Posts Tagged Navy

Holiday astronomy: From Saturn to the moon to the Star of Bethlehem

The last week and a half have absolutely flown by. The lack of posts is a direct result of my solid immersion in Christmas happenings. My brother and his new girlfriend arrived on the 17th, which was also the first day of Saturnalia, the ancient Roman festival known for its (pretend) reversal of social roles between masters and servants.

It was ironic; until now, it was always me, the older sister, who was bringing a partner home. And it was always a special occasion when I came home from college. This time, though, roles were definitely reversed. Now, I’m essentially the child “still at home” since I live near my parents and my brother traveled from a time zone away for the first time in several months. And my relationship isn’t the new shiny thing anymore. I’m not the one more or less breaking ground. His and my paths are so distinct they’re impossible to compare. I think this is a good thing–it’s just interesting how my brother’s and my roles in the family have changed, and those roles don’t “switch back” after a week.

Anyway, I was hoping to attend some winter solstice celebrations in Madison, as Unitarians are an excellent source for this kind of thing and we have a healthy population of them. But most of the celebrations happened the Friday evening before the Tuesday solstice, and I was at my parents’ place. I was then hoping to go to the lunar eclipse party the night of the 20th at the UW Space Place. The eclipse was supposed to be the only one visible this year and since it was happening on the winter solstice, it was the northernmost lunar eclipse possible–an event that apparently hasn’t happened (or been visible?) in 456 years. I was pretty stoked for this, but unfortunately, Mother Earth put the kibash on my solstice plans. It was super cloudy in anticipation of snow the next day, and the party was canceled since visibility was essentially zero.

I struck out on some of the biggest holidays of the winter season last week, but I certainly made up for it during the King Kong of holidays in the U.S. Having my brother home from the Navy was a pretty big deal. We cut down a Christmas tree the day after P got here, and we all scrambled for last-minute presents. Mom busted out a serious variety of treats and meals. We spent Christmas Eve with the family of one of my brother’s friends, which was interesting. Spending such a family-oriented day on someone else’s turf wouldn’t have been my choice, but it worked out, and then we went to a church service with my brother in full dress blues. Christmas Day was pretty relaxed; my uncle came down and we pretty much spent the day eating, opening gifts, eating again, watching some TV and eating one more time. Can’t complain!

But Christmas 2010 is now another Christmas past, and as everyone else recovers from the holidaze (the chaos between Thanksgiving and Christmas), I’m gathering my endurance for the ever on-going quest for daily holidays.


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Military Family Month

I know I’ve mentioned this a couple of times, but November is Military Family Month. For the first time, this occasion directly applies to my family. P leaves for boot camp on Tuesday, so this weekend we got together with a handful of relatives and friends to celebrate an early Thanksgiving with him. My mother and I (though mostly my mother) made a giant, traditional holiday spread: turkey, dressing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, cranberry pumpkin bread, rolls, salad, gravy. All of this was followed up by a choice of pecan pie, pumpkin pie or apple crisp. Afterward, none of us moved much.

It was funny to be making and eating a Thanksgiving meal while the rest of the world was just having a typical Sunday. No Macy’s Day parade on TV, no Black Friday tomorrow morning. It was like we were on our own plane of existence, participating in something important to our culture but in a way that somewhat separated us from it.

To me, it seems like military families do this constantly, as the military requires a great deal of flexibility. We don’t know when P will graduate from boot camp or if we’ll be able to see him at Christmas. We don’t know how long he’ll be in A school or where he’ll go from there. We don’t know the amount of access to communications he’ll have.

I can only imagine how difficult things are for the spouses and children of service members. Joining the military is, in many ways, the ultimate participation in American culture, yet it also requires a parallel sacrifice of “normal” American life in a variety of big and small ways.

Tonight was my goodbye to P until he’s done with boot camp. It was also my goodbye to my little brother as I know him and goodbye to my family’s structure as it has been until now. P is leaving to start his own life and is doing so in a big way, and it’s a bit of a self-check moment to realize he’s going to leave Wisconsin and see many different countries long before I will. I will no longer be the “worldly” sibling, and he’ll have lots of new experiences that I won’t be able to fully relate to. It’s a change in our relationship, which is not a bad thing, of course. It’s just the unknown, and it’s difficult to process at the same time as tryptophan.

I’m excited for P–I really am. I know this will be hard on my parents, but they are rallying behind this. I will too, though as a sibling, I’ll be a bit more distant. Nonetheless, this act of rallying, of supporting the one who enlisted, is what I’m guessing is the essence of  all military families. It’s what makes us important but sets us apart. Today, in my goodbye, I said hello to this new, nebulous role, and I find it a sign from the universe that this is happening to my parents and me during the month dedicated to remembering families like us.

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Veterans Day

Veterans Day has a unique significance for me this year. My younger brother, P, leaves for the Navy in a week. So really for the first time, I’m paying some attention to this holiday.

It’s not like P is the first family member to go into the military. Both of my grandfathers were in WWII, and an uncle made a career of the Air Force. But it’s different when it’s in your immediate family and in the present. I’m not worried, so much as just aware that this is a pretty big commitment. Unlike college, you can’t just drop out if things get rough. Unlike a typical job, you don’t just quit.

Since I’m obviously a communications-oriented soul, I thought a good way to show my support today would be to get involved with a communications-oriented initiative. Now, you have to understand, I’m a penny-pincher. A cheap-skate. I don’t spend money easily–just ask my parents or G. This is why I am car-less and in increasingly dire need of a new laptop. I am also an admitted skeptic when it comes to donating to charities. I suppose it’s the cynical journalism major in me–I even worked as a telemarketer for about three months, and I still have no mercy toward solicitors, no matter their cause.

But today is about honoring something that strikes close to home. And after my experiences yesterday with Forget Me Not Day, I thought a great way to celebrate today would be to contribute to Operation Uplink. Begun in 1996 by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Operation Uplink provides free phone cards to deployed military personnel or veterans in the hospital. It also provides 14 Free Call Days, which allows those who are deployed to make free calls home from military morale centers or internet cafes in hundreds of overseas cities.


Operation Uplink’s website says more than three million calls have been provided during Free Call Days. This equals around 37 million free minutes, which is, if you think about it, a pretty major investment. As for the free phone cards, demand far out-paces supply, so it can take a month before a service member can receive a card. Each individual can only request one card per 60 days.

I guess I was surprised that military personnel have to pay for calls home. More accurately, it was simply an issue I’d never thought about before. And in time, I’m assuming internet-based voice chats will eventually take over, as indicated by Google’s offering of Google Voice invites to deployed service members and their families.

But plenty of men and women still have to purchase calling cards, and if you check the prices of military discount calling cards, the rate is almost $30  for a 55 minute card. That isn’t even a guaranteed rate–depending on where someone is deployed, the price of a minute versus actual talk time goes up by several cents.

So when my brother is deployed, I could buy a calling card specifically for him. And I probably still will. However, with Operation Uplink, I’ve just contributed roughly the same amount of cash in order to help give him 14 calls over the course of a year. I certainly don’t mean to sound like an advertisement, and I can guarantee you that it will be a rare holiday that gets me to donate money. But supporting this cause, today, seemed like good math. And doing this, today, most certainly feels like the right thing to do–for my family and for several others. Hoorah.

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