Monday, October 28, 2019

Aircraft, Past and Present

So Darling Husband and I went to an airshow on the nearby air force base last weekend. Walking up to the gates was an experience, because a Mig was doing aerobatics. My husband's face when he saw a MIG-17 doing a low-level pass... his entire nervous system looked like it was desperately crying out for a missile launcher, just let me at 'em! Some reflexes die hard, eh?

After that, while my wonderful man sat and enjoyed the airshow, I went off to ogle all the static display airplanes. (They were fairly spread out, and he didn't feel inclined to all that walking.)

Sitting alone amongst the air force planes was a single Army Chinook, with a recruiting tent right next to it, sticking out like a sore thumb. And rocking it. Those guys were having a good time. (The other oddball was a C-47 in the corner, for the WWII paratrooper jump demonstration team.)

I walked up the load ramp of the Chinook, and had to stop and stare in amazement. It was clean. No, it was...*clean.* I don't think you understand the amount of cleanliness... the wiring bundles didn't have any grime between the wires, clean. Every hydraulic hose and line was clean, with no stains from any leaks, clean. And all the hydraulic lines were bent at the perfectly correct indexed angle, and everything was labeled. None of the nuts had traveled from their marked point. No field-expedient repairs. No evidence that there ever had been any...

It was... birds like this don't exist. This is the demo you use when making a textbook photo, that could not possibly survive the first trip out the factory door, clean.

In the back of the bird, a young army sort was hanging between the stretcher on one side, cheerfully enjoining the civvies on his bird to "ask me anything!" He caught me ogling his wiring bundles, and gave me a nod. I nodded back, and continued inspecting his junctions in sheer amazement. This was a bird in use - it wasn't factory new - and it was Just. Too. Pretty.

So as I walked past him, I felt I ought to say something, even if he looked like the youngest JROTC kid to pull public relations instead of getting to see the air show. On a couple air force birds just minutes earlier, I'd tried asking questions only to get a startled, "I don't know, ma'am, I'm still in training." So rather than ask what in the wide green world was going on with this bird, I went for complement instead.

So I say, "Your wiring is immaculate. The bundles, your hydraulics... your bird is beautiful. I haven't seen one this just... this lovely." He gets this grin, and the chest puffs out a little more, the ramrod straight spine gets a little straighter, and he says, "Thank you, ma'am! Let me know if you have *any* questions!" And by the gleam in his eye, this is not, as I thought, some poor training kid. I have made the old fart's mistake of underestimating this young man in both age and ability.

...Turns out he's the crew chief. Oops. (When did they start looking so young?) And thus ten minutes were pleasantly passed in discussing load configurations and capabilities, and confirming that his was indeed a working bird, and he was by G-d going to make sure it was the best working bird in the entire US Army, every single time, and everything was perfect. Even if it was a slingload of live goats in a crate.


Amazing.

After that, I visited the C-47 as well. And when I climbed up the narrow ladder and got inside, I saw bare primered walls decorated with photos and sharpie scrawls. Closer inspection proved that they restored the plane to as close to original paratrooper configuration as possible. (Although this airframe actually spent her war years flying the hump, and then in the Israeli Air Force, only reimported back in the 80's. If that bird could talk!)

And then, after restoration, every WWII paratrooper who managed to make it on board has been handed a sharpie and invited to leave his name, dates of service, and jumps. And some of those - the number of places they jumped were astounding. On some, they'd even managed to dig up old wartime photos, and stuck them up beside the signature. That bird... she was something special. Something more than she had been, as if her own record wasn't enough.

Yeah, from the young men who jumped out of planes like her over Reims to the young men making sure that the birds will be okay today...  There's a lot of good out there that's easy to overlook. I'm glad we got to see it.

Friday, September 20, 2019

What's healthy feel like?

Last winter, I had a couple-few very bad months, in which I couldn't actually tell how bad my health was getting, because judgement is one of the first things that gets affected when your brain isn't working right.

I could tell that the writing was getting slower, worse, more fitful, and stuttering - and I could tell that I was skating on the event horizon of an emotional black hole, and spending a fair amount of time and energy staying out of that. And then the writing shut down.

And then I couldn't even manage to coherently blurb other people's work.

And then I couldn't even think my way through critiquing and editing other people's blurbs.

Yeah, hypoxia from asthma and general issues with lots of allergens is very like being drunk: have one drink, and you're questioning if you're okay or should wait longer. Meanwhile, the guy who can't get off the couch is the one who thinks they're fine to drive, because when they asked themselves if anything's wrong, the brain just couldn't even answer.

Just as my darling husband is finding out that recovery from injury at sixty-plus is a whole lot slower than when he was 20, I'm finding... recovery from "It's not that bad" is closing in on a year from when the problems became unignorable, and while I keep thinking "I'm good now!", I keep finding the body and brain are slowly getting better and better, and reaching levels of good I didn't know I'd lost.

This makes me more paranoid about getting back in the air, not less - because my lovely old plane is a wonderful dear, sweet and gentle for her kind... which, being as she's 70+ years old, means she's a heck of a handful if you're not on your game and on top of all her quirks and the vagaries of wind and weather.

On the other hand, I did just manage to write my first blurb from scratch in... I don't want to think how long. And the stories are coming back, in fits and starts. And I just got to Amarillo and was able to walk around the fair until the little muscles in my hips yelled at me (I'd squatted 120 pounds the day before. They were irritated with all the walking on asphalt and concrete), without having tightness in my chest and the exhaustion from pushing my lungs to move enough air being the limiting factor.

Here's to life getting better! I'm not sure I'll know when I've reached healthy, but I'll keep trying for it. And I'll be getting back in the air when I get there!

Monday, September 2, 2019

Raspberry and pear trifle

My darling husband volunteered to make a trifle for group dinner, but he was having a day where just standing was a challenge. So I made a trifle. Well, two, really, because it's only a tiny bit more work to make two trifles than one, and plenty of guests.

For the cake:
1 boxed devil food cake mix
1/3 cup oil (I used coconut & light olive)
1 cup water
2 eggs
1 Tbsp cocoa powder

For the custard:
2 Tablespoons Bird's Custard Powder
3 cups milk
1/2 tsp powdered ginger
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 Tbsp raspberry jelly
1-2 cups frozen raspberries

For the fruit:
4 cans of sliced pears, drained

For the cream:
1 quart whipping cream
2 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 tsp fine sugar

First, make the cake according to box mix directions. (Although I threw in an extra tablespoon of cocoa powder, because it didn't seem very chocolately to me.) This makes enough for two trifles.

While the cake is baking, mix the custard powder and jelly in a large microwaveable bowl. Add the milk and spices, stir well until no clumps. Microwave for 6 minutes, stopping at least halfway to pull it out and stir it. Cool it down by dumping the frozen raspberries in, and stirring well. Let sit.

When the cake has cooled, cut it into chunks about 1/2" to 1" square. Divide in 4 parts.

Layer the trifle dishes with the cake, drizzle 1/4 of the custard on top, and put one can of pears as a layer. They don't have to be anywhere close to drained dry, just not sopping and soaking the cake.

Put half the cream ingredients in a bowl, whip it up, and spread half on each trifle. Repeat cake, pudding, pears, make a second batch of cream, and put that on top.

Cover and store in fridge until time to be eaten.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Honey Basalmic Cod with Mandarin Oranges

The first time I saw this recipe, I thought "Eww, sickly sweet." The second time, I thought "How do they make that tasty?" And five years or so later, I've tried it, with a few additions, and my husband liked it so much he wants me to make it for group dinner (for 12) instead of just the two of us. If I do that, I'll need to figure out how to scale things up. We'll see.

Honey Basalmic Cod with Mandarin Oranges

4-5 filets of cod, frozen
1 can mandarin oranges
1 orange's worth of juice

1 Tbsp orange marmalade
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp melted butter or very light oil + extra to grease the baking sheet
1-2 Tbsp thick balsamic vinegar

+1 pack steamable butternut squash noodles
+1 pack steamable baby brussels sprouts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and line baking sheet with either a silicone baking mat or greased aluminum foil, so cod doesn't stick to it. Place cod on sheet.

If you have an orange, juice it.
In a bowl, mix all ingredients except cod, mandarin sections, and steamables packs, until blended. Spoon over frozen cod. Put in oven and bake for 22-25 minutes.

About 16 minutes out from done, stick butternut noodles pack in microwave. While it's cooking, open mandarin can. Rinse and drain 3 times to get the canned taste out, set aside.
When noodles finished, carefully remove package. Put in brussels sprouts pack and nuke.

Drain butternut noodles, add drained orange sections on top, reseal packet (if able).

When Brussels sprouts are done, plate the noodles & oranges, then open the sprouts and plate them, too. Fish will be done at this point, and you can carefully pull it out of the oven. Put cod chunks on noodles, spoon the sauce in the pan over the noodles.

Serve with a drizzle of balsamic over the Brussels sprouts, and it's ready to table. Serves 2-3

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Research or Writing, pick one...

So it begins: I have a good chunk of outline, a couple characters sketches, some research, and I'm just going to write this small section of the story in order to help figure out the plot. Right? No dstractions, just writing!

...close the browser...

Less than three hundred words later, "1911's come in single stack, right? I'm not crazy?"

*open browser, lose an hour to the siren song of online*

Close browser. Now I'm going to write!

Two paragraphs later "Is there any steel-core pistol caliber ammo?"

..lose ten minutes to searching...

No! I'll just ask the subject matter expert in the house!

"Love? Are there any steel-content bullets out there in pistol calibers? Is it feasible for them to be produced if you're prioritizing defennse rounds against fae?"

Mind you, asking my husband for help has temptations and distractions all its own...

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The difference between supplies and junk

Peter put up a post about thinning stuff down, and got a bit of pushback from his commentors about the drive to own less stuff. They have a valid point - that there are socialists trying to push communist no-private-ownership theory in the name of "saving the planet". What they miss, though, is that just because a red squirrel finds an acorn doesn't mean the acorn is communist... and the idea of acquiring and holding onto less stuff that you don't need goes straight back to Biblical advice. (The emphasis there was to focus on actions and words, thoughts and habits instead of on acquiring riches - completely different philosophy, and much wiser than communism.)

That said, one of the points they challenged Peter was "How does the no-piles-of-stuff goal square with being prepared for disasters?"

And that made me facepalm. There's a very simple, clear, and hard line that separates the two: inventory control.

In order for something to count as emergency (or non-emergency supplies), all parties involved must:

1.) Know that it exists
2.) Know where it is
3.) Be able to access it
4.) Find it in a usable condition.

For example, we have a few jerry cans of ethanol-free gas (No, they're not in the garage. They're in a remote shed.) We both know where they are, where the keys to the lock to access them are, can easily get them out, and they've been treated with stabilizer in order to be usable whether pouring into the lawnmower or into the vehicles. They're also rotated (usually by refilling the lawnmower.) These are extremely useful emergency supplies - well, everyday supplies for the lawnmower, but emergency for the vehicles or generator.

On the other hand, somewhere under a pile of something in the garage is a case of toilet bowl cleaner bottles that's already had a couple taken out. The last time I saw it was months ago, when I spent 4 hours digging through piles and pulling things out that had been stuck into the aisle under "I'll just stick this here" until the entire aisle was filled in. Since then, it's been moved... and so I just drive to the store and buy more toilet bowl cleaner, because it's not worth four hours, a couple bruises, and getting cut open on something to find the case again when I can get to the store and back in 20 minutes.

That case is now junk, useless and worse than worthless. I may know it exists, but I don't know where it is, and I can't get to it. So the money we spent, saying it was cheaper if we bought in bulk, is wasted, and the garage is more cluttered by its existence in there somewhere. It is now an active detriment in my life, filed firmly under "Your useless junk that's forcing us to park the vehicles out in the hailstorms, honey."

That is the difference. The big pantry has a couple shelves that I have to use a stepladder to reach, and am never going to use for everyday stock - because getting out a stepladder is a pain in the rear. Can those of you over 5'5" imagine having to do that every time you wanted to get the black pepper or garlic powder? (Everyone under 5'5" already understand this point. "Honey, I need your tall!" being a common kitchen cry in quite a few households.) So when Peter proposed using those shelves for emergency supplies, I was all in favour - it puts them out of the way, and yet easily inventoried and accessible when needed.

Keep this in mind when dealing with your spouse, your house, and your own supplies. And if you know that you've got stuff "in there somewhere?" Fix that, because trying to find stuff by flashlight when the power's out (and the heat or AC with it) and the wind is ripping shingles off the roof isn't going to get any easier.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

deviled eggs (with bacon grease)

While making this dish, I realized I was down to my last spoonful of bacon grease. I texted this sad state of affairs to a group of friends, so that they might have a chuckle... and less than seven minutes later, there was a knock on the door and Aepilot Jim was standing there with a tub of 5 pounds of bacon grease, so I could refill my jar. I have the best friends!

Deviled eggs (with bacon grease)

16 eggs (It's what my large pot easily holds.)

1/4 to 1/2 cup mayo
1 tsp mustard powder
1 Tbsp spicy brown mustard*
1 tsp Tabasco (or more, to taste)
1 Tbsp bacon grease
8 dill pickle slices, minced
1Tbsp pickle juice to thin the mix, if needed
1 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp salt (omit if using pickle juice to thin)

mesquite-smoked salt sprinkled on top
smoked spanish paprika sprinkled on top

Hard-boil your eggs, however makes you happiest, and shell them. Cut the eggs in half and dump all the yolks in a bowl, put eggs on your tray or paper-towel lined paper place, whatever.

Mash yolks until they're finely crumbled. Add everything else, mix well. When the only lumps left are the pickles, spoon into a sandwich bag, cut the tip of a corner off, and squeeze out the filling to fill each half an egg. Sprinkle the mesquite-smoked salt and paprika on top.

I prefer to make a day ahead, so I don't have to worry about it and they're ready to go when people come over for dinner. Also, lets the flavours meld and mingle.

*I actually have been using Fischer's Dusseldorf mustard, but any good spicy brown mustard will do