Friday, April 21, 2006

Passengers and Pilots

Sorry I've been a bit quiet recently - it's been a bit mad in both my personal and my work life, which leaves me with not very much time to formulate coherent thoughts. We're going away this weekend for a wedding and I'm really looking forward to the break, even if it is for only one night. A change of scenery should do me a world of good.

Not to worry though, I dug through my laptop to find a little something to entertain and amuse. (Or at least help you kill 10 minutes or so.) I wrote this with the hopes of getting it published in the "My Turn" column in Newsweek. Their loss is your gain...

I’m not a pilot. In fact, I don’t think I could even play one on the T.V.

I finally made the realization in a helicopter at about 400 feet, skimming through the air above a small forest. The trees looked like broccoli stalks and were close enough that I could make out the individual leaves. Ken, the instructor, was gently asking me to use the collective to keep the helicopter at a constant altitude while following through with him on the other controls. My eyes darted from the altimeter to the trees and back again. My head played a loop of all the dumb things I could accidentally do to drop us out of the sky.

After several minutes of pure terror, about halfway through a 20-minute intro ride, I told Ken “OK, I’m ready to be a passenger. I don’t think I’m cut out to be a pilot.” He laughed and made sure I wasn’t going to freak out in his helicopter. The second my hands were off the controls and my feet were firmly planted on the floor behind the pedals, I felt absolutely fine. Like I could relax and enjoy the ride.

I know a lot of pilots feel better when they are in control of the aircraft. A small aircraft pilot can be just as jittery as a “civilian” on a 747 but then command his Cessna-172 with the precision and confidence of a fighter pilot. I turn into a gibbering wreck anytime someone tries to give me control of an aircraft.

I know my limitations. I can drive a car and ride a horse, but I do not have what it takes to fly a plane.

The helicopter intro ride was not the first time I tried to get over my fear of piloting. I had two lessons in a Cessna-152. My husband, Peter, had his pilot’s license and we felt that I should at least learn the basics in case anything happened to him during a flight. In my first lesson, the instructor allowed me to follow through on straight and level flight and on a few turns. But my hands stayed clenched in my lap during take-off and landing.

When I told Peter the tale of my lesson, he said that the instructor should have let me follow through on everything, including the take-off and landing. He felt it was the mark of a less-than-confident instructor…until I confessed that I’d been unable to keep my eyes open for the take-off. Yes, in addition to being afraid of piloting, I have some fear of small airplanes, especially take-offs. I love landings though - one way or the other, you’re going to be on the ground soon.

To me, flying is like sausage – easier to enjoy when you don’t know what’s involved. The last time I was on a commercial jet, we’d been sitting on the taxiway for about 15 minutes when the pilot announced, “As you can all probably tell, we’re having a bit of trouble getting the engines started. We’re going to go back to the gate and get an air unit in here and then we’ll be on our way.” Engine and trouble are two words I do not want to hear together when I am on an airplane. If I can’t even hear about it, I don't think I'd be able to diagnose and deal with it. When I am at 30,000 feet, ignorance really is bliss.

I’ve spoken to pilots for whom flying was always a deeply sought goal, people who looked at birds with jealousy. A woman I met at a small airport once told me that all she ever wanted to do was fly. As a kid, she flew a ridiculously large kite with the hope of sailing off the ground. She got her private pilot’s license at a time when women just didn’t do that sort of thing. I admire that singleness of purpose and dedication to a dream.

I take comfort in the thought that I’m not the only one with my feet rooted on the ground. Plenty of married couples have a flying spouse and a non-flying spouse. I suppose it’s sort of like the weird Murphy’s Law that unites morning people with night owls. These marriages work just fine as long as the non-flier respects the pilot’s need to fly and the pilot respects to non-flier’s need to stay on the ground. Cajoling, bribing, and pouting are all ways to get the non-flier into the cockpit, but after a bit of turbulence, the pilot is going to wish she’d left the landlubber back at the airport.

There used to be a Volkswagen commercial that said “On the road of life, there are passengers and there are drivers.” The implication is clear, being a passenger is for lazy babies – all the cool kids are drivers. When it comes to flying, I am completely comfortable with being a passenger. I can look at the scenery instead of the gauges. I can take pictures instead of manipulating the controls. Peter can be The Pilot – I am The Passenger.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

I say "Caidé mar áta tú?" You say "Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú?" Let's call the whole thing off.

Today marks my one-year anniversary as resident in Dublin. To celebrate, I had my first Irish lesson. OK, so I didn't actually plan it that way. I've been searching for a teacher since the end of February. The search took longer than I expected and my first lesson just happened to be today.

Starting to learn new language is difficult. It's such an immense project. Where do you start? I started today with a teacher, a couple of handouts, and a white board. I learned a bit about grammar, a bit about a couple of verbs, how to say some basic greetings. It was a good introductory class and I'm looking forward to getting my hands on Progress in Irish and doing my homework.

I like that my teacher only learned to speak Irish as an adult. Although his parents are Irish, he grew up in New York. He had some exposure to the language, but didn't really start learning until 7 years ago. When I told him my lofty goals, he told me they were doable and that he was the living proof of it. He understands how adults learn and also understands the challenges of coming at Irish as an English-speaking adult.

What I'm not real sure about is that he speaks the Ulster dialect. Now, I understand that there are three major dialects and I'm sure there are loads of regional peculiarities and idioms and other linguistic anomalies that happen when languages evolve over time. I'm given to understand that Ulster Irish is not the typical dialect that you're going to run into when you chance upon an Irish speaker. But I don't know how much of a difference this really makes.

To hear my teacher tell it, you should just concentrate on learning a single dialect and then worry about differences later. To hear Peter tell it, learning Ulster Irish may leave me at a disadvantage. And to hear my father-in-law (a Kerry man) tell it, I should find a teacher who speaks Munster Irish (Connaught Irish at a push) and give up this Ulster Irish lark as a bad job.

In the short term at least, I'm going to stick with Ulster Man. Even if I later decide to switch dialects, the time I put in learning Ulster Irish won't be a total waste. That's what I figure at least. Or maybe I'm just going to end up having to convince Peter that we need to move to the Gaeltacht in Donegal.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Elementary Counting

We had quite a robust debate in our house last night about the census. Now, you might think that we were discussing the infamous Question 14. Are we white or black? Travelers or non-Irish white? African or other black? Chinese or other Asian? Should we even answer it at all?

We were not discussing Question 14. We were not debating the finer points of ethnicity and national identity, of potential government intrusiveness, of the nation's new found diversity. No, we were having a knock-down, drag-out barney over the freaking instructions.

On what day should you fill out the census? On the face of it, this seems easy enough.
Sunday, 23 April. Right? Right. But when, exactly is the night of Sunday 23, April?

My logic is as follows:

  • You are meant to count all persons alive at midnight on Sunday, 23 April.

  • You are meant to count all persons who slept in the house on Sunday 23 April. The directions, in fact, say "all persons (including visitors) who spent the night of Sunday 23 April in the household.

  • You should complete the form on Sunday 23 April.

  • The enumerator will collect the form on Monday 24 April.

To me, these directions mean that everyone who is sleeping in the house at midnight on 23 April (the exact moment that Saturday the 22nd becomes Sunday the 23rd) are counted. You should tot up who slept in the house at 12:00 am and then complete the form at your leisure, perhaps as you're watching "Fair City" or the scores for "Celebrity Jigs 'N Reels." (Not that we'd watch such things personally, I am just giving a sense of time.)

Peter probably wouldn't argue with me on the timing of filling out the form, but he would (and in fact did, mightily and repeatedly) that the count should be of people who were going to be sleeping in the house in the evening hours of 23 April, perhaps the ones who are dozing through the dancing results or the film on RTE 1.

As is our wont, we have dug into our foxholes and are refusing to come out or concede any ground. I'm not conceding ground because I think the directions are flawed and are open to too much interpretation. Peter's not conceding ground because he thinks I'm being overly pedantic and fussy. But guess what, I pay our bills by writing instructional matters. I've sat in classes where we've discussed at great length the difference between "I leave my money to John, Paul, and Mary" vs. "I leave my money to John, Paul and Mary." Directions should be exact, precise, and not open to interpretation and these just are not those things.

This would all be a rhetorical question, but for the fact that we're going to a wedding on 22 April and will be sacking out at the a nice guest house in County Kildare at midnight on Sunday, 23 April. Besides, intellectual debate is so much fun, isn't it?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

It's Not Stealing....It's Borrowing Indefinitely

When you can't think of a post of your own, it's time to borrow from the Blog O'Sphere.

From Fence comes a fun Wikipedia game. (And who among us doesn't love Wikipedia?) The rules are simple.

Enter your birthday into Wikipedia, leaving off the year. In your blog, list 3 fun facts, 2 fellow birthday sharers, and 1 person for whom your birthday is his or her death day.

27 July

Fun Facts
  • 1866 - The Atlantic Cable is successfully completed, allowing transatlantic telegraph communication for the first time.

  • 1940 - Bugs Bunny makes his official debut in the animated cartoon A Wild Hare.

  • 1974 - Watergate Scandal: The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee votes 27 to 11 to recommend the first article of impeachment against President Richard Nixon: obstruction of justice.

  • Ed. Note: It was hard to find 3 fun facts. My birthday appears to be a day of military defeats/victories, massacres, air tragedies, bombings, and canyoning distasters.

  • 1960 - Jay Maynard, Internet celebrity (Tron Guy)

  • 2969 1969 - Triple H, Professional Wrestler

  • Ed. Note: Clearly, a 27 July birthday primes you for greatness.

    Death Day
  • Aleksandr Danilovich Aleksandrov, Russian mathematician, physicist, philosopher, and mountaineer (b. 1912)

  • Ed. Note: I hope when I die, I'm remembered for 4 things. I just hope they're not something like sitting around on the couch, watching television, bitching and moaning.

    Friday, April 07, 2006

    Avoidance Sleeping and Cheesy Dreams

    I'm an unabashed morning person, able to tackle the early hours with a cup of coffee and an infuriatingly cheerful attitude. Especially in the summer. My body clock adjusts happily to the lengthening days.

    After a rocky adjustment to daylight saving time, my body seems to have embraced its summer routine. Three days this week, I've woken up at 4 am, raring to go. I should have leapt out of bed and got on with things, but I didn't. I rolled over and went back to sleep.

    Why? Why would I go back to sleep when I wasn’t even tired? It was simply avoidance sleeping. I was sleeping because I didn't want to think about a variety of issues, from home life to work life and everything in between. The willingness to engage in avoidance sleeping is a personal demon I have to battle on a regular basis.

    The worst part is that I know as I'm doing it that it's absolutely the wrong thing to do. When I go against my body on the sleep issue, I always lose. I know most people lose on the under-sleeping count. Losing on the over-sleeping count can be just as disorienting and groggy-making.

    When my alarm finally went off, I didn't wake up feeling well rested and ready-to-go. I felt befuddled, exhausted, and annoyed. It doesn't help that I was awoken in the middle of bizarre dream.

    It's my strong contention (as Lex can tell you) that eating cheese before bedtime causes strange dreams. I don't know if I can blame the deep-friend brie I had for dinner could affect a dream I had at 4 am, but it seems a likely culprit.

    Editorial aside – I know that deep-fried brie is against the strict rules of my spring diet and is punishable by having to shop with a supermodel who will berate me as I try to cram my ever-widening ass into skinny jeans and straight skirts. But, as a mitigating factor, I was in a steakhouse in Wicklow town, so it's not like there were other items on the menu that I could eat.

    Back to bizarre dreamland, here are the highlights:

    • Somehow, I came to have a baby, a very weird little foundling. I could put him into a Big Gulp cup and he could swim around. He could also sing underwater like mermaid. But then when I took him out of the Big Gulp, he'd expand into a regular-sized baby. He could talk too – fully formed sentences.

    • I took the foundling to the Hilton on the river in Chicago, where I had a big fight with the front desk staff. They were speaking about me in Italian, but I could see subtitles and knew what they were saying about me. They kept telling me I had to wait for my key because their system was down, but I knew they were just being mean because they didn't like me.

    • The desk clerk couldn't understand my last name, so I went to write it on a notepad, only to see the name was already written there, in my grandfather's handwriting.

    • My dad, grandfather, and uncle showed up, which I guess explains my grandfather's handwriting. I wanted to talk to them, to find out what they were doing there, but they said they had to go to a meeting and they would talk to me later.

    • The Jack Bauer showed up to protect me and the foundling. I'd apparently had a pre-Peter relationship with Jack, which he wanted to rekindle but I wouldn't because of Peter. Jack Bauer is not a man who is interested in taking no for an answer.

    • When my dad, grandfather, and uncle finally showed up, they brought along some refugees from Sierra Leone, all of whom were missing at least one hand.

    • When we went outside, the bridge over the river at Michigan Avenue was gone and was replaced with an impossibly tall Thai temple with a river gushing down its front steps.

    • Then there was a car chase, with Jack Bauer driving, but I have no idea where we were going or who we were chasing.

    My alarm went off at this point. When I recounted this dream to Peter, he asked if I was upset that I didn't get to find out what happened. I told him I was sort of relieved, because Jack Bauer was starting to get really pushy.

    I don't know what the dream means, if anything, but I think perhaps I need to skip the cheese and the avoidance sleeping in future.

    Wednesday, April 05, 2006

    I ♥ My Helmet

    Yesterday was my first camogie practice outside. When I joined the team last September, I started on the day they moved their practices indoors. Although I got to play two matches outside, all my training sessions were in a small gym with a wonky wooden floor. I did a bit of practicing outside by myself over the winter, but it's different to practice with the team out on the pitch.

    We did a quick warm-up drill and then a running drill, both of which had most of us doubled-over and panting. It's amazing how different running on the uneven ground in boots is. Then we got to the fun stuff – a practice match.

    The trainer divided us into two teams to play a half-pitch match. We essentially had an offense and a defense and then a weird line of forwards who were back but playing forward. Yeah. He's always doing weird stuff like that. I think the trouble was he had two more girls than he had positions, so this weird back-playing-forward line was divided into two two-person teams. We were each had someone to cover but, in the end, we had the same goal – to get the ball forward toward the goal.

    Yeah, I was one of these strange Billy-no-mates in the back-playing-forward line. I didn't care because it gave me a simple job – hassle the player I was meant to cover. She's one of the young hockey-converts and she's fast, so I had my work cut out for me. Sometimes she'd cover more ground than I could, so I'd just let her go and pick up one of the players on the team who were playing defense.

    It was in one of these moments that I formed a deep and abiding love of my helmet. It all happened very quickly – I was moving in to hassle a girl who was trying to clear the ball. She's a transfer to our team and she plays hard – her swings are always crisp and forceful. She struck the ball in the air and got my face as part of her swing. The force of it was enough to make the tweeting birds and spinning stars of a cartoon head injury circle my head.

    I was okay, but when she asked me if I was okay, she told me I was bleeding. This was news to me and when I stuck my finger through the face mask, I could feel the blood on my mouth. I stood there for a minute, dumb-founded. How could her hurley make it through my face mask? It took me a couple of minutes to figure out that I'd just bit my lip pretty badly.

    Had I not been wearing a helmet with a facemask, I'd be missing some teeth right now at the very least. I don't even have a fat lip this morning, since most of the damage is to the inside of my lip. I do so love my helmet!

    Sunday, April 02, 2006

    Travels with Grandma...(Why I've Been So Quiet Here)

    Because I've been slaving away, trying to get my trip report completed for Travels With Grandma.

    Finally, it is done but I should warn you that it's a monster in five parts. I'll also be posting a link to a photo album soon although there are some photos as part of the report.