The Hidden Heroes of Veteran’s Day

Hidden Heroes of Veterans DayTrue heroism is a quiet thing. It does not seek the spotlight nor is it dependent upon the recognition of others. It comes from a place of selflessness where doing the right thing is the only option. And yet no hero stands alone. Behind each is a hidden hero, a quiet corps of support and caring there in times of peace and struggle.

This Veteran’s Day, as I pay homage to those who came before me, served alongside me, and currently serve, I choose to also honor the silent heroism of the military caregiver. Having been both an active duty servicemember and a military spouse, now a Marine mom, I know firsthand that service is not a solitary undertaking. And yet I have little grasp on what it means to be the caregiver for a wounded warrior in a post-9/11 world.

Hidden Heroes of Veteran’s Day: The Post-9/11 Caregiver

In the United States there are an estimated 5.5 million military caregivers. Of these, 1.1 million (nearly 20%) are caring for post-9/11 veterans.

These caregivers tend to be younger than those of other eras. They are caring for a younger veteran often with debilitating injury, mental health or substance use condition.

Most are employed, and not connected to a support network. Many are caring for other non-military family members as well – such as children.

Many of these people experience care and/or stress related health issues, report strain in family relationships, and incur workplace difficulties.   

Imagine the strength of character and spirit this takes to be this person, then try to not use the word hero in describing that.

Ever so slowly, more people are starting to see that these caregivers deserve to be honored for their service as well. That recognition can be as simple as lending a hand with daily tasks to take some of the burden from their shoulders. Better yet are those out there fully embracing these heroes, supporting them, and lifting them up through programs designed to help care for the caregiver.

Vail Veterans Program - Healing on the Slopes

The Vail Veterans Program, founded by Cheryl Jensen -a thankful American with no military ties– in 2004, began as an adaptive winter ski program. That first season there were just seven wounded warriors finding strength and healing on the slopes. Over a decade later the program has welcomed into the fold 500 severely injured veterans and over 1,000 family members and caregivers.

This unique program, founded by one person with a passion for honoring those who serve, has promoted physical and emotional healing for so many. This year Cheryl and her team have launched a program focused entirely on the Caregiver Hero.

Over the course of three days in a world-class resort, these heroes lay down the mantles they carry and allow themselves to be cared for, lifted up and renewed. Here they will partake in self-awareness programs, yoga, meditation, outdoor recreation, and spa treatments. This is not pampering, it is rejuvenation to strengthen them in their mission.

Hidden Heroes of Veterans Day

One of the things I remember most about my days of service was the way a meal {usually lousy, ugh Galley food} shared helped to wind down a day’s work. At the time it just seemed like everyday stuff, but looking back I understand what was happening, we were bonding and drawing strength from each other. Hearing that group meals were part of this caregiver program made me understand that Cheryl and her team have an understanding of the importance of bonding through shared experience even over something as simple as a meal.

I was moved to find out that all services provided by the Vail Veterans program are 100% free. Not one dime is paid by these heroes. In Cheryl’s words, “They’ve given enough.”

If you’d like to join me in honoring these hidden heroes this Veteran’s Day {or any day, seriously a random Tuesday out of the blue is perfect for taking time out to be thankful, one day just isn’t enough in my opinion} here is a list of organizations that help military caregivers and how you can help through donating funds, time, dedication.

Vail Veterans Program - Helping Hero Families

Vail Veterans

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation

TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors)

Women of Valor

The Fisher House Foundation

Chicken Soup Recipes from Around the Globe

Chicken Soup Recipes from Around the GlobeThis year in preparation for cold and flu season, I decided to get ahead of the germs and cook my own penicillin. Okay, maybe it was more a Pinterest endeavor than a petri dish thing, but I think that soup might have it’s own curative cultures. I’m not alone in that theory. Turns out soup is “prescribed” rather universally. Here is a sampling of chicken soup recipes from around the globe. 

Cilantro is one of those flavors that you either love or hate. I’m no hater. So this Peruvian recipe – from Nutrients, You Fools {best. food. blog. name. ever}  which is packed with the stuff really appealed to me.  The pungent aroma is great for the sinuses too. I substituted olive oil for the butter though and tossed in a bit more garlic. 

Chicken Soup Recipes from around the globe
photo credit:

Over the last couple of years I’ve been exploring Persian cooking. I love the heady aroma this spice-laden cooking and the vibrant colors that come from the use of turmeric, paprika, and saffron. Fittingly this next recipe comes from a blog called, Turmeric & Saffron. 

Barley is the surprise ingredient in Soup-e Jo, a Persian chicken soup that is rich, hearty, colorful and has just a bit of tang to it.

Chicken Soup Recipes from Around the Globe
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No proper post on chicken soup would be worth it’s salt without some “Jewish Penicillin” better known as Mazto Ball Soup. This soup is an art form, as such there are many shades and variations.  

Some prefer their Mazto in a dainty bite size, others {me included} like to dig into a giant ball of yum floating in a sea of flavor. There are those that shun the dill and some who simply won’t stand for anything other than a crystal clear broth. One thing we can all agree on though, is if you’re sick a good Mazto Ball soup is as necessary as rest and a warm blanket.  

I’ll admit that I’ve never mastered the art of making the stuff, sad to say. I do have masterful ordering skills though and luckily the famed Chick & Ruth’s Annapolis delivers! I may have to give this recipe from Girl and The Kitchen ago. It as everything I consider high-art in a Mazto Ball soup. 

Chicken Soup Reicpes from Around the Globe
photo credit:

One of the things I loved most about Greece is the abundance of lemon. If tooth enamel were not a necessary thing, I think I could just live off lemons alone. While Greek seafood will always been my favorite, this recipe for Greek Lemon Chicken Soup from A Family Feast is sunshine in a bowl – the perfect pick-me-up for when you’re feeling under the weather. 

A bonus here, the stock recipe included in this post is phenomenal. I made two batches of it last month, canned and froze some. Having homemade stock for cold and flu season is like adding to your medicine cabinet. Do it. It is well worth the time and effort.

Chicken Soup Recipes from Around the World
photo credit:

While I was putting together this post…

I. Got. Sick.

Isn’t that just how it works, eh? One stroke of luck though, I found some of my dad’s famous Albondigas Soup made with chicken meatballs in our deep freezer.  I credit the spicy soup filled with squash, carrots, potatoes, and rice with my quick recovery. Maybe we can all guilt him into revealing his secret recipe.

Have a favorite chicken soup recipe with a global twist? I’d love to add it to this list. 

Quirky Roadside Attractions #IGTravelThursday

 quirky roadside attractionsQuirky roadside attractions may not be exclusive to America – Longford, Ireland has a giant fiddle embedded in a roadside hill– but it does seem to be a tradition routed in Americana. The heydays of Route66 gave birth to some of the most quirky.  That legacy grows with every rediscovery and snap posted to Instagram. Here are a few of my favorites in honor of #InstagramTravelThurdsay.

My paternal Grandda was a bit of a stinker. The older he got, the more cantankerous he could be. I vividly remember one summer when the grandparents came to visit us and he refused to eat the fish my mother made unless it was specifically, “Northern Walleyed Pike.” Not much chance of getting that in the desert of Southern California. Mom just looked at the label on the Gorton’s box and replied, “Well what do you know Joe, that’s exactly what the label says it is.” I guess when you hit your 80’s you want things your way but may not have the time to double check what you’re getting.

Every time I hear “Walleyed” I think of him and smile. When I found Wylie the Walleye roadside attraction in Tonya Prater’s feed (@travelermom) I giggled even harder at the thought that anyone would ever want, let alone insist on eating one of those things! Tonya’s travels across America in an RV are some of my favorite IG posts of all time.

A watermelon munching Tyrannosaurus Rex… seems ligit? Turns out the resident prehistoric reptile of Vernal, Utah has a new look for every season. Found on the feed of @skwikita, a self-proclaimed “Old Guy” who loves taking pictures, this made me laugh so hard I had to find the story behind it. The townfolk of Vernal turned this once decapitated roadside attraction into an icon of the city who even dresses up for the annual rodeo. @skwikita claims to not know what he’s doing on “IG,” but one look at the great pictures he posts and we all know he’s doing it right.

Not too far away from where I grew up, dinosaurs lived. Or at least my six-year-old self was convinced of this. The dinosaurs of Cabazon, California were a bit neglected back when I was a kid, but then in the 80’s the band Tears for Fears shot them in part of their video for Everybody Wants to Rule the World, and the old guys got some new life. Here they’ve been captured by @Lost_in_the_usa, but they’ve also got their own IG account too!

When we moved to the East Coast our first major roadtrip was to Savannah Georgia. Since then we’ve made a handful of seventeen hour treks to Orlando and points south. Every time we go, the first person to spot a billboard for South of the Border wins a prize. This place is cheesier than the entire state of Wisconsin, and seems to be suspended in time. When Katja of Skimbaco made a recent trip from New York state to Florida her family found it just as charmingly kitschy as ours does.  And what’s not to love about a place with a giant sombrero tower, purple apes, and a twelve foot long dachshund in a bun? 

I think one of the things that makes quirky roadside attractions so… well… attractive, is that you typically never know where they’ll crop up. That and the creativity behind many of them. How does one even decide to build the biggest ball of twine in America, let alone market the thing as a “destination”?

Case in point… a wrong turn on a recent trip to our favorite beach in Maryland, brought us face-to-face with a Great White Shark. Not many of those spotted on the Maryland coastline. The excellent Ice cream we had next door may be more common. We’d never have found it were it not for old saw-tooth here.


#SHARK spotted off the coast of Maryland!

A photo posted by Lara DiPaola (@dipaolamomma) on

What was the cheesiest or most memorable roadside attraction you’ve ever seen? We might just have to plan an entire trip around quirky roadside attractions. Think there’s an app for that?

Expert Tips for Taking Smartphone Photos

Expert Tips for Taking Smartphone PhotosSad to say, but we can’t all be great at everything. Sorry to burst that bubble – ha ha. What we can do though is surround ourselves with greatness and learn from it. When I wanted to start taking better pictures I reached out to some of the smartest, most talented people I know and asked them for their expert tips for taking smartphone photos.

When it comes to seeking out expert advice in all things smartphones and tech, I’m a lucky girl. As a member of the Verizon Wireless Buzz crew I need look no further than the amazingly talented folks who “crew” with me. {Honestly, most days I’m not quite sure what I’m doing among this level of awesome. But hey, fake till you make it… right?}

I recently added the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ to the family. This baby has a great camera! We’re talking ditch-the-DSLR level awesome. The thing is, most pictures are only as good as the skills of the person taking them. I’m getting better, but there is lots of room to learn. To that end I’ve gathered the aforementioned {and following} expert tips for taking smartphone photos from the #VZWBuzz folks…

Use Apps, But Never Shoot In them

C.C. Chapman advises that shooting in the native camera app or in an app that shoots in full resolution allows you more flexibility in editing. He also give tips on framing, editing, and more in his piece; Making the Most of Mobile Photography.

Do NOT Use Zoom When Shooting

Turns out this can cause distortion and problems when editing later. Robyn Wright lists this tip along with others like; clean your lens front and back regularly in post that features 10 Tips for Smartphone Photography. Seriously, before that tip I never thought of cleaning my lens… doh!

Use a Tripod When Shooting in HDR

Um, don’t even own one and have no clue what “HDR” is, so I just avoid that. Or I did until I read this post by Rick over at Midlife Road Trip.  Still no tripod – yet- but after reading that post I did use HDR mode when snapping this pic of the dome inside the U.S. Naval Academy chapel… not too bad, eh?

U.S. Naval Academy Chapel DomeUse Great Apps

Now that you’ve taken that snap outside the app, finding great photo editing apps really helps. Many experts tell me that Snapseed is among the best, and I’m LOVING it. That said I’m looking forward to playing around with Enlight, and app that Social Media Super Star Jason Ramsey recently wrote about in this article.

Use A Remote Shutter Feature
Over at The Online Mom,  Monica Villa and her team have built an entire library of tips on how to get the best photos from any smartphone – and it’s growing. One I’d never even considered is this;
“Instead of tapping the screen, which sometimes risks moving your phone or tablet from where it was originally focused, try using the remote shutter feature. On your iPhone or Android device try using the volume up button to snap your photo. You can even use a pair of connected headphones and use the inline volume control to snap pictures too.”
Wireless headphones for snapping photos? It’s a brave new world people!
These expert tips for taking smartphone photos just scratch the surface of what we can do with those amazing devices we carry around every day. I’ll be seeking out more advice and info from the VZW Buzz crew and other experts too. As I learn from the greatness around me, I’ll be sure to share! Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be half as amazing with smartphones and “real” cameras asTony Bennett {no, I won’t be singing… there are limits to greatness and they start at my vocal chords!}  

My stories get even better in autumn #paulfallvere #thecolorsarecoming #thecolorsarecoming

A photo posted by Super Tones (@tony.bennett) on




Disclosure: As member of a pretty cool team of influencers, I received the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ to test and give my thoughts on. No additional compensation was provided, neither were any favorable comments promised.  All opinions are my own. 

Halloween Cocktails: The Poisoned Apple (5 Ways)

Halloween Cocktails - Five Poisoned Apple RecipesThrill your guests and scare up the spirits with… well, spirits. Halloween Cocktails are some of my favorites – if only for the crazy names. I’ve scoured the webs {inter, not spider} to bring you terrifyingly tasty adult libations for your celebrations. I give you The Poisoned Apple… 5 ways.

If you’re not reading Cork Fork  & Passport, you need be – the cocktails alone are worth it! Julie takes her cocktails seriously. No apple cider to cloud up this concoction that includes… wait for it… orange infused rum!

Poisoned Apple Cocktail from Cork, Fork & Passport. (photo credit: Julie Cohn)
Poisoned Apple Cocktail from Cork, Fork & Passport. (photo credit: Julie Cohn)

Want a tangy twist and some serious pucker in your poison? Try The Little Epicurean’s version with a cranberry and pucker schnapps kick.

(photo credit: little epicurean)
(photo credit: little epicurean)

Little Epicurean’s Recipe

The apples must be McIntosh. The sugar is sanding… not table. She may be as uppity as an evil queen, but leave it to Martha to be creative enough to use the actual apple as her bar ware. 

Martha’s Recipe

Bread. Booze. Bacon. Um… we thought this was a cocktail roundup? Oh it tis, my friends. I just got a little distracted by the name of that blog, sounds like someone I need know. Plus, there may be Poison Apple Jello Shots served in syringes at their Halloween party.

And finally, my version the Poisoned Apple inTOXICating concoction -pictured above-  can be found over at (cool) Progeny… if you dare… bwahahahahaaa.

Happy Halloween!

{note to self, maybe don’t sample all at once while also writing about them}

Travel. Eat. Drink. Write. REPEAT