Sunday, May 25, 2014

Week 21 - Not Going Well

So, it was my last week before France but I was in pretty good shape since I’d gotten all my gardening and chores done last weekend. All I needed to do was make it through work and pack. Totally doable and not stressful. Good thing because I was flying out Saturday and the anticipation of that was stress enough. Because if something can go wrong with travel, it’ll go wrong for me. 

The week pretty much went as planned. I was crossing things off at work and would go home and prep for the trip – gathering knitting projects to take, ironing, mending and packing. I was also cooking to use up stuff in the frig – blackberry pie and banana bread for work, produce galore for Lori’s chickens and a bag of produce I had kept to cook but never gotten around to went to work. By Friday night, all I had left to do was gather the last of the piles and throw them in the suitcase. I even started the stuff I’d left for Saturday morning figuring the less I had for Saturday the better I’d sleep. Donna was picking me up to head to the airport at 11:00 so I was hoping to sleep in. 

Nope. I was up before 6:00 with the birds and then spent an antsy morning waiting. I did run downtown to pick up some last minute things and then stopped at the community garden to see Lorri, who was working there. Then home for more waiting. At 10:50, Donna’s husband Ed showed up. Donna had “had a bad night” so Ed was my ride. We made good time and I was there an hour and a half before my flight, which worked for me since I’d packed a lunch and had my knitting, of course. Ed drove off and I headed to check in. Then all hell brown loose. 

I scanned my passport at the kiosk and it told me to see an agent. She swiped it a few times with no luck and then opened it up. “Your passport expires in July,” she said. Yup, it did and I’d be back 6 weeks before it did. The next words out of her mouth stopped me dead – “You will not be getting on this flight!” Apparently France has a rule that your passport has to be good for 90 days past your trip. WTF! When this sunk in, it was like someone flipped a switch and I went into shock. My mouth was Sahara Desert dry and my heart was pounding out of my chest. I really wasn’t getting on the flight without a new passport and since it was a holiday weekend, the earliest that would happen was Tuesday, provided I could get to Minneapolis and get an appointment at their passport office. To top this all off, I had left my cell phone charging on the counter. So I was at the airport with no cell phone and so I was limited to calling people whose numbers were in my head from a pay phone. My first call was to Carolyn, who called Sue who I would not be meeting in Paris on Sunday. Then she logged into my email to retrieve some data for me. Then I started calling Donna because Ed was still in Lincoln but I didn’t know his number. She wasn’t picking up, Andrea was on her way to California, Lorri was in Lincoln, Lori was in Ainsworth and I was out of options. I called Nora in Lincoln and got her. She agreed to shower and drive to Omaha to get me. She is such a wonderful friend! 

I ate my lunch and knitted while waiting for her. We hit Starbuck’s on the way home then sat on the deck chatting while waiting for her husband and kids to pick her up to head further north to his parents for a family cookout. When Nora left, I got on the phone. I got through the voice mail tree from hell to make an appointment at the Minneapolis passport office for Tuesday. This was based purely on the word of the Delta agents who said I could get a same day passport there. Then I tried to find the travel agent who’d booked the ticket – a friend of a friend. Since they’d asked for my passport number and exact spelling of my name, don’t you think the next words out of their mouth should have been when does it expire because France requires it be to 90 days past your trip? Don’t you? I cannot believe that I paid $50 to book through a travel agent specifically to make sure I didn’t have problems like this! I was rip shit and the worst part was, she didn’t apologize (if she did it was so cursory that I didn’t notice) and told me I should call Delta and if I couldn’t get what I wanted, push them. Wasn’t that her job? 

I spent the entire evening on the phone – state department, Delta, the lame agent, etc. I took a shower and went to bed having made no progress except the appointment at the passport office and on that I still had no assurance I could in fact get a passport that day. I managed to get a few hours of sleep but was up at 5:15. I talked to Delta and the travel agent on and off all morning. One scenario had me having to pay an extra $3,000. Then the travel agent called and got it down to $1,200 more. Did I mention I’d already paid $1,700 for the ticket? I was a mess. It looked like I’d be flying to Minneapolis on Tuesday morning, getting the passport and flying out that night and paying $1,200 more for the privilege. I was mulling that over when it dawned on me that they would not let me fly to Minneapolis to get the passport because it was part of an international ticket that I couldn’t check in for because I had my unexpired but not good enough passport. I’d learned that when they wouldn’t let me fly to Atlanta (my lay over on the original ticket where there’s also a passport office) on Saturday unless I bought a separate domestic ticket to the tune of $500+ dollars. When I called Delta back to point that out for the rescheduled ticket THE TRAVEL AGENCY MANAGER HAD BOOKED (talk about not knowing how to do your job!), they said I was right and at that point I asked to speak to a supervisor. Everything went up from there. 

I got Regina in Cincinnati, who said she loved a challenge. I was on the phone with her for over an hour and she rebooked me from Minneapolis to Paris on Tuesday night and issued me a second, domestic ticket from Omaha to Minneapolis so I could just use my license to check in and so get there for my 11:00 a.m. passport appointment. I had to pay for that but she put in a $400 credit so I only had to pay $117 plus I’ll have to pay to check my bag. She even looked to make sure there were lockers at the Minneapolis airport so I wouldn’t have to schlep my luggage to the passport office. And before the end of that call, Lorri was at the door with news that her travel agent friend knew for a fact that I could get a same day passport. Lorri also offered to drive me to the airport. It was 12:30 and I finally had a plan. I was completely missing Paris but would only miss the first day of the rest of the trip. And it was only costing me $200 more instead of $3,000. Still a bitch but at least I’d be getting there. 

I spent the rest of the day knitting between other calls and emails – cancelling the shuttle from the airport to the hotel, making sure Sue could check into the hotel, which was under my name, contacting Jean and Philip (the tour people) about getting there late and finding out how I could get from Bergerac, which is as close as I can get via a 7 hour train ride after my flight, to the chateau. That’ll cost me another 90 euros but they’re sending a taxi. At least by the end of the day I had a plan and felt under control for the first time in more than 24 hours. The past day had included panic, frustration, anger, tears, gratitude.... did I leave anything out? I was exhausted and still had to drive to Lincoln to get passport photos taken before heading out Tuesday. At least I’d have Memorial Day to get that done. 

I am going to be writing a glowing email to Delta customer service about how wonderful Regina was. I’ll wait until after the trip to write some blazing emails to the corporate office of the travel agency. I’m going to spend the rest of the time until I fly on positive things and trying to catch up on some sleep. At least I’m still packed and the cats are happy to be outside. How’s that for cup half full? My next post will be from France because nothing’s going to stop me now. Wish me luck for an event free day on Tuesday and waking up in Paris on Wednesday.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Week 20 - Ready to Go

I have always worked best under pressure. Nothing gets me moving like a deadline. But as I get older, I’m getting much better at doing things sooner so I’m not slamming at the last minute. This week was proof of that. With my pre-trip list in hand, I was a machine!

I had spent so much time outside the previous weekend that the inside of the house was a mess. I also hadn’t done my usual chores so had tons of laundry and dishes to deal with. Monday was knitting, as usual, and I finished the most gorgeous pair of socks I’ve ever made, n’est-ce pas? I ran errands after work on Tuesday then did more tree pruning with the pruning saw on a stick that Lorri had dropped off. Since rain was forecast on Wednesday night, I planned to start the inside stuff then. I managed to get the kitchen picked up and laundry started before I sat down for Survivor. The rest of the night was history. But I got enough done to feel good about things.

Thursday was the saga of the pants. I had bought 2 new pair of pants for my trip from Woman Within (HATE that name! Within what? All the fat? I can think of no other way to interpret that name since it’s a plus size clothing company.) The pants came on Wednesday but with their usual quality control problems, one pair fit perfectly but the other pair was like a sausage casing. Same brand, same fabric, same cut – just different colors. I foolishly decided to wear the tight ones to work in hopes that they’d stretch. It clearly wasn’t happening so I stopped at Wal-Mart (the only place open at 7:45 a.m.) on the way in and bought some pants. They only had petites in my size and when I tried them on, they were flood waters. I sat at my desk feeling uncomfortable and decided to go shopping at lunch. I found a pair of Lee Riders at ShopKo then headed to Chinese buffet with Dodie. It’s a good thing I had the new pants because discomfort turned to outright pain after lunch. Luckily, the new pants fit perfectly so I changed when I got back to the office. They required some rolling up and surgery on the “instantly slims you” (have they seen me?) panel in the front but they were definitely comfy and coming with me to France. And it’s a good thing they worked out because I could not have stayed at work in the sausage casing pants. Going home because of tight pants would have been a total waste of vacation time! Am I right?

My productivity continued on Thursday in the garden. Before I went in for the night the veg beds were prepped and I’d sifted a wheel barrow full of gorgeous compost from my old pile behind the garage. Dinner was crackers and dip with a Guinness, which normally would have meant I was done for the night but after watching an hour of TV, I got up and swept and vacuumed the entire house and cleaned the bathroom before taking a shower and heading to bed. I felt pretty good about everything I’d gotten done so far. All I had for the weekend was more gardening and cooking. Doable.

Saturday was spinning but I decided first thing that I didn’t need to go, because going would push all my garden plans to Sunday. I had a few errands to run in town and would spend Saturday afternoon outside. When I was at the recycling bins downtown, I saw the Open sign lit at the Senior Center Thrift Shop, which I found out is open the 3rd Saturday of every month. News to me. I went in and found the perfect messenger bag for the trip, a carry on bag and a lightweight jacket, among other things. I got BK for lunch and was home working in the garden by early afternoon. The weather was perfect and I just kept going, not stopping until 7:20 that night. No wonder I was hungry! When I went inside, the veg beds were planted and so were all of my containers. I made what I’d already bought (can we say impulse plant buying, boys and girls?) and what I’d wintered over work. When I was done, all my planters were planted and looking good. I was just short one hanger for shade, which I’ll buy one night this week. I was feeling pretty proud of myself.

With all the gardening must do’s done, Sunday was relaxing. I cleaned out the frig of anything I wouldn’t eat in the coming week and prepped a big bag of food for Lori’s chickens. I finished the laundry, cleaned up the kitchen, moved the now empty plant stands outside and reswept. By day’s end, the house was as good as it gets and all that was left to do was pack. Nice.

I can only hope that having everything done will mean I can sleep like a baby all week and be well rested before I leave. Since I never know what will stress me out subconsciously these days, which inevitably leads to stress dreams, there’s another reason to get things done early. Let’s hope my no stress week pans out because by next Sunday, I’ll be blogging from Paris. : )

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Week 19 - Strange to Fun

What a strange week. The majority of the strange was because of phones. A contractor cut the main phone line for campus (check out the pic) on Monday and so I spent the week with no phone at my desk. While initially it was nice (no calls in), by the end of the week I was over it. I did lots of IM’ing and emailing when a call would have been quicker. Otherwise, work was fine. My personal life was super busy.

We started the week with a Cinco de Mayo food day. We usually don’t do Monday food days but had to this time for obvious reasons. But between the food day, the gorgeous spring weather and the lack of phones, it was hard to stay focused. On Wednesday, I arrived at the office to find everyone outside for a fire drill. I sat on a bench and knitted and after 10 minutes, fire trucks arrived, no doubt delayed because of the cut phone lines. There really was a fire! Someone was nuking a breakfast burrito and the microwave caught fire. At least it was a pleasant, albeit strange, start to the day.

As for the more mundane stuff, I had knitting Monday night, planned to do some yard work on Tuesday, swim on Wednesday and Thursday then had graduation parties on Thursday (after swimming for our favorite student instructor) and Friday (a friend from swimming who got her PhD.) The week was over in a blur and the 2 week countdown clock had begun.

I was not going to be taking any chances with my knee so was done with swimming until after my trip. The next week was the annual maintenance close down anyway so I’d only be missing water walking but I’d be skipping the last week just to be safe. Since I have tons of gardening yet to do, I figure I’ll get some exercise that way.

The parties were fun. We went to Dempsey’s for burgers, truffle fries and Guinness on Thursday and there were about a dozen of us from the pool. On Friday I ran across town because Nora needed a ride home then I stopped at Tuesday Morning and broke my yarn diet, which lasted 16-1/2 weeks so not bad. Then it was back downtown for Amanda’s party, which was at McCourt’s Ale House. I had never heard of it but it’s a pretty authentic Irish style pub where I enjoyed, you guessed it, another Guinness. This one was colder so more enjoyable and there was Chinese food and delicious chocolate cake. I got home after 9:00 for the 2nd night in a row. I was tired and had a busy weekend ahead of me.

Andrea and her sister had won prizes at the yarn shop hop they’d done a couple of weeks ago and since I’d expressed interest in going to the yarn shop in Carroll, Andrea and I were doing a road trip Saturday afternoon to pick up the prizes. Since the weather Sunday was iffy, I headed right outside on Saturday morning and reclaimed my vegetable garden, cutting down tons of weed trees and raking the new veg area I gained when my neighbors put their fence up 2 feet into the property line. I was trying to be careful but ended up stepping on a stump in my crocks and bruising the bottom of my left foot. Luckily it was near the end of my time outside so I got lots done and was feeling good when I headed inside for a shower and lunch before picking Andrea up at 1:00. 

We headed east towards Carroll, stopping at Goodwill in Blair (nothing) and Monica’s Plants in Missouri Valley. Monica is a presenter at the Iowa garden day I go to every March so I wanted to see her stuff and managed to find four plants I couldn’t live without. We didn’t stop until Carroll and got there after 4:00.

What a lovely yarn shop! ( The woman was very helpful and I bought more yarn, which didn’t feel so bad since I’d broken my yarn diet the night before. See how I was thinking? Anyway, she helped me pick the perfect yarn for a set of baby booties and hat for my friend’s brother’s first baby, who is due soon. Otherwise it was just more sock yarn but some fun stuff I’d never seen before. And there was a quilt shop in the back of the yarn store, which I headed back to as Andrea paid. Of course I found some fat quarters but between the two of us we’d filled the punch card so I pretty much got them free. Frosting on the cake! 

Monica had mentioned that somewhere near Carroll was the winner of the best burger in Iowa so we asked Beth at the yarn shop for directions and headed to the Coon Bowl in Coon Rapids for supper. They won best burger in 2012 and it was a darn good meal. I had a bacon cheeseburger, because why not, and onion chips. It was well worth the 20 extra miles it added. Then we made a beeline to I-80 and got home after 9:00 again. It was a long day but lots of fun and I had some new, long awaited yarn too. All good!

I woke up to rain on Sunday morning so enjoyed a leisurely morning of knitting. After lunch the skies cleared so I got some weeding done (easy cuz the soil was soft) and puttered a bit before the next round of storms hit. I had pea soup on the stove and a quiche in the oven when the sirens went off. I turned on the TV to see that a tornado was just outside Wahoo so I headed to the basement. I went up when the quiche was done but then back down again, spending about an hour down there before the sirens stopped. Unfortunately the rain was coming down so hard (the total for Sunday was 5.1” in Wahoo!) that it came pouring into my basement on the east side, where my neighbor’s roof drains onto her driveway and then down the slope into my basement. And when I went to that end of the basement (I could hear the water coming in like a faucet was on), I found that my rotten cat (I’ll blame Tot) had pulled down my entire shelf of vintage linens so I had a 2’ deep pile of linens blocking the floor. After I got them all out of the way, I moved boxes and such to create a path to the floor drain and got out my squeegee. I got what standing water I could down the drain and set up the dehumidifier. I happily took a shower and went to bed early, knowing I’d have more clean up in the morning because it was still raining.

So, an interesting week all in all. Lots of fun, a road trip and wacky weather. Less than 2 weeks until France but I’m not feeling stressed. Did I mention that I found out this week that we’ll have full access to laundry at the chateau? That’ll make a huge difference in what I pack (or don’t pack) and my progress outside is making me happy. It’s all good. : )

Monday, May 5, 2014

Week 18 - The May List

Well, it's finally May so I dug into my pre-trip to do list. It was a productive week so it all worked. And did I mention how much I LOVE spring! Even with rain all week until Thursday, I was happy. We needed the moisture and the lack of sun made all the colors pop. Insert gratuitous crabapple pic. Gotta love it!
First off  - appointments. I had my semi-annual dentist appointment on Wednesday, which was still April so my May list hadn't started yet but it counts. The big thing was the shot in my right knee, which I got on Thursday. When you get a cortisone shot when you're not in acute pain, guess what, it hurts! They pump two big syringes into your joint and it takes 24 hours for it to absorb so not only does the shot hurt but you end up with a stiff, swollen joint for awhile. But by the time I had my hair cut on Saturday morning, it's like I had a new knee. Yay!

I had a lovely weekend with a nice mix of getting things done, social things and the usual chores. I woke up at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday and after lying in bed for an hour, I got up. And stayed up. After only 4 hours of sleep, I figured a crash was coming so I drank some extra caffeine and didn't stop. After my hair appointment at 8:30 I ran errands then home for lunch. We had a knitting thing at the museum as part of the home town sports exhibit at 1:00 but it was such a gorgeous day that no one was inside so we bailed long before our scheduled end time. After a stock up run to Dollar General, I headed home for tea (more caffeine) and to clean out the refrigerator. I called Lori to see if I could bring over a big bag of old produce for her chickens ("the girls") and headed over there around dinner time. Lori and Ken were enjoying beer in the shed so I joined them and didn't leave until it was starting to get dark. I had made it all day, gotten stuff done, had some fun and never faded. I gladly went to bed early, looking forward to another productive day on Sunday.

It was super windy on Sunday, which was cramping my style on outside work. I spent a chunk of the day sitting and knitting but with enough spurts of chores in between so as not to feel guilty. Before dinner I dropped a big pot of corn chowder at Anne Marie's (one less meal to think about with the new baby), vacuumed my car, picked up some bulbs at Lorri's (the other Lorri - 2 R's) and got gas in the car and for the mower. There was no time to make dinner for myself so I had cheese and crackers and an egg sandwich while I watched PBS. When 8:00 hit, I saw it was still light enough to work so I headed outside to prep a veggie bed and plant the bulbs. Then it was a shower and making dip for food day on Monday. So while I snuck a lot in at the end of the day, it still counts as done and by waiting I missed the wind. It's all good.

There's still more gardening to do and I never swept but I'll live. It's a busy week ahead with a couple of graduation parties so there won't be much time at home to worry about floors. I'll be waiting to find a new cleaning lady until I'm back from my trip. I'll have another list for post-trip. Go figure. : )