Another book available for pre-order!

>> Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I know what you're thinking: "I haven't even finished the first one (which was free)." True, but, if you do finish Conjuring Dreams and are jonesing for something else from my talented brain, you're in luck because you can get a deal on the next novel that takes up where the short stories stop.

 This one's not free, but you can get a deal on it since you can preorder it for $2.99 - it and will go to $4.99 after it's published on May 15 (which coincidentally is my 25th anniversary as a Rocket Scientist since I started working at Johnson Space Center in May of 1989). This novel is a grown up story, but fun and hopefully thought-provoking.

Announcing Tarot Queen.

After nearly four hundred years as the Tarot Queen, Roxell might still appear young and beautiful on the outside, but inside she was bored and jaded. Reading fortunes and conjuring futures was no substitute for an adventure of her own, a life of her own. Instead, she felt a prisoner, exiled within the confines of her cottage, growing more and more contemptuous of the supplicants who came to ask for her insight. And, for four centuries, not one person had given her heart the slightest romantic flutter . . .
Until Dante stepped in and turned the life she knew upside down. Handsome, intelligent, capable, he was everything she'd ever dreamed up . . . except that a tryst with a succubus had left him a demon and therefore soulless. The cards said he was definitely her destined lover, but Tarot Queens only get one lover and she had no plan to become a demoness.

For love, she abandoned her self-imposed exile and set out with her ardent suitor on a quest to find a solution to their thorny problem. Turns out, Dante's demonic venereal disease was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to their problems and Dante's mysteries. And Roxell was going to have to depend on her wits and her magical talents far more than she'd ever envisioned when they first ventured out.

And she loved (nearly) every minute of it.

Contains some sexual situations (not erotica) and a modicum of violence.

You can preorder at Smashwords and should shortly be able to preorder from a number of distributors.

A note about Smashwords - they distribute to most of the major ebook distributors like Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobi, Applestore, etc. But, I don't know when they'll show and there's a lag. You can preorder from Smashwords right now in all of those applicable formats. If you're struggling with how to get the downloaded Smashwords files to work with your application or device, you can get insight into how to do it here.

Naturally, no one is required to read my stuff, but, for those of you who might be interested, I wanted you to know it was out there.


My first BOOK!

>> Saturday, April 12, 2014

At long last with a self-crafted book cover, I have self-published my first e-book: Conjuring Dreams And it's FREE!

"Magic-wielders, shape-shifters, mermaids, empaths and diviners and even teddy bears and computer programmers wander through 26 stories, written into life for situations thought-provoking, compelling or absurd. It's a collection of diverse stories, from the first one written when Stephanie Barr (then Beck) was13-14 years old to the last ones finished last year. The tales show off not only Stephanie's eclectic imagination but the growth of her story telling as she taught herself to write (in the way she wanted to) through writing. So it's all fiction and totally autobiographical at the same time. "

Smashwords: Conjuring Dreams

Hopefully soon it will also be distributed at Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc. Will post links when I have them. There are, however, formats available for most if not all readers/computers already available at the Smashwords link. There's also an interview of me.

I've also put it on Amazon but they wouldn't let me do it for free so it's 99 cents: 

Amazon: Conjuring Dreams

My suggestion is to go ahead and download it for free on Smashwords since they have Kindle format there.

More books (namely novels) are coming so "stay tuned".


You Changed My Life, Part 7

>> Monday, March 31, 2014

Rather than re-explain, if you want to know what this is about, see my first post of this set.

Five more entries and bringing this to a close:

March 27 - Whoever sent me a money order for some $660 in January 2001 (2000?)

Again, this isn't a matter of not remembering a name, but never knowing it. Middle of a horrific custody-battle divorce (which sucks money out of your pocket like no one's business) and I was seriously struggling. I had some help, but it was very very hand to mouth there for quite some time. I was in debt to the lawyer already but every other specialist brought in was a new expense.

I was in despair wondering how I was going to pay for some assessment when, in an unmarked envelope postmarked from San Antonio, I found a money order made out to me for the amount ~$660, just a bit more than I was short.

I have no idea who sent it. I didn't really know anyone from San Antonio.

I don't know why they sent it.

But, for a moment there, it restarted my belief in magic/miracles/kismet. Pick your word of choice.

And, though it's been shaken a few times since, I haven't quite lost it. I really needed it back then, (the miracle, more than the money, though it was a tight race) and, whoever you are, you came through.

You bought that back for me with your anonymous gift and, whoever you are, I will always be grateful.

March 28 - Jungle Don

Again, it's not that I don't remember his real name, it's that I never knew it. Or, for that matter, his face.

But, he was one helluva kisser and got to set the standard for the rest of my life. He also made me feel just a little less of a man repellent in a school year when I felt someone had tattooed that on my forehead.

We met at a dorm party. He had previously gone to OU, but, when the swim and diving teams were disbanded, he went to a school that had one (while my two friends just rode their five year athletic scholarship to engineering degrees which was pretty smart). For some reason, OU (my alma mater) still held diving meets and he was there for one the next day.

But, somehow, because he seemed to like sarcasm and, perhap, the fact he couldn't really see me in the dark we peeled away from the crowd and we ended up necking all night in the lounge.

All night, as in within a few hours of his meet (Bad, Stephanie!). And just necking because, well, I was still pretty much not that kind of girl.

Dear sweet Jungle Don, with the very talented lips, never put any pressure on me and I had a wonderful time at his expense.

And I never saw him (I'd say again, but I never really saw him) or heard from him again. Still, it was fun for me while it lasted.

Thanks, Jungle Don. It's still a memory I treasure.

March 29 - Jim Kaufman

Jim was a singular lesson to me. He was always personable and smart, but, when I first met this individual, it was easy to confuse him with the standard NASA engineer type with an eye on politics, something I’m not. Not that I ever saw him compromise his integrity, but he seemed like the kind of guy that got along with everyone. And, truthfully, last I heard, he still was. But he was remarkable underneath.

Not just because he’s a good person, though he is. He’s been a big force behind Special Olympics for decades. He takes care of disabled cats. He is thoughtful and ever courteous. He carries a handkerchief which i find endearing for some reason.

There are several interesting stories I learned from this fellow I never saw coming. When I knew him, he’d had a kidney transplant because of an odd anomaly that also cut short his military career after they had paid his way through college in the ROTC. He had had a fiancee die some two weeks before the wedding due to a drunk driver and told me he remembered that the fine was $200 for the vehicular homicide. He remembered exactly because it was half the fine he was given himself when he began to shout at the judge for letting the driver off so easily. He also took his story door to door when the judge was up for reelection. The judge lost by a handful of votes. That was Jim.

But the moment I realized I had seriously misjudged him, had under estimated him, had fallen into a trap of confusing who he was with what he was was when he told me about his turtle saga.

See, Jim was out wandering in the “wild” around the area we live in and came up on a turtle with a cracked shell. Now, I love animals, but I think I speak for the majority in that I would have thought, “Poor turtle,” and walked on. Not Jim. Deducing that the turtle would be at risk in the wild, he took it home and, finding a turtle expert among the veterinarian choices, found out several things. First, the cracked shell was a death knell and, secondly, the turtles mate for life. No, I didn’t know that either.

Following the expert’s advice, Jim returned to the area and picked up another turtle that looked vaguely like the first to see if it was an abandoned mate. But they didn’t care for each other. So, he took that one back and found another one. This one, apparently, was willing to become a mate if they had not been so in the beginning.

My friend was telling me this story, in a very matter of fact way, after a chance comment. I expect I looked stunned. But that was not all.

Jim then worked with the turtle expert in devising a replacement shell made of fiberglass. Using fishing weights, Jim worked out the balance of the shell in the bathtub and then, in an operation I didn’t realize was possible, the vet removed the turtle’s natural cracked shell and replaced it with the artificial one. I did not realize that turtles could survive such an operation and was well able to believe a deshelled turtle is a sad looking creature. Jim then double-checked the newly installed shell’s function and balance on the turtle over several days, including more bathtub runs. And painted the fiberglass shell from its original white to more environmentally neutral camouflage. He was planning, he explained to my stunned self, to release his turtle and its mate back “into the wild” within the next few days.

Cue the song "Born Free" in my head as I imagine the turtles sprinting from the cage over an hour, hour and a half, into the local scrub.

Perhaps, there are some reading this consider this story commonplace. Well, I did not. “I can’t believe you did so much for a wild turtle.”

“Oh, no,” he decried. “Anyone would have done as much.” I often wonder, thinking back, if it were his honesty that made him so very very special indeed.

“No, Jim,” I told him. “You’re something special.”

Jim taught me what I thought I knew but hadn't really lived up to: what's on the surface is a small part of who someone is. I knew it, but I never knew it so fully as when Jim reminded me.

Thanks, Jim. It was a pleasure knowing you.

March 30 - Michael Dupalo

A list like this wouldn't probably be complete without at least one regret, one might-have-been. I won't lie; I have more than one. But this one is one that wanders across my mind a few times a year so I chose this one.

When I was in high school in Las Vegas (Eldorado High School for those interested), I was not popular. However, EHS had the advantage for me of being full of nomadic folks like me so at least I wasn't dealing with the been-best-friends-since-birth thing.

By a strange coincidence, for all 3.25 school years, Michael Dupalo was in 5 of 6 of the same classes. He was tall and, to the best of my recollection, personable and popular, but I don't notice that thing very well so I might misremember. My recollection is that he was good-looking and fairly smart, given that he was in all my advanced classes (only PE, which was segregated by gender, we didn't share).

Any way, sometime early in my sophomore year, I was cornered in class just before Advanced English began by Michael who made some sort of comment about the kissability of my lips and likely would have kissed me. ("In class?" you might be squealing. PDAs were absolutely par for the course at that school so you know)

I was 14 or 15 and never been kissed. Truthfully, no one had before made any concerted attempt. And I'll admit, I liked Michael (no crush, per se, but I liked him well enough and was plenty curious) and also wanted him to kiss me. BUT, I chickened out that moment and asked for a raincheck with every intention of redeeming it when I'd had a chance to prepare myself.

Except it never happened. He, in fact, took to avoiding me and needling me with nasty comments throughout the rest my high school life in Las Vegas. I'm used to that sort of thing so responded with sarcasm as usual, moving readily into a non-hating sparring. When I walked home from school, he would drive as close as he could manage as he flew by to give the impression he'd like to run me down. (Once he did so with a classmate who was so horrified how close he drove that she made him stop and give me a ride home.)

After I'd left to move to Oklahoma (against my will), a classmate circulated a yearbook at my old high school which garnered a pathetic number of signatures, including Michael Dupalo's that said "I haven't seen you around much this year. I'm sure you've enjoyed it as much as I have." His signature was, hands down, my favorite. I do love a sense of humor.

But I never understood the change in his attitude or the intense antipathy.

Until the only boyfriend I had in high school (the following school year) told me (when I was in college) that he (before he was my boyfriend) and another friend had taken it upon themselves to warn him away and beat him up for good measure "in my name".

So, mystery solved. Though I do still wonder.

So, thanks, Michael, for making me wonder what might have been if things had gone differently. It's entertained me for years. And, if only for entertainment value, the rain check has not expired.

Caveats on this exercise now that it comes to a close.

First, if you weren't one of the folks that got an entry, that doesn't mean you don't matter to me or that you didn't change my life. There are a surprisingly large number of valuable people in my life, especially considering my general unpopularity. But the friends and family I'm close to are valuable beyond counting and I treasure them all. But that is generally far more than an off-hand comment or single act that made a difference but a relationship and interactions over and over spanning years that have made my life far better than I would ever have expected.

Among the people of note that were underrepresented were those who befriended me during periods of time when I was virtually friendless (and they frequently had many friends who might have turned away from them as a result but stayed my friend anyway), like Josette Votipka and Lauralee Proudfoot. Nancy was like this, too.

There are family members who probably shake their heads at me a great deal for my personal weirdnesses and views far-flung from their own, but who accept me as I am anyway without any apparent hardship.

They're are the friends who make time to hang out with me or check in on me even though they have full lives of their own and I'm just one step from a shut-in since I hate travel or trying to schedule childcare so I can go out.

If I've never been popular, I have never gone friendless and those friends I have are of the very highest caliber across the board, living embodiments of the term "quality over quantity." I am honored and charmed that you find time in your lives for me, for the warmth, concern, acceptance and company you have given me. For all my lack of social skills, I hate being alone and you have made it so I don't have to be.

If I had tried to capture all of you, I'd never have done you justice and would have likely forgotten this or that essential person as I tried to recall you all on command, then felt like a damn fool when I was reminded of another dear friend.

So, thank you all. My life has been so much richer having y'all in it.

Just one more to go...

March 31 - Myself

For those who were wondering when my narcissism would reach it's pinnacle, now you know.

So, why me? What one thing have I done that makes me special, that merits me a spot on this list?

I learned.

This exercise was largely about the people over the years who changed my course, expanded my horizons or my view of what was already there. I could not be the person I am without their timely insight, care or actions.

But, that's only half the equation. Because, no matter how stellar the example (or counterexample), how profound the advice, how touching the action, if I don't LEARN from it, it's wasted. (OK, so I should have learned about not cutting Roxy's bangs).

I have to be willing to listen honestly without closing my mind or heart to what wasn't in my current view of the world. I had to be willing to question myself and what I thought the world and my part in it truly was. I had to challenge my preconceived notions and be willing to adapt them as I learned more.

And I had to be willing to change my course when it needed to be changed. All the good intentions won't do a damn thing if you don't follow through and act on what you feel is the right thing to do. But it's hard. Inertia is pretty powerful stuff, the path you know, the world you thought was real, even your own self image, it's tough to break free of that and stride out in a different way, knowing that, while some will appreciate those changes, others will be baffled or feel threatened.

I'm not trying to say I've cornered the market on open-mindedness, or a willingness to learn. Many people have it. But, since we're talking (still and at great length) about my life, I somehow felt it wouldn't be fitting if I didn't take a little credit myself.

Like the man in the video that started me on this, he might have joined in with a Star Trek group because of his admiration for Whoopie Goldberg, but he joined when it was something that scared him, and he made friends and tried and worked to become more adept socially and expand his horizons. She was the catalyst, perhaps, but he did the work and he deserves the credit for the effort.

There are plenty of people with inspiration and good examples positively strewn over their paths who walk on blithely, unaware or deliberately ignoring what doesn't fit in their world. There are plenty of people who see what they want to be and ways to get there, but who are unwilling to take the steps and risks necessary to make it so, so they wallow, bemoaning the chances everyone else has.

But I didn't and that's worth noting. I've had plenty of ugliness in the past, more than some, but far less than others. But I made the decisions on what shaped me, consciously chose to become what I am (so far), for better or worse. And I've had some real beauty and wonder in my life, much of which I never saw coming. And for that, I'm grateful. Which is why I wrote all this, why I opened up far more of myself and my past than I expected, though I don't regret it.

But I'm grateful to myself as well for learning from those experiences, good and bad, and still being someone I don't mind spending all of my time with when all is said and done.

So, yay me! Thanks for not being a dumbass.


You Changed My Life, Part 6

>> Saturday, March 29, 2014

Rather than re-explain, if you want to know what this is about, see my first post of this set.

Five more entries:

March 22 - Whoever decided to include me in layoffs for Lockheed Engineering and Science Co in mid August 1993

I don't know who it was (as opposed to just forgetting a name) and I even understand how it happened. Not saying they should have laid me off - that was actually a rather stupid move - but I can see why I *looked* unproductive and a good prospect for excising.

I worked there a bit over four years. In that time, I was given a number of projects that had been given to various engineers and even teams of engineers over the years - all with little/nothing to show for it after "years" of effort - and turned them into actual hardware. I was queen of leftover tasks but I had two problems: one was that I did them too fast. Yeah, I know how that sounds, but I've only ever had two speeds - full speed and stop. Without anyone looking over my shoulder and having fun learning tools like Autocad and C on my own, enjoying the sense of accomplishment as hardware first built before I was born was modernized and made to function as it once had, it was hard to slow myself down.

When I redid the data handling system for Chamber B (design, overseeing techs tearing out the wiring/installing new and checkout), it took me three months. When Walt asked how long to do Chamber A, I said about three months because, though there were ~3x channels, I had templates for the drawings and wasn't replacing wire end-to-end but only some of it. Walt gave me four.

It took me two, which disturbed Walt since he didn't have another task for me for another six weeks. Robotics had moved to a different department and Bobby had gone with it so not only was Bobby gone but no longer in a position to give me more to do. Layoffs were coming (though I didn't know it) and (though I didn't know this either) Walt, who was close to retirement, had volunteered to be part of it.

Which revealed my second mistake. I had accomplished a great deal, but no one really knew the extent of what I'd been doing other than Bobby and Walt - and they were gone/leaving too. And not having enough to do meant I looked (and quite rightly) idle.

Well, I was pretty scared, took some time the day after I was notified to write up my resume (first draft ten pages, but I did trim it before sending it out) and I interview well (and am very lucky) so I was out of work a total of eight days.

Naturally, the flow of my life changed drastically. There's something about being discarded and having to find one's feet again that changes one's perspective (and I feel deeply for those who have been out of work far longer than did). I have changed jobs several times since then, but always voluntarily and always moving up.

Because I also learned a few lessons. First is, if I run out of things to do, I go looking (which has other repercussions, but I digress) because an idle Stephanie is dangerous. The second is I'm not shy about reminding people as far up the chain as I can manage about what I do. When I made the list (first draft of my resume) of what I'd done over the previous four years, I said to myself "They were damn fools to get rid of me."

Which is why, though I've stepped on quite a few toes in my time and have frequently been at odds with various levels of management, I've never been laid off again. I'm a pain in the butt, but I'm worth it. And I make sure they know it.

So thanks, whoever you were. As they often say, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, though it was disguised quite well at the time. And I certainly learned from it.

March 23 - STS-107

This, and this alone, will not be a person.

As you've probably guessed, even without the influence of Bobby and Walt and a few choice others, I tend to be forthright, opinionated, challenging, pushy. I was and am.

I also tend to be overbearing when it involves someone's safety, particularly someone else's safety. No one gets hurt on my watch. You can ask anyone I worked with: if they didn't have first aid kits before I got there, they had them after I arrived if I had to pay for them myself. Technicians working my paperwork frequently had me standing in their way if I thought what they were doing was too hazardous and I'd make sure I found a safer way if I wasn't comfortable with the "normal" route. It didn't make me friends, but I didn't have to go to funerals.

After a memorable but frustrating stint at the company (some of the smartest best people I worked with, hands down the worst management) that hired me right after I was laid off from my first job, I got a job that seemed tailor-made for me: I was hired by a subcontractor on the JSC safety contract. When I was interviewed, they asked me if I could stand up in front of important people and defend an unpopular stance. I told them that, if I thought it was right, I couldn't care less who was in the room and and I always told the truth, popular or not.

Not the least ironically, I was put in that position within 18 months and came very close to losing my job over it ("I can't believe you answered the NRC's questions. Do you know who was in the room?." "I told you I would when you hired me!" "Yeah, but I didn't think you really would.") The primary thing holding them back was that the data was on my side and they couldn't find a single thing technically wrong with my data or stance, which made it hard to find a good justification. (The fact that they had sent me there, with the admonition to "Stir the pot," but sent no one to back me when I called them didn't seem to bother them in the least). That and I had shown a positive gift for sifting through statistics and spotting out the smelly stuff - as well as using my own methods for grinding out quick and dirty estimates that, hey, turned out to be pretty close on the mark, so they were going to send me to reliability where I'd use formulas to quantify risk so people could know what risks to ignore, etc. etc. NOT something I wanted to do.

[I rarely talk about my gender being a handicap but, in some ways, it was. Being stubborn, pushy, and know-it-all tends to come out more positive when applied to men: tenacious, assertive, informed. This was particularly true when I worked in safety, though the other toughest safety engineers I knew were also women. I guess we'd grown tough in adversity.]

Instead, I transferred to EVA (and all honor to my lead, Ron Cook, and my supervisors, Dennis Eads and Hayden Krueger), in seven years, they never tried to shut me up. I think they liked the excitement. And the fact we cared and people knew it (because it wasn't just me). BUT, the original problem I'd nearly gotten fired over, risk to damage on the RCC from orbital debris, had not faded from my mind. Whenever new information came in, I forwarded it to management, hoping someone was following, taking notes, noting trends, trying to do something. And, in between, I did my job, looking out for the safety of EVA crew (EVA is when they don space suits and go outside the ship).

STS-107, which had only contingency EVAs (those performed in emergencies), was my flight as EVA safety flight lead. When it was destroyed, I was devastated and angry, but mostly at myself. I had known there was something to be concerned about. True, I'd been worried about orbital debris, but the same solution for orbital debris (toughening up/instrumenting the RCC) might have saved Columbia if it had been implemented when I'd first started complaining in 1996. Maybe not, but I'd never know, never know if my being noisy might have made the difference, might have pushed the program to doing more, or at least being more aware of the danger. The smart money says it wouldn't matter what I said or how loudly I'd shouted, it would have been seen as too expensive and ungainly to be reasonably implemented. But I'd never know.

I'd never know because, even though I'd pushed it as far as I could without losing my job, I hadn't pushed it as far as I could. I'd let myself be silenced, be quieted, be sent to a corner and muzzled. For fear of my job, I'd never know if I had let seven people be killed, their families devastated by their loss.

The astronauts lost were: Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, Ilan Ramon, Kalpana Chawla, David M. Brown, and Laurel Clark. I must also note two others who died during recovery efforts: Jules F. Mier Jr. and Charles Krenek.

So, I swore I'd never be silenced again, never go silent if there was something worth saying, never let fear stop me from doing the right thing ever again especially when lives were on the line.

And if that meant I worked jobs where I had to ask "Do you want fries with that?" I could live with that. I haven't had to, though.

I should give at least some credit to the safety contractor I was still working with. I screamed and complained mightily to get more visibility for these issues after STS-107 and, if they weren't always encouraging, they never fired me either.

But I didn't get *heard* until I found my way to the company I work at now which is very much in keeping with my own thinking, that (no, seriously) values integrity over any single contract. In this company, we're hired to do exactly what I do best. Stay silent if all's well but dig in our heels (with data) and be noisy when things are not.

And, in the nearly ten years I've worked here, they've lived up to their reputation and I have done my best to do the same. And I haven't been shut up once.

But how I got here is another story.

I can't thank STS-107 for this lesson - I wish they had never died and it had never happened. But I'll do everything I can to keep it from happening again. I hope that's enough.

Two blog posts that touch on this who want to know more: 

Rocket Scientist: RS Classic: Remembering NASA's tragedies - Columbia Accident

Sunday Soapbox: Being a Team Player

March 24 - David Adlis

And this is the story alluded to in the previous post. So there I was, post-Columbia, heart-sick, angry, determined to be heard to make sure we learned from our mistake and we addressed concerns like orbital debris whether we wanted to or not.

I was still working and busy and still completely supported in my EVA safety role, but I was pretty much being passed from manager to manager in the safety organization on the other topics that concerned me. And it made me miserable. Made me feel helpless.

Cue my friend Barbara who suggested I interview for USA, the contractor who worked the Shuttle. I wasn't terribly excited about working on the contractor side (that made me concerned I'd have more pressure to follow the company line rather than less), but I knew I wasn't happy where I was. And it did open my mind up to the notion of looking elsewhere for work.

Cue David Adlis. David was working a company I'd never heard of, one that's key in the USAF space program impartial oversight/expertise to provide technical insight and scrutiny though the company had a relatively small spotlight at NASA. We had a meeting on EVA RCC repair, David, myself and several others, but only David and I showed up. Well, David, ex-NASA and sharp as a bag full of needles, didn't let the dearth of coworkers stop him and worked out the kind of organization that would be needed to provide assurance to the repair efforts current in work. Then asked me who would man the various positions. For most of the meeting, my line was "I don't know, I don't know, I don't know, but you could contact so-and-so and they'd know who would be handling that."

Actually, I spent the hour mostly feeling like a fool.

So, imagine my surprise when, a few days later, I get a call from David asking me if I wanted to work for his company. I told him I'd never heard of the company. Bless his heart, he didn't let that stop him.

I researched his company. They don't make hardware so they don't have conflict of interest. They are known for their integrity. They are not for profit. They are wall-to-wall experts in nearly every space bailiwick there is with their primary function to give impartial technical insight into issues, changes and concerns. It was perfect.

If only I was qualified.

I interviewed anyway, explained my history, my unwillingness to shut up on command and that I couldn't be paid to lie. I explained that the organization they were hiring me to support was the same one I was leaving (none too happily). I explained that I wasn't even much of an expert. I'm more a dabbler, taking leftovers and running with them, learning enough expertise on the fly to question the experts and (frequently) make them reexamine things, sometimes unwillingly. {Note, for the record, David wasn't the one hiring.]

Not only that, I only had a lowly bachelor's degree (LOTS of PhD's and Masters at my company), so, though I wanted the job really really badly, I wasn't desperately hopeful.

They hired me anyway. And it was there at that company, at last, my concerns and arguments (and several others that fell out of tasks I worked) were voiced to the top levels of NASA. I can't say the top levels always did what I wanted, but it wasn't because I was silent. And, that, I could live with.

Since working here, I've done a huge and diverse range of tasks, taking on the leftovers as I did working with Bobby Davis 20 years previously. I've published papers on topics that were near and dear to me (and was paid to do it). I've learned more on more topics than I ever had the chance to before and rubbed shoulders with some truly great minds. I've worked with experts who have turned ideas into experiments, sometimes within minutes. I've had and am having a great time here, which is particularly wonderful given that I'm an engineer purely by accident and always wanted to do something else for a living. But, if you are going to be an engineer anyway, this is really the best possible place to work.

If you're going to be a single engineer with two special needs children, having flexible understanding management that is willing to work with your schedules and limitations is beyond price.

David is now my boss and as capable in that role as he was in talking me into coming to his company. And, truthfully, I'll always be grateful he saw something worthwhile in me when I couldn't even see it myself and brought me here to work in the best company I've ever worked for.

So, thanks, David. I owe you, um, a few.

March 25 - Alexander Barr

Being born was enough for Stephanie Loyd, though she did many many things that changed my life. But Alex, though every bit as precious, precocious and life-altering with his birth, did something else, something that really helped me grow as a person.

Stephanie was challenging as all intelligent children are, but I could *reason* with her. She learned to speak early not just because she could but also because she knew exactly what she wanted and was smart enough to know I wouldn't figure it out unless she told me. If I didn't want her to do something whether or not I was watching, I'd explain why. If I could convince her of my position, she'd "not do it" without prompting (and tell her friends not to either). She might twist things so she could do something else, but that's the price for creative children.

Alex challenged everything I knew about parenting. He wasn't mean or difficult; he was stubborn. For years, I thought he didn't bother talking because he wasn't that picky. He'd want something, I'd guess and eventually he'd shrug and say (to himself) "Eh, close enough."

Turns out, he's not really unpicky. He likes things a particular and exact way, perhaps more than anyone I've known. He is desperately stubborn, very exact, easily frustrated, and more than a little OCD. But I didn't know that for years because Alex confounds me like no one else I have ever known.

He's smart, very smart, routinely outsmarting me, but I have absolutely no idea how his mind works. My son, for those who don't know, is autistic. He is also one of the sweetest and happiest children I have ever known (something I hear too infrequently when people speak of autistic children). And I love him to bits. There's a certain amount of restructuring that goes with autism, or at least there has been in my case, and very much living the "pick your battles" life because, if you can't outstubborn him, you will not win.

But it's just as obvious that he wants to love and be loved, that he wants to be accepted rather than tolerated, that that is key to his happiness and his hugginess (he is a touchy-feely child, sometimes too much so, especially if you're a pretty girl). His general peace of mind is that we love him as he is. That he doesn't have to be something else to be accepted.

As a scientifically minded person, I've really not bothered, in the past, with things I didn't understand. If I couldn't explain it, I tended to leave it alone. No sense worrying about it. Now I have to, and I always thought it would be the hardest thing.

Actually, no, I should be honest. I've always been very matter-of-fact with physical handicaps and abnormalities. It happens. But I've been uncomfortable around people suffering retardation and other mental disabilities, not because I thought it was catching or that those people were disgusting but, as a creature with no merits that aren't tied to my intellect, I couldn't imagine a worse fate that having a brain that failed to function properly or one that did but couldn't communicate. Trapped in a brain that didn't work: what horror! I didn't think I could handle it without pity, which isn't a healthy thing at all.

Then, along came my son, living the life I feared so much and it turns out I don't pity him at all. He's not pitiful. He's fabulous and clever, in between being frustrating and infuriating. But not pitiful, never pitiful. He is ten now and still doesn't talk but he's damn good at telling me what he wants. I know when he's frustrated, when he's angry, when he wants something specific, when he's really upset about being chastised. Just like I know when he's buttering me up, when he's lonely, when he's gleeful. He doesn't get everything he wants, but he does have a modicum of power on how his life is.

In the end, he's like every other child, who needs limits and love and attention and support and patience and punishment and forgiveness. Sometimes, he gets to do thing his ways. Sometimes I outstubborn him and he does things my way. He *wants* to make me happy if I can let him in a way he accepts. And I would never have learned all this if he'd been just like everyone else, if I could have understood him.

I'm sometimes shocked when I hear parents speak about their autistic children (no one I know personally but some I've seen on shows) discussing their child's state as a tragedy that has ruined their lives. Really? How horrible to see it that way.

Alex and his condition isn't a tragedy. Alex is, as far as I can tell, just doing his own thing, uniquely and irretrievably his own sort of self. Which I don't understand in the least. But I love him just the way he is any way.

And I would never have opened that part of my mind I didn't even know was closed if he hadn't been, well, Alex.

So, thank you, my son, for all your uniqueness. And for letting your OCD take you in the direction of cleaning up after your sister. I'm grateful for that, too.

March 26 - Roxanna Barr

Roxy, much like her brother and her sister, adds immeasurably to my life in more ways that I could possibly elucidate. Choosing one key way she's changed my life is actually challenging. But, in the end, it's kind of tied to her brother, just as she's been attached at the hip with him just about since birth.

See, Roxy has done more to help me understand (and curb Alex' less appealing characteristics) than you'd ever expect in one so small (currently six). She is tiny, until recently talked only a little bit, and was at least as stubborn as Alex. She was also a ball of incontrovertible and manipulative charm.

Even when she was a baby, Roxy could stop Alex in mid-fit, could talk to him in baby talk and get him to do what she wanted. She'd make a mess, but he's the one who'd get upset when she'd get in trouble. That's how Alex moved from being part of the chaos to trying to reign it in. She'd spill; he'd find something to mop it up (including his own clothes, curtains, whatever) in the hopes she wouldn't get in trouble.

She's still a chaos agent, but I've noticed she often specifically targets things he ENJOYS putting back in place (like my manga which Alex takes pleasure in returning in numerical order). She owns him. She hasn't figured out the lock on my bedroom door or (I think) the baby gate at the head of the stairs, but, without a word she can get Alex to open the gate and, if she feels it's important enough, he'll break into my room (he has to have a good reason - he doesn't want me to know he can do it). But if Roxy really wants it, she gets it.

When she was sick and curled up on my easy chair, I was trying to shoo Alex, who was hovering, when I realized how careful he was being, that he was snuggling her because she was precious to him.

But it's entirely mutual, because she totally gets him. Even if he's in trouble for being pushy with her, she won't stand for it, will shout someone (especially me) down for getting him upset. She knows how to manipulate him, but she knows how to manipulate FOR him, to get him what he needs when he's not successful in getting it for himself.

She also took on many of his characteristics (she's been diagnosed as autistic, as well, but I'm less convinced she genuinely can't do things rather than using the tactics her brother uses on to get his way, but we'll see) and, as something between the great bafflement of Alex and the general understanding of Stephanie, she helps ME bridge the gap.

And that's the thing I'm giving her credit for. If I don't get Alex, and I don't, she totally gets him, while totally getting me because she manipulates us both apparently without effort. (And now Tina Simmons, too). She's desperately adorable on her own, but she's also the glue that holds the rest of us together and opens my eyes into hers and Alex' world while charming the socks off me.

With the possible exception of her father, I have never been so thoroughly controlled by anyone before - only I'm delighted rather than frustrated and unhappy about it. That's how damn charming she is.

Kind of makes me wonder why I'm thanking her, but I kind of have to, don't I?


You've Changed My Life - Part 5

>> Friday, March 28, 2014

Rather than re-explain, if you want to know what this is about, see my first post of this set.

Five more entries:

 March 17 - The Recruiter from OU who went to Ada High School in Spring of 1985

People who know me as the "Rocket Scientist" might be surprised to hear that the last thing I ever expected to be was an engineer. In fact, up until about the point I graduated high school, if you'd *told* me I'd be a rocket scientist, I likely would have fallen down laughing.

The reason I ended up one and the reason my life changed so drastically (in the best sort of way) by going away to college was largely the recruiter from OU.

My parents moved from Las Vegas NV to Ada OK in October of my senior year in high school. I'm sure they had reasons they felt important, though I don't know what they were other than my father wanted land and plants, but I can say with assurance, it was not a move I wanted. To be first in a class of 549 to becoming one of 9 valedictorians in a class of 114, well, let's just say my college prospects were drastically reduced. Given that college was nonnegotiable (though, to be honest, I presumed that) but paying for it was basically up to me, I was effectively stuck in Oklahoma which did not make me happy.

I'd saved up about $1200 from the summer before working in a chemical lab, or I'd thought I had. I'd "loaned" it to my parents and only discovered, close to high school graduation that their idea of paying me back was to allow me to eat. So, I was looking for scholarships because I DID NOT want to go to the college in Ada, OK. Nothing against ECU but it didn't have any majors that particularly interested me and I'd have to live at home, which didn't appeal at all.

Now, it's somewhat pertinent to note that I was and am a total dork. I dress for comfort now, but then I dressed in the cast off clothing people gave my parents because, for some reason, they always fit me and only me. I generally didn't mind, but it hardly meant for a snazzy wardrobe.

And my own personality was not conducive to making friends. I was at Ada High nearly the whole senior year and I can't remember the name of a single person, and did not make a single real friend when I was there. Oh, everyone was very nice and friendly, but they were also people who'd known each other since birth. I was an oddity, at best.

I was, in fact, particularly dorky-looking on the day the OU recruiter came, wearing some pseudo-Native Americanish leisure suit my mother adored and my hair in two braids. I sat in the front row and listened to the spiel. Despite myself, I was a bit interested. So, after the talk, I went up to ask what programs had scholarships available.

To this day, I have no idea how this recruiter knew I was good material. He totally ignored the other two dozen or so students clamoring for attention and totally gave me everything I asked for then asked me if I wanted anything else. He went out of his way to point out the Engineering Program and Physics Program both had scholarships and, if I went in Engineering Physics, I could get both. Only when he was sure I hadn't even the slightest idle question remaining did he turn his attention to the rest of the students.

I won't lie. I'm as susceptible to flattery as the next person, maybe more. When OSU came round in the same time frame, they had a pair of recruiters and it was more like a pep rally, full of shouting and enthusiasm rousing, not my thing. They kind of tossed brochures around and, though I filled out a card indicating my interest there (not burning bridges), I was brushed past breezily.

So, I was not surprised to get my (form) letter from OSU: "Dear Future OSU student: You're going to love going here, etc. etc. aud nauseum."

The letter from OU was quite different: "Dear Ms. Beck [yes, he remembered my name even though I don't remember his], I know you have a lot of options available to you, but we really hope you consider OU. I think we have a lot of services that can be of benefit to you and know you'd be a tremendous asset for our school."

If it had been letters alone, I would have gone with OU at once. But, both OSU and OU had given me $750/year scholarships. Enough for tuition, but not books and room and board. I was having to contemplate one of the other small colleges when as 29th runner up to OU's largest general academic scholarship, 30 fell out and I got it. So, yay me. I also got both the Physics and Engineering scholarship by going in Engineering Physics (one was only a one year scholarship, so I could have changed majors, but it was a tough major and I'm stubborn).

So, thanks to the personal touches of one recruiter, a bit of scholarship serendipity and my own tenacious nature, I accidentally got a degree in Engineering Physics while also opening my eyes to the world in ways I never would have done living at home. And that was a very good thing.

And my degree turned into a very interesting one and my career as well, so there you go.

So thanks, recruiter. I was always be grateful for your personal touches.

March 18 - Sue Beck

Now, those of you who've known me for any length of time probably know I care deeply about my Aunt Sue. She's like a surrogate mother to me, always supportive, always upbeat, frequently giving me help when I need it whether it's a kind gesture or real material support to help me out. That's not about me, by the way. That's how Sue is and, if I described everything wonderful about her, I'd be writing until Sunday.

But this isn't about constant support or friendship (which obviously have a profound effect on my life), because March wouldn't be long enough for that; this exercise is about single events where one person had a profound impact on my life.

For Sue, that was in August 2012. I'd had nearly a year to get past my breakup with Lee. I was visiting Sue with all three of my children, which is challenging because my son, Alex, is heavily weirded out by dogs and she has three excitable poodles. There, Sue and my daughter, Stephanie Loyd, ganged up on me. I was (and still am to a lesser degree) very overweight, my feet were swelling frequently. I don't go to the doctor much. Kids doctors/dentists/college get first dibs and, truthfully, I was still recovering financially from my divorce and working through our accumulated debt.

It's not that I don't make good money, but even a good salary can be strained when there are too many drains on it. And I'm not the best with money. It's not one of my strengths.

I explained that I would check into it when I could afford to do so. Sue wrote me out a check so that I would get a full checkout and a sleep study done (since Stephanie was also worried about sleep apnea) without impacting any other finances. I couldn't say no and I couldn't not do it. Turns out I was pre-diabetic/early stages of Type II diabetes and had high blood pressure.

So, I went on a diet and lost over 100 pounds that year (test results have come back clean since). I lost the weight not so much for the doctors but because my daughter and Sue reminded me that I had people that depended on me and I couldn't afford to drop dead on them. The sleep study money instead went for some MRIs for Stephanie since her previously broken vertebrae was giving her troubles, but, since my sleeping and snoring improved so drastically with the weight loss, it all worked out.

It wasn't just that someone cared enough about me to help me even though I should have done this on my own. Though obviously I was important enough to her for that, so that was wonderful. It was that she reminded me what was important, and that I had to do the right thing for myself so I could do the right thing for my kids. That's how Sue is. She always has her priorities in wonderful alignment.

So, thank you, Sue. For that and everything else you've done to make my life better. Because you have, not only by being an excellent example, but my friend, my family, my unfailing supporter. And my personal photographer.

I love you, Sue. Everyone should have someone like you in their lives.

March 19 - Richard Collins (I think), who is deceased

I so wish I was better with names.

When my daughter was young, from birth, actually, I loved to sing to her. Now, by some quirk of nature, I happened to marry a man who felt about my singing much like my mother before. In that he hated it, so I sang to her when Stephanie and I were alone. Which was most of the time.

When she was 3-4 years old, she began to sing with me (Stephanie was always amazingly articulate). Stephanie's toddler singing voice was adorable, but it was also in perfect pitch and she had a great memory for words and tunes. I wanted to encourage this gift, but I was also afraid.

Except for the two semesters in choir, which can't be counted as voice training per se, I had no singing instruction whatsoever. I was concerned that, here in her early formative years, I'd teach her the wrong way to sing and she'd have to unlearn it, perhaps painfully, later on.

So, I started looking for a vocal instructor so I could learn the basics and make sure I didn't give Stephanie a leg down as it were. One of my Comm and Track buddies, who was an amateur radio operator, had a buddy from his radio club that used to teach opera but wasn't interested in long terms students. That worked out well. I write in my spare time and have a kid and, hey, I'm a rocket scientist full time so a short term situation seemed ideal. Plus, Tim and I were always strapped somehow, still not sure how even now, so short time seemed best. Plus, I figured if I could sing opera, I could sing anything, so it was all good.

Richard Collins agreed to have me come as a student for two months, once a week. I, again, explained I couldn't sight read but had a good ear. Then I sang for him. When we were done he told me I was a dramatic soprano and I had gone all my life thinking (and singing) alto. My range was well over three octaves (partially because I'd been singing and expanding the lower part of my range all my life), but I sang high C without strain while we were there so obviously I had the high range somewhat naturally.

Richard Collins was somewhat irascible and short tempered. Didn't quite get why I didn't instantly learn to sight read for his convenience. Was irked I was too old to go into singing as a career (I was 31) when I started with him. I didn't think he liked me much and, though I could see myself getting stronger, singing-wise, liked the singing and liked sounding better, I was somewhat disheartened that he didn't seem pleased. But I wasn't going for a career (I was too old for anyway) - I wanted to make sure I was singing properly so Stephanie would do the same.

Then, after three months (since I'd missed some lessons since he had a bout of sick as had I, though not the same bug), I said, "Well, thank you very much. I've really enjoyed the lessons and appreciate your time and effort."

"What? You're stopping the lessons?"

"Well, you only wanted a short term student."

"But that was before I heard you sing!"

"Well, I can't afford lessons indefinitely."

So, then he offered to teach me for free. I couldn't help but take that as affirmation on my singing voice.

I didn't take him up on it (it wasn't fair) but we went biweekly and he taught me another six months or so including several songs of Schubert's which are Alex' favorites (both my youngest love to have me sing as do my nephews). And he kept getting me to try out for the Houston Grand Opera chorus even though I was too old.

I'm not a professional and never will be one. I still haven't learned to sight read. But I do sing better than I did. Stephanie sings superbly and told me recently that she uses her head voice and that I sing that way so she might have soaked it up from me. Apparently, that's an advanced way of singing and allows for singing lots without getting tired (though she needs to work on her other voices as well).

But I no longer hold off on singing around anyone and I love to sing. He helped me keep hold of it in a very unfriendly environment. And helped me feel good about singing with my daughter and y'all should know how fabulously she sings.

Richard Collins, I heard later, soon after started deteriorating due to Alzheimer's and died the next year.

But I'll always be grateful for his support, his teaching and for that moment when he made me feel like a star.

March 20 - Bobby Davis

Once again, we touch on someone who was more than just an acquaintance, but a friend for many years, though we've lost touch. He was my lead when I first entered the full-time working world, an irascible, opinionated, completely unrepentant dirty old man who was a lead engineer (one of two I've met - and both were brilliant engineers) without the degree who worked his way up from technician to engineering giant the old-fashioned way - through time and effort. I think it's a pity I hardly see this any more.

For almost everyone who knew him, particularly those higher in the food chain, he was frequently a pain in the butt and too damn useful to chastise or be rid of, so they sucked it up and lived with it. He was balding, near toothless, stubborn, deliberately rude (to those he disliked) and a blast to hang around. He was my first and dearest friend from work for years and years. I can't begin to tell you how much I learned from this highly intelligent man.

But first, in fact, almost first thing, he did something that made a huge difference to my professional outlook which is why, though I'm ashamed to say I've had more than my share of doormat/insecure/being walked all over in my personal life, that has NOT happened in my professional life.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm a forthright person and that carries into both personal life and elsewhere. And, when it came to academics, I had little if any insecurity to deal with. I was smart. I knew it and I didn't play dumb for anyone.

But, when I first came to work, I was not only a newbie, I didn't know anything. I could tell you everything useful I learned in college (actual data/methods) that I used on the job in five minutes. I've used my college education 20 times (if not more) on my blog for every time I've used it effectively in the work place. I wasn't crunching numbers like a regular engineer does. My degree's in engineering physics and we spend most of our time learning why the formulas engineers use WORK so we can think on our feet and handle anything tossed at us by figuring it out (and, to this day, that's what I do).

Great in theory, but harder in practice, especially when you're new and everyone else isn't. I was tossed into the deep end and that's how Bobby liked to play it, see if I'd sink or find my stride. I did the latter, but the first few weeks, I was quiet, soaking up everything and learning as I went. I'd sit and shoot the breeze with this old-timer or another, sit and talk to the technicians (who knew so much - I learned more from than than anyone) and soak up whatever I could about the work done there, what worked, what didn't, why, etc. This method worked wonderfully with Bobby, too.

But, from the outside, it could have looked pretty passive. However, Bobby wasn't fooled for a minute. Others, however, decided I was a pushover, particularly a tech supervisor that had been angling for one of the jobs (I had several hats even when first hired) I'd been hired to do: calibration engineer. Bobby's group was sort of a "catch-all" - whatever didn't fit neatly into someone else's bailiwick, he'd get done. (It might have been tailor-made for me).

Anyway, I'd get a lot of innuendo and flack when I tried to get anything done. It was a satellite calibration lab so I'd gone to the primary lab and soaked up information, then came back and scrubbed through the hopelessly outdated procedures by running through them with the techs and reworking them to something that was useful and functional.

Their supervisor ribbed me frequently and was somewhat obstructive. I mostly swallowed it quietly and did things my own way anyway, but it was grating. Finally, after a particularly irksome exchange, I came to Bobby for direction. "I'm trying to do Y," I said, "but so-and-so says I don't have the authority to do it. What should I do?"

Bobby said, "He's in charge of timecards and juggling the budget, but he doesn't make the technical decisions. You do. You're the engineer and don't you forget it. If he gives you crap again when you're doing what you're supposed to do, you tell him to go to hell, and THEN come see me."

In that tiny exchange, my professional persona was effectively cemented. Not that I enjoyed giving people hell (though many would disagree), but that I never forgot that being responsible for something meant I had to make the decisions. I had to do the paperwork and my homework to do it right, but, IF I HAD DONE SO, it was also my responsibility to make it so and ensure it was done properly, even if someone else felt I was stepping on his toes.

I tried to handle things with what diplomacy I had (and mostly succeeded - I was generally very popular with the techs). But, as there occasionally was, there was a disconnect and disagreement, I would try to work it out until someone was needlessly obstructive. Then I would invite them to take their story to management as I would take mine and we'd see who's story was better. Given that I didn't give them direction until I knew what the heck I was doing, it was me. Every damn time.

It's ironic that management, that began somewhat assuming I didn't know what I was talking about, usually figured out the second or third time that I did and then they turned holy hell on whoever got in my way. In many ways, that was a great job...until I was laid off. But that was an entirely different story.

In any case, Bobby helped me become the kickass Rocket Scientist I am today, known (and feared) by many for only coming to the table when I had something worth saying but not backing down when I felt it was worth it. And I'm pretty proud of that.

Thanks, Bobby.

March 21 - Walt Sanders or something (I'll probably remember sometime later tonight and kick myself)

Bobby was my lead when I first started working at Lockheed Engineering and Science Co and Walt was Bobby's and my supervisor. Whereas most of the old-timers were talkative and happy to expand on their history so I could soak up knowledge, Walt is one of the most taciturn people I've ever worked with.

Not unfriendly. Just quiet. He had a beautiful low gravelly voice. I'd greet him, "Walt!"

His reply, invariably, was "Ma'am." (Imagine it really low). For some reason that cracked me up.

In many ways, he was a great boss. He'd back me when I needed it. He stayed out of my way when I figured out what was necessary and let me get it done (a feature of the very bestest managers).

But it wasn't all joy. I remember when I was ripping out one data handling system and putting in another (big project). I'd done the first half but, for the second half, Walt told me (with one or two day's notice) that the NASA bigwigs wanted me to tell them about it.

I was the whole "design team" from draftsman to programmer, so gathering materials was easy and, of course, I knew what was going on and why. As we're talking, the NASA folks were asking me how many man-hours we'd need and what materials. I told them I usually let Walt handle that stuff (though, when pressed, I had decent guesses) and I just did the grunt work. "But," they told me, "You're the Project Engineer."

Pause. "I am?"

Walt nodded. "Oh, that's right. Didn't I tell you?"

So, there's that.

Anyway, though Walt wasn't the font of knowledge or an attack manager as needed like Bobby, he did teach me one very important thing.

I'd been working some long hours because of testing and something came up late in the week when I was about to take off. Overtime involved hours for free for us salary folk (4? 8?) before getting paid but also had to be blessed by management on several different levels and was a real hassle, especially late in the week when many managers were already slipping out the door.

Even then a completist, I told Walt I'd just eat a few hours and get the work done. Walt said, "Go home. It can wait until Monday."

"I hate to leave work half done."

"You get paid by the hour, even as salary, and so does the company. Don't work for free if you're worth getting paid."

And that struck a chord. When I got hired as a woman in a male-dominated field, I knew the fact I was a "minority" was actually in my favor, since government contracts like to have their contractors with a certain percentage of minorities. But I told myself that, no matter what I was paid, I would be worth every penny so that NEXT time they hired a woman, it wouldn't be to fill a slot but because they realize how good we are. And, I pride myself, though I get far more than that first salary, that I'm worth every penny now as well.

But there's another side to the coin. If my time is valuable and the company will charge the government (even on hours I work for "free"), I should get paid for that work.

And so, though I sometimes work overtime and have worked a modicum of "free" hours to get paid overtime later, it's the exception and not the rule. For the most part, I'm getting paid or I'm not working. I just try to get done more in that time than anyone expects so everyone knows I'm worth it. I always, ALWAYS, get top marks for productivity, even if I'm working fewer hours than anyone else in the office. But I get paid, and paid well, for that productivity.

And Walt, who rarely said anything at all, is the one who taught me that.


You changed my life, Part 4

>> Thursday, March 27, 2014

Rather than re-explain, if you want to know what this is about, see my first post of this set.

Five more entries:

March 12 - Timothy Loyd

I don't generally have a lot of good things to say about my first husband. On the whole, my first marriage was not a good time, and, at least toward the end, the relationship was very much not a healthy one.

But as psychologically messed up as I was when I met and married Tim, I was not a total idiot, and I wouldn't spend upwards of ten years living with someone unless there was something at some point that attracted me, appealed to me.

Truthfully, hopefully, there were far more moments than I recall, lost in the later ugliness. But there were moments I recall where the potential I had once seen, the person he COULD HAVE BEEN, peeped through.

He had some good points. He always had a good work ethic and was willing and able to work. He was a loyal friend and would back up said friends. He liked helping people. He was affectionate when drunk (and I never knew him to drive in that state) but was never a heavy drinker or even vaguely alcoholic. He was a maudlin sap for animals and was not afraid to cry at movies that touched him. He had a good belly laugh (and hopefully still does).

There are two moments of the same sort that I remember, that likely bought him enough mileage for our marriage to last long enough to produce Stephanie, and that's certainly changed my life for the better. Both were kind of firsts for me.

You see, I'm not the sort of person who generally gets defended much. I'm more someone who defends herself and/or others or is given someone else's battles to fight. But, like at least all the strong people I know, I have my vulnerabilities. One of them was that my relationship with my family, particularly the splitting with my siblings and attitude of my father, was very painful and left me traumatized by guilt for years.

After I'd married and was spending my last year of college away at school with my (then) husband, I came back "home" to pick up items that belonged to me. My father had the music blaring and didn't bother turning it down when we arrived. I was pointed to a box which contained about 10% of the items that should have been mine. Not a word was spoken. I was absolutely crushed and cringed out of there, my body wracked with sobs, desperately hurt, wanting to leave even the dregs of my belongs. Unbidden, Tim turned back (according to a sibling who witnessed it) came back into my family's home, wrenched down the volume himself (with curses) and proceeded to curse out my father, telling him he was an ungrateful father who didn't care about his own daughter and didn't deserve to have me and more of that ilk. (Cursing out people is one of his, um, strengths).

To the best of my recollection, I had never been defended when I needed it before that time.

Not long after we moved in the area I live now, Tim's parents came to visit and his mother was very very angry about something (not sure I remember what for). She slammed around and was vicious and nasty in general for about half an hour or so, but Tim let it slide over him and I tried to do the same. Then, as she was bringing in the last of her stuff for the visit, she turned on me and said something very very cutting to me (I don't remember exactly what) right in front of Tim who said, "No one talks to my wife like that. If you don't like it, you can leave."

His mother, left in a huff, Tim's father in tow and spent the night at a hotel before it was smoothed over, but, again, particularly knowing how close Tim was to his own parents, I was quite impressed that he would defend me like that.

Admittedly, I don't recall it ever happening again, even when we were in agreement on some stance or another, but I do recall those events and do appreciate that they were part of what made me stick around long enough to introduce Stephanie to both our lives.

So, thanks for that.

March 13 - Lee Barr

My second marriage was far easier in some ways and much more difficult in others. On the one hand, my second husband, for all his issues, was nowhere near as overtly antagonistic and destructive, at least deliberately. On the other, I loved him desperately (which, unfortunately is not true of my first husband) so I was far more emotionally fragile and desperate not to be deserted. And, as one would expect, that's eventually what happened.

I do have two beautiful and personable children from this marriage and there is the rather important distinction in that we managed to have the amicable divorce I really wanted with my first husband. And we're still friends.

But I have never cried as copiously, as often and as hysterically as I did while married to Lee. And there are times I wonder if I'll ever be brave enough to love again.

I never ever expected to hook up with Lee in many ways. He was far far younger than I, for one thing, just barely over the age of consent, and he was the son of a good friend. You could, in fact, say he was entirely off my radar and might very well have stayed that way if not for one incident.

In this incident, I was exposed to something that scared me to the core for the first time. To the core.

This was in the middle of my three year divorce to my first husband. There were a number of people looking out for me during this time, but their focus and mine was on my young daughter's well-being (for a very good reason since she was used mercilessly during this period of time). I went to mediation during the summer when Stephanie was staying with her father for a month.

Suffice it to say it did not go well and both the mediating lawyer ended up scared to death by Tim, my lawyer had gotten his gun out and was talking about taking a shot, and Tim was, at the time, waiting in his car for me to leave. Tension was high but it wasn't really touching me because, hey, I've never been afraid of death.

I was talking to a friend on the phone about the situation and she goes, "If he's that mad, what is he going to do to little Stephanie?" And that's when I got it, the full blown panic attack complete with near hysteria and hyperventilation (I've had a few since but that was my first). My fear, because my estranged husband was seriously unhinged at the time and my imagination had run away with me as well, was a scenario like Arthur Morgan. And I'll be forever grateful that never happened.

I was sent to stay with Cheryl Barr again, for my own safety as both the Barr family and my lawyer thought I was in immediate physical danger, but I couldn't calm down, couldn't shake my dread. I started thinking all kinds of ridiculous things, not the least of which was going to confront Tim so he could beat the crap out of me instead of Stephanie.

I'm not saying anything about my plans to anyone, mind you, but that's what I was on the verge of doing when this seventeen-year-old kid took me aside and said, "You need to calm down. The absolutely worst thing you can do is let Tim hurt you because then Stephanie will lose both parents at the same time. You have to take care of yourself, for her sake and for yours."

It was EXACTLY what I needed to hear to calm down and stop the stupid thinking. And I was so impressed. What was so much wisdom doing in this kid? I couldn't look at him the same way and, when he showed concern for me separate and regardless of Stephanie, I realized I couldn't remember when anyone else had cared about me, first and foremost. Even if it turned out not to be true.

And that's how I spent the next eleven or so years and got two fantastic kids.

So thanks. That definitely had an impact on my life.

March 14 - My second roommate in college whose name (again) I can't remember - Cindy maybe?

Up until Nancy Hodson, I did not have good luck with roommates. Up until college, I had almost never had sleepovers or had any but the most brief interaction with my non-family peers. And living with me wasn't necessarily easy. I'm an odd duck, not, I think demanding, but can be off-putting for people who like "normalcy".

My first roommate didn't know what to do with me and ended up moving down the hall to someone she clicked with better early in our first semester. Soon after, I got a new roommate (same semester).

My second roommate (I'll call her Cindy) and I got along, personality-wise, quite well. She had come down with her childhood bff from her beloved Chicago because OU's out-of-state was cheaper than many in-state tuitions. Bffs, rooming together, sharing everything, turned into an ugly ugly situation that left Cindy fairly devastated when she moved in with me. Since they'd taken turns (parking sticker, etc), my new roommate spent most of the remainder of that semester trying to beg and plead her former best friend/roomate into paying some $400 in parking tickets she racked up that were in Cindy's name.

Cindy, apart from being estranged from her former best friend and dunned for parking tickets from someone else's car, also missed her hometown and family desperately (and ran up over a thousand dollars in phone charges during that semester). And she was a chain smoker which, since I don't smoke at all, wasn't always comfortable. I could handle a little smoke (though I'm allergic) but there were days she was particularly stressed when I came back to the room and could not see the far wall.

In the end, she just didn't want to be at OU (I don't think it was me personally) and returned to Chicago at the end of the semester.

But, before she did, she did something that had a profound effect on me.

Unlike many of the students I knew in college, I had pretty good study and work habits. Since I was always self-driven, rather than directed by others, going to college didn't change that. I wanted to excel and I did the work required to do so. However, like most of the students in college, my sleeping habits turned to crap and, as a natural nightowl, I became chronically short on sleep (and skipped classes for the first time).

I had always had "perfect" grades throughout my school career and, somehow, I developed a ridiculous level of perfectionism that made me very hard on myself when I made even small mistakes. It could easily have become quite unhealthily neurotic.

I was good in a crisis (thanks to years of being in charge of younger siblings), but I was not good at dealing with my own mistakes and was frequently racked with fury and guilt when I erred. And that tendency might have continued, even worsened.

If not for Cindy.

One day, with great cleverness, I not only slept through a class, I slept through a test (first time EVER - sadly not the last). And I completely freaked out. Cindy's not there when I first lose my ever frickin' mind, freaking out and imagining all kinds of horrible impossible-to-recover-from repercussions (and facile imagination can have it's down side). But she came in not long after my rationality had effectively left the building.

Wordlessly, she reached into her nightstand and took out a huge bottle of aspirin, one of those Sams-sized ones that had, like, 500 tablets. She handed them to me. When I paused in my hysterics to look at her quizzically, she said, "Take 'em. Take 'em all."

Now that might sound irresponsible, but I got her point immediately, even laughed and snapped out of it. She was telling me this wasn't something to kill myself over ("Put your bosom away!" - 10 points for whoever gets the reference) and I needed to get a grip.

So I did and I got some perspective, regrouped and talked the teacher into letting me take a retest (physics teachers are pretty laid back). But that recalibration made it so I managed the time I missed my FINAL EXAM the next year without completely losing my mind or doing something stupid (or at least more stupid than mistaking the time of the exam). [I ended up with my first C, but I was so relieved I'd passed, I greeted it with joy.]

Perhaps as a result, I've generally been able to function even when I've made a pretty serious mistake and, after the first shock wears off, concentrate on fixing and working around the new situation. I think it also allows me to look back on my many mistakes, miscalculations and poor decisions and, rather than wallow in remorse, regard them objectively and try to learn, even use that in novels.

So, Cindy (or whatever your name really was), you really made a difference in my life, even though we didn't know each other long. Thank you for your quick and effective lesson in perspective. It has certainly served me well.

March 15 - Joan

I said earlier that I never really had good luck with roommates until Nancy Hodson, and that's true, but, except for the first one, I generally got along well with them. Other circumstances meant that it just didn't work out.

Joan was an overachieving student in high school: National Merit Scholar, Physics major (mine was Engineering Physics), had the same top general academic scholarship I did.

Like me, she'd gone away from home to college. I can't remember if she had her crap together her freshman year and won the Lottinville Prize (like I did) for the top Freshmen, but I'm thinking she didn't. But she hadn't tanked her grades in such a way her academic scholarship was gone.

That changed that semester. Joan was friendly and good company, but outside my own experience base. She was part of the Rocky Horror Picture Show (which I still don't get) crowd (who are frequently nice people but often a little odd). RHPS ran at midnight every night and Joan frequently crawled into the room in the wee hours, shed her clothes and then crawled into bed. Or so I surmise because her wake-up routine was to have a friend call her and she slide off the top bunk and ran across to get the phone naked.

As the year progressed, either her friend or herself couldn't manage the wake-up routine and it ceased, but she ended up skipping a lot of classes. A lot. Drinking parties didn't occur in the room when I was there, but they did happen elsewhere in the middle of the week, which generally isn't conducive to good grades. Once I came home one weekend and found a huge, nearly empty bottle labeled as burgundy but with a bright pink liquid inside (dregs). I asked and she said they were running out so they mixed it with koolaid.

She was quite interesting, actually. And, as I mentioned, quite nice and a good conversationalist.

I have two items for Joan, both completely different. The first was while we were still roommates. I went home for my birthday (November) and had managed to juggle my boyfriend and my family in a way that made me feel I'd done good. A week later, I received a letter from my mother on how I had made them all miserable because of my boyfriend, that I was an ungrateful hateful girl, etc. aud nauseum. I was crushed.

Joan read the letter and then told me my parents were idiots. "You are a parent's wet dream," she said. "You don't drink. You don't smoke. You don't fool around. You get good grades. My mom would bust a gut and give up a kidney to get me to act like you do in college."

I desperately needed that. Although away at college, I was still routinely manipulated by guilt (as I'd been conditioned to be all my life) and I still did not appreciate my own worth. This didn't do it (that has taken many many years and I may not be there yet), but it STARTED ME ON THE PATH to do so, to realize I really wasn't the disappointment I was told I was. Or, if I was to them, there was something desperately wrong with their yardstick.

Joan, unfortunately, flunked out that semester (GPA 1.2) and lost her scholarship(s) so we only had that one semester. Once again, I don't think I had another roommate the second semester. I was starting to feel there was something wrong with me, but I was in luck: Next year, I had Nancy.

The second thing, totally unrelated to the first, or maybe not, Joan managed to make it back to the university my senior year (when I was already married). She stumbled across me at the Physics office where I was working part time (over the summer) and told me it was MY fault she flunked out. I was too good. She couldn't compete.

Now, as I had mentioned, I'd done more than my share of years as designated whipping girl (not physically, but emotionally). I'm primed to take responsibility for things outside of my control. But, for some reason, I balked here and said, "Bullshit. That was your own damn fault." It's a small thing, but it was important. Like the appreciating myself, backing off from taking responsibility for the actions and failures of others took years to stop completely. But this was a start, a spark, a beginning that I desperately needed.

I never saw Joan after that. She may have forgotten me, may even dislike me which is a pity because I enjoyed her company. And I'm grateful for the bit of push she gave me on addressing two of my biggest mental issues.

So, thanks.

March 16 - Nancy Ternes Hodson

Nancy, like many on the list, has a whole phalanx of wonderful memories attached to her and has been a wonderful friend and influence as long as I've known her, which is more years than either of us probably care to mention.

I met her the same year I roomed with Joan (briefly) and she was an incredibly powerful persona in a petite frame with a pixie face and a husky voice. And she became one of my best friends ever. She had a very rigid set of beliefs but an incredibly flexible and non-judgmental way of dealing with others that is both unusual and appealing to someone like me.

There are a thousand big ways she had a happy influence on my life, including putting her life and her tiny car on the line to teach me to drive (at the ridiculous age of 19), her easy acceptance of me and all my quirks, the fact that we were together almost until the day I got married (and was a bridesmaid there too) and made me feel better that it wasn't just some weird curse on me that kept me from keeping roommates.

She was a joy to hang with and I'm grateful she stumbled into my life. But, this whole exercise is about one thing, so here's hers: She sent one of my poems (without telling me) to a Catholic periodical where it was published (I can't remember if they accidentally put it under her name or mine, but it was published and that was cool. Nancy herself never tried to take credit).

I wasn't angry. I appreciated that it was done because SHE BELIEVED IN MY WORK and that, my friends, is very powerful for anyone involved in creative endeavors. I needed those little shots in the arm and, even today, nothing motivates me quite like an enthusiastic reader. I might add that, for several years, if not still today, she used some of my unpublished work in the English classes she taught and that's pretty damned affirming too.

I never did write out in calligraphy that book of poems I meant to writer her (Bad, Stephanie!), but I always think of her fondly. And, in her honor, I'm including the poem she sent to be published because, hey, I can.

(For those of you Heinlein fans who have read "Stranger in a Strange Land," by the way, this poem was spawned by a short story described by Jubal with the same setup and same first line, which sets the meter for the whole thing.)

The Other Manger

Snow had been falling since the middle of November,
But now it was a blizzard for the end of cold December.
People scurried through the snow with bags of Christmas cheer
While others sat in humid bars with mugs of Christmas beer.
Every person had a someplace they could go this Christmas Eve;
Warm and cozy, every person felt the holiday reprieve.

The chapel doors were firmly locked by Father Kevin's hands,
Who hurried home to sing about three kings from foreign lands,
Yet, through the drafty chapel wall, between two fallen stones,
A tiny kitten peeked its head, then stretched its weary bones.
It dragged across the chilly floor, its movements pained and slow,
But thankful for the respite from the frozen wind and snow.

It's mottled coat was matted, frozen stiff or dripping wet,
And the kitten's ribs were showing, poor neglected little pet!
Its hunger was the driving force for many a day and night
But cold had forced the kitten in, enticed by candlelight.
Lost and homeless, cold and starving, limping on three feet,
The kitten wandered in and curled upon a wooden seat.

In the middle of the night, the cat woke with a start
And felt a certain burning in its frozen friendless heart.
"Come, my friend." It heard a voice and slowly looked around
And saw a blaze of lights inside this haven it had found.
"Come, my friend," the warm voice coaxed. "You do not rest alone;
You have wandered in and I bid welcome to my home."

A radiant Man stood by its bench and reached a gentle hand.
"Come and feel my healing, poor mistreated little friend."
Then He picked the kitten up and held it to His breast.
"Friend, if you feel weary, then, with Me, feel free to rest.
I'll be there to protect you from the storm and other harm.
Now, just cuddle closer; let Me show you love is warm."

So, the kitten snuggled in its shelter from the cold
And a warming flooded through it as its hunger grew less bold.
Soothing, and more soothing, it was whispered back to sleep,
But its sleep, at last, was comfort as it slumbered, long and deep.
Its hunger softly vanished and its foot felt no more pain.
It purred within its slumber as He stroked the fur again. . .

In the morning, Father Kevin opened up the chapel doors,
And the neighbor's son, Roberto, ran across the icy floors.
Today, he wished to be the first to see the blessed King,
And he looked into the manger, brown eyes huge and wondering.
A kitten, maybe sleeping, snuggled in the Savior's light
For the tiny soul had come to him in the cold and frigid night.

Thanks for everything, Nancy Hodson. You have certainly changed my life.


"You changed my life" Part 3

>> Sunday, March 16, 2014

Rather than re-explain, if you want to know what this is about, see my first post of this set.

Five more entries:

March 7 - Joseph Edward Beck (my brother)

When I was about 8-9, my family was going through a rather extreme crisis. My father had been laid off from his job in Washington state in the middle of building his dream house on property up there. There were four small children and my mother and my father, who was also in ill health as a result of mold from his former job that had taken up residence in his lungs.

We moved across country to Maryland to stay with my grandparents and live in their large and spacious daylight basement. My parents had a hard time unloading the house in Washington from a distance and my father couldn't find a job. After a year, he wanted to try again in Washington (this is all kind of hazy for me, the rationale, because I was nine-ish and don't remember the details if, in fact, anyone ever told me) and packed up Mom, my two youngest siblings and headed back to Washington state, leaving my next youngest sister Cheryl Beck Carvajal) and myself behind.

My recollection of this is that I was very calm and dispassionate about this. I might have been a kid, but I had years of experience in handling minor crises with a clear head and also had plenty of experience in sucking up my own miseries. With my mother's emotional fragility, it was my job to be the comforter, rather than the comfortee.

I didn't like seeing them go. I've always loved my siblings deeply and I was very close with my father. Still, I remember waving them off dry-eyed. After all, in theory, they'd be sending for my sister and me soon.

Now, before they'd gone, I'd given my baby brother, Joseph, something stupid I'd made in class, a paper mache head painted some unlikely color with those little plastic eyes that move when you shake them. It was ugly and repulsive but Joseph had liked it and I'd been glad to give him something to remember me by.

So, some few hours after they'd gone, I found the stupid head, left or forgotten or discarded (Joseph was only three or so years old so it's not a reflection on him whichever of these it was). And that's when it hit me. My family had left without me. My brother, so young, would have nothing to remind him of me.

I wept and wept. I don't recall ever crying so hard again until adulthood (if that makes any sense). I was inconsolable.

It was as if I knew that the relationship between us would never be the same, that even if I was called back shortly (I never actually was called back - they returned a year later), my place in that family would be forever changed. That I would never get that time back. It was a precognitive moment of clarity as I realized things had changed forever.

And that was true. Even after my family returned and I was, once again, "part of the family", I never felt part of the family again. I was always an outsider. My sister, Cheryl, who had been sent back after six months, had taken over being in charge of siblings quite naturally. When I came back into the picture, we were almost always at loggerheads, for many many reasons, not the least of which was that we were both trying to maintain positions we understood in the family and because we have completely different personalities and ways of going about things. (It's ironic that we get along so much better now in part because of those different personalities, but I'm saving the post about her for her birthday next week).

But, with my two younger siblings, I never could recapture the relationship I had once had. I was some foreign being they barely remembered, who came back into their lives like an older stepsister and started bossing them around and vying with them for attention. I don't blame them. But it does grieve me. I am not close to most of my younger siblings. These two, at least in part because of this, I think. The three youngest because they were born either shortly before I moved away to college or after. None of them really know me. And I don't really know them.

And that will always make me sad.

March 8 - Head of the Music Department, University of Oklahoma, 1986.

This is another nameless one, I'm ashamed to say.

I love to sing. I have always loved to sing. Believe it or not, this was not encouraged in my household. My parents encouraged me in pursuing amusical instrument (clarinet) which I had zero talent for thanks to my complete lack of motor skills (it should be noted that I'm an aberration in my family as most of my siblings are accomplished, frequently on more than one instrument, and my brother, Joseph, I believe, made wonderful use of that same clarinet later in on). I hated it. In middle school, I took choir, but my mother in particular was not pleased.

In hindsight, because I had never really understood my mother's antipathy to my singing, I think it might be because I was a soprano and she is basically a tenor. She would tell me, "If you can't sing like Karen Carpenter, I don't want to hear you." I tried, really tried, and that's likely why I sang alto in middle school and even in college - I'd pushed my range considerably to try to accommodate her tastes, which is why, with effectively no training, I had more than a three octave range. But I digress.
In high school, choir was out because I was under the impression that I had to take 4 years of science, English, a foreign language, math, history, and, of course, required courses like PE and such. It wasn't until my senior year when my sister, Cheryl Beck Carvajal, was able to take art and drama that I said, "Hey, wait a minute, doesn't she have to take 4 years of all that college preparation stuff?"
"Oh no," my father said. "That was never required." But of course, too late for me.

Anyway, by the time I was in college, I had become very self-conscious about my singing voice. I still loved to sing, but I did it only alone where no one could hear me. I didn't know how to sight read (still don't) and was concerned that my singing was truly terrible. But, as a natural skeptic, I wasn't *sure* it was so bad because it didn't sound that bad to me.

In the second semester of my freshman year, I tested out of a five hour chemistry class (because I didn't want to have to do the 7:30am labs). Normally, my no-hours-taken-during the summer and demanding major allowed no "free" time for classes that I wanted to take, but, suddenly, I had time to spare.

I wanted to take choir. The kicker was I had to try out with the head of the music department. Depending on my abilities, he'd tell me what choirs I was eligible to join, if any. I'm was scared to death.

I told him when we started I couldn't sight read though I could tell trends (music going up or down) and could sing by ear. He nodded and smiled, was very kind.

And I sang. When I was done, he told me two things I've never forgotten. The first was, "Don't let anyone tell you you can't sing." The second was, "Pick any choir you want."

It may seem like a small thing, but it really changed things for me. I'd been so self-conscious about singing for so long, I felt vindicated and not crazy that the singing I thought wasn't that bad, really wasn't bad at all. That I could sing. I learned to have a little more faith in my own judgement.
I did sing in the choir that semester, and in the same choir the next semester (for no hours) and then didn't sing in public again until Stephanie Loyd was four, though that is a story for another day. But, I did sing to Stephanie whenever I could, even though my first husband felt about my singing much like my mother had. But I didn't let that stop me and, of course, you can see she grew up loving singing, too, but with talent (much greater than mine) that I did all I could to encourage.

I could have missed out on so much if it wasn't for that teacher, whose name I can't recall. But, even if I've forgotten his name, I'll never forget what he told me. Thank you.

March 9 - Ivan the Terrible
Ivan the Terrible, of course, was not his real name, though Ivan was. I've just forgotten is last name. Nor, in fact, was he terrible. He was a very large, very smart coworker I once had with a big laugh and a big heart. I was going through one of those rough times. My daughter was small, my husband (of the time) was miserable to be around and overtly antagonistic. And I was about as down on myself as I have ever been, before or since.

My first husband, as I understand the situation (and I do not have insight into his mind, then or now) was gravely disappointed in me. The promising young, beautiful and naive genius he thought he married had no interest in engineering ambition (still wasting her time on writing fiction no one was ever going to read) and was far more principled than practical. When I got into trouble at work for what my own supervisor described as doing the right thing so well it couldn't be countered so I had to be silenced, he was livid with me. How would I get ahead that way?

Plus, far more unforgivingly, I had grown heavy and was no longer someone he could show his friends with pride. And he made sure I heard what a failure I was, how ugly and repulsive and boring and, well, the list was legion, at every opportunity.

He couldn't convince me I was technically stupid - he just wasn't smart enough to pull it off and I've never been swayed by the say it often, say it loud method of "proving your point". However, I had never been secure about my appearance and romantic appeal and those barbs fell on fertile ground (so much so that I started mixing metaphors).

My defense mechanism tends to be humor, and I'm often the butt of my own jokes, sometimes before anyone had a chance to say anything to forestall comments. Or something. Anyway, I irritated any number of people with my self-deprecating humor and not-so-humorous comments at my own expense.

Ivan took me aside and told me I was being an idiot, that I was a beautiful person inside and out and, if I didn't see it, no one else would either. He made me promise not to do so any more and, since he was changing jobs, he convinced everyone else in the office to call him if I relapsed.
That's really enough to get points. But the change in what I said about myself had profound effects on my attitude about myself and really made me think about how I saw myself and what I felt I deserved. In many ways, Ivan's words gave me the impetus to walk away from my miserable marriage and to, ever since. refuse to beat myself up the same way. Not saying I never do - just that I make efforts not to fall into the same mindset again.

And I'm much better off for it. He triggered a change that I have never undone and most of my self-affirming actions and changes since then are a direct result of that first little push.

Thank you, Ivan. You're not terrible at all.

March 10 - Haynes-san

I've had many great teachers over the years. I don't know if I was just lucky to get such winners time after time or if I was just capable of appreciating teachers that might have walked a different path. At least a dozen were fantastic and certainly made my education better.

But there's always one...

In my case, I didn't need a teacher to introduce me into the world of any particular learning. I was a self-starter and the best teachers tended to just step aside so they didn't get run over. Haynes-san, Col Robert E Haynes (ret), was my freshman English teacher and didn't hover or fret over my learning.
But I was a near-friendless nerdy, geeky girl who knew no virtually no classmates due to the combination of moving near the end of the previous school year into the district AND then skipping a grade so that I knew few people and the people I did know (from eighth grade which I'd skipped) resented me heartily. And, then, there was my personality. Haynes-san was my friend.

I could talk with Haynes-san, about life or my weird views or off-nominal thought processes and he was neither shocked nor taken aback nor concerned. I could talk about my writing and he got it, totally got it. He was my friend all the time I was in that high school, by the way, even though I'd only had him in first year English and moved in October of my senior year. From Las Vegas NV to, I kid you not, Ada OK.

But, fabulous as knowing him was, that's not why he was on this list. He's on this list because, in November, after I'd moved away from the school where I felt as close to home as I ever did (largely due to Haynes-san and a few other teachers), Haynes-san had sent me a birthday card.

He'd remembered my birthday (and I don't remember if we'd ever talked birthdays in the three years we actually saw each other at school) and managed to get the card to the right place in time for my birthday though my family was still moving around Ada a good deal.

I wasn't forgotten.

It seems like a small thing, but, jerked from the closest place to home I'd ever lived, surrounded by quite friendly people, but people who had known each other from infancy, with a family that I'd never felt back at home with since they had left and returned, I felt lost, helpless, and desperately alone.
But someone remembered me. And I mattered enough to him for him to send me a card. (He'd been a teacher for my sister as well and also made a point of remembering her birthday the following March - but that didn't make his remembering mine any less special.)

Every year, for more than a decade, after he retired, after I had gone to college and gotten married. he sent me a birthday card every year. I'd call him once every year or so, write him an occasional letter (I'm a horrible correspondent - I don't write letter like I should, never had), but, though his eyesight failed him and his body, he kept sending birthday cards for many years.

When they stopped, I was stunned. It wasn't until a couple of years later (my sister had been smart enough to write his wife) that I found out he had passed away. I hope he knew how much I loved him, how much his regard and consideration had meant to me.

He'd always sign his cards and letters with the same thing, the phonetic spelling of Japanese from when he'd been stationed there in WWII. The bits of Japanese were a private joke between us (as far as I know).

Anata to watashi wa e tomadashi desu. I probably butchered it, but it's supposed to be a way of saying: You and I are good friends.

Thank you, Haynes-san. I will always treasure your memory and the way you made me feel special and memorable.

March 11 - Cheryl Beck Carvajal

I had to pick this day (if I hadn't fallen behind) for my sister Cheryl because, not only is it my youngest daughter's birthday, it's also my sister, Cheryl's.
I know it seems weird to bring up another relative that one has so many things to talk about with and such an interactive relationship with for one of these single-event-that-made-an-impact thing, but my sister, Cheryl, deserves one. Really, two, because there are two events that are important so I'm going to describe them both.

Now, I need to preface my story with a few things. First off, my sister and I have polar opposite personalities. I'm quick but scatterbrained. She's just as smart but learns methodically and retains better. I'm into logic. She's quite rationale but more into literature and art and artistic thinking. She's quiet and reserved (she used to be painfully shy), I'm brash and rather in-your-face as I think we've established. When I'm angry, I get loud. When she gets angry, she is very very quiet. Etc etc. We also look very different as she's very very fair and built on voluptuous lines where I was tall and, once, slender. It's like you gathered up traits and characteristics of my two parents, mixed them up and put them into two separate piles: myself and Cheryl.

When I was separated from my family, Cheryl had to move into the thankless task of being "eldest" which meant emotional support for my mother and full time watching of children. When our family all became "one" again, we were frequently at odds, both resentful of each others positions (which were no longer clear cut) and resentful of the perceived favor/freedoms the other seemed to have. Our differing personalities and ways of addressing our differences magnified the rift between us.
Unnecessarily, it turns out as we were both suffering from misunderstandings and misinformation. There's a whole huge backstory in all this, but, it not just mine to tell so I'll just say that Cheryl and I were apparently knowingly set at odds. She was told I was flawless and terrific and smart and stuff. I was told she was helpful and supportive and amenable and understanding, not difficult like I was. If my parents were singing my praises, it wasn't aimed at me; the same was true of her. I totally had no idea. Neither did she. We each thought the other was responsible.

I'd left home with the door slammed forcefully at my back for first going away to school, not choosing the major my mother had in mind but, most importantly, not marrying to their satisfaction (The marriage was a disaster, but it was my decision to make). Cheryl, hearing far more about my perfidy and failings than I, chose not to attend the wedding and joined in the general Stephanie boycott. I don't blame her (or any of my other siblings who did the same - they knew mostly what they'd been told).

And a couple of years went by. Rather than learn to let go, Cheryl lived under rather rigid control and, when she found the man she's been with (and now happily married to for decades), she was under tremendous pressure to cease and desist. Stuck at home, jobs discouraged, no financial or otherwise independence even while a college student (none of my siblings went away to school as I had - big surprise), Cheryl was smart enough to recognize what my parents had said about me was now being applied to her.

And that's when she did something that changed my life: she wrote me a letter asking me what to do, LISTENED (figuratively since I responded in a letter) to what I told her then exceeded all my expectations on making herself into an independent, thoughtful, rationale, capable person, despite a very sheltered and controlled upbringing.

And I had my sister back, the one I remembered from my childhood, my boon companion that I had adored since birth, despite, or perhaps because, of our diverse personalities that, when no one was trying to turn our relationship into a cockfight, complemented rather than grated.
And we've been close, in all but physical distance, ever since.

The other things she did that changed my life was send me a letter after my first devastating divorce with such genuine love, understanding, compassion and support that I treasure it and still bring it out once in a while to remind myself that someone truly loves me.

So, Cheryl, happy birthday after the fact. I will always treasure the fact that you trusted me when you needed help and supported me when I needed help most.

You're fabulous and I'm proud to know you and call you my sister.



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