Letting Go of the Clutter

The other night I had a disturbing dream about which I cannot stop thinking.
The houses on my block were on fire. One after another. It was like a wild fire situation, but we don’t have those in NJ.
When my next door neighbor’s house went up, the firemen told me I had about one hour to get out whatever I could, because they didn’t know if they could stop the fire.
First, all of the living things were taken out. The cats and dogs, and Sean’s snake. They were put in our cars.
Then I stood in my room and looked around.
What could I not live without? What did I actually need?
I grabbed some photos from when my kids were small, and I grabbed the files with our most important papers.
That took 5 minutes.
What else did I need? I realized that as long as my children and my four-legged babies were safe, I was good. I didn’t need another thing.
There isn’t anything in this house that I cannot live without.
Time to purge. Time to get rid of all of the “stuff” that clutters my life and my mind.
Time to let go.

The Case of the Christian Baker

First a caveat – a disclaimer, if you will. I do not discriminate against anyone, and I really do not care about the following:  color of the skin, what’s between the legs, what you “identify” as, what gender you are, who you want to take to your bed (as long as it isn’t a child), etc.  Just be you and allow me to be me.
That said, here are my thoughts on the most recent decision by the Supreme Court of the United States:
The recent Supreme Court decision about the Colorado baker was a narrow ruling because of the scope of the case, not because it was a 7-2 vote.
The scope of the case is only for that one baker, because the Supremes determined that HE had been treated unfairly at the State level. At the time he refused service, the laws were different and the “right to marry” had not yet been determined by the Supremes.
This was NOT a sweeping win for all Christian business owners to deny all same sex couples.  And I limit that to “Christian” because other businesses have been allowed to deny service to gay people without issue.
As a small business owner, it should be my right to deny services to whomever I choose for whatever reason I choose.  I will not represent someone in a DUI hearing.  It is against everything in which I believe.  I will not represent someone who has molested or hurt a child.  I can do that because those people are not in “protected classes.”  But minorities, gay people, etc. who are in “protected classes” seem to have more rights than the rest of us.
But could I refuse to represent a gay person who wants to divorce?  Not that I ever would, because the money is just as good and I really don’t care what two people do in their private life, but I probably could by simply declining the case without giving a reason. That might lead to me being sued. As a small business owner, I could never afford the legal fees to fight it in court, so it would probably just be easier for me to do what they wanted. But is that fair?  Is that justice?
This is a bigger question of whose Constitutional Rights trump. Who has the most protection. Who has the right to get whatever they want no matter what the other person wants.
Why should the gay couple’s Constitutional right to marry (something that isn’t guaranteed in the plain language of the Constitution but more power to them if they want to tie the knot) trump the baker’s right to freedom of religion?
When looking at this objectively, I agree with the baker’s right to say “no” if it is contrary to his beliefs.  Why would you want someone to bake you a cake if they did not want to bake you that cake?  Do you think you would get their best work if you force them to do something they don’t want to do?  Go to another baker.  There are so many bakeries out there.
I agree that small business owners should be allowed to say “no.”  Large corporations or large businesses (designated by number of employees) should not.  If the couple goes to Walmart or Calandra’s (a big bakery chain in NJ) or Carlos Bakery (you know the one – Cake Boss), they should not be told “no.”  But a small business should have the right to turn away anyone for any reason.  They should simply be allowed to say they won’t do it, without giving a reason.
This does feel like an attack on Christianity, but since Christianity is not a “protected class” that is okay.
A Muslim baker refused to serve a gay couple, and that baker was not sued. That baker was allowed to say “no.”
If someone walks into a Muslim business and that business does not want to serve them, they can turn them away.  But a Christian business cannot.  That’s prejudice.  That’s discrimination.  That’s wrong.
So, I hope that the Supremes look at the next case that’s coming down the pike – the Florist from Washington – and gives this some real thought.
How can we be equal if one group has more rights than the other?
That’s the way it used to be so that is why we have “protected classes,” but it has gone too far the other way.
We need equality in this country.
Just my opinion.  You don’t have to agree with it, but you do have to show me respect, just as I will show you respect.

Suggestions to Make America Better

This PC culture is ruining us. We really need to do better. Here are a few suggestions on how we can “improve” life in America.


  1. Everyone Can Join/Win/Succeed Without Trying!

A mother sued when her daughter was not good enough to make a competition cheer team. So now everyone who wants to join, even if they cannot do the stunts, and even if they cause those who have worked tirelessly to win the competition to lose, can join.

Celebrate mediocrity and ban excellence!

We started in the early 90’s by giving everyone a trophy and not keeping score in recreation sports. But that’s not far enough. A participation trophy isn’t good enough any more. We need to make sure that everyone gets that first place trophy and everyone can join any team they want!

Instead of being competitive, because that’s a bad thing and causes stress, we need to take turns winning. The NHL Stanley Cup Finals are going on right now. The Golden Knights are a brand new team and they are playing the Capitals, who have been around for 42 seasons. The Knights will have other seasons. Since they are so new, they should allow the Caps to win. They have tried for 42 seasons, and it’s their turn. It’s not fair for them to lose.

All sports should follow this rule and take turns winning so that all fans get to celebrate their team’s success.

  1. No More Academic Achievement!

Some schools have done away with Valedictorians because it makes the C students feel bad. All should follow suit.

There are those out there who think that colleges and universities should stop accepting students based on academic achievement, because that leaves out those average students.

Children should no longer study and strive to be the best they can be. Because, you know, some children just cannot get that A no matter how hard they try. They cannot pass math even if given modified tests. They cannot read at a higher level no matter what the teacher tries. So that we don’t make them feel like less, we need to bring everyone down. Instead of finding something else in which those students can excel and feel good about themselves, we need to make sure that everyone gets the same grade no matter what.

And every employee has to earn the same salary, be given the same prestige, and be given whatever job he/she wants because it’s not fair to someone who simply cannot perform the more difficult tasks. Who cares that your brain surgeon would have failed medical school had their been tasks! How very intolerant of you not to allow him/her to operate on your brain!

  1. Ban the Best Friend!

Some schools have forbidden students to have to best friends because it could make children without a lot of friends feel left out.  We definitely should NOT teach children how to deal with the heartbreaks of life when they meet someone who doesn’t like them or who no longer wants to be their friend. That’s just too awful.

I can get behind trying to make children be more inclusive and encouraging them to invite others to play with them, so we really need to make sure they don’t choose just one child with whom they may connect more than the others. We need to make sure they don’t want to play with one child more than the others when they are away from school. Why would we want children to have one confident? One other child with whom they can share their deepest secrets? It’s better to let everyone know your deepest, darkest secrets and fears.

  1. Ban Father’s/Mother’s Day!

Father’s Day!  The horror! How could we celebrate Father’s Day when there are single mothers and same sex couples with no fathers! But then, shouldn’t we also do away with Mother’s Day because there are single fathers and, last I heard, two gay men can adopt a baby, so there is no mother in the household?

If schools make Mother’s Day or Father’s Day projects, that might make those children without one or the other feel bad. We cannot have children feel bad and be allowed to learn how to deal with life.

  1. Tear Down the Statues! Rewrite history!

Further, these people who are tearing down statutes and rewriting history aren’t going far enough.

The White House was built by slaves. Yes, those slaves were paid for their labor, but they were still slaves. Burn it down!  Get rid of it!

Some history books are being rewritten to make certain historical events more vanilla. For example, did you know that the Native Americans willingly gave up their land so that the Europeans could have somewhere to live?

We have to make sure that ALL history books show us as conciliatory, humane, kind, etc.

After all, when the Americans decided that we didn’t want to live under English rule anymore, we invited the British to a tea party where we calmly discussed creating our own country, and King George shook our hands and wished us luck.

And that whole Civil War thing you heard about? Don’t be ridiculous. It wasn’t a war. President Lincoln called up each of the Southern States and asked them to let their slaves go, and they listened! It was very peaceful. So let’s make sure that everything that shows something different is gone.

Every Confederate soldier needs to be dug up and dumped in the sea. Why should they get a gravesite?

Make sure the Confederate Flag is completely wiped from everything and everywhere because we cannot be reminded of such negativity.

While you’re at it, make sure that there is no mention of Washington, because he owned slaves. We have to change our $1 bill and rename every place that is currently named “Washington.” Don’t forget to take him out of the history books. We don’t need his type in our history!

Also, Columbus. If there is a place called “Columbus,” we have to change it right away. And rip down his statutes and remove his name from every history book!

  1. No More 4thof July!

Because, you know, there were slaves at that time so not everyone was free. We should not celebrate a holiday that not everyone was free to enjoy.

It doesn’t matter that it was the start of something great. It doesn’t matter that eventually we got the right idea and freed everyone.

And we really need to curb patriotism. It isn’t right for us to love our country. Ban the flag, the National Anthem, and the pledge of allegiance. Since life isn’t exactly the same and beneficial to one and all, even though everyone has the same opportunities, we have to ban all patriotism until we fix it.


But We Are Not Going Far Enough…..

  1. Make All Clothing Generic and Non-Offensive!

People get offended by some t-shirts, so we have to make sure that there are no sayings on any shirts that might make someone uncomfortable.

And religious garb? Get rid of it. It makes people uncomfortable to see the Hasidic Jew with his curls, or any Jew with a Yamaka, Christians wearing crosses, Muslims in Hijabs, etc.

I was watching Justice with Judge Mablean, and I really hoped that this case I saw today was fake. I really did. But I researched it and the policy appears to be true, even if the case might have been scripted. A hockey fan from out of town bought a ticket to see his team play the Tampa Bay Lightning in Tampa Bay. He had first row seats, and he wore his team’s jersey. He was ejected. Tampa Bay has a rule that people in certain sections can only wear Tampa Bay colors. Because, you know, competition is a bad thing. That makes total sense.

And while we are at it, maybe we should do away with those cute little outfits that only skinny, young women can wear. You know the ones…… the girls with the rocking bodies, flat bellies, gorgeous legs, etc.  They can wear those short little shorts and crop tops and look downright amazing. But we need to get rid of those outfits because Sally McFrumpy with the stretch marks, bulging belly, cellulite thighs (you know, most normal women) don’t look as amazing in those outfits and might feel bad seeing Sexy Sally strutting her stuff and turning men’s heads.

  1. Chemically Castrate All Men to Stop Toxic Masculinity!

And while we are talking about turning men’s heads, I think all men need to wear blinders and dark sunglasses at all times so that cannot notice if a woman is beautiful or has great “assets.” For a man to notice a good looking woman is part of this rape culture we hear so much about.

I don’t know why we don’t make all men take a sex drive inhibiter to stop them from getting erections or even getting happy when they see a good looking woman. They will only be allowed to stop taking their inhibiters after they are married and on a strict schedule so they can procreate. That will nip all that toxic masculinity in the bud.

  1. Ban Specific Groups!

We have to also ban all groups that are not 100% inclusive. No more Asian Students’ Union, Black Caucus, Honor Society, Hispanic Legal Society, Black Lives Matter, etc. If there is a specific designation in the title, it has to be banned because it might make someone feel left out.

  1. No More Boys or Girls!

We no longer have the “Boy” Scouts and “Girl” Scouts. We just have the “Scouts.” Because to separate boys and girls is somehow wrong.

But that’s not far enough. Why not completely do away with gender?

You can no longer be a man. “Toxic masculinity” is a bad thing.

You can no longer be a woman.

We are all to just be genderless humans.

Get rid of everything that is either masculine or feminine.  Some languages will have to change because they actually assign gender to inanimate objects. Can you imagine that? A chair being masculine or feminine?  Hair is masculine and a chair is feminine in French. Because that makes sense!

Due to the fact that a very small percentage of the population doesn’t identify as their assigned gender at birth, the majority has to change so that the very small minority doesn’t feel uncomfortable.

That makes perfect sense.

  1. Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down Those Crosses!

Atheists have sued to have crosses removed from different locations, because, you know, they disagree with them.

That’s not good enough. We have to remove ALL religious symbols. Every one of them. All Stars of David, all crosses, etc.  Buildings cannot look “religious.” Those Mosques with the domes must be changed or covered up. They can be domes inside, but from the outside, they have to look like every other building. Because, you know, people don’t like religions they don’t practice and shouldn’t be subjected to seeing their symbols.

And get all mention of God out of society. Change our money. Change our Pledge of Allegiance, stop praying at all events, etc.

  1. Generic Society Time!

We, in the land of the perpetually offended, have to do better. Wehave to make sure we have as generic a society as possible so that NO ONE gets offended. We have to ban and legislate everything that might cause someone somewhere to have his/her feelings hurt.

We have to do away with singular pronouns that denote masculine or feminine. Just call everyone and everything “it.”

We have to do away with separate bathrooms for different genders. Because .01% of society doesn’t know where to pee, so we have to change everything for them.

We have to make sure that our clothing is generic enough that boys and girls who might not identify as his/her birth gender (which should also be banned because, you know, it’s offensive to some), won’t feel bad. If there are no skirts, then persons with penises who want to wear them can.

If we totally do away with gender, persons with penises won’t feel ostracized if he wants to do/wear/be/whatever something that persons with vaginas usually do/wear/be/whatever, because no one will know that there is a penis under there.


Yes, this is sarcasm. Yes, this is not to be taken seriously. I’m simply trying to shed some light on how ridiculous we have become.


Oh, and I know that this will offend some. I don’t care.  Call 1-800-Fuck-Off.

Reflections on Memorial Day – 2018

We have all heard and probably said, “Happy Memorial Day!” But should we be saying “Happy” Memorial Day? Is it really a “happy” day? Last night, I was told to have a “wonderful and happy holiday.”

11082620_734425066656212_8123128271800835040_nI have rough days where this really bothers me. When I grit my teeth and want to scream. But most of the time, when someone says, “Happy Memorial Day” to me, I smile even though my heart my breaking. I am thankful to all of those who gave all, who gave their very lives so that the American public can have a “happy” Memorial Day. So that they can go to barbecues, head down the shore, take a road trip, or whatever else makes them happy, without thinking about what Memorial Day truly means.

I am glad that I live in a country protected by these brave souls so that John Q Public can continue to live in ignorance.

I am the proud Gold Star Mother of Sgt Derek McConnell. A Gold Star Mother is defined as a mother of a son or daughter who died in active duty to the United States military.

My children are Gold Star Siblings. My sister and brother-in-law are a Gold Star Aunt and Uncle. My nephews are Gold Star Cousins. My father is a Gold Star Grandfather.Derek11

That means that this weekend, while so many are headed down the shore, planning barbecues, or enjoying a three day weekend, we are missing someone very important to us.

That means that we know first hand the real cost of war. Not in dollars and cents, but in tears and heartbreak.

That means that we will never again hear Derek’s infectious laugh or bust our sides laughing at his obnoxious and inappropriate antics.

That means that we still have a hole in our hearts and in our families.

That means that we might cry when we think of him, but that is okay.

That means that at times our emotions are raw.

That means that we truly loved and lost a part of ourselves.Derek1

That means that the little boy’s hand I held, boo boos I kissed, and nightmares I chased away will never grow old, have children, or live the life he dreamed,

That means that we have learned that we are stronger than we ever thought. We’ve lived through tragedy and heartbreak so that the American way of life can live on.

That means that when someone wishes me a Happy Memorial Day, I choke back the tears as I think about the true meaning of this day.

Since WWII, my family has lost four brave men while in military service to this country. In 1942, my paternal grandfather lost two of his brothers.  Albert Fuller was a Merchant Marine who died on a torpedoed tanker, and Frank Fuller was a Lt. Commander in the US Navy who also perished on a tanker in the South Pacific.  My paternal grandmother lost her brother, John Keane, in 1945 in Germany.  All three of those men were from New Jersey, with one, John Keane, having emigrated here from Scotland when he was a child and became a US citizen.

Only seven short years ago, I celebrated Memorial Day with two sons in the Armed Forces. Michael was finishing his tour of duty in Norfolk, Virginia, but Derek had deployed to Afghanistan in March 2011 with the 10thMountain Division out of Fort Drum, New York where Derek exemplified the 10thMountain’s Motto: “Climb to Glory”.

On July 23, 2011, Derek was injured while attempting to secure a landing zone for a medevac helicopter for an injured lieutenant, Derek encountered not one, but two IEDs.  The first one knocked him down, but he sustained no further injury.  When given the opportunity to stand down, he laughed and carried on.  Two steps later, he wasn’t so lucky.

Derek23Derek suffered amputations to both legs, the left leg from the hip and the right leg high above the knee.  He also had a degloving injury to his right arm, leaving the hand not able to function, several fractures, and blast wounds, and he was riddled with infections due to the dirty soil entering his blood stream.  We almost lost him several times to sepsis and organ failure.

He kept his sense of humor through it all and made all of us laugh. When I told him he was a hot mess, his response to me was, “Well, Mom, at least I’m hot.”  His sense of humor is something none of us will forget.

Derek fought hard, and never gave up.   He learned to walk again on high tech prosthetics, learned to be independent, and proposed to the girl of his dreams, his high school sweetheart.  They were to be married in January 2014.  Derek aspired to be a writer, and he started his own novel.  He was completing the med board process so that he could be medically retired from the Army, and he was looking forward to coming home in the summer of 2013, and to picking up his service dog, a German Sheppard with an angel’s name, Gabriel.  My sister and brother-in-law, Yvette and Brian Maglio, renovated their home so that Derek would be able to move home.  We were all ready and excited about the future.  Derek knew his limitations, but he was ready to meet them head on.

His dreams and goals were not to be realized.  On March 18, 2013, almost two years to the date he deployed to Afghanistan, he climbed to eternal glory.  Sgt Derek McConnell, 23 years old like so many other Veterans; made the ultimate sacrifice and wrote a blank check payable to The United States of America, for an unknown amount, but “up to, and including, his life…”

But Derek is only one of our brave men and women who answered the call to serve our country.  He is but one.  We are but one Gold Star Family honoring and remembering our military heroes on this Memorial Day.

Please bear with me while I tell you about a few more of those brave men from New Jersey, many of whom are buried only stones away from my son at Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington.

ZilLt. Dennis W. Zilinski, age 23 from Howell, and SSgt. Edward Karolasz, age 25, from Kearny, were killed near Baiji, north of Baghdad by a roadside bomb
on November 19, 2005. “Dennis stood behind the nation’s mission 100%, ready to serve and protect the freedoms so many citizens cherish,” his parents, Marion and Dennis said.

Screen Shot 2017-05-26 at 3.43.47 PMOn June 5, 2004, we lost two members of the Army National Guard out of Morristown when their vehicle hit an IED in Baghdad. Spc. Ryan Doltz, 25, from Mine Hill and Army Sgt. Humberto F. Timoteo, of Newark, 25. Two other members of the same unit, Sgt. Frank Carvill, 51, of Carlstadt, and Spc. Christopher Duffy, 26, of Brick, were killed days earlier in an ambush.



Army Staff Sgt. Timothy R. McGill, 30, of Ramsey, N.J., was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, Middletown, R.I. and died Sept. 21, 2013



Today, we pause to honor all of those lost in military conflict since the start of our great nation, which is more than 1.3 million.  Their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their families can never be forgotten.

I want everyone to have fun this weekend.  Have a BBQ.  Go down the shore.  Go for a swim.  But please also pause to remember WHY we have this three day weekend.  WHY we enjoy the freedoms we have.  WHY when the National Anthem plays or the flag flies high, we should stand at attention. Why when taps plays, a Gold Star family silently cries.

I challenge every person here to share the true meaning of Memorial Day with five people. Tell the story of ONE person who gave all.  I told you about several here today. Choose one of them, or find someone new. Just please talk about at least one member of our military who gave all so that we may be free.

You are never truly gone until no one remembers you. Talk about those we lost. Share their stories. Keep their sacrifice and memories alive.

In closing, Memorial Day is about so much more than BBQs, the beach, and a long weekend. Memorial Day is a day of reflection and remembrance. It is a day to remember all of our Fallen Heroes from all of the wars. It is a day to think about the families that will forever grieve for their lost loved one. It is a day to be thankful to those who have served and made the ultimate sacrifice. They fought and died to win the freedom and democracy that we Americans cherish so dearly.  All gave some, but some gave all.


Gold Star ID Ceremony

One of my favorite topics of conversation is my children. Today, I had the honor of speaking at a ceremony honoring Gold Star families where New Jersey’s new Gold Star ID Program was kicked off in Morris County by the Clerk, Ann Grossi, and several of us received our new IDs. This is the speech that I gave (give or take a little because when I am at the podium, most things come from my head, not the paper).

My name is Siobhan Fuller-McConnell, and I am a Gold Star Mother.

My son, Sgt Derek McConnell, of the United States Army, was born on October 8, 1989. He came into this world fighting. He was born at only 3 lbs, with a birth defect known as gastroschisis, and he had several surgeries in the first few years of his life.  But it never slowed him down.

In January 2010, at the age of 20, he enlisted in the US Army and shipped out to Fort Benning for basic training. One year later, in March 2011, he left with the 10thMountain Division, 287-B Company, from Fort Drum, NY to the desert of Afghanistan. The 10thMountain’s Motto is Climb to Glory, something Derek aspired to every day.

On July 23, 2011, I received a phone call from Fort Drum advising me that Derek had been injured while on patrol.  While attempting to secure a landing zone for a medevac helicopter for an injured lieutenant, Derek encountered not one, but two IEDs.  The first one knocked him down, but he sustained no further injury.  When given the opportunity to stand down, he laughed and carried on.  Two steps later, he wasn’t so lucky.

Derek suffered amputations to both legs, the left leg from the hip and the right leg high above the knee.  He also had a degloving injury to his right arm, leaving the hand not able to function, several fractures, and blast wounds, and he was riddled with infections due to the dirty soil entering his blood stream.  We almost lost him several times to sepsis and organ failure.  He was the soldier that no one expected to survive. When we arrived at National Naval Medical Center, the future Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on July 29, 2011, they tried to prepare us to lose him. At one point, one of his doctors sat me down and said point blank – I don’t think I can save him. For four months, his doctor talked to us in analogies of Derek being “in the woods.” He was deep in the woods. He was closer to the edge, but not yet out. In November 2011, Dr. Perdue finally walked into his hospital room and announced that the woods were in the rear view mirror. I swear they heard us cheering down stairs in the lobby. Derek beat the odds.

Derek spent 59 days in the ICU and 228 days (seven full months) as an inpatient at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He had 45 surgeries and procedures, and he was seen by 34 different medical teams and services.  He fought through it all.

Derek fought long and hard to regain his health, strength and stamina, but he never lost his sense of humor.  We spent many days sitting in his hospital room, when he was too sick to get out of bed, just laughing at his antics.  We were the place nurses and doctors came to hang out, laugh, and get their daily dose of “Derekisms”.

In high school Derek was the student who showed up to class with a smile and a whole lot of charm.  That’s it.  No homework.  No notebook.  If it was the teacher’s lucky day, he would have a pen with him. Otherwise, he had nothing but his winning personality.  He charmed his teachers into passing him.  He stood up for the little guy.  He fought against injustice.  He was as fierce in battle as he was gentle in friendship and a great ally.  He so loved his family that he had a tattoo of a four-leaf clover on his arm with the name of each of his four siblings on the four leaves.  His favorite sayings were “No Luck, Only Sacrifice,” and “Go Big, or Go Home.”  He had “No Luck, Only Sacrifice”tattooed on his arm, and many of us have gotten a similar tattoo in his honor.  He meant that you do not get anywhere in life by relying on luck; you work hard and sacrifice for what is important.

He was also a hot mess.  When I told him that, his response to me was, “Well, Mom, at least I’m hot.”  He drove his poor fiancée crazy – while he was still in the hospital, he woke Krystina from a nap by throwing things at her, just to tell her he loved her.  He could be heard singing “Baby come back! You can blame it all on me!” at the top of his lungs when he aggravated Krystina and she walked out of the room.

He called me “Silly, Si O Bon,” and whenever he ticked me off, which was often, he responded “But, Mommy!  I’m a cripple!” or something similar.  He loved to aggravate me. What I wouldn’t give for just one more battle with him, or one more “yuck” when I kissed him good-night.

Derek fought hard, and never gave up. He learned to walk again on high tech prosthetics, learned to be independent, and proposed to the girl of his dreams, his high school sweetheart on Christmas Eve 2011.  They were to be married in January 2014 after winning a dream wedding contest sponsored by Naninas in the Park, Venus Jewelers, and others.  He promised to dance with me at his wedding. He still owes me that dance, and I will collect on it someday.

Derek aspired to be a writer, and he started his own novel.  He was completing the med board process so that he could be medically retired from the Army, and he was looking forward to coming home in the summer of 2013, and to picking up his service dog, a German Shepherd with an angel’s name, Gabriel. My sister and brother-in-law, Yvette and Brian Maglio renovated their home so that Derek would have a wheelchair accessible place to call home.  We were all ready and excited about the future.  Derek knew his limitations, but he was ready to meet them head on.

His dreams and goals were not to be realized.  On March 18, 2013, almost two years to the date he deployed to Afghanistan, he climbed to eternal glory.  Sgt Derek McConnell, 23 years old like so many other Veterans; made the ultimate sacrifice and wrote a blank check payable to The United States of America, for an unknown amount, but “up to, and including, his life…”

But Derek is only one of our brave men and women who answered the call to serve our country.  He is but one.  I am but one Gold Star Mother. We all have special stories to share.

Thank you to Ann Grossi and her staff for this ceremony today. Thank you to all of our men and women who have served and continue to serve, for they have made today possible. Finally, most especially, thank you to those who gave all and the families who love and lost them.

When Fiction becomes Fact – Government Control

There was a book I read a while back, Meritropolis by Joel Ohman. The basic premise is that an oppressive government assigned citizens a merit score based on many factors – intelligence, physical acuity, genetics, social interaction, etc. That score determined everything in that person’s life including employment, food rations, housing, education, etc. It was a dystopian novel set three years after “the event,” which we are led to believe was a nuclear war.  I gave it three stars.  It was an okay book.

It seems to be coming true. That work of fiction is becoming reality in China. I saw a report on the news tonight concerning a social scoring system for Chinese nationals that determine who can travel, where one can live, where children can attend school, etc.

This is the report I saw:


I also found this one:


Big Brother is watching. Although this is not happening here in the U.S., is it such a far stretch to think that someday it might? Government is growing.

Government is out of control. Smaller government, with more liberty and freedom has been the American way. How much longer will that be?

In NYC, there are bills pending to restrict smoking to the extent that one will not be allowed to walk while smoking. The smoker will be forced to stand in one place until the cigarette is finished.

Ban On Smoking And Walking Potentially Coming To NYC Streets

Mayor Bloomberg tried to outlaw large sodas. He failed.

Also, I saw a report today that NYC wants to ban single use bottles of soda, water, etc.

City Council Considering Ban On Sale Of Single Use Plastic Bottles At Parks, Beaches

And don’t even get me started on the attempt to infringe on the Second Amendment. That’s an entry for another day.

Be careful, America. Our freedoms are being whittled away slowly. One day we will wake up and realize that the liberty our forefathers fought for in 1776 was in vain.

All Paws On Deck

A few years ago I wrote a blog post for an online magazine that is no more.  Here is that original article I wrote about the Walter Reed Facility Dogs.  It should be updated, because so much more has happened and we have so many new dogs to love, but this is the original:


On August 8, 2011, when my son, Derek, was in the SICU at National Naval Medical Center (now Walter Reed National Military Medical Center)(also known as Walter Reed Bethesda), which is located in Bethesda, Maryland, I was given news that shook me to the core. Derek was septic. His blood pressure was beyond dangerously low. The doctors rushed him off to the Operating Room to try to save him. It did not look good.

In a daze, Derek’s fiancée, Krystina, and I made our way down to Dunkin Donuts for a much needed cup of coffee. On the way back, I noticed two dogs walking through the lobby of Building Ten. I commented to Krystina that they were so cute.

The Golden Retriever’s ears perked up, and she “dragged” her handler over to us. It was as if she knew I needed her. She herded me into the chairs until I sat and began to pet her. Her buddy sat beside her, getting pets from Krystina. For the next few minutes, we were lost in the comfort of the beautiful creatures before us.

Such is the job of Walter Reed Bethesda’s facility therapy pups. They not only give comfort to the patients they visit daily, they help the families deal with hospital life and loss, and help reduce stress for the staff. Eyes light up, treats come out, and smiles abound when the dogs walk onto the floor. They truly are the facilities’ most cherished, if not most important visitors.

At Walter Reed Bethesda, there are three full-time therapy pups (Laura Lee, Sgt Archie, and Bobbie), and one part-time (Susie). All were donated to the hospital by Southeastern Guide Dogs, which is based in Florida. Paws For Patriots is a program started in 2006 by Southeastern, and its goal is to work with service members recovering from injuries. The dog program in Bethesda was started by Dr. David Bitonti in 2007.

The puppies, who are bred by Southeastern, spend about fourteen months with a volunteer puppy raiser who teaches basic obedience and socialization. Upon their return to Southeastern, formal training, which lasts four to six months, teaches the pups what they need to know for their new career. The choice of career is based on individual temperament, and if the original choice does not work out, for whatever reason, the dogs are given a career change. Southeastern has placed dogs with the blind, veterans, firefighters and policemen, as well as with hospitals for therapy dogs.

Laura Lee, who lives with Patty Barry, a civilian employee at Walter Reed Bethesda, is a Golden Retriever. She came to Bethesda in 2008. As the sole therapy dog, she worked her paws to the bone. On June 4, 2010, her workload was eased by the addition of Cpl Archie, and in September 2010, Bobbie joined the ranks.

Archie was adopted by Amy O’Connor as a fifteen month old, German Sheppard puppy. “A German Sheppard was not what I had first expected to receive, but he quickly became a part of our family.” Although Amy now works as a Healthcare Resolutions Specialist at the facility, she is a social worker by training. Walking through the ICU, she saw the effect that Laura Lee had on patients and family members, as well as the staff. “She had a very calming influence,” she said. In the past, after 9/11, she saw how therapy dogs helped ease the family members who were grieving, so she willingly welcomed Archie into her family, and she relishes the work she does with him. In describing him she said he is a typical Marine, “He is focused and hard working. You will often see him scanning the perimeter to protect the other dogs, as well as the patients. He is always on alert.”

When Archie joined the facility, he was nicknamed “Corporal” Archie, but was promoted to “Sergeant” in March 2011. A full promotion ceremony honoring the newest Sergeant was performed by the Marines.

The therapy dogs at Walter Reed Bethesda are given ranks and wear proper uniform coats, made with love by Lily Burch, a nurse at the hospital. Laura Lee is a Rear Admiral (two star) and has her very own parking permit. She really is top dog. Archie is a Sergeant in the Marine Corps, and he is expected to change uniforms when the Marines do. He must wear his woodlands coat in the winter, and Amy makes sure his uniforms are in proper order. Bobbie is a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy Nurse Corps and proudly wears her uniform. “They know when the coat goes on, they are working,” said Bobbie’s proud Mom, Lisa Bitonti, a volunteer at the facility. Lisa is often seen on Cookie Fridays, handing out cookies on the floor, but she is best known for her role with Bobbie. “We love visiting the patients, family and staff,” she said. She makes sure Bobbie keeps all her appointments, including special occasions.

The fourth working dog is a sweet, Golden-Lab mix, Susie, who mostly works in the Pentagon with a Sergeant Major in the Army. She recently joined the staff after the Sergeant Major’s prior therapy dog, Naoma, suddenly became ill and passed away around Thanksgiving 2011. Her death was felt throughout the hospital, and a ceremony in her honor was held in the Garden of Peace (located by the Chapel at Walter Reed Bethesda), where a stone in her memory sits.

Laura, Archie and Bobbie have been part of all of Derek’s milestones, as well as the milestones of many of the wounded warriors. They were there when Derek first stood on his new prosthetics, took his first steps, was promoted to Specialist, received his Purple Heart, and finally left the hospital after a seven month stay. “It wouldn’t be as special without them,” he said at his promotion ceremony. During one visit with Archie and Amy, Amy rushed out of the room to get to the MATC, because a young man needed Archie by his side when he tried out his new legs. “He’s loved,” she said with a smile.

The three regulars have different personalities and temperaments, so there is a pup for everyone.

LauraLaura is alpha and an attention hog. If there is love to be given, she wants it. She is also extremely empathetic, and senses when she is needed. Her wise eyes and constant smile lull everyone into a sense of calm. She works a lot in Breast Care with the women receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer. In a crowd of people, she can pick out the one person who needs her the most. She loves to balance her treats on her nose and then flip them into her mouth to the delight of everyone.

Archie13Archie is, as Amy said, a typical Marine. He is always alert and on guard. He loves children and lets them crawl all over him. “I like him, even if he is a Marine,” commented Derek, an Army Specialist. Archie’s most famous trick is his “high ten” where he jumps up and gives double high paws. “The thing I love the most about Archie is that he makes people smile, he makes me smile,” commented Amy.  “He is real to his core. You know when he is happy, when he is not, when he wants to be with you, and when he needs to take a nap.”

11018895_1057439567619423_5282421495161973558_nBobbie is just a sweetie. She snuggles on the bed, when invited, and gives her rump for a good scratching. She does have a weakness, though, and, shhhh, don’t tell anyone I revealed this: Her only weakness is treats. She loves her food, her favorite of which is celery and other veggies, but she does not discriminate, and she will sit up and take notice whenever there is food around. She works a lot on the TBI/psychiatric ward. Lisa stated, “I was told that she has a way of getting people to open up and talk.” Lisa adds, “It is an honor being on the other end of Bobbie’s leash. She provides the comfort, and I’m so proud being her partner.”

Ask anyone at Walter Reed Bethesda about them, and there are not many who have not met one, or all, of these special additions to the staff. “I love when they come in, and when Archie settles on my bed,” said one patient, who does not wish his name to be used. “I really miss my dog at home, and Archie helps me with that.”

The program at Walter Reed Bethesda is such a success that it is spreading to Quantico. Laura, Archie and Bobbie were invited to Quantico in December 2011 to make a presentation in the clinic. “They have such a great, therapeutic influence,” Amy said.

Lisa also says she is honored “to meet the wonderful patients and their families. They allow us into their lives, and I know my life is more meaningful because of them.”

When at Walter Reed Bethesda, to arrange a visit with one of the pups, contact Patricia Barry (patricia.barry@med.navy.mil / 301-295-7895) or Amy O’Connor (Amy.R.O’Connor@health.mil / 301-319-4447). You will be glad you did.