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I was at work, in the Engineering Department of a local municipality. My usual workday started at 8:00 a.m. and the day was business as usual as far as I can recall.

At some point, after my daily coffee-making and re-filling of the office humidifier, my boss – I don’t remember if he said something or not – was in his office watching the news on his tv, and that was where my coworkers were all located.

I went in to see what was going on and the talk was about how a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. A small private plane? None of us imagined at that moment that the tower had been hit by a full-size passenger jet; none of us would have even considered this as a possibility I don’t think. There were views offered of a smoking tower from various angles. No footage of the plane hitting the building.

Just a normal news story as far as we were concerned – unusual and unfortunate, but not unbelievable for a morning in America…until a few minutes later when a second plane struck the second tower. Now there were concerns about how this couldn’t possibly be a coincidence. We stayed glued to the tv.

Then…an hour later?…the Pentagon was hit. There was no doubt that we were under attack (and by “we” I mean the United States of America). Not a coincidence. AND OUR SECRETARY’S SON WORKED AT THE PENTAGON.

She tried calling his office, his cell phone, his family. No one knew anything – it was too early for any coherent information to get out about individual people, and there was so much cellular activity during these moments that most calls couldn’t get through.

New York City. Washington, D.C. Can’t reach loved ones.

Our secretary was beside herself. Panic set in. I took the phone from her and said that I would dial the number until I got through.  I sat at her desk, dialed, hung up, dialed, hung up, over and over. I never even got a line out.

Then Shanksville, Pennsylvania. A plane down on the ground, in a field not 45 minutes away from where I was sitting. The Engineering Department was housed in the Public Safety building. We were on lock-down. No one in, no one out. Armed guards at every door.

Then – the phone call went through – and – “I GOT HIM!” I screamed to the other room where our secretary was watching tv. “I HAVE HIM ON THE PHONE!! HE’S OKAY!!”. She rushed in, we made the hand-off, and I left her office to give her some privacy with her son. He was across the street at a meeting in another building that morning.

Of course, no one knew at that moment that the attack was over. Eventually I had to walk away from the tv, just had to stop watching. Too much to think about and not anything that anyone could do about it.

Lunchtime – still on lockdown and no one had brought lunch with them that morning. We were all complaining that we should be sent home, especially if city officials were thinking that our building was a potential target. I was finally let out to get lunch for everyone after some bargaining with the police officer at the door. This was maybe two hours or so after the last plane came down and tension was a little less.

The city was absolutely quiet. No one said anything. Just ordered their meals and left.

The rest of the day went by slowly. Why we didn’t all just leave, I don’t know. I guess we had each other at the office and that was a good thing.

What I learned later:

My friend Kate, who worked downtown in D.C., had to walk miles out of the city – no public transportation was running – until she finally met up with her husband who had been driving around the City trying to find her. They couldn’t use cell phones to connect. Fighter planes flew overhead all day. Everyone was walking.

One of the prominent businessmen in town nearly lost his daughter that day. She was doing business in the second tower when the first tower was hit. She panicked and left because she felt extremely claustrophobic all of a sudden. She got out alive.

National Geographic’s Ann Judge and Joe Ferguson were on Flight 77, along with a group of teachers and students, bound for a NOAA research project in California.

Robert LeBlanc, Geography Professor Emeritus at the University of New Hampshire, was on Flight 175.

What do you remember?



The Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, New Orleans, Louisiana

Back in May I had the opportunity to tour the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in New Orleans, Louisiana, part of the Audubon Nature Institute. It was my last day in town, it was pouring rain, and I was honestly too tired to accomplish anything that was too much trouble. Turns out this attraction was located about a block from my hotel downtown on Canal Street. It’s open Tuesday – Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and tickets are $16.50 for adults, $12.00 for children, and $13.00 for the 65+ crowd. Be sure to look around at all of the tourist pamphlets in nearby hotels for an admission coupon. I can’t remember exactly what I paid, but it was around $11.00 – well worth finding the coupon.

There are a lot of exhibits worth seeing here. My favorites are the Butterfly Garden and the pinned insect collection. There were “caves” to walk through to experience how underground bugs live, insect cams to watch real, live bugs at work (here is a link to the cockroach cam for your viewing pleasure, sponsored by Animal Planet; and here is the Ant Cam), and even a café where you can eat bugs called Bug Appétit. I didn’t do the latter. There was also a fantastic recreation of a Louisiana Swamp, and all of the critters that would normally be found there.

I should point out that the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium is part of a larger group of Audubon attractions in the New Orleans area. There is also the Audubon Zoo, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, he Entergy IMAX Theatre at the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, and you can get in to all of these places for one fee if you buy the Audubon Experience Package – $44.50 for adults, $27.50 for children, and $31.50 for seniors. This package allows a person into each attraction once over a 14 day period, so no need to rush around to see everything in one day (unless that’s all the time you have).

You can go online here and send a number of free Audubon E-cards, each featuring fantastic photography of various animals from some of the Audubon facilities. I was also able to download an App for the Insectarium from my iPod Touch before my trip to help me plan. Just go to the App Store and search for Audubon Apps. This particular App is FREE.

Here are my best photos of the bugs:

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Lynn and I in the Butterfly Garden:

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Here are my three traveling companions at the Café:

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Emily, Doer of Stuff

The Florida Everglades


I had the opportunity to ride on an airboat recently in the Florida Everglades. Despite having to get up in the wee hours of the morning, the trip was wonderful.


This little guy was the co-pilot of my boat. He is six years old. I can only imagine that spending your summer on a boat like this with Dad would be fantastically adventurous.


We had really great weather. I coated myself with sunblock since my northern-European skin isn’t used to all of this blatent Vitamin D.



This is the view from behind me.


There were at least 3 other boats out that day. Where there be boats, there be gators.


Did I mention the absurdly terrific weather?


Here is a male grackle. He seemed totally comfortable around the boats.


This is a female alligator. Not a very big one.


Here is our grackle friend calling out an alert.


And here is another female gator approaching.



The weather did start promising some mystery and intrigue.


I love the reflections of the clouds in the water.


Here’s a line of some potential rainfall. It started pouring rain within 10 minutes of us getting back to the docks.


This cormorant was sunning himself.


As was this turkey vulture.


I’m squinting in the sun, not mad. Self-portrait.


I love how we leave out mark everywhere, don’t you? Not everything gets to remain pristine, I guess. I do like my electricity.


Ahhhh. Industrial infrastructure……


Geographers in the field?


I had a great morning. Highly recommended!

Emily, Doer of Stuff

T3G Adventures, Part II

In case you missed it, my last post was Part I. Lots of learning here! So, here we go with Part II….

Day 3:
Today was our first trip into the field. We got a brief lesson on using GPS units, then went outside in groups to collect real world data. I collected data on rocks around the building we were meeting in. I paired up with Frank from Virginia because we also collected data with cell phone apps. The cell phone collection was very easy; we could get our data point and assign attributes in the field, then attach a photo of our object. Very cool stuff – much more friendly than a standard GPS unit (Garmin etrex) because you can access the platform right from the device. A GPS unit has to be taken back inside to download the data, then convert that data set into a CSV file, then bring that into a map as a layer. The serious advantage of the GPS? It relies on satellite triangulation (well, trilateration, actually) via radio signals do determine its location and can be used anywhere, anytime – no tower required. A cell phone relies on a network and can have spotty coverage in many places. Things to think about.

Here’s a picture of my partner, Frank, in a photo we like to call “Frank On The Rocks”.

Frankonthe rocks
Also, we had a mini-lesson on something that I have known forever – while Degrees/Minutes/Seconds (a measurement of how far away you are from where the sun is at Noon) still obviously exists, who would work in Base 60 when they could be working in Base 10??!? Decimal Degrees are the way to go as far as I’m concerned.

Here I am with a Garmin GPS unit around my neck, with yet another rock. I joked that these were “glacial erratics”.

The reality of using cell phones and/or GPS units to collect data in the field has massive implications for the classroom. Citizen science can occur with multiple platforms (devices) at the same time. And while a class that uses this technology may be chaotic the first time outside while everyone adjusts to the minor differences between devices used by the group, kids today will adapt and learn the complexities of technology very quickly. I think that this kind of learning will engage some of the students who might now do as well with “traditional” learning methods, too.

It was at this point that we had a M3.1 earthquake, centered at 34.007N, -117.174W, which translates into an extremely modest earthquake who’s epicenter was located about 5 km south of Redlands, CA at 11:50 a.m., Pacific Standard Time. I didn’t even feel it. I had to hear about it from Cowboy Jim later on that night. Sad, no?

After lunch I headed to the ESRI Learning Center, across campus, to learn how to use ESRI Maps for Office. How cool is this? Anyone with an Organizational account, Office 10 or 13, and the ESRI Maps for Office app loaded onto their machine. I was amazed at how easily I could insert both a static and a dynamic map in Power Point, and how I could drop and drag an Excel spreadsheet right into ArcGIS and automatically get a map without having to futz with the data AT ALL. [Years ago I spent a considerable amount of time {WEEKS} correcting data spreadsheets before I could bring them successfully into ArcView 3.12a – what a massive change this feature is!].
This application is a great way to engage people in other disciplines with GIS. A science teacher can use data stored in an Excel file to make a map and analyze the dataset. An English teacher can make a story map from the geographic locations in a book (ex. The Grapes of Wrath, The Road, The Kite Runner). A Social Studies teacher can drop interactive maps right into lesson plans on the Smart Board, and have student manipulate the maps right there in the classroom. So many possibilities…all of which are fairly easy to incorporate into the classroom without much training.
Later in the afternoon participants spent a good deal of time discussing what effective Professional Development looks like. We should know since we were all there doing it, right?
Initially we were asked to get into small groups and come up with what good professional development should look like. There should be engagement. Teachers should use materials that they are actually going to use in the classroom, activities that are based on real world situations, so they feel empowered by the end of the training, not just overwhelmed with details. Examples of student’s work would be helpful. Activities should be related to standards – Common Core, STEM, etc. Teachers need to know that this training is worth their time and expense. Do they feel that it is important for them to be here? This training needs to actually meet a need or solve a problem.

Participants need to have access to technology during their training, whether individually or as part of a lab. There needs to be time for networking and the sharing of ideas for future application – time away from the programmed learning times, so attendees can connect with each other and pass ideas around. Having choices between topics is great if the training is big enough so that people get the skills that most apply to their area. There needs to be room for creativity alongside of skill development. Allow teachers to feel ownership! Acknowledge their areas of specialty!
There also needs to be a means of follow-up after the training is done so that trainers know that their content is being implemented in classrooms, and so that teachers have access to answers and ideas if they get stuck. We talked a bit about the idea of Mentoring. Who out there in each state is trained in certain topics? Who can teachers go to for help, encouragement, etc.? The idea is to create sustainable success so no one – teacher or trainer – feels like they are sitting, spinning their wheels.

At some point we decided to start a FlashMob that detailed the “rotate your equator” and “bend your knees” advice of instructor Charlie Fitzpatrick. It was a bit less “mob”, than we hoped, but there was definitely “flash”. We are a fun group!

We had a great overview of the history of Redlands, CA from Cowboy Jim so that we would have some knowledge of the area that we would be exploring on foot for tomorrow’s field trip. He mentioned the teensie-wee earthquake, then said, “California, with all your faults, we love you still. Very still.”


Day 4
Field Trip! Sarah Goggins and I paired up to collect data on street lamps in downtown Redlands. We were assigned to Zone 7. Sarah had a cell phone, so we were able to collect all of our points, enter attributes for them, and attach photos and comments while we were in the field. We didn’t have to write a single thing down because the points were being uploaded to the Cloud as we progressed. By the end of the morning our whole group had collected 1,500+ data points, many properly attributed and most with photos attached..


Here are some of my favorites photo finds of the day:

Fearless leader, Charlie Fitzpatrick



Stained Glass window with geographic features


Unusually positive street tags

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I’m guessing that this tree gets hit a lot?


Awesome motorcycle


Sweet 70s VWs

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Odd cars

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Lunch in Smiley Park.


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Cowboy Jim gave us a blacksmithing demonstration. Made a flathead nail and a j-hook. The whole demo reminded me of my time spent in Appalachia, what with the coal smoke and all. Thought I’d given that scent up for good.

We spent much of the afternoon working with the data that we collectively gathered in Redlands that morning to make maps. My map was fairly straightforward – I took just the street lamp data layer and broke it down into unique symbols that were assigned by the login initials of each collecting group. This, very basically, showed which points were collected by which groups, and where. Initially my idea was to create a tool by which a teacher could monitor the progress of a student collection group, or a manager could see which zones were lacking coverage. Expanding this coverage idea, I cross-referenced the number of point collected in each zone and assigned an overlay of color per zone, so the zones with the most number of data points were darkest blue, and the zones with the fewest number of data points was light blue, with gradations in between. This would allow a manager the ability to see which zones needed more data collection at a glance.
We did a “Gallery Walk” in the auditorium so that we could move around and see what kinds of problems other students were working on. There was such a diversity of problems being solved or needs being met. It is amazing what a little imagination, a walk, and powerful but straightforward computer software can accomplish within a relatively small amount of time.
I then created a bogus 30-day trial Organization for ArcGIS, which was a little maddening. All of my “users” are Muppets. It’s a long story.

Day 5
We played the lightning round game “Deal With It”. The questions and situations posed to us, were designed to make us think outside of the box. My group was asked how to spread knowledge about ArcGIS online at the college/university level. Our ideas were to reach out to the early adopters and train them first so that they could help us train other faculty and staff. Another idea was to get some time at faculty meetings to do a brief into, with “wow” kinds of things, then ask to train departments individually at a later time. Included would be examples of how to upload scientific data with the drag and drop method, show maps that would interest social scientists, and so on, giving relatable examples. Others were given other challenging situations. We had to present our best ideas onstage, competing against our brains and the clock.


So that was my training in a nutshell, if any of you have actually read on this far. I walked away with the knowledge that GIS is a platform that takes many guises – desktop, Cloud, online, devices, and so on. There is no reason for any of us to fear this kind of technology. GIS can bring spatial learning into the classroom, can be used out of the classroom in the field, and has massive powers for analyzing data, solving problems, and answering questions.
Beyond the learning itself, I spent hours with my fellow attendees, whether over a meal or poolside at the hotel in the evening, sharing a beer, and sharing a little bit of our lives with each other. Many of our conversations – by far the majority – related to our work lives and our backgrounds in geography, administration, teaching, business, etc., and we all shared knowledge and experience beyond what we learned in the auditorium each day.

And now?


Emily, Doer of Stuff

The Point of All This STUFF

I used to write a blog over on Xanga (anyone remember Xanga?). I started it some time before I had kids, and stopped writing it once I realized it had turned into a MamaBlog. Nothing wrong with MamaBlogs, don’t get me wrong. I have some amazing MamaFriends who write some really worthwhile stuff out there in the Blogosphere. But this wasn’t my intention. So I stopped.

I was recently at a conference (next post) where I met quite a few woman bloggers, some Mamas, some not; they all encouraged and inspired me to start blogging again. I think that, with a little focus, I would like to do this. But I don’t want to purely be a MamaBlog. I want to blog to be about me – all of me.

I like to do Stuff. I believe that life is all about Living. I like to try things out, explore, give things a shot. This blog is going to be about me doing all kinds of different things with myself – some easy, some more challenging. And I will certainly take suggestions for my next adventure.

I will be breaking these blog posts down by tags (until I learn some other way that’s better – I’ve looked all over the WordPress site and don’t know what many of the options are) like: Travel, Cookings, Advocacy, and so on. You will get to read about me trying new things here, and sometimes I’ll drag my family along with me.

Hope you enjoy!

Doer of Stuff