Friday, November 11, 2011

What Is A Veteran?

What is a Veteran?
Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye.

Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the leg - or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the soul's ally forged in the refinery of adversity.

Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem.

You can't tell a vet just by looking.

He is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers didn't run out of fuel.

He is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel.

She - or he - is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Da Nang.

He is the POW who went away one person and came back another - or didn't come back AT ALL.

He is the Quantico drill instructor who has never seen combat - but has saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account rednecks and gang members into Marines, and teaching them to watch each other's backs.

He is the parade - riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.

He is the career quartermaster who watches the ribbons and medals pass him by.

He is the three anonymous heroes in The Tomb Of The Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor dies
unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean's sunless deep.

He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket - palsied now and aggravatingly slow - who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.
He is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being - a person who offered some of his life's most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.

He is a soldier and a savior and a sword against the darkness, and he is nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known.

So remember, each time you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say Thank You. That's all most people need, and in most cases it will mean more than any medals they could have been awarded or were awarded.

Two little words that mean a lot, "THANK YOU".
"It is the soldier, not the reporter, Who has given us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, Who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier, Who salutes the flag, Who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protestor to burn the flag."

Father Denis Edward O'Brien/USMC

Monday, November 16, 2009

'X' Marks the Spot


That's what my son bowled a couple weeks ago.

The second-highest series ever bowled in Nebraska. (The highest is Jeremy Sonnenfeld's perfect 900 series bowled in 1997 - the first-ever sanctioned 900 series.)

He spared the second frame of the first game (left a 4-pin with the first shot), then threw 33 straight strikes, finishing with a standing 10-pin on his last ball. According to him, he just got lucky. He was in 'the zone', where every ball just seemed to head for the pocket, and everything carried. He said he has been in the same zone before, but without the carry, and only bowled 650. This time, though, everything just came together. Most people in the center didn't even know what was going on, since he is a calm, methodical bowler. Sure, they had heard his 300 game announced, but that wasn't so unusual; it was his sixth or seventh of the season. And that's not counting all the 280s and 290s. Heck, he had even thrown an 835 series just a few weeks earlier.

But when he released that last ball, you could hear a pin drop, followed by pandemonium when it slammed into the pins.

He's glad he bowled it at Leopard Lanes, his "home" center. (So is Mickey, the proprietor.) Of course, it means that the 220+ average he carries everywhere else is overshadowed by his 236 average at Leopard. When he bowls tournaments, he has to use his higher one. :-D

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Calling All Dawns

Day. Night. Dawn.

Life. Death. Rebirth.

The circle of life, the inter-connectedness of human life and society. These are themes explored by Christopher Tin in his debut album, Calling All Dawns.

The album is a song-cycle in three uninterrupted movements: day, night, and dawn (corresponding to life, death, and rebirth). It is a tapestry of interconnected motifs, the main melody of one song becoming the instrumental interlude in another. The last song fades seamlessly into the first, reflecting the cyclical nature of the universe.

The twelve songs are sung in twelve languages, ranging from Swahili to Polish, from French to Farsi to Maori. The lyrics are from sources as diverse as religious texts like the Torah and Bhagavad Gita, to ancient Persian and Japanese poetry, to lyrics by contemporary writers. Vocal traditions include African choral music, opera, medieval chant, Irish keening, and more.

The opening song, Baba Yetu, is familiar to all players of the Civilization 4 video game. This award-winning song (The Lord's Prayer, sung in Swahili by the Soweto Gospel Choir) sets the initial tone perfectly, with its thrilling drums and stirring music, celebrating life. (If you are unfamiliar with the song, think The Lion King - Circle of Life.)

The second song, Mado Kara Mieru (Through the Window I See) is also stirring. The lyrics are adapted from a Japanese haiku series that looks at Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring again. Third is the Mandarin Dao Zai Fan Ye (The Path is Returning), also a poem on the cyclic nature of life.

Fourth is the Portuguese Se É Pra Vir Que Venha (Whatever Comes, Let it Come), with its theme, "I do not fear life, nor its counterpoint. Whatever comes, let it come." The final song in the "Day" movement is French, Rassemblons-Nous (Let us Gather). It is another strong celebration of Life.

The "Night" movement begins with Lux Aeterna (Eternal Light). The words are from the Requiem Mass, "Let eternal light shine upon them, O Lord, grant them eternal rest." This piece, while still showing some of the triumphal horns of the "Life" movement, is clearly a transition to a slower, darker phase. The seventh song is Caoineadh (To Cry), an Irish keen, a most haunting, yet beautiful piece. The last piece of "Night" is the Polish Hymn do Trójcy Świętej (Hymn to the Holy Trinity). It starts out quiet and somber, but as it progresses, there are hints of the dawn to come, the triumph of light over dark, the rebirth of life.

"Dawn" begins with the Hebrew Hayom Kadosh (Today is Sacred), from the Book of Nehemiah. "Do not mourn and do not weep, for this day is sacred." It is definitely a turn back to the light, to the new day. It segues into the Farsi Hamsáfár (Journey Together), easily on of my favorite pieces from this work. The music is a celebration of this new day, this rebirth on the universal wheel.

The Sanskrit Sukla-Krsne (Light and Darkness) is the penultimate piece. Probably one of my least favorite pieces, yet it fits musically into the whole, and the work would be diminished without it. The final piece is Kia Hora Te Marino (May Peace be Widespread), from a traditional Maori blessing. It gathers together threads that have run throughout the cycle, and wraps them up in a grand finale. The cycle is complete, the new day has dawned bright and full. It ends with the opening notes of Baba Yetu, and if played continuously, smoothly flows into that song once more.

To check out samples from this album, please visit Christopher Tin's website.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Deer: Dangerous on the Road

Yesterday, my wife and I had to run up to Boy Scout Camp Cedars, up by Fremont, to pick up our oldest grandson who had spent the night for a Nani-ba-zhu festival. (It's a bit complicated. As a member of the Order of the Arrow, he has also been inducted into the local Nani-ba-Zhu 'tribe' as a Brave. He spent Saturday making his 'regalia': headdress, necklace, arm bustles, etc.)

We picked him up about 6:30, and headed home. It was an hour-plus drive, and about 7:00, with the sun sitting fairly low in the western sky behind me, we crossed the Platte River into Douglas County. As we came over the bridge, some motion caught my eye. A deer (doe) was bounding through the tall grass down in the tall grass ahead to the right. Something told me to be careful, so I eased off the gas and pointed her out to my wife. I had one car behind me, a friend of ours with her Scout coming home, and oncoming were four motorcycles, followed at some distance by another car.

Moments after we came off the bridge, the deer decided she simply had to be on the other side of the road, and launched herself directly in front of my car. I stomped on the brake, expecting the sickening THUD as I hit her. Instead, as if by a miracle we missed her. At the same instant, i thought, "Oh my God! The motorcycles!', and out of the corner of my eye I saw her hit the lead biker.

I watched the deer, bike, and rider go sliding down the pavement in my mirror as I pulled over to the side. Our friend pulled over right in front of us, but I was already out the door, heading back to see if there was any help I could provide. The car behind the bikes had already pulled over and was calling 911 as I arrived. Two of the bikers were pulling the bike and the deer to the side of the road, while the third was dragging his friend, in a sitting position, to the other side.

As I got there, fully expecting to see a bloody, mangled body, I found the biker, a fairly large man, almost laughing! "Good thing I hit it, and not one of you little guys! Probably would have killed you!" We gave him a quick check over to be sure how he was. He said his ankle hurt - probably busted, but maybe just badly sprained. He took off his helmet (not a scratch on it), and his leather jacket. The left sleeve, from wrist to elbow, was torn up, and he had a little "road-rash" up by his elbow. That appeared to be the extent of his injuries. He said that with the sun setting, and in his eyes, he didn't even see the deer until they collided.

Meanwhile, my wife had also called 911, and was able to give them more exact directions to the accident site. Two Sheriff cars soon pulled up, followed shortly by a Rescue Vehicle. After the Deputies took statements, the biker was loaded into the Rescue Squad to be transported to a hospital, and we were on our way.

After we got home, and before the sun fully set, we took a look at our bumper. We saw two new dings on the driver's side, right where the deer's rear hooves might have hit. It makes us think that we might have altered the deer's path just enough so that, instead of the biker hitting her head on, and possibly doing a header over the handlebars, instead she was twisted sideways and hit him in the side taking the bike out from under him, and possibly even serving as a "cushion" for him during the critical first moments of the slide down the pavement.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Lovely Weekend

What a lovely weekend it was.

The temperature Saturday officially topped out at less than 100, but the heat index rose well above that. My wife was gone to Iowa for the weekend with the Girl Scouts, camping. (Well, they had air-conditioned cabins, thankfully, but it was still "camping".) She had our daughter, and two granddaughters with her. The two grandsons still left home went with the Boy Scouts to Kansas City to Worlds Of Fun for the day, so once I dropped them off at the collection point at 7:00am, I didn't have to leave the house again until I had to pick them up 15 hours later. So I buried myself in the barely adequate air conditioning, did some laundry, fixed a child's wooden rocker for a friend (a little wood glue can work wonders ;)), watched some movies, etc. Nice and quiet, even if too hot.

Sunday, the fun began. First, no solid food for the next 24+ hours. Clear liquids only. And nothing with red/purple food dyes. Lime Jello was as solid as it got. At 9:30 I had to leave for the nursing home to supervise the Community Service kids. Hungry. And it looks like rain. I check the weather radar. Sure enough, a line of thunderstorms less than 10 miles away. Sorry, Cocoa and Cleo, I'll put you dogs out after I get home at lunchtime. You won't like it out there pretty soon. Sure enough, less than 3 miles down the road, big, fat raindrops start splattering the windshield. By the time I get to the nursing home, there's lightning all around, and the rain is pouring down. The storms continue off and on all day.

By quarter to twelve, I'm done at the nursing home, so I drive up to the 72nd Street Flea Market to pick up the bed rails for a bunkbed we bought for the grandsons a couple weeks earlier. I had put it together, and found three of the four rails were missing. We informed the lady we bought it from, and she had called back to say she had found them. But the Flea Market is only open Friday evening, Saturday, and Sunday. I picked up the rails, dropped them at my daughter's and headed home. It had stopped raining for the moment, so the dogs went out back. By now I was starving. Broth was on the list of allowed liquids, so I heated up a can of beef broth and drank it down. By now, it tasted delicious. I went upstairs and killed time waiting for my wife to get home by installing KDE4.3 on my computer. About 3:00pm, I noticed I was getting quite a headache. I went back downstairs and checked the beef broth can. There it was, the 3rd ingredient was salt/sodium. I went back upstairs, relaxed a few minutes, and checked my blood pressure. 156/103. Not high enough to go to the ER, but high enough to give me a good headache. And I couldn't take my medication until Monday.

Finally, about 5:00pm, my wife got home. She's exhausted. Since the thunderstorms are rolling east, she had to fight through them all the way home. Plus, between sick Scouts, arthritic knees, and an uncomfortable bed, she figures she only got about 4 hours of sleep since Friday. During a lull in the rain, we bring in what has to be brought in from the car, and I let her lie down on the bed. Then I tell her it's time I started. She agrees, and reminds me I have to drink the whole gallon in three hours.

GoLitely is a special electrolyte mixture designed to clean your gastro-intestinal system of anything more solid than water. And not leave much of that, either. You drink an 8-oz glass every 10 minutes or so. Chugging is preferable to sipping. And it tastes awful. Like glass after glass of salty water. The instructions say you should notice the effects within an hour of the first glass. They are correct. After that, keep a clear path between you and the bathroom. If there is a second bathroom in the house, so your family can use one while you have complete access to the other, so much the better. GoLitely works by causing a massive influx of water from the rest of your system into your intestinal tract, which then gets flushed out. Repeatedly. "... until the watery stool is clear."

I managed about 3 liters before nausea wouldn't let me swallow any more of the stuff. My "stool was clear", so I decided that was enough. It turns out that most people don't finish a whole gallon. If you have less than a quart left, before you quit, you're doing good.

Monday morning, 7:00 am, my wife takes my to the endoscopy clinic. A pleasant nurse greets us, makes sure I'm the person their records show, that I'm there for a colonoscopy, etc. She has me change into a hospital gown (open to the rear, of course), and gets me situated on a gurney. Then she tries to start an IV, for administering the sedative and any other medication during the procedure. Now, I've never had a problem with giving blood, or having IVs started. Wrap the rubber band around my arm, pump my fist a couple times, and the veins stand right out for easy access. Not this time. After trying and failing, she apologizes, and says she will have the anesthesiologist do it, since he's more experienced. "It's really unfair. First, we dehydrate you, then we stick you in a cold room, and then we expect your veins to have blood in them!"

A little later, I'm in the OR, lying on my side, and they push the sedative into the IV. Next thing I know, it's a couple hours later, and I'm in Recovery. After I'm sufficiently functional, I get dressed and my wife drives me home, where I spend most of the rest of the day in bed.

Diagnosis: slight diverticulosis (common in over-50s -- a high-fiber diet keeps problems at bay), prostate looks normal, and a polyp was snipped out for biopsy. We'll get the results of that in two weeks.

Monday, June 08, 2009

R.I.P. Ellie Mae

This weekend, my old Basset Hound, Ellie Mae, passed away. She was twelve and a half years old. She was ours for over ten years. We had rescued her from going to the pound when her previous owner complained that he received too many "noise" tickets because of her barking.

She fit in well with the family, and got along fine with her new canine buddies. She was no noisier than any other dog in the neighborhood. Her only significant quirk was that she hated having her feet, particularly her toes, touched. This made nail trimming a real adventure.

She loved running in the back yard, complaining about the soccer players in the park beyond our yard when they kicked the ball too close to our fence. She also loved chasing squirrels and rabbits (and the occasional possum) letting them know this was her yard! I remember a couple of times she chased rabbits under our back shed, and managed to burrow so well after them that she got stuck, and I had to get the bottle jack from the van and jack up the side of the shed until she could wriggle free.

A couple of years ago she got into a fight with our lab/spaniel mix dog. They had had spats over the years, as siblings are wont to do, but never anything too serious. This time, though, her back legs and belly were quite torn up. Fortunately, a Basset has very loose skin, so most of the injuries were superficial skin tears, and little damage to the underlying muscles or organs. I helped her inside, to a blanket in the corner of the living room, cleaned her up, and nursed her back to health. Twice a day I carried her up the steps to the front door, so she could go out and relieve herself. Then back down to the living room. As soon as she could walk the stairs by herself, I started taking her for walks, to help her regain strength in her legs. It was during this time that she seriously attached herself to me.

As she was recovering, near Christmas, 2006, her other best buddy, another basset named Gypsy, died suddenly. That night, despite below-zero temperatures, she insisted on running instead of walking, and went over half a mile before I could convince her to slow down. I think it was a release of energy she had pent up, grieving for her friend. After that, our walks returned to walks, with the occasional jog-trot thrown in.

Fully-recovered from her mauling, she was spending most of her time with Coco, the lab, and Cleo, our son's new basset puppy.

Six months later, it happened again.

We have never figured out what triggered the fights. I do know that as she got older, Ellie never appreciated puppy exuberance. Up to the end, she would growl at Cleo whenever she bounced up to her. And Coco, despite being of an age with Ellie, has never outgrown her puppy-like exuberance. She doesn't know how to not bounce. I believe that Coco just wanted to play with Ellie like she played with Cleo: bouncing and rough-housing, and Ellie just wasn't having it.

Whatever the reason, it was back to nursemaid for me. This time it was over three weeks before she was back sleeping in her kennel. My wife and I also decided that she wasn't going to be allowed out with the other two dogs, unsupervised. My new morning routine was now to let Coco and Cleo out into the back yard, and then either hook Ellie up in the front yard, or take her for a walk, letting her back in when I left for work. In the evenings, when my wife and I sometimes sit on the patio in the swing, she would jump up between us, and insist on me giving her a belly rub.

Last Monday, I noticed she wasn't eating her regular dry food. She was drinking, though, and readily consumed the soft treats I gave her. Tuesday was more of the same, but now she was listless, and hardly seemed to have the energy to climb the steps to the front door. Wednesday and Thursday she rallied somewhat. Her eyes regained some sparkle, and she would even sit up when she heard my wife come downstairs. We tried plying her with soft dog food, but she never ate much of it. Water and treats were still good, though. Friday, she seemed to relapse, and when I came to put her to bed for the night, she couldn't get her back legs to support her. So I carried her to her kennel and helped her go in and lie down. I figured if she wasn't any better in the morning, I'd take her to the vet, knowing he'd probably just put her to sleep.

Saturday morning, I woke to hear her crying and barking. When I got down to her kennel, she was gone.