Mothers of Invention

As the late September sun streams through Diana Ringquist’s windows, she motions to the sparsely furnished apartment behind her. 

“It’s been like this since May,” she says with a small laugh.

Diana Ringquist laughs during a video call

Ringquist’s husband, an officer in the United States Army, has been stationed in Angola, Africa. She is looking forward to returning to the continent, but every move comes with challenges, especially for spouses who want or need to work. Ringquist knows this situation well. Despite having degrees in Anthropology, Social Work, and Sociology, she sometimes struggles to find employment.

“You have to do something flexible or just not go,” she said. “That’s a choice some military spouses make, and I respect it.”

Ringquist is one of a growing number of military spouses who create their own opportunities despite the challenges presented by military life.  Ringquist worked as a university professor for 15 years, teaching online and in-person wherever her husband was stationed. In 2019, she quit teaching to become a life coach and author.

Among her businesses is the Modern Goddess Project, which Ringquist describes as a platform that gives a voice to those who have no voice. Ringquist features a different woman every month in her newsletter and expects the guest writers to promote their own businesses at the end of their article.

Ultimately, Ringquist’s goal is to help other women become stronger and more self-sufficient.

“I take the broken and injured of the world, help them out, fix them up, and send them back out stronger than before,” she said.

One of Ringquist’s specialties is helping military spouses write their resumes in a way that emphasizes the length of time performing a type of job instead of how much time was spent with each employer.

“In military communities, they know who you are, what you are, and that you’ll be leaving. You’re automatically up against a bias for any good jobs,” she said. “…it’s imperative as a military spouse that we come into that role in our lives with our eyes wide open and our creativity rolling.”

Lisa Ali stands in front of her garage full of antiques

Lisa Ali met her husband while he was stationed in her native country, the United Kingdom.  During their 10 years of marriage, the couple lived in four countries.  She is preparing for their latest and final move to Virginia where her husband found work after his retirement.

They lived in Germany for 4.5 years. Like nearly 30 percent of military spouses, Ali has a degree but was unable to use it in Germany or South Korea. She struggled with the lack of opportunities and social isolation.

“I’ve always been someone that worked,” she said.

Ali found a way to combine the social interaction she craved with the sense of purpose she needed by starting a business selling antiques from her garage. Her business was born out of necessity.  All her furniture was in storage, and she had a house to fill.

“I found a lady selling furniture, but she was in Belgium,” Ali said. “She said where I lived was a little too far for delivery, but I asked other spouses if they wanted furniture and negotiated delivery.”

The initial sale was a success, and Lisa found suppliers for furniture and other antiques. She built a Facebook page and registered her business with the German government.

“It’s a real link to be able to meet new people and do something I enjoy,” she said.

Ali plans to return to college and get a license that is recognized in Virginia so she can continue her career in social work.

“I’ve got my American citizenship, but I still don’t have my licensing for my degree to do my therapy there,” she said. “I’d like to go back to college, get more training, and do therapy in America.”

Arlena Strode teaches a children’s culinary class. Source: Arlena Strode

Arlena Strode is a military spouse, a graduate of culinary school, a children’s book author, and a children’s cooking instructor.  Strode’s cooking classes grew from teaching her own children to cook entire meals while they were still in elementary school. Friends were impressed with her methods and asked Strode to teach their children as well.

When her husband was transferred to a new location, Strode trained a person from the local community to teach the classes.  As her family moved, Strode fine-tuned the curriculum and worked with a graphic designer to make it more professional.  Eventually, she had nine active locations. Her business coach asked her what factor drove her to create the curriculum.

“I really thought about how my husband is gone a lot, how my kids relied on me so much, that I really couldn’t have a career of my own even if I really wanted to,” she said. “It wouldn’t be fair to them. I’d be a completely absent parent, and they’d have two absent parents because of the way my husband’s career is.”

Strode wanted to support families who faced challenges common to military life: lack of family time, no access to childcare, or scant employment opportunities.

“Selling my curriculum really has a heart of wanting families to spend more time together,” said Strode.

Strode faced new challenges when her husband was stationed in Italy seven years ago.  The United States Status of Forces agreement with Italy restricts spouse employment to jobs on the military base. She convinced the base chapel to lend her their kitchen so she could continue her cooking classes for children. 

After three years in Italy, the military relocated them to Germany, where Strode continued the classes until COVID-19 restrictions temporarily stopped them. While waiting for her classes to resume, she thought about the history of cooking and how it changed how humans live and interact.  Strode wrote five books about chefs in history.  She has published three of them and has the fourth in production.

“There’s always been a development at every move,” she said. “It’s the move that develops the next need.”

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