Friday, January 31, 2014

Photos--Blue Angels

The Blue Angels have been to the Florida Keys twice since I've lived here, for a total of four shows. I've been to every show and cannot believe our good fortune down here. Not only have they been here twice, lest anyone forget I shall remind you... the government pulled a doozy and we had that sequester.... remember? Well the Blue Angels were grounded just AFTER the Key West Show. The air show of Spring 2013 was the first, last and only Blue Angels show of their 2013 season. My heart sank for the Blue Angels team when that happened. Imagine working your entire life to become associated somehow with that group, from the mechanics to the pilots to everyone in between, and then WHAM-O grounded.

I have thousands of photos from the shows. Two years of shows, 2 shows each time, for a grand total of 4 shows. At the time, I had a pretty good camera with a rapid shutter. For the 2013 round of photos, I had a pretty big lens, big enough so that some people around me were actually ducking from my lens.... THAT'S how to shoot an event!

These photos are random, and not photoshopped for perfection. They're mixed in from 2 years worth of shows as I said.

Nothing compares to seeing an air show like this, nothing. There's music blasting to get you going, but all bets are off on that as soon as the engines fire up. You hear nothing but jets. You can feel your entire insides rumbling, and the ground shakes. Smoke fills the air just before takeoff. The air becomes heavy with the smell of jet fuel.

I've been moved to tears at every show, don't ask me why, it just happens. That, along with an immense feeling of pride for our country, and gratitude for our heroes the world over.

This is "Fat Albert" a C-130 cargo plane.
It is absolutely huge.
The pilot pulls maneuvers in this plane that despite it's size, seems to defy gravity.
This is a good shot to show perspective of size. Incredible.
There's a fair amount of regimented what I call ceremony before the show.
It's very beautiful. Every step from every pilot, as well as crew, is purposeful.
I might put more pictures up another time showing all that.
Here, the pilots before they board their planes.

Taxiing down the runway.

The runway behind... cannot see them this angle.
The engines are so loud at this point, you can't hear yourself speak.

They're off!

Up to the sky.

The Blue Angels pilot on sight, not instruments.
They fly so close together.
They fly as one.

You cannot imagine the speed they are flying at with these maneuvers.


How many planes do you count in this photo?

Unbelievably, at some point, this osprey began to fly through the area.
He wouldn't leave.
I was freaking out.
There must have been a nest nearby.
It was beautiful, scary and ironic to watch.
Perhaps it was an osprey that inspired the first aviation engineers.
PS: The osprey was ok, unharmed, nothing bad happened.

Get your freak on!

"Smoke On!"
Hell yeah Commander!

There's one, then 5, then 3, then four.
Then they seem to disappear.
Then, they're reunited all together (7)
In perfect synchronicity.

Blue Angel Crown maneuver.


Rolling, diving and soaring in the sky.

They do this thing at the shows.... where they fly so slow, nose up.
Almost like they're simply hanging in the sky.
Right over the crowd, they Hang 10 (or whatever they call it officially!)
It's magnificent.

I am amazed.

High speed, low altitude, head on maneuver.
VERY high speed.

Poetry in motion.

U.S. Navy indeed.
U.S. Marines too, by the way, in case you didn't know.

Look carefully.
This is 2 planes, 1 upside down.

Terra Firma.

So many proud moments.

Whoops, out of order.... this was when I was front row in the VIP section.  OMG, a dream come true.
There was sensory overload at this moment.

Taxiing after the show.


Every pilot gets out and steps on their mark.
There's a lot of saluting.
It's very stunning to witness.

Damn, so much sacrifice and talent is in this photo.
I'm so humbled.

Yeah, damn good show!

Friday, January 10, 2014

On Losing a V.I.F.

I lost a V.I.F. this week.

Very Important Friend.

It was quite sudden. It has thrown me completely for a loop.

The other happy vegan also lost a V.I.F. two days before Thanksgiving.

It's all so hard to believe.

You never know when you're going to make a friend. Well, ok, I never know when I'm going to make a friend. Real true blue friendship does not come easy for me, and I wonder if that's relatively common as we get older.

This particular V.I.F. and I had a friendship that was built on mutual admiration. I seriously adored this friend. She had a razor sharp wit, was very well read and could hold a good conversation on any subject. She loved animals, was kind, patient, compassionate, a good listener, and would always strive to do her best. Although we hadn't seen each other in a long time, we had kept in touch through the magic powers of social media. It was fabulous!

There were always things I would read or hear about, and she was the first person I would want to discuss things with. We didn't always see eye-to-eye, but that was completely ok, because we could disagree about things, but still listen to each other. I confided things to her I'd never confided before. To anyone. Ever. She was a good listener, a good advocate, a good person.

One of the things I loved most about my V.I.F. was her Joie de vivre. I mean, seriously she had that and there's no other words to express that about her, and especially with animals. She LOVED animals. They loved her right back.

She was the candle that lit other candles.

Recently, she told me she had found out some bad health news, which was quite a shock. After that, there were a few benign conversations back and forth through social media. Then she was not there for a few days. I noticed immediately. I posted a few tiny love notes on her wall, and when we went to see the Monks, I bought a special string of prayer flags and card to send out to her. They're still sitting on my table...

While I was looking on the internet, I found a little video of a dog doing something funny, it was one of her favorite types of dogs. I copied the link and was going to paste it on her wall, but when I got there instead I found a shocking message that had been posted by one of my V.I.F.'s family members that she had passed.

I was absolutely stunned. Still am.

I read the message over and over. And over, and over.

In the short time since she's been gone, there have already been too many things to count in the news I've wanted to write to her about. There's been funny videos, adorable pictures of animals, inspirational quotes, and very serious things happening in the world, all of which make me think of her.

I keep going to her social media site. Looking at all her writings, her photos. Her plans, her dreams.

I have been going through old emails we shared together, reading, re-reading.

It's very difficult to lose a loved one, there is no one who doesn't understand this through personal experience. But, it's a different kind of loss when you lose someone you have chosen to have in your life. My dad taught me this lesson, and it was excruciating to watch when he lost his best friend in a plane crash. My dad witnessed the crash, he was the first person to render aid to his V.I.F. I had never seen my father react like he did, and by that point he had already suffered tremendous personal family loss. But, he explained to me very bluntly "we choose our friends."

Yes, we do.

I chose my V.I.F. and she chose me.

Now there's just me.

Rest in peace my V.I.F.

I cannot believe you are gone. Never to be forgotten.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Loaded Question

I was on Facebook earlier today looking at a media site. I noticed a post someone had written saying they want to go veg, and were asking for help. I responded saying I was vegan and gave some pretty basic tips and stuff. To my surprise almost instantly there was a response, and a chat thread began. I learned that this person lived in a far away country and before long, we had taken the conversation off that board and to our private pages. We exchanged chit chat about food and stuff. One of the first questions I was asked is what is it like being vegan?

What is it like being vegan?

I sat and thought, I had NEVER been asked this question before. How is that even possible to not have been asked that?

I thought a moment more. What IS it like for me being vegan?

I didn't want to scare away my new friend because I knew there is sincere effort for wanting to go veg. And, he seems like a nice person. Further, I am interested in people, and learning about people and different countries, and cultures. Because of this, I kept it relatively light, not going into the whole deal for me about what is it like for me being vegan.

That is a loaded question if I ever heard one. Seems so basic, but it's so complex.

What is it like for me being vegan?

Being vegan is liberating for me. It gives me freedom to try and eat anything that exists that is non-animal based, or by-product. I never used to live like this before, I was a relatively picky eater, actually more of the type of person who was not experimental, instead ate the same few types of foods, whatever they were. Now, if it's vegan, I will try anything once.

Being vegan makes me joyful. I have completely altered my perception of other life on this planet. I now am "out" and feel confident enough to shout out that animals are just like us, they feel joy, pain, love, grief and all the other emotions. The problem is, we use our might and bully them around, exploiting them.

Animals live on the same planet as us, but it is a VERY different world for them.

Being vegan has so many positive things. My health has improved. You may overhear me say "I'm tired," but I stopped and thought about that today too. I am approaching AARP age (oh my freaking dog, is that possible?) fast enough, and I am putting in 12-14 hours a day 7 days a week. I work out consistently about 5 days a week, run a few miles 5 days a week, and do lots of things to serve my community and neighbors. Of course I'm tired!  Most people this age work 40 hours a week, and complain they're tired. I have tons more energy than some people half my age. It's vegan that is boosting me!

Being vegan makes me part of a "club" of sorts. I find kindred spirits all the time just by hearing them say "I'm vegan." I know that they understand much of what I do too.  It's so good to just be accepted by the tight knit veg community across the globe.

Then, there is the dark side. How is it even possible there is a dark side maybe you wonder? To me, the dark side is living with the knowledge that I have contributed to the suffering of animals, that I have caused torture and death because I ate meat, dairy, chose to wear animal skins like it was a badge of honor or something like that. It's not. It is, now for me, a sign of ignorance (or denial) to wear skins, eat meat, to be joyful on the death of another. And, then there comes the actual educational process of becoming vegan. I had to find out the truth. I read leaflets, I saw photos, I watched videos, I read books, I joined AR organizations, I heard the screams. I still do all that, and it wears on me. But, it keeps me motivated, it propels me daily to fight the good fight.

I understand why people live in denial because they may feel overwhelmed about the truth in the non-veg world about animals for food, animals for entertainment, animals for clothing, or anything else. It's absolutely HORRIFYING. Abuse. Violence. Torture. Murder. Suffering. Suffering. Suffering.

So much suffering.

This is the dark side. Once I knew the truth, I cannot forget it. Then again, why would I WANT to forget it? Is ignorance really bliss? No, it is not. Ignorance is NOT bliss, because ignorance is the equivalent of death to another sentient being.

I've mentioned this little story before, but it bears repeating. Was it in "Bizarro" or was it some other "comic" strip.... there's 2 people playing with an ant farm. Joking and laughing about the captive ants, working really hard, they don't know any better they're stuck in a box, right? Their whole life, in that box. And, then flash to the next box.... 2 aliens holding a box. Inside the box are the 2 people holding the ant farm. See where I'm going with this?  Yes, of course you do.

I think someday aliens will visit us and take "specimens" for study. They will study us and ask "do humans feel pain? can humans feel joy?" you know, just like we do with animals now. And, it will be their form of "research" but it will separate parents from children, tear families and friends away from each other, and be a horrible thing full of abuse, violence, torture, murder. Suffering. Suffering Suffering.

So much suffering.

No one has ever said to me a reason I can accept for NOT going veg that is anything but selfish. It's "I can't watch that" "I need protein" "I love bacon" "I work out and I need meat and eggs." Notice that every sentence starts with "I."

I get impatient with humanity and myself on the issue of compassion. There's no time to waste we have to do the maximum NOW. There's too much suffering, too much murder, too much torture.  Too much pollution, too much waste. Too much vanity and too much selfishness.

The ONLY regret I have about being vegan is that I didn't go vegan sooner. The only other regret I have is not really my regret because I cannot control this next one.... it's that I wasn't born vegan.

Being vegan has at times caused others to bully me and publicly ridicule me. Plus, I've been slurred more than once saying that it's a good thing I don't have children because I'm not fit to parent being vegan.

Oh my.

It's incredible how some people have a "gift" of being able to deflect things away from the realities of their own choices and push insane comments off to someone else as an argument.

Regardless, those words and comments like it always sting.

I've been expected to defend my compassionate choices with insane digs about "what if I lived on a deserted island, and only meat was there, would I eat it?"

Um, seriously....?!!!!

What's it like being vegan?

It's the greatest joy, that has come at the "expense" of trading ignorance for knowledge.

Ignorance is not bliss. Knowledge is power.

What's it like for me being vegan?

I guess there's an element of power for me having immersed myself in this lifestyle. Maybe power isn't the right word... it's more EMpowered.

Yes. That's it!

Stream of consciousness writing at it's best.

I've been called names and referred to as a zealot. If I consider the true meaning of "zealot," I don't think that's a bad thing, but when someone calls you that, they don't mean it as a compliment. This I have learned.

What's it like for me being vegan?

I aspire to be more, to do better. More what? Better what? 

More everything, better everything. More than an innkeeper, more than a cook. More than a student of life. More than a vegan. Better advocate. Better activist.  Better mentor. Better teacher. Better student.

A better human being.

What's it like being vegan?

It's like knowing the best thing EVER, and wanting to share it with everyone else, so they can know the best thing EVER too.