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.

Why We Need to Acquire a Taste for Flavor

As a writer, there is nothing I love more than putting on my Alice in Wonderland frock and purposefully tumbling down the rabbit hole of research.

With the exception of getting published, of course.

And seeing my hound gaze sincerely into my eyes over breakfast to convey that I’ve never looked more well-rested and attractive, and would I mind passing him three strips of bacon?

But the research part of necessary investigative sleuth work is wholly engrossing and powerfully magnetic.

It also turns me into an insufferable enthusiast—a gasbag of chatter with the sole purpose of spreading knowledge that may be of no interest to any other human.

I tend to forget this bit in between my research projects where I launch headlong into overzealous lectures about poisonous plants that can make you puke, or the new studies supporting the worthiness of fecal transplants to support flailing microbiomes, or the debate as to whether cereal is actually soup.

Currently, I am reviewing countless books, scientific journals, and ongoing analysis all relating to the topic of flavor. And thus far, I have been tentatively directing all conversations I have with breathing humans toward this subject.

Good morning, this is Betty from Allstate insurance. How may I direct your call?

“Hiya, Betty! I’ve got a quick question about my homeowner’s policy, but first, can I ask you how it is that you’d define the vague and rudimentary term we call ‘flavor?’”

Or …

Ma’am? This fish in your grocery cart might not be as fresh as we’d want to sell you. How about I get a stock boy to switch it out for you?

“You betcha. And it appears your orthonasal olfaction skills are exceptional, whereas I probably wouldn’t have caught anything off until I was neck deep in the whole retronasal olfaction process—one occurring during sniffing and the other only when eating and drinking.”

Or …

“Hello, Chloe, this is your mom calling. I know you’re busy, but I was just wondering if you happen to know how many different odor compounds there are in the world?”

I don’t care.

Clearly, I could use an audience who chooses to be there with me, or maybe just a therapist who listens because I pay him.

Either way, it is impossible to simply let such riveting information go unshared. Who wouldn’t want to know that circumstances affect our flavor perceptions—such as the discovery that fans attending hockey games and involved in a study, determined that ice cream tasted sweeter after their team won and more sour after they lost?

Or why hold back that researchers are collecting impressive data that shows babies have an affinity for foods if their mothers eat it while they are pregnant with said baby. Hoping your tiny tyke will be asking for seconds on that bowlful of mustard greens? Start gestationally shoveling it in, Popeye.

And by no means could I refuse to relay the critical science utilized by the food and healthcare industries where phantom aromas are helping to control high blood pressure. Has your doctor diagnosed you with hypertension and mandated you to a low sodium diet? Food industry scientists are your new superheroes, having discovered that by adding phantom aromas of ham into certain foods, your brain will believe it’s still indulging in that five-pound salt lick your tongue so badly craves.

Super interesting info, right?

You’re welcome.

One of the reasons I’m so engaged in this particular research currently is that we, as human beings, have a frustratingly underdeveloped ability to articulate concepts related to flavor. As flavor is an umbrella term that houses both taste and aroma—taste having far more descriptive language than smell—it repeatedly highlights how we struggle with a narrative for our experiences.

How do you profile the unique difference between cheddar cheese and aged Gouda? One’s cheesier than the other? What words describe these cheeses?

What is the flavor of red snapper? It’s not fishy. And stating it is of firm texture does not illustrate flavor.

Flavor is more than a sensory experience as well, as it turns on the light in our brain’s limbic system and rummages around to immediately connect that taste and smell to an emotion and memory.

Why is that when a plate of beautifully sautéed halibut is placed beneath your nose, you’re immediately flooded with the desperate optimism of a marriage proposal?

I’ll tell you why. Because you, like me, used to come home after school and whip up a batch of Gorton’s Fish Sticks and watch an episode of Gilligan’s Island where your only wish was for the professor to finally ask Mary Ann to marry him so they could make perky, adorable, and intelligent babies to populate the island they’d be stuck on forever.

No? Was it just me? Well, still it proves my point. And as an aside, I learned more about GDP, the spectrum of human usefulness, and estate planning from this sitcom than I did from Econ 101.

The scents and tastes we experience are intricately interconnected to a vast array of our bodies’ systems, and we’re too intelligent a species to answer the question – how does it taste? – with an answer like: pretty good or it doesn’t suck.

So come on, people, let’s ban together and lend a helping hand to further science. Take a swig of some Drink Me potion and start fishing around for some helpful language.

Articulation is key.

I’ve told my dog that a thousand times and refuse to pass the bacon until he can “use his words.”

~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.

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

I have a love-hate relationship with physics.

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

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

But “physics” is lovely to pronounce.

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

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

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

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

It was effortful work.

But it just didn’t stick.

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

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

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

It’s pretty.

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

It is math.

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

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

I squinted at the canvas. The answer to what?

To everything.

Everything? I echoed.

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

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

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

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

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

It made me worry. Again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A closed mouth gathers no feet.

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

I will consider it.

~Shelley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until it wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, not gonna fly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah … rabbit holes.

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

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

But what if we’re wrong?

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

What if I’m meant to be Aristotle?

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

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

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

~Shelley

 

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

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

NASA: Definitely not a Waste of Space

“So how ‘bout that whole folding of the fabric of time thing?” I asked when it was finally my turn in the long line of people forming a queue.

“I beg your pardon?” an elderly NASA engineer asked, his two furry white eyebrows fully sewing together in the middle of his face.

“Time travel,” I clarified. “You don’t have to keep the research bits a secret from me. I’ve got a badge and everything. I’m allowed to be here.”

“MOTHER!”

I felt a sharp yank at my elbow and was spun out of the line and pushed toward the conference hall’s exit doors.

I heard the engineer ask the assistant at his side to find new batteries for his hearing aid as he thought they were going a bit dodgy.

I detached the sharp claw around my arm and glanced over at my daughter’s face. It was a little more red than I thought healthy—like the color a kid’s face turns when they’ve been holding their breath after you tell them they’re absolutely going to eat every last bit of liver on their dinner plate thank you very much.

And then they explode.

Or faint.

Chloe could have gone either way.

“I thought I told you I was going to vet each one of your questions to panelists,” she said, crisply.

“Yes. You did say that. But you were busy talking to someone who was showing you how to cure cancer in space—or something like that—and I thought that info was too valuable to interrupt.”

She gave me her best oh my god I can’t believe we’re from the same genetic material face and walked down the corridor toward a display of spacecraft materials—textiles that could absorb great gobs of angry heat.

I’d need to make it up to her. I was here—at NASA’s 100th centennial celebration and symposium—as her plus one. I’d been given access to all the talks, lectures, panel discussions, power point slideshows, and live beam-ins from the ISS.

I was meeting and listening to some of the greatest scientists, engineers, and administrators of the great big NASA family—a family Chloe has been dating for the last four years—and I’d better not be the black-socked and sandled potted uncle who blows it for her by showing up at the posh annual family BBQ asking where I can set up the bouncy castle I’d just rented for the event.

She wants a large, shiny ring from these people. I should really help her get it.

So I sat quietly for the next many hours. A full two days of many hours. I listened to people explain what had been taking place the last one hundred years in labs and clean rooms—that part I called history—and what would  be taking place in the next one hundred years but mostly on spaceships and extraterrestrial terra firma—that part I called magic.

Human exploration, space technology, mission objectives, and interplanetary sleuthwork—a bazillion talks showing what happened to the lecturer when someone made the mistake of saying to them, “Betcha can’t make this happen.”

Think again.

It’s the hair-raising results when smart people get bored and have access to wind tunnels.

Now, I’m not going to say that every single speaker had me at the edge of my seat, wide-eyed, and breathless. There were plenty of rumple-suited, mumbling lectors who lost their places or couldn’t figure out how to work a laser pointer. Moments where I would turn to Chloe and accusatorily whisper, “That’s not a real word,” or request that she explain to me in one sentence or less how nuclear fusion for space travel would work.

But the videos were definitely thrilling bits of rousing drama. In fact, I’m pretty sure that NASA uses one guy from Hollywood to do all the musical score work because all of it was EPIC. Like academy award winning musical compositions. I felt heart-melting stirrings in my soul when seeing a scientist simply unfold some foil. It could have been what he was having for lunch, but I didn’t care. I just want to see if eventually Ridley Scott will ask Matt Damon to play that guy on the big screen.

At the end of the symposium was the massive NASA gala. Tuxedos, sequins, fish and chicken, politicians, musicians, astronauts and journalists. The early computers, the young engineers. The daring old stories and the futuristic visions.

It was a room filled with people who had done great things, and with people who dreamed of doing great things.

It was a room that held the remarkable past and the unfathomable futures. It was filled with an electric energy, the promise of possibility, a gritty determination.

And waiters.

Yeah, it was filled with a lot of waiters too.

I thought that by the end of the night I had done my utmost to behave. To absorb the sagacious words of pioneers at the frontiers of space. I’d kept my hand at my side and simply remained fixed on their words, their proposals, their data, and their accomplishments.

I did not chase people into the bathrooms to ask burning questions about Mars, or the moon, or asteroids, or multi universes.

Except for that one guy, but he hardly counts. Because Chloe doesn’t even know about him, so mums the word on that bit, capisce?

I thought after all my good behavior we could finally go home and find some real sleep, as we’d been crashing in a hotel room whose air conditioner sounded like a gargantuan Kitchen Aid blender stuck on liquefy—or annihilate—samey samey.

But then the gala’s emcee made one last announcement before dismissing us for the night. “We’ve got a surprise for you! There’s a dance party downstairs—a DJ, a sparkly ball, big speakers, and a lot more alcohol. Go have fun NASA!”

I saw Chloe turn to me with a face that displayed the happiness a farm hound shows when he’s spotted a field full of cowpie patties.

“NO,” I said firmly.

“You owe me,” she said.

So we went.

And now I am absolutely positive time travel exists, because I would put a big ole bet that most of these scientists and engineers wouldn’t want any of their dancing film footage to get out into the public—and if there was a threat of doing so, they’d travel back to this event and erase it.

It was like watching colts try to stand immediately following birth.

Okay, to be fair, a couple people knew some archaic dance moves, but seriously, no one should be doing the Robot anymore, or the Running Man, and especially not the Sprinkler.

Except I’m going to make one allowance: there was one move they were all exceedingly good at.

The Moonwalk.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration should be damn proud of a century’s worth of work. Seeing their past accomplishments was a trip back in time I was honored and astonished to experience.

 

But hearing about their future? Nope. I don’t want to skip over one single second of it.

Congratulations, NASA.

~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.

Why I Wrote DEAR OPL – Part 2

*Just a heads up to anyone new joining in–this is not my typical blog post. This is part 2 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, 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 thus far!

 

So let’s talk about the foul new four letter word that’s getting everyone’s knickers in a twist. FOOD.

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  1. Our diets have drastically changed form.

So much of what we used to eat was effortlessly easy to identify by using just one word to define it. For instance: apples, squash, lentils, pecans. Now the western diet needs a box to hold it in and a label to identify it with.

And a chemist to explain it all.

More and more of our food is processed with ingredients that most seventh graders aren’t allowed to handle without plastic gloves, eye goggles, and their science teacher in attendance.

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It happened right beneath our noses. As a kid, I remember the hour and a half of effort I’d spend making brownies—with the flour, the sugar, the butter and eggs, the melting of chocolate and the teaspoons of vanilla and salt and baking powder.

And almost overnight it changed. It’s now a box, an egg, and a splash of water from the faucet. It’s not so much food anymore as it is a magic trick no one really wants to pull back the curtain on and spoil. Not that spoiling is a concern any longer as science has discovered a way to make a fast food hamburger last longer than most marriages.

Reading nutrition labels dredges up memories of your earliest years in grammar school sounding out new words, and also proves to be a test of one’s grasp of the periodic table of elements. Plus, the regulations for what our government is allowing into our food and defining as food live in a murky swamp and are up for interpretation by the manufacturer.

That old line stating That which does not kill us makes us stronger, should be revised to read:

That which does not kill us—because the studies are ongoing and are being run by folks who have a vested interest in their financial outcome—does not kill us …yet.

Our food of today is no longer the food it was fifty years ago. A carrot is no longer a carrot. Chicken is no longer chicken. A hunk of fabulous chocolate cake is still the sugar bomb it was no matter how long ago it was made, but that’s sort of a given and doesn’t serve my argument. And my point is that things have changed in the food growing world.

Our soils are depleted. Our animals are fed unnatural food meant to supersize them toward growth and not health. We’ve introduced pesticides into our diets that have altered our endocrine function. We’ve stripped off minerals and vitamins from processed foods and have replaced them with chemicals meant to give them a shelf life rivaling the length of time it would take you to read off the numerical value of pi.

Some of the ingredients added into our foods today are ones not meant to contribute to our health or the food’s supermarket shelf endurance, but rather the perceived value of the manufacturer’s product.

We’re talking weight.

And just as WEIGHT is the hefty issue we’re struggling with here globally, putting additives into food that give it extra bulk and substance is a widespread technique used across the food industry. Cellulose, an indigestible fiber made from wood pulp, is a common item you’ll find in most processed foods. Supermarket bread, bags of shredded cheese, barbecue sauce and ice cream.

Yep, ice cream too.

Have yourself a Blue Bell country day. (Embrace nature. Hug a tree. Better yet, eat one.)

Carvel Ice Cream. It’s what happy tastes like. (And trees.)

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I could go on snarkily updating ice cream slogans, but the point I’d like to highlight is that cellulose has no nutritional value and our government food regulators have no policies regarding its use in manufacturing. Thus far scientists have determined that eating it in small quantities is what they’ve labeled as GRAS – Generally Regarded As Safe. And even if this remains to be so, it still points to the unhealthy practice of eating food that is deficient of the valuable nutrients we want and need for ourselves and our children.

Not surprisingly, there are plenty of other things food makers are slipping into the ingredient lists of their products these days:

Binders and extenders—nonmeat products used to create bulk and texture.

Coloring agents Blue #1 and #2, Yellow #5 and #6, and Red #40—a rainbow of creativity if your goal is to eat the Nickelodeon television channel.

Azodicarbonamide, or ADA—a funky little compound that keeps your bread spongy and your yoga mat squishy.

And don’t forget growth hormones—feedlot operators’ kitschy little answer to America’s question, “Where’s the beef?”

There is a solid handful of folks who are vocal and persuasive when illuminating the presence of these additives in hundreds of food items today. They draw attention from the press and the population occasionally takes note. Sometimes manufacturers stand up and defend their choices and sometimes they pull the worrisome ingredient from their recipe and replace it with something else. Oftentimes food scientists will jump in, provide a little data and the fire dies down—that is until a few more rats die, enough signatures on a petition are accumulated, or an organization’s lobbying funds dry up.

If you look behind the grand kerfuffle made about alarming ingredients, you’ll see the main message is simply that food manufacturers are putting unnecessary chemicals and compounds into our grub and there are alternatives.

Next let’s talk about the research, the studies, and the dry and brittle data. It’s WHAT WE KNOW.

  1. Architects are growing worried that they are building houses with an expensive and worthless room.

Kitchens are full of cobwebs. For many school-aged children, breakfast is skipped or breakfast and lunch are eaten at school. Dinner is handed over through the driver’s side window. And the new dinner plate is a cardboard box or bucket. Millions of kids are looking at a fork and a knife with the same confused look on their face when handed a pen or a pencil.

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Food education used to come from the home. Our grandmothers painstakingly took the time to write down the recipes that were crafted and perfected by the generations before them. Houses had gardens, produce markets were plentiful and dinner was a scheduled event that you showed up for rain or shine.

We learned how to shuck corn, peel potatoes and pinch a pie crust. You watched the bread rise, carved a chicken and got your hands slapped away if you tried to steal a cookie that was still cooling on a half sheet.

Now I’m not suggesting everyone return to churning butter and dig themselves a root cellar, but I find it unsettling that way too many children do not realize that chickens actually have bones.

Food is the most marvelous thing in the way that it’s often attached to the meaningful events in our lives. Birthdays. Holidays. Dates. Parties.  And we count on it for all the meals that are nothing more than something that satisfies an urge or are simply a scheduled time of day activity. An appreciated break from our busy lives. Breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Growing up, food was incredibly important to my family for many different reasons. I came from a clan of six and although I can’t recall ever going hungry because we didn’t have enough to eat, there were a few times when funds were quite tight and I chose to go hungry because of what was on offer.

To stretch a dollar and a pound of ground beef, my mom would creatively find all sorts of fillers—tofu was one and soy protein was another. She was quite ahead of her time. Powdered milk was cheap and showed up repeatedly—and I don’t care how you disguise it, it had about as much tastebud appeal as liquid cardboard.

As my family ancestry was Polish, my folks oftentimes introduced us to unusual foods that in my opinion would likely have had the offspring of scavenging beasts raise an eyebrow when encouraged to eat it by their parents. Blood seemed to be an ingredient in way too many things for your average nine-year-old’s comfort. I began thinking I should truthfully detail my family’s heritage as part Polish, part vampiric.

Of course, growing up where I did in the Midwest, many folks were hunters, and one evening a platter of what my folks labeled “tiny chicken” showed up on the kitchen table. It did not take me and my siblings long to figure out why my mom was no longer complaining about the unruly squirrel population taking over her summer garden.

And lastly, my mother’s favorite extender of any meal—cream of mushroom soup. Detesting mushrooms was a hobby of mine, and finding these spores in my food became an obsession. After highlighting my childhood foodscape, it’s not so surprising to see how I began to grow incredibly suspicious of all my food. I wanted to know the answer to a very important question:

What’s in it?

~~~~~~~

*I hope you’ll come back next week for part 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.

I Knew It! It’s Only a Matter of Time.

All you have is the NOW.”

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This is a quote from my yoga teacher. She reminds me twice a week that there is the past, and the potential, but most important is the present.

This moment.

And once it goes, it’s gone.

I wrestled with that quote for an entire hour last week during class, trying to unravel it. Those six little monosyllabic words. It was harder to pay attention to than I thought it would be. My thoughts have a habit of being way ahead of my body—or way behind it. The idea of syncing the two together is about as easy as the concept of bowling in space or playing tennis underwater. Not a lot of success, and hugely effortful.

I understand the need for a point of convergence mostly because I’ve benefitted when I’ve arrived at exactly that spot. But these are tiny chunks of time—slivers really. Twenty minutes of meditation where maybe out of those twenty minutes I was fully present for about four of them. The other sixteen were thinking about my grocery list, what books were due at the library, or how to encourage my plumber to put whisky, red wine, and chocolate sauce on tap in my kitchen.

I know. I get distracted. But it’s nearly impossible for me shut down that thought factory.

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The idea of remaining mentally engaged is a no-brainer for me—although that’s clearly a poor choice of words. As a writer, I need access to my stores of creativity and a method of churning up its source to keep the vault filled to capacity. Damned is the day I open that door, reach in and pull out nothing but a fistful of mothball scented air. I also need cerebral acuity in order to keep up with my kids. Once I discover they’re slowing their speech and purposefully choosing words that would be dismissed as too difficult for a fourth-grade spelling bee I am toast.

I’m grateful to my yoga and meditation teachers who all seem to carry the parade-sized banner that states: Found yourself distracted by other thoughts? No worries! Start again. It’s rather an amazing club to belong to where you thankfully realize that J.K. Simmons is not your mentor and you will never get slapped upside the head for losing the count.

But the measurement of time—or time perspective—is often where I get caught in a circular loop. I once heard psychologist Philip Zimbardo lecture about how time—as our current culture defines it—can be broken into six segments.

You can have a Past time perspective, where you focus on the positive or negative, a Present time perspective, where you focus on hedonism or fatalism, or a Future time perspective, where you focus on life goals or the transcendental.

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I may pen Dr. Zimbardo a note to suggest a quick conversation with my hero Neil deGrasse Tyson who believes we could possibly add a seventh segment to time perspective that I’ll call Sideways. Neil says, realistically, if there’s a forward and backward and a ‘stay where you are’ on the measurement of time, there’s likely a left and a right built in there too, but we’re just not seeing it yet.

Yep. Mushroom-shaped, mind-blowing thought, eh? See why I can’t stay focused?

But I think I’ve discovered what would help me on all fronts of time measurement and it’s a ridiculously simple solution, and yet an impossible one.

HIT PAUSE.

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Stopping time altogether seems like an answer that would affect the past, the future and the present—and likely those wonky side bits Neil says are invisibly hanging about. How?

If for twenty-four hours I could stop time entirely I could work at fevered pitch, press play and then realize that the next day I’d wake up and be a paltry nineteen days behind schedule rather than the overwhelming twenty I’ve currently tallied. That might make a dent in the past and I’d feel a more ‘positive past time perspective.’

Or I could use the time to make a massive deposit in my depleted sleep bank and snooze through the two dozen hours. This would surely display my tendencies toward ‘hedonistic present time perspective.’

Or lastly, I could finally fill out that Last Will & Testament, write sappy farewell love letters to my children, build myself a sturdy pine box and locate the tree I’d like to be buried beneath as a clear illustration of my ‘transcendental future time perspective’ because the alternative of devoting those windfall hours to ‘life goals’ would do nothing but demonstrate that God had somehow managed to insert an eighth day to the week, as it would be the same as the seven before it.

No. It must be unique.

Twenty-four blissful bonus hours of time not moving even one tiny inch forward. I could catch up, I could sleep or I could focus entirely on my impending death.

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Umm … it may not be as tough a choice as I once thought.

Yep. Those extra hours sure would be appreciated. In fact, maybe the best idea would be to devote the day to increasing my success with that whole mind/body being in the moment goal.

So, for now I’ll put the past behind me and I’ll set aside the future. Because as all the great Zen masters say, there’s no time like the present.

Except for the ones Neil says we can’t see.

~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.

 

 

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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The Brains Behind … Well, Just About Everything.

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

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

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

Well, not exactly met, but saw interviewed.

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

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

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

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

No judgment.

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

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

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

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

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

Um, hell yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

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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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A Sight for Sore Eyes

The room was candlelit dark—apart from the blinding light directed into one of my eyes. I felt cool fingers pull down on the skin just below my left eye. Oh, how I wanted to jerk back and say, “Hey! You just undid four months of anti-wrinkle cream treatments with that one careless move!” But I refrained.

“Look to the left. Look to the right. Look up. Look down.” These were the words I heard and then heard repeated as my optometrist shifted her focus to the right side of my face.

This was the last test in line for my annual, incredibly long, No End in Sight vision test. I really had to make a note to book half a day for this appointment next year.

So many exams, with large hunks of plastic where you–please put your chin in the tray and look through the lens. It didn’t matter how many antibacterial wipes the staff quickly swished over the equipment. This was flu and cold season. I was bound to walk out of here with something the CDC hadn’t quite been successful in developing a vaccine for.

Exam number one was a test where I peered through a porthole and watched a hot air balloon in the distance come in and out of focus, but the only thing that became clear to me was that I would really like to be on that guy.

Next was the ‘puff of air’ Glaucoma test, designed to measure the pressure in your eye. I wonder if it could also detect the pressure in my head, as I had a bucketload on my plate today and always felt that this particular test was just one most physicians threw in for fun as a Made you blink! game.

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The Visual Acuity test has me sweating before I even place one hand over one eye. Reading the eye chart letters seems somehow slightly judgmental when my doctor used to say, “Fantastic! High Five!” and now simply sighs and then clucks her tongue as she puts notes on my chart.

HEY! IT’S NOT LIKE I COULD STUDY!

Cuz I would have.

The Ishihara Color Vision test is the only fun test given, and if a physician truly wants to go whole hog, she will show you up to 38 “plates” within the book that display pictures of colored dots surrounding a number that, to someone without color blindness, appear in multiple different colors.

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It’s rather similar to the random dot autostereogram artwork—the Magic Eye paintings—that allow folks to see 3D images while gazing at 2D pictures. If it weren’t for the headache that followed, I could stare at those puzzles all day long.

The refraction test is always one I stumble through embarrassingly. That monster multi-lens device gets swung in front of your head and you’re asked to peer through the glass and read the line of Morse code on the very bottom of the eye chart while the doctor flips through a series of choices. “Do you like A or B … A or B?”

“Umm … could we do them again?”

“A or B? … A or BEEEE?”

“I’ll take A—No wait! B. B. B! Yes, I’ll take B. I think.”

It would be so much easier if she just let me do it myself. It might take me a while to go through the manual and figure out what flips what and how many ticks I rotate through, but it would be a helluva lot more accurate because a massive amount of pressure would be alleviated. I’m itching to say, “Just go see the guy in examining room three and give me about fifteen minutes. I’ll have this all sorted out by then. You’re welcome.”

The test for macular degeneration is one that’s not only challenging to take, but challenging to say. Sometimes I’ll just ask everyone wearing some sort of a uniform in the office about macular degeneration simply to see just how easily it rolls off their tongue. Bit of a twister.

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But the test itself is one of quick response and reflexes. Cover one eye, put your chin on the petri dish, and stare at the black dot in the middle of the screen. You’ll see something that looks like graph paper there. It’s called an Amsler Grid—probably after some scientist who loved trigonometry.  They give you a handheld device with a button and tell you to stare only at the black dot, clicking the button any time you see something moving, flashing or flitting about on the grid. Well I find this hugely frustrating and nearly impossible as firstly, when someone says, “Don’t look at the pink woolly mammoth in the room,” everyone immediately starts searching for the pink woolly mammoth, and secondly, I’m constantly apologizing to the technician saying, “Whoops! Don’t count that press of the button. I’m pretty sure that was just a floater.”

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I fail this test miserably and we all begin to suspect I am either on the irreversible road to blindness or a flea has gotten into the machine. It doesn’t matter. I’m getting used to personally letting down my physician.

The Pupil Dilation test is likely my least favorite, as it renders you nearly incapacitated.

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They plop the stingy drops into your eyes, the drops leak down the side of your face and stream into your ears, taking with them half the mascara you applied for the day, and then everyone leaves you to stare into space while the drops take effect. Within minutes you cannot read, and because of the leftover drops in both ears, you can’t even listen to music or podcasts because everyone sounds like they’re under water.

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I sit. And wait. And pilfer the examining room drawers for samples. I now have enough sterile gloves to start selling back to the World Health Organization for a fraction of what they’re probably paying for them now, and be able to pay for both my kids’ college education within my first week of commerce.

We round out the exam with another paralyzing light directed through my eyeball and landing somewhere at the back of my skull. I am finished. For another year. And as always I am left with the parting gift of sage advice from my physician.

Don’t forget to wear your sunglasses.

Take a break from staring at your computer.

And at your age, perhaps next year you might want to entertain the idea of getting a pair of reading glasses.

(insert sound of record scratching here)

Wha?? AT MY AGE???

That is a careless and cruel farewell she gives me, and I vow to erase those dastardly words from my still soggy ears.

I walk out of her office with one helpful, sedating phrase: Out of sight, out of mind.

~Shelley

 November 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. Last week, we revealed the winners, and today you can vote for the last month in the running and sign up to purchase Rob’s cartoons in calendar form. If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT,  place your order today ( info@robingott.com) and also see the cartoons in November’s competition so you can 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

 

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.

Related articles

Rockets and a lot of Red Glares (part 5)

This is it. The concluding chapter. The final phase of this fantastic tale Hopefully Not a Waste in Space. This is where our hero’s outcome and the outcome of her heroic journey are finally unveiled.

And in my attempt to liken this to a finely structured story, it’s broken down into bite-sized bits for ease of mastication.

We have had the Big Goal: This is where our protagonist—sweet child ‘o mine—launches her balloon—SkyHAB (sky high altitude balloon, carrying what I swear is nothing more than a giant cloud urinal) 100,000 feet upward, with fingers crossed, to capture space data – Episode One.

Next we came upon The Crisis: SkyHAB launched, but the GPS landlubbered. The balloon was untethered and unaccounted for. We petitioned the US Government for a reimbursement of paid taxes that went toward defective global spyware and are awaiting our refund which should arrive any day after the twelfth of Dream On – Episode Two.

Following that was the Recommitment to the Goal: WE LOCATED SKYHAB!  … sort of – Episode Three.

At last we came to The Climax: The hunt for SkyHAB was filled with deadly peril. It ended with a heart-palpitating car chase and potential capture by Lizzie Borden’s grandson. Was this the end for the balloon and our young scientist with behemothic book smarts but space cadet street smarts? – Episode Four.

And finally, The Dénouement or The Reveal: I’d spill the beans, but then you may never read further then the end of this sentence.

So much tension you could practically string this story between two toothpicks and walk across it.

Ah, the makings of a tale that falls a few levels below Dreamworks, but a notch above your average 9th grade history newsreel. And one we can wrap up tout de suite. Because I’m sure many of you are wondering whether or not my child is still alive.

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I was too.

For twenty minutes I sat staring at the phone willing it to ring, wondering and panicking at the thought that my daughter had been nabbed by a child snatcher who was following her as she attempted to recover her balloon, parachute and THE PAYLOAD in the middle of no-cell-hell. And every three minutes I phoned her with nothing but her snarky voicemail message to taunt me.

Hi, you’ve reached Chloe. Leave me your details and I’ll call you back … if I like you.

I paced. Did deep breathing exercises. Stared at Google Earth and its wretchedly slow updates. I made an award winning sculpture of the Hubble telescope with nothing more than plastic spoons and recycled tin foil.

Twenty-two minutes after loss of contact the phone rang.

“Hey,” Chloe said.

“HEY???” I echoed. “Hey? I was about to phone 911! What happened?”

“Oh, him? Yeah, he was weird. We may need a sizeable back up team. No worries. I’m on my way. What’s for dinner? I’m starvin’ Marvin.”

*face palm*

Two days later was the big senior project seminar. My daughter had to give a couple of presentations to explain her adventures and unveil her results. Well … no balloon equals no data, as all the data was in THE PAYLOAD. And THE PAYLOAD was somewhere in the Sandy River Reservoir. Camera footage, statistical calculations, motherboard bits and pieces that tell you the secrets of the universe were all gone. There go your hopes and dreams. Science shakes its head at you, tsking.

Still, the presentations were stellar. A lot of telling, but no showing–yet somehow still stellar.

THEN …

The next day I received a phone call from some wild woman screaming. I finally recognized the dulcet tones of my child and asked her to pull it down a few decibels.

Someone found the balloon!

And not just someone. She said his name was Papa Smurf.

My mind immediately envisioned a small pack of blue forest creatures that lived near the reservoir where SkyHAB went down, and somehow, purely in the interest of furthering science, they managed to break their cardinal rule of no contact with humans and phoned the Department of Natural Resources to report a spacecraft landing.

Not really.

Actually, Papa Smurf, aka, “Big Mike” is a Virginia fisherman who, in the middle of doing a little afternoon big mouth bass hunting, landed himself something a little less delicious but definitely fishy.

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The writing on the side of THE PAYLOAD was smeared, but our last name was visible. Enter Facebook.

The rest of the story goes a little like this: My daughter ignores friend request – stranger danger – and Papa Smurf/Big Mike must get creative.

Facebook says my daughter interns at the university’s aerospace research lab.

Papa/Mike hunts down a professor.

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Describes to professor the reeled in riches. Our professor texts his industrious intern. His intern explodes with exultation.

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His intern calls her mother and begs for bakery goods to reward the fisherman with multiple monikers in exchange for THE PRECIOUS PAYLOAD. The trade is made. Strawberry pie is swapped for a lunch box full of cryptic clues to the cosmos and a few bits of water weed.

We are thrilled.

It is finished.

I am exhausted.

She is planning her next mission: Definitely Not a Waste in Space! Where one young scientist attempts to discover if Silly Putty can be used as insulation on homemade sub-orbital spacecraft.

Me? I might just back out of this next one quietly. I think it’s pretty clear that I ain’t no rocket surgeon.

~Shelley Big Mike (450x800)

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 4)

My patient Peakers, I promise the end is in sight. Episode Four is bringing us nearly to the end of Hopefully Not a Waste in Space. For those of you who are joining us for the first time, I beg you—nay I beseech you–to unite with your fellow readers in space exploration anxiety and find out what the hell I’m talking about, as only by reading Episode One, Episode Two, and Episode Three will you bask in the full-fledged experience of this tale.

Or … I can summarize:

Daughter has massive senior project (Project SkyHAB – sky high altitude balloon).

Daughter chooses to launch a balloon the size of Rhode Island into space to see if she can make science happen in something called a Cloud Chamber. Cloud Chamber actually looks like a piece of stolen Tupperware from my pantry.

Costly cameras and GPS units are accompanying THE PAYLOAD. No one at Mission Control is clear on what THE PAYLOAD contains, but it must be retrieved or the world will end as we know it.

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A well-crafted, highly skilled team is assembled on launch day for lift off on site in central Virginia and a half-assed team (including two very sane, last minute volunteers) is cobbled together at HQ.

Launch team is in charge of … launch.

Half-assed team is in charge of GPS tracking the balloon and THE PAYLOAD via the computer, the occasional bit of laundry, and creating a giant ice sculpture on the front lawn that spells out WELCOME NASA.

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Launch is a success. Balloon becomes itty bitty dot in the firmament. Tracking team is befuddled with screens across Virginia that report nothing to track.

All teams feel failure as they have never felt before. Lead scientist is catatonic with grief.

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Four hours later the balloon comes crashing down to Earth and rises from the dead on radar.

The lead scientist and HQ are unhinged with happiness.

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The lead scientist and HQ then realize that the balloon has landed in a body of water made by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries specifically to obliterate the advancement of space knowledge directed by hopeful teenage researchers.

 

And now … the rest of the story.

Recovery of any launch is probably just as harrowing as the launch itself, as we came to realize. And constructing a recovery team after having exhausted the list of folks we knew who could help in the building phase, the launch phase, and the expensive therapy phase, we were left with three and one half units of aid:

The chief scientist (daughter)

Mission Control team specialist (me)

Technical support (Google Earth)

And some scary redneck dude who might be a serial killer.

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Not as impressive as we’d hoped, but it was better than a sharp stick in the eye—although a sharp stick in the eye may be a pleasurable alternative to that serial killer fella. We did not tarry.

On the road in her tiny VW bug, my daughter drove and I navigated—again from my chair at HQ while consulting with technical support. SkyHAB had purportedly gone down somewhere in the middle of 740 acres of the Sandy River Reservoir. We were going to get her as close to it as possible, but it looked like that might require a team of lumberjacks and a VW that could transmogrify itself into a pontoon.

Once I had remotely piloted her vehicle to the end of all paved roadage, the rest of the journey was to be traversed on foot. We were connected via smart phones, but the transmissions were not unlike those of the United States’ first mission to the moon. We lost contact repeatedly and found binoculars to be insufficient paraphernalia for reading hand gestures from that distance.

“Alrighty, Google Earth says you need to move southwest with a heading of 238°. Don’t forget to lock your car. And take a bottle of water. And find a stick.” This was as high tech as we could get.

“Hold on, Mom. Some guy is coming toward me.” (Insert muffled voice and …) “Nope, I’m not lost … uh … (muffled voice) okay, sure.”  (Sound of tiny rover engine coming to life.) “Apparently, I can’t park here.”

“What?” I say, looking at the earth map. “It’s a dead end dirt road. What are you blocking?”

“Whatever.” (Rover rumbles to new spot. Car door slams. Sounds of footfalls through underbrush and forest.)

“Chloe?”

“He’s still watching me.”

“He’s what?”

“Oh brother—hold on.” (Sounds of cracking sticks, muffled forestry, and running footfalls. Silence.)

A minute ticks by. Two. (HQ’s clock ticks grow louder and morbid.) Is he speaking to her? Has he captured her and thrown her in the back of his pickup truck? Will I never see the chief scientist again? “Hey, kiddo? Chloe? CHLOE!!”

(Strangled, obscure sounds.) “Chill, Mom. I had to pee. How much farther do I have to go to get to the edge of the reservoir?”

(HQ breathes sigh of relief.) “About a mile and a half, and tech support reports it’s all uphill. Is the guy still around? Maybe you ought to come back with a team of friends. And all my kitchen knives.”

“Yeah, there is no way I can get through this underbrush. We may have to find someone with a boat.” The chief scientist muscles through the forest back to her car. “Crap! There he is.”

“What? Chloe, get in your car!”

“F**K! He’s running over here!”

“Hurry up! Get in your car! And watch your damn language!”

“I’m in it—I’m in it!”

(Sound of little rover rumbling to life and gravel spray.)

“Chloe??”

(click)

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Oh my godfathers. I panic and look on Google Earth to see if I can spot my daughter and this potential child abductor. And remember that Google Earth images are not in real time. Great. In about three hours I will know what tragedy befell my child.

And in about one week, so will you.

~Shelley

July 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 July!

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.

200714monitor (784x800)

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

 

A matter of life and death!

Kill your Darlings.

This is probably one of the most wretched phrases a writer ever has to grapple with. I’m guessing it settles itself just beneath Thank you, but no thank you, we’re going to pass.

Maybe it ties with Well, I’ve read some of your writing … You sure you want to be a writer? How about farming—what do you think of farming? Or trucking. Can you drive a big rig?

I say let’s find the old curmudgeon who came up with the satanic slogan and string him up by his toes. I could use some practice with dismemberment before I start hacking away at my manuscript. That’s what it’s about essentially: the death of all you love.

For those of you who’ve never come across this sinful suggestion in your line of work, you may consider yourselves lucky. You also may consider yourselves confused as to what I’m going on about.

A quick catchup: a long dead author—accurately identifying the name of said author can lather up writers into an unholy fractious state, so apart from classifying him as an English killjoy, we shall leave his name out of this—mistakenly believed the best way to win friends and influence people in the writing world was to inform them that the bits they loved most about their text were ALL GARBAGE and to basically take a hatchet to it.

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Okay, maybe I’m a little uptight at the moment and I’m unfairly criticizing what has become a sage rule of thumb to most authors, but only because it’s such a gleeful phrase for any editor to write. Take out all the fluff. Get rid of your purple prose. Find a sentence and ask yourself, Do I like this? If the answer is yes, then slash it. Delete it. Dump it. Kill your darlings.

Yes. I’m in the middle of editing right now, but perhaps you guessed that from my cheerful tone.

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This dreadful phrase is nothing more than a literary expression. Fairly innocuous to express. But putting it into action is akin to stripping away a layer of skin that you actually found attractive, warm, and cushioning. It also keeps several quarts of blood from oozing out of your flesh, but editors aren’t fussed about that. It’s the bare bones of beauty that we’re after, they say. We want only what’s relevant, only what moves the story forward, no frilly ornamentation.

I think my skin is fairly relevant.

And it allows me to move forward, as without my ‘ornamental’ skin I’d certainly never leave the house.

Putting oneself in a murderous state of mind seems easy at first. You read the advice from your agent or your editor or your critique group to simply “cut out about thirty pages.”

Thirty pages? At about 275 words per page? We’re talking more than 8000 words! That’s a huge amount of work. I don’t even say 8000 words in one week, so imagine how long it takes me to think up 8000 acceptable words to place in the manuscript?

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I pace a lot during this process. I slide down a lot of walls. I drape myself across the dog for comfort. I cry. I bargain. I bake cookies. I eat cookies.

Occasionally I find a word to delete.

It’s usually because I’ve combined two words into a contraction.

It is a miserable process.

I have just finished weeks of working—rewriting a 400 page manuscript that needed thirty pages sliced. I only sawed off twenty. I must begin the entire process again. And then again if needed. I’m thinking about removing one entire page for every forty that I read. Fingers crossed nothing dramatic happens on each of those pages, but perhaps I could sell them separately. We could offer the Editor’s Edition (370 pages), or the Author’s Edition (380 pages) and see which one shows better sales from the marketing department. Clearly we’d have to label the Editor’s Edition as a mystery because the reader will have to fill in the missing bits of nearly three percent of the book.

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And don’t forget, publishers always add those extra blank pages at the front and back of every book. Surely that should count for something, right?

(One can clearly see I’ve morphed back into the bargaining phase.)

(And now I’ve just fired up the oven.)

Regardless of how many cookies I shove into my gob, the work must happen. As long as I’m in my kitchen I shall sharpen my knives, hone their edges, make them gleam.

And now I am prepared. Prepared to continue killing my darlings.

As scared to death of this contemptible process as I am, I shall knock on death’s door, dance with death, deal a death blow, fight to the death and sound the death knell.

Egads, this murdering business will surely be the death of me.

~Shelley

BONUS MATERIAL!

HI MOM’S CULT BLOGOSPHERE AUDIENCE! I’m Chloe, her daughter, I guest-blogged here once. You might know me from all the complaining she regularly does about my high school life. ANYWAY. I am attempting to launch a weather balloon with cool science on it for the fun of it/to learn stuff/to save the world from its inevitable demise at the hands of muons. If you like science/space/me/my mom/being a generally cool person, please check out my fundraising campaign on Indiegogo! 
I’d greatly appreciate any support, as my parents are pretty sick and tired of my failed bottle rocket experiments and have refused to fund any more adventures into the great beyond.

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

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. Jump on over to see the cartoon winner for May!

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?

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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

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.

A recipe for a delectable life.

I find it hard to fathom that one more year has blown by and I’ve tacked on another 365 days worth of eating way too much, sleeping way too little and spending countless hours attempting to teach my dog to talk. Funny enough, I’m sensing the future will be much of the same. I’m not big on change and everyone agrees that the hound is making forward progress with his sibilance.

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I mentioned last year how one of the first things I do when waking on my birthday is to take stock.

Acknowledge things that work: check.

Acknowledge things that don’t: check.

Acknowledge things that squeak … yeah, that one is a growing list, but … check.

There were times in my life when making a splash with my birthday was worthy of planning and fuss, but the older I grow the more I often feel that this yearly rite is more enjoyable as an inner nod to the growing number of trips I’ve made around our sun.

Giga coaster: The first Giga coaster, the 310 ...

The way I look at it is that it’s similar to an amusement ride we’re all sharing and none of us can get off. Ever. Lungs taking in air or not, the ticket was purchased and has no foreseeable expiration date.

And although there may be times when we feel dizzy from the speed, overcome with exhaustion from hanging on, and close our eyes to what’s become a blur as we round another corner, this yearly journey is also filled with flashes of sheer exhilaration, eye-opening perspectives, and heart stopping moments that bring you to your knees and fill you with unimaginable gratitude.

I think back to those first remembered birthdays—the ones filled with confetti cake, sugared air and ribboned boxes—and try to conjure up the innocence. Like the sweetest of berries and the most ambrosial fruit, the years of childhood are delicate, and their flavors, fleeting and rapturous, leave you wishing it was possible to preserve them, lovingly labeled in six ounce jam jars, safeguarded in the pantry for blustery, bone-chilling nights.

Once we’ve emerged from the cradle of youth, we begin ticking the boxes of societal benchmarks, placing an ever increasing amount of importance on a yardstick that has been whittled partly by time grown wisdom and the rest by Hallmark and overly invasive but overwhelming successful marketing campaigns.

Fourteen (553x800)Hey! You’re double digits!

A teenager at last!

Sweet sixteen!

Now that you’re an adult …

Twenty-one! Let’s have some fun!

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But there’s still all that middle ground that needs to be covered, all the numbers not snazzy enough to be grandly celebrated, fussed over, or worried about. Thirty-four and sixty-two and fourteen are pretty “blah” digits that have no dedicated section in the greeting card isle, but should that make them any less significant? Any less worthy?

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Maybe someone could make the argument that distinction is a good thing, that if every birthday were a monumental celebration, they might not feel so monumental any longer. Maybe we need the milestones to bring a flavorful variance to the day. Maybe having your favorite black-out, chocolate chunk, chocolate cake every day sounds like a great idea until about day six or seven when black-out becomes cross-out and cross-eyed.

I might just have to offer myself up to science on behalf of us all to test the theory. It’s okay. I don’t mind. I’m sure it would make a fascinating read in one of the fancier periodicals like The New England Journal of Medicine Specifically Related to the Cacao Bean, or maybe peer reviewed in Nature and Science and Chocolate.

I’ll keep everyone posted for its release.

Regardless, what I find more important with each passing year is the resolve to be fully present. And although this has nothing to do with bow-tied boxes, it has everything to do with gifts.

I want to notice more within each flip of the calendar month, each crossed off master task list day, and each fleeting moment that combines together to create them all.

I want to steep myself within the joy, marinate inside the fear, fester around in turbulent anger, bubble about within surprise.

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And by doing so, I feel I’ve made a marvelous feast of a life. In fact, I long ago tossed out the powdery confetti cake in favor of its unctuous chocolate replacement. But it’s not just a chocolate cake anymore; this cake is drizzled with blissful caramel, mixed in with tooth-cracking toffee, spiced with hot-headed cayenne, and packs a bombshell number of calories. Is it clear? Joy, fear, anger and surprise? It’s all mixed in together. It’s the sum parts of my whole year baked into a forkful or two. Or five.

They are put together for a reason: so I remember to take it all in. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

They are the ingredients of life.

And they are worthy.

~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.

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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.

Eau de malodor; the perfume of pain.

Camphor (800x779)I smell like Bengay.

It’s the beginning of spring. I’m surrounded by sprouting blades of dewy, green grass, by fragrant hyacinth bulbs pulsating with their heady, honeyed perfume, by the woody, pulpy scent of sharp, cedar mulch, and by sweet petrichor—the scent of rain on dry earth. And what is it that fills my nose?

Muscle rub.

I am a mass of layer upon layer of analgesic heat ointment. Even after a shower, when I have loofahed and sandblasted down to the last stratum of penetrable dermis, I still emit the stench of crushed wintergreen. I am a walking tube of methyl salicylate, menthol and camphor. I tried to switch to “odorless,” but I’m convinced it has no effect. Therefore, I am stuck. I am odorfull.

Yes, I realize that’s not an actual word, but it is the exact description of my current cologne.

Even all of my food is beginning to taste like sports cream. The aroma molecules are circling around my body, and realizing that there isn’t enough room to hold all of them on my person, free falling and landing on anything that comes in close proximity. Like a banana I try to eat for breakfast, or the halibut I have for dinner. Believe me, I doubt you’ll ever find Fish sautéed in a pungent pool of peppermint oil, drizzled with a camphoric glaze and finished with a dusting of crushed and cooling antacids on any restaurant menu. Yum? No thanks.Halibut (800x559)

My flavor profiles have slimmed to nearly nothing and my sense of smell has given up the ghost, realizing that what lies ahead is simply a further assault on the delicate workings of the olfactory system.

If I could just get my muscles to cooperate, life could get back to normal.

–        I could smell spring

–        I could taste food

–        I could sleep comfortably

Currently, I’m giving up the first two in hopes that the third will return.

There was a time when I used to be able to sleep twisted like a badly made pretzel on the hard, rumbling floor of a bus for seventeen hours straight, or be thrown in the air by two pairs of hands and carelessly caught on the way back down by one and an elbow to break my fall, or get pitched off a spirited horse onto parched, cracked and unforgiving dirt, and then get up, dust off and move on without a glance backward.Horse (800x510)

Now, I merely see another human bump into a coffee table, hear a person trip up a staircase, or remember a former injury and I’m lining up the salves, the gels, the liniments and balms.

Why is it that merely sleeping crookedly for a small segment of six and one half hours should cause me two weeks of bodily indignation?

Strobist CTO exercise 2

Strobist CTO exercise 2 (Photo credit: Sami Taipale)

I practice yoga, I endure Pilates. I never slouch, and I’ve even stopped bouncing on the trampoline. Don’t I get points for that from the great Muscle gods? Does it count that I no longer bend from the waist? How about the fact that instead of loading up six bags of groceries on two arms and one slung around my neck, I now make three trips back and forth from the car?

I’m just getting used to the routine of seeing my general practitioner once a year, and after watching her wheel in a trolly holding my chart, hearing her say, “We’ve really got to get these things into digital format.” That’s her favorite phrase to make sure I get the picture of how much ink I use up in her office. The second would be, “I’ll add it to the list,” after I announce discomfort, strain or ache in a new area of my body. There’s no, “We’ll now … Let’s see what we can do about that.” There’s simply an understanding that they’re saving all the new magical therapy for a body that is significantly younger, stronger and will respond favorably statistic-wise in the trial.

I get handed a generic version of Icy Hot.

And when do I start qualifying for super discounts on the jumbo-sized bottles of acetaminophen and ibuprofen I purchase at the drug store?Stairs (800x550)Shouldn’t there be a sales receipt that pops out for the cashier identifying me as a serious, long-term customer who should be rewarded with loyalty points? Instead, I get a once over from the pharmacist behind the counter who mentions I’m beginning to look a little pale lately and maybe I should go in for a stool sample to make sure I’m not bleeding internally from growing too Motrin happy.

Sigh.

I would give my left lung for just one day when I could reach for my teacup or itch my nose and not come out of the movement with a slight sprain. Is it too much to ask for? It makes me sad with the realization that for quite some time, whenever I find myself blowing out candles, throwing a coin in a fountain, or wishing on a shooting star, the request is all the same: Let tomorrow be the day that I hear an anchorman broadcast that science has discovered a new plant that, when taken in pill form once a day, will make us all feel like we’re living inside the body of a healthy eighteen-year old. Oh, and how about the fact that it tastes like chocolate?

Take the blue pill...

Take the blue pill… (Photo credit: Smallbrainfield)

That would be a total day maker.

Until then, I have to stop wrestling with the dog in order to keep healthy whatever muscle groups are still functioning, sleep with no pillow to encourage spine, neck and head alignment, and increase my daily intake of single malt scotch, which I assure you is for medicinal purposes only.

Last on my list is to either develop a long-lasting fetish for all things related to the mint family, or find some industrial strength perfume. Either way, it’s the dawn of a new era. Or odor.

~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.

Blackboards, flipflops & bedbugs; the quest for knowledge, warmth & clean sheets.

English: The International Space Station as se...

Fifteen hundred miles! That’s the distance I drove—spread out over seven days—in order to fulfill my duty as the parent who drew the short straw and would have to leave home for the Crazy College Road Trip Part II. The other lucky parent had a vacation on Easy Street dealing with the livestock, any ravenous teenage boys who may decided to take up residence during spring break, a planetary-sized snowstorm (dumping a measly two feet of powder), and a few dozen downed trees, power lines and a minor release of radioactive material. At least the generator kicked on for ten minutes a day. And where’s the gratitude?

But let’s go back to me.

Fifteen hundred miles? Do you realize what that distance is equivalent to? If my car had a NASA hand stamp on it and was retro-fitted with a few rocket boosters, I could have taken my daughter back and forth from Earth to the International Space Station three and one half times.

And according to the Worldwatch Institute, that’s the distance an American meal travels to get from farm to table. It’s no wonder I felt like a shriveled peach by the end of the trip.

Regardless, I learned a great many things traveling with my daughter this time around that I was not aware of previously.

1. I should not have allowed her to pack.

Suitcases

Suitcases (Photo credit: masochismtango)

2. Having allowed her to pack, I should not have allowed her to pack five minutes before leaving.

3. Having allowed her to pack and do this five minutes prior to departure, I should not have allowed her to wake up six minutes before leaving and one minute before packing.

There is so much to learn about letting go of the ‘parenting your child’ routine I’ve grown accustomed to for the last 17.5 years. Thinking this was a grand opportunity to let her shine with blooming maturity, I came to the quick realization that I might have handed off the baton to a runner who hadn’t quite made it onto the racetrack.

Observing my daughter exiting the house wearing a pair of shorts, sneakers minus the socks, and no coat should have sent up a warning shot. The rest of her gear didn’t even fill her school book bag, which she slung into the trunk before collapsing into the passenger seat. The fact that it was just beginning to snow outside and that we were heading northward to New England and into the mountains forced me to send her back inside for some proper winter clothes.

She came back with a floppy, cloth hat.

Roadtrip (800x687)

Fine. Off we go.

The itinerary showed seven days stuffed full of engineering school visits, campus tours, physics labs and info sessions. When we weren’t walking through hallways lined with gold-plated patents, we were peering into glass encased rooms, so precisely sterilized, that all chemical vapors, airborne microbes and any aerosol particles present were required to don white suits. These folks were serious about being clean and I figure there’s a good chance I can encourage my daughter’s development of this skill simply by pasting a sign above her bedroom door that reads Dupont Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering. It could work.

Some of the schools we visited were clearly her kind of people.

Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap vi...

Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap visible on the bottom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of them wandered the halls, spines curved and sagging under the weight of backpacks that contained textbooks that eventually, when understood, will reorganize their contents into cures for cancer, blueprints for Mars housing developments and the prototypes for the first antimatter power plants. If you could see into their multitasking brains, there’d be a large bubble above their heads filled with mathematical equations with a tiny asterisk at the bottom and a symbol for “don’t forget food.”

Other campus appointments undoubtedly revealed she did not belong to the institution. It’s very bad form and often frowned upon to snicker through sixty minutes, listening to the school’s admissions officer and two students make known how celebrated they were when viewed wearing the college’s logo. Try not to judge us too harshly. I’m pretty sure that somewhere around the forty-five minute mark we were told that by the end of each student’s third term they were handed a wand and told they could levitate, but only if they repeatedly chanted the university’s Latin motto.

The rest of our time was spent hunting for bedbugs.

Bedgugs (800x505)

Not all of the public houses I reserved left us well-rested. One was perched atop an Irish pub, and all its occupants were in full swing dress rehearsals for Patty’s big day. Another spot left us doubtful the sheets had ever seen the inside of a washing machine and some of the stains in the bathroom were probably still under “crime scene” investigation. We debated whether or not we’d be better off sleeping in the car. It could be why the hotel was called a “motor lodge.”

But all’s well that ends well. I learned that the man/alien from Men In Black (Edgar the bug, but wearing his human form) actually runs a B&B in New Jersey and that his wife makes nice waffles, my daughter learned that whilst in the navigator’s seat, it is preferred by the driver to have directions given to them that are short, audible and presented before the car passes the off ramp, and we both learned that I packed more than enough clothes for the both of us.

WIB (800x470)

Next stop: the moon!

~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.

 

Dazed & Confused; the crackpot college tour.

Steam train

Steam train (Photo credit: eckenheimer)

My only defense is that I dipped into my ‘sanity jar’ one too many times, came up empty and proceeded to agree to something everyone is still shaking their heads at. Yes, I jumped onto the caboose of the crazy train.

Borrowing the oft spoken words from my fourteen-year old son, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Selecting the phrase I should tattoo on my forehead: “Beware. Thick-witted woman.”

English: Hester Prynne & Pearl before the stocks

English: Hester Prynne & Pearl before the stocks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay, perhaps my deeds do not deserve a Hester Prynne blood-red letter on my chest, but maybe I should be forced to wear silver “I” for idiot earrings over the next couple of months for believing that my husband, my daughter and I could shove twelve university visits into five and a half days.

The COLLEGE ROAD TRIP became a blasphemous phrase, uttered in pure frustration on a regular basis. It’s now moving up the ladder for hashtag trends on Twitter.

Where did I go wrong? Somehow I convinced myself that both my seventeen-year old and I could muster up the ungodly amount of energy Sir Sackier generates for an hour’s worth of work and spread it out evenly in one day. Times six.

And we would have succeeded had neither one of us needed to eat, sleep or pee. I’ve discovered a strain of camel in my husband’s genetic makeup.

He diligently put together our itinerary. It began at MIT in Boston and finished at King’s College in London. In between, we squished Edinburgh, Saint Andrews, Strathclyde, Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cambridge, Oxford, University College London and Imperial College. The UK looks so much smaller on MapQuest.

Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries, South West ...

Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries, South West Scotland (Photo credit: iknow-uk)

I would love to say I perched forward excitedly in my seat as our car sleekly swept past rolling green hills, lush with heather, sheep and historically preserved castles. In truth, I was drunk with exhaustion, alarm and angst as we either barreled down the motorway, unable to see anything but the hazy red glow of the tail lights two feet in front of us—momentarily visible between swooshes of overwhelmed windscreen blades—or idled on the same road, waiting for yet another accident to be cleared, so we could all carry on barreling until the next snarl brought us to a screeching halt.

I now know the precise shape of my heart and what it tastes like as well, for it spent a goodly amount of time residing in my mouth.

It didn’t matter how hard we tried, we were an hour late to everything. It became surreal. No matter when we left, we ended up cursing the weather, the road, the GPS, the parking, the underground or just people we randomly bumped into as we dashed passed them on our way to an office that was numerically ordered by folks who surely thought they were picking lotto numbers.

Sorted White Paper Pile

Sorted White Paper Pile (Photo credit: Walter Parenteau)

Once locating an office, one thing became crystal clear to both my husband and me. Every one of these professor’s tiny lairs looked EXACTLY like our daughter’s bedroom. How could this be true? Does everyone who studies physics have the same ability to compute the science of matter and motion, but find themselves puzzled by the form and usage of drawers? Papers, folders, letters and documents were everywhere: covering every surface, propped against the walls, stacked up on the floors. And if there was an area that had any white space showing, it was heavily scrawled upon, revealing either the country’s launch codes or the cipher to Cypro-Minoan syllabary. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that some of these folks have decoded all sorts of Bronze Age scripts, but simply can’t remember where they put them.

My daughter is looking forward to fitting in with her people because brain function lost on laundry is brain function lost forever.

Math Wall

Math Wall (Photo credit: trindade.joao)

Meeting after meeting, I found myself sitting in a chair, desperately trying to follow the conversation and line of questioning. Symbols were used in place of words and squiggly lines formed a foreign alphabet. I felt my eyes glaze over repeatedly, only briefly registering when I recognized some part of speech. Sadly, it was usually an article like and, the or at. It was humiliating.

Occasionally, I ventured to open my mouth and realized I shouldn’t have. More often than not, my seventeen-year old gave me the wide-eyed glare that silently shouted, “KEEP SHTUM!” And after a while I could see that same face on many of the faculty. Okay, maybe they were all getting tired of my questions about time travel, but it wasn’t like I was announcing that I believed in unicorns.

I’d definitely save that declaration for a follow up meeting … should there be one.

Regardless, I did try to participate. I echoed back many of their statements by simply shifting their words into a slightly different order, but after a while, I realized I’d taken a peek into the other hemisphere of my brain and found it cold, dark and nearly empty. I quickly slammed that door shut and hustled back into more familiar territory.

The highlight for me was taking the laboratory tours. I saw folks doing research on optics, gravitational waves and solar wind using Star Wars lasers and vacuums that could suck the dirt off anything down to an atomic level of clean.

In one massive lab, I swear I was on a revealing backstage tour of a David Copperfield magic show.

space

space (Photo credit: Sweetie187)

One person made a whiteboard diagram of outer space and told us how he was involved in mapping newly discovered stars, planets and solar systems. I asked if I could snap a quick photo to send to my eighth grade science teacher. Finally I had proof that my leaving a giant question mark in the space provided for the question asking ‘how large the universe was’ should not have been checked wrong.

Yes, it was a crazy week. No, I’ll never agree to do anything like it again. But in the end, we all lost a little weight, met some amazing scientists and discovered the true limitations of our individual bladders. My daughter came back home more confused than clear about what she’s searching for in a university, but I’m fairly certain I unintentionally lessened the number of offers coming from across the pond, so ultimately that might help narrow down the choices.

Finding the right school can be a heart-palpitating hunt, but honestly, finding the right vacuum is more of a true achievement.

At least everyone knows what I want for Christmas.

~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)!

Feasts & Famine, Saints & Sinners.

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

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

When I was a child, I went to church.

A lot.

It felt like every day.

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

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

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

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

Magnesium Crystal Cluster Close-up

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

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

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

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

Occasionally, they threw in this explanation:

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

Saint Martin and the Beggar

Saint Martin and the Beggar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English: White-tailed deer

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

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

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

This is my church.

I hope God notes my enthusiasm.

~Shelley

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

Make a wish …

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

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

In memory of Neil Armstrong … our hero.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Eagle Nebula M16 Peering Into the Pillars ...

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

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

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

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

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

Perseus and Perseid Meteor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

 

Less than Blown Away

One day I’m planning to have a welcome sign painted and sprawled on a thick arched board between two great posts on either side of the driveway, somewhere about two thirds up the mountain. At first, I thought it would have the name of our house, all majestic and proud. I ditched that idea after about a year of living up here. People who reached the front door were usually either too breathless or concerned about the health of their car’s engine to be enamored with a pretentious house announcement.

Then I toyed with the idea that something encouraging would be appropriate. Like, Don’t give up now! You’re almost there! Or We’ve got cookies!

English: Funny Road Sign from New Zealand, &qu...

I ended up posting a speed limit sign—at one of the most dangerous curves. The fact that it says 55 mph is usually enough to crack the tension of any new delivery man or technician who has to scale the driveway in a bulky, workhorse truck. Some make a gallant effort, but realize anything beyond 17 will have them losing a lug nut.

So now, I’ve made the decision that I’ll simply give a clear statement and folks can take it as they want. Sadly, it’s not mine, but rather a quote from Catherine the Great, yet I figure if anyone points this out, I’ll confess I ran out of room or paint or both.

The new entrance sign will say, A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination, or a headache.

From his vantage point high above the earth in...

Directly over our house Jan. thru March.

Most definitions of “wind” I find too tame to adequately represent that which passes over the land up here. Some say “moving air”, others “a current blowing from a particular direction”. I think Wikipedia has it closest with their, “the flow of gases on a large scale”, or “the bulk movement of air”.

It’s challenging, when one is not raised in the Dust Bowl’s Great Plains, or on Neptune, to get used to living in a house that, for the better part of three months during winter, creates nerve-racking unease. The sounds are howling and shrill, at times something of such biblical force I’m often peering outside for signs of a burning bush.

A Dust Bowl storm approaches Stratford, Texas ...

Inundated with wind advisories during this time period, I’m left wondering—usually as I’m hunting for stray lawn chairs, flower boxes or small children that have gone missing down the hillsides—just how possible it would be to harness this orchestra of sounds for the usage of our house.

If outfitted with the right equipment, could I make enough to run the washing machine, or power the computers, maybe even the seven alarm clocks needed to rouse my daughter from the four or five hours of slumped unconsciousness she allows herself each night? No, maybe that last one is asking too much.

I know that wind energy seems like a really great idea, a no brainer when presented with many of the pros:

  • it’s free
  • permanent
  • doesn’t generate pollution
  • readily available most anywhere in the world

Yet I read about community concerns with it as well:

  • harm to birds
  • unsightly
  • possible noise pollution
  • attracts lightening
  • reliability

The most amazing thing is following the clever brains in this industry and discovering how scientists around the globe are trying to capitalize on the pros and eliminate the cons.

Supporting this industry and furthering design work resonates with the hippie crack granola/save the lesbian whales/make kids work in air-conditioned sweatshops kind of green thinker I’m trying to be. Of course, no matter how much wind we’d be able to harness and contribute to the energy grid, I will still not be able to:

Suess Landing at Universal Studios' Islands of...

1.)   Grow trees that do not look like they belong in a Dr. Seuss book.

2.)   Light a birthday cake outside January through March.

3.)  Reconfigure my patio furniture as it’s all nailed down.

4.)   Un-tether the sheep.

Of course, I do receive the ability to fly a kite 24/7, a soundtrack for throwing a great Halloween dinner, and free dermabrasion.

With all that in mind, I leave you with this dictum.

Tis an ill wind that blows nobody good, but a silent wind that let’s everybody get a few hours of uninterrupted shuteye.

(And here’s a little wind humor)

~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).