Tag Archives: friends

I give and give, but what do I get?

Click on this photo to see a larger version of my column in the October issue of Military Spouse Magazine!

I’m going out on a limb here and say that the majority of you have a bottle of mustard, a can of cooking spray, a stick of butter, or some other food item in your kitchen that you did not purchase. No need to bother with FBI profiling, exhaustive research or statistical analysis. We all know it’s true.

You did not pay for that jar of Spanish olives or that bag of frozen meatballs, did you? Now don’t get your cammo undies in a bunch here, I’m not accusing you of being a thief. To the contrary, I’m merely pointing out what’s unique about us military spouses.

Unlike most in the civilian world, we military spouses are accustomed to people coming and going in our lives. Deployments, PCSes, and frequent change are part and parcel of our military lifestyles.

And every time your neighbor or best friend PCSes, she bestows to you memories of afternoons chatting on the patio during deployments, of the times she took care of your dog when you visited your parents, of the night you brought her wine and Dove Bars because she was crying over her husband’s new orders.

Finally, she bequeathed something that will last for months to come: that bottle of cocktail sauce she had in the pantry.

You really don’t need her half-used tub of margarine, but after all the support and friendship you gave each other, this was her final act of friendship. She gave these things to you because that’s what we do in the military. We support each other because we share a common experience and understanding.

So, every time you see that bottle of French dressing on your refrigerator door that no one in your family likes, you will remember that being a military spouse is about giving.

Give strength, community, camaraderie, and that is exactly what you will get back. Well, that, and a half bottle of ketchup.

Sure, the monthly potluck dinners can be a real bore. Yes, watching your friend’s kids while she goes to her prenatal appointments can be a real pain. No doubt, getting another phone call from a worried squadron wife right in the middle of the Survivor finale can be really annoying.

But think of it like this – The bottle of balsamic vinegar your fellow military spouse left you only cost about $3.75. The gas you spent dropping her family off at the airport set you back at least $7.50. However, the common understanding and support she offered you when you were in need was priceless.

Give and you shall receive.

Read the PDF version here: October Column.

My Styrofoam Cup Runneth Over

A week ago, I was sitting in my room in the base hotel, the night before my family’s final departure back to the States, sipping wine out of a Styrofoam cup and reflecting on the last three years living on a US Army base in Germany.

On one hand, the tour was a grand adventure. We climbed the steps of the ancient Coliseum, laid on the heather covered hills of Ireland’s county Kerry, ate our Thanksgiving turkey in a remote French farmhouse in Loire Valley, snuggled under a bearskin while riding a carriage through the streets of Vienna, and hiked among wildflowers and cowbells in the Swiss Alps.

On the other hand, with every tour, we leave family and friends behind, put spouse career plans on hold, store treasured belongings, cram into government quarters, tolerate extremely long work hours at mediocre pay without overtime, endure frequent separations, and for some, report for potentially hazardous duty downrange.

So why do we do it?

My husband, an intelligence officer, has enough years in to retire, so why not hang up the khaki uniform, grow a nice moustache and a gut, double his salary working for the private sector, and start living it up?

Good question.

Just before we moved out of our base housing in Stuttgart, my government-issue oven broke one night in the midst of making chocolate chip cookies. Despite the fact that I had packed up most of our kitchen supplies and was surviving on paper plates and take out, my daughter promised her social studies teacher that she would bring chocolate chip cookies in for the entire class the next day.

The dough was taking forever to cook, when finally we realized that the lower element was not heating properly. By this time it was nearly 11:00 pm, so we took a culinary risk and turned on the broiling element to heat the oven to the proper temperature, watching the cookies closely. It seemed to work, and we only had one batch left to bake.

My daughter put the last batch in, and came back to my room to ask me if I would watch them while she got ready for bed. I agreed. Seconds later, the fire alarm went off. I ran to the kitchen to find smoke billowing from the oven. Hurling the oven door open, I saw that my daughter had put the cookies on the uppermost rack of the oven, just under the red-hot broiler element.

 I threw the blackened pan of cookies onto the open window ledge and ran frantically around the base apartment, hoping to avoid setting the building alarm off, which would require all 11 families in the building to vacate and the fire department to come.

But then I heard it. Ear-piercing sirens from the stairwell, and confused voices shuffling in the halls. I knew there was no fire, but the alarms made it intolerable to stay inside the building so everyone was headed for the parking lot.

There they all were – the groggy residents of Building 2500 Patch Barracks. Men, women, children, cats, and dogs. All with crazy hair, wearing embarrassing bedtime clothing, staring up at our humble abode, looking for signs of fire.

“Uh, Howdy neighbors!” I waved nervously. “There’s nothing to worry about, it’s just a burnt batch of cookies!”

With sleep in their eyes, they all stared at me. At first, I was worried about bitter backlash due to our stupidity. I mean, who bakes cookies under the broiler? And at 11-o-clock at night?

But instead, they all yawned and laughed. Teenagers took the late night opportunity to steal away to their own corner of the lot and shoot the breeze. Little children warmed themselves in cars, and the rest of us chatted as if it was one of our weekend building barbecues.

Not only was no one mad at me, we all seemed to enjoy ourselves and light laughter could be heard bouncing off the walls of the nearby buildings.

After about 20 minutes or so, the serious German firemen arrived on their serious fire truck, suited up for a Towering Inferno. They marched seriously up four flights to my apartment, entered, and came out a few seconds later with smirks on their serious faces. We giggled at how mad they must’ve been to see that they had to come all this way for some “silly Americans” and their beloved chocolate chip cookies.

I offered my last apologies to my neighbors and friends and we all bid each other good night. It was actually a good time, and I was happy that my boneheadedness ironically resulted in one last fun Building 2500 get-together.

Reflecting on the past three years, I see what keeps us coming back to this way of life. Despite its hardships, life in the military offers job security and opportunity for adventure, but the most unique aspect of this lifestyle is the almost instant camaraderie among military families.

Sitting in the hotel awaiting our next tour of duty, I raised my Styrofoam cup in gratitude for the memories, experiences and friends we have acquired over the years, and I look forward to the good times to come.

All I Want for My Birthday Today

It’s my birthday today. I really don’t want anything. Really. 

I just want to relax.  That’s all. Maybe a little sunshine. It’s been raining forever, so a little sun would be nice. But that’s it. I just want to sit out on my patio in the sun and relax.

I might want a cocktail while I sit out there. Nothing fancy. Just something cold and refreshing. Maybe a beer. Maybe a wine spritzer.  No big deal. Ooo, or maybe some sangria, but not that yucky mix or the fake ones that people make with 7-Up and bad wine. One of the real ones that has been sitting on fruit all day long. Yea, that would be good.

But I do like frozen drinks when it is sunny too. Like a strawberry daiquiri or a frozen margarita. Just the basic ones. Oh, but I know what would be good – a Lemon Drop with real squeezed lemon or a Mojito with the fresh mint and crushed limes. I love those things. Or maybe one of those Pink Lemonades made out of cold Limón cello and cranberry juice. Oo, now that’s the ticket.

But I wouldn’t want to be pathetic sitting out there in the sun all by myself, so maybe it would be good if a friend sat with me. But I wouldn’t want to put anyone out or make them feel obligated. Just a good friend who isn’t just trying to get the check in the box. Someone who really appreciates me and likes to listen to my stories. That’s all. And it would be good if she brought the drinks so I wouldn’t have to make them myself. 

Actually, it would be cool if other friends got word it was my birthday and were like, “It’s Lisa’s birthday! She’s so funny and cool, we need to go celebrate with her!” Not the friends that think, “Oh crap, it’s Lisa’s birthday . . . I’ll just run down there and have a quick drink with her and I’ll regift that candle I got for Mother’s Day.”

Just a few sincere friends on the patio with drinks, that’s all. Although it would be nice if they all chipped in without me knowing and bought me something special. Nothing expensive or anything, just something really meaningful that they all knew I would appreciate, but that I had no idea they all planned just for me. That would be awesome.

But seriously, I really don’t want anything. However, I do hope I don’t have to cook tonight. It would be great if my husband would come home with some food without me asking. Just some simple take out so the kids get fed. I really don’t care. Just something light to go with the cocktails. A big Greek salad would taste good. It is so good with a bit of crumbled feta, and there’s nothing better than tzatziki with fresh dill and some kalmata olives. Oo, and some of that really soft flat bread that you can warm up on the grill to give it that smoky taste. You know what would be tasty? Some marinated grilled chicken breasts, thinly sliced. That would go well with the Pink Lemonades.

I don’t even need a cake today. But if a friend brings a little muffin or cupcake with a candle in it, I’ll be totally appreciative. I just hope my husband doesn’t pick up one of those store bought cakes I hate. I’d be totally happy if the kids cooked a pan of brownies. They would like that. I like them nice and gooey, and they taste so good when they are warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Drizzle some Baileys on top with a few dark chocolate curls and you’ve got a real dessert.

But as long as the kids get fed tonight, I’ll do whatever. I just hope they clean the kitchen when they’re done. I am so sick of cleaning. Just the basics – put the dishes in the dishwasher and put away the leftovers. It’s not that hard.  But it would be nice if they would try to clean it the way I do instead of leaving finger prints on the faucets, crumbs on the counter, and food in the drain. I hate it when they put plastic wrap over a huge bowl even thought there is only a little bit of food in it, just so they don’t have to put the leftovers in a Tupperware and wash the bowl. I hope they don’t do that tonight.

I just want the kitchen to be cleaned up a bit, that’s all. I don’t want to walk in there in my bare feet and feel something stick to the bottom of my foot like I did this morning. How hard would it be for them to run a mop over the floor on my birthday? It would only take a few minutes. Wouldn’t it be outstanding if my husband thought about this weeks ago, and secretly hired a cleaning person to clean the whole house today? It would be unbelievable if I came up from my birthday cocktail party/Greek dinner and found a sparkling clean house.

But really, I just want the kids to clean their rooms without me asking them. That would be so great. To walk back through our hallway and notice that all the rooms were clean and everything was put away. That would be gift enough.

In all seriousness, the kids don’t need to get me anything. Just a card with something sentimental and sincere. Not one from the store. One that they made themselves, and took the time to write something touching inside with cute handwriting. One that they hid under their bed every night and worked on while I was cooking dinner. One that will bring a little tear to my eye. That would be nice.

But no gifts. Only ones that they made in art class or something, nothing they had to go out of their way for. Like a little beaded bracelet or a key chain. Or maybe they snuck away with their father a while ago and went shopping for me. I’ll bet they all picked out something together, something I would have never thought to ask for because I never demand anything. Like some piece of jewelry that is stylish but meaningful or symbolic in some way. Or maybe a Blackberry. Or a Mediterranean cruise.

But any old thing will do, really. Like I said, I don’t really want anything. I just want to relax.

I better go plug in the video camera. It would really stink if all my friends came with the cocktails and surprise gift for the Greek dinner and no one had a camera to catch me on tape when I cry over the kids’ homemade cards and the necklace, and when I open the new Blackberry and the cruise tickets.

Just in case. You never know.


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