, we’re still only in January, friends, and the year did not slow down–my mom flew down to Georgia to visit and we drove her down to Savannah for a very enjoyable day spent eating delicious food from places like Collins Quarter and Green Truck Pub.

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As for what I was doing the rest of the month? Running like a mad woman. I was registered for Disney World’s Princess Half Marathon and had spent the majority of 2015 preparing for it.

February came and I threw a (not-so) surprise birthday party for Ries (I’m really terrible at keeping secrets because I get too excited about them and can’t help but sharing), we celebrated Valentine’s Day at my old place of work, Bee’s Knees, and then we headed off to Disney World for the Princess Half Marathon weekend. Polli flew out from New Mexico to meet us, and the three of us picked up my race packet and met Jeff Galloway–for those who aren’t runners or aren’t familiar with Jeff Galloway, he’s a running coach who came up with the running plan I had used to train for the race. This was one of the many highlights of the weekend, which I think the three of us consider to be one of our best Disney trips ever, despite being there only five days (which is short for us.)

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The race itself was–whew. It was a doozy. It was easily the most difficult thing I have experienced both physically and emotionally. At about mile three my entire body ached to my bones, and I cried most of the race. The one thing that got me through the race was running from checkpoint to checkpoint where I knew I would see my two personal cheerleaders–once as I ran through the castle and a second time at the finish line. I beat my first half marathon time. We all went back to our resort, ate breakfast, went to sleep, and woke up in time for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants–Raglan Road–full of delicious food, live Irish dancing, and Icelandic ciders, then headed off to get some ice cream from Ghirardelli’s. The next day, I looked at my running shoes and saw that there were about 3mm of shoe between my foot and the asphalt I had run on all day–likely the source of my discomfort. Despite being a trying experience, I plan to run another half marathon in 2018 and hopefully the Disney Marathon in 2019.

We continued to have a lovely time in Disney for the next several days and headed back to Georgia on my 25th birthday.

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We had hoped things would slow down in March, but we had little time to catch our breath before learning I had a mandatory trip to the DC area for the entry level government position I had procured in June 2014. I also managed to drop my phone in the pool, losing about 1500 unsaved photos, which, being a total digital photograph hoarder, had me kicking myself for nearly a week. (But taught me the valuable lesson of backing up and printing photos regularly.) The month concluded with a very dramatic physical change–I donated ten inches of my hip length hair to Locks of Love or a similar program.

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I think it’s also worth noting, during the first three months of the year, Ries and I were hearing back from graduate programs. I had applied to three and Ries had applied to five fully funded graduate studies programs to get our MFA (Master in Fine Arts) in creative writing. We both majored in creative writing at DePauw, and one of our biggest life goals is to get into one of these programs. Unfortunately because they are fully funded, and everyone wants to be a writer, the acceptance rates range from less than one percent to probably about three or five percent–and 2016 was not the year either of us would be accepted to one of these programs. Our rejection came in the form of checking online, emails, or letters (where the best writing school in the world misspelled my name–I’m trying not to hold a grudge, but COME ON IOWA.) Rejection is, of course, a large part of being a writer or artist of any kind, but this was a big blow to the self esteem and thwarted one of our last plans to escape the Deep South. (Don’t worry folks, we don’t give up on our dreams that easily–MFA applications Round #2 begins in 2017.)

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April, I recollect as probably my favorite month of 2016. Ries and I drove down to visit Polli, as well as to attend the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival in Disney World. That trip was the first trip we met Mickey Mouse and the memory will forever be one of my favorite experiences in Disney, as well as for the year. (I’m getting teary thinking of it just now.) He was absolutely wonderful and I’m making a point to see him on every trip from now on. 

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Once we got back to Georgia, I bought several plants to start an herb garden on our balcony and it was one of Hiro’s favorite places to be before the southern heat kicked into gear. The month of April was also a big mile marker for Ries and I–Ries finally received his VA disability rating, and I was finally cleared to begin work (after waiting ten months!)

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Now one more tidbit for the month of April: Ries had been extremely sick since he got out of the Marine Corps. During the month of April, we finally visited a few doctors and they told him that he was prediabetic. (At age 27! Poor guy.) Apparently, people with Native American and African heritage have a predisposition to prediabetes because their bodies have not had enough time to evolve to process carbs. (Compared to let’s say Irish people who have been eating carbohydrates for much longer.) As a result, Ries was told the best way to stop his symptoms and reverse the onset of prediabetes was to stop eating carbs. (Goodbye, pizza!) This was an unwanted dietary change, but we both began a ketogenic diet starting in May and he has never felt better–not to mention he lost about fifteen pounds in a month.

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May was the craziest and busiest month of the year. The first week of May, I flew up to DC to meet my mom and celebrate Mother’s Day at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival (one of her favorite events of the year.) The next weekend I flew up to Indiana to see my brother graduate from Purdue University with a degree in Agricultural Engineering. 

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I had a nice visit in Indiana seeing and visiting with several family friends and catching up with a few professors at DePauw. I was home for a week before Ries and I jetset off to New Mexico where he was best man at a mutual friend’s wedding in Albuquerque. This was Ries’ first time to New Mexico (the man has been everywhere, so it’s rare that he goes somewhere for a first time these days) and we didn’t get to stay nearly as long as we would have liked, but as you can imagine, we were a bit weary from the long month of crazy traveling.

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We got back to Georgia later that weekend and learned some terrible news–my brother, who had graduated only two weeks ago, then driven out to Oregon to start his job as a design engineer for a farming company there, had sustained an injury while cleaning up our grandmother’s lawn. While cutting a large oak branch, standing in the bucket of a tractor, the branch unexpectedly fell, knocking him back into the bucket and shattering his pelvis. He then proceeded to crawl down from the bucket, crawl or walk back to the house, and called a friend to take him to the local hospital, where he was soon transferred to a hospital in Portland. He underwent two surgeries and was on bed rest for the entirety of the summer. I mention all of this not to frighten anyone, but because I am really proud of him and I am so grateful that he is alive. (I probably would have stayed up in that tractor bucket until I starved.)

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I began my job in June, after completing the requisite training in May between my travels, and though we had to wake up at 4:00am each morning (as we share one car,) Ries and I found the routine comforting after so many months of uncertainty and unpredictability. We found time to do the things we love again–one such thing being writing. I started my second collection of poetry, titled “Portland,” and Ries encountered a new writing concept on a car ride in July.

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However the end of the month brought another family injury–the Thursday before Fourth of July, my 84 year old grandmother was on a home tour and fell down a flight of stairs. Again, we were lucky and she didn’t break any bones, but the recovery was a long one requiring much more medical attention than she preferred.

July was a bit like May–a lot more traveling. We started the month out visiting Ries’ mom for Fourth of July weekend.

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The six hour drive down to Florida proved exceptionally fruitful. We drove past a newly leveled building on our way out of town and I said, “Wasn’t that the TGI Fridays we ate at the night I moved down here?”

“I don’t think so,” said Ries. A few minutes later he said, “Maybe.”

“That’s a good idea for a story. A town that’s disappearing.”

Ries, being unlike any writer I have ever known has established one universe in which all of his stories take place. So sometimes I suggest story ideas, but I don’t think it’s likely that he’ll pick them up because he’s already got the plot for a 3000+ page trilogy living in his brain, and it’s far more creative than anything I’ll think up, being the scientific, mathematical, logically minded person and writer I am. (Most of my stuff is autobiographical, based on existing mythology, or very close to reality.)

He was quiet for about twenty minutes, which was normal for a six hour car ride. And then he said, “I just can’t stop thinking about it.” We spent the next several hours discussing the plot for the short story, “The Vanishing of Faro, Georgia,” he wrote later that month.

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We had a nice Fourth of July in Florida, and then we headed back for about a week before driving up to Maryland where Ries’ company headquarters are. I had been doing consulting editing for the company he worked for since he was hired in January, so we were both invited to work at headquarters for the week. (Which was nice because it was our first time working in an office together.) However, while we were up in Maryland, or shortly after getting back, Ries learned that the contract he was working on was being terminated in September. Here’s what that translated to: Unemployment, again–unless he was offered another position for the same company, or we could find a new job in the next two months. The job search began again.

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When we got back from DC, I unpacked one suitcase, packed another, and was on a flight to Oregon the next day to visit my brother and his shattered pelvis. Anyone who has met me likely knows my love and loyalty to the state of Oregon. I had a falling out with one side of my family (one side of three) in early 2014 and the fallout from those relationships ending left me overcome with fear to return to my state. When my brother first broke his pelvis, I knew this had to change–I needed to be there.

I went out to Oregon to take care of my brother and grandma (who was admitted to the ER twice in the time I was there for complications from her fall in June), but while I was doing those things, I was also able to reconnect with my sense of belonging–I slept in the bed I slept in as a child, I went to my favorite Thai restaurant, I got coffee and brunch at my favorite breakfast place, I saw my uncle’s flower fields in bloom, and visited the tree where we spread my grandfather’s ashes. I drove to Portland and got lost (as always), picked up my other little brother and sister, got lost again, spent too much time looking for parking, almost turned the wrong way onto a one way street, parked in the Whole Foods parking lot, went to Powell’s, and bought them all kinds of things they’re probably not allowed to have. I was back. This was my state. My city. My hometown. Everyone knew everyone and after being an almost daily customer at the same breakfast and coffee joint, they brought me a piece of chocolate cake when I said it was my last day. No one can take your home from you, and that was one of the most valuable lessons I learned in 2016.

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I came back to Georgia at the end of July with a greater sense of peace, which was good because we needed it for what was ahead. Ries’ boss kept telling him to move up to DC, but every time we asked for a job offer in writing, we were met with two weeks of silence. He applied to jobs in DC, in Washington state, and in Alabama. We started packing our apartment not knowing where we were moving. “I have a job here,” I said. “I guess we could stay in Augusta. Again.” We had a lot of long talks and a lot of sleepless nights. I was pushing for DC, but Ries didn’t think it was going to work out. Maybe I should transfer up to DC, I could probably get full time there while we waited for Ries to get a job–was that feasible with rent starting at $1800 a month? What about Hawaii? They were always trying to hire people there. Had San Antonio ceased their hiring freeze yet? Still no written job offers.

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Ries had one phone interview scheduled with an Alabama job on a Tuesday. Then they called for a second interview on Thursday. By the following Monday we had a job offer with a twenty percent raise. “Can you start September 1st?” At this point September 1st was a little over a week away, and we had plans to fly to Seattle for a Washington/Oregon trip beginning 1 September. They bumped Ries’ start date back to 12 September, and later that week we planned a very impromptu trip to Huntsville to look for an apartment. We looked at three places, picked one, signed all the papers, then drove six hours back to Augusta to pack for the Pacific Northwest, where we had a very nice, but exhausting trip from 1-10 September. 

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We drove three or four hours from my hometown in Oregon up to Seattle on the 9th, got to bed around 1am, woke up three hours later for our 6am flight, took three flights back to Augusta, got in at 8pm, slept on sleeping bags we bought in Portland, woke up the next morning, packed up the car (the movers had come and hauled off most of our things while we were on the other side of the country), loaded the cat and the gerbil in the back seat, stopped at Starbucks, left for Alabama, and Ries started his new job the next day.

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Now I just realized I’ve left out an important part of the “Ries’ job story.” When Ries first started his job at the beginning of 2016, we felt uncomfortable about the work environment. As 2016 went on things grew worse and worse. The building he worked in was condemned for asbestos exposure, they asked everyone to fill out forms about displaying side effects from asbestos exposure, the building had cardboard for windows in place of glass, the work environment was extremely hostile–there was a group of people we’ll just call Group A and then there was Ries’ team, both working on the same contract. Group A would do everything they could to find reasons to fire people on Ries’ team. They felt everyone was under qualified and the entire team should be fired. Two people on Ries’ team were fired, and in the eight months Ries worked there nine people (of a team of 7-9 people) resigned. It was absolutely poisonous, and for about five or six months we lived with the daily fear, “What if I get fired?” He voiced these concerns to his boss in DC, and again and again he was told he would be moved to a different contract or that the situation would improve, but it continued to decline. It was a terrible position to be in, and yet he made it work because we needed to keep the lights on. (So he gets a gold star for that one.)

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All that being said, when we moved to Huntsville and he began his new job, it was like stepping into an alternate reality. No asbestos, no malicious coworkers, no bad memories of deployments, bad military leadership, friend breakups, family breakups–people were nice, there’s a good football team, there’s culture, they support the arts here and have multiple groups for writers, we live next to a cow farm instead of a concrete jungle, people are generally good drivers, there is an unending number of good restaurants, the list goes on. Both of us were very concerned about moving to another southern state, but Huntsville has repeatedly proved itself different from Augusta and other cities we visited in Georgia. (To be fair Huntsville is not far from the Tennessee border and is considered an outlier for the state of Alabama, so I don’t know that the city is considered “southern” despite being in the South.)

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Okay, so where were we? September? Yes! We moved to Huntsville, we liked it, Ries has an awesome job that is a major improvement from the last one. As far as jobs go for me, I’m still looking. My job in Augusta could transfer to many different locations, but unfortunately not Huntsville. (Which really is too bad because I was paid to sit and read, write, or color in a coloring book for eight hours most days–I’m not even kidding.) I think for the month of September, that was about it. Oh, but I should get to the next bit–

Ries and I have been planning to start trying to make a third Murphy in August 2016 since, well, probably since we got married in July 2013. (Crazy how that stuff works, I didn’t want kids, and then I got married, and then boom, I needed kids yesterday.) Anyway, we had decided to start trying in August 2016, and when we heard his contract was being terminated that date got bumped back to “when we have a job and haven’t gone into extreme debt from unexpectedly being unemployed.” Once he signed his job offer at the end of August, Ries only had one condition, “This kid is not being conceived in Augusta.” For the past three years I’ve fretted and cried about an irrational fear of not being able to carry children. That combined my friend taking nine months to get pregnant, I was sure this whole baby making thing was going to take forever or not happen at all. Ries was sure that we would get pregnant in the first month, considering both of us were born out of wedlock. (Bastards unite!)

Well, it turns out he was right.

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We had plans to leave Friday of Columbus weekend for Boston, where Ries’ best friend, Tom, was getting married to the funniest woman I have ever met in my life. So I was home the Tuesday prior, lying in bed thinking, “I’m probably not pregnant, so I might as well take the test now so I can cry this off before the wedding.” It was 4 October and I thought I was hallucinating the second line. I blurted it out to Ries over text message–like I said, I’m not good at keeping my own secrets or surprises. 

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We retested later that week and it was still positive. We went to the wedding in Boston that weekend, and people kept telling us congratulations on our wedding and asking how long we had been married–we were smiling so much they thought we were newlyweds. This was the first time we had seen Tom in two years, (he was our best man at our wedding in Portland in 2014,) and not knowing when we’d see him in person again, Ries pulled him outside at the end of the night, and standing outside of Hamilton Hall in Salem in the rain, we told Tom–the first person to know we were expecting. His reaction was one I know we will remember forever; being a very large man with what is likely a seven foot wingspan, Tom hugged both of us in one tremendous hug.

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We returned to Huntsville, and I thought at five weeks pregnant that pregnancy was pretty groovy because I didn’t feel bad at all. I probably don’t have to explain how drastically that changed by week six. On top of newly gained pregnancy symptoms, we learned that there was another family health crisis. (Maybe the subtitle of this year review should be “2016 Strikes Back.”)

A little background information: Back in December 2014, Polli was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Graves Disease. Like all autoimmune diseases it comes with many unpleasant symptoms, but the main problem with Graves is that her thyroid flipped back and forth between hypo and hyper–she would be wired and not sleep for days and then she would crash and sleep forever. The treatment for this condition (though it isn’t a cure) is to remove the thyroid. Her thyroid was so irregular that she’d spent the past two years being turned down by surgeon after surgeon because she was too high risk. She finally found a doctor who agreed to operate if she took a medication to get her thyroid levels within a stable range. She just happened to test within the stable range in mid-October and they immediately scheduled her for surgery.

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I received the news from a very distraught Polli, called Ries, Ries called Polli, Ries spoke to his supervisors (new job=no vacation days yet), he was approved to work from Florida, Ries called Delta–Polli’s surgery was scheduled on Tuesday and originally we had planned a week long trip to Disney World beginning that Friday–Delta was able to change our departure day tickets to Monday evening, and with that, we went from leaving for vacation in Florida in a week, to leaving for a surgery in Florida in three days.

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We arrived in Florida late Monday night, and because the surgeon was in Celebration, we stayed on Disney property that night. After a shuttle ride on the Magical Express from MCO to our resort, it was about 11pm. Ries and I had agreed to wait until I was out of my first trimester before we announced the coming of Baby Murphy, but due to the circumstances, Ries wanted to tell his mom that night, in the event the surgery did not go well. I made her a card that said, “What is the difference between a blueberry and a raspberry?” On the inside it read, “Your first grandchild is the size of a blueberry this week, and a raspberry next week!” If anyone has met Polli in person, you can imagine her reaction was filled with expletives. She said the news got her through the night before her surgery, and early the next morning we all headed to the hospital together.

To give you an idea of how worn out we were, the average thyroid surgery takes about four hours–Polli’s took an hour longer than most–and I slept from the time she went in until about thirty minutes before she came out. We’re really grateful that the surgery went well–the surgeon said it was the most difficult thyroidectomy he’s ever performed. Polli may have also been the most difficult patient he ever had, because she flirted with him relentlessly and kept trying to set him up with her doctor at home. She stayed overnight before we drove her back to her home in central Florida for a few days before Ries and I returned to Disney World for our first vacation all year.

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We had a great time in Disney–the trip was planned around Halloween and during Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival, which is our favorite time to go. Polli met up with us on Halloween and the three of us went to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Ries dressed as Nick Wilde and I dressed as Judy Hopps from the recent Disney movie, Zootopia, and Polli dressed up as a very cute Dalmatian from 101 Dalmatians. We were so happy to have Polli with us; it was the first time in two years that she’d been able to walk around the parks with us–prior to her thyroidectomy her energy levels had been so low that most times she had to stay in the room. The highlight of the trip was likely the Halloween party–they changed the Halloween stage show since our last Halloween trip in 2014 and it now includes the three Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus and most of the Disney villains. The headless horseman and parade are still some of my all time Disney favorites as well.

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Our trip to Disney concluded our traveling for 2016 (thank God) and I think our energy levels are still recovering from the year, its travels, and events.

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We stayed in Alabama for the end of the year holidays and Polli drove up for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was my first time hosting both holidays and although it was only for three people, I think they were a success.

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As for Baby Murphy, we announced our pregnancy at the beginning of December–if you haven’t seen the announcement video, please contact me so you can view it! I’m very proud of my first endeavor in stop motion film. We are hoping to find out the gender this coming Monday, barring inclement weather–we’re expecting a “snowstorm” this weekend. You’ll note that’s in quotes because it likely won’t snow more than an inch.

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I knew that writing this review (however lengthy it is by now) was important to start 2017. As I was writing I thought, “Gosh, I hope people don’t view this as complaint after complaint of things that happened this year.” This account is not to gain pity from anyone who reads it. The majority of people have elected 2016 “The Worst Year Ever.”

But what I saw as I wrote and read this was not a story of “The Worst Year Ever;” it was a story of resilience.

A story of getting hit and standing back up again.

A story of recovering from defeat and rejection.

A resolution of long storylines, whether they be health or work related.

A story of upsetting outcomes that with the right perspective can be viewed as the luckiest outcomes.

A story of working hard through situations that were less than ideal, and coming out better for it.

A story of taking risks that improved our life situation or at least our opinions of ourselves.

A story of new beginnings, new chapters, new cities, new lives.

And when I look at all of those things, and what we endured and rebounded from this year, I don’t feel defeat. I feel strength. If strength was the lesson of 2016, I am glad to have learned it. I’m glad to know what I am capable of enduring, what Ries is capable of enduring, and more importantly what we are capable of enduring together. Because I always knew, no matter what the situation–whether it be packing up our things to be unemployed New Mexico nomads or putting away Christmas decorations in our apartment in Alabama–we had each other and could get through anything life threw at us. And that doesn’t fill me with despair, but hope.

So here’s to starting 2017 filled with the strength to take on any obstacle that comes our way and the hope to pursue the goals and dreams we have for the year.

Xx

-A

(P.S. I’m sorry guys. One of these days I’ll write a short post.)