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Remembering ‘The Voice of Mission Control’ on the Apollo 11 Anniversary

It’s a pretty exciting time to be in Washington D.C. The whole town is amped up over the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. The Saturn V rocket is being projected onto the Washington Monument, Neil Armstrong’s space suit is back on display at the National Air and Space Museum and the National Symphony Orchestra is putting on a special tribute concert at the Kennedy Center. (See even more ways to celebrate here).

I mean, how cool is that? Image via @johnkrausephoto on Twitter

But all I can think about is my first boss, Paul Haney.

Paul Haney was the “voice of mission control,” providing live commentary on some of NASA’s earliest space flights. He worked at NASA in its early days, becoming director of public affairs at the Johnson Space Center in Houston in 1963.

Paul Haney at mission control via Popular Science

As a former newspaper reporter, he often butted heads with NASA bureaucrats in Washington on the need to have full agency transparency and provide the media and public with full access to information on NASA’s programs and astronaut training.

Without Paul’s input, it’s likely the American public would never have seen the moon landing televised in their own homes, the Houston Chronicle posited (although, they quoted Paul’s boss, Julian Scheer, where most other news articles I read, including his New York Times obituary in 2009 credit Paul for NASA’s transparency).

That insistence on full openness is also what got him fired 10 weeks before the Apollo 11 moon landing. Otherwise, we all would have heard Paul’s voice counting down the Saturn launch. Instead, it was Jack King. It must have been an especially bitter pill for Paul since the moon walk occurred on his birthday, July 20.

Paul on the right hanging out with Barbara Edin and Bob Hope. (image from NASA/CollectSpace.com

After further stints in reporting and corporate public affairs, Paul and his wife Jan “retired” to Horizon City, right outside El Paso and took over a small community newspaper called the Homestead News. In the 1980s, Paul wrote, edited and published the Homestead News. The staff was basically Paul, Jan, her son and his wife. Plus me.

I can’t remember when I first stepped into the Homesteader offices. It must have been the summer after my sophomore year, maybe? My mom drove me over and waited while I went inside and asked if they were hiring. Paul and Jan looked at each other incredulously and said no, they were already fully staffed. I went to the car dejected and my mom said, “So, you’re just going to take no for an answer?” With the prospect of a long, hot, boring summer at home stretched out in front of me, I went back into the office and offered to work for free. “I just want the experience,” I said.

That’s how I became the Homestead News “intern.”

I can’t remember how long I worked there. It was pretty sporadic, mostly in the summer, but a little bit during the school year, too. The Haney’s did eventually start paying me, mostly out of guilt, I suspect. It was something like $50 a month, I think. But it was an experience you could not put a price tag on. I learned all about the newspaper business, everything from ad sales, clerical work, writing, pasting and layout, and even accompanying Paul when he physically took the mounting boards to the printer (these were pre-e-mail days, kids).

Every day at around 5:30, Paul would make himself a screwdriver, grab a small cup of dry roasted peanuts and retire to the hot tub on the patio (they moved the office to their home shortly after I started.) While letting the day’s stresses float away, he would regale me and poor Jan (who had already heard it all) with stories of his reporter days in Ohio, Washington D.C. and later in Galveston and South Carolina, as well as his time at NASA. I remember I used to stare in awe at this plaque he had on the wall that was given to him by his former NASA colleagues. It said “happy birthday” and had the date of the moon landing, and a small moon rock mounted on it. Pretty incredible. I wish I had a picture of it.

Paul with turtle cue card. Picture and story behind it can be found at ApolloArtifacts.com

Being a know-it-all teenager, Paul and I used to get into some heated debates sometimes (refereed by Jan, of course) because—and here’s that age-old generational thing at play—while his generation had fought wars (he was in the Korean War) and put a man on the moon, subsequent generations hadn’t done very much worth admiring (in his words). This was when I was like, 17, so, of course I had no real comeback! Jan always stepped in and told him to stop being an old grump.  

Anyway, I distinctly remember when the Berlin Wall fell and communism was declared over. Paul grudgingly admitted that my generation might be on the right track after all. Which was pretty high praise coming from him.

I didn’t keep touch with the Haneys after high school and when I moved away. I heard that Jan’s son and daughter-in-law took over the Homesteader and the Haneys retired to a cherry orchard in New Mexico, before cancer (first melanoma, then brain) took Paul in 2009.

I, of course, wish I had stayed in touch. I think Paul would have gotten a real kick out of knowing I did pursue a career in journalism and so many of the journalistic ethics he taught me – treat your sources with respect and don’t betray their trust; check the facts not once, not twice, but three times; always be curious and follow up; be open and transparent; get both sides of an argument and be fair; don’t insert or share your own opinions in an interview and definitely not in a story – stayed with me forever.

So while I’ll be enjoying all the hoopla around the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I’ll be thinking of Paul and trusting that he’s got a good view of it all somewhere.

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Lessons on Professionalism from Bravo’s ‘Below Deck’

I have a client in the meetings and events industry and I was submitting a couple of story pitches to them this week, based on a new survey of event planners.

One of the key takeaways from the survey is that 59% of planners say a lack of professionalism among the venue management and staff is the primary factor that deters them from giving the venue repeat business.

As a former, failing member of the hospitality and service industry and as a current, small business owner, I thought that statistic on professionalism was very, very interesting. So I did submit a pitch on that topic/statistical point, but after reviewing the client’s website, I went with a pretty safe pitch.

But what I really wanted to pitch was something a bit more trendy, a bit more current, a bit more reality-television focused. I wanted to discuss my current favorite TV show, “Below Deck Mediterranean,” which the Washington Post’s Hank Stuever recently declared to be “TV’s ideal mental vacation.”

And while I respect and admire Hank, and read everything my former Austin American-Statesman cohort writes, I disagree about the mental vacation aspect. I actually spend a lot of mental time wondering just how the heck some of these yachties get away with hiding their total lack of professionalism from the charter guests and sometimes even the captain? From sleeping with the guests (and each other) to dropping a guest on the ground and breaking a glass that a child then cuts his foot on (both in one episode, aptly titled “Flesh Wounds Are Not Five Star,”) it’s all pretty ballsy.

So here are my lessons on professionalism from the crew of “Below Deck.” Because, really, doesn’t everything in life tie back to reality TV?

Don’t lie about your abilities and think no one will notice. Yes, I am specifically thinking about Chef Nachos de Mila this go round, honestly, she’s not the first “professional” to outright lie about her abilities to gain employment on a “Below Deck” superyacht and I don’t think she’ll be the last.

She looks in over her head. And, she was.

Remember third stew Kasey Cohen in last season’s “Below Deck Med?” She lied on her resume about having barista skills and being trained in silver service. It was soon obvious that neither of those things were true. And remember deck hand Andrew Sturby way back in season 2 of Below Deck? He lied about his experience level as well.

Real service professionals know that this is not an industry where you can just “fake-it-till-you-make-it.” That goes for event and venue professionals as well.

Sometimes, you just have to suck it up and throw a beach picnic or pull out all the water toys. Listen, I promise, as a former member of the service industry, I would never, ever ask the crew to haul half the galley to the beach (or worse, to the top of some mountain castle ruins) just so I could eat a meal in a different location. Eating a salad and sandwiches in a Jacuzzi on a SUPERYACHT is plenty exotic and entitled for little ole me. And don’t get me started on those water toys? What a hassle! I’m Team Chrissy Tiegen here: Just say no to the slide.

So believe me when I say: I totally get it. But listen, people pay big bucks (around $35,000 to $75,000 plus a 10 to 15 percent cash tip) to come on this amazing boat and make stupid, annoying demands. And apparently, rich people get really bored, really easily and have to be entertained constantly, preferably by watching others break their backs jumping through hoops for a tip.

Josiah Carter, the ultimate yacht professional.

Providing good service means an event professional has to make it look like they’re positively thrilled to do a back breaking amount of work for finicky, short-attention span clients.

It’s always a good idea to treat the client with respect, even if they look and act like Snooki and crew. In season 2’s episode 9, head stew Kate, who I love and adore, showed her not-so-nice, terribly elitist side, looking down her nose a group of (admittedly, questionable taste levels) charter guests from New Jersey, noting that she went into yacht waitressing to serve the Leonardo DiCaprio’s of the world, not the cast of Jersey Shore. Not very professional, Kate.

While she and the rest of the crew provided good, if albeit, chilly service on that charter, Captain Lee picked up on the attitude, calling out the entire crew for prejudging the guests and reminding them that they (the crew) work for them (the guests) before handing out the fattest tip envelopes of the season. As “Below Deck Med” alumni Julia D’Albert Pusey wisely said, “Five-star treatment is holding someone’s hair extensions and wrapping them up in a napkin, with a smile.”

Sometimes, being professional means looking the other way.

Always follow the preference sheet. And I don’t even mean for their likes, but mostly, for their dislikes. Chefs tend to get so much more heat not for ignoring something that the guest said they liked on their preference sheet, but for going along and making something they specifically said they hated. Like, onions. Honestly, “Below Deck Med” Chef Adam’s obsession with sneaking onions into everything that non-onion liking charter guest ate was self-sabotaging and borderline psychopathic. It was unexplainable.  

Particularly in the event and hospitality industry: clients spell these things out. It’s a good idea to hew close to those written guidances.

But, you also have to be flexible and accommodating. OK, I know I said always follow the preference sheet, but that “always” is really encased in invisible quote marks. A professional also has to be willing to shift gears, especially in the event or services industry.

In season 3 of “Below Deck,” Chef “Beef Cheeks” Leon butted heads repeatedly with head stew Kate over his lackadaisical service and lackluster menus. But even worse, he was very rigid and refused readjust his menu or cooking plans to accommodate guests. Listen Chef Leon, if a guest wants sliders and quesadillas after a long day of drinking and hot tubbing, you better get busy in that galley. Plans change. A professional can handle it.

Just look at how Kate improvised mojitos in season 2 of Below Deck, using mint extract and some mystery green herb (Parsley? Cilantro?) after discovering they did not have any mint on the boat. I’m not saying a professional shouldn’t come clean with a client, but I do admire her ingenuity. But yeah. She should have told the client they didn’t have the ingredient and offer to make them something else. A professional should definitely not lie (see lesson 1).

When Bees Don’t ‘Do It’ – Summer Gardening

My client’s big event wrapped up a couple of weeks ago, which means…..

Summertime GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Summer, summer, summertime.

I actually have two big, yearly client events that I provide content support for, one of which is usually at the end of May or June. And after it wraps up, things slow waaaayyyy down.

I mean, I have a few recurring assignments/projects, but nothing like the crush of deadlines I have during the first half of the year (or the last quarter of the year).

In the early days of my freelancing, I used to freak out about this summer slowdown. Now, I take it in stride and use it as an opportunity to meet up with friends and colleagues over lunch or drinks, attend networking events or conferences, update my portfolios and do all of the many, many other non-glamorous, administrative stuff that comes with running your own business.

This year’s other big thing: forcing plants to have sex.

I like big melons and I cannot lie.

We planted our contained bed garden in our backyard in mid-April. We planted green beans, carrots, jalapenos, cubanelles, a variety of herbs, and one squash plant and one mini watermelon plant.

So far, the carrots and green beans have been coming in like gangbusters, as have the herbs, but the squash and the watermelon need….a little help.

Apparently, gourds and the like only grow if they are pollinated, and well, we don’t have a whole lot of bees in our urban, concrete backyard landscape. Or any pollinating insects, really. (In fact, bee colonies in Virginia are dying at a faster rate than in the rest of the country.)

We’d actually run into this problem a few years back when we planted a zucchini. We got just one giant zucchini out of it the whole summer. During a late-summer trip to Austin, I was complaining about my lack of a green thumb to a nice older lady who clued me in to the problem: we needed to hand pollinate our gourds.

I was stumped: Is this true and if so, how do I even “do it?” Do I need to play some Barry White to get my vegetables in the mood for sexy time (Answer: Nope). Do I just stick my finger in every flower and swirl it around? (Answer: Nope). I had no idea on how this pollen transfer business was supposed to be accomplished.

So, when we went to plant our garden this year, I was a bit hesitant about trying squash again. And, to be completely honest, I didn’t even realize that the same pollinating problem could plague the mini watermelon. I didn’t really think of watermelon as a gourd. It’s a melon, right?

I may not know anything about gardening, but I do know where to go to learn everything about just about anything in this day and age: YouTube.

One short video tutorial from Scrappy Patch has made me an expert on hand pollinating. So now, during my summer slowdown from work, I’m adding plant sex facilitator to my skills set. Every morning, I rush out to our backyard to see if the squash or watermelon have any open blooms that I can cross pollinate.  

To be honest, it’s been pretty frustrating. Most mornings, there will be just one squash blossom open. Or, more often, there will be more than one blossom open but they’re all males, which, for these purposes, won’t work. I truly wish we could grow the first big rainbow-gay squash or melon, but alas, it appears we need a female bloom as well.

Damn. Mexico beat me to it.

The other tricky thing is that, at least in the case of the squash, the blossoms only bloom like, one or two days, so I’ve got to jump on that short window of opportunity. So far, I’ve only had one day where there was both a male bloom and a female bloom, so fingers crossed, we’ll be the proud parents of a squash in a couple of weeks.

And, we’ll keep trying. I see a couple of potential female blossoms just starting to bud. Plus, I’ve got the whole summer to obsess over plant sex.

Terrifying.

A Necessary Evil: Summer Sweaters

It’s mid-May and I am sitting in my home office, sipping hot tea, wearing fuzzy house slippers and a summer sweater over a button up shirt.

That’s right: a summer sweater.

This girl is freezing. You can tell by her body language.

Growing up in West Texas, I never understood the concept of a summer sweater. Sure, I’d see them all the time in catalogs like Spiegel, Chadwick’s and Alloy or in magazines like Glamour or Lucky. These loose knit, cotton sweaters paired with white linen pants or worn over bikinis.

I never understood why if it was warm enough for beach wear, it was still chilly enough to necessitate a sweater. (I felt similarly about sweaters with three-quarter length sleeves: what, your wrists are unbearably warm but the rest of your torso is cold? And do not get me started on open-toed booties.)

I did not grow up with seasonal confusion. In Texas, you have two seasons hot as hell and slightly less so. No need for too many sweaters and certainly not a year-round entire sweater wardrobe.

Then I moved north, or more accurately, the greater D.C. area.

Now, I get it. I understand the need for summer sweaters.


Get your summer on, my chilly cohort.

A summer sweater is what you wear when the calendar (and all the catalogs and magazines and your clearly lying eyes) tell you that the weather should be sunny and the temperatures should be in the high 60s or even 70s and yet, it’s cold and rainy and not even remotely spring/summer like.

Here in the real world, it’s currently 50 degrees out. Granted, it’s still early in the day but the high is only supposed to be 58 degrees.

Enter, the summer sweater. A hole-y, loose knit sweater that bridges the gap between your winter bulky sweaters and the sweet summer uniform of t-shirts and flip flops. A summer sweater says, “Hey, I like/respect/embrace the concept of a seasonal calendar, but I know better than to trust it and I’m not going to just go skipping outside without some sort of warming layer just in case.” (See also: vests)

Apparently, this girl’s shoulders are very warm.

Luckily, I have three loose knit summer sweaters to get me through D.C.’s godforsaken “early summer.” They’re stacked in a small corner of my closet next to my heavy winter sweaters and my slightly-less-heavy fall sweaters. Right next to my even-less-heavy, more pastel-toned spring cardigans. Sometimes I grab a winter sweater instead of a summer sweater and have to go through the whole exercise of refolding and reorganizing the stacks.

By the way, I just saw on Twitter that the outdoor pool season in my neighborhood begins on May 25. I’ll be there, with a bathing suit and my head-to-toe, loose knit summer sweater onesie.

Staring off into the distance, wondering where the back of her sweater (and summer) is.

Hotel Crashing: Mara Bushtops, Kenya

When we went to Bushtops Serengeti a couple of years back, we knew that if we ever got the chance to go to Tanzania again, we’d definitely stay there again and for a much longer amount of time. And, we did. For this trip, we stayed at Bushtops Serengeti for seven nights (Oct. 31-Nov. 8), which was a lot but also, totally amazing.

Since we were in the area(ish), we decided to check another country off our list and spent four nights at Mara Bushtops in Kenya.

We went on a “Behind the Scenes,” back of camp tour at Bushtops Mara and saw this hilarious sign hanging in the staff camp area. Hilarious because guess which tent we were staying in?

Now, even though both places are owned by the same camp operators and the two countries share a border, it’s not that easy to go from Tanzania to Kenya (or vice versa). The lovely folks at Bushtops helped us organize the transfer. Here’s the abbreviated version of that adventure: We took a very short flight from the Kogatende airstrip to Tarime near the Kenya border. Then we got in a van that drove us through Isebania, a small town straddling the border, where you get out on the Tanzania side and go through customs, drive across, then get out again on the Kenya side to go through customs. Then another very short flight from Migori airstrip to Siana Springs and Bushtops.

After a slight hiccup over whether in fact we actually needed a yellow fever card coming from Tanzania or the U.S. (both are non-yellow fever country) into Kenya (short answer: you don’t. Longer answer: But the customs officials will definitely try to shake you down for a nice little “fee” if you don’t have one), we were soon ensconced in our super-deluxe and way-too-roomy-for-two people tent, the Leopard Tent at Mara Bushtops.

The walk up to the deck of the Leopard Tent. Spa is just a short walk off to the left and the dining lodge is to the right.

The Leopard Tend has a large living room separating two large bedrooms with en suite bathrooms.

The living room and front entrance. To the left of the entrance is a bar area with a mini fridge and snacks.

It also has a huge wooden deck running along the back of it, with a dining table, built in sofa seating and a Jacuzzi tub.

Two master suites to choose from at the Leopard Tent.

The Leopard Tent is meant to accommodate a family, which it would do really well. As it was, we hardly ever went into the second bedroom or bathroom at all.

While we pretty much had Mara Bushtops to ourselves the first couple of days, a very large group of Chinese tourists were coming in on our last night and had rented out all of the other 11 tents (I guess there were no families to accommodate), so we were put in the Leopard Family Tent for our stay. Which was great, because the Leopard Tent is kinda off away from all the other tents (it’s located on the side of camp closest to the spa tents and is separated from the other tents by the main lodge/dining room/restaurant area – here’s a site plan if you really want to get into it). So even though the Chinese tourist group came in pretty hot and loud that last night, we hardly noticed.

In addition, our family tent had its own fire pit, so on our last night, we avoided the newly crowded dining room and asked to have dinner in our room. And we asked for our own campfire. Which came with its own Masai warrior/fire tender. Who I don’t seem to have a photo of. Grr.

Warrior-less campfire pit at the Leopard Tent.

As with our previous experience at Bushtops Serengeti, we use the term “tent” in the loosest sense of the word at Bushtops. These were some deluxe, luxurious digs. We had a butler (Frederick at Mara, Mustafa at Serengeti) who brought us rose wine, gin and tonics and homemade potato chips. They were also our morning alarms, bringing us coffee with Amarula (sort of like African Bailey’s) and shortbread cookies every morning at 5 am before our 5:30 game drives. They also made sure our laundry was done and returned every day and just generally took care of all our needs while we were in camp (and not out on a drive).

Best samosas in all of Africa.

We seriously, seriously loved Mara Bushtops. What set this camp apart, even from our beloved Bushtops Serengeti, is a couple of things. For one thing, Mara Bushtops is located on a conservancy of 15,000 acres bordering the Masai Mara National Park. Bushtops has a multi-year leasing agreement with the Masai Mara tribe and is the only lodge within the conservancy. So, along the edges of the conservancy, you can see a few Masai communities and the cows and goats they tend. Plus, since its on a private conservancy, you can do nighttime game drives, something that’s not allowed in the National Park (or in the Serengeti National Park, for that matter).

We saw these three teeny tiny baby bat eared foxes (and their mom) during our evening game drive at Mara Bushtops.

Second, the spa. The spa was amazing, both in terms of the quality of the services provided and in terms of all the setting and treatment rooms. We just got massages (twice) but they had other cool, state of the art treatment rooms including hydratherapy and sauna. Plus the pool area with all its fountains and different pool options including the main pool, which has fiber optic “nightsky” lighting on the bottom of it, was just breathtaking. As a spa junkie, I gotta say this one was right up there with any I’ve been to.

Entrance to the spa.

The other thing that set Mara Bushtops apart is the fact that they have a salt lick a couple of hundred feet away from the main dining deck, where all the animals come throughout the day to get some nutrients. Rather than chasing animals all over the Masai Mara, you can sit at a table and watch them all come to you. It’s a destination all on its own.

Finally, I mean, have we forgotten about Harry? Because I sure haven’t. A lodge with a friendly, resident giraffe? Sign me up again and again.

Harry the giraffe at Mara Bushtops
My best bud, Harry the giraffe at Mara Bushtops.

A List of Distractions: Things to Buy, Eat, Watch and Listen To

We have a friend who is a bit under the weather and is stuck in a hospital bed for the foreseeable future. Which just totally sucks. I mean, on the one hand: laying around just watching endless episodes of “Fixer Upper” is totally my jam. But on the other hand: there’s only like, five seasons of that show and then what?

(Plus, I can really only watch a few episodes of that show before I get all amped up and stressed out over how much further my housing dollars would go if I just moved back to Texas and I pull out the old laptop and start scouring the internet for real estate listings. WHEN WILL I HAVE MY OWN BARNDOMINIUM?)

More than anything, I’m sure my friend is totally bored and needs some distractions. So, in her honor, here’s a list of shit that is making me happy lately and might make her a smidge happier, too.

Because, if you can’t have a barndominium, you can at least have a jade roller.

That’s right. I said it. About a month or so ago, I jumped on the #basicbitch bandwagon and bought a jade roller and I am not ashamed to say I love that thing. I don’t think/know if it’s actually doing anything to improve my skin, but I do find it very cooling and soothing to roll all over my face and neck. I bought a mini one from Sephora ($20) and I use it in the morning with a serum (current favorite affordable option: Maelove Glow Maker) or the next love item on the list.

Whoa, girl! Two jade rollers? Slow your roll (PUN INTENDED)

Since its winter and I feel bone dry and cracked, I’ve been relying a lot on Trader Joe’s 100% Organic Argan Oil ($6). I was buying a more expensive version of this oil from Sephora but I saw this in TJs recently and decided to try it out. I use it on my face, obviously, but I also put it on my cuticles, which, for some reason really take a beating in the winter.

My other TJs obsession: Dark chocolate bar filled with Speculoos cookie spread. I don’t even necessarily have a sweet tooth, but these are amazing. It’s pretty much the only candy I like/eat and again, it’s not that often. Also, it seems smaller than the average candy bar (I think), so my hospital friend should just go ahead and eat them two at a time.

Speaking of hospital food, or actually, anti-hospital food: we made Chrissy Teigen’s mozzarella-stuffed chicken Milanese this week after watching her make it on Instagram Stories, and it was really, really good. Bonus: the recipe suggests serving with arugula salad, which has all the antioxidants needed to combat all the fried, cheese-stuffed chicken. It’s practically health food.

And it looked just like this.

After seeing all the memes on Twitter, I had to watch “Russian Doll” on Netflix. I’m so glad I did. It was fantastic. It’s a comedy about dying over and over and over again–sort of “Groundhog Day” meets “Sliding Doors” with a little “Adams Family” mixed in. The costumes and sets are amazing, the continuity completely on point, the writing is genius. Natasha Lyonne, who co-created and stars in it, is a total revelation to me. I had no idea she was so talented. Some people didn’t like the ending or were confused but I loved it from start to finish. Plus, all eight episodes clock in at just four hours, so totally doable, lunchtime watching.

Not to brag, but I read Circe by Madeline Miller in two days. I could not put it down. I read it all day Sunday until literally my eyes were tired, burning and watering. Not a good thing but I just had to finish it. It’s the modernized retelling of the story of the witch Circe from Greek mythology and the “Odyssey,” which wouldn’t necessarily appeal to me but this was the bomb. I’m at a loss on what to read next—always the sign of a good book.

I loved the book “Bad Blood” about the Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos scam so of course I was fully on board with ABC’s podcast, “The Dropout.” I think if you haven’t read “Bad Blood,” then you’ll like the podcast. It definitely just rehashes John Carreyrou’s excellent reporting. However, what really snagged me was the fact that they are using all the previously unreleased tapes of her SEC deposition testimony and well, I cannot get enough of that Holmes voice! I really wanted to hear her fess up to all her lies and how she defends herself.

Another podcast I recently plowed through was The Gladiator by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team. I’m not a football fan (at. all. I think it’s barbaric) but I am fascinated by the Aaron Hernandez case and what role football and CTE may have played in his actions. I walked away thinking CTE definitely played a part in some of his decision making, but he was crazy and violent long before his ascent to the NFL.

That should be enough to get my hospital-bound friend started. We love you and miss you and hope you get out of that place soon!

Weird Crimes: Pringles Wine and Face-Licking Edition

In a world full of horrible, violent crimes, I find myself seeking out and clinging to the weird crime stories. Luckily, this past month has given us two excellent examples to ponder. Even better, they both involve women perpetrators (#whorunstheworld #girlcrimebosses).

First, a woman in Wichita Falls, Texas was banned from the local Walmart. Her crime? Driving an electric shopping cart in the parking lot while drinking wine from a Pringles can between the hours of 6:30 to 9 in the morning.

There’s a lot to unpack there. First off, wait a hot second….you can drink wine out of Pringles can???? How did I not know this?

Writer Matt Pomanz at Food & Wine had the same thought, so he got scientific about it, and Pomanz conducted an experiment “testing the viability of Pringles’ packaging as a wine vessel.” He found that, if you can get past the chip smell, a Pringles can is actually a pretty inspired drinking vessel. It’s waterproof, the plastic top does a good job containing liquid inside and it can accommodate 750 milliliters of liquid, the equivalent of a whole bottle of wine.

That durability and adaptability might also be why Pringles cans seem to be the vessel of choice for smuggling things like Californian coral to Mexico or king cobras from Hong Kong or a live bird from Malaysia or the can inventors remains, or yes, even something as pedestrian and expected as drugs or money. It really is a surprisingly useful and ingenious container.

I actually agree with VICE’s take, which declared the incident as indicative of the national mood of 2019. I can actually relate to this. The idea of just riding around in circles in a parking lot drinking wine out of a Pringles can while watching the sun come up before heading off down the road for breakfast at a restaurant actually sounds sort of meditative—a form of self-care. Vice stated that the mystery wine drinker “is truly the hero that we, as a country, deserve right now.”

For true enlightenment, scratch out “cup” and replace with “Pringles container.”

And, unlike our next weird crime, nobody got hurt. (Besides, there are certainly much worse things that have happened in Walmart parking lots in Texas recently.)

The other story involved the resignation of a Florida city commissioner who was accused of sexually harassing a fellow city official by licking his face back in 2012.

You read that right: she licked his face.

Words fail. Unlike our previous weird crime story, I cannot relate. I cannot imagine the circumstances that would drive someone to lick a relative stranger’s face and neck. And I do not understand how one would derive sexual pleasure from performing such an act. But I will say, it is certainly invasive and would be incredibly off-putting for the victim.

The Washington Post had a very thorough, 1,144-word story on Madeira Beach City Commissioner Nancy Oakley’s assault on then-City Manager Shawn Crawford.

“…after the otherwise low-key meeting concluded, Oakley walked up to Crawford again. She allegedly licked his neck and the side of his face, slowly working her way up from his Adam’s apple, and groped him by grabbing at his crotch and buttocks.”

And apparently, it wasn’t the first time she had used her tongue as an assault weapon, according to at least three other men who testified before the Florida Commission on Ethics that Oakley had also licked their faces in public without their consent.

The Crawford face-licking incident occurred at a commission meeting that occurred at the King of the Beach fishing tournament, and at the time, I honestly thought that there might not be anything is more Florida redneck than a city commission meeting held on the beach with alcohol at a fishing tournament.

Then I read about one of the other incidents involving another male former Madeira Beach city employee, who

“told investigators that Oakley had licked him during the opening of a Bubba Gump’s restaurant. Maxemow said that Oakley had been intoxicated at the time, and licked his face and neck in the presence of her husband, who quickly escorted her from the building.”

Yup, an incident at a ribbon cutting for a Bubba Gump’s restaurant in front of her own husband. Not to get all Jeff Foxworthy, but Nancy, you might be a redneck.  

For the record, Oakley, who has resigned as city commissioner, admits she had been drinking the day of the King of the Beach fishing tournament (“some beer and possibly a cocktail,” according to Oakley. “A Tervis tumbler filled with alcohol,” according to another witness. To which I say, as one does.)

Nevertheless, the woman nicknamed “Nasty Nancy” maintains her innocence against all complaints and charges, and says she’s looking into avenues to clear her good name.

My favorite quote is towards the bottom of the Washington Post story, where one co-worker is being asked by the state ethics commission investigating the complaint if she ever told anyone else about the licking assault she had witnessed. “I mean, she licked a lot of people, sir. So everyone kind of talked about the fact that she licked people. That’s what she did when she got drunk.”

Somebody needs to get Nancy this $57 Face Licker lollipop. 

At least she wasn’t operating an electric shopping cart.

Reality TV Time: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo

Let me ask you a question: Do you know about Marie Kondo?

Of course you do! Everyone does! The whole world has gone Kondo Krazy. I don’t know about you, but my Instagram and Feedly feed is brimming with images and posts and videos of neatly folded clothing, scaled down closets and piles of “komono” to be sold, donated or thrown out.

KonMari, or the art of tidying and organizing, originated with Marie Kondo’s 2014 book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” I never read it, but I heard about it and understood the premise: Uncluttering by going through all of your possessions in the five main categories and deciding if the item “sparks joy.” If it does, it stays. If not, thank it and let it go. Like, forever.

KonMari is back in the consciousness and our Instagram feeds for two main reasons: 1) New Year’s Eve resolutions and 2) in a moment of pure marketing genius, Netflix released the first season of its show, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” And, here’s the genius part: they released it on New Year’s Day, right when everyone was itching to tackle those resolutions to unclutter but still wanted to procrastinate a little bit longer by binge watching a show about uncluttering.

I have a third theory about why we’re all obsessed with purging and organizing right now which is this: the world feels completely out of control, so we want to control something, anything. Our own home environment is a place where we can start and feel some sense of control and order in the midst of all the chaos.

Now, I wouldn’t say I’m a full-on minimalist, but I’m a notorious purger. In fact, I’ve actually thrown away perfectly good money (albeit, on accident). Just saying: I am pretty ruthless. (I also accidentally threw away a box of jewelry once during a move. Mostly sentimental stuff, but still. Gone. I didn’t even turn the car around to go through the dumpster to look for it. I know full well that the Kondo Krazies can have unintended consequences, as this Georgia family also knows.)  KonMari with Kare, y’all.

Anyway, the point is I really don’t get too attached to stuff. I donate and get rid of items on a constant basis. This was especially true after consciously uncoupling from my office job. I donated so. Many. Clothes. Bags and bags of office-appropriate suits, blazers, skirts, pants, sweaters, work tops, belts and shoes went to our local Goodwill. I didn’t even bother to try to sell or consign stuff. I just wanted it all out.

Konmari’ed House

I also secretly dream that in another life I was probably a professional organizer. I love to organize and bring order to some chaos. And literally, everyone is talking about this show. Even my manicurist when I got my nails done recently was gushing about it. So, of course, I watched.

Dear reader, I could only take about 20 minutes of the first episode before I started to feel all itchy and annoyed.

The best way I can describe it is: “Hoarders” meets “Super Nanny” with a dash of some therapy thrown in. Because, like in the vein of other redemptive-themed reality shows like “Hell’s Kitchen” or “Bar Rescue,” Marie Kondo isn’t just there to help people declutter and clean. No, no, no. She’s also there to help save the family relationships. Through the magic of tidying up, of course.

So just like in “Super Nanny” where Joe the Nanny would be brought in to ostensibly help discipline the kids, the real lesson is that the parents are the ones who need help in learning how to be a parent. (On a related note, here’s a very interesting article in how the show is exposing gender biases, ie: society expects women to be the home/memory keepers and women feel they are overwhelmed and failing. Very fascinating.)

Back to the show: The first episode featured the very telegenic Friend family, who, quite honestly, had a very nice home. Obviously, the very telegenic mom probably had too many clothes but not a totally unmanageable or unreasonable amount, in my opinion. And yes, the kitchen was definitely a bit of a disaster (I mean, who doesn’t throw away leftovers before the TV crew shows up?).

Oh girl. You about to get some.

No, what bothered me about the Friends wasn’t the “mess” but just were how needy they appeared. They kept trying to get Marie Kondo to validate that they weren’t that bad and begging her to confirm that sometimes, she’s disorganized, too, and they were just normal people who have to hire someone to come and fold their laundry for them. Honey, if you weren’t that bad, our little Kondo sprite friend wouldn’t be there.

Also, y’all do know that Ms. Kondo is shilling products, right? She’s got her own line of boxes that she’s selling for $89. For boxes. That she displays/product places all over the show. Listen my little organizers: if you are looking for boxes, I got ’em. I get fresh new boxes almost every damn day from Amazon (catkid items) or Sephora (Poe goods). They may not be as cute and pastel as those Kondo boxes, but I’d be willing to sell them to you for a deeply discounted price of $80 per set.

I set “Tidying Up” aside and went back to it a couple of weeks later. I finally got through the rest of the Friend’s episode (and their embarrassing comment about how tidying up has improved their sex life) and went to the next one, which were these empty nesters, the Akiyamas.

That was it for me. They had so, so much stuff. It was insane. Mrs. Akiyama had clothes stuffed in like, four different bedroom closets and Mr. Akiyama had a whole wall of boxes of baseball cards piled precariously on top of each other in the master bedroom. And the Christmas decorations. I just could not. Watching the teeny tiny Marie Kondo skip over the dangerous piles of crap while giggling gave me hives.

I managed to watch it all the way through and guess what? The Empty Nesters did get rid of a TON of stuff, but they still kept a TON of stuff! The closets were still full and boxes and boxes of stuff still lined the walls all over their house.

Oh, and while clearing out, they found a whole collection of these little Japanese dolls (probably like, 100 of them) and they decided those (THE WHOLE COLLECTION) “sparked joy” and they were going to keep them and display them. In their garage. No doubt, these antique dolls were beautiful, but the whole collection? In the garage? It was too much for me.

While our blessed saint of organization Marie Kondo is totally and completely judgement free in the face of incredible mounds of acquired (and even newly discovered) crap, I find that I am not. I can’t help but judge and I was judging. Harshly.

I had to give up on Netflix’s Tidying Up. I’m turning it off and going back to RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 4, which is messy, messy, messy in all the best ways.

Love/hate me some Valentina!

Twiga Everywhere: How We Met All of the Giraffes in Kenya and Tanzania

*Twiga is Swahili for giraffe.

The lovely and long-lashed Sir Harry was not the only giraffe we saw during our 18-day trip to Tanzania and Kenya. Not by a long shot.

We saw. So. Many. Giraffes.

All the giraffes in the Mara

Usually on safari, we see a couple of giraffes a day, if we’re lucky. They’re not as ubiquitous as say, impala or even zebras. But they’re not as scarce as let’s say a rhino (seen it – white and black) or a honey badger (seen it) or a pangolin (still have not seen it, alas).

So giraffes are certainly around and since they are my favorite (after the pangolin), I’m always excited to see them, even if they aren’t particularly elusive or rare.

The grin of a girl excited to see giraffes.

But this trip? This trip we saw all the giraffes. Like, all of them. We did a roll call and I’m pretty sure we saw every last one that could be found in the Serengeti or Masai Mara. And then some more in Nairobi, just for good measure.

We saw so many giraffes we actually learned what groups of giraffes are called: a tower is a group of giraffes standing still and a journey is a group that is on the move.

This guy is neither a tower or a journey. He’s just a giraffe.

For example, we saw a journey of about 50 giraffes on our way back to Bushtops Serengeti one evening. We had just pulled around the corner and there they were, slowly walking and grazing, completely surrounding us on both sides of the road while the sun set in the distance. We sat gobsmacked and tried to count how many there were, while they just chewed and strolled.

We also saw a tower of about 30-40 giraffes on our last game drive on the private reserve surrounding Mara Bushtops.

This group was taking a breather near a watering hole, so we got to see them bending down to take a drink from the water, which, if you’ve never seen a giraffe drink water, let me tell you: it is a nerve-wracking feat of engineering by nature. Because they are so tall and their necks are so long, giraffes have to gingerly splay their legs and carefully dip their heads down to get a drink of water. But they can’t stay in this position too long because all the blood would rush away from their hearts and to their heads. It’s an extremely delicate maneuver and the whole time they look like they’re going to tip over. Or, as this Inside Science article puts it, “defying gravity.”

Luckily, they get most of their water intake from vegetation and only need to drink water every couple of days.

During this watering hole giraffe extravaganza, we also saw some behavior that we mistook for affection but turns out to be aggressive – two giraffes rubbing their necks together. This is known as “necking” and what we saw was actually a pretty mild form of it. When it escalates, necking can include the giraffes swinging their head at each others’ necks, like fists.

Then, there was the morning we rolled up on a tiny, newly born baby giraffe that was basically born minutes before we found it in a field in the Masai Mara National Park. It was all wobbly and wet and still leaning against its mom, trying to figure out the whole nursing thing.

Before our Harry experience, this was by far my favorite moment of the whole trip. It was so beautiful and moving and fraught with worry about unseen dangers and whether the baby would survive.

Good luck, little fella.

Finally, many people know about the Instagram-famous, Giraffe Manor in Nairobi. Giraffe Manor is a gorgeous old house that has been turned into a stunning hotel where guests (rooms are steep — around $620 per person per night) can feed pellets to the dozen or so resident Rothschild giraffes, right on the grounds, through open windows in the breakfast room or out on the lawn during afternoon tea (at 5 pm). Non-guests can also come (and pay) for the high tea experience (I think it’s $50-$75 per person).

But what most people don’t know is that adjacent to Giraffe Manor is the Giraffe Center, an education and conservation site where you get to feed the exact same Rothschild giraffes for like $10 bucks. It’s open from 9 am to 5 pm and it does get pretty crowded. But the giraffes are super friendly and will do just about anything for those damn pellets, including give you a kiss.

Clearly not afraid of a little giraffe slobber.

It’s a wonderful place, even if it’s bit of a stretch to call it an education center, but the docents on the grounds handing out pellets are very nice and informative. They do, however, limit you to just a couple of handfuls of pellets, so be judicious with your pellets. I was pretty excited and gave all of mine too quickly, but one girl was nice enough to give me an extra handful as long as I promised it would be the last.

All in all, I thought we’d be there an hour, but turned out, 30 minutes was enough time to run out of pellets and get your full pet giraffe fantasies fulfilled. Plus, I had already met and hung out with Harry at Mara Bushtops and he didn’t even require any pellet payoffs. My giraffe expectations were pretty high by the time we got to the Giraffe Center.

Pack it up: Travel plans for 2019

A new year (and, let’s face it, the winter weather) always puts me in the trip planning mood. It’s the only thing that keeps me sane during these dark, cold months. Well, that plus Bravo and wine.

Via Giphy

In general, XFE and I take at least three big trips a year – one around my birthday in March, one in the summer somewhere beachy, and one around his birthday in the fall (October-November timeframe).

2018 was a bit of an outlier – we only planned one big trip last year. But it was a doozy in terms of time and money (18 days in Tanzania and Kenya). On top of that, we had some work/friends/family/obligation travel that took us to Las Vegas, New Orleans, Denver and Chicago.

It was a different type of travel year for us. And, I don’t know if it was better. On the one hand, we both enjoy having several exotic, big trips and experiences to look forward to throughout the year. But we also liked having a bit of breathing room to really appreciate that one big trip to Africa. And, workwise, it probably worked out a bit better that most of our travel was domestic since it was a very busy year for both of us, but XFE in particular.

So far, 2019 is looking a bit similar travel-wise, with work obligations cutting in a bit on our travel life. First up, a trip next week to San Francisco for a client’s conference. We’re going a couple of days early to meet up with XFE’s parents and enjoy a quick city break before the conference gets started. I’ve only been to San Francisco/wine country one other time (in May), so I have no idea what to expect weather-wise in January (I guess, rain?), but we have plans to go to the racetrack, tour Alcatraz and visit Muir Woods (Maybe. If the government shutdown doesn’t keep it closed, which is currently the case).

via Giphy

Originally, we had planned to go to Morocco for my birthday in March, but we just couldn’t make it work. I have some work deadlines that conflicted with when we could get flights using miles and it was just turning into a lot of stress. So we’ve ditched Morocco for now (it’s still high up on our travel bucket list) and we are instead going to the equally exotic Asheville, North Carolina, aka the Morocco of the mid-Atlantic.

Actually, I’ve always been obsessed with that Gilded Age palace of excess, the Biltmore, so we’re finally going and I am really excited (I love a stately home). We’re doing the whole Biltmore experience: private tour, falconry, probably some high tea, plus there’s some sort of Land Rover experience XFE has signed us up for. We’re finishing up the trip with a couple of days in a remote cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

via Giphy

In June, I’m going to Anaheim for a work trip. I’ve never been, so I’m excited to see that city during my free time and the evening events for this particular conference are insane, so I’m sure I’ll get a chance to go to some venues and attractions that I’d probably never make it to otherwise.

Our big trip this year is New Zealand for three weeks (!!) in Oct-Nov. New Zealand is another one of those destinations that we’ve been meaning to get to, especially after we went to and fell in love with Australia several years ago. Seven years later, we’re finally going and we cannot wait. We’re still in the planning stages, but this place is definitely on the short list of places we want to stay.

That’s it so far for travel 2019! But you never know what the year will bring and if a crazy, last-minute mistake fare shows up (like that time we went to Chile for Thanksgiving like a week after returning from our second trip to Africa), we have our passports ready and our packing strategy worked down to an art form.

via Giphy