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Vol. 1 | January 2016
Welcome to the first edition of From the Front Porch! It's my hope to publish this newsletter once a month, and I'm thrilled you're along for the ride. I've divided the newsletter into musings, reading recaps, and web wanderings, plus a little "spoken in the shop" for old time's sake -- basically, all the things we'd talk about over lemonade if you lived near by. If you like what you read, feel free to forward along to family and friends, and if you've got something to say or share, just hit reply. Your comments and questions will come straight to my inbox. 

Now, let's sit on my front porch together, shall we?

home.

The holidays are different in retail. Each night, with my back aching and my feet sore, I would scroll through Instagram and sigh at all the cookie exchanges, beautifully wrapped gifts, cold-weather clothes, and time spent with family and friends. My own life didn't feel very festive, even though I tried, real Christmas tree and all. The truth is, when you're responsible for the success of a business, the holiday season is a bit consumed by dollar signs and selling strategies -- even when you're striving for advent in your heart. 

Here is why for now, for this season of life, I'm okay with a different-looking holiday. 

Because after Christmas, there is January. 

For a lot of people, this time of year can be hard. The days are short, the night is long, the weather is cold, and the holidays have come to a close. But for me, there is a peace and quiet that comes with a new calendar year. The shop slows down pretty drastically (although, of course, we're trying to narrow that gap), and Jordan and I get to spend time together recuperating from the chaos. We go over our goals for the year, plan a few weekend getaways, and reset our lives. It's finally time for some home-cooked meals and quiet nights on the couch, and I couldn't be happier about it. 

Each year, like so many across the Internet, I choose a word to represent the months ahead. Jordan and I cast a vision for what we want our lives to look like for the next 12 months. Does the word always stick, or mean what I want it to mean? Not always, no. 

But it's an action I've continued to find meaningful year after year, and if I find myself getting lost around June or July, I use the word to bring me back to myself, to remind me of what I dreamed for my life in January. Last year, my word was nurture, and for the larger part of 2015, I strived to take walks and read books, to enjoy long baths and chew vitamins. It was a good word, an important one, even when it got a little muddied there at the end, as things often do. 

This year, my word is home. I'm not entirely sure what it means just yet -- unlike what feels like the rest of the Internet, I use the whole of January to think through what I want the next several months to be. For now, though, it means creating a sanctuary, spending much-needed time and energy at home instead of at work. I'm trying -- as best I can -- to come home every day at 4 p.m., to rest and read for a couple of hours before actually cooking a meal in my own kitchen. (This hasn't happened in longer than I'd like to admit.) 

I have a feeling, too, that the word will wind up meaning more than just a clean living room or home-cooked meals. This is a year of big decisions for me and Jordan, a year where we'll have to choose whether we want to commit long-term to the store and to Thomasville. I need the word home to remind me of what we're doing here. 

See, I am good at my job. I enjoy running the bookstore; most days, I even love it. But as a friend told me recently, life isn't just about our professions or how much we love our jobs. It's about people and place, and in 2016, I'd like to find both. In truth, I've been floundering a lot in those areas, and it hasn't been easy. My hope is that my little word for the year will inspire me to find my place and my people in 2016. Here's to finding my way home this year. 
 

Do you choose a word or theme for your year? I'd love to know what it is -- just hit reply!

legacy.


Every Sunday, we drive 45 minutes into Tallahassee for church -- not the church I grew up attending, the church where we spent the first few years of our married life, but a new church, a church we've been attending for a full year, and still no one knows our names. 

And there is something to be said for the anonymity. Each week, we sit quietly in pews and smile at our neighbors; we breathe in incense and cross ourselves and join everyone at the table for communion. We do things we had, until 18 months ago, never done before, things neither of us grew up doing, and the rituals have become our own. I have memorized the prayers, and the gentle warnings I received as a child that they would become rote have not come true. Quite the opposite, actually. The prayers ground me, and when Jordan gets out our own prayer book at night before bed, I sigh not out of discontentment, but out of relief. The prayers have become a comfort, a guide.

So the anonymity isn't bothersome, not really. It isn't bothersome because I am still, I think, in church recovery, and I am grateful for the peace our Sundays bring. I am grateful, for now, to be a little bit unknown. 

And yet... 

When Jordan and I made the decision to explore a different avenue of faith, we left a lot of people we loved. We confused them, I think, and it hasn't been easy -- not for anyone, I'd imagine, though it's been especially lonely for us. And this week, while I sat next to strangers and kneeled before the Father, I wondered: Will church ever feel like it did before? 

Probably not, I'd guess. Probably not, because the church we left when we moved to Thomasville? It was the church of my childhood. It became the church of my adulthood, too, and every Sunday I was hugged and loved and called by name. And there were hurts -- awful, terrible hurts -- but there were also people who knew me, knew the legacy of faith I'd been given by my parents, my grandparents, my friends. There is something to be said for legacy. 

There is also, of course, something to be said for moving forward, for taking the faith I've been given and carrying into the future, for making a faith for me and for my husband and one day, for our children. The legacy we've been bequeathed didn't get left behind at those old church doors. We carry it with us up to a new altar every Sunday. Like the prayers we repeat each week, it has become a comfort, this legacy of faith. 

And so that is where we are. Struggling, I think, between anonymity and legacy. It is a tug-of-war, and I cannot decide which side is better, which side will win. Like so many things, I wonder if we will wind up somewhere in the middle, if one day -- perhaps not so far from now -- we will become known again. The struggle will then become just how known to be. Because anonymity, I have discovered, comes with humility, and if nothing else, I am learning each week that even the legacy -- the hard won legacy of my ancestors -- is not really about me.  

place.


About a year before we moved to Thomasville, Jordan and I were driving down some back road, headed home from the coast. Our conversation had wandered in and out and around, and we were dreaming, a little bit, as we're often prone to do. And one of us -- I can't remember now who -- asked the other how we thought we'd fare in a small town. Would we like it? Would they like us? Would we fit?

Thomasville wasn't even an inkling then, and I laugh now at the irony of it. We speculated and guessed, and I think we decided we'd eventually win them over, but it would be hard. Both of us agreed: Small town life would be easier for Jordan than it would be for me. 

Oh, how I wish we hadn't know ourselves quite so well! 

Next month will mark our second full year in this small town we now call home. And despite book clubs and entrepreneurship and neighbors who know our names, home has not been an easy word to say. We are still a little bit lonely, a little bit unsure of our place. I'm never more comfortable or at ease than when I'm in the bookstore, and while that in itself is a huge blessing (a feat, even, for this small town), I have grown weary of not finding comfort elsewhere. I cannot spend the rest of my small town existence behind a register. 

Jordan, too, despite being an extrovert, has floundered a bit. There have been conversations about Georgia versus Alabama, how the South is different depending on where you live, how some states are introverted and some are extroverted and some just might not be friendly at all. 

This adventure we're living is so odd, so opposite from most of our peers. Even other small town dwellers, we've discovered, have families in those small towns, making fitting in second nature to them. 

We have fought, here, for every little bit of place we now stake as our own, and I wonder how long it will be before home feels less like a word and more like a way of life. I wonder, sometimes, if it's even possible, if the siren song of a larger city isn't just my imagination, but really the longing of my heart. 

Here is what I know: Five years ago, I wondered aloud if maybe one day I could own a bookstore. I typed out my wishes and sent them into the Internet, and behold, here we are. 

Nothing, then, is impossible, and so I just keep believing that belonging can't be too far away. 
One of the best books I read in January was The Arrangement by Ashley Warlick. It's a new novel based on the life of food writer MFK Fisher, a woman I knew nothing about before I began reading. I'll warn you: The story starts with an affair, and although I typically shy away from books about infidelity, I think this one is worth reading. It's well-writtern and compelling, and I learned so much about MFK Fisher and her struggles and experiences. Warlick (who's a bookseller in South Carolina) writes beautifully about Fisher's time in California and her travels to Paris and Switzerland; I felt completely transported to 1930s Europe. 

The Arrangement won't release for a few more weeks (#perkofthejob), but when it does, go ahead and reserve it from your local library. 

For fans of The Paris Wife and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
I don't even know how to put the beauty of Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin into words. It's so early to say, but this may wind up becoming one of my best books of 2016. The novel reads like a collection of essays; each chapter featuring a different room in the main character's life. (Forty rooms, the novel claims, is what a woman will inhabit in her lifetime. We need to discuss this.)

So we follow the protagonist from her childhood bedroom, to her dorm room, to her first apartment, to the home where she raises a family, all the while observing her cope with the same issues we all face: choices about love and creativity and coming into our own. 

I read Forty Rooms late into the night, choking back tears chapter after chapter. It is absolutely original and impeccably done.

For fans of Fates & Furies and Astonish Me.
Need more reviews? Here's a complete list of my favorite books of 2015!
Each January, Jordan and I try to set goals and resolutions together, but we also like to take the time to look back at what we've enjoyed, accomplished, and endured in the past 12 months. If that's fun to you, too, I found these questions from Elizabeth Hyndman's blog and think they're the perfect conversation-starter. Last week's Golden Globes kicked off awards season -- my favorite! -- so it's also the perfect time to check out one of my go-to podcasts, The Popcast. In light of my word of the year, here are 12 Tips for a Happier Home -- inspired by a nursery school. Plus, you're going to want a pair of these shoes, and Jacey Verdicchio's weekend benedictions are my favorite. Need something new to watch? Try Hart of Dixie. It's silly and sweet, and the series finale had me in happy tears. The entire series is on Netflix, so binge away. 
Spoken in the Shop:
 
Young girl: "I want a shirt that says 'Books are better than people.'  I would wear that shirt every day of my life."
 
Mom: "You might offend some people."

Girl: "Well, it's true."
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Contact Annie:
anniesbutterworth@gmail.com

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