Review of The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

The Things They Carried

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a collection of related stories about a platoon of US soldiers in Vietnam. The book is more than a blood and guts soaked through in the leech filled rice paddy story. The author expertly, and with rich prose, returns again and again to the theme of what the soldiers in Vietnam carried, not only in their packs and in their hands, but in their pockets and their hearts. Some of the scenarios are gritty, to be sure, but what story about the Vietnam could NOT be gritty. The author served as a soldier in the 23rd infantry division, 3rd Platoon, in Vietnam, and his stories are magically woven into a combination of biography, autobiography, and fiction. One of the themes is the power of writing as therapy. The narrator is a writer who looks back to relive the war and learns to live again. He writes “I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.” The Things They Carried is a staple in many high school and college literature classes-deservedly so.

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The Dog with PTSD

The author with her dog Tonto

The author with her dog Tonto

Tonto came into our lives in January 2013. He was nine months old and accompanied by his brother Ridley. The foster mom asked me which one I wanted. Two sets of big eyes and wagging tails tugged at my heart. I felt like King Solomon. How could I judge which dog belonged to me?

Of Labrador and German shepherd parents, the two dogs looked and acted differently. Tonto was more Lab. He was golden coated with a German shepherd tail and coarse hair. And he was shy. “Good,” I thought, “he won’t be obnoxious with guests.” His brother was a smaller version of Rin Tin Tin, my childhood obsession. And he was friendly, too friendly, and a little hyper.

I stood to the side and watched them check out the yard, deposit their “gifts,” and chase each other. Then Tonto came to me with a wagging tail. “He chose you,” the foster mom said. How could I possibly turn down such blind adoration? While we were signing the papers, Ridley nuzzled his way into my hand, and I had a brief moment of indecision. But the die was cast, and the foster mother drove off with Ridley in his crate.

Like most marriages, the honeymoon was brief. Tonto and I bonded quickly, but the story was different with my husband Tom. A pattern soon developed. In the morning Tonto was friendly with Tom…until he got dressed. Then Tonto would back up and bark at him. We discovered that our new dog was afraid of men’s shoes. Tonto would not even approach me if I put on a pair of hard-soled wingtips. Maybe it was the clumping way I tottered in Tom’s shoes.

We came to the conclusion that Tonto had been kicked or severely punished for chewing shoes, and our campaign for behavior change began. I suggested that Tom stay in his pajamas during the day, but surprise,  that idea was vetoed. The trainer said to put a pair of Tom’s shoes in the family room and fill them with treats, but Tonto wouldn’t then venture out of the kitchen. I tried spraying him with water when he barked. That worked some, but where was the water bottle most of the time? Our older minds could hardly keep track of car keys let alone a sprayer. The trainer suggested Prozac. Was it for me or the dog?

We’ve had Tonto for a few months now, and the barking-at-shoes dilemma has not been solved. Friends at the dog park have many recommendations, and we’re trying them all–except the one to give Tonto back to the rescue home. The soulful eyes, the silky ears, and the bounding-because I’m glad-to-see-you behavior overrides any repercussions from the trauma Tonto experienced before he came into our home.  Tom frequently goes barefoot, and I’m constantly misplacing the spray bottle. We decided that PTSD really means “Present Tonto Seems Divine.”

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The Responsibilities of Leadership

Lt. Walter Rudin

Walter M. Rudin, USN

The Fourth of July is more than barbeques and fireworks. If you’ve ever attended a parade and heard a fife and drum corps, you’ll understand the how the cadence of those drums embolden hearts and give courage to the men (and now women) going into battle.

My Revolutionary War ancestors were not on the battlefields. They provided support by transporting goods, signing oaths of allegiance, or ministering to the dying.

It wasn’t until World War II that our family had someone in the midst of conflict (that we know). My father was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and served on the USS Jacob Jones in the Atlantic and the Pacific. He saw German periscopes slip into the sea on moonlit nights, he witnessed flotsam pop up after ordering depth charges, and he spent one Christmas Eve on board in the middle of ocean, listening to nurses sing “Silent Night” on a nearby hospital ship.

Men and women need special talents and dedication to be leaders of troops that they will be taking into harm’s way. My great nephew John  is enamored with the Marines Corps. USMC insignia are emblazoned on his Facebook page, bedroom walls, and on his hats, etc. He is currently attending the Marine Military Academy summer camp, learning how to be a strong and confident leader. John’s grandfather, my brother, wrote his grandson a letter last spring about the profound responsibility of military leadership. I proudly share (with his permission) a portion of his touching and articulate message.

March 14, 2013


…Military leadership is different than civilian management. It is both an honor and a burden. Preparing for and/or leading troops into harms way is an awesome responsibility and one not to be taken lightly. It is extraordinary because you may be called upon to lead men and women into combat whereby they risk injury or even death. These brave troops deserve the very best you have to give. They will depend upon your courage, your decisions, and your integrity. They are worthy of nothing less! If you are a good leader, upholding the traditions and values of an organization such as the United States Marine Corps, they will follow you to the Gates of Hell.

Your family, immediate and extended, has a rich and long tradition of military and public service, the Air Force,  the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, education, health care and law enforcement. Our collective spirit resides within you. It will give you the strength and courage to persevere. Military service is not easy, nor should it be. Its elemental purpose is to defend our great Nation and our way of life. Its defense requires men and women with a strong sense of duty, commitment beyond self, personal courage and strength; men and women willing to do violence in our behalf…

Regardless of your chosen path, we love you and are proud of what you have and will accomplish.

Well said, Brother!

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The Purpose of Prayer

I have added a new chapter, among other changes, to the revised version of “Treat Gently, This Gentle Man: A Daughter’s Prayers,” to be released next week through I offer this chapter on my blog for feedback. Do my perspectives on prayer ring true for you? Is there more that I should be saying? I trust you, my readers, with this intimate portrait of prayer.

San Xavier Mission

San Xavier Mission

The Purpose of Prayer

Psalm 145:18

The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him sincerely.

At some point in each of our lives, regardless of religious conviction, we have had challenges so dire, so out of our control, that we know we are powerless. And we pleaded for God’s help. Yet when we have been extraordinarily blessed, most of us have also given thanks. In other words, we have prayed.

I have given hours of thought to the purpose of prayer, especially since so many prayers seem to go unanswered, at least from my experience. “Help me trust your will,” the prayer on the previous page pleads. What did I expect? A sudden feeling of peace and a total lack of doubt? Frankly, yes, that is what I wanted. I didn’t get it.

I have realized, however, that praying to get something is different than praying to understand something. I’m not saying that we can’t ask God to intercede in our lives. I believe that God wants us to come to him with our concerns, but requests, yes even pleading, are only a part of our relationship with God.

In the past year of putting my prayers on paper, I realized that I received the most comfort from using prayer to communicate not only what I needed and wanted but to also tell God, my most trusted ally, about my fears, my confusion, and my doubts.

An anonymous poem illustrates the next step: letting go.

As children bring their broken toys,
With tears, for us to mend,
I brought my broken dreams to God,
Because He was my friend.

But then, instead of leaving Him
In peace, to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help,
With ways that were my own.

At last, I snatched them back
And cried, ”How can you be so slow?”
“My child,” He said, “What could I do?
You never did let go!”

God wants a relationship with us, and a relationship has two directions. I speak, you listen. You speak, I listen. In rich discourse, let us not forget that listening is more than hearing; it is taking in what is being said and considering the words not only from our own viewpoint but what those words mean to the person who spoke them.
So when we pray, are we hanging on to our words with God and not handing them over to trust our true needs for Him to know?  The very act of praying gives us the freedom to get to the very center of our relationship with God. Are we trusting enough to have an honest conversation?

Heavenly Father, I want to remember to have a conversation with you. As with my closest friends, encourage me to ask for help, thank you for my blessings, and to remember others in need. You are lovingly listening to me. May I hear Your words also.

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Are You Tour Worthy?

Where the hell are we?

Where the hell are we?

We all have moments of stupidity like pushing on the out door to enter a store, but this post is for those who are tortured by Neanderthal behavior of tour group members whose personal quirks mar a trip. Thanks to the creativity of my tour friends Victoria, Jane, Carol, and Shirley, I am offering this assessment for determining if you will be an asset to a tour group or if you will evoke eye rolling and mumbled profanities.
The assessment tests three areas of your travel abilities… cognitive, social, and physical. Answer the questions below to find out if you are tour worthy or if you will be directed to other tour companies so my friends and I can travel with sanity.

Are You Tour Worthy?
1. What animal are you most like…a. cat, b. sloth, c. jaguar, d. sheep.
2. When you are get on an elevator, how long does it take to realize you’re not going anywhere…a. immediately, b. 2 to 3 seconds, c. until someone in the back asks if anyone has pressed the button, d. what’s an elevator?
3. How often do you smile? a. often, b. if someone tickles me, c. never, it will stretch my face lift.
4. My friends would describe me … a. as a barrel of fun, b. like a pickle in vinegar, c. thoughtful, d. people call me ‘Flat Line’.
5. My hearing is…a. fine, b. I have hearing aids that work, c. I don’t have to listen to the tour guide because everyone is happy to repeat what she said, d. my nickname is “Huh?”
6. When crossing a street do I …a. look both ways, b. stand just a tad beyond the sidewalk into the street, c. what the hell, traffic is supposed to stop for me.
7. As a tourist I dress…a. like a devil in Prada, b. in clean clothes most everyday, c. people call me ‘Spot’, d. in my favorite T-shirt that says “Speak English, Dimwit.”
8. When interacting with the other travelers…a. people are blessed with my presence, b. I like to hear what people have done and where they’ve travelled, c. I immediately hand out business cards with exaggerated career descriptions so people know they are traveling with someone important, d. are there other people on the trip?
9. How is my health? a. after a dinner of rice and beans I can clear a room in 30 seconds b. I have a bad cold/cold sore/flu but double dipping in the taco sauce is OK because tomatoes kill bacteria c. I cover coughs and sneezes.
10. When visiting churches and synagogues a. I like to point out the breasts on the statues of angels, b. I talk loudly because the acoustics are so bad, c. I am respectful of the religious atmosphere, d. my favorite comment for beautiful religious icons is “holy shit, that’s cool.”
11. On moving walkways a. I stand on the left, b. I wait 3 minutes to get on to be sure I have my balance, c. I stand on the right and walk on the left, d. I do like the truckers do, keep in the middle so people have to slow down and smell the roses.

Answers (give yourself 1 point for each correct answer):
1.d Yes, in travel groups, it’s better to be a follower

2.a  Duh!


4.a or c (If your answer is ‘d’ you might consider therapy)


6.a (subtract 1 for b)

7.b (if ‘c’ is your answer, look at the back of your pants)



10.c (subtract 2 for d)

11.c .
10-11 You can travel with us
9-8 Read about travel etiquette
7 or lower Please click on the link for travel agencies we WON’T be using.

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Not Long Enough

In Honor of My Parents’ Seventy-Second Anniversary Jane and Walter Rudin

April 18

Four  middle-aged couples, myself included, sat at a dinner table littered with wadded napkins, half empty coffee cups, and spots of dribbled food. Our conversation ranged from football, to restrained politics, and finally to the foibles of marriage. We tossed around good-natured comments about the challenges of men and women living together.

“My wife never puts anything away in the same place,” said the surgeon for whom order is key to his professional life. His wife responded, “And your point is?”

The sports widow in the group said, “When men marry, their opposable thumbs should be removed so they can’t work the remote.” The women laughed appreciatively, and the men rolled their eyes.

When an anecdote struck home, the males high-fived their buddies, and the women elbowed each other with empathy.

One person in attendance was not part of a couple, however—it was my ninety-year-old father who had lost my mother three years previous. They had been married fifty-five years. Sharp- witted, and personable, my father was frequently included in the dinners of this “younger” group. When the conversation turned to how long each couple had been married, my friend Mary turned to Dad and asked, “How long were you and Jane married, Walter?”

He sighed. “Not long enough.” He took another sip of coffee and stared off somewhere into memories.

The collective “ahhh” from the women and the stunned look of the men reflected the enormity of my father’s three word response.

As the daughter and chief observer of my parents’ love affair, my mind has replayed the scenes that  revealed their appreciation for each other, and, even if they were together for a hundred years, they wouldn’t have been together long enough.

My earliest memories take me to my father’s homecoming from work each night. My parents would hug and kiss, a little too fervently I thought, and as witness of this affectionate event, I would scream out, “Ewww! Gross!” The more I protested their ardent display, the more enthusiastically they kissed. It was a game in which all the players knew what they were doing. I enjoyed my pronouncement of their uncomely behavior, and they, well, I’m sure they enjoyed the kissing.

My parents were also staunch supporters of one another, and they regularly complimented each other publicly and privately. Certainly there were irritations, but not many. My mother boasted that she never had to pick up after my father, and my father bragged what a great golfer my mother was. A long time smoker, she finally gave it up for him, and she cried her way through withdrawal. My father told her he wanted her around for a long, long time—quitting smoking was the bravest gift she ever gave him.

Yet, they were individuals. My mother liked to watch television, which my father called the “idiot box” and he would read in another part of the house where he didn’t have to hear the noise from some variety show. Many times, they canceled out each other’s votes during elections. And my mother’s most famous declaration was at the beginning of their marriage: “I married you for better or worse, but not for lunch.” Aside from grilling, he never learned to cook , but he could make a decent sandwich and pour himself a glass of milk.

My father always claimed that a portion of their happiness came from an encounter he had with a peat farmer during World War II. On leave, he and a buddy were exploring the English countryside dotted with peat bogs. They came upon a farmer who was harvesting the black gold. The farmer stopped and talked to them. “Do ya’ young fellas have wives at home?” he asked. My father answered “Yes,” and the farmer gave each of them a chunk of dried peat. “Take this home and burn it in the fireplace of your first home. You’ll have a long and happy marriage, I promise ya’.” My mother and father did have a happy union of some fifty plus years… just not long enough.

To celebrate all of our parents, what memories do you have of their love? Please share!

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The N.R.A. I Knew and Want Back


I’ve been playing a lot of Solitaire to avoid writing this post, but a presence within me is tapping, no…pounding, on my conscience to speak up. I write this so that another voice is added to what I hope is the building thunder of a call to action. Enough is enough. We do not need assault rifles and high capacity clips for civilian use, and we shouldn’t allow unlicensed persons to sell arms, especially at gun shows. Neither of these opinions reflects a threat to a sane interpretation of the Second Amendment.

I am not against guns or against gun rights. I still have several N.R.A. badges and medals I earned in camps I attended as a child and teenager; my parents, my brother, my husband and many friends have or have had guns for sport. My brother used to be a police officer and he had weapons for serious uses, which he had occasion to draw but never had to fire. I am a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, so I am no stranger to the passion and purpose of establishing and defending a nation.

The slaughter of innocent children and their teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, is the latest in the assault on undeserving citizens in our country by mentally ill men brandishing assault weapons. They join the list of other victims in theaters, malls, colleges, as well as on the streets of our cities, held hostage by rampant crime made more likely because of easy access to assault weapons. The N.R.A. would have you believe that more weapons are needed, as in arming teachers to protect our schools. Columbine High School had armed officers, and that assault was not stopped. At the shooting of Gabriel Giffords, Joe Zamudio put his hand on the butt of his gun when he heard the shots, but as he got to the scene, Loughner had been tackled and was on the ground. Zamudio jumped on top of Loughner to make sure he would not get away (New York Daily News, 24 Dec 2012). These are just a few of the incidents where guards or concealed carrying citizens could not stop attacks by  gunmen yielding assault weapons.

The N.R.A. used to be an organization that promoted gun safety and marksmanship, but that all changed in the 1977 when Harlan Carter was elected executive Vice-President of the N.R.A.. With his guidance, the N.R.A. stopped being an organization of hunters and marksmen and began its climb to a powerful lobby that zealously defends its no compromise interpretation of the Second Amendment. It is big business.

So, I looked up the Second Amendment. It reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected to service in a militiaand for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. That’s OK.

The N.R.A., however, sees any gun regulation as a threat to Second Amendment rights. Wait a minute. We have freedom of speech, but we can’t libel a person. We have the right of assembly, but we can’t club people in the crowd who disagree with us.

It is the blind, self-serving N.R.A. to which Americans must rise against. There is, for instance, a loophole that allows unlicensed sellers to sell arms to people without conducting background checks. These unlicensed sellers are prominent at gun shows and help arm criminals and “bad guys” (Wayne LaPierre’s term-LaPierre is the current Executive Vice President of the N.R.A.). A Google search on the “Gun Show Loophole” yields multiple studies that reveal the connection between unlicensed sales of guns and crime.

If you are a member of the N.R.A., help take back the organization’s reputation for responsible gun ownership. President George HW Bush resigned his lifetime N.R.A. membership in 1995 when LaPierre called federal agents “jack-booted thugs” after the Oklahoma City bombing. (See the full text of Bush’s letter at )

Refuse to listen to Wayne LaPierre’s fear mongering about threats to the Second Amendment. Informed citizens can and should be skeptical about issues, but healthy skepticism leads to research and fact-finding. It is the N.R.A.’s resolute rejection of any gun control that is so alarming.

For those of us who are not members of the N.R.A., help weaken the stranglehold that the N.R.A. has on any progress for sane, responsible gun control while honoring the Second Amendment appropriately for the 21st century. I am sending this blog posting to my senator, representatives, and my President. Each voice can promote even a little bit towards “peace on Earth and good will towards men.”

Resources you might want to check out:

Brady Campaign

Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

James E. Atwood, America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose

Mayors Against Illegal Guns

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