Thursday, December 29, 2011


Went to the airport today, and walked up to my airplane sitting under the bright blue sky. I checked the fuel and found a little water, checked the oil and found all was well, and did a thorough preflight. On the other hand, I haven't flown in two months, and the windsock was varying between straight out and hanging at twenty degrees away from the pole. It was straight down the runway - but the longer I go between flying, the less wind it takes to be too much.

So I didn't fly today - I'll check tomorrow, if the wind is calmer.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Following Tam and Daddybear's lead, in lieu of content, a list of common songs heard coming from my computer. Grabbed from the random playlist, because I don't keep tracking software on music.

1. The Eighth Square - The CruxShadows
2. WinterSouls - Diary of Dreams
3. Lucky One - Allison Krause and Union Station
4. Where Rainbows Never Die - The Steeldrivers
5. Wake of Magellan - Savatage
6. Leather - Tori Amos
7. We're in This Together - NIN
8. Rico - Angry Salad
9. Summer - Bel Canto
10. No Ordinary Morning - Chicane
11. Find You're Gone - Wolfsheim
12. Valkyrie (Rise of the Walcyrge - Dreamside Remix) - The Cruxshadows
13. Forever - Bruderschaft
14. Black Heart - Edge of Dawn
15. Ghosts of Mississippi - The SteelDrivers
16. Solitude - VNV Nation
17. Pray For Love - Edge of Dawn
18. Saltwater - Chicane
19. Thornes & Brambles - Abney Park
20. Vale of Plenty - Hanz Zimmer - Black Hawk Down Soundtrack

Yeah, if you were wondering, Calmer Half and I don't see ear to ear on music. Heck, what I consider folks in awesome clubbing fashion he thinks are a good sign that the gun should already be out and aimed, while looking for an exit. I'm never taking him clubbing on goth night, much less to a rave. Heck, I won't even bother dragging him to another bluegrass festival, not after the last time. (Long story.)

That's okay. He can rock out to Jethro Tull (ugh) that I bought for him for Christmas downstairs, and I can rock out to The Cruxshadows ("your horrid noise") that he bought for me for Christmas upstairs, and we'll both be happy.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

The solstice has come and gone, and each day from here brings not only a little more light, but the promise of warmth and summer to come. So, too, the birth of Christ brought us the hopes and promises of heaven, and a reminder that the world, for all it uncaring cruelty, is a passing thing compared to the love of God. As a Christian, I celebrate both in darkest midwinter, looking not at the darkness that surrounds me, but at the light and love that is, and is to come.

No matter your faith, I wish you the best in love and life, in luck and joy. I hope that with the turning of the wheel of seasons, the next year will be better for you, full of happy memories to be made, of life that is well-lived, and wonderful times with your kith and kin.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Notes for survivalists

Or, how to avoid irritating your wife.

NFO put up an excellent post a while ago about "they didn't have the green thing back in my day." Read it, and those of you who have been bitten by the survivalist bug, and fervently think about the end of the economic world coming soon, or the unleashing of the zombpocalypse, or what have you, here's some handy tips to avoid irritating your wife or significant other. Take them with humor, or eat them with some crow and your foot later.

1. "Emergency Survival Food Cache" is pronounced "pantry." Chances are, she already knows how much food is on hand, how long it lasts, how to make tasty meals with it even if the power goes out, and regularly rotates the stock. If you want to make her happy, help convert another storage space into a Backup Emergency Survival Cache for Use After Government or other Looters Confiscate Your Main One. This is pronounced "Extra pantry", or "root cellar."

2. Spices make bland food far more interesting. However, before rushing out to buy Costco-sized amounts of spices to use as trade goods, realize that it doesn't take much spice to flavor a dish, and that spices will get stale or rancid after a while. Instead of buying Bubba's All-Purpose Seasoning, or Trendy Cook's Favorite Spice Weasel Mix, pay attention to what spices actually are going into your everyday meals. Demanding a list of 10 spices, and then returning with far too much to fit into the spice cupboard - bad idea.

3. Do NOT go rooting through her chocolate cache. Rather, buy some chocolate. If she likes it, buy more. Trust me - she'll keep adequate quantities on hand to cope with trying times, like husbands going on a survivalist tear through her kitchen. Don't forget to buy more of her favorite alcohol, too.

4. If she doesn't can, do not buy canning jars and lids and hand them to her. Canning is hard work, hot, wet physical labor with boiling water and high potential for steam burns. If you think the problem is solved by simply buying the jars, prepare to have those jars shoved where the sun don't shine.

5. If you insist that she start packing heat, she won't. Every human walking the face of the earth today is a survivor - they have all survived so far by doing whatever they have done until this moment. To declare that they cannot survive unless they change their ways to what you want is contrary to their entire experience, demeaning, and insulting. Charm, cajole, invite - but do not insist or threaten.

6. Even if you are convinced that the signs of economic collapse / end of the world / black helicopters / rapture / zombpocalypse are everywhere, pointing each one out calmly is pronounced "nagging", and pointing them out with passion is pronounced "stark raving nuts." Even if she believes you, it is no more welcome than her mother's constant comments on how cute babies are followed with disapproving looks at your wife's flat stomach.

7. Very like canning, planting a garden is not a matter of throwing some seeds in the ground and waiting for the plants to produce bountiful harvests. It takes a lot of constant hard work spread over months. Do you have the time now? Will you have the time later? Money is no substitute for work, here, and you can spend more money putting in a raised-bed garden than you can remodeling a bathroom - with far less to show if you don't keep it up.

8. No matter how urgent The End appears to be, you have a budget. Realize that if you label them "survival goods", any money spent is indistinguishable to the uninterested spouse from money spent on any other hobby. Consider your budget, and the wrath of your spouse, accordingly.

9. No matter how much you want to start with the bug-out bag, start with something that actually has tangible impact on the likeliest emergencies. A pair of jumper cables, a blanket, a tire iron, a checklist of what to do if you get in an accident and one on how to change a tire, a can of fix-a-flat, a small first aid kit, a tow rope, a couple flares, and similar items in the trunk will make far more impact on your wife's belief that you are preparing for emergencies than bug-out-bags or sectioning the yard into fire zones with fallbacks.

10. Clean the bathroom. No, really. Nobody likes cleaning the bathroom, and you're asking your wife to put up with an expensive new hobby, lots of extra stuff, a lot of negative muttering, her soulmate and partner being pessimistic and ranty, and general disturbance in the domestic tranquility. If you want her to help you, start by helping her.

11. If the zompocalypse really is coming, then you need to actually fix your house and car now. Yes, I know it's easier to shove fifty boxes of lightbulbs in the closet, but really, now is the time to fix the toilet. If you're hoping the Even Greater Depression means you won't have to deal with that leaking toilet - no, it means your life savings aren't going very far with the water leak draining them away. So fix it now, before money becomes worthless. Besides, you know you'll never find a good replacement stove fan after the looters have been through HomeDepot, and if you think the black helicopters are bad, trying to clean the grease off every surface of an unvented kitchen after cooking bacon is worse.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Best Laid Plans

After Calmer Half had his heart attack, I researched extensively and changed how I cooked to help him. I put a lot of effort into finding tasty, heart-healthy, stomach-filling, good food. As he's battled to lose weight, I've tried to change the food to stay varied and tasty, and to accommodate whatever isn't supposed to be eaten now.

Once I started working 55 hours a week, he started grocery shopping, making dinner and packing the leftovers for lunch. We've had a few points to straighten out, but generally he's been working at making tasty meals and I've been enjoying them when wolfing down food on a short, usually late, lunch break, and before falling asleep on my feet in the evening.

Today, off work with a mere 43 hours worked this week and a good night's rest behind me, I stuck my head in the fridge to find the makings for food. Beyond an entire shelf's worth of fridge purely dedicated to condiments, I found:

4 packs of bacon, 2 opened.
9 packs/bricks of cheese, 4 opened.
1 package of sausage
1 package of lettuce, unopened for at least a week.
1 package of spinach, only used for my sandwiches
1 bunch of asparagus, unused for at least a week
The yogurts for my lunch
The remains of a case of beer (Clearly the housemate, not Calmer Half - wrong brand)

...You can teach all you want, but people from husbands to hoplophobes to angry young liberal arts majors are only going to learn if they want to.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Well, actually...

Two days ago, Calmer Half made a comment about my new sneakers being in need of a washing. And then went and washed them. This was a new concept to me; I've never washed shoes before. I just get them out of the box and wear them until they fall apart. While they were drying yesterday, I wore my older pair to work - sneakers that have survived several years, an aircraft restoration, cross-country trips, camping, shooting, work on other aircraft, civil war shoot, and all the other parts of life that I wasn't wearing boots for. They're halfway to falling apart, and I only keep them as a backup pair now.

I grinned at him and made a facetious comment about him washing the old sneakers, too. Note to self: don't bluff with Calmer Half. He doesn't bluff. This may explain... a lot of things, actually, including the way he gets dogs and dogs in human form to back off.

He came upstairs not that long later, and with a look somewhere between baffled and amazed, informed me that the water in the washing machine had turned black, and that the first wash had "left a tide-ring! What did you get on those shoes? Crude from the Exxon Valdez?"

I tipped back in my chair, frowning thoughtfully. "Well, actually... you know, if you go to any of the beaches where the spill happened, and dig down, you'll still find the crude. And I did go down to the shore and get a fair bit of mud on them when..." I was thinking in the parts-per-billion technicality, but I don't think that's how he took it, as he turned and went back downstairs with something that was either a huff or a sigh.

I so need to write a parody of "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under" for him. Hmm. "Whose plane have your shoes been under? Whose lathe have your shoes been under? And in which state I wonder? Did the cannon sound like thunder, baby?...." Gotta work on that.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Useful and beautiful

When I lived in Alaska, I had the great fortune to have a friend and former roommate who was not more talented mechanically as me, but also a genius at working in textiles. I can rib-stitch an airplane's wing together, but Jeannie - Jeannie can raise both eyebrows, make awesome Irish coffee for three, ponder, grin mischievously, check with a measuring tape, and turn some leftover fabric from making a beanbag chair into an awesome urban fantasy fairy outfit that will hold up to years of clubbing and parties... in time to go from "Hey, I guess I actually do have tomorrow off work, but I don't have anything to wear" to rocking the Halloween party.

She made the bridesmaid dresses for her own wedding, and it's one of the few dresses I keep as standby for future formal occasions. While I express my dreams in AN hardware fittings, she can turn a pair of jeans with a hole ripped in an unfortunate place into my prettiest pair of jeans I've ever owned with a butterfly embroidered on my behind (and a heavy-duty cloth patch inside, to protect against further countersunk screws.)

Now, you too can see what random projects come from her creative mind and hands - ok, the fabric ones at least, not the moose-proof garden fencing with the beautiful minimalist wooden frame, the shipboard-inspired doghouse, or the awesomely painted Warhammer miniatures, but you never know what she'll come up with or show you next.

So check it out!

Brainpower isn't scalable

This pretty well describes my job, although, I don't work for EDS.

However, I'm always running up against three limits: I lack the ability to forecast everything, the ability to know everything currently going on, and the ability to fix everything that has gone wrong. I use a lot of data tracking tools, some given by HQ, some inherited from others built for their needs, and some built from scratch for myself. I share a lot of data with my coworkers, and am working constantly to refine what data is useful to them immediately, and what data is useful for them to forecast their needs. I track a lot of data to try to build prediction models based on past history.

Here's the hardest part, the source of all my problems: math is merely a language we use to precisely describe the universe around us. It represents many precise things, some accurately - but it is not reality, merely the language we use to describe reality. For each number I deal with, there is a customer somewhere who wants something. And customers are people. For each number in the system, there are employees working to move product to that customer. Employees are people, too. I speak the language of math all day, in every tool, but the moment I forget that the entire systems is built by people, run by other people, for the benefit of yet more people, all the mathematical genius in the world will not save me. Every number I change represents people being told to do something - and there is no formula in the system that can turn an equation red to warn me I'm going to frustrate people, and frustrated people work more slowly. There is no tickybox I can check to improve morale, but improved morale will definitely show in more things happening faster. Mentoring shows as a slowdown in efficiency - a highly efficient person is doing less of their own work - but that slowdown pays off by greatly reducing error rates forever after down the line with the person mentored.

Now, I'm out with my people. I'm running - literally - around trying to account for all sources of critical or urgent (or critical and urgent) errors, and make sure that as the work scales, the errors will not scale correspondingly (or logarithmically). I'm answering questions from the newest employee trying to figure out his break time to the project manager wanting to know status on major department goals, while trying to actually do my job description. The more people we hire, though, the harder it gets to know all my people, and know all the problems, and anticipate what people will do.

But sooner or later, I'm going to hit the limits of my brainpower. You see, I'm human. I can only hold so many things in my mind at one time. I won't get smarter as the problems get bigger. I can delegate parts of problems, but delegation means training and trusting that a subordinate will know how to handle everything they're meant to, and when they're not meant to, and how to deal with the things they're not supposed to handle or fix themselves, and the consequences of taking initiative. That only works so well... I mean, Jesus chose twelve disciples, and one of them was a saboteur, one denied any affiliation, and ten ran from the pressure. If God incarnate in flesh couldn't find and train 12 people to do what he wanted, there's no hope I'll ever have a perfect team. The Catholic church claims direct apostolic inheritance, and we see how badly they've screwed up over the years. No matter how hard I try, sooner or later, I can't control it all, and if I try, I won't be able to respond fast enough... and no matter how hard I try, the customers are going to do whatever the customers want to do when they want to do it, and no plan can simultaneously keep us at top efficiency for lots of customer demand and little customer demand.

There's only one solution - and it's the long-term, time-intensive one. Train people to do the best job they can, educate them on the common errors and how to fix them, and then give them incentives to work as hard as they can, while getting out of the way and letting them thrive. No matter how seductive the statistics, no matter how simple the mathematical solutions seem to be, it's not numbers or turtles all the way down, it's people... and that's why we have to put our money on Adam Smith's invisible hand(1), on free-market and free will, not command and control.

(1)"But it is only for the sake of profit that any man employs a capital in the support of industry.... As every individual, therefore, endeavours as much as he can... to employ his capital... that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it... By directing... industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intentions. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it."

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Separate Peace

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Calmer Half and I had declared an armistice on our few domestic battles, and were on the road together. Does taking a vet to lunch count when it's my own dearest man?

Every few weeks, I get a desire to be up and gone - not running away from my home, my life, my work, my marriage, or my friends, but just a desire to be up and out on the road, in the air, flying free. Calmer Half knows the symptoms well, from the first time he woke up from a nap to find I'd wandered out the door and ended up in Vicksburg. (Alaskan Geek and Call To Wings could have warned him about that, from times we've headed out on a random drive that ended up climbing a mountain on the way to get coffee, or driving to Girdwood for ice cream, or Seward for dinner...)

Usually he just smiles and wishes me to be careful as I head out the door with headset and plane keys in hand - but today, I didn't want to fly away so much as to tackle a new direction together with him. So we were on the road, talking of novels and pointing out the fall color, and went to a different city just to see their zoo, which was small and didn't take long. After he had a healthy turkey sandwich and I had a grilled cheese sandwich, we satisfied the vague curiosity I'd had since first learning to read billboards out the car window, and finally saw Ruby Falls. Well, I went down and saw the underground waterfall (which is impressive, and the lightshow is beautiful, but I wanted to short out the mood-music speakers). Calmer Half decided he didn't want to walk a mile underground on uneven and slippery rocks and concrete patches, and instead climbed the tower to truly see the view of Lookout Mountain. We reunited for coffee and chocolate muffins on the porch, and then drove home.

It was a wonderful date, and a lovely little road trip, with few spectacular sights and lots of peace, love and contentment - and completely boring as that is to you, dear reader, by the scars and the shrapnel still embedded in my love, these are the precious moments. After all the guns are silent, the recoverable dead are buried, the burned ruins and overlooked mines a continent away... one of my goals in life is to make a marriage that is everything he hoped and dreamed of living for in the quiet moments between the firefights.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

random thoughts

I know, I owe several posts and plenty of pictures. Calmer Half already chased me off to bed, so they'll come another day. Not tomorrow, if I don't get to sleep soon.

The 10 year old boy in photo above has a new life goal, announced to his dad as he scarfed a burger: he wants this growth spurt to get him tall enough to reach the rudder pedals. If ever someone could grow by determination alone...

I need to teach him how to safety wire. Otherwise, he's pretty much set for changing the oil in a plane.

After trying to give rides to at least half the people I wanted to in Alaska, flying with spare parts and worldly goods to Tennessee, and giving rides to at least half the people I want to here, I finally took myself up tonight with no passenger, no baggage, and half tanks (two people were busy, and one didn't answer his phone.) It was like my first solo all over again. She climbs like a homesick angel when lightly loaded, and runs fast and far. I missed time alone with her.

The laptop has anti-cat protection. When a loose bunny hopped onto the keyboard with legs splayed, it locked itself down. That rocks, although Gremlin will find a way to defeat it.

The first rabbit has arrived. It is, strangely enough, not a meat rabbit, but a young classroom pet that needed a new home. We may not name it Snack. The meat rabbits will arrive soon "to keep it company." Does anyone else hear Beethoven's Fifth in the background?

Ok, bed for real, or I'll spend all of tomorrow running on caffeine and forward momentum, for fear of falling asleep should I sit down.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gateway Rabbits

County fairs suck people in with the promise of funnel cakes and ferris wheels, giant stuffed animals to be won in rigged games, parades, tractor pulls, and demolition derbies. But there's a powerful lobby at work, too - if it weren't so open and blatant, it'd be a great conspiracy. Head into those huge buildings - no, not the ones where people are hawking candles and or stainless steel cookingware, but the one that's full of displays attended by people who love to tell you about their passion. You'll learn a lot - but every time you take a risk and talk to a person, you run perilously close to being infected with their enthusiasm.

I've seen perfectly healthy and sane people come back from county fairs with drop-spindles and unspun wool. I've seen people come back and immediately start reorganizing the basement or garage with wood blanks, or go hiking into the bush looking for diamond willows to cut into staves and canes. Worse are the blacksmiths - once you start down that road, only being forcibly moved from your tools and forge, or life-threatening illness, can change your course.

But worse than all of those are the barns. Yes, the barns, full of proud 4H and FFA kids, who are absolutely bursting with information and persuasion about how incredibly awesome their pig or their cow is, and you should come see why this one is clearly the best ever... What snobbish defensive delight in hip urban cool could ever hold up to an ecstatic kid showing off their goat?

My housemate likes chickens even less than me (he won't eat them at all, where I eat them out of a pleasant sense of vengeance. By the scars on my hand and the memories of a chicken named Bloody Mary, I swear revenge is a dish best served steaming hot with a side of garlic bread.) Between that and the way Calmer Half is not inclined to have animals beyond dogs or cats, I figured that my attempt to grow a garden this year was about as far into suburban homesteading as we would go.

My housemate went into the barns at the county fair, and came back talking about meat rabbits. They're quiet. They're relatively easy to care for. The rinds and cores of vegetables now going into the compost pile could make a side-trip through the rabbits and come out more compost-ready, having grown meat on the way. Processing is feather-free and relatively easy. What do we think?

Months went by, and this was not forgotten. The Housemate's girl is in FFA. She needs a project. So... meat rabbits. I am not convinced a teenager will come by to care for them often enough. I am not convinced that rabbits, being hard to sex and easy to breed, won't become a lot more rabbits than planned. I am not convinced that they aren't a cute, furry gateway drug - and if we start tearing out the useless shrubbery and replacing it with edible and useful plants, or you find Calmer Half and Housemate in the back yard knocking together boxes for square foot gardening, then you'll know we're well past saving and don't want to be rescued anyway.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Living Free

Kevin at The Smallest Minority often posts multi-thousand word posts, with heavy linking and footnoting where appropriate, to intelligently consider and debate the present, the past, and the future. This one he simply linked to, without words - and though it includes a video of a plane crash, it does so in the context of thoughtful, rational debate, and in respect and honor. I recommend watching it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bacon - not just for vegetarians

Bacon is a gateway drug with a power that reaches far beyond converting vegetarians to meat eaters. It's also the downfall of heart-healthy households...

Balsamic-Herb Marinated Strawberries with Peppered Mascarpone and Crisp Bacon

1/2 pound bacon for the recipe, plus more for lossage while cooking due to... quality testing.
8 oz mascarpone cheese
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper (freshly ground!)
15 fresh strawberries (see above note about increasing for lossage), chilled in fridge.
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp fresh basil, chopped fine
1 tsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine (optional)

Cut the bacon into 1/4-in wide strips. Saute until crispy, drain well.
In a bowl, mix the mascarpone and pepper until evenly distributed, transfer to a ziplock bag. (Or a pastry bag, if you have one of those fancy things.) Stick in fridge.
Trim the green end off the strawberries and slice 'em in half, gently toss with vinegar, basil, and (optional) parsley. (Another large ziplock bag makes this pretty easy and low-mess.) Lay strawberries out on serving tray. Cut a corner off the ziplock with the cheese (or use the pastry bag as directed), and pipe the cheese on the strawberry halves. Garnish with bacon.

Makes 30 appetizers, which is never enough until you're too full for dinner, because, well, strawberries. and sweet cheese. and Bacon!

Do NOT ask for a calorie or cholesterol count after eating.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Home Again, with a good book!

The last couple weeks, I haven't had time or energy to think after work - so I saved a book I've been wanting to read until the time to kill between the layovers and flights on the way home.

If you haven't gotten Mike Williamson's Rogue yet, I highly recommend you pick it up. It's a book with more layers than a fabulous mixed drink - in plot, it's a chase and an action novel across four planets, with tensions and explosions, hair-raising and stand-up-and-cheer moments. It's also a very thoughtful, emotionally wrenching look into the minds and hearts of people who've been there, done that, don't want to talk about it, and don't know how to find their way back. Woven into this is a satire on the strengths and weaknesses of different cultures, and plenty of humor. If nothing else, you've got to see how he finally settles the game of Clue!

The only bad part? I finished it before I ran out of layovers and flights!

Off to do shopping, because a couple weeks away is enough time for men to reduce the well-stocked fridge to a few inedible leftovers and condiments...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Old Books!

The British Library is releasing some of their old, rare artifacts as scanned ebooks!

One of William Blake's journals, one of Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks... Squee! They don't have much up yet, and they're not yet supporting kindle - but it's things like this that sometimes make me love the internet!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Say that again?

When searching for a phrase to accurately and quickly apply to a situation, I don't always censor for origin. Fortunately, neither my new management nor my coworkers recognized the following phrases that I used when being interviewed or training /motivating them.

1. Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.
2. Two is one, and one is none.
3. "Hey, it's all in how you look at life! You look out there and see a horde of undead brain-eating zombies. I see a target-rich environment."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New job

I am very grateful for a new job.

I am also out of state at training, and verra verra tired after work. Expect posting to resume when I get a handle on the job, and it either ceases to be like trying to herd ferrets... or until I get back in the ferret-herding groove.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Legumes and Heresy Chili

Look, I know the Chili Has No Beans(tm) debate, and it has its good points - but when you're stretching a tight budget, beans are a whole lot cheaper than meat, and provide their own tastiness in the meal. When I feel flush in the cash reserves and optimistic about the economy, I'll make a no-bean chili (see me after November 2012, and I'll still put you off for a few months until we can judge someone by the content of their character, and their actions.)

Until then, Cheerfully Heresy Chili

1 pound ground beef
2 medium onions, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 Tablespoon olive oil (optional if your ground beef is fatty)

1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 Tablespoon chipotle chile powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 can tomato paste
1 can diced tomatoes with jalepenos
1 can diced tomatoes (plain)
2 cups red wine
1/2 teaspoon white sugar, if the wine is dry

1 can kidney beans, drained & rinsed - or 1 cup dry beans, soaked and cooked
1 can black beans, drained & rinsed - or one cup dry beans, soaked and cooked

The night or day before, soak the kidney and black beans in about 6 cups water. (Soak at least 6-8 hours). Drain, rinse, put in a pot with at least 6 cups water, NO SALT. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for roughly an hour - may take an hour and a half for kidney beans. Or drain and rinse a can each. More expensive by far, but far less time-consuming.

Saute the onions and burger. When the burger is browned, add the garlic and cumin seeds, and saute until the garlic's browned, too - doesn't take long. Add the spice mix and stir for a few seconds, until everything is coated. (If you don't have cumin seeds, add a teaspoon of ground cumin here).

Add the can of tomato paste, and stir it in. Stuff should be sticking to the bottom of the pan - dump in the undrained cans of diced tomatoes, and deglaze (scrape the tasty browned bits off the pan bottom) with the juices. Add in the wine, stirring well. If cooking with something sweet, you'll have enough sugar to cut the tomato acidity - if dry, add the sugar.

Stir some more, add beans, stir a little more. When it starts to simmer, turn the heat to low, and put a lid on so it keeps cooking but doesn't splatter. Stir every now and then, but mostly let it simmer to itself for at least twenty minutes. Which, coincidentally, is the amount of time it takes for rice to cook, and allows for time to make the salad and set the table, too!

Like a good tomato sauce, it'll get better and better as you let it simmer and blend - if you want to let it reach proportions of awesomeness, make this before work (beware tomato sauce splatters!), stick it in a crockpot on low, and let it create food alchemy all day.

Serves 6, when served with rice/pasta/potato, and salad - garnishes might include, but are not limited to, a little shredded cheddar, sour cream (or Greek yogurt, for a healthier substitute), or salsa.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11

You can hurt us. You can get a sucker punch in. You can try to trample us down. You can try to control us, in the name of safety, security, Allah, Climate Change, or whatever rationale you choose...

To hell with you. We're still flying free, celebrating our freedom however we feel like.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Challenging Hunger (Sausage Stroganoff)

The 2011 Hunger Challenge is going to kick off at some point, with all the breast-beating and moaning about "raising awareness" of the plight of those who mooch food stamps off hard-working taxpayers and bitch about wanting more of their "rights" from "the guvmint." During the challenge, a bunch of disorganized people, especially bloggers, will try to feed themselves for $4.72/day, possibly even for a week, while setting up a bunch of arbitrary rules like "no free samples or food bought by friends!"

Which only proves that they're idiots. If you're truly hungry, you take food anywhere you can get it. If you're going to be short on cash for a long time, you get smart about acquiring and preparing food for the least amount of cash for the most amount of tasty calories. If you're whining about how you'll have to starve an entire day while the office holds a buffet, and can't have any coffee because a mocha costs too much, you're not hungry enough.

By the way, that $4.72/day represents the amount you get for food stamps alone, which are supposed to supplement your food budget, not replace it. Whining idiots.

As for the inanity and insanity that feeding yourself is impossible for less than five dollars a day, let's look at the true cost of breakfast.

1 Box Aldi's store brand bran flakes: $2.50
Sevings per box: 18
Cost per serving: $0.14

1 Gallon store brand Vit D milk: $2.89
Cups per gallon: 16
Cost per cup: $0.19

Cost for a bowl of cereal: $0.33

Let's try this again with a heartier breakfast like two eggs and a bowl of grits - a better breakfast if you're going to be on the run, and want the calories.

Eggs: $1.28/dozen = $0.22 for 2 eggs
Grits: $3.40/box with 14 servings = $0.25/serving

Cost for two eggs and about half a cup of cooked grits = $0.47

Either way, breakfast costs less than fifty cents. You could have that for all three meals and not break $1.50 - but we're moving on to lunch.

My Housemate goes through a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a 3-lb bag of apples a week. ($1.82, $1.79, and $3.49 respectively, as we buy a name-brand bread)
This means over 5 days, his lunches cost $1.42 a working day.

Last night, I felt lazy, and cooked from prepared ingredients, making dinner a little more costly than usual. Balancing this, I was testing out some bratwurst found on sale. And no, I'm not going to be idiot enough to make stupid rules like "Use the full price if you bought it on sale." You know what? If it had cost full price, I wouldn't have bought it. I'd be using a different meat bought on sale, a meatless dish, hunted meat, or really darned good cow that I personally eyed before its death and feel is worth every penny I paid to farmer and processor.

So, Bratwurst Stroganoff
1. Start water boiling for rice - one cup water per person, to which you'll add a little salt and 1/2 cup rice when it boils, cover and turn down to simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat when done, even if the rest of dinner isn't finished yet.(3 servings = $0.57 cents)
2. Dump bratwurst in pan. Set to medium-high. (0.89 cents)
3. Roughly chop an onion. Add to pan. ($0.25)
4. Stir to ensure sausage browns, and onions saute in bratwurst grease.
5. Add a little paprika. Contemplate, and add more to taste. Add a dash of black pepper, and some garlic. ($0.02)
6. Add one can mushrooms, drained. Let everything brown some more. ($0.59)
7. When everything well browned, deglaze with one can mushrooms, undrained. Look in fridge, shrug, and add half a cup of white wine, as well. ($0.59 and $0.60)
8. Add can of condensed cream of mushroom soup. ($0.69)
9. Stir, set lid on, turn to low, and let bubble to itself. Clean up everything, set table.
10. Pull bag of spinach out of freezer, dump in bowl, add a little water, and microwave by directions. ($2.20)

By the time the spinach is done, the sausage stroganoff has melded together, the rice will be long done, and the table is set for dinner. Serves 3 for $6.40, or $2.13 each, and you'll likely have leftovers.

That's a day's meals for $3.89 to $4.03, depending on breakfast, and accounting for an expensive unusual ingredient - wine - in my dinner. You'd have to have two more bowls of cereal to even get to the $4.72 the government extracts from me at gunpoint and gives to others in the form of food stamps.

This wasn't even a "I'm feeling tight budget" day, this was a "let's try this on-sale meat to see if I should stock up in the freezer with more" day. For tight budget times, I have lots of beans and rice recipes that'll keep body and soul together.

I'm in favor of young people out on their own starving every now and then - if you don't grow up learning to save, budget, cook, and clean up after yourself, the inevitable realization that paying all the bills leaves less than $20 to feed yourself for a week is the slap in the face by reality that forces the thoughtless to become thoughtful, and start to take the painful steps toward being responsible for themselves.

I'm not opposed to safety nets, but I am opposed to ones extracted from me by force and presented as a "right" to people who feel entitled to take it and demand more instead of accepting responsibility and getting back on their own two feet. If you're making Stroganoff, you're not hungry enough to really feel motivated to spend less elsewhere, or jump for something that'll bring in more food on the table.

Therefore, based on this experiment, I meet the hunger challenge and prove that really, the government should cut food stamps by at least $2.00/day.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

These Are My People

If the last four days had gone by any faster, you'd still be hearing the sonic booms.

Traveled down to Dragon*Con with Oleg Volk and Michael Z. Williamson. The oversocialization the weekend before with Tam's GunBlogger Meetup was merely inoculation for plunging into 35,000+ geeks and gamers in four hotels.


A few blocks away, we started seeing people in costume, and stranger for me, people I knew. Except they weren't. In a small pool of geek, nerd, goth, gamer, otaku, and dork, everybody is an individual. In a large enough crowd, body types and hair styles are sterotypes, not an individual. All weekend, I kept turning around and seeing old roommates, housemates, gaming group partners, friends... and they weren't the people I knew, but they sure looked and acted alike. It was like meeting thousands of your old friends, who turn out to be new friends instead. Yes, these are my people.

I met a lot of awesome folks, including Larry Correia (who is an awesome gentleman, as well as a New York Times best-selling author), Howard Tayler of Schlock Mercenary and Writing Excuses, Dan Wells of great horror fiction like I Am Not A Serial Killer and the Writing Excuses podcast, Julie Cochrane who wrote several Posleen War books with John Ringo, John Ringo and his absolutely wonderful wife... so many authors I've lost track, and even the editors of Baen Books! (Okay, some geeks really want to meet the actors of Firefly. Me, I really like meeting the editors and authors. I may be a dork, but I'm a happy one!) Not to mention all the really cool people from the internet in the flesh! (Thanks, Ryan! You are awesome!)

And then there was dinner at the Brazilian Steak House. I think I'm still full! The only thing that kept me from falling into a meat coma was the concert later that night.

After 10 years in Alaska, with almost no concerts since I moved there, Sunday night moved into Monday morning with Jefferson Starship opening for the Cruxshadows, and I had more fun than my tired mind has words to express. After all, y'all probably are looking for something more profound than SQUEE!

Monday, despite being bathed in rain and sweat from the heat and humidity, we got people off to the airport on time, and out on the road in time to drive through the remnants of a tropical storm. While the drive itself was long and rainy, there are worse fates than being in a car with Mad Mike and Oleg Volk, both of whom are great guys. Though I think my water bottle is still in Mike's van - good excuse to visit in Indianapolis, eh?

Life is good, and I definitely have to bring Calmer Half next time.

Hey! If you like good scifi, go buy Mike's book Rogue! It comes out today, and sales in the first week drive the New York Times bestseller list - now only is he a great guy, but also a great author!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why Not?

Sometimes, life will hand opportunities to you that you weren't expecting, had no plans for, and aren't quite sure what to do with, but know they definitely interfere with your set plans.

Sometimes, these are the stuff that memories for a lifetime are made from. I certainly wasn't looking for a partner when I was introduced to Calmer Half. I wasn't looking for my plane when I met her. I didn't expect to fly her down to the Lower 48 right after her wings went on and were rigged - at least, not for the first two years I was rebuilding her.

So, when I had to go a couple states away to deal with a paperwork snafu in person, it wasn't that much further to go see my brother and his family - and given life happened and the road trip was pushed back a week, it was just as easy to go a few hours further out and make it to the blogmeet in Broad Ripple. Which was awesome!

So, back home - cleaning up my house, cleaning up a friend's house, cooking, trying to not chew my nails to the quick waiting on word when the start date for the new job will be... and today, the opportunity comes up completely randomly to go to Dragoncon.

Well, why not?

So I'll be headed down with Oleg Volk and Michael Z Williamson.

This oughta be fun!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Oh, hi!

Funny thing, I go on a road trip culminating in a blog meet and get thoroughly oversocialized, and now I feel guilty because I've been too busy on a road trip and cleaning up the house to get a blog post up about the blogmeet. Do me a favor and go over to Home On The Range, who's on the sidebar, and read her post. She's linked to everybody, with a great set of pictures, so y'all can read about the fun there! (Because Brigid is thirty-seven flavors of awesome, including the nutty one of secret squirrel).

Right. Um. Let me finish making a new DIY dog bed to replace the ratty, stinky old one, paying the bills, and mopping the floor, and I'll get to the blog three days late and a dollar short.

Speaking of bills, I'm contemplating doing "the hunger challenge" this year - you know, the self-righteous feel-good guilt-tripping-for-liberals idiocy that's supposed to "raise awareness" of how food stamps aren't enough money for farmer's markets and brie, and the poor starving masses that weigh twice what I do and have better cars and brand new sneakers are supposed to get more of my money extracted at gunpoint by the IRS. Mainly I'm interested in the snark, because the food bill for this month works out to roughly $5/person/day already, so if I could cut that to $4.77, I'll be "starving for a good cause!" ... if you call homemade beef stew with sirloin tips and syrah, fresh-baked bread, corn chowder with roasted poblanos, fish tagine, spicy beef kabobs, creamy polenta with roasted red pepper coulis, spinach frittata, scalloped potatoes and the like starving, not to mention the amount of ice cream, peanuts, and chocolate sauce this place goes through.

Clearly, if I can squeeze the food budget by a buck a day more, by dropping some of the feta, the ice cream sandwiches, the shrimp, possibly even cutting my wasabi-pea habit, we'll be starving. Awesome! If I'm starving, clearly I won't have to go to the gym, and the weight will magically come off!

Yeah, right. Back to reality and paying the bills, and the floor that still needs mopped, because there are no such thing as rainbow-farting magical wish-granting unicorns, and the marxist in chief keeps making my food bills rise while insisting there's no inflation.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

What's a good answer?

As we rambled through the World War II section of the Air Force Museum, my niece pointed at a plane. "Daddy! Daddy! What is that?"
My brother folded down to preschooler eye level. "You mean the metal above the wheel?"
"No! That!"
"Do you mean the wheel?"
"No! That!" She stabbed her finger out again, waving in the vicinity of the wheel.
"That's a chock, honey. That's to keep the airplane from rolling away."
She stomped a foot, face screwed up in a scowl. "That's stupid! They should use ropes, like you do!"


"See this? These long ones running the length of the wing are spars. And these ones running front to back are ribs."
"Airplanes have ribs? Are they ticklish, too?"

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Have you read

So, the top 100 NPR sciFi/Fantasy Books. Frankly, a lot of things I liked better weren't in here, which shouldn't be a surprise - after all, it's listed by NPR. Michael Z Williamson's Freehold and related books in the series are anathema to them, much less the sheer fun of Larry Correia! They also missed a lot of good military scifi from Weber and Drake, and a lot of good fantasy by Charles deLint, Jane Yolen, Emma Bull, Charles Stross, and Joan D. Vinge!

Bolded are the ones I've read, and italicized are the ones I picked up and just couldn't finish. Or hated, and wouldn't recommend even if I finished. Did you notice how any of these are movies or cartoons, tv shows or musicals? How many do you think have been read as opposed to watched by the voting audience?

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert
5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
6. 1984, by George Orwell
7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson
15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore

16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
22. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
25. The Stand, by Stephen King

26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

28. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings
42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson (only the first one so far, but I like it! Will finish as funds permit!)
44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven
45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
49. Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
50. Contact, by Carl Sagan
51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
54. World War Z, by Max Brooks
55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen R. Donaldson yech! Do Not Recommend!
59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett

61. The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
70. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson - need to read this.
72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne
73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
74. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

77. The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey Do Not Recommend
78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire The musical was better
81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher

87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock - Stopped after one
91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
96. Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gloom is not synonymous with doom

I had a beautiful summer day, but no one wanted to go flying with me - Calmer Half is still recovering from getting cut on by the doc, Awesome Farmer was busy moving a tractor and fixing things, and Line Guy was busy working, and busy after work. Housemate wanted to, but he was exhausted from a week of work - so he took a nap first. The nap stretched til 5:30 in the afternoon, when I had dinner already cooking, and house chores I was doing.

After a dinner of red beans and rice, we headed out to the airport (over 20 miles away.) The FBO was already closed, as they go home at 7, and the sun was a mere handspan over the horizon. In Alaska, this means we have anywhere from 2 to 3 hours of usable dusk - not so much here in the sunny south, where they think it's proper for August to be the hottest month of the year.

By the time we had checked the airplane thoroughly, discussing the whys and wherefores of the engine, and taxied to mag check, the sun was finger-widths above the horizon, and dropping fast. We climbed into golden air, smooth as silk and all the haze aglow with honeyed sun. Below, shadows streaked indigo and violet across the land, and the river was a tracery in deep shades of purple and blue as night rose from the eastern horizon and the land below to the still-lit sky.

We turned around, and by the time I was in downwind, the instrument panel was getting hard to read, the runway lights were shining like stars, and the headlights of a car parked by a plane cast long beacons across the ramp. I sank into dusk and landed, amazed that the air was so smooth it barely seemed possible that a 7-knot wind was blowing, and taxied to the tie-down.

All the way home, Housemate and I discussed the questions that came to mind during the flight, and what I felt I could have done better. Among other things, I think next time we skip dinner and eat afterward - from daylight to deep dusk was a mere fourteen minute flight.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham

Scalloped Potatoes for hungry people

5 or 6 potatoes, peeled & thinly sliced (you know, this is one of those times you use that other side of the square cheese grater)
1 chopped onion
1 cup chopped ham
1/2 cup grated cheese (I used pepper jack) or 2 Tablespoons Parmesan
2 cloves chopped garlic (1 Tablespoon, roughly)
3 Tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 can vegetable or chicken broth (roughly 2 cups)
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise (NOT Miracle Whip)
Breads crumbs

Grease a casserole dish, and preheat the oven to 325.
Slice your potatoes thinly, and chop your onions and ham. Layer or mix these in the pan as you please (I stuck the onions and ham in the middle for tasty surprise, and sliced the last three potatoes on top.)If you're working with red or yukon gold potatoes, you might even leave the delicious skin on. Add the cheese to the top of this.

If you have stale bread, pulse it in a food processor (or put it inbetween a folded clean towel and pound it with a hammer) to make bread crumbs. If you have seasoned bread crumbs, do not add salt to the upcoming roux. Set aside.

In a saucepan, heat the butter, and saute the sliced/minced garlic. Add the 1/4 cup flour, rosemary, salt, and black pepper, stir well until all the butter is absorbed into the roux. Let it cook a little while, stirring constantly, until the roux starts to turn a dark ivory color. Add the chicken broth slowly, stirring to incorporate, and add the 2 tablespoons of mayo. Mix, stirring, until thick and bubbly. Pour it over the potatoes, onions, and ham, and then sprinkle the crumbs and paprika over the top.

Cover with aluminum foil and cook for 20 minutes at 325F, then remove the cover and cook it 10 more minutes. (If you chopped your potatoes not-so-thinly, stretch out the covered cooking time another 5-10 minutes)

Serve with a nice green vegetable, like broccoli or brussel sprouts, that'll go well with the cheesy sauce from the scalloped potatoes.

Should serve 10, but probably only serves 4-6; It tends to evaporate around hungry people.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Three Flights

The thunderstorm had barely rumbled on to the east and rain stopped falling when I led the motley crew out to my plane. Well, via the community hangar - My housemate's freshly-ten-years-old boy was super-excited to show his father the Focke-Wulf in the community hangar, and I was happy to distract them while the isolated cell put a bit more distance between the airport and us.

While the boy went directly to the airplane in camo and iron crosses, my housemate stopped in his tracks to stare at the beautiful black, red, and yellow Citabria gleaming under the lights. He's had a ride in one before, and for all the disparaging remarks he makes about hanging from the straps when inverted while 40-year-old dust falls out of the floorboards and up your nose, there was nothing of that in his face as he looked at the lady sitting pretty on her tailwheel and daring him to fly. His daughter, too, was far more distracted by the Citabria, and they walked around, examining it and giving her a beautiful fabric reality to her dad's stories of flight. My Calmer Half, who was uninclined to fly that day, was more interested in the Cherokee undergoing maintenance, but let himself be the interested audience dragged along for the boy's excited exclamations and explanations.

As we headed out to the airplane, the boy was highly excited, the girl was interested in a "well, this is better than fighting with my brother for which game on the wii" sort of way, and my housemate had ceased to pay any attention to us at all, as his eyes and hands were on my full-scale non-remote-control rag and tube airplane.

After a thorough preflight, I decreed I'd take my housemate up first, with the coolest air and the least amount of fuel. The rest of the gang trooped back to the FBO, and a man who makes a 1911 look like a small gun in his paws tried to figure out how to fold into the airplane. Once he managed to get buckled in, I slid in next to him, and pulled the checklist off the top of the instrument panel. He adjusted his left knee so it wasn't blocking the mixture, and started to laugh when he saw that I'd condensed all my checklists onto a single laminated sheet. The windsock was hanging limp, the asos reporting calm winds - but a faint breeze was coming from the south, and I never take a tailwind. Besides, with the full asphalt runway in front of us, even at almost gross weight, we managed to climb high enough to safely rock the wings as we passed everyone standing outside the FBO.

After I'd rocked the wings, I belatedly remembered the good advice to never make seemingly-drastic moves with new passengers on board, and looked over, worried, at my housemate. He grinned back like a boy who's just managed to pull off a dirt bike stunt, and I figured he wasn't going to be too upset. We headed southeast, toward the speedway. When I turned control over, the grin disappeared into a frown of concentration. In a long-ago epoch of B.C. [Before Children], he used to catch rides quite often in airplanes - and after a couple decades away, he was having difficulty holding it straight and level. After turning the controls back over and watching two cars doing laps on the speedway, the grin came back.

The battling duo decided on the next passenger, and the girl won. After fueling, we took off - and with her, I remembered to ask if she wanted the wings rocked. She was completely emphatic at not wanting to take the controls at any point, and I was quite worried that she didn't like it - until we headed west and I started pointing out things she knew, like I-40 and the Cumberland River. "Cool!" She was excited and taking cell phone pictures, especially when she spotted her high school. We circled for a bit, then headed back, and I reminded myself that she hadn't wanted to take the controls of the truck after turning 16, either. I'll have to talk to her father about how to win her over to wanting to take the wheel, as I know she likes racing around on the farm in the four-wheeler (and coming back splattered in mud.)

The boy was last, and if least in weight and age, definitely not in excitement. He'd been looking forward to this for the last two weeks, and was split between playing with his birthday present binoculars and taking the controls. We went north over the Cumberland's winding river, and he got to look down at plenty of people floating, fishing, and skiing along its channels. By the time we flew, the sun had come out enough to grow thermals, and he spotted a bird that was all black but for light tan chevrons near the tips of its wings, riding the thermal along with us.

Coming back, I tied down as the others came out to meet us, and then piled into the air conditioning while I paid for fuel. The line guy who'd pumped my fuel as I'd explained to the kids that his job was a great one for finding ways to trade time for flying was behind the counter. He gave me a big grin, and recklessly plunged in. "So, if I pay for gas, can I go flying with you sometime?"

You never accomplish anything if you don't try - and it's better to ask than to wish you had! How could I turn him down, especially after I'd pointed out to the teenagers that this is how you get rides? So I grinned, and we roughly coordinated schedules. Next weekend, weather permitting, I'll swing through the airport and see if he's up for a ride.

Once home, the girl was more interested in getting the lawn mowed in exchange for pizza for dinner, and hanging out with her boyfriend (who seems torn between his love for a WWII M1, and his young love for the girl - and happy that her father encourages the former and tolerates the latter). The boy was totally engrossed in playing a World War II aces games on the wii (to occasional cries of "You just shot down your own bomber, son!"). And their father, inbetween working on the recalcitrant boat motor (worthy of a saga like Adaptive Curmudgeon's on his tractor), was the one muttering "I like the lines of that Taylorcraft. You know, she's a sweet little airplane. Damnit, you did a bad, bad thing. You've got the flying bug back in my head again!"

Calmer Half retreated to the cool of the basement, where the old black lab had also decided that being underfoot for testing a boat motor wasn't nearly as interesting as stretching out under an air conditioning vent and trying to summon treats by her pathetic looks alone. My husband may seem relatively calm and deceptively mild, but his eyes sparkled with wit as he waited like a jaguar in a tree until both Housemate and I were in range, and proposed selling the plane under an installment plan of free rent for a few years - and waited to see which of us threatened him first.

A good day.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Not Applicable?

Not everything fits into neat boxes in life. This is a problem, when those neat boxes are the gatekeepers to getting a job. How do I explain "No, really, I haven't collected any unemployment, I'm not a lazy layabout, I've just moved twice, gotten married, finished restoring a '41 Taylorcraft and flown it four thousand miles across the country between the last time I was punching a time clock on an 8-5 with a regular W2 and now? (Not that the last one was 8-5, but anyway?)"

Sigh. I think I'm going to indulge the inner child who's glaring in puzzled bafflement at the job apps and go clean the house and do laundry, so I can feel like I was productive and got something done today. Then back to being in a maze of twisty job apps, all alike, hoping I don't find a Grue...

Monday, August 1, 2011

First Flight Grin

Note to self: when you put a boy on top of an Oregon Aero cushion and a PFD cushion, and stick a horse blanket behind his back so he's comfy and can see over the instrument panel, there is no real way to get the shoulder harness straps short enough to work. Must eyeball the setup and see if I can fix that before next flight with precious cargo/copilot.

Note to self II: Do not propose where you'll go until you've gotten up and can see the weather north of the airport.

Note to self III: Wearing shooting muffs so he can't communicate, perched on top of a stack of stuff, hazy day, unable to go north to the farm due to low ceilings... none of it matters. Look at this picture and stop worrying about it.

Note to self IV: Weather permitting, next trip is to see Dad's house, and the farm, in that order. Because we all know there's gonna be a next trip. And he's too young to demand gas money, does too well at his chores and in school to hold a flight out as a bribe... aw, I'll leave those negotiations up to his father, anyway. Well, maybe I'll demand to get to fly his RC airplane. Or some doves and rabbits when the seasons open. There's a new meaning to will fly for food...

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Weather doesn't matter sometimes

Last night, a certain 9 year old boy's father looked at me, thoughtfully, and asked, "You know, a passenger doesn't really need to talk in order to fly. And if they're just being a passenger, I bet we could put a pair of shooting muffs on him, and it'd be good enough to protect his hearing. He wouldn't have to wait until we got a second headset for the plane, would we?"

And I thought about it, and nodded. "Sure. We wouldn't communicate well, but it wouldn't keep him from flying. We could do that."

The gentleman paused, and slowly asked, in an all-too-casual manner, "Then maybe you could go flying this weekend?"

"I think we can." I said, with a slow smile starting at my eyes and working its way down.

He glanced down by his knee, and said, "Oh, don't show that to me. Show that to her." And the 9-year-old spun around and displayed a grin so big I could count every back molar.

This morning somebody threw off their covers at the first gentle "Hey, rise and shine." He'd put his clothes on the night before so he could be ready, and hurriedly rushed through brushing his teeth and gulping down a bowl of cereal. A thunderstorm was passing overhead, but we left it behind as we drove to the airport, where weather was reported fair. Unfortunately, the storm was moving toward the airport, and it was a nasty cluster of cells. By the time it would be past, somebody would be very late to their test at the dojo.

So instead of flying, we walked around the plane, comparing everything to the model airplanes he's flown with his father, and he made like a monkey climbing inside the cockpit to work the yoke and rudders, and go over the instruments. As the rain started to fall, we headed back to the FBO, and with permission wandered around the attached community hangar.

I didn't know there was a post-war Focke-Wulfe in there, in camo and iron crosses. Somebody headed straight for it like a moth to a flame, only slightly diverted by the Citabria. We spent a good twenty minutes examining aircraft, and then I showed my evil side by shamelessly buying a coke for each of us, and splitting a couple brownies. (Fortunately, the aforementioned dojo will be a great place to work out the sugar high.) After some more chatting on everything from thermals to deer hunting to rainbow-farting unicorns (he is a 9-year-old boy, with 9 year old humor), we headed home.

Despite not flying, he had a grin and bounce to his step as he headed inside to eagerly tell a sleepy father all about the airport, and sitting in his first full-scale airplane. Then it was back to plotting with his sister on how to get past the mountain lion on the Cabela's hunting game (which is nothing at all like doves or real deer, I'm thoroughly informed).

I'll get him in the air yet, and I'm glad he had a great Saturday morning.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


After calling off flying out Monday, Brigid and I set out to find Tam, food, and fun. We definitely found Tam, and my goodness was there excellent food in large quantities. The fun was spectacular, though I wilted a bit in the heat of the day.

The next morning, the weather briefer was full of warnings about mist and low vis, practically IFR and I shouldn't fly until after a cold front came through in the afternoon. It was a glorious morning, though the faint hazy mist rising off the corn promised another mugging by Mr. Heat and his drinking buddy Mr. Humidity by the afternoon. A cropduster came in for another load, and reported a wonderful morning with calm air. I took his opinion over the weather briefer's.

It was a nice morning, and even nicer once I got up a few thousand feet. Above the haze layer, visibility was endless, the air was crisp and cool, and I even had a tailwind.

DaddyBear of DaddyBear's Den had offered a place to crash halfway, and I declined it with gratefulness to him for offering, and to God for such wonderful weather that it wasn't needed. One quick stop in Tell, Indiana to fix a patch, check oil, and let my husband know when to pick me up, and I was on my way home.

The last sixty miles I was back in the haze, as a broken layer of clouds started capping every thermal. I soared over the farm where I've gone shooting and stoked bonfires (soon I'll get to be there and see the farmer again!) Then a little further south, and landed in Lebanon, TN.

The FBO called on unicom, wanting to know if I'd be staying a while, and were confused when I replied that I was going too be based there. When the gent brought the fuel truck out, he recognized me from the times I'd come through, and rented the Citabria to knock the rust off before leaving. The CFI I'd flown with in the Citabria came out, astounded that he'd caught me just as I was landing from the long trip.

Then, best of all, my husband was there. He looks a little slimmer, but much stranger. He'd decided to whimsically grow a mustache. Hey, I was gone a few months, he had to get up to something. Perhaps, though, he should have consulted with Lawdog about mustaches... But I digress. After a long hug and a short kiss (mustaches are prickly!) I was finally really truly home.

Monday, July 25, 2011

One more day in Indy

After a long day of good food, good fellowship, and good fun, we went to bed early...earlier, anyway. life was awesome. (There's no way I can top either Brigid's version, or Tam's. Go read their posts.)

Then I woke up at 4am feeling like someone had kicked me in the bad leg, wearing steel-toed boots. Why can't barometric-pressure-sensitive old injuries be more like weather widgets, with a vague notion of impending rain instead of an early warning on the pain scale? Ibuprofin, a little net surfing til it kicked in, and bed. Yay painkillers!

Fortunately, Brigid is a very understanding host, who sent me back to bed the second time I limped out of it, and gave me coffee on my third try at getting up. I love my friends!

...and there's still cheesecake left...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Picture Post Bozeman to Indianapolis

Over the Badlands

Flying into the smoke trail of a contained wildfire

Over South Dakota, which alternated between luxurious fields and struggling ones - the trails of poor growth from flooded soil were everywhere.

Why, yes, that is a storm moving in from exactly the opposite direction of the stiff low-level wind. Chamberlain, SD.

See the puffy cumulus hidden in the haze? Or, why I diverted yet again in Iowa.

Sylvester the airport cat, waiting for dues of scritching to be paid should I want fuel.

Why there are almost no pictures after Carroll, IA: the sky was full of thick, low-vis haze that I could not outclimb, even when I went to 5,500 feet. Also full of cumulus that I was busy steering between, and thunderstorms I was very hugely avoiding. That's the Mississippi River, by the way.

Near Indianapolis

Got up at the crack of dawn to get the plane out before the semi with the cropduster's loads showed up and parked in front of the hangar. Checked weather, loaded airplane, waited for a storm to pass from southwest to southeast. Walked out to an airshow intended only for the corn, as a thrush was spraying a field just north of the airport.

Went further south to get behind storms, then rode the wind they were using to rumble across the land into Illinois. Three hours later, my fuel was low and my bladder sounding the amber overpressure alarm. I diverted to the second-nearest airport, as it had a runway into the wind and the nearest one did not.

Galesburg, IL, had half the ramp full of ag planes loading fuel and chemicals... but the other half the ramp was crowded with personal airplanes, many of which were beautiful, shiny, freshly washed and waxed. An RV, a round-engine Cessna 195, light-sport composite that looked like the cockpit still had the new airplane smell... I wondered as I tied my plane down just what I'd found.

Then I walked into the lobby, and found the weather computer niche overstuffed with pilots trying to find a way through the storms to Oshkosh, for EAA's greatest aviation show on earth. We chatted until the fueler was finished with an ag plane and could get to my plane. Then in the air again, until my GPS was nearly dead, I was on my third sectional for the day, and I was emptying the wing tanks.

Finally, I got near Indianapolis, at one of the smaller airports nearby, called in on the low-battery left on the handhold, and landed in the thick humid heat. After I taxied in, I took the nearest parking space... just past two T-6's that were tied down and swathed in covers. I don't know if they're headed to Oshkosh or back from the Peoria airshow, but it was quite the sight.

I'll be here a day or two, as Brigid of Home on the Range has been kind enough to let me crash at her place. Really, guns, good food, airplanes, a black lab to spoil (and get back here with that underwear!), a bit of good alcohol to cap the night... Life is awesome.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Jousting with storms like Sir Robin

When it comes to thunderstorms, I stand with Sir Robin - bravely running away! When flying over I-90 and realizing I was pointed at a very large towering cloud rising out of the haze, I looked to my right, my left, and dove left for the nearest airport. I waited until the coast was clear and snuck around behind the thunderstorm... only to find out that a thunderstorm's passage doesn't always mean clearer, dryer, cooler weather. As the haze got thicker and thicker and cloud deck overhead became solid and started getting darker, I promptly picked the nearest airport, and landed at Sioux Center, Iowa.

The ramp was full of Agcats, Thrushes, and all other sorts of cropdusters...and a twin. The dampers started playing tetris with towbars and airplanes, and when an obvious hole opened, I was glad that I still had my large tires - I simply checked to be clear of taxiway lights, and promptly rolled off the asphalt, across the grass, and onto the ramp where the hole for parking was.

Sioux Center Aviation loaned their crew car to me, and I set out with directions to the public pool. $5 for a day pass, and I had all the hot water in the world for a long, hot shower to finally get my hair clean while waiting on weather to clear. I love public pools! Yay hot water!

The sky opened up, and I set off into the same high headwind even as ag pilots were busy calculating loads, trying to poach each other's mechanics, and splitting for a last few passes in the golden evening light. Unfortunately, at an airspeed of 90mph and a groundspeed of 68mph, the weather built and moved faster than I did. So instead of trying to run the gap between storms moving northeast, I went south, and east as able. Run away!

Good thing I did, too, because as the haze grew thicker, the sun lower, and little while puffs started to rise above the haze, I landed at Carroll Municipal airport, in beautiful Carroll, Iowa. An Ag plane was just finished loading, engine rumbling and pilot putting on his helmet as I taxied up to a tiedown.

This airport is just incredible whenit comes to friendliness and hospitality. Free hangarage for the night, free laundry, free shower with provided towel, soap, shampoo, courtesy car, fine by them if I sleep on the air conditioned couch... If I'd known this place existed, I would have been steering here all along, not come by storms and chance!

Of course, the airport cat did stretch herself out in front of the gas pump so I had to pet her to get to the fuel, but that's hardly an imposition. Good things come to those who see thunderclouds and run away!

Mitchell, SD

The wind in Billings finally died a little after 5, and I got out. About 15 miles out of Gillette, WY, I flew into the smoke trail of a contained forest fire. Visibility was still fine as long as you weren't looking toward the sun. I put my lights on to be more visible, and landed at Gillette right about the time the sun touched down, too.

The next morning was cool, bright, with fair weather, and I tried to cover ground as fast as I could. Stopped for fuel and sunblock in Wall, SD. Wall Drugs is a tourist trap, not a functional drugstore... darned hard to find sunblock. Got back to the plane, and managed to burn my legs right through SPF 45.

Got to Chamberlain, SD before the heat exhaustion started making me stupid. Landed, drank half a gallon of water, talked with a couple Agcat mechanics (working on a Thrush, right then.) Realized I was flat-out exhausted, camped. Spectacular lightning and thunder show around midnight, but almost no rain.

Woke up this morning to the sun shining, birds chirping, jake brakes... wait, no, that's distant thunder. Waited for the thunderstorms to pass, then took off along I-90 as it was the clearest corridor east. Fifty miles later, realized I was pointed directly at a growing thundercloud just down the road. Landed at the airport to my right, and having a cold soda while watching the radar until it reports the coast is clear.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Billings, MT

About an hour out of Bozeman, I noticed my oil temps were slowly but steadily rising, and my oil pressure very gently declining. Having just changed the oil, this worried me. So, I set down in Columbus, MT. There, I found an IA to talk to about operating temps and pressures for my engine... for 4400 feet above the sea, when it is 96 degrees in the shade. Long story short, the engine's fine. By the way, Woltermann Memorial Airport has an awesome pilot cabin with couches, microwave, shower, bathroom, even towels and a stocked bookcase. It's all built and maintained by volunteers, and funded by donations.

While talking to the IA, we noticed an airplane circling overhead. Neither of us recognized it, but we both recognized the sound of a sick engine. The airplane turned out to be a beautiful DeHavilland Chipmunk, with a sick carburetor. ATC (Billings Approach) called the IA to see if he'd gotten in safely, as there is no tower. As the pilot had to go to Billings to catch a commercial flight back to Idaho and retrieve another carb, and I was headed near Billings, I gave him a ride in.

Once on the ground, thunderstorms set in, and I spent the rest of the afternoon circling the radar updates and calling weather briefers until giving up for the night. By the time I had the airplane ready to go this morning, the sky was bright cloudless blue... and the wind kicked up strong. By the time I got the aircraft back into a tiedown and ties firmly down, it was 24 gusting 30 knots.

So, a beautiful day for Sudoku puzzles and tea in the FBO!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Picture Post Whitehorse to Bozeman

Having discovered after some good sleep and coffee that I got the pictures in the last post out of order, I've corrected them and will continue on.

Leaving Whitehorse in beautiful weather, I followed the Alcan down past Marsh Lake.

Refuelled at Teslin, where I met a wonderful young bloodhound puppy who will grow into a full howl - he's sure working on it! Canada has Community Area Radio Stations instead of Flight Service Stations like home in Alaska - the folks there can only tell you about the local weather, and update or close your flight plan if you file to that airport. They're pretty awesome folks, friendly, extremely well-versed in their local weather. After transferring fuel from the jerry cans to the gas tanks and chatting with a mechanic who came out to check out my plane, I went on to Watson Lake.

After Watson Lake, I flew on to Fort Nelson (the river rapids and rainbow are in the last post.) I dodged enough showers getting there that I went left over the Liard River instead of right over the Alcan right after Liard Hot Springs. That would be the last good weather I'd see for days.

This is what the sky looked like south of Ft Nelson when I got there, and the next day it only looked worse. The FBO was awesome, though, and I found enough to do that I wasn't bored.

Like helping diagnose, try to repair, and replace a magneto.

Finally made it, going low over the railroad tracks instead of taking the high road down the Alcan, to Fort Saint John, and spent another day weathered out there. How can you tell when the FBO is used to dealing with tired oilpatch roughnecks?

Got out of Fort St John to Grande Prairie by running low, close to the ground, dodging the worst of the lowest ceilings and keeping a sharp eye on my sectional for terrain. At Grande Prairie, weathered out for the rest of the day, and split a hotel room with a wonderful couple in a Maule who'd started from Watson Lake that morning. Yes, they covered in one day what took me five days - not only is their plane faster, but I have been pushing against a low weather trough, and they were not... until they caught up with it and with me.

The next day the heavy rain stopped, and several hundred square miles were covered by fog. It lifted slowly, and a little after noon, we determined it was high enough to go. So we flew out as a two-ship flight, pushing forward.

We got to Red Deer, and split another hotel for the night - this time exhaustion, not weather was the primary reason. It's an awesome place - the AirSpray hangar has a bunch of DC-3's outside. See the one in Reeve Aleutian colors? There's something I haven't seen in a long time! The folks at Hillman Aviation were putting a Christen Eagle biplane back together after the import inspection, and it was just head-turningly beautiful. We got gas at the tanks right outside, and they were kind enough to give us a lift into town and back.

The next morning, life was beautiful. I departed right behind the Maule, but there was no way I'd keep up. They called back from near Lethbridge, diverting toward Medicine Hat because the wind was high and gusting - but by the time I got to Lethbridge, the wind had dropped to 15 gusting 18 knots, and the wind at the diversion was the same.

Fuelled and filed for customs at Lethbridge, waited an hour for the wind to die just a little, and then continued down to a border strip. 4000 feet of grass, and thank goodness it was mostly into the very gusty wind, because there were barbed wire fences on each side of the runway. Had a little trouble - EAPIS will kick back the application unless you tell it you're going to a 4-letter identifier airport. Which the border strips definitely are not - that's for big airports that have plenty of asphalt and registrations with ICAO. The help file on EAPIS says if you're going to a smaller 3-letter identifier strip, to put the nearest 4-letter identifier strip in the destination, and then put your actual customs airport in the remarks below.

So I did, and called ahead as I'm supposed to do (and why on God's green earth do I need to file online to enter the country, when I'm already going to be going to a customs port, and I still have to call the customs port to let them know I'm coming?)

When I got there, they had decided that since I'd filed for the 4-letter airport nearby (DESPITE PUTTING THE SMALLER AIRPORT IN THE REMARKS AS INSTRUCTED), I must not be coming... and didn't come out to look at my plane until I called them on the cell while sitting a hundred feet from the building.

Despite all the bureaucratic bullshit and stupidity surrounding the whole process, the customs agents themselves were polite, professional, and remarkably easy to deal with.

As for bull shit of a more elemental kind - I have now learned to always be upwind of a cattle or pig lot like this one when flying by at a mere thousand feet off the ground. Spent too long in cities - you'd think that's obvious.

Spent the night camped by the plane at Choteau, Montana, as thunderstorms were blocking the passes south, and I'd rather camp under clear skies and wait out the billowing clouds to the south.

The next morning was bright, beautiful, blue skies everywhere, wind dropped to a playful five or seven knots just light enough to keep the mosquitoes and flies off. The major oddity as I packed up the tent - no dew on the grass or ground.

The road down goes past Helena to Bozeman, and the river and chain of lakes follows it before splitting off to one side. I took both down until they split - and seeing the narrowness of the road passes versus the width of the river channel, I took the river.

Finally arrived Bozeman, picked up by an old friend, and given coffee. Miss Cinnamon is no longer a small bundle of fluff with long legs sticking out, but she's definitely shedding as much as she always has! Just about everything I own has been liberally coated in dog hair as she has expressed how happy she is to see me, get a walk from me, and can she lick my plate when I'm done?