Glamour Shots


So, yeah, I ate well over the past week.

I was definitely going to blog about my dinner Tuesday night, which we’ll get to in a moment, but I realized I had enough food pics from the trips that really I should just make one omnibus eating post.

The first food of the trip started things off nicely — Corky’s at the airport in Memphis. It wasn’t exactly what I expected; based on the price and name on the menu, I was expecting what I would have gotten at an actual Corky’s restaurant. The first surprise was that there were no sides; I got a rack of ribs and a roll. Which is fine; that was what I was there for, and arguably didn’t need any more food. The other difference was that they didn’t ask me whether I wanted my ribs wet or dry. I’ve had half-and-half ribs at Corky’s before, but they’ve been just that — one half wet, the other half dry. These, by default, came as a hybrid, part of the rack with sauce and part of it with rub. Different, but good.

Dinner Tuesday, as I said, was the most interesting meal of the trip, and possibly the best. Our liaison at Glenn was quite the foodie, and made several recommendations; he and his wife even ended up joining my coworker Heather and I for dinner that night, and made agreeable dinner companions. (There’s a story there I may blog at some point involving robot uprisings, but we’ll see.) Among the suggestions, though, was one stand-out so compelling that no further discussion was required — Steak On A Stone.

The restaurant’s concept — which is apparently patented so no one else in the U.S. can do it — is this: your meat (mainly steak, but other options are available) is served essentially raw on a lava stone that has been heated to 750 degrees. You cut your steak and cook it to your taste one bite at a time as you eat. Sure, there’s something a little ironic about being on a trip and spending a bunch of money (although not bad at all, price-wise) to go out and cook your own supper, but the food was quite good, and the concept paid off two ways — one, it’s actually pretty agreeable to be able to get each single bite of steak exactly right, and, two, it adds a certain entertainment value to the meal. It was funny to notice, though, how much longer it took to finish for the person who liked her steak well-done.

Wednesday was the day of two desserts. It was an accident, really. We were going to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but were hungry enough that we wanted to get something to eat before we did. I, on the other hand, really wanted to take advantage of being near a Cheesecake Factory to get some dessert. So, we decided, we’ll get supper, tour the Rock Hall, and then get dessert afterward. Wandering the area, we ended up at another of our liaison’s recommendations, The Chocolate Bar. As the name might imply, their forte is dessert and drinks, but they also have other chocolate-based food, including a chocolate-covered pasta dish and cocoa-rubbed pork loins. Perusing the menu, though, we found the entrees less compelling than the desserts. So, to tide us over for Rock Hall, we got dessert at The Chocolate Bar with plans to get dinner, and dessert again, afterward.

Back in late January, I think, a friend of mine went to see Brad Paisley in concert in Birmingham, and posted on Facebook about the trip as it unfolded. The Brad Paisley part was of no great interest, though I was disappointed to learn that the opening act was Miranda Lambert, whom I actually would have liked to have seen. The most compelling status update, however, was that she was eating a white chocolate red velvet cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory. No sooner were the words read than I knew I must have it.

I made plans to have dinner in Birmingham a couple of weekends later, but, being the night before Valentine’s Day, I wasn’t even willing to wait in the line to find out how long I would have to wait to be seated at The Cheesecake Factory. I went back a week later, and did, in fact, successfully eat at The Cheesecake Factory, but, dinner finished, the waiter revealed they were out of a couple of varieties of cheesecake, including, but not limited to, what at that point became my cheesecake Moby Dick, the white chocolate red velvet.

At that point, it tasked me, and I would have it. So when I was going to be somewhere with a Cheesecake Factory again, I was compelled to try again. And, this time, success! And it was, in fact, good.

There’s one meal I didn’t get a picture of that I must mention, and that’s lunch on Thursday. Easily the least glamorous of the meals mentioned here, but one of the more cool for me: we ate at the cafeteria at Glenn Research Center. Specifically, I ate the salad bar at the cafeteria at Glenn Research Center. (Well, I ate from it, not the whole thing.)

One of the early times I was at Johnson Space Center in Houston, I got a salad. And I was amused that I didn’t think their salad bar was quite as good as ours at Marshall. There’s a history of competition between the two centers, and I was glad to declare victory for MSFC in that area. So then a year and a half ago, we’re visiting Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, and have lunch at the cafeteria. So, at that point, well of course I’m going to get the salad bar. And it was very Silicon Valley, full of fancy stuff you wouldn’t see at the other two.

With three NASA salad bars under my belt, on this trip, I actually requested to eat in the cafeteria, just to add another salad bar to my set. And it was good. I still like ours better, but it was perfectly functional.

I shared my cheesecake photo with the friend who inspired it, and the conversation turned to my other food pictures. Another coworker commented that a lot of my pictures from the trip were basically just plain photos, but that I’d obviously put some care into the food pics. (“Oh, yeah, that’s what I like…”) So I was sharing those pics and that story this weekend, and one of my friends at dinner Saturday night in New Orleans wanted me to take a picture of my food there, to add it to the set. Not quite as pleased with my smoked sausage po’boy pic, but here it is nonetheless.

I’m Back


OK, I’ve not written in a ridiculously long time. Sorry.

I spent last week in Cleveland, and this past weekend going down to New Orleans. No time for blogging, I’m afraid.

Gonna have a good bit of catching up to do, so I’ll probably break it into mini-blog posts rather than trying to actually catch up all at once.

Hope all is well with you.

This Is My Body


This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This week’s topic is “The Rite Of Communion.”

Yeah, this one I can’t even begin to do justice to.

I’ve touched on some of the themes already, in my Reconstruction post about saying grace over dinner and in my Passover post.

But of all the topics on this list, I’ve probably spent as much time thinking about this one in the last couple of years as any of them. For those thatdon’t know, I spent a year visiting different churches, observing the differences in how people worship, and how that affects their view of God and their relationship with Him. And one of the main things I paid attention to was how churches celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Or the sacrament of Eucharist. Or Communion.

The latter name, by the way, is my favorite, and the one I prefer to use. The Lord’s Supper is descriptive, but superficial; it focuses only on the significance of the fact that we are repeating the ritual as instructed by Christ, but fails to reflect the meaning of that ritual. Eucharist — thanksgiving — goes a little further, but is still vague in my opinion. Communion? Yeah, there’s meaning there.

I won’t delve into all the differences I saw. Churches that observe communion every week. Churches that do so quarterly. Churches for whom observing communion is the heart of the service. Open and closed communion. Juice and wine. Crackers and bread. Intinction. Altars.

I’ll get into a quick aside, and say that I’m not as big a fan of intinction, dipping the bread into the cup and taking both together. My usual congregation has adopted this practice, and I really wish we would go back. I prefer to take the two elements separately, and to have the time to meditate on each individually. The exact thoughts I have vary each time, but the themes that keep coming back are the two elements as two aspects of grace through the cross — the bread representing the body, broken for me, the price paid for my sins so that I don’t have to pay it; the cup representing the blood shed in the breaking of the body, the cleansing that comes after the price is paid so that I can move on, righteous once more, not through my righteousness but His. The cup is the second chance, the bread the price that makes it possible.

During my journey, the observance that made the most profound impact on me was at the home-based church I’ve been a part of, however. Almost every time we met, we would begin by having dinner and fellowshipping together before moving into our discussion. And one week, early on, our pastor was saying a blessing over the food, and he used verses from the Lord’s Supper, blessing the bread and the cup.

At the time, it completely caught me off guard. Those words don’t go with this situation. But then — why not? We were gathered together as a church body, we were breaking bread and drinking, we were there to worship Him.

And reading through the epistles, one could make the argument that that was probably not unlike a way “breaking bread” took place in the early church. Not a cold and liturgical ritual, but a social celebration. And that’s why I like “communion,” to be, at its best, that’s what the observance should be, not just communion with Him, but with His church. (That doesn’t mean there’s not merit in the other as well; I celebrated the meaning of Easter this year while in Florida for the launch by observing Eucharist on my own.)

I mentioned in my “saying grace” post that when I pray before eating with other people, I usually include either thanks or blessing for “the opportunity to break bread together.” And that’s the origin of that. If two or more believers are gathered, and are consuming bread and drink, then we are at that point the church, and the prayer recognizes that and consecrates it for His use.

Because when Christ broke the bread, He was talking of it specifically, and in terms of His immenent sacrifice, when He said, “This is My body.”

At the same time, however, there was another level to that — As He spoke the words, He was surrounded by His apostles, the foundation of His church. As He looked around the table, He recognized, “This is My body.”

Today, that honor belongs to us. It is our place to carry on His work. Eucharist should remind us of the cost and atonement delivered through the crucifiction. But communion, whether it be with a large congregation on a Sunday morning or simply two believers at Cracker Barrel, should remind us of the privilege of service for Him that cost and atonement bought.

THIS is His body.

Hi!


Um, hello!

Been a little while, huh? Sheesh, I haven’t written an actual real post on here in a week, which is kinda unusual for me. Sorry. Why? I’m really not sure. I’ve been busy. I haven’t had much to say. There are parts of my life that don’t get blogged at the moment. I’ve been saying stuff places other than here. I’ve been putting off writing my next Reconstruction post. Who knows?

So random thoughts about stuff:

I’m going to NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, soon, which is exciting. It will be the sixth of the 11-or-so NASA field centers that I’ve visited, putting me above the halfway point. I’ve not been to Cleveland before, so if anybody has any suggestions of things to do there, they would be much appreciated.

Shortly thereafter, I’m going to the Simon & Garfunkel concert, which I’m also rather excited about.

This weekend, however, I’m going to watch students launch rockets a mile into the air as a volunteer at NASA’s Student Launch Initiative. I’ve never seen the event before, so I’m eager to witness it firsthand.

Last weekend, I volunteered at NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race, and, for the first time, got to ride a moonbuggy. Kinda challenging.

President Obama expanded on his new vision for NASA’s future today, with some great finessings to the plan. Most significantly, construction of a new heavy lift vehicle beginning in 2015 is the best news that the spaceflight community could hope for. An HLV is the key to human exploration of the solar system, as well as opening up amazing opportunities for science.

I went to the Yuri’s Night party at the Davidson Center Saturday night. Huntsville’s still behind other cities in their celebration, but hopefully we’re moving toward catching up.

I taught kids at Sojourn again on Sunday. Threw out everything I thought I knew how to do, and did it completely differently. Seemed to go a bit better.

Have I mentioned that I got a chance to play with an iPad? I did. For that matter, I forget if I blogged my great story about standing in line to not see a product I had no intent to buy. In the rain. And I’m too lazy to go back and look. I need to try one again, to see what typing on it is like. The picture below is from Lain, but I like it.

Eh, enough for now, I guess.

The Classics Never Die


Talking to someone last night about Buzz Aldrin’s iPhone app. And, you know, I’m may get it eventually, but, really, it doesn’t provide a whole lot of functionality I don’t already have. My response was, if it had a feature were you could just watch Buzz punch Sibrel on a repeating loop, that might be worth the two bucks.

NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race


The Ongoing Mission


This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This week’s topic is “Foreign Missionairies.”

No neat tidy essay this week. This is a topic I’m very much in the process of rethinking, so I don’t have any real answers, just questions.

And, for the actual topic, “foreign missionaries,” I’m for ‘em. I don’t even care if it’s talking missionaries to foreign countries, or missionaries who are themselves foreigners, I’m all for it.

But lately what I’ve been dealing with is less about career missionaries, and more about missions themselves. Not those who go do this for a living, but us ordinary schlubs who go on mission trips.

I’ve been on two mission trips, both in high school, both elsewhere in the states. One of those was part of something that happened while I was in Indianola that’s had a lasting impact on how I view missions. On my second mission trip, I went with my church from Huntsville to Jamestown, NY. While I was in Indianola, a church there hosted a mission trip from New York. Another church sent a mission team to central America. All we needed was for a central American team to send a mission team to Huntsville, and we could close the loop. But, really, why? Why was Indianola both sending and receiving missionaries? Why couldn’t the people in Indianola who wanted to do something help the people there who needed help? Why did they leave the country and leave their neighbors to seek help from the other side of the nation? And why did people in New York drive down to Mississippi, when their neighbors were having to get help from Alabamans?

I’m all for missions, but not at the neglect of taking care of your neighbors. Get your own house in order, then worry about other people.

So that’s been part of my approach to missions.

Another part of my thought process — I believe in missions. I believe it’s part of the mandate of the church. I don’t believe that it’s part of the mandate of every individual in the church. Some people will tell you that everybody needs to go on a mission trip, but I’m not sure that I buy it. We all have different roles. We all have different gifts. Anybody that takes a one-size-fits-all approach to anything raises red flags.

But, the counter-argument to that is that missions transcends that. Yes, everyone has different gifts and roles. But missions is not one of those roles, it’s an opportunity to manifest those gifts and roles. There’s a place for everyone to use what they bring to the table. Perhaps.

I’ve also had the debate about whether it should be a calling. I’ve leaned toward, you don’t go unless you personally are called to. A friend says you should go unless you personally are supposed to not. And there’s a debate about why you should go — some say it’s selfish to go for the experience, others say the experience should be the main thing you get out of it.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, there’s a chance that I’ll be going on a mission trip to Costa Rica before the end of the year. So I may have to have answers to those issues that I can live with by then. I’m not really worrying about it; I don’t feel the need to have it all figured out, I just need to know what I’m supposed to do.

Submitting


I had a picture I submitted posted today on the “blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks! Yay, me!

I feel a little bad, ’cause it makes fun of a sign at a local restaurant, and I love love the place. No offense, guys!

It’s my first time, I think, having a submission picked and posted like that. The second closest I’ve come is a picture I took that was used at Apostrophe Abuse, but my coworker Heather actually sent it in.

I’ve submitted a couple of entries to Overheard Everywhere, but neither of them has been used:

One was heard outside the New York, New York casino in Vegas: “I feel like we’re at home, except it doesn’t smell as bad.”

And the other was from a cute little elementary-school age girl at Six Flags, explaining earnestly: “A false alarm is when you don’t get a baby.”

Destiny Beckons



Oh the sight of the mighty machine, the iron shine of a golden dream. On the edge of the ocean, a potential explosion stands so tall and so serene. I’ve got two little boys and a girl in bows. We were first in line just to see the show, to count down the seconds as destiny beckons into the arms of the astral glow.

And we’re gonna see a rocket, we’re gonna see a rocket blast through the last of the atmosphere, up and away to the great wide open, adrift in an airless ocean, in a bliss of mystical motion — I’m stuck down here.

Just look at the ground on the grassy hill. It’ll lift you up but it holds you still, ’cause gravity binds us but glory defines us — it’s the greater pull of a perfect will. And they say the ground is gonna quake and groan. They say the sound’s gonna shake my bones. It’s so full of meaning, alive and careening into the grace of the great unknown.

And we’re gonna see a rocket, we’re gonna see a rocket blast through the last of the atmosphere, up and away to the great wide open, adrift in an airless ocean, in a bliss of mystical motion — I’m stuck down here.

We stood among the multitude, we saw the rocket rise in a fiery hue. It defied destruction to ride the eruption. I have found this much is true: that love alone can carry you up and away to the great wide open, adrift in an endless ocean, in a bliss of mystical motion. I have found this much is true: love alone can carry you.
Rocket, by Andrew Peterson

I’ve posted those lyrics before, and I’m sure I will again before it’s all over. Which is to say, September, maybe? Only three launches left. After this current mission, we start retiring orbiters. Weird.

I didn’t even realize it myself until someone pointed it out to me last week, but Monday’s launch marked a rather cool milestone for me — I’ve now seen all three orbiters launch; Atlantis on last year’s STS-125 Hubble repair mission, Endeavour on STS-130 two months ago, and now Discovery.

This was my third shuttle launch and my second night launch. More impressively, after my string of scrubs, it was the fourth launch in a row that I actually got to see. Monday’s countdown was utterly without incident, which was actually disconcerting. I had that happen with Hubble, but I wasn’t waiting as long, so it wasn’t as weird. Spending four hours on the Causeway Monday morning, I kept waiting for something to come up — the chance of fog increasing, a technical issue arising on the vehicle, bad weather blowing into Zaragoza, Spain. Something. It would have made me feel better, actually. A storm at the trans-Atlantic landing site three hours before launch time would make me feel a little more confident that something wasn’t going to come up out of nowhere 10 minutes before launch.

The launch itself was beautiful. Spent a bit less time behind the camera, and a bit more time with my binoculars. It’s an amazing sight. Awe-inspiring. And Discovery was visible forever as she crossed the Atlantic. I wish I could do it justice, but I can’t so I’m not even going to try. There are three launches left. Go.

And I’m serious. Do it. Go.

A friend of mine commented on my Facebook as I was driving down that he was envious of me being able to do this. People comment on how lucky I am. And I understand that not everybody can go. If you’re reading this overseas, yeah, that’s a major investment. But I have friends here in town who talk about how lucky I am. The truth is, the only difference between me and them is that I do it. And they don’t. My job doesn’t pay for me to go down there. They don’t even give me the time off. I use vacation, and I pay may own way. I spend many many hours in the car. But I do it. Because it’s worth it. I’m blessed to be able to, I realize. Not everyone is. But way more are than do. Do it. Go. Be lucky, too.

And along those lines, I have to mention: Monday was a year since my engagement was called off. It’s been a long, strange, interesting year. And Monday, even getting a speeding ticket on the way back, was an awesome ending to it. A GREAT day to close out that year with.

I thought to myself Monday that I never would have dreamed a year earlier that I’d be marking the anniversary by completing my set of orbiter launches. And it took a second to realize how true that was — when the engagement was called off, I had never seen even one shuttle launch. All three launches I’ve seen, along with the Ares I-X launch, have been in the year since then. In addition to a crazy amount of other stuff. Back in September, I went to Big Spring Jam with a friend, and was posting lyrics from the artists I was going to see as my Facebook status. One of the main people I was going to see was Trace Adkins, and the main song I knew of his was “You’re Gonna Miss This.” And there was no way I was posting that as my status. ‘Cause I was still depressed about where I was, a couple of months out from the second (or sixth, or something, depending on how you count) time Susanna had broken up with me. This wasn’t a period of my life I was going to miss. This was a period of my life I was going to endure to get to better days.

But the truth is, with a bit of time and tide under my belt, yeah, it’s hard to make the argument that the last year hasn’t been one of the better times in my life. And, to be sure, I don’t mean that as a slight against Susanna; this isn’t some sort of “man, I’m so much happier” jab. Heck, among the times she came back and wanted to be friends again or wanted to be involved again, she was a part of a fair part of that year in some way, and contributed to some of those good times along with some bad times. Such is life.

Thankfully, I’ve had other people in my life, however, who have shaped that year as well, modelling what it looks like to live a life less ordinary, or encouraging me to do specific things I’d not done before. I watched the STS-131 launch with someone I’d met down there for 130, and when I told her that she had played a role in encouraging me to go, and thus in me completing the set, she seemed surprise. “Why wouldn’t you have?”

And that’s the trick, isn’t it? That’s how she saw it — “Why wouldn’t you?” And when you look at it like that, it makes a lot of sense. (Thanks!) But that wasn’t how I was looking at it. Before last May, I was taking trips to watch launches (or scrubs, as the case was), every year and a half. This past weekend was my third trip in about five months. Why not?

So that’s my challenge. I realize not everybody is interested in seeing a launch, and I respect that. But if you’ve ever said “Oh, I’d like to see one” THIS is your chance. THIS is your opportunity. Three more, and it’s done. You have a choice. You can go, or not. And I’m sure there are any number of practical logistical concerns that could stop you. They did me for a very long time. But the way I had to look at it when I went down last time for what was supposed to be the final night launch was, OK, honestly, which of these things is going to matter more to me 10 years down the road. In 2020, would I rather be able to talk about how glorious the shuttle was lighting up the night sky on one of its final missions? Or would I rather be able to talk about how responsible I was one Monday in February 2010 by cleaning my house?

This is your opportunity. Time is running out. If you want to go, you need to do it. SOON. And, really — why not?

Launch Video


I’ll do a longer post when I have time, but, in the meantime, here’s a video I shot on my iPhone of the launch. I shot it by resting the phone on my tripod, so it’s a bit crooked, sorry.

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