Monday, December 03, 2012

Toys for Troops Christmas 2012: It's a Wrap!

Our 2012 Toys for Troops Christmas boxes event was a phenomenal success. I only have time for a quick post before I dash off to get in line at the post office this morning, but I want to take a minute to tell you about our day.
  • We had an abundance of gifts and volunteers this year.
  • Dozens more worked beforehand, shopping, dropping off donations at my home and office.
  • We had over 600 letters from children, to divide up in every box.
  • Our donation jar had $850.00 in it by the time we left yesterday, bringing the total to $2200.00—enough to cover our shopping and shipping expenses for this event.
Once again, I sit humbled at how much the community rallied to make all of this happen. I'm amazed at our various volunteers and supporters, ranging from ages 3 to 80. Veterans, firefighters, and police officers stepped up to work side by side with soldiers' families, and yet half of those that showed up didn't have any direct military ties—they  just want to support our troops!

Click here to see local news coverage of the event.

And while I'm here, I will also mention that I did win GM's "Our Town, Our Heroes" contest mentioned in the last post, thanks to so many friends voting and rallying for their friends to vote. I'm riding around in style this week!

Off to the post office now!

Thank you. Thank you so much!


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Driving the Midwest and 2012 Toys for Troops Christmas Event

My cup runneth over, these days. Just as I am gearing up to push, push, push the 2012 Christmas Event for Toys for Troops, I have been nominated and accepted for General Motor's "Our Town, Our Heroes" contest.

I suddenly find myself promoting my cause—which is easy, because I do love my soldier babies—and also pushing *myself*, which I find incredibly difficult.

But if I rally for votes, I stand to win $500 in gift cards, or one $500 gift card, or something, which will come in handy for Christmas gifts for my soldier babies, so rally I will. Because:

There you have it. I am scrambling, because WE need:
  • We need soldiers.
  • We need letters from your children.
  • We need cookies.
  • We need Christmas gifts: DVDs and socks and gee-gaws that you'd put in your own brother, sister, child, spouse's stocking.
  • We need $13.45 to send a box.
  • We need to take care of our soldier babies.

In the meantime I promote TWO events simultaneously and count on those listening to me knowing that I'll hush up in just a minute when this big thing is over.

It's been a bit of a media frenzy. Newspapers, radio stations, and tv stations have picked up on these things, and I still have to summon courage to face them all. Today I asked a radio interviewer to let me know whether I was going to be live or recorded, "so that I will know how nervous to be."

In that interview, I was asked the one question that I am asked over, and over again: "Why? What does it mean to you to do this?"

The first time I was asked that question in a television interview, I broke down on camera. My son was about 10 weeks into his first tour that lasted 16 months. To feel so helpless, and then to have stumbled on something that contributed positively to his day, and have it branch out to his comrades, and then to other troops from all over the U.S....

Well, it was so just much better than being able to do nothing.

After 6 years—after waiting for my son to come back from Iraq twice, after meeting hundreds of other soldiers and their parents, spouses, siblings, and children, hanging out on a few army bases, working with Veterans, Warrior Transition Battalions, and Family Readiness Groups—doing nothing remains out of the question for me.

I still cannot answer that question--in front of a camera, on the telephone, or in writing—without crying.

Do Something.

(Oh. And please: Vote for me!)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Purging, Pens, and Prophylactics

After moving Mom into a nursing home, I made a deal with Clint's son: Move into the house rent-free, and watch her stuff for me for a year, will you? I need to get my bearings. Do my own thing. Regroup.

I've been regrouping for 18 months now. There were a few false starts in which I assessed the situation, declared "Oh, Lord," and ran away, but I am finally starting to make some decisions about what will go where.

I'm setting the sentimental belongings aside to deal with when I'm ready. Mom's sewing machine and  cabinet, and Dad's roll-top desk, for instance. My God, the idea of getting rid of the twin beds Teri and I, and then our children, slept in—oh, it makes me want to lie down!

Easy does it then. I gauge carefully what I will sort, sell, or save. I cannot possibly keep it all.

I have gotten creative about how I can have my cake and eat it too. Dozens of photo albums are going to be carefully deconstructed, and scanned. I'll keep some of them, offer hundreds back to the subjects or their ancestors, and then gasp! throw the rest away.

I have bins full of old costume jewelry, clip-on earrings, and ugly brooches. I'm taking a beading class with a friend (Hi Nic!) to learn how to repurpose and rejuvenate it into newer, modern pieces.

 (Click to enlarge, and check out the Caveman cuff link at the top. Weird, huh?)

As for the rest of the random loot, I've decided to hold on to some of it by documenting it here. Photographing and writing about that which I have no space for, before I find a new home for it, be it friend, family, stranger, or junkyard.

Take, for instance, my Grandfather's pens. My Grandpa Stewart collected pens, thousands of them. I've written before, here, that I was lucky enough to inherit about 600 of them.

They're in a box. There they sit. I've carried that box from house to house, to house again, and taken up valuable closet space for more than 10 years. They don't work. They even kind of stink, now.

I found that box again today, while talking on the phone with Clint. I groaned when I opened the box, and declared that I would be, finally, throwing them away! I chatted while I picked through them, though, about why I'd kept them. And as we talked, I pulled out 2 that had "Mack's Trucking" printed on the side. My brother-in-law works there now, I'll save them for him. And, oh, that one is still kind of cool... I was still poking through them when we got off the phone, and I came across one this one:

What the... does this....I mean... these pens are at least 50 years old! Who had a can full of these on their desk? Here, have a free pen with your...what? Plywood purchase? Oil change? New savings account? 

A mystery!

The box of pens is back in the closet. I have a grand plan of someday arranging them more creatively than they are in the photo above, taking a photo, and making a poster to hang in my studio.

Then I will toss them.

I swear.

P.S. Yes, I do see that they spelled Prophylactic wrong. I didn't want you to think that I didn't notice that, since spelling is part of a what I do for a living. And, if you see any typos that I made here, please point them out in the comments or on Facebook, so that all of my colleagues can see them.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Photo Dump Day: What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Where has the summer gone?! So many stories, one for every picture, but now I'm busy doing Autumn things and taking Autumn photos. I'll double back and tell you stories about the photos when I'm snowed in this winter. For now, then, the season's highlights:

Top Honor goes to a chance meeting of Leighton Willhite, an Iwo Jima survivor from Rockville, IN. In fact, I shall now commit to making my next post about my introduction to him, the story is just too-too good.

After being away from home for 17 months, Brian was home on leave not once, but TWICE this summer. Looks like he'll make it home for Christmas too. A mother could get used to this.

By sheer chance, the day Brian got home, one of my favorite bloggers, from Canada, brought her son (my fantasy grandson) to Chicago for his birthday weekend. Nicole and Brian have also become friends through Facebook and email, so Brian and I booked it to the Brookfield Zoo to meet her.

Once we'd paid to get in to the Brookfield Zoo, we learned that Nicole and James were waiting for us at the Lincoln Park zoo. Doh!

Brother-in-law Tim gives Brian an appropriate welcome-home hug. Have I posted this before? It's one of my favorite all-time pictures. I love how happy Tim is to see Brian, and I'm sure that big smile was mutual on the other side of this shot.

My BFF Diane got married in June. I captured this photo just after she'd peeked out the window to see that her groom had, indeed, showed up. Yayyyy! He's here!

And Clint snapped this precious shot during the ceremony. I think she loves him, don't you?

Best pizza in the whole world: Get in your car, and drive to Grand Haven Michigan, and go into this old house-turned-Tavern, Fricano's pizza. A chance meeting with a stranger on Lake Michigan in 1994 begot a recommendation for this off-the-beaten-path pizza place, and I've eaten there every time I've ever returned.

Our trip to Grand Haven coincided with a salmon tournament. Not just buckets, but gurneys full of salmon were being rolled down the boardwalk.

These fishermen made short order of cleaning those fish. God, how I wanted to take one and run. Unfortch, I remained a spectator, and never did find out where they were cooking up that salmon.

Our camping crew got in a June trip down the river this year, before the drought hit hard and dried most of that water up.

Fourth of July was spent hopping around from cousin-to-cousin's houses, playing in their pools, and enjoying their fireworks. Oh, they spoiled me!

Demo Derby in July. Clint's son Craig helped build this one, for the volunteer fire department he works for. Crunch!

Partying with new coworkers-turned-friends. We stayed up and danced until the wee hour of 10pm that night. We did all have to go to work the next morning, after all.

I had a fun opportunity to join in a fire-training exercise. You'll notice I was too chicken to strap on an air mask and stay long. I pretty much stuck around for this photo op and then crawled out under the smoke. Maybe next time, if there is a next time, I'll shake off the claustrophobia I felt with air mask, and stay for the heat.

More cousin time: Cory does plays a mean noodle, singing about his toes in the water and ass in the sand.

My friend Lisa sent me a note that she'd just taken a walk during her workday, and ran into elephants. I ran over after work, and we took another walk to see this imaginary elephant of hers. It was true!

This is Bunny. The elephant.

I gardened. I watered, weeded, and harvested a LOT of tomatoes. I am still harvesting a lot of tomatoes, along with basil, carrots, peppers, and onions. The first garden was everything I hoped it would be this summer.

Labor Day shrimp boil. Your choice: garlic butter or cocktail sauce.

April through August, those are the highlights. Next up: September, baby, followed by October. Crisp Autumn air is a relief after a stifling summer, and I'm gearing up to enjoy every single day of it. Here we go!

Oh, one more thing: I met a Chihuahua named Nacho this summer.

The End.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Toys for Troops Update

I'm back with a few more Toys for Troops Highlights!

150 of ours came home in late spring/early summer, and I'm back to scrambling for names and addresses. There are about 25 on the list now, and we hope to add at least 100 more by Christmas. Christmas care packages go out in 13 weeks!

As I mentioned in the last post, I just received the names and addresses of 5 platoon leaders, and we introduced ourselves to them recently with a letter and 100 dozen cookies. I have also sent battery-operated misting fans to distribute to those working in the field.

So, that's where we are now, and Champaign's News-Gazette was kind enough to highlight our endeavors after I rallied on Facebook. It was published yesterday, here:

And now that it's out there, I'd like to back up and acknowledge everyone that helped make just those two projects happen.

The Misting Fan Project


Those that follow me on Facebook may remember that I just tossed out a request: "Buy one of these for a soldier, and I'll mail it for you."

Urbana VFW 630 caught wind of my request, and offered to help me out:

They told me to shop or ship, whatever we needed.

I contacted the makers of the fan, O2 Cool, and they were very helpful, offering me wholesale prices—under one condition: I had to have a resale certificate.

I do not have a resale certificate, Sam I Am, so back to the drawing board for me. I put out another APB, and Sara at Dandelion Vintage Clothing, offered to order the fans for me. I cleared it with O2 Cool, and thanks to Sara, we were back in business!

 Shop here!

100 Dozen Cookies kettlecorn, puppy chow, and rice krispie treats—you don't think I made all that myself, do you? I made a double batch of chocolate krinkles, then the majority of my work consisted of meeting people in parking lots to pick up the goods.

Big-big Thank You to all of our bakers, and to everyone that heard of the project, popped checks in the mail, handed them to me at work, and made Paypal donations. Our bank balance, once again, after shopping and shipping for these two projects, increased. It never ceases to amaze me.

A Bonus Heartwarming Story: 

The day I took the cookies to the post office, a gentleman in the parking lot offered to help me carry boxes. I thanked him and promised him the load was relatively light: "just cookies heading to Afghanistan."

We were the only two customers in the post office so of course I let him go first in line. When he was done, he turned around and folded this into my hand:

I'm as paralyzed about what to write now, as I was speaking then. I'm sure I got "thank you" out about a dozen times while he was racing out.

These are the tales I tell my soldier babies. While I am feeding them spaghetti, I grab their chins and say "strangers just hand me cash to take care of you, y'know."


The card I popped in to all of the boxes.

Since everyone isn't pictured there special thanks to bakers Val Deichman, Nicole Philyaw, Will Page, Sandi Smith, Denise Halberstadt, Sandy Linneman, Katie Linneman & Mark Baker, Tammy and Aryn Zymkie, Barb Comtois, and Sarah Westhoff .

Here's a gratuitous photo of me with the Miller High Life "Give a Veteran a Piece of the High Life" Humvee. That poor guy was ready to pack it up and go home for the day, but I played my "I have a son in the Army" card, and made him get out and take my picture. 

And don't forget: If you have a loved one serving in Kuwait or Afghanistan, we'd love to send him or her a box of goodies. Mail me at, and I'll tell you more!

Monday, August 06, 2012

"Moore's OK"

This post has been weeks in the making. I tag up to it and run, unable to collect myself. I don't know where to begin, how to fast forward, or how to wrap it up. I'll start with these blessed words that I heard first, when answering my phone to my son on the other end, 10 weeks or so ago:

"Mom. Moore's ok..." I was crying before I got out the words "what happened?"

"He's on his way to Germany. He's ok. Afghanistan. Roadside explosive, his buddy stepped on it. He's ok. We're waiting for more news."

Steven Moore, or "Steebmo," I dubbed him when I declared he needed a pet name, was my son's gunner in Iraq. The first tour was hellacious, and this young man saved my kid's life on more than one occasion. When they were released for leave upon returning home, Steebmo opted to join Brian in my home, before they went to visit his Mama.

Best Mother's Day Ever, 2008.

We celebrated their coming home in ridiculous fashion.
Lord, I wish I could do it for each and every one of them. 

Hey, while you're home on leave, resting up from a year in hell,
would you mind blowing the pine needles off of Grandma's house?
"Yes ma'am. I'd be glad to."
(Holy shit, I actually put them to work.)

He and and Brian served another year in Iraq, in '09-10. Upon their return, Brian was moved to Ft. Hood, Texas, while Steven and his new family went to Ft. Lewis, Washington. Steven touched base with me early this year that he was going to Afghanistan, but I lost track of his deployment date.

I was merrily blogging, a month earlier, about how I was in a place in this world that I had little left to worry about, all the while I had soldier babies in Afghanistan. I feel a punch in my stomach every time I think of it.


Moore is ok. I've been hesitant to tell his story, or to bother him or his wife too much, for fear of sensationalizing his injuries, or just getting in their face when I can't imagine what they have been through. Of the hundreds of troops we've sent packages to, my Steebmo is the first I've known personally that has been injured. How it completely undid me is fodder for another post.

He has a broken finger, artery damage in  his arm, and lower tissue damage. He is home with his beautiful wife and children now, and begins physical therapy soon.

His comrade lost both of his legs that day. When I finally got up the nerve to ask my son about him, he said, "it's crazy, Mom," and we both sobbed like babies.

Steven's wife has kept us as much in the know as we need to be. I have utmost respect for her, and her protecting her family and her husband with gentle updates that they needed space.

She is Mama Bear, and yet has taken the time to share with me that:

The rest of Moore's company, still with several months left to serve in Afghanistan, has lost 20% of their troops to injury, death, PTSD, and suicide. Morale, as you can imagine, is very low.

That the rest of his company struggles now, trying to hold it together in the midst of these statistics, has brought me roaring out of my place of complacency. A Toys for Troops APB has been put out on the wire, and cookie bakers came out of the woodwork.

Five platoon leaders of this company have cookies galore coming their way, along with a letter asking them to check us out, contact us, and if they think us worthy, to send us the names of their troops.

My message remains steadfast: we might not be saving the world, but if we change the direction of even one lousy day, we've made a difference.

We remain, warriors for warriors.

Stay tuned. 

(Love you Steebmo & Kesha!)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Unnecessary Necessities

Years and years and YEARS ago, my BFF Diane, who can wrap any gift to make it look like Cinderella made of spun sugar, agreed to come over and work her magic on some special gift or another for me. She waltzed in with stacked drawers, and trunks on wheels, and when she was finally ready, asked me, "Where's your tape dispenser?"

I merrily handed it to her:

Crickets, people. I might just as well handed her:

Where. is. your. tape. dispenser?!!!

Oh, a dispenser?! It's weighted with sand, and you buy refills for it? From an office supply store? Who in the hell owns a tape dispenser? Those are for teachers! And, and, and...secretaries! (Forgive me for being politically incorrect, but remember, this was the 80s, and we still said "secretary," right along with "stewardess," back then. I didn't know any better.)

At any rate, you can bet your sweet bippy that it was seen to that I owned a tape dispenser—Good Lord, you'd think I'd put ketchup on my grilled cheese sandwich or something. (I digress, but, you see, in our family, if you fixed a grilled cheese sandwich only to discover there was no ketchup in the house, you just threw it away. I've since found out this is wrong.)

The truth is, I now love my tape dispenser, and I laugh every time I drag it out. I contemplate, when I use it, the tools we each use in our lives that may seem like necessities to us, but unheard of to others. To my list, I've added two very necessary items, equivalent to Diane's tape dispenser:

Paper Cutter

You have a paper cutter, don't you? I mean, if you decide to make a thing out of paper, how else would you cut it down? Or, if you need to trim a photo that you print yourself? Of course, you use your paper cutter. I use a paper cutter so often that I can barely get the thing put back into the closet in which it belongs. Why bother? I'll just drag it back out again.


Actually, I didn't know I needed a laminator. My sister informed me I needed one, years ago, and proceeded to go out and buy one for me. Oh. My. God. She was right! I have gotten miles out of that laminator, and now with Toys for Troops, I couldn't live without one. If you yourself don't own a laminator...well, then I don't know how in the hell you laminate your stuff, that's all.

It's "Tell Me" time: What are the "quirky" items you have in your home that you use on a regular basis, that I might not have in mine?

I need to know.

So I can go buy one.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Good Onion

It was pointed out to me by my own boyfriend, yesterday, that it's been a while since I posted here. I've been too-too busy, I explained, while I sipped a margarita and bobbed around in the lake.

 Me, busy not blogging.

Still, I promised I'd get something up soon to move the last tired post down the queue, so here I am.

Truth is, I've immersed myself into gardening this summer. I'm up early with coffee to check the vegetables and the flowers. The vegetables are doing great; however, the flower beds are losing their battle to this guy:

Sure that I had them whooped, this year I planted nothing but marigolds. Critters hate marigolds, I was told; they don't like the pungent smell. Hundreds of marigolds! I started them in the house in February, and I've planted them in the flower beds and around the perimeter of the garden.

Turns out that not all critters hate marigolds. Robins, rabbits, and groundhogs love, love, love them. After using a product called "Critter Ridder," and sprinkling straight cayenne pepper around, to no avail, I broke down and paid $18 for a bottle of fox urine. The stink is supposed to scare the animals away, but the container I've set in the flower bed has been dug up and tipped over 3 times.

One more trip this weekend found me falling for yet another product called "Repels All," which promises to irritate the nasal passages of whomever is digging up  my marigolds. I bought it, and a third flat of marigolds. If this doesn't work, I'm going with silk flowers.

The garden is coming along beautifully, though, and I love working in it. I park a blanket in the dirt, and dig up a bushel of weeds at a time. A chore that a lot of people hate, keeping up the garden is meditative for me. I lose my thoughts in gardens past, with my grandparents and parents, until I lose them altogether, and think of nothing while I work. 

Tonight we spent a couple of hours securing a net across the entire fence, to try to ward off starlings and robins that will nip off the tomato blossoms. The garden has become quite the fortress; Clint calls it the "Vegi-Penitentiary."

It's all worth it. "Someday we will have a garden" has come about, after four (five, six) years of waiting, and tonight we ate the first salad from the garden. Our "dream salad," I called it.

On a somewhat unrelated note, bringing in my own onions reminds me of a story from my childhood. My sister and I were all dressed up, and Mom had taken us to Olan Mills for a portrait. I was about 4 or 5, which would have made Teri 3 years old or so, and Mom was determined to keep our little dresses clean and wrinkle free. We were ordered up into chairs, told to sit still, and "act like good young 'uns."

In my mind, she had sat me down and told me to be a good onion. I had no idea what that entailed, but being an obedient child, I did what I was told:

I was the best onion I knew how to be.

The End.