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Another Ironman

img_7302When I signed up for both Ironman Chattanooga & Ironman Florida I had every intention on spending a majority of my time training so I could be at the top of my game for both events. That wasn’t the case, and I have learned a lot about myself because of how the year has been. Only forty-one days separated the two Ironman events. Let’s reflect on IM Florida.

Pre-Race

I woke up just a few minutes before my alarm clock at 3:56 AM. I quickly dressed and got ready for the long day ahead of me. Nothing was out of the ordinary for me other than I was doing my first full distance triathlon somewhere other than Chattanooga, TN. This meant a drive to the race location not a walk down the street. No worries, it was just about two miles up the beach. Body marking was fantastic! There was a guy who proudly proclaimed good penmanship. He was correct, he marked me perfectly with fantastic handwriting. Good start to the day!

Only thing I struggled with before the race was just not knowing certain things. No one felt the need to line up at the start line, because it was a rolling start. Everyone just wandered around during the hours before the start. I like structure and this was a little unnerving for me. As the sun started rising, I saw people headed toward the beach. Once I was on the beach, I was much calmer.

Swim

The water temperature for the race was 75.7 degrees. This was a wet suit legal race, but I opted out of wearing my wet suit. I feel like I swim better without my wet suit. Yes, there is a buoyancy advantage with a wet suit… but I was in salt water. For me, it was the best thing. I felt good in the swim and at times got a little hot.

The water was calm but the swimmers around me were violent. Pushing, shoving, kicking and elbowing. At one point, I thought it was MMA swimming not triathlon swimming. However, I did enjoy the swim. I saw glowing plankton, a jellyfish, two horseshoe crabs and a whole school of fish. I wonder what the fish think of all the triathletes swimming around them. Do you think they say, “Look, a school of humans”!!!  I am sure the fish are not as excited to see me as I am to see them.

I finished the swim in 1:37:23 which was a little slow for me. I didn’t like the two lap swim. I didn’t like getting out of the water and walking on the beach. I thought there was going to be a run/jog back up the beach to the swim start. NOPE… everyone was single file like little ants marching up be beach. There was just more walking than I wanted. I knew my swim would be longer than Chatty, DUH. However, I wasn’t happy with my time.

Bike

Transition was really good. It was a larger transition area to run through than other triathlons, but the changing area was the hotel convention hall! This was very nice compared to the changing tent at Chatty. I put my bike gear on, nutrition set and headed out for 112 magical miles. I say magical because it was only 112 miles in comparison to Chatty’s 116 mile course.

The first few miles were down the coast line where we road between large high rise hotels and other tourist attractions. At this point we had a crosswind, but shortly that would turn into a significant head wind. Wind would be the main storyline for most all of the athletes. Countless cyclist would pass me and comment on the wind. My hope was, if I had a head wind, I had to have a tail wind at some point on the course. I would keep an eye on all the flags along the course waiting for the wind to turn in my favor.

So many great and kindhearted triathletes. You don’t have a great deal of time to chat when cycling, but so many words of encouragement along the way. The volunteers and police officers kept us safe! I felt like the way they controlled traffic and directed us through turns and lane changes was fantastic. There was so many locals who came out to cheer the athletes throughout the day. This was top notch.

The course was pretty much flat, but there were some small up and downs. It was an enjoyable course for the most part. When I was headed back toward T2 and finally had that tailwind, an athlete passed me. He was such a nice guy. He told me I was a strong cyclist and shared how difficult it was for him to get out of T1 because of his extreme sea sickness after the 2.4 mile swim. I was encouraged by his compliment. I also felt good because if he could overcome sea sickness, I could over come the strong winds on the bike.

I rolled into T2 with a bike time of 6:35:10. My mind and gear needed to quickly convert to the 26.2 miles ahead of me. Each time I dismount from an Ironman bike, I thank God for safely getting me through the discipline without mechanical failure or some type of collision.

Run

The first few miles were difficult because my Achilles tendon was very tight and pushed pain all the way into my calf. But as soon as I loosened my lower leg up, the pain was gone. I had everything I needed. My hydration and my nutrition seemed to be dialed in early in the run. I even had my socks just like I liked them. Everything was great, especially the crowd support on the run course. I even enjoyed running through the state park at the far end of the run course loop. Running along the sand dunes reminded me of Big Sur, just not as epic!

Heading back to the transition area and the special needs stop, I did something STUPID! I took the top off of my water bottle to fill it up with ice water. Seemed like a great plan. However, when I discarded the empty cups, I discarded the top to my water bottle. I quickly had to figure out what I would do from mile twelve to the finish line. I emptied the pouch and pockets on my water bottle, drank all of the contents and handed to CK the Sherpa. I discarded the bottle and the negative thoughts about how I could do something so stupid. I told myself, I would just walk the water station and beyond to get the water I needed.

Sadly, I didn’t have the Super Pack there to run with on my second loop. I ran the majority of the run all alone. It was tough, but I did make friends with a runner wearing an University of Alabama jersey. He and I chatted about the LSU / Alabama game that was low scoring and nerve racking. Our favorite aid station, had a football score board and a platoon of Young Marines. “Ma’am here is your water ma’am”! “Thank you, ma’am for allowing me to serve you ma’am”. These were just a couple of examples of the chatter I heard as I ran through the station. It was amazing. Little did they know at one point in time, I decamped over a dozen Young Marines at Aviation Challenge. 

The second loop was very dark. I wished I had run with a head lamp. Running through the state park was extra dark and the pavement was uneven. With each step, the finish line was closer. The crowd at the finish line was large and very loud. Crossing the finish line with a marathon time of 5:36:55 was a little emotional, especially since this was my second Ironman in 6 weeks. I was very surprised to see one of the Super Pack at the finish line volunteering as a catcher. Kelsey was was there and recognized me. Not too shocking, I did have the exact same gear on in Florida as I did in Chattanooga. I gave her a sweaty hug and then tried to find my people.

I was proud of my 14:01:56 time. Ironman is emotional and bigger than just one person. After finishing, I joined CK and my Space Camp friend Mare! She drove over from Destin to cheer for me and hang out with CK. It was humbling to know that someone I only kept up with on Facebook would be there for me at the finish line. But then again, so many people were there with me at the finish line. There were people watching the live coverage, following on social media posts or checking my location on the worthless Beacon application. No matter what, long distance triathlon is a team sport. My team is made of my Father in heaven, my friends & family encouraging me and the red head who is swimming with jelly fish, peddling her bicycle and running like crazy through the night. 

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.

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!

 

Definitely

Looking back over my blog history I have talked a lot about many things. One blog post that was really fun to write was my 100th post. I listed my 100 favorite words. If I wrote that post today, there may be a few words that I would add or change. But for the most part it is a good representation of some of my most favorite words. One word I am certain to add as my most favorite is definitely. I use it all the time. As a matter of fact, I use it so much and yet I struggle spelling it almost every time I need to type it. At work, I have posted a note with the spelling on my computer. I love this word so much that today I will give it its very own post.

Definitely used as an adverb means, “in a clear and definite manner; unambiguously or unequivocally; positively”. To be absolutely clear or certain is something I strive for on a daily basis. However, if you know me or have spoken to me, you will know that I am certainly not absolute in my word selection. I struggle with finding the right thing to say. I am possibly the biggest hot mess when speaking in an impromptu fashion. However, if I know the words to string together in sentence or phrase, I can be clear and absolute.

The 2008 romantic comedy, Definitely, Maybe is one of my favorite movies. I love romantic comedies. The movie title is similar to my personality. I am definite… some of the times… well when I have my act together, I am absolute. I know that I can present myself in a manner reflecting that I don’t want to be questioned. However, when questioned I grow and most always learn something about why I believe and feel the way I feel. This could just be the stubborn mule gene of a hot tempered red-head. No matter how I may act in conversations or in debate, I always want clear, well defined, unambiguous borders, boundaries and rules. I like rules and I definitely need them.

I know that I am a dork, a goober, and possibly the biggest geek that works at Space Camp. However, I know who I am! Growing up I struggled with not being the cool kid or not making the best grades. Once I accepted geek-hood in the world, I definitely knew who I was. I struggled being the fish that swam upstream when all the others were swimming downstream. But I completely knew the direction I should go. The course was clearly planned out for me. I simply need to follow the breadcrumbs along the trail.

So, to summarize the positively off the wall rant on a word, a single word. I know what I want in life. I don’t say anything I truly don’t mean. I may regret those words five seconds after they vibrate off my vocal cords and enter the atmosphere. But I will learn from the regrets I have. I will leave my life with clearly defined boundaries, a loyalty to the people around me, and unquestionable love for life. Whether I am prepping for a race, helping a friend, completing a task, driving down the interstate, giving a speech about pencils or a spastic response to a question, I am definitely trying my best, even when spelling.

Turkey Blog 4.0

Do you know where you were a few days before Thanksgiving four years ago? Well, my answer to that question is, right here. I was sitting on this couch with my laptop computer creating my blog, GraphiteFree.  I haven’t been the most faithful companion to my blog. Life sometimes happens and it is less than eventful when you put it into print. This post is to help mark the anniversary and the Thanksgiving season.

The latest Facebook trend this month is to put what you are thankful for each day of November.  I didn’t discover this until a few days ago. I am less than observant at times. This is my futile attempt to be as cool as everyone who started on November 1st, listing what they are thankful for and desperately hoping to keep my blog relevant.

One – God:  I am very thank for our gracious Creator. Knowing that our God and Father is watching over us and loved us enough to save us is the most precious thing in our lives. This is what I am most thankful for.

Two – Family:  I have a wonderful family. Being home in Mississippi recharges my heart and soul. I love being on the farm near my family with my mom cooking in the kitchen and daddy in his chair. On top of that, I have a wonderful extended family in Madison County Alabama.

Three – Blinkers:  I love safety. I am the Be Ready Girl! Blinkers represent planning ahead… look for the safest route to your final goal… and not running into the driver next to you. Blinkers are important.

Four – Freedom:  Until the socialist take my freedom. I will be very thankful for this. Don’t believe everything you read. Thinking for yourself is the best way to experience freedom. The ability to pick and choose what you want to do on a daily basis is a glorious thing.

Five – Great Friends:  Throughout my life I have all ways been surrounded by wonderful people. Life is not much fun unless you have great friends to enjoy life with.

Six – Sports:  I am very thankful to be a fan of sports, a lover of ESPN Sports Center and a competitor in many sporting events. I love crying at sports movies and those touching “Inside the Lines” stories on Sunday mornings.

Seven – Bunnies:  This year, I was blessed by having a litter of rabbit kits. There were seven of the little guys. It was one of the coolest things ever! I now want to start a farm.

Eight – Health:  God has truly blessed me with great health. I can do all things I need to do. I have been given great endurance and I am seldom sick.

Nine – Ragnar:  On November 9th, a team of crazy friends and I ran from Chattanooga to Nashville. I am thankful for friends and for the ability run… I am still not fast, but I can run.

Ten – Soda Box Cookies:  These cookies are not made from some super secret recipe. These cookies however are the best ever conceived and my grandmother taught me how to make them. I miss my grandparents and are truly thankful to have some of the greatest to ever live.

Eleven – Electricity:  I could be one of those people who lives in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. However, electricity and technology has given us so much extra enjoyment in life. Without refrigeration our modern day Thanksgiving would not be possible.  It is great to type a blog and not use graphite to record all my ramblings.

Twelve – Cowbells:  No, Mississippi State is not known for its multiple national titles, but it is know for its cowbells. Mississippi State is a wonderful place with many happy memories attached to it. Hearing a cowbell ring gives me great joy! I am thankful for the Bulldogs and I hope they beat the University of Mississippi on Saturday.

Thirteen – Thanksgiving:  Thanksgiving is the best holiday ever conceived.  There is not a push to over commercialize it. People don’t get lost in shopping to help fuel our economy.  It is a day where we all pause and thank God for those things that are truly important in our lives.

Fourteen – Pencils:  The Dixon Ticonderoga is the quintessential American pencil.  It has been in my backpack, on my desk and behind my ear for many years. I love the pencil, because it does not expect me to be perfect like the pen does. The pencil is a non-judgmental companion that I am very thankful for.

Fifteen – Peanut Butter:  I was a picky eater growing up.  Some say I am still a picky eater.  However, if it wasn’t for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I might not have lived to see the age fifteen. Heck, I didn’t like pizza for a while. I feel sorry for all the poor souls who are allergic to peanut butter.

Sixteen – Golf:  Is there anything better than taking a club and beating the crap out of a small round object. To focus your energy on one single point in space and driving the ball beyond your own expectations is one of the best ways to release stress!

Seventeen – Math:  Seventeen is a prime number.  So is 37, which will be my age this time next year. No matter the number or age, I love math. I loved teaching math and doing math. I even like the new exhibit at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Math Alive.

Eighteen – Peyton Manning:  True, Peyton is not with the Colts anymore, but he is still my most favorite boy friend. But I am still very lucky to see my favorite Manning playing football this season! Thank you for Peyton’s health! Also, I am very happy Peyton attended Rocky Top and not Ole Piss.

Nineteen – Okra:  Delta State is a wonderful university found in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Knowing how quirky I am, you should know that I would go to school where they have a mascot like the Fighting Okra. I am an okra girl. The Statesmen is a dumb mascot!

Twenty – Salt:  What would we do without salt? It a multifunctional tool which I can not imagine a day without. It makes stuff taste better. It is used for many great Biblical analogies. And it is useful in making ice cream.

Twenty One – Antiperspirant:  Let me be honest with you all, I sweat more than most human beings do. If it were not for Degree antiperspirant I wouldn’t have friends and my Ragnar team mates would have kicked me out of the van after my first run. I am very thankful for the help I receive in the use of antiperspirant.

Twenty Two – Cotton:  I love being a farm kid. I love all the amazing memories I have either in the cotton field or the cotton gin. I loved having acres and acres to roam when growing up. I am very thankful for my farming family.

Twenty Three – Proof Readers:  I can’t spell or write very well without an army of people to help me. I need to have proof readers to make this blog thing a reality. It is fun connecting with people though my blog. I couldn’t do that without people to help me.

Twenty Four – Weddings:  This is going to seem like a crazy thing to be thankful for, but I am thankful for Anderson’s wedding last year. After the wedding my mom saw pictures of me on Facebook. She thought I was fat and told me I was fat. Later that fall she told me again after another wedding. I am thankful for this, because it was the kick in the pants I needed to get in shape!

Twenty Five – Running: I am thankful to be able to run, because it makes me not so fat. However, I wish I could be thankful for good genetics which makes me a good runner. But that is not the case, I am slow and thankful for the abilities I do have.

Twenty Six – Recruiting Staff:  Yes, I am very thankful for the efforts made to recruit new staff for Space Camp. But one of the most coolest things about staff recruitment, is staff training is not far behind. Did I mention, I have the coolest job in the world.

Twenty Seven – Baseball:  Since I was 20 months old I have been fascinated with the game of baseball. I have been to many professional, college and high school games. It doesn’t matter if it is a World Series or a little league game, I love the game of baseball. Get well soon Derek Jeter.

Twenty Eight – Gadgets:  I love knives, first aid supplies, tools and electronics. I like being ready for most anything that life could through at me. I am thankful that Lysol can kill 99.9% of germs. I am thankful for those who invented these things and the spirit of innovation.

Twenty Nine – Space Camp:  I am truly thankful for being able to work at a camp that operates year around.  Space Camp has wonderful staff. Everyday is a different day! I am thankful to work at the coolest place for space!

Thirty – Turkey:  I am a turkey for some of the things I have listed. But all in all, I have enjoyed this exercise. I will enjoy my time with my family around the Thanksgiving table. Thank you so much Mr. Butterball!

The Elusive Blue Cable

I guess I don’t get out much and that is why I don’t blog much anymore.  I can’t help but want to share this wonderful fishing story with you.  I hope you enjoy it.  One thing I ask you, please read this post as if you were whispering to yourself.

I found myself in Daytona Beach, Florida with Jitters and Baywatch recruiting students at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University to work at Space Camp. We ate lunch at Ocean Deck restaurant just off the beach here in Daytona.  Today the Thunderbirds were practicing for their air show this weekend.  Being Aviation Challenge staffers once upon a time, we had to hit the beach to watch their aerial assault verses the seagulls.  It was amazing!!! Only thing better was watching F-16s landing at Luke AFB a few years back.

We walked down to the pier where Joe’s Crab Shack is located.  We wanted to walk all the way to the end of the pier to see the wonderful waves crashing into the shoreline.  There was a fisherman with a lady fishing toward the end of the peer.  We noticed the lady first, because she was wearing a hot pink bikini top with jean shorts.  I knew I was in Florida when I saw the jean shorts.  All of a sudden, the fisherman yells, “I have caught one!”  The lady comes running to help.  I am captured by the drama unfolding. We are excited, because we are about to see a giant fish leap from the water.  The man is wrestling with the rod and reel.  A crowd of bystanders start to form around the fisherman when the lady goes to retrieve her matching hot pink camera.

The lady comes over to her fishing buddy ready to take a photo of this tireless fish that must be extremely large.  The struggle for the fish had taken almost five or so minutes.  I survey the water below in hopes to catch a glimpse of this mammoth creature.  I see the line and the beast that has been caught by the heroic fisherman is none other than an elusive blue cable.  Yes, a blue cable/rope tied to the pier with a net attached to keep the day’s catch fresh while the fisherman was fishing. Yes, the fisherman had caught his own equipment from the opposite side of the pier.  The reason this elusive blue cable was putting up such a fight was because there was a gallon milk jug tied to the rope as a weight.

The fisherman continued to fight with his line.  All I could do was look at Jitters and Baywatch and say, “would you just look at that!”  We walked away, into the sunset, never to be seen again.

The End

Things to Consider Before Blogging

Everyone wants to vent at times.  However, if you are going to tell stories about where you work in a public forum like Facebook, Twitter or your own personal blog one should consider a few simple things.

Be clever and witty, not bitter and contrite in your writing. When I wrote all my Barn Yard blogs I found some of my favorite things to write about.  Working at the Barn had it’s up and it’s downs but I always look for the upside.  The humor I saw in while working with Cameron Drape and customers like her was the inspiration for so much of my writing.  Cameron Drape is a lady who loves shopping at the Barn so much but has a quirky personality.  So quirky she proclaims keeping her Barn receipt in her underwear drawer.  There’s not much funnier things than that!  If I complained about Cameron or her contrary shopping style no one would want to read a negative blog. If people wanted to read cranky blogs they would simply read political blogs.

Be smart with what you write. I love writing and when I write I like to find things that can inspire me to be creative.  Blogging is about conveying thoughts, feelings, emotions, and stories about life.  In addition to all that it is about showing some smarts behind your writing.  I can’t spell and sometimes my vocabulary is not the best.  But improving my skills as a writer and expanding my vocabulary is a goal of mine while blogging.  Writing is an art form.  Texting and posting on social media has eroded our sentence structure and spelling.  If you want to have an enjoyable smart blog, reclaim the English language.  I am always trying to make Elizabeth Sarcone, PhD, my English Comp Professor at Delta State, proud of my writing.

Have buy in from your co-workers. While writing about the Barn many staff knew and read my blogs.  I had buy in from the people I worked with, because those people were very important to me and to the success of the overall blog.  Blogging shouldn’t just be a platform to vent about stuff, but also be about bringing people together with common interest.  Everyone who has a personal blog has a tendency to make it all about them.  I am no different. However, what I really love to writing about is the people I am around.  And the people I work with at camp and the people I worked with at the Barn are important to me.  When writing about my work place, I wanted to make my co-workers proud, just like Dr. Sarcone.

Consider your words carefully! Even as I write this blog, I am considering my words very carefully.  So often people think writing a blog is like writing in your journey which is locked in an air tight box in a super secret location.  But it is not.  People see your thoughts and feeling spread over the internet.  Those people talk about your words and your words can either give you credibility for the future or lessen your character.  I was once told I shouldn’t teach, because I couldn’t spell well.  I failed the writing portion of the Praxis exam the first time.  So I don’t write to draw attention to myself or throw bitter words toward the people I sweat with.  I don’t write to be heard.  I write to improve my writing skills and share some of my favorite stories. Hopefully, it is sent and received with positive feelings!  These are the things I have considered while writing my blogs and especially the ones where I write about work.

Tri Anything…

Most people know that I am an adventurous red head. However, I haven’t been as outgoing as I would like in recent history.  I did spend a few years in the wild world of retail working at the Barn, better know to many as Pottery Barn.  Then a stint as a tour guide at Jack Daniel’s Visitor Center in Lynchburg, Tennessee. I gave up my part time jobs to spend more time outdoors. In other words, my time has not been spent with Cameron Drape or chilling not the couch, thus causing my blog to suffer.

I am sure you may be wondering what I have been doing in the meantime.  The answer to that question is… A LOT!  Last August, my mom saw a picture of me at a wedding on Facebook. She commented to me on the phone that I had gained weight.  What I heard was, “Ruth Marie, you are fat”.  And she was correct, I had gained too much weight and needed more physical activity than giving tours at Jack Daniel’s.  The new year rolled around and I joined the YMCA to start swimming. Shortly there after while on a camping trip I committed to running the Warrior Dash in Mountain City, Georgia in May with my three friends, Snapper, Speedo and Amazon.  If you are not familiar with Warrior Dash, it is a run with obstacles and lots of mud and some flames. To get ready for Warrior Dash, I ran my very first 5K in April at Camp of the Rising Son in French Camp, Mississippi.

After running about three or four races, I was hooked.  I wanted to run more however, I am an Oliver. Olivers are not known for their lightning fast speed or gazelle like agility.  I continued to swim and run no matter the speed.  At some point after Warrior Dash Snapper, my training buddy, and I decided to run a triathlon. To make this goal a reality we would need to start bike training.  At this point is when the fun really started.  My first bike race of any type was Muddy Buddy in Nashville, Tennessee. Muddy Buddy is a relay where I started riding my mountain bike and Snapper started running.  We would switch at an obstacle, I would run and she would bike. Needless to say, this event was super fun!

The next race is the big one, my first triathlon.  Saturday, Snapper and I, with a few hundred other people, swim, bike and run the Wet Dog Triathlon in Decatur, Alabama.  Snapper’s main motivation is the tri sticker she will place on the back glass of her Subaru.  My motivation is the adventure behind it all. Meeting new people, doing new things and losing some of the fat my mom noticed last year.  I am a little nervous but I have had some really great people help me along the way.  I think this is what life is all about: trying new things, sharing life’s lessons and being daring enough to try anything once, even green beans or deviled eggs.

Ignored

I am that person! I always said that if I had a blog, I wouldn’t ignore it. I wouldn’t let it sit for months with out updating it. We it is official, I have ignored GraphiteFree. I could blame it on my schedule or on my crappy laptop or on a host of other reasons. But the simple truth is, I have ignored my blog. I am sorry, blog! I didn’t mean to abandon you for so long. I didn’t mean to not write!

I have had lots to write about! There was the Mid South Farm and Gin Show in Memphis I started writing about. Chris and I stayed at the Peabody where we joined my brother, his family, and my parents. Great weekend, I drank a “Presbyterian” or Jack & Ginger. I had an epic adventure to Atlanta… Gosh I hate Atlanta! However, I do love Chipotle and Pinkberry. I visited with Cameron Drape at the Barn a few times. She called the Barn one night to ask when American Idol aired. Lucky for us it is a seven o’clock show, which kept her away from the Barn until the next day. And I should have written about my Jack Daniel Distillery tours.

Since I have fallen out of grace with my blog, I should update what I am currently doing. The last paragraph told you where I have been. Now, I need to tell you where I am headed, because there is much on the horizon for me. This week will mark my seventh wedding anniversary – Copper. Chris and I will be touring the distilleries of Kentucky. I am sure we will see lots of copper while we are exploring. I will be leaving the Barn for another part time job. I love working at the Barn, but I have had a dream of working as a tour guide for a long time. I am also most there, this week I go to the Jack Daniel Distillery for my audition as a tour guide. That should be an adventure.

This summer I will be back at Aviation Challenge, back with the Raptor and back around the lake. I also told our new Social Media Director I would write a blog post for the Ready Room. So I really do need to get back into the writing mood. I will be going on a Disney Cruise with Tim&Anderson and their bridal posse in July. I will get to make another trip to NYC to see my Yankees in August. It will be a Yankees/Mets tour with Snapper. Even though the Mets play the Braves (I hate Atlanta) the trip will be so much fun.

All in all, I have lots to write about. And I am going to do better at this I promise. I know that only a few people read my blog, but I really don’t want to be the person that starts writing and then abandons the poor thing. I love GraphiteFree. It all started as an exercise to make my writing better and I need to keep it up! GraphiteFree, please forgive me.

PS… Jeff Benton is still a scumbag, but the law suit has been settled!

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.

Greetings & Salutations!

Remember that pig? Wilbur was his name I think! To keep from going to the slaughter house his friend Charlotte A. Cavatica, spun a web with a word of the day on it! Need help with a larger vocabulary, ask Charlotte to help. Great thing about Wilbur and Charlotte, they had a farmyard full of critters to help.

I started this blog to improve my writing skills, but I have neglected GraphiteFree of late. It isn’t because I am just sitting at home each night looking for stuff to do. My life is pretty fast paced right now. I feel like I need a break similar to Ferris Bueller. I did drive Rhonda’s car into work on Monday, but I didn’t take the alias of Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago!

I wanted to check in to let everyone know that I am still alive. I am attempting to take classes online, work at my new job, and keep my dog and husband happy (whom I haven’t been able to spend much time with). I worked at the Barn the other day and some of my favorite Barn yard animals visited, Silk Dupioni strolled in on Sunday. She didn’t buy anything, but was very regal! Cameron Drape beat on the window just to say hi! Crazy lady, she didn’t even come in to return anything. I have missed the barn!

Life is crazy! I was addressed as “The Crazy Pencil Lady” by an Advanced Academy 12 day camper today. I am trying to keep my head above water. Really trying to focus on school and work so I can make it to Aug 12th, because on Aug 13th Punkin and I are flying to NYC for a vacation! I am not answering my phone or checking my email. It doesn’t matter who you are, I am focusing on 8.3 million people living in New York! I may ignore Facebook… nah that will not happen!

Terrific was another one of Charlotte’s words. I got to see a pig at camp, so life is all good and very terrific! Thanks, Pig!