Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Prayers for Istanbul

"Ubunutu.  I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours."

-Zulu proverb

I'm not even sure where to begin when it comes to yesterday's attacks on the Istanbul airport.  My heart is so heavy for the Turks and for everyone involved.  

Yesterday after the attacks, text messages started pouring in from friends to make sure Mike was okay.  Thank you so much.  It makes me feel so good that you all care as much about Mike as you do about me.  Luckily, he was in Izmir with friends.  Those friends were supposed to go to Istanbul today, but their flights were cancelled and they are spending another day in Izmir with Mike.  We are so thankful for their safety, but also heartbroken for the people who were not as lucky.

As all of the texts were pouring in, my best friend and I were talking and she said something that rings so true for this attack, as well as the attacks in Orlando, Paris, Belgium and around the world.

"It's just really sad that this is how people feel they need to act to insight the change they desire/have been inspired to think this is honorable." -Anna

It's so true.  It is so sad that people must resort to violence and anger to get their point across.  Fighting fire with fire does not solve any problems, it just makes the fire grow bigger. People in Turkey and around the world are now angry and heartbroken after yesterday's attacks.  Yesterday did nothing but make the divide between terrorism and the rest of the world deeper.  My biggest fear is that, as more and more violent attacks happen around the world, people will associate Turkey with violence and anger and  I would hate for the minority to be seen as the majority.   I have so  many fond memories of Turkey and of the people there, none of which involve violence or anger.

Right before I left Turkey for good, Mike and I went to the local bazaar where most people do their shopping.  I wanted to get some souvenirs, so our first stop was the ceramics shop.  As soon as we walked in, we were greeted by the owner, Can.  In English, he said "Welcome brother Mike!"  and expressed his gratitude on meeting me. He offered us tea, talked with us and helped us pick out some ceramics for us and our friends and family.  We were treated like family.

After the ceramics shop, we went to the carpet shop where we met Can's uncle.  We were once again offered tea and things to eat.  We looked at carpets, but we also sat and talked with Can's uncle. We talked about our lives in Turkey, why Mike and I didn't have children yet ("You have been married nine months yes?" said Can's uncle) and about the world.  I will probably never forget our discussion because religion came up.  This man, a devout Muslim, wanted to know about our beliefs.  When Mike told him some of his hesitations when it came to religion, he nodded his head and said that he too had had reservations.  Then, he said "Whenever I have questions about whether God exists, I think about the wind.  You cannot see the wind, but you can feel it's effects.  Just like the wind, you cannot see God, but you can feel His effects."  The passion in his eyes and his love for his religion was so apparent, it brought tears to my eyes.  He was not trying to push his religion on us, but yet explain something that was so important to him.  I could tell that his beliefs were his guiding light and the reason for his peaceful and accepting demeanor.

After experiences like the one in the carpet shop, I am constantly reminded of Ubuntu.  I hope that when people think of Turkey, they think of people like Can and his uncle, not of the terrorist activities that take place there.  There are almost 80 million people in Turkey and my humanity is tied to theirs. My year there made me a more open-minded, loving and accepting person because they were open-minded, loving and accepting to me.

I just hope that terrorist groups will realize this too.

Inshallah.  God willing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Washington, D.C. and Maryland

I couldn't come all the way to the United States without making a trip up north to Washington, D.C. and Maryland, especially if it meant I could actually hang out with little miss Emma!   Since Andrew was home for Father's Day and heading back to DC that Sunday, I caught a ride with him.  It was so fun to hang out with Andrew in the car and hear all about his life in DC, even if we did hit REALLY bad traffic.

I spent that night with Rachel since she took the next day off of work.  We went to this new cheese and wine bar in Ballston, Cheesetique, which was so much fun. The next day, Rachel and I went to brunch at Metro 29 which had been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  I had the eggs benedict (my go-to brunch choice) and it didn't disappoint.  I didn't think it went above and beyond, but it was definitely good and I would return.  I need to watch the episode that Metro 29 is featured on.  After brunch, we spent the afternoon at the pool.  It was so hot that we only lasted a couple of hours, but it was so nice and relaxing.

That evening, I met up with my bridesmaid Sara and another one of our friends Kirsten for dinner at the Commissary in DC.  If you guys haven't been, you totally should. I had the chicken salad sandwich, while they both got the chicken burgers.  After dinner, I saw Sara's new apartment.  She's had some big changes in her life recently and I'm so proud of her for following her gut and doing what she knows is right.  Plus, her apartment is super cute.

I spent the night at my uncles' house while Andrew was house sitting on Monday.  I love their apartment and their pugs! Plus, getting to spend one more night with Andrew was fun. Overall, my time in DC was a lot of fun.  It made me miss living there with some of my favorite people so much.  I even saw our old apartment building, which made me even more nostalgic.  Maybe we'll return one day....inshallah.

The next morning, I headed to Maryland via the metro.  I got to experience the fun that is the metro reconstruction, which actually wasn't bad at all. I was so happy to make it to New Carollton, though, because Anna was there waiting for me!!  After a wild year and a half apart, I was SO happy to see her!  We headed back to her parents' house in Severna Park.  When we got to their house, Emma was asleep, which gave us adults to catch up. Being able to hang out with her and her Mike (my Mike's best friend!), as well as her parents was so nice.

After an hour or so, the star of the show woke up from her nap and, if I wasn't in love with her already, meeting her in person sealed the deal!

So happy to meet this little lady, but missing Uncle Mike!

That night, we met up with Karen in Baltimore and all spent the night cheering on the Orioles!  I'm always a little torn as a Red Sox fan, but it was a good game and Camden Yards is a great place to spend an evening.

Wearing white in order to remain neutral, but so happy to be spending the evening with two of my favorites!
Anna, Mike and I went into Annapolis on Wednesday night and met up with Karen and Anna's friend Nikesh for dinner. Anna and Mike were happy to have an adult night out and I was happy to tag along!  We even found a Turkish store across from the wine bar!! You really can't escape the Turks!

The next few days, we spent time hanging out on the river and lounging around the house. 

Views like this make happy hour even better!

Watching my friends as parents is one of my favorite things.  The love Anna and Mike have for their little girl is so obvious and endearing.

Pop Pop might be Emma's biggest fan...after Uncle Mike

We ended my week in Maryland with crabs because....Maryland!  I'm not the best at picking crabs, but it's fun and such a Maryland thing that I was happy to participate!

I had such a fun time hanging out with the Ficks and the Degenhards and getting to spend time with my favorite goddaughter.  I was so sad to say goodbye, but Anna and Mike are coming to visit for Thanksgiving, so that made saying goodbye a little bit easier.

love this little one so much!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Happy Birthday Mike!

Mike and I have REALLY bad luck being together to celebrate his birthday.  In fact, the month of June usually doesn't really work for us.  Last year, I was stuck in the United States waiting for my passport and this year I'm back in the USofA waiting for a return ticket (more on that later....promise). Even before we moved, flight delays, deployments and life always seemed to get in the way of celebrating Mike's birthday together on his birthday.

While we can't be together to celebrate, I couldn't resist the opportunity to celebrate my favorite submariner, travel buddy, room mate and the man I love so much! I've been missing him extra this week and I can't wait to be with him to celebrate, even if it is a few weeks late!

So, in honor of Mike's 28th birthday, here are eight (I figured 28 might be a little much) of my favorite memories with Mike!

1.  The night we met
  I guess this is pretty cliche, but we met at our best friends' wedding and it was a wild night.  I remember seeing Mike and the other groomsmen doing flips and stuff down the trolley aisle on the way to the reception and thinking "these guys are crazy! I'll just steer clear of them!"   Then, we ended up sitting next to each other at the reception, dancing together and finally meeting up at the after party, despite the fact that he was wearing the garter on his head and had coffee spilled down his uniform.  I guess he did something right because he won me over that night!

I think Mike was singing "Call Me Maybe" at this point

2. Visiting Mike in Hawaii for the first time

Oh man do we love that place! It's truly paradise.  Although all of my visits were exciting, the first one still wins the prize.  We had only known each other a few months and were still pretty awkward around each other.  Mike had been underway for the ten days leading up to it, so I hadn't gotten to talk to him.  I was super nervous that things would be weird or awkward, but I just remember seeing him as he got out of the car and feeling so much calmer.  We had so much fun that weekend and I loved meeting all of his friends and seeing his life.  

Our first official date on my first visit to Hawaii. 
3. Our first deployment and homecoming

Eight months of the first year we were dating, Mike was deployed.  Even though deployments are NOT fun and I would give millions and millions of things not to have to do them, I look back and am so thankful for that deployment because we learned so much about each other.  Our only mode of communication when Mike is deployed is email, so we would email and ask each other thousands of get to know you questions.  We learned so much about each other because of this, which makes me thankful for deployment. I also never knew I could get so excited over an email. I saved all of them and would reread them when there would be a gap in communication.  The homecomings make the deployments, gaps in communication and the long distance all worth it because that first hug is just the best.  I'm looking forward to one of those hugs at the end of this evacuation!

So so happy!

4. Going to the Academy with Mike

I didn't actually attend the Naval Academy (the thought of me at the Naval Academy is humorous.  I wouldn't last a day!), but I love visiting with Mike.  His face lights up and he's always so excited. He tells stories about when he was a midshipman and about his friends and it's just a lot of fun.  One day, we'll reciprocate and go to JMU :)

5. Our Engagement and Wedding

I'll group them together :)  I think we all knew it was coming, but when Mike got down on one knee, I was so surprised!  Our wedding was so fun and we were so happy!

The celebratory champagne bottle got a little messy.  That ring is still looking great though :)

6. Hearing Mike speak Turkish

Mike started Turkish lessons in August, but it wasn't until October that I heard him speak Turkish.  We went to the Turkish festival in DC and met up with his Turkish teacher and they only spoke in Turkish.  I remember being so impressed and so proud of him.  That sentiment hasn't changed and, in fact, it's only grown stronger. I'm always so impressed and in awe when he's able to navigate us around Turkey and figure things out.  It's not easy!

7. Watching Mike and Emma

Mike didn't grow up around babies, so when Emma came around, I knew he would love her, but wasn't sure if he would be that interested in her. Boy was I wrong.  That little girl has him wrapped around her finger.  At least once a week he wants to video chat with baby Emma and is fascinated by her.  He could watch her crawl and talk forever.  It's so incredible and heart warming to watch him fall in love with this little lady.  I can't wait for the day that they actually get to meet.

Skyping in for Emma's baptism so we could complete our duties as godparents

8. Traveling with Mike

Duh!! We are on the adventure of a lifetime right now and there is no one I'd rather do it with.  He is the perfect travel companion.  He's eagerness for adventure is admirable and his willingness to plan and learn makes him my favorite travel buddy. Not many people get the opportunity to travel and getting to do it with him makes it all the more special.

Happy birthday Mike! I love you so much and am so glad I'm on this adventure with you! I hope you have an awesome birthday and I can't wait to celebrate with you when we are reunited!! xoxoxoxo

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Moving Day and Father's Day

I mentioned in a previous post that my grandfather had moved to a new apartment.  This is all so exciting and definitely the right move for him.  Even he agrees!  He had been living in the same house my mom and two uncles grew up in and was way too much house for him.  Living in the apartment was such a good move for him because he is closer to people his age and the retirement community has a great set up with a dining hall, fitness center and all sorts of resources for him.  I'm seriously wondering how I can move in....

Even though he moved a bunch of his furniture to the apartment and sold some of the other furniture, there was still a lot of stuff in his house that needed to just be thrown out or given away.   So, Saturday morning, my parents, brothers and I headed over to meet my two cousins and uncle to empty that house.  We had a large dumpster empty and ready to be filled.

It was a lot of work emptying the house, but it was kind of fun.  We turned on some music and just started taking things out.  A lot of the more sentimental stuff had been grabbed by my mom or uncles before my grandfather moved to his apartment, so we didn't have to sort through a lot of stuff, which made it easier. We did find a few cool things, like the newspaper from the day Kennedy was shot or a note from my uncle to Santa Claus.  We did end up listing some stuff for free on Craigslist and just put them outside on the curb for people to pick up.  It's a great little trick to get rid of stuff you don't want to deal with selling, but is too nice to just throw away!

At times, I did find myself getting a little sentimental.  I was sweeping up the family room and thinking about the hours upon hours spent sitting on their couches.  That house contains 40 years of memories and, although I am happy to see my grandfather so happy in his new place, I am so sad to see that house go.  It's a great house and it was filled with lots of memories and love.

Such a wonderful house 

Also, if you know anyone interested in a great family house, I've got the perfect one for you! All it needs is a little love :)

Sunday was Father's Day and we went to church with my grandfather and then got Taste Unlimited sandwiches, which are some of my dad's favorites to bring back to my grandfather's house.  So simple and so good!  Andrew and I headed up to DC that afternoon, so we didn't have time to do much else, but I know between lunch and the dead rabbit that Scout the cat brought my dad, he was feeling the love :)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Ben's High School Graduation

Long, long ago before the evacuation (that seems like AGES ago), I decided to come home in June.  It would have been a year since I saw my family and I knew I would be needing some time in the United States.  Plus, Ben would be graduating from high school, so it was the perfect time to come home!  Then, with the evacuation, I ended up needing to come home anyways, so it worked out well! As much as I love traveling, it's so hard to miss out on family and friend events, such as graduations.  If it were up to me, I would just have all of my friends and family come live and travel with us in Europe.

I was SO excited to be home for Ben's graduation.  The graduation ceremony wasn't until 1:30, but we had a busy day so I was up and out the door by 8:00.  My aunts and I got manicures and pedicures first thing in the morning.  It felt so nice to get all polished up and get to spend some time with my aunts. No pictures though because our hands were a little preoccupied ;)

After the mani/pedi, I rushed to pick up Grandfather at his new apartment (still swooning over it!) so we could head to the convention center in time to get enough seats for our crowd. We ended up being extremely early to the ceremony, but it worked out in our favor since we needed to save a lot of seats.  One by one the Ben fan club trickled in and were all ready for the ceremony.

Because there are 11 high schools in Virginia Beach and they all need to have their ceremony in the same convention center within a few days of each other, each ceremony is only two hours long.  That means that there isn't time for a lot of fluff and definitely not time for a key note speaker.  Despite this, the ceremony was so nice.  The valedictorian and salutatorian gave incredible speeches, especially for being 18 years old.  There were over 400 graduates, but I felt like they good job of recognizing students for different accomplishments.  Ben wore a white sash because he was in National Honor Society (he was the president! Proud sister!) and everyone who had above a 4.0 GPA wore a light blue sash (Ben would have had one of those, but he had the white for NHS. Guys, I'm just so proud!). Doing simple things like that helped to recognize students' accomplishments, despite the large size.

The graduates have arrived!!
That big adult walking across the stage? I remember the day he was born.

By the end of the ceremony, we were all beaming and a few of us were crying.  We love a good graduation ceremony!! After we exited, we realized that it was POURING outside and our well-devised plan to meet Ben outside across the parking lot away from the crowds was not going to work.  We finally found him and were able to grab a few pictures with the graduate.

Man, oh man, am I proud of this guy.  He is by far the smartest of the three Russo kids and the most determined and hard-working, as well (Sorry Andrew!).  I know that he will do well at William and Mary and that it will be such a good fit, although it breaks my heart that he's going to one of JMU's biggest rivals.

After the ceremony, we all parted ways for a few hours.  I went to get the cake, my aunts, uncles, grandfather and cousins went home for a few hours and my parents went home to get ready for the party that night.  Ben isn't one to enjoy being the center of attention, so it didn't surprise us when he said he didn't want a big party.  Instead, we just had our family and Ben's Godparents over for dinner, cake and celebrating.  It was a great evening and Ben and all of his accomplishments were still celebrated.

Ben-we are so proud of you and are in awe of all you have accomplished.  You are going to do incredible things at William and Mary and beyond! Congratulations!

This kid.  We couldn't be prouder.

Mom joined in

My heart and soul.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Week at Home

Whenever I am home, I try to fill the week with plans so that I can see everyone, which makes for a busy and crazy week at home, but it's well worth the hustle and bustle.  This time, it wasn't quite as hectic because I'll be around for longer, but I definitely wasn't just sitting around most of the time.  



Hanging out with Rachel all day meant trips to Chipotle, Target and 7-11!! All my favorite places! I Displaying IMG_20160611_124200.jpgwas in heaven! Chipotle tasted as good as I remembered and a slurpee was the perfect treat on a hot day.
Displaying IMG_20160611_124200.jpg
I was so excited my finger got in the way!


We all went over to my grandfather's new apartment and had lunch.  I love his apartment and am a little jealous of how nice his new home is!  It was so comforting to see all of the artwork and furniture from his old house in his apartment.  It made it feel like home almost immediately.  And, his cat Daisy has wasted no time in making herself right at home ;)


Ben and I hung out during the day and that night, he decided it was the perfect opportunity to do a notes burning.  It was officially his last day of high school, so he took all of his notes, threw them on the grill and made a big bonfire! We even made s'mores in celebration!


After a morning of running around all of Hampton Roads, I treated myself to Chick fil a.  Don't worry, their chicken sandwich still tasted delicious :)

That night, I went out the the barn with my mom and got to meet her buddy Sully! He's such a handsome horse and they looked great riding.


Ben, John Philip and I checked out Top Golf in Virginia Beach.  If you haven't been, GO! It was a ton of fun and you don't have to be a golfer to enjoy it.  Ben's score was about double JP and my score combined, but we still had a ton of fun.  

That night, my parents, Ben, JP, Aunt Mary and Uncle Morgan and I went out for sushi.  Some of us are more experienced sushi eaters than others (and some of us order the fried shrimp and vegetables...), but I think everyone enjoyed it.  


Shopping!! It was so nice to be back with all of my stores and go on a little shopping spree.  After a year of no shopping,  I felt like I deserved a little shopping spree :)

Friday was Ben's graduation, which merits it's own post, but for now, I've got some baby Emma snuggling to do.  :)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Home Sweet Home

Before the evacuation happened, I had decided to go home for Ben's high school graduation.  I figured I would spend a week at home and a week-ish in DC.  Then, we found out that I would have to return on the Navy's flight due to evacuation procedures and that I would return once we got orders.  Orders took a little bit longer to figure out and I ended up boarding a flight to the United States with no return ticket.  Eventually, I'll get a return ticket, but for now, I'm just hanging out at home.  

After a flight to JFK (where I had a whole row to myself!!!!) and then one to Norfolk (with a flight full of Turks heading for a work exchange program at the ocean front! Who would have thought I'd run into Turks heading to Norfolk??? Merhaba and hosh geldiniz guys!) I arrived home in Norfolk.

My first glimpse of American soil in a year.  I may have cried....

When I arrived at the Norfolk airport, this guy was waiting for me....

So thankful for the refugee assistance program (also known as Dad)

It worked out well that I returned on Friday June 10th because that ended up being Ben's prom! As Ben says "Sarah always manages to be around for everything!"  I do try!  There were 12 people in the group and they all came to our house for pictures.  It was so fun seeing/meeting Ben's friends and his date.  They clean up well!

These three have been friends since middle school!

After all of the teenagers left, Mom, Dad and I headed out to YNot for dinner.  It's good to be home...