Road Trippin’ Down Under: Bedded Bliss

Four hours and several rounds of Word Hero after the Jarhead had hit the hay I, too, was finally ready for bed. Having metabolized more than my share of sugar, caffeine, and wine—not to mention cortisol and adrenaline—over the past two days, it may be more accurate to say I was ready to crash—and hard.

And so, as quietly as I could and using my phone for a flashlight, I performed my evening ablutions, retrieved my CPAP from its case, and started to set it up. It’s not a complicated process but neither is it easy to do quietly—especially in the dark. And it’s not something I normally have to do myself when we travel. In fact, because it often involves moving one or more pieces of furniture or light fixtures—especially in older hotels—the Jarhead usually sets it up the minute we get to our room.

I can hear some of you now saying awwww and what a sweetheart—if not out loud then inside your head. But let’s not kid ourselves: the Jarhead’s dedication to helping me establish and maintain an open airway at night is as much for his own benefit as for mine. For if he doesn’t make sure upon our arrival that there is in fact a surface on which to position the machine as well as a source of electricity to power it, my ability to sleep and/or sleep quietly will be greatly impaired, which means HIS ability to sleep will be greatly impaired. And nobody wants that—least of all the Jarhead.

I should point out the alternative, which is that I suffocate in my sleep. That, too, might impair the Jarhead’s his ability to sleep—especially as he waits with fingers crossed for the results of the autopsy. And nobody wants that except—just kidding!

Most often, his advance efforts prove unnecessary, as power options are found to be both ample and in close proximity to the sleeping area. Now and again, however, the situation will require a change of rooms or the acquisition of an extension cord, which are burdens best borne by the fully clothed (and preferably while the bags are still packed) or so I’m told. This type of scenario is such a rarity that I cannot recall when last it arose. Nevertheless, it apparently created sufficient havoc for the Jarhead as to warrant his near-obsessive approach to preventing it from happening again.

Despite the playful tone, the Jarhead’s interest in making sure I’m able to breathe (and, therefore, sleep) when we’re away from home is not something I take for granted. It has, however, left me perhaps a little spoiled since it allows me to focus on things like room décor, shower configuration, and word games over sleeping arrangements and outlet placement.

Which is probably why it took me until nearly 3am to realize there were no outlets near the bed.

Notice that I did not write “near my side of the bed.” I make this distinction because the Jarhead had fallen asleep on what is generally considered by all parties to this relationship to be MY side of the bed and, therefore, if there had been an outlet on that side of the bed it would have been useless to me anyway. Unless, of course, I had been willing to drape the cord across his sleeping form and risk having him accidentally unplug it—or worse, strangle himself with it—at some point during the night, which I was not.

But that was a moot point because the fact is there was no outlet near what is generally considered by all parties to this relationship to be my side of the bed or any other. In fact, the only outlets in our room besides those in the bathroom and those behind the TV, were located at the base of the outer wall andapproximately 10 feet as the crow flies from the head end of what is generally considered by all parties to this relationship to be the Jarhead’s side of the bed.

In other words, in order to survive my first night in Australia I had to get down on my hands and knees, crawl under the table, plug the cord into an adapter, plug the adapter in to the outlet, crawl out from under the table, place my CPAP on the table, drag the table as close to the bed as the CPAP cord would allow, put on my mask, and hope:

  • that the distance between my face and the machine did not exceed the length of the air hose (72 inches) and,
  • that I didn’t roll over at some point during the night and manage to pull the CPAP off the table and have it land with a fatal thud on the floor and,
  • that the Jarhead didn’t get up at some point in the night go to the bathroom, forget which side he’d woken up on, and try to climb in on WIGCBAPTTRTB his side of the bed, trip on the cord, hit his face on the table, and land with a fatal thud on the floor

Either way you look at it, it was not an ideal arrangement. Unfortunately, the only other option was to pull the bed closer to the wall on the other side of the room, which would have been almost impossible with the Jarhead already sleeping on top of it. And even if I had been able to move it by myself, I doubted I could have done so quietly or smoothly. In other words, I would have woken him up. Which totally defeated the purpose. After all, if I was going to wake him up anyway, I may as well do so gently and deliberately, and then ask HIM to move the bed for me.

To my sleep-deprived mind at 3am, that sounded much easier.

But still not ideal. Because even if I had succeeded in moving the bed without waking the man of my dreams, he may still have gotten up at some point in the night to use the bathroom, tried to climb back in bed, which was now on the other side of the room, and landed with a fatal thud on the floor.

With that option sounding no better than the other, and finding no viable alternative, I strapped on my mask, put my head to the pillow, and tried to fall asleep.

And sleep I did. Until precisely 4:43am when the sunlight came streaming through the south facing window and patio door of our room.

That was a bit of a bummer—until I remembered that we were in Australia and on vacation.

Then it was bliss.


Road Trippin’ Down Under: Best Laid Plans

Once we had decided on Australia as our 2016 vacation destination, the Jarhead and I then had to buy our plane tickets. We knew they would be expensive since Australia is so far away that you can’t even get there from here without stopping off to gas up somewhere in the Middle East. But we knew they were going to be even more expensive since there was no way I was going to survive 24 hours in economy class even with a layover in Abu Dhabi.

I mention this not because I hate strangers or enjoy wasting money, or because I’m filthy rich or delusional and expect to be waited on hand and foot like some spoiled heiress. Rather, I mention it because I knew that after just six or seven hours confined to metal chair in a crowded cabin teeming with screaming children and coughing, sneezing, and snoring adults, I was going to be, either,

  1. the first woman in the history of air travel to die of acute monotony, annoyance and discomfort,
  2. the first woman in the history of air travel to be shoved out of the emergency hatch in mid-air by her own husband, or
  3. the first woman in the history of air travel to be shoved out the emergency hatch in mid-air by an angry mob that included her husband.

Either way, I was not going to live to see Australia and the Jarhead would have been left to wander around the place by himself for a week (which would have been a shame) and then return to the States alone (which would have been a bigger shame.) On top of that, he still would have had to explain my absence to the authorities and/or break the news to my loved ones, and take time out of his busy schedule to plan one killer of a memorial service. Given the cost of funerals nowadays, and the fact that, without me, he essentially would have paid double to fly alone in coach—not to mention lawyers’ fees if the cops didn’t like his story and the jail time he might get if the jury didn’t buy it—we (that is he, I, and/or my estate) would be money ahead by flying business class.

So, it made sense for us to bite the bullet and spend the money. At least that’s how the Jarhead and I rationalized it. It may have been the wrong call since flying coach may have proven more interesting from a writerly standpoint. More drama and darkness, and all that. But this way, we both got to fly in comfort and style, and no one died—not even the woman who had the nerve to join us in business class accompanied by three young children with no other adult to assist her. Were it not for the all the delicious gourmet food, the reclining seat with padded foot rest, the expansive audio and video library, and the noise cancelling headphones, one of us may not have lived to tell the tale—especially after the middle child whined and screamed for hours and then coughed so hard that she threw up all over her seat just two rows behind the Jarhead. Thank goodness for the free and abundant champagne.

Of course, we didn’t know when we were booking the flight that we would be traveling with a crazy woman bent on flying with two children and a demon, or we may have chosen a different departure.

Speaking of the unknown: there were a few other pieces of information we did not have when we blew a small fortune on our once-in-a-lifetime vacation to Australia that may have made a difference in our travel experience. For example, we were not aware that one needs to obtain a visa from the Commonwealth of Australia to enter the Commonwealth of Australia. We were also unaware that to obtain a visa from the Commonwealth of Australia, one needs to complete and submit a form to the Commonwealth of Australia, and have it approved by the Commonwealth of Australia. Without a visa from the Commonwealth of Australia, one cannot even board a plane bound for the Commonwealth of Australia.

I guess it should have occurred to us. One needs a visa to travel to the United States from other countries, after all. So why shouldn’t US travelers have to get visas from the governments of their intended destinations?

In our defense, the only place to which we have traveled by plane—apart from when we moved to Italy and the handful of countries to which the Jarhead has flown for work, which are handled entirely differently from leisure travel—is England. So we had insufficient experience with international travel to know there had to be a paper trail. That and the fact that the visa I needed when I flew to England in 2004 consisted of a slip of paper about the size of an ATM transaction receipt and was completed just before we disembarked the plane rather than prior to boarding.

At this point, I invite you to guess as to when we became aware of the need to have a visa prior to boarding a plane bound for the Commonwealth of Australia. Go ahead. Guess.

Was it upon receiving confirmation of our ticket purchase from the travel agent?

Uh, no.

Was it upon receiving our electronic boarding passes from the airline?


Was it upon receiving an email from our credit card company congratulating us on our plans to see Australia, as evidenced by the purchase of two very expensive plane tickets and inviting us to contact their fraud unit if we had not recently booked two very expensive tickets to Australia?

Not even close.

In fact, we found out from the ticket agent at the counter as we were cheerily checking in and eagerly waiting to hand over our bags. Oblivious Americans I’m sure she was thinking while simultaneously apologizing for the inconvenience and describing the potential legal consequences to both her and us if she allowed us to board a flight to Australia without a visa.

My stomach churned as I thought about the extra money we might have to pay if we had to change our tickets to buy ourselves more time to get a visa. It churned even harder as I contemplated how much time and money we might have wasted if they denied our visa and we couldn’t go at all. Seriously. I nearly threw up my breakfast just hours before that little demon child did it on the plane.

But while the financial manager in me was growing sicker by the minute at the thought of all that wasted money, the hodophobic part of me was celebrating the fact that by not leaving for Australia, I didn’t have to worry about never making it back home from Australia. Meanwhile, a third part–the small, quiet, and rarely taken seriously mature part–was listening to the agent who, having stopped apologizing was now offering to have another agent explain to us the process by which we could obtain a visa.


And in about 20 minutes.


I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I was that I had tuned into that conversation when I did. Or how grateful I was that I’d taken St. John’s Wort with my breakfast that morning, which is probably the only reason the whole shebang didn’t come back up on me right there and then.

And for a change, I was grateful that the Jarhead can be a bit *cough* rigid when it comes to time and travel since that’s the only reason we wound up checking in three hours ahead of the flight instead of two.

It’s not often that we’re early for anything, so I don’t know what benefit is ordinarily derived from punctuality. I only know that this time, it definitely paid off. Because less than a half an hour later, we were back at the counter with our boarding passes and visa confirmations, and on our way to the Land of Plenty!



Road Trippin’ 2016

So it was that it was that time of year again: October. Time to roll the lawn mower back to the shed and move the snow blower into the garage. Time to put away the deck furniture and store the hoses and sprinklers. Time for the Jarhead to either take some time off work or have every single one of his hard-earned excess vacation days vanish into thin air.

I don’t know how it works for the rest of the world, but these are the only circumstances under which the man I married will agree to use his vacation time. Unless, of course, it’s hunting season. But that’s a different blog.

I shouldn’t be too hard on him. Whenever he takes vacation, he generally needs to work about 8 extra hours in advance of his days off so he doesn’t fall behind, and then work another 8 hours after he gets back to catch up. And that’s on top of the 2 hours or so he spends each day checking email traffic while he’s gone, and responding to phone calls about things that can’t be handled via email.

So basically, for every time he takes two or more days off work, he must put in additional work days for the privilege. Almost makes more sense to skip the vacation. At least until you do the math and realize how much money you’re essentially throwing out the window.

And to be fair, he did take a lot more time off this year than he has in years past. Considering the Friday that he took off to attend our son’s wedding, the Tuesday he took off in honor of my big 5-0, and the Tuesday he spent wiping my tears and holding my hand at the funeral of my beloved Auntie, he probably worked less in 2016 than he had in any year since 2008 when he was mostly retired and I was still working.

And so, with days to burn and only a couple of weeks left in which to burn them, we set down with our phones, the calendar, and Google Maps to decide where to go.

Since we had both turned 50 this year (and, no, he did NOT take his OWN birthday off work because, as he thoughtfully explained at the time, that would be silly) we thought we should do something extra special to mark our first half-century. And since we still enjoy each other’s company (or so it seems, anyway. I guess I’ve never actually heard him speak those words, but all evidence points to that conclusion) we decided we should go somewhere by ourselves rather than with the kids or to visit friends. And since we’d seen much of Europe when we were stationed in Italy, we decided to check that off our list. And finally, since there are no guarantees in life, we decided to go as far as we could for as long as we could, just in case we lack the physical ability or the financial means to do so in our second half-century.

Which narrowed our options to Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, South America, and the International Space Station. I could have added Pluto, Cassiopeia, and all the planets in this and, say, the Andromeda Galaxy, but as there are currently no departures scheduled for those locations and Cassiopeia is just a constellation anyway, I would have included them only for the fun of typing those words into a sentence for the first and probably only time in my entire life.


That decided, we each imposed our own conditions to facilitate the decision. For example, I asked that we limit our options to places we could get to and from by airplane. Much as I like the idea of visiting other planets, my fear of leaving home and not ever coming back (aka hodophobia) is bad enough as it is. There’s no need to complicate matters with talk of rocket fuel and re-entry failure, thanks very much. That restriction, unfortunately for the Jarhead, ruled out interstellar and intergalactic travel. Well, that and a pesky thing I like to call our budget.

In turn, the Jarhead requested that we choose a destination where folks speak his language. I said that would seriously limit our options since there are very few places outside of Minnesota where the people actually speak and understand Minnesotan, but he was unmoved. So unmoved, in fact, that he offered to quell my fears by leaving my hodophobic a$$ at home.

So that left England, Canada, Australia, and a few other countries that we didn’t bother to research since Australia, by virtue of its distance from Wisconsin, was the obvious winner.

Other factors were involved, of course. Like the fact that we had talked about going there for literally years but couldn’t bring ourselves to spend the money. And the fact that it would be almost summer when we arrived. Not to mention the fact that we could spend 10 days there and still be home in time for Thanksgiving.

So that’s WHERE we went. To find out HOW it went, be sure to tune in for the next installment, Road Trippin’ Down Under!


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Road Trippin’ 2015: Braking–BAD!

The drive back from Valdez wasn’t too tricky at first. Maybe it just seemed easier because the weather was good and I basically had the road all to myself, but during the trip back to Glennallen and for about the first hour or so west of there I was feeling pretty confident about my ability to get us back to Anchorage before dark and in one piece.

Then it started to rain. And then it started to storm. And then came the single lane, switchback road. And then, out of nowhere, came the semi’s grill in my rearview mirror. And the steep downhill grade. I must have made some kind of panicked noise, because just then the Jarhead sat up and as calmly as he could, asked me not to brake. And by ‘asked’ I mean ‘begged.’ And although what he said was “please don’t brake” in his tone I also heard “or we’re going to die.”

I wanted to grant his request. I swear I did. But there was no way I was going to be able to drive that car down that hill at that speed in the rain and live to tell the tale. From the way my blood was pumping, even if we didn’t careen off the side of the mountain and die in a fiery crash on the banks of the Matanuska River, I was still going die—of heart failure, a stroke or aortic aneurysm.

So I tried to conjure a third option and, to my relief, spotted one almost right away. It was a sign that said there was a runaway truck ramp just a short distance up the road. And it was on a straightaway, so if I decelerated too quickly for the semi’s comfort, at least he could move over to the other lane long enough to get around me.

As I signaled my intent to exit the road—my hands, arms, and neck tingling from how tightly I was gripping the wheel and my legs trembling from trying to resist the urge to slam on the brakes—the Jarhead urgently asked what I was doing. Unsure whether he had missed the sign or had seen it but didn’t want me to take it, I ignored his question, applied the brakes, and all but slid sideways off the road and onto the gravel platform.

It was all I could do not to start bawling like a baby the second the car came to a halt. As it was I shook for several minutes as I tried not to cry. Having felt the semi whiz past us at a terrifying rate of speed, I knew I’d made the right call even if the Jarhead disapproved. Our chances of survival were better with a sleepy person in control of the vehicle, I told him as we unbuckled to swap seats, than with this chicken sh*t behind the wheel.

I almost rescinded that remark an hour or so later when we came literally face to face with a moose cow and her calf as we made our descent out of the mountains. The Jarhead was gawking at something to his left at the time, and just happened to glance to the right in time to see my panicked face bracing for impact. Thinking I was overreacting again—a fair assumption, I’ll admit—he casually returned his gaze to the front with just enough time to hit the brakes and come grinding to a halt a few feet in front of them.

“Why didn’t you say something?” he asked as we watched them meander off the road and into the woods.

“I’m sorry. I was so scared I couldn’t find my words.”

“How about ‘MOOSE!’”

Oh sure. As if that would have worked.

Even if he would have heard and understood me, based on my track record, he wouldn’t have believed me. And even if he had taken my word for it, Mr. Sedate would have assumed it was standing off in the distance somewhere and then eagerly asked “Where?”

Anyway, we didn’t hit the moose—or anything else, for that matter—and thanks to his grace under pressure, we made it back to Anchorage. It was later than we’d planned, but at least we had arrived alive.

Perhaps that’s setting the bar too low, but it works for us. And I’m okay with that.

Road Trippin’ 2015

For the second time in two years, I set aside my fears and phobias this month, and agreed to accompany the Jarhead on week-long adventure to parts heretofore unknown to us. Although this trip did not involve Canada or the Rockies—unless you count flyovers—like our 2013 journey, it did carry an element of risk to mind, body, and soul.

But nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say. So rather than sitting at home waiting for death to find me in the pool, in the tub, or at my desk, I crossed my fingers, tossed my hiking boots into a suitcase—along with enough clothes to impress both Ginger AND Mrs. Howell—and headed north to Alaska by way of Minnesota.

To be fair, much of the trip was not unknown to us, as it began with a six hour car ride from Oshkosh to Minneapolis. If you think 6 hours is an excessive amount of time drive a distance that would ordinarily take only 4 ½, you would be correct and can therefore cancel any plans to have your head examined. If instead of your own mental wellbeing you were concerned with our driving and/or navigational skills, it should ease your mind to learn that we took the scenic route.

Yep, for reasons known only to him, the Jarhead decided he wanted to take his time and travel to the Twin Cities by way of Tomah, La Crosse, and Rochester. Although he will deny it, I suspect he chose I-90 over I-94 for the simple fact that he has travelled the I-94 route—back and forth—twice since Memorial Day and simply wanted a change of pace.

As long as we were taking the circuitous route, we decided to drop in on a good friend of mine whose house stands but a mile or two off of the highway between Rochester and Minneapolis. As I expected, we caught her a bit off guard, but as it had been months since we had seen each other, I felt it would be worth surprising her even if she was already in her pajamas. And, oh, how I would love to provide a photo of that moment she warily opened her front door! But since I don’t want that visit to be the LAST time she speaks to me, you’ll just have to imagine how shocked she was to find us on her porch. (Sorry, T. Lo!)

From there we continued on our trip to Minneapolis where, the next morning, we took an unforgettable trip down memory lane on our way to the airport. This seemed a fitting way to begin our journey since the Jarhead and I recently celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary, and because apart from Oshkosh, the longest we have lived in any one location over the course of our three decades together was the three and a half years we spent in the Twin Cities.

We started this segment of our trip with a drive by Lake Nokomis. Lake Nokomis figures prominently in our lives since it is where my friend LaVon and I used to spend hours walking and, later, pushing babies in strollers. Although it is also where my mother’s relatives used to hold their family reunions when I was a kid, it is probably better known to my immediate family as the place where El Noble learned to ride a two wheeler in April of 1991, and where he subsequently found himself up to his chest in ice-cold water about a half an hour later.

From Lake Nokomis, we continued north toward Lake Street. Along the way, we spent twenty minutes looking for the duplex where we lived for about a year—since neither of us could recall the address—and another ten discussing what was different about it and why it had taken us so long to find it. We also paid a visit to the four-unit brownstone we lived in before moving to the duplex, and the building next door where LaVon lived when we first moved there. These two were much easier to find owing to the fact that we remembered they were situated on 11th Avenue somewhere between Powderhorn Park and 38th street.

After another discussion about the changes we observed to the two structures and the neighborhood, we continued north to Lake Street and followed it east toward St. Paul in search of the big old Victorian whose second floor we occupied when the Princess was conceived. As was the case with our first two former dwellings, we had to circle the neighborhood a few times because we couldn’t recall the street address.

Although it still took us longer to find it than we expected, the task was made easier by the fact that we knew it was located at the corner of its block on Marshall Avenue, a few blocks west of Snelling. Even with that much intel, we still missed it the first two times we passed it and, due to the volume of traffic in the area, did not have the chance to get a good look. Thus, we could neither assess nor admire it as we discussed all of the memories we had of the place. Even without the benefit of the visual aid, however, we had a pretty good laugh recalling the time El Noble came to us crying after discovering that, unlike his friends who lived downstairs, he was not African American.

Having visited our fourth Twin Cities residence only six or so years ago—and lacking the time to travel there and back before we needed to be at the airport—we decided to forego a drive to Windom Gables and headed for the highway. From there, it would be a short drive to the terminal, an even shorter walk to security, followed by a LONG walk to the gate, and an even longer flight—to Anchorage…