Category Archives: Life choices

Remembering

“Four shirts, four pairs of pants, a snow machine suit, and I’m still cold.”  Thus began my journal, on this this day in 2000. I was in Fairbanks, Alaska, flying a 1946 McDonald Douglas DC-4 delivering fuel to remote villages.  This contract pilot stent may very well be the craziest thing I’ve ever done and sometimes I still can’t believe I actually did it.

Why was I in Alaska?  Money.  Insanity.  Opportunity.  Adventure.  I already had a class date with Netjets of February 8, 2000.  I had sold my flight school and would finally get the airline job I had coveted for 30 years, and I really had nothing to do.  A month in Alaska would help me cover the gap.

I got my DC-4 experience flying night freight for Custom Air Charter out of Hampton, GA.  Not many people want to fly 60 year old airplanes, at night, without radar and at fairly low altitudes. Bob McSwiggan’s attitude was that radar “only scares the pilots.”  He was the owner, and besides owning a freight airline he is a tap dancer!  But that’s a story for another day.  The photo is not the DC-4 that I flew, but you get the idea.  In Atlanta, I flew the Carvair conversion, which you can see here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FfOmlb4SAU.

Flying a DC-4 was romantic and exciting, but it was hard work and sometimes dirty work.  The radial engines leaked oil and sometimes quit unexpectedly, but I loved those R-2000 engines.  On the ground, you had to climb on the wing and put a stick in the fuel tanks to confirm the fuel levels. In the air, you had to keep your eyes on the gauges and periodically pump oil to the engines. The instruments in the cockpit were appropriate for the 1940s.  It was just plain fun.

I got a call from a pilot friend in December to fill in for one of the pilots for Brooks Fuel in Fairbanks.  There aren’t a lot of qualified DC-4 pilots and initially I said no.  He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse –  I would be guaranteed 8 hours a day flying time, a ridiculous hourly rate, a generous per diem, plus a place to stay.  Off I went.

The place they gave me was so dirty that I washed my feet in the sink after I took a shower.  I lived off chicken pot pies that I could heat in the microwave.  The high one day was a whopping -17 degrees and another was -20, but I saw spectacular displays of the Aurora Borealis and I went to places you won’t see on an Alaskan cruise.  Cruises won’t take you to Beaver, Kobuk, or Alakaket.  We flew kerosene, gasoline, and propane.  When we weren’t flying fuel, we’d fly snow machines to these same remote villages.

I learned a lot on that trip, and will now summarize a few of those lessons:

  1. There are no words to describe the beauty of the Northern Lights, especially when you are that far north and that far away from civilization.
  2. Boots certified to 40 below don’t really work that well past -10.
  3. Always take shower shoes. If you can’t eat in the kitchen, you really don’t want to put your bare feet in the shower, either.
  4. People who live in remote villages work on a different timetable than those of us who like cities.  They won’t accept fuel during lunch hour or on weekends, but they’ll take a snow machine whenever you can get it there.
  5. When you’re in a different place with a different culture, don’t expect to feel perfectly at home. It takes an effort and you need to respect them.  When a native decides to give you a baseball cap, accept it with kindness and treasure it.
  6. A 2300’runway, covered in snow with mountains on either side, is a challenge when empty, but even more when the aircraft weighs about 50,000 pounds.
  7. Appreciate your ground crew. They are the ones who get to the airport at 0400 to put heating blankets on the engines.  Without them, you wouldn’t fly.  You don’t like to get up that early and you know you don’t like being that cold.
  8. To expand on #7, appreciate everyone and everything around you. We’re all in this world together so let us work together to make it a better place.  Together, we can.
  9. Remember this. Whatever it is, you can do this.  Whatever your situation, it is not worse than -27 and no ladies restroom (actually, no restroom) in Anektuvuk Pass, Alaska.  It will get better.  You will get to warmer weather.
  10. Look at life as an adventure. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn and experience life and to meet new people.  Maybe you’ll learn something and maybe you will gain a new perspective.

Finding these pages from my journal was a tremendous treat.  Sitting here warm and safe in our home in Macon, Georgia, I can’t believe I actually did it.  Am I the same person who took off that day for the trip of a lifetime?   Would I do it again?

I just don’t know.

Women in the Cockpit

I am a pilot.  I learned to fly to fly before I learned to drive.  I started to work when I was 13 years old and saved every penny I made to pay for my flying.  It was my dad’s airplane, but I had to pay for part of it.  That’s who he was – a “you don’t get something for nothing” kind of person.  By the time I was 16, I was holding down three jobs and was still an A student.  I wanted to fly in the military, but they didn’t allow women at that time.  So I stuck it out and worked hard.  I detoured my career, was successful enough to retire at 43, then pursue my passion.

I never asked for special treatment.  I never complained, when I was flying night freight, that some of the freight hangars didn’t have women’s restrooms.  I used the men’s room and never thought twice about it.  When we had to unload truck transmissions in Detroit, I used the pallet jack and moved the transmissions along with the guys.  I’ve climbed on the wing of a DC-4 to measure the fuel level in the main tanks, and I’ve pumped oil out to the engines during flight.  I’ve flown powerful people into Aspen, Colorado, where every approach requires precision and finesse.  I’ve flown into East Hampton, New York, and into Ocean Reef, Florida.  These are challenging runways, short and narrow, not runways that are two miles long.

Today, in the “Pilot Communications Network” was an email forwarded from Leonard Brunasso, a retired Delta Air Lines pilot who is now a check airman for Omni Air.  The email was titled “The Age of the 707/DC-8” and it begins, “Those were the good ole days.  Pilots back then were men…”  You can just guess how far it went downhill from there, as he went on to insult every category of people except for white male pilots. From what I can gather, taxpayers paid for Leonard’s flight training, as he was an Air Force pilot.  He refers to pilots “in the good ole days” as real men and refers to flight attendants as stewardesses who appreciated a little sexual harassment, and were “proud to be combatants in the sexual revolution.”  He went on to say these women didn’t have any “plastic or composites” in their pectoral regions.

Rarely am I offended, but having been subjected to blatant sexual harassment and abuse in the cockpit, I have a few things to say to Leonard.  I am beyond angry.  I am furious.  I am sad.  I am, unfortunately, flooded with memories of clowns just like this guy who didn’t think I belonged.  The ones who objectified women.

I’ve taught over 1000 people to fly and I have an impeccable record.  I’ve shared my love of aviation with literally thousands of people.  During nursing school, I would instruct in the wee hours of the morning and then go to the hospital in Charlotte for clinicals, then I’d go to the airport and fly afterwards.  And I kept my grades up while I was doing it.  I am as proud of my RN as I am my ATP and CFI.

I learned instrument flying with nothing more than needle, ball, and airspeed.  I’ve made the decision to go or not, when flying fuel to some of the most remote villages in Alaska in a DC-4.  I’ve manually calculated how much fuel to take on, and looked at prog charts to see whether it was even safe to go.  I didn’t have dispatch to calculate weight and balance for me, tell me how the weather was, and determine whether I’d be released to fly or not.  I made those decisions, on my own.

I worked my way into the cockpit with my skills and abilities to fly.  I’ve been pinched, grabbed in inappropriate places, and even been physically assaulted by other pilots.  I’ve been asked whether I ever felt guilty taking a job away from some poor man trying to feed his family and when I’ve adjusted the temperature in the cockpit, I’ve been asked if I was having hot flashes.  I knew when someone was having fun and when the line was being crossed.

When I first became a flight instructor, there were only about 4000 women in the US with commercial pilot certificates.  I was one of the youngest, since I was only 18.  Today, 40 years later with my Airline Transport Pilot certificate, I am one of only about 8000.  I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.  I’ve got more than 45 years in the cockpit plus I’ve earned a PhD, started 3 or 4 successful businesses, and have tried to be the best person I can be.  I’m happily married to a retired Delta pilot who recognizes and appreciates my brains and my talent.

I want to say all kinds of ugly things to Leonard, but it would do no good.  I just hope that someday, this brand of pilots is replaced by kinder, more respectful human beings, by people who don’t care whether you are male or female, provided you can competently perform your duties in the cockpit or in the cabin.

Honestly, I just wish people would accept other people for who they are.  Be kind.  And stop spreading messages that promote hate.  Can’t we all just get along and treat everyone as human beings?

Mindfulness and Intentionality

 

The holidays are a perfect time to think about mindfulness and intentionality. It is easy to get caught up in buying gifts for people who don’t need anything, resulting in spending valuable time and money on things that aren’t important. Mindfulness allows us to enjoy the holidays through our presence, without the undue pressure of juggling what is important and necessary with what we feel we need to do. Intentionality allows us to make the important decisions and weigh the cause and effects of our decisions.

The simplest way to think about being intentional is doing the right thing for the right reason. Being intentional means making decisions that lead you towards the intended outcome. It is drawing on your inner strength to make choices that are right, in a purposeful and deliberate manner. It is weighing the pros and cons before making a decision, and choosing to be an active participant in life. I know my decisions may not be right for everyone, and that is okay. I accept responsibility for my life and my decisions, and I am aware of how my decisions will affect others. I recognize that I do not live nor work in a vacuum and that actions and decisions have consequences, therefore I act intentionally and consider all outcomes.

Part of being mindful is paying attention and being present. Mindfulness involves the deliberate attention to what is going on around with you. It is being aware of the people around you and recognizing their worth. It involves looking at people in a nonjudgmental way and accepting everyone for who they are. This is actually one of the most important lessons I learned from my father, who taught me to treat everyone as if he or she was the most important person I had encountered that day. As Mayo Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Being present and treating the people around you as if they were important is the first step in building the solid relationships that will help you be personally and professionally successful.

There are consequences to every decision you make and some of your professional decisions can have a profound influence on your personal life. I made the decision to sell my business and pursue a doctorate, but I gave little thought to how it would change our lives, even the lives of my adult children. The demands on my time virtually eliminated any normal family time for the next three years. While none of us now regret my decision, there were times when everyone had to make sacrifices. I left a lucrative corporate job to teach, and that has resulted in lifestyle changes. I wish I had involved my husband more in my decisions, as he was the one who had to bear so much more of the workload at home. Sometimes the tough decisions and the results can be hard to swallow, but if you are deliberate in your thinking and consider all angles, the tough decisions may be a little easier.

We’ve just come through a very difficult political election. Many of us have not been mindful in things we’ve said and the conclusions we’ve drawn, and some of us have been unfair to people who are close to us. There have been articles about people who dreaded Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, and others about acceptable topics for discussion. My hope is that we can come together and approach the future with both mindfulness and intentionality, and heal some of the hurt of the past 18 months.

Last Wish

My dad is in his final days. He wants to see his grandchildren, great grandchildren, and his sister and we’re going to make it happen. It won’t be easy; Daddy and his wife are frail and Aunt Kitty. His wife is visually impaired and Daddy has dementia on top of everything, so the bulk of the load falls on my niece, Brandi, who is his 24 hour caregiver. My brother and I are supplying love and financial support.

The logistics of traveling with a hospice patient requires contracts and coordination. Besides the rental car, there are the obvious medical needs. Daddy is planning seven nights on the road, four at our home and three in a hotel in South Carolina. He sleeps about two hours at a time. Dementia is challenging; sometimes he’s with us and sometimes he’s not.

Brandi asked me whether I was sure I didn’t want them to stay at a hotel. No, he’s my dad. Her response was, “But he’s a handful!” Yes, I know. His medications have been adjusted and titrated, and sometimes he’s okay but sometimes he’s not.

Food restrictions? “No shrimp, catfish, pork, or anything like that,” she said. “And no spaghetti. He doesn’t like pasta, spaghetti sauce, and nothing with any red dye. He’s very worried about red dye right now.” Hmmmm…red dye? He might have dementia but he has very specific opinions.

My daughter is working on sleeping arrangements but we’re not sure what we’ll need beyond that. We’re playing this by ear.

His brother waited until he saw my dad, and was gone before Daddy got out of the driveway. Last wishes can be tricky, especially with someone so frail.

This will be interesting. I want to make this next week memorable for everyone. He’ll see his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I had not heard the lyrics to Carly Simon’s “Like a River” in a very long time, but she talks about how she is no longer waiting for her mother, as a daughter, as the part of their lives together is over. I have wanted my dad to come and visit ever since we moved here, but I never really pushed it because of his health. He’s coming this time on his terms, and I will cherish whatever days I have with him. It is his last wish.

I have certain movies that I watch for different reasons. I can watch Brian’s Song and cry without anyone questioning whether I’m okay. Airplane makes me laugh myself silly and the quotes sometimes come out at the most inappropriate times. And right now, the thought that comes to mind is, “I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.” I have to find humor wherever and whenever I can.

But to quote Gone with the Wind, “Tomorrow is another day.”

Decisions, Decisions

All online schools and courses are not created equal. I happen to love distance learning and I work hard to provide my students with the best experience possible. As a student, I have studied under outstanding professors in the traditional classroom and online, and I’ve had horrible professors in both settings. As a faculty member, I work hard to give my students the best possible experience, regardless of the settings. I do this through personalization, engagement, and innovation, and received the James P. Etter Award in 2014 for my efforts. Many of my online students finish the class feeling as if they know me as a person, and some later become friends.

 

One of my few regrets is that I never went back to school for my MSN. My first degree was an ADN and I became a RN in 1975. I had a wonderful career but not in traditional nursing. I was in the right place at the right time and I took advantage of every opportunity, so the fact that my degrees were not in nursing was no problem. I have a BA, a Masters of Science in Health Policy, and a PhD in Organization and Management. I’m an Airline Transport Pilot, which is the PhD of aviation. I’ve worked hard and I’ve loved every step of the way. But I wanted the MSN.

 

I am a full-time faculty member at one of the best online universities. I believe in our organization and in our leadership. I have so much faith in our leadership that I am not interested in looking for another job. I’m here. I’m present. I work hard and I give it my best effort. But I wanted this additional degree. My husband said, “You have a terminal degree. Why are you doing this?” A very dear friend said the same thing. I said, “Because I’ve always wanted this and because I can.” One of my art teachers said I needed to think about being a human being and not a human doing, but I wanted it. It was a goal I had not fulfilled.

 

I recently completed my first course, an online 16 week course. I chose this established traditional, nonprofit university that offered a fully online option because (1) the degree is a lifelong goal of mine, (2) the specific program was not offered at my school, and (3) I’ve clearly lost my mind. The positives: (1) the admission process was easy, (2) the transfer credit process was a breeze, (3) their outstanding customer service during the entire process from student services and admissions, and finally, (4) a well-structured orientation. They really acted like I was valuable. Now for the negatives: (1) very limited involvement with the professor, (2) late grading with no feedback, (3) awkward course setup, (4) carelessness in the course setup, including typos in the grading rubric, (5) 16 weeks is way too long for this course. There were times I felt they were just pulling content out of the air to fill up space. This may be due to accreditation, but if I had designed the curriculum I could have cut the length.

 

Will I continue? I don’t know. I am taking a term off. I have had no quality of life, much like during my doctoral program. This is not a degree I ever plan to use so it isn’t like I need it; I’m doing this solely for the satisfaction of saying I did it and that I will have completed a 40 year goal. I have no plans to ever leave my job, because I love what I do and I have so much respect for the leadership. This goes back to something I’ve said so many time, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

 

But maybe I should. Or not. We’ll see.  But if you are considering online education, let me know.