Sunday, July 31, 2011

A lot to say today...

There is so much I wanted to write about this week that I hardly know where to start.

My Sunshine
My son, my sunshine, just got a good job in the corporate world. Having worked in that world, I am scared for him- oh not like I was scared for his life when he was in Iraq- more like scared for his soul. Those corporate jobs will eat you up and spit you out. The survivors and the people that thrive in that arena have to be able to outfox everyone. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t placate the right people- I was a born rebel- a maverick- a teller of truth no matter what the consequence. I still am.

He should be okay though. I know that military training; that special brand only the US Marines dish out will serve him well and the two years stationed at Annapolis, where diplomacy was essential even though they had authority to shoot and kill gatecrashers- that training will be especially useful.  

And this is not very parental, but I hope he doesn’t lose his little craziness to the big old corporate monster. I like that part of him.

My friend Renee sent me a message this week that a friend of her son’s was missing in Sonoma County. Now I have to say, I usually keep an open mind about these things. I have known more than a few women who have actually run away from the husband and kids for a weekend without as much as a phone call just for the sake of sanity. But my instinct told me this was not the case here. I posted the missing woman’s picture on my facebook page and so did several of my friends and Renee’s friends too.

We had coast to coast coverage and a post from Renee’s son Dominic stating only “it does not look good” that made me think I don’t care if I repeat myself every week- or every day. I don’t care if you are 4 or 104. You really need to be careful and pay attention to your surroundings.

It turned out better than I thought it would, the woman was found, in a hospital, after being kidnapped and held for two days. I don’t know the details, and I don’t need to- here is what we need to know.  She will be okay. She did not die. She was not paying attention to her surroundings.

I sleep with a lethal weapon – no not my dogs- although good money would bet on Toshi to go for a throat. I have a combat knife (I won’t say exactly where I keep it), which belongs to my son, that I know would easily kill a 200 pound man. I never liked knives, but honestly, I have never heard of anyone accidently stabbing them self to death- whereas you can’t say the same about guns. Could I actually stab someone up to the hilt of that knife? Yes.

Here are some basic safety guidelines to keep in mind: (Taken from the Humble Police DEPT.. Humble TX.) 

Strategies for Avoiding Sexual Assault

Assertive Behavior:
Awareness and assertive behavior may be your best defense against becoming an "easy victim."

Walk confidently, directly and at a steady pace.

Real anger instead of fear may not be expected by a would-be attacker and may throw him off-guard.

If approached by someone you sense to be a potential threat, try to stay out of his reach.

Report suspicious or criminal activity to the police immediately.

If you feel you are in danger of being attacked- try to escape the situation by running away from it if you can.

Head for a well-lighted place where you think there will be other people who may be able to help you.

Try in any way you can to attract attention to yourself. Scream. "CALL 911!"

Take a self-defense course.

Trust your instincts. If a person, place or situation makes you uneasy, leave or change it immediately.

Use common sense. If it seems risky, it probably is.
Safety Tips

At Home:
Have good locks (dead-bolts are best) installed on all doors and windows and be sure to use them.

Be sure you know who you are opening your door to. If a sales or repair person is legitimate, they will not mind your asking to see their identification and confirming their identity with the company they represent.

If a stranger comes to your door requesting assistance (e.g. to make a phone call, car trouble, etc.) offer to call the necessary people for him. Do not make yourself vulnerable by opening your door to a stranger, especially if you live by yourself or are at home alone!

For women who live by themselves, never advertise by listing your full name in the phone book or on your mailbox. Use instead your first two initials, or even add another name.

Be cautious about revealing any personal information over the phone.

Draw your curtains or shut your blinds at night so people on the outside cannot determine who is in the residence.

Do not hide a spare key in obvious places such as under the mat, in a potted plant, or the door sill, etc... Know your neighbors.

In Your Car:
Always be sure to lock your car doors, whether or not you are in the car. Always check the floor and rear seat before getting into your car.

When returning to your car, make sure your keys are in your hand, ready to unlock the door and turn on the ignition. They can also be used as a weapon, should that become necessary.

If you suspect that you are being followed while driving, keep on going -- do not stop and pullover until you get to a place that is well-lit and where there are other people to assist you. If practical, drive to the nearest police station and tell them you are being followed.

Avoid parking lots and gas stations that are poorly lit.

Do not pick up hitchhikers nor accept rides from strangers, particularly men.

If your car should break down, or you are in a fender bender, raise the hood and remain in the car with the doors locked until the police arrive. If someone should stop and offer to assist you, roll down the window just enough to tell them they can be most helpful by calling the police for you.

Keep your car well-serviced, with good tires and plenty of gas. This will greatly reduce your chances of being disabled on the side of the road.

On the Street:
When walking alone, act self-assured and confident that you know where you are going.

Walk on the traffic side of sidewalks, not close to alleyways or bushes.

If you suspect that someone is following you, cross the street or walk quickly to a well-lit, well-populated location.

Wear sensible clothing and shoes which allow you to maneuver or run.

Don't load yourself down with packages, bags, books, etc... You will appear vulnerable for attack.

Stay alert and aware. Turn around and look at whoever may be behind you.

If you walk or jog for exercise, try to vary your route or time on the street. Predictable behavior is risky.

If You are Raped:
Go to a friend's house or another safe place where you can get emotional support.

Go to the nearest hospital. DO NOT douche, bathe, shower, eat, drink or change clothes before you go.

Report the rape to authorities (this does not mean you must proceed with prosecution).

Seek counseling. Even if you don't report the rape or press charges, you should contact your nearest rape crisis center for information about counseling. Their services are free and confidential.

Know that it is not your fault. You did not do anything to cause it and you are not to blame.

If you are raped and you live in Marin call: Rape Crisis Center of Marin
(24 hours)

Noodle in better days

I’m really sad to report my Noodle still can’t open his mouth. Tomorrow he is going for an x-ray. He is still eating via syringe- he has lost a lot of weight, even though I am feeding him at least ¾ of a can of food twice a day.

I chop up his pills and grind them to a fine dust that I mix with a little food and put in his syringe. Most of the time I think he gets all of it but sometimes it dribbles back out and is lost.  He has been on antibiotics for 3 weeks, pains pills for 3 weeks, muscle relaxers and steroids for a week now. Every day I tell myself he could wake up and be better in the morning- but so far he is the same.  A sweeter dog never lived. I wish I knew what to do for him.

I had an old friend in town that wanted to see me this weekend. Someone I really haven’t seen for 35 or so years and whose life and mine have gone in fairly separate directions. But I was not willing to leave my dog to fit his schedule- my dog, who has never left my side in 10+ years. These dogs, my boys, have been my constant companions for so long, through so many things-so many hard times, losing them (last year Smokie) is beyond horrible. I’ve been teary all weekend, trying to keep busy cleaning or writing, but I keep tearing up when I think of my little Noodle.  These dogs have made me a better person.

My Boys
So that’s it for this week.  So much, I needed to share it- purge it. Sometimes I think I am cruising and not letting life touch me- then I realize I’m just so used to it I don’t really feel it all the time.  I’m feeling it this week- so thanks for reading. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Creeping Democracy

Perhaps, I am connecting dots that aren’t there, but lately I’ve been thinking about the rise of democracy or semblance thereof, in the Middle East and Arab countries and wondering if maybe- just maybe, the small acts of kindness many of our troops have made towards the predominantly Muslim people in countries we have been at war - have actually had some impact on a world-wide basis.

It could be a mother’s wishful thinking. It could be that I would like to be able to say to my son- See? Look what you started when you asked me to send you medicine for the Iraqi kids. Look what happened when you helped the tribal, western Iraqi’s living on the Syrian border get rid of the gun smugglers and al qaeda thugs? And see? Candy and stuffed animals were a good idea too.

Maybe it’s not such a stretch though.

Here is an excerpt from an article written about Nick’s unit (3/4) and company (Kilo) in 2006.
Story by Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes, Combat Correspondent
3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment

Col. William B. Crowe and Sgt. Maj. Jimmy D. Mashburn spent Thanksgiving Day visiting the Marines of the southern Calif.-based 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, who are based in outposts in the northwest region of Al Anbar Province, Iraq. 
They’re foremost message was simply "thank you for what you are doing for this region."

"I know it’s tough being away from your homes and families" said Mashburn to a group of Marines with 3/4. "But, you are doing an outstanding job here and we’re watching you from afar in Al Asad. 

RCT-7 is the Coalition Forces unit responsible for providing security to more than 30,000 square miles in western Anbar, stretching from the Syrian and Jordan borders, east to the Euphrates River. 

The sergeant major and colonel are based at the regimental headquarters in Al Asad. 3rd Battalion is one of RCT-7’s subordinate units in western Al Anbar Province.

The battalion is three months into a seven month Iraq deployment. They are tasked with patrolling the streets of the many cities that lie along this Euphrates River region, just miles east of the Iraq-Syria border. The Marines here face threats such as small-arms fire and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) every day while operating in the region. 

The battalion also works with Iraqi soldiers and police, mentoring them so Iraqi Security Forces can eventually provide security to their own country.

"It’s good to see Marines with aggression and control," said Mashburn. "You are allowing the Iraqi citizens to taste freedom more and more, and at the same time, keeping them safe from the insurgency." 

Since ¾’s arrival here in September, the Marines have successfully disarmed IEDs, captured wanted individuals and found weapons caches in their area of operation.

"‘No better friend, no worse enemy" holds true with [you all]," said Mashburn, quoting the 1st Marine Division"s motto. 

Along with securing the streets from adversaries, the Marines here have built a good rapport with its civilians. Husaybah, a city that borders Syria and was the setting of Operation Steel Curtain - a 2005 operation which pitted U.S. Marines and local Iraqi tribesmen against hundreds of insurgents - now hosts a flow of business in its market street, clear of insurgent activity. 

"If we can maintain security of their streets, we will have their [local populaces] support," said Cpl. Carl G. Williams, a squad leader with the battalion’s Kilo Company. "They want the insurgency out just as much as we do, so our relationship with them is more of a ‘business" relationship."          
The Good Guys

I met Col. Crowe at homecoming and spoke to him and his wife while we were excitedly waiting for the buses of Marines coming home from Iraq, after what turned into an 8 month, not 7-month deployment. He reiterated to me the incredible job the ¾ did, making headway with the locals and securing what was once known as the wild west.

Since they were so close to Syria, maybe it’s not so far fetched to think that word could travel from one positively affected person to another. My son told me in Husaybah, there were people who intermarried with Syrian citizens, so I know word could spread family to family.  It would take a while, with no facebook or cell phones at hand. But it’s been almost five years since this article was written- more than enough time to spread the word.

I think what we have to remember is- that our brand of democracy may not work for them. But if they manage to shift some thinking and attain some understanding of human rights, maybe some middle ground will be okay for them.

Our country may have been founded on Christian doctrine, but their countries were not. In civilizations as old as these, I don’t think we can expect thinking to change drastically in 10 years or even 20. We can all see a chink in the fragile glass though.  I would really like to think that US troops (in spite of Abu  Ghraib which set us back at least two years) made a difference- and that all of  the families who have sacrificed loved one’s, and all the troops who have sacrificed body parts and mental health, can look back on this time and see that what they did has made a difference and will continue to make a difference as long as the US supports freedom with the right mix of “aggression and control.”
Afghanistan will be a harder nut to crack. It faces warring tribes, corrupt government, and distrust of everyone, a strong Taliban influence and a wavering American ally, more than ready to leave the poppy fields and come home.  The recent assassination of Karzai’s corrupt brother spoke volumes if we were listening. Afghanistan is a war torn country whose opium trade is 1/3 of it’s GDP and no one is really ready to give up that source of income. According to a report by the CIA only about 28 percent of Afghans over age 15 can read and write, so training them to take care of their own country will be at the very least- slow and challenging.

If the same tactics are applied to Afghanistan, that were applied to Iraq, I think there will be hope that someday there will be a meeting of the minds. People will agree to disagree and find common ground. But I think it’s a long way off.  

Maybe it’s the mother coming out of me to be hopeful. Maybe not.  I’d like to think that I base my ideas on more than emotions and wishes. Maybe we will never know if the cases of Children’s Tylenol made a difference in that country- I know it made a difference in how I looked at my son when in the middle of the war- he worried about someone else more than he worried about himself.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


I feel like the Roadrunner who has taken a detour drawn by Wile E. Coyote, off a big old cliff. I landed flat, picked myself up, and started going 100 MPH all over again.

I’m constantly taking detours. Daily, weekly, yearly… life long detours. And yes I do realize that is what life is about- the journey, the trip, the bumps in the road and all that.

I refrain from New Year’s resolutions because I know I will break them- but this last new year I actually had set some goals for myself. By January 7th- the day Nicks dad died-so shockingly young, I knew things would not go as planned. Then in February frozen shoulder- literally my shoulder froze and it was extremely painful- knocked the sassy crap out of me. No one-liners, no jokes, no writing, no real estate studies, no gym, no dog walks, just pain medication and leftover tears from January. My roots grew out, my face found some more lines, my energy waned and I gained even more weight.

Those that know me- know I am always a little grouchy. I’m dissatisfied with the world the way it is. I think we can do better. I know I can do better. I see so many things that I would change if I could- but then I always get sidetracked- like I have ADD- which I do, but I thought I managed it better than this.

While my life was between standstill and broken, I read the news and scoured the internet for information on various subjects. I read numerous books and if nothing else fed my brain with better literature. (as opposed to drug store novels).

I managed to work through the complex and often annoying heath care system for people with no insurance. I paid 185.00 a visit for several visits until they actually referred me to a specialist that was able to give me a shot of cortisone. It was a 5-month ordeal. I realized later- I could have probably gotten on the phone, made a few calls and made an appointment with any Ortho, paid my cash and probably would have saved myself about 800.00. Aside from the out of pocket cash, I glimpsed the frustration my son must feel when he goes to the VA. Only I just had frozen shoulder. I can’t really imagine how the veterans with real health and/or mental issues navigate that system.

The beginning of last month I decided I need to finish a couple of things and get some stuff off my over-flowing plate. So far… I have been sidetracked a few times with things more important than my immediate plans. That’s okay, I tell myself. I don’t know anyone better than me at starting over, picking up where I left off and just writing a whole new playbook.

One of these days I will take the RE exam. I’ll finish any of the three novels I have started, and start any one of the three non-fictions in notebooks and my head. I will get my office cleaned, I will get to the gym and I will lose weight.

Really- all I need is for my family and friends to be okay. I need my son to be happy, healthy and safe- and my nieces and nephews to be happy, healthy and safe. I need my siblings to be okay and get old with me- and I really need my friends to do the same. Everything else is extra.

So if you see me running 100 MPH on a fake road- off a cliff- don’t worry- I’ll be back as fast as you can say Wile E. Coyote.