About Charlie Hudson

Off with my combat boots and onto writing best describes Charlie my two careers. Born in Pine Bluff, Ark., and raised in Louisiana, I count myself as a military veteran, wife, mother, freelance writer, and author. What was intended to be a quick two years in the Army became a 22-year career instead, and somehow in the process, I discovered that I was an inadvertent pioneer by serving in several positions that had previously been held only by men. By the time I was in Desert Storm and later Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti, women in leadership assignments was more widely accepted. My love of writing never left me though whether it is a short article that highlights an animal rescue group, penning the stories of a female police detective in the Florida Keys, or presenting issues about aging that Baby Boomers need to address, or working on a corporate proposal. When my husband, Hugh, also retired from the Army, we relocated to South Florida where we can both enjoy the underwater world in dive sites all around Key Largo. We do break away though to still travel, and especially visit the Washington, D.C. area where son Dustin is a professional dancer and lives with his wife, Samantha.

Artistic Living….

It’s been quite a while since I posted about the issues and concerns we had when we decided to support our son in his desire to be a professional dancer. The popularity of all the TV competitions such as “American Idol”. etc., usually show the huge number of “hopefuls” as they are narrowed to the few. Even those who do not win the big prize are often helped by the exposure on their way through the process so it would seem to be of value.

Anyway, there was a Twitter post this morning about encouraging/supporting love of the arts in your children even if it means teaching them to balance early on. It is difficult to be forced to choose between art and “practicality”  and I mean art in every creative form. Even though a tiny percentage of aspirants in whatever the discipline is, “make it big”, many that do come from long-shot circumstances. Encouraging talent and a dream doesn’t mean ignoring the “real world”. You can help prepare someone to live a dual life without taking away from their passion. If a lack of talent does happen to be the case, finding a gentle way to deal with that is different. Coping with the lack of fairness in how certain careers are valued can be a challenge and helping with time management can be tiring. The love of art, music, dance, performing, etc., and the joy it brings to those around the creator can be a powerful antidote to frustration. As I have also mentioned in our decision to make certain sacrifices to allow son to be a dancer, that was very much because contemporary and ballet dance is age-restrictive. It is simply not something that can be a mid-life career. In our local artist community, it is interesting to talk to those who having spent a career in engineering, the allied health field, and so forth, are now able to spend time with their various mediums. There is a range of talent as there will always be, but the enjoyment is what they have in common.

Having Perrier in the Desert….

No, there’s not a punchline here; merely one of those odd events that occurred when we were in Saudi Arabia for Desert Storm. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Hubby and I were assigned to the same very large organization that provided logistical support, to include water production and distribution. That actually is another subject, but when people think of what it takes to equip and support a large fighting force, ammunition, fuel, food, and maybe medical support come to mind, rather than something like water. Each country, however, can have different foodstuff requirements for their personnel. Americans for example, include pork products in rations, whereas Muslim units obviously do not.

Anyway, French troops were part of the Coalition put together to defeat Saddam Hussein. Our unit was set up out in the desert about 150 miles toward Kuwait, although not very close to the border. After the “Lightning Victory”, forces were drawn down as quickly as they could be and redeployed back to their respective countries. That, too, is a massive effort and in some cases, items needed during the war were left behind for different reasons. Now, I wasn’t in the location where this particular event took place although the individual who told me about it was generally accurate. Large metal shipping containers that get loaded on trains and ships come in two standard sizes of 20 feet and 40 feet long. They are about 5 feet high – maybe 6. Apparently, part of the French logistics support was Perrier in the small green glass bottles and for whatever reason, they had two 40 foot containers packed full they decided not to ship back. (It was probably a matter of available transport.) They simply turned the containers over to our guys and next thing we know, little bottles of Perrier are being distributed among a number of our units. Now, it so happens as we relocated out of the desert and into the edge of a major Saudi Arabia military complex, an ice plant was part of the complex. Not surprisingly, shipping ice out to our units was greatly appreciated and for the remaining several weeks, we had a pretty steady supply of ice. I will admit, swigging iced-down Perrier while winding up desert operations wasn’t something I expected to do. On the other hand, it is a memory that’s stayed with us.

Allowing the Antagonist To Win…

I have previously posted about how I don’t require a “mega-happy” ending to books and movies and I’m okay with tragic outcomes, especially if I have at least some warning. As I have also posted, I occasionally kill off a very likeable character I had not intended to because it ultimately worked better with the plot flow. When it comes to allowing the antagonist, especially a really bad one, to win that’s a different thing. It almost always includes plot twists that are often cleverly done and I can appreciate that aspect. In other cases, such as the book I just finished, an important plot twist was more manipulation than clever, although I will give credit where due for crafting of the final one. And yes, I know there are people who didn’t mind Hannibal Lecter escaping at the end of Silence of the Lambs and I agree the closing shot of Body Heat was well done. While I’m not completely for “anti-heroes”, I am okay depending on how darkly they are drawn.The vigilante angle is a bit tricky and I admit I never watched a single episode of “Dexter” so perhaps his character would have been the exception for me.

Anyway, not to be a spoiler if new readers are reading this, I will also acknowledge I personally prefer killing off the antagonist when it can be reasonably done and one of my favorite techniques in plotting was what I did in Shades of Truth. I suppose my position comes from the sad reality too many individuals do “get away with murder”. That’s one of the big reasons I enjoy true-crime cold cases where someone is caught even decades after. Each author makes his or her decision and I certainly can’t deny the immense popularity of Gone Girl. On the other hand, I don’t foresee me changing my approach in the future.

Heartbreaking and Heartwarming….

Last Saturday was worse than usual from a time-management perspective. Hubby had to guide a dive, but the Camera Club was also having a tent at the City’s Eco Fair and that happens to be our tent. So, I had to drop the tent and other items at the park, then go to a nearby location to cover a story for the paper, then get back to the museum (across from the park) to open it early since the Eco Fair started at noon and our director doesn’t usually come in until 1:00, the regular time. Then it was a late lunch, take lunch to Hubby who had come straight from work, and home for a bit to get ready to go to the football game in my Chamber of Commerce Board Member role. (We did only stay for the first quarter, but that took us until almost 8:30) This litany is not to garner sympathy, but rather to semi-explain why I wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about going to cover the story. Except, this is another of those occasions where I met a young woman with a remarkable story. The piece will run in tomorrow’s paper.

The woman, who founded Sadie’s Daughter and later Sadie’s Kids, did so because she was placed into foster care at age seven and remained in the system until age eighteen. The abuse and childhood trauma she had suffered were heartbreaking to hear and even though she was determined to make a better life through education, there was the teenage pregnancy to deal with and several different paths she took before settling on the right one for her. In the “not your usual” angle, she did become an automobile mechanic and did some modeling on the side. And yes, in looking at her, the modeling was easy to see. Her non-profit is dedicated to mentoring foster children/teens and teaching life skills such as financial literacy, how to prepare for a job interview, etc., Her own experiences give her solid credibility and each of her now three children as well as her husband often join her in helping. She ultimately decided to major in Psychology, works her actual job with autistic children and is chipping away at a Masters. Give yourself a lift and check out https://www.sadiesdaughter.org

Semi-Pro Football….

I know this might seem like an odd topic, however, it’s another off-shoot of the kind of stories I get involved with depending on the community piece. The original connection was when I met Nikkolas Bocanegra at a Chamber of Commerce networking event. I’m always paying attention to seek out what I’ll call “community-building” organizations and individuals. As I have mentioned in this blog and in the articles I write for the paper, there are far too many good causes for people to be able to contribute to all of them they wish to. On the other hand, for each group I find (or am led to) and highlight, that particular group may be a great fit for someone. That was, and is, my feeling about the South Dade Immortals, our local semi-pro football team. When I wrote the article a year ago, the Florida Football League (https://floridachampionfootballleague.com) had six teams. Their season runs Feb through May and they now have thirteen teams.

The concept is dual-purposed. First, there are many who have a deep love for the game. They enjoy playing or watching in any form and thus, they get another four months after pro and college are over. There are talented players who for one (or more) reasons couldn’t come to the attention of college scouts; maybe it was poor GPA or non-completion of high school, etc. The semi-pro league gives an opportunity to be seen by scouts who understand a “second chance” is sometimes the answer. On another level – that of “community-building” – there are young (and older) men who find a sense of belonging and receive the kind of mentoring they can relate to in being part of a team. The owner/coaches and just plain coaches are fully committed to helping the players with life skills as well as what they bring to and derive from the games. The teams are non-profit and while of course, many of them dream this can be the path to college and pro, most realize that isn’t going to happen. It is changing some of their lives though and provides a source of entertainment for football fans.

A Remarkable Young Man…

This is actually a follow-on to the post about STEM and STEAM. I just sent in the article for this week’s South Dade News Leader, so consider this as an “insider” preview.  Each year non-profit grants are awarded by the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). These are special funds put in place after Hurricane Andrew that will expire in another few years. The CRA has different grant programs and one is focused on non-profits that support education, enrichment, etc., within a specified area of town where many families struggle economically. There are always more applicants than funding and the committee carefully reads all proposals to determine which ones are most likely to be able to have an impact and responsibly manage the funds.

Brandon Okpalobi, founder and CEO of DIBIA Athletic Development, established Dibia Dream in 2014 as a non-profit in order to expand their community outreach to students. While this is not uncommon within corporations, Brandon’s background, success, and sincerity in what he does is truly heart-warming. Originally from New Orleans, he was removed from his second grade class for being such a disruptive influence. In the way alternative classes are supposed to work, his life was pointed in the right direction and he learned to channel his tumultuous emotions correctly. I may be able to hear the whole story someday, but he left New Orleans later, was a walk-on to the U of Miami basketball team and in founding his business, he’s won a string of awards. From the very beginning, he did outreach for under-served youth because he knows it can make a difference.  All their different programs are listed on their website of https://dibiadream.org

Even though there are moments when trying to juggle writing for the paper and other things is tiring, getting to meet people like Brandon is always worthwhile.

 

STEM and STEAM….

In a few hours, Hubby and I will be going to a STEM event at a local Community Center. A group I will learn more about received a grant to do a series of STEM Saturdays for students K-12. Today’s focus will be how to design and build cars.

I haven’t looked to see where STEM and STEAM originated, but became aware of it a few years ago when I did a series on local education for our weekly community paper. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math can also be Science, Technology, Engineering, Aviation and Math or Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math to give the STEM/STEAM acronyms. The intent is to try and make science, etc., “fun” from early on in order to guide children toward those skills. I actually used a passage about this in my novel,  “To Play on Grass Fields” . The point was made during a discussion about education in the context of children seem to naturally take to art, music, dance while the other subjects can be “scary”. I am a great example of that which I believe I mentioned in a post quite some time ago. My sister and brother were both mathematically inclined and I was not, nor were my parents. Our junior high school had two math teachers; one excellent and one not (You can guess the one I got). I was fine with ordinary math and the binary system and basic algebra were what threw me off track.  In trying to help me, my sister couldn’t grasp why I couldn’t understand and thus our “tutoring” usually ended quickly with both of us angry. At that stage, the accepted wisdom was, “girls don’t need to be good in math”. Since much of science is grounded in math and engineering certainly is, the simple solution was for me to focus on my talents. This is one of the reasons I firmly support doing everything practical to make math “fun” for kids. It does not mean I don’t support the arts and there are studies which show how music for example can be integrated into math. I don’t have the name of those studies at my fingertips, but will look for them to do a future post. Actually, now that I think of it, there’s probably a future article for the paper in that idea as well.

 

The Staple of Hamburger Helper….

Okay, if you are utterly opposed to boxed meals, go ahead and skip this post. It isn’t even exactly in praise of Hamburger Helper, but rather some amusing anecdotes. I don’t know the history other than it was created in 1971 and was probably considered an “advancement” for busy people and those who were perhaps limited in culinary ability. After all, being able to brown hamburger, measure milk, stir in the other few ingredients in the box, and keep from burning the dish isn’t too challenging. A fairly complete meal in a single pan is welcome when it comes to clean-up.

My first introduction to it came a bit later, when I was involved in a somewhat serious (not long lasting, but that’s not the point) relationship with a guy who made it very clear he wouldn’t have it as a meal. Apparently in his brief and badly matched marriage, this was basically the only meal his wife was willing to prepare and he refused to eat it again. (I don’t know if he ever got over that.)

I don’t recall when I did prepare it the first time and as with many of these conveniences, adding ingredients such as onions, peppers, a few more seasonings does give more depth. Hubby is in fact a fan although one of the only versions I don’t care for is the classic Cheeseburger – his favorite. That’s one of the dishes he often makes for himself when I am on a trip. We will be having the Stroganoff this week on Thursday because that’s Camera Club meeting for him and it’s easy for me to have dinner at normal time and him to zap in the microwave when he gets in much closer to nine o’clock. That’s the version with the noodles, not the potatoes.

Desert Aspects….

I suppose Hubby’s venturing out into the Everglades at ungodly hours for the recent meteor shower and then Blood Moon is what caused me to think of this. My only passage through American deserts was many years ago when I went cross-country to California for a special Army course. My objective was to get there as quickly as possible so there was no lingering for sight-seeing although I do wish there had been time to at least go by the Grand Canyon. That will come about in some future travel.

Although I do not fall into this category (not does Hubby), I can understand how some people are drawn by the uniqueness of a desert environment and there are distinct differences depending on which area you are in. During Desert Storm, we were deep in Saudi Arabia, but not as far as Kuwait. Unlike the initial forces that deployed in early August, we didn’t arrive until November/December and most of the troops were out by May. Hubby and I managed to not be part of the residual force that stayed into the summer. During the first few weeks and the last few weeks we were in a city, but when in the desert there was literally nothing else for miles. We operated under blackout conditions at night until Iraq surrendered. That means even though we did have generators running for power, sound travels oddly and it is difficult to pinpoint a location by sound. It’s amazing though how the smallest light can travel. All openings were secured and our flashlights had the dark red lens which provides minimal illumination. Vehicles could use only their blackout lights often called “cat eyes”. Interestingly, one of the few documented gender differences is while men are more prone to colorblindness than women, they do tend to have better night vision than women.

The lack of light anywhere in the area did result in extraordinary brilliance of stars and the moon. A full moon really was astonishing. The connection about Hubby going to the Everglades for their photo shoots has to do with trying to get away from light in order to have a better view of the night sky. Being in a remote place certainly does give you that.

Other Army Memories…..

I have explained in previous posts about my role as an “inadvertent pioneer” in the Army during the transition time of the Women’s Army Corps into the regular force. Notwithstanding those who were convinced it would be the downfall of the military, most were accepting and in some cases it was amusing. At that time I weighed far less than I do now and in graduating from college a year early, I was barely 22 when I arrived in Germany for my first real assignment. The previous almost year was spent in a series of training courses. So here I was, this 4’11” 2d Lieutenant placed into a Captain’s position and the first female officer in the unit. One of the sergeants who willing stood by me (literally and figuratively) was about 6’3” and built like a linebacker. (He may very well have been one in high school; I never thought to ask). We lost track for many years and it was maybe five years ago he reached out to find me. Like many who were part of those tumultuous years of the Army going from draft to all-volunteer, he wanted to write his memoirs of all the changes he experienced during his career. We spoke two or three times as he worked on the project.

He was ready to send me the completed book when he had to make multiple trips to Germany as one of the senior NCOs he was close friends with became quite ill. As was the custom, each American unit had a “partner German unit” and that was where their friendship was formed. My friend was a great comfort to the man and his family prior to his passing. My friend returned and in the process of catching up on things, he finally decided to go to the doctor. Sadly, he was diagnosed with more than one condition, none of them good news. We talked about a number of things and he’ll see how treatments go. He is close to his son who is with them and my hopes are of course for the best. I know I will cherish his book whenever I receive it.