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Archive for the ‘Abby’ Category

Frozen Moments

This last Saturday, Abby and I flew to Charlotte. Uncle Steve and Pop-Pop (who arrived the night before) drove down from Raleigh to pick us up and drive us to River’s Edge, a lovely Airbnb about 8 miles south of Brevard, NC and a couple miles from DuPont State Forest. The journey took a long time – with 3 hours in the car. I only supported one side of road pee stop, but there was maybe a little bit of whining. No more than an hour or two.

Saturday night, Abby and some combination of all of us waded down Little River (which ran through the backyard). Stephen grilled T-Bones, and heated up a huge tin of Mac and Cheese that he made. We ate out on the porch, as the temperatures were about 13 degrees cooler than in Charlotte. Soon, the weekly concert at the country store next door started. It was the America that people are trying to save. Wholesome. Wild. Country-rock, with some nice young men from this county and the next. Pleases, thank yous, all in long drawls. Some ice cream all around.

A tight game of spades, then bed.

On Sunday, Stephen and I got out early for a ~10 mile run on the South side of DuPont State Forest; gentle trails, forest access roads, long gradual hills. Then eggs from the gorgeous chicken coup down the dirt road, bacon, cheese. We finally made it out the door after 10 and went to DuPont to hike to Triple Falls and High Falls – over three miles of walking, which Abby handled well, alternately sprinting down the trail (whipping past dozens of amused but impressed fellow hikers) and dragging piteously. We went to the river a number of times.
She got bolder in her bouldering at each successive swimming hole, leaping barefoot from one rock to the next, daring the slime slicked rocks to crack her skull and pull her over the falls. But she was no worse for the wear. We got to feed the chickens, walk around the property, visit the huge field at the top of the hill (where many would try to watch the next day).

Another tight game of spades and bed.

Monday was the day of the eclipse, with totality coming around 2:38 PM.

We started slowly, with a late wake up and an easy breakfast. We visited the chickens a few times and got some gas. The older lady at the counter commented on what a handsome young man I was – something which only happens to me in the country. Steve went on a run while Abby and I slogged down the Little River to the rope swing by the Country Store. Pop-Pop chatted up one of the guys in the band, as they were prepping for their big eclipse party. We planned to stay at River’s Edge, our beautiful, homey spot. Our hosts had an extra pair of eclipse googles, bringing our stash to 4 ISO certified ones (and a bunch of rip-offs). There was a spirit about this place, the folks were friendly and kind, the house beautiful, the land amazing. Skies were clear, we ate some lunch, took baths and showers, packed the car, and waited…as the clouds built.

By 1:10 and the start of the partial eclipse, the clouds had just begun to lap up against the sun. We saw the wedge taken out of the top left of the sun. And this on the radar (us around the white dot, with the sun generally in the south):

A small storm on the ridgeline, typical of a warm summer day. That could linger for a while, especially the cloud cover. We watched it evolve for almost a half hour, then decided at 1:45 (less than an hour until totality) to roll the dice. We jumped in the car and ripped south, with Stephen slamming us into the corkscrew turns of Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area in South Carolina. 25 minutes or so later, we cleared the mountain and started seeing holes in the clouds. We picked a point a few miles south of Cleveland – close to our egress (to beat the traffic), but a bit below the cloud line.

Now, you can’t predict what an individual cloud will do. In hindsight, three more miles down the road might have been better. No matter. It was within 15 minutes of totality, Pop-Pop was getting antsy, the sun was a thin fingernail, and there was an abandoned gas station in a sunny hole. An extended family with welder’s glass was watching there – Abby dove right in and made friends. Clouds got closer, occasionally obscuring the view. It got dimmer, yellower, dimmer, the sun having lost its sting in the South Carolina summer afternoon. It was gone, almost gone, then the flash of the diamond ring (just a second), then totality. A gap in the clouds; you could see it. I only looked for a few seconds, primarily concerned that Abby see it. It was dark, dark enough for street lights, darker than a heavy thunderstorm dark (though the clouds weren’t right). It was about as dark as a half hour after sunset. Light enough to run on a road, but not in a trail. The clouds were vaguely illuminated in all directions. We saw Jupiter in a gap. It was…different. Amazing. Different. Your mind doesn’t exactly know what to do with it. It’s incongruous. 36 years of life told me that this doesn’t work, that something was awry. The sun, a dim glow outgassing from all sides of a black, black hole punched into its center. It wasn’t long, apparently under 90 seconds where we were, then a sliver, a diamond ring flash, this time shrouded by enough clouds to see without the glasses. Then the sun came back, brilliant, bright.

Totality
[Note: The camera adjusts for the light too much, not at all doing justice to the real lighting. I also just wanted the camera on for the time, I wasn’t paying much attention to it. I was generally overstimulated by the whole experience, as you can hear and now also read.]

They say that the difference between totality and almost totality is immense. It was. Almost totality was strange and characterized by an orangey yellow glow. Totality was from a different universe. Any sliver of the sun provides brilliant light, but during totality it was cool, it was eerie. It was awe inspiring.

Abby got some glow sticks from the family nearby. Pop-Pop chatted up some folks who had chased eclipses before. Folks who found the same abandoned gas station south of Cleveland. As we drove in, there were dozens of clusters of people, each waiting for the moon to blot out the sun. It was like being in Boston after the Red Sox won or in Chicago after the Cubs. Everyone was happy. Everyone was glad to see you. You were all part of something together.

The fingernail sun was lost hopelessly behind the clouds by 2:50. We had a potential traffic disaster in front of us and a flight to catch. We, as we had for the rest of the day, made good navigational decisions, riding the chest of the traffic and only losing 20 minutes from a normal drive to Charlotte. Abby fell asleep in the car and hardly whined at all, though Pop-Pop may have whined about her 30 minute long song about nothing. We got Chic Fil A. We said goodbye to Pop-Pop and Steve and Abby and I played in the airport for a while. She befriended a burly tough-guy father of young girls who was traveling alone and willing to entertain an energetic 4 year old. People were cheerful.

My big girl and I made it home shortly after 10. She said she wasn’t tired but slept until after 8. I was giddy, I just wanted to talk to someone who saw it, just to talk about anything. I don’t want to forget the feeling of it, the thrill of the chase, the camaraderie of a spectacular and unique experience. I shared it with my father, brother, and daughter. I might think of it on my deathbed, for all I know. It is of that caliber experience. We are already talking about doing it again in 2024, this time with everyone. Wow.

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Abigail,
As it is Christmas season, you may be wondering, “Daddy, who is Santa and why does he bring people presents on Jesus’ birthday?” This is a good question. Recall, on your birthday, people bring YOU presents – it’s not like the Easter Bunny delivers candies to the elderly when it’s your birthday. So why does Santa do it at Jesus’ birthday? Is Jesus OK with it? Is Santa Jesus?

First off, let’s get one thing straight. Santa Claus is not Jesus Christ. They have some similarities though, and Santa knows Jesus. Both of them were born, both of them died, and both of them live on in the hearts of men, women, boys and girls. While Jesus rose from the dead and is still alive the same way he has always been alive, Santa lives in a different way.

Santa Claus is the new name for a man named Saint Nicholas, who lived in Turkey (the country, not the sandwich) a very long time ago, back when Turkey was part of the Roman Empire. He loved God and loved Jesus, and felt that giving people secret presents was a good way to show others that love. Jesus thought that this was a nice idea; after all, Jesus gives gifts to people that have done nothing to deserve them too. While Jesus’ gift is the biggest gift of all, eternal life, Santa gives littler gifts, gifts that you can hold and play with, or wear and play in. Jesus loves illustrations and parables. Santa is like a large, jolly parable in a red suit, giving gifts to the nice boys and girls, despite the fact that all are naughty and fall short of the high standards of true nice. Santa is like grace, if only grace rode a sleigh and ate far too many cookies.

So, how does it all work? Well, when St. Nick (that’s what his friends call him) died, he went to the heavenly registrar’s office and was given a few options for the jobs that he could fill in Heaven: gardener, roofer, lumberjack, poet. They were great jobs, but what he REALLY wanted to do, was to keep giving presents to boys and girls. He thought to himself, “When I was an imperfect man, I could give presents to a hundred children in my town. Now that I’m reborn with a perfected body, I should be able to give presents to all the children in the whole wide world!” As I mentioned before, Jesus thought this was a good idea. St. Nick was so happy to hear this that he decided to celebrate the yearly event on Jesus’ birthday.

There was a problem though: the people still living on Earth didn’t know when Jesus’ birthday was. You might think, “Come on, they didn’t know the most important person ever to live’s birthday??” Yup. They didn’t know it. Remember, Jesus wasn’t famous for almost 30 years after he was born. He was born in a manger, for crying out loud. His parents knew days and weeks and months based on the Jewish calendar, and most people on Earth were using a whole different calendar by this time. Everyone forgot, like when you don’t play with a toy for a month and it stays stuck behind the couch until you move.

Finally, someone decided to re-use a holiday called Saturnalia as Jesus’ birthday. This sent shivers down St. Nick’s spine. Saturnalia was at the end of December. Almost all the people in the world, particularly at that time, lived north of the equator. You see, in December, it is winter in the northern hemisphere. This is because of the way the earth is tilted with respect to its orbit around the Sun.

But that’s neither here nor there. The point is St. Nick was going to get cold when he delivered all those presents. Very cold. So cold that he decided that there was no way he could do it unless he lived someplace that was cold all year round so that he could get used to the chill. This was actually convenient, as Jesus thought it was prudent for Santa to stay away from people during the rest of the year. Jesus knows people, you see. People will steal, they’ll pillage, they’ll do all manner of sinful things. It was best for St. Nick to keep out of sight. The North Pole was just the place.

There was another condition on his new employment. He still had relatives on earth. He didn’t want his friends and family to know that he was doing the presents, so he had to come up with a new name. He decided on Santa Claus, because his first elves all came from a place that would eventually become Holland. They had strange accents, and used to mess up his real name all the time. He finally just started calling himself what they were calling him by mistake. It stuck.

So, by a few dozen years after he started, Santa Claus was all set up on the North Pole. He had elves to make toys – mostly swords and baby dolls at first, but eventually everything up to micro-electronics. The big companies, you see, waive their patents for Santa, since it is fantastic marketing to have one of your products seen in a sleigh. He had some major logistical challenges when getting started as well. Back then, there were no airplanes, no trains, no cars, and barely even any roads. Horses found the North Pole to be far too cold. He thought about riding polar bears, but they would get too hot in certain parts of the world, and they occasionally eat children, which is particularly inappropriate during the Christmas season. Really, the only option was reindeer driven sleighs. He requested an allocation of supersonic magic dust which was delivered within two business days by an armored vehicle. He was all ready to go, but no one knew that he was coming.

He started it out as a secret, then, dropping a toy here, a book there, some sweets in a shoe (that’s what people called candy in the old days), tasty meat and so on. People were confused, but grateful. Soon, they started to realize that all of this stuff was showing up on the same day, December 25th, Jesus’ birthday. Even more confused, they set up guards to watch. Nobody could see Santa though, at least not anyone who was too tall to ride the rides at the amusement park. Only kids could see him at first, because believing is seeing.

People sometimes say that seeing is believing. But this is all backwards, especially when it comes to Santa Claus. In order to see him, you have to know that he’s there, and look based on that assumption. Me, I saw him a lot of times when I was a kid. I saw his sleigh in the sky when we were driving home from Grandma’s house some years. I heard him on the roof. Once, he even knocked over something in my room in the middle of the night! See, Santa, though quick, is not very graceful. It’s all those sweets (candy), and the fact that he only gets one really good workout a year, on Christmas Eve.

Anyway, since I saw him when I was a kid, I can still see him. In fact, your mother and I interviewed with one of his elves, Henry, right before you were born. It’s standard procedure for Santa to consult with parents before a baby’s first Christmas. Even though Santa’s a nice guy, he’s only around one day out of the year. Some large elves make believe they’re Santa in malls and such, something which Santa is fine with: this is also great marketing. Your parents are around all the time, so we make the rules and Santa is completely fine with that. In fact, he uses our rules when determining whether you’re naughty or nice. So, you better be good for goodness sake. And good is defined by this guy, right here, Little Pea. Don’t you forget that!

We told Santa to only bring you one or two presents each year. I know, I know – but think about it little baby. You have all you need already, right? We have a little house! A bunch of presents wouldn’t fit! So, when Jesus’ birthday comes around, you get a couple presents from Mom and Dad, and a couple from Santa Claus. Occasionally, an elf or a reindeer, or even Mrs. Claus (they met in Iceland when he was on his way to the North Pole – it’s a whole different story) will send you a little present.

One thing is very important to remember. Some kids get a lot of presents from Santa, and it’s a good thing because if they didn’t, the economy would collapse. Some get very few, and we set aside some of your presents to help bring holiday cheer to those less fortunate every year. For you, you must understand that you can be happy with what you’ve got; a little or a lot. Stuff isn’t what makes you happy, and presents aren’t what makes Christmas special. It is the bigger things like family and love, friends and fellowship, mystery and holiness, and most of all Jesus that make Christmas special.

One last thing…not everyone believes in Santa Claus. Some folks can’t even see him when he’s right in front of them, dancing a jig. They think it’s silly (though they don’t complain about the presents) and there are even some people who think that you shouldn’t believe in Santa either. It’s possible to live your life without believing in anything, or believing certain things so much that there’s no space for other things. Maybe one day your relationship with Santa will become a bit more complicated than it is now, and maybe you’ll start to see him a different way, but just remember: there’s mystery, magic, and miracle in this world. Whether it’s Santa and elves or not, doesn’t much matter. There’s more to life than what you can see with your eyes and hear with your ears. Believing is what makes life worth living.

So, Abigail, this year on Christmas Eve, keep your eyes on the sky. Listen for bells. Look for a jolly man in a red suit. It’s possible you’ll catch a glimpse, or even a smile and a wink if you’re lucky. Enjoy these simple, happy times. You’re only young once, and sometimes, it’s harder for old people to believe the way that you can. When you meet such people, give them a wink and a smile. Maybe, if they’re lucky, they’ll see Santa Claus too someday.

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Outtakes with no Non-Outtakes

Abby begs for my phone. She doesn’t know how to make the screen illuminate, it’s a crummy phone due to be upgraded, and it’s in a protective sleeve: there’s not much she can do that will hurt it, so, why not, I give it to her. Almost every single time I do this, she begins to “talk” into it. Now, Abby doesn’t know words. Not unless you count “a-pfff” for Winnie the Pooh, “hhhh” for water, and “ih” for would you take this from my hand or give it back to me please? at least. Most time she gets my phone however, it’s a steady combination of “ap. ooh. Uhhhhhh. Ap oop ap ahh…uhhhhh….” This is strange because Jen and I rarely use the phone. For instance, I spoke on the phone for 27 total minutes this week, of which I think that Abby was in bed for 17 of them. I’m not sure why she knows how to use the phone.

Anyway, this evening after she talked on the phone for several minutes, I decided I needed to document it. She refused to comply. But it’s still a good slice of what her life is like – this the last 10 minutes of her day prior to bath and bed.

Not talking on the phone properly 1
Not talking on the phone properly 2
Not talking on the phone properly 3
Not talking on the phone properly 4

And finally…
Walking up the stairs

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