Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Rusty Stupidness and Banked Miles

Photo by Scott Robinson

Here’s the thing about staying out of the skies for a couple years: you get rusty. Stupid rusty, thereby making stupid rusty stupid mistakes.

Backstory: We haven’t flown since our oldest son married back in May of 2012. Come to think of it, we didn’t even fly then from Chicago to his wedding in Albuquerque. We drove because we could and it’s easier and healthier since I could spread my altitude adjustments over a few days and it's cheaper and we could pack any dang thing we wanted to without extra fees and eat what and where we wanted and see new things along the way and we’re mostly retired and we have a comfortable car with heated AND cooled seats. Ba-BAM!

So when was the last time we flew? Hm. I had to search my mind (nothing) and email files to learn it was back in 2009, also to ABQ. Before that, in 2007 we flew to Florida for a cruise. Before that, I flew Very Often while book touring and speaking my way across the country and back again, and then from here to there in an X pattern and then a star and…

So here we are in 2015 when we still really don’t want to fly but need to get to Albuquerque for our son’s 50th (declared his Five-OH!) birthday party. Since we tempted the fates and drove 3200 miles this past December without severe weather incident (future TravelingLaughs and boy have I got stories to tell!), we decided doing so again in February would be pushing our luck.

But moreover—and thus starts the STUPID (a word I just typo-d and had to correct, gheesh!)--I was tired of babysitting 43,145 American Airlines miles (out of a lifetime 560,145) which have been on the verge of expiring several times over many years thereby causing biannual Ridiculous Encounters of the Vigilant Kind.


--Years ago I lost over 40,000+ hard-earned (actually flew) United Airline miles because they expired. I’ll take the blame: I wasn’t paying close enough attention. I discovered the loss the day after they expired. I contacted United who would have been glad to sell them back to me for a bunch of money I didn’t have. Gone. Not gonna happen with my AA miles, I vowed.

--We quit using a credit card to rack up AA miles way back when they started charging to use said miles. We opted for cash-back cards with dollars that don’t expire and are easy for me to spend, right dear?

So, how to safeguard my 43,145 miles if we weren’t flying or using a mileage card? Well, we could add to them, thereby keeping them, by shopping via an AAdvantage eshopping portal (set up another account to manage and remember that password) that offered ever changing X number of miles per dollars spent at various stores. Which triggered its own separate vigilance:  after jumping through all the appropriate click-through links, did they actually POST the miles? Sometimes not. But please contact them if that happens. :)

To stop the madness, as Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank says, we decided to finally rid ourselves of those always-need-to-be-vigilant brain draining miles by using them.

Too bad this decision didn’t stop the RUSTY STUPID but instead highlighted it!

Since it took 50,000 miles to fly roundtrip to ABQ, I needed to purchase the difference which cost $177--with 145 miles left over which I'm telling you right now I've decided never to care about. Ever. Just before I clicked PURCHASE an “invoice” of sorts presented itself adding a $30 “processing fee”. I sat staring at the screen. I shall not repeat what I first said aloud to nobody, then repeated even louder. But eventually I said to myself, You’re going to end the quickly compounding madness, remember? Just push BUY and get the miles, Charlene!

[SIDENOTE: I am in the wrong business or I am double stupid since before you read this TravelingLaugh you were not charged a $30 “blog processing fee” to read it. But my wheels are spinning for the next installations, so watch out.]

I was notified said purchased miles could take up to three days to show up in my account, and if they didn’t, I should contact them. (More vigilance.) They advised making and holding my reservations until such time as I received notification my account was funded with necessary miles and THEN I could actually purchase the tickets. I made the reservations for all three legs (from a bunch of not-so-hot choices), selected seats (from abysmal choices) and said, Whew! All those years of fretting about protecting miles finally comes to an end. 

The next day (well, at least it wasn’t three days) I received notification the miles were in my account. The email came complete with a handy-dandy purchase link which I clicked. I quickly received my eTickets and an email receipt charging me $150 MORE ($75 per ticket) plus taxes.

Wait. What?! What is this $150? Seems waiting for miles (and being STUPID RUSTYI used to KNOW these things!) put me at 21 days before travel, which costs $75 per ticket to use my own miles on flights I’d never otherwise select in seats that suck. In case you forgot, if you book 21 days or sooner, you’re financially doomed—I just didn’t remember that would be the case with FREE.

So now I was up to $177 plus $30 more plus taxes plus $150 plus yet more taxes to rid myself of those tormenting 43,145 miles, a nut I couldn’t quite swallow. I sat at my desk and prayed, did shoulder rolls, pictured puppies romping through fields of lavender, inhaled, exhaled, counted to 20 and prayed some more, let my shoulders drop and phoned AAdvantage.

Question One, asked in the nicest kindest voice (lavender, puppies…) I’ve ever heard come out of me: Is it costing me to talk to you? I honestly asked that question because some latent memories began to kick in … Don’t call, don’t call ... if it costs $30 to process online, what will a voice charge? The swell woman (seriously) answered No and I began to explain the order of my events leading to what felt to me like a complete surprise $150 charge, $150 more than was in my budget for this trip. I still had the rental car to contend with, oh my.

She looked up everything and verified the “Day 21 Beforehand” timing. First she said she was going to turn me over to someone, then took pity on poor ol’ me and decided she could handle things herself, which would be her attempt to eradicate the $150 by moving our reservations back two days, if such a move was possible. After lots of her clicking and me holding and endless Thankyou, thankyou, THANKYOUing on my part, mission accomplished! I even received a confirmation email complete with an invoice for nothing but yet more taxes—although as I type this I’m thinking: check your credit card charges STUPID! (Did you feel the tension-filled pause there while I checked, and thank goodness STUPID didn’t find anything bad, like a $150 charge.)

At 3 a.m. I was awakened by what I can only call another subconscious STUPID alarm. Why hadn’t she asked me about seat assignments? Why hadn’t I thought about them?! I ran into my office, booted up and discovered zero seats available for the first leg of our two-leg flight to ABQ. The note at the top of the page said:

Heads up!

The number of seats available to pre-reserve are fewer than the number of people in your party. Please check back later or see a Ticket Counter or Gate Agent on the day of your flight.

WHAT? I clicked to the next outbound leg via DFW. We had the same two seats I’d originally selected (the last two-together left at the back of the plane). One more click to our return flight home and … Another Heads up! (And head bang.) I phoned and inquired about this predicament and was told not to worry. It was explained that they hold certain seats which they’d release 24 hours before the flight. I could go online flight day and select them when I checked in, or get them assigned pre-flight at the airport. Again, I was told not to worry, that the flight was not oversold as I’d suggested, and that We. Would. Have. Seats.

This is when I knew they knew I was STUPID!

I have checked multiple times since and see there are still no seats. I am trying not to fret since the Five-Oh! party is mid-day the day after we’re supposed to arrive on a flight for which we have no seat assignments.


SPECIAL REQUEST: If any of you seasoned travel vets knows how I can be assured we’ll get seats or overcome this dilemma, please chime in now in the comments. I'm exhausting myself constantly checking what I feel pretty sure isn't going to change.

If all you have for me is the bad news I feel pretty assured I’m up against, go right ahead and reaffirm my RUSTY STUPIDNESS.  I deserve it. Years ago I would have known better. 

I can only hope that if we do get to fly I don’t have all kinds of stuff confiscated at the gate since I am, yes, THAT RUSTY STUPID. (All together now, it's 3-1-1 but what exactly does that mean again ... **Charlene goes Googling**)
PS I'm sorry for crazy font issues toward the end of my post. I have no idea why that is happening. The more I tried to fix it, the more widespread it became. Although the issues don't show up on my working end, they sure do when I post. Sigh...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Making Plans--HAHAHAHAHA!

This week my business travel plans have been so flexible I’ve gone nowhere. That seemingly never ending “wintry mix” (read ICE!) keeps hanging around my driving destination causing my ongoing delays. If I’d scheduled a flight, I’d likely be there already.


This morning, after pulling the plug again (WHAT?! MORE wintery mix?! Yesterday they said it'd be gone!), I did get to enjoy a combo business/social breakfast meeting with an author friend, something I’d have missed if I’d headed toward Minnesota yesterday as originally scheduled. We chatted about the state of publishing (watch for a future TravelingLaugh on THAT hairy topic!) and the fact that today, her husband set off on his first of many future business trips to downtown Chicago. Due to situations beyond his control, he’s become a part-time Windy City commuter, something I sure wouldn’t welcome. Out here in the burbs, we like hopping in our cars and actually getting places without trains and transfers. When there isn’t road work mucking things up, slowing us down, bringing us to screeching halts. (Process of full disclosure: there is ALWAYS road work everywhere since this is Illinois. **she sighs**)

At 10:30 a.m., my friend received a phone call from her daughter, due home today from college. Via the airlines. Her daughter had just received an email from Orbitz announcing her 7 p.m. flight had been cancelled. Weather? I asked. Could be, but sometimes airlines cancel flights that aren’t full enough. We all know that.

I pulled up RadarNow on my smart phone, an app worthy of full-feature pay. Whoa! There was a huge-o-rama storm moving her daughter’s way, a massive multi-colored swirl broadcasting plenty of watches and warnings. After a few phone calls, it looked like they could get her out early, before the storms. If everything went as planned, her cancellation would ultimately deliver a Good Thing. Although she was supposed to be in classes today, she could work with professors to turn a few things in early.

I, on the other hand, cannot drive over the storms or beat them as they linger and aim right at me.

In my younger days, I poo-pooed the possibilities and hit the road. Now, fully aware how many cars quickly crash and meld together on Interstate highways during those snaky wintry mixes (and foggy episodes and no reason at all snarls), I make decisions carefully, especially when what waits on the other end can postpone. If business can’t stall, tighter budgets and advancements in teleconferencing present Option Three: stay put and get your business done anyway.

But not all delays are so easily swallowed. A couple weeks ago my beloved aunt passed away. In good weather, it wouldn’t have taken more than a two-and-a-half hour drive to attend her Indiana funeral. But here came another doozy of a storm. 

We watched the weather, made calls, fretted …. One place you seriously don’t want to be when snow is flying and the winds are howling is on Interstate 65. I kept in close contact with scattered cousins in the area, most who said “STAY PUT!” In the end, that’s what we did, but it was a gut wrenching decision. As it turns out, I-65 partially closed the day of the funeral, the day we would have been coming home. The storm was so bad the after-funeral meal was cancelled. One of my cousins said her prayers and blasted through local drifts in her big old pickup, grateful she wasn’t worried about us making our way back to Illinois too.

In the end we each do what we can*. I wanted to say what we must(*), but Mother Nature’s rip-roaring laughter might shake us all off the planet.
UPDATE: It’s now 3:30 and I just received a text from my friend. Her daughter’s tickets have thus far been rewritten twice. She’s now scheduled on a 6:30 flight. The poor young thing has a headache, is almost out of cell phone battery and doesn’t have her charger. Rather than expend any energy on frustration (WHAT? No CORD?!), together we momma’s are praying. What else is there to do when you’re up against the airlines AND Mother Nature? “God, just keep our babies safe.” 

FURTHER UPDATE: It's 4:49 and I heard back from my friend who just heard from her daughter. She's been delayed again "a few hours" so it may be midnight before she gets home.  BUT, she had some coffee to kick the headache, used her mom's credit card to buy a phone charger, got herself a decent meal, and is feeling better about having to sit tight.

You know, my lounge chair suddenly looks really inviting. There is something to be said for going nowhere. 
PS AND THE REAL KICKER: I just Googled "pictures of Mother Nature" to add to the beginning of this blog post. First up in the "sponsored results" www.Tampax.com . And you think Mother Nature isn't laughing now?!?!?! 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Don't Mess With a System That Works

Although I’m no longer flitting around the country like a “fart in a whirlwind”, as my grandma used to say (for real, she said that), I still do my ample share of trekking between Illinois and Minnesota. In my car. Where I can pack any size knife AND my dog Kornflake. Even when he has gas. (Thank you God for inventing mouth breathing.)

But no matter where/when I find myself planning that next trip, and no matter how long between trips, for the last decade there is one bag I never unpack: Kipling’s Sherpa Carry-on Tote. Brilliant red, baby. I simply work out of it so that when I get to the “otherly” place I’m sure I’ll have my toothpaste, eye shadow, emergency Zantac, deodorant, foot powder, moisturizer, book of matches (you never know), knee brace, exotic earrings and all  other must-haves like a few pair of Dollar Tree glasses and way too many ballpoint pens. 

When I get home, I set this bag out of the way on the bathroom floor and leave it unzipped. Whatever comes out of it goes back into it. Working out of a bag on the floor helps my health:  Bend and stretch. Bend and stretch. Bend and stretch.

Since I'm doing no air travel as of late, the only time I'll alter this system is when I do have to fly, in which case I'll find the few tall bottles and swap them for my short ones. Trade off the large toothpaste tube for the travel one. Trade for trade. That way I For Sure won't take something out I need.

I’ve talked about my Kipling bags before. I also shared a picture of the vintage snap-lock “cosmetic bag” I keep filled with of G.I.Joe body parts from yesteryear. (Mother of sons who used to like to pretend to blow things up, so you might want to check that link out after all guys, relive your own memories.)  I can always—always--cram just one more thing into my Kiplings, although as of yet I’ve found no need to add any body parts. I hope the TSA or some other federal agency doesn't start watching me now, just for saying that.

These soft bags weigh almost nothing when empty, have extremely durable zippers and just the right amount of exterior and interior pockets. Truly great organizers. After years of use they still look brand new. Wish I could say the same for my face. They come with shoulder straps too. They're also offered in manly colors like boring black. (Nothing personal.)

Process of full disclosure: don’t fall in love with my exact large Kipling duffle bag show here because I can no longer find it online, not even on eBay. But just so you can lust after it ... And there are other versions.

Since I often make that Chicago/Minnesota trek between our main digs and the writing hideaway we rent year-around, there is another “bag” which is really a “bin” that stays active, for lack of a better definition. We (hubs and I) keep it out of the way, but “out.” Our marital shorthand goes something like, “Put it in the blue bin.” This way as soon as we think of something that needs to go back or forth, and because we’ll soon forget what we thought of, we put it in the bin rather than on a list which we’ll also lose. 

There are a few must-have, always-use household items we don’t want to duplicate, so we keep them stored in the bin, like my Tupperware Spin N Save Salad Spinner and my Pampered Chef garlic press.
(Who doesn't love a good party?!) Seriously, that garlic press transformed my life! Why put them in a cabinet here or there where we might forget them? Use, wash, dry, back in the bin. We store the camera there too, and my prescriptions and vitamins and a small empty White Castle hamburger box (lower right-hand corner of the bin). I'm not sure why the White Castle box is there, but it's been there for years and like I said, DON'T MESS WITH A SYSTEM THAT WORKS! Since the blue bin is always "active," the giant thing is hard to forget when we're packing the car.

So there you have it: one old woman’s methodology. What about you? Got any “always do it this way” keen-o, neat-o, fail-safe, gotta-have travel ideas and necessities? Go ahead and share them here in the comments.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Hunka Hunka Burnin' Bod

Recently a dear male friend of ours underwent fairly long-term radiation therapy. He said he could finally identify with the hideousness of hot flashes since his radiation caused not only bouts of the daily surges, but night sweats too. His clinical explanation of the two-for phenomena: “They suck.”

Yes indeedy-do.

Coldfront®, a product that at first glance might seem like it’s just for aging women, turns out to be a good all-around nongender traveler’s match. Although I do believe the largest target market is menopausal women, the rest of you, dear male readers (and women too), can find so many more uses. Suggestions range from minor burn comfort to sore muscles after a workout. Freeze first, put the pack in your flight bag, then move to your gym bag since one package freeze lasts for up to 12 hours of recooling pleasure. Why, you could even use them to help you when the big guy seated next to you on the plane is a hot body and you’re trying not to ignite.

In the process of full disclosure, I know what I’m talking about. Horrid bouts of inferno heat waving began attacking my body in my late thirties. I’m now sixty-seven and still endure them, especially the night sweats. I was temporarily rescued from this pit by low dosages of estrogen (I WANTED TO KISS MY DOCTOR FULL ON THE LIPS!), but quickly grew a rare tumor surmised to be fed by estrogen, so off the happy pills I had to go.

PHOOEY, although that’s not exactly the term I used. Several times. Still utter it. Often.

[So you don’t get hung up here worrying about my tumor, it is, for all practical purposes and according to a fine doctor at Mayo Clinic who studied the dumb thing for a year, currently just taking up space. This is a Good Thing. Since this rare el stupido interruption has the propensity to cause severe issues, if it shows the least signs of growth, out it’ll come, but odds are looking better it won’t. The more they learn about these rare tumors, the more they find watching and ignoring the small stable ones causes the least trouble. YAY!]

I used to write for the healthcare industry so I still occasionally receive PR pitches, most which I ignore. But when an email arrived publicizing Coldfront®, “interval cold therapy originally invented for menopausal hot-flashing women, and now being used by everyone” (does this mean YOU?), it sounded like something I ought to try, especially since drugs grew me that thar tumor. So again in the process of full disclosure, it’s only decent to admit that after desperately begging for a sample (okay, they offered one), I received the product free in exchange for an honest review.

Oh, baby, I LIKED it!

Since I often observe women (and myself) trapped on airplanes and in hotels and business meetings speed peeling outer layers of clothing and fanning their red-faced sweating selves, again, the product review seemed like a good traveling match. (Since I’m so aggravated by these blast-furnace episodes, I even cursed one of my fictional characters with them.) And since I’ve learned about so many other more general uses, here ya go.

Coldfront® is a simple idea: flesh color, palm sized, portable cold pads in a nice “ergonomically designed” insulated zipper case. No direct electronics needed. Feel the wave or need begin, unzip the case, put each pad discreetly in your palm and place them where they offer the most relief, like one on your forehead, the other on your neck. Or both on your neck, or on a wrist, or under your arm pit. Or just keep patting them around your blazing zones, perhaps inside the knee. All those around you will see is you resting your hands on yourself, same as we all do anyway.

But like I said, uses far exceed menopausal women. The most well-rounded list of situational uses for Coldfront® can be found here. http://www.mycoldfront.com/who-needs-coldfront/. While I was on the Coldfront® site, I watched several short video testimonies, which were as effective and convincing as my personal experience and response. I also read reviews. One woman said a fire fighter recommended them. Brilliant! Perhaps they could work miracles on hot-headed executives? Perhaps I’ve just recommended next year’s gift idea for your less-than-calm boss?

To keep the little pads cold throughout a day, you simply put the entire case in the freezer for 12 hours (overnight). You can chuck it into your briefcase or purse, if your purse is large enough, which mine currently isn’t since I'm in one of my scale-down bouts, which will probably last another two days since I never have what I need. At about 7 by 4.25 by 3 inches, along with everything else in my ridiculously small bag, I’d currently also have to carry a tote to keep the Coldfront® with me--another reason to just go back to the bigger back-breaking bag so that I can decide I need to scale down again. **sigh**

The entire loaded Coldfront® packet only weighs about 13.5 ounces, which is amazing, considering it works like a mini refrigerator. Since the whole enchilada contains three total gel packs (one large one which you don’t use, but which freezes and keeps the other two cool [“and patented Recool Technology” – more later], I wondered about TSA acceptance. (But then I wonder lots of things about the TSA.) I visited the Coldfront® website to see if there was anything official on that topic, and as luck would have it, the last person to write a review talked about successfully taking it on the plane with her--although one woman's experience doesn't necessarily add up to legality. Here’s Coldfront®'s official website statement on the topic. Read carefully. There are some limitations.

Q. I want to fly with coldfront. Are there any rules I should know about?

A. coldfront® provides cooling relief on both short and long, DOMESTIC flights! When coldfront® is in its frozen state contained in a carry-on item, going through security is a breeze as it meets Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requirements. If partially or completely thawed, bring coldfront® to the attention of a Security Officer, or place in your checked luggage. Use of a cooling device for the management of surgically, chemically, or hormonally induced hot flashes, or medically necessary heat relief, is permissible. For details on TSA compliance, go here: http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/medically-necessary-liquids, and... enjoy!

And another tidbit:

Q. I want to take a long trip, how should I keep coldfront cold?
A. Enjoying overnight accommodations? Ask to use the facility's freezer! We've found that staff members are happy to honor this request. If you don't plan on staying at a hotel or somewhere with a convenient freezer, then you might be better off keeping coldfront in your freezer at home so upon your return, it's extra frosty.
The FAQ page with other pertinent info is here.

I realize I sound like an infomercial, but to be honest, in this day of gadgets and our over indulgence in pill popping, it’s lovely to see something come along that’s based on common sense and practicality. Using the Coldfront® sure beats putting your head in the freezer when flashing, which I’ve done—seriously—on many occasions.

The packet also comes with a small sweat mopper, although they refer to it with more decorum. The Recool Technology implies exactly what it means: you can put the used packets back in the holder and within twenty minutes, they’re recooled for your next use. I successfully tested this, several times throughout a day. Some folks keep them bedside. Hey, buy two packs and never go without! Twenty-four hour sanity!

I was going to post a bunch more pictures, but to be honest, the ones on Coldfront®’s website are quite effective. Although $49.94 plus a chunk of bucks for shipping might seem steep, when you consider that no melting ice cube messes are involved in this simply technology, and that the pads are discrete and recoolable for up to 12 hours, and that you’re not drugging yourself, and that you don’t have to keep buying new disposable breakable packs that cool you, the Coldfront® offers worthy game. If you think about it, they've even got the name right, because what sounds more appealing when your body is on fire than a cold front?

I receive no compensation for this testimonial, other than the product sent to me for an honest review.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Oh, The Things We Saw

Between business and leisure, solo travel and highway boogieing with my spouse, we put a lot of miles on our car this year, including a round-trip journey from the Chicago suburbs to Albuquerque New Mexico. We nearly beat the path between the burbs and our MN hideaway to death. My honey and I journeyed up and down super slabs, pay-for highways and plenty of back roads, including miles of pinging gravel.

We've enjoyed lovely consistencies via our literal road travel versus airlines:

  • The comfort of our own leather car seats. (Adjustable lumbar support. YAY!)
  • No limitations on snacks or shampoo. (Hair looks great. Unbuttons jeans again.)
  • Alternative routes due to weather or whim. ("I've never been to Mabel MN. TURN LEFT HERE!")
  • Up close and personal scenery. (Fall's been glorious!)
  • Venue/menu choices. (Drive-through or cocktails?)
  • Unlimited baggage. (To fishing pole or golf clubs, that is the question.)
  • No rental vehicle snafus. (Let's hear it for an HONEST nonsmoking vehicle!)
  • No missed connections. (Do I have to count wrong turns?)
  • The ability to stop and go when we want to.
  • No running for gates or sitting on the tarmac.

Of course there were drawbacks too:

  • Couldn't watch a movie. (If I was the driver.)
  • No call button. (Unless one could count on one's spouse or traveling partner (TP) to pass one something.)
  • We couldn't change elevation to avoid bad weather. (And bridges can be icy.)
  • Traffic congestion occasionally played havoc with our schedule. (Especially if we didn't listen to our spouse (TP) and stayed on the main route. The words harassment and neener-neener come to mind.)
  • We couldn't eavesdrop on conversations around us. (Or get kicked in the back by a kid, unless he was ours, and they're 47 and 42, so no.)
  • We couldn't stand up and walk around while still "making time." (Cruise control only covers so much.)
  • Couldn't work on a laptop while you're driving.

Okay, we didn't follow this, but ...
STOP! I gotta get a picture
of THAT!
But one of the most enjoyable benefits, which, to be honest, also occasionally caused a time detriment, was the many unusual and interesting things we followed, as opposed to one of those ongoing and annoying two-hour stares at the crooked part in the back of the guy's head in the airline seat in front of us. You know, the guy who reclines his airline chair up against your knees?

I herewith offer a relaxing visual testimony to a few of our more recent-ish Favorite Follows. Enjoy the ride. Feel the pace. Imagine the fury of wrangling around with a cell phone to capture a moving shot. :)

Nothing like giant side-by-sides to help you make time.
Okay, not exactly a "follow" but ...

Giantest fan EVA!

Mega Bus touting $1 rides

Yep, that's the Trester Trolley
chugging up that hill in front of us!


Sometimes things GOING look like
they're COMING AT YOU.

Harvest Time!