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There are two sides to Ellie Kay. There’s the practical, budget-minded Ellie, who volunteered at the family support center, teaching military families how to “Shop, Save and Share.” That’s the Ellie who turned the presentation into her first book by the same title in 1997. That Ellie grabbed Oprah’s attention a few years later with another book, “The Debt Diet,” and she now gives presentations around the world based on her latest book “Half-Price Living.”

I spoke with Ellie Kay and her business manager, Wendy Wendler, also a military spouse, during the European portion of Ellie’s “Heroes at Home” tour. Invited by USAFE, she spoke at bases in Italy, the U.K. and Germany.

Penny-wise Ellie started her first business when she was seven. She was an insurance broker before she married Bob, an Air Force pilot. She can tell you how to get a load of groceries for nothing and get ten bucks back at the register; how to pay less on insurance, credit card interest and utility deposits.

But there is another Ellie, and another book. In 2002 this Ellie wrote, “Heroes at Home,” which she, with eleven titles to her credit, calls her “heart book.”

I asked Ellie about the message of this book. She said she often meets military spouses, even experienced ones, who don’t realize their contributions are important.

“The heroes at home make a world of impact with the things they do and the ways they contribute to the military,” she said.

As Ellie told me how one spouse was affected by the message of her book, she had the steady voice of a veteran speaker and the tear-brightened eyes of one who has been there.

Both sides of Ellie work together in her books and presentations. Her practical suggestions about stretching a budget, moving a family and surviving separation are filled with faith, and a healthy dose of humor, backed up by 16 years as a military wife.

It’s a message that resonates. “My husband and I both went to see her,” said a woman who saw Ellie in Germany, “and both sat there with tears in our eyes when she talked about deployments.”

“I would love for all of the spouses in our squadron to receive her book,” she said, “especially the young, but even I learned a thing or two after five deployments.”

Ellie’s career and her message to military families have taken her many places. She spoke to American Embassy spouses in China this year and plans a PACAF tour for 2008. However, she says her first priority is always her family. She and Bob have seven children; three are still at home.

“My babies are growing up so fast. I don’t want to look back and see all these great places I’ve been and people I’ve met, but regret that I missed my kids’ childhood, and I won’t.”

Ellie said her two and a half weeks in Europe is the longest she has been away from her family. Her husband, now retired from the military, stayed at their Palm Dale, Calif., home holding down the fort.

“He had that deer-in-the-headlights look when I left, and he said ‘We’ll be fine, really,’” Ellie said.

Of course, he will. It’s his turn to be the hero at home.

[PULSCALTAG]Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three. She lives and writes in Germany, where her husband is stationed at Ramstein AB. Send comments or questions to her at spousecalls@stripes.com and see the Spouse Calls blog at http://stripes.blogs.com/blogs/spousecalls.

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