Random Thoughts

What Quiet Dignity Looks Like

I’ve been watching as the media is interviewing people who lost relatives on 9-11 and asking what Bin Laden’s death meant to them. This is a post about the people I know personally, and my take on how they’ve reacted. I’ve been privileged to work with the families who lost rescue workers on 9-11 since a few months after that tragic event, as a staff member of the Twin Towers Fund. I’ve also worked with the kids from many of the families who lost parents in the towers or on the planes and their parents have trusted me, along with my fellow staff members, to be their counselors, care takers, guardians and friends at America’s Camp and related events for almost 10 years now.

I’ve seen the hurt, the anger, and the sadness on the faces of these children, up close, for myself. I’ve also seen them laugh, play and have a chance to be normal kids, not “that kid who lost his dad on 9-11.” As a photographer and videographer, I’ve captured moments that show these emotions, and that break through our everyday lives and show what it means to be human.

That’s why I’m proud to share a few quotes today about what quiet dignity looks like. Some can shout “USA” and post about “mission accomplished*,” these children (now adults) are sharing what this terrorist’s death means to them on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere.

I’ve blurred the names and pictures, as I’ve promised never to share family information out of respect when I worked for the Twin Towers Fund. I won’t change that now.

From a graduate camper who lost a parent, now a counselor – see her concern for her bunk campers, a group of younger kids who lost a parent.



From one of the campers who has helped my photo and video team in the past:



From a quiet but strong graduate camper, now a counselor:


And the discussion on his wall:







And finally, another graduate/counselor’s tweet, one that inspired this post:







Thanks to all my America’s Camp friends for responding to this news in your own way. You continue to inspire me and show me why I’ve worked at camp for, as of this summer, 10 years.

*By the way, in my mind, our mission is “accomplished” when our service men and women are building levies in New Orleans with the Army Core of Engineers, building villages in Haiti or providing logistics support in Japan, instead of getting shot in Afghanistan or Iraq. Be safe, service men and women!

SXSW Cares

Here at the South By SouthWest conference, several of my friends noticed the “fiddling while Rome burns” effect of people socializing and going to parties while tragedy continues in Japan. Realistically, people here are not going to drop everything and become rescue workers, and I think it’s challenging to keep up with news during a conference of this size.

But we can’t and shouldn’t ignore the situation abroad and that’s why many people I admire here at the conference started SXSW Cares. Donations at will go directly to the Red Cross, with no transaction fees, meaning 100% of funds raised go to charity.

I encourage my friends to take a moment to make a quick donation, and help our Japanese neighbors in their time of need. Thanks.


Running Contests for Dell

On the Harbrooke Blog, I’ve announced two contests.

1. From Thursday 2/24 at 8 am Eastern through Friday 2/25 at 8pm, the folks at Dell and Zócalo Group will be looking at tweets that are sent that include my Twitter handle, @howardgr, and the #tradesecrets hashtag***. People sharing their tips on how to make a great first impression will be eligible to win a Dell Vostro V130. Please only share one tip during this time for your entry. If you have more tips, see below.  (Please RSVP in my comments if you’ll join us for this)

2. On Monday, 2/28 at 2pm Eastern Time, I’ll be holding a Twitter chat, discussing the same subject. Anyone who participates during the time stated when we start, also using the #tradesecrets hashtag will also be eligible to win a Dell Vostro V130.  (UPDATE: Please RSVP in my comments and tweet it if you’ll join us for the chat – Sample tweet: ” I’m joining @HowardGR on Twitter on Thur, Fri, Mon to share tips + a chance to win a Dell Vostro V130 #tradesecrets “)

The full rules are on the other post at

I hope you’ll participate with me.

Disclosure: I’m compensated for these contests.


How We Enjoyed our Taste of Toronto

Back in May, I attended a blogger event and won a “Taste of Toronto” vacation courtesy of Porter Airlines and the Intercontinental Hotel Toronto Centre. This past Columbus Day Weekend (also Canadian Thanksgiving) the family headed off to Newark for our Porter experience, and a long weekend in Toronto.
The Newark-based crew was very nice – we arrived early enough that we were able to take an earlier flight!

Toronto Columbus Day Weekend 2010-1.jpgHere we are in our  leather seats on the plane. Porter flies into Toronto City Airport, which is a small island in Lake Ontario right in downtown Toronto. It looks like this (when viewed from the CN Tower). Toronto Columbus Day Weekend 2010-3.jpgWe got into a shuttle bus and were delivered to a hotel just a 2 block walk from the Intercontinental. We dropped our bags and grabbed some lunch. Then it was off to visit the CN Tower, right behind our hotel.

Toronto Columbus Day Weekend 2010-2.jpgThis Toronto landmark is easy to see from anywhere in the city. The kids loved looking down from the glass platform. We also went to the very top to the observation area, where we were 143 stories above the city. On a clear day, you can see Niagara Falls. We couldn’t see the falls…yet.

That night we ate in an Italian place on King Street, a few blocks from the hotel. This restaurant row had lots of different choices, but we had very tired kids.

We all went back to rest, which was good, because we were up bright and early (for us) on Saturday morning to attack the day. We bought a transit pass that was a very good deal – all subway and streetcar/bus transfers for the entire weekend for four of us for 10CAD. Well worth it.

We took off to see Casa Loma, a very special castle built by Sir Henry Pelllatt, a man famous for his work in electrifying Toronto using water power from Niagara Falls.Toronto Columbus Day Weekend 2010-6.jpg

There were amazing stained glass works, beautiful gardens, and a great audio tour in a cell-phone-sized package that each person was able to carry around with them – included in the price of admission. The kids loved learning about the history of the castle.

We stayed for a while, then took a walk down to the closest subway station to trek back across the city to enjoy some of Canada’s national sport – Hockey.

Toronto Columbus Day Weekend 2010-7.jpgThe “Marlies” are the local minor league team, and the tickets were much more available and more affordable than trying to get into the Maple Leafs game. The Rochester Americans won the game 4 to 2, to the disappointment of the local fans.

After a dinner of some Indian food we hit the pool in the hotel – the kids loved it.

Toronto Columbus Day Weekend 2010-10.jpg The next morning, Sunday, Canadian Thanksgiving, we rented a car and headed out of town to Niagara Falls. Yes, the town is tourist-y and cheesy and expensive. But this is one of the natural wonders of the world and we all loved seeing it. We did the obligatory Maid of the Mist boat ride, which, despite the ponchos, left us soaking wet. Thankfully, the day was sunny and unseasonably warm, and we quickly dried off and walked around. Toronto Columbus Day Weekend 2010-9.jpg We took a ride on a Ferris Wheel that allowed us to see both the Canadian and American falls, and was a huge hit with everyone. Back in the car, we drove to Toronto’s China Town area, where we walked around and sampled some Chinese “buns” from a bakery. We returned the car and called it a day.

For our last day, we again took advantage of public transportation and went to the Ontario Science Center. (But not before an excellent breakfast at Tim Horton’s.)  At the museum, Harris couldn’t stop playing with the electronic circuit display, which lead to an excellent Hanukkah gift idea. Toronto Columbus Day Weekend 2010-11.jpg

After enjoying many of the exhibits, we headed back to the hotel to grab our bags and head to the airport. Unfortunately, mother nature had a fireworks display going on near Newark, and our flight was delayed a few hours. On the plus side, Porter’s terminal in Toronto is like a business lounge, with free wifi, coffee, snacks and 20 or more iMacs for public use. The kids were full and happy (and so were mom and dad.)

All in all, a fantastic trip to Toronto, made even better because part of it was paid for already. We had a great Porter experience, and the Intercontinental is highly recommended. Hope you enjoyed this little trip report.

(Blogger disclosure – as noted in the previous post – I won two tickets and two nights were awarded by the hotel. However, no one said I had to make a blog post, made the award contingent on anything or asked us to do anything in return. I’m just sharing the experience since we enjoyed it so much.)

Random Thoughts

What I Learned About MS by NOT Riding the Bikeathon Today

My backpack is packed with extra tubes, tire tools, supplies, Clif bars, and electrolyte jelly beans. My bike jersey sits alone, unworn. I did not get to ride with my friends Tony and Andy today on the 30 mile trip around Manhattan that we’ve been training for since early spring. Here’s Tony and me on one of our recent trips. Who knew the ambulance sign in the background was foreshadowing?

I exceeded my $1000 fund raising goal thanks to you, my friends, some of whom I’ve only occasionally heard from in years but who still opened their wallets for my cause.

Hell, I’m ready to ride! I did 16 miles last weekend over hills and Manhattan is basically flat compared to where I’ve been training.  And I was so psyched to be with thousands of riders, riding the highways of NYC without fear of cars and enjoying the city skyline from my bike. The legs are willing. More than willing.

My back, however, is not up to the task.

Yesterday, after a short 5 mile warm up, I reached down to pickup my helmet and that was the straw that tweaked my back. Maybe it was two 7 hour flights in coach, or lifting luggage, or walking with a heavy backpack through London. But since yesterday morning, I’ve taken Advil, Aleve, Valium,T equilla, back patches and cold packs (only some of them at the same time). Nothing has stopped my muscles from being clenched and keeping me about 20 degrees off vertical when I stand. I walk like Bart Simpson’s grandpa.

I can only say how disappointed I am that I couldn’t ride. But on the other hand, in a few days, this will pass and I will be up and about again, happy to be riding and working and doing whatever. My sister and those with MS know this kind of feeling well – the inability to get through the day and do simple things when you need to. This small setback for me is just that. But it helps me appreciate even more that I’m basically healthy.

So, I owe you all 30 miles. I’ll be up to it, soon. In the meantime, your support helps fund research that may eventually allow my friends or my sister to bike alongside me and talk about the times when she couldn’t. Until then, we continue to ride for the cause.

Thank you.