Rockets and a lot of Red Glares (part 5)

This is it. The concluding chapter. The final phase of this fantastic tale Hopefully Not a Waste in Space. This is where our hero’s outcome and the outcome of her heroic journey are finally unveiled.

And in my attempt to liken this to a finely structured story, it’s broken down into bite-sized bits for ease of mastication.

We have had the Big Goal: This is where our protagonist—sweet child ‘o mine—launches her balloon—SkyHAB (sky high altitude balloon, carrying what I swear is nothing more than a giant cloud urinal) 100,000 feet upward, with fingers crossed, to capture space data – Episode One.

Next we came upon The Crisis: SkyHAB launched, but the GPS landlubbered. The balloon was untethered and unaccounted for. We petitioned the US Government for a reimbursement of paid taxes that went toward defective global spyware and are awaiting our refund which should arrive any day after the twelfth of Dream On – Episode Two.

Following that was the Recommitment to the Goal: WE LOCATED SKYHAB!  … sort of – Episode Three.

At last we came to The Climax: The hunt for SkyHAB was filled with deadly peril. It ended with a heart-palpitating car chase and potential capture by Lizzie Borden’s grandson. Was this the end for the balloon and our young scientist with behemothic book smarts but space cadet street smarts? – Episode Four.

And finally, The Dénouement or The Reveal: I’d spill the beans, but then you may never read further then the end of this sentence.

So much tension you could practically string this story between two toothpicks and walk across it.

Ah, the makings of a tale that falls a few levels below Dreamworks, but a notch above your average 9th grade history newsreel. And one we can wrap up tout de suite. Because I’m sure many of you are wondering whether or not my child is still alive.

100814toot (800x557)

I was too.

For twenty minutes I sat staring at the phone willing it to ring, wondering and panicking at the thought that my daughter had been nabbed by a child snatcher who was following her as she attempted to recover her balloon, parachute and THE PAYLOAD in the middle of no-cell-hell. And every three minutes I phoned her with nothing but her snarky voicemail message to taunt me.

Hi, you’ve reached Chloe. Leave me your details and I’ll call you back … if I like you.

I paced. Did deep breathing exercises. Stared at Google Earth and its wretchedly slow updates. I made an award winning sculpture of the Hubble telescope with nothing more than plastic spoons and recycled tin foil.

Twenty-two minutes after loss of contact the phone rang.

“Hey,” Chloe said.

“HEY???” I echoed. “Hey? I was about to phone 911! What happened?”

“Oh, him? Yeah, he was weird. We may need a sizeable back up team. No worries. I’m on my way. What’s for dinner? I’m starvin’ Marvin.”

*face palm*

Two days later was the big senior project seminar. My daughter had to give a couple of presentations to explain her adventures and unveil her results. Well … no balloon equals no data, as all the data was in THE PAYLOAD. And THE PAYLOAD was somewhere in the Sandy River Reservoir. Camera footage, statistical calculations, motherboard bits and pieces that tell you the secrets of the universe were all gone. There go your hopes and dreams. Science shakes its head at you, tsking.

Still, the presentations were stellar. A lot of telling, but no showing–yet somehow still stellar.


The next day I received a phone call from some wild woman screaming. I finally recognized the dulcet tones of my child and asked her to pull it down a few decibels.

Someone found the balloon!

And not just someone. She said his name was Papa Smurf.

My mind immediately envisioned a small pack of blue forest creatures that lived near the reservoir where SkyHAB went down, and somehow, purely in the interest of furthering science, they managed to break their cardinal rule of no contact with humans and phoned the Department of Natural Resources to report a spacecraft landing.

Not really.

Actually, Papa Smurf, aka, “Big Mike” is a Virginia fisherman who, in the middle of doing a little afternoon big mouth bass hunting, landed himself something a little less delicious but definitely fishy.

100814bigmike (800x517)

The writing on the side of THE PAYLOAD was smeared, but our last name was visible. Enter Facebook.

The rest of the story goes a little like this: My daughter ignores friend request – stranger danger – and Papa Smurf/Big Mike must get creative.

Facebook says my daughter interns at the university’s aerospace research lab.

Papa/Mike hunts down a professor.

100814professor (800x782)


Describes to professor the reeled in riches. Our professor texts his industrious intern. His intern explodes with exultation.

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His intern calls her mother and begs for bakery goods to reward the fisherman with multiple monikers in exchange for THE PRECIOUS PAYLOAD. The trade is made. Strawberry pie is swapped for a lunch box full of cryptic clues to the cosmos and a few bits of water weed.

We are thrilled.

It is finished.

I am exhausted.

She is planning her next mission: Definitely Not a Waste in Space! Where one young scientist attempts to discover if Silly Putty can be used as insulation on homemade sub-orbital spacecraft.

Me? I might just back out of this next one quietly. I think it’s pretty clear that I ain’t no rocket surgeon.

~Shelley Big Mike (450x800)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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76 thoughts on “Rockets and a lot of Red Glares (part 5)

  1. I LOVE the ending to the story!! What an amazing man Big Mike was tracking her down like this! I’m sure the strawberry pie definitely made up for all his effort though. 🙂 This really was fun keeping up each week with this–I hope you do something similar again soon!! I understand if not another science project though!

    • It was an adventure worthy of remembering, and I’m quite sure I’ll have to dredge it up time and time again with my therapist in order to scrub certain parts of it from my brain. But science prevailed!
      Thanks for hanging in there, Sasha. It was really lovely to hear your comments and see your support each week. 😉

    • Yes, David, I totally agree. It was a wonderfully amazing adventure–amazing research, amazing unfolding of the process, and hugely amazing that the child lives to make use of it all.
      Thanks for coming along for the ride. Hope it didn’t increase your daily tab intake. 😛

  2. Hahahahaaaaaa. Love it. I wish I could write as well as you, and tell some of the rocket surgeon moments I’ve had with our daughter. Ugh. And somehow, even though she is 26 and lives 1000 miles away, every now and then I still get sucked in. You’d think ONE of us would have learned by now! Great series Shelley. xx

    • Thank you, thank you, Ardys. I’m so relieved it’s finished, but just like you said, I too have this eerie suspicion it will never be finished. How can a mother not answer the call to action, right? And if I’ve learned anything about you during the last year, it’s that you have a nose for adventure. You’re a bit of a magnet for it. I look forward to all those glorious stories as you spin them, Ardys. Thanks for sticking with us. ❤

    • Good heavens, I begged and begged and BEGGED for that picture. Chloe finally sent it three minutes before posting time. ‘Last Minute Lucy.’
      But yes, I really wanted everyone to see that the guy truly existed.

  3. All’s well that ends well. Scientist daughter is alive, Big Mike saved the day and George Lucas will be phoning you shortly for the movie rights. We will all say…’we knew her when she was just plain (but never plain) Mrs Peak.’ 🙂

    • From your lips to God’s ears, Cheergerm! I am waiting by the phone and hoping they will allow me executive creative rights to fiddle with the screenplay. Promise to acknowledge you all on the red carpet. 😛

  4. LOL! What a denouement! A tour de force completed! Mumzi especially needs a glass of wine and downtime.

    Go Papa Smurf… 😉

    BTW it’s reading “sweet child’s” epic assignment, makes me a bit glad I’m an English teacher, not Science! 🙂

    • Thank you for your wonderful comments, Lee-Anne–and I wholly agree on that glass of wine bit. The downtime seems elusive and unattainable in this house. And also in this house the groans directed toward English teachers far outweighs those aimed toward the science wing. I am a woman alone on my island of books with no one to share them with. An unlucky toss in the genetic gambling casino I guess. GO ENGLISH!!

      • Hahaha…can’t you brainwash one of those Science aficionados?! Link it to meals or something 😉 I mean (as I tell everyone shamelessly and very regularly) English is the BEST subject. 🙂

        • I have tried therapy, chocolate and withholding air–nothing is panning out. Occasionally, they are passing out, but even so there is no real lesson learned. I must up my efforts. Brain cells be damned.

  5. Oh Wow, so not quite The Hunt For Red October but Moby Dick Lite. Ish.

    Great story and loved Rob’s professor trap cartoon especially.

    Will we ever get an update on the collected data and what that revealed? Although I quite understand if you baulk at translating it into non-nerd speak. 🙂

    • Non-nerd speak–that’s wonderfully funny, Laura. And spot on.
      As far as the future goes, Chloe hopes to make this an intermural activity between several universities. It is now wholly out of my insufficient hands. Yippee!
      Thanks for being here with us on the journey. If there are updates on the data she collected from this run, I’ll throw it on there. It’ll be labeled sometihng like, ‘Clouds and their lavatory habits.’ 🙄

  6. A happy ending thank goodness but I can’t help wondering what and whho was the weirdo in the woods? Are you leaving that one open so that we can have SkyhabPsycho – The Return ?!! Great story Shelley it’s been fun to follow! 🙂

    • What a great title! And what a massive nightmare. NO! Weirdly, I’ve gotten precious little out of Chloe regarding the local yokel out yonder. She seems unaffected by the experience in that none of her habits have altered in any way. She still has the same sleeping pattern–that of 4 am to noon and her eating appears unaltered–still the same diet of strictly sugar, caffeine and carbs, so I’m guessing this was not a long term scare. Whew.
      Chances are the dastardly details will all come out at some utterly inappropriate moment, in front of a group of judgmental strangers who will collectively swivel their gazes toward the unfit mother who allowed this to happen. o_O

      • I imagine your daughter has a good head on her shoulders and will spill the beans when she’s ready, if indeed there is anything to tell. Mind you if she’s anything like her entertaining mother she may decide to keep you hanging on…and on..! It was an excellent series of posts, made me think of all our Victorian novelists publishing just a chapter a week….! 🙂

  7. The crowd is in an awe struck silence. Suddenly it erupts into a cacophony of applause and shouts of “Huzzah-Huzzah”. Seriously that was one great ending. Often the ending of an episodic adventure leaves you let down, with a feeling it is wanting. This little tome had it all. Funny phrases, great description and some brilliant drawings. It was as fulfilling as a chocolate souffle. It will no doubt go down in history as the gold standard for all low space or high earth adventures. Well done my lady. Well done.

    • Benson, you’ve totally made my month! Yes, the pressure was mammoth and the lessons learned are … well, truthfully most of them are probably still waiting for a lightbulb moment from me, but I know the lessons are out there.
      Most importantly, I’m grateful you stuck with it and enjoyed the series. And as a man whose critique and editorial skills are highly polished, I can only say that is high praise, indeed, and I am humbled.
      Thank you! ^^’

    • You thinking of renting out a berth in the houseboat? 😉 I bet he’d pay his way in fish and tales.
      Makes me giggle just thinking about how a fella like him would fare being plopped into the middle of the Thames. Talk about culture shock.
      Thanks for sticking with it!

  8. Three cheers for Papa! There’s definitely something Hemingway-esque about him 🙂 And somewhere out there in the empyrean reaches of space, Carl Sagan is looking down on Chloe and smiling.

    • Oh, thank you for saying so, Sue! I think the professor sketch was my favorite this week too–and I wish I could say thanks to whomever was in the boat with Big Mike, but I suppose fisherman are usually prepared with cameras for their big catches anyway. Lucky us.
      And as far as the big prize goes, she gets my vote. But I won’t let her go to the ceremony until she cleans her room. I’ve really got to draw the line somewhere. 😛

  9. Oh! This is such an epic ending! I love it. I loved this whole series and even say this ending is worthy of the cliffhanger you made us live with last time! That cartoon of the daughter exploding with joy was just awesome! And a happy ending due to the kindness of a stranger? Wow. This was really worth the trip (sitting here anyway…not sure about your seat..)

    • You’re so kind with your praise! And yes, with as much trouble as we experienced throughout the whole adventure, having it boil down to the kindness of a stranger seems somehow cosmically perfect.
      And yes, I think any time you know you’re helping make somebody else’s dream come true, you cannot help feeling that by the end of it–it was a thousand times worthy.

  10. Phew, what a ride this has been, more ups and downs than the biggest Big Dipper! Thank the lord for the Papa Smurfs of this world, glad he was duly thanked with pie, but i cant help but think there is more to come from the weirdo in the woods, perhaps i should watch this space??? Brilliant Shelley simply brilliant 🙂

    • Janice you are so kind with your compliments. I’m so happy you stuck with the series, but even happier that you found it worth it. Thank you!
      And I certainly hope that for every weirdo in the woods, we’ll find one hundred Smurfs to make up for them. And if I do any more reporting on that freaky fellow, it’ll hopefully only be within the context of a phone call to Virginia’s finest. I suppose we’ll see. 😉

  11. Oh, wow, this was SO worth the wait, Shelley! I sat on the edge of my seat as I read, waiting anxiously to find out what became of Chloe and SkyHAB. (And what’s this about her staying mum regarding the crazy guy in the woods? If that had happened to me, I would be telling everyone I know all the gory details. For days. Until they finally said, “Just write about it in a story already.” And after reading about your agony in waiting for Chloe’s phone call–22 minutes?!–I have a deeper understand of all the worries I put my father through when I forgot to call to say I’d be late, or if I was traveling and promised to let him know when I’d safely arrived. Oh, how many times have I heard him bark into the phone when I finally did call, “ARE YOUR FINGERS BROKEN?! You can’t dial a phone anymore?”) I’m glad Chloe’s senior seminar presentations went well despite the lack of data, but I wouldn’t have expected anything less from her. And then the ending to this adventure! Could you really have concocted a better plot in your mind if this were fiction? I think not! A benevolent Papa Smurf to balance out the crazy guy in the woods. As I was reading about him finding Chloe’s last name on the side of the payload, I was thinking, “Thank goodness their last name isn’t Smith!” And then for him to be so dedicated as to track her down on Facebook and then at UVA–my faith in humanity is restored a bit now. (I thought Chloe was referring to Big Mike as Papa Smurf because of his white beard, and then I saw his shirt and burst out laughing. So glad you were able to include a picture of SkyHAB’s rescuer with the post. Big Mike, wherever you are, we thank you, good man!) I’m so happy that Chloe and SkyHAB are reunited. And come on, Shelley, you have to sign up for the next mission! The SkyHAB saga must go on. 🙂

    • You know, Miranda, you bring up a point I neglected to mention in the post, but definitely think is worthy of noting. Chloe knew that the chances of recovery were not in her favor and had decided that to increase the odds she’d paste a notice of monetary reward inside the payload. She hadn’t figured it into her Indigogo campaign fund (and again, a HUGE thanks for contributing!), but said she’d pull money out of her college fund (all those summers working with pipettes in a lab!). When Big Mike finally spoke with her and she told him amount the money, he flatly refused. The pie was a last minute substitute of gratitude on her part (and hungrily accepted). People like this fellow who went to such lengths and trouble to do something kind for another unknown human being truly touch me. I hope the kindness comes back to him, but for now he just has a few folks out here on the internet smiling at his actions and thankful he exists.
      Thanks for sticking with the posts, and all the emotional ups and downs. And for dredging up all the loving, fatherly rants that still ring in your ears.
      Your the best, Miranda. In my eyes, you’re another Big Mike. ❤

      • That was smart thinking on her part! (And I was delighted to contribute–I think she came up with a fantastic and incredibly ambitious project idea, and I admire all her hard work and dedication. Chloe is going to accomplish great things, and we’re lucky to have such a brilliant mind entering the science field. I fully expect you to keep us posted on all the scientific discoveries she makes later on!) Reading about Big Mike’s actions has made my Grinch heart grow three sizes yet again. (Notice how your posts and comments cause that to happen so often?) I hope Chloe sends him a link to your blog post so he can read about how highly we regard him here. It’s been a true delight to read about this adventure. And now I must go because that last paragraph of yours got me all misty-eyed, and you know that’s perfectly unacceptable for a Grinch. (And now I’m laughing again because I’m imagining Grinch and Papa Smurf rooting for the launch of SkyHAB 2.0).

  12. This couldn’t have had a better ending if you had planned it. Like others have said before me, my faith in humanity has cranked up a few notches.

    …. but, but, but, what about the data?! (ok, I might be a bit of a geek too) What did the data reveal?!

    • Although I’ve only overheard the “data” talk, that which I’ve gathered is that the sky is lovely up so high and that GPS is not dependable and you need redundant systems for each of your redundancies. The data that I’ve seen has been lying scattered across the every available flat surface and from what I can interpret it will make lovely wallpaper for someone on Wall Street.
      That’s about the best I can do, Joanne. But remember, I was only IN CHARGE, not RESPONSIBLE. Big difference. Big. HUGE.

  13. Can I meet your daughter one day? Can I? Can I? So cool… loved the ending…. Is that a real picture of Papa Smurf??? Can you please post a picture of the strawberry pie??? I’m drooling already….

    • Have you met any other teenage girls, Jen? Do you know how hard it is to pin them down and schedule five minutes alone with them? Well, of course you have–that beautiful young Costa Rican lass, but I’m guessing that’s how they grow them down there–to be respectful and have time for their elders. 😛
      I’m so glad you liked the ending. I’m just glad that it endED. And yes, that’s Big Mike (see the t-shirt he’s wearing? – Bonus proof). Wish I had a photo of the pie. Tis too late. But surely you can magic one up with your peerless baking skills, yes?
      Okay, now I’m drooling.

      • Hahaha – I hear you on teenage girls… Do you also make a strawberry and rhubarb pie??? Oh my… can’t get rhubarb here (or raspberries, for that matter – my fav)… Cheers!

        • My best pies are mud pies, as I’ve been making those the longest. Since I was about 4. Sadly, no one is much interested in eating those, so they are no longer found on the windowsill cooling. But yes, strawberry and rhubarb, and every berry known to the North American people–and some known only to birds (must feed the animals too).
          Surely you have some wild and wonderful fruit all around you?

  14. Chloe must have had a near seizure when she got the news! Yay her!!

    And how unbelievably awesome that Big Mike, patriarch of the smurf clan, refused to take no for an answer when he was denied on FB! Yay him!

    All around, wicked cool!

    • I love how you put it, Nancy–a near seizure–because that’s about as accurate as one can get. It was a banner day. Everyone should see their child that happy at least once in their lifetime. It’s priceless.
      Thanks for hanging in there with the whole series, but you’re kinda like that, aren’t you? No challenge too big, bring it on.

  15. eh, i can sleep (well, i can do THAT easily, but more easily) and soundly now.
    in playing englisch: WHAT news and secretiveness did the cloud urinal be-speek?
    strawberry pie? that should certainly make Papa Smurf continue to look for whatever else!

    • Ah, yes, the elusive lavatory habits of the cumulonibus. Good question. I can’t even figure out the bathroom habits of my child. The somewhat humbling truth is that when she does answer my queries, it’s in a language I find challenging to decode–a little like yours in a way, only with a few extra syllables. 😉
      And now I do believe the answer to everything should simply be–strawberry pie.

    • Well, she’s alive, but I’m not an authority on the definition of “Okay,” so I’m just going to have to go with physically she looks great. Occasionally, she’ll smile at me, but it’s usually when I’m holding the cat, so it’s hard to tell where that affection is being directed.
      Thanks for coming on this journey with us!

  16. Here is some truth Shelley:
    When I read that last bit, the bit which had VW’s in it, I was sooo tempted to send you that National Lampoon bit. In fact, I went to Google and found some images…. to post. Yet, sanity took over me, so I did not. Not good taste, even for an atheist.
    All that aside: this remark is not really about me. It is about you.
    Yes! You!
    You, my Friend, write well.
    Very well.
    I am happy to know you.
    Oh! And by the way…. I loved your story.
    But… I needed some blood and gore!
    And of course, you know I am just kidding…

    • My humble thanks, Lance, for the gracious and kind words about the story. Yes, there were no loss of limbs or gushing stab wounds, and as a parent, those are boxes we regularly find ourselves determined to tick off at the end of each day. We’re not always lucky, but thank God most days our lives are not an Oliver Stone directed film.
      Most days.
      Thanks for finishing the series and coming out the other end. And truthfully, I’m rather glad we didn’t have to put the VW to the test.
      Cheers, Lance!

  17. I’ve been traveling for the last week or so, putting me behind on your wonderful posts. I looked forward to catching up on this last, and equally entertaining installment. You just can’t make this stuff up (and frankly why would you want to), but you sure put a fabulous spin on it. What an amazing outcome.

    There are many things to be proud of, most especially your daughter’s avoidance of Big Mike via Facebook. I’m so glad he persevered and found her in the ‘safest’ way possible.

    Thanks for keeping us entertained. I too like the idea of installment writing. It’s a lost art. Kudos.

    • Welcome home, Alys! I hope the travels were safe and full of cherished memories.
      Thanks for coming back for the LAST bit, and for all your lovely comments. Your mothering instincts are a mirror of mine.
      Hope your garden made it thru without you–and I keep forgetting to snap a photo of the wonky volunteer tomatoes growing in my potage. I still plan to get around to it. Identification would be terrific, although my guess is that they are some aberration of Romas. Banana influenced Roma tomatoes. o_O

      • Thank you! I went to Victoria, BC for eight days with a friend I met through blogging two years ago. Can you believe it? If you told me that was possible pre-blog I would have shook my head in wonder. Now I’m living it! Victoria is a beautiful spot, and a huge step for me traveling without my sons. I’m originally from Ontario, Canada so it was good to go back, even though on the west coast.

        You’ve got your hands full with a college-bound daughter, but when you return, and if the tomatoes are still afoot, I would love to see the pic. Then you can ask Robb for an illustration. 😉

        My final pumpkin went down in defeat. Darn squash bugs. They’ll survive along with the cockroaches long after we’re all dead and gone. Really, I should pitch the idea to someone looking for original horror movie material: the squash bugs that ravaged the world.

    • AHAHAHAHA!! I love this, Laura. Absolutely fantastic. Thanks for the link and sharing a terrific story. I so hope other folks will read the comment section and will then get to see this too. It’s brilliant.

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