Be careful what you pray for.


We’re always told to be careful what we pray for, because we will get it. I’m here to tell you that is so amazingly true that it’s terrifying.

For the last little while, I’d been running across comments and sayings from the Fathers about how we need to understand how God is not this cozy little person who is our best buddy, who is cuddly and comfortable and human sized. He’s big and he’s dangerous and we should fear him as much as we love him. And I get it, in my head: the being who can create the entire universe, who is bigger than infinity, to whom a hurricane is a slight breeze – who creates the hurricanes and the earthquakes is not a God you want to mess with. As Lewis put it: he’s not a tame lion.

But I didn’t feel it in my heart. God, for me had always been the shelter from the storm, not the storm itself. He cradled me through terrible times, reminded me of His love in the bad times, and healed me in the most amazing ways during the good times. He is patient with me, always gently leading me back to the way I should be going, pointing out where I need to focus my energies and my repentance. And I know for sure I didn’t actually, in so many words, ask to be shown the God who is bigger than the universe, but I do remember wondering how I could feel that awe and that wonder.

My writing life, for the last several years, has been a mess. Nothing I’ve written for over six years has been accepted for publication, and anything new I’ve started (other than an Akathist I’ve been struggling with for five or six years) has been blocked. For nonfiction, I can’t find the sources or a coherent voice, for fiction I just can’t put the words down, for poetry, if I haven’t got someone pushing me, it doesn’t get done. I’ve lost my focus, my sense of where I’m going with my writing, what I’m supposed to be doing with it, and even what I’m supposed to be writing. And who cared about what I wrote (other than me) anyway? My words were so trite, so banal and so shallow, was there any point to keeping on? Whatever I had to say, others had said it better, deeper, funnier and far more eloquently than I had, or could.

So when I heard about an Orthodox writer’s conference, I thought – yeah, I’ll go. Maybe I can jump start something. Or at least meet all these people I’ve known on line for years and years. But that was a lie I told myself. What I was really doing was saying goodbye. I think I’d pretty much decided to quit writing even before Mel emailed me about the conference, but I wasn’t ready to admit it to myself, so I packed the Akathist on the grounds that, hey, it was a writing conference. I could write when I wasn’t networking.

I caught a red-eye from Vancouver to Chicago, at least that’s what my ticket said, but it wasn’t long after I arrived at O’Hare that I realized I wasn’t in Ohio anymore. Or Wisconson or Kansas. Somewhere along the way, I entered the Orthodox twilight zone. First thing was meeting someone at the bus station who was also attending the conference. She had the knowledge to point me in directions that would allow me to go back to a stalled book on my name saint and her brothers, and was more than willing to share. Thank you Summer!

The first words I heard on arriving at the retreat centre in Kansasville Wisconsin were words I desperately needed to hear. And they were said by someone whose writing I have admired and learned from for a number of years. Molly Maddex Sabourin looked at me, said, “Are you Bev. Cooke?” And when I nodded, she told me how much my writing had meant to her. I heard that message a number of times through the two days we were meeting.

The retreat centre is on 137 acres of farmland. It’s got a tiny forest on one side of the property. The wooded area has trails dotted with shrines to various saints. There’s a handy map so you can plan your walk. I’m a sucker for maps, so I picked one up. I took along the Akathist I was working on. It’s to the Theotokos and it follows her life, including, of course, most of the major events of Jesus’s life as well.

Like I said, I love maps. I’m good at reading them, and I’m a good navigator. Until our GPS replaced me (for which I still haven’t forgiven it), I got us wherever we were going, efficiently and mostly trouble-free. I certainly never put us into farmer’s fields, which the GPS does on a fairly regular basis, at least according to the maps in its memory.

Yet, this time, even before I entered the trails, I got lost. I could see the beginning and ends of the trail marked on the map, but could I find them in reality? Good luck! When I finally stumbled on what I thought was the trail (but wasn’t), I was even more confused. I’m still not sure how I got lost in a soybean field in full view of the main retreat lodge, but I managed it.

I finally run across the trail, and find myself at a small square building dedicated to St. Nectarios. Aha! Here I am! So the next shrine should be St. Haralumbos. I walk toward it and run straight into the Dormition of the Theotokos, which, according to the map is on the entire other side of the forest from where I think I am. Well, okay. I’ll write a kontakion here, since the Akathist is to the Theotokos and it seems fitting. Then, at every female saint I encounter I’ll write another section. Now where am I and where am I going? Oh, Saint’s Pantelemon and Parksevi are next. Except they aren’t. It’s St Nectarios again, but it isn’t a small building, it’s a covered icon, just like the other shrines I’ve seen. Which means I’m suddenly back on the side of the woods I thought I had originally been, except that I hadn’t, I’m over there. And now I’m over here, and I didn’t see the field along the path I was supposed to be walking along, so maybe I’m over there, instead? But wait. Where’s the little lake, that’s supposed to be here? and I have no idea where I really am, except I have some suspicion that it still isn’t Wisconsin.

I give up. I will wander, ending up wherever I end up. Eventually, I’ll come out. It might or might not be on the retreat property. It might or might not be in Wisconsin. And if it is, this is rural Wisconsin, not the wild interior of British Columbia. There are, as far as I know, no bears in farmland Wisconsin. What’s the worst that can happen?

God likes metaphors, I conclude as I realize that I am as lost in these woods as I am in the forest of my writing. So I hand it all over to Him: this walk in these woods, and my ramblings in the thickets of my work. I walk and write and walk some more. I visit Saint Catherine and St. Barbara. Write under the eye of both women. The words flow as they haven’t for over six years. I walk some more and scare up a doe, which is pure joy and my heart leaps with her. I visit St. George and he and I pray for my godson, and I decide it’s time to head back to the lodge, and check the map, where I notice the shrine to St. Emelia. I can’t miss her – she is the mother of my name saint and when I enter her shrine, I feel welcomed and honoured. She’s been waiting for me, and enfolds me in a spiritual embrace. I pray to her and write a bit with her.

But now I have to head back. I’m hot and tired. The sweat is rolling into my eyes and it stings and it rolls down my arms and onto my fingers and makes the pen slippery. I’m full up with this experience and want to put the Akathist away for a while and think about what has happened here.

Next along the path, I run across a shrine to Sts. Constantine and Helen. She is a woman – but he’s not. Should I write? Or not? I look at my outline. This kontakia is about the entry to Jerusalem, when Christ was greeted as a king. Do I have a choice? I write. The next shrine is the twelve apostles. The ikos is the Last Supper. I pray, I write and I’m not sure if the drops hitting the page are sweat or tears. I am being led, and if the metaphor holds, then in my writing life, I am being led as well. I need to trust.

Enough, God, I’ve had all I can take. I want to go back to reality and talk with my friends. I follow the path, check the map, turn down the arm of the trail that leads back to the lodge. Without, as far as I can see on the map, any more shrines. I don’t want any more. I’m shaking and raw and I’m perilously close to tears.

A few more steps and I see, off the path, a painting: white lamb on a set of shoulders. No. I can’t deal with you this way. I can’t take so direct an encounter. But I have no choice, do I? I handed the control over to you, so I have to stop here. The icon is the Good Shepherd.

But it’s not the Good Shepherd I meet. It’s a storm of love – a hurricane, a tsunami of love, that envelopes me and holds me fast. I sense behind this storm even more love, more powerful than what I am already experiencing. This is a love that can create universes, and I’m only sensing the very tip and tiniest portion of how big and powerful it is, and I start to cry. There’s so much love here that if I let myself cry as I need to, I will cry myself out of myself. I’ll be stripped to my essence – opened up right to the innermost core of who I am and laid bare for all the universe to see. And I can’t. It doesn’t matter that God knows this part of me already. I can’t let myself cry like that, I’m not ready to be laid that bare. I back away after a few moments and head back to the lodge and to a reality I can deal with.

But I know that even as I run from the power and the immensity of the love that is God, I’m still running to him – he’s the good shepherd and I’m his ewe and he will be waiting, back to a size that he knows I can deal with. But my view of him is forever changed – it’s tinged with awe at the majesty he allowed me to see and sense. I know that one day, I will be able to face that love, and allow him to open me to the very core of myself, and I know too that it will be in tiny steps that won’t destroy me, and I’ll revel in every step of it. And I will not, I cannot stop writing.

Happy MonDay


Mother’s day is over for another year, but I’ve been reflecting on it as I’ve read all the kudos and gratitude and, yes, grousing about it on the internet. I don’t “celebrate” it and we didn’t teach our kids to pay much attention to it either. There’s a bunch of reasons for that:

In addition to the living children I have and whom I cherish and take an enormous amount of pride and joy in, there are three: James, Tabitha and Juvenal who didn’t make it long enough to be born. I remember them every day of my life, and think about them a lot.

My mother is dead, and when she was alive, she abused both my brother and myself and left us with deep and lasting wounds. And even though, over the course of my life, I’ve realized that she did the best she could with the world’s smallest “good mother” toolkit, and deeply regretted the pain she caused us, I don’t have a really strong inclination to either mention her or celebrate her mothering of my brother and me on this day.

Yet, while I don’t think of Mother’s Day as a really great day, neither do I feel resentful that other people are celebrating their relationships with their mothers, or missing the ones who have died, or mourning the children they’ve lost. I don’t feel left out or as if I’m somehow cheated and marginalized because everybody’s going ga-ga over their mothers or remembering their lost little ones. In fact, I’m happy to see that so many people can appreciate the work that goes into being a mom, that they recognize, even if only one day of the year, that it’s hard work, and it takes dedication, commitment and a lot more energy than anybody ever expected. I empathize with the mums who’ve also lost babies and children, and understand that it’s a bittersweet day for them, too.

What bothers me about it is when those like me, who had a less than stellar mother, or who’ve lost children, or, unlike me, never had ’em in the first place, jump up and down complaining that it’s wrong and somehow wicked for everybody else to have a good time and share the good parts of having been mothered, while it leaves them feeling sad and left out in the cold. Or who insist, like Anne Lamott, that it somehow marginalizes women who’ve chosen not to have children or that it “makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children feel the deepest kind of grief and failure” while somehow perpetuating “the dangerous idea that all parents are superior to non-parents.”

I, the child of a dead, abusive mother, I, who most of the time feels like a failure as a mother, take issue with this. Having children isn’t the highest calling, it’s doesn’t make a parent superior to a non-parent and I’m not sure how a non-sentient day can pepetrate anything. Furthermore, I can attest, personally, that there is NOTHING on the outside of my skull that can make me feel more like a failure than the thoughts already squirreling around on the inside of my skull. I suspect the same is true for most people who feel like failures. It’s the voices INSIDE our heads we have to shut up, not the ones having a good time on the outside.

That’s what bothers me most about this: the implication that because somebody somewhere is having a horrible time on a celebratory day, because of the day, we should ban the day. That because some of us don’t happen to have good associations with motherhood, nobody should celebrate it, because, goodness knows, we don’t want anybody to feel excluded or bad or anything as awful as grief. I have news for you: grief is a part of life, and while the pain and the empty space inside never completely go away, you can come to terms with it, you can deal with it and find joy and happiness in other parts of your life. Yes, certain days, certain colours, certain places, certain songs will always trigger the tears, but honestly, I’d rather have that than feel nothing at all. It’s a part of being alive and it means that inside me, that person still lives.

So, my suggestion is that if you don’t want to or you don’t enjoy celebrating Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Parent’s Day, Valentine’s Day or any other Day, go find other people who feel the same way you do, and do something with them that will let you be happy. Let those who do want to find joy in the day, do so without raining on their parade.

HAPPY MON-DAY! And to all the mothers out there: I hope you had a stellar day.

Waiting and Being


It’s Holy Week and Minou is dying. She is old, older than we had thought, and her kidneys are diseased. Other than alleviating her symptoms there is nothing we can do. There is no cure for this. So we hydrate her, feed her, pet her, cuddle her, love her, but under all the doing we’re waiting until the time is filled and she is no more.

Waiting and being.

The last time I felt this helpless was during the birth of my twin godchildren. Their mother had asked me to be at the birth, and I was glad to go. Yet I’ve never felt as useless, as helpless as I watched my friend slip into preeclampsia and hallucinate through the middle of her labour. The nurses and doctors did the things they did, and it turned out well, but all I could do was sit in a corner, frightened and angry at my inability to help, to act, to DO something to alleviate my friend’s pain. All I could do was be there. Be present, witness her suffering and wait until the babies were born.

Being and waiting.

All I can do is be there while she labours to give birth. All I can do is hold the small furry body while it dies. All I can do is ache while the hurt heals. All I can do is wait: for life, for healing, for death, for the end, for the beginning, for the other shoe to drop, for the disaster. All I can do is wait: for the wound to heal, the breach to close, the child within to grow, the seed to germinate, the season to change.

It’s Holy Week and it’s filled with doing, with action. We clean, we bake, we prepare the baskets, we attend church and try to cram in as much good Lenten behaviour as we can before it all ends and we’ve fallen flat on our faces again, but under all that busyness, all that acting and doing, we’re waiting.

Waiting and being.

We want to do, we need to act. Action is right and good and necessary. We do things, we act, we make, we unmake, we change something, anything, whatever needs changing, making or unmaking. But, as the wise man said, to everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven (Ecc. 3:3). There is a time to act and a time to simply be and let what happens happen. But simply being is anathema to us. There must be something we can do! We endure it, we barely tolerate simply waiting, simply being while things happen that we can do nothing about: while the baby is being born, while the grandfather dies, when the child’s heart is broken, while the breach between friends or spouse heals. We twitch and fuss, wanting to get in and DO something.

In these long, tiring and out of time services we wait. We stand while around us doing happens: the prayers are offered, the hymns are sung, scripture is chanted and we in our wounded, broken selves are open receptacles for God’s love and mercy. The priest works, the deacon and subdeacons work, the readers and the choir work. Our work is to be open and receptive to God and the services, to witness the doing and the acting, perhaps even to join the singing and the prayers, but primarily our work is just to be. Even in the presanctified communion we do nothing as Christ enters us and sanctifies us.

This isn’t passive. Even though we are being done to, being acted upon, it is not part of our fallen nature to just stand and be, to open ourselves to God and the saints and the angels. It requires great courage, our full attention and an amazing persistence. We are, in the services, active in being who we are: broken, weak and prodigal children of our Father.

It’s during this busy, grief filled week of waiting and being that I’m learning that it is in waiting, in simply having to BE that I can draw closer to God. Perhaps it is one of the ways to theosis – to being one with God, to, as Athanasius pointed out, become God. He is the great I AM. That’s what he told Moses to say, when He met him in the burning bush. “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Ex. 3:14) It’s said at the end of our services, “Christ our God, the great I AM”. He is. He doesn’t act, he doesn’t change, he simply is and the universe exists. The bush burned without being consumed, but we, in our need to do and act and make burn up our leaves, our stems and roots until nothing is left but dead branches and ash.

I need to burn less and I AM more. I need in these moments to be still and know that He is God.

I am ashamed of my faith.


I spend a great deal of my time on the internet, and on Facebook. A lot of the time, what I find posted is enlightening, educational, and entertaining. Some of the time, it’s maddening, disgusting and cringe-worthy.

Until today, though, I have never been ashamed. I am now. I am ashamed of my faith, because of something my brothers and sisters in Christ are doing.

This is not only not okay, it violates everything our faith, our God and our church teaches us.

The recent decision by the United States Supreme Court on same sex marriage has heated the debate, both on and off line. There has been more than enough vitriol, hate and viciousness spewed over this topic, by all sides, to put the Enemy in a millennial long coma of joy over the way we’ve treated each other.

I reproduce the two messages that appeared on my Facebook wall this morning, right after I’d attended Liturgy for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul:

Today, [a number of] Orthodox Christians banded together to hunt out private, secret and closed groups for Orthodox Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction. Self-identified “protectors of Orthodoxy” emailed celibate LGBTQ bloggers with nasty slurs and threats.

I need to remind you that an LGBTQ and/or same-sex attracted person, married in the Church, and their children do not need to spend this night worried about their private struggles being publicized online. I need to tell you that a teenager said, “the thought of being outed to every Orthodox Christian in the world makes me want to die”. I need to tell you that two parents of LGBTQ teenagers have been PMing me frantically, fearing for their children’s safety. I have not been able to offer them any realistic comfort.

The fact is, when an online mob gets going like this: vulnerable people commit suicide, and even when they don’t, it’s an unbelievably traumatic experience. Sadly, today, Orthodox Christians on social media need to be told this and I can’t do it alone. Everyone, for the sake of the woman taken in adultery and Our Lord who forgave her, please put a stop to any online mobs seeking out LGBTQ Orthodox groups.

Thank you and please continue to pray for us!

And this:

 Subject: To the heretic homos out to destroy Christ’s church

“This is to inform you that I will be personally contacting each of your bishops to alert them of your heresy. There will be no homosexuals allowed in Christ’s Church. You are not fit to share in the chalice, nor the other mysteries save Holy Confession should you fall to your knees after excommunication. The Holy Orthodox Church has never been silent about the condemnation of heretics. The attempted takeover of Arius was not permitted, nor will your sins be. The time has come for the homosexuals to be removed from the Church. Repent and see the true light, or leave the true faith alone and become an Episcopalian. I have contacted only a few today. I will be notifying more Orthodox-in-name-only homos tomorrow and every day hereafter.”

Outing same-sex attracted, transgendered people to the heriarchs of the church or to the online community, people who are struggling to live a faithful, celibate, Orthodox life within the church in accordance with their and our beliefs is not Christian, not Orthodox and needs to stop.

Christ came for us all. Every single conceived human being is capable of salvation, regardless of who they are, what they’ve done or how they act, as long as they are repentant and beg for mercy from our Lord. That means everyone. Me, you, my worst enemy, your worst enemy, the most evil mass murderer or serial killer on the planet, aborted and miscarried babies, venerable babas, LGBTQ persons struggling in the church to be faithful, repentant servants of Christ and self-outed, secular gays and trans. No exceptions. Not even the people who are doing this – they also are capable of salvation.

Nobody, absolutely NOBODY has the right to out anyone for any reason to the the church heirarchs or the internet mob, which has ruined careers, marriages and lives. It has forced people into hiding, into moving far from their families and friends, it has forced people to live a life of isolation and terror, and it has driven people to take their own lives.

We are called, regardless of our own private opinions of people and their behaviour, to treat each other as icons of Christ, to love everyone as we love ourselves, and as we love God. Everyone. For someone who professes to believe in and follow the faith given to us as a precious gift by the God-man who died on a cross for us all, to engage in this behaviour is worse than reprehensible, worse than hypocritical. You’ve had the example before you, in the person of Jesus Christ. You step up to the chalice and you eat his Body and you drink His Blood. You say the words: “Make us worthy to partake of the heavenly and awesome Mysteries of this sacred and spiritual table.”

Yet you would drag your brothers and sisters from their homes, from the chalice, from kneeling before God in confession and contrition and stone them as the woman taken in adultery was stoned. Remember what he said: “Those without sin, let them cast the first stone.” Look to your own hearts, see to the beam in your own eye, and realize that what you are doing to our brothers and sisters you are doing to Christ, and your actions will haunt you. You will face God on the last day and he will ask you, “Why did you do this to me? When you outed her and her family, you outed me. What you do to the least of these, you do to me.” You are throwing Christ to the wolves, to the mob, and you are driving the nails into His palms and plunging the spear deep into his side. Stop. Stop it now.

The Last (very last) Leg


The billboard was the last amusing moment for the next several hours. I’ve realized that the more flying I do, the less I enjoy it. The actual flying is great. I love take offs and landings, I love looking down from such a great height and seeing the land below – especially if its night and the lights are illuminating the world, but the hassle to get to where I want to be is becoming far greater than any benefits from the time I save, and I hate airport architecture, design and decor. About the only upside to this part of the trip was that because of the way airports have to be built I definitely got my day’s exercise and then some.

We got to the airport. Because of construction, the driver said, he couldn’t let us off right at two of the terminals – he would split the difference and park at a point between them. People for Airlines A, B and C would go to the right, to Terminal 1 and those of us for Airlines D, E and F, would head to the left. People for Airlines G and H got delivered to the door in the third terminal, lucky people!

He unloaded our bags and we trundled along until we saw an outdoor Delta check-in booth at our terminal. The guy behind the counter called us over, but instead of checking us in, got on the phone, and then told us that the people inside at the Delta counter needed to see us, but didn’t say why. So we went in, lined up and worried. When we got to the front, we were tagged for overweight luggage, which I knew was going to happen, but there was no indication that anybody inside had wanted to see us or talk to us. I’m still not sure why we were sent inside instead of checking the bags right there, unless it had to do with the overweight luggage – but the outdoor guy never touched our bags, so it remains a mystery. One other passenger suggested it had to do with charging us extra for the bags, but . . .. I dunno.

The Delta guy who did the check-in for us decided to play games – first both bags cost $x each. Then, as we were getting the credit card out, he said, no, my bag cost $x, Al’s (which admittedly was heavier than mine) was almost twice that. Why the change, I have no idea. But we had to pay or leave stuff behind, so we paid. Had we been thinking, or had the guy been the least bit helpful, we could have saved ourselves a whack of cash, as we found out later.

But we were feeling the pinch of time. Between the delay at Homeland security and the delay waiting for the bus, we were getting close to boarding time for our flight, and we still had to go through security, so we weren’t as cool and calm as we needed to be – or at least I wasn’t.

But we got the bags checked, got ourselves checked in and then went through security. For some reason, we were supposed to take our computers out of their carry bags and put them in a separate container. I did, Al didn’t. Instead of just asking him to do that, or doing it themselves, they ran his computer bag through, rejected it, pushed him out of line and made him do it all again and lectured him about it. At this point, we needed to be at our gate – boarding was due to start very soon. Or so I thought, so tensions were rising. Well, mine was. And we were hungry – it was well after 2:00 and we hadn’t eaten since 7:30 am. (Yes, four hours to get through customs and what should have been a 10 minute bus ride to the airport.)

We grabbed some food and sat down near our gate to wait for our plane. It arrived about 10 minutes after we were supposed to start boarding.  Because it was a commuter flight, people disembarked first. Just about the time we should have started boarding, they announced that due to the weather in Minneapolis, there would be a delay. I went up to see if our connecting flight would be affected, and got told “Well, you can go to the office, or you can wait in line, but by the time you get up to my desk, you probably won’t have much choice of seats.”

?

Shake head.

?

I tried to ask what she meant, but she dismissed me with a “if your flight is more than an hour after arrival, you’re okay.” When was our arrival, I asked. “I don’t know,” she said. Well. That was less than helpful. But she had already turned to the next passenger. A helpful fellow passenger pointed out that if our flight missed the connection, we’d be automatically bumped to the next one. Which was great, except that if that happened, we’d probably miss the connecting Vancouver/Victoria flight and be stuck in Vancouver overnight and not be booked on a next morning flight. This wasn’t looking good. So, what weather was keeping us delayed and would it affect our next flight? Apparently I wasn’t the only one wondering this, and a home truth that should have been obvious to anybody with two operative brain cells became apparent.

You’ve just made an announcement in an airport with free WiFi, to customers who all have smart phones, laptops or (in my trailing edge case) netbooks about the weather in the destination city. You aren’t making sense or being helpful when people ask you questions. So what’s the logical next step for all of those frustrated travelers with smartphones, laptops, netbooks and free WiFi?

Got it in one.

There is no weather in Minneapolis. It’s cloudy. That’s it. No fog, no wind, no rain, no electrical storms, no snow, no sleet, no freezing rain, nothing that would impact our landing (or for the many of us making a connection, our further flights). So . . . what’s going on?

20 minutes later she made another announcement apologizing for the “mistake” and explaining that there was a problem on the wing that needed to be taken care of. Boarding would commence in a few moments. Turns out that the whateveritis that de-ices the wing at high altitude was malfunctioning. Now why couldn’t she have said that in the first place?

We finally boarded, buckled in and took off. And then we got an angel in disguise. The pilot announced that he knew many of us had tight connecting flights and he was going to do his level best to get us there with time to spare. (Ours was more than tight – we were expected to land about 15 or 20 minutes after our connecting flight had left.) He explained that normally they fly a certain path at a certain speed in the interests of economy. But tonight, he had changed the flight path to shorten the journey and was (in an aviation type of way) flooring it. Engaging the after burners? Whipping the seagulls? Feeding the squirrels amphetamines? Overwinding the rubber bands? I don’t know, but whatever it was, he expected to get us in about 15 minutes earlier than expected. The trip was uneventful – boring even. Which was good at this point. Boring was just what I wanted. I got to sit and read uninterrupted for three whole hours, look out the window at dark overcast and be thoroughly uncomfortable in the airplane seat. It was great.

The pilot saved us better than 15 minutes. Enough time that our connecting flight was still on the ground when we got in. I hope they give him a raise! Not only that, but he asked the passengers who didn’t have a connection to please stay in their seats until we’d gotten off. No big deal, that’s standard, and I’ve heard it before and the usual response is to act as if nobody asked anybody to do anything except get off the plane as fast as they can. Except this time people listened. They stayed seated until we were all off! I’m not sure that it really helped, since 3/4 of the passengers had tight connecting flights, but I really appreciated the fact that the ones who didn’t stayed seated for us.

We hustled our buns (and caught one of those golf cart thingees that trundle around airports, giving rides to desperate connecting flight passengers like us) and were the very, very, very last people on the plane. You know in movies when the leading character tears hell bent for leather for the flight and they slam the plane door on his coat tails and the plane is taxiing even as she reaches her seat? Yeah, that was us. And no, it doesn’t feel cool and sexy at all – it’d be embarrassing except that it wasn’t our fault, it was just tense and stressful.

This flight wasn’t quite as uneventful. Lots of turbulence, which I liked. We got into Vancouver on time, made it through customs faster than I’ve ever been through in my life (and I’ve never had any problems with customs), and got another day’s exercise hustling our buns over to the domestic departures terminal, then checked into our flight. And found another angel in disguise.

Remember the overweight luggage? Well, when we weighed it for Air Canada, it was still overweight (no surprise there). The woman suggested that since we had time, if we had an extra bag, we could pay the $20.00 over bag fee and distribute the extra weight so as to save ourselves about $200.00 in overweight charges. We did that. And had very dark thoughts about the Delta guy back in Fr. Lauderdale, who never even thought to be anywhere close to that helpful.

We considered food briefly, but everything was closing up (it was only 9:30ish pm, for crying out loud!) and we decided to just get to the gate and wait until the flight to Victoria was called. Boarding was late for some reason, but we got on, flew over, got off and got our luggage, stepped outside to see the one, the only and last cab drive away. It was late – after midnight, I think. It was chilly. I was tired, and I wasn’t sure how we were going to get home. However, once again, we were rescued. The security guard told us he’d already called the cab company and they were sending more cabs out to pick us up.

We got in at sometime after 12:30. And did the cats greet us ecstatically, purring and rubbing our ankles and demanding pets and cuddles and kibble? If you think so, I want some of what you’re smoking.

No. Sam was lying in the front hall and demanded to know why we were so late coming in so he could be let out. He had to tolerate cuddles (I don’t usually pick him up and cuddle him – he’s not at all a lap cat) because I’d missed him so much. He tolerated it with very poor grace and kept peering around my shoulder at the door. Minou was all complaints about how badly Herb and Charmaine had treated her and what a bully Sam was (I know she was lying through her little front teeth about our house sitters – if anything, they spoil her more than we do, which is saying something). Sam, we learned later, actually had bullied her unmercifully.

In the morning (or later that morning) we’d figure out what things had changed since we’d been away and what progress had been made on the construction next door – but for now it was cuddle the (unwilling) cats, let Sam out and collapse into bed. When we did the time calculations, it was no wonder we were exhausted – we’d been up for 24 internal hours. Not an awful, horrendous trip home, but certainly not the way I’d have preferred to end our journey. Still, we got home safe, everything we’d taken was there, nothing was broken and the house hadn’t burned down. A win all round.

It’s been a ride – both the trip and writing about it. Thank you for coming with me, and I hope you enjoyed it. Stay tuned, because the next adventure is right here at home – the saga of the house next door. That one won’t be nearly as upbeat, but I suspect there will be some chuckles.

Hurry up and wait. And wait. And wait. And .. . … wait some more.


I suppose, if things have to go wrong, the best time for them to go wrong is at the end of an otherwise excellent vacation, and that’s what happened to us. It wasn’t anything awful, and our lives aren’t in the least disrupted by it, but it was frustrating, tiring and just plain annoying. And it wasn’t like the trouble hadn’t been foreshadowed, either.

When we booked the cruise, we’d had the Holland America cruise consultant book our flight from Fort Lauderdale to Vancouver. Why I didn’t ask her to book all the way through to Victoria is something I’ve been asking myself ever since I hung up the phone away back last February, but I didn’t, so I had to make the arrangements myself – no big deal, except that it turned into one.

See, Delta changed our flights two or three times before we left on the cruise, the last change meaning that I had to rebook the Vancouver-Victoria flight myself. And that was a big deal because I had to move it to the last flight of the day. If there were any more changes, we’d have to book a hotel for the night and fly out the next day, thereby upsetting the cats, our house sitters and not doing our own peace of mind much good. However, I didn’t receive any more notifications and thought all was good.

We had packed the night before and left the suitcases outside the door of the stateroom so they’d be picked up and moved off the ship for us. We received our “colour” – the disembarkation procedure is done by times and colours – you disembark when your colour (ours was purple) is called. It’s done to minimize crowding, delays and frustration. In this case, through no fault of Holland America, and precisely due to Homeland Security, that didn’t work.

The plan was to get up at our regular time, have a relaxed breakfast then sit and read/walk, do whatever we needed to do until our colour was called, when we’d disembark the ship. We’d pick up our luggage in preparation to go through customs. Then we’d board a bus, be driven to the airport, where we’d wait until our plane was called at 3:50 for Minneapolis. We’d land approximately 3 hours later, have time for a more or less leisurely meal, then board the plane at about 8 pm for another three hour flight to Vancouver. We’d have to hustle on that one, to get from the international terminal, through customs and over to the domestic terminal to pick up our flight to Victoria, but we had an hour or better to do that, so I wasn’t too worried. Lots of slop time for things to go wrong, or delays or whatever. That was before we encountered Homeland Security, and a bus company and an airline who’d obviously been channelling Homeland Security’s modus operandi.

The day started out all right. We got breakfast, sat and enjoyed the morning, waited for our colour to be called. Didn’t worry when they had some issues with the gangplank – after all, our flight didn’t leave until almost 4 pm, so it wasn’t as if we had to hustle to get to the airport. And we got called at our scheduled time, still with lots and lots of time to spare. It was 10 am. How long could customs take? Heh. Heh. Heh.

We disembarked, collected our suitcases and then confronted the customs lineup. Huge. Enormous. Five people thick and snaking back from the front doors of the airplane hanger sized building almost to the doors leading to the pier and the gangplank. We joined it and waited. And waited and waited. And waited some more. We moved forward slowly. There were a total of six customs officials on duty, and there were two columns – US destinations and non US destinations. US destinations line, with two officials was 1/5 the size of our line and finished an hour ahead of our line. And then both the officials went off duty. FOUR customs officials. Over 1200 people had been on board, and over 3/4 of them were in the line we were in. A snail could have beaten us to the front of the line. One on Valium. An hour and a half later we finally approached the security kiosks.

We were passed through after an intense scrutiny of whatever secret information is included in our passports, no verbal communication from the security officer (I think he might have grunted at one point) and then joined the line up for the bus to the airport. We were told that the bus to pick us up was even now on its way from the airport to us and would be here momentarily. Um, yah. No such luck. I’d looked at maps of Fort Lauderdale, and even assuming rush hour traffic and delays, it couldn’t take more than 15 or 20 minutes to get from the port to the airport – they simply weren’t that far apart.

So we waited again. And waited. And waited. No explanations, no attempts to answer questions. “It’ll be here in a few minutes” was the mantra.

Forty five minutes to an hour later the bus finally arrived. We boarded and then waited (again!) while the driver, by himself, loaded all the baggage (with 5 other employees standing around watching him and offering advice. I am not kidding.)

We drove off as the driver did a comedic monologue, which, if I hadn’t been so frustrated and annoyed by the unnecessary delays, would have had me in stitches. I looked out the window as we drove along, to see an enormous billboard advertising (I am not kidding here) Syphilis. Yes, THAT Syphilis. (There is any other kind?)

syphillis

Did anybody give any thought at all to the idea that this is located where every visitor arriving in Fort Lauderdale is gonna see it? I can just imagine the conversations. So, what was your impression of Fort Lauderdale, Bev?

We did get to the airport, but our trouble didn’t stop there. Tomorrow I’ll tell you about our amusing dance de luggage and Delta, our less than amusing encounter with the gate attendants, and how you can drag race in an airplane.

I found it!


You know all those vacation ads of perfect people on perfect beaches, in perfectly clear and beautifully blue and green tropical waters? The ones where the sun is shining down, and the waves are breaking just ideally, never too close but not too far from the suntanning bodies lying on blindingly white sand while a little way away more perfect people are riding the most beautiful horses on the planet and further down the beach there’s a volleyball game going on and you just know that all these people won’t need to shower sand grains out of tender places at the end of the day (because, you know, they’re perfect)? Those photos?

I found the place they take them.

half moon cay 2

The Bahamas, just off the coast of Florida. The Commonwealth of the Bahamas is actually over 700 islands, cays and islets (size is the determining factor in whether it’s an island, a cay or an islet, but don’t ask me what the break point is). If you look at a map, we were on Isla Pequena San Salvador (Little San Salvador Island). It’s a small island (or a cay) between Cat and Eleuthra Islands. Holland America has leased the cay/island from the Bahamas and renamed it after the major bay – Half Moon Cay. It’s about seven kilometres long and two wide with a two kilometre long lagoon in the middle of it (which is protected and is a sea life preserve).

half moon cay 3

As far as I can tell, the Holland America parent company only has the use of the Bay and a few miles of the island itself – most of the rest of it is without trails or roads, and we encountered a number of “not allowed beyond this point, very dangerous” signs while on our walk. If you google it or look at the satellite image of it, you’ll see what I mean.

The only people on the island are connected to the Holland America company – either guests, like us, or ship’s crew on leave, or working for our comfort, or support people who are ferried over from Cat and Eleuthra Islands (an hour and a half ride one way). So it’s the “perfect” island – everything there is for our comfort and convenience, and in the areas meant for us, it’s been groomed and landscaped and arranged to be the “perfect” tropical island. There are caretakers who live on the island, mostly to care for the horses, but again, it’s all in aid of keeping the illusion of a perfect world alive for us paying guests.

And yes, on this island you can ride horses: on the trails or in the surf. You can jet ski, lounge on the amazing white sand beaches, swim in the turquoise, clear waters, paddle with pet manta rays, bike (or scooter) around the roads and trails, take a nature hike or rent a cabana and relax in the privacy of a small house for the day.

We opted to get active and with four other people take a nature/historical walk around the parts of the island accessible to us. Well worth the time, even though I ended up wishing I’d brought my bathing suit from the ship – that beach and that water looked delicious! It was very, very hot but the humidity had dropped significantly, for which I was really grateful. Also teaching both Al and I that it’s the humidity we have problems with, not the heat.

Our walk was scheduled for 10 am, and we arrived there around 9:15, so walked around the roads and paths to get a feel for the place. And the first thing we encountered was a couple who asked us if we’d be witnesses for their wedding. They were joking (I think), but it was kinda nice to see some romance on a picture perfect tropical island! It was one of the ship’s officers and one of the singers from the ship – they looked really in love and amazingly happy. So maybe there is a wedding in their future. Best of luck to them, if so! They also weren’t all that social – a couple of conversational exchanges and a laugh or two and they were away on their own.

Turns out they do have a little chapel there in case people want to renew their vows – I gathered from the signs that actual first time, till death do us part spur of the moment shipboard romance weddings aren’t on the agenda here. You can get married on this island, but not on the spur of the moment.

half-moon-cay-chapel

If you google images of Half Moon Cay, you won’t see the island we saw on our walk.

half moon cay 1Al still had the camera, so I don’t have any of the photos we took to show you a comparison.

The walk took us off the regular paths into the brush so we could see the plants and wildlife of the island. I didn’t take notes, but the guide gave us some good information not only about the plants that grew there, but some of their medicinal uses, and warned us off some of the less pleasant ones – there are some that are like poison oak and poison ivy. The wildlife isn’t terribly dangerous – wild chickens and roosters, three different kinds of lizard, and various birds. We climbed a hill and saw the ruins of a house that had been used centuries before when other people had come to the island to fish and hunt, and raise chickens, whose descendants still inhabit the island (the chickens, not the people). I suggested to our guide that they hunt the chickens and serve ‘em up to the guests, but she didn’t think that would go over well with the chefs, for some reason.

We also got to watch manta rays in the lagoon – neat, wonderfully graceful beings who swooped and flew through the water and wanted to play with the people who had come to learn about them.

We wandered along deserted paths and were far from the rest of the ship’s passengers and crew, which suited us fine. And when we came out onto one other part of the lagoon, noticed our “wedding” couple wandering the beach a ways down from us, obviously very happy being along together.

We visited the “farm” where they cultivated and seeded the plants used in the gardens and plantings around the bay, and in the foods served on the island, and met a pet iguana of the gardener. I’d have like to spend more time there to see just what they grew and how and what they did, but we were there for only around 10 minutes and most of that was listening to the gardener talk about his iguana.

The walk was a leisurely hour and a half (to cover a mile and a half) with lots of stops to try and find lizards (those suckers can MOVE!), or look at the house ruins (I would have liked a bit more time to poke around those). We actually didn’t leave for the walk until almost 11 am, so it was in the worst heat of the day, and even in the shade, I was glad we weren’t trying to break any walking speed records. By the time we took a break at the manta pool, we needed the break. I managed to down over a litre of water in less then five minutes. It was lovely!

After the break, we strolled back to the main guest area and then bid goodbye to the guide and had lunch. Barbequed chicken and hamburgers and fresh fruits (some of which were grown on the island, I think) and veggies.

It was a lovely island, and the parts that had been built up as the resort were gorgeous, but honestly? I preferred the trails we walked along, and the hills we climbed that were less than perfect settings for tropical vacation photo ops, and that let us enjoy the silence and the stillness of the place.

It was a good day, but not as good as some of our other excursions. Maybe if the walk had been longer, or I’d gone swimming, but it felt like too perfect a place – not something that you could live in for long. I was glad to get back to the ship, even though it was our very last full day.

Tomorrow we would be disembarking in Fort Lauderdale and catching a plane to fly home.