Friday, April 27, 2012

April 18, 2012: Confessions of a Frequent Flyer

An ordinary day for me these days includes airport security, consolidation of three bags to two, A-List boarding passes, and free drink coupons with complimentary peanuts.  Ding, ding, ding…you guessed it.  I spend a lot of time at the airport.  And I am proud to say that I have become a seasoned traveler.  George Clooney’s character in “Up in the Air” has nothing on me.  I know the tricks on how to whiz through TSA checks.  Knowing which security lines to avoid (kids and elderly…avoid at all cost...sorry) has been key to my systemic approach, as well as removing my shoes and computer in the perfect sequence to expedite my path out of the security area.  No doubt those following me through the bowels of TSA admire my efficiencies.
Today I drove to the airport at noon to catch a 1:15 flight to Denver.  By my rough estimation, I have flown this particular flight no less than 30 times over the course of the last two and a half years.  My bags and attire were a bit different than the norm today though.  This was a quick trip; less than 24 hours in fact.  My computer bag packed lightly sufficed my short-term needs.  No roller carry-on bag for me as I was flying in solely to join Garrett for his client’s wine tasting gala.  I am a firm believer that there is dress code for air flight.  My rule for this dress code does not include jeans or sweats <gasp>.  Although my typical flight attire is a casual dress; with a cocktail party greeting my arrival, I was dressed out of the norm today.  My attire of the day would not be deemed business casual, but instead cocktail casual.  A visual description would include a little snake print dress cut above the knees with sling back high heels and fun jewelry.  I would be lying if I didn’t say that I got a lot of funny looks.  I am sure a few people were curious on the story of the lady in the snake skin dress traveling with only a small bag.
And everyone does has a story.  Although I love to meet new people and hear their stories, this is not the case when I fly (clarification...physically fly).  Along with airport security, I have also perfected the art of “keeping to myself” while in flight and have an informal set of rules for this as well.  Being friendly, smiling, and making small talk anytime during the airport boarding experience is acceptable.  Talking the entire flight and making a new friend within earshot of my many fellow traveling comrades is unacceptable.  The time frame for this black out period basically coincides with use of electronic devices (10,000 feet).  Being seated early as an A-Lister, an extra necessary precaution is employed by my listening to music with ear buds and avoiding eye contact while the rest of the plane is boarding.  Eye contact is nothing short of begging someone to sit next to me with the expectation of an hour and a half “get to know” each other conversation.  This may sound cold, but #1) I am doing a favor for all of those sitting around me and #2) this girl needs a little down time too (and a PERFECT time to blog a bit :)).
I believe that my continued discipline to these flight friendly rules still allows me to engage in some interesting conversations pre-flight.  There is plenty of time to project a positive presence during the boarding and pre-boarding period which is many times longer than my actual flight.  Today was a perfect example of this logic.  After checking to be sure my plane had arrived on time, I gathered my bottled water and found a seat on the end of the wait area directly next to my boarding assignment, A-22.   Things are going well for me when this particular seat is open.  Next check was whether my plane had completed deboarding.  Nope.  That gave me ten minutes to fire up my lap top.  Last check...look around me and assess the other flight passengers.  It always seems like there is someone interesting in the crowd and today was no exception.
Across from me sat a couple I would have guessed to be in their early sixties.  The woman was very (VERY) thin.  She was dressed in a youthful manner; heavily jeweled and kept checking out my outfit with a hint of nervousness.   Next to her was a well dressed man in a suit and tie.  He too was a bit bejeweled in gold rings and a fancy watch.  As I sat and waited for our boarding call,  he spent the entire ten minutes talking about a deposition he gave in Omaha that day. In his heavy accent which was unfamiliar to me in origin but of obvious affluence, he described in detail how he drilled a defendant and then discussed strategy for his next deposition in Denver.  His woman friend (no wedding ring) checked me out from head to toe and I am quite sure I overheard her (yes, as he talked on his phone) pointing out my shoes.  I am going to go with her liking the unusual, but trendy pair of heels I was sporting.  When I made eye contact and smiled, she seemed nervous and looked away.  She did look familiar to me; a bit like a washed out movie star.  One that I would later say "of course" if someone else pointed out a 70's star resemblance.

As boarding began, I positioned myself in the front of the line enjoying the benefits of my Southwest A-List status.  As anyone who has flown Southwest knows, we board in numerical order starting with the A’s and ending with the C’s and I am a stickler for everyone staying in their designated order.  I use the excuse that the SW attendants have in the past mandated this orderly procession, but the reality is that I am a bit anal about it.  If I am A-22, by gosh, I am going to board between A-21 and A-23, no exceptions.  This is part of my innate wiring of not wanting to break rules.  So as I always do in the boarding process, I asked those around me their number as I nestled into my spot.  In this case the A-23 and A-24 passengers were the presumable attorney and his willowy girlfriend.  After confirming with them their numbers and my placement, I commented that the Southwest numbering system is an accountant’s dream.  This proclamation opened the door to an interesting conversation with these colorful strangers.  “An accountant!” the man exclaimed, “You must be enjoying some time off post yesterday’s tax day.”  A conversation ensued on how my 22 years in public accounting coupled with my specialty in healthcare was a reflection of my tax season of today being nowhere near the hours I put in during my early years.
He proceeded to tell me about a tax notice received on a $76,000 refund owed to him from the IRS and went on to describe the IRS’ mysterious explanation on the matter.  He didn’t even blink on the dollar amount; someone listening in would have thought he was referring to a lost $10 bill.  I went on to explain to him that much of the IRS’ explanations don’t make a ton of sense and calling them directly is often times a “crap shoot” depending on the agent who picks up the phone.  As we walked down the walkway leading to the plane he continued to talk to me while still being attentive to his girlfriend (at least I am assuming she was his girlfriend).  In his upper crust accent he said to her, “Come on, Maggie.  ...Why I have never referred to you as Maggie before.  I like it!  I think I am going to call you that from now on, Dear.”  A part of me had flashbacks of Thurston Howell III delicately talking to Lovey on Gilligan's Island.  And then without missing a beat he continued his conversation with me.  Attorney man (a.k.a. Thurston) went on to tell me how he lived in the tax free state of Nevada thus only having to deal with the IRS bastards on taxes.  Hmmm....Las Vegas attorney?  Now that makes sense.  Maybe Maggie was a prior show girl (or something like that).
“I have been audited 20 times out of the last 26 years.  Do you think that is odd?”
“Yes,” I responded, “that certainly isn't typical.”
“I knew it!  That’s what I think, but they say it’s random.  Bah!  I hate the IRS.  They haven’t made a change on a single audit in all of those years, so you would think they would leave me alone, wouldn’t you?" 
"Come on, Maggs,” he said as he led her down the narrow aisle.  I was then wondering what Maggie/Maggs real name was…Margaret?
“You would think,” I answered as we slowly made our way into the plane behind the A-1 through A-21 passengers plodding ahead of us.
Before moving back to join Maggs two seats behind me, the mysterious attorney leaned over and whispered as he looked me directly in the eye, “I know why they keep auditing me.  Do you want to know my theory?”
“What is it?” I answered leaning in even closer as though to be given a CIA secret code.
“It’s my divorces!  HA!  I know it.  My ex’s want more money out of me and think I am lying on my taxes.  They are the ones calling the IRS.  Damn them!”
At this point I am feeling a bit like like his colleague, strategizing as though preparing to grill the next defendant together.  “That makes sense,” I whisper back while confidently nodding my head as I played my part.  “A whistle blower will get their attention every time.  Guaranteed.”
“I knew it!” he grumbled as he took his seat and helped Maggs slip past him to the window.
Now Maggie wasn't looking nervous anymore and was instead smiling at me.  I was clearly accepted as one of them.  And although it was very tempting to join my new friends in the open seat next to them to share a cocktail and some great conversation; I instead opted to stick to my routine of ear buds and no eye contact.  And I can honetly say that I had no regrets as I listened to my music, enjoyed some down time, and blogged this story.  After arriving in Denver, I did run into Thurston and Maggs for the last time as we walked through the terminal to the train.  They both turned and gave me a cheery "hi-ho" wave and words of safe travels as they disappeared into the distance.  I smiled back at my new friends...yet another day in the life for me at the airport.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

April 17, 2012: Tornado Evacuation of 2003

The boys in their matching P.J.s made by Grandma Mary ~ Summer of 2003

In the Midwest, we all know that our ordinary summer days can quickly turn into tornado scares with greenish colored skies, blowing winds, and screaming sirens.  With this last weekend full of tornado warnings throughout most of the Midwest, memories of seeking shelter filled my mind.  When I was growing up, our shelter was a cellar with access only from an outside door.  For me, storm sirens bring back flashbacks of my dad carrying me through ripping winds as I held on for dear life as he pulled open the cellar door and we were greeted with darkness and the smell of moist dirt.  The sounds of whipping branches filled our ears while Mom attempted to mute out the frightening noises by turning up the volume on our small portable radio; our only outlet of communication from the outside world.  And we sat in the dark staring at jars of canned vegetables lining the dirt walls until hearing the "all clear" signal.

Although the threat of tornadoes are just as scary in today's times, I believe I minimize it a bit more with the convenient access of my comfy basement and the various real time updates available on our big screens and smart phones.  My kids haven't experienced my many stormy nights in the cellar, but they do know that their cushy basement is the place to be when the sirens blare.  Zach, my ever-responsible oldest son, performs brilliantly in evacuation situations such as these.  As much as he doesn't like the stereotype of being the "responsible one", he can't run away from his genetic make-up.  A favorite story I have of Zach demonstrating his innate ability to "run the show" is of his first tornado evacuation in the Lane home.

On this particular night, I was home alone with the boys as Scott was working nights.  It was stormy.  But with no immediate threats of severe weather, I tucked the boys in for bed.  Now is where I need to confess a bit on a weakness of mine.  I like my sleep.  Once I go to bed, I like to enjoy a deep sleep until my morning alarm rings when I hit the snooze button at least three times before waking up.  When Grant was a baby, I remember telling people that he was sleeping through the night at two weeks old and the responding look of shock on their faces.  In retrospect, I believe I just didn't wake up.  Amazing how our kids survive with non perfect (sleepy :)) parents, isn't it?

My memory of this particular stormy night was Zach pulling my arm and begging me to get out of bed.  My next recollection after the fog of following him into the basement was sitting in a bean bag chair with my little white Maltese, Harry, placed on my lap.  On the bean bag next to me was a seven year old Ben with a sleepy Grant with his dat (Grant's word for his blankie) and stuffed "Baxter" snuggled in next to Ben.  At the TV with his orthodontic head gear in place was Zach, finding the best station on the big screen for tornado updates.  Zach turned to me as he adjusted the volume up to inform me, "Mom, the sirens went off.  How did you not hear that?  We are in a tornado warning for the next forty-five minutes."  "Oh,"  I answered as I looked around the basement and realized that Zach single handedly evacuated the house, including me, to the safety of the basement.  "Thanks, Zach."  No tornadoes that night as we all went back to the comforts of our beds following the end of the tornado warning.

This last Saturday as I worried about a sick Zach in Omaha at my house alone, I called the neighbors to ask them to check and make sure he took shelter in the basement if the sirens went off.  Later he called to inform me that he was already in the basement of his dad's house keeping an eye on his brother.  Yea, of course you are, Zach.  What was I thinking?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April 1, 2012: The Beauty of Spring

We stopped in the middle of our run through Boys Town to smell the gorgeous lilacs.  I picked a small bunch for my hair.  One of my running friends took this picture of me showing off my hair accessory at Prairie Life (check out the guy stretching in the background :))

It is a gorgeous Palm Sunday morning and I am laying in bed listening to the birds chirp and enjoying the cool breeze through my open windows; all while sipping a delightful cup of coffee.  The dryer is humming, the animals are lazily laying on the steps, and Grant is playing downstairs...the morning couldn't be more perfect and peaceful.  Five years ago I would have been setting my alarm for 6:00 a.m. and fitting in every imaginable task on my never ending to-do list before it was time to get ready for noon mass.  And back in those days, I would have probably pushed it a bit too far causing stress in making it to church on time.  I am quite certain many people have felt and lived this same drill.  But it is amazing how five years can change your outlook on what constitutes the perfect Sunday morning on a beautiful spring day.

What I do know is that the bed will be made, the coffee pot turned off, and Grant and I showered and ready with time to spare before we go to mass today.  There is also a high likelihood that I will be making a breakfast of Grant's choice in the very near future (while enjoying another cup of coffee, of course).  There is definitely something to be said for stopping and smelling the roses rather than racing through life at a record speed.  Although checking things off of my bottomless list will always make me happy (can't run away from our human wiring), the happiness of a conversation with my son and reflecting on all of life's glory is much more satisfying then being able to complete three loads of laundry while simultaneously hosing down the garage floor and training for a triathlon.

All of this does follow the very true saying "you have to stop and smell the roses".  And in order to smell the roses, you need to notice that they are there first.  Way too often the race of life shuts our eyes to all that is truly important and bring us the greatest joys in life.  This perfect Nebraska winter and spring (is it even officially spring yet?)  has been a blessing and a reminder to take in God's gifts as they are given to us each day.  It is amazing how a green lawn, blossoming trees, and blooming tulips can bring so much happiness.  And you can't miss nature's abundant beauty right now unless you are either locked in a room or function with your eyes closed.  I am grateful for my tulips, lawn, and peaceful existence.  I hope that I can remember each day to open my eyes to the wonders around me and enjoy them with the people in my life :)

My tulips and pots full of spring color
And green, plush grass :)