The Soldier and the Squirrel introduces children to the Purple Heart

through a loving story of a friendship between a newly wounded soldier

and Rocky the squirrel with his backyard friends. This story began as a

blog during my first year in bed after my incident. With much

encouragement, it is now a book and has been placed in the

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum. Please watch the video

on the About page to learn for the Soldier & Rocky are changing children's






Glorious Rejoice Dots Glitter





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The Doctor And Joan

"She really was an amazing woman." Dr. (Norman) Leaf continued on about Joan Rivers as he battled the Friday traffic to a much deserved weekend. He'd kill me if I said this within ear-shot, but he truly is the plastic surgeon to the stars. The only C-list in his office is on the breast implants inside.

It was the first quiet moment he had to truly soak in the fact that she was gone. Dr. Leaf had heard about the new video segment released from Joan and Melissa's reality show where they sit in a waiting room just prior to one of Ms. River's final surgeries. This one in particular would be on her neck, and Dr. Leaf would be her surgeon - just as he was thirty-five years ago when she first hit it big and needed a little nip, or was it a tuck. He would never tell, and never did. I've known Dr. Leaf since I was 17. This was the first I had heard that she was one of his patients. Dr. Leaf is also the medical director on our R.A.W. board and is totally dedicated to changing the lives of our wounded.

The bulk of her surgeries during her later years were done by someone else, but it wasn't her stardom that left its mark on him. It was her spunk.

I had watched the reality show and so was perplexed as to how I could have missed him on it. It was because he never filmed to air. What struck him today was how moving the re-released segment was, that her conversation with her daughter happened right outside his door, and yet he never even knew it existed.

Surgeries do something to some of us, if not all. They scare us into submission - into admitting we are human and may not exist someday. I say may, because it is a thought too large to completely comprehend nonetheless own.

As I face another surgery, I am reminded how fragile life can be. How important it is to have such conversations with our loved ones prior to releasing control over our vitals to someone with a knife. This segment touched many people today. But it was wonderful to hear from a surgeon himself how the passing of a patient made him reflect on the enormity of their life and the effect it had on the world.


The next night Dr. Leaf was on CBS News as word got out that it was his office Joan and Melissa were in. Here is the segment:


Taken And Stirred

So close and yet so far...Ah, it seems nomatter where I wish to park nowadays, whether it be my wheels or my tush it's never boring. But Monday took the cake. I was just a gal trying to make a doctor's appointment and attempting to park her car. Sounds easy enough, right? Instead of simply writing a blog about it, I decided it was time to be proactive, instead of wallowing in my Starbucks cup over over-infalted coffee beans. The following letter may have remained private if this was not a pattern in this company's operation. A post-script is that when I told my doctor what happened (I was a blubbering mess when I entered her office so it was pretty hard to hide. Mind you, I'm a pretty tough girl at this point. They say it's a death by a thousand cuts, and perhaps this last cut was mine.) My doctor looked at me with empathy and said she parked in that lot for 18 years. The people that ran it were absolutely lovely - so kind. They always greeted her with a smile, treated everyone like family, and left such a impression on her life. Then, two years ago the current company purchased this lot and things have never been the same. The abuse she experienced by these attendants was bad enough that she no longer parks there - right behind her building - and would rather walk than be subjected to their business practices.

Here you go:

To: Quality Parking Services
Re: Parking Lot at Le Conte & Broxton

Dear Mr. Ghaed, Mr. Akbary and Mr. Iravani,

I am writing regarding an incident at your lot on Le Conte and Broxton. To preface, I am disabled and use a wheelchair, requiring handicapped parking to enter and exit my vehicle.
On Monday, August 24th, 2014 I entered your parking lot around 1:30pm as I had a 2pm appointment in the office building adjacent to it on Westwood Blvd. As usual, I looked to the left as I entered the lot to use the handicapped spot. Although it was available, a large white truck was parked in its blue protective area to be used for the disabled person’s entry and exit of the vehicle. I tapped my horn for the attendant’s attention. He approached my vehicle and I asked him if he could kindly move the white truck so I could use the open handicapped spot. He said, he couldn’t because he doesn’t have the keys. I said, no one is supposed to park in the blue area as it belongs to the handicapped spot. I mentioned he must have seen the man park, because you have to pay before you leave, and the spot is directly down the front aisle from the valet stand. His response was curt and stern. He said this lot was privately owned and “did not have to obey city rules.” I was surprised by this response, as well as the animosity he displayed toward me, a woman with a wheelchair in my front seat (or any potential client for that matter). I asked him again to please try to accommodate me, as businesses are supposed to offer something for the disabled. I would understand if the handicapped spot was already taken, but the one available wasn’t even being used for its intended purpose.
I drove around to an open able-bodied spot to see if I could exit my vehicle with my chair. I could not. I then found two spots and parked in the middle. I thought perhaps I could then create my own “handicapped spot” seeing as nothing else was even offered. The attendant approached my car, whipped out his pad and said, That will be $25.” The usual fee at that hour is $9.50. My jaw dropped. Again, I asked if he “had any humanity in him, to please simply allow me to use the two spaces for the regular price. I have to add that the lot was almost completely open. There were probably fifty spots available. Surely he could offer two for an hour. He began to raise his voice, as I started to cry I knew I had to find something as the clock was ticking and I had to get to my appointment and it takes me time to exit my car and get from A to B. I drove around the lot trying space after space several times to see if something would work. I was beside myself, extremely distraught and tears were flowing. Living a life with a disability is difficult enough. I try every single day to hold my head high and never say woe is me. Yet here I was being treated like a criminal for asking for an accommodation for my needs.
as I made my way to the front of the lot, the attendant again approached my car. I asked for his name. He said Francisco. It is at this time I noted the name of your company and knew I had to notify you.
It was then I remembered that I had parked in your lot last fall, when I first began to go out in public with my chair. I noticed a car was parked in that same handicapped spot without a placard. I had asked the attendant to please not park cars in that spot who don’t need it. He responded with the same answer Francisco did, so it is clear that this must be the protocol for your company.
I am asking that you please abide by the city laws and allow for disabled parking. I would even ask if you could please offer at least two disabled spots so we can utilize your services. With UCLA Medical Center I can only assume this would enhance your business model.
That day, I ended up having to park on the second floor underground of the UCLA Hospital and hand-wheel my way to my appointment. I was exhausted, dehumanized, and humiliated.

Please consider not only the request for the disabled community, but also the suggestion to instruct your sensitize your employees on how to treat customers of diversity and educate your company to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

 ADA guidelines specifies that access aisles for car and van parking spaces, must be measured from the centerline of the marking. However, if the parking space or the access aisles is not adjacent to another parking, measurement could be made including the full width of the line.
Designed van parking spaces shall be a minimum 132 inches wideand must contain an access aisle. If it is a car parking space it shall be 96 inches width. However, van parking spaces could be 96 inches wide only if the access aisle is 96 inch wide.
Access aisles shall be adjacent to an accessible route, connecting parking spaces to entrances. Two parking spaces shall be permitted to share a common access aisle. Avoid using accessible routes behind parked vehicles. If the accessible route crosses traffic lanes, it shall be visibly marked enhancing pedestrian safety.
Access aisles shall be 60 inches wide minimum and should extend the full length of the parking space being served. Remember to mark access aisles to prevent vehicles from parking over the aisles.
The aisles must be marked clearly; however, the method and color of marking are specified by State or local laws. Aisles shall be allowed to be marked on either side of the parking space. Hint: Van aisles are recommended to be placed on the passenger side of the van space.
Aisles shall be at the same level as the parking space they are serving. Level changes are not allowed, and constitute a violation of ADA Design standards. Aisles slopes not steeper than 1:48 shall be permitted.
Access aisles should be leveled in all directions. Built-up curb ramps are not permitted to project into access aisles and parking spaces because they would create slopes greater than 1:48.
Parking space identification must include the International Symbol of Accessibility. ADA Design standards request that signs identifying van parking spaces shall contain the “van accessible” sign. Signs should be installed at least 60 inches above finish floor.
It is important to prevent vehicles or vans to obstruct the required clear width of accessible route. Parking spaces for vans and access aisles and vehicular routes serving them shall provide a minimum vertical clearance of 98 inches
In regard to the number of handicapped spaces you currently provide, this should help:
State law requires the following number of spaces, based upon the total spaces in a given lot available to the public:
• Between 16 and 25 spaces: one handicapped space
• Between 26 and 40 spaces: five percent of such spaces but not less than two
• Between 41 and 100 spaces: four percent of such spaces but not less than three
• Between 101 and 200 spaces: three percent of such spaces but not less than four
• Between 201 and 500 spaces: two percent of such spaces but not less than six
According to California Law, The ADA says that each separate lot or garage has to be compliant with their minimum parking space requirements.
If one has 20 spaces, the ADA would only require one space to be accessible (and it would have to be a van-accessible spot). If the other lot has 100 spaces, there would be four total handicapped spaces required (including one that’s van-accessible). You are clearly offering less that the spaces required by law. And yes, as a private company doing business with the public, you are NOT immune to these rules and regulations. They were actually created just with you in mind.

I look forward to your response.

Thank you for you consideration,

Micaela Bensko

Micaela Bensko



The Handicapped Stall

I really wish I could have been more patient yesterday.

The rest room used to be a place of retreat. Even in the mall. A restaurant. A store. The buffering echo of the stalls somehow insulated me from the mania outside. But not so much anymore.

I've mentioned briefly before about frustration when the handicapped stall is occupied by someone who bounces about. The first thing I look for under the door is anything with wheels (I'm a sucker for moms with strollers. It's the roller derby girls that get to me.) I even went so far as to ask one lady who pranced out of the stall to please, please leave these stalls for people who need them? She paused. Looked up. Then down at me. I'm quite short nowadays. It was one arc short of an eye-roll. With one eyebrow raised, she replied in a confrontational tone, "I got a bad ankle."

'You must have one large ankle.", I thought to myself.

So now, every time I roll up to a stall with the little man in a chair, it's like a crap-roll in Vegas. No pun intended. I never know what's going to pop out of there. Yesterday, I rolled up to one. It was locked. I could see no wheels, hear no baby. I waited. And waited. A slight flapping of the toilet paper role echoed beyond the door. My time was near. But by this time, I was brewed inside, like a day-old pot of coffee that lost its perk.

The toilet flushed to a tussling of pants and a zip. Then a shuffle. A long shuffle. As though she wore a rack of petticoats donned one by one. Then she began to emerge. Black orthopaedic shoes peeked through the bottom of the door as it creaked open, like blind dogs sniffing for a plate of food. Her face coiled around to mine. Betty White's body double.

Then it hit me. The handles. She needed the handles. The silver bars around the toilet to keep her steady. Wheels had nothing to do with it. The other three-hundred stalls did not have safety handles.

Man did I feel like, well, you know.

I left wondering how I began to think this way? Expecting the worst, rather than the best? No matter how difficult these past three years have been, the one thing I never want to lose is my faith in the goodness of others. But it's so hard when sprung back out into a world where my reality is not the norm. It's not realistic to expect others to understand how deeply it cuts when able-bodied people pop out of our stalls. There will always be women with bad ankles. But I have to remember that not every woman ahead of me, is one of them.

I went home, did some Googling and found an interesting post online: "

"Sorry to inform you that in California it is a finable offense to use a handicapped-designated restroom stall if you're able-bodied. The fine for the first offense is $271. I was riding my bicycle on the state beach at Huntington Beach and was arrested and given a ticket, which the court has upheld."

I Googled some more.

"...there is no law, just rude people."

This was getting serious.

My heart asks this of ye olde public. If you walk into a bathroom and there are any available able-bodied stalls, please do not use the disabled stall. Even if you don't see anyone disabled at the moment, we could rear our heads at any moment. If all of the able-bodied stalls are used, and the handicapped is open, just think about it for a moment, how you would feel if you opened the door and I was waiting for you. With drool running down my chin and head spinning with green vomit spewing from my ears. OK, I digress.

So, I don't believe it is illegal to use 'the stall', but is it worth it? If you really have "to go", I'd understand, but please, please, I beg of you, for the love and God and all that is holy and on sale at Marshall's, please leave the handicapped stall to those who need it. This also means for people who need the extra space because they need to change a colostomy bag. I'm learning so much as I journey through this challenge. It just goes to show that even those of us that need 'the stall', are learning, too. And I promise, the next time I start to brew, I'll remind myself we are all so often handicapped, simply by being human.





Tool Chest

It's been a while since I posted here.  I think one reason I'd never make a professional blogger is I'd let too many people down. Blogging just to blog has never been my intention. Only when inspired am I able to pour it all out onto the screen. With these past few years, blogging has become one of the greatest tools in my chest for recovery. A friend broke my heart this summer, telling me she could no longer be friends with me as she could not understand how I could be so public with my challenge. It's funny how hundreds if not thousands of words of support can lift, and it takes just one to tear you down. I was torn down, but only for a night. I know in my heart, and from the thoughtful and brave responses I have received from others enduring the same, that in connecting with others comes a most powerful healing. We are all going through a challenge of one kind or another. Some are physical, others emotional, some are from the pain from watching our loved ones hurt. But either way, it is a weight so heavy it would be impossible to carry alone. I hope with all of my heart that by sharing my story, it has helped to lift the burdens of challenges other than my own.

This summer has gone by much too quickly. Ketamine infusions kicked it off, so that erased a nice part of it. Otherwise it was one of growth. Physical Therapy and core-strengthening have been my primary focus. Unfortunately, as my core grew stronger, so did the pain levels. It's a mixed bag that's for sure. I am now in the wheelchair full-time, with no recto-flexor function in my left leg. But I'm trying to make the best of it every single day. 

Another surgery lurks in the wings like an understudy drooling in wait for the lead to fail. Looks like I will be having a pain pump implanted within the next month. A lovely little gas tank imbedded in my trunk that spews medicine upon my spine for a smoother, more enjoyable ride. 

The summer also brought with it moments of reflection. The memorial for my dearest friend, her presence seen as a butterfly from heaven landed in front of us with other-worldly hues in its wings that could only be painted by God. Deep purples and blues I have never seen before, nonetheless on an insect. Although some insects are magnificent, especially those in National Geographic, her colors went beyond Nature's pallet. She fluttered up into the air and back down to our feet - then up again as though asking everyone to look at the glory that life still holds.

So, as much as things have changed, much is still the same. The blur of summer is clearing now, leaving time to return to what feeds me most: connecting with those I love.


In my efforts to strengthen, I discovered painting. It began by perusing Pinterest, discovering chalk paint, and watching endless videos on refinishing techniques. I can hardly sit for lengths of time at all, so how in the world I was going to make this happen was beyond me. But the pull was so strong that I ordered the paint, the supplies (shopping is still a feat that leaves me bedridden some days so Amazon is my new best friend, much to my husband's chegrin ;) Then I sat propped on pillows, or in my chair, or literally laying on my side, and began to paint my great-grandmother's 200 year old dresser in our foyer. It was a solid brown with handles so old and worn, removing them would result in splitting of the wood. I was so nervous. Would I ruin it forever? Would I have enough energy to finish it? What was I getting myself in to?

What should have taken an hour, took a day. But it was an interesting day. Every move I made was an exercise in strengthening. I straightened my spine, tightened my stomach, and with every brush of the stroke, envisioned my body getting stronger. Blood flowed through areas of my body that have been stagnant for three years. I broke into a sweat. And for a moment, I felt like my old self again.

Today I am on my bed, pain has returned and I am paying for my efforts this week. I have found something creative, and productive, that is also a form of therapy that is but another tool in my chest of possibilities.




Final Essay Of My Book

I began writing this blog as a practice in deciphering the stages of grief. Because that is what we feel we are experiencing. Don and I are gradually becoming more and more aware that who I was, is slowly drifting out to sea. Who we were, is passing us by like a movie in slow motion. Images of the day we met. Our first kiss. The birth of our children. All a magical phase of innocence. Fading. Into the distance. 
But in searching for "the stages of grief", I came upon the "stages of birth". Which made me wonder if what I am experiencing could perhaps be something new, rather than the death of what once was. 
The labor phase is done. First there is "lightening". This is when the baby drops. A sudden change in the normalcy of a pregnancy. When God decides it is time for something new. 
"The Bloody Show". A sign that life is about to change. When the protection of the womb is irradicated and anything is possible. Even infection. Perhaps a fear sets in. 
"Ruptured membranes". When others are now aware that you are turning inside out. When friends stand frozen wanting to support, but waiting for you to tell them what you need. 
"Contractions". The pain. The blinding, excruciating pain you cannot describe to anyone who has never had a child. It is a blending of worlds you've lived and the one you are about to lead. 
There are three stages to labor. 
The first, the latent phase, is the longest and least intense. During this phase, contractions become more frequent, helping the new life begin its journey to the light. 
During the active phase,  you experience a pressure in your back or abdomen during each contraction. But you are not ready yet for what is to come. Tears stream down your cheeks in silent anticipation of what will be. 
Then transition strikes. A wave of unfathomable agony when you suddenly know too much - that life can change in an instant from joy to paralyzing fear. 
But just when it seems too difficult to go on, others tell you that you must push through. Push as though your life depends on it. Because it does. If you don't you will die. And the life inside that is aching to get out will die too. And everything you ever dreamed your life could ever be, will be gone. 
So you push. And at the end is a life. Not a death. Even though you may have grieved the ending of what was. Even if you cried excruciating tears along the way. It is still a life to hold inside your hands to show off to the world and proclaim it as your own. 
I am holding this life in my hands. Because it is the end of my book. My arms weakened by their gradual collapse, I sense a closure to what was. I did not write this book with an ending in mind. I sensed the time would come and I would know the time to push. And something would be born. 
I roll over to my husband.  Breathing in his scent. Our life before my eyes. Our first site. The first kiss. The first time he held my hand and did not let go. I see him crawling on the sand with my children on his back. The first time he laid his heart on mine. I see him kneeling as he proposed the life we were to lead. And he did. He led our life to something so beautiful and profound it is something only God can see. And after all that we have done. The family we have made. Yes, our life has had to change. We still make time to grieve. 
 I will bare into the challenge. Birth is never clean. But without the challenge of the birth, new life would never be. Without change there is no growth, the purpose of living would be lost. So I have shared my challenge with you, so you might know you are not alone in pain. 
There is no easy way to tidy up a birth. But when you finally get to look into the eyes of a life you will now have to lead, you just might see a bit of God staring back at you. 
I say goodbye to who I was. It is time to tend to who I will become. And now I say good night. And for the first time I see myself. And I believe. 

Micaela Bensko



Three A.M.

The apple's juices opened up inside my mouth, mixing with my tears. Three a.m. is rarely kind to me. It's when thoughts rise from the deepest sleep and toss the heart into a spin. Somehow the sweetness reminds me of life's innocence. I haven't written in a while. Perhaps an experiment with denial. But like any river, once dammed,a pressure builds, and the release can leave one startled in its wake. I woke to the book on tape still murmuring in my earbud. The rhythmic breath of my husband. The gentle nudge of Reggie's paw stretching into my thigh. The burn inside my spine from my trying too hard to be free. I'm learning, and adapting, to life in a chair. But sometimes when lost in a whirlwind of growth, life becomes blurred and feelings are forced beneath the skin. Until three a.m.It just hit me, that only months ago I could shuffle my feet to cross a room. Now my body caves likes a tree that's broken in a wind, my chest edging to the floor as my spine collapses in its fold. My face is to the floor within seconds of searching for hope, that maybe this will be the step when life will turn. So now my life is from the chair. Albeit it is a pretty cool looking little chair. A woman at the doctor's office told me so, but in a way that was all too real. As though now it was a part of me. Like a dress, or pair of shoes. The color of my hair. I am now also my chair.  My husband released his hold on me, he's learned to wait each storm - quietly bracing me to his chest until the calm.  When the storm slows down and branches are cradled by the wind. In the stillness once again, at three a.m. 

Carolyn Jordan How fragile we are, and so many of us pop out of bed in the morning not quite understanding the blessing in that. I was driving the other day and it popped in my head that the worst thing in my mind to happen to me would be to go blind, and I panicked at the thought. I wrote a college essay on how in our 20's our bodies are the enemy - not thin enough, whatever, but as we age, we learn to respect our bodies, that they are our trusted vessel and yet can also give us unimaginable pain.The adjustment you are having to make is huge, but don't stop believing that you will rise again!!!
Unlike ·  2 · Delete · Today at 6:24am
Louise Micaela I love you ladies so. We all have our "chair". Whether it has wheels or not. 
Meg , there's comfort in knowing we're not alone. I certainly don't like focussing on the negative, but as Bobbie says, there's a beauty within the darkness. We can only see that when life is still, and the tears subside. Especially when there's that soft glow around our eyes where tears leave droplets on our lids. I still always search for hope. I still find joy in every day. But it's only human to slip into the night when thoughts take us to that place where we are meant to be - in order to shed our skin and ready ourselves for the next turn in the road, wherever it may lead.  
Like ·  2 · More · Today at 6:29am
Bobbie Kogok You are right, and part of a grieving process, it's healthy.
Unlike ·  1 · Delete · Today at 6:32am
Louise Micaela Carolyn , sweet girl, your thoughts reminded me of this post from a while ago xoxo :


For the times I looked you in the mirror and asked why you weren't 'her'
When I turned to see my backside just to asses its girth
When I should have gently thanked you for getting me through the day
When all I should have done was love you
I should be ashamed

For the days I drove the kids to school because my brain was tired 
Perhaps the weather wasn't right or the streets could have been dryer 
For all the times I parked too close and wished I had a plaque
The only thing I wish for now is that I could take it back

I see this now because today I looked at you
And didn't wish you were someone else I just felt gratitude
For carrying my spirit
And the burdens in my heart
For staying strong when all I saw was a life falling apart
I love you more than ever before because before I could not see
Everything you are that I was ashamed to be

A miracle of God that is mine for while I'm here
On this often winding journey
Protecting me from fear
You are my link to God and all I have to do
So why should I have been ashamed of you with all you have to do?

I am sorry to my body for the time's I've been unkind
For all I've seen because of you how could I be so blind
For all that you have given me, my family and my name
I only have one thing to say
I should be ashamed
Like ·  2 · More · Today at 6:33am







The Shade

An email tonight from my mother left me in tears.  I love her so much. Her love reminds me when I get down, that the future doesn't matter when all you can do is live for each moment. 
I don't know what the morning will bring. How good or bad it will be. So I can't look forward to it. Looking back on what happened and why, does me no good. I used to bang my head against the wall (so to speak) dying to know how and why this happened. I drove my pain psychologist nuts. It did not matter how, or why. All that mattered was how am I today. How will I get through the now. Tomorrow is not mine to control. I can control my choice to react. 
The pain is the beast that controls my choices, and that is my biggest struggle. The only tool I've found to fight this, is to see how close my crashing sense of mortality brings me to God. When I flare, nothing else matters but God. He is all I have. All I live for. I know this sounds odd as a wife and mother of four, not to mention a daughter with incredible patents and a sister to a brother I adore. But without any effort, when my pain questions the meaning of life and why must I go on, it is my faith that this challenge is not selfishly for me to learn or grow. One's trial is a tool for God to help others witness their own mortality, to help others pause in reflection of their own lives. 
I never thought I'd be in a wheelchair. Nor that my greatest feat of a day would be learning how to load my chair into my car by myself by watching various YouTube videos by people like me. Folks who are young enough to drive a jeep,old enough to need an SUV, and secure enough to expose their vulnerabilities on a site where gimp-stalkers unite. 
I've accepted I am now a gimply one. We made it home from a rare dinner out that left my bones collapsing like pixie sticks. I transferred from my wheelchair to my stairlift and road it to the top, then waited for Don to bring my chair to the top landing. Then someone knocked on the front door. I can do this, I said. I held onto the banister and held my weight up to assist my steps to our bedroom. With each step my chest lowered closer and closer to the ground. By the time I reached our doorway, my trunk was parallel to the ground. My legs weighed a hundred pounds. And I needed my chair. Needed. Not wanted. Needed. 
I have come so far with my pain management, as long as I don't try to step, or walk, or sit for long periods of time. 
Tonight I realized I am now officially 95% wheelchair bound. 
I will not stop here. My latest stimulator surgery still needs time to seal in with scar tissue. Then I will dive into more therapy, and see if we can rebuild what muscle and brain connection to muscles can be rebuilt. 
So much has happened since my accident. So many turns, procedures and surgeries that have culminated in a life I never thought I would lead. What I do know, is that as horrible as I may feel at times about my new ability to memorize the paint pimples on the ceiling, when I pull my very own fully-blinged pitty-party card, I keep coming back to the fact that I know there is a plan. There has to be a plan. Or I will throw all of my blinged pitty party cards off my balcony to be shredded by various varmints overtaking this season's petunia patch. 
My faith in God, is my faith that the only thing that matters is what is in front of me, right now, in this moment, and how the loved ones in my life are faring due to present blessings or conflicts. When your life is broken down to making it through a day without tears,and looking for ways to make each moment one that may linger in others' minds, it's pretty simple to let go of the rat race I used to run with a heart so desperate to win, I never noticed the trees with shade along the way. 
My life now is all about shade. Not just for me, but for any one who wishes to get away from the race that no one wins. My friends stop by now and put their phone on silent. My home will be quiet as we visit during school hours, candles are lit and soft music will play. Things I never did before my life would dare slow down to be the silence we all need just to 'be'.  
My lesson of late is to share with my friends a reminder that life thrives when it is still. To turn off the phone while we hold hands. To look into each other's eyes when discussing a broken heart and knowing that heartache is seen by someone other than themselves. 
My gift this month is knowing that my doctors have altered my life. Pain levels, though complicated, are becoming more manageable if only I do not walk. When I lay flat or only use my chair, I can smile again -something I thought was lost for ever. I feel guilt and embarrassment that last fall my therapists got me to walk with poles and toes tied to my shins. I tried so hard to keep it up, only for my neck and spine to collapse in anguish, pummeling my optimism into the chair. The ego is a powerful foe when fighting to believe in your self. The irony is the ID can be your greatest fault when trying to find who you are once you've lost everything you've been. 
So, for now I am trying to accept different types of joy. The joy of teaching myself to load my chair into the car all by myself. The pride in dismantling my chair to bring it piece by piece upstairs on my lift to say to myself is be okay if I were alone. I find peace in smiling back at waiters who think my chair is kind of cool, or my kids friends who think my service dog is the celebrity of the school. 
So until we know if my new normal will all ever go away, it's my obligation to share the gifts I've found in the darkness of the shade. 
Micaela Bensko
Vice President
PO Box 1931
Rancho Mirage, CA 92270
c 310-990-8389 

On Jun 6, 2014, at 10:12 PM, wrote:

Honey, I just left your blog, Who is this Lady, really is so beautiful, and so true for all of us. In a way you are lucky to be able to stop and know yourself, the rest of us race through life from one moment to the next, never stopping to figure out why.  I love you so much for helping me see life as it really is, full of such meaning, depth, reason, and questioning.  There are answers we will never know, days we will always wonder, but one thing I know, God is with you and I hope myself.  The reason for all of this will be revealed at some point of our life, or afterlife.
I know he gave me this absolutely beautiful daughter who challenged life both mentally and physically for 40+ years, and then an accident happened, one so difficult that it challenged her every thought and took apart every cell in her body.  She had to start reassembling herself all over again.  And she did it, not the same as before, but better in so many ways.  I love you honey, you are the beat of my heart and I thank God every night for having blessed me with you.



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All Bryan Anderson wants for the loss of his three limbs, is a house for his fellow Purple Heart recipient that works. 67 likes · 0 talking about this

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Gary Sinise Takes The Reigns


Subject: Gary Sinise Takes The Reigns
Gary Sinise Takes The Reigns!
      Bryan Anderson and Gary Sinise 

Dear Friends,

There are no words to adequately express our gratitude to Gary Sinise and The Gary Sinise Foundation. As of yesterday, they have offered to make Bryan's wish come true in the rebuilding of fellow wounded warrior SSG Wood's family home. This has been a powerful reminder that even in these uncertain days of conflict, there is so much good in this world - all we had to do was believe. 
Please share these good works of this incredible foundation on all of your social media networks. Gary never publicizes what he does for our wounded, never sends out a press release. This can be our way to give back to him as well for all he selflessly does for our troops.
Micaela Bensko 

To support the Wood Family Project under the 501c3 Gary Sinise Foundation, please go to and designate the cause as The Wood Family Home. 


Purple Heart Home Reconstruction Project
By Micaela Bensko

All Bryan Anderson wants for the loss of his limbs, is a house for his friend that works.

Tony and Joedi live in paradise, but their home has become anything but a relaxing, or safe, place to be. Window frames are rotting through. Stairs are falling apart. The septic tank has collapsed one too many times. But it is still a home to SSG Tony Wood, his wife Joedi, and twelve beautiful kids. The house is not the only thing that has been damaged. Tony is a Purple Heart recipient from Operation Iraqi Freedom 2005.

Now back to the twelve children. Two of their children are biological. The other ten are fostered or adopted. Tony and Joedi live in Hawaii and have been fostering children since 1987. Married for twenty-six years, it seems a key to their lasting marriage has been the common goal of giving to others who did not have a home to call their own. Joedi's full time position is as a mother to all. 

Two months after Tony was injured in Iraq, another member of his team - and his best friend  - Bryan Anderson was seriously injured when the Humvee he was driving rolled over an IED. The explosion severed off both of his legs, his left arm, and parts of his right hand. It was Tony's face he saw when he opened his eyes at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It is Tony's family he would like to help by creating a coalition to rebuild the Wood family home.

Bryan says, "If anything good can come out of all of this, there's only one thing I wish could happen. I want Tony to have a home that he deserves." As a triple amputee, Bryan now travels the country in support of various charities, a most personal one being The Gary Sinise Foundation.

Bryan and Our Daughter Emma
Upon relocating to California this month, Bryan stayed with our family in Santa Clarita until his new apartment was ready. His passion for wanting to help the Wood family was contagious and we immediately began brainstorming. I called my friend JD Kennedy (former head of Veterans Affairs for our district's congressional office) - who was just 18 days away from Election Day- and by the next day we were in our living room along with Jeri Goldman of Santa Clarita Valley's KHTS Hometown Station and SCV Habitat For Heroes, and the Wood family home reconstruction project was born.


When I first met Tony, he had just re-classed as an MP from Infantry. I love meeting new people and like to think I have a pretty good judge of character. Not only was Tony one of “the good guys”, his sense of humor was razor-sharp. He was the kind of leader that had you laughing your ass of one minute, and ready to lead his team in a hot-second. He was the ultimate egalitarian that made everyone around him feel like they all mattered the same, but always functioned as a leader the guys respected. Being around Tony helped me reconstruct the harsh reality of being in a war zone, to being in a foreign country with my best friends, and with every move I made their lives were on the line. Tony gradually became a brother. Even though we were in the seeds of hell, his positive outlook and comedic timing made being in hell a lot more palatable.

Hearing about Tony’s incident was absolutely devastating. I don’t think anyone is actually prepared for that kind of news. As weeks dragged on, it was increasingly difficult to get any update from the states on his status. All we knew was that he survived and the prognosis was that he was going to “make it”.

Two months later, I was hit, and ended up at Walter Reed. Although my family was beside me, I had never felt so alone and isolated from my brothers. I had all sorts of feelings, like I took the easy way out because I didn't have to be in Iraq anymore. I felt guilty. All I wanted was information about my unit. I needed to connect with them, be a part of them if even on the telephone. Then one day I opened my eyes from my bed and Tony was standing there. It was Tony, man. Right there. And I just teared up. I was so happy to see him that suddenly I knew I would make it through whatever was ahead of me.

For the next few months we pulled one another through our healing process. Every day I knew he’d be there and it would be one more day that the world would be okay. Then, before I knew it, he was gone.

So much has happened since our days at Reed. We have both led busy lives, my work kept me traveling around the country on speaking tours and supporting different veteran charities, and Tony lived all the way in Hawaii, so it was tough seeing each other. Then one day I booked a job in Hawaii. The first thing on my list was to see Tony.

Seeing Tony was like no time had passed. The army does that to you. You have brothers for life. When I saw his house though, man, it was tough. There he was with a great wife and all these children – they have an awesome family. So much going on all the time. But I couldn’t help but see the structural condition their house was in. A military income is not that great, especially with twelve kids. Tony took pride in telling me about how whenever something goes wrong he figures it out, or his church comes together like the time their septic tank blew out. It seemed to me the only down-time Tony ever had was spent trying to keep his house from falling apart.

Through my travels and work with foundations, I've been able to help raise money for veterans for just about everything - including housing.  Most soldiers that receive houses are amputees, but in my opinion, even though tony is not missing any limbs, he is the true definition of what a soldier should be, in and out of the war zone. Tony deserves this, but not just because he was injured, but because he is one of the guys that never asks for anything. All he does is give. He gives to everyone around him. He gave in Iraq and he hasn’t stopped since.

With everything that has happened to me, losing three limbs and all, if any good can come out of this, this is the only thing I’d wish for. If I am in a position to make a difference in the life of my friend – a true American hero, it’s my hope to see other good people come together with me to make this dream of mine come true.

Bryan Anderson
Donate Via The Gary Sinise Foundation And Designate The Wood Family Home

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The Garden And The King

My husband wiped the evening's meal off of Donald Trump’s limo. My morning sickness was terible at night - Which somehow helped me blend in with the 2am bar patrons, unlike when our group entered Madison Square Garden for the KISS concert earlier in the evening. We did not blend in then, on a summer night in New York City, twenty years ago. Needless to say, we had a feeling this was going to be an interesting evening.

I was star struck as we drove through the city, but it wasn't The Donald that held my attention. Or his hair. It was the buildings. I was star struck by buildings. I couldn’t help it, I opened the sunroof of his limo and stood with the warm summer air patting at my cheeks. It was a brief escape for my square peg from the round hole of the New York elite It’s hard enough to feel like you belong anywhere when you are in your twenties, still trying desperately to discover who you really are and what you really want. The other wives were coiffed with  designer clothes. Their hair was Blonde. The men were silver. The driver was anxious.

I was six months along. The top of my swollen belly pressed against the sunroof frame. Something about pregnancy makes you bold - brave enough anyway to allow Donald Trump to witness my swollen ankles like elephant feet cut off at the knees; the kind they make coffee tables out of.

We arrived at Madison Square Garden. As we entered the building, the audience began to stir like bees in a hive. Word travels fast in a sea of New Yorkers. They must have seen the hair. As we walked to our seats, the crowd grew louder, and louder.

Then he did it. The Donald raised his hand to the air - like Hitler with a toupee. The king of New York had addressed his subjects. (Remember, this was twenty years ago.)

The Garden rumbled. I turned to The Donald with a question mark. He shrugged his shoulders to the girl from the sunroof. He was used to all of this. The buzzing. The sunroof.  He was used to The Garden. The bees. I envied people who were used to such things. It meant they belonged to something larger than themselves.

Then the chanting began. Dah-nuld! Dah-nuld! Dah-nuld!
We followed him through The Garden like ducklings. It got louder. Dah-nuld! Dah-nuld! I had never seen anything like it in my life, Nonetheless been stared at by so many people at once. Of course, they weren’t looking at me, but still, the sense of visual invasion was so overwhelming I wanted to suck my head so deep into my neck that it would lodge in my ribcage. But Dah-nuld? He loved it.

Trump is Trump. Love to hate him or hate to love him. Either way, it spurs a response.

We finally made it to our seats. And I made it through the concert without throwing up. Until we went to dinner afterwards. And got back in his limo. It stirred deep inside, like bees in a hive. A piercing ash in the corners of my jaw bleed through my bones. Gentle waves of nausea lapped at the back of my throat. My skin clammed and faintness overtook my jovial mood. Pull over, we had to pull over. I couldn’t do this in his limo. Not Dah-nuld’s limo. My husband rang the alarm. She’s gonna blow! The limo came to a stop against the curb, I scuttled to the foo, my head just barely reaching moist wall of humid summer air. And it happened. I threw up all over Donald Trump’s limo.

I don’t think he ever knew I did that as he went home after dinner in another car. In twenty years I don’t think I have ever even mentioned it to his wife, so why not just blog about it, I said to myself. I mean how many people got to blog about the night they strolled into a garden amidst a sea of bees and christen the limo of a king? And so, I did.