And it begins.


We sailed at 5 pm and I got a brand new view of Vancouver – one that I wish I’d seen years ago, because I probably would have had a lot nicer feelings about the city than I did by seeing it from the inside first. We watched until it was time for dinner.

 

Taken as we pull away from the pier

Taken as we pull away from the pier

So gorgeous! We are so fortunate – both to live here and to be able to take a cruise.

North Vancouver

Breathtaking.

I’m not going to bore you with every meal, but content myself with saying – I’m aiming to come home at the same weight I left. Gaining weight is wayyyyyyy too easy, because the chefs are amazing.

 

There was a small glitch at the dinner seating. We chose the reserved plan – show up at 5:30 every day to table #73. The problem was that someone was already there. So after a small keystone cops interlude of three waiters, a maitre d’hotel and a wine steward all running around trying to find us and the other people a new seat, the other people ended up across the room, we ended up just for the one evening next to our table, and our table stayed empty.

 

We got to know our temporary wine steward, Ronaldo. Young guy from the Phillipines. He reminded me of a young Peter Lorre – something about the cheekbones and the shape of the face, but thinner and smaller boned. And the eyes. Not as bulging as Peter Lorre’s but as dark and definitely as sexy! Also taller and the guy moved like lightening. He’s amazing with a waiter’s corkscrew (that’s the kind with the knifeblade, corkscrew and brace to pull the cork out). He doesn’t even have to look and the bottle is stripped, corked and poured in under 30 seconds! He’s funny and very friendly.

 

I suspect this is going to be a wine learning cruise, since at dinner, he talked us into attending a wine tasting, to pair foods and wines. That’s in a couple of days. Our first bottle of wine was a Bordeaux – Chateau des Trois Tours 2011. Very nice, although it didn’t work all that well with the Roast Prime Rib I had.

 

After dinner we promenaded on – what else? – the promenade deck. What else do you do on the promenade deck? Answer: stroll, walk, English competitive walking, jog, run, sit on the deck chairs and read, lie on the deck chairs and sleep, stand by the rail and watch the world go by. The promenade deck provides lots of delicious people watching opportunities. Three circuits of the deck equals one mile, which means I can get my hour walks in 12 circuits. That’s 1.6 km. if you’re metric – I’m still stuck between metric and imperial. We also enjoyed the sunset over the Gulf Islands – we weren’t to reach Victoria until well after dark.

Sunset Salish Sea

Sunset Salish Sea

We attended a reception given for the Neptune (that’s what our stateroom class is) and Pinnacle stateroom folks in the exclusive lounge. It was what I imagine a typical cocktail party would be like. Lots of people who don’t know each other standing around trying to make small talk. Not something Al & I do well. But we met the captain, the cruise director, the spa person (who is an MD, so that’s good if you’re into spa stuff) and the cellar master, who was very interesting. If she’s as good in front of a crowd as she is one on one, we’re going to learn a lot.

 

Sunset and Con Trails

Sunset and Con Trails

It took us until 10 pm to get from Vancouver harbour to just off Victoria, but we saw Trial Island, Beacon Hill Park, the Legislative Dome, and watched the lights of the pilot boat speed toward Ogden Point and the breakwater. Yes, I waved to Lisa’s house (my mil), toward our house, to say goodbye to Herb and Charmaine, and of course, Sam and Minou. Silly of me, but what the heck.

 

Our bed is two single beds shoved together, with enough pillows, bolsters and cushions to furnish half the Canadian Navy. Comfortable and loads of room – king size or better. Tomorrow we stop in Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River. Looking forward to that. (Tune in to find out why I’d be excited about a small, grubby lumber and fishing town).

Sailing, sailing, over the ocean blue.


I had planned to take a page from my friend Joe’s blog. (If you haven’t checked it out yet, give yourself a treat – he writes about being a new dad to pre-teen boys, and about his travels, both with and without kids. It’s entertaining and interesting. He’s got a great eye for detail and a gentle sense of humour that is just delightful.)

I’m not a new parent to half grown kids – this is the blog about our cruise down the west coast of North America and through the Panama Canal. I had planned, like Joe (thanks for letting me steal all these good ideas, Joe!), to write on board the ship, and organize and post the entries when we got home. Yeah well, not quite so much. I did write a lot of it on the trip, but not all of it, thanks to a cold, lethargy and not being as self-disciplined as I should be. But the trip will be posted, with photos, thus getting me jump started on my blog again. We can hope, anyway, but don’t hold your breath, okay? Blue skin doesn’t suit you.

zuiderdam fore

We boarded the Holland America ship, Zuiderdam in Vancouver, on Sept 27. Thanks to our godson, Gregory, we got from the ferry terminal to the cruise ship terminal in good time and got a quick visit with him and our daughter. Boarding began about half an hour after we got to the terminal and went smoothly and quickly. It always impresses me as to how organized cruise lines are about moving large numbers of people quickly, efficiently and with little to no frowns, grumps or tantrums (that would be me I’m referring to here, btw.)

We’d upgraded our stateroom when they offered us a deal we couldn’t resist – much lower than the initial price per person, free laundry, dry cleaning and pressing (it’s a 20 day cruise and who wants to spend shore time looking up Laundromats or paying through the nose to have your laundry done in port?) and access to a quiet, restricted lounge that the hoi polloi (to which we definitely belong) couldn’t get to. That wasn’t done to keep us away from the more or less great unwashed, btw. There’s nothing more interesting than people watching, especially when you’re a writer. It was because both Al and I have very low tolerance for crowds and crowding, and because both of us brought work along. When we needed someplace other than our stateroom to work, we had this quiet (we thought), hopefully unpopulated room in which to work.

The stateroom was a lot more than we’d expected – we are at the aft end of the ship with a veranda that wraps around the side of the ship for the length of our cabin, in effect doubling the outside, private area we have, which is already larger than any other we’ve ever been in (all two of them! ) and it’s lovely with so much space.

Our statroom, looking from the entry toward the back of the room. Note the space!

Our statroom, looking from the entry toward the back of the room. Note the space!

 

Click on the photo for a larger image. The desk in the foreground is Al’s work area, and mine is next to the TV screen in the background, next to the doors to the deck. I chose that because it’s got a window I can look out while I’m working. Very nice.

Looking from the deck to the entry - behind the painting is the dressing room and the washroom.

Looking from the deck to the entry – behind the painting is the dressing room and the washroom.

There’s also a complimentary bottle of sparkling wine (a nice, smooth dry white), complimentary bottles of spring water and, we discovered, invites to non-advertised events on board, like the wine tastings, on top of the perks we already knew about.

Boarding began at noon and by 12:30 or 1:00 pm we were in our stateroom getting settled and unpacked and by three, attending the mandatory lifeboat drill. For those who haven’t been on a cruise, this drill is deadly serious. They take attendance and if you refuse to attend, you don’t sail. That simple.

Reason being, it’s half an hour out of your day, it could save your life, and it will certainly help to save the lives of the other people on board. Their logic is that if you can’t figure out where your lifeboat station is, or how to put on your lifejacket (or even where they are), you endanger the lives of the others on the ship.

My logic is that you might find yourself tossed overboard by another irate, panicked guest (that would be me).

It went smoothly and quickly. Our lifeboat captain was trained (she was a ship employee as opposed to one of the entertainment crew), and had a good voice, and the way she organized us, in straight lines like a school choir, I suggested we all burst into song.  She agreed, but the captain unfortunately didn’t. He obviously heard us and came on the loudspeaker asking for quiet. Still, I thought we did “It’s a Small World” rather well. The troublemaker strikes again (mwhahahahahaha!). Within 10 minutes of having arrived at Station 13 (no, I’m not superstitious), we were heading back to our cabin.

After that, it wasn’t long before we sailed off and had our first dinner on board. Part Two of the first day tomorrow in which we enjoy dinner, and see the sights of Victoria from a whole new perspective.

Down Under Calling: Book Review


Down-Under-Calling

It’s always a treat to read a good kid’s book – whether it’s a picture book, a mid-grade or a young adult book, and it’s an even better, bigger and happier treat when the book is self-published and can stand as an example of what self-published books can and should be.  Margot Finke has been writing for kids for . . . well, a number of years. She has traditional publishing credits, has paid her writing dues, and her talent and mastery of her craft show up well in this self-published work that has just been released.

Down Under Calling is partly a series of letters between an Australian grandmother and her American grandson, part typical “mid-grade kid has a problem and needs to solve it” straightforwardly told story. But Margot melds the two threads seamlessly into a lovely tale of a grandmother and grandson getting to know each other through the medium of written communication. The story opens with Grandma Rose who lives in Deception Bay, Queensland, Australia rescuing a joey (baby kangaroo) after some dumb gits (stupid, thoughtless idiots) shoot its mother. While nursing the little creature, she receives a hand written and snail-mailed letter from her grandson, who lives in Portland, Oregon. He’s writing under duress. “Mom says I should write you a letter, so here it is.” But between the lines, Grandma Rose can hear his distress and unhappiness, and tries to interest him in something other than music downloads and computer games. She talks about the animals and birds that live in the bush behind her house and garden, and tells him stories about her childhood in mid-twentieth century Australia, long before computers and the internet. Shortly after the correspondence begins, she realizes how lonely she is, and how much she misses her daughter, son-in-law and grandson, whom she last saw as a toddler, when she returned to live in her native Australia.

For his part, Andy has to cope with a “downsized” and only recently re-employed father and with the consequences that long-term unemployment brings: debt and reduced circumstances. They’ve lost their lovely house and live in a squalid apartment block, they’ve lost their dog, since the rental doesn’t allow them, and in order to help clear the debts, Mom has to go out to work. He can’t have the computer games he wants, because they can’t afford them, and according to Andy, Dad is a grouchy, real skinflint tightwad. In addition, he’s in the throes of calf-love with his friend, Kelly, a red-haired neighbour who has problems of her own – her parents are divorced and remarried, and the plethora of presents and cash from double the usual number of grandparents doesn’t nearly make up for the feelings of abandonment and loss she’s grappling with.

Margot deftly includes factual information about the flora and fauna of Australia in the book. It’s delivered naturally and easily in the context of the story, as the kids go on the internet to dig up information on the animals that Grandma Rose writes about.

While the book is never an “on the edge of your seat” read, Margot has a quiet touch that makes you care about the characters and their problems, has you rooting for Andy and Kelly as their friendship deepens and expands as they explore non computer activities: reading books, biking and birdwatching in the local park. Through the shared letters and activities they learn not only to trust not only each other, but also Grandma Rose. Margot shows, without ever preaching, how the inter-relationships help both kids to appreciate what they do have, and to learn that while you can’t choose your family, you can choose your friends, and sometimes, they can give you what your family lacks.

As the book progresses, and the time for Rose to actually move to America draws closer, the reader may tear up at the final goodbye, and grin right along with Andy and Kelly as the family is finally reunited in Portland airport.

A lovely, enjoyable read that I’d unhesitatingly recommend for any boy or girl from age ten on up.

TrimmedMe

BIO AND PURCHASING INFORMATION:

DOWN UNDER CALLING: Grandma Rose Spins a Web by Margot Finke

ISBN 13: 9781493526260; ISBN 10: 149352626X: 126 PAGES

Margot Finke is an Aussie transplant who writes midgrade adventure fiction and rhyming picture books. For many years she has lived in Oregon with her husband, children, and grandchildren.  Gardening, travel, and reading fill in the cracks between her writing. Her husband is retired, and very supportive. Margot didn’t begin serious writing until the day their youngest left for college. This late start drives her writing, and pushes her to work at it every day. Margot said, “I really envy those who began young, and managed to slip into writing mode between kid fights, diaper changes, household disasters, and outside jobs. You are my heroes!” She has 13 published books. Survival by Walkabout, the follow-up to Taconi and Claude, is due out soon.  All her books,  video readings, trailers, reviews and sample pages can be seen on her website.

Margot also does Skype Author Visits to many schools in the US, and she runs a Manuscript Critique Service. Nothing gives Margot a bigger thrill than to hear that a book she helped polish has been published.  “This is always a huge YEA moment.”

Website: http://www.margotfinke.com
Amazon ( Kindle and soft cover) : http://tinyurl.com/bg9dtxt
Nook: http://tinyurl.com/m7zecfs
Hook Kids on Reading: http://hookkidsonreading.blogspot.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/margot.finke
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/margotfinke/

The Sounding


You probably already know that I blog more regularly over at the OCN blog – The Sounding. I just wanted to let you know that it has a new website, with a brand new look. The link to the blog’s main page is down, to the right, in the blogroll, but you can get to it here as well.

Go check it out, and be sure to read some of the incredible posts and authors who also post there. And leave a comment for them, too, okay? We love knowing that our posts are being read and enjoyed! And discussion is always welcome!

RAPE AND VOYEUR RAPE


There’s been some public comparison of Rehtaeh Parson’s death with Amanda Todd’s suicide and with Steubenville. And there are a number of connections between those tragedies. Both Amanda and Rehtaeh committed suicide. Rehtaeh and the unnamed young woman in Steubenville were raped. All three of these women acted on a misguided (and unwarranted) assumption of trust in people and, more specifically, in men that was betrayed. But the major connection between these women is not that they were sexually violated, assaulted and victimized. The major connection between these women is that their experience was made public and they were hounded, shamed and blamed for what happened to them until two of them killed themselves.

MORE THAN ONE CRIME

In an interview a spokesperson for Anonymous said that “The real guilty parties here are the adults that violated Rehtaeh. . . . I would like to see the police and the school system pay for what they did to that girl. They had a responsibility to be there for her, to protect her and to relieve her torment.”

As far as it goes, that’s true. Both of those public institutions had a responsibility to all of those women, and they failed every one of them. The institutions need to be held accountable for their lack of care for the women.

The guilty parties here, first of all, aren’t just the school and the legal system. The boys who raped her are guilty too, and need to be held accountable. Saying, “I would like to see those boys punished for what they did because I think it sets a terrible example for the other young men” very subtly exonerates them of their guilt. The message sent to other young men isn’t the point here. The point is that they did is wrong, and illegal, and they need to be charged with rape because rape is wrong. Not because it sends a bad message (even though it does).

But the people at the party, the witnesses and the photographers who first of all took the pictures and then put them online are guilty as well. And I want to stress here that they are not “more guilty” than the others. They are equally guilty of a third crime for which we don’t yet have a name.

Rape all by itself is a horrendous thing to experience, and the effects last a lifetime. It’s especially traumatic in the situations that these women experienced because of the involvement of alcohol and our society’s attitude toward rape victims that, unless they were very lucky and very well taught, these women would have internalized to some degree. (I thought we’d dealt with that 30 or 40 years ago, but apparently the lessons were forgotten). I don’t doubt that the woman in Stuebenville is going to spend the rest of her life partially blaming herself for what happened. To have to deal with that privately is bad enough and damaging enough.

FOREVER AND EVER, WORLD WITHOUT END

But to see yourself on the internet in the most helpless, vulnerable and humiliating experience of your life, from outside, as other saw it. Bad enough to have to relive it from inside your skin, as you experienced it. But to see it as others did – with the onlookers laughing and jeering at you as you are stripped of dignity, virtue and humanity, and to relive the feelings and experience when you see it. To know that anyone with an internet connection can see it as well, not just today and tomorrow but for the rest of your life, and beyond. To walk into school and experience the condemnation, the slurs, the exclusion and the blame. To have your friends turn away, not because of anything you did, but because of something that was done to you, without your consent, and when you were so helpless you couldn’t protest, refuse or defend your self. I cannot imagine the experience, but at the very least it guarantees that you will be raped again and again and again, whenever anyone refers to it, or excludes you or blames you for what happened. Healing? It is to laugh. And since what is on the internet is on forever that means you’re never going to get away from this.

And none of these people are being held accountable. At the very worst, the photographer in the Parson’s case will be charged with something relating to child pornography, which to me feels like another violation somehow. But the photographer, and the people who were there are as guilty of rape as the men who lay on top of her. Because their posting it, their referencing it, and their spreading of it guarantees that she will be raped again every day for the rest of her life. Is it any wonder she chose to die rather than endure that?

MORE THAN BULLYING, MORE THAN SLANDER

We are going to have to find some way of making people accountable for this kind of behaviour. In the past, if word of this had gotten out, if the photos had been circulated by hand and gossip and rumour had taken their toll in her school and town, Rehtaeh and her family could have moved away and given her a new start in another part of the country – a place that didn’t know what happened, where people didn’t have access to the photos that told a lie. She could have recovered from the rape, gathered the bits of her life back together and gone on – scarred and beaten, but not bowed and broken. That is no longer possible, and we have to recognize that this kind of public slander and defamation have far more impact and can do an untellable amount more damage than older forms of technology could do.

This is not bullying, this is not defamation of character or slander. This is voyeur rape – enjoying and vicariously participating in the victimization and degradation of women via the internet. And it should apply not just to Stuebenville or Rehtaeh Parsons. It’s what happened to Amanda Todd and to every woman whose nude photos are posted on revenge sites.

We need to recognize that the people who do this are every bit as guilty and culpable as the men who raped her in the first place and we need to hold them every bit as accountable for the damage they continue to do to her by posting photos and videos of her experience on the internet.

The Verdict is in.


This first appeared three days ago on the OCN Soundings Blog. I’m reposting here because I think it’s important and because some people couldn’t access the Soundings site:

The two young men who were accused of raping an unconscious 16 year old woman during an August party in SteubenvilleOhio have been found guilty.

There are a lot of things wrong with the entire shameful episode. The rape charges, the trial and the conviction barely even scratch the surface. What stands out for me is how so many of us insist on blaming the young woman for what happened, because she was drunk.

We are all broken. Sometimes, even those of us who are devout and good Orthodox get drunk. Sometimes some of get so drunk we pass out. Some of us struggle with alcoholism, and still try to find our way to God. Who are we to blame her because she drank too much? Who are we to blame her for acts which she couldn’t consent to, or prevent because of her drunken stupor?

THINK IT THROUGH

Can we stop and think about this for just a moment? Sex was given to us by God as a way of affirming the loving bond between a man and a woman who were united in marriage. It’s a way of expressing not only the love they feel for each other, but the love that God feels for them, for the good and holy thing their union has made – a family. It’s a physical expression of the icon of Christ that their marriage is.

Who taught these young men who raped her and the people who filmed her, tweeted about her and stood by while she was so abused that a woman was simply a thing to use for their momentary pleasure – that the physical release and humorous titillation they got from what happened is so much more important than another living, breathing and feeling human being? Who taught them that it was okay to pleasure themselves with her body, when she was as weak and helpless as it is possible for a person to be?

We teach our daughters ways to avoid or reduce the chances of being raped or assaulted. This is sensible, this is good, and as parents we need to do this, because we live in a dangerous world, a world in which people hurt others, especially the weak and powerless.

AND COME SUNDAY MORNING?

I wonder something about those young men and the boys who filmed and tweeted about the abuse she suffered. How many of them showed up in church the next day without a single twinge of guilt or shame over what they had done and what they said about her? How many of those turned up at one of the three Orthodox churches in the city?

What about teaching our boys and young men, too? Teach them that rape is wrong, and that it’s wrong to blame the woman for it, no matter how drunk, how promiscuous and how broken she is. That to treat someone like this debases not just the victim, but deadens the soul of the perpetrator. Teach our boys that knowing a woman sexually, even in marriage, has to be a loving, consensual and holy act that affirms God and the Holy Spirit.

We have to teach our sons that every single woman is a human being, not an object to use for lust, derision and humiliation. Teach our boys and young men that women are equal to them before God and before the law and before each and every other person. Not better, not worse. Not greater or lesser, not more moral or purer than men. Equal. Equal in our brokeness, equal in our capacity to love, honour and follow God. Equally human, equally fragile, equally strong.

WHO ARE WOMEN?

Women are not degraded and less than human simply because they’re women. We need to teach our boys that just because a woman, whether old or young, weak and confused, hurt and broken, puts herself in a vulnerable position, that does not entitle anyone to abuse her, humiliate her and then blame her for their actions. It’s not a reason to treat her as anything other than the icon of Christ that she is.

That’s true whether she is your best friend’s sister, and stands beside you in choir, or someone who is so totally secular she thinks sex is like shaking hands, and Saturday night’s party is not a success unless you can’t remember what you did. It doesn’t matter if she’s not Orthodox or even Christian. Her soul and her body, regardless of what she does to it, were given to her by God, and because she is loved and wanted by God, no matter how she denies or rejects it, she is therefore an icon of Him in the world.

Those men and those bystanders didn’t just rape and humiliate and degrade a young woman. They raped and humiliated and degraded Christ. And as long as we don’t teach, preach and live as if Christ is in every other single human being, so did we.