Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Freakin' Christmas

There's nothing like waking up early on Christmas morning. Really early. Really, really, really early. To the ear-shattering screams and wails of your building's fire alarm.

No kidding. I looked at the clock as I dragged my tired ass out of bed this morning. The red numbers glared 4:32 a.m. While I didn't smell any smoke, a neighbor or two mentioned smelling something like burning turkey as he climbed down the stairs.

Who the hell cooks a turkey at 4 a.m. on Christmas morning?

Oh well. The very nice firemen and one firewoman who was, apparently, the boss (her hat said "captain") let us back in shortly before 5. I wished them a Merry Christmas and thanked them for being there for us on Christmas morning as I staggered back to my bed.

I'm off to see my nieces and nephew. I'm guessing they've been up since just about the time I was getting back to sleep. I don't expect to see any presents still wrapped.

Have a great day and a wonderful Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My annual Toys for Tots post

You know what time it is, right? It's time to crack open those wallets and kick in a couple of bucks for one of my favorite organizations, the Marine Corps Reserve's Toys For Tots program.

Here's one of my favorite commercials of all time...

After seeing that, who wouldn't want to donate? Yeah, you in the back, I can see you trying to sneak out without anyone noticing. I've got my eye on you...

I kid of course. Donating should be voluntary, so let me retell, in part, a story I wrote about last year to help your hearts grow three sizes today:

In December 1994 I spent two days driving around Greensboro, N.C., in a Humvee, in my Dress Blues. My reserve unit was collecting toys from elementary schools and bank drop-off locations for the local Toys for Tots. The best pickups, I will say, were at the schools. Many of the kids donating the toys had given up a shot at a toy they wanted so their families could donate a new, unwrapped toy to a child who would otherwise have nothing.

Toys for Tots began modestly in 1947 when Maj. Bill Hendricks, USMCR(eserve), and a group of Marine Reservists in Los Angeles collected and distributed 5,000 toys to children. Since then, things have grown a bit. During the past 62 years of the Toys for Tots program, Marines have distributed more than 400 million toys to more than 188 million needy children.

Now that's a mighty big tree.

Continuing the memory ... [wavy finger motions] "Dododoloo, dododoloo, dododoloo..." Another cool part of the day I spent collecting was getting to unwrap about a hundred presents picked up from the banks. Despite the wonderful effort some folks went to to wrap up their donations, everything had to be unwrapped to make sure we weren't giving away any S&M Barbie dolls or live hand grenades. That wouldn't have been good. Moral of this story: Donate a toy, but don't wrap it up 'cause some Marine is just going to have fun tearing the paper off.

You can click these links for a list of drop-off locations in the District, NoVa or Maryland (for the last two, you'll have to select a county from the drop-down menu). Now, if you don't have time to go out, buy a toy and bring it unwrapped, (seriously, I'm not kidding) to a drop-off location you can still donate online to the Toys for Tots Foundation. According to its website, more than 96 percent of all donations go to buying toys, books and other gifts for kids, "The 4 percent spent on support principally covers fundraising expenses - not one donated dollar goes to pay for salaries or any other manpower costs."

Times are still tough for many of us this year, but I'm pretty sure anyone reading this can probably spare $25 to bring a smile to the face of a kid on Christmas morning. To put this in more concrete, understandable terms, $25 is way less than you'll pay for round at happy hour this week.
Christmas is just 10 days away, you don't want it to be your fault those kids didn't get anything from Santa, do you?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday's video

As you all know, I like taking pictures. But I can't imagine the dedication it takes to create this video. I tried posting it, but it appears MSN videos don't play well with blogger. Such is life. Still, you should click this link to watch a very very cool video.

The family took a picture of their daughter Natalie every day for the first 10 years of her life. They are all compressed here into 85 seconds.

For those of you who think this might be easy, name one thing, aside from breathing and "evacuating," you've done every day for the past 10 years. I didn't include eating and sleeping because there have been days when I've done neither.

Anyway, hope you have a good Friday and a great weekend.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lives well lived

I was on my way to bed last night when, as usual, I stopped by CNN just to make sure nothing wacky was happening with the world – like the North Koreans shooting south again. I was greeted by their yellow “Breaking News” bar and stayed my finger on the power button to see exactly what was breaking.

Sadly, it was the news we’ve all heard by now that Elizabeth Edwards, 61, had died of breast cancer. Here’s a woman who lived a life we can all aspire to emulate. Successful attorney, mother, the epitome of grace under fire – due to her cad of a husband – warrior against cancer and, I’m sure, a quiet pillar of strength who comforted others more than she asked for herself as her days drew to a close.

You may remember me writing about my mother’s battles (yes, plural) with cancer that ended nine years ago when she was 66, and I think I’ve mentioned how my brother-in-law is a 20-year survivor (he was diagnosed two weeks before he married my sister). To fight back, someone very close to me took a week off in October and raised more than $5,000 for the LiveStrong foundation by riding his bike more than 600 miles from San Francisco to San Diego. And, just before Thanksgiving, a good friend’s mother was diagnosed with what her doctors believe to be a stage IV brain tumor.

So, you ask, why are you bringing us down with all this talk of sickness and death? Well my friends, it’s because I read something yesterday at the
Firecracker’s place and I’m shamelessly stealing the idea for myself.

Read this quote:

“Your life is happening right now and this is the only moment you can control. This is the only minute that really matters. If you are constantly dwelling on something that happened in the past or feeling anxious about the future, you are missing out on YOUR LIFE. Do what makes you happy in this moment and your life will be full.” – Jill Costello

I’ve never really had a philosophy on life before, but if I was forced to pick one, Jill’s wouldn’t be a bad choice. To read more about Jill Costello – scholar, champion athlete, varsity 8 cox and cancer fighter – read this Sports Illustrated article. It's a long one, but well worth every minute. While I’m not going to say it brought a tear to my eye (I wrote too many similar stories as a reporter) it came closer to anything I've read in a very long time.

To Jill Costello, Elizabeth Edwards, my mother, my brother-in-law, my brother, my friend’s mother and everyone who is fighting, fought or supporting someone who has cancer, I wish you every happiness as you forge ahead in life.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Memories of Wars Past

Today is December the seventh. A day that brings to mind for many of us grainy newsreel visions of sunken ships burning on Pearl Harbor’s Battleship Row and Franklin Roosevelt’s speech to Congress.

And it does for me as well, but I also have other thoughts about a different Dec. 7 in the recesses of my memory. Twenty years ago today I set off from Camp Lejeune, N.C., as part of a small band of Marines.

We stole this sign from the beach at Camp Lejeune.
Yes, we Marines can be ironic when we want to.

We were the advance party of our battalion, leading the way overseas. Destination: Al Jubayl, Saudi Arabia. It was into an uncertain future we flew - a couple of days later it turns out. We had some oversized equipment that required a C-5 Galaxy, one of the largest planes in the world. So big in fact, the cargo bay is longer than the Wright Brother’s first flight. So we waited for our plane.

And waited.

Much of the time we while were cooling our heels at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., was spent outside. In the rain. Dealing with the thousand and one details that need to be dealt with before heading into the unknown. And, as with any military operation, there was also a lot of sitting around doing nothing and trying to figure out how to steal the things needed but didn't have from either the Marine air wing or, better yet, the Air Force.

You might think doing nothing would be a good thing, but it’s not. Your mind wanders. Wanders to thoughts of what might happen when you get to where you’re going. All of us had gas masks with us and some of us, the ones Gunny Mike trusted, also had live ammo. Not all of us, believe me, I wouldn’t have trusted a couple of those guys with a loaded water pistol, let alone an M-16 with live rounds. But the NCOs from my platoon were all solid guys and we all had a couple or three full magazines.

In a way, though, it was kinda … exciting. Yes, we were headed to a potential (and eventual) war zone to battle a megalomaniacal tyrant who, at the time, did indeed have chemical and biological weapons. And, yes, war is a bad thing.

But we were Marines. We were 18, 19, 20-something years old and this is what we’d signed up for. Young men and women may join the Army, Navy or Air Force for many reasons: “adventure,” “job training” or “college funds,” but Marines are cut from a different bolt of cloth. While we may not yet have reached Heinlein’s “Everybody fights” credo, Marines really do believe in the concept of “Every Marine is a rifleman.”

We didn’t know exactly what we were heading for, but we had 215 years of history backing us up as we went.

Speaking of fighting, the one memorable event from our time at Cherry Point came the night after we’d finished up all of our prep work and before we got on the plane. After working our asses off for days in the rain, Gunny Mike finally let us have on-base liberty that last night. Much to his everlasting regret, we went to the club.

Before the night was over Gunny Mike visited both the MP lock-up and the ER. The first to bail two guys out, and the second to pick up another guy who was having a MP's German shepherd removed from his arm. Ah the things that happen when you combine ground pounders, air wing types and beer. Lots and lots of beer.

Our battle cry for the next week was, “Hey Gunny, is the club off limits?”

Over the next couple of months I think I’ll revisit more these memories. Christmas and New Years in Saudi. The terror of the dreaded “Ratch” (this is funny rather than scary). January 17. Spades played under a red-filtered light. The most honest game of Monopoly in history.

There are others, and as they come to me I’ll write about them. But for today, I’ll look back on my own personal history with a bit of pride in what I did. Also, I’ll take a moment to think about the soldiers, sailors, airmen and those beautiful creatures we call Marines who have gone and who are still in harm’s way today.

May they all return home safe and sound.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A penguin’s story

About 15 years ago this week, a couple of big boxes arrived in the mailroom of my dorm. Inside was my very first computer, an Apple Power PC 7500. At the time, with it’s 100 MHz processor and 1 gig hard drive, it was beast of a computer. Not the very top of the line, but pretty darn close.

This computer, which I named Opus after Opus the Penguin from Bloom County, served me well for the next six or seven years. Near the end of its service, when all computers get a bit long in the tooth, it suffered a pretty catastrophic crash that required a reformatting of the hard drive. As part of the process, I renamed it Opus II.

Then the dark years arrived, the Windows* years. Although a faithful machine, Evil Opus was, to me, well, evil. Kinda like the arrival of the evil twin on a soap opera. Nothing good ever results.

The clouds parted again in 2008 with the arrival of Opus III, my Mac Mini. O-Trey has been a workhorse. Despite requiring the addition of more than a terabyte of external storage to give me a place to keep all my pictures and music, I have had no one. As small as it is, it's not really that mobile. Or, as Roger Daltrey would sing “mo-bile.”

But guess what? That problem is no longer a problem. In fact, I’m writing this little missive from my couch while watching the Giants kick the crap out of the ‘Skins. Allow me to introduce you to Opus IV...

Oh, sorry, that was a profile shot. Here’s a better view…

And he’s ready for his close-up...

Despite being a little more than a tenth of an inch thick at its...well, thinnest, it doesn’t feel the slightest bit delicate. “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”

I’ve only had him since Thursday night, but I’m already completely satisfied. Along with untethering me from my desk, I can’t wait to use is with my camera while traveling. I’m looking forward to what I can do. In fact, the pictures here were downloaded and adjusted on OIV.

Also, following that first thought, now that I don’t have to be at my desk to write anymore, hopefully I’ll be blogging a bit more. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Only time will tell.


*This used to read "PC" but, as Seb pointed out in his comment, pretty much all computers are "PCs". So for clarity's sake and to not reinforce the whole "two countries separated by a commmon language" thing, I made the change.