GISHWHES is a scavenger hunt like a seahorse is a fish. (or “How looking for ways to be kind taught me something important about kindness.”)



The first week of August, I participated in my first “GISHWHES” — the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. GISHWHES is a scavenger hunt like a seahorse is a fish — technically it is one, but it’s not at all what you imagine when you hear the word…it’s far more strange and ridiculous and startling and wonderful and amazing, and if you try to describe it to someone who’s never heard of it, you will be unable to do it justice while also sounding like you might be a little bit crazy. 
The items you collect for GISHWHES are actually tasks that your 15-member team attempts to complete; things like random acts of kindness, strange art, and silly public performances. It’s all designed to push you outside your comfort zone, interact with people you wouldn’t otherwise, and make a difference in your community, the world, and yourself. Nothing about it is easy, it’s exhausting and frustrating and sleep-depriving and panic-inducing, and I can’t wait to do it again next year. GISHWHES had a huge and lasting effect on me. It reminded me of things I’d forgotten about myself, aspects of my personality that had faded over the years surged back to life, and I really looked at the world and people around me again. Below is just one example. 
This is Robert. He’s homeless, and panhandles at a busy intersection. During GISHWHES week, I saw him while I was out running errands. I would have given him some money anyway, but because of GISHWHES, something more happened. As he approached, I thought about the “7 days of kindness” item my team was trying to accomplish, so I leaned out to ask if it was ok to take a photo “for a scavenger hunt task to do random acts to make others happy.” He replied, “Why sure you can! That’s a fine thing; nobody’s ever asked to take my picture!”

Look very closely at this photo; specifically, at our hands (which, by happy accident, you can also see in the mirror). After I took the photo, I reached out to shake his hand and say thanks for helping me with my scavenger hunt task. Robert seemed surprised, at both the thanks and that I offered a handshake. It took him a blink or two before he took my hand and shook it enthusiastically, giving me a big grin as he told me, “Most people don’t even want to look at me or talk to me, much less shake a dirty beggar’s hand…I’m even real careful how I take money so I don’t touch somebody and upset ’em.”
Think about that for a second, and look again at that photo. Look at how carefully he is trying to avoid touch, how he’s contorted his fingers because he’s worried that a brief graze might offend me. Set aside your own bias about what might have put Robert in this place in life, about why he needs to beg instead of work, etc, and just imagine for a minute what it would be like to feel that way. To tell yourself every day, in every human interaction, that just touching someone’s hand accidentally could upset them. Think about what a degrading, isolating, de-humanizing feeling that would be. And think about how he must have been treated to make him believe this. That’s what I thought about in that moment. 
I said, “Well, I believe we all need human contact as much as we need food and water. Could you use a hug? Would that be ok?” He nodded, so I leaned out and gave him a big hug. I don’t think anything I’ve ever done in my life has resulted in such a big, glowing, blushing, teary smile from a stranger. As the light turned green, I waved goodbye and Robert shouted “Thank you, young lady, I really needed that!” I shouted back “Thank YOU, Sir, and you be careful out here!”
I didn’t end up using this photo for GISHWHES because I didn’t want it to be about me doing a task to reach a goal, and because the photo didn’t even come close to showing everything that happened in that moment. I decided to share the whole story, to encourage everyone to look for ways to be kind and to connect with people that you might otherwise look right past. It doesn’t take a lot of time, effort, or money. When you actively look for ways to be kind, you really see people. You notice if people around you are hurting, or lonely, or struggling. And sometimes, that in itself is the act of kindness they need most. 


My haiku about a penis went to Mars!

Three years ago, I wrote about a haiku contest I entered, where NASA wouldn’t let me say “penis.”


My haiku was in reference to the giant penis doodle some NASA guys used an $800 million dollar rover to draw in the Martian soil. “Accidentally.” Don’t believe me? It was all over the news back in early 2013. Google “Martian penis”…surprisingly, it’s the first thing you’ll see.

Oh dry, red planet

sorry about the penis

our techs are childish

(it’s an apology…I was being poetically polite to our interstellar neighbors!)


My haiku got nixed “out of sensitivity towards small children and their parents, who would be offended by the word ‘penis’.” As the parent of a small (boy) child myself, I had some entertaining conversations with the Office of Communications and Outreach, educating them on the fact that the word loses all ability to offend when your small child has one, because it’s endlessly entertaining to them and they talk about it a LOT. And hey, if NASA employees could draw one on Mars, why can’t I apologize for it in haiku? They wouldn’t go for it, despite having an excellent sense of humor about the whole thing, and that was where the story ended. Or so I thought. Months later, there was a further update to this story (spoiler, it’s in the title). I was sworn to secrecy and told not to mention it “for at least a year” (probably so nobody would get fired). And y’all, I am the Best Secret Keeper Ever, because I forgot about it for THREE YEARS. That basically means I can keep a secret from myself. I’ll be adding that to my list of fairly useless super-powers, along with my outstanding ability to state the obvious, squirrel whispering, and moving one eye at a time.


So, now I can share the rest of the story, since I exceeded my promise by a factor of 3…y’all, my penis haiku went to Mars!!! It’s orbiting Mars right now!


Here’s the deal…they received 12,530 haiku submissions in the contest. There were a couple of politically correct winners selected, but they realize that it didn’t make sense to send a whole CD up there with just a couple of haiku on it, so they decided what the heck, any submissions with at least 2 votes would get to go. And since mine had votes before it was deemed too racy for space-y… shhhhhh…it got on the CD through that loophole! Was this an “accident?” Perhaps. About as much of an accident as the doodle I wrote the haiku about, I’d say! Here’s the official email:

haiku email

haiku cd pic


If that wasn’t cool enough, I also got some official NASA mission swag, including the mission patch, bumper stickers, and a poster (which my space-freak kiddo has claimed – he thinks it’s pretty awesome that his Mama sent a message to outer space).

maven swag.jpg


There you have it. My claim to fame. When I’m awkwardly trying to come up with something interesting to discuss at cocktail parties, I can now say, “Did I mention I sent a penis poem to another planet?”


I’ve become progressively more introverted and can be weirdly awkward around people. Today I met up with a seller from Etsy I had bought something from, who happens to live nearby and kindly offered to save me shipping cost. She arrived in a car with a huge Millennium Falcon back window and zombie bumper sticker, wearing a Doctor Who shirt. There I was in my bedazzled storm trooper shirt and skull-studded shoes, TARDIS hanging from my rear view mirror. AND I HUGGED HER.


NASA won’t let me say ‘penis’


, ,

When NASA guys draw a penis on Mars, it’s freaking hilarious. When I used the word ‘penis’ in a haiku, it’s offensive and inappropriate. WTF, NASA?

(Photo courtesy of Imgur)

Several weeks ago, I wrote a haiku for the ‘Going to Mars with Maven’ haiku contest – voting for this contest starts today. When I followed the link to my entry to vote, I got this:


Tell me what you think – and please bear in mind that I’m not waxing poetic about random genitalia here, I’m referring to the juvenile doodle of a penis that some NASA boys used the $800 million Mars Curiosity rover to draw in the Martian soil (photo above – or Google the story yourself; it’s the first thing that pops up when you search “penis drawing”…surprisingly). (edit – 8/2016 – turns out it was the Spirit rover, actually.)

And y’all — I’m apologizing for all of us…in haiku! Since it’s not really practical to send the boys up there with soap and a hose to say they’re sorry to the neighbors.

If you think they were wrong to remove my haiku from the competition, take a minute to follow the entry link below, click ‘contact,’ and tell them so, and pass it on. Here’s what I submitted:

Oh dry red planet
Sorry about the penis
Our techs are childish

link to my removed entry here

Just got this email from Ransom Christofferson. Oh well…


My response to Mr. Christofferson:
Hi Ransom, thank you so much for your reply. I am a “parent of a small child,” and I assure you that once little boys realize they have one, they say that word so often, so loudly, and in so many public places, it loses all impact. My 2-1/2-year-old son once yelled, “mommy, my p—- is sticking up!” in the checkout line at the grocery store. I understand, though, that not everyone can handle the humor of it in a public contest. I really was enjoying the thought that someday aliens might read, “sorry about the p—-,” signed by yours truly. It would be a claim to fame among my Mensa and Whovian friends. I don’t suppose you could sneak it on board?


PS, I had to remove the P word in this email message, because your server blocked it. Maybe because I said it 4 times. Plus once in my previous message. Plus the time you said it. See, it’s lost all meaning!



The Bloggess stole my t-shirt



Fangirl moment, y’all…Jenny “The Bloggess” Lawson, queen of the Internet, best-selling author, and my sister-from-another-mister (I swear we are cosmically related, and I mean that in the most respectful, non-stalkerish way), posted this pic on the Best Blog Ever…

The Bloggess


And y’all…I give you this:


(Please ignore the car parts in the corner, and also my pajama pants.)

That’s right, the coolest woman on the Web has the same shirt I do. A tiny little brush with total awesomeness.

Day. Made.

Cartoon songs sure have changed



(Nash playing with Tigger and Pooh toys)

Me: did you know Tigger has a song?

Nash: Yes! I know that song.
(Sings) mind your manners or the tiger will eat you up!

Me: that’s not how I remembered it. But ok.

Speaking of inappropriate kid songs, who wrote the following for the toddler show Blue’s Clues?:
“…doin’ the back, doin’ the back seat boogie…” (Female voice moaning and screaming) –WTF? Here’s a link, judge for yourself
Blue’s Clues Backseat Boogie

Pick another house, fella


I went to check the mailbox and noticed that we left a hammer sitting by the front door from our ‘dig the plastic dinosaurs out of the giant block of ice’ escapade last week. (Thanks for that one, Pinterest.) Right next to the hammer was a tile knife that Nash and I found on a walk and forgot to throw away. Leaving these two objects next to our front door is probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Then again, it does kind of say to any would-be robbers “come at me, bro! But you’re gonna need these.”


One demon child is enough



My first introduction to my favorite author, Dean Koontz, was via a very disturbing movie based on his book, Demon Seed. In a nutshell, a scientist builds a self-aware super computer, which he hooks up to his house to manage the thermostat and other boring stuff, and the computer goes all demonic, takes over the house, and decides to get it on with the scientist’s wife. Probably because the computer/house was so bored. As a stay-at-home mom, I can kind of relate.

I think I was 7 or so when this movie was on Saturday afternoon TV. Remember when they used to play all kinds of inappropriate movies on Saturday afternoons in the 70’s and early 80’s? I remember seeing an uncensored Porky’s once, too, which probably scarred me for life. But I digress.

Anyway, the movie freaked me right out. So today when our bathroom light started pulsing like a heartbeat, the computer/house/rapist from Demon Seed jumped immediately to mind. I yelled at Edsel to stop siccing the house on me when I’m ovulating, because we can barely deal with the half-demon child we already have, but it turned out he was just using some high-power tool in the garage, and not actually trying to get me knocked up. Not by the house and/or demonic super computer, I mean – we’re still trying to get knocked up the regular way. So that’s a relief. Here’s a video clip of the heartbeat light.

house heartbeat?

This is why we can’t have nice things



In the time it took me to make a pot of coffee this morning, Nash managed to give our tv a bath. In cranberry-peach juice. WTF, kid??

Using my CSI skills, I reconstructed the scene of the crime. Apparently, he sucked the juice out of his sippy cup, spit it into his plastic dump truck, then splashed it onto the television, concentrating his attack on – of course – the tiny front speaker holes (which he calls ‘tunnels’), that are impossible to clean. Here’s a photo of him at the crime scene with the evidence. His fashion choice today is rather appropriate. Bazinga indeed.


This is his apology and confession, and recommendation for how Daddy can fix it.

Nash’s Video Confession

On a somewhat related note, here’s the back of our leather couch. Which is, apparently, quite tasty.

This is why we can’t have nice things.