Sunday, July 24, 2016

44th Space Congress (rockets, astronauts, Mars and a welcoming community)

Space Congress. What is it? 

Space Congress® provides a forum for presentation of technical papers, provides exposure to eminent speakers, and holds distinguished panel sessions in the aerospace and allied disciplines. It forges a bond between the member societies in support for the interchange of technical, scientific, and engineering information that benefits engineers, scientists, educators, students and other professionals on the Space Coast. 

After 44th Space Congress, I was energized, curious, engaged and felt welcome in the community. Each of the three days included panel discussions and solo speakers, lunch, social events and access to the exhibit hall (Kennedy Space Center (KSC) contractors and other persons contributing to the space exploration industry). Attendees and participants were friendly and open to discussions about their experiences and the industry. 

The brain power at this event was astonishing. I had lunch with rocket scientists. That's no joke.  Neither were their excellent senses of humor. Chatting with the professionals at 44th Space Congress was educational and enjoyable. 

Enticing swag covered exhibit hall tables. I might have gotten too excited over the little bottles of hand sanitizer. To be fair to the happy face full of post-its, polar bear and rocket, I had just run out.

One of the highlights of the three-day event was a banquet featuring Buzz Aldrin as the keynote speaker.  This cost extra, but I was glad to attend. Mr. Aldrin spoke with passion, energy and excitement about space; particularly, Mars. Here's my Twitter posting from that night:

I am in the same room with a man who walked on the Moon.

These are our tickets:

What events have you attended that excited or inspired you?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Snakes at Airports? Research Shows: Yes

In addition to writing this blog, I write middle grade novels (novels for 8 - 12 year olds). I have been working on a scene that involved my main character making a snake suddenly appear in the airport while seated at the gate waiting to board her flight.  There was discussion with my writing group about whether people at this particular airport (Atlanta) would freak out at the sight of a snake.

I researched snakes in airports and watched videos online. Some headlines are as follows:

- Ten-foot snake found at Key West airport (Python).

- Snake found on a Qantas plane at Sydney airport, forcing delay.

- 250 poisonous snakes found in luggage at airport (In Argentina police spotted the reptiles in the X-ray scanner, all packed inside plastic containers, bags and even socks).

- 'Snakes on a plane': deadly serpent found by Dubai airport staff (African puff adder found inside the plane during a routine pest inspection).

- Bangkok airport apologizes for snake found on luggage cart.

- Name your poison: 'Snake wine' seized at airport (Having been to Vietnam (a terrific trip), I'll let this one go).

- Snakes in the pants: Man arrested after trying to board flight with reptiles in his trousers (The man wound the reptiles in pantyhose and put them down his pants. Shaking my head at this one. The charges brought against him: habouring animals in unnatural habitat).

A couple of extras:

- Snake bites woman when trying to kiss it (The snake latched its fangs into the woman's nose. She ended up with stitches. I'd end up in counseling).

- Man caught trying to board plane with monkey in his pants (I had to include this. I mean really...)

Bottom line for me, a snake is a snake is a snake and cause for extreme freak out.

What is the freakiest live animal encounter you've had at an airport (or at any time while traveling)?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Weirs Beach, NH: Neverland Does Exist

When I was a kid, my family had a condo just up the street from Weirs Beach. A ten minute walk through a few trees, down a steep hill past houses and a few inns dropped me right near the boardwalk along Lake Winnipesaukee and smell of fried dough, and best of all, the arcades. Until my husband and I went this past summer, my last visit to Weirs Beach had been about thirty years ago. If no one told me the year or that I was now grown, I'd swear I'd never never grown up and left.

Standing in Weirs Beach looking up the steep hill I used to walk

For those who drove into Weirs Beach, the entrance was easy to find. Returning to Weirs Beach made me as giddy as my kid-self had always been.  I got tingles in my brain and an itch in my hand for a skee ball and Pokereno ball when I saw this sign.

Before we headed up to Weirs Beach this past summer, my father dared me to put a toe into the lake. (Living in South Florida for many years has made me adverse to anything cold, and my dad was well aware of it.)  But when I was a kid, I dove off of our boat into Lake Winnipesaukee and swam without a care. My favorite spot was blueberry island. I am not sure that's its real name. We named it for the wild blueberries we picked. 

Our first stop at Weirs Beach was the beach. I waded up to me knees. I didn't stop there because the water was cold... I didn't have on a bathing suit (oh, the little lies we tell ourselves sometimes :)

A stroll down the boardwalk led us to the arcades.

Docks and lake-side arcade, restaurant and shops

As a kid, I saved all of my arcade tickets, over the course of about eight years. When we sold our condo, I cashed in the entire shoebox-full. I remember what prizes I selected. But, I remember playing game after game of skee ball and Pokereno and the ding of the bell as each red ticket popped out of the game.

Unfortunately, our timing for this visit was not good.  It was the day after Labor Day and my arcade and the fried dough place were closed. Men were moving games out of the arcade for the winter. They were kind enough to let me in for these photos.

Packing up for the winter

Most of my arcade tickets were won here. Cashed in at the back.

Fortunately, the arcade across the street was open. I had never set foot in this one as a kid (I was quite loyal to the arcade on the lake-side, apparently).  A few rounds of skee ball and Pokereno were as good as any Fountain of Youth for me.  

This time I cashed in my tickets for an adorable plastic lizard, who is now a guest in our home.

Our last stop at Weirs Beach was to do something new...

Where is your Neverland?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Laconia, NH: For Fairy Dust-worthy Memories Then and Now

Laconia.... Weirs Beach... in my family, the name of those places drums up more nostalgia than any other place on earth. When I was young, we had a condominium in Laconia walking distance from major attractions, including our motor boat on Lake Winnipesaukee and Weirs Beach. (In this post, I share Laconia. Weirs Beach will makes its appearance in a post at a later time.) My husband couldn't be 'in' on how mentioning this place or our time there would almost light up the room with fairy dust. So, I took him there over the summer (with instructions from my father of things I must photograph so he could see, too :)

Our condo unit was still there, as apparently was the same window air conditioner my dad installed in the late 1970s. Glad the current owners may enjoy it. A short stroll from the back of the unit down a gentle slope led us to the pond on the property. It was too overgrown now for pond-skating in winter, but this new kind of beauty had inhabitants that made me smile.

[click on any photo for larger view]

The view from the highest point in the community was as stunning as I remembered.
View of Lake Winnipesaukee

A building, which backed up to the condo properties, still stood, every bit as mysterious-looking as my childhood brain remembered. I used to sneak on the grounds just in front of the building and pick through all sorts of parts strewn on the ground. I can only guess now that they may have been auto parts. But what a thrill when I was young to be where I wasn't supposed to and every second hope that I wouldn't get caught. I never did (hopefully my parents won't be reading this entry...).

For lunch, we visited Hart's Turkey Farm, a restaurant we had eaten at regularly, in Meredith, NH.

The hearty food, home-style feel of the (now much larger, complete with full gift shop) restaurant were just as inviting.
In a hushed voice, I asked our waitress if we could have some place mats and napkins to bring home. She laughed and said that ever since they'd been on The Travel Channel, people ask all the time.

With full turkey bellies, we headed to The Kellerhaus, a place that, for me, was like stepping into Santa's land and a fairy land all in one. Candies, ice cream, holiday gifts, unusual other gifts and more are available for purchase. When I was little, I recall going into a downstairs section of The Kellerhaus where they had crystals hanging from the ceiling. According to a young employee with whom I spoke this past summer (and admittedly, who wasn't alive 'back then'), the only downstairs was where they made their chocolate. I'm going to remain faithful to my memories.

I hoped to catch a drive-in movie, a rare find these days, I think. As a kid, my dad would set up blankets and a pillow in the back of the car, intending that I sleep as the films played. I never did. The theater, still in operation today, had closed for the season at the end of Labor Day weekend. We missed it by a day. I like knowing it's still there. If you go, it plays on four screens now instead of a double feature on one.

Our last stop before heading to Weirs Beach for some play-time was the place where we used to dock our Sea Ray, Sum Fun. I was looking forward to shopping for souvenirs in the convenience/boating/lake supplies store, Handy Landing. Unfortunately, Handy Landing had been demolished and replaced with small rental units. Our boat, was of course not there, but the dock and memories were. It would have been more than some fun to take the boat out, down the channel and past Weirs Beach. Maybe we'll rent a boat if we visit again. In the meantime, I can dock at Weirs Beach or in Wolfeboro, or anchor for a swim, paddle in our raft, or blueberry pick in one of the lake's coves, with just a thought any time I want.

What childhood places have you shared with your partner? What places from your childhood rings in nostalgia with your family?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Digging Into My Boston Roots - As A Tourist

This summer, I chose to show my husband my roots. I had planned to cover our entire trip in one blog post, but I filled this one with Boston. We'll head to New Hampshire in a later post.

When I had lived in Boston, I visited some of the attractions on school field trips, to entertain visiting friends or relatives and just wandering about because it was a beautiful day (e.g., no frigid harsh wind, gray imposing clouds, or barrels of dumping snow).  

During my time in Boston this summer, I was able to enjoy the city freely. By freely, I mean for the first time I visited without having homework waiting, a job down the road beckoning, or any other responsibilities weighing on me there. With new eyes--the eyes of a tourist--I explored my roots. I may have had more fun than my husband.

Though I mentioned eyes, I'm going to start with the mouth. Seafood is a must in Boston. This is not me telling you. This is what my family told me when I was growing up. And when I was a kid, I did not like seafood. My mom and aunt thought perhaps I'd been abducted by aliens who altered my taste buds. Happily, as an adult, I love almost anything from the sea. The freshness of my meals in Boston this summer sent me into food heaven (no aliens were present).

Scrod, Scallops and Shrimp (dairy-free)
at The Salty Dog, Quincy Market

Lobster Salad at Durgin Park, Quincy Market

For the first time, I walked the entire Freedom Trail (both ways). The red bricks and painted line led us easily through informative, beautiful, thought invoking history and city sites. And, since the trail is around 2.5 miles each way, we got some great exercise.

There are 16 sites along the Freedom Trail. None take a great deal of time to explore, though you may wish to spend some time imagining the history and taking photos. An added benefit is that the trail also leads you through different Boston neighborhoods and provides a good means to get your bearings as you explore Boston. But overall its purpose is to: "Learn about the brave people who shaped our nation. Discover the rich history of the American Revolution, as it began in Boston, where ever step tells a story"

Another popular tourist attraction that I had only ever taken through a work outing was the Duck Boat Tour.  This time, for 80 minutes, on land and on the Charles River, I wanted the driver guide to keep talking. I couldn't hear enough Boston trivia and history. Just fascinating. How had I not known all that before? One of the other highlights was watching kids drive the Duck Boat on the Charles River, even when one steered us toward rocks. The the joy and exhilaration on the kids faces made me smile like I was one of them.

On the Charles River looking to Boston

Even my old apartment building stunned me with its beauty. My mom spilled the beans to my husband that it was once a brothel. (beans... a Boston pun, as it is nicknamed Beantown) This building is also rumored to have had the Boston Strangler as a guest. The best part of my 825 square foot, 1 bedroom apartment was the clawfoot tub, fireplace and view of Fenway Park. On game days,  crowd's cheer and announcer's deep voice filled my living room. Those lights at Fenway were so bright that even while the crew cleaned after a night game, it seemed like daylight was pouring into my windows.

Below are photos of additional places that left me with a greater appreciation of my roots.

View down Huntington Avenue. The Prudential is tallest on left. John Hancock is all glass to the right.

Architecture on Newbury Street. Great shopping and restaurants.

Frog Pond in Boston Common (founded 1634)

Make Way For Ducklings statue. A classic children's book must read by author Robert McCloskey!

Swan Boat at the Public Garden (founded 1837)

Emerson Colonial Theater (112 years old). Several old theaters still operate in the Theater District.
We saw The Book of Mormon.

If you've visited places you grew up as a tourist, how did it make you feel? What aspects did you appreciate with this new perspective?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Honeymoon Encounter With a Hammerhead Shark in Galapagos

Vote. That's what we asked our wedding guests to do. Vote on our honeymoon destination. We gave them six options and there was a tie--my mother had voted twice.  After a brief hem and haw session, she chose Bali. Yes, Bali was the winner. But the only month we could take proper time for a honeymoon (I'm talking about 3 weeks) was during Bali's rainy season. So, Galapagos became our honeymoon destination. We also spent a few days before in Quito, Ecuador and a few days after in Banos, Ecuador, which made for the perfect itinerary.

We cruised for 7 nights/8 days on the luxury yacht, Beluga. ( on the Tower Itinerary.  If you plan a Galapagos cruise, you will soon become an expert in choosing a western itinerary, eastern or perhaps a combination.

During the first excursion, we spotted a Flamingo eating (apparently they eat about 12 hours a day). We live in Florida and had never seen one--a fact that stunned our on-board naturalist, Juan Tapia (amazing, amazing, amazing at what he does:

I made new friends, too--lots and lots and lots of sea lion friends. If only I could have gotten one home. We do have a pool and a lake right outside!  We kept away from the male seal lions, who could be a little aggressive sometimes. And who can blame them--each is on his own, protecting his whole beach-full of females against any challenging males that might swim in.


See my camera? It worked great five years ago on a safari to Tanzania (see my post "A" is for Attitude). But it paled in comparison to Juan's with its 50 zoom and crystal clear shots. So... next trip will include enough budgeting for a new camera!

The marine and land iguanas in the Galapagos were works of art. Just stunning.

Make sure to bring a waterproof camera to take snorkeling. The Beluga provided snorkeling excursions (and equipment) daily. Being in the water with these little Galapagos Penguins (and sea lions, of course) was a lot of fun.

And also fun were all the birds in the Galapagos. I could do several posts just about them. They might have been the most fascinating of the wildlife on our trip.  On the Beluga's farewell survey, we marked Genovesa Island as our favorite given the exposure to the birds.  It was hard to pick a favorite, though. Each island offers something unique. There was an excursion to Sullivan Bay at Santiago Island that made you feel as if you were walking on the moon. It had incredible lava formations and patterns. But back to the birds... there is one bird that the locals make some money on--Boobies.

Blue-Footed Boobie
Baby Boobie

Red-Footed Boobie

Pair of Nazca Boobies
Yes, I gave in... 

What wasn't all the way fun at the moment it happened was a Hammerhead Shark. Juan told us we might be seeing some on a particular snorkeling excursion. I figured they'd be deep down or that maybe it was a rare occurrence.  Well... a large gray body with fins (it seemed just about everywhere) passed under me. I stared harder, trying to make sense of what I was seeing. A head (a hammer head!) swayed left of the body. I screamed for my husband. He didn't hear at first given how far he'd drifted. When he came over, he took off in the direction of the shark. I thought he'd lost his mind. We didn't have a working underwater camera. None was needed for me. The image of that head and that body is burned into my brain (cliche, but true!)  But, guess what? I swam with a Hammerhead Shark on my honeymoon!

What memorable travel moments are burned into your brain?