Saturday, February 20, 2016

Exercise and cats

Why exercise at a gym? After all, you can do almost all the same things at home, without the travel, the fees, or the other people, right?

Unless you have cats. To see what doing situps and pushups with cats is like, go here:

This post brought to you by the person who was counting their seventh abdominal crunch of a set when the cat popped out from under the bed, and did a beautiful  cross-body leap, pounce, and bit my left forearm just as I was coming up for the eighth one.

Let's not even talk about yoga with cats. Just...

I've got to join a gym.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A little escalation is good for the... soul?

Now that we live in walking distance from OldNFO, LawDog, and Phlegm Fatale, we've gotten into the habit of rotating group dinners. (And when we decided to make the informal formal, OldNFO and I settle who has which night via the age-old coin toss method.)

Now, when you get a group of very experienced, well trained, highly skilled people together, no matter the subject matter, a natural spirit of competition starts to arise. This can result in such things as marathon races, short takeoff and landing competitions, and gigantic bonfires. But this is just dinner, right?

"Just" dinner.

OldNFO served dinner tonight. Marinated kebabs on the grill, green beans tossed with olive oil, salt, & garlic on the grill, a salad and rice pilaf on the side, a shiraz in the glasses, oh and there just happened to be a german chocolate cake for dessert.

LawDog has proclaimed he's rising to the challenge with a true Texas chili this weekend, and there's an understated understanding that of course this means salad and wine, and we'll see what side.

Great. Not that I feel the need to top both gentlemen. No, I merely need to match their excellent cooking, right? Which is why I volunteered next week to do bobotie. Okay, fine, "Challenge: Accepted!"

..."just" dinner.

Great. Six months from now, are we going to be doing the veggies carved into the shape of lotus flowers and kobe beef? Because this kind of escalation can be dangerous...

I think I need to join a gym.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Ray's Cheesy Grits

I got this recipe from Ray, after we made all three variants of his cheesy grits disappear rapidly last weekend during a gathering. It has nothing to do with low carb, and everything to do with delicious. Even my husband, who cannot abide American grits, devoured it.

Ray's Cheesy Grits


5 cups chicken broth
1 1/4 cups uncooked quick cooking grits*
16 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (roughly 2 cups)
1/4 cup whipping cream (unwhipped)
1 tsp sriracha sauce**
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
3 large eggs

For meat
Option A: 1 can hickory smoked spam, cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices
Option B: 1.5 lbs breakfast sausage, cooked and drained***
Option C: 1.5 lbs Peter Grant's Mex Mix


Step 1:
Verify you have all the ingredients for your intended mode of destruction.

Step 2:
Butter a 9x13 glass or ceramic baking dish.**** Put meat of choice in even layer in bottom of pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Step 3:
Bring chicken broth to a boil in a Large saucepan.***** Gradually whisk in grits, bringing back to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened. (While grits are thickening, in 1 cup glass measure, mix whipping cream, hot sauce, black pepper and red pepper vigorously with a fork or small whisk. Set aside.

Step 4:
When grits have thickened, add cheese. Stir Vigorously! Large whisk works well. Keep stirring until glop is not lumpy. Add cream mix.

Step 5:
In seperate bowl, stir together the three large eggs. Stir into grits mix until thoroughly mixed. Pour into 9x13 pan over meat of choice.

Step 6:
Cook at 350 degrees F for 45-50 minutes. After baking, remove and let rest for 10 minutes. Cut with spatula and serve to the hovering crowd.

*stone ground grits can be substituted. Increase liquid to 6 cups & cook time to 60 minutes
**other and inferior hot sauces may be utilized, with predictably inferior results.
***drained is important! It avoids setting the stove on fire!
****Use of metal baking dish will result in cursing, soaking, scrubbing, more cursing, and more scrubbing.
******Not medium, you fool!
.****** Failure to allow resting time may result in second or third degree burns.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Foresworn II

So when we last left our intrepid pilot, he was on a sandbar somewhere in the greater expanse of Alaska, with a malfunctioning GPS. I was on the other end of a satellite phone connection, warm and dry in a pilot shop in Anchorage, having just realized that I'd broken my fervent promise never to do help desk.

With clearly great reluctance, our lost pilot turns off the GPS, and I hear the sigh of relief when it boots back up just fine. "Oh! The numbers on the lower left hand side are..." And he rattles off a software version number that makes me want to facepalm. He hasn't updated the software on this thing in years... in fact, I'd bet good money he hasn't updated since he bought it. "And here's the satellite page! It's searching! It thinks the date is... what??"

I nod, even though he can't see it, and pitch my voice low and soothing again. "Was that the last time you'd used the GPS, sir?"

"Oh. Uh. Yeah, I guess it was."

"Your GPS basically went to sleep when you shut it down, and now it doesn't know that time passed, so it's staring really hard in the wrong spot of the sky for the satellites, sir. It's okay. Turn it off again, and listen to my instructions before you turn it back on. I want you to repeat back to me what you're gonna do. You're going to hold down these two buttons, and continue holding them down for three seconds after you push the power button again. What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to... do I hold the power button down for three seconds, too?"

"No, sir, just those two buttons."

I wait. Approximately three second later, the full-pitched panic returns. "It's not finding them yet!"

"It's going to take about ten minutes." I soothe, and desperately reach into my bag of tricks for ways to distract, soothe, and generally de-panic pilots. Time for the biggest one I have. So I pitch my voice up bright. "While we're waiting, what kind of plane do you have?"

He perks up by reflex. "Oh, it's a supercub!"

"Really? What mods have you put on yours, and what are you planning?"

A few minutes later, in the middle of an extended discussion on the best way to spend a limited budget at the amazing and wonderful world of airplane mods known as F. Atlee Dodge, he breaks off. "Hey, it's working! I see where I am! How'd I get... never mind! I can get back to the airport!"


"Um, how much do I owe you?"

I contemplate the absurdity of trying to take a credit card payment from the middle of nowhere over a satellite phone for telling a guy to press three buttons, and reply brightly, "You owe me coming into the shop to get that GPS software updated, next time you get back into the Big City!"

"Okay! Thank you So Much! I'll be right there!" He hangs up, and I put the phone back on the hook with a shake of my head and a sigh.

Fearless Pilot Shop Leader asks all the questions she needs to by just raising her eyebrows. I check - there are no other customers in earshot, just one back by the used avionics counter. I hold up my fingers and waggle air quotes. "I'm on a sandbar and my GPS doesn't work."

She nods, and points over to the GPS update computer. "I got another one over there, waiting for you."

"Can do!" I shift my but off the stool, and head off to another day in the life of tech support. At least I get to talk about airplanes while doing it!

Sunday, February 7, 2016


Many, many years ago, I was in engineering school, with lots of friends who were computer geeks, working helldesk. Help Desk is a job where one has a phone line to even more concentrated stupid than twitter in political season, and is forced to try to help people from the most inarticulate to the most clueless fix whatever went wrong (usually user-caused.)

I swore I'd never work helldesk.

Fast forward quite a few years, and I've gone from working for airport maintenance to taking a job just for the fun of it, at Alaska's best avionics & pilot shop. (Miss that place! They're Good People, and do excellent work!) I was the pilot of the pilot shop ladies, and as such, I got to spend a fair amount of time doing updates, changing settings, and fixing many a pilot's GPS. Backing up their data before doing an update was an interesting in negotiation and trust.

For some reason, many a gentleman whose livelihood depended on guiding clients to his few scratch strips out in the bush where no one else knew a way in to a Dall sheep herd with trophy-sized males... was a might bit paranoid about people handling his GPS data.

And if you think guides are paranoid, let's not even talk about small-claim miners!

They responded well to complete honesty. "Look, sir, I'm rebuilding my T-crate. I couldn't care about your scratch strip, and I couldn't get out there anyway. Now, if you had a line on pre-WWII thickness aircraft sheet aluminum? That'd be a different story!"

I knew they trusted me when they came in and asked when I'd be on shift to fix their GPS.

Well, one day, the talented and beautiful leader of the pilot shop staff answered the phone, then stuck it in my direction with a rather odd look on her face. "It's for you."

"Awesomest Pilot Shop, Wing speaking, how can I help you?" I chirped, raising an eyebrow at my fearless leader.

There was a pause. A pause of a very peculiar variety. The quality of pause that told me this was a satellite phone call, and the pause was mostly lag as voice bounced back and forth from orbit. You get the oddest little hesitations ingrained when you do enough satellite phone calls, waiting to be sure you're not speaking over an incoming voice. And sure enough, after the small hesitation of I'm not saying anything else + lag, came a male voice that was hitting the highest alto of panic, near unto soprano as he yelped in fear.

"I'm on a sandbar and my GPS doesn't work!"

Ah. Interesting. Depending on where he was in where-ever-in-the-world, this could be real trouble. I pitch my voice as low and soothing as possible. "What happened?"

"I was chasing caribou tracks up a braided river, and got completely lost, and now I'm low on fuel and my GPS doesn't work!!" The panic was strong with this one, and for good reason: if he ran out of fuel before he found something that vaguely passes for civilization, he might get the CAP to do a search sweep and rescue him. Or he might die. If he panicked and left the only easy thing to find - the airplane - the chances were pretty high on the latter.

So I hitched myself onto the barstool of Long Phone Conversations, tucked the phone between my shoulder and ear, and slowed my speech down while dropping it to the same register as used for enticing scared cats out from under the pile of parts. "All right, sir. We can fix this. Let's start at the beginning. Does it even turn on when you push the power button?"

"It does, but it can't find the satellites!"

"Aaaah. Okay, I want you to turn it off, and then listen to my instruction before you turn it on. When it comes on, I want you to tell me what number shows in the lower left-hand corner of the boot-up screen. And then, when it goes to the satellite page, what date it's showing."

The pause is longer this time. "If I turn it off, do you think it'll come back on?"

"I'm sure of it, sir. We're going to find the software version number, the internal date, and then we're going to reset it so it thinks it's fresh from the factory and has to search then whole sky, instead of staring fixedly in the wrong spot for the satellites."

I'm sure of it. Just as sure as I'm working helldesk.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Hello, Texas!

The first time I visited this town, I was straight off the plane from Anchorage. It seemed abominably flat, dry, dusty, and treeless, with only scraggly bush. (Mesquite is to Texas as willow scrub is to Alaska, I guess.) It also got dark too darned fast, and let's not talk about the heat! Yeah, when my love asked me if I wanted to move here, I nearly crawled out of my skin.

Then I moved away from where the mountains plunge into the sea, down to Tennessee in the Lower 48. After a few years of the suburban outskirts of Nashville, growing steadily more allergic to the place, I end up moving to the very same town. Funny, the way it's changed.

Sure, it's flat, with those wide-open skies I miss from Alaska, and the air is crisp and clean. I can see for miles, unlike being lost in the humid haze - once again, severe clear means you can see things fifty, even eighty miles away. (In Tennessee, it seemed a severe clear day meant 30 mile visibility.)

It's winter, but the wind is a dry cold that doesn't slice straight through your layers and turn every joint and old injury into stiffness, pain, and swelling. No, here, a windbreaker will do where the same temperature in Tennessee would take several layers and still hurt. Even better, the only thing setting off my allergies here is the dust on the boxes and stuff we're unpacking!

The people are friendly, the food is great, and the sunrise is beautiful to watch with a cuppa.

If I'd learned to like this place the first time 'round, I would have missed some great friendships, and a really interesting job, and plenty of awesome memories. On the other hand, getting that east-of-the-Mississippi-River experience has let me appreciate the wonders here.

Still miss Alaska. Don't miss Alaskan winter yet!