737-700 K62601

Elizabeth Willis Barrett

I think that for every flight taken throughout the whole world there is someone who makes a solemn commitment to never fly again.  This last trip did it for me.  The going and coming were both filled with frustration.  I possibly walk through the door marked “Frustration” more than is needed due to my easily frustrate-ability, but this trip made me walk in and out of it like it was a swinging restaurant door.

The frustration began when we tramped up to the Southwest Airline ticket counter last Thursday morning. We needed to get our boarding passes and check our burgeoning luggage–always with an eye on that fifty-pound-limit scale.  As Brad remembered to retrieve his boarding pass, which he doesn’t always do, he held it up and with dismay in his voice groaned, “C45?!”  I had forgotten to enter the frantic online race to get an “A” position. I groaned, too.  I hate to be one of the last ones on the plane, scrambling for a seat and having to crawl over legs to sit between two unsmiling humans who are obviously upset that their space has been invaded.

Then as we wound and wound and wound our way through the banded barriers and up to the dreaded conveyor belt, I dared to walk past two men who were kneeling, getting stuff out of their carryons.  One of the guys said in a very stern, overweight voice, “Lady, we’re all waiting in line!”  I mewed a pitiful “Sorry,” as I got back behind them.  That reprimand from an unpleasant ugly stranger stayed with me for hours.  No, for days.  I still feel it.

We had the perfect trip once we got in our rental car.  We visited the Seattle Welcome Home facility, watched them throw fish at the Pike’s Place Fish Market, rode the ferry to Vancouver Island, and delighted in the Butchart Gardens.  Half of us delighted in the Butchart Gardens.  The most important part of the trip was spending a whole day with our son at the Welcome Home facility in Vancouver.  Thorough transformation happens there! If you know of a drug addict that needs some changing, we are always eager to talk about Welcome Home.

Back at the airport, the swinging door labeled “Frustration” got back into action.  The lines were abominable.  They wove in and out without sense.  When I finally got close to the human X-ray machine, the lady ahead of me stalled and I was redirected to a pat down employee–female, thank goodness.  Did you know that you have to be patted down if you’re wearing a long dress?  What is that all about?  I had to put one foot forward while said employee annoyingly patted, then the other foot forward while she did the same.  I was then told to pivot.  Pivot?  I obviously pivoted wrong because I had to reposition my feet until she was totally finished with my complete humiliation which was done in front of the world. The world was well represented anyway.

“I’m never flying again,” I said to Brad who waited patiently while I put on my shoes, my necklace, my watch and my sweatshirt and put my “liquid” pouch back in my bag along with my iPad and boarding pass.

We were a little late getting to the gate, but nature was calling.  Unfortunately, Seattle has sorely underestimated the number of women who might need to use the bathroom while in its airport and those lines were backed up, too.  I waited and hurried and got to the gate to find that the hurry wasn’t necessary.  The flight was delayed.  Then it was delayed a little longer.

An hour past departure time we were finally on our way to Phoenix.  Ah.  I even got an aisle seat even though our boarding passes were way into the “B”s.  That was thanks to Brad who ended up sitting in the middle of two very kind women.  They chatted together the whole time.  Brad is an excellent conversationalist.  I’m sure the women were much happier with him in their midst than they would have been with me.

I was so glad I had determined to use the bathroom in the airport and was very sorry I didn’t also take the opportunity to use the bathroom in the plane because just before we were to arrive in Phoenix, the pilot made a depressing announcement.  A storm was blowing hard in Phoenix and we were being rerouted to Las Vegas.  I heard “Las Vegas” past my headset that was playing Katie Couric’s The Best Advice I Ever Got. I thought I had heard wrong or that the pilot was having a little fun with his already anxious passengers.  But nope.  It was Las Vegas.  My eyes glazed over as I saw everyone rush to line up for the plane’s two tiny bathrooms.  I didn’t join them but should have.

We were supposed to land in Phoenix at 6:00 p.m.  Friends were going to pick us up and take us to an important dinner that started at 7:00.  We missed it.  Thankfully our friends were made aware of the plane’s delay and they were able to attend the dinner.  I was happy for that.

We didn’t get home till 10:45, tired and ruffled.  But we did get home.  That is always a blessing.  I’m glad the pilot didn’t attempt to land the plane in bad weather.  I’m glad that the crew was cheerful and helpful.  I’m glad that when I finally made it to the plane’s bathroom that it was surprisingly clean and equipped with necessities.  I’m glad that our luggage made the flight with us even though we had to wait a very long time for it to appear on the carousel. I’m glad it only took us about eight hours to get from Seattle to Phoenix instead of a driver’s twenty-two hours.

OK, maybe I’ll fly again.













Time Out 2

Elizabeth Willis Barrett

The other day our namesake grandson pushed his sister making her cry.  I’m afraid Bapa’s and my voices were a little harsh because Barrett ran off and we couldn’t find him for a while.  After a bit of searching in back bedrooms and closets, we found him sitting dejectedly on the stair.  He had put himself in “Time Out.”

A few days later, Barrett threw a football in the family room which his Bapa didn’t catch.  He’d been told not to throw the ball in the house (it definitely wasn’t Bapa who gave the command since, as always, Bapa was very much in the game) but Barrett threw it anyway, knocking down a lamp with the in-completed pass.  “I’m going to Time Out,” he said and promptly put himself back on the stairs.  This action sounded very much like, “You can’t fire me, I quit!”

We all sometimes need a Time Out and it’s better if we recognize and acknowledge it ourselves rather than waiting for someone else to suggest it.   Time Out allows us time to think things over, reevaluate what it is we want to do, make plans for a new direction, breathe.

One of our daughters puts herself in Time Out often.  Her kids think she’s punishing herself but Jana is delighted to go to her room, shut the door and be alone for a while.

When all my kids were little, I used to dream of a long Time Out, preferably at my Aunt Blanche’s in Rexburg, Idaho.  I could’t think of a better place to catch my breath and be well cared for at the same time.  It never happened, of course.  Getting to Rexburg from Gilbert, Arizona, isn’t a very convenient trip.  But I thought about it and what it might feel like to get away from constant requests and unlimited deadlines.

Some of my best Time Outs were Time Ins.  I’d stay home and catch up while Brad took the kids away.  When they returned, I was ready to resume our game plan.

Now that the kids are grown, I still have to put myself in Time Out.  Getting on my bike and driving around the canal while I listen to a good book, working through a Cryptogram puzzle, going to lunch with friends, singing with my daughters–those work.  A favorite Time Out is to get in the car with Brad and drive to the cabin. That makes a good get-away from decision making and demands since there isn’t a whole lot you can do while riding in a car except sip on a 44 ouncer, eat pepper chips and keep the driver awake.

And if family meets us at the cabin, it is the best Time Out of all!




No, No, Not a Squatty Potty!


Elizabeth Willis Barrett

“No, No,” Claire almost shouted.  “I hate squatty potties.  No.  I just won’t go.”  And she sat with defiance in the airport as we waited for our flight from Xian to Beijing.  My sentiments were most assuredly with Claire’s.  No squatty potties for me either, but I couldn’t yell my disapprobation as appropriately as seven year old Claire could.

China has the greatest of walls, the most forbidden of cities, and their terra cotta warriors are incredible, but China does not know how to do bathrooms.   The Chinese have an aversion to sit down toilets which they think are very unsanitary.  Well, when you use the squat method with a sit down toilet, they are very unsanitary and you never want to be the one to have to follow a squatter.   But when one is considerate and careful and uses the provided butt gaskets (as Brad calls them), a sit down toilet beats a squatty potty all to porcelain smithereens.

Both Claire and I were in crisis as we sat waiting to board with her family and my beloved Brad because we each were in positive need of a bathroom.  The airplane bathroom was an option but it didn’t sound much better than a squatty potty since most of the people around us were definitely squatters and I’ve had to wipe down an airplane bathroom or two before I’ve been willing to use them.  Besides, it would take too long to board and get situated.

“Come on, Claire,” I cajoled.  “Let’s just see what the bathrooms are like here.  Maybe they aren’t all squatty ones.”

So Claire and I went on a quest which seemed a little fruitless.  Yep, every closed door was hiding a porcelain hole in the ground that one was supposed to squat over. I don’t know how anyone does it gracefully without splashing all over feet, walls and clothes.  Actually, I don’t think it can be done.  The Chinese have much stronger squatting muscles, I know, since they have been squatting for a very long time.

After we passed door after door of the squatters, we came to the end–and there in all its relieving glory was a sit down toilet!  They called it a handicapped toilet and it was set in the far corner of the very long bathroom.  It didn’t even have a privacy door.  I think the handicapped should have something to say about that.  At this point, neither Claire nor I was as finicky about privacy as we would have been with empty bladders.

“OK, Claire, you go first.  I’ll guard the way so no one will see, then you can do the same for me.”

We first had to run to the front of the bathroom to grab toilet paper from a general dispenser.  Thank goodness, it wasn’t empty since it was the only source for the precious commodity.  Claire took care of her business and then just as I was going to run for more toilet paper, two little girls came up.  They, too, were looking for anything but a squatty potty.  I had to beg for their patience.

“Our plane is going to leave in just a minute,” I explained with a whine.  The girls were very kind and waited till I could replenish my toilet paper supply as they charitably kept their eyes averted.  Claire wasn’t nearly as faithful a guard as I had been for her.  She was going to leave me there in the open till I shamed her into turning her back and standing as a sentinel.  I should have asked her to be a Terra Cotta Warrior for me since we had just “oohed” and “awed” over thousands of them.

Modesty had to be flushed, so to speak, for a few moments, but I was speedy.

Enormously relieved, Claire and I washed our hands and shook them dry as we ran to the line that was beginning to board.


Mother, Daughter as in “grand”

Share many moments hand in hand

But none shines more on memory’s stone

Than when we paid homage to the throne!






A Lot to Learn

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Elizabeth Willis Barrett

I wrote in my thechristmasexperiment.com blog about my four-year-old granddaughter, Bella, wanting to know how to play the piano after one lesson.  It reminded me of the time in Ireland when I wanted to do the same with photography.  We had taken a trip to China the year before with Gilbert’s Sister City program and two of the men in our group were very good at photography.  They each had a much nicer camera than I had and I figured that I was missing out because my camera was a point and shoot.  So before we went to Ireland, again with the Sister Cities program, I insisted on buying a Canon Rebel.  It was a lot of money for me to spend on a camera especially when we were also paying for the trip, but since I’m in charge of the minutiae of our family finances, I bought it anyway. Now my pictures were going to be phenomenal, too!

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time before the trip to practice with the camera and my reading up on its functions during the long plane ride to Belfast didn’t help much.  At least I knew enough to choose the auto setting and I took pictures of everything: doors, castles, cathedrals, grass, water, children.

At one of our stops I saw a member of our entourage taking pictures with an over the top camera.  “Ah,” I thought.  “He can teach me everything I need to know in a few minutes and my pictures will turn out better than what I’m seeing on the view finder review.”

So I took my camera to him and asked him to teach me.  I can still see the quizzical look on his  face and as I think back I realize what an idiot I was.  He might as well come up to me sometime while I’m playing the piano solo “Charge of the Uhlans” and ask in a hopeful voice, “Do you have a minute to teach me how to play the piano?”

Playing the piano takes many years of learning and practicing.  So does photography.  I wanted to know something without paying the price.

That happens often to all of us, I suppose.  Whether we want to learn the piano or photography or how to post a blog or how to be a good friend or grandparent or even how to be a sober individual, it takes learning and practicing and we have to be willing to pay the price.

One  of the things I want to be is a good photographer.  I have a lot to learn, but I’ve taken some classes, bought some great books and hopefully, some of you out there won’t mind me asking a few questions.  I’ll keep them simple.

A Slow Quote to China

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 Elizabeth Willis Barrett

I accomplished something so great today that I think I ought to receive an award.  After around two weeks of searching, pondering, calling, disputing, figuring and befuddling, I purchased two round trip tickets to Beijing, China, on the Internet.

It would have been easier if computer program people didn’t delight in tripping you up on the very last step.  I couldn’t figure out how to purchase the ticket that I had finally chosen from a long list of options.

It didn’t help either that I had to keep asking my daughter who lives in China what she thought about the choice of airline, the choice of day, the choice of time and the fairness of the price.  When I most needed to talk to her,  she was most asleep.  Beijing time is 15 hours ahead of ours which I am getting pretty good at computing.

Computing the airline time was much harder.  I didn’t know that 12:00 PM means noon.  Did you?  Why doesn’t it mean midnight?  For the correctness of the return trip, I had to calculate backwards from when the plane lands in Phoenix after first landing in San Francisco– which is in a different time zone from us–and then add how many hours the flight from China to San Francisco is to finally figure out if 12:00 PM meant noon or midnight.   That makes a difference when you’re asking someone to take you to an airport.  My head was spinning.  It was too much math for me.

Finally I could choose the best outgoing and incoming flights but, as I said, I couldn’t find the button that would make that happen.  After some work, I found the phone number for United Airlines, thinking that a real person could book the flight for me.  The answerer informed me that that would add $25 to the price, so instead I let her pass me over to the tech center.

Anyone at a tech center that I have ever called in my hour of desperation hasn’t spoken the same English that I speak and this was no exception. It took several clarification exchanges before I finally understood that in order to “select” a certain flight, I had to hit the “select” button.  Oh!   I had seen that button but it looked like a style of flight not a button of selection.    United, you can do better than that!  It makes me really love Southwest Airlines because it is straight forward and understandable and when you call them to help you, they don’t charge another $25.  Unfortunately, Southwest  doesn’t fly to Beijing.

I think every company who writes computer programs for services used by ordinary people like me should allow some of us to try out their programs while the writers are watching from behind two-way mirrors.  I believe that is what they do at Fischer Price Toys.  They bring in real children to play with their new products while innovators watch to see where they are lacking.  As a “real person” I could show various computer programs where they are lacking in clarity and understanding.  If they could get me to understand them, most of the world could understand them.

Anyway, I was giddy after my success.  We have been to China before but not with the added joy of spending our time with beloved family members.  That is the best way to travel. So China, set out some extra chopsticks ‘cause here we come!