Grandpa and STEM

This is for all the STEM devotees out there and for those who still balance their checkbooks.  My brother just sent me the below quotes from a speech that my granddad (Allen V. Astin) gave in 1953 to the American Physical Society. My granddad was the director of the NBS (Now the NIST) for 18 years from 1951-1969.

“We believe in the philosophy of Lord Kelvin, that basic understanding in science depends on measurement — the reduction of observation to numbers.”

“We believe that there is a romance in precision measurement, and that the ability to extend the absolute accuracy of measurement by one decimal place frequently demands as much ingenuity, perseverance, and analytical competence as does the discovery of a new principle or effect in science.”

“We stress reliability and accuracy in our operations, and in checking and rechecking our results… We stress objectivity and fairness in our operations and attempt to insure them by a willingness to accept the results of well-planned, reproducible experiments, and the logical conclusions therefrom.”

“We take pride in the concept of science, in providing assistance to science, to industry, and to government.”

— Allen V. Astin

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Hurricane Harvey

Helping each other cuts to the core of what it means to be human. At the risk of sounding insensitive, a crisis simplifies what it means to help another: tearing out drywall, doing laundry, offering a living space, feeding a family. It seems the essence of this is “Are you okay?” “Do you need a place to stay?” “Are you hungry?” How awesome is it that we are all asking these questions to, not just friends and family, but about strangers as well? The reality is that we all need simple help every day and we all have the opportunity to offer simple help to each other every day. I agree, we are witnessing and experiencing “what it should look like to love others.” Imagine if we cared about each other in this way all the time.

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The Flood of Love and Peace

The blessing and fruit of regular spiritual practices
like exercise, meditation, chanting, and japa
is that,
early in the morning
after a good night’s sleep
and before others have arose,
the time for meditation is carved out.

The eternal soul blossoms
and engulfs the human consciousness
with a wave of bliss and peace
that wipes out our little human drama
and floods us with a divine love and contentment
which in turn heals
the wounds of the limited human soul.

This is the flood
of love and peace
which begins every great day.

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At Once

Definition of “at once”: 1) at the same time; 2) without delay.

There are many people who I feel connected with and who I love deeply that have vastly different beliefs than my own. Politics and religion have very little to do with love. If I find myself always surrounded by people who think the same as I do, then I can never experience the amazing joy that comes from loving and appreciating those who are very different. Finding myself with those who think differently affords me an opportunity to practice openness. In seasons where differences and division dominant, could it be an opportunity to have a meal with those on the opposite side of my belief?  Can I sit down and look at their faces?  Do I look into their eyes?   Do I ask them about their lives?  Do I want to learn of their struggles and victories?  For one moment, can I set aside strife and put on love?  Will I become a student of love and change the world at once?

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Anna’s Passing

I am humbled at how many people have reached out to me about Anna’s passing. I haven’t seen Anna for many years and friends from high school who knew Anna, as well as many others, are all offering their condolences. I’m grateful for so much love from so many people.

Although I’m writing these words for cathartic reasons, I hope that this celebrates Anna’s life in some way. Anna’s life was vast and complicated and she was so many things to so many people. When my brother told me that Anna had passed it unexpectedly pierced me in an unreachable place and I’m still trying to find honest words to free these feelings.

For the years that I knew her, for me, the messy, angry, passionate, wild, peaceful, and loving Anna was far richer and more alive than the polished public personality. The real Anna, even with her treacherous and tumultuous facets, surpassed her public persona. When Anna was on your side, you could not have a better companion. If you threatened her world in any way, woe unto you. Life with Anna was never boring, and more often than not, full of life.

I met Anna on the set of a TV show when I was ten years old and she was twenty-five. She and my dad were filming a TV movie called Two On A Bench. Anna had a little Mercedes-Benz coupe and one night, with my dad’s permission, she drove me to an after party. She took me 90 mph on Motor Avenue and said, “Don’t tell your father.” Anna was fun and exciting, and sometimes the road could be quite dangerous.

Without any doubt, the greatest gifts that Anna gave me are my two youngest brothers. When Anna came into my life she had a little bundle of joy. A baby not even a year old. I had never taken care of a child before and now I was changing diapers, putting the chubby feet of this little one on his cheeks and rocking him from side to side and watching him laugh hysterically. Who knew that taking care of a baby could be so much fun?

Then my youngest brother was born and we had a little sage who would look you in the eyes and melt your heart. This is still true today. My youngest brother was so scrumptious that playing with him, protecting him, and watching him, filled all of us with great joy.  I’m blessed to have my brothers in my life and the words to describe my love for them would take too much time for this moment.

My big family has its share of craziness and dysfunction, yet it is so full of love and the desire to live life with passion that I am every day filled with gratitude for this mess. This gift of my family, as it is today, is full of Anna’s life and she will always be a part of us.

Anna embraced all her roles with great passion, and after marrying my dad, Anna embraced the role of mother for me as well. When I was fourteen, Anna adopted me and she was my legal mother for more than twenty years, although I saw very little of her after 1985. I called her “mom” and she lived up to it for those years. I know what parenting takes, and as a mother, for me, Anna rose far above what many biological parents do. She cared for me when I was sick, took me to doctor’s appointments, made sure that I ate the right foods, forced me to study at night, yelled at me when I did stupid things, laughed with me, and embraced me when I cried.

I always get a little laugh when I look at the birth certificate that was issued after Anna adopted me. I was born in 1961 and the new birth certificate listed Anna’s age as 14 at the time of my birth and my dad’s age as 30.

Years later, as an adult, I felt that the adoption was a mistake and I asked Anna if she would be hurt if I reversed the adoption and/or would she contest the action.  She was happy for me and completely agreed that the reversal was the right decision.  In August of 1998, my birth mother adopted me from Anna and I was issued my third and final birth certificate.

My two youngest brothers will never remember, as most children don’t, the intense and genuine work that Anna and my dad put into completely loving them in those early years. Even though Anna adopted me and my brothers, she was always different with her sons. She loved them and was committed to them completely and I believe that this lasted until her death. Anna and my dad were an amazing team in those early days. As the children grew, Anna became more restless with family life. The Anna of their early years was very different. Regardless, being a good parent takes a lot of work and Anna gave of herself for many years. She was in a household of five boys plus their friends. I know about parenting and I don’t know how she maintained as much of her sanity as she did.

Our family, as it was, was not to last. Eleven years later when destiny pulled Anna’s heart in a different direction, she was finished with the beautiful family that she helped create. She knew that she needed a new life and she followed her heart. If I’m honest, this hurt a lot, but I understood because I too was in the process of creating a new life for myself. Her decision ultimately benefited all of us. Anna always respected those who followed their heart.

Through many years, Anna was good to me. From the day we first met, through the blissful summers on Cape Cod, to helping me navigate my teen years, and into my blessed years diving into Eastern mysticism and meditation, Anna always treated me well, and more importantly, accepted me for who I was. I’m not saying that she never got crazy with me, but she always came back to loving me.

I hadn’t seen or heard from Anna in many years when one day last year I was so surprised to receive this simple email from her, “Happy Birthday Big Al, Think of you so often. Have a great day. Love, Anna” This is the way Anna loved. And if she sent you something like this, the love on the other end was big.

Before Anna died, I did not miss her, but something between us was, unknowingly, incomplete. Now that she has passed, I miss her, and knowingly, feel complete.  Life and death are strange this way.

It is my hope and prayer that Anna, wherever she is, feels whole as well.  She fought for herself and for others her entire life for the elusive feeling of contentment, wholeness, and belonging. Somehow, somewhere, it is my prayer that Anna has come to accept herself in the same way that she accepted me, with love.

Anna knew that I loved to travel, so when she asked me and her assistant Elaine to travel with her to Japan to promote the remake of The Miracle Worker, I was jazzed.  It was an amazing trip and the last time we traveled together.  After Anna passed, this photo was given to my brother, who gave it to me.


Allen's Birth Certificate from AnnaMy birth certificate issued after Anna adopted me.

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U.C.L.A. from a child’s perspective

I wrote this just now for myself.  There are probably only a handful of people who have similar historic groves in their grey matter.  Regardless, I thought I’d share my little trip down memory lane for a few of my old friends.

From 1965 to 1973 I was four to twelve years old and lived three short blocks from the east side of the U.C.L.A. campus.  Today, July 5, 2015, I was reminiscing with my daughters about the time I accidentally rode my bike into the pond at the botanical gardens.  I was struck by the vast differences between the two times.  On the weekends and during the summers I’d leave home on my bicycle for hours.  The vast space and kaleidoscope of environments of the U.C.L.A. campus provided us with a truly extraordinary playground. Some kids have the woods…we had U.C.L.A.  What a great blessing.  Here is a list of some of the things I would regularly do on campus with my friends:

  • Swim in the sculpture garden and inverted fountains:
  • Go to the observation deck atop Bunche Hall.
  • Go into empty classrooms and lecture halls and play professor.
  • Ride my bike inside the buildings (this was especially ecstatic.)
  • Buy Tijuana Smalls, little cigars, from the vending machines and smoke a few puffs.
  • Ride our bikes through the botanical gardens, sculpture garden, and create bike jumps and tracks across Dickenson Court between Royce Hall and the Humanities building.
  • Bowl and play pinball in Ackerman Union followed by a bowl of chili and a soda at The Coop.
  • Run free all over Pauley Pavilion including playing basketball on the main court.
  • Play street hockey in the women’s gym (now the World Arts and Culture building, I believe)
  • Never miss a UCLA Marti Gras:

This reminiscing makes me ask, “Where were my parents?”

Many thanks to the University of California.  Another great unintended consequence of higher education.

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Ginger Tea

Slice up fresh unpeeled ginger (The amount is purely the imbiber’s choice. I like my tea spicy, but not insanely spicy. Experiment.)
Place ginger in a blender and cover with water, blend. If you prefer, you can slice it into thin slices instead of blending.
Bring purified water to a boil, toss in the ginger, turn off the heat, cover and let sit for at least 20 minutes. You can actually let this sit for a couple of hours before straining the ginger.
Strain the ginger, and this is your base.
Now, choose your style:
Ginger (base) plus honey.
Ginger plus honey and lemon.
Ginger plus honey, lemon, and cayenne pepper (one of my favorites!)
Ginger plus honey and cayenne pepper
Ginger plus lemon
Ginger plus lemon and cayenne pepper
Ginger plus honey and milk
Create your own and share with us!
Heat to your desired temperature and serve with love.

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Authenticity Now

How we frame each moment, how we choose to view the present, matters. This is where we have complete freedom…complete choice. How we view the present moment is our freedom and that freedom is incredibly liberating and powerful. An honest posture is not always easy, but will certainly lead to peace.

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The Journey and The Destination

A man sets out on a hike through an incredibly beautiful forest.
He knows that this hike culminates with a breathtaking vista overlooking the vast ocean.
He knows this because he has traveled this path many times.
He loves both the hike and the destination.
His deep love of the journey
and his friendship with the destination
coexist together in harmony.

This hiker is interested in the truth
of the present moment.
In his honesty,
he sees that it is authenticity
which brings everything into the present.

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U2 – Ordinary Love (Live on The Tonight Show)

I’ve seen this many times and I just love it. So simple and full of heart:

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