Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Six Things it's Okay to Say to Parents of Lots of Kids

You know all those blog posts kicking around called "Ten Things Never to Say to (enter your favorite minority)".  At first, I thought they were informative, if not a little over sensitive.  But in the last year, I think the movement has gotten out of control.  Let's face it, we live in a society now where basically we can't say anything to anyone without fear of being accused of being an insensitive d-bag.  It's plain silliness, in my book.  How can we possibly educate people about our circumstances if they are afraid to ask or talk about things.  (Disclaimer:  There are some that are totally hilarious, I'm not talking about those.  I am talking about the ones making fun of people who just want to understand)

Now, I have to add, that we also live in a time where most of people's social behavior is online these days.  How many of us wouldn't DARE say the things in person we say on Facebook?  Yeah, that's what I thought.  I think a part of us tends to forget that behind that profile pic there is a real, living, and breathing person with feelings.  I think the art of face to face socialization is quickly becoming a lost art.  Being tactful and classy in the things we say becomes a challenge, because face it, we often don't have to worry about that with our online persona.

I try to keep it real.  I often wouldn't say things online that I wouldn't say face to face.  But even I sometimes lose my cool with people in an online setting, when in person, I would have just walked away.

And I am the first to admit that I am a better writer than I am speaker... I often find myself with both feet wedged in my big mouth.

That being said.  In my Pushing Positive goals, I would like to write some posts about what we can and should say to people in certain circumstances.  There is so much about what NOT to say, that we don't know what TO say. Let's play with the positive side.

So I am going to start with the whole lots of kids thing.  That's the first thing people notice about us as we are venturing out in the world doing our thing.

[Note: When I say "Lot's of Kids" I mean more than 2 (If you live in Utah, more than 3 or 4).]

Last week, I took all four boys to Target to get a few things.  I was wearing the baby like this:
The other 3 were hanging off the cart preforming various circus acts... quite impressively, I might add.  In fact, we looked so freaking awesome, other target customers were taking pictures of us.  I chose not to be offended, and instead to feel like a super mom rock star -- I mean, wouldn't you??

A mom and her teenage daughter approached us and asked if they were all boys. Since all my boys have buzz cuts, I assume they weren't sure about the baby -- which is totally fine, because lots of people put their baby girls in blue right??  Anyway, I told them yes, they were all boys.  They ooed and awed and told me how handsome and well-behaved they were.  I chuckled, it totally wasn't true, (the well-behaved part, that is... ) but a mom loved to hear it anyway.  Then they told me they didn't know how I could do it, because they couldn't.  Now, lots of mom's get put out by comment by this, but to me it's a huge compliment... and that's how they mean it.  Yeah, I can handle it, go me!  And strangers admire that.  Go me again!

Living in the south, we are a sideshow everywhere we go.  I've heard it all.  The nice stuff and the nasty stuff.  Yes, we know what "birth control is" -- are you kidding me?  Can you at least TRY to use an original line?

So if you see a big family and you really feel the need to talk to them.  Here are a few things you can say that are totally cool, at least in my book.

1.  "What beautiful kids you have!"  EVERY. MOM. LOVES. TO. HEAR. THIS!  Who doesn't like to bask in the glory of their beautiful offspring?  Grumpy people put your hands down!  Usually, I follow up with a great joke like, "You didn't see them on aisle 5... they weren't so cute then!" but mostly, I go for the classic, "Thanks!"  Either way, I appreciate it.

2.  "Wow! All boys/girls?"  DO NOT follow with "Are you going to try for (the opposite sex) next?"  This is kind of a sore spot that is VERY personal for those with all of the same gender.  Instead, you can add, "You are so blessed!"  We love to hear we are blessed.  Because, we are.

3.  When you see us appropriately disciplining our kids in public, don't hide your faces and rush off like you are ashamed to witness it.  We appreciate it when people notice our efforts to raise decent human beings.  Meet our eyes and give us a smile of way-to-go-mom, or a nod of approval, and if you are in an extra cheesy mood, we even accept thumps up.  (I get those from old people all the time).  Today, at Walmart, I had the baby sitting in the cart, and as I turned to get some yogurt the boys all decided to jump on one side at the same time nearly throwing the baby out.  I caught it just in time, but was livid!  We have the don't hang on the cart like that talk EVERY SINGLE TRIP to the store.  I had them lined up right there next to the dairy and I was giving them the talking to about being good examples and following rules keeps us safe and how they almost killed their little brother.  A woman walked by me and said under her breath, "You tell 'em, Mama!"  I loved that!  It isn't easy to take a public stand, because it's easier to just let them get away with it and be quiet.  So it's nice when people show they appreciate it when I call my kids out then and there.

4.  "What well-behaved kids you have." or "What great little helpers you have!"  Both are nice to hear.  Mom's like to know their hard work is noticed.  It isn't easy to teach kids how to behave in public or to help without complaining.  A couple weeks ago, it was my 8 year old's birthday.  My husband was out in the field with the Army all week, so it was just me and the boys.  He chose to go to lunch at Cheddar's.  So off we went, me feeling all brave going into a restaurant with all the boys and no daddy for backup.  They are very good, if I say so myself.  Of course, they aren't little adults, and they act like kids, but they ate their food and didn't throw it.  Only my 4 year old was exploring under the table.  And the baby was asleep through most of it.  There was this little WWII vet sitting kiddie-corner from us and he kept smiling at me and giving me the thumbs up.  I had to smile.  After he was done eating he came up to me and told me what a great job I was doing.  He said that I hope I know how blessed I was to have 4 healthy boys.  I told him that I knew.  He was so sweet.  

5.  It's okay to ask polite questions.  I get asked if my older two are twins, because they are near the same size.  Totally cool.  I get asked about my 8 year old's red hair, because hey, it's totally awesome!  I get asked their ages, all is well.  I don't mind at all.  For the most part, people are just being friendly.  And you can TELL when they are being rude.  Once I had a lady say to me, "I hope you aren't planning on having MORE."  That was rude and it was said rude.  Some people ask me in a nice tone, "Are you planning on having more?"  This bothers a lot of people, because, yes, it really isn't their business.  Personally, this doesn't bother me.  I just smile and say, "maybe."  But most people aren't me -- so I wouldn't say it....  I had a lady at Walmart ask me today, and after I said my usual "maybe," she just laughed and told me I was amazing and it took a special kind of woman to have several kids.  I took it as a compliment.

6.  "I can tell you're a really good mom!"  It's more than okay to compliment us and our kids.  You may have noticed that there is a trending theme in my lists and that is compliments.  We love them.  It makes our day brighter.  Like everyone, we have good days and bad days and it's those bad days where a Diet Pepsi and massive amounts of chocolate isn't going to cut it, but a nice word from a stranger will.  Let me give you a HUGE hint about how to tell a mom is having a bad day.  Look for yoga pants and no makeup.  Instead of jumping to the conclusion that she has "let herself go", think instead that that mom probably didn't sleep much because her baby is teething and the bigger kids are out of school and are waking up by 6 wanting breakfast.  Her house is mess because her husband just came home from a month long training and after a layer of toys, Army gear has exploded everywhere!  She is tired. Probably grumpy.  And wouldn't even be at the store if they hadn't have run out of milk and diapers.  She is in need of a smile or a kind word.  Don't be afraid to be that person.

I am well aware there are crappy parents out there punching out kids to get government aid and whatnot.  There are parents that are neglectful, abusive, and trashy.  But there are also parents who sacrifice everything to raise great kids.  And let's face it, this world NEEDS decent human beings.  For every bad parent out there, there are a 100 great ones!  It isn't easy to have many kids, but it was a choice we made.  Sure we can't afford to have worldly goods, the best electronics, the fanciest cars, etc... but we don't NEED that.  Our needs have nothing to do with material goods, and everything do with happy, healthy, little people. We find much joy in parenthood... even if we are a little crazy... but that's how we roll!
-Cat

What are some things you like people to say to you about your kids?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Push Positive!

So you may have noticed I have been gone for a month.  Well, I have a perfectly good reason... or two.  My well-working computer died a horrible death.  Heartbreaking, I know.  It was my super awesome laptop that I got to review a couple years ago.  Boys are hard on electronics.  Period.  As much as I try to keep my stuff away from them, they are sneaky, and clumsy.  My poor laptop chord has been tripped over so many times it shorted out and in turn blew out the motherboard.  So I have been a month in morning over the death of a good companion.  It is true I still have my desk top.  However, it's on it's last leg and every few minutes the screen shuts off.  So it makes it hard to finish a post, you can imagine.

As parents of 4 kiddos, paying off student loans, a mortgage, and other expenses, we don't have extra money kicking around to just buy a new one.  I wish we did.  But with a back fence we need to weatherize and a family vacation coming up, Cat's laptop needs are going to have to wait.

But there is something I have been meaning to write for a while now, something that has been on my mind daily... and it was important enough to try to type a post between screen outages.

Maybe it's just my social media feed, but lately the negativity and rudeness of people has really been stressing me out.  I used to look forward to waking up and seeing what amazing things my friends around the world were up to.  Now, I wake up to this:

1.  Tragic and horrible news stories.

2.  Random studies that prove the point of the poster to an in-you-face level.  If you don't believe what they believe you are basically Satan's minion and you're going to every level of Hell.  (For every study you post, I can find 5 that say the complete opposite, so your not really proving anything, just being a jerk).

3.  Intolerant, mean, and ignorant political stuff from BOTH sides of the aisle.

4.  A lot of hate and hypocrisy.

Am I alone in feeling tired of it?  I try to stay away, but for the handful of friends who post lovely things and wonderful pictures and insightful and inspiring videos and thoughts, I get on.  I get on for my family and friends that are so far away.  I miss them terribly.

I made a goal a few months ago.  I decided only to post positive things.  No matter how much life sucked right now, I was going to look for silver linings.  I'm not talking about being "fake" or pretending like my life is perfect.  There is nothing wrong with having a bad day and asking for prayers or positive vibes being sent your way.  There is nothing wrong with letting people know you have struggles and what's going on.  That's a huge part of social media... is connecting with people on all levels.  What I'm talking about is posting things that won't hurt others.  People are pretty set in their ways these days, honestly, there isn't much I think you can post that will change anyone's political views, or the way they are raising their kids.  There is just so much fighting and contention, it makes me want to go hide under a rock.  Life is too short to harbor feelings of anger towards one another.

I made a goal to share things that mean something to me.  Videos, pictures, quotes, things that make me feel happy and good.  I don't just share them either, I like to give some of my personal thoughts.  I wake up and think, what can I do today to make someone smile?  Or how can I be an answer to someone's prayer?  And that is what is on my mind when I face social media these days.

Sometimes I get blocked or unfriended.  I know I do.  We all do.  Many times when I share something about my faith.  People, I am not trying to convert anyone.  I am simply sharing thoughts that have helped me and put my life and goals into perspectives... and I am pretty sure my other Christian friends and friends of other faiths and beliefs feel the same way when they post things that are meaningful to them.  Try not to let it bother you when people block or unfriend you... it usually isn't you, it's them -- even if it is hurtful.

I made it a goal to stay "funny" and have a healthy sense of humor.  I put that in quotes because many times I am the only one laughing at my cleverness.  (Your loss).  I keep my humor clean.  Little eyes are everywhere.  I can't tell you how many times I have had to block people or their posts for posting nasty things and my kids saw it looking over my shoulder.  Uncool.

I know we live in a scary world.  I know that I can't hide in a bubble.  But I can have some control of my environment and the people with whom I choose to surround myself.

So I challenge you.

Push the Positive.

Think before you post or comment: will this hurt someone?  Will I cause anger and contention by saying this?  Am I setting a good example by sharing this?

Many will argue that it is "man's nature" to act one way or the other.  But I believe we can conquer our "nature" and be better than what is only expected of us.  Who wants to be mediocre?  Not me!  I want to be extraordinary, don't you??

So that's my challenge.  Be extraordinary.  Flood the social media with wonderful things.  Make people feel good about themselves.  Be an answer to someone's prayers.  Be that person that people get on social media to follow.  This world needs good, positive people.  Heaven knows, I need good, positive people in MY life!

Be THAT person and accept my challenge!

-Cat

Friday, May 15, 2015

Winners of the American Sniper Movie Giveaway!

Yes, you read that right.  Ben and I decided to give our copy away to one of you wonderful people as well.  We were so impressed with all the heart-felt shout outs and love shown to our service members, we just couldn't keep it.

That and the fact that scary movies give me nightmares and I chickened out watching it because even the book frightened me.  Yeah, I'm a baby.  This is coming from a girl who can't watch CSI or Criminal Minds... and even Supernatural gives me bad dreams.

So we decided to give the extra movie to someone else who is much braver than I...

The winners of the Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy Bundles go to:

Jessica Carpenter

Who said: "With all the family and friends in the military that I know my Brother tops the list. Iraq once and Afghanistan twice all I. A 7 year time period back when tours lasted 15+ months. He is a soldier true to the core and is slowly making his way back into the civilian world. I am blessed to be able to talk to him each day as I know he fights the memories and trauma of war everyday."

And....

mom2tk

Who said: "I have had a father that served in the Army. My husband served in the Air Force. But my favorite (yes I am totally bias .. lol) Would be my son who is currently serving in the Army National Guard. He left in March for basic and AIT. I can not wait to see him and put my arms around him. I am so proud of him!!"


Winners:  Please email me your mailing address asap so I can send out your prize! nutsinanutshell(at)gmail(dot)com

Thanks to everyone who participated, and for the beautiful. heartfelt shout outs! 

-Cat

Disclaimer:  Winners were picked completely randomly using random.org.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

American Sniper Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy Bundle Giveaway!

Many of my old readers may remember when I first reviewed Chris Kyle's American Sniper when it first came out.  You can't read the book without feeling like you KNOW the man.  Like he's your friend.  When he died, we mourned like he was family.  That's just the kind of guy he was.

I was really excited when the film promotion company sent me 3 pre-released copies of the movie (which will officially come hit the stores on May 21st in time for Memorial Day weekend) with the following instructions:

1. Keep one for myself as a Thank you for my husband's service.
2. Give a copy to a Vet or Service Member that we personally know.
3. And to give one away to my readers.

One of our favorite families
Ben and I talked a lot about who we would give the copy too. We have SO MANY wonderful friends who serve! But after talking about it, we both knew exactly who we wanted to give it to.  The second copy is going to an amazing husband and father of two little girls.  He's been in the service for about 8 years and has been deployed.  His wife is one of my best friends and one of the greatest examples of what a military wife should be: strong, loyal. honest, hard-working, and classy.  When we think of a married couple who we look up to and admire, it's them.  My only regret is that we weren't living closer to them and didn't take advantage of the time when we were neighbors so long ago!  As a BIG thank you for their service and their example to us, that DVD is going to them.

The 3rd copy is up for grabs!!

This is what I need you to do:

Mandatory:  Leave a comment giving a shout out to your favorite service member(s) past or present.  (If you can't leave a comment, because my blog is a little testy these days, please email it to me at nutsinanutshell(at)gmail(dot)com and I will post it!

Optional (Leave a comment for each completed)
- Share this giveaway on FB
- Tweet about this giveaway
-Share on another social media site

For those of you who don't win, Warner Bros wants you to know that $1 from every sale goes to the Wounded Warrior foundation.

Contest ends tomorrow night!!! Thursday!  Winner will be announced on Friday so I get this sent out quickly and the winner will have a copy before it's even out in stores!  How awesome is that??

Good Luck!

-Cat

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

In Which I Nearly Blind Myself Only to be Rescued by a Friend

As a mother to 4 boys, I learned early on that great eyelashes are wasted on the male sex. Why?  Seriously!  Why is that?  It just isn't fair that I have these short, fine, blond, hardly even there lashes when my husband and boys get these lush, thick, dark beauties.  (With the exception of my red-head who sports long, thick, gorgeous white lashes.)  It's totally not fair.

Take a look at me with no makeup:
My lashes are so stick straight, they won't even curl.  And I've tried all the tricks... so don't go there, I'll just feel bitter and resentful.

One of my BFF's had my issue and she had someone glue on some that lasted a few weeks and she LOVES them.  But I can't afford to spend $50 plus bucks every three weeks to get it done... besides it takes some time, and with two little ones in tow, time to sit still and get my lashes put on is time I don't have.

So I decided to give the cheap self-glue on ones a try.

Let me start by telling you something about the south.  When bad weather is rolling in, everyone and their dog is over to Walmart buying out food, water, flashlights, and apparently fake lashes.  Not kidding you.  It's like "Holy crap a tornado is coming!!  Stock up on fake eye-lashes!!"

I made the mistake of going on such a day and almost died right there in the cosmetic aisle.  So I ran for my life, using my cart as a battering ram to make my escape, and decided to come back when crazy wasn't in the air.

Finally, a week later, they restocked and I was able to buy a pair.

I even bought some glue.

And I guess I didn't do it good enough because they fell off in my food at Texas Roadhouse on my anniversary date.  It's true, I just blinked and off fluttered the left right into my ranch dressing.  The right one landed by my honey butter roll a few seconds later.  I was smooth and slipped them quickly into my napkin, and Ben was so busy focusing on the onion blossom, he luckily missed all the action. Ha. Men.

But I forgave my fakies and decided to give them another chance when Ben took me out on my birthday.  This time, I totally over did the glue.  First, I glued my eyes shut. Then my lashes keep sticking together throughout the night... I couldn't wait to get them off when I got home, but they wouldn't come off!  I started to cry.  The stupid things were ripping off my skin and real lashes!  I had to finally google how to remove super glue, because makeup remover was just NOT working.  So there I was late at night dabbing nail polish remover on my eye lids.  Thankfully, I didn't get any in my eyes and my lids were only swollen and rashy for a few days.

But I couldn't forgive the fakies this time.  In the trash they went with my hopes of having lush lashes.

Now, I had heard of Younque.  I actually had a "friend" on Facebook that was trying to sell the special mascara.  Emphasis on HAD.  She unfriended me because I was ignoring all her party invites.  Normally, I NEVER talk about people in a bad-ish way, but since we are no longer Facebook buds... well, all bets are off.  (Moral of story, don't unfriend me or I will seek evil revenge on my blog... MWAhahahahahaHA! PS: I hope you know I'm kidding, right?;) )

Since then I have learned that Girlfriend did NOT know how to use her product.  The reason I never joined her party or bought anything from her was because she looked like she had some kind of black, hairy growths on her eyes.  They were thick and chunky and just scary as hell.  No freaking way I was going to buy into that, I'd rather take my chances with the fakies, thank you very much.

Then a few months ago, one of my closer, nicer, sweeter friends who would NEVER unfriend me, started selling it and she made it look AMAZING!

Her name is Nichelle, and look how gorgeous she is:

I thought at first that she just had really great lashes anyway... but she sent me a before shot too:
So I started following her parties and pretty much Facebook stalked -- you know the creepy silent watcher who never comments.  Yeah, that's me sometimes... makes you really want to be my Facebook friend, right?!

Something about me:  I hate spending money on myself.  I REALLY hate it.  I just feel the boys have bigger needs than I do, so forking out the funds for mascara was just not going to happen right now.

Then one day, Nichelle messaged me and asked me if I would review the mascara if she sent me some.  Well, well, well... I guess my silent stalking does pay off once in a while.

When it came in the mail, I was excited and nervous at the same time.  What if my lashes don't look as awesome as Nichelle's.  What if they look like Girlfriend's tarantula eyes?  It took me a couple days to be brave enough to give them a go.  Well, I couldn't get my lashes to curl... and because of that, I really couldn't see the length because they were sticking straight out.  At least, they didn't look like hairy monsters... but I needed to know how Nichelle made hers so perfect.  She told me that she uses a eyelash brush.  What the heck is that?!  Oh, that little brush thing that comes in the makeup brush packs that I just chuck in the trash?  So that's what it's for...

She was so sweet and sent me a video on how to use it... I still need to go buy one.

But I owed her a blog post, like last week, so the brush will have to wait for now.  I feel like the mascara does give me some length, some body and thickness, and it makes my eyes pop in a pleasant and non-painful way.  And the best part is that I don't have to glue anything on.

Here is my before, with mascara, and with Younique in the last one:


Here is a little info Nichelle sent to me:



I was hording the mascara because I thought if I used it too much, I would run out too fast... but Nichelle told me that it lasts for 3 months with every day wear.  


ALSO, a quick mention:  there is a 14 day money back guarantee, so you can try it and if you don't like it, you can send it back.

Before I end this post, I need to tell you a little about Nichelle and why this business is so important to her.  She'd probably be really embarrassed that I am sharing this, because she is so humble, but what good is a friend who won't tell everyone how awesome you are or let the world know when you need help??  So yeah, I am being THAT friend.  Nichelle is an Army wife, like me, and she is gearing up to have her 3rd baby.  Her husband is gone to training for like 6 months, and isn't allowed to come home for the birth.  However, the Army said that he could come for a few days AFTER the baby is born, but he has to pay his own way.  Plane tickets are SUPER pricey right now, and Nichelle is working really hard to earn and save up the money so her husband can come be there after the baby is born.  So if you pop over to her site and buy something, you aren't just getting mascara or what ever other makeup she is selling, you are helping a soldier come home to meet his baby.  No pressure or anything. *wink, wink*

You can check out Nichelle's website HERE.  And you can check out and LIKE her Facebook page here: Nichelle's Lovely Lashes.  


In conclusion, I really like it, MUCH better than the fakies... and WAY less pricey than getting those little ones glued on professionally.  You don't have to be a Chunky Clunker like Girlfriend, you can be long and classy like Nichelle... unless you are me... then just do what works.

-Cat

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

DIY Baymax T-Shirt (Big Hero 6)

Boy #3 is OBSESSED with Big Hero 6.  We watch it everyday about a million times.  He can quote the movie word for word (and so can I, for that matter).

Poor little guy, though.  Every time we go the store he BEGS for ANYTHING with Baymax on it.  If you haven't seen the show, he's this big marshmallow looking robot:
This cute lovable guy is my 4 year old's hero of the month.  And we wants all the paraphernalia... but being the kind of parents we are, we like to wait for holidays to get the prizes... unless they want to buy stuff with their birthday money.

But today was his 4 year doctor well check and he got his shots... and he was so brave.  So after taking him out for a Wendy's kid's meal, I made him a new shirt.


I used an old white tee and a sharpie.  I should have looked at a picture first, but I didn't so the head is a little too big and I didn't make fingers.  But he doesn't care.  He's in heaven and I'm the best mom in the world!

-Cat

Monday, March 30, 2015

Home Again: A Book Review

I get about 5-10 requests per week to review new up and coming books.  About 95% of them have to do with the military one way or another.  I know we get them because we are a military family, and that's great.  But sometimes, I just get a little burned out on military literature.  I turn down most of the requests, mainly because I don't have time to review them all.  Between raising all my boys and being wife to my soldier-man, sadly, I have limited time to sit down with a book.  Audio books have been my friend lately.

So a book really has to catch my eye and interest for me to accept reviews these days.  And Home Again by Michael Kenneth Smith
was one of those eye catching books.

I liked the fact that it took place in Tennessee.  Since living here, I have been very interested in learning more about the history, especially concerning the civil war.  Although, the book is fiction, you can tell the author went through a lot of trouble to include a lot of non-fiction details and real people.

One thing I LOVE about history, is learning about the little stories that make up the big events.  I love the details about real people that make them REAL to me.  And this book includes those small, yet important details, and I LOVED it.  It's a perfect blend of fact and fiction!

I actually promised to do this review last week.  I got the book in the mail and I started reading it.  The first two chapters didn't really grip me because it was "guy talk".  Mostly hunting and guns were being described, and I fazed out a bit.  But once the story started rolling I was swept away.

Even though the publicist sent me a hard copy, I got myself a digital copy on Amazon (You can get it FREE if you have Kindle Unlimited).  Since I have a Kindle Fire 7 HDX, I have text to speech.  So I turned it on to read to me while I folded laundry.

Husband comes home.

He listens in.

He gets sucked in.

And he starts lurking around...

"Are you listening to my book?"

"Yes," he said.

"What do you think?" I asked.

"This book is AWESOME!  I am loving this!" He said.  That's a HUGE compliment coming from Ben.

Then I was banned from reading it without him.  So my review is a little late coming but here it is!

Before I go on, here is what the back of the book says:

An American Sniper in the Civil War Takes Center Stage in Historical Novel

Snipers are not a modern-day military tactic. In the American Civil War, both the Yankees and the Confederates had skilled snipers with advanced rifles and scopes that allowed them to hit targets over a thousand yards away. 
In Home Again, author Michael Kenneth Smith presents a true-to-life work of historical fiction that describes through a young soldier the important role of snipers—called sharpshooters back then.  Zach fights for the Union and earns notoriety for his accuracy with a rifle custom-made by his father, a gunsmith. Beginning with his first kill, Zach feels remorse and guilt over ending a human life.  He questions if it’s fair, honorable or moral to shoot an enemy without warning from a safe distance.  Are his victims really enemies, or soldiers like him eager to return to their families? 
Luke is a Confederate, who enters the conflict in hopes of doing something to make his father proud.  He volunteers to help two overworked surgeons in a field hospital by stitching up the gashes of wounded soldiers. Seeing an opportunity to stand out, Luke impulsively mounts a horse and rushes into enemy lines to retrieve the fallen Confederate flag. His fellow troops cheer, but the surgeons shame him for risking his life for the sake of glory when he is needed to help save injured soldiers. 
Set in Tennessee, Home Again does not take sides. Zach and Luke are both from Tennessee and there is little mention of the issues or the cause of the war. The surgeons tend to all soldiers regardless of the side they fight for. The dramatic and poignant stories of the two boys, uniquely told in alternating chapters, represent the aspirations of many young boys who seek action, adventure and glory and quickly confront the horrific realities of war. 
Smith vividly describes the chaos and elements they endure, as well as the sight of soldiers with limbs blown off and guts spilling into the mud, the screams and desperate pleas for help, the smell of gunpowder and decaying bodies.  
Based on his meticulous research, Smith skillfully weaves his fictional characters into actual events and battles, notably Shiloh and Gettysburg.  The personalities and leadership styles of well- known generals on both sides of the conflict are well presented, and brief biographies of many of them are in the epilogue.
I have to say, I really enjoyed the book. Probably not as much as my husband who was soaking it in. But as a history buff, and wife of a soldier living in Tennessee, I really liked it.  The first thing I notice about a book I review is writing style.  Michael Smith is an excellent writer.  He made me fall in love with the two main characters in such a way that I just couldn't pick a side!  When reading about Zach the sniper, I want the Union to win.  But when reading about the adventures of Luke the medic Confederate, I want them to win!  The reader can't help it!  I think it takes a lot of talent to write like that.

I love the parts when Zach the sniper is proving his skills to the unbelieving soldiers.  But I think my favorite part is when he walks into a confederate tent full of men, after hiding out in the rain for hours and pretends he is one of them to get a good nights sleep.  I still chuckle when I think of that part. But it was really interesting as the writer explored the emotions Zach went through as he was picking off guys as a sniper.  And the lasting effects of war on him.

I really liked Luke too.  I loved his compassion and charity.  He really wanted to take care of everyone... and their horses.  But he had the saddest story I thought.  His dad was a total douche and pretty much forced him into the Army.  But Luke was an animal lover and fishing small town boy. What the war did to him was just short of tragic.  I did find it fascinating the way they were able to patch soldiers up even though the conditions were unsanitary and the supplies were so limited.  But he just didn't give up on anyone.

I am really hoping for a sequel.  The ending left it open to follow these young men on new adventures.  Fingers crossed!

So whether you are a history buff or just love a good military adventure read, you need to read this book!  It will make you laugh, cry, cheer, and it will open your eyes to a new understanding of what the civil war was and what those men fought for so we can live like we do today.

-Cat