Independence Day in D.C.

You can still celebrate Independence Day this year even if crowds aren’t your thing. A star-studded concert on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol will be filmed and televised on PBS.

Among the stars in this year’s concert: Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin. He’s also an accomplished bluegrass musician and he’ll perform an original song he wrote just for this concert about the midnight ride of Paul Revere told from the horse’s perspective), Matthew Morrison, Jordin Sparks, Little Richard, Josh Groban and others. Jimmy Smits will host the show.

Josh Groban also has a special song to perform: His is called “The War At Home” and he was inspired to write it immediately after visiting wounded troops at Walter Reed and hearing their stories. He literally wrote it based on his conversations with soldiers. It is meant to be a song about not only honoring what our troops are doing overseas, but not forgetting them once they get home.

The Concert is called A Capitol Fourth and will also feature Mark Ballas, Chelsie Hightower, the Broadway Cast of “Million Dollar Quartet”, Kelli O’Hara and the National Symphony Orchestra. It will air Monday, July 4, 2011 from 8:00 to 9:30 p.m. ET  A CAPITOL FOURTH can also be heard live over NPR Member stations nationwide, though only viewers will get to see the stunning fireworks display taking place all around our nation’s capital.

In celebration of America’s 235th birthday, the show will be capped off with a rousing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” complete with live cannon fire provided by The U.S. Army Presidential Salute Battery. Also participating in the event will be The Choral Arts Society of Washington, along with The U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, The U.S. Army Ceremonial Band, the U.S. Air Force Band Ceremonial Brass, Members of the Armed Forces carrying the State and Territorial Flags and the Armed Forces Color Guard provided by the Military District of Washington, D.C.  

If you want to know more, check out:, which has a comprehensive viewer’s guide to the 2011 concert.

On MSNBC Wednesday

I was interviewed on MSNBC Wednesday and it just now occurred to me that a clip might exist on the internet. Oh, the magical internet – where one minute of live television recorded via Skype in my daughter’s nursery, can be preserved forever. Watch and, well, watch:

Flash-mobbed in the mall for Father’s Day

So this is a fun story.
Fort Bragg soldier Sergeant First Class Brandon Roller, his wife Shelby and their seven (!) daughters were walking through the mall the day before Father’s Day when more than 35 singers and hundreds of shoppers serenaded them with “America the Beautiful.”

“I’m at a complete loss for words,” said SFC Roller. “Most soldiers do what we do because it’s our job ‒ we don’t expect recognition for it. But to be a part of something like this really puts into a different perspective what we do on a daily basis. I’m honored that my family was able to take part in this event and, in a small way, represent military families around the world.”
The event was co-ordinated by The Army’s Army. The flash mob was produced in an effort to pay tribute to and show appreciation for the troops of Fort Bragg and all soldiers throughout the country. Time Warner Cable plans to offer a video of the flash mob as an On Demand selection.

“While the flash mob focused on one particular soldier, it was intended to pay tribute to the military as whole,” said Janine West, Executive Director of the Army’s Army. “It was just one way for the Army’s Army to honor all of the soldiers and veterans that make sacrifices for us on a daily basis.”

Cumberland Oratorio Singers, a local classical choral music group, provided the singers for the flash mob. Maureen Yearby, a member of the Cumberland Oratorio Singers and Army’s Army member, is the mother of an 82nd Airborne soldier and has a son-in-law in Special Forces. She was more than happy to take part in the event.

“It’s just so important for us to make sure that our soldiers know we appreciate them. I see firsthand what they give up…and I needed to make sure they know that we appreciate everything they do,” said Yearby.

Shoppers at the mall were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime experience as members of the flash mob emerged from nearby stores and began singing. Although taken by surprise, many shoppers joined the tribute by the end of the song.

“[This was] something our family will never forget. It was an experience to remember. Thank you for saying, ‘thank you,’” added Shelby, SFC Roller’s wife.




I’ve been laughing since yesterday afternoon when my sister Kim sent me this picture of my father’s grave. And, yes, I do realize that “laughing” and “father’s grave” are not words one normally uses together. Allow me to explain:
The past few Father’s Days have been melancholy for me. Like many people who’ve lost a parent, I’ve had to fight off the urge to feel sorry for myself, especially after seeing pictures on Facebook of friends hugging their dads and celebrating together. I even got irritated with my husband yesterday when he snapped at our daughter for hanging onto him. I snapped right back at him: “She just wants to spend time with her father. I wish I could.”
(I’m cringing now admitting that I actually said that.)
My sister Kim was apparently also feeling maudlin yesterday and she sent me these pictures of my father’s grave:

(That’s Dad’s truck behind the tombstone. She was feeling maudlin enough to drive around town in it, apparently.)

She also sent this text message:
“I have been to Dad’s grave several times and there was no foot stone. I am riding in his truck for old times’ sake and went by the grave. They do have it now. I think he would be pleased.”
To which I wrote back:
“Umm, yeah, except that they got the year wrong. Dad died in ’08.”
And then the laughter started — and it hasn’t stopped. Chalk it up to a dark sense of humor that started several generations back on my father’s side and continues right on into my children and nieces and nephews, but the fact that Dad’s tombstone is wrong is perfect — the perfect end to a hilarious story.
If you’ve been following my blog for awhile you may recall reading this before. I wrote this post in October 2008, but it bears repeating now. Read on:
Posted: October 28, 2008
Back in the summer I promised that when more time had passed I would tell the story of what happened the day my dad died. I needed some time to pass for it be more appropriate for me to share such an irreverent chain of events. Well, it’s been three months – which may or may not be enough time, but here goes…I’m going to skip over the sad part because I don’t want to go there right now and you all probably aren’t in the mood for it either. This is just the funny stuff.

First off, I was the only one in the room with Dad when he died. My brother John had stepped outside to call our two sisters to let them know that it was the end. All of us had spent the entire weekend sitting by Dad’s bedside and they had to get back to work on Monday. Dad died that Monday morning, July 21st. The hospice nurse arrived just after he had taken his last breath and she began ushering me through the what-happens-next process. My brother gave her the name of the cemetery where Dad was to be buried and the nurse called the funeral home at the cemetery to ask them to come pick Dad up. As she was calling the funeral home, my brother and sister Laura met up to drive over there to begin planning the funeral.
Over the weekend we had all decided that Laura should go with John because John is notoriously frugal. Like my Dad, my brother has never found a penny he couldn’t pinch. Dad told John weeks earlier that he didn’t want us to spend more than $10,000 on his funeral. He was insistent – $10,000 and not a penny more.  And if you’ve paid for a funeral recently you know that $10,000 doesn’t go very far. Dad had the money to pay more, but he just couldn’t stomach the idea – even in death – that he might have paid too much for something. So John started casket shopping a few days before Dad died. John was very disappointed to learn that he hadn’t started his hunt soon enough. Apparently if he’d planned a bit more he could have bought a heavily-discounted casket at Costco.

(Who knew that Costco even sold caskets? Not only can you self-cater your wake with Costco, but you can self-plan your funeral there, too.)

Unfortunately the Costco in Nashville didn’t have any caskets in the store and we knew we didn’t have time to wait for one to be shipped. John went around town all weekend casket shopping, looking for the best deal. He came back and said that he had gotten a really good quote on a wood casket and asked how we felt about wood. We all said that a wood casket, provided that it was pretty and of good quality, would be fine.

“Great, then the one I found will work – so long as it doesn’t rain on the day of the funeral,” John said.
“What do you mean? Why does rain matter?” I asked, my voice getting suspicious, high-pitched and borderline hysterical.
“Well, it’s MDF. The salesman said that it might swell and could possibly come apart if it gets wet,” John said.
I was furious.
“John,” I said, “You cannot bury our father in a MDF casket. I won’t stand for it.”

That’s when John said he was just kidding. He’d really had me going but I think he actually would have looked for a MDF casket if we’d all signed off on it. That’s why we said Laura had to go with him to make the funeral plans.
Anyway, so Laura and John were on their way to the funeral home just as the funeral director was on his way to the house, where I was sitting with Dad’s body and the hospice nurse. The funeral director came into the room and introduced himself. I looked up and nearly fell out of my chair. He looked exactly like the only boy in high school that my sister and I had ever fought over, a fight that I, incidentally, won. The funeral director said his name was Josh, the same name as the boy from high school. It took me a few stunned minutes to collect myself again and to realize that my ex-boyfriend wasn’t my father’s funeral director.
My mother came into the room sometime around then and helped Josh take Dad away. After that Mom and I just sort of looked at each other and didn’t know what to do. After months of working around the clock to manage our lives and help Dad, we had nothing to do. It didn’t feel right for her to go back to work and I didn’t have anything else that I needed to be doing. It was around noon at that time and she asked me if I wanted to go get something to eat. We went to a trendy, noisy restaurant and had just been seated when my cell phone rang. It was my sister Kim, calling from her work.
“Well, is there any change?” she asked me.
“What do you mean?” I said, confused.
“With Dad,” she said. “Has his condition changed any?” she said.
“Kim – Dad is dead,” I said. “Didn’t John call you?”
All of this while waiters are barking lunch orders in the background. I stepped outside to tell Kim all that had happened. Dad had been dead for a couple of hours at that point and I felt awful that Kim was just then hearing it from me. I’d already sent a text message to all of my friends and my mom had made sure that pretty much every member of their high school graduating class has been informed of Dad’s death, all before his eldest daughter even knew. It turns out that Kim was the first person my brother called just as it became apparent that Dad was about to die. John just never followed up with Kim to tell her that it had happened. (He later said that he didn’t think he needed to call her back because he figured that she would just assume that Dad had died. “It’s not like she thought Dad was going to get better,” John reasoned defensively.)
Kim, surprisingly, was not upset that she was the last to know. She was pretty nonchalant about it all, in fact. I went back into the restaurant and sat back down to eat my food. That’s when my mom’s cell phone rang. This time it was Laura, laughing hysterically. She said she and John were still at the funeral home and that she had excused herself and was calling from the bathroom because she said if she had stayed in the funeral director’s office any longer she would have laughed so hard that she might have pee’d her pants.
Laura said that they started out the meeting with Josh, the funeral director, when he came into the office and greeted them solemnly, offering his condolences. John interrupted him by saying, “Let’s cut to the chase. We’ve done a lot of business with you all and we expect some discounts.”
(Some background: Five years earlier my grandmother died and was buried in that cemetery. The same day as her funeral, my aunt died and was also buried there. Two years after their deaths, my grandfather died and was buried there. My grandfather’s funeral was a disaster. When we got to the graveside the hole hadn’t yet been dug and we all had to stand around – in January – and watch and wait as they dug the hole. And there were other problems with his burial, as well.)
So my brother went on to tell the funeral director that we were regular customers, that we’d had some bad experiences and that we expected some price breaks.
“Five years ago we even had a double header here,” he said, referring to the funerals for my grandmother and aunt.
Laura said that when John used the phrase “double header” she knew it was going to get ugly. She bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud right then and there.
John then reminded Josh about all that went wrong at my grandfather’s funeral. Josh excused himself to get the file on my grandfather and learned that, sure enough, his staff had completely screwed up. So he came back into the office all apologetic and ready to bargain. He knocked quite a bit off the price of funeral but it still wasn’t enough to satisfy my brother.
This is where it gets really bad – and really funny.
John told Josh that he needed to do much better than that if he wanted our business. (Remember, at this time Josh’s staff had already collected my father’s body and they had Dad on the premises.)
John said to Josh, “If you can’t work with us on this we’re prepared to walk.”
Laura said she nearly busted out laughing at the thought.
“Sir,” Josh said, “Your father is already here. We brought him here a couple of hours ago.”
To which John said, “I don’t care. I’ve got a pick-up truck and some Mexicans I can call and we’ll just take him somewhere else ourselves.”
The way Laura tells it, Josh didn’t know what to say to that. She said she was reminded of that scene from “Summer Vacation” where they tie Grandma’s body to the roof of the car. Josh – having been reminded of our “double header” and previous bad experience and having learned that my brother is perhaps the least sentimental person on the planet, came way off the price.
Dad, I’m sure, was rolling on the floor laughing in Heaven. He must have been so proud.
And now this, a screwed up tombstone which may well mean we get even a little more money back from the cemetery. For my Dad, that’s gotta be the best Father’s Day gift ever.
In the meantime, Kim took it upon herself to correct his tombstone using some stickers she bought from Staples. I think the “Oops” is an especially nice touch.

“This Country Cares”

So about a month ago I had this idea.
(All exhausting stories begin that way, by the way.)
I had just seen the Public Service Announcements that Blue Star Families did with The Creative Coalition, TAPS and Healthnet to address the tragic military suicide issue and I was inspired. In case you don’t already know, 18 veterans attempt suicide every day and every 36 hours one of them succeeds. Last year we lost more troops to suicide than to combat.
I thought hen tthat if Hollywood stars could effectively appeal to service members and their families, so could country music singers. At that moment I was standing in the Red Cross Headquarters, a beautiful, historic building around the corner from The White House, in a room filled with Hollywood celebrities and military officials. As I looked around at them I realized that I was probably the only native Nashvillian in the room and if the country music PSAs were going to happen, it would likely fall to me to get it going.
“That sounds like a lot of work,” is what my ego told my id right then, and so I swept the thought out of my mind as being something too difficult for someone like me to pull off and I walked back over to the drink table and picked up another glass of chardonnay. That’s when the id spoke up again, this time in the form of the Keni Thomas song, “Not Me.”

It’s a beautiful song and it includes the refrain, “The world becomes a better place when someone stands and leads the way, steps forward when they’d rather say not me.”
Fast forward a very fast, very busy month, and I spent last weekend in Nashville with a team of amazing volunteers from Blue Star Families and the Nashville Film Institute, and a talented stylist and make-up artist, as we wore ourselves out filming 46 country singers reading our “This Country Cares” script during the CMA Music Festival.
I’m still pinching myself.
I can’t believe it actually came together, and it is very far from over. We received such a phenomenal response in Nashville. Everyone was so warm, welcoming and supportive and even the artists who weren’t able to film with us told us that they still wanted to participate but they’d gotten such short notice from us that their schedules were already booked. So it looks like we’ll be going back to Nashville in a few weeks to do some more filming.
Here are a few pics from the weekend. Stay tuned, there is much more to come.