10/30/2013 02:07 am ET Updated Dec 29, 2013

Use the good china

I've been around the military all my life, which today totals 50 years. I remember C-Rations and fatigues, MAC, TAC, SAC and a few other acronyms, now defunct. I remember Quonset huts and commissaries with yellow arrows painted on the floors to show the correct shopping direction for each aisle. Yes, really.
Some of what I remember is obsolete, but some worthwhile wisdom has stuck with me too, gleaned from my military family and friends. None of it is new - the best wisdom isn't - and the older I get the more it resonates.
Make friends with people who agree with you. That's easy. This is harder: Find friends with whom you respectfully disagree. The course of military life is filled with all kinds of people. We gain comfort and strength from those who are like us and learn a lot from those who are not.
The first time I had coffee with Diana, she made her beliefs very clear, and they were not like mine. Afterward, I thought, "I'll never see her again." I was wrong. We became friends, and I am better for it. Spending time with Diana makes me think, and laugh. She speaks her mind and lets me speak mine. I love that about her.
Know what you believe and why. Don't fear doubts or questions. Truth worth believing will survive scrutiny. Say grace. Give grace.
Be more than you do. Do more than you say. What you are is paramount. What you do is more important than what you say, but that doesn't does not mean you should do everything.
Say, "No," without guilt when necessary. It makes it easier to say "Yes," to the right things. Military life offers plenty of volunteer opportunities. Don't take them all.
Before one of our moves, my third-grader asked, "At our new base, will you still do all that stuff you do here?"
I didn't have to ask what "stuff" he meant. When I said, "No," he said, "Good."
If you wonder if you're overcommitted, ask your spouse and children. They know.
Be your spouse's biggest supporter. Military life is demanding, and allies are precious. Do the same for your children.
Call your mother. Write letters. Make new friends, and hang on to old ones. Much of our military lives are spent far from those who mean the most to us and who know our history. Staying in touch takes effort. It's worth it.
Take the good dishes: On our first overseas tour, I put many of my prized possessions in storage, including my china. Fearful those precious things might get broken, I did without them for several years. Later I wondered, "What am I saving the good stuff for?" Don't wait for a special occasion; make one. Take the good china and use it, never mind the chips and cracks.
Bake cookies. Eat some. Share more. Find a favorite recipe or use frozen dough or whatever mix the commissary has on sale. There's no shame in using instant. If you never have time to bake at all - for new neighbors or for your children - that's a shame.
Be a tourist: In military life, we're rarely in one place long enough to get tired of sights that stationary residents take for granted. From Paris to Parris Island, there's something to experience. Take it in. Stop to read historical markers. Don't be ashamed to say, "Wow" when you see the Coliseum or the Capitol Dome the first time.
Look for beauty and appreciate it everywhere, including within. Accept compliments gracefully and give them freely. My friend Nancy taught me that saying, "You look stunning," to a woman wearing a beautiful dress at the military ball does not diminish my own good qualities. Envy does.
Think of others, but don't worry too much what they think of you.
Respect those who are older and younger. We're at different places on the timeline, but we're all marching along at the same rate. It's been said for thousands of years: "Eram quod es; eris quod sum," I was what you are; you will become what I am. We can learn from each other if we listen.
And finally: Never lie about your age. But if you do, don't subtract years. Add them. People will think, "Wow, she looks great for her age!"
All this advice is for me most of all, reminders to put what I've learned into practice. No matter how old, I'm still learning. I don't ever lie about my age, though. Actually, I'm 65. Don't I look great?