Science is a Work of Art … and a Headache Full of Math

I have a love-hate relationship with physics.

I love the way it sounds as a word. It’s a pleasurable one to say—like cupcakery, flibbertigibbet, or I’ve just won the lottery.

Okay, that last one is not so much a fun word to say as it would be a fun phrase to shout.

But “physics” is lovely to pronounce.

I also love that it works the way people expect it to—airplanes alight, bowling balls roll, people don’t fall off when on the upside-down part of Earth’s rotation—stuff like that.

I appreciate—nay, love—that so many people on this planet understand the science that studies the nature and properties of matter and energy.

But what I hate … is that I’m not one of them.

It’s not that I haven’t tried, because I have. I really have. As in sat down, read books, attended lectures, asked questions, did experiments. All that jazz. Definitely not half-hearted attempts to crack the codes of complex concepts.

It was effortful work.

But it just didn’t stick.

It never does, and I feel entirely deflated with the results.

Currently, I’m working on an art installation project with someone whose background is both fine arts and engineering. We have a massive canvas which we’ve agreed to apportion and parcel between us, settling upon no theme other than some sort of Venn diagram of shared experiences.

My first outlined section involves a three-headed snake, slithering downward through the seven levels of celestial existence, depicting the metaphysical realms of deities and including the classical planets and fixed stars.

It’s pretty.

His is a physical representation of irrational numbers. It is lines both curved and precisely angled.

It is math.

I said, Can you see how mine shows the concept of the divine wrestling with—

I get it. He broke in, nodding. I’ve studied religious antiquity through art. It’s pretty straightforward. Now can you see how mine is the answer?

I squinted at the canvas. The answer to what?

To everything.

Everything? I echoed.

Yes. To the universe, to space, time, you, me, the existence and meaning of everything your mind can conjure.

My mind was not conjuring. My mind had stumbled to a cracking fat halt.

I don’t get it, I said, feeling a hot creeping blush move across my face. Where’s the formula part?

I received a look of incredulity. He pointed to the canvas. It’s right there. Where the lines and arcs intersect and join. It’s all present. It’s simple. It’s elegant. It’s beautiful.

He moved across the canvass, sweeping his hand from one point to another. Five or six minutes passed where words like “thermodynamics,” “quantum mechanics,” and “electromagnetism” were meshed with phrases like “the laws of motion” and “Bose-Einstein state of matter,” and “Are you truly not getting this?”

It made me worry. Again.

As I am currently on my way to see my daughter in her place of work. It’s a place that makes spaceships.

And everyone there comprehends all the words and phrases of physics to a point so deeply understood they can be trusted with millions of tax dollars that gets sent up to planets we all hope might one day hold a few Starbucks.

Her colleagues are the kind of people who could easily look at my art partner’s portion of our canvas and say, Yeah, man. That’s so beautiful.

They are the kinds of people who have pi tattoos, and blow-up dolls of Newton sitting a desks at work, and regularly visit therapists for anger management issues related to Flat-Earthers.

Chloe is, understandably, a little bit nervous, as in the past, when touring the facilities that educated her to qualify for her current place of employment, I apparently asked questions that left the occasional professor befuddled and giving her a second sideways assessment as to whether she may have been adopted.

Those questions usually involved time travel and multiverses—which at those moments were, in my defense, valid and being discussed by true blue scientists and not stripped from episodes of Star Trek.

And it’s not like I was asking whether all the orbiters and rovers we’ve been sending up were going to be interfering with my monthly horoscope.

Besides, I much prefer divination by means of flour. There is nothing more accurate than aleuromancy, as Chinese fortune cookies have yet to let me down.

So as I sit in my assigned seat on a fancy flying machine that surely neither Newton nor Galileo could have imagined, I am left staring out the window and wondering what I could possibly add to the art installation that could stand up to “the answer to everything,” whether I would find anything comprehendible when shortly visiting Chloe’s spacefaring factory, and whether my luggage would arrive at my final destination.

Pulling out my daily ration of much relied upon soothsaying, I cracked open my rice cookie and read today’s fortune:

A closed mouth gathers no feet.

Surely, this could be voted as a potential fourth law of motion.

I will consider it.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Rabbit Holes: Some Call it Daydreaming, Writers Call it Work

Aristotle argued that all objects craved their “natural place,”—the geocentric center of the universe. That would be Earth. Okay, well at the time Aristotle was sucking in air Earth was considered the be all end all.

And maybe yes, there exist a few folks who still believe this and are lagging a bit behind with their history homework, not having quite caught up to where the rest of us live—aka more than two thousand years in the future. And within the world of fairly trustworthy science.

Although, to be fair, the science we all believed one hundred—or even one thousand years ago was believed to be trustworthy too.

Until it wasn’t.

Regardless, it was explained to me that ‘Aristotle believed that a dropped rock fell to the earth because rocks belonged on earth and wanted to be there.’

This is from a book currently resting on my bedside table: But What If We’re Wrong? By Chuck Klosterman.

Often, I liken myself to Aristotle’s rock. I belong at my desk, in front of my screen, with my hands hovering over my keyboard, and my eyes effortfully scanning words across a page.

Except thankfully, there are other forces of nature at play (read friends and family) that repeatedly fight Aristotle’s idea of gravity where I am concerned, shoving me out into the world where people and ideas are in mix and at play.

I am not at all a fan of going places where you have to make eye contact with others, or exchange words that add up to more than those in a haiku, or share the same oxygen molecules. This behavior comes about just before birth when whichever deity is creating your personality profile decides you’ll be a professional recluse and switches on the genetic codes for artless, awkward, blundering bore.

But ultimately these opportunities are the catalyst that make the question WHAT IF burble up from the basement of my brain. And that is not an altogether unpleasant feeling.

It starts like indigestion but then belches out with measurable relief.

Yes, regularly I collect data to support the theory that I should simply stay home and away from crowds (read anyplace another person is already occupying), but more often than not, I am wide-eyed with surprise to discover the hidden gems of history, or art, or that people have moved on from wearing elastic waist pants and eyeglass ropes.

Except no. Turtlenecks are here to stay, dammit. (And the earth is the center of the universe … Yeah, yeah, I hear you.)

The WHAT IF question is one I have pinned up on my computer screen. It is the foundation for creative thinking. And creative thinking is the foundation for creative writing. And creative writing is the foundation for paying my bills—as people will not buy books that scream, “I’m exactly like that story you just read yesterday only my characters are Latvian!”

Yeah, not gonna fly.

But how many of us practice asking WHAT IF (insert head scratching query here) in real life? Chuck Klosterman did because he had to write a book where he asked a pile of crackerjack thinkers questions about their level of confidence on subjects like physics, and time, and whether AOL would ever come back into fashion.

And I do it because the thought of copying someone else’s ideas and simply giving them a limp and an accent is about as creatively appealing to my brain as separating all of the lint from my dryer into individual color piles.

Also because I enjoy electricity and food. Again … near carbon copies of other people’s tales do not equate to financial security. And more often than not a lawsuit.

But in real life? I’m not terribly sure I engage in this examination. Not nearly often enough anyway.

And maybe not at all ever—but that would be wholly embarrassing to admit on a public platform so let’s all pretend I didn’t, okey dokey?

This is not some sort of mid-life crisis desperate attempt to fill ever widening, fathomless gaps in my life, but rather just an everyday exercise of whim and whimsy. And okay, maybe a touch of the age thing, but hush—just follow me here.

It’s a fairly effortless task in my working realm, as the sky is the limit ergo, nothing is absurd. I can confidently lean back in my chair and ponder the impossible:

WHAT IF my main character quit his job, won the lottery, or discovered he had cancer?

WHAT IF my guy slowly starts to disappear, or can now communicate with polar bears, or wakes up with knees that can bend fully backward?

WHAT IF he can think himself anywhere, or program the earth to stop spinning, or activate himself to become any element in the periodic table?

WHAT IF every fictional character ever written about comes alive? WHAT IF we discover that our laws of physics only work this way on earth because we’re stuck on some default setting of one on a scale of ten and the answer has been printed on the last page of every IKEA instruction booklet?

Yeah … rabbit holes.

But I rarely spend time going into that warren when I and my life are the subjects for consideration. And it might be fun—if not a little necessary at times.

We’re all full of certitudes in life. We’re sure our political view is wide enough, confident we think with deep consideration, positive we’re slightly above average—at least in comparison to the other yahoos we find ourselves surrounded by.

But what if we’re wrong?

What if I’m not really meant to be Aristotle’s rock?

What if I’m meant to be Aristotle?

If we’re all going to be proven wrong one hundred or one thousand years from now, where’s the risk, right?

Think the absurd. Be the absurd. Do the absurd. Accomplish the unthinkable.

Physician, heal thyself? How about writer, imagine thyself.

~Shelley

 

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Ask for the Moon, but Settle for a Star

“Really?” I said in a weak voice that imitated a woman who’d just been told that her mother-in-law was about to become her new roommate.

Or that new federal regulations on sleep had been voted into law and now five hours a night was the limit.

Or that the last glass of Chardonnay available to mankind had just been sold and there will be no more. Ever. Again. Period.

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In truth, none of these things would apply to me as I have no mother-in-law, I’m managing to squeak by with an average of 4.95 hours most nights, and as long as we don’t replace Chardonnay with the word whisky I can somehow manage.

But I still uttered the word with that same tone as I looked up at the old star perched atop the Christmas tree I’d just dragged into the house off the roof of my car.

It’s the first decoration that goes onto the tree every year. The equivalent to the commencement ribbon cutting. The thing that signals the official beginning. That object of honor.

But that object of honor decided that showing up for work this year was going to be a bit of a stretch. It refused to light when I plugged it in.

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“Do you know how much I count on you?” I asked it from where I looked up at it, lying on the floor, covered in pine pitch and prickly fir needles. “I put a huge amount of faith in your kind all year long. You cannot check out on me just yet.”

I let my head fall back onto the sticky floor and really thought about what I’d said. It was true. I counted on the existence of these heavenly bodies with about the same level of addiction and enthusiasm as my son’s belief that our freezer is the birthplace of frozen pizzas.

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They will always be there for us.

I wake up to the blinding crack of sunlight most days as our nearest star climbs above the wide stretch of horizon I see out my bedroom window. Ah, Death has not yet pointed a knurled finger at me and dragged me off in the middle of the night. Get out of bed.

Each night I make a point to make a wish on the first star I see in hopes that whatever tiny prayer I offer up might be met with a genie’s “Your wish is my command” kind of an attitude in the forthcoming days. And then I am told by my space-science savvy kid that in fact, the object I have been throwing requests up to is not what I believe it to be.

Apparently, I have been spending years wishing on a planet.

Dammit.

And in truth, half of my country has elected a “star” per se to lead, and run, and oh-my-godfathers represent our nation as it makes four more trips around the sun.

I looked around the room empty of everything except holiday decorations and echoed that one word I’d said just moments ago but this time to a box full of shiny red balls, “Really?” I half expected it to answer me back.

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I started to fine tune my worries as I stared hard into the face of 2017.

What can I count on?

Who will show up to do the work that needs to be done?

What are the odds that we will ever run out of wine or whisky?

Glancing back up at that decoration forced me to pull the lens back a bit and redefine things in a way that annoys the hell out of my children because it’s the only way I think: in metaphors.

This tree is our country. Everything hanging from it are the people who live in it and are trying to find a temporary place to perch. That star … well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?

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If there was any one thing that people have routinely criticized me for over the last many decades of my life, it would be that I’m too sanguinely spirited, too rose-colored glasses earnest, too naively hopeful.

Yes, genetically speaking, perhaps my default position on the optimism meter is a bit off the rails—like far enough off the rails to be considered beyond the ditch and somewhere halfway into the farm field full of corn.

But I have a strong belief in the system, in our series of checks and balances, and in some invisible hooded Monty Pythonesque figure called Fate who’s somehow keeping score. These are the things that keep me from joining throngs of others who are now so overwrought with how the year has taken shape they are looking at ways to buy their own island and make a fresh new batch of people.

I get it. This has been a year where most folks have been sleeping on a bed full of pins and needles. We’re asking ourselves some really tough questions. And what’s making it so damn difficult is parsing through the fictitious and fraudulent answers we keep tripping over.

It has been a challenging slog. An effortful climb. Things we’ve counted on as concretely dependable are crumbling, wavering unsteadily.

Things like how we define the truth.

Are we really being advised to get used to a “post fact” society? That this is the era of post-truth politics?

It was Heraclitus who is quoted as saying that “The only thing that is constant is change.”

I can get used to change—hard as it may be. But I don’t want to stretch the line of discomfort to say that I will grow used to immorality, or dishonesty. I still want to live in an evidence-based world. I spend all day long in a fiction-based reality, but I’d like to come home to a fact-filled planet.

I thought we were making progress. I thought we were making improvements. I thought we were making room for one another.

I wrap the white and multi-colored lights all about the branches of this tree and plug them in. Most of them illuminate. Some are blinking fast and furious, flashing dramatically for attention. Others are calmly swelling to their full intensity before dimming down and repeating their pattern of participation. And some have been snuffed out. Their years of service come to a quiet dark end. This is us. We are those lights and baubles, the trimmings and treasures.

I may like some of them more than others, but they all go on the tree. There’s space enough for every one of them. They all made it into my home somehow, destined for that tree—whether I fell in love with them, was gifted them, or took pity on them. There will be room.

I stare back up at the large unlit star. “Hey,” I say to it. “I’m asking … pleading that you show up for work. Everyone else is here and some are even trying to get along. You won that covetous position up there because of your fancy marketing and packaging. My first choice was to go with something rather homespun and a bit rough round the edges. You made a promise from the shelf and, even though I can’t recall ever putting you into my cart, you’re here, and now I’m expecting you to do the great grind.”

Lead.

Head.

Shine.

I turn out all the lights and lie back on the floor. For a brief second or two that big ol’ star flickers.

I am flooded with hope and watch it intently.

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I hear the sound of an ice cube drop into the tray in the freezer.

Or maybe it’s the sound of another frozen pizza being born. A post-truth fact I could easily get used to believing.

As tough as this year has been, I’m not ready to give up faith because, as the great English poet Sarah Williams said, I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

Happy New Year to you all. I wish you peace.

~Shelley

ONE LAST CALL: Robin has his annual calendar of curiously clever cartoons for sale and time is running out. If you’re hoping to take a peek a tiny bit farther into his unfathomable brain, then I suggest you head on over and order yours tout de suite! It may be the one bit of comic relief you come to rely upon to get you through 2017!  Robingott.com

For the time being, our blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

 

 

 

A 422 Day Year? Yep, It Happened.

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If pressed one day to reveal my dream tattoo, its explanation would arise as a result of watching far too many Monty Python skits.

More than likely I’d need to find a space massive enough to accommodate this:

All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us? 

The one thing missing, I would hazard to say, is the calendar we depend upon today.

Imagine this– you are a farmer, tied to the land and your animals, agrarian in every sense of the word, and counseled beneath the Roman Emperor Numa Pompilius’ calendar.

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Lunar to begin with, it consisted of a mere ten months—March through December. Now as much as many folk would wish to be rid of January and February, Numa spit in the eye of his subjects’ greatest fears and threw two months into the beginning of the year, officially recognizing the missing sixty days of terror, when unmentionable fiendish ghouls ruled the streets. Yes, you could still walk around covered in ash and leap through the flaming pyres of purification meant to ward off those who shall not be named, but now you’d be able to pencil in on which day you’d prefer to have a chalky complexion and ones where you’d singe your coattails.

Fast forward around six hundred years. Same ancient farmer—well preserved from a fine diet off the land—and same ancient calendar: lunar and totally bungled. Sure, Numa threw in a few extra days here and there to appease those around him with better mathematical skills. But complaints were rife. A 355 day year falls a little short for the agricultural savviness of most farmers, and after a decade or so, they’re getting reminders from Outlook to start planting seeds around December 23rd.

Houston? We have a problem.

Cue Julius Caesar. Even though the guy had a lot on his plate: a budget crisis, political corruption, throwing a few dinner parties complete with gladiators and lions, he apparently got tired of showing up way too late for the Vernal Equinox Festival each year. Things had gotten so out of whack while Rome was busy conquering the world, nobody noticed—unless you were friends with a farmer—that the first day of spring was scheduled for somewhere in June, just after school let out. Something had to be done.

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Since he had friends in high places, Caesar sought the help of someone whose influence was of the highest order, astronomically speaking.

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Sosigenes, an Alexandrian greatly envied for the size of his telescope, er … astrolabe, was beckoned forth and instructed to untangle the calendrical conundrum. Pronto.

Up for the challenge, Sosigenes took out his freshly cleaned slate and chalk, came up with a slick marketing plan, and presented the new Julian calendar, complete with slides. The only glitch was that before implementing the shiny new calendar, they had to set straight the old one.

Thinking no one would mind—or even notice—Sosigenes threw a few missing days into the current year. Sixty-seven to be precise. Thirty days were added in between February 2nd and 3rd and thirty-five snuck in just after the last day of November and the first of December. The other two might have been tossed in as a couple of three day weekends.

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Still, no matter how much publicity sparkle the PR department tried to spin it with, the Romans became a cranky bunch. And who could blame them?

February now seemed like an unending Lent, and Sosigenes was getting hate mail from kids who were expected to be ultra-patient for the start of the Christmas season. People were going to have to wait an ungodly amount of time see if Caesar would put a menorah on the front lawn of the Basilica. Sadly, they’d never know.

Regardless, there are a couple of things we can take from the lesson of what soon became coined as The Long Year. Firstly, Rome realized their kids were falling way behind in math and sciences and that the Chinese were catching up. Secondly, Romans back then were older than what their driver’s licenses said. And lastly, we’ve got little to complain about when every four years we tack on an extra day in February, because seriously, look at all the Romans did for us. If you can’t remember, I’ll show you my tattoo.

~Shelley

For the time being, our blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

The Brains Behind … Well, Just About Everything.

Do you remember that old United States Army slogan? The one that barks out: We get more done before 9am than most people do all day.

Yeah, I’m not so sure what level of commercial success those folks found when using that little jingle to advertise club membership in America. To be honest, I think McDonald’s research proved a little more triumphant when broadcasting their opinion of: You deserve a break today.

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Still, I bet most of us can probably think of one or two people who actually fit the bill for the timeline of military grade accomplishment. I’ve certainly met one.

Well, not exactly met, but saw interviewed.

Okay, not exactly viewed in person so much as watched on screen from a satellite feed.

Which was a little bit silly since the person was, in fact, interviewed in the next building over, not more than 100 yards away.

But I suppose that’s how someone like Elon Musk rolls, and it was quite fitting for the situation.

Now if you’re one of those folks who barely keeps up with the pace of how frequently your new president, prime minister, or monarch gets voted or crowned into office, then you might be more on par with my ability to track new faces thrust into the media spotlight.

No judgment.

So here’s the skinny on Mr. Musk: He is not a musician, a sports star, or a politician. He is not a reality TV character, an author, or a celebrity chef.

He is basically a giant brain supported by a couple of legs.

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In truth, Elon Musk may very well be all of the things mentioned above, but his accomplishments in those categories have yet to make headline news. But I’m sure if we all give him a minute or two, they’ll start to show up. He truly has the biological computing power equal to ten people, and seems to have fit each of their lifetime achievement awards into forty some years.

A few of this man’s accomplishments include co-creating PayPal, working as CEO and head of product design at Tesla Motors, occupying the chairman’s office for SolarCity, and oh yeah, in his spare time, he launches rockets into the great cosmos with a little company called SpaceX.

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The opportunity to hear Mr. Musk interviewed was brought to my attention by my daughter, when she announced he would be appearing on her campus as part of an aerospace symposium that would include some of the most current and historic superstars that have left their mark within the history of space exploration. Was I interested in throwing my name into the lottery with the hopes that we could get a couple of seats in the auditorium to see the Q & A?

Um, hell yeah.

Sadly, the lottery did not work in our favor, but the university kindly did not leave us standing in the lobby with our ears pressed against the theater doors. They set up a few more rooms where folks could watch big screens broadcast the interview for that ‘doesn’t it feel like you’re practically on stage with him?’ experience.

And truthfully, I think it was probably more revealing than sitting in the back of the auditorium just behind the woman with the hairdo that required its own zip code and the man who had set new physical records for height and breadth on his pediatric growth chart.

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The first thing I noticed was our guest speaker’s eyes. They were showing signs of more than your typical wear and tear. I turned to my daughter. “Somebody needs a nap.”

After initially shushing me, she said, “The man doesn’t have time to sleep.”

“I hope he’s not refusing his body the biological need to use the toilet as well in favor of harnessing an asteroid. I’m pretty sure there are a bucketload to choose from.”

My daughter ignored me. The great god of science was speaking. And if you didn’t closely pay attention, you could very easily miss out on an off the cuff statement announcing his next biggest venture. Mr. Musk was like that. Little pomp and circumstance. Just a casual comment about how now one of his companies was planning to reuse their rockets instead of allowing them to crash into the sea, another company was going to create a subsonic air travel machine that would flip folks back and forth from Los Angeles to San Francisco faster than one could make a sandwich, and yet another that is working on a solar powered, suborbital, metagalactic spacecraft that will not only stop time, but reverse it in 30 minute increments.

Okay, that last one I made up, BUT I WOULD NOT BE SURPRISED!

Elon Musk is a man who doesn’t just gaze up at the stars in wonder. Chances are he’s a guy who recently looked up and decided he was growing weary of the same ole same ole constellations each season, and according to the latest space frenzy gossip, will likely whip up 700 new satellites to blanket the Earth and provide global internet access. It might be nice to see some new bling on Orion’s Belt, right?

I suppose for a fellah who finds ideas spilling out of his brain at such a clip, and who regularly works a 100 hour week, it’s not unexpected to see his name and face splashed across the news as many times in a day as I brush my teeth—and I am all about dental hygiene.

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And it’s not a shocker to see how hard he’s working to get our butts onto Mars, to give us Earthlings a new pad to crash. Because one thing I recently discovered about the red planet is that its day has 37 minutes more than ours.

After learning this trivia tidbit, and having absorbed all that’s on this fellow’s ‘to do’ list in any given day, I’m guessing Mr. Musk is just hankering for one where he can get everything done and throw in a quick thirty minute kip to reboot.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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Boundless talent–okay, some of it has been bound.

Today, a literary feast! I provide below a buffet of edible words and bite-sized bits of authors I highly recommend you get a taste of. (Plus, I answer four questions about my own writing endeavors.)

Facetime-erskine_2_2Participating in a blog hop is a lot more fun than getting a root canal, but not nearly as exciting as winning the National Book Award. Kathy Erskine is one of the only people I know who can speak effortlessly (and humorously) on all these topics and a bucketload more.

One of my all-time favorite authors and a squishable friend, I was more than pleased to throw off my shoes and pick up my pen at Kathy’s invitation to join her in this escapade.

Kathryn Erskine grew up mostly overseas and attended eight different schools giving an interesting twist to her writing.  She draws on her life stories and world events to write her novels including Quaking, an ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, Mockingbird, 2010 National Book Award winner, The Absolute Value of Mike, a Crystal Kite winner, and Seeing Red, a Jane Addams Peace Award Honor Book set immediately after the Civil Rights era that questions who we were then and who we are now.

Her upcoming novel, The Badger Knight, is a Middle Ages adventure about a small, sickly teen with albinism who runs off to battle to prove he’s a man — which he succeeds in doing, but not in the way he thought. She is currently working on several more novels and picture books.

She loves travel, taking walks, being in nature, exploring places (any places), laughing, playing games, learning languages (or anything, really, just learning) and eating chocolate.  You can learn more about her at http://www.kathrynerskine.com/Kathryn_Erskine/Home.html or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/kathy.erskine and Twitter at http://twitter.com/KathyErskine.

And now we go to the interviewed portion of the program …

1) What am I working on?

Currently I’m teaming up with Neil Degrasse Tyson in an effort to prove that “black holes are the cosmic mothers of new universes,” but I tell you, it’s tough going. The fact that Neil is wholly unaware of my participation is irrelevant, but I am on that team 100%. The research is arduous; the backlash from some of the world’s persuadably arthritic scientists is a wall of resistance we’re trying to push through. But Neil and I are optimistic.

On a smaller scale of the cosmos, my writing projects are zipping along at what feels like light speed, but is likely clocked at effortful chugging.

DEAR OPL, my middle grade humorous novel about a pre-diabetic thirteen-year old struggling with food and grief, signed with Sourcebooks and will be published June 2015. Currently, the focus is all about pesky edits, but then begins the many month long process of countless photo shoots in order to capture a superb author photo. Again I use the term arduous because nothing else seems capable of describing the lengths this team of editors, marketers, and publishers will go to in order to create the final product. I’m really hoping we don’t end up going with a selfie.

Any leftover time that hasn’t been allocated to either Neil or Opl is directed toward rewrites of two other novels which are dueling in battle to secure the first place position of next in line to publish. The clash is bloody and deafening, and I am nearly at the point where I tell them that I’m either going to flip a coin or mash them both together into one story. It’ll end up being a manuscript about the reclaiming of Scotland’s independence led by a band of mythological fairies. I’m not getting a lot of positive vibes from that choice though.

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2) How does my work differ from others of this genre?

Not everyone makes the decision to mix NASA with obesity and diabetes—and I’ve had my fair share of criticism—but I’m a risk taker. Keeping the two separate is what we’ll likely end up going with, but I’m sure somewhere there’s a Venn diagram that will support my theory that some crossover data exits.

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Still, if we’re strictly speaking of my middle grade novel, I’d have to say that writing about regrettable and distressing topics such as those that are plaguing our children today may flag my work with labels that indentify necessary issues. Adolescent or adult, many of us have elevated levels of stress and anxiety we’re battling. Sadly, we’re using Twizzlers and Moon Pies as our swords and shields.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Writing is what keeps my spirits afloat until I can finish the blueprints of the small moonshine still I’m designing for the backyard. As my rotgut enterprise would be an illegal one, I have been advised to continue championing attention to less illicit endeavors like campaigns for adolescent healthy eating, self-confidence, and encouraging kids to make the impossible dream of scoring perfectly on all standardized tests a reality simply by giving up all fun and sleep. Although I might drop the last one.

4) How does your writing process work?

Wait … there’s a process?

Alright then, my process is this: I wake up and do my morning ablutions, throw in a load of laundry, feed anyone staring longingly at the fridge or pantry shelves, clean the kitchen counter of teenage detritus—bowls, glasses, calculus notes, Ben & Jerry tubs, highlighters, iPhone cords, physics books, socks, glue, receipts from the last six months stored in the glove compartment of someone’s car that were finally brought inside to be filed, tea cups, and a thank you note from NASA, do the dishes, clean out the cat litter—I could go on, but I’ve got to stop because I’ve just heard gunfire outside.

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… Everything’s fine. It was a small scuffle between the two fellows who are digging out the spiritus frumenti foundation. We talked it out, I confiscated their muskets—and the jug of hooch they were arguing over, and gave them each a granola bar. What can I say? They’re cousins. And each other’s uncle. Welcome to Virginia.

So writing then, yes? At some point, in between a few rounds of all the above, I find my desk and start thinking about just how funny diabetes and obesity are. And this is the hard part, because they aren’t. But that’s the beauty of humor. You have to work to make the painful and the prickly into knee-slapping subjects to occasionally attract the desired eyeballs away from YouTube or Xbox or computer science how-to-hack manuals. It involves a lot of bathroom breaks, and I try everything out on the hound before I write it down.

It’s not a process for everyone, but it is a process, and I am all about action. Just ask Neil. He knows.

No wait … he actually doesn’t.

~~~~~~~~~~

And now, may I introduce three fantastic writers who should start showing up on your radar. Firstly, let’s meet Deborah Prum.DebCropped_2_copy (761x800)

Deborah M. Prum has a heart for reluctant readers and those who struggle with learning disabilities.  Her YA novel, FATTY IN THE BACK SEAT, is about 15 year-old Cuss, who is challenged by undiagnosed learning disabilities. Fatty_in_the_Back_SeatTold with humor and sensitivity, the book does not sugarcoat issues yet offers hope to readers. An audio book version will soon be available.

Her interactive, multi-touch iBook, CZARS AND CZARINAS, is designed to engage reluctant readers. TINYThe book is a humorous and anecdotal account of the first nine centuries of Russian history.  It includes: an introductory song, slide shows, charts, portraits that speak to you, various sound effects for artwork (bells ringing, horses whinnying, thunder, etc.)    You can visit Deb at:  www.deborahprum.com

Next up is none other than my extraordinary partner in crime (or cartoon), Robin Gott.

Rob head shot.pub1

Robin ( Rob) Gott grew up in North London, England, in the house once inhabited by the boy who would grow up to become Boris Karloff. Scared away by the ghost of the famous horror film actor, the family moved to a house in Stansted in Essex, previously owned by Douglas Fairbank’s Junior’s daughter, and the venue of a Rat Pack party or two.

Whether all this show business history had any effect on the youthful Robin is food for thought, but he did drift into working in the film and TV animation in London, as an artist, and later working with story development. In 1994 he packed his bags, moved to Malmoe in Sweden, fell in love with the lovely Karin, and there he’s been ever since.

He draws cartoons, acts and writes. He’s written songs, poetry, scripts for graphic novels, two screenplays (one commissioned by Per Holst, a Danish producer) and is now being encouraged by his two boisterous sons, aged 8 and 10, to write a children’s novel. This is very much in the early stages, and at the moment he’s gathering all the ingredients for a hopefully wondrous concoction inspired by Anthony Horowitz, Roald Dahl and of course – Boris Karloff!

Rob loves being with his family, especially at their lakeside cabin nestled cozily in a Swedish forest, fishing, running, cooking, playing guitar and flopping about on sofas, drinking English ale and watching old black and white films.

You can learn more about him at www.robingott.com or on Facebook.

Last, but nowhere near least, is a writing friend I owe a great deal of thanks to for getting my ‘out of shape’ manuscripts fit for publication: Abby Murphy. I will always be grateful for her keen eye and willingness to slog through that which I dump on her desk. She’s just about as good as it gets.

profile_1Abby Murphy is a self-proclaimed history nerd who lives in Providence, RI. She has donned 19th-century clothing to work at a living history museum, pored over manuscripts at a literary agency, and she now teaches middle school students to read, write, and think. She writes YA historical fiction and recently finished a novel based on her great-great-grandmother, who traveled to Europe in the 1890s. You can learn more about her at http://keepthehearthfiresburning.net.

~Shelley

Three days left for the “Help A Teen Do Experiments in Space I Don’t Understand”  fundraising campaign on Indiegogo. If you think space is cool, give it looksee! And a massive thanks to all of you who have already contributed to science. You guys are awesome. 😀

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

 

 

 

 

 

The Rocket’s Red Glare

“Mom. Mom. Mother! LOIS!”

The last one always gets my attention. Yes, I know it’s not my name, but if I’m in a crowd and hear someone shout Mom, a thousand women turn around. This is the pattern of words/bird calls that my kids find necessary to stimulate my consciousness—my awareness of their presence (read demand for attention).

“Yes?” I raised my head to see my daughter standing beside my desk, her face a mixture of annoyance and impatience.

“Let’s go. Hurry up.” She held her iPhone in her hand and beckoned me. A man’s voice chattered through the speakers.

“Who’s on the phone?” I whispered.

She rolled her eyes. “NASA. We’re waitin’ on you now.”

GNC systems are nominal, another iPhone voice chirped.

I looked at my computer’s clock. 11:10 pm. Finally, I was awake for some big aerospace worthy event and not simply going to hear about it the next morning because it took place at 3:52 am and I chose sandman over spacemen.

I leapt from my chair and followed my daughter to the mudroom where we popped on our boots and jackets. Outside, the air nipped at any spots of exposed skin, so I did a little running in place to warm myself. I got shushed for bouncing too loudly and interfering with the crackling sound of our NASA Wallops men. They were ticking off boxes on a long checklist of things that could easily make a team of scientists fall to their knees and weep like children who lost a game of checkers if one of them didn’t get a ‘Thumbs up and go for it.’

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SMA?

SMA is Go.

SMD?

SMD is Go.

NAM?

NASA Advisor Team is ready.

Copy that.

My daughter ran in the house to shut off the kitchen lights, which gave me ten seconds of bouncing to myself. Kinetic energy converts to thermal energy, right? I was trying to think like a scientist. Then I heard her and the Wallops men float down the back porch steps in the dark.

I looked up into the inky black. The stars were crisply sharp tonight. It was as if NASA had done a last minute vacuuming of the sky, ridding it of any dusty bits that might interfere with seeing the rocket launch.

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“What’s our rocket called?” I asked.

“Shhh.”

LADEE is Go for launch.

“Ladee?” I nearly shouted. “As in Bruichladdich? Wahoo!”

“SHHHH!!!”

T minus 90 seconds.

I was thrilled. They named the rocket after my favorite distillery in Scotland. And suddenly I was in desperate need of a dram to celebrate—if not just to warm up.

“I can’t believe they named the rocket after a whisky.”

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Even though it was too dark to see my daughter roll her eyes, I knew it accompanied the tsk sound that came from her mouth. “Mother … *sigh* … the rocket is not named for an alcoholic beverage. LADEE stands for ‘Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.’ Now be quiet.”

“Poetic.”

“SHHH!!”

T minus 35 seconds.

RCO report range go for launch?

Range is Go.

SSC hydraulics internal?

Hydraulics Go.

“Where do we look?” I whispered.

She thrust a sharp finger eastward to the tree line. Even her fingers were shushing me.

I stood on tiptoe to see Wallops Flight Center. It was about one hundred miles away as the crow flies (or the rocket hurls). It turns out that I cannot see one hundred miles away. At that moment, Haggis, my hairy hound, hurled himself out of the house and—keenly aware of the heart-palpitating excitement and the need for speed—ran circles around us while barking.

“MOTHER!”

I grabbed at his collar and pulled him nose to nose. “Be. Quiet.” I pointed at my daughter. “Can’t you hear that her god is speaking?”

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T minus 20 seconds and counting … T minus 15 … T minus 10, 9, 8,

A rocket was hopefully going to the moon. It was so exciting.

5, 4, 3,

I held my breath. I really wanted to bounce.

2, 1, 0, ignition and liftoff of the Minotaur V with LADEE, pursuing a mission about moondust and the lunar atmosphere …

We saw nothing.

Six (static) naught copy (static) mach four … pressure is nominal.

“Where is it?” I whispered, fingers crossed. I really wanted to see my rotgut rocket. My Bruichladdich LADEE. My moonshine heading to the moon.

Pressure is nominal.

What the heck is “nominal?” I don’t want nominal … I WANT VISUAL!

An orange ball rose from beyond the tree line, and I grabbed my daughter’s hand. “There it is! There it is!”

We watched the fire from this tiny toy rocket blaze through the sky, like a slow moving falling star going the wrong way. It was breathtaking.

Our NASA men kept us informed how all the flight instruments and power systems were performing, how the attitudes and flight paths were spot on, to watch for a separation, ignition and burnout because they were all part of the show. It was marvelous.

“How long will it take to get there?” I asked, thinking we might see pictures of its successful arrival online in the morning.

“October 6th.”

“Wha??” I balked at the thought of it. “But the moon is right there.” I pointed to the area I saw it hovering the night before. “It’s like … spitting distance. Are you sure?”

“I’m sure,” was her answer.

“When are they going to learn that unmanned missions are a waste of fuel? They should have just asked Tom Hanks to drive. He knows the way.”

My daughter turned to face me and sighed. “Goodnight, Lois.”

I blew a kiss at the tiny orange dot. “Good luck, laddie.”

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~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

Hashtag – Teen Talk

Sometimes it’s incredibly hard to connect with my teenagers.

Alright, let’s be honest. Just strip off the first word of the last sentence and give it a reread.

Even so, there are times where the sun and the moon and the stars align, and for a small window of time, conversation flows, laughter bubbles and no one ends up sporting a flesh wound.

And lest you think I’m using the astronomical expression in jest, I assure you I am not. This rare event of ‘togetherness’ occurred on the night of the “Supermoon.”

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This is a name that was coined by astrologer Richard Nolle in 1979. Loosely defined, it’s a full (or new) moon that’s as close to the Earth as it will get without bumping into us. If the moon had arms and fingers, it could practically touch us at that point in its elliptical orbit.

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And just for a second, I’m requesting all science and space-minded folks to please work with me here. The rest of us will surely struggle if I’m required to use correct terminology like perigee and apogee and syzygee. Maybe we can all agree that once every eighteen years the earth’s horizon births the largest chunk of lunar disk we can likely remember ever seeing. It’s like watching a cheese-colored growth sprout from the ground way off in the distance.

On this particular night, the three of us sat on the porch and ate a dinner none of us were particularly interested in. But we all agreed it might be nice to watch the sun set and listen to the transition of day sounds to night sounds. Day sounds around here are birds, tractors, cows and bees. Night sounds are whippoorwills, frogs, crickets and shotguns. For years, I’ve attempted to alter my mental interpretation of that last sound. I now simply classify them as … angry birds.

I have to admit that about fifty percent of the time, when in my kids’ company, I cannot understand what they are talking about. They’re mostly trendy topics I only begin to clue into after hearing about them on NPR—way after they’ve become moth-eaten and someone has written a book about them—or I Google them myself and realize that I’m so outdated, even my browser acts judgmentally and flashes me a quick subliminal message of, That was so yesterday.

There’s also a small percentage of the time when I find I cannot understand what my kids are talking about even to the extent that I cannot understand their words. Period.

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But this usually happens when we’re all together, I’ve just finished speaking, and the two of them turn to one another and start talking–then laughing. It takes me a minute to grasp that they’ve switched to Spanish. Solely for the purpose of making fun of me.

Every time scenario number one happened on the night of the Supermoon, I excused myself and dashed to the other side of the house to check on the progress of the moonrise . I didn’t want to miss it, plus it gave me a little privacy to quickly Google whatever it was they were talking about.

Every time scenario number two happened, I excused myself to “check on the progress of the moonrise” but actually went into their bedrooms and programmed their alarm clocks to go off every hour from 3 am onward, and then next secured a piece of duct tape over their bathroom faucets with just a tiny gap at the front.

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 ¡Yo soy la madre de la venganza!

Eventually, on one of my return trips, I saw the moon begin to surface. I raced to get the kids, telling them to come to my bedroom balcony. Of course we made such a ruckus the dog insisted on joining us, and his added enthusiasm woke the sheep, who then wandered out the barn and into the meadow to add their bellowing two cents worth. And as is natural for farm animals, once one is awake and bawling, all animals on surrounding farms and within earshot join in the uproar, which then sends every local hound dogs in a tailspin and the only thing that can quiet the whole tumultuous pandemonium is a couple of rounds from the angry birds.

Once everyone had given the thumbs up indicating they were clear of gushing bullet holes, we were back to admiring the Supermoon. And it was super.

Massive and luminous, this sallow-colored ball rose through wisps of clouds, illuminating the hazy sky to glow with shades of cream, biscuits and buttermilk.

Moon gazing is hungry work.

Binoculars opened a vast new window of detail, leaving me amazed at the similarity between this orbiting satellite and an unpeeled orange. (Yes, dinner was totally unsatisfying.)

I’d never seen such clarity and true splendor. It was magnificent.

I could have stayed there all night, but a storm was brewing outside. Of course, it wouldn’t be long until lashing bolts of deafening thunder were unleashed inside as well.

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But I could live with that. It made a nice change of pace from the unsettling hashtag lingo and the growing flock of angry birds.

Shine on you crazy pearl.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

Dancing in the Hydrochloric Acid Rain

* Today, I bring back my guest blogger/editor/teenage daughter/biggest critic and share with you an essay she wrote as entry for a competition. She assures me it isn’t poetry, but the words sing sweetly in my ears no matter the genre. And although she long ago gave up her dream of becoming a ballerina, and decided pop star, zoo keeper, veterinarian and Laura Ingles Wilder were all professions unworthy of further pursuit, she has never, for one moment, taken her eyes from the skies.

This kid still wants to be an astronaut.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Space Shuttle Atlantis roars off the launch pa...

When I first saw the space shuttle Atlantis lift off into an oppressively warm Florida sky from Banana Creek, I felt the most resounding reassurance echo inside of me. The sky popped, the loyal thousands cheered on their space program, and my voice was lost. The ground beneath me trembled with the roar of powerful combustion engines, but I felt immovable, unshakable. The culmination of thirty years of a nation’s laborious efforts rose on a burning orange ladder into a space unencumbered by the debris of humanity. The higher the Orbiter flew, the surer I felt. This was my passion.

 I wanted, so badly, to stay for the hydrochloric acid rain. But my mindful parent had other plans.

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I have known, ever since I was the size of a lima bean, that I wanted to study science and work in aerospace. I love space, with every bone in my body, with every atom in me that fell, eons ago, from shining stars. I cherish the moon, the planets, and the stars, carefully plotting their slippery dance across the sky. I have spent countless nights, heavily caffeinated and wrapped in blankets, waiting for the streak of silver as the International Space Station zips by, counting the green and white flashes of icy meteors and marveling at the silent power of rockets launched from Wallops Flight Facility. I envision myself in the aerospace industry one day, working with people I cannot wait to meet, dedicating my life to an engineering pursuit I know can change how we live here on earth.

physics

physics (Photo credit: Hash Milhan)

I am happiest in school when in a science or math class, intrigued, propelled and amazed by the laws of the universe, humbly revealing themselves on a chalkboard. I fell in love with physics, the hardest and most all-encompassing class I had ever come head to head with, in my freshman year of high school. From that point on, I knew I would never be truly happy with my work unless I was pushing myself to the envelope of my ability. For me, that rewarding challenge lies in studying science. I have always been one of those students who has to understand an issue from all perspectives, an approach that holds an incredible payoff in scientific pursuits, such that understanding the governing principles behind electromagnetism makes a lightning show that much more spectacular. I cannot wait to get to university and find other people who cover their bedroom walls with mission patches and find NASA TV infinitely better than MTV.

Self Portrait and So Much More

Self Portrait and So Much More (Photo credit: Fragile Oasis)

I am a firm believer in the necessity of the continuation of space exploration. Space holds so many potential benefits, from spinoff technologies to border-crossing human relations, and I believe that to abandon it as a settled frontier would be a terrible mistake. Armed with a degree in aerospace engineering/astrophysics and an insatiable love for midnight launches and ocean splashdowns, I want to be part of the next generation that cooperates with engineers all over the world to return to the Moon, land humans on Mars, mine asteroids, design rovers and determine the inner workings of our beautiful universe. I bridge the gap now with lab internships, where chemistry classes come to life on whiteboard walls, in dry boxes and in centrifuges. But it isn’t enough.

English: Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d...

Amazing opportunities like the Virginia Aerospace Science and Technology Scholars and Johns Hopkins summer classes allow me to reach beyond the academic requirements of my high school and delve into what truly inspires me, be it rendezvous/docking procedures or the origins of Einstein’s theory of special relativity. I can say, quite honestly, that the summer I spent filling hypothetical telescopes with water and understanding the nuances of the Michelson-Morley experiment while wearing glowsticks in my hair was the best three weeks of my life. The glowsticks were related—I was supposed to be a photon.

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I have one of the luckiest passions in the world—all I need to do for inspiration is look up. When I see a spread of glimmering stars, practice a radio call or a turn around a point in my parents’ little four-seater plane,

NASA "Mohawk Guy" To Host Show On Th...

NASA “Mohawk Guy” To Host Show On Third Rock Radio (Photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video)

or watch NASA’s esteemed “Mohawk Guy” cut another star-shaped swath in his hair, I am reminded of the wonderful science that I cannot wait to be a part of. I know that for as long as I live, I will pursue my passion of space, wherever it takes me.

~Chloe

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

Maneuvering thru March Madness

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My favorite things to do in March 
• Count the days until April
• Make all food green and shamrock-shaped
• Try Irish whiskies
• Keep track of the number of days until the first day of Spring
• Realize that Spring break has begun
• Pretend that Fat Tuesday only happens on one calendar day of the year

My least favorite things to do in March

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• Count the days until April
• Eat green, shamrock-shaped food
• Pretend I like Irish whiskies
• Forget the first day of Spring
• Realize that Spring break has finished
• Come to terms with the fact that Fat Tuesday could easily be replaced with Chubby Wednesday, Bloated Thursday or I-Hate-My-Closet Monday

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My favorite poem about March
“The sun is brilliant in the sky but its warmth does not reach my face.
The breeze stirs the trees but leaves my hair unmoved.
The cooling rain will feed the grass but will not slake my thirst.
It is all inches away but further from me than my dreams.”
~ M. Romeo LaFlamme, The First of March

j
My least favorite poem about March

pg 192 Human Skeleton

pg 192 Human Skeleton (Photo credit: perpetualplum)

Spring Treasure
by DAVID LAPIERRE

Spring arrives slowly…
Seeds begin to quiver from
their frosty sleep…

My steps on the still-hardened ground
Thump
With vibrations
That wake up the roots…

Wake up, little fellows, wake up…

The sun begins its vernal ascent,
And its rays grow stronger by the day…

I gaze upwards to bask
In the warm, golden light…

…and stumble…

Training my gaze

To the brunette forest floor –
A stick? No, a leg bone. A skull. A rib…

Yes! Yes!
I found a body!
I always wanted to find a body!
Yes! Yes!

j
My waxing lyric about March

The nighttime peepers sing in full chorus (toads not Toms), slick from the upward climb through layers of oozing mud, a brown butter gift from river banks and softening bogs.

Belching tractors with their curved teeth inch slowly across a crust of soil the earth hides beneath, protecting itself from Jack Frost’s sharp talons.

And the inky, pin-pricked heavens declare the entrance of Auriga, the charioteer—our cosmic copy of Ben Hur, who dashes across the sky each night. His race against whom and to what destination remains uncertain. It might be that in his haste, the sound of his voice is lost to us within the wind that still shrills across the land and rattles newly budded branches.

So much noise to announce new birth. A heralding indeed.

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crocus (Photo credit: polkadotsoph)

There are softer sounds that go unheard, but not unnoticed, for who can hear the push of a crocus beneath its winter bedclothes? Can one measure in sound the growing length of daylight? Or the upward shift of mercury encased in glass?

Having been named for the Greek god of war, Mars, it seems fitting that March would be the month when Roman soldiers returned to service and revved up military campaigns. As it stands, holding off lovers’ quarrels for the full two weeks following Valentine’s Day would set records in our modern day world. I praise these ancient warriors for reigning in their tempers and the itch to decapitate anything with a tongue that speaks ill. We may want to revisit that page in history.

And as I am a devoted fan of any almanac—farmer or shepherd—I find myself nodding enthusiastically with the Middle Ages journaling wisdom of Ptholomeus, where he speaks of those who draw their first breath within the month of March:

Under this planet “is borne theves and robbers nyght walkers and quarell pykers, bosters, mockers, and skoffers; and these men of Mars causeth warre, and murther, and batayle.” *
~Compost of Ptholomeus.

*There could not be a more fitting description of my sheep.

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Yet the almanac foretells abundant pleasures around the corner if we simply bide our time. The slow and measured heating of the earth reveals new spears of green, a primrose-petaled face, a songbird’s sunrise narration, and a thawing creek’s reprise. A walk through mapled woods reveals the timid request for a share in the sweet, rising sap, one tiny, patient drop at a time. And just as we settle into that new patch of enticing sunlight, as we take off our shoes and point pale toes toward the warmth of our closest blazing star, fickle March inhales a lusty lungful and finds us with our faces tilted upward, our jackets tossed off and our eyes blissfully closed. The exhalation is a wicked one, a cruel one, a callous one. It is meant to catch us vulnerable.

It succeeds.

We recoil, grumble toward the sweaters we nearly put at the back of the closet, zipper up, hunker down and wait it out with a mug full of steam, a bowl full of broth, and a determined disposition.

Sure sign of Spring - Robin - Bird

Sure sign of Spring – Robin – Bird (Photo credit: blmiers2)

Spring will come.

It always does.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

Feasts & Famine, Saints & Sinners.

English: Statue of a woman praying. Decoration...

English: Statue of a woman praying. Decoration of the Aedicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old city of Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a child, I went to church.

A lot.

It felt like every day.

It was probably no more than twice a week—services on Sunday and catechism classes on Wednesday afternoons. Except for when we had choir practice, which was often held on Thursday nights. Or when my mother had a National Council of Catholic Women Who Needed a Night Out meeting in the church basement with coffee and pie, and I had to tag along. Or when there was an “extra” service celebrating a special saint.

There are over 10,000 named saints in the Catholic Church. Folks have stopped counting because they lost track a few years back. I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere in the fine print of a contract that all saints are dedicated a special service.

We have more saints than we’ve had presidents, astronauts and American Idol contestants combined. Throw in the number of iPhone updates we get in a year and we’re getting close.

The nuns from my class would get testy over the fact that we had trouble recalling which saints we were honoring each week, which I felt was terribly unfair, as they’d clearly had more time to familiarize themselves with the Pope’s Picks.

Magnesium Crystal Cluster Close-up

Magnesium Crystal Cluster Close-up (Photo credit: Paul’s Lab)

Simultaneously, we were in the process of memorizing the Periodic Table of Elements in science and things could get really tricky there. Was there a saint named Vanadium or was that a material found imbedded within meteorites? Were Valerian, Niacrinus and Gordian martyrs or metals?

It was even harder to concentrate during classes when a service was taking place upstairs in the church. The shuffling footsteps, the thumping of the prie dieu—that’s the fancy name for the kneeler benches–the muffled sound of the organ whirling away and the faint smell of incense that smelled like a combination of decomposing cabbage leaves and burning bleach. Eye watering. Oftentimes, the nuns would collectively sigh and direct us all up the back steps to join the service. When asked why we had to sit through church again for the second time this week, this is what we were usually told:

–        It’s a day of Holy Obligation—which I eventually found out was not true. There are six Holy Days of Obligation each year, not counting Sundays, and the year I finally started keeping track we’d gone seven times and it wasn’t even the end of January.

Occasionally, they threw in this explanation:

–        God has big ears and is keeping track of your lack of enthusiasm.

Saint Martin and the Beggar

Saint Martin and the Beggar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The one Feast Day I did happen to like was St. Martin’s Day, or Martinmas. Yes, the saint had an intriguing story, but I was smitten by the cryptic, hocus pocus magic of the celebration’s numbers.

Although America chooses not to make a big deal of the day, many other countries in Europe have bonfires, sing songs, have a family feast and give presents on November 11th. The thrilling bit was that they begin their Martinmas celebrations at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of this eleventh day of the eleventh month.

As a kid, this blew my mind. How could something magical not take place?

As an adult, I continue to look everywhere for magic.

I find it on the early morning breath of the sheep, in clouds of pillowy warmth, surrounded by whiskers filled with grain dust from breakfast.

It’s in the family of whitetails, sporting their shimmering, thick autumn coats in the slanting November sunlight, surprised at the iron beast that roars past, pitching them into nimble-footed flight from their deep, grassy beds.

I cling to the sky at dusk, marveling at how the thin, streaky clouds grow stained and saturated with crimson flames and plush blue velvets.

English: White-tailed deer

I search the inky heavens to discover the return of Pegasus, his wings beating breath into the blustery, black cloaked winds, sweeping the papery leaves about and whispering with a whiff of arctic air as winter chases him across the sky.

The snap of crackling logs, the heady, wood smoke scent, and the flush of radiant flames make a brick box come alive and funnel the focus of attention, enticing the harried and rushed to come sit a spell.

These are my saints, these are my feasts. These are my days of holy obligation. To notice, to celebrate, to capture, to treasure.

This is my church.

I hope God notes my enthusiasm.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!

Make a wish …

laying down on the job, in the middle of the r...

laying down on the job, in the middle of the road – _MG_0236 (Photo credit: sean dreilinger)

In memory of Neil Armstrong … our hero.

As a child, the most magical moments of my life were experienced lying flat on my back in the middle of a concrete road.

It was always pitch black, the night air cool, but you could still feel the warmth of the afternoon’s summer sun radiating from the asphalt below. I used to think the road soaked in the rays of sunlight during the day and held tightly to them until I spread out on its surface, and then offered up that heat to counteract the nip of nighttime air.

I’d bunch my hair behind my head, attempting a makeshift pillow so I could roll around comfortably on the gravely floor beneath me. Even so, after a moment or two, nothing short of someone wrenching an arm out of my socket in an effort to save me from becoming road pizza would bring me back to the present moment; that of four kids and their dad stargazing through the soft, magic nights of a Wisconsin summer.

English: This is a picture of Aurora Borealis ...

English: This is a picture of Aurora Borealis from canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mapping out the constellations, spotting faraway planets and staring slack-jawed at the aurora borealis, we swore we felt the earth spin and convinced ourselves how easy it could be to slide off and find our bodies propelled into the dizzy mess of twinkling stars.

I grew up with a thirst for the stories behind those skies: the tales of a fierce warrior chasing sisters across a width of space he would never lessen, a deadly scorpion hot on his heels, a great bear seeking revenge, a dragon wrapped around the celestial north pole—forever spinning, addled and delirious, and a horrifying hydra, snaking its way through the heavens.

It’s one thing to be the child, bewitched and wide-eyed with little knowledge to draw from, but an entirely unexpected feeling to be the adult, still in awe, but from the truth rather than mythology. As alluring as my world of made-up fable and folklore is, my own daughter—drawn by an unquenchable thirst for answers—is determined to pull the thin veil from my fiction to reveal the facts.

The Eagle Nebula M16 Peering Into the Pillars ...

The Eagle Nebula M16 Peering Into the Pillars Of Creation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At times, it’s been easy to resist, as attempting to wrap my head around the concept of dark matter, bits about space/time continuum, or even something as basic as gravity has made my head spin and sucked the joy from learning. Although, I will admit there have been moments when I was caught up in the heart-swelling, soul-stirring splendor of seeing the birth of new stars or solar systems caught on camera by the type of paparazzi that come complete with PhDs in astrophysics or aeronautical engineering.

I can’t even pretend to follow my daughter when she begins waxing lyrical about the transit photometry program she’s involved in and will sheepishly admit she lost me on the first sentence of her explanation somewhere just after the word The. And when she grabs my hand and drags me out into the dark, insisting that we can’t miss the August Perseid display, I feel relief wash over me after she points to the heavens and alters her words to “meteor shower.”

As we lie on our backs and wait for the unearthly concert to begin, the soft chirp of crickets is a constant murmur like an audience rustling their programs and shuffling their feet. The waiting is similar to holding your breath under water and viewing the liquid world; so foreign and seductive, but temporary because you must resurface. Likewise, while stargazing, one can only go so long searching and studying before you absolutely must blink.

And a blink can be the entire lifespan of a meteor.

Perseus and Perseid Meteor

Perseus and Perseid Meteor (Photo credit: Dominic’s pics)

We lie side by side, quiet, but expectant. I hear her breathe and wonder if she’s counting the minutes until she, too, can join the rest of her people—those who have long ago figured out the secrets of their home and have grown tired of living there. Like a pining teen who longs for the sweet taste of independence, this teen’s first solo abode would be elsewhere in the universe rather than elsewhere in a university. It’s the same, but different.

I treasure those moments of unfettered joy when a streak of light with a tail half the length of the sky shoots past us; a snowball in space determined to break new records for both speed and allure. I am bereft of speech and look to my daughter. There are no words to describe such visions.

Except the ones that come to her easily. Like stumbling upon a book of illusions, the secrets are exposed with revealing illustrations and strip you of future goose bumps. I try to see the science as she does: a language sweet as poetry to her ears. But I miss my warriors, my dragons and sisters.

Vincent van Gogh: Starry Night Over the Rhone ...

Vincent van Gogh: Starry Night Over the Rhone Arles, September 1888 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The two of us view the same stars, the same sky, the same vast and wondrous world.

It’s the same, but different. And beautiful.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!