Free Fun 50

Oceans, mountains, ancient ruins, crossing borders, guitar building, iconic farmers markets, rain forests, Olympic swim trials, jaw-dropping bookstores, and cities with big personalities. That was family vacations in the Gibson home as my children were growing up. We had to count our pennies because there was never enough money, but I think we did all right.

Planning the vacations was my job, and to be honest, it was a job I resented. Why should I be the one to create routes and figure out what three boys and their parents were going to do? Not to mention how to pay for it all.

Because if I didn’t, we would be spending all our time camping in nearby state parks and federal lands over and over again. Don’t get me wrong, I love being in nature. And for a time, I didn’t mind sleeping on the ground and devising ways to keep our food out of the paws of wildlife. But I like novelty. So, I plotted and planned vacations. Some of our successes were:

A coastal drive to Disney World and Universal. I don’t have to tell anyone how expensive those theme parks are, but to my surprise, my kiddos enjoyed seeing Jackson Square and the Mississippi River in New Orleans. They also loved Gulf beaches like Destin…possibly more than Disney World.

A loop through northern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado took us through Ancestral Puebloan sites, climbing ladders as high as a multi-story building and pushing a toddler in a backpack through a tunnel, not to mention squeezing through a pregnant Mom. We wandered Albuquerque’s Old Town and took a train to an old mining town.

For another trip, we rented a condo on the Gulf Coast, but first we had to get there. I decided we would make Memphis a stop. We stayed cheaply in a cluster of casino hotels in Tunica, just south of the city across the state line into Mississippi. Luckily ours had a water slide.

In Memphis, we had a blast on Beale Street and touring Sun Records. And for my eldest, a guitar-playing pre-teen, we toured the birthplace of B.B. King’s guitar, that’s right, the Gibson Guitar factory. The National Civil Rights Museum moved us more than we expected.. Once we arrived at the ocean, beach play took up most of our time, but we traveled to an old fort on an island split in half by a hurricane. Pretty cool, huh?

I can be a slow learner, but eventually I realized I enjoyed planning trips and finding the hidden gems. It was like a treasure hunt. More often than not, trip highlights cost very little, if anything. So, I decided to take my experiences, add in a little research, and Wa-La, Free and Fun travel ideas! I decided I would provide information about 50 Free Fun travel ideas for different states. They might be quirky roadside attractions, free museum days, scenic drives, or festivals. What they all have in common is that they’re FREE and they’re FUN. Free Fun 50 or FF50 for short.

I started with states I know well—Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. And now they are available as inexpensive little e-books on Amazon. Plans are to expand to other platforms in the future. I also have a FF50 guide to Washington, DC, but currently that’s only available to people who have purchased 2 or more FF50 guides. Details on how to redeem FF50 Washington DC are on the FF50 Facebook page.

Happy Travels!

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Gutsy Girls discover dinosaurs, study fossilized poop, and find human’s early ancestors. And who was the first programmer? Who created the first programming languages and compilers that made personal computers possible? Gutsy Girls, that’s who. On, and Gutsy Girls were also responsible for getting men to the Moon.

September 24 marks the release of the first four Gutsy Girls Go for Science books by Nomad Press. And yours truly is author of two of those books. The Gusty Girl books use a fun narrative style with engaging illustrations to share fascinating facts and essential questions. And the STEM projects in the books aid young scientists in making real-world connections and deepen their critical and creative thinking skills.

Gutsy Girls Go for Science: Paleontologists asks the questions about what kind of life came before us. Readers ages 8 to 11 will meet five female paleontologists who made breakthrough discoveries of ancient life from millions of years ago, including Mary Anning, Mignon Talbot, Tilly Edinger, Zofia Kielan-Jaworowska, and Mary Leakey. These women all led fascinating lives while working in the field and in the lab, often facing challenges because of their gender.

Problem solvers who always need to know how things work will enjoy Gutsy Girls Go for Science: Programmers. Programming is the process of breaking down complex tasks into a set of instructions. Programmers do that when they write code that makes computers do what we want them to! Readers will meet female programmers who made revolutionary discoveries and inventions that changed the way people use technology! Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, the ENIAC women, Dorothy Vaughan, and Margaret Hamilton all broke through barriers of both gender and race to succeed in a field they loved.

It was a blast working on these books and getting to know these amazing women. I’ll never look at rocks or code the same way ever again.

The Gutsy Girls Go for Science books are now available for pre-order. Click on the books below. Enjoy!

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The Year of the Woman

The past year has been exciting as more women have been discovering their power and their legacy. It brings to mind the old Helen Reddy women’s anthem of the 1970s: I am woman, hear me roar. The “roaring” should continue to grow as we soon enter a year-long celebration leading up to the 100th anniversary of American women receiving the right to vote. Yep, the Nineteenth Amendment will be 100 years old on August 18, 2020.

And because women still needing to be heard and treated fairly, we can reach into women’s history to learn the stories of those who came before us. I have two more kid’s books coming out this September, bringing my total number of published books about women tied with the number of my published books about Native American history (and yes, one dream is to combine the two and write about amazing Native American women).

Women in science, technology, and politics. Women who were ignored or silenced, but still broke down barriers. Some of these are women I had never heard of when I was a child, but who are now becoming well-known. For example, in the upcoming Gutsy Girls Go for Science Paleontologists, I begin the book with the story of Mary Anning.

It’s hard not to come across the name of this British fossil hunter and paleontologist these days. In fact, a Google search gave up 1,350,000 results in 0.51 seconds. She’s all over educational websites, but she is also featured at events like the annual Lyme Regis Fossil Festival and captured in the movies. A two-part biopic is nearing completion, and another film, Ammonite, starring Kate Winslet, will be released in 2020.

And the other book, Gutsy Girls Go for Science Programmers, features two other rock stars—Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper. The world celebrates the first computer programmer and other women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) on the second Tuesday of October each year. This past year marked the 10th anniversary of Ada Lovelace Day, and each year sees more and more participants.

Various programs and awards are named after computer scientist Grace Hopper. The ACM Grace Hopper annual award goes to an outstanding young computer professional responsible for a major technical or service contribution. An early programmer of modern computers, Hopper was instrumental in developing programming languages that could work on different computers. Without this, would the PC have ever been born?

I think we’ll soon hear more about women like Sylvia Earle, Barbara McClintock, and Harriet Quimby—all women I’ve written about. Yet, even as more women from history are getting their due, there are still many more whose names we don’t know…yet. I can’t tell you how many times after a book’s publication that I’ve discovered an amazing woman I wished I had included. Women like:

  • Elizabeth Blackburn
  • Euphemia Haynes
  • Florence Siebert
  • Julie Packard
  • Maria Mitchell
  • Mary McWhinnie
  • Mary Sherman
  • Melba Roy Mouton
  • Pearl Scott

Have you heard of all of these women? Perhaps one or two ring a bell, but I’m betting there’s some you haven’t heard of. Start Googling and researching some of these names. Learn their stories. And then share them. It’s the Year of the Woman.

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We All Need Heroes

As someone who has studied writing for a very long time, I am familiar with the Hero’s Journey. It was first described by mythologist Joseph Campbell as a common story pattern. From ancient myths to today’s blockbusters, people are drawn to the hero.

The hero is “every man” or “every woman.” There is nothing about their birth or upbringing that promises great things from heroes. And in fact, the hero is often found to be missing or lacking in some way. It may be something internal—fear or a lack of confidence—or external, such as lack of opportunities.

No surprise that the word hero comes from the ancient Greek, meaning a “defender” or “protector.” Santa Clara University professor Scott LaBarge writes that the hero did “something so far beyond the normal scope of human experience that he left an immortal memory behind him when he died.”

Psychologist and writer Scott T. Allison, Ph.D, who often writes about heroes, explains that heroes elevate us while healing our emotional wounds. They bring us comfort and the belief that everything is going to be all right. Heroes even bond us to a larger community of shared values. People who count Mahatma Gandhi as a hero are different than people who name comics sensation Stan Lee as a hero.

I often write about female heroes. Mary Anning, Bessie Coleman, Sally Ride, Rachel Carson, Jovita Idar—are all examples. Some are well known; others are not. I think it’s important for girls to read about women who have succeeded against the odds. They’re not who you picture when you hear the word hero. But these women fought against prejudice and societal norms to do what was meaningful to them, what was right. This alone makes them heroic.

Hero stories heal and inspire us. They are symbols of what we wish to be. They make us want to be better people. Heroes teach us that we have it within us to transform our lives. We can discover our true purpose in life, and if we are willing to risk change, we can experience our own personal transformation. Then it’s just a small step to improving the lives of others. And this is what heroes are all about.

This is why it’s so important to have heroes in a variety of shapes, sizes, genders, and skin tones. Because if you read about or see a hero who looks something like you, that means you can be a hero too.

Today, I look at older female heroes, like Susan B. Anthony or Maya Angelou. Or even a present day hero like Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Because it still means I can be anything I want to be. Even a hero.

Works consulted–
Allison, Scott T. (2014) “5 Surprising Ways That Heroes Improve Our Lives,” Psychology Today,
LaBarge, Scott (2000) “Why Heroes Are Important,” Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University,
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Women’s Rights Includes ALL Women

As everyone prepares for next year’s 100th anniversary of the women’s vote, we should recognize more than the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement. While it’s exciting to read about the women and events that took place, at some point you get the idea that the Women’s Suffrage Movement was made up of privileged white women. And the leaders were largely privileged white women.

Although privileged 100 years ago meant that a few women had the resources that allowed time and energy for the movement instead of working in a factory for less than a living wage. It meant they could read and write, and that there were at least some avenues of education open to them. African American women and immigrant women rarely had these opportunities.

While it’s important to remember and honor women like Alice Paul and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, we should also remember other women who fought for the right to vote. The suffrage movement was largely born out of the abolition movement. Yet for the right to vote, some suffragists were willing to limit voting to white women if it meant gaining support from politicians or women in the South. And in some of the largest Women’s Rights marches, African American women were expected to walk in the back. Yet even with these indignities, women of color lent their voice and support to women’s suffrage. Here are a few of the many:

Sojourner Truth was a powerful voice for women’s suffrage.

Sojourner Truth is credited with being the first African American suffragist. She was a former slave with a gift with words. She captivated audiences with her speeches, most notably the one known as “Ain’t I a Woman?”  at a women’s convention in Akron, Ohio. She was a frequent fixture at abolition events and women’s rights conventions, including the first National Women’s Rights Convention in 1851. She spoke of freedom, equality, and the right to vote for all.

Mary Church Terrell was an educator, writer, and activist. Educated at Oberlin College, she taught in Washington, D.C. and later the first African American woman appointed to the school board in the District of Columbia. A member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, she used many of the same strategies when she became the first president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). Terrell spoke often to women’s suffrage groups, reminding the white suffragists that exclusion based on race was the same as exclusion based on gender. Terrell was one of the founding members of the NAACP, and later in her life, she successfully fought segregation in public facilities.

Born into slavery, Ida B. Wells later became a powerful voice for the women’s vote and against lynching.

Ida B. Wells was a well-known journalist who also graduated from Oberlin College, mostly likely because it was the first college in America to admit African American students and the first co-educational school to allow women to earn bachelors degrees. She was also a founding member of the NAACP. Wells founded a suffrage group for African American women, the Alpha Suffrage Club, in 1913. Later that year, she participated in the first suffrage parade in Washington, DC. She was told to march in the back with other women of color, so as not to offend women from the South. She refused, marching with other women from her home state of Illinois. Wells encouraged African American women to vote and become involved in politics, long after the 19th amendment became law.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary was also a journalist and the first woman of color in North America to establish a newspaper and become its editor. She later decided to study law and was the first woman to attend Howard University Law School, although she had to wait until Washington, D.C. laws changed before she could be admitted to the bar. She spoke at National Woman Suffrage Association conventions, stating that the 14th and 15th Amendment should also apply to women and suggesting that “male” should be removed from the Constitution. In speeches given in both the United States and Canada, she showed how voting rights connected to labor rights.

Learn more about these and other African American women in the suffrage movement at Turning Point Suffragist Memorial.

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