When I was a newlywed 25 years ago, a lady in my garden club gave me some advice for being married to my soldier. She told me to make sure I had a life of my own, so that I had something to fall back on when my husband wasn’t around. She advised me to have a couple hobbies that I could do on my own, finish school and maybe have a career. Out of all the advice I received as a young newlywed, hers has stuck with me most through the years.

When I was in my twenties, I loved to cook and garden. I would look through cookbooks and magazines and sometimes pick recipes that would challenge my cooking skills. When we were studying Russian at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., I cooked for almost fourteen hours to prepare food for our St. Patrick’s Day party. Of course, I overcooked and we were forced to bring some of the deserts to share in class the next day.

Years later, when my husband was deployed to Iraq and I was left home with three boys under 5 years old, two with special needs, I developed a simpler style of cooking. The boys weren’t interested in fancy sauces and decadent deserts. They were happy with macaroni and cheese and oatmeal cookies.

Through the years I’ve tried different techniques to plan meals, from subscribing to a service that sent me a weekly menu with a shopping list to once-a-month-cooking. Meal planning has helped me cope through some chaotic times.

Unfortunately, after eating all of my own good food — and tasting the regional flavors at each duty station — I’ve packed on a few too many extra pounds. Right now I’m working hard at learning how to prepare healthier meals, not only for myself, but for my whole family. I wish I would have focused on that more from the beginning of my married life!

Gardening has been a little more of a challenge, as I tired of giving so much energy to the yard and plants, only to have to move and start all over again — and again and again. I’ve volunteered in greenhouses at college and Fort Bragg, won yard of the month awards at different duty stations and propagated new plants from friends’ cuttings of their own plants.

While I didn’t garden much here at Fort Hood, I’m already planning on building growing shelves to grow sprouts, seedlings and wheat grass at our next duty station. I’m also dreaming about planting a fall crop of greens in their Victory Garden plot and thinking about what seeds I’d like to start next spring.

I am thankful for the sage advice passed along to me decades ago. As a military wife, I couldn’t live every day through my husband, his hobbies and his job, because at times he just isn’t around to share anything with me. He could be gone training for a few weeks, or thousands of miles away for a year at a time.

While I’m very proud of my husband and his military service, I’m also thankful to have hobbies, work and some friends of my own, too. When my husband is away, or just very busy with work, I still have my feet planted firmly in a life that keeps me standing strong and moving forward when necessary. I’ve learned through the years that while my husband and I share a wonderful life together, it’s also important to remember who I am as a person and to be self-reliant when necessary, too.

I’ve tried to pass this lesson along to our teenage boys, through talking with them, but living what I’ve learned, too. They’ve seen me be strong through the years that their dad has been away. I’ve had to take care of my boys on my own at times, but I’ve also shown them that I can live my own life as well.

This military life sure isn’t easy at times, but the more challenging times have forced me to grow stronger in my own personal life. Should my sons marry someday, whether they are in the military or not, I hope to share with their spouses the same wise advice that was shared with me so many years ago.

Karin Markert is a photography and writing correspondent for the Herald. A military spouse, she lives at Fort Hood.

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