Share Women’s History

Today is the last day of Women’s History Month. In recognition, I have created 55+ posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest this month trying to publicize the many fascinating women in history. Some are well-known–Susan B. Anthony, Sally Ride, Rachel Carson. The stories of others are beginning to become well-known.

I even receive a special thrill when I looking through a children’s biography on Margaret Hamilton by Dean Robbins (Margaret and the Moon, a great picture book) to include in the back matter of a book (in a “read more” section) I’m working on about women in programming. One of this book’s suggestions for reading more was my Women in Space: 23 Stories of First Flights, Scientific Missions, and Gravity-Breaking Adventures!

I often find that when I start working on a book or have even finished it that I start seeing references to women I’ve mentioned. Are other people hearing about them when I am or am I just more attuned to these women? Who knows, but I’ve noticed it with Rosalind Franklin, Sylvia Earles, Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace, and Mary Anning. And the Night of Terror that suffragists suffered through after being arrested for protesting for the right to vote!

And there are so many other women in history and stories that I have yet to hear about. I plan on continuing to seek out and share their stories. I hope you will too.

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Capital City: 5 Musts in the Nation’s Capital

My first visit to Washington, DC* happened in 2014 when one of my sons was touring colleges. We had a day, and if you’re one of the 20 million visitors each year to Washington, DC, you’re laughing right now. After the school tour, we returned to the National Mall to see as much as possible before we took the train back to our Baltimore hotel and subsequent flight. To say that my feet have never hurt more would not be an exaggeration.

I’ve made several visits since then and must admit to my love of Washington, DC. Established by the U.S. Constitution in 1790, Washington, DC is a dynamic city filled with plenty to see and do. You could remain there a month and still not see everything. Still, there are locations and activities that I gravitate to during most visits. They fill me with a sense of wonder and hope.

Here are five musts in D.C.:

1. Lincoln Memorial

Seeing Abraham Lincoln sitting so majestically at one end of the mall is a powerful image. The Lincoln Memorial is modeled after the Greek Parthenon. The words of our 16th president coat the inside of the building. The marble does a good job of muffling noise; you just have to ignore all the people taking selfies with Abe.

When you stand at the top of the stairs facing the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument, the momentous history of what you’re looking at surges through you.

2. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Located between the Lincoln and FDR Memorials is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Dr. King is the fourth non-president and first African American honored with a memorial on the National Mall.

Opened in 2011, a 30-foot Dr. King with arms folded emerges from the granite mountain. A wall of his quotes surround you. Some are well-known. Others not so much, but every time I step into this area near the Tidal Basin, his words of peace and equality speak to me.

3. A Smithsonian Museum, any of them

How cool is it that there are 17 museums, galleries, and a zoo in the Washington, DC area with free admission? That’s how the Smithsonian operates. British scientist James Smithson bequeathed his considerable fortune in 1836 to “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Ten years later, the Smithsonian Institute was formed.

Popular museums are the Natural History, Air and Space, and African American Museum. Sometimes there are lines to get into these museums. The African American Museum is so popular that it’s still using a system of timed passed, so I’m still trying to get into see it. But plenty of smaller venues are just as fascinating. During m last visit, my son introduced me to the Renwick Gallery, a fascinating place for innovative contemporary art.

If you don’t know where to start, stop by the Smithsonian Castle where the Visitor’s Center is located. You can’t miss it. It’s on the south side of the mall east of the Washington Monument, and well, it looks like a castle.

4. Georgetown

The oldest neighborhood in Washington, DC is Georgetown. It had its start as a tobacco port in 1751. Today, it is a mecca for shopping and dining along M street with more dining and entertainment spots along the Waterfront Park. Georgetown is home to the C&O Canal, now a National Park that stretches into Cumberland, Maryland. Many famous people in politics have also lived in Georgetown, most notably the Kennedy’s before John Kennedy’s winning the presidency.

Georgetown University sits “on the hilltop” and you can reach it by climbing cobblestone walkways. Next to the university’s Car Barn are the illustrious “Exorcist stairs” featured in the original move, The Exorcist. And if you challenge yourself by going up the stairs, you’ll feel like the devil has assaulted you as well.


5.  DC Metro

I know that adding mass transit to a list of must see’s is odd, but I love the DC Metro and how it can take me most places. At least the trains do, I have a harder time figuring out the bus schedules. If I must use a bus, I got with the DC Circulator bus instead. All I have to do is scan my Metro Card or pay $1.

I’m no stranger to subways. My teens were marked with the “L” in Chicago. I think the BART in San Francisco is one of the cleanest subways I’ve ever experienced. Some of the DC Metro trains (Red Line) are new and shiny with clear sounding speakers. Others aren’t as clean and clear, but that’s ok. The DC Metro trains have worked every time I needed them to. And I have to admit a certain thrill in riding the long escalators in and out of the Rosslyn and Dupont Circle Stations. DC Metro escalators rank seventh in the world for length of Metro escalators, but that’s plenty long enough for me.

These five must’s will take you through a weekend. For anything else, you’re going to have to stay longer. And however long your stay, it won’t be long enough.

*The grammar/spelling fiend in me struggled with how to write the city’s name. Washington, D.C. is the correct way to do it, but when I did, well, it’s just looked like way too much punctuation. I looked at other “travel” references and not once saw all the proper punctuation used. So for the purposes of this post, I’m using Washington, DC. When I just use DC, I’m using D.C. But I’m still bothered enough that I had to include this note to explain my actions.
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Women’s History is Everyone’s History

We may just be two months into 2018, but if social media and award shows are any indication, this is the Year of the Woman. Powered by the #MeToo movement that is educating the world about the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault, women are standing up to be counted and have their voices heard.

Although #MeToo first became newsworthy because of the voices of famous (and largely white) actresses, #MeToo actually began 12 years ago by a woman of color, Tarana Burke. Burke, also a victim of sexual assault, wanted to help other women and girls, particularly those of color.

What does that have to do with Women’s History? Yes, I digress, but I believe Burke should get credit for her work and a phrase that has led to a movement. I also like using the word “digress.”

However, there really is a connection, and it is this—when women start reclaiming their power, they can start looking at history with new eyes. They can see that history is full of amazing stories of courageous and fascinating women. Sometimes we need to dig a little deeper because often women’s contributions to science and history were either largely ignored or credit was given to the husbands.

Here are just a few of the many examples of this that I’ve come across in my research as a writer—

  • James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins won the Nobel Prize in physiology/medicine in 1962 for their discovery of DNA structure. A crucial part of the discovery came from an X-ray diffraction image showing the structure of DNA. It was taken by chemist Rosalind Franklin, who died in 1958. Nobel Foundation statues dictate that the Nobel can’t be given to anyone who died before award winners are announced. Which means Franklin’s contribution was anonymous for a long time while Watson and Frick became household words to anyone working in cell science. Interestingly, the Nobel statues also say a prize can’t be divided between more than three people. If Franklin had lived, who would NOT have received the Nobel Prize in 1962?
  • Anne Morrow Lindbergh was an accomplished aviator in her own right. But she went through life identified as the wife of Charles Lindbergh.
  • Lynn Margulis was an American biologist who proposed the endosymbiotic theory in 1971. The theory states that eukaryotic organisms (composed of cells with nuclei) evolve through symbiotic relationships with other cells. She was dismissed as a kook. As molecular and cellular biology advanced, she was proven right and awarded the 1999 National Medal of Science.
  • The field of paleontology grew in the 1800s due the efforts of a young woman who lived in poverty, Mary Anning. She discovered some of the first ichthyosaurs and other species on the coast of England, rarely receiving credit.
  • Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer program.
  • Informally they’re known as the Mercury 13, after a great book by Martha Ackmann. This group of women underwent astronaut training in the late 50s and early 60s. Several of them performed better than the Mercury 7 astronauts during testing, yet the final decision was that women didn’t belong in space.
  • Mary Leakey was another accomplished paleontologist, often overshadowed by her husband and later one of her son’s, also scientists. She discovered the first fossilized Proconsul skull, an ancestor to humans, and the earliest known human footprints.
  • Grace Hopper was one of the first programmers of the modern computer and wrote the first compiler, COBOL, and other programs.
  • Thanks to women, the United States continued operations during World War II as men of draft age were called into service. Women tested and transported new airplanes. They monitored the weather for government weather agencies. They ran new computer devices and kept the factories operational. Approximately five million women entered the workforce between 1940-1945 and performed the jobs that needed doing. And even though they performed their jobs well, many were fired when the war ended.

To paraphrase something said before—Women’s History is Everyone’s History.


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Illinois is 200!

I just received my advanced copies of the March-April issue of Midwest Traveler. The cover story is my Illinois bicentennial article. I once lived in Illinois and loved it. We lived in the Chicago suburbs, and for a girl from Texas, the varied cultures and experiences that made up Illinois were fascinating.




Since it has been awhile since I lived in Illinois, I returned last autumn for a research trip. I thought I knew the Loop and lake area. I have memories of visiting Springfield. But I saw everything with new eyes while I was there. I had a blast even though it rained during much of my visit.

Even though it felt new, I took an unexpected trip back in time. What was the catalyst? Oddly enough, it wasn’t the “L” rattling by, the Sears Tower with a new name, or even my favorite Field Museum sitting on Lake Michigan’s shores. It was a giant orange sculpture standing 53 feet in the air. Named the Flamingo, the sculpture by Alexander Calder was an early piece of public art in the city.


Was it a special favorite of mine when I lived in Chicago? Not that I recall. But just like smells can bring memories of other times, the site of this steel sculpture recalled my time in Illinois and I felt immense joy.


If you have the opportunity to visit Illinois during 2018, do. And if you already live there, it’s time to take a vacation in your backyard. Lots of people have worked very hard to make this year-long celebration a blast. You can find out more about it at Illinois200.





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Life is a Playground


My seven-year-old son is a swing, while his two-year-old brother is a slide. Sometimes this surprises me since they look so much alike. Scattered baby pictures that haven’t made their way to photo albums make it hard to distinguish between the two. Both share big, warm eyes framed by long eyelashes, curly hair, and knock em’ dead smiles.

The seven-year-old has adopted the leanness of childhood, while his brother still retains some toddler chubbiness. But it’s impossible not to see that they are brothers.

But the seven-year-old is a swing. At a young age, he preferred the swing among all the choices at the park. The smooth ride of the swing was similar to what he preferred in life. No surprises. Just an even back and forth, slow and easy ride.

He has since graduated to other playground equipment like the monkey bars and the slide, but only after time spent observing and studying. I used to worry about such extreme caution. After all, isn’t childhood about living? Taking chances? Knowing no fear? Leaving the fear to parents who suddenly develop a fear of heights when they discover their child twenty feet up in a tree?

However, he brings this careful study to the beginning of each school year and each new extracurricular activity. I am beginning to realize that these traits are part of his personality.

When the two-year-old was first introduced to a playground, the first thing he headed for was a slide. And not one of those tiny slides I could lift him onto either. No, he wanted the full-size slide. The thrill of climbing to new heights, and then gliding down fast and out of control.

My two-ear-old loves all kinds of slides—short, tall, straight, spiral—and the many ways to go down a slide too. Feet first. Head first. Sideways. Never are two trips the same.

The two-year-old approaches life the same way. Seeking out new challenges, looking for the thrill. Is that a ladder over there? Let’s see where it will take me. He flashes me a look and says, “me do it!” with all the determination his little body holds. I hover near the steps until he is safely seated at the top before rushing around to the bottom of the slide. I move away, to watch and not catch. Even when the slide is so slick that he glides right off onto his knees or the seat of his pants. I watch and let him experience the ride.

According to pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, first-born children are often more conscious and anxious, even physically fearful about their achievements. Parents play a part in this by rushing to help the child with a task before he masters it on his own. In a way, all the attention we pay to the first-born results in pressure that makes every success and failure a major undertaking.

Second-born children typically don’t feel the same pressure that first-borns do. The second child is looking for his place in the world, and he does this by experimenting. He’s more relaxed because like most parents, we are more relaxed the second time around.

The seven-year-old is now quite adamant about not wanting to go to a park with “baby things.” He likes to climb those huge wood jungle gyms. If he’s never been on a particular playground toy before, he studies it and watches what the other kids do before trying it on his own. But the entire experience of climbing up and climbing down is still under his control. There are few surprises because he has a pretty good idea of what his body can do.

The last time I took the two-year-old to the playground, most of the slides were hot from the sun. Before I knew it, he was climbing up a monkey bar contraption where kids climb curved bars until they reach a platform. Then there’s a pole to slide down.

I was allowed to help the two-year slide down the pole because his arms and legs were just a little too short to reach. But before he even climbed to the first rung of the monkey bars, he turned to me and said, “Mommy, me do!”

At two-years-old, he knows his mother has a tendency to help too much. So I stood there, hands stretched out, ready to catch him if he fell and trying so very hard not to give him help.

Now, I wait for the arrival of my third child. I wonder what he or she will be like. A swing? A slide? Or perhaps this time a merry-go-round?


Note: I wrote this essay many years ago, but liked the concept so much that I decided to use it for Write Time. And I am happy to say that child number three was indeed a merry-go-round, but that’s another story.

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