Monday, July 27, 2015

Crash Pad Cooking - Gadzoodles!

Weekends have a good purpose, but sometimes it's eating too much.  Come Monday morning, there is that bathroom scale and a pot of coffee.

I'm not obsessive about it, weighing myself just if my pants feel tight.  But after I blew my knee out in a fall, I lost 20 some pounds and felt so much better after, I've worked to keep it off.

So when I feel like I've overindulged, I don't count calories, I don't do extra time at the gym.  I just cut back on carbs for a few days, more of a Paleo style diet with no processed/high sodium foods, including meats and cheeses (which even if low carb aren't all that great for you), no dairy, grains (except for chia seeds in smoothees) or bread.  Then I seriously up my low sugar fruits and veggies. For me, my downfall is carbs - waffles, pancakes and particularly cornbread, corn anything, which is a favorite.  So a couple of weeks ago, when I saw a 4 pound weight gain from time off with my Dad  I said NO to all carbs and bread going cold turkey (literally) with more Paleo style eating  for a whole week.  The result was the phone call that ensued, to a good gal friend of mine, retired Air Force, NRA instructor and squirrel in another squirrel division.  We all have those friends, that are more like sisters and you can tell ANYTHING to.

Me:  I tried to do the no bread/no processed food Paleo thing - it didn't go so well.

L.  - What happened?

Me:  I made it almost a week.

L: And?

Me:  I just ate an entire box of corn dogs. . . . .  With a beer chaser.

L.  (laughing)  I love you.

But cutting back on cheese, sugar processed food  and supersized portions IS a healthy way to cut back, but it's easier if you start by just replacing a few meals as you gradually adjust to healthier eating habits.

So for Monday - after  a reasonably healthy eating weekend with some whole grain bread (OK, and a package of SweetTarts). I started the work week with a coconut milk smoothie with fruit and some veggie protein powder,  I put together my lunch.  I love the stainless steel Lunchbots Box (from my favorite shopping place - Amazon).   It's a tad bigger than most Bento Boxes and I  like having an assortment of stuff to nibble on especially on those days I really don't have time for a formal sit down  "lunch".

 By using a measured container, I find I get a nice variety but I'm not stuffed and heading into a coma after lunch.  Herb Chicken, salad with candied pecans and blueberries, grapes, carrots and almond raisin mix. All I add is a splash of olive oil based salad dressing I keep in the fridge at work and a bottled water.  There's also extra apples in the fridge for an afternoon snack with my tea if I need one.

For dinner - something totally new.

ZOODLES.  That's right, noodles made out of zucchini  I bought the little julienne tool at Amazon and figured - worst case scenario I could eat the sauce.  I was just craving some pasta and thought it was worth a try.

Simply wash the zucchini's, cut off the ends and make a thin slice on the top and  bottom. so it stays in place on the cutting board and you have a level surface to julienne,  Then you simply  run the slicer over it to make long strands of zuchinni.
This was about 2 pretty good sized zucchinis, enough for two people.. This is what it looked light before cooking.  I did slightly peel the squash with the julienne tool so the noodles weren't too dark green.

Some onions were cooked up with garlic to add to some leftover meat sauce.
Cover the zoodles and nuke for two minutes when the sauce is heating.  (If you're doing a big batch you might want to  cook a bit longer). 
Top with sauce.  (Note:  Drain the zoodles after nuking - they had a bit more liquid than I expected after cooking so I had a bit of liquid on the plate.)  Still, they tasted surprisingly good - not a strong "veggie" taste at all, fairly neutral with a texture and bite quite similar to pasta. With the meat sauce, they totally took care of a "pasta" craving, without weighing me down. Whether you are doing "low carb", "low calorie", "gluten free" or are diabetic, I'd recommend giving these a try.  They'd not replace my beloved angelhair tossed with olive oil, fresh Parmesan and garlic, but they were good enough I'll enjoy making them again.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Brickyard 400 - Star Spangled Speed

It's Brickyard weekend here in Indianapolis. With just a short break between shifts (next weekend is the long one) I'm staying put and not driving home. I had some long days this week and all I want right now is some quiet and time to write, even as I will listen for sounds of the race from a distance.

Over in Pittsboro, Jeff Gordon's hometown, there was a huge parade to honor him. I wonder if behind Barkley's first Vet there in that town is still the giant mural of Dale Ernhardt on the side of this one house, of someone that was NOT a Gordon fan. Mr. Gordon, I imagine, smiled and took it in stride and just waved to the hometown fans that love him.

At the grocers, there were race flags and pretty girls offering samples of hot dogs and tailgate food. and I almost took out Richard Petty with my shopping cart, the six foot something cardboard cutout of him anyway. Even early in the morning, the place was jumping. This is a big weekend in this city, and out in the Western suburbs, reasonably close to the race, the air is thick with humidity and excitement.
When I was a young woman, I used to go to the stock car race track and get right down where the action was taking place. You know, when you're young and still hot you can put on a tight jumpsuit, a David Clark headset, hold a clipboard, and go about ANYWHERE on the track. I wasn't looking for a date, I just wanted to see the action, up close.  Times have sure changed. I'd need a shoehorn to get ito the jumpsuit and security has been beefed up in our country as a whole, our having lost something in 9/11 other than the souls of thousands of good Americans.

But there was just something about being there close to the sights and the sounds. If any of you remember "Spinal Tap" guitarist Nigel Tufnel - he once said of the volume knobs on his amps "These go to eleven". If they go to eleven, a NASCAR track goes to fifteen, with a wild resonance made up of all of all of the sounds of the earth. There is something about the deep throated roar of dozens of cars firing up, as if something angry was unleashed from the earth, hungry and drawn by the smell of hundreds of  barbecue grills.  It was  "Gentlemen, Start your Engines", it was the National Anthem, and flags waving, and if you were lucky a military jet flying overhead.
The crowd?  You can't see a variety like this, anywhere. From casual to sexy to "don't drink and dress", it's a slice of humanity as colorful as the cars on the track.  It's not hard to tell who is rooting for who, as fans wear their colors and their favorite car's number with a pride that would put the  "my kid is an honor student at" driver to shame.  Mom might be in a Tony Stewart Shirt and Dad may have on a Dale Earnhard Jr. hat.  But there is harmony in that house, because they are both here for the "race" and if you've seen it, with the kids cheering and jumping up and down in their seats, the crowd coming to their feet, you've experienced a little bit of America's history that's about a lot more than speed and the occasional crash.

Alongside my Matchbox Mustang, there  a little Matchbox car around here from some years back,in UPS colors as I was a huge Dale Jarrett fan back in the day. He was always, and remains my favorite NASCAR driver as I remember the time he won a big race only to talk with pride about his daughter and a recent scholastic achievement.  That man is a class act and his racing  retirement video still brings a smile and a tear to my eye.

You don't see that many older drivers and there's good reason. It takes a degree of strength not evident merely by looking at the build of the driver. Dad, even as much of a sports nut as he is, doesn't watch racing, saying it's not as challenging as other sports (this is a man that thinks GOLF is exciting, a sport I find as fast paced and excitement laden as farming). But I can say this as someone that' thrown around some serious G's in a jet in her time. That would be a big NO.

Indy racing?  Sure it's sleek and super fast, but it' also a flat track, not a track that can have 16 degree banking where you get enough g's to launch you into space, while you do 180 mph inches from someone else doing 180 miles an hour.  You don't see that in open wheel racing, and having flown formation, I can tell you it's a heck of a lot harder than it looks.  It would be like being in rush hour traffic on the 294 tollway in Chicago doing 180 miles an hour where every single driver is like that idiot in a 180 mph Smart Car that jumps down in front of you, inches from your bumper, like his Smart Phone just notified him he was late for his meeting with Jesus.
That folks, takes more than guts and muscle memory, it takes physical conditioning and MUSCLE and there's something to be said for watching those cars accelerate to speeds that would make some of us pass out, then slow on a caution as if one single living organism rather than dozens of cars.

Sometimes though, there is that fatally flawed moment, when motion meets something equally as hard. There is a crash, and the sound of rending metal, a howl of machinery that takes on the character if that very moment, the rage, the pain, and the dismay.   As debris flies, the team responds, waving hands making eddies in the smoke as help is called and the flag is out.  The crowd is on it feet with a hush, listening for those small sounds that survived the debacle, the death knell of a broken motor mount, the tumbling of a piece of wreckage off of a wall. Where ten minutes ago some were cursing this driver because he or she wasn't their favorite, now they are praying for them to climb out of the car with a supportive wave to race another day

The unexpected still of the air, carries on it more than one gathered prayer, a collective heaven-sent message from those that still believe in that power. It is a stillness that is more than quiet, it is a slender hair that holds a sword suspended over the scene. What lays upon the track as the caution comes out, is the wisdom of man rendered helpless by the indifference of physics. We aren't drawn to the sport for the mayhem, but it is ever present, the dangers that pushing the edge of motion carries with it.
NASCAR, It will always have it's naysayers, and even fans will admit it has its flaws, marketing occasionally driving the players as much as skill and behavior on the track that can be more like 3rd grade tantrums, then good old testosterone. Some say as a sport it's a gimmick, so simple only a redneck would watch. I don't agree. There's the thrill of a three car wide jockeying for position on the final lap, the sheer muscle memory and split second decisions that can make or break not just a car, but bone. I look at them and I remember approaches into airports in mountains, lightning flashing around me, not looking at the airspace in the turbulence, but only the "donut", that small indicator that makes the difference between remaining aloft and being flung into hard stone.  Like a NASCAR crew chief  I'm calculating the fuel remaining in my head, hoping that our numbers are good and I'm not going to have to slow down to conserve fuel, or worse yet, run out.

As we watch the cars race towards that checkered flag we are all brought back to our own moments, where speed and timing and choice moved us towards victory or something that just wasn't going to "buff out".
Love it or hate it, NASCAR has been around a long time, and will continue to be, as long as there are people that feel it represents the values they grew up with. It's not just a "working man's" sport, it's a little slice of a American dream, that every little kid who has raced his or her go cart down a hill at warp speed can relate to. As we'd get that little wooden wonder up to all of a few miles an hour, without a helmet, because our Mom's back in the day weren't following us with knee pads and a caution sign, we were living the dream, of wheels and motion and freedom.
It's the fabric of my childhood and my teen years, and even if I don't watch it much any more, it's still a part of my life.  I was too young to be interested in anyone landing on the moon but I remember well the first live flag-to-flag coverage of the Daytona 500 broadcast on television  in 1979, as my brother and I gathered around the TV.

I also remember a long ago proficiency check in a simulator for a jet aircraft I was flying at the time. The instructor pointed out a light in the distance at high altitude (the computer generated visuals on a Level D Simulator are nothing short of amazing). I drew my craft closer to it, to see, at 38,000 feet a brown UPS truck racing across the sky that the simulator engineers had programmed in. I tipped my hat to Dale, and dropped a wing to return to formation.

But this weekend- I'll let the noise be in my memory, and smell of a grill only on my deck.  I've had a week of going round and round,even with a coefficient of lift in my office chair that doesn't do much in the way of G forces.  I've seen too much bent metal in my time, and this weekend, I'd rather not see any more. But I will breathe deep the smell of charcoal and asphalt and I will remember those days sitting in the stands, waiting for something much louder and more powerful than a little redheaded teen ever imagined she could be.
Tomorrow, a roar will come, not from the ground but the sky, breaking upon the ordered allocation of my solitude. I will look up, drawn by the sound of a military aircraft flying over the racetrack, as somewhere in the distance people will put their hands over their hearts as the National Anthem is sung.  There will be thanks for God and cold beer and those things that still retain their history.

I'll bring out a little metal race car with UPS on it, closing my hand around it as if it was a symbol of all those little freedoms I learned at that age, and of the dangers that made it so very precious.

Ladies and Gentlemen - Start your Engines.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Night Lab

There were two very bad accidents  in different locations on the route I drive home since midnight last night. Almost a dozen vehicles and 5 confirmed fiery deaths. including two children in construction zones.  It's a good night not to make the drive.  I let the housesitter know I'd not be up so soon.  Partner is on the road anyway, and Abby and I are safe, a night to be thankful for that.  So nothing deep here, just something to make you smile and appreciate those little things. - Brigid

Abby travels back and forth from home to the little crash pad in the city where I work. It's a cozy little place with some of the furniture from the house I owned when I met my husband and little things that make me smile.
Abby's walker L. invites her in for play time after romping in the yard with Andy their rescue lab.

She has a dog walker/sitter at both homes, someone to let her in and out, and stay overnight with her if need be or have her stay with them.  She's pretty laid back and minds really well, including having to block her into a specific room  at the crash pad when the landlord sends someone to change the furnace filter, check the smoke detector or replace a bulb in the high ceiling fixtures.
Barkley would have bounded over the chair.  Even a baby gate was no match for him. Abby just stays behind it, knowing she can see me as I pull in.  Then she goes to sleep.

Or so I thought.

There were two days in a row she was blocked in the living room with her toys and water bowl as a small repair was being made in the kitchen. When I came home the first day she was in her usual position - on the couch in the blocked living room,  half asleep and looking slightly bored.
If Mom really loved me she'd have one of those aerial baby toys that goes over the couch with music and dangling bacon.

She does occasionally change positions.  Last night when I went to take her out one last time before bed she was on sprawled out on her back with one leg straight UP in the air towards the ceiling  like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.  Low light kept me from getting a photo but I cracked up.

On day two, I came home, but it was Friday, so she was reading the tabloids, looking less than happy about the most recent celebrity divorce.

Today was slightly different though as when I got home I talked to the Indy dog walker to set up next weeks schedule.

She said "Abby was so cute, meeting me by the front door".

 I said "huh? No, she was blocked in the living room for the maintenance guy so she couldn't greet him at the door and escape".

 She said " No, she must have jumped over the chair when you left for work."

AND jumped back and pretended to be asleep when I got home.

I'm on to you Abby.

I better go count my beers there's no telling what ELSE she was up to.  :-)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Made in America (and you are cleared to land) - Taproot Farms

I'm a fan of natural, organic oil based skin care.  In my younger days, I'd spend hundreds of dollars on high end cosmetics and skin care, which frankly didn't do much more than Ivory Soap and Sunscreen.  As I got older and needed a little more care for my dry, fair skin, I looked into natural products specifically those made by small, family run farms/ companies.  It helped my wallet, my skin looked great, and I was getting carded into my late 40's, even better.

I LOVE  my Indiana's own Frangipani skin care cleansers and moisturizers (see sidebar for a link) and my bath and makeup products from Bee Naturals of St. Louis  but I also found a great little company that specializes in organic essential oil, perfumes and soaps and other assorted bath and body products from a little sustainable farm in Chickaloon, ALASKA, run by a former Air Traffic Controller (who I probably talked to at one time), I had to try some of their products.  OK guys, before you tune out, remember some beautiful lady that loves you that might like that you took the time to find a specialty product for her.  :-)

In the 90's Air Traffic Control Rick Wilder had a dream of forming a community of people driven to restore the fading concept of the multi-generational, family owned and operated small business.  Twenty years later, Taproot farms has achieved that as true- life farmers prizing the land and being good stewards of the resources they have, using what is available locally to provide heat, water and power for their community.

Pure product  made with the best, organic ingredients, simply handcrafted, created with the nose, eyes and hand of an artist not some factory.  These are products they would use themselves, and I'm certainly glad I tried them.

In addition to essential oils, they have a number of  100% pure argon oils that are phenomenal to help with hair and hails - just a drop or two will make both sleek and strong.  They also have scented ones. I put a drop or two of the lavender argon oil in my hair at night.  I sleep like a baby and in the morning my hair is SO soft.
The perfumes are worth the visit alone, an easy to use and portable roller with fragrances that are not just earthy and floral but those that mirror some of the more expensive perfumes, such as Enchanted (Poppy by Coach Pure Elegance).  Alluring Amber (Victoria's Secret Amber Blend) and one that smells just like the very expensive Pink Sugar. And there's one that smells just like Crème Brule.  I gave one to a gal friend of mine with small children.  She said "next time you give me that, let me line up the kids going to grandmas for the night".

 The best part?  $12 and they smell as expensive as the department store brands that are $60-$80 as well as last longer as it takes just the smallest amount for a long lasting but subtle fragrance  (they will also sell you three samples of your choice for $5)

They also have soaps.  I do love my goats milk soap but my husband really liked Taproots sandalwood soap for the shower and it lasted forever, maintaining the wonderful, masculine scent til the last bit.

If you have a sustainable farm or homestead yourself they also carry one of the few Kelp Meals for chickens, pigs goats, cows, horses and pets, full of essential trace minerals, free of all of the arsenic normally found in plant based kelp meals.

They ship everywhere, and even coming from Alaska, I have my products within about a week  of order without paying extra for uber-fast shipping.

So if you want some wonderfully scented natural bath and both products for yourself or as a gift for a family member, (which may include Kelp Meal for Arnold the Pig) check them out

This is N109SJ on the missed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Life's Choices

It was about four years ago, one of those flawless winter afternoons, the sky crisp and heavy with thought. Coming back from work, I was hurrying to get home. Even though the day wasn't late, it had started very early and I wanted to get home to my black lab before he was doing the Barkley Bladder Boogie. So I took the shorter route on the freeway to get towards home, anticipating the glare of the setting sun when the sky turns to diamond brilliance for a few minutes, intensifying the sound of the truck engine bouncing off the cooling pavement. I was just below the speed limit, as speeds traps were rife through here, the windows up, YoYo-Ma playing Vivaldi quietly on the stereo. So many thoughts going through my head.

The scene I had just left was not a good one and knew I would be carrying the sights and smells of the day with me on the drive, perhaps hanging those thoughts of them up somewhere this evening so I could get some sleep. I needed to think about other, happier things. I needed to stop at the store and get some milk and paper towels on the way home. I needed to give a friend a call back. But I wasn't thinking about my home and my Barkley home on the couch.

He's the keeper of the sofa, guardian of the throw rugs, and something I never planned on getting, but I did, suckered in by the litter of black fur. The first night home, he slept on my chest as I lay on the couch next to his prepared little kennel of which he wanted no part. I felt the gentle thump against my chest, for he began to give me his heart that very first night, and he, mine.

Then the days became weeks, and then months, and before you knew it he was my protector, not the other way around. On those days, when the reality of another sanguinary day takes hold, I could escape into the loving affection of a simple game of fetch or a nap for two on the family room couch. That safe spot buffered me, hid me, helped me distance myself from anything that troubled me, while he and I both left the past in bounding leaps of faith and joy. But, that night, as I drove along the freeway, I wasn't thinking about the doggy greeting I would get when I got home, Barkley yipping for joy at the sound of my big black Chevy truck coming up the drive.

I used to have a VW Jetta, until I moved to where the drive to work involved two lane highways, head on traffic, and little to no plowing before getting to the main freeway into the city. Looking at oncoming traffic as I fought for traction on a road not always plowed, it hit me. Not the subtle detection of nature's wrath I've sensed in the woods when I've picked up my gun and moved quickly to shelter. It was something that had been lurking in my mind for some time, even as I made my way in haste through the dark. It was that perception of a large grill of a semi truck about to spring full clawed on me if it crossed the center line. I realized suddenly how tiny my little VW was and how little chance I had of living if I hit something bigger than I.

Then a couple days later I hit black ice. I was alone on the road, going pretty slow, but I still found myself suddenly facing 180 degrees from the direction I was headed but still in my lane. I'm really not sure how that happened. I know all the rules in a rear end skid, don't brake, steering in the direction of the skid, so that the momentum of the vehicle will straight you out. I think though, in this case, I simply closed my eyes and muttered increasing loud four letter words as my hands did something with the steering wheel from muscle memory.

The next day I bought the bat truck. Four wheel drive isn't my personal savior but I now looked down ON some of the other trucks. It had an extended cab and four doors and big tires. It's as nimble as a Humpback whale. But I bought it to haul stuff and for protection around me, not to play Speed Racer on the interstate.

What we drive is a deeply personal thing. For some, a car is nothing more than transport, Point A to Point B. For some it's a need to show off to the world some image of yourself that only you carry. For some it's custom license plate with a useless Humming SUV that is no better at serious off road antics or warfare than the Smart Car.

I've a truck for squirrel usage when needed, also 4 wheel drive, to get into places that people just don't want to go. I've gotten used to a big truck, and find myself feeling strangely small and vulnerable in anything else.

I feel the same way when I go out without a weapon on my hip. I notice how small I am compared to most men, and certainly most criminals. I've felt it in a city where I could not carry, walking faster, head up, trying to look confident as I swim in a river filled with sharp toothed predators. Kick and stroke, kick and stroke, no fear of drowning, just a fear of the sharks out there as I move, vulnerable as a small minnow in a deep river.

There's nothing worse than the feeling of being small prey, when you have nothing of tooth and claw to protect yourself. I was walking in the woods one night, unarmed before that day I fully understood just how far down on the food chain I was. As I walked down a trail towards my car, I got the sense of something following me. There were no big cats in this part of the Midwest, though I'd heard a coyote way off in the distance, but it set my feet on edge. I heard something behind me, sudden, soft, movements. I stopped. It stopped. It didn't sound big, but still the hairs on my arms stood up. I moved, it moved. I stopped, it stopped. Coyote? Evil Penguin from Wallace and Gromit? Feral cat? Elf on meth?

I couldn't help share the survival instincts of the coyote and a small rabbits quivering role in our precarious world. A world in which the soft and innocent can get snatched out of at any time, grabbed in an explosion of pain. I had no defense, nothing more to protect myself than a set of car keys.

How old is fear? How acquired? And when do we stop listening to it? Somethings running through me that defied predation. The night gathered, rabbits run away, and behind me something moved, a fuzzy harmless woodland creature, or something with eyes as flat as dried blood. It was not a good feeling. I may be college educated and a citizen of the most powerful nation on earth, but on that dark night, I was simply a young woman alone, flesh and blood.

I turned around and turned on my flashlight, scaring the absolute stuffing out of a tiny little porcupine. Hardly more than a baby, he was more afraid of my big form, than I was of his little one and quickly scurried away with a shrill squeaky noise. But after that, I didn't walk the woods unarmed.

I do think I walk differently when I'm armed. I don't open carry. That's a deeply personal choice as well, but just as you don't advertise a punch, I don't like to advertise what my capabilities are. I don't carry in my purse either. I'd probably find my gun in there as quickly as I do my keys and the perp would have already stepped over my body, pawned my gold necklace and had a beer, by the time I got my firearm free from the bowels of my oversized purse.

But I do walk differently, with more confidence, head held higher, hands as free as I can make them. I normally carry even with Barkley with me. More than one woman has disappeared with a dog by her side. Barkley is deeply protective, but I don't know if the Labrador retriever, by general nature, would sink his teeth into someone trying to grab me. Should my attacker be asthmatic and have issues with pet dander, well, the bad guy would be toast, but I'm not willing to run an experiment to find out. So when I'm walking him in early morning, when the neighbors aren't out and about, I carry. On those early mornings, just before daylight, when that dark and solitary suspension of night shifts and brightens with the tentative wakings of both birds and men, we are out. He with his teeth, and I with mine.

But I wasn't thinking about that on that drive home that day, or Barkley. As I left a small road to get onto the freeway, as trees released the load of snow from sagging shoulders onto a road spotted with ice. Four wheel drive won't help me with ice, but I was aware of the might of steel around me, should I end up in a ditch.

The freeway is busy, but not backed up, cars zipping past me at 70 mph. Then there, up ahead, half a mile or so, the flash of numerous red tail lights, and with them my pilot brain went into "master caution" mode. Less than a quarter mile ahead of me, a delivery truck swerved a bit, the car next to it did likewise as if trying to see what was happening up ahead. I eased off the accelerator. There was a young girl in a tiny car behind me, I'd noticed her as I'd passed her, twenty something, chatting on the phone, not a care in the world. I couldn't see anything abnormal ahead either, only experience on the road caused me to take my foot off of the accelerator and tap the brake light, hoping she would see and get away from my bumper.

That phrase "it happened in a blink of an eye", didn't take into account how fast an eye could actually blink. Some one had lost a chair from the back of a truck, a recliner, laying there now in the middle of my lane up ahead. There was truck running just ahead and to the right of me in another lane. If I hit the brakes hard, I could tuck in behind him, but then the girl in the tiny car behind me would likely smash into me if she didn't see the brake lights, or simply plow into the chair. I think the chair was bigger than her car. My only other choice, to hit the horn and swerve around the chair into the left lane, hoping she would see or hear and do the same; hoping I didn't lose control on a slippery road. She was likely still on her phone, not paying the slightest attention to what was unfolding.

My truck was in tip top shape and the brakes are as reliable as they can be. After years as a pilot, my reflexes were developed to make instant movement, with my brain able to calculate time, speed and distance in a way honed by landing a large chunk of metal onto a tiny surface at 123 mph.

In that blink, I was not thinking about driving into my driveway, happy to be home. I was not thinking about where all these vehicles were headed, and so fast. I was thinking about the rest of my day, of fractured steel, and fragile lives, the structure of bone and skin and tears. I've seen fate dive down from the heavens and felt the disastrous beating of its wings. As a pilot, I myself have fought it off with the advance of a throttle, or the jamming of a brake, split second choices that result in clear sunny skies or shattered ruin.

I did not think of my beloved Barkley waiting for me there at home. I thought of blood and bone and tiny fragile vehicles that carried someones heart. I thought of nothing and everything, as simply and ungracefully, I swerved around the debris in the road.

Fortunately, the girl behind me did too, and it was just another bad day of driving in the Hoosier State. But there, in only instants, lives can change. The world may appear to go by as leisurely and randomly as cattle or clouds, but within it are moments in which one single decision may save or break us. It's there in that moment where fear becomes action, as we gauge a threat as if there was nothing else in our vision or our future, save that.

As my heart slowed, I looked at a photo of a black dog in the visor of my big black truck. I pat the gun on my hip, small things, big choices, that keep the chance of being hurt from finding us.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Canon Fodder - Yes - We DO Own the Road

 Seen last month as I took a shortcut to my dentist's office.
 The juvenile males honked at traffic while Mom and Dad got the little ones across to the pond.
 I said STOP.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Blistering Tarmacs - On Duty

 Oh! We're having a heatwave, a tropical heatwave
The temperature's rising, it isn't surprising

 from "Blue Skies, Fred Astaire and Olga San Juan

I've been watching the news about the heatwave the last couple of days.  Dad doesn't have central air conditioning, but with double paned windows, thermal drapes and fans, he keeps the house livable. We did put an air conditioner in his bedroom window, but he's never used it.  He says hot was North Africa during WWII, he can live without ac in his little ranch house. Near the coast and right off the river, he is spared some of the worst of the temperatures, but down south in California it's been particularly bad, and today in the Midwest we're going to see some of the same.

At the Range today - the forecast is 97.  I've ready served up biscuits and gravy and the oven won't be used again today, dinner coming off the grill or from a crockpot.
I do not like hot weather.  Perhaps it's my genes, or the Casper the Friendly Ghost tan, but I'm likely going to be the snowbird that flies the wrong way and retires up along the lakes where it's even COLDER in the winter (except in my shop which will be nice and toasty).

But I have spent many a day in the heat.

Flying in it was certainly never fun. I preflighted a plane once when it was 125 degrees F. in the shade and found the soles of my boots had melted from the tarmac.  We were eyeing the temperature closely, waiting for it to cool enough to take off. Our performance charts for takeoff only went up to 126, after that we were idiots or test pilots.
There were days of only searing heat. There were days with storms, but they brought little rain, only dust and high winds that tumbled the small pieces of ground equipment around, tipping them over like monuments in a violated graveyard.

One day, landing at a civilian strip in the desert, the recorded weather showed the temperatures in the high one tens.  The tower controller quipped when we checked in, "But it's a dry heat".  Being a bit cranky, I took the mic from the Second in Command and said "So is my (insert FCC naughty word here) oven, but I've never wanted to land in it!"

The Sherpa on a hot day was the aerodynamic equivalent of an Easy Bake Oven. On the best of days it couldn't climb high enough to get out of the heat (it's hard to pressurize a shoe box), so we spent our days sweating down low, bouncing around in the thermals like a paint shaker. Nights were slightly better, the air smoother as time and worry rushed slow and dark under us, drifting like somnolent fireflies between columns of solitary thunderstorms.
Flight training was often conducted at night. Being an instructor pilot, I got the joy of doing what is known as a V1 Cut, pulling the power back on a perfectly good engine right at the speed you're supposed to lift off, and you do anyway, just on one engine on an airplane that now wants to roll over on its stomach and go to sleep with a headache. Today, this is done  in simulators for good reason. Back then, I just got to find out how badly the newbie pilots wanted to kill me. It's also why now, when I see commercials for girly deodorant so the lady stays fresh and dry while shopping for shoes, I just laugh.

The Sherpa wasn't exactly a hot performer in those temps, even at night, and lurched into the air with all the exuberance of Festus's Mule. Conducting training under those situations was even more of a challenge.  There were GPWS warnings I'd never heard before, Too Low Terrain! during one V1Cut. The pilot candidate says "too low to Rain - what's Weather go to. .  oh crap!" Max Thrust !  Max THRUST! (not just a good name for a 70's porn star but words that kept us alive more than once.)

During night training when it remained really hot, I once brought along a cooler of ice and Coke and strapped it down in the back. There were a couple planes in the pattern doing proficiency checks and when the news spread, suddenly everyone had a warning light they had to check out and everyone stopped, shut down, ran over to my plane like the dambusters raid and grabbed something cold to drink. When the pop ran out we just poured the ice water down our necks.
Such times included moments of physical discomfort yet they also included moments of something else. On such nights, we stood on the tarmac in the night air, sweat dripping down our brows. I looked at the men, none of them really tall or stocky, built more like greyhounds and emanating a vitality, an animation even as they made no movement. Call it brotherhood, call it kinship, but as we stood there, we all had the same wild, dark look in our eyes, that comes with youth and adrenaline, the will that is facing fear and winning. We stood there, only briefly, as waves of heat shimmered in the dark, a small clump of pilots, standing under the hot smudge of our aircraft, beneath the starry sky that was our future.

We survived, a bunch of new pilots went into duty and I eventually earned command of an airplane without props. I learned a lot during that time. Resilience, patience, and that if you stick a whole roast wrapped in foil in a ground support vehicle all day while you go train, when you get done it's perfectly cooked, all you need is a knife to shred it some hot sauce and some buns.
But mostly I remember the heat.

The next memory of heat comes later, when I moved to Indiana. I had a little VW Rabbit. I was coming out of a very large 3 bedroom house with a full finished basement so I had a LOT of stuff, so it all went in the moving van, the move being covered as part of a job transfer.  All I had in the rabbit was myself, young Barkley in his harness in the back seat and a  12 point deer mount, sitting on the passenger seat wearing a Sig Sauer ball cap (little kids and truckers waved at us a lot).

On the way to Indiana, the AC went tango uniform.  I only had a couple hours left to go, but  I had my best friend in the car wearing a fur coat. It was the first week of September so it wasn't overly warm, but we were going to need some relief beyond the vents. As always, traveling with him in the summer, I had a big cooler with ice and lots of water.
I kept my sleeves rolled down (clothing absorbs your sweat, keeping it against your skin has a cooling effect).The windows were rolled down a bit and we both drank lots of water and no treats for either of us (digestion uses water you can use for cooling). Barkley had his neck bandanna, and I always carry one, so those were dipped in ice water from the cooler and worn around both our necks. When we made a stop for gas, he got a potty break and a BIG splash all over from some more of the ice water. The car smelled like wet and happy dog but we got to our destination mostly comfortably.

Still, a trip without ac in a car in the summer time is not on my bucket list.
But there will be more trips, more heat, life not offering always fair winds and blue skies.

On another hot day, when I'm out that way, I'll make a stop at a cemetery and say hello to my brother, another warrior Gone West, paying respect to something that goes deeper than all of us.  Pooled on top of the stone perhaps, the remnants of a shower that passed over head, quickly evaporating in the heat. I'll dip my fingers in it and make the sign of the Cross, with fleeting, symbolic waters that would not be fit to drink, but which for the reason of it's shining transience, is fit to remember this man.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
So, here's hoping that my readers across this country can stay safe and cool through the next few days. But as you sit and perhaps complain about the heat - think of one thing.  Every day, there are military personnel and the contractors that support them in Afghanistan and other hot and dangerous places all over the world, day after day after day.

They work and defend,their only comfort perhaps a cigarette burning in their hand when off duty,that plume of smoke, hot in the still air. Such moments are the few physical and unlistening joys they may have. They don't have air conditioners everywhere they travel. They wear clothing that is as light and comfy as the arctic-weight Wookie suit. They don't have frozen yogurt shops and coolers of cold pop in their personal gear and the thought of being home, safe with a cold beer on the porch with their loved ones may be not hours away, but a year or more. And they do it, for us, for others, for freedom and faith, or simply their own code of honor, sometimes at the greatest of costs.
This weekend, I'll sit on my porch if it gets too hot and instead of whining, I'll think back to days of hot airplanes and the camaraderie of commitment. I'll think back to moments that now just tick like the hands of an invisible watch, hanging from the end of a chain whose length is unknown. I'm going to tip a cold glass to them, to those that serve, to those that gave their lives in that service, there in the heat of duty. So should we all.

- Brigid