Playing Like a Kid In the Snow

Makes you feel like a kid again.

Saturday, I went to a “winter fun” party at a friend’s house up in Peshastin. He lives up a canyon, on 15 acres of what used to be an orchard. In addition to his 1940s era home and open garage, he has a handful of apricot trees, a small pond for storing irrigation water from a creek that runs through his property, and a few hiking trails that wind up into the national forest that borders his land. It’s quite idyllic out there — very quiet with little road traffic and lots of trees.

And snow.

Even though Peshastin is only about 20 minutes by car from Wenatchee, they get more snow up there. It’s a higher elevation and it’s closer to the Cascades. Because of that, my friend Kirk planned a winter fun party at his home there. Activities would include sledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and skating. There would be a bonfire and a potluck dinner.

Since leaving Arizona, I’ve embraced the snowy winter days here in North Central Washington state. It started with my return to cross-country skiing and taking up snowshoeing last season and continued this year with a return to ice skating. While I still like to stay warm, I discovered — belatedly, apparently — that with the proper clothes you can keep quite warm in the typical 20-30°F winter weather we get. I got the clothes last year and have been giving them plenty of use.

And yes, I know 20-30°F isn’t that cold. In fact, I think it’s milder here than the winters we had back in the New York metro area. But after 15 years in Arizona, it’s a bit chillier than I’m used to.

Kirk wasted no time getting us organized for sledding and skating. He had some equipment; some of us brought our own. Although I would have liked to go skating, my knee was still sore from the nasty fall I’d had the last time I skated. I swore that I wouldn’t skate again without knee pads — and not until my knee was fully recovered. I just don’t heal as well as I used to when I was a kid. (Duh.)

Instead, I opted for sledding. Kirk and Pete had a few old runner sleds, including one that looked just like my old Flexible Flyer. I gave one of them a try on the relatively mellow hill that led from the road to the pond. I was disappointed. The sled was old, the runners were rough with rust, and the hill wasn’t slick enough. I was a long way from the quarter mile sled runs down the street from where I used to live in Cresskill, NJ, starting in the woods out behind the Merrifield’s house and ending on Brookside Avenue.

Kirk skates among the piles of snow on his pond. The wise-ass requesting the double axel is me.

Meanwhile, Kirk was skating and others were just walking around on the frozen pond surface. Kirk had shoveled the snow onto big piles and was gliding gracefully among them.

Pete, in the meantime, had a need for speed. He’d taken one of the metal saucer sleds he’d brought along and had climbed to the top of a much steeper hill that led down to the pond. As we watched, he launched himself down the hillside, crashing into the tall frozen reeds at the side of the pond. Not to be deterred, he did it again. And again. After a while, he wore out a good, fast track down to the ice.


My first run down the hill.


My second run down the hill was enough for me.

He kind of dared Megan to try it. She wasn’t interested, but I was. I climbed up the hill, sort of surprised by how steep it was — it didn’t look that steep from the pond. Then I grabbed one of the sleds and, after asking Pete for some advice, launched myself down the hill. It was wicked fast and wicked bumpy. No control at all. About halfway down, I closed my eyes. I finally skidded to a stop on the ice, laughing and groaning. Megan caught the whole thing on video.

And if that wasn’t enough, I did it again. The second time, I definitely got airborne at least twice. The banging sled beat the crap out of me. When I slid to a stop on the ice, I just lay there, laughing. That was enough for me.

Pete kept going, through. On one of his runs, both Megan and I had video cameras rolling. I was up top and actually gave him a push down, so my video is very bumpy. But it’s interesting to see the two camera angles side by side.

 
Two views of one of Pete’s better runs.

By that time, Kirk and Kathy had moved on to sledding on another hill. The rest of us joined them. It was getting dark and Kirk wanted to take us on a quick hike before it got too dark to see. So I loaded Penny up in my day pack — mostly because I didn’t want to worry about her running off after real or imagined wildlife — and we we all followed Kirk up one of the trails behind his house. I think we would have made an excellent commercial for Sorels boots, since I think we were all wearing them. The path was snowy but not slippery and the forest around us was quiet with snow on the evergreen branches. We stopped on the way back to admire Kirk’s tractor — that’s how things are around here — and swap stories about how useful they can be around the area. I might have convinced Kirk to use his tractor to dig some holes for trees for me this spring. Fingers crossed.

Megan and Pete
Megan and Pete stand beside the fire.

While we were gone, the fire Kirk had started earlier in the day and fed with scrap lumber I brought along had come to life. We sat around it in lawn chairs. A few other people showed up, including Kirk’s housemates. Kirk and Kathy poured out some warm Glühwein from Leavenworth. We chatted, told stories, took photos.

Afterwards, we went inside for dinner. Clam chowder, leek soup (my contribution), garlic bread, fresh fruit, pizza, lasagna, and more. We sat around the big table Kirk had set up in his living room. It was warm and toasty indoors — so warm that I stripped down to my bottom layer Under Armor.

Of course, there was more. After dinner, six of us drove about a half mile up the road to a National Forest trailhead. We strapped on our snowshoes and started a hike up an old, closed off forest road. It was full dark out by then and thin clouds filtered much of the light from the full moon. Most people had headlamps. We crunched up the trail with snow covered evergreens and hillsides or ravines on either side of us. It was magical out there, especially when, on the way back, it began snowing.

Back at the house, Kirk and Kathy went back out to the pond to skate in the moonlight. The rest of us enjoyed the warmth of the wood-burning stove, chatting about life, careers, and retirement. A while later, just as Kirk and Kathy were coming back we prepped to go home. It had been a great day out in the snow and, for me, a reminder of my younger days.

Although I’m sure I’ll have bruises on my back from the edges of that silly saucer sled, it was worth it to remember my young, fearless, and carefree days as a kid.

2015 Resolutions

A very ambitious list.

I’ve been slipping — and it’s got to stop. So I’ve decided to set up and stick to some New Year’s Resolutions.

1. Fight the Social Media Addiction

I spend entirely too much time on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Actually, if you spend more than 30 minutes a day on social media — and aren’t being paid to do it as part of your job — you probably spend too much time, too.

Think about it. Yes, you enjoy it. It’s a nice, convenient social experience. But it’s also a timesuck. And the time you spend online looking at cat photos and clicking like buttons is time you could be spending doing other more rewarding things like engaging in personal interactions with family and real (not virtual) friends, working on projects that enrich your life (or bank account), and getting some fresh air and/or exercise. These are all things I want to spend my time doing. I don’t want to sit in front of the computer after breakfast, tune into Facebook, and look up two hours later to discover that half my morning is gone and nothing constructive has been done.

So I’m placing a limit on social networking:

Less FacebookFacebook:

  • No checking in between 8 AM and 8 PM. “Checking in” refers to logging on for the purpose of reading new updates on my newsfeed and checking and responding to comments on my or other people’s updates.
  • Maximum of 3 updates per day, including updates of photos or links but excluding updates automatically generated when I post to my blog. These can be done at any time.
  • No likes. (I actually began doing this a few months ago and I find it very rewarding, mostly because it prompts me to share more meaningful commentary when I like something.)

Twitter:

  • No checking in between 8 AM and 8 PM. “Checking in” refers to logging on for the purpose of reading new tweets, checking and responding to notifications on my account, and adding or removing followers.
  • Maximum of 12 tweets per day, including photos, links, tweets automatically generated when I post to my blog, and retweets but excluding scheduled tweets. These can be done at any time.

LinkedIn:

Stop using it. Period. This should be pretty easy since I only check in once every month or so and always leave with a bad taste in my mouth.

Google+:

Really? People still use this?

I know this sounds silly or even kind of extreme — almost like a mom setting parental controls for her kid — but I have identified a problem and I have decided to tackle it by setting limitations. Let’s see how I do.

2. Watch Less TV.

I think I watch an awful lot of TV, especially when you consider that I (1) don’t have cable or satellite TV, (2) only get 4 live channels, and (3) rely mostly on Netflix, Hulu+, and other Roku-available content for options. Again, I think this has to do with the long winter nights — I certainly didn’t watch much TV when the sun was setting after 8 PM.

What’s reasonable? I think 5 hours a week is reasonable. That’s less than an hour a day. That might seem a bit low, but when you consider that I’m out with friends a few evenings a week, it should be pretty easy to maintain.

Read a BookAnd there is this added cheat: a movie — no matter what length it is — counts as just an hour. But, at the same time, an “hour-long” TV episode watched without commercials, which is really only about 44 minutes long, would also count as an hour. I’ll need a scorecard to keep track. It should be interesting to see how I do.

What will I do instead? That’s easy: read.

3. Lose 15 Pounds

MeasureYes, I need to lose weight again. Doesn’t everyone?

Back in 2012, I lost 45 pounds and went from a size 14/16 to a size 6/8. Since then, my weight has crept up a bit, although I’m still able to (barely) fit into all of my new clothes. Time to nip that in the bud and go back to my goal weight. Remember, I burned the bridge to fat town back in 2012.

I’m not very worried about achieving this. I’m going to use the same diet I used in 2012 to lose 45 pounds in 4 months. I expect to get back to my goal weight within 2 months but will likely stay on the diet for an additional month for the added benefits it offers — mostly appetite reduction. That’s what made it possible to keep the weight off as long as I did.

In my defense, since the last 10 pounds came on very quickly — over the past two months — I suspect it has a lot to do with my reduced activity level. Winter means short, cold days here in the Wenatchee area. Unless I’m out doing something that keeps me busy and warm — like skiing or snowshoeing — I’m not likely to be outside. And there isn’t much exercise indoors — although climbing scaffolding can be pretty exhausting after a while. This is my best argument for going south for the winter and I may do it next year. (Yeah, I’m a snowbird for health reasons. That’s the ticket!)

Oh, and if you’re one of those people who think “big is beautiful” and that being thin is something that society forces upon us to make us feel bad about our bodies, wake up and smell the deep fried Oreo you’re about to shove in your pie hole. I never said I wanted to be thin. I’ve said (elsewhere in this blog) that I wanted to remain a healthy weight for the rest of my life. The added benefit is the ability to look good in clothes, have lots of energy, and feel better about myself. Don’t be an idiot. If you’re more than 10% over what’s a healthy weight for your height, you owe it to yourself and your family to shed those extra pounds. Trust me: you will be glad you did.

4. Write More

Writing PadOne of the things social media time has stolen from me is writing time. Instead of sitting down to write a blog post or an article for a magazine or even a chapter of a book, I spend that time on Facebook or Twitter or even (sometimes) LinkedIn. Or surfing the web. This are mostly unrewarding, unfulfilling activities. I get so much more satisfaction out of completing a blog post or article — especially when there’s a paycheck for the article.

I want to blog more often — at least four times a week. Blogging is something that makes me feel good. I wish I could explain it. I think it’s because I’m documenting the things I’m doing, thinking, and feeling. Creating an archive of these things.

I’ve been blogging for 11 years now and am very proud of that fact. I’m also thrilled that I can go back and read about the things that interested me so long ago. Why wouldn’t I want to do this?

I also want to explore new markets for paid article work. I have opportunities and when I can focus I can write and submit work I can be paid for. Why aren’t I doing more of this?

And I definitely need to complete a few work-in-progress books that I’ve started. And turn some of my blog posts into ebooks I can earn a few dollars on.

And I sure wouldn’t mind reopening some of the fiction work I began 20 or 30 years ago — work that was once so much a part of my life that I’d think about it in bed to help me drift off to sleep. Time to bring all that back into my life.

5. Just Say No to Starbucks

Say No to StarbucksWhy do I go in there? The coffee isn’t even that good!

I live in Washington, for Peet’s sake (pun intended), a place where there are coffee shops on nearly every corner and more drive-through coffee stands than gas stations. Why am I going into Starbucks, a place where saying “medium” instead of “grande” can earn you a snicker from the order taker?

Chocolate Covered Graham CrackersAnd don’t say it’s the dark chocolate covered graham crackers. Although it could be.

I guess I just don’t like the idea of supporting a global corporation with mediocre products when I could be supporting small, local coffee shops with slightly less mediocre products.

What I really should do is stop drinking coffee in the middle of the day.

This will be easy to do once I set my mind to it. I just have to not crave coffee when I walk into the Fred Meyer or Safeway supermarkets.

Scorecard

Because I’m so anal, I’ll keep a scorecard to see how I do. I’ll try to report back with success — or failure — at year’s end.

Wish me luck!

And why not share a few of your resolutions for 2015? Use the comments link or form for this post.

2014: A Look Back

Moving forward, looking ahead.

2014 is over. It was a good year for me. Not my best, but certainly one that finished on a very positive note. A year I can look back on and be proud of what I learned and accomplished, a year that marks the successful end of a long and bitter battle to keep what’s rightfully mine.

The Journal

Penny on the Porch
Penny the Tiny Dog lounges in the morning sun on the wrap-around porch of the house we spent the winter in.

I kept a journal for much of the year. I started it on January 1, 2014, when I was housesitting for a neighbor who was gone for the winter. He had a wonderful home and I was fortunate to be able to spend nearly three months in its comfort. Having the space to entertain friends helped me build stronger bonds with people I’ve met since relocating permanently here in Central Washington State in late May of 2013. And it was a hell of a lot warmer than my RV would have been.

This was the first time I kept a journal for any length of time. You might argue that this blog is a journal — and it is, to a certain extent. But while my blog posts cover a wide range of topics and often go into wordy detailed descriptions, my journal is brief. I wrote in it every morning throughout the spring, set it aside during the summer, and then opened it again in the fall. I wrote my last entry in the 2014 edition this morning and will start my 2015 book tomorrow.

Each entry is limited to one double-sided page, forcing me to keep things brief. I often refer to blog posts for more detail. My journal entries include a lot of thoughts and feelings that I don’t include in my very public blog. 2014 took up 1-1/3 blank books. Red ones — I really do like red. 2015’s first book will be black because that’s the color I found on sale.

The benefit of this and other journals I’ve kept in the past: I can go back and refer to them to see what was going on during a specific time in my life. This is especially important these days, when I’m trying so hard to discard painful memories from my wasband’s betrayal and the very bitter divorce that followed it. Writing things down gets them on paper and out of my head. Later, when I’m fully healed, I can go back and revisit them with the 20-20 vision of hindsight.

I’ll consult that journal as I write up this year in review.

Travel

I didn’t do much traveling in 2014, although I really enjoyed the few trips I took.

The big trip was to California’s Central Valley. For the second year in a row, I had a frost control contract with the helicopter. Unlike the 2013 contract the 2014 contract paid a much higher standby fee but required me to live in the area with the helicopter. So just as I’d moved the helicopter and my RV seasonally to Washington state for cherry drying when I lived in Arizona, in February 2014, I moved the helicopter and my RV to the Sacramento area of California for frost control.

Hamming it Up
Penny and I, hanging out at George’s hangar at the airport.

I made some new friends down there — it’s amazing how easy it is to make friends when you’re alone and don’t have to humor a companion who doesn’t seem interested in meeting anyone new. George, a fellow pilot, and Becky, who managed the airport where Penny and I lived, became part of my life for the two months I was there. George and I spent a lot of time flying both his gyroplane and my helicopter. We took my helicopter out to San Carlos Airport for a test flight in an Enstrom 480 and a visit to the Hiller Aviation Museum, where we got a great private tour.

Maria and George in the Cockpit
Here I am with George, sitting in the cockpit of a 747 on display at the Hiller Aviation Museum.

Hot Air Balloon
The hot air balloon flight comped to me by the pilot was one of the highlights of the trip. I hope to return the favor this spring when I go back.

Other things I did in California: during February, March, and April: hot air balloon flight over the Central Valley, wine tasting with visiting Washington friends in Napa Valley, several “joy flying” flights over Napa Valley and the Sutter Buttes, whale watching at Point Reyes, a visit to Muir Woods, kayaking with the members of the Sacramento Paddle Pushers group in the American River, paddling at Lake Solano, and a visit to the food truck extravaganza in downtown Woodland. I also got to see my friend Rod, who lives in Georgetown, and Shirley, who lives in Carmichael. I really like the area I stayed in and hope that this year’s contract lets me base the helicopter at the same airport.

Penny on the Kayak
Penny keeps watch in the kayak’s bow as we head back down the American River in Sacramento with new friends. Not sure why I didn’t blog about this trip; I have tons of photos to share.

I went to the Santa Barbara area of California three times in 2014 to record courses for Lynda.com. In February, I took Penny with me and recorded Up and Running with Twitter, a brand new version of my extremely popular Twitter course. I went back in May, without Penny, to record Word 2013 Power Shortcuts and Up & Running with Meetup. I returned yet again in October to record Word 2013: Creating Long Documents. The first time, I stayed at a hotel in Carpinteria that I didn’t particularly care for. But on the next two trips, I stayed at my preferred hotel on the harbor at Ventura in my “usual room” with harbor view and jacuzzi tub. I really enjoy my trips to Lynda. I work extra hard while I’m there so I finish early and get to enjoy a day at the beach.

Harbor View
The view from my usual room in Ventura isn’t too shabby.

I got to visit the San Juan Islands twice this year. The first time was for a week-long vacation at my friend Steve’s house on Lopez Island. I blogged extensively about that great trip. The second time was for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with my friend Bob at Friday Harbor, which I also blogged about. I really like the islands but could never full-time live on that side of the Cascades: too much dreary weather. I was lucky at Lopez Island; the weather was very good all week.

My final trip of the year was my annual Christmas trip to Winthrop for cross-country skiing in the Methow Valley. I haven’t blogged about that trip yet but I hope to find time to do so. The Winthrop/Mazama area is the largest cross-country ski area in the country, with hundreds of miles of groomed trails. I feel extremely fortunate to have such a great place to ski only 100 miles from my home.

Off to go Skiing
Penny and I went skiing over the Christmas holiday for the second year in a row.

Trips planned for 2015 include Arizona and California this spring. My autumn and winter travel schedules are still up in the air.

The Big Project

Backhoe
Jeff of Parkway Excavating rolled down my driveway on April 24 to begin prepping the building pad.

When I returned to Washington after frost season, I started the biggest project of my life: the construction of my new home. Earth work on my lot began in April and construction began soon afterward, continuing through the end of June. The building, which would house all of my possessions — including my helicopter, RV, Jeep, Honda car, and Ford truck, jet boat, motorcycle, and ATV — is a pole building I designed with the assistance of the good folks at Western Ranch Buildings in East Wenatchee. With a total of about 4,000 square feet, 1,200 of which is dedicated to living space, it features a four-car garage, an RV garage big enough for my helicopter and fifth wheel RV, a shop area, comfortable one-bedroom home, and a wrap around deck with windows to take in the amazing views of the Wenatchee Valley.

Roofing
They began roofing the building on June 10.

Electrician
Yes, this is me dressed up for electrical work: toolbelt, kneepads, and warm clothes. Heat is on but without insulation, the building still gets pretty chilly.

Because I was paying cash for the building and because I was interested in saving as much money as possible, I became not only the building’s designer but also the general contractor and electrician. (I was going to do the plumbing, too, but a local plumber offered me a deal that was too good to pass up.) Because my flying work is seasonal and my writing work is flexible, I had no real trouble getting the work done. I did pause in the autumn after getting the framing and roof insulation done, but decided in November to forego a lengthy trip to California and Arizona for the winter months and go full throttle to finish it up as quickly as possible.

What’s done? The building’s entire shell, including concrete floor is done. All doors and windows are installed. My vehicles, including my helicopter RV, are safely tucked inside for the winter. My shop and RV have all utility services. The living space is framed, the furnace and air handler for my HVAC system are installed and running, the ceiling has its first layer of insulation. The electrical system in the garage and living space are about 80% done.

What’s coming up? The plumber comes next week and, if all goes well with the wiring, I’ll get through the inspections needed to close up the walls by January 15. Then I’ll get the insulation and drywall done and the main space painted. The floors go in next. My appliances, custom kitchen cabinets, granite countertops, freestanding soaking tub, glass block shower walls, and many light sconces are on order and will begin arriving as soon as next week. Cabinets will be installed in mid February, appliances at February month-end, and countertops sometime before the middle of March. In the meantime, I’ll put down my deck and the rails around it. At this point, there’s a very real possibility that I’ll be able to move into my new home by March month-end.

If you’ve never built your own home, you likely have no idea what a joy and trial it is. This is, by far, the most challenging thing I’ve ever attempted. It’s a real pleasure — despite the occasional difficulties — to be able to make my own decisions on every aspect of the project without having to wait for a risk adverse, indecisive, and, frankly, cheap partner to weigh in with his decisions. And I cannot begin to describe how rewarding it is to look around what I’m building and know that it came from my mind, my heart, and my hard work.

I’ll continue to blog about the project throughout the coming year.

Other Accomplishments, Activities, New Hobbies

I got the year off to a slow start, not really doing much of anything new. I guess the biggest deal in the spring was learning to fly a gyroplane and soloing in about 7 hours. George taught me in his little Magni M-16 Gyroplane and it was a blast.

Solo Flight
George snapped this photo of me as I taxied off the runway after my first solo flight.

In the spring, when I returned from California, I built a chicken coop and, with the help of some friends, built a secure chicken yard for my flock of six hens. They laid eggs — about three dozen a week! — starting in October and only just slowed down production for the winter. I also had the opportunity to help out at a chicken slaughter.

For the first time in at least 10 years I had a vegetable garden. I planted Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, onions, pumpkins, melons, zucchini, yellow squash, butternut squash, corn, and herbs. Most of my garden occupied pots and raised garden planters I made out of pallets.

I also kept up with my beekeeping activities. I caught a swarm again this year and assisted another beekeeper on a swarm capture. By the end of the season, I had seven hives and had harvested another 3 gallons of honey. I also began selling honey in boutique packaging at local wineries. And I took a mead-making course and put up my first gallon of mead.

Pendant
Here’s one of my upcycled pendants, created from clear and blue wine bottle glass.

At the end of the summer, I purchased a very small kiln and began doing warm glass projects that upcycled wine bottles into Christmas tree ornaments and jewelry. I began making some of these items available for sale online.

I also stayed pretty active locally during the year, going on multiple hikes, boat trips, paddling trips, and Jeep trips with friends. I took over a Meetup group I belonged to and met a bunch of great people on activities with the group.

Friends

I didn’t realize how many good friends I’d made in the area until I had my moving party on June 28. I sent out invitations in email and on paper and on Facebook and Twitter. The party would be two parts: a moving party that started at my hangar and a pot luck barbecue at my mostly completed home. I honestly didn’t expect more than maybe 20 people to show up with only handful for the move. If I got my furniture moved, I’d be thrilled — I could always fetch the boxes myself.

But the attendance — especially at the hangar — blew me away. At least two dozen people showed up there with pickup trucks. One even brought a large horse trailer. Within 2 hours everything in the hangar was loaded up and we were on our way across the river to Malaga. They unloaded even quicker — almost before I realized what was happening. Then they brought out their pot luck dishes and we partied. I think the final party attendance was close to 50.

My social life here in Washington is amazing. If I wanted to, I could do something with friends every day or evening. Wine tasting, boating and paddling, hiking, Jeeping, dinner, movies, parties — there’s no end to it. On some days, I have to choose between activities or squeeze multiple activities with different people into my day. I’ve never been so active with other people. I love it — especially since these are all great, friendly, generous people who like me for who I am.

And yes, I’m dating, too. But not much, and that’s by choice. I’m extremely picky about starting a relationship with a man. I’d rather live life alone than live it with the wrong man again.

Flying Work (and Play)

In addition to the very lucrative frost contract I had in California in early spring, I had my best cherry drying season ever. In 2014, during the “crunch period” of mid June to mid July, I had three other pilots working with me to cover the acreage I was under contract for. I think we did a remarkably good job providing service for my clients in the Quincy and Wenatchee areas. There wasn’t quite as much rain as there was in 2013, but with more acreage to cover — almost 350 acres at one point! — the standby pay made our dedication to staying in the area worthwhile.

I did some charter work during the season, including a winter video shoot for one client that included air-to-air footage of the historic Miss Veedol airplane and an interesting dawn shoot over the Wenatchee Symphony Orchestra playing at Ohme Gardens. The Miss Veedol footage was only part of the aerial footage shot from my helicopter that appeared in the first We Are Wenatchee video. I also did two amazing Seattle video shoots — at sunset and dawn the following day — as well as a video flight up the Duwamish Waterway and Green River to its source near the base of Mt. Rainier. It’s flights like these that make me so glad I became a helicopter pilot.

We are Wenatchee from Voortex Productions on Vimeo.

Although one of my big charter clients wound up opening its own flight department with a leased helicopter and full-time pilot, I still did a bunch of charter work for them, flying management team members to various orchards throughout Central Washington State — and even to Seattle. They’ll continue to use my services on an as-needed basis during the busy season, as long as it doesn’t conflict with my cherry drying work.

Other interesting flights include a handful of wine tasting flights, a flight to the Slate Peak communication facility, a pollination flight, and two Santa flights. And, of course, I can’t forget my flight to and from Lopez Island and the flight around the San Juan Islands I took with my friend Steve. Or those Napa Valley flights. Or the flight for a hamburger at Blustery’s Drive In in Vantage.

Landing Zone Closeup
There was still snow atop Slate Peak in May 2014.

Writing Work

Although writing accounts for only a small part of my income these days, I did do a significant amount of writing work. In addition to the four video courses I authored for Lynda.com (mentioned earlier), I also began writing articles for Lynda.com’s blog.

I also made a new writing contact. Beginning in January 2015, my articles about flying helicopters will begin appearing on AOPA’s Hover Power blog. You’ll find my bio on the About the Authors page there. I’m extremely pleased to be writing about helicopters for an audience beyond blog readers.

As for my blog, it’s readership has pretty much doubled over the past year. I now consistently get between 1,000 and 2,000 page hits each day with visitors from all over the world.

My divorce book, which I blogged about back in April 2013 — has it been that long? — is still being written. I can’t finish it until the divorce bullshit is finally over.

The Divorce Bullshit

A lot of people don’t realize that even though my divorce was finalized in July 2013, it wasn’t over. Not only did my wasband appeal the judge’s decision, but he refused to comply with court orders regarding refinancing our house, which he received in the settlement, and paying me what he owed me. So legal action dragged on throughout the end of 2013 and into much of 2014.

My poor wasband — and yes, I do pity him a lot more than I probably should — got a lot of bad advice from friends and family members. If he’d accepted my very generous original settlement offer — proposed back in November or December of 2012 — he could have saved well over $100K in legal fees and could have kept the house for about 1/5 of its market value, including most of the furniture and other items I would have left behind. And we both could have gotten on with our lives with a minimum of bad feelings. But he took that bad advice, which gave him the idea that he had some sort of legal claim over the business I’d begun building long before we were married and all the assets that went with it. Even when the judge decided he didn’t, more bad advice convinced him to appeal. The appeals court, which handed down its decision just before Thanksgiving, agreed entirely with the original judge. In other words, he lost the appeal.

The result: more than two years of our lives wasted, a life-long friendship shattered with a lot of bad feelings, and more money than I’d like to think about thrown away on legal fees. He could have gotten rid of me — and kept the paid-for house! — for $50K. Instead, it’ll wind up costing him over $200K (including legal fees) and he has to sell the house to pay me. That’s gotta hurt.

My only consolation is that his stupidity and greed cost him far more than it cost me. I’ll recover from the financial setback of the legal battle, mostly because I know how to live within my means and I have substantial retirement investments. My home will be fully paid for within a few years, leaving me as debt-free and financially secure as I was before this all started.

Of course, I’ll actually be far better off than before this started because I won’t be dragged down emotionally by a lying loser incapable of making decisions or taking measured risks to move forward in life.

Solstice
Here’s the note I burned on the yule log at a solstice party — I want to leave this burden behind forever.

And that’s what 2014 has shown me: the 29-year relationship with the man I loved was holding me back, preventing me from moving forward to achieve lifestyle goals and dreams. I thought I shared goals with the man I loved but in the end it was all a lie — he just pretended during those last few years to be on the same page with me to keep the status quo he so loved. He sucked away my self-esteem by blaming me for our dismal social life and making me feel unwelcome in the home he claimed to want to share with me. It wasn’t until he freed me that I regained the self-esteem he’d sucked out of me and I began to move forward with life again.

I’ve accomplished more in 2014 than I had since I married in 2006. I achieved more goals, I made more friends, I learned more things. I stopped waiting for a partner to run out of excuses to hold us back and I began living life again. And believe me, living life alone sure beats the hell out of living life chained to a sad sack old man.

I only wish I’d made the break sooner, before we were married, before he lost his mind and soul. It would have been nice to remain friends with someone I really cared about.

In the meantime, I’m waiting for the house to be sold by a court-appointed master so I can get paid and do my best to put this this nightmare behind me.

After I finish my divorce book.

Looking Forward

2015 promises to be a great year. I have my big construction project to finish up, more writing work ahead of me, and a healthy helicopter charter business to nurture and built. I have more friends than I’ve ever had in my life — good, reliable friends eager to get together for all kinds of fun and even help me make my dreams realities. I have hobbies and interests to keep me busy and plenty of free time to explore them. Best of all, I’m living in a magnificent place that’s full of beauty and life and opportunities for outdoor activities.

Tail Shot
Isn’t it beautiful here?

I’m alive and loving life again.

Happy New Year.

Skating Away

I take to the rink.

I went skating with a friend on Tuesday. It was a Meetup event that I’d planned and although five people signed up, only two of us showed. I suspect that had a lot to do with the weather, which was rainy and cool all day.

This was the first time I’d been skating in at least 15 years. I think the last time might have been at Rockefeller Center in New York back when I lived there. It might have been when I was in college, which was a lot more than 15 years ago.

Skating is offered at The Rink at Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee. It’s a huge, well-maintained skating rink for hockey, skating lessons, and even curling events. Most weekdays there are open hours for public skating. I planned our event for midweek, to avoid weekend crowds.

The Rink
The Rink isn’t very crowded on a weekday afternoon.

Tim was my companion for skating. We paid the $5 fee and the extra $2 for rental skates. The skates were in good condition but were figure skate style, which included a toe pick: the little teeth at the toe that skaters use when performing certain maneuvers. Although this is the kind of skate I always wore, it would come back to bite me later.

We laced up and got out on the ice. I was terrible: stiff and wobbly at the same time. I got the hang of it again slowly, picking up speed. When the stiffness in my legs and hips started to go away, I realized it was all coming back to me.

Tim Skating
Tim skated as if he’d done it just last week.

Tim, on the other hand, looked as if he’d been skating for years. Nothing fancy, but none of the stiff wobbling, either.

I’d started skating back when I was very young — too young to actually remember my start. Back in my home town of Cresskill, NJ, there was a skating rink near the high school. It was a big, shallow pond that, in later years, had a concrete curb around it. In the summer, it was mostly empty, sometimes puddled in places with rain runoff. I remember catching tadpoles in it as a kid. But in the winter, they’d use a fire hydrant to fill it with water and let it freeze. It was never more than a foot deep anywhere and it usually froze pretty well, although I do remember one side that was never quite as smooth as the rest. There was enough space for small hockey games on one end and family skating at the other. Sometimes someone would build a big bonfire and we’d get warm around it after coming off the ice.

I skated with the Girl Scouts, too. There was an indoor rink somewhere in Tenafly or Englewood that the Girl Scouts used to rent time on once in a while. It was good quality ice, smoothed over with a Zamboni. It was there that I started skating rather well. No figure skating, of course, but good control and maneuverability and I was even starting to skate backwards, which was a pretty big deal for me.

Of course, I did have a nasty fall there. I fell on my right side with my right arm up. My arm popped out of its shoulder socket. If you’ve ever had that happen to you, you know how painful it is. I screamed good and loud. They rushed me off the ice, but not before my arm popped back in where it belonged. When they took the x-rays, convinced I had a broken collarbone, they found nothing.

It wasn’t the fall that made me stop skating. It was growing up. Having other things to do. Going to school, building a life, having a relationship. Skating was a sport that didn’t appear on my list of activities. Although I did take up roller skating in college and did some in the early 80s, even that didn’t last.

So on Tuesday, I was quite rusty when I started off. It felt good to relax and pick up speed as I made my way around the rink. It felt really good to see that I skated better than a lot of young people struggling just to stay vertical.

Of course, I expected to fall and I didn’t disappoint myself. It was kind of funny when I did. I’d been moving along at a good clip when that damn toe pick caught unexpectedly in the ice and threw me off balance. I made a spectacular fall, hitting the ice with my left knee and sliding forward. A little girl skating with her mom asked me if I was okay and two of the guys that worked there skated right over. I guess seeing a middle-aged woman sprawled on on ice set off alarms. But I was okay. I did accept a hand up to my feet. Then I took a break on the bench and watched Tim skate.

I bashed my knee pretty good, but I could still walk. That was a plus.

Later, after a rest, I got back out on the ice and did a few more laps. Tim skated up to me. “You know what they say about falling off horses,” I told him. I wanted to end the skating session on a positive note. I didn’t fall again.

Would I do it again? I’d like to! It’s a great winter exercise and quite pleasant on an uncrowded ice rink. I was just getting to the point where I felt as if I were getting real exercise when I fell. I’ll be back — but I’ll also be wearing kneepads. My bones aren’t quite as resilient as they used to be.

Oh, and next time, I’ll rent hockey skates.

Gun Training

Responsible gun owners get professional gun training.

Certificate
My certificate of completion.

Earlier this month, I was a participant in an NRA Basic Pistol Course. The course was privately conducted at a friend’s home in the Wenatchee area, with the shooting portion done at a private makeshift shooting range on another person’s property. It lasted two days and although I had to leave early on the first day to attend a mead-making course I’d signed up for in Leavenworth, I caught up on the second day and met the course requirements well enough to earn a certificate of completion.

I’m not a supporter of the NRA. Well, let me rephrase that. I’m not a supporter of the NRA’s political lobbying arm. I didn’t realize this until the course, but the NRA has two distinct organizations. The one I don’t mind supporting is the one that promotes firearm safety, training, and awareness. The one I won’t support at all is the lunatic lobbying organization that seems to have given people the idea that it’s okay to carry assault rifles into Target department stores. More on that in another blog post.

My Gun History

I took the NRA course because although I’ve owned my Beretta Model 21A 22 caliber semiautomatic handgun for more than 10 years, I’ve never really felt comfortable using it or handling guns.

Cleaning My Gun
The other day, I cleaned my gun for the first time in years. I can’t believe how dirty it was.

I got the gun back in the early 2000s, not long after moving into my Wickenburg house with the man I’d later marry. The house was on 2-1/2 acres on the edge of town. Although I would not consider it a “remote” location, it was certainly not what someone would call suburbia. The house was new and it creaked a lot at night. My future wasband would spend a week or more each month back in New Jersey for work and I was left alone. The creaks unnerved me — I remember sitting up in bed one night all night because I was convinced there was someone walking around downstairs. (There wasn’t.) I wanted a means to protect myself when my future wasband was away, so he bought a gun. I’m thinking it was a 357 Magnum. I know it was a big revolver. A scary gun. A few years later, I got my little Beretta and he traded in the revolver for a Glock.

Although I grew up with handguns in the house — my father was a police officer — I was not familiar with them. I wanted professional training. So we signed up for the only gun training course we could find in our area of Arizona: a concealed weapons permit course. It was an extensive course with classroom training and range practice. The course was led by a local gunsmith and his wife. They wore camo to each session. I was the only female attendee among about 6 or 7 men. When it was over, I had a card that made it legal for me to carry a concealed weapon in the state of Arizona. These days, I don’t even think you need a permit to carry concealed in Arizona. That state is whacked out and I’m glad to have it in my rear view mirror.

It’s important to note that I didn’t take the course for the permit. I took it because I wanted professional training.

Over the following years, we occasionally practiced shooting at a local range or out in the desert. It was a big deal when guests from New York came to stay with us and we took them shooting. But I never really got much practice.

Fast forward to 2013. I moved to Washington state, leaving my wasband behind forever. I bought 10 acres of property on an unpaved road overlooking the Wenatchee Valley. The word “remote” would certainly apply more to this home than my last one, although I do have neighbors within 1/4 mile. My gun, which had been traveling back and forth to Washington every year in my RV anyway, was something I kept handy. (I hate to admit it, but my wasband and the crazy old whore running his side of the divorce were acting so irrationally — going so far as to send a private investigator to try to snoop on me — that I worried about my personal safety.)

In 2014, I bought a new gun that would be handy for long-distance protection from animals, rattlesnakes, and other threats: a Remington Model 870 Tactical 12 gauge shotgun.

Of course, since it had been so long since I’d had formal training — or had even shot my gun — I wanted more training. A gun is useless as a means of protection if you are afraid to handle it or use it. A friend of mine — I’ll call her Lacy — was also interested in getting some training. She set us up at the range to work with a local gun enthusiast who offered training for a fee.

The instructor — I’ll call him Gary — was very knowledgeable. I shot my Beretta for the first time in years and didn’t do too badly. I also got a chance to shoot my shotgun. That was quite an experience. The kick bruised my shoulder, so I learned to shoot somewhat accurately from the hip. Lacy got to shoot it, too. But this instructor’s politics were questionable. He kept them to himself for most of the time, but later started hinting that we needed to be armed in case the government came to take our guns away and we needed to fight back. Real survivalist stuff. I suggested that he might like living in Idaho.

The NRA Course

When Lacy arranged for the official NRA course to be held at her home, I signed right up. The idea was to have an instructor lead a class for a handful of women. Four of us were supposed to attend, but cold weather chased off two of them. In the end, it was me, Lacy, and the instructor’s mom, who had been shooting her whole life.

The course cost $50 and I’m pretty sure that all of it went to the instructor (who we paid), with a portion of it going to the NRA training materials and literature that we each got. Of this material, the 100+ page NRA Guide to the Basics of Pistol Shooting was very informative — a real keeper. The safety rules pamphlet was a good guide to handling firearms, but the same information was also covered in the book. Other material promoted additional NRA courses and solicited for women to become firearms instructors. The Concealed Carry Holster Guide was a 30+ page booklet with illustrations and descriptions of various holsters and clothing to carry a concealed weapon. I didn’t think there was that much to say about the topic, but apparently there is. There was even a patch that I could sew onto — well, whatever. I wonder how it would look on my old Girl Scout sash?

NRA Literature
My $50 bought me 2 days of training and all this printed material. I admit that I threw it all away except the spiral bound book.

Gun Safety Rules

Because Steve quizzed us repeatedly on the three rules of gun safety, I came up with a mnemonic for them:

PPoint the gun in a safe direction.
T – Keep your finger off the Trigger.
LLoad the gun only when you’re ready to fire.

PTL = Praise The Lord. The PTL Club was a religious TV show hosted by Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker that I never watched. (I’m not religious.) I don’t know why this association came to me, but it did and it stuck and it works.

Praise the lord and pass the ammo.

This instructor — I’ll call him Steve — was a lot more “normal” than Gary had been. He’s the one who pointed out that the NRA was really two separate but related organizations. (I think it was a way to distance himself from the wackos.) He also made a clear distinction between open carry, concealed carry, and “discrete carry” that really made sense to me. (More on that in another blog post.) He was extremely safety conscious and quizzed us over and over on the three rules of gun safety. Although his presentation consisted primarily of NRA-prepared slides shown with transparencies on an overhead projector (!) he also had a wide variety of guns and other equipment to show us. I felt that his presentation was nicely done and complete.

My only complaint is his tendency to occasionally go off on a tangent — for example, spending too much time (on several occasions) talking about the types of ammo that were available. Did three 50+ women in a beginning shooter class really need to see a handwritten list of the 30-40 types of 38 caliber ammo presented on a whiteboard? All we really needed to know was how to find out what would work in our guns and some tips for choosing one type over another. This is just an example. Other than those few tangents, I think his presentation was right on target. (No pun intended.)

The range work was good, but not ideal — mostly because it was very cold with just enough wind to drop the temperature another 10 degrees. Lacy had provided hand and toe warmers and I had them open in my jacket pockets and shoes. Body parts that were covered were not an issue, but naked hands were. It was difficult to load the guns and I took every opportunity possible to shove empty hands into pockets and grasp those hand warmers.

Backyard Shooting Ranges

For those of you reading this in a metro area — especially back east — or in countries where gun ownership and use is severely restricted, the idea of a private shooting range at your home might sound odd to you. The truth is, there’s no reason why I couldn’t set up a range on my 10 acres of land and practice shooting at any reasonable hour of the day. Or shoot coyotes or other animals that threaten me, my dog, or my chickens. Hell, my Seattle transplant neighbors do it all the time, trying to live that “wild west” dream to the max.

Steve provided the guns. We shot with revolvers and semi automatic handguns. We shot single action and double action. The targets were paper dinner plates tacked onto a stand about 50-60 feet away. Beyond them was a berm. The “range” was at Lacy’s friend’s home. (Oddly, when I met the friends, I discovered that they knew another friend of mine from a trip to Wickenburg last winter. Small world, eh?) Steve was interested in us hitting the target as close to the staple in the middle as possible. (Real high tech, huh?) We all did fine, despite the cold.

Afterwards, we each got a chance to shoot our own gun with Steve. I let Lacy go first while I warmed up in my car. While waiting, I took my Beretta apart — following the instructions in the manual I had with me — and sliced my index finger open trying to get it put back together. (Yes! Guns are dangerous! It took over an hour to stop the bleeding!) I managed to reassemble it just as Lacy was finishing up.

I pointed out to Steve that one of the problems I had with my gun was jamming. I’d brought my ammo, which were CCL and Federal — both very good brands that he had recommended. He asked permission to fire my gun and I let him empty the magazine at the berm. Then we reloaded with Federal ammunition and I shot. The first empty shell was not ejected. Steve was surprised but after thinking about it for a moment he said he thinks it’s because the shell was bare lead and not jacketed. We emptied the Federal shells from the magazine and reloaded with the CCLs. It worked fine. At least I know what not to load.

It was too cold to do any more, so I left. Lacy and I will likely do some practicing up at the range when the weather warms up a bit. I might set up a range at my place to practice, too.

On Firearms Training

Would I recommend this course to anyone who owns a gun? Definitely.

But I’ll go a step further to say this: I believe that every gun owner should be required to take a professionally run gun safety or gun use course. In other words, I don’t think you should be able to buy a gun or own a gun unless you have a certificate or something on record proving that you’ve had gun training.

And frankly, I don’t see how that affects a gun owner’s “rights.”

Yes, this course cost me $50. But do you know what a gun costs? My silly little Beretta retails for $410. My Remington 12-gauge shotgun retails for $600. What’s $50 compared to that? An avid gun user would spend more than $50 on ammunition in a month.

And who’s to say it has to cost that much? Who’s to say that a larger class size can’t cut costs? Or that gun clubs can’t be certified to provide this training to members for free?

You want me to go even further? How’s this? I believe that any gun owner with children in the house should be required to attend a gun safety course with their kids. It doesn’t have to be long and it should be upbeat and fun while stressing the danger of guns — apparently, the NRA offers such a course. Kids need to know that guns are dangerous and shouldn’t be touched without supervision or training.

What? Kids touch guns? You think that’s okay, Maria?

Age and Maturity Level Matters

This is what happens when you give a 5-year-old a 22 caliber rifle.

The NRA and gun manufacturers apparently don’t think there’s anything wrong with marketing guns to kids aged 5 to 12. This is wrong.

While it is possible for a 10-year-old (for example) to be smart, mature, and responsible enough to safely handle a gun with supervision, I think that’s the exception rather than the rule. Think of the last kindergartener you saw — maybe you have one at home. How do you think that kid would be handling real gun?

Why does the NRA think this is okay? This is one of the reasons I can’t be a member of this organization.

Yes, I don’t see any reason why a mature and responsible young person — especially one living in a rural or remote area — can’t be professionally trained (like his/her parent) to safely use an appropriately sized/powered gun for supervised target practice or hunting. Of course, age and maturity level must be considered, and that’s likely where this would all fall apart because of the gun wackos out there. More on that in another post.

I do want to mention here that I received some very basic training and experience with a bolt action rifle back when I was in Girl Scouts. In suburban New Jersey. How old was I? Maybe 12? (Ah, if only Girl Scouts was as good now as it was back then. But I digress.)

I’ll summarize with this: the Basic Pistol Course I attended earlier this month — and the Concealed Weapons Permit course I took in Arizona years ago — provided me with a wealth of information about safely handling and storing guns, as well as how guns work. There is no reason why gun owners shouldn’t be required to learn — and be tested on — this material prior to owning or handling a gun.

Comments?

This is a hot button topic and I’ve stated some very strong opinions. I’m sure everyone who reads this has something to add. That’s what post comments are for.

But be warned: While I don’t mind readers sharing conflicting opinions, I don’t allow abusive comments, especially those posted by people who hide behind aliases. Comments here are moderated and I have zero tolerance for trolling. I have a Comment Policy and if you’ve never commented here, you should read it before trying to comment. It would be a shame if you spent 30 minutes getting all hot and bothered while composing a nasty comment aimed at me or another commenter and your comment never appeared. What a waste of time, huh?

And if you want to rant about how the government is evil and will be coming for our guns and how we need to rise up against “Emperor Obama”, go ahead. I can always use a good laugh.