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don’t thank me for my service

Grills are firing up, traffic is piling up, and the cost of a mattress is dropping. It must mean that Memorial Day is nearly upon us. As you hang a flag or pack a bag I ask that you also remember what the day is intended to celebrate and… don’t thank me for my service. 

If you’ve read this blog much you may know that I’m a Navy veteran and the mother of a currently serving Marine. Causes that support veterans and service members are near and dear to my heart. You could say that one of the common threads in all of my storytelling is pulled from this experience. I feel it is my duty to raise a voice for my sisters and brothers at arms past, present, and future.

Memorial Day is one of the most misunderstood of the days set aside to honor those who serve. For example, did you know that it was first celebrated in 1868 as Decoration Day? No, it wasn’t the day Lilly Pulitzer’s ancestors created the first pineapple decorated sandal.  It was a day set aside to remember those lost in the civil war.

In 1971, amid war and loss, the day now known as Memorial Day became an official federal holiday intended to be a remembrance of those who had given all in service to this nation. Not all those that served but rather the countless many who had lost their lives for the freedoms we enjoy as citizens of these United States. 

Somewhere in the decades between we have let the solemnity of the day be pushed aside in favor of three-day weekends and the unofficial start of summer. Few of us find our way to places of mourning to pay respect to those whose blood has paved the path of our freedom. Still others of us, well-intentioned though we may be, misunderstand the sentiment of honoring loss and turn to thank the living for their service.   

While I appreciate your gratitude, a part of me rails against it on this day. I have lost those I knew, their loss is fresh again when you share thanks for my service on Memorial Day. I served. I did not die. This day is not for me, nor my son, nor my extended family of veterans and the currently serving Marines I consider family. It is for the families of the fallen, for the widow who sees flags fly on Memorial Day, each one of them an echo of a flag-draped coffin.  It is for the tears shed by loved ones across the decades that built this nation. It is a day of collective mourning and gratitude. 

Don’t misunderstand me, I am not here to tell you that you’re wrong in hosting that BBQ or heading to the beach. I just ask that you take a moment away from your celebrations to send one up in remembrance of those who gave all that you may truly enjoy this time together. 

If you’d like to thank a veteran, do that on Veteran’s Day. If you want to thank a currently serving member of any branch of our military (though we all know the Navy is the best,) Armed Forces Day is the day to do that. Should you be so inclined as to want to do more than just say thank you, support programs that help support our military and their families.  Here are a few of my favorites;

American Widow Project

Operation Delta Dog

Bob Woodruff Foundation

United Services Organization 

Operation Welcome Home (Maryland) 

Fisher House Foundation

Vail Veterans Project

Want to visit a veteran’s cemetery to say thank you? Here is a way to locate one near you. 

 

The Meaning of Veterans Day

Susie Sailor girl.. age 19
Susie Sailor girl.. age 19

A rare and welcome cool breeze wafted through the gray cinder-block corridor, carrying on it the faint, distant notes of a nameless, yet familiar holiday tune. The sun had yet to rise which may have contributed to the vague notion that December – at least for the moment – had arrived in Florida.

I was nineteen, an entire coast away from everything I knew to this point in life, and homesick. Basic training was in full swing and it had barely paused to acknowledge the holidays.

That winter the meaning of Veterans Day began to transform for me. I’d yet to understand how much my life would change, that soon our Company Commander would arrive with a team of MPs to remove the drill weapons that stood silent century in the center of birth we’d come to call home. That war would be declared in Iraq, or that 25 years later the same surreal mixture of pride and fear that my own mother must have felt would be visited upon me. 

I’ve often written about what my time in the Navy meant to me, the honor of serving alongside so many selfless, heroic, determined brethren.   Many times I’ve climbed upon my infamous soapbox in support of those who came before me, and those who continue to take up the gauntlet of service.  Today though, Veteran’s Day comes to me with new meaning.

It was another December day, oddly enough the same, rare cool breeze wafted off the San Diego bay. This time it carried on it the equally familiar hymn of Marine Corps. In a sea of hundreds of young Marines, all dressed alike,  all standing at rigid attention, I easily found my son.

He is mine.

That day a pride like I’d never known filled me, bringing along with it an ever-present undercurrent of fear. He will serve, no matter where or when. Those who hold his fate in their hands can never know how important, amazing… irreplaceable, he is. 

He’d volunteered for this.  Worked for it. Earned it. 

That will forever bond us to each other in the same fashion that the invisible umbilical chord always will.  We have served. Willingly, with pride.

When you stop to thank a Veteran today, keep in your thoughts those that love them, for they serve as well. 2013-12-05 12.32.07While a simple “Thank You,” goes a long way on Veterans Day or any day, if you’d like to do something more tangible to show your gratitude to those who have served and are serving, consider some of the apps and organizations below. One of the beautiful things about living in this digital age is that technology makes giving back an easy thing to do.  

Veterans Call  – This app allows users to give to as little as $5 in a monthly donation. These micro-donations add up as users choose charities to support, inviting friends and family to do the same.

Hero Miles – As someone who travels a lot, this is one of my favorite ways to give back. I belong to almost all the airline rewards programs there are out there and rarely (if ever) use the miles I’ve accumulated on all of them. 

Hero Miles is a program run through The Fisher House Foundation that allows you to donate your unused airline miles to veterans and their families. Imagine for a moment that you couldn’t get to a loved one in need who was far from home because the airfare was out of reach. This program helps to ensure that military families don’t have to face this scenario.

22Kill – The driving idea behind this movement is to raise awareness that nearly 22 veterans a day take their own lives. While that statistic may warrant some scrutiny, the fact is that awareness saves lives. Veteran suicide hits very close to home for our family, so I add this group into ways YOU can help because even after hashtags die out that doesn’t mean the problem is solved.  #22pushups for #22Kill

If you’re giving to veterans charities that aren’t giving the overwhelming majority of their funds to veterans or their families, you aren’t helping. ~ The Street

Considering giving to a veteran’s charity?  Start by grabbing the Charity Navigator app.  Believe it or not there are a whole lot of veterans charities out there that spend the bulk of your donated dollar on anything but direct help for veterans. Check this app before you click donate.

However you choose to thank a veteran know that we truly appreciate being acknowledged, though just about all of us will tell you it was OUR honor.

Disclosure: As a member of a very cool team of influencers for Verizon Wireless I sometimes receive compensation, cool gadgets to test drive, or get attend special events. All opinions entirely my own, based on my experiences, because you deserve nothing less!  

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Better (it really does matter)

If you’ve been around here a time or two you may know that I collaborate with Verizon. Most of the time that means testing out new products or services and sharing my honest thoughts here. While I always guarantee readers my unedited opinions, I also accept that not everyone buys the fact that they aren’t influenced, maybe just a little. I get it. Really, I do. I tend to wonder about “sponsored” content too.  I recently had an experience with Verizon Wireless that had nothing to do with my collaboration. It proved to me that their slogan, Better Matters really is a thing.  

The youngest of our Little Nuggets turned ten this summer. Here in the coop the traditional ten-year gift is a cell phone. Right around the same time the teen needed an upgrade (can’t have a smartphone without a functioning camera… oh the humanity!) and our household said goodbye to analog – so long answering machine, you served us well. Off to the Verizon store we went, with no little amount of trepidation.

In the past a visit to the store meant hours sucked out of our weekend. Help that was little to no help at all, and coming home with lighter pockets and befuddled brains. A few years back I even managed to get signed up for two insurance plans on the same phone.

Wait, we thought she was writing about why Verizon Wireless is, um… better.

I hear ya, and I am. I’ve since learned that not all Verizon stores are created equally. In fact, not all Verizon stores are even Verizon stores. What?!! 20160813_132532-01 Here is the deal, there are a lot of stores out there that are Verizon ‘authorized dealers’. Any number of them are great, I’m sure. I just didn’t find those. I found the one that made me dread the cellphone store. Then I found a Verizon store. (cue harp music and unicorn sparkles)

The Verizon store nearest us was a bit of a trek, but totally worth it. From the minute we walked into the store in Glen Burnie, Maryland it was evident things were going to be different. Starting with the warm welcome my phone gave me. Yep, the phone welcomed me to the store… hello, Kubrick!

Team members took our info, what we needed and gave us an actual estimate of how long it would be before we were helped. The doctor’s could take some lessons here! 

Just about everything in the store was hands-on with demos and clear pricing. That pricing thing was the teen’s least favorite feature. When mama knows not everything goes. We played, laughed and got tips from the welcome staff. It didn’t even feel like waiting.

Gerald, our Solutions Specialist (and new BFF) helped the kiddos look through phones, showed them features and put my mind at ease with some cool functions for parental controls. At no point did he push hard for upgrades or add-on items. He’d mention it once. Then accepted my answer like I actually was a human who knew what I did and didn’t want. WOW!

20160813_135510-01While we waiting for data transfers from our old to new phones, Gerald showed us some cool new products. The Nest Cam will be finding its new tree at our house sometime soon. Our current security system came with one camera that doesn’t have the motion-sensing tech an easy install that Nest features.  Plus, I can take my helicopter parenting to a whole new place with it – ha ha. 

Our new puppy doesn’t have a taste for shoes, but he did find my beloved Plantronics Backbeat Fit headphones quite tasty. Gerald introduced me to the Jaybird X2 wireless headphones, which were pretty awesome – not Backbeat awesome but an option for sure. Again, he didn’t try to oversell.

Since that data transfer was taking a bit longer Gerald offered to put the Zagg screen protectors on our new phones. Okay, that was beyond awesome! I’ve never been able to get one on without it looking like bubble wrap on my screen. In fact I usually hate that so much I eventually take the damn thing off and live with the scratches and eventually the cracks.

In the space of less than an hour our family was fully outfitted with sweet new phones (yes, I got me an upgrade too!) some cool and useful accessories and a newfound adore for the Verizon store. Any place can sell you the phone, the ear buds, the cases and shields, but very few places bring the customer service like an actual  Verizon store and the humans that work there. 

20160813_144957-01(This is Gerald. Helpful and adorable too!)

It comes down to people in the end and that’s when better matters.

 

Ansel Adams Whispered in Her Ear

THUNDERHEADS, ANZA-BORREGO DESERT, CA, c 1965You don’t take a photograph, you make it. ~Ansel Adams

It was a Nikon, of that much I’m reasonably sure. She’d head off into the high desert with it. Hip-length raven hair trailing behind her like the tide. Camera hanging heavy on a strap around her neck. A talisman with shutter and lens. Off to the Joshua Trees where Ansel Adams whispered in her ear.

Hues of deepest black fading into soft greys, flowing in the developing fluid and exploding into cascades of brilliant white. She rarely shot in color. That film was more expensive and there were children to feed. Ansel’s whispers were most audible in black and white.

My mother made beds and dinners. And photographs.

Beautiful stories of the desert. Of cactus flowers, jack rabbits, and abandoned metate worn in the stone. Canteen and camera packed she’d abandon us to our father, her cares to the breeze.   Because, Ansel Adams whispered in her ear.

She made photographs. Made the desert come to life. Gave wordless voice to shifting sand and golden sun.

Then the water rose high. It surged like a tidal wave pulling the earth itself through windows and doors. Washing away what she’d made. The flood carried away the Nikon. Silenced his voice in her ear. 

My mother never made photographs like that again. Life flooded in. Her children grew. They needed more, insisted they needed her less. She gave all that was not asked for and more, never again opening the darkroom door.

Yet I still see them, the photographs she made. Not caked in mud or crumbling to dust, but through my own lens.

I may never make photographs, not like he or she did. But, I will settle for taking pictures because I always see something of her when I bring the camera to my eye. A wisp of ebony hair, a faint spark of crystalline blue like her eyes. My mom made me want to make photographs.

Maybe one day Ansel Adams will whisper to her again and she’ll take to the desert, the hills, the sea, camera in hand to make photographs. Maybe she’ll be content with the silence.

When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.  ~Ansel Adams

Lead Image: Thunderheads, Anza-Borrego Desert, CA, c 1965 by Ansel Adams courtesy of Ansel Adams Museum Graphics. Please stop by and see this official collection started by Ansel and his wife, Virginia which is still run by their family.