Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Making Do: Yankee Thrift in the Florida Panhandle

Another problem has been solved at Blew Inn.  The issue of television at our retirement cottage has been a potential budget-buster.  Local cable provider Cox has the go-to solution for TV in our area but the pricing is astronomical in view of our limited usage.  Finding a workable, budget-friendly solution to the problem was a conundrum.

The Slingbox setup at our home in Houston has always been the key to enjoying the premium TV services we pay for in Houston pretty-much anywhere:  Tokyo, Amsterdam, Rio de Janeiro, etc.  For an investment of <$300, the Slingbox hardware integrates our home TV with our home network and assigns it an IP address.  The Slingbox software on our iphones and ipads allows us to control the home-based hardware and watch remotely anything we could watch at home.  All that's required is a high speed internet connection (a speed sufficient  for streaming video.)

My initial thoughts in Pensacola were to employ the hotspot feature of my iphone to allow our ipads to control Slingbox, as we do on layovers.  The strong Sprint LTE signal at Blew Inn is certainly sufficient for supporting this approach but Sprint has recently eliminated the option of unlimited hotspot data usage from its user plans.  We are now capped at 6GB per month (not enought for daily TV consumption) and even that is a hefty $50 fee.  After considering other high-speed options for our area, I started thinking more about Apple and the myriad solutions they provide for their products.

Since the data usage on our iphones IS unlimited with no additional charge, they are the key to solving the problem of large monthly fees.  After doing a little research at the online Apple store, we solved our problem with a $49 "Lightning to A/V Adapter" plus a $10 HDMI cable plus a surplus 26" LCD TV that we brought with us from Texas.

With virtually NO "tweaking" and a one-time investment of $60, we had a perfectly acceptable (actually, quite elegant), cost-efficient solution.  

Apple + Slingbox = Affordable Home Entertainment!

Monday, May 19, 2014


When I rose, shortly after 5 this morning, I arose with a story to tell.  I may tell that story yet, it is vivid still in my imagination. But no matter how early the morning, one task must always be attended to before any other.  My four-legged charge was afoot and scampering before I could even utter, "Maxxi, do you want to go pee?".

Wonderfully disciplined about such things, Maxxi descended the steps, took care of business, ascended and dashed between my legs in the general direction of her still-warm bed before I even had my eyes fully-opened.  As I secured the door behind her, I turned and took one fateful step into an icy-cold "what the hell is that?" puddle.  The splatter felt on the weeks-old flooring of one's new home instills an instant air of foreboding.  "WHAT THE HELL?"  Did the brand-new washer, installed just hours earlier, leak on the 1st or second load?  Did Maxxi have a mistake in the middle of the night (unprecedented).  No, it was icy-cold.

The air conditioning unit!

I opened the door to the HVAC closet and quickly found the source.  I woke Philip (not easily done at 0500) and asked that he come have a look.  A moment or two later, we located and removed an air filter laden with enough ice to sink the TITANIC.  I snapped a few iphotos, zapped them to our contractor and by 7am had a commitment from the unit's installer that he would be by today.  All things considered, it sounded a reasonable and fortuitous resolution. If we hadn't been here, who knows what calamity would have ultimately resulted?

The day meandered on in pretty much the same vein:  issue arises, issue is addressed, issue is resolved.  Settling in to a new home is labor-intensive.  Since I'd exhausted myself in previous days with the heavy lifting, I committed to make today about "clean up" and turned to washing dishes, linens and clothing, long in storage.

Midway through the mindlessness that is folding laundry (load #5 or 6), I happened to glance out the window.  Anew, the sheer beauty of my surroundings registered.  "How could I make THIS about drudgery?"  But, I had.  Crisis, cleaning, sorting, putting away had taken precedence over everything, even this incredibly gorgeous day and place.

Just then, I noticed a shimmering on the water's surface near our shore, bait fish were teeming near the surface.  Suddenly, a glistening shape moving as fluidly as the water itself broke the surface in its unhurried turn at the buffet. One, two, three dolphins, then a fourth, no doubt the cause of the bait fish frenzy, took their lazy turn devouring their prey.  They were soon joined by bown pelicans and seaguls, all drawn by the telltale disturbance.  Water glistened and sprayed, the dolphins rolled and feasted, the pelicans dove and exploited the opportunity, the seagulls noisily played their role as "clean up crew".

It was a wondrous episode of NATURE, lacking only the jaunty commentary of one or other of the brothers Attenborough, viewed in magnificent real-life resolution.  Spectacular!  Horrific and beautiful, at the same time.  Life.

Now, shortly before bed, I reflect on the walk that Philip, Maxxi and I shared by the same water, now placid in twilight.  There was no sign, no evidence of the events that I witnessed earlier today.  Only peace.  Only calm.  Only a memory, resulting from a detour.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Touchstone: Paying It Forward

If you have a moment or two to spare, settle in. I'm in the mood to tell one of my stories...
In the 1980s, the post-deregulation US airline industry was being upended by upstart "mavericks" like Carl Icahn and Frank Lorenzo. Through a variety of contrivances, these two rather unconventional, atypical airline executives took control of industry stalwarts TWA and Continental. While deregulation itself provided the stage setting, it was these characters who forever altered the US airline landscape. While TWA and Continental were the direct targets, the industry as a whole was impacted by their machinations.
I was a Flight Attendant for Continental during this very tumultuous period. "Peanuts fares", "no frills", "Add-a-friend" for a penny", domestically at Continental, the gimmicks seemed endless. At the same time, Continental was operating 3 class DC10-30s in the Pacific and offering a level of service comparable to our international competition. "Who in the hell are we?", even employees of long-standing would ask. Who were we supposed to be, anyway? Southwest or QANTAS? The questions were legitimate as we had no clear identity or mission. Essentially, we were trying to be all things to all people...and failing miserably on all fronts. We were widely viewed as the worst US airline in the industry and the traveling public, who spent their money for the privilege of flying with us, never hesitated to remind us of that sad fact.
There's just one thing...
I was relatively new and impressionable. What I knew of Continental was it's glorious past under Robert Six; both he and the airline were legendary. Assimilating the very real disconnect between what I knew and what I was experiencing was DEVASTATING to my morale and to the morale of many of my contemporaries. I remind you that Continental did not have the resources or global scope that today's airline leviathans enjoy. Going out of business completely was a very real, EVER-PRESENT possibility. Of course, we survived and even thrived. But it wasn't easy and it wasn't quick. How did we muddle through the quagmire and into airline paradise?
We relied upon each other, plainly and simply. Our Chief Executive was a quiet, almost anti-social and reviled (by many) public figure. I met Mr. Lorenzo on several occasions and, oddly maybe, felt sorry for him. He pursued his own agenda and became one of the most unsympathetic characters in American business. His actions and/or inactions quite literally destroyed lives. We did NOT find solace or hope in the corporate offices. But we DID find them "on the line".
In particular, I remember those who were somewhat senior to me as paragons to be admired and emulated for their strength and conviction that all would be OK. As I remember them today, the feelings they engendered in me, a young and very impressionable "new kid", I can get misty-eyed. Maybe they knew what an impact they had on myself and others. Maybe not. But they shared a gift that cannot be repaid. It can only be paid forward.
Why am I confident in my future at my airline employer, in our future here? Because I've been here before. I've been through worse; much, much worse. I survived. We survived and we rose like the Phoenix through our own force of will and our belief that we would make it. We did. We will.
I have worked for the most reviled airline in the industry. I have worked for the most respected airline in the industry. Irony of ironies, they were one in the same.
Whom do I thank? Chris & Bill RattraySimon CasarezRae Mackintosh, Pam Hart Cole, Connie Seger, Judy Blair, Judy Noonan, Suzanne Hendricks, Byron & Sally Pettingill...and countless others. Many are still here today, doing exactly what they were doing 30 years ago. Role models. Hope inspirers. Colleagues. Friends.
for Cody...

Saturday, May 10, 2014

"You put that where?"

Traveling to Japan as an airline crewmember has been an extraordinarily "easy" experience during my 30 year career.  Disciplined and efficient, a spot-on reflection of the Japanese culture at large, the Japanese Customs Officials with whom crew interact make quick work of international arrival formalities.  After a 14 hour non-stop flight, that fact is greatly appreciated by working crew.

But over the last few weeks, the normal complete paperwork, turn-in paperwork, walk through and out of the customs hall routine has seen a few changes.  Specifically, Customs officers are "spot-checking" arriving crewmembers to assure that they comply with well-publicized import restrictions.  Apparently, the spot-checks have revealved some fairly egregious breaches of conduct by crew:  in a recent pre-departure briefing in Houston, my crew was informed by an Inflight Supervisor that recent checks have revealed crewmembers carrying gallon Ziplock bags full of undocumented prescription medication and alcohol (which may never been landed in Japan without duty being paid) disguised in water bottles.

Philip found a great product at our local market for satisfying the alocohol section of the regulations while also satisfying the "yen" for a little sip of wine on a layover.  Three bucks for 3 glasses of Cabernet!

One hears warnings and, after so many years of traveling, takes them with a grain of salt.  But my experience arriving yesterday on flight 7 from Houston was quite the example:

I apparently drew the "lucky number" when we arrived in the Customs Hall!  

The precisely-uniformed Customs Officer (wearing hat, white cotton gloves  and all) asked twice if the declaration I handed him was mine and then asked if I had anything more to declare.  I responded that I did not.  He then pointed to my large tote which he systematically rush, whatsoever.  He seemed particularly interested in my Dasani water bottle and Ziplock bag of toiletries & medications.  

The water bottle was still sealed, a fact which provoked a somewhat disappointed look from the officer.  So, he proceeded to remove every single item from my Ziplock, including a Compazine suppository (for severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, it can't be beaten).  The suppository blister pack had likely been in my bag for at least 3 years, as a "just in case."  

"What this?", he grunted.  I explained but he didn't understand.  

"What for?"  I explained but he didn't understand.  

He pointed it toward his mouth, implying oral administration.  I tried to correct him, as delicately as I could, but my subtlety was lost.  He didn't understand and, frankly, seemed to think he'd hit "paydirt" with the intriguing-looking item.  I turned around and pointed to the CORRECT administration sIte for that type of product but he still didn't get it.  He opened the blister pack and put his nose to it.  For a moment, I feared he might probe it with his tongue, the way you see in movies or on television.  (If only I'd had the presece of mind to employ my iphone camera for this episode!)  Suddenly, the suppository held no interest and he dropped it back into the Ziplock.

After giving up on my tote, he then wanted to see my rollaboard.  I have a travel coffeemaker which he disassembled, shook and seemed to be measuring the weight of each piece.  After pushing around clothing articles and shoes, my disappointed friend shoved everything in my direction, still a disassembmled mess.  He once again presented my declaration and asked if it were mine.  I replied that it was and he said, "Thank you for cooperation."  That was it.

I'd say that inspectors were randomly checking 50% of crewmembers entering at the time.  We went through along with a Thai crew who we're also scrutinized.  Nobody else seemed to receive the scrutiny that I did.  Could it have been my appearance?

Of course, the fiendish side of me wants to play now!  What fun thing can I introduce to my bag for the trip I have scheduled on the 21st that might provide a moment of levity without a lifetime of regret?

Maybe I'd better not!  At no point did my new friend show ANY sign of amusement; just a disciplined, efficient disappointment.