Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Travel Is Enlightening (But Not Always Light)

Ellis County Courthouse
Waxahachie, TX
Back home now from a recent visit to Texas. The destination was nothing new. But traveling is always instructive if you pay attention. Some things I learned during my latest sojourn:

General travel stuff

  • The flight you are early for always leaves late.
  • The chances of your flight leaving on time (or even early! yes, it does happen! which is how I ended up spending the night at a Holiday Inn on Delta's dime recently) is directly proportional to how late you are running. Very late = very likely.
  • Checking a bag at the gate is the greatest idea since pop-top beer cans, especially if you don't have to worry about making connections.
  • Getting stranded overnight is fairly painless if the hotel is free and you haven't checked your bag.
  • The people whose airport jobs entail a lot of sitting on stools seem to be the ones most eager to take their breaks.
  • Taking off is fun every time.
  • Airplane wheels thumping back into the undercarriage is scary every time.
  • Handbags are useless for travel unless they can be carried over a shoulder.
  • If your travels take you through the Atlanta airport, wear comfortable shoes.
  • If you have less than a one hour layover through ATL, you will not make your connection.
  • Always let the ladies in heels go ahead of you on the airport escalators, bless their hearts.
  • Stepping onto a Down escalator with a heavy carry-on in one hand and a purse in the other, while wearing bifocals, is the closest I'll ever get to competing on American Ninja Warrior.
  • Having a family of readers who love to pass their books along is great, but makes for a heavy carry-on. Ebooks, people!
  • If I'm going to continue carrying this many real books in my carry-on, I need to get in better shape or get a carry-on size bag with wheels.
  • If you don't think losing 5 pounds will make much difference, try getting from ATL terminal T to D with a 20 lb. carry-on. Now I know why the pioneers dumped their heavy stuff all up and down the Oregon Trail.
  • What is with the creepy billboards at ATL? One was a slightly menacing message from a cyber security outfit. Another advertised software to 'influence' customer decisions. Big Brother, anyone?

Texas Stuff

  • Every time I go to Texas, I discover a new favorite beer.
  • Believe it or not, there is such a thing as too much Tex Mex.
  • Believe it or not, there is such a thing as too much chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and cream gravy.
  • Dallas has been overrun with donut shops. Add them to the list of taco stands, nail salons, and Walgreen's/CVS - there's one on every corner.
  • There is a heavy price to be paid for eating one's way through Texas (see what I did there?). The only thing that saved me this time: I don't like donuts.

Random Stuff

  • You get very little writing done until you put your cell phone away. Sadly, ditto for books.
  • Spanx are always a good idea. Always pack the Spanx just in case.
  • Dreds are the hair version of Hoarders.
  • Possums are way cuter as babies.
  • If NSA is creeping all of us online, how about hacking into Ancestry.com and 23andme family tree DNA data? Possibly solve some cold cases in the process, amirite?
  • When making your own window screens, aluminum window screen is to be avoided at all costs. Go with the fabric screen instead. 2 hours per screen vs 20 minutes. Hey - I said it was random!

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Monday, May 30, 2016

Remembrance of Memorial Days Past

Recently I was down the glorious Library of Congress digital collection rabbit hole, looking for something to post relevant to the Memorial Day holiday. Look what I found:


It's an illustration from Puck Magazine from Memorial Day 1899. In case you can't read the small print, its caption says 'Three Veterans Under One Flag'. History nerd that I am, naturally I wondered which three wars. Just from looking at the uniform of the Colonel Sanders character on the left and doing the math, I figured he was from the Civil War. But the other two had me stumped. Mexican-American War, maybe? Guy on the right, no clue (fail!). Had to research it. And here's the scoop:

Colonel Sanders is indeed from the Confederate Army of the American Civil War (1861-1865). Interesting that they were generous enough to consider him as 'under one flag'.

Cowboy Bob in the middle is from the Spanish-American War (1898). This is the war infamous for its slogan 'Remember the Maine', which referred to the sinking of a U.S. naval ship in Havana harbor. It's the one some historians theorize was instigated by decidedly biased coverage in the Hearst newspaper empire. The one featuring Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders? The one where we helped Cuba gain independence from Spain? I wouldn't blame you for forgetting. It only lasted ten weeks.

The third guy on the right is a Union veteran, also from the Civil War. That's where they got me - I was thinking it needed to be three different wars.

By Memorial Day 1899 there were three other wars fought by American soldiers that could have supplied images of veterans for this illustration: the American Revolution (1765-1783); the War of 1812 (1812-1815); and the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).

BTW The Library of Congress has loads more entertaining illustrations from Puck Magazine. Puck was published from 1871-1918. It was a combination of humor and political satire - think BuzzFeed meets The Daily Show. This particular illustration is by artist Udo J. Keppler.

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Ellen Ochoa: Still Leading The Way

Like many who grew up in the 1960s, I'm a huge space nerd and as a by-product also a big sci-fi fan.
I'll shell out for just about any sci-fi movie. Watching The Martian last fall, which BTW was fantastic (but as great as the movie was, of course the book by Andy Weir was even better), and more recently a re-run of Gravity on TV (great special effects; sappy internal conflict aka pity party), I was reminded of why we don't send stupid people into space. NASA's astronaut training program is highly selective and rigorous, as well it should be.

I had the privilege of writing a children's biography of one of these space geniuses several years ago. Ellen Ochoa was the first female Hispanic astronaut in space. I felt some kinship with her when I discovered
  • we share a birth year
  • we're also both female, natch
  • we love to read
  • we had a hard time deciding on a major in college
and that's where our paths digress. Dr. Ochoa finally settled on physics for her bachelor's. Let's just say, I didn't. She got that 'Dr.' in front of her name studying electrical engineering at Stanford. She has some patents in optics. And of course there's the whole astronaut thing.

Although she was a bright kid, Ochoa never considered becoming an astronaut because there was no such thing as a female astronaut. Imagine that! Oh, the irony of growing up in the 1960s. But when she was in grad school at Stanford, guess what happened? Or should I say, guess WHO? Yep, Sally Ride broke the glass ceiling in space in 1983, and Ellen started getting ideas. It took her a couple of tries and a year of training, but she made history as part of space shuttle Discovery's crew in April 1993. She was also a crew member for the first time the space shuttle docked with the International Space Station in 1999. Ochoa completed a total of four space flights and has logged more than a thousand hours in space.

Her last space flight was in 2002, but Ochoa was hardly put out to pasture. She continued a career at NASA. Dr. Ochoa is currently the director of the Johnson Space Center (second woman director; first Hispanic director). Something tells me if she ever found herself in a pickle like Sandra Bullock's character in Gravity, there would have been a lot less pity party, and a lot more git 'er done.






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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Liebster Award

Apparently the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge is doing what it is designed to do: help bloggers by encouraging them to develop good work habits, and getting lots of blogs seen by new eyeballs. I'm thrilled the owner of one pair of these new eyeballs, Laura Roberts, has been so kind to nominate me for a Liebster Award. Laura is a writer who is participating in challenges like a madwoman - in addition to the blog challenge, she's also doing the 365K challenge by 10 Minute Novelists and the A Story A Day in May challenge. Lawd.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

2016 A to Z Blog Challenge: 7 Lessons Learned

If you know people who seem unusually giddy with the advent of May, they probably just completed the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge in April. Like many marathon-ish activities, as they say in Texas: "it's like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer - it feels so good when it stops".

This is my first A to Z Challenge, but not my first blog challenge. I did one a few Januaries ago. But I think I was doing that one wrong - this one seemed like way more work. In the interest of working smarter, not harder, next time, here are a few things I learned.

Friday, April 29, 2016

From Zero To Hero

As a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan, I was once watching them play the Detroit Lions. A win meant advancement to the playoffs. A loss meant the end of the season. It was a sloppy mess of a game for Da Boys. In the closing minutes, the Cowboys were ahead 24-20, but the Lions were driving. Defender DeMarcus Lawrence recovered a fumble.

If he had simply fallen on the ball, end of game - the Cowboys would have taken possession, taken a few knees to run out the clock, and headed to the post season. But Lawrence didn't fall on the ball. In his excitement, he tried to run the ball into the end zone a mere 20 yards away and seal the deal with six more points. Unfortunately, he was stripped of the ball and the Lions recovered.

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