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Administrative note: The links to the raffle page get updated with each new raffle, so will eventually become out-of-date.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