Category Archives: Year End Blog

Mental Toughness

The year 2016 was hard for a lot of people. With the presidential election, social protest and the loss of so many A-list celebrities I don’t think I can say anything new about 2016 being difficult. However, as I review the past twelve months, I see a theme of mental toughness. Beyond my endurance sports, mental toughness has played a huge role in how I attacked and conquered 2016.

As I reflect, 2016 was like an Ironman Triathlon to me. In the first two months of the year, it was an easy swim. I started a new job at a camp, achieved a few certifications and attended a conference. Nothing too taxing at the time. I have been told I can swim all day long. I ran a few races at Disney World… Dopey Challenge, and then a local half marathon where a blood hound ran the whole course.

By the time March arrived, I had discovered that the camp I worked at was in need of major repair. This started the long miles on the bike. A constant churning at work to accomplish renovations and repairs was similar to riding 112 miles in the summer heat. I worked most everyday from March to August. I didn’t get everything completed before camp started. I compare that to not having a great swim to bike transition during a triathlon.

For the most part, I did a good job until June training for my actual Ironman event, IM Chattanooga. Once camp started the number one focus was the campers and their needs. That meant training stopped for me. I was chugging way with focused intensity on the work that needed to be done. Without mental toughness, I wouldn’t have made it through the summer or the events of late July.

While at camp in Guntersville, my mom called to report my nephew had been in a 4-wheeler accident. I scrambled to put things in place to leave camp. I relied on a great support team at camp to make this happen. They would have been my sherpas to continue the Ironman analogy. God is good all of the time, Rhett survived the 4-wheeler accident but he would have to recover from a brain injury. It took three months of hospital and rehabilitation before he could go home. He is good! And in many ways, I think my family is stronger because of the accident.

During Rhett’s recovery, I remembered there was an actual Ironman in September… I should start training again. Training is what I hadn’t been doing since June. It became the priority. No, I wouldn’t be at the top of my game. I hadn’t spent the long hours training during the summer. I would rely on my mental toughness to grit through IM Chatty. I trained in the time I had left but nothing I trained for could prepare me for the heat in Chattanooga during the event.  It was in the high 90’s during the entire day with a heat index over 120F. I needed to stay hydrated and keep my resiliency to cross the finish line.

I had a few more events during the last three months of the year, this would be the marathon of my year long Ironman. I gritted out a 15K, 2/3 of a half ironman, Bourbon Chase, Ironman Florida and a half marathon along with traveling to Iceland, turning 40, work and Christmas vacation. Mentally, I am tired after all of that.

The last day of 2016 brought one last event, a 50K. This would be a great finish line to my year long Ironman mental toughness extravaganza. Oh, I had a sinus infection just to add a level of difficulty to the simple 3 mile-loop course. Don’t worry, I know I can grit this out. I have mental toughness.

I think the only reason, I convinced myself to grit this race out, was because of a book I read. “Living with a SEAL”. In this book, billionaire Jesse Itzler, hires a former Navy SEAL and endurance athlete to live and train with him so he could conquer goals of his own. It is a book devoted to mental toughness and how to train your body not to quit. Looking at how I trained or didn’t train in 2016, I did things kind of backwards. I relied on my grit to get me out of foolish race events. I knew in my head, I could do two Ironman races in 41 days even if my body told me different.

Yes, I am mentally tough. But what if my body was just as tough as my brain. In the SEAL book there is a quote by the SEAL, Jesse calls it the 40% Law. “When you think you’re done, you’re only at 40% of what your body is capable of doing. That’s just the limit we put on ourselves”.  If I complete most everything I do on limited training and my mental strength, what if focused more on training than ever before. I ask what is the goal… gutting things out with mental toughness or bettering myself?

Final Post of 2014

To conclude my Mount Rushmore themed blog posts I will write about my four most epic adventures of 2014.  This has been a year of struggles and blessings!  It is a year that I will look back on for many years to come with vivid memories and defining moments of my life.  Lets get started, I will write these in chronological order.

Family fun at the Beach:  My mom and dad along with my aunt and uncle and their children rented a house in Mexico Beach, Florida.  This was a fun and carefree adventure filled with lots of beach time, seafood and swimming in shark infested waters.  Ok, I do exaggerate from time to time. Mexico Beach is half way between Panama City and Apalachicola.  We would drive to Apalachicola to each seafood and shop, which is home to hundreds of shrimp boats and a healthy tourism business.  It was fun just hanging out with my my cousins and the old people.  One of my favorite adventures during my stay was when my cousins and me hiked St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve.  We swam and chased critters around the beach.  I guess the older I get the more I enjoy just getting away from the craziness of the world.  For example going to Disney World would be more like work than vacation.  Mexico Beach and visiting West Yellowstone, Montana is more relaxing and fulfilling than a busy vacation with a long itinerary.

Aviation Challenge Elite Mach III:  This year our twelve day program seemed more special than past years.  The program we developed years ago to bring our most interested and most dedicated trainees back for a more realistic adventure has really grown into a homecoming of sort.  This year we had trainees whose sibling were in the original twelve day programs, not to mention our staff are alumni of this unique program.  As a staff member, you have to get to know each student for the program to work.  This week is a chance for even management to work directly with the trainees.  It is physical, emotional, and stressful.  The pinnacle of the program is an extended survival and endurance activity where we simulate what the stress of military training is like, we call it SERE.  But unlike the real military SERE, our trainees get tortured by Devil Bear not a hardened SERE instructor!  We push the trainees as far as we can and at the end of the day they are more resilient and self-confident than ever before.  I only got to hang out for a week because of another epic adventure.

Believe:  On July 31, I received a message on Facebook to call Leigh-Ann as soon as I could.  The message was from the younger sister of my friend Rhonda Cox who had been in a cycling accident that morning.  This started an epic adventure for Rhonda in recovery and for me a journey of several road trips and personal growth.  Rhonda’s personal strength and super human recovery is most definitely founded on the power of God.  Each time I visited my friend in Illinois I would see her monumental steps in recovery.  In the first moments after the accident there was uncertainty and each day, each step and swim stroke has led to certainty in a mighty plan only God could conceive and put in place.  Thousands of people prayed for Rhonda and encouraged her.  Some days it is easy to get distracted by who really is in control.  However, seeing the progress and commitment Rhonda demonstrated impacted me.  Beyond the relationship I have with Rhonda, spending time with her mom and family during my four visits to Illinois from August to right before Thanksgiving was fun and adventurous.  Rhonda’s perseverance and courage has inspired me to be a better person and my faith has been renewed during this year because of her friendship.

Chattanooga Bling

Ironman Chattanooga:  I feel like each blogpost this year has revolved around something to do with triathlon.  So how could I leave out my 144.6 miles during the inaugural Ironman Chattanooga.  As a kid, I didn’t have the resiliency to complete many of the things I wanted to do.  For instance, I remember hating to run, so I quit basketball in seventh grade during track season.  I had big dreams, but didn’t have the mettle it took to keep going.  For me, completing an Ironman was a process of resiliency and gaining the mental fortitude to endure the training leading up to Chattanooga and the distance during the race.  The best advice I received during my training was from the dad of an Aviation Challenge trainee in early August.  He told me a story of an Ironman participant who stopped at an aid station at mile 16 or so during the run.  He told a volunteer he couldn’t go any further and the volunteer called for the SAG vehicle.  After waiting 45 minutes the participant who wanted to quit felt stronger and more confident.  He approached the worker to tell them he could finish, but he couldn’t because he already declared he quit.  Th moral of the story was, just don’t quit!  Walk, run or crawl, if you physically can do it, finish.  And that can be said with many things in life, finish in the best way humanly possible.  As I rounded the corner headed to the finish line, I teared up knowing I was about to finish an epic adventure and be pronounced and Ironman.

It has been a great year!  From a couch in West Yellowstone, Montana next to my dad snoring, I can’t think of any place I would rather be at this moment.  But my year has been made special by spending many moments with the people I love and I am encouraged by.  I feel like I have a wonderful job where my purpose is to safeguard trainees and mentor staff & youngsters.  I have a great family and super terrific group of friends.  I look forward to 2015.  Over the next few months and weeks I hope to redesign my blog site and make it a bigger part of my daily life.  I love journaling.  I have noticed when I am writing blogs I am a stronger person.  That is my hope for 2015: to be a stronger, better person.

Slacker in 2013…

So I am a lazy blogger.  I make many excuses, but the simple fact is I am lazy!  And now I missed my “year end blog” deadline.  Each year I write a top ten list of my favorite or most memorable events of 2013.  It is currently 2014 and I am just now sitting down to write.  Let’s see, where do I start.  It has been a tough year with many ups and downs.  There has been twists and turns as well as lots of change in my life.  But I have kept chugging through the days, weeks and months.  So lets look at some of my highlights!

Goals:  Early in 2013 my goal was to become a better runner!  I set the goal to run 500 miles during the 2013 calendar year.  I didn’t make that goal.  I hit 446 miles on November 9th.  Seems like I should have been able to run 54 miles in 8 weeks.  The running goal didn’t happen, but I had another goal for 2013 that did.  I wanted to get a stamp in my unused passport.  The week before my buddy left Space Camp in April I told her how envious I was of her adventurous spirit.  On November 16, I entered Baku, Azerbaijan and got my passport stamped.  I didn’t run while I was overseas and then I contracted the Baku Flu upon returning to the US.  I have 2014 to run 500 miles.  Plus, I did run a half Ironman triathlon, which was a goal.  It wasn’t terrible missing the mark!

Baku:  I spent a month in a crazy country with a made-up sounding name, Baku, Azerbaijan.  How could I turn down a chance to work with power tools in an all white building in a country whose language I had no clue how to speak. Seems like a win-win situation only if you throw in a bartender named Elvin! I loved working with the people of Azerbaijan and I miss them tremendously.  Forget the cow heads or bucket of hooves on the street curb or the fact that a restaurant told me my credit card was not accepted because it was black.  People should not judge someone’s credit based on color.  It was amazing, even if I missed a lot of great SEC football!

HTC:  In 2012, twelve of my favorite people, against our better judgement, decided to run Ragnar Relay from Chattanooga to Nashville, Tennessee.  Well by the grace of God and the sharp eyes of Sandy Henson, twelve more of my favorite people traveled to Oregon for the grandfather of all 200 mile relays, Hood to Coast.  We ran from Mount Hood to the Pacific coast near Seaside, Oregon in 29 hours.  It was an amazing with a wonderful storyline.   Shaggy had to go to the hospital. Jennifer Bell traded her shirt for a beer.  We had zero cellular coverage.  We slept in a van.   And I made some amazing memories.  It was an amazing adventure, one I would have never thought I would have been a part of just a year earlier.  My team mates were terrific and the scenery breath taking.

Grandpa:  This year we said good bye to a great man.  Most of the time you don’t recognize a death in a year in review, but I was lucky to know Grandpa!  I am lucky to know his family.  The DiCarlo and Hailey families are my Huntsville family.  They take care of me and make me feel at home.  Jerry Groff was their cornerstone for years.  Grandpa never met a stranger.  He was always concerned about other people, even if he had known you for 20 minutes he counted you as his friend.  I have a family here in Huntsville, because of Grandpa’s example to his daughters.  One of my favorite nights this fall was outside the Hailey house with Grandpa watching the Mississippi State and Auburn game. He was so concerned about each of his guests.  He told stories of life in Buffalo and Mel Tormé.  I hope when I am in the twilight of my life, I can be as gracious as Grandpa!

Homecoming:  I know a lot of my favorite things this year have been tied to my trip to Baku, but I can’t leave off the homecoming.  I missed so much while I was gone, Thanksgiving, birthday’s, football, Peyton Manning, and my mom even had surgery.  They didn’t have chicken biscuits or Diet Mountain Dews in Azerbaijan.  It seemed like being on the other side of the world makes you miss everything just a little bit more.  When I returned home, I had my best friend to pick me up.  However, little did I know a few more friends where their to greet me.  It was amazing.  To see friendly faces was so precious.  The hugs were priceless… but the puppy dog Santa graphic and alliteration of the welcome home signs was, I am sure, the work of a million dollar artist and wordsmith.  Thanks, little Snap, Hoot, Marcia and you too Kim & Tank!

HOF:  True, the Space Camp ditched their Hall of Fame event this year in a mysterious on again off again fashion.  Instead, I visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame with my nephews in March and attended the National Aviation Hall of Fame Enshrinement in October.  Both adventures should have made my list separately but remember, I am a lazy blogger.  The adventure with my nephews was too cool.  They shared many toots and farts in the car ride with me.  We had fun in Louisville on the ride home.  I made them a promise to visit again when Peyton Manning is inducted.  The other trip was one I will remember for a life time because my high heel shoes killed my feet.  No really, I was truly honored to be in attendance when my astronaut hero Hoot Gibson was enshrined as a legend in aviation history!

70.3: I have always loved sports, but I haven’t participated at the level I should have.  I have always been a failure when it comes to sports.  I played basketball for a few years, quit.  I played golf and softball pretty consistently, but never as committed as I should be.  I even played college soccer for a year or so but sucked at it.  In 2012, I started running triathlons and in 2013 I completed a half Ironman.  I drove to Augusta, Georgia for the Ironman 70.3.  It was a great weekend.  I struggled on the run but smoked the bike.  It was a great accomplishment, but I do look forward to Raleigh 70.3 in June and Ironman Chattanooga in September.  I feel like I have given my all to the sport of triathlon.  We will see, I got a lot of shit to do to prepare.

Football:  Everyone knows that Peyton Manning is my boyfriend.  Well, Peyton may not know!  This has been a terrific year for MVP Peyton Manning and his Broncos.  More than just Peyton, this football season has been amazing and outstanding.  Much of the college and NFL season I spent overseas.  I spent many early mornings glued to my iPad or listening to ESPN Radio just to connect with SEC football and dear ole Peyton.  The nights I will remember for the rest of my life.  Bo Wallace coughing up the football in overtime during the Egg Bowl and my phone having an aneurism when Chris Davis ran a missed field goal back for a touchdown in the Iron Bowl.  I am lucky to have a boy friend like Peyton, to grow up a Bulldog, and to be adopted by my fellow War Eagle fans!  I love football!

Historically I have picked 10 things to write about.  However, I opted not to because I would dilute my memories.  I had a great year, but it has been a hard year.  I look to 2014 to be bigger and better.  I thought I would put my goals for the year as a conclusion.

Duh… Ironman Chattanooga:  I will have to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles.  I want to just finish, but I want to finish with a pace of no more than 14 minutes on the run.

Happy, Happy, Happy:  I want to find more happiness in my life.  I am sometimes described as grumpy or intimidating.  I want to be considered as friendly and giving.

Adventure:  I want to see more, do more and live more.  I want to travel and be adventurous.  Baku gave me a great start.  I just need to continue.  Let’s light this candle in 2014.

Running Through 2012

This has been a great year! I spent more time with my wonderful family. I have expanded my circle of friends, strengthened bonds with old friends. This was year I proclaimed, I am never too busy for my family and friends. I look forward to 2013 with fond memories of 2012 in my heart! Here are my top ten adventures of 2012… in no particular order.

Trip to Big D – A two days before Christmas my brother took his sons to a Dallas Cowboys game and I got to tag along. We drove from Mississippi to Tyler, Texas, birthplace of Johnny Football. Ate at the coolest and best Tex-Mex restaurant I have had the pleasure of eating at. Sunday morning we drove to the stadium for the game. The game unfortunately was a loss, but the adventure is the most important thing. The highlight of the trip was arguing with Rhett and Reece about having their photo made with the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. The argument turned out positive, you can see by their smiles!

Camping at DeSoto State Park – In January, Amazon, Snapper, Speedo and I went camping near Mentone, Alabama in DeSoto State Park. It was the coldest weekend of the year. The low temperature was 18 Fahrenheit. We survived the cold temperatures, but we should have brought along a bag chair or two. During this camping trip the four of us made a pact to run the Warrior Dash in Georgia in May. It was apparent after that camping trip, 2012 would be a very different year and it has been.

Animals – Having the greatest dog in the world has definitely been a highlight of the past eight years. He is my most faithful companion. He is never more than a few steps away from me at home. He would follow me to work if I let him. His kind and gentle eyes make all things bad ok. This year we lost George, our giant white rabbit. Also during 2012, we added two rabbits to our petting zoo. These two rabbits gave us a litter of 7 kits. Have the worlds greatest dog and bunny rabbits only make me want a few goats, maybe some chickens and hopefully a pig or two someday.

Pirate Night with Hoot – It is always fun when the story includes Hoot Gibson. However, when you cap the night off with eye-patches and mustaches you know you have made an epic memory. Hoot was the rogue Naval Captain who stood toe to toe with the notorious pirate, the Dreaded Pirate Squirrel, who was stealing food from his bird feeder. Captain Gibson fired at the enemy Squirrel with his tactical pellet gun. The squirrel fired back as the pellet ricocheted of the bird feeder. Captain Gibson was doomed to wear an eye-patch. If it is good enough for Hoot… it is good enough for his Space Camp fan club! While at Otter’s, Hoot left the room and Marcia, Snapper and myself donned mustaches and eye-patches to support Hoot in his relentless battle with the Dread Pirate Squirrel.

The Dirt Bike – One day in late August, I visited Mississippi and hung out with my brother and his sons. During a trip to Leland, Mississippi, we purchased a Honda dirt bike. Some people say they want to grow up to be an Astronaut. Some people say they want to win a Super Bowl. I can honestly say, one of my first memories, was to own a motorcycle or dirt bike. I was a stupid, novice, dork the first time I rode the little Honda. However, I loved every moment of the stupidity. I road the little bike at Christmas. I was somewhat  scared of the little bike after hurting my knee, but I learned that the little dirt bike could still be fun and safe.

Running – This was the year that Red Bull got in shape. I ran relays, 5Ks, mud races, duathlons and triathlons. It all started when Camp of the Rising Son held at 5K in April of this year. I ran the CRS run in 32:59. I finished 2012 with the Rudolph Run in Huntsville by running a 5K in 28:48. Between the two, I hurt my knee and ran a 200 mile relay with 11 other crazy people called Ragnar. I don’t know how many miles I ran, but I am sure it is the most I have ever run in one year. The goal for 2013 is an Ironman 70.3 or half distance triathlon.

Swimming – I am not Missy Franklin or Michael Phelps, but I love to swim. On January 10th, 2012, I started a masters swim class which changed my world. This would be the spark that would lead me to run triathlons. I ran my first triathlon since college in Decatur, AL in July. It was so much fun. At the end of the summer I swam an olympic distance relay with Amazon and Snapper as my teammates, and oh by the way, we took second as a relay team. Not because of me, but because of my teammates!

Florida – I visited Florida a record four times in 2012. The first time was for a Youth Preparedness Conference in Orlando. I was there to talk about Be Ready Camp; however, the highlight of this trip was Mouse and Marguerite Long at Friday’s near my hotel. Trip two was Tampa for a Yankees Spring Training game where I saw Mariano Rivera pitch two outs in the fifth inning. His season was cut short in Kansas City shagging fly balls. This was my Tampa highlight. In August, I spent a few days with my brother in Destin. Just a few days with my family on the beach was magical! Finally, the Magic Kingdom. After recruiting at ERAU at Daytona Beach, I finished my year with my buddy Mouse near Cinderella’s castle. Enough said… my time in Florida was special!

Peyton Manning Returning to the NFL – Honestly, I had so many emotions last January when it was apparent that my long time boy friend Peyton Manning would not be the starting quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts any longer. He didn’t play in the 2011 season due to a neck injury. There was a part of me that wanted Peyton to retire from the game all together. I didn’t want to see him less than great! I tried thinking of every option for Manning. I imaged Peyton in a Cardinals, Miami, Texans, and Titians jersey and helmet. I was resigned to watching Peyton wherever he ended up and turn my back on Mr. Luck and the Colts. Fortunately, Peyton landed on his feet with his “laser rocket arm” in Denver. He has had an MVP caliber season in his orange and blue. Lets hope that in 2013 we can celebrate something more for number 18!

Ragnar – This was most definitely a highlight of 2012. I ran with my team, I slept with my team, and I even cried with my team. Nothing can really top spending 30 hours in a van with some of your closest friends and heroes. I am sure if we didn’t have Amazon it would have taken our team 48 hours to get from Chattanooga to Nashville. In the process of this whole thing, I learned I was approaching the old lady stage of my life. Check out our video from the adventure. VIDEO LINK

To everyone who has played a part in my life past and present, THANK YOU! I can’t wait to see what 2013 has in store!

Another Year Flies By…

This year has been a blast! This year has been very different from the last thirty something years before.  In an effort to reflect on an amazing year, here are my top ten memories of 2011. And a few honorable mentions.

1. Game Seven of the World Series: One minute you are mopping water in the bubble classroom. Seven hours later, you are with your brother watching the seventh game of the World Series. Yes, it can happen and it did! Game six was postponed because of rain on Wednesday to Thursday night. For baseball people this made for a shift in starting pitchers and line-up changes. For a parent it gave a slim change for a Friday night game seven. To get to a Friday night game seven the Cardinals would have to come back from two deficits to win game six. It was a miraculous series of events but David Freese made it happen. This unforgettable bucket list event made me smile, cheer and even cry! If you ever get a chance to seize the day while mopping the bubble classroom, DO IT!

2. Stupid Irene: I am not going to talk about Hurricane Irene hitting New York City when I should have been watching a Mets game. I am going to tell you about the amazing time I did had touring about NYC, watching a game at Yankee Stadium where three grand slams were hit, visiting the crown of the Statue of Liberty, joining Ann Curry in the plaza to watch Train perform and watching Wicked at the Gershwin Theater. It was such a fun trip. I almost lost Snapper when she came up from the Subway with her mouth wide open. Natives had to tell her to shut her mouth or a Subway rat would run in. The Yankee’s game started out with rain and the Yankees losing! If you ever can visit the crown of the Statue of Liberty, the park rangers treat you like royalty! Unfortunately, stupid Irene ran us off to Alabama to play golf.

3. NFA: Neil Armstrong came to Space Camp to honor Dr. Von T! What a treat for anybody. All the young people at camp that evening lined the walk way underneath the Saturn V rocket to welcome both Neil Armstrong and Dr. von T. It was an amazing testament to the work both men did for the space program. After the evening concluded people mobbed Neil Armstrong and because I had on a blue flight suit, I was lucky enough to serve as Neil Armstrong’s bodyguard. At the end of the night we all adjourned to Otter’s for a beer or three with our friend Hoot Gibson. Neil didn’t join us!

4. Jack Daniels Tour Guide: On the count of three say, WHISKEY! Yes, I was indeed a tour guide at Jack Daniels this summer. One of the best jobs in the world. Got to meet cool people and talk about whiskey. Jack Daniel started making whiskey in the 1800’s and they still make it in Lynchburg, Tennessee today just like Mr. Jack did. I was able to see many things they don’t show you about on the tours. As well as learning a few secrets. I visited the distillery about twenty times before working there. I trained by shadowing fifteen tours. As a tour guide, I gave 94 tours. From all that, I can testify that there are good tourist and there are bad tourist.

5. Picking up the Sticks: I have played golf since I was in high school. However, in recent years I have not been as faithful to the sport. This year, with the aid of my friend Snapper, I got back into golf. It all started by taking Lit’ Snap to the driving range. Then we visited Huntsville Muni followed by many more courses. Our adventures included golfing with Kitten, visiting Oxmoor Valley, a Robert Trent Jones course, and even the back yard.

6. Yellowstone Adventure: It is somewhat difficult to say something about my vacation to West Yellowstone that I haven’t already said. However, I will try. This vacation meant the world to me. I was able to spend time with my family in an almost magical place. That is correct; you don’t have to go to Disney to find magic! Spending precious time with my parents and my brother’s family was so refreshing. Our vacation out west was the most time we had spent together in years!

7. Night of the Flying Roll: NatGeo Networks contracted with the USSRC to provide an incentive trip to wine and dine a few advertising executives. Fortunately for me I was able to help the Corporate Camp Manager, Snapper and her cohorts to develop and deliver the program. It was the coolest group project I have ever had the privilege to work. A group of 26 executives trained at Aviation Challenge, at Area 51, in the Space Shuttle simulators and in the Underwater Astronaut Trainer! This project allowed me to SCUBA dive for the first time and more. The final evening the staff was invited to join our guests, NatGeo executives, astronaut Hoot Gibson and the Rocket City Rednecks (RCR) at Cotton Row in downtown Huntsville. It was the best way to cap off a successful event. The RCR crew was so funny! The best part of the evening was when a roll shot across the room breaking the red wine glass of our guests. You correct if you are thinking that, “I bet on of those rednecks tossed the roll.” Yes in deed, they threw a strike! We heard a cry… I meant to hit him… not your wine glass! I should have written a whole blog post on the evening.

8. Disney Cruise: Have you ever wanted to cruise around the Caribbean with Mickey Mouse and his gang. Well, I got the chance to do just that and see one of my best friends get married to a super swell guy! The only downside to cruising around the Caribbean with Mickey and the gang is thousands of children having emotional break downs at 8:35 each evening.

9. Reindeer Wrangler: This year for Christmas the U.S. Space & Rocket Center hosted the prelude to the Galaxy of Lights. Almost one mile of lights in addition to the previous GOL lights which started at the greatest aviation camp in the world, Aviation Challenge. AC played host to two North American Caribou… reindeer. Being a farm girl I jumped at the chance to be the official pooper scooper and reindeer wrangler. I did have some help from Spud, Snapper, Riyeasa, Ham, Matt and Marcia. Thistle and Cindy Lou will be missed when they head back to Rocky Hill Reindeer Farm.

10. Life with No Power: A year end review can’t be complete without weighing the good and the bad. The tornados hit many states including Alabama cutting the main power line which supported most of Madison County. This was a small inconvenience to me and my family, but many families it would hurt. The mighty strength of this series of tornados would be historical in scope. Space Camp completely shut down for four days. I lived in a tent in my back yard with Snapper and Boo. Chris was in Atlanta for most of the time. For me, living in a tent isn’t a bad gig. Each morning we would cook breakfast, listen to the 8:30 press conference to listen for Rusty Russell, and then enjoy our ceremonial 10:30 beer. At some point after our nap, there was scavenging for ice and then wood for the nightly fire. I am thankful to God for my families safety and for my back yard adventure.

Honorable Mentions: Playing softball on the Sprockets; visiting Yazoo Brewery in Nashville, TN; annual canoe trip with Divot and Molly’s cousin Bernie; Hoot nights; One Republic concert in Birmingham; making a gold cowbell for the Egg Bowl; making friends with Conner’s bar tenders; writing blogs.

Looking Back at 2010

To make a tradition stick forever you must do it year after year. I am not sure if year three of this blog review makes this a tradition. However, let’s still call it my “Traditional Year End Countdown” of all the major moments in my life over this past year. This year Chris went back to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers, I changed jobs and the changed again, I made it to Fourth of July on the farm for the first time in a long time and who could forget all the times I tried to give away my dog, poor Boo. While looking back I realized this year could be known as the STS 131 Year! Let’s take a look at the top ten moments of 2010 for this redhead.

Facts of Life Summer: It was one of those summers that you take the good, you take the bad, and there you have the facts of life! I always loved Jo on that show. I did have a great summer in retrospect; however it was difficult not being around camp programs. Since I was 15 years old, I have spent my summers working with children. In April I left camp operations to be the Director of Education and work with teacher camp.  Leaving that was not easy. However, I learned lots about myself, good and bad. Now that I am back where my heart is happy I just have too work hard and do what I am called for! I loved my job as Director of Education, but helping a kid overcome homesickness is more fun than teaching teachers! Sorry, love you teachers (Rhonda & Veronique).

Red Bull Racing: Driving back from the launch of STS 131, I checked my email. NASCAR driver and Red Bull Racing team member, Ryan Vickers was going visit camp the day we returned to work. I felt it was my duty as Red Bull to volunteer my services as tour guide and show our friend around camp. Ryan Vickers is such a nice guy! He was so friendly and nice. He was really interested in space and what we did at camp. The neatest thing I observed while hanging with the NASCAR driver was when I offered him a bottle of water. His assistant took the bottle from my hand, removed the paper label and then handed it to Ryan. It was not a Coke product. He wasn’t in the winner’s circle or on a race track, but the sponsors are still priority.

The iPad Revolution: I know that this may seem silly, but starting the iPad revolution at camp was monumental for me. When I started working nights at Space Camp I saw the value of my iPhone (this too was a great adventure of 2010) when answering questions and concerns by campers and staff. I have had fun teaching Marcia about the power of the iPad. It seems like a magic window that helps me get my work done more easily. With all the apps and multi-tasking tools, emailing, and fun facebooking, the iPad is one of the best and most useful gifts Chris has ever given me. I only wish that Bill Cosby would create a Picture Page app for the iPad! To all my Aerospace iPad friends, let’s have a productive 2011.

Snapper and Redbull at Oak CreekRiver Adventures: I have recruited for Space Camp at colleges far and wide for four seasons. There are two colleges I look forward to visiting each year, Embry Riddle in Arizona and my school, Delta State in Mississippi. This year our recruiting involved adventures around rivers and creeks. In Arizona, Snapper and I trekked up Oak Creek at Slide Rock where I discovered the meaning of Slide Rock. In Mississippi, I took Snapper to one of my favorite hang outs during college, a sand bar at Rosedale along the mighty Mississippi River. Both of these rivers have come to mean a lot to me. However, the adventures I had on both of them made this year’s recruiting season the most enjoyable on to date!

Yankee Adventure: Chris and I made our second trip to New York City. This time we didn’t just spend a day in the Big Apple. We adventured around the city along with watching three MLB games. Among our stops along the site seeing tour was the U.S.S. Intrepid, Chelsea Market, B&H Photography – the most amazing store in the world, the Top of the Rock, Grand Central Station, and Central Park. The great thing about New York City is that visiting the concrete jungle is totally out of the normal for Chris and me. I would much rather play in the mud or work at Pottery Barn, but visiting America’s welcome center is always a learning experience. Go Yankees!

Christmas Calendar of Awesomeness: If you don’t know me, I haven’t been a fan of Christmas for the last few years. It is a time of travel and in-laws and not much focusing on the greatest of Christmas. Christmas is a time for family and friends to remember the great gift of Christ’s birth. But for many of the past years it has worn away at me. A few years back Snapper promised to help me find the Christmas spirit again. Unfortunately that was the year of mono for her. This year she made good on that promise. She made the Christmas Calendar of Awesomeness. It was simple, each working day she gave me a small happy with a Christmas quote. It made an advent calendar of sorts. It helped me remember the coolness of Christmas. Christmas this year was great for this and many other reasons!

Alex and Luke Visit Camp: When Alex and Luke visited camp I wasn’t their escort that was the job of Charity the social network guru. I met Alex and Luke at the Astronaut luncheon with Bob Springer. Charity had chatted with them about their adventures around North America on their social media directed tour of the greatest country in the world. I gave Alex and Luke something I thought was just a simple happy, a Space Camp coin. Luke mentioned later in a road trip recap video it was one of his favorite tokens. This made me so proud of the work that has been done since Alumni Andi and the Space Camp coin first started. Alex and Luke are great people and I am envious of there road trip… I also wish I could live Red 3’s adventurous life!

STS 131 Trip: In early spring a group of Space Camp staff traveled to Florida for the launch of STS 131. This wasn’t any shuttle launch for Space Camp. Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger was a Mission Specialist on board and the first Space Camp alumni to travel into space. It was the perfect event! Night launches are the best. Hanging out with co-workers and friends was amazing. The road trip down was a great adventure. And how can we forget Doug Wheelock, “Pig on the right, Shuttle on the left.” Tears and cheers were on the balcony of the OSBII that morning as we saw STS 131 lift off with Dottie and Space Camp riding along!

The 4th HOF Event: This year we had the Hall of Fame that we all wanted and looked for since its inception. Max Q played after dinner under the Saturn V, Hoot Gibson was simply a guest, Dottie joined us for the event, and the whole family seemed to be there. Personally, having Rhonda, Veronique, Snapper, and Safety there, and others who have been there every year, made the HOF very special for me. This year the HOF event was more like a family reunion and less like a production. Thank you, Mike Flachbart!

Wings in Space: I think I was taking a shower when I thought about asking Dottie to take along a few Space Camp wings on STS 131. It only seemed fitting that she take along the symbol of a Space Camp graduate along with her. I was so honored that she agreed to take a pair of Space Camp and Space Academy wings. What was even cooler was to discover after the mission Dottie took them out and posed for a family photo onboard the ISS. She and the over 500,000 graduates represented in those wings, floating in space! The day she presented the wings at graduation was one of my proudest moments at camp. The wings currently can be found on the wall of Discovery MOCR on the MCC floor at Space Camp.

All in all this has been an outstanding year! I look forward to 2011 and the many adventures I will go on! I do hope to write more, laugh more, and have more free time… next year.

2009 Year In Review

Last year I had a lot of fun with my year in review blog. Therefore, I made an executive decision to continue the tradition this year. The year 2009 was a great year for me and my hubby Chris. We spent most of the time sleeping under the same roof which was a drastic change from the previous four years in our marriage. During the year I took an exploratory outlook on life. I returned to the Barn after a ten month break and began blogging about the misadventures of the Barn. It was a year of great highs and a few lows, but overall it was a wonderful year! Here are my top ten moments of 2009!!!

Green Bay Pre-Game10. Trip to Wisconsin: Visiting Lambeau Field would have been great if I had seen just any game. However, our visit to Lambeau field was for the Packers vs. Vikings game; the game where Brett Favre returned to the Frozen Tundra, his former home. The best part of the road trip was sharing the adventure with my mom, dad, and Chris. The part that sucked was throwing up in the back seat of my mom’s Lincoln Navigator. All is well in the world, and Brett Favre was victorious!

9. Arizona Traffic School: This doesn’t sound like it should be a highlight of my year’s adventures. However, the recruiting trip to Prescott, Arizona is one of my favorite work assignments. During the fall, Snapper and I made our way back to Embry Riddle for the third time. On the trip into Prescott, a traffic camera caught me speeding. I am well versed in what to say to an officer when they pull me over. I was left speechless when I received a speeding ticket in the mail. One Saturday morning in December I played Mariah Carey music while I completed my online traffic school. The only thing that would have made Arizona traffic school better would have been a PBC Wedge from the Prescott Brewing Company.

8. The Plumber App: With a Twisted Taco cup in one hand and a crescent wrench in the other hand I attempted to fix my tub’s broken facet. I am not a plumber nor should I ever become one. In this attempt I broke my Motorola Razor and made way for my darling husband to purchase me, at long last, an iPhone with Plumber App. Looking back at this mini adventure and all the laughs it was well worth the mess I made in my bathroom.

7. Flaming Hookers: I am not going to tell the whole story, but the night of the Space Camp Hall of Fame a few friends and I continued the party at a local watering hole (ATO). This is where I was introduced to a Flaming Hooker. No, it isn’t a lady of the night who is being cremated. It is a drink made popular to space geeks in the book Riding Rockets. This story really isn’t the highlight but gives a great example of the fun I have had socializing with friends, astronauts, and space geeks. The top memory for me wasn’t the night of the hall of fame, but happened a few weeks later when I visited with a few members of STS-125 and Hoot Gibson. It was great sharing Story stories with Michael Massimino. Now I know how the bolt on Hubble was over torqued.

Jack Daniels (Dec 2009)6. Becoming a Squire: Last year while standing in line at Jack Daniel’s, waiting in the bitter cold to have bottles signed, Divot and I made a commitment to visit Lynchburg on a regular basis until one or both of us were Squires. In April of 2009, I received my deed to land at Jack Daniel’s making me a Tennessee Squire. Divot and I continued to visit the distillery and go to bottle signings. Visiting Lynchburg is fun, and being a Squire is a big deal to me!

5. Houston in February: Right after training dozens of new Space Camp counselors, I get away from my job by flying to Houston Texas to attended SEEC. Yes, it is a vacation to me! Learning more about space may make me a space geek, but hanging out with teachers from all over the U.S. is fun to me. Hanging out with my friend Rhonda is a plus! Last year we took a break from the conference to watch Pat Summitt win her 1,000th game as a head coach. I think Urban Meyer can learn a few things from Pat Summitt. She has 8 NCAA Championships over 35 years of coaching. Meyer has two BCS Titles in his young career. Coach Summitt, Rhonda, and NASA are all pretty dang cool!

4. Bourbon Trail: In late August I took a road trip to Kentucky. I was all by myself on this excursion. I visited Mammoth Cave and five bourbon distilleries. Along the way I learned a lot about Kentucky’s history, how to make bourbon, and why Jack Daniel’s is the best whiskey. True, you may think I am a traitor for visiting Jack competitors, but I wanted to see for myself what the difference was between Kentucky Straight Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey. If you decide to visit the Bourbon Trail, make sure you visit Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve. By far, those two distilleries have the best tours and a better product than the other bourbons.

Lucy's First Egg Bowl3. Lucy’s Bell: What do you get when you mix family with Mississippi State tailgating? The answer is, the best Egg Bowl ever! It was Lucy’s first Egg Bowl so she got a brand new pink bell from the Barns & Noble at State. Mississippi State gave Lucy and all their adoring fans lots of reasons to ring their cowbells this year in Starkville. Once State took the lead in the third quarter they didn’t give it up again as they pounced on Ole Miss 41-24! I know there have been bigger wins in MSU history, but for me this was the best one ever! My whole family was there for the game as we joined my aunts and uncles for pre and post game refreshments. Days and games like the Egg Bowl can show everyone outside of the South why SEC football is so near and dear to its followers!

2. Epic Return to the Barn: I left work at the Barn in the spring of 2008 just shy of five years with the store. I didn’t think I would return, but in March of this year I did. I was surprised after returning that I love working at the Barn more now than ever before! There is something about it. It is like when I left I was simply a Barnyard Hand in Training. Now, I feel like a Barn Ninja. And on top of all the fun I have working at the Barn, when I get home I can write about working at the Barn. It is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Working with characters (boy, are they characters) such as Hudson, Manhattan, Josephine Bedding and all the others is fun and enjoyable. Isn’t that what we should want in any job?

Red Bull stew1. Chief Reunion: In late July Chris and I visited Camp of the Rising Son for its 30 year reunion. Wow, CRS has been around for 30 years! I enjoyed visiting the camp that gave me my start as a camper and my first job as a camp counselor. It was wonderful visiting with old friends, I mean Chiefs. The whole process was a blessing as I reconnected with so many people. One of the highlights for me was my team winning the Camp Stew Cook Off! The secret is in the bacon! Unfortunately for me, some stories of the past did surface. I would like to tell everyone reading, I am truly sorry for tossing a bucket of water on a past Chief. And yes, the bucket had a few frogs in it. As a camp manager, I have learned that pranks are bad for camp.

Camp is my life! It has molded me into who I am today. I am a rambunctious, redhead who isn’t afraid of adventure. I love my family more than camp, but it is good going to a job you love every single day. My job has given me a lot of the experience listed above. I am lucky to have a great life surrounded by people I love, and who I think love me, or at least they don’t dislike me. So I am looking forward to the adventures of next year, and the next decade. I wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Year In Review

Every news station, radio station, sports show, magazine or newspaper has a special year in review episode or issue. This will be my year in review blog. So just in case you missed the highlights of my life this year, you can catch up and relive the excitement. That is an over dramatization but I am home on New Years Eve, there is comedy in that somewhere.

2008 is a year where I visited ten states, hung out with astronauts, trained more than a hundred camp counselors, recruited counselors, watched a Yankees game, celebrated my fruit and flowers anniversary with my hubby, and much more. There were good times and bad times, but for the most it was good times. It was a great year for Aviation Challenge and learning new things. Here are my top ten moments of 2008!!!

10. Be Ready Camp Part 3:
For those who do not know what Be Ready Camp is really like, please join me next September for your training and bear with me right now. Be Ready Camp is one of my proudest accomplishments. My dream since I was a teenager is to start my own camp. I didn’t dream of creating a preparedness camp, but BRC is the closest thing I have done to achieving my dream. BRC was not my brain child and I can not take credit for its greatness, but I was there when it all started. I can take credit for nurturing something that was conceived by Rusty Russell, Director of Huntsville-Madison County EMA, guarded by James Mullins, better know as Bow Tie of GFBCI, energized by Chris Johnson of GTAC at the USSRC, and hosted at Space Camp. I learned more about leadership and managing people during BRC than any other activity I do. To make the deal even sweeter, BRC is a lot of fun!!!!

Barbeque Hill at Jack Daniels9. Trips to Lynchburg, Tennessee: Jack Daniel’s Distillery is a fascinating place to me. They produce millions of gallons of whiskey in this town with a published population of 361. It is still just as simple and real as it was many years ago. I believe that it is a company with integrity and direction, but isn’t too large to forget the people at their door step. I love visiting the hollow and love taking first time visitors. My favorite trip this year was with Tank and Divot. Coming in a close second would be when I visited with my friend Veronique. It is a fun place where I will visit often again in 2009.

8. The Stowaway: In August Chris traveled to Walt Disney World for training. He makes a trip like this each year. Former camp staff member, Kim Dickerson was working at the Polynesian. With a little encouragement from Kim, I snuck into my husband’s suit case for the trip. While he learned how to be a better consultant, I wandered around the many theme parks with my tour guide Chef Kim! I had fun and even got lost at Epcot!

7. PathroFinder: Stop scratching your head and read about Space Camp training last winter. PathroFinder is the word I used to describe a shortened training schedule where we only taught Pathfinder and AstroTrek curriculum. We trained and trained some more last spring. We worked our tails off producing a great team of counselors. We trained 107 staff as counselors between the first of January and the first week of March. Marcia Lindstrom gave us the direction to freshen up training and introduce core values and service standards. I loved working with the mentors and other staff. Most of all, I had a ton of fun. I worked long hours and kept up a demanding pace. However, all I remember is the fun I had at work training and off site making new friends.

6. Winning Space Bowl: In Feburary of 2008 I attended Parent/Child Space Camp with my nephew Rhett where my team crushed our opponents in a space trivia competition known as Space Bowl. The competition is set up very similar to the classic game show Jeopardy. Being a space geek and being heavily involved with training I knew almost every answer (I mean question). The disadvantage for my team was, we never had control of the board when my turn came around. I only answered questions with small values to them. We did well, but one parent thought he was being smart and chose a 1000 point question. I was on easy street, the answer was THERMOSTABILIZED! No other team member but me knew that it was common for food onboard the ISS. We didn’t look back. We were on a roll. I didn’t cheat or give an answer unless my team needed me to do so. It was an epic victory for me and space geeks everywhere!!!

5. The Year of the Challenge Coin: It all started with an idea a few years back that, if Aviation Challenge was a realistic military aviation experience it need a challenge coin. After the 50th Anniversary of American space exploration we received coins as a thank you. The coins where given out at the black tie event marking the opening of the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. I had a renewed motivation to create an AC challenge coin. In May of 2008, I received the first shipment of AC coins. Brennan Scott used the coins to sweet talk Blue Angel pilots for one of their coins. He made out like a bandit! The year came to a close when I received a Dixon Ticonderoga coin for Christmas. I am so proud of the coin, one of my proudest moments as an AC manager!

Snapper and me at Hoover Dam 4. Prescott and the Best Dang Sandwich Ever: In 2007, Snapper and I visited Arizona for recruiting. At that time, I had a sprained ankle and we had to travel back and forth from Phoenix. We visited Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the Prescott Brewing Company. In 2008, Snapper and I revisited Prescott and our first stop was PBC to enjoy the best dang sandwich ever! It is a club sandwich with the twist of being on focaccia bread with chipotle sauce. It is so good. I enjoy traveling for recruitment, but my favorite trip is to Arizona with Snapper. It is more than the food and more than just the scenery. Snapper and I will eat great food, sit around talking and find really intersting places to visit. Sometimes she will let me talk politics. This year’s trip we even made our way to Las Vegas to super size the trip. We visited with Safety and Eco, but that is another story for another day!

3. Safety Made it Home: Summer of 2004 I met Joshua Whitfield or Safety as a camper at Aviation Challenge. He visited camp a few summers after our first meeting. The next summer Safety enlisted in the United States Army. He would eventually be stationed in Iraq. Many Sunday afternoons while he was in Iraq he would call to talk about camp. I could tell he loved and missed being around during the summers. The day after Easter of 2008, I received word that Safety had been injured in a gun fight in the streets of Bagdad. I was worried I wouldn’t see Safety again. During his time recovering, he called me a few times and I nominated him to be in the Space Camp Hall of Fame. He would be voted into the HOF and visit during the summer. The week of the HOF event he visited camp, relived old times and made new friendships. The three weeks he visited camp was most likely the best three weeks of the summer. Safety is currently still healing from his injuries but he is planning to work as a counselor this summer, a promise he made each time we talked while on his deployment in Iraq. I am so happy he made it home, and when I say home, I mean Aviation Challenge.

2. Yankee Stadium Trip: The last baseball game held at Yankee Stadium was September 30th, 2008. Chris and I attended the September 13th game. We drove up on Saturday after BRC graduation and back to Alabama on Monday morning. You may think this would be rushed, but it was perfect. It was a day game in which Derek Jeter tied a Lou Gehrig record, A-Rod hit a grand-slam, and we enjoyed the perfect stadium dog. It was so much fun. Spending time in New York was a great break from our routine day to day life. I still think it is sad that there will be a new Yankee Stadium next year, but I am happy that I got to enjoy a baseball game in the House that Ruth Built.

Blackberry Farms1. Weekend at Blackberry Farms: It was the greatest trip that will be remembered for the wedding that never was. A fictitious wedding was my cover story to lead Chris to Blackberry Farms just outside the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Chris and I have given traditional anniversary gifts each year. The fourth anniversary gift is fruit or flowers. So my twist on this strange gift idea was to go to Blackberry Farms which is more than just a bed and breakfast, it is a camp for grown ups. We were able to get away from the world and enjoy nature and really good food. It was a wonderful surprise even for me, who planned it for many months!

All in all, it was a wonderful year with many wonderful memories! I am looking forward to 2009 and making more memories. Best wishes to all, Happy New Year!