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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Humanity, Mars, And A Movie Called "Red Planet"

Post by Kristy McCaffrey

A planned permanent settlement of Mars via a private enterprise called Mars One has been in the news lately. (More info can be found here.) The first unmanned mission will launch in 2018 and, beginning in 2024, crews of four will be sent every two years. In a rather unprecedented move, an open call for astronauts was offered to the general public, no extraordinary skills necessary. (The crew will undergo several years of training before departure.) The catch? It’s a one-way ride. Once on Mars, these interplanetary travelers will live out their lives on the Red Planet.

While I’m a great fan of science, and the daring innovations that sometimes accompany it, I was greatly dismayed when my 19-year-old son applied. I’m not sure who sobbed more, me or his girlfriend. When he didn’t make the initial cut (there were over 200,000 applicants), I couldn’t hide my sigh of relief. While I truly want him to live a life of curiosity and adventure, I still want to see his handsome mug for Sunday dinner…frequently. Sometimes, I’m a selfish woman. I admit it.

In the spirit of off-world exploration, however, I’d like to share one of my favorite movies. Red Planet, a science fiction film released in 2000, starred Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore, Benjamin Bratt, Simon Baker, and Terence Stamp.

In 2025 A.D., Earth is polluted beyond the point of no return. With the goal of one day colonizing Mars, probes have been depositing algae in an effort to create a breathable atmosphere for more than twenty years, but when the oxygen levels suddenly drop, a mission, Mars-1, is launched to investigate.

Upon reaching orbit the ship is damaged after suffering a massive proton field upset, and the commander, Bowman (Moss), must remain behind while the crew descends to the surface. During a rough landing, in which an important piece of equipment is lost—a military robot called AMEE, short for Autonomous Mapping Exploration and Evasion—they also lose Chantillas (Stamp), chief science officer and doctor.

Gallagher and Chantillas
Landing in the wrong location and with a limited amount of oxygen in their suits, the goal is to find HAB-1, a pre-built habitat that will offer 26 months of food, air and shelter. But HAB-1 has been destroyed, and they have no idea why. On the verge of death by suffocation, Gallagher (Kilmer) opens his face mask, and to his shock discovers a breathable atmosphere—barely, as if at high altitude—on Mars. But it’s enough for them to survive.

They manage to establish contact with Bowman in orbit (via a 50-year-old off-the-shelf computer modem salvaged from a 1997 abandoned rover) and must now make their way to an old Russian rock probe called Cosmos, in the hopes that they can launch it back to Mars-1. Along the way, they must contend with conflicting personalities, the source of that breathable air (hint—there is a life form on Mars but, thankfully, the film doesn’t digress too much into a horror movie) and AMEE, who’s gone rogue (in typical robot fashion) and considers them a threat.

Gallagher and AMEE
Each character offers a slice of humanity. Chantillas (Stamp) is the soul of the group. Straddling the never-ending precipice between technology and religion, he states early on, “Science couldn’t answer any of the really interesting questions, so I turned to philosophy. I’ve been searching for God ever since.”

Pettingill (Baker), a terraforming scientist, is the reluctant, uncertain member of the team, while Santen (Bratt) is the brash pilot with an ego that easily bullies Pettingill, leading to a tragic consequence. And Burchenal (Sizemore), a geneticist, believes only in the nature of man and the purity of science. In his mind, it’s man’s right to move through his surroundings, taking what he needs, what he wants, and manipulating life itself, right down to the cellular level.
Pettengill, Burchenal and Santen

The main character, Gallagher (Kilmer), a mechanical systems engineer nicknamed “the Space Janitor,” showcases the ingenuity of humans to survive against all odds. But my favorite character is Bowmen (Moss), the only woman in the group. As commander, she spends the better part of the film alone in orbit on a busted spaceship, problem-solving and keeping herself alive. She’s cool, calm and intelligent, capable enough to command the respect of her male peers—the ultimate female role model. And while there is a hint of romance between her and Gallagher, she certainly doesn’t let this define her.

One of my most favorite lines of all time is in this movie. After crash-landing on the surface of Mars, Gallagher and the others try to determine their location and heading. Burchenal states that it’s all about the math, to which Gallagher replies, “This is it. That moment they told us about in high school, where one day algebra would save our lives.”

I admire the men and women who are willing to risk their lives in such endeavors, and when Mars One launches the first brave souls in 2024, I’ll be right there, cheering them on, secretly grateful that my son remains behind to explore science right here on Earth. In the meantime, I’ve got great movies like Red Planet to vicariously experience space travel, and I’ve got “Rocket Man” by Elton John on repeat.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Number Superstitions

Post by Kristy McCaffrey

Numbers have long carried sacred and mystical significance, helping us to understand our place in the world. For example, four thousand years ago the Sumerians created the measuring system of time—60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day. There’s debate about whether numbers originated in China or India, but it’s fairly certain that they came before the use of letters.

Numerology is the belief in the mysterious, esoteric relationship between numbers and living things, physical objects, ideas, and concepts. Each number has a generally accepted definition.
0: The nothing
            1: Oneness
            2: Duality
            3: Spirit
            4: Earth
            5: Harmony
            6: Marriage
            7: Spirituality
            8: Eternity
            9: The limited and the limitless
            10: Death and rebirth

Here are a few famous numbers, along with positive and negative connotations associated with each.

4: A masculine number, symbolizing wholesomeness, organization and order. There are four cardinal directions (north, south, east west), four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and four elements (earth, air, fire and water). But in China the pronunciation of the word for the number four is similar to that of the Chinese word for death. Therefore, many buildings in China skip a fourth floor, just as U.S. builders sometimes omit floor 13.

13: Long regarded as unlucky. The Kabbalah states that there are 13 spirits of evil. It’s considered unlucky to have 13 people sit down to dinner, a reminder of the Last Supper where Christ was betrayed by one of his 12 disciples. In the Tarot deck, 13 is the number of Death. But, it’s not all bad. The calendar year is divided into 12 months, but there are actually 13 lunar months, which led the Mayans to revere the number. In ancient times, the 13th member of a group was thought to be the leader—Zeus and the 12 gods and goddesses, Christ and the 12 disciples, King Arthur and the 12 Knights of the Round Table.

17: This number is almost universally important, a beneficial number representing spirituality, immortality, rebirth, and transformation. The reasoning can be found in the component elements. If you take 1+7 = 8, you have 1 (number of the One God), 7 (number of completeness and perfection), and 8 (number of cosmic balance and harmony). In Islam, it’s believed that the sacred name of God is comprised of 17 letters. For this reason the number appears repeatedly in Islamic tradition and folklore. In the Bible, the Flood is said to have begun on the 17th day of the second month and ended on the 17th day of the seventh month. Greeks still believe that the 17th day of any month is a good day to cut wood to build a ship. But the naysayers include both the Egyptians (Osiris, God of the Dead, was slain on the 17th day of the month) and the Italians (rearranging the Roman numeral XVII can create the word “VIXI”, translated from Latin to mean “my life is over”).

42: Per Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this is the secret of everything in the Universe. J

666: Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia is a fear of the number 666. In the Bible, the number first appears as a reference to the amount of King Solomon’s wealth in the First Book of Kings in the Old Testament. But the root of the dark superstition surrounding the number comes from the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. John the Apostle refers to 666 as “the number of the beast,” often interpreted as the Antichrist, or Satan. But if numerology is employed, 6+6+6 = 18, which breaks down to 1+8 = 9. Nine is known as the number of man, so one line of thought is that John referred to the “beast” as the material part of man as opposed to the spiritual side. When 666 is spoken aloud in Chinese, it sounds like the phrase, Things going smoothly. It is one of the luckiest numbers in China and often appears on banners and good-luck cards. In science, the number denotes Carbon-12, a stable and naturally occurring isotope with 6 protons, 6 neutrons, and 6 electrons; it forms 98.93% of the carbon on Earth.

On the surface, numbers are simply a way to keep track of the world around us. Beneath this definition lies a deep philosophical history surrounding the symbolism of numbers, a belief that spans across time and cultures. Numbers are sacred, defining the mystical and nature itself.

Works Cited

Nozedar, Adele. The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols. Harper Collins, 2008.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

China: Cultural Differences And Etiquette

Post by Kristy McCaffrey

The symbolic dragon is more serpentine in nature within

Three years ago, I accompanied my husband to China on a business trip, along with two associates and another wife. We spent much of the week in Beijing, a bustling city with intriguing architecture, insane traffic, and pollution. My husband buys and sells steel products into the U.S. and we were fortunate that the company he interfaces with took care of us, because we spoke no Chinese. I’ve been to foreign countries where I didn’t know the language, but getting by wasn’t a problem. Not so in China. Chinese characters are impossible to decipher, and the country doesn’t include English counterparts on signs.

We saw the main tourist sites: the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, the 2008 Olympic village, and the Great Wall. But the more interesting aspect was the cultural differences and etiquette expectations.

The Forbidden City, Beijing, China.

The Great Wall at Badaling, a short drive outside

My husband and I at the Bird's Nest, site of the
2008 Summer Olympics.

The hotel in the distance was built to resemble a
dragon. Olympic Village, Beijing.

We learned that when a Chinese person hands you their business card, which they did with regularity, they present with both hands. In return, you must receive it with both of your hands. When pausing while eating, do not put chopsticks vertically in any food. This symbolizes death. This was a difficult habit to avoid since chopsticks tend to roll away when not in use, sometimes to the floor. The Chinese are very adamant about visiting the restroom before a meal to wash hands (certainly a good practice and one we did at times en masse); however, at mealtime everyone jabbed chopsticks into the food on the lazy susan and continuously ate straight from the entrees. Sharing spit was apparently okay. We were given a small plate, but this was merely a drip dish. Old habits die hard though—I always tried to stack food onto the tiny plate, in true American fashion.

We were treated to authentic Chinese cuisine (no rice, no egg rolls, no fortune cookies), consisting of vegetable dishes, noodles, tofu, seafood, and meat (pork, chicken, duck). We were never served dessert, although I recall eating fried pumpkin with one meal that more than satisfied my sweet tooth.

Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an, China. They were buried
with Emperor Qin Shi Huang around 210 B.C. to
protect him in the afterlife.
Mid-week, we flew to Xi’an, a 2-hour flight south, to meet with additional business contacts. We were also eager to visit the massive Terracotta Warrior Exhibit. It’s truly magnificent and the Chinese government has invested a great deal of money and resources into the area, making it a huge tourist draw. During one business lunch, we were served soup with a side of flatbread. We’d been starving for bread for days, and the sight of it made all of us audibly sigh. My husband wasted no time tearing it into pieces and dropping into his soup. Without warning, all the Chinese at the table yelled and threw up their hands. Stunned, we froze, having no idea what we’d done. No one spoke English, except one young woman, and in the end she never adequately explained our faux pas. But, we were all careful after that to make certain our bread made no contact with our soup.

This amazing find was discovered in 1974 by a local
farmer. The majority of the 8,000 soldiers are still

One issue of concern was that we might inadvertently consume dog, having heard rumors that Chinese ate them routinely. To avoid this, at every meal we inquired as to the contents of every single dish. Only once was my husband served canine meat, which he steadfastly avoided. This custom originated with the Koreans and was brought to China by the large number of immigrants into the country, so isn’t as widespread as we’d feared.

Each evening our host treated us to a large dinner. We couldn’t refuse, despite the fact that we were often dead-tired. (It was a 15 hour time difference for us.) The seating arrangement was of utmost importance, with our host instructing everyone where to sit. My husband and his business partners were placed near the head of the table, ranked by their position of power (or perceived power), then wives, then lower-standing employees.

Near the end of our trip my husband tried to refuse a business luncheon, due to time constraints; all he wanted was a quick office visit. The Chinese refused to take the meeting without the meal. It was simply too rude to show up and not partake of their hospitality. We Westerners don’t like to waste time, and it would seem, are generally less sociable than our Chinese counterparts.

Everyone in China works, in fact they are some of the most industrious people we’ve ever met. The young 20-somethings who made up the workforce of our helper company were energetic, inquisitive men and women who had, for the most part, a strong grasp of English. One young man, who spoke very well, said he learned by watching episodes of “Friends.” (His slang was excellent.) It wasn’t uncommon for these workers to put in 10-12 hour days, but the pay for most is so low that they can only afford to rent a room in someone else’s apartment. They fully accepted the dictate that they would only ever have one child, and seemed a little perplexed by the fact that I had four offspring and the accompanying wife had five.

I’m embarrassed to admit that the only Chinese I attempted was “thank you,” and I soon gave that up. The phrase is xie xie, and I struggled with the pronunciation since every Asian I asked told me something different (see-see, zhee-zhee). Because a slight change in pronunciation can greatly alter the meaning, I received enough laughs and smirks that I soon retreated from speaking the local language. But, despite those moments, the Chinese people are wonderful, intelligent, and hard-working. I was immensely impressed by them.

How do I look as a Chinese Empress? It's more likely
I would've been a concubine.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Free The Writer And Beware Of Monkey Mind

Post by Kristy McCaffrey

While not everyone is set on writing the next great novel, we all want to tell our stories. A wonderful book to help get you started, or to reignite a passion that may have become stagnant, is Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. First published in 1986 and rooted in Zen methodology, her advice is simple: trust in what you love, trust in your own mind, and everything else will follow.

“Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate.”

Goldberg points out that people often write from a mentality of poverty, thinking they need a teacher to tell them what to do or how to do it. The opposite is generally true. We learn writing by doing it. And to write well one must read a lot, listen well and deeply, and write a lot.

We live in a society that rewards being busy, but that often isn’t fruitful or soul-fulfilling. Beware of monkey mind, says Goldberg, since it likes to create busyness that can keep us from our true heart. She believes that everyone has talent, but it’s obviously easier for some to tap into it than others. Human effort is necessary, so don’t shy away from doing the work. But it’s also more than just the work, it’s allowing and recognizing that the effort has awakened us. This lets a writer become aware and mindful, to shape the talent into something useful, something that resonates.

“Finally, one just has to shut up, sit down, and write. That is painful. Writing is so simple, basic, and austere.”

Develop a writing practice, a writing workout each day. A runner doesn’t improve without consistent running. The same is true for a writer. So, carve out this space, but know that it’s okay to write without a destination. Expectation can freeze the process. It also takes time to reflect on certain ideas, certain experiences, before they can be put down on paper. Goldberg refers to this as composting. These things can’t be rushed, so best to cultivate patience and acceptance. It can make the writing life less anxiety-provoking.

She offers techniques to stop fighting yourself (and the endless distractions that keep you from writing) such as: give yourself free time in the morning to do whatever, but at 10 a.m. you must sit down and write something; or you must fill at least one notebook a month, not with quality but quantity; or, as soon as you wake up, go directly to your desk and write (eating and teeth brushing can wait). Another technique is timed writing and first thoughts. This can remove the critic filter than often shoots down an idea before it can be fully crafted.

Need a writing prompt? Take five minutes to write down your deep dreams. And then? Don’t ignore what you wrote. Actually, it will likely be difficult to avoid your thoughts now that they’re laid out before you. Simply said, it will change your life.

This book can be read straight through, or sporadically when needed. I guarantee that at least one of Goldberg’s many suggestions and insights will spark something inside yourself and may just lead you to write down the bones.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Cowboy Casanova Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Cowboy Casanova Giveaway Hop!

Author Lily Graison is hosting a blog hop from
February 12th - 16th.

What you could win!

Two winners will each receive an e-copy of one of my books (winner's choice). Leave a comment below to be eligible (please include your email address).

Check out the link at the bottom of this article for more great giveaway stops.

Wings of the West Series: Book One 

Ten years have passed since her ranch was attacked, her folks murdered and Molly Hart was abducted.  Now, at nineteen, she’s finally returning home to north Texas after spending the remainder of her childhood with a tribe of Kwahadi Comanche.  What she finds is a deserted home coated with dust and the passage of time, the chilling discovery of her own gravesite, and the presence of a man she thought never to see again.

Matt Ryan is pushed by a restless wind to the broken-down remains of the Hart ranch.  Recently recovering from an imprisonment that nearly ended his life, the drive for truth and fairness has all but abandoned him.  For ten years he faithfully served the U.S. Army and the Texas Rangers, seeking justice for the brutal murder of a little girl, only to find closure and healing beyond his grasp.  Returning to the place where it all began, he’s surprised to stumble across a woman with the same blue eyes as the child he can’t put out of his mind. 

Wings of the West Series: Book Two

Disappointment hits ex-deputy Logan Ryan hard when he finds Claire Waters in the midst of a bustling Santa Fe Trail town.  The woman he remembers is gone—in her place is a working girl with enticing curves and a load of trouble.  As a web of deceit entangles them with men both desperate and dangerous, Logan tries to protect Claire, unaware his own past poses the greatest threat.

Plagued by shame all her life, Claire is stunned when Logan catches her on the doorstep of The White Dove Saloon dressed as a prostitute.  She lets him believe the worst but with her mama missing and the fancy girls deserting the place, she's hard-pressed to refuse his offer of help.  As she embarks on a journey that will unravel the fabric of her life one thing becomes clear—opening her heart may be the most dangerous proposition of all.

Wings of the West Series: Book Three

In 1877 Emma Hart comes to Grand Canyon, a wild, rugged, and until recently undiscovered area. Plagued by visions and gifted with a second sight, she searches for answers—about the tragedy of her past, the betrayal of her present, and an elusive future that echoes through her very soul. Joined by her power animal Sparrow, she ventures into the depths of Hopi folklore, forced to confront an evil that has lived through the ages.

            Texas Ranger Nathan Blackmore tracks Emma Hart to the Colorado River, stunned by her determination to ride a wooden dory along its course. But in a place where the ripples of time run deep, he’ll be faced with a choice. He must accept the unseen realm, the world beside this world, that he’d turned away from years ago or risk losing the woman he has come to love more than life itself.



Ethan Barstow has come to Arizona Territory to search for his younger brother, Charley. It’s been five years since a woman came between them and it’s high time they buried the hatchet. He soon learns that his brother has broken more than one heart in town, has mysteriously and abruptly disappeared, and that an indignant fiancée is hot on his trail.
Kate Kinsella pursues Charley Barstow when he skips out of town without a second thought. Not only has he left Agnes McPherson alone and pregnant, but everyone still believes that he and Kate are engaged, a sham from the beginning. An ill-timed encounter with a group of ruffians has her suddenly in the company of Ethan Barstow, Charley’s brother and a man of questionable repute. As they move deeper into the shadows of the Arizona desert, family tensions and past tragedies threaten to destroy a relationship neither of them expects.

View the complete list of blogs participating in this giveaway hop by clicking here. Great prizes at each stop.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Interesting Facts About Our Solar System And Beyond

Post by Kristy McCaffrey

While I love to write romance novels, my background is actually in science. I know what you’re thinking—one day I must write a love story involving a female scientist. Yes, it’s in the works. In the meantime, here’s some interesting information that may wow you.

*The moon is gradually receding from the Earth at a rate of about two centimeters each year. As a result, the Earth’s rotation is slowing down by 17 milliseconds each century. In fact, the day was closer to 22 hours back when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth.

*Somewhere between 1.75 billion and 3.25 billion years from now, Earth will travel out of the solar system’s habitable zone.

*A unique Martian meteorite discovered in the Sahara Desert in 2011 came from the Red Planet’s crust around 2.1 billion years ago, and contains around ten times more water than other Martian meteorites. Known as “Black Beauty”, it may be the first meteorite discovered from Mars’ surface.
*Humanity has now officially reached interstellar space. It’s estimated that the 36-year-old Voyager 1 spacecraft left the solar system on August 25th, 2012. Voyager 1—with a 23-watt transmitter, about the equivalent of a refrigerator light bulb—should keep sending data until roughly 2025.

*More than 1000 earths could fit inside Jupiter.

*Two million years ago, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy was 100 million times more powerful than it is today. The supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way last erupted two million years ago—and it will again, scientists say.

*Astronomers have discovered a galaxy 13.1 billion light-years from Earth, making it the most distant object ever detected.

*It takes light 100,000 years to travel from one end of the Milky Way galaxy to the other.
On a lighter note, I leave you with a joke, courtesy of Ellen DeGeneres and her Twitter account.
How does NASA organize a birthday party? They planet.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Enchanted Forest, Skiing With My Daughter, and Fun

Post by Kristy McCaffrey 

Elizabeth and Hannah, always having fun.
During our recent family ski trip to Telluride, Colorado, I had the opportunity, on the last day of our vacation, to hang out with my youngest daughter, Hannah, and her friend, Elizabeth. The two of them had been spending their time on the mountain on their own, enjoying their independence as only 14-year-olds can.

At the end of the trip, however, they both expressed a desire to ski The Plunge, the famous run at Telluride. A black diamond at the top and a double-black at the bottom, this wasn’t a descent for beginners. (Ski runs are rated as green, blue or black, from easiest to most difficult.) But I knew Hannah and Elizabeth had the skills necessary, so offered to take them. They succeeded in their quest, and I was happy to help them push their limits. There’s nothing like the feeling of tackling something you fear and coming out the other side successful.

I find this sign rather philosophical.
A metaphor for life?

Hannah and Elizabeth on the Plunge.

In return, they invited me into the Enchanted Forest, a trail through the trees. Honestly, it never occurs to me to engage in skiing of this sort. I’m always trying to better myself by attacking steep, mogul-filled hills. How will I get better, otherwise? Is this fun? Mostly, no.

Hannah entering the Enchanted Forest.

So I entered the Enchanted Forest, and to my surprise, that’s where fun had been hiding. Hannah and Elizabeth took such giddy delight in swooshing between trees and getting stuck on flat spots, dissolving into laughter when we all fell and created a pile-up that I found my instant of bliss at long last. You know that moment, when you’re not striving or struggling with the experience, you’re simply one with it. In that space sits wonder, and joy, and happiness.

It seems age and responsibility have clouded my “fun” viewfinder, but my daughter’s is crystal-clear. For the remainder of the afternoon, I followed her keen eyes through a magical and enchanted forest.

Who knew that the "fun" viewfinder is
located in a pair of ski goggles.