Conversations with my Soldier: Dinner is Served

I was wrapping up my work yesterday when Stephen started bombarding me with urgent messages.

email 1

Was he hurt? Was he upset? Was the homecoming timeline changed? (<–Wishful thinking!) What was wrong? What?!

Drumroll please:

Stephen ordered me dinner.

Yeah, not quite as dramatic or life changing as I was expecting based on the number of exclamation points he used, but it is also just about the sweetest, most thoughtful gesture of all time. Or at least in the top ten.

We had been skyping the day before when I mentioned that I wished he could pack my lunch for me. It’s one of those tasks that I loathe and on the rare occasion Stephen kindly offers to take the reigns. Since deploying over 200 days ago, that hasn’t be possible. It’s still not, but he said that since he couldn’t make my lunch, he wanted to do the next best thing: take care of dinner! Stephen ordered my favorite dish from Pei Wei, arranged the pick up time, and paid. All I had to do was show up and give them my name.

Ultimate happiness.

Ultimate happiness.

I know it’s a small thing, but after a long day at work and with a heart that misses my husband, this kind of thing makes me melt.

Don’t worry, I’ll be way less braggy and a lot more whiney (I know that’s what y’all are accustomed to from me) in my next post. :)

The Best Weekend

If ever there was a weekend that I would want to re-live over and over, I think this one would be it. It contained almost every thing I love in the world in just a few days. The only thing that could have made it better would be the appearance of a few more of my favorite people, but I shouldn’t get greedy; the last three days were divine.

Friday

On Friday, my school was on an assembly schedule. That meant that all the classes were a smidge shorter and the last hour of the day was a dance. Yes, hundreds of crazy middle schoolers dancing/running around in a dark gymnasium with DJ music blaring. It was both frightening and awesome. It was fun to see my students bust a move, and I busted a few of my own with the encouragement of my coworkers. I mostly bounce and clap and look ridiculous when it comes to dancing, but I rocked the chicken dance.

The Chicken Dance!

The Chicken Dance!

If shorter classes and an impending 3-day weekend weren’t enough to make Friday great, it was also my first payday as a teacher in two years! New hires have to pick up their first paychecks in person, which is a huge hassle. (Afternoon traffic = no bueno.) However, it ended up being fun when two of my school buddies and I showed up at the district payroll office at the same time. We opened our paychecks together and cried tears of happiness.

Saturday

The morning started the way all of my best Saturdays do lately: running with Wear Blue.

The crew this week.

The crew this week.

I ran 8 miles with Julie and a new friend named Jennifer. It was one of those runs where the distance felt miraculously easy. I guess it was a matter of everything coming together (fueling, hydration, pacing, company) because despite the heat, the miles didn’t feel like miles.

I found myself rushing from the run to the nearest on post gym for a shower. In the madness I forgot to bring in my towel! I improvised and dried myself off with my running shorts. (Ew, I know.) It didn’t matter much to me because I needed to get to the airport lickety split to pick up two of my best girls!

IMG_6348

Mary Beth and her daughter Brooklyn spent the weekend with me! I seriously have the best friends of all time. Mary Beth was willing to fly across the state with her 7-month old and her hubby was willing to solo parent their two-year-old so that we could have some much-needed girl time. The first day together was spent majorly catching up and doing a little bit of shopping. We hit the hay early, so we could get a jump on Sunday.

Sunday

More girl time! I could not get enough of sweet B, her soft baby-fine hair, and the nonstop smiles.

"Watch me roll, Aunt Amy!"

“Watch me roll, Aunt Amy!” No joke, girlfriend here is an excellent roller.

After a trip to the mall and some time spent walking, Brooklyn napped in the car while I gave Mary Beth a driving tour of El Paso. We went across the mountain and back around, and wound up in my hood (at Taco Tote) just in time for lunch.

The afternoon had more playing, more napping, and even some yoga for the grown-ups. There was a point that MB and I were both stretched out in Warrior II while B was snoozing and I thought to myself, “This is the life!” Oh, how I wish we didn’t live 600+ miles apart!

Monday

I got to spent 45 minutes of alone time with Brooklyn while Mary Beth squeezed in a run. This is huge for me, people, huge! I love Brooklyn and her big sis, Whitley, but I’m so not good with little ones on my own. Somehow, though, we managed okay just the two of us. I was super proud of myself for helping to keep B content and in one piece. This may never happen again. The rest of the morning was split between feeding Brooklyn and trying to get her to nap.

Baby + Amy selfie

Baby + Amy selfie

Eventually it was time to load up the car and drop the girls off at the airport for their flight home. I hate goodbyes, and this was a hard one. It’s not that I worry about our friendship or that we are all that far away. Instead, I get sad about the fact that I have the best best friend in the world, and it sucks that our visits have to be months apart. But we vowed to see each other at least twice a year every year no matter what. I’ll aiming to be back in Dallas around Thanksgiving and again at Christmas, so hopefully we can carve out a little friend time then.

I drowned my sorrows by making totally unnecessary purchases at Target (nail polish! Ben & Jerry’s!) and watching Parenthood on Netflix. See? A weekend worthy of repeating.

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)

tunes

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)

sparta

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.)

yard

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)

IMG_6278

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!

IMG_6279

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.