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.

'We Will Always Remember'

One stormy autumn afternoon not long ago, I attended a book club luncheon on Joint Base Bolling-Anacostia in Washington, D.C. It was cold and wet, and we were happy to be indoors talking about books and telling stories. Air Force wife Patty Stendahl told about a visit to Berlin that recalled the city’s history.

When the Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago this month, East Germany and West Germany were reunited, and the Cold War ended. That era began as WWII ended, when Germany and its capital, Berlin, were divided up among the Allies after their victory; when nations formerly united to defeat the Nazis began to fight among themselves.

At the table

For me, the project began around a table. I was at the Military.com Spouse Summit in Washington, D.C., last year, where I reconnected with friends and met new ones. One of the new friends was Karen Pavlicin-Fragnito. She came to the table — all the way from St. Paul, Minn. — to share an idea.

“I want to create a book that’s like having lunch with friends,” she said, as we sat together after lunch. “A collection from different writers. I want to ask military family members to write about a challenge of military life and how they met it.”

Books for treats

Today’s the day for treats, and there’s no better treat than a good read, in my book. Reading together is a good place for parents to begin talking to their children about the stresses of military life, particularly about war and deployment when those events touch their lives. This collection of books celebrates the experiences of military families, both past and present, giving children a perspective and a sense of their place in history as military kids.


“My Daddy is a Marine,” by Alia Reese

Quarantine quandary

For a reminder of the chasm between military and civilian life in the United States, look no further than the war on Ebola. The national furor over whether or not to quarantine health care workers returning from the fight against the deadly epidemic in West Africa reveals a stark contrast. Military and civilian warriors are joined in battle to combat the virus that has killed thousands and is likely to strike thousands more, particularly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Some of the warriors are health care professionals treating suffering individuals. Others are building treatment centers and infrastructure to support the medical care needed to stop the disease. For civilian and military alike, the enemy is the same: disease and death. But when military and civilian heroes return home from the Ebola battlefront, their paths diverge.