About Tracey

I’m a southern gal living on the coast of South Carolina. I am an instrument rated commercial pilot, but I’ve never worked in the aviation industry (yet). In 2015 I quit my job with the local police department (911 dispatching and call taking) to travel the world with my husband, and I’ve been savoring every moment life has given me since.

Flying Business Class on the 747

My husband and I recently took a vacation with my mother and my son. This was a very special trip, so we splurged and practically depleted his frequent flyer miles to get us all on business class on the upper deck of a 747. Let me tell you, it was everything I dreamed it would be. I think I could have slept on this flight if only I hadn’t been so excited!

We wanted to surprise Mom and the kid with the business class part, a secret we successfully kept. Climbing up that staircase to the Business Class section and then seeing our seats was a fun way to begin the trip, and seeing the look on my mother’s face was worth keeping the secret!

The trip included Amsterdam, Barcelona, Cinque Terre, Florence, Rome, Naples & Sorrento. Posts about our adventures in those cities will follow sometime soon.

 

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I’ve never seen my mother more surprised!

 

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You could see the stress of the previous week melt away.

 

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The food in Business Class is so much better than in Coach.

 

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Cheers to making great new memories!

 

Dessert in Business Class: I'll have one of everything, thank you!

Dessert in Business Class: I’ll have one of everything, thank you!

Winds of change

Leaving the island…

  

After living on Isle of Palms for almost 11 years, we have moved 1 mile across the Causeway to Mount Pleasant. While this may not seem like much of a move to most people, this was incredibly difficult for us, emotionally. We have grown accustomed to being able to walk to our favorite beach bars and to hearing the sound of the ocean from our front porch.

Another reason leaving the island hurts is that I still feel the presence of my recently deceased dog when I’m on the island. A part of me feels like I’m leaving her behind, silly as that sounds.

Moving to Mount Pleasant has it’s benefits, though. We could not have afforded to own a home on the island at this point in our lives, but we have bought our own home together in Mount Pleasant. And though it is only a modest condominium, it is all ours! The location is ideal, too. We are still within walking distance of many great bars and restaurants, we have a pool right across the parking lot, the complex has a gym, and we are only a 10 minute drive to our old stomping grounds.

So, while we grieve for the loss of our previous (spoiled) life, we are trying to keep one eye on the bright side. There may be some moaning and groaning coming from me in the meantime.

Here are a few photos of my precious island.

Kite-boarding is a popular sport among the super-fit adventurous folks.

  

We have had kayaks for about 8 years, but we’ve only put them in the water a handful of times. I regret that a bit now. So fun!

I will miss walking home from work on the beach Summer mornings as the sun rises. Dawn is a magical time on the beach.

Bucket List

I just found this unfinished blog in my drafts folder from a year and a half ago:

“What do you do when you’ve been told you have 8-12 months to live? If you are smart you live. Really, truly live. Dad has been pretty sad about the idea of not being around much longer. My heart breaks every time I recall him saying “I really regret that I won’t get to see Justin graduate college”. I’m sure there are lots of things he is sad he will miss that  remain unsaid. There are some things he has said he wishes to do “one more time” and I hope I can help make every one of them come true.

I went to a baseball game with Dad. I took him flying, though I don’t think that was really on his list. He hopes to make it to Panama City Beach to go fishing with my cousin, JW. It’s a long trip that would be even longer for him, but I really hope this can happen and I hope I can be there for it.

This may be the hardest year of my life, but I plan to make it the richest year of my life and make every second count when I’m with my father.”

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Fast forward to today:

Did I follow through with my plan and make it the richest year of my life? I think so. I continued to work and spend my weekends off burning up the highway to spend time with him and tried to be there with him for every doctor appointment. When he went into Hospice care I took advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act to assist my mother as a caregiver. Being able to spend that last summer with him was a precious gift I will forever cherish.

We never did make our planned Panama City Beach fishing trip because the beginning of the end happened when that trip was supposed to happen. Planning that trip so far out may be my one regret, but we still made the best of our time together.

Time is precious. Hug your family. Spend time with them every chance you get, because you never know how many more visits you have left.

Live your dash.

A Sad Anniversary.

A year ago today I held my dad tight as he let go of this world.

That sentence is very heavy.

That morning, exactly one year ago, I sat at the breakfast table with my mother and my niece. We talked lightheartedly about the past and the future and listened to music on our iPhones. There was one popular song we played that can be “shagged” to (a South Carolina dance), so my mother and I showed my niece how to shag while listening to Kenny Chesney sing about “American Kids”. Right there in the kitchen we danced our hearts out. I’m sure my dad, who was in the other room, was very aware of our dancing and would have smiled if he had been able to smile in his comatose state.

Shortly after our little dance I had a moment alone with Dad. I played a few songs that expressed my feelings for him. One of them was “Daddy’s Hands” by Holly Dunn, and another song was “You Can Let Go” by Crystal Shawanda. That second song ripped my heart out to listen to the lyrics while playing the song in his ear, but it was such a beautiful song and so well suited to our situation at the time. I spent the day sitting by his side, knowing in my heart that it would be my last day with him. We even told the Hospice nurse that she didn’t need to come that day. My son was driving up from Charleston that afternoon. They say when someone is holding on long after they should have passed on that they are waiting for something. We had been telling him we would be ok and he can let go, but he kept holding on. It turned out that he was waiting for the arrival of my son, because it was only about two hours after Justin walked through the door that my dad took his final breath.

The borrowed time we shared has so far been the most precious and meaningful of my life, especially that last summer.

 

Personal space 

I’ve always been super sensitive to touch. When I was a kid I would shy away from my family when we entered a gathering because I come from a family of huggers, and I’ve never been comfortable hugging. As an adult, I’ve learned to find ways to be comfortable hugging people as long as I’m prepared for it. Strangers touching me is a completely different story.

Recently, I was walking through China Town in Sydney, Australia, when someone was trying to get me to come in to the store for a massage. This lady touched my shoulders to convince me to come inside and I had an instant panic attack. I almost swung around and instinctively punched this complete stranger!

I’ve had similar experiences on trains and in lines in Europe, where personal space is not a thing that is respected or even considered. Nothing has compared to the pure panic I felt when this little Chinese woman touched my shoulders. Why on earth would someone think it is okay to put their hands on a stranger without an invitation?

I’m not sure why I felt the need to write about this little experience, other than I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. So there it is. That is all.

Have a great day!

Saying goodbye

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Isn’t it interesting how quickly our priorities change when a loved one is sick.

I said goodbye to my best friend and companion this week. There have been some small indications here and there that told us she hasn’t been feeling all that well, but mostly she seemed just fine. She even had a great run on the beach the night before she became sick.

Piper was a birthday gift to me (and my son) in 2003. I have never received a more precious or meaningful gift and I will forever be grateful to the person who gave her to me. In our 12.5 years together, she has comforted, consoled, cheered and entertained me, all the while making me feel like I need to be the best person I can be for her. She was, in so many ways, my soul mate.

This amazing dog and faithful companion has been the most unique creature I have ever met, and having her in my life has been one of my greatest pleasures. I never could have imagined that it would be possible to be so in love with an animal, but that is the only way to describe the depth of my feelings for her. I think she knew it, too, because I constantly smothered her with love. I think anyone who knew me had a good idea of special my relationship with her.

It’s the little things that really set me off. The missing sounds, mostly. Before, there was always a sound of some sort in the house; Clicking nails on the wood floor, the heavy sigh as she plopped down after following me from room to room, “talking” to me when she wanted my attention, and my favorite – the grumbling as she did her full body “rub” on the couch. In the mornings she would click her way to my side of the bed and lean against the bed with her face near mine for her morning ear scratch. Then she would stand there, thumping her tail on the bed. If she slept a little later than me she would come out of the room with slow, sleepy blinks and a low wagging tail as she slowly came to life and shed the sleepy veil. These are the little things that I miss the most. I don’t even want to think about how much I’ll miss her when I swim in the ocean for the first time in 13 years without her. God, I miss her.

While in the waiting room at the emergency vet I met a woman who was there with her 10yo Golden. She was alone. I cannot imagine going through this alone and I am so glad that my husband Ben was in town for this incredibly sad moment. My son, Justin, was also able to be with us as we gave her a last supper double hamburger and to hold her head in our hands as she drifted to sleep, and then took her last breath. There is a hole in my heart that will never be filled, but will be forever occupied by the memories of our time together. I’m sure it will get easier as time goes on, but I can’t imagine that time yet. Right now, I can barely mention her name without sobbing. Leaving her at the animal hospital felt like leaving my 12yo child, and coming home to an empty house was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. My house is not a home without her.

Rest in peace, my precious golden friend. You will not be forgotten.

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A Pirate Looks at Forty

Since I was about 25 years old I imagined myself listening to Jimmy Buffett sing A Pirate Looks at Forty on my fortieth birthday.

A month and a half after my fortieth birthday I realized that I completely forgot to listen to that song….

Seriously? What kind of a Parrothead am I? As punishment, I am requiring myself to read all of his books again. That’ll teach me!

Turbulence.

Last week I decided to go visit my mother in the upstate. I knew I was in for a bumpy ride on the way up because of a cold front that was coming through, but the forecast was saying the front would push on through. The forecast was right, but I was wrong.

When I woke up the following day to prepare for my flight home I saw that the front had passed, but another was blasting through right behind it… didn’t see that one coming, but I should have. The AIRMETs were calling for turbulence through 4pm, but looking at the outlook charts for the day I knew the turbulence would not be going away at 4pm, but that it would probably only get worse. I started asking around at the airport for pilot reports from folks who had been up in the local area. They all seemed to say it was bumpy, but okay. I decided to take a chance and just go for it, knowing there were small airports all along my route where I could land if it was too much. The tailwind was around 30mph, so at least the flight would only be around 1.5 hours. I got up to my planned altitude of 3,500′ (the most turbulence was above 4,000′) and realized I was in for quite a workout. I made it just about 50 miles before I seriously needed a break. I was being tossed about in the sky, barely able to keep the dirty side down. After I knocked my head on the ceiling during one particularly violent blast I realized I needed to get on the ground immediately.

I landed at the very small Newberry County Airport (EOE), which was understandably abandoned for the day. I thought that while I was there I would get my SCAA passport stamped to prove I was there, but I couldn’t find the mailbox where it was supposed to be kept. The tiny FBO didn’t have much, but it had a planning table, 2 sofas, a water fountain and a bathroom, so I decided to just relax on the sofa and consider my options. Option 1: I could ask my mother to come get me and spend another night with her, but since I was supposed to work at 6am the following day, that option would have lots of people frowning on me…still better than being killed due to get-there-it is. Option 2: I could ask my mother to drive me home to Charleston (a 3 hour drive for her, 2 hours from my current location), spend a few nights with me and then drive back in a few days, dropping me off at the airport on the way. Unfortunately, she wasn’t feeling well and was in no shape to travel. Option 3: I could ask my husband to come get me, a huge inconvenience for all of us, and the weather did have a slight chance for improvement, so that could be in vane (pun intended). Option 4: I could sit it out and see what the winds did later, taking advantage of the down-time to catch up on some reading. I chose option 4, which turned out to be the best option. After about an hour, I felt like it would be okay to give it another go…call it a hunch. I planned a low route that would take me directly over every airport possible along the way. This route has a lot of airports, so I would have the option to land again any time I felt like I was reaching my limit. Luckily, staying around 2,200′ was bumpy, for sure, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the first leg of my trip. I don’t like “scud-running” because it limits options should something go wrong, but now and then it becomes necessary…. but ONLY with careful planning and a thorough review of all emergency procedures since my friend, Altitude, is left out of the equation.

Once I got closer to home the uncomfortable turbulence faded into light chop and I was able to breathe easy for the last 40 miles of my trip. I arrived home bruised and sore, a first for me, but I arrived home safely.

Funny addition to my story: I received a phone call from a couple of friends (James & Matt), literally as I was shutting down my engine, asking if I was available to come pick them up from the upstate. I told them I would have gladly offered a free lift had they called earlier, but I was too exhausted from my saga to fly any more even if the winds were calm. Apparently, James was dropping his Mooney off in Anderson, SC for the annual and Matt followed in his RV8 to bring him home. When Matt attempted to start his plane for the return trip, his starter broke. Terrible timing! Then again, James’ wife ‘liked’ my Facebook status saying I was in the upstate for the night, returning Tuesday (the day James was taking his plane up), so he should have just asked me for a lift. I would have been happy to oblige, especially since I would have felt much more comfortable with an extra pilot in the cockpit on that bumpy flight.  Why are people afraid to ask for favors? They ended up renting a car and driving back to Charleston.

This flight was definitely a good lesson and, in my opinion, a good testament of my ability to choose to stop a flight to assess my judgement instead of charging on because I really want to get home. I was fully prepared to stay safely on the ground if I felt the flight was beyond my comfort level. In fact, I did make that decision a few days later when Matt asked for a ride to get his RV8 from Anderson. I wanted to fly so badly that day, but that AIRMET was the same as it was on Tuesday. I knew I could make it, but I also knew that it might push me to my limit again. Fortunately for Matt, I was able to hook him up with another local pilot with a faster plane who was happy to make the trip. Win, win, win.

A year of lasts and a year of firsts

Last year was a painful year of lasts with Dad – last birthday, last Halloween, last Thanksgiving, last birthday for me, last Christmas, a New Year realizing the coming year was going to be incredibly difficult, etc….

I had not considered until recently how this year would be even more painful as we suffer through an agonizing year of firsts without him. So far I have had several moments where I thought to call him, but realized I will never hear his voice on my phone again. His birthday was tough and my birthday and Thanksgiving were tougher, but I fear that none of those compare with the approaching Christmas season. I somehow made it through my birthday & Thanksgiving without having any major breakdown, mostly because we focused on the joy of having my mother here & my son home for a night of celebrating his 21st birthday. It was a much more pleasant weekend than I had been expecting.

Christmas will be a bit lonelier, leaving me much more time for reflection. My mother will be going to Kansas City to spend Christmas with my brother and niece, and my son will be going to Aiken to spend Christmas with his dad. I will be working both the night of Christmas Eve and Christmas night, so we are basically skipping the holiday. I’m not sure this is the best idea, but it’ll be over in 23 days… I just have to hang on till then.

Next year should be milder, save for the anniversaries that are forever etched into my memory. I don’t think I’ll ever stop thinking about May 1st (May Day) as the beginning of the end. That was when the brain mets made their debut. And EAA AirVenture will forever be tainted with a bit of sorrow, because we found out about the cancer days before I spent a week at Oshkosh last year, and he passed away days after I spent a weekend at Oshkosh this year.

I know I’ll never stop missing him and wishing he could be here to banter with, but I look forward to a time when the pain is a little less sharp.

Math Suks

I recently transferred my Pilot Logbook to an online logbook. This was a fun adventure that let me relive every single flight I’ve ever taken. It’s amazing how much I remember from each flight, even though I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night. I’m kidding, it was a quinoa stuffed red pepper with portabella mushroom and broccoli. Anywho… bad memory for lots of tiny details, but apparently, no detail is too tiny when it’s in the cockpit (as it should be).

(Sidebar)  My memory lane began with my discover flight, where I met my instructor, Joel, whom I’d never met, at 5:3oam because I had waited so long that I didn’t want to wait for a day off to go; He was quite concerned about my poor judgement before we even met because of this. Joel had me do pretty much everything, from taxi to, surprisingly, landing! I was hooked when I started the engine and felt the avgas fragranced air wash over my face. It was, and still is, intoxicating. It’s a drug that gets me high, in every way.

Back to the purpose of the post… Shortly after my private check ride I found a very stupid math error in my logbook that, of course, changed everything from there on. Later on I found a total of five more careless errors that affected my totals. All of these errors were minor. They just made me wonder what the heck I was thinking about that had me distracted.

On a serious note, to correct the errors I made one logbook entry with a plus or minus number to reflect the difference and referenced the date of the original error in each of those boxes. Then, on the page of the original errors I highlighted the error and (literally) hash tagged them #MathIsHard

So what was I thinking that had me so distracted? Oh wait… since I make my logbook entries immediately after flying and total them up as soon as I finish a page I can claim that it wasn’t my fault… I was high.