Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas in Afghanistan: My daughter's message.

Christmas in Afghanistan - a guest post

by Molly Conner on Tuesday, December 21, 2010 at 10:40pm.

As you go to Christmas services this year, please take a minute and remember the servicemen and women who died in Afghanistan this year.

The United States has lost 494 servicemembers this year. The UK has lost 101. Total Coalition Forces casualties are at 702. It is the deadliest year of the war so far. Yet no one in the United States is paying attention. News coverage of the war makes up 4% of media stories, down from 5% in 2009.

Less than 1% of voters polled before the midterm elections this year considered the war in Afghanistan to even be a major issue.

So please, as you celebrate the holiday this year, take a moment to remember those who gave their lives for this country, those who were wounded, those who lost limbs, and those who lost loved ones. I honestly don't care if any of you are for or against the war. Your position doesn't matter. Just please, keep us in mind, remember us, and pay attention when the stories come on the news. Please let the war in Afghanistan take precedence in your mind over Bristol Palin in Dancing With the Stars, or Lindsay Lohan's latest drama in rehab. Please remember us. Have the debate. Ask the hard questions. Decide if it's worth it, and if it is, what more needs to be done, what you can do to help. Visit your local veteran's center, ask what you can do to help. Donate to the wounded warriors project. Or just visit the websites of the units in Afghanistan, and look at the names, pictures, and biographies of the fallen. I link to my own 101st Airborne Division, which has lost over 100 soldiers this year. But they all deserve to be remembered.

I don't believe that all soldiers are heroes. I don't believe that military personnel should be automatically labeled as role models, as too often happens. I don't pretend that hundreds of thousands don't initially enlist for reasons other than patriotism.

However, I do believe, with my whole heart, that when you allow your elected government to send soldiers to fight and die in your name, you owe them the basic human dignity of paying attention, and acknowledging that sacrifice. And yet, nine years into this war, media coverage is down, and the war is a non-issue in the election, while soldiers continue to die at their highest rates yet.

Attention should be paid.

So please, when you celebrate the holiday this year: remember us.

  • icasualties link here

  • Fort Campbell (101st Airborne Division) Eagle Honors pages here

  • Wounded Warrior project here

To my wonderful, supportive family and friends - thank you for everything you've done, every word of support you've sent this tour. This is not meant for you.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Saratoga Restaurant Week and Limoncello Ristorante

Bee Balm Gal's musings have been a bit dark of late so I thought I would lighten up today with a report of Restaurant Week in Saratoga. This is an annual promotion when a large number of restaurants in and around Saratoga offer three-course dinner specials for just $18.19.

The Handsome Husband and I headed out to Limoncello Ristorante where we had never eaten before. Their regular menu looked very tempting but cheapskates that we are, we stuck to the special $18.19 special menu.

The Handsome Husband chose Gnocchi Bolognese, "homemade potato dumplings with a traditional ragu of ground beef, tomato, mushroom, peas and Barolo wine." He nearly licked the plate.

I chose Pollo alle Noci, " tender cuts of chicken with gorgonzola and walnuts." Yum.

Limoncello's waitstaff was terrific - friendly, attentive, efficient. Food was served HOT and at a good pace. The HH* and I will go there again and next time, we will try their main menu.

Two thumbs up for Limoncello Ristorante.

*HH = Handsome Husband


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Heart-breaking news

Fort Campbell, Kentucky, lies along the state's southern border and the nearest good-sized town is Clarksville, Tennessee. The 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army is based at Fort Campbell. This spring, folks from Fort Campbell poured out of there and into Afghanistan to support the so-called surge.

Clarksville's main newspaper, The Leaf-Chronicle, carries a good deal of local Army news. The newspaper's website uses the dark graphic, above, when it carries reports of losses from the 101st Division. This graphic has gotten too much use this year.

Today, The Leaf-Chronicle is reporting six more deaths from the 101st Airborne. By my count, this brings the total number of 101st Airborne soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year - mostly since June and the beginning of the surge - to ninety-eight. In the most recent deaths, the six soldiers were killed Monday when an Afghan Border Police officer turned his weapon on them. The gunman in Monday's attack was a border police officer rather than an insurgent donning the uniform for a day, according to the news story.

As I have written here and here, I have a daughter and son-in-law currently serving with the 101st and I find these mounting losses painful to read about. My heart aches for the families of these brave soldiers.

But aside from these families and readers of the Clarksville newspaper, is anyone noticing?

You can click here to see the faces and names of ninety-two 101st soldiers lost this year. The six new names and photos will be added soon. And if you scroll back down the list, you will find the photos of two local young men: Spc. Benjamin D. Osborn, a graduate of Lake George, NY, High School, who was killed on June 15, and Pfc. David T. Miller, a graduate of Saratoga High School, who was killed on June 21. May they all rest in peace.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Where is the news coverage?

As the mother of one U.S. Army soldier currently serving in Afghanistan, and the mother-in-law of another serving there, I have an urgent question: Where is the news coverage?

My soldiers are serving with the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. As I wrote here yesterday, the 101st has been suffering - in my maternal opinion - alarming losses. I have seen very little news coverage of this.

I am looking for the media, along with U.S. and NATO leaders, to do a much better job of telling us how things are going in Afghanistan. What the media owes us is clear, fair, daily reporting on the Afghanistan War, along with good analysis.

Yesterday, I wrote that I was struggling with how to think about this war. Although in the 1960s and 1970s, I had strong political views about Vietnam, that is not the issue for me now.

In his very good book about the Afghanistan war, Sebastian Junger wrote:

It was a weird irony of the war that once you were here - or your son was - the politics of the whole thing became completely irrelevant until very conservative families and very liberal ones - there were some- saw almost completely eye to eye (War, 2010).

My struggles have nothing whatsoever to do with choosing to support or not support our troops in their brave efforts. Rather, it is a frustration born of not knowing, of not having enough information to form a complete picture of the current situation.

Many American and NATO families like ours have skin in this game. We deserve to hear much more about the war and a lot less about Black Friday and royal weddings. Our deployed troops deserve this most of all.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

The 101st Airborne toll passes 90

Fort Campbell, Kentucky, is the home of the 101st Airborne Division and if you Google it, you will come to this link: Honoring our Fallen Warriors . There, you will find a sobering list of ninety-two photographs accompanied by short obituaries.

The stark facts are these: the death toll for 2010, for the 101st Airborne in Afghanistan, has passed 90. Eighteen Airborne soldiers have been killed just in November.

This week, while the rest of us in the U.S. were shopping for cranberry sauce or tut-tutting about airport pat-downs, families in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, and Norfolk, Virginia, were getting the worst possible news: that Staff Sgt. Sean M. Flannery, age 29, and Spc. William K. Middleton, age 26, died Monday in Kandahar province when their unit was hit with an improvised explosive device.

My heart goes out to these families. May their soldiers rest in peace.

Ninety-two deaths. I don't even know how to think about this war anymore.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Veterans Day, with love and thanks and pride

To some special active duty service people on this Veterans Day...

For our daughter Molly, US Army, on her second tour of duty in Afghanistan....

...and for her husband, Jason Eller, US Army, also on his second tour in Afghanistan...

...and for our hometown friend, James Finnegan, US Army, who has served two tours in Iraq and is now on a third deployment, this time in Afghanistan...

...and for James Mark (by the upper left corner of the flag) US Navy, completing a second tour of duty in Iraq...

...and for David Machell, US Army, currently training to be a helicopter pilot...
Thank you.

Monday, November 8, 2010

November Nor'easter

This Monday morning's cold rain turned into a snowy nor'easter for my drive home tonight. Although the roads were slippery, there was a certain beauty to the evening snowfall, the first of the season. Winter's a-comin'...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Happy Birthday, Jason!

Happy Birthday, Jason!

To our favorite son-in-law, with love and good wishes,
Barbara and Bob

Sunday, October 31, 2010

I miss civilization...

Marilynne Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead, spoke at nearby Skidmore College on Friday night. The Handsome Husband and I went to hear her speak. (She must be cool because she appeared on "The Daily Show" this past summer.)

I wish I had taken notes because I liked what she had to say about the current state of public education. Her talk wasn't mostly about that, though. Rather, she read from three of her books and spoke about writing. Later, she answered questions from the audience.

After her talk, I had the chance to speak with her briefly and I asked if she had written about education anywhere.

"No," was her terse response.

I told her that I hoped she would consider doing so one day, because I certainly agreed with much of what she had said.

Despite her reluctance to schmooze with the likes of me, Ms. Robinson gets my vote for the best quote of the weekend: "I miss civilization...and I want it back."

I wonder if she'd mind if I used it on a product line of bumper stickers, tee shirts, and organic cotton tote bags?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A quiet Saturday

Saturday was a quiet day of chores and home cooking. While the Handsome Husband mulched leaves with our mower, I pottered around tidying up patio plants and putting away outdoor furniture. I am always late doing these things because I live in persistent denial that the warm weather is truly behind us.

Before cleaning out the last of our small vegetable garden, I managed to harvest a few late tomatoes and two small cucumbers. Some of our herbs are still looking good, although the basil was an early victim of the colder nights. The tomatoes and herbs went into the cast iron dutch oven with a pot roast in mid-afternoon for our dinner. Later, coming in from our chores, the scent of the slowly cooking roast was wonderfully comforting.

I posted on Facebook that the roast smelled good and our friend Brian asked for the recipe. The truth is, I rarely do pot roast the same way twice. The key to good pot roast is slow cooking at a low temperature and something liquid in the pot. What you use for the liquid is largely a matter of taste and what's on hand. I've used beef broth, onion soup, wine, diced vegetables, beer, and various combinations of these. The HH is not a tomato fan so I don't think last night's version was his favorite. I liked it, though, all the more for having grown some of the ingredients myself. That feels very satisfying, like being a self-sufficient pioneer woman.

For Brian: one of the best pot roasts I've ever eaten was a Cuban Pot Roast (Ropa Vieja) made by a friend for a dinner party. Try as I might, I can't quite duplicate his recipe. But I am going to keep trying because it was very tasty and satisfying on a cold winter night. The recipe here is a good place to start. Our friend served it with rice and black beans. Yummy.

As I was finishing my chores yesterday, I gathered two small bouquets from the this-es and thats still bravely carrying on in the garden. Some late phlox, purple sage, boxwood, rosemary, ivy, some stalks of red leaves: these I stuck into the little silver plated jug I had bought for a quarter at a garage sale a few years ago. See? I am still refusing to declare the growing season over.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary to John and Kristin!

With lots of love from Mom and Bob

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Unexpected History

The Handsome Husband and I decided to take our two small dogs for a walk this Sunday along the banks of the Hudson River in Moreau State Park. It was a brisk fall day and the river was looking lovely.
We arrived just as the "Indians" - Mohawks, we presume - were beaching their canoes.
A film crew, we were told, was doing a piece about Saint Isaac Jogues. This scary-looking fellow, getting a bit cold between shots, donned a jacket.
It's no wonder. He really had very little on (note the absence of actual, um, pants.)

All sorts of characters were wandering about. Below, the director was talking things over with two more Indians. These two looked as if they might actually have been native Mohawks. (Note my husband in the back left, scurrying to get himself and the dogs out of the pending film shot.)
We were told by a cast member that their finished piece would air on the "Catholic channel" (by which they may have meant EWTN ) and also the History Channel.
We got our walk in by detouring around the film crew.
Moreau State Park is a lovely spot but like many New York State parks, it has a "carry in/ carry out" policy. In other words - no trash cans. The trouble is, lots of people carry in but don't always carry out.
Below, the HH* easily filled a bag with other people's crap on our return loop.
Hey, folks, please don't make my dogs walk on your broken beer bottles.
This probably wasn't an issue for Fr. Isaac Jogues in the 1640s.
Although come to think of it, the Iroquois did, allegedly, cut, chew or burn off several of his fingers so he was no longer able to say Mass.
Really, his was not a happy ending...

*HH =Handsome Husband

Sunday, September 26, 2010

More festivals than you could shake a stick at...

There was a lot going on around these parts this weekend and it was hard to choose which festivals or seasonal activities to go to.

Some friends invited us to go with them to SPAC on Saturday afternoon to hear a free concert by the Air Force Band. The band was sponsored by the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors but there was waaay-y-y-y too much blah blah blahing by them before the concert could begin - 37 minutes worth, to be exact. The band was very good but if I go again, I will go 37 minutes late.

After the concert, the Handsome Husband and I headed to the Brookside Museum in Ballston Spa for their Oktoberfest fundraiser. My HH*, who has a political blog, PlanetAlbany, chatted with NYS Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, below right, at the Brookside event. Good German food was served by the folks from Rolf's Pork Store in Albany. The HH is a big fan of Rolf's.

On Sunday afternoon, I headed out on my own to the Washington County Fairgrounds for the 2nd annual Southern Adirondack Fiber Festival.

There were, as one may have expected, sheep there...

... along with Ewok-like rabbits.

Wool, in any possible form and color, was everywhere. Yarn, fleece, roving, felt, wool still on sheep, raw wool in bags and bushel baskets, wool in the process of becoming something else, along with finished projects, it was all there.

There were llamas ...

... just down the row from the good Episcopal sisters of the Community of St. Mary in Greenwich. The sisters raise Cashmere goats and Merino-crossbred sheep. I bought some of their lovely Blue-faced Leicester yarn (that's another kind of sheep) hand spun at the convent. The sister who sold it to me told me the name of the sheep it came from, but I'm afraid I have forgotten it.
Do you know why some wool is softer than others? It's the crimp. Fine, soft wool has crimp or waves that are close together, such as with wool from Merino sheep. Larger waves in the wool fibers make a course crimp and an itchier wool.
Some farms brought alpacas. Surely Dr. Seuss had a hand in their design.

There were weavers...

...and spinners...

and hookers (rug hookers, that is.)

Some vendors offered undyed wool, which is what I purchased from the sisters. Others offered richly colored roving, like this below, which is the wool before it has been spun into yarn.

Below, Glens Falls fiber artist Robin Blakney-Carlson showed some eager children how to make felted bracelets.

There was a sheep shearing demonstration. Did you know that there are special shoes for sheep shearing?

This Dorset ewe was calm in the hands of the experienced shearer.

Duck herding anyone? This Australian shepherd was as happy to show her stuff with water fowl as she would have been with sheep, we were told. The ducks require less space for demonstrations and training purposes.

My husband sometimes looks askance at me when I bring out my knitting on social occasions. But at today's event, nearly everyone was knitting or spinning something. Good earth mothers, all.
On the way home, I stopped by Saratoga Apple for some wonderful sweet corn, apples, a few pears, some cider, and a dozen warm cinnamon-sugared cider donuts. Yum.
I think I did my part to support local farmers today.

* HH=Handsome Husband


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Feast of the Fields in Saratoga

The Handsome Husband and I trotted over to Saratoga National Golf Club tonight for Feast of the Fields, a fundraiser for Saratoga P.L.A.N. (The letters stand for "Preserving Land and Nature".) Chefs from a half dozen popular area restaurants prepared dishes featuring foods from local farms.
We chatted with Matt Funiciello of Glens Falls, below right, whose delicious Rock Hill Bakehouse breads accompanied many of the dishes. (In addition to their commercial bakery in Moreau, Rock Hill has a terrific cafe on Exchange Street in Glens Falls.)

Tim Meany, below, of the Beekman Street Bistro, was serving a sort of rabbit lasagna and a squash gratin. Both were wonderful. (I happen to love this restaurant already, for its interesting dishes and commitment to local foods.)

Local cider, local beer, even organic vodka, everyone was having fun sampling and sipping.

It was a beautiful evening to be outdoors and as we slipped away, a full moon was rising. A nice way to end the first day of autumn.

Saratoga P.L.A.N. is a not-for-profit land conservation organization offering comprehensive land conservation services to municipalities, developers, organizations and property owners while striving to achieve regional coordination and cooperation in land use, open space and recreational trail planning. It has protected over 3,247 acres of farmland, natural habitats, trails, and water resources in Saratoga County.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Happy Birthday to Miss 'Lexi!!!

Guess who is five years old today?

Happy Birthday, 'Lexi! We send you lots of hugs from upstate New York.

Bet your daddy is thinking of you in Afghanistan today and wishing he could be with you.

Hope you have a wonderful day with lots of fun and presents!

Love, Barbara and Bob

Friday, September 3, 2010

Happy Birthday, Molly!

On the back of this photo, I have written that it was taken in the fall of 1994, which would mean that you were just barely nine years old in this picture. Here you are between your two brothers, during a busy fall when all three of you were playing soccer.

In 1994, I would never have guessed where this birthday would find you. A grown woman now, married to a handsome Army medic...
...with a young blond stepdaughter of your own...

... and very proud parents back home.

As I write this, it is still Friday morning, September 3, here in upstate New York. But in four hours, it will be Saturday, September 4, in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. I am posting this now so that you can wake up to happy birthday wishes and lots of love from your family back home.
With much love, Your proud Mom and Dad


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Steppin' out in Schenectady County

Last week, the HH* and I dined and enjoyed some local music at two different Schenectady County venues. On Wednesday, we went to Freedom Park in Scotia to hear the Rymanowski Brothers polka band. There were enough eager adult polka dancers that the little kids who wished to dance in front of the bandstand, a usual sight at outdoor summer concerts, had some competition for floor space.

Freedom Park is on the banks of the Mohawk River and some folks were out water skiing behind the band shell.
We had dinner at the adjacent (and locally famous) Jumpin' Jack's. Mmmm... burgers and onion rings. Sure tasted like summer to me.

The next night we headed to the glam Stockade Inn in Schenectady's historic Stockade neighborhood. The food was very good. We chose to eat in the lounge instead of the dining room so that we could listen to Sonny and Perley
perform their jazzy/bossa nova music with vocals and keyboard. A very good sax player sat in, but I have forgotten his name. We had first heard Sonny and Perley at a Saratoga First Night venue and liked them very much.
In the Stockade Inn's lounge, we ran into Tim Coakley, which wasn't too surprising. Tim Coakley = Schenectady and jazz. If you live locally and are a night owl, catch Tim's jazz radio show on Saturday nights at 11:00 pm on WAMC.
* HH = Handsome Husband