Flying with Miss Veedol

My first photo flight of the year.

Early Tuesday morning, I lifted off from the ramp at Wenatchee Pangborn Memorial Airport in East Wenatchee, WA on an air-to-air photo flight with Miss Veedol for Voortex Productions and the Wenatchee Chamber of Commerce.

The Miss Veedol was the first airplane to fly non-stop across the Pacific ocean. A 1931 Bellanca J-300 Long Distance Special piloted by Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon Jr., it took off in Japan with 915 gallons of fuel, jettisoned the landing gear to improve aerodynamics, and crash landed 41 hours later at Fancher Field in East Wenatchee, making history. You can learn more about it and its eventual demise on Wikipedia and the Spirit of Wenatchee website.

I recommend you watch this in full-screen mode.

The Miss Veedol I flew with on Tuesday is a replica of the original aircraft that is based at Wenatchee Airport. This isn’t the first time I flew with it — we did a video flight way back in January 2014. Footage from that flight (and a few others) was incorporated into the amazing We Are Wenatchee Part I video. (This video still brings tears to my eyes; I’m so glad I live here and so proud to be part of the team that made the video. I hope you’ll check out Part II and Part III, too.) It was a difficult flight, mostly because it was bitter cold and I was having trouble keeping up with the plane.

But Tuesday was a completely different story. It was a gorgeous morning when we gathered just before dawn. I parked near Miss Veedol’s hangar and discussed the flight plan with my clients from Voortex Productions and Miss Veedol’s pilots. Then we split up. I got the helicopter going while they started up Miss Veedol’s big radial engine. The two photographers climbed on board — I had already taken their doors off — I backed the helicopter away from where Miss Veedol would be taxiing, and then I followed her down the taxiway while the photographers shot photos. By that time the sun was up, illuminating the plane’s orange wings and fuselage and casting long shadows. We circled the plane in the run up area, then moved beside it as it taxied to the runway. We took off in formation, with the helicopter slightly above and behind the plane.

The conditions were nearly perfect for the flight. Light wind, blue sky, gorgeous early morning light. It was just after 6 AM when we reached the river and headed up on the East Wenatchee side. The plane would go up one side of the river and down the other while a photographer and videographer captured images and footage.

Miss Veedol Over Columbia River
Miss Veedol with the city of Wenatchee in the background. The snow-covered mountains are the Enchantments, west of Wenatchee in the foothills of the Cascades. Most of the snow will be gone by late June. (I can see the tops of these mountains from my home.) Photo by Charley Voohris.

One of the most frustrating things to me when I do photo flights is that I can’t take photos. I see the shot but I don’t have a camera handy and, even if I did, it would be impossible to work it properly with just one hand. I have to wonder if the photographers see the same shots I do. I like flying with Charley because he usually does see the same thing I do — or something even better — and gets the shot.

Miss Veedol Over Shadows
I distinctly recall when we were in position for this shot because the shadows beneath the plane made its orange color really pop in the early morning light. Photo by Charley Voorhis.

One of our target areas was a rock formation called Saddle Rock at the top of a hill overlooking Wenatchee. Every time we do an aerial photo flight, we spend time up and around Saddle Rock. (You can see it in the closing shot of We Are Wenatchee Part I above — seriously, you must watch that video.) Part of our mission was to get photos of Miss Veedol around Saddle Rock. Charley succeeded in getting several really good shots as we circled Saddle Rock twice.

Miss Veedol Flies up a Canyon
Spring time is always green here, but this year it’s especially green with all the rain we’ve had. I followed Miss Veedol up this canyon on our second pass for Saddle Rock. I love the textures and contrasts in this shot. Photo by Charley Voorhis.

Another target area was the Senator George Sellar Bridge — which I usually refer to as the South End Bridge. We circled twice at the end of the shoot.

Miss Veedol at the Columbia River Bridge
Charley managed to perfectly frame Miss Veedol between the Senator George Sellar Bridge and the historic Columbia River Bridge. Photo by Charley Voorhis.

Our Flight Path
Our flight path, captured by Foreflight.

After circling the bridges, Miss Veedol headed back to the airport for a few touch and goes before taxiing back to her hangar. We went back for a few more shots at Saddle Rock. By that time there was just enough tailwind to make hovering flight a tad difficult pointing in the direction we needed to point but I think they got the shots they needed. We did a quick run to the north end of Wenatchee and then back to the south, circling Pybus Public Market once. Then it was back to the airport.

Total flight time was 1.3 hours.

I want to thank Charley Voorhis at Voortex Productions and the Wenatchee Chamber of Commerce for allowing me to show these photos on social media and in my blog. It was a great flight and I look forward to our next one!

My Flying M Nightshirt

A bittersweet story.

It’s true: I have a nightshirt with a Flying M logo on it. But there’s a story behind it and I thought I’d take a moment to tell it.

It all started back when I made a visit to my family back in New Jersey. It had to be in the early 2000s, but certainly after I got my first helicopter, an R22. This was back in the days when my mother’s brother’s family was still on good terms with all of us. It may have been when my grandmother was still alive or not long after her death in 2001 or 2002. (I don’t remember death dates; I see no reason to.)

My Uncle Frankie and Aunt Julie lived in Bergenfield, NJ in a typical suburban home on a narrow street. My uncle, who had been in the army during the Korean War, based in Alaska, had worked in a print shop before getting certified as a 100% disabled vet due to a back injury he’d suffered while in the Army. His wife was a typical old-school Italian homemaker. In fact, their household was very Italian in the New York kind of way, despite the fact their families had been in America since at least the 1920s.

They had two kids, Ernest (named after my grandfather) and Madelyn (named after my mother), who were a little younger than me and my sister. Ernest had been in the Marines right out of high school, married someone he’d met when he was in boot camp, had two sons, got divorced, left in the middle of his second tour of duty, and promptly got into serious trouble with the law. Madelyn married and had two daughters.

My Aunt Julie and her daughter Madelyn never really liked me or my sister. Simply said, our grandmother favored us over my aunt’s kids and she did a pretty poor job hiding it. I’m sure everyone has family dynamics like this and they always cause jealousies. My aunt and cousin were jealous of us and there was nothing we could do to head it off. They manifested their jealousies by talking down to us, criticizing us, and ridiculing us whenever they could. We dealt with it. They were family and although we didn’t like it much, we let it slide like water off a duck’s back.

We — I think I can speak for my sister, too — really loved our uncle, who was loud and outrageous and a lot of fun. I remember him staging a mock fight with my cousin Ernest on a visit I made with my first boyfriend back when I was about 18. Ernest had gone down into the basement and my uncle was yelling at him from the door in the kitchen at the top of the stairs. Then he pulled out a gun and fired a round down the stairs. It really freaked out my boyfriend, but the rest of us just laughed and laughed. The gun was filled with blanks.

But because of the friction from my aunt — which got worse and worse as time went on — I didn’t visit often.

We did visit one day in 2001 or 2002 and sat around the kitchen table for a nice Italian meal. My aunt was a good cook, although in later years she was a bit heavy on the spices. (The Italian word agita comes to mind.) She made a great eggplant parmesan, which might be one of the reasons it’s my favorite Italian dish. Making a good Italian eggplant parmesan is a lot of work, but if you want to taste one that’s just like my aunt’s (or mine), try Michael Angelo’s in the supermarket freezer section. I’ve tried a lot of eggplant and this is, by far, the best.)

Flying M LogoThe Flying M logo includes both of my initials. Cool, no?

I was likely wearing one of the Flying M logo shirts I’d had made. The logo was designed by Gary-Paul Prince, based on a idea my wasband had come up with that incorporated my first initial in the design of a helicopter. Gary-Paul had managed to get both initials in. Back in those days, I was near the height of my writing career and had a lot of money to burn so I’d had the logo embroidered on a bunch of henley t-shirts, which I really liked to wear. My uncle liked the shirt and asked me for one.

Now at the time, my uncle probably weighed in at 350 pounds — at least. I obviously didn’t have a shirt at home that would fit him. So I told him I’d have one made and send it to him.

I got back to Arizona (where I lived at the time) and had another batch of shirts made. I made sure the embroidery people included one sized 3XL, which I was pretty sure would fit my uncle. After a week or two, I picked up the shirts, which came in a plastic shopping bag. I likely set it down near the door to my home and it likely sat there for a few weeks — I’m terrible about putting things away.

And then I forgot about them. For years.

You see, back then I had a cleaning lady who came every two weeks. She had apparently seen the bag near the door and decided it was better off about six feet north, on the other side of the door to the garage. She’d moved the bag into the garage where it was quickly hidden under other things that wound up in the garage. Out of sight, out of mind. I completely forgot about the shirts.

Time went on. My uncle died. I went to his funeral. It was the last time I saw my aunt and cousins. My aunt died a year or two later but I didn’t go to her funeral. I don’t think she would have wanted to see me anyway. I think my sister has been in touch with Ernest, but I haven’t communicated with either of my cousins since my aunt died.

Flying M Nightshirt
My Flying M nightshirt, now starting to show its age.

One day I was looking through a pile of stuff in the garage and came across a grocery bag with its handles tied tightly around something soft. I opened it up and found the shirts — including the gigantic heather gray one I’d had made for my uncle. I knew immediately what had happened.

I don’t throw away anything that has a use. Since I didn’t know any 3XL sized people, I decided to put the shirt into use as a nightshirt. It was comfortable and soft and very loose fitting.

And it’s still in my nightshirt rotation to this day.

The fabric is thinning and it isn’t quite as soft after so many trips through the laundry. The embroidered logo is puckered and there are tiny holes starting to form here and there in the cotton t-shirt fabric. I suspect that one of these days, I’ll have to throw it away.

But until then, it’s a reminder of my Uncle Frankie and some crazy good old days with family in New Jersey.

Cheese: The Temperature Problem Solved

A creative solution for an annoying problem.

If you’ve ever made cheese — I’m talking about real cheese like brie or butter cheese or cheddar — you know that one of the challenges facing a cheesemaker is raising the milk to an exact temperature and holding it there — sometimes for hours at a time. Unless you have a temperature-controlled cheesemaking vat — which I still haven’t found for home cheesemaking — you’re likely sitting by the stove making minute adjustments to the heat under the pot of water that your pot of cheese is sitting in — just to get the temperature of that to the magic temperature. It’s a nightmare that really makes cheesemaking an unpleasant chore.

A while back, I discovered immersion circulators, which I blogged about here. The circulator heats water to a temperature you specify and is commonly used for sous vide cooking. Trouble is, I didn’t pay close attention to what I was buying and it was only after I got it home that I realized the lowest temperature was higher than I needed to make most cheeses. It wouldn’t solve my problem. (But I did put it to use making sous vide steaks. I like grilled better. I’m pretty good with a grill.)

I experimented with a brewmaker’s mat that I wrapped around the outside of the pot. That was a so-so solution. It worked, but awkwardly. And it only worked on the pot I used for 2 gallon batches of milk; it wouldn’t work for the pot I’d need to buy for 4 gallon batches.

The other day, while surfing Amazon for something else, I decided to look at immersion circulators again. That’s when I found one that went as low as 77°F — the lowest temperature any of my cheese recipes required — the Sous Vide Travellortech Precision Cooker Immersion Circulator. I bought it.

That was only half the problem. I needed a pot big enough to put the cheesemaking pot and the sous vide cooker in. I found one at Fred Meyer: a huge, 33 quart canning pot.

My Cheese Pot Solution
Here’s my cheese pot solution. I don’t even need a stove to use it.

So yesterday I started a batch of brie using 2 gallons of milk. I put the milk in a stainless steel pot and lowered it into the canning pot. I fastened the immersion circulator onto the side of the canning pot. I filled the big pot with warm water to a point slightly higher than the level of the milk in the inner pot. I put a thermometer in the milk pot, programmed the immersion circulator for 88°F, set the timer for 2 hours, and turned it on.

Temperature Setting
The immersion circulator quickly got the water up to temperature.

Because I’d started with warm water, the temperature quickly got up to 88°F. And held there.

The temperature of the milk read high until I stirred it. It eventually leveled out at 88°F.

I added the molds, calcium chloride, and rennet, stirring after each one. Then I put a cover on the pot and left it to sit for 90 minutes, per the recipe.

Milk Temperature
I can monitor the milk temperature through the glass pot lid using a thermometer clipped to the side of the pot.

Every time I checked it, it was exactly 88°F.

No stove babysitting. No wandering temperatures. This is the first time I’ll be able to follow a recipe exactly because I’ll be able to keep the milk the exact temperature I need.

Cheesemaking might actually get fun.

I measured the opening and I’m pretty darn sure I’ll get the pot for 4 gallons of milk into my cheesemaking contraption. Butter cheese in next on my list.

Total cost of this solution: Immersion Circulator: $79. Huge canning pot: $32. I already had the other pots.