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Look beyond the lapel pin

A VMFP panel discussion gets underway at the 2009 Biennial conference in Arlington, VA.
A VMFP panel discussion gets underway at the 2009 Biennial conference in Arlington, VA.

Six years ago this weekend, Veterans and Military Families for Progress held its biennial national conference in Arlington, Virginia. I was a founding member and for several years served on the board of the national 501(c)4 organization. That weekend event hosted high-ranking government officials from the VA, DOD, a number of national veterans non-profits and other agencies and organizations.  And it was my great honor to serve as chair of the three-day event.

The conference covered weighty issues such as the challenges faced by veterans transitioning to civilian life, reconnecting with their families, and rejoining the workforce. An awards gala recognized the legislative advocacy of Congressman Chris Smith of NJ, former Cabinet Secretary Max Cleland, and Bob Woodruff, the TV News Anchor injured in Iraq. And through a fundraising effort, we were able to reunite and host an entire U.S. Army Fireteam that served together in Iraq.

I’d been involved in Veterans causes since high school when I served as a “candystriper” for not one but two local Veterans Administration hospitals in the Nashville area. The fact that my dad served directly under Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in the European theater during WWII and an uncle was a Marine officer killed at Iwo Jima added to my desire to serve veterans. But becoming a blue star mom was the thing that confirmed my commitment to this noble but small percent of the population as I endured the deployments of my two sons to Iraq a total of five times.

Living in Tennessee at the time, the weekend before that major conference in Virginia, my husband and I were fortunate to volunteer in Operation Stand Down Tennessee’s weekend stand down annual event collecting, sorting and distributing warm clothing for homeless veterans living in the Nashville area who were fortunate enough to be bused to that weekend event. I might sound corny, but my eyes still tear up as I think about those individuals, what they endured and continue to endure because of their service and duty to our nation.

In three weeks time it will be Veterans Day. All over the country politicians will be pinning their Old Glory flags to their lapels.  I’d like to believe they keep our Veterans and those serving and their families in mind as they ponder legislation, budgets and taxes.  I’m afraid that’s not always the case and have found it helpful to follow the legislative updates of non-partisan veterans organizations out there to find out what’s really going on and who’s really advocating on their behalf and who’s really just sticking on the lapel pin for show. Another way is to delve more deeply into their particular voting record for yourself at Project Votesmart. It’s time consuming, but if you’re passionate about it, it will be worth your time to cut through “the filter” to parse votes yourself.

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>Yep, I went! And spreading the love of painting too!

>Yeah, I went. Here’s the brother, sister-in-law, and one adorable niece painting away! My bro and his wife are great parents, realizing that participating with the kids, whether they are into it or busy or not, is so very important. Like me, my brother grew up accepting he had little/no artistic talent and, as a fellow left-hander (with even worse handwriting), is not comfortable with a pen, much less paintbrushes. Les, my sister-in-law, is another story and I can see her getting into this with the girls. It helps that she already had an artistic bent, designing and selling gorgeous jewelry to local folks. And even more helpful, she is committed to introducing the girls to as many artistic endeavors as possible to develop them as individuals.

Painting with the (older) girls is a blast and both are very enthusiastic about it and about learning. I brought them a few good basic paintbrushes to use, and a set of pan paints, watercolor paper (140 wt), and three duct-tape covered boards that I’ve trained them to tape the paper to to produce watercolors that dry flat and with attractive borders.

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>While the Hubby’s Away!

>David has gone to England for a week to visit the family. I only asked for two things from him: 1.) Photos of beautiful or striking that I might be tempted to paint, and 2.) The catalogs, cards, or websites of any good art supply retailers over there in the U.K.

My brother is trying to talk me into flying to the D.C. ar if I come, I’m so bringing my painting supplies.

Without the typical wifely demands (get your minds out of the gutter, people) – cooking and cleaning, I’m tempted to stay here and just paint. Since David left, I have been playing around, drifting back to watercolors for some stretching of tea to visit him and his family – lovely wife and three adorable daughters. I’m tempted but told himhose creative muscles.

So, should I stay or should I go?

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Yay, the Conference is Over! I can go back to painting again!

The weekend conference, put on for Veterans and Military Families for Progress, was a tremendous success despite modest attendance. We were able to push out a lot of great ideas, inform those veterans, military family members, vets advocates, government officials, and the news media in the audience of a number of important issues, developments, and more related to our constituents. I had a lot vested in this because the group included Pete, one of my sons and his “band of brothers” a group of seven Iraq War vets in all who served in deadly Anbar Province together. Three are purple heart recipients and one has been awarded the Silver Star. We had been fortunate to put out a financial appeal ang received donations to “sponsor” the travel expenses and attendance of these men and some of their family members. It was, in my opinion, a great investment.

We all got to listen to Congressmen, a V.A. Assistant Secretary, an Undersecretary of the Pentagon, and a White House Special Assistant too! We heard compelling stories from military family members, veterans, and healthcare providers that treat veterans and those serving, as well as educators, employers and more. The main thing is, it is over, my effort paid off, and I learned and experienced a tremendous amount during the weekend. I know my son and all his army buddies did too.

Now, though, I am spent, both emotionally and physically and I can’t wait to get back to painting! Tonight I am spending the night at my lovely friend Pat’s home, located in the area around Manassas Battlefield! It’s a wonderful quiet and peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of metro Washington, D.C. and we had a gorgeous walk in the battlefield with her black lab, Sherman. Pat, an art school graduate, showed me some of her work and encouraged me onward, noting my photography background would be helpful in composition. I took tons of photos of Sherman in the fields and Pat said she wants to paint landscape paintings incorporating him in them. I’ve promised to send her a CD of the pics. She uses her art, by the way, in her graphic design / trade show exhibit business called Showcase Portable Exhibits. Affordable trade show/ exhibit displays by a talented, great person (and fellow former Blue Star Mom!). Use her if you have the need and tell her “Moesse” sent you!