Thursday, July 31, 2014

The madness of Delta Airlines

Long ago, I booked a roundtrip ticket with Delta for a vacation to Germany, leaving on Oct. 6.

Just two weeks ago, out of the blue, I got offered a consultancy with a certain very large international humanitarian agency in Ukraine - and I needed to be in Kyiv on August 3, and cannot leave sooner than Oct. 4, per the terms of this contract.

So I called Delta and tried to work out something so that I wouldn't end up having to fly 24+ hours all the way back from Ukraine on Oct. 3, then turn around less than 48 hours later, and fly to Germany.

Who benefits from me having to do that? No one.

The solution is oh-so-simple: allow me to NOT to use the already-paid-for ticket that brings me from my connection from Ukraine back to the USA on Oct. 3, and allow me NOT to use the already-paid-for ticket from the USA to Germany. Then I am out only the price of a train ticket from Amsterdam to Frankfurt, Germany on Oct. 3.

Delta loses NO money. Delta loses NOTHING but my butt in an already-paid for seat. I get to NOT spend more than 24 hours on planes in three days.

So simple, right?


Delta is refusing. I HAVE to fly on Oct. 4, and I HAVE to fly on Oct. 6. More than 30 hours on planes. Why? Who does it benefit?

No one.

Here's the first explanation Delta gave for requiring me to fly for more than 24 hours on Oct 3 - Oct. 6:

Please allow me to explain that our policies are based on extensive research done by our marketing team. We have a dedicated team of analysts who analyze the features of the policy before they are implemented.

UPDATE: here''s the second explanation Delta gave me:

The ticket you purchased is a discounted fare based on round trip travel. To clarify, your reservation is subject to cancellation if you fail to fly any portion of your itinerary. If a passenger does not use a confirmed seat, or if the Delta flight coupons are not used in the order in which they were issued, then the continuing and return reservations will be automatically canceled.

Yup, there it is. That's why.

What happens if my flight is delayed out of Ukraine, and I then miss my connecting flight back to the USA, and then miss my flight from the USA to Germany? THEY WILL CANCEL MY RESERVATION FOR MY FLIGHT BACK FROM GERMANY. Meaning I will be stuck in Europe unless I can come up with more than $5000 for the return ticket.

Yes, you read that right.

Delta Airlines, you should be ashamed of yourself. Absolutely ashamed. Either allow me not to fly on those dates, or do any or all of the following:
  • Upgrade me, at least on the flight back from Europe to the USA on Oct. 3 (the flight on Aug. 2 would also be appropriate). 
  • Upgrade me AND MY HUSBAND on our flights to and from Germany
  • Give me a generous travel voucher. $500. $1000. 
And most of all: APOLOGIZE.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ukraine Jayne

Hey, it rhymes!

Yes, I'm going to Kiev, Ukraine, for two months - all but two days in August and all of September. I'll return to the USA oh-so-briefly, then head back to Europe for an already-planned-and-booked vacation in Germany. So, I'll pretty much not be in the USA for three months.

I'll be posting about the professional part of my work here, as well as on all my various social media channels. Here's more about the job.

I'm so looking forward to getting to do this kind of work again! I'm excited, I'm nervous, I'm thrilled, I'm scared - not of the political situation in Ukraine but of meeting the expectations of this job! It's a terrific opportunity for me professionally, and I'm so lucky to have a husband who is thrilled for me to get this chance to do this work again and to visit a city we've both heard amazing things about.

It's going to be so different than some of the other work I've done in other countries: I'll get to go out to dinner at night if I want, there won't be armed guards at the groceries, I won't have to wear a head scarf... woot!

Of course, this job comes at a cost:

  • I will miss Government Cheese in Nashville and all of the wonderful people going to that concert that I was SO looking forward to seeing. I haven't seen the Cheese since just a couple of years after I graduated from WKU, way back in the 1800s or something. Anyone want to buy my ticket?
  • I won’t get to meet someone I've known online for a very long time but haven't met face-to-face, that I was SO looking forward to meeting (don't worry, it's not creepy)
  • I don’t get to help out my Mom as I hoped to in August
  • I don’t get to go drinking with my friend Carol back in my hometown in August and catch up on the 30 years since I left 
  • I don't get to go to Austin, Texas - my spiritual home - in September (flights already booked)
  • I will miss all of my tomato crop (I've had ONE so far)
  • I'll miss September and October, two of the very prettiest months here in the Pacific Northwest. I'll be missing great weather, and lots of great motorcycle riding. 
  • I'll miss my husband and not-my-cat terribly

That's the cost of doing this type of short-term work overseas - it never happens at a convenient time, and you can't anticipate it - it just happens, BOOM.

The worst part, though, is Delta Airlines: I already have a roundtrip ticket booked with them for Germany, for a vacation with Stefan. My Ukraine contract ends just three days before I was to arrive in Germany from the USA in October. You would think Delta would simply let me keep that ticket - already paid for - and then just not use the USA to Germany part, allowing me to simply buy a flight from Kiev to Frankfurt, and then using just the return ticket - again, it's all already paid for. And you would be WRONG. Unless I fly out from the USA to Germany, I would pay almost $5000 for the flight back from Germany to the USA! If I don't show up for the outbound flight, they will cancel my return ticket! So I have to fly all the way back to the USA from Ukraine, stay TWO days, and get right back on a plane for Europe. Can you believe it?!? There is no logic for this. None. None whatsoever.


That's my big news. And once this job is over, I will have, at last, pulled in a yearly income in 2014 above the poverty line, for the first time since moving back to the USA in 2009! Woot! Of course, 80% of the income has been European...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Memories, funerals, family

I have been going to funerals all of my life.

The first visitation and funeral I remember is that of my great-grandfather, "GrandDad," my paternal grandmother's father. It was 1974. I was 8. I was so sad that he had died, because he was a very fun person who I loved hanging out with. I remember the big room of the funeral home, with lots of flowers, and I remember lots and lots of people talking. And I remember hearing this comment again and again: "GrandDad would have loved this." They meant he would have loved not only his family all being there together, but the stories they were telling.

I'm so incredibly lucky to have had four great-grandparents alive at the same time until I was 8 years-old - I lost the last one when I was 27. I had four grandparents alive until I was in my early 20s, and I still have my maternal grandmother. Having so many grandparents and great-grandparents that are real people, with real personalities for me - not just names and dates - has made even those ancestors I never met very real to me, because I have stories about them, stories that give me an idea of their character. And, wow, am I related to a LOT of characters...

I've been to so many funerals - for great-grandparents, for my grandfather, for distant family, for beloved friends, and for my own father. I am just back from Henderson, Kentucky, following the death of GrandDad's daughter, my father's mother, my Mamaw. It prompted my previous blog regarding having tough, detailed conversations with your parents and grandparents.

I don't fear funeral homes, visitations or funerals. I don't fear grief. I don't like grief - and I've certainly had enough in my life. But I find the rituals around death cathartic, comforting and affirming - the opposite of denial. Funerals usually calm me and strengthen me. I love the singular focus of remembering and defining someone. I need those moments. I will always regret not going to my paternal grandfather's funeral; I was living in California and had already purchased a plane ticket to go to Kentucky when I got the news that Papaw had died, and my family said that since I was already coming home the next week, to not change my tickets - too much trouble, too expensive, etc. I regret that decision to this day - it denied me something I very much needed, and a celebration that my family still talks about.

My littlest niece, just three years-old, was around her Mamaw as much as possible, thanks to my sister. At the funeral home, my niece walked up to the open casket during visitation, looked at her beloved grandmother, looked over at my sister and said, "Mamaw passed out." Mamaw would have loved that. My niece told me twice at different times, matter-of-factly, "Mamaw died," and each time, she waited for my followup comment, and then she ran off to do something else. And on my last night in Kentucky, we were alone together in a kitchen, she asked for some milk. I poured her some, handed her the glass and she drank a bit, then said, out of the blue, "Is this Mamaw's glass?" It was, in fact, and I told her so. "Did she drink out of it?" I told her she did. She went back to drinking her milk and thinking. My niece probably won't remember any of this, but now I've written it down, and I'll get to tell her some day, and together with any memories she has, plus the endless number of photos and videos we have, and the stories we tell, this will keep her great-grandmother alive for her, always. And just like me, she will grow up going to funerals - and I think that's a very good thing.

My Mamaw hand-wrote notes about her life, and sent them to me and to my siblings, her only grandchildren. I recorded her talking about her life, and will be digitizing this later this week. We have so many photos of her. We have videos. I cherish it all, and I know that, some day, my nephew and nieces will cherish them, and their children as well.

I've never spoken at a funeral, but for my dearest Mamaw, I had to. Below is what I wrote to say - and I did say most of it, though I think I did some edits in the moment. But one thing I didn't say, and I wish I had: her marriage to my Papaw, Jack Cravens, was the model for my marriage. I never wanted to get married. I had no plans to get married. But when I met the man who is now my husband, and when I knew I really wanted to be married to him, I knew what a good marriage looked like - the ongoing work it takes, the joys and the sacrifices - because of Mamaw and Papaw. I so wish I had said that at her funeral.

Here's my speech:
    Ice cream made from snow.
    There’s a Monster at the End of this Book
    Chicken and dumplings.
    Creamed corn.
    Corn bread
    The Brady Bunch on a Friday night.
    Opening a present the night before Christmas Eve.
    Vacation Bible School.
    Hay rides.
    Fear of chickens
    Fear of mice
    No fear of snakes
    Ronald Colman
    Clip on earrings
    Shadow puppets
    Going to town.
    Going off.
    Belly laughs.

    Those are 20 or so things that make me think of our Mamaw, Emma Cravens. I could name 1000 more.

    They say funerals are for the living. Yet I feel this incredible pressure for this celebration to be something Mamaw would really love. After all, this is a person who wrote a script for what to say about her at her own 90th birthday celebration.

    I have so many stories about our grandmother. Like when she held me in her arms as she walked through the haunted house in the basement of Sharon Baptist Church with ALL of the lights on because I was too scared to go in otherwise.

    Or when she had a car wreck and laid on her couch and talked me through baking a cake - the first time I ever cooked.

    Or how I stayed with her every time I came to Henderson after college, and I would wake up and listen to her telling my dogs how she really shouldn’t let them have bacon, but since I was still in bed…

    Or the incredible time we had touring San Francisco together.

    Or when she told me she was “as content as a cow”, which sent my sister and I into hysterics.

    Or even about some of the times we disagreed regarding how something should or shouldn’t be done.

    She could be a saint. And she could say something that could lift you up or that, sometimes, that could cut like a knife, as only someone you dearly love can do.

    For Emma Cravens, family was everything. Everything. She was fierce about her family, her tribe. Not just her blood relations, but those her blood relations married. Once you were in the tribe, that was that - you were in HER family.

    We know she was a devoted daughter and sister and wife and mother and grandmother. But I want you to also know that Emma Cravens was a preacher. Yes, she was a  preacher’s wife, and she lead the singing in Church who knows how many times, but she was also a preacher. She loved preaching.

    One of her favorite things to say was this:

    “God created man from dust of the Earth and breathed life into him. Maybe that’s why men are always dirty. Ha ha! “

    I asked her once if she liked preaching and she said, emphatically, yes, that she could have been a REAL preacher. I reminded her that in the Bible, Paul said women were supposed to stay quiet in church, and she said, “Oh, Paul, some woman hurt him and we’ve been paying for it ever since!”
    I have some of her lectures and thoughts about religion in writing, as my siblings do as well, and I’ll be scanning and sharing them online, so we can all enjoy them. What I like about them is that they don’t just draw on Bible verses - they also draw on her own wisdom, her heart, her observations - all of which she believed came from her God. She believed lessons for life are all around us.

    Here’s an excerpt from one of her lectures that I really loved. It’s from a lecture she gave to a women’s group. These are her own words, and I direct them in particular to my sisters, my sisters-in-law, and my nieces:

    Who am I?
    Where did I come from?
    Where am I going?
    What am I doing here?
    Look in the mirror. What do you see?
    A person.
    You may be pretty, or ugly.
    Fat or skinny. Short or Tall.
    Light color or dark.
    But you are a PERSON.
    I may not like what I see, but I am SOMEBODY.
    That person I see in the mirror - that’s my outside.
    But I am another person also.
    You cannot see that person in a mirror.
    Look at the rubber band.
    It’s very limpy - not attractive.
    Not very useful when it’s dangling.
    Until it is STRETCHED. It becomes pliable and useful for many things.
    So in life, that’s the woman - stretched, useful
    Willing bodies, busy hands, compassion, sacrifice.
    So many organizations need us if only for a few hours.
    Love everyone, whatever the age, the color of their skin.
    We all have one thing in common - the blood. It is red.
    We are sisters.
    Love makes us equal.

    For a long time, Mamaw was my best friend. Once I graduated from university, she was THE primary reason I came back to Henderson. She made me feel welcomed and loved every time I came to Henderson. She sometimes decorated her house when I came home, with artificial flowers and ribbons and homemade signs. And we would stay up late and laugh and laugh and laugh. Everything I am I am because of Emma Cravens, and I’m not the only one here that could say that. This room is filled with people who not only have nice or fun or funny stories about her, but people with stories about how she changed their lives. I hope each of us can love life like she did, and make the kind of difference she made in the lives of so many.

    I don’t know many hymns, and I’m not at all a religious person, but there is one song that I fell in love with in my 20s, and I was thrilled to find out a few years ago that Mamaw loved it too. There’s a recording on the Internet of us singing a verse together that you may have heard. It’s called “Farther Along.” I’m going to sing just a couple of verses with the chorus, and I would love for you to sing it with me.

    Tempted and tried we're oft made to wonder
    Why it should be thus all the day long
    While there are others living about us
    Never molested though in the wrong.

    Farther along we'll know all about it
    Farther along we'll understand why
    Cheer up, my brother, come sing in the sunshine
    We'll understand it all by and by.

    When death has come and taken our loved ones
    It leaves our home so lonely and drear
    Then do we wonder why others prosper
    Living so wicked year after year.

    Farther along we'll know all about it
    Farther along we'll understand why
    Cheer up, my brother, come sing in the sunshine
    We'll understand it all by and by.

Questions to ask your grandparents & parents right away

I was just back in my home town in Kentucky for the funeral of my paternal grandmother. I'll be writing about that experience later.

Per that experience, I am begging you - BEGGING YOU - please make an appointment with your grandparents and parents - do not wait for this to happen - and ask them:
  • "Have you prepared a will? If yes, where is it, and has the signature been NOTARIZED (not just witnessed)?" Make it clear that you are not asking to see it, you are merely asking where it is, so you will know where it is when it is needed.
  • "Have you been working with an attorney or financial advisor? If yes, what are their names?" Make it clear that you will NOT be contacting them yourself, that you just want to know their details for when such is needed. 
  • "Do you have life insurance policies? If yes, where are they, do you have beneficiaries listed (you don’t have to know who - make that clear that you aren’t asking), and has your signature been NOTARIZED?"
  • "Who do you want to handle your estate (your house, your possessions, your finances) and funeral plans after you pass away? Is this in WRITING and, if so, where do I find it?" 
  • "May I make an appointment for you to discuss your finances with a pro, so I can make sure you will always be taken care of, and so I can make changes in my finances if I need to contribute to make sure you will always be taken care of?" People are living well into their 90s and past 100 - what are you going to do if your grandparents or parents run out of money at, say, 85?
Again, do not wait for the "right time" for this to happen - make a date for it to happen! Be honest about why you want to have this discussion!

I’m very lucky that my sister got most of these questions answered many years ago with our Mamaw and handled EVERYTHING. But I’ve seen the consequences for people who don’t. And I've also seen the consequences for people that assume that the laws that allowed a signature to be merely witnessed back in the 1950s, rather than also notarized, are still valid today and will be accepted by, say, an insurance company. The consequences of not doing the aforementioned with parents and grandparents tears families apart and makes the lives of spouses, children and grandchildren HELL.

Please do this. Please.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Travelogue for two-week motorcycle trip in Utah & Nevada

Two-Week Motorcycle Tour, Mostly in Utah, Nevada & Oregon
June 2014
2989 miles / 4810.329 kilometers

I've put the blog on the travel portion of my web site, with plenty of photos:

In case you don't want to read the entire travelogue, but want some quick advice for your own motorcycle trip to the area, then here is a list of the very best of times, the absolute highest of highlights: