Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Milblogs Silent Today


Army Master Sgt. C. J. Grisham has always led from the front, from combat that earned him the Bronze Star with V device, to doing right by the men he led. His honesty won him readership and respect, from the White House on down. Yet, when he stood up for his children in school, his command did not stand by him. You can read more at Military Times to get the full story.
Please donate via PayPal; or you can log into PayPal on your own, go to the send money page, and put in his email: dj_chcknhawk -at- yahoo -dot- com; or, you can send donations directly to:

Grisham Legal Fund
c/o Redstone Federal Credit Union
220 Wynn Drive
Huntsville, AL 35893
Please write "Grisham Legal Fund" in the memo line if you use this option.

Milblogs have been a vital link in getting accurate news and information about the military, and military operations, to you. Today, many milblogs are gone and others are under attack from within and without. Today, you have the chance to imagine a world without milblogs, and to do something about it. Make your voice heard by writing your congressional representatives and others, and by making donations as you see fit.

The battle for freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas is fought on many fronts and in many ways. Without your help, the battle may well be lost.

Commentary

From my personal point of view, as an educator myself, the idea of contacting the employer of a parent over a policy disagreement or because I felt "threatened" is highly unprofessional. Policy disagreements should be restricted to the school system and the parent, and if the disagreement cannot be satisfactorily resolved, the court system should be involved. NEVER the parents' employer. If someone at the school truly feels threatened, contact campus security or local law enforcement. The parents' employer should have NOTHING to do with this. In CJ's case, school district personnel have overstepped the boundaries of ethical, professional behavior. The reason, IMO, they contacted his employer - the United States Army - is because they KNEW it would cause problems for CJ. I am disappointed beyond words that CJ's Chain of Command did not back CJ up on this issue. CJ acting as a parent - even if he had actually threatened someone, which he did not - has NOTHING to do with the Army.

As far as donating, I don't have deep pockets from which to spare vast sums of money. I'm sure many of us are in that same boat. However, I'm sure I'll be able to spare $5 or so from time to time. That will just be one less trip through the drive-thru. So, I would ask, even if money is tight, anything will help. This fight against the school district won't be over soon, I'm guessing. I'll be able to handle smaller amounts over time. I will be doing it because I believe in CJ, and I believe he is doing the right thing with regard to the school district.

As for the Army, I hope SOMEONE will come to their senses and put an end to the hell CJ and his family have been going through in regard to damaging an impressive career. We need more people like CJ in the Army, and telling its story from the Soldier's Perspective, not fewer. CJ needs to have the freedom to continue blogging, and sharing the unvarnished truth. CJ's smart enough to know what shouldn't be general public knowledge. The Army should trust him to do on this - he gets the fact that sharing certain information publicly can get good people killed unnecessarily. There's a reason he's been invited - as a milblogger - to the White House both under Bush and Obama. There is no legitimate excuse the Army could provide to justify losing his voice. The Army needs to stand behind a soldier like CJ, not punish him. From where I sit, CJ hasn't done anything to deserve the treatment he's received from the Army in recent months.

If you are so inclined, you can join the Pitchfork Brigade on CJ's behalf. Or, since this issue is larger than just CJ and his blog (other blogs have gone silent, gone away, or self-censored their content based on taking flack from various chains of command), consider writing your own representatives. Find out where to contact your Senator or Representative on this issue. Milblogs provide an invaluable service to us, the American public. They provided "ground truth", and the positive stories coming from Iraq and Afghanistan that are sorely lacking in most mainstream media outlets. We cannot allow them to disappear because some in the military do not understand, do not want to deal with, or are downright hostile towards, milblogs.

Updated 6:38pm

Participating blogs:

A Soldier's Perspective
You Served
Bouhammer
The American Legion
Laughing Wolf
Hugh Hewitt
This Ain't Hell
Castle Argghhh
Boston Maggie
Blackfive
Miss Ladybug
Hooah Wife
Kiss My Gumbo
Some Soldiers Mom
Assoluta Tranquillita
Knee Deep in the Hooah
Soldiers' Angel New York
Drunken Wisdom
Grim's Hall
From my position
CDR Salamander
Confederate Yankee
Chromed Curses
Homefront Six
Pvt Murphey's Law
Delta Bravo Sierra
The Sniper
Another Voice
Support your Local Gunfighter
Knottie' s Niche
Great Reader JihadGene
America's North Shore Journal
Righty in a Lefty State
Thunder Run
Gazing at the Flag
Neptunus Lex
Soldiers Angels Germany
Bring the heat, bring the stupid
Little Drops..... Into the pool of life.
The Gun Line
Thirdwavedave
In Iraq Now (at 56)
Milblogging.com
Army Houesehold6
From Cow Pastures to Kosovo
Susan Katz Keating
Kitchen Dispatch
Right Wing Right Minded
The Foxhole
The SandGram
My Own Political Party
Registered Evil
Drunken Wisdom
Storm'n Norm'n
OPFOR
Texas Fred
No Runny Eggs
Keep My Soldier Safe
FlashPoint
Asymmetric Military
The Army of Dude
LTC John - Miserable Donuts
The Mudville Gazette

Covering the story:

Army Times
Air Force Times
Marine Times
Navy Times
Military Times
The AtlanticWire
Muncie Free Press
Flopping Aces
Small Dead Animals
Navy Experience
The Pink Flamingo
World Net Daily
CNN IReport
Michelle Malkin
Instapundit
Bookworm Room
National Review's The Corner
Ace of Spades
Jawa Report
Winds of Change
Cao's Blog
Free Republic
United Conservatives of Virginia
Miss Beth's Victory Dance
Wake up America
Dr. Melissa Clouthier
Villainous Company
The Washington Independent
In the Crosshairs

Sunday, December 13, 2009

USO tour brings happiness, strength to Fort Hood

Again, from News 8 Austin:

It's been a little over a month since the shooting at Fort Hood shook the nation.

On Friday, soldiers and their families gathered to remember the tragedy and show that they will be strong in moving on. Thousands celebrated at the post with celebrities, carnival rides and live music--all compliments of the USO.
...
At the end of the day for people like Decker, the event fills a void.

"We need this for some closure, to move on. We need to know that we're remembered," she said.

You can see the video report here. You can also watch video from the press conference connected to this USO event. Speaking at the microphone include Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, Gary Sinise and Dana Carvey.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Witness to History

Earlier this morning, I got an email notification of a post on the Sons of the American Legion Travis Squadron 76 blog. It is the recollection of Firman Balza, a crewman on the USS Maryland on December 7, 1941. He'd joined the Navy less than a year before. I share this link with a few people, one of whom was my high school government teacher. It never really dawned on me that he was a very young boy on that infamous day. With his permission, I am reprinting his response about those events:

What a horrible day it must have been for many Americans. I was almost 6 years old, and i recall only a bit. It was in the afternoon, and I remember my parents listening to the radio. I didn't understand much, but I do remember it being rather astonishing for them. Later, in 1944, my father was drafted into the army despite the fact that he had four kids, and after only a brief training period was assigned to the army in France. He was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge and recovered in a hospital near Paris. Later, he was assigned to guard German prisoners at a camp also in Paris. I never did get to talk with him about what it was like there in 1935 [sic] when the war ended. He didn't like to talk about his experiences at all.

In requesting his permission to share this, I said "There is much of these little personal bits of history that we are losing. I know Joe, an 95 year old WWII vet from the ballpark. I want to try to record his story, with the help of a vet friend of mine, before Joe's no longer with us. I never talked to my grandfather, a naval aviator in the Pacific during WWII (though he was in high school still when Pearl Harbor was attacked." It's been twenty years now, since we lost my grandfather to lung cancer.

If you know a World War II vet, ask if they are willing to share their story, before it is lost forever.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

White Christmas

I don't recall ever seeing the movie White Christmas until one Christmas break during college before my dad was assigned to Fort Hood. I was spending the holiday with my grandmother since I was unable to go home to Augsburg. It was incredibly cold that year, and I spent much time sitting at the dining table which was located right next to the fireplace. My grandmother has been confined to a wheelchair for more than five decades because of polio, so I took charge of tending the fire to help keep us warm. I don't remember what else I was doing, sitting at the table (maybe working on a cross-stitch project?), but I distinctly remember watching White Christmas on television. Ever since then, it's been one of my favorite Christmas movies. In more recent years, I acquired a copy on DVD (which has already been watched once this season), but they'll run it on cable, too. I watched it again this evening, on AMC.

When watching this movie, especially the opening sequence, you can't help but remember those who serve so far from home, and in dangerous places, at this time of year:



You can help share the holiday spirit with today's heroes. Soldiers' Angels is in the process of sending approximately 140,000 care packages to every service member deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you are able, please consider supporting this project.

Pacific War museum 'inspires youth by honoring heroes'

Had the local cable news channel on again this afternoon, as I didn't want to get hooked into watching something when I had someplace I wanted to go this afternoon. While it was playing in the background, a story about the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas. A little over a year ago, I went to their living history Pacific Combat Zone, and just a few weeks ago, I walked through the grounds on the way to a local German restaurant. I noticed they would be having a special event on Monday, December 7th, with George H.W. Bush as a speaker. They'll be re-opening the George H. W. Bush Gallery at the museum. Unfortunately, I couldn't even consider going, since I need to be at work. I did like seeing the story on the news today, though.

In the piece, they talk to WWII vet of the Battle of the Bulge and Bronze Star recipient Curley Awalt.

"All we want to do is teach them history. We don't teach discipline or anything else, we only teach history to the children," Awalt said.

While volunteering may keep Awalt active, he's also working to honor the important meaning behind the museum.

"I'm doing it because of the enjoyment of showing people what we have here," he said.

It's inspiring the next generation by helping them connect to the past.

It won't let me embed the video, but you can access it here.

This was also apparently the second part of a series running all weekend. The first piece talks about the history of the museum:

Rob Esterlein is the CEO of the Nimitz Foundation, which funds the museum. He said the museum ended up in Fredericksburg by both chance and intention. It started as a homespun idea to honor a favorite son and turned into a world class museum.

"A group of people in Fredericksburg wanted to honor the most famous and influential man to ever come from this town," Esterlein said.

That man is Chester Nimitz. He was born in 1885 and grew up in Fredericksburg, in his grandfather's steamboat shaped hotel. He pursued the military as a way to further his schooling.

Video of this first report can be seen here. I'll check back later to see if there is a part three for Sunday.

Update 12/8/09:

I checked late Sunday, but they didn't have it posted yet. Then, I was watching News 8 again yesterday afternoon and caught the report on the re-opening of the George H.W. Bush Gallery. I've since had the chance to check up on the website.

Video report for part three is here. From the text:

From pre-war mobilization to an incredible look at the attack on Pearl Harbor, the new George H.W. Bush Gallery and National Museum of the Pacific War tells the story like never before.

"This is the only museum in the United States that is devoted 100 percent to the Pacific Operation," World War II veteran and volunteer Curley Awalt said. "The museum is something that the people of Fredericksburg are very proud of."

Lastly, the final video report can be seen here. From the text:

Sixty-eight years ago, Rob Jensen was aboard the USS Maryland at Pearl Harbor.

Tuesday, he waited patiently for a chance to hear a fellow World War II veteran and former president of the United States speak.
...
Jensen toured the museum and said he was overwhelmed by its impact.

"Too many memories, I don't want anything to do with the war pictures. I can't do it anymore," he said.

The museum tells the story of the War in the Pacific.

I hope to visit the museum some time soon. I think it would make for a nice Saturday or Sunday trip, heading out early, so I can take my time going through the exhibits. I'm sure it will be well worth it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

French farmer sends letter of thanks to WWII vet

Another veteran story I caught on News 8 Austin, the local cable channel, this past week:

It was around that time of year, not too long ago, when a letter arrived from a 40-year-old French farmer singing the praises of a World War II hero, Baskin's father.

"We the people of Normandy will always be grateful," the letter read.

For Litton, the emotional moment for his family was a humbling one, however unexpected it may have been.

"I was surprised, I had no idea, I don't know where he got all of his information, he seemed to know a lot, he knew our plane and who all was in it," Litton said.

There are those who do remember, and are thankful for what our servicemen (and women) have done...

Also noted in the article is the importance to recording the stories of those World War II veterans who are still with us. I know a man, born on the 4th of July, who served in WWII, and hope to record his story (with some help from a friend). If you know a veteran - particularly from this Greatest Generation - I would encourage you, too, to try recording their stories before it's too late to do so.

Hundreds gather to remember Fort Hood fallen civilian

Earlier this week, I caught a news story on the local cable news channel. They covered the funeral of the one civilian killed in the mass shooting at Fort Hood on November 5th:

An estimated 500 people showed up to the Saint Monica's Catholic Church in Cameron on Sunday, to pay their respects to 62-year-old Michael Grant Cahill.

Cahill was among the 13 who were killed when a gunman opened fire in Fort Hood at the Soldier Readiness Center on Nov. 5. He was the only civilian to be killed that day.

Although he was working as a civilian, Cahill was no stranger to military service. He spent more than 20 years with the Army National Guard before he retired as a Chief Warrant Officer.

Follow the link to read the full article, and to watch their video report.

Resolution Update: 46 Weeks

Today is 46 weeks since I began my New Year's Resolution. I successfully fit into my dress for my sister's wedding a couple of weeks ago (though I am not completely happy with all the photos I've seen). That Saturday morning, I had lost a total of 58 pounds. After my weigh-in that morning, I wasn't going to obsess over calories and what-not. I went to out to my favorite local Chinese restaurant for lunch with my best friend, Lyric Mezzo. I ate wedding cake. Sunday, we drove out to Fredericksburg to visit Lyric Mezzo's old voice teacher from college. The three of us had a nice lunch at Der Lindenbaum then had some dessert at Clear River Pecan Company (they make homemade ice cream). I didn't get any exercise in on the weekend. Oh, and I hadn't mentioned that we have all the leftover wedding cake here in the house...

Needless to say, since the wedding, I've not been exercising and eating as I should. When I weighed in last weekend, I'd put on 6.6 pounds. I've been better this weekend about exercising, but I haven't been eating like I should. When I stepped on the scale this morning, I hadn't gained any more weight, but I hadn't lost any since last weekend, either.

The big thing for me was to be satisfied with how I looked for my sister's wedding. I didn't look as fabulous as she did, but that wasn't going to happen - I'd have had to have lost ALL the weight I want to lose, and living a normal life (e.g. - I don't have the time or money to devote to the physical training, etc.) making that kind of progress just wasn't feasible. I'm just happy that I can once again shop in the petite department; that's something I haven't been able to do in years...

I'm going to try not to get too worked up about calories and such over the holidays. Thanksgiving is less than a week away. There will be turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, corn, bread and, of course, desserts. Since the wedding is behind me, I will allow myself to eat what I want and enjoy the holidays. Christmas dinner will be much the same, with the possible addition of ham for Christmas Day. Christmas Eve, we'll have the traditional German bratwurst and the traditional Mexican tamales (hey, we're from Texas, what can I say?) and chili. I'll continue to do my exercise (something I still need to do today, and I even put a couple of exercise DVDs on my Christmas wish list), and once all the holidays are behind us, and can return to the concerted effort to continue my weight loss.

After nearly a year, I have something that works for me. I can afford to slack a few times over a couple of months without doing too much (if any, if I work it right) damage. I am nearly to the point where I will have to "cut back on cutting back", which will slow my progress towards my ultimate goal, which I had always expected. But, when I do finally reach that goal, the only thing that I plan to change is the fact I won't have to cut calories anymore. I would expect to be at that point by this time next year. We'll see how that goes...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Master Sergeant Robert (Bob) Horrigan

While I was cat-sitting for my sister and her new husband while they were honeymooning in Cancun, I caught part of a local 10 o'clock newscast. It was the night of Veterans' Day, which is why they were doing the story.

A local man, Daniel Horrigan, lost his brother, MSG Robert Horrigan, in Iraq. When he died in Al Qaim on June 17, 2005, he was serving with Headquarters and Headquarters, United States Army Special Operations Command. Danny is building a memorial wall for the Fallen from the State of Texas in his yard here in Sunset Valley in Austin (view the news report here). He also carves figures of soldiers (not sure if they are "portraits" or not) and gives them to families of the Fallen. He expects to have his memorial wall completed by Veterans' Day 2010.

Daniel isn't the only one who remembers. An organization, Operation Honor Our Heroes, was inspired by MSG Horrigan. They tell his story:

Robert had completed three tours in Afghanistan and was completing his fifth and final tour in Iraq. Robert died in Al Qaim, Iraq, on June 17, 2005 with his comrades beside him after receiving mortal wounds during an early morning raid on known enemies of the United States. He was “the best of the best” serving his country while protecting everyone’s right to life and liberty. Every man dies, but not every man lives. Robert truly lived --- for family, for nation, and for the guys next to him. He was an avid outdoorsman and loved turkey and deer hunting, as well as fishing. He was an accomplished Bladesmith and his knives are cherished by many throughout the world. Robert was planning on retiring to Texas with his family after this deployment.

He also left behind family, including a wife, a daughter and his mother. He was had also earned many awards and decorations, including a Bronze Star with V device and an oak leaf cluster.

Phil Taylor, of the American Fallen Soldiers Project, has painted a portrait of Robert. This portrait was sponsored by Michael Rater of Frisco, TX. I highly recommend taking the time to watch the 12-minute documentary (at the link) about Robert and the portrait. Judging by what his family had to say, it wasn't just their loss when Robert was killed, but for all of us, as well. Where do we find such men?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Freedom of Speech & the Army

I've been reading A Soldier's Perspective since about 2005. I've been privileged since then to be able to call CJ, the site's creator, a friend, though I've only been able to meet him in person once, this past April at the Milblog Conference. CJ is a good and honorable man and hasn't been afraid of sharing his thoughts about all kinds of things on his blogs. Earlier this year, someone took exception to what he had to say and complained to the Army.

Now, because of some very small-minded, petty, dictatorial people within the school system in Huntsville, Alabama, CJ has turned over ownership of A Soldier's Perspective to his wife, Emily, and even more recently made the decision to shut ASP down. What should have been a simple, personal issue between a parent and school administrators and the PTA has now involved CJ's chain of command because of unfounded accusations made against him. Basically, instead of allowing CJ to tell his side of the story, those in his chain of command are reprimanding him for these false accusations when no actual proof of wrongdoing on CJ's part has been proven. And, to top is all off, they have in essence ordered CJ to keep his opinions to himself because he's supposedly "making the Army look bad". If you ask me, the only ones making the Army look bad are those in CJ's chain of command who do not have the backbone to tell this unprofessional middle school principal and the woman from the PTA that this issue has absolutely nothing to do with the Army. The Army isn't allowing CJ to speak about this issue, even to defend himself in publi, so that job has fallen solely on the shoulders of Emily. She did a wonderful job explaining the dreadful treatment they, and their children, have been subjected to at the hands of the Huntsville school system this morning on a local talk radio program. It runs about 35 minutes, but it is well worth the listen. Because of the behavior of those within the Huntsville school system, CJ & Emily removed their children from the school and moved them to live with family elsewhere. This wonderful American family is being unnecessarily disrupted and will be separated for months due to the unprofessional, vindictive behavior of these "educators". Someone needs to put a stop to it and right the wrong that has been done to the Grishams.

CJ, not surprisingly, has many friends and supporters ready, willing and able to speak up for him, too, since he isn't allowed to do so himself:

Troy, milblogger and CJ's cohost on the YouServed radio show, has issued a rallying cry to the Pitchfork Brigade with suggestions on how to help right this wrong.

Greyhawk of Mudville Gazette notes the difference between how CJ's free speech rights fair compared to the agruably treasonous statements of Major Nidal Hasan.

Matt at Blackfive is helping spread the word, pointing out this injustice has come to the attention of big-time blogger Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.

CJ's coblogger at ASP, Marcus, puts in his "Two Cents" on the issue, as well.

War On Terror News notes how milbloggers, and CJ in particular, are shutting their sites down after being taken to task for opinions they've expressed on their blogs.

Greta Perry of Kiss My Gumbo interviewed Emily on November 7th on her WIST 690 (New Orleans) radio show.

Previous posts from CJ & Emily on the school uniform issue:

CJ's Speech To The Board (11/7/09)
Picking Up The Pieces (11/3/09)
Fed Up (10/29/09)
Thug-ocracy At Its Finest (10/27/09)
Fighting The Mob (10/20/09)
When To Say When (10/9/09)
Get Your Hands Off My PTSD (10/7/09)
The Battle Is Won (10/2/09)
The Myth of Security in School Uniforms (10/2/09)
Off Topic: School Ignores Parents (10/2/09)

I'll be joining Troy's Pitchfork Brigade and writing some letters. If you know CJ, or you are dismayed by the treatment he has received, join us.

Update 11/20/09:

I became aware of additional content online on this situation (h/t CJ):

Huntsville Times - "Did complaint get him demoted?" (11/20/09) (CJ says he wrote the paper to correct that he never said he was demoted over this.)
The Attack Machine - "Show notes 11/20: School Board digs in, CJ Grisham is a terrorist and we “talk turkey”…" (11/20/09)
Flashpoint - "Bringing the spirit of terror into school" (11/20/09)
Liberty Research Institute - "CJ Grisham: A Man and His Beliefs" (10/28/09)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

To All Veterans...

Thank you for your service to our nation.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Team Marines met its goal!

Thank you to everyone to contributed to Team Marines for this year's Project Valour-IT fundraiser. Today, we met - and exceeded - our goal of $35,000. There are, however, three other teams still working towards that same goal. So, since the real winners of this fundraising competition are the Wounded Warriors who will be the recipients of the laptops and other technology purchased with the funds we are able to raise. So, to help out Team Army, I'm switching out the button on my page. So, if you can, please help out this incredible cause with a donation, no matter how small.

Remembering Jason Dunham

Originally posted November 21, 2006.



One of the things I like best about teaching is educating children about social studies topics. Recently, I presented a lesson focusing on presidential memorials. As an extension, students were asked to select a person they would like to honor, and draw a memorial for that person.

My cooperating teacher is the wife of a retired Army officer, so she also stresses an appreciation for the sacrifices made by our military. After it was announced another Congressional Medal of Honor would be awarded to a service member from the Global War on Terror, she mentioned it in class during the morning announcements time, which includes the Pledge of Allegiance. Being a frequent reader of milblogs, I knew the name of the newest recipient, and what he had done to earn it. I shared that information with the class.

So, back to the lesson on memorials: one student came up to me and asked for ideas about who to honor. I suggested presidents, police officers, firefighters, and the military. This little boy, who says he wants to be a soldier when he grows up, liked the suggestion of the military, and asked about the most recent person to be selected for the Congressional Medal of Honor. I hopped online and looked up and printed some information on Corporal Jason Dunham. Another student also liked that idea, so I printed out some additional information for the second student. What this second student drew was very touching, I thought. I wanted to share it with my friends in the military, but I first had to request permission from his parents to do so. I received that permission today. So, above is a third-grader's memorial to Corporal Jason Dunham...


In addition to today being the 234th birthday of the United States Marine Corps, today is also what would have been Marine Corporal Jason Dunham's 28th birthday. Give Jason and the Marine Corps a present, no matter how small, by clicking on the Soldiers' Angels' Project Valour-IT donation button in the top right corner. While Team Marines may only be - as of this writing - less than $2000 from the individual team goal of $35,000, overall, we still have a way to go to reach the total goal of $140,000, and the current fundraiser will end tomorrow, Veterans Day 2009. Help us work towards that goal.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What is Freedom worth to you?


Give back to those who have shed their blood to give you the freedoms you enjoy. Click on the donation button in the upper right-hand corner to make a direct donation. Or, check out the Valour-IT auction items at eBay. There is Nolan Ryan baseball memorabilia, military-themed counted cross-stitch, works of art, books and more. Last, but certainly not least, several online sellers are offering to donate portions of their sales to benefit Project Valour-IT. Remember, 100% of the funds donated to Project Valour-IT goes directly to providing the hardware and software our Wounded Warriors need.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Cross-stitchin' for Project Valour-IT

Okay, the rest of my items for the Valour-IT fundraiser auction are up on eBay...

One of my long-time hobbies is counted cross-stitch. I learned how to do it when I was about 13 years old. We'd just moved to El Paso, where my dad was the new First Sergeant in his unit. The commanding officer, a Captain, was also new there. My mom and the Captain's wife became friends. She was into various arts and crafts, one of them being counted cross-stitch. She was teaching my mom, and I decided I wanted to learn, too. I found a pattern I liked (a unicorn: what can I say, I was a 13-year-old girl in the 80s...), and she helped me get started. Said I had "sticktoitiveness" for completing the project I selected. It got framed and I still have it, though it currently is packed away in storage with most of my possessions. Over the years, I've gone through alternating periods of doing a lot of cross-stitch and long dry spells of doing none at all. I'm currently in one of those "doing a lot" periods.

More recently, I found a set of patterns I thought might prove to be a good thing for fundraising. I did the first project in honor of my grandfather, who served as a naval aviator in the Pacific during World War II:



Now, what you have to choose from are the five services:






The winner of each of these five auctions can request customization with name and rank, as well as details such as years of service, unit or theater/operation where the service member served. Also, the winner will receive the special dual 3.5" x 5" opening 8" x 10" mat.

Again, others have also generously donated items for auction, as well. There are signed prints from Marine combat artist Michael Fay among the auction items. The eBay listings are still being updated, so if you don't see something you like, keep checking back. If the auction items just aren't your thing, but you still want to contribute to providing laptops and other adaptive technology to our severely wounded Warriors, you can always click that donation button in the upper right-hand corner of the page.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Nolan Ryan is helping support Project Valour-IT

As I mentioned on Monday, I've found some creative ways to contribute to the fundraiser this year, since funds are a little tight, as I'm sure they are for lots of folks. Not having extra cash doesn't have to stop us, though, from helping out a good cause.

I spend a fair amount of time out at the ballpark during the season. The Round Rock Express are pretty good about showing support for our military. This past season, I contacted them about their Military Appreciation Night game, and they allowed Soldiers' Angels to set up a table, and we got a pretty prime location, right behind Section 119, directly behind home plate (and in the SHADE!). So, when I got an idea for an item for this year's Valour-IT fundraiser, I made contact with the Express. Nolan Ryan is one of the principal owner. I was given the contact information for Mr. Ryan's assistant in Round Rock.

My idea? Well, I make those fleece tie blankets. In shopping for fleece, I've seen the MLB licensed prints. The Express are the Astros' Triple-A affiliate, but the licensed fleece isn't the current color scheme for the team, and I don't really like it. However, Nolan Ryan - in addition to having been an Astros during his baseball career - was a Texas Ranger and is currently the President of that ball club. The licensed Rangers fleece was perfect: the same good ol' red, white & blue. So, I bought the fleece, made the blanket, then made my proposal to Mr. Ryan's assistant. I hoped to have the 2009 Texas Rangers autograph it so it could then be auctioned off in support of Soldiers' Angels Project Valour-IT.

Mr. Ryan's assistant passed my request along to the appropriate person with the Rangers organization. Unfortunately, the answer turned out to be a polite "No". Seems they get hundreds of these types of requests... However, there was a counteroffer. If I was interested, I could send the blanket and Nolan Ryan would sign it. Of course, I accepted. I made arrangements to deliver the blanket to the office in Round Rock. I had a lovely chat with Mr. Ryan's assistant. Turns out, her husband was in the Marine Corps, and is a Vietnam vet. In chatting with her, she said they could probably also provide an autographed baseball and photograph. Maybe we could make a "Nolan Ryan package".

Well, folks with more experience with auctions than me recommended not making it a package deal, so we have three separate Nolan Ryan items up for auction in support of Project Valour-IT:

A one-of-a-kind Texas Rangers licensed fleece tie blanket, autographed by Nolan Ryan, comes with a Certificate of Authenticity from the Office of Nolan Ryan.

An autographed photo of Nolan Ryan as a Texas Ranger, comes with a Certificate of Authenticity from the Office of Nolan Ryan.

A Nolan Ryan autographed Official Major League Baseball, comes with a Certificate of Authenticity from the Office of Nolan Ryan.

These aren't the only items I've donated for auction, but the others aren't up yet. Others have also generously donated items for auction, as well. The Valour-IT auction items can be found on eBay, go check them out. As I said, not everything donated is up on eBay yet, so if you don't see something you like, keep checking back. And, if the auction items just aren't your thing, but you still want to contribute to providing laptops and other adaptive technology to our severely wounded Warriors, you can always click that donation button in the upper right-hand corner of the page.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Remembering and supporting

More than two years ago, I found out about LCPL Nicholas S. Perez. Since then, I had the honor of meeting his family - his mother and father, his sister, and the nephew I don't think he ever met (I'm not sure how old little Nicholas is) - at an event for Wounded Warriors hosted by the local American Legion. More recently, I found myself once again subbing at the school named in his honor.

When I first found myself at the school, it had opened its doors only seven months before. It is in the middle of its fourth year in operation. Those children who went there the first year as fifth graders aren't even in high school yet. However, it's been there long enough to expand the memorial to Nicholas' life found in the display case in the lobby:


If you look closely, you'll see a Soldiers' Angels fleece blanket, pin, coin and dogtag. You'll also see items from throughout his life: his artwork, his toys, photos, and other mementos. There is also a Gold Star Flag. I also learned that the school remembers Nicholas on the anniversary of his death, with Nicholas Perez Day. I hoped to have a sub assignment on this past September 3rd to observe these remembrances, but I wasn't that lucky.

Thankfully, not all our service members make the same sacrifice as LCPL Perez. But, even if they haven't given the ultimate in service to our nation, many of those who earn a Purple Heart face great struggles to find their new normal. Carren, the amazing wife of Project Valour-IT inspiration Major Charles Ziegenfuss, shares her perspective on what a voice-activated laptop can do for a Wounded Warrior:

Not only was Chuck able to blog with his new laptop and voice-activated software, I was able to relax a little bit more. Instead of trying to figure how to get Chuck some sort of outlet, I knew he had one. Instead of going to the Mologne House every night, wondering how Chuck will manage throughout the night, I knew he had an outlet. Instead of feeling guilty as hell when I went somewhere without him (for ME time), I knew Chuck had his connection to the outside world.

The laptop and software were truly a gift that can not be put into words. Even after Chuck was initially discharged from Walter Reed, we returned MANY times for subsequent surgeries. His Valour-IT laptop and software were always there for him, especially when he couldn't type with his hand(s). I could go on all day about how amazing this program is...

Help support this astounding program. Please click on the donation button in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Project Valour-IT's Annual Fundraiser

Today is Soldiers' Angels' Fourth Annual Day of the Deployed:

Proclamation Day of the Deployed October 26

WHEREAS, this nation is kept strong and free by the loyal citizens who preserve our precious heritage through their positives declaration and actions; and

WHEREAS, our deployed service members have courageously answered their nation’s call to service by defending our freedoms on foreign lands; and

WHEREAS, Americans are encouraged to reaffirm their patriotism and allegiance to our flag and country, and honor the brave men and women currently deployed to protect and preserve our way of life; and

WHEREAS, since 2006 Soldiers' Angels has honored our deployed heroes with a day set aside in recognition of their hard work, dedication and commitment to the United States of America; and

NOW, THEREFORE, Soldiers’ Angels hereby proclaim October 26 as DAY OF THE DEPLOYED throughout the United States of America and where ever our service members are serving.

Patti Patton-Bader, Founder
Shelle Michaels, National Communication Officer

Today also marks the beginning of the annual Soldiers' Angels Valour-IT Fundraiser. In previous years, I'd decided to join the Army Team, since my father served nearly 27 years. This year, Chuck Ziegenfuss of From My Position: On the Way invited me to be join him on Team Army, but Cassandra and Carrie of Villainous Company beat him to the punch, inviting me to be on the Marine Team with them. Anyway, what Chuck said in his email asking bloggers to join the Army Team really struck me:

There's nothing in this for me. I gain nothing here. But trust me, one of the best days in my life was the few days after I'd died--twice--then came back and met the Angels, Then saw my wife, and finally when I was given back the ability to use a computer--even though I couldn't [use] my hands.

Another in my list of "Best Days" is the day I got to give a kid--an 18 year old kid who'd lost his hands--a laptop that he could use with his voice. The look on his face was priceless when I gave him the laptop--like I was a special kind of stupid and he didn't have a pencil to stick in his teeth. Then I put the headset on him, and showed him how he could train the computer to use his voice to do EVERYTHING he used to do with a computer. Minutes later, he was reading his email, then chatting with his buddies back in Iraq. I left a soldiers angels coin with him, and my card, and quietly walked away. That day ranks with the Marriage and birth of my children as best days in life. It ranks as the best day I've ever had in 17 years of service. And I had that same experience three times that day.

Giving that laptop to those soldiers was amazing. If I could, I'd spend every day doing it. My hope is to raise as much awareness for this as we can, so that we can make sure every wounded servicemember who has lost the use of their hands and eyes, can get one of these machines, and not have to be placed on a "waiting list."

I can only try to imagine what it is like, giving someone back some measure of independence after they've had it so suddenly and violently taken away from them. I can also only try to imagine what it is like, losing that independence so many of us take for granted. Chuck goes on to say:

The goal I want to raise for all services is $1 Million. That's more than one thousand laptops, That will give us the ability to meet every need we currently have, and should help us (god willing) have enough to last throughout the year. Injuries we see today take arms and legs and eyes. Taking away eyes and arms isn't something we can fix, but we do have the opportunity here to give the men and women who've lost the use of theirs the technology to help them get some function of normality back in their lives.

While we are having a little friendly competition between the four teams, representing the Marine Corps, the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy, the real goal is raising the money to support our Wounded Warriors.

Valour-IT doesn't just provide laptops anymore:

Project Valour-IT, in memory of SFC William V. Ziegenfuss, helps provide voice-controlled/adaptive laptop computers and other technology to support Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines recovering from hand wounds and other severe injuries. Technology supplied includes:

  • Voice-controlled Laptops - Operated by speaking into a microphone or using other adaptive technologies, they allow the wounded to maintain connections with the rest of the world during recovery.
  • Wii Video Game Systems - Whole-body game systems increase motivation and speed recovery when used under the guidance of physical therapists in therapy sessions (donated only to medical facilities).
  • Personal GPS - Handheld GPS devices build self-confidence and independence by compensating for short-term memory loss and organizational challenges related to severe TBI and severe PTSD.

The experience of Major Chuck Ziegenfuss, a partner in the project who suffered serious hand wounds while serving in Iraq, illustrates how important these laptops and other technologies can be to a wounded service member's recovery.



I realize money is tight for a lot of folks. I feel that pinch myself, so I've worked at finding creative ways to contribute, which I will be sharing a little later, once the fundraiser competition gets started. If you are able, please click on the Valour-IT Fundraiser (which officially run through Veterans Day, November 11th) link in the top right corner to make whatever donation you can make. If you prefer to mail your donation, please send it - along with the indication of which team (the MARINES!) you wish to support, and that it is for the Valour-IT fundraiser - to:

Soldiers Angels
1792 E. Washington Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91104

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Resolution Update: 35 Weeks

This week, I have surpassed the half-way mark towards reaching my goal. As of my weigh-in this morning, I have lost 48.2 pounds since I made my New Year's Resolution to lose weigh. I have 46.8 more pounds I want to lose. As said in my previous post, there are still weeks when I don't make much - if any - progress, but thankfully, over the past 5 weeks, I haven't gained anything from weigh-in to weigh-in.

I have made an effort to bump up my cardio - walking further than I used to during my workouts, which of course means I have to increase my pace.

I am also continuing to keep an eye on what I eat, but I still don't deny myself sodas and sweet. I'm just being judicious about when I'm eating them. I've even doing this for some baking/cooking I've done recently. I calculated that if I make the Peanut Brittle Brownie recipe that Sarah sent me, and I divide the pan into 24 pieces, each one is 236 calories. Knowing that helps keep me from eating a second one, especially considering I have to be smart about when I have even just one of them... I also calculate calories for other things that are home-made and not just prepared out of a box with a convenient label on the outside. Plan on doing that for the holiday baking I'd like to do, too.

So, I will keep at it. I won't reach my goal before the end of the year - that is unrealistic - but I fully expect to look nice in my dress in my sister's wedding in nine weeks.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Resolution Update: 30 Weeks

Yesterday marked thirty weeks since I began my weight loss journey. Two weeks ago, I surpassed another milestone. I weighed in at less than 190 pounds. As of yesterday morning's weigh-in, I am 188.4 pounds. I have lost a total of 41.6 pounds since I started. That means I've only lost 10.2 pounds in the last eleven weeks. There were two weeks in a row, weeks 21 & 22, when I actually gained weight. There were two weeks, from week 26 to week 27, where I didn't lose any weight at all. And other weeks, the weight loss has been hardly notable. It has been frustrating at times.

However, I have to remind myself that times like this to happen when trying to lose weight. These times I've either gained, or not lost, or not lost much, I can sometimes connect to not being as mindful of either my diet or my exercise. The week of Memorial Day (week 21) and the following week, I had several days each week where I didn't hit my calorie-cutting target. I also have to consider if I was completely honest with how I gauged my physical activity.

I also need to keep in mind that, now that I am in better physical condition, I'll need to put forth additional effort. The mile or two walk I had been doing on the treadmill probably doesn't burn as many calories as it used to. I'll need to walk a little farther, walking a little faster. I'll need to considering adding more sets of my anaerobic exercises (a variety of weights, as well as things like lunges & crunches).

I do have to be quite a bit more judicious when selecting what to eat. When I first began this back in January, so long as I was "moderately active" each day, and allowing for cutting 1000 calories from the number of calories I was burning in order to lose weight, I could allow myself about 1737 calories a day. As I have lost weight, my body does not require as many calories as it used to. Now, after yesterday's weigh-in, I'll be aiming for 1453 - nearly 300 calories fewer. That's about two cans of soda, or two Twinkies, or an Oscar Meyer beef frank on a bun, or a peanut butter sandwich.

I also need to consider trying to be a little more exact in calculating my calorie burn each day. What I have been doing up until now has been using my BMR to make a rough calculation of my calorie needs. Have I been sedentary, lightly active or moderately active? Only once, maybe twice, have I judged myself to be "very active". This rough calculation has been okay when cutting 1000 calories, but I'll soon need to cut back on cutting back, so I'll need to be a little more precise. I'll just need to find new tools to help me figure out how many calories I'm burning through walking X amount of miles in X amount of time, or by lifting the weights, or, as I hope to start doing once the weather cools down again, riding X amount of miles in X amount of time. I should check in with my sister about that...

I did order my dress on June 22nd. I need to double check when it is supposed to come in, but that should be in the next week or two. When I placed the order, I fit into a size 16, so I ordered a size 14. It probably won't fit yet when it comes in, and I doubt I'll be in a position to have it altered down to a size 10, and at the slowed rate of weight loss, it may not need to be altered at all. I can fit into some size 14 things - I have a few in my closet - but not every size 14 is the same...

I've also been able to take even more things out of my closet. I've had two large black trash bags full of clothes that no longer fit riding around in the trunk of my car for weeks. Every time I'd stopped by the Goodwill donation point, it was unmanned, until yesterday. Now, I can continue to work on yet another bag of clothes that are too big, since I once again have room in the trunk of my car to put it once it is full. Also, yesterday, I tried on some old clothes that had been too small. For now, they fit. These things are for fall and winter, so I won't be wearing them yet, but hopefully they will fit long enough that I don't have to do too much shopping over the next few months for things to wear as the weather begins to cool down.

Not sure when I'll post my next update. Guess that will largely depend on when I hit the next milestone...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Hutto News: Carter measure to honor West

About a week and a half ago, I got an email from Gold Star Mother Nanette West. She was sharing a link from her local paper about another way in which her son, 1LT Kile G. West, is being remembered:

The spirit of 1st Lt. Kile West lives on in the memory of his family, friends and neighbors in Hutto, but a measure approved by the U.S. House of Representatives Monday could make sure his name lives on in Williamson County for a very long time.

The bill (HR 2422) sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Carter will rename the U.S. Post Office in Georgetown the “Kile G. West Post Office Building”. The bill passed the House unanimously and now must pass in the Senate and be signed into law by the President.

“This is a moment to honor the ultimate sacrifice of one of our Texas war heroes,” Carter said. “With this renaming we should not only recognize the sacrifice of Lieutenant West, but the kind of life he led as an example to all our youth in the future.”

Georgetown is just a stones throw from Hutto. I can't imagine that this won't come to pass. I look forward to reporting on the dedication, whenever that may be.

To the writer's credit, although this is a "hometown hero" piece, didn't forget about the others:

West, assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, was killed in Abu Sayda, Iraq on Memorial Day, May 28, 2007 when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. Four others also died in the attack. West had volunteered for the mission to rescue a downed helicopter pilot.

The other soldiers who died were Sgt. Anthony Ewing of Phoenix, Ariz., Cpl. Zachary Baker of Vilonia, Ark., Cpl. James Summers III of Bourbon, Mo., and Spc. Alexandre Alexeev of Wilmington, Calif.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I remember.

Two years ago today, 1LT Kile Grant West was killed in the line of duty in Abu Sayda, Iraq. I was privileged to be able to attend his funeral on June 9, 2007. I have come to be acquainted with Kile's mother. She shared with me photos of the new field house named in his honor at his high school alma mater. She has also shared about the memorial portrait painted for her by Texas artist Phil Taylor. I do my best to stop by to see Kile any time I find myself up around Fort Hood. The last time, I was able to introduce him to a friend, so maybe one more person might be stopping by from time to time.

I remember.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Night Crossing

I subbed again on Monday, in a fourth grade class for a language arts teacher. I took the opportunity to look over the books on the shelf and found The Night Crossing by Karen Ackerman, illustrated by Elizabeth Sayles. On the back cover of this short (56 page) book, which is recommended for ages 7 to 9, are two endorsements:

This is an excellent fictional introduction to the Holocaust....Ackerman's writing is clear and direct.
~School Library Journal

and

Realistically child-centered.
~The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

It is a simple enough story. It is 1938. Clara is a little Jewish girl living in Innsbruck, Austria. The Nazis have taken control and things are getting bad: they must wear yellow stars on their clothes; they are forbidden "from celebrating the Sabbath or going to the synagogue"; some people have been dragged away, never to be heard from again.

Clara's father, Albert, tells his wife, Helen, they must leave while they still can. Clara and her older sister, Marta, help their father find things around their home that can be sold to get the money they will need to escape. They can only bring with them what they can carry.

The family will make a night crossing, just like Clara's grandmother did when she was a little girl, when the Jews in Russia were being persecuted. And, the dolls Grandma carried with her, Gittel and Lotte, will make another night crossing, this time with Clara.

The journey is a dangerous one. They must travel by night, by foot. They must hide during the day. They must avoid being seen by patrols of Nazi soldiers. They must pretend to be Swiss citizens who have just been visiting family in Austria.

For children unfamiliar with this period in history, this book, as the School Library Journal says, is a good introduction. It is a quick read and touches on the dangers Jews faces during the Holocaust. The epilogue isn't graphic about it, but does mention "horrors of the Nazi concentration camps" being reported in the papers, sometimes accompanied by pictures from English, American and Soviet photographers; also "Clara and Marta began to understand what had truly happened to the people like Mr. Duessel, the kosher baker who'd disappeared." They girls also come to understand their father made the right decision. They had family who chose to stay behind that were never seen again.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Resolution Update: 19 Weeks

It has been 19 weeks now since I first weighed in to see where I was starting in my quest to reach my ideal weight. I stepped on the scale this morning, and I have passed a significant milestone. I now weigh 199 pounds, even. It's the first time in years that I have weighed less than 200 pounds! I have lost a total of 31.4 pounds since I started this journey.

Another big deal for me is being able to shop for clothes in "regular" stores. I have bought a summer dress and a couple of skirts and tops at Old Navy (something I couldn't have done when I started all this), and I've bought some tanks tops for the warmer weather in the regular department in JC Penney. Thursday morning, I went through a couple of boxes of old clothes that I had recently taken out of storage, and I am able to fit back into most of it - cute skirts, a few pairs of jeans, and a variety of tops. And, I've also been able to put lots of stuff into a big, black trash bag to be taken to Goodwill - I think I'm working on bag number 4. It was nice, a few weeks ago, to put on a pair of shorts from last summer and have the waistband fall down to my hips.

Also, I went to David's Bridal Wednesday evening on my way home from work. I needed to get some information about how far in advance I'm going to need to order my bridesmaid dress for my sister's wedding. I've decided to go with a short dress, and with the color my sister chose, that only gives me four dresses to pick from. I was able to try on a smaller size than the first time we all went to the dress shop with my sister, when she bought her dress. I've narrowed it down to two dresses - my first choice, which is the same dress my other sister chose, and a "runner-up" dress, but it was also good to be able to say "I don't like either of those". Both the dresses I'm considering will take 12 weeks to come in, and then I need to allow 4-6 weeks for them to do any needed alterations. I did explain that I am in the process of losing weight, and that I had lost about 30 pounds since the beginning of the year. They said that - if I will be continuing to lose weight - when I order my dress, I should order one size smaller than what fits at that point, and then they can take it in up to two dress sizes from there. Eighteen weeks from the wedding is July 4th, but I don't want to cut it that close, so I have decided I'll order my dress on/around June 20. That gives me five weeks more...

I will admit, I don't always get the exercise in, but when that happens, I also make adjustments to what it is I consume. I still eat fast food, but I try to be smart about my choices. I love Sonic, but that's about one of the worse choices I could make, so I don't go there. And, I'll often order the kid's meal or order items a la carte to keep portion size under control. I've been able to keep my sweet tooth from getting out of hand. I bought a box of Twinkies several weeks ago because I had a craving for a real one, and I'm happy to say I still have several of them left. I also still have some of my Easter candy left, too. I will have the occasional soda (I pick up some of those 8-ounce cans), if I can spare the calories. Since I've been seeing steady progress (there has still only been that one week when I didn't lose weight), it's been a lot easier to think "do you want that *soda, candy, fast food*, or do you want to keep losing weight?" to keep myself from making poor choices. So far, so good.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Help a Wounded Marine get a new home

In my inbox Wednesday afternoon:

Hello everyone!

I hope that you are all doing well. I know it’s been a while since we’ve asked for help or support for our hero, but there has been a new flurry of activity in the Emery camp recently!

An incredible organization, “Homes for our Troops” is building an ADAPTIVE home for DJ! This is a wonderful organization and an incredible opportunity for DJ and Carlee! Since 2004 this nonprofit organization has built 40 specially adapted homes for severely injured veterans who have returned from service in Iraq and Afghanistan. These homes, and DJ’s home, will be built at NO COST to the veteran, but only with our help!!!! Homes for our Troops is looking for foundation grants, corporate sponsors and volunteers to make this project possible! Fundraisers are also needed! DJ’s dream has been to build a home for himself and Carlee that includes a therapy room and is fully accessible to him, I am so excited that this dream of his is coming true! Below is the link to DJ’s page on the Homes for our Troops website where you can donate or sign up to volunteer. There will also be a registration day for interested trades-people and volunteers to sign up to help build the home for DJ from 1-8 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday 5/7/09) at the Ramada Conference Center at 1450 S. Atherton St. in State College. There will also be a presentation given at 6:30 by project manager Rick Goyette. DJ will be participating in the presentation!

Please, please, PLEASE pass this email along to anyone and EVERYONE you know. It is going to take A LOT of wonderful people stepping forward to make this the success that DJ deserves!!!!

Here’s the link:

http://www.homesforourtroops.org/site/PageServer?pagename=DavidEmery

As always, thank you all so much for all of your help and support!!!!

Thunder Rose

When I was working on my Masters, I had to design several "units". One of them was part of the requirements for student teaching, and had to relate directly to the grade level I was teaching. So, I settled on a unit centered around Tall Tales. There are the various traditional tall tales: Paul Bunyan, John Henry, Pecos Bill. But, I also went looking to see if I could find something new. I found that something new in Thunder Rose by Jerdine Nolen and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. The book is recommended for children 5 to 8 years old.

Thunder Rose takes elements from many of those traditional tall tales, but has other elements all its own. Rose sits up and talks immediately after her birth to freed slaves in the post-Civil War American West. Born the night of a storm, she grabs hold of a bolt of lightening, placing upon her shoulder after she "rolled it into a ball." The next morning, her mother's milk isn't enough, so she takes to drinking directly from the family's cow...

As a two-year-old, she takes some scrap iron and fashioned into a big thunderbolt and named it Cole. "Wherever she went, Cole was always by her side." Of course, she performs a myriad of amazing feats growing up, to include wrestling a big Longhorn bull to stop the stampeding herd before it overran the family farm when she was twelve, after which she tamed him by humming her song to him. She decided to name him "Tater" on account of potatoes being his favorite vegetable. She also invented "Barbara's Wire" while building a pen for all those stampeded Longhorns: she found that "little twisty pattern seemed to make the baby laugh"... She captures a gang of cattle rustlers... She lassos a cloud to make it rain... She calms a pair of tornadoes with her song... All this and still a girl!

Thunder Rose is a cute story, and I really like the illustrations. The author's note at the front of the book gives a little explanation on what was behind the writing of this tall tale: an old desire to add to American folklore and wanting to share "a little-known part of American history" of how many freed slaves went West, how "these bold, brave and adventurous spirits heroically took the opportunity to set themselves down in those wide-open spaces to live free."

Thunder Rose is also a 2004 Coretta Scott King Honor Book for illustrator Kadir Nelson. "The Coretta Scott King Awards are presented annually by the American Library Association to honor African-American authors and illustrators who create outstanding books for children and young adults."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Liberty & Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto

I had to order Mark Levin's new book, Liberty & Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto, from online. When I stopped by the local Barnes & Noble the day after it was released, it was already sold out, which was a little surprising, given Austin's liberal reputation. I started reading it shortly after it arrived in the mail. However, I've had a bit of a crazy schedule, so I didn't get to finish it until the trip back from the 2009 Milblog Conference this past Sunday.

I cannot more highly recommend this book. What Levin has to say is too important for me to try to paraphrase here. All I will do is say that he gives a history of Conservatism, and also of what is more correctly labeled Statism, and the threat that the growing trend toward Statism poses to the freedoms and liberties the Founding Fathers set forth at this nation's beginning. He does this through what really is a series of essays:

On Liberty and Tyranny
On Prudence and Progress
On Faith and the Founding
On the Constitution
On Federalism
On the Free Market
On the Welfare State
On Enviro-Statism
On Immigration
On Self-Preservation

He closes with a guideline for what Conservatives need to do to stop the slide towards Statism, to preserve the free country we have always believed the United States of America to be: A Conservative Manifesto.

So, if you are worried about the path the government is on, and want to know what we - what I believe has been The Silent Majority - can do to prevent further erosion of the Rights of the Individual in favor of the Power of the State, you need to read this book, and get as many others as you can to read this book. Conservatives, who have until now mostly been content to mind our own business and take care of ourselves and our families, need to break that mold and become more engaged with how our governments - federal, state and local - are being run.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Princess and the Castle

The Princess and the Castle, written and illustrated by Caroline Binch, is a little different than the other children's books I've picked up. The first thing you'll notice in reading it is that it doesn't sound "American". It was originally published in Great Britain. As such, in addition to the "sound" of the book, you'll also see the English spellings of some words. If you're sharing this book with a child old enough to notice the differences, it will be a "teachable moment" about how, although we share a common language with Great Britain, there are some differences, as well.

Genevieve lives with her mum and baby brother in a seaside town, but she "hated the sea." Her father was lost at sea while he was out on his fishing boat. Her mother used to cry a lot, along with the baby.

She likes to pretend that she is a princess and that her father is a king and he lived in the castle on an island out in the bay, "waiting for her to come home." She doesn't go with her friends when they go to the beach to play in the sand. She prefers to stay home and play at being a princess, riding her horse, or being kissed by a prince.

One sunny morning Genevieve watched a small boat enter the harbour. A tall dark man lowered the red sails.

"Ah, here comes the Red Knight," she told her court.

Some days later Mum introduced Jack and Genevieve to her new friend, Cedric.

"Hello, you must be Genevieve," said a deep voice. It was the giant, the Red Knight from the boat. Genevieve gasped in fright and fled to her room.

Mum talked a lot about Cedric after that, but Genevieve refused to meet him again, even though Mum got upset.

Genevieve thought Cedric was a "scary giant" who would catch her, or maybe Mum. However, Genevieve began to notice a change in her: she was happier "and hardly ever got cross. Genevieve knew that after she went to bed, Cedric came to visit Mum. She became familiar with the gentle music from Cedric's guitar flowing up the stairs."

Eventually, Genevieve warmed up to Cedric. He would go places with Mum, Jack and Genevieve. Genevieve was even coaxed into going down near with water while sitting up on Cedric's shoulders. They played on the beach, but she got scared when the tide came up to their sandcastle. But, she eventually found the courage to get in the water and play.

Genevieve didn't want Cedric to go out in his boat. She was very afraid something would happen to him. Mum tried to reassure her that he would be okay.

So when Cedric said one day, "How would you like to visit the castle, little princess? We could sail across the bay," Genevieve was struck dumb. It was a terrifying idea. Yet she hated the thought of being left behind. All her stories were set in the castle.

She had to go.

They all went on Cedric's boat, sailed across the bay and went all over the castle, and they also had their own feast while looking back across the bay, seeing their house instead of the usual view she had of the castle.

"I'm a really happy princess now," smiled Genevieve. "We are in the castle with our own king," and she gave Cedric a great big hug.

I could see this story being helpful in helping a small child (this book is recommended for ages 4 to 8), who has lost a parent - for whatever reason - in learning to deal with the changes that come with that unfortunate fact of life. Also, it is an example of facing fears and overcoming them.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream

Sadly, too many sports stars today are not proper role models for young people. Fortunately, there are still some that can be held up as good examples. One of those sports stars is Michael Jordan.

Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream
, written by Deloris Jordan (Michael's mother) with Roslyn M. Jordan (Michael's sister) and illustrated by Kadir Nelson tells the story of a young Michael. It is recommended for children age 4 to 8.

"Michael loved to play basketball." He likes to go with his older brothers in hopes of getting to play on their team if one of the regular guys wasn't able to play. But, Michael had a hard time against the bigger boys on the other team, especially Mark, who would taunt Michael about not being tall enough. Mark blocked the ball when Michael attempted to pass it to one of his brothers.

Michael blames himself for losing the game and apologizes to his brothers: "If I were taller that wouldn't have happened." His brothers tell him he played well, and to not worry about it. However, Michael is still bother by it. His mother talks to him, and he asks how he can become taller:

Now, Mama knew the answer to a lot of questions, but this was a tough one. She thought for a moment as she sprinkled salt and pepper on the chicken she was making for dinner. Then she smiled, looked at Michael, and said, "Salt."

"Salt?" Michael looked at his mama.

"Salt in your shoes. We'll put salt in your shoes and say a prayer every night. Before you know it, you'll be taller!" she replied.

"Salt in my shoes?" Michael said quietly to himself. Surely Mama was teasing. He sat staring out of the window trying to figure out how salt was going to help him grow.

He noticed the rose bushes outside in Mama's garden. They had grown high along the fence, and roses of all colors were blooming on the vines. He thought to himself, I remember when Mama first planted those bushes. Michael's face lit up. If Mama knows how to make those rose bushes grow taller, then maybe she's right. Maybe salt in my shoes really will help me grow.
He wanted to know how long it would take. Mama tells him to be patient and to say his prayers every night. He asks what his prayers have to do with it. "Everything."

Michael wanted to be taller before going to play basketball again, but he took that time to practice. But, after 2 months, he discovered he wasn't any taller. Mama asks Daddy to go talk to him:

"Michael, why do you want to be taller?" Daddy asked.

"If I were taller I'd be a great player, and I could help our team win," Michael answered.

"But you are a great player, son. And you already have everything it takes to be a winner, right in here." Daddy tapped Michael on his chest. "Being taller may help you play a little better, but not as much as practice, determination, and giving your best will. Those are things that make you a real winner."
Michael decides to go to the park to play. The game had already started, but he got his chance when one of the players on his team got hurt. Michael volunteers to score the one point they'll need to win the game.

Mark was there, and he was again giving Michael a hard time, but Michael didn't let it bother him this time. The game continues, and Michael gets past Mark and makes the winning basket!

After that day, Mama stopped putting salt in Michael's shoes, but Michael didn't stop being patient and working hard and praying.

I just think this is a wonderful story. It is a portrait of a real American family who has a deep faith in God, and it teaches a good lesson: be patient, but also work hard and practice!