Tomatos, Tomatoes, and NASA.

For a large part of my life, I rejected the letter “e”. Words like the plural of potato, the plural of tornado, the plural of tomato.

Tornados. Tomatos. Potatos.

Adding the “e” was heathenish. It was an injustice to the word. It degraded its value.

For the longest time, I would do this. I’m not quite sure why. My science teacher asked me one year why I deliberately spelled “tornado-e-s” wrong, when the rest of my spelling was impeccable. I never did quite have an answer.

I still don’t have an answer, and I still have my judgement against adding the letter e into those words. It’s simply unnatural.

I did finally learn how to spell necessary, though. A shirt has two Sleeves, and one Collar. And exercise. I still struggle, a little. but, it’s not a size. Exer-cise.

Spelling is weird and the English language is crazier.

On a whole other note, NASA is going great. I’m still drinking from a fire hose, but it’s getting so much better. My mentor and coworkers are phenomenally brilliant people. I’ve made some great friends and I’ve eaten a lot of great food… and some borderline terrible cafeteria Indian food.

I’ve also checked two goals off of my goal list. I met an astronaut, and I attended a lecture. I was able to attend the Expedition 58/59 News Conference with NASA Astronaut Anne McClain, Roscosmos Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, and Canadian Space Agency Astronaut David Saint-Jaques. The news conference was broadcast on NASA TV and you can replay it on YouTube. I really liked the introduction video music. I was able to get a selfie with Anne McClain, and we were also able to take an intern group photo with her. It was phenomenal!!! The lecture I attended was given by Ginger Kerrick, the first Hipanic female flight director and non-astronaut CapCom. She was amazing.

Today, I competed in the JSC Hackathon. My team was posed with the Integrated Flight Scheduling Application challenge, to create a process or system to manage the Aircraft Operation Division’s resources and flight assets, which can be anywhere on the globe at a given time. It was absolutely amazing and I learned so much!

We ended up coming in first place out of the 10 teams competing.

It’s been such a crazy and amazing ride so far. I’m the POC of the intern Professional Development committee, I’m Co-Chair of the Social Media committee, and I’m the PAO of the Intern Space Program. I told myself in the beginning that I wasn’t going to run for anything and I was going to chill, but you know, life happens.

I cannot believe tomorrow closes out my third week as an intern at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Only 13 more weeks to go, and I know it’s going to FLY by. I’m still learning something new every day. I’m still journaling.

I’m currently in a debate with myself whether to upgrade to the iPhone 8 or the Google Pixel 2. NASA bought my project two Google Pixels… and I fell in love. Accidentally. My current phone’s battery life is terrible and Snapchat hates me, so hey. What could go wrong. I feel guilty because I feel like I -just- bought an Apple watch… but we’ll see. Maybe it’s time for me to go back to the Android side.

Classes are going well, my weekly journal for my internship credit is a breeze. Philosophy is rough because it’s online-discussion-based, and ew. But I’ll survive. Countering opinions with people is a fun pastime.

I have yet to take Leo the Lion on site with me, but maybe he can tag along tomorrow. We’ll see.

OH. I got a massage on Sunday, and it was the most AMAZING thing I’ve ever done for myself. If you’re in the Houston area, I HIGHLY recommend checking out Tippy at Sabai Massage and Health. Wow.

I’ll leave you with a quote said by David Saint-Jaques in the news conference.

The only way you can achieve something is by doing something you love”

~E.🚀

drinking from a fire hose

All my life, I’ve been told things that most people struggle with are like “drinking from a fire hose”. What a beautiful analogy for trying to process a lot of new information at once. Things like starting college, filing taxes, and getting a job. Things I did not struggle with.

jsc sign

Working for NASA as an intern is no small feat, I’ve known that from the start. I did, however, finally experience what drinking from a fire hose tastes like. I’m still finding out. I just completed my first week at NASA, and almost everything feels over my head. It truly is an incredibly humbling experience, though. It really took one of my co-workers to sit me down and tell me that if I learn nothing else from him, let it be that no one is going to care if I ask questions. That no one will think I’m not smart. I really had to break out of my shell, and swallow whatever pride I thought I had.

I’m surrounded by a wonderful group of peers and mentors that absolutely love what they do, and I am so fortunate to be able to learn from them. All the other interns are incredibly friendly, too. There’s about four others from Ohio, which is really cool. I guess in my mind I pictured that everyone would be from Texas, but that’s actually not the case at all! One girl I befriended at orientation had spent a lot of time at Kennedy Space Center, and another guy had just finished working for Lockheed Martin.

nasa goals

I also decided it was time for me to finally try out the bullet journal thing, which I’ve absolutely fallen in love with. I’ve set a few internship-long goals, such as obtaining my amateur radio license and a scuba certification. One of my favorite goals, however, is to learn a new thing every day. At the bottom of every day’s page, I’ve written what I’ve learned. It’s such a beautiful, creative, and fun way to keep track of things.

Some things are not quantitative goals, like being more confident, making new friends, or being less picky. I love the challenge though, and I’m having a blast.

When it comes to food and my picky-ness, Texas is a wonderful place to attempt to overcome this. As long as I can continue to stay away from seafood, life is good. I’ve been packing my lunch most days for work, which is really good for my attempts to avoid getting a lot of fast food (and blowing my entire paycheck at the Chick Fil A across NASA Parkway).

My mentor and his wife took me out for lunch at Noon Mirch on Thursday. Noon Mirch is an Indian buffet-style restaurant about five minutes down the road from NASA. I ate a lot of new foods that I never would have tried before. I had a variety of lentil-based dishes, and I even had a breaded jalapeno.

noon mirchMy favorite, by far, was the creamed spinach (known as Saag). The Naan (a flatbread-like bread) was good, too. There were chicken meatballs, and rice, and more breaded veggies.

For dessert, I tried some rice pudding with a cookie. It was an interesting dish.

On Friday, I went out to eat with a different group of co-workers to Ritter’s, a burger and hot dog place that serves frozen custard. I got a burger there, and it was pretty good. I mention this since I mentioned trying to not be picky- the burger had “Ritter’s Sauce” on it, and I have no idea what it was.  Five points for me. Yay.

rocket park

Here’s a view of Rocket Park, where I ended up because I needed to use the restroom while waiting for my badging appointment (and their restroom didn’t work). It was super cool to see. I’ll definitely have to go again and take the time to look around inside the giant hangar- there’s a Saturn V rocket in there.

On Friday evening, I participated in Critical Mass with the family I’m staying with. Critical Mass Houston is a GIANT bike ride through Houston. Like, there were probably around 2,000 people there. It was super cool. The event began as a social protest to bring awareness to how un-bike friendly cities are, and I think that’s a great point.

critical mass

We ended up riding almost 25 miles, which was an incredible feat for me since I haven’t really rode a bike since being in the Netherlands in May. I felt incredibly accomplished when I finished all 25 miles. I met a bunch of really nice people (almost everyone in Texas is super nice) and I had a blast. My legs didn’t even hurt that bad the next day. I should do this more often. It was also a phenomenal way to see Houston. It’s such a beautiful city- especially in the dark. It also has a lot of one-way streets… And I thought Ohio was bad! 

saltgrass steakhouse

Yesterday, M and I drove down to Galveston for dinner. We went to Saltgrass Steakhouse, and yes, I got double potatoes. YOLO, right? (Please never let me say that again)

The fries were phenomenal. AND I WAS, AT ONE POINT, PROBABLY 30 FEET FROM THE GULF OF MEXICO. That was incredibly epic. It’s nothing like Lake Erie (whoa, who would have guessed).

Texas is super cool, and NASA is amazing. It’s a little weird to not be in classes right now (*glances at the two online classes I’m taking*), but it’s such an amazing experience. I’m so happy I took the internship. I’m so happy I got this opportunity. Right now, it’s like drinking from a fire hose- but soon, I’ll learn. One co-worker I met that I got lunch with Friday said that it’s still like drinking from a fire hose, but she just found a way to redirect it to a pool first. Maybe I’ll find my own pool soon, too.

Last, everything is genuinely bigger in Texas. I always thought it was a joke, but it definitely is not a joke. A movie theater we went to to see “Crazy Rich Asians” had over 25 theaters. It was crazy huge. Oh, and I said y’all. Once.

Alright, I think it’s time for me to keep convincing myself I’m being productive by staring at my philosophy class and not actually doing anything. Wish me luck!

I looked up “space quotes” to be cute and end this in a NASA-esque fashion but this is what I got and I thought it was cute anyway… so here goes.

“There is always space for improvement, no matter how long you’ve been in the business.”

~E.🌎

How to Survive a Drive with a Lion

Buckle up and hold on for the ride, because I didn’t even know driving 7 hours and only stopping once was something this girl is capable of. The drive from NE Ohio to Houston, Texas was WILD. To be completely honest, I was pretty sure that my 2004 Volkswagen Jetta would die on the way. Spoiler alert: we made it!

But like.. how?tx1

Well, none of it would have been possible without the help of a phenomenal family friend. He drove the rest of the time, which… 20 hours minus 7 is a whopping 13 hours. He started in Ohio, and drove all the way to Jackson, Tennessee. Tennessee was probably the most boring part of the drive in my opinion. It felt like we were in Tennessee for EVER. Leo and I shared the Chips Ahoy cookies in the backseat next to him in Tennessee, and probably ate a few too many, but that’s okay.

I drove from Jackson to Marshall, Texas. I drove through Memphis, and all the way through Arkansas. The sunset was gorgeous. Driving through Little Rock was an interesting experience. Lots of bends, lots of cars, and lots of lights all at once. Gas prices started going down the farther south we got though, which is something I’m super thankful for. Also, why does Arkansas smash city names with the word “Arkansas”? Like… Is Arkadelphia really necessary? Even auto-correct wants to change that to Philadelphia. Also, why not “Philansas”?

Driving into Texas was crazy. By this time, it was dark. I had my first experience driving on a road with a speed limit of 75 miles per hour. Legally going that fast is pretty cool. I’ve been told there’s a road somewhere in this state (which is unnecessarily large, by the way) where the speed limit is 85. I may have to go find that road.

We made it to Marshall, Texas where we stopped at a Whataburger. I will admit, that was a phenomenal hamburger. Especially at 1 o’clock in the morning (two o’clock to my body, yay central time!). After eating, my friend drove the rest of the way.

tx3

We got to the place I’ll be staying right around 5 o’clock in the morning and met my host. Leo was extremely excited to stretch his paws after such a long drive. The bed was super comfortable. I finally fell asleep around 6 o’clock in the morning.

Somehow, I woke up at noon. I took a shower, organized a bit, and met the family. They’re wonderful people, and I’m so excited. The house is gorgeous. My room is so nice. The daughter is a year older than I am, and she’s super cool. We’ll call her “M”. M and I got Chick Fil A today, after she showed me around the area. There’s a Chick Fil A right across from NASA, and I think self control may be the biggest thing I learn during this internship. I also saw a real palm tree for the first time today!

tx4

Orientation for the internship is on Monday, and I’m so excited. I’m also nervous, though. It’s going to be crazy. I don’t think it’s truly sank in that I’m in Texas, and I’m about to work for NASA.

tx2I’ve jokingly told a few people now that if the Space Force Academy becomes a thing, I’ll be one of the first females to graduate (super relevant, I know). But you know what, you never know where life takes you. Leave your options open.

I just hope next time I leave my options open and go where life leads me, the bugs are a tad smaller. When they say everything is bigger in Texas, they mean it.

So, how do you survive a long drive with a lion?

  1. Lots of Chips Ahoy Chewy cookies
  2. 1 cold Gatorade for every 2 hours of driving
  3. A cool family friend (knowing lots about cars and playing cool music is a bonus)
  4. The ability to admit when you’re tired
  5. The ability to sleep in the passenger seat of your own car (yes, it’s super weird)
  6. Lots and lots of adrenaline. Arkansas was boring, but once we got into Texas…
  7. Clean your windshield every chance you get at gas stations. Dead things leave streaks if you use the wipers.
  8. There’s no shame in going the speed limit, even if cars in Kentucky decide they want to attempt to take off next to you.
  9. Don’t merge too close in front of drivers from Arkansas. They need at least two semi truck-lengths to feel secure.
  10. Have fun!

So, there you go. Enjoy your next road trip. Or don’t, that’s all up to you.

I’ll be back to ramble to you from NASA’s Johnson Space Center next time, right here on my blog! Hopefully maybe my nerves will settle down. That would be cool.

Until then, don’t be afraid to try new things!

~E.💫

the overwhelming wave

I don’t easily admit my weaknesses. Right now, I just need an outlet. I need this blog for me. I didn’t even know it was possible to cry for three hours straight. I didn’t even know it was possible to cry in your sleep.

I haven’t been okay. My mom and brother left to go back to the Netherlands after a three week visit late last night. My boyfriend spent the night with me last night and him going home is always hard… but this time it hurt so bad.

Goodbyes are never easy. My mom always says that it’s not goodbye; that we’ll see each other again. And I know that. These goodbyes though- they felt like goodbyes. It’s all too weird.

I am excited for my NASA internship. I really am. I’m just so incredibly overwhelmed. All these doubts and thoughts running through my mind of “what if I’m not smart enough?” or “what if I don’t get along with the people?”.

There’s so much still to do. So much to pack. To clean. To read.

It doesn’t help that I got a cold on Sunday.

My stress level is through the roof and I’m not quite sure why I can’t pull myself together. I miss my family. I miss my boyfriend. I miss my friends.

I’ve completely lost my appetite. This cold thing has made me feel weak. Listening to music even has no appeal right now.

This post really has no good content. I just needed to type. I needed my outlet.

I know everything will be okay. I do. I just needed to take a breath and type this.

I’ll be okay… just maybe not today.

~E.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration | The Intern

The past few weeks have been an insane rollercoaster ride. On June 10th, I started the application process on NASA’s internship website.

If you’ve ever had any interest in NASA, I highly encourage you to apply. NASA is so much more than astronauts… NASA is so much more than just fancy science or math majors! I truly do believe there is a position at NASA for everyone.

The application process really does not take that long. When I applied, I originally sat down at work and took about fifteen minutes just filling in personal information and things I could quickly answer. I then set it aside for a few days, when I returned and completed several open-ended questions about my skills and experience. That too, only took me about 20 minutes. I needed a letter of recommendation as well, and I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by multiple phenomenal mentors making this no issue at all. The letter was submitted on June 18th, and I submitted the application on the same day.

The application process was relatively painless. I applied to a few projects at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio since it is the closest NASA facility- therefore making it the most logical. I occasionally logged in to the internship portal and checked if the status of my application had changed. For a whole month, nothing happened. I had begun to accept that school was starting soon, and I did not think anything else of it.

On July 23rd, I received an email from Melissa Corning, one of the Intern Program Coordinators for NASA Johnson Space Center. You read that right: NASA Johnson. I did a quick Google search because my brain couldn’t believe it. That is, indeed, the NASA facility in Houston, Texas. The hub for human space exploration. THE Johnson Space Center. I was baffled. I was amazed. And then logic hit me. How on earth could I go to Texas? Ms. Corning contacted me because of my application: several things had stood out. She asked if I’d be interested in interviewing for an internship formally titled “Evaluate Standards for Wireless Architecture for Internet of Things in Space”.

Naturally, that alone sounded phenomenal. The description and required skills only made it sound more appealing as I read on. Linux. Programming. Networking. Sign me up!

On July 24th, I had a phone interview. It went really well. She asked me questions. I asked her questions. She told me the mentors really liked my resume, that I had a very high chance of getting this internship. When we got off the phone, I jumped up and down in excitement. I just had an interview with NASA! She told me I would know by “the end of next week”.

On July 26th, I got a reply to my thank you email, thanking Ms. Corning for the interview. I think I may have cried in excitement, I’m not sure. She congratulated me on getting the internship.

On July 27th, I got the formal offer from the NASA Internship Application System.

On August 2nd, I formally accepted my internship offer.

The entire process took about a month and a half. Something that started as an application to NASA Glenn Research Center because “it’s close and it’s NASA” turned into the opportunity of a lifetime.

There are a lot of logistics to figure out still, such as where I will be living and how I will be getting to Houston. That’s almost 21 hours to drive, if that is what I decide to do. But I am incredibly fortunate to have an incredible support system of my family, friends, and my boyfriend and his family. Everyone has been so incredibly supportive, and I know I would not be able to do it without their help and encouragement.

I also can’t forget to thank Kent State University – especially the Digital Sciences department. This internship will not negatively affect my schooling at all, I won’t even be behind when I come back! I am so fortunate to be surrounded by an incredible faculty and staff that truly cares about me and is willing to work with me so I can follow my dreams. The Office of Continuing and Distance Education also deserves a mention… Everyone has been so encouraging and excited and it’s truly amazing to work with such a great group of people.

This is a pretty big deal to me, so I have decided to dedicate a specific page of my blog to NASA. If you head over to shebecamealion.com/nasa, you’ll see my big updates from NASA in one consolidated place. I do plan to blog regularly of course, and for those posts you can check out the “National Aeronautics and Space Administration” category right here on my blog. And of course, these views are my own and do not represent or speak for NASA in any way. 

Had you told me two weeks ago that I’d be going to Houston, Texas instead of Kent State University, I would have thought you were absolutely insane. Of course, I still think it’s a little crazy. But honestly, when in my life have I ever done things the “traditional” way? I’m so thankful for this opportunity. Never in a million years did I think I would ever get the chance to work for NASA.

Never stop dreaming, and don’t be afraid to follow your dreams… even if they seem a little crazy. The sky isn’t the limit: there are no limits! So dream big and let life take you wherever you want to go.

I’m incredibly excited to share this journey with you!

~E💫

Image result for nasa

Hello From the Otter Slide

Hello, it’s me. I’ve been wondering….. oh wait.

Image result for hello from the otter slide

Hi guys! It’s been a while. I finally decided to crawl out of the depths of despair and not blogging to update you on how I’ve been for the past 4(ish) months.

Also, enjoy my title pun and the otter slide to the left. I totally borrowed that picture from Google, but hey.

The last time I published a post was April 10th. I’ve written a few drafts since then, but I haven’t finished those. Or had the heart to publish them. Maybe one day.

So where the h*ck have I been since April?! Well….

  1. I finished off my Freshman year of college with a cumulative GPA of 3.888
  2. I went to the Netherlands and visited my family (and that lovely bun, George)
  3. I had the time of my life as Cadet Deputy Commander for Operations at the 2018 Ohio Wing Encampment in June
  4. I celebrated my one year anniversary with the guy of my dreams
  5. I attended Region Cadet Leadership School in Michigan. That was pretty cool. I got the Leadership Award.
  6. I finally promoted in Civil Air Patrol (I’m still a C/Major, I got Achievement 16. But I finished PT and my essay for the Eaker award!)
  7. I went to Warped Tour
  8. I saw Hamilton in Cleveland
  9. I have lost 10 pounds (and kept the weight off) since March
  10. I sure as h*ck haven’t been keeping up on my writing prompts, lol
  11. A fellow FIRST Robotics mentor and I are starting a team in our area of Ohio
  12. My next CAP event is a familiar one… I’ll be taking my second shot at Cadet Commander of D-Day Ohio in August!
  13. I’ve almost finished watching every season of Hawaii Five-0

So yeah. Life has been keeping me on my toes lately.

I’ve also done an incredibly terrible job on those monthly writing prompts I “promised” I’d do. I guess I’ll toss July’s in with this blog post…

 

What makes you proud to be an American?

I have been attending school in the United States of America since second grade. For 11 years, all of my classrooms proudly displayed the American flag. For 11 years, the first thing out of my mouth in the morning was the Pledge of Allegiance.

In Middle School choir, I had multiple opportunities to sing in front of service men and women- both somber and happy songs- to thank them for their selfless service to the United States of America.

In High School, I played Taps on my trumpet on multiple occasions, the most notable being the open air Memorial Day ceremonies. I stood in front of a large crowd in my small town, I stood in front of service men and women. I stood in front of a memorial with hundreds of names. I stood in a cemetery with hundreds of flags.

In college, there is no more Pledge of Allegiance. There are no more flags in every classroom. But on my wall, hanging proudly is the American flag.

All throughout my life in the United States of America, I have visited multiple churches. I have celebrated various holidays: I did an Easter Egg Hunt on Russian-Orthodox Easter once!

I can go to the store in the United States of America and choose if I want to go to Walmart or Kroger or Aldi or Meijer or the sketchy gas station on the corner.

In 2005, I became a citizen of the United States of America. A few years later I was there for my mom when she got her citizenship. There were interviews. There was the fun citizenship test (they really should just take the AP US History test and throw it out and use the citizenship test, let’s be real here). There was lots and lots of paperwork.

But after all those fun hoops to jump through, there was lots of crying. Happy crying. Happy crying because we were now citizens of the greatest country in the world.

No, I’m not saying that America has everything figured out, and no, I am not getting political. However, I am free.

I can proudly display the American flag on my wall. I can safely walk past the flag in the morning on my way to class. I can get an education. I can go to the church I want to. I can blog and write and speak freely. I am allowed to drive. I am allowed to carry a gun. I am allowed to petition for things I believe in. I have the right to vote.

I may be free, but none of this is free. I have all those rights, and so many more, because a lot of incredible men and women fought, are fighting, and will fight for this country. Some gave the ultimate sacrifice. Others return safely.

We should never forget any of them, as they are the reason we wake up safely in our beds each morning. They are the reason we can walk past the flag every day.

I am proud to be an American because of all the brave men and women who have fought for this country, and fought for the rights of people they don’t even know- of people that may not even be born yet.

I am proud to be an American because of the members of the Armed Forces that stand up and fight for our country’s morals and beliefs.

I am proud to be an American.

~E. United States on Apple iOS 11.3

P.S. Happy Belated Birthday, America! 

Two Years as a Lion

Two years ago, this blog was started as an outlet for my ramblings about life and a stuffed animal Simba from The Lion King. I then realized lions are so much more… that I am a lion. In my first post ever I wrote “I like to think of myself like a lion. Strong. Fierce. An over-comer. Yet, gentle. Because, everyone sees some shit in life. But, it gets better. As stereotypical as that may sound. Really… Everyone can find their lion. My inspiration just happened to… actually be a lion.

Before this blog, I actually had a blog that I used for about 4 days in February 2015. “Ramblings of a Teenager” I called it, and it had some of my poetry on it. It doesn’t come up on Google, you’re welcome for saving you the time. Most of that poetry is on here now, anyway.

My point, though, is that I’ve always had a fascination with blogging. That first one didn’t really work out, but I’m still at it blogging here- and I feel like it’s really helped me. Twenty followers and 71 posts are just numbers, but what has really helped me is being able to write. I can clear my mind into my blog posts. I can calm down when I sit and write. It’s such a wonderful outlet.

A lot has changed since I started my blog- and even since I wrote my “One Year” post. I’m still so incredibly thankful to those of you that read my blog, whether from my Snapchat, Instagram bio, or people I don’t even know that follow me… you’re all amazing humans and I appreciate you.

A year ago, I was in The Netherlands not sure of what I was going to do with my life. A year ago, I was single. Over the course of that year, I met an amazing guy that I can share my life with. I lost some friends. I moved back to the United States of America. I made some friends. I started college.

Last year, I was finally starting to find my self-confidence. Now- today- I smile confidently no matter what I do. I can go into a job interview with a smile and truly mean it.

I’m so thankful for all the people in my life, my family, my friends, and everyone else for helping me become who I am now. I’m thankful for those late night conversations, those dinners where we laugh, those times where we cry. Everyone in my life is phenomenal and so fantastic in their own way, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

You’re all probably waiting for the attached photo of how baby Simba is doing these days. Well… he’s in The Netherlands. He did not move to America with me. And you know, that’s okay. Life’s all about moving on, leaving things behind, and looking for the future where even brighter things will greet you.

I will never forget the idea that started this blog, however.

These are my journeys, my thoughts, Simba’s travels, my poetry- well, I really just hope for this to be an inspiration to others. For others to find their lion. Or owl, gazelle, octopus, eagle, stork, anything. For others to keep fighting, to find life’s beauty, to be strong.

While Simba may not travel with me anymore, I surely do. I love to those capture moments in writing, photography, and memory, and I can’t wait to see what life gives me for the rest of forever.

I started out my very first blog post with the quote “smile, you’re amazing“, and still carry on this ending style. Why should today be any different?

Here’s to seeing where I’ll be next year, to growing even more, and loving myself and others…

And smiling… because you’re amazing.

~E.♥

cor autem dracones

My camera is in its bag. My Jeep is ready to go. I think I’m all set! Never in my life have I been this excited about something. Going on a cross-country road trip has been on my bucket list for such a long time, and it’s finally coming true.

I throw the rest of my clothes in the back of my Jeep and start it. I run back inside to grab my dog Jake. Jake is a wonderful seven-year-old German Shepherd. Jake runs ahead to the Jeep and jumps into the passenger seat. I slam the door to my house closed behind me and don’t look back. The top is off the Jeep, and it’s a beautiful summer day. “Ready to drive?” I called over to my furry travel companion. He enthusiastically barked back like he understood what I said.

I turn the radio up and blast “Chicago” by I Fight Dragons, since that’s our first stop. I have missed Chicago-style pizza more than you could imagine. Everything goes smoothly and we arrive in Chicago around 4 in the afternoon. I dial up an authentic pizza place and order three deep dish pizzas for carry-out. A girl and her dog… and three pizzas. What more could you want in the world?

We drive out to the Navy Pier for a phenomenal sunset. Jake enthusiastically begins eating his bone that I brought from home, as I begin on a pizza. We happily sigh and lean against each other in the Jeep- this is exactly what we wanted.

As the night comes to a close, we realize we need to find a place to park. We find a small lot on the outskirts of Chicago that has free overnight parking. Jake and I slip the fabric top onto the Jeep in case it rains, and recline our seats. We slowly doze off.

We are awoken in the middle of the night by a low-pitched growling noise. Jake and I jump awake, thinking there is a bear. We’re ready to drive away, when we notice a figure behind the bushes that is definitely not a bear. “Hello????” I call out. Jake begins sniffing at the door. I calmly warn him to please stay in the Jeep.

The figure saunters closer to the Jeep, not seeming intimidated by the humanity of it whatsoever. “What… is that?” I mutter to myself. Even my big, brave German Shepherd perks his head up to look what the heck is approaching us.

“That’s…. a DRAGON!” I loudly whisper to Jake. The green figure hears me, and turns as if it is heading back into the woods. I quickly make my way out of the Jeep and crouch down to the right of my headlights, in plain view of the little creature.

He was the most marvelous thing I’d ever seen. He had green, scaly skin and small green wings. His feet were webbed like that of a duck, but significantly thicker. He had the most beautiful blue eyes.

I had Jake come next to me and brings a can of veal from the backseat. I pop it open and lay some on the palm of my hand. I gently ask the little reptilian creature to come closer, and whisper words of support to him.

In the blink of an eye, the little guy comes forward, takes the veal off my hand, and returns to his spot about 50 feet from me. “Holy shit” I whisper to Jake.

Suddenly, the growling came back. I realized it was coming from the 3-and-a-half-foot-tall reptile in front of me. I then realized… He’s clearing his throat!

The creature pranced forward joyfully, and sat three feet in front of me and Jake. He began to speak. In the deepest, most majestic voice I’d ever heard in my life, the little guy said: “hi, my name is Dexter. But you can call me Dee for short. I’ve always wanted to travel cross country, but I’ve never found the courage to approach anyone before. You and your furry… what do humans call it..?”

“Dog!” I interrupted.

“Ah yes, dog” continued Dee. “You and your dog seemed so friendly, I thought I’d give it a try. May I join you?”

Jake and I looked at each other for a second, but we knew exactly what we wanted. “Absolutely!” I smiled back at Dee. Jake barked enthusiastically.

The next morning, Dee, Jake and I departed Chicago and headed west. “Let’s go to Reno!” Dee suggested. The little guy had a strange fascination with cars. All he wanted was to see the National Automobile Museum in downtown Reno. Jake and I agreed, and off we went. Following the Interstate 80, we drove through a bunch of states. We saw Iowa, Nebraska, Utah, and quite a few others. Every now and then we’d pull over and we’d stretch our legs (and wings), take a few photos, and enjoy the fresh air. On the border of Nevada, we decided to take the top back off the Jeep. Dee was a fantastic help in doing so. He had wings, so he could fly. He flew kind of like a chicken since his wings were incredibly disproportionate, but he flew nonetheless.

We were munching on cold pizza when we arrived in Reno. The weather was warm and the sun was shining, and our odd entourage was more excited than ever. Dee pulled on a Hawaiian shirt and a baseball cap that he found in the back of my car. Jake was wearing his bandanna with cactus prints, and I was wearing a short white skirt with a crop top. We were ready to hit the road.

My camera hung from my neck and Jake’s leash loosely wrapped around my arm, the three of us approached the Automobile Museum. That’s when everything changed. Dee disappeared.

I called his name. Jake barked. We asked around to see if anyone had seen a 3-and-a-half foot tall dragon with blue eyes, a Cubs baseball cap, and a Hawaiian shirt. Everyone looked at us like we were insane. I looked through the photos on my camera. There was nothing there. All the photos of Dee were gone.

I panicked as Jake pulled me back to the Jeep. “I finally met a friend” I whispered, hyperventilating.

I noticed the most beautiful red charm laying on the dashboard of the Jeep. Next to it was a small note, scribbled on the back of the pizza receipt.

Written in perfect cursive, it read:

Dearest friends,

Thank you for taking me to Reno. I am afraid this is where our journey must end. You see, every year a dragon makes its way to Reno to star in a movie when we’re older. They raise us, they train us, then we’re eventually cast in a movie. I am going to be starring in a fantasy movie, much like Harry Potter. I sadly will be slain in the end, but so is life for a dragon. I was afraid if I told you my real intentions, you’d never take me. 

I am also very sorry about your photographs. If the council of the dragons found out about my means of travel, I’d be slain right away. I am the 346th dragon to take part in this program, and there are very few of us left. I am going to start a revolution, to save my kind. 

Left for you here is a piece of my heart. Thank you for helping me follow my destiny. Please don’t try to find me, or you’ll only hurt me.

I will remember you always.

Love,

Dexter

I was sobbing into Jake before I knew it. We decided to drive to California to get our minds off of Dee. I hung the pendant around my neck and proudly wore it. I proudly displayed that I was one with the Dragons- that I had Dee’s heart and I would never let it go.

 

March: Envision a dragon. Do you battle him? Or is the dragon friendly?

I hope you enjoyed this freewrite! I’ll be back-tracking and posting February’s soon. It’s in my drafts, I promise.

~E. 🐉

Oh NASA, My NASA

My fascination with The Challenger and Christa McAuliffe started as early as third grade. Doing a presentation on Christa McAuliffe, dressing up as her and really understanding how she lived, brought to light a whole new viewpoint for my younger self.

Here we have a young schoolteacher who was chosen to be the first teacher in space. Understanding the training she had to complete to be qualified, her normal life, and her students really showed me that she was a person- just like myself. I carried a creative journal leading up to my final project one year of middle school, writing “diary entries” as Christa McAuliffe.

The Challenger, even though I was not alive, impacted my life greatly. I was always the first to educate my fellow students on o-rings, on how many seconds into flight the accident happened, and most importantly, the astronauts we lost on 28 January 1986. The people we lost on 28 January 1986.

Columbia. Challenger. Apollo 1. 

The people behind those names that were lost. That left their loved ones behind.

Today, on NASA’s day of Remembrance, I wanted to take a moment and pause to think about the 17 astronauts who have lost their lives doing what they loved- being innovators in their field; space.

Because of them, work continues to make spaceflight safer- learning from the past catastrophes and observing the brave men and women who were all integral parts of their missions.

NASA has this page on their website in case you want to read more: https://www.nasa.gov/specials/dor2018/index.html.

“In an age when space flight has come to seem almost routine, it is easy to overlook the dangers of travel by rocket, and the difficulties of navigating the fierce outer atmosphere of the Earth. These astronauts knew the dangers, and they faced them willingly, knowing they had a high and noble purpose in life. Because of their courage and daring and idealism, we will miss them all the more.

All Americans today are thinking, as well, of the families of these men and women who have been given this sudden shock and grief. You’re not alone. Our entire nation grieves with you. And those you loved will always have the respect and gratitude of this country.

The cause in which they died will continue. Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand.

Our journey into space will go on.” 

These words, said by President Bush in 2003 regarding the Columbia disaster, still ring true today- and every day.

“We’ll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.” -Ronald Reagan, 1986.

The world stopped for a moment when these three disasters happened. We can continue to honor the legacies of these lost men and women by fulfilling the missions the astronauts set out to do…

The Columbia – discovering new varieties of Microgravity.

The Challenger – spreading STEM education.

Apollo 1 – putting a man on the moon.

“Together, we will go where no man or woman has gone before.” 

~E. ♥

When Did This Happen?

Leadership and followership are words that have been a large part of my life since February 2014. When I attended my first Civil Air Patrol meeting in January of that year, I was absolutely terrified. Petrified, even. The only thing I knew was what my friend who “recruited” me had told me the alternate uniform was- a black shirt, jeans, and a belt. A belt? I didn’t have a belt. I borrowed a belt from my neighbor for that night. I had to fill out a form about why I was interested in CAP, and how I found out about it. I answered “I’ve always been interested in airplanes, and am planning to go into aerospace engineering. I think this would be a great opportunity to meet new people and learn new things that could potentially benefit me in that field as well as in life”. I went into the day nervous, but excited. That night, my mom drove me to the base where the meeting was. Building 113. We have to find building 113. We found it, and went inside. We were a few minutes late, but that was no issue at all.

I walked inside and was ushered into a small room to the left by a guy in a blue uniform. He looked incredibly intimidating, and I was so nervous still. My mom and I were forced to sit up front, since everyone else filled in from the back. A Power Point was shown about the Civil Air Patrol. I was nervous- but excited. I wanted to learn how to fly. I wanted to travel the world with that one program no one remembered the acronym for. I wanted to be like the girl standing against the wall, the one that was clearly in charge. She was blonde, and wearing little circles on her shoulder. I knew that meant she had to be pretty high-up, since everyone else I had seen was wearing something on their collar.

The cadets took my class- a group of myself and six others out of the smaller room into the large room across the hall, where all the other cadets were. In my class, there were four other girls and two guys. One girl was wearing heels and a lot of makeup, and seemed to not want to be there at all. The other people all seemed to know what was going on, either because of prior family being in Civil Air Patrol or military knowledge. One girl stood out to me, because she did incredibly well. The instructors- a female cadet second lieutenant and two male cadet chief master sergeants- lined us up in a line and started explaining drill to us. We started with a right face. Then a left face. And finally, an about face.  I was next to the girl wearing heels and she grabbed me so she didn’t fall over. She mumbled something along the lines of “I hate this”. I wondered to myself why she was there if she hated it so much.

The weeks progressed and the girl with the heels stopped showing up. We did activities like memorizing the cadet oath, and learning the ribbons and insignia. I had a lot of trouble, so I went home and made my own flash cards to study. One girl was doing very well, and I remember wishing I was her. She was athletic and smart- the opposite of how I felt when I was there. I befriended her, and she quickly turned into my first friend in the Civil Air Patrol. At the end of the training period of six weeks, we “graduated” into the Civi Air Patrol. Everyone but me from my class already had their first promotion. I was a cadet airman basic, while they got airman insignia pinned on. I was a little discouraged at first, but quickly saw it as a challenge. The athletic girl and I would race each other to promotions, and eventually were neck in neck.

We both went to encampment holding the rank of cadet airman first class. At encampment, a girl from my squadron who usually taught aerospace lessons was my squadron’s executive officer. She had led the class about model rocketry just weeks before encampment. She was a cadet major, and she was everything I wanted to be. I knew major was a high rank, and she was serious and seemed to know everything. I looked up to her. I also looked up to my flight sergeant. She was a chief, and she was exactly what I wanted to be. Calm, collected, and smart.

When I came back from encampment, I had made many new friends. I’d race them instead of the athletic girl- who seemed to have a different attitude after encampment. She ended up leaving the Civil Air Patrol not long after. I met Kat at that encampment, and we’re still incredibly close today.

I held various positions at my home squadron- things like element leader and flight sergeant; even public affairs NCO. There was always someone I looked up to; someone I wanted to be like. Time progressed, and I attended two more encampments. I attended three national activities (okay, it was the same one that I attended thrice). I moved up on my squadron’s staff- even holding the position of cadet commander briefly before moving to Europe in 2016. I was active in the state- starting out on the cadet advisory council as a representative, then eventually being voted Vice-Chair. I represented the entire Wing to the Great Lakes Region on the Cadet Advisory Council.

This year, I am the Chairman of the Cadet Advisory Council. I am the Cadet Deputy Commander for Operations at Encampment. It’s my second run as Cadet Commander of my squadron. Somehow, I became the person I used to look up to. When did that happen? I don’t remember a big change. I don’t remember waking up one day saying “okay, people are going to look up to me now”. But yet- they do. There is at least one cadet that I know of for sure that looks up to me, and I find that the weirdest concept.

I’m that major that knows what she’s doing to some people, and I find that amazing. I have the opportunity to be an influence to people’s lives. I have the opportunity to be the reason they keep learning. That’s such a great responsibility, and I won’t let people down.

I no longer want to be an aerospace engineer like I originally thought when I signed up for this wild ride called Civil Air Patrol. But through Civil Air Patrol, my love for all things cyber flourished. Participating in CyberPatriot showed me what I want to do. Through CyberPatriot, that guy that was so intimidating that first night quickly became a friend and mentor- someone I’d often end up going to for advice.

Coming up on 4 years in the Civil Air Patrol this February, looking back at everything I’ve done is almost unbelievable. Quiet, shy, young cadet me always dreamed of attaining the Spaatz award one day. On average, only five cadets in one thousand earn the Spaatz Award. Since the award’s inception in 1964, Civil Air Patrol has presented the Spaatz Award to only 2103 cadets nation-wide (as of today).

Now, that seems attainable.

If I attend a region cadet leadership school or go to cadet officer school, I can get my Eaker- that’s cadet lieutenant colonel. I’m planning to go to Michigan’s RCLS this summer after encampment. After that, I can test for Spaatz. It’s never felt closer. It’s never felt more attainable. I know it won’t be easy, but it’s finally hit me that this goal might actually be something I can do. That with everything I’ve learned, I am good enough. I have accomplished a lot. Am I still learning? Absolutely.

I’d always struggled with self-confidence, something that time and time again was mentioned to me at form 50 interviews and things like that. I think I finally get it. I think I’m finally confident in myself, confident in what I’ve learned, and confident in what I can do.

So here’s to Civil Air Patrol, and the 2 and a half years I have left as a cadet!