Customer Service

As we languished in the Portland airport – it was nearly 1 am – awaiting word on if and when we were going to get to Frankfurt, I struck up a conversation with a woman who said that because of this hideous delay there was no way she’d make it on time to her friend’s wedding in Greece. She seemed remarkably calm about it, just shrugged her shoulders and said what are you going to do? To one degree or another everyone’s plans were upset by the delay. One couple, headed for a week of scuba diving somewhere in Europe, said that if they missed the first boat (and it seemed like they would) their entire trip would be a bust. Our personal plight would be no worse than arriving a day late in Toulouse. We’d only be out about $160 since the hotel there wouldn’t refund us anything owing to the late cancellation. Before we left the airport to Uber to our hotel I exchanged digits with the woman I was talking with, both of us promising to text the other if we heard something definitive from the airline before morning. Before we left, she mentioned it might be worth our time to contact Condor to appeal for a refund for the $160. Yeah, I thought, maybe. Fast forward three weeks. We’re back home in Alaska. I’m at my computer browsing through photos when I recall what she’d said. What the hell, $160 is not nothing, may as well give it a try, although I had low expectations. A week passes, nothing. Then a couple days later I get a confirmation, customer support had received my claim and will consider it. Sure, okay, whatever. Two more weeks pass, I grow ever more dubious we’ll get anything more than sympathy. Then another email arrives (emphasis mine)

Dear Mr. Nibbe,

Thank you for choosing Condor Airlines.

We know our customers expect their flights to operate as scheduled and we make every effort to do so. We consider any delay to be a serious matter and constantly work to improve our record, but we will not compromise on safety. Flight DE2033 on October, 2018 did not operate as scheduled. We fully understand the inconvenience this has caused and empathize with your situation.

In order to compensate you, we reimburse the amount of USD 1410,00. The legal basis is given by EC-VO 261/2004. Our check will be send separately to you within the following days.

We look forward to welcoming you onboard future Condor flights and to have the opportunity to provide you with the flight and service Condor prides itself on.

Wait, what? $1410.00! The check is in the mail. I was gobsmacked.

Sacs & Flaps

Happy Wife (HW) took The Black Dog to the vet this morning to have his anal glands expressed. The technician, a perky young blonde woman who he was unusually enamored with, performed the procedure

Anal sacs, or anal glands, carry some smelly fluid and occasionally need to be expressed, or emptied. Many dogs express them by themselves every time they poop — the sacs are around a dog’s anus — but occasionally the sacs fill with fluid and your dog needs some help to release the fluid

I am very glad such fluid releasers exist in this world. If it were left to me said glands surely would go unexpressed, causing the dog to suffer an uncertain term of discomfort before the problem resolved on its own. Cowardice, maybe, but unrepentantly so. As HW is wont to point out in mixed company, I am a doctor, yes, but not the kind that helps people, or, evidently, dogs either. As if more proof were required of who the real caregiver is in this family, after she returned from the vet, consumed her latte and was reassured to see The Dog comfortably at rest beneath the kitchen table – the place he knows where food will most likely fall – I made her another latte for the drive to Palmer where she is by now, checking in on a friend in hospice afflicted with late stage cancer. Meanwhile, I am here at my desk, getting you up to date. The Dog is downstairs. I can hear him dreaming. Probably about that blonde at the vet if I had to guess.

So long 2018! For all the reasons I noted in the 2018 Nibblet, our annual newsletter we mail out every year to family and friends (over 50 this year!), ’18 was a busy year for us in terms of travel. For example, HW’s professional conference in Utqiaġvik, AK (formerly Barrow) Phoenix, a family & friends visit to Wisconsin, cycling in France, touristy stuff in Spain, and of course numerous trips to and from our Nest in Seward, where we hosted a variety of guests this year, some of who experienced exceptionally fine weather. (Note that cruise liner headed south to a port who knows where)

Our trip to France wasn’t entirely uneventful. We went with two other couples, one from Colorado and one from Anchorage. We traveled with the latter on an Alaska airlines flight to Seattle. From there they flew British Airways to London, and then on to Toulouse, France. We boarded Condor airlines bound for Frankfurt, or so we thought, and from there to Toulouse. We weren’t in the air more than forty-five minutes, seated in premium class eagerly waiting for the free food and drink service to start, when the pilot comes on and in a grave voice says… well, I didn’t know because it was in German. But based on the reaction of the German-speaking passengers on board, it didn’t seem good. Then he repeats everything in English. There was a problem with the flap controller on the left wing. Bad enough to require attention so we need to land to have it checked out before proceeding to Frankfurt. Crap. It’s already like a nine and a half hour flight, and now this? Worse, the plane is too heavy to land at Seattle, so, he says, “We’re diverting to Portland to land. But before we can we need to dump a bunch of fuel, so don’t be alarmed when you see all that fuel pouring out the wings.” Great.

It must’ve been two hours or more before we finally landed in Portland, where we were met by fire trucks on the tarmac readied to spray cold foamy stuff on the landing gear to cool the brakes. That takes an hour or more before finally the plane is moving again, now being pulled by a tow truck to the gate because evidently the competency of the landing gear is still in question. Oy vey. More waiting on the plane at the gate before the pilot flatly announces – first in German then English – “The flap controller cannot be repaired tonight.” Scheiße. The crew ordered us to disembark to the terminal, where everything was closed being it was almost midnight, to fetch our bags and then await further instruction, which never came, at least not how they told us it would. Imagine three hundred exhausted, uninformed, angry passengers standing, leaning, sitting -whatever – in an otherwise empty terminal straining to hear an overwhelmed, officious-sounding woman shout instructions on how everyone will be provided a hotel room to stay in overnight. In the morning, she promised, we will call all the hotels with further instructions. Yeah, right.

Long story short – I said screw that. I called La Quinta on my own and got us a room, where we devoured a Domino’s pizza in bed (surprisingly, given neither of us thought we had an appetite), and then crashed. Next morning I call Condor to find out what the hell’s going on. Overnight they had flown another 767 to Portland. It’s scheduled to leave for Frankfurt at 6:30 PM – almost exactly 24 hours after our original flight departed Seattle the prior day. I get us checked in over the phone and then we shuttle back to the airport and wait for hours to board the plane. Which is mercifully on time. Nine hours later we land in Frankfurt, connect to a 1.5 hour flight to Toulouse, where we fetch our bags and find our driver, Patrice, waiting to drive our jet-lagged asses fifty-five miles to Limoux. Mostly in the dark. In a deluge of rain.

When finally we arrive at our digs in Limoux, damp and weary, we push through a huge front door schlepping our bags behind us, there to find our friends and others on the bike tour seated around a long table on an outdoor patio, just finishing up a nice dinner complete with red wine and a light dessert.

“Bonjour!” they all say, “Bonjour!”

Plate Boundaries

Like many others (whom I’m grateful for) one of our friends out east texted to ask if we’re ok

Help!, I replied, “We fell into a hole in the earth and can’t get out!”

I should have known not to be cavalier about it. Sometimes humor is all you got.

Lately, even the sky appears uncommitted to the season. Opaque, gray, foreboding, rendering rain and sleet instead of its usual cheer of fluffy white snow. On top of that everywhere you go it seems people are a little off. Like the ground, the collective mood in the community has shifted, from its normal festive optimism to a guarded wariness. Only the folks jingling bells by the red kettle appear unmoved, unshaken as it were. Yet you know they must be. We all are. Every time there’s an aftershock people freeze. Nevermind the statistical unlikeliness of another Whopper occuring, this is the reality we’re all living with lately

Anymore, all it takes is the washing machine upstairs to go out of balance to move me to the edge of my chair. The whole floor shakes until it rights itself. I’ve felt it a hundred times or more the past nine years. It’s big sheets or rugs in the spin cycle. I know what it is. But lately? Or I come back to bed after a pee in the middle of the night and HW wakes, her hand darts out to touch me, “Was that you?!” Even the phantoms are more scary at night. And there are plenty of those, the false positives, they’re almost as bad as the real ones. It’s like we’ve all been reduced to human seismometers now, and fidgety ones at that.

Wait… what’s that. Just now, another one? I think so.

Or was it?

Hour+

Just returned from the biannual visit to my Pain Provider. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. How about, Deliverer of Discomfort. And she wants to change bi-annual to quad-annual – “I think I need to see you every three months.” Followed by (as always), “You need to floss more often.”

Okay, that’s it, if I hear her say this one more time…

Slowly, I remove my sunglasses. A courtesy protection to prevent being blinded by the obnoxious lamp she needs to illuminate my buccal cavity throughout the entire hour+ (!) cleaning procedure. I’m still flat on my back, my fingers and toes tingling from blood loss because I’m tilted so far back in the damn chair while my teeth are terrorized. I turn my head and look up at her, straight in the eye. Her nose and mouth are still covered by a mask, now splattered with peppermint tooth polish. My terry cloth bib is soaked with my own spittle and the over-spray from her little squirt gun rinser. I feel like the Gerber Baby. “So,” I say, “how often do you suggest I floss? Five times a day? Six?” Surely, I think, she’ll find the hyperbole amusing, touch my arm consolingly, chuckle a bit and say, Oh no, Mr. Nibbe, that would be ridiculous of me. Instead, she pauses, looks toward the ceiling, as if to ponder if five to six times a day just might in fact be the right frequency for me. Woman, I’m thinking, I was kidding!

Alright, maybe pain is an exaggeration. Some people say they rather enjoy getting their teeth cleaned. Some people are masochists. I don’t know. And I don’t care. Holding my mouth agape for one hour+ while my dentition is poked, picked, chiseled and ground ain’t my idea of enjoyment. And then to be told it’s my fault because I don’t floss enough, or I’m not doing it right, or not using the right floss, or the correct circular motion, etc etc.

I can’t fault her for not being thorough though. Even so, an hour+, seriously? Used to be I was in and out of the chair in half that time, then patted on the back with an attaboy and sent home with a new brush and paste of my favorite flavor (Cherry). Copy/paste, every six months.

I dunno, maybe this is just another lament on the list of It’s-Hell-Getting-Old. More likely it’s a sad reminder that plaque removal hasn’t progressed since medieval times; it’s the equivalent of bloodletting to cure bad humors.

How To Become More Equanimous

I‘m intrigued by meditation. I say that having never done it. But I’m eager to get started.

There are different kinds of meditation but the one I’m most interested in, having recently “read” about it, is mindful meditation. The goal of this form – though you ought to listen to the book yourself – is to become more mindful of the thing you’re doing right now. Everything – tying your shoe, preparing breakfast, talking with a friend, walking the dog, driving a car, enjoying music, swimming, falling asleep, crafting a blog post! The opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness, which, if left unchecked, at least for many people, leads to a kind of noisy experience of reality, one that reflexively reacts to the onslaught of raw sensory inputs (e.g., Facebook likes) instead of pausing to interact with your atomic experiences in thoughtful way, with full clarity of mind. At least that’s how I understand it. Regular, mindful meditation isn’t the only way of reducing mindlessness in our lives, in turn making us measurably happier with ourselves and others, but it is one proven way of doing so (there’s some decent emerging science around this).

Mindful meditation (performed daily) is an exercise for the brain that produces wellness benefits analogous to those that exercise has on our muscles. Different tissues, same approach. And like physical exercise, the wellness benefit is roughly proportional to the amount of time spent doing it (although, not unlike drugs, there’s probably an upper limit). Benefits include increased calmness of temper, clarity and rationality, greater feelings of fulfillment, less arguing with your spouse, heightened feelings of gratefulness, and, yes, that ultimate goal of so many self help books du jour – increased Happiness.

The author, Dan Harris, whose previous book is ten percent happier, is wryly self-deprecating in the way he dispels the cynical reaction many firstcomers to meditation have – that it’s something for Hare Krishna types who enjoy humbling themselves in fleece shawls while seated cross-legged gazing at their navels for hours on end. It’s not that at all. The approach is super practical, and the book is a kind of manual for beginning meditators, infused with too few (if you ask me) hilarious anecdotes from Dan’s personal experience with meditation and his interactions with fidgety skeptics. Nevertheless, there’s enough practical seriousness here to keep you from thinking you’re being seduced by the latest self-help gimmickry. In fact, mindful meditation, unlike, say, Mantra meditation (as practiced by real Hare Krishna types) is a purely secular exercise of the mind. It’s not an escape from reality; the practice is a deep dive embrace of the voices in our head, identifying them, accepting them, welcoming them to the party, diminishing their control over usand in doing so diluting (not eliminating) their interference of a life-improving mindful experience. As one of Dan’s close friends and coauthors emphasizes (himself a mindful meditation expert) – a committed practice of mindful meditation will make you more equanimous. No drug I’m aware of is going to do that for you. And there’s no prescription required.

Cat 1

Our tour leader, Chris, quite the accomplished bike racer in his day, said this was a category one maybe two, pro series rated climb. This year or last, I forget now, he said it was included in the Tour de France. Knock one off my bucket list

WI Travelogue – Part II

October, is that you at the door? I ask because it’s sixty-one and sunny today (9/29). So Black Dog and I ventured into the low mountains to enjoy an invigorating hike together

It’s only us this weekend because HW is at a conference in Phoenix, where, she reports, it’s still over 90° at 10:00 PM. Poor thing. I texted her this picture and you could almost hear her heels click three times, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like…” Anyway, Black Dog is usually out front like that, sniffing for any morsel of food or what have you that may have fallen from another hiker’s pack. Dogs generally, but Labrador breeds especially, it seems to me are fixated on food opportunities 24/7. HW won’t even let him off leash anymore on the beach in Seward during summer for fear he’ll be combing campgrounds for discarded chicken bones, or running uninvited into people’s RVs looking for an open bag of chips. This actually happened to me one time, and by the time I caught up with him he was inside a Winnebago, his nose so far into a family-size bag of Lays you couldn’t see his ears. Fortunately, in this case, the campers found it amusing. Doesn’t always go that way though, and when it doesn’t, well, I always have at the ready a battery of sappy apologies and excuses for his misbehavior, even if some of them aren’t true – “Sorry, he’s not our dog, we’re watching him for a friend who rescued him from a puppy mill.” Often enough this gets the waterworks going and I’m off the hook.

Admit it, you could hardly wait for Wisconsin Travelogue Part II!

That’s my our mom in full harvest mode. A big shout out to Cuff Farms, where, shortly after our arrival there, we were conveyed by the quaintest of all tractor rides to the killing fields (which we might easily have walked to from checkin, but you know what they say, when in Hortonville….). Once in the field, we disembarked the trailer with empty wood crates in hand and were instantly scurried away by a perky young lady to our row, handed a flag which we were instructed to stab in the ground at the end of our row (to mark our victory?), cautioned to not pick strawberries outside our row, and then we dropped to our knees and crawled our way along the straw-strewn field pickin’ and pitchin’ as we went.

You had to move slowly and look carefully so as not to miss the best ones

Back at home in Appleton we hulled and rinsed over the kitchen sink til our hands and fingers seemed irreversibly red.

Were they sweet you ask? Take a look

The entire week we were there it was hot, so while some in the family were at work we helped ourselves to poolside activities at the new home of our niece and nephew-in-law (you two rock!), some of which involved day drinking and play with pneumatic dolphins (complete with expert instruction from yours truly, even if it went unheeded)

It wasn’t all fun games over there though, we had the challenging responsibility of letting the two dogs out and keeping them happy. Brinkley (aka Brinkley Bear) would spend hours (seriously) pawing at shadows in the kiddie pool while ol’ Gus, after he got over his standoffishness with us, eventually chilled on the cool grass

And so it continued throughout the week, we’d awake mid-morning to enjoy coffee with Mom and Dad, catch up with the goings-on in their lives and ours, step outside into the rising heat of the day to feel the moist (Kelly!) lawn between our toes, stroll among the “twindos” marveling at the gardenry neatly maintained in every direction, and then back into the house for a late breakfast and a coffee refill to ponder the plan for the rest of the day. Regardless of how that played out, it was poolside where we all eventually gathered. Once to witness a demo by our grand (great?) nephew of his newest invention, which, if nothing else was, well, loud. I told him if he ever gets around to connecting the four-stroke beast to the drivetrain to give me a call, I wouldn’t mind takin’ that bad boy for a spin

Brother Steve dropped by one day with two of his delightful daughters, both of whom, like their dad, are pretty dang good at cornhole (aka “Bags” in Wisconsin), making me suspicious of their claim they’ve never played before. Sadly, I’ve no photos of them to share, although you can find a dandy here.

By night we prowled the hoods of Appleton, one night under the escort of sister Gail who showed us where the Pelicans play on the Fox River

Overall, a grand time (I hope) was had by all. We certainly enjoyed it. The week flew by – you leave thinking you didn’t spend enough time with the people you love, family. And to think our touch-base with them began here just a week earlier, inside a bar on Milwaukee’s east side, my ol’ stompin’ grounds while a grad student at UW-M. If these walls could speak, oy vey, the stories they may tell

Thursday we leave for Europe with two other couples, to France and Spain and places between. WiFi permitting, I’ll share some photos. Be well.