Friday, August 31, 2012

The Apollo Project

When I was graduated from both high school and secretarial school, I was still unmarried and living in Boston, Massachusetts. I found a job with the "The Apollo Project" at the MIT Instrumentation Lab (It was renamed in 1970 the Charles Stark Draper Labs after its founder.) in Cambridge, overlooking the Charles River. I was a technical secretary assigned to work with project manager George Cherry's team and so I learned to type all kinds of equations which were part of reports and documentation for the Lunar Excursion Model (LEM) for the Apollo 11 launch. (Obituary for George Cherry here.)

One of the fellows working on the same project was Allan R. Klumpp, an engineer who regularly trained for many marathons, but his dream was to run The Boston Marathon, a 23-mile challenge that is staged on Patriot's Day on the outskirts of the city. It was not uncommon for Allan to run into work from his home, and since this was before showers were considered part of the work benefits, on warmer mornings he was pretty damp by the time he arrived. But that is not the reason he was a memorable part of the team, at least not for me. He was a kind man, tolerant of my inability to be as precise as an engineer and ready and willing to review my equations to be sure they were correct. (The document shown here was something I remember typing for him.) I expect that without his attention to detail the LEM would not have landed on the moon. But it was at his expense this joke got passed around the inner circle: "What sound will the LEM make when it lands on the moon?" Answer: "Klumpp!"

All my memories of working for the Apollo Project came rushing forward today after reading about the passing last week of Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11 and the LEM. I remembered meeting him one afternoon when he, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins came to the lab to go over documentation on the LEM. Back in the mid-60's an astronaut was on the 'star' list (pun intended) and NASA took full advantage of those draws. So did some of the secretaries at the Lab, using every feminine wile possible to be in the presence of these soon-to-be-famous entities. I was still too new to my job to risk leaving my desk, but thanks to Allan Klumpp it wasn't necessary. He brought all three of them to me, and introduced us, telling them that I was just as important as he was to the whole project and they needed to respect everyone who was working to get them up to the moon and back, "because," he said, "we cannot afford the luxury of one little error. One degree in calculations could throw everything off and you'd miss the moon, one mis-fire could ruin the return, one sloppy mechanical installation could mean failure." I worked harder to be accurate after that, and when I left the program to move to California with my husband and daughter, I received a commendation in the mail from NASA for my work.

Buzz Aldrin is photographed walking near the lunar module during the Apollo 11extravehicular activity on July 20, 1969.
Photo: Associated Press

But the greater part of the memory was on July 20, 1969 when Armstrong walked on the moon, after the LEM delivered them to it. I don't think there was any recording of the sound it made when it landed, but because my daughter was sitting beside me as we all watched on TV and she and her cousins were chattering in their toddler tones, I would have missed it anyhow. I can say that I was proud then and still am today for the very small part I played in that event, so that these three men had a successful mission and long lives thereafter.

For those who are interested, Don Eyles wrote an interesting hindsight report here about the screwups and how close the whole mission came to failure. Frankly, I am still amazed when jet aircraft fly, when my car starts and when my phone connects me to someone... my oldest and dearest BFF recently asked me, "How did we manage to do all we did without cell phones?"

Friday, August 24, 2012

Change of Scene

Discovery Bay near Sequim, Washington
I was granted some time off for good behavior with the twins, and their parents, and by the grace and goodness of my son-in-law, was provided some transportation to go and visit Sequim, (pronounced SQWIM) over on the Olympic Peninsula, and to catch up with an Intender Buddy there.

Now better known as the lavender capital of North America, it was once the hunting grounds for the S'Klallam Tribe and apparently the word sequim means just that... hunting grounds. I guess for me it was a kind of hunting, looking for a change of scene/pace/sound/energy. You can read more about this part of the Olympic Peninsula here and see some aerial photos.

Hood Canal bridge is a relatively new replacement.
It is, in my opinion, faster to catch the ferry north of Seattle than to go to the port for the trip to the peninsula. The ferry ride from Edmonds is less than half an hour on the water, but the line to get on can take a lot longer. Then the drive to Sequim is about 45 minutes more through some incredible scenic views of the Olympic National Park and harbors. I went over there once when I first arrived, before the babies did, and had a short visit which only whetted my appetite for another one.

You cross over the Hood Canal bridge after leaving Kingston, going toward Port Townsend. Well maintained in its Victorian era housing, Port Townsend is rather well identified as an 'artist's city,' but it also seems to carry some of the taint of artists who aren't doing much more than claiming to be one from what I was hearing by residents of other villages in the area.

Oh well.... I didn't have the time to investigate for myself, so take it with a grain of salt water from the Puget Sound. Passing the Jamestown S'Klallam tribal center and casino going around Discovery Bay is a lovely drive. To be fully appreciated it probably should be done in the fall on a bicycle... slower pace to enjoy all the various colors.

Bond Ranch Retreat is just what is needed for some peace & quiet.
I was booked into a B&B called Bond Ranch Retreat just past Sequim on the road to Port Angeles, which is about 15-20 minutes further along the peninsula. Port Angeles is where one catches the ferry to British Columbia and is an easy cruise for a day trip. What a special place this B&B is!! From the moment you arrive until Tess waves goodbye to you, you are treated as a special person with lots of sweet details.

Lavender in a small vase...
First of all, the beds are incredibly comfortable! Anyone who has traveled knows that some places economize on the beds, but that isn't the case here. Tucked into the Rose Room with a large down comforter over a hand-made quilt in rose and yellow tones, a small bowl of fresh raspberries had been put on the nightstand with a special message and a small sprig of fresh flowers - it made me feel warmly welcomed. I slept almost without interruption... is it possible to hear twin babies crying across the water in Seattle? I woke up at 3 a.m. briefly and realized I didn't have to go to them and went back to sleep.

Campfires are a great way to meet new people, too.
The nights on the peninsula at this time of year are getting brisker, and it was a good reason to snuggle but I'm basically an early riser and was up at 8 to have a 'farm breakfast' of all natural and good foods: eggs, sausage, bagel, yogurt with fresh fruits and orange juice. I was hungry when we discussed breakfast the night before, but my appetite that morning didn't do this wonderful breakfast justice.

I took some time after breakfast to walk around the farm, looking at all the outbuildings and the place where they offer a nightly campfire, a cottage for a family fully self-contained, a chapel, a place for having a cookout and meal as a group, really it seems as if all you have to do is call or e-mail Tess and let her know what you need and she will find a way to put it all together in her unique and artistic way.

One of Bond Ranch's best...
This is still a working ranch as Morris, the founder of the facility, raises Quarter horses. This lovely creature took time out of her breakfast munching to look up at me.
One of several inviting places to sit and enjoy nature.
There are lots of places to gather for conversation, to play cards, to have a cup of coffee or tea inside or out, places to walk or bicycle, and both days I saw plenty of local wildlife, including deer that at first I thought were lawn ornaments, but then they moved!

I came to the ranch, exhausted from too many nights of interrupted sleep, and in just one very quiet evening, I was restored enough to go back for more with these special twins.

I am grateful Tess was such an attentive hostess, checking to be sure all my needs within her purvue were being met, and everything was clean and fresh and pleasant. Go to their website and read their story, and then when you are thinking about a weekend getaway or an event with friends or relatives, consider this treasure on the Olympic Peninsula.
And for me... one night is not enough. I will come back again.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sleep Deprived in Seattle

It has been three weeks since the twins were born, three weeks since I started being a Mother's Helper to my daughter, three weeks since I've had more than a few hours of sleep in succession - just like my daughter. Tonight actually is the second night in a row that I will have had at least five hours of uninterrupted sleeping, thanks to the Night Nanny. Two days ago my daughter looked at me with that kind of battle-worn fatigue and said, "We will have relief in two days... we can make it!" We have.
Mr K is asleep right now, but when he wakes up.....
The boy has established himself as a screamer... when he wakes up he is hun-gar-ree and he wants to eat RIGHT NOW! Changing his diaper first just enrages him and he is absolutely certain he is being deliberately tortured. His scream tone conveys that very well.
Miss H was sleeping on my chest for this shot.
The girl is laid back. She knows food is coming, she wants to enjoy it with a dry diaper and is willing to let us administer to her without much 'sturm und drang' (fuss). I have already been rewarded by a huge smile from Miss H and although it is early for any baby to truly smile in recognition, Miss H is a most remarkable baby... of course, being my grandchild I would have that opinion in any case.

I only have a few more weeks before I leave and although the hours of missed sleep are beginning to take their toll - I cannot remember simple things like how to spell the name of that white stuff in a tub that goes on a bagel for the grocery lists - I am going to miss even more those special little faces that are only just now beginning to be really interesting creatures.

And, I should add, I will miss my 8-year old granddaughter who further endeared herself to me by showing her big heart and showering her baby sister and brother with some of her particular love. There are challenging days ahead, but Big Sis E is, I think, up to the task.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tending the Twins

The modern conveyances - car seats.
The arrival last week of the twins - a boy first and then the girl, 15 minutes apart - was a week of adjustments. My eight-year old granddaughter stayed with her nanny at the nanny's family house for three nights which helped her get rested up for being at home where sleep is interrupted regularly with the yowls of hungry or gas-filled babies and howls of displaced (three) cats. It is not enough for the cats to protest with sound, but at least one of them left several nasty green vomits, unseen in the dark, on the rug in the basement where I was walking with one of the restless babes.

Mom and Dad are pleased with the products which were well over projected arrival weights, and came with fingernails, lovely reddish gold angel hair on top and Baby Boy "K" has already smiled to show off his dimples. Sister "H" not to be outdone, demonstrated how strong she is by rolling over on the bed! While Bigger Sis is not all that impressed with these two interlopers, she does bestow kisses quite regularly on their heads and tiny hands.

It's been a wonderful, awe-inspiring journey to get to part where we watch daily for the changes that demonstrate good growth. So far, so very good!

The hardest part for me will be leaving... heading back to my Other Life as a retired granny, because in this daily demand for granny help, I have felt necessary, useful and purposeful. Not that I don't feel that in my Other Life, but being of service to your children is, as one friend put it, "the highest calling for a parent."

My S-I-L said today, "The wonderful thing about having babies when you are older as parents is that you can truly enjoy today, with less fear because you know you have already brought one along..." and there is a sort of relief in even the crying because it doesn't last forever either.

The fatigue is greater, however, for all... harder to get through days where the nights are foreshortened with distress, demands for feeding or something that cannot be determined. The nanny for my granddaughter has been a wonderful asset and a treasure for keeping structure for a little girl who is struggling to make sense of a mother who is now dividing her time five ways instead of only three (her husband, her daughter and herself). But it will all get itself sorted out.

Meanwhile, to all my readers, thank you for your attendance on this great good news!