Lemons or Pie?

By Circe Olson Woessner

It is day three of teleworking from home, and day bazillion in the pre-or apocalyptic reality we find ourselves in. “Social distancing” is a new word that everyone knows and practices – – unless you’ve taken a devil-may-care attitude about this whole “hoax disease.” As we stay at home, we shake our heads at the images of young people frolicking on the beaches or having parties. Nero plays the violin as Rome burns. Look at Italy! Look at Italy!

A lot of people are scared and acting out – – I have heard of fights right here in our local supermarket—Really? Come on, for Pete’s sake! People are hording supplies and stocking up on ammo in “case of wide-spread panic.”

False information and far-fetched conspiracy theory opinions are being shared on social media as the gospel truth. People are sending along chain messages, and offering advice on really weird ways to prevent getting sick.  Forwarded emails from unknown “experts” are adding to the chaos. Memes and weird jokes are byproducts of how some people react to stress—and some of them are really, really funny – – unless you have someone who is elderly in your family, or who is sick, or someone who has, God forbid, recently died from COVID-19.

What messages are we sending to our children, who look for us to be calm in a time of crisis? What are we telling the elderly or immune compromised? Are we modeling desired behavior?

If someone coughs, or sneezes, we glare at them – – why are you doing that– are you sick? At the supermarket, we scan other people, looking for signs of disease on them. Why are you coming up my aisle? Wait till I’m done here! Shoppers are furtive, dashing through the aisles grabbing things as if it’s the end of the world.

Maybe it is.

Life as we know it has changed over  the past few weeks. Our dog has taken to sleeping with us, something forbidden up until a few weeks ago when he decided he preferred our bed to his. We laughed nervously saying, “well if something happens to us, at least he can eat us from the comfort of the bed.” Not very funny, but humor has taken an extremely dark turn these days…

Our society is self-isolated (another new word that everyone knows) and our workdays are very different than they were even a week ago. My extended family is keeping running shopping lists, knowing that it will be very hard to find the items we want, and while we will not succumb to hoarding, we understand that food shopping has become a scavenger hunt.

I feel I’m living in one of those science fiction movies or a really bad dream I can’t wake up from. This is no way to live. However; think of the alternative! Several months ago, this was a rhetorical question, but now, the alternative is hitting closer to home. And it’s not so hypothetical.


… Just stop….breathe…Live in this particular moment. Take stock in your blessings right now.

In New Mexico the sun is shining, the trees are beginning to bud, and if you can slow your racing heartbeat, you can hear the birds sing. if you’re like me, and live near I-40, you can hear the hum of the interstate, of trucks bringing needed supplies to communities all across this country. The National Guard is setting up hospital tents; Airmen are stocking shelves at the Kirtland Air Force Base Commissary. Babies are being born; people are getting married. Life is still going on.

Over and over, I am drawn to the quote attributed to Mr. Rogers after 911.  “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

And it’s very true. The military is calling up retired healthcare workers to join the fight against Covid-19. Federal employees are teleworking, ensuring that the nation doesn’t grind to a halt. Emergency responders and military  are rotating personnel to ensure there are enough healthy team members to respond to a national emergency or health crisis.

Stores are trying to accommodate the massive amount of shoppers panic buying, and setting up designated shopping times for people who are vulnerable. Utility companies are suspending disconnections and overdue accounts. Workers are pulling longer shifts to accommodate the requirements needed to get us through this crisis.

Impromptu support groups are starting on Facebook. Younger people are offering to run errands for older people. People are passing along local resources and information on store inventories and discounted places.

Neighbors are checking in on their neighbors; recently unemployed people are offering childcare services so that frontline staff who have to work, can get to their jobs at hospitals, supermarkets, emergency response centers, etc.

Even while under lockdown, the human spirit is strong.  Individuals – – common, everyday people – – are lifting the spirits of their fellow human being by leading them exercise sessions as they watch from balconies.  A military spouse in Germany serenaded her fellow base dwellers with her own funny versions of Andrew Lloyd Webber hits. A friend is reading poetry selections on Skype. Symphonies and theater companies are performing concerts or plays and streaming them free to the public. Companies are offering free educational products to parents who suddenly find themselves homeschooling their kids. (I tried to homeschool my son when he was nine and it didn’t end well for either of us– so hats off to every homeschool parent out there now trying to figure it out!) I’ve joined an online writer’s group with complete strangers from all over the world, and we are enjoying the creative company.

Last night, I watched a short YouTube video called “Isolated St. Patrick’s Day Parade” where people around the world, through the miracle of technology, were able to play one song from their homes—in Spain , the US, Ireland,  the UK  and Australia– in harmony and in sync. It was lovely and appropriately wonderful for a very unusual St. Patrick’s Day.

When this is all said and done, I’m hoping we have learned lessons as a society and can make our world safer, friendlier and better.

I never signed up to be dealing with COVID-19, but since I must, I have choices: I can panic and be mean and small, or I can take this lemon that I was given and make a big, beautiful meringue pie.

I choose the pie.

Mr. America

Born in 1958 Roy Aletti should definitely be called ‘Mr. America’. Owner of a paint supply store and many amazing, tangible pieces of American history, Mr. Aletti displays the characteristics of a small-town man. With a constant smile; he’ll call you by name and ask about your family.

Roy takes personal pride in honoring Americans who have served in the military. His front yard decorations change with the seasons, and always a reminder of the American soldier is present.

This year, 2018, Mr. Aletti commissioned a statue of the WWI Doughboy to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice effectively ending military operations and hostilities of WWI.

Roy Aletti is constantly busy with parade invitations and gladly displays his American pride in many of those invitations. Roy considers himself “the biggest kid on the block.” His warmth and laughter are real. His love for the USA is pretty infectious.

His family arrived in the US 108 years ago and surely ingrained a love for our country. Happy to say that Patriotism shines a bit brighter in the Town/Village of Harrison, NY because of his Love for America!

Thank you, Roy Aletti, for your support of the American military.



Respectfully submitted

Elisabeth FD Sacco



If You Care About It, Support It.

by Circe Olson Woessner

Recently, our local public radio station had its spring fundraiser. Each day, I swore I’d call in or pledge online, but then I got busy and forgot. An artist friend of mine on the East Coast put out a call for donated building supplies, and for people to help her refurbish her new art gallery—and lots of people liked her Facebook post—but no one stepped up to help. A large group booked a special event at a local space—and then no-showed, never considering that the owner of the space had cleared her schedule to accommodate them.

Many small nonprofits depend on donations to do their work, and with the new tax laws and a volatile economy, they fear they may not survive if the incentive for people to donate goes away…So, if you love, love, love a special cause, please show them your love by supporting it. Read the rest of this entry »

We’re Military “Brats,” Not Heroes, Champs, Little Soldiers, or Fledglings

An Op-Ed about an Outsider’s Attempt to Rename a Proud American Culture

December 9, 2014

By Donna Musil, Executive Director, Brats Without Borders

Writer-Director of “BRATS: Our Journey Home,” a documentary narrated by Kris Kristofferson Contact: (855) 872-2728 or info@USAbrat.org

Can you imagine the outrage if the USO bought thousands of copies of a non-vet’s book about how it feels to be a vet, then paid him to traipse around the world singing songs about a war he never fought, while unilaterally renaming vets “Hero Volunteers” and treating vets with PTSD as if they were defective and just not “resilient” enough?

That’s what’s happening to 15 million Americans who have grown up in military families.

For as long as anyone can remember, these proud citizens have called themselves military “brats,” but recently, a small group of non-brats has been trying to “rebrand” this 200-plus- years culture into “CHAMPS,” or “Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel.” In my opinion, with very few exceptions, those 15 million military brats are not happy with this rebranding effort.

To the non-military-connected, the word brat may have negative connotations, but to the military child, it has just the right amount of spunk necessary to make it through the next move, the next deployment, or the next sacrifice for the Military Mission. When these children leave the military, by way of graduation or their parent’s retirement, there are hundreds of brat alumni organizations, websites, blogs, and Facebook pages through which they can keep in contact with all the friends, teachers, coaches, and dreams they had to abandon over the years in the name of duty, honor, and country. It’s their one “root.” Now, Debbie and Jennifer Fink and their “Operation CHAMPS” initiative are trying to take that root away.

No one really knows where the term brat originated. British military children were called both “British Regiment Attached Travelers” and “barrack rats,” which could’ve been shortened to brats. Poets referred to military children as brats as far back as 1707. Some think it just means “a child.” Others have come up with creative acronyms like “Bold Responsible Adaptable Tolerant.” Wherever it originated, it stuck, and millions of people who grew up in military families (from America, Britain, Canada, Australia, etc.) call themselves brats.

On November 24th, the Finks issued a statement denying attempts to “reject or denigrate the term BRATS,” but a multitude of interviews and publicity materials say otherwise. In a 2012 USO article by Joseph Lee, Debbie Fink said, “We declared our independence 236 years ago and it’s about time our Little C.H.A.M.P.S did the same.”

Why would anyone try to disenfranchise a proud culture to which they don’t even belong? The Finks claim a goal of their “public health and education initiative” is to help civilian children “understand” military children. They have managed to convince some heavy-hitters behind their efforts, from the USO to the Red Cross to First Lady Michelle Obama. The USO sent the Finks on a world-wide book tour to military base schools in Europe and Asia. Unfortunately, there are few civilian students attending those schools who need to be enlightened by the Finks. This oversight is not surprising, since neither the Finks, nor most individuals leading current military child organizations, grew up military.

Here’s how it seems to work. The Finks wrote a $10 children’s book, The Little C.H.A.M.P.S,” and sell an accompanying $399 “CHAMPKit.” Their for-profit company, Harmony Hearth, LLC, owns all the rights to the book and kit, and is trademarking “CHAMPS.” The Finks solicit donors to buy the books to “give away” through the non-profit. I can only assume the non-profit buys the books from the for-profit. We’re not talking about a couple hundred books. We’re talking thousands of books.

The Finks say they donate the “profits” from their for-profit book sales to the non-profit. So why didn’t they just publish the book through the non-profit? Only the Finks know, because the public can’t see their for-profit salaries or expenses. Perhaps they received advice from the book’s illustrator, Walter Blackwell, who resigned in 2008 as CEO/President of the National Veterans Business Development Corporation after a Senate inquiry. According to a 2008 New York Times article by Elizabeth Olson, “A Nonprofit for Veterans Is Faulted On Spending,” the Senate reported that the money spent on helping veterans start and expand new businesses was dwindling, while its executives spent thousands of federal dollars on “expensive dinners, luxury hotels, first-class travel and high salaries.” There always have been, and there always will be, individuals and organizations that try to profit from the military and military families. Some of them provide real services in return and some don’t. In my opinion – as a proud Army brat who moved twelve times across three continents, went to eleven schools in thirteen years, watched my father go to war (then die eight years later when I was in high school), and as an adult brat who has spent the last 15 years trying to raise awareness of the culture, contributions, and challenges of military brats – the Fink’s “Little C.H.A.M.P.S” initiative does not.

Some choose to believe the Finks are well-intentioned. All I know for sure is that I spoke with Debbie Fink in 2011 before she finished her book. She told me she was originally going to entitle it, “The Little Brats,” but the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) told her they wouldn’t endorse any book with “brat” in the title. I explained what the word meant to our culture. I shared with her our own initiatives, including our cultural competency workshops, traveling art exhibit, and BRATS Clubs for military children attending civilian schools. I sent her a copy of the documentary, BRATS: Our Journey Home (which is owned by the non-profit, Brats Without Borders) and she promised to send me a working draft of her book. I never received it. A year later, The Little C.H.A.M.P.S was published and the Operation CHAMPS initiative was launched offering the book and free babysitting for military families by college students. In the past week, MCEC has officially withdrawn support for the “Little CHAMPS” program.

Make no mistake – this is not just about a word. In my opinion, “rebranding” military brats to “CHAMPS” marginalizes and disenfranchises millions of Americans of all ages, races, and walks of life, in order to sell a product. Meanwhile, dozens of small groups and non-profits run by and for brats with programs and materials based on real research and actual experiences, are ignored – organizations like Brats Without Borders, the Military Brat Registry, the Military Kid Art Project, Books for Brats, Overseas Brats, Operation Footlocker, Brightwell Publishing, the BRATpin, Military Brats Online, United Children of Veterans, the American Overseas Schools Historical Society, and more. Some of these organizations have been around for three decades, quietly helping their fellow brats, young and old, while the well-intentioned USO sends interlopers like the Finks on world tours and thinks they have done something special to help military children. They haven’t. Because at the end of the day, military children still don’t have “anyone who understands them,” because they have been alienated by groups like the Finks from the only ones who do – their fellow brats.

Donna Musil is the Executive Director of Brats Without Borders, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit founded in 1999 to provide educational outreach, support, materials, and research to enrich the lives of Military “Brats” and “Third Culture Kids” of all ages (Federal Tax ID #: 58-2486120). She is also the Writer-Director of BRATS: Our Journey Home, the first documentary about “growing up military,” as well as a non-practicing attorney, with an ABJ in Journalism and a JD from the University of Georgia.

For more information about Brats Without Borders, see http://www.USAbrat.org.

For more information about Brats Without Border Projects & Programs, see http://www.bratsourjourneyhome.com/BWBPrograms.pdf.