Make the days count

Calendar holds many significant days for military families

Servicemembers compare the passage of days during a deployment to the movie “Groundhog Day,” in which actor Bill Murray is doomed to repeat the same day over and over again. At home, the absence of a pivotal member of the family can make the days feel shapeless, lacking the structure that makes a family schedule tick along. Days come and go, uneventful, stressful and significant alike. We might wish we could bypass a birthday or an anniversary or save it until deployment is done, but we can’t. Those days go by, celebrated or not.

The war has come to a formal end, but plenty of military families spent this past holiday season with a deployed parent or spouse. Perhaps they enjoyed togetherness with extended family or with military friends. Possibly they plowed through the celebrations with a determined smile.

Free, but not easy

Freedom of expression requires listening, discerning, and sometimes ignoring what is offensive

In military families we speak often of freedom, and we know what it costs. We’ve seen the price of liberty paid by those we know and love, but I wonder whether we can truly appreciate our freedom unless we’ve felt its absence. For those who have always had it, freedom is easy to overlook, as is the cost.

As Americans, we’re allowed to worship, speak, live and act as we choose. The Declaration of Independence says our creator endowed us with the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We hold these truths to be self-evident, but when Thomas Jefferson wrote about them, “these truths” were radical. The signers of the Declaration were revolutionary in every sense of the word. More than 200 years later, these truths have become commonplace — perhaps until the recent terrorist attack in Paris. Our freedoms, particularly free expression granted by the First Amendment to the Constitution, have fresh meaning.

Year in review

Looking back at the stories of 2014 and preparing for a new year of military life

The old year has gone. A new year has begun. Before I begin filling a clean calendar with new events and stories, here’s a look at some Spouse Calls columns from last year’s pages.

In January, I covered the rise of the grassroots movement, Keep Your Promise. The group is a voice for the military community, one that reminds legislators their actions have electoral consequences, said spokesman and military spouse Jeremy Hilton.

Do you hear what I hear?

Telling stories is important, and so is listening to them.

The temperature was below freezing as my husband and I arrived at the downtown St. Louis library where I’d been invited to speak about military life. A manager met us at the door. His greeting was warm, but the facts were cold.

“I hope we’ll have some people for you to speak to,” he said. “We had a National Book Award winner last month, and four people showed up.”

Come to the stable

A joint effort by my military parents created a Christmas heirloom we've carried all over the world

Kneeling on the living room rug, I open the large cardboard box and plunge my hands into a pearly froth of Styrofoam packing. I am searching for treasure, heirlooms handed down to me from my parents.

My hand closes on something solid and cool to the touch. I pull it from the protective billows and remove a layer of bubble wrap to reveal a ceramic shepherd. Placing him gently on the sofa, I reach in to find more: a kneeling camel, a wise man holding a golden box in his outstretched hands, Mary, Joseph, the manger, two standing camels, some sheep, more wise men and shepherds, the angel, her fragile wings wrapped in an extra layer of padding. Soon the cast is complete.

Books on the wish list

When making a list, checking it twice, consider these stories about military life

It’s time for carols on the radio, cards in the mailbox and Christmas shopping. My idea of the best gift for almost anyone on my list is a book. Just ask my family.

Here’s a roundup of some of the books that have crossed my desk in the past few months. One might just fit someone on your list or find a place on your own wish list.

A retrospective of war

E-book series examines the critical WWII years

Book and magazine editor Jeff Nilsson describes an America ambivalent about entering another war in a region historically averse to peace; citizens are worried about high unemployment and potential attacks on their homeland; Congress can’t agree on immigration policy that balances national interest with compassion.

Sounds like today’s news, but Nilsson, historian and archive director for The Saturday Evening Post, is talking about the America of 1939.

Military Child of the Year

Nominations open until Dec. 12 to honor outstanding military children

Military kids, including my own, never cease to amaze me. They adapt to new faces and places, and they try to make a difference wherever they go. Since 2009, the Military Child of the Year award has recognized some of the kids that make us all proud.

Nominations for the 2015 awards are open until December 12 at militarychildoftheyear.org. Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit that provides emergency financial and other assistance to military families, confers the awards.

Making a difference for the deployed

Photos personalize books by Marine wife and mom

Like many military spouses with small children, Alia Reese wanted an effective way to keep her young children connected to their Marine father when he was deployed. Alia, the author of “My Daddy is a Marine” and “My Mommy is a Marine,” said her books were based on methods that helped her own children during deployment. She also said the books help children understand the work of a military parent as a whole, not just his or her absences.

A mom with a master’s degree in psychology, Alia knew a photo album was an excellent tool to incorporate an absent parent in the family’s daily life and to illustrate the important work of a military career.

Empty chairs, extra chairs

At Thanksgiving, the feast is on the table, but in a military family, the focus is often on the chairs. Some of us will have empty chairs, because of deployment or distance from family members. Some will have extra chairs around the table to make room for friends and neighbors to join the celebration.

With empty chairs or extra chairs, or some of both, we keep our traditions alive by recalling the stories that remind us to be grateful. Some military spouses shared their reasons for thankfulness and the ways they express it.