Mommas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Creative

It’s mid-July, but I’m already starting to think about school.  You see, we have 3, count them THREE, children entering high school this year.  If I hadn’t started going grey at the age of 26, this would most certainly start the process off with a bang.

We have already been through the fun of choosing courses – they had to fill out a degree plan, choosing what they would study for all four years.  I mean, really, I think its a little beyond ridiculous to choose 4 years of high school courses in one Spring evening.  But no one called me up to ask my opinion….so you get it here!

The course selection is not like it was when we were kids. Back then you took math, science, English, history, a foreign language, the dreaded PE course if you weren’t in athletics or band, and if you were lucky, an elective or two that you actually enjoyed.  These days, at least at our kids’ school, you have to choose a “track” from which to select your courses. This track is supposed to follow along the lines of what you want to be when you grow up.  Depending on what career “track” you choose, you are afforded a host of different elective classes geared towards preparing you for your future career.  And let me tell you, these aren’t electives like “yearbook” or “home ec”.  No, you can choose from, among many others, Landscape Design & Management, Equine Science (where the hell was that when I was in high school), Architectural Design, and Principles of Information Technology.  Their course catalog is 78 pages long, front and back!

Of course that warranted the discussion with all three of the older kids…the dreaded “what do you want to be when you grow up?”  Anna has already decided…she wants to be a teacher.  My grandmother would be so proud.  She always wanted to be a teacher, and several of her grandkids ended up taking that route.  I didn’t take that route, because, let’s face it…I do not have the patience of Job. That and the fact that several people point blank told me I just wouldn’t be good at that.

Ben doesn’t have a clue what he wants to do.  Understandable because he’s only 15, and hell, at age 46, I still don’t have a clue what I want to do.  We discussed with him what might work best for his demeanor, which is, he is an introvert and prefers not to have to talk to people.  I’m thinking Sales is not in his future. He is going to take a couple courses in engineering and information technology to see if either of those float his boat.

Austin of course wants to play football.  That is all.  Just play football.  For the Dallas Cowboys, of course.  And make millions. He’s promised us a nice, new fancy big house when he gets his first check.  I’ll start drawing up the designs right now.  His fall back, should he not make it to the pros is graphic design.  All I want to do is scream NOOOOOO, DON’T DO IT.

You see, its a curse to be creative.  I didn’t get my dad’s engineering/math brain.  No, my sister was lucky enough to get it.  She works as an accountant doing very well for herself.  No, I got the left-handed, right-brained creative gene.  I would encourage anyone that is blessed/cursed with that to try to overcome it.  Shove it down deep inside and try to find a nice, normal desk job punching numbers or something.  I’m sure if you enroll in Khan Academy, eventually math will make sense to you (at least I’m working on that).

Sure, there are those that are phenomenally blessed with the creative gene.  You know the type…you’ve seen their work in magazines and billboards and ad campaigns.  They just have this gift that is unstoppable.  More power to them.  Yes, let them continue to pursue the creative field, as they make everything around us prettier.

But then there are those of us that are marginally gifted, meaning, we can hold our own churning out half decent stuff to engineers who really don’t know or care about design but it looks ok to them.  We are one step above the secretaries who think they can design because they have clip art on their Microsoft Word program.

Being creative, your entire career is based off of what other people think about the look you design.  It’s not like adding 12,384 + 5,635 .  No, it’s drawing or designing a piece, only to hand it to the client and they wrinkle up their nose and tell you how many different ways THEY could have done it.

Maybe for those with thick skin, this doesn’t bother them.  But for those of us who invest our heart and soul into our work, when others judge it as not good enough, it says “hey, you’re not good enough.”   Yeah, I don’t want that for my kids.  Yes, I realize there will be people throughout their entire lives that will tell them they are not good enough for one reason or another.  But if they can eliminate that extra rejection that comes with a creative job, more power to them.

Will all three remain on the track they have penciled in for the high school?  Who knows?  Maybe they will get through the first year and do a 180 on career choice.  Only time will tell. Hopefully in the end they will each find a career that truly means something to them besides a decent paycheck and good benefits.

Me and My Check Ride

Me and My Check Ride

By: Scott McHarg

Scott and his plane

I’ve told the story to several people and the odd things that happened to me on my check ride.  I hope that maybe this can help someone or help the school to be more prepared.  This is just meant to be a story about my experience and is not meant to reflect anything on any one particular person or the school that I was fortunate enough to learn from.  I feel very blessed to have learned from Brazos Valley Flight Services.  Some folks to be praised in particular are Tom F., Christian B., and John B.  Again, this is only my story and my opinion from my experience with a particular DPE……

 

I began flying in February of 2014 after waiting 44 years to be able to complete my lifelong dream.  I eat, sleep, and live for aviation whether it be models, UAV, sUAS, or the real thing.  Finally, I was able to work on getting my pilot’s license.

My training went very fast.  I chose the self-paced Cessna ground school training offered through the flight school and completed the whole thing online.  Although this is meant to last you throughout your training, I couldn’t get enough information and just kept going.  I wanted to take my Knowledge Test as soon as possible and wound up finishing the class in two weeks.  I was able to take that Knowledge test about 3 weeks into my training and did very well scoring a 95.  I was on my way to becoming a pilot.

I finished my training within 3 months and had all of the necessary requirements to take my check ride.  My flying was pretty good and I had confidence in those abilities.  I was concerned about the oral portion of the check ride but was ready to start the “mock” check rides to prepare.  So, we are at the end of April and I’m ready to go.  Through a misunderstanding between myself and my instructor, I wound up not flying for a month.  In hindsight, I really can’t blame anyone other than myself.  I let my instructor drive and I should have been on top of my training and set up my own schedule.  In the end, this cost me an extra period of time when I could have been done.

Finally, we get my exam scheduled.  My instructors and I worked really hard preparing for this.  I was confident but nervous all at the same time.  No matter how much you think you’re prepared, you still will not know until you go through your ride.  No one check ride is identical to another.  Go in prepared, go in confident but know your material.  The cool thing about the ride is that it’s pretty much open book.  Open book meaning you can look at official publications i.e. FAR/AIM, PoH, Sectional legends etc. but not necessarily notes.  Take the time to “prep” in this regard.  Grab sticky notes to mark important pages and sections in your books.  If you do this properly, you won’t have any need for notes because all of the exact same information is in your books.

The big day is finally upon us.  My exam is scheduled for 12:30PM on a Thursday.  I wake up, I’m ready.  I feel prepared.  I begin the task of getting all information together pertaining to my cross-country flight that the DPE wants me to fly.  I get the weather, NOTAMS, TFR’s, etc.  It’s 8:30AM and I plan to be at the school at 10:30 to make sure I have all last second questions answered and I’m there ready to go.  At 8:39AM, I receive a call from my instructor that he just heard from the DPE.  His morning flight was a “no go” and he would be up here in 2 hours.  Wait, what!?!?!?!  My instructor says, take your time, your exam is at 12:30 but get up here as soon as you can.  There’s no way I’m going to make the guy that holds my certification in his hands wait for me for two hours!  When I got the call, I was pretty much done printing all of the information and I just needed to fill out my log, shower and head up to the school.  I got there at 10:15 and the DPE showed up shortly thereafter.  I like to think he was happy that I was there and he didn’t have to wait around for me but I’m definitely glad I didn’t have to find out!

We both sat down and introduced ourselves.  My DPE was a friendly fellow with a good demeanor from what I could see in all of 5 minutes.  This did help relax me a little bit and I was ready to go.  Remember, the oral portion of the practical is all scenario based.  You already have proven your ability for ROTE learning and now it’s time to apply that knowledge through real-world scenarios.

We dove right into it.  We started with the DPE presenting the scenario of getting ready to make my cross-country flight as previously planned.  He asked me what I would do to prepare for this flight and what things I would look at to do so.  I answered as if this was my first time making this flight by explaining that I’d check weather, weight of the persons going for CG and max weight, the amount of fuel, and all other information pertaining to this flight.  I went into showing that we could make this flight with this airplane because the airplane met all the requirements needed in the log books.  That went fairly well.  We discussed some weather and what we would expect on this flight and whether or not I would actually make this flight today based on all of the information at hand.

Then he asked me what the “H” was for above one of the VORs on the sectional.  I explained to him that this was HIWAS and could be listened to for hazardous weather which led into the discussion of the three types of information that could be obtained i.e. Convective Sigmet, Sigmet, and Airmet.  My instructor said when able, put a little cherry on top by explaining.  I did, I said “Convective Sigmet involves severe weather such as thunderstorms, hail, tornados, etc while Sigmets pertained to all pilots and Airmets usually only apply to smaller GA aircraft.  THAT, was a mistake.  My DPE yells out “OH NO!  WHY DID YOU SAY THAT?!?!?!  YOU’VE BEEN LISTENING TOO MUCH TO THE KING SCHOOLS VIDEOS HAVEN’T YOU?”.  Trying not to show the panic I felt in my chest I said, “What did I say wrong?”.  The DPE told me to open my AIM to 7-1-6 and read….aloud….the exact phrasing in the book.  I did.  Guess what it says.  Essentially Airmets apply to ALL PILOTS.  Read it and you’ll see why.  After my heart started beating again, he said not to worry as most people answer the exact same way.  He wasn’t busting me for getting something wrong, he was making sure I understood this very important point.

The rest of the oral was pretty much as expected although, admittedly, I did refer to the Sectional legend frequently as well as my FAR/AIM and PoH to make sure I was giving the proper information.  The point here is to not necessarily have everything memorized but to make sure if you don’t, you know where to go get it.  Above all, make sure you know where to go find the information if you don’t know or aren’t 100% sure.  Keep in mind that the DPE is not there to foul you up, he’s there to make sure you are as safe as possible and know where to find the information if you don’t know it.  He isn’t there to teach you but he wants you to pass and wants you to do well in your aviation career.

Next came the flying portion of my exam.  As prepared as I thought I was, nothing seemed to happen right.  This is where the story gets interesting and I hope this is where you can learn from my mistakes as well as learn from my successes.  My DPE told me to go prep the airplane for our flight.  We discussed the basics of what we’d be doing and the basic order in which we would do the maneuvers in.  I headed out to the plane to start the preflight and he followed me out shortly thereafter.

Once I finished prepping the aircraft, we both got in and I started my normal procedure.  I briefed him on safety such as making sure he could fasten and unfasten his seatbelt, how to lock the seat in place, how to open the door in case of emergency and about the flight controls as well as positive aircraft controls.  He seemed to be impressed and I started the plane and prepared to taxi.

After obtaining taxi clearance, we started heading out and my DPE said that he would like me to do a Soft Field Takeoff.  Now, I’m the kind of guy that repeats back what I’ve been instructed to do, primarily to keep me out of trouble making sure that I know exactly what either the DPE or even my instructor wants.  I repeated back to him, “Soft Field Takeoff, flaps 10”.  He said nothing and I received my takeoff clearance.  As you know, with a soft field takeoff, we pull full up elevator during taxi and continue the roll making sure to not come to a stop.  I was never very good at being able to raise the nose wheel all the way off the ground and just rolling on the main gear.  I was definitely keeping the weight off the nose wheel but had trouble mastering the technique of riding with the nose off the ground on the mains.  Well, on my ride, I finally did it.  It was amazing!  The nose wheel came straight off the ground and I was on my takeoff roll just on the mains.  The main gear lifted off the ground and I leveled off immediately.  I couldn’t have been more proud of myself.  I must have been 1 or 2 feet off the ground!  Then….it happened.  The airplane started to settle back to the runway.  I fought to stay on centerline while airborne and keep the plane from landing again.  The right main touched and I mean just barely touched and I saved it.  WHEW!  I sped up to Vx and initiated my 50 foot climb to clear the obstacle and then lowered the nose to accelerate to Vy and then retract the flaps.  My DPE looked over at me and I saw him out of the corner of my eye.  Thinking he was going to praise me, I was looking forward to his words.  “Scott, is that how we do a Short Field Takeoff?”, I heard come blare through my headset.  “No sir, you asked for a Soft Field Takeoff and I put in flaps 10.  We don’t use flaps in this airplane on a Short field take off and certainly don’t try to stay in ground effect”.  “Scott, I asked you for a Short Field Takeoff and that’s not what you gave me”.  My mouth was on the floor.  I repeated his instructions prior to takeoff and I wasn’t corrected.  My confidence…right there on my departure leg….was no longer in existence.  I asked him if he wanted me to just take him back to the airport.  He said, “No, let’s continue”.

We navigated through my first few checkpoints.  Thanks to my instructor, I knew that once I could prove that I could navigate, my DPE would give me a diversion.  I was prepared!  I knew, by heart, every frequency, runway, runway length, current ATIS for every airport he could possibly divert me to within 50 miles from where we were.  Expected diversions from an exam out of KCLL could be Caldwell, Hearne, Navisota, Coulter and a few others.  Yeah!  Let’s divert baby!  My turn to impress you!

“Scott, there are thunderstorms ahead.  I’d like you to take me to Mexia”.  MEXIA!!  That airport was 80 miles away and almost 90 degrees from our current heading and a long ways away from anything that I expected.  Leave it to my check ride to also have to use 2 sectional charts.  My flight was from KCLL to KAUS.  KCLL is on the Houston sectional while KAUS is on the San Antonio sectional.  Well, at the time of diversion, I was on the San Antonio sectional and Mexia, of course, is on the other sectional.  I know approximately where Mexia is but I wasn’t at all prepared for that diversion.  I turned to a NE heading, marked my time and was trying to obtain all of the information necessary.  I drew my line, found I needed almost a due North heading (015), turned and began to figure distance, time and fuel.  I gave him my numbers by saying “We’re approximately 75 miles away, I expect 50 minutes with winds aloft and I expect us to burn 7 gallons”.  His response was “Actually Scott, we’re 74 miles away, 47 minutes and you’ll burn 6 gallons.  Very nice!”.  Finally, a good thing!  I was even impressed.  Maybe the rest of the ride will be better.

It was then time to do my steep turns.  I’ve been getting pretty good with these and definitely staying within PTS but left was much better than right.  My DPE said left steep turn first then a right.  I was happy because doing left first would help my confidence.  I began the turn and wound up losing right at 80 feet.  Still within PTS but close and this is supposed to be my better side!  Right next.  Oh boy!  I did my right turn paying extra attention to everything because I knew this was my worse side.  Nailed it!  Thank goodness.

We then proceeded to do hood work and I felt as though I breezed through that.  Nothing really to report.  Then we did unusual attitudes which I also felt really good about.  Let me just say that the unusual attitudes were significantly more “unusual” from what we’ve been practicing.  The nose down attitude had to be at least 45 degrees.  I recovered fine but I was not prepared for the steepness.

We went straight in to slow flight, approach stall and departure stalls, all of which went fairly well.  On my departure stall, I fought to get the airplane to actually stall.  When it finally came over, the left wing dipped more than anticipated.  I danced on the rudder but really had to make sure I didn’t correct with ailerons.  Let me say that again.  Do not correct with ailerons!!  They are stalled too and all input does is make it worse.  I was fine and did a good job but it was extremely hard to fight that desire.

When we get back to straight and level, I’m slightly disoriented not knowing exactly where we are.  After under the hood work (I didn’t have to track a VOR because I had used one in my cross-county on the first leg hoping to knock out that bird there vs. actual under the hood time), I must say you stop thinking about where you are exactly when being critically judged by a DPE.  You tend to concentrate on the task at hand.  Trying to get my bearings before he throws something else at me, I see a body of water and begin to figure out where I am.  The DPE says “Turn to a heading of 150, maintain 2500”.  I repeat it back to him and initiate the turn.  As I’m coming round to 150, I see an airport ahead and I’m trying to recognize what airport that is.  Nothing is coming to mind but I know he’s about to pull an emergency engine out on me.

I finish the turn and he pulls the engine.  “OK Scott, your engine has failed.  Get me on the ground”.  Of course, I know where I’m going to land but I have no idea where I’m at.  I look down and see “15” on the runway.  “Oh no”, I thought to myself.  I look at the approach end of Rwy 15 and see a water tower.  “OH NO”, I screamed inside my head, “I’m over Caldwell!”.  Now, for those that don’t know, Caldwell is not one of any student’s favorite airports.  It’s usually turbulent on approach and departure, narrow, and fairly short but not scary short.  The problem is, it’s difficult enough to where not many students are signed off to go “practice” there solo.  Now, I’m a little nervous!  I have to go through my ALERTS, make calls in the pattern since we’re at an actual airport and fly the plane.  My biggest fear was winding up short of the field.  In hindsight, I could have easily continued downwind a little further to bleed off altitude but this boy was not going to miss that runway period!  I made my turn to base then turn to final.  I was high but I was fully prepared to make that runway.  Having been told a little about my DPE, I knew he didn’t like forward slips with more than 10 degrees flaps.  I just happened to have 10 degrees flaps in the plane and told him I was high and would begin a slip to the runway.  Everything was OK but I had a little more speed once I went back to a coordinated landing and floated down the runway before finally settling the airplane down and coming to a stop.  Nailed it!  On centerline, plane, passenger and pilot safe!  Yeehaw!

Wrong!  My DPE was not happy with me.  As we back-taxied Rwy 15, I was given the 3rd degree about how I landed so long and where was my aiming point and that there was no reason I should have landed that long.  I explained to him that anything that I said is just an excuse and that my aiming point was the numbers in the slip but to get coordinated and bleed off speed, it took me more runway.  He pointed out that if I had used more flaps, I wouldn’t have landed so long.  I told him that I agreed 100% but I was told that he didn’t like forward slips with more than 10 degrees.  He said, “Scott, that’s crap.  The PoH says you can use 20 degrees and you should have done that”.  Mistake number…..number….heck I’ve lost count.

He then asks me to do a Short Field Takeoff which I feel I did very well.  He asks me to stay in the pattern and do a soft field landing.  OK, I can do that.  All set up with my aiming point set for the numbers, I come in to land just like if I were setting down on a baby’s backside; light, smooth, and no wheel screech.  I’m set up and I round out concentrating on SMOOTH.  I get about to the wind sock which is not quite half field before the airplane settles and he says, “Here we go again!  Why are you landing so long?”  Needless to say, that broke my concentration and the landing was a little hard for a soft field landing.  Not terrible but certainly not graceful and certainly long.

The point here is to prioritize.  Is it important on a soft field landing to make sure you absolutely don’t land long or is it important to be a smooth and soft as possible?  I think the jury is still out but what should have happened is that I should have simply done a “Go Around”.  Turns out the DPE would have given me brownie points if I had of done so.  When in doubt, Go Around!  The school does a great job teaching this.  Do not take it for granted.  That’s not to say that you should always go around if it doesn’t look absolutely perfect but a go around or two during your ride is not a bad thing at all.  Defending myself, there was no time during the check ride where a go around was necessitated but I could have done better if I remembered that.  Believe me when I say that I will go through the rest of my aviation career under the premise that each landing is simply a set up to Go Around!  If everything is looking good and all is well, then I will land.

After the soft field landing, he had me take off right away and stay in the pattern.  This time, I had my flaps fail.  This landing, on a runway that I was not overly familiar with, was going to be interesting.  In actuality, it was probably one of my better landings.  I hit my marks both on aiming and touchdown and was fine.  He had me take back off and exit the pattern.

Next was my ground reference maneuvers.  Hoping for “Turn Around a Point’, he said “Scott start heading back towards CLL and find a road where we can do S Turns”.  Alright, here we go.  I explained to him what I was going to do.  I said that we would be heading back towards the Class D airspace but not into it where there are fields in case we have an emergency situation since we would already be low to the ground.  He said that was fine and we began cruising over to the open fields.  Near Caldwell, there are a lot of trees in the fields and it was definitely more comfortable to head back towards home.  Again, hoping to have the proverbial cherry, I thought he would be impressed.  Yet again, this was not the case.

After a few minutes he said to use the railroad tracks for my S Turns.  I explained that this was not the safest place due to the surrounding fields not really being available for a place to land in case of an emergency.  He said that I could easily land on Hwy 21 if needed.  Now, this is not what we are taught.  Sure, you can use a road if you must but in essence, you should pick a field in order to keep others out of harm’s way.  Feeling his readiness to get back to the airport, I complied and did some really nice S Turns.  He said very well, take me home and altitude your discretion.

I climbed to 2500 feet MSL, obtained my new ATIS which said winds variable at 5.  He said he would like me to do a Short Field Landing on this final landing to a full stop.  Now, keep in mind I felt like this check ride did not go well.  Certainly, I’m a better pilot than I just showed to the DPE and I was resigned to the fact that I was going to fail.  I did some parts really well and others, not to the best of my abilities.  I actually agreed with this made up assessment in my own head and was OK with it.  I knew I could fix what I thought were my short-comings and do it better next time.  I guess I knew in the back of my mind that if, at any point, I failed a portion, the DPE would tell me and I had the choice to continue or stop but at that time, I didn’t really consider it.  I figured he’d tell me when we got on the ground.

With winds variable at 5, I was excited about my last maneuver.  I had been working extremely hard on my precision landings on 16 and I knew by the ATIS we were landing on 16.  Let’s go so I can at least end on a positive note.  Slightly to the north of Riverside campus which is 12 miles NW of the airport, I called in to the tower.

“Easterwood Tower, Cessna 8926V information India 12 miles to the NW inbound full stop”, I stated.

“8926V, Easterwood Tower, are you over the annex?”

“Yes sir, just to the north for 8926V”

“8926V, make straight in Rwy 10 report 2 mile final”

GREAT!  Yet another something new for me.  What else could possibly go wrong?

“Tower, could I have Rwy 16 for 8926V?”

“26V, you can have 16 but winds are 100 at 10 gusting 15 now”

Convinced that I didn’t want to do a short field cross wind landing for my exam, I came back with “We’ll take 10 for 26V”.

Now one would think that one would know his/her home airport like the back of his/her hand.  One would think that one would be prepared by now for just about anything.  Well, although I knew lengths and widths, I had forgotten if 10 had lights.  As a student, we use reference points to figure out where we need to be altitude-wise at a given place.  We are still new to this and we don’t have a ton of experience to be able to judge distances perfect.  I’ve never seen the approach end of 10 and I’M FREAKED OUT!  I do not want to blow this.

Shaking my head with a smile, the DPE looks over at me and says “What’s up?”

“It just stands to reason after this whole ride, I get a runway that I haven’t landed on before to do a precision landing”, I say.

He says, “Scott McHarg, it’s a *!#@ runway so land on it!”

I make my turn to 10 and I see the VASI lights.  I’m good.  I can do this and it will be good.  DPE says, “Land on the thousand footers”.  I say, “Yes Sir!”

Two miles out, I’m given landing clearance.  I’m ready for this and it’s going to be gorgeous.  All of a sudden, the air gets real still and then, the sound…..B O O M!!!  A clap of thunder all but rocks the little 172 and it pours like I have never seen it pour outside of a hurricane.  There’s not much wind but it is so hard to see.  I’ve flown in rain before.  A nice little shower in the pattern is no big deal but this….this I’m looking around for Noah’s Ark!  I’m positive I held my breath for the next 2 miles but somehow I landed just past the beginning of the thousand footers and got the plane stopped by the crossing of Rwy 4/22.  I did it!  Somehow, by the grace of God, I’m alive and I did it!  Tower calls and asks me to taxi Rwy 4 and hold short of 16.  I read back the instructions and begin to taxi.  The cockpit is filled with the sounds of rain bouncing off the plane.  Now, I’m not a fast taxi guy.  I don’t piddle around but I don’t come anywhere close to a fast taxi for safety if nothing else, especially in the rain.  Before the next taxiway and quite a bit before Rwy 16, tower gives me permission to cross 16 to the ramp.  I repeat and continue my taxi.  The DPE looks over and says, “You’ve got to pick up the speed and get across that runway right now.  You’ve been given clearance to cross and you should hurry because you’re holding up other traffic”.  Yet again, I’ve blown it.  I pick up my pace substantially and get across the runway and proceed to parking.

At parking, I shut down the airplane mentally exhausted.   I knew I failed.  Sitting back in the seat with the wind picking up from my tail and the rain increasingly getting stronger, the DPE says, “Well, we have a lot to talk about”.

“Yes sir, I’m sure”, I proclaimed.

The DPE opens the door stating he’ll meet me inside after I tie down the airplane in the pouring rain.  He starts to shut the door and opens it back up and says “Oh by the way, congratulations!  You passed!”.

I was blown away.  I freakin passed!  Holy wow, I did it!!

I tied down the airplane and walked back inside.  The DPE and I sat down and went back over the flight.  He said he understood the bad things I did and was impressed with the good things I did.  We signed some documents and he was on his way.  I am now officially a certificated pilot!

The reason I chose to write this all down is because I’m hoping that someone can learn a little something from my experience.  Regardless, never give up even when you think it’s all for nothing.  That’s one of the things we learn after all.  Never give up, you can make a difference.  When you go in to your check ride, you will hear the DPE say to treat him like he knows nothing about airplanes and he is simply your first passenger.  “Don’t worry about it”, he’ll say.

I disagree with this.  The DPE holds everything in his/her hands.  They hold your aviation career in their hands and critique every little move you make inside that aircraft.  They will make or break you.  The good news is that it’s not a one shot deal.  If you mess up, you get to retest and you get to do this until you succeed.  With the help of Brazos Valley Flight School, you will not fail, period.  These guys are some of the best.

The bad news is that, once again, we are faced with a contradiction.  We, as pilots, decide to go or not to go based on “IM SAFE”.  The “S” is for stress and the “F” is for fatigue.  During your exam, you will be faced with both of these and not in small amounts.  In essence, this is a perfect example of when not to fly.  I don’t believe it gets any more ironic than this.

If you’re anything like me, you will be worried and you will be stressed if for no other reason than wanting to do the absolute best you can do.  No matter how many times you hear “don’t stress about it”, you still will.  In hindsight, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  What was being asked of me isn’t a big deal at all.  This miscommunication wasn’t good but the actual maneuvers were exactly what we do every day.  All I can say to the point of stress is just accept it for this ride and learn to manage it.  If you learn to deal with it now, it won’t be so bad on the ride.  It will happen and you will succeed.  Good luck to you and we are all pulling for your success.  Now, I’m going to go out and enjoy the fact that I’m actually flying when I’m in the airplane because when you’re learning, you aren’t afforded that luxury because it’s constant work.  It should be this way.  We should always be learning.  If the day comes, even after you get your license, that you aren’t learning something new about our aviation career, hobby, sport, you should probably check your six o’clock again because you’ve definitely missed something.

Suggestions from one student to another

A.)   Try to schedule at least 4 flights per week if you can.  It never fails that 1 or 2 flights will be cancelled due to weather or maintenance or timing for you and your instructor.

B.)    Try several instructors but pick one that you feel comfortable with.  This is your money and your time.  Essentially, we are customers of the school and you should select the instructor that you can learn the most from.

C.)    Don’t be afraid of the instructors that are a little harder.  They aren’t being hard on you because they like it, they’re doing it to make you a better pilot.

D.)   Stay on top of your own training and know what you have to complete.  When you’re ready to move on, tell your instructor.  Your instructor will have many students and very little time.  Take the time to manage your training in conjunction with your instructor and don’t leave it up to him/her to plan more.

E.)    Manage your budget for your instruction carefully.  This is not a cheap venture and it will cost you quite a bit of money.  The entire purpose of this is to make you a knowledgeable and, most importantly, a safe pilot.  It costs what it costs but regardless of the amount of money it costs you, it’s not near as expensive as the price of your life to you and your family.

F.)    Although there are only 40 hours total time required for you to take your check ride, count on more.  In order to prep you for your ride, you will go through day after day of flying up to your ride to make sure that you are on top of your game.  I’d suggest planning on between 55-65 hours flight time and 40-50 hours of instructor time.  It is what it is so just plan on it.  Very rarely do people take their check ride with the minimum required hours.  There’s so much to learn and you will continue learning after you finally obtain your certificate.

G.)   Don’t feel you need to pick an airplane and stick with it as you’re learning to fly.  This does not mean you should be switching planes right before your check ride.  I’m speaking of the time leading up to just meeting the minimums.  I say this because each and every airplane is different.  They all have similar characteristics but they are all different.  Even the same models can be different but spend a little time in each airplane that you are using, even if it’s in 2 different airplanes of the exact same model.  Learn each aircraft individually.  I found this very helpful to do and I feel that because of this, it is easier to make the transition to a different airplane even after my certification.

H.)   Always, always, always repeat the instructions given to you by ATC, your instructor and the DPE.  If you didn’t understand or you got confused in the instructions, just ask for them to be repeated.  It will save you time and time again.

I.)      Once you have your check ride scheduled, make all the rest of your flights at the same time of day as your check ride.  I made all of my flights after work up to the check ride and the air was gorgeous.  My check ride was in the middle of the day and was far from smooth air.  Save yourself another learning curve and fly at the same time daily.

J.)     Manage your stress!  You will be under stress no matter what when it comes time for the exam.  You can tell yourself over and over that it’s just a ride but the stress will be there.  Learn to perform with it and know that you can do this.  We learn as pilots to not fly if we are stressed or fatigued.  This is one time that you will fly under stress.  Accept it and manage it.  It will be OK.

K.)    Electronics – This one really gets me.  I could rant on about this subject for hours but here’s the cold hard facts.  The FAA allows items such as the iPad and apps such as ForeFlight to replace paper charts in the cockpit.  They are legal and you should learn to use them and make them part of your flight bag, no doubt.  It is recommended to have a backup such as a 2nd iPad or smartphone or, of course, paper charts but it is not required (just so it’s clear, I have a 2nd iPad as well as a smartphone and the onboard GPS as well).  The DPEs rarely let you use them even though you may find the DPE using them on your check ride to keep track.  You will, more than likely, not be afforded the same luxury.  Make sure you know how to read, fold and even organize a paper sectional and know how to use the ancient E6B that they teach you to use.  You will absolutely need this on your ride.  Here’s why this is so absolutely frustrating.  One of the main things when learning to fly is to get on board with “See and Avoid”.  This is all about keeping your attention outside of the cockpit with your eyes on the skies and/or the airport environment.  In my opinion, utilizing electronics helps you “See and Avoid”.  All of your information is available by touch screen without a percent error for human calculation and takes a lot less time than trying to figure out how the heck to fold your sectional or sectionals as you’re flying or trying to divide your time between the outside and working an ancient slide rule E6B.  In my opinion, the paper version and the old E6B version allow for much more human error and human error is the cause for the majority of the accidents in aviation.  Having a computer do the calculations for you and having a taxi diagram with your moving airplane on it takes away so many of the potential issues that can happen at the airport and in flight, it makes no sense why we should have to concentrate on the old paper renditions.  As far behind the curve as we are as new pilots already and as much as we have to multi-task, we should be using as much help from a single crew cockpit resource management perspective as allowed.  This rule of not being able to use electronics is out dated and contradictory to what the FAA is trying to accomplish.  End of rant.

L.)     It’s understood and appreciated that the instructor is typically harder to impress than a DPE who is only concerned about safety and meeting the standards.  During a Soft Field Takeoff, the instructors will teach you to stay absolutely as close to the runway as possible.  This is to make sure that you stay in ground effect and to keep you from stalling the aircraft.  This is not a bad thing but I was actually criticized for not using the allowed “ground effect height” in my Soft Field Takeoff.  My instructors had me trying to keep the plane as low as possible i.e. 1-2 feet off the runway when in reality my DPE didn’t appreciate that.  I should have used more of the height of the ground effect which is the same as the wingspan of the aircraft.  This holds especially true when the airplane tries to settle back to the runway.  In essence, try to keep it as low as possible but during your check ride, be OK with using a little more height to separate yourself from the ground while remaining in ground effect.  This way, if the plane settles back down, you don’t set the aircraft back down on the runway.

M.)     Complete ALL checklist items and be prepared to take off prior to obtaining take off clearance.  The DPE is interested in starting the takeoff as soon as clearance is given, not when you’re good and ready.  It’s assumed that you are good and ready if you’re calling for the clearance.  This is taught but in my opinion, understated.  Do your 3 checks to make sure you’re on the correct runway prior to requesting takeoff clearance if at all possible.

N.)   Get away from the bigger airports that have long and wide runways.  When we as students have that much leeway at larger airports, it makes a “normal” runway of 50 feet wide by 3200 feet long look daunting.  Spend the extra .2 on the Hobbs to go to different places and practice there.  If we as students don’t spend much time at the smaller airports, we are seriously limiting ourselves to where we can go fly.  Land on every runway you are able to and do it again.  Become familiar with all possible runway scenarios.  At Easterwood, we use 16/34 almost all the time.  Land on the others if wind permits along with ATC clearance.  You will only give yourself more confidence as you progress.

O.)   Fly more engine out situations all the way to the ground.  Make yourself land simulated engine out more at these smaller airports and don’t just look and say “OK, yeah, it looks like we’ll make it and go around”.

Jimmy Doolitle’s Raid as recounted from the Pilot of the 13th B-25

This is a long read but so worth it if you have time.  If you have ever served in our armed forces, you have my deepest respect and gratitude.  Thank you!

This detailed story is very well written in the first person by the pilot of Airplane # 13.  The amount of organization and planning involving the Army Air Corp, the Navy, the training and the Raid itself was accomplished in about 4 and 1/2 months after Dec 7.  You will know far more than was ever released. In all the annals of wartime bravery, what those pilots did on April 18, 1942 (five months after Pearl Harbor ) may be one of the greatest feats ever. ****

McElroy003 —-My name is Edgar McElroy. My friends call me “Mac”. I was born and raised in Ennis, Texas, the youngest of five children, son of Harry and Jennie McElroy. Folks say that I was the quiet one. We lived at 609 North Dallas Street and attended the Presbyterian Church. My dad had an auto mechanic’s shop downtown close to the main fire station. My family was a hard working bunch, and I was expected to work at dad’s garage after school and on Saturdays, so I grew up in an atmosphere of machinery, oil and grease. Occasionally I would hear a lone plane fly over, and would run out in the street and strain my eyes against the sun to watch it. Someday, that would be me up there!

I really like cars, and I was always busy on some project, and it wasn’t long before I decided to build my very own Model-T out of spare parts. I got an engine from over here, a frame from over there, and wheels from someplace else, using only the good parts from old cars that were otherwise shot. It wasn’t very pretty, but it was all mine.  I enjoyed driving on the dirt roads around town and the feeling of freedom and speed. That car of mine could really go fast, 40 miles per hour!

In high school I played football and tennis, and was good enough at football to receive an athletic scholarship from Trinity University in Waxahachie. I have to admit that sometimes I daydreamed in class, and often times I thought about flying my very own airplane and being up there in the clouds. That is when I even decided to take a correspondence course in aircraft engines. Whenever I got the chance, I would take my girl on a date up to Love Field in Dallas. We would watch the airplanes and listen to those mighty piston engines roar. I just loved it and if she didn’t, well that was just too bad.

After my schooling, I operated a filling station with my brother, then drove a bus, and later had a job as a machinist in Longview, but I never lost my love of airplanes and my dream of flying. With what was going on in Europe and in Asia, I figured that our country would be drawn into war someday, so I decided to join the Army Air Corps in November of 1940. This way I could finally follow my dream.

I reported for primary training in California. The training was rigorous and frustrating at times. We trained at air-fields all over California. It was tough going, and many of the guys washed out. When I finally saw that I was going to make it, I wrote to my girl back in Longview, Texas. Her name is Agnes Gill. I asked her to come out to California for my graduation, and oh yeah, also to marry me. I graduated on July 11, 1941. I was now a real, honest-to-goodness Army Air Corps pilot. Two days later, I married “Aggie” in Reno, Nevada. We were starting a new life together and were very happy. I received my orders to report to Pendleton, Oregon and join the 17th Bomb Group. Neither of us had traveled much before, so the drive north through the Cascade Range of the Sierra Nevada’s was interesting and beautiful. It was an exciting time for us.

My unit was the first to receive the new B-25 medium bomber. When I saw it for the first time I was in awe. It looked so huge. It was so sleek and powerful. The guys started calling it the “rocket plane”, and I could hardly wait to get my hands on it. I told Aggie that it was really something! Reminded me of a big old scorpion, just ready to sting! Man, I could barely wait!

We were transferred to another airfield in Washington State, where we spent a lot a time flying practice missions and attacking imaginary targets. Then, there were other assignments in Mississippi and Georgia, for more maneuvers and more practice. We were on our way back to California on December 7th when we got word of a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

We listened with mixed emotions to the announcements on the radio, and the next day to the declaration of war. What the President said, it just rang over and over in my head.” With confidence in our armed forces, with the un-bounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph; So help us God.” By gosh, I felt as though he was talking straight to me! I didn’t know what would happen to us, but we all knew that we would be going somewhere now.

The first weeks of the war, we were back in Oregon flying patrols at sea looking for possible Japanese submarines. We had to be up at 0330 hours to warm up the engines of our planes. There was 18 inches of snow on the ground, and it was so cold that our engine oil congealed overnight. We placed big tarps over the engines that reached down to the ground. Inside this tent we used plumber’s blow torches to thaw out the engines. I figured that my dad would be proud of me, if he could see me inside this tent with all this machinery, oil and grease. After about an hour of this, the engines were warm enough to start.

We flew patrols over the coasts of Oregon and Washington from dawn until dusk. Once I thought I spotted a sub, and started my bomb run, even had my bomb doors open, but I pulled out of it when I realized that it was just a big whale. Lucky for me, I would have never heard the end of that! Actually it was lucky for us that the Japanese didn’t attack the west coast, because we just didn’t have a strong enough force to beat them off. Our country was in a real fix now, and overall things looked pretty bleak to most folks.

In early February, we were ordered to report to Columbus, South Carolina. Man, this Air Corps sure moves a fellow around a lot! Little did I know what was coming next! After we got settled in Columbus, my squadron commander called us all together. He told us that an awfully hazardous mission was being planned, and then he asked for volunteers. There were some of the guys that did not step forward, but I was one of the ones that did. My co-pilot was shocked. He said “You can’t volunteer, Mac! You’re married, and you and Aggie are expecting a baby soon. Don’t do it!” I told him that “I got into the Air Force to do what I can, and Aggie understands how I feel. The war won’t be easy for any of us.”

We that volunteered were transferred to Eglin Field near Valparaiso, Florida in late February. When we all got together, there were about 140 of us volunteers, and we were told that we were now part of the “Special B-25 project.” We set about our training, but none of us knew what it was all about. We were ordered not to talk about it, not even to our wives. In early March, we were all called in for a briefing, and gathered together in a big building there on the base. Somebody said that the fellow who was head of this thing is coming to talk to us, and in walks Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle. He was already an aviation legend, and there he stood right in front of us. I was truly amazed just to meet him.

Colonel Doolittle explained that this mission would be extremely dangerous, and that only volunteers could take part. He said that he could not tell us where we were going, but he could say that some of us would not be coming back. There was a silent pause; you could have heard a pin drop. Then Doolittle said that anyone of us could withdraw now, and that no one would criticize us for this decision. No one backed out!

From the outset, all volunteers worked from the early morning hours until well after sunset. All excess weight was stripped from the planes and extra gas tanks were added. The lower gun turret was removed, the heavy liaison radio was removed, and then the tail guns were taken out and more gas tanks were put aboard. We extended the range of that plane from 1000 miles out to 2500 miles.

Then I was assigned my crew. There was Richard Knobloch the co-pilot, Clayton Campbell the navigator, Robert Bourgeous the bombardier, Adam Williams the flight engineer and gunner, and me, Mac McElroy the pilot. Over the coming days, I came to respect them a lot. They were a swell bunch of guys, just regular All-American boys. We got a few ideas from the training as to what type of mission that we had signed on for.

A Navy pilot had joined our group to coach us at short takeoffs and also in shipboard etiquette. We began our short takeoff practice. Taking off with first a light load, then a normal load, and finally overloaded up to 31,000 lbs. The shortest possible take-off was obtained with flaps full down, stabilizer set three-fourths, tail heavy, full power against the brakes and releasing the brakes simultaneously as the engine revved up to max power. We pulled back gradually on the stick and the airplane left the ground with the tail skid about one foot from the runway. It was a very unnatural and scary way to get airborne! I could hardly believe it myself, the first time as I took off with a full gas load and dummy bombs within just 700 feet of runway in a near stall condition. We were, for all practical purposes, a slow flying gasoline bomb!

In addition to take-off practice, we refined our skills in day and night navigation, gunnery, bombing, and low level flying. We made cross country flights at tree-top level, night flights and navigational flights over the Gulf of Mexico without the use of a radio. After we started that short-field takeoff routine, we had some pretty fancy competition among the crews. I think that one crew got it down to about 300 feet on a hot day.

We were told that only the best crews would actually go on the mission, and the rest would be held in reserve. One crew did stall on takeoff, slipped back to the ground, busting up their landing gear. They were eliminated from the mission. Doolittle emphasized again and again the extreme danger of this operation, and made it clear that anyone of us who so desired could drop out with no questions asked. No one did.

On one of our cross country flights, we landed at Barksdale Field in Shreveport, and I was able to catch a bus over to Longview to see Aggie. We had a few hours together, and then we had to say our goodbyes. I told her I hoped to be back in time for the baby’s birth, but I couldn’t tell her where I was going. As I walked away, I turned and walked backwards for a ways, taking one last look at my beautiful pregnant Aggie.

Within a few days of returning to our base in Florida we were abruptly told to pack our things. After just three weeks of practice, we were on our way. This was it. It was time to go. It was the middle of March 1942, and I was 30 years old. Our orders were to fly to McClelland Air Base in Sacramento, California on our own, at the lowest possible level. So here we went on our way west, scraping the tree tops at 160 miles per hour, and skimming along just 50 feet above plowed fields. We crossed North Texas and then the panhandle, scaring the dickens out of livestock, buzzing farm houses and a many a barn along the way. Over the Rocky Mountains and across the Mojave Desert dodging thunderstorms, we enjoyed the flight immensely and although tempted, I didn’t do too much dare-devil stuff. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was good practice for what lay ahead of us. It proved to be our last fling.

Once we arrived in Sacramento, the mechanics went over our plane with a fine-toothed comb. Of the twenty-two planes that made it, only those whose pilots reported no mechanical problems were allowed to go on. The others were shunted aside. After having our plane serviced, we flew on to Alameda Naval Air Station in Oakland. As I came in for final approach, we saw it! I excitedly called the rest of the crew to take a look. There below us was a huge aircraft carrier. It was the USS Hornet, and it looked so gigantic! Man, I had never even seen a carrier until this moment. There were already two B-25s parked on the flight deck. Now we knew! My heart was racing, and I thought about how puny my plane would look on board this mighty ship. As soon as we landed and taxied off the runway, a jeep pulled in front of me with a big “Follow Me” sign on the back. We followed it straight up to the wharf, alongside the towering Hornet. All five of us were looking up and just in awe, scarcely believing the size of this thing.

As we left the plane, there was already a Navy work crew swarming around attaching cables to the lifting rings on top of the wings and the fuselage. As we walked towards our quarters, I looked back and saw them lifting my plane up into the air and swing it over the ship’s deck. It looked so small and lonely. Later that afternoon, all crews met with Colonel Doolittle and he gave last minute assignments. He told me to go to the Presidio and pick up two hundred extra “C” rations. I saluted, turned, and left, not having any idea where the Presidio was, and not exactly sure what a “C” ration was.

I commandeered a Navy staff car and told the driver to take me to the Presidio, and he did On the way over, I realized that I had no written signed orders and that this might get a little sticky. So in I walked into the Army supply depot and made my request, trying to look poised and confident. The supply officer asked, “What is your authorization for this request, sir?” I told him that I could not give him one. “And what is the destination?” he asked. I answered, “The aircraft carrier, Hornet, docked at Alameda.” He said, “Can you tell me who ordered the rations, sir?” And I replied with a smile, “No, I cannot.” The supply officers huddled together, talking and glanced back over towards me. Then he walked back over and assured me that the rations would be delivered that afternoon. Guess they figured that something big was up. They were right.

The next morning we all boarded the ship. Trying to remember my naval etiquette, I saluted the Officer of the Deck and said “Lt. McElroy, requesting permission to come aboard.  “The officer returned the salute and said “Permission granted.” Then I turned aft and saluted the flag I made it, without messing up. It was April 2, and in full sunlight, we left San Francisco Bay. The whole task force of ships, two cruisers, four destroyers, and a fleet oiler, moved slowly with us under the Golden Gate Bridge. Thousands of people looked on. Many stopped their cars on the bridge, and waved to us as we passed underneath. I thought to myself, I hope there aren’t any spies up there waving.

Once at sea, Doolittle called us together. “Only a few of you know our destination, and others have guessed about various targets. Gentlemen, your target is Japan!” A sudden cheer exploded among the men. “Specifically, Yokohama, Tokyo, Nagoya, Kobe, Nagasaki, and Osaka. The Navy task force will get us as close as possible and we’ll launch our planes. We will hit our targets and proceed to airfields in China.” After the cheering stopped, he asked again if any of us desired to back out, no questions asked. Not one did, not one.

The ship’s Captain then went over the intercom to the whole ship’s company. The loudspeaker blared, “The destination is Tokyo!” A tremendous cheer broke out from everyone on board. I could hear metal banging together and wild screams from down below decks. It was quite a rush! I felt relieved actually. We finally knew where we were going.

I set up quarters with two Navy pilots, putting my cot between their two bunks. They couldn’t get out of bed without stepping on me. It was fairly cozy in there, yes it was. Those guys were part of the Torpedo Squadron Eight and were just swell fellows. The rest of the guys bedded down in similar fashion to me, some had to sleep on bedrolls in the Admiral’s chartroom. As big as this ship was, there wasn’t any extra room anywhere. Every square foot had a purpose… A few days later we discovered where they had an ice cream machine!

There were sixteen B-25s tied down on the flight deck, and I was flying number 13. All the carrier’s fighter planes were stored away helplessly in the hangar deck. They couldn’t move until we were gone. Our Army mechanics were all on board, as well as our munitions loaders and several back up crews, in case any of us got sick or backed out. We settled into a daily routine of checking our planes. The aircraft were grouped so closely together on deck that it wouldn’t take much for them to get damaged. Knowing that my life depended on this plane, I kept a close eye on her.

Day after day, we met with the intelligence officer and studied our mission plan. Our targets were assigned, and maps and objective folders were furnished for study. We went over approach routes and our escape route towards China … I never studied this hard back at Trinity. Every day at dawn and at dusk the ship was called to general quarters and we practiced finding the quickest way to our planes. If at any point along the way, we were discovered by the enemy fleet, we were to launch our bombers immediately so the Hornet could bring up its fighter planes. We would then be on our own, and try to make it to the nearest land, either Hawaii or Midway Island.

Dr. Thomas White, a volunteer member of plane number 15, went over our medical records and gave us inoculations for a whole bunch of diseases that hopefully I wouldn’t catch. He gave us training sessions in emergency first aid, and lectured us at length about water purification and such. Tom, a medical doctor, had learned how to be a gunner just so he could go on this mission. We put some new tail guns in place of the ones that had been taken out to save weight. Not exactly functional, they were two broom handles, painted black. The thinking was they might help scare any Jap fighter planes. Maybe, maybe not.

On Sunday, April 14, we met up with Admiral Bull Halsey’s task force just out of Hawaii and joined into one big force. The carrier Enterprise was now with us, another two heavy cruisers, four more destroyers, and another oiler. We were designated as Task Force 16. It was quite an impressive sight to see, and represented the bulk of what was left of the U.S. Navy after the devastation of Pearl Harbor. There were over 10,000 Navy personnel sailing into harm’s way, just to deliver us sixteen Army planes to the Japs, orders of the President.

As we steamed further west, tension was rising as we drew nearer and nearer to Japan. Someone thought of arming us with some old …45 pistols that they had on board. I went through that box of 1911 pistols, they were in such bad condition that I took several of them apart, using the good parts from several useless guns until I built a serviceable weapon. Several of the other pilots did the same. Admiring my “new” pistol, I held it up, and thought about my old Model-T.

Colonel Doolittle called us together on the flight deck. We all gathered round, as well as many Navy personnel. He pulled out some medals and told us how these friendship medals from the Japanese government had been given to some of our Navy officers several years back. And now the Secretary of the Navy had requested us to return them. Doolittle wired them to a bomb while we all posed for pictures. Something to cheer up the folks back home!

I began to pack my things for the flight, scheduled for the 19th. I packed some extra clothes and a little brown bag that Aggie had given me, inside were some toilet items and a few candy bars. No letters or identity cards were allowed, only our dog-tags. I went down to the wardroom to have some ice cream and settle up my mess bill. It only amounted to $5 a day and with my per-diem of $6 per day, I came out a little ahead. By now, my Navy pilot roommates were about ready to get rid of me, but I enjoyed my time with them. They were all right. Later on, I learned that both of them were killed at the Battle of Midway. They were good men. Yes, very good men.

Colonel Doolittle let each crew pick our own target. We chose the Yokosuka Naval Base about twenty miles from Tokyo. We loaded 1450 rounds of ammo and four 500-pound bombs… A little payback, direct from Ellis County, Texas! We checked and re-checked our plane several times. Everything was now ready. I felt relaxed, yet tensed up at the same time. Day after tomorrow, we will launch when we are 400 miles out. I lay in my cot that night, and rehearsed the mission over and over in my head. It was hard to sleep as I listened to sounds of the ship.

Early the next morning, I was enjoying a leisurely breakfast, expecting another full day on board. I noticed that the ship was pitching and rolling quite a bit this morning, more than normal. I was reading through the April 18th day plan of the Hornet; there was a message in it which read, “From the Hornet to the Army – Good luck, good hunting, and God bless you.”

I still had a large lump in my throat from reading this, when all of a sudden, the intercom blared, “General Quarters, General Quarters, All hands man your battle stations! Army pilots, man your planes!!!” There was instant reaction from everyone in the room and food trays went crashing to the deck. I ran down to my room jumping through the hatches along the way, grabbed my bag, and ran as fast as I could go to the flight deck. I met with my crew at the plane, my heart was pounding. Someone said, “What’s going on?” The word was that the Enterprise had spotted an enemy trawler. It had been sunk, but it had transmitted radio messages. We had been found out!

The weather was crummy, the seas were running heavy, and the ship was pitching up and down like I had never seen before. Great waves were crashing against the bow and washing over the front of the deck. This wasn’t going to be easy! Last minute instructions were given. We were reminded to avoid non-military targets, especially the Emperor’s Palace. Do not fly to Russia, but fly as far west as possible, land on the water and launch our rubber raft. This was going to be a one-way trip! We were still much too far out and we all knew that our chances of making land were somewhere between slim and none. Then at the last minute, each plane loaded an extra ten 5-gallon gas cans to give us a fighting chance of reaching China.

We all climbed aboard, started our engines and warmed them up, just feet away from the plane in front of us and the plane behind us. Knobby, Campbell, Bourgeois, and me in the front, Williams, the gunner was in the back, separated from us by a big rubber gas tank. I called back to Williams on the intercom and told him to look sharp and don’t take a nap! He answered dryly, “Don’t worry about me, Lieutenant. If they jump us, I’ll just use my little black broomsticks to keep the Japs off our tail.”

The ship headed into the wind and picked up speed. There was now a near gale force wind and water spray coming straight over the deck. I looked down at my instruments as my engines revved up. My mind was racing. I went over my mental checklist, and said a prayer? God please, help us! Past the twelve planes in front of us, I strained to see the flight deck officer as he leaned into the wind and signaled with his arms for Colonel Doolittle to come to full power. I looked over at Knobby and we looked each other in the eye. He just nodded to me and we both understood.

With the deck heaving up and down, the deck officer had to time this just right. Then I saw him wave Doolittle to go, and we watched breathlessly to see what happened. When his plane pulled up above the deck, Knobby just let out with, “Yes! Yes!” The second plane, piloted by Lt. Hoover, appeared to stall with its nose up and began falling toward the waves. We groaned and called out, “Up! Up! Pull it up!” Finally, he pulled out of it, staggering back up into the air, much to our relief! One by one, the planes in front of us took off. The deck pitched wildly, 60 feet or more, it looked like. One plane seemed to drop down into the drink and disappeared for a moment, then pulled back up into sight. There was sense of relief with each one that made it.

220825_medWe gunned our engines and started to roll forward. Off to the right, I saw the men on deck cheering and waving their covers! We continued inching forward, careful to keep my left main wheel and my nose wheel on the white guidelines that had been painted on the deck for us. Get off a little bit too far left and we go off the edge of the deck. A little too far to the right and our wing-tip will smack the island of the ship. With the best seat on the ship, we watched Lt. Bower take off in plane number 12.

I taxied up to the starting line, put on the brakes and looked down to my left. My main wheel was right on the line. Applied more power to the engines, and I turned my complete attention to the deck officer on my left, who was circling his paddles. Now my adrenaline was really pumping! We went to full power, and the noise and vibration inside the plane went way up. He circled the paddles furiously while watching forward for the pitch of the deck. Then he dropped them, and I said, “Here We Go!” I released the brakes and we started rolling forward, and as I looked down the flight-deck you could see straight down into the angry churning water. As we slowly gained speed, the deck gradually began to pitch back up. I pulled up and our plane slowly strained up and away from the ship. There was a big cheer and whoops from my crew, but I just felt relieved and muttered to myself, “Boy, that was short!” We made a wide circle above our fleet to check our compass headings and get our bearings. I looked down as we passed low over one of our cruisers and could see the men on deck waving to us.

I dropped down to low level, so low we could see the whitecap waves breaking. It was just after 0900, there were broken clouds at 5,000 feet and visibility of about thirty miles due to haze or something. Up ahead and barely in sight, I could see Captain Greening, our flight leader, and Bower on his right wing. Flying at 170 mph, I was able to catch up to them in about 30 minutes. We were to stay in this formation until reaching landfall, and then break on our separate ways. Now we settled in for the five hour flight. Tokyo, here we come!

Williams was in the back emptying the extra gas cans into the gas tank as fast as we had burned off enough fuel. He then punched holes in the tins and pushed them out the hatch against the wind. Some of the crew ate sandwiches and other goodies that the Navy had put aboard for us… I wasn’t hungry. I held onto the controls with a firm grip as we raced along westward just fifty feet above the cold rolling ocean, as low as I dared to fly. Being so close to the choppy waves gave you a true sense of speed. Occasionally our windshield was even sprayed with a little saltwater. It was an exhilarating feeling, and I felt as though the will and spirit of our whole country was pushing us along. I didn’t feel too scared, just anxious. There was a lot riding on this thing, and on me.

As we began to near land, we saw an occasional ship here and there. None of them close enough to be threatening, but just the same, we were feeling more edgy. Then at 1330 we sighted land, the Eastern shore of Honshu. With Williams now on his guns in the top turret and Campbell on the nose gun, we came ashore still flying low as possible. We were surprised to see people on the ground waving to us as we flew in over the farmland. It was beautiful countryside. Campbell, our navigator, said, “Mac, I think we’re going to be about sixty miles too far north. I’m not positive, but pretty sure” I decided that he was absolutely right and turned left ninety degrees, went back just offshore and followed the coast line south. When I thought we had gone far enough, I climbed up to two thousand feet to find out where we were.

We started getting fire from anti-aircraft guns. Then we spotted Tokyo Bay, turned west and put our nose down diving toward the water. Once over the bay, I could see our target, Yokosuka Naval Base. Off to the right there was already smoke visible over Tokyo. Coming in low over the water, I increased speed to 200 mph and told everyone, “Get Ready!” When we were close enough, I pulled up to 1300 feet and opened the bomb doors. There were furious black bursts of anti-aircraft fire all around us, but I flew straight on through them, spotting our target, the torpedo works and the dry-docks. I saw a big ship in the dry-dock just as we flew over it. Those flak bursts were really getting close and bouncing us around, when I heard Bourgeois shouting, “Bombs Away!” I couldn’t see it, but Williams had a bird’s eye view from the back and he shouted jubilantly, “We got an aircraft carrier! The whole dock is burning!” I started turning to the south and strained my neck to look back and at that moment saw a large crane blow up and start falling over!… Take that! There was loud yelling and clapping each other on the back. We were all just ecstatic, and still alive!

But there wasn’t much time to celebrate. We had to get out of here and fast! When we were some thirty miles out to sea, we took one last look back at our target, and could still see huge billows of black smoke. Up until now, we had been flying for Uncle Sam, but now we were flying for ourselves. We flew south over open ocean, parallel to the Japanese coast all afternoon. We saw a large submarine apparently at rest, and then in another fifteen miles, we spotted three large enemy cruisers headed for Japan. There were no more bombs, so we just let them be and kept on going. By late afternoon, Campbell calculated that it was time to turn and make for China.

Across the East China Sea, the weather out ahead of us looked bad and overcast. Up until now we had not had time to think much about our gasoline supply, but the math did not look good. We just didn’t have enough fuel to make it! Each man took turns cranking the little hand radio to see if we could pick up the promised radio beacon. There was no signal. This is not good. The weather turned bad and it was getting dark, so we climbed up. I was now flying on instruments, through a dark misty rain. Just when it really looked hopeless of reaching land, we suddenly picked up a strong tailwind. It was an answer to a prayer. Maybe just maybe, we can make it!

In total darkness at 2100 hours, we figured that we must be crossing the coastline, so I began a slow, slow climb to be sure of not hitting any high ground or anything. I conserved as much fuel as I could, getting real low on gas now. The guys were still cranking on the radio, but after five hours of hand cranking with aching hands and backs, there was utter silence. No radio beacon! Then the red light started blinking, indicating twenty minutes of fuel left. We started getting ready to bail out. I turned the controls over to Knobby and crawled to the back of the plane, past the now collapsed rubber gas tank. I dumped everything out of my bag and repacked just what I really needed, my .45 pistol, ammunition, flashlight, compass, medical kit, fishing tackle, chocolate bars, peanut butter and crackers. I told Williams to come forward with me so we could all be together for this. There was no other choice. I had to get us as far west as possible, and then we had to jump.

At 2230 we were up to sixty-five hundred feet. We were over land but still above the Japanese Army in China. We couldn’t see the stars, so Campbell couldn’t get a good fix on our position. We were flying on fumes now and I didn’t want to run out of gas before we were ready to go. Each man filled his canteen, put on his Mae West life jacket, parachute, and filled his bag with rations, those “C” rations from the Presidio. I put her on auto-pilot and we all gathered in the navigator’s compartment around the hatch in the floor. We checked each other’s parachute harness. Everyone was scared, without a doubt. None of us had ever done this before! I said, “Williams first, Bourgeois second, Campbell third, Knobloch fourth, and I’ll follow you guys! Go fast, two seconds apart! Then count three seconds off and pull your ripcord!”

We kicked open the hatch and gathered around the hole looking down into the blackness. It did not look very inviting! Then I looked up at Williams and gave the order, “JUMP!!!” Within seconds they were all gone. I turned and reached back for the auto-pilot, but could not reach it, so I pulled the throttles back, then turned and jumped. Counting quickly, thousand one, thousand two, thousand three, I pulled my rip-cord and jerked back up with a terrific shock. At first I thought that I was hung on the plane, but after a few agonizing seconds that seemed like hours, realized that I was free and drifting down.

Being in the total dark, I was disoriented at first but figured my feet must be pointed toward the ground. I looked down through the black mist to see what was coming up. I was in a thick mist or fog, and the silence was so eerie after nearly thirteen hours inside that noisy plane. I could only hear the whoosh, whoosh sound of the wind blowing through my shroud lines, and then I heard a loud crash and explosion. My plane! Looking for my flashlight, I groped through my bag with my right hand, finally pulled it out and shined it down toward the ground, which I still could not see. Finally I picked up a glimmer of water and thought I was landing in a lake. We’re too far inland for this to be ocean. I hope! I relaxed my legs a little, thinking I was about to splash into water and would have to swim out, and then bang.

I jolted suddenly and crashed over onto my side. Lying there in just a few inches of water, I raised my head and put my hands down into thick mud. It was rice paddy! There was a burning pain, as if someone had stuck a knife in my stomach. I must have torn a muscle or broke something. I laid there dazed for a few minutes, and after a while struggled up to my feet. I dug a hole and buried my parachute in the mud. Then started trying to walk, holding my stomach, but every direction I moved the water got deeper. Then I saw some lights off in the distance. I fished around for my flashlight and signaled one time. Sensing something wrong, I got out my compass and to my horror saw that those lights were off to my west. That must be a Jap patrol! How dumb could I be! Knobby had to be back to my east, so I sat still and quiet and did not move. It was a cold dark lonely night.

At 0100 hours I saw a single light off to the east. I flashed my light in that direction, one time. It had to be Knobby! I waited a while, and then called out softly, “Knobby?” And a voice replied “Mac, is that you?” Thank goodness, what a relief! Separated by a wide stream, we sat on opposite banks of the water communicating in low voices. After daybreak Knobby found a small rowboat and came across to get me. We started walking east toward the rest of the crew and away from that Japanese patrol. Knobby had cut his hip when he went through the hatch, but it wasn’t too awful bad. We walked together toward a small village and several Chinese came out to meet us, they seemed friendly enough. I said, “Luchu hoo megwa fugi! Luchu hoo megwa fugi!” meaning, “I am an American! I am an American!”

Later that morning we found the others. Williams had wrenched his knee when he landed in a tree, but he was limping along just fine. There were hugs all around. I have never been so happy to see four guys in all my life! Well, the five of us eventually made it out of China with the help of the local Chinese people and the Catholic missions along the way. They were all very good to us. Later they were made to pay terribly for it, so we found out afterwards.

For a couple of weeks we traveled across country. Strafed a couple of times by enemy planes, we kept on moving, by foot, by pony, by car, by train, and by airplane. But we finally made it to India. I did not make it home for the baby’s birth. I stayed on there flying a DC-3 “Gooney Bird” in the China-Burma-India Theatre for the next several months. I flew supplies over the Himalaya Mountains, or as we called it, over “The Hump” into China.

When B-25s finally arrived in India, I flew combat missions over Burma, and then later in the war, flew a B-29 out of the Marianna Islands to bomb Japan again and again. After the war, I remained in the Air Force until 1962, when I retired from the service as a Lt. Colonel. We then came back to Texas, my beautiful Texas. First moving to Abilene and then we settled in Lubbock, where Aggie taught school at MacKenzie Junior High. I worked at the S & R Auto Supply, once again in an atmosphere of machinery, oil, and grease.

I lived a good life and raised two wonderful sons that I am very proud of. I feel blessed in many ways. We have a great country, better than most folks know. It is worth fighting for. Some people call me a hero, but I have never thought of myself that way, no. But I did serve in the company of heroes. What we did, will never leave me. It will always be there in my fondest memories. I will always think of the fine and brave men that I was privileged to serve with. Remember us, for we were soldiers once and young.

With the loss of all aircraft, Doolittle believed that the raid had been a failure, and that he would be court-martialed upon returning to the states. Quite the contrary, the raid proved to be a tremendous boost to American morale, which had plunged following the Pearl Harbor attack. It also caused serious doubts in the minds of Japanese war planners. They in turn recalled many seasoned fighter plane units back to defend the home islands, which resulted in Japan’s weakened air capabilities at the upcoming Battle of Midway and other South Pacific campaigns.

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Edgar “Mac” McElroy, Lt. Col., U.S.A.F. (Ret.) passed away at his residence in Lubbock, Texas early on the morning of Friday, April 4, 2003.

I Need a Hobby

Scott is quite busy these days learning how to fly.  While getting his license is a requirement needed to fly UAV’s for A&M, let’s face it, this is something he’s dreamed of doing all his life.  Most would call it a hobby, I’d probably call it an obsession.

That got me to thinking….I need a hobby of my own. But what sort of hobby?

I mean, I have my horse, but she thinks she’s retired.  And that is a hobby that consumes the entire day, which I don’t have with 4 children and a full-time job.  The fact that she’s a 45 min drive, both ways, and then it takes another hour to fetch her because she’s at the back of a 20 acre field with no intentions whatsoever of being caught or ridden, makes it a definite full day hobby.  I could move her to a barn close to town, where she lived in a nice neat stall and all I had to do was slip a halter over her and bingo, she’s caught.  I could ride daily after work, rain or shine, relieving the day’s stresses.  Wait, this is starting to sound familiar….I did this for many years.  The downside is this hobby would be very costly on a monthly basis.

In thinking about the infinite list of possibilities, I came up with some hobbies I am sure I would not like, try or be good at.

1.  Fire eater.  Now I like to eat just as much as the next person, don’t get me wrong.  But fire?  I’m not sure I want to stuff a gasoline soaked rag down my mouth and then blow on a Bic lighter.  Not how they do it?  Well, see then, there was a disaster just waiting to happen.

2. Competitive eater.  You would think I hadn’t just eaten lunch, the way I keep talking about eating things. Competitive eating would not be my thing.  I mean, first off, I can take about 2 hot dogs before the dern things start to give me heartburn.  And I’ve never appreciated when my bun got soggy, so I don’t think I’d like dunking the sucker in water before consuming it.  And what if it was a contest with a food you despised?  I guess that’s why you don’t see any champions for the World’s Fastest Liver Eating Contest.

3. Air Sick Bag Collector.  Yep, there is such a thing, I looked it up.  There are seriously sick people (no pun intended) out there that collect unused air sick bags from their travels….new designs, originals, ancient ones.  Just who in the heck started that one?  Were ya holding it all through your flight, trying not to lose your peanuts when you came up with this brilliant idea? Note I said UNUSED.  Otherwise that would be a whole new level of sick (pun intended).

4. Gamer.  I watch my older sons play video games for hours on end (well I don’t actually sit there and watch them the entire time).  It makes me tired just thinking about the time suck.  I spend my life in front of a computer monitor all day at work.  Imagine my thrill at coming home and sticking my face back in front of one.  Besides, the only games I play are Wii games, like WiiFit.  I don’t see any competitive sites out there to see who can hold the most points in Soccer Heading….which by the way I SUCK at!  No, I think I’ll keep my gaming to the living room, where the kids and the dogs are the only ones laughing at me.

5. Dumpster diving.  Again a real hobby.  I, myself, do not appreciate the fine aroma emanating from the dumpster behind my work building.  Nor do I appreciate the stench that is permanently adhered to our garbage cans at home.  I can’t imagine what sort of rubber suit I would have to put on in order to jump in a vat of garbage.  And when I got in there, what am I looking for?  What if I found some food….I sure as heck am not gonna eat it.  And, yikes, what if I found a body part?  I might have to report that sort of thing. That sounds like a lot of paperwork.  Next.

6. Stamps.  I briefly had a stamp collection when I was in elementary school.  Of course, I was just collecting them because a boy I had a crush on collected them.  And if truth be told, I think the majority of my stamps were S&H green stamps.  Geez, that just aged me, didn’t it?

7. Bird watching.  I’ve never understood this one.  Do you just sit in one spot all day and hope a certain bird flies by your line of sight?  And if that happens, do you have some secret bird watchers list that you check said bird off?  Ok, then what? And if Martha sees a blue-boobed warbler and you don’t, can she lord that over you with her superiority? Say you have come to the end of your life….what do you do with that list?  Which one of your kids is gonna want to keep that list and frame it….with the title underneath “Mom never had time for me because she was busy watching birds fly around all day.”  Yeah, that idea is for the birds.

8. Skateboarding.  Ok, first off, let me say that I tried learning to skateboard when I was 10….yes they had them back then too.  And I NEVER mastered pushing myself around on a little board with 4 wheels. Second, if for some freak reason I actually did learn, where am I gonna go?  We have a local outdoor rink in our town.  We took the kids there once. ONCE. I’ve never heard so many foul mouth punks in my life.  F bombs flying here and there, one stupid little 14 yr old daring another one to stab a third for $20.  Yeah, I’d be too busy whacking all those children upside the head with my board and sending them home to their parents to ever find the time to ride.

9. Competitive dog grooming.  Yep, another real sport.  But let’s be honest….I can’t clip Abby’s claws because she screams like she’s being brutally murdered.  And the fact that we sweep up enough hair from the floor daily to make an entirely new puppy shows the level of commitment I have to daily grooming.  I would probably turn the clippers on to start the grooming, Tucker would take off running, the clippers would get in one good pass down his back, and it would look like I mowed a landing strip onto the dog.  Last place.

10.  Making lists.  Well, seeing as I have had to make this one up just to get to an even 10 on the list shows how good I’d be at making lists.

So I sit, still looking for that hobby that might entertain me, consume me like flying does for Scott.  The closest would be my horse.  Perhaps when the kids are grown and gone, I’ll have more time to devote to her.  Only problem there is that Rosie would be 33 years old by then.  I’m not sure she would appreciate me if I made her work, if she’s still around.

What about you?  Any good ideas for hobbies?

 

It Takes All Kinds of Kinds

I read this wonderful article today about this elementary school teacher who, at then end of every week, would ask her kids to write down on a piece of paper the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit next to the following week, as well as nominate someone who has been an exceptional classroom student.  After the children would leave, she would carefully look over those slips of paper. Do you know what she was looking for?

Who is not getting requested by anyone else?

Who doesn’t even know who to request?

Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated?

Who had a million friends last week and none this week?

She was looking for the outsiders, the misfits, the lonely kids who were desperate to fit in.  In this way, she could make sure no one fell through the cracks, no one got left behind.  You can read the entire story here:   momastery.­com/­blog/­2014/­01/­30/­share-­schools/­.

It brings tears to my eyes.  What a phenomenal teacher.  What I didn’t realize is how close it would hit home later.

I often worry about my youngest, that he will always have friends in school, that he will never be bullied for his size or his ADHD or his witty way of thinking. I’m already starting to have that tightening in my chest as I realize he will graduate from elementary school this year and be thrown into the big, scary world of intermediate school.

I had never worried about my twins, as they always had a “friendly face” in school.  I never worried about sending them off to a new grade, as I knew they had each other’s back. Then our middle son joined the family, and being in the same grade, I felt even more confident that they would stick together.  I underestimated the power of peer pressure.

As I picked up our middle son from school today, he was telling me how he was bothered by the fact that his sister comes up to him at school and pokes him and acts goofy.  He was upset that she gets upset with him when he tells her to stop it or go away.  What he doesn’t see is she’s just trying to fit in.

You see, my daughter is a phenomenal young lady.  She is quirky, intelligent, creative in so many ways.  She likes to call herself a nerd.  And she’s like this at home or at school.  She hasn’t succumbed to peer pressure to be something different.  She still isn’t interested in making herself up, putting on a face that isn’t hers. She is who you see.  And that bothers her brother.

He is not always who you see.  We talked about it on the way home.  He is goofy and funny and liked by all.  You see, he can fit right in with the popular crowd or the nerds or anyone in between.  He, himself, told me that he acts different depending on who he’s with.  If he’s with his orchestra class, he says he can act goofy because everyone else in there is goofy. But when he’s around others, what I tend to call the “cool” kids, he acts a different way. He said that he can’t act goofy or funny, some of his most indearing traits, because others will make fun of him.  So he has changed himself to make others like him.  And that bothers me.

Eighth grade is hard.  I wouldn’t go back for all the chocolate at Willy Wonka’s factory.  Our kids are trying to navigate their way, trying to figure out who they are in a world where other kids are telling them its not okay to be themselves.  That makes me sad.

I tried to explain to my son that maybe his sister is just being who she is, at school as well as at home, and she assumes that he will accept her in all circumstances.  Perhaps she’s just looking to fit in with a crowd that has already shunned her and her friends.  One day her little group was trying to find a seat at a table in the cafeteria.  The popular kids were there, and in no certain terms, told the girls they weren’t welcomed.  My son was there.  He didn’t stand up for his sister.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe he didn’t get the chance. But what he doesn’t see, what I’ve tried to explain, is she’s just trying to fit in, she’s looking for acceptance just like everyone else.

I’m proud of my daughter for being proud of herself, for not letting others dictate how she acts, changing depending on the person she’s around.  I pray that continues and she grows into a strong, confident woman who can take on the world.  I pray that peer pressure doesn’t take over any of my kids, that they don’t end up doing something or being someone they don’t want just to fit in with the wrong crowd. I pray that her brothers will have her back all through life, especially in the next few years of high school.

Miranda Lambert has a wonderful song called “It Takes All Kinds of Kinds.”  The chorus says this: Ever since the beginning to keep the world spinning, it takes all kinds of kinds.  I believe that’s true.  My hope is that my kids see that they can be who they want to be, and they can accept all kinds of people for who they are, without trying to change them.  And most important, I want them to remember that family is everything.

Goodbye Friend

Today I had the amazing privilege to attend a funeral.  Yep, you heard that right, a privilege to attend a funeral. You see, it was for a man who I call it an honor to have known.  Eddie Braswell was 78 when he passed from this life last week.  Eddie was an amazing man, one of the few greats.

I met Eddie when I attended Christ UMC.  Eddie was, until the day he died, the head usher at the church.  He was there when the church started 18 years ago.  Mr. Eddie, as we all called him, greeted every single person as if they were his family.  Truth be told, we happily considered ourselves part of his family.  Mr. Eddie had this great little thing he did…he would come up to shake your hand, then slip you a peppermint or a tootsie roll.  He would pretend it was a secret that no one else knew about as he “secretly” passed you the candy.  It didn’t matter if you were 5 or 95….he slipped you candy anyway.  Today in a church that was packed as if it was Easter morning (and this church holds over 1,000), the question was posed….who here was a recipient of Mr. Eddie’s secret candy kisses?   I couldn’t see a hand that wasn’t raised in that sanctuary.

Mr. Eddie was the kind of man that epitomized kindness.  I can honestly say he never had a bad thing to say about ANYONE.  Even people that would try his patience got a smile and a hug.  He just didn’t have it in him to say anything negative.  He smiled at everyone, all the time….that sort of infectious smile you can’t help but catch.  As I sit here, it is impossible to put into words the level of kind that Mr. Eddie was.  But I guess the packed sanctuary today is a testament to that.  Everyone just loved him.

Mr. Eddie’s wife of 54 years died less than 2 years ago from Lou Gehrig’s.  Pastor Tommy today told the story of how, when Carolyn was ill, Eddie would be here for the first service, make sure bulletins got passed out as well as candy. Then he would go home at the 9:30 service to make Carolyn breakfast, only to return in time for the 11:00 service for more candy and bulletins.  When Carolyn died, she was buried in the prayer garden outside of the church.  Tommy told us that up until Eddie died, he would spend the 9:30 service in the garden talking to Carolyn.  What a testament of a lifelong true love.

Mr. Eddie was one of those rare gems that, if you have the privilege to know, your life is that much fuller because of it.  If I can try to be a fifth of what Mr. Eddie was in his lifetime, I would be a success.  Thank you Eddie for allowing me into your family.  It was a true blessing to know you.  It will be a true blessing to try to live as you have lived, loving others and giving without reserve.

2013 in Review

It’s already the 2nd of January, but I can remember 2013 like it was yesterday.  Oh hell, who am I kidding?  I can’t remember what I had for breakfast.  With the help of social media and the like, I can look back over the last year and remind myself what a long year it has been! It’s like an alzheimer’s patient waking up with their memory….post after post, you can go…”oh yeah, I forgot that happened!”  So here’s the Party of 6’s year 2013 in the rear view mirror.

We started out the new year with the twin’s getting braces on their teeth.  Yep that’s right, braces times two.  While we revel in the tremendous expense every month when we pay the bill, I am more enjoying the 9 week checkups. You see, that’s when I, as the mom, get the joy of getting chewed out by the orthodontist’s assistant because the kids aren’t brushing their teeth well enough.  Let me tell you, I’ve heard the speech so many times this past year, I can give the lesson myself.  What I haven’t been able to figure out is how to convince the ortho assistant that she’s barking up the wrong tree.  The kids aren’t listening to her and they aren’t listening to me.  All I have to do is smile at them and they can see the scars on my teeth from not brushing well while I had my braces.  If that doesn’t convince them, ain’t nothing gonna.  So let’s save our breath, ok?

D and the parents survived the second half of third grade with Mr. Landmann.  Museums every 6 weeks with costumes and things to recite.  Term papers every six weeks that were to be “beautifully handwritten, mistakeless.”  My favorite has to be the 6 weeks D chose Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, as his biographical study topic.  When asked why, out of all people he chose him, D’s answer was purely D: “Because he wanted to prove a scientific fact that the body can still move after you lose you head…so when he had his head chopped off by a guillotine, he proved it by blinking 13 times…and I thought that was a very interesting fact.”  Landmann and Daniel’s diagnosis with ADHD collided in January.  After discussions with Dr. Ransom, we decided on medication for Daniel.  And after being on that for less than a month, D thanked us and said, I’m so glad you go me focus medicine.  Now I can actually get my work done! The coupled with good reports from the teachers helped us to know we were on the right track.

Between the papers and the projects, time was found for Scott to teach Daniel how to fly an r/c plane.  He made 3 successful flights, including loops, on his first try and was even ready (in his mind) to land all by himself.  D has truly caught the aviation bug from Scott, with plans to major in Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M or the Air Force Academy, then on to officer training to become a pilot in the Air Force.  Well, whew, at least he has his life in order at age 9!

I found the time in early February to get my Concealed Handgun license.  I have had my Glock for nearly 3 years, and decided it was high time I was able to carry it where I wanted (within legal limits, thank you very much). Took the course with my good friends Marty and Janna….we actually took the class from another friend and local law enforcement gal.  I have to say, the written portion was kinda dull, but made much more fun with the addition of friends.  The shooting portion was a blast, and I did very well, despite splitting my right thumbnail near in half with the gun recoil halfway through the test.  I was too embarrassed to tell the instructor what had happened, as she had just “counseled us” on how not to injure yourself on your gun….and I did exactly when she said NOT to do!  The easy part was getting the license….the much harder part is concealed carry with a Glock 19.  Must look for a smaller gun to carry on a daily basis.

Scott has gotten to indulge in his favorite pasttime of flying, but not nearly as much as he’d like.  We only made it to a couple flying contests this year, but he did cap the year off by winning the Master’s division at the Cajun Nats in October, something he’s been trying to win for years.  His new Shinden with my custom designed paint scheme finally arrived in late June, some 7 months after he ordered it.  Hell, that’s the same amount of time it takes me to make twins…..ahaha, ok, so maybe I’m the only one that finds that funny. He and the new girl are getting to know each other and we hope to have a full flying season this year.  Scott is also taking on flying UAV’s for the aerospace program at A&M.  After final approval from the top, he will begin work on his pilot’s license so that he is fully qualified to fly the UAVs.  Between that and pattern, I think he’ll get in plenty of flying this year.

After strength and conditioning camp for Ben and sending Austin off to Arizona and getting him back, summer found us at Galveston again for a week long vacation in the toyhauler.  The seaweed was bad this time around, churned up by recent offshore storms, I guess, but it didn’t slow the kids down from swimming.  We rode the ferry a couple times, saw some dolphins, drank some milkshakes at La Kings, and the boy got stung by a jellyfish on our last day of swimming.  We made a run back to College Station in the middle of the week so the older kids could pick up their school schedules.  I got the time wrong and we showed up about 1 minute late.  They were going to refuse to let us through, but fellow moms took pity on me and said run….so run we did past the barricade that is called Ms. Bain.  With schedules and books in hand, we grabbed the dogs from the vet and headed back down for the final days of fun. I’d call that a full vacation.  I was hoping to leave the borders of Texas for our vacation this coming summer, but life gets in the way and money goes down the tubes.  Such is life.

Fall saw things ramp up again with three 8th graders and a 4th grader.  Before our Meet the Teacher night at the elementary school, Daniel declared that if he got Mrs. Rodgers, he was prepared to skip school because she was mean.  Well, I did my research and looked her up ahead of time…..she liked NASCAR, the Cowboys, and her husband was a pilot in the military….all things Daniel liked, and she didn’t SOUND mean.  I kept that in my back pocket, just in case. Sure enough, when we showed up that night, who did he get as his teacher?  Mrs. Rodgers.  So I frantically ran down the principal, letting her know what D had said and what dilemma we were in.  She said she would move him, but he would not be with the gifted and talented kids.  I said, give me a chance, let’s go meet her first before we do anything.  So I pulled out my acquired knowledge of Mrs. Rodgers and gave D a speech about how he needed to give her a chance and we could change classes if it didn’t work out…blah blah blah.  He looks up at me with his big brown eyes and says, ok.  And that was the last of the worries.  He met her, he likes her, he’s happy in his class.  And as he says, fourth grade is a breeze because of Mr. Landmann.

Ben and Austin started the year out with football.  This year they were both on the same team, which meant only one game a week!  It was a joy watching them grow and come into their own, finding strength they didn’t realize they had. They didn’t see as much playing time as Scott or I would like, but they did get to play, Ben at corner and free safety and Austin at corner and wide reciever.  They made some great hits, each caught the ball at least once, and they came out district champions.  Can’t wait for next year to see what happens  next.  Ben also joined the high school marching band to play percussion with them for football games.  So if you’re keeping a football score….that meant middle school football on Tuesday night, NFL football on Thursday night, high school football on Friday night, college football on Saturday and NFL football Sunday and Monday.  Did I say we liked football around here?

We’ve seen our fair share of concerts already this fall.  Anna is singing in the honor choir at school, Ben and Anna are playing with the middle school band and Austin is still doing bass with the orchestra.  Throw in a fall singalong at the elementary school, and you have a lot of video footage to upload to our family’s website!  Note to self…get on that.

This was the year the older kids got smartphones; the year I have questioned why any of us have smartphones. I’ve watched as electronic devices have invaded our lives in every nook and cranny.  Anna goes into hyperdrive if her phone is slow or her bestie is not texting her back fast enough.  The youngest barely looks up from his iPod when we walk through the door, so engrossed in the lastest Minecraft game.  The oldest boys are glued to the PS3s, so much that they play on separate tv’s on opposite sides of the house, then yell at each other from across the house.  And every time a noise goes off, everyone grabs their smartphone to read their latest email, text or Facebook message.  I’m thinking from now on I’ll just text everyone to wake them up in the morning for school.  But then they’d get wise and start turning the devices off, at least for the morning.

I said goodbye to a lost friend this year.  No, she didn’t die, but a tiny piece of me did. A person I thought was one of my closest friends, and person I shared my ups and downs with, just disappeared out of my life.  After I left the church, communication started to fall off with her.  No more texts several times a day.  No more lunches to catch up.  No more “likes” on Facebook posts.  She found someone new to hang with and moved on.  I asked what I had done and got the “I’ve found God and I’m in a better place in my life now.”  I was told I had a bitter and angry heart, but that she would be praying for me and still considered us friends. Well with those kind of friends….you know the rest.  I chalk it up to one of those life lessons, brush off my bruised ego, and come out of it quite a bit less trusting.  Something I’ll have to work on rebuilding this year….with myself, not with her.

We wrapped up the year with a quick trip to San Antonio to see the Christmas lights and catch up with some old friends.  Ben and Austin’s football buddies moved away in May, so it was fun for them to meet up again if just for the day. Christmas was spent with all the kids and the whole family together, including cousin Deb.  Luckily no one was sick for Christmas this year – a tradition I would like to continue!  Now the year has wrapped and Scott and I are both back at work.  The kids have a couple more days off before the fun of school and homework invades the house once again.  Perhaps this could be the cause of my newly found insomnia.

I’ll take this time to wish everyone a wonderful 2014.  May it be better than the year before and may your dreams and wishes come true.

ADHD and How it Works

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Hi all,
Our sons, Austin and Daniel, have ADHD as you know.  It is a daily struggle to help them cope with school and life.  Getting things done is a major hurdle and I, as their father, have never been able to understand how the concept of consequences doesn’t seem to register with them.  One may think they just “don’t care” or are procrastinators.  This is far from the truth.  My wife, Jan, shared an article with me today that really explains the ADHD mind and how it works.  Unfortunately, like most articles, it doesn’t offer a solution as each individual is different.  It does offer insight into the why of ADHD.
The article is very short (only 12 slides).  This describes them perfectly.  You will have this read in less than 5 minutes.  Austin, Daniel, Jan and I do not suggest nor do we live by the117-150 creed that ADHD is an excuse, it is merely a challenge. These two are very precious souls and it bothers us more than you will ever know when they struggle to succeed.  It’s all we really want for them.  We are here to help them in any way we can although we are learning right along with them.
Austin and Daniel, if you ever read this blog, know that we will always support you and that we love you just the exact same as your other siblings.  We will always be by your side.

My Family is Too Cool for Halloween

My favorite time of the year is the Fall.  When that first strong cold front blows in and you can see the light at the end of the hot Texas summer tunnel, you feel renewed.  No, I don’t like the fact that it gets darker earlier….especially after daylight savings time….but I hate Texas summers even more. Fall brings crisp air, football games and the start of the holidays, beginning with Halloween.

I still vividly remember the Halloween’s of my childhood in Baton Rouge (I tend to block out as much as I can from living in Beaumont, and by the time we moved to Missouri City, I was getting too old and too cool to trick or treat).In fact, I can still remember the song that Mrs. C. Stephens taught us in 1st grade on how to spell Halloween (I sang it to Daniel this morning).

The 70’s were great. In the era of razor blades in apples and poison in pixie sticks, we still managed to do Halloween in style.  We lived in a new, young neighborhood where it was still safe to let your first grader walk to school….believe me, I did it all the time.  So come Halloween, the kiddos were out in force.  And not the massive crowds that come to our neighborhoods today, bused in by their parents from the other side of town because they think they can make out with better loot in our neighborhood.  Nope, these were kids we played with and went to school with day in and day out. We all knew each other.

My mom usually hand sewed our costumes.  No running off to Target or Walmart (they didn’t exist) to buy the cheapest thing out of China.  In fact, she still has hanging in her closet (unless she finally gave it away), the pumpkin that she sewed for my sister’s costume once.  I remember being a black cat once….and Michelle being a skeleton.  And I vividly remember when my sister was still tiny….mom and dad tried to make her the devil and put little horns on her.  She had a wailing fit…..no horns for her, no way, no how.

Dad would usually take us around the neighborhood, come good weather or bad, where we would haul in the loot. There were kids everywhere!  Our dentist lived in our neighborhood, and I remember he used to always give out toothbrushes.

One year, we had a Halloween party on our carport (mom will correct me if I’m totally making this crap up in my head).  I remember bobbing for apples in a big tin wash tub, but can’t for the life of me remember what else we did.  So maybe I made it up.  Or maybe my brain is just aging.  Or both.

After I had gone off to college and was on my own, I still decorated for Halloween …stealing some of mom’s stuff and adding new stuff of my own.  The excitement still got to me, made me feel like a little kid again (little kid I say, because yes, at 22 years old, I was still a kid). And imagine my excitement when my kids were born.  One year when they were still little, I literally hand carved a spooky Halloween scene out of black foam core to cover the windows of Ben’s room (over 64″ long and 40″ tall. It took me about 2 weeks to complete….but I must say, it was pretty dang cool.

Over the years we have decorated, carved pumpkins and taken the kids trick or treating. And every year they were excited to do it all. Imagine my disappointment this year when none of them seemed much interested in it. Yes, Daniel is still excited, but since my three are at their dad’s this year, his costume is being taken care of there, so I don’t get to share in that. No one really wanted to make the effort to carve the pumpkin, so I drew a face on him myself last night with a Sharpie.  And I couldn’t get to the decorations in our attic, so I admittedly got lazy and didn’t decorate.

It seems that I have come to the newest chapter in my life…..life with mostly older children.   Every day common chores like homework, football and music practices, a full time job and keeping the house in order took precedence over stopping to relish in the joy of Halloween, the excitement of being a kid again. I hope that I have at least done my job well enough that when my kids are grown, they will look back and have fond memories of Halloween.  And maybe they’ll actually want to carry on some of the excitement with their own kids.

How Many Days til School Starts??

Parents have been clogging the stores for weeks now, stocking up on all the latest school supplies, buying new clothes for that first day picture, almost giddy with excitement at the impending school year.  Me?  I’ve been dragging my feet as hard as possible.  I have literally been dreading the start of the new school year for weeks.  In fact, I think I’m less excited about it than my kids are, if that’s possible.

Why would one dread school so much?  Well of course there’s the standard answers, like having homework from hell. Here’s a math problem for you….what do you get when you have 4 children studying….1 ADHD who is easily distracted by noise, 1 ADHD & Gifted & Talented who likes to hum while he works, and 1 who likes to constantly drum while doing homework?  1 mother who is pulling her hair out!  No wonder Anna likes to do her homework in her room. Yes I realize in that math problem there were only 3 kids described, yet I said I had 4 children studying.  Do you know how much I hate math?  Stop giving me fits about it.

What else do I dread about the upcoming school year?

1.  I have to roll my alarm clock back to an ungodly hour.  Anyone who knows me at all knows I’m not a morning person.  I have enjoyed a blissful 3 months of getting to wake up just a smidge later, getting ready at my own pace and jumping in the car and heading off to work. That all ends Monday.  And this year will be even more fun, because the older boys have football practice starting at 7:30 am.  That means they need to be at the school by 7:15, which means leaving the house by 7 (ahh, a benefit of living in a smaller town), which of course means rolling the alarm clock back to wake me up at the crack of dawn.  The first week should be ugly….I feel sorry for my co-workers.

2. The dreaded drop off and pickup. For the first 2 weeks of school, they always have Constables from the Sherriff’s department direct traffic at the elementary school that Daniel goes to.  The first day is quite a mess as all the mommies have to walk their Kindergarteners in for their first day at real school.  I get that the constables are needed then.  After that, they are just a hindrance. It takes a good 45 minutes just to pick up our kids.  Why?  Any mom or pop dropping off kids can manage to get through the traffic line, merging two lanes of traffic into one by taking turns one from one line, then one from the other line, to let each other into the parking lot. We’ve been through this drill before….on a daily basis all year-long. We know how it’s done. And if there are new parents to the fold?  They learn real quickly from the rest of us….or else.  Unfortunately we have to put up with the constables for 2 weeks, who hold up one line while letting the other line continually pull in…..while somehow missing the fact that the line they are holding up has backed up for more than a half mile.  And when it’s the half mile line’s turn to go?  They let 4 cars pass, then its back to the short line.  And yes, I always seem to be in the long line….no matter which side I come from!

3. Crazy Schedules.  This year looks crazier than the last.  And since none of the kids drive yet, it involves me and Scott driving….everywhere!  Ben and Austin have football practice in the mornings before school and after school until 5 every week day.  In addition, Ben has signed on to play percussion with the high school.  In order for him to do that, he has to be at practice at the high school on Monday afternoons and Friday mornings.  Houston, we maybe have a problem.  The football coach has given him permission to miss these 2 football practices in order to participate in the band.  While I applaud him, do you understand what Monday afternoon looks like?  Daniel gets picked up around 3… Anna gets picked up around 3:40…Ben gets picked up around 4 and dropped at the high school….Austin gets picked up at 5….and Ben gets picked up from band at 6:15.  Now the last time I checked, Scott and I both work full time…until 5.  This one should be fun!  Thankfully we don’t have to worry about Friday mornings – Ben is at his dad’s, so he has to orchestrate that one.

4.  No more sunshine.  Since I have to use my lunch hour from 3-4 pm to do the dreaded school pickup, I eat lunch at my desk.  And since we have moved to our new offices, I have no window.  I am the kinda gal that needs sunshine.  I spent 11 years at the Vet School working in the basement.  I rather enjoy being able to tell you what the weather is without having to look up The Weather Channel.  There are days when I don’t see the sun for the entire 8-9 hrs I’m at work, unless I get up and walk down the hall. This summer I’ve actually been able to enjoy lunch at the noon hour, with my husband, like a normal person.  I will miss that.

5. Fundraisers.  We have 2 kids in band, one is also in choir, another kid is in orchestra.  And each of these groups take a spring trip somewhere…..that we have to pay for through fundraisers.  Every time I turn around, one of them is being asked to sell something.  And most of it is of course crap….candles, wrapping paper, plastic cups. My co-workers actually hide from me when fundraising time comes around.  The best part?  When they bring home the form to sell the crap o’ the day….it says specifically on there “Do not go door to door to sell this.”  Well you might as well write: “Get your parents checkbook out and have them write a big fat check…oh, and be sure to hit up the grandparents while you’re at it!”  I get that schools are hurting for money, their financing being cut left and right.  But when you have 3 kids x 2 or 3 fundraisers all coming at the same time….something has got to give.  And no, you will not see my fireplace lined with those crappy candles. (But you will find a cupboard full of those damn plastic cups!).

I’m sure it sounds like I’m griping about school and have nothing positive to look forward to.  It’s not that at all.  In fact, I’ll be the one sitting in the audience crying my eyes out when Ben plays in the band at the first high school football game this year….or when Austin gets up and plays beautifully on his new bass….or when Anna sings another solo in choir…or when Daniel has his sing-along and actually sings and performs.  And then there’s football baby!  Lots of it to go around from middle school up through the Aggies (and of course Sunday night football)! Yes, there are good things to look forward to with the beginning of school.  But for now, I get 3 more days of panic mode…and one last day of lunch away from my desk!

What number are you?

Have you ever looked at all the numbers that can define a person?  That magical 16 when you get to start driving…..that is if you keep your grades up and stay out of trouble (hint to my kids).  You become an adult at 18…..though you aren’t that much smarter than you were just a year ago.  At 21 you can buy alcohol…..that defines some people’s lives from there on out.

There’s the unlucky number 13….some people will go as far as not even adding that floor # to a building because some people are superstitious about it.  In my case, it’s lucky because that was the day Daniel was born.   Everyone has a lucky number….no, I’m not telling you mine cuz you might steal it….get your own.

Those who can afford it have their own “number” on their Sleep Number bed.  Scott and I sleep on a Serta that has taken to caving in the middle.  Guess our sleep number would be something in the negatives.

Sometimes numbers can even give you headaches…..like when they come home on math homework…..for FOUR different children.  Arrgh, school anxiety is coming into this blog….must save that for another day.

The number I struggle with the most is the one that flashes back at me when I step on the most heinous contraption ever invented by man….the scale.  And yes, a man had to have invented it….probably as a way to torture his wife for making him listen to her chatter on for hours and hours about nothing (thus the reason blogs became so popular with women…now they can blabber all they want and their husbands don’t have to listen….oh, I digress again).

Why is it that the number that flashes back at you first thing in the morning can make or break you?  When did we become defined by a number?  Well, maybe it doesn’t in your perfect world, but unfortunately, it does in mine.  I don’t know why or when it started, but my mood is clearly defined by that stupid number.  I either feel like a failure or a champion, depending on which way it sways.  Hey, I’d like to say it doesn’t bother me when it creeps up, but what woman can say that with a straight face?

A couple months ago I decided to stop touching the scale and just go by how I felt.  I figured if I am happy with my body, with my weight, how I felt, then a number doesn’t matter.  I worked out, I ate what I wanted, I didn’t touch the scale.  After a month, I stepped back on and you know what I discovered?  Well, duh, I gained weight…..did you think I was gonna tell you I magically lost 10 pounds….eating what I wanted?  Oh no, this is not dream world.

So at the beginning of July I went back to following the rules….counting calories and working out.  I have Scott counting calories with me….he’s become quite disgusted learning how many of those sneaky SOB’s are in some of the yummy foods we love.  But we have been steadfast….if we eat a cookie, those calories get logged. Everything is laid out there in black and white.  I’ve been going to the gym about 4 times a week, lifting weights and doing cardio, for a total burn of 600 calories each session.  Several nights a week Scott and I take the dogs for a walk….well, we take Tucker for a walk and Abby takes us for a drag.

What are the results of this?  Well there are good and bad points.  The good? I can now squat 90 lbs….6 sets of 8….for a total of 48 squats…that’s 4,320 lbs total weight.  How’s that for a number?  And I have a bicep muscle that still makes my teenage football playing sons jealous.  The bad?  After painstakingly losing 3 lbs over more than a month, I get back on the scale yesterday to find those 3 lbs had magically returned.  Where the hell did they come from?  And was it just because I took that ONE night off to relax? I’ll admit it, it defined the rest of my night, and not in a good way.

I have regrouped this morning.  I hope to one day not let that number define me.  I sure as heck don’t want my children defined that way. For now, I will continue my workouts at the gym, because if nothing else, they are excellent for lifting my mood, as well as my butt! But first, a little mexican food for lunch with my husband….because some things are just not worth giving up for any number!

 

Fourth of July in Iowa

Tomorrow is the 4th of July and you know what I’m excited about?  I have the day off.  That’s it.  I have done nothing in the way of making any plans for an Independence Day celebration….hell, I haven’t even bought hot dogs.  Isn’t that blasphemy against our forefathers?  Isn’t that the reason soldiers put their lives on the line every day for us….so that we can honor them by grilling outdoors?

I have some good memories of July 4ths of the past.  Some of the best were spent at my grandparent’s place in Marcus, Iowa. Reunions in Iowa meant grandparents, aunts, uncles and more cousins than you can shake a stick at.  Well, some might think 13 is not that many, but when you add in the 12 adults, you had a full house (and my grandparent’s house was not that big to begin with).a6df60c3b5e2bb871717e2b3bf0939ec

For a town of roughly 1,000, they knew how to do the holiday up right.  Every year they have a huge parade…no, it’s not Rose Parade material, but there are floats, old timey tractors….even crazy Shriners driving around in little cars.  And the best part….they parade up and down the streets of the town.  Being such a small town, I guess that’s how they have to do it.  You see, the town is 1.7 sq miles…that’s it.  If they just paraded up Main Street, they’d be done in like 3 minutes and 20 seconds.  Why bother lining up for that?  Having them parade down your street means you get to stake out a front row seat for your very own.  Which is what we did….in the big tree in my grandparent’s front yard.

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Main Street, Downtown Marcus, Iowa

Iowa July 4 celebrations of course always meant good food…homemade pickles, homegrown tomatoes and cucumbers, homemade cherry pie…ok, I’m making myself hungry.  We would set up picnic tables in the back yard and have a feast.  And being the granddaughter of an Iowa farmer, the day would not be complete without a trip to the corn fields to see how things were progressing. Knee high by the fourth of July….that’s what they say about the sweet corn crops in Iowa.

That evening, the town would put on a fireworks show that would rival any big town’s attempt.  When I was little, they would shoot the fireworks off from the city park….which just happened to be located across the street from Gram and Gramps.  Yep, you guessed it….best seat in the house in the tree by the street!  The last time I went to visit my Gram, the year she passed away, we happened to go during the 4th of July.  The celebration was just as I remembered it, except for one thing…they moved the fireworks show out to the edge of town.  My guess is someone got nervous about getting their house burned to the ground….or maybe that actually happened.  So we walked down to the edge of town to watch the show (I told you the town was small)…and did I mention the edge of town is the cemetery?  We actually walked into the cemetery where my ancestors are buried and watched the show from there!  Now that I think about it, it does sound a little creepy, huh?

Baseball field at the City Park across from Gram and Gramps

Baseball field at the City Park across from Gram and Gramps

I wish my kids could enjoy the same kind of 4th of July celebrations that I did.  Those are the memories that last a lifetime. As it stands, they have one cousin, whom they’ve never even met.  And our family members are hundreds or thousands of miles away, some even in different countries.  Guess we could take the initiative and travel to see some of them, but have you tried to travel with 6 people?  If you aren’t pulling your house (RV) with you, that entails TWO hotel rooms each night.  We either drive, which gets to be a lot of fun with 6 people crammed into the truck, or we fly.  Have you priced airline tickets for 6 to ANYWHERE lately?   You’ll drop $2,500 easily just to fly to your destination within the continental United States.  Now you have to rent a car that fits 6, get said TWO hotel rooms and actually feed these 6.  Yeah, vacation for our 6 anywhere past the Gulf of Mexico could end up running us the amount of a month’s budget.  Crap, I’ve gotten way off track here. Redirect.

I will remember fondly my trips to Iowa tomorrow when we try to catch the fireworks show being put on by the George Bush Library here in town.  I don’t have any ripe homegrown tomatoes, but maybe I can pick up some hot dogs or some sweet corn for dinner! Here’s hoping everyone has a wonderful 4th!

Father’s Day Shout Out to Dad

Seeing as Father’s Day is Sunday AND I recently wrote a post about mom, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about why I love my dad.  I’d like to think I get some of my better features from my dad, but that might inadvertently make mom upset.  You just can’t write a blog without pissing someone off, can ya?  Well, let me tell you some fun things my dad has taught me growing up.

My dad taught me to stay moving. He has always been active, whether it be hitting a bucket of balls at the golf course, fly fishing in a cold trout stream, or playing basketball with me.  He grew up in a smalllllll farming community in Iowa, and basically played every sport in school.  I mean, who can blame him…it’s not like you’re NOT gonna make the football team when only 6 guys try out (because that’s how many guys are in your class). So he played football, basketball, ran track, you name it.  Ok, so Marcus probably didn’t have a badminton team. But you get the drift.

Dad set up a basketball hoop above the garage in our driveway in Houston, and we would often play a game of H.O.R.S.E. My mind fades when I try to remember who won most of those games….probably because I’ve blocked the losses from my memory. I had a lot of fun shooting with dad.  These days he gets the urge to play with the boys, but he has been banned.  You see, the boys are notorious for hurting grandfathers during a game of basketball.  Through no fault of their own, 2 separate granddads have been taken out during a friendly game.

My dad taught me to pee faster than any woman around.  No, it’s not for the fact that he didn’t have any boys.  And no, he didn’t time me during potty training.  In fact, he probably doesn’t even realize he gave me this gift.  You see, we used to travel every summer….long car trips to either Michigan or Iowa (or sometimes both). They would throw us in the car around 4 am and off we would go for 2 days of driving.  What does peeing have to do with this?  Well if you’d be patient I would be able to finish.

While we would make the obligatory stop for breakfast (sit down place so I could steal the jelly packets) and lunch (usually some place that served soft serve ice cream), there wasn’t any other stopping until we got to the hotel or our destination.  No sightseeing, no side day trips.  The only time we stopped was to get gas or find a rest stop….to PEE.  And dad always warned us, you’d better hurry up and pee or I’ll leave you.  And I took him serious. No way in hell did I want to be left at the rest stop in Towanda, Kansas.  Do you know where Towanda is?  No?  Well then I guess I couldn’t count on you to come pick me up, now could I?? So I learned to pee FAST.  To this day, I can out pee most members in my family. Do I try to test this theory at home?  Heck no….because if the boys got in on the game, half their pee would be on the floor (like it already is) and they’d leave the toilet unflushed (hmmm…like they already do).  Maybe they are trying to compete, after all.

My dad taught me how to drive…on back roads in the middle of Iowa farmland. The summer I was 15 he and mom gave me driving lessons while we were at a family reunion at Lake Okoboji.  Dad went first….mistake, mom shoulda gone first.  Oh we did fine… dad taught me the finer arts of driving a stick shift…including shifting through turns….when it was required and when it wasn’t needed (or at least that’s how my 15 yr old brain interpreted it). Mom’s turn came next.  To this day I still remember the drive.  My cousin Marcie was riding in the back (she was a year older and already had her license), and mom was riding shotgun. We came to a crossroad and mom told me to turn right.  There was no stop sign, so I kept barreling towards the turn with no slowing down in sight.  Mom warned that I needed to downshift, at least into 3rd, to make the turn.  I assured her that I DID NOT, that DAD said it was fine to do it this way.  So I hit that turn going probably 50 miles an hour….did I mention it was a gravel road we were turning on to?…..and we spun that little Volkswagen Dasher like we were the Dukes of Hazzard.  My mother was screeching and my cousin was in the back seat trying not pee her pants laughing at me. Needless to say, I think my dad did the rest of the driving lessons on that trip!

My dad taught me to golf.  He is an avid golfer, has been all 45 years I’ve known him.  He introduced me to the game when I was 8.  I got to take lessons at the country club we belonged to, where dad would golf every Saturday (and maybe Sunday). At the end of the lessons, we had a little tournament where we actually got to play a round of golf on the course.  Color me surprised when I won first place!  A chip off the old block.  I shot a 68.  Even got a trophy!  Pretty impressive….for 3 holes!  Yep, you read that right….I shot a 68 on 3 holes of golf.  Can you imagine the level of patience that instructor must have had!  I played a bit through high school because we lived on the golf course…..no, literally, our house backed up to the 9th green (was it the 9th?  old brain can’t remember)… but haven’t touched a stick since.  I just don’t have the patience to try to get a little ball in an equally tiny hole.  Tiger Woods I will never be.

My dad taught me to hunt.  Ok, not really….but he did take me on a hunt.  Every fall when I was in high school, dad would pull a license to hunt with my uncle in Montana.  My senior year, dad invited me to go with them.  I knew this would include a trip to Yellowstone, my FAVORITE national park, so I jumped at the chance.  Not only did they not shoot a damn thing on this hunt, but it made me question whether they really knew how to fire those guns. From the pop up trailer they couldn’t get to “pop up”, to my uncle lighting the OUTSIDE of the propane lantern on fire at 5 am, to the bright white laces on Dan’s camouflage boots, I knew this was not your ordinary hunting trip.  We were in the mountains, so the day consisted of a lot of hiking.  We saw an elk…on the mountain across from us…nope, not gonna shoot that and have to drag it back all day.  We saw a cougar…well they did….and no, didn’t shoot it.  All that hiking takes its toll on old men (old, hell they were probably around the age I am now), because as soon as we finished lunch on the mountain, they found a rock to support their butts from sliding down and sprawled out for a nap.  Yep, they don’t go up on the mountain to hunt…they go there to sleep!  Dad was kind enough to point out the very spot where I peed on the tree….and left the damn yellow toilet paper behind to mark my spot….but we never did shoot at anything.

There are many more things my dad has taught me over the years, enough to fill a book. One of the things he taught me was storytelling.  Since this is a blog and not a book, I’ll close here.  I cherish all the memories of the things I learned from dad (and mom) growing up….hell, I’m still learning.  I’m glad that my children have been given the chance to forge many happy memories with him as well.  I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, I don’t know how to exist in a world that my father doesn’t. I love you dad.  Thanks for everything you’ve taught me.

 

Facebook Rant

Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m a Facebook troll….or at least that’s how my husband would describe me.  I check it daily, multiple times, to make sure I haven’t missed out on life.  And you know what I’ve too slowly come to discover?  There are some downright ANNOYING people on Facebook these days….or maybe that’s the troll in me talking.

Case in point: do you remember when you used to make dinner, take a picture of it, have to go to the store and wait to have the film developed, then mail the picture to all of your friends?  NO, cuz you never did it before.  So STOP IT!  Ok, if you have made some beautiful, extraordinary dessert or a complicated recipe you’ve never attempted before, let’s see it.  But you’d better damn sure be sharing the recipe if it’s that good.  But if you post your dinner night after night…and it’s chicken breast and frozen veggies heated up in the microwave, you need to get out more. No one is impressed by that.

Another case in point: did you know that you can actually go to the gym and work out without notifying everyone about it, day after day?  Ok, if you are a personal trainer, I can understand you trying to drum up business….more power to you.  But for those of you that have to inform us of every single flippin 5k race you are entered into…guess what?  Tons of us run and have never broadcast that to the world.  And moreover….5K is 3 miles.  You want bragging rights?  Run a marathon and complete it in the time allotted.  Those are the kind of runs you are allowed to brag about all over Facebook.  Yes, I finished mine…got the medal and the beer stein….didn’t see that on Facebook, did ya? I get it, you’re proud of yourself for completing that lap around the neighborhood…but you’re making me feel guilty about enjoying the air conditioned comfort of my lazy boy (read: being a lazy butt), dang it.

And how about those that have to post daily scriptures?  Ok, back up a minute, don’t start sending me hate mail.  I’m a God-fearing woman….I love a good pertinent scripture…those seem to smack me upside the head when I most need them.  No, I’m talking about the people who post scripture daily in an attempt to say, oh look at poor pitiful me….I don’t want to talk about my problems, but look at me…I’m suffering.  If you have a problem, talk to your friends, work it out with a counselor.  Don’t post scripture in an attempt for someone to read between the lines and decipher what is wrong with you. And if you’re gonna quote it, at least use it in the right context.  You aren’t bringing me closer to God…that’s a relationship He and I have together….you are hindering it using His words to call attention to yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Facebook. I like being able to keep up with my family that are miles away, to see what’s going on in the lives of my friends…some I haven’t seen in 25 years and some who live in the same town, but we just don’t have the time to get together.  It’s the use of Facebook to brag that makes me wanna throw up like a cat choking on a hairball.  Am I guilty of it….oh I’m sure I am.  I brag like heck on my kiddos when they have pulled off something great. I love to let the world know how wonderful my husband is. And I’d like to think the world needs more Danielism’s.  See, I rock this delusional Facebook world.

But Facebook has an uglier side to it to you know.  Facebook can make you feel downright crappy about yourself.  Your friends post pictures of themselves….might be photoshopped, I’m not accusing….all tan and skinny and enjoying a nice margarita whilst lounging in the latest tropical destination near blue water.  How’s that make you feel about your life?  Envious?  Don’t bother trying to keep up with the Joneses there….by the time you’ve saved up enough, they’ll be trying to one up themselves with a bigger, better vacay. Hate to see that bill come Christmas time.

Facebook is a place to find friends and to lose friends.  You have people who will come out from under a wood pile, find your husband and become his friend, then only comment or like posts that are blatantly missing any reference to his wife.  Yeah, gotta love those.  And then there are the friends who don’t speak to you anymore, but are afraid to unfriend you.  But they make sure to post many pictures of themselves with “new” friends….just in case you haven’t gotten the hint.  Ok, maybe these are two isolated specific instances that have just been eating at me.

It’s isolated instances like this that make me question whether I want to remain on Facebook.  I’ve come close to pulling the plug a couple times.  But I’d like to think I’m staying on to stay connected to family.  To give out a prayer when one of my friends needs it due to illness or hardship. To celebrate with family when one of them accomplishes something. Or to just remind someone they are being thought of on a special day. Yes, it’s a place that I display my sarcasm a little too much sometimes.  Guess I’m just trying to see if anyone else is reading.

So the suspense is over…I’m staying…at least for now.  The days of me being a troll are over. I promise to be a little less annoying. You won’t see any posts about how many miles I let the dog pull me around the block.  I won’t post any pictures of the zepplin Daniel accused someone of dropping in the toilet.  And if I find a good recipe….I’ll invite ya over so I can try it out on you.  Signing off for now. I’m sure you have better things to do than read my rants!

An Apology to My Mom

I read an article by Dear Abby back when I was in high school. It was written by a woman who was singing the praises of her mom and apologizing for being such a brat when she was younger. She had come to this understanding because she was now a mom. I thought it was so inciteful and true to the mark, even though I was still playing the role of the brat at that time, that I decided to cut it out and keep it. I figured I could share it with my mom after I became a mom.

Of course I proceeded to go off to college and move every semester…yep, you read that right…and somehow I lost the clipping. I tried to look for a copy of the article online today to no avail. My guess is they didn’t keep articles that far back…they assumed I would keep track of my clipping. How far back would I be looking, you ask? If you don’t know how long ago I was in high school, I’m certainly not going to age myself for you.

I wish I could find it, because it said what I want to say so eloquently, but know I’ll mess it up. And that simply put would be this: mom, I’m sorry for being such a selfish shit as a child. I’m sorry for taking your hard work for granted, sitting on my ass while you busted yours. How many times did I volunteer to help wash dishes after you spent the last hour making dinner for us? How many times did I offer to take over doing the laundry to lighten your load? Or pick up the vacuum to do the floors? Don’t answer, cuz you don’t even need a full hand of fingers to count the times. And too numerous would be the times I sat and watch you bust you butt all day long and me never lift a finger.

I’m sorry for not letting you even have your day…I still remember one Mother’s Day in Baton Rouge. We were taking you out to dinner…nothing fancy, just fried chicken. But I pitched a fit (notice I’m not throwing Michelle under the bus with me) and insisted on going to a completely different chicken joint than you had chosen. I remember the disappointment on your face to this day. But you let me get away with it.

High school brought a whole new level of selfish defiance. I’m sorry for the multiple nights you were up til all hours waiting for me to come home. I’m convinced cell phones and GPS locators were invented by moms with children just like me.

There are so many things I could apologize for, but perhaps a better thing would be to say what I’m thankful for. I’m thankful you took such good care of us…for being there when we got home from school…for making chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese when we were sick… for sitting at the pool every day all day long every summer…for getting up at 4 am to drive me around my paper route every weekend morning (and for not breaking my arm when I clipped that mailbox hanging out of your car door window). I’m grateful you let me drag you all around the mall on our clothes shopping marathons. I’m beyond lucky that you didn’t kill me for some of the stupid stunts I pulled over the years.

Thank you for everything you have done over the years. There will never be enough time or words to show my gratitude. But never fear mom, your wish from back then has come true. You know, the standard mom wish where you say: “I hope one day you have one just like you.” We’ll God has blessed me with 4! Now it’s my turn mom. You get to sit back and watch.

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The (School) Year in Review

Today is the last day of school.  I don’t know about y’all, but I am EXHAUSTED.  Plum wore out mentally and a little bit physically, but that could be due to the fact I tried running in 95 degree weather last night. I figured now would be the best time to look back at the school year, the highs and lows and what we’ve learned, because I intend to wipe it from my brain come 1:30 this afternoon, when I pick up the last bunch of kids.

This year the older kids were in 7th grade and D was in 3rd grade.  I knew we were in for a tough haul when we found out D had Mr. Landmann as his teacher.  This is the teacher of all teachers, the man who expects high school level work out of his kids.  I kid you not.  They had term papers and book reports  (“beautifully handwritten, mistakeless” was the requirement), as well as museum presentations with projects due every six weeks.  I remember this teacher from when Ben and Anna were in 3rd grade.  I also remember a couple of my friends actually pulling their kids out of our school and placing them in another school just so they didn’t have to go through the Landmann 3rd grade curriculum.  That being said, Mr. Landmann was probably the best choice for a free and wild thinker like Daniel.  He was able to keep up with all of D’s questions and learning, encouraging and pushing him. Case in point?  He said Daniel was the first student to EVER chose Antione Lavosier as a research topic.  I say that’s because D doesn’t go for the simple, recognizable, easy topics, but instead likes to challenge his brain with the lesser known (and not the fact that he picked him because he thought it was cool that he was able to blink 13 times after his head was chopped off). I’m sure D will miss him and Doggie Day every week, but we will not miss the 3 hours of homework (yes you read that right) that D did every night.

This fall found the family going to football games to watch Austin and Ben play.  They were on different teams, so it made for some long Monday nights.  I love the fact that Ben fell in love with football, all due to Scott.  This was a boy who was going to choose health over athletics til Scott urged him to give it a try.  He went as far as introducing the boys to the head coach during orientation. Ben, the boy who hesitated, found a love of football, the boy who was shy and didn’t talk to many found himself enjoying tackling by the end of the season, the boy who wasn’t interested is now going to strength and conditioning camp for 6 weeks this summer.  Of course that means we will be subjected to daily flexings of his biceps and triceps in his attempt to show off.  Scott was able to facilitate a huge turn in Ben’s life…one that will last a lifetime.  Austin already had the love, being indoctrinated long ago by his FOOTBALL FATHER (The Cosby Show, hilarious episode…you should watch it).  While he will miss strength and conditioning camp to go see his mom, we have scheduled the trip so that he can be back in time to attend Football camp with Ben in late July.

This year saw me and Scott pulling our hair out at times, holding our breath at times, and every now and then almost giving up….all in the name of getting Austin through 7th grade.  I’m not gonna lie, there are times he struggled BIG TIME.  And a lesser parent would have quit and just let him make whatever grade he made.  But Scott continued to push for better, reminding him that any failing grades would result in him not playing football (a driving force for Austin for sure).  We had the highs and lows….what would start out mid-6 weeks as an F somehow by the grace of God and hard work would end up as a B on the report card.  I know Austin is ready for a break…he tried harder this year than ever before and we are both very proud of his accomplishments.

This year showed a side of Anna we’ve never seen before….a singer.  I know I’ve said it before, but this is a girl, who as a preschooler held her ears and closed her lips when it came time to perform songs for the parents.  This year she chose Choir as an elective.  I couldn’t have been more surprised but excited for her.  That’s one thing I’ve always wanted to be able to do is sing…unfortunately I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Imagine my tears when she garnered a solo during the Christmas concert.  I don’t know if I was more impressed that she could actually sing, or that she was truly performing in front of an audience.

Austin took on the bass in Orchestra for another year.  While he was less than pleased about practicing every day (just like his sibs who were “forced” to practice drums and flute), imagine his surprise when awards were given out during the Spring concert and he was given the Quest for Excellence award.  I had to fight back the tears so I could focus the camera to grab a shot…..note that Scott was not taking a picture…I’m not outing him for crying or anything.  Very proud papa there.

We definitely kept the medical profession in business this year.  Thankfully we had no major bumps or bruises, no stitches required and no casts needed this year. Yes, those are always an option when you have boys. The decision was finally made in January to put D on ADHD medication, after much talk and thought.  Turns out it didn’t change our funny little man anymore than it did when Austin started it.  And after much tweaking, it helped him focus through the 3 hours of homework each night.  I know he and Austin will both be glad to have a med free summer though.

January was a busy month, as Ben and Anna were introduced to the world of braces.  Anna hasn’t embraced the necessary steps it takes to keep your teeth clean while wearing braces, so the Ortho Tech decided to give her a demonstration (read, lesson) last week, which ultimately resulted in large mouth ulcers.  The fear factor works a little better with Ben, who was seen hosing his mouth with the WaterPik to the point of bleeding right before the last Ortho visit.

We will end this school year with a couple of pool parties today, then its time to shift into summer mode.  What does that entail for us?  Well instead of using my lunch hour at 3:00 to pick up kids and then having to stay late to make up the time, I will be able to use my lunch hour for what it was designed….lunch.  Whether that be with my husband (my favorite) or going home to make a quick meal for the kids, it’s definitely a nice change.

Of course there will be the obligatory calls and texts from home:   can I have a Dr. Pepper?  can I have a snack?  can I go to fill-in-the-blank friend’s house?  I’m BORED.  The guilt factor does set in about now, when the kids are tied down to the house while we are at work.  Hopefully what we make of the weekends will help make up for it (I like to lie to myself like that a lot).

I think I’ve figured out why students get a summer break….it takes about 3 months for the parents to recover enough strength to do this all over again.  Here’s to all the parents who have survived another school year, come hell or high water.  Give yourselves a pat on the back, you deserve it!

9 Ways I’ve Changed Since Becoming the Mom of 4 Kids

Ok, so I stole this idea from another blogger and now I can’t find the blog (or the blogger) to give her credit.  But seeing as I’m sure she doesn’t read my stuff, I think I’m safe.  That and the fact that the only thing I really stole was the idea….everything here is original (boring maybe, but original nonetheless).

I posted something on Facebook a couple of days ago and my best friend from high school replied to it, reminding me that we did the same thing like 100 years ago.  Which then got me to thinking how much my life has changed in the past 100 years (ok, so maybe not exactly 100). And of course, the most drastic and sweeping changes have come by becoming a mother. So with that in mind, I thought I’d come up with 9 ways my life has changed since becoming a mom of 4. I tried making it a round number like 10, but my brain gave out before I could get to the last one!  Besides, 9 is a good number too….me and the twins were both born on the 9th.

1. My hair is much longer now.  Why?  Because I go about 3 months between haircuts due to the cost.  Yes, I could go off to Classic Cuts and get me a $5 haircut, but I’ve seen what the cheap places have done to my dad’s head before….No. Thank. You. Yes, Scott and the boys come home with decent haircuts from there, but you have to remember, their haircuts consist of calling out a number….a number corresponding to the size blade they want used to shave the sides of their head.  That’s not the kinda cut I’m looking for….I’m pretty sure I have a lumpy pitted head, so I’m not one to pull off the Demi Moore in “GI Jane” shave-it-all-off haircut. At this point, I’m catching up to Anna in length of hair….if only I had my original color like she does.

2. I plan my work wardrobe around 3 pairs of shoes.  First, because having children caused my feet to grow a full size, so all my cute pre-kids shoes are now Goodwill fodder. Second, it’s expensive to keep 4 kids in clothes…especially 2 teenage BOYS who have to have all the latest styles. The parents’ needs end up at the bottom of the pile and shoes are not a priority (though they should be…I mean, I LOVE shoes….I could be Imelda Marcos if I had her budget…or hell, my sister’s budget!). So I have 3 pairs of shoes right now….2 that actually fit, and one pair that was cute when I tried them on and are now useless.  They fit, but they are opened back, and when I walk, they fly off my feet.  Can you imagine how insulted people are when I’m trekking across campus and they get hit upside their head by one of my shoes.  They don’t even know me!

3. I don’t eat the same dinner as the rest of my family.  No, I’m not on some Jenny Craig sort of diet (and don’t hint to me that I need to be). But the 2 boys that are so stylish?  They like to eat. A. LOT. I can’t freaking believe how much these boys put away. Scott says that’s cuz I grew up with one sister….he and my dad say this is normal.  For our family of six, I double most recipes (casseroles are king around here).  If I want to taste the food, I’d better do it while its cooking, cuz once the kids are called to dinner, it’s all over. The boys take a heaping adult-sized portion, inhale it faster than a black hole, then come running back for more. Add in 3 more mouths to feed and that double portion of dinner is gone before you blink.  I mean, seriously, there’s no such thing as leftovers anymore (unless it’s a new recipe that doesn’t go over well). Yes, I could make a double and a half portion so that I got some….but how do you double and a half 3/4 tsp of X spice or X lb of meat?  Yes, I realize it can be done, but that would involve math…and if I was good at math, I’d be working for an accounting firm like my sister and I’d have a cook making my damn meals.

4. I spend my days at work and my evenings at Kroger.  Because of the ginormous amount of food these people in our family put down, I am practically at the store every day.  In fact, when I walk in, the checkers breathe a sigh of relief…cuz they know their jobs are secure for another day. Yes, I am a very thorough shopper…its not like I plan the meal for the day and just shop for that.  But by the evening, we have run out of ______ (fill in the blank).  I think so far this week we have gone through 4 loaves of bread, 2 lbs of deli ham and 2 gallons of milk….and none of that is for dinner!!

5. I don’t go to bed before midnight.  Back before kids, I was in bed by 10 most nights.  In fact, if I stayed up til 11:30, I knew it was going to be a rough day at work because I would be exhausted.  I guess I now live in a state of exhaustion.  We try to get the kids in bed on school nights by 9:00.  Then I spend the next hour or more cleaning the kitchen, doing dishes, throwing a load of laundry in and making lunches for the next day.  By the time I sit down, it’s usually 10:30.  Yes, I could go straight to bed, but I haven’t had any quiet time with Scott.  And we have a few TV shows we like to watch together….they are waiting patiently on DVR until I sit down…I can’t disappoint them.

6. Its getting to the point where my daughter has cuter things than me.  One, because she’s that size where she can pull off cuter clothes (now if I could only interest her in picking out said cuter clothes). And two…ok, let me just come right out and say it…she has a cuter iPhone case than I do.  There, that’s out in the open. Whew. She got an iPhone 5 before me (I wasn’t even sure I would choose one), so I helped her pick out a case for it.  When it came time for me to get one, the cases I got to pick from were not as cute.  And now every time I look at her phone, I want to steal her case.  Shameful I know.  I’m Jan, I have iPhone case envy.

7. I’m having to re-live junior high.  Ok, junior high is rough for everyone…its just a yucky age.  Your peers are mean, you are growing into your body and are quite awkward, you are popping out zits everywhere….just not pretty.  So I admit that its rough for our kiddos.  But its rough for me too….no, I’m not popping out in zits….I’m sick of the freaking homework.  Its non-stop homework, and I feel stupid because I can’t help with it.  Has it come to the point where my kids are smarter than I am?  Well, maybe in math.  Seriously, I tried helping Daniel with a THIRD GRADE math problem the other day and I was too dumb to figure it out. So this junior high homework shiz is making me feel stupid.

8. I can’t be selfish anymore.  No, selfishness is not a good trait to have, you’re right. But once you have kids, it’s completely impossible.  Things are not about you anymore.  You give up the right to buy expensive shoes and makeup, treat yourself to a manicure just cuz (not that I’ve ever had a manicure in my life), or just sleep the day away.  You have 4 mouths to feed (ok, 6 including mine) and push out the door so they can go to school and become smarter than you. I’m not saying I prefer to be selfish. What I’m saying is any woman who is contemplating having a child should remember…it will never be about you again. Get over yourself!

9. I cry at concerts. The first time I saw Ben and Anna perform in their preschool sing-along, I cried.  Ok, so neither of them technically sang….Ben looked at the floor and Anna put her hands over her ears.  But because they were up on stage…I cried.  Now I watch Anna singing at the Talent Show, or Austin playing his Bass on stage, or Ben drumming in the stands at a football game and my eyes well up.  When Daniel performed as the Head of Antione Lavosier, I cried.  And not just because my baby was reduced to only a head. Yes, I’m very proud of the fine young people they are becoming.

My 4 kids exhaust me. They come home from school and all 4 talk at the same time…about different subjects.  And they all expect me to listen to them at the same time.  Its exhausting.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way. They are my pride and joy.   They have changed me for the better.  Being a mom has its ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change a thing (ok, maybe a larger shoe budget would be nice!).

The Year in Review (Ok, so just the first 2 months)

On this very last day of February, I figured I’d better catch you up on what has been happening at the McHarg household. Of course if you are family or friends on Facebook, you probably already know all of this.  But this is really here so when I lose the last of my brain cells in a few years, Scott and the kids can read them back to me and it’ll be like new information. (Get ready to dig in…its been a busy 2 months).

I just got back from having my fingerprints scanned and sent to the Texas Department of Public Safety.  No, I’m not a wanted fugitive.  That was the last step I needed to take to get my Concealed Handgun License. I bought my Glock 19 9mm a few years ago when I was a single mom and wanted to protect the family. I hadn’t picked up the gun much lately, but decided that this was something I really wanted to do, getting my license to carry.  I took the required 10 hour course with a couple of friends, and scored a 243 out of 250 on the firing test. Pretty amazing, especially given the fact that on the 3rd out of 8 tests, I got careless in my grip and the slide came back after firing and split my thumb nail all the wait down!  Not wanting to be seen as a sissy, I hid it from everyone and kept on going. Seeing as I’ve never shot a handgun before I bought the Glock, and I’ve only shot that one about 5 separate time, I think I’m a pretty damn good shot. The gun now resides in a safe next to our bed, and as soon as I get my license (3-4 weeks), it will probably reside a little closer when I’m out and about (so don’t sneak up on me in a dark alley!).

The weekend before the CHL course, we took the older kids out to Marty’s house so I could practice (at that point I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hit the side of a barn with my gun). Of course the boys were chomping at the bit to try out the gun (hadn’t let them touch it before now). Ben and Austin both had a go at it….and I have to say Ben is a damn good shot like his momma.  They got to use my gun and try out Marty’s .45 (prompting Scott to now want a big gun). Now the boys keep bugging us to take them back out to fire the gun. Only problem is that with the threats Obama is making with gun control, ammo is in high demand and hard to find.  Most places in the town are sold out. So we probably won’t be doing much shooting for a while. But don’t worry, I have enough loaded in the gun right now to take care of business!

Ben and Anna started out the Spring semester by getting braces on their teeth.  You think having twins is hard?  Try doing all these fun little medical procedures TIMES TWO!  I should have learned my lesson when I had both of their tonsils & adenoids removed at the same time when they were 5. The braces went on without a hitch…and praise God, NO teeth had to be pulled. We walked out of there with $12,000 worth of metal in their mouths.  But its all good, cuz they gave me a coffee mug with their logo printed on it.  That makes us square, right?

Daniel made Scott’s day when he decided he wanted to learn to fly RC planes.  After practicing on the simulator at home, we took him out one weekend to try the real thing.  He is a natural at it, taking very good direction from Scott.  After the 3rd flight, he announced he was ready to land (a maneuver saved for much more experienced fliers).  Scott suggested he wait on that trick for a while. Who knows, one day we may be hauling 2 guys off to the pattern contests!

Speaking of pattern, Scott was picked up by his friend and top pattern pilot Bryan Hebert.  Hebert designs and builds planes as a side hobby (in addition to coaching a slew of top pilots and finding time to compete himself). Bryan asked Scott to join his team and fly one of his designs, the Shinden, in electric form (meaning the plane is powered by batteries and not dirty messy fuel). After a little thought, Scott decided to go with a custom paint scheme on his plane and asked me to design it.  We are both holding our breath waiting to see pictures of the finished plane before it makes the long trip to the US on a slow boat from China. We hope to have the plane in hand by the end of March.

February started out with a bang with Scott being felled by the stomach flu. It’s the sickest he says he’s been in many many years.  A trip to the doctor for medication culminated with a shot in his butt and a bag full of fluids being pumped in his arm.  It took a good week for him to feel good again.  All I can say is I thank God it didn’t spread through the entire house!

Austin had a couple of friends over to celebrate his birthday a couple Saturday’s ago.  It was him and Ben and their friends (also twins) Jacob and Wesley.  They all became friends this past year when they played football together (and then subsequently discovered they lived a few streets away!).  The boy requested taquitos for that birthday meal.  OMG y’all, I’ve never seen 4 boys eat so much in all my life.  I bought 5 bags of taquitos and every single last one of them were gone when the dust settled.  80 freakin taquitos!  And it’s not even football season!

We continued the birthday celebration on his actual birthday by going to watch Anna sing in the Talent Show.  She and her 2 best friends Ashley and Leah just decided one day that they would try out for the show….and they made it.  I am still so amazed by her.  One, for being brave enough to get up and sing in front of people (after spending most of her young childhood not saying a single word to any teachers). And two, for being able to sing.  That is a talent I would kill for.  As it stands, my children would kill me if I sang out loud in public (I’m quite the embarrassment to teenagers!). Of course the girls did an amazing job.  Mom and dad came up to watch with us, and we ended the night with gifts for the boy and yummy ice cream cake!

Daniel ended out the first 6 weeks of Spring semester with a museum performance of a lifetime.  Every 6 weeks, his class has a museum presenting what they have studied.  This time around the kids all picked a famous person to study. His chosen Famous Person was Antione Lavosier, chosen by D because “he wanted to do one final experiment to prove how long you could live after getting your head chopped off.  So when he was beheaded, he blinked 13 times.” In true D fashion, he decided for his museum presentation, he would dress up as the head.  Let me tell you, this little boy was the hit of the museum.  The principal, all his former teachers, adults and kids from all over had to come and see him, listen to his speech. And what an impressive speech it is.  I listened to him recite it over and over…never missing a beat.  You can find it on the Movies section of our website.  And when you listen to him, take into account that he memorized that entire thing (and got it right every time).

We will round out month with a final performance tonight – Anna will be singing at a Patriotic Concert at Central Baptist Church that includes the choirs from all of the schools in College Station.  They claim this concert will only take an hour.  Should be interesting!

Ok, if you’ve made it to then end of this, bless your heart….you’re either really interested in our lives, or you are bored as hell.  Either way, thank you!  Just one last note and then you can go take some Advil for the headache you received reading this!  We may have found a church home.  As most of you know, we left Christ UMC after I quit work there.  In the 9 months since I left, not once did I get a phone call from any former co-workers or fellow members asking how I was, why wasn’t I in church on Sunday.  The couple of times I dropped the older ones off for Youth activities, the members that used to be my friends gave me dirty looks like I didn’t belong there.  So we decided to find some place that still had God at the center of it all.  And we think we’ve found it in a little cowboy church.  Brazos Valley Cowboy Church meets in a big white tent with sawdust on the floor, the music is provided by guitars, fiddle and steel guitar, and the preacher is genuinely happy to see you there (whether you give money or not). We’ve only been a couple of times so far, but the kids actually say they like it better than their old church and they actually want to go back!  That’s a plus, because when they talk about going to church with their dad at CUMC, they groan about it. We’ll keep you posted as to how it all pans out!

Well go lay down and put a cloth over your eyes.  You have made it through this long, long blog. I know I’m exhausted! I’ll try to be less wordy by keeping up with this better in the future!

I am not superwoman

I am painfully aware that I have been absent from the blog for a while.  So many things have gotten in the way of me putting thoughts to blog….which is the precise reason I’m on here today.  I’m here to say that I am not superwoman.  I’m not even supermom.  And I hold a lot of guilt for not being able to be those people.

Being the mom of 4 children is exhausting.  Rewarding, but exhausting. For those that say they are exhausted with one child, I say live in my shoes for a week (sure a day might be easy, but then you get to run away to your blissfully simple house).  I’m sorry, but its true.  I’m not saying I’m better than you, I’m not saying that you don’t have your issues, I’m not negating that your house isn’t full of chaos too.  But every few days when 3 of our kids go to their dad’s house, I realize how simple ONE child is.

No, I wouldn’t be the same person if I didn’t have these 4 kids.  So don’t go there, don’t put words in my mouth saying well maybe you don’t want them, maybe you shoulda thought about that before making them.  I’m not going there.  I count all 4 as blessings to me.

What I live with is the working mother’s guilt.  I can’t be there for them 24/7. And I can’t seem to juggle my workload and momload very well either.  I am low on sick leave and vacation leave, because I have to take an hour off here to take them to the doctor, and another hour here to get dinner ready early for a school concert.  Yes, leave that I should be using to take a nice vacation somewhere with blue water and white sands is picked away bit by bit so that I can keep up with all the activities our kids are involved in.  I don’t see any other option though….I can’t run by McDonalds with my hair on fire at 5:30 (when I usually get out of work) and cram some greasy nuggets down the kids’ throats and have them dressed and RUNNING out the door by 5:45 to get to said concert or performance.

Take today….D has a museum performance at 12:40.  In order for me to go to that, I will be using my lunch hour. But after the performance is done, D is out of school for the day.  So I have the choice of taking leave for the rest of the day or dragging him with me to work for a few hours.  And guess what, said work needs me here just as much.  While I contemplated taking the afternoon off (oh doesn’t that sound blissful), I received 2 email messages saying I am on standby to take pictures of a class that MAY or MAY NOT be working on their airplane model at 4:00 this afternoon.  So I will be dragging D to work with me (he thinks that’s a treat) and waiting to find out whether or not I’m taking pictures.

I don’t have the luxury of staying at home (who can with 4 kids – you should see how the boys eat) and I don’t have the luxury of having parents that live in the same town (neighborhood) who can come over any time you want them to (to the point of using them beyond what is right). While I love the fact that my parents are a couple hours away and get to visit, I don’t think its right to use and abuse them as free babysitters. I just don’t. And Scott is just as busy or busier than I am.

Yes, my hands are tied…damned if I do and damned if I don’t.  And no, I don’t have any solutions.  I guess I just needed to vent a little. I’m a mom (and wife) and full time employee….and I feel like I’m not giving any of them my best. They would claim I’m doing a fine job (I think), but the guilt still eats at me.  I feel guilty for having to take an hour of leave here and an hour of leave there to deal with stuff at home…..and in the same breath I feel guilty for not take MORE time to be with the kids. Guess that’s the case for most working moms; its a no win situation.

I’d like to delve into this further, but time doesn’t allow, as I’m off to see a rivoting museum performance.  I promise the next blog will be more chipper….perhaps a stunning recollection of D’s monologue performance about the headless Frenchman he’s been studying!

 

Push Me Down the Hill

Well it’s official, I’ve gone up and over the hump, that lovely little “over the hill” place of aches and pains and peeing when you sneeze. Yes, my birthday was yesterday.  But you knew that. It was one of those “monumental” years….you know, the ones that end in ZERO or FIVE.  You get more attention when you hit a ZERO year….not so much when you hit a FIVE.  But to me, the FIVES are much harder than the ZEROS.  Why? Because baby, all of a sudden you are closer to the next ZERO than the one before. Duh!

For much of my life, my mother would tell you I’ve always wanted to be older than I was.  Well, I TAKE IT BACK!  40 was a milestone….a good one that came with some crazy ass life changes for the better. Sidebar: Scott said my New Year’s Resolution should be to cuss less.  I’m on board with the idea, but implementing it is a much harder thing to do.  My mouth opens and shit flies out before I can take it back….oops, see? He said we should get a jar and put a quarter in every time a cuss word flies out.  If that’s the case, I’ll have enough for a trip to Hawaii by the end of the month…well, maybe, year.

So, yeah, 40 was about as far as I wanted to go.  It seemed like a cool age….people threw you surprise parties filled with good food and all of your friends (well, some people got these parties….not me).  You were officially wiser than much of the population, or so you thought. You were settled into a career, working on a nice retirement package and looking forward to more than half your life left.

What I didn’t count on was the slow deterioration of my body after 40.  People joke about it all the time….well, really they are just laughing, waiting for what happened to them to slap you upside your head. Within the first year of my 40s, I had to take on bifocal contacts.  What the hell (oops, sorry again)?  Well, I wouldn’t need those bifocal lenses if my darn (better?) arms would grow in length like Elastiwoman when I’m trying to read the type on a bottle of aspirin (taken daily to avoid stroke and heart attacks don’t ya know). And the floaters that have taken up residence in my right eye….well it doesn’t help much when I’m trying to help Scott navigate a plane high up in the sky.  Is it a bird, is it a plane….no you dumbass, it’s just junk floating behind your cornea.

The next thing to come up was the aches and pains.  Really?  I’m 41, not 81…..arthritis and joint pain should not be popping up this early.  I did abuse my body by flipping on my head a hundred or so times when I was a kid on the gymnastics team.  But you are supposed to bounce back from those things.  Why the heck all of a sudden can I predict cold fronts and rainstorms a day before they arrive with my hip.  We don’t need some pretty little blonde on The Weather Channel making stupid jokes and predicting the weather off of cue cards all day.  No sir, just stick a picture of my hip (notice I didn’t say ass…oops) up on that screen and let it broadcast the day’s outlook.   Needless to say, the pain in my hip got so bad that I had to have the nerves in my SI joint fried worse than your brain on drugs (remember that commercial) just to get the pain to go away.  Geez, this age thing is becoming expensive.

40 was great…then the deterioration occurs and 45 is not looking good.  Because at 40 you have more than half your life left…if you live it right, stay out-of-the-way of moving vehicles and have a good gene pool. But at 45, you start to realize that most of your gene pool has not survived to the age of 90.  80 was a stretch that you could go with, but 90 no so much. Now you start to get nervous….not enough retirement saved up, your children are growing fast and will want braces ($12,000 for the twins, found that out today), they will want to start driving (lord help me) and they will want to go on to college (better get some good scholarships). All of a sudden you don’t have enough time or money to cover the things you put on your bucket list at 40 when you thought you had more than half your life left!

Am I having a mid-life crisis?  Nah, not really.  I have a phenomenal husband, who makes me laugh and smile every day.  I have 4 crazy happy (emphasis on CRAZY) kids who are doing their darndest to strip away the sanity in my brain. I have some wonderful friends who remind me that they are in the same boat and rowing just as fast against the stream.

If I had one birthday wish, it would be for the wisdom I have now (and will gain in the years to come) while having the body of my 19-year-old self.  Now wouldn’t that be a hoot!  I would wish for a little better eye sight, no more aches and pains, my natural hair color back sans the grey….oh, and to be able to bounce on the trampoline again without peeing myself.  But that’s TMI and a story for another day.