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The Gratitude Diaries Reflection

March 13, 2017

How was your weekend? We had the funkiest weather and woke up to snow yesterday morning. And while it never warmed up to the 70+ degrees we’ve become used to, the weather did make for a perfect day to stay inside curled up with a good book.  And I’m very happy to say I did just that!

I picked up The Gratitude Diaries on the suggestion of another blogger and am so glad I did.  I loved following Janice Kaplan’s year of gratitude and she definitely inspired me to approach life with a more grateful attitude.  She approached the act of being grateful very scientifically and sought advice from numerous experts, learning the many different approaches to and positive benefits of expressing gratitude on a regular basis.

Kaplan focuses on a different aspect of her life each month: her marriage, her children, her job, her health and so on. Along the way she finds reasons to be grateful, even in the unlikeliest of circumstances. She also discovers that by being grateful, those around her also start to view their lives with more grateful eyes.

My favorite chapter was definitely the one where she focuses on her marriage. Although much longer than mine, I felt like her concerns echoed mine. By all accounts, her husband was fantastic, but she found herself focusing too much on his quirks and voicing her complaints more often than her appreciation.  I often hear the words coming out of my mouth as negative, but can’t stop them. And while I don’t think I’m a bad wife by any means, I can certainly work to be a more grateful one.

For me, one of the biggest takeaways was that just feeling grateful isn’t enough to gain the health benefits. You need to actively express it, either out loud or in writing.  I have taken that piece of advice to heart and am trying to more actively express gratitude throughout the day, especially to the people around me.

So in that same vein, I would like to tell you all how grateful I am for you! I started this blog on a whim and am so exceptionally grateful for it to have turned into something bigger than I could have ever hoped for. Thank you sweet readers for coming on this journey with me.

What are you grateful for today?

Books

What I Read This Month: February 2017

February 24, 2017

Woo hoo, it’s finally Friday! Hopefully the gorgeous weather we’ve had all week continues into the weekend. I’ve got big plans and they all involve keeping the windows open as much as possible! I may even take a book outside and soak up a little extra sunshine. I actually had a really good book month; what I lacked in quantity, I made up for in quality.

Home Fires Burning by Karen Houppert “As taps echoes across the cookie-cutter housing areas of upstate New York’s Fort Drum, the wives turn on the evening news, both hoping for and dreading word of their husbands overseas. It’s a ritual played out on military bases across the nation as the waiting wives of Karen Houppert’s extraordinary new book endure a long, lonely, and difficult year with their husbands far from home. Houppert, a prize winning journalist, spent a year among these women, joining them as they had babies, raised families, ran Cub Scout troops, coached soccer–and went to funerals.”

I liked this book so much I dedicated a whole post to it.It was really interesting to see just how far we’ve come since the book was written and how much more work there is left to do. I would highly recommend it to all my civilian friends who want a better idea of what military spouses go through. I would highly recommend it to all my military spouse friends who feel like they’re all alone.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney “She took 1930s New York by storm, working her way up writing copy for R.H. Macy’s to become the highest paid advertising woman in the country. Now it’s the last night of 1984 and Lillian, 85 years old but just as sharp and savvy as ever, is on her way to a party. On a walk that takes her over 10 miles around the city, she meets bartenders, bodega clerks, security guards, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be, while reviewing a life of excitement and adversity, passion and heartbreak, illuminating all the ways New York has changed―and has not.”

This book was my Book of the Month Club book from January and I really liked it! I wasn’t sure I would at first, but Lillian was a much more complex character than I initially gave her credit for. Lillian was the old lady that I want to be when I’m that age: independent, brave and very sure of herself. She overcame everything in her path and created quite the legacy. Of course in her older age, she struggled with watching the advertising industry change and grow beyond her, proving that inner conflict doesn’t ever really go away.

The Cavendon Women by Barbara Taylor Bradford “It all begins on a summer weekend in July of 1926 when, for the first time in years, the Earl has planned a family weekend. Everyone is intrigued by the invitation, and everyone has their own reasons for accepting it. As the family members come together, secrets, problems, joys, and sorrows are revealed. And as old enemies come out of the shadows and the Swanns’ loyalty to the Inghams gets tested in ways none of them could have predicted, it is up to the Cavendon women to band together and bring their family into a new decade-and a new way of life.”

I posted before about Cavendon Hall, the first book in this series, which I loved. I was very excited to read the two other books. The second one definitely had fewer Downton Abbey plot points, but it was still very much a page turner.

The Cavedon Luck by Barbara Taylor Bradford “It is 1938 in England, and Miles and Cecily Ingham have led the family in bringing the Cavendon estate back from the brink of disaster. But now, with the arrival of World War II, Cavendon Hall will face its biggest challenge yet―one that is filled with intrigue and romance, sorrow and strife…and will push the Inghams and Swanns to protect each other and the villagers, and reveal their true capacity for survival.”

This was my least favorite of the three books in the series. The plot was a bit slow, but overall it was a good read. I would definitely recommend the entire series.

What have you read this month?

Books Military

Home Fires Burning Reflection

February 9, 2017

As uniform as the military strives to be (pun intended), there is a huge amount of variation from branch to branch, post to post and job to job. Each individual has a unique military experience based on a whole variety of factors.  The same can be said for military spouses, perhaps even more so than the actual military personnel. Karen Houppert explores this wide variety of experiences and just what it means to be a military wife in Home Fires Burning: Married to the Military-For Better of Worse.

Houppert shares the stories of seven Army wives at Fort Drum right as the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2004/2005. Many of their husbands are deployed, but the few who are home aren’t necessarily the same men these women married. Each woman has a unique story, a unique set of challenges and a unique perspective on the military.

I was most fascinated with the historical context Houppert put each wife’s story in, drawing from Army wife handbooks from as far back as the 1940s. For a lot of the women profiled, it didn’t seem that much had changed since WWII, despite the military’s (best?) attempts.  Isolation, money troubles, domestic violence and lack of employment all affected the wives’ satisfaction with the military.

I found myself most drawn to the women who were actually a bit contradictory in nature. There’s Ulli Robinson, a 27-year-old German who, after an adjustment period, went whole hog into the Army lifestyle: volunteering with the FRG, attending all the social functions and being terribly satisfied with being a military wife. But she doesn’t necessarily support every aspect of the war and questions whether it’s right or not.

Heidi Klaus-Smith is seemingly the exact opposite. Volunteering didn’t come naturally to her and she’s not certain that the military wife lifestyle is for her. She feels isolated from living so far from post and even though she loves and supports her husband, she’s not sold on the war. She suffers backlash for voicing these concerns and publicly criticizing the military, which leads to a lot of self-doubt. All she really wants is to belong to a community and feel as if she has a purpose.

Despite their seemingly inherent differences, all of the women profiled sought connections, support and meaningful lives beyond their relationships. That’s something we’re all after, even today. But I do believe the military spouse community has come a long way since 2004. Just look around on the Internet! Social media and blogs have created virtual communities that allow people to widen their support networks. Thanks to the Internet, women (and men) are finding careers and starting their own businesses.

All that being said, there’s definitely room for improvement, especially when 20% of spouses would prefer their spouse left the military and only 64% of spouses are satisfied with military life.

Have you read Home Fires Burning? What were your thoughts? Do you think the military spouse community is better off now than they were in 2004? What do you think is the one area that needs the most attention when it comes to military spouses?

Books

What I Read This Month: January 2017

January 27, 2017

Holy cramoly, y’all. It’s almost February. I cannot even begin to wrap my head around that realization. Maybe it’s because I as off for a chunk of the month, but it feels like this month has flown by. Most definitely because I had quite a bit of time off, this month is my best in a while for number of books read.  As far as whether it set a record for number of books I liked? Well, let’s find out!

Dead Wake by Erik Larson “On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.”

This one was a random last minute airport grab when I was traveling to and from Nashville. I’ve read other books by Erik Larson and really enjoy his writing style. This one was no exception. Even something as mundane as the functioning of a submarine had a page-turner style to it. I finished this one within two flights and one *really  long* layover. Definitely recommend!

The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman “An elusive courtesan, Marthe de Florian cultivated a life of art and beauty, casting out all recollections of her impoverished childhood in the dark alleys of Montmartre. With Europe on the brink of war, she shares her story with her granddaughter Solange Beaugiron, using her prized possessions to reveal her innermost secrets. Most striking of all are a beautiful string of pearls and a magnificent portrait of Marthe painted by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini. As Marthe’s tale unfolds, like velvet itself, stitched with its own shadow and light, it helps to guide Solange on her own path.”

What was most fascinating to me was that this was based on a true story! I definitely found Solange’s story more compelling than Marthe’s but both narrators had really interesting backgrounds.  The story took a few chapters to really get going, but once it did, it was a really enjoyable read.  Don’t rush out to get this one, but if you’re a fan of historical fiction, especially from WWII, add it to your list.

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines The Magnolia Story is the first book from Chip and Joanna, offering their fans a detailed look at their life together. From the very first renovation project they ever tackled together, to the project that nearly cost them everything; from the childhood memories that shaped them, to the twists and turns that led them to the life they share on the farm today.”

To be completely honest, I haven’t finished this one yet, although by this time tomorrow that may have changed. I love Fixer Upper and this book is really an extension of the show. Both of them have really engaging and personal writing styles; it’s almost like they are sitting there with you having a conversation. If you’re a fan of the show, I highly recommend picking this one up!

The Boy is Back by Meg Cabot “Reed Stewart thought he’d left all his small town troubles—including a broken heart—behind when he ditched tiny Bloomville, Indiana, ten years ago to become rich and famous on the professional golf circuit.  Then one tiny post on the Internet causes all of those troubles to return . . . with a vengeance. Becky Flowers has worked hard to build her successful senior relocation business, but she’s worked even harder to forget Reed Stewart ever existed. She has absolutely no intention of seeing him when he returns—until his family hires her to save his parents. Now Reed and Becky can’t avoid one another—or the memories of that one fateful night.”

Maybe it’s because I grew up in the era of The Princes Diaries, but I will always read a book that has Meg Cabot as the author. I may not love the book, but I will read it. This was the case with The Boy is Back. It was a fluffy love story with very predictable plot points, but enjoyable all the same. The one thing I didn’t love was the way the story was told; everything is text messages, emails and so on. I like something a little meatier to sink my teeth into.

Cavendon Hall  by Barbara Taylor Bradford “Cavendon Hall is home to two families, the aristocratic Inghams and the Swanns who serve them. For centuries, these two families have lived side-by-side, beneath the backdrop of the imposing Yorkshire manor. Lady Daphne, the most beautiful of the Earl’s daughters, is about to be presented at court when a devastating event changes her life and threatens the Ingham name. With World War I looming, both families will find themselves tested in ways they never thought possible. Loyalties will be challenged and betrayals will be set into motion. In this time of uncertainty, one thing is sure: these two families will never be the same again.”

Y’all. This is essentially Downton Abbey as a book. It’s set in the same timeframe, deals with a very similar situation (upstairs and downstairs life) and has a similar plot. Once I accepted that and stopped wanting it to be different (just for the sake of being different), I really liked it! Time flies in this book so you have to pay careful attention to the dates in order to get a feel for the pace of the story. But I liked it so much that I already have the other two books in the trilogy sitting on my bedside table.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith “Two brown girls dream of being dancers—but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.”

This was a hard one for me. I wanted to like it, to get it, to see what all the critics saw, but I just couldn’t. Or at least, not for the entire book. I had a hard time with how much the narrator skipped around, sometimes between topics that didn’t seem to have a connection. It took me forever to get through, I didn’t really enjoy it and wouldn’t recommend it.

What have you read lately?

Books

What I Read This Month: December 2016

December 23, 2016

Merry Christmas Eve eve, y’all! Today officially marks the start of my holiday vacation which means I have roughly 4 trillion things to do before tomorrow. One of those things is running last minute Christmas errands, which is a bit terrifying because the stores are crazy. Just thinking about heading out makes me want to stay snuggled up on the sofa with a book and the dogs. I read quite a bit this month, far more than I would have thought possible with all the holiday craziness.

The Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen “Bucolic Newport Cove, where spontaneous block parties occur on balmy nights and all of the streets are named for flowers, is proud of its distinction of being named one the top twenty safest neighborhoods in the US. It’s also one of the most secret-filled.”

I’m on a suburban thriller kick lately and this one was another one. The multiple intersecting plots and narrators keep the story moving, making this a legit page-turner. The neighborhood email listserv at the beginning of each chapter were definitely my favorite part; they reminded me so much of my neighborhood’s Facebook group. I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending; it left me a little unsatisfied. It was a fast enjoyable read, but I don’t know that’d I recommend it.

Lost Along the Way by Erin Duffy “All through childhood and adolescence, Jane, Cara, and Meg swore their friendship would stand the test of time. Nothing would come between them, they pledged. But once they hit their twenties, life got more complicated and the BFFs began to grow distant. When Jane eloped with her slick, wealthy new boyfriend and didn’t invite her oldest friends to the ceremony, the small cracks and fissures in their once rock-solid relationship became a chasm that tore them apart.”

This one hit close to home: who hasn’t drifted away from friends over time? But other than the little bit of a reality check, I didn’t love this one. It took way too long for the reader to learn which crisis each woman was facing and for them to begin talking again. Then everything was all wrapped up very neatly and way too quickly. Yes, everyone ended up happy, but it felt a bit forced. I’d skip this one.

The Singles Games by Laura Weisberger “When America’s sweetheart, Charlotte “Charlie” Silver, makes a pact with the devil—the infamously brutal tennis coach Todd Feltner—she finds herself catapulted into a world of celebrity stylists, private parties, charity matches aboard mega-yachts, and secret dates with Hollywood royalty. Under Todd’s new ruthless regime, Charlie the good girl is out. Todd wants “Warrior Princess” Charlie all the way. After all, no one ever wins big by playing nice.”

I mentioned on Wednesday that I’m obsessed with the Hallmark Channel Christmas romantic comedies. They’re short, pretty formulaic and everyone ends up getting exactly what they deserve. This book is essentially the novel version of those movies. You can tell from the very beginning how things will end, but you’re ok with that. I admit that I found Charlie a little annoying in the middle of the book, but I was happy that she got her act together by the end. If you’re looking for a Hallmark movie as a book, you’ve found your winner.

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney “Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs’ joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever hated book characters more than I hated the Plumb siblings. They were all spoiled, selfish and kind of awful. I couldn’t muster up an ounce of caring for any of them, although I did find myself rooting for Melody’s children. Skip this one.

The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner “Spanning nearly a century, through secrets and mysteries, trials and sacrifice, this beautiful and haunting novel follows the lives of the Esposito family and the other islanders who live and love on Castellamare: a cruel count and his bewitching wife, a priest who loves scandal, a prisoner of war turned poet, an outcast girl who becomes a pillar of strength, a wounded English soldier who emerges from the sea. The people of Castellamare are transformed by two world wars and a great recession, by the threat of fascism and their deep bonds of passion and friendship, and by bitter rivalries and the power of forgiveness.”

I did not like this book when I started it. In fact, I almost stopped reading it entirely, but that goes against my nature. I can’t leave a book half-read so I kept going and I’m really glad I did! The story really picked up about a quarter of the way through and I quickly got lost in the story. It was fascinating to read how the island was (relatively) unaffected by WWII, something the rest of the world can’t really say. I loved the complexity of the characters and would definitely recommend this one!

Arrowood by Laura McHugh “Arrowood is the most ornate and grand of the historical houses that line the Mississippi River in southern Iowa. But the house has a mystery it has never revealed: It’s where Arden Arrowood’s younger twin sisters vanished on her watch twenty years ago—never to be seen again. After the twins’ disappearance, Arden’s parents divorced and the Arrowoods left the big house that had been in their family for generations. And Arden’s own life has fallen apart: She can’t finish her master’s thesis, and a misguided love affair has ended badly. She has held on to the hope that her sisters are still alive, and it seems she can’t move forward until she finds them. When her father dies and she inherits Arrowood, Arden returns to her childhood home determined to discover what really happened to her sisters that traumatic summer.”

I legitimately read this in one sitting. It was so good and the mystery kept the story moving quickly. I could not have predicted the ending if you’d given me 100 guesses, which is refreshing. There is an implied twist that left me surprised and more than a little horrified, but it was tempered a bit with having Arden’s life work out.

What books did you read this month?