I wanted to shake up my life and go sailing (or learn on the job, so-to-speak) so headed to Florida to crew on a catamaran. This is about how it went or, rather, didn't - and my life since. Hopefully it will lead to a catamaran on the clear aqua blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, watching the sunset, a coconut rum and coke in hand. You must START AT THE BEGINNING of the blog, April 2009, to get the whole story...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


When I booked my flight(s) for my upcoming trip, I did so through ticketpilot.com and was issued an invoice as soon as the payment went through. The next day I received my E-ticket (by email, of course).

A few weeks later, I got an email from Ticket Pilot; the first flight of the multi-leg trip, from Vancouver to Los Angeles, had been cancelled and they wanted to book me on two flights to replace it - Vancouver to San Francisco and from there to LAX. I wasn't very thrilled at the change as it was inconvenient on several levels. First off, my other flight left YVR at 07:30, which is early enough when I am traveling an hour to the airport from home and need to be there three hours ahead of time. The new flight departs at 06:00 which means I need to be at the airport at 3am so have to leave home at 2am. Secondly, I like a decent layover between flights as I am paranoid about missing my plane and the new itinerary leaves me just one hour between connections in LAX. Even though the flights are with the same airline, that doesn't leave much wiggle room. Thirdly, it adds another flight. All in all now, this trip will be 9 flights in total. NINE. That's a lot.

I very reluctantly gave them the go-ahead to book me on those two new flights after asking them to check and make sure there wasn't something more direct and their search turned up nothing better. They then sent me a new invoice/receipt with the changes and said that they would not be sending me the tickets for the new flights until closer to departure in case there were more changes. I was fine with that.

Until yesterday.

I subscribe, I guess you'd call it, to a page on FaceBook called Vancouver Flight Deals & Travel Specials and saw a post about a sale that Air Canada had to South America. Apparently, there was some sort of problem with people being able to get the price as advertised and I am not sure exactly how the problem all played out but there was a letter of explanation posted that was sent by the airline. Here it is:

Dear Mr. Mxxxx,

Please accept my sincere apologies for the delay in our response.

Mr. Mxxxx, I can certainly understand how frustrating it must have been for you to have your booking to Santiago cancelled, especially since you found a good price on Airfare.com.

Please know that Air Canada stands behind the fares we offer, but a specific fare is never guaranteed until the actual ticket is issued. I trust you will appreciate that since many customers are accessing our fares, whether it is via www.aircanada.com, through our Call Centre, or booking with travel agents and consolidators, fares can quickly become unavailable. While the inventory of available seats and prices are constantly being updated, the final price paid can only be confirmed once the ticket is issued. This is standard procedure throughout the airline industry and booking agencies are aware of this.

Regrettably, should the booking agency choose not to issue the ticket immediately, that fare may no longer be available at the time of ticket issue. Respectfully, in these situations, we must direct the passenger back to the booking agency.

While your disappointment is understandable, Mr. Mxxxx, we hope this information will be helpful to you when you make future bookings. We look forward to welcoming you onboard Air Canada when next you travel.

I became alarmed when I read the two lines I have put in bold above.

I started to have serious concerns that I might lose my place on those two new flights without a ticket having been issued to me. So I wrote to Ticket Pilot and asked that my ticket be issued now to guarantee my place on the flights at the price I paid. I received an email back this morning saying that they would issue me new tickets later today. Sure enough, they arrived in my email this afternoon. WHEW!

So be aware that, unless you get your actual E-ticket and not just an itinerary or receipt, you have no guarantee that you have even secured the flight, let alone at the advertised price.

It's a good thing to know.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I found this song on YouTube today. It's by KapEye, a popular entertainer on Tortola who is only there in the high season and usually performs at Myett's in Cane Garden Bay. Listening to the song today has really helping to get me in the mood for my trip. I ended up buying this song and four others of his on iTunes this afternoon.

I was really hoping I could catch him while I was there in a few weeks, but his time on the island for this season ends at the end of March. I am a little disappointed and it makes me wonder how many other entertainers and restaurants will be closed because it is the off season. I hope not many.

Have a listen and see if it doesn't make you want to tap your toes.

Here's another video from Tortola celebrating a birthday of someone I hope to meet while I am there; he's reputed to be a lot of fun and a very cool guy. He was a producer in LA - one of his shows was Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, so we just might have something to talk about. Anyhow, I love the bit in the middle that shows driving the crazy roads of Tortola that I feared so much but came to love. The video is set to the same KapEye song.

I love the line in the song "Try to explain it; words don't come near." So true.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


One of the reasons I am trying to take only a piece of carry-on luggage on this upcoming 5 week trip is, I have a lot - a LOT - of connections to make. It is a three leg trip with 3 flights from Vancouver, BC to Yuma (it was supposed to be two but a few days ago I got a notice from Ticket Pilot that the flight from YVR to LAX had been cancelled so now I fly from YVR to San Francisco to LAX to YUM). Nine days later I have 3 flights to get from Yuma to St. Thomas (YUM to LAX to Dulles in DC to STT) then, on the flight home, I have three flights (STT to Miami to Toronto to YVR). With 9 flights in total, I don't trust that any bag I checked would stay with me for the entire trip. I lost my faith in the airline to keep bags with passengers some time ago.

Let me tell you why.

When my daughter was flying with her fiance to their wedding on Tortola, they left two days before everyone else because of the requirement that they be on the island three full days to qualify for a marriage license there. We (my other daughter, myself and a makeup/hair girl) were flying out of Sea-Tac airport near Seattle because it was considerably cheaper due to the often heavy taxes added to flights by the Canadian government. The Bride and Groom were flying from YVR (Vancouver BC) due to his being a British citizen and his application for permanent residency here; they just felt it would be a lot less complicated than trying to drive across the border both ways.

The night before they were due to leave, they had their luggage spread out on the floor. In my daughters suitcase was over $700 of new lingerie I had bought for her trousseau, almost all new clothes she had purchased especially for her honeymoon while living in London, 5 pairs of satin flip flops for the wedding ceremony - hers and her bridesmaids - hers covered in Swarovsky Crystals as well as the usual accoutrements a young lady and new bride takes on a trip. His luggage had all of his new clothing, plus all of his and the groomsmen's outfits for the wedding - 5 pairs of khaki pants from Old Navy, 5 linen shirts from Le Chateau, and 5 pairs of leather Rip Curl flip flops. Her wedding jewelry, their wedding rings, and jewelry gifts for the bridesmaids were all in carry-on.

We laid out the many other items that would be needed for the wedding itself and the reception table and divided it up between all of us because they did not have enough room for it all. They took quite a bit including Swarovsky Crystal nuggets to spread on the reception table along with white star fish, seashells, and sea glass, and some of the items to be gifts for the guests. I don't recall all the items they took in their luggage, but it was a fair bit. She carried her wedding dress and veil onto the plane in her arms in a garment bag and they had one other carry-on between them.

Twenty three hours after they took off, I got a call from her. She was on Tortola and she was in tears. American Airlines had managed to lose their checked luggage - both his and hers. She was devastated. I was in shock. This just could not be happening. She told me that they had talked with the airline and they didn't have much to encourage them with other than that they could go and buy new clothes and toiletries and the airline would cover them up to $200 each. As if that would take care of everything they'd worked so hard for and now was missing.

I reassured her that I would do everything I could from this end and to just leave it with me. They had a lot to do in their three days on the island, meeting with a wedding planner and the event planner at Long Bay Resort; this was the last thing they needed. I hung up the phone with a very heavy heart.

And then I got angry. The momma bear protective kind of angry.

I paced the floor of my home for several minutes, trying to think of what to do. I knew that calling some missing luggage hotline was no guarantee that this would be resolved quickly enough, I'd read enough stories to know that much. I decided that the only way to get a solution to this now was was to take it to the top. To the very top. I sat down at my computer and started a search. I started looking for the name of the CEO of American Airlines. I found a name fairly quickly. I then started to search for an email address or phone number to go with the name. It took me two hours. I finally found it, an email address, buried in an annual business report. I then did a check to make sure this person was still the CEO. He was.

I composed an email to him explaining that these two pieces of luggage contained months of preparation for my daughters wedding - a wedding that was costing them and me a small fortune, yet if the luggage was not found in time it would be completely and utterly ruined and his airline's incompetence would be wholly responsible. I laid it on pretty thick but I meant every word with all of my heart and soul. I begged him to do everything in his power to locate the luggage and restore it to my daughter and her fiance as soon as possible. I sent it off with a prayer that he would get it right away.

Half an hour later there was an email from him. He apologized for what we must be going through and asked for a list of details about their flights, luggage description, etc. I sent him the list back right away. Then I prayed some more.

A very anxious two hours later I received a phone call from his assistant. The luggage had been located in Dallas airport. They would put it on a private plane to Tortola the next day and have it delivered to Long Bay Resort by taxi. I nearly cried with relief and thanked her profusely, asking her to pass my heartfelt thanks along to the CEO.

The luggage showed up at Long Bay the next day. I can't say enough good things about American Airlines for doing that for my daughter.

Three days later, Cape Air lost my carry-on bag. Yes, you read that right - my carry-on bag with every single item we needed for the wedding that I was responsible for carrying (including my entire outfit) in it - after what had happened to their luggage, I wasn't about to put anything for the wedding in the bag I checked. You can read all about that panic session HERE.

True story, that.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


I was reading some posts on the Trip Advisor forums about Anegada and came across this incredible story that I thought I would share with you all.

In the early 1970's, I used to fish for blue sharks with Capt. Frank Mundus (a real nut job) who fished commercially out of Grossman's Dock at Montauk Point, N.Y. Mundus kept the "Cricket II" in New York most of the time but maybe some of you readers will remember him as a shark fisherman every winter season in St. Maarten, BWI.

In the 70's, shark fishing (for sport) had not become popular yet, but I enjoyed fishing for them with 40# test line using a 4/0 "Everol" Italian-made reel. It was great fun and although I would have preferred "tagging and releasing" the sharks, that was out of the question with Mundus. The shark "livers" were sold to pharmaceutical companies that extracted high concentrations of "niacin" from them, and, the shark "skins" were used to make shoes and handbags.

On one occasion, I was waiting at 4 AM at the dock, to be picked up by Capt. Mundus for an all-day charter. I spotted the Cricket II from afar and it appeared that Mundus was dragging something behind the boat because of the irregular wake. It turned out that Mundus had harpooned a baby "Pilot Whale". He gleefully informed me that he was going to "grind it up" for shark chum. Mundus had previously told me that because of the rivalry and hatred for each other (between Porpoises and Sharks), whenever he could harpoon a porpoise, it made the best possible shark chum. Incredible. What an a--hole he was. But the baby whale was just for "openers" on this day.

We took the Cricket II out to fish for blue sharks, and, as usual, Mundus for drunk and in a foul mood. On the way off-shore, Mundus saw a huge Sunfish basking on top of the water. He immediately ran to the "pulpit" where the pneumatic harpoon gun was bolted down to the deck, and, without any hesitation, he harpooned the Sunfish. Then, he and the mate proceeded to rig the magnificent fish, and they hoisted it up onto the deck with a winch. I was totally disgusted.

We continued on to the blue shark fishing grounds which were located about 2 hours off-shore from Montauk Point. When we arrived, the mate took out the chum, set a slick, and within an hour, we had 20 to 30 blue sharks feeding on the chum. Because Mundus was alternating with the mate at the chum can, there was a mess of blood and fish guts all over the deck (remember Mundus was very drunk and his aim with the chum ladle wasn't too good), and, the deck was very slippery. That wouldn't have been a problem if I was allowed to fish from the "fighting chair" at the stern. But I wasn't, and, I was feeling extremely vulnerable sliding all over the deck, every time there was a wave swell. After a while, Mundus got bored and decided to entertain himself. He went below deck to his cabin, extracted a rifle from the gunrack on the wall, came top-side, loaded the rifle, and tried to take aim at one of the sharks in the slick. Eventually (after wasting God knows how many rounds of ammunition) he managed to shoot a hole into the head of one of the sharks. The dying shark started to thrash around wildly in the water, and, it took probably no more than 10 seconds for the other 20 to 30 blue sharks to attack Mundus' prey and rip it to shreds, at a distance of not more than 25 feet, right in front of my eyes. If you've never witnessed a scene like this one, at very close quarters, chances are you would have been as horrified as I was, and reacted to it in the same way. I began screaming and cursing at Mundus, calling him a f----ing animal, which was probably not a smart thing to do considering that he was dead drunk and still had a loaded rifle in his hands. But he only mumbled to himself, lurched downstairs to his cabin and passed out. I immediately told the mate that I wanted to head home. The mate had to be happy to hear this news, because it was "my nickel" and the charter was pre-paid. All the mate had to do when we returned to Montauk Point was "grind up" the baby Pilot Whale and a 300 lb. Sunfish that Mundus had harpooned earlier that same morning. I never fished with Frank Mundus again.

For those of you that don't recognize the name "Frank Mundus", he is the commercial shark fisherman that harpooned and beached a 4,554 pound "Great White Shark:" at Montauk Point in 1964. That's right boys and girls, I said four thousand five hundred and fifty-four pounds 4,554 lbs.). To my knowledge, there has never been a living Great White Shark of this size, harpooned or captured by any commercial fisherman since that day in 1964. Mundus became an instant celebrity and the photos of the shark were on the front pages of 1,000's of newspapers and fishing magazines all over the world.

Mundus confided to me that the Great White Shark was feeding on the rotting carcass of a dead whale and that's how he was able to sneak up on it, harpoon it several times and eventually drown it.

Many years later, this fame was responsible for a then unknown writer named Peter Benchley, to contact Mundus for background research material on a book that he was going to begin writing in 1974. The book was "JAWS". The character of Capt. Quint (portrayed in the movie by Robert Shaw) is a spitting image of Frank Mundus. Before his death, Peter Benchley finally acknowledged that "Quint" was a not so fictitious characterization of "Frank Mundus".

And so my Anegada Forum readers, you have my shark tale. I hope that you've enjoyed reading it.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Today I conducted a highly scientific and carefully regulated field test of an occurrence so rare I can confidently state that it has never taken place in the history of the world until today.

I attempted to pack everything I would **need for a 5 week trip into one regulation sized, wheeled, carry-on bag.

And, I am happy to report that it was a complete success!!

Here is what I managed to fit in:

In the front small pocket of the bag (not pictured) is several cards of barrettes, colorful hair elastics, nail art stickers, pens, pencils, those weird rubber band shaped bracelets that are all the rage with the kids, and some rubber stamp pens to give to the kiddies I meet. I also have several pairs of florescent patterned ankle sox for the girls but they had to go in the big compartment; they wouldn't fit in the front pocket.

In the suitcase, along with the half dozen or so sox, I have:

1 nice dress for dinner
1 long beach/dinner dress (black tee shirt fabric, great cut, LOVE it)
4 sun/cover up dresses
2 camisole type tank tops
1 long white ladies tee shirt (I hate normal tee shirts, this one I love)
2 tank tops (both white)
2 lace cami-tank tops
2 black legging capri's
3 swim suits (all in a mesh bag)
1 night dress
undies x 6 and 1 bra (in a 2nd mesh bag)
2 pair flip flops black/bronze
1 pair water shoes
1 sun hat
snorkel & prescription mask (fins don't fit in the case)

In the lid part you can see what I have:

holder for all my electronic cords
fold up beach bag
waterproof pouch
underwater camera case

small shoulder purse (usually for iPod)
bag of liquid & gels

My big travel purse will hold:

iPod & noise cancelling earphones
jewelry (just dress stuff, not taking expensive real stuff)
and probably the bag of liquids now in the lid of the suitcase, if there's room

One thing I have realized when laying out all of these garments - I have no color in my wardrobe AT ALL. I do have a few summer items with more color but none are appropriate for this trip.

If you can think of anything I should have packed and have forgotten, let me know.

My containers of vitamins aren't in there but there's lots of room for them.

Two things I wish I could bring, other than more toiletries, is my pillow and a beach towel. I might try to cram the beach towel in. I need to check and see if the two places I am staying have ones I can take to the beach with me. I'd also like to take my spring float with me again, I took it on my last trip to the BVI and loved having it, but it doesn't fit into a small suitcase.

To travel in, I will be wearing a pair of long linen pants, a black lace cami-tank, a cowl neck sleeveless tee-top, a black sweater, and a pair of dressy sandles. That takes care of a pair of pants - should I need them, which I didn't on my last trip to the BVI, a sweater if it's a cool evening, and nicer shoes for dinners out. I will also have a pashmina shawl wrap with me, which I always take on flights to use as a blanket - I find it can be so cold on the plane. It will work well as a wrap in the evenings when I am wearing my nice dress. I am considering a light shell rain jacket and my tiny purse umbrella as it absolutely poured it down on the day we left Virgin Gorda on the last trip. I mean, the kind of rain where one step out and back in and you'd be soaked to the skin.

**the word need is starred because, in fact, not everything I 'need' is in the bag, only what the TSA stooges will allow me to take into the body of the aircraft less I attempt to blow it up with my perfume, hairspray, and spider killer spray

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


With less than five weeks to go before I leave for my trip, my mind is on travel and I have been thinking back to past trips. One day that sticks out in my mind for it's total absurdity is the day my daughter Ashleigh and I flew to Paris from London. I was treating my daughter, who was living in London, to a three day jaunt to 'The City of Lights' for New Years and to visit the Louvre and take in whatever else we could in that short time.

It was a grey rainy December day, the 29th to be exact, and it was very cold out. We were a little late leaving Notting Hill for Heathrow and I told the cab driver that if he got us there by noon, I would give him a handsome tip. He got us there one minute to twelve. Our flight was on British Airways so we were dropped off with our bags at terminal four. We had the requisite four hours until our flight left. When we attempted to enter the terminal, our way was blocked by a burly fellow in a reflective vest telling us that we could not go inside as there was an 'incident' occurring. We were to wait in the huge white tents that had been erected the previous week at the curb to house passengers who were stranded due to heavy fog. (I had just missed that fog when I flew into London from B.C., my flight had been delayed four hours because of it). He told us that we would be summoned for our flight well before it was due to leave.

We headed into one of the half dozen or so tents where, once inside, we were just two amongst about 300 other passengers. There was nowhere to sit so we stood and waited and discussed what the incident might be; maybe a terrorist attack? Or perhaps a passenger had a heart attack in the lineup? Or more likely, someone had gone mad with the usual Heathrow BS and was now waving a pistol about. Whatever it was, we hoped it would be over soon so we could get on with checking in for our flight.

We met a young girl from New Jersey who was flying home after spending Christmas with her boyfriend. She was very anxious to get on her flight and was as stymied as we were about why we couldn't get into the terminal. Even though we were shielded from the wind inside the tent, it was still very cold. As the minutes dragged on, the only passengers called out were for KLM flights, which I found disconcerting. Two hours into what I was now considering an ordeal, our hands and feet frozen, I'd had enough. The girl we had met was frantic as her flight was due to leave at two, which was moments away. I told my daughter to stay put and I would go see what I could find out. I went up to the door and the same man told me I couldn't enter. I told him I had been in the tent for two hours and needed to use a restroom. He let me in.

I walked straight up to the check-in counter for British Airways but it was clogged with people. An agent was standing guard at the back of the line so I approached him. I explained what our situation was and he told me what the 'incident' was. The luggage belts that take the bags from the check out to the back were down. No luggage could be moved. He then pointed to an enormous stack of luggage the size of a small house, and said that those bags belonged to passengers that had chosen to leave without their bags and if I wished to do the same, we could make our flight. I had no desire to travel to Paris without our bags so walked away.

I checked the flight status of the girl we had met and her flight had departed. I went back outside and broke the bad news. She was livid and marched off with her bags to find out more. My daughter and I continued to wait for another hour as I puzzled as to what to do. Finally, I decided to take some action.

We left the tent and, because they wouldn't let us inside with our luggage, I left poor Ashleigh outside in the freezing cold, her hood drawn tight around her face in an attempt to ward off the biting wind. I used the bathroom excuse again at a different door and headed straight for British Airways' ticket counter. There was one person ahead of me. When I got to the lady behind the counter I explained that we were about to miss our flight, the monitors were now reading that it was boarding, and I needed some help. She asked me what the problem was; that she had noticed a lot of goings-on at the other end of the terminal but had no idea what it was all about. I was shocked. How on earth could British Airways not be communicating with their own staff about an issue that was causing such massive problems for literally hundreds of passengers?!  I explained and her eyes widened in surprise. "Oh my. Let me see what I can do for you." she said, and quickly set about typing furiously on her computer, eventually finding two available seats on an Air France flight that was departing soon. As she handed the tickets to me she said that we had just forty-five minutes to make the flight, which was in terminal one and we would need to catch the train there. She pointed to a set of elevator doors 30 feet away that would take us down to the train platform. I thanked her profusely, and as I turned to leave, got a huge shock. There now was a line behind me that stretched the entire length of the terminal. I surmised that the guards at the door had decided to let everyone in and they had all fallen in behind me at the British Airways ticket counter. There had to be two thousand people in the line. I had made my move just in the nick of time.

I ran through the crowd to the door at the other end of the long terminal where Ashleigh was waiting, and yelled through the wind for her to come inside. The guard at the door did not want to let her in with the luggage (and it just occurred to me now how strange that was seeing how they had just let so many in with their bags) but I told him we had flights on Air France so he let her in. I told Ashleigh to stay close behind me as we now had to run back through the entire length of the terminal to get to the elevator that would take us down to the trains. I grabbed the handle of my wheeled luggage and started to dodge and weave as I ran back through the crowd. We made it to the elevator out of breath and after a quick ride down a few floors, we stepped out onto the train platform just in time to see the tail lights of the train we needed disappear down the tracks. The sign over the platform flashed that the next one wouldn't be for sixteen minutes. We now had less than half an hour to make our flight.

When we finally caught our train and stepped off at terminal one, we ran to find the Air France desk. When we spotted it, there was a line up 5 or so deep with just one agent to help them so I decided that using the kiosk to check-in would be quicker. I inserted Ashleigh's ticket into the kiosk and waited for the screen to come alive. Nothing happened and nothing I did, which basically consisted of frantically pushing buttons and hitting it, worked. The kiosk had 'eaten' her ticket. I ran over to an Air France employee who was behind a small pulpit-like desk at the entrance to the line up. "Hi, I am in a dreadful hurry to make a flight and your kiosk just ate one of our tickets." He looked at me and then over to the kiosk then back at me, and in a heavy French accent replied, "Ah, no problem madame. I have zee key." and proceeded to search through a small drawer in his desk. As he rifled through papers and various stationary items, his brow furrowed. He finally looked up at me. "Zee key, eet ees missing." Great. He felt all his pockets. No key. Then his face lit up. "Ahh, I know. Collette, she has zee key." "And where is Collette?" I asked. "She ees on a break." Even better. "We really need to get that flight. Do you know where she is? Can you find her?" "Yes. I sink I know where she ees. I will go find her." And off he went.

I looked over at the check-in counter and the lineup was gone. I went over to the female agent and explained our dilemma. I asked her if she could check me in and get our luggage tagged while we waited for the key to get my daughters ticket. She looked at me with total disdain on her face and with a heavy French accent said, "Do you wish to travel to Pari wizout your daugh-tear?" "No." "Zen I not check you in until you have zee ticket."

My panic was mounting as we waited what felt like forever for the man to return with the key. In what was probably more like ten minutes, he returned triumphantly, holding the key aloft. "I have zee key. I will get your ticket out, no problem." He went to the kiosk and the crabby female ticket agent came from behind the counter to help. They got the machine open and bent down to fiddle around with the guts of the thing for a bit. "Ah! Zere ees zee ticket." one of them exclaimed. They both stood up and he closed the door and locked it, extracting the key. I looked from his hands to hers; no ticket. "Where's the ticket?" I asked. They looked at each other, puzzled. "Did you get zee ticket?" "No! I thought you got zee ticket." Uhh - WHAT?!? I looked at Ashleigh and she mirrored my disbelief. The two of them were still standing there, somewhat dumbfounded. I snapped them out of it with my sharp, "Will one of you PLEASE get the ticket out of there?!?" They jumped and the fellow opened the kiosk back up and extracted the ticket. He handed it to the woman. She looked at it and then at me, "Zis ees a British Airways ticket zat has a sticker on eet changing eet to Air France. Zat is why zee machine did not accept eet." and then stalked off to the check in counter. We followed with our bags and put them, one at a time, on the scale. Mine was overweight. Fabulous. "Zat will cost you fifty pounds." she snapped. I didn't care. I just wanted to be on that flight. I pulled out my wallet and handed her three twenties. She took them with, "I don't have change. I will have to go get you change." as she handed us our boarding passes. "I don't want the change. We have to go." She looked at me, horrified. "No! You wait here. I must give you zee change." She snatched the boarding passes back out of my hand and walked off across the terminal. I don't know how she knew I wasn't about to wait for her to come back, but now she had our passes we had no choice.

After about five very anxious minutes she returned. She was holding the sixty pounds out at me. I didn't understand. "I forgot. You were booked on British Airways and we honor zeir baggage limits. You were not overweight for zeir flight." At that point the fact that I just saved fifty pounds did not factor into my reaction, I was just stunned that we wasted five precious minutes for nothing. As she handed me our boarding passes, I was still trying to process what just happened so hesitated a little. "RUN!" she yelled into my face. "What?" I rather dumbfoundedly replied. "RUN!!" she yelled again, "You have sixteen minutes to make zee flight. RUN!" As I fumbled to get the cash back into my wallet, the fellow from the earlier debacle helped by grabbing Ashleigh's backpack off of the floor and escorting us over to security. He got us to the head of the line where we were quickly processed. We were pointed to a set of stairs and told to run up them and that our gate was at the top.

My knee was very sore from days of walking around London's unevenly paved sidewalks and not having sat down for the past four or five hours so there was no way I could run anymore today. I told Ashleigh to go ahead and hold the plane and I would be behind her as fast as I could manage. She took off like a shot and I hobbled as fast as I could up the long flight of stairs. When I got to the top, there was no boarding gate, just a long hall that stretched both to the left and the right of me with no signage that I could see pointing the way. And there was no sight of Ashleigh. Utterly frustrated, I nearly lost it. I was very close to tears. I squinted as I tried to see down to the end of the long hall to my left where there seemed to be some signage, and I managed to make out our gate number. I took of at a rapid hobble and made it to the gate to find Ashleigh waiting for me and two attendants who were holding the flight for us.

As we collapsed into our seats, me on one side of the aisle and Ashleigh on the other right across from me, I looked over at her, "Paris better be worth what we've been through today." I said. She heartily agreed with me. As the flight took off and leveled, I realized how hungry and thirsty I was. It had been more than 7 hours since we'd had anything to eat or drink. I noticed that the attendants were starting to serve drinks and Ashleigh was as anxious as I to get our hands on something - anything - to drink. They started on the row right behind us, which I thought was very odd as we were just six or seven rows from the front of the plane; why wouldn't they have started there?

As I heard the familiar 'pshhht' of the fellow behind Ashleigh opening his can of soda, I looked back at him with longing and continued to watch as he opened a little bag of crackers. Oh how I envied him. I tore my eyes away to turn back just as the attendant was drawing a curtain between him and me. When I turned completely back, it was to find a literal spread before my eyes. On my tray had been placed a bottle of Perrier, a bottle of red wine, and a plate of cheeses, meats, veggie sticks, bread and crackers, and a truffle. What? How??? Then it dawned on me - the curtain, the food - we were in FIRST CLASS!! I looked over at Ashleigh, where she was staring down, wide eyed, at the same spread I had, and whispered "We're in first class!" She looked over at me and we both grinned from ear to ear. This was much better than a can of pop and a tiny bag of crackers!!

Perhaps the torturous day would be worth it after all!!

Sunday, March 6, 2011


On my last three or four trips, my checked luggage has contained a 'love note' from the TSA - a letter stating that they felt it necessary to go through my luggage, mess it all up, and give it back to me without attempting to restore it to any sort of order.


As someone who is compulsively organized, there is nothing that upsets me more than to see my carefully placed items all askew.

The worst time this happened to me had nothing to do with the TSA.

Every time I go away, I like to leave a spotlessly clean house and clean sheets on all of the beds. I know I most likely will be coming home with suitcases full of dirty laundry - and when there were five of us, that was a lot of laundry - so the last thing I want to face is any sort of mess in the house. The laundry is enough, thank you very much.

Back in 1993 I was taking a trip with the kids to Seattle from Kelowna to meet up with their dad who was working there, to see if it was somewhere they would be happy moving to. I left the house in spic-span condition knowing that it would be lovely to come home to in a week. (We drove down in our mini van and hit the worst snow storm I have ever encountered on the Coquihalla Highway - in mid April!! but that is another story.)

We had a great time in Seattle and the kids loved it. We eventually moved there and hated it but, again, that is another story.

When I arrived home with the three kids and four suitcases full of dirty laundry I opened the door expecting to see my spotless house. Instead I found chaos! There were books on the floor, several ornaments and a precious domed clock which should have been on the mantle over the fireplace were all over the hearth and floor - the dome smashed to bits and the clock in pieces, and cracker crumbs and bits all over the couch and floor. In the kitchen the bread box was open and there was a trail of cracker crumbs and wrappings leading from it to the edge of the counter and all over the floor. A bunch of bananas looked like they had been chewed into. What on EARTH could have caused this havoc? And if it was an animal, which it was looking like to me, how did it open the bread box's roll front door?

I had spied a little pile of droppings of some kind on the arm of the couch, quite a large pile actually. It seemed this was the favourite resting place of whatever it was that did this. We soon found out what it was. A streak of silver darted past us into the dining room and we followed hard on it's heels. As we peeked under the table, a pair of beady little eyes in a furry face peeked back. We recognized him instantly; it was the squirrel the kids had been feeding peanuts to off of our deck all winter. Turns out I had inadvertently left the fireplace damper open and he had scampered down the chimney looking for his usual treats.

It took me an hour to get him out of the house, and three more to clean up his mess. Then I started on the laundry.

Anyway, back to my luggage issues. I always lock my luggage with a TSA accessible lock, and then, when I remember, zip strip the zippers together as an extra deterrent to anyone thinking of opening it up. Every time but one that my luggage has been opened by the TSA, it has been when I haven't used the zip strips. So there's a tip for you - use a zip strip as well as a lock and most likely they won't go through the bag.

There has been a lot of talk lately about TSA agents stealing items from luggage. To deter them from doing this I make an exhaustive list of every single item in my bag along with the line "owner in possession of a copy of this list" and place it right on top when I zip it closed. That way they know that I know exactly what is in the bag and will immediately miss anything they choose to help themselves to. As an aside - I also tape a piece of paper inside the mesh zipper part in the lid that lists my home address as well as my destination address and the dates I will be there, so that - should the unthinkable happen and my luggage gets misdirected - at least it shouldn't end up on the Unclaimed Baggage Center's website. So far I haven't had anything stolen. And my bag has only gone missing once; if you like, you can read about it here.

To help keep my items organized when they do decide to go through my bags, I ordered a set of Rick Steve's Packing Cubes from Amazon. I picked them up yesterday along with my Kindle. I plan on putting underwear and socks in one (not that I am taking any socks on my next trip), bathing suits in another, and not sure what I will put in the large one yet. They come highly recommended by frequent travelers and I am sure I will get much use out of them. Although I am going to try to have only carry-on luggage on this trip, I still like the idea of everything inside the bag being so organized. Once at my destination, I can just - easy-peasy - pull the mesh bags out of my luggage and pop them into a dresser drawer. And should the truly unthinkable happen and there's no room for my bag in the overhead compartment and it has to be checked, then I am prepared for the slovenly habits of the TSA.

Another thing I picked up in the same order yesterday was a Rick Steve's money belt. As I blogged about earlier, I am worried about the large amount of cash I must carry with me for the first leg of my trip, to Mexico, for dental work. They only take American cash as payment. And, as I don't have a credit card with a large limit, I will also need to take more cash and travelers cheques for the Caribbean portion of my trip. Reading stories lately of TSA agents teaming together to steal money from luggage as it goes through the scanners in security, I have been very concerned as to how I will safely carry so much cash and have concluded that the best way is a money belt.

The design of the belt has changed and so the one I have is different from the one pictured when I ordered it. Now instead of one small pocket for credit cards with a large one beside it for cash, the front pocket is divided straight down the middle meaning that the cash has to go in the back pocket along with any larger items, such as a passport. I don't like it as much as the one I thought I was ordering.

According to Rick Steve's, travel guru, this is what every good traveler should have in his or her travel belt:

Packing light applies to your money belt as well as your luggage. Here's what to pack in your money belt:
•Passport: You're legally supposed to have it with you at all times.
•Railpass: This is as valuable as cash.
•Driver's license: This works just about anywhere in Europe and is necessary if you want to rent a car on the spur of the moment.
•Credit card: It's required for car rental and handy to have if your cash runs low.
•Debit card: A Visa debit card is the most versatile for ATM withdrawals. (I no longer use traveler's checks.)
•Cash: Keep only major bills in your money belt.
•Plastic sheath: Money belts easily get sweaty and slimy
(YUK!!!). Damp plane tickets and railpasses can be disgusting and sometimes worthless. Even a plain old baggie helps keep things dry.
•Contact list: Print small, and include every phone number or email address of importance in your life.
•Trip calendar page: Include your hotel list and all necessary details from your itinerary

That's a lot of stuff for one small money belt. I won't have a rail pass so that should leave some room! And this one has a waterproof lining so I don't have to worry about the plastic sheath.

With all that stuff in there, I wonder if I will have room for the cash?

Saturday, March 5, 2011


I get my KINDLE today!!!

It takes over an hour to get through the border, snaking very slowly up a steep hill. My old jeep doesn't like it much; by the last ten minutes it is blowing a lot of blue smoke. I keep turning it off to save gas as I have an almost empty tank - gas in the lower mainland is now at the unbelievable price of $1.30 a liter and yet still .99 just over the line so I want to fill up once I cross. I do as soon as I am over the border and I figure that I save $18.60 on gas alone. I save another $20 on two bottles of wine from the one grocery store in Point Roberts.

I pick up my Kindle and its lovely pink case (a great deal at $15.99), along with another package (more on that in a later blog), at The Letter Carrier - a great service for those of us who live in Canada and want to purchase online from sellers who, for some mysterious reason, won't deliver to a Canadian address OR want to tack on another $20+ to ship it.

I head over to a little cafe, the same one I went to two weeks ago when I picked up my underwater camera case. They have free wifi and lots of plug outlets. I order a shrimp sandwich and sparkling mineral water and plug in the Kindle to charge it up. It immediately knows it is MY Kindle - if you buy it from Amazon and have an account with them, then it comes registered already. A page automatically loads, welcoming me personally to the Kindle world and then loads a set of instructions. Reading through them, I find out how to turn on the wifi option and, once I do, SURPRISE!! - it begins to download all of the books I have purchased in the past two weeks on Amazon in anticipation of owning this great little device, and all without me having to do a thing. I am loving this gadget more by the minute.

I find reading on it a little awkward at first; I keep inadvertently pressing the page forward button - there is one on the left and the right and I am not sure which one it is I keep hitting but I soon get into the habit of placing my hands just below them (it mostly happens when I am typing on the tiny keyboard). As I read, each page loads very quickly and before long it feels just like reading a book. I have put off buying one of these because, avid reader that I am and being a very tactile person, I love the feel of a real book in my hands and turning the pages. But the dilemma of having enough reading material for a six week beach vacation pushed me into finally buying one. And you know, I don't think I am going to miss holding up a heavy book while lying on the sand as much as I thought I would.

I have Stephen King's Under The Dome on it. Try holding that aloft for a few hours.

****Apparently a friend tried to leave a comment and wasn't able to. If you are trying to leave a comment on any of these posts and can't, please contact me to let me know at useforsitesonly@gmail.com THANKS!****

Her comment was that she went and bought wine in Pt Roberts a few years ago and brought it back the same day and had to pay duty and taxes and wanted to know if I hadn't declared mine. I did declare everything, it was all laying on the seat beside me in plain view. I think with the free trade agreement that we now have, the border guards let much more through than they used to.

Friday, March 4, 2011


My kids got sick of hearing that mantra over the years, I am sure.

I like to be organized. It's one of the reasons I am good at my job - it takes someone who is not only detail oriented, and has a huge bladder (no time to go to the loo, usually) but also incredibly organized.

When I started taking vitamins, I was very hit and miss because I just didn't have the time - or couldn't be bothered - opening and closing all kinds of bottles every morning, and about half as many at night. Then I hit on the idea of those little pill caddies. So I bought a set of purple ones for my morning pills and green for night. I bought four of each so that I could measure out a month's worth at a time and then forget about it. It worked like a charm!

But then I started to take some big pills - lecithin and fish oil - and now the lids wouldn't close on the containers. So I went down to the local dollar store and found some huge white caddies. I bought four and started using them for the morning pills.

When my daughter saw one of the new big caddies sitting on my night table she was disgusted and said I had now officially crossed into the domain of an old lady. Yikes!

But I still use them because, if I don't, I just don't take my vitamins!

And when traveling, I take as many weeks worth as I will be gone, and wrap them up in cling wrap so they don't open up in transit and spill into my clothing. Speaking of which, I will need to get two more of the big ones as I will be gone for 6 weeks on my upcoming trip!

Another thing I bought to keep me organized is this dandy little case from Target. I found it in the Palm Springs store when I was there for Christmas and I paid $5 for it. It has seven mesh pockets and keeps all of my cords organized for my iPhone, iPod, camera and (eventually) Kindle (the cord for my MacBook Pro is too big to fit in there) as well as my camera battery charger and a gadget for transferring photos directly from my camera to my iPod. I used to stuff all of the cords in a pocket of my carry-on luggage where they mysteriously managed to tangle themselves together on the flight, but now I can slip this into my purse or carry-on and everything stays nice and neat!

I love being organized!
All photographs are mine and not to be copied without express permission from me (click on them to see the large version).
Some names have been changed to protect my butt.

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Amazon Store

Here's my Amazon Store called Sandra's Selections, full of my favourite things and constantly updating it as I discover more fav's. It's more for fun than anything as I've never made a cent off of it.