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" . 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. 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:, 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!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Super 8 Update (poet and know it)

Super Eight Logo
After my September 4 post about my unhappy Super 8 stay (Whaaaa!), a few of you  encouraged me (YAY, and thank you!) to report the incident. So I sent a short note to Super 8 Customer Care via The Form that pops up under Super 8's "Feedback on my hotelstay". In it, I included a link to my blog post account of the gnarly details.

Within a day or two, I received a nice response email from Julie, an Internet Specialist with the Wyndham Hotel Group. Super 8 is now under their umbrella.  In case you're not aware how many other brands fall under that umbrella, and at which you could be earning Wyndham Rewards, check the bottom of that page. You might be surprised at the size of this alliance which includes Microtel, Ramada and Days Inn. [You will also find call-out boxes on the Super 8 home page: HEY STOCK CAR FANS. HEY RODEO FANS. Of course this got my attention because I do believe it was greasy stock car driver fingerprints that graced my keycard holder upon check-in. :)]

Julie thanked me for contacting them, apologized for my dissatisfaction (good business) and said I would hear directly, by a named timeline, from the hotel's manager to "assist" me "in reaching a resolution".

The response deadline date, also my 43rd wedding anniversary, came and went with nary a word from Super 8, but I did enjoy a wonderful breakfast out (blackened catfish omlet!) with my honey. (He ordered two eggs over easy. That's the way we roll.) Either the response of the manager was lost in the cosmos (always possible) or he didn't get to it. Oh, well, after that kind of stay, that's pretty much what I expected.

However, Julie then contacted me via phone (surprise, and terrific business) to see if I'd heard from him. I told her no, but that I sure appreciated her followup. She said the matter would be handled in house. She wanted to know what I expected by way of resolution.

Whoa! What an excellent question, one I hadn't actually thought about--well, aside from the whining part. What did I want? 

Since my mouth is always quick to speak, even when I haven't thought about much of anything, I told her I'd never asked for a "resolution". I guess all I really wanted was for The Powers that Be to know about it. After all, via the comments on my blog, seasoned travelers had encouraged me to Give Peace a Chance. I told her I doubted I'd be back that rural Super 8 way anyway; the incident was over. But I wished to have my complaints acknowledged, and to hopefully help spare anyone else the same yuck treatment. I told her I'd originally put my experience out there in part just to ask others to share their GOOD Super 8 experiences with me, so that I didn't write off the whole brand over that one experience.

The next day I missed a call from the Super 8 manager, which I later returned. He said he'd tried to contact me previously too, within the timeline. Nothing on my phone logs validated that, but then again, technical glitches sometimes do happen. My default is one of "benefit of the doubt" when it comes to technology, so I set aside my skepticism.

He was extremely engaging and apologetic. He said he speaks with his workers all the time about first impressions and the importance of little things, which was the gist of my post.

He THANKED ME for the specific feedback and said if I ever came that way again, I should let him know before I arrived so he could make sure everything was fine. He was going to go over all my complaints again with his employees. He mentioned something about keycard cover changes. (In case you missed the original post, you won't believe what I was handed at check-in. I posted the disgusting pictures.)

His attitude was humble, his apology charming, he sounded sincere. We hung up and that was that.

The next day in an unrelated conversation, a friend of mine shared her recent terrible experience at a new restaurant in town. She said her turkey burger tasted like the entire thing had come to the restaurant frozen, then was heated in a microwave. Since she had to wait an hour to get her food (strikes one and two), and because she was starving, she ate the fries, which she said were good. She did not, however, take even a second bite of the turkey burger, it was that bad.

When the waitress came around to ask if everything was okay, my friend, encouraged by her tablemate, told the waitress exactly what I just told you about the turkey burger. The waitress asked if she wanted something else to replace it, to which my friend replied, "No thanks." She had to get back to work and she was already more than an hour in.

When the bill came, the waitress had deducted $3.00, presumably for the turkey burger portion of the turkey burger/fries basket combo, not even half the combo amount.(Did they discount the value for the bite she took?)

There are two ways to handle customer service: one gets a job done, the other breeds extreme good will, something that packs a much heartier come-back-again wallop than a "Sorry" or a few token bucks. Since it was a new restaurant in a small town and word-of-mouth spreads quickly, and this was my friend's first impression (again I refer to my initial Super 8 post), I believe her entire meal should have been comped. My response to her story was REALLY? That's just bad business.

Which got me to thinking, oh, boy. 

When Wyndham asked what I was looking for by way of resolution after my Super 8 stay, like I said, I responded that I just wanted to let them know. I hoped to help spare future travelers the same horrid experience. My benefit-of-the-doubt self imagines that complaints will be taken seriously and corrective measures taken. And again, the Super 8 manager was friendly, humble, apologetic, thankful and sounded sincere. When I hung up, I felt satisfied because I'd received what I asked for. (Pollyanna here believes nobody else will ever have this problem again.) I was impressed with Wyhdham's speedy response and in particular, their follow through, especially since I'm not a heavy hitting Wyndham Rewards' customer. 

But since then (here comes the thinking part, oh, boy), since hearing the story about my friend's restaurant yuck and considering my response to it, I've been thinking about good will--and money-back guarantees. There are hotel chains out there with such offers. I've always been a fan of Hampton Inns. I see in a simple Google search that their 100% satisfaction guaranteed offer is front and center, even though I've never had cause to try to call in that marker. I know what to expect from them, and it's almost always 100% positive.

Who knows: maybe Super 8 has such a guarantee too, although I don't see up-front evidence, nor did web prowling produce such a promise. But if they did offer such a thing, and I knew about it, and if/when someone asked me about "resolution," I could have just said, SHOW ME THE MONEY!