Sunday, July 24, 2011

Oest is the Most!

A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of attending Cub Scout camp with my middle son. I'll compare the experience to seeing "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" in that the experience was bittersweet. By this I mean that you spend an awful lot of time waiting for it and a chunk of time enjoying it... But when it's over, it's over.

These are the boys that I've had the joy of being a Scout leader with for what is now going on five years. This last year is bittersweet.

So I made a movie about it. Enjoy. Thanks, you crazy kids, for a wild ride. Thankfully, I get to do it all over again in a few years when Luke joins the ranks of Isett Scouters.

YouTube Video

The background music is Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" and I mean absolutely no harm in using it to Illustrate my sentiment. And I'm happy to take the video down if anyone has any problem whatsoever with my using it.

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Monday, May 30, 2011


Baltimore National Cemetery, Catonsville, MD
My older boys have been Scouts for years, and part of scouting means doing service. Cheerfully. Hands down, one of my favorite events each year is one known simply as "We Remember."

Each Memorial Day, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts from around the area, representing troops and packs from the Arrowhead and National Pike districts of the Baltimore Area Council converge at the Baltimore National Cemetery to place flags on the headstones of the servicemen and women buried there. Flag placement is followed by a ceremony at the tomb of the unknown (conducted by members of the armed forces and various veterans groups). There are guns salutes. It is a solemn, poignant affair. Bagpipes at this cemetery send chills down your spine, as the eerie sound echoes across the rolling fields filled with row after row of small white headstones representing those who are gone.

The ceremony follows the Scouts' placement of a flag on each grave. We gather at our designated starting points around the cemetery, waiting to be given our flags and permission to start.

It takes mere minutes to blanket the property with the Stars and Stripes, even though each boy carefully measures the placement distance with his foot.

We start out near one of the cemetery's winding roads and fan out where ours rows take us. Its easy to lose track of where you are. In what seems like the blink of an eye, there are no more undecorated stones.

A moment of reverence for a fallen soldier.

That's when I look up and find myself lost in a sea of headstones, each one representing a life of service. Scanning the horizon in awe, I gather my Cub Scout, who is paused in the same moment of reverence. I look around as other leaders and parents are doing the same.

In proper United States Flag etiquette, you raise the banner quickly and take it down slowly. Here, we've fanned out swiftly to accomplish our task and then the poignancy of the moment gives us pause.

We walk back slowly together, and, after I gather my son from his Troop, head up the hill. We pass families paused in front of the headstones of family members. We thank the veterans who have come for the ceremony. Some wear caps that tell us where they served: Korea, World War II, Vietnam. Some are in uniform, still serving. Some are in wheelchairs, with daughters by their sides. My son pauses to shake the hand of one WWII veteran. "We remember," he tells him, reaching out to shake the man's hand.

From his wheelchair, he leans in and wraps his gnarled hands around my son's.

"Thank you."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Key to Making a Difference

Top image: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

About 18 months ago, I dreamt I was in an airport in Rwanda. The structure, on the inside, did not have any of the trappings of an airport situated in the midst of a civil war. Outside, the African sun was burning, bright and hot, an the skies were clear. At eye level, there was sparkling outside the window and a low, indescribable hum. And then, someone near the window howled, and I heard the word "machete" as people began to move frantically. But we had nowhere to run.

Fear, even while in a dream state, sets loose a surge of adrenaline that pulsates through your body like nothing else. As I joined the melee, the terror I felt was palpable. I couldn't shake the idea that I was a sitting duck and that I was going to die on the tip of a bloody blade.

I awoke in a sweat, shaking, and haven't been able to shake that dream since. It's as vivid today as it was that night.

A few months before, my former publisher -- a brilliant, inspiring gent -- posted on his Facebook page that he had just finished reading and had thoroughly enjoyed "What is the What," the autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng. If you don't know of him, he's one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Jim's recommendation was enough; I picked up the book and dug in, and followed with other stories of genocide and the refugees that survived. These stories embedded themselves in my subconscious.

Lower image: UN Photo/John Isaac

My dream, though horrifying, was just that: a dream. As I raced through that airport trying desperately to figure out an escape, I was consoled by the fact that my children were home and safe. Around me, children called out for missing parents, parents for children. If they made it out alive, who would help them? If they had to walk, alone, for hundreds of miles, would they make it? Would they have food? Shelter? Someone who cared? Someone to help them continue to live?

For millions, that support comes from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). I joined the Blue Key Campaign to help ensure that support will continue.

Around the world, millions of people are affected by natural disasters, violence and civil war. Forced from their homes and, in some cases, their countries, they struggle to survive.

The Agency has helped more than 50 million people since 1951. At the end of 2009 alone, there were 43.3 million displaced people around the globe. More than 26 million refugees and 15.6 internationally displaced persons had received help from the UNHCR. Many are children; many have disabilities.

For many of us, $5 is practically pocket change. For a refugee, it can be a key to change. Get your Blue Key to help them. Visit to learn how.

The Blue Key campaign is a project of USA for UNHCR (, which works in the United States to support the UNHCR, based in Geneva.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Stranger than Fiction

I often point out that my life -- mothering three boys, doing urology PR -- can be stranger than fiction. Yesterday it reached a whole new level on the "I couldn't make this up" scale.

Up until yesterday, I had never been in a car accident. And I hope I'm never in another.

I had just picked up my three-year-old from the sitter, and we were following our normal route home, up the hill to the intersection with the stoplight (as opposed to the one without, which I always consider rather dangerous)

It happened quickly, but the retrospective plays in slow-mo.

Pulled up to intersection as always, slowly. (The street has parking on both sides and I live in fear that a child or animal will make a break for it and dart out.) Stopped at the red light. Waited for some goon to do a three-point turn in the intersection on the cross street, even as the light turned green. Then, took my foot off the brake, moved to accelerate and--bam.

A bicyclist came tearing eastbound down the center of the road (I was turning left to go westbound), crashed into my left fender, cartwheeled--with bike--across my hood and dashboard--and fell over to the right side. Thankfully, I was only doing single-digit mileage.

Moved to autopilot. Scout skills. Strong, calm, clear and careful. Stop the car. Check the victim. One bystander helped him get to the curb and I moved the van out of the travel lane. Called 911. Another bystander appeared, he saw the whole thing. Good. Toddler fine in back seat. Pile of napkins for victim to put pressure on the gashes on his face. His biking buddies show up (Geez, were they racing down Frederick Road in rush hour?), brother calls mother. I call husband... Let's get toddler out of van. Rescue team shows up. Three police, fire and ambulance. I'm shaking, but calm and clear.

Statements are given. Victim is stabilized and taken to local trauma center. I'm told that is standard, given that he hit was on a bicycle and struck a moving vehicle. No tickets are written, because this is not my fault (in retrospect, I question this--should this young man not get ticked for failing to travel in the proper lane, riding with no helmet, failing to obey traffic signals an failing to grant the right of way?) and clean up begins. Photos are taken, statements are taken. Another witness had given a statement confirming ours.

Copy of the police report. Drive home. It's all in the motions. Call insurance. Arrange for repairs. Worry about the 18-year old laying in Shock Trauma.

If you want a visual of what a head does to a windshield, here you go:

It may not be clear in the picture, but that's a significant impact. I was moving in the single digits -- 5 mph tops -- but this kid was flying. Force equals mass multiplied by acceleration. There was ample force.

He was not wearing a helmet.

Had he been on the right shoulder, the proper way, I would have seen him.

Had he obeyed the traffic signals and slowed down and stopped, well...

I do hope that he's ok. But part of me also hopes that a lesson in bike safety was learned, even though it was delivered by the worst of teachers.

It's still a bit surreal.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, April 29, 2011

Talk of the Town

This morning, I had the pleasure of watching Prince William of Wales marry Catherine Middleton. While many moms were, no doubt, watching with daughters who were mesmerized by gowns, hats and all the pageantry of the royal to-do, watching with my son gave me a decidedly non-female perspective on the shindig.

- Does getting married make William the king? (She's wearing a tiara, Mom...)

- Why are the guards facing the crowds and not the procession?

- Who needs bayonets at a wedding? (But, like, wow!)

- Why did they come in cars and leave in coaches? (What's the deal with using an old car?)

- Why don't they just walk on that rectangle in the aisle?

- Why are two guys in red and two in black? (Should that old guy be dressed the same as Prince William?)

- Does Prince Charles really need a sword? In church? How can he take it in there?

- Um, really? Trees in the church?

- Why don't they just kiss at Westminster Abbey?

- Why didn't William's brother comb his hair?

- Can we move to Canada and have the day off when William's brother gets married? (Then can I say "eh?" as much as I want?)

- Whoa! That girl's hat has devil horns! What was she thinking?

All valid questions, really. Some I answered easily. Others, I looked up. Some I answered with a blank stare. At least there was tea.

Did you watch the wedding with a kid? What did you talk about?

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