Monthly Archives: February 2010

Thank Space for Live Tsunami Watch.

Yesterday, social media network came alive with reports about a pending tsunami heading toward Hawaii. (Yes, I see the typo below. Sigh.)

Tsunami Warning

Tsunami Warning

Scientists predicted the waters would arrive at 11:19 a.m, after traveling 6000 miles from Chile’s earthquake. Their predictions proved correct. To the minute. From the comfort of my home in the D.C. region, I watched the waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands via Skype cameras — along with 80,000 fellow citizens of Planet Earth.

Tsunami Watch.

U-streamed Skype view of Hilo Bay, Hawaii

U-streamed Skype view of Hilo Bay, Hawaii

What an amazing experience. Computer on my lap. Fox news on the TV. Tweets cascading so quickly I could barely read them — prayers, well-wishes, requests for more info, snarks about how newscasters didn’t know the difference between a tidal wave and a tsunami.

Even a tweeting buoy: @buoy51202! (Thanks for the heads-up, Jon Ostrower.)

Tsunami Tweeting Buoy

Tsunami Tweeting Buoy

We watched and waited. And waited and watched. We tweeted info, shared tidbits, and…we waited. I expected to see a wall of water like the 2004 tsunami that followed the Indian Ocean earthquake. But think about it. Scientists predicted ocean swells. We watched it live. How amazing, really!

What made it all possible? Space!

Concerned citizens of one planet connected through space.

Without the space program, I would never have watched the water rise and fall on the shores of Hilo Bay in Hawaii — no matter how small the waves appeared. I wouldn’t have heard about the Chilean earthquake until Monday, had I not seen reports on Twitter.

We’re connected to each other because we launched satellites into orbit high above our planet, that bounce data back and forth and back again. We have astronauts 220 miles over our heads traveling 17,500 mph around the Earth every 90 minutes who keep an eye on Earth from their unique vantage point. We can now communicate with them in real time via Twitter, as well. Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi is prolific in posting twitpics of Earth with pithy comments about what he sees — like this one of Chile after the earthquake.

Chile after earthquake: Soichi Noguchi's pic from space

Chile after earthquake: Soichi Noguchi's pic from space

When I think about how amazingly connected we are across the globe, I feel proud to see my NASA badge hanging by the front door.  We’ve helped transform Earth into a space-faring, interconnected planet.  Pretty cool, I think.

So, here’s my last screengrab of the third wave on Hilo Bay. Maybe you see the shoreline changes from the pic above — if you look closely. Thankfully, the water seemed tame, maximum 6-foot ocillations in sea swells. Soon after this pic, they cancelled the tsunami warning. I logged off U-stream and went about my business.

Hilo Bay: 3-ft swells in tsunami 3rd wave

Hilo Bay: 3-ft swells in tsunami 3rd wave

Thank you space pioneers: your off-planet work makes our on-planet connections possible.


Filed under Earth, federal government, NASA, social media, space

Earthlings Unite: Space Awaits!

Look Ma. No borders!

Earth: Blue Marble. Credit: NASA

Earth: Blue Marble. Credit: NASA

Can you see a single border in this image of Earth from space?

Our human and robotic space travelers find no evidence from above of lines separating nations. What seems to define who we are — our national identities — means nothing to Mother Earth. She could care less.

Man created borders. Man created national identities. Man created kingdoms and governments, hierarchies and flags.

Man can set borders aside, if we choose. You know how this works. If we think the effort is worthy, humanity comes together to address the problem. “We are the World,” after all.

Truly global issues transcend passports and border crossings. Global poverty requires our attention. Global sustainability requires our attention. Global knowledge about what’s outside our friendly atmosphere? That requires global cooperation as well. (I know, many of you don’t agree that space is worth our while, or our pocketbooks. Please allow that some of us believe it is.)

No single country can afford to foot the bill required for bold new human excursions beyond low Earth orbit — as we’ve seen here in the U.S. as NASA’s budget is debated in Congress and living rooms and social media. Most NASA missions already include international cooperation to reach success. Look at the International Space Station. 15 countries came together to build this amazing engineering marvel over the last decade — piece by piece IN space.

Space Station demonstrated humanity’s ability to peacefully bridge political, cultural, and technical divides — against all odds.

International Space Station over Earth. Credit:NASA

Space Station over Earth. Credit:NASA

Space brought together former political enemies into peaceful partnership.

Maybe it’s time we do this again, but on a truly global stage. What if we form an Earth Space Organization — like the European Space Agency, but for all space-faring nations. And why not, I ask you? Look at all the nations with a hand in “space” from across our planet.

Algeria Argentina Austria Australia Azerbaijan

Bangladesh Belgium Bhutan Brazil Brunei Bulgaria

Canada Cambodia China Colombia Czech Republic

Denmark Ecuador Egypt Finland France Germany

Greece Hungary India Indonesia Iran Ireland Israel

Italy Japan Kazakhstan Laos Luxembourg Malaysia

Mexico Mongolia Morocco Myanmar Nepal Netherlands

New Zealand Nigeria North Korea Norway Pakistan Peru

Poland Portugal Republic of China (Taiwan) Romania Russia

Saudi Arabia Singapore South Korea Spain Sri Lanka (2010)

Sweden Switzerland Thailand Tunisia Turkey Ukraine

United Kingdom United States Uruguay Venezuela Vietnam

Don’t quote me on this list. I wiki-ed it. I know South Africa is missing. (I didn’t have a tiny flag to add them.) Could be others. You can go to the United Nations United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space for a list of members willing to cooperate. My point:

With so many nations involved with space endeavors, why not pool our resources and work together — as Citizens of Planet Earth.

"The Public Face of Space" ISU symposium.I spoke at the “Public Face of Space” Symposium at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France. In answering a question, I speculated that our planet would form a world space organization within the next ten years. Those in the audience — eager young international students with a passion for space — will be the ones to make this happen, if it happens (which I truly believe it will). The rest of us are comfy with our national space agency badges.

Change WILL happen. We just have to be hungry enough to render the status quo unacceptable.

So here’s how I see it working: each country coming into the Planet Earth Space Enterprise (P.E.S.E…pronounced peace) would bring their national assets to the table. Based on the value of the hardware assets and intellectual property contributions, their membership gets a weighted vote. The more the member country contributes, the more influence the member country wields. (I already see the negotiations over how assets are valued. Another problem for another day.)

I keep hearing the Beatles singing “Come Together” as I write this. And so we should — come together. If we all brought our assets to the table and worked as true partners (no exchange of funds), it wouldn’t matter who had what heavy-lift capability, would it? (Though it might matter to commercial entities wanting a piece of the pie.)

You know, of course, none of this is up to me.

I’m not in a position to make any of this happen. I’m merely dreaming out loud, sprinkling my dream-dust into the cosmos where all other ideas sparkle and glitter and light up the night sky. Who knows, maybe this little idea will get a real name someday.

Earthlings unite! Space awaits.

Sun glints off Space Station solar arrays. Credit:NASA

Sun glints off Space Station solar arrays. Credit:NASA

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Rocket Man Dreams of Mars

Meet Jesco.

Jesco Von Puttkamer trying out space suit

Jesco Von Puttkamer trying out space suit

German-born Jesco Von Puttkamer came to NASA 48 years ago to build rockets with legendary Wernher Von Braun. I’ve known Jesco for almost 20 years now, since I first came up to NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C. from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

What can I say about Jesco? He’s a force to be reckoned with. I’ve known him as one who stands his ground. I’ll leave it at that.

In the 1990’s, I worked in international relations at NASA Headquarters as the German Desk Officer.  In this job, I witnessed Jesco’s rock star status in Germany. Everywhere I went, the German’s wanted to know if I knew Jesco or if I could get Jesco to come speak at their events.

So why am I introducing you to Jesco now?

Simple. Jesco and I spoke on the “Future Directions” panel at the International Space University’s “Public Face of Space” Symposium last week in Strasbourg, France. His talk moved me to tears.

Here’s what I learned about Jesco last week that I never knew:

Jesco’s unfulfilled dream=GO TO MARS!

Jesco to Mars

Tweet about Jesco's passion for Mars.

Who knew? I always understood he liked to build rockets and track Space Station. But Mars? Wow. Somehow I missed the destination-side of who Jesco is.

I like to think of Jesco as the Forest Gump of space — always right on the fringes of every historical moment. Prime example: Take a look at this picture of President Kennedy touring the Space Center with Wernher Von Braun. Jesco stood on the street corner as the car drove past.

Jesco snapped this pic from the street corner.

President Kennedy with Wernher Von Braun.

I’d never caught his passion before. Jesco’s presentation took us back to his years at the Marshall Space Flight Center, the very center of the space universe, the birthplace of all things space — until, that is, we learned the Soviet Union had their own space Capitol where they worked as feverishly as the Von Braun team to be #1 in space.

Space race news articles

Space Race

Here is Jesco on his first day on the job.

Young Jesco on his first day on the job.

Young Jesco on his first day on the job.

He spoke passionately about how he took no vacation for eight years because he feared missing an exciting breakthrough. None of the team wanted to go home at night. (Let’s not talk about the toll on their families.) The point of his talk: we can’t go forward without understanding where we’re coming from.

Rocket guys married to the job.

Rocket guys married to the job.

I knew Jesco was passionate about the past. That wasn’t news to me. What utterly shocked me was his passion for the future. I’d never connected his love of all things space to a particular destination — Mars. And to see his face light up when he spoke of it, reminded me of the little boy in him dreaming of what might be someday.

I knew Jesco, the pragmatist. I’d never before seen this Jesco. Jesco, the dreamer.

I write this post as my way of saying thanks to Jesco for all his dedication and sacrifice and passion for the journey to the great unknown we know as space. During the Q&A portion of our Future Directions panel, I liked his response to the question, “Why space? Why bother?” (My paraphrase.)

“We establish the frontier, step over it, and push the frontier out even further.”

Thanks Jesco for pushing the space frontier out even further to get us closer to your passion: Mars.

His presentation will be available on the International Space University website. For more tweets from the ISU conference, I created an archive.

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Today in Space: Savor the Moment

Take a peak at STS-130 Space Shuttle Endeavour docked at the International Space Station 220 miles over our heads with Planet Earth as a backdrop. Wow. Both spacecraft are traveling at 17,500 miles per hour around Earth right now. Can you imagine?

STS-130 mission: Space Shuttle Endeavour docked at the International Space Station

STS-130 mission: Space Shuttle Endeavour docked at Space Station

Savor this view. Only a few more times in your life will you see a Space Shuttle docked to Space Station.

If you follow space at all, I’m sure you’re aware of the debate about the NASA budget and the decision to retire the Space Shuttle. It’s all over Twitter, Facebook, blogs, newspapers. Fervent water coolers arguments, I’m sure.

Some cheer the end of the Shuttle and Constellation program, believing commercial providers can fill the gap.

Some mourn the loss of U.S. transportation capability, and believe NASA is lost.

Friends and colleagues outside NASA contact me to check in — see how I’m doing.

Let me assure you. I’m fine. NASA is fine.

We’re not going away. But yes, we’ll be going about our business differently. We received extra money in our budget over the next 5 years to advance technology. We’ll purchase our transportation and supply needs from available providers. (Those of you who know me have heard my predictions about future options. But those are water cooler conversations. Not blog talk.)

Here’s the deal:

We don’t debate budget decisions. We make cool things happen with what we’re given.

Space Shuttle Endeavor against the Sky

Space Shuttle Endeavor against the Sky. Credit: NASA

Let’s talk about the Space Shuttle fleet. These amazing winged spaceships have served us well for many years. Well beyond our expectations (just like our adorable Mars Rovers).

But to keep the Shuttle program going means money spent on upgrades and refurbished parts. To go beyond Low Earth Orbit, humanity needs a different ride. Think of it this way:

  • How much money do you keep putting in your old car before you invest in a new one?
  • If your current means of transportation won’t get you where you need to go, what do you do? (Build a new car? Pay someone to build a new car for you? Wait for someone to build a new car that you can bum a ride in?)
  • What happens when you need transportation for short commutes, as well as long-distance? (Own two cars? Own one car, and buy a seat from another transport provider? Stay at home?)

Everyone will answer these question differently. Just understand none of the choices are easy, but that’s why we’re NASA.

We do hard things and make them look easy. We solve problems against all odds.

I’m excited for our future, though I’m emotional about the last few flights of the Shuttle. I’m really hoping an entrepreneur comes out of the woodwork with a space transport solution that requires no spaceship (hey, why not?), or a cute little George Jetson-mobile that I can zip around in (kinda’ like the X-38).


NASA's X-38 Crew Return Vehicle. Credit: NASA

As we close out the Space Shuttle program (and for those who mourn Constellation),  I leave you with this thought:

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” Dr. Seuss


Filed under Earth, federal government, leadership, NASA, social media, space

I’m SNOW Over It!

Let me share the tale of my harrowing Snowmaggedon The Sequel experience from today’s blizzard.

Has it been less than a week since the last snowpocalypse? Oh my!

With multiple layers of snow and ice and snow and ice and snow, we’ve been warned to listen for creaking sounds from the roof (cave-ins) and cracking sounds (downed tree limbs). My house is surrounded by big old trees. Really big. Really old. I’m ever wary in big storms for fear a tree might land in my lap. All this to say, I’ve been checking at every window for signs of something not quite right.

Something like this:

Broken limb held up by cable wire.

Snow-broken limb held up by cable wire.

I sprang into action: bundling up in boots, snowpants, hoodie, scarf, hat, gloves…and hedge clippers.

My problem. Scaling my 6-foot high snowberg to get up to the hill to reach the broken branch, held up by one single, solitary cable wire. (I must really like my cable service to attempt an outdoor rescue mission in a white-out conditions with 40 mph winds.)

Snowberg at left in front of my car.

Snowberg (left) in front of my car (midde).

So I climbed, using my trash can and recycling bucket — thank you City of Alexandria — and reached the high ground, only to sink waist-deep in snow. I stepped on top of one of my poor bushes (which may not live to tell the tale) and reached up to snip a few low hanging branches. But I kept sinking where I couldn’t reach the tree branch.

A snowplow driver came down the street at this point. He hovered for a bit. Perhaps he was curious? Perhaps I was an amusing side show. Perhaps he thought he might need to rescue me? I could easily have tumbled off the hill to the ground below (but I think I would only get swallowed by snow rather than break anything– unless, of course, I fell on my hedge clippers. Ouch.)

MacGyver Moment: I fashioned snowshoes (snow bridge if you want to get technical) from clipped branches to support my weight to allow me reach the top branches of the broken limb still caught by the cable.

Waist-deep snow: snow bridge of limbs to stand on.

Waist-deep snow: snow bridge of limbs to stand on.

I was so proud of myself as I clipped merrily away standing precariously on my tippy toes on top of a pile of branches. Proud, that is, until I heard the branch (barely held up by the cable at this point) crack loudly. I knew it was coming down.

Question was: would it take me with it on its way to the ground?

The snowplow driver was back now, watching me again. (He could’ve actually gotten out to help, had he been really worried. But no. He just watched.)

I snipped my last snip, freeing the cable from its prison. The tree limb came tumbling down behind me, missing my head. Whew! The snowplow driver drove away. I came back inside to find my cable still worked.

Cable is free now.

Limb is down (left). Cable is free (top).

All the broken limbs

So many snow-broken limbs. Offending limb (right).

View from front door

View from front door. That's my car buried down there.

McGyver Moment: Looking down from window.

MacGyver Moment: Looking down from window. (Car bottom right)

All is well with the world. Until I have to get out and shovel again.

Snowmaggedon The Sequel: I’m SNOW over it!


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Astro-Stars in Our Eyes

My youngest daughter, Steph, is a Houston Astros baseball fanatic. She grew up wanting to be Craig Biggio. She lives and breathes for the game, watches them on her computer, knows the stats by heart.

Two summers ago, she came home for a visit with one purpose in mind — watch the Astros play a 3-game series against the Nats in their new stadium. I’d never been there before, so we headed out for our adventure in southwest DC. We bought our tickets to sit above the Astros bullpen, so she could be close to her boys.

My daughter's fav baseball player ever!

My daughter's fav baseball player ever!

During the game, a man and two boys sat down next to us. One of the boys wore a NASA shirt. I asked where he got his shirt. He pointed to the man next to me and said his dad worked at NASA.

What an amazing coincidence. Of all the seats in the National’s Ballpark, two NASA employees end up sitting together.

I asked his dad where he worked. Houston, he told me. We chatted for a bit before I discovered he was an astronaut. Turns out he’d come to the game to throw out the first pitch. He brought his son and nephew along with him. Really nice guy.

Terry Virts. STS-130 Pilot.

STS-130 Pilot Terry Virts

STS-130 Pilot Terry Virts

I share this with you now because he’s up in space right this very minute. He broke the bonds of Earth yesterday on his first flight to space. And how cool is that?!? He’s circling the planet at 17,500 mph while I type.

STS-130 launch

STS-130 launch. Credit/NASA

Today’s STS-130 Flight Day 2 wake-up call was dedicated to Terry. Great song by Brandon Heath, “Give Me Your Eyes.” Wake-up calls for Space Shuttle missions are chosen by family and friends. The song selection says a great deal about the person, I think.

Mission Control ground-to-space Flight Day 2 audio recording.

I’ll share a few lyrics from “Give Me Your Eyes” by songwriters: Brandon Heath and Jason David Ingram. (The lyrics themselves serve as a wake-up call for service to the forgotten and broken-hearted.)

“Looked down from a broken sky. Traced out by the city lights. My world from a mile high. Best seat in the house tonight. Touched down on the cold black top. Hold on for the sudden stop. Breathe in the familiar shock. Of confusion and chaos.

All those people going somewhere. Why have I never cared?

Chorus: Give me your eyes for just one second. Give me your eyes so I can see. Everything that I keep missing. Give me your love for humanity. Give me your arms for the broken hearted. Ones that are far beyond my reach. Give me your heart for the ones forgotten. Give me your eyes that I can see.”

Great song. Great heart. Great guy. So nice to see the good ones fly.

Oh, sorry, I got caught up in the whole rhythm and rhyme thing.

Getting back to the event that started this whole story. I don’t recall whether the Astros won or lost. Steph can tell you, though. She’ll remember who got what hit. Who scored. How many runs batted in. How many errors.

But she won’t remember which astronaut she talked to. I will. I’ll be able to tell you how many times he flies. How many hours in orbit. What music he likes. And so on.

At least we’re keeping space in the family. Steph has stars in her eyes for Earth-bound Astros. I have stars in my eyes for Astros who leave Earth. Life offers such interesting parallels. Don’t you think?

You can find out more about Terry and the STS-130 crew at

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Ideas on How to Open NASA? Spill!

Are you someone who knows exactly what it takes to make NASA the best agency possible? Do you doodle ideas on cocktail napkins and mail them to a NASA Center? Do you wake up early in the morning to watch Space Shuttle launches (like this morning’s 4:14 a.m. EST STS-130 launch) or stay up all night for mission coverage of Space Station? Do you wish you could wear a NASA badge and sit in a cubicle somewhere in the bureaucratic maze at a NASA installation?

Have we got a job for you!

Get your creative juices flowing. Capture all your ideas. We’re listening. You have until March 19, 2010 to share your ideas with us about how NASA can be more:

  1. Transparent,
  2. Participatory,
  3. Collaborative, and
  4. Innovative.
OpenGov NASA idea sharing site

OpenGov NASA idea sharing site

We’ve deployed a cool idea-sharing tool to let you give input, comment on input of others, and vote ideas up or down. Your ideas will feed into NASA’s Open Government Plan. You need an account first, but that’s as simple as adding your e-mail and a password.

Go ahead. Give it a try.

Submit an Idea

Submit an idea

And if you find any ideas by me in the system, feel free to give them a generous thumbs up!  (I’m just getting started….)

OpenGov/NASA idea

OpenGov/NASA innovation idea

OpenGov/NASA People's Choice Award

OpenGov/NASA People's Choice Award

“We are continually faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.” – John Gardner 1965

Let’s tackle those opportunities!

Crosspost on GovLoop and OpenNASA.


Filed under federal government, Gov 2.0, NASA, OpenNASA, social media, space

SnOMG=X-teroid Invasion!

I’m snowed in. I should be shoveling out. But, I really don’t feel like it. I’m not in the mood to exert the energy required to uncover almost two feet of snow. If I were smart, I’d be shoveling out every couple of inches. Or if I were really smart, I’d move to the British Virgin Islands. Yet, here I sit — a blanket of white falling hard and fast out my windows. No end in sight.

Snowmaggedon. Snowpocalypse. SnOMG!

While I sat here, posting info on tomorrow’s Super Bowl Sunday STS-130 Space Shuttle launch on Facebook, I ran across this X-files-looking Hubble image of a “mysterious X-shaped debris pattern and trailing streamers of dust” that astronomers have never seen before.

Hubble discovers X-teroid

Hubble discovers X-teroid

I know this can all be explained-away by science. Here’s what NASA has to say about it: “Hubble shows the main nucleus of P/2010 A2 lies outside its own halo of dust. This has never been seen before in a comet-like object. The nucleus is estimated to be 460 feet in diameter.”

But…what if it really is a spacecraft of some kind?

Ok, let’s stop here. Let me warn you that I have a vivid imagination. …Now, with that said, hear me out.

What if this crazy blizzard is a cover for a planet X-teroid invasion?

Look at the timing. Hubble catches a glimpse of the advance X-ship. Then, the snow storm of the century hits our Nation’s Capitol!

Rather suspect. Wouldn’t you agree?

No? You’re not buying my alien conspiracy theory? I’m crushed. 😉 But hey, what a fun SciFy plot. SnOMG=X-teroid Invasion. I’m selling the rights. Who’s buying?

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some of my crazy blizzard shots. Then, I guess I have no excuse left NOT to go shovel my way out.

SnOMG Trees

SnOMG Trees

snOMG snow boat (i.e. hammock)

snOMG snow boat (i.e. hammock)

SnOMG front steps

SnOMG front steps

snOMG is devouring my car

snOMG is devouring my car

Tootles! A-shoveling I go….

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Zombieland, formerly known as Penn Station

The cab driver stopped at the curb and pointed across the street. Penn Station. Our destination. I stepped from the cab. Frigid 16-degree air bit the flesh on my face, as if ravenous hunger drove its aggression. Sharp. Painful. I thought about Steph’s poor ungloved hand. Somewhere on the streets of New York City lay one turquoise glove. We gathered our luggage and dodged oncoming traffic to cross the street.

“Which way, Mom?”

“I have no idea. I’ve never been dropped off here before.” I looked up to see the Madison Square Garden sign overhead. Somewhere inside this structure, our Amtrak train awaited. I lead my daughter into the building.

The moment we stepped beyond the entry, we encountered creatures — humanlike, yet not quite alive. None made eye-contact. Some spat unrecognizable words. They shuffled in slow forward motion, as if on auto-pilot. Male and female, tall and short, dirty and ragged. Everywhere, yet nowhere.

I felt as if we’d entered Zombieland, formerly known as Penn Station.

“Are they allowed to live here?” Steph spoke softly, fearing one of the creatures might awake to our presence.

“I don’t know. Maybe if they keep moving. It’s too cold out there to survive for long.” We kept moving too, quickening our pace.

Steph saw the ticketed passenger lounge area before I did. Humans greeted us. Real, live humans. They stood apart from the zombies — making eye-contact, speaking words we understood, and yes, they smiled. We flashed our tickets and slipped into the safety zone where zombies weren’t allowed. Guilt followed us in.


NYC 42nd Ave.

NYC 42nd Ave.

I’ve been back from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference in New York City for several days now. The images from Penn Station still haunt me. I’m overwhelmed by what I saw. I looked up statistics for New York City: 38,000 individuals EACH night use shelters. That number obviously misses all the homeless we saw in Penn Station at 6:00 in the morning. The NYC Department of Homeless Services offers help for those in need, but the problem just seems SO huge.

Sometimes I fixate on issues that I think are problems — like my heater can’t seem to get over 64 degrees in this crazy cold weather. But hey, I have a home to shelter me. I may get frustrated when project I’m working on doesn’t go forward as quickly as I’d like. But, I have a job and a paycheck coming every two weeks. How easy to let all the little things in life bug us. In the grand scheme of life, who really cares if I don’t make it through the traffic light behind the car in front of me?

My trip to Zombieland reminded me: be thankful, count my blessings, help those who can’t help themselves.


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