Saving the flag

Author’s note: Memorial Day is scheduled for May 25 this year. I hope you will take the opportunity to honor our war veterans.

Tag, you’re it.

That’s what the card said to me when it caught my eye as it lay on the ground at the Shell/Sonic/Church’s Chicken station right outside of Katy, Texas.

flag in the trashWhen I picked it up to read it, I saw it was in Spanish and I gave a little “humph” because I can’t read Spanish and I threw it into the trash can.

Right on top of the U.S. flag.

No, that’s not right, I thought to myself when I saw the juxtaposition of our nation’s treasured symbol laying among the empty cups of coffee, the wrappers filled with Sonic burger crumbs, and other gallimaufry of items no longer wanted.

photoI wanted to walk away from it. Wash my hands of it. Not have it inconvenience me and my family on a Saturday afternoon.

Except that’s not what my father, Hollis E. Perry, said in Korea. Or my step-son, Adam L. Leavens,  said in Afghanistan. Or any of the other 1.9 million current members of the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars (VFW).

Instead, they said: “Send me. I’ll go. I’ll defend and honor the flag until death if I need to.” Since the American Revolution, nearly 3 million service men and women have been wounded or died serving the United States.

IMG_1754And until 1899, many veterans were treated like the flag I found in the trash. Then, the veterans decided to band together.  “The VFW traces its roots back to 1899 when veterans of the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902) founded local organizations to secure rights and benefits for their service: Many arrived home wounded or sick. There was no medical care or veterans’ pension for them,and they were left to care for themselves.”

So, my family and I took the wounded and tattered flag from the trash and over to the Katy VFW chapter, not knowing if the group was even open on a Saturday afternoon. But as fate and meaningful coincidence would have it, the chapter was open and volunteer Jim Babin was giving tours of the small  “G.I. Joe” museum established to honor the military veterans who served in wars on foreign soil.

IMG_1761A Vietnam vet, Mr. Babin thanked us several times for bringing the flag to him. “We have a burning ceremony once a month for our flags,” he said.

But we weren’t the ones to be thanked. He was. He gave as a young man in Vietnam and he continues to give today, with no expectation of reward but maybe just a little respect.

We’re grateful we were tagged that day.

God bless America.


Speaking up for a child

Note: If you suspect a child is being abused, please speak up. 
Call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-ACHILD. 
If you're a parent under stress, you can receive help from the
same hotline.

toby_keith_wallpaperCountry singer Toby Keith would have been embarrassed to know that a man wearing a shirt bearing his name was abusing a child.

And if Toby Keith had been where I was, I think he would have done the same thing I did, which was speak up for the child.

It was chaotic situation and when you’re a six-year-old boy at a children’s museum being considerate of other people or of their exhibits isn’t the first thing on your mind. But the grabbing and poking wasn’t any more outrageous than the hundred other six-year-old boys who were grabbing and poking.

But to this boy’s father it was. And his father grabbed his arm. It wasn’t in the firm way that grownups do to bring a child’s awareness to a place other than what he’s involved in. This was the grab and twist your arm way that elicits nothing but a screech of pain and the automatic reaction of fight or flight for survival. And so that’s what this little boy did. He backed up as far away as he could from his father. And every time his father made a step closer to grab at him again, the little boy scooted backwards as fast as he could.

All in the plain sight of the general viewing public, which included me.

I’m a mental health counselor  and I established a local chapter of an advocacy group for kids in foster care because of parental abuse. So when I see things in public that cross the line, I conclude that in private it goes much further.

So I had a decision to make. Ignore it because it’s none of my business, or take a risk and speak up and do it in such a way to prevent further abuse for that incident.

With a sick feeling in my stomach, I chose to speak up. By this time, 220-pound dad had grabbed 50-pound son and carried him downstairs. Pregnant mom and younger brother were following behind. And I followed them, too.

What I wanted to say was “rednecks like you shouldn’t be allowed to have kids.” (Sorry, Toby, but you do sing for the red necks.) “How would you like me to grab your arm like you did your son’s?” “How about I just kick your ass.”

Instead, I joined up with the family on the museum’s first floor where the boy was hiding behind his mother screaming for his father to leave him alone and where father was trying to grab at him again.

I walked up to them and asked “is there anything I could help you with? It looks like everyone is a little upset…”

The parents looked at me like I was an alien but for that moment took their attention off their son and turned it to me. The boy’s mom with brown teeth shifted her stance towards me and explained it all by saying the museum was too much sensory overload.

I affirmed her opinion and encouraged them by acknowledging they had a lot on their hands as parents and that I was a parent and understood the challenges.

Dad just stood there and grinned at me. And then it was time to move on. And I said to them “it will be okay.” And with that, mom, dad, son and brother left.

And I wondered after they left if Toby Keith would have thought like I did that instead of being a redneck dad, that this man “should have been a cowboy.”  Because a true cowboy raises a family with respect and not abuse.

How to make over $400 from your cell phone carrier

iphone6-plus-box-space-gray-2014This worked for me. I don’t know if it will work for you, but you should try. If you’ve had a cell phone for more than a year, you have already spent well into the thousands of dollars in exchange for it.

Sprint has been running a promotion that if I drop my current carrier and go to them, they would give me a plan that I just couldn’t refuse.

I thought that was wrong of my carrier to not offer a loyalty reward, so I called my carrier, Verizon, and told them.

After 10 haircuts my hairdresser will give me my 11th one free. After more than 10 years, shouldn’t my phone carrier be willing to do the same thing? I tallied it up, and the amount I have spent with them could have funded a pension plan.

But you can’t go to the usual 800 number. The first-line customer service agents don’t have any authority to do anything except give you a $100 credit, maybe, and that’s after they ask their supervisor.

Instead, send an email to the executive office. There, a over a dozen young executive office liaisons are trained to handle customers so irate that they felt the only way to receive recourse was to go straight to the top.


Lowell C. McAdam Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

But I was willing to walk away, too. So, don’t call their bluff. Be ready to switch to whoever you think might be the deal of the month. And just remember, the money you’re spending today for texting, talking, and surfing the Internet is going to fund someone’s retirement fund, but probably not your own.

A Wabi-Sabi Volvo

My heart sank as I sat in the group room with my 10 clients on federal probation. I was working as an intern for a mental health practice leading substance abuse recovery groups for people who were reclaiming their lives after serving drug trafficking sentences. As we discussed the triggers that caused them to use, we heard the pelting of hail. We anxiously shifted in our chairs wanting to bolt out and take our rides to shelter. Instead, we talked about honesty in submitting our insurance claims the next day and my clients shared tales of acquaintances they had that they knew would drive their car across town just to have it hit by hail so they could collect money. We mutually agreed before we left session that our hail-damaged vehicles would not be a trigger to use drugs or drink beer.

The Volvo I aspire to drive.

The Volvo I aspire to drive.

I had just bought my 2006 Volvo a few months previous. I was proud that I spent a conservative amount of money on what others judge as a luxury model of upscale liberals who want to make a visible statement of their political views.   I wanted to drive the European-branded car because of its reputation for safety and durability, perhaps fulfilling another aspect of the Volvo-driving stereotype. I was working part-time as a member representative for a small business lobbying group and I traveled long distances for the position.  My husband and I purchased my Volvo sight unseen from Texas Direct in Houston and had it shipped to the eastern New Mexico town where Republicans are as common as the tumbleweeds that rolled across the region’s desert highways.

As a second-hand car, it required a few minor repairs that we addressed. But the pummeling of ice rocks gave the Volvo a forlorn look all the way around. Within a few days of the storm, I stood in line with my clients at the insurance adjuster site. I knew, though, I wouldn’t be using the funds to replace the trunk lid, the hood, or the roof. Instead, my husband and I decided to use the money to pay off the loan we had on the car.

The Volvo I actually drive.

The Volvo I actually drive.

If circumstances had been different, we probably would have made sure my Volvo was gussied up to its original sheen. But at the same time I was finishing up my graduate school internship, I was also moving to another house so my mother could live with us. A bankruptcy listing, the house needed even more attention than my Volvo to bring it to a tolerable working condition. Paying off the Volvo freed up several hundred dollars each month to pour into the house which we bought on faith that we could afford because we were following the fifth Biblical commandment of “honor your parents.”

The Urban Dictionary satirically characterizes Volvo owners this way:  “Although the cars are pricey to buy and maintain, Volvo drivers see them as works of art–well-made machinery that protects their passengers, other drivers, and even pedestrians from the hazards of the road.”

I do see my Volvo as a work of art and I have had difficulty wrapping my mind around how all the dime- and quarter-sized dents all over the car have added to its beauty. To console myself, I have embraced the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi which declares beauty to be all things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

Wabi-Sabi is a frame of mind I continue to develop for the tenuous aspects of my life which refuse to fit in the picture frames I constructed for them. My Volvo is a material manifestation of how my illusions are shattered by the reality of pell-mell running through the world.

Since the initial introduction of Wabi-Sabi through my Volvo, I’ve had other episodes of it. I parked under a tree where birds did their business on it right before I was to meet with a woman I wanted to impress. Recently, I chose a side road and a stranger’s driveway to turn around so I could be headed in the right direction. The driveway’s incline was so steep it tore off the right side of the front bumper. My husband wrangled it back into place. But repairing the bumper came several hours after driving my Volvo around town, me oblivious to the damage, and included an exhibition in the car pool line of my son’s school where many parents drive shiny BMWs, Lexuses, and Mercedes Benzes. None of those cars have hail dents or bird poop that I’ve noticed.

According to an Utne Reader article, “To discover Wabi-Sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly. Wabi-Sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through Wabi-Sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.

Today, when I drive my Volvo I realize I have put on the full armor of a Wabi-Sabi life. If I encounter people who are only living life on the surface, then they may look at me in one of two ways: either enviously or derisively. They’ll experience envy if all they see in me is the status sign the Volvo represents or view me derisively if they judge me for not repairing the external skin which betrays the fine mechanics of the interior.

Sometimes I react to the judgment and I’m tempted to say “wait, you don’t understand. You don’t know everything I’ve been through.” Then, I realize explanations make no difference to people who live on the superficialities of life. And then I remember that this desire to connect with people who aren’t capable of deep connections is also Wabi-Sabi.

And I let it go.

Lonely as a Cloud

There’s opportunity to be a flash of lightening in someone’s life.

The Being Place

We spend our time absorbed in our lives and later discover it won’t endure. The Jeopardy-life trivia that I made my bed 250 days in a row or that I’m abstinent from sugar and alcohol for 1,096 days straight won’t matter to the generation 100 years from now.

The world is divided among people who are struggling or dancing through their day. Some people are walking around with a cloud over their head. You can nearly reach up and touch the cloud, the burdens they bear are so great. Others seem to skip through their life as if under their feet are the white cotton versions of the grey clouds that hang over others. Others don’t have the clouds over their heads or under they feet. They’re dog paddling through the fogginess of their lives. Many days I feel like I’m in the fog category: I’m not sure where I am and…

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