Magical Place: Grand Canyon Caverns

Along Route 66, tucked way back by Kingman, Arizona, is what can be best described as a perfect piece of Americana. The Grand Canyon Caverns holds all the nostalgia of the type of road trips my parents and grandparents shared stories about. There is a wonderful cafe, well maintained RV park, curio shop, motel, gas station, and enough eye candy ranging from scrap metal dinosaurs to vintage vehicles, to satisfy young and old alike.

AND

Unlike most Route 66 iconic stops, this one has a giant cavern to tour and if you wish, have a unique dining experience inside.

Proof that a) I did go down inside, and b) I’m a terrible photographer, and c) you can totally rent a room in the cave. Very cool.

Our family found this little gem while traveling around the Grand Canyon area in our RV. True to Milner adventure standards, we just had to tour the cave and enjoy a meal inside. Our tour guide, David, was wonderful with our rambunctious kids and all of their questions and was friendly and knowledgeable about the cave.

A little about the cave’s history:

Like most great stories, this one happened to a fellow who was down on his luck and looking to make it big. In 1927, Walter Peck was on his way to a poker game when he stopped by a funnel shaped hole in the ground. It was raining, but the hole never filled up so he investigated it only to find a large cavern that to his eyes looked to contain diamonds and gold.

At the poker game, he told his friends about what he found and soon enough they wanted to see it for themselves. They gathered some samples with the hope that all their dreams had come true. Walter, not wanting to risk losing out on his soon to be fortune, bought up the land making what was found in the cave rightfully his.

Unfortunately, when the assay report finally returned, it revealed that instead of diamonds and gold all Walter had found was iron oxides and calcium carbonate crystals – both worthless.

Not wanting to lose his investment, Walter started charging people to come explore the caves. For twenty-five cents, he’d lower them down the hole tied to a rope and let them explore. If they wanted light, they’d have to bring their own, usually a kerosene lantern. This experience came to be known by the locals as the “dope on a rope.”

Over the years there have been plenty of improvements made to the caverns, including a modern elevator installed in 1962 to lower visitors down the 210 to the cave floor. Like I said before, there is also the Grotto dining experience where you enjoy a wonderful meal inside the cave.

If you want to learn more, head over to the Grand Canyon Caverns website: https://gccaverns.com/

Recommendations:

I’d recommend this experience to anyone who loves trying new and interesting things, is into geology, and doesn’t mind heights – or stairs. The regular guided tour of the cave covers 3/4 mile, most of which is walking up steep paved slopes and stairs or going back down them. While it’s technically handicap accessible, it would be pretty tough going for anyone on wheels.

If you aren’t comfortable with heights or enclosed spaces, this might be a bit of a rougher experience. That said, you really can’t see the 210 foot drop unless you peek down the slot of the elevator door. The whole cave is well lit so it doesn’t feel closed in and it’s dry in there so it doesn’t feel stuffy either.

My family, including all the kids, loved the tour and were able to walk through the whole thing without help. I’d recommend it for ages 6 and up, only because hauling tiny people up and down through the cave would be challenging and it’s just steep enough that a stroller would be pretty hard to manage.

As for the dining experience, the food and service was amazing. Although they were super accommodating for our family of five in the small space, I would recommend it as a couples experience and not with the whole family. Our kids thought it was awesome, but the other two cute couples there weren’t expecting to have to compete with our noise and were polite but glad when we finally headed out.

Selfie time!

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Evermore Park

If you love fantasy and super immersive experiences, I have a place you might love. Located in Pleasant Grove, Utah, Evermore Park is a “fantasy European hamlet of imagination.” Inside the gorgeous grounds you can find adventure, quests, dragons, music, and of course, tasty treats.

My family went to explore Evermore Park last week with the hopes of embarking on an epic adventure that might mimic the quests found in popular video games like Legend of Zelda, or for me – Witcher. The park itself did not disappoint. Good money has been spent in the building and landscaping of the different beautiful buildings scattered around the grounds. Had I been going by myself, I would have spent my time wandering around just to soak up the atmosphere and maybe curl up in a cozy nook to watch and daydream.

Guests coming to the park are welcome to dress up and be part of the fantasy. I was surprised and amazed at how many visitors came dressed in elaborate European fantasy garb. The people watching was incredible.

A magical mix of eerie and beautiful

The residents of Evermore feel as if they’ve walked out of the pages of your favorite fantasy book. They wander around carrying clues and totems to give to questing visitors. Successful quests earn visitors “gold” coins they can turn in for prizes.

I wanted to love this idea so much. As a fantasy writer, this should have been a wonderful immersive experience that would both inspire and light new creative fires. For my kids it should have been a magical place where they could pretend and play and come away feeling like they did something both different and cool.

In reality, there were lots of things that we learned the hard way. When we were admitted into the park there were no real instructions or even a vague idea of where to go or what to do to start our journey. While there were a few characters interacting with visitors in the entrance, because we weren’t sure if they were visitors or residents we didn’t know what we were supposed to do with them. It wasn’t until later when we learned that residents wear a special lighted pendant to indicate they work for the park.

When we finally found a character to talk to, she was wonderful and gracious and did her best to get us started on our way with a special quest to find a princess who had forgotten who she was. Terrific! Each of our kids received a little charm that was supposed to remind this princess about her true identity and a few clues as to where to find her.

We were on our way!

The first place we checked, she wasn’t there. We asked around and given another clue to go look somewhere on the other side of the park. Determined to find our princess, we trekked over there, getting distracted along the way to explore the eerie mausoleum filled with creepy vampires and a demonic spider thing. By the time we reached our missing princess’s new location, she had already gone. We were directed yet again to seek her over by the entrance, on yet a different corner of the park.

She wasn’t there either. See a trend? Two hours had elapsed without success in our first quest. Along the way, we talked to a few other characters to help us, doing everything we could to keep it lighthearted as the kiddos were starting to get frustrated. Finally, we learned that she had just barely moved to a new location.

We rushed to find her. My daughter was too shy to talk to her so I tried to remember what we were supposed to tell her, (remember, we had now invested over two hours) hoping that she would fill in the gaps and make this a magical moment so our experience would have a lovely pay off.

Nope. We gave her the charm that was supposed to remind her of her true identity and she just kind of took it with a shrug and said thank you. It was awkward enough that I didn’t want to pursue it further.

Statues so real I thought it was going to jump out at me.

We did have fun learning to be rangers and hiding behind residents and what not, but it was dark, we were tired, and if the first quest took two hours of frustration, we weren’t super eager to try again on another one. We got a super yummy snack and wandered a bit more without bothering trying to interact with other characters, and then called it a day.

For our family, while the park itself is amazing, the learning curve was simply far too steep to truly enjoy the experience. And at the cost of over $100 for the five of us to participate, we didn’t feel we got our value out of it.

If you love LARPing, this would be your dream come true and I’d fully recommend it for you.

However, if you are even in the least bit uncomfortable interacting with people in costume, or are bringing children who want to complete quests to get prizes, this venue might be super frustrating.

On a positive note, they didn’t blink an eye when my 7-year-old wanted to try archery, so kudos there.

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Amazing Woman: Mary Anning

Ask any young child what their favorite thing is ever and there’s a good chance they’ll say dinosaurs. Today, we are going to discuss one of the most influential women in the field of paleontology, Mary Anning.

By Credited to ‘Mr. Grey’ in Crispin Tickell’s book ‘Mary Anning of Lyme Regis’ (1996) – Two versions side by side, Sedgwick Museum. Also see here. According to the Sedgwick Museum, there are two versions. The earlier version is by an unknown artist, dated before 1842 and credited to the Geological Society. The later version is a copy by B.J. M. Donne in 1847 or 1850, and is credited to the Natural History Museum in London. Also see here., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3824696

Born 1799 in Lyme Regis in Dorset, England, Mary grew up in the popular seaside resort area which was already popular for selling ‘curios’ to tourists, many of which were actually fossils including “snake-stones” (ammonites), “devil’s fingers” (belemnites), and “verteberries” (vertebrae). These items ended up in curio chests and cabinets all over the world and were thought to have medicinal and mystical properties.

Richard, Mary’s father, would take her and her brother, Joseph, to the coastal cliffs which were part of the Blue Lias. The unique formation of limestone and shale made this perfect fossil hunting territory. The family would collect and sell these fossils to supplement their income.

Mary’s father died when she was eleven and she continued to search for fossils to sell in order to support her family. It was during one of these searches that she and her brother came across their first major find when her brother dug up a four-foot-long ichthyosaur skull. Mary found the rest of the skeleton a few months later. She was only twelve. That skull was sold at auction to Charles Konig of the British Museum for £45 and five shillings.

Some say her story led to the creation of the popular tongue twister “She sells seashells on the seashore” by Terry Sullivan published in 1908.

By Thomas Webster (1773-1844) – Transactions of the Geological Society of London (1824), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9001159

At the age of 24, Mary found the first complete Plesiosaurus skeleton. That same year, she was nearly crushed by a landslide that killed her dog, Tray. Five years later, she found the first of the pterosaurs ever to be seen outside of Germany. They called them “flying dragons” at the time.

Mary Anning quickly became known in the fossil community as an expert in the different families of bones and was consulted often. During her life, she was not allowed to join the Geological Society of London because she was a woman. In fact, the only publication she is ever named in is the Magazine of Natural History in 1839 where she wrote a letter to the editor questioning one of its claims.

Her discoveries played an important role in the discovery of coprolites were actually fossilized feces and that belemnite follis contained fossilized ink sacs much like those found in modern cephalopods.

Mary died young at the age of 47 of breast cancer. In 2010, the Royal Society included her in a list of the ten British Women who have most influenced the history of science.

References:


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Magical Places: Goblin Valley, Utah

Mornings are cold in the desert, and in the early months of the year, they try to hold to that coolness until the sun wins. Visiting Goblin Valley is an experience in extremes. There is soft sand and hard sculpted rock, hot sun and cool shade, energetic kids and tired parents, really tired parents.

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

The most unique draw of the park is its alien-like “goblins” called hoodoos which result from the uneven erosion of the sandstone by wind and water. Down in the valley, these hoodoos form sculptures and mazes, as you approach the far edges, the hoodoos get larger and combine into a wall that stretches into a butte.

Fun fact, part of Galaxy Quest was filmed there. The whole business with retrieving the Kryllion sphere from the alien planet and the battle with the rock monster? Totally been there. Be jealous.

Tim Allen keeping his shirt on, for now.

If you want to visit Goblin Valley, keep the following in mind:

It’s a desert. No really. See all that dirt, sand, and sky? You’ll fry here if you’re not prepared. Bring lots of water and a big hat. I prefer a water backpack because having my hands free is super important. I’d rather not end up flat on my face if I trip. Wear sunscreen, even if you’re that random person who never burns, do it anyway. Blame it on me if you have to.

Early spring and late fall are best. I prefer early spring because the sharp weeds aren’t thorny yet and the temperatures are nicer. Dress in layers. It might be a brisk 55 when you start and well over 100 when you leave. Also, it takes a few hours, if not half the day, to haul a family to the other side and back. Pack food, bandaids, and all the patience you can muster.

All said, it’s truly an incredible place. I might set a story here …


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Amazing Woman: Desdemona Stott Beeson

In Utah, the 24th of July marks a time of celebrating the state’s unique history. Which means, it’s a perfect week to celebrate one of Utah’s most interesting women, Desdemona Stott Beeson.

photo courtesy of Utah State Historical Society

Desdemona was born in Eureka, one of Utah’s many silver mining towns, in 1897. During a time when men’s and women’s roles were very polarized, Desdemona wanted nothing more than to be a part of the mining industry, and not just as a cook or boardinghouse keeper, as most women around the mining industry tended to be, no sir. She wanted to explore the mines themselves and see the veins of silver.

Panorama of the Tintic District at EurekaJuab County, Utah.

Growing up in a mining town, most of her male relatives were involved in silver mining. She would tag along with them whenever she could, riding mine elevators deep down into the earth and watching the men hammer away.

After high school, she wanted to study engineering and geology at the University of Utah. Remember, this was around 1916. Her parents managed to talk her out of it and she ended up studying the less male dominated degree of psychology. When she graduated, she moved to another silver mining town, Alta, where she met her husband – the Stanford-educated Joseph Beeson. Soon after their marriage they discovered a large ore body in the Emma Mine and together they managed the mine until it went bankrupt.

The outbreak of the First World War meant opportunity. Joseph went to Europe as an engineer and Desdemona made her way to Stanford to finally pursue her studies in engineering and geology. It was an uphill battle to maintain respect among the faculty and staff and thankfully she was up for the fight.

Mine Shaft Bldg From W. – Silver King Mining Company, Mineshaft & Main Hoist, Woodside Gulch, Park City, Summit County, Utah

With her credentials securely tucked under her belt she proceeded to join her husband to manage an independent mining venture in Bingham, Utah. When Joseph was away on geologic consulting, she managed the day to day operations of the mine, including correcting and firing men who couldn’t use safe and proper procedures.

Throughout her life she traveled with her family from mine to mine, facing discrimination to do the thing she loved, and doing it anyway.

From my back porch I can see the terraced hills of the famous Kennecott Copper Mine in Bingham Canyon and am thrilled that a woman full of grit and determination made a difference in Utah’s mining history.

Resources


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Amazing Woman: Ada Lovelace

In this exciting world where everything from our cars to our toaster is run by a computer, it’s nice to pay homage to those who made these modern conveniences possible.

Next in the Amazing Women series, we learn about a woman who as been referred to as the ‘prophet of the computer age’, Ada Lovelace.

Charming and fiendishly intelligent, Ada Lovelace deserves attention.

Daughter of the esteemed poet Lord Byron and his mathematically inclined wife Annabella Milbanke, Augusta Ada Byron (1815-1852) was already fit for a fascinating life from the day she was born. Her mother insisted that in her studies with a private tutor she also learn mathematics, in the hopes that, get this, she not fall into her father’s moody and unpredictable attitudes. Don’t forget, in this time period learning anything that even hinted at applied sciences was most unusual for a woman.

Difference engine at the London Science Museum built from Babbage’s design.

In 1833, Ada met Charles Babbage, the inventor of the Babbage Engine – the first automatic computing machines also known as difference engines. These engines are used to tabulate polynomial functions.

Whoa, a little of my nerd popped right out there. Let me tuck that back in…

Long story short, she got to see one of these very early computing machines at the hands of Babbage himself in 1833 and it was magic. She was fascinated at the possibilities that such an engine could offer.

Still being a woman, marriage and motherhood interfered with her mathematical studies and she had to make do with studying about these mathematical engines in her spare time. (I totally understand the feeling – one of my darling children is calling me as I write this…)

One of these undertakings included translating an article on the Analytical Engine, in which she added extensive notes of her own. In fact, her notes were three times longer than the original article. The translation as well as her notes were published in 1843 in an English science journal under the initials A.A.L.

Within these notes is the very first description of a stepwise sequence of operations for solving certain mathematical problems. For this, Ada is considered ‘the first programmer’ to have graced our world.

Her speculations and analytical thinking pushed the boundaries of mathematics beyond merely numbers and into the realm of manipulating ideas and concepts, such as music.

Ada died young, at age 36, of uterine cancer.

Next time you fiddle with your phone, thank Ada for giving rise to the idea of computer programming.

References:


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Head on over to Amazon.com to get yours today!

Magical Places: Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

Ever want to go somewhere that makes you feel like you are on another planet? Those who live in the western United States are familiar with the Bonneville Salt Flats – an impossible stretch of pristine white perfectly flat ground that stretches to the horizon. I’ve been there. It’s both incredible as it is blinding.

Bonneville Salt Flats is ringed by the different ranges within the Rocky Mountains, which are visible in the photo below. Now imagine if it were 100 times larger and you’d have Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats, the largest salt flat in the world.

Me, being a complete dork on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Salt flats are formed where prehistoric lake beds have filled and dried millions of times over the course of eons. In Utah, that prehistoric lake was Lake Bonneville and it used to cover over half of Utah. This cycle of filling and drying left behind a meters thick even layer of salts that are distributed so evenly that NASA uses them to calibrate the altimeters of Earth observation satellites.

Salar de Uyuni is part of the Altiplano (literally translates to ‘high plain’) of Bolivia and originated from the prehistoric lakes Lake Minchin and later Paleo Lake Tauca. The altitude is so high in fact, at 11,800 ft, that it’s recommended for travelers to acclimate in La Paz for a few days before visiting. It’s also bitterly cold in the winter, dropping as low as -4F (-20C).

Because it’s as beautiful as it is alien, it has become a highlighted tourist stop for those traveling in Bolivia. Hidden within the vast expanses of these salt flats are technicolor lagoons, gushing hot springs, and surreal deserts.

Now I totally want to create a story that has a salt flat… so cool.

As the brine beneath the crust rises and falls it forms geometric shapes.

Interesting facts about Salar de Uyuni:

  • It’s the largest concentration of lithium on the planet. The battery in your phone most likely has lithium from Salar de Uyuni in it.
  • The final battle scene in The Last Jedi was filmed here
  • After the rain it creates the largest natural mirror in existence.
  • It’s a huge breeding ground for three species of Flamingo who turn pink from ingesting the pink algae.
During the rainy season, Salar de Uyuni becomes a giant natural mirror

Resources:

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Amazing Woman: Lilian Bland

Next in the Amazing Woman series, I want to talk about someone who let their passions guide them to accomplishing several world first moments. Imagine, it’s the early 1900’s and we are part of the age of steam power and are starting to realize the potential of the gas engine. Massive steam ships cross the ocean. Zeppelins float across the sky.

It’s an age of discovery and today’s featured historical figure wanted to be right in the middle of it.

By Screenshot by uploadineditor, original photo uncrdited – Screenshot from Flight Iternational archive, http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1910/1910%20-%201027.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23984699

On to April’s Amazing Woman!

Everyone has heard of Amelia Earhart and her accomplishments in flight, but I guarantee you no one has heard of Lilian Bland. In short, Lilian Bland was the first woman to design, build, and fly her own airplane in 1910.

In this time period, hardly anyone had even seen a plane, let alone ridden in one. The Wright Brothers performed their first flight only seven years earlier in 1903. Amelia Earhart’s first solo flight across the Atlantic occurred in 1928.

Lilian’s story is nothing short of incredible. She became interested in flying after her uncle sent her a postcard of the Bleriot monoplane from Paris. With that picture, she studied the measurements and added her own thoughts to the design.

Her plane, the Mayfly, was built in her late uncle’s workshop after testing a series of models and prototypes. With each test she modified and improved the design until the plane was strong enough to lift four policemen. She reasoned that if it could lift four men, it could carry one English engine and then ordered one from A. V. Roe & Co.

A further demonstration of her passion is revealed when she wanted to test the Mayfly with it’s new engine before the petrol tank was ready so she improvised using an empty whiskey bottle and her deaf aunt’s ear trumpet.

By Uncredited(Life time: Uncredited) – “Flying in Ireland”, Flight. 18 February 1911. P. 139, PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41310208

The Mayfly’s first successful flight was on a hill in Randalstown in August of 1910. The controls consisted of a bicycle handle bar. The pilot, none other than Lilian Bland herself, sat in an open air canvas seat. This attempt resulted in an engine powered glide of about 30 feet. The Mayfly’s longest recorded flight was approximately 400 meters.

This flight made Lilian the first woman to fly an aircraft in Ireland and was also the first flight of a powered biplane in Ireland.

Seeing as flying airplanes in this time period was still extremely dangerous, Lilian’s father was extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of his daughter. He convinced her to give up flying by buying her a car. Turns out she loved cars almost as much as she loved planes and she ended up running her own car dealership by April 1911.

Resources:

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Amazing Woman: Winifred, Countess of Nithsdale

In honor of St. Patrick’s day and the whimsical month of March, this month’s ‘Amazing Woman’ hails from Scotland.

Lady Winifred, Countess of Nithsdale

Winifred Maxwell, the Countess of Nithsdale (c. 1680-1749) met her husband, William Maxwell the 5th Earl of Nithsdale and a Catholic Nobelman at the French court.

At the time, Lady Winifred’s father, the 1st Marquess of Powis, was in exile and Winifred’s mother became the governess for James Francis Edward Stuart, the son of the late King James II of England (James VII of Scotland).

Lady Winifred met William Nithsdale while he was visiting France to pay his respects to the former King James II and were married soon after. They lived in Terregles, Dumfriesshire, Scotland.

Sixteen years into their marriage, William Nithsdale joined the famous Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. He was captured at the Battle of Preston and tried for treason and sentenced to death, which effectively landed him in the famous Tower Prison of London.

Winifred, now a mother of five, traveled to London and made a personal appeal to King George I to ask for clemency, but received none. On the night before William’s execution, she visited the prison with her maid and two friends and gave the guards a generous amount of drinking money. Inside the prison, she shaved off William’s beard and dressed him in woman’s clothing. She then proceeded to smuggle him out of the prison.

Smuggling William Nithsdale out of the Tower Prison

The cloak she used that night is still held by the family.

The couple hid in London until William could escape to France disguised as a servant of the Venetian Ambassador. Winifred then traveled to Scotland to manage her family’s estate. She eventually reunited with her husband at the exiled court of James Francis Edward Stuart – yes, that James, the son of King James II, the same man that Winifred’s mother had cared for as a child. This James Francis Edward Stuart came to be known as the Old Pretender and sought the British throne during the Jacobite Rebellion – yes, the same rebellion that sent William to his death for treason.

It sounds like the plot of a brilliant movie.

For being brave enough to risk her neck to save her husband and smuggle him out of prison dressed as a woman, Lady Winifred Maxwell is my Amazing Woman for the month of March.

Resources:

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Updates

While this isn’t my first conference, I still love when I get shiny pictures to share. If you are in Northern Utah on April 27th this is a terrific conference for a great price. Head over to the League of Utah Writers webpage for more information.

I’ll be teaching “Helping Characters through Tough Transitions using the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle” at 5 PM.

Amazing Woman, Marie Curie

Throughout history there have always been people willing to risk and sacrifice to push forward in their fields. Some become renowned scientists and some help shape the understanding of millions through the words they write.

A big part of the message I want to share with the world is that anyone can be excellent in their chosen field if they are willing to work and sacrifice. The main characters in my books strongly believe this and are all at different points of this process.

Which is why I want to share about scientific pioneer and two times Nobel Laureate, Marie Curie.

The Unstoppable Marie Curie

5 things you didn’t know about Marie Curie

1.

While most people know that Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in 1903 for her discoveries of radioisotopes radium and polonium, did you know that she almost wasn’t mentioned? The award nomination originally only included her research partner and husband Pierre Curie and their contemporary Henri Becquerel.

2.

During World War 1, Marie Curie invented a mobile x-ray unit called a “Little Curie” installed it into “radiological cars” and trained 150 women to operate it. This mobile x-ray unit was critical to getting help to front line injuries and battlefield surgeons. Even more impressive, to further help the ware effort Curie learned to drive and operated her own “little Curie.” It is estimated that through her efforts the total number of soldiers who received x-rays during the war exceeded one million. This makes Marie Curie a War Hero.

3.

Einstein personally came to Curie’s defense. As is true with most ground breakers, Marie Curie experienced a whole host of scandal and controversy that criticized everything from her immigrant roots to her sex life. The situation got so bad that at one point she was counseled to not travel to Sweden to accept her second Nobel Prize. When Einstein learned of this he wrote her a wonderful letter where he encouraged her “to simply not read that hogwash, but rather leave it to the reptile for whom it has been fabricated.”

4.

Marie Curie’s daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, won her own Noble Prize in 1935 for discovering a way to create artificial radioactive isotopes for use in medicine. Sadly, Marie died before the announcement was made in 1934.

5.

Marie Curie kept a sample of radium next to her bed to use as a night light.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. – Marie Curie

Resources

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Check it out! The Create Loud Podcast brought me on the show to discuss the writing process and the importance of embracing your own uniqueness.

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