6 Mar

Way back in the spring of 1991 we were finally financially able to consider doing some landscaping around our home that was brand new in 1989. The new lawn had come in the year before. We went to several garden shops before I found just the perfect deep purple/pink Autumn Royalty Encore azaleas (I don’t know much about plants so I had to look that up).

We bought nine plants and planted them in the bed surrounding the front porch. Over the decades, eight survived; growing and flourishing because we’ve taken care of them.

I remember springs with late-season frosts that sent my husband out with tarps to cover them up on those cold nights and I uncovered them before going to work in the mornings. They always survived. Even the abundant neighborhood deer never trampled them or made a midnight snack out of them although they’ve eaten every flowering plant we ever had in the back yard. I’d like to think that the deer appreciated the beauty of those azaleas and with some sort of primitive reverence left them alone out of respect.

Year after year those azaleas graced us with their beauty, eventually with blossoms …  not the size of golf balls … but some the size of baseballs on plants several feet tall. Their beauty was indescribable against the backdrop of our gray house and white porch rails. It was far more than ‘eye candy.’ It was a spectacle of pure delight.

In late summer of 2019, we noticed several bare spots appearing among the bushes. Nothing very noticeable at first but by the end of 2020 it had become more visible although those lovely blossoms kept appearing, delighting us and our neighbors. We decided to let them go a while longer before doing what we found out from consulting a lawn and garden specialist, was necessary.

In June last year after the azaleas were past blooming my husband went outside with clippers and trimmed them back as we’d been directed to do by the plant guy. It was difficult. Even though more holes had appeared within the bushes, the blossoms never let us down. They continued to be huge and colorful and a source of awe and delight.

It was almost a reflection of us.  As we aged, our Royalty Azaleas had been experiencing their own journey into old age … presenting with bald spots and an increasing number of gnarled branches. While my husband and I had knee replacements and prescriptions for blood pressure pills, the way to help our azaleas enjoy an extended life was to “prune them back.”

When the deed was done, we saved some of the clippings and made a valiant  attempt at transplanting them. None survived but my husband did pick up one small twig with a lot of green leaves and brought it in the house. He gave it to me and I immediately put it in water in a seldom used jelly glass and put it in the sun room. I heard my husband tell his sister, “If I cut my thumb off Linda would put it in water and try to make it grow.”

This past 9 months a number of leaves on that small salvaged twig slowly turned brown and dropped to the floor. Yet every time I watered the other plants in the sun room, I’d add water to that puny little twig in the jelly glass for no other reason than it was there. I didn’t want to toss it out as long as there was some kind of life in it.

It never rooted as some plants will when left in water but I still kept adding water without thinking too much about it … the same as I would have had my husband accidentally cut off his thumb and I’d stuck it in a jelly glass. That may be due to some deep-seated thing I have going on psychologically because of being a nurse for over half my life. We are who we are …

We almost always have breakfast in the sun room and last week I noticed something different about that struggling little twig in the jelly glass. On closer inspection I realized there was one small, deep purple/pink bud on there.

There are still no roots but today the bud has opened to reveal a miniature version of those baseball-sized blossoms whose beauty has surrounded the front porch for more than three decades of springs. And surprisingly, there seems to be another small bud. There are no roots but there IS a flower. That speaks to me of the will to live in most things and the struggle that’s sometimes involved in that. It tells me that the struggle is worth it because there’s the possibility that something beautiful may result.

In a time when the news is mostly bad and division reins supreme country to country and people are shooting each other at Walmarts and churches without provocation and life seems totally devoid of miracles, we seem to have one growing in an ancient jelly glass in our sun room. In this season of regrowth and rejuvenation,  that small twig giving birth to a beautiful flower … without the support of roots … somehow gives me hope.

I will just keep watering that sprig of Royalty Azalea and enjoying the miracle that it is and I will remind my husband that should he accidently cut off his thumb while splitting wood, there’s still hope if he brings it right inside and I can get it quickly into a water-filled jelly jar. I’ll put it on the table in the sun room.


DREAMING OF THE STARS … local newspaper does front-page story …

6 Feb

Retirement is SUPPOSE to be a time of relaxing and making up for all that time we missed with family when we were younger, doing stuff we really wanted to do but couldn’t because we were working. It was a wonderful idea and an even better plan but so far, I haven’t had a lot of that free, luxury time … and that’s the way I’ve wanted it. I don’t think I’m the kind of person that could be idle. I can be still but I can’t be idle. My mind is always racing ahead literally at WARP speed and, honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ve been writing books (got two published) and submitting stuff for publication (sold stories that appeared in two of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books). I’ve been speaking to seminars about breast cancer and about nursing topics to nurses groups … stuff like that. I’ve been giving writing presentations at our local library and being president of a local science fiction club – turned non-profit – that does some pretty amazing things in our community and keeps me as busy as a full-time job. I LOVE it. If using our brains keeps that vital organ, well, vital and mostly functioning as we drift into our twilight years, then mine should be OK for a while.

The science fiction club is getting a little long in the tooth. We’ve been around since I founded the club in 1984 because I had a crush on Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame when I was a kid. I’ve been the president of the organization since then. I’ve offered it to people but nobody seems to be interested and even less so now that we’re a non-profit and I have to file an annual tax return. There’s something about the IRS and filing taxes that turns people not just off but WAY off. So, I’m still the president.

What started as a fun group of costume-making, science fiction reading, Star Trek-loving young people has morphed into a group of older people that actually STILL love those things but went on to become a non-profit, holds a huge public fundraiser annually and sponsors nine local charities at Christmas. As icing on our star-struck cake, we have been sending local middle school kids to NASA’s Space Camp for a week through a local contest we have annually in the local middle schools. To make a long story less long, that Space Camp Contest is what I’m going to tell you about. It is something that just makes my heart happy on an on-going basis at so many levels.

Our club is Heimdal Science Fiction.

Fortunately, during the COVID pandemic the Heimdal’s Space Camp Program continued, with only one Space Camp Contest winner having to delay his trip until the following year. In October of 2022 we continued our program with our annual Space Camp Contest in eight local participating middle schools. When the contest ended, the Heimdal’s Space Camp Committee members got together, read the essay entries, Why I Want to Go to Space Camp,  and chose our 14th student winner to go to NASA’s Space Camp for a week in Huntsville, AL. She will be taking her trip of a lifetime in June 2023.

No matter how many times we hold our Space Camp Contest it never stops being exciting, the essay entries are never dull and the sophistication of the middle school entrants never ceases to amaze me.

The Heimdal’s most recent Space Camp Contest winner is a 13-year-old eighth grade girl named Sadie. Sadie’s essay was inspiring, heart-warming and sad. I knew the minute following reading it that there would be no other essay that would move me to the extent that hers did. She was easily the contest winner with an almost unanimous number of votes for her essay.

Sadie is the eldest of three children. From as early as she can remember her dad told her about the stars and planets and space and the wonders of the cosmos. When she was old enough, she would get up sometimes as early as 2 a.m. to go outside with her dad to witness meteor showers and other celestial happenings. They shared a love for space and formed a deep and abiding bond around that mutual love. It was something special they shared that was just “theirs” … together.

In 2020 when Sadie was 10 her dad died unexpectedly. Sadie has continued her love of space and space travel and has geared her classes around subjects that will be stepping stones on her journey to becoming an astronaut. Her desire to work in space is something she feels honors the memory of her dad and continues, in his absence, to strengthen the bond she had with him.

Recently a columnist from the local newspaper interviewed Sadie and her mom, Nicole about Sadie winning our Space Camp scholarship. The article appeared in two sections; beginning on the FRONT page, continuing on page three. The front page included a picture of Sadie as a young child with her dad. The photo that accompanied the second part of the article was of Sadie as the lovey 13-year-old girl she is now. Mature beyond her years, her interview was heartwarming and painted a picture of a young woman with determination and a vision … and a desire to continue the dream she shared with her dad.

The article was extremely complimentary to the Heimdal; pointing out that the chapter celebrated its 38th anniversary last year. It also highlighted the Heimdal’s dedication as a non-profit to community service and the helping things we do within our sphere of influence. It was a lovely article … a feel-good article about a positive thing happening locally in the midst of troubled times around the world. It was about a contest started by a local science fiction club with a desire to do good things in the community in addition to simply having fun. Mainly it was about a young, determined girl who, through a scholarship from the Heimdal is actually beginning to realize her dream.

It is so hard to believe that the Heimdal’s Space Camp Contest has not only endured, but has grown stronger, with local middle schools actually approaching US now about participating in our Space Camp Contest. It is not so hard to believe that with so much work by Heimdal members we continue to be able to do amazing things like sending a local student to NASA’s Space Camp annually.

Suddenly that first student winner from so many years ago has turned into 14 student winners and I remember them all. Of those 14, two have gone on to college majoring in aeronautical engineering with goals of becoming future astronauts. I have no doubt that one or both will be among those first serious dreamers to plant the flag on Mars. I’m counting on it.

We are truly fortunate to share a dream among the members of the Heimdal and to be blessed with caring, enthusiastic members who really DO want to help future generations achieve the Star Trek dream.

The Heimdal’s Space Camp Program is a positive, joyous part of who we are and what we do. Sponsoring charities, helping the less fortunate, sending future astronauts to Space Camp, for goodness sake, is OUR continuing voyage. My cup runneth over with the pure joy of it.


8 Jan

I’m a retired Registered Nurse. I produce a club newsletter and a church newsletter. Sometimes a friend or family member asks me about a symptom or medical diagnosis. I’m curious, I love staying informed and I do a lot of AOL and Google searches associated with all those things.

I’m also on Facebook.

Lately what seems to be taking up a LOT of room on my Facebook newsfeed is advertisements. If you pay close attention, you realize that the advertisements that scroll across your newsfeed are from places you’ve shopped ‘on line’ as well as places that you frequent and that’s kind of freaky. My husband says it’s all because of ‘tracking cookies.’

When we purchase something ‘on line’ or simply check out an ad or do a search for, say, athletic shoes those sites automatically attach a thing called a cookie to your account and bombard you with advertisements on social media.  I don’t know how cookies work, unless they have walnuts or chocolate chips so I won’t even attempt an explanation. What’s obvious, and what my husband explained to me is that COOKIES HAPPEN.

I bought my husband a pair of those neat athletic shoes for his birthday that you can just pop your feet into without tying and untying the laces. They are so cool and convenient. Before making the purchase, I did an AOL search to find the best pair at a reasonable price that I thought my husband would enjoy. I bought them and he loved them but the story doesn’t end there. For months … and months (his birthday was in October) I’ve been getting daily advertisements in my Facebook newsfeed, not only from the brand/site where I purchased my husband’s birthday gift but from literally EVERY manufacturer that makes and sells, HAS made and sold, and has ever THOUGHT of making and selling a similar shoe. My friends posts are disappearing from my newsfeed but I have a LOT of information, including animated images, about shoes.

OK … so a friend has been ill and even as a nurse with many years of experience I wasn’t familiar with the illness. Wanting to know more about what my friend was dealing with, I did a Google search. I’m also a subscriber to an on-line version of Webb MD and, out of curiosity, checked out something there, unrelated to my friend’s illness. I learned some stuff and also got the wheels turning in my brain, which, I understand, is what we older people need to be doing to keep our brain cells young and our neurons firing.

And what do you know? You guessed it … information about the illnesses I’d recently researched started popping into my Facebook newsfeed.

Alrighty, some of the information was interesting and I read it. One more healthy brain neuron to my credit, I kind of enjoyed learning something new. And suddenly, as quickly as you can say to the bakery guy, “I’ll take a dozen of those warm chocolate chip cookies you just took out of the oven,” I started getting stuff in my newsfeed that wasn’t even related to the diseases I’d originally been interested in.

On email I got a message from Webb MD that asked, “Are you ready to discuss your Vitiligo with your doctor?” WOW! I didn’t even THINK about researching Vitiligo.

My newsfeed became FILLED with medical information, bazaar diseases, detailed symptoms and apparently cookies. After looking into a few of the posts I realized if you read enough of that stuff … pay attention to the unending list of symptoms, before long you start thinking you may HAVE some of those symptoms. My next thought was, if you’re a hypochondriac you should NEVER read any of that stuff because after an afternoon of that kind of distraction you will be running to your doctor, not taking time to pass GO and with no thoughts of collecting that $200.00.

I checked … by monitoring my newsfeed for three days and writing down what my research uncovered, here is a list of ailments/symptoms/related illnesses/treatments and what to stay alert for that just might be affecting my health and tranquility. This is what I found:

There was information related, but not limited to – Eczema, shingles and shingles vaccine side effects, spondylitis, signs of potassium deficiency, warning signs of toenail fungus, the heartbreak of psoriasis, women’s heart attack warning signs, liver disease, pancreatic insufficiency, early dementia, diabetes, hidradenitis suppurative, lice, atopic dermatitis and, well, you get the picture.

Amazingly, there was no information on rickets, beriberi, jock itch or fleas. That may be because I didn’t research anything that would cue a link to those things but I’m sure somewhere I have those cookies.

I did, however get advertisements for a deodorant that “makes you smell good naked,” photos of the Bristol Stool Chart, and an advertisement for something or other that determines if gas is being caused by a rotten, festering gallbladder craftily hiding behind your liver.

So now I’m specifically sending a WARNING to hypochondriacs everywhere that may be on Facebook. DO NOT READ THIS STUFF!!! If you manage to get through it with only a few minor symptoms, it will be a miracle. If you manage to get through it without having it scare you quite literally to death, that will be a blessing. JUST DON’T READ IT!

In the end, somewhere I’ve probably picked up a bit of new knowledge for which my aging brain cells are grateful.

I DO wonder what happened to all those posts from people on my FRIENDS list. Maybe they’re hypochondriacs, fell victim to some illness or social disease they read about in the multitude of medical posts they’ve been getting on their newsfeed and decided to take a sabbatical. I wish them well and future good health.

As nearly as I can tell, almost everything we do in the on-line ‘ether’ has cookies attached so don’t be surprised if this afternoon you do a Google search on popcorn and tomorrow you get a Facebook newsfeed advertisement warning you about the dangers of choaking on a popcorn husk or at the very least doing permanent damage to your uvula because of one.

Good luck.

Now that I’ve shared my knowledge and suggestions with you, I think I’ll go have a cookie … the chocolate chip kind that makes you go, “HMMMM” when you take that first bite. They’re really good with milk but the ingredients and serving suggestions may show up in your newsfeed.


19 Dec

There’s so much about Christmas that I love. For many years the lovely decorations in our church have been a huge part of all that … the Chrismon tree, wreathes hanging on doors with red ribbons, candles at windows.

The people of the church that decorate the sanctuary do an amazing job decorating with poinsettias. In years past, when we had a robust congregation, members would purchase a poinsettia through a program that funded charities or church missions, leave them at the church through the holidays and take them home after Christmas. They were abundant. Walking into the church during the Christmas season the sight of numbers and rows of the red-flowered, green-leafed plants lining the altar, sitting very close together on the rails leading from the pulpit to the sanctuary floor and spilling beyond throughout the church would take your breath away. Regardless of what was going on or how I felt, I ALWAYS have been determined not to miss church and that breathtaking sight during the Christmas season.

As the members of the congregation have aged and left for nursing homes or for lives with adult children, or simply just left their lives and moved on to what comes next, our numbers dwindled, but not the beauty of the poinsettias in the sanctuary during Christmas. That remained constant … a reminder that the heart of the church continued beating to the rhythm of the season.

COVID changed all that. Our first Christmas on ZOOM was still lovely but there was no substitute for the first sight of those lovely poinsettias as we walked into the narthex at the beginning of the Christmas season and the vivid red of so many poinsettias overwhelmed all our senses as we looked into the sanctuary. What a loss.

When we returned to church in-person and in masks, our numbers had dwindled farther as the dark cloud of COVID and the reluctance to wear masks lay heavily on most churches.

In true Christmas spirit, that second COVID Christmas a few donated poinsettias decorated the rails and floor of the area surrounding the altar. While the numbers of plants were fewer, they in their beauty, were there as a reminder of the “before times” when the beauty of so many plants was overwhelming.

The post-COVID world has impacted so many businesses and organizations and clubs and churches. Numbers have dwindled, yet in our church we have a special group of people that attend regularly. We have gone from simply being members of the same congregation to a select number of people that have grown closer as friends. We have become so much more like family and we look forward to Sundays to see each other and renew those friendships over and over as we share this unexpected journey through our new normal.

There is a lovely woman among those of us that attend regularly that sees to it that the altar is decorated to enhance the season or in recognition of the special celebrations of the church; communion and All Saints Day. She does this out of the goodness of her heart and love for the church. At the beginning of this Christmas season, she brought two of the largest poinsettias I have ever seen to church and placed one on each side of the altar. Although not dozens flanking the floor and hand rails and every window, they are amazingly beautiful. For the first time in quite a while I did a quick intake of breath when I first saw them. It was like coming home to a warm fire and Christmas music on a snowy afternoon.

Today was the fourth Sunday of Advent and my husband and I were to light the fourth Advent candle. When we walked into the sanctuary those two enormous poinsettias were visibly drooping … wilting … begging for water. A friend assured me they had just been watered. The rest was in God’s hands.

Christmas is not only a time for shopping and carols and toys and good cheer. I believe it is also a time of miracles.

As the service began, we enjoyed singing traditional Christmas carols. My husband and I lit the Advent candle. Our minister read from the Christmas story … traditional words that reminded me of my childhood … songs that took me back in my mind to visions of the multitude of poinsettias that adorned every corner of our long-ago Christmases in the sanctuary.

And then I noticed something truly stunning … the two gigantic poinsettias on either side of the altar were changing visibly. Their lovely leaves and flowers were perking up. By staring at them you could almost, but not quite, see them growing stronger and brighter before your eyes, the drooping changing quickly with renewed life. While we sang Christmas carols and our minister told the age-old Christmas story the poinsettias were “responding,” going quickly from wilted to revived and rejuvenated.

By the end of the service, not quite an hour, those two enormous poinsettias were healthy and lovely and shedding their red bounty on all that were there … as though they responded to the presence of all of us; the familiar music, the story we all know by heart and the love of the season they represented.

99.9% of people, if asked, would tell you the transformation of those lovely poinsettias was due entirely to the watering they received just before we arrived and the service began. I’m sure that had quite a lot to do with it but I also prefer to think it was a Christmas miracle witnessed during the Christmas service, shared by good friends who could think of no place on Earth they would rather be.

I wonder if I could have been the only person that realized the profound change in the poinsettias, throughout the service, at just the right time to be considered a Christmas miracle. I wonder if I could have been the only person that appreciated the change in those lovely plants as they responded to the Christmas story and the lyrics of special carols? I’ll ask our minister about that … ask him if he noticed.

Plants are living things. It is proven that they respond to good care, soothing conversation and music. You will never convince me that those two giant poinsettias did not respond to Christmas and the memory of the beauty brought to our church by their predecessors and the appreciation we have felt at the beauty THEY have brought to us each Sunday during this Christmas season.

It was probably just the water, but maybe not entirely.

Merry Christmas!

Good Night, Oppy!

12 Dec

In August I was invited to give a public presentation at our local library about Successful Blogging. Attendance was wonderful and everyone was interested and engaged and full of questions. One of the questions was, “How do you find topics for your blog entries?” My answer was that I really don’t stress about a topic. I do a blog entry once a month and mostly the topics present themselves when I’m not really looking for one. For instance, I once wrote a very well received blog entry about our cat, with the idea simply starting with him barfing up a puddle of orange cat yak on my white dining room area rug.

Ideas come to me from just about anywhere and when I have an idea, running with it doesn’t seem to be a problem, although I realize this isn’t as easy for some of us. Heck, I can’t sing a lick so we all have our areas of comfort and ease.

Because we’re just two short and busy weeks from Christmas I was planning on doing a holiday blog entry. I’ve had this idea I’ve been wanting to write about but with building a Christmas parade float, writing end-of-year awards for our club members, my husband and I finally getting our tree up and outside decorations done and shopping for gifts I just haven’t had the time. Now I’m MAKING the time because I just want to write this. It isn’t about Christmas.

It IS about technology, the future, tenacity, disappointment, longevity, unbelievable excitement, inspiration, humanity, and in the end, it’s a love story. That’s a lot to include so I will condense it as much as possible.

In November there was a special screening here of the movie, Good Night, Oppy! We are blessed and fortunate that recently retired astronaut, author and photographer, Leland Melvin was born right here and has retired here after a career in space. He was VERY instrumental in bringing the film to a local theater to be screened, one night only on November 20, just three days before its public release on November 23. Melvin himself attended, was part of a panel discussion afterward, and issued special invitations to local school groups. Sponsoring businesses also offered tickets to employees and a couple that are good friends had two extra tickets. They invited my husband and me to attend with them.  It was quite an honor to be there.

 Good Night, Oppy! is a NASA produced feature length film that is a documentary and may even be described as a docuDRAMA. It follows the planning, technology, construction, deployment, and lives of two Mars robotic rovers … Opportunity and Spirit …  on a mission to Mars begun in 2003.  Each landed and lived out their lives on opposite sides of the planet. The information sent back to earth from them has been amazing and continues to be compiled and studied by scientists in preparation for future colonization of the red planet. 

The film features archival and interview footage with scientists and engineers and re-creations of the rover’s treks over the Martian landscape in search of water, which is key to future colonization. The life expectancy of the rovers was supposed to have been 90 days yet both went on to live for YEARS, with Opportunity, following the demise of Spirit, continuing to function several more years. It sent back data to earth scientists and NASA for an unbelievable 15 years, finally “going to sleep” in 2018 … Good Night, Oppy!

We didn’t know what to expect but we weren’t disappointed.

While the technology was amazing and the data collected phenomenal, the human-interest side of the story was what pulled everything together making this an exceptional film experience.

The film follows the project manager from construction of the rovers, which included giving them names and a somewhat recognizable appearance with turning heads, eyes, and, of course, arms, through programming, testing, deployment to Mars and the years of communication with both rovers. That communication with Opportunity continued until its circuits finally went to sleep for the last time in 2018.

It followed several other characters for the duration, including a 16-year-old student that was present for the rover’s launch to Mars with a high school class. So enamored with the project was she that she went on to college and returned to work with the team on the project through the extended lives of the rovers.

Directed by Ryan White and narrated by Angela Basset, we watched the characters physically age, through documentary film clips, as Opportunity and Spirit did. They became ‘involved’ with the rovers on a much deeper level than just technician and machine. They cheered at the victories of the rovers and wept at the failures. Far from being a pathological connection, it brought the humanity of those involved with the project into sharper focus and made the audience feel that special bond in 1 hour and 45 minutes that the managers and technicians developed from 15 years of daily contact with the rovers … and Opportunity specifically.

There really is no way to describe the depth of emotion watching the film brought out in the audience; how there were audible cheers and claps when, after no contact with the aging Opportunity for a number of weeks, contact was re-established. It was a visceral reaction one might expect to experience after having a friend or family member lost in the woods for days, only to find them well and unharmed much later. The rover crew was professionally AND emotionally invested in the project and in the rovers themselves, which extended even longer with Opportunity.

I got a huge lump in my throat when Spirit finally stopped sending signals. Somehow during the film, I got the feeling that Spirit was the more fragile of the two rovers, as ridiculous as that may sound, while Opportunity just kept pushing on, year after year, strong and determined. As we watched the progress of the film, the project manager became a little grayer and a few more wrinkles were evident on his face. The 16-year-old high school student matured, married and had a child but never stopped following the project when family made it necessary to step back for a time from actual project participation. The personal investment was huge.

When Opportunity, after MANY unexpected years of life grew somewhat physically feeble, yet continued sending data sporadically, then all communication was finally lost there was hardly a dry eye in the theater. It was an emotional moment of response in sympathy with those that were actually grieving the loss on so many levels at Mission Control and at our own personal investment in Opportunity – a life well lived. I almost sobbed.

It was a wonderful evening and an unexplainable experience getting emersed in the story and traveling that emotional highway on Mars.

Find a theater near you that is showing this film or watch it streaming on Prime Video. No spoiler intended and if you know the Opportunity story there isn’t one anyway … but be prepared with a Kleenex (or a box full) when at the end you hear, Good Night, Oppy! 


22 Nov

Wearing jeans, sturdy shoes and a broad and welcoming smile you will find Mary Hurst at the local Four Seasons Farmers Market on Thursdays and Saturdays. She will be there selling her delicious homemade jams, jellies and pickled quail eggs, among other things. She says she considers herself a farmer at heart.

After retirement in 2016, Mary and her husband relocated to a farm in our area. She and her family are just over the ridge from a couple with whom my husband and I are very close friends. Through them we were blessed to meet Mary and because of that, Mary turned out to be one of the very best guest speakers our science fiction club has had at a meeting in many years.

Mary had a pretty amazing career from 1998 until her retirement in 2016 as Historic Preservation Officer for NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA. In that capacity she documented the Center’s history, including the people, land, buildings and everything in between. She loved working with the student interns.

Among the experiences Mary treasures most was meeting Margot Shetterly, author of the book, Hidden Figures. The book chronicles the lives of three black women that acted as “computers” in the early days and John Kennedy years of America’s space program and the vital part they played in its success at NASA Langley. Not recognized for those contributions for decades, when the recognition finally arrived Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson took their rightful place in history, were applauded for their vital contributions and were presented tangible recognition for it.

 Mary and Margot became instant friends and that friendship endures today.

When talk began to buzz about making the book into a feature film, Mary worked with Margot and became a consultant from NASA Langley during the making of the film. Her name is in the credits.

Mary spoke to our club’s November meeting about working as a consultant on the Hidden Figures film. She brought photos and photos of artifacts from the NASA Langley Center’s archives and showed us those photos. She shared anecdotes about finding so many original artifacts that were actually used in the filming of the movie. They had been stashed away in closets and storage areas, she retrieved them and had them preserved because of the monumental historic significance they held of early space history in America that was also relative to the Hidden Figures film. It was a fascinating, heart-warming, thought provoking presentation that I will not soon forget.

Following the Saturday evening club meeting, my husband and I set aside Monday evening to watch the Hidden Figures movie. We got a carry-out dinner from KFC and settled in our family room with a robust fire in the fireplace on that cold Monday night. It was one of our most enjoyable evenings in a very busy and hectic while. As an indication of the impact of the movie, neither of us succumbed to the hypnotic warmth of the fire or the monotone drone from the television. We were caught up in the film immediately.

Watching the movie after having so recently met and listened to someone that was actually THERE; a contributor to the making of the film, someone that told us about edits and props and the cast and the research done about the early 60s and our space program of that time, added an unexpected and personal dimension to our enjoyment of the movie.

The overpowering theme of the film was the division at the time of the black and white races; the racial disharmony, the segregation, the inequality, the accepted racism. As a small child growing up in North Carolina during that restless time I remember department stores and public places with restroom signs: WHITE WOMEN, WHITE MEN, COLORED WOMEN, COLORED MEN and theaters where white people sat in the main theater and “coloreds” were only allowed to sit in the balcony. I remembered my ‘privileged life,’ which was privileged simply because of the color of my skin as I sat in the front of the bus while my “colored” contemporaries were relegated to the back. I didn’t understand it as a child and still don’t understand the parts of it that exist today. The film moved me to tears in many places BECAUSE of it. Watching it was a powerful experience.

During the two hours and seven minutes of Hidden Figures I turned into an emotional dishrag. I laughed and cried and remembered and clapped my hands a time or two. I loved seeing events I actually remembered depicted in the movie. I loved seeing actual footage of personalities, such as John Glenn that have been archived in my personal memory banks. I remembered and told my husband about being a child at Virginia Beach on a family vacation and the thrill my brother and I felt at seeing John Glenn on his morning run down the early morning, mostly deserted beach. We got up early several mornings just to see him again.

Released in 2016, if you haven’t seen Hidden Figures, I recommend setting aside a couple of hours to watch it. While it is very entertaining, it isn’t just entertainment. It is part of our history and should be revisited before some group or other decides it belongs on a “Banned Movie List” and it becomes lost in the rubble of classic books that depict some of the rawest elements of our country’s past. Without acknowledging the worst parts of us we will never be able to find the BEST of us.

Mary Hurst, you are truly an amazing woman and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for speaking to our science fiction club meeting. You opened a door for my husband and me that has led us to greater understanding and appreciation of our past … the good parts and the not so good. And you’ve made it possible for us to have a wonderful evening together by the fireplace sharing a really good movie. I hope the members of our club, some of them at least, came away with the same feelings and similar experiences.

Mary, I hope to see you again, maybe at the Farmers Market. I’ve never tried a pickled quail egg, but I just might.


24 Oct


My husband says he doesn’t remember much about his pre-school years. I, on the other hand, have very vivid pre-school memories. It’s nothing like a 90-minute television documentary uninterrupted by commercials but I have particular memories of parts of those years that are precious and ordinary and special.

I remember being cautioned to ask someone to pick a pear for me from one of my grandmother’s grand old pear trees in her back yard but NEVER to eat one off the ground. I ate one of those ground-hugging pears anyway and have a VERY vivid … and tactile … memory of that event. I can STILL feel those thousands of ants in my mouth, running down my chin and into the top of my shirt during that life-altering moment.

I remember walking in the rain downtown with my mom and carrying my own umbrella … struggling to hold the weight of it over my head. I was so small that someone remarked when we passed by, “Look at that umbrella walking.”

It’s amazing the things we retain, the memories that stay with us throughout our lives as though they happened just yesterday. And there are so many more. Those two just happened to pop into my mind today.

One of my most precious memories was going to the grocery store with my mom. I LOVED it, not because she would buy me candy or the occasional toy but because she would ALWAYS let me pick out a Little Golden Book. I remember Dumbo and The Little Engine That Could and The Happy Family. Not being able to read yet, my mom read them to me. The special ones she read to me over and over at my request until we both knew them by heart and my mom could tell me the story almost word-for-word while holding the closed book on her lap. It was wondrous and was the beginning of my love of reading and my love of books. Later on my mom and I would share books and talk about them. It was a special part of my relationship with her and the friendship that we had above and beyond that of mother and daughter.

 My senior year of high school brought with it cheerleading and weekend ball games, extra classes and checking books out from the library. Having access to all those worlds I could explore through books was a miracle, even though oral book reports were not. While we had a ‘required reading list’ in preparation for college I also checked out other books because I just couldn’t find enough books to satisfy my love for reading.

On one of my high school library excursions I ran across and checked out a hardback book called The Pushover. I didn’t know anything about it but checked it out anyway because of my love for books and reading new things. At the time, cereal boxes and soup cans could entertain me for an hour.

WELL … you can imagine my surprise (AND my teenage delight) when I began reading it and found out it was not just a romance novel, but a STEAMY romance novel. I don’t believe it could hold a candle to Fifty Shades of Gray but it certainly was NOT what I had expected but WAS something I thought … in my innocence … was just the coolest thing. Knowing in that special place that we just “KNOW STUFF” that this was a treasure that shouldn’t have been found buried in the recesses of my high school library, I couldn’t wait to tell my best friend about it. The minute I turned it back in at the library, she was right there behind me waiting to check it out.

Word spread about The Pushover faster than a colony of hungry ants finding a melted Tootsie Roll on a hot sidewalk and the library couldn’t keep the book longer than it took for the next giggly teenage girl to check it out. And boy, did we have something to talk about.

As all good things come to an end, The Pushover was rapidly and unceremoniously jerked out of the high school library after someone’s mom found out about it and reported it to the school. But while it lasted, that special book was responsible for more high school kids getting bitten by the ‘reading bug’ than anything before and I’m guessing since.

Throughout my life reading and books have had such a special place. My husband and I have a small loft library that has spilled over onto the book shelves we have in our family room due to ‘library overflow.’ I’ve enjoyed novels and horror and Stephen King in particular and classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and the humor and angst of Holden Caulfield and the delight of A Woman of Substance and Thornbirds.

Because of my mom and those Little Golden Books I have gone on to become a small-time author, having written and gotten published two books of my own, I’ve sold a few articles to magazines and have been writing a blog for nine years. That is an unexpected accomplishment that has been one of my truest blessings and joys. The part of it I have enjoyed MOST has been having book signings; meeting people who enjoy my work … talking with them … enjoying being part of the ‘writer’s community,’ even in a very small way. And being so grateful for having this gift.

So you can imagine my horror at seeing books banned from schools. And not just books, but some of the books that I enjoyed as a child, young adult and adult. I loved the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye, and Harry Potter, for goodness sake. My husband said someone must have found Huckleberry Finn traumatic in some awful way. My heart weeps.

Mostly the explanation I’ve heard is that the racial undertones AND overtones of some of these classics should not be read by children or should not be acknowledged. I disagree. I don’t believe people of my age have been made racists or bigots by reading Huckleberry Finn nor has it made us howl at the moon or become infested with fleas. Most of us LEARNED from what we read while we were being entertained. And we learned to distinguish right from wrong … mostly because we became people that read.

To me, banning books does not change our history any more than washing onions before eating them keeps your breath from being offensive. No person or family or country has done everything right. By facing our mistakes we LEARN from them and by learning we hopefully will not repeat them. Not being exposed to the bad parts of our history does not make them any less true.

Again, my heart weeps at the loss of so many wonderful books to young readers.

My hope is that some of the young readers of today will manage to read some of these fabulous books and step into our future making sure the bad parts of our past are not repeated.

While we’re waiting for that to happen, I plan to continue to read every chance I can … and to write and share ideas. My ideas probably won’t change the world but I hope they inspire someone that might.

REMEMBERING THE QUEEN – What We Can Learn From the UK

22 Sep

As a pre-school little girl my grandmother would show me very special magazines she had saved. They were bigger than the hard copy magazines we have today and definitely weren’t the on-line variety. They had titles like TIME and LIFE (I don’t remember which, maybe both). They were filled with page after page of pictures and stories of two young girls, princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, only slightly older than I. I LOVED looking at those pictures of the girls wearing matching pink coats with black velvet collars standing on a balcony waving to people below.

Much later I realized those little girls weren’t my age at all but seemed that way only because my grandmother had carefully and lovingly saved those special magazines. Because I was shown those lovely photos in those old magazines at a very young age, in many ways I’ve felt as though I’ve grown up with those little girls. And like so many of us, we can’t remember a time when there wasn’t a Queen Elizabeth in the United Kingdom. Although very far removed, she has somehow been a part of us.

I haven’t been a ‘Royals Watcher’ like so many but I‘ve enjoyed watching the royal family through weddings and births, crisis and tragedy. Like all of us I’m familiar with changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, the British invasion of the Beatles and various rock groups, and I remember helping my stepson raise funds so he and his high school band could travel to England to perform for the Queen.  We’re all tied together in there somehow, some way, if only through a pop song we loved in the 80s and recognition of the members of the royal family and the Queen. If we haven’t been interested on a personal level, we’ve absorbed it by osmosis.

The past few weeks following Queen Elizabeth’s death at age 96 we have been graced with the pomp and celebration of her life. We’ve watched Prince Charles ascend to the throne and become King. We’ve watched as a rift between brothers seemed to be mended, if only temporarily in honor of the occasion and their grandmother. We’ve watched as Elizabeth’s life has been chronicled in documentaries and news clips and we have been reminded of the truly great woman that she was. Because we’ve grown up with those visions, these past several weeks we have felt a part of it all, but not so closely tied to it as the British.

The British people have wept at her passing, tossed flowers on the hearse as it passed through the countryside, and waited patiently in line for hours to personally pass by her coffin to pay their last respects … to say, “Goodbye.” Some brought tents and sleeping bags and camped out along the cortege route not wanting to lose their place in line to see the hearse drive by … much like the dedication of we Americans waiting to be first in line for a rock concert but with a far more serious reason.

In all the beauty and sadness of these past weeks the thing that stood out in my mind was the devotion of the British people to their Queen and country… regardless of their differences.  In all those eleven days we only saw two demonstrations along the way, both associated with protestors that would like to see the monarchy disbanded in favor of a different kind of government for their country. The small demonstrations were orderly and subdued, almost as though they, also, were showing reverence to the circumstances.

I thought how different the UK is from our current America; how orderly, how respectful, how organized. In today’s divided America we would never see such love and passion for country and leader. Some of the demonstrations would be noisy and disruptive … and possibly violent … and would not be limited to one cause, but would be seen as an opportunity to protest against anything that any group might find against their beliefs. The contrast was undeniable. BUT … on the positive side, our now-America is STILL the land of the free which means we have the freedom to protest as we see fit as long as no laws are broken and no citizen is injured. If they are we understand we are likely to be arrested. I’m not sure we realize how fortunate we are.

The take-away I got from the many days of  celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s life and the sadness of her death was love of country and a specific leader that unified the people of the country, that amazing numbers of people could come together in a reverent and orderly way to grieve and celebrate together, regardless of their differences. I was amazed at the regimentation, the dedication, the pageantry, the passions and the outpouring of love all wrapped up in a royal banner and surrounded by the communal heartbeat of a mature populace who were, for those special days, at least, above the hate and anger and “me, me, me-ness” of so many in this divided world.

So what IS it that the British have innately that we in this country … the home of the free, land of the brave with so much promise for so many decades now seem to have so sadly lost? If it’s still there within us, even buried deep down, can we get it back?

There are so many lessons we can learn from the United Kingdom and re-discover in ourselves. My heart lately has wept for our country.

I pray we recognize above and beyond the pomp and celebration in England, the number of people coming together, the feeling of shared love, the putting differences aside to join in the celebration of a special life. Those are, I believe, the overpowering messages that I hope the majority of people who shared the experience in person and through television came away with.  I hope we are able to find those things still viable, although buried, within ourselves and OUR country.

I think we were blessed to have witnessed in our lifetime these recent special September days and to feel personally familiar with Queen Elizabeth and in awe of her as we grew up. Globally she will be terribly missed. May we have learned something from her dedication to duty and her love for her people and all creatures great and small.

Menopause and the Dental Assistant

11 Aug

Today was my six months dental check-up and, thankfully, it was another of those, LOOK MA, NO CAVITIES outcomes we all pray for. That means we can relax for another six months and eat cookies, chew ice and forget to brush that second time of the day every now and then without fear of immediate repercussions. It’s always good to get that recurring check-up behind us for another little while.

So what was different about today’s routine dental appointment that is worthy of writing about? Well, it’s like this. I’m VERY FOND of the dental assistant I usually have out of the several that are employed by the practice. She is smart and funny and friendly and one of the good parts of spending an hour twice a year standing on my head with a mouth full of suctions, instruments and hands. She makes it more appealing somehow, or at least more tolerable.

 Like ALL of us sporting that double X chromosome, however, she has fallen victim to the dreaded menopause. While it was visited upon me I preferred to simply call it my WARM ZONE and my hot flashes tropical moments. Attaching a little humor to it didn’t take away the trauma bombarding me, but it gave me something to call it that wasn’t steeped in medical jargon that at least conjured up a pleasant image. But I remember those ARC WELD moments and could sympathize … for a little while.

Today when she ushered me into my designated exam room, the minute I walked through the door I felt as though I had stepped into the tundra as far north of the equator as you can get. A fairly strong wind swirled through that tiny room and had there been snow, it would most likely have been blinding. But briefly it felt very good. I had just stepped into the office out of a humid Virginia August day with temperatures already in the 90s.

I sat down. She put a thin little towel around my neck and secured it with 2 alligator clips. I was already beginning to feel my temperature drop.

Not only was the air conditioner set on ARCTIC, she had one of those small ‘As seen on TV’ individual room air conditioner units blowing out cold air at what obviously was 110 mph. It took a very few minutes for a chill to set in.

Dressed in true COVID-style fashion, the dental assistant wore two masks, a scrub cap, a plastic face shield, rubber gloves, a thick paper gown and probably her uniform underneath. As a retired OR nurse of many years I felt her pain. Wearing all that stuff while working vigorously is no picnic. Add to that the frequent surprise of a ‘tropical moment’ and you have a recipe for a core body temperature hovering around 170 degrees Fahrenheit on a good day. 

Suddenly my nose was very cold and I couldn’t feel my fingers. I asked her if she had a towel that she might drape over me because I was very cold. She didn’t have one but turned the room air conditioning down a notch, which only seemed to slightly lower the wind speed that was, by then, threatening to blow heavy dental instruments off the tray and send them swirling around the room with a force that would have made Merlin (the magician) proud. I didn’t complain. I was grateful for any improvement.

When I started shaking I tried to stuff my cyanotic arms underneath my hips for warmth as she pushed a button, the dental chair gave a lurch and positioned me nearly standing on my head. That was a relief because I knew I couldn’t go to sleep in that position and I had read somewhere that you go to sleep just before you freeze to death. I very much wanted to stay awake so I could attempt to control my shivering since she was about to begin scraping my teeth with spikey dental cleaning tools very close to my brain. It was an exercise in restraint and physical prowess that may actually have warmed me up a bit from absolute zero to just below freezing. I was grateful.

Our dentist came in, never acknowledging his crossing the border into the land of seals and polar bears (just because I hadn’t seen any didn’t mean they weren’t there). He never shivered once, poked around in my mouth for a few minutes, declared me CAVITY FREE and left as quickly as he had appeared.

The dental assistant, a lovely girl apparently going through a  trying time, tilted me back to ‘horizontal normal’ and after a few seconds fighting a bit of aggressive vertigo, I was free to go. She made me an appointment for February.

Leaving the office it occurred to me that February is in the dead of winter and maybe she couldn’t turn the heat down but so far … or maybe by some blessing of nature she will have passed through this tormenting time of her life and emerged out the other side – a butterfly none the worse for wear. I can only hope.

Opening the office door and stepping into 90+ degrees outside I was grateful … not only to be back among the sweating masses but to have survived the surprise rigors of the tundra and a core body temperature of absolute zero. It was a blessing.

My husband waited for me in his car with the air conditioner just one notch above freezing. When I started telling him my story, he turned it WAY down. He is a very considerate man and fortunately has never experienced a tropical moment of his own because he has a different set of chromosomes. But he remembers mine.

My heart really DOES go out to my dental assistant. I hope she survives this confusing time of her life. Most of us do. I hope I never made anyone else uncomfortable during my own WARM TIME but I do remember my husband adding an extra blanket to his side of the bed.

To all of us that have survived … payback is hell.

I’m guessing I‘m not the only double X chromosome person that still remembers those moments and can sympathize. May we all escape our sisters, though, as they go through their own special time spent in the Tropical Twilight Zone.

It’s Not Just a Garage …

25 Jul

The picture on the two large-screen TVs that flank both sides of the sanctuary was a cartoon depiction of a garage with door bulging on all sides. Our minister said, “That’s my garage. It needs cleaning out and a lot of stuff needs to be thrown away. But like our houses and our closets, it’s hard to get rid of things we have an emotional attachment to and, as strange as it seems, things we don’t even like for the same reason.”

Getting home after church I checked my email and Facebook messages. A friend had posted a photo on Facebook of a small 1960s ranch-style home; overgrown grass and out-of-control shrubs threatening the nostalgia of the photo. He wrote, “It’s just an ordinary house beside the old bridge and railroad tracks, but it evokes a lot of memories. The owner was a close friend of my mom’s (and worked at my dad’s store). I used to visit regularly with her as a child and be entertained by her daughters who had a great collection of 45 RPM records, including Elvis Presley and early Beatles.”

Not seeing a coincidental pattern emerging, I left my office to return later and find another friend that lives in Ohio had posted a photo of an Ohio home built in 1903. He wrote, “In my mom’s 1945 journal, she wrote about the house they rented in 1930 during the Depression after they lost their home when the stock market crashed. She had mentioned that they lived on the street that runs just behind where my work office is in the area of Akron. I found my grandfather’s name and the address in the 1931 Akron Street Directory (these are available online). My mom mentioned that it was an older home (built in 1903). The houses on the street today have either been well cared for, or are in need of some love.

Then I became aware of the coincidence of the recurring theme of the day … three people I know well had shared with me … and a bunch of other people … how places, things and inanimate objects such as clothing, buildings and even trash, kept those things alive and meaningful to them, not because of what they were but because of what they meant to my friends and my minister on an emotional level.  Because of this unusual coincidence, I felt compelled to write about it.

My grandmother’s home in North Carolina was a stately old 100-year-old home with a beautiful, but decaying façade supported by 4 white concrete pillars. One pillar had a crack in the concrete and inside the pillar was a drain pipe that funneled rain from the gutters through the inside of the pillar and onto the ground in some remote area of the yard. Apparently the pipe had been breached and leaked, rotting the concrete inside the pillar. As a child I was delighted that when it rained heavily water would literally spew from the crack in the pillar and my mom said it looked like a tall old man, “taking a leak.” I would laugh and clap my hands and pray for rain just so I could be witness, again and again, to that delightful spectacle.  

The house had been a funeral home many years before and I was intrigued and a little frightened at the thought of that. My mom and I lived there with my grandmother after the untimely death of my dad and there were many places to explore and roam, like the old carriage house behind the main house and the coal house. I remember year-after-year a family of feral cats gave birth to litters of kittens just on the other side of the graying wooden fence that separated my grandmother’s property from that of her neighbors. I spent a summer attempting to catch one of those kittens. When I finally did I scampered into the house clutching the frightened creature to my chest with a death grip and promptly let it go just inside the front door. It took 2 days to locate the kitten and send it gratefully back to the fence and the paws and warm tongue of its feral mom. My mom said it was a terrible couple of days but I LOVED knowing the kitten was INSIDE and essentially mine.

I have lived a number of places since my grandmother’s old house and I’ve lived in Virginia; a state away. Her house with the ghost stories and leaking front porch pillar was torn down decades ago and a Kroger replaced it on the lot. I’ve been back home to North Carolina dozens of times and know that old house isn’t there anymore. But that is the ONLY place I’ve lived that I dream about.

 In my dreams I find myself walking down that familiar street. I see the driveway and that old house set back off the road with its grand appearance and I know that one of the concrete pillars leaks in the rain, making children laugh and clap their hands at the vision so like an old man taking a leak. In my dream I can smell the aroma of lunches cooking on Sunday when the preacher had been invited to share that meal with us after church. I can see that lovely dining room. I remember winter mornings getting dressed under the covers because the furnace long before had become non-functional and was too costly to repair. It didn’t get warm until my grandmother or my mom got up and built a fire.

Maybe the coincidence of Sunday, brought about by three friends that have nothing in common except the commonality of having me as a friend and member of a church congregation, happened just to open my mind and my heart to remembering that old house that is such a part of me. In the comments and posts of my friends I saw a version of my younger self that remains today as part of who I am. That memory gave me a fuller understanding of what they were trying to say in their posts and in the cartoon photo of a bulging garage my minister greeted the congregation with on Sunday morning.

Seldom is anything just a house, or just a car, or just an old gas station or a discarded sweater. They carry with them the weight … and often the beauty … of memories of all that had a connection to them in one way or another. That’s why it makes us so sad when they are torn down or put in the garbage. It’s not just the loss of history, but the loss of thousands of memories that connect us to them … that are the life that energized them and still does in our mind and in our heart.