The Elephant in the Room: A Short Story

“Look at her!” the oldest boy directed with an air of superiority.

“I don’t want to look at her,” the pre-teen girl whispered.  “She scares me a little.”

“Aw, come on,” he egged her on.  “She shouldn’t scare you. She’s just a crazy old bat!” he nodded his straight brown hair in the direction of the old lady.

“Well, I think she’s gross,” the pretty blonde huffed, looking at her nails.  “Look–she’s drooling.”

All eyes fastened on the old woman who was in fact drooling.  A group of adults surrounded her, one woman rubbing her back, but the old lady didn’t seem to notice.  She sat slightly hunched forward with her feet solidly planted, legs apart.  Her knee-high panty hose were actually ankle-high now, neatly rolled above her tennis shoes.  Her flower print dress was predominantly a pale green that accentuated her eyes, the only part of her body that seemed alert and in the present.  They were piercing eyes, and as if sensing her grandchildren’s glances, she sharply turned her head and stared back at them across the sterile room.

“Elephant in the room–Ha!  I couldn’t pretend I didn’t see it if I wanted to!” she spat at them, her dentures shifting in her mouth.

The three oldest children quickly turned back to the little circle they made with their bodies on the couch, afraid of meeting her eyes again. The younger ones lying on the floor pushing cars back and forth to each other didn’t even notice the outburst.

“What is she talking about?!” the pretty blonde asked, rolling her eyes and not caring to hear the answer.

“Oh, who knows?” the boy answered.  “She’s always talkin’ about some stupid elephant.”

“My mom says she used to be an officer in the Air Force,” the youngest of the three whispered, afraid of attracting the old woman’s attention.  “It’s hard to believe now….” her voice trailed off.

“Oh, Aunt Chloe’s always sticking up for Grandma,” he retorted.  I don’t believe she was in the Air Force at all.  Can you picture her leading anybody?  The only thing I can picture her leading is the line on Jell-O night!”

The sarcastic boy quieted down as a group of adults walked over.

“Well, I think Grandma is getting tired,” a distinguished-looking man observed as he placed his hand on his son’s shoulder.  He had the same eyes as his mother’s, hazel-green, but bigger and more pleasant. “You kids need to tell her goodbye.”

The youngest children on the floor obediently got up and went over to the old woman.

“Dad, was Grandma really in the Air Force?” the oldest boy asked.

“Yes, before I was born.”

“Have you seen pictures as proof?”

“Well what kind of question is that?” asked a rather soft-spoken woman, obviously offended by the question.

“Oh, Aunt Chloe, I just was wonderin’.  I have a hard time picturing Grandma leading a group of people, is all.”

“You know, Grandma wasn’t always like this,” a stylishly dressed woman jumped in, gesturing to her mother on the other side of the room. “She was actually very intelligent at one time.”

“Well, what happened?” asked the youngest girl, still in a very small voice, “you know, to make her this way.”

The group looked over just as the old lady began swatting at something invisible to them.

“Well, honestly, I think Chloe was the breaking point for Mom,” the stylish woman eagerly volunteered.

“Wha-?” Chloe began, but the other woman continued.

“Three was obviously too much for her.  You came along, with your seven days without pooping, screaming at night…Mom said she went five years without getting a full night’s sleep…the sleep deprivation just did her in.”

“I was just a baby!  How can you hold me solely responsible for Mom’s condition, Hannah Grace!  If anything, you and Caleb drove her crazy!  She always said so!  In fact, I think I know the exact minute she lost it.  Mom is always talking about elephants–you two were the ones who embarrassed her at church knocking down that inflatable elephant in the lobby!  She said it was eight feet tall, and all the men in the lobby were trying to stop you, but you two just laughed and pushed it over and kicked it–I’m sure she felt like a failure as a mother.”

“Okay, ladies.  I think we’re all being a little dramatic here.  I’m sure none of us is responsible for Mom’s condition.  These things happen with age,” the distinguished man answered matter-of-factly.

“Oh, please, Caleb,” Hannah Grace snapped.  “You just don’t want to get us started on you!”

“Me? I wasn’t any trouble.  I always did very well in school, didn’t give my teachers any problem.  I mean, Hannah Grace, if you really want to play this game, you peed on your teacher at church.  I’m sure that was a bigger embarrassment for Mom than my involvement in knocking over some fake elephant!

“Well, Caleb, in all fairness to Hannah Grace, you had the bigger problem with pee,” Chloe gently chimed in.

“Okay, here we go!” he threw up his hands in the air in disgust.

“I mean, you almost set your room on fire.”

“Chloe, you couldn’t even remember that!  You were a baby.  Heck–I’m not sure if I actually remember it or if I just heard the story a thousand times!”

“Chloe’s right,” Hannah Grace interjected. “If anyone’s responsible, it’s you.  Who pees on their wall?  I mean, really!  Were you aiming for the electric socket, or did it just get in the way of the urine design you were painting? When was your first clue that this wasn’t normal behavior–when the socket started sparking?”

“Enough, enough,” Caleb said softly, hanging his head in shame.

The sarcastic boy looked up at his father in horror.  “Is..is it true, Dad?” he asked incredulously.

Caleb sighed.  “Yes, Son. It’s true.”

“Yuck.  That’s disgusting, Uncle Caleb,” the pretty blonde spit the words as if they tasted bad.

“Poor Grandma,” the other girl whispered.

“Yes, poor Grandma,” Hannah Grace agreed.  “She was a good woman.  It’s such a shame, such a shame.”

Slowly, the remaining grandchildren made their way to their grandma to kiss her goodbye.

“Darn pigs all over the place,” the old woman muttered under her breath, not talking to anyone in particular.

Quality of Life 2: In Need of Lighter Fluid

It was a typical Friday evening.  I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of my husband so we could have our ‘date night.’  I’m not really sure why I had gotten excited every Friday before; we never actually went anywhere and rarely had anything planned for the evening.

However, something about the day ‘Friday’ gave me high hopes for an exciting night–perhaps memories of when we dated in college and had plans every Friday (most Saturdays, too), memories of when we saw every movie we wanted, ate dinner at all our favorite restaurants in Athens, experienced concerts, theater–we were never out of ideas.  Apparently, we were never out of money, either.  Strange how things change, isn’t it?

We could decide at 11 P.M. that we wanted to go to Waffle House and have a late snack.  We’d hang out with one another until way too late and carry on coherent conversations, unlike now where all dates must begin no later than 7:30 P.M.  Once we cross the 9:00 mark, there’s no telling if anyone will be awake to remember the rest of the evening…

…so why I got excited all the previous Fridays was a mystery, but I was determined that this Friday would be different.  We had three kids now and not a lot of money to spend on lavish evenings out, but we weren’t dead, for goodness’ sake!  I decided to send Matt the following e-mail:

Pick one of the choices below (or add your own).  After you choose your date, add the necessary ingredient(s) to the shopping list.

1. Game night–we can pass time playing cards or another game we find in the closet.  Pick a candy to accompany this date. We can wager M&Ms or Reeses ( or a healthy version at Whole Foods) instead of poker chips.

2. A Quiet Evening–Recreate a book store.  Throw pillows around the den (not the bedroom; we’ll fall asleep), and grab a book to read.  We can relax in each other’s company while enjoying some literature.  At the end of the bookstore date, we have to tell each other a little about what we read and if we would want to buy the book.  Grab whatever you need to make a coffee or tea along with a coffee house dessert to split.

3. Secret Treasure–With eyes closed, reach into the DVD or VCR drawer, and whatever your hand chooses is what we have to watch!  No exceptions!  At the end of the movie, talk about what memories watching this movie invoked. Grab a munchy snack and/or Whoppers to accompany this date.

4. Plan your own date (but it has to show thought and have a communication component)

Matt replied that he liked the idea, and I spent the rest of the afternoon making sure the kids and I cleaned up everything as we went along.  As soon as the kids hit their pillows, the only thing I wanted to do was put the dishes from dinner in the dishwasher and begin our date!  Not knowing what idea Matt had picked made the coming evening all the more enticing.

Matt came home with Whoppers, and as I reached my hand into our movie drawer, we both had a little fear as to what I’d pull out–I was praying I hadn’t grabbed a Star Trek movie or the forever long The Lord Of the Rings. We laughed when I pulled out The Big Lebowski, a clear  flashback to college, and munched on Whoppers (or at least Matt did–he loves them, I hate them) as we snuggled and started the movie.

An hour and a half later, I woke up on the couch feeling rather disappointed that we hadn’t succeeded in completing our date.  Nonetheless, I had earlier felt something that I hadn’t felt in a while–giddiness.  I actually felt a little giddy waiting for Matt and then sitting on the couch laughing with him.  No, we hadn’t left our doors or done anything that amazing, but the fact that we made a definite plan for our evening together, a plan that was somewhat different from the other Fridays gave me a taste of the excitement from years earlier when I’d wait for Matt to knock at my door.

I guess the lesson I learned from this experience is that (1) I shouldn’t plan anything involving movies until Chloe is consistently sleeping through the night, and (2) ensuring that our marriage has a little of that thrill factor from years ago will take focus and commitment.

Life’s different now.  We can’t hop in the car on a whim driving to our next adventure.  We have three other lives for which we are responsible.  They drain us emotionally and physically.  At the end of the night, we have little left for each other.

Life’s different now…and it’s better.  We have the fullness of a family, and we have no better opportunity to show our kids God’s love than how we treat each other in our marriage.  It’s harder and may take a little more creativity, but it’s worth it to try to fan the flame or whatever other cliche’ one would like to use.

So…I need to brainstorm some ideas.  Tomorrow’s Friday, and I’ll be darned if anybody’s going to fall asleep on the couch this time!

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Any relationship takes hard work, and those that matter most are worth the invested time.  Last week, I asked what tips you all had for taking care of the environment.  This week I want to know what tips you have for taking care of your most important relationships.  If you are married or dating, do you have any cheap date night ideas?  How do your preserve your friendships?  Share your comments!  Again, my hope is that we can all take away one idea to improve this part of our lives!

Quality of Life

Food from Heaven

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As I cut the butternut squash in half length-wise, a sweet aroma tickled my nose.  I marveled at the beautiful orange color that was contained within the thick, pale skin and took pleasure scooping the seeds and stringy flesh out of this fruit.  I cut the squash into cubes and thought to myself, “Yes, this is what God had in mind.”

I took pride in the fact that I was cooking natural.  Our vegetable dish wasn’t coming from a bag in the microwave but from the ground to my hands (with a short stop at the store in between).  My senses were delighted through the process of preparing this squash, something I had never done before.  My husband and I have never been big vegetable lovers but were trying to change our affections for the sake of healthy living and providing good role-models for our children.

As I tossed the cubes in a little olive oil, I thought to myself that I had never liked many vegetables because they hadn’t gone through this process.  If I had seen their true colors, smelled their sweet scents, broken their crisp skin with my teeth instead of forcing myself to swallow the limp, drab vegetables that came from a can, perhaps I would have had a love affair with food from the Earth a long time ago.

I completed this new recipe with enthusiasm for the finished product–bleu cheese mashed with lemon juice, red onions and baby leaf spinach, all mixed together with the beautiful, roasted butternut squash.  I knew I had a winner, and the choir would sing.

When I tasted the final product, a smile spread across my lips.  The bleu cheese didn’t overpower the squash, the red onions gave the perfect combination of sweet and bite, and the spinach lay beneath every satisfying bite.

I had decided the squash would serve as the main dish with a few slices off a piece of leftover steak as the side.  Magic.  A healthy, satisfying dinner for my family.

I plated the food and carried the end product to my children, and immediately Caleb spoke:

“Thanks, Mom, for making me meat!”

I encouraged Caleb to try the squash to which he licked a piece.  “Plaaagh.  I don’t like it.”

“Well, nothing tastes great if you only lick it,” I encouraged him.

He took a bite, the smallest bite possible, only shaving 1/100th of a cube of squash with his teeth.

“I don’t like it,” he said in disgust while shaking his head.

“Hannah Grace, try your vegetables,” I ordered.

She copied her brother exactly, licking a piece of her squash. “I don’t wan it,” she insisted. “I wan ketchup.”

I sighed and got up in search of ketchup packets for the steak.  The fact that my children were putting ketchup on steak almost saddened me as much as the fact as they would only lick their vegetables.

I squeezed the red globs on their plates and stared at the food I really wanted them to eat.  Hannah Grace had let me down; she always tried everything.  Caleb was perplexing.  How did his little taste buds change so much from when he was a baby?  Squash used to be one of his staples.

“Mom, this meat is delicious!” Caleb exclaimed, interrupting my thoughts.

I knew then the butternut squash would not enter his mouth again. I had given him food from heaven, but he was more excited about the dead cow on his plate.

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By request–Whole Food’s Recipe for Butternut Squash with Wilted Spinach

Quality of Life

Typically, I write blog posts about my crazy kids or my struggles.  My hope for my blog is that I can unleash my tension through writing and also help other women in the process.  When God teaches me something important, I want to pass on the information so you can see how good He is. When my kids make me feel like I want to jump out a window, I need to focus my frustration somewhere other than on them (although they do get a dose of my frustration, too!) In the moment, I tend to feel that I am the only one who has a kid who would purposely pee on his Grammy, but surely there are others, right?  Umm…maybe not.  I digress.

I wanted to do something different with a series I’m calling “Quality of Life.”  Believe it or not, there are some things I am doing right or at least some efforts for which I am proud.  My hope is to become a better person every day of my life, and there are some deliberate choices I am making in the quest for achieving this goal.

Every week for a few weeks, I plan to write one blog post focused on a typical area where I am trying to improve.  The point of these blogs is not to pat myself on the back or sound preachy but rather to give us an interactive forum.  I want to hear back from you!  What are you doing in this area to make your life better?  If we can glean one tip from each blog or the comments that follow, my hope is that we will all become a little happier and healthier as a result.

What do you say?  Are you in?

Quality of Life 1: Calling All Tree-Huggers!

Quality of Life 2: In Need of Lighter Fluid

Quality of Life 3: Pick Up the Phone

Quality of Life 1: Calling All Tree-Huggers!

I would love to say that my family takes care of the environment, that we are friendly to Mother Earth, but I know the mess I seem to clean in the bathroom every day has to be toxic.  When it comes to the dilemma of whether or not I allow my son to wash his hands on his own and risk him wasting water or doing it with him, I risk wasting water.  On pizza night, I use paper plates, and every day we use a billion paper towels cleaning up messes.  I know we have a long way to go in the quest to be a ‘green’ family, but we are making strides.

One such effort has been the conversion from disposable to cloth diapers.  I NEVER thought I would be the mom to use cloth diapers, but here I am.  A couple of years ago, I heard a radio personality say that any mother who says she cares about the environment but uses disposable diapers is a hyprocrite.  He wasn’t making a plug for being green but instead trying to point out that his assistant who cares for environmental causes has no credibility because she didn’t use cloth diapers.  I thought he was a jerk, came up with a thousand reasons for why every mother should use disposable diapers, and drove on my merry way.

But the seed was planted.

A few months after my first daughter was born, I thought to myself that I wanted to research this cloth diaper thing.  I felt convicted that as a Christian I wasn’t doing more for the environment. I made it on the internet one day and was surprised at the world of cloth diapers.  No pins, nothing too strange–even someone like me could do this!   But I didn’t.  Cloth-diapering requires an initial investment that we couldn’t make at the time, and life was too busy with a bouncing boy not quite two and a baby just a few months old to take on something new.  The thought never left me, though.

When I was pregnant with Chloe, I told my husband we were going to do it–no more excuses!  I don’t think Matt was too keen on the idea at first, but I went for it, anyway.  I did some research and decided to use bumGenius 3.0, a one-size diaper.  The product received a lot of great reviews, and they are so cute!  Look at these beautiful colors!

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My sister went in 50/50 with me as her baby shower gift to get me started with 12 diapers, and I am forever grateful to her for her contribution.  While the initial investment was tough up front, we are saving a ton of money.  Any parent knows how quickly a little one goes through diapers, and I am so thankful that diapers aren’t a part of our budget, anymore.

I have to admit, I was very nervous about the increase in laundry considering I never seem to have enough time as it is.  Yes, I was having a difficult time at first but because I did not have enough diapers.  The plan was to purchase the initial 12 with my sister and then get some more a few months later.  Well, we had some unforeseen circumstances arise, and we never made that additional purchase.  If you are considering using cloth diapers, I would recommend buying at least 16.

However, the actual washing of the diapers and keeping them clean is a piece of cake.  I keep my diaper basket right in the laundry room, so when it’s full, I dump the diapers in the washer.  I don’t have to sort or run upstairs, so washing the diapers is the easiest part of my laundry duty!

My husband and I decided I could get more diapers this month, and as luck would have it, my friend invited me to a diaper consultation at her home.  Mommy Secrets came to her home and gave fabulous tips on entering the world of cloth diapers and babywearing. I purchased four more medium-sized diapers that they carried  from the brand Happy Heiny’s.  The brand uses the word ‘heiny,’ so I was sold.

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I never would have thought that I could love cloth-diapering Chloe, but I do.  The diapers are so soft to her skin, she rarely gets diaper rash, and when she has a diaper explosion (the only way I know to describe it!), she never leaks up out of the diaper because of the snug elastic.  No more ruined baby outfits!!! And of course, I’m helping the environment.

I wrote this blog post not as a way of endorsing any product but to help other moms out there who might not know anything about cloth diapers.  When I was pregnant with my first two kids, I didn’t have the knowledge I needed and figured this was one area of my life where I didn’t care about being green. However, if I could do over my first three years of being a mom, I would have bought cloth diapers when I was pregnant with Caleb.  I would encourage any expectant mother, mom who currently has a kid in diapers and might have another baby, or even a mom who has at least another year of a kid in diapers to consider cloth.

What are you doing to help the environment that other women could do? Let’s all share our tips in the comment section and improve our quality of life!

About Quality of Life

A Little Drizzle

Note to myself:  You actually wrote a good deal of this post last week but were interrupted many times from the kids and life.  Tonight is the first chance you had to finish.  Therefore, the ‘two Sundays ago’ and ‘yesterday’ and all time references aren’t accurate, anymore.  Oh, well.  You weren’t about to do the math to figure out the correct time, and your writing would’ve sounded weird, anyway.  But for the sake of your memory, which isn’t very good, I thought I’d let you know about the inaccuracies.

Two Sundays ago, I remember lying in bed somewhat fearful.  I’m not normally one to get afraid of thunderstorms, but when I saw the lightning strike right below my window and heard the electricity crackle in our outlets, I tensed up.  Caleb had already joined Matt and me in bed and formed a ball beneath our comforter.  I couldn’t see any part of him but would feel him move closer and closer against Matt and me with each pound of thunder that rattled the house. Even the rain was loud, as the storm seemed to intensify with every minute.

At one point in the night, Matt had gotten up to unplug everything in our room, but he was too late.  The next morning, our upstairs air conditioner was broken, and our modem was fried, so I couldn’t use the internet or our house phone.  I felt very inconvenienced and disconnected from the world.  I typically don’t ever have the TV on during the day, and I normally put the radio on in the car when carting kids back and forth to preschool.  Monday is their off day, though, so for most of the day, I was in my own bubble.

I had no idea what the storm was really like–only my perception of the events.  It wasn’t until I spoke with my mom and learned of flooded roads that kept some of her co-workers from getting to work, heard from my husband that Gwinnett county had closed school, and saw pictures the next day of the Scream Machine roller coaster partially submerged in water that I began to understand the true intensity of this horrific thunderstorm.

Then the following day I read an article of a woman’s frantic call to 911 as she was trapped in her car less than a mile from her home.  She was a mother.  I saw another article of a toddler swept by the rushing water from his father’s grasp, a story that would stay with me as I imagined myself trapped in my van with my three children.  Even if I were able to get my windows down in time and the door open, I can’t imagine a happy ending to this story…and my stomach is still in knots as I count my three blessings and think of that poor family grieving their loss, a family who didn’t have to imagine .

It’s amazing how one’s perspective can color an event.  The storm that I found so terrible and frightening and inconvenient paled in comparison to what those around me were experiencing.  Until I saw the damage elsewhere, I didn’t realize how blessed I was to be without air conditioning and a cable modem.  As I moved through that week, the lessons God was teaching me were very apparent.

When Caleb was frightened the night of the storm, he didn’t cry in his room, he didn’t go downstairs and find comfort in a doughnut, and he didn’t turn on the TV.  He came in his parents room and snuggled with his mom and dad.  Yes, he was obviously frightened, but with each strike of lightening and clap of thunder, he moved a little closer to Matt or me.  He found reassurance simply in our presence.

God wants me to do the same.  Whether I am frightened by a little thunder or I can see the flood waters rising, my response should be the same–draw closer to Him.  In doing so, He will give me peace and perspective.  In the midst of my storm, I will be able to find that for which I should be thankful because there is always someone going through something worse, and at the same time, find reassurance that the Lord cares about my struggles, too.  He just wants me to be honest about my struggles with Him.

And as with any lesson the Lord teaches me, He provided a pop-quiz to see what I actually retained….

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Yesterday morning, I managed to get my daughter’s tiny hair claw stuck on my tongue.  I was rushing to get Caleb and Hannah Grace ready for preschool while trying to take care of Chloe, and I actually had a green clip hanging out of my mouth.

“Ha-uh, HOL  SIL  PEAS!” is not what I heard in my head but was what came out of my mouth, as I was trying to keep her from running out of the bathroom.  I still needed to fix her hair (one side of her head already had a clip), so I was squeezing her with my thighs while trying to squeeze the little clip to release it from my tongue.  It was so small, though, and slippery because of my saliva.  I had never felt so ridiculous and knew my tongue would begin bleeding at any moment.  The more I tried to pry it open, the tighter that stupid clip clamped down on my tongue.

Briefly, very briefly, I contemplated asking Caleb to help me, but he would’ve just pulled on the clip with my tongue attached.  I hate to admit it, but I was a little scared.  I was afraid that if I actually succeeded in removing this *cute* hair accessory, I might have a permanent hole in my tongue.  Would pizza ever taste good again?

No sooner than I successfully transferred this demonic hair claw from my mouth to Hannah Grace’s hair, I noticed Chloe’s crying had risen to the next intensity level.  She was across the hall playing in Hannah Grace’s room.  I ran into the room to check on her and noticed she was on her stomach with her head under Hannah Grace’s dresser.  I figured she didn’t know how to roll back out from under the dresser, so I proceeded to help pull her out, except she wasn’t budging.  My baby had gotten her head stuck under her sister’s massive dresser.

I tried to lift the dresser, and it didn’t budge.  I think my heart stopped for a second at that moment.  What in the world was I going to do?  I didn’t even know how long Chloe’s head had been stuck under the dresser, and I was terrified that her skull would get crushed.  And then God gave me the Mom Adrenaline.  I lifted that dresser and was so proud–until I noticed that Chloe was crying too hard to notice and wasn’t rolling away as a cooperative baby should’ve.  Caleb and Hannah Grace were just looking on, probably paralyzed in fear as their mother was in a state of panic.

At this moment I was dumbfounded.  Caleb, my son who has rolled his sister across the floor like a log was just standing there.  “CALEB! ROLL CHLOE OUT!!” I screamed, to which he obliged.

And all was well again.

My heart proceeded to pound out of my chest for the rest of the day, and I was never so ready for bed that night.  Unfortunately, Hannah Grace stayed up until midnight, refusing to sleep in her bed, and Chloe woke up at 1:30 ready to eat.  And again every two hours until morning.

So, I have decided that today I am getting under the covers, curling up into a ball, and resting in my heavenly Father’s arms.  It’s starting to rain outside, and I need a nap.

Find Your Strongest Life by Marcus Buckingham

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If I lost ten pounds…

If I were more patient with my children…

If my husband would help more around the house…

If I got that promotion at work…

…then I’d be happy.

Despite all of the achievements women have made over the last few decades, we are still not happy.  The pressure to attain perfection in the home, workplace, gym, etc., has caused many women to feel the joy sucked right out of their souls. In Find Your Strongest Life, Marcus Buckingham argues that to find true happiness, we don’t need to achieve perfection in all areas.  Instead, we need to concentrate on our strengths and build our lives around the unique role we were designed to play.

Filled with examples from successful women’s lives and guidance from the “Strong Life Test,” Find Your Strongest Life gave me much food for thought as to how I can make different choices on a daily basis to find true joy.  While I did enjoy this book and found it a quick read, I was disappointed that so little attention is given to the stay-at-home-mom.  Buckingham seems to focus on the career-woman, and while he does use one illustration of an at-home mother, she is far outnumbered by his working-mother illustrations.  As a stay-at-home-mom myself, I was hoping for at least one more example of how to put his principles into practice.

Nevertheless, any woman could read this book and walk away with some clarity as to changes she needs to make. Buckingham’s book was worth the read, and I look forward to pursuing my strongest life.