Amy Reads: August

Before going back to work, I was averaging five or six books per month. My numbers have decidedly dropped. I’d be happy with four books per month, but I guess three isn’t too bad either. Maybe I can make up some ground during intersession. I’m actually pretty pleased with myself this month. I only wish I would have snuck in some nonfiction. Anyway, here’s what I read this month -

1. Tunes for Bears to Dance To by Robert Cormier (Juvenile Fiction)


Short version: In post WWII New England, a young boy struggles with family issues, watches his bigot of a boss treat everyone like trash, and befriends a Holocaust survivor.

Long version: 4.5 out of 5 stars. This book skews very young (thus the reason I noted it as juvenile and not YA), so it was a super quick read. A friend of mine taught a unit on this book back during student teaching, but this was the first time I read it. I love a book rife with self reflection and tough decisions. This one delivers on both counts. Even though the writer hits you over the head with the point (again, it’s juvenile fiction), this one is a winner.

2. The Giver by Lois Lowry (YA dystopian fantasy)

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Short version: Jonas is selected to become the new Receiver of Memory, a position of honor in his community of sameness, but he soon begins to learn all the things that have been kept hidden from him and everyone else about the community and the burden of that knowledge.

Long version: 5 out of 5 stars. I’ve already waxed poetic about how much this book means to me in my review of the movie. I decided to re-read the book to see if I was just remember a rosy version of it. No, it still stands the test of time. This is perhaps my all time favorite book. Lowry’s work is layered and smart and intriguing while still being approachable for young adults. I love a book that makes you think and doesn’t spoon feed you the answers. Plus, the ending is perfection.

3. Sparta by Roxana Robinson (Fiction)


Short version: Marine Conrad Farrell returns from Iraq to find that life back home has moved on without him, and he struggles to find his place.

Longer version: 3 out of 5 stars. It took me a while to get into this one, but I’m glad I powered through. After I got 100 pages in, the characters grew on me, and I was fully invested. Then the book got dark, really dark. But I knew it would be dark when I decided to read it, so I feel like I can’t fault the author for that. I wonder if I would have been able to appreciate it more if I read the book at a different point in time. (Like, not when Stephen’s in Afghanistan. But again, I knew that before I read it.) I’m still working through my thoughts, and a full review is in the works with Military Spouse Book Review.


Total # of books read so far this year: 42

Total # of pages read so far this year: 12,028

Home Is Where

El Paso: Land of terrible preconceived notions and ugly first impressions.

So close that one push pin denotes both cities.

El Paso: A place that grows on you.

El Paso: land that I love.

I was driving home after my weekly run with Wear Blue last Saturday (followed by brunch with my girl, Julie), and I had a goofy smile on my face. The drive back to my house was routine and familiar. The mountains to the west stood tall along my route. The sky was a cloudless blue. I thought, “I am home.”

Home is a funny concept when you are regularly uprooted.

When I was ten and had just moved to Texas, I thought longingly of Michigan as home. It had been where I first had close friends. That’s where my grandparents live, where my parents fell in love. It’s where every kid takes a field trip to an apple orchard and you get enough snow in the winter to make forts that you can climb inside.

When my parents dropped me off at college in Lubbock, a six-hour drive from our house on Hillview Drive, I cried. That had been my home longer than I had lived in any other one place. (The record still stands.) Visiting during summer vacations I realized that I felt itchy there. The place was the same, but I had changed. Home was changing, and after my parents got divorced, the house’s giant reputation in my mind crumbled. There was a time that those thoughts made me feel sad. Not any more. I’ve driven by it every so often. A new family lives there now, and it’s their home.

Was college my home? My five years spent in Allen? The measly (and miserable) eight months that I was in Germany? or is it El Paso?

I claim it all.

I love that for some people home is one place, one set of bricks, the bedroom that still smells the same as the day you left. That’s how many grandmother’s house is in Flat Rock. Even after years away, hearing the bang of the back door or the creak of the basement steps reminds me of years of Christmases, inside jokes, and family memories. I envy people who can find all that in once place.

But I also love that my memories and inside jokes and Christmases are scattered far and wide. My big brother taught me to swim at a hotel in the middle of a cross-country move. Years later, I taught our little brother how to swim in the backyard pool of our Dallas home. I watched the OJ car chase at a hotel in Tennessee. I admitted my darkest secret on a lumpy dorm room bed in West Texas. My husband slept through the announcement of a new Pope on our couch in Germany. I’ve spent holidays on every coast of this great country. As cheesy as it sounds, home is where my mom cooks my favorite meal, where my dog greets me with a wag of his tail, where my husband leaves his clothes all over the floor.

I’ve learned to make a home for myself wherever I go. To find it in people who I love, activities that I enjoy, and memories that I create.

(Thank you to Andria for the idea for this post!)

Adventures in Lawn Care

I want to set the record straight: I hate (yes, hate!) doing yard work. Always have. My earliest memories of  yard work go back to my childhood home. We lived in the kind of neighborhood where people would be awarded Yard Of The Month and given huge sign to display in front of their house. We never won it, but I think my parents’ goal was to just keep our nice house looking nice in our nice neighborhood. Every so often, my dad would draft my brothers and I into mandatory lawn care service. It was usually easy stuff, like putting leaves in bags, but I remember it as being torturous. I’m not sure if it was just because I was angsty and everything at that time in my life felt like torture or if there was something particularly repellent about the yard work. I just know I didn’t like it, and that feeling has never left me.

As an adult, I’ve mostly lived in apartments. That’s a plus because apartment = no yard to do any work in! When Stephen and I lived in Germany, we had the yard to end all yards. It was huge, and grassy, and hilly, and I loved it. (See Exhibit A below.)


Fortunately, Stephen volunteered (!!!) to be in charge of all things yard-related. I got to enjoy the benefits of having a backyard while wiping my hands of any responsibility. Pretty much the perfect scenario. My only yard involvement was picking up dog poo and being in charge of the cord on the occasion that Stephen mowed the lawn with a rented electric mower. (And because I’m me, I totally complained about having to be the cord girl.)

El Paso yards aren’t really what one would call a yard. They are usually either dirt or rocks.  We rock our rocks in the front and love our dirt in the back. Only our backyard isn’t exactly dirt. It’s more like a half dirt/half grass combo. It’s essentially the centaur of yards. With my yard expert gone, it’s up to me to maintain it.

Oy vey.

Don’t get me wrong, we are working with the lowest of low maintenance yards here. That’s still more work than I’d prefer to put in. Every three weeks, I have to do some weed pulling out front. As for the back, well, I’ve gone the entire 200+ days that Stephen’s been gone without doing a single thing back there. It seemed like the backyard was taking care of itself (that’s what I told myself anyway), until I realized it’s on its way to becoming a mini-jungle.

Welcome to my jungle.

Welcome to my jungle.

I honestly would have put off doing any work back there if it hadn’t been for the appearance of a few too many black widow spiders. One is really too many, but I’ve spotted (and annihilated) four in the backyard. I’m not sure if they live in tall grasses, but I don’t like the idea of Geronimo walking around where things might be lurking.

All this to say: I had to mow the lawn.

I’ve never mowed a lawn before in my life. I’ve never anything-ed a lawn before. I don’t even have mowing capabilities! After consulting my yard aficionado (Stephen) and visiting Home Depot, I’m now the proud owner (and assembler!) of a weed whacker. We decided that for our grassy patches, though they be long, a full on mower wasn’t really necessary. I really had to buck up to make all this happen. Not only am I inexperienced and inept in this arena, I was also about as unexcited as one can be for this sort of thing. It had to be done, though, so I did it!

I bought the weed whacker. I assembled the weed whacker. I whacked weeds.

Ta da!

Ta da!

It was messy and tiring but also strangely satisfying. And I have no plans to ever repeat the experience.

The yard now looks akin to when I attempt to cut Stephen’s hair on R&R back in 2011: not very good but better than it looked before. I’m pretty sure this means that Stephen now has to buy me jewelry.

Thank you for not ruining The Giver

On Sunday, I treated myself to a trip to the movies. It was a nice way to relax after running the 10 Miler on Saturday. I’m honestly not usually one for going to the movies. It seems like a rip-off to pay so much to sit there and do nothing. Then pay even more for snacks. ($4 for a junior popcorn, people! A junior popcorn!) But since it is something that I usually deny myself, it feels very decadent on the rare occasion that I shell out the dough. The movie of choice: The Giver!

the giver

The book is one of my all-time favorites. By the time I read it in Mrs. Armstrong’s reading class in middle school, I was already a reader. I grew up in a house rich with literature. Both my brothers and I had bookshelves maxed out with novels. My parents subscribed to Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, and The Dallas Morning News. When I had read everything at my disposal, it wasn’t uncommon to find me reading the backs of cereal boxes. I like to imagine the doctor’s wiping amniotic fluid from my eyes at birth and handing me a book. ;) I’ve always been a reader! But reading The Giver was different.

Before that, I was reading American Girl books. I would never knock those -they are still awesome- but things are easy for the American Girls. Sure, they deal with some tough stuff. (Hello, Felicity’s family is in the middle of the Revolutionary war and Addy’s parents were slaves!) Still, they are written for a younger audience, so things typically work out for our protagonists a la 30 minute TV shows like The Brady Bunch.

Jonas, the main character in The Giver, however, experiences a loss of innocence. As the reader, I experienced that right alongside him. Discovering the truth about his family, about his community, I remember gasping out loud when I realized what was going on. It changed Jonas, and in some ways, I felt like it changed me, too. Not only that, but the way Lois Lowry slowly reveals the story in layers totally hooked me. I only wanted to read more, discover more after reading this book.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Naturally, I assumed the movie would be shit.

Let’s be real, movies very rarely live up to the standard set by the book. I get it, movies are a different art form. I can’t expect the emotions woven throughout hundreds of pages of a novel to be expressed as fully on screen. Still, the temptation of seeing a beloved story come to life got to me, and I hoped that the movie would at least come close in this case.

I’m happy to report that it was pretty, pretty good. The movie doesn’t follow the book exactly, but that’s okay. (They needed to make things a little splashier and more dramatic to stand up against current YA dystopian tales. I get it.) The meat of the story is still there along with Jonas’s painful realizations and loss of innocence. I must be a glutton for punishment because I love that part, when all is revealed. Even better, there were some people in the movie theater talking, and hearing them realize what was happening at the big “a-ha” moment made me so happy.

Here’s what you need to know: The Giver is awesome. The movie is pretty good, but the book is even better. Do yourself a favor and read it. If you can’t do that, okay, go see the movie. (If you want some extended reading, Lois Lowry’s Newbery Acceptance speech is pretty badass.)

What movies do y’all think are as good as (or close) to the books? What books made you love reading? The Devil’s Arithmetic was another that punched me in the gut (in a good way) when I got to the ending.

10 Miler in the Heat Race Recap

I’ve been training for the Fort Bliss 10 Miler in the Heat for the last few months. This race has a good reputation, and it did not disappoint. It was well-organized, the views were nice, the water stations were plentiful, and the course was flat. The other variables (the weather and the people I ran with) ended up being top-notch, too. Even though ‘heat’ is in the name of the race, it ended up only being in the 80’s with good cloud cover. Score!

Per Amy tradition, I woke up way earlier than necessary and got to the race site about an hour before the start. The sun wasn’t even up yet!

Waiting for the sun to rise, the other runners to show up, and the race to start.

Waiting for the sun to rise, the other runners to show up, and the race to start.

I used my early arrival as a chance to get all my gear in order. The start was right outside of one of the gym’s on post. (It’s the one I used to work at!) Having a nice locker room with clean bathrooms at your disposal before a race is awesome. I took full advantage. After a few laps walking around the gym to stay loose, my buddies from Wear Blue arrived and we moseyed to the start. Battle Buddy/Running Buddy Julie popped up out of nowhere, and before we knew it (and before we were really ready!) the starting gun went off.

  • Mile 1: 10:35
  • Mile 2: 10:19
  • Mile 3: 10:41
Julie's watch had yet to sync and I'm waving at (apparently) the wrong photographer.

At the start. Julie’s watch had yet to sync and I’m waving at (apparently) the wrong photographer.

Julie and I had planned to run together, and fellow Wear Blue friend, Jennifer, stuck with us, too. We didn’t have any kind of overall time goal. Our training had been consistent but half the runs were inexplicably crappy. We also knew going in that the weather would be a wildcard factor. Instead of pressuring ourselves with a specific finish time, we aimed to go out slow and finish strong. We obviously felt great the first two miles and were a tad on the too fast side. Whoops! We slowed up after that and settled into a perfect pace just chatting as we ran along.

  • Mile 4: 11:48 (<– walk break for fuel)
  • Mile 5: 10:49
  • Mile 6: 10:43

Jennifer’s gu didn’t agree with her, and she peeled off from us to run/walk until her stomach felt better. Julie and I continued on. As early as mile 4 we started seeing the front-of-the-pack runners who’d already made the turn around and only had a few miles left to go. (The overall male winner finished in under and hour, and the first female was only 10 minutes behind him!) Julie’s boyfriend, Matt, was also running the race. He came barreling so fast out of nowhere that I didn’t even have a chance to get my camera out and snap a picture! He and Julie high-fived and kept trucking on.

franklin mountains

This stretch of the race took us out along a few back roads of Bliss that I’d never traveled to. At one point we were on a dusty, desolate section that I’m convinced was the long, boring stretch of the El Paso Marathon that nearly killed me. Let me just say, running that road is ten times more fun with a friend! It also didn’t hurt that at this point were passing a good number of people. The strategy to start slow was paying off!

  • Mile 7: 10:36
  • Mile 8: 11:29 (<– fuel walk break)


These miles seemed to wash over us in a blur. I’m pretty sure I said, “Mile 7 already?! Mile 8 already?!” I was having so much fun talking and joking with Julie that the race didn’t feel like a race. I mean that in a good way! It just felt like all of our coffee dates; miles ticking away while we discussed every possible thing on our minds both great and small.

  • Mile 9: 10:26
  • Mile 10: 10:05

About halfway through that second-to-last mile, Julie commented that we’d picked up the pace again. I think that even though I felt good, I was also feeling ready for a break. Perhaps my body was trying to get the run over with. The race is entirely on the cement roads and my knees were talking to me. Plus, you can’t run for over an hour and a half in Texas in August and not get hot, even if it is cooler than expected. We reigned it in a bit with the intention of saving something for the last mile.

That was about the time my stomach tried to convince me that I didn’t really want to run. Judging by how salty I was afterwards, I think it was a bit of dehydration. But with only a mile to go, there was no way I was going to walk. I told myself it was mind over matter and kept putting one foot in front of the other. We rounded the last traffic circle and sprinted our way to a strong finish!


My stats:

  • 10 mile finish time: 1:47:31
  • Average pace: 10:45 per mile

I had so much fun and felt fantastic almost the entire race! Julie and I are already discussing our training plans for future races. It looks like I’m going to be doing an 8k in September and a half in October. I might even squeeze in a shorter race or two in between there.

Of course, I can’t end this recap without thanking Julie for running side by side with me and the entire Wear Blue group for being so supportive. Right now, I’m in my happy place, and I like it.

Deployment: 70% Down

Less than 1/3rd remaining in this deployment! Huzzah!

Would you think that I sound like a broken record if I told you that it’s going by slowly? (I just re-read all of my previous deployment updates, and in every single one, I complain about how slow time is moving! I guess I am a broken record!) For some reason, I keep thinking of this deployment as being exactly like the El Paso Marathon. When I got to mile 17 of that race, I was hurting and I was over it. It really sucks to be “over it” when you still have 9 miles to go. Likewise, 30% is not much left, but it’s too far to go to be falling to pieces now. That race was a long hot slog of alternating between coaxing myself to run, quitting on myself, fighting for another step, wanting to sit down, and having no choice but to keep moving. Yeah, that’s me right now. I can’t quit, I can’t stop, but I’m just ready for it to be done. I need to buck up, dig deep, give it my all, yadda yadda yadd, etc. etc. etc. I want it to be easier though. I want my husband home.

counting day

The key here is “want.” Although it’s hard, I feel a marked difference from the last deployment. Toward the end of that one, I needed Stephen to be home. I managed to hold myself together for a long time until eventually I was running on emotional empty. I don’t feel that way this time. Even with the scary IED situation, I don’t feel broken. I may not be happy about the distance between us, but I am managing and making the best of things.


With the end starting to appear (albeit far in the distance), my thoughts have turned to reintegration. I’ve made no secret of the fact that we struggled following the first deployment. It’s not as if Stephen had night terrors and I turned to alcohol or anything salacious like that. It was more along the lines of, we were living in a new place, with new jobs, and a year+ of different life experiences. We were re-learning how to be us and to be us together.

This time around things will be different.

1. We are prepared. I had no clue what I was in for that first time. I figured that reintegration was like a week or two. Ummm, no.  I didn’t even know how much I was floundering until I looked back months later and realized that all the stress and frustration I had been feeling was reintegration. This recent post also hit the nail on the head in terms of my expectations. My husband hadn’t been in any sort of Full Metal Jacket experience, so I figured things would be pretty easy. The truth is that going to war changes things; how could it not? If I had known that some of the little niggling things I was dealing with were reintegration-related and that they’d only grow as I ignored them, I would have handled them differently. Now I have the gift of hindsight to help me.

Obligatory deployment photo.

Obligatory deployment photo.

2. I know that I’m not really prepared. Just as every deployment is different, I think it’s safe to assume that reintegration will be different, too. It’s not necessarily going to be so much easier just because we’ve done it once before. Knock on wood – the biggest challenges we faced last time (living apart, moving, family illness) aren’t part of the equation, so that *should* help. I’m starting to realize that I know what I don’t know, and I’m bracing myself.

3. I’m setting my expectations low. The last five-ish times that Stephen and I have talked, it’s been so effing amazing. We are laughing and silly and serious and sweet. I get giddy, and sometimes it’s like high school or college and things are just easy. But when I find those talks leading me to think, “it’s going to be so great when he comes home! It’s going to be just like this!” I try to stop myself. It won’t be like that. I have no idea what it will be like. I shouldn’t put that pressure on myself for us to be a certain way. I’m going to work hard to prioritize myself (something I struggled with before) and to communicate better and to let go of some of my controlling ways. But I’m not expecting anything, from Stephen or from our relationship. I think that will set us up to be happier so much more than expecting a perfect reunion complete with rainbows, unicorns, and floating hearts.

 To recap: the deployment is mostly over, I wish it was completely over, but I’m doing okay. Reintegration is scary, but I’m going in with my eyes open this time. Hmmm, I guess I could have saved myself the trouble of writing 700 words and just said that. But then I wouldn’t be me. :)

Mike’s Hiking For Heroes

This Saturday was another group run with Wear Blue: Run to Remember. The run itself was just an average, short run. What was special about it (and really it’s special about all the WB:R2R runs) was the company!

mike's hiking

First: We have Pippa, a ten-week old vizsla belonging to a group member. She was so soft. It was like petting a bunny rabbit. Puppy fever was at an all time high as we all just stared at Pippa eating sticks and licking dirt. Seriously, most adorable dirt licker ever. I want.


Next: Battle Buddy Julie‘s BFF Megan was in town and joined us! Megan’s husband deployed a few weeks before Stephen, so I’ve followed their deployment journey on her blog. It was wonderful getting to actually meet her in person, run together, and laugh at silly El Paso fashions at brunch. It’s almost time for her husband to return Stateside (yeay!), which is exciting but also hard. Hopefully this weekend was a good distraction for her.

The star of the run: Mike from Mike’s Hiking for Heroes.

Mike addressing the group before we ran.

Mike addressing the group before we ran.

Mike is 106 days into a trek across the country that started in Washington state in April and will end when he reaches the Army/Navy game in Baltimore, Maryland in December. He’s traveling 7,100 km (that’s over 4,400 miles) on foot (!!!). His idea is to walk a kilometer for each service member killed in the Global War on Terror. Along the way he is raising awareness, raising funds, meeting with gold star families (those are families of service members who have been killed), and being all around awesome.

He made it a point to join our group on Saturday. Mike spoke briefly, ran a fast 10k, hung around while we ate pastries, then picked up his hike where he left off in New Mexico to hike some more. His dedication to his mission is admirable and inspiring. Hearing him talk made me think, “he gets it.” I mean, of course he does, he’s a service member himself, but still, it meant something to me. To see his dedication and his passion, it reminded me that our struggle is not over, but that we are not forgotten.

You can find out more about Mike’s project on his website. I’d also recommend checking out his Facebook page. He regularly updates it with where he is, how far he’s traveled, and the names of the service members he walked for on each particular day. Godspeed and safe travels, Mike!