Sunday, November 30, 2014

Day Trip to Austin

A cold morning flight to ORD
My phone rang at 7:28 a.m. on Monday morning.  My day off after a weekend of call. My alarm had been set for 7:30, so I was wakened from a sound sleep.  It was Rob, ending his 4-day trip in Chicago.
Rob: "How quickly can you pack a bag and leave the house?"
Me, disoriented: "Do you need me to drive and pick you up?"
Rob: "No. I want you to go to the airport. When do you have to work next?"
Me: "tonight at 10 p.m."
Rob: "Shoot. Ok. Get ready to go.  Let me see if this will work.  I'll call you back."

By 8:10, I was pulling out of the driveway.  No coffee, no breakfast. Fortunately I had showered the night before!  The dogs were fed and let out, arrangements had been made to have them looked in on later in the day. I was on my way to the airport with no destination in mind. Of course I was guessing like mad as I dressed hurriedly.  Christmas shopping in Chicago? Clearly he had planned for it to be an overnight, but he'd texted back to assure me that he'd have me home in time to go on call. I cancelled my day's appointments as I drove, certain that all the things on my "to do" list could wait for another day and eager for whatever adventure was in store.

I had to fly American, which meant checking in at the ticket counter.  The agent asked if I was an employee since I was flying using an employee perk that allows you to travel at a reduced rate on other airlines.  I asked her to check me in for my flight out of Chicago since I'd get there with a very tight layover...or no layover if we needed de-icing time.  She asked where I was going and I said, "I don't know, it's a surprise."  And I handed her my phone with the flight confirmation number on it.  "Well, once I print your boarding pass, you're gonna know. "  I promised her I wouldn't look because I wanted to enjoy the suspense. She handed me the pass and I folded it quickly and tucked it into my purse.

We didn't end up needing to be de-iced, but we took off late anyway! Getting off the plane in Chicago took forever.  I tried not to be impatient with the older gentleman in front of me. But, I knew that every minute mattered. Rob was texting me furiously.  "Where are you?"

Once off, he and I ran to the connecting gate but came up short when we saw that the gate was closed...and it was still 12 minutes prior to departure.  Officially it closes as 10 'til.  The gate agent gave us grief but Rob was persuasive.  The rule is 10 minutes and we were there at 12 'til!  She opened the door grudgingly and the family that got on with us was just as thankful that we were able to talk her into letting us board.  Otherwise, our adventure would have ended abruptly.

Rob had bought me a Greek omelet for breakfast and we waited to take off before eating; so it was nearly 11:30 before we both had breakfast.  But this was the view from our "table".

And this, was my dining partner.
On the tray table, you can see that he has a flight plan spread out.  By this time, after his further emphasis that he'd have me back home by 10 p.m., because we had "confirmed" seats on the flight home, I'd guessed our destination.  And I was thrilled.  Confirmed seats while flying Non-Rev, just don't happen.  So, I knew we weren't flying commercially. We were flying to Austin, where Rob's good friend Ben lives, and we were flying his twin engine Aztec home.

I was seriously like a little kid on my first flight, taking pictures out the window.  The clouds were just so beautiful.

Our "visit" to Austin was brief. Had I been off, we'd have spent the night and flown home the next day.  But, Ben needed to get the plane home, and with the iffy weather, he needed an experienced IFR pilot. He picked us up at the airport and we headed straight across town to the Aztec. No time for sight-seeing.  No time for lunch.

Here we are pre-flighting the plane at Austin Executive Airport.

We were in the air by 4 p.m. with a 5 hour flight time that included one fuel stop.  Our plan was to fly at 19,000 feet which meant, since the cabin wasn't pressurized, we'd need oxygen.  Ben had the tubing and adapters in a small rubbermaid bin.  My fellow passenger, an employee of Ben's and I ended up having to buddy breathe for the entire flight once we ascended past 11,000 feet because he didn't have enough adapters.  Nothing like knowing you are mildly hypoxic to bring on all the textbook symptoms!  We had a timer set on my cell phone and switched off every ten minutes. I was sleepy, fidgety and nauseous about a minute into my "room air" time every cycle!

Here's my buddy-breather and I, still smiling because we didn't yet know about the O2 situation!
With our headsets on, we can hear all the radio comm.  Mine had a loose connection so Rob and Ben were fading in and out a bit.

There's our pilot on the left and our IFR conditions pilot on the right. 

Nothing beats a sunset at altitude

Just after nightfall, there was some talk about switching from the right to the left fuel tank.  Rob told Ben to switch to the left.  Ben's voice sounded urgent and there was some shifting around as he yanked on some lever, "I can't get it. It's stuck."
"Well, you HAVE to get it or you're gonna lose this right engine," said Rob.
Suddenly their voices cut out and I couldn't hear any further communication for a few minutes.  My heart was racing.  I was certain that they had keyed us out so we wouldn't be privy to the emergency that was unfolding.  I'll admit to having a "get it right with God" moment.  But, in short order, I could see that the commotion had ended. And then, amidst the static, I began to hear them both speaking again.  It was an inopportune time for my headset to freak out, not, as I had thought, a deliberate silencing by the flight crew!  "Emergency" over, I was free to continue enjoying the flight.

Do you know how cold it gets at 19,000 feet in the winter?  Damn cold. Long down coat and fleece blanket cold. Falling asleep and starving and oxygen deprived cold. Brrrr! Damn, I'm a whiny date, aren't I?

We made a fuel stop at Bolivar Airport in Missouri.
Fuel stop
And landed in Moline by 9 p.m. Tower reported "poor braking action" on the runway and they were indeed right.  The airport was covered in ice.  We had to call for help to get the airplane into the hangar!

After the excitement of the day, we all needed nourishment.  Village Inn.  It was just after 11 p.m. and my Belgian waffle had just arrived when I was called to the hospital.  Ah, well.  I left the flight crew to linger over their meal, took my waffle in a "to-go" box and went to work, happy to enjoy the slightly less adventurous task of baby catching.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What's Up With Fargo?

I'm going to whine just a little here. Rob's schedule sucks this month!  It sucks!!!!

By now, I really AM used to the routine. He's home for a few days, then we pack up his 'lunch' bag, iron his pilot shirt, give a long hug and usher him out the door for 3-5 days.  Don't love it, but we've figured it out.  And then, comes a month like this one.  Trips back to back, where he gets home in the morning from one trip and leaves the very next day....both days are actually working days, but he at least gets to be home to sleep and refill his food. Then he gets a real day off. Yes. One.  And he's back at it.

Last week, he was home for our flooding emergency a half-day early and had one day off before heading out for a three day trip. I had a couple of days off prior to the July 4th holiday, but Rob was not going to be around. Some back-story here:  my favorite teenage son, R, has been nagging me to go on an adventure.  He likes the idea of heading to the airport and checking flight loads to determine where we should go, and then going there: no plan, just a carry-on bag and a sense of curiousity.  I've promised that he and I would do that some weekend this summer. He asked on Wednesday evening if we could maybe take our adventure trip during my days off.  Knowing that travel over the holiday is not usually a good idea when you are flying standby, I cautioned him that it might not work out.

But I checked with Rob to see what his schedule looked like.  I was happily surprised to find that his first day of work looked like this:  Chicago to Fargo.  That's it.  He said he'd be thrilled to have us join him. This seemed like a good compromise: making Rob's awful trip schedule a little more manageable and giving a nod to R's need for adventure.

Here's my two guys posing for the infamous cockpit shot:

The flights were smooth, not wide-open, but we got on easily each time.  We arrived in Fargo mid-morning on Thursday, July 3, all feeling a little tired and a lot hungry, having eaten breakfast at 3:30am.  After dropping our bags in the downtown hotel, we set out to find food.

Fargo is one of Rob's favorite overnights.  And I know why. He's sent me several postcards from a great little bar across from the hotel, JL Beers.

JL Beers is knows for it's burgers and it's loaded fries.  They also have a fine selection of beer.  It's a shoe-in for favorite pilot hang out.

Right next door is a little place called Vinyl Taco.  I'd heard Rob talk about it many times.  Not authentic, but a fun vibe and good food. That's where we were headed for an early lunch.  It was not yet 11 o'clock.

But, we were met at the door by a friendly waiter who informed us that no-one under the age of 21 is allowed in the establishment.  "Are you serious, Man?"  Yep. Nor could we eat outside on the patio with "anyone under the age of 21".  As it was explained, there is a city ordinance for liquor licensing.  Any restaurant that sells any alcoholic beverage is not, by law, allowed to have under-age patrons.

I was flabbergasted.  That's a good, old word.  It describes exactly how I felt.  We walked back outside and looked around.  How is a family supposed to dine in Fargo?  Take out?  JL Beers next door, had a sign:  No one under 21 allowed entry.  Now, that one, I can understand a little better.  It IS actually a bar.  But, Vinyl Taco?  It's a taco shop.  A very hip Taco Shop granted, but a friggin' taco shop.

We walked down the block a bit, passed a German bar: Wurst Bier Hall,  with an array of sausages on the menu.  Their sign welcomed underage patrons before 4pm.  But, gee, we weren't hungry for sausages.

I pulled up local ordinances on my phone, and indeed, underage patrons are not allowed to enter an establishment that sells alcohol of any kind.  EXCEPT when accompanied by a parent!

Here's a link to the Safe Communities Server Training website.

I applaud North Dakota's efforts to keep underage drinking from occurring, but how about letting a hungry family have a taco at 11 o'clock in the morning?  My guess is that Vinyl Taco has some extra restrictions on their license due to not enforcing the underage drinking laws.

So, after making some phone calls to be sure it was worth the walk over, we went to Rhombus Guys Pizza, sat on their rooftop patio, and had their famous T Rex pizza.  Rob and I had a beer.  R was once again exposed to the evils of alcohol.  Here he is sitting right next to a glass of local brew.
That's lemonade he's drinking!

The pizza was fabulous, or we were exceedingly hungry.  Maybe both.  The crust was that perfect combination of crisp and chewy that I love!

After lunch, we headed over to Nichole's Fine Pastry for dessert.  Not that we needed dessert, but since we'd already splurged on pizza, why not?

Later in the evening, after Rob and I met his crew for a beer at JL Beers, leaving R to watch a movie in the hotel room (we brought him a burger and fries)  the three of us took a walk around downtown Fargo.  We noticed something funny about the fire hydrants.

And we noticed that it stays light a very long time.  This picture is just after 9pm on July 3rd.

We had a 5 am flight the next morning, so bed came early.  It was fun spending the day with my two guys.  I'd happily spend it with them anywhere.

So, you could go there. Or you could watch the movie! I'm sure Fargo is like most mid-sized mid-w
estern towns: it has it's good and bad.  It has it's quirks.  It was perhaps not the best adventure destination.  The good news is, we get to go back in a couple of weeks for a national wrestling tournament for A.  If you know of any good, family friendly restaurants, please share!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Weathering the Storm

Thunderstorms were brewing all day last Monday and began rolling through by mid-afternoon. The rain kept coming through the evening, totaling as much as seven inches by the time the storms were over.  Wind took down tree branches and power lines and by mid evening, I was home alone, without power.

Just after nine, I learned I'd need to head to the hospital to take over on a labor patient as my shift started at ten. So, I put the dogs in the basement, and headed out a bit early. The rain was mostly done, but the light show as lightning arced and traced across the sky was fantastic.  About half-way in, my phone rang: the patient had delivered; I could turn around and head back home. It was good news, but I had a hunch it was temporary.  After a storm of that magnitude, I expected the babies would start raining down. So, as soon as I got home, I headed up to bed, opening the window in our room to try to catch a little breeze.  As I lay there, I began to hear a rushing and cracking sound. It sounded almost like a fire, popping branches as it burned. I got up to look and immediately realized, it was the creek.  I stood at the window watching as neighbors shined their spotlights across the expanse of grass in back, watching as the creek began to rise.

Now, Rob and I, we should have known better.  But we were complacent.  Despite living in a flood plain, half an acre from a creek that feeds the Mississippi, in a house that has been devastatingly flooded in the past, with a basement that no longer houses a furnace or water heater.  You would think we'd know better.  But, we had some overflow storage on the basement floor.  And, more important to this story, we did NOT have a battery back up for our sump pump.

I felt a rising sense of anxiety as I stood watching the creek rise into the yard.  How high would it get?  I finally texted my neighbor to ask that very question. She reassured me and asked if our basement was taking on water.  As I read her text, I was frozen in place, a sense of denial at the forefront of my thoughts.  That's crazy.  I very nearly texted her back saying as much but suddenly realized that the dogs were in the basement.  I grabbed my shoes and ran down to check.

When I opened the door to the basement, I heard it.  A sloshing sound.  Two very wet dogs made their way up, eyeing me reproachfully.  I made my way cautiously down:  there was about four inches covering the floor, and there, spread out in a corner of the basement, an array of items that I'd yet to catalog, but which were most surely getting ruined.  I panicked, and called Rob, who I knew would be asleep.  I wasn't even sure he'd answer.

Rob was in Erie, PA on an overnight.  I'm not sure what I thought calling him would accomplish.  But it was my immediate response.  All sleepiness left his voice as soon as he got the news. When he finished cursing himself for failing to install a battery backup pump, he moved on to a more practical approach.  Yes, he said,  I should try to get his old DJ equipment off the floor if I could.

And I shouldn't drop my phone in the water.

Well, I didn't drop my phone.  I let Rob go, leaving him to his sense of helplessness and set to the messy work, trying not to think about what was in the water.
Ankle deep, I sloshed around, using the light on my phone to illuminate the dark basement, salvaging what I could, for about ten minutes.  And then my phone started ringing and I did end up heading back to the hospital. I had such a sense of unease as I left our home, the creek still rising, our entire back yard under water, not knowing how bad it would get.  I put the dogs out into the garage, asked our neighbor to look in on them in the morning and went to work.

As I was walking into the hospital, I thought about Rob, across the country, feeling helpless and semi-responsible.  I sent him this email:

It's OK. I know you feel helpless. I know you wish you were around to help. And yes, I do too, but it's OK.
Don't stress. Don't have regrets. You married a strong woman who can get through... Maybe not gracefully, not as easily as she would if you were by her side.
I love you and I want you to know that I'm OK. I'm not hating your job right now.
We will learn how to be more prepared for these types of things, we will establish back up plans. It will get easier with time.
Just wanted you to know.
I love you! 

The next day was beautiful and sunny.   And I was busy at the hospital.
Rob was able to get released from the last day of his trip for the family emergency.  He was home by ten am and had a back up sump pump installed by evening.

The next day we were both off.  It was his only day off for the week.  We spent it cleaning the basement, hauling everything out, cleaning and disinfecting the floors and walls and making a trip to the county dump with a truck load of garbage.

As emergencies go, this was minor.  I was so grateful to Rob for coming home.  In truth, by the time he arrived, the damage was contained, but the fact that he wanted to be there to help me with the cleanup meant a lot.

There WILL be other crises.  There will be snow and ice storms, illnesses, car troubles and other things I don't want to imagine.  Living as we do, with Rob across the country most days of the week, we need to be prepared for me to handle these minor emergencies on my own. My thoughts and feelings on this issue have come so far over the last two years. I can honestly say that I feel no anger or bitterness at all thinking about being alone. I spent so much energy on those feelings; I'm thrilled to find that they are no longer a part of me. I do feel a practical sense of urgency in regard to the logistics of this way of life.  Top on my priority list: a snow blade for our riding mower.  It may be the height of summer storm season, but winter is right around the corner!

What kind of contingency plans or back up plans does your family have for handling crises?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

This is Now

It was a long day apart
and your leavetaking comes too early tomorrow,
before the sun comes even, you will leave

But we are together now
my head against your chest, and your arms around me
I sigh, letting go the day, this is now.