Monday, December 31, 2007

Friday, December 28, 2007


I thought Enchanted looked like a cute movie when I started seeing the trailers for it on TV. My cousin took his wife to go see it recently, and she gave it a positive recommendation. What with the holidays and all, I haven't had a chance to catch a movie until today. School is out, so no subbing, and I don't work every day with my part-time retail job. This morning, I checked the movie schedule and decided on the 2:05 showing. I was there in plenty of time under normal circumstances, but I was quite surprised to see a long line at the box office when I pulled into the parking lot. Since I had planned on paying with my debit card, I went over to the automated box office/ATM machines. It wasn't reading the magstripe on either my "frequent movie goer" card or my debit card. As I started using the machine, another lady was attempting to use the other one. Hers wasn't printing. So, to the end of the long line for the ONE box office window that was operating. Shortly thereafter, a theater employee poked his head out the door to direct us to the machines. "They're not working..." Still took them quite a while to get someone to open up another window. Need to make a complaint about that... Thankfully, I was still able to get my ticket, make a pit stop and get seated in time for the opening credits...

For anyone who is a fan of Disney's fairy tale/princess movies, I think you'll really enjoy this one. We have the evil queen (Susan Sarandon), the fair maiden (Amy Adams), and the charming prince (James Marsden) in an animated world complete with singing and helpful-around-the-cottage forest animals. Queen Narissa doesn't want Prince Edward to marry in order to preserve her seat on the throne, so she has been preventing him from meeting eligible young ladies. One day, on a troll hunting excursion, he hears her singing and looks for her. His valet, Nathan, in order to avoid the queen's anger, lets loose the troll to go after Giselle. Needless to say, in this fairy tale land, Prince Edward saves Giselle, there is much singing, and they decide to marry the next day (even though they've just met). Queen Narissa will have none of this, and intercepts Giselle on her way to her wedding. Disguised as an old hag, the Queen encourages Giselle to lean over the garden well and make a wish. As Giselle is wishing for "happily ever after", the Queen pushes Giselle, sending her to a place where there are no happy endings - modern day New York City...

In New York, she mets up with Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a divorce attorney, and his young daughter, Morgan. Eventually, Prince Edward goes to New York to search for Giselle, Nathan is sent to stop the rescue, and eventually the Queen follows. I won't spoil the rest of the plot (you can pick up this much from the previews...). I will say this was a cute and entertaining film - good for children of all ages (well, maybe not for really little ones, as some parts might be a little scary for them). A good family movie with no PC overtones...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Riding Freedom

I had previously read two other books by Pam Muñoz Ryan while working on my Masters in Elementary Education. Then, while subbing earlier this fall, I had the opportunity to read part of Riding Freedom to a third grade class. While it is a short chapter book (138 pages), I did not have time to read the entire thing over my two days with that class. So, at the recent Scholastic Book Fair at another school where I sub regularly, I bought a copy.

Riding Freedom is a fictionalized account of the life of Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst. In the book, Charlotte is orphaned at the age of 2 and is sent to live at a boys' orphanage in New Hampshire in the mid-1800s. After ten years at the orphanage, Charlotte realizes Mr. Millshark, the man who runs it, and Mrs. Boyle, the woman who runs the kitchen, have no intention of allowing her to be adopted. Until Charlotte wins a horse race against the boys, which makes Mr. Millshark mad, Charlotte had been allowed to help out in the stables. There, she found a friend in Vern, the old former slave, who takes care of all the horses. She has also made a friend with one of the boys, Hayward. After the horse race, Charlotte learns Hayward will be leaving to live with a new family, and she has been barred from visiting the stable or riding the horses.

Charlotte makes a big decision: she decides to run away. But, she also realizes that while a boy of twelve can travel alone without question, girls can't do the same thing. So, with a little help from Hayward and Vern, she leaves the orphanage to try and make her own way in the world. She makes her way to the nearest town and purchases a ticket for the stage to Manchester. When the stage arrives, Charlotte is enthralled with the team of six horses pulling the stagecoach. She finds herself seated between two women who are passengers for the remainder of the line. She falls asleep and later awakes to find herself at "the end of the line in Worcester, Massachusetts"(p. 47). She doesn't have much money - only what is left of Vern's money after purchasing the ticket - and doesn't really have a place to go. So, she hides in the loft above the stagecoach horses. Before settling in for the night, she works at cleaning up the barn - it doesn't meet Vern's standards. Eventually, she is discovered by Ebeneezer Balch, but she fesses up to be the one doing work there at night and works out a deal to continue working for room in the loft and board.

Months later, Ebeneezer tells "Charley" that a man came through asking about a runaway orphan girl who might have drown, but that she had run away about the same time as he had found "Charley" in the loft. Did "Charley" know anything about that? Charlotte denies knowing anything and Ebeneezer says the girl probably did drown. But, Charlotte can't help but wonder if Ebeneezer knows... She is scared and tells Ebeneezer she needs to get home - he's moving the stables anyway.

Ebeneezer held up both of his hands to block her way.

"Just stay put," he said. "Now listen. In all my days, I only seen one other person could work with the horses like you. Could put a spell on them and could ride . . . could ride like . . . well, I only seen it one other time. I got me a notion and maybe I'm crazy but I got to see if I'm right. If you can do what I think you can do, I'm not about to let you go."

As Ebeneezer walked out of the tack room, he sais, "Bring around six. I need a wagon hitched."

Charlotte tried to concentrate on what he'd said. Bring around six horses? Do what he thought she could do? Confused, she found the traces for the six-in-the-hand and brought the horses around, one at a time, to hitch them.

When each horse was secured to the traces, Ebeneezer said, "Charley, you drive."

Charlotte stared at Ebeneezer.

"I . . . I ain't drove six-in-the-hand before," she said. "I drove two, but not six."

"I know that," said Ebeneezer. "Get up here and let's take a run, unless you're scared?"

"I ain't scared," said Charlotte. (pp.59-60)

I'll not spoil the rest of the story's details. Charlotte lives a life that most all women of the time - before women's suffrage - would not have been able to live. At the back of the book, in From the Author, we are told what is actually known about Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst, and the creative license taken when writing the story is acknowledged and justified. Recommended for children ages 8 to 11, this would be a good book a young reader, especially one who loves horses, and it gives a young person an insight into how our nation has changed in the last 150 years or so.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mystery Art

I love this print. I apologize for the weird shadows - it is not currently displayed to its best advantage... It was a gift to me (unframed) from my best friend. She purchased it on one of her trips to Germany before her dad finally retired for good and returned to the States. She doesn't know who the artist is, or what the name of this particular piece is, and I've never been able to find it anywhere on the internet. It took some checking around to find the right way to frame it. Usually, I do pretty well going into some place like Hobby Lobby and picking out a suitable frame and mat (or mats) to really make a piece look good. I wasn't so lucky this time, and the staff I dealt with at the chain store weren't offering any inspired suggestions. So, I went to a local framing shop, and this is what they helped me select. It cost a bit more than Hobby Lobby would have, but I was pleased from the beginning with how it turned out. Still, the name of both the piece and the artist remain a mystery to me. The only hints are the "G. H." in the lower right corner and the fact I know enough about art to recognize this was created with pastels. Can anyone tell me more about it?

Monday, December 10, 2007

When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots

In Lynne Cheney's third picture book, When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots, she alters the format from the previous books, America: A Patriotic Primer and A is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women. This time, her prose is accompanied by the wonderful oil paintings of Peter M. Fiore. This is truly more of a history book than the first two, as well. Like the other books, this one is recommended for children ages 5 to 8.

Mrs. Cheney, once again, opens with a note to the reader. She begins:

"One of the tales I like to tell my grandchildren is about Washington crossing the Delaware. It's a compelling story, and it helps them understand that our existence as a free and independent nation wasn't always assured. Given the way that the Revoluntionary War was going in the months leading up to Christmas 1776, the most likely outcome was that we would remain a British colony. But then George Washington and his men took history into their own hands and changed its course."

Throughout the book, Mrs. Cheney's text and Mr. Fiore's paintings are accompanied by a quote from a person who witnessed the events of December 1776 and early January 1777.

The actual story begins with November 1776 when the war was not going well for the rebellious colonists. After defeats in New York, Washington and his men had to retreat in the face of a British pursuit. "How could the Americans, who were mostly new to fighting, ever hope to defeat the well-trained British?"

The Continental Army, under the command of General George Washington, managed to reach Pennsylvania, but they were tired, hungry and cold: many of the soldiers had no coats or shoes, and there were not enough provisions to go around.

With the Americans on one side of the Delaware River and the Hessians, the German mercenaries, on the other, Washington met with his generals to make plans for "a bold and daring course" that the Hessians would not expect. They would attack the Hessians in Trenton, New Jersey, in the early hours of the day after Christmas.

The words of Thomas Paine, who had accompanied the Americans in the retreat through New Jersey, helped to inspire Washington's troops: "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

When the time came to advance upon Trenton, not everything went as planned. The river was clogged with ice. It took longer than expected for Washington's men to cross the Delaware, and two of his commanders were unable to defeat the ice and were unable to continue with the mission to Trenton. However, the march to Trenton proceeded with Washington's 2400 men - an hour after the last of the men and guns had reached the shore, they began the 9 mile trek to the city, "hours later than Washington had planned." Although he had planned to attack before dawn, it would now be daylight by the time they reached Trenton, but it was too late to turn back - they had to continue through the cold and icy weather, and hope they still had the advantage of surprise.

At first contact, it was evident that the element of surprise had been maintained. The Hessians were unprepared and were unable to mount a defense, so they retreated from the city's streets into a nearby orchard. A young Alexander Hamilton and a young James Monroe both participated in the Battle of Trenton. James Monroe, our fifth president, was badly wounded leading a charge against a pair of Hessian cannons. The Hessians attempted a counter-attack, but their commander, Colonel Johann Rall, was fatally wounded as were many of his men. In the end, the Americans defeated the Hessians, capturing 900 of the Germans, while suffering few losses of their own.

Washington's next challenge was to get his soldiers to continue the fight against the British, as they were all enlisted to leave at the end of the year. Extra pay was promised, and he appealed to their sense of patriotism. "This was an hour of destiny, he told one regiment, a time that would decide America's fate. If they wanted their country to be free, they had to keep fighting." He succeeded, as many of his combat experienced soldiers chose to stay.

Expecting to be attacked by the thousands of British and Hessian soldiers in Princeton, "Washington sent out a call for more forces." He orders some of the troops to slow the British advance. When they reached the bridge at Assunpink Creek, returning after their mission, they could see General Washington on the other side.

"'I pressed against the shoulder of the General's horse and in contact with the boot of the General . The horse stood as firm as the rider.' John Howland, Private, Lippitt's Rhode Island Regiment"

The British commander, General Charles Cornwallis, believed Washington was trapped, and could be dealt with the next day. Washington knew most of Cornwallis' men would be with him, outside Princeton, so fewer troops would be within the city. In the night, Washington had some of his men remain in the camp to maintain the fires and make noise typical of a full camp while he moved out with the rest of his troops towards Princeton. Washington's plan worked - it was until after dawn that Cornwallis realized what had happened.

In the first encounter with British troops, many Americans were killed, and those who survived were in retreat. General Washington, riding a white horse, rallied his troops and lead them toward the British line. When the next part of the battle began, the General was between the two lines, and many thought he would surely die. He came out unscathed, his troops maintained their positions, but the British began to retreat. Several hours later, the battle was over, and the Americans had won the day, again.

"General Washington and his men had stood with their country in a time of crisis. When they were cold and hungry, they did not quit. When the conflict was hard, they fought on. And when they won, the victory was sweet. News of Trenton and Princeton spread across the land, lifting the spirits of patriots everywhere. Many a battle lay ahead, but now Americans could think of winning their war for independence. Now they could imagine that their great struggle would have a glorious end."

Mrs. Cheney cites each of the quotes at the back of the book, if one is interested in learning a little bit more.

Unlike Mrs. Cheney's first two picture books, this one lends itself to be read aloud to a group of children. With Mr. Fiore's paintings depicting the events of that winter, children can see what it was like for those brave patriots at the time of our nation's birth. I can only recommend you add this book to your children's book library, either for your children or your classroom.

Citizen Soldier & 3 Doors Down

My youngest sister's birthday was last week. Since she was out of town, we had to wait until this past weekend to go out to celebrate. Before going to dinner Saturday evening, she wanted to see Fred Claus (which I thought was an entertaining movie, btw). Unlike the "old days", you get more than just the previews of coming attractions: you also get commercials. One commercial I thought was great. It was for the National Guard, and it was, in essence, a music video for 3 Doors Down's Citizen Soldier. Great video. It tells about what our Citizen Soldiers have done and continue to do:
  • I'll be there to help.
  • I fired the shot that started a nation.
  • I am an expert and a professional.
  • I stormed the beach at Normandy.
  • I comfort my neighbors.
  • I will always place the mission first.
  • I will never accept defeat.
  • I will never quit.
  • I will never leave a fallen comrade.
  • I stepped forward when the Towers fell.
  • We are free because of the brave.
I thought it was very inspirational. And it's a reminder to the rest of us what our Citizen Soldiers (and the rest of our active duty military) does for all of us.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Wreaths Across America

I'd heard about the Wreaths Across America project before, but I just ran across the fact that this year's holiday wreath-laying at participating veterans' cemeteries is coming up soon, on December 15th. I don't know if I'll be able to make one here in Texas (there isn't a participating cemetery in my town, but I might be able to drive a little way to one, provided I don't have to work that day - the joys of working retail, especially during the holiday shopping season...). Just wanted to help bring this to everyone's attention.

From the Wreaths Across America website:

From Arlington to Across America

2006 marked the start of an exciting new chapter for Worcester Wreath and its mission to recognize Veterans with remembrance wreaths for the holidays with the creation of Wreaths Across America. What began in 1992 with a trailer load of wreaths, decorated by volunteers and laid at the graves of fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery (Click for: The Arlington Story - How the Arlington Wreath Project was born) will now become a new mission to Remember - Honor - and Teach the value of freedom in the world today.

In creating Wreaths Across America, it was the wish of Morrill and Karen Worcester to bring children and Veterans together, as the ideal way of expressing appreciation for the past, present, and future sacrifices our Veterans (and their families) make for this country.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Soldiers' Night Before Christmas

After last Christmas, I was in the children's book department at Barnes & Noble, looking at the now-discounted Christmas books. One I hadn't seen before was The Soldiers' Night Before Christmas by Trish Holland and Christine Ford and illustrated by John Manders. It's a newer book (copyright 2006), with an Army take on the traditional poem by Clement Clarke Moore. This time, it's Sergeant McClaus with his "eight Humvees, a jeep close behind...". Soldiers are sleeping in tents, with laptops, rifles, boots, helmets and letters from home nearby. B&N says this books is for "infants or children in preschool", but I think that's a bit narrow. Since this is really an illustrated poem, I think it can be shared with children of all ages (and grown-ups, too!).

Manders' illustrations remind me a bit of the Sunday comics. He's got the soldiers in their desert cammies, body armor and helmets (complete with night vision mounts), and the American flag on the uniform sleeve is facing the proper direction. One helmet seen on the floor next to a soldier's rack, full of gifts from home, has the insignia of the 3rd ID.

And what does Sergeant McClaus look like?

As I drew in my head and was turning around,
Through the tent flap the sergeant came in with a bound.
He was dressed all in camo and looked quite a sight
With a Santa hat added for this special night.

His eyes - sharp as lasers! He stood six feet six.
His nose was quite crooked, his jaw hard as bricks!
A stub of cigar he held clamped in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath.

As McClaus finishes this phase of his mission (to "Bring Christmas from home to the troops far away!"), he gives our narrator a salute. This poem ends:

As the camp radar lost him, I heard this faint call:

Friday, November 30, 2007

Appreciate Freedom? Support Any Soldier, Inc.

Bumped to top 11/14/07 - check for updates below. Originally posted 11/1/07.

One of my hobbies is counted cross-stitch. Another of my hobbies is supporting the troops by sending them mail (cards & letters, and care packages when I'm able). At the moment, I've got more time than money, so I thought I would take one of my hobbies to help give back to Any Soldier, Inc., an organization that helps me with another of my hobbies.

To that end, I contacted Marty Horn last fall with a proposal: I sent him a photo of a piece I had begun immediately after 9/11. Once I had completed it (it took months), it remained rolled up, waiting to be framed, for the longest time. I was so pleased to finally be able to get it framed a few years ago. I told Marty I could take the time to make another of the piece, but I would not be able to get it framed - custom framing is NOT cheap. Marty agreed to my proposal, and I finally finished the piece about mid-October (I worked on it while on lunch and breaks with substitute teaching, I worked on it out at the ballpark before and after games, I worked on it while watching TV). I prepped it for framing and sent it off to Marty.

Marty now has it up for raffle at This isn't the only item up for raffle at the moment, but it's the one I'm promoting. If you love it as much as I do, please go purchase as many $5 raffle tickets as you can afford. This round of the Any Soldier raffles ends December 1st.

So, without further ado, I give you

Update 12/3/07:

Marty extended the raffle through December 2nd due to his travel schedule. Congratulations to Kathleen C. of Liverpool, NY, who won "Freedom".

Administrative note: The links to the raffle page get updated with each new raffle, so will eventually become out-of-date.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Operation Holiday Thanks

I was just watching E.D. Hill's "America's Pulse" program on Fox News Channel. Apparently, she had been contacted by viewers wanting to send holiday greetings to our wounded warriors. Working with her Senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), she had made arrangements to get holiday cards to various military hospitals across the country. The address to send these cards to (requested "ASAP") is:

Operation Holiday Thanks
c/o E.D. Hill
Fox News Channel
1211 Sixth Avenue
17th Floor
New York, NY 10036

I'll be sending mail out to this address ASAP. I encourage you to do the same.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Lost Story of Thanksgiving

I consider myself to be an educated and knowledgeable person. However, until I was listening to Rush on Wednesday (hit and miss while running errands before Thanksgiving and the retail crush that follows), and then found this article by John Stossel Wednesday night (h/t Instapundit), I had never heard this before:

Because of sharing, the first Thanksgiving in 1623 almost didn't happen.

The failure of Soviet communism is only the latest demonstration that freedom and property rights, not sharing, are essential to prosperity. The earliest European settlers in America had a dramatic demonstration of that lesson, but few people today know it.

When the Pilgrims first settled the Plymouth Colony, they organized their farm economy along communal lines. The goal was to share everything equally, work and produce.

They nearly all starved.


"So as it well appeared that famine must still ensue the next year also, if not some way prevented," wrote Gov. William Bradford in his diary. The colonists, he said, "began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length after much debate of things, [I] (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. ... And so assigned to every family a parcel of land."

The people of Plymouth moved from socialism to private farming. The results were dramatic.

"This had very good success," Bradford wrote, "for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. ... By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many. ... "

Because of the change, the first Thanksgiving could be held in November 1623.

Something I'll be sure to incorporate into my lessons whenever I teach about Thanksgiving with my future students...

'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving

I was doing some Christmas shopping yesterday that took me to Barnes & Noble. I wasn't specifically shopping for any children's books, but I did poke my head into that department, since I don't have much in the line of Thanksgiving picture books. I saw a picture book titled 'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey. It is, as one would expect, a Thanksgiving take on the classic Christmas poem.

This time, students are on a field trip to Farmer Mack Nugget's turkey farm. The children are excited to see the eight turkeys, but are distressed when they see Farmer Nugget's ax and learn that the turkeys are destined for the Thanksgiving table. The children ask Farmer Nugget for some water, and while he is gone, they each hide a turkey under their clothes. Farmer Nugget returns with the water to the much fatter children. The kids drink their water and board the school bus. Only then does Farmer Nugget discover his turkeys are missing. The children take turkeys home with them, and they all eat vegetarian Thanksgiving dinners with the stolen turkeys as guests.

Needless for me to say to anyone who knows me, but I don't do vegetarian. This book will never find its way into any classroom of mine - if parents want to teach their children to be vegetarians , that's their business. It's not my place (or my way of thinking) to scare children about where meat comes from before it finds it's way to our tables. Children need to understand that, but this isn't the way to go about it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Who knew 3rd ID had its own rock band?

Grim recently sent me the link for Task Force Marne's website. I've been poking around here and there as I have had time. Today, I learned "The Surge" is more than the plan sending more troops to Iraq to defeat the terrorists there.

The article focuses on Spc. William Edwards, lead singer for "The Surge". Edwards left an unsatisfying career in the world of finance in the hopes of making a go of a career in music. He found out about the Army's official bands and auditioned. He was chosen and was sent to the Navy School of Music (which trains musicians for the Army, Navy & Marine Corps). Now, he's performing for a living, and bringing entertainment to the troops in Iraq.

I remember seeing performances by military choirs and bands growing up - they would sometimes come to perform at the DoDDS schools I attended over the years, and I was privileged to be able to attend a performance of The President's Own when they came through Fayetteville when I lived there, but it's nice to have the reminder that musicians like Spc. Edwards, Spc. Aaron Rademaker, Spc. Theodore Dipietro, Sgt. Joshua G. Gardner, and Sgt. Benjamin Smith are still out there making the rounds, entertaining those far from home because of military duty.

The Shaggy Dog (2006)

I know this movie came out in the spring of last year, but I only saw it last night. Being a new teacher, I have taken the time to see some movies aimed at children that I probably otherwise wouldn't have watched. Flipping through the channel guide on cable after my dad had finished watching Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise, I noticed The Shaggy Dog with Tim Allen would be coming on in half an hour.

First, the plot:

Tim Allen plays a deputy district attorney, Dave Douglas, who is prosecuting an animal rights activist for allegedly setting fire to a building in which the activist claims animal testing is taking place. Robert Downey, Jr., plays Dr. Kozak, an executive at this company who says no animal testing is done at this facility, although we see early in the movie that this is not true.

Douglas' teenage daughter, Carly, is taking part in a protest against animal testing in front of this facility, along with her boyfriend. Her dad sees her and tells her to leave, or else she'll be grounded. You can see from the beginning that all is not well between father and daughter. Carly and her boyfriend decide to enter the building to find the animal testing lab, but in the meantime, the dog at the center of this mystery manages to escape from his cage. The dog mets up with Carly and her boyfriend, and they decide to take the dog, but then realize they still have no proof of this alleged animal testing - all they have is a dog with no tags they can't prove came from this facility.

Douglas comes home (late) and finds the dog. Not having ever seen the testing lab (and believing Dr. Kozak), he does not know this dog has come from the lab, and that it's bodily fluids are "dangerous". The dog deliberately bits Douglas. Douglas first begins acting like a dog and eventually turns into one...

Now, my "review":

I won't spoil the rest of the movie, but it all centers around Douglas changing back and forth between being a dog and being himself. Overall, I thought it was a cute movie (although there are jokes connected with natural dog behaviors, like "butt-sniffing", and Douglas' implied nudity after changing back to himself after being a dog) that younger kids (elementary) would enjoy, with positive messages about the importance of family, but I also couldn't ignore the not-so-subtle implication that scientific testing on animals is inherently evil. So, if you allow your children to see this movie, it might not be a bad idea to also use this as an opportunity to discuss the morality of animal testing, as well as some of the other messages contained in the movie.

Monday, November 12, 2007

1SG CJ Grisham Recognized for They Have Names

Since CJ didn't post a link to this over at ASP (although he did send out an email about it to whomever is on his distribution list...), I'll do it here:

From the Fort Bliss Monitor:

“I was so annoyed when the Soldier’s name wasn’t mentioned,” said 1st Sgt. C.J. Grisham, a senior counter-intelligence agent with B Company, 308th Military Intelligence Battalion. “That U.S. Soldier probably kept those two journalists alive as long as they were alive, and yet they didn’t bother to talk about him at all, even though all three died in the same attack.”

The May incident was Grisham’s determining factor to start the Web site, dedicated Capt. James Alex Funkhouser, the U.S. Soldier killed alongside the journalists. The site is also dedicated in memory of all the fallen Soldiers who died defending Americans’ freedoms.

Shortly after CJ saw that news report on TV, I read this on my university's website. Captain Funkhouser was an alumnus from Texas State University. Today, I see the campus Army ROTC remembers him, as well.

They Have Names isn't finished telling the stories of our armed forces who have made the ultimate sacrifice in The Long War. Stop by from time to time to read their stories, and to help support this effort by making a donation.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day 2007

My grandmother was born on Armistice Day before there even was such a day. Veterans Day has always been acknowledged by my family. My father, who now teaches history at a local high school since retiring from the Army, sent me a few photos of the Veterans Day observance on Friday at his high school which was presented by the high school ROTC. I'd post them, but I'm not sure whose they are, so I don't really feel I've got permission to put them up. The high school does this every year, and the veterans on staff at the school (including my dad) are invited to participate.

Originally posted November 7, 2006

What is a vet?

I don't recall where I got this piece - I'm sure I received it in an email years ago, and ever since, I always dust it off and sent it out in email to most of my address book. This is the first Veterans' Day since I began my little blog, so I thought I would post it here. I don't know who wrote it, and it is becoming dated, only describing veterans through Desert Shield/Desert Storm, but that shouldn't matter. I would be willing to take suggestions for additions to this list.

Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye.

Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the leg, or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the soul's ally forged in the refinery of adversity.

Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem.

You can't tell a vet just by looking.

What is a vet?

He is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers didn't run out of fuel.

He is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel.

She or he is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Da Nang.

He is the POW who went away one person and came back another, or didn't come back AT ALL.

He is the Quantico drill instructor who has never seen combat, but has saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account rednecks and gang members into Marines, and teaching them to watch each other's backs.

He is the parade-riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.

He is the career quartermaster who watches ribbons and medals pass him by.

He is the three anonymous heroes in the Tomb of the Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor dies unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean's sunless deep.

He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket, palsied now and aggravatingly slow, who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.

He is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being, a person who offered some of life's most vital years in the service of his country and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.

He is a soldier and a savior and a sword against the darkness, and he is nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known.

So remember, each time you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say Thank You. That's all most people need, and in most cases it will mean more than any medals they could have been or were awarded.

Two little words that mean a lot "Thank You".

Remember November 11th is Veteran's Day.

"It is the soldier, not the reporter,
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier,
Who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag."

Father Denis Edward O'Brien, USMC

And don't forget, some of our most recent vets could use your help through Valour-IT. Go click on the "Make a Donation" button and give as much as you are able.

And from me to any vet who reads my post, THANK YOU!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The World of Valdemar

If you enjoy reading fantasy, you might enjoy reading Mercedes Lackey's various series set in the world of Valdemar. I won't review the books individually, but I will list the books in the order of publication (the order in which I recommend anyone read the books), but I will point out some of my favorites (and why they are favorites). As with most fantasy, there are magical creatures and people with special abilities. Unlike some fantasy authors, Mercedes Lackey writes what I call "light fantasy" - entertaining and easy reads - no lengthy, convoluted plots and archaic dialog here... In most of the series, the storylines center on Heralds, people "chosen" by intelligent white horse-like creatures called "Companions" (who have the ability to communicate with their "Chosen"). Heralds, both men and women, are in the service the monarch of Valdemar, who must also be a Herald. Heralds are "the good guys", protecting Valdemar and administering justice throughout the land. And, of course, the stories involve the struggles between good and evil.

So, if you are interested in reading these books, here's the order in which I recommend you read them (with the caveat that you could read most all of the books within a series first, for those series which are not all written "together" - the exceptions being last three books on the list, which come more than ten years after the previous books in the series):

Arrows of the Queen (1987)(Heralds of Valdemar series)
Arrow's Flight (1987)(Heralds of Valdemar series)
Arrow's Fall (1988)(Heralds of Valdemar series)
The Oathbound (1988)(Vows & Honor Trilogy)
Magic's Pawn (1989)(The Last Herald Mage Trilogy)
Magic's Promise (1989)(The Last Herald Mage Trilogy)
Oathbreakers (1989)(Vows & Honor Trilogy)
Magic's Price (1990)(The Last Herald Mage Trilogy)
By The Sword (1991)(Kerowyn's Tale)
Winds of Fate (1991)(The Mage Winds Trilogy)
Winds of Change (1992)(The Mage Winds Trilogy)
The Black Gryphon (1993)(The Mage Wars Trilogy)
Winds of Fury (1993)(The Mage Winds Trilogy)
Storm Warning (1994)(The Mage Storms Trilogy)
The White Gryphon (1994)(The Mage Wars Trilogy)
Storm Rising (1995)(The Mage Storms Trilogy)
The Silver Gryphon (1996)(The Mage Wars Trilogy)
Storm Breaking (1996)(The Mage Storms Trilogy)
Owlflight (1997)(The Owl Mage Trilogy)
Owlsight (1998)(The Owl Mage Trilogy)
Oathblood (1998)(Vows & Honor Trilogy)
Owlknight (1999)(The Owl Mage Trilogy)
Brightly Burning (2000)
Take A Thief (2001)(Heralds of Valdemar series)
Exile's Honor (2002)(Heralds of Valdemar series)
Exile's Valor (2003)(Heralds of Valdemar series)

There are a few other Valdemar books, collections of short stories, not on the list above. Not all the short stories are written by Mercedes Lackey, but they are authorized publications. I have read Sword of Ice (1997) and Sun in Glory and other tales of Valdemar (2003), but I have not read Crossroads and Other Tales of Valdemar (2005) or Valdemar Companion (2006), as most of my Barnes & Noble purchases over the last two and a half years have been children's books for my future classroom library.

I will be up front about these books: they aren't for everyone. There are homosexual characters in some of the books. I didn't start reading these books until I was in my 20s, but I would not recommend these books to students (I'm a certified elementary school teacher), and I would only recommend these titles to teens when their parents were okay with it (with the foreknowledge of some of the potentially objectionable content - extramarital sex and homosexuality). All this being said, these books aren't really about the characters' sexuality (although it does figure more prominently in The Last Herald Mage Trilogy). As an adult reader of these books, I understand that while I might not agree with the morality of some characters, underneath some of the character flaws I see, these are people fighting for what is right for Valdemar. These books tell stories, in the context of a fantasy world that could never exist, of flawed people trying to do what is best to safeguard good people against threats rooted in the actions of evil people.

My favorites out of all twenty-six books are the most recent: Take a Thief, Exile's Honor and Exile's Valor.

Take a Thief tells the backstory Skif, a character from the first Valdemar book, Arrows of the Queen. Skif is an orphan, abused by his uncle and his cousin, and running with a gang of pickpockets. Then, Skif is "chosen", although he starts out thinking he has stolen a horse... Skif is mentored by the Collegium's weaponsmaster, Alberich. Between Skif's life experiences prior to being chosen and his tutelage under Alberich, Skif is uniquely skilled for covert missions within Valdemar's capital city, Haven.

Exile's Honor tells the backstory of Alberich, the mysterious weaponsmaster at the Herald's Collegium (someone "seen" throughout many of these novels, as all Heralds are required to receive weapons training - archery, swords, and even knives in some cases). Alberich is not a native of Valdemar. In fact, he is a native of Valdemar's sworn enemy, Karse. As a young boy, Alberich was taken from his home to be trained as a soldier in the service of Karse, a theocratic (and dare I say "fascist"?) state. Karse regularly "sacrifices" children to their god, and when Alberich, a captain in the Karsite army, runs afoul of the priests during one of these "sacrificial fires", he becomes their next target. When he is trapped in a burning shed, his recently captured "horse" comes to his rescue. Only this "horse" isn't what is seems, and Kantor takes Alberich to Haven. Although most all Heralds are "chosen" as children, and Companions are not known for making wrong choices, Alberich is not so easily trusted. Alberich is a soldier and honor and duty are important to him. He must prove himself at a time when the nation of his birth is at war with the country of his exile.

Exile's Valor continues Alberich's story, picking up pretty much right where Exile's Honor left off. There is a new queen, young and untested, and there are those who seek to usurp her power. Can Alberich, as the young queen's personal bodyguard, protect her and discover those behind the plot?

On a side note, when I was first reading Alberich's story, I was corresponding with Major Pain (then "Capt. B") and his XO (through, who were in Afghanistan at the time with 1/6 Marines. I couldn't help but think Alberich would have made an excellent Marine...

Monday, November 5, 2007

Express Supports Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund

To follow up on my post from this past summer, Military Appreciation Night at The Dell Diamond:

Since the Pacific Coast League season has been over for a while, I haven't been visiting the Round Rock Express website regularly. I popped in this evening, just to see what was there. I missed this article from October 26th.

In a continual effort to help show support for the country’s Armed Forces, the Round Rock Express recently raised more than $10,000 for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which serves the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.

The Express donned special patriotic jerseys as part of Round Rock’s Military Appreciation Night on June 23. Those jerseys were then autographed and auctioned off to the public with all of the proceeds going directly to the fund.

With the auction’s close, fans helped to raise $10,626.21 for the fund marking the most successful online auction to date for the Express, which began offering online auctions during the 2007 season.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Project VALOUR-IT 2007 Fundraiser

Project VALOUR-IT helps to provide voice-activated laptops to severely injured troops who wouldn't otherwise be able to communicate with family and friends using a computer.

Voice-Activated Laptops for OUR Injured Troops

In memory of SFC William V. Ziegenfuss

"At that time I had no use of either hand. I know how humbling it is, how humiliating it feels. And I know how much better I felt, how amazingly more functional I felt, after Soldiers' Angels provided me with a laptop and a loyal reader provided me with the software. I can't wait to do the same, to give that feeling to another soldier at Walter Reed."

--CPT Chuck Ziegenfuss, on the inspiration for Valour-IT

It's that time of year again - time to raise money for Project VALOUR-IT. I've signed up with the Army Team. First team to raise $60,000 wins bragging rights until next year's competition.

Want to sign up to help with the fundraising? Go here.

In addition to making a donation, there is also an auction set up to benefit this project.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Pepper's Purple Heart: A Veterans Day Story

Pepper's Purple Heart: A Veterans Day Story was the first of Heather French Henry's books I bought and was the first of Mrs. Henry's books to be published. I was in the children's section at Barnes & Noble just looking to see what was there when I found it.

Claire wakes up to sunshine and puppy kisses. Then, her best friend, Robbie, wearing his dad's Army helmet and a camouflage t-shirt, knocks on her window and urges her to get out of bed. With a stick propped against his shoulder, he marches through the yard. Mom comments she doesn't like it when they play soldiers, but Claire reminds her, "Did you forget, Mom? We're going to march in a parade for soldiers. It's Veterans Day."

Claire comments that Pepper will march in the parade, too, but first, she and Robbie will rescue Pepper "from the enemy - like Robbie's dad did with real soldiers in Viet-raq." Mom clarifies: "He was in Iraq, not Vietnam. They are different countries, dear."

Claire dresses herself, and gives Pepper a "uniform" of an olive drab bandana. They join Robbie outside. After Pepper is tied up to the picnic table, the children decide their mission will be in Vietnam, not Iraq, since the yard has lots of bushes, more like the jungles of Vietnam than the deserts of Iraq. In the process of completing their "rescue mission", Pepper gets loose and runs out the gate the children left open while they were playing Army. Before Claire can tell Mom what happened, Pepper is hit by a car.

The neighbor, Mr. Jones agrees to watch the "little soldiers" while Mom takes Pepper to the vet to get patched up. Mr. Jones says he knows "all about soldiers." Over milk and cookies, Claire confesses to Mr. Jones that Pepper got hurt because she didn't make sure the gate was closed, like Mom told her. Mr. Jones reassures her: "Rescue missions are always dangerous. Let's wait and see what the medic says about that leg."

Mr. Jones then tells the children that he was a Marine (I'll forgive the "m" in the text...) in Vietnam and had been a prisoner of war. He also lets them know that not all veterans fight in wars, but everyone who serves in the military is considered a veteran. Robbie inquires about the cane Mr. Jones uses when he walks. "I got wounded in the leg, just like Sergeant Pepper."

A part of the book that was very refreshing to read:

"I'm going to be a soldier, too." Robbie tapped his helmet.

"It's important to serve your country, Robbie. But you have to be very alert," warned Mr. Jones.

Robbie teetered on one foot and spun around on the cane. Tumbling off the bottom step, he landed in a heap on the grass. His shirtsleeve had ripped at the seam. "I guess I'm not quite ready to be a soldier."

Mr. Jones laughed and said, "First, you have to go through Basic Training, Private Robbie."

Claire doesn't think she can be a soldier because she's a girl. Mr. Jones sets her straight: when he got out of the prison camp, he went to an Army hospital, where an Army nurse took care of him, and he married that nurse! Robbie says women are always nurses, but Mr. Jones sets him straight, too: his daughter served in Iraq, and she's now a sergeant, and she trains soldiers.

Mom returns with a patched up Sergeant Pepper. It's time to get ready to go to the parade, and the children are still in their dirty and torn play clothes. Mr. Jones comes to the rescue, and lets the children wear some of his old fatigue blouses from Vietnam. Mr. Jones had also changed into what he would wear to the parade: he's in a fancy blue uniform with 4 stars on the epaulettes. It's supposed to be an Army uniform because Mr. Jones was in the Army after the Marine Corps, but it looks more like a Marine evening dress uniform than an Army mess uniform... Mr. Jones then shows the children his medals: a Vietnam service medal, a Prisoner of War Medal, and the third, he lets Pepper wear: "Every wounded soldier gets a Purple Heart."

Robbie knows he isn't ready to be a soldier yet, but he wants to "do something to serve our country." General Jones invites the children to come with him when he visits the VA hospital - he goes twice a week to serve meals, and he says the soldiers would love to met them. After that, it's time to go for the parade. The final illustration shows General Jones, Claire's parents, Robbie's dad and the children marching in the Veterans Day parade. As with the other two books in the Claire's Holiday Adventure Series, Mrs. Henry includes "A Brief History of Veterans Day" on the last page.

As with the other books in this series, this one is recommended for children ages 5 to 9. Unlike America's White Table, this book about Veterans Day may be much better suited to younger readers who aren't yet mature enough to comprehend some of the harsh realities of war, such as those who do not return from it. Pepper's Purple Heart: A Veterans Day Story would be a lovely addition to any children's library, and helps to connect children with an important American holiday.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Lakeway Patriot Committee Supports Our Troops

I was watching the Red Sox beat the crap out of the Indians (unfortunately...) tonight in Game 6 of the ALCS. When the game was over, I didn't get around to changing the channel. The local news came on after all the post-game hoo-ha. A story about the Lakeway Patriot Committee and their Patriot Fest held this weekend caught my attention. I invite you to watch the story for yourself.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Some idiot professor thinks we should scrap the Constitution and start over...

Ran across this article over at this evening. Matt Mayer's "Larry Sabato Doesn’t Understand the Constitution" is an interesting read. For anyone a little rusty on their Constitution (I know I'm more rusty than I should be, although I am, sadly, much less rusty than the average American...) or ignorant of some particular historical perspective, it's a good review, and an intelligent dissecting of Sabato's foolish arguments:

In support of his call to redo the Constitution, Sabato trots out a quote from Thomas Jefferson positing that a constitution is only good for nineteen years. The quote comes from a letter Jefferson sent to James Madison on September 6, 1789. In his response, Madison raised several fundamental flaws to Jefferson’s (and Sabato’s) reasoning. The one most applicable to our times is this one: “Would not such a periodical revision engender pernicious factions that might not otherwise come into existence, and agitate the public mind more frequently and more violently than might be expedient?” Does Sabato really believe that in 50-50 America, we would have any chance at compromising on a new constitution? After all, each side will try to inject its own solution to the “intractable challenges” that Sabato laments.

You think Washington is in a sorry state of affairs now? Just imagine the mess we'd be in if, in addition to fighting Islamofascists, and a Democrat-controlled Congress seemingly intent on legislating defeat in Iraq for their own political gain, we were also in the middle of a very messy, extremely partisan Constitutional Convention? Go read the whole thing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

ASP reports: Mending Owwies

CJ over at A Soldier's Perspective posts a wonderful photo and the story behind it. The little girl wouldn't let go of the captain who picked her up after she'd been knocked down by a crowd. Go check it out.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Home of the Brave

When Home of the Brave: Honoring the Unsung Heroes in the War on Terror by Caspar W. Weinberger and Wynton C. Hall was released in May 2006, I bought a copy for my father for his birthday. It being bad form to read the book before giving it as a gift, I only just recently read it (after reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows a couple of months ago). I've been busy with other things, so I only just finished reading it today. If you aren't already familiar with it, here's the synopsis from the book jacket:

They are nineteen of the most highly decorated soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in the United States military, and yet most Americans don’t even know their names. In this riveting, intimate account, former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and Wynton C. Hall tell stories of jaw-dropping heroism and hope in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Based on candid personal interviews, and other sources, Home of the Brave takes readers beyond the bullets and battles and into the hearts and minds of the husbands, fathers, and brothers who are fighting terrorists overseas so that America doesn’t have to fight them at home. These are the powerful, true-life stories of the hopes, fears, and triumphs these men and women experienced fighting the War on Terror. But more than that, these are the stories of soldiers who risked everything to save lives and defend freedom.

*Lieutenant Colonel Mark Mitchell, the Green Beret leader whose fifteen-man Special Forces team took five hundred Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners, and posthumously repatriated the body of the first American to die in combat in the War on Terror, CIA agent Johnny “Mike” Spann.

*Army National Guard Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester, the first woman ever to be awarded the Silver Star for combat, whose sharp-shooting and bravery played an enormous role in fighting off over fifty Iraqi insurgents while her ten-person squad protected a convoy of supplies on the way to fellow soldiers.

*Sergeant Rafael Peralta, a Mexican immigrant, enlisted in the Marines the same day he received his green card. Wounded from enemy fire, Peralta used his body to smother the blast of an enemy grenade and gave his life so that his marine brothers could live.

These real-life heroes remind us of American history’s most enduring lesson: Ours would not be the land of the free if it were not also the home of the brave.

This book attempts to help fill the void left by mainstream media reporting: for the most part, the MSM doesn't tell the stories of these heroes unless those same heroes can be portrayed as victims. Also, Mr. Weinberger and Mr. Hall give a shout-out to milblogs, specifically Blackfive and Mudville Gazette, among others. I can't get close to doing this book justice. All I can do is highly recommend you take the time to read it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Writing my Senators: The Law of the Sea Treaty

Here's my letter to my two senators, in regard to the "Law of the Sea Treaty":


I am very concerned the Senate with ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) this fall. Everything I have read about it tells me ratification would subjugate the United States Constitution as being the supreme law of the land. Ratification would make the United States no longer a sovereign nation. I urge you, and all senators, to vote against ratification of this disastrous treaty. Reagan was against this treaty in 1984. It was rejected again in 1994. This treaty would be detrimental to the United States' security and sovereignty. You have no choice to vote against it if you are truly doing what is best for the citizens of Texas and the rest of America.


Miss Ladybug

For more information, you can read here or here or here or here.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Campy: The Story of Roy Campanella

All I really knew about Roy Campanella was that he was on a U.S. Postal Service commemorative
"Baseball Sluggers" stamp along with Hank Greenberg, Mickey Mantle and Mel Ott.

Then, I found Campy: The Story of Roy Campanella written by David A. Adler and illustrated by Gordon C. James. As I almost always do before purchasing a new picture book, I'll read it in the store to decide whether or not I think it's a keeper. Before reading this book, I had just assumed that Ray Campanella was Italian American. I was only half right...

The book begins with the L.A. Dodgers game on May 7, 1959, when each ticket proclaimed "I was there the night they honored Campy."

For Roy Campanella, their beloved "Campy", it was a long journey to that night of tribute..

We learn that Roy was born in 1921 in Homestead, Pennsylvania to an Italian American father and an African American mother. In 1928, the family of six moved to the Niceville area in Philadelphia, which, in the segregated 1920s was actually "a mixed community, a comfortable place for the Campanellas." Mr. Campanella was a produce vendor, and Roy would help his father, even after getting a job, at age twelve, delivering milk.

Roy liked to play stickball with his friends after school, and he would sometimes get to watch the Philadelphia Athletics from the roof of a house outside the ballpark. Roy decorated his room with pictures of his baseball heroes, including Josh Gibson, "the black Babe Ruth".

Roy played baseball on a boys' team sponsored by a local newspaper, and eventually began playing on men's teams - he was, after all, "big for his age and a good athlete." Roy was a catcher, just like his hero, Gibson.

Campy reminds us that baseball was a segregated sport in the 1930s. Roy joined the Baltimore Elite Giants, part of the Negro Leagues, in 1937 at the age of 15. He lived baseball the entire summer, playing "as many as four games a day" and living on the team bus. The day after his 16th birthday, on November 27th, Campy quit school.

"To do that," he later wrote, he knew he "should at least be grown-up enough to go into the world and earn his way." Campanella felt he could do this, as a full-time professional baseball player.

He played over the next several years on the Elite Giants, and on teams in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Cuba.


After the 1945 season, Roy Campanella met with Branch Rickey, president of the all-white Brooklyn Dodgers system. "Your record is good...a hard worker who loves baseball, a man who gets along well with people," he told Campanella. "Play for me."

Campanella thought he was talking about creating a new Dodgers team in the Negro Leagues, but he wasn't. He meant one of the many white Dodgers teams in the Minor Leagues, maybe even its top team, the Major League Brooklyn Dodgers.

One week earlier Branch Riley had signed another African American, Jackie Robinson. Rickey wanted to get the best players he could for the Dodgers, no matter what their race. And he wanted to end the segregation of baseball.

In March 1946, Campanella signed with the Dodgers.

One of the Minor League teams refused to take him because of his race.

But the one in Nashua, New Hampshire, was glad to have him.

Roy Campanella love baseball. He didn't pay attention to the ugly racial shouts from players on other teams or from people in the stands. Words didn't upset him. He just enjoyed the game. But physical attacks did bother him. When one player threw dirt in his face, Campy warned him to stop or "I'll beat you to a pulp."

The following season, in 1947, Jackie Robinson was promoted from the Dodgers' Minor League team in Montreal to the Major League Dodgers in Brooklyn. Campy was promoted to the Montreal team.

In 1948, Campanella began the season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but was moved to a Minor League team in the American Association, to break the color barrier. Later that season, he was sent back to Brooklyn. At that time, in July, the Dodgers weren't doing well. But Campy played well, the team began winning and finished third. In 1949, they came in first in the NL.

Campy was a great player on one of baseball's very best teams.

He was chosen the league's all-star catcher eight years in a row. In 1951, 1953, and 1955, he was chosen as the league's Most Valuable Player. In five of the ten years Campy played for the Dodgers, the team finished first in the National League. Each time they faced the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Knowing he wouldn't be able to play ball forever, Campy made plans to support his family after baseball by opening "a wine and liquor store in New York City" in 1951. In the early hours of January 28, 1958, tragedy struck.

"I was tired and it was cold and late, but I drove carefully," he later wrote. "There were big patches of ice in the road....I suddenly lost control. The car wouldn't behave....I fought the wheel. The brakes were useless....I saw this telephone pole right where I was headed....I just did hit it....The car bounced off and turned completely over, landing on its right side."

He viewed those days immediately after the accident as the worst of his life, and he thought he "was a goner."

He couldn't walk or hold a ball, and at first, he didn't want to see anyone, not even his children. Soon, though, his attitude changed. He compared the fight ahead to baseball. "When you're in a slump, you don't feel sorry for yourself...You don't quit."

Campy never walked again, but he still loved baseball. He was able to watch TV from his bed. He watched the Dodgers. He called Charlie Neal, a friend and former teammate, and gave him batting tips. Neal listened and starting hitting better. Campy had a new job: as a spring training coach for the Dodgers.

Even though Campanella was confined to a wheelchair, that didn't stop him from living a full life.

He had a radio program, Campy's Corner, and his own television show, and he held baseball clinics for teenagers.

"He was still Campy," Yankees catcher Yogi Berra later said, "still a special person. He'd always have that big smile despite what happened to him."

Roy was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969. He became a role model for how he dealt with his disabilities. He wrote he had "a life such as few people have been fortunate enough to live."

One of his legacies is the Roy and Roxie Campanella Physical Therapy Scholarship Foundation, which he set up with his third wife. "It provides equipment, support, and encouragement for people with disabilities like Campy's and help for people studying to work with the disabled."

Roy passed away on June 26, 1993. At his funeral, Tom Bradley, the Mayor of Los Angeles, said "He had the force of personality to influence us all. Each of us will be bigger, stand taller, reach a little higher because we knew Roy Campanella."

The back of the book contains important dates in Roy's history, as well as citations for the quotes included in the book and a list of suggested reading about Campanella.

Campy is recommended for children ages 6 to 9. While this book does address some of the racial injustices he faced, unlike Jackie's Bat, that is not the primary focus of the story. Through Campy's life story, children can see how the disabled are capable of living full and rewarding lives. Even if you're not a baseball fan, this would be a nice addition to your children's book library.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Why the Rockies should win the World Series

I mentioned in my post last night that my family is rooting for the Rockies. Good news now is they are up two games to none against the Phillies in their first playoff series. Then, I get an email from my sister with the subject line "Another reason to like the Rockies". It was a link to this article at

Manager Clint Hurdle revealed Thursday that the team [ed. - as in the players, not management] last week voted a full playoff share to Amanda Coolbaugh, whose husband, Mike Coolbaugh, was killed when hit by a foul ball while coaching first base for the Rockies' Double-A Tulsa squad on July 22.

I'm not completely sure what a "playoff share" is - I assume it's whatever "bonus money" goes to the players for reaching each separate post-season playoff series. Assuming this, it is very generous to remember Coolie's family, and to help them out in this way.

Update 10/8/07:

The Colorado Rockies remembered Mike Coolbaugh at Game 3 of the NLDS on Saturday, October 6th. Mike's brother, Scott, accompanied his nephews to throw out a first pitch before the game.

Updated 10/28/07:

Change of Seasons Mandy Coolbaugh used to look forward to October. Then her husband, former Express star Mike Coolbaugh, was killed last summer on the baseball field. (Austin American-Statesman 10/27/07)


In memoriam: Mike Coolbaugh (7/23/07)
Mike Coolbaugh: The Tributes (8/11/07)
Round Rock Express' Tribute to Mike Coolbaugh (8/26/07)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Jackie's Bat

Since it is October, and the playoff have begun (our house is rooting for the Rockies, since they have several former Express/Astros players that my sisters also know), I thought I'd do reviews on a couple more baseball books. The first one is Jackie's Bat by Marybeth Lorbiecki and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

Jackie's Bat is the story of Robinson's first season, in 1947, with the Brooklyn Dodgers through the eyes of a fictional bat boy in the Dodgers' clubhouse. This book doesn't speak today's PC language - I think it stays true to what it was like back then, long before the term "African-American" was conceived.

A new player comes in.
I ain't ever seen him play,
but I've heard all about him.
He's Jackie Robinson.
He looks around for a locker,
but there aren't any more.
I do what the manager told me
and point to a folding chair and a nail on the wall.
I don't think any other player had to start with a nail.
But Robinson ain't like any other player-
not in either of the leagues.
He's colored.
In spring training, a bunch of the guys on the team
said they didn't want to play with him.
But old "Leo the Lion" Durocher
just chewed their rear ends
and said Robinson was staying.
Anyone who didn't like it could leave.
No one did.

I ain't leaving either.

Robinson looks at me.
"Hey kid," he says, all smiles and friendly-like.
I don't know what to say.
Pops says it ain't right,
a white boy serving a black man.
So I turn and get to work.

The bat boy admits he cleans all the players cleats until they shine. "All except for number 42's." Before Jackie plays in his first game, the bat boy sees "a mob of colored fans waiting for Robinson", and he seems surprised because "He hasn't even done anything yet!"

Jackie asks the bat boy his name and then asks for a pen, but a fan offers one up while the Joey pretends not to hear the request. He goes about helping the other players but avoids Robinson.

The players are announced and the fans all cheer.

But when Robinson's name
comes over the loudspeaker,
the Negroes jump to their feet,
waving signs like crazy.
You'd think President Roosevelt
came back from the dead.
But they're not the only ones excited.
Everybody wants to see
if Robinson can really play ball in
the big leagues.
Even Pops!

After the game, Jackie speaks to Joey, first commenting that Joey missed his cleats... Then:

"You know, Joey," he says, putting a foot on the bench,
there's people out there who don't
treat me as a man 'cause my skin is black."
His voice is strong, like a line drive.
I don't say nothing.
My eyes are looking at everything but his eyes.
"You know what I've found out about them?"
he asks, almost like I was a friend
he was telling a secret to.

"No," I say.
Normally I'd say "No, sir" to a player.
I couldn't say it now, but I do look up.
I expect his eyes to be angry.
He just looks tired and sort of let down.
"They don't know what a man is," he says.
Then he pulls himself tall and walks away.

Joey worries Jackie will tell the manager he hasn't been doing his job, and he'll get fired, so he cleans the cleats, "but they don't shine."

Jackie gets 5 hits and a home run against the New York Giants, and even Joey cheers. Robinson gets fan mail, but Pops tells Joey that Jackie won't make in "the big leagues," but Joey's not so sure about that.

On the road, Jackie is the target of derogatory comments from the players on other teams:

"Why don't you go back to the cotton fields?"
"They're waiting for you in the jungles, black boy."
A bunch of the players aim their bats at him like guns
and shout the n-word.

I can't believe it!
This is baseball, for crying out loud.

Through it all, Jackie just plays ball, but he makes his first error. The next game, it continues.

But then, at the start of the third game,
our second baseman, Eddie Stanky,
stands and roars, "You yellow-bellied cowards, why don't you yell at somebody who can answer back?"
Everybody knows Robinson promised
he won't make no trouble-no matter what.

Then another Dodger hollers, "If you guys played
as well as you talked, you'd win some games!"

"Yeah!" I shout like the rest. "Shut your faces!"

Jackie suffers a batting slump. On the first of May, he gets a hit. After the game, Joey congratulates Jackie, but feels like Jackie looks at him like he's one of the hecklers.

Jackie isn't living on easy street yet.
Pitchers aim for him-he gets hit six times.
Runners slide into first and try to spike him.
On the road, he can't stay
at the same hotel as the rest of us,
or eat with us, or use the swimming pool.
Letters start coming in so full of hate
the police have to guard him.

If Joey weren't seeing it all for himself, he wouldn't believe it. Jackie gets on a streak, with doubles and homers, and stealing bases so much the pitchers can't pitch for trying to watch him. Joey is doing his best for Jackie, "but I still feel like we're in two different dugouts, and I'm the one who put us there."

The season takes the Dodgers to St. Louis, with the Cardinals only four and a half games back. The Cards resort to dirty tricks to try to get to Jackie.

It's the eighth inning of the last game.
One of the Cardinals hits a foul.
Jackie leaps from first to catch it.
Jumping Jehoshaphat, he's going to crash
into the dugout!
Then suddenly Ralph Branca, our pitcher that day,
is in the air like Superman.
As Jackie catches the ball, Ralph catches Jackie!
Holy Joe! A white man holding a black man!
That takes the gobble out of the Cardinals' turkeys!
The batter's out,
and we go on to win the game 8-7.

The Dodgers win the Pennant, "and Jackie is the first ever Rookie of the Year! September 23, 1947, is Jackie Robinson Day at Ebbets Field."

Joey gets there early because he wants to speak to Jackie before going to sit with Pops.

A bunch of colored boys yell to me from the fence:
"Could you give something to Jackie for us, please?"
A boy about my age hands me a package
and a homemade card.
Jealousy rips through me.
I wish the present was mine.

Joey gets up the courage to interrupt Jackie with all the reporters and gives him the gift. Jackie opens is to find a Louisville Slugger with a wood-burn that reads "OUR MAN JACK". Jackie tells him thanks. Joey wants to take credit, and to apologize for how he's acted.

But then the words come tumbling out:
"It's not from me, Mr. Robinson. I wish it was."
I'm so nervous I think I'm going to pee.
"It's from some other boys," I add.
"Here's their card."

My eyes go to the floor.
I want to melt into the floor like the witch in Wizard of Oz.
"I don't have any bat to give you," I mumble,
"but I want you to know
I got what you mean about what a man is."

Jackie then tells Joey he looks good because he maintained his composure and the Dodgers won the pennant, but someday he's not going to play well, and he'll start defending himself from the hecklers: "What'll you think of me then?"

It's a test, Joey realizes, and he knows it's deserved: "Well, you didn't take nothing from me before," I say, "and slumps and Dodgers go together-they don't mean nothing."

A laugh erupts from him at that,
and I can see in his eyes
that I just grew a few feet.
He offers me his hand to shake-
one Dodger to another.
When I grab it,
I feel the tight grip of a friend.

The Afterword gives more details about Jackie Robinson's life. There is also a Note from the Author, noting that while Joey is fictional, the things he sees and hears are true. "These descriptions and quotations are all based on historical accounts." On the back cover, Rachel Robinson, Jackie's wife, has a note which concludes "Congratulations... for celebrating Jackie's life and legacy so beautifully."

While the book is recommended for ages 5 to 8, because of the sensitive topics addressed in the book, you should make the judgement about whether or not your kids (either your children or your students) are mature enough to deal with them. Beyond the portrait of life for a black man in pre-Civil Rights era America, this book can be used to teach other life lessons: how should you treat someone that you've just me and decided you don't like? what is it like when you are confronted with your own wrong-doing? if you realize you have treated someone poorly when they haven't deserved it, what should you do? I think this is a great book, and would be a wonderful addition to your children's book library, especially if there are baseball fans around.

Too ironic...

H/T Instapundit

From Talking Points Memo:

Rep. Darrell Issa went on CSPAN's Washington Journal this morning and had this to say about the House oversight committee's investigation of Blackwater (via Atrios):

If Henry Waxman today wants to go to Iraq and do an investigation, Blackwater will be his support team. His protection team. Do you think he really wants to investigate directly?

They've got accompanying video.

Are pundits wrongly writing off Fred Thompson?

I was looking over items at Instapundit (again, for items for The Victory Caucus) and came across an item at American Thinker. Near the end of the piece:

After a recent Thompson speech in Iowa a member of the audience called out: "Kill the terrorists, secure the border, and give me back my freedom." Thompson replied "you just summed up my whole speech."

No other candidate could have carried off that quip because no other candidate is capable of delivering a convincing speech focused on those powerful themes.

I have not yet made a decision about who I will vote for in the primary - just those I know I won't vote for - so I try to learn as much about the other candidates as I can. I recommend you do the same. Go read the whole thing.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

My connection to the Battle of Iwo Jima

I posted about my grandfather, Ensign C.A. Carpenter, last fall. I've not gotten anything new from my grandmother, but I did unearth my copy of a copy of my grandfather's WWII diary this evening. I'm in the process of making notes about when and where he was, and as things make me particularly curious, I'm doing a quick bit of research. I've learned my grandfather, while on the USS Essex, was part of VF-4 and flew in support of the invasion of Iwo Jima. However, they were grounded several days because of the weather or were not able to reach the target. The diary begins on January 1, 1945 and I'm only to February 22, but his diary goes until July 10, so I've got a ways to go yet. I've come across some things I don't understand/can't decipher right now, but I think I'll wait until I've got all my notes typed up before I do significant research.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Michael Medved: Six inconvenient truths about the U.S. and slavery

Once again, in doing some of my volunteer work for The Victory Caucus, I came across an interesting article unrelated to that cause. Being a bit of a history buff, Six inconvenient truths about the U.S. and slavery by Michael Medved [caught my eye]. I'd had a conversation a while back with my dad (now a high school history teacher) about slavery in The New World, and how many have distorted views of who were the worst offenders when it came to trafficking in African slaves. I recommend reading the whole thing, but here are Medved's bullet points:

  1. Slavery was an ancient and universal institution, not a distinctively American innovation.
  2. Slavery existed only briefly, and in limited locales, in the history of the republic – involveing only a tiny percentage of the ancestors of today's Americans.
  3. Though brutal, slavery wasn't genocidal: live slaves were valuable but dead captives brought no profit.
  4. It’s not true that the U.S. became a wealthy nation through the abuse of slave labor: the most prosperous states in the country were those that first freed their slaves.
  5. While America deserces no unique blame for the existence of slavery, the United States merits special credit for its rapid abolition.
  6. There is no reason to believe that today's African-Americans would be better off if their ancestors had remained behind in Africa.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hillary's plan for universal health care

I haven't studied Hillary Clinton's just-announced plan for universal health care - I've just heard the short reports about it on cable news. I hear her requirement that EVERYONE have health insurance being equated to people being required to have car insurance. One problem with that analogy - the requirement for me (or any car owner) to have car insurance isn't designed to so much protect ME in the event I am in a car accident as to protect others, particularly if I am at fault. State minimum requirements (at least in Texas) only require I carry liability insurance - not coverage that protects me for injury to myself or damage to my vehicle. Currently, I am uninsured. I'm under employed, since I don't have a full-time teaching job after graduating with my M.Ed and earning my teaching certificate, and the group student health insurance I had (which I had paid for myself) recently lapsed, as I am no longer eligible to renew it. A couple of weeks ago, I had a sore throat that wasn't getting better. I didn't go to the emergency room to get it taken care of, so I am no drain on the American taxpayer - I went to a local walk-in clinic, paid for my clinic visit when I left, and told the doctor I preferred the generic version of the antibiotic. I took my prescription to the pharmacy at my neighborhood grocery store and had it filled, and paid for it myself. At this point, paying for that kind of thing out-of-pocket is cheaper than paying a monthly individual health insurance premium...

I don't want universal healthcare mandated by the government. When I went to the walk-in clinic, I was in and out in less than an hour. If we had a system like Canada or Britain, how long would I have had to wait to see a doctor? In that situation, I might not have been out the doctor's fee and the cost of the prescription, but I don't think I would have received the same level of care.

I also know that not every "uninsured" person is uninsured because they cannot afford it. Some make the decision, after weighing the pros and cons, to not carry health insurance. A few years ago, I got back in touch with an old friend from junior high school who happens to live in town. He explained to me that he and his wife (both self-employed) don't have health insurance. They take the money they would ordinarily pay for health insurance premiums and put that into a medical savings account. Not an unreasonable decision when you and your family are healthy, and your premium goes "wasted" because you have not had to go to the doctor.

So, for the 15% that are uninsured, and the smaller percentage that truly "can't afford" health insurance, if you need to go to the hospital, you aren't going to be turned away. But why screw the 85% who are insured to "fix" that problem, and in the process create a new, huge government bureacracy that will not be run as efficiently or as effectively as it would be if it were a private enterprise? And I also can't help but think how many of those "uninsured Americans" aren't actually American, and of those non-American "Americans", how many shouldn't even be in this country...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Longest Season: The Story of the Orioles' 1988 Losing Streak

If you've followed this blog, you've probably figured out that I enjoy going to baseball games. I'm not as fanatical about baseball as my sisters, but since being close to a nice minor league ballpark, I've become a fan. I wasn't always interested in baseball, but I knew some of the names. One of those names is Cal Ripken, Jr. I didn't really follow him, but I remember hearing the news reports when he broke the record for the number of consecutive-games-played (2,632). In baseball, that is quite a feat, since teams play practically every day from early April through at least September, except for a few days off for the All-Star break. He is a player I can respect for how he played the game. Unlike some sports stars today, Cal Ripken, Jr., is someone I would have no problem with children viewing as a role model.

So, one day this past summer, I was once again looking for new or interesting picture books at the local Barnes & Noble. What I found was The Longest Season by Cal Ripken, Jr., and illustrated by Ron Mazellan. Not having been a follower of baseball back then (I was a senior in high school living overseas when the season started, and I was a college freshman back in the States when the season ended), I was not familiar with the beginning of the Baltimore Orioles' season that year. I quickly read the book in the store and decided it was a keeper - I like the message it teaches to children.

I guess I never realized that Cal Ripken, Jr. comes from a family of baseball players. In 1988, Cal would begin the season with his father, Senior, as his manager and his brother, Bill, as a teammate. "1988 was supposed to be a fun year." However, it didn't turn out that way. They lost their season opener, at home, to the Milwaukee Brewers by a score of 12-0.

The next day, the team is still optimistic: there are still 161 games to be played. However, the Orioles lose to the Brewers again, 3-1. Next, the Orioles go on the road to play the Cleveland Indians. They lose again:

We all hate losing, every one of us. Especially Senior, who as manager feels most responsible. I'm not about to let my father down.

They drop the entire series to the Indians:

The worst day of the season. The Orioles lose again to the Indians, 7-2, but this loss hurts more than the others. After the game, Senior is fired as manager despite the fact that not one of these losses was his fault.

I've let my father down. We all did.

Yet it's not as though we haven't been trying. No one likes to lose, especially not me. Especially not when my father is the one who pays the price.

Now I'm angry. It is the only time in my career when I consider not being an Oriole.

The Orioles record stands at 0-12:

The season is only two weeks old, and already the dream has turned into a nightmare. But still, we go out there every game and give it our best.

The record is now 0-18:

The losing continues. Three more losses against Milwaukee and then three more against Kansas City. The entire country is now following the Orioles for all the wrong reasons. Each new loss makes national news, and the once-proud Orioles are the laughingstock of baseball.

Still more losses:

Twenty-one consecutive losses. The team has been on the road for ten straight days and we can't wait to get home, see our families and forget about losing.

But not yet. We have one more series to play on the road, against the Chicago White Sox. In the meantime, the Orioles have become a family of our own. When it feels like everyone is against you, it's good to have teammates.


Game 22. I hit a home run and score three runs. Our pitching is on target today.

Could it be?...

The streak is over!

I can't remember a better feeling win.

And the lesson I like so much from this book?

There is a lot I will remember about playing for the Orioles. The world championship in '83. Two MVP awards and being voted to play in nineteen All-Star Games. Over 400 home runs and 3,000 hits. And of course, the consecutive-games-played streak.

Yet the 0-21 losing streak would be the one thing I wouldn't mind forgetting, were it not for what I learned. Winning is easy on a person, but you learn more from losing. You learn to keep trying, each day a little harder than the day before. You learn how to be a better teammate, and how much you need one another to play well as a team. You even learn how to win.

The Orioles may have finished in last place in 1988, but the following year we started fresh and played together as a team the whole season. Even though we had the same team that lost twenty-one straight games the season before, we fought our way back to become winners. The 1989 season came down to the final games against the Toronto Blue Jays, with the winner taking the division title. We didn't win that series, but we fought hard - and finishing second sure beats finishing last.

I would highly recommend The Longest Season for any children's library (although it is specifically recommended for ages 7 to 11). It's message of perseverance when faced with adversity is one every child should hear, as well as the lesson that sometimes, you are going to lose. I also like Mazellan's illustrations - the focus and detail is on the primary subject of his painting, with the rest of the background painted with a kind of soft-focus lens.