Don’t Overthink. Improvise.

Communicating better through improv

Credit: Daily Quotes

Do any of you have an “overthinking” problem?

I’m pretty sure “stop overthinking” would be one of the main pieces of advice a life coach would give me.

After all, I created an entire channel devoted to overthinking “for all that stuff spilling out of our heads (and hearts) because we can’t turn our brains off” in one of my Slack groups.

Communicating better through improv

That life coach may encourage me to get some improv training to learn how to shortcircuit the overthinking and ramp up the decisive action.

I did take an improv class recently. This is a post I wrote for Spin Sucks based on my experience.

Before I get to the post, I want to encourage you to check out the upcoming Kimprovise sessions in Tallahassee on July 28 and 31 if you’re local. If you sign up for one of the $15 sessions, I get to come free, so we could abolish (or at least diminish) overthinking TOGETHER! Here’s the link (just mention I referred you).

On with post:

From the World of Improv: Five Ways to Rock Your Speech

Think about the most memorable speech you have ever heard.

If you’re like me, your list of remarkable speeches is short.

But, your list of forgettable speeches goes on and on, like a keynote speaker in a dimly lit hotel ballroom who doesn’t know how to stop even after the rubber chicken has been consumed.

Not All Speeches Occur in Ballrooms

Being able to speak well is a skill that extends beyond formal speeches.

Knowing how to get your point across can make a difference.

It can make a difference in getting an initiative approved in next year’s budget, or convincing your partner to have trout instead of salmon.

And it can make all the difference in nailing down special testing arrangements for your child who has unique sensory needs.

Lessons from Improvisation

We are sometimes limited in the flexibility we have regarding the words we say.

Our time allotment may be too short to allow us to elaborate on points we think might make or break our success.

But no matter what we say, there are intangibles behind our speaking process that can make a difference.

I was sharing some tips with a friend recently about how to keep the essence of her originality while presenting information she needed the listeners to act on.

The power of improv training was one of those tips.

Because I love all you Spin Sucks people, I immediately (and spontaneously—this is improv we’re talking about after all) signed up for an improv class to refresh my memory.

Here are three classic improv principles and how they can help you present more effectively, even if you can’t change a word.

Go With Your Gut

The teacher’s exact instructions were “say the first thing that comes to mind” and “do the first motion that you feel.”

We played the classic improv game, “Zip Zap Zop.”

In the game, the participants are in a circle.

The first participant throws “energy” to a recipient of their choice, saying “ZIP” while clapping.

That participant then throws the action to another recipient, saying “ZAP,” and so on.

We didn’t know each other. We had just walked into the room as strangers 15 minutes prior. It was clumsy and awkward.

Maybe saying “zip, zap, or zop” alone is easy enough, but add to that making eye contact, clapping to indicate your intended recipient, being prepared to catch the energy again, and now you have a recipe for hesitating.

Unless you keep playing.

When you keep on playing, you learn to trust yourself.

Likewise, when you practice speaking, you learn to trust your words and body language, and you are that much closer to getting your message across clearly.

Yes, And…

Sometimes our message is one which we anticipate our audience will disagree.

An exercise we do at Toastmasters is to give a “speech to convince,” and we are encouraged to adopt a position we don’t personally hold.

I gave my speech as though I were a pregnant anti-vaccine woman speaking to a committee of extremely pro-vaccine pediatricians and family practitioners.

(In my real life, I am an advocate for vaccines.)

It was my job in those moments to try to find some common ground.

In improv terms, I was looking for the “yes, and” opportunity instead of a “no, but” brick wall.

In an improv exercise, “yes, and” enables us to learn to help each other.

What not to do:

Paula: I just found out I’m off work tomorrow!

Partner: Too bad you’ll get behind on everything.

What to do:

Paula: I just found out I’m off work tomorrow!

Partner: Yes! And the Greek Food Festival will be taking place.

The second response provides a whole lot more latitude to extend the conversation.

It’s a stretch, I know, with my pregnant mom/pediatricians scenario, to find the “yes, and.”

However, I know that what I gained from “being an anti-vaxxer for 10 minutes” was that at the core of my motives was the love for my child.

It’s easy to blow off someone who feels differently or believes inaccurate things as ignorant or uncaring.

The “yes, and” concept is something that should underpin anything we do as communicators.

For the parent headed hesitantly to a tense IEP meeting, is there something they can bring to the table to help their child’s teacher better understand?

Perhaps by making accommodations for the child’s issue, it will make classroom management easier all around.

This TEDx talk discusses how “yes, and” can be part of your organizational approach.

Mistake? What Mistake?

The third principle of improv taught is “there are no mistakes.”

(However, we did receive a warning that it’s poor form to “pull a gun” in an improv scene because it’s the ultimate power imbalance. And I have to agree.)

Once, at a school board meeting, I had exactly three minutes to give a speech about a matter that was intensely significant to me.

I sat there debating whether to take my “cheat sheet” post-it with me to the lectern. Ultimately, I decided not to.

The school board members wouldn’t know if I didn’t say what I had planned.

I would be much more able to make eye contact and try to reach them non-verbally if I wasn’t fussing with a little slip of paper.

I would also be able to give the speech without my glasses on, which felt like a small liberation.

Mistakes and the fear of making them can be our biggest inhibitors.

They aren’t fun. They can be a bit embarrassing. But the world does, indeed, keep turning no matter what we do.

This time, the improv game we played section involved singing (yay).

The leader started off with a song about stars (let’s say “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”).

From there, another participant had to jump in with another “star” song or something that played off the Twinkle Twinkle lyrics.

(Like, “I Wonder Where My Baby is Tonight” by the Kinks playing off “how I wonder what you are.”)

Our class struggled here, too.

This activity required thinking, hard, while frantically reviewing songs in our brains, then having the courage to jump in and sing them.

But we did manage. And our teacher learned that run-of-the-mill, non-musical theatre people *may* not have quite the encyclopedic mental song libraries your typical theatre nerd has.

Your audience can’t read your mind and doesn’t know what you rehearsed five times last night.

Take a deep breath, and remember the motivations that brought you here in the first place.

Your Speech is a Gift

Just like the best conversations, a speech isn’t so much a one-way entity as an exchange, even if one person is behind a lectern and one or 1,000 audience members are facing them, just listening.

When our improv class exchanged imaginary “balls,” some people “golfed,” some shot “marbles,” and others pretended to struggle to heft heavy “medicine balls.”

The balls weren’t physical. They were in our minds. And the recipients immediately transformed them into what they were planning to throw.

Only you have the exact idea of what you plan to share.

Even if in theory it has repeatedly been presented throughout history, your version is uniquely yours.

The recipient is going to turn it into something new and different anyway. So, you might as well leave them recalling what made yours so memorable.

Do you have a presentation coming up, large or small, that has you anxious?

Think about applying these principles, and I’m betting you’ll walk away with a Zip (and maybe even a Zap or Zop) in your step!

Back to the Tallahassee Offer

Communicating better through improv

Our Kimprovise class.

Imagine the freedom that comes with slicing some “overthinking” out of your psyche.

Dip your foot in the world of improv at a Kimprovise session at All Saints Culture Club on Railroad Ave. on July 28 (noon) or 31 (6:30) for just $15 and try it out! Click here to sign up (and please mention I referred you!).

Other great thoughts on improv

I also encourage you to read my friend Molly’s post, Improvise Our Way to Common Ground, about improv and how everyone can benefit. I especially like the way she encourages readers to use improv techniques to achieve better outcomes from difficult conversations and increase collaboration when it seems elusive.

Communicating better through improv

I have linked this post up with the Kat Bouska site for the prompt “What advice would a life coach give you about how to improve your daily life?”

Communicating better through improv

A version of this post was originally published at Spin Sucks as From the World of Improv: Five Ways to Rock Your Speech.

 

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Maybe Next Time: WITH

parents with children

The humble word “with” (and its Latin version, “cum”) could be better used in these two ways:

THE SUMMA CUM LAUDE GRADUATE’S CAKE

Did you read about the case of Publix and the summa cum laude (with highest praise/with highest honors) graduate?

His mom ordered a cake from Publix online, and requested that his graduation distinction of “summa cum laude” be inscribed on the cake.

Publix’s online ordering system prohibits “vulgar” terms, so the “cum” was represented as “—” when the mom originally ordered it, and she commented in the comment box that it was not a vulgarity, but should be inscribed as requested.

When she went to pick up the cake, this is what had been made:

parents with children

This image appeared in the Huffington Post and numerous online publications.

The graduate’s parent said her student was “absolutely humiliated.”

Here’s the Washington Post version (the most detailed) and the Huffington Post version (if you can’t get past the WaPo paywall).

Publix and online ordering

In my experience, online ordering at Publix still has wrinkles (as the graduate’s family experienced). I ordered a princess happy birthday cake a few years ago (because trust me you can have a daughter in her late teens for whom a princess cake is still the bomb diggety) and the store eventually called to say they didn’t have that version.

A scramble ensued to find a Publix with princesses (granted, she wasn’t going to have a three-year-old level tantrum if I didn’t provide it but still …. it’s the principle of the thing).

Even long before online ordering was a thing, I ordered a cake in person from Publix, and gave them a picture of the 1-year-old-to-be that was going to be added to the cake via an edible image. What did I get at pickup? “Happy 18th birthday, Mackenzie.”

Screwups can happen IRL and in online commerce.

My take

This is one of those situations in life that is frustrating but is also a) easily fixed and b) deserving of perspective.

(And full disclosure: I have done my share of online griping about things that turned out to be minor (and some that I still consider relatively major). I do try also to recognize the dazzlingly good and positive things that happen too.)

To the kid: For what it’s worth, I can tell you from the perspective of a mom, this doesn’t deserve the “absolutely humiliating” label. Not to discount your feelings, but people and corporations mess up. Some worker at Publix did what they saw on a printed order form to do (granted, they could have asked/clarified). Just enjoy the cake. And congrats on your 4.89 GPA — that’s incredible.

To the mom: I understand your frustration too. I do. I’m really glad to hear you are “laughing about it ” (Huffington Post) but not entirely sure why you are going to “avoid Publix for now.” I know it wasn’t you that picked it up (and I can see my husband not proofreading a cake if I sent him to pick it up) but I have seen Publix fix an error in flat out minutes. I realize you may not have even had “minutes” to go back and get it fixed but I wonder if they don’t deserve just a bit more grace than they’ve been given. I feel like they probably try to teach that at Christian-based home schools like the situation in which your child was educated.

To Publix: Please update your online ordering system (or train your bakery workers to carefully read the comments section of online orders). Or suspend online ordering until wrinkles like this get ironed out. Please: iteram conare (try again). Maybe next time you’ll get it right.

(Note: I don’t know Latin and I’m relying on Google translate so if you’re a Latin expert, feel free to correct me!).

THE KIDS BEING SEPARATED FROM THEIR PARENTS

The New York Times says “more than 700 children have been taken from adults claiming to be their parents since October, including more than 100 children under the age of 4” at various stations along the US-Mexico border.

One of many questions about this complex issue: is President Trump’s administration starting to use the threat of separating children from their parents as a deterrent to trying to cross into the US?

Furthermore, the Office of Refugee Resettlement has “reported at the end of 2017 that of the 7,000-plus children placed with sponsored individuals, the agency did not know where 1,475 of them were” according to the Arizona Republic.

The issue of how/when/why/where we allow people from other countries to cross into ours is bigger and different from the fact that children should remain with their parents.

Here are some articles to read. I am frankly trying to digest it all myself, so at this point the best I can do is say is “read this,” pray if you are a praying person, and act in some tangible way.

From the New York Times (may be behind a paywall): Hundreds of Immigrant Children Have Been Taken From Parents at U.S. Border

From PBS Frontline: HHS Official Says Agency Lost Track of Nearly 1,500 Unaccompanied Minors

From the Arizona Republic (opinion piece): Montini: The feds lost – yes, lost – 1,475 migrant children 

From Vice: What Separating Migrant Families at the Border Actually Looks Like

From Political Charge: #WhereAreTheChildren: How to Help

My Take

I think many of us in our country are awfully selective about how we use hashtags regarding other people’s children. Remember how we all got behind #BringBackOurGirls when Boko Haram abducted hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria but many people in the US took more of a #SendBackTHEIRGirls attitude when so many children from El Salvador arrived in Arizona in 2014?

In this case, termed #WhereAreTheChildren widely on social media, the girls (and boys) are here in the US. Decisions must be made about their long-term whereabouts, but in the meantime they should be #WithTheirParent.

I am so fortunate to have been able to travel to El Salvador (and Guatemala) with Unbound. These week-long trips only scratched the surface of truly understanding the issues faced by people (especially women and children) in Central America. Although this is a HUGE understatement, the desperation many of these people feel to leave their countries is born of life-threatening risk day and day out (not to mention restricted access to education and difficulty earning enough to survive).

As the Vice article I link to above notes, one parent was separated from her children upon arriving in the US then assigned a bond “too high for her to pay—$12,500—deeming her a flight risk for being connected to a gang, when her sole connection was the harm they did her [the woman reported being beaten in front of her children by MS-13 gang members].”

Although I am a citizen unwilling to wait until some hypothetical next time, for the purpose of this discussion, Maybe next time a child won’t be forcibly separated from a parent, lost in an administrative maze and exposed to potential human trafficking. But let’s make “next time” immediate.

NOTE

It’s ironic that today’s post is devoted in part to advocacy. I just revised my LinkedIn profile to delete one of my favorite parts of my profile, the fact that I am an advocate. I decided it may be confusing potential employers. Rest assured I will always be an advocate. ALWAYS.

But I need a full-time job. Therefore, if you have any leads (Tallahassee or remote), I would appreciate you letting me know.  Here’s my LinkedIn profile. I am looking for communications work (writing, editing, proofreading, social media) but also have extensive health policy experience. And I can promise a solid work ethic, professionalism and enthusiasm wherever I end up. I took a necessary detour through the world of caregiving for a few years, performed it willingly and lovingly, but it’s time to help pay for these two college educations for which I am responsible and get back on a full-time professional track again.

I doubt it will happen by next Sunday (although you never know!) but maybe next time (or soon) I post a blog, I’ll be doing it with a fond word or two of farewell to the gig economy as I move on.

BACK TO “WITH” AND “CUM”

The only way I know to wind this up is to offer to bring a cake inscribed #WithTheirParent to a postcard-writing party or other advocacy event (about this issue of the missing kids).

Who’s up for it?

This post was written in response to a Kat Bouska prompt: “Write a blog post the ends with the sentence: Maybe next time!:

parents with children

 

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Happy 15th Birthday, LinkedIn!

LinkedIn is turning 15. (The birthday is the subject of this blog, along with some interesting infographics about how the world has changed over the 15 years)

As part of their birthday celebration, LinkedIn is encouraging people to share their career aspirations when they were 15 years old.

LinkedIn

#WhenIWas15

I am actually taking this post in a different direction (surprise!) but I am nothing if not a rule follower, so to answer the question about career aspirations when I was 15, here goes:

I don’t recall specifically what my big career dreams were at 15. I was still heavily involved in music (band), but didn’t plan to major in music. I was probably already leaning toward psychology/mental health, but still had strong political aspirations and a business orientation. Given that the summer I graduated from high school (at 17), I spent the summer knocking on doors trying to save souls, I’m pretty sure I also was still considering being a missionary. Whatever I planned to do, I am sure travel was a must. It always has been.

And most of our pictures are packed away due to our house being for sale, so my “Me at 14” picture will have to do for the pic LinkedIn wants.

LinkedIn

Enough About Me, Let’s Talk About You, Birthday Site

It occurred to me it would be much more fun/interesting to talk about LinkedIn, which has changed so much over the 15 years. Here are 15 somewhat randomly organized observations about the good, the bad, and the mystifying.

1 – LinkedIn is an important part of the social media landscape

When Sree Sreenivasan presented How to Use Social Media in Your Career through the New York Times, he listed LinkedIn first among five social media options, noting it has 500 million members, calling it the “quintessential professional network.”

I tend to think LinkedIn is here to stay, having made it 15 years.

2-  LinkedIn is a useful and varied place to find content

One of my tasks at my freelance position is searching for timely posts about legal practice management issues that also meet specific editorial guidelines. When all my usual go-to options fail, LinkedIn is sometimes helpful.

If you’re not in a position of having to be picky about editorial criteria, I think you could find something about almost anything remotely business-related on LinkedIn.

I tried to think of something relatively obscure to search for on LinkedIn and came up with vinegar. That led me (through a content search) to:

LinkedIn

3 – Having to explain LinkedIn to someone else helped me understand it better

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to be an assistant in a LinkedIn workshop for sales professionals. Isn’t it always the case that you learn more about something by having to explain it to someone else? The experience gave me more confidence with LinkedIn as I helped participants figure out how to set up their accounts and how to get the most out of them. (Big thanks to Becky Robinson for her role in giving me this chance.)

4 – Posting on LinkedIn for a client is a great way to learn more about how to navigate LI

Two of the freelance positions I have held in the past four years have involved posting to LinkedIn on behalf of clients. Doing this has been another way to expand my LinkedIn abilities and give me a different perspective. Holding someone else’s professional image in your hands (at your keyboard?) or that of an organization is a big responsibility.

5 – When LinkedIn introduced live video as an option, that was an asset

I don’t agree with all the changes LinkedIn has made over the years, but this is one I liked. “If a video is available, 60% of visitors will opt to watch it before reading any text,” according to Replay Science. Presenting material through video is more likely to get someone’s attention (that’s what you want, right?). Also, the process of delivering material through video helps you practice your presentation and videography skills, something we all need anyway.

6 – Hashtags, on the other hand…

Call me old school, call me hesitant to change, call me whatever. I’m not a fan of hashtags on LinkedIn. I recently argued, during a conference call with a freelance team I was on, that they shouldn’t be used. Au contraire, they argued. Use them or don’t do our social. Well okay.

The thing is, the organization wanting the hashtags was right, as this post attests. Read more about Hashtags on LinkedIn here.

One reason I don’t like hashtags on LinkedIn is that, when I was posting for a client on Buffer or Hootsuite, I had to do their posting separately because a hashtag would give away the fact that I was bulk posting across several sites at once. It was a check and balance that made me try to add something unique to their LinkedIn posting. I guess I should just be happy for the streamlined workload. Maybe I just like doing things the hard way and am a glutton for punishment. I prefer thinking I care about my clients’ content being the best, most attractive, most compelling it can be.

7 – And GIFS, on the “other” other hand

I just learned that LinkedIn now accepts GIFS within its messages component.

Why, LI, why?

via GIPHY

8 – Writing articles on LinkedIn (along with other activities) can still be awkward and cumbersome

The LinkedIn user interface has improved over the years (hopefully we all get better with age), but it can still feel clunky, non-intuitive and confusing to me. Back in 2015, co-founder Reid Hoffman was quoted in The Next Web as saying:

I think some people find it very confusing. That’s absolutely the case and there’s definitely more work we can do.

Keep working on it, LinkedIn. Please.

9 – Keywords are of paramount importance

Keywords matter now more than ever on LinkedIn (and this, of course, is not unique to LinkedIn). This is one I am better at parroting than implementing, apparently, but I am learning. Former LinkedIn staff member Jeremy Schifeling of Break Into Tech says keywords are critical to making you “findable” when he lists the only four things that matter on LinkedIn.

10 –  I don’t know how long I’ve been on LinkedIn

I would have referenced how long I’ve been on LinkedIn if I could figure out how to do that. See also #7, about the difficult interface. Twitter has its faults, but one of them isn’t the ease of figuring out how long I’ve been there. (The discovery below took me one click.)LinkedIn

11 – Networking metrics are difficult to follow

This is another category that I have trouble figuring out sometimes. There’s a difference between connections and followers. I had to gather number of connections for a former freelance client, and every single month I had to dig through her profile in a byzantine manner to figure it out (it’s harder when someone has more than 500 connections). I got it right for her every month, but it was so frustrating to not have an easy way.

12 – Having a premium account gives you more benefits, but can be expensive

I have not yet personally seen the benefit of paying for a LinkedIn premium account, but it does give users more benefits. One of my clients had premium and I did have a bit of an “ooh-aah this is cool” reaction every time I used it. Here’s one breakdown to help you decide and here’s another.

13 – LinkedIn can be important to personal branding

[Note: I got this one from 5 LinkedIn tips to strengthen your personal brand (and I agree with its premise).]

Any senior leader who is interviewing, partnering, mentoring, and attending or speaking at conferences needs to create the right online impression to match their personal brand and values. – Sandra Long, author of LinkedIn for Personal Branding: The Ultimate Guide.

14 – I struggle to figure out how much to segregate the personal from the professional

In my mind, LinkedIn is for professional content mainly.

However, I don’t comply with my own beliefs.

I do think the site has become more blurry about personal vs. professional. When I was looking for vinegar-related content (see #2 above), there were several recipes and gorgeous food photographs to scroll past before I found a business article about vinegar. For a moment, I thought I may have inadvertently ended up on Instagram.

I still try to skew content to the professional side even if it is mostly personal. For instance, when I wrote about caregiving, I usually prefaced a link on LinkedIn with “your employees may be experiencing caregiving stress” or something similar.

Ultimately, though, I’m not that much of a “compartmentalization” sort of person (rightly or wrongly). What you see (or read) is what you get, and I bring my whole self to work, in general. In addition, since writing is part of my professional profile, pretty much everything I post is a potential work sample.

15 – LinkedIn is useful for job-hunting

LinkedIn is an effective tool for job hunting. Despite its good and bad points, it is a place to share your expertise, network and pursue opportunities.

Happy Birthday, LinkedIn

In the LinkedIn Turns 15 post, Allen Blue says the platform’s initial tagline was “relationships matter.” Although some of the interface issues make it a bit difficult to pursue those relationships sometimes, the platform does make a difference for those of us who commit time and energy to it.

Keep on making a difference, LinkedIn. And Happy Birthday.

Note: I am linking this post to a Kat Bouska prompt, “write a post inspired by the word time.”

LinkedIn

 

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Deciding How Many Kids to Have

A dear friend posted questions to  Facebook today in a “thinking out loud” way about how to make decisions regarding whether to have another baby.

Before I proceed to break down why I made the childbearing choices I did, I respect every family’s choice. I respect the choice not to have children or to have 18 children (or to have no children). But sharing our stories and rationales is helpful, I think, so here’s mine.

How many kids to have

If you know me, or have read my blog, you know I have two children.

How many kids to have

Family ties.
Credit: Mark Bass Photography

I was an only child (for all intents and purposes*). This was the main driver for feeling strongly about having more than one.

In retrospect, I went overboard in feeling sorry for myself about my only child status. My mom lost a baby at term two years before I was born. Now that I have been through two pregnancy losses (at much earlier stages than she lost my brother), I have a tremendous amount of respect for the courage it takes to keep trying.

I know that my children’s personal histories have many more years in which to grow and develop, but my fantasy was that they would be close to one another. I didn’t observe them to be especially close growing up. Maybe that will change as they grow further into adulthood.

Maybe I wouldn’t have been close to a sibling. But I always wanted to know.

I also feel the weight of having been the only egg in my parents’ basket. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to pray for a child, lose a child, finally have a child, just to have a disrespectful, resentful daughter. (I know most teenagers go through a disrespectful, resentful stage but this still weighs on me, especially now that I have been a parent myself.)

Whether to adopt

In the comments my friend received about her decision, there were the “I loved being pregnant” people and the “pregnancy was the worst thing ever people.” I loved being pregnant. Loved it.

That said, I have seen so many positive adoption (and foster parenting) stories among my friends. I know I would have been sad to have not been able to be pregnant, but I like to think I would have been open to adoption.

I have a friend who is an advocate for foster parenting, and I admit I feel a little pull every time she posts about how great the need is for foster parents. I feel guilty for saying this, but we’re not there (ready) as a family/couple right now.

Remaining childless

My friend already has one child, so remaining childless isn’t part of her decision tree. But I feel compelled to address this. I’m not sure why society is so judgmental about people who decide to have children or not. Having a child(ren) is the absolute last thing you should do solely to satisfy a societal expectation.

For me, having kids is all I ever wanted. I have never regretted it. But it’s not for everyone at all.

On the flip side, the current spate of articles about how unbearable other people’s children are makes me wonder how we have abandoned tolerance and patience for the fact that children in public ……. are childish sometimes.

Summary: What I would tell my friend

My decision (regarding having a third) was made for me. I lost two pregnancies at early stages, then as I was trying again, I learned I was in early menopause. Boom! Decision made.

Society puts pressure on you to have a certain kind of family, with a certain number of children, a certain number of years apart. Try to shut off all that noise, confer with your spouse, and make the decision that is right for you.

Even though my children don’t (yet) have the bond I hoped they would have, I am thankful they each have a sibling. Right this very moment I am not overwhelmingly grateful that I am paying for two kids in college simultaneously (they are three years apart), but that’s one small period of time in the scheme of things that add up to a lifetime.

As I got older, after losing the two pregnancies (I was in my last half of my 30s by then), I thought often of all the things that could go wrong with my “old eggs.” My son was being tested for a developmental disorder at the time, so I was acutely aware of the increased chance of something going wrong. It turns out he was fine, by the way.

I kept asking myself, however, the opposing question. What if everything goes right?

I have a hard time in life in general not locking in on all the “what if’s.”

Even as an upper middle class American, I haven’t been able to give my children all things many of their friends had or all the things they wanted. But I did give them all the things they needed. Most importantly, I gave them unconditional love 24/7.

I ask myself every day if I have parented well. Whatever the answer to that is, I know I have parented with love. I am a person of faith, so I tend to believe I got, from a parenting perspective, what I was supposed to have.

Lucky me.

This post was written in response to the Kat Bouska prompt “Write a blog post inspired by the word: break.”

*I have two half brothers. We did not grow up together, but I love them.

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

7 Personal Finance Lessons from Unexpected Sources

Taxes.

That’s what is happening after this post is done (or at least enough of the process to file an extension).

Therefore, this may be my longest post ever (just kidding).

One of Kat Bouska’s prompts this week is “List 7 things you would recommend to a friend this month.” Because finances and taxes are so heavy on my mind, here are seven interesting things I’ve read, seen or discussed recently ….. and a personal finance tie-in for each.

Goats Stranded on a Bridge

Two goats in Pennsylvania wandered out onto a bridge overpass and got stuck. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation came to their rescue, using a snooper crane to position an employee so he could grab one goat, then coax the other one to safety by tapping (it probably wasn’t exactly a “tap” I guess) on the rim of the overpass.

Photo credit: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Facebook Page

Tie-in

“They deftly walked along the beam with their very small feet,” the article says. Once they were out there, though, they encountered an obstacle and couldn’t complete the crossing. Sometimes we get ourselves into financial positions that we did not anticipate at first. 

Nugget McFluffyhead

Nugget the lamb is one of three lambs born to a Maine lamb. Nugget’s mom, however, rejected Nugget, whose two siblings were more aggressive and monopolized her two teats. That’s what led Greg Purinton-Brown and his wife Heide to decide to hand raise Nugget.

Personal Finance Lessons

Photo Credit: Toddy Pond Farm Instagram

Tie-in

“A ewe only has two teats, and the other triplets were getting there first,” the article says. As much as we would it to be the case, there’s never enough money or time to do it all; failing to speak up or assert yourself for your share may threaten your survival.

The Penzeys American Heart and Soul Box

Penzey’s Spices is giving away their eight-blend American Heart and Soul Box (a $34.95 value) for free. All customers have to do is pay shipping ($7.95)!

Personal Finance Lessons

Photo Credit: Penzeys.com

Tie-in

Penzey’s put together this box to highlight the soul that cooks of all different origins bring to our nation, calling some of the blends, “testaments to the ever-renewing role immigration continues to play in seasoning the American spirit.” Penzey’s also says one way we can help our nation be more unified is to cook. That’s it, to cook. It turns out cooking at home is good for the budget too. Save money by cooking at home.

Cosmo Loves Thumper

My friend and coach, Kristie, welcomed Thumper the bunny into her home. Cosmo the golden retriever turned out to be the most protective, loving, nurturing BunnyDad (BunnyBrother?) ever.

Personal Finance Lessons

Tie-in

Sometimes it’s worth taking a chance to love someone new, two-legged or four. In personal finance, too, there are times that make taking a chance worthwhile. Volunteering can turn into compensated work. Making the effort to share your work can get your name and brand more recognition. You might also help someone, which feels good in itself. 

Bless the Seeds Before They’re in the Ground

The La Semilla Food Center celebrated its 5-year-anniversary with a seed blessing. The non-profit says on its website that it is “dedicated to fostering a healthy, self-reliant, fair, and sustainable food system in the Paso del Norte region of Southern New Mexico and El Paso, Texas.”

They also have a cool/humorous sign:

Personal Finance Lessons

Source: La Semilla Instagram

Tie-in

I am taken with the idea of infusing the seeds at the earliest stage possible, before they have turned into a full-grown plant or yielded any fruit. I know this may sound like an exaggeration, but when I do social media for clients, I do see every tweet or other piece of social media posted as a sort of ministry (and I don’t mean that in a necessarily spiritual way). I can’t say this has panned out for me (yet), but be intentional and passionate about every stage of your work and it is more likely to pay off than if it is viewed as “just another job to do.”

Write Down Your Goals

I was the lone voice in the wilderness in support of this statement (on Facebook) this past week among people I value and respect deeply.

Personal Finance Lessons

NOTE: I added the “unknown” (because I don’t know who said it) and “unwanted” (because no one in the thread wanted this quote).

Here’s the thing — and maybe I made a HUGE assumption that because I have clung to the sentiment behind a quote like this (Brian Tracy’s “3% of people have written goals and the other 97% work for them) as one of my main life mantras for so long, then they should (or would) feel as attached as I do. AU CONTRAIRE.

To be clear, my love of the Tracy quote isn’t about wanting to be in charge of legions of people (my time doing that at Healthy Kids left me with lessons learned that will make me a different supervisor in the future). It’s purely about the fact that written goals are more likely to be attained than unwritten ones. Period.

Tie-in

When it comes to your finances, write down your goals. They’re more likely to be achieved that way. 

Get Naked

Oh wait ……… not THAT kind of naked. Naked with your partner about money.

As my husband and I try to resolve some issues we created for ourselves (that were somewhat exacerbated by my working part-time while my father-in-law was with us for three years), I think often of how the path that got us here hinges on our failure to have some basic discussions about finances and values early on.

Why Couples Need to Get Financially Naked recommends these types of questions early in a relationship:

  • What are the three most important money lessons you learned growing up?
  • What are your three biggest money worries?
  • What are your three biggest goals?
  • What are the three most important ways you want to use money to leave a legacy?

Tie-in

Being on the same page as a couple helps alleviate stress (because financial conflict will always be a part of any relationship).

Personal Finance Lessons

Personal Finance Lessons

 

 

 

 

 

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Thanksgiving 2017: A Little Cheering Section for Caregivers

November is National Family Caregivers Month and Thanksgiving is almost here! That means it is time, for the third year, to create tokens of appreciation for the caregivers at Tallahassee’s Elder Day Stay. (Here’s a look back at Year One and Year Two.)

Caregiver Support

Why does it matter to say “thank you” in this small way to caregivers?

Caregiving is Expensive

The costs of home, community, and facility care of elder family members has increased over the past year. According to Genworth Financial, the national median daily rate of Adult Day Health Care (providing social and support services in a community-based, protective setting) is $70, a 2.94% change since 2016 and a five-year annual growth rate of $2.79%.

Caregiving is Messy

I have grown to hate (or at least to try to tune out) most advertising around the caregiving options for elderly family members. The sweet grandma reading a story to an attentive grandchild, the sentimental music playing in the background as families gaze lovingly upon one another, the clean, seemingly chaos-free homes.

That wasn’t the case for us, and I doubt many caregiving families could relate to a situation that doesn’t involve bodily fluids, mystery smells, and stains of undetermined origin. This post lists several reasons elderly people lose momentum in the hygiene department, including depression, control (definitely a factor for us), and the fact that their senses have dimmed so much that they may not see or smell their deteriorating physical state.

(That’s why I always include hand sanitizer in the appreciation tokens — we should own stock we went through so much of it.)

Caregiving is Important, Minimally Rewarded Work

According to GoodTherapy.org, “Thirty-five percent of caregivers find it difficult to make time for themselves, while 29% have trouble managing stress, and another 29% report difficulty balancing work and family issues.”

One small token of appreciation can’t reverse the challenges created by caregiving, BUT it can remind the people doing this important work that they are not forgotten, and that their needs are recognized.

And since I like keeping it real, let’s throw in one more toilet reference. When I was looking for a great quote with which to end this post, I found (ta-da!) a rising toilet seat. It is not only elevated (we had that) BUT it has little (okay, maybe not so little — they say they handle up to 450 pounds) “lifters” that help the elderly person get up from the toilet without a human caregiver helping them. It’s one “uplifting” item in their world that quite literally DOES lift them up.

Giving these Thanksgiving tokens is a little bit like that — a small lift that lightens one small fragment of a caregiver’s day.

If You Want to Help

I got a late start this year (and I don’t have caregiving to blame!), so I am still finalizing a few details regarding how many caregivers there will be this year, but I’m working from an assumption of “50” and I’ll come in and update as things get refined.

Here’s what I hope to include:

A Sharpie (the participants at adult day stay mark their belongings with Sharpie).

Hand sanitizer (remember the “messy” paragraph above?)

A candy bar (everyone deserves a treat!)

If you’re local and can help, let me know. If you’re not local, and want to contribute, feel free to send donations via Paypal to opuswsk @ aol.com with the notation “Thanksgiving 2017.”

I invite you to help me be part of the “little cheering section” for a deserving group of caregivers.

Caregiver Support

I am linking this post up to Mama’s Losin’ It this week — for the prompt “Write a blog post inspired by the word: messy.” (Also – pro tip – if you’re a cat lover, visit Kat’s post about her foster kittens. So cute!)

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

12 Things I Would Do If I Didn’t Have to Work

Imagine this! Your life fairy godmother just waved her wand and *poof!* you can do whatever the heck you want to do with your time.

What do you choose?

Mama Kat suggested we blog about “10 things you would do if you didn’t have to work.” Before sharing my list, I must add two caveats:

First: I love working. There have certainly been things throughout my career that I did not love and did not do to the fullest of my capabilities, but in general I value being part of a team, contributing to a goal, making a difference. If I won the lottery, I suspect I would keep working in some capacity, but I would take advantage of the windfall to fit in a heck of a lot more of the things I am about to list.

Second: Up until May 2014, when I left Healthy Kids, I had always worked full time (with tiny breaks when I moved back to Tallahassee from NYC and my two maternity leaves). The whole time, I thought “I don’t know how I’m fitting this all in” and almost always felt like I wasn’t giving anything 100% because I was split so many ways.

Having been out of the traditional work force for three years, I can attest that (at least for me) it is true that “people who have the most to do get the most done.” When your day is unstructured, it takes an iron will to whip it into some kind of order. If I did not actually have to work, I absolutely know I would need to have some type of structure (probably in the form of work!) to keep myself together and prevent inertia. (This is why taking on a structured part-time job in January 2017 that, although it is done from home, requires my full attention from 6:45 am to 12:30 pm every day was a game changer.)

Here is my list of 10 (plus two bonuses), in relatively random order (paging Fairy Godmother STAT!):

Travel to Valencia, Spain

I took a Spanish course in college that was far above my fluency level. Ironically, I learned so much from this class — from being forced to keep up with a group composed mostly of native speakers. I am not sure exactly what it was, but something about Valencia piqued my curiosity and ignited a desire that has been in my gut for decades.

Personal Life Goals

Picture me here! That’s what I’m doing. Credit: Flickr user Bruno.

A Spanish Immersion Program

Perhaps this should be in the number one slot (but I would be willing to muddle through a trip to Valencia with my less-than-advanced Spanish!). No matter how many courses I take and how much practice I get locally, nothing replaces having to live with a language for its usefulness to language learning.

More Yoga

Arguably, I could do more  yoga starting … NOW! The minute I finish this blog post. But my list for today (besides the fact that there may well be a Category 3 Hurricane here within 48 hours) is lengthy. I have been to yoga once in the past six months, and I have missed its benefits … for my body as well as my mind. I’d love to buy an “unlimited” yoga card and use it without my mind reeling from the 1,001 other things I should be doing.

Personal Life Goals

More Aggressively Pursue Options for My Tachycardia

If you have been a reader for a while, you may be aware that I have multifocal atrial tachycardia, mostly exercise-induced.

Victor Martinez of the Detroit Tigers apparently has a similar problem (he has atrial fibrillation, which is worse (relatively) than my MAT). He is scheduled to have an ablation, and I hope it works (I was not a candidate for an ablation after my electrophysiology study in April 2015). It’s important to keep in mind what Terry Francona, the Cleveland Indians manager, who also had an ablation, said: “You’re talking about life, not just baseball.”

What would I do differently about my medical situation if I didn’t have to work? (Caveat: I’m sort of assuming that along with her dispensation allowing me not work, the Fairy Godmother gives me a bit of a blank check!).

My tachycardia issue has gone far past interfering solely with my running at this point. I need to find a solution.

The nurse practitioner at my appointment yesterday scheduled me for another check in four months and said, “you know, another EP study wouldn’t be the end of the world; the circumstances that prevented an ablation before may have gone away by now.” She’s right, but I hesitate to take the time off from work (the gig economy doesn’t come with medical leave).

But there are some additional avenues I have hesitated to follow. A friend with extensive personal experience has urged me (strongly) to get a second opinion from the Cleveland Clinic. She is right (and to be fair, my electrophysiologist said he would help me pursue a second opinion if it was important to me), but I hesitate, wary of the long list of diagnostics I need to send them and the price tag. Ironically, I would (and have) advocate to any friend to be their own strongest advocate for their health.

The past year of not running has (in some very small ways) revealed some qualities about life I had been missing (hello, Saturday mornings!), but good golly I miss running. I miss exercise endorphins. I miss my running community.

Clean My House

Yes, I have written before (as recently as last week) that I know myself well enough to know I need help to overcome my housecleaning inadequacies. BUT with a little extra time, I think I could master the basics.

Help at a Public School

In my mind’s eye, this means reading with elementary school kids, but I imagine there are some middle schools and high schools that could also use a caring adult to pitch in. There’s so much work to do — teachers are stretched frightfully thin and I would love to help relieve some of the stress.

Be a Hospice and/or Alzheimer’s Association Volunteer

This one is inspired by our recent experience and the ways volunteers made the process of navigating terminal illness with a loved one more bearable. I know in our area, the outlying counties beyond Leon are more stretched for volunteers; I would be willing to drive quite a ways if it would help a family be a hair less stressed.

Go to New York City Much More Frequently

Best case scenario: I have a tiny, but safe, studio in New York that is available to me year-round and I use it. I could go with an annual two-week stay or briefer, quarterly stays. I need NYC far more often than I get it.

Take a Cruise

I’ve never been on a cruise and would love to check this off my list! I’m not too picky about which line (although Disney Cruise Lines would be extra-magical!) or where I go. I just want to be able to chime in to cruise conversations with some experiences of my own.

Spend Time at the Beach

When we went to Daytona Beach earlier this month to help Wayne Kevin with arrangements regarding school, we had dinner at the beach both nights we were there. I only got a quick glance at the sea, a few moments on the sand, but even that little bit of time was restorative.

Personal Life Goals

Write More Letters

It’s no secret that I love snail mail but I send out far fewer letters than I would like. I would especially love to send out “just because” notes.

Travel to Australia

I have relatives in Australia; visiting them (and the country) would be a dream! Not sure what I would do first, or what my priority would be, but three top contenders would be to see the Sydney Opera House, to visit New South Wales (I know this is a broad desire!), and to visit something well off the beaten tourist path (I have plenty of time to come up with a plan on that).

YOUR TURN

What would you do if you didn’t have to work?

Personal Life Goals

This post is a response to a Mama’s Losin’ It prompt: 10 things you would do if you didn’t have to work.

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

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

thoughtful-thursdays4

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

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.

Editor’s Note: Here’s a 12/21/17 update! https://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/nasa-tests-3-d-printed-rocket-part-to-reduce-future-sls-engine-costs

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!).

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.