Aerobatics Are SICK!!!

Now that is FUN! I had my first aerobatic lesson today with Mike Love at Morey Airplane Company in Middleton in a Cessna Aerobat. It lasted all of 30 minutes, but was some of the best minutes of my life! This also marks the first time I ever wore a parachute, but fortunately did not have to use it.

The Cessna 152 with 2 guys and parachutes is a pretty cramped place to be, but is workable. Thankfully Mike is much smaller than me, but we only carried a minimal amount of fuel for the hour we planned to fly. Even though I was having some serious fun, my stomach told me to head for home after 20 minutes. I don’t get sick on planes (when they are flying properly), but do get sick on boats, and know that when you start feeling queezy that is your body telling you it’s had enough. I am sure my endurance will improve as I get more and more used to flying like this. I was warned that aerobatics is like crystal meth, do it once and you’re hooked! I am officially an addict!

We only flew about 8 miles from the airport, just west of Cross Plains, using highway 14 as our major landmark. Mike demonstrated the aileron roll first while I followed him through with the controls. Then it was my turn. Two rolls to the left, then one to the right, each slightly better than the one before it. I honestly never knew the yoke would twist that far! I feel like I am getting the hang of this, but also know the aileron roll is probably the simplest of all aerobatic maneuvers. My stomach was only slightly pissed off following these four rolls.

Mike wanted to try a loop. Like before, he demonstrated the first one to me and then offered to let me do one. My stomach said no, and an uncontrolled “I want to go home” came out of my mouth. I was not sick, and did not get sick, but was REAL close and had had enough for today. Mike said this is totally normal and I will quickly build up a tolerance for the G-forces and unusual attitudes. I can’t wait to test his theory 🙂

The flight home was short and simple and the crosswind landing pretty good. I was all smiles on the outside, but my stomach was still doing aileron rolls. The total flight from engine start to stop was 30 minutes. Next time I will go for 45. Mike was kind enough to videotape this experience for me and now I will share my facial contortions with the world. Yes, that is the look of fear on my face, but also the look of tremendous fun and education.

High Winds and Aerobatics

Early this morning I had a flight with my instructor, Harold Green. The wind was nasty, Madison calling it 15 knots gusting to 25, and being out of the north-north-east meant we had a perfect crosswind at Middleton. But it was from the left, and I seldom have problems handling a left-crosswind. Harold knew this, so we headed for Sauk Prairie where the wind would be from the right, something I do have problems with.

The first landing was pretty good. The 2nd was what Harold called “interesting”. I will leave it at that, it was interesting, to say the least. The 3rd and final landing was similar to the first, fair to good. We didn’t have much time this morning so we headed back for home. Along the way Harold demonstrated a chandelle, a maneuver I need to perfect for my commercial pilots license. It does not seem that hard, but I am certain when I actually start doing them myself I will change my mind.

After landing I spoke with Mike Love about some aerobatic training. Mike has been teaching for over 25 years, has written 3 books, and is considered one of the finest flight instructors around. Everyone has the utmost respect for him. He is also unique in being one of the very few instructors that not only teaches aerobatics, but loves it. Morey Airplane Company has a Cessna 152 Aerobat that is used for akro instruction, as well as parachutes for the pilots to use, and Mike owns his own aerobatic plane himself, but cannot teach in it.

This is something I have wanted to learn for a long time. Not simply to learn so that I can go out and do loops and rolls all day long (though that will be fun), but because it makes you a better pilot. You learn much more precise control of the plane, lose your fear of unusual attitudes, and build a level of confidence you just don’t have without the training. Of course, it is also FUN, FUN, FUN!

So that is what I am doing over my lunch break today, going to roll and loop a Cessna with Mike. I am sure I will be starving by dinner time, but skipping lunch before this flight is probably a good idea. Less to come back up, ya know 🙂

Small Airshow But Very Cool

The entire family spent the afternoon at the Southern Wisconsin AirFest in Janesville, where the Canadian Snowbirds were the headline performance. But they were definitely not the only show in town!

The first aerobatic performance was from Susan Dacy, an airline captain out of Chicago flying an old biplane capable of simple aerobatics, but she put on quite a show, and ended her performance by racing a rocket powered Dodge pickup truck. The truck won the race, but it was very cool to watch. They claim the truck hit 330 MPH, and from what I saw, I pretty much believe it.

The US Navy came next, demonstrating the FA-18 fighter/attack airplane. This is an impressive plane, even if military aircraft is not your thing. It did a low-level pass at over 650 MPH with the afterburners on, and rocked the place like an earthquake. I wish I had been videotaping the girls instead of the plane, because when the roar of the engines passed by it was deafening (literally) and they hit the deck! They did not expect that at all. This plane also has unbelievable slow flight abilities which the pilot showed by making another pass that could not have been more than about 70 MPH. The rocket powered Dodge truck did not even attempt to race this plane 🙂

Up next was Mike Goulian in his Extra. He did a mind-blowing aerobatic performance with a lot of snap rolls, flat spins, hammerheads, loops, rolls and one stunt that I cannot even describe, other than totally out of control. I have been a pilot myself for over 20 years and I could not figure out how he did what he did. He is also a Red Bull racer and is competing in Detroit next weekend, so I will have to catch that on TV.

The US Air Force came next, demonstrating the F-15 figher. This plane is incredible to watch, don’t get me wrong, but the FA-18 is in another class entirely. The coolest part of this performance, at least for me and the others that understand its significance, was a formation flight with the F-15 and P-51 Mustang. The Mustang led the way with the F-15 just off its wing for several minutes of tight formation flying. It was very cool to see the best of the old-school (the P-51 is over 65 years old) fighters and some of the latest military aviation technology flying side by side. You just had to be there.

And of course the Canadian Snowbirds finished the show. The most impressive thing about them is the shear number of planes involved, 9 today. They are a lot of fun to watch, but spend a lot of time far away from airport rather than keeping their act overhead. This causes the kids (and some adults) to lose interest as there is usually a 1-2 minute pause between “interesting” things. They are good, without a doubt, but my vote is still for the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds. They keep it tight and fast the entire show.

Summer is for Aviation!

Today is a beautiful spring Saturday in Wisconsin. The temperature is supposed to hit 73 and nothing but critically clear sunshine is forecast for the entire day. The entire family is getting ready to drive down to Janesville for the Southern Wisconsin AirFest airshow, where the Canadian Snowbirds are the headliners. There are also other military teams as well as non-military performers scheduled to appear. I will update the log later today with our pictures from this show. In 2 weeks, the US Air Force Thunderbirds will be in Rockford, IL and we plan to go there too. Next Saturday, Missy, Halle, Kelsi and me have a 172 reserved for a flight up to Appleton to visit Heidi and her family, and give rides up there. I hope the weather next Saturday is as good as today!

A Cessna 172 Can Restore Your Mind

It’s been a year and a half since I earned my instrument rating, and since the last time I flew a plane. It only took me 18 years to get that rating and I haven’t used it once, but I am hoping to change that this summer. The last year and half has been busy, getting married, re-adjusted to family life, constantly reminding myself that I am no longer a bachelor, a sometimes ridiculous workload, and just a whole lot of “life” getting in the way of having fun. It’s spring in Wisconsin, and it’s time for some fun.

After taking some time off from flying to pay off the credit cards and other stupid “responsible person” crap, I had scheduled a flight early this morning with my old instructor, Harold Green. He had been real sick for a while, but is back to flying, feeling and looking well. When you don’t fly a plane for a while, you don’t just get in and take-off (unless you have a death-wish), you get some practice with a good instructor and let them decide if you are safe or not. You just cannot gauge how much rust has built up and it’s comforting to have a current and competent pilot sitting next to you just in case, just in case you are no longer competent.

So I got to the Middleton-Morey airport bright and early this morning, thanks to Missy, and pre-flighted the aging Cessna. It’s almost as old as me, but likely in better shape. I could have flown the shiny new Cessna Skyhawk with the Garmin G1000 glass cockpit, auto-pilot and pretty paint and interior. But I chose the trusty old 172 that has served me well in the past. It ain’t much to look at, but she flies good and always does as told.

It was cool, around 50 degrees, almost clear skies and visibility nearly unlimited, with only a trace of morning fog lingering over Lake Mendota. I taxied the plane to the end of the runway with Mario Andretti speed, for which Harold inquired if I was taxiing the plane or planning to take off directly from the taxi-way. I slowed down 🙂

I was a little concerned about the wind. The takeoff was to to west and the wind was out of the north, probably 8 knots steady, gently gusting to 15. I had nothing to fear, the takeoff was smooth and in no time we were hauling ass over the cry babies homes. Those are the idiots that built their $700k homes next to an airport and then call the FAA all the time to report noise from airplanes. Most of the time we turn to a 300 heading to avoid flying over their homes. Most of the time. Eventually they will just shut up, or sell me their house real cheap. I like the sound of airplanes.

Even though the weather was perfect and there was only one other airplane in the area, I called Madison Approach Control and requested flight following to the practice area. The air traffic controllers in Madison are excellent and I have never had a problem with them, and as expected they promptly located us on radar and told us there was nothing around us. We climbed to 3500 feet and flew west until we were just north of Mazomanie, the designated practice area.

Harold had me perform some power-off stalls and slow-flight turns, with and without flaps. It felt so good to be flying again, even when falling out of the sky in a deep stall. We started back for Morey and Harold asked me if I thought I could find the ground. That is flight instructor speak for “I’m getting ready to idle the throttle, I hope you can find a field to land in”. So he pulled the throttle back to idle as I picked an open field to land in. It really is not all that challenging in this part of Wisconsin to find a safe off-airport landing spot. I dropped the flaps and entered a 45-degree left bank. This brings the 172 out of the sky like an anchor. As I lined up for the field I was going to land in, Harold said “good” and added full throttle again. He told me to take us home, I guess he wanted to know if I remembered the way home, which I did.

Harold thanked Madison controllers for their help and they turned us loose when we were about 5 miles west of the airport. We entered the traffic pattern and I landed the plane with 10-degrees of flaps. The landing was good, “must be luck” I thought to myself. I gave the plane full throttle and once again we were in the traffic pattern, waking up the cry babies.

Harold said he wanted to see me land the plane with full flaps, which is 30-degrees in this model of 172. So I flew a higher and tighter pattern until final approach, lowered the flaps to 30-degrees, and made a steep final approach to…. Yep, another quite respectable landing. “This cannot be luck” I thought to myself, “I must not have as much rust as I thought”. Harold must have thought the same thing, we taxied over to the FBO where Harold endorsed my logbook for solo flight and told me to hit the skies by myself for some practice. He got out of the plane and I taxied back to the end of the runway.

A glance at the windsock told me the wind was increasing, probably steady now at 10-12 knots, and still from the north. The right crosswind landing has always been the weakest link in my aviator skills, and I duly noted that I better really be on my toes when I get back. Ironically, the left crosswind landing is my best point, I tend to land those better than even a no-wind or headwind landing.

The takeoff was easy enough, and despite the wind, smooth as silk. I reached traffic pattern altitude before my first turn and flew a normal “Todd” pattern, which is slightly high, 65 knots indicated, and 10-degrees of flaps. The Skyhawk just loves that speed so much, the flare and float are predictable and gentle, and a go-around is as simple as full-throttle, if you need it.

I turned final at 500′, right on the money, but got a nice jolt during the turn, compliments of the shifty wind. Flying the final approach I noticed no drift at all, which meant the wind at the ground and at 500′ were different. Duly noted, again. Expecting the right crosswind at any moment, I slowed the 172 down to 62 knots about 50′ off the ground. Nothing. A quick glance at the windsock told me I should be drifting left, but I wasn’t. The landing was as close to perfect as I can do.

I thought about doing it again, but knew I also needed to get some work done this morning, so I made that landing a full stop. I was excited and my heartbeat was up, but all in a good way. I was happy with the way I handled the plane and it felt great to finally fly again. I feel more alive this morning than I have in a while, it is truly amazing what an old Cessna can do for your mind.

Morels and Brad Paisley

You’d think that after living in Wisconsin for over 8 years I would have at least tried Morel mushrooms, but until yesterday you would have been wrong. Since moving to Wisconsin I have tried many new things: Snowmobiling, ATV’s, shotgun sports, driving without road-rage, drunk dialing, landing on snow and ice covered runways, hunting various animals, dodging students in the road at UW, divorce, marriage, camping, and leaving my house unlocked. But I never ate a Morel mushroom. After all, they don’t exactly look appetizing and grow wild up here in the grossest of places.

Yesterday was the day. We went to Missy’s mom’s house for Mother’s Day and they had just picked some fresh Morels and were eager to fry them up. I was a bit nervous to eat one, since it looks gross, like something you might find growing on a coral reef when scuba diving. Ahh, but looks can be deceiving. These things are friggin’ awesome! After tasting a super-small one, I could hardly keep my hand out of the mushroom jar! Randy then told me to be careful how many I ate, since there is apparently some point where your body will reject them. It’s kinda like knowing when you should have that last beer, where one more ounce will leave you clinging for life and hugging the porcelain god. I did not reach that point, but I guess I will have to someday, just so I know where that point is.

I might get my chance tonight. While Halle and I were enjoying lunch at Shelton’s, a guy came in with way too many of these. Seems he had quite a Morel hunting, and had much more than he could eat or even sell. He gave us a box of them, as well as Joleene the bartender. Missy will be surprised when she gets home, or before if she reads this blog!

And special thank go out to Brad Paisley, for writing the perfect “Todd Song”.

When you see a deer you see Bambi
And I see antlers up on the wall
When you see a lake you think picnics
And I see a large mouth up under that log
You’re probably thinking that you’re going to change me
In some ways well maybe you might
Scrub me down, dress me up oh but no matter what
remember I’m still a guy

When you see a priceless French painting
I see a drunk, naked girl
You think that riding a wild bull sounds crazy
And I’d like to give it a whirl
Well love makes a man do some things he ain’t proud of
And in a weak moment I might…
walk your sissy dog, hold your purse at the mall

But remember, I’m still a guy

I’ll pour out my heart
Hold your hand in the car
Write a love song that makes you cry
Then turn right around knock some jerk to the ground
‘Cause he copped a feel as you walked by

I can hear you now talking to your friends
Saying, “Yeah girls he’s come a long way”
From dragging his knuckles and carrying a club
And building a fire in a cave
But when you say a backrub means only a backrub
Then you swat my hand when I try
Well, now what can I say at the end of the day
Honey, I’m still a guy

And I’ll pour out my heart
Hold your hand in the car
Write a love song that makes you cry
Then turn right around knock some jerk to the ground
‘Cause he copped a feel as you walked by

These days there’s dudes getting facials
Manicured, waxed and botoxed
With deep spray-on tans and creamy lotiony hands
You can’t grip a tacklebox

Yeah with all of these men lining up to get neutered
It’s hip now to be feminized
I don’t highlight my hair
I’ve still got a pair
Yeah honey, I’m still a guy

Oh my eyebrows ain’t plucked
There’s a gun in my truck
Oh thank God, I’m still a guy

A Trip to the Mall

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of eating dinner at West Town Mall. Oh the joy, nothing quite like enjoying a Taco Bell meal while dining with the teenage freaks of Madison. I wanted Mexican food, thinking either Laredo’s, Mi Cocina, or Abuelos. Nope, Taco Bell at the Food Court was the best I could coax out of Missy and Halle. I am beginning to think the only time I will ever get Mexican food is when Missy and I travel to Mexico. God forbid I ever get the craving for Italian or good Chinese food!

I did get to look at some big LCD TV’s that I cannot afford, so that was kinda fun. Halle, with help from Missy, talked me into spending $170 on Rock Band for the XBox 360. I didn’t really want it, we already have Guitar Hero 3 on the Wii and Guitar Hero 2 on the XBox, but I said it was okay. I should have made that conditional on getting some real Mexican food.

So, back to the dining experience at the Food Court. It was delicious, and I had plenty of freaks of nature to look at. I don’t say anything out loud about them when Halle is around, and even when she isn’t, Missy usually doesn’t appreciate my comments about other freaks, err, people. So I just make funny comments in my less and less tolerant head, enjoying my own sick form of humor while eating that truly wonderful taco. Where is the meat? The cheese? I bet they use at least a 1/2 pound of beef at Taco Bell every day.

So we are eating, I am watching a 6 foot-something teenage boy with dyed black hair with blond streaks hitting on a cute pink-haired girl. Between them they probably had enough piercings to sink a ship, the dude was wearing more makeup than the girl. I chuckled to myself, thinking how much fun it was at that age. I never did the hair and makeup thing as a teenager, but spent the mid-80’s in a weed induced coma. I was no better than these kids, just different. Had I dressed like that boy in 1986 in North Carolina I would probably have been killed. Of course, back then I dressed either like Rob Halford from Judas Priest, or Don Johnson from Miami Vice, on alternating days. The mullet was ever present, as were the bloodshot eyes from the pot. Funny, I actually thought my parents didn’t know 🙂 Stupid boy I was. No, not stupid, just being a kid, same as this freak sitting across from me. Unlike me, this kid probably has a 4.0 GPA and will be at UW Madison next year! The girl will likely be President of the United States someday. I gotta find a way to see the world different.

I am smart enough to realize my own prejudices, but not smart enough to not have them. Missy is much better at this than me, she seems to not see color, ethnicity, sexual orientation or anything else about a person. This is one of her traits that I truly admire and respect, though I don’t have this ability.

I do agree with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I judge a man by the content of his character and not the color of his skin. My brother-in-law is black, and is also one of my best friends. We enjoy losing money together at Ho-Chunk Casino, and are both technology junkies. It’s funny, when I first met him I saw him as a black man, married to a white woman, with mixed kids. This is something that I have struggled with in the past, and really, it makes no sense at all.

I have known them for a while now, and I don’t think about him being black, or the kids being mixed, they are just handsome little boys. They are in the process of adopting a biracial girl now, and she is the cutest little girl you’d ever meet. Biracial. That is a new word for me, thanks to Missy, and it does sound better than mixed, milato, or zebra. Those are words that I grew up with. None were meant to be derogatory, other than maybe zebra, which was used by George Jefferson on TV, but compared to biracial, they could certainly be taken as racist.

I am far from politically correct, but not a racist. So if I say mixed or milato every now and then, it is not because I am a white-trash cracker, it is simply because that is the vernacular that I am accustomed to. What I really cannot stand is the term “African-American”, “Mexican-American”, etc. I realize those are the politically correct terms in common use today, I just don’t like them. For one, if I am white, then you are black. And I am not really white, I am sort of pinkish-tan with a hint of red. Do I require that other people refer to me as pinkish-tan with a hint of red? Of course not, white will do. If I wanted to get super politically correct I would want to be called Anglo-Saxon-Native-American, but just plain old American will be just fine. So I am a white American. If you call me honky or cracker it is not likely to bother me, but of course it depends on who says it, and the context of how they say it, but not the color of their skin. I my eyes you are either an American or you aren’t, there is no in-between.

American by definition means you are a mutt. We are all mutts. Unless you are a true native American (as in indian), you are descended from immigrants from other parts of the world. So it’s time to drop the African, Mexican, French, Canadian, whatever prefix before American. The prefix is divisive, and usually flat out wrong. If your most recent relative from Africa died 200 years ago, you are not African any more than I am English. I don’t claim England as my home, I’ve never even been there, and won’t miss much if I never go.

I am an American and I am proud of that. I am proud that it is looking like in November we will elect our first biracial president. I hear a lot on the news about Obama being African-American. See above, and please just quit it. He is brown with a pinkish hue, hell half of him is from Kansas. His wife Michelle? She is just plain old Hot-American.

Jodi Klare Will Always Be Our Crystal Apple Award Winner

It seems NBC 15 in Madison almost got it right!

Each year the Madison NBC affiliate holds a contest to recognize the best teachers in the area. Missy and I nominated Halle’s 3rd grade teacher, Jodi Klare, for this award in April because of how much love and caring she showed to Halle (and indeed all of us) following the death of Halle’s father in a February snowmobile accident. Jodi is an excellent teacher and we love her.

We did our best to help her win the award by writing a heartfelt letter along with our nomination entry. Jodi did not win the award, but was given an Honorable Mention on the news last night and will be invited, along with Park Elementary Principal Karen Jones, to an awards and recognition dinner later this month. Jodi is a wonderful teacher and a sweet, caring and all around terrific person. She will always be our Crystal Apple Award winner, as well as part of our family.

Here is an edited version of the nomination letter we submitted:

To whom it may concern,

We are writing this letter to nominate Jodi Klare at Park Elementary School in Cross Plains for the Crystal Apple award. I (Todd) have known Jodi for a couple of years and always thought she was one of the finest teachers I have ever met. We have 3 daughters that attend Park Elementary, 9 year old Delaney who had Mrs. Klare 2 years ago, my step-daughter Halle who is currently in Mrs. Klare’s 3rd grade class and 6 year old Haley who we sincerely hope will also be in her class in 2 years.

Our family’s interaction with Jodi this year is what has prompted us to nominate her for this award. We can think of nobody possibly more deserving of this award than Jodi. The past year has been full of highs and lows for our family, and Jodi has made a huge impact in our lives through the good and bad. Before we get to the specifics of why we think Jodi is most deserving of this award, please allow us to provide just a little family background.

As stated above, Halle is my 9 year old step-daughter. I hate the word “step-anything” so I refer to her as my daughter in the same way that Delaney and Haley are my daughters. Her mother Melissa (Missy) and I were married in July 2007. Missy and Halle previously lived in Mazomanie where Halle attended Mazomanie Elementary, so after the wedding they moved into my home in Cross Plains. Halle had to change schools and started attending Park Elementary this school year, and fortunately for us, was placed in Jodi’s 3rd grade class.

Changing schools is difficult for any child, and Halle was no different. On the first day of school Jodi introduced Halle to the class and during recess made sure that Halle was paired up with other kids to play with. This, combined with her new sisters also being at Park Elementary, helped to make this transition as easy as possible, though it was very difficult for Halle.

Halle is a terrific student and is very smart and mature for her age. We received regular updates from Jodi about how Halle was adjusting to her new school, new friends, new family, and just about everything else that was new or different in her life. Jodi shared with us the stories that Halle would tell and write about in her journal, her artwork that often included the new family, and other interesting and amusing things Halle did with Jodi. She also shared all of this with Halle’s biological father, Michael Gullickson, by making parent-teacher conferences regarding Halle’s progress available to Mike as well. Halle loves Jodi, and the reverse is also true, as we found out through a tragedy that would take place during the winter.

Halle loved her father deeply. He had not been a significant part of her life for the first 5 years, but the last 3 he really shined. He grew up, took a strong and sincere interest in his daughter, loved and cherished her. And she loved him, as did everyone that met him, including me. As possibly the one person that should never have liked him, I did, a lot, he was a good man. Not without faults, but a good and decent man.

One of Halle’s favorite things to do was to ride snowmobiles with her dad. He had a modest home with a large yard in Ridgeway and when the snow started flying in December he started teaching her to ride a small snowmobile he had bought for her. He taught her about safety, bought her a proper helmet, and made sure she could handle the snowmobile. She rode with him on his sled a lot until she got the hang of it. They never went on the trails, just kept it in the yard, but she loved it. And he loved watching her, and taking pictures of his “Little Princess” riding. The pride oozed out of him. In early February, Missy went to pick Halle up at her dads and Halle gave her a ride on the snowmobile. Mike laughed and took pictures the whole time, he loved it.

Mike was killed in a head-on snowmobile accident in Blue Mounds on February 20th, 2008. Now the little girl that loved her dad and snowmobiles so much had to be told that her father was killed in a snowmobile accident. This was the hardest thing that Missy and I had ever done in our lives. Once an image like that gets into a child’s head, it does not want to leave. She has good and bad days, but every night at bed time has to relive that horrible news.

But back to Jodi Klare, and why we feel there is absolutely no doubt why she is the hands down winner of the Crystal Apple Award. We always knew Jodi was a wonderful teacher, but following the death of Halle’s dad, she proved it, going WAY beyond the scope of her job and deeply touching Halle, and us.

Immediately upon being notified of the news, the sweet and caring gears in Jodi’s mind must have gone to work. The first surprise came 2 days later. Jodi and the school counselor had made a delicious (and that does not do it justice) chicken and pesto dinner and hand-delivered it to our home. Our lives were in a chaotic state, and this relatively simple act of kindness proved to us that good and decent people very much exist in this world, at least in Cross Plains, Wisconsin.

A couple days later was Mike’s funeral in Blue Mounds. We knew this would be an extraordinarily difficult day for everyone, mostly Halle. The church was overfl

owing, much more than capacity, a true testament to all of the people who loved Mike. Members of various motorcycle gangs/clubs were there, family, extended family, friends, businessmen, criminals and clergy. And there was Jodi, with the school counselor by her side. Halle’s eyes lit up when she saw Jodi, and a very sad little girl gave her the biggest smile. The loved that flowed in both directions was unmistakable. Her mere presence made this day so much better for Halle, and everyone else.

Halle missed almost 2 weeks of school following her father’s death. It was made even harder because on March 9th, she turned 9, and her father had made big plans for her golden birthday, including a trip to Appleton to the American Doll company. During this time, Jodi kept Halle as much up to date as she could. She regularly checked in with us, and brought homework to our home so that Halle would not fall behind. Halle is a very good student and appreciated this; she actually enjoyed doing her work.

Before Halle returned to school, Jodi asked us what the class should be told about Halle’s absence, and how much they should be told. We all agreed that the truth was the best, and Jodi told the rest of the class about the accident and that Halle’s father had been killed. Her class welcomed her back and everyone was very kind and understanding, no doubt a testament to how Jodi instructed the class about the circumstances.

Even though Halle had been able to keep up with her homework thanks to Jodi, she was still a little behind on the things that were taught in class while she was out. Following a parent-teacher conference with Missy and me, Jodi offered to let Halle stay after school for private lessons, and let Halle do it on her schedule, as her emotional state allowed. Since Jodi also lives in Cross Plains (and surely even if she didn’t), she offered to give Halle a ride home after school. Since I work at home, this was not needed, but was just another reason why she is such a tremendous teacher.

Halle took her up on this offer, and stayed late after school for several days. Jodi and Halle also worked together during recess to get her caught up. We can only assume that this means Jodi gave up some valuable recovery time from a bunch of crazy 3rd graders in the teachers’ lounge! But she did, and we love her for it. Within a week or so, on a day I was to pick up Halle late from school, Jodi called me to tell me they were all caught up and Halle was doing great. She would ride the bus home.

The PTA of Park Elementary also raised $750 in US Savings Bonds that were given to Halle. They will be used for her college education, and we have no doubt that Jodi was instrumental in getting this ball rolling. Everyone at Park Elementary is terrific, and we are blessed to live in this town where our children get this level of love and care.

I wrote a letter to the school principal, Mrs. Jones, praising Jodi for her love and caring, not to mention her teaching skills. We were not surprised in the slightest when Mrs. Jones wrote me back in total agreement. It seems we are not the first parents that have such high regards for Jodi.

Jodi is the physical embodiment of what a great and wonderful teacher should be. She is the kind of teacher that any parent and any child would dream of having. We wish we could cast 1,000,000 votes for her in your contest. This quality of person is very hard to find, and when that person is your daughter’s teacher, what more could you ask for? We know what we will ask for. When our youngest daughter get’s to 3rd grade you can bet we will beg and plead with the powers that be that she be enrolled in Jodi Klare’s class!

Please don’t let this quality of teacher escape without recognition. We cannot provide enough accolades to convey exactly what Jodi has done for our family, and have certainly left out many smaller things she does every day. I was never fortunate enough to have had a teacher like this in my life, and I doubt many children do, but the kids of Cross Plains have a true friend and are very lucky that teachers like Jodi Klare do still exist in this world. She is truly worthy of your award, and we can think of none other more deserving.

We Will Wait

Today, or maybe yesterday, marked the official end of our contract on the home. The mortgage broker (RLCA) totally failed us, refusing to go to bat for us with the bogus Landsafe appraisal. We had signed a 1-week extension last week for the appraisal to be adjusted, but this is not going to happen. So now we are back to square one. I was originally thinking we would wait another year to purchase a home, but I feel confident we can still make a purchase this year, probably in late summer or early fall. This will give us time to get our finances in even better shape.

Once again, the credit cards are paid off. I get a big smile inside myself whenever we do this, though it seems we still manage to find things to spend the money on. Last time it was our dog Thunder, who got so dehydrated we had to take him to the vet. He spent the night there, got some fluids, and $700 later we got our great dog back. He is officially worth 7 times what I paid for him! But we love him.

I am the financial planner in the family, and I don’t mind this job. I even find it sort of fun, in a somewhat sick way, and have taken to watching The Suze Orman show on CNBC. I can’t wait to start getting into more investments in the near future, but high-interest debts need to be taken care of first. The credit cards were the worst, so that is the big thing to avoid now that they are paid off. Almost as evil as them is government.

I used to do some contract programming work back in 2003 and 2004 and failed to account for all income. It was not intentional, my records keeping back then was less than perfect. So I owe Wisconsin about $2k, the IRS about 3k and Missy still owes Maryland about $4k. So the plans for the immediate future include paying off Wisconsin in a couple weeks, and Maryland in the next month or two. The IRS will probably wait until tax refund time next year, or another economic incentive package to help take out more of that balance. As each one is paid off, we have more money each month because we no longer make payments to them, and the 18% interest stops adding up. I would even like to pay off my truck, which is entirely possible, but only if we don’t buy a house. We would rather have a house.

I find myself dreaming of a debt-free day. I don’t mean mortgage or auto loan free, those will almost certainly always be there. But free of credit card and tax debt, and having just one car loan instead of two. I just don’t like clouds like that hanging over my head, and would much rather be making money off interest in investments than paying it. Am I getting old?

Nope, I refuse to grow up. Years of struggling with finances and many months of working very hard to pay off credit card debt, collections and other “issues” on our credit reports was rewarded today. I broke down and bought a Microsoft XBox 360 and Grand Theft Auto IV, for the family of course 🙂 Actually, it will be used mostly to simplify our TV entertainment center, something I will blog about later. The Grand Theft Auto IV is for me, when I feel the need to lose my freakin’ mind and mindlessly indulge in hookers, drugs, stealing crap, and killing people. Damn that is a good game!

And no, that purchase was NOT put on a credit card!