Everything weird, cool, sweet and stupid about Christmas in one ornament

Veni, vici, shopi!

All hail the conquering Christmas gift hero (me) who shopped locally and came home with such treasures as this festively striped donkey-in-a-sombrero Christmas tree ornament. It’s like a piñata, but of course you shouldn’t hit it with a stick because it’s made of glass… or whatever ornaments are made of that so easily turns to dangerous shards when the pretty little things drop from the tree to the floor.

I can’t imagine how the person who will receive this one (million) of a kind present, lovingly handmade by (Chinese) elves, has lived without it! But seriously, I love it – a little bit. Glitter comes off on your fingers like magic pixie dust when you touch it. Feliz navidad.

Have you heard of Tijuana zebras? Here’s a Flickr photo pool of the tourist attraction through the years.

Going viral

I’ve had the mother of all rhinoviruses for a week now. I can’t remember the last time I had a full-blown sore throat, post nasal drip, pickaxe in the temple headache, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, can’t take a deep breath head cold like this one.

This morning I finally broke down and chugged a capful of Robitussin (expiration date 5/2010) then went out and did some therapeutic shopping for Christmas ornaments and stocking stuffers at Abode, followed by a trip to Philbrick’s Fresh Market for snacks and dinner (yum) and Yogi tea (om).

It is cold out, with a glaze of ice from the snow-rain we had this afternoon. The sun wore a gray cloud veil all day and the nearly-full moon does tonight. I am sipping half a glass of red wine and reading a really good book by the fire, with the cat next to me and the dog at my feet.

I enjoy convalescence. It is the part that makes the illness worthwhile. – George Bernard Shaw

Hampton Airfield dreams

Take off

So you want to fly, boy?

Lessons, rentals, camaraderie (and breakfast and lunch) at the best little grass strip airfield in New England:  Hampton Airfield. It’s a place where a 16-year-old can solo on his 16th birthday (above, in plane #2 that day) and a small throng of family and friends comes out to wave and cheer him on.

Hampton Union, Nov. 23: Young pilot goes solo on 16th birthday

History of the airfield, located in the middle of the Seacoast region

Flying high

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Young pilot goes solo to celebrate 16th birthday
by Amy Kane
Hampton Union, Nov. 23, 2012

NORTH HAMPTON — Under fair November skies, with a temperature of 46 degrees and north winds breezing at 6 knots, Alex Bettcher celebrated his 16th birthday by having a large piece of his T-shirt cut off with a giant pair of scissors. Not once, but three times, with three different shirts.

This rite of passage, the ceremonial shirt cutting, is a time-honored tradition in aviation. It marks the first solo flight of a student pilot of any age. But just as a student driver cannot get a driver’s license before age 16, a student pilot is not allowed to take off and land a plane solo until that same birthday milestone.

A flight qualifies as “solo” when, alone in the plane, the aviator takes off, flies around the airport pattern and lands to a full stop three times in a row. Alex Bettcher was so ready for this that he soloed in not just one but three aircraft on Wednesday, Nov. 14, his 16th birthday.

“Flying is easy,” he said after he stepped out of the first plane, a vintage 1946 Piper J-3 Cub. “What’s hard is my age, and waiting for this day.”

Alex has logged 80 hours of flight time; he will probably log another 80 before he turns 17 and can get his private pilot’s license. He plans to become a certified light-sport aircraft flight instructor next, building more flying time and being paid to teach others. To help fund his hobby and future career, Alex has been working for airfield owners Mike and Cheryl Hart, pumping gas, washing planes, raking leaves and more — sometimes until 8 or 9 at night.

Cheryl Hart calls Alex “our boy wonder.”

“Everybody loves him. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, he’s there to help you. And he’s an amazing pilot,” she said.

Alex first realized he loved to fly when a family friend took him for a ride out of Lawrence Airport in Massachusetts when he was 11 years old.

“It was breathtaking. I almost didn’t have words for it,” he said.

One of his sixth-grade teachers at North Hampton School, Dana Miller, noticed his interest and pointed him in the direction of Hampton Airfield. Alex rode his bike there — and he still does. The sophomore at Winnacunnet High School skipped a drivers’ education course this semester to focus on aviation.

Dana Miller’s husband, Garrett Miller, grew up in North Hampton and learned to fly at Hampton Airfield. He is now a flight instructor there, as well as a firefighter and paramedic in Portsmouth. He became Alex’s primary flight instructor. Last Wednesday, he was feeling confident as he watched his student take off alone.

“It’s easy to stand on the sidelines with Alex up there. He’s a great pilot,” Miller said.

Joining Miller with their eyes on the sky were about 30 friends and family members, including Alex’s parents Deb and Kurt Bettcher, of North Hampton, his big sister Nicole Bettcher with her kids Hailey and Chase, grandparents Phyllis and Gino Funari, of Hampton, his aunt Pam Davis, and his grandmother Joan Bettcher, of North Hampton.

“I had tears in my eyes,” said Joan Bettcher. “Here is the little boy I took care of for years, grown up to be a man.”

Paula Maynard and Gene Gray, owners of the banner-towing business Skyline Aerial Ads, which is based at the airfield, were also on hand to witness Alex’s solo flights.

Paula Maynard praised his focus and dedication.

“Alex did whatever had to be done to get to this point. He had the drive. We wanted to be here to support him,” she said.

After he parked the J-3 Cub and cheerfully endured a chorus of “Happy Birthday,” Alex logged solo time in a Cessna 172, then a Piper J-5A Cub Cruiser nicknamed the Pumpkin Piper for its intense orange paint.

Alex has had his hands on the stick or yoke of 28 different airplanes since he started lessons.

Though Garrett Miller is his primary instructor, Alex considers all the pilots at Hampton Airfield to be his teachers. He said one of his most memorable flights was a trip to New Jersey down the Hudson River VFR, or “visual flight rules” corridor in a Cessna 180 with Dick Cumming, Dennis Gilfoil and George Forrest.

“We were seeing the buildings of New York City at eye level,” Alex said.

“I’ve met so many amazing people here,” he said. “The atmosphere is great. Pilots are really friendly.”

Legend has it that in the early days of aviation, before radio communication, when — as in a Piper Cub — pilot and instructor sat one in front of the other, instructors would tug on a student’s shirttails then yell in his or her ear to give instructions. Cutting a shirt signifies that the student can now fly without the instructor.

The pieces of Alex’s T-shirts are on display, along with those of many other first-time solo pilots, in the flight office at Hampton Airfield. Name, date, and aircraft are written on each piece.

On the shirt marking his second solo, in the Cessna 172, Alex’s instructor wrote, “SLOW DOWN!!”

Though he may slow the speed of his aircraft, it looks like Alex is practically rocketing toward a future in aviation.

(See also: Hampton Airfield dreams)

In the pink

November blossom

I had my iPhone with me on a walk through the campus at Swarthmore College yesterday. Still a few roses blooming in the rose garden, with a backdrop of autumn color.

Morning jolt

Very cold morning. The dog rolls on frosted silvery grass blades like it feels good. The chickens are fluffed like down tuffets.

Beach cleanup this morning at 9. I skipped my new morning ritual of the past week of getting up at 5:30 a.m. and going to the gym before I can realize I don’t want to. I bring a mug of hot fresh coffee mixed with milk and whey protein powder and travel north in the quiet, cold dark. Then I arrive and open the door to a bright, busy place full of bright, busy people and feel like I have left the bleak tundra and arrived in Santa’s workshop at the North Pole.

But wouldn’t it be good if the energy spent on the machines powered something? Connect the treadmills and ellipticals and stationary bikes and stairclimbers and weight machines to the electrical grid, somehow, and you could brew your morning coffee with my morning walk!