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.