Category Archives: Adventures

Growing up on a Mississippi Farm my parents didn’t want me to only see the dirt roads. I have seen a lot in more than 40 years.

Lots of Miles and More

SelfieJanuary has always been a very busy month for me. January 2016 was different in many ways. However, I still did a lot during the month. I ran five races and volunteered at two other races. This compared to never racing in January. My focus has typically been pencil and teaching about astronauts. In January of 2015, I ran a total of 20.26 miles. This year, I beat that mark by 73.43 miles, for a total of 93.69 for the month. That is not my best month, however it shows what a difference a year can make. I wanted to share a few of my favorite things after running and volunteering for some epic races!

I started the month off in recovery mode and quickly shifted gears to Disney for Dopey. It is interesting to think running four races during four days straight wouldn’t be the most epic thing during the month? Running around Walt Disney World was fun, but how can a mouse beat a hound dog named Ludivine. The very next weekend after Dopey, I ran my second half marathon of the month. The Trackless Train Trek was a small first of the year half marathon in the rural community of Elkmont, Alabama. Race with a difficult name to pronounce, produced a world record for the half marathon distance and hundreds of social media posts about a random dog running 13.1 miles. The story made the Today Show, Good Morning American and written articles from every news outlet with a URL. But wait this wasn’t the most epic thing I did!

When snow hits the ground in Alabama, all heck breaks loose! Add to that craziness one of the best known 50K trail runs in the southeast, Mountain Mist. Hundreds of people were trying to make their way to the event which was scheduled to be held on Saturday. The snow fell on Friday. Guess what didn’t happen on Saturday? The race directors convinced the city police, the state park officials and the local community of volunteers to reschedule their Sunday brunch from the comfy confines of their homes to the trails of Monte Sano State Park & the Land Trust of North Alabama. I volunteered and loved every moment of the day. Maybe one or two moments I could forget. The race is epic all by itself. Add snow and ice with a skeleton crew of volunteers. It adds excitement. I applaud everyone who finished and who helped reschedule Mountain Mist.

I volunteered for one more race, The Mardi Gras 5K. The race featured a charming and hilly course through historic downtown Huntsville. I didn’t run the race and this afforded me front row seats to the finish line. It was a glorious day where hundreds of participants ran, walked and danced their way to the finish line. I also got to hangout with my buddy Marcia! I would clean toilets in a prison if I got to hangout with Marcia. Volunteering on a chamber of commerce day in downtown Huntsville… BONUS! There was one downside, the finish line arch was blown over by a strong gust of wind… lesson learned! 

The first of the month started with me running races and ended with me volunteering. There is sweat and toil in both roles. But I really loved the last two events more than the first five events. Yes, volunteering is more fun than running through the “happiest place on earth”. The bigger take away from running or volunteering at an event is the adventure along the way. No matter what you find yourself doing, enjoy it!

PS – Since I did talk a lot about about numbers, I should point out… This is my 200th blog post!

Orange Bib

BlingI think it was during the crazy snopocalypse during the winter of when I signed up for the Dopey Challenge at Walt Disney World in Florida. I must have been thinking, “I can have a runcation in early January in Florida… Bonus”! Little did I know what I was getting into. Since I signed up for this adventure, much has happened, especially shifting career fields. Undiscouraged by change, I am here and have successfully completed two races or 19.1% of the total challenge miles. Here are a few things I have learned about the Dopey Challenge.

It is an exercise in sleep not a running competition. A good friend gave me this advice before I left for the Land of Mickey Mouse. It is true. Sleep is your best friend! Don’t go out bar hopping or watching the fireworks over EPCOT or The Magic Kingdom. Put your pajamas on and sleep as much as you can. I feel like Ragnar Relay has been a valuable training excersice for this endeavor. I told someone that the Dopey Challenge is like Ragnar with a hotel room involved. It will be bed time soon!

If you don’t like Disney, don’t waste your time! You have to understand the magic of Disney and the wonder in the hearts of its fans to be able to bear the grumpy nature of the novice runner/walker. I mean no disrespect by saying this. However, etiquette is not high on the participant’s list. I have only seen 3 participants who have raised their hands before making an abrupt change from run/jog to walk/dead stop to take a photo of Elsa! I just let it go! There was one lady that I tapped on the shoulder because it was dark and I was about to buldoze her. She turned and spoke words that are not in Disney movies. Mickey would not have been happy! However, it is enjoyable seeing all the costumes, lines to have your photo made with characters and the volunteers out in their oversized four finger white gloves directing the race participants. I have to remind myself to”HAVE FUN”! It is really difficult for me to just let go and enjoy myself.

You will encounter some interesting characters. And I am not talking about Mickey & Donald! On the bus trip to the 5K on Thursday, we sat behind the grown version of the redheaded “appearently”. You know the kid I am talking about. The cute kid who had appearently never been on live television before and his grampa makes him watch the Powerball! This individual talked about everything at Disney in a span of 40 minutes in the exact same speech pattern as the kids. Apparently they are related! The next human to catch my eye was the middle school girl who shuffled the entire race while texting on her Samsung Galaxy. I passed her at the 3 mile mark and then again after I made a pit stop. She was shuffling both times. I saw her finish… She was still shuffling and texting. Maybe she was reading from her Kindle app. The event makes for great people watching.

Go see Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center! This has nothing to do with the Dopey Challenge but everyone should see her! They should visit, see Atlantis and then write a letter to their congress person to fund human space flight more robustly! I think if Walt Disney could visit us in 2016, he would be frustrated with the level of progress we have made since the 1960s. I think he would want The Walt Disney Company to help fund human space flight. Can you imagine the push to Mars if space flight was as popular as Walt Disney World! The Disney magic is fueled by innovation.

To conclude, just remember to have fun if you find yourself running the Dopey Challenge, enjoy the ride! You will meet many interesting and creative people who may or may not have ever run before. But more important, it is our job as adults to inspire the next Walt Disney or Werner Von Braun so we can get the heck off this rock and go to Mars in the not so distant future.

Keep Moving Forward

IMG_5121In the past on New Year’s Eve, I have posted a blog entry about the previous adventures and accomplishments of that given year. Not this year, well not last year! It is January 1, 2016 and I have chosen to write about the future. The year wasn’t bad, 2015 gave me lots and I feel like I learned and grew as a human tremendously. But I only posted twice to GraphiteFree in 2015. I didn’t even have a reflection post when I left the USSRC after 12 years of service. In the words of Walt Disney, “keep moving forward”.

So lets talk about goals. Many leadership and management gurus set parameters for goals. But most everyone can agree that goals need to be specific, measurable, timely and specific to the person or organization. Dave Ramsey adds they must be in writing. This is true! If a goal is in writing it is more permanent, even if written in graphite by your trusty Dixon Ticonderoga. So I am writing down a rough sketch of my goals for 2016, for all see.

I have set lofty goals for myself in 2016. For one reason, I turn 40 this year. But most importantly, I want to focus more in 2016.  The year 2015, brought lots of change for me. I seemed distracted through most of the year. I need focus! Setting goals will help me be a better human.

Focus more on my individual and professional growth in 2016.  I would like to attend three trainings or conferences which will give me better understanding and professional knowledge of being a camp professional. I have said for year, I want to own or build my own camp. It is time to starting making that dream a reality. Goals can make dreams more than empty wishes. I have always wanted to get my wilderness first aid certification or attend a class at the National Outdoor Leadership School in Wyoming. May not go to NOLS in 2016, but I want to do more than simply push things off until next year.

Volunteer more in the community around me. I have always wanted more time to volunteer. After leaving the USSRC, I had more time, but volunteering didn’t increase. I learned really quickly, I have to schedule volunteering just like I schedule all my adventures. I simply have to schedule them with the same level of priority as I schedule running races or spending time with friends and family. In 2016, I will be volunteering as a race director. I am well on my way to doing more.

One of my favorite races is the Huntsville Half Marathon. In 2016, the half marathon will be on my birthday. I am convinced, I can get faster if I just work harder. In the process of training for an Ironman in 2016, I want to PR the half marathon on my birthday. That would be a great way to turn 40. I will run more trails, train for an Ironman, hopefully do a relay in Kentucky and many other goals.  But I won’t bore you with it at the moment.

This morning CK shared a quote Facebook with me.  Rather than wishing everyone a Happy New Year; a dude on Space Hipsters proclaimed, Happy Arbitrary Solar Orbit Completion Day. A new way of looking at the start to the new year. I want to look forward rather than backwards. I want to make goals not resolutions. I want to be a great human and not a mediocre human. What will you do in 2016?

Bib 761

Rocket RideMy triathlon season will start in two weeks in Chattanooga, where last season ended.  Seems like many years not just seven months ago, so much has happened and so many stories along the way.  I had every intention of writing more in 2015, but didn’t.  My goal was to try to refocus my blog – I do have a new look. In April, during Oak Barrel Half Marathon in Lynchburg, TN I ran behind a man who had phatboyrunning.com stenciled his shirt tail. As a passed him, I told him I had been looking at his butt and wanted to read his blog.  After returning home and reading Phat Boy’s blog, I was jealous of the drive and commitment of others. I have goals, but sometimes I don’t communicate them nor do I share with others.

Yesterday, I ventured to Elkmont, AL for the Spring Krusher Ride.  The ride began at eight o’clock in the morning at the local high school and I rode the first 25 miles with friends and then the last 38 solo.  I tried to keep up with a nice lady named Geri, however I wasn’t able to keep up.  I am simply not in shape.  I struggled.  I have run 2 half marathons, a Ragnar Trail and a traditional Ragnar Relay, but I haven’t spent much time on the bike.  That is my fault.  Beyond not being ready, I had a fantastic time riding.

Rides in north Alabama are so much fun!  You meet so many wonderful people along the way, as well as seeing God’s wonderful creation.  There was a hillside with cattle grazing which appeared to be straight from the children’s book, The Story of Ferdinand.  I also peddled through the charming town of Prospect, TN. Which seemed like a perfect town to quit in, but I didn’t!  I trudged on and did complete the 63 mile ride.  Later in the day, I got a speeding ticket – not on the bike.  Sometimes on a glorious day in Alabama you forget where you are and what the speed limit is.

No matter what, each day that ticks away brings me closer to my fourth Half Ironman.  On the start line in Chattanooga, I will be wearing bib 761. Born in 1976 and I only get 1 chance at this life.  A larger more important goal in my life is to make a meaningful impact on the world around me.  Each day that ticks by, I lose a chance at that goal.  Time to buckle down, I am almost 40… Shocking!

People of Encouragement

PandaWorking at Space Camp I meet a lot of people in a given year or even in a given week.  I have met moon walkers, generals, distinguished educators, politicians and celebrities in the years I have worked at Space Camp.  I probably meet 300 to 400 new people each year.  Beyond all the “big wigs”, I have met truly remarkable people who live normal lives and touch people in dramatic ways. This blog post is meant to celebrate not only the people who I have met in my 38 years of walking on this earth, but to point out a few people who have changed the way I look at life during 2014.  This is my Mount Rushmore of impactful people who I have met in 2014.  Please, don’t be discouraged if you met me pre-2014, I didn’t get this Mount Rushmore idea till now, but you guys are cool too!

Looking back on 2014, a lot of what I did revolved around triathlons and training for Ironman Chattanooga.  A stranger in February who I met at the YMCA and later would be a friend was Laura Fiscus. She is a super encourager, an Ironman herself, met me and unconditionally encouraged me each and every time she saw me.  Laura is made from the same stock at Sandy Henson.  I met Sandy in 2012!  I saw Laura at races around Huntsville and each time she made me feel like I could finish Ironman.  I even saw her a half dozen times in Chattanooga from swim start to on the run and even at the finish, I think.  She had no clue who I was or what I was doing the first time she spoke to me.  This is remarkable to me in an era of self-absorption.  Laura, asked about my training, encouraged my progression, and cheered me up when I was down.  Wow… I want to be like that.  She spent the inaugural IM Chattanooga serving others as volunteer.  So many from Huntsville were volunteers. I want to be like that.  In 2015, my plan is to be a volunteer for IM Chattanooga, and then race it again in 2016, because of people like Laura.  Fun twist of fate, Laura gave me my Rocket City Marathon medal at the finish line.

Each year, I meet a few hundred staff members at Space Camp.  This May we hired an unusual member to our team.  We have lots of fantastic staff members, but this kid was different and represents all the wonderful staff at the USSRC.  She was a missionary kid who spoke Chinese and worked well with our students coming from China.  Caitlin Bridges had “J-O-Y down in her heart, deep, deep down in her heart”.  It was like working at Camp of the Rising Son each time I spoke with her.  I didn’t get to know Caitlin as well as other crew trainers, but she made Ed Buckbee happy.  Therefore, she must be remarkable.   Her willingness to server others was motivating to me.  Just this week, I heard she was planning her own mission trip to Africa!  Buckbee plus helping people in Africa, this may be more monumental than walking on the moon.  I even met a moon walker this year, Harrison Schmitt.  Caitlin reminded me each time we spoke that camp is for the campers, however she never said those famous words.  I am hoping she visit Space Camp & Aviation Challenge this summer! 

I meet a lot of cool astronauts and celebrities beneath the Saturn V at camp, but this year I had the pleasure of hearing Dave McGillivray speak to a group of marathoners and supporters before the Rocket City Marathon.  McGillivray is the race director for the Boston Marathon.  If that isn’t enough, he has lived an adventurous life through running and endurance sports.  He ran across the United States in 1978 to raise money for the Jimmy Fund to help fight childhood cancers.  He was the original Forest Gump.  He didn’t just run across America once, he did it several times.  His life is a motivational testament to encouraging others.  He is known for running the Boston Marathon after the race is completed and cleaned up each year.  He shared a story of a young lady in a wheelchair who wanted to run Boston, but only could run 26.2 feet.  McGillivray agreed and marked off the distance.  The young lady ran her distance in half the time she was estimated to run.  McGillivray presented her a medal and the race went on.  Coming down the home stretch during McGillivray’s midnight marathon after the marathon, the young lady was there to present him with a hand made medal.  I can’t imagine how many people have been encouraged by him.  Finishing a marathon is a confidence boost for anyone, but that young lady was given a gift and allowed to live a dream.  Some people would have just said no!  One of my biggest take aways from McGillivray’s talk was not just the the young lady asked to run and ran, but she did it her way.  Everyone has to run their own race no matter the distance.  Whether a marathon, a triathlon, or a cake walk, everyone has a race to run.  I am reading his book, Last Picked, over my Christmas vacation.

My last spot on my Mount Rushmore of people who impacted my life is not just one person, but a group who motivated and encouraged not just me.  On July 31st my dear friend Rhonda Cox was struck by a van while she was training on her bike.  She was hit from behind at a high rate of speed.  I meet Rhonda years ago, so she doesn’t qualify for this list.  However, the people I met for the first time this year were the thousand or more strangers who joined in prayer whether by the Facebook group set up for her recovery or from a friend of a friend praying for Rhonda at their local church.  She has had a remarkable recovery.  Each day this group of people have prayed and followed her progress.  Through visiting with Rhonda I have been lucky enough to meet many of her friends and family for the first time.  However, the group as a whole is the most important. Since the accident, Rhonda has shared many stories of how God’s hand was on her recovery event down to the EMTs who responded and the medical flight team who air lifted her to Peoria, Illinois.  I am thankful for the army of people who I have met and prayed along side this year for Rhonda.  Amazing to think, Rhonda is running!  It hasn’t been six months since the accident, through God’s abounding power and grace she is strong and encouraging us all to run a little harder and faster!

In the years between my birth and last January I have met many wonderful people who I could write books about given the time.  So I hope this look at only four from 2014, makes sense to the reader.  I have been blessed and encouraged this year.  I have learned so much through my own trials and mistakes.  This year I have been encouraged to be a better human being by others.  I truly hope I can return the favor of encouragement in 2015.  To everyone who has been there for me, thank you from the bottom of my heart!  Merry Christmas to all!

Mount Rushmore Style

Headed to Chick-fil-AThis is has been a really good year! Could have been great with the exception a just a hand full of moments.  This year I wanted to do something different from my normal year end blog. Since the mighty Bulldogs of Mississippi State had a great year and at one point in time were in the top four in college football, I am going to honor that top four ranking system in a series of blog post. You could call it a Mount Rushmore style to topical blogging.  All of the topics this month will be focused on the best four of 2014.

To start out, I have picked a simple topic: the most important meal of the day, breakfast!  Here is a list of my top four most memorable breakfast meals of 2014 in no particular order.

Big Ed’s in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina is a traditional country style breakfast.  They are known for their hot cakes in the morning and southern style meat and three lunch menu.  During my 38 years on this planet, I think there are only two places that had pig brain on the menu, Winona City Cafe and Big Ed’s.  Truthfully, I didn’t eat pig brain or Big Ed’s hot cakes.  I played it safe with traditional eggs, country ham and grits.  It was amazing!  Big shout out to Jen Kramer who floated in to Big Ed’s like a master culinary critic with her little man, Isaiah.  Kramer selected Big Ed’s for breakfast for me and my road tripping friends.  All there will agree she floated!

Aretha Frankensteins in the north shore area of Chattanooga, Tennessee is a spot that even Rachel Ray has enjoyed.  I have eaten at Aretha’s before, however 2014 was my first chance to eat breakfast at the small twenty or so patron restaurant.  I chose an omelet with ham, cheese and jalapeños.  All was right in the world!  We had to show up before the doors even opened to make sure we secured our seat in a home that was converted into one of Chattanooga’s most famous places to eat.  I sat at the bar with friends where I could watch the comings and goings of the staff.  The place was hopping, but I feel like it is always hopping. Great breakfast… food, especially an omelet, is the fuel of an athlete!

Cracker Barrel, could be a Cracker Barrel anywhere because I always order the same thing.  However, the breakfast I remember was with a group of veteran Ironman triathletes in Nashville, Tennessee on a Sunday morning after an open water swim.  It was the same morning I saw two A-10 Warthogs fly over Nashville in formation.  For this breakfast I had my standard Old Timer’s Breakfast with toast not biscuits and gravy.  I enjoyed good nutrition that day, but I learned about   the nutrition that would save my butt during Ironman Chattanooga. I am very thankful for that meal and all the useful advice!

The last breakfast should probably be one of the many Chick-fil-A chicken biscuits eaten at Aviation Challenge on Fridays and once this summer on Saturday during a kids triathlon.  However, I remember each calorie of my Ironman Chattanooga breakfast.  I had a protein bar and Diet Mountain Dew to start the morning at five o’clock and then snacked on a pack of brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tarts and water while waiting for the swim start.  Might not sound like the most healthy of meals, but each portion served a purpose.  I think I have written about this breakfast so I won’t bore you.  That was a good day and each an every day is a glorious day if you keep the main thing the main thing.

There you have it! Big Ed’s, Aretha’s, the crack house and an ala cart meal the morning of a big race.  2014 has given me some great memories.  I should have been better about sharing these moments during the year, so I am now.  I hope you enjoy this Top 4/Mount Rushmore approach to my year end blogging.  If you have a topic for me to pick four on, please share that with me on Twitter @Graphitefree.  Enjoy your holiday and please be safe!

What Was I Thinking

What was I thinking while caught up in a moment of “Billy Bad Assisum”?  What was I thinking signing up for a FULL Ironman triathlon.  I guess I really thought I knew what I was doing.  I guess I thought… “that which does not kill you makes you stronger”!  I guess if I have come so far along this path, I can go just a little further.  The problem is that a full Ironman is twice as long as I have ever swam, ran or biked before.  Can I do this?  Am I strong enough?

Yes, I believe I can finish a full Ironman, but will it be within the time limit?  Yes, I feel like I can train enough to finish a full Ironman, but what will be the cost?  Yes, I feel like I can give what is needed to do all of those things and be the Vice Principal of Space Camp, but will that even be enough?  I am not Amazon.  I am not a freak of nature, physical specimen of what God ordained as a triathlete.  Heck, Amazon was a triathlete before she could even swim!  I am seriously in over my head.

Well, the next four months will tell me if I can swim 2.4 miles in the Tennessee River, if I can bike 112 miles through Tennessee and mostly north Georgia, and finish with a marathon through the streets of Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Will I do it?  Will Dixon Ticonderoga still use graphite as the pencil core?  Will Aviation Challenge still be associated with the color green?  Well, I am only sure about one thing.  I am in over my head!

As Derek Jeter is my witness, my number one goal until the morning of September 29th after 140.6 miles is Chattanooga!  I don’t know Derek Jeter personally, but he dated Mariah Carey and he is a New York Yankee!  He can be my pinstriped patron saint of athletic endeavors!  Peyton can only be my boyfriend!

Golf Dudes Suck

I haven’t written a good rant since I spewed anger towards Jeff Benton, but I am sure Jeff Benton will fall into the demographic of my current topic. So today, I am releasing the wolves on golf dudes.  Chris has told me many times, I am a bitch when I am in a golf store.  I get cranky and aggressive.  I demand service and respect from the golf store’s personnel.  Why?  Because of golf dudes. Golf dudes are the guys at the driving range with a pitcher of Miller Lite, who talk too loud, smoke too much and try to hit the cover off the ball with their expensive driver and oversized egos.  Yes, this may come across as a man hating blog post; however, not all male golfers are like this.  Yesterday, I met two or three dozen golf dudes, all of which suck.

I would describe golf dudes as men who think women can’t play golf.  Most golf dudes don’t care about anything except having the latest, greatest, and most expensive equipment. They don’t really care about the game. Golf dudes are the below average golfer who works for “fill-in-the-blank” chain golf store.  Most of which do not greet or service women golfers in their stores. Simply put, golf dudes dismiss women golfers and their money. I would rather be treated like Julia Roberts as the hooker in Pretty Woman when she shopped Rodeo Drive. They at least spoke to her.

I will be the first to admit that the skill and strength needed to be a professional male golfer can not be achieved by most female golfers, pro or amateur.  However, women can play golf and they can also spend money on golf equipment, green fees and golf outings.  Which is the current source of my frustration.  Yes, I am a strong willed, red-headed female.  I like to think I am an above average golfer.

Yesterday, I visited the Madison Golf Center’s demo days.  There was at least ten to twelve sales representatives from golf companies like Nike, Cleveland, Ping, TaylorMade, and Callaway.  I love the people at Madison Golf Center and would never complain about them.  And I know that the overwhelming majority of golf equipment sales comes from the male golfer. The sales representatives with tents pitched, in anticipation of making sales, or inciting consumers to pledge allegiance to their brand.  These golf dudes did not even speak to me and my friend.  It was the most awkward shopping and customer service experience of my life.  At the time that I walked through the demo booths at the driving range there was 40 to 50 men, some representing their company and some using the demo equipment.  I walked through twice, not even a word from the sales representatives who did make eye contact with me!  I was furious.

The point of this cranky post is to tell all the golf companies that yes their number one demographic is male golfers, but women can spend money too.  Sales is sales… it doesn’t matter if I wear a bra and my golf clubs are pink.  I still should get some respect! First as a human who is interested in their product, then as a customer who represents the female consumer who spends seven trillion dollars each year in the market place and finally as a golfer who wants to learn, grow and improve.  After this treatment, I guess I will stop spending my money on golf and just spend it on something else… maybe triathlon equipment!  You suck golf dudes, and you won’t get my money!

Last Day in Baku

Moon RockI am in my hotel listening to Amy Grant’s 1992 Home For Christmas CD.  I am about about 90% packed, however I still have some souvenir shopping and a few more memories to make and good byes to say.  I can’t help reflecting on this amazing journey I have been on the last month. Last night after an amazing dinner at Sumack, which serves a traditional Azerbaijan cuisine, I tried to tell Mel all about the first few days of the build.  It was hard to remember the smaller details. But here are a few things I will never forget!

The people of this country and that I have met here are truly amazing.  They are remarkably caring and very hard working.  From Jimmy who worked in the set up to Erkan my Turkish friend who I didn’t get to say good bye to, I have met some grand people.  Anar and Slim to Khagani have been incredible patient with use.  The boys who work the simulators are an outstanding unit.  They work well with each other and take care of each other.  They showed me kindness that I will never forget.  We gave them call signs, wings and even a challenge coin.  But those gifts are not as wonderful as the last impact they have made on me with their outstanding spirits and hospitality.

What I have been doing is not curing cancer or ending poverty but it has been wonderful to work with wonderful people doing really neat stuff.  I have enjoyed working with my hands however, I think I need a manicure.  Working with the people from camp I don’t get to work with on a daily bases was awesome.  I love Cowan! And Michael is a funny guy!  But I will look back and always be thankful for meeting Joel.  He taught me a lot.  I think the original plan was for him to stay only a few days, but he stayed over two weeks.  Without everyone pitching in an extraordinary amount the exhibit would not have open before Thanksgiving and many people would have not been home with their families.  Plus the stuff I got to work with.  I have held meteors and a moon rock.  I have build display cases and stripped a Russian mannequin… the Russian mannequin was one of the coolest things.

Being away from my family and friends has made me miss everyone so much more.  Put thousands of miles between me and my parents, all the crap they gave me as a kid to get me to eat green beans melts away.  I have tried a lot of different foods. I have talked more to my parents this last month than any month I spent in Alabama.  But also, my dad had back surgery a week or so before I left and my mom just had knees surgery last week.  I have been a bad daughter being in Baku.  Thanks to Facebook, Skype and Oliver Florist I am not a total loser. Even people who live a few states away from me and only see once or twice a year I miss more.  I guess you don’t truly appreciate something until you don’t have it.

This trip and work has taught me a great lesson.  I think I have spent too much time in my left completing task and I have failed to connect with the people around me.  I love connecting with people.  But I really suck at it at times.  I rush, rush, rush and I don’t truly connect.  Over here, I haven’t been able to communicate as effectively using language, but I have still connected with them.  Heck, language is not my strongest quality.  I am not so good with words, you know?  But I need to stop and connect with more people.  Stop talking so much!  Just listen and connect, even if I have to use Azerbaijan charades.

As the song, I’ll Be Home for Christmas comes on I will end this post! I need to finish my shopping and make just a few more memories. Elvin, here we come!

Thanksgiving in Baku

I am going to try for a light hearted blog post today, because if I start listing off all the truly wonderful people and things I have in my life back home in Mississippi and Alabama I may just walk into traffic.  This is the first time I have spent a major holiday away from my family.  And if you know me, family means an awful lot to me.

Last year my Thanksgiving blog post list thirty things I was thankful for.  Similar to what everyone has been doing on Facebook day by day.  I am going to list ten things I am thankful for associated with my trip to Baku!

Sim Trainers

Not Being Detained – For those who do not know, I aways carry a knife.  Most of the time it is in a bag or tucked inside a pocket.  The Sunday morning after arriving in Baku, I discovered I’d traveled on an airplane from Huntsville, Alabama to Baku Azerbaijan with my orange handled Spyderco rescue knife.  Since September 11th knives have been banned because of security measures by the TSA and FAA for airline flights.  I went through security checkpoints with x-ray scans of my carry on luggage in the United States and in Germany.  Obviously this was an oversight on my part by packing the knife and a security oversight by them for letting me keep the darn thing.

Red Bull is an International Drink – Two years ago I never drank energy drinks.  After making a few long distance trips in the same week I started drinking Red Bull.  Darryl, the meteor guy, bought me a Red Bull at the local market.  One Red Bull after another helped to keep me going after long days with limited sleep.  Red Bull’s country of origin is Thailand and is sold by an Austrian company.  Over 5 billion cans are sold world wide each year.  With Red Bull’s stake in media advertising and sponsorships of extreme sports, auto racing and air racing, I have heard comparisons made between Red Bull’s founder Dietrich Mateschitz and the Dos Equis brand character, “Most Interesting Man in the World”. .  I am simply happy I can find Red Bull almost anywhere in Baku.  And I wouldn’t trade the long hours of work… it has been a great experience.

Space Camp Family – Trish, Ed, Mike, Roger, Carolyn, Cowan, Michael, Nathan, Daniel and even Joel have made this trip wonderful.  So often when you work doing the same thing in an organization you forget about the other people working around you in other departments.  This project has been rewarding just for that reason.  However, each day Trish does something crazy to make me giggle, laugh or just fall on the floor in hysterics!  She is a great travel buddy especially to this region of the world.  She spent time in Georgia teaching last year.

The Underground Tunnel to Work – Since the hotel fired George, our most favorite driver, and the new driver doesn’t know how to drive, Trish and I have been walking to work.  We are staying in a hotel just across the street from the venue, however you dare not try crossing the street.  The drivers in Baku are on a mission from God to control the population in Azerbaijan.  They do not stop for anyone or anything. The traffic in general is chaotic at best!  They do not have traffic lights and you are twice as likely to being hit by a car if you cross the street in an area designated for pedestrian traffic.  This underground tunnel has saved our lives countless times!  It is somewhat out of the way, but it is tunnel or death by Mercedes-Benz.  We could take some time off our walk if we crossed the Kentucky Bluegrass which surrounds the venue, but we fear snipers would gun us down.  They are serious about turf management here!

Being a Farm Kid – There have been many things I have done while setting up the exhibit that I had limited experience doing.  But in the words of Story Musgrave, they picked me because I was a farm kid to fix it… He fixed the Hubble Space Telescope and peoples bodies.  I have fixed  electrical gear, used a table saw, constructed barriers around artifacts and undressed a Russian Cosmonaut mannequin.  Being a farm kid and seeing my mom and dad work with their hands taught me a lot. I love working with my hands.  I have loved building things and seeing this exhibit take shape.  I saw chaos turn to order in a few weeks time!

Overall, I have a lot to be thankful for! I thankful for being an American and the wonderful life I have.  I miss my family and friends, however, it is an adventure, and life is about adventures.  The thing I miss most about not being at home in Carroll County is the smell of the turkey coming out of the oven at 6am and the whole family standing around the chop block making the dressing.  I will have to wait a few weeks for that tradition!

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Minions

First, I am having a ball in Baku! Sleeping in late and going to spa are some of my favorite things about my adventure to Azerbaijan.  Most mornings starts with room service and then I go sightseeing… Who am I kidding!  It has been hard work, but very rewarding.  I have made friends with people from Huntsville, Turkey and locals here in Baku.  For those who do not know, I am here with an exhibit from the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.  It is an amazing exhibition in a wonderful venue Heydar Aliyev Center.

I know I made a commitment to write twice a week.  Well, lets make that an average of twice a week.  Last week was very busy.  We worked twelve plus hour days and sleep was precious.  The only time we sacrificed sleep was to send off our Huntsville friends. When Trish and I arrived the project was already behind schedule.  Everyone was giving the extra effort to make sure things where ready.  The first to leave Baku was Daniel, Nathan and Michael.  Michael couldn’t stay very long in Baku, he was expecting his second child any day.  The next to leave was Carolyn, Cowan, and Joel.  Joel doesn’t work at the Rocket Center, but he sure has a special place in his heart for the USSRC.  He stayed ten extra days to help pull off the feat! Each day since he left, Trish and I have tried to find our inter Joel.  Then waiting until the last possible minute to finish things was Roger, Mike and Ed.  Ed left for Huntsville the day after his birthday.  He missed having the longest birthday every.

Everyone worked super hard. Early on before I arrived Michael rallied the local workers, while Nathan defied gravity by hoisting tons of equipment and displays from the ground floor to our second and third floor nest. It has to be an eagles nest, because we have the Apollo 11 astronauts hand cast on exhibition.  Roger worked on the sims, while Cowan built MIR and all the other giant displays.  I loved Roger before, but I now have a huge place in my heart for him and Cowan.  Carolyn did all things related to the artifacts and kept Ed happy.  Ed made sure everything was precisely placed and all the many items were on display. Mike had to be Mike, plus he had to help build, answer questions from everyone and make sure we behaved!

We were a happy family.  Now it is just Trish and me from Huntsville and Echo from Turkey.  He has a real name, but since I am writing commando, why bother trying to spell it.  Yesterday, we left work after the venue closed.  We walked back to the hotel and crashed for double digit hours of sleep. We walked because George, our shuttle driver, took vacation and the other driver had only been driving for fifteen minutes.  We got lost multiple times on the morning drive and had to teach the new driver how manual transmission works.  Closest to death I have been in a long time.  George will be back on Thursday, which will be perfect since it is Thanksgiving!!!

This will be only the second Thanksgiving I have not spend in Carroll County, Mississippi. The only other time was with my two aunts and grandmother in Indianapolis when I was senior in high school.  Trish and I have decided to have dinner with Echo on Thursday night after work.  Echo has been looking for us a Turkey with no luck!  However, we will have Turkish food on Thanksgiving.  Echo is from Turkey so it all makes sense.  I will miss my family and being in Carroll County.  But I still have a lot to be thankful for!  This experience is one of them.  It has been crazy, but very fruitful.

So much fun!

It took over three weeks to complete the set up of the exhibition.  While all those hours seemed difficult at the time, one of the things that made it so rewarding was working with the locals.  They have the biggest of hearts.  I mean this with no disrespect, but they are a lot like the Minions from Despicable Me.  They talk in a language I can not understand, they are the hardest working people ever, and all they want to do is make us happy.  The similarity was sealed for me when I realized the yellow vest they wore made them look like the Minions.  Jimmy is my favorite.  Oxran Cavadli is Jimmy’s real name but he really likes when we call him Jimmy.  He and I bonded over our iPhones.  He thought I had a 5S, which would have made me cooler than reindeer nuts. But nope, we both have iPhone 5’s.  Now, we both have translation apps on our phones.

Now matter what, we all worked together as one big family.  No, we are not trying to steal the moon.  Just inspire kids and adults to travel there someday soon.  We are all like minions trying to fulfill JFK’s vision again fifty years after his death.  It has been a good week and a half.  Hopefully there will be more blog post! Good night, good morning, or good afternoon whichever time zone you may be reading from.

Frankfurt

So here I am in Frankfurt, Germany! I am trying to type a quick post for two reasons! First, if I start out posting to my blog, I may post more than just one time while I am abroad.  And secondly, if I am typing, I am not falling asleep.  It is approximately four o’clock in the morning back home in Alabama and eleven o’clock in the morning in Germany.  I did have a Red Bull once I got off the plane from Chicago.  However, there is only so much taurine can do for a sleepy “Red Bull”.

I would like to set a few expectations for my blog posts while I am in Baku, Azerbaijan.  I am traveling for work, so work will need to be my number one priority.  Please do not expect spelling to be a priority.  Lets be honest, when is spelling a priory for me.  I will be posting commando!  Trish Brown is my travel buddy on this trip.  I do not want to torture her with my disability. Look at it this way, I can spell Azerbaijan. Please do not expect much more from me.

My goal is to post twice per week, if not more.  However, I am not sure I have a large enough vocabulary or the creativity to write a comprehensive blog post at this rate without inspiration from a twisted taco cup or my daily dose of ESPN.  I am sure the common Azerbaijani does not know who Peyton Manning is nor do they care about his ankle.  I will have Mike Flachbart in Baku to help me stay in touch with some sports.  He is a fan of all things Boston, including Tom Brady.

Today is overcast and a little gloomy in Germany.  I must be honest, leaving was tougher than I expected.  As the Boeing 777 climbed into the sky and the lights of Chicago were behind me I struggled a bit.  I am excited for this adventure, however it has been a long time since I have been away form home.  The world is a different place and I am becoming old and stuck in my ways.  This is my chance to be Indiana Jones.  No, I am not searching for lost religious relics with a bull whip and pistol nor am I expecting to eat monkey brains.  It is an adventure to a place that I never even conceived of visiting.  Didn’t know much about it until two months ago.

Once we get to Baku, Trish and I will have a good night’s rest.  Then we will join the Rocket Center team who are currently there to help stand up the Cradle to Cosmos exhibit at the Heydar Aliyev Center.  The opening date is December 2, at which time a few more Rocket Center diplomats will join the team.  I don’t know the exact date I will be home since I am helping to manage the exhibit until Mel Siroky joins Trish in Baku.  I hope to help out as much as I can, use my Aviation Challenge survival skills and learn a lot while I am gone.

For those back home, I love and miss you all.  To those in Baku, we are on our way with lots of SD cards, HD cables, a book, a few NASA backpacks and a few surprises in our bags!  We did pack our own personal gear too.  Here we come!