Sunday, October 16, 2011

Expedition 5

People are genuinely surprised when I tell them the age of my girls.    My friends and acquaintances always squeal with delight and say the standard “time flies” comment.

Time flies.
I remember a time when that saying would make my Irish anger boil to the surface.
I wanted to take my friends by their necks, slam them to the walls and scream, “Flies?!  Where WERE you at 4:30am last night?  Where were you when Ana decided that the middle of the mall was the place that she would DEFY ME IN A FIT OF TEARS?!  WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!”

Time flies, indeed.
What do they say?  The days are long, but the years are short?

It was a summer morning when it hit me.  My heart actually hurt as I realized that my girls would be 5 years old.  I had many feelings that moment, but we’ll focus on one… this was my last opportunity to plan a big birthday party.
No, it is not about me… let me explain for a moment…

I tried for 4 ½ long, emotional years to have children.  When I finally had my girls, I was too scared to decorate their nursery for fear of jinxing the whole thing.  I didn’t plan big parties for lack of energy.  I didn’t dress them in expensive clothing for lack of money… and energy… and care…
I let a lot of those “fun to have kids” things go.
And here it was… the end.
I still have girls, but they now have their OWN wants.  They dress themselves.  They have their own opinions.

On that summer morning, I asked them for one last favor… can I plan their birthday party?
“Can we get a water slide?,” they asked.
“Yes…SLIDE!,” I squealed.

And then it started.
The planning of the party.
It was my only chance to celebrate those two beautiful girls that became mine 5 years ago.
It was the culmination of the undecorated nursery, lame home parties, and a lack of professional portraits.
It was the fun part of having kids that I always imagined during those teary, depressing infertile years.

We had an Astronaut training birthday party, complete with evacuation training (waterslide), NBL (pool), ASCAN training (baby pool), space themed music (Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Dr. Who, etc.), rocket dogs and NASA meatballs.
Here is the invitation:

Here are a few photos of the happy day.  A day of celebration for 5 wonderful, fast years.
I can’t wait to see what they pick for next year.


 Most of the images were provided by Warren Harold.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Landing Safely in a Barrel on Fire

I work at NASA. Odd opportunities and events seem to unfold around me unwittingly.
This is one of those stories.

I received an email requesting the use of my children in a welcome home ceremony for a returning Expedition Crew.  My girls would give the crew members flowers, there would be a ceremony with the astronauts and we would go about our day.  Now, I had the SHUTTLE crew ceremony in my head, where children in shorts and t-shirts run up and give the astronauts a flower in a flurry of excitement and run back to their parents.
This is not how it went down.

As it turns out, the ceremony was indoors in a large ballroom onsite at NASA.  We were ushered in and given a chair at the front of the ballroom.  My alarm bells were going off and anxiety was ramping up while Ana was QUITE LITERALLY running in circles around her father.  Hmm.  This... may not be what I thought.
It started sinking in that this was a rather formal ceremony when the organizer (who does not have children and was staring in horror at my bouncing child) explained that each child is assigned an astronaut to deliver a bouquet of flowers.
Let me say this again.
EACH CHILD IS ASSIGNED TO A CREW MEMBER AND WILL GIVE THEM A BOUQUET OF FLOWERS IN FRONT OF AN AUDIENCE (without bouncing around or running off with the flowers was implied).

This would never happen.
I'm hosed.
I'm also told that the crew members are receiving their spaceflight medals during the same 1 1/2 hour ceremony.
Now this will turn into a story.  A big, embarassing story in which the JSC Center Director, Flight Director and returning astronauts will point and laugh at the lack of control that I have over my 4 year old twins.

Before I can even grasp the horror, the Expedition 25 Commander (we'll call him "Doug" because that is his name) calls out, "MAURA! Upstairs!"  The other 4 children and their respective parents are already in a briefing room with the crew.  Of course.
I run upstairs with Ana and we cross the room to Brad and Keira, who are already waiting.

Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly is also a twin and immediately stops what he is doing to notice my two little girls.  Clearly twins.  Clearly too young to be part of this.
His jokes fall flat on Ana, who is now a statue in front of the looming Commander.
"Hey... are you two related?"
"I know how that is..."
Nothing from Ana.
"I'm Scott", he says as he holds out his hand.
"High Five?"
Blink, blink.
"... fist pump?", he tries.

We're saved from this awkward exchange by a rundown of the ceremony that will occur (gulp) shortly.
The entire crew (who I've thankfully worked with before without incident), Center Director, Flight Director and 5 other calm children listen to instructions while I hold the hand of a very bouncy Ana. Ana breaks free of me and runs under a table as I watch, amused.  I'm thankful that she *might* get this energy out of her system.
The other folks in the room take turns coming up to me and making me feel at ease with their children's crazy stories.  I nod and secretly curse the person who gave us this honor.

As we walk down to the ceremony, Ana runs ahead and trips on her own shoe.  Her faceplant is audible and horrific.  As I watch the Center Director and everyone else brace for the screaming, Ana gets up with an "I'mokay!" and starts skipping.

The ceremony was long and painful.  Lynyrd Skynyrd opened for the ceremony.  Clearly.  Because this day couldn't be any weirder.  The crew received their medals. A video was played.  The crew members spoke about their experiences in space.  Commander Kelly likened landing in a Soyuz to going over Niagra falls... in a barrel... that's on fire.
And then?
Each child was called.  One-by-one.  To present a heavy bouquet of roses to each crew member.

And they did beautifully.

Ana with Aleksandr Kaleri

Keira with Oleg Skripochka

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The House of Hilbert

Another birthday post?  Oh, yes.
Apparently, Didi's birthday post was a hit and I couldn't think of a single thing to send my dad... so...
Happy Birthday, Dad!

Bill Hilbert - 1966

In all seriousness, I'm going to see him in a few weeks...So, this post will have to cover me until then...

Oh, the things I know about my dad.
For those of you who know me, these things should be another piece of the puzzle:

Things I know about Bill:
  • He doesn't call me by name, usually.  To Dad, I'm either Grace, Gracie or Duckie.
  • My father's isn't a tall man... he is rather short, but his voice and presence make him seem like a giant.
  • Dad looks like a cross between Sean Connery and Clint Eastwood.
Mom and Dad... not Clint/Sean-like here

  • He taught me how to pour drinks at a young age (Hey - we're Irish, gimme a break).  He was perplexed that his request for 2 fingers of scotch was pathetic, until he remembered that my fingers were so small.  He later would request 3 fingers of scotch by holding up 3 fingers sideways.  No other words were necessary.
  • My dad made all of the kids work in the house.  Really work.  We replaced the roof, added rooms, refinished cabinets and every winter we would carry 3 cords of wood behind the garage.  It was a real pisser when I was the last kid left in the house.  3 cords of wood is a lot for a 14 year old girl.
Dad starting child labor with Stacia, age 2

  • My father had an antique wheel barrel that dates back 125 years.  It has a metal wheel.  It is really awesome.  It is not so awesome when you're transferring 3 cords of wood.
  • Pneumatic tires were brought to America in 1892. (*Dad... really?  You couldn't BUY A NEW WHEELBARROW?)
  • My Dad knows everyone in every store he has ever shopped in.  In Ireland, it is called the craic.  He has the ability to have a conversation with anyone.  I think I inherited this.  I can't help myself.
Dad - Probably telling a story

  • My dad was once so bored in the military that he had a mustache growing competition with his friends.
Dad is on left... Yes, that is a real mustache.  We're so proud.

  • Dad once chased me around a Christian bookstore with a cross and made it sizzle on my forehead.
  • During a different shopping trip, my dad once walked around the Christian bookstore muttering Jewish phrases.
  • I no longer go to Christian bookstores.
  • When I was 13, my Dad woke me up at 3 am to take me to breakfast and to watch the sun rise on Galveston Island.  We later rode horses on the beach.  
  • My dad likes to do things like make shark meat sandwiches and watch a Jaws marathon.
  • My father forced us to watch "This Old House" and eat tuna sandwiches every Sunday.  I can do great impersonations of Bob Villa and... Steve.  No one likes Steve.  No, Steve... you can't try it.
  • We have Bob Villa's autograph.
  • I inherited my Dad's love of reading.
Dad holding Ana and Keira

  • Dad woke me up every Saturday by playing the 1812 overture as loud as our stereo would allow.  
  • I played a practical joke on my Dad by having my college graduation ring sent COD to his house and didn't tell him about it.  He thought it was funny enough and paid the remaining $479 dollar balance.  I think he was proud of me for playing the joke.
  • My Dad played a CD of rain and thunderstorms during a rain shower.
  • My Dad's favorite speech to all of his children starts with "This is the house of Hilbert..."  It was a speech all of us heard a thousand times.  He reminded us that family is the most important thing and that we would always have each other.
Dad and Mom with the grandchildren.  The House of Hilbert lives on.

  • We do.

I love you, Daddy.
I have your present on it's way to your house.
You'll love it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy Birthday, Didi!

Diane, Stacia, Billy.  Diane looks... concerned.

This is what I know about my sister Diane:

  • It is her birthday today.  This is her present.  Yeah, not so good to be my sister this year, huh?  Don't worry...Christmas is going to rock.  I bust arse on that.  Usually.  Sometimes.
  • She bugs me a lot about updating my blog.  (Your birthday wish has come true, Didi.)
  • I call her Didi.
  • She was not impressed when I came into this world when she was 5 1/2 years old.  In fact, even when I was older I would bug my mom into FORCING HER to take me to the mall.  She hated it.
Diane, Stacia and wee little me

  • She talked me into keeping her smelly guinea-pig in my room when I was 6.
  • Didi and I started spending most of our time together when she hit college, where she: tried to get me electrocuted and mauled by giant rabbits in one go; introduced me to crappy college beer; taught me how to drive a standard; brought me to bars; let me march in her place with the Rice Mob.  Good times.

  • She has an infectious laugh.  If she really gets going, she stops breathing all together and turns bright red.
  • She also turns red if you poke at her or pretend to poke at her.  She hates this.  I would not recommend it.
  • Didi can beat teen-age boys (and anyone else) in Wii boxing.  While intoxicated.  

  • She once brewed her own beer.  It is still the only beer I truly enjoyed in my life.
  • She makes magnificent braided bread and can cook the pants off of anyone I know.
  • Left to her own devices, she will eat only carbs to sustain herself.  And mustard.  
  • Didi always seems to own crazy, tiny dogs that obsess over her. 

  • Her house is impeccably decorated.  She inherited this from my mom.  I did not.
  • She is Auntie to 2 sets of twins and one very crafty, funny college boy.
  • She has embraced being the "funny" Auntie that fills them with sugar and makes "snowman poopy" jokes.  It's a hit.
  • Her favorite joke starts, "Why don't sharks walk on land?..."
  • Her most annoying habit is eating popcorn... each piece of popcorn... in multiple, open mouthed, teethy, crunchy, annoying effing bites.  She loves popcorn.  She'll eat a bucket in a theater... just to bug me.
  • She likes to bug me.
  • She has more degrees than I can count... even from ivy-league universities. It's impressive.
  • I never tell her I love her enough.
  • I love her.

(Both of my sisters - Diane and Stacia)

Happy Birthday, Didi!