Monthly Archives: December 2009

2009: Visual Highlights

I didn’t get out Christmas Cards this year. Ok, I’ve missed the last few years. Here is our Christmas mantle. Think of it as a greeting card. BTW, the batik on the mantle came from a market outside Johannesburg, South Africa. I wanted to decorate the tree with orange giraffes inspired from the batik…but ran out of time. Next year, maybe.

Christmas Mantle

Christmas Mantle


We’re ending the year in frosty style. My daughter’s roommate caught me taking an iPhone picture in New York City. The only problem with a touch screen is having to take off my glove every time I wanted to take a picture. But worth the frostbite.

iPhone view of NYC

iPhone view of NYC. Photo credit: Bindu Balan

Diet Mountain Dew Ultraviolet

Buzz and I LOVE UVDew. Yes, I’m an addict. Supply is a problem, though. Can’t seem to find it anymore. But nice while it lasted!


Diet UV Dew Addiction

Space Tweeps and social media defined 2009.

Twitter changed everything this year. Here’s a Wordle text art that captures topics I tweet about.

Twitter Wordle

My iPhone allowed me to take pics and post them directly to Twitter.

I took this image of Hubble repair from our NASA monitor

Wired Magazine featured my Twitpic of Hubble Repair.

Alexis Madrigal of WIRED Science picked up my Twitpic image (taken with my iPhone of our NASA TV feed during the Hubble Repair mission) to feature in an article titled, Humans in Space: 10 Amazing Spacewalk Photos.

I started blogging this year. How cool to get picked by WordPress for their front page for my blogpost, Space: What’s NOT to Hope for?”


Freshly Pressed

We hosted several tweet-ups at NASA. Here’s a picture from the live link with the Space Station. The best part of the Tweet-ups for me: meeting folks in person after sharing “space” with them on Twitter. I feel I’ve made great friends through the introduction of social media.

Space Station Twee-Up

Space Station Tweet-Up

STS-127 Tweet-Up at NASA HQ

STS-127 Tweet-Up at NASA HQ

Our first Tweet-up at the STS-129 Space Shuttle launch. Here we are at the press site Launch Clock.

Space tweeps @ Launch Countdown clock. 11/16/09 Photo Credit: NASA/Carla Cioffi

Space tweeps @ Press site Launch Countdown clock. 11/16/09 Photo Credit: NASA/Carla Cioffi

Space Peeps

NASA’s graphic artists created this adorable little Space Peeps Diarama to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Apollo missions. Don’t you love it?

Space Peeps

Africa: Zambia and South Africa

Life-changer. Several blogposts from this fall, if you want to learn more. Social media helped us share the experience real-time through Facebook, Twitter, and Twitpic.

Here is our first view of Johannesburg, South Africa from the air.

Sunset over Johannesberg
South Africa Giraffe

South Africa Giraffe

Zambia: Lion

Zambia: Watercolor of Lion Pic

It's all about the children of Africa!

Open your hearts to the children of Africa!

Texas: Home Again

I attended my 35th High School Reunion in San Marcos, Texas. Here’s the adorable rocket BBQ I found in Wimberly. If I could’ve fit it on the plane, I’d have it in my backyard right now!

Texas Moon Rocket BBQ

Texas: Moon Rocket BBQ

SoCo in Austin (South Congress Avenue)

SoCo in Austin (South Congress Avenue)

SoCo Austin: Hey Cupcake

SoCo Austin: Hey Cupcake

What a good year to be a Longhorn!

What a good year to be a Longhorn!

Happy New Year!

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Filed under Africa, NASA, social media, space, tweet-up

Shame Saga of Icy Kitty-Littered Paths

Many factors brought me to my “snow low” — a nasty intersection of frustration and shame. Yes shame. That’s a degree or two..or three…beLOW embarrassment.

Here’s how it all started:

  1. I enjoyed the Christmas season with family in New York City during Virginia’s historic snowfall; therefore, I wasn’t here to shovel every few inches of snow to keep the walking pathways clear.
  2. I live on a corner. By law or city regulation of some sort or simple humanity rules, I’m required to keep the sidewalks clear for my neighbors’s safety.
  3. I stopped getting salt and chemicals to treat the snow — to prevent harm to the environment and innocent dog’s paws (probably red fox paws too since I’ve seen one in my back yard).
  4. We came home to snow drifts of three-feet or more in strategic places where walking or car transport would normally occur.
  5. I happened to have a bag of old kitty litter in the garage.

So let me set the stage:

Piles and piles of beautiful snow held us hostage — preventing passage from my doorstep to the road that led to civilization.

We shoveled and shoveled. Whew. Finished? Not quite. Once we dug out, every surface froze — transforming the steps, driveway and sidewalks into a treacherous ice creature eager to gobble up solid footing and crunch unsuspecting human, bone by bone, limb by limb.

Frantic to battle the evil ice creature and save myself, my family, and my neighbors, I grabbed the only weapon I had in my arsenal — the old bag of kitty litter in the garage!

I sprinkled (ok, poured) kitty litter liberally along the walkways. I stamped it in, feeling quite proud of myself. Proud, that is, until I took one step back inside the house and left a clumped, gooey footprint on my cute little Christmas rug.

I realized, to my horror, clumping-technology infested what looked like an ordinary non-clumping bag of kitty litter, and was now at work clumping the snow and ice on every walking path outside my house. Now, not only was the ice creature out there treacherous, but messy to boot!

My unsuspecting neighbors’ dogs will now track kitty litter paw prints throughout their houses.

Now, in my defense, I want you to know I really, REALLY didn’t know the kitty litter was the “clumping” kind. The bag looked like the prehistoric kind…you know, way back when before the clumping-technology lightbulb lit up the minds of pet-industry scientists. Where does it say “clumping” on this bag (see pic below)?

Kitty Litter bag

Back to the story:

Ever resourceful, I grabbed my recycling bag of Washington Post newspapers — which I knew to be kind to the environment since newsprint decomposes quickly. (I use it often to smother summer weeds under mulch in my garden.) I laid a new pathway of newspaper-covered clumping kitty litter-covered ice. Ah, my work was complete. I was ready for a long winter’s nap.

Not so. My daughters’ informed me the wet newspaper turned to ice. That EVIL ice creature assimilated ALL in its path.

Yesterday, rain came to the rescue. I decided to leverage the 40-degree WET weather to clean up the kitty litter newspaper soup. OH MY GOSH!!! What a sloppy, goopy, slippery mess. Nightmare! I won’t go into the clean-up details. I prefer to wipe them from my memory (pun intended). 😉

The moral to this story: Buy salt…or move south!

(But IF you insist on staying put and care about the environment, read the kitty litter label before spreading over ice.)

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Filed under Earth, environment

Snowglobe: Winter Wonderland?

I can’t remember the last time I shoveled this much snow. Nor can I remember our last white Christmas. It even snowed last night in Dallas, giving my sister’s boys their own white Christmas.

When we first moved to D.C. from Texas, I loved the snow.

Everything felt so fresh and clean — a heavenly do-over every time the skies dusted us with snowy white. Like a snowglobe! My girls loved spending time sledding and building snow creatures. I even made snow ice-cream by mixing snow with vanilla flavoring.

Such a magical time for us…in the beginning.

Tree @ Rockefeller Center

Tree @ Rockefeller Center

I’m not so crazy about the snow these days. Seems a WHOLE lot of work. This year’s snowstorm found us in NYC for my daughter’s birthday. It followed us there after blanketing Northern Virginia. The weather kept people away from the City, I think. We’d never had so much room at the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center.

The snow hit town on the evening of our Broadway excursion to see White Christmas. Fitting, don’t you think? We came out of the play to white-out conditions. We sang the song, “Snow,” all the way back to the hotel:

White Christmas on Broadway

White Christmas on Broadway

“Snow. It won’t be long before we’ll all be there with snow.

Snow. I want to wash my hands, my face and hair with snow.

Snow. I long to clear a path and lift a spade of snow.

Snow. Oh, to see a great big man entirely made of snow….”

Fortunately, our hotel was only a few blocks from the theater. We arrived at the front desk coated with wet snow.

NYC seemed absolutely magical covered in snow. Talk about snow-globe-like! Really. Lovely, that is…until the snow turned to brown slush. But, we’ll stick with the image of clean, white city streets. Here are a few of our pics from the trip.

NYC: Snow Ornaments

NYC: Snow Ornaments

NYC: Snow-covered trees

NYC: Snow-covered trees

NYC: Tree Lights

NYC: Tree Lights

NYC snowman

NYC snowman

NYC: 5th Ave Store Window

NYC: 5th Ave Store Window

NYC: Times Square

NYC: Times Square

Not so much fun coming home to several feet of snow and snowdrift. Picture us with shopping bags and luggage stepping into knee-high snow drifts to get into the house. My daughter made her way to the front door first, and stepped on a FED-ex package under the snow at the door. Surprise.

Lots of shoveling awaited us.

My car

My car

Sloveled Sidewalk

Sloveled Sidewalk

After a few really snowy winters here in the D.C. area, I’m really, really TiRED of shoveling. I’m still scarred by one snowstorm years back, when the snow was so high that, when it melted, icy water spewed into my basement through tiny fissure. Underneath the top layer of knee-high ice and snow outside, I discovered a fast-flowing river of slushy ice water that topped my snowboots. I worked for 8 hours with a pick-ax and shovel (and slush-filled boots) to dig an ice-water gulley that led AWAY from my foundation from the back of my house to the hill out front.

Think water under surface of icy moons.

After almost 20 years in this area, I’ve decided realized that snow is fun for kids and those who get to sit inside and look at it. For those of us forced to move the wet, icy white stuff — not so much fun.

But, what if I lived in a real snowglobe?

The scenery is always pretty. The snow never melts. It just flutters around with a shake of the hand. And, it’s the ultimate no-shovel zone. That’s my kind of winter wonderland. Maybe I’ll ask Santa next year….

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Filed under Earth, NASA

Space: Coloring Outside the Lines

NASA Headquarters is hosting a holiday door-decorating contest for the first time in years. The rules posted about the contest only covered use (or non-use) of lights and candles. Before starting, we checked if any other unwritten rules existed about the contest.

After all, isn’t it always the “unwritten rules” that bite us?

You know what I’m talking about. Those pesky unwritten rules in the workplace, like:

  • good workers stay late to get the job done…or
  • taking time off to attend a child’s ball game shows lack of job commitment…or
  • anyone who speaks up in meetings wants attention….or
  • anyone who doesn’t speak up in meetings adds no value.

Unwritten rules are like little unseen trip wires.

So we checked to see what wasn’t written in the rules for the door contest, asking these questions:

  1. can we “mimic” a door where no door exists (much easier than wrapping a door while people try to go in and out), and
  2. can we “color outside the lines” (i.e. violate the door frame shape)?

The vision in my head was bigger than what would fit on the door itself. One of our NASA Exchange Council folks came up to look at the space we wanted to decorate. She checked with the Council (since the rules didn’t cover what we wanted to do). Their answers?

  1. No, and
  2. No.

At first, I was totally bummed. Looking at the question of intent, I had to ask: Is the contest about a decorated door…or the festive holiday spirit created by the decorations? Then it hit me: the door contest rules exist for color-inside-the-lines thinkers. The lines bring order. Security. Comfort. I get it. I really do.

But, for those of us who never learned to color inside the lines, rules just get in the way of the things we want to do, the places we want to go, and experiences awaiting us there.

Do you think explorers through the centuries cared about coloring INside the lines…or even staying on the same page?

What we do at NASA doesn’t fit inside the lines. We send space ships and human explorers out beyond the safe borders of our atmosphere. I’d say that’s coloring outside the lines, wouldn’t you?

Yes, rules exist for a purpose. We respect the rules of physics every day. But think about it. Creative solutions don’t always fit inside predetermined lines. Now, do they?

Long story short: we decorated after all. No, the effort won’t be eligible for the holiday door-decorating competition. But, does that really matter if we meet the intent: creating a festive workplace?

Here’s the result: our new retro-rocket tableau. Totally outside the lines. Don’t you think? 😉

Retro Rocket Tableau

Retro Rocket Tableau

Totally Outside the Lines

Totally Outside the Lines

Retro Rocket Closeup

Retro Rocket Close-up


Filed under culture, federal government, NASA, space

Rethink: Rings Around Saturn

Have I ever told you why I drive a Saturn? You can blame it on NASA.

In 1990, NASA Headquarters brought me up on assignment from the Johnson Space Center in Houston to work on a new team — the first Office of Exploration. We were formed following the 90-day Moon/Mars Study requested by President H.W. Bush.

My task: design an evolving organizational structure to adapt quickly to change over a 30-year program of unknowns.

In carrying out this assignment, I looked for models of success. I researched bureaucratic organizations that spun off creative teams– to break free from entrenched culture. General Motors’ Saturn company offered wonderful parallels for NASA.

Their motto: Rethink!

The more I learned about the spanking new Saturn company, the more I fell in love with it. I couldn’t wait for my little Chevy Nova to croak, so I could buy my first Saturn. Once I became a proud Saturn owner, I entered the tight family circle — I slipped inside the rings around Saturn. I attended cook-outs at the dealership and new owner workshops to learn how the engine worked. I bought Saturn mugs and stuffed animals. The Saturn guys sent me birthday cards and notified me of company news. They even hosted a yearly get-together for all Saturn owners at their home plant in Tennessee.

I adored the Saturn culture — open, friendly, transparent.

Saturn success offered hope of a similar culture change at NASA for spin-off organizations. Sadly, their experiment in open environment failed to reap profit for GM. GM is shutting down the Saturn line.

The rings around Saturn collapsed under the weight of unmet corporate expectations. (Or perhaps from the weight of years of corporate culture crushing down.)

Saturn of Fairfax Dealership

Saturn Of Fairfax

As I sat in the Saturn dealership yesterday with other Saturn owners, we lamented over the death of our dream — a car company that offered affordable style and trustworthy employees. But a funny thing happened, we had a lovely morning talking about space.

We started talking about On-Star, which somehow led to satellites, which led to the retirement of the Space Shuttle, Russian Soyuz and the transportation gap, President Obama and new directions for space, opportunities for commercial space, SpaceShipTwo venture, Chinese and new space-faring nations, radiation effects on humans on Space Station, and much much more.

One of my fellow-Saturn owners went to high school with former Astronaut Pierre Thuot. Thanks to my iPhone, I could look him up and share what missions Pierre flew on.  Another fellow-Saturn owner shared MIT advances and how they might be applied to space travel. When his car was ready, he told me he’d rather stay and chat.

Upon retrospect, I find the cycle fascinating:

  1. NASA introduced me to my love-affair with Saturn; and
  2. I’m reminded of my love for NASA — spending four hours in a dreary Saturn dealership talking about space.

Two orbits collide on a cold Saturday morning. What are the odds? Though I’m sad Saturn will no longer be around, I’m glad their grand experiment taught us lessons on culture.

Saturn company not only built a great car, they built a communityeven though the business case failed to deliver profit.

Let’s hope NASA can learn lessons from Saturn about transparent culture and community-building. It’s not the vehicle itself (pick your spaceship), it’s all about creating a family circle and rethinking status quo.

Rethink Space? Hmmm. I like it!

Oh, and Santa, don’t forget to put the Saturn Sky in my stocking.

Saturn's Sky

Saturn's Sky sportscar


Filed under culture, federal government, leadership, NASA, space

INaction Heroes for Girls?

In the mid-1990s, I accompanied a small team from NASA to the New York City Toy Fair to explore ways to shape NASA’s brand through product licensing. The delegation included NASA’s current Deputy, Lori Garver, who was the head of NASA’s Policy and Plans at that time. (The old Code Z, Land of Misfit Toys…for those of you around NASA at that time.)

On the trip, Lori posed this question:

“Why doesn’t NASA have more female executives?”

We’ll get back to that question later.

We met with brand management and licencing experts, and toured the toy fair. My first time at this event, I was surprised to discover the toys were separated by gender: toys for girls on one side, toys for boys on the other.

Toys for Girls: Wall-to-wall dolls. Barbie dolls. Big dolls. Little dolls. Doll accessories. Our host was quick to point out the new features for dolls, such as hair combs that instantly change doll hair color, jogging outfits to keep Barbie looking good and fit, and a newer version Ken doll for Barbie to date.

Pretty in Pink

Pretty in Pink Barbies

The girl section was the very vision of Pretty in Pink. “Every girl’s dream,” so the toymakers wanted us to believe.

Yet, the very pretty pinkness of it all screamed out to me:

Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

As the mother of two daughters, I was horrified by the subliminal message:

  • You are for display only.
  • You must look pretty and change clothes often.
  • You must speak only what your master says.

Pretty. Pink. Passive…

INaction Heroes for Girls!

In the interest of full disclosure, I never really got the whole Barbie thing, though my sister and one daughter did. I hated having to come up with things for Barbie to say. And changing her clothes? What a total pain. I preferred playing outside. (And still do.)

Now, let’s move on to the boy section of the Toy Fair.

Toys for Boys: A virtual wonderland of cool racing cars, rocket ships, science gadgets and more. Lots of noise and frenetic energy.

I felt totally at home. I wanted to play with everything!

The very fact that a wall separated the girls from playing with all the COOL toys — literally walling them off from exploration and adventure — made me angry.

Do you wonder why we don’t have more female executives at NASA?

Are you thinking, why this blogpost? Why now?


Pottery Barn Toy Vacuum

I just received a Pottery Barn Kids catalog in the mail. I opened it up to find cooking utensils, kitchen appliances, irons and ironing boards for purchase for girls. EVEN today! Gifts for boys: yep, action required.

WHY oh WHY would ANY kid select a toy vacuum cleaner over a spaceship, if given a choice?

Color them pink, if you want, but PLEASE offer adventure toys to girls.

So, I wonder: how many female astronauts played with dolls? How many didn’t? I don’t have the answer. Just curious….

Think before you buy this gift-giving season. Give girls a chance!


Filed under culture, leadership, NASA, space

Season of Giving: Boxes for Burma

Ah, the giving season is here. Many of us translate “giving” into shopping. But  you can give to others without making a trip to the Shopping Mall.

After all, the world is full of people in need.  I’m thankful for those who go out and make a difference.

Here’s one effort I support: Boxes for Burma, coordinated  through family friends living and working among the people of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma).

Your donation will help share the message of hope with boxes of goodies at a cost of $3 each. Every dollar enables them to purchase, pack and deliver these little reminders that every child has worth under God’s eyes.

Boxes for Burma

Boxes for Burma

Due to in-country security issues, you’ll need to contact Mindi. She’ll tell you where to send your tax-deductible gift.

A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor. Proverbs 22:9

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Filed under humanitarian aid, poverty

FlashForward: LOS, please?

A funny thing happened to me in the NASA Headquarters lobby this week. I encountered a colleague I haven’t seen in a while. She posed this question:

What have you been doing with your life?

Innocent question on her part. My reaction: TILT!

My brain: Tilt!

My brain: Tilt!

The connections in my brain overloaded, then broke down. Total Loss of Signal — like when Mission Control can’t talk with the astronauts. When I snapped back, I realized I’d experienced a flash forward moment — a time in my life when I have absolutely NOTHING to do.

No deadlines, no distractions, nothing on my list. Utter bliss!

But to answer her question, one word escaped my lips, “Work.”

Atlantis crossing over Africa

Atlantis crossing over Africa

In my mind, strobe-light images from the last few weeks danced in my head:

  • STS-129 Tweet-up down at KSC,
  • STS-129 launch, mission, landing,
  • NASA Facebook updates in the wee hours,
  • Twitter space talk 24/7
  • SpaceSmart metrics and design project,
  • LAUNCH:Water sustainability forum, and
  • Space Operations budget review…

Oh… just a sampling of the things that keep me awake at night.

She gave me a horrified look, and said,

“But what are you doing for yourSELF?”

Once again, my mind kicked into overdrive. For the month of November alone, I pictured:

  • over 50,000 words typed over 30 days of literary abandon in November’s National Novel Writers Month NaNoWriMo,
  • 11 blogposts on this site,
  • several guest blogposts on OpenNASA and GovLoop,
  • reading and responding to hundreds upon hundreds of Twitter updates,
  • Thanksgiving preparations and  time with my daughters, and
  • time with God every single day — the very BEST thing I do for myself.
  • Oh, and the dreaded Black Friday!
Black Friday Madness

Black Friday Madness

But, who wants to hear any of that? Really.

So, I responded, “Nothing.”

Seeing that she found my answer inconceivable, I asked what she’d been doing lately. After all, that was the real question, now wasn’t it? She listed Kennedy Center performances, trips with friends, volunteering for worthy organizations, and much much more. I listened to all the wonderful things she was doing and thought to myself,

I really, really want a day of nothing. Just plain nothing.

I think I even said that to her. It’s all a blur. I don’t recall her validating my desire for nothingness.

I get that I choose this frenetic life of mine.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. But, I can still dream about a simple time — my own personal Flash Forward Loss of Signal. A time when my internal Mission Control goes silent. No more things to do. All is quiet. Peace at last.

After a moment or two in this alternative universe, boredom would come for a visit, most likely. I would find myself daydreaming of new missions to accomplish.

Hmmm. We’ll probably never know, will we? But, for now, I  better get busy. My list is long. This IS the Christmas season after all. No time to rest. 😉


Filed under NASA, OpenNASA, social media, space, tweet-up, writers