Thursday, July 30, 2015

Posts from the Road

Things are going a little nutty here in squirrel land.  I'll have a post for everyone on Saturday if I'm back home.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Rounds Holes - Square Pegs


A couple of readers have asked me what planes I have flown. A few, some of them small and nimble, some of them, not so much. Yet many of them, like my favorite side arms, are like old and dear friends.

In going through some old photos, there it was. The C-23A. It was stable, surprisingly fun to fly, given its ungainly appearance, almost like flying a REALLY big Super Cub, except in a crosswind. In a crosswind it was frankly a Son of a *#(#@. We didn't call it the flying billboard for nothing, and on gusty days it took a lot of muscle to keep the sort of pointy end forward.

It was where I first met Old NFO,.  It's a story I've told here before, when I flew him to a military assignment  in the Bay area. I was just a kid, mid 20's. He was older and handsome. I was too shy to say hello, he was smart enough to notice the red hair and take a seat way in the back. Years later we crossed paths more than once on the internet and in professional conversations, still remembering those flights long ago, becoming life long and fast friends in the process.


People made fun of the Sherpa. You couldn't help it. It just invited ridicule. It looked like a shoe box with wings stuck on as an afterthought. The cockpit was wide, the cabin was HUGE, yet it could haul an amazing amount of stuff at an incredibly slow speed. Awesome! But it was the first ship I was a Commander on.

But we still suffered the indignity of the remarks. . . ."hey - ya build that yourself"? "Ma'am, can you take a lower altitude, you're just kind of a speed bump for the tankers behind you".

One day, coming out of the Bay area, my copilot spotted a couple of F-4-s on our wing. We were in an area of low altitude training, and weren't too concerned, but they were close enough we figured we had better ask the controller if he was working all of us. I asked "uh. . ya know what these F-4's are doing?" to which he replied "Oh, they're just looking for something big, slow and square to use as a target".


But it was a new role for me. It was the first airplane, outside of a trainer, where I looked into the mirror one morning, in uniform, proud of what I was doing, and for whom. I earned my stripes in the copilots seat, and to this moment, I remember the day I got my qualification for that left seat.

The airplane looms into view. I breathe deep, gathering courage, as I walk across the ramp to start the preflight. I knew I was prepared, but I was nervous. I don't know a pilot that takes a checkride that isn't. I stood there on the ramp and closed my eyes, praying I'd open them and it would be over and I'd be home, lying beneath a cozy roof under the long, slow sound of rain. But I open my eyes, and there it is., looking bigger, as if it somehow grew in the night. The inside of it was as dark as space, as if marooned somewhere in the cosmos, waiting to simply swallow me up in the big black hole of failure. My hands were damp, my uniform shirt stiff, and I knew I had to make that decision, to stride forward now and show that aircraft who was boss, or remain forever still. I stood, the small, motionless form of a young woman, a hesitation in cooling space, across which blew the dense oily smell of jet fuel, laying like cold smoke against my tongue, so thick I could taste it.

Calm down now. It's just a big box with little wings on it. You know her, you've flown her a whole bunch from the right seat. She's familiar. There, I spot the few familiar scratches on the paint; she's been brushed by more than one piece of ground equipment, though not seriously, and the faint scuffs are like small laugh lines as she waits in eager anticipation of the flight. This isn't a duel, this is an old friend.

The Check pilot greets me planeside, tall, and stony faced, with a stern "well, are you ready?" to which I reply "Yes, Sir" in a voice that sounded too light, too trivial, for what we were about to do, like a leaf falling into silence , without any weight. As we board, there is no sound left, but my carefully controlled breathing and the steady drilling of insects as afternoon deepens. As I buckle in the six point seatbelt, he looks at me intently, hands at his side, an alert rapacity about his eyes, his countenance one of a great stone statue of Easter Island, but without the warmth.

Fear trickles up along my sleeve. Some of it is from the checkride itself. My advancement in the ranks is riding the line this afternoon and no matter how much my friends tell me to relax, part of me is picturing the job I'll get if I don't pass this ride.

But some of the fear is the normal fear I feel every time I crawl on board an airplane. It's not a fear that I can't handle it, but more of the feeling we all have when entering a realm that man originally wasn't intended for. I think about screwing up. I think about dying; the feeling of immortality that is the luxury of youth long having left me as I took on responsibilities not meant for children.

But I am not afraid of dying, and I know that with the training training and some of the best mechanics in service, I am not going to die today. The fuel truck drives away and I know that I will see him tomorrow, and the day after, as I am ready for my command

Being in command isn't about being a good "stick" as the pilots say. It's not about the uniform or a confident ego. Being in command is about responsibility. As good as you may be, it can't be found in those days spent in the right seat. There, the responsibility just haunts the edges of your subconscious. You think. . "Oh I could do it, no big deal". Then the day comes and you're in the left seat. And the weight of what's on your shoulders suddenly hits you. It's a different way of looking at things, just as the panel you've stared at for years looks completely different; how you look at everything around you looks different as well. Every mistake, every decision, every delay, it all boils down to you, and despite the best or the worst copilot in the world; make the wrong choice, and you'll be lucky to be alive to do the carpet dance in the office of someone with a lot more shiny stuff on their uniform than you do.


I was always told as a copilot that if I needed anything, if I needed to learn, to grow, or I simply needed help, then I had no further to look then to my left. Then suddenly, there I was in training in the left seat, and when I looked to my port side, when things were going to hell in a hand basket, all I saw was a reflection. Mine.

That visage stares back at me as we finished the last single engine approach into base. At this point, after two plus hours aloft, I knew that I had passed. The exhilaration was such as I had only experienced at one time in my life, when I was rafting down an Oregon river and my single man raft flipped and I was trapped underneath the rushing water, bumping against rocks much bigger than I was. Many things could panic me - bills, dirty diapers, the mystery burrito at the quickie mart; but being upside down, under water in the cold and fading light, did not. If there was panic there, it quickly trailed on behind me in the water and I simply pushed my little raft off of me, grabbed onto a rock and pulled myself up as hard as I could. To dancing light, to precious air, and water that calmed down to quiet pools further downstream, crickets chirping in encouragement.

Here then, years later, the same feeling of just being alive flowed through me as the the gear was lowered and we too headed down into the quiet pool that was the airport. Had the Pratt and Whitney's not been making so much noise, I might have heard the crickets hum alongside the runway as we headed into open sunlight.


I had not panicked, I had held my ground and my seat, mustered my strength and pulled myself back out into the light. As we exited the overcast, flaps going to full, I glanced at the reflection in the left window. All I could see in the brightness of sunlight was the smile of a new pilot in command, the voice of the controllers, the soundtrack of the best adventure I'd ever had.The airplane is just at the edge of my field of vision. . . . . where I leave her back on the flight line where we started, checkride over, battered flight bag in hand; sweat drying on the back of my neck. I've stepped out of one seat, one world, into another and as the Check Pilot finally grinned at me and other pilots stopped by to shake my hand, I felt it welcoming me.

People still made fun of it, but it served us well. I remember just cruising along over the Tahachapies on the way to the Los Angeles basin, gazing at the new fallen snow, not all that far below us, as we coaxed everything we could out of the engines to climb a wee bit higher, like salmon fighting their way upstream, then basking in the air as the whole of the lower state came into our huge windshield. I remember sliding open the big cockpit doors after a flight, and after a particular good landing, just to see the "deer in headlights" stunned look on the guys in the back when they realized their Captain was a young redhead with a ponytail. I remember those crews, and the friendships we formed from it.

When I left the airplane for the last time, as I was leaving to go train to fly a swept wing jet, it was a rare gully wash of a downpour, big drops that somehow were being blown down off afternoon thunderstorms. It was falling heavily enough that there was almost a cotton stuffed in my ears sense to my hearing, and I could barely hear the voices of those around me, I can barely see the visage of the "motor home with wings", through the rain. I was moving on to much bigger and better things, pressurization, speed, jet engines, the lack of people snickering and pointing.

But I was also leaving something that meant something to me, the place where I first realized that courage sometimes comes with a price and responsibility has to be earned. It was probably the slowest, ugliest airplane on the ramp, but it was reliable, honest, trustworthy. It had no artifice or hidden agendas, just like the best friend you would want to have. So I blinked hard that day I flew it for the last time, so no one would give me grief about "acting like a girl". I simply gave it a crisp salute and turned slowly away, one last look over my shoulder at the big square outline of it, and in it, all that were my first years of earning my stripes, the form and weight of it, through the heavy rain, soon to be memory.

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.
BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

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.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

More Than the Daily Grind

The mill stood, three stories about the rushing creek, the turning waterwheel the only moving constant in a landscape of milling people, modern cars whizzing past a hundred yards away. It is one of very few grist mills that do not lie in ruins and the only one recognized as a historical landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The Graue Mill and Museum. Inside, a modern day miller is doing a demonstration of the milling process using 150 year old buhrstones. Outside of the cash register for purchasing grain and some souvenirs, the inside of the mill has been authentically restored to look as it did, so many years ago.

On the second floor, among the many collections of tools, a lovely woman in period costume named Susan demonstrated the art of weaving from flaxen thread to make linen, as well as the meticulous process by which the strands of soft flax emerged from a course stalk.
The third and top floor had several rooms that depicted life of 1850 to 1890 in early Fullersburg, the town in which German immigrant Frederick Graue settled, though his family actually lived in the beautiful house that stood behind, a fine example of Italianate architecture, restored in 2002.

One of the room depictions in the grist house, which included a kitchen and room where the spinning wheels worked, was a little girls room. The furniture was adult furniture, carefully crafted in miniature, the bed, one in which her parents would watch her sleep, praying  that she never knew fear or hunger. On the bed was a doll, a small, clothed artifact of that innocent corridor that is childhood.
Susan had given us a vivid storytellers description of life, not just in this dwelling, in those days, of once a week baths in a shared tub, of clothing made not just by one's own stitches but often ones own fabric, pressed with an iron  that carried with it a burden that was more than weight.  In picking up one of the irons, I  realized that these women, even young girls that did such tasks, would be in physical shape that we all run to gyms to achieve.

On wooden pegs on the wall, hung several female garments.  Much of the material was plain in color and rough in texture, yet there were colorful cottons, formed by as much as six yards of fabric, the material expanding as the body would change in pregnancy.  As I traced one delicate floral design with my fingers, I could picture a  young woman standing in sunlight, the skirt billowing around her, a flash of color, not on a dance floor but among a swirl of chickens as she went to gather eggs.
What dreams did the women that wore these dresses have, there above the looms and irons that engaged them, the children they bore until they often died in doing so? Were they happy or was it a merely a cradle to marriage bed to casket rotation of spent youth and grief, dreams born too late and yet too soon? What stories would they tell had they the time and means to tell them?

Life for the men was no easier. It was a time where if one didn't work, one's family didn't eat.  But it was also a time that even if you did work hard, there was no guarantee you would eat, the grain and its grower subject to the hour and urge of weather, the root bloom of the lands frailty. The tools used for food and life were heavy, sweat and limbs playing a clumsy accompaniment to the music of metal, wood and stone. The work was not only physically hard, it could be dangerous.
I remember the story of my own grandfather, a lumberjack who suffered an accident of tree and ax. There were no emergency rooms, no trauma teams, simply a man brought home to the bed that recently bore his children, bleeding out while his wife could only stand by him with brooding awareness of that pending inscrutable inheritance that is early widowhood.

Yes, the lives of past history are seldom easy, but there would be riches of experience we can not see, the accomplishment of crafting something that would last for generations. There is the pride in your teaching your own family. You teaching, not a school, not a "village", teaching the skills they would need to not just survive, but to prosper beyond the scope of your life. There was also the saving, not perhaps love or riches, but what is left behind in a human spirit when everything else has been taken away.
Need and necessity sometime have ways of obliterating from our conduct various scruples involving compassion and honor. In looking around the mill, I saw a family that had much more than most people did back them.  I saw a family who could have enjoyed it, drank it all in, filled their belly with it, then passed quietly into history, their forms put into the earth and covered as if they had never been.

But they did not.
In the basement, there was something that made me stop and quietly think. A room that at one point was part of the Underground Railroad, a runaway slaves stop on the way to freedom in Canada, by a miller who himself sought freedom in our country, leaving his native Germany long behind him.

How many slaves did Mr. Graue shelter there in the basement of his gristmill? How many people passed through this room, putting their trust in a strangers hands, hesitant perhaps to take hold, as a hand too near the stove remembers pain. How difficult must that have been, trust replacing the whip of whistling air, the blow.
On the walls were pictures of some of the slaves, their eyes all projecting something, not words to be spoken but rather a profound and distracted listening for something they know exists, but do not yet know  its sound. I paused as I looked at the photos, one of those prolonged moments that contains the distance between this place as it was, and what it is now, everything that has been evoked or dared to bring us both to this place.

As I walked up the narrow stairs from that small and once dark place where women and men ran for their freedom, out into the light, an echo spoke which was not mine but rather all of the lost immutable "should haves" which haunt all dwellings, all the enclosed walls of home or heart. It lingers in the air as a hand takes mine to guide me safely away.

I left the mill with some bags of grain, but even more, with a renewed sense of thankfulness. Not just for my lightweight iron and the luxury of a long, hot, solitary bubble bath, but for something else.  I left with a sense of enduring hope for that which is the human spirit, the recognition of a life lived by ones own hand and choice.