Leaving on a Jet Plane

Flying has never been a favorite activity of mine. Some of this, I am sure, is the fact that most of the flying I have done in the past 25 years or so has been associated with work and not pleasure. I also have those fond memories of the smoking section of days gone by which, with my luck, tended to be all of one row behind the row I was crammed into. Just close enough for a strong winded smoker to shoot a steady stream of smoke up my nostrils. However, my most recent venture in the skies was to get us to one of the biggest cruise ships in the world. Warm sunny weather in March what could be better. Surely, I could put up with a bit of bouncing in the skies.

So we decided leaving on a jet plane was the way to go. Our booked flights through Southwest were pretty reasonably priced and at my favorite airport Mitchell Field no less. However, Southwest has also come up with this concept known as open seating which, for the ultimate in planners like myself, seems like a ridiculously bad idea. I like planning on being in a certain seat next to my bride of 25 years who is in possession of all the on board munchies. Open seating throws all that to wind. As I squeezed my boarding pass in frustration over this change in process, (how about a little change management Southwest), I did take a bit of comfort knowing that we were to the front of the C boarding group. I figured those in groups D and E might be the ones in real seat and overhead space trouble. Oh but no silly me, group C ended up being a rag tag bunch of about 10 people. Groups A and B were lined up in force 60 strong per group marching through like a bunch of British redcoats. It soon became clear that, by the time group B had lined up, the terminal area was pretty much empty and group C was basically a joke. In desperation, I was tempted to grab a kid, any kid, and make my way to the boarding with young children line. Unfortunately, a still small voice told me this was not the best of options. Finally, as the ticketing agent scanned our useless boarding pass, she left us with the ever popular airline words of encouragement “grab any open seat it might be your only option”. So I kissed my wife goodbye and headed for the first single seat I could find. This method allows for one’s angst to increase exponentially as you approach the rear of the plane. I did see one defensive lineman sized gentleman sitting in the middle seat defiantly staring down anyone who would dare try to squeeze into the aisle or window seats next to him. Fortunately, some folks liked their traveling companion enough to actually choose the middle seat leaving a couple of aisle openings for the straggling C group. I grabbed the first seat I could find, granted nowhere near my favorite candy toting traveling companion, and settled in for a candy less flight.

The one positive in all of this is that Southwest does allow one bag to fly free so load up and limit the amount needed in the carryon luggage.

Where Have All the Follicles Gone

These comments are directed primarily towards the males in the crowd. I can’t quite imagine my daughters ever having the need for the information I am about to share. In fact, up to a few years ago, I thought I would never have a need for this information and felt a little sorry for those that so obviously did. For those of you on the young side, yes you, my son, this subject is one of those which may be dismissed as pure nonsense. Then, when 50 arrives, you may find yourself in full agreement with the rest of this story.

This is a very short tale about hair – hair that comes and goes and winds up in the most unusual of places, hair that defines a math problem, hair that for some reason outlives its usefulness as we approach our twilight years and hair that seems to mysteriously disappear, leaving no trail behind. The re-arranging of a man’s hair is quite the mysterious process. I assume God decided we needed hair on our heads to keep us warm in the winter and give our hands a place to go when frustrated. We needed facial hair so we could look silly in high school pretending that the stubble was actually leading to something. Later in life, we could shape the facial hair into all kinds of weird shapes that we somehow convinced ourselves made us look cool. Facial hair is particularly useful when we hit the mid-40s crisis and we need to do something to make ourselves feel 20 again. The hair transformation is slow and, if I were of the math geek persuasion, I am sure could be clearly defined by a math formula. It has been a few years, but I believe there is a direct correlation to the loss of hair on the head and the gain of hair in the nose.

For some odd reason the nose hair tends to grow at half the rate, but twice as dense as the hair loss occurring on top. Since I have never see my hair actually fall out, I have the feeling that it actually recedes from the head, circles the brain and finds its way to the nose and whatever other openings it might find along the way. Here it continues to recede until we have full time nose tickling going on and a bit of nose hair dangling at levels quite a bit lower than most would consider fashionable. So now I am faced with the morning nose inspection for unwanted hair and the monthly review of the top of my head for additional bare spots. Unfortunately, I must also have unusually large pores on the tip of my nose and the middle of my forehead. Inevitably, some hair gets lost on the way to the nose and shoots out these openings. The misdirected hair requires some timely snipping for fear of unwanted stares. To date, I have not personally witnessed the out the ear experience I have seen on some. My guess is this is an issue for those with larger brains which directs the hair east and west rather than only south. While I have been called big headed, I don’t think it ever referred to my brain size. It is also not clear what is socially acceptable upon seeing someone with hair sticking out their ears. Do you let someone know that hair has taken up residence where it really does not belong or do you let the unsuspecting male find these unwanted situations on their own?

Further substantiating the mathematical equation between the loss of top hair and an increase in the amount of nose hair is the fact that when I have a cold the rate of loss on top seems to accelerate. I think we are now moving away from math into physics, but nonetheless, the force of a sneeze seems to accelerate the hair recession and adds to the hair clogging occurring within the nasal cavity. The runny nose part only adds to the total yuck factor involved in nose hair snipping. Resolving this issue is a very private matter.

The top of the head hair loss leads to issues of its own. Do you comb over, leave the head bare, or let it fall where it may. I have not quite reached this point as of yet, but I soon will need to decide. A poor comb over looks more than a little silly, while the shaved head look requires guts and a reasonably shaped head – something I was not blessed with. My guess is I will just let it recede and see what happens. I am not sure if any of the identified courses of action lead to a favorable result.

Mission Impossible – Snoring All The Way

One of my favorite TV shows, oh so many years ago, was Mission Impossible. Long before Tom Cruise was accepting impossible missions, there was a weekly TV show with self-destructing tapes defining missions needing to be done in secret. The premise of the show reminds me of the “mission” described to me by an acquaintance of mine which, by all definitions, seems quite impossible and one that should not be accepted. Just let the tape go up in smoke and hope for the best. The mission, should one decide to accept it, is to silence a snoring spouse without waking them. Basically, get in, halt the ruckus and get out with the spouse none the wiser. Presumably, waking the spouse can lead to a bit of middle of the night grumpiness and all day irritability.

First, I need to make it very clear that this mission is not based on any personal first-hand experience. What is described here is based on comments from others who have found themselves in this fairly common predicament and have offered some possible sleep saving remedies. Second, I have been told the noise reducing suggestions noted here have slim to no chance of accomplishing anything other than making your loving spouse more than a little bit grumpy at various times during the night.

I am not quite sure what causes the nightly roar to ascend from the other side of the bed each night. A deviated septum (I have no idea what that is), a lumpy pillow (had a few of those), lack of sleep and tight PJs have all been floated out as potential sources of this most unwanted racket. Crickets chirping, roosters crowing, dogs howling, and thunder crashing are all preferred to the cacophony that is the snore. The biggest problem with any kind of snoring, or so I have been told, is that there is no consistency to the madness. Sometimes it is just a bit more than heavy breathing which can then quickly crescendo to an indescribable window rattling roar or fall back to total silence. The waiting and wondering soon becomes the main issues in all of this. The listener attempts to anticipate the next sound, and thoughts of returning to sleep soon lose out to the ever popular Guess What Sound Will Come Next game that has only one player and no clear way to victory. Other night noises tend to fall into a low consistent hum; snorers vary their noises on a most inconsistent basis. Snorers have an unlimited number of noises they can, and do, make. Snorers appear to know no season as all of the possible variations have been reported throughout the year. Finally, an experienced snorer will somehow manage to be perfectly quiet while both partners are asleep and then manage to resume at just the time their mate returns to bed from their nightly rest room stop.

So, when stuck with a snorer as a roommate, there are a few not so foolproof options to use.

  1. The gentle nudge approach is used by polite spouses everywhere.  This technique tends to drive mixed and short lived results. A solid push might also work, but just make sure the spouse is not dozing too close to the edge.
  2. The shake the pillow option is a personal favorite of the one relaying this information to me. Supposedly, it can awaken the snorer without any clear trail back to the offending spouse. The subtle awakening keeps the crabbiness to a minimum, but also often leads to a quick settling back into the previous snore prone position.
  3. The butt bounce or full body slam approaches can be effective, but have become less effective with the improvement in bed design and are not recommended for sleepers over 50 as they have been known to cause back injury to both parties.
  4. The kick them in the shins method is a significantly bolder approach.  The spouse will clearly know where the kick came from and will tend to wake up enough so that the kick will be a clear morning memory. Some explaining is needed should one decide to use this method.
  5. The throwing of an elbow tends to be the step of last resort.  There is a chance for bruising with this method and it could be viewed by some as a bit of an anger response. The elbow can land in spots not intended. Nothing worse than a broken nose adding to the snore sources.
  6. Before step 5 becomes a viable option, it may be time to grab the pillow and find a friendly couch. My friend indicates this can be the loneliest of options and does not come highly recommended.

Ultimately, the best approach is to suggest a bit of late night reading for the spouse which would allow sufficient time to dose off before the melodies begin. This tends to be fairly effective until the non-snoring male spouse reaches 50 at which time sleeping through the night is no longer a common occurrence and the snoring spouse lays in wait for just the right moment to resume the noises of the night. Please remember all of the facts on this subject were gathered from in depth interviews with those less fortunate than me. Happy snoring.

Da U.P. Part One – Copper No Peek Ski Hill


Copper PeakThere are many stereotypes of those of us advancing in years from being slow drivers (true) to being intolerant of current music trends (true), to being ever so forgetful (from what I remember, also true). The last of these can be the most worrisome as you wonder if your forgetfulness is just a normal old age random occurrence or a sign of much worse struggles yet to come.   For some reason, my forgetfulness tends to be an early morning thing and can make day determination a bit more interesting than necessary. It would seem that deciding if it is Friday or Saturday should be an easy call each morning.

One area in which I noticed a bit of forgetfulness actually tends to help is in the area of conquering fears. I think this has as much to do with the fact that at my age I have forgotten most of what I am afraid of, and why, and not due to a new found backbone of any kind. For example, for as long as I can remember, I have always been afraid of heights. Never liked being at the top of the see saw, the apex of the swing, on top of a ladder, dancing across the shingles of a roof, nor approaching the edge of anything that required looking down. So, much to my surprise, on our last trip north, I was quite willing to hop in a flimsy ski lift chair, get pulled up a hill by some type of cable contraption and then start the ascent to the top of Copper Peak.

The U.P. is an interesting place to visit, but we have never had the desire to make it a week long destination. We make a quick run in, see what is to be seen, and return again to the woods of Northern Wisconsin and cell phone reception. Not quite sure why the areas seem so different, but for us the U.P. truly is a place to visit and not a destination. While on vacation and in one of our “what should we do today” moods, actually my mood since most everyone else was content to lie in the sun, the shade, or the hammock with lie being the key word, I decided we should give the U.P. a try for a day. To the best of my pamphlet knowledge, there really are only two things worth visiting within easy driving distance in the U.P. – waterfalls and a real high ski jump hill. Fortunately, there is a little corner of the U.P. where both of these attractions co-exist. The Copper Peak Ski Hill and Black River Harbor are a short drive from each other and both are worth seeing.

Copper Peak is where this whole memory loss thing came in quite handy. As a little background, Copper Peak is the only ski flying hill in North America. The flying part seemed to me a better description than those labeled just a ski jump hill. By most definitions, what the folks did coming off of the end of the ramp with a couple of chunks of wood on their feet never quite met my definition of jump. When you think of jumping, you feel there should be a landing involved somewhere shortly thereafter. The landing from a ”jump” off this hill would come way too many seconds later, fully giving the “jumper” plenty of time to argue with themselves about the merits of what they were doing. Who knew there were people who not only jumped off the end of one of those ramps, but they actually flew.

Just a few additional random facts to peak the reader’s interest to head to the U.P. – Copper Peak is one of only 6 ski flying hills in the entire world and the only one in the western hemisphere. It is the largest artificial slide in the entire world, though I am not quite sure what constitutes a non-artificial slide, and is built into a 364 foot rock formation. Those brave enough to descend the ramp will face wind speeds in excess of 70 mph and will travel at 95 fps. The tower can withstand winds in excess of 190 MPH and can sway up to as much as 18 inches with a drop 3 times as steep as Niagara Falls. The record jump on the hill is 518 feet accomplished way back in 1994.

So there we stood one sunny day at the base of the ski hill, deciding the merits of a trek to the top. Most of our group was in favor, while a few others, mister height adverse not included, were more than a bit wary of the entire process. After a bit of urging and a group rate negotiation, we were soon on our way to the base of the hill. While most of the area looks a bit out of date, the actual ski lift portion seemed to be fairly well maintained and I was optimistic that each of our chairs would successfully negotiate it to the top. After being scooped up by the chair and starting the climb to the top, I did have a fleeting remembrance that I really did not care for heights. And as bad as I suddenly felt about the entire process, I could only think that the trip back down would be just that much worse. After a nervous 4 or 5 minutes, we were sliding out at the top and back on solid ground once again. Should you make the trip,  one suggestion is to take your time and enjoy the wonderful view of God’s amazing creation.

Step two was a trip up 24 stories in an old and very slow elevator. With 6 or so of us crammed into the small box we crept to the next landing. The next stop is where my old fears would have really kicked in back in the keen memory days. A number of the visitors with good memories spent their time on this platform plastered to the elevator building wall. I was willing to venture out to the edge and enjoy the incredible scenery and contemplate the climb to the very top of the jump. The remaining climb is about 8 stories up a series of stairs and metal platforms, most of which showed a bit too much of the ground below for my liking. At the bottom of the hill I had convinced myself that the last 8 stories would not be part of the journey. As if to stress the wisdom of this decision, folks we met on their way down commented something about a bit of swaying going on at the top. A combination of swaying and excessive heights did not seem like a winner to me. However, by the time we had reached the platform, apparently I had forgotten about the whole swaying thing, since I was soon on my way to the top. The last destination of the journey up was a smallish platform at the very top of the jump. The view is quite incredible and the view down the ramp is all the more so as you wonder how any person, with or without a good memory, could ever push off and start the slide down the ramp. As I stood at the top, I was thankful that I had forgotten my fear since the trek up was quite something and overall well worth the effort.

The chair lift ride back down the hill was actually quite a bit more enjoyable than the trip up and was a great way to end the visit to Copper Peak. The lift operator encouraged a return trip in the fall and some day we might take him up on the suggestion during the peak of fall colors. From the top, I would think the view would truly be something to see. So if you are ever wandering through the western part of the UP give the ski jump hill a try and make it to the top.

Home Empty Home

It’s funny, the house we have lived in for the last 12 years always seemed to be just the right size. Enough space for everyone to go and hide if they wanted to, but not so large that we never bumped into each other. A place where we home schooled, hid Christmas presents, laughed, vacuumed, and enjoyed life. A home where the front yard was plenty big enough for touch football or ultimate Frisbee. A basketball hoop in the nice big driveway. A big basement where hide and go seek could be played and a bonus room added. A living room big enough to handle most family gatherings with some comfort. Now that we have resigned ourselves to the fact that it will soon enough be just the two of us most of the time, the “big” part in all these statements starts to plant the move seed. We are doing our best currently to keep the seed from growing.

Looking back on the home choices we made, we probably should not have stressed the big part in our last home. If we were currently sitting in a much smaller house where the lawn mowing opportunity was not the better part of a 2 hour walk, possibly talks of moving would be few and far between.

When you get close to the empty nest years, a few suggestions in the area of home ownership

  1. Bigger is not always better.
  2. Try to keep your front yard no bigger than a flop wedge.
  3. All brick is best.
  4. Trees usually have leaves which fall off in the fall. (Big Honey Locusts have more pods than Apple).
  5. Ranch equals step ladder. Extension is not part of the need.

If you do need to make a move, consider the following:

  1. Avoid watching House Hunters. The realtors are always quick to explain what can be changed at a minimal cost to get you what you think you want.
  2. Stay away from “Love or It or List It”. Somehow the buyer ends up in a home $100K over their budget and are so surprised that they like it more than their current home. Go figure.
  3. Stick to your budget.
  4. No fixer uppers.
  5. Focus on needs. A bathroom is a need. Four bedrooms are not.

So now what do we do? Some might suggest the condo route. No snow removal, cutting grass is a thing of the past. No more keeping the fingers crossed each summer in hopes that the old lawnmower will start for one more summer of cuttings. All kinds of good things as we ride off into the sunset years. But, and there always seems to be a but, after living in your own, well the bank’s, home for all of your married life, sharing walls and paying association fees does not seem an attractive alternative. As of now, I believe we have checked condos off the list.

I suppose the ever popular senior apartment living is an option. Can’t find many points supporting this concept, but they seem to pop up in the most unlikely locations with relative frequency so some of my fellow seniors must be choosing this route. I suppose concentrating a bunch of 55+ citizens in close quarters can have its advantages. Easier to find some pinochle buddies, easier to find the other half of a dynamite couples bowling team, easier to gather that ever popular McDonald’s coffee club, and probably even easier to find a little romance should you find yourself in that position. While all good things, the thought of long hallways, waiting for elevators, and listening to Lawrence Welk through the thin apartment walls from four separate directions does not seem a winning formula. Apartments are checked off the list as well.

Finally, the thought of a fairly small ranch with first floor laundry and a walkable yard seems to be the preferred long term formula. If a two story plops in the picture it will need to have the essentials on floor number one to be considered an option. For now I believe we have put the move thought on hold until at least the signs of Spring start to pop and we are not bumping into the holidays and the cold of winter.