Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Celebrating Carl Sagan

Carl SaganToday is the tenth anniversary of the death of astronomer and educator, Carl Sagan. All across the globe people, and bloggers, are celebrating his memory. With the impact that this great man had on my life, I would ungrateful if I didn't contribute.

Years ago, when I was just a kid, Dr. Sagan's ground breaking PBS TV series "Cosmos" aired. It was a revelation to me. I had always thought scientists were cool, and I loved looking at the stars and pretending to be an astronaut, but Dr. Sagan brought the wonder of it all home to me in ways I simply can't describe. Science spoke to me as it never had before, and it wasn't the boring set of regurgitated facts my teachers had been shoveling at me. It was full of wonder, adventure, and nobility. It was, as he wrote years later, a candle in the dark for me.

Needless to say I devoured the companion book. The experience prompted me to buy and read more and more books on science in general, and astronomy in particular. My parents noticed this new fire in my soul and bought me a telescope I still use to this day, 26 years later.

This last year I've enjoyed sharing both the show, and book, with my own children. While the science has aged a bit, as all good science will, I can see the glimmer of the spark in their eyes as well - a love of science, a love of learning, and a new-found sense of wonder in the universe around us.

While I can't agree with everything Dr. Sagan ever wrote or said (I believe in God, for example), my respect for him and his work cannot be overstated. Renowned professor and astronomer Yervant Terzian said it best, "[Carl Sagan] was, quite simply, the best science educator in the world this century. He touched hundreds of millions of people and inspired young generations to pursue the sciences."

He certainly touched mine. Thank you, Dr. Sagan. I am in your debt.

Monday, December 11, 2006

It's Christmas Charlie Brown

Christmas is coming and I'm starting to look forward to it. Mostly, anyway. I just picked up the soundtrack recording for "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and that's going a long way to getting emotionally ready. Vince Guaraldi has a way of making me smile, no matter what the season.

Normally I'm just not a big fan of the Christmas season. I hate shoveling snow (and we tend to get a lot of it here in the Rockies), let alone driving in it. The bills pile up as more and more last minute gifts need to be gotten. (Begotten gifts? Hmmm.) The family parties don't do anything for me, either. I'm just not a big fan of my extended family. Don't get me wrong. I like them well enough. I just don't like being forced to do certain things with them.

When I was a kid, Christmas was both good, and bad. The good part was all the typical season stuff, singing carols, decorating the tree, making cookies and, of course, getting up on Christmas day to loads of new toys. I always despised the afternoon, though. Just when everything got settled and I could really dig into playing it was, "Okay John, get your coat on it's time to go visit [insert various relatives here]." By the time we got back is was late and my parents were pretty strict about bed time, even during Christmas vacation.

I hated that. I was going to see half of these people a week later on New Years day, why did I have to give up my Christmas day just to visit them early? Now that I'm older I understand that it was really my parents visiting them, not me. Most of those we visited didn't have kids my age, so there weren't many cousins to play with. Even when there were cousins involved, it was all their toys we played with, not mine. Trust me. As a kid, that's not fun.

Christmas is a big deal for my wife's family. Every year there are two big parties, one for her father's side of the family and one with just her parents and siblings. Once in a while we can get out of going to the first party, but never to the last one. What's worse is they've recently decided to move it to Christmas day.

It used to be on Christmas Eve. It was kind of cool. We'd drive out in the late afternoon, visit a bit with her parents, four siblings and their families, eat lots of food, sing songs and watch the kids open presents. There were bits I didn't like, but overall it was okay. On the way back home, we'd pop a CD recording of the Christmas Story performed by a group from the Living Scriptures Company, and listen to it on the way home. Instant family tradition. Once in a blue moon it was rescheduled, but mostly it was on Christmas Eve. That's it. Christmas day was saved for the wife and kids. Unless we had church that day, we didn't go anywhere. It was wonderful.

This year (and last, truth be told) that fickle bitch named Fate is out to ruin it for us. It looks like the party is being moved to Christmas Day, permanently. That sucks. The rest of my wife's siblings love it. "So and so has to work" and "We get bored after Christmas morning. We want to have it on Christmas Day!" are the exuces of the season.

They get bored? How? Didn't you and your kids just get a boatload of cool things and now you can relax and enjoy them? The key word here is "relax" people!

It seems that I'm outvoted, though. Our lovely family traditions must change becuase of a change in my wife's family's traditions. If you think I can make enough of a case for not giving in to everyone else's will, or just not show up, you've either never been married or won't continue to be married for very long. In the meantime, I'll just listen to Vince Guaraldi playing "Christmas Time is Here" and try to keep smiling.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Lost Dog

The Newman clan suffered a tragedy last week. Our family dog, Rascal, was run over by a car and killed. Don't get me wrong. I'm not going to equate the loss of our dog with the loss of a child. It's not the same. Losing anyone, or anything, you have a relationship with, still hurts.

People who don't own pets may have a tough time sympathizing. Those that do own pets fall into two categories: those who have lost pets and those who haven't.

Only those who have lost beloved pets really understand.

Fortunately for us, one of our neighbors falls into the "understanding" category. It sounds funny, but they sent us doughnuts and a sympathy card. I appreciated that card – and the doughnuts. (Mmmmm . . . Maple bar . . .)

The reason my neighbors knew is that they witnessed the event. It happened in front of their house. My six year old daughter saw it, too. That's the part that really bites. She and my wife witnessed the whole thing. They rushed our beloved pup to the vet, but it was too late. The vet couldn't find a heartbeat. I didn’t find out until I checked my voice mail later that day.

It took a few days, but we're not as teary anymore. Even my six year old is dealing with it, although I think she's having the hardest time. All she could talk about for two nights straight was how she couldn't get the image of Rascal turning in circles, and then lying down to die, after he went under the car. She's doing better now, thanks to long conversations, silent hugs, and our faith.

Yes, you read it right. I said (wrote) faith. I really do believe that there is a "doggy heaven." I just don't think it's called that. I believe that all creatures are created and judged on how well they fill the measure of their creation. It's not doctrine, mind you. It's just my own interpretation of scripture.

If I'm right, and the measure of a dog's creation is how well he takes care of the family he lives with, then Rascal is in good company. He loved our kids. He was very gentle with them. Even when my youngest would steal his rawhide chewy-bone and run around the house, with him chasing her to get it back, he was gentle. He knew it was a game, and he loved to play it nearly as much as she did. He was obedient, quiet, and showed unconditional love for us all.

It's still too early to have all the pain eased, though. That's a truth I'm finding out all too well, even as I write this. So for all of you I had to cancel appointments with because of an unexplained family emergency last week, I apologize. I hope you'll understand. I really hate doing business that way, but my daughters are just too important. They needed me, and I need them. For us all, Rascal wasn't just a dog. He was family.