Sunday, August 31, 2014

7 things you shoud know if you plan to marry a rocket scientist

Ok, so all these lists going around online have inspired me to write a list of my own. This is one I've been working on for the last 16 years while married to my husband...

1. Unless your spouse works in propulsion, don't refer to him/her as a rocket scientist. 
My husband is an aerospace engineer. Whenever I tell someone what he does for a living, they say, "oh, he's a real life rocket scientist?" Wait, let me back up- whenever I tell someone who does NOT live in Huntsville, Alabama aka "Rocket City" that he owns a small aerospace engineering firm with contracts to NASA and commercial space companies, they say, "oh, he's a real life rocket scientist?" To which I have to say, "well, no actually. He doesn't work on propulsion." Insert blank stares here. But I say it. Because that is what is expected of the spouse of an aerospace engineer. Technically correct representations of the facts.

My husband at his firm Zero Point Frontiers

So the remainder of this list will be 6 things you should know if you plan to marry an aerospace engineer...

1.  Your spouse will prefer estimations to include numbers and not metaphors. 
Speaking of technically correct representations of the facts, my husband always wants me to clarify what I mean by "a lot." For example, it is not acceptable to say "there is a lot of water coming from the pipe below the sink." He wants some sort of number value given to the amount of water. And usually a number involving the duration of said leak too...

2. Directions will be given in terms of east/west and the like and not "turn by the carwarsh."

My husband has frequently asked me "where is the sun?" while giving me directions. I don't know? In the sky.... All I can say is that Google Maps has pretty much saved our marriage...

3. Your household may become early adopters of new technology.

My husband has waited hours if not days in line (how's that for number estimates!) for the latest iphone. And we've upgraded our tv more than our carpet. We also bought the first Pruis off a car lot in Southern CA. Sometimes this can be frustrating, but if you go with it, you can reap great rewards.

I remember being frustrated with a gift of a Tivo shortly after my first daughter's birth 10 years ago. I had no idea what a Tivo was, but I was certain we didn't need it. And annoyed that he thought I would want one. Then I discovered that I could PAUSE live tv whenever my new baby needed attention. So I could be a good mom, AND not miss a moment of my show. Win-win. And suddenly my husband was the genius everyone assumed him to be...

4. You might become a science fiction fan.

Before the marriage I did like me some Star Trek, not gonna lie. But in the last 16 years, my exposure to science fiction has multiplied at a rate like the tribbles. Some of it is bound to stick...

File:ST TroubleWithTribbles.jpg

5.  Before you know it, your kids will know more about the universe than you do.

When my daughter was 5 she declared, "I'm bored with Daddy taking us to school. All he does is tell us science stories. I know everything now. I even know how a black hole is formed."
Same year she told me she loved me as much as the amount of "earths fit into the sun." Which she said was more than a million. And according to my fact checking, she was correct. So I felt really loved and sadly inadequate that my 5-year-old knew more about the scale of things in our universe than I did... 

6. If you ask a question, be prepared for an answer. 

My standard disclaimer to any friends or family that visit the U.S. Space and Rocket Center with us is this, "Don't ask Jason a question unless you really want to know the answer." Because if you point to something randomly and ask, "what's that?" you might get a 15 minute mini-lecture on the history of space hardware. Which can be fascinating if you are prepared. Which is also true of the whole marriage experience. Fascinating if you are prepared. So says this one random angel... 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Can you play me a memory?

"Son can you play me a memory?" Quick. Name that tune... If you said Piano Man by Billy Joel you win. No prize but pride really. But still, that's something. So good job, you!
Now back to my random thoughts on playing memories...

The piano man got me thinking about the way songs can take one in an instant back into a memory. I'm not talking about artists or genres that remind us of a time period in our life. I'm talking about specific songs that seem to transport us in time and space to other specific moments in time and space. And since I was driving with hours ahead of me when those thoughts began, I was able to let my mind play me some memories. But don't worry, I've since arrived at my destination. I'm not blogging and driving... 

One of my song transporters is "Danger Zone" by Kenny Loggins. I hear it and suddenly it is 1986 again, and I am 12 years old. My friends and I have just walked through English Village up to the movie theater by Zettler Hardware. I can hear Shannon Marshall say loudly as we enter, "where we gonna sit?" like it was yesterday. And I smile remembering how much we laughed that day. And lots of other days. But that's the one burned into my memory tied to that song.

I have many others. I shared in my first ever blog post how "Earth Angel" takes me to 8th grade. And nothing can transport me back to high school faster than "Knock on Wood." And not just high school, but a Friday night on the football field. Yep. I'm marching in the band. In my Ram band. And I'm oh so cool...Speaking of cool,  "99 Dead Baboons" and "Lydia the tattooed lady" magically whisk me away to a road trip in 1994. You can tell by those titles that it was an awesome trip. Four great friends cruising up and down the eastern coast. Ceiling upholstery held in place with staples and the ashtray full of change.

I'll stop there. Because I realize this post has been a bit indulgent. So I invite you now to indulge in your memories. Try to hear a song in your mind that transports you through time and space. It's fun. No TARDIS or other time machine necessary I promise. And I hope you play some happy memories.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Let's all meet at the Global Family Reunion!

I just found out I am a cousin of my favorite non-fiction writer, AJ Jacobs. And by cousin, I mean I am a distant relative on his Aunt Jane's husband's side of the family. And by distant relative, I mean we have 31 degrees of separation between us on the WikiTree Connection Finder.
And that, my friends, is good enough to get me in the family photo!

This photo will be taken at the Global Family Reunion in New York City, June 2015. And you are all invited too. The website describes the event as "the biggest, most extraordinary and most inclusive family reunion in history. Come meet fascinating cousins you never knew you had — and learn about how we are building a Family Tree of the entire Human Race."

Sounds awesome, right?!? And as for the photo, "Those with a proven connection to the world’s biggest family tree (currently at 77 million people) get a bracelet and take part of the largest family photo in history." And if all that isn't enough to get you excited, "Sister Sledge will lead us in the largest sing-along of “We Are Family” in history." How could you not want to be part of that?!

So in order to connect myself to this Family Tree, I had to do some research. Prior to starting, I literally only knew the names of 4 out of my 8 great-grandparents. And I knew zero about any one else further back on my tree. But I knew I loved reading about all of AJ Jacobs projects through the years, and here was my chance to be part of one. So I started with no other goal in mind really than to get my bracelet and eligibility for the picture.

I actually met that goal pretty early on in my research. Through my great-grandma Rodger's side of the family. But as I started to add names to my family tree, I kinda got hooked on it. And I've learned some really cool things about many of my ancestors.

My 7-year-old daughter's favorite fact is that I traced one branch of my tree back to King Alpin and Queen Fergusia of Scotland. She asked, "so we are royalty?!?" I tried to explain that we were just distant descendants of Royalty on one branch of our tree. This was pretty much a distinction without a difference for her. So if you run into her one day, and she expects you to kneel, I apologize... Of course she also requested that I trace us back to the first monkey. I told her unfortunately written records didn't go back that far...

My favorite newly found ancestor by far is my 1st cousin 8 times removed, Mary Elizabeth Greenlee (born McDowell). She was born in Northern Ireland in 1707, and she died in Rockbridge County, Virgina in 1809. She is described in one history as, "a feisty lady. Some people thought she was a witch. The Indians thought she was crazy. They believed bad things would happen to them if they harmed a crazy person and Mary was allowed to freely roam in and out of their camps. Mary probably was not crazy, but was actually very smart, although somewhat eccentric."
Now that's someone I am proud to call family...

True confession time, I moved to the South 15 years ago, and I never understood the Southern obsession with family history. In fact, I kinda mocked it. My husband and I hung a plaque marker on our first house that read, "In 1868 nothing happened here." I really did not get the pride people had in their lineage or in who had lived or slept once in their homes ages ago.

And I certainly did not care about who my ancestors were. What I realize now, is that I did not care because I did not know. Over the last weeks I have developed an unexpected attachment to my roots. I feel part of something bigger than I ever have before. I have felt a little less of just one random life.

It is easy to not care about something when you have little to no knowledge about it. Which is kind of the point of the whole Global Family Reunion Project. When you realize you are literally related through blood or marriage to 77 other million people (and counting) it makes it harder to not care about those other people. And the more knowledge one gets about our great big human family, the hope is the more one will care about our great big human family.

And so my friends and followers, I look forward to singing with you all one day:

We are family
I got all my sisters with me
We are family
Get up everybody and sing

Everyone can see we're together
As we walk on by
and we fly just like birds of a feather
I won't tell no lie
 all of the people around us they say
Can they be that close
Just let me state for the record
We're giving love in a family dose
We are family
I got all my sisters with me
We are family
Get up everybody and sing

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Thinking Hobby

My 7-year-old daughter self-identified "thinking" as one of her hobbies for a form I was filling out about her. At first I chuckled, but then I wrote it in realizing that "thinking" is one of her hobbies. So much like any proud mommy sharing products from her child's hobbies, here are some of my favorite of her "thoughts":

 -One day when she was about 5, she heard on the radio a news story about someone who had just died. She says to me, "Mommy, if we are all connected, we should have a funeral for that person." Huh. I was a bit worried about the logistics of that request, so I said, "well, we are all connected and that is a beautiful idea, but unfortunately too many people die a day for us to have a funeral for everyone. How about we have a moment of silence for all of them before bed time?" This was acceptable to my thinker. That night we started the practice. I said, "and now we will have a moment of silence for all those that died today. We are thankful for all the ways our lives have been made better by the people who came before." My thinker adds, "Yes. Like Abraham Lincoln." To which I say, "yes, like Abraham Lincoln and members of our own family who have passed on but whose lives touched ours." She gets the last words in, "but mostly Abraham Lincoln." :)

-One day not too long ago, my thinker was playing "house" with her best friend. They both wanted to be the mom of the baby. A potential landmine of conflict...but my thinker saves the day,
"I know, we can be gay." -my daughter
"What's gay?" -friend
"You know, when someone has two mommies or two daddies."
"Oh, yeah, right. Sounds good." 
And so the age old question of who gets to be the mommy was solved. I promise you that thought would have never occurred to me as a child. But then my hobby wasn't thinking... 
(and if you are wondering what the friend's mom thought about this- the girls were actually playing at her house, and she was equally proud of their problem solving. She's cool like that.) 

-Back in the summer of 2013, my thinker carried a Slinky named Michelle around with her everywhere. One day on the way to a party, she asked, "what if someone has a toy with them cooler than mine?" I started to answer with some wise words about sharing or jealousy, but before I could get any words out, she chuckled and said, "I'm just kidding. What could be cooler than a slinky?"

- August 2012 new kindergarten thinker's homework was to "draw 3 objects." She drew a mudpie, onion grass in a sink, and the big red chicken from Dora. When I asked her why those 3 objects, she said "I thought they would be interesting choices." Indeed.

And finally for my visual thinker friends, I am going to share a few photos of her costume choices through the years. Because she can never just dress up like a simple character. That's not how thinker's think...

While some toddlers choose to be Cinderella, she created "Fairy Princess Meow"
At a spaced themed party with her friend Buzz. She chose to go dressed as a black hole.

Most recent Halloween costume. She chose a Doc McStuffin's costume off the rack. Then she added accessories from home- result: Doc McStuffins dressed like a cowgirl.

 I have no doubt one day this "thinking hobby" or hers will transform the world. So stay tuned for that. And for more from this one random angel...

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Seize and Celebrate Joy!

Have you ever seen a parent or grandparent celebrate their child’s first step or the first time they went to the potty?

Despite the fact that billions of people who came before took a step and went to the potty, we still celebrate those moments with our own children with a level of enthusiasm usually reserved for winning some great award or honor. And we should. We should clap and praise and make them feel like they have done something great. They peed in the potty after all. That IS awesome. No one questions that.

And yet when those same children get a little older, we stop celebrating milestones with them. Worse, we sometimes even stop noticing or encouraging. Children are constantly saying, “watch this” or “look at me.” And they think they are doing amazing things. Amazing things as great as peeing in the potty. And when they are craving our attention and positive feedback, how many of us just give a half-hearted “yeah, great” without even really looking? In our busy lives, we forget the pride and joy of accomplishing simple things that billions of people who came before have already done. We stop celebrating the things that make us human.

There is a game we play often at The Little Gym called “Slam the Cheese.” We stand a “cheese mat” (an incline mat for rolling down) up on its end and the kids just run right in to it and knock it down. That’s the whole game. And kids love it. And you can see the pride and joy in their faces when they stand up from knocking it over. They simply knocked down a mat with the help of momentum and gravity. And they feel like winners. And they should. Like the 2-year-old who peed in the potty.

Did I mention that in this Slam the Cheese game, there are no angry birds, no zombies, no endermen, no bells, no fancy graphics. Just forces of nature, the human spirit, and a rush of adrenaline. That’s all children need to feel joy really.  
When a child is smiling like they’ve won the lottery just because they are swinging on the rings by themselves, I remember what real joy looks like. When I turn on the music and the toddlers start dancing on the spot, I couldn’t stop myself from smiling if I wanted to. And don’t even get me started about bubble time!
My hope for us, my friends, is that we too can find these moments of joy, these simple gifts, to experience. And they are everywhere. Children tend to find these moments. They make their own joy. Adults, not so much. We tend to take ourselves, and the world, a bit more seriously. I say no more.

Let’s seize fleeting moments of real joy when we can. Not just do activities we enjoy, or participate in things we think we should, let’s challenge ourselves to find moments where our hearts are pumping and we couldn’t stop smiling if someone paid us to. And Summer is the perfect time to experience these moments. Perhaps try dancing at dusk with fireflies.  Or doing a cartwheel on your front lawn. Maybe try to catch frog.

Let’s celebrate with our children and with ourselves the simple gifts we get to experience each day. No matter how many people throughout history have spotted a hummingbird before, it IS still amazing when we do.  And even though we now understand the science behind rainbows and sunsets and full moons, we can still marvel in the magic of them.

And if you are having trouble one day finding a moment of joy, blow bubbles.

Bubbles are a special kind of magic. Take it from this one random angel...

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Becoming whole...

If you asked someone to describe me, I have no doubt you would hear things like, “She talks a lot; she talks fast; she is outgoing” And I do. And I am. At any point in my life you could have observed me in a large social group seemingly in the center of it laughing and having fun. Which I was most of the time. What you could not have seen is how broken I felt or how much anxiety I held surrounding a secret I kept from almost everyone.
Warning: this is not my normal online posting. I’m going to let you all in on that secret today. Instead of my typical bubbly ramblings, this will be a confessional of sorts. So if you came to this page expecting to laugh, I understand totally why you might want to stop reading now… but if you want to hear my story, my real story, here we go…
So I was born with a rare birth defect called Poland Syndrome. A fancy way of saying I was born without one of the muscles in my chest that everyone else has. As a result, my right breast did not develop or grow at all. In fact, that side of my chest was sunken in a bit.
Outwardly, I did not let this affect me much. Intellectually I knew many people had way more serious problems than I did anyway. In many other ways I was so blessed. Wow. Even in my own confessional I am having trouble owning my own pain. It is much easier to rationalize why this shouldn’t have affected me than to continue with the story of how it did. Deep breath and trying again…
To say I was a social adolescent would be an understatement.  For example, I was voted “most-talkative” my senior year by a landslide.  And throughout my youth, I had many wonderful friends. One of whom would mockingly call me “little miss activity” because I was involved in so many things. My point is that I was not off hiding in a corner. I was hiding in plain sight. I was hiding my shame. My sense of knowing I wasn’t whole. My fear that if any of my “friends” really knew what a freak I was, they wouldn’t like me. My terror that at any moment the grotesque truth would be revealed and people would no longer be laughing with me, but at me.
Now this is not to say I was always thinking those thoughts. But there were SO many normal moments and times that brought them to the forefront again of my mind. Things that are supposed to be joyous or rites of passage were the moments when I was most vulnerable to those thoughts of being a freak: changing for gym class, going swimming, shopping, (low cut clothes were my nemesis) dating, making-out, looking for dresses for dances, costumes I had to wear for choir and plays, sleep-overs- the list could go on and on. But you get the idea.
Every shopping trip ended in tears. Every time I was required to change clothes in front of people I was nearly paralyzed with fear. And I learned so many ways to change without being seen. All while being the most-talkative.
And being the social butterfly that I was, I also dated. A lot if I am being honest. But it felt too often like a chore. Instead of enjoying a kiss, I was constantly monitoring hands and positioning my body in a way to keep my secret hidden. And most of the time thinking the boy only liked me because he didn’t know what I really was. Thinking that I had fooled him into thinking I was whole and desirable. And so dating and being popular became a way of convincing myself I was good at hiding my ugly truth.
Now here is the good news part. My saving grace. Or rather my self-esteem saviors.  For I did somehow mange the courage to confide in a handful of friends and boyfriends through the years growing up, and every one of them contributed to saving me. Of that I am certain. Because by some miracle, no matter how immature the person was that I trusted with this confidence (I mean literally age-wise immature), every one of them uplifted me. None of those confidants made me feel anything less than whole. And a few of them made me feel genuinely beautiful.  And for those precious moments in my life, I almost believed that I was beautiful. But then I would look in the mirror. And the shame and fear of everyone knowing would overcome me again. And I would continue to hide.
I sometimes think about how my life might have turned out differently if even one of those friends had reacted the way I feared people would. If one of them had ridiculed me. If one of them had said, “well, I liked you before, but now that I really see you…” I honestly have no idea how my self worth might have been damaged beyond repair. But I suspect that it would have been. I was so fragile and on the edge emotionally. But not one of them pushed me off it. Instead, they each helped make me a little less fragile. And so to those life-saving friends, I am eternally grateful. Because they helped push me away from the edge and little by little onto a path of wholeness.
And it has been a long path. I had reconstructive surgery when I was 19 years old. And despite the breast implant, or maybe because of it, I still felt like a freak for many years. I could not speak about my Poland Syndrome to anyone-doctors, friends, family members, anyone- without crying until I was about 30. And I continued to hide my scars. My literal scars.  I did not wear a bathing suit or shirt with a low neckline until I was 39 years old. I honestly could not do it. And again, this despite all the love and acceptance of my husband and every other friend along the way that knew my secret.
The shame came from within. The fear and the loathing were self generated. Truth is, I am whole. I was then. I have as much worth as anyone to be loved. I did back then too. A fact that was reinforced by those life-saving friends. Everyone needs to be loved in a way that makes them feel whole. And we need to love ourselves that way too.
So why am I confessing this now? Well, I am at a UU leadership training and today we watched a TedTalk by Brene Brown on The Power of Vulnerability. (A talk I highly recommend you go watch.) And during her talk, she spoke of how shame and fear keep us from being vulnerable, which keep us from being fully happy and successful. And it struck me that I wanted to tell my story. And by struck I mean I was crying uncontrollably and was only able to stop crying when I began to write...
And so I write this for two reasons: One to tell my story and free me of any last hold that shame had on me. And secondly, to send this message out into the world: It is impossible to see who doesn’t feel whole. It is not always the people hiding in the corners. Sometimes it is the social butterfly seemingly flitting through life.
So many of us feel shame, and too many of us feel we need to hide something. For some it is addiction, or abuse, or body image, or family dysfunctions, or sexual orientation, or gender identification, or mental health issues or something else I can’t even conceive of but that is crippling for another. 
And so my prayer is that this story finds it way to someone who needs to hear it. Someone who needs to hear that even extroverted, successful people with seemingly full lives can feel broken. Can feel shame and fear of acceptance. You are not alone. 
And I want you to know dear reader, that you are whole. You are worthy. You are loved. And so am I…