It’s go time

It’s that time of year again. That last bit of winter when those of us here in Texas that have waited all year for our snow days (aka when one to two inches of ice shut down an entire city) finally get them. All of that frigid, blistering wind finally made something wonderful. This year, it came in the form of two snow days back to back! Two full days of fireside board games and news updates of tractor-trailers navigating steep overpasses punctuated by puppies pouncing through frozen precipitation.

And now, since “the skies are not cloudy all day” our final morning of snowflakes has shifted into a midday of sunshine. By this evening all of the ice and snow will be a distant memory and I will have to shed off the “Can’t I just stay home in my sweatpants?” feeling that is incumbent to every winter. With freezing weather, I have put my focus on ground school. I’m in the middle of a course right now with Embry-Riddle.

All was progressing at a comfortable pace until just recently. Now key factors in my flight training feel like they are rotating together like cogs in a wheel, putting pressure on me to act. A few days ago I got a message that the local airplane club is not extending it’s student rate for those that join after February. Yikes! That gives me three days to join. There’s also a scholarship I was planning on applying for with a deadline in mid March. We’re also entering into our brief break between too cold to safely fly and tornado season in this part of Texas.The time is now if I’m going to get my private’s license before our move to Oregon as economically savvy as possible. I’m 36.3 flight hours away from FAA requirements to sit for my private and the pressure is on.

If this were a movie, this would be the beginning of the montage scene. Cut to me mechanically handing over hundred dollar bills, fade in a giant clock in the background with hands made of planes. Zoom into one of the plane clock hands and there’s my instructor teaching me how to correct spins in the driving rain…ok, perhaps that’s a bit much for someone without an instrument rating, but you get the picture.

Wish me luck, it’s go time!

Timelessness

There’s a million adages about living in the present and not putting too much focus on your past or future. Unless the present sucks. Then there’s a million adages about looking for the rainbow or the silver lining when your troubles have passed. But careful, if your future is too bright there are a million adages about never forgetting where you are from and keeping true to your roots.

The best mirror is an old friend. The best is yet to come. Whatever is, is best.

Why so many conflicting quotable proverbs? If the future is so wonderful, why is everyone afraid of the unknown that ever lurks before us? If the past should be forgotten, why are we doomed to repeat it if we forget? If the present is the time to focus on, why do we place so much value on where we grew up, or where we see ourselves in five years?

It is hard to dream about starting a new life in a place far away when you’re still stuck in your old life. Until my partner and I finish renovating our house and sell it, find gainful employment in the Pacific Northwest, and get rid of all of the stuff we don’t plan to move, we are here. Stuck in the life we are eager to leave.

Everyday we go through our stuff, paring down to the necessities. We have said goodbye to loads of sentimental stuff we no longer want to haul around. Its like breaking up with someone every day. Every day we browse for job opportunities. Its like cheating on the job you’ve had for nearly a decade. Every day we do something to the house we think a potential buyer would like. Its like fixing your house up just so you won’t have to live there. The emotional toll is exhausting. We are surviving day to day in a timeless wasteland of “not yet, but soon.”

Without looking too far ahead, we will pack up our Subaru and pull out of our driveway for the last time. We will cross thousands of miles of American deserts and mountains and plains and arrive at a place where the clock will begin ticking again. A place with new neighbors. A place with new colleagues. A place with animals we’ve only seen in textbooks and on tv. A place with a different political majority. A place with different weather patterns. A place in a different time zone. A time zone two hours behind the place we currently live and yet, a place in our future. A future I cannot stop thinking about in my present.

Italian Stew

This recipe is part of a regimen I feed to add weight to my CF DDF508, GERD, CFRD 35 y/o husband.


Ingredients:
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
16 -ounces of gnocchi (or shelf-stable gnocchi from the store), cooked
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup water
6 cups chopped geen leaves, (ex: spinach, chard, collard greens)
2 diced roma tomatoes
1 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

Instructions:
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add gnocchi and cook, stirring often, until plumped and starting to brown (5 to 7 minutes).
Transfer to a bowl.
Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and onion to the pan and cook, stirring, over medium heat for 2 minutes.
Stir in garlic and water.
Cover and cook until the onion is soft (careful not to burn it).
Add greens and cook, stirring, until starting to wilt, (1 to 2 minutes).
Stir in tomatoes, beans, Italian seasoning and pepper and bring to a simmer.
Stir in the gnocchi and sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan.
Cover and cook until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling (about 3 minutes).


Depending on the type of gnocchi you use, the carb count will widely vary. Below are carb counts from just the 16 oz of gnocchi.

Goat cheese gnocchi: 12g carbs

Ricotta cheese gnocchi: 108g carbs

Gluten free gnocchi: 116g carbs

Pumpkin gnocchi: 136g carbs

Potato gnocchi: 10g carbs

Marriage to a Terminal

Normally this is where I post recipes for CFers and their families to find high calorie meals. Today I want to post something more personal.

Soon my partner and I will celebrate five years of marriage (nine years as a couple). This does not make me an expert, but I think I have something to offer those in relationships with CFers thinking about becoming more serious. When we were engaged I sought out any information I could find for what to expect once we were married and frankly, there wasn’t a lot out there other than doom and gloom. So I thought I’d offer up an inside scoop with my top 5 things you can likely expect when you marry a CFer that are also true, but not all doom and gloom.

#1 You know each other, inside and out

The things that take senior citizens fifty years of marriage to do without blushing will cross your threshold in the first six months. You will truly know what it means to intimately know your mate. You will be the second opinion on if today’s phlegm is the usual color, or darker than yesterday. You will argue with him about how much blood is too much before you call the pulmonary specialist. You will discuss and compare details of your bowel movements to see if something is out of whack or if dinner last night upset both of you. You will know the smell his body makes when his sugars are too high. You will hook up his IV medications in the middle of the night so he can sleep. You will visually check places he cannot see. You will rub creams on places he cannot reach. You will have no qualms about asking him to do the same for you. After a while you will lose the need to do things like close the bathroom door.

As strange and unromantic as it may sound, it’s actually kind of nice. Partly because you are completely comfortable with each other (farting contest anyone?) and partly because you benefit from CFers being medical geniuses. Just as I take care of him, he takes care of me. My spouse knows where to rub my stomach one direction to ease nausea, and another location and direction for gas pains. He knows how to mix a [what he calls] “cocktail” of pain pills to target the specific headache I may have. He knows my body so well he can predict my menstrual cycle better than I can.

#2 No one will get your humor

There’s a fine line between humor and tragedy. CFers don’t walk that line well. Things that are hilarious to them are wildly inappropriate for the average person to laugh at. There’s a different outlook from a group of people who defied death as kids while watching friends around them succumb to their mutual disease. I think in many ways humor becomes a coping mechanism. To many CFers death is funny. Illness is funny. The conversation about what to do with their remains is worthy of a joke. If you let them write their eulogy, one quarter of it might be sentimental and the rest will be a standup comedy act. My partner and I have even joked about what his last words and last gesture will be. It is hard for them to take life too seriously because they are already inundated with tragedy in their daily lives. Humor eases the difficult conversations. Humor eases the difficult decisions. Humor about macabre things will work its way into both of your daily lives. Hospital stays are called “vacations” and “tune ups,” Pneumonia is labeled “a tough cold” and death is a betting matter. People outside of your marriage will not understand this. You will have to learn to reign it in at social functions and cue your CFer when it is inappropriate to joke about illness, death, and tragedy.

#3 Smokers will dictate your social life

Smoking is not a matter of personal choice, it’s a public health concern. When you’re with someone with limited lung function the locations of smokers will trump your social plans. As a couple we can’t go to bars because of the smokers. We can’t enjoy a meal Al Fresco because smoking is allowed on the patio. We can’t enjoy a stroll through a historic downtown square because there are smokers on every corner. A nice picnic in the park? Think again, smokers are there. Headed to a great outdoor concert? Nope. Smokers there too. Look a new coffee shop! Nope, a sea of smokers has created a cloud of filth for anyone within 15 feet of the door. Let’s play with our dogs in the front yard? Nope, five of our smoking neighbors are outside, lit up, and headed over to say hi. How about a ride on a beautiful day with the windows down and the radio up? Nope, every stop light has a smoker enjoying the nice day with their windows down too. It’s a serious thing. I’ve even ended friendships because they married a smoker. For some reason smokers think it’s fine as long as they are downwind of you, or if they just step outside for a minute. I can’t tell you how many people have tried to hide it from us as if we wouldn’t figure it out the second we stepped inside their place. Smokers: you’re not fooling anyone with the cologne, breath mints and incense. You stink even after you put it out and you bring all of those pollutants inside to the rest of us on your clothes and hair. It’s everyone’s air to share. Kick the habit already!

#4 Fights are fast

Believe it or not, it’s not hard to fight with a sick person. Even terminal people do some really dumb and insensitive stuff. But its hard to fight for long. Because you know the time you have together is limited. We still fight plenty. We fight about our families and our pillow space and how far over the car should be parked in the garage and how the roll of toilet paper should be installed. But the fight is usually over the same day it starts. Sometimes within minutes. There are so many opportunities in a day to take care of each other when you live with a CFer. Fights blow in and out like clouds. It doesn’t matter how mad I am at him, I will remind him to take his dinner pills. It shows him I care. Boom. The fight is over. It doesn’t matter how mad he is at me, he will make dinner when I work late (not eating is not an option for a CFer). It shows me he cares. Boom. The fight is over.

#5 Healthcare is paramount in any big decision

Aside of the two kinds of medical insurance we have (which frequently argue about which one should pay), we also pay a premium for hospital insurance. To not have these would cost us thousands (no, seriously tens of thousands) of dollars a month in prescriptions alone. This is not to say everything works peachy keen without weekly calls to insurance companies and doctors to get referrals, prescriptions, argue about procedures, and process orders on time. My partner (who spends a few hours a week making these calls) has every number on our medical insurance cards committed to memory.

Where most people are putting aside money for retirement, we are putting aside money for medical costs later in life when we expect insurance coverage to be worse and procedures to cost more. When looking for a new job my first criteria are if the benefits include medical insurance, if the benefits includes the spouse, at what percentage and how long is the probationary period? Even a probationary period of three months can put us in a bind if he gets sick.

Before I married a CFer I went to the doctor begrudgingly maybe once a year. Now I’m on a first name basis with many in my spouse’s medical care team and see them quarterly. Where healthcare may have been an afterthought before, it is a priority now. And it is one of the first hurdles to clear in any lifestyle changing decision.

For those out there in committed relationships with CFers, does my list apply to you too? Anything you’d like to add?

Biting the Bullet: Company X Part 1

Yesterday I did something. Something I swore I would never do. I applied for a job at a place I never wanted to work. Let’s call it Company X.

A little background is needed here. When I was a student in my craft all of my professors worked for Company X. It was seen as the best and most privileged place to work. “Someday,” I was told, “if I was very lucky and talented, I too would have a chance to work there.”

Before this national franchise came to town, the people in my field worked at a variety of local places and each had their merits. Then this gargantuan arrived and all of the “super skilled” workers were absorbed into it as if involuntarily sucked in by an extraterrestrial beam of light. Everyone that worked at Company X oozed propaganda about what a great work environment it was and how decent the pay was and what a supportive environment they had. It was like the popular kids in high school gloating about how great their lives were to the welfare kids (aka everyone not fortunate enough to land a job there).

My problem happened when I articulated I wished to work elsewhere after graduation. It was made clear to me my ambitions were misplaced. Wanting to work anywhere other than Company X – with the bottom of the barrel where my skills and knowledge would never improve – was for people that couldn’t hack it with the big kids. Company X even sent managers to help rate my program’s final exams to decide if any among us had the awesomeness to make it in their internship program. Some of us were plucked up before we had even a day to decide for ourselves where we wished to go.

Just before I graduated Company X had an open house. I went. Who wouldn’t be curious about a company that farts glittered rainbows? (official report from unconfirmed sources) I expected to drive under an obnoxiously large arched Company X logo into a well-lit parking lot that extended for miles. I expected marble floors and classical elevator music. I expected a space with lots of windows, corner offices, motivational posters on the walls and a throng of smiling workers ready to thank me for coming. Surely once I saw the establishment in all of it’s glory I too would be a believer.

It was none of those things.

The company name was nowhere on the building. The elevator smelled like a large sweaty person and squeaked. Half of the floor that was this company’s office suite was under construction and the other half was a sea of gray cubicles. A bathroom sized room off to one side served as their break room which housed the only window on the entire floor I could find. The window showed a vast concrete wasteland with a freeway passing nearby. Not a tree in sight. Why would anyone rave about working in an old building under renovation where they sat isolated all day in a windowless cubicle? How was this the dream?!

I left that night confident in my decision to seek fortune and fame elsewhere. I would not be brainwashed with the masses into becoming a cog in a corporate machine. For the past decade I have sought out my own path and found gratification in my work. I have not made lots of money, but I have a house and some pets and health insurance. From time to time I even hear a story from an apostate that has left Company X that quietly shares things on the inside weren’t all that great.

All was peachy keen until a few months ago when my partner and I started searching job prospects in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve run into a bit of a situation. I am certified in Texas to practice my profession, but the states along the Pacific Northwest do not reciprocate. It helps that I’ve been doing this for a while and have a resume to prove it, but not having certification could close doors. I looked into the certification exam they use up there – 30% pass rate, $800 price tag and recently busted for corruption.

But…there is a company with offices here and there in the exact place we are looking to move. If I got hired on here, I could transfer there and probably run into less trouble (or no trouble) with the certification shenanigans. And if it’s anything like here everyone who is anyone in the field works there, which could help me cultivate the professional contacts I will need in a new city. And wouldn’t you believe its Company X?

Wish me luck. I think.

Flying with a legend

Today I flew with one of aviation’s legends.

No, really.

She was racing in (and winning) powder puff derbies when my parents were kids. She was one of the thirteen women trained for the space program in the sixties. The one, the only, Wally Funk.

I met her as a fellow Ninety-Nine at my first organizational event last night and her first question to me after the formalities of names and handshakes was “why haven’t we flown together yet?” She was flabbergasted we had been hanging around the same airport and not run into each other. I said I’d be delighted to go up with her sometime and in the blink of an eye she had everything arranged for us to go up the next morning.

Today, she strolled into the cafe in cargo pants and a long-sleeved flannel shirt saying hi to everyone from the guys at the front table to the cooks in the window. Everyone knows Wally. Her lean frame, bobbed silver hair and outgoing personality are unmistakable. She has that gumption that I suspect all of the original Ninety-Nines had in the days before it was appropriate for women to be pilots.

We flew my first high wing, a Cessna 172. Among an impressive list of credentials, Wally is a CFI and air safety investigator so the pre-flight inspection included more than the usual fuel, oil and body checks. It also entailed an outline of an airplane’s nine lead weights, all nuts and bolts with cotter pins and the hollow and dense sounds an airplane should make when you knock on it in various places.

Wally’s approach was to teach me to fly without the use of instruments or avionics. A red pen mark on my windshield was my horizon, a “does the engine sound right?” approach to the throttle was employed, and all altitudes were referenced in terms of how it made my butt feel. The compass was helpful, but she wanted me to orient myself using high lines (that means power lines, kids) and roads and landmarks I could recognize below. On my third touch and go at a neighboring airport it occurred to me I should ask about how to use the flaps. “I never use flaps, honey. Don’t believe in ’em,” she replied.

I had a rare and wonderful peek into the world of aviation before modern avionics. When pilots had to listen to their craft to know if something was wrong. When planes were very basic flying machines. When the way to know you were flying South was by looking at the sun and the roads below. I want to get my instrument rating, but today I learned the importance of knowing how to fly should all of your instruments go on the fritz. Flying by what you see, hear and feel connects you to those early aviators that had only their wings to lift them and the stars to guide them. Before the days of radios and altimeters and false horizons. I am lucky for the chance to go up with this pilot.

Picture of Wally Funk

She gave me this autographed picture after our lesson.

Sweet Spare Ribs

This recipe is part of a regimen I feed to add weight to my CF DDF508, GERD, CFRD 35 y/o husband.


Ingredients:

6 country style pork ribs
2 cups onion slices
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup BBQ sauce
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. dry mustard
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup hot sauce (optional)
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. salt

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Grease a shallow baking pan, place ribs inside and bake for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, cook onion and garlic in oil until soft.
Pour all other ingredients except ribs into skillet and simmer for 10 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
Brush ribs with sauce from skillet, and pour remaining sauce into pan.
Bake uncovered at 350 degrees F for 1 hour, basting every 20 minutes


Approx carbs in entire dish: 70g

All in the Family

What is family?

For many people family is there when you are born and when you die and no matter what you do in the years in between, it is family that is there for you in the beginning and in the end. For the years between birth and death, family is the group of people that claim you and raise you, people you see for the holidays, people you call on birthdays, people you depend upon when life knocks you down. This is, of course, the concept of family. It is rarely the reality. The reality is that sometimes family is not there when you need them. Sometimes parents and children become estranged. Sometimes siblings quit speaking over some little squabble. We all know the concept of what family is suppose to be but for so many of us family is not that ideal. How many entertaining stories can all of us tell about the holidays with the family? The ideal becomes less picturesque.

So why do we do it? Why do we spend a fortune commuting across the country every December to spend a few days with people that drive us nuts? Why do we devote all of our love and resources to a child that could one day hate us and cut us out of their life? Why do we entertain friendly phone calls with siblings we would rather punch in the face?

I know there’s something to this family thing, but to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what it’s all about yet. While family is supposed to be the supportive force behind everyone’s success, it is often the reason we never venture out at all. How many young people have grappled with a parent that wants what’s “best” for them but really only wants what will keep their child away from danger and living nearby? How many people hear “when are you going to have kids?” every time they see their folks like choosing not to have children is unacceptable? It is family that shapes our earliest impressions of the world, and it is family that keeps a strong influence over us well into our adult lives. Not surprisingly, it is family we learn to resent the most when we feel held back from the guilt of not doing what’s right “for the family.”

This past weekend my partner and I experienced both the death of a family member and the celebration of a birthday all in the same twenty-four hour period (and not one death or cake joke?!). It got me thinking about family. During that twenty-four hours our family challenged us countless times about our decision to relocate to the Pacific Northwest. Sometimes it was masked as concern, “it’s much more expensive to live up there, how ever will you afford it?” Sometimes it was masked as curiosity, “what will you do for work?” Sometimes it was us asking each other, “are we comfortable being far away when the next family member is in a hospital on life support?” But last night after a number of cocktails and a football game one of our relatives came right out and asked it, “Are you sure you want to live so far away from us?”

It bothers the family that we want to move away. Why? Do they feel like we are rejecting them by leaving? Do they think we’ll never call or write or visit again? Do they think we are inept at life and will certainly fail if we live more than fifty miles away? What is it about family that makes people comfortable telling other grown people how – or in this case where – to live? How does insecurity find a foothold in a group of people that consistently gather for deaths, births, weddings, and holidays?

Families are supposed to function like a mast, not an anchor. They are supposed to be the wind in your sails, not the gale blowing you back into the port. But it’s family that uses scare tactics to keep you from venturing out. It’s family that wants you to have a baby instead of spend a year in Ecuador. It’s family that wants you to become a doctor like your father and his father and his father. But we endure it. And we continue to come home for the holidays. Why? Because it’s family that donates a kidney when you need it. It’s family that helps you bury your pets in the backyard. It’s family that takes you in when your business ventures fail. It’s family that claims you as an infant. It’s family that claims you as a corpse. Family becomes this network of mostly involuntarily connected people charged with taking care of one another. And its awful and its wonderful. Because it’s family.