Friday, August 30, 2013

currently reading: The Tender Soldier (PLUS GIVEAWAY!)

When Simon & Schuster offered me a copy of The Tender Solider: A True Story of War and Sacrifice to review, I thought the book sounded intriguing, but I had two concerns.  First, I was afraid that perhaps it would end up being dull.  Secondly, I was concerned that it would be abstruse military and combat information.  I chose to review it any ways and quickly realized that I was completely wrong on both counts.  It turned out to be both captivating and educational.

The Tender Solider tells the story of the Human Terrain System, a social science experiment to bridge the gap between American troops and the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Small teams of trained individuals would work alongside the US Army to help interpret the local culture and collect relevant information.  While many people worked on this program with noble intentions, it didn't stay that way for long.  Because the program grew too quickly to make proper evaluations and adjustments, many problems emerged.  For instance, the teams were not receiving sufficient training before being sent into a combat zone.  But a major ethical complication arose: the anthropologists were helping the Army better understand the Afghanis, but that turned out to be a double edged sword because "'good anthropology' might lead to 'better killing'"(p. 115)  Many social scientists were concerned about the direction the program was heading.

The Human Terrain System is made personal in the story of Paula Loyd and Don Ayala.  Loyd was a Wellesley grad who was working as the social scientist on a Human Terrain Team in Afghanistan.  Ayala, one of her teammates, was a former Army Ranger.  As they were collecting information one day, a horrific tragedy occurred that changed their lives forever.  This event is woven through the book, interspersed with information about the inception and outcome of the Human Terrain System.

Gezari's background as a journalist comes through as she includes almost 100 pages of notes.  Additionally, she flew around the United States and to Afghanistan to conduct personal interviews.  She spoke with everyone from the founders of the Human Terrain System, to Army generals, to current Human Terrain Team trainees, to local Afghanistan police.

This book helped me put together the pieces of the war in Afghanistan - there was so much I didn't know or understand.  Now I have a much better picture of what has happened in the years since September 11th.  My copy of this book is full of underlining and annotations.  As I read, I kept stopping to tell my husband about it and ask how much he knew about the Human Terrain System.  Even as an officer in the Air Force, he didn't know much about the program, but his interested in the book was piqued so he plans on reading it now.

The book was gripping, but its ending was especially sobering.  In the last few chapters I had assumed that everything would come together, but you are left with more questions than answers.  Of course, there are no easy answers for war and this is even further muddled by the addition of anthropology being used an intelligence source.  This book will keep me thinking for a long time to come.

Simon & Schuster has graciously offered a copy of this book for one of you!  I love sharing good books and I hope that you take a moment to enter either for yourself or for someone else who would be interested in this book!

To enter the giveaway, you simply need to:
 1) share this post somewhere (Facebook, Twitter, email, word of mouth, etc)
 2) leave a comment below and include where you shared the post
**If you don't have a Google account, make sure you leave an email address so I can contact you in the event that you are the winner

Winner will be chosen using a random number generator next Saturday (September 7th).  I will make a note here when the winner is chosen and then will contact the winner.  The book will be shipped directly from the publisher.  Good luck!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Korean Beef Tacos (a crockpot recipe)

A few months ago my sister called me and told me that she made the Korean beef tacos that I'd pinned and that they were "insane".  I had no idea what recipe she was talking about, which should be a sign that I pin too many recipes!  Anyway, she ended up making them for us when we visited and my husband and I both agreed: insanely good.

In addition to being "insanely good", these tacos use my all-time favorite cooking device, the crockpot!  Last winter we used our crockpot about five days a week and I am always looking for new recipes.  I love the flexibility of putting the ingredients in at 9:00am and not having to think about it again until 5pm when dinner is ready.

You can find the recipe here at Confections of a Foodie Bride, but today I'm just sharing a few pictures from the leftovers of the meal.  Check out the recipe on that blog and their beautiful pictures! 

The recipe calls for a lot of ingredients, which looks a bit daunting at first.  But it's really not.  You'll just need to run to the store and pick up a couple things that you may not have on hand (e.g. sesame oil, rice vinegar).  But those ingredients get mixed together and poured over the beef in the crockpot, so it's very easy.

Since this recipe makes a lot of beef, we save the extras in the fridge and use them the next few days for leftovers.  It's really easy to make a fresh taco for lunch and it tastes just as good!

**please remember that I am not a photographer and definitely not a food photographer so these pictures are far from perfect.  Yesterday as I was heating up leftovers I was simply noticing how beautiful the colors were together so I grabbed my camera and snapped away**

Here are the ingredients I started with for lunch:
- Leftover beef, warmed in the microwave.  
- Fat-free sour cream (plain greek yogurt would be great too)
- Cucumber/red onion slaw (I make this fresh each time...more on that below)
- Sriracha!
- Fresh cilantro
- Tortilla

Start by warming the tortilla in the microwave for about 20 seconds.  Add your sour cream/greek yogurt then drizzle Sriracha and top with cilantro

Add the warmed beef 

Top with the cucumber/red onion slaw (and more Srarchia if you like it spicy!)

Like I said above, I make fresh slaw each day.  The first time I made this recipe, I made a lot of slaw and saved it to use for leftovers, but I really missed the crunch of the cucumbers and onions.  They were limp and it was unsatisfying.  Usually I try to make it about 30 minutes before I plan on eating so it will have time to soak in the vinegar, but sometimes I don't get the chance.  It's good either way, but I prefer giving it a lot little time it sit.

Hope that you give it a try and that you enjoy it as much as we do!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Six Reasons I'm A Bad Blogger

Many bloggers write post about how to increase your readership and they almost all say the same thing. Post lots of pictures!  Post multiple times per week!  Choose a topic and stick with it!  Comment on other people's blogs!  And they all end by saying, "But remember: be true to yourself.  Write for yourself and not for others."

Today I'm doing the opposite.  Instead of sharing how to get more readers, but writing about the reasons why I'm a bad blogger (at least if you compare my blog to the list of what you're "supposed to do").

1.  I don't post regularly

Take this week, for instance.  I've been really sick so just waking up, caring for my son and doing my day-to-day activities has been more than I can handle.  There hasn't been extra energy for me to write.  Blogging is pretty low on my priority list at this point, which I'm sort of conflicted about.  One the one hand, I never want to be more involved in an online life than in the lives of the people I see on a daily basis.  However, there are many days when I have a post floating around in my head and I wish I just had time to sit and type it out.

2.  My blog is too broad

I'm too opinionated to be a lifestyle blogger.  I'm not talented enough to be a food blogger.  One day I post a recipe and the next a book review.  I write about Christianity and military life.  I write about parenting and chronic illnesses.  For awhile I considered narrowing the focus of my blog, but again, I decided that I wanted to be free to write about whatever I wanted.  This probably "harms" me as a blogger, but since I'm not in it for the accolades and mostly just for fun, I like having the freedom to write about whatever is on my mind.

3.  I don't (usually) proofread

Ah!  This one kills me.  I wish I had more time to proofread.  I wish I had more time to write posts ahead of time and schedule them a week or so in advance so I could take time to think them over and rewrite.  But this stage in my life is not compatible with lots of quiet, thinking time.  If I start obsessing and overanalyzing over posts, I would never post anything.  Yes, I'm sure that anyone reading this already KNEW this point before I mentioned it.  ;)

4.  I don't post enough pictures

Most of the pictures I take are of my husband and my son.  Those go on our private family blog since we try to keep Hadden's life a bit separated from this blog.  Many bloggers find pictures online and simply cite the source.  I've done this a few times, but it makes me hesitant because I've heard very different opinions as to the legality of using pictures without express permission by the photographer.  Which means this blog is sadly picture-less most times.

5.  I'm too timid

Sometimes I don't post because I know it will offend someone or because someone will take something personally.  Other times I've already read so many different takes on the same issue and I'm not sure the issue needs to be rehashed anymore (read: Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus at the VMAs).

6.  I'm not going to kiss up to other bloggers

I love to read other blogs and I try to comment often because I know how much bloggers appreciate comments.  However, I try to always comment because I either have something to add to the conversation or I really did appreciate their post (or want to encourage them).  Everyone has a different approach, of course, but personally I don't feel right about commenting just to get attention.  The flip-side of this is that if I HAVE commented on your blog (or if I follow you), it means that I am sincere in my appreciation for your words.

So there it is.  I'm a bad blogger.  But I'm a happy blogger.  It works out in the end.

ALSO:  Today Kristen Howerton from Rage Against the Minivan is partnering with Shot@Life.  For every comment left on her blog post today, a vaccine will be donated to a child at-risk for diseases most of us have never even seen.  Please go leave a comment.  If you're unsure how you feel about vaccinations, I'd strongly encourage you to read this other post by Kristen.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

because you can never have too much Brandi...

There's a moment when the opening notes to a familiar song play and instantly I am flooded with memories and with BIG emotions (to use little kid language).  The song takes you back to "that time" (whenever it was) so quickly it's as if time travel were really possible.

Here's one of mine.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Extreme Makeover: Blog Edition

After 5 years old blogging, I decided it was time to hire a professional and I’m so glad I did!  Jana at JT Designs did a great job designing the new look – I’m really happy with the way it turned out.  The blog looks cleaner and more cohesive.

If you’re looking for someone to design your blog, I recommend Jana!  She was easy to work with and always responded quickly and graciously.  I was a little unsure of how the process would go since I’d never done it before, but she was great at answering questions and giving advice.  Her prices are very reasonable so I used some birthday money I was given and I’m happy with the purchase. 

Thanks again, Jana, for all the hard work! 

p.s. Just a reminder that if you feel so inclined, you can still vote for me in the Top 50 Military Mom Blogs.   The votes are to decide the top 10 bloggers who will then be featured on the website.  (you might have to refresh the page a couple of time to be able to vote – the page has been wonky)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Hadden's First Birthday

My son turned one recently - talk about a crazy mix of emotions!  The night before his birthday I sat in bed remembering.  He was born late at night so by the time everyone had left our room, we were exhausted.  My husband fell right asleep. The lights were dimmed and one last nurse was silently finishing putting things in order.  I was so, so tired.  Really, the word 'exhausted' doesn't begin to describe how I felt.  But I say there holding this tiny, mewing creature.  I wanted nothing more than to go to sleep, but at the same time, I couldn't sleep.  The room was so quiet and it was just me and him.  I was always cherish the memory of those first moments.

{about an hour old at this point}

{taken the morning of his birthday after a riding in the stroller on his daddy's run}

It is incredible how a year changes thing.  I had no idea what a special little person I was holding at that time, but discovering his personality this year has been so much fun.  

When we talked about his birthday, we knew two things.  First, that we wanted to celebrate his amazing life with something special.  And secondly, that we didn't want to do a big party with gifts.  A couple years ago I happened upon this post by another blogger who celebrated her 29th birthday doing 29 acts of kindness to strangers.  I've never read this blog except for this one post (and it took me a bit of work to find it again today), but I remembered what a cool idea it was to skip gifts and instead celebrate a birthday with good deeds.  I've since discovered this website that encourages people to use their birthdays to bless others - awesome!

We decided to use this idea for Hadden's birthday, calling it One for One (one act of kindness for one year of life).  We made birthday announcements and sent them out to friends and family.  We said no to gifts and instead we asked them to send back the postcard (see below) and write about a random act of kindness they did in Hadden's honor.

This, we felt, was a way to celebrate his life and set a precedence for what is truly important in life.  I kept thinking of people getting a surprise blessing because of my son's life.  That's SO much better than toys!

I love that we got to involve so many people, both friends and family.  As the postcards started to be returned, it was fun to read what different people did in Hadden's honor.  Coffee bought for a co-worker, handwritten letters to cheer up friends, meals purchased or prepared for friends, money donated to help build a house in Mexico - it was touching to see how people chose to honor our son.

Since we had a little party for him, I hung up the postcards as decorations.  This was how many we had received on his actual birthday, but since then, the line has been completely filled!  And we still have a few on their way!  We're going to put all the postcards in a little book so that Hadden can read about it when he's older.

In case you're wondering about the party, we kept it very simple - a few friends came over for the evening and (at their request) I made homemade gyros.  

Instead of cake, we made a mini fruit pizzas with oversized sugar cookies, cream cheese/marshmallow fluff "icing", strawberries, blueberries and kiwi.

The babies played and the adults talked, so everyone was happy.  We made balloon streamers a few days before which added a festive touch.  For favors, I gave out balloons filled with helium and little "wedding" bubbles.

This year has been such an adventure with Hadden and I hope that our birthday celebration did justice to his special little life.  I hope that we'll find ways to incorporate "birthday acts of kindness" in the coming years as well.  

Now begins Year Two!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

currently reading: The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good

As the President and CEO of HOPE International, Peter Greer knows a lot about "doing good".  But in his book, The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good (co-written with Anna Haggard), Greer talks about about the darker side of helping others.  He is unflatteringly honest, sharing how his marriage was failing as he was busy leading an international Christian nonprofit.

Each chapter is about a different spiritual danger.  He writes about the danger of giving your family leftovers while working overtime in ministry.  Another chapter focuses on the importance of deep friendships and deliberately choosing friends to hold you accountable.  Later he writes about the danger of trying to please everyone around you.  Overall, Greer touches on many different dangers to be aware of while serving.

Greer included many anecdotes from his own life (including the time he was dragged by a gorilla!), but also from the lives of friends.  At the end of each chapter, he provides reflection questions that would be especially helpful to someone currently serving in a ministry.

This book would be good for leaders and lay people alike.  Personally, I didn't find it thrilling or find much new information.  It seemed like a lot of practical, good advice.  It certainly could be a reminder and a "check-up" on your heart and motives for serving, however, in my opinion, it isn't a "must read".

**I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

broken and spilled.

We leave our seats and silently join others on the stairs.  Quiet music plays, but it is only the backdrop for my swirling thoughts.  Slowly the line creeps towards the front of the auditorium.  Soon it is my turn.

My hands are cupped and outstretched, ready to receive.

My eyes meet his as he tears away a piece and places it in my cradling palms.

"Christ's Body: Broken for you"

Almost broken is my composure.  My breath catches at the thought.  My heart beats quickly to make up for that skipped beat.

Broken for me?

Before I have time to think, I am automatically moving on to the woman standing nearby.  Gingerly now I hold a piece of Christ's precious body as a wine glass is extended in front of me.

"Christ's Blood: Spilled for you"

I search her eyes as she says the words.  She means them.  In that moment she is a clear agent of Christ, her eyes saying so much more than those five words.  Instantly the bread is saturated with wine and I turn away.

As I turn to walk back up the stairs, I bring the moistened bread to my mouth, but not before a drop of the wine falls onto my dress.

His blood spilled.  Pour out.  Emptied.

Chills cascade down my spine.

My blood runs cold as I imagine His running down.

The whole thing is over so quickly.  How can it be that such an act, pregnant with meaning, takes less than a minute?  How can we move on with the service - with the day?! - when we just participated in such an overwhelming rite?

Days later I am still marveling, still in awe.

The body and blood of Christ.

Broken and spilled.

For me.

For me!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Surprise! I was selected as a Top Military Mom Blogger!

Remember yesterday when I said that I had been missing emails??  Well, it's a good thing I realized the mistake because today when I checked that account, I had a surprise waiting!

I was selected as one of the Top 50 Military Mom Blogs of 2013 as compiled by VoiceBoks!

It was a complete surprise because I honestly know very little about these awards.  I'd never heard of VoiceBoks before this and I don't even know how I was entered!!!

Anyway, in addition to being named one of the top 50 blogs, there will be voting taking place to decide the top 10 Military Mom Blogs.  If you're interested in voting for me, please follow this link, find my blog among the list (this glorious maze) and click "vote"!  One entry per IP address.  To be honest, I'm not expecting to win and I'm not going to go crazy trying to get votes - just wanted to mention it on here quickly.  :)

While you're there, take a moment to check out some of the other blogs that were honored as well!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

email apology

If you've contacted me by email in the past couple of months, I need to offer a sincere apology for not responding!  When I added the email address to this blog, I tried to forward all the emails to my personal account.  Just yesterday I realized that I hadn't linked it up correctly, so I have quite a few old emails to respond to.

I will start responding to email right away.  But in the meanwhile, please know that I am very sorry about the mistake!  Thank you for being patient and for the emails that are there.  I'm looking forward to reading them and responding soon!
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