School’s out!

In honor of my daughters successfully completing their school year (1st grade for oldest, Kindergarten for youngest), it’s time to rattle the roofs a bit…..


(This blog entry brought to you by the Committee to Elect Dayton Responsible Daddy of the Year.)


Belly of the Beast (or, “Dayton talks to a class of 1st graders.”)

And so it was that on the 27th day of May that our intrepid writer/blogger/dad ventured into the environs of his children’s school, after having been invited by his oldest daughter’s teacher to come and talk to their class about writing, reading, and writing and reading.

What did he find as he stepped through the portal and into the students’ mysterious lair?


Okay. Their eyes really weren’t glowing. Not at first, anyway.

While this wasn’t the first time I’ve talked to a class of students, it was the first time I’d addressed a group this young. Despite preparing a few talking points, I went in expecting to “roll with it” so far as fielding questions and the like. A show of hands revealed several kids who liked writing, such as in the journals they all kept during the school year, and even more hands went up when I asked who liked reading (and not just because they’re supposed to read so many minutes each night and have parents record that in the kid’s little notebook). We stressed the importance of keeping up with our reading AND (assuming they wanted to be a writer) writing in our journals over the summer.

The questions I received ran the gamut, including–much to my amusement–some fixation over how much writers make (I tried to let them down easy). All in all, it was a fun day. I’ve already spoken with my kid’s teacher about maybe doing something similar next year, perhaps even having sessions with classes from each of the school’s grade levels.

They’re really going to have tone down that whole glowing eye thing, though. Seriously, kids…that’s just creepy.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand we’re back.

Previously on The Fog of Ward:

Well, “the move” is officially done. We walked out of the old house for the last time tonight. Tomorrow, the new owners walk in. Hopefully they’ll still like what they’ve bought.

As for Ward Manor 2.0? While the major move was accomplished over the past weekend, settling in and the putting away of various things continues. The lower level, which is pretty much my office/lair, is taking shape. Book cases are positioned, and boxes of books and other assorted detritus are coming in from the garage one and two at a time. Interestingly, I seem to be less forgiving with respect to some books when it comes to putting them back on the shelf, as opposed to when they went into boxes prior to the move. So, a box for donation to the library at the retirement village where my father-in-law lived during his final years is now positioned near the door. Such activities are slowed during the day, since I’m still working the day job and all that, but I expect to kick things up a notch by the weekend.


Elsewhere, I’ve got a few notes to address from our editor with respect to Point of Divergence, our first foray into the joint venture that is Star Trek: Seekers. I don’t expect any of those to be major, and I have plenty of time to address them while I wait for the copyedited manuscript to be returned to us. Still, I’ll be looking for something to read later this week.

Meanwhile, I’m pondering story ideas for what will be my next novel. As it has no official title as of yet, the contract for it bears the placeholder title Pale Blue Dot, which is what I’m probably going to call it for a while. Part of me wants to come up with a story to fit that title, just because.

March is almost upon us, which means our anniversary as well as Planet Comicon, both of which occur the same weekend. So, that should prove interesting 🙂

So, whatchooall been up to?

Ward Manor 2.0 is officially ours.

Earlier today, we signed the papers and took possession of the new house!

ward-manor “Meanwhile, at stately Ward Manor….”

I’ll certainly miss Ward Manor 1.0. It’s in a quiet subdivision that’s off the beaten path. There’s undeveloped forest land behind our back yard, and the only cars that ever come down the street belong to those people who live here, or who are visiting. Our neighbors have always been fantastic. We bought the house 16 years ago, long before kids were in the picture, and at the time the school district was a decent one. Unfortunately, that’s not the case at present, which is why our children attend school in the district to which we’re moving. If that hadn’t been the prime consideration behind our relocation, I’d be content to stay put.

As it is, the new house is larger. Both girls will have their own room, and Michi and I will have our own dedicated office space. There’ll be room for exercise equipment, and the main level is the kind of huge, open room with high ceilings and bay windows where you’d want to entertain friends. It’s in a wonderful neighborhood with a park, pool, playground, and a lake. It also sits on a quiet street, away from main roads and traffic. The lake is but a two-minute walk out my new front door, and all the other community amenities also are within easy walking distance. The hospital where Michi works is five minutes away.

The sellers were already out and into their new home, so that part was easy. We turn over the keys/etc. to our current house next week. In between? MoveFest 2014. I’ll start moving some stuff myself tomorrow and for the rest of the week, and we have movers coming Saturday to get all the furniture/bigger items. I’m getting a bit old for that crap, as are most of the friends I’d enlist to help. The days of getting your buddies to help pack up your stuff when you got orders to a new base, and doing so for beer and pizza, are long behind us.  Anyway, by the end of the weekend, we’ll be out of here, with only a few last cleaning/etc. chores left to handle before we hand over the keys and lock the doors behind us for the last time.

And if all goes according to my master plan, I won’t be moving again, unless it’s to Hawaii or something.

Let MoveFest begin!

It’s official, now. Oh, and other stuff.

I think I had about a bazillion people e-Mailing me this morning with the following link:

The New York Times – Best Sellers – Mass Market Paperback Fiction – Jan. 19th, 2014

Okay, the number was probably closer to eleventy dozen. Anyway, folks wanted me to know about it when I sat down today, so thanks very much for the collective heads-up! I remain as groovy-feeling as I did when I first got the news.

In other news, we got an offer on our house yesterday, and it looks like we may be finalizing those terms today. Our efforts to secure Ward Manor 2.0, already hovering between two houses we really like, will now accelerate. We’re going back to look at them again in the next day or so in order to make our final decision.

Countering that was the apparent death of my work laptop (for the day job). That’s frustrating to deal with, but I’m thankful the thing chose to die after the completion and distribution of critical, time-sensitive reports and deliverables. Now, at least, I have breathing room to address the issue and either get the laptop re-imaged or replaced. Luckily, my employer’s pretty good about responding to such crises.

Oh, and Kevin and I still have a novel deadline looming at the beginning of February, so there’s that….

I guess it’s back to work time!

Kid pics. Because.

Been a while since I gloated about the kids. They’ve been in school for a week now, Addy to 1st grade and Erin to Kindergarten, and both seem to be enjoying their teachers, catching up with friends and making new friends. I’ll admit I was a bit worried about Erin at first, as she was entering a wholly new environment and without any of her friends from pre-school. My concerns were misplaced, as in the finest Ward fashion she has taken to the new routine and is already kicking butt and taking names.

(Side note: Erin also promoted earlier this evening at Taekwondo, where she earned her “red-black” belt. This means she’s been recommended by her instructors to train for eventual testing and promotion to black belt. Suh-weet. It’ll be nice having two ninja assassins living at my beck and call. One’s usually sufficient, but I think we all can agree that having a second one can definitely come in handy.)

Anyway, back to school. Here’s the pics I took on Day 1:

Addy-FirstDay   Erin-FirstDay

Yes, I’ll get back to talking about Star Trek, bacon, porn and other inane topics in due course, but I warned you at the beginning that the occasional #ProudPapa moments would be the price you pay to hang out here for any appreciable length of time.

More on that Houston trip!

In the event you’re not totally exhausted after reading my rather wordy treatise recounting our trip to Houston and the Johnson Space Center, friend and fellow word pusher David Mack has done us a great service by providing his own thoughts on the subject. He also comes to my rescue by providing a key element which was sorely lacking in my own entry: PICTURES!

Yep, Mr. Mack’s blog post is chock full of photos chronicling the day, featuring him (and most of the rest of us) trying not to act like giddy kids looking for any excuse to go running off to play with this or that. Despite our most devilish impulses, we behaved ourselves, and saved our chaperones from having to outfit any of us with those weird kid harness/leash things you see on toddlers at Disney World.

Go forth and enjoy Dave’s illustrated musings:

David Mack: The Analog Blog – “Houston, we’ve had a blast…”

 (Graphic courtesy of NASA; JPG courtesy of David Mack)

The above graphic was created by the JSC’s Public Affairs Office to “announce” our visit and our panel at the Teague Auditorium. Flyers with this graphic were plastered EVERYWHERE as we wandered about, to the point where I seriously considered stealing a few from various doors or bulletin boards. Thankfully, Amy’s husband made sure we all had nice crisp copies of our own, suitable for framing.

That’s right: this bad bear is going up on a wall somewhere.

So, about that Houston trip….

Okay, okay. It’s time to spill all the gory details about our recently concluded adventure.

WARNING: This is a long-assed post. Here’s your chance to take the emergency exit. Give me the “TLDR” bit and I will travel to your home and kick you in the taint. Okay, not really, but be advised that this will, indeed, be a post of long-assed length.

Still here? All righty, then. Here we go:

This past weekend originally was intended to be the second annual informal gathering of friends who just happen also to be Star Trek writers. A couple of years ago at a convention, a few of us got to talking that while we only seemed to reconnect at such cons, we never really had a chance to spend any time together, with all the demands on our various schedules during the weekend. It was decided that we needed — essentially — to have the con “without the con.” No panels or other schedules; just the small group. Add alcohol, hilarity ensues, etc.

The first such gathering was held last year right here in Kansas City, selected because it was a reasonably central location for people traveling from either coast as well as the upper Midwest. During the weekend, we relaxed, saw a few local sites, and generally just enjoyed each other’s company without the hustle and bustle of a convention. When we decided to do it again this year, we instituted a plan that the location would rotate from year to year, giving everyone in the group a break from having to travel and also the chance to “play host.” For the 2013 gathering, Houston, Texas was selected…home of our friend and fellow word-slinger Amy Sisson. At the time, it was anticipated that the weekend would play out in similar fashion to the 2012 edition.

Yeah. Not so much.

Owing to the fact that Amy’s husband is a rather well-regarded employee of NASA and works at the Johnson Space Center right there in Houston-town, the idea of touring that renowned facility began to take shape. That in itself was pretty dang exciting to contemplate, I have to tell you. I’d always wanted to visit JSC, and a tour of such famous locales as Mission Control? Yeah, I could dig that.

As it happened, we did end up visiting Mission Control….for starters. From what I was told, once word got out that “a bunch of Star Trek writers were coming to Houston for a visit,” the folks at JSC started plotting and scheming, and before we knew it, anything resembling the idea of a quiet, informal gathering between friends was out the window and we were plunging headlong into what I now describe as the “ZOMG! I CAN’T FREAKING BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING!” day.

After spending a couple of days early last week in Tampa with my family and leaving our daughters in the capable hands of my mother, Michi and I hopped across the Gulf of Mexico to Houston last Thursday, where the gathering already was underway. We enjoyed a nice dinner that evening followed by our descending on a local watering hole near our hotel, each of us excited by the day to come on Friday.

Well, Friday didn’t disappoint.

We started at 8am, convoying to JSC with Amy and her husband, Dr. Paul Abell, taking point. We arrived at the center and left our cars in the lot adjacent to the famous “Rocket Park,” which is home to, among a few other choice artifacts from the early space age, one of the three remaining Saturn V rockets originally constructed for the Apollo program. Having been restored to pristine glory in the early 2000s, the rocket now resides within its own temperature-controlled building rather than being left exposed to the elements as we’ve all seen in pictures and films. We didn’t actually go into the building at that point, as we were on a schedule. Don’t worry…none of us forgot that baby. No way, no how.

With a team of enthusiastic ladies (all wearing red shirts, I might add) acting as our chaperones and after receiving our initial “This is what you’re in for” briefing, we set off in a tour bus for what was to be AN EPIC DAY. Our first stop? Mission Control!

That’s right, folks: the nerve center of the facility, as viewed from the VIP gallery. We got to watch personnel interacting with astronauts on the International Space Station, and received an overview of the center by Ed Van Cise, one of the flight directors charged with overseeing such operations. Oh, and he was accompanied by Dr. Stanley Love, who lists “Astronaut: Been There, Done That” among the various occupations on his resume. As it happened, Dr. Love would hang with us for a sizable portion of the day, pretty much answering whatever stupid questions any of us could shape into something approaching coherent speech.

In addition to the MCC overseeing the current ISS mission, we also toured other similar areas where new/revamped technologies were being tested in order to make the oversight of flight operations even more efficient, from a technical as well as a financial standpoint. Lots of stuff you and I have in our homes and offices was being brought to bear, modernizing the whole effort. The days of those clunky consoles with rotary dial phones and big push-buttons and vacuum tubes to send messages back and forth are long gone.

But that didn’t mean we didn’t get to see the old digs.

Yes, the original Mission Control Center, the one used for the Gemini and Apollo missions, also was on our tour. Now designated as a National Historic Landmark, this esteemed chamber has been returned to its configuration from the Apollo 11 mission. And yet, we were allowed to wander about, studying all of the consoles and doo-dads and thingamajigs. For me, this place is hallowed ground, and I could feel the history just oozing from the walls, the ceiling tiles, and even the carpet, all of which is as it was on that momentous day in 1969.

I’d have been happy to have a cigarette right here and call it a day, but we’d only been here an hour or so, and things were just getting going.

Next up? We were taken to the Teague Auditorium where some of us had been tapped to participate in a roundtable Q&A discussion hosted by John Connolly, Deputy Manager for the Exploration Mission and Systems Office. Among other things, he designs space ships for a living. Actual space ships, that real people use, and stuff. He’s also a big Trekkie, as were a whole bunch of people we encountered during the day (Yes, they were asking us for our autographs. Some brought their books from home. That happened.). The conversation and questions were tremendous fun, and I think we did okay in our efforts to entertain people who do various things necessary to send people and things into space. So, hey! No pressure.

Our panel originally was slated to run ninety minutes, but things were cut short because, apparently, the Deputy Director of the Whole Freakin’ Space Center heard we were wandering about his facility and wanted some time for himself to rap with us. You can do that when you’re the Deputy Director of the Whole Freakin’ Space Center. We spent twenty minutes with him, during which he regaled us with tales of how he and the men and women who toil there at JSC continue to dream, brainstorm, innovate and create all sorts of crazy things designed to keep us heading outward from our little blue/brown pebble. Robots to walk around on the Moon or Mars? Got ’em. The next generation of lunar landing craft? Stay tuned.

Next up? Lunch, which was an event all by itself. They divided us up at the cafeteria among several tables, where we were joined by a collection of people who occupy various positions all across JSC. At our table was one of the technicians responsible for updating all the hardware and software for use in the different Mission Control rooms (yes, there’s more than one), joined by one of the center’s public affairs officials as well as the aforementioned John Connolly. We had a spirited conversation about all sorts of topics ranging from NASA and social media to what might be needed to get the public behind a renewed, focused national effort at expanding the space program. These people are raring to go, folks. All they need is the funding and the support. It’s too bad we have no money for that; we need the cash to go start another war, I suppose.

Refueled and refreshed, we proceeded in our trusty tour bus to our next destination: Project Morpheus, “a vertical test bed demonstrating new green propellant propulsion systems and autonomous landing and hazard detection technology. Designed, developed, manufactured and operated in-house by engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the Morpheus Project represents not only a vehicle to advance technologies, but also an opportunity to try out “lean development” engineering practices.”

Basically, they’re building a ship which can land itself on another planet, and figure out on its own how to avoid coming down in a crater or on top of a debris or boulder field. That could be handy to have, millions of miles from home and without the benefit of real-time communication with engineers here on the ground. The project’s manager, Dr. Jon Olansen, gave us the run down on his team and their work to date and how they’ve got their feet on the gas so far as developing and refining these new systems. I swear, these folks look like as though — in a pinch — they could be ready to rock tomorrow.

Though Astronaut Love had to leave us for a bit, he left us in the capable hands of fellow star voyager Dr. Catherine “Cady” Coleman, who accompanied us to our next stop: a tour of the labs where the first new real revolutions in space suit design since the Apollo era are underway. According to our guide, Raul Bianco, the suits used during the Space Shuttle era really were just improvements and enhancements to designs created for the Moon missions, and the good folk at NASA have decided we need to go back to the drawing board. I’m thinking even I could survive space travel if I was sporting one of these outfits.

If that wasn’t enough, we also got to see the robotics lab. Folks who are dialed into the current goings-on with NASA know that the space station currently is home to “Robonaut,” who helps out with various tasks and whatnot aboard the ISS. We saw him doing his thing earlier in the day during our tour of Mission Control, and now we were meeting the “2.0” version which still was being developed. One odd moment came when we passed a display case with a robotic hand, all Cyberdyne-like. Putting aside thoughts of global annihilation at the hands of the machines, we continued to wander about the lab under the guidance of Robonaut’s Deputy Project Manager, Casey Joyce, where we got to see how engineers were working on advancements with the robot as well as prosthetics and other aids intended not just for astronauts on long-duration space flights with no gravity but also right here on Earth. The possibilities for paralysis patients or those who’ve lost limbs are astounding.

(NOTE: It’s worth mentioning here that many of the areas we traversed during the day were working labs or other facilities, with men and women going about their jobs all around us. Though they endure such tours and other interruptions on a frequent basis, everyone was welcoming and enthusiastic to talk to us. Meanwhile, my IDEA GENERATOR was working overtime. I’m pretty sure my brain snapped off its roller a couple of times.)

From there, we made our way to the center’s Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, or as I like to call it, “DISNEYLAND!” It was here that we were introduced to prototypes for the Orion spacecraft which one day (hopefully) will take astronauts back to the Moon. We also learned about emerging propulsion technologies (yes, they’re working on warp drive!) as well as commercial crew programs like SpaceX, and got up close looks at the next level of rover vehicles for the Moon and beyond. Astronaut Love rejoined us and showed us how crazy you have to be to want to travel to and/or from the ISS via a Soyuz space capsule, a model of spacecraft which has been in near-continuous use for going on fifty years now. Astronaut Coleman led us on a walking tour through full-scale simulators for several modules comprising the International Space Station, and we spoke at length with the people trying to solve the issues of humans surviving and thriving through long-duration space missions of the sort needed to reach other planets. Many thanks to our guides through this area: Astronauts Coleman and Love, Orion Cockpit Development Lead Jeff Fox, David Brady of Eagleworks Labs, Dr. James Peters of the Quasar Data Center, and ISS Associate Program Scientist Dr. Tara Ruttley.

I’m pretty sure it was somewhere in this area that my brain exploded, BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

Leaving the SVMF, we were taken to the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate. Translation? This is where they keep the Moon rocks. In addition to the lion’s share of all the lunar samples returned during the six Apollo landings, this facility also houses meteorites and other materials retrieved from space or those objects which make their way to Earth. ARES Director Dr. Eileen Stansbery, Apollo Sample Curator Dr. Ryan Ziegler, and Antarctic Meteorite Curator Kevin Righter welcomed us into this most astounding of realms, in which I’m fairly certain I left my jaw. The care with which these materials are handled is mind-boggling. Most of this stuff has never even been exposed to our atmosphere. Everything is handled in special rooms and with equipment designed to protect the samples from contamination, preserving them in a condition as close as possible to when they were found on the Moon. Yes, I got to hold a piece of Moon rock collected during the Apollo 11 mission. And the Apollo 15 mission. And the Apollo 17 mission. They were encased in Lucite to protect them from our grubby paws, of course, but STILL! I HELD MOON ROCKS!

And with that, our day was done.


Upon returning to where we had left our cars ten hours earlier, there remained one last, tantalizing prize to behold: The Saturn V. We ventured into the building housing this beast, and of course whatever remained of our jaws and brain cells went :: Poof! :: at this point. This isn’t my first time seeing one, of course, but I still got that special tingle I experienced when I first saw the one on display at the Kennedy Space Center. The Saturn V, to me, is a thing of utter beauty; the culmination of a decade’s worth of dreams, sweat, sacrifice and unwavering determination willed into solid reality by thousands of people who stood as one and said, essentially, “Let’s do this thing.”

The perfect capper to an incredible day.

We cannot possibly extend sufficient thanks to Dr. Abell and Amy for the effort they expended to bring all of this together. Along with them, we are in debt to the numerous people at JSC who took time from their busy schedules to talk with us, walk with us, hang with us at lunch, and let us bend their ears. All day long, the constant message we kept receiving was that everyone was thrilled that we were there, wanting to visit with them. Are you kidding? The term “once in a lifetime” gets thrown about a lot, but for me this was Exactly That. It’s three days later, and the enormity of what we were given hasn’t faded the slightest bit.

 (Photo Credit: NASA)

Making the experience all the more enjoyable was being able to share it with my wife as well as several friends, including fellow writers Kevin Dilmore, Kirsten Beyer, John Coffren, Peter and Kathleen David, Dave Galanter, Bob Greenberger, Bill Leisner, David Mack, David R. George III, Aaron Rosenberg, Amy Sisson and – in most cases – their spouses and friends. Yes, we’re planning a third outing for next year, and as there’s no way we’re ever liable to top what happened this past weekend, we all seem content to go very much in the opposite direction for the next get-together. We’re also hoping the choice of gathering place will allow us to be joined by still more writer friends who’ve not yet had a chance to get in on this action.

But, that’s next year. For now? I’m gonna go day-dream about being an astronaut.

You know, again.

Introducing….The Graduate!

Five down. Thirteen to go.

For those wondering what the fuss is about “graduating” pre-school, I guess I should clarify: Rather than regular ol’ daycare, we enrolled her (and her sister before her) in a Montessori early learning school. It was more like traditional daycare when they were babies, of course, but even by the time kids become “mobile infants” their teachers start introducing them to various learning techniques and concepts. By the time the girls were 2 and 3 years old, they were starting to learn in a variety of areas, and of course there also was the socialization aspect of being around their peers.

The development process has been, in a word, staggering. Having already seen the fruits of all that early work paying off with her older sister this past year as she moved from the Montessori school to Kindergarten, I’m confident the transition will be just as successful with the coming school year.

But for now, we celebrate. 🙂