Sunday, September 14, 2008

When the Moon Hits Your Eye...

Last night was the Moon Festival, a Chinese holiday dating back some 3,000 years. The Moon Festival is celebrated in various ways, including feasting on mooncakes, which are small pastries filled with red bean or fruit paste. Our FCC chapter has an annual tradition of an early evening picnic followed by a parade of children with lanterns under the full moon.

Just between you and me, I'm not crazy about mooncakes. The paste kind of freaks me out. But we celebrate the spirit of the thing with our own tradition: cupcakes by moonlight! And believe me, the children do not complain. The rest of it I love, and each year it gets better as Jarrah and her friends understand the occasion a little more.

This year, we had a couple of special additions to our yummy sandwiches and freakishly cute kids with paper lanterns illuminated by Halloween glow sticks.

The first addition was more company. We traveled to China in February 2006, and became parents in the same moment as seven other families. That's a pretty intense bond, for the parents as well as the children who had been together for over a year before we arrived. While we haven't kept in touch with all those families, I know we think of each other often. Two of these families were already close friends, and practically neighbors: that would be us and Paul, Mary and Joy. Of the remaining six, Kim, Michael and Sedona live in New Mexico, and they visited us when we'd only been home a few months. In those days, the girls were still babies, and though they happily splashed in the kiddie pool and ate green ice cream cones together, they didn't sense anything significant about it.

This time, their visit coincided with the Moon Festival. While it's amazing to watch babies grow in general, it's especially moving when those babies are practically your daughter's cousins, so I got pretty choked up when Sedona hugged Jarrah and Joy hello. Like our girls, she's grown more leggy and lovely in the past two years, and never stops talking. Also like our girls, she's bold and confident, and I loved watching her fling herself onto the firepole at the playground, so nonchalant about that 10-foot drop.

Certain things unite 3- and 4-year-old girls the nation over: mac and cheese, cupcakes, and glow bracelets are a few of those things. Being dragged by older kids in a giant parachute across a wide lawn in the moonlight should probably also go on the list. At the end of the night, there were a few tears for parting so soon after finding each other once again. For the adults, it was heartwarming to reminisce about our life-changing trip and catch up on the fleet-footed toddler years. By the time we'd said goodbye, we had pledged to see each other next summer at our agency's annual picnic in Colorado.

The moon is always high and yellow and full at our Moon Festival, but this year it truly got star billing. One of the FCC dads brought his telescope, a unit so impressive that I whispered to David that it must have cost a million dollars. For once I wasn't being hyperbolic (it was the size of a cannon!) but David instantly replied "Actually, it was probably about $3,000." Turns out he was right on the money, and while you might retort "Well, is THAT all!" you wouldn't if you had actually looked through it. David has always been an astronomy buff--he gets mad at me for telling this story, but when he was 10 he built a telescope with his bare hands and later sold it to the Australian government--but I've always thought him a bit peculiar when he speaks of looking forward to teaching Jarrah about the stars. I chalked it up to being one of those impenetrable Dad things that was not for me to understand.

But Readers, then I looked in that telescope. YOWZA! Did you know, for instance, that the moon has all these big pocks and dents and crumbly surfaces, and doesn't look yellow or white at all--more like different shades of gray? I was completely stunned. I yanked my head back and exclaimed, "Is there some sort of photo glued in there?" I couldn't believe that I was looking at the actual moon, just standing in a suburban park in San Diego and fixing my eye on a big planet-y thing that seemed close enough for me to stroll on!

And then it got even weirder. The accommodating telescope owner swung the whole contraption around and told us he was going to direct it at Jupiter. Oh, that's a good one. Sure, I've seen lots of people point at the sky and announce that an extra-big star was actually Venus, but that didn't seem so far-fetched, I mean, isn't Venus just a few hundred miles from Mt. Everest? No big whoop. But Jupiter? That crazy-big orange thing with the rings and the dozen moons? You can't fool me...that one is apparently really far away, from what I've heard. But everyone lined up and David said I should have a look.

I looked. And I almost passed out. There was a planet in there! Not orange, but big, with rings around it! RINGS, people! And I could see about four or five moons in its orbit! I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP! Once again, I checked to see if there was one of those Viewfinders from the '70s where you click the button and a slide comes down in front of your eyes--maybe they build those into the telescopes if you spend enough money. But no. And I say that with confidence because David stuck his hand in front of the lens so I could test and then it all went black.

So, Readers, it was a momentous evening. There were cupcakes, and lanterns, and parachutes, and three little girls who were babies together on the other side of the planet ate mac and cheese together on the grass in San Diego. And while it was really, really dark, all around us were stars, and moons, and planets, reminding us we were snug and safe on our little patch of Earth.


David said...

I think I was 19, not 10, and the OZ gov was really a local astomony club, but Samantha's version does sound better. It was a great evening.

Jen said...

What a sweet post. I can totally see how your awe for the moons and planets is part of this even more momentous celebration of Jarrah's heritage and her connections to these wonderful girls. Sounds like it was a great evening indeed!

Miss J

Jen said...

P.s. I loved the title of this entry! So cute and so appropriate.

Caroline said...

That is so cool. I would love to look through a telescope like that. When I was a tweenie, I remember my dad getting a little telescope for Christmas -- probably a splurge for us at $100. I could hardly figure out how to look through it, and it was probably just a little stronger than binoculars.

It must also be wonderful to reunite with those other families. It's an amazing bond that you share.

Anonymous said...

Great post, sounds like quite an evening. Fantastic photos too and I love David's slight revisions!

Anonymous said...

sam, happy mid-autumn festival to you!

i am not sure you will even remember who i am, as it's been WAY too long since i've been in touch. jarrah is just gorgeous and is growing up too fast. my nina (sabrina) started K last month!

we may be doing a long trip out west next summer and would love to meet you irl. are you on facebook? i looked for you but there are about five hundred people with your name. so look me up if you're on there, as i'm a complete facebook addict now.

btw, the moon cakes with the lotus seed paste are not so bad and pineapple filling's even better when you can find it.

hugs, jalan woodward in louisiana

The Wades said...

i've been missing you! i went to your blog earlier today, but i had to leave to see a couple new horses we adopted. i have been such a crazy woman lately that i've so behind on my fun blog readin'.

i love jarrah so much!!! i think i could take her picture for weeks! she is so very beautiful.
neat reunion. that's one amazing bond you all have.

i get very freaked out how amazing space is. seriously, kinda craving one of those telescopes. good times!

and your david, what a modest guy! :)

Mamasphere said...

What an amazing night! Sounds like you all had a ton of fun. I looked through a telescope like that once, and it totally blew me away.

And cupcakes- totally the way to go.