Ten Florida Families to Win College Scholarships

Prepaid College TuitionNever will another Florida State University student spend their freshman year where I did: coping with the thrills, disappointments and sheer journey into the unknown brought on by spending the year in Kellum Hall. Kellum Hall has been razed. A patch of gravel (pictured above) is all that is left on the footprint of a place where many of my friends and I experienced that critical freshman year.

The ten winners of the Florida Prepaid Scholarship Giveaway will have to start freshman year somewhere rather than Kellum, but the good news is they will start freshman year knowing they have the financial jump-start of a 2-year Florida College Plan, valued at more than $8,000, courtesy of the Florida Prepaid College Board.

Prepaid College Tuition

I’ll share the details of how to enter (it’s simple!), but if the idea of the Florida Prepaid Program is new to you, a brief comment about why it’s so incredible.

About Saving for College and Why College Matters

According to the How America Saves for College 2016 report, only 2 out of 5 families have a plan to pay for college — even though a postsecondary degree is more necessary than ever for career success. According to state projections, 59 percent of all jobs in Florida will require postsecondary education by 2018.

If you are not as prepared to fund your child’s education as you hoped to be, this does not reflect a lack of love for your child or children. Instead, it puts you in the majority, among the 3 out of 5 families without a plan to pay for college.

Prepaid College Tuition

To celebrate National College Savings Month, why not enter this contest for a chance to give your child a powerful head start?

It worked out well for this family, who won a scholarship from last year’s contest:

How to Enter

When: Register between now and October 23

Where: Click here to enter (remember you can enter daily)

What You Can Win: In addition to registering to win one of the ten 2-year plans, when you click on the entry link, you can earn extra entries by answering questions, learning more about saving for college, and sharing on social media. There will also be chances to win a total of 50 weekly prizes.

Eligibility: Open to legal residents in the state of Florida with children or grandchildren between the ages of newborn through 8th grade.

Beyond the contest period, prepaid plans will be available for purchase throughout open enrollment, which begins October 15, 2016, and ends February 28, 2017.

Prepaid College Tuition

This post is sponsored by the Florida Prepaid College Board, through my role as a Believer Blogger. All thoughts are my own.

Aging and HIV: Why One More Test Matters

“Are you HAVING sex?”

My gynecologist asked me this question at a routine checkup to monitor my use of hormones to deal with the symptoms of early menopause.

In my head, my answer was, “well I’m married so why do you need to ask?” But his question indicated that he was making no assumptions. Me saying the medicine was working in the absence of being sexually active would be misleading. His question was a good one.

National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day

HIV PreventionAlthough assumptions are dangerous any time a medical professional rules out the need for HIV testing based on how a patient looks or acts, they are especially dangerous when the patient is 50 or older. Today, National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day, is a day to make sure Americans ages 50 and above have full and complete access to HIV education, testing, and treatment.

Cynthia’s Mom

Cynthia shared her experience with me of having to insist her mother’s physician test her mom for HIV back in 1986. Her mom had been ill with pneumonia for a long time, and had had every other possible test.HIV Prevention

RUN THAT HIV TEST, demanded Cynthia.

It turns out her mom, who was in her mid-50s at the time, was HIV positive.

Her doctor had not thought Cynthia’s mom was the type of patient who was likely to be at risk for HIV.

There’s no “type of patient” likely to be at risk for HIV.

Consider this:

  • People aged 55 and older accounted for 26% of all Americans living with diagnosed or undiagnosed HIV infection in 2013.
  • People aged 50 and older have the same HIV risk factors as younger people, but may be less aware of their HIV risk factors.
  • Older Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with HIV infection later in the course of their disease.

More from Cynthia in her own words:

We need to replace “MAY BE” with “ARE”

When I asked Cynthia, who works frequently with people ages 50 and above to educate them about HIV and encourage them to get tested, I asked about the main message I needed to communicate.

I said, “what I need to do is remind my 50-ish year old peers that their parents may still be sexually active, right?”

Her response?

“Not MAY BE sexually active, ARE sexually active.”

She is right. This is not the time to hesitate; it is the time to be specific, concrete, and to the point.

According to the CDC, many older people are sexually active, including those living with HIV, and may have the same HIV risk factors as younger people, including a lack of knowledge about HIV and how to prevent getting it, as well as having multiple sex partners. Older people also face unique issues:

  • Many widowed and divorced people are dating again. They may be less aware of their risks for HIV than younger people, believing HIV is not an issue for older people. Thus, they may be less likely to protect themselves.
  • Women who no longer worry about becoming pregnant may be less likely to use a condom and to practice safer sex. Age-related thinning and dryness of vaginal tissue may raise older women’s risk for HIV infection.
  • Although they visit their doctors more frequently, older people are less likely than younger people to discuss their sexual habits or drug use with their doctors. In addition, doctors are less likely to ask their older patients about these issues.

A Physician Knows

Dr. Cyneetha Strong, a family practice physician in Tallahassee, FL, shared:

If you are in a demographic that “doesn’t seem to be at risk for contracting HIV” you could have a delay in testing and diagnosis. The elderly is a growing demographic of new cases of HIV. Because of our hang ups about sexuality, it is difficult to think of the elderly engaging in high-risk sexual behaviors.

The advent of Viagra has played a significant role in increasing the spread of STIs [sexually transmitted infections]. Some retirement communities have been hotbeds (no pun intended) of disease. I will admit that I even have trouble broaching the topic with some “little old ladies.” I have also been shocked at some folks activities. So, that’s the problem.

One solution that has been proposed has been a recommendation of universal testing. Every adult, regardless of age or situation should be tested at least once. Also, it has been proposed to remove the requirement of a separate consent form for HIV testing, so providers could routinely test for HIV like we do for so many other things. Just like you might get tested for cholesterol, diabetes, or chlamydia as part of routine care, HIV could be done as well. The stigma that still goes along with the diagnosis makes testing without separate consent unlikely in the near future.

Why Are There Additional Challenges for Those 50 and Older?

Through Cynthia’s story as the daughter of an HIV positive aging woman (and as an HIV positive person herself), and Dr. Strong’s comments about her experience providing care to aging people at risk of HIV infection, several of the specific issues faced by aging Americans repeat themselves. The issues fall into two main categories: age-related risk factors and barriers to prevention.

Age-related risk factors:

  • Lack of knowledge
  • Biological risk factors
  • Risky sexual behavior
  • Accessibility of erectile dysfunction medications

Barriers to prevention:

  • Aging stereotypes
  • Low HIV testing rates
  • Underdiagnosis of HIV/AIDS
  • Late diagnosis of HIV infection
  • Discrimination
  • Internalized stigma

For details on each of these risks, visit this link.

Support, Don’t Stigmatize

If you watched the video above with Cynthia and Walter, you heard Walter explain what he told the participants in the treatment center where he worked when an opportunity arose to be tested for HIV:

I’m not like y’all; I don’t do what you do.

Stigma crops up in so many different ways. For Walter, he did not think his behaviors, as compared to those of the people in recovery from drug addiction, made him likely to be HIV positive.

It turns out he was more like them than he thought; he tested positive.

When it comes to your aging friends and relatives, cast aside stigma, assume they ARE sexually active (and therefore at risk) rather than that they MAY be sexually active, and you may save their life.

Being HIV positive is no longer a death sentence at all, but the longer someone waits to be tested the less options they have to get on treatment and thrive.

Here’s how you can help:

Be clear yet respectful when discussing HIV risk factors with aging adults. If you’re at a loss for words, there are some great conversation starters in How to Talk to Grandma and Grandpa About HIV.

It’s a longer-term action, but support efforts to have HIV Testing integrated into the standard laboratory tests that are conducted as part of annual physician exams such as blood glucose and cholesterol. Learn more in Routine HIV Testing in Older Adults.

I love the way the Diverse Elders Coalition expresses their wish for the outcome of this year’s National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day: we envision a present where no elder has to face HIV without support, and a future where no elder has to face HIV at all.

HIV Prevention

Cynthia told me her mom often feels that aging people who are HIV positive do not have their “own” support or attention. None of us can solve that problem overnight. What we can do, however, is give each aging adult who is at risk for HIV their own chance at maintaining their health.

We can help them get their own “one more test,” an HIV test.

This post is made possible by support from the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.

Many thanks to Cynthia A., Dr. Strong, and Kaitlin Sovich for their assistance with this post.

 

Suffer the Little Children

I am pleased to share a guest post from my friend Mandi about her experience of the time she and her family spent at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

Process Tragedy

I watched my 10-year-old and held my breath. We were standing in front of Ground Zero, the memorial for all those lost lives, where the names were engraved around that beautiful dark fountain. Above us, buildings rose up, construction was a constant sound, along with the not-too-distant traffic.

But inside the memorial park, it was like being in the eye of a hurricane. There was stillness and reverence.

And I had brought my ten-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter who seem to be fueled, most of the time, by equal parts adrenaline and chaos.

Process Tragedy

I had prepped them, of course. Ineptly, but I had prepped them. I talked about “bad guys” and airplanes and immense, nationwide sadness and fear.

Their questions were pointed:

“Did the bad guys get punished, Mama?”

“Of course, definitely,” I answered. But so did everyone else, I kept to myself.

“Did any kids die, Mama?”

“Yes, but they are in heaven now,” I said. And their families lived through hell, said the dark part of my soul.

There were so many things I didn’t tell them. I didn’t describe things that are etched into my brain, like how I came out of the shower that unforgettable morning, sat down on the edge of my bed in front of the TV news and didn’t move – other than to desperately dial friends’ numbers – the entire day. At 6 PM, I realized I was still wrapped in a towel.

I remember candles lining the sidewalks of the Los Angeles street where I lived, silent streets where stunned, lost people walked. Even the walking was strange – people don’t walk in L.A. But they did that day. Restaurants were quiet. Except in one, a man began singing “God Bless America” and people around the room joined in, in almost whispered tones.

You have your story, I’m sure. Full of strange disjointed details that don’t mean that much – and at the same time, mean everything.

I tried to distill things down for my kids in language that wouldn’t scare them, but would impart the seriousness of the day and the importance of the place. And as we approached the park, I was a little afraid, I’ll admit, that they would be silly, that they would come across as disrespectful, that they would be too loud or offend someone.

They approached the stone around the fountain where the names were engraved. They ran their fingers across the letters. They touched the water. My daughter began to loudly sound out the names. She was disappointed that I didn’t know any of those people.

Her brother turned to her. “Shhh!” he said. Then he laid his head down on the warm stone.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“Hugging them,” he said. And he rested his face against the names of the lost and closed his beautiful eyes.

Process Tragedy

Mandi Broadfoot is the homeschooling mom of two: a 10-year-old son with autism named Billy and a seven-year-old daughter named Willow.  She is also the Creative Director of Making Light Productions, a nonprofit dedicated to making the arts accessible to kids of all abilities, and you can find her blog posts here.

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Introducing the Modern Blogging Masterclass With a #Giveaway!

Blogging Education

Do you sometimes feel like this guy when trying to achieve your social media goals? Your vision is obscured and you aren’t even sure where to aim.

I know I do!

I have been blogging since 2009, and still have so much to learn.

It was one thing when it was just me, blogging to flex my writing muscle, but now blogging is one of my major responsibilities at the Lead Change Group (LCG). Other people are depending on me to handle their content.

Weaving Influence, which owns LCG, is counting on me to maximize the ability of each post to reach a broad audience, to achieve SEO goals, and to expand our digital footprint.

More importantly than a large audience is the fact that these posts reach the right audience, people who will remain part of our community for longer than the five minutes they took to peruse one post.

Last year, I participated in a piloted online course that changed the way I approach blogging. The course equipped me to improve the LCG blog from a search perspective, and it’s positioning me to prove the work I’m doing is driving real results.

That course was The Modern Blogging MasterclassI’m excited to be among the first to tell you that it’s now available to the public (but the cart closes on September 15).

I’ll let the experts at Spin Sucks give you all of the information about it, but I can tell you this: You don’t want to miss it. It will give you a huge advantage over your competitors and it will help you plan your entire communications program for 2017.

Click here to check it out…you won’t regret it!

With the Modern Blogging Masterclass, your blindfold will be HISTORY and you will be much more likely to hit your target!

Blogging Education

To encourage people to learn more about the Modern Blogging Masterclass, I gave away an Amazon Giftcard to one of the people who helped me spread the word! Congratulations to that Phase One winner, Jenny S.

TO MAKE SURE EVERYONE LEARNS ABOUT THIS INCREDIBLE OPPORTUNITY BEFORE IT CLOSES ON SEPTEMBER 15, I HAVE ADDED A PHASE TWO TO THE GIVEAWAY.

To be entered into a drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card, please visit this link, then leave a comment below telling me something you learned about the Modern Blogging Masterclass.

Please also feel free to tweet by clicking here. Leave the url of your tweet in the comments for an additional entry.

Update: Congrats to Sara L. for winning the gift card!

NOTE: I am a Modern Blogging Masterclass affiliate. Because I am a former student, I have the opportunity to win a prize if you sign up.

Photo Credit for Blindfolded Archer: Sira Anamwong, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo Credit for Dartboard: Pixabay

Hope for Jose

As I write this, we have had power back on for almost 8 hours. Yes, we did do a happy dance of celebration at 3 am when the whole house lit up after a hurricane-induced outage of more than 48 hours.

Our outage was a “hardship.” Our home was really hot; we had to cook our eggs in a cast iron pot on the grill before they spoiled. My son mastered backgammon by flashlight. I was the first to volunteer for ANY outing that would take me out of the house and into blessed air conditioning. It was sad and frustrating to deal with my father-in-law’s constant requests for TV (he has short term memory issues).

In the scheme of things, however, we had it good. Our home is solid. Legions of utility personnel flowed into town and worked day and night to get us back up and running.

For families served by Unbound in Guatemala, the set of challenges is different. Because homes are often constructed of less-than-solid materials and methods. Because families rely upon day-to-day agricultural or other “get it as you can” work, a natural disaster poses daunting problems.

As this 2010 blog documenting the Unbound response to natural disasters in Guatemala documents, issues can include perilous roads, mudslides, volcanoes, and theft of personal property because homes are not secured.

For children like Jose, sponsorship can make a difference through providing food, health care, education, and support of his family’s efforts to make a living for themselves (via owning animals like chickens that produce eggs or by instructing a mom in a skill like sewing). In addition, Unbound holds two quetzales per child specifically to be able to respond immediately in case of disaster.

Child Sponsorship

A home we visited in Guatemala — it always humbled me that the family put so much work into creating the welcome sign and the dad said “I am sorry my home is so small.” It was very large in hospitality.

Unbound does an incredible job of balancing its imperative to help families learn how to help themselves, with providing support at times when survival is at stake. That’s one of the many reasons we love Unbound and sponsor three children (a young adult woman in Guatemala, a young girl in Guatemala, and a little boy in El Salvador).

Meet Jose, age 7, from Guatemala, who is seeking sponsorship now:

Child Sponsorship

Unbound shares the following about Jose:

Jose has fun singing and playing with toy cars, alongside his two brothers. He’s diligent in his studies and loves physical education.

At home, Jose helps his grandmother feed the pigs and he helps make the beds.

He and his family have lived with his grandparents for some time now. Their block home has a sheet metal roof and cement floor. His mother tends to the household chores.

Jose’s father is a mason’s assistant, but the work is unsteady. To augment his income, he also has a part-time job at a local store.

To help Jose:

If you are interested in sponsoring Jose, please outreach (at) unbound.org or call Clair, the Outreach Coordinator, at 800.875.6564 ext. 7309. I would also be happy to facilitate putting you in touch with Unbound.

Sponsorship is $36 a month. In the scheme of things, it’s a small investment which yields enormous results both for Jose and his family, for the good of humankind in general, and in the relationship you’ll develop with Jose and his family via letters (and, when fate really smiles upon you, VISITS).

You can also learn more about Unbound at their website, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

I am part of an Unbound effort to help secure sponsors for 100 children by Christmas. Since Jose turns 8 on December 10, I’m shooting for about 15 days earlier than that for him to hear those happy words “you have a new friend.”

Child Sponsorship

A neighborhood we visited in Guatemala. The families are VERY grateful to the sponsors and humbled us with such a grand welcome.

Child Sponsorship

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Facebook and Politics: Is There Anything to Like?

Social Media Politics

This week, Kat of Mama’s Losin’ It encouraged us to write to this prompt: 10 things you have learned about politics from Facebook.

ONE: Zero Minds have Ever Been Changed Because of a Facebook Share

Social Media Politics

There have been many opinions and information pieces shared on Facebook which did change my mind or at least inform me. I’ve learned about the intensely stressful emotional, financial, and physical price of invisible illnesses. I’ve learned about laudable causes to support, inspirational athletes to encourage, great recipes. I’ve read nothing that, by itself, reversed how I felt about an issue or candidate (especially a Presidential candidate).

TWO: Private Messaging Has the Potential to Change My Mind And Is Appreciated

Our primary is August 30 (I voted early (hooray!)). A few days ago, a good friend sent me a private message in which she shared her support of a candidate for a local race and why she felt that way. I am sure it was cut and pasted; it wasn’t composed exclusively for me. However, since she took the time to choose me rather than throwing the message out to the universe and hoping it would stick, I did take notice and thank her, sincerely.

THREE: It Matters When Candidates Interact Directly

I know this is a bit of a hypothetical. I don’t expect national or statewide candidates to interact directly. Again, staying with the “wouldn’t it be nice,” when I think about how much I love it when authors interact with me directly via social media, it strikes me how much it would matter if a candidate responded directly to me on social media.

FOUR: You Learn A Lot About Each Other

Have you ever seen a friend post their support for a candidate on social media and been shocked because their post seemed so incongruous with what you know about them? Me too. My choice in that situation is typically to file that piece of knowledge away rather than fire a volley across the tennis court of social media discourse (See Number One).

FIVE: Facebook Live Gives Us Access We Wouldn’t Otherwise Have

I have found it useful that the Tallahassee Democrat has provided access to their candidate forums via Facebook Live. Doing so makes it more possible for potential voters who can’t attend a rally or forum in person to hear where the candidates stand on various issues.

Six: Your “Friend” Count Is Likely to Fluctuate In Correlation to Your Politics

I don’t post much political material on Facebook. The main candidate I post frequently about is someone I can’t even vote for (DeeDee Rasmussen, candidate for School Board District 4). Otherwise, Rule Number 1 frequently compels me not to even waste the keystrokes. This may be keeping my friend count on an even keel, but I know Facebook friendships have been lost and gained this election season.

SEVEN: Every Vote Matters

I suppose this isn’t exactly a lesson learned from Facebook, but it is one that is reinforced. I may disagree with you, I may scroll past your diatribe, I may “like” your post because I agree. I may privately shake my head and wonder how you can believe that individual will make America great again or I may privately rejoice that you, like me, are #WithHer. What I will NOT do is be sad that you plan to vote. It’s so fundamental. In the most divisive of times I will still give you a ride to the poll or do what it takes to get you there. People in some countries have given their lives for the same privilege.

Eight: There ARE Some Trustworthy Experts Out There, And Facebook Gives You Access to Them

Case in point: Steve Schale. Although I usually pick him up on Facebook, you can also find him on Twitter here.

Second example: Nicholas Kristof.  One reader’s sentiment echoed mine: Thank God for your passionate journalism. Sometimes I don’t agree with you but I always respect you. Never stop doing what you do. It SO matters.

If I could think of others, I would share them. But I can’t. That’s how rare it is to find a trustworthy political expert on Facebook.

Nine: Facebook is Woefully Inadequate as a Source of Political Information

Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to be a part of a candidates’ forum at WFSU sponsored by the League of Women Voters. I am happy I got to hear so many candidates, even if they each only had two minutes. I saw such a broad array of this county’s candidates. Even the ones I could not vote for or disagreed with I gained a new respect for. Even if I had watched something like that on Facebook Live, nothing would have equaled the electricity in the room or the very American sensation of knowing that everyone who had qualified to run and accepted the invitation was getting an opportunity to put themselves out there.

Ten: Personal Action on Issues Matters

A few weeks ago, I learned from a Facebook (and real life) friend of a September opportunity that she was not going to be able to pursue, that might interest me. I quickly researched the opportunity, applied, and was accepted to be part of the Moms Rising contingent at We Won’t Wait 2016, a gathering where 1,000 community leaders and organizers from around the country will elevate the voices of women of color and low-income women and call for a comprehensive women’s economic agenda that will advance the lives of working women and families across the country.

I’m so excited to hear these women’s stories and be a part of making our nation better and more equitable for working women and families.

13728893_146583395770433_719915185488178382_n

Given Rule #1 (above), you can bet I’ll be sharing about what I learn other places in addition to Facebook!

How about you? Has your mind ever been changed about something political by a Facebook post?

Social Media Politics

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Barnes and Noble $100 Gift Card #Giveaway!

What are you reading right now? I’m reading The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough. I was inspired by our family trip last month to Greenfield Village near Detroit, where I saw the Wright Brothers’ home as well as their shop. After visiting those two buildings, I had to dig deeper!

Book Store Giveaway

I always have a book in my hand as well as an audio book in my ears. I love books! It’s fun to dream about what I would do with $100 to spend at Barnes and Noble! With this giveaway, you just might get that opportunity.

GIVEAWAY DETAILS

Prize: $100 Barnes & Noble Gift Card

Co-hosts: Coupons and Freebies Mom // Jenns Blah Blah Blog // Pretty Thrifty // A Better Me // The Mommyhood Mentor® // Taffeta & Tulips // Top Free Mmorpg 2017 // Bill Hiatt’s Education Website // Perspicacity // Angie’s Angle // Heartbeats~ Soul Stains // Sweating Champagne // Elizabeth & Lee

Giveaway organized by: Oh My Gosh Beck!

Rules: Use the Rafflecopter form to enter daily. Giveaway ends 9/5 and is open worldwide. Winner will be notified via email.

Are you a blogger who wants to participate in giveaways like these to grow your blog? Click here to find out how you can join a totally awesome group of bloggers!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Store Giveaway

Finding Mars: A #NASASocial Experience

Finding our way to Mars is going to take an unprecedented amount of resolve. We’ll need the best people, the wisest use of equipment, and the most thought through of plans.

When I participated in the #NASAMarsDay NASA Social August 17 and 18, I got an in-depth look at the people, the equipment, and the plans involved in the journey to Mars. Although I had been a believer already in the idea that we will have humans on Mars in the 2030s, I am a better informed and more inspired believer now.

It’s Technical

Although I have been to two previous NASA Socials (documented here and here), the only attention I had given specific to Mars was taking this picture as an afterthought during one of our tours:

Space Exploration

After a day at Michoud Assembly Facility and Stennis Space Center, I have a much better understanding of the technical feats that have to occur in order for us to make it to Mars.

Getting to Mars happens in stages. Currently, primary transportation capabilities have been established via the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion, the crew transportation vehicle. Low earth orbit missions involving the International Space Station are conducting tests of deep space hardware and operations.

The phase following low earth orbit missions, slated for the 2020s, will be proving ground missions. These initial missions near the moon will demonstrate important space systems as well as early elements of Mars transportation vehicles. Two components needed for Proving Ground missions, the transit habitat and the deep space tug, are in the early development stage.

In the early 2030s, NASA plans missions to the Mars vicinity using the vehicles and systems validated in cislunar space. These missions will prove capabilities for transit to Mars.

Lastly, in the mid to late 2030s, humans will be capable of landing on and ascending from Mars, and of exploring on that planet. Two building blocks of this phase, the Mars Lander/Heat Shield and the Mars Ascent Vehicle, are still in the conceptual phase.

Note: Some of the above information relied heavily on Boeing’s A Path to Mars. Thanks, Boeing! There is lots of indepth information from NASA here as well.

I now can speak a tiny bit more knowledgeably about friction stir welding, a solid-state joining process that produces faster, higher quality welds than traditional fusion welding by using an accurate, repeatable, and environmentally friendly process. (More info here and here.)

Short layperson’s explanation: because friction stir welding doesn’t melt the metal like traditional welding does, it doesn’t compromise it.

Additive manufacturing is essential. Niki Werkheiser said it best in this podcast: “…additive manufacturing is actually the kind of formal term for 3D printing. Traditional manufacturing is subtractive. You have a material and you take away from it. Additive is any process where you actually build the part that you’re trying to create, layer by layer, so it’s additive instead of subtractive.”

Short layperson’s explanation: there’s no Lowe’s or Home Depot on Mars. When you need a part you don’t have, you can’t go down the street to buy it. You have to know how to make it yourself out of components you already have. 

Cleanliness matters. When we visited the RS-25 assembly area, we were reminded of the importance of keeping things clean, clean, clean. Even the oil from a quick touch of a finger can compromise the manufacturing process. Everywhere you go, “FOD” reminders are posted.

Space Exploration

Note the “FOD Awareness Area” barrier around the service module conical adaptor.

FOD is foreign object debris/foreign object damage and it is apparently the devil’s equivalent in the space construction arena. (And those of you who know me best know that yes, I do have a post floating around in my mind that parallels space FOD with life FOD and how we can let the smallest piece of trash mess up a perfectly good plan … that post will have to wait!) This post is older, but it’s an example of FOD analysis and follow-up planning.

Short layperson’s explanation: when you are in a facility that constructs launch vehicles, engines, crew modules, or any other component of space travel, don’t be careless. Don’t touch anything without permission and for heaven’s sake don’t carelessly drop your gum wrapper or last week’s crumpled up grocery list. Small debris can do huge damage.

It’s Technical, But Without People the Technology Means Nothing

Between the formal presentations and the less formal exhibits, we talked to MANY people. Formal presenters included Todd May, Director of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center; Astronaut Rick Mastracchio, Bill Hill, Deputy Associate Administrator for the Exploration Systems Development at NASA Headquarters, Richard Davis, Assistant Director for Science and Exploration, Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters; John Vickers, Principal Technologist for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center; John Honeycutt, SLS Program Manager; Bobby Watkins, Director of Michoud Assembly Facility; Lara Kearney, Orion Crew and Service Module Manager; and Katie Boggs, Manager for Systems and Technology Demonstration at NASA Headquarters.

Each speaker named above shared a glimpse into their specialty. For example, Bill Hill explained the difficulty of getting through Mars’s atmosphere. Rick Davis elaborated on the need for a semi-permanent base. Katie Boggs, below, explained why we have to become independent of earth in order to be able to exist on Mars.

Space Exploration

To watch the hour-long Journey to Mars briefing, click here. For an excellent overview of the process of assembling the SLS at Michoud Assembly Facility, click here.

When we visited the exhibit area, I learned about many additional aspects of the Journey to Mars. The Dream Chaser Cargo System is a commercial reusable spacecraft designed to provide transportation services to low-Earth orbit (LEO) destinations.

Space Exploration

I enjoyed the opportunities to, literally, “ask a real rocket scientist” and “ask a real space architect.” I asked; I learned.

Space Exploration

One exhibit had to do with one of my favorite NASA projects, one I have had the privilege to hear about at each NASA Social, and one even a generic layperson like me can understand: the VEGGIE project, which is figuring out how to grow food in space!

Space Exploration

This is only a FRACTION of the exhibits we saw, the speakers we heard, and the technology to which we had access. As Bill Hill said, “We’re going to need everybody.” What I saw on this day was a great cross-section of “everybody.”

The Technology + The People Made For a Successful RS-25 Engine Test-Fire

The grand finale of our day was a test-fire of the RS-25 engine. After being transported to Stennis Space Center, we were given a tour of the Rocketjet Aerodyne Facility (there are no pictures for security reasons). We learned about how heritage Space Shuttle engines are being upgraded in order to power the SLS on its successively more complex missions related to the Mars journey.

Around 5 pm CST, we were in place at the viewing area, earplugs protecting our ears. As the test commenced, we were about 1500 feet from the plume of the test fire.

Space Exploration

Google Image Screenshot courtesy of JR Hehnly

Here’s my image of the test fire:

Space Exploration

But honestly, some things (such as capturing test fire images) are best left to professionals. Therefore, here is NASA’s recording:

I don’t know if the picture or the video really convey the power and awe, but it was powerful and awesome! At our “goodbye moment” in the parking lot of Michoud Assembly Facility, John Yembrick, NASA Social Media Manager, reminded us “when we go to Mars someday, you will have seen these engines in person. Imagine four of them and two boosters getting us to Mars. You can’t replicate that in pictures or on tv.” (This is a bit of a paraphrase; I don’t remember his exact words but the point was: you’re so lucky to have been here and seen this. I concur!)

History Matters

I have probably driven past the exits to Stennis Space Center 15-20 times in my lifetime as I went to Baton Rouge and New Orleans on various trips. Never did I realize what a behemoth of a complex existed south of me. As our informative guide Virgil explained, Stennis is a “federal city.” The towns and people that once existed there, which were displaced so that Stennis could be built, deserve our respect and gratitude.

Other sacrifices, big and small, are being made now and have been made over the history of the space program. We all know about the lives that have been lost. Smaller incremental sacrifices occur along the way: years of study, patience with failed experiments, the dogged pursuit of Federal funding (and the constant quest to reduce expenses).

In Closing

Before I talk about dollars and cents, as a mom of a daughter it is critical to emphasize that one of my huge motivators for being a social media ambassador for NASA is the fact that I want the young girls in my life (and heck, the “older” girls and women who may be considering career changes) to be comfortable with and excited not just by STEM, but by  STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. The first person I heard talk about STEAM was NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman and I have been intrigued ever since.

Count me in as one citizen who feels confident in NASA’s efforts and I fully support its continued Federal funding. Every dollar spent on NASA adds $10 to our US Economy.

Right before we went to observe the RS-25 test fire, we saw a brief presentation by Howard Conyers, principal investigator or the HiDyRS-X project which is refining a high-speed video camera system to provide high dynamic range capabilities with one camera. When Dr. Conyers presented a recording of a test fire from the naked eye and a test fire from the HiDyRS-X camera, it was stunning to discover how much detail is missed by the  naked eye, especially once the images are slowed down in infinitesimally small increments. I recall seeing  how there was shimmy in the nozzle once the advanced technology was used.

The presentation of the HiDyRS-X camera was a perfect example of a principle that will get us to Mars: technology + people + tenacity to solve problems and find answers.

Let’s pull this blog back up in 2040 and see how it all went. You know what? Maybe an astronaut on Mars will send me a screenshot of this very blog on their screen and prove that we did indeed make it. Now that’s the kind of 2040 email I would like to find.

Space Exploration

This post is inspired by the following Mama’s Losin’ It prompt: Write a post where the first and last sentences contain any form of the word “find.”

Please visit my Facebook album from this NASA Social here (expect some New Orleans food and drink pictures too!).

Talking About Children on Social Media

Sometimes, I find it impossible to make my point in a succession of 140-character tweets. This recent tweet about an article titled Why I Decided to Stop Writing About My Children

…led to an exchange that got me thinking and also resulted in me feeling like I hadn’t really articulated my thoughts on the subject thoroughly.

Social Media Choices

The exchange led to two thoughts:

  1. Honestly, my first impulse was a knee-jerk reaction to the term “mommy blogger” rather than an urge to delve into the article the tweet linked to. I don’t love the term. Or, to be specific I don’t love the term as it applies to me. I’ve always incorporated MANY topics into my blog in addition to the fact that I’m a parent. I enjoy blogging in leadership and public relations circles, and I recoiled the first time a “leadership blogger” acquaintance referred to me as a “mommy blogger.” Had he NOT READ my blogs about customer service, supervision, and corporate culture?
  2. A desire to dig a bit deeper into the topics the article addressed.

NOTE: Christine wrote a post related to this topic on August 15. Click here to read it.

Blogging About Our Children

I am glad I didn’t start blogging when my kids were little. 

I published my first-ever blog post on May 17, 2008. It was a whopping four sentences long and did not contain any images but it did contain a reference to my son, who was 8 at the time. On June 28, 2009, I declared my intention to blog weekly (and I have, missing maybe five weeks in the seven years between now and then). At first, I intended for every blog to be about running (although the blog declaring my intention to post weekly contained a picture of my son too!).

As time progressed, I branched out from running. In the 700+ posts I’ve published since then, I’ve discussed my sock drawer, people and companies that provide incredible customer service, running (in prison and elsewhere), a convenience store bathroom, causes I love such as Shot at Life, and many other topics.

am glad I didn’t start blogging until my kids were 7 and 10. I am pretty sure I would have been an oversharer if I had been blogging through my pregnancies and childbirth, as well as my children’s early years. I have read quite a few blogs where I thought “holy crap this blogger is sharing a LOT of personal info” and “I’m not sure that kid is going to be glad his mom shared that picture of him at eighteen months wearing his sister’s tutu on his head and his superhero underoos on his butt when he is 18 years old.” But that’s up to that blogger, and I can always move on and read something else.

Does an alias name protect a blogger’s children?

Some bloggers use aliases to protect their children’s identities. They may call “Susan” a name like “Ann” or they may call “Susan” an amusing moniker like “Doodlebug.” Frankly, one of the reasons I don’t do that is I could not pull it off consistently. It’s a lot of work to a) remember and b) implement.

My incredible friend Jess (Diary of a Mom) explained her rationale for using alternate names here, to give you one parent’s thoughts.

One of my earliest lessons.

Back in 2009, I thought it was HILARIOUS when I tagged my son’s stuffed animal in a picture. I just happened to show him, and he (at 10 years old) didn’t laugh – he immediately burst into tears. This incident was one of my first lessons in “what you find hilarious as a blogger, something you think your readers/Facebook friends will laugh at, will embarrass your child.” Hmmm.

Here’s what I wrote after that incident:

If I had not offhandedly mentioned to Wayne the “tagging,” he never would have known. However, it was something I did for me and not at all for him. I learned a lesson that a certain set of parents of 8 children [I was referring to Jon & Kate + 8] is completely missing right now (in my opinion): our children have to be able to trust that we as parents will think before taking liberties with their images, identities, and hearts. I may have 572 friends on Facebook who would get a chuckle out of something like this, but I only have two children counting on me to give them an emotional safe haven.

Nothing is Temporary on the Internet

I mean, nothing is temporary on the internet (even Snapchat). On the one hand, my blogs create a better “virtual baby book” than the paper baby books I’ve managed cobble together for my two children. On the other hand, what on earth is going to pop up 20/30/40 years from now when they google themselves?

So many opinions

I asked the smartest, savviest people I know (my friends!) their thoughts on the NYT article. Here are a few:

I wonder what it will be like for her [referring to her daughter] to read something at 10, 11, 12, 13. She’s very sensitive so I try to be mindful. But I think it’s a matter of personal choice and temperament. – Sili of @mymamihood

I think that we have a tendency to overshare on social media. When it comes to your own life, that’s up to you as an adult to decide if your trials, tribulations, joys and secrets should be shared with the world. Writing about your children – especially about topics they might find embarrassing – should be tread on lightly. – Kim F.

This really speaks to me. I had a blog a few years ago about parenting my son with autism. I stopped writing that particular blog for the same reason this writer discusses: He is a person and deserves his privacy. Both my kids still find their way into my work, but now they are carefully disguised as some kind of talking animal in a children’s play or the lyrics to a song. – Amanda B. of Making Light Productions

I share my failures in mothering because blogging is a virtual water-cooler of sorts.  I reveal *my downfalls* not her shortcomings. – Carla Birnberg of Unapologetically Myself (read her full post on the topic here)

I am very careful to not over share on social media. I feel strongly that it is their story to tell. – LeeAnn K.

I have been burned by over sharing in real life and online. I say things that are not ugly but brutally honest. That’s the way I was raised, but I always thought it was a southern bell thing. At some point I realized that it’s not the way my kids developed. They are quite opposite from me. – Kathy D.

There is a balance that is needed and each writer has to find it. – Velva K. of Tomatoes on the Vine.

My kids are old enough now that they actually ask me not to post certain things, not to take pictures of them, not to share stuff. It has become an issue of trust, and I pray I never violate theirs. – Rebecca B.

With all the problems we have in this world, we focus on things that are byproducts of overthinking. – Will L.

I stopped posting pics of my children online and talking about them is limited – when I was working on research project and learned how often pics of children are stolen and used on child porn sites. They take what would be innocent pics and pervert them. – Kora R.

For Me, It Boils Down to This

If I were to scrub references to my children, my parenting, and my family life from my blog and social media presence, that would be as much a misrepresentation of who I really am than it would be to share every moment, even those with the potential to embarrass or humiliate my children either now or decades down the road.

When I began blogging, it was “to exercise my writing muscle,” but it has become much more. It is part diary, large part therapy, part family documentation … it is many things which bring me joy and hopefully educate/inspire others along the way.

What I don’t want it to be is an ill-considered instrument of destruction. To repeat what I said back in 2009: “our children have to be able to trust that we as parents will think before taking liberties with their images, identities, and hearts.”

I suppose with seven years of blogging experience behind me, from the perspective of a parent of a 17-year old and a 20-year old, I would change the “think before taking liberties” phrase to something different:

Our children have to be able to trust that we as parents will think before taking not knowingly take liberties with their images, identities, and hearts.

What are your thoughts on parents who blog about their children?

Social Media Choices

thoughtful-thursdays4

The Diva Rules Sparkles: A Book Review

Michelle Visage, co-host of RuPaul’s Drag Race and author of The Diva Rules, was allowed to do something as a child that I will not allow my child to do.

When she moved from New Jersey to Manhattan to attend drama school, she continued returning home on the weekends to be part of the teen club scene in New Jersey. One weekend, her mother refused to pick her up at the train station, insisting that the only way to have a life in New York City would be … to have a life in New York City.

“But how will I get into clubs?” 17-year-old Michelle wondered.

Before long, a package arrived at her dorm (the Beacon Hotel) which contained a fake ID and a notarized fake birth certificate to back it up. Michelle Shupack had rapidly “aged” a few years and been rechristened a student at the University of Texas. Yeehaw.

Although I would never do the same for my daughter or son, and never would have sought out the same thing for myself, it worked out pretty well for Michelle (who didn’t drink then and doesn’t now). She says that once she got into the NYC clubs, “it was there, in those dark, sweaty, legendary dance halls at The Underground, as well as the Palladium, the Copa, the World, and Tracks, that I started working it every night, and where I made all the connections that would lead me to where I am today.”

When I bought The Diva Rules, I will admit it was because the audiobook was on sale on Audible and I was out of credits. It didn’t take me long to be glad I ended up listening to the book (which I’ve listened to twice — a rarity for me), and I now own the hard copy.

I loved many things about this book. Here are the main takeaways, one thing I disagreed with, and a piece of advice:

The NYC Pier/Club/Vogueing Scene

If you’ve known me for more than thirty minutes, it’s likely you know how much I deeply love New York City. That’s probably one of the reasons I was in intense like with this book within a few pages. The New York City Michelle experienced is one I never did, but I loved learning about the sense of community she felt in the clubs, how she was part of the vogueing trend, and the pier queen scene. What she described about the community and family structure helped me understand why so many patrons considered the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando as more than a club; it was a safe place. It was family.

Presence Trumps Perfection

This was one of my favorite lines from the book. It addresses one of my constant struggles, the struggle to not let myself get paralyzed when things aren’t perfect enough. It addresses the fact that pretty much every supervisor I have had has, in one form or another, said “you need to have more confidence in your decisions.”

In the “Presence Trumps Perfection” “T (Truth),” Michelle writes what she would tell her 19-year-old self (“stop being so hard on yourself”) and shares one of her favorite RuPaul quotes, “What other people think of you is none of your damn business.”

Exposure Won’t Put Food on Your Table

If you’re at all involved in blogging circles, you’ve probably been a part of the recent discussions of why working for “exposure” (something some brands offer instead of cold hard cash) doesn’t put food on the table. Well, here’s Michelle echoing that, word for word (see page 99). “…when it comes down to it, exposure won’t put food on your table.”

I have been part of several multi-thread discussion recently among bloggers about the fact that a brand that offers you “exposure” rather than monetary compensation is not recognizing your worth as a blogger. That said, there are times when exposure is helpful. I am new enough to blogger land, especially sponsored blogging, that I have chosen to do some projects for “exposure” or in exchange for product only in the hopes that it will help me be more prominent as a blogger and prove myself.

What I still have to force myself to shut up and not say is, when I have done a cause-related project for which I was compensated, saying to the brand/cause, “I would have done it for free.” Because if I choose to write for a cause it is probably technically true that I would have done it for free — I don’t accept assignments that I don’t believe in. But even causes/non-profits have budgets for communication and what favor am I doing myself if I hint at the fact that they really didn’t need to pay me in the first place?

But About Those Dockers

When I decided to listen to the book a second time so I could narrow down which takeaways I wanted to focus on, I kept remembering “but there was one thing I disagree with.” I didn’t recall what it was … until I got to Diva Rule #18: Never trust a man in Dockers. After reading WHY she doesn’t ever trust men in Dockers, I have to say the one bad apple clad in khaki really did give her a compelling reason to distrust guys in pleated tan Levis.

Given this small glimpse into my husband’s closet (believe me, the rest looks pretty much like this), I can attest at least one Dockers-clad guy out there isn’t all bad!

Book Review

Doing Things Differently Brings Joy

Here’s something that gave this book a spark of joy I have rarely felt from books recently. It’s DIFFERENT! It’s UNIQUE! It makes me think in terms of glitter and hot pink zebra print!

Book Review

The sparkly glitter starts on the cover!

Book Review

What you see the minute you open the book!

Book Review

Even the Table of Contents is different – color blocks instead of lines of text!

Audiobooks Rock

One recommendation I have if you decide to read The Diva Rules is to get the audiobook version. It’s just different hearing Michelle Visage herself narrate her life story. I mean the Pier Queenese lesson on pages 62-63 is SO much more entertaining when you’re listening to Michelle give it verbally rather than just reading the words. (But as you can see from the images I’ve shared from the hard copy of the book, it also has its fun points too (glitter, zebra, etc.!).

Other books I recommend on audio because authors narrate them include:

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Troublemaker by Leah Remini

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope by Jenna Bush

Bringing Things to a Close

This post was inspired by a Mama’s Losin’ It prompt: Talk about something you were allowed to do as a child that you will not allow your child to do. I wrote about how Michelle’s mom had gotten her a fake ID and accompanying fake birth certificate.

Inspired by Michelle’s unique style, here’s a little green zebra treatment of that question! What’s your sparkly answer?

Book Review

Mama’s Losin’ It