Monday, December 3, 2012

Toys for Troops Christmas 2012: It's a Wrap!

Our 2012 Toys for Troops Christmas boxes event was a phenomenal success. I only have time for a quick post before I dash off to get in line at the post office this morning, but I want to take a minute to tell you about our day.
  • We had an abundance of gifts and volunteers this year.
  • Dozens more worked beforehand, shopping, dropping off donations at my home and office.
  • We had over 600 letters from children, to divide up in every box.
  • Our donation jar had $850.00 in it by the time we left yesterday, bringing the total to $2200.00—enough to cover our shopping and shipping expenses for this event.
Once again, I sit humbled at how much the community rallied to make all of this happen. I'm amazed at our various volunteers and supporters, ranging from ages 3 to 80. Veterans, firefighters, and police officers stepped up to work side by side with soldiers' families, and yet half of those that showed up didn't have any direct military ties—they  just want to support our troops!

Click here to see local news coverage of the event.

And while I'm here, I will also mention that I did win GM's "Our Town, Our Heroes" contest mentioned in the last post, thanks to so many friends voting and rallying for their friends to vote. I'm riding around in style this week!

Off to the post office now!

Thank youu. Thank you so much!


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Driving the Midwest and 2012 Christmas Gifts for Soldiers Event

My cup runneth over, these days. Just as I am gearing up to push, push, push the 2012 Christmas Event for Toys for Troops, I have been nominated and accepted for General Motor's "Our Town, Our Heroes" contest.

I suddenly find myself promoting my cause—which is easy, because I do love my soldier babies—and also pushing *myself*, which I find incredibly difficult.

But if I rally for votes, I stand to win $500 in gift cards, or one $500 gift card, or something, which will come in handy for Christmas gifts for my soldier babies, so rally I will. Because:

There you have it. I am scrambling, because WE need:
  • We need soldiers.
  • We need letters from your children.
  • We need cookies.
  • We need Christmas gifts: DVDs and socks and gee-gaws that you'd put in your own brother, sister, child, spouse's stocking.
  • We need $13.45 to send a box.
  • We need to take care of our soldier babies.

In the meantime I promote TWO events simultaneously and count on those listening to me knowing that I'll hush up in just a minute when this big thing is over.

It's been a bit of a media frenzy. Newspapers, radio stations, and tv stations have picked up on these things, and I still have to summon courage to face them all. Today I asked a radio interviewer to let me know whether I was going to be live or recorded, "so that I will know how nervous to be."

In that interview, I was asked the one question that I am asked over, and over again: "Why? What does it mean to you to do this?"

The first time I was asked that question in a television interview, I broke down on camera. My son was about 10 weeks into his first tour that lasted 16 months. To feel so helpless, and then to have stumbled on something that contributed positively to his day, and have it branch out to his comrades, and then to other troops from all over the U.S....

Well, it was so just much better than being able to do nothing.

After 6 years—after waiting for my son to come back from Iraq twice, after meeting hundreds of other soldiers and their parents, spouses, siblings, and children, hanging out on a few army bases, working with Veterans, Warrior Transition Battalions, and Family Readiness Groups—doing nothing remains out of the question for me.

I still cannot answer that question--in front of a camera, on the telephone, or in writing—without crying.

Do Something.

(Oh. And please: Vote for me!)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Update: August 2012

I'm back with a few more Toys for Troops Highlights!

150 of ours came home in late spring/early summer, and I'm back to scrambling for names and addresses. There are about 25 on the list now, and we hope to add at least 100 more by Christmas. Christmas care packages go out in 13 weeks!

As I mentioned in the last post, I just received the names and addresses of 5 platoon leaders, and we introduced ourselves to them recently with a letter and 100 dozen cookies. I have also sent battery-operated misting fans to distribute to those working in the field.

So, that's where we are now, and Champaign's News-Gazette was kind enough to highlight our endeavors after I rallied on Facebook. It was published yesterday, here:

And now that it's out there, I'd like to back up and acknowledge everyone that helped make just those two projects happen.

The Misting Fan Project


Those that follow me on Facebook may remember that I just tossed out a request: "Buy one of these for a soldier, and I'll mail it for you."

Urbana VFW 630 caught wind of my request, and offered to help me out:

They told me to shop or ship, whatever we needed.

I contacted the makers of the fan, O2 Cool, and they were very helpful, offering me wholesale prices—under one condition: I had to have a resale certificate.

I do not have a resale certificate, Sam I Am, so back to the drawing board for me. I put out another APB, and Sara at Dandelion Vintage Clothing, offered to order the fans for me. I cleared it with O2 Cool, and thanks to Sara, we were back in business!

 Shop here!

100 Dozen Cookies kettlecorn, puppy chow, and rice krispie treats—you don't think I made all that myself, do you? I made a double batch of chocolate krinkles, then the majority of my work consisted of meeting people in parking lots to pick up the goods.

Big-big Thank You to all of our bakers, and to everyone that heard of the project, popped checks in the mail, handed them to me at work, and made Paypal donations. Our bank balance, once again, after shopping and shipping for these two projects, increased. It never ceases to amaze me.

A Bonus Heartwarming Story: 

The day I took the cookies to the post office, a gentleman in the parking lot offered to help me carry boxes. I thanked him and promised him the load was relatively light: "just cookies heading to Afghanistan."

We were the only two customers in the post office so of course I let him go first in line. When he was done, he turned around and folded this into my hand:

I'm as paralyzed about what to write now, as I was speaking then. I'm sure I got "thank you" out about a dozen times while he was racing out.

These are the tales I tell my soldier babies. While I am feeding them spaghetti, I grab their chins and say "strangers just hand me cash to take care of you, y'know."


The card I popped in to all of the boxes.

Since everyone isn't pictured there special thanks to bakers Val Deichman, Nicole Philyaw, Will Page, Sandi Smith, Denise Halberstadt, Sandy Linneman, Katie Linneman & Mark Baker, Tammy and Aryn Zymkie, Barb Comtois, and Sarah Westhoff .

Here's a gratuitous photo of me with the Miller High Life "Give a Veteran a Piece of the High Life" Humvee. That poor guy was ready to pack it up and go home for the day, but I played my "I have a son in the Army" card, and made him get out and take my picture. 

And don't forget: If you have a loved one serving in Kuwait or Afghanistan, we'd love to send him or her a box of goodies. Mail me at, and I'll tell you more!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Moore's OK"

This post has been weeks in the making. I tag up to it and run, unable to collect myself. I don't know where to begin, how to fast forward, or how to wrap it up. I'll start with these blessed words that I heard first, when answering my phone to my son on the other end, 10 weeks or so ago:

"Mom. Moore's ok..." I was crying before I got out the words "what happened?"

"He's on his way to Germany. He's ok. Afghanistan. Roadside explosive, his buddy stepped on it. He's ok. We're waiting for more news."

Steven Moore, or "Steebmo," I dubbed him when I declared he needed a pet name, was my son's gunner in Iraq. The first tour was hellacious, and this young man saved my kid's life on more than one occasion. When they were released for leave upon returning home, Steebmo opted to join Brian in my home, before they went to visit his Mama.

Best Mother's Day Ever, 2008.

We celebrated their coming home in ridiculous fashion.
Lord, I wish I could do it for each and every one of them. 

Hey, while you're home on leave, resting up from a year in hell,
would you mind blowing the pine needles off of Grandma's house?
"Yes ma'am. I'd be glad to."
(Holy shit, I actually put them to work.)

He and and Brian served another year in Iraq, in '09-10. Upon their return, Brian was moved to Ft. Hood, Texas, while Steven and his new family went to Ft. Lewis, Washington. Steven touched base with me early this year that he was going to Afghanistan, but I lost track of his deployment date.

I was merrily blogging, a month earlier, about how I was in a place in this world that I had little left to worry about, all the while I had soldier babies in Afghanistan. I feel a punch in my stomach every time I think of it.


Moore is ok. I've been hesitant to tell his story, or to bother him or his wife too much, for fear of sensationalizing his injuries, or just getting in their face when I can't imagine what they have been through. Of the hundreds of troops we've sent packages to, my Steebmo is the first I've known personally that has been injured. How it completely undid me is fodder for another post.

He has a broken finger, artery damage in  his arm, and lower tissue damage. He is home with his beautiful wife and children now, and begins physical therapy soon.

His comrade lost both of his legs that day. When I finally got up the nerve to ask my son about him, he said, "it's crazy, Mom," and we both sobbed like babies.

Steven's wife has kept us as much in the know as we need to be. I have utmost respect for her, and her protecting her family and her husband with gentle updates that they needed space.

She is Mama Bear, and yet has taken the time to share with me that:

The rest of Moore's company, still with several months left to serve in Afghanistan, has lost 20% of their troops to injury, death, PTSD, and suicide. Morale, as you can imagine, is very low.

That the rest of his company struggles now, trying to hold it together in the midst of these statistics, has brought me roaring out of my place of complacency. A Toys for Troops APB has been put out on the wire, and cookie bakers came out of the woodwork.

Five platoon leaders of this company have cookies galore coming their way, along with a letter asking them to check us out, contact us, and if they think us worthy, to send us the names of their troops.

My message remains steadfast: we might not be saving the world, but if we change the direction of even one lousy day, we've made a difference.

We remain, warriors for warriors.

Stay tuned. 

(Love you Steebmo & Kesha!)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Packages to Soldiers, 2012 Wrap Up

I'm a little late with this post, but it's mostly due to spending the last week or so wrapping up loose ends to what turned out to be a FANTASTIC wrapping and packing event for our soldier babies.

As there is no RSVP for these events, I'm always anxious about what the turnout will be; it's simply unknown...until we know! Slated to start at 1:00, we had 6 or 7 people in attendance at 5 'til. Same at 1:00, and at 1:05. I had a quick, sick feeling when suddenly:

That's kind of how it was.

There was sorting and wrapping:

Stuffing of stockings:

And packing of boxes:

The boxes were tidied and filled with tinsel, then topped off with precious letters from children in Homer and Mahomet, IL, and from Enterprise, Florida (see, I TOLD you that you can help from anywhere!).

One of my favorite vets, Dave Martin, stopped by with a hefty check from the Thank You Veteran's Run. Dave represents at all of our events!

And our last stop, the next day: The post office. Here's a very frazzled Donna, our postal clerk extraordinaire. Even though we called ahead and emailed ahead, and Facebooked ahead, someone at the post office got transferred to another station at the last minute, and they were a little short-staffed.

Most people were understanding, or at least soothed with the homemade cookies we brought to appease them, but there were a few that crabbed at the two poor remaining clerks as if it were their fault.

Oh, and there was one near cat-fight when one lady told another lady to shut her yap, and that if it took FIVE HOURS to process the boxes going to our troops, then they should all damn-well stand in line for 5 hours and be happy about it!! Ooo! That was exciting!

But it was mostly lovely. People did, as they always do when we are taking this many boxes to the post office, hand me cash. It touches me every single time, strangers handing me cash, asking if they can pay for a box, or if they can help.

My favorite part of the post office trip is visiting with Veterans. Older gentlemen leaning on canes as they wait, laughing and reminiscing with us and with each other about care packages they received from their mothers. It is almost always their mothers I hear about, and I think about how young they were when they were in Korea, or Vietnam.

They laugh about the delicious boxes of cookie crumbs they devoured, and how much the letters meant to them then. Their boxes and letters clearly mean as much to them now as they did then, and their reminiscing reinforces everything we do: You know the efforts of this community and these events are still going to be remembered somewhere in this world in the year 2062.

To all of you that continued to work for our troops, to schlep out in holiday crowds and shop for them, to bake homemade cookies and write them letters, and to donate your hard-earned cash to make sure that everyone on our list had a really great Christmas box: 

Thank you.

From every fiber of my being, Thank you.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Spaghetti Dinner Wrap Up

Aurgh, so much to tell, so little time! I'm distraught that time constraints prevent me from telling it all properly, but I'm still here to give you the highlights.

The Spaghetti & the Pasta!

Rob Meister, of Minneci's Italian Ristorante went above and beyond with the spaghetti. And the fettucine alfredo...and the pasta with pesto sauce...AND the pasta arrabiata. All with bread and parmesan, and it was endless; every last person was fed, and fed well. I can't tell you how many times during the evening I heard how great the food was.

If you don't already know it, Rob is running for State Representative; go check him out here!

The Music!

Asking ThreeBird to play was one of the best decisions I made about the entire event; I have no idea what I'd have done to keep people present and entertained when they were done eating. ThreeBird, featuring Jammin' Jimmy Bean, Jesse Frances, and Dave Cooper definitely kept the audience captivated, and this event was more successful as a result of their playing for us that night. The crowd was wow'd, and Clint and I have already discussed future outdoor home concerts at the country casa.

Not to be overlooked, and represented in all of these photos, of course, is Bob Osiek, the Esquire Lounge, and all of the staff at the Esquire. The venue was given to us for nothing, and with bottomless free pasta, I imagine they sacrificed a few burger and pizza sales for us that night. The staff was incredibly accommodating, offering to help out wherever they were needed.

I suddenly have an idea of what it's like to dragged off the stage with a shepherds hook, on an awards show, for carrying on and on while you try to give everyone credit. There were so many that stepped up again. People that show up and work for us and do nice things, and I can't think of anything I've ever done nice for them, except to accept their services.

And oh! The guests that showed up and gave so generously, I can't thank you enough for reaching into your pockets for us. We made $4000 that Sunday night, and when it was all said and done, one thing kept occurring to me: I never directly asked anyone for money. While it was a given that the event was a FUNDraiser, I never wrote letters asking for money (well, one, but I was told to). I didn't ask you to empty your bank accounts. I didn't charge you for Minneci's spaghetti.

I didn't have to.

I didn't have to ask because you care, and you understand. And in every letter I write to every soldier I meet, or will perhaps never meet, I stress to them how much you care. How you leave your comfortable homes, and you gather to support them. I tell them, "Soldier, I'm not kidding; people just give me money to take care of you. So tell me what we can do."

Ok, friends, they're giving me the "wrap it up" cue, and it's time for me to get moving on the Christmas event. (Ahem. It's December 4.) I can't thank you enough, I really cannot.

This is a CAKE, made by one of our sponsors,
Buffy Vance, of Madeline's Confectionary.

Former soldier (airman) baby and now vet
Jeremy Jay rocks the Free Hugs apron.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Spaghetti Dinner October 23

Toys for Troops Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser
October 23, 2011
Esquire Lounge, Champaign, IL
4:30-9:00 p.m.
Spaghetti provided by Minneci's Italian Ristorante
Music by ThreeBird Acoustic Trio

Raffle items are listed below. Each item will be raffled off separately—you will be able to "vote" for what you'd like to win. If you're after the Cheese & crackers, buy your tickets and put all of them in the cheese and cracker box. If you want to go the grab bag route, mix your tickets up. You need not be present to win.




NOOK E-reader + cover with book light

Sephora cosmetics & skin care $600 VALUE

Illinois v. Michigan Football Tickets (& parking pass) Nov. 12, 2011

Illinois v. Loyola-Chicago Basketball tickets (& parking pass) Nov. 11, 2011

Huge basket of TRADER JOE’S sundries: gourmet food and wine

Cheese & Crackers Deli at Old Farm: Meat & Cheese tray for 12 ($75 value)

Maia Roman Spa, Urbana: Gift certificate for 30-minute massage

Bodi Bronze gift certificate

Triple T Oil & Lube--3 gift certificates

Crave Truck:  3 gift certificates for 2 “Hot Mess” Waffles & 2 coffee

Jarlings Custard Cup: $25 gift certificate

Madeline's Confectionary Arts Studio: Cake decorating lesson ($75 value)

Boltini's Lounge:  $25 Gift certificate x 2

Woodours  Activity Teddy Bear from Checkered Moon, at Old Farm

Circles Boutique $50 gift certificate for women's clothing, shoes, and accessories

Dandelion Vintage men and women's clothing, new and used accessories$25 gift certificate

Jane Addams Book store: 2,  $25 gift certficates

Handmade Illini Totebag, by Carrie Kingston

Basket of hair products and supplies, by Carrie Kingston

Mocha Momma $25 Gift certificate

Ippatsu Salon: 3, $40 gift certificates for haircut

Cabot, Vermont: Gift pack of 8 blocks of cheese

Ultimate Upholstery $130 gift certificate for carpet cleaning

Armored Gopher Games--$25 gift certificate

Flooring Depot: 2'2" x 7'5" runner area rug

ARMY basket, souvenirs from Ft. Hood, TX 

2 copies of When We Went to WarInterviews with scores of World War II veterans and others from East Central Illinois. Originally published as a huge special section of the newspaper on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, we've made it into a book as the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor approaches. Terrific writing by Greg Kline and Phil Bloomer, lots of pictures. It will sell for $24.99 when it goes on sale.  

Savoy Recreation Center: Parent's Night

Eastland Suites Hotel & Conference Center: Overnight Stay