Perseverance: It’s a Rover, It’s an Attitude, and It’s the Illusion Your Internet is not Possessed

I’d been waiting for years—literally years for this day. The momentous achievement of mankind’s drive plus Mother Nature’s good nature blending to successfully explode off this planet with the intent to mine another for life.

I know that sounds a little cryptic, so I’ll rephrase.

I would confidently say I can nail the moment my firstborn knew she wanted to be part of a team of people who propelled objects off the planet with the hope of landing them on any other orb.

It was somewhere in between her firm commitment to understand propulsion by studying toys as she repeatedly chucked them out of her crib and the choice of her first words: air pane.

Her eyes continually scanned the sky—spotting the tiniest of specks—following their trajectory until out of view.

The schooling from then till now far surpassed my levels of understanding somewhere around upper middle school—and I could spot the trend as early as fifth grade when she’d apparently announced to her math teacher that the curriculum was far too easy and please place her in an advanced class.

Her teacher, of course, called to inquire as to whether I had pushed my child to this task, and I replied saying, “Nope. My math goals for my kids are to make sure they can balance their checkbooks, not work on Wall Street.”

It was always shocking to walk into Chloe’s bedroom and see the walls plastered and the floor scattered with the computational hieroglyphics of what I believed belonged either on the cell walls of a madman, or the stone walls of a caveman.

Apparently, they were assignments.

They could have been blueprint ciphers for a big bank robbery she was involved in. I couldn’t tell.

Eventually, she figured out the entrance code to a crackerjack college and thereafter received the passwords that landed her a position on that long ago dreamed of team.

Chloe now works for her personal godhead of all space agencies and has been preparing for the very same day I’ve been preparing for, only with a little bit more effort.

I’d say we’re nearly matched on enthusiasm though.

NASA’s new rover—an adorable little fella named Perseverance—could have easily been first prototyped by Pixar, as it has been anthropomorphized with heartfelt fervor and will no doubt have Disney releasing some new full-length animation about its hero’s journey shortly.

Perseverance was scheduled to leave our Earth around July 17, 2020, but due to some last minute touch-ups with makeup, and NASA’s motherly stuffing a few more bits in the little guy’s backpack before stepping his first foot onto the Atlas V bus, his launch date was delayed until July 30th.

The preparations leading up to this date went something like this:

Chloe: Would you like to come to the launch site next year in July as my guest?

Me: Hella yes.

Chloe: Mother, I am about to be issued your guest pass for launch date. It’s five months out yet. Do you still want to come?

Me: Hella yes.

Chloe: Mother, this Covid thing may be a concern. There’s been some talk about a possible spread. Are you still in?

Me: Umm … yeah, mostly.

Chloe: Mother? Have you made a will? I know it’s only May, but I can’t wait to see you.

Me: Wait. What?

Chloe: Launch is just two weeks away, and I’m guessing you’re not coming.

Me: Chloe, I desperately want to, but I’ve been told that in Florida, the moment you disembark the plane, you’re handed a flyer—not for timeshares anymore, but cemetery plots. I’m thinking I’m going to have to Zoomcall into NASA on this one, kiddo.

Chloe: I understand. I’ll make sure you’ve got the right links and time schedule.

Me: Yippy!

Let’s skip forward to the big day, links and lineup of launch window noted.

Twenty minutes before launch:

Chloe: Remember, the most important and crucial stages to watch are—of course—lift off, then less than a minute later the rocket has to make it through Max-Q—that’s critical, and then, about an hour after that, comes Atlas V’s rocket separation from the spacecraft. Got it?

Me: You betcha!

Laptop open, ready, live. Countdown in progress. T-minus 50 seconds … (I hold my breath and watch the clock.) 10… 9… 8… (insert squeals of excitement) 5 … 4 … 3 … (aaaand—stream on screen freezes)

Me: Wait! NOOOO!!! (tosses computer, scrambles for smartphone, howls while relinking link)

NASA: With the RD-180 main engine running, the Atlas V vehicle successfully rises vertically away from Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Me: Dammit! Dammmm– I stop mid-blubber, as I suddenly recall there’s no time for tears. It’s Max-Q time!

Me: (Link is relinked. Eyes are peeled on rocket. Fingers are crossed for all good luck gods to see.)

NASA: T + 43 …

Me: (stream on smartphone screen freezes) gasp … looks to sky … shouts obscenity

NASA: (hourglass stops spinning and smartphone reconnects) The Atlas V rocket passed through the region of maximum dynamic pressure during ascent through the lower atmosphere.

Me: YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!

I cry a little. Shower. Make coffee. Reboot both screens and sit through countless minutes of perky NASA spokespeople who remind me of what I’ve missed and, of course, highlight what’s to come.

I place laptop and phone a small distance away from me in case I’m the one with bad juju energy. But it doesn’t matter …

NASA Perky People: After accelerating the Mars 2020 spacecraft to a velocity of 24,785 mph, or about 11 kilometers per second, relative to Earth, the Centaur upper stage shut down its engine and is now re-orienting itself into the proper position for separation of the Mars 2020 payload.

Me: NASA, stop with the teaser trailer, and why don’t you admit what’s really gonna happen on my side of the screen.

NASA: It is now T + 57 minutes and the Centaur—

Me: (both screens freeze) Bingo.

I knew it. I knew it would happen. It was no surprise.

Chloe texted twenty minutes later with words that sounded like she was skipping across a playground with a Popsicle in each hand.

Chloe: Did you see it? Did you see iiiiit?!!

Me: Success! Congratulations, kiddo! How utterly thrilling, right?

Chloe: I’ve been waiting my whole life for this day. Wasn’t it amazing to see it live?

Me: Well …

Chloe: Oh, sorry, Mom. You know what I mean. I got to see it live, but seeing the livestream is only a couple seconds delayed. It’s still amazing, yes?

Me: It’s so amazing.

Chloe: And at least you’re safe at home. I’m sure it was the right choice.

Me: *sob*

~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.

The Meticulously Precise and Non-Magical Way to make Whiskey

I’m nearly finished writing another book.

This one won’t be published for the public though. It’s a technical manual.

I’d never done a technical manual before; therefore, this genre has been entirely new to me.

I was at one point reminded, Technically speaking, technical manuals do not fall into a “genre,” Shelley.

Disappointing news.

I was also at one point informed that my other skills of fiction writing were, although appreciated, inapplicable with this work.

“What do you mean?” I’d asked, halfway through the job.

Please do not allow the machinery to have any “dialogue.”

Hugely disappointing news.

In my mind, everything is conversing with anything beside it. Refrigerators hum, clocks tic, boats roar, trees creek, tea kettles whistle, grills hiss, frying pans spit, drains gurgle—I could go on.

There is conversation with their purpose, with their function, and it is our choice to tune in to hear it if we choose to do so—or maybe it’s just a special type of non-worrisome derangement those of us who practice anthropomorphizing inanimate objects experience every day.

So, okay, the mash tuns, the fermenters, the stills, and bottling equipment will not be engaged with any discourse. Fine.

Also, no need to “set the scene.”

Wait. What? No “Once upon a time”? No “In a galaxy far, far away”?

No.

No “Imagine if you can, a farm field in Virginia filled with rows of waving grain. Corn so tall, so yellow, so sweet. Wheat so soft, so feathery, so—”

No. Also, just list the manufacturer of each piece of equipment. No need to give colorful backstory that creates a uh … biography for them.

Damn.

But the still is an old copper Armagnac pot which surely, if you’d allow me to research, has the most fascinating history, connecting it to a village in Gascony, and likely to some illicit brandy making where people’s lives were at risk for defying the king’s orders and skirting around the excise men, right?

No. Louis XVI died in 1793. The still was made in 2006. Write that down.

No excise men?

*insert cold stare here

Fine. Hard facts only. It has been an arduous road to travel. It has been serial numbers, maintenance schedules, standard operating procedures, operator responsibilities, quality controls, ingredient specification sheets, safety protocol, system malfunction detection. It has been measurements, sampling data, testing methods, recording methodology, and out of the realm of tolerance identification.

No language describing the invention of any equipment, the trials and tribulations of the inventor, the recognition, the accolades, the race between rivals to patent first, to reach the market, to make a name and reap rewards.

No timeline of history, the tales of great machinery malfunction and mishaps that caused strife, or injury, or daresay … death.

Nope. Just operator files.

It’s ‘if blank, do blank.’ Or ‘when this, then this.’ It’s ‘measure now, record here.’

There’s no beginning, middle, or end.

It is not a story, not a narrative, no plot.

None of the machinery barely scrapes by, screeches to a halt, or belches out for attention.

The manual is meant to be informative. Concise. Crystal clear. It is meant to provide a “just in case” scenario for an event like a catastrophic pandemic wiping out all previous operators’ ability to fight through throngs of apocalyptic zombies to appear at the facility, allowing any stranger to eventually walk in off the street, discover the book and easily, effectively, and effortlessly pick up where we left off.

No, Shelley. It is meant to use as a teaching guide for new employees.

Yeah, that too, but my take could be plausible (I mumble quietly).

So, I study each piece of equipment. I learn its function. I define its specifications. I describe its purpose. It is thirsty work as I crawl around, beneath, above, and inside many of them. I watch them perform. I study their mechanisms. I research their optimal modes.

And I learn … they are still magical.

I learn it from listening to the operators as they describe their years of experience working with each station.

The grain will stubbornly clump and ball if you don’t chase it with the paddle in the cooker. It likes to hide right in that corner.

If you don’t clamp down the hose securely, the impellor pump turns into a raging snake that’ll spit hot mash on every square inch of the production room floor.

You see that steam rising from the strip still’s parrot spout? We call that the dragon’s breath.

I did find a story. The story of waking up the yeast before releasing it into its comforting, warm bath, of performing the tightly timed choreography between pieces of machinery as they demanded immediate attention to avoid calamity, of discovering that the general consensus for many of the processes was that you just had to feel it, smell it, taste it, gauge it. The machinery had its tells, and a good operator was sensitive to them and could anticipate results because of the accumulated years of a bonding relationship.

Making whiskey requires procedural care, yes. It’s a recipe. It’s a step by step adventure that when timed perfectly churns out a salable product.

But to me, and to others, the machinery is responsible for the alchemy, the head-spinning potions, the conjuration that leads grains to glass, this honeyed, headying elixir.

But the manual will not reveal that magic. The manual will not even hint at it. The manual conceals the story.

Except it’s there. We just don’t capture it within the pages that keep the secret safe. It is for others to read between the lines, to unearth the buried story within it.

If they find it after the zombie apocalypse.

~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.

 

An Address to a Girl in a Dress (and a Cap and Gown)

Dear Reader,

With permission from my daughter, I’m sharing my “personal commencement speech” given to her following her college graduation. I imagine it is kindred to a million other parental letters. But she is my kin and my one in a million. 

Plus, I really needed an essay for my monthly blog post.

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

Dear Chloe,

I’m sure by now a million people have said, Congratulations.

So I won’t.

Because I don’t like being like a million other people. And neither do you. Which is why I like you so much.

I’m lucky that way because I could have birthed a child who wanted to be on American Idol, or who wished to run a gelato shop, or who believed working as an accountant for the IRS could be a safe and super fun job.

But I did not birth that child. Instead, I landed a girl who rolled her eyes so often with impatience in her formative years, one of those times she was looking skyward actually revealed something that held her gaze. A star? An airplane? A celestial thought?

We may never know. The point is, is that everyone has vision. Whether through working eyeballs or simply one’s focused imagination, we all have some sort of direction. Yours just happened to be up.

Which must have been really frustrating for you for over sixteen years of schooling, as in order to achieve a position in that field where everyone else is looking skyward, you spent most of it looking down. At textbooks and exams.

But you’re finished with all that right now.

For about a minute.

I know. That was an awful thing to say. Especially to someone who still carries around the blood shot eyes of a student who just days ago was pulling her umpteenth all-nighter.

But it’s the truth. Because …

Life is school.

It is a giant campus with a million different teachers and a gazillion annoying classmates who are repeatedly flunking and succeeding right alongside you. It is countless classes where the only scores given are pass and fail, and you get to determine what your GPA represents.

Money in the bank?

Title at work?

Rovers landed?

You decide.

Yes, there are still exams. Yearly, you have a giant pain-in-the-ass one which the government insists you show up for, but it’s not as bad as it seems because you’re granted a cheat sheet—they’re called accountants.

The medical ones are some you start attending with greater frequency—and again, thankfully this is “group effort” problem solving, so rest easier in that department too.

There are the courses you enroll in that instruct you on home ownership, insurance policies, contract negotiation, and credit card debt. These are all core classes you’d best take a few notes in, but there are others—the humanities electives—where you can sit back and relax, maybe doodle in the margins.

There is, and never will be, a syllabus for yoga.

Likely there will be some mind-blowing field trips—maybe Mount Olympus, maybe Olympus Mons. Who knows? But it’s likely with your itch to run, your feet will tread across paths old and new, and you’ll Snapchat your way across every one of them.

When we, as a society, look out across the world at the sliver of individuals, the percentage of our population, who end up having truly amazing jobs, we usually first think about how lucky they are.

In truth, or after a moment of Googling just what amount of effort goes into getting that job, we realize that no, they’re not lucky—they’ve worked their backsides off to get to that place.

Okay, and yes, they’re lucky.

But more important, we’re lucky.

We get to benefit by tucking up close and drafting off your efforts, positioning ourselves within your slipstream as you push aside the rough winds in front of you. If you do it well enough and deftly, you may be awarded a few plaques or trophies with your name etched across a plate of gold. But those recognitions usually only happen at work. No one is going to erect a statue in your honor for cleaning out the cat litter, but it’s equally important work, and occasionally lives or marriages depend upon it.

I will miss this last past phase of your life, the video chats where you don’t want to chat, but instead simply want some actual parent to be your parental controls on all things technologically distracting. So we both work in silence companionably. Or where you text photos of your meals, or your dress, or your clean laundry, or proof the cat is still alive so that someone can give you a faraway hug of approval for those independent efforts. Those reach-outs will lessen, and I will mourn them. But I’ve cherished them.

Every single one.

So as I’m not prepared to offer you congratulations, maybe the better thing, the more fitting thing, is to say, “Welcome.”

Welcome to the new hallways, the bigger classrooms, the special buses, and to the many lounges that hold some kick-ass club meetings. It’s going to be great. And hard. But mostly great.

Maybe I’m wrong. About the start of it all. Maybe as a little kid the first thing that left an impressionable mark on you was the red clay of Virginia beneath your tiny bare feet, and when you finally glanced up, you recognized the kinship of a sister planet’s soil.

The call was strong, and so are you.

Welcome here, honey.

Make yourself at home.

Love, Mom

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.

Crashing and Burning; It Takes Practice

I think three of the most frightening and exciting words spoken together in the English language are: three, two, one.

And the space that comes right after it? The silence where we then announce the outcome? Talk about a pregnant pause. Talk about stress and hope and anticipation—and the new physical knowledge of the phrase gut twisting.

Sometimes you hear the word Liftoff!

Or Action! Or Go!

What nobody wants to hear is Three, two, one … uh oh.

But it happens. And it’s said. With a lot more regularity than many of us would believe—or admit to.

I think most of us regular folks can probably scare up a decent quote or two from marvelous, mind-blowing space moments, right? Things like:

“Uh, Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

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Or “That’s one small step for man …”

Or “Failure is not an option.”

Or is it?

The whole failure thing, I mean.

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Winston Churchill said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” I think the old British Bulldog would have loved to take a peek inside one of the many locations dedicated to our American aeronautics and aerospace research to see his words in action.

I’m talking about NASA, folks.

Space has long been an interest of mine. And parenting. I’m super dedicated to the act and art of parenting. Also writing. I can’t imagine my life without writing.

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But this is where I’ll stop with that whole list because any further and it’s going to sound like I’m generating some sort of online dating bio—and that is not where this essay is heading.

It’s mostly about space and parenting. The writing part is simply my way of communicating to your eyeballs the beautiful connection between the two.

And they are connected. Magically. And ordinarily.

Okay, so actually, my interests are space, and parenting, and writing … aaaand failure.

Although there is some bewitching halo that’s thrown over the beautiful bubble of someone’s great achievement, there is nothing sparkling or spellbinding about a person’s failure. When seen up close, it’s usually unsightly and has us cringing but unable to turn away. A lousy result is a big pile of rubble we tend to shove underneath the nearest sofa and not show our friends by outlining it on the floor with glitter.

Failure hurts. It’s distressing and insufferable. It is your demanding and troublesome Aunt Gladys showing up on your doorstep and expecting attention and accommodation forthwith.

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You cannot turn her away. She is there. Staring you down with two leather satchels in her hands expecting a cushioned chair and a hot cup of tea immediately. The only thing one can do in a situation like this is …

Prepare for it.

NASA rehearses for surprise Aunt Gladys visits relentlessly and gravely. When every single penny of your budget is scrutinized, questioned, and arm-wrestled for and, more important, when human lives are a big wager in the game, you cannot afford a whoopsie poo from out of the blue.

Last month, I went to pick up my daughter from her summer internship with God—or rather, her god—at one of NASA’s facilities. She was building space rockets—well at least that’s what chose to believe because every time I asked what she was up to she rolled her eyes and reminded me about this little piece of paper she signed called a non-disclosure agreement.

This is a euphemism for the phrase, tell anyone what you’re up to and we’ll slice off your legs at the kneecaps.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t entirely that bad, but it was close. Maybe they’d only slice off her legs at the ankles, but she really wasn’t budging.

Anyway, I was given a glance at that amazing level of preparation NASA employs with its projects. Their walls were lined with pictures, graphics, renderings, and sketches of accomplishments and failures.

Yeah, you read that right. Failures.

I’m not saying it’s a gallery of shrapnel and explosions meant to terrorize and paralyze—it’s more like the “Mars Exploration Family Portrait.” There are a lot of pictures and footnotes that say, Stranded in Earth orbit, Crashed on surface, or Destroyed during launch.

How many of us would actually snap a selfie as we stand in front of an epic bungle and then nail it to the wall, poster-sized, right outside our office so that a couple dozen times a day we get to eyeball the lead balloon bombs that are our past?

I think not many of us.

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But with each new person I met, read about, or simply saw beavering away in their government issued lung compressing cubicles that day, I began to wonder if maybe these people’s parents might have peppered their bedroom walls with exactly that kind of décor.

Not to be cruel. But to be … constructive.

Imagine this: right next to their American Mathematics Competition medal, their National Latin Exam Award certificate, and their Presidential Physical Fitness badge, there are two school exams—also pasted up on that wall. One is a Latin essay with whatever Latin words are the equivalent to this paper is atrocious scrawled across the top of it, and the other is a math exam with a big bold red F next to their name.

Next to that is a pink slip from Burger King with the explanatory words Malt machine too complicated for employee to master. This is just above a snapshot of a text reply to the request for a date revealing the response, Uh, Seriously? You’ve got to be joking.

Yep. Victories and defeats.

Achievements and downfalls.

Wins and washouts.

It is rocking horse manure rare to have one without the other. And yet as parents, we typically practice buffering our kids from these missteps and wrecks because …

Well … who wants to see our offspring suffer, or struggle, or return to us bleeding and holding out the handlebars of their new bicycle in one hand and three teeth in the other? Who routinely places their descendants in some Houdini hindrance and says, “Don’t forget to hold your breath,” just before their ears are submerged under water? Who leaps up from the bleachers and fist pumps the air, hollering, “I got it on tape!” to their kid who just did a major face plant onto the asphalt just as the one hundred meter dash shotgun went off and then explained to surrounding parents that the rest of the night was going to be spent watching that film a thousand times and taking notes?

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It’s just not something we regularly do.

But NASA does.

And I vote NASA raises our kids from now on.

I know that sounds a bit extreme, and I’m not saying we just shove them all over their security gate in the middle of the night, dust our hands of the whole situation and then drive home.

No.

We can visit.

We’ll gauge their progress and applaud their efforts. We can wander the facilities hallways and see their scrubs and scratches, identifying the technical names for efforts that had to be scrapped because NASA has an abort procedure for everything: pad, launch, ascent, in-flight, and even the one everybody wishes they had in their car for an annoying passenger—ejection. Some plan for every phase of the course lest something goes wrong. And it will.

Our kids don’t have to stay there very long. Just until they get the hang of the new mindset, this unusual framework for their labors.

And that framework is: You will get it wrong. And then you get it right. Errors are normal. Mistakes are natural. Failure is fated. But what it doesn’t have to be is THE END.

In no short amount of time, they’ll be well rehearsed for life.

I know it can work. I heard the setup after I’d dropped my daughter off at the beginning of the summer. This was gist of the conversation:

Mentor: “Here’s what I want you to do. Make blank do blank.” *

Daughter: “Umm … That’s not very specific.”

Mentor: “Don’t I know it. That’s life. Now off you go.”

Results? Plenty. Loads of them. Usable ones? Not so many. Lots of failures. An endless amount. Embarrassing ones, time consuming and hugely frustrating ones.

Except one.

And really, truly, ultimately—that is the point. Don’t fall at the first hurdle.

Because what people often misunderstand is that right up until the moment of the wreck is not a colossal waste of time or effort. The result may be called failing, but the rest … is called learning.

There’s a lot to be said for scars and skinned knees. Our war wounds can be epic and extraordinary tales. They show we’ve done battle and that we made it through to the other side. They can prepare and instruct and inspire our kids to reach for the stars.

To fly to the moon. To land on Mars.

And maybe more important, to come back again.

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~Shelley

*(sigh … nondisclosure agreement thingie)

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 Foot-Slogged Journey from Zero to Hero

According to Google, the definition of the word hero is:

A person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. A warrior, a knight, a lionheart.

Or we could go with Google’s second definition:

Another term for a submarine sandwich.

I am surrounded 24/7 by heroes. Their voices ring in my ears in pitches that reveal their age and dialects that unmask their country of origin. Occasionally, their speech is so foreign to my mind, I find I must consult etymological dictionaries to make sense of what they say.

Most of these heroes I conjure up myself.

It’s a writer’s process that involves a mixed bag of tools: a few shovels and brushes for the archeological dig to uncover the bones, or a hammer and chisel to chip away at “whatever isn’t the angel,” or, my favorite, the ability to sit with a mental stereogram—where you purposefully lose the eye’s traditional and automatic ability to focus—and then suddenly, mind-blowingly, find a new depth of perspective.

Something magical emerges from something quite ordinary.

I’m used to following these heroes through some journey.

We meet the hero. Something happens to him that forces him to change—despite the fact that he is resistant to change. He’s drawn into some crisis. Things go to hell in a handbasket for a brief period of time. Some metamorphosis occurs, impacting our guy and allows him to respond to the call. And then …

BANG!

He saves the day.

Amen.

I am drawn to these people like a needle pointing north and with the same urgency as when anyone cracks open the door of an oven filled with chocolate chip cookies.

My above definition is a super-simplified explanation of a complex, universal storytelling form called …

The Hero’s Journey.

(Please note: In my head, anytime this phrase is said aloud, its audio quality is enhanced by some impressively epic reverb.)

According to many who’ve studied the great stories of mythology and the broad swath of tales that fit beneath the umbrella of the monomyth, there are a few things necessary in each of these sagas:

A situation, a protagonist, an objective, conflict and disaster, and very important—an opponent.

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My list is by no means complete, but just an “around about” example to further my unfolding tale.

But the hero I’m going to tell you about is not one of mythology or conjured up by my writerly imagination. She is a regular Joe. A flesh and blood body. A mortal, a maiden, and amusingly, mine.

Okay, that last part may no longer really be true, as she leapt from the nest two years ago, but the ownership part isn’t the important bit. It’s the journey. It’s one I was given the privilege to watch close up and from all angles.

You know those first words we record as proud parents in the biblical baby books of unprecedented infant achievement? This is found in hers:

Airpane.

Yeah, not a typo.

One tiny fist with one tiny finger extended upward and continuously, unrelentingly, irritatingly pointed toward the sky. One tiny mouth was forever uttering what two tiny eyes could see and two tiny ears could hear.

Airpane.

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Rare was the day when I had the time to track each one of her identifications—and I certainly did not possess the keen eyesight and impressive auditory range that she seemed to have been born with—but I breezily verified each one of her chirps with some form of response like,

“Wow, good for you, Toots. Keep your eye out for more.” Or,

“Clever girl. How many is that this morning? One hundred? One thousand? I’ve lost count.” Or,

“Okay, I get it. You were a pilot in a previous life. I’ve got to fold laundry.”

When my daughter was about five, two common career themes emerged and spilled out into her everyday life. She was heavily into deciding between becoming a ballerina or an astronaut.

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One day, I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for her. She was going to have a few follow-up booster shots for some prior vaccinations. Knowing her intense hatred and fear of needles, I tried to plan something fun to follow that doctor’s appointment that would keep her mind off of the wretched shots:

We were going to have lunch … WITH AN ASTRONAUT IN TRAINING!

A family friend was delighted to hear of my daughter’s early interest in space and eager to encourage her tiny spurts of enthusiasm. It was exactly what we needed to follow that pediatrician’s appointment—which was …

Awful.

She hid, she screamed, she threw tongue depressors at the man as if she was barricading herself inside an ice cream truck with nothing but popsicles to use as weapons. She told him she was going to hunt him down in the middle of the night.

Yeah, it was appalling.

Anyway, back at lunch, our astronaut friend began to fill my daughter’s head with all the details involved in becoming “an astronaut,” and at one point launched into the myriad medical tests and examinations one must undergo in order to determine if one is even physically fit enough for space.

My daughter inquired about inoculations.

“Yep,” he said. “Plenty of needles.”

She then turned to me and asked, “Do ballerinas need shots?”

Well, I thought we were finished with our miniature hero’s journey into space and that life would finally return back to normal. I would no longer have to feign interest in her long conversations about the complex water systems aboard the International Space Station which provided astronauts drinking water made from a filtered mixture of recycled shower water, old astronaut sweat … and pee.

Except I was wrong.

Because every day that space interest grew. Whether she was curious about rocket fuel, or space shuttle tiles, or the physics of learning how to fly.

At one point, she said to me she would happily accept a one-way ticket to Mars if it was available and she qualified, and then gave me permission to give away everything in her bedroom to Goodwill.

“What?” I said. “You’re still interested in space?”

Apparently, this was the equivalent of asking, “What? You’re still interested in breathing air?

She struggled with physics like it was some Minotaur she’d regularly sword fight with each night before bed.

Minotaur02

She spent countless, frustrating hours with her teachers in order to understand—not memorize—the facts in front of her.

One of her teachers—a Japanese physicist, whom I swear was the prototype for Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid—threw countless roadblocks in her way.

“Why waste your time with space?” he’d ask her. “Space is for boys. Dolls are for girls.”

She would march from his classroom and turn to face him just before leaving and flip him the bird.

He, on the other hand, would smile with smug contentment after she left, knowing he’d lit a fire beneath someone’s nettled knickers.

Word had it, that this man had come to America with the impassioned notion that the world needed more girls in math.

But apparently, he didn’t want ones that crumpled when facing adversity.

Walking into her bedroom was a bit like being a detective who opened the door belonging to a guy whose crazed neural network encompassed all four walls of the freakishly alarming one room apartment he lived in. Where equations were sprawled across every square inch of space, and yarn connected one spot to another, making the entire room feel like it was a massive, but not yet completed, macramé pot holder.

Understanding that this was a language I would never have the codes to decipher, I’d offer up encouragement from the safest quarters of my own comfort zones—stories.

Seeing her bleary eyes each morning, and the small, but growing bald spot patches where she would regularly grasp at fistfuls of hair—I first assumed out of frustration, but after taking into account the amount of information she was trying to consume, I came to believe it was in an effort to expand skull space—I would offer up my suggestions. I didn’t want her to give up.

“Why don’t we head to the library and check out some super stories about space adventure? Stories like Aliens Love Underpants, or The Martian Chronicles, or Ender’s Game, or (most important) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?

But with each book I brought home and encouraged her to read, they ended up buried beneath printed out specs of some new rocket booster. Or NASA flight mission reports. Or CDs that declared, you can learn how to speak Russian and Chinese in under ten minutes a day!

She didn’t want to read a space story.

She wanted to be a space story.

Countless times in this child’s life, I’ve stepped back and looked at the path she was traveling. It’s been riddled with potholes, roadblocks, detours, and burnt bridges. But it has also been abundantly sprinkled with mentors: sensei sword masters, Yodas, Gandalfs, and Dumbledores. Guides who have handed her a sword, a light saber, a wand.

Repeatedly realizing how out of depth I was, the best I could hope to do was step out of her way. I was not going to be the antagonist in my very own child’s heroic journey. I did not want to be her conflict, her disaster, her apocalyptic Death Star.

But I could keep her sword shiny, her lightsaber full of batteries, and her wand connected to Wi-Fi at night whilst she slept.

I looked for the places I belonged in her story. Many times I found it was on the sidelines taking notes. It’s what we writers do to nudge a story into place. It’s what we cheerleaders do to rally our heroes. It’s what we parents do to encourage our children.

Today, this child of mine studies aerospace engineering at MIT and is in the middle of her first summer internship with NASA.

It is a beautiful thing to realize that Thank God, you did not get in the way of someone else’s dream and hopefully, instead, pruned back the prickly path a tiny bit to make the journey a little bit easier.

I celebrate both of my children’s achievements as they come, and tell them about the importance of embracing each one of their failures along the way as well. There is no rising without falling.

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Today we celebrate. Tomorrow we may bring back the bandages and antibiotic ointments that come with life’s splashdowns and spills. It is all part of the hero’s journey and there are no shortcuts around facing your dragons.

Today I am so happy for this child I find myself nearly bursting with joy. I seriously just want to take a bite out of her.

I’m guessing she will taste something like a submarine sandwich.

~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.

My Simpleminded Smartphone

My smartphone is …well, how do I put this—not terribly smart.

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Now, don’t get me wrong, I am hugely amazed at the capability of said smartphone, and believe these miniature, magical machines deserve daily praise and admiration. For Pete’s sake, I punch a button and the world of wireless wealth unfolds before me–coupons, car diagnostics and my hourly cholesteral calculation.

Yeah, I rightly should set up a tiny shrine and go through a nightly ritual of lighting incense and candles to properly worship its cache of riches. Maybe toss in a ceremonial dance or two as well.

But what I’ve come to discover, and sheepishly so, is that smartphones are pretty much a mirror image of their owners.

Meaning, only as intelligent as the Joe Schmo operating it.

I’ve seen plenty of people (read: teenagers) actively attempting to reprogram satellites with their handhelds, and I’ve come across numerous folks (okay, you know who you are) who have found great use for them as doorstops, coasters, and bookmarks.

And as impressive a span of accomplishments one’s phone has been programmed to complete, the world of technology, and those who consume it, are hungry for more.

We are always looking for a smarter phone.

A phone whose IQ is regularly improved upon and impressively upgraded to achieve more than ever before, and more than your below average science fiction writer could ever conjure up.

We want a device that’s more than super smart.

More than slick and sassy.

And more than sharp and shrewd.

We want a new brain.

Thinking is hard. It’s taxing. And oftentimes, we decide to hell with thinking, I’m just gonna fly by the seat of my pants on this one.

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And then if we find ourselves in the middle of giant whoopsi poo, we rely upon a few tired backup systems put in place by millions before us that regularly explain our errors.

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We brush our hands of the dust, and off we go, convincing ourselves that everyone is fully on board with our excuse for the screw-up because:

We’re low a quart of caffeine

We never got the email

Or

The President was apparently flying within one hundred miles of my town and, therefore, all roads were blocked off to allow safe air passage and now I’m running three days behind schedule, plus my child just lost a tooth.

Yep. Heard it all before.

What we need is a scapegoat brain.

What? You mean the report that was due about first quarter financials? Yeah, that was outsourced to my Neural Network Simulator. Not my fault.

Of course I didn’t pick up the kids from your mother’s. My Collective Cognitive Conveyance took that over last week,

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don’t you remember, or is your Recapture App on the fritz again?

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Why didn’t I pick up your weekly pint of Chubby Hubby at the supermarket? Apparently, our AI Grocery Gofer scanned your current waistline, honey, and deemed it an unnecessary purchase.

I think you get my point. Responsibilities, memories, decisions—all this riff raff gets in the way of living a calm and quiet life, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be so much easier to assign basic thought—or occasionally all thought—to an outside source?

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Hoping to head off on a much needed, hard-earned vacation?

Got the flu and you’re laid up in bed?

Desperate for just one quick, blissful afternoon nap on a rainy Sunday afternoon when there’s still so much to tackle before the new week begins?

Yes, there’s still work to be done, but how about you just hand all that over to some form of artificial intelligence and rest easy knowing your best work—and quite possibly better than your best work—will still be happening without you.

Researchers all around the world in both private industry and well-funded university departments, not to mention a few shabbily decked out basements and garages, are beavering away bringing us ever closer to that reality.

Google, Facebook, NASA, IBM—just a few of the ‘big boys’ making giant strides across the fertile fields of artificial intelligence.

In the past, machines progressed on the scale of intelligence by collecting vast amounts of data on our habits, compiled that info, and then systematically revealed how we as individuals would behave in the future. A boon for marketers, if nothing else.

A little freaky for those of us who believe choosing which color socks to put in the morning is going to be the first monumental struggle of the day.

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But machines had been getting stuck with a tiny little thing called REASONING. Apparently, data analysis was running across a pothole in the road when it came to human inference and interpretation. Ones and zeros had a hard time with rationale.

Except now it seems that technology is making it over this hurdle too. Machinery is finding success with the art and skill of human reasoning with nothing more than algebra. Yep, math. Well, in truth, this is an extraordinarily dumbed down explanation for the concept of Deep Learning within machines where data is fed in, spat out, judged and fed in again round after round. There are countless articles explaining it far better than I could with the space I’ll allow for it. Just Google ‘machine learning algorithms.’ We’ll wait.

No, don’t. On second thought, unless you want an instant software freeze within the confines of your own neural network, I suggest you hold off on that. Nobody appreciates the acrid smell of synaptic burning coming from between their ears first thing in the morning.

Nevertheless, a faster, sleeker, smarter digital assistant is on its way to each of us.

But if, like in my original assessment, we are still stuck with a reflection of our individual capabilities, I’m fearful that after opening the protective casing of my newest device I will be greeted with the spine-chilling voice of Barbie giggling and saying,

Math is hard!

~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.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Wrote DEAR OPL- Part 3

*Just a heads up to anyone new joining in–this is not my typical blog post. This is part 3 of 3 for a speech I’m preparing and posting here to get valuable feedback from my community. If you’re interested in joining in (and I so hope you are), and you’ve not had a chance to read part 1 or part 2, you might want to take a minute and get up to speed. I look forward to hearing what all of you have to say. It’s been wonderfully worthy and I thank every one of you for participating!

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

What’s in it?

My sleuthing skills progressed mainly because food labels showed up. I, therefore, became obsessed in the pursuit of truth.

I suspected that every chemical I read about on the back of a label and couldn’t identify was likely a form of my mother’s mystery ingredients I had to watch out for. The only things I could trust were foods in their whole and original form. And this is something our culture has removed us from in a very real and dangerous way.

Despite the higher intake of calories our western diets have had us adopt, people are hungry. We’re now eating more food than ever before yet we are starving for nutrients. And our bodies are yelling this fact out to us. We’re struggling with these massive and overwhelming cravings for sugar. It’s hugely addictive and, in fact, scientists have discovered rats will work eight times harder to get sugar than they will to get cocaine.

Our average modern diet is not providing the nourishment our bodies require for good health, and because of it, our bodies are suffering more insulin spikes than a tumultuous day on Wall Street.

Basically, we have an abundance of calories, but a shortfall of nutrients.

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I find this to be a shocking and saddening state of affairs, but if you really want to hear something that will make the hair on your arms stand at attention, here’s another one of those eye-popping statistics I alluded to earlier:

The junk food industry spends about 2 billion dollars each year targeting children. One scary study found that elementary school kids in the US see an average of 254 ads from McDonalds each year. That’s just ONE company in the sea of junk food advertisers.

We are bombarded with media that dictates what we want, what we’re hungry for, what gadgets we’re desperate for, what will make us feel better about ourselves or our lives, and what will make us feel included. Kids are targeted even more so. It’s overwhelming and impossible for them to filter these messages or tune them out, and certainly challenging for them to interpret and identify how they are being subtly and not so subtly molded.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now reports that around 12.5 million children aged 2-19 are obese. And this is just in the United States. If you need a mental graphic that’s like nearly the entire population of Ecuador. Or how about this one—two Norways, a Botswana and a Liechtenstein. Worldwide we’re talking about 43 million kids.

Yeah, it’s a lot. Want to elevate that arm fur another notch? The World Health Organization estimates that in ten years time, over 70 million children globally will be obese. And the most alarming surprise? This number is only including children from ages 0 to 5.

Diet-related diseases are the biggest killers of human life. Far bigger than homicides, pneumonia, kidney disease, accidents. The statistics are jaw-dropping.

It makes you want to curl up in a ball and cry, doesn’t it?

Or we can do something about it.

Which brings us to part three: WHAT WE NEED TO DO

  1. No amount of exercise is going to help you run away from a bad diet.

It’s really hard to recognize a problem despite the fact that it’s growing right beneath our noses, mostly because it’s a fairly unremarkable one. It’s not remarkable because it’s become common.

We all know what a dog looks like—we’ve seen gobs of them over our lifetimes. Nothing too terribly novel about them from where we stand right now. But if you woke up one morning and looked outside and spotted a flying dog, you’d probably pause and really study the anomaly … until it wasn’t an anomaly anymore. If pretty soon flying dogs were just as common as grass, then no one would really see them any longer—which is what’s happening to our children. Obesity is becoming familiar, universal and ordinary.

We can’t let this happen.

It would be incredibly easy to point our extra pointy fingers at the heart of the problem and scream until we’re blue in the face at the food industry, but if any of you have ever been in a situation where you’ve pointed a finger at someone and assigned blame, I think you’ll also recall that they didn’t offer either an apology or any available energy to help solve the problem.

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More often than not they likely gave you back a pointy finger as well—but facing in a different direction.

A better response might be to ask for partnership in problem-solving. Our food industries can make food education a top priority of their business. Help us shop, teach us how to cook, educate us about nutrition. A win for the public and a win for their public relations. Besides, it does not show savvy business sense to kill off your clientele.

The restaurant and fast food industry, which have gotten us hooked on the drugs of sugar, fat and salt by targeting consumers with their persuasive advertisements, could help wean us off the extremely unhealthful amounts or face selective taxation from the government to cover the skyrocketing cost of healthcare: a price tag we do not have the funds to pay for—no matter how far down into our purses we dig.

We need restrictions on advertising to children who are most vulnerable to these campaigns. We need to protect those who are easy targets, those who are easily preyed upon, and those who will suffer the most.

Also, we need clearer food labeling—something effortless and easy so consumers don’t have to count grams or teaspoons. Something like the proposed traffic light label. Red for high amounts of free sugars, yellow for mid-level amounts, and green for Go for it, buddy.

We need to give our children LIFE SKILLS. We can get in the kitchen with them, teach them the basics of nutrition, educate them about what they’re eating and illuminate how it will affect the quality and longevity of their lives. It’s going to be a mess, but maybe architects can start making kitchens with a large drain in the middle of the floor which allow you to just hose down the walls after a family cooking session.

We can take the necessary steps to overhaul our school lunch programs. And currently there are a handful of people pioneering over this treacherous landscape who are battling to illustrate that pizza should not be considered a vegetable because it has tomato sauce in it. Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters, Michelle Obama and Congressman Tim Ryan from Ohio are a few familiar names who have been leading the campaigns of international food revolutions. These folks are shaking up government nutritional guidelines, instituting school garden programs, and proposing ways to lower the cost of healthy foods so that everyone can have access to them. But there are many, many more who are working in the trenches and mostly without a spotlight. We need to support their endeavors.

The three points I’ve highlighted—what we eat, what we know, and what we need to do—are part of a task we need to knuckle down and get busy with—a cause we need to champion. Creating and implementing solutions to our epidemic is a global obligation we owe ourselves, our children and our children’s children.

We need a new killer slogan for our planet. Not a slogan that will kill us.

I propose something like this:

Planet Earth: come for the food, stay for the fun, die when you’re old.

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~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.

Why I Wrote DEAR OPL

Who Writes a Prologue to a Blog Post? … Umm, Me.

A heads up to this beautiful community I have come to know and embrace. The next three posts are not ‘blog posts’—they are a polished rough draft of a speech.

I’m crowdsourcing and asking for your valuable input.

The speech isn’t about the book I’ve written for children, it’s about the messages within the book that I’m trying to highlight by spreading awareness. Years ago, these topics grabbed me by the shoulders, shook me until my teeth rattled and demanded I do something about them.

The book is a vehicle to address these topics with children. The speech is my outreach campaign to engage parents, educators, and activists who care about how food politics are aggressively influencing our health.

So, I’m asking you to read and comment. Help me make an impact. Tell me what works for you, what doesn’t, what you’d like to see more of, or what you feel detracts. Your opinions matter to me.

This is not a plea to purchase my book. This is an appeal to help me make a difference. If this isn’t your shtick, I promise your names will still be rattled off in my nightly prayers of Please let these folks win some lottery in life. The point is to take advantage of eager, willing voices and collective brain power.

Your thoughts mean a great deal to me. I want to carry them with me as I carry this message to others.

And now … Why I Wrote DEAR OPL.

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

I’m usually not one for eavesdropping—okay, who am I kidding? I’m a writer. I’m always listening in on conversations all around me. It’s a fountain-like source of creativity I regularly tap into. And it’s addictive. But it’s part of my job.

On this particular occasion—while I was working—I just happened to overhear a conversation that made me cringe. We were in Australia, and my then seven-year-old son was chatting with an Australian lad who was just a little bit older than him. The boy asked my son where he was from. I heard my son answer, “America.” The other boy’s response was, “Oh. Where the fat people live.”

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I sat back and thought about that unflattering national slogan. It did not have a sexy ring to it.

I thought about a few other places that had slogans to capture the essence and beauty of what they had to offer.

Egypt: Where it all began.

Bahli: The islands of gods.

Disneyland: The happiest place on Earth.

And now …

America: Where the fat people live.

The more I thought about it, the more a few other slogans repeatedly popped into my head. Like this one:

McDonald’s: I’m lovin’ it.

It gave me a lot to chew on—excuse the pun—but it really had me thinking about how big ideas could be distilled down to a few simple words. And sometimes those words could leave a bad taste in your mouth.

But I like slogans. I am all about slogans—or catchphrases or mottos—whatever you want to call them. I surround myself with them because throughout my whole life I’ve found them to be effective.

In fact, here’s an example of just how powerful one became:

As I was growing up, studying classical music was a precise and strictly defined practice. There were rules and not much wiggle room for interpretation of any of them.

I remember as a teenager sitting at the piano with a friend of mine who had not studied classical, but was rather raised playing jazz and improv. We were very different musicians. One afternoon we tried to find a song that both of us could play together on the piano. It ended up being something I could read off sheet music and he improvised alongside.

When we’d finished the piece, he turned to me and said, “Okay, now don’t do it regular.” I didn’t know any other way but regular, and when I found out that’s what I was, I aimed to change it.

In fact, that became the slogan with which I raised my children. My children weren’t particularly thrilled with my ‘swim against the current’ motherly advice as it made them stick out in ways that would make most kids’ toes curl. Their complaining fell on deaf ears and was usually followed with that old parental pearl of It’ll build you some character!

When years ago I heard the highly acclaimed entrepreneur, Seth Godin, say, “Ordinary is boring,” I nearly leaped out of my skin. I wanted to rush to my children and point out that I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t trying to ruin their fun, I was simply trying to enrich their lives.

That phrase of Just Don’t Do It Regular became a theme song I was determined to sing when coaching my kids through countless situations as if I were some first draft version of Maria Von Trapp or a slightly more colorfully dressed adaptation of Mary Poppins. The last thing I wanted for them was a ‘go with the flow’ predictable experience. I wanted them to counteract the narrative of their generation. If they had something to say to the world, it would take words noteworthy and uncommon in order to be heard above the fray.

And people pay attention to noteworthy and uncommon. After that trip to Australia, it seemed like I repeatedly stumbled upon the same message directed at a growing swath of our planet’s population.

We are in trouble, people. We have a big fat problem on our hands … and hips and thighs and bellies.

I couldn’t ignore the message.

After slogging through a forest full of research articles and data authored and collected by the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control and a compilation of all of Dave Letterman’s Top Ten lists, I realized that some of my sources were—although meticulously detailed and scientific—extremely dry and nearly impossible to swallow.

It’s as if the WHO and CDC embraced both Seth and McDonald’s mottos and made an unlikely lovechild tagline for themselves: We’re boring, and lovin’ it.

My guess is that neither of the big research and data collection agencies thought their articles could use any spicing up—with something like a massive neon lit memo—in order to hail the attention of the folks who were most desperately in need of reading it.

Extracting the main point message was easy though:

A shocking number of people are eating themselves to an early death. In particular, children.

I spent a lot of time looking around and asking the silent question, Does everyone know this? And then I spent a lot of time thinking it really shouldn’t be a silent question. And lastly I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I could take the message about our world’s growing epidemic of obesity and spread the word in a way that wouldn’t make people fall asleep with their eyes open.

To reach children, I wrote a book.

But for all of you, I’ve broken the message into three bite-sized portions of important information that I’ve gathered from myriad experts—aka folks far more clever than me—whom I’ve hunted down from all corners of this great round ball we live on. Those three points—the meat and marrow of this talk—are thus:

  1. WHAT WE EAT
  2. WHAT WE KNOW
  3. WHAT WE NEED TO DO

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*I hope you’ll come back next week for part 2 of 3. And I hope you may consider offering your thoughts thus far.

Cheers everyone!

~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.

Memory Lane; How Science is Planning to Make a Few More

I love learning about the brain.

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I’m continually unearthing new research revealing fresh discoveries that must make the neuroscientists who discovered them leap up and down like seven-year-olds when you tell them you’re taking them to the local ice cream parlor for a double scoop.

Some of the studies are astonishing.

Most of the studies are encouraging.

All of the studies are in a version that is appropriate for a twelve-year-old to interpret. That’s pretty much the only way I will be able to absorb all of the astonishing and encouraging data. A neuroscientist I am not. But I do have a brain. And that’s about as much as we share in common—apart from the fact that I will leap up and down for a double scoop when offered as well.

The latest brain study I stumbled upon was all about memory creation. I can’t remember who authored the paper, or which university the research took place at—but that likely points toward exactly why I was out hunting for memory studies in the first place.

The study discussed two particular regions of the brain that need to speak with one another in order to create successful learning:

the hippocampus,

and the prefrontal cortex.

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Apparently, if we are working on a task of learning to connect two objects to one anotherlike shoe and foot, or chair and tableour brain’s neurons are busily firing off. And, as a result, generate brain waves.

And also apparently, these two chunks of gray matter—the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex—use two different frequencies to communicate whether or not we guessed correctly, in which case we’ll get a blue ribbon to sport, or whether we guessed wrongly, and are then seated in the corner of the room with a pointy shaped hat on our heads.

It all comes down to the oscillation of the waves.

Answering correctly—a thumbs up—makes the waves oscillate at a high rate referred to as the beta frequency (9-16 hertz), and a thumbs down results in a lower oscillation called theta frequency (2-6 hertz).

I’m pretty sure we should add a two thumbs down result in here for the general faction of teenage boys which typically operate at the lowest frequency setting of thunka (-3-0 hertz) just to be on the safe side of science.

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If I can remember where I placed the study, I will petition the authors to include my data into their research.

The scientists documented brainwave frequencies while studying test subject animals. These critters were tasked to learn which two images should be connected to one another and which two images should not be coupled. This was done through trial and error. A reward was given to indicate a correct choice. It’s like when you try to teach your cat how to drive. The only way they will receive the reward of finally making it to their favorite acupuncturist on time is if they learn that they must insert a key into the car’s ignition and not a spatula.

Simple, right?

Choosing the “right” answers showed that the pathways between neurons were strengthening. And choosing the “wrong” answers weakened pathways. It was as if the brain was trying to communicate through the oscillation of waves which neural pathway should have a giant WELCOME sign at its entrance, and which should be choking with weeds, overrun with poison ivy and displaying a placard with a skull and crossbones.

And the hope is that now scientists will be able to utilize low voltage electrical stimulation to the brain to “speed up” the process of learning. And who wouldn’t go for that, right?

Soon we’ll all be able to put on a special hat, attach ourselves to the nearest electrical outlet, and begin the once arduous process of learning a language, conquering physics, or watching something like Seth MacFarlane’s film, A Million Ways to Die in the West. With a few tweaks of current control, you’ll be conversing in Chinese, building the next Mars rover, and hacking into production facilities with the intent to destroy wretched films in the nick of time just before they’re widely released for public consumption.

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If nothing more, I’m incredibly encouraged by the research taking place and wholly support any studies that will not only retain the vital neurological pathways I’ve worked so hard to establish already, but potentially make it possible for me to go on learning new information that can only enrich and deepen my intellectual experience.

As a reward to myself for having made it through reading this particularly challenging study on cognitive function and its future, I’m heading out to the nearest, local ice cream parlor for a double scoop.

Now if I could only find where I put my spatula …

~Shelley

 

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

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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Who Do You Think YOU Are?

Now that we’ve all gotten through that first (and some might say unbearable) month of the year, it’s a grand (and some might say painful) time to take a quick looksee backward to collect a few points of data.

I call this month the time of RECALIBRATION because with all the frenzied excitement of December’s last week, which is stuffed full of well-meaning (some might say drunken) promises we nearly tattooed to our skin with the bulldozer determination of rebranding ourselves into the new shinier 2015 version, it can get overwhelming.

Some might say paralyzing.

I see no need for any of us to shrink away from our former selves, or the vows we made to our former selves. Like campaign promises, circumstances change: real life slaps us upside the head, supporters who swore they’d have our back are getting crabby because the timeline is too slow, we’ve finally had a moment to sit down and read the fine print, and in some cases, we discover that Lincoln’s historic and exclusive bedroom smells like Lincoln’s socks are still stuffed beneath the bed. All the hype ain’t quite what it was cracked up to be.

So now is a good time to take a deep breath and practice this phrase:

I used to be …

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NO GUILT!

‘I used to be’ can be just as cleansing as it is clarifying. For example, I used to be determined to rid myself of the seasonal Jack Frost Flab until Polly Polar Vortex burst through the door and hollered hello.

I have changed my mind. I am now simply always on the ball with early winter prep.

Another illustration might be, I used to be resolute in my goal to sing a duet with Frank Sinatra, but then he died.

I never gave up on this goal, I just came to realize it is doubly difficult to sing two part harmony with a corpse.

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There are myriad examples that may be just as revealing, but a little less disheartening like:  I used to be young, but now I am … not as young.

But each day that has passed has brought something my younger self did not have:

EXPERIENCE.

Hard won, effortful, exhausting, mind-numbing, hair-curling, wouldn’t-trade-most-of-it-for-the-world experience. (Some of it I would trade. Some of it I would pay people to erase from my memory and the memory of all the others involved, and then I would be at the mercy of those folks for as long as they would allow me to serve them.)

Or how about: I used to be a student—and go figure—I still am.

I used to be a student in a small classroom, then a large classroom, then on a massive campus. Now I am a student, but one without walls. My math assignments are the bills, the budgets and the taxes. English reports are my books and my blog. History is learned from the library. Science is a rich alchemy occurring all around me—from the stove top to the utility room, from the distilleries I study to the labels in my medicine cabinet. School is ever present, and I will always be a student.

At this point in my life, it’s almost as if behind every door I open, someone is flipping on a light bulb, and a small, but vocal collection of brain cells all join together and belt out a beautiful chorus of an aha moment.

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I pray their efforts don’t diminish. I hope that one day there will be an ongoing work of symphonic status performing up there.

And I implore science to hurry up and double their labors at successfully creating that special pill/implant/gene therapy that will ultimately improve my concentration, increase my memory, and boost my intelligence. I promise to do great things with it. I promise not to hack the financial industry, or mess about in the tech corridors, or commandeer the world’s defense divisions.

I promise. I can assuredly say that I used to be honest is not a phrase I will ever utter.

I really just want the extra brain juice for a few household experiments like figuring out a cost analysis for the most efficacious and least expensive wrinkle creams, or for what speed my make and model of car would consume gas most efficiently, or whether cryonics will be a sound decision for my hound at some point because I cannot imagine finding another animal as perfect for me as he is. And I will wait for whatever cure veterinary medicine doesn’t have available just yet for some ailment he may nearly succumb to in the future.

That’s what I’d use it for.

I promise.

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And how ‘bout this one to leave you with? I used to be afraid to try new things.

I still am. But I never let it stop me. Except when fear equals wisdom. Best not to ignore that little pearl.

Now you look at your life. How many ‘used to bes’ is it filled with?

It takes a significant element of courage and energy to commit to become something. That something that was important to us for a minute, a month, or a lifetime. Identifying your used to be is not a list of your failures.

It is a record of your efforts and accomplishments. It is a sign of movement and momentum. It is a mark of evolution.

~Shelley

(This post was inspired by one of my favorite authors and thinkers: Seth Godin.)

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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I’ve Got This Down to a Science

I felt like a million bucks walking into the Koch Institute Auditorium.

Okay, that’s a big fat fib.

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I did not feel like a million bucks, I felt like a million bucks couldn’t make a dent toward improving my current status.

I was more water-logged than the Cutty Sark’s figurehead: hair plastered to my skull, rainwater sluicing down my pants and overflowing from my squeaky shoes, and mascara tracking soil-black furrows in all directions away from my eyes. I was in need of some serious respackling.

This was a result of my rain-battered, late afternoon mile-long walk from my hotel to my daughter’s university campus where I’d been invited to attend a lecture given by one of the esteemed faculty members before “Parent’s Weekend” the following day. (Full story here.)

I slogged to the lady’s room and wrung out my clothing, paper towel dried my hair, and attempted to scrape off the black grout that now epoxyed itself to my skin. Waterproof Wonderful, my Aunt Fanny. I left the bathroom looking like I’d been camping in a nearby peat bog for the last three weeks. I snatched up my name tag and dashed into the lecture hall to locate a seat near the back. And in the dark. And under a tarp if I could find one.

The invite stated the program was to begin at 4 pm. But what actually started was the wine and hors d’oeuvres party. This meant I’d get to watch other people—other people who were dry—enjoy themselves with the first rate food and the five star confidence that they’d not scare the bejeebies out of the other lecture guests during the meet and greet. No, it was best I stayed put.

And did for the next hour.

I dripped a melancholic puddle beneath my chair, forming a large enough pool to gather the attention of one of the catering staff, who kindly brought me two cocktail napkins. It had the about the same effect as trying to cap the eruption of Old Faithful with nothing more than a Tupperware lid.

But it was the thought that counted.

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The well fed and lubricated crowd filed into the lecture hall and the Chancellor took to the podium. She thanked us for coming, and then launched into a long-winded, rhapsodic introduction for the professor we had gathered to hear. The man sat looking sheepish as the Chancellor gushed with exuberance over the prof’s accomplishments.

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I prickled. No human being alive could have done this much in three lifetimes let alone two thirds of one. The man introduced and moving toward the podium had a name akin to that of a James Bond villain—Vladimir Bulović. I felt he should have been wearing a cape.

The lecture’s title? Why the Future Will Be Measured in Nanometers.

A plethora of questions buzzed through my head: What is a nanometer? Did anyone bring an extra calculator? And will I be seen if I crawl on all fours toward the exit and swim home in the direction of a clean, dry bed?

Professor Bulović spoke in a torrent of rushing words—and Russian words—or maybe it just sounded foreign because it was all diodes this and photovoltaics that. Yep, total Greek.

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So I stopped listening and started reading. The slides from the power point presentation were filled with words and symbols, and thank god occasionally moving pictures. Those I could follow.

The snippets of video showed objects that all fell under the umbrella of ‘nanoparticles.’ Quantum dots, carbon nanotubes, icosahedral twins and triplets and the rest of their unpronounceable family members. And soon I was enlightened with what this man, his team, and the monumentally small world of nanotechnology had been beavering away with in laboratories across the world.

For your mind-blowing pleasure, here are a few of science and technology’s newest projects Professor Blofeld–er, Bulović discussed:

LiquiGlide – A freaky non stick coating that can be applied to food packaging to eliminate waste. In this particular instance: ketchup. Click and be amazed.

Transparent Polymer Solar Cells – Windows that clearly harvest energy from the sun.

The Flexible Light Bulb – What if the light bulb of the future wasn’t a light bulb at all?

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Cancer detection – with magnetic nanoparticles.

Flexible solar panels – printable too!

Eyeglasses that can recharge your hearing aid while you’re wearing both.

Nanoparticles that clean oil spills via magnets – You’re welcome Exxon Mobile.

Water filtration—or desalination. Here we have folks working to make a filter device that allows a glass of seawater to become drinkable water after a few minutes of hand pumping. I think some hand shaking is in order.

Reengineered cement that will reduce carbon emissions. Now that’s a solid idea.

Better lighting with quantum dots. As far as I can see, this is some brilliant science.

Yep, hearing this lecture had been one tiny head explosion after another.

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So even though I traveled what felt like a million miles to get there, and even though much of the lecture was a million light years beyond my ken, and it was clear that folks had spent millions of dollars on research and development, I now just want to say, Thanks a million. The future looks wonderfully exciting, Professor Bulović—although it’s a little hard to see.

~Shelley

CALENDAR WINNER AWARD!

Our free calendar goes to the lovely Linnet Moss. Kindly contact Robin with your address so that he can post your 12 month doodle diary. (info@robingott.com)

Congratulations, Linnet!

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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Hell-bent, Bound and Determined

There are a few words in the English dictionary that I’m drawn to like gum to a shoe, or bugs to a windscreen, or women to Benedict Cumberbatch. Words that bring me joy, like Holiday, Free, and #BenedictCumberbatch. And there are words I crave that I want to see used to describe me, like Winsome, Adept, and ‘Admired by Benedict Cumberbatch.’

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There is one word that I can safely say I would pin upon myself like a nametag to a kindergartener:

PERSEVERANT.

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It has served me well for the time I’ve spent thus far in this world, although it is not an easy pageant sash to keep securely in place draped across from shoulder to hip, and the damn crown is forever attempting to slip off sideways if not topple from my head at every challenging bend in the road. Which is why you need an extra dose of perseverance to maintain a perseverant attitude. A bit of a Catch 22.

A couple of days ago, I returned from “Family Weekend” at my daughter’s university. I’d been invited to attend a lecture on campus the evening before the official weekend began, and thought it just might be possible to back up my eleven hour drive and make it there in time. Plus, the lecture was on a topic I knew nothing about, but was fascinated with. To top it all off, my daughter would be sitting a mid-term exam, so I’d be going it alone, and would hopefully be coming out of the experience with fresh, new and exciting science to dazzle her with.

Starting off a car journey at 3 am is somehow furtive and exhilarating—you’re leaving the house in the middle of the night, rolling down the long, dark driveway and hoping you’ve left all the other living, breathing creatures still tucked snugly in their beds.

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Somewhere about 6 am, furtive and exhilarating fly out the window as you’re imagining for the one hundredth time all the other living, breathing creatures at home still tucked snugly in the their beds.

By noon, the rain is no longer a gentle, soothing patter on my windshield, but a ragged dermabrasion effort by Mother Nature who apparently does not like the olive green paint on my car and is hoping something else lies beneath it.

I reach my hotel a few hours later and have just enough time to dash into the shower to untangle a few long-journey knots that have left my spinal cord resembling a larger version of my iPhone earbud’s cord.

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With my newest and now most coveted app—Google Maps—ready in my hand to direct me to the lecture hall—an easy 1.2 mile walk away—I head out of the hotel lobby and immediately note that it’s still raining. I sprint to my car and grab my umbrella. Off we go.

Google Maps tells me to turn right on Third Street. I love how the sweet little app also vibrates the smartphone in your hand to let you know that new directions have been given, so you don’t have to stare into your phone whilst walking.

Clever Google Maps.

I admire the neighborhood’s historic architecture, looking up at some of the snug brick homes and their heavy-lidded windows. My tiny umbrella is suddenly pulled from my hands—a gusty updraft—and I snatch at it just before it leaps into the air, but not without seeing it turn inside out.

An everted umbrella has got to be one of the most side-splitting images to come across as you’re walking down the street. Holding an everted umbrella is definitely one of the most humiliating ordeals. Seeing an individual, or being the individual who is in custody of an umbrella that repeatedly turns itself inside and out is to realize that your rain gear is possessed.

I search for a Catholic church along my route, hoping for a quick exorcism before I reach the lecture hall.

No such luck. I will have to purchase another ticket for the demonic banshee and hope he will be still during the power point presentation.

The rain pelts down, and cascades in cold rivulets along the undersides of the brolly. It flows down the spindly handle, over my hand and puddles at the tip of my elbow, soaking the arm of my raincoat, sweater and skin. It waterfalls onto my head and finds all available avenues to sneak beneath my collar. The wind batters at me from every direction, leading passersby to believe I am holding on to the legs of a massive black crow, flapping and thrashing, determined to take flight.

I am the antithesis of Mary Poppins.

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Google Map’s app vibrates, and threw squinting, rain pummeled eyes, I follow its directions to turn left. I walk and clutch at the edges of the umbrella waiting for the next buzz. Several blocks later, it comes, and directs me straight into the concrete barricades of impenetrable road works. There is no way around them. I must backtrack.

I am fully saturated at this point, with only my sense of humor remaining dry. I am positive the universe is sending me the message that I am not welcome here. Perhaps it knows something I do not? That the lecture will be disappointing? That the reception will be dull? That the entire auditorium has been swallowed up in a massive burp of earthly indigestion?

Perhaps it’s just that there’s a rerun of Sherlock playing on the television back in my hotel room, and wouldn’t I prefer sharp and caustic Sherlockology to abstruse and befuddling scholarship?

Well …

NO! I say to myself. I carry on. We carry on. Me, my bedeviled umbrella, and my Google Map app, which at this point is now shrugging rather than vibrating, communicating that despite all of the advancements in technology and space to earth communication, the elements have won, and I am on my own.

I shove my phone down my shirt and inside my bra, hoping this, at least, is not as underwater as the rest of me, and toss the bewitched brolly into the bushes. I stop a student, scurrying from class and look pleadingly into her eyes.

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“Where is the Koch Institute Auditorium?”

She casually points across the street.

Sure enough. There it is. Right behind the shuttle with the name of my hotel on it.

~Shelley

PS – Next week: I do actually get to the lecture!

PSS — This is the last week for ordering a Gotta Have a Gott calendar. The deadline is December 12 and Rob has TWO LEFT!

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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I’ve Learned My Lesson

The other day I mentally took inventory of the most important people in my life. Strangely enough, Ben & Jerry did not quite make the short list. They were close, but had to be cut in order to make room for all the Glens and Bens in my whisky cabinet.

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Some of these folks would be surprised to know that they’re on my list—like Leonard, the weary technician who repeatedly shows up at the door to fix my defunct internet service.

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Or Jimmy, the eighty eight-year old Baptist preacher who sits on a bench outside my tiny, local gas station, intent upon connecting with his flock or passing strays with nothing more than a broad, toothless grin and an embracing hello. And then there’s the sourpuss-faced librarian who I greet two or three times a week. I am determined to see her smile at least once before I die, and I’m guessing the only way that will happen is if I purchase her a pair of shoes that are two sizes larger than the ones she’s currently wearing.

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The interesting thing I discovered while thumbing through the short list was that nearly everyone on it was a teacher.

The teachers I have had could be divided even further into subcategories: the good, the bad, and the under investigation. It has been said that kids cannot learn from teachers they don’t like—that one would realize a far better outcome for a student if they highlighted the three correctly answered quiz questions out of twenty rather than stapling a fast food restaurant application to the top page.

If I were to take a hard, calculating look around and behind me, from the present moment back to my first flash of sentient thought, I bet I could easily say that I have spent most of my life swimming in a pool of teachers. In fact, I believe we could all say that, because we have lessons to learn from every person we interact with—if you look deeply enough.

The lessons are constant and subtle, or intermittently gargantuan, but they are present whether we recognize them or not, and ride in on the coattails of folks we might never have considered to be those in charge of our lives’ direction.

For instance:

My yoga teacher, whose classes I’ve attended twice a week for the last decade, has become my personal Jiminy Cricket—her voice, a constant presence of gentle encouragement and sage advice. Because of her, I listen to the obvious: what my body can and cannot do, what my body should and should not do, and also the blatant reminder that yoga is not a competitive sport.

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One Hollywood music producer brought into sharp focus two things I would never forget: 1) I am quite agile at dashing around furniture in order to stay away from groping hands, and 2) a well-placed kick can do wonders for sending the message Back off, Buddy, but sucks for career advancement.

The small bewhiskered feline I have been placed in charge of enlightens me daily with the knowledge that sitting still does not necessarily equate with being still, and that the magic of sensory perception will blossom if you practice distilling life down to the minute and overlooked. She has also illuminated the fact that my reflexes suck, and that unless I am approaching her with food, I had best do a one eighty and rethink the value of ungrazed flesh.

I have had music instructors who have encouraged me, following a performance, with their assessment that I played all of the notes and some even in the right places, and others who have sat back laughing, and then after wiping away the tears in their eyes said, “Okay, play it for real now.”

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I have had teachers who unintentionally cut me to the quick with nothing more than their desire to help. Like the time I received a graded English assignment, still wet with its shellacking of red ink, and a note at the top that said, SEE ME, which I interpreted to be a disapproving nod toward my undeserved confidence with the previous day’s lesson. Consequently, I slunk into the background and never really internalized the rule of It’s I before E except after C

I have even learned some of life’s greatest lessons from the string attached to my tea bags, where dangling from the end is a tiny truism worth remembering:

Experience is a comb which nature gives us when we are bald.

You cannot get to the top by sitting on your bottom. 

And lastly,

The problem with the gene pool is there’s no lifeguard.

We’re all in need of instruction. And finding a good coach to guide you through life is a gift we may not recognize we possessed until after we’ve had our ‘aha’ moment.

Our teachers are there to build up our skills, to broaden our mindset, and to prepare us for the future as it unfolds before us. On the flipside, the old definition is also true: a teacher is simply a person who helps you solve problems you’d never have without them.

But for now, I shall leave you with my favorite life lesson from my pilot instructor of long ago. He quoted Douglas Adams, and said the words applied to nearly everything: Flying is learning how to throw yourself to the ground—and miss.

Now edge on out there to the end of the branch, safe with a parachute holding all your life’s lessons, and leap.

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~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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Give Me the Straight Dope

General words of wisdom suggest everything in moderation, right? But I’ve got an itsy bitsy, teeny weenie, steamy kind of dreamy need for podcasts. And I think my weakness might hover right on the edge of addiction.

I actually crave my daily dose with an urgency that suggests the necessity for an intervention. I’m a knowledge junkie, a story fanatic, an anecdotal zealot—I pine for the adrenaline rush of hearing my pushers’ voices break through the silence in my ear buds. There are four men in particular who have encouraged this uncontrollable habit of mine. Four men who all work for the great drug lord—NPR.

National Public Radio. Each country has something similar—their own kingpin. The BBC, PRI, ABC. I could go on, but I’d bet there’s no need. We’ve all got our source, and sometimes we need to keep it under wraps lest it reveal too much about one’s slant on the world.

But I’m revealing mine, and maybe it’s a desperate plea for help, but I have a feeling by admitting my podcast obsession, you all might just increase the volume and make it worse by offering up your own. And then I’m going to need to taste yours too. Just a small dose to see how it compares to the stash I already get. It could send me right over the edge, and come the holidays, when I’m supposed to be in the kitchen basting, stirring, baking and carving, one of my kids will find me sprawled on the floor, eyes glazed over, my ear buds doing the work of an IV drip hooked up to the bag of juice that is my smart phone on the counter.

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Firstly, let me correct two misconceptions I may have created. I’m not stating that I am a news junky, and only get my worldly knowledge from one source. That would be the near equivalent to feeding my body all its necessary nutrients only via chocolate. I’ve tried it. And it’s missing a few things. Like a good chunk of the building blocks for a functioning brain and body. But I gave it a royal go—for the sake of science. No, it’s not political issues, economic reports and scandalous headlines I’m after, but rather pure human interest.

The other fallacy is that all four men work for the organization. The big conglomerates only pimp their work. All this is nearly irrelevant, because I’d like to get down to brass tacks and introduce you to four men I would not like to live without.

Guy Raz. His geeky, chunky glasses with tape in the middle sound has me sigh with delight every time he begins his podcast and hosts The TED Radio Hour. The man has an extensive history, working his way up the ranks in radio, both in the studio and on the field, and has the accolades to match his efforts. And through this accumulation of experiences he’s developed an audio personality that people warm to immediately. He pulls out the best of his interviewee’s tale and hands it to you with a warm mug of just for you. As if TED talks could get any better, Guy Raz squishes the best parts of at least four of them into less than an hour. And because of this, I just want to squish him.

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Next up? Two fellas who share a mic, and with whom I would willingly share a last meal, my last bottle of wine, or a small row boat while we wait for the inevitable possibility that we will never see rescue. Why? Because so much that comes out of their mouths is rewind worthy.261014robert (589x800)

That’s right. I find them so interesting, and so opinionatedly creative, that I spend more time going backward in their podcasts than I do moving forward. Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad, the hosts of Radiolab, reel their audiences into a world where curiosity is deeply explored.261014jad (533x800)

Their descriptive tag:  Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience, neatly says it all. They are the answers to your inner, never-ending, five-year old self’s desire to ask, BUT WHY?

And finally, a man so well-known for his prowess in storytelling, I doubt there is an honor or award that has not found space upon his walls and shelves. To be a part of the production of anything Ira Glass creates is like being a part of something that might be canonized for future generations when wanting directions for building the ethereal soul of a story.

261014ira (497x800)A soft-spoken bard, Ira Glass takes you on a journey in the podcast This American Life with stories that talk of mostly everyday folks doing ordinary things, but he sprinkles extraordinary perspective around it. Ira can make the act of watching paint dry turn into an spine-tingling philosophical adventure. There is magic in that minstrel’s narrative, and he encourages me to look at life through a lens I’d like to make permanently mine.

And so it goes with each of these stewards in charge of spinning a colorful yarn. They capture my attention with their shiny, fluttering strings, weave a tapestry of turmoil, exploration, hypothesis and kismet into a large enough mat where we set sail upon updrafts and thermals. And their stories are as fickle and unpredictable as the wind. I never know where it is we will go, or how we will get there. I only know that when it is all said and done, I want another ride.

I am obsessed, I am devoted and I am happily under the influence.

~Shelley

October Gotta Have a Gott 

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. See the cartoons in competition and to cast your vote.

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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Diabesities: Our Young Brood’s Battle with the Bulge.

Everybody loves surprises, right?

Well, I suppose it depends upon the kind of surprise. The Hey, you just won a year’s worth of dental hygiene! could be nice. A Mom, I passed physics! is pretty worthy. And Your book is going to be made into a movie! is a phone call I am so hoping will come one day.

The surprises many of us would rather not face down the pike are:

Yep, see that there crack, ma’am? Looks like you’re gonna need a whole new foundation.

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Or: What? You’re pregnant with triplets … again?

 

And of course: Hey, honey. My mother is moving in with us. Surprise!

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Obviously these bombshell examples aren’t things we regularly have to get used to, but I’d like to make you aware of a few eye-popping truths that have become the new standard for normal around our planet.

1.) 43 million children under 5 are overweight or obese.

2.) 1/3 of kids born after the year 2000 will develop diabetes.

3.) The number one source of calories in the United States is from high fructose corn syrup.

4.)  43% of pilots admit to falling asleep during their flight. 33% of them wake to find that their co-pilot is out cold as well.

Yes, folks, the numbers are rising, just like those of the Earth’s temperature and most countries’ national debt. The stats I’m focusing on today are strictly numbers 1-3. Number 4 was thrown in simply for your armchair amusement, and your in-flight horror.

The bad news is that today’s generation of children will be the first to have a shorter lifespan that that of their parents.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

The great news is that it’s super easy to flip these numbers because the only thing standing in the way of our children’s health is our children.

Oh, and the media.

Oops, and their friends.

Yeah … and the school cafeterias.

Alright, maybe we ought to back up to the statement that simply reveals the good news bit, because once we realize what it is we’re up against, the odds for growing healthy human beings seems nearly insurmountable.

How do one or two parents launch an effective campaign for their children’s health that can stand up to billions of dollars in marketing, peer pressure and the common sense of legislation that states lunchroom pizza can be considered a vegetable because it has tomato sauce on it?

Go figure.

The food industry spends over two billion dollars a year with advertisements that target kids alone. TWO BILLION WITH A “B!”

And 98% of those ads are for foods that are high in fat, sugar and sodium—and fat, sugar and sodium are hugely addictive. They become things you can’t live without, like air and water and Facebook.

But unlike air and water and social media, those products of the food industry are nearly nutrition-less and only benefit drug companies who develop insulin related medications, Weight Watchers, and clothing manufacturers who charge by the square inch.

For those of you who are in command of stocking the fridge, I’m sure you’re familiar with the rule of thumb that one should never go grocery shopping while hungry. For those of you with children, there’s the extra add-on that one should never go grocery shopping with anyone who has learned to point and speak. With pointing and speaking comes nagging, and marketers have done studies to determine that it takes an average of “nine nags” for the typical child to convince a parent to give in and give over. Nine.

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That’s one above parental patience—where one disciplines while maintaining a princess Disney voice—and one below that combustible threshold I learned about in my daughter’s science project. Kaboom.

So while my kids were growing up, I found it was safer if they stayed home. A win win for all of us. They didn’t see the blazing, tantalizing come-hither advertisements placed directly at their eyeball level, and I didn’t get escorted out of the supermarket for hijacking the public address system, begging that anyone with a Xanax for me and duct tape for my kids would please come to aisle five for some serious cleanup.

Yep. Win win.

But this only lasts so long, because sooner than you know, the cat is out of the bag and your kids are off to school. This is where all the forces of good are overwhelmed by evil and your children declare you to be Satan.

They come home one day, slam the front door while tossing their tiny book bags to the floor and shout:

“Nobody else plants their own food!”

“None of the other kids have gone on monthly fieldtrips to local farms in order to watch dinner be chosen, slaughtered and butchered!”

“And not a one of them were told that they must study the stupid French technique of making duck confit because that helps with riding a bike!”

Oh? I say. And did you also crush their belief in all things sacred by telling them that chicken actually has bones?

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I have grown immune to their evil glares, but I refuse to ignore what’s happening to our kids and their declining health. It can be easy to shrug and wave the white flag of surrender, but I for one look awful in white and refuse to do so. I will continue to fight this worthy battle. And I’m doing it with my words.

Words are pretty powerful things. They move us, convince us, enrage us, and enlighten us. I’ve become so determined to help in the growing campaign for kids’ health that I wrote a book to tackle the subject, by tickling kids’ funny bones. I’m not sure if it will have an impact, but my fingers are crossed it will touch at least one or two folks. And if it helps one or two, that might have a ripple effect elsewhere.

But just to be clear, no one needs a book to make an impact. You just need to know you have a vote.

Folks are often surprised to remember their voice actually counts. The simplest way to do that is by deciding where your dollars, pounds and shekels will go.

And I bet the food industry will be pretty surprised to find a growing chunk of folks are fed up with the baloney they’re trying to feed our families.

It’s hard to initiate change—especially when you feel it’s a case of Muhammad and the mountain. But as I always say, if you’re going to eat an elephant, you’ve got to take it one bite at a time. And bringing better health to our kids is a battle I’d bet most of us are willing to fight.

That should come as no surprise.

~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.

Related articles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Get Found by Losing Your Way.

Orientation is a concept I spent a lot of time thinking about this last weekend as I helped move my daughter into her new digs at university. From the moment I put the key into the ignition and the car into drive until I parked my automobile snugly into the garage returning home, I was in a constant state of getting my bearings.

As a writer, one is schooled to continually practice the art of noticing.

The teenager sitting beside me rarely noticed anything that wasn’t coming into view on the flat screen of her smart phone.

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There is a vast difference between us. We orient ourselves in completely different ways.

We both learn about the world using our eyes, but mine make grand sweeping gestures east to west and north to south, taking in trees and buildings, street signs and faces, while hers make a minuscule movement barely left and right of center—just enough to absorb the bazillion articles on Reddit that tell everyone reading what’s happening in the world today.

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But at least we know what’s unfolding around us.

We both use our ears to scope out sound. As we sit in a lecture hall, in front of a panel of teachers, advisors, administrators and staff, I soak up the voices and what they say: the chief of campus police—serious and dour, the dean of students—confident and erudite, the chair of the physics department—stumped by all the befuddled faces, the university healthcare representative—thoroughly weary from repeatedly answering the same question, just posed in a different accent.  The incoming freshman I’ve placed in the seat next to mine has used her ears as a holder for two pieces of electronics and plastic in order to block out the ambient voices and welcome in somebody else’s streaming from iTunes.

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I look at the distance we need to maneuver from one end of campus to the other and pull out a map; she hears the phrase lovely walk and clicks on an app to hail a cab.

We pass by groups of kids and I scan the clusters of faces from all ends of the earth and say, “It’s going to be wonderful getting to know so many new people from places you’ve never been.” She replies, “I already know most of them. We’ve all met on Facebook.”

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The list of activities–the get to know you parties–are poles apart from what would ease me into my new surroundings had I been the newcomer on campus.

Come build a rollercoaster!

Edible LEGO bricks. Let’s eat our architecture!

100 somewhat illegal uses for all your tech gadgets—shhh.

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Yeah, my university mixers were more of the sort that announced: We’re having a pizza party in the Student Union. Come meet your mascot.

I watched a kid zoom by on a ten speed bike powered by a chain saw. I heard music coming out of a speaker that looked like a small Oreo. I saw someone typing words onto a screen, which would have been fine apart from the fact that there was no keyboard beneath her fingers.

I was now completely disoriented.

By the end of the day I had amassed a file full of papers—everything from phone numbers to calendars, lecture notes to course requirements. I turned to my teen, “I’ve got spares for you too because I noticed you weren’t taking any.”

She waved her phone at me. “Got it all right here.”

Smart phone. A helluva lot smarter than me.

We bring the last of her gear up to her dorm room. “Do you want me to remind you how to do your laundry?”

“Nope. I’ll YouTube it.”

“Shall I walk you to the university’s clinic and campus police?”

“Already Google-Mapped it, Mother.”

“How bout I—”

Smart phone is waved in my face.

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It is clear I have been replaced by an app. By copper and wiring and eye tracking and satellites. This is her world not mine. It is fast, it is immediate, it is clever and it is made for a group of brains that do not see the world as I see it.

I collected my things and we walked to my car. I looked at my daughter and thought about our positions in the universe, how I would find my way back home, how I would go back to what was familiar and well-worn, and how I’d be recalibrating life and adjusting to the “new normal.”

So much of the weekend was, in truth, an orientation meant for me. I watched this young woman and all her peers around us utilize unfamiliar signs, and oftentimes unreadable directions, leading them confidently down their new path.

There really was nothing left to do apart from stand aside and lovingly snip the last threads of that invisible umbilical cord between us. I let her go … wireless.

~Shelley

August Gotta Have a Gott winner

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Jump on over to see the cartoon winner for August!

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.

Related articles

The story of your life.

As you read this, I want you to envision how I would probably appear if I were standing in front of you, holding out a cup of tea and offering up an appreciative smile for having the courage to come back after the massive five part series adventure of last month.

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I am probably bleary-eyed, brain-fogged, and dressed in the same war-torn, weed-hacking, stiff with mosquito repellant clothes I’ve been throwing on for the last four days simply because I’ve no time to take the extra few steps into my closet and find something fresh to wear. Time is ticking exponentially faster with each glance I make at the clock, and I can’t seem to stop it.

These are the last few days I’m helping to prepare (read—preparing) my daughter for her shove off from home and toward the land of her personal Edutopia.

University looms in front of us.

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Hitching a ride with the rising buildings of academia are the rising fears of what lies beneath the phrases I’ve been shouting lately:

Have you finished your orientation registration forms?

Did you fax your immunization records to the Health Screening Office on campus?

What are all these boxes of clothes for? You’re moving into a dorm room the size of large broom closet. All you need are pajamas and a lab coat!

Yeah, there’s fear here. And excitement, and panic, and tenderness and uncertainty. Volumes of emotional exposure.

But these chapters are what make up life. The living part of life—not the hiding from it.

When I look back at the last few years of raising my children—no, these two young adults who still occasionally come to me for food, money, transportation and every once in a blue moon advice–I clearly see the one thing I wanted both of them to become:

Mistake-ridden.

This is a description I’ve encouraged them to develop for as many years as they’ve been drawing breath. I do not want a safe life for either one of them—nor for myself. I want them to acknowledge their fears, discover their weaknesses, and expose their raw and shatterable insecurities. I want them to stumble, to fall and to fail. And I want them to do this wholeheartedly with an openness to adventure and a liability for results.

And then I want them to repeat this process until they draw their very last breath.

For only by doing so will they touch upon the magnificence of courage.

I don’t want to see these two people standing on the sidelines. I want them inside the game. Sitting at the table. Winning and losing, losing and winning. I want them to show up, knees knocking with nerves, a heart hammering with upheaval and a stomach fluttering with butterflies. I want them to be brave enough to know that even though they may be rejected, they will never look back with ruefulness and self-reproach because timidity held them back.

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Another year of school begins for both of them next week. My messages have been steady and repetitive:

Be hungry, but feed others.

Listen and lead.

Don’t hide, unmask yourself and try.

Get up, get up, GET UP.

I know it’s a lot to ask. I know it’s fraught with embarrassment and pain and mounting self-doubt. It’s an accumulation of scabs and scars and long-healing wounds. But the alternative is bland. It will never leave them breathless. It has a bitter aftertaste. It is an all-encompassing folding in and shriveling up. It is effortless—and my coaching has been all about living an effortful life.

The world is a series of doors waiting not for a tentative knock, but for a hand that tries the latch. It is a succession of thresholds—those moments where you are on the brink of something, but only if you make the necessary, scary steps toward the edge of the precipice. Life is a giant leap of trust into a glistening pool of risk. It is cold and brutal, shocking and raw—yes, but it is also triumphant.

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And what do our children truly need to accomplish these directives? This chalk talk for the game of life? These instructions that promise them a life profoundly lived?

Nothing more than vulnerability and curiosity.

Nothing more than pajamas and a lab coat.

~Shelley

PS. As shortly I shall be neck deep in all things dorm room and parent orientation related, and as Robin has worked his pencils down to the barest of nubs and is in search of replacements, the show will go dark next week. But we will return the following weekend, full of stories and full of life. Fully written and illustrated for YOU.

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.

Related articles

Rockets and a lot of Red Glares (part 3)

I know this has been a tiny bit of torture for many of my regular Peakers out there—this being the third installment of Hopefully Not a Waste in Space, a series about my eighteen-year old daughter’s balloon launch (Project SkyHAB) where she was determined to make it rain in space. (She denies this, but it’s what I deduced after looking at the hieroglyphics wallpaper—she calls them “equations”—tacked to every square inch of vertical surface space in her bedroom. Or she is attempting to reach ancient Egyptian astronauts.) I implore any newcomers to catch up with Episode One and Episode Two. If you don’t, it’ll be a little like watching the Star Wars series and starting right in the middle with Episode IV.

Wait …

Okay, maybe not so much like that because I’m no George Lucas—no matter how many times folks tell me we have almost identical facial hair styles.

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So, as we last left off, I was staring dumbfounded at a computer screen, watching GPS coordinates flash at me, insisting that my daughter’s balloon–the expensive contraption that underwent two week’s worth of heavy soldering, gluing, duct taping and volatile gas testing–was still contentedly sitting at her feet somewhere in the middle of the bucolic state of Virginia. In reality, my daughter was curled up in the fetal position and her space balloon was quite possibly rapidly making its way to Bermuda.

I wanted to be there with it.

The phone line that connected us went dead after I announced that we’d lost contact with the mothership, and so did our dreams of being cataloged in The Journal of Great Space Exploration From Some Folks Who Know What They’re Doing But Are Underfunded & One Person Who is Better Off Suited Up as the Team Mascot. (It’s not a widely read journal.)

I quickly emailed the rest of my team, desperate to see if either one of them had logged movement. Both reported the same screen. The balloon was stationary.

For the next hour I tried every computer in the house—all hand held devices as well as those whose monitors rivaled a Drive-In movie screen. Nada. I was in despair. I held a small council session with my headquarter’s fur-faced team, bouncing ideas off them as quickly as they came to me. Does anyone have a reliable contact at Langley? Should we call Neil DeGrasse Tyson on his private cell and ask for advice—even though we’d been ordered by a court of law to cease and desist? Should we alert the Coast Guard and demand to see our tax dollars in action?

All I got was blank faces and blinking vacant eyes. Plus a glance toward the treat jar on the kitchen counter. My command center team sucked.

It had been an hour and a half since we’d lost contact. I phoned my daughter to see if she’d scraped herself off the ground yet and what the plan was from the head scientist’s perspective. Her dulled voice murmured over the phone, “I’m on my way back. There’s nothing we can do.”

Click.

The mission was over.

I started preparing my motherly speech about how It’s not the destination, but the journey–any maybe not even the journey per se as the preparation for the journey. I was going to have to bring out the big guns. Cadbury, Toblerone, and Ben & Jerry’s.

The next three hours were a hazy collection of work assignments. And emotional eating. The Center of Operations was fully immersed in testing food sources to see what might bring the lead scientist out of her funk and then have it ready for when she made it back to base camp. We exhausted ourselves with effort.

And then …

There was a ping.

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The kind of sound that happens when a patient who’s been declared “unalive” proves to all the “time of death” doctors that he is now one of the “undead.” It’s usually accompanied by several people mumbling, “But this is impossible.”

“But this is impossible!” I shouted to my slumbering, sacked out team. I stared at the screen—the very screen that hours ago made me believe that someone at NASA had accidentally tripped over and unplugged our satellite from the wall socket–and gawked at just how fickle the winds can be at 100,000 feet off the Earth’s surface. There was a series of crazy, streaking lines through the center of Virginia that now confirmed that my daughter’s high altitude balloon, with all of its precious cargo, had landed safely in the welcoming bosom of the Central Baptist church parking lot.

HALLELUJAH!

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I quickly called my daughter. I did some screaming into the phone. She did some screaming back into the phone. Half of the team at home bounced and barked and the other half looked at me while quietly cleaning her paw. The phone went dead. More heart palpitations—did she drive off the road? Would she ever make it home to claim her research project? Had I killed the mission a second time?

Five minutes later a car blaring its horn whizzed up the driveway. Into the house bounded one very happy engineer.

We hugged, we sprung about one another like tightly bound human coils with tears of joy and laughter. This was a great day indeed.

“Where is it? Where is it? Show me!” my daughter said.

I brought the screen to life.

Oops.

The Central Baptist church was not SkyHAB’s final destination. It had taken another jiggy turn southeast for one last great push and landed …

In the Sandy River Reservoir.

SkyHAB was in the drink.

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So I reached for one too.

What happened next? It involves a sizable amount of hard liquor and a therapist on speed dial. No, wait. That’s just how I plan to deal with all the hate mail in the comment section this week. Come back and find out about the fate of SkyHAB on Episode Four of Hopefully Not a Waste in Space.

~Shelley

July Gotta Have a Gott 

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. See the cartoons in competition and to cast your vote.

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.

Related articles

Rockets and a lot of Red Glares (part 2)

I couldn’t sleep last night. In my head, all I could think about was that tomorrow was Launch Day—the culminating event of a two week, end of high school senior project my eighteen-year old daughter was tackling. The title of the adventure was Project SkyHAB (for Sky High Altitude Balloon). But I referred to it fondly as One Teenager’s Dream to Make it Rain in Space.

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In order to fully understand the impossibility of success for this operation, you must catch up. Read this. It’s part one. The rest of us will wait while you’re gone. Hurry up.

Alrighty then, now that we’re all on the same page, it will not come as a surprise to find out I was assigned to be Head of Mission Control. That meant I would need to be glued to the monitor attached to my computer with no distractions like food or water, and maybe only the occasional gulp of air for the entire four-hour flight. I would need loose fitting clothing and a slickly greased swivel chair. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds. There is a bucketload of stress attached to the job, and I’m guessing at some point, someone may consider making a film about it.

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I heard my daughter leave for the launch site just before 5 am, and like most folks in charge of the less physical aspects of a job—particularly those in management—I went back to sleep for a couple of hours. She’d call if there was a snag. I was sure of it.

After a while, those of us who considered ourselves top brass rolled out of bed. The hound, the hellcat, and I all found some grub. One of us was supposed to purchase freeze dried astronaut food as a way of setting the mood and creating a scene, but didn’t. I glared at them both. This was going in the report.

We waited anxiously for the phone call that was to signal the start of the countdown, and bounced around from room to room keeping limber. We did laundry, washed some dishes, pulled a few weeds, and penned yet another lengthy epistle to Carl Sagan, who for some rude reason started ignoring my missives around 1996. I was hoping to Skype with him while the balloon was making its way spacebound.

Apparently, my personal Houston was not going to answer, so I’d have to go it solo. I wasn’t deterred. More donuts for me at the afterglow party once we’d achieved success.

Although I was told to hang tight for the T-minus 60 notification, my anxiety about the many hour delays compelled me to phone the launch site every 30 minutes for an update.

I heard explanations about faulty equipment, excuses that laid blame at the feet of a roll of duct tape, and a lot of foul language. It was a little like attending one of my daughter’s violin gigs.

Wanting to make sure I was totally up to date, I continually refreshed the website that broadcasted the GPS coordinates. It pinged the same longitude and latitude for hours on end. I decided I should be prepared with backups in case of an unforeseen local blackout and a complete loss of power, a massive equipment failure with my desktop, or a solar flare incident that wiped out the one satellite dedicated to me and Project SkyHAB for today.

I called my dad and a friend.

I told them science depended upon their willing participation and announced they would get credit in the report write up sent to NASA.

My dad bargained for a nap mid-afternoon.

I told him this would affect his performance evaluation in the report.

He told me that either he got the nap, or I could go fly a kite.

I reminded him that this was A BALLOON.

There was some terse language about a union, and a reminder that he knew people who worked at the local Pennysaver, so I finally gave in and agreed to the nap. Bad press is not gonna happen on my watch.

At precisely 12:43 pm—or something close to it—I received the much anticipated phone call. My head was in the fridge. I was cleaning chocolate milk off the shelves.

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“WE’VE LAUNCHED!”

“Wait—what?? Where’s the countdown? There was supposed to be a countdown. And I needed to have my people on standby. How could you have already launched when I—”

“MOTHER! ARE YOU TRACKING THE COORDINATES? WHERE IS MY BALLOON?!!”

“Hold on a sec.” I raced to my super slickly greased wheelie chair and tried to get my computer to wake up from sleep mode. It was obviously over-tired from the taxing morning work of refreshing the GPS site and refused to be roused.

“MOTHER?!!”

“Yep, yep … yep, hold on a sec, I’m checking.”

“MOTHER! WHERE IS MY BALLOON!”

The computer screen flared to life. The coordinates flashed in front of me. My heart seized up and stopped beating. “Huh … how bout that.”

“WHAT?”

“It appears your balloon is still at the launch site.”

“NO IT ISN’T!!”

“Says so right here.”

I heard the phone drop and the distant voice of my daughter shouting, “Come back! Wait … come back, baby!”

You want to know what happened next? I’ll bet you do. Let me just say this: it involves a gun, a team of humiliated London policemen and Benedict Cumberbatch. No wait … that’s the contents of the next Sherlock episode I’m about to watch. Sorry.

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Come back next week for the next installment of Hopefully Not a Waste in Space.

~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.

Related articles

Rockets and a lot of Red Glares (part 1)

The last two weeks have been a flurry of foam, duct tape, soldering irons, steel wool, motherboards, electrical wire, miniature GPS devices, itsy bitsy video cameras, and big tubs of Ben & Jerry’s strewn about the kitchen counter.

The place is a tip.

It looks like a small Chinese manufacturing plant exploded inside my house.

In reality, my eighteen-year old daughter is nearing completion of her last high school project. For days, she has been walking around with welding glasses perched atop her head, a phone to ‘tech support’ glued to her ear, and a t-shirt that says Stand back. I’m about to try science, hanging from her small frame.

Empty packages from Amazon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and CheapLiquor.com litter the floor—wait … no, that last one is for my project. A massive, torpedo-shaped, blue helium tank that could pass as a NASA test rocket reject stands proudly upright on my front porch and has scared multiple package delivery men sufficiently to phone me from inside their trucks to make sure it was okay to ring the doorbell.

I tell them it’s always a gamble, tank or not.

Currently, this is Launch Day.

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The item to be launched requires descriptive word prowess that does not fall within my wheelhouse. But I’ll give it a whirl. Imagine the balloon that the Wizard of Oz floats beneath when he ditches the whole gang at the send off party. Now picture the “people holding” basket beneath it. But our basket is not so much a basket as it is a lunchbox. But instead of lunch, it carries a tracking device, two Lilliputian-sized video cameras, battery packs that would put an electronics store to shame, allegedly a computer–but it looks to me like a small bomb, and enough compressed foam to make three king-sized mattresses.

I tried slipping in a package of honey-roasted peanuts for in flight snacking, but my hand was slapped away. Like there was room for it anyway.

On top of the basket is a “cloud chamber.” Apparently, this is not where clouds gather to dress, sleep, or make a ruling on legal issues.

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But it is, roughly speaking, where they may relieve themselves. This involves sponges, alcohol and a Plexiglas box. To me this sounds like a frat party. To others, it is considered science. Go figure.

The basket is wrapped in blinding pink and zebra-striped duct tape. There is also a flashing red light that may lead folks to believe there is a small reindeer stuffed into the basket with just enough space for a nose hole.

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All of this is what’s referred to as THE PAYLOAD.

It’s so official sounding. And since I have no idea what the payload actually does, I simply say it with enough emphasis and confidence when telling folks about it that they basically respond the same way I do: with wonderment and awe. Then I rush on to some other topic to save myself from any questions.

It’s been working fairly well, unless I find I’m speaking to a self-proclaimed science geek, in which case I usually then just shout, “Look! An eagle!” and run like hell in the opposite direction. It’s harder to pull that one off in line at the grocery store, but I just don’t have time to finesse my routine.

From what I’ve been told, THE PAYLOAD will be connected to a large balloon, and by large I mean the size of a small house. This floating piece of real estate will be in charge of lift. Especially if the blue tank is truly full of helium and not antediluvian rocket fuel. All together, the project has a snappy scientific name: SkyHAB (sky high altitude balloon).

My daughter, and an extensively interviewed group of volunteers (in total: one other guy who has nothing to do today), have set up the balloon launch site about 80 miles southwest of our house.

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They intend to release the balloon, track the balloon, and finally retrieve the balloon. Well, not so much the balloon as THE PAYLOAD. The balloon will eventually, somewhere around 100,000 feet, reach it’s “combustible threshold.” Boy, am I familiar with that unit of measurement. Then a parachute will—read should—deploy, and down will come cradle, Rudolph and all.

The GPS unit is supposed to allow the launch team the ability to track its whereabouts in order to eventually locate THE PAYLOAD and retrieve the valuable data about how frequently clouds need to use the loo. Or something equally as shocking.

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As we are on the precipice of launching, I must set aside my essays, find myself an inked-stained pocket protector, and create some sort of headgear so that I will look official in my position of Chief Head Scratcher at Mission Control.

Stay tuned, Peakers. I shall return with part two of Hopefully Not a Waste in Space. In the meantime, as I sit tracking THE PAYLOAD via GPS, watch this space … no this space … no this space …

~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.

Related articles

 

Cap and gown; the costume of progress.

GRADUATION

Letter G (644x800)Gathering on long stretches of lawn, huddling inside church halls, or amassing in colossal gymnasiums, tis the season to honor and applaud young scholars who have climbed the slippery rungs of the academic ladder. Here they will be granted a view that skims the treetops toward their futures.

Letter R (633x800)Racing across a platform to grasp the pressed woody fibers that hold an inked seal of accomplishment, we watch the students sail forward, a breeze billowing beneath the graduates’ gowns; a tease of the winds aloft they’ll soon face full on.

Letter A (654x800)A speech is prepared, rehearsed and delivered, its words an urgent call to remember the past, but seize the future, grasp it with both hands, clutch it to your heart, embrace it with a fervor that will outlast the first, tiny taste of liberty.

Letter D (648x800)Dozens upon dozens of bright, earnest faces listen to microphoned wisdom: sage insight pressed upon the young and energetic meant to spur on bravery, incite tenacity, and goad some grit.

Letter U (638x800)Umbilical cords to home and school, friends and parents faintly snap as if the students, fidgeting for freedom in their seats, collectively give one last tireless tug to the tethered, fraying thread that holds them bound within a tapestry of the familiar.

Letter A (644x800)An abundance of flashes populate the air; crisp time-stamped moments, trapped in hand-held boxes that years later, will release a rush of recollection that will be both reflective and wistful.

Letter T (630x800)Tomorrow’s outlook is surmountable, and our cloth-draped cubs will rush on ahead, taking their place at the front lines of battle, determined, unflinching, valiant.

Letter I (626x800)I study these children, these long-legged, adult-bodied children, and hold my breath—inhale with hope that they may remain clear-eyed, clear-headed and clearly driven to find a conduit that will express their yet unknown ambitions.

Letter O (603x800)One day they will glance back to look at their younger selves, to study their pipe dreams, their castles in air, their pie in the sky, and they will know what it took to make them go from dream to possibility, from possibility to opportunity, and from opportunity to achievement.

Letter N (577x800)Never again will they find this footing, nor pass over this platform, but perhaps instead they’ll burn these bridges in order to maintain a steady, confident gaze toward a horizon we hope they will pioneer with backbone and boldness.

Be brave, be hungry, become.

~Shelley

May Gotta Have a Gott winner

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Click here to see the cartoons in competition and to cast your vote.

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.

Related articles

 

And I quote …

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”

~ Oscar Wilde

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I pay attention to words. As a writer, I am encouraged to scrutinize my words — and everyone else’s.

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And I have been known to give voice to animals, insects and inanimate objects purely because I am convinced they are trying to communicate. I will be their translator.

Oftentimes, it’s like converting African Khoisan clicking into Klingon and sprinkling it with a bit of Dothraki and Pig Latin. Yeah, that hodgepodge is probably not going to catch on.

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Even though I have a nerdish penchant for individual words, and when asked for the title of my favorite book, I awkwardly admit it is Roget’s International Thesaurus, the next level up on my scale of linguistic admiration is that of the quote.

I am addicted to adages, transfixed by truisms and wild about witticisms. In my opinion, reading the words that express other people’s wisdom in bite-sized format is an appealing approach to acquiring needed knowledge. The quotes I’m drawn to are powerful pearls of astute insight that have experienced countless retweets in the grand scope of the overall twittering universe we inhabit. Some have taken off like wildfire, a quick strike of a match that hungrily spreads from one combustible source to another, and others are smoldering embers—words that have been around like the coals of a dampened fire in the hearth—ready to be repeatedly brought back to heat-giving life in the morning, yet will continue a slow, hourly seep through the house of many minds.

Look through any bathroom in my house. You’ll find most of the reading material is short and quippy. I don’t encourage anyone to hunker down in there, but if you find it unavoidable, I hope the words invite you to ponder.

I’ve even taken to painting quotes on the walls of bathrooms and bedrooms because they’ve moved me to feel they deserve permanence within my humble abode.

Three quotes I feel worthy of daily reflection are:

Anyone can count the seeds in an apple. ~  No one can count the apples in a seed.

Do not follow where the path may lead … go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

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And most importantly,

If you didn’t see it with your own eyes, or hear it with your own ears, don’t invent it with your small mind and share it with your big mouth.

Okay, that last one is just another version of what was drilled in to me as a kid only in the less graceful form—You keep your nose out of other people’s business and they’ll keep their fist of your nose.

It worked for me.

As it is, everywhere I turn seems to sprout yet another worldly proverb or sagacious aphorism. Desperate to memorize these slick and savvy sayings, I’ve taken to writing them with a pen on my skin with the hopes that they’ll remain there long enough for the philosophy to penetrate before the ink departs.

If I went with the more indelible route–and tattooed myself with these many mottoes–I’d be a side show attraction at one of the county fairs. Plus, I’d rather not have small children run from me if I’m filled to the brim with all this wordy wisdom and no one to share it with.

I could start a Bookmobile that could rival my massive library system strictly with the number of volumes I possess that are only filled with the blunt, but brilliant quotes of others. They are everywhere around me: in my car, by my bedside, scattered across my desk, strapped to the belly of the dog for when we go take a walk and I’m in the mood to chew on a mouthful of metaphysics.

Everywhere.

These quotes are at the bottom of people’s emailed notes, on the first pages of great novels, spray-painted across the arch of a bridge, on the tear sheets of all my calendars, etched onto my bars of soap—that one isn’t the most cunning use of marketing dollars, but oh well, I suppose the point is that the shower is a reflective place.

And of course, I find laudable quotations from the world’s greatest source for anonymous pithiness with a pen: the public bathroom stall.

I’m not fussed where all this acumen comes from, or indignant from Oscar Wilde’s slight that the majority of us will never realize an original idea and only spout those from the cool kids of the past.

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I am prepared to receive the world’s collective enlightenment as it comes and from whichever direction it blows. There are an inordinate number of clever folks out there, adept at stringing together a sentence or two that have touched me to the very core.

I leave you with two last quotes and hope you might have one to share with me. The first I’m guessing might have been the rough draft of a speech somebody in Congress was about to deliver, but then ditched. The second is simply one I would have loved to have penned myself.

We, the unwilling,

led by the unknowing,

are doing the impossible

for the ungrateful.

We have done so much,

for so long,

with so little,

we are now qualified to do anything

with nothing.

And lastly,

Some people are like a slinky … not really good for anything, but you still can’t help but smile when you shove them down the stairs.

~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.

Related articles

Breaking my silence

I owe my ears to a bug and a meditative master. Well, maybe more so to the meditative master because he’s the one who gave me a gift.

He taught me how to listen.

I don’t mean he advised me in the art of paying attention to people’s words and the message they endeavored to convey. I mean he instructed me to hear sounds, and tone, and vibration.

In absolutely everything.

At the time, I thought I had a fairly well-developed ear. I was a musician, trained to hear intonation and pitch with a considerable degree of competency. But he had a level of attention to sound that was mystifying to me. His auditory skills were on par with most owls and marine animals. Mice feared for their lives around him. Beluga whales bowed down in his presence. I just wanted a little piece of that magic.

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But be careful what you wish for, right? Because a boon can just as easily become a blight.

I cannot find silence. I can’t remember the last time I have heard … nothing.

This man was a sound engineer, someone my music producer had hired to mix the final cuts of the album we were making, the film score we had finished and the commercials we whipped out. My job was done. I was excused and told to go work on the next project, but sometimes I’d plop down on the studio couch, make myself as invisible as possible and watch what unfolded.

And what unfolded was a brain twisting mystery. This man would sit in front of the sound board console and hold his breath. He was as still as the Buddha, who probably would have slapped him on the back with a thump of well done! Then he would crawl around on the floor, beneath the equipment, searching for an elusive something-or-other. Sometimes it would be hours before he actually played our music.

When I finally dredged up enough courage to ask him what he was doing, he’d answered, “I’m noticing.”

“Noticing what?” I asked.

“A lot,” he said.

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And during the next year I began ‘noticing’ too. He showed me how to find the buzz in each cable, the hum in all the machinery and the layer upon layer of sonance everywhere.

I went a little wild with my practice and drove my producer crazy with my newfound enthusiasm and belief that we would both benefit from this exciting auditory adventure I pulled him along on. At one point when recording the vocals for a lush and abundantly orchestrated song, I made him stop and pull out track after track after track, positive I could “hear” something that didn’t belong there.

We found it. It was a cricket in the recording booth. Finding the cricket to pitch him out proved impossible. Finding the musicians to bring them back in proved expensive.

No one was happy with me.

Except the sound engineer.

But now I can’t go anywhere without listening for the layers. It’s not as if I’ve developed the auditory capability to hear dog whistles, but rather I’ve stopped tuning things out. And I practiced this for so many years now I can NEVER tune them out.

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I lay awake at night, and hear the usual things.

The clock ticking, the dog breathing, the cat licking, the stinkbugs flying … and then smacking into walls and dropping onto the floor.

There is the sink dripping, the toilet running, the wind rattling, a coyote howling and an aircraft droning.

And when I have categorized these sounds, I am left with others that pull me out of bed and ask me to hunt them down.

The fridge has a little hum. The freezer has a funky hiss. The DVR has a purring motor that churns and roils, keeping something tiny inside of it cool and protecting it from combusting.

Down the hall in the family room I find two speakers, softly throwing out sound in the key of A. I bend down along the floorboards and hear muffled scratching—someone is busy making a tiny nest in the wall. I crawl beneath my desk and trace a treble tone to my computer’s hard drive. I start at an unexpected sound and bump my head, taken by surprise at the vibration above me where my smart phone was set to silently buzz with an incoming email.

I hear the heat vent whir to life, the soft whooshing of air, spongy and constant. Then the generator which lives halfway down the hill to the sheep barn clicks on for its weekly test drive. I open the back porch door and stand on the icy cold steps to count the multilayers of sound the generator is generating.

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Far off, on the other side of the house, the wind chimes chingle.

And then I hear the birds chirping and something high-pitched and tiny. The sound takes me up the porch steps and back into my bedroom.

And right next to my bed.

It’s my alarm clock.

It’s time to start another day. Another day filled with sound.

I’m thinking the sounds will most likely be my yawns.

~Shelley

February Gotta Have a Gott winner

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Jump on over to see the cartoon winner for February!

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.

Related articles

Just how nosy are you?

I’m not asking are you a meddling snoop and all up in somebody else’s bidness nosy, I mean how much do you treasure your schnoz?

eyes closed, ears open

Out of all my most cherished senses, including my sense of humor, I would have to place my ability to smell at the top of the list. This perplexes at least one of my family members, as she has told me just how short-sighted I am in evaluating the importance, need and relevance of a few other senses that should come first in line. She could be right, but short-sighted I am not. I had Lasik done years ago to fix that problem, and now, neither short or far-sighted, all I do is seem to play the trombone when bringing fine print before my peepers.

Although I’m grateful for the actual ability to smell—the heady, perfumed sprig of lilac, that warm, plump strawberry dribbling juice down my chin, and the eye-watering, throat closing fumes of sulphur dioxide—it is the result of the smells that I am more appreciative of. What is this result?

The memory that is stirred by them.

I am transported back to the day when a childhood friend stuffed my school locker with armfuls of lilac blooms. I return to the hot and sticky summers of kneeling in the freshly turned, sun warmed soil of a strawberry farm where I worked eating more than I picked. I am yanked out of sleep with the sharp reminder that I allowed the dog to finish off the Mexican three bean layer dip before bedtime.

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These memories are precious. And pungent. And worthy of preserving.

(Some will be burned into my brain to ensure I will not make the same error twice.)

They are curious things, one’s nose and one’s memory, and the way in which they are linked is something we humans rarely consider. Whether it’s a flashback of your second grade teacher’s smothering hug after you lost the three-legged race on Track and Field Day stirred by walking by the perfume counter at Macy’s, or the recollection of your yearly trip to the state fair anytime someone opens a jar of peanuts, a sense of smell is something that can (and should) be practiced in order to improve. Sadly, many folks have no idea just how skilled your nose can become.

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If you want to learn how to play the piano, you must exercise your fingers across the keyboard. If you want to learn how to develop your sense of smell, you must exercise your nose across a variety of aroma compounds. The nasal workout is nothing more than inhaling a diverse assortment of scents, repeatedly and without peeking—no barbells necessary.

The key to great success lies in the memorization of these odors. Sure you can easily detect hay and cowpie patties when you wander on by the edges of a working dairy farm, but can you identify those same pungent barnyard aromas in that lovely glass of pinot noir you’re about to drink? And no, that earthy terroir note does not mean your glass is destined for the kitchen sink. Balance is the key.

Have you ever walked into someone’s house and immediately recognized a scent, but couldn’t place it? It might be because you came thirty seconds too late to see the gaggle of teenage girls rush up to someone’s bedroom with a truckload of freshly made popcorn. Walk into a movie theater on a Saturday night and you’ll know in an instant that very same scent. Why?Memorization. Firstly, you expect it to be there, and secondly, it’s all over the floor.

As humans, our noses generally expect to see the source of whatever aroma is perfuming the air we’re inhaling. Invisible smells have folks casting about, searching out the supplier. If we can’t see it, it causes us to test the strength of our memory. If you haven’t practiced recognizing the scent of a banana at fifty paces, or you haven’t enjoyed the romantic routine of “close your eyes and open up,” and then guessed what was on the fork, you might want to give it a go.

Word of warning though, do not hand that fork over to an eight-year old with a stinky sense of humor. A wedge of soap, although cleansing, sticks to the palate for a good chunk of time.

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Science tells us that smells and memory are linked early on, as most of the “new” smells you encounter occur during your youth, and when recognizing a scent, it’s more often than not connected with the moment you first stumbled upon it.

So you may shy away from doing a laundry load of bleach-necessary whites because you are taken back to that wretched community pool where the boys poked fun at you in your first and last ever bikini. And it’s possible you refuse to get anywhere near the nectar-sweet smell of Southern Comfort after that college frat boy party where you … well, let’s say I’ve heard about the results.

On the flip side, some people burn pine-scented candles all year long because the fragrance of the holidays is so embedded with sweet childhood emotions they’d like to sit on Santa’s lap 24/7. And others keep a nearly empty bottle of cheap perfume from the time they were fourteen and first kissed at their middle school dance as an immediate recollection of their earliest crush.

Smells evoke feelings. Scents bring back memories. Aromas manipulate the “emotional brain.”

As I am a nostalgically sappy sort, I love to jog that gray matter and recapture some history. And you can do it too by finally memorizing the smell of something without actually seeing it. It’s really very simple, and actually wonderfully fun.

So to hone your nose and develop some talent in the department of aromatherapy, remember these words: In order to have a sharp sense of smell in the future, just take a whiff of your past.

~Shelley

**Gotta Have a Gott**

Last month, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Click here to see the cartoons in competition and to cast your vote.

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.

Related articles

Quick! Hire a teenager now while they know everything.

Long ago I made a point of no longer saying, “I told you so,” to my kids.

But I NEVER promised to stop making the I told you so face.

And I make it a lot.

Sometimes several times a day.

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Occasionally, I just keep it there until the next needed time comes around to save my muscles the unnecessary exertion of popping them back into their default setting—which according to my kids rests somewhere between a scowl and the expression that suggests intestinal blockage.

Lately, I’ve been doing a little motherly worrying that I only have six months to go before one of my fledglings will fly the coop. Is six months time enough to impart those last bits of needed wisdom before I drop her and her bags off at the door of what every parent surely feels is the opening credits of Animal House?

After last week … I’m not so sure.

Yes, there are different definitions of intelligence—and for this I am extraordinarily grateful. Because measuring mine by what I’ve retained from my schoolroom days would send my past educators into a vortex of surround sound tutting so energetic it would be like sitting in the middle of a field full of judgmental crickets.

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So, booksmart? … I ain’t so much none more.

Street smart? I’m fairly confident I’m making the honor roll. My daughter? Well, let’s just say she’s probably one or two notches above Elmo.

My daughter is a violinist. A very fine one. And she plays a fair amount of gigs, so she knows (with the occasional reminder from me) that instruments—like people—must have a maintenance schedule in order to achieve optimal results. Just before Christmas, she noticed one of her strings fraying badly and was about to play a three day running show. I swapped out the ready-to-snap bad string with an old spare, purchased her a set of new strings, and reminded her to bring her violin to the shop for its “annual.”

Amid a slew of, “Yes, yes, I’ll get to its,” I left it at that.

A couple of days ago she mentioned the headmaster of her school had asked that she play for an event he would be speaking at. Mentally calculating her holiday break activities, I could not recall her recounting a trip to the violin maker’s shop and raised an eyebrow at her.

“I’m fine. It’s fine. I’ll get to it.”

The night before curtain call, we were advised by our local newscasters to prepare for icy road conditions the next morning. In fact, we’d found all of the local public schools delaying a couple of hours to allow the frenetic worker bees to get to their stations ahead of the big lumbering school buses full of sleepy-eyed children. All schools, apart from my daughter’s.

As a freshly minted driver, I warned her that she must be prudent and give herself plenty of extra time to firstly, check road conditions before leaving, and secondly, drive slowly to be cautious of slick spots. Her mind was occupied with other things. Mainly, cramming for a calculus test the next morning.

“Did you hear me?” I asked.

“Mmm hmm.”

“How was rehearsal today?”

(Insert a series of mumbles that folks studying the fundamental notions of convergence of infinite sequences will understand) and then,  “My string snapped.”

“What? You mean you still haven’t taken your fiddle in?”

“I’ll play on my electric. I’m fine. It’s fine. I’ll get to it.”

Cue seven a.m. the next morning.

“Mother!”

I was still ten blissful minutes away from my traditional sounding alarm clock, but rose to this one instead.

“Well??? How are the roads?” she asked.

Normally full of pithy remarks at the crack of dawn, I was surprised when nothing but a croaky, “Huh?” came from my throat.

“MOM! I HAVE TO LEAVE! I HAVE REHEARSAL BEFORE SCHOOL AND I’M ALREADY GOING TO BE LATE!”

This did not sit well with me and had me out of bed, searching for my bathrobe and pulling on my wellington boots. The perfect choice for getting a firm foothold on frozen water.

The first step out of the house was slick and shiny. A little farther out, the pebbled courtyard of the driveway would have been a disappointment to most ice skaters, but was still capable of flipping you onto your backside. The blacktop driveway, for the few tentative steps I took, appeared safe. Ish.

“Well??? How is the driveway?”

I watched my daughter lug her electric violin and an amp nearly as large as her Volkswagen beetle toward the trunk of the ice cube she was about to drive.

I shook my head and looked at the crusted over windscreen. “The first ten feet are super. I cannot account for the remainder of the mile.”

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Knowing that the remainder of that mile was pitched at an ungodly angle downward and included at least three or four deadman’s curves, if it was covered in ice, I could imagine her car would no longer be a car but instead a fancy toboggan. I hoped she’d changed her mind. But apparently, she was a potential casualty whether she stayed home or went, as not turning up for the rehearsal was in essence a fate worse than death.

She left for school. I left for the shower and brought with me the prickly panic that would accompany me until I’d heard she made it safely into her parking space.

Fifty anxiety-ridden minutes later (as she forgot to text me when she first made it to school and went straight to rehearsal), and mere moments before I called the school to hunt her down, I received a thumbs up text and then left for an in town appointment myself. Halfway there I receive a second text that said:

Hey, Mom? R u coming into town this morning?

Me—at a stop sign: Already on my way.

Her: Turns out I left the cable that connects my violin to the amp at home.

There is no I told you so emoticon for texting, but somebody should make one. So I substituted: It’s fine. You’re fine. You’ll get to it.

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Six more months and the roads are dicey.

~Shelley

It’s time to reveal January’s winner for the Gotta Have a Gott calendar! We hope you all voted, but if not, you’ll have another crack at it at the end of February (and all the months through November). For now, come see the past month’s winner.

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.

Related articles

The not so common app

A fair definition of parenting: hardest job to have, easiest job to get.

I’ve written thousands of words about the challenges of raising a kid. But lately, I’ve been thinking about just how challenging it is to BE a kid.

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I’m not so sure some of them will remember the bliss, as too many of the pleasures have been replaced with the pressures of performance and accomplishment. Yes, it’s a transition that our society has deemed necessary. Not too many folks find that living above their parents’ garage or finally landing that dream job of becoming a bail bondsman is as fulfilling as once imagined. But sometimes I feel we’re rushing them headlong into that territory.

It’s a sharp wakeup call to hear someone announce you’re too old to bounce on the trampoline any longer.

Truthfully, I don’t want it to be too late for any of us to do a few flips if we’re still feeling nimble enough. And one of these days I plan to be nimble enough again. It may take half a bottle of wine to make it so, but I’ll suffer through it somehow.

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Maybe I’m chock a block full of these nagging thoughts because for the last year I’ve been riding the Wicked & Wild College Coaster. It starts off at breakneck speed, flings you through dark and formidable tunnels, leaves your stomach somewhere in the stratosphere as you plummet from an unexpected dive, and flips you over repeatedly as you grapple for a foothold on the horizon.

I’m guessing this will all end somewhere just about a week before my funeral. As that is about how long I will be hemorrhaging money in order to pay for continuing my kids’ education. I will bleed out bit by bit until nothing remains but my hollow purse and a withered puddle of skin and bones. Not terribly attractive, but by then both my children will have learned that true beauty is measured on the inside of people—and chances are, by that time, they’ll have a pretty good look at the outline of my gorgeous gallbladder.

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Regardless of my efforts, I will not be able to pay for it all. And they will need to pitch in—a decision I feel they will thank me for later.

Much later.

But it does put an extraordinary amount of pressure on them to have to start thinking about finances now, and where it will come from.

Yet first, they will have to gain acceptance to a university. And this cannot be achieved without filling out the applications.

All ten billion of them.

Narrowing down the choice of college is a process we went through last year. Harrowing and hilarious, we visited institutions all across the UK and America. During the last few months, the list was refined and polished down to a “T” of ten—no twelve!—No nine!—Ugh, Mother!!

These were my daughter’s typical mutterings, often times thoughtful, more often at fevered-pitch.

But of course, this is a big decision, and required careful consideration along with a lot of soothing chocolate.

So she’d configured her list to ten schools which most college counselors advised should include a good balance of:

1. Safely assume you’ll get in.

2. Most likely you’ll get in if your test scores remain where they are.

3. It’s good to aim high, and of course you can do it.

And lastly,

4. Oh, what the hell, let’s shoot for the moon.

Now it’s time to take all the qualifying exams, write all the essays, gather all your recommendation letters, create your supplemental material, schedule your alumni interviews and win the Powerball Jackpot Lottery so you can afford tuition.

Don’t forget you still have school, your job, your internship, your music lessons, your volunteer hours, student government, research for scholarships, the articles for the newspaper, your senior thesis project, AND AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK THE FREAKIN’ CAT LITTER COULD BE CHANGED!

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(Sorry. That last one was more of a personal note to my daughter than a general statement about what all teenagers generally have on their plate.)

Still, that leaves precious little time for boyfriends, girlfriends and that most crucial obligation which usually gets tossed aside like a pair of stinky socks … sleep.

Family time is a laughable concept.

Although I’m pretty proud of myself lately simply because about three times a week on average, I have closed my ears to the insults to my cooking and the complaints about time to insist that butts will be in chairs at the kitchen table for twenty excruciating minutes while we share a meal. Or at least while I eat it.

I am thrilled when we make it past fifteen and no one has left in a fit of tears.

My goals are small, but steady and sure.

The point of this article is simply that I’m aware of just how busy our children are—and oftentimes, that busyness is created only as proof for a college essay, or a university’s common application, that they are really not so common after all.

But I think a solid dose of run-of-the-mill and commonplace is needed every once in a while. A few minutes to doze, to dream, to doodle. To accomplish zilcho.

It is wanted, it is worthy, it is wonderful.

I leave you with a quote from my second favorite sketch artist, and a very important life lesson I’m still trying to squeeze in before my kids have flown the coop:

There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.  ~ Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes

~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.

One for the books

I love my library. And … I hate my library.

First of all, I think being offered the privilege of reading one’s way through a building full of books is a fabulous idea. Apparently, we have the Romans to thank for that. History tells us that they made scrolls available to patrons of “the baths.” As a footnote, I will not credit the Romans with the ability to laminate, but guess access to these scrolls was available after a very stern, hefty, Hellenic woman with a pinched expression and even pinchier sandals first examined your mitts and noted that you had towel dried off enough to handle the goods.

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The public libraries as we know them today might need a nod of appreciation toward the great British Empire. Noted among the upper class, the Working Joes—after absorbing the brunt of the mid 19th century’s fun festival of war, insurrection, bankruptcy and scarcity—were apparently bringing down the country’s weighty, highbrowed reputation, mostly attributed to the cachet of good breeding. A rise in IQ was exactly what the aristocracy wanted country needed.

The drive toward establishing public libraries—state run and taxpayer funded—was a growing movement. Matthew Battles, a senior researcher with metaLAB at Harvard, states that:

“It was in these years of class conflict and economic terror that the public library movement swept through Britain, as the nation’s progressive elite recognized that the light of cultural and intellectual energy was lacking in the lives of commoners.”

Time to hit the books, gents.

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I’m guessing the famous Scotsman, Andrew Carnegie, grew convinced that draping himself in the colors of silver, gold and green was unflattering, and gave away barrelfuls of anything with those pigments to communities agreeable to a few ground rules and a hope for informational ease of access. 3000 libraries later, I think the world owes him a giant thank you card. Feel free to sign it down below in the comments section. I’ll forward it on to him later.

Today, if we are to include all types of libraries (school, special, academic, government, public, etc.) we’d find the world is lucky enough to house shelf after shelf of books in roughly one million constructed centers. This number is an estimate from the OCLC (Online Computer Library Center), a group of folks who love to count as much as they love to read.

As a kid, it was a Saturday ritual that after piano lessons, the next stop was the public library. It wasn’t for me, but rather a stop off for my dad so he could get his weekly hit from his dealer librarian. Yeah, he had it bad. There were times when he was lost in the stacks for so long that I started ripping out and chewing on the pictures in cookbooks merely for sustenance. And as long as the book wasn’t a new addition to the shelves, it usually had some splatter of the previous patron’s dinner mottled across a few of the recipe pages.

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Once I moved on to college and beyond, every town I found myself employed in for longer than a matinee showing and a midnight review also found me slumped against the door of the nearest local library, waiting for the doors to open first thing the next morning. Memorizing the new string of numbers on my library card was the single most important thing to do. Then I could find an apartment.

As a parent of two children—when they were children—I attempted to make visits to the neighborhood library closely mimic an experience of meeting God at the Magic Kingdom, only without all the genuflecting and endless snaking lines thrown in. When I discovered the limit on checking out books was 75 items per patron, I think I pointed toward the back wall and said, “We’ll take that section.”

What I enjoyed most from this period of time in my life was coming upstairs to do that last sweeping check of children and the switching off of bedside lamps where I would undoubtedly find a mound of discarded books at the foot of each bed, spilling onto the floor. More often than not, one was splayed across their chests, the plot interrupted by drowsy eyes and impatient dreams.

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Today, I’m rarely in charge of checking out books for anyone other than myself, but even so, my visits tally to three times a week. I walk in with an armload of books:

One is nearly read, and I finish the last 13 pages while waiting in line, continually gesturing folks to step in front of me.

Four are due today, but I’m only one half/two thirds/six pages into the stories and will need to check with the circulation desk to see if there’s any way I can please, pretty please, I’ll get on my knees check them out again as long as there is no hold on them currently.

And three are nonfiction and much needed for research pertaining to my books, my blog, my mental health and child rearing. Always, childrearing.

I carry a hefty bag of coins which I have labeled contrition cash, or penitence pennies, and hand the librarian the loot, along with a sheepish apology for my sins against the system.

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It’s why I hate the library. Their generosity has made me a green-eyed glutton, a piggish patron, a barbaric bibliomaniac. I subscribe to all their email lists.

Fiction Best Sellers!

Staff Picks!

Books Approved by Oprah, Obama and Oh My God You Just Have To Read These!

There is so much guilt I suffer because of my library. But it’s really writers who are at fault. On the whole, we’ve got way too many stories, way too many messages, way too many words.

But I shall read on.

And I hope you will too.

~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.

If memory serves–which it doesn’t.

There is something wrong with my brain.

I’m sure of it.

One minute I can remember the lyrics to a bazillion songs, the list of elements in the periodic table and the names of all our American presidents. Now I’m lucky if I can remember … whatever it was I was just going to write down here.

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It’s incredibly annoying to lose the springiness of one’s brain. My hippocampus is either on fall break or I’m entering a new phase of my life through a door I cannot recall opening.

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Whereas mere months earlier I prided myself on the fact that I could be taken on a drive to a place foreign and unfamiliar, and easily find my way back home, today I grabbed my keys, dashed out the front door, started up the engine and pulled out the garage only to suddenly remember I had simply meant to go to the bathroom.

There’s no dire medical issue—no diagnoses of cognitive meltdown–just old fashioned overload. It’s like my brain is a rather large cannoli, unable to contain the mostly fluffy contents stuffed within it. And things leak out unattractively.

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I’m not too terribly panicked at this point, for I remember my mother around this stage of her life with four teenagers demanding physical, mental, and at times, emotionally fever-pitched attention. Her basic response to any pleading look cast her way was, “Did I remember to feed you today?” I like how she brought every issue down to its simplest form before proceeding to venture into other territories. In essence, all other matters were manageable as long as that box had been ticked.

The fact that both my teenagers have dedicated space in their bedrooms equivalent to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault  (to provide insurance against any conversations such as those I described with their grandmother from ever taking place ) provides me adequate peace of mind. Although I have gone through the parental motions of nagging and threatening to eliminate weekly pocket money, nights out privileges, and occasionally even a bodily limb if I once again find out they’ve been eating in their rooms, I’m also aware of the fact that they might be doing us all a giant favor if the world should suddenly go to hell in a hand basket and we are cut off from civilization with nothing apart from my mushrooming whisky inventory, forty-six tins of cat food and a rosemary bush. Suddenly, they and their stash of after school and late night snacks are elevated to hero status.

Now recalling the subject matter of this post, I feel it important that you know I’m not simply sitting back and watching the inner workings of my brain decay day by day, but have leapt to the call of necessity and refuse to sit by idly. I will not be one of those women who live with their adult children, watch them leave for work in the morning, stare out the window all day long and then upon their return realize I’ve not eaten or used the toilet since the night before.

No. Not me.

I plan to fight with both fists up. And not using the girlie fist position with thumbs tucked in where they break upon impact.

My training regimen requires an appetite:

Healthy diet—No problem. I eat enough leafy flora to notice the slight tinge of cabbage patch green on my skin, and have discovered that I’ve ingested enough chlorophyll to nearly glow in the dark.

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Take supplements—At times I feel I am a giant walking ginkgo tree as I consume the leaves’ magic memory powers with such enthusiasm that I’m certain each of my cells are bathing in a small pool of tea, paste and gravy of gingko related products. And I’m forever hunting down any compound that claims to help my brain’s cell to cell communication. I’m even considering getting each one of them their own little iPhones if it might help with their correspondence.

Brain boosting exercise—I’m unsure at this point which is harder: flexing the flab of my bodily muscles or sharpening my cerebrum with puzzles and labyrinthine tasks. I do both, but feel equally disabled after each. Stretch, pump, push, pull … collapse. It’s so much easier to eat kale.

Drink red wine—Finally! Need I say more? Well, I can’t, because it’s a little challenging while swilling zinfandel.

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Laugh—Surprised? Me too. I came across several fancy pants universities that were engaged in or had completed studies with their students as subjects, determining whether or not weaving humor into “needed to learn” material could positively influence memory and recall, and therefore increase test scores. It turns out to be true. Except for one study. This was conducted in Nebraska. I suggest Nebraska should be sent a few more cases of red wine to help with future results of this study.

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Overall, I feel I’m doing my best to combat the natural downfall of my overworked, under-appreciated grey matter. I will continue to add some color with the greens and reds of food and wine, I will practice mental maneuvers to create an MRI brain map that will make the ROYGBIV spectrum pale in comparison, and I will wait patiently for the next season of Parks and Recreation to resume so that my weekly dose of belly laughs can begin anew.

In truth, the ultimate answer to all of my memory despair could easily be fixed by making a simple dinner reservation. Give me a salad, a glass of wine and  Amy Poehler as my dinner companion.

Now that would be a night to remember.

~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.

A Rite of Passage with a Perishing Piper

I’m a sucker for tradition.

Anything that has a ceremony, a ritual or a rite of passage—I’m filled with goose bumps, my breath comes short and I’m often searching for some celestial choir of angels to swing down from the rafters to make it a massive biblical event. Maybe one worthy enough to throw a small epilogue onto the end of the New Testament. We can call it, ‘The Newest New Testament.’

I’m not saying it’ll ever happen, and maybe all those early years of repeated genuflecting and inhaling terpenic-scented incense has left me with a woozy, slap happy wit—one that expects seas to part, meals to multiply and the dead to rise.

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Except I’m not really like that.

I can appreciate lessons of morality, plus the necessary insight one must cultivate in order to apply time-tested and multi-authored philosophy. This education is critical. Much of it can be gleaned from the passages of great religious books. But it can be incredibly soul crushing to some—in particular to small children whose teachers are sharp tongued women covered nearly head to toe in billowing capes of all black, and whose weapons are heavy yard sticks that can reach up and ring the pearly gates’ doorbell to report all poor behavior.

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Soon, I learned that I preferred my religious lessons to come from Monty Python’s films and Flying Circus. A giant cartoon foot coming from the clouds to squish out all the evil below it was a mental picture I preferred to hang on to when needing moral guidelines. Hellish devils with demonic eyes—not so much. Therefore, I attribute my current gooey nature to a mix of my befuddling past and will leave it at that.

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Last week, I participated in a century long practice at my daughter’s school that has packed a yearly ‘one-two punch’ of heart-swelling sentiment whenever I attended. And for each one of those years, it has been the highlight of the academic season.

It is called Convocation.

And apart from the general act of convoking, the assembled mass is treated to a few dynamic moments all squished in to about 75 minutes worth of pomp and ceremony. It is the official opening commemoration of the school year, honoring the graduating class and their parents.

Firstly, the show starts off with a big bang—or a giant wheeze, if we want to get technical.

A bagpiper slowly ambles the huge perimeter of our giant gymnasium, blasting out a few golden oldies from the 1700’s.

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This guy is costumed head to toe. He looks like an authentic Scotsman pulled straight off the battlefield of Culloden—minus the spray of blood. But for some, you’d think there was blood pouring from their ears by the looks on their faces.

Yes, it may be true that he’s probably as old as the songs he’s pumping out of his ancient carpet bag, and that every year folks place bets as to whether or not he’s going to drop mid gasp before he reaches the podium, but for me, no matter how poorly his pipes are tuned and despite the fact that it’s difficult to tell if the bagpiper has started playing or the crowd spotted him standing at the door and groaned collectively, he is the most sublime part of the show.

And from my perspective it all goes downhill from there—they’ve opened with their strongest act.

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The large cast of faculty—decked out in their graduation gowns and scarves—follow behind the piper, and parents and their stripling scholars bring up the rear. It is a parade of high-powered proportions. Authoritarian, illustrious, and grand. It’s also surprising that the ceremony can be held indoors, as the massive amount of computing power represented in the collective brain tissue present requires an inordinate amount of oxygen to keep it running. And we all know the piper has used up more than his fair share, so traveling behind him can be dicey.

Thereafter, we hear the requisite speeches from lofty politicians, returning alumni, the headmaster and the senior class president. Some years have been livelier than others. There is always the hope that whoever the visiting dignitary is will spew out a soliloquy worthy of some fire and brimstone special effects, but more often than not it is polite and encouraging, a speech equivalent to raising a small colored pennant with the words, Go team, Go! printed on it.

Halfway through the show (ahem, ceremony), the choir tentatively releases a few uncertain chords, and the school orchestra makes a gallant attempt at playing a splashy piece. There appears to be an enthusiastic display of shiny cymbal work, which is likely a purposeful decision, as many of the musicians are still struggling with remembering how to tune their instruments this early in the year.

Nonetheless, it’s a marvelous display that chokes up even the stodgiest at heart. For me, it all contributes to the growing fervor and the knowledge that, for my daughter, it is the last time she can participate in the pageantry and fanfare.

It is a day to cherish, a memory to cement, and it leaves me with an overwhelming desire to scour the local papers for a bagpipe instructor.

Surely there’ll be an opening for work in that field fairly soon. But then again, the dead may rise.

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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.

Mission Impossible

It seems one of my kids has crossed over a great divide: the span that bridges the gap between child and adult.

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Well … sort of.

Maybe she hasn’t made it entirely to the other side. Maybe she’s over the apex and is now rifling through her handbag, foraging for her passport. But she’s close. And it’s a little scary.

Last week I sent her off to her last “summer camp.” I thought it would be fun, a good distraction, and even engaging.

I was wrong.

It was demanding and arduous, requiring a Herculean effort on all participants. This was not a camp; it was a gathering of overgrown grey matter.

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She did not make fast friends, she met her future colleagues. There was no braiding of hair or singing Kumbaya around the campfire. There was no macramé class, no hiking and no canoeing toward the sunset.

Instead, there was, “Houston? We’ve got a problem,” and all the panic that goes with it.

To make things even more adult like, there was very, very, very little sleep.

You don’t often hear kids remark that one of the highlights of their experience was the mind-blowing hallucinations that came as a result of sleep deprivation. And not the kind of sleep deprivation that comes from watching just one more Netflix movie while you’re all crammed into a dorm room trying to sneak past curfew.

There was no curfew.

No one encouraged you to catch forty winks. Blinking in general meant you took your eye off the ball.

And the ball was basically a mission to Mars.

Now let me be clear—and I have to do this because in the past I have been über criticized for calling this chunk of time a SPACE CAMP. It wasn’t.

Space camp is like this:

“Trainees will experience walking on the moon in our 1/6th gravity chair to feel what it’s like to work in a frictionless environment. Trainees will climb the tallest mountain on Mars on our Mars Climbing Wall and experience 4Gs of liftoff force on the Space Shot™ simulator. They’ll get an astronaut’s view of the earth while watching amazing films in our IMAX® Spacedome Theater and Digital 3D Theater.”

Space camp is interchangeable with a fabulous day at Disneyland.

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This sector of summer was more about calculating payloads, computing appropriate radiation levels and evaluating various chemical propellants. Yeah, hard to imagine any of them snapping a quick “selfie” to post on Facebook as they’re standing proudly in front of a white board covered in nothing but mathematical equations. Woot woot!

In fact, when hearing the ‘Welcome to Langley’ opening words from the program director, the first phrase was actually, “I hope you all came prepared to cry.”

I suppose the experience could be likened to Vegas Week from American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance, where you are put to the most strenuous physical tests of your mind and body, surpassing your limitations, and finding each participant sliced away from the competition and sent limping home. Except that at the end, if you survive, there is no golden mic, rainfall of confetti or monetary prize to announce your accomplishment. What you do find, however, is a pale-faced, red-eyed, polyester-suited man, slogging under the weight of way too many lanyard-strung ID tags who hands each survivor a coffee-stained card with a quiet remark of, “I think we may have a folding chair and a small cubicle for you in Houston. Let’s keep in touch.”

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In fact, the whole Let’s keep in touch business is pretty laughable, as once these folks realize they’ve found a fresh resource, ripe for stripping and renewable simply by topping up with Red Bull, I’m guessing one ubiquitous camera, belonging to a small satellite in space, will then be assigned to do nothing but track this collective pack of brain cells.

Maybe I’m growing delusional and paranoid, but just yesterday when I was sorting through a basket of clothes to be laundered, my daughter rushed down from her bedroom and frantically searched for a NASA pin that had been secured to her shirt for the entirety of her time at the institute.

“We’re not supposed to take these off. They’re our new good luck charms.”

Okay, she didn’t exactly say that, and that didn’t exactly happen, but I need something to explain last night, when I was preparing dinner, and my daughter was in the kitchen sorting through colorful college brochures, narrowing down her choices, when the phone rang, and after answering it, I hear an unrecognizable voice on the other end say, “Tell her to go with the blue one.”

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Generally speaking, I do believe the experience of participating in a high stress, nerve racking simulated mission, coached by engineers, astronauts and former prison guards was a success for both parties involved. My daughter discovered the joy of being surrounded by teenagers who had close to a mirror image of her brain and was finally free to speak without someone interrupting her every five seconds with a, “Wait … huh?” And NASA, after ransacking the brains of these young minds in an effort to possibly cull together any information that their home teams had yet to think of, now finds themselves with an improved launch date for a manned mission to Mars. Instead of May, 2046, they have proudly announced: May (maybe April) 2046.

All in all it was an eye-opening experience, especially for her, because remember … the difference between success and failure of a mission may all come down to the batting of an eyelid.

“Houston? … Uh, Houston?”

“Zzzzz …”

~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.

I just can’t hack it.

My computer is possessed.

I’m nearly certain of it. I say nearly because this is strictly a gut instinct based on years of a Catholic upbringing, recalling bloodcurdling, spine-chilling words whispered by the nuns who taught our catechism classes and warned us of the imminent dangers when messing with the dark side. They listed all the classic signs of demonic domination:

Flickering lights? Check.

Erratic movement and activity—not by your hand? Check.

Bizarre and spasmodic sounds impossible to locate or predict? Check.

The ability to levitate of its own accord? … Not yet, but I’m totally prepared for this to happen and won’t be caught off guard when it does. Seeing that will explain absolutely everything else.

Most folk, in this modern day and age of tech talk, gadgetry and regularly giving birth to children who can reprogram satellites by the age of six, have grown accustomed to the idea that they either keep up or bite the dust. It’s like running alongside a train that’s picking up speed and every time you brush the fingers of the guy who’s reaching to pull you in, someone slams the door shut and slides open the entry to the box car in front of it. And instead of just somebody new reaching for you, they’re now also offering you a cool drink—which at this point you’re desperate for, but still can’t quite reach. And so it goes.

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Somewhere within the time frame of barely grasping word processing (plus a couple of DOS code commands) and grappling with the concept that someplace in the air above me floats everything on my hard drive, smart phone and tablet, there is another sector of computer practice that befuddles me to the core. Other people are using it. Let me make this clearer:

Other people—people I don’t know, have never met, and haven’t given permission—are using my computer.

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I first recall seeing “remote” usage of my computer when, years ago, after unsuccessfully thumbing through the eight manuals that accompanied that dinosaur and holding on the phone for approximately the same amount of time it takes to make cheese, a pricey technician was granted access to fix some niggling problem. Seeing the arrow my mouse used to have control over being manipulated by a faceless operator proved fascinating. Sadly, it always moved to quickly for me to register what to click or unclick should my problem reoccur.

Shortly thereafter, I remember thinking the world was full of hackers. The news raged over them, spy novels were rife with them, Hollywood made blockbusters about them and I sat staring at the index to my “help” files wondering how in the world folks could overcome the quirks of their own computers and then manage to have leftover time to mess about with somebody else’s.

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The whole hacking culture is a bit of a head-scratcher to me, and what defines this group is heatedly debated. There are classifications and subgroups that depend upon the attitude, the aim and ambition of each individual. Do you hope to breach security, make money, send a message or befuddle the Luddites? Then you might be a white or a black hat, maybe a script kiddie, a neophyte or a hacktivist, or even simply a cracker. If you’re going to be one of these, you will need a cutting-edge education of computers and their networks. There is no technical help line that will walk you through the steps of ‘How to hack into Twitter accounts.’

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In addition, there is another brand of hacker I came to admire simply from having enjoyed the college tour at MIT. Here, our guide told stories about the much loved school tradition of demonstrating technical prowess and jaw-dropping ingenuity in the form of institutional pranks. These are not your typical ‘Animal House’ fraternity shenanigans, but rather, “We’re going to need a crane and a squadron from the National Guard to fix this,” type of tomfoolery.

The one thing both of these groups have in common is what baffles me most.

Time.

Knowing how long it takes me to defrag my computer and run a simple disc cleanup, I’m wondering when these people have an opportunity to do laundry. It’s not surprising to find out that a sizeable chunk of these tech-savvy cool cats are young enough to still occupy a room down the hall from their parents—which explains my query regarding their dirty clothes.

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Recently, I walked passed my daughter’s laptop and stopped to watch what I thought was a pretty nifty screensaver. When I asked her about it, she informed me that, no, this was not some downloaded piece of fluff, but that she had actually loaned her computer to science. Apparently, when she’s not using it herself, she lends her computing power—along with multitudes of others—to analyze data while it scours the universe for intelligent life. Hers is part of a virtual supercomputer for SETI@home. Those pretty squiggles were simply an indication that her laptop was actively reading radio bandwidth.

And now I look askew at my own PC, wondering if she has rigged my computer to service science, if a huckster has hacked my doohickey, or if indeed a demon has bedeviled my data processor.

I’m just waiting on the floating keyboard. Call it an old Catholic stirring, but I’m pretty sure a phantom has floored my firewall.

~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.

Don’t kill a mockingbird.

My grandmother once said to me, “A girl should be like a diamond. The more facets she has about her, the more appealing she becomes.”

This came from a woman who had to leave high school to work the family farm, and then went to night school to get her GED so she could work her way through the accounting department at JCPenney’s. She was a whiz at math and took exceptional pride in the opportunity to beat any cash register when pitted against it. She owned a grocery store, was a caterer, spoke three languages, played a wicked golf game, took karate lessons and lastly, took a course in How to Build Your Own Bomb Shelter.

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She was not your average mother’s mother.

I tell you this because lately, as I’ve been hunched over the ever-spreading, perpetually-broadening mass of weeds that infest my garden floors, I am accompanied by the cheer-infusing, thought-provoking song of a mockingbird.

This warbling, mimicking, capricious minstrel strikes me as one who’s still searching for just the right fit, testing the waters by dipping a toe into many a pool to satiate the desire for true fulfillment. He wears an array of caps, and within a minute or two, cycles through a search for the answer to, “Am I a blue jay? How ‘bout a cricket? Now I’m a blackbird. Let’s try a hawk.” Continually learning new songs and sounds to imitate, he is the quintessential skill builder.

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History has taught us that typically, we had precious little time to attempt adding anything more to our daily calendar than hunting, gathering, breeding and fighting. Include all the hours we spent building alters and purification fires, creating feasts and paying homage to our many gods, and it’s easy to see how your whole day is shot. Worship is a full time job.

The Industrial Revolution altered our schedules, along with our standards of living, nutrition, life expectancy and for some, the ability to now get a table at trendy restaurants. Everything depended upon which rung of the social ladder your foot rested on.

But coal mining and factory work wasn’t for everyone. Especially, those who didn’t want to face a piece of equipment that made their prior skills irrelevant. It’s easy to see how a person who studied the fine art of lacework for the bulk of their life could be persuaded to join the League of Luddites and go all “John Henry” on a piece of machinery.

English: Frame-breakers, or Luddites, smashing...

English: Frame-breakers, or Luddites, smashing a loom. Machine-breaking was criminalized by the Parliament of the United Kingdom as early as 1721. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And then came the growth of mass education–reading in particular. At first, it was largely influenced by religion because holy books weren’t just there to make the coffee table in the parlor pretty and Books on Tape hadn’t had a chance to record that big guy yet, nor make the tape they’d eventually use for the project. So literacy was key. And now that we could read, we were given access into other people’s thoughts, opinions and experiences. Roughly speaking, it expanded our circle of campfire stories exponentially. The act of taking in new information usually has some measurable impact on the average Joe. It often shows up in the form of thinking. Thinking can lead to action, action could lead to dancing, and as some religious leaders of the world believe, it’s usually all downhill from there.

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But in a few other parts of the world, thinking led to the awareness of dissatisfaction. And that led to big action.

War.

Cue women to join us onstage in the giant chorus of the workforce. You know what happened then, don’t you? It was a tiny little thing, but it had a big impact on career aspiration. THE PILL.

Yep. Now women were growing bolder with the knowledge that they had choice in deciding when to have a family, if at all. Finding a vocation suddenly became a word dripping with possibility.

Sadly, many of us are encouraged to make those occupational picks at much too early an age. Facing a guidance counselor, who spreads out a dozen career pamphlets in front of you, or visiting a high school college fair often leads to hasty decisions. Now you find yourself propelled onto an ill-suited professional track from the idiotic act of putting your name down on a clipboard simply because they had a bowl of brightly-colored candy sitting beside it.

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As a parent attempting to guide my firstborn through the highly stressful process of college searching, the one piece of advice I find myself repeating is this: Don’t specialize.

Over the last several years, hearing my children (okay, and let’s face it, a great chunk of children going through our current educational system) utter the words, “I’m never going to use this,” when referring to homework from a subject they detest, puts my mouth into automatic gear.

“That’s not the point,” I lecture. “The point is you are learning how to learn.” And until we modernize our schooling ideas, this is the best rationalization I can come up with.

I don’t think it’s a bad one.

It’s a critical process that will ultimately help each one of us attempt something new, or challenging, or death-defying. Who says we have to stick to only one career, one calling, one song? I admire my grandmother for her desire to not only plow the fields of her farm, but those of her heart’s ambition. And maybe that mockingbird is my grandmother reminding me, as I clear away the weeds, not to neglect planting a variety of seeds in their place.

English: The Strawn-Wagner Diamond, the only p...

So I say grow a little. Stretch out of that comfort zone. Whistle a new tune. Chip away at something new and hard. Be like a diamond.

Sparkle.

~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.

Call Me Scent O’ Mental

Five Senses

Five Senses (Photo credit: TheNickster)

If you had to give up one of your five senses, which would you choose?

I’m speaking of the traditional five we humans possess with some (but in some cases no) degree of functionality. Which one would you find most difficult to part with?

Your sense of taste? Sight? Smell? Touch? Hearing?

Many of you may already know the answer to this. Maybe you would relish the chance to never again force down Auntie Mabel’s mock meatloaf soufflé. Perhaps one more hour of listening to Junior practice Bach’s Fugue in F flarp is more than you can stand. And your world might be slightly more bearable if, when you opened the door to your teenage daughter’s bedroom, you were not greeted with a view of everything it contained strewn about her bed, the lampshades and every square inch of the expensive plush carpeting you were coerced into believing she desperately needed to fulfill her ideal living conditions, capable of propelling her academic aptitude through the roof as she judiciously studied upon it.

Teenspirit (800x571)

For me the answer is simple: I would give up everything else as long as I could keep my sense of smell.

Although nothing remarkable to behold—no profoundly protuberant schnoz of Groucho Marx status, no perky, upturned Tinkerbelle snippet cutely pinched in the middle of my face–it is by far my favorite bodily feature.

Our sense of smell is particularly mysterious. And as I’ve come to find out, an action that still continues to befuddle some scientists. I’ll do my best to explain—in crude fashion—why this is so.

There is more than one belief as to how we perceive smell. A widely accepted theory is that floating molecules are brought into direct contact with olfactory receptors (a postage stamp sized patch of neurons way in the back where your nose and throat meet), and those receptors decode the combination of molecules by SHAPE and supply your brain with an answer that suggests the name of whatever substance you inhaled. (Put six carbon, ten hydrogen and one oxygen atoms together— cis-3-hexenal—and the light bulb in your brain sends up a flare shouting, “Fresh cut grass!”)Oldfactory (800x649)

Imagine closing your eyes and being handed a banana. Likely you’d identify the fruit simply by its shape and feel—the smooth skin, the slight pliancy, its curvature, the dry, sharp stem—rather than having to peel it, sniff it, view it, or taste it for further confirmation. The architecture is a specifically designed puzzle piece that fits into one particular enzyme receptor. Every molecule has a distinctive combination of bumps, grooves, ruts or ridges, and its partner, the enzyme receptor, identifies it exactly. It’s a shape code.

A not as widely accepted hypothesis (and one that is scoffed at in some labs) is that smell is not shape, but SOUND. Molecules quiver with vibration and, in a sense, sing. A rather hefty and unwieldy scientific instrument known as a spectroscope is capable of identifying those notes and will easily recognize each molecule by its tune, which brings us to the uncomfortable conclusion that we all have our very own spectroscope jammed up inside our noses.

I told you my explanations would be inept, but I thought it necessary to take a crack at it.

Fascinating science aside, and the argument which names you as either a “shapist” or a “vibrationist,” the nose is wholly remarkable in that it can communicate vital information, allow deeply imbedded memories to resurface and, propel us into every emotional state known to human beings. With just a simple sniff.

Shapist (800x672)

Bring a ripened wedge of brie to your nose and you are transported back to your youthful summers working on a dairy farm when you were desperate to save up enough money for a new bicycle.

Walk into your basement and recognize the whiff of sulfurous “rotten egg” and you’ll flip a U-ey, head outdoors and toward the nearest phone to call your gas company regarding a dangerous leak.

Accidentally burn the sugar you’re caramelizing on the stovetop and you’re awash with memories of summer camp, log fires and gooey s’mores.DSC07974 (800x450)

The jury is still out regarding whether or not our human noses can detect pheromones and the messages attached to them, but scent psychologists suggest it would certainly explain a lot of eyebrow raising relationships that befuddle common sense.

To be fair, your sense of smell is intricately tied to your ability to taste. Place a bowl of jelly beans before you and pinch your nose shut.

Jelly Belly jelly beans.

Jelly Belly jelly beans. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Select a bean without peeking at its color. Place it in your mouth and begin to chew. I challenge you to identify its flavor. It’s sweet. There’s texture. But until you release the hold on your nose and breathe in and out, you’ve got bubkes. Nothing.

Imagine walking into a kitchen on a crisp, fall day and missing the cloud of cinnamon and butter over a newly emerging sizzling apple pie from the oven.

Picture yourself pulling open the door of the local mudhouse and never again embracing the dark, chocolaty scent of deeply roasted coffee beans.

Envision a trip to the seaside and not finding your head filled with a wind that carries the salt-crusted briny ocean and the clean fragrance of deep sea creatures.

Did you know that your nose is capable of recognizing around 10,000 odor molecules?

Nosephone (800x495)

When I think about how many sounds my ears can pick up, it usually varies between those of hungry animals or grousing teenagers. Everything else gets washed out. When I take my eyes off of my computer screen and look around, I see mainly hungry animals or grousing teenagers. I’m fairly certain that if all this keeps up, I will shortly be snapping with sharpened fangs at said animals or teenagers and will therefore be able to tick off one more sensory experience.

Regardless of my written musings, the question always makes me pause for thought. Which sense would you cling to most?

Of course, there’s one other sense I could not bear to part with …

my sense of humor.

Neuronettes (800x745)

Not too sure I’d want to part with Rob’s either.

~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.

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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.

Liftoff (800x763)
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.

The bus is here.

School Bus_HDR2

School Bus_HDR2 (Photo credit: tncountryfan)

Could there be a more depressing week than the one before school resumes in August?

I can’t even use the phrase “school begins” as is traditional, because for the last few years, it feels as if we never quite got into the “school’s out” phase. Graduation happened and then BAM!, we were off and running.

I look at this last week the same way I view the last brownie in the pan. Why did it have to come to this? I seriously need an Everlasting Gobstopper Summer. Just one, where I can join the loads of other parents who I eavesdrop on in the grocery store saying, “I cannot wait until I get these kids outta the house and back in the classroom.”

When I hear this, I mostly feel a great sense of shame. They obviously have been spending a bucketload of time with their kids—taking them to parks, swimming, friends, picnics, sports games and Disneyland. I, on the other hand, made mine weed.

I’m pretty sure that’s all they’ll remember.

That, and the fun family road trip. And I’m quite certain our definition of fun is far from similar.

Funny enough, I came across a list—a Summer Bucket List—thrown together by some breezy live life to its fullestmagazine, and figured, just for giggles, I’d see how many of these “suggestions” I was able to cross off between Memorial and Labor Day.

English: Bathing dress from 1858

English: Bathing dress from 1858 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.  Skinny Dip (Yes, but the sheep are incredibly pious and won’t hesitate to sling their pastoral opinions around as they complete their stations of the meadow.)

2. Take in a music festival. (As lovely as this idea seems, it’s never a restful one, as we’re usually on the stage. We are the music festival.)

3. Run through a meadow. (Live in one. Think of me as Julie Andrews only with a husband who no one wants to sing. And I would never think of making clothing from curtains. At least not before they served as bed spreads for a few years and then wrapping paper.)

4. Be the first one at the farmer’s market. (This requires stepping outside and into the garden. Viola. I’m first. And last.)

5. Take more pictures. (click here for proof)

6. Reread your favorite novel. (I’ve kicked it up a notch. I’m trying to write my favorite novel. Sadly, a few other people have already written my favorite novel, so now I’m just trying to use a thesaurus to substitute in a few words to make it truly mine. Seriously, there are only so many archetypal stories. The rest are variations on those themes. I bet no one will notice.)

7. Get caught in the rain. (An all-American favorite, until you have to do farm chores in a torrential downpour. Kinda sucks the romance right out of it.)

8. Wear your swimsuit all day. (This happens regularly when we run out of underwear.)

2 kittens taking a nap

2 kittens taking a nap (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9. Nap so long and hard that you can’t remember where you are when you wake up. (The last part happens frequently, but the first part is never long enough because the sound of a shrill and blaring horn from an oncoming car means the other driver is really picky about that crucial last half second before impact.)

10. Smell like saltwater all day. (Check. Except it’s not from the sea, but rather from the sea of sweat one accumulates from a sweltering Virginia summer. That layer usually peels off just after the first hard frost.)

11. Grow something green. (And red and orange and yellow and purple … done it. And, admittedly, brown and moldy green.)

12. Make a great picnic basket. (No basket needed. We just perch on the garden wall with a hose and a pocket knife.)

13. Hike to the summit of a mountain. (I hike to the bottom just to get the mail.)

14. Stargaze. (This is performed on a regular basis. I’m trying to memorize where it is I’ll need to look when having conversations with my daughter, who plans to live out the rest of her natural life in some space module on Mars.)

English: Artist's rendering of a Mars Explorat...

Artist’s rendering of a Mars Exploration Rover.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

15. Make lemonade. (click here for proof)

16. Catch fireflies. (After a full day of catching and squashing squash bugs, the whole bug catching craze deflates.)

17. Have a water fight. (This usually happens when one of us draws the short straw waiting in line for a shower.)

18. Watch the fireworks. (It’s all on the front lawn and coordinated by Sir Sackier, which is fine, apart from the bit where we have to sit through another rendition of his waving a fistful of sparklers and singing God Save the Queen.)

19. Sleep in a tent. (Does a Motel 6 count? The walls are paper thin and you’ve got just as many “bed bugs.”)

20. Go to the donut shop for breakfast. (Now on the agenda for tomorrow morning!)

Woman's one-piece bathing suit, c.1920

Woman’s one-piece bathing suit, c.1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously, the list is endless. I still must squeeze in building a campfire, making s’mores and buying a summer bathing suit. Hence the reasoning behind activity numero uno.

Still, there are seven days left. And I can assure you, not one of them is going to be spent stooped over and pulling up weeds.

~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)!

 

I see dead people.

There is something so tantalizing about going into someone else’s home, especially if they’re not present. Even more so if the folks are dead.

Monterey Wax Museum -US Govt. in Monterey

Monterey Wax Museum -US Govt. in Monterey (Photo credit: Ed Bierman)

Not newly dead and outlined in chalk, but rather long ago buried and part of a history book and some schoolmarm’s lesson plan.

It has to be said, history remained stone cold if I simply read about it in Mr. Schook’s classroom. It did, however, find new life during visits to historical wax museums or abandoned ghost towns.

I can even stand in the waving tall grasses of a carefully preserved battlefield and strain to catch the cries of men slipping through some crack in time. My imagination runs rife with other people’s supposed memories, their hardships and suffering, the easy to imagine tweets they’d post on Twitter.

Okay, you’re right. I took it too far. There’s no way I could imagine their hardships.

81/365: Reflections of Jefferson

81/365: Reflections of Jefferson (Photo credit: Adam Franco)

But I count myself fortunate to live smack dab in the center of a triangle of three residences belonging to past American presidents. And by past, I mean expired to the point folks paste their likeness on our paper currency and coins.

Many Americans (a large chunk of them being schoolchildren) hate to be reminded of the past, but for some reason, they love to reenact it. Because I am married to Sir Sackier, Brit extraordinaire, I find myself in the not so enviable position of hearing just how much we colonists have made a muck of things as often as I’d care to tune in. I figure I’d tune in a lot more if he’d dress in period costume, but that certainly won’t happen unless I agree to play the wayward wench opposite his feudally monocratic role.

Again, that ain’t gonna happen.

civil_war_actors

civil_war_actors (Photo credit: Tom Gill (lapstrake))

Yet you can’t turn around in this state without accidentally elbowing somebody next to you who happens to be dressed like the Revolution is still taking place just yonder down the street. I have perfected the double take when caught off guard seeing a few regimental Civil War soldiers, bloody and bandaged from battle, purchasing a ticket to see Spiderman at the town cinema.

I think it would be easier if our local time travelers could remain in character.

A few days ago, I made my annual trip with some out of town friends to one of my favorite historic eateries. It has a name like Ye Olde Durty Bird or Red Coat Tavern; House of the Village Baker and Physic. We specialize in both baking and bloodletting.

I feel compelled to return year after year, because the food is unbeatable. You sit in a smoky, dark dining room brimming with tourists and the only sounds you hear are those of people weeping with pure culinary pleasure and groaning at the amount they’ve stuffed into their gobs.

The tricky bit is trying to maintain the feeling of having passed through the portal of time. Yes, the food is authentic, the crockery and cutlery realistic, the costumes genuine copies, but it’s the occasional slippage back to our current Twilight Zone that catches me.

When passing by the kitchens, it’s not uncommon to hear, “Shirley! Stop all that damn texting and get that cabbage in the kettle!” Or when someone at a nearby table mentions their black-eyed peas are stone cold, the scullery maid grabs the bowl and chirps, “No worries, I’ll just nuke it in the kitchen.” I wouldn’t be surprised to find the staff doing the Macarena out back while taking a ciggy break.

George Washington

George Washington (Photo credit: Joye~)

In fact, I’m certain, when auditioning for the role of one of these fine dead people, the one caveat they accept, and then promptly ignore before receiving employment, is to read George Washington’s classic best seller—the one he wrote before his sweet sixteen—Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation: a Book of Etiquette.

The book is a fascinating read, and I implore you to take a quick peek at just a few of his rules, but you’ll find that we—as a society in general—would discover the white-wigged man choking on his Cheerios to see how it is that we have “adapted” his suggestions to better fit our present lifestyles.

For instance:

His 3rd rule states: Shew Nothing to your Friend that may affright him. Umm … what are we going to do without YouTube?

12th  … lift not one eyebrow higher than the other, wry not the mouth … He’s just eliminated all the qualifications for a successful James Bond audition.

18th Read no Letters, Books, or Papers in Company but when there is a Necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave. Blackberries, iPhones, Androids … you guys are sol.

44th When a man does all he can though it Succeeds not well blame not him that did it. Obviously, Washington was portending rush hour traffic.

52d In your Apparel be Modest and endeavour to accomodate Nature, rather than to procure Admiration keep to the Fashion of your equals Such as are Civil and orderly with respect to Times and Places. Ahem, Lady Gaga.

64th Break not a Jest where none take pleasure in mirth Laugh not aloud, nor at all without Occasion, deride no mans Misfortune, tho’ there Seem to be Some cause. Looks like we’ll have to nix all reality TV.

72d Speak not in an unknown Tongue in Company but in your own Language and that as those of Quality do and not as the Vulgar; Sublime matters treat Seriously. This one will wreak havoc with our pubescent saplings.

81st Be not Curious to Know the Affairs of Others neither approach those that Speak in Private. There goes Facebook.

107th If others talk at Table be attentive but talk not with Meat in your Mouth. Never gonna happen in my house and at our table.

110th Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience. Someone needs to do a little housekeeping in the Capitol.

Old books

Old books (Photo credit: Maguis & David)

Now I’m not suggesting we catapult ourselves back to slave trade, revolutionists, and no underarm deodorant, but yearning for yesteryear’s grace and civility is a small spark that keeps my own celestial fire burning.

To sum up, it appears we’ve got some work in our future if we hope to live up to the past.

~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)!

 

The Long, Eternal, Relentless, Never-ending, Unremitting Year

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

Group shot of the Monty Python crew in 1969

the men who raised me

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.

Numa Pompilius consulting Egeria.

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.

Русский: Бюст Юлия Цезаря, Летний сад, Санкт-П...

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.

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

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.

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?

English: A girl's wish list for Santa Claus.

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 what the Romans did for us. If you can’t remember, I’ll show you my tattoo.

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).