Saturday, May 23, 2009

5/23/09 A bomber day

I took the boys to tour the WWII bombers this morning, and they were pretty psyched about it.

The tour involved climbing a ladder into a hatch in the front of the plane, then moving to the back and climbing out the way we went in on Wednesday. The very cool nose section of the plane was visible, but roped off, so I'm extra-glad I got to see it up close (and in flight!). Julian was scared at first, but got over it pretty quickly.

First, I had to fill in a photo I hadn't gotten on Wednesday: my "seat" during takeoff, if you can call it that. The wood on the ground was the seat, the metal plate was my back, and you can see the lap belt tucked inbetween. There's a top turret right in the middle of this area (the sandaled leg is standing on it), so the two "seats" are tucked in the corners.

Around the top turret, through the hatch into the bombing bay catwalk. Today the bay's doors were open.

Then into the radio room.

From the radio room to the relatively roomy rear section ("waist," I think) of the plane involves climbing around the ball turret, as this girl demonstrates.

Gabriel and Julian on the job as waist gunners!

An attempt to piece it all together in video.

Hey, the tire is taller than me!

Then on to the other bomber. But first, we had to watch a P-51 flighter plane take off. When too many bombers were getting shot down, these planes started escorting the bombers and protecting them from enemy fighters, greatly improving their outcome.

On to the B-24. I don't know much about this plane; it's certainly taller than the B-17, roomier inside, with a much larger bombing bay and was overall easier to get around. Odd panels on the tail, reminds me of a spaceship!

And, I talked to two more actual veterans, both of whom had flown on the planes. One flew an incredible 37 missions (they were supposed to stop at 25 and it was considered extremely lucky to make it that far uninjured) and the other flew 27. This gentleman was a bombardier with two books to sell, which I didn't hesitate at all to buy both of. Even if they suck, he deserves no less!

This man was featured in the original newspaper article I saw that started all this, and he had flown cooped up in the tiny ball turret. I'm fascinated at how lucid and sharp these men were, both pushing 90. I could have stayed all day to talk to them, but the boys had other ideas.

I'm glad we got there early -- the lines got long, and moved very slowly. But I'm happy for the Collings Foundation that the lines were so long; I heard someone say with relief that this was the first line they'd had all week. It must cost a fortune to keep these old birds going.

I almost bought this sign. Feminism didn't exist in the 1940s, so it's not sexist.

Speaking of sexist, Dave took Katrina to "minastics" this morning, with mixed results. But I was really really happy not to deal with her at the planes. There is absolutely no way to carry a toddler through them, and all the standing and talking and looking at things just wouldn't have worked. She'll get lots of plane time at the airshow tomorrow. (If you detect a ring of guilt for being glad to have the time alone with the boys, you're right.)

The one thing I regretted was not being able to see these cool airplanes taking off or flying. Well, there's lots of videos and more time for that.

We'd spent all morning touring the planes and the boys finally dragged me away, kicking and screaming. But, it was just as well, a terrible headache came roaring back and I napped away the afternoon. I hate that, because we're still nowhere near unpacked or settled in -- we haven't even set up an audio system yet!! But I'm finding the motivation to set up the house very hard to come by. Touring old planes on the other hand -- it's time to live again, I'm tired of being held hostage by the house.

While I and Katrina napped, Dave took the boys to the BMX park, which I'm so glad about. They haven't done that for a while either, and after some encouragement, Julian went on all the mounds and bumps again. He had little fear of it when he was 3, but lately has been pretty hesitant. I wish I could have seen them though.

Later in the afternoon, my headache was a little better, but I really felt the need to exercise. I haven't run for a while, my back might be able to take around 5:30, knowing I was pushing it for dinner, I went to Rancho San Antonio.

As I was starting up one of the first hills, I heard an unusual drone above me...could it be? Suddenly a prop plane cleared the treetops -- could it be? The Army star was under the wings, it had 4 engines, and was the right color. And that sound! I couldn't believe it!! The B-17 was RIGHT OVER ME! I was in a spot that had a view of the hangars and runways at Moffett, so I was right in its flight path. Still, what are the odds I'd be right there at that exact moment? I was thrilled.

A minute later, I rounded a bend, and what did I see in the hazy distance: the B-24. Its strange shape was unmistakable, with the weird tail panels and its fat belly and its dark foreboding black body. The B-17 looks pretty unremarkable to a non-aviation person, as I am, but the B-24 looks truly eerie in the sky. I'd have stopped and said "What the heck is that?!" if I hadn't been crawling around in it earlier today.

I saw the B-17 twice more on my run, once with the P-51 flying right on its tail, just like 65 years ago. I couldn't believe how exciting that was. Then I admonished this the "war is glory" thing that people fall into? These planes represented the darkest of times, when fear and death and pain were necessary for liberty. There's nothing grand about it. I'm excited by the history of it, making old fuzzy black-and-white footage come alive, but these planes' real purpose is sobering and grim. I feel some guilt at how captivating the horror is, like I'm some sort of macabre voyeur who has absolutely no true concept of the fear or danger or loss or tragedy of war. Maybe it's time I learned a little more about it, beyond the heroes and survivors, and imparted some of that to the people in my house who could actually make a real difference in preventing it someday.

I'm so grateful to the Collings Foundation for some serious excitement and thought-provocation this week.


Friday, May 22, 2009

5/22/09 Wet and dry

Wet boys, dry girl! Swim lessons today for boys, underpants for girl.

Katrina went to Tonya's today in underpants, as an experiment. One wet pants, but three times to the potty upon request and dry the rest of the day. At home, she's adament against going when we suggest it, but she's been getting very consistent about volunteering. Still several major hurdles before we can ditch diapers, but still, terrific progress!


Thursday, May 21, 2009

5/21/09 Cooking class

Tonight I attended a Mom's Night Out special cooking class at Whole Foods, my very first cooking class! But it was also a Mom's Night Out, so it was casual and informal and we didn't have to work very hard at all. Maybe I've been watching too much Food Network (and I haven't watched much at all lately), because for some reason I was expecting we'd be under the gun and working hard the whole time. Not at all, and that's exactly what we needed for a night out. We made an appetizer, salad, main course, and a dessert, and I definitely picked up a few tips and a few good recipes.

Ordinarily, a cooking class would have been the highlight of my month, but I can't get my mind off the air-bombing campaigns in the mid-1940s, what these very young men had to do and how they survived it. And now I have yet another perspective from which to imagine it: that of the mothers. When I see a crew list on a 10-man bomber that included a pair of brothers, chills go down my spine.

I've been talking to the boys about bomber planes and why they existed, and am finding it's no easy feat to explain WWII, even in the simplest terms. "Why did the bad man Hitler want to take over the world?" Julian asked, riveted. Gabriel being about numbers had to ask right away when there was a World War I, and then added, "I sure hope there isn't ever a World War Three!" Yup, you and most others, kid. But there are some who are attempting to wage it now anyway.

It's a shame that history was consistently my worst subject in school, because I'm starting to feel like it's the most important subject for me to teach them.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

5/20/09 A historical ride

On May 15, one of my least favorite columnists in the San Jose Mercury News ran a story about a 10-year-old boy who is fascinated by flying, and who rode with some rode with WWII veterans on a WWII-era bomber.

The article mentioned that the two WWII bombers are here on the Wings of Freedom Tour historical aircraft tour, and that tours -- and rides -- are available on the old bombers. I couldn't stop thinking about it! Even though a 30-minute ride would cost me my summer wardrobe, I just couldn't pass it up. I reserved an 8:30am ride on the B-17.

I'd read about this plane in My War, a book Dave got me some time ago by Andy Rooney (yes of 60 Minutes fame), as he'd flown on some bombing missions before he moved to a much safer job reporting for The Stars and Stripes. But his book is where I learned about the extensive bomb campaign of Germany, from England, and the heavy losses of bombers. A B-17 carries a crew of 10, so a lot of guys get killed with one plane. I was fascinated to read stories of B-17s that came home despite incredible damage. I read up on the plane, on Wikipedia and various other Web sites, including numerous testimonials from the 457th Bomb Group Association.

So this morning, I arrived at Moffett Field at 7:45, barely able to contain myself. I'm so glad I arrived early, because I got to chat with a man who'd brought three of his friends -- all real WWII veterans -- for a flight, on his dollar (over $1700 of his dollars for all 4 of them). I didn't realize they were vets until one of them mentioned he was, and I was genuinely surprised -- he looked way too young. But he showed me his driver's license: born in 1919. The man was 90! Another veteran was a D-Day survivor, landed at Utah Beach. The third saw combat in Asia, and showed me the dent in his skull where he "left behind a piece of my forehead in Korea."

I was awestruck. What do you say to these amazing people? I had so many questions I was tongue-tied. I didn't even think to ask the obvious: what branch of the service they were in, if they were drafted, when they got out. But they did tell me a little about how they got through it, like ditching most of what they were given for equipment and carrying only the essentials. "90% of combat you're bored stiff," said Kent, the one without a complete forehead. "The other 10%, you're scared shitless." I think meeting them and marvelling that they really were there was more exciting, and poignant, than even flying on a genuine B-17 bomber.

Left to right: Bob (Hawaii and Phillipines, age 90), Bob (D-Day, with a patch on his jacket "Tough Ombres," named by Patton he said), me, and Kent (Korea and China).

Our plane is a B-17G, restored and in great shape. I had no real opportunity to ask the guys running the plane about it, like if it was in combat or not. There are only a handful left flying.

Not a great shot, but this is the entry hatch. "Boarding" means climbing through it.

I'll add that I clearly am not the usual demographic on these rides. Just like when I was riding with the BMW club, I was among the youngest, and the only woman. They all seemed surprised and delighted by this -- even the female reservation-taker asked me on the phone if this was for my husband. I don't know what the fuss is about -- I was far better-suited for crawling around the tight spaces than the guys. This hatch was by far the easiest thing to get in and out of on the plane.

While we were waiting, we kept seeing this blimp fly overhead. Buzzed by a blimp, can you imagine?!

Who knew blimps did touch-n-gos? Here it is on takeoff.

Before getting on the plane, the flight engineer gave us a bunch of instructions. This is a military plane, it has lots of places to bang heads and sharp corners. Don't grab the cables at the top, the pilots need those for steering. Don't lean on the hatches, they're designed for quick-release.

Once in the plane, me and another man were sent up front as we were smallest. My "seat" was a piece of plywood, my seat back was the back of the pilot's seat, and I had an archaic lapbelt. All the equipment was absolutely fascinating. Oh yeah, please don't kick those red levers, they're crucial valves of some sort. Roger!

This was tight for me -- some guy had to ride here for 8 hours at 30,000 feet unpressurized, being shot at? Jesus!

I was nervous and psyched for takeoff, but it turned out to be really easy and smooth. Within a minute, the flight engineer gave us the thumbs-out sign that we could unstrap and climb around to our heart's content.

Here, the "waist" of the plane is the luxury accommodations -- at least they had cushions to sit on.

The bombing bay, with about a 6" wide catwalk and narrow V-shaped columns to pass through. The "old guys" (not my words!) didn't even attempt to get through here, and so never made it to the forward half of the plane.

Kent in (I think) the radioman's area. I can't express how amazing -- spooky even -- it is to see the man and the equipment from a time gone by together in real life. And in color!

Pilots look where they're going to go too! Very cool. No talking to the pilots, please. It'd have been impossible anyway. It's LOUD. I liked hanging out behind them and seeing the engines though.

The best view in the house is in the nose. The entire nose is plexiglass (glass? I'm not sure), and it's under and forward of the pilots. This is the nose from the ground....

...and the nose from inside the plane. It's relatively roomy in there, though you have to climb down a narrow space between the pilots, then crouch through a sort of tunnel to get to it.

But what a view!

Still, I was keenly aware that the original occupants of this little penthouse were in the most vulnerable part of the plane, and that this enjoyment would be seriously tempered by being shot at.

Another awesome feature of this plane -- an open hatch at the top. A sunroof of sorts! I had to climb up a little to stick my head out, providing an incredible sensation. One that was tempered with the additional sensation of being about to be sucked out by the wind, so I didn't stay up long. It's impossible to turn your head forward, the wind is so strong at just 140mph that even it hitting you from behind is only tolerable for a few seconds.

But still, how cool is that. And the ever-present gun too. 5 gunners in a 10-man crew. Not to mention, the bombs. Take that, Luftwaffe! (The flight engineer did take care to tell us that the FAA would frown heavily on live ammunition, so this plane was not armed! I have to assume the bombs were fake or duds.)

It was over too soon, but the thrill will stay with me for a long, long time. The feeling of aliveness and excitement from something so unusual and so raw reminds me so much of when I was motorcycling, like I'm closer to real world or something. (Indeed, there does seem to be a high number of aviation-interested motorcyclists and motorcyle-interested aviators.)

Really, the experience of a lifetime. If this isn't enough to get my scrapbooking stuff out, I don't know what is!


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

5/19/09 Kindergarten kid

I went to Julian's kindergarten orientation today! I'm reminded again how much I don't like the school administration, and how much I do like the teachers. Well, I guess that's the better way to go.

One major point I wanted to find out is the school policy on kindergarten dropoffs and pickups. The CDC picks up kinders from the classroom, released by the teacher, but grade-schoolers leave the classroom on their own. Is this because of school policy for kindergartners? In the first part of the orientation, the principal lectured about the loading zone, where cars line up to pick up and drop off kids. OK, I guess kindergartners can leave the classroom on their own recognizance, walk to the loading zone, and get picked up -- I thought the teacher had to release them to an adult. But later, the school administrator made a big deal that only people listed on the child's Emergency Card is authorized to pick up the kid. I asked if the teachers have this card, and the main administrator lady glowered at me and repeated The Rule without answering my question, clearly interpreting my question as a practical challenge, which in a way, it was. I quickly explained to one of the teachers that I didn't think they should be stuck with checking I.D., they're busy enough as it is.

Two poor innocent new parents asked about getting together with other parents and incoming kindergartners for playdates over the summer, so that the kids could get to know each other. Seems reasonable, right? Of course, the perpetually flustered principal launched into some confidentiality policy about handing out parents' names. I had no choice but to pipe up and clarify that the class groupings are a closely guarded secret (I didn't use those words) until a few hours before school starts anyway, further un-ingratiating myself with the school. I felt bad for the new kindergarten moms, thinking that kindergarten should be such a fun friendly time and that the school might actually want it that way.

Julian is an A.M. kindergartner this time though. I came up with a most compelling reason to prefer AM over PM: because there's no way I can volunteer in the classroom if he's PM. That's true. There's only a slim chance I'll volunteer in the AM if I'm working, but slim isn't none.

I fell for these cheesy studio-type photos that Julian's preschool arranged for the graduating preschoolers.

I don't know why I buy these. I really don't like them. But I just can't pass up any photographic evidence of childhood. And besides, look at that beautiful, smiling, healthy, shining, happy little face! My precious Julian. (Who's been much better behaved the past few days.) (Gabriel is reading over my shoulder and disagrees.)

Katrina was in underpants tonight after getting home, and very proudly made use of the little potty three times!! Once, I didn't see any of it -- she even lifted the lid, pulled out the little cup, carried it to the big toilet, lifted the lids, dumped out the pee into the big toilet, then put the cup back. She was very very happy with herself, and my overjoyed reaction and heaped-on praise and fanfare was no act!

Hard to believe that in two years, I'll be butting heads once again with the school administrators yet again in kindergarten orientation.


Monday, May 18, 2009

5/18/09 Girls will be .... boys?!

Katrina is suddenly obsessed with sunscreen. She's been spitting on herself and then spreading it around: "Look, Mommy, sunscream!"

And then, on the way into the house today, she stopped at the rosemary bush on the front steps, pulled her pants down, pulled her shirt up and pushed her hips forward as little boys do, so as to project forward an organ she doesn't have.

"I want to pee on the bush!"

No wonder she's not potty-training! Too many brothers around here, neither of whom would confess to this influence. The next thing you know, she'll be aiming for lemon trees.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

5/17/09 Heat wave!

It was unusually hot here today, especially for May. And somehow we'd picked today to go to the park with other Las Madres friends, though fortunately this park is in its own little microclimate with a breeze. First, a fun Zumba class at the Y. Going to the park made up for going to the Y two days in a row, in Gabriel's mind.

Katrina was adorable in a dress today, though this was the only photo she'd allow.

The boys actually unloaded the entire dishwasher this morning! Gabriel was in a quest to recover his Snap Circuit alarm that got put away for excessive rudeness yesterday, and Julian joined in the project. It took some climbing and guessing on their parts, but they did great. Hmm, now that I know they can do that, it's time to up chore duty around here!