I Celebrate the 3rd of July

Happy 3rd of July!

What? You don’t celebrate the 3rd of July? I sure do! Today is the 2nd anniversary of being reunited with Stephen following his first deployment! Totally celebration-worthy if you ask me.

reunited

This was the first time that I had seen Stephen in 258 days. In the preceding year and a half, we’d spent a total of 8 non-consecutive weeks together. I remember being so amped up all day waiting for his flight to get in. I may or may not have vacuumed our apartment twice. I was chewing gum like a mad woman. I was pacing the airport. When I saw him, when I could finally put my arms around him and put the war behind us, I exhaled. I had been holding my breath since we parted in the Nuremberg Airport on July 3rd, 2011.

Reintegration

Reintegration, the time after deployment when the soldier and family members are adjusting to their new circumstances, is something I am passionate about talking about. Mostly because when we were in the thick of it, it seemed like no one else had anything to say! I’ve discussed how we struggled to reintegrate (here and here in particular). I chaffed against the image of long distance lovers being reunited and sailing off into the sunset without a care in the world. Not only is that unrealistic, but talk about pressure! The truth is that the long distance lovers are reunited and happy but also annoyed that their partner is doing something the “wrong” way or frustrated by different priorities or just flailing when it comes to learning how to meld their lives together.

4th of July 2012

4th of July 2012

In our case, we worked hard to figure out how be us again. There were plenty of tough life changes in the mix (moving twice, the death of Stephen’s brother, job changes for me), but we eventually found our groove again. That’s about the moment that things started to gear up for deployment number two. The focus of our relation shifted into preparation mode. In some ways that made things easier (a new target to focus on) and harder (both of us taking a different approach to ready ourselves).

Before the Army, we had stability. We could have stayed where we were living in the jobs we had indefinitely. (Of course, stability doesn’t necessarily mean happiness.) Since Stephen took his oath of enlistment in January of 2011, all I’ve wanted is for our life to hold still for a minute. Many times I’ve found myself thinking “when xyz is over, things will calm down.” XYZ = time in the field, PCSes, deployment, job hunting. I think it’s finally hitting me that things won’t ever really calm down. Like being out on a boat in the ocean, some times the seas are calm, but the water never stops moving. I guess I’m realizing that I have to learn to still myself even as the waves ebb and flow.

I’m also working hard to better prepare myself for reintegration this time around. It helps that I have much more realistic expectations, but I need to make an effort to stop myself from destructive thinking patterns. Let’s be real y’all, I’m lying when I tell myself that I won’t be annoyed by dirty dishes in the sink. I can’t expect a fairy tale life the second Stephen sets food back on American soil when life has never been like a fairy tale. In one of my previous posts about reintegration, I wrote:

All this to say that we still don’t have everything figured out. Did we ever? Will we ever?

No, we never had it all figured out before, and we might not ever, but we’ll keep trying to figure it out together.

reunion

Geronimo is 8!

Today is Geronimo’s birthday.

gmo1

My little boy, who started out as a wiggle-bottomed ball of fluff, the boy who would cry because he couldn’t get on the couch, who was afraid of his own shadow, who couldn’t walk on a leash, is eight years old. He’s a senior dog now! How did that happen?

I can’t help but think of Eleven by Sandra Cisneros. She describes growing up as like rings in a tree or nesting dolls; that you are every age you’ve ever been all at once. That’s how Geronimo is when I look at him. He might be eight today, but to me he’s also the brave international traveler that he was at six, the ball of energy he was at three, the perfect snuggler he was at five, tripping over his feet at one, and everything in between.

gmo2

It feels like I only just welcomed him into my life, and it feels like he’s always been part of it.

In honor of the furry man of the hour, I’m sharing eight fond Geronimo memories:

1. His adoption story!

gmo 2006

2. That time we ran (literally) into a Civil War re-enactment.

3. Geronimo’s first time swimming:

gmo swimming

4. Being so afraid about moving him to Germany (I cried dropping him off at the airport), and then he thrived there!

5. Geronimo’s reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden:

gmo3

6. Quizzing Geronimo on how well he knows me.

7. Geronimo participating in a 4th of July parade in Lubbock. (We were representing Stephen’s work – Above and Beyond Pet Care Hospital – and Geronimo was so not feeling the doggles.)

gmo lbk

8.  The great many runs we’ve shared together.

Geronimo is a perfect companion. At times he is crazy/frustrating/infuriating/bananas, but he is also loving, sweet, hilarious, and adorable. We hit the jackpot with this kid.

gmo hug

Happy birthday, Geems! We love you!

Amy Reads: June

The year is just about halfway over, my friends! I’m not sure where these last six months went, but I guess it’s safe to assume that I’ve spent a good chunk of my time reading. I’m crushing my goal. (I want to read at least 52 books this year, but my stretch goal is 60.) I know that life will be a lot busier once work starts up next month (gulp!). Hopefully I won’t end up falling off the reading wagon completely. Lets take a look at the breakdown for this month:

1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Dystopian fiction)

HandmaidsTale1

Short version: In the (not too distant?) future, America has turned into a fundamental state in which women have very little say, and some exist for the sole purpose of procreating with high-ranking men.

The verdict: 4 out of 5 stars. That one sentence summary was tricky because this book is so, so complex. As soon as I put it down, I just wanted to talk to someone, have a discussion about it, delve deeper into the text. Some parts were slow moving, but I feel as though Atwood was very deliberate in the way she wrote it. Even though that meant I was yawning at times, it also meant that everything had a purpose. And the ending! I felt like that took it to another level. I spent hours after I finished reading review after review of the book online. I’m still a bit perplexed about some aspects of the book (and would love to discuss it with anyone and everyone!), but overall, I can see why it’s so popular.

2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Mystery)

gone

Short version: Amy Dunne goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary, and her supposedly innocent husband, Nick, is looking guiltier by the day, especially after the police find Amy’s diary.

The verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars. This book was described to me as a page-turner, and I agree. It’s a fast read and one that you want to race through to see what happens next. I knew there would be a plot twist, so I considered every possible angle in my attempt to predict it. Still, the twist was too much for me to see coming. (And I was surprised by those who said it was obvious. Really?) By the end of the book, I found almost every character so deplorable and mostly one-dimensional, that my affection started to wane. I looked up the movie trailer, and this may be one of the few times that I’m more excited about the movie than the book. (This never happens!) Ben Affleck appears to be perfectly cast, and I think the plot will lend itself better to film depending on how they approach certain elements.

3. We Are Called To Rise by Laura McBride (Adult fiction)

called to rise

Short version: Set mostly in Las Vegas, this book tells the intersecting stories of four characters, shining a light on the tiny moments in life that surround the life-changing ones.

The verdict: 5 out of 5 stars. You can read my full review on the Military Spouse Book Review here, but all you really need to know is that I loved this book! Characters, plot, pacing, themes, all of it. This was the best use of multiple narrators that I’ve read in a while. The writing teacher in me almost always finishes a book and thinks, “I wish the author would have…” But not this time. I couldn’t come up with any constructive changes. Standing ovation for this one.

4. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan (Nonfiction audiobook)

omnivores dilemma

Short version: Pollan explores different food systems in America from an agricultural, economic, ecological, historical, and personal stand point.

The verdict: 3 out of 5 stars. I initially rated this book a 4, but when I was checking my ratings to write this post, I thought, “No way,” and bumped it down to a 3. Part of the reason I didn’t lurve this one probably has to do with the fact that I listened to it on CD. It was a bit too heavy for driving around town and I didn’t like the narrator. Despite the interesting subject, it didn’t hold my attention. My other complaint was that some parts were a tad self righteous. (Pollan eats a meal at McDonald’s during which he hems and haws about how he’d never eat fast food, how strange it smells and tastes. I get it – fast food isn’t as good as “real food,” but it came off as hoighty-toighty and out of touch.) That said, some parts were really eye-opening. Particularly the information about the economics and prevalence of corn. I’m already thinking twice about what I eat and making different food choices. Still, I was left wanting more of a call to action at the end. All that information, all that passion about the subject, and Pollan doesn’t prescribe a solution or answer some of my lingering questions.

5. Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions by Rachel Held Evans (Memoir)

monkeytown

Short version: A woman who grew up in a deeply religious town (home of the famed Scopes Monkey Trial) explores her doubts about Christianity, boldly doing the thing she was raised to never do: question her faith.

The verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars. I checked this book out from the library immediately after reading Stephanie‘s review here. I’ve always felt that there was room in faith for doubt, but I can see how that varies based on your upbringing. The author really had to be brave to seek out the answers she was looking for. (She went to a religious primary school, a religious university, and her father works in the church. That’s a hearty helping of religion!) She was able to talk about Christianity in a way that was open and interesting, relatable and self-deprecating. I appreciated that she didn’t necessarily find any answers, but she was able to meld her questions and her beliefs. There were a few areas where I was confused (I’m not up on the different types of Christianity and they weren’t explained), but overall, I thought this was a fantastic book.

6. All We Know of Heaven by Jacquelyn Mitchard (Young adult fiction)

all we know

Short version: Two best friends are in a car crash in which one of them dies, but it is later discovered that there has been a case of mistaken identity.

The verdict: 3 out of 5 stars. The first 2/3rds of this book were really interesting. The accident, trying to figure out which girl lived, seeing how far things get before the mistake is discovered, watching both families react, and the surviving girl’s recovery and reception all made for good reading. The last portion, however, devolved into a schmaltzy love story that felt unnecessary and heavy. The majority of the book wasn’t a love story (it was about strength and family), so it felt like the most convoluted set-up to finding your true love ever. I would have rather all that be left out. The author typically writes adult fiction, and I wondered if the love story was what she thought teens would want or if that’s her regular schtick. The word choice could have also used some help. I initially assumed the book took place in the past when the kids talked about goofing and hanging out in a rec room. Or is that a regional thing? Nevertheless, this one was ‘meh.’

*

Total # of books read so far this year: 36

Total # of pages read so far this year: 10,477

*

Your turn! What are you reading these days? If you’ve read any of the books I did this month, lend me your thoughts!

Sweet 29

Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as Sweet Sixteen, eh?

stephen

Today Stephen turns “Almost 30!” Happy birthday, Love!

Interestingly, this is his 3rd birthday that he’ll be celebrating internationally but the first one in Afghanistan. My personal favorite was the year that he turned 26. We were wrapping up a week together in Berlin as part of his pre-deployment vacation in 2011. The majority of the day was spent at Schloss Charlottenburg, a sprawling palace, and followed up with pizza!

Stealing a kiss on the palace grounds while I was in the middle of talking! For the birthday boy, I'll allow it.

Stealing a kiss on the palace grounds while I was in the middle of talking! For the birthday boy, I’ll allow it.

I took a virtual walk down memory lane searching for pictures from our trip on Facebook. Combined, we took and posted 500ish pictures from that trip. There were so many highlights: Stephen taking a shot of tequila at the Mexican restaurant, making funny faces at the weird art in some of the museums, the spot where we were almost crushed alive by a giant crowd, our hotel breakfast that we thought was free but was really 34 euros each (!!!), the two of us attempting to waltz right into the US embassy, the food (oh, the food!), and the gypsies (oh, the gypsies!).

This time around, he’s stuck having a birthday downrange. I’m sure his buddies will make it memorable for him.

Since mail can be unreliable, I sent my gifts forever ago, and Stephen received them far in advance. He got a falsa blanket and cake in a jar.

IMG_5240

Last year I wrote 28 reasons he’s awesome (although the complete list would be much longer). The year before that, I gave an example of how great he is with a story of him coaching me on how to get Geronimo into the bath tub. What to say this year? I’ve decided to let the minions do the talking for me:

I hope 29 is a fantastic year for you, Stephen! I love you, you old man!

Friday Five

I’m not typically one to hate certain days of the week (Monday) and love others (Friday) because every day is kind of like Saturday in the Army Amy household. Alas, I’m really glad this week is on its way out – it was a stressful one! And I’m double glad it’s a Friday Five kind of day because I don’t think I could produce anything more coherent than a random list today. With that promising intro, here you go:

1. Athletic trainers have skillz.

IMG_5665

Battle Buddy Julie hooked me up on Wednesday. We went for a run together, and toward the end, my hair tie decided it hated me and jumped off my head. I searched my car for a spare with no luck. Julie, an athletic trainer, used the supplies in her car (some sort of foamy-wrappy stuff that you might put on an ailing body part) to fashion me one! She effing MacGyver-ed a ponytail holder out of thin air! It was a sight to behold and actually was very effective.

2. My Party of Five obsession has reached epic proportions.

PARTY OF FIVE SEASON PREMIERE

People in the 90’s were so adorable. They wore so much plaid. No one had a cell phone or used e-mail. (They just had a discussion about what LOL stands for. LOL!) I can’t help thinking about things like, why does Scott Wolf get first billing? Shouldn’t Matt Fox, the eldest sibling, be first on the credits like Barry Watson on 7th Heaven? And how did it come to be that two men with animal last names starred on a show together? When will Claudia/Lacey Chabert grow her hair back out? When will Sarah/J.Love Hewitt finally get with Bailey? Are there any other men out there named Bailey or is this guy the only one? Why is Owen even on the show when there are no storylines about him? So, so many questions.

3. I had an itty-bitty brush with fame this week.

This is a happy face in Amy Land.

This is a happy face in Amy Land.

I wrote a review of We Are Called to Rise for The Military Spouse Book Club blog. (You can read it here.) Blogger extraordinaire Andria e-mailed the author, Laura McBride, to let her know. Then Laura tweeted about it! She was “delighted” by my review. My reaction was that of Kevin from Home Alone (see above).

4. I had new hire orientation for my job this week.

IMG_5677

It was exciting to dip my toe back into the working world, but boy, howdy! I was tired after going all day. All day meaning from 8 am – 3 pm. I know, I’m in for a rude awakening when school starts. The nerves are also starting to set in. I was already anxious about getting back into the swing of things when it comes to curriculum. After an hour+ about all the ways you could get fired, I’m freaked out about that, too. It’s also got me wondering about the future of the blog. :/

5. The only thing I did yesterday was make and eat nachos.

Chips, black beans, sweet potato, cheese, Greek yogurt, guac, salsa, cilantro.

Chips, black beans, sweet potato, onion, cheese, Greek yogurt, guac, salsa, cilantro.

And check the mail. And nap. I’m not sure if that is the best day ever or the most pathetic.

Picking Good Books

Y’all know by now that reading is my jam. It says so in my instagram profile. (Of course, I also quoted Will Smith, mentioned lemurs, and tossed out Hong Kong, sooooo grain of salt and all that.) I fancy myself a little bit of an expert when it comes to reading. Not in my ability or speed, just in my love for the written word. I’ve already written about how to fit more reading in your life, but today I want to discuss how to pick out better books.

Take suggestions…or not.

Gone Girl was thrust upon me by a very kind friend.

Gone Girl was thrust upon me by a very kind friend.

When you have the reputation of a reader, people start suggesting books to you. I add almost every single suggestion to Goodreads. It’s great having my list in one, easily accessible place. I whip that app out at the library and simultaneously search the catalog. Goodreads will also suggest books for you based on what you’ve already read, much like Amazon does when you search certain items. Word of mouth can be powerful, too. I read The Handmaid’s Tale this month because it just seemed to damn popular to ignore anymore. Still, it’s okay if you ignore other people’s suggestions. One of my old coworkers generously kept giving me her James Patterson books to read. They weren’t my cup of tea, but I read every single one she gave me. 2009 Amy hadn’t learned how to say ‘no thank you.’

Consider the cover…or not.

I like both sets of these covers; they are striking.

I like both sets of these covers; they are striking.

A few years back, a girl couldn’t walk into Target without seeing Uglies. I thought the name was appropriate because I hated the cover. Hated. I can’t seem to relocate the offending cover, so you get to see the more recent incarnations. One day, I relented and picked the book up. Best premise ever. I devoured the book, and the sequel, and the third one. In fact, I loved it so much, I didn’t want to read Hunger Games. (My heart was full. Don’t worry, I eventually made room.) But I kicked myself for delaying the pleasure that came from the book. Conversely, some covers grab you and demand to be read. Move with caution when it comes to covers; they can be deceiving for better or worse.

Wander the shelves.

I had never read any Capote, let alone his short stories, until stumbling on this book at the library.

I had never read any Capote, let alone his short stories, until stumbling on this book at the library.

Who doesn’t love spending a lazy day wandering around Barnes and Noble? If you want to read a good book but you can’t seem to find one, dig into what’s out there. Run your hands along the options, pick them up, flip through them. I’m partial to the library because it tends to have a nice mix of old and new along with some randoms tossed in, too.

Know what you like…but stretch.

called to rise

My favorite genre is young adult fiction. My inner, angsty 13-year-old loves it, and I probably get some sort of reverse hoighty-toighty satisfaction out of saying things like, “I don’t like adult fiction,” as if ‘adult’ is a dirty word. I pluck heavily from the teen side of the library, and it’s usually pretty fruitful. However, I also stretch myself. I won’t grab a stack of 10 adult books or science fiction or fantasy, but I give them a chance. I just finished We Are Called To Rise by Laura McBride (adult fic!), and I loved it! In fact, three out of five of the best books I’ve read so far this year are adult books.

Drop the sucky ones.

Sorry, French Milk, but you are kind of boring.

Sorry, French Milk, but you are kind of boring.

I like to give a book a chapter or two. Sometimes I’ll even battle my way to the middle before coming to my senses. There is no joy in grinding through books that aren’t for me. Sometimes you have to read a crap book (work, school, trying to impress someone, etc.), but if you don’t have to read a book and you aren’t enjoying it, move on. There are a million fantastic books that you would love just waiting for you to find them! Don’t make them wait any longer!

How do you pick out what to read next? Is there some sage book-picking tip that I’m missing out on here? Do tell!

Deployment: 50% Down

It’s been a while since I’ve written about the progress of Stephen’s deployment. Well, I’m happy to say that it is {finally} over halfway done!

Cue the Bon Jovi. "Oh-oh halfway there! Oh-oh, living on a prayer!"

Cue the Bon Jovi. “Oh-oh halfway there! Oh-oh, living on a prayer!”

I know it doesn’t look like it in the picture, but it’s just the teeniest-weeniest smidge beyond halfway. That little smidge counts, dammit!

When I last talked about deployment, I lamented the fact that time was moving slowly, really slowly. No change in that department. The cardinal rule of deployment and the one thing that you will hear every.single.person say is, “stay busy.” I’m as busy as I can be, but these days, that ain’t very busy at all. Work with UTEP wrapped up in early May, and my new job doesn’t start until late July. That means I’ve been bored for a month and it’ll be a whole nother month before things pick up. I’ve watched so many episodes of Party of Five that I should be embarrassed, but I have no shame. (I’m talking 60+ episodes. It’s ridiculous.) I’m trying to enjoy the free time while I have it. Alas, free time kind of sucks when your better half is in Afghanistan.

Stephen hard at work in Afghanistan.

Stephen hard at work down range.

Emotionally

I will say that I continue to feel much stronger emotionally than I did during the first deployment. There was a lot of closet crying last time. Why the closet? I have no idea. This time there has been very little crying, in the closet or anywhere else. I could probably count all my freak-outs and meltdowns on one hand, which is insanely low in my opinion! I credit the big difference to two things:

1. I went into this deployment with low expectations. I had a political science professor in college tell me that low expectations got George W. Bush elected. I don’t know about that, but I think there is something to that idea as a whole. High expectations set you up for disappointment. Conversely, low expectations lead to lots of surprise happiness. Anything good (like how much Stephen and I have gotten to talk) is better than what I hoped for. Voila! Secret to happiness, I tell ya.

2. I got some spot-on advice from my dear friend Linzi (she used to blog here). Her husband was seriously wounded in Afghanistan last year (he’s made amazing strides since then). She told me before Stephen left that she wished she would have not worried prior to deployment, that she would have rather just saved it for when it was time to worry. (Of course, she stated it much more concisely and beautifully, but that about sums it up.) I’ve always been a worrier. It’s as much apart of me as running, eating chips and salsa, and watching bad TV. People have often told me not to worry, but I’ve never been able to just turn off my worries. However, the way Linzi said it makes so much sense to me. I cannot stop myself from worrying, but I can worry later. I so admire the way she’s faced the challenges of the last year, and I try to channel her grace. It’s working! I still worry, but it’s not all-encompassing or debilitating. It’s more like a whisper that usually I can shush and only occasionally brings me down.

Physically

It’s not a stretch to say that by the end of Stephen’s previous deployment, I was in the best shape of my life. I spent months marathon training, racing like a maniac, and PR-ing in every race distance. I also drank water like it was my job and ate clean (minus the occasional cream slush from Sonic). Right now, I’m healthy-ish. The intensity isn’t there in my running. (El Paso feels like the surface of the sun most days. The heat has been a drag.) I’ve taken up yoga, which I love. I just don’t think it has improved my body or health, at least not as far as I can tell. On the food front, I eat mostly healthy, I’m not nearly as diligent about it as I could be. It’s not like I needed to buy that gallon of ice cream, but I did. Now I’m going to eat it. All of it. By myself. Straight out of the carton. So I could be better in this respect.

2.5 months before Stephen's homecoming last time. I took over an hour off of my previous marathon time. Amy equaled beast mode. This time, Amy equals lazy mode.

2.5 months before Stephen’s homecoming last time. I took over an hour off of my previous marathon time. Amy equaled beast mode. This time, Amy equals lazy mode.

Financially

This area is one of the primo benefits of deployment. (Don’t get it twisted: I’d much rather have Stephen home, but if he’s going to be gone, the least we can do is enjoy the compensation.) We got our finances pretty well in order during the last deployment, but two international moves in one year, two new cars, and my underemployment added up. I’m pleased to say that the Gold Nugget is one payment away from being paid off completely (huzzah!), my credit card is paid off, and our savings has plumped right up. If things remain calm post-deployment (aka no moves immediately following), then we should easily be able to stay on this trend of saving saving saving.

The Gold Nugget!

The Gold Nugget!

Otherly

At the risk of tempting fate, I’ve started to think about homecoming. What will I wear, what kind of sign will I make, what sort of dazzling things will I say after being apart from my husband for 200+ days. I can’t help but smile when I imagine it! I’m trying to force myself to wait to actually act on any of my ideas. Don’t want to jump the gun, ya know; we still have a way to go. If you have any suggestions for a clever welcome home sign, though, I’m all ears!

I think that is pretty much every single thought I’ve had on deployment up until now. Y’all got a mouthful. If you made it all the way to the end of this post, I owe you a spoonful of my cookies and cream Blue Bell ice cream the next time you’re at my house.