Our Guest is Lizann Lightfoot, the “Seasoned Spouse.” I’m the Content Editor at PCSgrades, where I’m involved in creating our Area Guides and blog posts. I’m also the author of the new book, “Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses.” I’m a Marine Corps wife. I’ve been with my husband for 21 years now–all two decades of his military career. Together we’ve been through 7 deployments, 6 PCS moves, and I’ve had 5 children. I’ve been writing as the Seasoned Spouse on my blog for about 5 years now, and worked as a freelance writer for numerous websites. I have self-published two books and focused on deployment support for a few years now. 

As “The Seasoned Spouse,” are there other military spouses who have shaped who you are as an author and a milspouse?

Part of my passion and heart for writing for this community comes from the fact that I didn’t have much support in the beginning. I dated my husband for 7 years–long distance, while he was in 29 Palms–and we weren’t married, so I didn’t have connection to the military community. And this was before social media, so I didn’t have great support. That’s why I’m so passionate about writing for others who are new to milspouse life so they don’t have to figure this out alone. 

The flip side to that is that yes, once we got married and lived near base, there were some inspiring people who helped me through his early deployments, having babies alone, etc. I’ve had some inspiring examples of leadership. And some of them are shouted out in the Acknowledgments section of my book!

What is the overall theme of this book?

I think we’re all familiar with the concept of sending “Open When” letters to the service member, something they can open at a particular moment when they need to hear a loved one’s message. After years of seeing spouses do these beautiful “Open When” letters to service members, I started to wonder, “Who is writing Open When letters for the spouses?” Where can we find an inspiring message when we need it most? Sometimes, the military spouse community isn’t great at supporting each other. When people are facing a difficult time, military spouses often pile on their own horror stories instead of truly listening and empathizing. There are so many challenges to military life, and I want people to feel encouraged and inspired no matter what they are facing, so no one has to go through this alone. These are letters for spouses to “open when” they need them most. 

The book is broken into 5 sections. What are they and how did you select them?

I wanted to cover the entire military journey, all the way from basic training to retirement. This isn’t just a military 101 book for new spouses, but something you can keep with you throughout the whole experience.
So yes, the first section is called “New to Military Life,” and it has letters for those who have just started dating a service member, like “Open When You’re Dating Long Distance,” “You’re Planning a Military Wedding,” or “You Spend Your First Night Alone.” Those are all situations you face in those early stages.
The other sections have a more Post Office theme. “Handle With Care” is about the ups and downs of military life–situations that you may turn to again and again. This section has letters like “Open When You’re Angry at the Military,” “When You Have Trouble Sleeping,” and “The Military Throws You Curveballs.”
The third section is about PCSing and is called “Changes of Address. “It discusses overseas moves, DITY moves, changing schools, and changing jobs.
The fourth section is about deployments, and it’s called “Sealed With a Kiss.” I have a heart for deployment support, so it covers every stage from telling the kids, to things breaking, missing a phone call, and preparing for Reintegration.
The final section is called “Seasoned Spouses.” It’s for those who have done a few things in military life, but once you’ve had some experiences, you are seasoned and have valuable experience to share with others. This section is for those getting closer to retirement, and it has letters like, “Open When You’re Tired of Military Life,” “Your Child Leaves the Military Nest, and “”You’re Searching for Your Identity.” I hope all those letters will cover every stage and meet people where they are along the military journey. People can choose to read it straight through, but they can also skip around to find the topics that apply to their current situation. 

Why is PCSing so important?

It’s so stressful, and most military families will PCS at some point, and probably at several points in military life. But PCSing is different every time you do it! Maybe the first time, only a few letters apply to you, but the next one you may have kids, or be leaving a job, or have a harder time leaving friends behind. There are lots of tips and strategies in here, but I think on an emotional level we are looking for someone to admit, “This is hard!” We want to know that someone else has been through this and can show us that there are different things we can try, different choices to make, and that we can get through this. 

Can you read us a letter from the book?

Yes, I can read the letter called “Open When You Say Goodbye to a Home You Love.” You can read the full text of this letter here

These are powerful, emotional letters, written to you to find comfort when you need them most. I tried so hard to put myself physically and emotionally into a situation. There are a lot of hard moments in military life, and sometimes we go through them multiple times. I think it’s important to pause and find the beauty and the strength of those challenges. 

How is this book different from other milspouse books on the market?

The Open When letters theme is unique. I wanted to pack a lot of emotion and friendship into this book. This isn’t a “how-to” book that tells new spouses how to sign up for Tricare. Those resources already exist. I didn’t want something that would get thrown away after the first duty station. I wanted a resource that people could keep with them, that would grow with them as they faced each new chapter of military life. We never outgrow the need for support! That’s why it was important for me to write a section to the Seasoned Spouses, where military spouses could speak to each other, be honest with each other, and encourage each other. 

I see this book as a way of paying it forward. There were spouses who were a good influence to me when I was growing up, and I am so excited that my book has been described as “a warm hug,” because I would love to be there and be able to give a hug to every military spouse!

This is a book that transcends generations. It helps military spouses and significant others, yes, but it also pulls the curtain back on our community, and makes military life easier to discuss with civilian friends, with parents, and with non-military relatives. It is a great way to foster communication between military parents and their children or future son or daughter-in-law. 

How can people get a copy of this book?

You can get a copy anywhere online where books are sold! It’s on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books-a-Million. You can also order directly through my publisher, Military Family Books, where a portion of sales go to supporting military families. If you are part of a base Spouse Club or want to place a bulk order through the base chapel, then you can get a discount through the publisher’s site. 

Where can we review the book?

Reviews are so important to authors! You can certainly leave a review on Amazon, but you can also leave a review on Goodreads or if you are an eBook reader, on BookBub. 

People really love the concept of a short, motivational letter that speaks to the exact situation you are going through right now. 

Did you also write a book about moving overseas? Why was that move so different?

Yes, we moved to Rota, Spain, and it was so challenging. When I started discussing it with other families, I realized we were all facing similar difficulties, and everyone was learning their mistakes after they had already moved. It seemed unacceptable that all the families were going through this. We needed a guide book for moving to Spain, and one didn’t exist, so I wrote it! It’s called “Welcome to Rota.” 

It was our first overseas move, so there was of course extra paperwork and challenges. We were selling a home and a vehicle, so there were those extra layers of difficulty. We also had 3 young children, who were ages 4, 2, and 1, so it was exhausting for them and us. But… we also flew to Spain on September 11, 2012–the day of the Benghazi attacks. So when we landed, we learned that half of my husband’s unit had deployed overnight, and he was immediately required to report to the office, work crazy shifts, and not leave the base. Usually when moving overseas, there is an orientation process for the service member and the family to get adjusted, find housing, and get enrolled in schools. But since my husband wasn’t given permission to attend, since his unit was in such crazy crisis mode, I finally had to attend myself and drive around base in a stick-shift rental vehicle I had just learned how to drive, with all 3 kids in carseats right behind me. So it was not a normal moving overseas experience, but that was my trial by fire, and I definitely wrote about it in “Open When.”

Any more news to share?

Yes! There will be Open When Book clubs coming later this fall! If you are part of a Spouse Club with your base or unit, this makes an excellent book to share in a Book Club. We will have free Discussion Guides to download soon for free from the publisher’s website. Anyone interested can register here to get a copy once they are available.