Thursday, May 27, 2010

Travel, the Wild Hair Way

At 9:05 on the morning of Cinco de Mayo, I got a "wild hair" of an idea, as my grandma used to call them. I was suddenly crazy (authors are like this, you know—well, at least this one is) to see, IN PERSON, Luis Alberto Urrea, author, among other books, of Into the Beautiful North, which I'd just finished reading. LOVED IT! Moving, funny, insightful, enjoyable, heart breaking and educational. Hoo-za!

That very evening, Luis was to appear at my local book store in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, handily called The Bookstore. I knew this because I subscribe to The Bookstore's electronic newsletter and always check out their super duper blog. (Hey, they're hosting an upcoming Author Happy Hour with Shilpi Gowda, author of Secret Daughter. Check the super duper blog link.  Perhaps you should arrange a trip just to see her!  And/or, come to Glen Ellyn's first ever BookFest  June 19 featuring many authors, including Elizabeth Berg, Melanie Benjamin, and me!)

Sure, some time ago I'd marked the event on my calendar. But truthfully, even though the wild hair idea niggled and waved (Pick ME, pick ME!), I needed to be writing.  Why?  Because book and magazine deadlines niggled and waved: Pick ME if you want to get PAID!  Also, I was in MN, not home in Glen Ellyn. So I pretty much wrote off the opportunity to meet a Pulitzer Prize Finalist as a wild hair idea blown askew. Major pouting ensued.

But wild hairs can be wildly insistent. At 9:10 on said Cinco de Mayo, I reread the newsletter [using up minutes on the ticking clock], which informed me that in honor of Cinco de Mayo and the appearance of Mr. Urrea (@Urrealism on Twitter), the Bookstore would serve multitudes of snacks, provided by Chicks n Salsa, and … MARGARITAS!

An overwhelming thirst urge to Get Thee To The Bookstore consumed me. I knew one thing: the Amtrak train left daily from Winona some time around 10. (In case you haven't had your coffee yet, a refresher: the wild hair idea struck at 9:05.) Although I'd never ridden the train from Winona to Chicago, both my husband and our youngest son had. Different trips; both recounted as "enjoyable". My son said he even had power access for his laptop, right under his seat. (Whoa. Take that, American Airlines economy class!)  After days on end of intense hammering of fingers on the keyboard, a leisurely scenic train ride, just watching the beautiful world go by while I anticipated meeting The Luis Umberto Urrea, sounded dreamy.

Sure, I could have hopped in my car. Without road construction, it's a five-hour trip and the event didn't start until 7. But I was tired. And on my trip to MN, I had suffered through (exaggeration, but we're talking writerly WILD HAIRS here) three loooong delays of orange cones and one-lane-ahead stretches. Blaaach.

Briliant Bonus thought: my husband was driving to MN the very next day. So, I could one-way train it to Chicago, see Luis, enjoy refreshments (hear slurping sound), and ride back with George.

But what about Kornflake, my big red dog? I phoned our neighbor and asked if he could take him out a couple times. [Using ticking clock minutes, but worthy minutes.] Yes, he could. Thus, the wild hair became the plan, and the whirlwind began. (Found poem.)

Pack laptop in pink Life Is Good backpack. (HURRY!) Pack blood pressure pills in backpack. Don't forget cell phone. Do I need to take clothes? [Using precious ticking clock minutes thinking. I'm old, and sometimes thinking is the most difficult part.] No! After all, I will be in my own home for the night, and back to MN the next day.

WHOA! Pack cell phone charger!

Thinking: Wonder if tickets are even available for the train today?

Seriously, you think about this NOW, Charlene?! 

Thinking: always trouble.

However, already packed laptop. By the giant Men's Timex Indiglo watch on my wrist, I noted it was now 9:40. Not enough time to unpack, boot up and check. Not enough time to look up number and call. I'm moving so fast I'm dropping things, running into walls, and becoming one heartbeat short of hysterical.  I decide I'm not even taking my handbag.  I plop my wallet in my backpack.

When I'd called our neighbor to ask if he could watch Kornflake, he'd volunteered to take me to the station. "No!" I'd said. "I'm good. I'll just leave the car overnight in the station parking lot." So, I ran to my mid-size SUV, backpack in tow, only to find my car filled with items I would not want to leave visible all night at a train station. If I started thinking about what I needed to take out … Well, I'd be thinking, not getting to the train station

See me speed dialing. "Can you still take me after all?" I asked my kind neighbor.

"I'm on my way!" I hopped in his car at about 9:48. We were seven miles from the station. We flew down the hill.

"Don't leave yet!" I hollered as I jumped out of the car at the station. "I gotta see if they have a ticket!"

They did. It cost me about $68 bucks plus change. I asked if that was the senior rate. (Quick thinking!) The guy said yes. "But my husband only paid like $38 dollars!"

"Ma'am, your husband probably booked ahead."

Well, there was that.

I bought my ticket, told my landlord thanks and good-bye. As he pulled away, I heard the train whistle. Within minutes, I was Chicago bound on Amtrak, still catching my breath. I could hardly believe it.

SUMMATION: Although seating was not assigned, when I got on the train, a very happy Amtrak worker pointed to a seat and said, "Sit there.  After the next stop, when about 70 kids get on, the train will be full." It was an aisle seat. The woman near the window was wrapped up in a blanket and had the curtains closed. She awakened long enough to say she'd been on the train since 2 a.m.. Across the aisle from me (right), a giant wall of metal.  So, no scenic view, and no power under my seat. When I inquired, the kind woman working my car said they were still swapping some of the cars out. My son must have had a new setup.  She inquired if I needed to charge my phone.  I said no, otherwise she was going to somehow oblige the need.  Super nice.

I texted my son: whine, whine, poor me, no plug, no view …. He suggested I go to the club car, which I did. Try finding that kind of option in an airplane!

Club cars RULE! Nice! Upper deck. Sky. View. Comfy seat. Snacks available. Everyone working the train CHEERY!

They announced lunch would soon be served in the dining car. There would be limited seating. I waited till the last call. I was seated with three very nice folks. Great conversation, and my veggie burger was the best I've ever had! Burger and fries, under ten bucks. Waiter CHEERY TOO! I was impressed!

The train arrived in Chicago 13 minutes EARLY! I walked over to Ogilvie Transportation Station (one block), caught the Metra commuter train ("The way to really fly") to Glen Ellyn, and VOILA!

Luis was awesome, completely worth the trip. He told wonderful behind-the-scenes stories, shared his excitement about his new graphic novel, Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush, and refreshments were yum.  (Hear plentiful slurping sounds.) The next day, I enjoyed the ride back to MN, husband behind the wheel. I was still basking in the afterglow of the wonderful evening, feeling relaxed, refreshed, and amazed at the events of my last twenty-four hours.

All this to say, if and when a wild traveling hair strikes you (perhaps to BookFest in Glen Ellyn?), try it! You might just like it—especially if it involves a train with a club car AND a dining car, a book event with a superb author AND margaritas, and a free ride on the flip side.
(PS. Among my other duties/appearances at BookFest, I get to introduce Elizabeth Berg.  But I also shall be cohosting the "Get Lit" portion of the day at the Tap House Grill. Hm. I'm thinking--and you know how that goes for me-- there is a hidden theme in this message.  Slurp.)

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Everything Old Is Repurposed Again

My last post, I wrote about how happy I am with my cell phone switch to Sprint. So far, still am. YAY! I also mentioned I talked a friend into giving Sprint a try.  For the sake of expediency, I'll call that friend Brad.  Brad even went with the same phone, an HTC Hero.

A surprise payoff for all that happy enthusiasm: Brad returned the favor by sharing with me his accidental discovery, which I'm now going to pass along to you, you lucky fellow sojourners. This grand discovery will work no matter who your wireless carrier*.  Prepare yourself for brilliance.

But first, let me say that for his 30-day Sprint test period, like me, my friend also made use of a Sprit temporary cell number. He previously used Verizon Wireless (as did I), which he kept during the Sprint 30-day trial. I highly recommend this method because that way, you can doubly annoy your friends by tag teaming them with calls.

"Can you hear me now?"


Ring. Ring …

"But can you hear me better now?"

After Brad ported his old number to Sprint, one day he called and asked the usual Can you hear me okay now? question. Yes, I could. (Cheers around! Still works!) He explained he was testing something else new, thus the call. He'd loaded music into his Hero and for the first time decided to give it a try in his vehicle. And then …

Here's how the discovery came about.

--He grabbed the car gadget (right) he long ago purchased to use with his portable CD player. (Remember portable CD players? This is why we can never ever throw anything away, right?)

--He slipped the "tape" into the tape deck and plugged the "headset" end into his phone. He did nothing with the power supply that goes in the cigarette lighter.

--He pushed the play button on his Hero, set the phone in the ash tray and voila! Hero music through the car stereo!

But wait for it ... here comes the good part!

--Suddenly the music stopped. But … the PHONE RANG! He pushed "answer" on his phone, and just like that, he heard the caller's voice through his car stereo system too. The Hero has a good enough microphone that the caller (then I, during his test call) could hear him fine, even though he left the phone in the ash tray.

HANDS-FREE, NO-COST cell phone system!

I said, "Wait a minute! I think *I* still have one of those around somewhere!" And indeed I did. I'd stored it away with the old Discman, the one I used to put in a fanny pack to walk on the prairie path. Of course I now use a Sansa clip-on MP3 player [Sandisk pink thing on top of Discman, now old too] for those walks and to listen to books on tape. (We've come a long way baby, eh?) But it never occurred to me to use that same old portable CD car gadget on my MP3 player, which I've now learned works way better than the "tune to one of these station" pieces of static-y junk I bought and tossed!

Although I'm weaning myself from driving and talking on the phone (I promise you, I am), it's still good to know I can listen to my own music on my own car stereo system and still take a call—so that I can tell them I'll call them back when I pull over. (In case the law is reading this.) Or quickly tell my agent that yes, I have decided to accept that measly bazillion dollar book advance. (A girl can dream, can't she?) Or tell my husband, "No, honey, I wasn't in that multi-car pile-up on I-90 that NBC is talking about." Or my lunch date, "No, I haven't forgotten. I'm just running late." Or my editor, "Of course I'm home working on the book!" (Not necessarily in that order. No. Never.)

*The trick here is that you have to have a vehicle old enough to take a cassette tape. (You remember those, right?) And you have to be a pack rat. And a techno geek, and … easily entertained.

If you've found handy new travel uses for other old stuff, please comment here. In this economy, every little bit helps.

And by the way, if Brad and I are the last people to know about this "wonderful old portable CD multi-purpose cassette cord discovery," please keep it to yourself. In my mind, I am about to be a bazillion dollars richer from that new book contract I'm going to accept through my stereo speakers, and he is a genius.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Loyalty Is As Loyalty Does--or does not

I never thought I'd see the day. Three months into the switch, this used-to-be-dedicated-to-Verizon gal is now a happy Sprint believer. I'd been with Verizon since 1995, back when they were Ameritech. Happy with customer service and connectivity, I was one of those Verizon evangelists, singing their praises to hapless "other brand" no-bar folks around me as I blabbedy-blabbed away, cell phone to ear.

I know.  I KNOW.  Sprint takes a bad wrap when it comes to customer service.  Consumer Reports recently (and again) gave them the dreaded solid black circle for "issue resolved."  I did not make this move lightly or without trepidation, and in fact fought against it.  I worked with Verizon for nearly a year to fix an ongoing issue at the main off-site location where I hide to write.  I called and begged Verizon not to force me to leave them.  Seriously.  Called - and - begged.  "Just fix my issue.  That's all it will take.  PLEASE!  You've always been so good!"

From what I'd been told, when Verizon signed the deal to take over many of the Alltel areas, they stopped using Sprint towers--at least in the area where I was on Roaming services.  That's when things went bad.  Real bad.  Incoming calls no longer triggered the ring.  Dropped calls became the usual.  I had no bars.  My Blackberry Storm flipped between types of service.  I'd find out an hour after someone called me that I had a message.  I spent more time redialing disconnects than talking.  And on and on the headaches went.

I can't even guess how many times I called Verizon customer service--oftentimes ending up disconnected.  Because they're good, they called me back.  They were sympathetic.  Stick with us, they said.  Things will change when we're done with the transition in that particular area.  So I stuck, and I stuck.  They kindly gave me minutes for all my dropped calls, which I used making more dropped calls. 

But when the Alltel to Verizon transition was finally complete, the service was no better.  Months later, it still wasn't.  I asked point blank if there was anything (please, oh please!) on the horizon that could eventually make my situation better.  The answer was, "Honestly, no."  They continued to repeat that I was in a "fringe area."  Funny, I said for the forty billioneth time, that I didn't have this same "fringe" problem when you used Sprint towers to roam.

Then one day I heard myself say that last sentence.  Doink!

I chatted with a couple happy Sprint neighbors.  They claimed they even talked "all the way up the hill" without dropping a call, something never possible for me.  "Hey, Verizon," I said during my next call, "Sprint seems to be kicking your connectivity butt in this area."  Verizon suggested I buy a $200 signal booster.  "Do I just plug it in?" I asked.  No.  But all I'd need was a broadband connection to make it work.


A few months previous to their suggestion, in order to end my hate affair with dial-up (the only thing available),  I'd purchased a Sprint broadband card, which, remarkably, worked without fail.  How crazy would it be to pay Verizon $200 for a signal booster, which I would have to use through my Sprint broadband service?

Time to rethink your brand loyalty, Charlene.  What have I got here?  Neighbors who stay connected on Sprint, Verizon that used to work when roaming on Sprint towers, and a Sprint broadband card that doesn't fail.  I said to my husband, who was tired of hearing me yell about dropped calls, "My brand loyalty is not serving us well." 

I visited a corporate Sprint store near my writing location and spoke with a representative.  I laid my cards on the table.  "I don't want to leave Verizon."  He smiled, said I had thirty days to give the Sprint service a try.  What the heck.  I went with an HTC Hero phone (love, love, LOVE it!), used a temporary number for those 30 days and kept my Verizon service--just in case.  Within two days, I was hooked.

I admit I had concerns that Sprint wouldn't work as well when I returned to my home base area of Chicagoland.  But I needn't have worried.  They rocked it as well as Verizon.  I got hubby a new phone (not as fancy as mine, but free after rebate and he can still make use of the GPS navigation etc.) and we ported our numbers. So far, I have absolutely no complaints.  In fact, I raved about their service so much that a friend up north made the switch too and is as happy as I am.  He also went with the HTC Hero. 

In terms of pricing, I believe Sprint is the better deal.  Hubby and I get a lot of bang for our buck. We are on the Everything Data Family - with Any Mobile, Anytime(SM) plan, 1500 minutes.  GPS navigation, unlimited messaging,  free calls to any cell phone using any service, Sprint TV and radio, free nights and weekends with better hours than Verizon ...  All this for $129.00 a month.  I love my phone.  Connections are great.  The Wi-Fi works swell.  I never thought I could love something more than my Blackberry, but I am now an Android believer.  And apps ... Oh, the APPS!  During the Olympics, I even downloaded a cowbell app.  I could shake my phone and ring a cowbell with the best of them.  (See, you're not the only ones who can do all this stuff, iPhone folks!)   I can flip a coin, level a two-by-four, read a book and play Poke-a-Mole! 

But the bottom line is that Sprint is doing for me what Verizon could not:  they are keeping me connected in an area where I spend a good deal of time.  Does this mean I'm mad at Verizon?  Absolutely not.  Who knows, maybe one day I'll want to go back.  But for now I'm a happy little traveler with a question for you:  is your brand loyalty serving you well? 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In like a lion. Out like a lamb. Here like a toothache.

Joe Brancatelli of  is my most reliable and diligent travel guru.  Not only is his industry coverage accurate, he often predicts and reports travel breakdowns before they happen.

Want to receive urgent up-to-the-nanosecond news bulletins before it's even reported on TV?  (How does he do it?!)  Subscribe to, then hit the trails knowing Joe’s on the job.

Joe’s expertise saves me from making booking errors, and occasionally makes me rethink my attitude—which is a good thing.  But there is more to Joe.

He shares his spotlight with trusted professionals who write about travel gadgets, worldwide hotels, golf courses, restaurants, bars …  (FULL DISCLOSURE: He advertises this blog, which, compared to the rest of his posse, is Travel Lite.)  He is a film buff, music lover, fine diner and a quirky curmudgeon with a soft heart.  I relish the receipt of his Friday Brancatelli File email newsletter because he covers all this and more.

But last Friday, the Joester ticked me off.

Following important facts and speculations about the then pending British Airways strike, and after pointing to his astute article on the airlines’ resistance to upcoming regulations (in which he used the word gobsmacked), AND after sharing critical info in the "Steals and Deals" section of Tactical Traveler, he announced he was getting to the “really important stuff.”  Huh? What could be more important than all of that?  Then I read his next sentence.

“Great first day of March Madness, eh?”


Yes, Joe. It is March.  And I am mad.  About one thing: March Madness.

“Who doesn’t love upsets by underdogs and double overtime games?” he asks.  I sense the dreamy lilt of true love in his voice.

Me,  Joe.  ME!

Yes, I almost always root for the underdogs.  But I never watch basketball.  Never.  I am MAD in March because my husband doesn’t share my disdain of the sport.  “Gads, George! Isn’t this the last game YET?”

George stares at me.  Blinks.  Rotates one eye back to the TV. Draws a deep breath and begins rattling of a string of endless numbers.  “They start with say 64 teams, then play down to thirty-two, then to the Sweet Sixteen...”  The color guys are screaming.  George stops talking to watch.  I do not look at the TV.  I hear gym shoe squeaks, whistles, gym shoe squeaks, a backboard bang, the hubbub regarding a fake fall to the floor. Time out. “Then,” George says, resuming his fast-talking rundown while keeping one eye on the TV (heaven forbid he miss a drip of their profuse sweat, enough sweat to fill the court for water polo), “it’s down to the Elite Eight, on to the Final Four to the …”

I interrupt.  “Just tell me where we are in all this ‘excitement.’”

He turns his head my way.  “You don’t want to know.”

It’s not just George. Travel during March is a nightmare. Every bar in every airport, every TV in every hotel lobby, every radio in every cab. Basketball.  Seatmates rustle the newspaper, frantically folding and refolding, reading every word about every game likely already watched. And sometimes, they want to talk about it.

"I hate basketball," I say, delivering a preemptive shut down.

But now, it's Joe in my inbox, talking basketball--in a travel newsletter.

Point, shoot, bounce the ball, point, shoot, (yawn), run, gym shoe squeak, whistle, run, gym shoe squeak, louder gym shoe squeak, fake fall to the floor, GYM SHOE SQUEAK.  ANOTHER WHISTLE.  BOUNCING  BALLS.  PEOPLE SCREAMING.  FAKE—FAKE, FAKE, FAKE--FALL TO THE FLOOR!!!!!!!!!!!!

“Truly compelling stuff,” Joe writes.

Oh, yeah.  Compelling.

March MADNESS indeed.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Connecting Life's DOTS

Remember the old expression, blazing a trail? Yesterday, that's what I thought I'd be doing. Yep, blazing a sparkling trail from Minnesota to Oskaloosa, Iowa for a book event at the Book Vault. Lots of preparations on both ends; very excited to see the store (it has an actual vault in it!) and chat with the peeps, share my behind-the-stories stories!  FUN ROAD TRIP!

The night before my scheduled departure, I stayed up till 12:30 a.m. clearing my work slate. You know how it goes with last-minute this and that. Send rewrite file to editor; rethink wardrobe (baby, it's cold outside); make sure have safety kit in the car (wind chills down to 30 below); get up in plenty of time to take dog to kennel—OH! Didn't pack his treats! One more thing, one more thing.

After I finally got to bed, my brain was still going two-forty. It took me about an hour to nod off. Twice I was awakened by the rattling window in the bedroom of this old farm house. Wow! Hope that wind's not causing too much drifting, because if it is, that won't bode well for I-90, I-80, I-35, or any other I-yi-yi-yi kind of road through the Midwest. I'd doze back into a restless sleep until the next time I'd awaken.  Is there ice? Will readers be able to get to the store? Do I have enough juice in my windshield washer thingie? (Hubby warned me twice but still haven't checked.)

At six a.m. I gave up on sleep and fired up my laptop. It's always the last thing I slip into my backpack before heading out the door. I went straight to the Iowa Department of Transportation 511 winter road conditions website to check on the roads.

Yikes! Nearly the entire STATE was RED, much of it CLOSED. The map looked like a schematic of human blood veins. Roads that were open indicated that "travel was not advised." Phrases like "completely covered" kept my attention. I checked the Minnesota DOT 511 site (winter roads) for Southeastern MN which didn't look any better. It didn't help calm my nerves that the day before, there'd been a 40-car pileup on I-35 in Iowa. (Check out THOSE picture.  And shelters open?!)  I thought conditions were supposed to get better!

The maps refresh themselves every minute or so (nice!), so I set about sitting in front of them, staring, fretting. Still closed. More closed. WAIT! That one way down there is now orange. What does the note say? "Roadway is mostly covered with ice, roadway is mostly covered with snow, towing services prohibited." In other words, if you're dumb enough to try this and end up in the ditch, you're on your own, Bucko.

By the bazillioneth screen refresh--and after many cups of tea and dithering about when, exactly, I turned old enough to switch gears from the "I'm sure you can still make it!" mode to the "You better stay safe!" mindset—I called the kind ladies at the Book Vault. Although they said they'd received notification that a portion of I-35 had just opened, there was still too much treacherous traveling to do before I got to that point, and the forecast for the next two weeks was not good. Also, what did "open" really mean when the Iowa DOT still said it wouldn't allow anyone to come rescue you?

Alas, the trip—the event--was cancelled with talk of a later reschedule some time after Mother Nature can no longer huff and puff us into staying put. We FaceBooked, Twittered, emailed and websited the cancellation news. Still, it didn't stop me from continuing to check and connect the online DOTS throughout the rest of the day, wondering if I'd made the right choice. Although it appeared that by nightfall, most roads eventually opened, they were still listed as "mostly covered." My editor sent a sweet email saying she was glad I stayed safe. Me too, I thought.

But at what age did I decide staying safe was the goal?

Is it a smart goal? Of course it is. Still, as I look out at today's sunshine and sparkling snow, I feel a little defeated, a little more creaky and cranky, a little too safe. Perhaps I'll go blaze a trail to somewhere, just to help me get over this—right after I slip my ice cleats onto my boots.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Go With the Flow

Twice while washing dishes this week, I noticed that the entire belly of my sweatshirt was drenched, and that there was a small puddle of water on the floor near my feet. Where, I wondered, was the water coming from? I examined the pipes under the sink, the spray nozzle I use to rinse the dishes… No leaks. Nothing unusual. Huh. Must have accidentally poured a glass of water all over everywhere without realizing it. I'm old. That'll happen.

The third time the same scenario took place I discovered the root of the problem. ("Third time's a charm," my mom used to say.) The mat under the dish drainer was pushed away from the lip of the sink, leaving a huge gap. Therefore, the water that drained off the dishes into the mat flowed onto the counter rather than into the sink. This old farmhouse where I come hide to write is not level, so the water ran like a river along the narrow strip of counter top in front of the sinks. Since I lean into the countertop when I wash dishes, my sweatshirt served as its own Sham-WOW!, although not as well. It sopped up some of the water but the rest overflowed onto the floor.

RESOLUTION: Push mat lip over sink edge where it belongs. Water flows where it's supposed to.  Problem solved.

The next day I went to see the movie Up In the Air starring George Clooney. For those unfamiliar with the plotline, let's just say Clooney is handsome. Whoops! Let's just say Ryan Bingham, the character he plays, flies 300+ days a year and he likes it that way. Due to Bingham's mega accrual of miles and perks, he's able to go directly to the front of most lines, is greeted with first-class familiarity and happy smiles. (Yes sir, Mr. Bingham.  Good evening, Mr. Bingham.) He packs his carryon, his plans and his life with tidy, seamless, unencumbered efficiency. And yet, when he gets to his hotel room door he can never find the correct plastic key card, which is the one condition to which this travel-on-the-cheap woman could relate.

During my drive home from the theater, I attempted to mentally file the ending of the movie in a satisfactory place. I mulled a few plotline details including two surprises and one particularly ambiguous scene. Blamm-o! The sink drainer fiasco popped into my mind. (I have no idea how my brain puts things like this together.)

Of course! It only took me about a half-mile of further mulling before the nuances of the dish drainer fiasco revealed themselves to be the perfect metaphors for not only the movie, but life on the road. I herewith present my perfect endings for both.

--'Tis the flow (get it? water, flow?—told you there's no explaining my brain) of efficiency, not the TSA, that keeps travel running smoothly.

--When we are not careful in our strategic planning (i.e. too long or short of gaps to make connecting flights), things run amuck.

--Airplanes, hotel rooms, cell phones, carryons, dish drainers and especially humans are designed to work best in a certain way. Stay on guard lest things fall apart.

--Always keep a Sham-Wow! handy. You never know when you might need to sop up a mess, i.e. the time Clooney's character found himself diving into the river in his dress clothes to retrieve something important—and let me just say Clooney even looks good sopping wet. No whoops. I said that on purpose and I meant it.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A hearty SHOUT OUT to the AIRLINES (huh?)

The holidays came and went so quickly that it's easy to question whether or not they actually took place. It's like when you indulge in a fabulous vacation (well, I kinda remember what that was like), but after you're home for a couple days you wonder, "Was I even really gone?!" Then you look at your souvenirs, your pictures and your credit card bill. Yep. You were "there" alright.

But this year I'm able to jog my holiday memories via several icons and formats. Between my new lovin' it easy-schmeasy (beware, the upcoming link has sound) FlipVideo (thank you, Dear Hubby!), the camera in my Blackberry Storm, and an aging but reliable digital Canon camera--each used during bouts of random grabs--I can re-live our wonderful family gathering, complete with sound. (Okay, not all moments are wonderful, but in hindsight, even "those moments" seem funnier.)

For this grace-filled gathering, I would like to herewith thank God and American Airlines. CHEERS AROUND!

You see, in the midst of nation-wide storms, on the 23rd of December our oldest son was scheduled to fly from Albuquerque NM (ABQ) to La Crosse WI (LSE) with a connection in Dallas (DFW). Three legs' worth. (Oy.) With cancellations and delays everywhere, during his entire journey I kept at least two screens open and countless other web resources. My stomach sank with each swirl of the map. Sometimes I didn't know whether to pray they fly or stay safely on the ground.

We even made a back-up plan for housing if--or more likely when--he got stuck in Chicago. "Heavy delays" is not what you want to see.  The historic on-time rating for his last 2 legs of flights were abysmal without storms, and not only was it snowing, but ice was in the mix. (Double oy.) And yet, in the end, his final landing was not much over ninety minutes late.


For his Dec. 30th return trip, conditions weren't much better. And yet, he ended up safely back at his home base only about an hour late. Thankfully, whether he was coming or going, each "next flight" was delayed just enough that his tardiness never caused him to miss his connection. (How strange is it to HOPE some flights are delayed?!)

So thank you, God and American Airlines, for every family-complete photo and movie in my database. Thank you for the grateful hugs, the colorful family cookie baking (4- and 2-year-olds sure do love to use sprinkles), oldie 8 mm movie night, a swell pheasant dinner (birds bagged by the brothers), ice skating, games, sledding and endless rounds of happy laughter.

Thank you, Dear God and American Airlines, for delivering our precious son safely into our arms. Even though in the past I've taken my business traveling share of grumbling shots at the airlines, and in particular AA (no need to call security or check the elastic in my underwear; it's only a metaphor), this time, you are the reasons the memories from our holiday season look so very merry and bright, especially when viewed on our youngest son's new big-screen TV.