Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I realized a few nights ago, while reading Gordon Baxter's Bax Seat: Log of a Pasture Pilot that not many understand the joy and privilege of being able to fly. I had come home from work, surrounded by a very nice group of people, admittedly, but a group of people that did not know the world I knew. When they went home, they were simply tired. When I went home I looked forward to being able to fly the next day, something it seemed like none of them had ever considered.

I listened to a coworker talk to a a compatriot about spending over $1,000 on a computer to better play video games on. I had to shake my head to myself and wonder how the world of aviation did not fascinate people to look beyond the insides of their houses and computer monitors.

But at the end of the day, I still marveled at the fact that I could say "I am a pilot. I can fly!" If that's not the coolest thing ever, I'm not sure what is.

So, how to draw our peers out of the literal and figurative caves?


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

All Things in Perspective

This time I really do have a good reason for a delayed update . . . as if Oshkosh weren't a good enough reason!

My house started on fire.

Yes, I'm serious.

The culprit?  My black Lab, who, in a temper tantrum attempted to snag something off the counter and turned the toaster on.  Apparently you're not supposed to leave your toaster plugged in, as they are on of the top causes of house fires.  How nice of the fireman to tell me that after he punched out the windows and smashed the front door in.

It's an interesting experience, waking up to a smoke-filled room, realizing you can't make it downstairs because it's too hot and smoky.  An interesting experience, being unable to get a window open as the smoke gets thicker and hotter.  An interesting experience, hearing your home crackling in flames beneath your feet.

It's quite surprising how calm the 911 operator is as you struggle to find a window that will open, terrified that someone else is still in the house.  Even more surprising is the little things that come to mind--is some of my overnight face mask still on?  I didn't want to be rescued with white face mask still on . . .

It's a memorable sound, that of glass and wood giving way to a fireman's ax below you as you wait for a ladder.

It's a tremendous feeling of relief when the dog climbs out the window and onto the top of a first floor porch with you, safe but shaken.  A tremendously pitiable moment when all 75 lbs of her are carried down the ladder, quivering with dinner plate-sized eyes and her tail nearly touching her nose.  

It's a huge relief when you realize everyone is ok.  A huge strain to your heart when you realize you may have lost all of the photos you've taken over the past six years, a huge strain when you think all your identities may have been melted, and that your cherished logbooks may have been turned to ash.

Things come into focus.  The first concern was my mother.  Had she left for work?  Was she out of the house, or still in the basement with no knowledge of the fire on the first floor?  Next was Brandy, my dog.  Knowing she'd be terrified and confused, I knew I could never live with myself if she had been hurt or worse.  My next concern was not for my clothes or computer, but rather for the memories stored on hard drives and DVDs.  I cannot convey how difficult it was to leave my computer in the house after the fire had been extinguished, but otherwise it was not eligible for insurance coverage.

It's amazing how much money you need to rebuild your life temporarily.  Our insurance company gave us $3000 with which to buy food, clothes, and toiletries.  At the end of the first day we had spent half of that, but had little to show for it.  We had clothes and finally got a shower at 9 pm, but those are the sorts of things you don't normally have to worry about on a day-to-day basis.  All the little things add up.  Nail clippers. $0.97.  Pencil sharpener. $0.88.  Shower gel. $2.74.  Jeans.  $19.99.  Socks.  $9.74.  It all adds up.

After our basic needs were satisfied, the whole ordeal evolved into a giant pain in the ass.  It's a giant mess, a baby that needs constant watching and tending to.  The contractors need to know what to do, and we need to know what the insurance company will allow them to do.  We're caught in the middle of a paperwork shuffle, and that's somewhere no one wants to be.

Our insurance company has been fantastic throughout the entire experience.  I needed a computer for my photo work up at Oshkosh, and when we found out that mine had gotten fried on Friday before the convention, we had a check by the afternoon and a new computer that evening.  I loaded the software that night and departed for Oshkosh Sunday morning.  They've been just awesome and I cannot say enough about how kind they've been and how easy it has been to deal with them.

That doesn't mean it's not hard at times.  Some days I would really like to just go home.  It doesn't matter if my house had outdated decor or if it was always cluttered, it was home.  It doesn't matter if we hadn't seen the true color of our carpets since they were installed since Brandy sheds so much and her hair is impervious to vacuums.  It's home, worn in and lived in.  It's a fixture in many memories and stories, and suddenly it's boarded up like an old tenement, condemned as unfit for inhabiting.

I went to pick up my tent out of the garage (thankfully, detached) and felt like an intruder at my own home.  The temporary lighting was installed and on, but I could see the smoke staining on the back door and reminded me of what it looked like inside--burned out and empty.  It was eery, seeing the ghostlike streaks of smoke residue on the window.  The house had a story, clearly, but it did not yet have a happy ending.

It will, eventually.  In due time, our house will be better than it was, and we'll be better off than we were.  One just has to keep the faith.

The moral of this rambling?  Events like a house fire put things in perspective.  Where do things fit in?  

Although the whole experience really threw all my Oshkosh planning out the window, the convention was truly a therapeutic experience.  My week camping at Oshkosh was the most settled I had been in a week, and it was a week filled with visiting old friends, making new ones, and seeing some very cool airplanes.  It's always worth the stress.  

Something like this truly makes you appreciate your family more (arsonist dogs included).  You can't remember being scared at the time, only hurried in your pursuit of a solution.  It's when you look back, think about things and how they worked out, that you realize how much worse it could have been.  It's then you become thankful for what you have and recognize how important your family and friends are to you.

So, all things in perspective, I'm still addicted to airplanes and I wouldn't give them up for the world.  I even commented to my mom, "Well, I'm not going to make it into work today, so I may as well head to the airport!" (Unfortunately I did not make it out there that day)  I know that flying is still immensely important to me, because it evokes emotions within me that nothing else can.  That's how I know it's so important.  And after all, life is pretty short, so why waste time trying to justify something you love?  Go for it!

Ok, ok . . . on to the dirt!

Previously a toaster and counter with overhead cabinets

The fire was hot enough that it melted our ancient plastic blinds in the living room.  The fire restoration specialist told us that meant it was 800-900 deg. F in the living room (this was when I realized my computer and hard drives would need professional help).

Smoke damage all the way up stairs . . . very heavy throughout the house, and directly adjacent to the living.  The heavy smoke and high temperatures were high Adam, who was visiting at the time, and I could not go downstairs to get out.

The window Adam, Brandy, and I escaped out of.  Adam had knocked the screen out so we could get out, but the fire department broke it to ventilate the house as the smoke was quite thick.

Hot enough that it peeled the paint off the door frame next to the kitchen.  The mess to the left was the kitchen ceiling.

Formerly a kitchen

Because of the construction of our house, the firemen had to rip out sections of the wall to ensure the fire was not burning inside the walls.  The good news?  That terrible wallpaper is going away!

The humbling part . . . this outlet is next to and under the bed I was sleeping in.  Smoke was seeping through the outlet and along the seam between the wall and floor.  In hindsight, it was a good thing we couldn't get the first window we tried open . . . it was directly overhead the kitchen and would have sucked the fire upwards.

Illustrating the scope of smoke damage--that's the outline of papers I had stored in that dresser, with the drawer closed.  (At least the yellow carpet is going!)

There are more, but I think you catch my drift.  The insurance adjuster told us he initially thought when my mom called that it was just a small kitchen fire (she thought so too, when I called her once we were off the roof and safely on the ground).  I responded, "No, no . . . little kitchen, BIG FIRE."  All told, Brandy's temper tantrum and curious nose caused approximately $90,000 in damage.

I'm pretty sure my dog starting my house on fire beats out Marley eating a gold necklace for the title of World's Worst Dog.

But damned if you just can't help but love those big brown eyes and soft ears!

We'll be ok.  But it sure does put things in perspective.

Keep flying!!


P.S.  Unplug your toasters!  (And irons, apparently those follow toasters in numbers of fires caused)

P.P.S.  Endless thanks to all of those who have been so kind . . . from the fireman that took my trembling pooch down to safety to those who made sure the fire was out to the neighbors I hadn't met before who offered clothes and a place to stay to the kindest insurance adjuster you'll ever meet to the sympathetic woman who gave us an extra discount on our clothes purchase to everyone who has offered support.  We are truly and eternally grateful (and as much as I like to joke about the firemen breaking down my front door before putting a ladder up to us, I'm extremely thankful for their speedy response and their great kindness).