Living life one canvas at a time, one word at a time. As a lover and creator of art through painting and the written word, I wish to exchange creative vibes and ideas with you! In my free time I also enjoy aviation and dogs.
by Julie DeStefano Shahen and Edon Copparini, ATP, CFII, MEI
Every time I drive past an airport, and certainly on the days that you are going flying, the first thing you do is look to the sky and then look to the windsock.
Pilots look to the wind for decision making, We look to see what direction we will be taking off from, and which runway will be suitable for landing. If there isn’t a windsock, we look to the lakes for telltale ripples on the surface or the rustle of treetops that beckon a sign. Possibly there is a flag nearby waving in the wind, but rarely is it so calm that there isn’t some stirring, some suggestion, a nod of guidance. Mother nature gives us many signs and so much direction, but only if we pay attention.
How do we choose our course through life? Do we only go where the winds are calm? No, that is not always possible. Sometimes the wind is right down the runway, and sometimes it’s 90-degrees off your wingtip — whatever it is, we face it (literally, and physically), deal with it, make the corrections and compensations to deal with it, and go forth. Your inputs follow you to the chocks, intuitive, hands and feet in sync, feeling the wind in the wires. It is a part of life as a pilot where you must be totally in the moment, totally a part of the airplane you are controlling. It is a time in life when you are fully engaged in every decision and every movement that you make.
Perhaps you’re one of the lucky few to be flying a floatplane and it is a calm day. Perfect, no? Funny that it is just opposite, as you must now land on a glassy, reflective surface, a depth-perception issue dubious to a pilot. Interesting that calm presents its own challenges, huh? Some of my worst (and hence, memorable) landings occurred on calm days. Is that because I felt just a skotch more lax on these flights? Were my inputs a fraction more relaxed, my nerves one-quarter of a peg down, imperceptible to anyone but my airplane and the touch conveyed upon her control surfaces? Is this a metaphor to living – that we are at our best when our senses are at their peak, when we’re working a bit at something, set upon a task? I believe that it is so. We are so engaged when we are living in the moment. You are required to be there and nowhere else. It is a beautiful temporary escape from anything else that is happening in life.
This sort of accountability is two-fold, I think, in the way we can look to the wind for guidance – as in, “I made my decision because of the wind. I made the best decision I could make at the time…”
“My landing sucked because it was super windy.” The latter is not the best way in my opinion, but a way to look at what occurs in your life. We all have our trials, our challenges and our “bad landings”. I like to look at each trial as a testament to my openness to learn from it, but also the growth that occurs within as a result of it. Every bad landing or close call have been lessons on every level. The most important lesson I tried to instill in each of my students was to never become arrogant about flying because it can bite any one of us at any time. We willingly take that risk, but must always be cautious and make safety a priority on every flight.
What fun to judge/critique landings. This is part of the fun of going to lunch at The Hangar restaurant at Albert Whitted Airport in downtown St. Petersburg, FL. If the winds favor runway 07, odds are the conversation will drop a moment to watch the plane coming over the numbers touching down. Once they’ve got it, we resume our “hundred-dollar hamburger”.
And then, sometimes, we go around, abort a landing – this too being a sound metaphor in life. It’s okay – better a moment or two longer in the sky than a bent airplane.
Whether you are a pilot or not, always remember that a plane lands against the wind, not with it. May we all stay positive during this difficult time.
While getting a manicure, I engaged in friendly
conversation with the woman at the adjacent station. She mentioned the current
month’s InStyle magazine, featuring Diane Keaton.
Later that day while shopping at Publix, I grabbed a
copy as I passed through the checkout lane.
How do you explain that, as I perused the brand-new
magazine, a photograph fell out of the pages – an older photograph – of a
yellow North American T6 airplane?
Where did this photo come from? It was just nestled
within the pages of a fashion magazine.
This plane was flown as a trainer in WWII. In this
image, it appears to be parked as a static display, perhaps at a museum?
I’ve searched – but I cannot explain anything about
But that is what I’ve come to love about it – the mystery. This little scene happened about four years ago, and I still keep the picture in my studio. If you know anything about this plane, or the photo, I’d love to hear about it! – Julie
Classic literature is my favorite genre to read; My current pick is Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Mike took an interest in the title, but he’s not an avid book reader. We decided to watch a movie version, which we both enjoyed. But it got me thinking…
Jules Verne wrote that book in 1870, in French, and an English
version followed in 1872. Amazing, an idea, a tale, that Verne articulated nearly
150 years ago is still reaching people – and will continue on for how many
years beyond? This idea got me thinking about ideas, and creativity, and their
I’m amazed that we appreciate art imagined hundreds, possibly
thousands of years ago – or, even that when we use a device, such as a telephone,
that was imagined so long ago, we are interpreting an idea, a manifestation of
creative energy. I’ve always imagined creativity as an energy in the form of a
mystical butterfly or bird, flitting around, landing on curiously open minds
like bright flowers. An idea may come but it won’t necessarily stick, or it may
change. Some fester and die. But I like to think of the world as full of this
creative energy, flowing all the time.
I think an artist’s greatest hope is that their work engages
someone, touches them in some way. Even if that moment is simply to evoke the
briefest happiness — like a tactile sense of appreciation, that hope is enough
to finish what was started. Painting is no doubt a selfish reward, for all the
intricate joys it produces. But back to Jules Verne, or Edison or anyone that
receives and engages their creative muscle – you never know who that act will
reach. It may not come in your lifetime. How many artists suffered penniless humiliation
only to be lauded long after they’ve passed?
It’s an endless curiosity to never know, to not particularly
care, who that energy reaches, but rather that it reaches someone. Create for
the sake of creation, to fulfill the quest of the mystical bird, bounding
through the universe.
Stella Mae. This is our twelfth summer and I am grateful for her, every single day.
She was at an adoption day at PetSmart. Amid a corral of frolicking puppies, she lay aloof, by herself. As I approached the perimeter, she stood and calmly walked to meet me. She sat in front of me and looked up to me with her soft eyes. DONE! I’ve said and will always say she is a ‘once in a lifetime’ kind of friend.
Here we are in the studio, taking a bothie (not a selfie, cuz that’s just of yourself). ❤
The first time I went to Omaha, Nebraska, it was October of
1994. It has since become like a second home, it bears that sort of feeling.
But that first time, I was there because I was in liver failure.
I was twelve years-old and my parents had exhausted options in our home state
This was an era before Internet; fax machines were the hot technology.
The information and support available to patients and families was limited.
Being as we were so far from home, we stayed in a sort of group home offered as
a patient resource. It was a converted Victorian-era home called “The Potter
House”, where families from out-of-state could stay more affordably than a
hotel for extended visits. We were in room six, on the second floor. Our room
had a lovely sitting area, a sunroom of sorts, that was ideal for reading. It
overlooked the quiet neighborhood about two miles west of downtown, which is
now known as the Blackstone area.
I was being evaluated as a candidate for a liver transplant.
This process can be lengthy, requiring all sorts of tests before learning whether
one will “qualify”, for lack of a better term, for the national waiting list. And,
once a person is listed, there is no guarantee that they will receive the organ
they need. Life on the waiting list is precarious, but that’s another story for
a different day.
The idea of a liver transplant was terrifying, as in the
early nineties, it was still kind of a new thing. There was a support group and
some books available, but I was unclear about what my future would entail, should
I receive a new liver. Would I be able to attend school or play sports? I was
at that time very sick and home/wheelchair bound, so all my hope was to be a “normal”
Then I met a man named Ed. To this day I don’t know his full
name or really any details about him. I just remember coming downstairs to
breakfast, gathering in the communal kitchen; I watched Ed lace up his shoes
and sprint out the door, going for a run.
Ed had very recently undergone a liver transplant. And he
was out for a run. I was fascinated.
“What advice can you give me?” I implored, incredulous, to
this man that was a picture of health.
He smiled and considered my question. He replied: “it’s
gonna be hard, it’s gonna hurt, but you gotta push through it.”
I was floored. In that moment he became a sort of enigma,
embodiment of a muse.
Nearly 25 years have passed and I have thought of Ed’s
advice every day. It was simple advice, but he represented the very torch of
hope to me.
In many instances, his advice has gotten me through the day.
I don’t know what became of Ed, but I am still here. His
advice helped me navigate and recover from two liver transplants, one on April
16, 1995 and another on August 5, 2011. His advice taught me how to be a good
patient, because that in itself is a difficult prospect at times.
Ed will never know what he did for me that day. It’s amazing
that we can touch another person’s life without ever knowing it.
A wonderful act to
reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret
and mystery to every other. – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
I so very admired my
great aunt; her name was Gizella. To my family and I, she is known as Aunt Giz.
She was the epitome of
chic, which is the perfect balance of humbleness and sophistication. One of my
earliest memories is feeling enchanted by this marvelous woman. She conversed
with me not as a little child, but as a lady, and as such, she made me feel valued
and grown-up – which, to a little girl, is everything! She was so genuine; Her
generous affection was pure, radiant and sincere, but her dislike for something
was not unknown either. I admired that about her: such an honesty of being.
I think many people feel as I do, about relatives and friends passed on: I didn’t get to know her as well as I’d have liked to. Much I know about her was, very sadly, gained after her passing.
When she passed, my
family was tasked with the “final arrangements”, which included the dismantling
of her life – in literal terms. What to do with the books she read, the
silverware and tableware from which she ate her food, the blankets that warmed
her? Sad and stressful, the undertaking altered my perspective of life,
particularly about its details. We would call to one another, from room to
room: “what do you think should be done with this (insert object)?” (The things
we picked through were sorted into roughly three categories: toss, sell, donate.)
It was an uncomfortable feeling, crossing into someone’s personal space and
deciding how to dispatch their things.
After a few days at this task, a sort of numbness came over me and, most of it,
was a job to be done. Closing her
estate took a long time, but that is another story for another day.
Amid the chaos, there were a few little treasures that begged me to keep. I have three pieces here in my studio space with me.
One is a thick, heavy photo album, brimming with
an era of photographs of Aunt Giz and her beloved husband, my Great Uncle
Eugene (known to all as “Gene”). It is an intimate portrait, a delightful
pictorial story of her life from about 1965 to 1980. They are in love with one
another, it is evident. They lived in an incredible home in Malaga, Spain,
sparkling Mediterranean on the horizon. There they entertained with fabulous
style among numbers of friend; lovely people with smiling faces, of whom I
I wonder if, after my
time has passed, someone will look at my photos and feel the kind of radiance
and love that I do for Aunt Giz? That, in my opinion, is a testament of a life
The second item is another photo. This one is 8 x 10”, black and white, and we believe it to have been taken by Andre Kertesz; he was a close friend. That is an interesting detail to a photo buff — Here, it is the subject of the photo I love. Gene is seated, looking at a pamphlet of some sort; my Aunt Giz stands just a little behind him, leaning against the wall, looking at him in evident adoration. It’s a beautiful moment; I consider it art.
The third item is a page
of handwritten prose; I don’t know to whom to credit for the thoughtful and
serene discourse. I have it tacked to a corkboard that hangs above a bookshelf;
now and then I seek a few moments’ comfort, as I hope you will too.
In closing, I affirm that
this is one of those articles about “the best things aren’t things”. The
belongings I speak of aren’t of monetary substance, but they conjure the
invaluable memories of an Aunt I cherished in life — and even more afterward,
in her legacy, that alludes to the colorful, astute woman that will always be
representative of Aunt Giz.
To live content with
To seek elegance rather
To be worthy, not
respectable and wealthy, not rich.
February 2018, my friend Darren reached out to me regarding a project at Orlando
Regional Medical Center. Darren is the recipient of a kidney & pancreas,
and I am a liver recipient. (I have a chronic condition known as Budd Chiari
Syndrome, for which there is no cure. Because of this condition, I received my
first liver transplant April 16, 1995. Unfortunately, I needed a second
transplant on August 5, 2011, due to recurrence of BCS.) Darren and I have worked
together on a number of organ donation-related causes, and this one sounded
living in Tampa at the time, I traveled to Orlando Regional Medical Center. Darren
introduced me to Debbie Alexander; Debbie brought together a small group of
hospital staff with the hopes to find suitable artwork for a wall that had been
allocated for a project.
project is called “Wall of Heroes” and was designed by a caring physician named
Jeff Sadowsky. Dr. Sadowsky believed something needed to be done to honor organ
donors and their families. He explained that when someone passes, and they
choose to donate, their families leave the hospital with their grief and a
plastic bag containing their loved one’s belongings. They return to their lives
within the community without distinction – but they are heroes, their loved ones
are heroes, and they deserve recognition.
Sadowsky chose to act, founding the organization GR8 to DON8 in 2009. Merging
his love of fitness to the cause, he formed the GR8toDON8 8k Run for Organ Donation.
from the GR8toDON8 8k Run were allocated for a second passion project of Dr.
Sadowsky’s: The Wall of Heroes. Dr. Sadowsky thought families and loved ones
should have a place to go in which they could honor and memorialize their hero.
A wall within Orlando Regional Medical Center was designated for the memorial.
the Associate Director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Orlando Regional
Medical Center, he was initially impacted by the power of donation during his
early years in training, where he often saw very ill patients in need of
organ donor can save up to eight lives (hence the 8K Run for Organ Donation)
while tissue donation can improve the quality of life for dozens more. Last
year, nearly 31,000 lives were saved due to the generosity of organ donors. Today,
more than 120,000 children and adults await that precious gift. Hundreds of
thousands more patiently wait for the gift of tissue donation.
Sadowsky’s vision for the wall was a piece of artwork that would somehow convey
gratitude and honor for organ donors. Darren and I brainstormed on an
interactive project that educates the public about the importance of organ
donation and will hopefully inspire individuals to choose life and register to
become a donor (if they have not already). Meanwhile, Dr. Sadowsky and the
collective group of Team Orlando assigned the concept of the ripple effect. How would we create – and fulfill – the vision
of these caring people?
a liver recipient, the mission to honor donors resonated deeply. I sketched a few
designs but the painting that was ultimately selected came together quickly. I
named the painting “the Odyssey” in honor of my beloved physician, Dr. Michael
F. Sorrell, after something he said many years ago.
Sorrell is now retired, but in 1994, he saved my life. I was an eleven-year-old
child with an undiagnosed disease. I went from being a healthy kid to deathly
ill and spent a year bouncing through countless doctors and tests, to no avail.
My parents had heard of Dr. Sorrell, and although he did not typically deal
with pediatrics, agreed to see me. My family traveled to Omaha, Nebraska to meet
him, and I was finally diagnosed with Budd Chiari Syndrome. Due to the advanced
state of my disease, I learned that I would need a liver transplant to survive.
I’ve always appreciated Dr. Sorrell’s kind but matter-of-fact way of speaking,
and he described the transplant experience as an “odyssey”. In all the years
that have passed, I’ve yet to find a better term. This odyssey begins as a
patient, hoping you’ll qualify to be listed, despite that your opportunity at life
means tragedy for another. Then the call comes that the transplant team located
a match: you’re simultaneously so many emotions that it leaves one breathless. It’s
an experience in extremes.
My painting is a simple design: a cascade of ripples that are created by a
single water droplet, comprised of a bold but limited palette of blues against
a bright white background. The water droplet represents the action of an organ
donation, and the ripples are all the lives positively impacted. Some ripples
will be organ or tissue transplant recipients, some represent organ donors. There
are eight definitive ripples that represent the eight transplantable organs.
and I contacted an organization called Intermedia Touch to take the second part
of our idea to fruition. We wanted to fulfill the message of the project
through means of a digital and interactive product. This piece is especially
unique in that while it resembles static artwork from a distance, it is live
and interactive on a 70” monitor. The painting was animated so that the water
droplet falls, causing the eight ripples to move. As viewers approach, they’ll
notice the soft sound of water moving. Users can touch any one of the eight
ripples to learn about organ or tissue donation, to dispel the common myths and
misconceptions about donation and transplantation, to register to become a
donor, or to register for the GR8 to DON8 race. The piece honors donors by allowing
families to recognize their loved ones in the Heroes gallery, where they may
share up to five photos as well as video. It is a place where families can
honor their loved one and by sharing their story, hopefully pass on a message
of hope to others.
project went live January 7th at Orlando Regional Medical Center. It
will be officially revealed in April for Donate Life month.
I have been trying to put The Odyssey
embedded: in your hands, the tender flesh at the crook of your inner arm, in
your neck, a port in your chest.. they go on.
Labwork at 4am, or some timeframe like that;
the phlebotomist going in before you can fully wake, lights suddenly on,
elastic tourniquet snapping around your arm, searching for and hopefully
finding an irritable vein.
Team arrives, you get bad news. They leave in a flock-like formation, white
coats, sympathetic smiles and heads nodding. An hour later, the door bursts
open, a uniformed aide whips a wheelchair into your small room. They usher you
out of bed, filing your attached IV cart in sequence with the awaiting chair.
They wheel you and your IV down the hallway, into an elevator, and into a
freezing cold, darkened room. A tech awaits with an ultrasound, CT or MRI, or
some machine. You cooperate as they direct, the test is performed, and you come
and go. An aide rolls you back to your hospital room. As you ride through the
crowded hallways you notice that most people do not look at you, or make eye
contact, with a person in a wheelchair.
take a moment to recognize your own slim, jaundiced face in the mirror of your
hospital room bathroom.
hospital at night, quiet finally falls, the pace slackens. You try to sleep.
any physical pain or anything a patient endures;
watching others watch you.
the effect it has taken on the people you care about, that care for you. You
identify sorrow, grief, deep worry, bone-deep fear.
are no plans for the future. A baby shower for a baby you hope to live to meet;
an engagement party for your best friend — and she asks you to be a
bridesmaid. I think to myself, I hope I am still alive to see my best friend on
her wedding day.
then the call comes, perhaps the most significant in your lifetime: we found a
liver, it’s a perfect match for you. In disbelief — As the news washes over
you, you realize with your heavy, heavy heart that another family has arrived
at their darkest hour. It is a surreal feeling; you are being given a chance.
the heartbreak and pain, something miraculous is taking place. So many people
come together, no matter the hour of day, they rise to the occasion, they are
at their best. An orchestra plays beautiful music.
wake on the other side. You have crossed over.
new kind of fight begins: The journey to recovery: who knows what life will
become? Will life be like it was before all the illness and pain?
will be better; Each day, you strive for that. It’s difficult, there are
setbacks, but there is the victory that you are on the other side and you can
look forward to things again. There are lots and lots of small victories, like
the first day in months that you can sit properly at a table and enjoy a simple
meal with your family. There are the first stairs you ascend, wobbly and quite
weak but determined.
He okay? I made a pact, took a vow, that I am going to be the Guardian of this
new liver, and I’m going to LIVE!
many put their hearts into saving your life, so go LIVE your life, gratefully
Mourning the loss ofsomeone very important to me, lost in an aviation accident, my father offered consoling words that have ever remained in my heart: “You will never again turn the key in the ignition without thinking of them.”
I became interested in general aviation in 1998. I worked in the field until 2008, though I still fly and consider it a passionate hobby. In the wake of losing friends, as has unfortunately happened, I came up with my own assessment: aviation’s greatness can be equaled only by its terribleness.
I’m referring to the bleak days in aviation, when the news spreads that an accident has happened. We check in with one another and find relief when they respond back – they’re okay.
Some people do, but I do not consider flying to be dangerous. We train for emergencies, we are hyper-aware of our own well-being and take precautions to make our flights safe. But. Things happen.
Aviation has taken some very special people; people I admired, that mentored me. These people were hugely influential in inspiring and sharing the passion for airplanes and flying that I hold dear. Not all were aviation accidents, but they all left an impression.
When we lose someone dear to us, there is of course grief. But when it is an aviation accident, a whole other dynamic comes into play, another layer upon an already devastating situation. These were good pilots, people worthy of respect, flyers far more experienced,talented and dedicated than I.
I’ll think of them at themost random times when I’m in the plane. Sometimes, I’ll hear their voice,coaching me on a landing or reassuring me about a quickly-executed decision. We lose them, but we never really lose them. They teach us, guide us, and will forever be our friends, no matter where they are.
While living in Tampa, Mike and I shared a spacious hangar at Brooksville airport (KBKV). Upon notice that we were being assigned to Albuquerque, we had many things to consider and plan for, including moving two planes out west. Mike took his Pitts S1S at the end of summer, flying short legs, completing the trip in three days. In Albuquerque, we chose Double Eagle (KAEG) as our new home airport. We moved to New Mexico at the end of August, and the Champ (named Daisy) remained in the hangar at Brooksville. I wished to wait for cooler, and hopefully, less stormy weather.
One of our hangar neighbors from Brooksville had, over the course of months, expressed a repeated interest in buying the Champ, and as life in Albuquerque picked up, the idea grew on me (I had initially waved off this notion with a flattered decline).
In November, I had to return to Florida for an art project I’m collaborating on. I had been in communication with the prospective buyer and planned to show the plane while I was in town. As the time grew near, the reality was giving me horrible anxiety; I had never wanted to sell Daisy. While I try not to get wrapped around the axle with possessions, my fondness for the sixty-year old Dame ran deep.
As the time grew close in which I was to show the plane, there was no word from the prospective buyer — and I made no attempt to reach across the silence. An excitement began to build for the next step: bringing Daisy home.
My trip kicked off to a picture-perfect VFR forecast and outlook.
When it comes to packing, I’m a total chick: I did in fact possess a hair dryer, curling iron, cosmetics, and a diverse array of clothes for an uncertain climate. However, there are three things that are absolute essentials, when it comes to flying:
• Garmin 495 handheld GPS, mounted on top of the dash
• IPad, for ForeFlight, as well as music (I cannot fly without music!)
• My trusty grey New Balance “flying shoes” – they have the perfect thin sole and rounded heel for flying, especially with Daisy’s heel brakes (that were intimidating at first, but I’ve come to love)
Lastly, I went to Publix and gathered a bag of assorted snacks and lots of water. And then, I felt ready.
The Ship: a 1958 American Champion 7EC, powered by a Continental C90; electrical system with lights, Mode C transponder, intercom & radio. Flight instruments limited to altimeter, airspeed indicator; RPM gauge and oil temp.
11/16/2018: I departed Brooksville into clear-blue-and-a-million skies. North/northwest bound and skimming the coast, I drank up the views of the shimmering flats that had played host to so many wonderful memories of my life. Manatees, grey torpedo-like shapes, loitered over swaths of golden sand. I observed a pack of dolphins aggressively circling and crashing upon a school of fish, the powerful thrust of their bodies and the frothy shockwave of water brilliant.
My first stop was Tallahassee for fuel and a quick break. The airspace was buzzing with traffic, mostly military. As I waited to takeoff, I held short for a C-130 on a missed approach. (A novelty, as this is the airplane my husband, Mike, flies for the Air Force.)
I continued west, communicating with flight following in the congested airspace. As I hummed along in the golden afternoon light, I heard the Blue Angels jet team interacting with controllers.
The sun had begun to slant in descent, casting long shadows on the acres of trees below. In the way distance, I could still see a little sparkle of the Gulf, and I felt a pang of nostalgia for the place I’d called home my whole life.
I had hoped to go a little further, but decided to stop for the night at KMVC, Monroe, Alabama. ForeFlight gave promising reviews, so I decided to see what was there. (When flying cross-country, at some of these out-of-the-way places, it’s never assured what you’re gonna find on the ground. This is all part of the adventure!)
The cold front had left behind limitless skies, streaked with a few feathery cirrus clouds. The airfield was quiet and not a soul stirred as I taxied in to a deserted ramp. I discovered a couple of employees inside the FBO, who assured me that I’d find decent lodging and food just across the street. I secured Daisy at the tie-downs, apologizing to her for the lack of hangar for the night. Lugging my three duffle bags, I bummed a ride to the hotel, which was only about a quarter-mile. If I didn’t have so much stuff.. (Please!)
The hotel was decent and after getting settled, I headed to the diner-style restaurant next door, AJ’s. The fried catfish and cheese grits were absolutely delicious and a perfect ending to my first day “on the road”.
11/17/2018: Up early, I bummed a ride with Betty, the hotel housekeeper, back to the airport. 8am, and Army helicopters were already coming and going; many of the small airfields in the region rely on the military traffic for a sizeable part of their fuel business. Conditions were ideal for the flight and I was eager to get airborne. Taxing to the run-up area, I swung Daisy’s tail around and held the brakes, sliding open the side window, pulling off my headset, and listening carefully to the engine (as I always do). However, my magneto check was frighteningly ugly, the engine violently lurching and struggling to make power, even on both mags. I tried the left magneto again, thinking fouled spark plug, but quickly decided this was way over my head. I taxied back to the ramp, befuddled.
The lineman at the FBO called someone, who then called someone else and a mechanic was located. He was nearly two hours away but willing to come out if he had the correct parts in stock. The plane had just come from its annual inspection in October, and I just so happened to have my logbooks aboard (thinking I would need them for the sale). Stored way in the back, I dug out the retro suitcase containing the logs. With this magnificent streak of luck in possessing the logbooks, I was able to tell him exactly what was equipped. By even greater miracle, he had the parts in stock. Freddy and his son Beau were a Godsend, overhauling both magnetos on the tailgate of their pickup truck.
Meanwhile, I drank coffee and killed time on the veranda at the FBO, enjoying the cool morning air and bright sun, watching the planes come and go.
I observed a woman setting up a small corral in the grass adjacent to the tarmac. A moment later, she returned with a litter of the cutest puppies I have ever seen. Naturally, I was over there in a hot minute. She was an employee of the county, the animal control officer. She explained that while the county operated a “kill” shelter, they worked with various programs to get as many animals adopted as possible. In this case, the pups were going to Florida through a program in which private individuals donate the use of their aircraft and their piloting time to transport high risk animals to new homes. I was becoming rather attached to the sweet little black puppy I had been holding; I inquired about his availability and learned that he, and all his littermates, were already adopted and enroute to their new homes. A bit misty eyed, I nuzzled his soft ears with my cheek and wished him luck. I handed him to the people that were flying him to Florida, to a new and hopefully wonderful life.
Inside the FBO, I was offered lunch. I learned that they cooked an assortment of food every day, which was hungrily devoured by the droves of military crews and hungry travelers. I helped myself to the soup, which was excellent, just as Freddy was finishing up on Daisy. He suggested that I make my next stop in Madison, Mississippi (KMBO). Starting the engine, I could instantly tell the difference – she felt like herself. I made one approach over the airfield, my confidence in Daisy’s repairs rising as I felt the returned strength of the engine.
It was a perfect, quiet, late-afternoon flight in crystal-clear air. I landed and taxied up to an elegant plantation-style FBO building. Quite impressive, it greeted travelers with soaring columns and potted topiaries. I was able to get Daisy into a hangar for the night and took a Lyft to a nearby Hilton Garden Inn. I was delighted at the availability of Bonefish for room service; hungry and beat, it was the perfect ending to a crazy day.
11/18/2018: The mechanical delay had cost me an important bit of time, as I was now dealing with another cold front passing through the Dallas area. While I had planned a more northwesterly heading, I was going to have to jog south to try an avoid the band of weather. Trying to gauge the edge of the front is difficult: what is going to be safely out of the path without compromising too many miles? I headed to KIER, an airport I could not pronounce, “Natchitoches”. The line guy just smiled and kindly offered the correct pronunciation (which still befuddled me). I took some fuel and studied the weather, as I was starting to see thickening layers of clouds and spots of misty, poor visibility. Limited options ahead, I decided to try for Lufkin, Texas, which was just over the state line. KLFK was reporting VFR conditions, but I was concerned that none of the other airports on the 248nm jog had any weather reporting capability. Those airports were remote outposts, but if I had to, I could always set down at one and wait for conditions to improve. This strategy in mind, I took off, happy to be making progress. The weather to the northeast was daunting, a thickening deck that was pushing me further south. I was able to maintain 1,500’ AGL but felt a pang when I looked behind Daisy to see a curtain coming down. The south was clear, but I didn’t want to use it unless I had to. With fifty miles to go I had two choices: continue to KLFK (which was reporting VFR) or go to one of the “remote outpost” airports. (I had a picture in my head of spending the night sleeping in the plane, not ideal.) Sometimes you can read forecasts all you want, but you just have to see for yourself. Knowing I could go south if I had to, I pressed onward, avoiding misty patches and breathing a sigh of relief as Lufkin airport came into view.
Shutting down and opening the door, I was shocked by an icy blast of cold air (my stop one-hour prior had been warm and humid). The temperature plummeted and as I had a look at ForeFlight, I saw the airport had just changed to MVFR conditions. I was relieved to be on the ground – again, not a complete day of flying under my belt, but I was in a friendly, safe place. Daisy had a large hangar, safe and sound from the cold and damp. The FBO was generous in allowing me use their crew car for the night: a gianormous, mile-long maroon Mercury Grand Marquis that had been formerly used as a law enforcement vehicle.
The light faded very quickly that afternoon and the sun succumbed to wet clouds. I found refuge at a Hampton Inn. At the hotel’s suggestion I tried Ralph & Caico’s, a New Orleans style seafood joint. I loved their shrimp stew and even bought a couple bottles of the hot sauce for home. It was tasty and warmed my belly on the cold and rainy night.
I set my alarm for 6am, hoping to get in the air bright and early. However, I awoke to the sound of rain sheeting against the window pane. I got moving and to the airport early anyway, hoping for the best. However, I was socked in. Even after the rain moved off, the tops of the trees were barely visible against the edges of craggy grey clouds. We weren’t going anywhere. I felt exhausted.
The FBO housed a great little restaurant, a breakfast and lunch place. I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of eggs, sausage and toast overlooking the rain-soaked ramp. I hung out at the FBO for most of the day, checking and re-checking an unrelentingly bleak forecast. Disappointed, I returned to the hotel and called it a day. Once again, the FBO was generous with the use of their crew car, and I was grateful to have landed in such a hospitable place.
11/20/2018: I launched into the bright morning sky, so different from the day past. Brownwood Regional would be my first stop. A friendly place, the line guy explained with a chuckle that I had to flip a switch to turn off the police light located on top of the Crown Victoria (another former law enforcement vehicle-turned airport crew vehicle). I took the car a few miles into the town to find a burger.
For a few hours I had zero cell service, which is a confusing thing altogether, because I was able to send a receive messages in the air in some very remote places. Back at the FBO, the manager addressed me, telling me to call my concerned husband and directed me to a landline. She explained that Mike had called looking for me, concerned when I had not checked in. So, I used a landline and called my husband, assuring him that all was just fine.
Pressing on, I made my next stop in Odessa. (Yep, still Texas!) I would’ve liked to make one more stop but was running short on daylight. For the overnight, Daisy was directed to an executive hangar, complete with heat, living it up among a crop of mid-size jets.
As I unloaded my bags and secured the plane, the line guys had questions about Daisy: did it feel different to fly a fabric airplane as compared to metal? How old was the Champ? And, everyone always asks me this question (I don’t know why): how long have I been flying?
Making small talk with the Turkish Lyft driver, enroute to the hotel, I hoped this was the last night on the road. As fun as the flying had been, I was weary.
11/21/2018: High clouds made for a grey start, although it seemed to be predominantly VFR across the northwesterly route. Directly west was clear, but I needed to jog more northwesterly, and I was beginning to contend with altitude.
I flew over miles upon miles paper-flat land, oil fields as far as the eye could see, some shooting bright orange flames into the dreary sky. The cloud deck descended, a soft white curtain falling, just fifty miles from my next stop. I was forces to turn back and land at a desolate airfield called Lea County. On the bright side, I was finally in New Mexico. But I felt like the only person on earth, shivering as I walked cautiously toward the small brick FBO building, uncertain as to what I would find. To my surprise, it was cozy and warm, and a television blared from the wall, though no one was to be found. I sat at the table near the window and discovered stacks of pilot magazines, none with a publication date more recent than 1979. I seriously wondered if I fell into a time warp as I pored over articles and advertisements boasting state-of-the-art avionics equipment that was now defunct.
An hour passed and sunlight began to stream through the clouds. I decided to take another shot at getting to my next stop, Roswell. The timing worked out and the clouds were breaking, revealing a changing landscape: small, taupe-tinged hills ranged in the distance.
At Roswell, I was cleared to land behind a C-130 (caution, wake turbulence!). Feeling very tiny, I taxied to the FBO, marveling at the rows upon rows of retired airliners parked on the tarmac.
The FBO fueled Daisy while I took their crew car to a nearby burrito joint. I was jittery for my next and final leg because of the mountainous terrain. I knew how the route appeared on the sectional but couldn’t picture it for myself. A lifetime flat-lander, I regard much respect for the rugged terrain of the west. Daisy’s density altitude performance was another unknown. My strategy was to climb and allow myself a wide berth.
As I climbed back in the airplane for the final leg of my journey, the sun shone brightly and the air felt crisp. The engine sprung to life; applying takeoff power, the tail popped up quickly, a good sign at the 4,000’ field elevation. We bid farewell and a happy thanksgiving to the friendly controllers.
On this leg, the landscape changed from flat oil fields, and steepened. I climbed first to 6,500 and as the mountains loomed ahead, kept going to 8,700’. We cut through the Sandias just south of an airport called Mountainair, and then, literally, we were home free. It was the last small jog of the journey, a cloudless, late afternoon, illuminated with bright sun.
Daisy does nothing quickly, always remains humble, but she took care of me, and as we touched down at our new home, Double Eagle, I thanked my sixty-year old airplane for her faithful service. Fabric and spruce, she had delivered me through a time capsule’s worth of technology, amid sleek business jets and modern airspace.
Mike was waiting at the FBO with the dogs and it was a joyful reunion, just in time for thanksgiving. As I begin a new chapter in Albuquerque, I have such abundance that I am genuinely humbled. This trip was extremely difficult for me, physically, and in turn, mentally, but it was an experience I truly wanted to see through. It was 19.7 hours of stick and rudder time and in my opinion, one of the most authentic ways to see the country in which we live. Daisy is from another era of aviation; when I fly this airplane, she forces me to slow down. With permission to live slowly, we open our eyes, our heart, and even our imagination. All of the friendly people along the way that helped get me where I needed to go reassured me that the heart of general aviation is still alive and well, and unspoken kinship still abounds. And with Daisy, I know I can go there – to a place that’s timeless.
I recently heard a friend say that she wasn’t ready to get another dog. (The context was: not emotionally ready to adopt a dog, because she was still very sad about the loss of her previous dog about a year earlier.)
A few months back, a different friend told me that he was reluctant to try online dating because he didn’t want to get hurt. Entering the dating arena placed him and his vulnerability front and center as easy prey.
We say: Timing is everything. And, while it’s true that timing is everything, we don’t get the luxury of picking the when.
The definition for ready is “completely prepared or in fit condition for immediate action or use; duly equipped, completed, adjusted or arranged, as for an occasion or purpose; willing.”
But are we ever ready for life as it unfurls before us? Isn’t that part of the fun, not knowing what lies just ahead, around the slight bend and just out of sight?
Furthermore, what constitutes our readiness for things?
In the end, isn’t it the suddenness or element of surprise that gives us an extra mite of joy in receiving the gifts of life? We adapt, softening and often delighting in the new puppy or meeting and getting to know a special person. Furthermore, isn’t it that things and events always turn out a little different than what we have imagined (hopefully for the better)?
On the other side of the coin, we pay individuals with psychic gifts to hopefully gain insight about what lies ahead, shrouded in the mists of our future. Do we really want to know? If we are told to expect the arrival of our perfect prince, how does that change the way we view life and the near future? Contritely, what if we are involved in a wonderful relationship and are told that it is about to come to a dramatic end?
In my experience, we are never really “ready”.
About five years ago, I was not dating. I had “taken myself off the market” or whatever you’d call it. Just being single.
A few weeks before Christmas 2015, my good friend was hosting a holiday party in Orlando. If you know me, you know that I loathe driving, and even on its best day, Interstate 4 is hellacious. The trip would’ve been approximately three hours each way, which really isn’t a big deal. But, I have a valid airmen certificate and an airplane ready to fly – and it’s a short 35 minute flight. It was December 4th, 2015, and I woke to sparkling sunshine, clear skies and light winds. With travel options, I chose to fly to Orlando, instead of driving.
When I fly, I always patch in my iPhone so I can listen to music. With good music playing, I lifted off from runway 5 around 10:30 am; once airborne, I executed a gentle turn to the east. My route of flight would take me directly over a small airport called “Pilot Country”, but other than that, it was an easy, direct path to Orlando Executive airport. I leveled off in the smooth air and settled in, enjoying the sights and sounds of the flight. As I approached Pilot Country airport from the west, I keyed in their frequency and made an announcement that I would be over-flying the field from west to east at a thousand feet. It was a Friday morning and I didn’t observe any other traffic, so I expected to continue my route of flight, uninterrupted. In that moment, how was I to know that my whole life was on the brink of changing forever?
A gentleman’s voice replied on the frequency, announcing that he was also in the vicinity, flying a Pitts. We deconflicted, and then he asked if he could form up on my wing? A Pitts is an aerobatic biplane and has always been one of my favorites. And in so far as forming up on my wing? Ummm, sure? This isn’t normal, but it happened so quickly – and I’m always one for some impromptu fun.
A black biplane popped up next to me, just as quickly and unexpected as could be. I snapped some pix with my iPhone, and the cheeky aviator asked if I’d kindly text those to him. He proceeded to give his phone number over the frequency, and I sent them along, realizing I had just given my number to a stranger, possibly the stalker-type. We flew along in a loose formation for a few moments before he pealed off, zooming off into the blue sky from which he’d emerged only seconds earlier. I continued to Orlando, the rest of the flight uneventful. I met my friend and recounted the strange encounter I’d just had.
The mysterious Pitts flyer and I began exchanging text messages. I had no idea who he was, just a fellow flyer on a sunny day. Intrigued, I agreed to meet him at a small area airport a week later.
On the day we planned to meet, it was another lovely day, warm for December but good for flying. I arrived at Zephyrhills airport before him and parked Daisy, the Champ, near the main runway. I always keep a blanket aboard for such occasions and spread it below the wing to sit and wait. A few moments later, I heard the authoritative sound of a powerful engine, and the black Pitts roared down the runway, abruptly pulling up into a steep climb and making a turn to re-enter the pattern. The Pitts landed and taxied up, parking next to me. I was suddenly kind of nervous! The moment of truth had arrived: who was this mysterious charmer?
The canopy opened, and a dark-haired man pulled himself from the narrow cockpit. I froze, staying seated right where I was, totally losing my cool. Seconds later, he finally stood before me: a handsome, clean-cut guy around my same age named Mike. I observed no wedding ring, another good sign. We were both nervous to meet one another, I could tell! He sat upon the blanket beside me and we got to talking, sharing a beautiful afternoon in each other’s company.
Mike, the bold Pitts flyer, and I were married on February 22, 2018 – and if you put those digits down, they make up the radio frequency on which we met (122.8). I might not believe that story if it were not my own — but you just never know what life has up its sleeve. Was I ready to meet Mike? I would’ve probably said that I wasn’t, but we were obviously meant to meet. I have often wondered at the timing – two minutes in either direction and we could’ve missed one another.
There’s no such thing as being ready, but it serves us well to anticipate the good that can come when we least expect it. Know that The Universe listens. Things can and sometimes will go wrong, but more oft than not, they go right. Try being ready to receive good things, believe in it, and keep your eyes on the sky. ❤