Wednesday, December 28, 2011


When it comes to a motto for you and your colleagues at work, "Hell in a helmet" is one that grabs your attention and strangles it lovingly. 

For the 2D battalion of the 9th Marines, that phrase represents more than just words on an emblem. It reflects a way of life, particularly when said Marines are deployed in harms way. 

Last holiday season, Marines from 2D--like thousands of U.S. troops--were stationed far from friends and families. We decided to help organize colleagues from work and start a collection drive, with the end goal of mailing care packages to Marines in Afghanistan. 

Turned out, lots of folks want to support our troops serving abroad. Together, we collected more than 20 boxes full of items such as books, magazines, snacks, and candy. Colleagues joined to prep the care packages and ship them off to Afghanistan, via the U.S. Postal Service.

If you're interested in shipping a care package to troops overseas, check with the USPS on guidelines, or the non-profit Marine Parents has a page with details about mailing items to Marines.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


The holidays bring with them lots of opportunities to do something for others. Food drives, toy donations, all those red-suited guys standing in front of stores ringing their bells. But last month a friend told us about what has to be one of the most unique volunteer activities around DC. 

Liz places a wreath on a headstone at Arlington Cemetery.
On the second Saturday of each December, hundreds of people gather at Arlington National Cemetery to recognize fallen troops by placing wreaths at their headstones. The folks at Wreaths Across America, a non-profit started 20 years ago by a swell guy named Morrill Worcester, host the event together with individual sponsors like you and me, corporate donors (not like you and me) and volunteer truck drivers to haul the wreaths. 

Good start, but more work to be done.
This year, we gathered up a few co-workers and, together with thousands of others, helped make 2011 a record breaking year by laying more than 90,000 wreaths on grave markers throughout the Cemetery. It's an amazing sight to see, those thousands of headstones decorated with wreaths and a red bow to mark the holidays. It's even more impressive for the families of those who paid the ultimate price for their country. 

To learn more, join the annual January clean up, or volunteer at the 2012 wreath laying next December, check out Wreaths Across America.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Santa Garbage and his helpers deliver goodies to a nearby dump.
Thanksgiving always seems like the right time to do something good (besides eating, drinking and watching TV). Sure, it's fun to enjoy the holiday and spend some quality time with family...but's so benevolent, so...good an excuse to get out of the house and away from the relatives for a while (just kidding, Mom!)

Of course, try explaining that to two elementary school girls on break. Not surprisingly, they'd rather be playing in the pool, hanging with their friends, or throwing crazy DJ-hosted VIP parties in their rooms, than to hang out with their aunt and uncle doing something as "weird" as picking up trash in a local park. Even if said park is the friggin' Everglades, which is about 200 yards from my brother's house in Florida where we were.

So we made a deal with two of the cutest nieces in the world--we all take a bike trip with Tío Kip and Aunt Buzzie (that's us) to Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge to clean up the beach, and we'd agree to play in the pool all afternoon, help them with their homework, and attend a "VIP party" they were hosting at their house (hard bargainers, they are).

Nieces Isabele and Chelsea clean up with Tio Kippy.
An airboat passes as Aunt Liz cleans the beach.
The best part of the day, better than all the quality family time and even the fishing later, had to be helping my first grade niece, Chelsea, write an essay about her time volunteering. 

"I wanted to help the birds and the fish that live in the park by my house. My sister, my uncle and I rode our bikes to the park, and they helped me clean up trash on the ground by the water. We put bottles and broken glass in trash bags. A piece of broken glass in a trash bag cut my leg. It hurt a lot, but I didn't quit picking up trash. I kept doing it because I wanted to help the animals that live in the park."

Not bad for a six-year-old. Homework and volunteering over, then it was time for the VIP party with special guest performers Izzy P on the guitar and DJ Chels spinnin' the frisbees. 

Izzy rockin out.

DJ Chels on the frisbees.
Post party, we even managed to squeeze in some bird watching and bass fishing. You gotta love Florida.
Red-shouldered hawk
Turkey vulture 
Nice largemouth bass during Kip's first fishing trip in the Everglades.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


If it's Thanksgiving and you're looking for an easy option to help others, a solid bet is to turn to Google. Search "food bank" and your city's name, and you'll likely turn up an organization or two working to feed and clothe people in need. The websites of the various orgs can tell you the rest. 

Miriam's Kitchen in DC is one such place, providing meals and clothing for thousands of homeless men, women, and children each year.  A few work colleagues decided to organize a food drive for Miriam's just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. We collected and delivered more than 300 pounds of items, such as beans, tuna, soup and canned fruit. 

Miriam's Kitchen staff help unload donations. 
To donate or learn more about Miriam's Kitchen, visit

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Liz helps a neighborhood kid plant tulip bulbs. 
Just a few blocks from our house in DC lives "a place where gardeners of all ages can come to learn, create and grow." We had heard of the Marion Street Garden before, but not until we got an invitation through a neighborhood listserv about a volunteer day at the space did we venture down to take a look. Together with neighbors, new friends, and even a few folks from Aibnb, who had come out to help, we weeded, planted hundreds of bulbs, and painted a storage shed. 

As the little girl's smile below can attest, this was a perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday morning in November. 

To volunteer, donate or learn more about the Marion Street Garden in Washington, DC's Shaw neighborhood, contact Lola at 

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Call me crazy, but I can't say I've ever dreamed of spending the good part of a Saturday shoveling worm poop. 

When Liz said the folks out at ECO City Farms needed some volunteer assistance to help them prep for a long-planned expansion of their urban farm, I imagined a day of hard labor working the fields like we did growing up back home in Louisiana. Maybe pick some peas, hoe a few rows of leafy greens, or even feed the free-range ducks and chickens they raise out in Edmonston, MD, wherever that is. 

I had it wrong. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Our neighbor's dog Tennyson--not a fan of leaf gathering. 
Why do they call it fall? Because that's what leaves do this time of year.

Gravity-challenged and short-lived, leaves transform in November from verdant shade givers into red, yellow and brown billboards announcing the arrival of autumn and, worse, the impending return of another winter. It's a little like the finale of a fireworks show--brilliant to watch, but man, it sure does get dark soon after.

Another interesting thing about leaves, at least here in the city, is that they cover virtually every single thing along the many oak-lined streets, like ours. That includes the tiny yards, parked cars, flower beds and narrow sidewalks. The volume of fallen foliage, while nice to look at, will quickly clog storm drains and basically clutter up the place.

Time for 1 OF 7. Put on a jacket, grab a rake, sling the camera over a shoulder and out in the wild streets we go to protect DC's drainage system and tidy up the 'hood a bit. Turns out raking your way down a leaf-covered sidewalk is fun. Neighbors come out and talk. Kids do what kids instinctively do when they see a leaf pile (minus the lit matches). The best part had to be watching the confused canines, particularly the smaller ones, as they sniffed and yawned and peed and played their way down the street, disappearing under the islands of fallen leaves we left behind, before launching themselves from underneath, dog and owner as happy as should be expected while sober on a breezy Friday in November.

Volunteering doesn't have to be hard or far from home. It doesn't need to be planned in advance. Sometimes the opportunity just falls right in front of you.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


It's not everyday you get to watch the sun rise slowly over the ivory dome of the nation's Capitol. Why? Because that's way too early to be awake, particularly on a chilly Saturday morning in October. 

But that lovely sight was the treat for the hundreds of bikers, walkers, racers and volunteers--including Maria Shriver, Olympian Carl Lewis, and Kool and the Gang, among others (and me...but not my wife still at home, warm and in bed, no doubt)--who ventured out to the National Mall on a crystal clear day to support the DC leg of the Best Buddies Challenge. 

Despite my initial trepidation and the chilly bike ride downtown, the immense suffering was so worth it. My job was to meet up with a group of co-workers I'd organized (cajoled? tricked?) into joining me to volunteer at the event, which raises money and hope for kids with intellectual disabilities. 

The Best Buddies Challenge, a massive contest happening in various cities around the country, is a legit undertaking, offering participants a 100km and 20-mile bike ride, as well as a 5k run/walk. While none of our folks participated in the race, our Best Buddies staff coordinator bestowed upon us the crown jewel of volunteer gigs--circle the start/finish area, ring customized-cow bells, scream like crazy, and then, one-by-one, place medals around the necks of the exhausted but elated racers as they crossed the finish line. 

"Are you kidding?" I asked her, when she told me what we'd be doing. She wasn't. And I'm not kidding when I tell you that I've never seen such joy on the faces of so many people as the hundreds who passed through our ranks that day. For many of the racers, most of whom either have intellectual disabilities themselves or had family/friends who do, this was the culmination of months, if not years, of intense labor, training and effort. And there we were, helping cheer them on as they crossed the finish line, and then were allowed to present them their well-earned Best Buddies Challenge medals for all they did. 

The sunrise...OK, that was special. But playing even a small part in the lives of such amazing people--wow! I may get up early again maybe next year when the Challenge comes through town. 

Volunteer Nick Wiseman checks bags for a race participant. That's Nick, there on the left.

Volunteers with Best Buddies founder Anthony Shriver.

Sweeping the sidewalks clear of horse-related debris. 


For more info on Best Buddies, check out The organization was founded by Anthony Shriver, son of Special Olympics founder Sargent Shriver, and does some amazing stuff for people with intellectual disabilities. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Ranger Scott Einberger briefs volunteers in Rock Creek Park as part of National Public Lands Day. 
Volunteer Liz Zipse daintily picks up an unknown trash item from the shores of Rock Creek. Dirty work, indeed. 

Liz and Kip getting in their 1 OF 7.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


A few co-workers prep to hit the shores. 
Colleague Richard J delivers the goods. 

A boatload of river debris. Not to worry. There was plenty more.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


In the weeks before the first day of classes, DC Public Schools holds its annual Beautification Day to help prep their area campuses for the coming school year. Liz and I organized groups of co-workers to join in the activities at two nearby schools. 

More than 30 folks came out to help prepare Francis Stevens Elementary for the first day of classes. 

Volunteer Nick B delivering the goods.

Beautifying the grounds with volunteer Stella H.

To learn more about how you can help, visit DC Public Schools or its Beautification Day webpage. 

Friday, July 29, 2011


Sadly, humans throw trash everywhere. In rivers, parks, sidewalks, city streets...even atop the Continental Divide in Colorado, where we spent some time between hikes, cleaning up litter along the roadside and tidying up around trails, camp sites and public rest areas. 

While most folks abide by the "leave no trace" philosophy, a few hold outs from the old days...way back when it was "normal" to throw trash from a moving vehicle...are still out there.

If you see one, let them know those times are way gone.

Red Indian paintbrush

Yellow mountain daisies

The elusive American pica

Liz and her dad, Mark

Mark, Liz and her mom Sheila

Kip and Liz, American Basin

Pine grosbeak

Yellow-bellied marmot