Sunday, September 25, 2011

I Bless the Rains Down in Africa...

Abby is back in Ghana, her third trip there since fall 2009. This time she's gone with her friend Emily. She keeps going back because she feels that she can make a difference in the lives of a few people (kid, mostly) in a town called Hohoe.

She understands that compared to the people in the town she comes from a life of wealth and privilege, with opportunities and experiences that eclipse almost anything that these folks will experience in their lifetimes. Yet she wants to try to do what she can to enrich their lives in whatever way she can.

While the kids have free education, they have virtually no exposure to art. When Abby taught her third-grade class in 2009, the kids couldn't even draw rudimentary stick figures. Abby used her time with them to expose them to drawing and color. It has been her mission ever since to expose them to this small act of self-creativity ever since.

This year she went over with an extra bag filled with crayons and other art supplies, intent on giving them to "her kids". Alas, they have all dispersed from the "Suzzy Mothercare School and Creche", but she is determined to track them down and encourage them to continue exploring drawing and colors.

Yes, it's a simple mission; one that won't affect the balance of power, the economic state of the Euro Zone, or the political turmoil that ravages so many developing nations around the world. But she sees beyond that. Making a difference in the lives of a few kids is her goal.

I am very proud of her.

Too many of us want our kids' "legacies" to be defined by the colleges they graduate from or the number of figures in their salaries. I think that is the wrong metric to measure by.

If someone can bring a little bit of light and joy into the life of a total stranger, to show them a means to express their creativity, then that is a legacy to strive for.

No, she's probably not going to earn a six-figure salary with a prestigious firm somewhere. But she's already brought smiles to a few dozen kids in a remote town in the heart of West Africa. That is something to feel really good about.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Still here...

Jeez, it's been over a year since I posted anything here. Lordy...but then again my life's generally pretty boring.

I could go on about how sick I am of the politics of Washington, why the current crop of Republicans are assholes and idiots, and why the Dems ain't much better. But as Groucho once said "You're just wasting your breath and that's no great loss either."

Some of the best parts of the past year were when we were away from this cesspool of special interests and political hacks. Maybe it's time to move to Canada. Or at least Fishers Island.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The "Heinz" birthday

It was my birthday last week. If you're interested in just how old I am, I'm calling this my "Heinz" year. Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on my birthday. My name was supposed to be "Elizabeth". Nothing like starting life off on the wrong foot before you're aware that you have feet. So I was named for the Archbishop of Canterbury instead. Quick thinking on Dad's part.

It's funny. I don't feel that different from the way I did when I turned say, 26 or even 18. But there are things that I just can't plain do or want to do anymore that date from those more youthful days. Good thing, I guess, as many of them are (and were) illegal.

I look in the mirror and see the same face I've been staring at all these years. It's a bit more wrinkled, grayer, and more bald. I've got a bit of a paunch and "spare tire", but basically I'm in pretty decent shape. I can still ride my bike to work, and have good workouts at the gym.

My kids are young adults now. They are ready to make their marks in the world. They now have tools that were beyond my conceptual grasp when I was their age, but here I'm using one of them now. They take these things as a "given". More power to them!

The world is indeed shrinking, and maybe, just maybe, their generation will truly understand what my generation has utterly failed to grasp; that we are part of a global society, and that one person can make a small difference for the betterment of someone else if they keep thinking that way.

Abby has returned from her second trip to Ghana, where she handed out a bunch of second-hand childrens' books collected from our friends and neighbors. The picture of her with the kids at "her" school in Hohoe is priceless.

Nat is probing the intricacies of cell biology. He is interested in gene therapy of "orphan" diseases. Here's another thing that in my 20's I never thought was possible. He's now doing it.

So on my "Heinz" anniversary, I am content with the knowledge that so far I've done pretty well. Not a bad birthday present for any age these days.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Back from New London, Back to Africa

It's been awhile since I've felt like writing anything here. No particular reason, just haven't had much to say. But this week has been one involving the offspring, one coming home, the other leaving.

Nat has completed his Freshman year at college. I went to retrieve him on Tuesday, and we got back home on Wednesday. He was happy the year was over but looking forward to his return inn the fall. He seems to have found the right school at the right time for his interests. Thank you, Dr. Fred Kaplan! Nat has been inspired to follow in your lead. He will make life better for someone some day.

It seems like it was just a few weeks ago that Laurie and I were visiting him during parent's weekend...

It also seems like just a few weeks ago that we were picking Abby up at the airport after her 6 weeks in Ghana. Yesterday we put her on the plane to go back. She's returning to Hohoe to see her kids and Miss Suzy with donated kids books and crayons. I just talked to her about 2 hours ago when she called on her friend's cell phone to let me know she had arrived safely. To me, hearing her voice in real-time is still something that I have trouble comprehending even though I know the technology pretty well. There's something that's still miraculous about it.

She'll be there for 2 weeks this time, but somehow I think that that she will continue to return whenever she can. She is making life better for people right now, if the smiling faces of "her" kids are any indication.

I am so proud of my children. They have faced both good times and bad. They have driven us to the brink of madness and brought us infinite joy. And they are both thinking globally and figuring out ways that they can make a difference in the world they live in.

As their father, I am truly blessed.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Isn't Life Strange...

I did something today that I've never done before. I had to identify a body. I had to be sure that the remains purported to be those of James Henry Sharp, my long-ago boss from 1983 - 1996 at the Einstein Planetarium, were indeed his. I chose to do this voluntarily, since I was the second-to-last person who was reasonably close to him to see him alive in late January just before the blizzards hit. He died on March 1.

Under Virginia law, virtually nothing in an estate proceeding can happen until the remains are identified. Jim's wife is in Colorado and I'm here, so the obvious decision was to have me do the deed.

It was a very interesting experience. Years ago, when I was in East Africa, I saw lots of Maribou Storks, which, along with the vultures and hyenas, are the trash collectors of the open plains. The storks always stood around in a kind of formal manner, and for some reason all I could think of was that they reminded me of some undertaker from a moldy Dickens story.

The attendants at the funeral home where Jim was instantly made me think of Maribou Storks. Older, somewhat hunched over, with a somber formal bearing and black suits. Originally I was led to the "arrangements" room, where they had all the sample urns, caskets, etc. Realizing their mistake, I was then led up to the "viewing" parlor.

Well, there he was. At first I was afraid that they had the wrong person in the box. This man was clean-shaven, and the Jim that I knew always had a beard. In fact when I last saw him he had a really long beard and hair, which made him look even more like Galileo than he did back in the late 80's and 90's when he impersonated the famous astronomer on a number of occasions. Well, the beard was gone now and his hair was trimmed, and for the first time I saw his chin. This threw me for a bit of a loop, to say the least. I mean I was there to officially identify him and this was not exactly the Jim I remembered. However, I was finally able to get a look at just the upper part of his face, and then mentally "grew him a beard". It was definitely Jim.

Thank goodness he appeared as if he were merely asleep. I half expected him to open his eyes and ask what I was doing there. But he had a look of serenity about him, a look that seemed to indicate that he was ready to meet his demise with dignity and grace. There was nothing unsettling about the experience. Actually the "Maribou Storks" creeped me out way more than Jim did.

We have a Facebook page dedicated to him now, and it's nice to see that people are finding it and contributing to it. He's been gone for three weeks now, and I guess I am now really the last person who knew him to see him. Hopefully this will clear the way for the settlement of his affairs and another interesting interlude in life closes a chapter.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Now, that's a "first"...

As part of my job at the U.S. Naval Observatory I give "special tours" to groups of folks who have something to do with our mission or have some sort of inside connection to the Observatory, staff, tenants, and so forth. This is the time of year when I get besieged by requests for these tours. Fortunately, the Deputy Superintendent gets to have the final say on which requests are valid for my support.

This past week I had two such tours, Friday and Saturday night. The Friday tour was for a group of Girl Scouts under the sponsorship of a staffer in the White House Military Office who works logistics at the VP Residence.

For several weeks one of the other staffers at the VPR had been trying to get me to do a special tour for a young couple, one from the White House, the other from State Department. The young man wanted to propose to his GF in a telescope dome, since she was into astronomy.

Needless to say had this request been routed through "channels" it probably would have been shot down faster than Dick Cheney can wing a lawyer, so I was able to convince the parties involved that the easiest way to do it would be to "piggyback" the couple on the Girl Scout tour.

Friday night arrived, and the Scouts were early. Fortunately I brought in lots of hardware for show-'n-tell, and I was able to entertain them outside until the couple arrived. I went down to fetch them at the South Gate, brought them up to join the Scouts, and proceeded to conduct my tour.

We went up to the telescope as planned to look at the Moon and Mars. Then, again as planned, I took the scouts outside to learn how to use star charts and pointed out some constellations, leaving the couple alone in the dome.

The Scouts departed at around 9:30 pm, and I went back up to the telescope to see how things were going. Well, the proposal was made on bended knee, and the young lady said "Yes". I gave them a long look at Saturn, which was high enough to see by then, and we chatted for awhile before they left at a little after 10.

Sometimes you just have to do the right thing. I was pleased that I was able to not only help the Scouts (a very attentive group, BTW) with their merit badge, but I also helped facilitate the start of a new relationship between two people. As far as I know this was the first marriage proposal conducted in the dome of the 12-inch telescope, and it had a successful outcome.

Love under the stars. A good start if you ask me.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Beware the Ides of March

Well, I guess if I were Caesar I'd take this more to heart. But March is always a strange month around these parts. A month ago we were digging out from two massive snow storms. Today the trees are starting to bud and shed their little husks all over the place, bulbs are rocketing up in the flower beds, and we've just gone on Daylight Time. Crazy month, this March.

The start this year was somewhat inauspicious. On the 1st our friend Katherine, who is being treated for breast cancer, lost her faithful little dog Coal, who had been her constant companion while she endured the wretchedness of chemotherapy. Coal was my "little buddy" as well. I always played with him whenever I stopped by or when we visited Kath's cabin and,more recently, her cottage down on the Northern Neck. He was a great little dog and one of the primary reasons I felt we were ready to get Louis, with whom Laurie and I have become total mushes.

On the same day my former boss at the Planetarium, Jim Sharp, passed away. I had been trying to lend a hand to him and his widow by collecting his mail, helping him with his bills, etc. but hadn't seen him since late January. At that time he seemed to be in good spirits, in possession of all his faculties, maybe even upbeat. The blizzards prevented me from getting over to see him, then BAM! he was dead.

Now I'm trying to help tie up his estate with his widow. He left no apparent will, so the whole shebang is going to wind up in probate.

Yep, it's going to be an interesting month.