Monday, December 24, 2012

The Best Part of Working Christmas Eve... being able to walk up to your subordinates, look 'em in the eyes, and say, "Hey! Go home now! Merry Christmas!"

Y'all have a good one, you hear?

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Friends help you move. A good friend comes over after her bedtime, helps capture the injured and oozing cat that has escaped and is running around the inside of your vehicle, and holds and calms the cat all the way to the vet and back. And then helps medicate your cat with antibiotics for the next few days.

...Nah, still doesn't outrank washing a freshly-skunked cat. Though he and I have had a few more rounds about whether my blood should be inside or outside in the struggle to medicate him than we ever did in the skunk incident.

Today, we settled on an excellent compromise - I doze in a chair, and I get a lapfull of purring fur that drains all the tension out of me. I move, I get told to let him out (not a chance, when he's still healing). I medicate him, I get told I'm a dirty rotten no-good scoundrel, and he wants nothing further to do with me. Cash on the table says we have the exact same negotiation tomorrow.

I love that little ball of obstinacy.

PS - apologies for the mostly-broken state of the free ice cream machine; work is running me flat-out right now. I'll be back in January, when year-end is over and things trend more toward sane.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Answer to the Question Of Doom

Gentlemen! There is a way to not lose dramatically when ambushed with the Question Of Doom. You know, the one that starts so mildly, and ends so badly. "Do these
make my
look fat?"

Yes, I know you all winced, dove for cover, or ran upon reading that. Come back, or fail to learn the way to escape this ambush!

First, take a deep, calming breath. No, go get a beer. That'll help overcome your aversion therapy more. This is one ambush where trying to avoid answering is the wrong answer. (As you already know.)

Do NOT focus upon the female assets and their fatness or lack thereof. (I know, I hear you cry you already learned that, and are showing each other the scars to prove it.) DO FOCUS on the Article Of Clothing. Make sure you are noticed to be scrutinizing the article of clothing.

Examine the article of clothing as if it exists totally independent of the female body part: the ass does not exist. Compare it to other articles of clothing. Then pronounce judgement upon the article of clothing, and upon it and it alone. Do not show fear. Do not hesitate. Who dares, wins.

For example, for an already-bought pair of pants that do not look bad: "Do these pants make my ass look fat?" "Hmm. No, I think they look fine."

For an article of clothing being tried on at the store, prior to buying, that is Not Good. "Do these pants make my ass look fat?" "Hmm. Those particular pants are not very flattering. Don't worry, dear; I know you'll find something you like."

For an already-bought article of clothing that is Not Good: "Does these pants make my ass look fat?" "I know you love them, dear, but I think it's time to retire them. Why don't you try the black pair instead with that outfit?"

Understand, there are times that ever The Right Answer will not save you - and that's because you have encountered a moment when, instead of taking you by the hand and leading you into a minefield all unthinking, she actually, truly, wants to have a fight - and this was her declaration of war. Any accusatory response that comes out of her mouth in response is likely to be a non-issue, a distracting flanking attack while she readies her main verbal guns.

That's when it's time for "I love you, dear. What's really wrong, and how can we fix it together?"

Now excuse me, I need to go ready the mini-gun and double-check my fields of fire for the femininity that may want revenge at the spilling of their secrets. They scratch and bite; I shoot. Don't worry, I'll be back.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Rifle Info Bleg

I was incredibly lucky in my choice of parents and friends - my first experiences with rifles were fun, exciting, and happy memories that left me convinces that shooting is awesome, and blackpowder is the coolest thing ever.

However, I cannot remember the models of the blackpowder, bb, and various .22's that I shot as a kid - the only one that sticks in my mind is the one I now own, a CZ 452 that shoots better than I can. I adore it enough I've had no interest in finding another, so I remain ignorant of how other manufacturers and models rate.

So, I ask you, oh internet brain trust: what other .22LR bolt-action guns are wonderful for introducing young men and women to the joy of putting holes in tins and jugs, bringing home hares for supper, defending the garden from all invaders, and providing recoil therapy?

Thank you!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Herbs, rice, and isn't that nice?

Minor setbacks in the household: the basil grew too large for the pot, and is now dead of the frost. The cutting did grow roots, but died when transplanted into the old basil pot. That won't stop me from having basil! Ten days after plucking the dead cutting out, I have seedlings sprouting from the potting soil. It may take a while, but I'll have fresh basil soon.

The rosemary plant, on the other hand, has decided that sunlight, an occasional watering, and hydration via the dregs of cold tea mugs is the perfect recipe for doubling in size. We're going to have to start making more Greek dishes in self-defense. Perhaps I should scout for a sunny enough spot for a little meyer lemon tree...

I've heard about golden rice for years - the rice genetically modified to prevent birth defects / death from malnutrition in places where people mainly live on rice. I've heard lots of hope from folks who work with the developing world, and lots of screaming about how all genetic modifications are inherently evil from the "science is settled" crowd. I bet that it was either going to disappear into the black hole of aid projects that return little or get banned for scaring the environmentalism jihadis.

I was wrong - bags of it are now on sale in Costco, at a price point between basic white rice and organic white rice. The future is awesome. And delicious!

Tonight's project: drilling a couple holes in the kitchen trash bin, about three inches up the side, to permanently take care of the way the trash bag will poof out from the sides and need to be burped when I start putting garbage in.

Edited to add: I'm sorry, I forgot Blogger now strips out paragraph breaks. Fixed!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Another Year, Another Flight for the Future

Operation Migration is on the wing again, leading a fresh batch of juvenile whooping cranes on their first migration to winter breeding grounds.

This year, you can follow their path down on a live cam (recorded segments also available, for when they've landed for the night / are waiting out weather.) Daily updates are also posted at their blog: In The Field With Operation Migration.

This is not going to be a one-time effort, not a click "like" on facebook and be done, but an effort of decades to rebuild and regain a species that was almost lost. So watch a while, learn a little bit about it, and remember that sometimes things take far longer than internet news cycles - but with dedication, determination, love and pure hard work, we can build a brighter future.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Grins and giggles

This made me laugh. Hope it makes you smile, too! Navy divers participate in Houston Navy Week.

HOUSTON, Texas (Oct. 24, 2012) Vice Adm. Mark W. Skinner, principal military deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development and Acquisition), returns a salute to Navy divers at the Downtown Aquarium during Houston Navy Week.

Source: U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Steve Carlson/Released.

A Navy diver at Houston Aquarium.

HOUSTON (Oct. 22, 2012) Explosive Ordnance Disposal 3rd Class Jered Johnston, assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit (EODU) 3, waves to a child at the Houston Aquarium during Houston Navy Week. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Michael Achterling/Released

Thursday, November 1, 2012

All Hallow's Eve AAR

Officially, trick-or-treat was from 6pm to 8pm. I came home early, as Calmer Half is sick and not feeling up to facing the hordes. I was ready with the good candy, under the theory that too much is far better than running short, and if I'm planning for leftovers, I want candy I'll view as a treat.

It was a good year, and I met all the kids I've glimpsed up and down the street, as well as as quite a few from surrounding streets. My first visitors, right at 6, were my neighbors across the street. Their little monkey has just learned to walk, and he was toasty warm and utterly content in his costume. No interest in the candy, but great delight in holding onto the house and standing up, followed by four full steps toward the stairs before coordination gave out.

For those who worry too much about helicopter parents - I had lots of unescorted older kids, unescorted kids in groups with at least one older kid, and most of the mothers or fathers who came up to the door were with kids younger than six, or single female children. One packs of zombies and grim reaper(popular this year) had a mom watching from halfway down the driveway, and two dads with flashlights out in the street. I felt like teasing one dad that his jacket was not doing a good job of covering his holster, but settled for a grin and a wave.

Quite a lot of little monsters later, I found two women escorting a girl, all three in matching medieval fantasy princess costumes. I asked the narrowed eyes under the glitter-laden hair "And what are you?" Her - probably mother and probably aunt beamed.

A very grumpy voice responded, "I'm a ghost!"

I nodded sagely. "A very sparkly ghost. You have fun!" After inspecting me carefully to see if I was making fun of her, a small smile cracked through the scowl.

Eight o'clock came and went, and other porch lights on the street turned off. I kept mine on, because this is when the fun really begins. Now you get the children who are out of breath, running hard to hit every last house and stretch out the fun until the very last second of trick or treat is over. Kids with masks abandoned, costumes pulled up and unzipped for speed and cool air under all the fake fur and extra layers, panting out "Trick or treat! Thank you!" at the door.

About 8:30, as I was contemplating whether it was safe to wander off to the basement, the doorbell rang. One last pack of kids, accompanied by two moms, had clearly bailed out of a van where dad was patiently waiting. As I proffered the bowl of candy to "trick or treat!", the oldest boy looked at me with a hopeful expression as the others studied the candy. "One or two, ma'am?"
It took a second for me to understand, then I grinned. "How about three?"
"Really! As long as your mom doesn't mind." I looked up to catch a very motherly grin. With a look like it was early Christmas, they actually didn't dive into the bowl. They paused, considered, and weighed their options, moving m&m's, snickers, reeses, and such around to carefully consider when they could take three whole pieces of candy.
Then there was a cry of utter delight from one of the youngest girls. "At last! A twix!" She picked it up with the biggest grin of the night. "Mom, I finally got a twix bar!"
I considered. "Hmm. Let's see if there's another in here." We stirred the candy bowl, and one of the boys put a milky way bar back as another snickers bar came to light. "Wait a moment, let's check the rest of the bag." I brought out the quarter-full mixed candy bag, emptying it into the bowl.
"Oh, there's another one!" She glowed with happiness, and another boy hurriedly swapped something as well. "Thank you!" Belatedly, the rest of the pack joined in on the "thank you" chorus, though one muffled by the chocolate just crammed into their mouth. Mom #2, Mom#1, and I shared a grin, and I bowed to them. "You're welcome. Happy Halloween!"

All in all, a good night for getting to know neighbors, and getting called ma'am and told thank you a lot. The kids will be all right.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Odds and Ends and Observations

1. My husband is quite happy to be a curmudgeonly stick in the mud, content in his way of the world. This is why God paired him with an Alaskan goth geek pilot - we are talking about the same sense of humor that made platypus, after all.

So this weekend, while at an Italian restaurant, I pushed him far, far outside his comfort zone. I pointed out that the Italians do not eat with their forks upside down like Brits do, and it'd be far better to try to eat Italian food the way Americans and Italians do.

After some thought, he flipped the fork over, and had the most endearingly awkward attempt to eat neatly with the fork held correctly. It would have worked better if he hadn't tried to pile two square inches of entree on each forkful, but the sheer determination when every fiber of his being was going "This isn't proper!" was quite endearing and amusing.

He gave up after two forkfuls.

On a related note, I now understand why the Brits are so attached to toast with everything, and eating everything with fork and knife. It's so they can cut a backstop at the end of the tines to try to hold food for long enough that it will reach their mouth, despite the utterly impractical notion that they should put the food on the backside of the fork.

Clearly, I need to get him to hold a fork correctly, as any proper American can, so he doesn't need or miss toast in the low-carb diet.

2. Never, ever, let a South African who knows his cheese loose near the Whole Foods cheese counter. Especially not when a very enthusiastic cheese-geek is manning the counter and eager to talk with someone else who knows "Continental" cheeses fairly unknown in the US. Most especially not when the person who is supposed to function as the control on the budget is hurting badly enough they're having trouble staying upright and conscious. We've spent less on a winery tour.

Oh, well, it's a very tasty haul. Diet? What's that?

3. One of the joys of registering Libertarian is that almost nobody bothered sending me their junkmail. (When I registered undecided, everybody sent political junkmail, trying to sway me. Libertarian, though, is so far from the current "moderate" that nobody figures I'm worth swaying by spamming. That's fine by me. I wonder if registering Green Party would do the same?)

4. A wonderful benefit of early voting: I now neither have to listen nor care until the votes are tallied. The whipped-up sound and fury of the whole monkey show is utterly ignorable, leaving more time for finding better things to do and think.

5. Stand up comics have a harder job than it seems. Facing down a sea of subordinates who are starting Another Work Day, informing them of updates and safety reminders, then motivating them is hard work. Strangely, it seems to go better when I wing it than when I'm handed lines to say.

Repeatedly telling them that I'd rather they ask questions than make assumptions, and that it's always okay to stop me and ask something, has led to a much higher than expected level of quality (expected for their point on the learning curve, to be precise). It also means doing a fifteen-minute job takes forty-five minutes, as people see me out on the floor and start flocking with questions. This is good. This is good. Keep repeating that and remain calm and cheery. Yaaaaargh!

6. I like military men. I can speak Army, and pidgin Air Force, but Marines, well, we'll have to resort to civilian for a mutual language. My company likes hiring vets and reserve, and I get on well with them. However, there's definitely been a few moments lately where the guys with plenty of gray in their clipped hair are turning a very sharp glare and tongue on the young guys with lots of...enthusiasm... and reminding them not-so-gently that I am a lady, not one of the guys, and that language is definitely never appropriate in the civilian workplace. It's relatively easy to reign in the subordinates, but it's harder when the, ah, enthusiastic language and stories are coming from higher up the chain.

7. When someone tries to complain about a boss's character and approach to life, apparently a blank look and "Well, of course. He's a helicopter pilot!" is not the expected response. Clearly, my subordinates need to know more helicopter pilots. After your first couple, it's a whole lot harder to get your feathers ruffled by 'em. (And you look on their antics with a fond grin, a wish to send them off on a motorcycle road trip to use up their reserve of mayhem, and to feed 'em grilled meat and beer by a bonfire. I mean, helicopter pilots. Of course they're crazy!)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

PMR-30 Round Count

For Matthew, of Straightforward In A Crooked World, who wants a real-world test across all platforms of .22LR and .22Mag:


.22 WMR
400 rounds, 40 grain CCI Maxi-Mag, no problems after I learned to how to double-check I've seated my rounds fully, and that I'm prone to not seating them right when trying to load with thick gloves on. So, no ammo failures, just a shooter failure.

.22 WMR
50 rounds, 30 grain CCI VR Max, 2 failure to eject the brass, whatever you call that, I'll look up the term tomorrow. (Someone dropped that box in as replacement for shooting my ammo. Very nice of them, and now I know that the manual was right when it emphatically stated I shouldn't use low-grain ammo. Also, I know that loading pointy polymer tips pricks my thumb even through thick gloves; hollowpoint hurts less.)

I think I need to clean the gun tomorrow, too.

Perfect Days

Sometimes, it seems there are no perfect things: the perfect day for flying will contain the reality of a bladder with less cycle time than the plane's fuel tanks, and the wind leaks and noise of a stripped-down plane. The perfect mountain climb with friends also contains the burning ache in the rebuilt knee as I struggle to get back down. The perfect road trip with Calmer Half usually contains some crabbiness about directions, eating, turns to drive, or something. Bills always come due, even sleep, blood sugar, and oxygen debt to a body that's no longer thirty.

That doesn't stop perfection from being a worthy goal to reach for, and something I often realize I reached in hindsight. It's a good day if no one's shooting at you. It's a good day for me that I can walk. In fact, it's a great day because I'm still breathing, and not eating my salad from the roots up.

I once tried, very hard, to capture perfect moments on camera - to somehow capture the essence of an infectious grin, of the sheer awe of an airplane thundering by right above a runway, the way the sound of an A-10 just makes my heart swell and overflow with feeling as it screams overhead. I ended up with a lot of pictures of little airplanes out of context in a blue sky, or the tail end disappearing out of the frame, or spectacular pictures of my thumb or people's shoes.

Some people go on to master photography, and to gain the skills and the eyes to see how to capture that moment. I went a different route - I put down the camera, and removed the artificial filter between myself and life. My imperfect, often fuzzy memory that drops entire weeks and years, then recalls something vividly after years of forgetting - it will have to do, as I stand there with tears welling up and face hurting from the ear to ear grin while an F-22 pours out pure power in shockwaves that vibrate my ribs like a flag in gusting wind.

I have no pictures from Colorado, either from meeting Sarah Hoyt or from Blogorado, nothing that I'll pull up in ten years to remark on how people have changed, or the things we did once back when. I won't remember the weekend perfectly, and the little things like smoke in my eyes from the cedar fire in the yard (burning old fenceposts, beautiful smell) to the way my lungs tried to turn inside out when Labrat cracked a perfume sample in the same room (really cool names, great scents, just can't breathe)... those will pass quickly away, leaving a large set of memories, like the wonderful conversation in a Thai restaurant between someone who lived through the Portuguese revolutions, someone who lived through those revolutions' affect on a Portuguese colony, and the cross-conversation between two American spouses. I won't remember any cat hair (though you know some must have been involved), only Havelock (a cat I'm certain belongs to the given name) trying to convince me he's sweet and innocent.

I'll remember the grins when other people tried my little PMR-30, the sheer fun of pushing partially-loaded magazines (it gets hard on my tiny hands after 10 rounds, so I stop at 15 for fun shooting) on people to enjoy. The big boom when 'splodey the tannerite pinata deer head disintegrated, of the return of the prairie dog jihadi from a successful hunt (not often in the USA you see a pickup bed crammed with bundled-up men holding AR's and other rifles pointed at the sky), the hours and nights of conversation, great food, baileys-laced coffee, and sheer number of fun and interesting people that I felt over-stimulated, over-peopled, for days on end.

I'm still exhausted by it all, but that's more from not scheduling a day off between flying and walking into the madhouse of work in the middle of my week. Maybe tomorrow I'll tackle the dishes, or folding the full pile of finally-finished laundry. For now, I'll finish a cup of tea and talking about the perfect weekend already gone so swiftly into the past I can't recapture any moment exactly as it happened. Then, to bed.

Enjoy your life. Capture snapshots along the way, but above all, enjoy the perfection of each imperfect, glorious, nitpicking, awesome, everyday little moment.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Situational Awareness Fail

This morning, Calmer Half decided that I needed a nice break after a 55 hour week, and took my limping self down to the Nashville Farmer's Market. We got excellent tomatoes, nice soap, wonderful cheese, and an eggplant that I have low-carb plans for.

We also stopped to get second breakfast, because we are Hobbit fans, and the food court area looked good and smelled better. Low-carb plans survived past two different stalls of bakeries selling their wares, but were arrested at the sight of a third table. A burly man with ponytail, goatee, and tattoos, wearing eyeliner and a velvet burnout scarf, was selling cheesecake. Glorious cheesecake. Huge slices of cheesecake, with ingredient lists like "apple cinnamon moonshine" and "raspberry chocolate truffle".

Yeah, no diet plan survives first eye contact with huge slices of raspberry chocolate truffle cheesecake. As soon as we got within five paces of that table, I knew we were doomed, and any protests would only be formal tokens before surrendering to calorific bliss.

I did wonder about the eyeliner and the beautiful scarf - the man did not flounce in the slightest, and well after we walked away with two slices of heaven, I remarked to Calmer Half that it would not surprise me if the chef batted for the other team, but it also wouldn't surprise me if he were straight with a lot of theater background. After all, in America, vendors are constrained by culture to wait until you approach their table to make their sales pitch, and his appearance was certainly arresting enough to make me stop long enough to see the cheesecake and fail a willpower check. (Unlike South Africa, where they will physically drag you to their stall, and engage in fistfights with other vendors trying to do the same.)

A quick look at his website and a news article about him revealed the answer, and made me perform a full classic facepalm. I'm in Nashville. Which is full of musicians. Some theater, my cheesecake-padded rear end - he's a Master Pastry Chef with "a few albums" out.

For a bright note among the news

I highly recommend reading Sarah Hoyt's blog yesterday. Not because it's an escape from the gigantic mess around us, but because it's an excellent reminder that we are a bright, innovative species, and we'll get through this, too.
When did anyone ever promise you a problem free time to live in? Not only was that always highly unlikely – you have read some history, right? – but you’d probably end up finding it boring if it came about.

We are in an exceedingly tight spot and our foreign policy of speaking softly and carrying an apologetic stick is going to get us in wars. On the other hand we are and have always been the most innovative civilization in the history of mankind and we have some awesome fighting machines. (And those are just our guys. You should see the mechanical ones.)

What I’m trying to say here is that there is no predetermined outcome. Decay and loss of power and civilizational strength is a choice, not an inevitable destiny.

The big difference between 1984 and Friday is that no one dropped a Heinlein character in the middle of 1984. The big difference between The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and Brave New World is not much greater.
Go Read The Whole Thing!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Perigee - Good Read

I've been down with the creeping crud - the most irritating kind of illness where I feel fine as long as I'm sitting perfectly still, or lying down. Fine enough to get bored, and think I really ought to be at work - and then I stand up, and realize standing up was a mistake. That leaves reading.

Perigee, by Pat Chiles, is a great thriller for pilots, engineers, and people who like reading about them and the space program. The setting is a refreshing new one: given that we've gotten single-stage-to-suborbit invented, we're inevitably going to move from single-hop tourist flights up and back to the fastest trans-continental "airline" imaginable. When a record-setting flight attempt is sabotaged, pushing the flight into an unstable orbit, how do you rescue them - and catch who did it?

This author is definitely a pilot, and knows plenty of engineers, a few zoomies, and the iron law of bureaucracy. There were plenty of quips in there that I swear I've heard on the air or over the coffee pot before - and plenty that are exactly what would be said in that situation. Everything from the internal fighting at NASA to the chatter with the dispatchers rings true. The only place where the characters fell flat were the line mechanics - even there, conversations were good, but the internal reasoning fell on its face. I wouldn't even complain, except he got everything else right!

When I went and read the reviews, I was surprised to find that other people thought it was too filled with technobabble, and all the characters were too similar. Speaking as a pilot who's known a few engineers in her time and spent years following the space program - when you put a bunch of hard-charging type A achievers who swim in a sea of federal regs into a group, you're not going to get the fictional group diversity of Firefly or Star Trek. The ladies and gentlemen in this are an authentic cross-section of the industry, and written very true to themselves and the industry they're in.

As for the technobabble, from the perspective of a pilot, he did a great job of unpacking the working language of everyday life into layman's terms and cutting down the checklists and cross-checks - much further, and it wouldn't sound true anymore. That's a hard call, and I'd appreciate if one of y'all could comment from a non-pilot perspective. Would you rather read something that has technical terms and cross-checks that are true to life and important from plot perspective, or something that's less technical, but as realistic as comic book characters?

In the strange way of the world since Amazon entered ebooks, he's not published through a major publishing house, but put the book out himself - so it's a good novel for the startlingly low price of a buck. Seriously, go get this and enjoy it, and encourage the author to go write some more. (He's also at smashwords and B&N, for non-kindle-users).

I'm going to try to get some tea, wait for the world to stop spinning, and then resume the debate on trying to hold up a Larry Corriea hardback on my chest, finding something else on Kindle, or sleep.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

No-Pasta Lasagna

Brigid had pictures of lasagna roll-up on her blog not too long ago, and as I caught up on a week's worth of web, they looked absolutely delicious. On the other hand, I've come to the conclusion that if I don't stop chowing down lots of tasty carbalicious things, it doesn't matter how much work I do, I'm not going to get down a jeans size.

So lots of internet research and contemplation later, I made a no-pasta lasagna, combined from 3 or 4 recipes. Preserved here for easy research, the delicious but not-so-photogenic recipe:

2 pounds ground beef
3 medium zucchini
1 large yellow onion (or the half left in the fridge, and half a new one, leaving you... half an onion in the fridge.)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 green bell pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon italian seasoning
(with an extra 1/2 tsp of thyme and 1/4 tsp sage thrown in, because I think this italian seasoning's mix is low on 'em.)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
1 cup mozzarella, sliced into small chunks (I didn't have ricotta or cottage cheese, and it needed to go before it tempted me to crackers and cheese again.)
2/3 cup feta (okay, maybe 1 cup)
1/4 cup mozzarella (really wild estimate)

First, if you have one of those nifty mandoline slicer gadgets, use it to convert the zucchini to lasagna-noodle-like thin slices. If you don't, use a knife and carefully cut the zucchini into thin ribbons. Swear you need to get a mandoline slicer if you do this again. Put slices into a colander, add a generous sprinkling of salt to the dry-looking slices. Leave alone for at least half an hour, while defrosting the "mince meat".

Come back after the internet distracted you to sopping wet zucchini slices and a puddle on the counter under the colander. Wipe up puddle, poke slices, reassure self that Calmer Half did not stick them under the faucet, they're just sweating that much. Be happy that much liquid is not drowning the lasagna. Preheat oven to 350 F.

Look in fridge that needs to be cleaned out, grab tub of italian-herb-marinated mozzarella that you've already refilled with fresh cheese to marinate twice. Spoon a little olive oil into a pan, because the ground beef from Phillip Mignon (who was an obstinate and annoying cuss of a young steer, ensuring his destination in my freezer instead of a long life with some cows) is so lean that it actually needs extra oil to brown.

While beef is cooking, chop onion, garlic, and bell pepper. Note directions on all recipes with beef say to drain the beef. Laugh. Dump in the veggies, as there's barely enough fat to brown them. Add the seasonings. When onion is translucent and garlic is not quite burned, add in diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Turn off heat. Fork out marinated cheese slices from the tub and put in strainer to drain off brine and oil.

Use more marinade oil to grease a glass baking dish. Layer the still-wet-looking zucchini slices on the bottom, then half the clumpy, dense tomato-coated beef and veggies. Arrange a sparse pattern of mozzarella on top, no piece further than 3 inches from another, then sprinkle a helping of feta over everything. Repeat with rest of zucchini slices, other half of tomato-meat-stuff mixture. Top with another thin pass of marinated mozzarella, then sprinkle feta over whole dish. Follow up with a pass with the parmesan can.

Stick in oven for 45 minutes. When finished, pull out and let rest for at least 5 minutes so the molten cheese can go from flesh-searing to tasty piping hot goodness. Serve, and enjoy.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Comfort Weather

Yes, mister in the truck next to me, I know you think I'm nuts to have my arm comfortably resting on the sill as I drive through the drizzle.

However, it's over 70 degrees, the drizzle is nice and cool, and after 10 years in Alaska, drizzle is comfort weather to me. It's nice to finally relax and enjoy some proper rain, instead of the "cow pissing on a flat rock" kind that Tennessee generally endures.

Besides, after a long day truly busting butt to earn that time n' a half, it's good to relax and enjoy the drive home. I should have taken a winding country road, instead of giving and rolling up my windows on the freeway.

It was a good day. I hope you all enjoyed yours, too!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Follow that truck!

Does anyone else here get the automatic inborn reaction, any time they see a Snap-On truck, to chase it down until it stops? I get an instinctive reaction like a german shepherd seeing a bicycle whizzing past.

Then again, I know where I get that - if we weren't going anywhere critical, my father would perk up, instantly on quivering alert, and say "Ooh! Snap-On!" And we'd get to go see the toybox on wheels! (That's got to be one of the few professions where situational awareness that you're being followed registers as a good thing.)

My mother was a good sport, all told, as she'd give in with a sigh and mutter, "It's still less expensive that an emergency room bill from using a cheap tool." And then she'd direct a meaningful stare at my father's right hand.

I was so happy, the day I got my first snap-on tool that I bought with my own money - it was a scribe, and expensive as it was at the time, I didn't care. The day before, I'd proved the value of eye protection when the cheap sears tool had snapped and half came flying back at my face. I still wince at their prices, but I'm slowly building a small set of things that save my hands, wrists, and eyes.

Since moving to the Lower 48, I'm no longer working at a place that gets weekly visits. But every time I work 25 minutes late, on the commute home, I fall about half a block behind a snap-on truck. And it is so very, very hard not to follow him until he stops and lets me buy some wrenches, or...

One of these days I'm going to chase him down, and my husband will probably worry that I'm home late for dinner, even when I come in triumphantly holding a torque wrench like it's the key to the city.

Monday, August 27, 2012

sights and growling sounds

So, I managed to shoot the front sight off my PMR-30. Well, not the whole front sight, just the bright green bit that you put between the two bright orange bits. The black part that holds the bright green fiber optic may be more old-school, but gun ranges are dim, dark streets dimmer, and I like bright shiny colors.

Kel-Tec's version of customer service: I ask how to send gun back, since I can't find the part locally. They mail new sight free... a third-generation version. (Apparently, other folks had issues.) Really, you can't beat the customer service!

A good friend and I break out the manual, with Calmer Half looking fondly on, and we start cleaning it. By which I mean he disassembled it, re-assembled it once he was certain he knew how it went, and stood by while I very slowly followed his (and the manual's) directions. Nice thing about American-made products: the manual is not in Engrish, it's in American. The spring did defeat my hand strength; I had to ask for male help. I am not too put out about this; I have to ask for help on pickle jars, too, because I misplaced my not-for-plumbing strap wrench.

Unfortunately, the sight is nicely dovetailed, and trying to drift it out gently didn't work. So what's a gal with lots of improvised and inappropriately sized tools to do?

...Take it to a gunsmith, of course!

It took the gunsmith maybe fifteen minutes to disassemble, note where I'd gotten the recoil buffer backward when I'd reassembled it, note the rarity of a customer cleaning a gun before bringing it in for work, pop the old sight out, put the new one in, adjust it to be straight, and reassemble the gun. The gunsmith rocks, and I will highly recommend him if you ask.

The attached shop, not so much. After being in there, I growled and shuddered on the way to the truck, shaking off the store's miasma like a dog shedding water. Calmer Half gave me a puzzled look. "Love?"
"Next, I'm taking you to a lingerie store, so you can feel freakin' invisible to the sales staff and be talked over and past! You note how the idiot behind the counter turned to you and asked if you were buying anything else when I put the ammo on the counter? And went for your credit card when I pulled out my wallet? And tried to hand the bag to you? The reason I asked him a direct question in your conversation was so he had to actually look me in the chest and acknowledge I exist. I won't darken their doorstep again!"

Calmer Half, wise man that he is, made soothing noises and gave me ice cream. Astronaut ice cream from the gift shop after exploring a science museum, but it counts!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Different Tastes

I understand there are different kinds of heat. I know that Calmer Half will likely never appreciate the joys of a good chili con carne, or at least, it's going to take years to get him to move from the most mild of salsas to medium, much less pico de gallo.

However, I cannot stress this principle strongly enough:

When I can smell the curry in the back of my throat from two rooms away, IT IS NOT MILD.

There is no way that will ever be mild. Mild is when you have to stand over the stove to smell the dish, Not when you watch someone dump a cup of curry powder in, stir twice, and say brightly, "It's ready!"


...I don't think I ate enough ice cream. Excuse me, I'm going to go cram an entire bottle of antacids in my gullet now, and wash it down with a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. Mild, my fat butt, that's worse than "my favorite aunt kimchee! Is best!"

Thursday, August 16, 2012

That sidebar on the right

For those of you who actually visit the page, not just pull the content on a feed, I'm not trying to monetize the blog. The rectangle over there on the right reminding you of the 2nd Amendment Foundation's Gun Rights Policy Conference is there because GC, who is an utter gentleman and rarely inflicts his delightful sense of humor on the unsuspecting, asked me to make sure the word is spread.

Even if it's not something I'm throwing myself behind body and soul, it's something one of my friends is doing so - and I will do my best to support my friends. Besides, SAF are some great people who aren't just throwing "likes" around facebook, but putting real, hard work into the long battles offline in court rooms to preserve and defend our right to protect ourselves. So go on and check it out, eh?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Music, books, and mischief!

I know it's not the weekend yet for the rest of you - you'll get your turn when it's a nice Sunday morning and you're waking up for breakfast or church, and I've already been head-down in the data for hours, trying to get my people up and the long list of projects completed before the bigger bosses want them done on Monday morning.

For now, I get a morning with tea and chocolate, kicking back and relaxing. My most pressing tasks are to enjoy alpha-reading Calmer Half's novel and do another load of laundry, while stopping now then to simply enjoy the brand-new album out from the Cruxshadows.

If you don't like techno, you won't like this - but if you do, I strongly recommend As The Dark Against My Halo. It hasn't been an easy five years since their last album, including their label deciding it wasn't going to release any new records, and having all their equipment stolen. On the bright side, the lead singer married another band member and had a baby, and their band news page has been full of hope and optimism, and amazed wonder. I can hear it in the music, too - they take take a mastery of darkwave music and a powerhouse band they've built, and have gotten even more optimistic and soulful. (I didn't think they could without crossing into sappy, but they managed!)

I have another treat coming later today that more of you are likely to enjoy than the music - Mad Mike has another book out, and it looks like yet more fun and mayhem with Ripple Creek Security. When Diplomacy Fails is out in paper and ebook, and the first seven chapters are up free at Baen, right here. Mike knows his guns and his sharp pointy things, and if he's a devious, twisted mind, he's also fiercely honorable, and writes books that work as really fun action tales, as political satire so sharp it cuts the heart out of sacred cows and served them up as shish kabobs, and as hilarious send-ups of popular culture, internet memes, and blogs.

You won't get to see it for a while yet, but when you do, Calmer Half's book will be a great treat. Especially after I'm done torturing his main character and world, and making Calmer Half explain on paper all the things in his head he forgot to put in, interrogating everyone's motivations and generally having fun... right now it's a good story, with plenty of glimmers of being great. Just stand back while we get out the hammer and chisel, and all the dremel tools, because this one's gonna shine!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Scents and Sensibility

LabRat over at the Atomic Nerds has been going through the self-dosing chemical-warfare experiments - namely, trying on new perfumes. In a fit of "Hey, if all the cool kids are doing it, I can, too!", I tried two Demeter perfumes given to me by a friend with a wicked sense of humor. (How wicked? Check the names when you read that far. I love her twisty brain!)

I should have thought first about the way that I use unscented laundry detergent, clean with unscented chemicals, and use unscented shampoo and deodorant. My life isn't completely scentless: I use clove-cinnamon toothpaste, and some nice mild soaps with lovely scents from the farmer's market, but the only chemicals I tend to wear are splashes of simple green or bleach when mopping the floors or cleaning the bathroom, engine oil and avgas from the plane, and a little MPro from cleaning guns. I hold my breath when I have to enter the laundry detergent aisle in the grocery store, and I'll only touch the National Geographic magazines in waiting rooms, because the others try to punch me in the olfactory nerves with perfume samples.

The two samples I had:

Riding Crop
The Riding crop scent (like all of ours, in our somewhat humble opinion) is right on the barrelhead. That wonderful worn leather aroma. This was a naughty name and we couldn't resist. Heck, who knows what mischief you can get into with this one.

My review: Sprayed on my wrist from the little spray bottle - sneeze. Inhale, sneeze. Flee bedroom. Sneeze. Gather up stuff for work, moving quickly, being punched in the nose with the sharp smell of leather freshly unrolled in the craft goods tent. Breathing shallowly, get in car. Sneeze. Roll down windows. Drive to work with windows down, occasionally blowing my nose.

Once arriving at work, find it's diminished enough that I just faintly smell of leather. Wonder if it's just because my raw-feeling nose is too deadened to notice. Fortunately, I don't have to interact with people for the first half hour. Go wash my hands halfway up to the elbows. Still smell traces of leather until well after lunch, then a lingering sharp smell until I got home to shower.

Redhead in Bed
Shake together gin, lemon juice, syrup, and ice. Strain into martini glass over strawberries. Garnish with strawberry and enjoy!

My review: Sprayed on my wrist from the little spray bottle. Sneeze violently. Inhale, sneeze. Flee bedroom. Sneeze. Gather up stuff for work, moving quickly, being smothered by the sickly smell of strawberries. Breathing shallowly, get in car. Sneeze. Roll down windows. Drive to work with windows down. Try to drink tea, gag at the taste of strawberries on my tongue as I inhale, like trying to drink a tea with rose petals that's sat so long it's akin to paint thinner. Only with strawberries instead of roses.

Get to work late from accident slowing traffic, no time to wash off wrist for the first two hours. Find myself completely uninterested in eating lunch, as my eyes feel sore and my nose and throat feels raw.

...Two points does not a comprehensive test make, but I think I'm going to wistfully read LabRat's descriptions instead of ordering any "melancholy death of Nicholas Tesla", no matter how wonderful it sounds.

Yeah, Labrat's definitely a tougher lady than I am. So is any woman who can dose themselves repeatedly to determine what scent they like. You ladies win. I'll be out at my hangar, where I have this nice respirator for working around smelly stuff, a kindle full of books, a plane, a gun, some nice new Cruxshadows music, and the sad realization that I don't think my lungs would be up to going clubbing anymore, even if I did drop enough weight to look good in clubbing gear.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jury-Rigging household skills

All right. I fully admit that, between Calmer Half and myself, if a half-disassembled carburetor appeared on the kitchen table - I'd be the culprit. Why yes, that was an oil filter cutter serving double duty as a paperweight until it could go out to the hangar. Still, I can cook, clean, and mop up with the best of housewives.

On the other hand, when it came time to repair a fraying hole in my work shorts, I had to screw up my brain and think... "What would Jeannie do?"

I may have some talents and creativity - but I have lived with a woman who can mentally design and sew a dress from scratch and fabric scraps in time to inform me "You unexpectedly got the night of the costume ball off? No backing out for lack of dress for you! Stand there for the final fitting, and put this on!"

So I pondered, and then headed to the craft store, where I found a heat-bond adhesive I've seen her use, and carefully cut scraps of denim from a ragged pair of shorts past saving to patch size. (Did you know you have to buy fabric by the yard - unlike Aircraft Spruce & Specialty, they don't seem to sell dollar patches in the fabric section.)

Everything looks like a go for assembling and repair. Except - I don't have a clothes iron to set to "medium, no steam." ...Or... wait...

One run to the hangar later, the hobby iron that shrunk my doped fabric was pressed into service. Guess I'll soon find out why the instructions kept stating "Do NOT use your wife's iron on your aircraft project!"

For now, I can wear these shorts in to work tomorrow. Yay! I'm no Jeannie, but she's taught me enough to survive in a pinch.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Once upon a time, after the echoes of the dinosaur footsteps had faded but before the internet, the Good Idea Fairy struck my school like a ICBM with a payload of weapons-grade stupidity. I came home, rather excited, because my teacher had announced that we weren't going to have to do any of that boring and pointless memorization stuff - no multiplication tables, no periodic table of the elements, no learning to write in cursive.

No, we were learning New Math, and all I had to do was figure out how to make the teacher think I felt good about learning in order to make a grade. Emotional manipulation with a "self-esteem" jargon? I have two X chromosomes; I was born for that! School was going to go from kinda easy but boring to a fun time figuring out just how much I could shovel BS and make fun of my teacher without getting caught!

My mother and father didn't seem to think this was a great plan. That Saturday morning, my father rousted me out of bed, and hauled me off to the track. "I need to stay in shape for PT, and you need to memorize your multiplication tables. Your mission is to chant the entire multiplication table to twelve times twelve while you pace me around the track."

"But dad, teacher says they're pointless!"

"I don't care what your teacher says. I'm your father. You WILL pace me and go through the entire multiplication table before you get breakfast." Dad has this way of using a soft voice and a dead-level tone to make people with shiny bits on their collars and chevrons on their sleeves decide to obey immediately - and they weren't even under threat of getting spanked! I knew this conversation was going nowhere fast, and was likely to turn out even worse if I pushed than the time he told me "fair" was a bogus word and I was not to use it in his hearing again.

"...yes sir."

I don't even remember the teacher from that school. I do remember many mornings of thinking hard while in motion, the dew on the grass, crunch of gravel underfoot, stitch in my side trying to keep up mentally and physically. There is no such thing as fair, eleven times eleven is 121, Yttrium comes after Strontium (both of which ignite on contact with air), excuses are never an acceptable substitute for success, if you aren't killed by a depleted uranium round, a wet bandanna over the face will filter out most of the trash from getting in your lungs, never disparage your cooks, janitors, or secretaries, twelve times six is 72, the noble gasses are largely inert without a lot of work, wear tall boots in rattlesnake country, keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to make your shot, never say "can't" when you mean "don't want to", and twelve times twelve is 144, which is a gross, but not the same as gross profit.

Thanks, dad. You taught me more than I'll ever be able to say.

I love you, too.

Friday, July 6, 2012

It all works out

Went to check out a new range. Friends and Calmer Half were all busy (or napping), so I went by myself. In bending over and rustling through stuff, I didn't notice the car keys falling into a bag before I locked the door.

So, I'm locked out of my car, with several hours until Calmer Half will get my message... with a PMR-30, a brick of ammo, a handful of targets, and a gun store adjacent full of more ammo and targets, a wallet that can buy more...

I'm sure somebody would have been stressed out by this situation, but it sure wasn't me!

(Keeping track of rimfire for Matthew's project: 130 rounds, CCI .22 WMR, no misfires.)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Too much fun

While there may be no such thing as having too much fun, I've definitely been having too much fun for the past week to have time to really sit and share it. Calmer Half, Tam, Roberta, and Brigid are all masters of the thinking in blog posts (or at least close enough to make quick posts during lulls in the day), but I tend to sit and think on things a while. Unfortunately, I've been having so much fun that the store of things to post about is piling up like the not-urgent mail stack.

Mammoth Caves is definitely a place I'd want to [be more fit and] take a week to explore - it's not something you can even begin to know in a couple hours, with hundreds of hidden places, stunning sights, and adventures that are just a little further away than you can get to now. That's also a fairly apt metaphor for meeting friends in Indianapolis, too, come to think of it. Like many interesting, independent, strong and skilled people, Brigid is a friend whom I have delighted in knowing for years. However, our times actually together are so brief, vivid and intense as we try to share everything that the internet cannot covey - body language, the sparkle of eyes at a joke, the impish grin when selecting ingredients and inspiration for dinner, the teasing lilt in a voice as a jar of espresso sugar is held out to "You know you want a sniff." I could spend decades in her company and still learn new surprises and new jokes as we make new memories and share older ones.

"To see a world in a grain of sand," Blake once wrote, and indeed, out of the billions on this planet, wandering through Artisano's, brunching at Zest, or sharing fries at Brugge, is a mere speck - but it is a world I dearly enjoy. And the time we spend together, fast as those days fly by before we hug goodbye, is held precious in my mind when the same amount if time spent over weeks of getting ready for work and commuting will all run together and be forgotten. Memory is not infinite or eternal, but I do my best to hold it as such, as he said "To see eternity in an hour."

I could talk about the hippie store, and the food, but the important parts were the way that hippie store's excellent chocolate saved the mood when stuck on a closed highway on the way back, or the laughter while we all shared the fries and anecdotes. It's not the dog fur, it's the way Barkley conned a sleepy Calmer Half into a walk at 4am (better not to ask.)

I miss 'em, and look forward to the next visit. Some nice weather day when I have time enough, I need to show up in a Taylorcraft, with a "will fly for food" sign. Barkley will share the couch for the toll of a stolen shoe, I'm sure. Till then, stay safe, my friends.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Celebrating Independence Day!

I believe in the United States of America, as a government of the people, by the people, for the people whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.

I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.

--William Tyler Page, The American's Creed

Go read BlackFive, who says it far more eloquently than I can. Then go celebrate our existence in this paradise, (even with its warts) that we have created, are creating, and shall yet fight to create for all our future.

Happy Fourth of July!

Saturday, June 30, 2012


They say couples grow to be more like each other over time. Now me, I moved to Alaska on a whim a long time ago, and it was a series of whims and friendships that led to meeting Calmer Half. (The title of this blog, though whimsical, is not untrue.)

You'd think I'd grow to be calmer and more grounded, eh? Surely Calmer Half is much too laid back and sensible to grow more like me...

When we got to Mammoth Caves, the easiest tour, with 150 stairs, lots of sit-down benches and rest spots, was sold out for the day. The young, fit, and enthusiastic park employee recommended another tour that "Pretty much just like that one, only with a few more sights!"

Calmer Half looked at me, smiled, and said "Oh, well, why not?"

...So that may not have been the wisest choice, but aside from the inevitable pain and feeling utterly wiped out that night and kinda stiff and sore the next day, hey, he saw Mammoth Caves!

I think I know how I'm rubbing off on him.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Friends help you wash your car.
True friends help you... wash your cat after it tangles with a skunk.

I think I'm going to go wash my hair a third time before bed.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The view from the other side

One of the wonderful things about being friends with expats (and the wife of one), as well as growing up with kids who've been overseas is that I've been exposed to a fair number of worldviews - including historical and political - that are truly, in the most basic sense of the word, foreign.

It is only after you learn that there is another viewpoint that you can really start to see the shape of your own worldview, and question it. When you learn another culture, you can look back and question your own. When you learn another set of politics, the cultural signalling and stereotypes of your own become even stranger and more transparent.

With that, I present to you an essay from the president of Estonia - writing not as a president, nor as a politician, but as a thoughtful observer of human events. Just as the author is not American, neither is the intended audience - and that in itself is enlightening.

I'll Gladly Pay You Tuesday by Toomas Hendrik Ilves

Because that which is alien serves to make us know the world, and ourselves, better.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sometimes, dreams do come real.

The plot was hatched by a chance encounter with a random factoid on the web Friday night. Saturday morning, I walked carefully into a 10 year old boy's bedroom. (Not to avoid waking him; to avoid stepping on stray army men or legos.) On hearing his name, he twitched, and squeezed his eyes tighter. So I tried cajoling. "Wake up. Wanna go fly?"

Sleepy, confused, and utterly hopeful eyes snapped open as a small body half-levitated out of bed, like waving bacon under a black lab's nose. "Uh?"

"Wanna go fly?"



Now, this particular young man has absolutely fallen in love with the Memphis Belle, and can go on at length about the differences between the movie and reality (but still loves to watch the movie), as well as the lengths he's gone to in trying to build a better model of a B-17. He's plotting furiously to make a pilgrimage to the Air Force Museum as soon as the original Memphis Belle is restored. But even if it isn't a B-17, he still loves my little Taylorcraft. Heck, his view on growth spurts is "Soon I'll be able to reach the rudder pedals!"

So, his father had cracked slightly, and mentioned the night before that there was a B-17 down at Smyrna airport. I could see the glow in his eyes as I said "I haven't been into a towered airport in a while; I need to go to one today to stay in practice. So we're headed down to Smyrna." However, he didn't say a word about it. (Mostly, I think, he was terrified I'd change my mind, or that if he'd mentioned it, the weather would come down, or something.)

I am rusty on the radio - I can't write down a clearance as fast as they can speak 'em anymore. More practice is needed! Fortunately, the pattern was empty, so I wasn't competing with any sleek slick go-fast machines, and the clearance was pretty straightforward. So in we scooted. As we came down (high, as the much wider runway suckered me with a visual illusion), the Kid started chatting excitedly, forgetting the "be quiet when I'm taking off and landing" rule. My eyes scanned the taxiways, looking for any conflicting traffic, and noticed the olive green shape taxiing up to hold short, even as the radio confirmed that was their intention.

"Kid, Look Right!" I snapped, taking a hand briefly from the throttle to point, then putting all my attention to landing the plane. ASOS reported winds light and variable, and to me that means peril of a quartering tailwind coming 'round. The chatter had stopped, but I was a little busy to pay attention - only after I had bounced lightly, then settled on the ground and slowed to a very controllable pace (the light and variable was a quartering left crosswind at that moment), did I look over at the kid.

He hadn't noticed that I had snapped at him - his jaw was hanging open, and his entire body was cranked around to look back blindly through the fabric of the plane to the four-engined bomber he'd seen below and to the side, props idling as they waited for us to clear the runway. It wasn't until I'd gotten through the initial request for progressive (otherwise known as "help, I'm lost here") taxi, steered down a taxiway, across another runway, and onto a third (or fourth?) taxiway that he finally spoke. "That was a B-17!"

"Yep." Because really, he wasn't looking for an explanation about The Liberty Foundation, and the tours they do. He was just confirming that his dream bird had leapt off the TV screen and taxied up to a runway as we were landing.

If you're ever flying into Smyrna, TN, the Smyrna Air Center are an awesome bunch of folks. Despite having a ratty old taildragger with tiny tanks, they were just as gracious and helpful as if we'd stepped off a chartered 747. Don't worry about parking your plane, we'll move it for you. We'll fill it for you, do you need a courtesy car? The Kid and I hit the bathrooms, got drinks from the vending machines, shared a bag of popcorn (carbs don't count if there's flying involved), and then wandered out just in time to catch the B-17 back and doing a quick turn between rides. And that's when he saw the nose art, and realized he was face to face with the movie-prop Memphis Belle. Indeed, if you read the noseart closely, her name is "The Movie Memphis Belle."

Generally, I'm a high-strung creature, but when aviation's involved, that switches off, and a much calmer, wiser attitude takes over of "It'll take as long as it takes, and cost as much as it costs. No big deal, eh?" Would that I could keep that fleeting whiff of sanity off-airport! So I eyed the books for sale, consulted with the Kid on swag to buy, and kicked back to wait until they were done giving rides and would be parked and open for tours. The Kid has been around the airport enough to be safe, and is generally reliably polite and respectful enough to be unsupervised. Not that I didn't keep an eye on him and send him to get more drinks so we both stayed hydrated, but after the first round, I let him go up on his own to wait his turn and then respectfully pepper their mechanic with questions on the plane.

Unfortunately, by the time they were done and we'd gotten the tour (and I had a hyper-exited boy who had passed so far beyond excitement into something almost simulating calm), a line of convective cells had cut me off from our home airport. What's a gal to do? Kick back, chat with the mechanic, the pilot and copilot, and very respectfully listen to a gentleman who'd been a belly gunner in one during the war. The Kid was too excited to stay in one spot, so I pointed out that if he waited in line, he could go through the tour again. And again. Nobody was stopping him from doing it more than once.

At one point, as the belly gunner had stopped for questions after talking about the cold at altitude, a small tow head dashed up to my elbow. "I went through six times!"
Several sets of bemused and amused eyes met mine, and looked at him. The old gentleman leaned forward. "Are you ready to fly her yet?"
"Oh, no!"
"Well, what do you want, then?" He smiled.
"I... want to go through her again!"
"Then why don't you?" I replied, bemused at how well he'd expanded on my original permission.
"Can I?" He looked up with an incandescent grin.
"They won't mind?"
"I think they understand young men who really love airplanes." I grinned at the back of his head, as he was already gone back to the now-shorter line.

Some time later, I checked the weather again, shrugged, and called the Kid's father, mentioning if the weather didn't clear, we'd need a ride. Smyrna Air Center, by the way, will pull you into the hangar for weather, and won't charge, even for an overnighter caused by weather. Color me impressed! His dad and sister came down (Sadly, they didn't wake up a napping Calmer Half), and we went out to dinner. Sometime between the nachos coming out and the carne asada being polished off, the weather cleared up, and I took his sister for a fifteen minute hop back to the hangar, while the Kid had some alone-with-dad time to gush about the airplane.

Because I'm me, and it was that sort of day, I had the fairly freshly-licensed teen drive me home, giving her experience in a different vehicle, a little night driving, and a little reinforcement that not all adults thump their feet on the imaginary brake pedal every time they second-guess her mentally, nor will everyone over thirty criticize her every hesitation or mistake. Giving them all a little room to stretch their wings, eh?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Today, I did it. I finally did it. After all this time - years, in fact.



washed the plane.

I should do that more often. She really does fly better when clean. And she looks... much better, but now she's just clean enough that I can see all the parts I didn't clean well enough standing out. As I've run my hands from prop bolts to tip of the rudder, I also have a much more comprehensive list of minor, nit-picking little maintenance items to do...

But now I'm sunburned, stinky, sticky with sweat and soap, and hotter than when I started. Washing the plane did not, in fact, cool me off.

Of course, the flight afterward was nice, breezy, and cool as soon as I got over a thousand feet up. I flew over the farm where we go some weekends, then worked my way down to the airport via some practice on standard rate turns, climbing turns, descending turns, S-turns, and turns around a point. While I could blame a beautiful sunny day filled with puffy cumulus and an airplane wing designed to convert every thermal into free lift, the reality is that the pilot is rusty and she knows it. There's nothing wrong in fun flights just goofing off, but there's something wrong when I can't meet my standards within the expected deviation. Just like in firearms, you don't rise to the occasion in flying - you fall back on your sloppiest level of practice. My landings have sunk to nothing to write home about, either - serviceable, safe, and ugly. Tomorrow I'll be back, weather permitting, and instead of blowing off stress and tension with an aimless sort of wandering in the sky, I'll be back to practicing.

That is, after I take care of a patch of flaking paint, a little rust, a couple spots that need oiling, a couple spots that need oil removed, and a few cracks in the dope that need a little fresh rejuvenator.

In the end, I started sweating heavily again as soon as the fan up front shut off, and it was dripping down my face by the time she was in the hangar. We also found quite a few bugs while we were up there... Ah, how quickly clean and cool do pass down here in the south!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ladies' weekend out

One of the utterly endearing features of the internet is that it allows any person with a common interest to find other people who share that interest, no matter how rare it may be in their geographical area. Whether your fascination is steampunk or snowboarding, guns used in WWII on one particular front or the thread count of a civil war regiment's uniforms, there are people out there who share your passion.

So, of all the specialized forums on the internet, there is the site Ladies Love Taildraggers. They collect women who love conventional gear aircraft, encourage student pilots, and occasionally hold fly-ins. One was not that far from me, so Calmer Half booked a hotel, and off we went.

We were hardly alone - over fifty planes registered, and well over another fifty dropped in to see what was going on over the course of the weekend. And I was truly tripped out. I'm used to being "the girl", as were most of the women there. When there's well over thirty "the girl"s in the hangar at any given moment, we are torn between talking to each other in body language and styles that are understandable by men, and outbreaks of utter femininity.

It truly was a ladies' weekend out, where the women involved did indeed act like ladies, with plenty of grace and charm (and surprisingly little nail polish.) Even the poker run failed to be catty or competitive; we were all very agreeable that the fastest planes should depart first, so there'd be no danger of overtaking in the air... and at the second stop, they should hold a few tables at the restaurant near the airport for the slower planes.
(The supercub gaggle actually fly pretty fast - but they can't help themselves; every mowed-in grass strip, every fun bend of a passing river, every water tower and old barn with something painted on the side, person working their field or fishing on the banks calls for a detour. As for the open-cockpit biplane - well, if you wanted to go in a straight line quickly with the greasy side down all the time, you wouldn't have a Starduster.)

I'd like to give a shout-out to the companies who donated door prizes: David Clark donated a trademark avacado-green and tank-tough headset, Davis Aviation donated a bunch of Swag, Dakota Cub threw in t-shirts, Icom offered up some flight bags, Aircraft Spruce gave away goodies and gift certificates, and somebody, I wish I remembered who, had cases of oil and other useful products. Even the hosting airport manager, who rocked, gave away free gas.

(I really, really wish I could remember the petroleum distributor. Because I already own and love a set of David Clarks, as tough as my titanium wedding band, use an Icom radio, and order from Aircraft Spruce. If I could remember their darned name, they'd have a customer for supporting the flying. Phooey. Eventually I'll run across them again, go "It's You!" and happily buy a case of oil while they bemusedly figure that their marketing eventually worked on the extremely long tail.)

As we walked up and down the rows of aircraft (some camping, some staying in hotels in town), we saw a pilot had her Taylorcraft for sale. It perched there a lightly and proudly as a hawk on a fencepost, a beautifully restored 65-hp Post-WWII model, in red and cream and leather seats... absolutely, heartbreaking gorgeous, and for less than a new Kia. My husband looked at me, and I at him, and even though it doesn't make financial sense right now, we both knew the checkbook was burning like plasma in our pockets, whispering "A his and hers plane family..." in our ears.

We managed to walk away with checkbook and sanity intact. Mostly. Ignore the reading of EAA's Sport Aviation and increased debate on building an RV vs. a Hatz Bantam (or buying another Taylorcraft) around here. That's just the sort of lasting mental scarring to be expected when I drag my husband off with a ladies' weekend out.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Hangar Rash

My hangar is 40 feet wide. It's big, until you try to fit a roughly 36-foot wingspan plane in it. When I called my IA to confess, he wisely suggested I get some red duct tape, and mark the outer limit for each of the mains when rolling her in - and then, much as when landing her, make sure she's always going straight and centered when I roll her into the hangar.

I stopped as soon as I felt the contact - but 800-odd pounds of airplane, while very light for an aircraft, still has a momentum all her own. Nothing left to do but carefully straighten her out, put her away, and checked to make sure nothing was structurally wrong (there's a lot of torque that can be applied to a huge wing like that). Then, breaking out the book used through all the wing covering, I carefully read the section on patching.

First step is to clean off the old dope, right? Well, no. First step was to find, unpack, check, or order all the supplies. By the way, Aircraft Spruce will remember your order info, years after the fact. Also good to know - Aircraft Spruce has a demonstration kit, set up to show you how incredibly easy it is to ribstitch and dope fabric airplanes, and why you too should think this is awesome and decide to cover your airplane. While they send a heavy fabric instead of a light one, this means that all the dopes (and MEK) show up in one nice box in pint-size sample cans, more than enough for all the patches I could never want to do... for far less money than buying them individually otherwise. I did splurge and sprung for a quart of the color coat, so at some point all my patches will match my wings.

Okay, after it all arrives, calibrate the hobby iron, open the hangar doors to get a good breeze circulating, pray to G-d that not many mosquitos get stuck in your dope this time around (don't ask), glove and mask up, marke off the area with masking tape, and start scrubbing the entire patch area clean with MEK. Change gloves more often than you think you need to - gloves are cheap, MEK is nasty. When you're tired or finished, take off gloves and mask, pitch in camp chair under a wing, and stroll to the FBO for a can of soda, enjoying the fresh air, sunshine, and airplanes.

Come back, realize you need more surface area cleaned off, set new masking tape, and repeat. When the fabric is cleaned, cut away a few crumpled ragged edges and threads, and then cut a patch to overlap. Put it on, realize you're working on a curved surface, take off and readjust with judicious cutting. Think for a bit, cut a second patch to fit much better. Cement on. Take calibrated iron and iron spots not cemented down, which is strangely more than you'd think on a wingtip bow patch (as in, there was some).

Go get another soda. Come back, carefully pour base dope into a jar that's easier to dip brush into, and look a little dumbfounded. Remember that you did your entire wings with untinted dope, but that's right, Poly-Stits is usually a pink base. Laugh, mutter to the plane that she's not to go showing her pink parts to the world, apply dope carefully. Put everything away. Get another soda while it cures (yes, cures, not dries), try not to inflict humor on passing pilots.

Crack open the silver coat. Silver is a dope coat full of powdered aluminum - it's a heavy coat, as in weighs what you'd think when there's metal powder in that enamel, but should be applied in multiple very light coats. In fact, it really should be sprayed on, but this is not a show plane, and I don't have a HVLP sprayer or the air compressor to run it just yet. I do have a brush, and an airplane meant to be loved for her flying, not her looks. So, after stirring the silver, I pour a little into a can to use when brushing it on, and start applying light coats. As one coat cures, I walk around the airplane, looking for anywhere else that might need a little more silver to protect the fabric from the UV. Several rounds later, she looks good enough to functionally fly, if not as pretty as she used to be.

She'll do. Hopefully, her pilot has now gotten that stupidity out of her system, and never again shall the hangar door post and the airplane meet.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Wish for a crust of bread...

While the fabric is repaired beautifully, today dawned without a test flight on the plane. (Definition of overtime: trading time for money that you don't have time to spend.) The thunderstorms last night left low ceilings this morning, which didn't lift enough to meet my personal minimums until noon, so it was already hours past the time I wanted to leave before I got a chance to go. That was when I found my battery was dead, my radio's battery wasn't holding a charge, and the pilot was uncomfortable with hopping in the plane and going cross - country without some serious time making sure the plane was okay. Any one of these things could be easily overcome, but all together I just wasn't feeling good about it.

So we drove down in the car. There are two Taylorcrafts at this fly-in, both gorgeous, and more planes all over the ramp and grass, with a hangar full of people having a great time. It's rather strange; I'm used to being one of two or three lady pilots in the room. A hangar where the ratio is more like 60:40 women to men, and almost all pilots, is a little overwhelming... not bad, but overwhelming.

I packed my headsest, hoping I could bum a ride for Calmer Half or myself - not expecting, just hoping. Well, not only did I get offered a ride, I've been offered left seat by another Tcrate owner who's out for the count tomorrow. The plane is just post annual, barely four hours on the brand new engine, beautiful interior, what I felt of her handling today was dreamily smooth. (Roller bearing pulleys just went on my "must get when redoing the fuselage" list!) His wife wants to go on the poker run, but wants someone to fly with her...

Tomorrow I shall get into the plane and repeat a prayer as old as humanity, and as utterly sincere as the first time it was uttered by a man with a sharp stone on the end of a stick staring at a woolly mammoth: "Please, God, don't let me #$@* this up." For I have surely wished for a crust of bread and been given a banquet!

Monday, May 28, 2012

At the end of the day...

It's been a long, hot muggy day at work, the kind where I'm absolutely unashamed to hang my head over the trash can and slap handfuls of water from my waterbottle into my hair to try to cool down, while tucking the ends of a gel-filled neckerchief into my shirt to avoid dripping on the paperwork and keyboard. My subordinates, who are great people, kept coming by to check on their transplanted Alaskan, and even my boss was giving me a few long, measuring looks and urging me to leave off getting all the cats herded and go sit in the air conditioning on break.

I came home wanting a shower far more desperately than food (a very strange turn of affairs; I'm almost as food-motivated as a black lab.) Calmer Half stuck me into a shower that was a good fifteen degrees cooler than I can normally stand, then prepared a light dinner of tuna salad and veggies. He said gently to me that the two overwhelming things he felt after a day in desert combat were a dirtiness down to his soul, and a weariness down to the marrow of his bones - and while I was not in combat, I was trying to do a lot of intellectually and physically demanding work in a heat all out of my element - he figures I've come stumbling home with a shadow of the same feeling.

I know it is only the faintest of shadows, if that - and I have the deepest respect and appreciation for those who have withstood the boredom, the terror, the drudgery, the dust and mud, and the distance it places between them and those who will never know what the price of freedom really is. To those who have served, those who are serving, may you rest easy. To those who did not live to see what their service bought - may they rest in peace, and with my gratitude.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Getting older, maybe smarter

I was putting a small fabric patch on the plane this weekend, and touching up the silver on some other patches. When I went through Home & Aircraft Depot to pick up a few things (masking tape, brushes, nitrile gloves, etc), I stopped at the aisle with the good masks. I frowned at the price tag - over thirty bucks - and shook my head. "I'll find my mask, and come back for the right set of filters."

Halfway down the aisle, I stopped, called myself a fool, and went back to get a new mask. I know all too well that I'll get everything else set up, and want to forge right on ahead instead of wasting precious weekend hours looking for the darned mask. I've already had enough exposure to MEK to never want another molecule of it in my lungs or absorbed through my skin; there's no sense in wasting more time looking for the mask and coming back for the filters, or endangering my health by thinking I'll just do this little bit, and the ventilation ought to be good enough... (never is.)

Upon laying out all the tools and supplies for the job, I realized I have no idea where my calibrated iron is. It's probably still in Alaska. I'll miss that iron - it was a good one, held heat well, and was easy to use. I don't know how many airplanes it's helped repair or recover, but it's a few. (Yes, it's an iron just like many used on clothes. However, once you start using an iron around epoxies and aircraft dopes, it is no longer fit to be used on clothes. The instructions for covering an aircraft mention in no less than fifteen places "Do NOT use your wife's iron!". So a good iron that holds heat well, is calibrated, and is availabe for aircraft... gets passed around.)

Since I'm only doing small patches instead of whole huge wings, I only need a hobby iron. So I look in Home & Aircraft Depot - no luck. The hobby store is closed for memorial day weekend. The next hobby store doesn't have one. Hobby Lobby and Jo-Anne's fabrics don't have the kind I need - they have hobby irons, but they're tiny, with little shiny steel flat wedges barely a tenth the size and almost none of the mass of what I need, for $39.. with no ability to calibrate, so it's just as likely to make things worse as to work. My other option in the store is to break down and spend $89 for a new full-scale clothes iron.

After having put an hour and a fair bit of driving into this, I realize the answer is at my fingertips - or, literally, in my pocket. The little computer that masquerades as a cell phone listens to my frustrated search term, and pulls up an listing of exactly what I want, for seventeen bucks, with two-day shipping available. I buy an aircraft tool on my phone, shaking my head at this future I'm living in, and buy a soda on the way out the door to go back to the airport and buckle down to work.

There's a fly-in next weekend, in Savannah, TN - Ladies Love Taildraggers is hosting it. I probably won't get the paint on over the silver by then, which is kind of like going to the car show in a three-color (rust, paint, & primer) car when you know other people are going to show up in washed & waxed beauties. On the other hand, I'll get her up, get reacquainted with her after our mutual grounding, get the oil hot & change it, and show up in an airplane that flies better than her pilot, like she has for over seventy years. And if she doesn't look so wonderful next to the other planes there, well, her pilot is smart enough to realize that looks aren't everything, and even A-10's have people who think they're beautiful.

I'm getting a little smarter as I get older - someday I aim to be both smart and wise.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Spouses and Airplanes

We got the bill for the annual. (The aircraft's annual, to be precise.) Ouch. I knew it was going to be bad, and it was a little (but not much) worse than expected. Still, seeing the number was like a fist to the gut - ah, the joys of airplane ownership.

Fiscal matters are at the heart of many a couple's fights, and money is usually the obvious breaking point between many a wife's mock-jealous sufferance of her husband's "other woman - that airplane." and her determination that it needs to stop competing for money, time, and affection. (And threat to her spouse's life?)

So when Calmer Half and I discussed how to settle the bill, and what we could reasonably afford in terms, he reached forward and gently grabbed my shoulders. "With the amount of money that plane is costing us..." He took a breath, and I thought, well, here comes the typical your darned plane fight, "...I want you to fly that thing every chance you get!"

*blink* *blink*

Did I mention I adore this man?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Oops, work and an AR-15 shirt

Oleg has shirts from around his house, as he's been taking photos of them. I needed a shirt at one point, and he offered one of them to me. (Sorry to disappoint the minds in the gutter, but no, not like that. I don't remember, but it wasn't as exciting as the life you think I have.)

Earlier this week, this shirt came up on the top of the stack of clean t-shirts, and in my pre-caffienated state, I put it on without a second thought, shrugged into my safety vest, and continued on with my morning routine. Everything was just fine, until right after the morning meeting, when one of my subordinates came up to me. (Not unusual; I encourage comments and questions to my face, to avoid having to try to answer the rumor chain or clean up the "I tried to figure it out myself" mess later.)

He grinned at me. "Is that an AR-15?"

I blinked, grinned, and shrugged. "Well..." Meaning, huh? What AR-15?

Another subordinate, nearby, chimed in. "What's an AR-15?"

The first one gestured at my chest and said, "It's the rifle the military uses. Those are the sights for an AR-15, aren't they?"

Oh, yeah. That. I grinned wider, and nodded. "Yeah. It's kind of a joke."

"That's pretty awesome! Where did you get that?"

Now, I'd be more inclined to say the military has the M-16 than the AR-15, personally, but this subordinate has never struck me as being one of the many prior-military and reservists among the ranks of my company. (We have lots. I fully endorse this practice, because vets are self-motivated, bright, problem solving, and understand the critical difference between the time to point out there's a better way to do something, and the time to drop everything and do this right now.) Still, he may have been the first to ask me openly, but he wasn't the only one to glance at my chest and grin.

Yeah, that's me. Providing logistics, leadership, and a gun nut in-joke because I didn't check the t-shirt stack for differentiation between work and not-work shirts. I probably should resist the temptation to get a few more, and see if my crew can recognize the rest of the designs. What could possible go wrong with wearing a Gasden snake curled around a AR-15 during meetings?

(As an aside, it's a good shirt, stands up to work and wear really well. Wish it was a little lower-quality in this muggy heat, actually, as a cheaper t-shirt might be a little less... insulating. But it wicks sweat well, and holds up to grime. And FCC, about your disclaimer rules? I got it free, I like it, I plan to buy a replacement. Resign and go do something useful in the real world instead of being a useless parasite on my taxes.)

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Just went to drop off the comforter and get it cleaned, since I don't have a washer big enough, and it's high past time. It's a gray, chilly Saturday, the kind that inspires baking things and hot tea to warm the house and soul, and the streets were no busier than a middle of the working day on Thursday.

As I parked near the little storefront for the cleaners, a slim, impeccably dressed Asian woman came to the door and watched me. As soon as I opened the back door and got the mass of cloth out, she had the door wide open, letting heat out with a smile on her face. "Welcome in! Welcome in!"

I walked in to find a very neat, clean shop with every spare surface crowded with photographs of family, and the woman whipped behind the counter. She was eager to pull out a pad and get my information, and when I pulled cash out of my wallet to pay, her eyes sparkled. "When do you need it back?" She asked, and her smile grew into a wide grin when I shrugged. "Wednesday, yes? You good customer, in no hurry, I love you! Is first time here?" And insisted on shaking my hand, introducing me to the family in the photographs, and proudly proclaiming her citizenship and her business's history.

I thanked her very much, and walked out smiling, but there was a little chill going up my spine.

More and more, lately, though, business owners and employees alike have been standing at the doors of their empty shops, ready to greet me, welcome me in, help me however I can, and could they carry my items out? For all their helpfulness, their excellent service (whether I want it or not), I find myself reminded of a wake. Where the survivors are saying "See this man, and hear my story, and share this memory, make him real and alive to you as he was to me."

See me, see this business I have built with my own hands, let me shake yours. See my family, I support with it, see how long I have been in business, see how I am part of your community and love your country. See me, and come back, please, and often. Please. Please.

There's a little chill thought that won't go away. A little voice in my head whispers, as grey and aching as my old injuries: This is not a healthy country.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dehydration in the brain

One of the very cool opportunities from being in the Lower 48 was being invited to spend time with the Baen Barflies at DragonCon. Now, I've heard of Baen's Bar from a good friend and for the last twelve years, but somehow I never quite got 'round to joining - especially when he told me the good stories anyway. This includes moments like watching Mad Mike (Michael Z Williamson, whose books are as great reads as they are politically incorrect) make a drink called "clubbed seal" (and failing to get up off the couch afterward. Tasty and potent!)

It also included meeting Speaker To Lab Rats, who is a real live neuroscientist, and a really great guy. He is not only gracious and generous, he also has a wickedly keen wit and isn't afraid to use it. He keeps a blog that puts mine to shame:Teddy's Rat Lab, which explains very interesting science in ways that let laymen understand.

I was reading the second of his two-part series on Diabetes in the brain, on diabetic neuropathy, and experienced on of those moments in which the perfectly well-put fact suddenly acts like a seed in a supersaturated solution, making fuzzy generalizations, "everybody knows" and "the symptoms are" resolve into a perfectly understandable cause and effect.

As previously mentioned, neurons in the brain are not dependent on insulin for their uptake of glucose from the blood. This is not to say that neurons are insensitive to insulin or that insulin has no effect on neurons...

Thus, in the brain the effects of high blood glucose are largely due to the osmotic properties of the glucose molecule dissolved in the liquid component of blood. In this manner, glucose acts very much like high salt concentrations. It is fairly well known that one means of preserving food is to dehydrate it, quite frequently with salt.

I love learning things. Especially things that help me understand how the world works, and make sense out of the universe. So I dashed downstairs, and excitedly related this to Calmer Half. "So, it's actually the dehydration of nerve cells that poisons and kills them, which is why diabetics end up having problems with vision and feeling in their feet! Isn't that cool?"

Calmer Half, who is still having struggles aplenty with the low-carb diet and blood sugar, didn't look so calm as I name him. In fact, he looked at me with the same face a soldier on patrol turns toward the approaching sandstorm. "No. It's not." He frowned, and it was a frown that made me decide that maybe I better take myself off somewhere else and remove my feet from my mouth.

...And for some reason, the usual sources of carbalicious temptation just weren't as appealing that night.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Here's the holster!

There's a time for shaky cell phone pictures in available light, and there's a time for professionals. Oleg does awesome work - and so does Dragon Leatherworks!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

I'm enthusiastic, not excellent

Once upon a time*, a mixed group of draftees and enlistees were in boot. They were lined up one at a time, handed something that went bang**, and pointed at the derelict hulk of a tank resting beneath the spreading branches of a tree. The tank had a big bullseye painted on the very dented front. One of the men involved nailed the center of the bullseye on the first try, resulting in a bang and flying debris, and was feeling fairly proud of himself as he stepped aside.

After him came a young man who was hobbling slightly, still getting used to wearing shoes. This young man took the weapon and stared thoughtfully at the tank, dappled with sunlight and shifting shadows in the breeze. Just before the sergeant lost his temper, he finally fired. The round rebounded off a swaying tree limb and dropped into the open hatch on top, followed by a curiously muffled whumph. As smoke gently wisped out the hatch, he turned to the sergeant and said in a painfully thick and slow drawl, "Well, you wanted me t' kill the people in the tank, right, sir?"

"You! Out of here!"

"Don' I get the other tries, sir?"

The first young man would go on to qualify as expert marksman in every firearm the army had in use*** (and bayonet, too.) However, he never forgot the lesson he learned that day in basic: never get cocky, because there's always someone who is so much better that they're not even in the same league.

Fortunately, he passed this lesson on to me, and I have tried to remember and live by it. I have met some pilots who were good sticks, who could do things near-impossible on a regular basis. I have met great shooters. I am neither - I really enjoy flying and shooting, but I am not that great at either. Keep that in mind when I talk about my plane, or guns, or reviews of anything, really.

*Not that long ago. The difference between war stories and fairy tales is that one begins "Once upon a time", and the other begins "No sh*t, there I was" - being as this was the Vietnam war era, and definitely not my story, I gave it a fairy tale opening.

**Question for the audience - I first heard this one when I was not quite as tall as a rifle with a bayonet, possibly the same day I got bored, lost, and was finally found sitting on a table in the armory, enchanted and excited while a very, very nice man with lots of chevrons on his sleeves showed off his many, many toys (so cool!). Anyone have an idea what sort of weapon was involved? I think I remember it being described as a 50mm shell, but that's really fuzzy.

***Which took quite a few years. In fact, as he was closing in on the goal, his daughter was getting to dating age. And the qualification targets, with their little tombstones, started to go up on the wall in the hall leading to his daughter's bedroom...