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Are You on Your Way to San Jose?

We know this looks more like an Instagram post than a blog post and we’re sorry about that. I’m on the road this week in San Jose, California. It’s a whirlwind trip with not a lot of downtime. I did manage to take some pictures of the heart of Silicon Valley. The city is filled with a lot of restaurants and cafes; almost all of them have outside seating. The city feels like a wonderful place to get to know and this being my second trip to San Jose I am already looking forward to a third.

Light rail tracks in downtown

 

Cafe Frascati

 

Warm mocha on a warm day

 

Light rail

 

San Jose Museum of Art

 

Cathedral Basilica de St. Joseph

 

Plaza de Cesar Chavez

 

Flowers

 

Tree-lined light transit tracks

 

The City National Civic Center and Montgomery Theater

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The Beginnings of a Plan of Escape

The post last week was all about my sister and her move to St. Thomas. If you have been paying close attention to our blog over the last few years, you’ll remember this is the same sister who is restoring the 40’ Morgan sailboat with her husband.  Her husband, Matt, and the boat, Errant, are still back in Maryland. The Errants’ refit still needs to be completed and it will take a few more months. The idea is that after the boat is finished Matt will put her in the water in the Chesapeake Bay and then sail down the Intracoastal Waterway.

The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) is a 3,000-mile inland waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of the United States. You can travel it all the way from Boston to Florida and even up the west coast of Florida along the gulf coast to Brownsville, Texas.  The waterway is composed of canals, sounds, and bays. The idea is that you never need to travel into the open ocean to get down the Eastern Seaboard.

I will then fly down to Florida and meet him at a harbor near Fort Lauderdale and help guide the Errant across the Gulf Stream, through the Bahamas, past the Dominican Republic, around Puerto Rico, and finally into Charlotte Amalie Harbor on St. Thomas.

You should see my shopping cart on Amazon. The cost of this trip in just books, maps, and tools is near $200 and it isn’t even complete yet. We will, of course, get years of use out of the reference material. I have spent hours watching videos, reading books and asking every sailor I can about the passage. I’m even doing fuel calculations based on the average burn rate of diesel fuel at 2,500 rpm (avg. 1hr:1gal), although we won’t really know until Errant is in the water. The point is the planning for the trip is underway in earnest.

I am really looking forward to this trip as a way to prove myself as a captain and a navigator. We hope to shove off in December. We’ll keep you updated on this journey.

If you want updates on the progress of the Errant and its dingy, the Comma, tune into their YouTube channel: Errant Comma.

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Starting the School Year in STT

Zeke and I have been dreaming of relocating to the Caribbean for years (we’re still determined to make it happen someday) and now we’re getting to live vicariously through Zeke’s sister, Andi, as she makes the move to St. Thomas.

Andi accepted a position as a history teacher at the Antilles School. She’ll have her first students in a little over a week. I came down with her a little early to try to get her settled in her furnished apartment overlooking one of St. Thomas’ marinas.

Oasis Marina, St. Thomas

Oasis Marina, St. Thomas

It takes a lot of work to make a move like this. Andi and her husband flew down a couple of months ago for a very productive visit, finding the apartment and buying an island car. Now it’s time to make the place feel like home.

But first, Andi needed to attend a full day of orientation at her new school.

Andi’s first day at the Antilles School

We found ourselves on a shopping spree this weekend, buying basics like paper towels, bottled water and beach chairs along with classroom supplies like pencils, construction paper and bulletin board letters. It was quite the cart-full.

Now our goal is to relax and enjoy the weekend (and practice driving that Explorer on the left-hand side of the road) before she goes back to school to get ready to welcome her students on Monday.

We’re proud of and excited for Andi as she starts this new adventure. She’s definitely living our dream!

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The Morrison-Clark Hotel, Washington, DC

The Morrison House was originally built in 1864 by a wealthy DC merchant named David Morrison who made his money during the Civil War by selling feed and flour to the Union Army. The Clark House, built by Ruben B. Clark, was also built in 1864. Clark made his fortune through investments, owning a grocery, and being the director of the Anacostia and Potomac River Railroad and well as the DC Jail Commissioner.

Morrison-Clark Hotel, Washington, DC

Later on, the Women’s Army and Navy League took ownership of the Morrison House and combined it with the adjacent Clark House to create a haven for enlisted soldiers and officers. Today’s Morrison-Clark Historic Inn marries beautiful, historic architecture with modern design to pay homage to the original buildings’ storied pasts. Immersed in the vibrant culture of downtown you’ll find a truly unique DC hotel experience that celebrates new and old.

Morrison-Clark Hotel, Washington, DC

Morrison and Clark were identical townhomes until 1876 when the Morrison House was expanded to border 11th Street and given a new facade. The houses, still separate at the time, became home to congressmen, military officers and the Washington elite for decades. A Chinese-inspired room was added to the two-story porch of the Morrison by one of its owners in 1917.

The head of the Women’s Army and Navy League was traditionally the First Lady of the United States. The presidential wives would then host teas and fundraisers to help maintain the facility. A few first ladies of note who helped the League were Grave Coolidge, Mamie Eisenhower, and Jacqueline Kennedy.

The two houses were combined by the League in the 1930s and became known as the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen’s Club and hosted not only the rank and file of the US armed forces but also the likes of Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Mrs. Admiral Dewey, and General John J. “Blackjack” Pershing.

In 1987 the Morrison Clark Inn opened and included an addition the north side of the Morrison house that wrapped around the rear of the site, creating a courtyard behind the Clark House. The five-story building opened with 42 rooms, replacing a 19th-century stable. William Adair, the man who oversaw the restoration, was also in charge of the great restoration of White House between 1949 and 1952. He made sure that preserving the historic exterior and many of the interior details of the building, including four pier mirrors and Italian Carrera marble fireplaces, were a priority.

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Space Camp Day 2

We went to bed exhausted but awoke refreshed, kind of. The morning for started with breakfast from room service. We wanted to make sure we packed a lot of protein in our diet before what we figured would be a long day. We suited up in our flight suits and headed over the Hab to meet the other members of the team before we headed to the dining hall, where we — if only to be polite — had “second breakfast.” We then went on a tour of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s (USSRC’s) Rocket Hall.

Space Camp flight suits

The USSRC is a Smithsonian Affiliate and the Official Visitor Center for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Our team leader Amanda McBride gave us the tour, offering insight into the history of the facility and the history of manned space flight. The center is known to have one of the largest collections of rockets and space memorabilia in the world. The whole time you’re in the center you can’t help but to repeatedly gaze in awe at the 363-foot-long Saturn V rocket hanging horizontally from the ceiling.

We all then lined up from tallest to shortest, proving we could follow directions, for a portrait of Team Pioneer in front of a full-sized display of the moon lander. With the team picture taken care of we headed across campus to an open field and a rocket launch facility. We had each made a model rocket on day one and now it was time for them to fly. We watched as most of them blasted straight off, deployed their parachutes and came gently back to the ground.  Amanda and I were the exceptions. Amanda’s rocket landed on the road and got run over multiple times. Mine ended up in a tree on the far side of the field.  I honestly felt like my childhood self; I recall many encounters with kite-eating trees.

Mission to Mars

Next, we made our way down to the simulation center for the big activity of the day, the mission to Mars. I was on assigned to the expedition and Amanda was in charge of mission control. We loaded up in the command module and began our three-hour mission to Mars and back. I was the DDT or Digital Data Technician, which meant running the communication equipment. Yeah, not too far from my real life. We did a simulated launch, then had to access through a crawlspace the lander called Altair.  The pilot and the commander had most of the duties for those two parts of the mission.  We had to act like we were opening an airlock to a near vacuum and had to make sure our EVA suits were on correctly or we’d get penalized because if a suit wasn’t on right in real life that could mean death. I spent the next several hours hooking up and tearing down communications equipment. The DDTs were also tasked with the scavenger hunt that brings in supplies that have been “dropped” from orbit.

The return trip was the worst part of the whole trip. We spent what seemed like hours in Altair and the temperature seemed to do nothing but climb. The extreme heat wasn’t part of the scenario; five adults, no air flow, and extreme heat outside made the lander an oven. We toughed it out, though, and made it back to Earth in one piece.

A bus came by and carried the team to the center’s confidence and leadership course. We split into two teams and trainers asked us to solve various challenges as a team. The one that was the most interesting involved dumping three tennis balls from one bucket to another without touching the buckets or the balls. We only had three lengths of rope to accomplish the task. I take credit for leading the team and creating the plan that completed the challenge.

The day didn’t end there, either. A thunderstorm began to roll in and we had to take shelter in the large building they had the multi-axis trainers in. We were given a task of designing a mission patch for Team Pioneer.  As a team of adults we were lucky to have two professional designers in our midst. We spent the next hour working on that before braving the rain and heading to one of the classrooms to design our own heat shields. The team was broken into groups and given a list of supplies we could “buy” with points. We chose cork, steel wool, wire mesh, spackle and aluminum foil. The idea was to create a shield that would keep a raw egg from being cooked by the heat of a blowtorch in a span of three minutes. The group had some success and some failure; we were failures. We did well but the shield broke down with a minute to go.

The evening was capped off by a lecture on the International Space Station (ISS) and its operations. We learned one of the most awesome inventions ever was created for an Italian astronaut, an espresso machine that works in microgravity. The Italians even developed a special cup that lets her sip her espresso. Yes, we learned a lot of technical stuff about the ISS but dude — coffee in space is awesome.

We worked for almost 14 hours that day. It was busy. It was exhausting. It was fun.

The next morning it was time to graduate from the Adult Space Academy and head back home with another childhood dream fulfilled.

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A London Connection

 

Courtesy: Pittsburgh International Airport

We got some good news in Pittsburgh this past week as British Airways announced it will be re-establishing its PIT to London Heathrow non-stop flight after a 20-year hiatus.

Simon Brooks, the senior vice president for BA’s North American operation stated one of the key reasons is that Pittsburgh’s economy has really diversified over the last 10 years.

“With so many different industry sectors – there is health care, tech, manufacturing, the amount of universities you have here and the exchange programs – so many compelling reasons for us to fly here. We’re so excited,” Brooks added.

You will be able to hop across the pond starting April 2 and make the trip four days a week. You can book your tickets for Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. The flight departs from London Heathrow at 5 p.m. and lands in Pittsburgh at 8:15 p.m. The flight will depart Pittsburgh at 10 p.m., crossing the Atlantic overnight and arriving at Heathrow at 10:35 a.m. the following day.

The route will feature one of the newest aircraft in British Airways’ fleet, the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. The plane will feature 214 seats in a three-class configuration.

The airport not only landed British Airways but got that wonderful Heathrow connection. You can fly to all of Europe and the World from Heathrow making changing planes only once a possibility on your next European holiday.

PIT currently offers service to Paris on Delta and Frankfurt on Condor, both great places to catch connecting flights, but the limited seasonal availability isn’t always convenient. There’s also a connection to Europe through Reykjavik on WOW air, but again you have to fly through Iceland. The idea of boarding the plane PIT and landing at LHR (London Heathrow) without changing planes is almost too good to be true.  I know we hope to take advantage of his London connection soon.

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Space Camp Day 1

Our day started at 5am.

We needed to get to the airport and fly to Atlanta and then on to Huntsville. The trip only took about five hours thanks to the very short layover in Atlanta. We had decided that staying in a dorm at our age wasn’t something we were interested in, so fortunatly a Marriott is directly ajcent from the entrance to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. We checked in there, changed our clothes and headed over to for check-in and orentation.

We were assigned to a group of 15 adults and called Pioneer after a series of NASA space probes. Our fellow Space Campers were from all over the U.S., Canada and the United Arab Emirates. Our ages ranged from people near their sixties those barley in their twenties. We felt right at home in the middle. We were led by Space Camp Crew Chief Amanda McBride. She was, as you’d expect, packed with knownlage about Space Camp, the history of space, and a love of NASA.

Astronaut Dr. Don Thomas kicks off Space Camp

Astronaut Dr. Don Thomas kicks off Space Camp by sharing his experiences in space.

We kicked things off by listening Dr. Don Thomas recount his experiences flying into space on three shuttle misisons. We followed that up with a quick tour of the facility and the rocket park.

The team then split up into groups and endered some of the simulators. I became the commander of the International Space Station while Amanda became the space shuttle pilot. We both learned to love checklists. You are constantly going through checklists as the simulation manager throws problems at you. I found a big part of these experiences are dependent on communication. The biggest challenge was that we were a bunch of adults who had just meet a few hours earlier, each with a lifetime of experiences to take into account. We worked that simutlation for two hours before breaking for dinner.

We continued with a model rocket building class before taking a spin in the multi-axis trainer. The device spins in various directions simulating a tumbling space capsule. The trainer was used in the early days of the Mercury program.

Our day wrapped up and after 9:30pm. Amanda and I got back to our room, cleaned up and promptly fell asleep, exhausted.

 

Elapsed time 14 hours

Mission Time (Space Camp instruction) approximately 8 hours 30 minutes

We  had a lot more to do on Saturday. We’ll update that post next week.