Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Jane Goodall

On Monday, January 16, 2012 (Martin Luther King's Day) Ashley had a dream come true -- she met Jane Goodall in person.

Dr. Goodall autographed Ashley's well-worn copy of her biography, "My life with chimpanzees."

In January 2011, Don and Ashley saw the movie, "Jane's Journey," at Princeton Public Library's Princeton Environmental Film Festival. The movie was about Jane Goodall's life and her mission to improve the environment. Ashley was enthralled by the film. She wants to start a Roots and Shoots program so she and her friends can help the environment (let me know if your kids are interested in forming a club). She is very passionate about the environment.

To her, meeting Jane Goodall would be like many other 9-year olds meeting Justin Bieber. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Last week Don read in a Princeton Patch blog as part of a lecture series, Jane Goodall was going to speak at the State Theatre in New Brunswick. We ordered three nosebleed seats -- in the very last row of the theater. Ashley's seat was dead center last row of the balcony, which in this theater meant she had stairs directly in front of her and no people blocking her view.

We arrived 45 minutes early (uncharacteristic for us). As we walked in the lobby we saw the official photographer, or rather I noticed his large Canon camera. He in turn eyed up my Panasonic, which looked even more impressive with the diffuser on it. He uses a similar Panasonic for fun. We get to chatting. He tells us he just met Jane Goodall -- he didn't even know who she was until he got the job a few days earlier. He was in awe of her. Ashley was holding her Jane Goodall book, which she was rereading in the car. He was impressed she had read her book. I told him it would be Ashley's dream to meet Jane Goodall. After a few minutes, he has to return to work taking more pictures. As the house wasn't yet open, we mingle in the lobby chatting with volunteers from Roots and Shoots. The photographer pops out of the door closest to us (again, dumb luck) and says "PSST." I take the hint, thank the volunteers, grab Don and Ashley and take them to the door. He quickly ushers us to the green room for a couple of minutes alone with Jane Goodall.

It was amazing. We were all so starstruck I'm amazed Don could work the camera well enough to take any pictures (for once we only had one camera with us). She was genteel, dainty, charming and so sweet. She signed Ashley's well-read copy of her book. 

For once our chatty daughter was silent. There were giant stars in her eyes. She could barely answer the simplest question, such as how old are you. I prompted her to take off her jacket to show Dr. Goodall her t-shirt, which read "Everyday is Earth Day," and chosen specifically for the lecture. Jane (how do you properly address such a legend when you, too, are starstruck?) told Ashley about Roots and Shoots. I said she wants to join, but there are no clubs in our area. To which Jane Goodall practically called me a slacker for not starting our own club. I can take a hint.

Fortunately (at our prompting) Ashley had written a list of questions to ask Jane Goodall (we anticipated a question and answer session, not a private meeting). We left the questions with her assistant. He said she would answer a couple of them on stage.

The moment was over as quickly as it started. By now the house was open so we were ushered outside to go back inside.

The lecture itself was fascinating. Jane Goodall greeted us in chimpanzee language. She spoke about her entire life from when she was a year or two and she brought worms into her bed. Her mother calmly said "now, Jane, those worms will not live if they stay in your bed. Help me take them outside." What a wonderful lesson in parenting! She spoke for about 45 minutes. She works 300 days a year. It sounds like her off days are spent writing books.
Jane Goodall's current mission is to encourage today's youth to work with her to rebuild the environment. "If humans are the most intelligent beings on earth, why is it that we are destroying our only home?” she said a couple of times. She is 79 years old and wants to improve the planet for her great grandchildren (she has a son and a grandson). She spoke of Roots and Shoots programs that are fixing streams in parts of the world.  Nature can heal itself, but we need to stop making it worse.

After speaking, she answered questions. Ashley's question was introduced by "this question is from Ashley, the girl you met before the program. Did you have any pets growing up?" Jane's answer, "oh yes, I had guinea pigs, hamsters, tortoise, and always cats." 

As we were leaving the line for her autograph was out of the theater. I would have gladly waited in it to give Ashley the chance to meet her idol, but was grateful we had the private audience beforehand.

Follow your dreams, everyone. 

We can all improve the environment. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thomas Edison's Lab

Thomas Alva Edison: The Wizard of Menlo Park, also known as (at least according to The Flintstones) Thomas Edistone -- the inventor of the candle. Holder of 1093 patents in his life time built the largest research and development facility of its day in West Orange, NJ. In the height of operations he had over 10,000 people working for him.

Back in the mid- to late- 1990s there was a rumor Edison's labs might close forever. Yes, even in the booming days of the 1990s historic sites were threatening to close due to budget issues.

Instead of closing their doors forever, though, they closed for seven years (2002-2009) during which time there was a major renovation. If you have not been to Edison's labs in over a decade, it is worth returning to see the massive improvements.

Back when we went circa 1995, this is the only room I remember seeing -- the library. Edison's bed in the corner really stood out to me. He often worked 95 hour weeks (he has the time card punches to prove it) and would take cat naps in his library. I also remember seeing the Black Maria, where he made his first films.

Today there are over 400,000 pieces on display, including this -- the first phonograph. There are also rooms with heavy machinery in it where prototypes for his experiments were made. Much of the renovations were based on photographs, which are also on display. They are fortunate to have so much documentation. 
Another highlight of the laboratory complex were the free tours offered every half hour. We went to two of the tours. Our first tour was in the chemistry lab, which was left pretty much as it was in Edison's day. We then went to the Music Room where we heard old phonographs play tunes. Even seeing them in action, and having the docent explain how the phonographs work, I still don't understand it. If I did, I would gladly explain the magic to you.

After touring the laboratory complex we went to his home, Glenmont in the Llewellyn Park district of West Orange, NJ.  Llewellyn Park is just up the hill from his labs in a very exclusive neighborhood. Neighbors included the Merck and Palmolive Families. Edison's home, which he shared with his wife, Mina, and their three children had 29 rooms. The room that juts out on the second floor is their family room where Edison would retreat from public life to think.  The home was originally built with gas lighting in 1880, but was quickly converted to electricity after the Edisons moved into Glenmont.

The combination of seeing where someone famous both lived and worked is rare. I'm glad were able to visit on a cold Sunday afternoon. It was even nicer that we were able to participate in one of the National Park Association's fee free days.

Each year the President declares set days to be free at all National Parks. We were pleased to learn the audio tours were free, too.

National Park Service Week
April 21, 22; 25 - 29

Get Outside Day
June 9

National Public Lands DaySeptember 29

In observance of Veterans DayNovember 10, 11

Thomas Edison's Labs:

Monday, January 9, 2012

Colonial Ball

I love Patriot's Week in Trenton. I wish the activities of Patriot's Week continued throughout the year. I also wish Patriot's Week could be celebrated in July instead of in December, but Washington crossed the Delaware in December so the reenactments take place in December. Patriot's Week is a wonderful celebration of the turning point in the Revolutionary War.

The group always puts together an amazing collection of events. This year I only participated in three program: "Janice Meredith" (a silent film that takes place in Trenton), a worship service at the First Presbyterian Church of Trenton, and the Colonial Ball.

We love the Colonial Ball.

This year Patti and Neil Burd joined us at the ball. We loved having someone with us to laugh as we tried to learn the steps. The caller makes the steps sound so easy. That confidence lasts until we try to follow the calls. Having a good sense of humor is key. Laughing helps a lot.

On February 25, the First Presbyterian Church of Trenton will host Washington's Ball. We are all hoping to put our dancing skills to use again at that event. Please join us!

First Night Haddonfield 2012

I want to start by asking why is it called FIRST night, when I see it as the LAST night of the year?

With that out of the way, Don and I rang in 2012 wandering the streets of Haddonfield, NJ with First Night Haddonfield, while Ashley went to a friend's house for a sleepover.

In the 23 years Don and I have been celebrating New Year's Eve together, this is our sixth time attending a First Night program. 20 years ago we went to First Night Boston with Dan and Heather Lloyd. Since then we have been to First Night Wilmington twice (sad to see how much it shrank in 7 years), First Night Newtown, and First Night Ridgewood.

Haddonfield's was terrific. At $15 a person (even children) It was also one of the more expensive programs.

The First Night organization promotes family-friendly, alcohol-free ways to ring in the New Year. Often events are spaced out in different buildings, often with fireworks at some point in the evening, and the entertainment is varied. It reminds me of the winter version of Bethlehem's MusikFest.

This year December 31st was unseasonably warm, which made the event seem even more magical. Fireworks were shot off in the middle of their Main Street at 9 PM. Entertainment continued until midnight.

My favorite performance was by a Keith Henley, an underground railroad storyteller, telling the story of "Uncle Cecil" through story and song. The event was even more poignant because it took place in the Indian King Tavern, where New Jersey Constitution was written during the Revolutionary War, and past which British soldiers retreated from Philadelphia. Washington is not known to have slept there, but Dolley Madison was a frequent guest at the tavern.

Much of the entertainment was lighter than Mr. Henley's presentation. We listened to husband and wife duets on organ and piano, an electric violinist, acrobats and flamenco dancers.

Haddonfield is a cute town. Its claim to fame is finding the world's first dinosaur skeleton. It is an easy commute to Philadelphia. It is the type of town that is very walkable. The only thing it seemed to lack was open ice cream parlor that night.

Happy Birthday, Don

Don's birthday is January 8.

His birthday wish?

A picnic in the park in New Jersey. 

A few years ago, on another unseasonably warm day, we celebrated Don's birthday with a picnic. Unfortunately it was a spur of the moment decision and I left the camera at home. He has been wanting a repeat ever since.

Last year, New Jersey was covered in a blanket of snow on his birthday. We ate indoors at Candela's Pizzeria instead.

This year we were able to grant his wish as we had take out from Tiger Noodle in Princeton, NJ and ate in a small park around the corner from the restaurant. We brought a candle and a couple of book lights for ambiance. Temperatures reached 60 during the day, and by dinner time it was still in the low 50s. Just perfect for a winter picnic.

Happy 48th birthday, Don. Time to start planning for the next milestone in two years.