Loved Labour Lost

It’s been a year today.

I got up on the morning of 25 April 2011, and went to work at Marshall Space Flight Center for the last time. The day was spent out-processing, and shortly after lunch time, I had the surreal experience of driving out the gate without my badge, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to get back in. To be sure, after weeks of uncertainty about the future and dread, there was a bit of relief in having it be done, and, at the time, optimism over what I thought the future was going to hold, but, even so, it was one of the saddest moments of my life.

It’s been an interesting year since. When I left, I believed I was going to go back to school to get my master’s degree, and was within a week of starting that, but then changes in my personal life scuttled that plan. At that point, the real process of figuring out what the future looks like began.

Initially, I had hoped a new career would be quick coming, but eventually I realized I needed to invest in the here-and-now in the meantime.

I began working as a substitute for the Madison City Schools in October, as a tour guide and children’s programs leader for the Historic Huntsville Depot museum in November and as a sub in the Huntsville City Schools in January. Theoretically, I’m still doing all three; in reality, Madison and I haven’t called each other since Christmas break since the other two jobs keep my schedule pretty full.

And, you know, while the place I’m in right now is not anywhere I set out to be, and isn’t necessarily where I would choose to be, I’m still having fun.

Subbing has its moments. There are, to be sure, bad days, the rare days by the end of which I’m just counting the time until I can escape. (I’ve got a full post about subbing coming, so I’ll spare the explanation until then.) But there are a lot of good days, and there are transcendent moments. The times when I help kids learn something they didn’t know are good times indeed. I can’t tell you how awesome it was the day I was teaching, and one of the kids told a classmate that came in late, “Man, you missed it! We were talking about metaphors and similes!”

And the Depot — shortly before I started working there, I was having lunch with other subs in one of the Madison schools, and they were lamenting how they’d never been picked to sub on a day the kids were going on a field trip, ’cause that would be fun. And the Depot? It’s like permanent field trip. Well, almost at least. The kids’ programs days are, at least, and they’re the fun part of the field trip, without the riding around in the bus part. The other days, the tour guide days — I’ve worked as a tour guide at the Space & Rocket Center as a volunteer, and at the Depot I get paid for something I would do for free. That’s kinda cool. Plus, there’s the occasional random moment of awesomeness, like the day last week on which I followed up being filmed for a commercial by operating a forklift.

Really, if either (or both together) of those would pay the bills, I would be very content where I am. But, unfortunately, they don’t, and so the quest for real work continues. I wouldn’t have thought it would take this long, and, on some days, that can be a little frustrating. But in the meantime, I’m enjoying myself, so, ultimately, I’m blessed.

That said, if you know someone who is looking for — or needs and doesn’t know it yet — a writer or communications professional, please feel more than free to pass my name along.

We Have Met The Enemy

From the beginning, they were the enemy.

I firmly believe, that in Alabama, you must be either an Alabama person or an Auburn person. Even if you move in from out of state, even if you have your own team back home, if you live in Alabama, you must have a preference between the two.

I grew up an Alabama person. There was no reason, no connection. My family was Alabama people, and so, so was I. Which, meant, by extension, that I had to be an anti-Auburn person. No reason for that, either, but it didn’t matter. Boo, hiss!

But, then, they gave me reason.

When I was at Ole Miss, we had a coach that was doing fairly well for us, our first new coach in forever, Tommy Tuberville. And we loved him dearly, and put up billboards about him, and gave him a nickname, and just all around thought the world of him.

And Auburn stole him, and he betrayed us to go there, and broke our hearts.

So then I had both completely unfounded traditional reason, and new concrete reason to dislike Auburn, and so I did.

Over the years, having been an Ole Miss student for over half my life, I’ve become less passionate about my identification as an Alabama person, since, really, I’m actually an Ole Miss person, even if I’ve kept my required “Alabama resident preference” for the Tide.

Over the years, as I’ve become friends with Auburn people, who had actual reason to be Auburn people, like, you know, having actually gone there, I’ve become less passionate about my identification as an anti-Auburn person, a transition made easier by the aforementioned Alabama shift and the fact that Ole Miss has now gone through several more coaches and Tuberville, whom I’ve been told is actually a pretty decent human being, is no longer at Auburn.

That said, it was still weird to actually wear orange and blue.

I went down last weekend to the A Day scrimmage game with Rebecca. I wore an orange shirt. We sat in rather good seats in Jordan Hare, and waved orange and blue shakers. We — or at least she — cheered Auburn cheers. I went to Toomer’s Corner and Tiger Rags.

Before the day was over, at dinner in Birmingham, for the first time in my life, I told someone “War Eagle.”

It was weird.

I don’t know that I’m converted yet.

But at least I didn’t burst into flame or anything.

Regular Richie Feature

Scuba Diving

Scuba Diving (Photo credit: John Kotsifas)

My friend Richie enjoys seeing the search strings that led people to my blog, so every so often I post them for him. Here are some of the highlights from searches from the last month or so:

  • he used same song for two women
  • stories of wanting something but not being able to remember the word you want
  • mentos space program
  • текстура матрица
  • wrote 8 -made marks on the surface by aldrin
  • scary heights
  • abraham and the stars
  • a model parachute falling towards earth
  • the word possible
  • “burn them thoroughly” lyric
  • mosin nagant stories
  • radio as a friend
  • short dawg manley in my pocket перево
  • can you scuba dive to the titanic
  • scripture about technology
  • “york region police”
  • amount of money spent on texting accidents
  • pampered chef wrap song
  • why are they not weightless apollo 18 film
  • fair skinned klingons
  • growing a mullet 2013
  • brilliant words
  • ted danson at the bluebird cafe
  • “always a groom never a bride”
  • took off shoes stink

Stars And Stripes Forever

So two of the things I love about working at the Huntsville Depot Museum — learning new things, and playing dress up.

The whole experience has been an adventure in the former. I knew nothing about anything when I started. I’d worked as a tour guide before, as a volunteer at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, but that was very much in my comfort zone. Space and rockets are two things I know. The Depot plays to multiple areas that are very much not my strong suits, from trains to the Civil War. But I’ve greatly enjoyed learning about those things, and getting to the point that I can give an informative and engaging tour that also has my personal touch to it.

As to the latter — in addition to giving tours, a big part of my job at the Depot involves children’s programs, of which we have several, and are continuing to add more. For the train programs, we just wear our usual black-and-white Depot duds, but for others, we dress up a bit. So far, I’ve worn both the blue and the gray for Civil War programs.

Yesterday, we had a new program honoring veterans and giving an overview of different aspects of American wars throughout history. I was told last week that I needed to be ready to lead a session on medicine during the Korean conflict, and to get a costume together. And I loved both parts. I enjoyed the challenge of going from zero to ready on the session material, and it was surprisingly enjoyable to walk around the Depot grounds this morning in costume. I actually do feel different sometimes when I don the different garbs.

Everyone did an awesome job with the program, and it was really neat seeing the diversity of the costumes. As much as I enjoyed my part of the program, I loved being the official photographer and getting shots of all the presentations.

Ad Astra, Per Latrina


NASA is considering using the International Space Station to practice for a trip to Mars, officials said …

“Clearly, in order to be able to explore beyond low-Earth orbit, we’re going to have to stay in orbit for longer than six months,” space station program manager Mike Suffredini said during a news conference today.

Suffredini said NASA is exploring the possibility of setting up a mock journey to Mars aboard the space station, where astronauts would stay for longer than the usual six months, and would be subject to other conditions that such a trip would impose. …

“It won’t be in the near future,” he said. “It’s probably not reasonable to expect us to be able to do this sooner than two or three years from now.”

First, let me say, I’m for it.

NASA’s lead up to the Apollo program was a perfect example of space exploration done right — test it at home, then do it for real. In order to successfully put footprints in the lunar regolith, certain capabilities were going to have to be developed and demonstrated, including increased spaceflight duration, rendezvous and docking, and extravehicular activities.

The moon is about four days from Earth. Low Earth orbit, on the other hand, is minutes from the surface. So rather than doing all of these for the first time when we went to the moon, all of them were first tested in Earth orbit, where, if something went wrong, home was just a stone’s throw away.

About four years ago, a toilet on the International Space Station failed. NASA took a lot of ribbing for it in the press, but I said then, and maintain now, that if the only thing that happened on the International Space Station was its toilet failing, it would still be worth doing.

Mars is about six months away. And that’s just one way. A mission there would involve a trip of six months out, six months back, plus whatever time is spent on the surface, which arguably should be long enough to justify the travel time.

Someday, humanity will go there. If I were an astronaut, and the toilet for that mission were going to fail, I would sure rather it be during an Earth-orbit test of the equipment than on the way out to Mars, leaving the crew without a toilet for months. Every single system and procedure needed to go to Mars should be tested in Earth orbit, broken, fixed and tested again, so astronauts heading to the Red Planet will know everything that can go wrong, and what to do when it does.

Right now, we have a spacecraft in Earth orbit that is capable of supporting tests the duration of a Mars mission. (I will note, however, that I don’t believe that should be step one — I think it would be much more responsible to first double the current seven-month record of ISS increments, and then move up from there.)

While the details are uncertain and constantly in flux, for the last eight years, the goal of American human spaceflight has been exploration.

It’s high time we can began fully utilizing the assets we have to support that goal.

John Milstead — “Boy From Mississippi” Lyrics

Heard you got the city lights in your eyes
I guess now I’m someone you used to know.

It really swept you off your feet
With its smooth talk and high-rise dreams
How you’d get so far away from home

How’d I go from all you want
To just something in your way?
You can’t make us strangers
Just ’cause you walked away

So, baby, won’t you tell me when the sun sets in LA,
Do you hope maybe that I’ll wait and find some way to be OK?

Down this little one-way dirt road light on,
Hanging on no matter how long it takes
When you think of me, will I just be
That boy from Mississippi

Well, the talk moves pretty fast in this sleepy town
No one here knows the truth at all
Day in and out it’s just the same old thing
Nothing’s changed
I still rush home but you don’t call

How’d I go from all you want
to just something in your way
You can’t make us strangers
Just ’cause you walked away

So, baby, won’t you tell me when the sun sets in LA,
Do you hope maybe that I’ll wait, I’ll find some way to be OK?

Down this little one-way dirt road light on,
Hanging on no matter how long it takes
When you think of me, will I just be
That boy from Mississippi?

So, baby, won’t you tell me when the sun sets in LA,
Do you hope maybe that I’ll wait and find some way to be OK?

Down this little one dirt road light on,
Hanging on no matter how long it takes
When you think of me, will I just be
That boy from Mississippi

When you think of me, will I just be
That boy from Mississippi

The Other Side of the Desk

I had last week one of the most interesting experiences of my career as a substitute teacher — I taught, for the first time, in a classroom in which I had once been a student.

I’ve subbed a couple of times this year at my old high school, but the building I attended was torn down several years back and a new building built. So while it is my high school, it’s not where I went to high school, if that makes sense.

Back in college, I subbed very briefly one semester, and did get to teach once in my high school building, albeit not in a room in which I had ever been in class. It was, however, quite interesting having lunch that day in the teachers’ lounge, across from one of my old teachers.

Last week, I taught at Huntsville Middle School, the only school I attended in Huntsville which is still standing. And not just at Huntsville Middle, but in the science lab room in which I had classes all three years I attended.

I taught from behind Mrs. Riley’s desk.

Well, technically, it’s not Mrs. Riley’s desk anymore. She had long since left the school, and the room and desk now belonged to another teacher. But it was the same desk, and many of the other same trappings were still present in the room.

It was weird. Weird being back in the room after nearly a quarter century, and weird being on the other side of the desk. It affected the way I taught, informed by my experiences in the room.

There were weird bits of synchronicity — a kid was wearing a Pink Floyd shirt, reminding me that the first time I’d heard of the band was in that very room. It brought back to mind old friends, a few of whom I shared with where I was.

I took the opportunity to walk through the building, allowing a variety of other memories to wash over me — the gym, where Jason and I planned my failed run for Student Council (next to the locker room where I learned of the Challenger disaster); the keyboarding room, where I can still recall my indignation of Ann Marie being wrongfully accused by the teacher for something; the counselor’s office where Elaine and I bonded over the SOICC computer system.

I was made a little nervous at first by the fact that the assistant principal kept peeking into my classroom, until I remembered that his office would have been just next door; he had to walk by my room to go anywhere on that side of the school. I remembered Mr. Purcell, who had the office when I was a student there, and how intimidating it had been. Then I had the weird moment later in the day of talking to the current assistant principal and discovering that he and I had actually overlapped as student there — my first year at Huntsville Middle was his last, and that he also remembered when the office he now occupied had belonged to Mr. Purcell. I can’t imagine but that that wouldn’t be weirder.

I was very proud that it was a good day, that the students at my middle school alma mater were among the best I’ve taught.

One of my favorite moments of the day came in the last period, when I talked to the kids about the fact that I had been a student in that room many years ago. I mentioned the name of the teacher whose room it had been, and for some of the students, it clicked. It turns out that when she left Huntsville Middle, Mrs. Riley had moved down to the elementary school I had attended, where she had taught some of the students in her classroom.

In that room, a quarter century difference between us, it was cool to discover we had something in common.

The Fall of Huntsville

I was excited to see that I was on the schedule to work at the Huntsville Depot Museum today.

After all, today is a major anniversary of one of the most important days in the history of the Depot, to say nothing of the city of Huntsville.

On this date, 150 years ago, at about 6 a.m., we were invaded and conquered.

April 11, 1862. The Battle of Shiloh was fought four days earlier, and, while a Confederate defeat, delayed the Union army from taking Corinth, Miss., and the strategically important Memphis & Charleston and Ohio & Mobile railroads that crossed there.

In the wake of Shiloh, one General Ormsby Mitchel, a former banker, railroad surveyor and noted astronomer before rejoining the army to claim that glory that had eluded him in his younger days, decided that he was going to break the Memphis & Charleston, and in a way far less bloody than Shiloh had been.

As his target, he picked Huntsville, appealing for at least two reasons — it was the eastern headquarters of the M&C, and it was relatively poorly defended. (Huntsville would also be of value in his plan, launched the next day, to capture Chattanooga, but we shan’t go into that.)

Of course, it doesn’t matter how poorly defended a town is if a large group of reinforcements arrive. Working in Mitchel’s favor was the fact that the Confederate army was still very much pre-occupied with the siege of Corinth, but he wanted to leave as little as possible to chance.

The worst thing for him would be for, when someone saw his army coming toward Huntsville, the impending invasion to be reported to Confederate headquarters and reinforcements to be sent. We don’t know exactly what Mitchel did to try to prevent this from happening, but we do know two things — no telegraph asking for reinforcements was sent, and, when Mitchel’s army arrived, the local telegrapher, stationed at the Depot, was given a job with the Union army.

To further take no chances, Mitchel timed things impeccably. Back during the Civil War, war was, in some ways, in fact more, well, civil. Among those ways, you didn’t fight at night. Under the rules of engagement, that would be  downright rude. But what Mitchel did do was to wake his troops during the night, have them get ready and start marching, to time their entry into Huntsville after daybreak, when it was fair game, if a bit surprising.

As he marched into town early that morning, the vastly unnumbered, unreinforced and generally unready defenders gave in without a battle, and Huntsville and its Depot were under Union control.

For those that haven’t visited the Depot, this resulted in one of Huntsville’s more interesting historical curiosities from the Civil War. When Mitchel captured the Depot, he inherited a train of injured Confederate soldiers who had been evacuated from Corinth in the wake of Shiloh. Unable to transport them immediately to a prisoner of war camp in Ohio, Mitchel detained them in the third floor of the Depot, which was used as overnight accommodations for railroad workers. Visitors today to the Depot can still see graffiti there that dates back to that period.

Looking back, there’s a bit of historical irony to Mitchel’s occupation of Huntsville. Concerned about the economic situation, Michel found a quandary — the local Confederate money was already inflating to the point of worthlessness, while the locals were too proud to use Union money. In hopes of stabilizing the local economy, Mitchel requested that the Union army send a shipment of gold that could be introduced into circulation. The gold was captured in transit, and never made its way to Huntsville, causing that part of Mitchel’s plan to fail.

Fast forward 150 years, to the modern day city of Huntsville as the nation undergoes a very challenging financial time. The main stabilizing force in Huntsville’s economy? Money sent in by the U.S. Army.

Apparently, Mitchel had the right idea.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

My father turns 60 today.

I, of course, have no sense of that. It’s largely inevitable, I think, that to some extent, your parents don’t age until they’ve truly grown old. My father was practically a child when I was born, 23 years old. When my youngest brother was born, he was my age, 36. When I was a toddler, when Matthew was born, I had no sense of how young those ages were. He was just a grown-up, mature and adult.

And, emotionally, that’s still how it seems, I suppose. There’s a certain logic to it, I suppose, since the difference between our ages remains constant as we both age — he’s always seemed the same amount more grown up because he’s always been the same amount more grown up.

And that’s the thing I respect most about my father.

I graduated from high school and began college two decades ago, when he was 40 years old. Again, at the time, that was old. Now, when 40 is rapidly coming into view, it seems much older. My youngest brother had just turned four when I left for Oxford.

At times, it amazes me the difference between my father and my brother’s father.

My father was a good man, and I’ve always respected him.

The man he is today is a much better man, and I respect him incredibly for that.

My father has very much become a role model to me, not so much for who he is, though one could do far worse that exemplifying that, but for who he continues to become.

There is not a year that has gone by that he has not become a better man, in so very many aspects of his life, and I hope, dearly hope, that when I’m his age, the same can be said about me. I hope that when I am his age, I am as much a better man than I am now than he has become during those years, and continues to become.

I hope that I, also, can be a man who, at any age, continues to grow in maturity and dignity and love and righteousness, who continues to be an ever better father and husband and boss and friend and grandfather and son and brother and follower of our mutual Father.

I’m not sure I’ve ever told him that I want to be like him, but I do.

I love you, dad. Happy birthday.

He Is Risen Indeed!

I guess I really kind of wrote my Easter post for this year Friday, but I will link back to the Easter manifesto post I wrote a couple of years ago.

I hope you and yours have a blessed resurrection day.