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August 2007

August 31, 2007 - Star Lab Arrives...

Comments: Well, sir... The Star Lab Portable Planetarium had been here for awhile, but the old kid hasn't be up to getting everyone together for training. At last the time arrived...

It was a terrific night! All of us who wanted training were there on time and it was our great pleasure to meet Reed Varian from Learning Technologies. Friendly House had given us their kind permission to use Sky View Lodge and we were excited and anxious. Talk about a very good time! Reed was an exceptional teacher and understood that most of us older folk learn better when it's hands-on. Within about an hour or so, we all understood how the projector works, how to set up for dates, how to "dim the house lights" and even how to change the bulb. It didn't take very long from there to understand how to get the dome ready to go and once the fan was plugged in?

It was full of stars....

"So, children teach your parents well.... Their children's hell... Did slowly go by. And feed them on your dreams. The ones they pick... Are the ones you'll go by. And don't you ever ask them why... If they told you, you would cry. So just look at them and sigh.... And know they love you."

August 28, 2007 - Total Lunar Eclipse!

Comments: It's eclipse day... and what do I do? Yeah. Wake up not feeling so hot. I moped around for a little while until I got a cup of coffee in me and the worst had passed. When I went out to see if the eclipse had started I wanted to run back in and lay down... But, I got to thinkin'... Who owns this body? Am I gonna' let feelin' bad keep me down forever? NO! I'm gonna' get my cam damera and I'm gonna' fill a thermal mug right up to the top and I'm gonna' by golly go out and enjoy that eclipse if it's the last thing I ever do!

At first it was pretty subtle... Like a grey cloud wafting down on the lunar western edge. My first few shots weren't anything spectacular, but the view sure was! By the time that mug of coffee got to pumping in my veins it seemed like the eclipse was speeding up. Around a quarter of the way across the surface, the shadow path began to take on some distinctly red hues and by the time it met half it was unmistakeable what was going on.

Once again, it seemed to be moving so fast that there wasn't time to fetch another cup of coffee or to even think about getting a telescope out to take some high power shots. It was my bad for not thinking about the scope until the last moment, but I am out here trying, you know. It's so beautiful I start thinking I ought to call someone to come and look at it... But who am I going to call? Ghostbusters? It's a little after 5 in the morning and I don't think anyone is going to appreciate me ringing them up at this hour. Gosh... I sure hope you knew it was going to happen and were watching, too. It's just surreal...

The dogs are going nutz. We're down to the very last seconds before totality now and something about the quality of the night has definately changed. What is it about an eclipse that silences the world? Rather than prowling around, both dogs are close by... Making muted noises and trying to coax my attention. Can they see this? Do they somehow know? I don't even hear birds. The stars all around are coming to life and hard winter skies are above as I stand here in shorts, t-shirt and bare feet. The Moon has not gone blood red...

It's diappearing.

Judge it on the Danjon scale? I don't know. I've never seen on this dark, but I'd rate it 1. The strangest thing is... It's getting darker. Creeping in from the west limb is even more darkness. We've gone from a dark brick reddish brown to only the eastern limb being that color. My camera lost it a few minutes before 6:00 am... and my eye lost it at 6:15 am. I know it's there. It had a good 10 degrees or more before it went into the horizon... But I have to really struggle to see where it's at.

Danjon scale 0, baby... Danjon scale 0.

"They seek the truth... Before they can die."

August 25, 2007 - Saturday Night with the Delta Aquarids and Kappa Cygnids...

Comments: Hey. It's too clear to stay in. Despite a very bright and very gibbous Moon, there is an extraordinary clarity tonight and I thought about doing some double star or planetary work.

Until I saw the first meteor...

What the heck? Ain't in the right place for a Perseid... So I went to my own observing book to look up what's going on. Right now we are between two streams - the Delta Aquarids and the Kappa Cygnids - and that bright little booger no doubt originated from Cygnus.

I've still got a lot of healing to do, but I am on the right path. It feels good to wander around in the pool and work on a Moon burn while I stare up at the sky. The night is just as clear as the water and it's not often you can see the faded Milky Way when the Moon is nearly full. All in all, I only saw a handful of meteors for the few hours that I was out...

But it made me happy!

"And so please help them with your youth..."

August 23. 2007 - The Moon and Jupiter...

Comments: It's been a long time since I've been out observing. Far too long. I dunno'. What? A month has passed and I've missed all the riches of Sagittarius under dark skies while I've cruised along in a morphine haze? Yeah. It was that serious. I'm so tired of hurting. I'm tired of being indoors. I'm tired of not leaving the house because I might not be safe to drive. I'm tired of taking drugs. I'm tired of the pain. I'm tired of the nasty holes in my head and my eye feeling like there's a fork stuck in it.

I want my life back!!!

My oldest son has been placating me with "From the Earth to the Moon" series on DVD. My youngest son had been away on vacation, but just returned. What I'd really like for him to do is mow my observing area down, spray for skeeters so they don't eat tender healing flesh, and put a doggone scope out there so I can stare at the Moon. All wishes and dreams... He tells me to walk outside and see how I feel. The first steps out the door are wonderful. Fresh air! Night!!! And heat... Rotten humidity that makes me want to pull out what's left of my hair where I'm healing and makes me throb to even think about focusing light into my eye. I can use my right one... Really!! And so I go back inside... Deflated. Defeated. Resigned. Impatient.

And stare out the window until they both move on.

"And you, of tender years... Can't know the fears... That your elders grew by."

August 22, 2007 - Antares and the Moon....

Comments: Ooooh! Oooooh! Come on... Come on... Clear up!!!

For those of you who follow the weather, you'll know my relative area of Ohio has been a flooded mess. The rains we couldn't get earlier in the year have arrived with a vengance and I've heard tale of folks beginning to think about ark building as a career. Despite the extended period of rain, clouds and humidity high enough to feel like you're living in a sauna, I was sitting by the door watching television when I noticed the Moon trying to peek through the clouds.

Of course I looked! I can't help it. I don't care what television program I'm watching, nothing can compete with what I see outside the window. So, here I sit holding my fist up and admiring how close Jupiter is to the Moon when I realize something...

Where the heck is Antares?

Oh, yeah. That pressed the newly scarred face up against the glass. Back, back, back ye clouds! It's gotta' be there. Oh, man... Oh, man!! If it's not occulted... It's gotta' be close.

But not closer than the rain.

"So just look at them and sigh..... and know they love you."

August 9, 10 and 11, 2007 - The Persi-Duds....

Comments: I'm sorry. Being unwell for such an extended period of time has left me beat, behind and battered. My stargazing ways have been mostly reclined and not very energetic. The hearing and vision loss are improving... But not even a hazy eye can explain what happened to the Perseids.

Was I looking? You know darn well I was. A comfortable place was mowed for me and blankets and pillows arranged so I could watch the Persied meteor shower here. I would have loved to have gone to the Observatory, but my limits keep me from even wanting to drive and pain dictates staying close to what I know. The skies weren't bad... But the meteor shower totally sucked. There were a few bright ones... Enough to make me happy... But not even close to what this reliable annual shower should of produced.

Maybe they're "under the weather", too?

"Don't you ever ask them why... If they told you, you will cry... "

August 1-5, 2007 - Los Angeles, Pomona College, Claremont, California: "Cosmos In The Classroom"...

Comments: Well, you know if you haven't heard from me in awhile that something's gone wrong. I wouldn't leave without saying goodbye and I thank you for checking up on me! You were right... I was flat out on a rock like a lizard (scales and all). But, before we get there.. Let's talk about where I've been!

On the evening of August 1 this Boeing 737 was at the Columbus International Airport waiting with a window seat in the tail section with my name on it. I'd been pretty pysched up about going and that may have led to my downfall, but that's now... and this is then. At that moment all I could think about was my perfectly packed bag getting stowed in its belly and the fact that in less than 5 hours I'll be on the other side of the United States. Look, ma! No trading planes like gettin' on a crosstown bus. This one's allowed enough gas to go straight through! And once the pilots hit the throttle?

I was in heaven.

Sleep? Who in the heck are you kidding? I've tried, ok? But I wanna' watch the world go by at 700 miles an hour. I wanna' see cities nestled like warts on a toad's hide from way up above and watch gigantic lightning storms sweep across the prairie. I wanna' watch rivers curl like silver ribbons below and fly off into the sunset. I wanna' see the third largest city in the world from the air! And dang... I'll tell you that Los Angeles looks like a whole state it's so huge! In what seemed like no time, we were back down and the ground and I found my Dorothy-backside in a whole new world. Everywhere you looked were people and cars and people and buildings and people and big buidlings and traffic and people and cars and freeways and people and stuff... Did I mention it was big? Yeah. And a lot of people.

I got my car with no problem and by now I'm beginning to notice I was too excited to eat all day and my belly is telling me that 24 hours is long enough. Hey. The crackers and cookie on the airplane were great... But I'd kinda' like to find a steak, you know? So, I've used Garmin before and I set it for a restaurant... And can't find my way out of the parking lot. I mentioned this place was big, didn't I? And a lot of people. By the time I found my way out, I was thinking more that I better find my hotel first since it was getting pretty late for a stranger in a strange town. Garmin took me right to it... But I had to wait for awhile since LAX is a mighty busy place. Once I got my key I was ready to go... But the key was to the wrong room! Nothing like opening the door up on a total stranger.... The guy at the desk must of had his turban on too tight when he gave me the key... But finally I got my space.

Too late for a real meal, I settled for Taco Bell and only wished I had a beer. I called my Ma and she told me all about how to deal with security in a big motel and I could only laugh because I had moved my table and and chairs in front of the door. Not for security... But because they blocked the air conditioner! A little sleep... A hot shower... Turn in the key and tell Garmin where we need to go. What's that, then? Three hours to go 30 miles? You're kidding!

It wasn't kidding.

I did mention that there were a lot of cars and a lot of people and a lot of freeways and a lot of cars and a lot people, didn't I? Hey. I've got coffee and Garmin is perfect. LA freeways? Come on. I've driven through Columbus at rush hour. Been on my own through Memphis, Raleigh Cleveland, Louisville, Pittsburg, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Buffalo Cincinnati, D.C., Chicago, Dayton and Indianapolis with no Garmin to tell me where to turn. I'm not too sure what this carpool lane business is, but if you're going 85? Brother... I'm going with you. I made the college in a little over an hour and had plenty of time to eat some rubbery fruit, a dried sandwich and the awful coffee at Starbucks. I know exactly where I need to be, where to park, and what time the tour bus leaves for Mt. Wilson.

I'm doing great!!

So, I'm happily walking around and meeting people, picking up my much more appetizing looking lunch to take with me and waiting on the bus. Once everybody is there, we're off and rolling up them there steep, steep mountains to visit the Observatory. It was quite a lovely drive and not a soul on the bus would have traded places with the driver when we started up the drive to Mt. Wilson. Everything is hairpin turns and I kid you not when I tell you the front of the bus was going around a new turn before the back of the bus made it out of the old one. Sometimes it looked like we were going to go over a 3,000 ft. cliff, and others it looked like we'd kiss the rock wall before we'd get by. It was great fun!!

About 60 of us arrived at Mt. Wilson quite safely and impressed with the bus driver's prowness. Two tour guides awaited us and I knew there would be walking and I knew there would be stairs, but hell isn't below, folks... It starts at a mile high on a sunny day.

After about a half mile trek uphill, those of us who tend to be a bit more fluffly were happily panting and sweating buckets... Glad to just have stopped. My hair was soaked and I had to keep wiping my forehead to keep the sweat from my eyes. I wanna' see this place!

Our first stop what the dome where the 60" is housed and our cursory lecture on the history of Mt. Wilson and it's telescopes. What we thought was a "insider's tour" was just a typical guided walk and at least we were allowed to touch the dome, eh? Even though the guide told us it was identical to the 100" except for size, I still would have liked to have walked in the cool gloom and saw the scope.

Next up was the beautiful Chara Array and the predictable lesson about interferometers. Now, personally... I found the little collection of domes to be very cool because I understand how interferometry works. Ya' take several scopes positioned in different places and then all of them start studying the electromagnetic spectrum of an object. Then you combine all that information and any time you get a exact same wave, it cancels out the other so you can get a really, really good look in a different part of the spectrum. It's all waves, homeboy.. Be them visible or invisible.

Next it's a truck to the 150 ft. solar observing tower. No matter how you slice or dice this one, it's beautiful and you can't miss it. It towers so far over the pines that it's a creature unto itself... Like one of those giant Martians in the new "War of the Worlds". (and h.g. wells is our guide, ok? i don't see how the old fart can keep up that pace!) When we came in the clamshell was closed and I've got lots of different views, but the one with it open is my favourite! Are you ready to walk inside and see how they do business? I sure am. It's hot out here and I've not been dry since I got off the plane. Let's dance...

Inside it was everything I expected it to be. They still do genuine research here, but white light sketches are almost lipservice to all the new equipment used today. It's still pretty fantastic to see how the mirrors are aimed down at the worktable where the astronomer simply puts down a piece of paper and pencils in what shows on the base paper. It was fascinating to see a lot of the old sketches and how large some sunspots groups grew to be. Really a lot of fun and good to see older science methods still in action. Just think... It hasn't been that many years ago since this was state of the art!

And here's some solid state art for you. No matter what mountain you are on in the Los Angeles area, you can't miss these towers sticking up towards the sky. The steel beamed reminders that we rely on television, radio and other electronic signals to make it on our way through our merry day. While the towers do play a role in Mt. Wilson's studies, I got the feeling they were more industrial than scientific. Of course, sticking an antenna on the highest mountaintop is still consider good practice, isn't it? You should have seen the geeks comparing how many service bars their cell phones got up there. Hey, brother... We're on a tour here, ok? If you can hear me now, put the dang thing away for awhile.

And the chant goes up for the 100" scope...

If you are an astronomy history buff, or even just a backyard sky jockey, this is the place to be. Yep. There was a walk... But my, my... Here were the stairs, amigo. Surprisingly enough, my prior workouts served me well and after standing in the sunshine and dripping outside the dome as we learned the history... We were finally in. And oh my gawd... It's big. No matter what angle I turned the camera I could not get the whole scope into the picture!

No amount of camera jockeying is going to convey just how grand this scope is. You could play football inside its astro dome, ok? When you drop back down to the basement section you can fully understand the size and weight of this mirror when you compare it to full grown people. That's one hunk of glass, brothers! And it's all blue... What is there, some kind of special blue paint that's for telescopes only? Forget the pier and the counterbalance, this behemoth is on a fork mount big enough to hold the Titanic!

Edwin Hubble? Edwin Hubble? Are you peering around the corners from the netherworld? I've read you went as crazy as a loon from all those photons and I know how you got there. Is that your pipe I smell? There's no smoking now, you know. They'd string you up for that. Edwin Hubble? Edwin Hubble? Is that your hands I see on the ascention and declination controls? Edwin Hubble... Do you still look through the finderscope? Does your ghost still linger around that old straightback chair in the corner? The guide tells me it isn't the one seen in your famous picture... But he assures me your butt has been on it at one time or another. Edwin Hubble? Edwin Hubble? Did you ever fart in the dome and hear it echo?

Nah. Not a hero.

And so it's time to leave. As I start the walk back down a very kind gentleman offers to give me a ride in his truck. Are you kidding? Of course I went. I;d darn near sacrafice one of my colleagues just to be in the air conditioning for a few mintues! He takes me and a couple of others back down and we stop to talk. Well, now. We have an awful lot in common and he offers to take me and two other wiling passengers on to a private observatory. Did I go? Darn right I did. People who never have new experiences are the ones who are afraid to leave the tour bus. You promise me I'm going to end up back where I started and I'll forego that afternoon nap to see and do something new!

And off we go...

Of course, it's the same road back down, but a much cooler (God bless you) and more comfortable trip. My other two travel companions aren't exactly strangers and our benefactor (Tony) is a wonderful guide unto himself as I rattle off all kinds of questions and we even stop at a turnout to take a look back. He jokes about being a member of the Chamber of Commerce, but for visitors from Vermont and Ohio, his narrative is very, very welcome. Yeah. We got hills at home, but they ain't like these!

After driing for a fairly good piece, folks, we arrived at home. There's a reason why Tony and I have a lot in common and here it is. In my world it's Warren Rupp Observatory and in his it's Stoney Ridge. The telescope, the facility, everything except the native scenery is darn near identical... Right down to the story. I won't divulge confidences in a report, but I understand exactly what Tony is saying and feeling because I've been there myself... And neither one of us can bear to leave what we've come to love. It's just the way it is. We ate our lunch in the pleasant surroundings and took much pleasure from a huge pine cone dripping diamonds of sap. The lighting was just perfect and if you can imagine a pine cone large enough to kill you when it falls you can picture this.

The shadows are growing long... And it's time to move on.

I did tell you Tony was a pretty special person, didn't I? If not, let me tell you again. I guess he understood without being told that for some of us it may be our only opportunity in this life to see things here and there's no need to ask.. He takes you there. Yeah. This is JPL and I'm damn glad I stuck my driver's license in my jeans pocket this morning! The security around this place is so tight that you're not even permitted to stop and take a picture of the sign without proper identification! Anyhow, it all made for a wonderful laugh and we got to cruise inside the gate a ways and have a look at the mighty Jet Propulsion Labratory.

True to his word, Tony had us back in plenty of time before the dinner bell rang. I was early this morning and I hadn't even checked into my dorm room yet... And what a fancy building! See on the second floor where the blinds are pulled back and the lower window forced open? That's where I stayed. Very nice. Very clean. Very... very hot, amigos. The air conditioning wasn't on and the buidling had been left locked up for the summer. That room was a hundred degrees. Hey. I'm cool. Just glad I'm here, so I'll take a cold shower, turn on the air conditioner and lay on the bed until it kicks in. I think I'll put a cool cloth on my forehead because I feel sunburned, eh?

And an hour later it was still hot.

No matter... I'm sweltering but damn well going to look my best for the dean's introduction party. Nice white shirt, suitcoat, fluffy dried hair... And within 30 minutes I was drenched again. I'm sorry. People might think this weather is nice, but when we have days in the big O Hi O like this, we hide where it's cool, ok? And nothing here is cool. Don't get me wrong, I had a wonderful time meeting folks, but when I turn down free beer it's for a reason.

Thank the stars for Garmin. It lead me to a grocery store where I happily purchased some brew - then sat in the dorm parking lot with the car air conditioner on full blast until I felt better. I picked up a cup of ice at the local burger drive-thru and all I wanted was to strip down, cool off and rest. I got the lappy to connect to the wireless service, answered my email and iced my head down after I pried the window open. The air conitioner wasn't working, but I'm at least comfortable and safe.

Up at dawn, I showered again and about cried when I went to brush my hair. No wonder everyone wears a hat around here! My scalp is totally sunburned and so is my forehead. It's been a long, long time since I've blistered and it's just weird because I'm golden brown from swimming. Gosh, maybe the sun burns more out here? No matter, dudes. The world will live with me in a ponytail and t-shirt, because I've got classes to go to!

After a fantastic breakfast, it's time to head towards the Thatcher Music Building for the Lyman Theatre. This is where we will all meet as a group every morning of the workshop, hear the daily news and listen to the plenary lecture. We're an excited group, and Mr Prather's talk on How the Teaching and Learning of Astronomy Guides Instructional Practices is very welcomed. After that? We're on our own. Around 6 different courses are offered each section of the day and it's up to the individual to chose what best suits their needs. It's a long walk to the next location on a hot day... But I want the learning.

The Pomona Campus is quite beautiful and the time is sufficient for a 20 year-old to walk between buildings, but on old fat woman is wringing wet at 3 blocks in the sun. Ask me if I care! I want "Universal Education - Using Modern Cosmology to Increase Student Interest and Learning". Bruce Partridge was an excellent instructor and although I didn't expand my cosmological background, he gave me great new ways of demonstrating what I know! I only wish we had more "time"... Because I know a few tricks, too. An excellent choice!

Time for a lunch break. I am amped up and chatter happily with my table mates. There sure are a lot of mightly fine people out there and that Florida fellow can put away the chow! Don't blame him. I go back for seconds, too... Cuz' this ain't the mystery meat cafeteria food I was expecting. Mia amigoes sure know how to cook! Muchos gracias por excellemente comidas!

After lunch it was time to waddle to the next class.

The next course offering I didn't even feel my feet or the heat, ok? We're talking physics here and if you give me a fellow with a pony tail, leyden jar, liquid nitrogen and a telsa coil, I'll give you a humble and adoring worshipper. "Cosmic Demonstrations for Teaching Physics and Astronomy" was absolutely up my alley. Taught by Bryan Penprase and David Haley, I watched them go through some simple physics tricks I already knew... And some I could never afford for my lessons - like liquid nitrogen. (hey! can i take some back to cool my room? ;) I really like these guys. When you pump up the vacuum to make solid nitrogen? Woo hooo!! That ain't something you see everyday!

Of course, they also showed some very affordable "solutions" for demonstrating principles and I'm sure some of the young'uns I'll see along the way this year will get a "bang" out of them. I dearly love science toys. Of couse, I can't afford this wee bit of equipment... But what I wouldn't give to have a chance to be the conductor! Cris Angel? Move over, mind freak... There's nothing cooler or more mysterious than the laws of Nature!

Of course, you gotta' study law. ;)

I practically ran to the next class, too. While we touched on spectra in physics, everyone knows I'm a spectroscopy freak and I wanted what Project L.I.T.E. had to give. I was a liitle unfamilar with how to use an Apple laptop, but my lab partner got us rolling and once you have me hooked, I can't stop. Ken Brecher from Boston University is an absolute freekin' genius and the program he's devised is totally brilliant. I have searched for years to be able to bring an affordable and understandble spectroscopy lab into the hands of the folks I give programs to... And he succeeded beyond my wildest imagination. He's figured out how to spit the spectral lines using a monitor screen! Given what I know about hex colors and programs, I can tell you he's a genius and I even stopped to worship at his feet. Yeah, I've used a lot of weird gadgets over the years to do the impossible... But it's here! Oh, my gosh... Believe me, you will hear far more about L.I.T.E. and it's impact on the classroom from me! Bloody brilliant...

Whew, lordy... I am hot. It's time for the last classroom of the day and 2 blocks up and 1 block over seems like 10 miles. I don't know why I feel so nasty. Heck, I've been working out for weeks to be able to walk and climb with ease. But walking two miles inside a swimming pool isn't the same as three blocks in the sun. All is cool, though... If you don't mind me fannin' myself like an old black granny at a tent revival, then I don't mind listening to you talk about Doing Astronomy Education Research, ok? After all I am here to pick up any new tidbit... Any tiny glimmer of insight... Anything I can use and pass on to others!

Afterwards, I passed Tony outside and he offered me a ride back to the dorm. He told me there wasn't anything to be ashamed of in being older and not as capable of walking as Beef Jerkey Jane in her cargo shorts and hiking boots. Just 'cuz she's 15 years older than me and able to climb Mt. Rushmore without breaking a sweat doesn't mean we can all be that way. And Tony's words really got through, you know? There wasn't any point in torturing myself when I had a car at my disposal and every lecture hall had a parking lot. Just because I don't want one of those little blue wheel chair signs on my windshield, doesn't mean I'm any less of a person for parking by the door, ya' dig?

Good advice.

Fortunately the air conditioning had finally come on during the day and I wanted nothing more than another shower and some dry clothes before I rubbed elbows with the degrees for dinner. The blisters from the sunburn on my forehead and scalp were pretty nasty, but smelling like soap and water made me feel ever so much better. Again, the food is beyond compare and you just never know who you might be sharing a table with. Me? Ah, lord... I don't talk too awful much about myself (real ladies only speak when spoken to, ya' dig?) but I sure do enjoy the conversation of others and it's really something to be able to hear about all the things they've done and all the things they're going to do. It's great to nod, wave and speak to all people you've met along the way and notice I'm not the only one who decided that wet hair and dry clothes were the fashion statement of the dinner set. Maybe one of these days when I'm somebody really special I'll figure out the secret of how to look cool...

But I'm still 15 degree off.

I stop to chat with mi amigas before I leave the beautiful dining hall. I just love the hispanic culture. If you want people with real manners and a good work ethic, stop looking down and try looking eye to eye. Their laughter is as genuine as their greetings and sitting on the back steps for after dinner cafe negro and a smoke is very pleasant. Most of the time, their parables are too rapido for me to comprende, but one word in five isn't too bad for an un-edgy-cated gal from the farm. I'll tell ya' what, we can laugh in any language! (ssssh... and they sweat. ;)

OK! Enough of the social hour. It's time for me to head back to the main hall for tonight's lecture by Kevin Grazer about the Casinni Huygens Mission to Saturn and Titan. Afterwards they announced an observing session at the campus observatory, but I'm not feeling up to it. (eeyeah. something's wrong when i turn down looking through a telescope.) The blisters on my head had gotten very much worse and it was time for Garmin and I to head into the very neat, very clean and very well organized town of Claremont to figure out what was wrong. I went by the Emergency Room... really, I did.... but I chickened out. By now I knew this wasn't sunburn, but I was beginning to wonder if it might be poison ivy or something related to it. I've never had poison ivy, even though I've touched it, pulled it out by hand, and generally ignored it over the years, but who knows? Maybe sumac or oak lurked in all these wonderful trees and flowers I've been so free fondling over the last couple of days. It feels like poison, so I'll treat it as such.

Walgreen's to the rescue, ok? Find something clear that topically relieves poison ivy, get some benedryl, some ice and some rest. All will be well, kiddo... And you won't embarrass yourself by going to the hosptial over something stupid. Take another cold shower, pat yourself dry, kinda' freak out because the spots turned black within seconds of putting something on them and just try to get some sleep. I've got a vicious headache, but two major tylenols later, a couple of cold beers that sneaked back with me, and I'm ready to just listen to my tiny TV play M*A*S*H until I go to sleep.

Up again at dawn and into the shower. Daggone poison ivy had made it into my eye because it's beginning to swell. Ain't no wonder, woman! You've been wiping your face with a tissue every 30 seconds since you've got here! Take a benedryl, got some coffee and faggheddaboutit.

It's another absolutely gorgeous day and I stop again to admire some more of the local fauna. Some four months or so ago, I had one of the most vivid dreams I ever had in my life and I must pick a twig from this tree to take home to show to Jerry. This dream was so incredibly clear that I had to share it with him because it didn't make sense. I dreamed I was walking in a beautiful garden and talking with a group of hispanic cooks about their recipes and what spices they used. One of them took me to this beautiful tree and when I look up? All I could see was that it was covered in peppers. As I stand here on the sidewalk, I am looking up into such a tree. It is a relative of the oak, for I am not stupid and can read my leaves and caps... but the acorns look like jalepeno peppers! Oh my gosh... The pepper tree... Everything. Precogntion? Why not? I've walked Carlos Castenada's way of the wizard many times in my life. What a glorious reaffirmation that I am still in tune with the dream world!

And it s with a huge, msyterious smile that I know everything is going to be fine and it's time for the morning meeting a plenary lectures.

I will be forever sorry to Mr. Impey for his talk on Teaching Astronomy in Electrons and Waves. By the time he began the benedryl was kicking butt and I was not too happy with myself for nodding. Oh, yeah. I got the gist of the lecture but I think it's incredibly rude of me to keep bobbing my head and I do hope if anyone noticed that they'll be both forgiving and understanding. It wasn't about the physics of astronomy... But how teaching in a physcal manner affects how students learn astronomy. And as soon as that door opens for coffee? I'm on it. By now the effects of the benedryl were wearing off and the dose of java did me a whole lot of good. Let's go learn!

The next speaker is definately not Ben Stein. Her name is Michele Thaller and within two seconds she had the audience by the ear and everyone was ready to learn about the Spitzer Space Telescope: What We Found Hiding In The Dark. Michele had us all laughing and at the edge of our seats as we watched the lively presentation and learned in a tactile way just what the Spitzer is and how it sees. Tony was down on stage with her and as you can see from this photo, the Spitzer sees in the heat end of the spectrum and Michele has a genuine knack for teaching. As well all laughed when see took an ice cube and began to put on her "make up", we also had realization dawn on us that we could look right at Michele and not see in visible light what see just did to her face... But Sptizer's technology showed an entirely different picture! And if you didn't get it the first time, she made the point extremely clear as she had Tony put a black plastic bag over his head and shoulders to simulate dark dust... While on the screen we could see Tony just as he appeared without... Yet in visible light there was no Tony!

After the presentation it was my great pleasure for Tony to take me down to meet Michele personally. There's some people in this world who know exactly how to turn the little key in the middle of my back to make me start jumping up and down and tapping my cymbals together and Michele is one of them. While the Observatory is never going to be able to afford a thermal imaging camera to do her type of presentation, she had also thought of everything and a wealth of teaching information is only fingertips away. I cannot thank her enough, nor the good folks at Spitzer Science Center for making these material possible for us. You guys rock!

Now, folks... It's time for me to roll because I don't want to miss this next class: Doing Special Courses or Workshops for K-12 Teachers. I had met Mary Kay Hemenway and her lovely travel companion for Texas the day before at breakfast. Of course, I knew who she was and what she taught at the time, but I try to be mannerly in all things and I just figured she wouldn't want to talk "shop" at breakfast. What I need from her, she is most willing to give and I have gotten some great insights on how to reach the educators in our area of Ohio. Don't get me wrong, I love traveling to schools and giving special programs, but do you realize just how much more effective these teaching methods and props would be if I could put them into the hands of all the teachers instead of just a select few? I thank you, Mary Kay. You would be proud to know that I have already put the wheels in motion to have our first teaching workshop at the Observatory within weeks. We might not be able to afford to give them the materials to make their own props, but I'll get the information to them if I have to pay the copy expenses myself. You were a real lady and I will do my very best to honor what you've taught me.

And once again it's time for a lunch break. To me, this rapid fire learning style suits me well and there's not a whole lot of time to think about being tired or a bit out of sorts. Everywhere your turn is this beautiful inspiring Campus filled with all manner of people. Some of these folks I really took a shine to, and I'd say by their smiles the feeling was mutual. After a bite to eat, I had just enough time to head back to my dorm room for a couple of tylenol 3, pat some cold water on my face and prepare myself for the afternoon sessions. Vanity has long gone out the window, and it's time to get my other pair of glasses out. The little light ones are great, but I'm having trouble fast focusing right now, so it's back to the old clunky bifocals. I wanna' see! And I wanna' learn about Inquiry-Based Hands-On Astronomy Learning Activities.

The last formal class that I chose for the day was Doing Real Scientific Research With Your Students in the Classroom. When I sat down at the computer and got my notes together I realized who the teacher was - Travis Rector. THE Travis Rector? Gotta' be. Can't be two astro guys in the world with that same name. And he was brilliant. The course was about how to search for supernova events in other galaxies using a computer based program and a series of photographic plates. (it is THE travis rector... holy shit!) No wonder these people are tops in their field... They simply think of everything from every angle. Like Stardust@Home, the supernova search has every little applet you can think of. When you locate an event, you can home in on it, record the magnitude, duration and ascension and declination. No crunching numbers... the information is all right here, you just have to be a good researcher and remember to record all the details. The time went way too fast and the program was totally fasinating. Since I'm only gonna' lose chow time, I have to at least stop after the class and tell Travis how much I have admired his work with NOAO over the years. While you might not recognize his name, it's been a staple on my astronomy diet for a very long time. It was a huge pleasure just to meet this very personable young man!

And so this brings us to Saturday night and the much awaited outdoor BBQ Banquet. By now I'm feelin' like 7 miles of bad road and all of them are on my face. I didn't really feel like getting cleaned up and dressed for dinner, but I also did not want to miss the experience so I showered, dried my hair, made up one eye and gussied up in the lightest clothes I had.

Held on the grounds of the beautiful Sontag Greek Theatre, it was absolutely white linen table clothes all the way. A beautiful array of food, equally beautiful people and just enough of a breeze to even edge on pleasant. As I went to get into line, I was listening to a younger woman talk in front of me about all the projects she was involved in and just how wonderful they were to her peers. Well, brothers... I perked up my ears because she was moving in some of the same circles I had been for years and I just felt a kinship, you know? So far the norm had been to simply introduce oneself and join the conversation. After all, I have been one of the leaders in the project she's "heading up" for over 4 years and I just naturally figured she'd know who I was since I helped get the dang place to where it's at now by building up its readership. Well, I was about as welcome as a toad in a punchbowl and if she'd have looked any further down her nose at me she'd have seen her own boogers, ya' dig? Needless to say I felt a little bit of a twinge because it was the first time the whole weekend I'd even vaguely mentioned some of the things I was involved in and Daisy May treated me with about as much courtesy as a dog turd on a white berber rug.

Good luck to ya', sista'. Cuz' one of the people who could have made your little world spin a whole lot easier wouldn't even let you make an affection gesture toward my personal asteroid, ok? I hope you read this. :P

So, I went and sat down and soon enough was joined by a lovely table of people with whom conversation flowed very pleasantly and I began to feel a whole lot less uncomfortable about things. Who I am? Hey. I'm always proud of that... Just don't have to be a snoot in a suit. What I look like? Usually I don't care because I'm at least presentable, but if these folks can sit around the table with the one-eyed walking wonder disease and treat me kindly while looking right into my good eye? Hey. These are folks I wanna' know and damn glad I met!

After dinner we retired to the theatre for some laughter and good natured speaking. It was beginning to get dark and our speaker for the evening unfortunately could not make it so the plan was to head for the observatory to do some stargazing. Again, it's definately not like me to turn down a free beer or a chance to look through a new scope... But I am really not up to it. All I want to do is go to town while I still can and get 10 lbs. of ice to pack my head in and maybe a couple of cold beers to numb me to sleep. I had all these grandiose ideas of working on this report remotely and even editing some text in my spare time... But about as far as I made it was a beer and surrouding my skull with the physics of a liquid to solid state through lower tempertures. It was kind of a mind game to see how fast I could melt it...

By the next mornig I was brat nasty. Half my forehead and skull were covered in lesions and my eye was toally swollen shut. The tymph nodes on that side of my head were harder than cheap salad croutons and even considering eyeliner wasn't an option. Hell... There wasn't an eye to put it on, ok? I thank whatever powers that be reminded me that sometimes pain finds me when I am far, far from home and I had enough good sense to pack plenty of tylenol 3. It didn't do much to dent it... But it put toleration in there and did bring down the fever. God bless the friends I had made for keeping me laughing... Because you'll never know what good you did me.

Now let's learn...

First off for the day was the obligatory meeting and plenary lecture. Today's featured Michael Brown and How I Demoted Pluto and Why It Had It Coming. Giggle... You talked it to death? Heheheheheee! Again, forgive me if I begin to nod here and there... it's gotta' be the drugs.

When it is time for our last lunch, I go back to my room for the cervesas I did not use to give to mi chicas at the dining hall. Marguerite laughed when I gave them to her and stashed them away. Tiny Rosa came out from the kitchen to ask me where it was, thinking I had forgot, and then cooed like a happy pigeon when she saw the strange collection I had brought. Girl, you've never lived until you've had an ice cold Rolling Rock! Soon enough, lunch had passed and amidst vaya con Dios it was time to go to the last of the classes.

Art and Astronomy: Making a Sundial as a Cloudy Nights Project... Sounds entertaining, doesn't it? Well, it was. Here again we have a young fellow that has all the right stuff going for him. There's people that can teach... and then there's people that can teach. I learned more from John Beaver in less than an hour than I've learned from others in ten times as much time. This was more than just how to make a sundial, ok? We could learn that from a book... What this engaging young man did was find an absolutely perfect way of demonstrating how a sundial works and how it works from anywhere on the globe. Again... A genius. With a globe, some tiny bits of paper, and some sticky tac... He gave me in 5 seconds what others might not catch for 5 years.

And so we come to the last lecture. Did I dare to face backwards? Sure! Why not... And right in the front row, too. (I'll bet everyone in the class pays attention to you because they don't want to be caught staring at my face. ;) My lab partner was a very lovely lady from a publishing company who was obviously there on behalf the the gentleman who was apparently writing a textbook for her company. Needless to say, we hit it right off because I live to make difficult principles easier to understand for people without an astonomy background and her friend was talking way over her head. I hate it when you see very smart people struggling to understand what somene is saying and when we were asked to change lab partners? Well.. she and I just changed sides of the table because she asked me not to leave her. We were handed an astronomy test that based what the person instinctually knew against what a person had been taught to know. I'm not knocking the course instructors here, because they got their point across... But I would have chosen something a little less specialized that a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram for a relative beginner, ok? But... In this circumstance it worked out perfectly. The guys beside us were busy drawing out mathmatical solutions and pyramiding up their answers... While I read her the questions and we just gut put what we thought in the right place on the diagram. Answer? With absolutely no calculus involved and no hidden slide rules we came out with the exact same light curve as the math dudes.

Needless to say, we exchanged business cards. ;)

Now the day is over and everyone is tired. We were to meet for one last session about how to take back what we'd learned, but they decided that was enough. When I first came here I had met the benefactor for my scholarship, Andrew Fraknoi, and he had told me how much he enjoyed my letters. Now, it would have been a whole lot easier not to have waited on a busy man to have a moment and just email him my thanks... But that's not the way I work. I waited quietly in the wings until I saw he had a free moment and approached to give him my personal thanks for such an incredible opportunity. Imagine my suprised when Andrew told me he had been reading up on me and how much he admired everything I'd done! He also told me about a lot of other people who had not only approved, but applauded my astro endeavors and I could have melted right into the floor I was so touched. That hug was very genuine. I don't have words to adequately express my appreciation and I can only hope to serve those who have given me so much. You are a gentleman through and through.

Afterwards I sought out my friend from Vermont and gave him a ride back to his motel. I wish him and all the others the very best of love, luck and laughter. May we all see each other again! Within hours I am once again at LAX and marveling at the power of Garmin to navigate me through the tangled maze of freeways and traffic with just one eye. I'm a little scared because my sight is almost completely gone when I pry it open. All I get is lights and oclors.... My head hurts awful and all I want to do is get home. Once my car is back and my suitcase checked in, I wandered out for a smoke, because it's going to be a long time and I am quite miserable. I had to laugh, because the area I stepped into would have made my Mom hide her purse and grab her crucifix... But these guys took one look at my eye and figgered they didn't want to be the other fellow. As I sat on the rail with them, I experienced an earthquake. It was just a little shaking... Like a heavy underground train went by. I gave the dude beside me a funny look and he said "Yeah. It's a quake. Wait. There'll be another." and sure enough... a couple of minutes later a weaker tremor went through. I guess new experiences really do happen to those who aren't afraid to walk somewhere different, eh?

Soon enough, I was on the red eye flight back to Ohio. Comfortingly enough, I shared the row with two young boys who I knew! Now what a coincidence is that? They came from the same town I work in and had seen me at my job. It's nice to sit with grandbabies, because we don't put the arms down and kids don't freak out if you touch, you know? We laughed for awhile and watched Shrek III. Soon enough I had a leg thown over me and the next thing you know we were all sleeping like babies. I woke up when the light changed and right in time for CMH. I bid the kids good luck and off I went to collect my bag and head back for the car. It's deadly hot here and I am awfully sick. I pulled off the freeway just as soon as the doctor opened and only stopped long enough to get someone to drive me there.

Diagnosis? Zoster ophtmalus herpes simplex. In other words... Shingles on my optic nerve bundle. The doctor freaked because I didn't go to the emergency room and he also pointed out that I stood a 50/50 chance of losing partial vision in that eye for waiting so long. Hey, dude? I didn't know, ok? All I know was that I was afraid of making a $300 emergency room bill for a case of poison ivy... and the fact the pain is starting to make me crazy. By Monday night I was a basket case. No pain pills could touch it and I spent a whole lot of time rocking and crying. I don't remember a whole lot about those first few days except it got so bad they took me back and I started morphine and two other nerve pain blockers to keep me from standing in front of a train. I slept as much as I could... And when I wasn't sleeping I was punching things when the pain got bad... And rocking and crying.

Now, I don't tell you this because I want or need sympathy. I tell you because someday someone you may know might get this... So be understanding. The opthmalic/otic nerve bundle controls half you head. Imagine every nerve feeling every sensation it ws capable of. At worst, I would have the worst sunburn I've ever had, pinkeye, sinus infection, swimmer's ear and an impacted wisdom tooth with a mirgraine headache. Then somone would run a blowtorch over my head while they pulled my hair out by the roots. At best, (when all the drugs kicked in at once) I feel like I'm wearing a horror mask filled with hornets and my ear never stops playing F#. It's about 10 days later now, and the worst is behind. My eye is open again and except for a fuzzy spot seems to be doing well. I have craters in my head where the lesions were and still have some moments of awful burning... But one hell of a lot better. You can see now why my reports went so far behind and email bounced. For while I couldn't be around people because I might infect them with chicken pox... Now I can't be around people because they might infect me while I'm still down.

But, hey... I'm a stong kid. What caused it? They really don't know. I guess the chicken pox virus lays dormant in the ganglion all your life. Sometimes stress makes it surface and you get a body breakout... Sometimes people like me take a lot of immuno-suppressant drugs to control other medical problems and that just invites them to dinner, so to speak. Most of it is a bad memory now, though... And I thank all of you who were so kind and supportive during my recovery. Even if I knew how "Cosmos in the Classroom" was going to end - it would have done it anyway. I had the warning signs long before I left, but I was too ignorant and stubborn to pay them any mind. (i'm sick of being sick, you know?) There's not a thing in the world I could have done to have stopped it, and I would have regretted all my life that I didn't open the door for the opportunity that knocked.

Now? Now I'm ready for the last of it to be gone. It's time to train on the Star Lab planetarium and get together a teacher's seminar. I've got a book to finish up, star parties to attend, and lots and lots of classes waiting on me to get better.

Tempis fugit, baby... Carpe diem.

"You... Who are on the road... Must have a code... That you can live by. And so... Become yourself. Because the past... Is just a good bye.

Teach your children well... Their mother's hell... Did slowly go by. And feed... Them on your dreams. The one they pick... Is the one you'll know by."