Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Adventures with United Airlines

...a new reality show beginning last fall.

First I want to say that the customer reps (except 1 or 2) that we have dealt with have been kind and as helpful as they could. The issues seem to stem more from company management and policy.

Before I begin, let me refresh your memory on the highlights of our United Experience last year.


Because of United’s inability to accept a Canadian credit card, I booked my plane ticket, JD’s and Joshua’s (at a later date). When JD and Joshua show up at the airport, JD was informed that her ticket had been revoked…a while ago and the computer showed a refund had been requested. Um… I didn’t get a notice or a refund on my credit card. So with minutes to spare, a new ticket had to be purchased.

Meanwhile, our 4th team member’s flight is delayed, as a part for the plane has to be sent from somewhere else. She arrives in D.C. just before we begin boarded for Ghana.

But wait… this plane has the same issue and will now not be leaving until the following afternoon.

Get hotel and food voucher from United and proceed to wait several hours (not exaggerating) in the Nov cold in clothes meant for African weather for the hotel shuttle. Get to hotel and wait another hour only to find out the hotel is full and we must go to a different hotel. (Did I mention it’s now very early morning) Finally get in our room about 3 am.

Fast forward 2 weeks once we are home, I begin the process of trying to get my refund for the revoked ticket. I called and ended up in India or Bangladesh or something. Every time I was given different information and still no refund. I was getting nowhere. After a month of giving United a chance to make it right, I simply disputed the charges on my credit card. Meanwhile, JD sent a message about our experience on Twitter requesting it be passed along.

Shortly thereafter she received a call from the US customer service director. While I think we should have gotten some 1st class free flights anywhere, we did end up with $400 vouchers for each of us to be used within 1 year.


We decided to use our vouchers for a trip to Haiti. Since I was going to be in Canada and booking the flights with my credit card again (fingers crossed) it made sense to do it then.

Call #1:
We got the names, addresses, and flight information into the system. She was unsure of how to process the paper vouchers and trying to get help from a manager. Somehow the phone was disconnected while we were on hold. Houston we have a problem… the number on file to call back was JD’s work number and JD wasn’t at work.

Call #2:
This was one of the few reps who did not provide us good customer service, we’ll call her Bad Day Diva. We had no information, but having been on the phone for an hour already we did not want to start at the beginning again, especially not with Ms. Diva. Luckily, JD was able to check her work voicemail and get the confirmation numbers the rep. had left. (That was a Godsend, because typically you can’t get a confirmation number without credit card information and we hadn’t gotten that far) We decided to hang up with this woman and try again in the morning.

Call #3:
My man Paul. After I explained the situation he told me he was new… only worked there 35 years. Oh he tried and tried to make those vouchers work. He changes the expiration date on the reservation to give us an extra 5 days. This was another godsend. Then he says, “Did anyone mention that you need to convert these paper vouchers to electronic ones?” Ummm….. no. That would have saved us some phone minutes. I get online and he shows me what to do and he tells me there is a whole department that deals with the vouchers. He knows something in that department so he’ll transfer me to that person. Except… Not in the office. He tries to transfer me to the main number and it isn’t working. I take down the number and hang up.

Call #4:
Electronic Voucher Department…. I’m sorry the number you have dialed is no longer in service.

Ummm… didn’t we get these vouchers to restore our faith in United? How is this making us want to purchase from them again?

(3 days in now)

We get the vouchers scanned and go thru the online process of converting them. Oh wait… first I have to take a PDF of the voucher and make it super tiny to attach.

Your voucher has been received; it may take up to 72 hrs to receive your electronic voucher.

...... waiting.....

3 days later… electronic vouchers arrive! HALLELUJAH we have progress!

(6 days of trying to book these tickets…. Beginning to wonder if this is a sign we aren’t supposed to go…)

Call #5:
We’ve got the confirmation numbers. We’ve got the voucher numbers. He puts them in and finally – IT WORKS!!! Magic Mike. Yes, JD actually called him that on the phone. Awkward silence for a moment and then he moved on. He graciously agrees to even waive the $75 of phone booking fees. Give him the credit card number…

I knew it was going too smoothly.

It kept trying to convert my card to Canadian funds because JD’s address was in Canada. Even when he changed the billing address to mine, it still wasn’t working right.

But 3rd time was a charm. And finally the tickets were booked.

This should the end, right? But that wouldn’t be any fun now would it???

A few days later I checked my credit card balance and something didn’t seem right. There was $50 in phone booking fees and JD and Jillian flights were charged twice. I was dreading the call I was about to make – fearing the worst and having flashbacks from last year…. Did I have the strength to do it?

Call #6:
Rep was very understanding and refunded the $50. Magic Mike probably just forgot – there was a lot going on and back and forth between 2 reservations it was an easy oversight. She assured me that the 2nd set of charges wouldn’t go through but she would note the account just in case I had to call back (NOOOOO!!!!!) but she was certain I wouldn’t need to. 20 minutes and it was taken care. Record setting phone call. (And thankfully the 2nd set of charges are gone)

And now we prepare to go, praying that United planes don’t take as long to get off the ground as it does to book a ticket.

Lord, please we are praying there is not a part 3 to this story.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Now You're Going Where??

Thanks to our United Airlines nightmares adventures last fall, we had some free dollars to spend on flights this year (a whole new adventure… stay tuned). Due to various limitations this year and the fact that the Ghana project was immense, we decided to serve on a smaller scale this year.

Where:   Haiti

When:   Mid- November

Length:   4 days 

The Project:   Funding the repairs/rebuilding of a home for a family in desperate need

The Cost:  We are estimating the cost of the project between $800-$1000. Plus an additional $1000 for our travel and in country expenses. We know that God will provide exactly the right amount just like he did for Ghana.

I must confess that this isn’t a trip I would have picked on my own. Send me pretty much anywhere in Africa and I’ll be packed in minutes. I sorta know what to expect there. I have an idea of where the dangerous places to avoid are. Haiti? I know nothing and due to the absolute poverty of the whole country there is very little I can do in the way of preplanning. No pre-booked hotel rooms or rented vehicle to pick us up.

This trip feels different. This trip isn’t really about me serving, it’s about me being stretched.

This trip is ALL about faith. It is learning to let go of my control and simply lean back and rely on His. For 4 days, I will trust him to keep me safe. I will trust him with my emotions. I will trust Him to lead me to the places and people He wants me to learn from… to see what He needs me to see.

Please be in prayer for this trip, our safety, and for the fundraising. We only have a few short months to plan and raise the funds necessary to make improvements to the house for this family and restore hope and dignity. If you feel led to contribute, please use the paypal button at the end of this post or on the sidebar. If you do not have paypal and still wish to contribute, leave a comment and I will send you information on ways you can help. Donations are tax deductible.

Even more than that, will you pray for my heart between now and when we leave.

(and happy 250th post to me)

Donations through the paypal button go directly into our project (Worldwide Relief of Children in Captivity)fund at Interlink Ministries.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Irving Nature Park

My last day took us on our final nature adventure, Irving Nature Park. 

I wonder if I am the only one who thinks it odd that the oil company Irving, who is pumping pollution into Saint John's atmosphere, owns a nature park. A good faith measure, I guess. 

Regardless, it's a beautiful peninsula of land of forested coastline, beaches and salt marsh. It was a few hours of time for just my bestie and me, away from the reality of my approaching departure. 

 Salt Marsh
Those aren't mountains in the distance it's fog

There are many trails within the park. We walked a few portions, but I would love to go back someday and walk the whole perimeter trail. There is just something about being outside, away from everyday life that brings a peace and re-centers the soul... filling it.

Camouflaged Insects

"I was here"

And then I wasn't anymore... 

The Zoo

For the past 3 years, not only have I had the best times with my best friend, but also with her kids. 2 years ago (August 20th, 2010)  I met them all for the first time. 

Boy have things changed in just 2 short years!

Before I met you all I heard about was how snuggle-y and loving you were. Yet when I met you, you were the most reserved around me. It wasn't until one day you said, "When Tia comes home again, she'll have to meet Sergei" that I really knew you that you accepted me as part of the family. Now, I love knowing who you are becoming as a man. The way you are taking on the responsibility with your job. (I wish you would put some of that same effort into helping your mom out in the house, too) I loved every hug and laugh we shared. And I love knowing that you are wearing your special sock in the picture above. I hope you know that I will always be here for you, if ever you need me... 

There has always been a special place in my heart for you from the very beginning, even before I met you. You are the kid with the tough guy exterior but a super loving and sensitive heart. I never had a brother, but if I did I would want him to be like you, kind and caring but bad-ass enough to protect me. I believe you would do anything for someone you really cared about. Not only have I seen through that outer armor, I've experienced it. Watching you in Ghana was like seeing beauty unfold. You came alive Josh. Maybe those changes are still unfolding and will be for years to come. That one afternoon when we talked while you played Minecraft is one of the moments of that trip I will treasure forever. I hope someday I will get the joy of sharing more overseas adventures with you. It makes me feel so loved that you even cracked a smile for this photo :) 

Jillian (in jeans) and my feet
My new fellow boobie cohort! You bring such joy to people's lives. I know this year has been hard for you, perhaps in ways you don't yet really understand yourself. You are leaving behind the little girl years and beginning to enter the next phase of growing up. I pray you will dig deep and grow in maturity and responsibility. I've already seen a tremendous change, but I know you can do more. You have such creative talent. Keep practicing and learning, whether in nail art, or hair, or sketches... God has given you a gift to use. The greatest gift He's given you Jillian is your heart. Always keep it focused on God and the plans He has for your life-  it's going to be A-mazing! I see a joy in serving others in you and I pray that our upcoming trip to Haiti will give you a chance to love others with that special love and joy only you can give.

All my love.... Your Tia

Geocaching Adventures

“Some guys like a girl who gets dirty.”  
(me on the hike back from a cache)

If that’s what you like, then welcome to my geocaching experience.

I had been exposed to geocaching back in May in the OBX with my fun and fearless bestie. While that was sort of like Intro to Algebra – these 2 weeks were like AP calculus!

Here are some words to describe the adventures…

Sweaty, grimy, soaking wet from head to toe, eaten alive by mosquitos, poked & scratched, thorns and pine needles, mud, cemetery, determination, stealth, and plenty of memories…. All for a piece of paper to sign.

Yep, I’m that crazy.  Not for the paper but for the challenge and the adventure and mostly the company.

If you’ve never experienced what I am talking about you’ll just have to get out and try it… now that I’ve done such a great job of selling the idea to you. 

The things is, I’ve never been good at finding things. Not change on the ground or the puzzle piece that fits right in ‘that’ spot. I didn’t think I’d be any good at this either. And truth is… in a sense, I’m not. The easy ones are usually the ones someone else sees first. They just bring me along for those calculus ones where someone thought hard about how and where to hide the bugger. Those cachers who are really crazy. I apparently know how to think like a crazy person ;)

In 2 weeks, we found around 50 caches – most of them moments, memories, views and places I will carry with me for years.

I think I passed the test!

Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia

I had never heard of Peggy’s Cove before I met JD and saw the amazing photograph she had taken of the lighthouse. I knew it was a place I wanted to see and have her share with me. I had been just to the border of Nova Scotia 2 years ago on our way to PEI. But now I can officially say I’ve been to 4 of the Provinces.

JD, Jillian, Josh and I were all up early with picnic lunch packed and on the road around 7am for our 4.5 hour drive to the coast.

Unfortunately this was another day Mother Nature was not on our side. While we attempted to plan the trip for the day that wasn’t supposed to rain, it was gray, raining and wet until just before we left. We didn’t let it stop us. 

We explored the area and learned about its history. Despite being among plenty of other wet tourists and there with my best friend, I felt strangely as if I were the only one there. I was caught in a place of deep internal reflection and peace that is hard to describe. Something about the desolate beauty there that buffers you from everything else. Perhaps a sunny day would have left a different impression, but I’m not sure I would have wanted it any different. 

We did some geocaching in the area. What’s great about that is it takes you to places you might have otherwise missed. We visited the Swiss Air 111 Memorial and took a beautiful amazing hike down the coast from the lighthouse. 

We had purposefully planned to have JD’s 250th cache be Canada’s first cache. So in the late afternoon we headed that way. Stopping at this gorgeous spot to appreciate just how magnificent our world is in all its variety and splendor.

After the joy of finding the geocache and walking back to the car (all still with muddy shoes and wet clothes) we made the decision to head into Halifax to see the waterfront before beginning the long drive home. I loved the old brick and sandstone buildings of Halifax. The architecture of days when beauty and art were more important than the bottom line. I wished we had more time to walk and explore the city, but it gives me a reason to go back another time.

After a very long and fulfilling day, we arrived back home at 12:30am and fell promptly to sleep as soon as all the wet nasty clothes were in the wash. 

Reversing Falls

In the 20 years that JD has lived in Saint John, she had never taken the time to witness the phenomenon that occurs at the Reversing Falls, but it was something I was interested in seeing.

Here’s the deal – there really aren’t any “falls” in the sense that we typically think of them. But what does occur there is entirely unique. When the tide is low the St. John River empties into the Bay of Fundy. At high tide the Bay in effect empties back into the river, completely reversing the flow of water in the narrow gorge.  (you can read the more technical description here)

There are several places for viewing the falls, one of which left me feeling a little dizzy.

High Tide
water flow from bay (right) into river (left)

Low Tide
water flow from river (left) into bay (right)

Oh Canada! I'm back...

I took a much, MUCH needed 2-week vacation and went back to Canada to hang out with my bestie and her kiddos for some summer adventures.

The one thing I planned for the trip was a boat trip to see puffins on a protected island where they breed a couple months a year. This is one of the few things on my bestie’s bucket list and with everything she’s been going through this year, I was so excited to be able to give her this gift.

Once we got our campsite set up, we took off to see if we could find a flock of sheep.

It was already getting dark when we started our hike and the fog was rolling in. After hiking for well over a half hour our GPS showed us no closer to these elusive “sheep”. With the fading light, intense terrain, muddy ground, and rustling from unknown animals in the bushes, we were forced to turn back. At least it was a good workout for the day.

We drove out to this lighthouse in the fog before heading back to our campsite.


Sometime in the early morning hours it began to rain and thunder. Despite all the planning and excitement about the puffins…

Mother Nature had other plans and our trip was cancelled. TWICE. The day we rescheduled for also got rained out.

Still we got to enjoy some of the beauty of Grand Manan island for a couple hours and comb the beach for some sea glass.


On the way home, we took a little detour to St. George to check out this beautiful pictureseque old mill.

One thing I love about my trips to Canada is there is a great mix of my friend sharing her favorite places with me and the two of us discovering new places together. There were still many more adventures to come on this trip.