Aviation, Humor, Musings, News, Other Stories, Pet Peeves, Philosophy, Poetry, Self Promotion

2011 Wrap Up

A little more than a year ago, I timidly wandered into the Blogosphere hoping for nothing more than a creative outlet.  To my surprise, I have gained so much more than that.  I have no words for the depth of the gratitude I feel for the support, encouragement, and friendship I have received from so many.  I am overwhelmed.  Thank you.

I’ve heard that you can’t move forward without looking back, so I thought this would be an appropriate time to share one of my favorite posts from each month with you.  I hope all of your years to come are filled with joy, adventure and love.  Thank you for sharing my journey with me!

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Aviation, Musings, Philosophy

Simulated Fun

As the pilot of a jet, I was required to pass a competency check every six months.  Some of the maneuvers I needed to perform were less expensive and much safer to do in a flight simulator.

It may not look like much from the outside, but inside it's better than Disney World.

These simulators are incredibly advanced, offering full motion and exceptional graphics which are capable of giving the pilot a very realistic experience.  The instructors also have the God-like powers to place you at any airport, in any time of weather conditions, with whatever broken aircraft systems that floats their boat.

For this reason, many a pilot has woken up in a cold sweat at the prospect of simulator training.  Not me.  I loved it.  Where else can you test the very limits of your flying expertise and not run the risk of dying?

My freight dog brethren understood.

Great. Where's the flashlight?

A night time approach in a half mile of freezing fog with clear ice building on the unprotected surfaces of your aircraft was not a far fetched scenario, it was common.  Losing your interior lights may not even be noticed during the day when most pilots are working, but it could be a giant pain in the ass for a freight pilot at 2:00 in the morning.

Some of the instructors particularly enjoyed the freight dog “bring it on” attitude.  Once, after a particularly difficult approach and embarrassingly ugly landing in the Learjet 35 simulator, I had angrily asked my instructor what I did wrong.  He just laughed and said, “I loaded you up with about 3000 pounds of ice.  I can’t believe you didn’t crash.”

Asking one of these folks for a zero visibility approach and landing must have been like manna from Heaven.  How horrible would it be to have omnipotent powers that you could only use when some adventurous and arguably masochistic soul said, “pretty please?”

Call me crazy – you wouldn’t be the first or the last – but I never wanted to be the pilot caught by surprise in a dangerous situation for the first time in an actual aircraft.  I wanted to experience everything from the safety of the simulator first where I could explore different solutions, have the luxury of stopping time, and review what worked and what didn’t.

All the fun with none of the risk.  What could be better than that?

Musings, Philosophy, Poetry

Life’s Road

When I was a morose teenager, I wrote a poem I called “Life’s Road.”  Like most angst-ridden hormonal prose, it was never really meant to be shared.  It was just a method for me to purge some of my juvenile emotions.  Here’s what I can remember:

Life’s road is filled with many twists and turns

And from tragedy to tragedy, one never learns

That the potholes in the Road are meant to be

Small reminders throughout history

That we must pick ourselves up and dust off the dirt

And let no one else know how much we hurt

Else those we love and in which we’ll confide

Become strangers who leave us cruelly behind.

 Looking back, I hardly recognize that person anymore.  So many things have changed and shaped who I am today to led me to this point in my life.  I have been a Mary Kay consultant, flight instructor, and business owner.  I am a wife, mother, and aunt.  I have realized my dream of flying a Learjet, which I wanted to do ever since I first laid eyes on its sexy, agile fuselage.  And now, I even have the audacity to call myself a writer

The person who wrote that poem could not have even imagined that she would one day fly a Learjet at 45,000 feet and witness the spellbinding beauty of the Northern Lights illuminating the barely noticeable curvature of the Earth.  She did not know that not only would she have children of her own, but that each one of those children would be tiny pieces of her soul exposed to whatever Life’s Road may throw at them.  She never dreamed that she could ever write anything that anyone would care to read.

In this last year alone, I have learned so much.  I have very hesitantly shared my thoughts and have received more than my share of encouragement.  I have made new friends and re-ignited a passion for writing that allows me to share the joy, hope and gratitude that I never knew I could feel when I penned “Life’s Road.”

And the journey continues.  I am overwhelmed by my good fortune and so very happy that I took this fork in the Road.  Thank you for your friendship, your encouragement and for joining me on my expedition of self discovery. 

Now, buckle up.  We’re going for a RIDE!

Aviation, Musings, Philosophy

Balancing Act

Back in my flight instructor days, one of the things I always made a point of demonstrating during my introductory flights was a simulated engine failure.  I know it sounds harsh, but it was really a gentle illustration that despite all the ridiculous movie scenes of airplane disasters, an aircraft will not spontaneously burst into flames, spin out of control and fall from the sky like a banished angel trailing smoky retribution should engine power be interrupted or lost.

This does not happen during a simple engine failure.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Twin engine aircraft do have some potentially hazardous quirks of their own during an engine failure, especially during the critical phases of takeoff and landing, but I’m talking about a small, single engine trainer in cruise flight.  I would smoothly ease the throttle back until the engine was set to “idle” and ask my student if they were frightened by or uncomfortable with the aircraft’s current configuration.  Not once was anyone alarmed.  I then explained to them that this is exactly what happens when an aircraft’s engine fails in cruise flight.  The propeller continues to spin, the noise diminishes and the aircraft’s lift is no longer in balance with it’s weight, and thus it becomes a glider.

4 Forces
Four forces of flight

An aircraft in flight is subject to four main forces, lift (up) countered by weight (down), and thrust (forward) countered by drag (backward).  The initial “unbalancing” of these forces is what allows the pilot to control the aircraft.

In straight and level cruise flight, these forces are harmoniously balanced.  The combined forces of lift and thrust must be greater than the combined forces of weight and drag to initiate a climb.  If those forces remain in equilibrium, the climb continues until the stability of the forces are again disrupted to return to level flight.  Even during a turn, these forces seek equilibrium to maintain the rate of turn.

Recently, it occurred to me that this principle can be applied in many ways to our lives in general.  We need balance.  There is rampant duality in our universe for a reason:  good and evil;  light and dark;  Up and down.  How can you truly have one without the existence of the other?  Without light, there are no shadows.  Without the concept of evil, there would be no reference point for us to understand good.

The pachyderm has a point

A life out of balance can lead to any number of unwanted results.  While we all understand the consequences of too much hate, stress, alcohol, drugs, or other negative influences, it is entirely possible for one to be too optimistic, eat too much, exercise too much, sleep too much, or have too many possessions.  We are much more content when in a state of equilibrium, but outside influences are always striving to upset our balance.  Much like that single engine trainer in clear air turbulence, we must navigate our way clear of everything from temporary traffic delays to devastating personal tragedies in order to regain our equilibrium.

Once you encounter that turbulence, change your altitude, alter your course, do whatever it takes to rediscover your own balance.  Otherwise, you may find yourself unnecessarily stranded in a cornfield after failing to re-establish cruise flight by leaving your power at idle.   I hear that can be pretty embarrassing.

Aviation, Humor, Musings, Pet Peeves, Philosophy

Be the Captain

I have had so many things on my mind recently that it’s been difficult to put just one thought to paper, or rather, keyboard.  But, some very excellent margaritas (oh, fine, here’s the recipe, you sots: 1 part Jose Cuervo Especial,

I know I've got some Triple Sec around here somewhere...

1/2 part cheap-crappy-probably-as-old-as-Methuselah Triple Sec, 1/2 part lime juice and 2 parts generic margarita mixer) and a lovely post from my dear friend (can I legally say that about someone I’ve only met by blog?), Bee, has inspired me.  So, suck it up, my friends, and endure my drunken ramblings.  Or not.  Whatever strips your gears, I always say. Am I an alcoholic if I can only compose a coherent, entertaining blog post when I’m inebriated?  Eh, we’ll examine that another time.  I’m low on Cuervo.

“Be the Captain.”  I’ve been stewing on this for a while and I guess it just takes a little bit of mental KY  (i.e. yummy margaritas) to give me the (most likely false) sense of security to write about it.

While I was in training for my freight pilot job, one of my favorite instructors would constantly harp on us to “be the captain.”  Unfortunately, most of us didn’t get it, at least not right away.  Some of us didn’t get it until much later in our careers.  A few of us didn’t get it at all and that’s just one of the reasons not everyone made it through training.  I believe I finally understood what he was talking about about a week after my catastrophic (at least to me) check ride with him.

It started out like any other check ride.  I had all the flight plans in order.  I had confirmed that the aircraft was airworthy and ready for flight.  I was nervous, but I knew I could handle whatever he could dish out.  I would pass my test, and be on the next flight to Midway Airport to collect my car and sleep in my own bed.  But I was wrong.  He wasn’t looking for someone with all the right answers, he was looking for someone who could “be the captain.”

He continuously questioned my decisions.  He played on my fears of incompetency.  He insinuated that potential dangers might exist.  He, quite frankly, made me feel like I had no idea what the hell I was doing thinking that I could possibly operate an aircraft  at all.  He morphed into a complete stranger, mockingly twirling the keys to my future on his index finger while saying, “I don’t know….I suppose I’ll have to discuss your performance with my superior before I can determine what to do with you.”

What if the controller is asleep?

Describing my reaction as “devastated” would be an epic understatement.  I could not comprehend in my wildest imagination what could possibly have gone wrong.  I did whatever he asked, flawlessly.  But that was exactly the opposite of what he wanted.  He wanted me to “be the captain.”

“Being the captain” means assuming the ultimate authority and responsibility for the flight.  The captain makes all the hard decisions.  The captain does whatever it takes to ensure that the flight is successful, safe and efficient.  The captain, is, as far as that particular flight is concerned, God.  He was simply waiting for me to exert my authority as captain and tell him to “kindly shut the hell up.”  The fact that I chose instead to cry like a two-year-old with a boo-boo caused him a considerable amount of consternation.

My point is this: you, too, are the captain.  You have the ultimate authority and responsibility for your life.  Everything is a choice (perhaps some seem more so than others, but they are all choices)  and the final decision rests in your hands.  It’s all up to you.  So, what are you going to do, Captain?

Personally, I’m going to bed.  I have children to send to school in the morning.

Musings, Pet Peeves, Philosophy

The Hurricane

My relationship with my mother-in-law, otherwise known as Hurricane Helen, has been stormy, to say the least.  We have been at odds over everything from whether it’s appropriate for her to replace throw rugs and bed linens in my home as she sees fit (she said they were too dirty to clean) to the proper response to a toddler that bites a playmate (she unabashedly told me that biting him back would teach him a lesson he wouldn’t forget).  It may be that our life experiences have imbued us with radically different philosophical outlooks.  It may be because we are both fiercely independent, stubborn, and used to getting our own way.  Perhaps it’s merely a standard result of Scorpio – Leo interactions.  I don’t know.

She's coming when? And she's staying HOW LONG?

What I do know is that she has, usually with the best of intentions, driven me completely batshit crazy on innumerable occasions beginning with her attempt to hijack my wedding plans and, more recently, with her unshakable belief that she can cram 48 hours worth of “errands” into a 5 hour visit.  This belief does not include a plan.  I imagine that would take all the fun out of it for her.  As a meticulous planner who must have several backup plans in order to function on a daily basis, this Pollyanna attitude deeply disturbs me.

For years, the Hurricane has blown into town and run roughshod over my wishes while staying in my home without even the slightest bit of hesitation or remorse.  With the assistance of the hearing aid that she refuses to wear (her most common excuses: “it’s uncomfortable,” “the batteries are dead,” “it’s been misplaced,”  “it’s too loud’), she simply only hears what she wants to hear and therefore, will not acknowledge any opposition to her actions.  I have been bullied by this woman for so long that I was utterly astonished yesterday to find myself feeling sympathy for her.  It seems that while I wasn’t paying attention, the Hurricane faded into a zephyr.

While talking with her on the phone about her husband, whose health very recently took a turn for the worse, I realized that she is suddenly facing the possibility of her own obsolescence.  Her self worth is helplessly entwined in how much others need her.  That’s why almost every verbal altercation we’ve had stemmed from her usurping my place in my home because she doesn’t know of any other way to be assured that she is needed.  If no one needs her, then how can she exist?

This glimmer of insight into my mother-in-law’s personality allowed me to look back over our relationship in a new light and release a lot of the hurt, resentment and anger I’ve nursed in my heart toward her.  I will probably need a lot more introspection to absolve her for hiring “Those Funny Little People” as a gift for my wedding reception (I had my heart set on a classy and dignified affair), but the seeds of forgiveness have been sowed.  And I have high hopes for the harvest.

Musings, Pet Peeves, Philosophy

May I Have My Change, Please?

The Universe is a wondrous place.  Order and chaos, miracle and mundane, light and darkness, swirling in a majestic reel where the only constant is change.  While some of us balk, fervently wishing for things to be the way they once were, others embrace change as one would welcome a lost lover.  Change is inevitable, just as everything that has a beginning must also have an end.

Although change is inevitable, the rate at which it happens ebbs and flows within the river of time, causing eddies of swirling ideologies and emotional convictions within humanity.  Throughout the eons, these eddies have stirred man’s conviction to use religion, emotion and ideas to inflict horror upon those with differing views and beliefs.  In the eyes of the Universe, I cannot imagine us being more than violent, arrogant children squabbling over something as inconsequential as a pebble, when only together can we gain the mountain.

We are all part of a whole.  What happens to one, happens to us all.  Is not the Golden Rule to treat others as you would be treated?  Where is that sentiment in politics?  In business?  In each and every minuscule moment of our collective days?

One need only look to the news to see the whirlwind of change that rages around us.  War, natural disasters, political maneuvering, and crimes of hate, greed, jealousy and passion stain our era with the blood of innocence.  What will it take to propel us past this vortex in the river and alter our course before we founder on the rocks of our own self-importance?

I think a change is in order.  It begins within each and every one of our hearts as an affirmation to simply follow the Golden Rule, and I believe it will end, as all things eventually do, with all of us sharing a much better place than we inhabit now.

Guest Entries, Musings, News, Philosophy

Guest Post: It’s Not About You

I received this message as an email from my aunt, Kim Brown, who is an employee of Ball Publishing in West Chicago, IL.  It was written by Anna Ball, CEO of Ball Seed Company who was at the airport in Tokyo when the earthquake hit.  Her message struck a chord in my heart, and I hope that we can learn from her simple observation, “it’s not about you” instead of requiring something as catastrophic as the earthquake in Japan as a catalyst to force us to learn to work together simply to survive.

“Here are some “lessons” that Jan, Todd and I were observing at the airport.

1)“It’s not about you.”

There was a business leadership article I read a few years ago and the main point the author made was: It’s not about you. (Put the company first and in the end, everyone wins).  I often think about that concept and it came up over and over when we were in Japan. Once we realized how devastating the earthquake was for the people of Japan, it was ridiculous and embarrassing to complain about the very minor inconvenience of being stuck in an airport.  We knew we would eventually get home on a comfortable airplane to wonderful homes and to a country that is better off than any other in the world.  Complaints sound hollow after putting things into perspective.

“It’s not about you.”  More people should keep that in mind when they are voting.  Do people vote for the candidate who will make them better off or one who will make their town, state, or country better off? I recently received an email from someone who had analyzed (exactly) the financial consequences to him personally of Obama’s health care plan.  It had a net positive for this person, so therefore he was urging everyone to support it.   The other night I was at a school district meeting to protest impending installation of night lighting for our local high school – a great expense  for the convenience of a very few students.  One student got up and talked about how he wants lights on the field because currently he “has to take a bus to practice in another place and sometimes the bus is late and I have to wait for 10 minutes – and sometimes it is raining.” Oh dear.  They need to teach the concept of ‘greater good” in high schools. “It’s not about you.”

“Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.”  Proverbs 21:11

2) “Indefinite”

Our new favorite word to bash.   The whole time we were in the airport the flight boards with the flights posted were of great interest to everyone as you can imagine.  Everyone wanted to know what was going on – when the airport would reopen, which flights would take off, etc.  Next to most flights it said “Cancelled”. After a while, next to others it said “Delayed.”  But next to ours it said “Indefinite”.  An interesting word. What on earth did indefinite mean? Of course, it meant nothing.  No information, not even a clue.  How frustrating.  Disappointing information is better than no information.  Bad news is better than no news. Not knowing is worse than knowing the worst. We have made this point dealing with customers.  It is always better to tell customers (internal and external) quickly and openly what the situation is than to keep something from them.  Todd talked many times with people from United, trying to get answers.  Some were crunchy, others soggy.  It’s the people who make the difference.  And if you just don’t know, say it.  Be open with information. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

3)  “Tied to technology” – or “Quit fighting it; it’s here to stay.”

We were amazed at how the whole experience was dominated by the fact that almost every person in the airport had a cell phone and a laptop. (We were in the international terminal and probably one third of the passengers were Americans; internet worked even though phone calls usually didn’t for some reason).  After evacuating the airport and standing on the tarmac for a couple of hours, they decided it was safe to go back into the airport to a certain room.  What was the very first thing most of the people did when they went back into the room?  Go directly to a plug along the wall and plug in their phone and laptop!  It was amazing.  Jan is on Facebook so everyone knew in very short time what our situation was.  We got a report on the magnitude of the quake within minutes of the quake that came over someone’s phone. We spent more time on email than anything else the whole time. It was interesting to think what the whole experience would have been like had it happened a few years ago before the ubiquitous smart phone started dominating our behavior.  I won’t comment on whether it would have been better or worse…….I’ll just say it would have been very different. Our behavior is changing dramatically because of technology.

4)     “Just do something”  or “Delta versus United”  or “It’s all about people, not technology.”

When we were stuck in the room for the night with so many people, nobody knew what was going on. Some of the people were originally on flights with United, some Delta and other various other airlines.  Every once in a while a Japanese would get on the loudspeaker and make an announcement that either you couldn’t hear or couldn’t understand because of the heavy accent.  And of course, virtually none of the passengers spoke Japanese.  So nobody knew what was going on. All of a sudden, a man with an American accent, got on the loudspeaker and started making announcements about what was happening – crunchier information than we had been receiving.  Turns out he worked for Delta.  He just decided to take over the microphone and it was a relief to at least know something.  And to feel someone had taken control of things.  Furthermore, he arranged for box lunches to be brought in for all of the Delta passengers.  All of the rest of us – United etc never got any food.  Here was a guy who took initiative!  Just Do It!  We were happy for the Delta passengers but how we wished there had been someone from United who had the same attitude!  Take initiative! (United later redeemed itself through our wise and kind pilot who got on and told us, in so many words: ”it’s not about you” and also told us to watch out for(and avoid, in so many words)  the press at the airport when you get off.  Helped me.   Another example was a young American/Taiwanese University of Illinois student who went out of his way to help an elderly couple get a seat on our plane.

5)     “I love the Japanese” or – as the WSJ said:  “No country in the world was better prepared for an 8.9 earthquake.”

They were prepared – are we? The Japanese are disciplined (they form lines for everything) organized, gracious, polite and selfless.  They did a marvelous job of staying organized and holding the airport together during a very difficult time for them.  I can only imagine how the whole experience would have been different in various other countries.  Actually the whole human race came out pretty good – everyone in the terminal was friendly and stayed in good humor the whole time.  We never saw anyone angry or complaining.  People bonded together and made the best of it, as people tend to do in situations like that.”

Aviation, Musings, Pet Peeves, Philosophy

Fly with me

I cannot name the day when I first fell helplessly in love with flying.  My parents must have somehow recognized my natural inclinations before I did, for their gifts of an aerobatic glider ride for my 16th birthday and my first flight lesson the following year exposed me to the virulent devotion that would define my initial education as a pilot.   The pristine joy of directing my little airplane to leap into the brilliantly crisp air and quixotically soar as an ungainly metal raptor still haunts my most pleasant dreams.  It was as if my very soul was released from it’s fleshy prison to leap jubilantly into the effervescent cosmos, surf the glowing tails of comets, and dance among the silently spinning galaxies.

But like any pearl of simple pleasure, it eventually became lost among the detritus and trappings of life.  Not only is aviation an expensive pursuit, but it is further tarnished by demands of man.  Oppressive regulations often favor monetary interests rather than the beleaguered pilot, who, at least initially, is so enamored with the joy of flying that a duty day of 14 hours and a starting salary well below the poverty level is foolishly and wholeheartedly accepted without question.  Such a demanding schedule is also detrimental to the “normalcy” of having a family, and many pilots have sacrificed their dreams of a spouse and children at the altar of their career.

My passion was further dimmed by the neolithic beliefs unabashedly proclaimed by some of my male acquaintances about the proper place of a woman.  A man with whom I worked once said that he would never ride in an aircraft with a woman in the cockpit.  He even boasted of refusing a seat on a commercial airliner whose crew included a female copilot.  My disbelief and shock at this sentiment grew exponentially upon discovering that there were even some male pilots who shared the belief that women were somehow subordinate to them in ability simply due to their gender.

Things such as these have weighed upon my love of flying in much the same way clear ice coats the wings of the unwary.  And while I have since chosen another path, nothing will ever change the fact that my heart was first captured by the giddy sense of bright freedom offered by even the smallest of aircraft.  I have been blessed with experiences and accomplishments in my short career as a pilot that reduce the petty chauvinistic attitudes and callous greed of others to puffs of lukewarm air beneath my wings.

I can fly.  Never doubt that you can, too.

Musings, Philosophy

Inspiration

There is a very nice lady who regularly visits me at my home and graciously offers me brochures explaining her religious beliefs and an open invitation to attend a service at her church.  Sometimes she brings her beautiful daughter or a friend with her, but she is never without her Bible.  As I am cursed with a healthy curiosity about many things, I will sometimes invite this particular Jehovah’s Witness into my home for coffee and conversation.

On the most recent occasion, we talked about her religion and how she strives to live her life according to the teachings of the Bible.  But problems arose when I retrieved my own Bible, which once belonged to my parents, and discovered that that words, phrases and sometimes whole verses are different or even missing from my version or hers.  In light of these discrepancies, she could not convince me that the original message, the divine inspiration, had not been diluted, altered or morphed by translation and other forms of human intervention throughout the centuries like a children’s game of “telephone.”  Following this encounter, she has yet to visit me and I presume she has written off my eternal soul as a loss.

The diversity of religious beliefs held by human beings is truly astounding.  And yet, the similarities are even more interesting.  It seems that we have a deep seated longing for our existence to have a purpose and meaning, even if that purpose must remain a mystery which can never be revealed to us in it’s entirety.  To have faith that our brief, meager lives play a role in an infinitely intricate cosmic ballet choreographed by an all-powerful, all-knowing entity is an intrinsic part of a majority of religions.  And regardless of our particular form of worship, divine inspiration is sought by all.

But how is this inspiration revealed to us?  A feeling?  A voice in our head?  A burning bush?  A turn of events?  A dream?  Would we even recognize it?

I believe we receive inspiration, divine or otherwise, all the time.  It’s a glint of sunlight from broken glass swept into a storm drain.  It’s a precious moment spent observing our children as they sleep.  It’s a fleeting memory of disappointment, pain or fear that highlights the wonder of the gift love.  It is a painting, a book, a breath.  Anything and everything can provide inspiration if we are observant enough to recognize it and brave enough to use it to learn and grow and change into something more than we were before.

You never know, a cup of coffee with a stranger may be all the inspiration you need.