Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Brother Wolfy and Brother Bear Go Swimming

Brother Wolfy and Brother Bear Go Swimming

It was a beastly hot day in The Hundred Acre Woods By The Inland Sea. Father Sun was shining in all his blazing glory, and Sister Wind was in hiding. Brother Wolfy decided that he would go for a swim, and thus cool off, and perhaps catch  fish for dinner. He was so pleased by this idea that he immediately set out out for the Inland Sea. The Inland Sea borders all along the Woods, and it was said that if one could swim far, far, far enough, one would come to the Egde of Urth! Brother Wolfy scoffed at such notions, as a wolf really has no need to swim very far at all. But perhaps it would be pleasurable to paddle about, like one of the young pups who so liked to play and bark and go round in lazy circles. 

As Brother Wolfy was ambling thru the brightly lit woods, and thinking of his not much younger days, he didn’t pay attention to his treads, and suddenly tripped over something and went kersplat down on the trail! Well, he certainly was embarrassed as it wouldn’t do for a mighty wolf to be seen tripping over his own paws! He sheepishly got up, and looked around to make certain that he wasn’t seen as you just never knew who was watching in the deep forest.

Just as Brother Wolfy started to grin at his own clumsiness and steal away, he heard the booming, bass voice of another forest creature! And it was laughing at him! It was coming from all around him, and laughing at him! Well, this would not do! So Brother Wolfy turned around, and around again to only find that terrible laughter mocking him at every direction. Brother Wolfy just was not sure what to do, when the booming voice asked him, “Well my goodly, young wolven friend, since you are so mighty and strong, where am I?”. At this Wolfy stood quite still, and cocked his ears this way and that, and then decided that perhaps it was time to try a different approach. Brother Wolfy was no ordinary wolf, mind you. He was a very smart and crafty wolf, as all his pack mates knew well. But whenever he was stumped, instead of rushing in with bared fangs and trying to scare some other woodland critter, Brother Wolfy would tilt his head and think of another approach. As his noble sire, the current leader of the pack had told him many times, “Better to walk around the den, and get the entire warren of rabbits, rather than charge in and only get the smallest one”. So Brother Wolfy now considered his other approaches and silently stood his ground. “I must confess, Sir, that not only do I not know where you are, but I do not know who you are?”, he admitted to the trees and leaves.

At this, the terrible thunder that was laughter quieted, and a still moment came, as if a reflection had come upon them both. “Well then my young pup, let’s take this one question at a time, shall we?” The same voice rumbled, but without apparent rancor. “As for the who of me, I am the ursine beast that walks, swims, climbs and laughs! I am he who eats fresh meat and fish, nuts and berries, and I love honey!” Then the unseen voice gently chuckled and Brother Wolfy could almost feel it’s smile. 

“This is an interesting creature”, he mused as he sniffed the air. But there was no scent about and he was still confused. “Of course even with such a fine, long nose you can’t smell me, my young lupine friend”, came the voice again. and again the sound was all around him, as if playing off the very trees in the woods? “Ah well then, since it is rather obvious that you have absolutely no idea where I am, then I will tell you just who I am. I, my young friend, am Brother Bear!” the voice replied. “Oh bollocks”, replied Wolfy, “Everyone knows there are no bears in the woods! There hasn’t been a bear sighting in many generations of the Wolven Clade”.

“I’m afraid that the reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated, to coin someone else’s phrase”,  said Brother Bear. “And as for why you cannot scent me, perhaps you nose is pointed in the wrong vector!”, said the large, mostly brown and grey bear as he slowly climbed down from a tall, stout maple tree. “You see my friend, we bears are solitary in nature, and I have been in these very woods for a very long time.” Brother Bear clambered off the tree trunk, and facing Brother Wolfy, bowed deeply, as only a bear can bow, and then saluted the wolf with a crisp furry paw to the head.

“Ah, a colonial bear then” Wolfy mused as he now caught it’s scent. “I had been told that your kind was only a myth, a story to keep our pups in line when scampering off too far in the forest?”.  The bear replied with a mischievous grin, “Well, of course that particular myth was started by no less than me, and encouraged thru the years so that the woodland critters would not even know of my passing by. Think of it as a convenient cover, if you will”. 

Brother Wolfy scratched behind his ear, as only a wolf could do, while reflecting on the very strange events of the morning.  “Well then Brother Bear, since you seem to be so eager to make my acquaintance, perhaps you can tell me something that I don’t know?” asked the wolf.

“Come along young Wolfy, let us travel together towards the Inland Sea, and perhaps we can tell each other a few stories?” said Brother Bear as he softly dropped onto all four, huge, shaggy paws and simply started along the trail. Brother Wolfy arched an eyebrow in question, then when it was apparent that the mountain of fur that was Brother Bear would not wait, Wolfy trotted to keep pace.

This most unlikely pair padded companionably along the trails, and sometimes each would lead, and sometimes they walked together. Brother Wolfy noticed that his ursine companion never seemed to slow down, nor speed up. His shambling gait was always steady and certain. Yet, Brother Wolfy was younger, and his fur was as dark as midnight, and he would sometimes bound forward, or divert off a side path for a bit. As they made their way thru the woods, Father Sun was slowly crossing Daughter Sky, and the pair stopped to rest in a clearing that was filled with all manner of brightly colored flowers. 

“So Brother Wolfy, would you like me to tell you what you were thinking when I had the root of my tree trip you up?” asked the old bear. “Aye, crap on that” replied the wolf indignantly. “I merely didn’t look quickly enough at the ground under my paws. There was no tree root that you made do anything”, he said dismissively. “...and how could you ever know what I was thinking?” Brother Bear stopped, and lifted his snout into the air and sniffed. Then he sniffed again, as if searching for the smells of anything that could be eaten. “Simple my friend, you see we bears can sniff out thoughts! You should be skeptical whenever someone makes a claim, that’s true enough.” The bear paused, and sniffed the air one last time. “Lemme see now, what was it? Oh yeah, I smelled water in your thoughts. Not just water, but the very Inland Sea that is our destination. And not just the Inland Sea... but...” Again he sniffed the air. “Oh yes! I’ve got it now I think... young pups that paddle in circles! That was it.”, the bear said, and sat down as if that decided the matter.

Brother Wolfy was a tad consternated, as no one had ever sniffed his thoughts before. So, Wolfy padded about in a slow circle around the old bear, trying to decide just what all of this meant. Meanwhile, the old, brown and grey bear started to lightly snore and enjoy a nap. “Well, this is a right proper cock up of a day” said Wolfy under his breath. After all, he had heard that one simply never awakens a bear, unless one has the desire to live a very short amount of time, and in the belly of the bear at that. 
“I may be old, and colonial, but my hearing is perfect young pup.”  mumbled the bear between snores. “And it’s time we both rested as we have a long journey ahead of us, and also will need to fill our bellies rather soon”

At this Brother Wolfy tilted his head, and then smiled and decided that, perhaps, the old bear might just have the right of it. And after all, Father Sun was still quite high up, dancing with  Daughter Sky, so a nap would be the best way to rest for a wee bit.

Sometime later, Brother Wolfy awoke suddenly when he heard a loud noise, that sounded as if the Urth itself was shaking and perhaps Uncle Thunder had come to visit! As Wolfy was opening his sleep filled eyes, he saw that Brother Bear’s head was violently shuddering and the most awful sneezing fit was being blown from Brother Bear’s nostrils! Well, thought Brother Wolfy, thank the Godz that I am not in that line of phlegmy fire!
“Yeah” said Brother Bear when he could stop sneezing and start talking, “I haz gotz an awergy to sumpn in da woodz”. Then Brother Bear proceeded to rub his large snout in the grass under paw, and wipe off buckets of snot. “Ironic isn’t it? A veritable denizen of the forest, brought to his knees by one of the smallest of things” he said with a lopsided smile, and pointed to one of the clusters of brightly colored flowers. “See that small purple flower there? The one with the long ivy like leaves? Well, yes sir, I’m here to tell ya that it is poison. No really, it’s called Nightshade, and every time it blooms, I blow boatloads of boogers!” At this, Brother Wolfy arched an eyebrow and tried, rather unsuccessfully, to cover his chuckling. 

“Then mayhaps my large, ursine friend, it is time for us to proceed along, and find some food! My wolfen tummy is talking to me, and it says ‘Feed me now!” grumbled Brother Wolfy. “Agree highly Wolfy, and if my nose knows anything, it knows that there is going to be some fresh salmon coming our way very soon indeed!” proclaimed Brother Bear loudly, as he actually picked up his pace just ever the tiniest amount. Well, this is unusual, thought Brother Wolfy, the old bear does have an upper gear when he so chooses. So shamble they did, thru the woods and came upon an open field. “Look over there, at the edge of the field my young wolven buddy, my eyes are nor as sharp as they used to be, and were never as good as yours anyway, but tell me, what do you see?” asked Brother Bear.

“Hmmm.... I see bushes, and bushels of berries, my dear bear!” exclaimed Brother Wolfy. The old bear smiled, and put a huge furry paw to his nose and said “Aye yup, thought so.... it’s never let me down yet. I smell blackberries and raspberries and razzleberries, all sweet and succulent and ripe for the plucking. Just the perfect first course before our salmon fillets”.
The two buddies then scampered towards the bushes and enjoyed the sweet flavors that exploded on their tongues. Soon enough though, they both were satisfied, and after a few polite burps and belches, were along the way again. “I say, Brother Bear, how do you know that we will be feasting on fillets tonight?” asked the wolf.  Brother Bear smirked and replied “Told ya that this old schnoz of mine has never let me down. It smells the Inland Sea not too much further down... through the ravine over the next hill. And it smells large, tasty salmon near the shore. All we gotta do is tickle their tummies and scoop them up!”

Well now, Brother Wolfy had caught a salmon or three in his day, but he had never ticked a fish tummy?! No, his idea of fishing was to stare down at the fish, and mesmerize them with his large wolfen eyes, then simply clamp down with his quick jaws. This should be an interesting time to learn something new, he mused. Brother Bear raised his head, and sniffed a couple of times, then replied “Yes, learning a new way to do something is always of interest”, then continued to pad over the hill and into the ravine.

“Surely now you can smell the Inland Sea Brother Wolfy? Even with that long snout you couldn’t not know it is very near.” Brother Bear chided merrily. And yes! There was a fresh and wet smell upon the air now. A scent so crisp and clean that it felt like the entire Urth was glad to be alive. But try as he might Brother Wolfy, who really did have a keen nose, did not smell any fish? Well, nothing to be done for it, he thought. Tis doubtful that Brother Bear is taking the piss on me, so I shall just go along and see how his oh so magical nose can make a salmon. Maybe he’ll blow one out of his nostrils!  And Wolfy started to giggle at the thought and scampered ahead to where Brother Bear was rising out of the ravine. “I sniffed that you moron” grumbled Brother Bear as he chuckled “Altho, to be fair, it was rather funny!”.

As the two forest beasts came out of the ravine, they wandered onto a gently rolling beach, partially covered in grass from the edge of the woods. Approaching the open, sandy area of the beach they both smiled as they gazed upon the Inland Sea. It was so beautiful and inviting and clear. As if all the possibilities of the Multiverse were contained in that life giving water. The scenting of it was intoxicating, and the sound of gentle wavelets lapping at the shore lazily was in harmony with their inner souls. 
“You know my dear Brother Wolfy, you also have magic in your bones. Or somewhere. You are simply young enough that it hasn’t fully developed in you yet. But I would hafta say that every time I peer into those large eyes of yours, I know there is a deep magic there. Perhaps your eyes will be your magic?” wondered Brother Bear. “As your nose is your magic?” asked Brother Wolfy. The old bear just smiled and nodded. “You just need to learn to trust in yourself my young friend, trust that you are enough”.

As Wolfy was pondering these things, he watched as the big bear slowly padded into the water, letting the cool refreshing water buoy him up. Then Brother Bear gulped down a huge lungful of air, and plunged underneath the surface, swimming like a dolphin, grinning from ear to ear. As Brother Bear finally broke the surface back up again, he slowly rolled onto his back and floated, not a care in the world. Brother Wolfy smiled and ran into the sea, paddling like a lazy dog, and enjoying the cool wetness. 
“So tell me, Brother Bear, where are these succulent salmon that your prodigious proboscis says we are going to eat?” asked Brother Wolfy. Brother Bear slowly turned over, and let the water support the bulk of his weight, while standing on all fours. “You know what Brother Wolfy? I think that it’s time for you to see for yourself. I have given this much thought, and it’s clear to me that the Godz sent you to me, so that I might help. When you look at the water, what do you see?”

Brother Wolfy stood on all of his fours as well, but a bit closer to the shore as he wasn’t nearly as large as Brother Bear. “Well, I see the little wavelets.” Brother Wolfy said. “Hrmpfh” scowled Brother Bear, and closed both of his eyes. “I can see way more than that, and my eyes are closed! and my eyes aren’t nearly as magical yours!! Now try that again, and don’t waste my time here son”.

Oh sod off you old, lumbering bear, thought the wolf, and closed his eyes a bit to ward off the glare from Father Sun’s rays on the water. “I smelt that too, you idjit. Try to look at what you usually don’t! I don’t give a hoot what you really think of me, but try to keep the stench away from your thoughts please and thank you”, said Brother Bear, still as a statue. “Oh, oops. Sorry there Brother Bear. I’ve just never been around someone who can smell my thoughts is all?” apologized Brother Wolfy. “Well, right now your thoughts smell like a fart from something that crawled up into your innards and died” replied Brother Bear.

So Brother Wolfy closed his eyes a bit, and scanned the surface of the water. He looked right and left, up and down. The little wavelets were moving in an harmonious fashion, crossing each other at odd diagonals, and pushing colors in and out of his field of vision. The wolf lowered his head slightly, and then let the pull of the water take him along, as if he was drifting out to sea. On a sea of every color and sound. Whoa he thought, this is strange! He shook his long head and scratched the fur behind his ears as he heard Brother Bear snore again. Well, that’s alright then, let’s give this another go, shall we? Brother Wolfy asked himself. He remembered Brother Bear asking him to look at what he usually wouldn’t, so he squinted a bit, and looked at the space in between the waves. Where the crescendo of color would riot and melt into the deepness of the trough. As Wolfy kept scanning the water, and feeling the colors, and hearing strange, underlying musical tones, he felt his body slowly being pulled into the sea, into the space between the waves. 

Just as he was about to give in and allow himself to be pulled into that incredibly tiny yet infinite place, Brother Bear whispered in his ear “Not yet Brother, you are not quite ready to part the Sea of Everything That Is Possible. But you are ready for a swim”. By now, Brother Bear was poised over Brother Wolfy, and easily picked him up and held the wolf’s back to his chest. “Take a good, long breath, and we will go for a dive, and then perhaps you will truly see”, said Brother Bear as the two of them slipped beneath the top of the sea and dove down.

The bear wrapped his forepaws around the chest of Wolfy, holding him fast, and wrapped himself around the wolf as much as his great bulk would allow. Wolfy was quite curious, but not afraid. A buzzing vibration was felt, then heard thru every bone in Brother Wolfy’s body. “Don’t struggle, and don’t try to paddle, I will swim for us both” said Brother Bear. “It’s now your job to see, and to decide where we go, and where we don’t go. You must trust in yourself Brother Wolfy. You are the one who sees, and the one that makes our course. I am the one that will get us there, and protect you as best as I can. It’s called the Buddy System, little buddy”. And Wolfy felt a gentle chuckle. “When you need more air, let me know, I have enough for us both, for a very long time if need be” rumbled the bear again. And to prove just that, Wolfy felt the bear constrict his chest, pushing the air out of lungs. Then, with a firm grip on Wolfy’s snout, the massive bear somehow spun the wolf around, and placed the end of Wolfy’s long snout gently into his cavernous mouth, and breathed air into Wolfy! As quick as that happened, Wolfy was spun around again, and they continued the dive.

Brother Wolf could never say how long they dove, nor exactly where they went. But they would go thru vast forests of kelp,and over mountains of rock and sand, and encountered the most magical of sea creatures along the way. Wolfy actually didn’t even think of breathing much, he was so relaxed and entranced. “Remember Brother Wolfy, you must trust yourself to see the right of it, and the wrong of it, and decide then where is the best place for you to go” the bear buzzed.

At some point, in some place, in the depths of the Sea of Everything That Is Possible, Wolfy wondered if what he was seeing was real, or imagined? “Ha!” Brother Bear rumbled, “There are many realities, and not just the ones we see now. Perhaps best to think of it as narrowing the probabilities of what could be. And as we swim closer to it, and it to us, into what is. There are many places that you must not go to yet. And even things that you must unsee just as you see them. To do otherwise is madness, and pain and death.”

Just then the water turned quite cold, and very dark, and all Wolfy could see was a paper thin ribbon sliding sinuously in the current, glowing like an ember of a fire. As he turned towards it, he felt Brother Bear getting anxious, and restless. “No! You must avoid that one at all costs little brother, it is the deep devourer, and it’s magic is ancient and deadly!” As soon as the ribbon turned, Wolfy thought that the ribbon grew fatter, and a pair of black, ominous eyes stared at them. “Now! Unsee this monster and see another way out, before it sees us!” Wolfy felt Brother Bear’s fear, as the grotesque lamprey like creature, covered with warts and bumps, swam  determinedly toward them. Wolfy started to panic, and wasn’t certain where to go, so he started going up, to break the surface and return to the safety of the beach. As Wolfy was striving to go topside, his right knee was suddenly pierced by a million wasp stings, and he felt a shudder thru his entire body! Wolfy kept aiming ever upward, unaware that they were so deep, and he felt a sickly poison enter his joint just as they crashed the surface.  But not the surface where they had dove, this was some place entirely different! This sandy beach was littered with bones, and colored grey, and the air had a foul stench as if Death itself squatted there.

Brother Bear quickly disengaged from Wolfy and tossed him up the beach and out of the water, as if Wolfy were no more than a wet towel. But still, at his knee was the repulsive creature, with a thousand needle sharp teeth, attached to his knee, and oh the Godz it hurt!! Brother Bear was running on all fours, and somehow getting larger and larger with each step. When the mountain sized bear was towering over Wolfy, who was lying on the beach, trying to bite the Body Sucker off his leg, Brother Bear stood on his two hind legs, each now the size of a giant oak tree trunk, and lifted his massive head to open a mouth that was the size of a huge cavern. When he spoke his words filled the sky “YOU WILL NOT HAVE THIS LITTLE ONE YOU EVIL BEAST OF CHAOS AND ENTROPY!!”

Wolfy felt a slow, icy paralysis seeping into his leg, and then noticed that not only was the beach grey, and all the bones grey, but so was the sky and sun? Yet he could hardly keep his head raised so weak was he. Then he heard a cracking, a tearing voice from the thing attached to his leg, and when it spoke he felt as if he was being turned inside out. “This one is mine! Mine to claim, mine to clean, mine to keep!” Hissed the parasitic lamprey, which was also grey, with grey, hideous eyes, and evil oozed from it’s breath. “NO!” roared the bear, as if to shake the trees loose from their roots and topple them over. “THIS LITTLE ONE IS NOT TO BE CLAIMED BY ANY SUCH AS YOU! YOU HAVE TRANSGRESSED BEYOND YOUR DOMAIN! YOU HAVE UPSET THE BALANCE OF THE EQUATION AND I WILL BE YOUR UNDOING!” the mountainous bear brought down his head, and when he exhaled, tornadoes spun from his nose, and a hurricane from his mouth. The ugly lamprey merely smirked and when it spoke, again was the cracking, tearing sound as if to rend the Multiverse itself, and Wolfy, who was sapped of energy, and starting to turn as grey as the beach and sky felt the weirding inside of himself. “You circus reject, you wanna be Animal Cracker” it hissed. “What gives you the power to make a decision over me? You know nothing of what I represent, or what I can do. You puny form is as transparent as this helpless cur on which I denominate.”

“CUR HE MAY BE, BUT HELPLESS HE IS NOT! I AM HIS PROTECTION, AND I WILL BALANCE THE ANCIENT EQUATION AGAIN YOU VILE MISPLACED GEOMETRY OF HELL!” Brother Bear beat his paws, that were the size of boulders, into the creature as he spoke, and dug deep, deep into the ancient language of the Godz. “Ah... here it is, your undoing. The very complexity that you think makes you so chaotic and terrible, is where your trust is misplaced.” The bear whispered. “You don’t know me, you unbalanced form without function. It always this way with your kind, seeking to prey upon that which is balanced and holy and good. Prey you upon this then” At which the bear neatly snipped the heart out of the body sucker, and with one infinitely tiny, yet sharp, claw, popped it like a balloon. Wolfy was certainly delirious as he saw and heard this because it looked and sounded like a million, million different insects with a million, million different kinds of wings all abruptly shot into a million, million different universes, and the body sucker started to deflate. As the repulsive beast was flattening, Wolfy felt, rather than heard, a sigh, as if this conclusion was inevitable.   He somehow knew that a certain celestial balance had been restored. but that was all he knew as he finally rested his head on the sand.

Sometime later Brother Wolfy looked around, and saw that he was no longer grey, and that the beach sand was indeed a sandy color again. Not sure what to make of that, he was just so tired and in pain that he felt as if maybe he should just die here? “No Brother Wolfy, I didn’t save you just to have you die comfortably” said a greatly reduced Brother Bear. “In fact, now I need you to return the favor. You see, I simply don’t have the strength to swim us back home, or for any length as far as that goes”. The bear seemed so small now, as if it was merely a cub. Wolfy gazed at the bear in wonderment,  and the small bear soon curled into Wolfy’s tummy and fell fast asleep. Wolfy kicked out his right leg, and slung the shriveled body sucker off his knee, and onto the beach. The creature continued to  implode, and finally became smoke, and then was no more. Wolfy eased into using his leg, and found that even though his knee was quite sore, he could walk, and even scamper a bit just fine. So... what to do with sleeping Brother Bear, and how to get back to Urth? Wolfy realized then and there that what Brother Bear had said was the right of it “Trust in yourself, little Brother. That is where the real magic is, not in your eyes, or in my nose, but in our hearts”.

So, Brother Wolfy did the only thing he could, he took the small bear by the scruff of the neck, and holding a paw over the bear’s nose, slipped into the Sea of Everything That Is Possible and saw his way back home. It is, of course, impossible to say if that dive took a minute, or an hour, or a day. It might have taken each of these, and none of those. All Wolfy knew was that at some point, he knew just where to turn, and when to go faster, and when to go slower, and when they were back on their beach, on Urth.

How strange, reflected Brother Wolfy as he tenderly laid the still sleeping form of Brother Bear on the warm sand. It looks as if Father Sun and Daughter Sky are still doing the Dance of the Midday? How long have we been gone? Where did we go? what really happened to us?

“All good questions my little brother”, said a yawning Brother Bear, as he sat up to his normal height, and scratching his normal, large sized belly. “But the real answer is that you trusted in yourself. That is where the bestest magic that ever has been, and always will be, is.” And with that Brother Bear stood up on all fours again, shook his fur from front to back and sniffed the air. “Why is that salmon I smell?” he asked. Whereupon Brother Wolfy gazed just under the surface of the Inland Sea,  and saw the possibility of salmon swimming in.

With apologies, and love,  to Neil Gaiman, I liberated your Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Friday, May 17, 2013

MoonBuggy Madness

First; a quick note of importance:
Read all about what's happening with our young hero, Issy at the link below! She's made a lot of progress, and also some setbacks. The more each of you shares her story, the better her chances of coming home to an improved situation!

Hi kidz, did ya miss me? It's been a very busy Spring time up here in the Hundred Acre Woods By The Inland Sea. But Old Man Winter has finally let go his icy grip, and some flowers are in bloom. Our daffodils are just wilting, and our tulips are just starting to open up to kiss the gentle warmth of the Sun. Even better, Morels are starting to pop their tasty, pointy, little heads out of the ground.

So spring has sprung, and the grass has greened. But let me take back just a little ways to the last NASA Social in which I participated. This was in the deep South of Huntsville, Alabama, which is home to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center (which hosts Space Camp) and also home to the Marshall Space Flight Center for NASA. So you could say that Huntsville is a focal point of the past, present and future of manned space exploration. This area practically eats and breathes space exploration! 

Yes, there is a mock, full size, Shuttle Orbiter atop those rockets! Every year, Space Camp also hosts a MoonBuggy Race competition for High School and Collegiate teams from across the U.S., and the world! This year was the 20th annual race, and as part of the NASA social, I was embedded with a High School team from Reno NV and a collegiate team from India! 
The idea is that each team has to design, build and test a human powered vehicle that can cross a variety of simulated Lunar surfaces and compete for the best time. The real kicker is that each team must bring their craft to the starting line in a 4ft x 4ft x 4ft box, (just like the original Lunar Rover) remove the MoonBuggy from the box, and assemble it before they can ride! At the Finish line, then they must disassemble the buggy, and stow it back in the box! 

That pic just above is The Accurate Institute of Management and Technology, from India. Yes, this was my collegiate team, and they were awesome! They were the smallest team in the field, with only four members, but they rocked the course! when I stopped by to introduce myself, they were quite welcoming and included me immediately! To say that I now have four new friends that live half way across the globe is wonderfully true. And isn't that really the best part of any NASA Social? Happily their English is much better than my Hindi (considering that I don't speak Hindi at all), and we communicated well with each other. 

Like every other team, this team had to conquer last minute break downs and repair jobs, perform more testing, and most importantly race the course in as little time as possible. At one point they couldn't decide where to put the "antenna" on the buggy. So, I looked down at their various parts strewn about the ground and spied a small diameter pipe that was clamped off at one end. I picked up the pipe, and jammed it in back of the seat upright, then placed the antenna (a small parasol) in the pipe. Voila!! They all looked at what I had done, and we all started laughing and giving each other High Fives! I think that's when they adopted me as a mascot?

I am delighted that I could spend time with this particular group of young folks, as their dedication and perseverance in the midst of chaos was truly inspirational. Plus, you could tell that they were enjoying themselves, and the MoonBuggy Race experience in general. I have kept in contact with each of them, and consider them to be my friends. Who knows? Maybe one day I can go over there and visit them, and see their beautiful country? And if they are ever in the States, then the door up here in The Hundred Acre Woods By The Inland Sea is always open.

Oh, and as for the wonderful High School team from Reno? I'm glad you asked, they will be featured in my next post! So stay tuned...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Cold Weather, Hot NASA

Yes, another rainy, cold, damp day in The Hundred Acre Woods By The Inland Sea! It seems that Mother Nature has decided, in her infinite wisdom, to keep our little corner of the globe to be completely free of any and all aspects of Global Warming. In fact, we're due for more snow, sleet and ice. Welcome home Snow Birds...

So throw another log on the fire and snuggle in, it's gonna be awhile till we thaw out.

And there is no better way to thaw out, inside and out than traveling to warm destination, with a group of great friends, and participate in a NASA Social! This time, I will go to Huntsville Alabama, for an event that will take place over three consecutive days! You can click on the above link to find out the details of what is going to be an incredible time. This is going to be one for the history books in many ways.

Rather than concentrating on those (worthy as they are) details, I want to share about a more personal side of a NASA Social. As soon as the initial Selection (and Wait List) emails are received, you get an incredible rush of near hysteria and excitement! I usually run around inside the house a few times, scaring the cats and dog, and sometimes even the wife! Happily WunderWife is used to these outbursts by now, and she does share in my unbridled joy. Or at least puts up with it. The dog just woofs and wags his tail, and the kitties scatter and really don't seem to be all that excited.

The next step is to join the freshly minted Facebook Group for the Social. We #SpaceTweeps use FB as a place to gather beforehand, and get to know each other, arrange for transportation and lodging, and generally let the #NASAsocial buzz abound! We'll share stories of previous Socials (or Tweetups) that we have been to, and get to know each other. You might think that using Social Media isn't really a good way to get to know people. But, dear reader, this no ordinary group of people! And we positively thrive on Social Media!! And yes, we can, and DO get to know each other quite well. You hafta remember that not only are we Social Media savvy, but we also are certifiable Space Exploration Fans For Life. Combine those two aspects our our dynamics, and aye yup, you get a great bunch of folks that cuts across all demographics. 

And not just any old group of folks, no siree, no how. These people are smart. Especially when it comes to our shared passion or obsession regarding space exploration. For the first time in my life, I have landed inside a group of people that talk the same language as me?! We share stories about different missions, and the more personal history of the various astronauts, scientists and engineers involved. And we even talk with those same people (major squeeze!!) and at some point each of realizes that Oh... My... Gawd... I (yes, me) am carrying on a conversation with these icons of space exploration, and I'm holding up my end! Even better, each and every time I have gone to a Tweetup, or Social, all those science types of people have (to a person) expressed their gratitude, and even admiration for us. Umm... huh? Astronauts in orbit on the ISS have actually thanked us for asking them questions. Charlie Bolden, the head of NASA has called us out and  personally thanked us as well. 

This, my friends is just a part of a much a larger, more dynamic, hopefully never-ending learning and sharing of space exploration party that is a NASA Social.

This is truly a life affirming event.  This is how I, and every other #SpaceTweep lives like a rock star. Because we keep looking to those stars, where one day our species will walk, and work and live. And because, The Grand Old Lady: that is NASA, has welcomed us into her family. Maybe because we've already given her our heart. And now we get to share with the rest of you!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Zumba Class and a Kilt?

Ah, there you are! It's been a long, busy week or so here in The Hundred Acre Woods By The Inland Sea, and now that it is officially Spring, we have more snow and colder temps than ever! The Groundhog lied... damned rodentia... So how to stay warm and also work off some of that Winter Weight that we all seem to acquire? Plus you still want to do something to help Team Issy (see my last blog, and please keep Sharing it) don't you? We really need for this go viral, and yes you can help by merely spreading the good word! 

Well, my friend, have I got a deal for you! Ever heard of Zumba? No, it's not some type of broomstick flying races from Harry Potter (darn it!). It's a type of exercise class that mostly combines some fun dance music, and moves, to give you a really good Cardio workout. At least that's what I've been told. WunderWife has been going to a Zumba Class for some months now, and I can happily tell you that it has done her a lot of good! Of course, it's not easy to improve upon perfection, mind you, but her wonderful, sexy curves are becoming curvalicious again! As George Takei would say, "Oh myyyyyyyyy..."

So the gal that runs this Zumba Class, Denita Kells,  decided to do a class, and take donations to give Issy, for her stay at the treatment facility. The class was held at the Betsie Hosick Fitness Center, which also donated the use of a room. When our dear Denita announced she was doing this, then another great gal and very dear friend, Kate Withington-Edwards made it into a Facebook Event, and invited a lot of people, myself included. Well, of course I had a great laugh at that! Yeah... right... me in a Zumba class? Every time WunderWife Barb and I go to the Fitness Center, as she disappears into the classroom, all the ladies keep swooning and yelling for me to join them. Which always gives me a chuckle as I go on to the Circuit Machine room to do my Cardio workout. Honestly, I'm not really one for those types of classes, and can easily embarrass myself in front of a room full of women without being sweaty and stinky. Plus, after taking the Pilates for Dummies Class (really) I've decided that the classes seem to be designed for people who are already skinny? Great class, but I hafta work about three times as hard to get around my Bear Belly as do the "Skinny Innies" that normally reside there. 

Well, my dear friends, this time I was challenged. And not merely content to challenge me, Kate also challenged me to do the class in a kilt! Seems that she somehow knows that not only do I have both a formal kilt outfit (Prince Argyle style) but also a less formal, lightweight, Military style kilt. And yes, I do enjoy wearing them! Guys, I am here to tell ya, women positively go all agog at a gent in a kilt!! No, it is most certainly NOT wearing a skirt! And yes, the gals all love it!! I think the real reason English have Scots in the very front of the line, in military action, is that they know the guys wearing a kilt will get all the attention from the damsels when it's over? 

But back to our story... so yes, I was challenged alright. And just to add insult to injury, this particular class was held at about the same time that I generally wake up? Oh, just kill me now! I ruminate (don't ya just love that word?) for a few days, and then rationalize that if I show up, and put some dollars in the coffer, then I can make a quick exit from class, and nobody will be the wiser. Right? Wrong.

WunderWife and I arrive at the appointed time (and wearing a kilt in Winter is a very refreshing experience, I assure you), and the fun begins! About half of them couldn't possibly imagine what in the world am I doing?! The few gals that really do know me came running up and smothered me with hugs and kisses (see guys, the kilt works!)!! Suddenly my morning got a whole lot brighter!

To say that I stumbled my way thru my first ever Zumba Class would be, well, not even close to the mark. I wasn't nearly that competent! Seems that every time the class went right, I fell left. And then trying to see what to do in the mirror made me visually dyslexic as well! Plus then you're (apparently) supposed to do something with your arms besides windmilling into your neighbors as you fall down? Whoda thunk? But Denita set a good pace, and kept the moves fun, and did a great job of coaching us with hand signals, and whoops, and shouts and other various noisy accouterments. The gals all got to wear lacy belts with bells, but as I already had my Great Belt holding up my kilt, I thought better of it? Not that I generally mind pushing the envelope, but sometimes too much really is.

Let's just say that I had a blast! No, really! I got to get in an intense cardio workout, in a class of great gals (yes, I was the only rooster in the henhouse) and wear a kilt! Oh, and we raised $270!! About enough for a third of a day at her treatment facility. What could possibly go wrong? Well... let's just say that many of the gals kept trying to discover what a Scotsman wears under his kilt... and leave it at that! Silainte!

Friday, March 15, 2013

My 13 Year Old Hero & Family

No, not my hero when I was 13 years old, rather a true hero (and she doesn't know it) with Super Hero sibs and parents, of today! This is, by far, the most difficult blog I have written. Usually I take you, gentle reader, to some wonderful trip with me, and maybe explore some neato NASA stuff, or play tourist in Life.

Well, today you may wish to put your tray-tables in their locked, upright positions, it's gonna be a bumpy ride. And yes, do fasten your seat belts as well.

This story starts about 13 years ago really. That was when a beautiful baby girl was born to some very loving, and wonderful parents: Kelli and Matt. The new girl, Issy, was second in the line of sibs, preceded by her older brother and would be followed by a younger sister.

As a baby, then toddler, it was apparent that dear Issy had issues. Fast forward and discover that she has Autism. Not just the run of the mill, garden variety of Autism that you think you know about. Nope... Issy is wired such that she becomes violent. No, I don't mean she yells and throws a tantrum. I mean she she yells and hits and kicks, and is a true force of Nature. Twice Issy has put her mother Kelli in the hospital with closed head injuries! Issy is a big girl for her age, and Kelli is a bit short of petite. The term "Punching Bag" comes to mind. Issy has also manifested against her younger sister, and her Dad. For whatever reason big brother is usually left alone?

So, for years, Kelli, and Matt have tried everything to get some help for this daughter that they both love dearly. You name it, they have tried it. Nothing was working. At all. Issy would explode at the drop of a hat. (Don't say "No", don't make eye contact!) Really the family was just about completely "gave out" as we would say up here. They estimated that they've spent about $60,000 on Issy in the past 12 years! Financially speaking they really are "gave out"!

But, as Paul Harvey used to say, here's the "rest of the story"... In February of this year Issy was placed at Great Lakes Center for Autism Treatment and Research . AND IT'S WORKING!!! For the very first time in her young life, Issy is getting it!! But (and ya just knew there had to be one, didn't ya?) this comes at a price. A very hefty price. Somewhere around $770 per day of a price. *big gulp* Oh wait, that's okay 'cause Insurance will pick up the tab, right? Wrong. You see, in the fair State of Michigan, in the most perfect example of cronyism ever, the State Legislature has ruled that Autism isn't a Mental Health Issue, and therefore Insurance companies (looks directly at Blue Cross) DON'T have to pay. Yeah... Autism isn't a Mental Health Issue... right.

So our little community has truly banded together to help. We've put on dinners, bake sales, more dinners, and even an upcoming Zumba Class (wherein I've been challenged not only to attend, but wear my kilt?!) and now shirts. When we talk with people they remark how wonderful it is that we've raised $4,000, or $5,000 and think well that's that. I am here to assure you all that it isn't! We've only been able to raise enough funds to keep Issy there until late May (as of this writing). But she needs to stay until Thanksgiving ! That's right, she needs the full course of treatment, and that means she needs stay until the end of November (sorry, for those in Canada our Turkey Day, not yours). Oh, and how do I know these people you ask? They attend my Church, and are very active in our community! Matt is Principal at the local High School, as well as being the Football and Basketball coach. Kelli has a great gig with Birth Stories On Demand and both of them serve on the town council! Also the older son, and younger daughter are sparkling examples of what it means to live in Northern Michigan! They are great people, and I am honored to call them my friends!

So, what can you do? Simply put, you can share this story with every Social Media outlet at your fingertips! #TeamIssy needs this to go viral. We need to have everyone share this until penguins in Antarctica are wearing Team Issy shirts!! We need for each of you to share, repost, twit and plus this out. The hope is that this story will find just the right person to really make it a going concern. Maybe a TV, Radio or Film Producer? Maybe someone who has connections to a philanthropic endeavor? That is how you can help. Please get the word out! Oh sure, if you can donate a couple of bucks, that would be very appreciated as well. But really, this is a plea for voice, not money. And you can be a part of the voice that get Issy the help she needs. You can be a part of this loving journey, for Issy, and her family, and our community. 

So, with that, I am going to include some links. This first link is to Kelli's blog that started the journey for most of us. Take a minute to read it. Take a minute to watch the video. Mind you, it is disturbing. But after you do that, then read some of her latest blogs. This journey starts out in a very dark place, but all of us are trying to shed more and more love and light! 

Dancing On the Edge Kelli's blog about what Autism has done to her family. This is MUST link to share!
Facebook: Team Issy 
Twitter: @TeamIssy 
If you wish to donate (all proceeds go towards her cost of treatment): The Elberta Alert

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tourists On The Waddle... In Dee Cee.

Welcome back kidz, time for another exciting chapter in what passes for so-called "real" life! This post is a follow up to my previous regarding the NASA Social in Washington DC. The emphasis today shall be on touring around our nation's Capitol, and such.

So let me begin by saying that WunderWife and I traveled from our home (The Hundred Acre Woods By The Inland Sea) by car to South Bend Indiana, there to go on by Amtrak. What  lovely way to travel back and forth across the country. The service was great, the food wonderful, and the lack of tension and The Defartment of Home Made Security (You know, TSA; Totally Sucking Arse) made for a pleasant journey, there and back again. We both enjoyed being able to stretch our legs, have some interesting conversations, and wake up at our destinations! Next time you travel, time permitting, Amtrak is worth a look. And at less than half the price of airlines, it becomes quite attractive!

So, we're in DC, and have a couple of days to kill. We actually planned to stay on after the NASA Social so we could play tourist, and explore. And Washington DC did not disappoint! Our hotel was a couple of blocks from the National Mall (no, not the Mall where Elvis lives, but rather a ginormous area with lots of historic buildings). Having a limited budget for time, we concentrated on seeing as much of this area as we could. Along the way, one of our new best-friends-for-life and fellow #SpaceTweep, Chad decided to stay over for a day and hoof around with us. This was great as he is quite the local historian! Mind you, it took WunderWife to read the map, but between the three of us, we covered a LOT of ground!

Instead of going thru each and every building in excruciating detail,  I'm gonna more or less paint the scenes with a broad brush, and in a hurry, much the way we waltzed around the Mall ourselves. We started out at the Easterly end, a few blocks from the Capitol Building. That's where the "We sucked the fun out of Dysfunctional Congress" people don't appear to be doing very much for our Country? So we didn't go. (insert chuckles here) 

Instead, we proceeded down towards the Washington Monument. It is (by law) the tallest structure in DC, and a wonderful visual reference if you ever need to know where you are! Since it's closed for upgrades, and since we weren't about to attempt to climb that mountain, we enjoyed from afar!

So down we go to the World War II Memorial. This is by far the largest Memorial on the Mall (as far as we could tell) and very impressive! It was designed, and built as a centerpiece and it succeeds admirably. 

As we continue to the Lincoln Memorial, we discover that the Reflecting Poll has a herd of ducks living there (probably on Government Assistance) and the bitingly cold wind has created a rough surface on the Pool, so no Reflecting? But very beautiful!

Then up a gazillion steps to see Honest Abe atop his throne, and again, the sense of history is palpable. I'll link to more pictures at the bottom of this post.

Saying farewell to Mr. Lincoln and we head to the Viet Nam Memorial Wall. Again, very moving, and brings back so many personal memories of a very turbulent time. Interesting that The Wall actually starts at ground level, and rises up to head height,  then gradually down again to the ground. Also do NOT miss the sculpture of three soldiers, and don't miss the VN Nurses sculpture either!

So, for a bit of light-hearted history, we hoofed across to the Einstein Memorial, which is quite well thought out, especially with the regards to the Star Map on the floor! WunderWife could hardly sit in old Al's lap before sliding off!

Back across the Mall we go to explore the Korean War Memorial, which I thought to be the most sobering. Life sized sculptures, done quite realistically, of a patrol going thru scrub brush, and an accompanying Wall with etchings. when you approach the Wall, and see the reflection of the sculptures, you get goose bumps.

We proceed over towards the FDR Memorial, which we all agreed reminded us of a Zoo? Then the MLK Memorial (we all agreed our least favorite and most poorly done). Seems a national shame they gave him such a poorly designed Memorial.

On to the Jefferson, and more steps (why yes please and thank you) and thru the biting wind. We gave Tom our regards and decided to schlep back to the hotel. We had been hiking along, and basking in, all the history and beauty of these Memorials for five straight hours now! Very strong sunshine (Yay!) and very cold wind (Ouch!) made for three very tired, but happy folks.

We bid adieu to Chad at his Metro Station, and thanked for him going with us. His knowledge of the history of the place made each item all the more personal to us!

The next day and a half, before we rail back to the Midwest, we toured even more! We went thru some more Smithsonian Museums (they're FREE!) and over to the White House. Barack and Michelle must not have known we were there, as they didn't invite us in for lunch? Did you know that there was a time when the average person could just show up at the White House (as long as it was Thursday afternoon) and the President would receive you, personally, so you could chat? No, really!

Ah well, lastly I need mention the food in this fair city. The food was great! From the Turkish Steak Wrap we had for breakfast one day from a food truck, to the Hamilton, Carmine's and even The Old Ebbit Grille, it was all fantastic! Good thing we did all that walking, or we both would have added a few pounds?

If you have the time, you need to see our nations's Capitol. The sense of history there is unlike any other place in America. The people are warm and friendly, and the prices are lower than NYC! But when you go, plan for about a week! Once you get there, you realize that there is so much to do, you don't want to short change yourself!

If you wish to see more of my photos from this trip, please go to:

Monday, February 25, 2013

NASA Gets Social: ISS Gets Chatty

It's true, it's true, the sky did fall last week! Forget about the meteorite over Russia, don't worry about the bullet burn asteroid that was 15 minutes from destroying all life on planet Earth, or even the shooting star over San Francisco; all on the same day.
The *real* neato stuff up in the sky is that three astronauts (Chris Hadfield, Tom Marshburn and Kevin Ford) on the  International Space Station (ISS) took time from their busy day to chat with a group of about 150 people at NASA's Headquarters in our nation's capitol this past Wednesday! And yes, I (along with my wife as a guest) participated!!

Before I get too ahead of myself, however, let me give you a rather quick, and incomplete idea of what a NASA Social (formerly NASA Tweetup) is all about. I promise not to digress too much nor use too may acronyms, if you promise to waddle thru with me. About four years ago the NASA Social Media Team came up with a truly brilliant idea. NASA would host a Social Media event, pick participants randomly from a pool, and give the people access to Scientists, Engineers, Admins, and (gasp!) Astronauts at various locations. This group of people would then tweet (a la Twitter) about their experience, and put the word out. Since then, NASA evolved the idea to include not just Twitter, but also Facebook, Google Plus, Flickr, and a host of other portals. See? that didn't take too long.

So, for this particular NASA Social, the goodly folks decided to host the event at HQ in DC, (oh, all travel expense is up to the participants), bring in some top notch personnel to update us, and then we had a live Q&A with astronauts on the ISS! (major #SpaceTweepSquee) In the afternoon, we traveled as a herd of turtles to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and were given access to to a VIP Tour! I'll fill in more details later, promise. 

Typically, when NASA (usually Jason Townsend or John Yembrick, both of whom orchestrate these events so smoothly) send the email to people who are selected to attend, then a Facebook Group is created, and the fun begins! This has become a mainstay of the Socials as everyone can coordinate meals before and after, hotels, and ride sharing. The camaraderie that is gained by doing this beforehand cannot be understated! You make new friends for life, and get caught up with old friends for life, none of whom you would have met otherwise. You get to "talk the talk" of Space Exploration with a group of people that get it. As a life long space junkie, this has never happened to me before I went to my first NASA Tweetup!! 

But enough of my digression! Let's on to the Social itself, shall we? Typically, the night before the event as many as can will have a Pre Launch Fire Up together at a local eatery. This is when the intellectual, manic buzz really gets going. You get to meet these new and not so new friends, and "Increase the Awesome". The morning of the Event, whoever can, will get together for a slap dash breakfast (usually at the hotel) and try to arrive early as inevitably the waiter forgets to bring your bill and oh my gosh we'd better get going! So we walked to the lobby of NASA's Headquarters (OMG!) and register at the table with the nice folks who hand you your personalized NASA lanyard, and swag bag. You'll just have to trust me that "There's no better swag than a NASA bag". Next into the James Webb Auditorium and get settled in. This involves picking a seat, finding outlets to recharge, and bouncing greetings and jokes around the room. Oh, you did remember to clear the memory card in your camera, right? And look! Ching has four different cell phones, talk about prepared! And where's Libby with her infectious smile, and Angela with her son Aiden (who truly rocks every event!). And yea,  Serenety and Glenn kibbutz  as well. Too many great people to mention by name, so please excuse if I didn't mention you. 

The event begins with a round robin of passing the mic thru the audience for brief introductions. What an amazing group of people here today! Once again, I feel truly humbled and honored to be a part of a NASA Social. After some welcoming remarks, Don Pettit, astronaut extraordinaire told us of the rigors of drinking coffee in orbit, and recycling water.  William Gerstenmaier aka Gerst, who is in charge of Human Exploration and Operations for NASA (what a job title, huh?!) gave us an update on what's going on now, and some projections for the future. "I work for NASA so I have to have slides", he quipped. And some very uber kewl slides he shared with us!
Next was the true highlight of the day, talking with astronauts in orbit on the ISS! I was chosen to go first, presumably not because they thought I was good looking nor intelligent, but because when asked for a show of hands, mine shot in the air at the speed of light.  My question was for my young nephew, Thomas, who wondered how much time it takes the ISS to move out of the way of an object. You know, like those shooting star thingies I mentioned up at the top. The astronauts were pleased to inform us that they recently upgraded the systems, and now it only takes "about six hours" to perform a Collision Avoidance Maneuver. Wow! Believe me, the ISS is about the size of two football fields placed next to each other, and has a LOT of mass to move. So about five minutes later, as I was listening to another Q&A, it hits me... I asked a question to an astronaut... in space... and he answered me! Oh... my... gawd... 

After the chat with the ISS, we also had another couple of speakers to add their particular areas of expertise, namely Tara Ruttley (ISS Program Scientist) and Marshall Porterfield (Life and Physical Sciences Director). They both gave us some very interesting, and fun stories to share.
After a nearby lunch, we walked four blocks to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum  and were further treated like VIP's with a grand tour. My group started with the backup to Skylab (America's first space station), winded our way thru various exhibits with presenters at each stop, and ended up at... yup, it just had to be... a model of the commode they use on the ISS! who says Science has no sense of humor? 
Our day finally winds down, as do we, by another great dinner together (for those that could make it) and more chatting and fun. These friendships are the kind that are sustained across many miles, and many years. The common love we all have for Space Exploration led us to this point. But our love for each other propels us forward in friendship. We stay in touch online, and anticipate the next Social that we will be honored to attend. This is truly living the dream, and then some! I will be posting pics to flickr, so watch for them there.

Oh, and many thanx to my wonderful friends and fellow #SpaceTweeps; Ching, and Eva for helping me with the links.  Please feel free to explore and find out what you can discover! Oh, and as for photos, I did take them all, but it should be noted that the photo of the shuttle against the Earth is actually a slide that Gerst used.