Bipolar express: Beauty with rough edges

The big train glided out of the station. I waved and smiled from the platform. My son was headed out to see friends in another city. Although he would only be gone a few days, I was sad as the train pulled away. I wished that our whole family could take the trip to see friends from a past assignment, but circumstances intervened. School, work, and life go on even during the holidays. I knew he would have a wonderful time seeing his high school friends during his college break, and I would see him again in two days.

I got on the commuter train to go home alone and sat looking out the window as the German countryside went by. Tall evergreens, hills in the distance, red-roofed villages, were all sprinkled with snow. I thought of the Polar Express, arctic wolves and deep winter woods, but this train was just ordinary, and a little seedy at that.

The gift of reading

I think books are among the best gifts any time. The Dec. 13 Spouse Calls column includes my picks for some of the best books to give as gifts for military families and friends.

Naturally, there are more than space allowed me to list, so here are some more great books for military spouses and families:

Special Deliveries

No matter what your faith or background, it seems there is a holiday to be celebrated in the next few weeks. My family celebrates Christmas in a big way, with affirmations of our faith, time with family and friends, and all our favorite foods. For the friends who are too far away to join our celebrations, we send lots of cards and packages.

Any time of year is a good time to remember the soldiers, sailors, airman and Marines who are deployed overseas. This week's Spouse Calls has some suggestions for getting connected by mail with troops who would like to hear from supporters back home. We can no longer send packages addressed to "Any Solder," because of security and privacy concerns. If you don't know someone downrange who needs care packages, there are some ways to get connected:

  • Some places of worship have programs for sending packages to deployed service members, such as the "My Soldier" program at Vicenza, mentioned in the column. These tend to be localized, so the organization can manage the requests for mail with those who want to provide it.
  • Groups such as the United Service Organization utilize volunteers to prepare packages distributed to troops headed to deployment.
  • Although we can't send mail addressed to "Any Soldier" anymore, there is an organization by that name, which allows volunteers to provide mail for troops. See AnySoldier.com for more information.
  • Soldiers' Angels also connects volunteers with troops in need of mail. See their Web site for more details.
  • Project Rudolph provides letters and cards to wounded service members throughout the year at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. This organization was founded by a military spouse. (Click here for a related Spouse Calls column.)
  • Cups of Love is another organization that accepts donations of handwritten letters, which they distribute on various holidays. Cups of hot chocolate sweets and cards are distributed to deploying troops passing through the terminal at Ramstein Air Base. For more information about helping this organization, founded by a military teenager, contact divalauren1995@yahoo.com.
  • The Boy Scouts of America -- in conjunction with unveiling of a "Celebrate Scouting" stamp to be released in 2010 -- is encouraging scouts to write letters and send packages to deployed troops and veterans. BSA is providing special letterhead, as well as guildelines for letter and package contents.
  • For more guidelines from the US Postal Service on what to send and how to package it, click here to see "Supporting Our Troops."
  • Thanks so much to readers who have sent in their suggestions to add to this list.