My sister brought another successful Brat to my attention–Food Network personality and chef, Sunny Anderson. Born in New Orleans, Sunny traveled the world as an Army brat, and claims her passion for cuisine came from her parents encouraging her to try the local food wherever they were stationed. Through a career with the Air Force, Sunny became an award-winning radio host before joining the Food Network in 2005.

While we’re on the topic of food…what’s your favorite cuisine from your brat upbringing or other international travels? I regularly get cravings for German potato salad and apple strudel!

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I thought I’d write a post for Valentine’s Day, and then I recalled that I don’t really like Valentine’s Day. Not because I’m bitter or romantically neglected, but because it reminds me of 7th grade too much. There’s this pressure to give your loved one cheap chocolate or one of those gigantic teddy bears from Wal-Mart (which is destined for a garage sale anyway) so he/she won’t be the only one at the office (aka, “school”) without a Valentine. It’s junior high all over again—peer pressure capitalism, I say! Okay, that’s the end of my rant.

Instead, I thought I’d write about a segment of society that could definitely use some more LOVE. TIME magazine recently published an article about the growing divide between the military and civilian worlds. This division has led to a situation where many soldiers feel they come home to a country they don’t know, and a society that doesn’t really care. And as military installations are consolidated—the result being fewer, but much larger, bases (think Ft. Hood, TX and Ft. Bragg, NC)—the gap continues to grow since military families can practically live their entire lives on the installation, disconnected from the wider society outside.

Military service is also becoming more of a family affair, with former “brats” making up a good percentage of those who voluntarily join up. From personal experience and from other brat friends I’ve talked to, it seems that it’s increasingly difficult for military children to cross the divide to a civilian world that doesn’t “get” their upbringing and the values it instilled. In the wider American population, younger generations today are less likely to have a family or friend connection to the military, making it more difficult for military kids to relate to their peer group when they leave home or go off to college.

To some extent this kind of “culture shock” is, and has always been, part of military life, but some worry the growing gap between the military and civilian worlds may lead to a kind of “warrior caste.” For me, the big question is: what are the consequences of a military that feels increasingly disconnected from the country it’s fighting for, and a civilian population that has no idea what its military is really up to?

I'll Miss You Dad Child holds on tight to her ...

So in honor of Valentine’s Day—or perhaps in protest of it :)—find a military solider, spouse, or brat and give them a big hug. The military-civilian gap will never close unless the rest of American society takes active steps to  invite soldiers and their families back in.

 

I’ve decided to do a short blog segment just for fun…a weekly mention of a well-known musician, actor/actress, writer, or politician who happens to be a military brat. It’s interesting to think about how a military childhood may have shaped a person’s artistic or political career. And since I’m a writer, I thought we’d start off with a writer. 🙂

Cover of "The Great Santini: A Novel"

There probably isn’t a writer out there more influenced by military brat life than Pat Conroy, New York Times bestselling author of novels such as The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini, and The Lords of Discipline. Conroy was born in Atlanta, GA to a U.S. Marine officer and moved 23 times before he was 18 years old! He’s also spoken out on the ‘invisibility’ of military brat subculture and the unique challenges these kids face.

“We spent our entire childhoods in the service of our country, and no one even knew we were there.”

The Great Santini in particular–and its film adaptation–most reflects Conroy’s upbringing, with an almost comically stereotypical “military dad” who was  based on Conroy’s own father.

If you’re a brat, would you say military life pushed you to excel and–as the Colonel so eloquently puts it–“chew nails while other kids are sucking cotton candy”? 🙂 Or was there a darker side to this “best and brightest” achievement mentality?

In military life, saying goodbye to family and friends is part of the routine—something so frequent, it’s practically expected. I’ve often heard people connected to the military use the phrase, “It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later”—which has a lot of truth to it, given the “small world” of the military and the serendipitous encounters with old friends that tend to occur years later.

Saying goodbye to a loved one leaving this life can be quite a bit harder, however. Yesterday, my great-grandmother passed away after nearly 99 full years on this earth. Living out of state, I wasn’t there to say goodbye, but am comforted in knowing the large extended family she gave birth to was with her the entire way.

As a writer, I can’t help but look at life as a story…one we each have a hand in composing. Grandma Adams was a natural storyteller. Born to Czechoslovakian immigrants nearly a century ago, she shared insights from the past with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren through a sharp mind and  playful wit she retained almost to the very end.

Growing up, whenever we moved I always retained mental snapshots that seemed to capture the feel of the place we had left behind. Perhaps a person’s stories are the best “snapshots” they leave us after a life well lived. Through her stories, Grandma Adams’ spirit and smile will remain with each of us, until we meet again.

After all,  it’s not goodbye…it’s see you later.

I came across this documentary on military brats–Brats: Our Journey Home. I’m looking forward to watching the entire thing, but here’s the trailer in the meantime!

A fellow blogger and military mom has a great post about resources for children struggling with military brat life: Advocating for Our Military Brats

I think getting access to the stories of other “brats” who have experienced a similar upbringing is another great resource for kids currently going through it. That’s why I find books and film so helpful–stories give us meaning, and there’s nothing quite as meaningful as hearing another’s story that could very well be your own.

Lubriderm

Image by bizzlenj via Flickr

Something starts to happen to me every 2-3 years that most military brats will surely recognize. I start to get the itch. Yes, Colorado is a very dry climate and you have to wear extra lotion here in the winter, but that’s not what I mean. I start to get what I have fondly come to call “the three year itch”—to move. It’s hard to know whether such an urge is a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, it definitely keeps things from getting stagnant. On the other, it makes it difficult to be fully present in the place you’re at. I imagine (though I’ve yet to experience) that this itch can be relieved if you just sit with it for a while and don’t scratch—which means, gasp, staying in one place at least 4 or 5 years. But in an age where college programs and a lack of job security have more people mobile than ever before, I bet military brats aren’t the only ones who need the number for a good dermatologist. A lot of brats—and other transient beings—just get used to “the cycle,” almost likes it’s downloaded onto our systems.

It goes something like this:

Year 1: CHANGE. You pack up everything you own, move to a place you’ve never been, and hate life for a good 6 months because you have no friends and this place doesn’t have nearly as much to do as the last place you lived (it doesn’t matter if you’re moving from Kansas to Hawaii, by the way…this is how your warped little brat brain will feel). By the end of the year, you’ll have a few friends—at least one of them will undoubtedly move just when you’re starting to get close—and all your schemes to save up extra cash so you can go back to visit Location A will become less intense. Your skin, by the way, is healthy and glowing.

Year 2: You’ve settled in and are finding your groove. It’s smooth sailing, but occasional exfoliation may be necessary and don’t forget the sunblock.

Year 3: One of two things will happen. Either you will be ready to move on to the next place—at this point the itch will be breaking out in full force—or you will meet your soul mate and/or bosom buddy. Oh the irony. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made a really close friend about 9 months before we must inevitably separate. Fortunately, some of those friends are still really close…one of the upsides of relationship-building with a ticking timer in the background.

When the timer goes off, take a deep breath and let cool for about 5 minutes, then repeat.

I’d love to hear the thoughts of those who’ve had similar experiences! 🙂

The Christmas season is when I miss Germany the most.  If you’ve ever strolled through a Christkindlmarkt sipping hot Gluhwein, you know Germany feels like the place where Christmas was invented and experiencing its authentic, old-world charm can put you in the Christmas spirit like no overworked mall Santa ever will.

It turns out many American Christmas traditions do have their roots in Deutschland, from the Advent wreath and Christmas tree, to nutcrackers and gingerbread houses. Even the modern concept of Santa Claus is said to be a blend of Saint Nicholas–a 4th century Greek bishop–and the god Odin of German paganism.  Like many Christmas traditions, a lot of ancient German practices were later Christianized, but retained elements of their indigenous roots.  If you want to experience a real interesting–and slightly terrifying–pre-Christian German tradition later associated with St. Nicholas, check out the mythical Krampus–essentially fury monsters wearing cow bells and carrying switches who accompany St. Nick through the streets of Alpine towns on the evening of December 6 to beat the sin out of particularly bad children…or intoxicated American tourists.

Or you could just stick to Gluhwein. 🙂 Here’s a recipe, sure to be a hit at any holiday party!

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar or honey
  • 2-3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 orange
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1 (750 milliliter) bottle red wine (nothing too expensive)
  • Brandy to taste (optional)
1. Combine water, sugar, and cinnamon sticks in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer.
2. Cut the orange in half, and squeeze juice into  simmering water. Push the cloves into the outside of the orange peel, and place peel in the simmering water. Continue simmering for 30 minutes, until thick and syrupy.
3. Add the wine and heat until steaming, but not simmering. Remove the  orange halves. Serve Gluhwein hot in mugs. For mit Schuss , add a shot of brandy for a little extra sweetness.