And So It Begins

Posted September 24, 2018 by Abra Bennett
Categories: Cruising



Yesterday, with a lot of help from my kids, I finally got myself, my luggage, and my three cases of wine on board the Holland America Amsterdam. Here’s the view from my balcony when I took a break from the exhausting work of unpacking three months’ worth of stuff.


And here’s what it looked like when I finally gave up on packing for the night and watched as we sailed slowly north, destination Victoria.


After a fitful sleep – bed unfamiliar, various aches from the rigors of hauling approximately two tons of stuff around – I awoke just as we headed into Victoria.

Victoria is a lovely town, and I’ve been here several times, so today I switched it up a bit by going on a winery tour of the Cowichan Valley. With just one fellow passenger and a friendly and knowledgeable guide, we visited the Cherry Point, Blue Grouse, Unsworth, and Enrico wineries. I tend to love British Columbia wines, and today I tasted a lot of really nice ones. Because I’ll be writing about them for Great Northwest Wines I don’t want to give too much away here, but I will say that there were many surprises along the way,


not the least of which was watching sparkling wine being bottled under pressure at 2° C., a process I’d never even heard of before.

The biggest surprise, actually, was how much effort folks at all the wineries put into showing me around and having me taste far beyond the usual range of tasting room offerings, once they heard that I would be doing an article. I’ll put a link to the story I write about them, and you can be sure that it will be a nice one.


Here’s our last stop of the day, and you can see why anyone might contemplate giving up whatever else they hold dear and relocating posthaste to the Cowichan Valley.

I had fully intended to head back into town for dinner and a walkabout after dropping off my inevitable wine purchases at the ship (because really, is three cases enough?) but no. The lure of relaxing in my cleaned-up and unpacked cabin was strong, and I succumbed.

And I finally got to meet my cabin stewards, Yogi and Bagus, who both seem charming. Until this afternoon our relationship had consisted of my leaving notes to the general effect of “please take this out of my cabin, and this, and these!” until it’s pared down to a manageable amount of pillows, no hint of fruit or chocolate or space-hogging wooden coat hangers, and all of the suitcases are stashed away.

And now they’re the people most responsible for my comfort and contentment over the next few months, and I’m happy to report that I think they’re going to do an excellent job of it.

Tomorrow will be another wine tour, this time in the Fraser Valley, after we dock in Vancouver. I’m so glad that one of the most important life lessons I learned in wine school is this: When in doubt, spit, don’t swallow. Really comes in handy at a time like this.



Shinrin-Yoku…..Forest Bathing

Posted September 22, 2018 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America



Today, to celebrate my last day living on terra firma for the next quarter-year, my little family and I went forest bathing at the spectacular Bloedel Reserve.


Parts of our time there were silly,


parts were Zen,


most was green,


but there were occasional splashes of color.


I was doing a trial of my new pocket camera, purchased especially for this trip,


and I would judge that it acquitted itself very well.

And now, I feel prepared to be uprooted


and set off for parts unknown. Beauty is everywhere, and I aim to see it all.



Half At Sea

Posted September 21, 2018 by Abra Bennett
Categories: Cruising



Today I’m beginning to slip my bonds. I’m still a land-based operation, but my thoughts are already adrift. I don’t feel mired in the mud, like the boat next door, but I’m definitely in that halfway dream place between here and gone.


My bags are packed and have been transported to who-knows-where. A cheerful blond FedEx guy came and took them away, but he didn’t know where they would live until being put on the ship. All I know is that they are supposed to be waiting for me when I board, which is now just two days away.

I have three cases of wine packed up to take on board with me, but getting them on board is worrying me a bit. I’m fervently hoping that I won’t have to drag them onto the ship all by myself. Just as I’m hoping not to have to drink them all by myself. Nothing would please me more than to find new friends on board with whom to share them.

If you’re planning to follow my trip, you should know that the first part of the itinerary is going to be decidedly peculiar. For about 10 days it will consist of a kind of demented sailing up and down and up again along the west coast, before finally getting serious and heading west. Victoria, Vancouver, Astoria, San Francisco, Los Angeles, then Dutch Harbor, Alaska and Petropavlovsk. Next stop, Japan. Take a look at the map. See what I mean?


I think all that backing and forthing will be most interesting when it comes to the weather. I expect to be bundling up and shedding my warm layers with some regularity during those 10 days, but as a denizen of the Pacific Northwest, such a prospect doesn’t faze me. Besides it’s autumn, notoriously fickle weather is to be expected. And on our first stops I’m going to do wine tours of the Fraser and Cowichan valleys, which strikes me as a particularly auspicious beginning to it all.

The Internet situation on the ship has been improved since the last time I cruised, so I’m hoping that French Letters will have a relatively easy time telling you all about it. See you at sea!

Cross Bat Off My List

Posted September 10, 2018 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

Tags: ,


Now that I’m just a week away from leaving home and kitties until after Christmas, friends are asking me how I’m progressing with my To-Do lists. So far today I have been able to cross off:

* Order yen and yuan
* Vote
* Drop off bat
*Convince T-Mobile and Verizon to settle my bill

Of course, that last item took the longest, over a week, actually.  But really, it’s too exasperating to talk about.

The bat is what I really want to tell you about, that, and the advantages of living in a small town.

Yesterday Minou brought a creature in the house. I went to see what the batting-something-around sound was, and thought I saw a small bird. When I picked it up to rescue it, it turned into a bat. Quite a large bat, actually, considering how small and frail it had looked with its wings folded.

Now normally, of course, I would never pick up a live bat, so I was kind of freaked out. And since a bat that Minou could catch in broad daylight, a bat who couldn’t fly, a bat I’d touched bare-handed, all added up to potentially bad bat news, I confined the poor thing to a tupperware and waited for the health department to open this morning.

The bat expired overnight, even though I’d carefully punched breathing holes in the lid of the container. I’m not even sure why I did that, since obviously the lab was going to need a dead bat. So this morning I took an extremely dead bat into the County Health folks, who remarked that it was the second one to be brought in this morning, and it was only 10:00. Now I’m waiting for them to test the bat for rabies, and really hoping that a series of four rabies shots is not in my future. Apparently you get them in your arm now, no longer in the abdomen, so that’s something.

Then, bat-disposal accomplished, I went a couple of blocks over to the Elections office to cast my mid-term vote. And guess what? I was the first person in my county to cast her ballot! In fact, they printed it out just for me, since on election day I’ll be at sea, somewhere between Hong Kong and Vietnam. I would imagine that going to that extreme to help me vote is a small-town thing, although I’d like to think that every county would make such an effort to help out a determined voter.

Having contributed my drop in the ballot box to the Blue Wave, I went another couple of blocks over to the bank that can get me Japanese yen and Chinese yuan overnight, with no service fee.

Maybe events could have unfolded like this in a large city, almost certainly so. But it took me under an hour to accomplish all that, and most of the time was spent waiting for my ballot to be printed. We don’t have everything here in Walla Walla, but within a five-block radius we can have a bat analyzed for rabies, a ballot personally printed, and receive foreign currency overnight.

Now if only we had some alternative to Verizon and T-Mobile and spending hours fidgeting on hold only to be transferred to yet another person for the gazillionth time, this town would be just about perfect.




Soaking Up The Land

Posted August 25, 2018 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

Tags: ,

Today I had the doors open all day, for the first time in months. The temperatures had plummeted into the 70s, which to me is paradise. And tonight I could sit outside for dinner, and linger long afterwards, for the first time in weeks, The smoke has finally dissipated, and left us with Moderate air quality, and I swear, I’ll take it, even though it’s not classified as Good.

And tonight I lay in the grass and looked at the sky, awash in the sweet fragrance of alyssum. Evidently it’s been far too long since I did that, since Minou circled me restlessly, mewing gently and rubbing himself against my outstretched extremities. A starfish on land, I was.

But soon, in less than a month, I’ll be at sea. At sea for three months, surrounded by oceans and the lands that abut them. Traveling in the company of 1300 strangers, all people who’d presumably rather be at sea than on land. So what could possibly go wrong?

Really, I expect all to go, forgive me, swimmingly. By then I will have eaten all the garden vegetables I can, and will leave the rest to my house sitter. I don’t know whether she cooks, but I hope so, because there will be approximately 400 padron pepper for her to deal with. When I planted them I forget what late producers they are.

As much as I enjoy my current life, I am looking forward to being cast adrift, waking each morning not knowing what the day will hold. Aside from a couple of weeks on the island and a week in France, I’ve been tethered here for the past three years. For me, that’s a long time.

A part of me is yearning to fly free. Another part of me, the part that’s older and on this journey alone, is scared shitless.

I have just one more month to prepare for this adventure. Yesterday my dining room looked like a shoe bomb had gone off. A dozen pairs of shoes (thank you Zappo’s) were spread over my dining table, and spilling onto the floor. I’m in search of the shoes in which I can walk comfortably all day, a task complicated by the fact that I have enormous feet, and a recent foot injury. Only certain shoes will do, and holy moly are they had to find. Today I managed to get seven pairs returned, but I have to confess, a few more pairs are on the way. No vanity is involved, I assure you. All of them are in the “ugly as sin” category.

But then, I ask myself, why in the world should I care? There’s not a person in the world that gives a fig how I look. And I’m going to be in places I’ve always wanted to see (China! Japan! Australia! and other wonderful Asian and South Pacific countries as well).That’s what counts, that I get to go there.

Here’s what I can’t let count, even when it’s hard: Leaving Minou and Toby for three months with a person they don’t know. Not making anything with the prodigious plum crop my tree will be dropping soon. Trading the nostalgic scent of flowers for the aphrodisiac scent of salt air. Leaving the people I am used to seeing on the regular for people I’ve never seen in my life.

Trading land for sea, that’s the dilemma. It’s the thing that keeps me wondering whether I’ll stay here or return to the island. I love my home here, and am having a good life. But the sea is in my blood, and it tugs at me every day. Maybe I’ll get that out of my system after floating in its aqueous embrace for the next quarter of a year. Or maybe I’ll learn that I can’t live without it a moment longer.

So in a month I’m setting sail, hoping that time and the sea will tell me where my future lies, and will show me how far I’ve come.

How Young Is Too Old?

Posted June 1, 2018 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America



Lately I’ve been contemplating this puzzle: am I too old or too young? Specifically, too old to live alone, or too young to live with others who might feel that they are too old to live alone.

If you know me, for sure you’ll say that I’m not too old, in fact, I’m too young. But here’s the thing. Parts of me are broken and I don’t know how to fix them.

Last fall I was told that my shoulder needs surgery, again. As soon as I was done saying all the bad words I know in all the languages, I realized that it was impossible. In 2010 when I last had shoulder surgery, Shel did every little thing for me, fastening my bra, moussing my hair, all the stuff married people do for each other when they absolutely have to. Because I couldn’t do those things alone.

So now I struggle with that shoulder every day, and try to ignore the pain and awkwardness for as long as I can. Because I can’t think of the alternative. Really, who is going to do up my bra in a pinch?

And if I have that awful surgery again, and it really is brutal, I have no Shel. Living alone, I’d basically be going bra-less and shampoo-less for a couple of months. And while I might have done that in the 60s, I’m way too old for it now.

And then, a couple of days ago I broke a bone in my foot, something that’s surprisingly excruciating. I have to wait almost a week, because our healthcare here is appalling, to see someone who might know why this happened to me while I was just walking across the parking lot at work, and tell me what might be done about it.

“Stay off it,” said the nice Urgent Care doc. Uh, how? I need to cook, do dishes, buy groceries, feed the cats, how in tarnation am I supposed to stay off it?

I guess I always thought that by the time I’d be needing help with the quotidian, the simplest stuff, I would have found a partner, or at least a companion. But no, here I am four years after Shel’s death living with just my cats, who are decidedly not helpful under the circumstances.

So yeah, I’m brave, and independent, and all that good stuff. But seriously, I’m only going to get older,even I will cop to that. And while my mind and heart are as good as ever, which is pretty darn good, various other parts of me are letting me know that all is not as it once was.

I’d like to get my shoulder fixed. I’d like to get my foot fixed. I’d like them not to need to be fixed! But hobbling around with the heavy bag of cat food in my left hand because my right shoulder doesn’t want the load, thus putting all that extra weight on my broken left foot, that sucks. And when I say it sucks I mean that it sucks the big one, and that I don’t know how to make it better.

Am I too old to live on my own? Am I too young not to live on my own? You tell me.

How It All Began

Posted March 23, 2018 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America


I’m at the age now where I’m starting to lose people, and I’m taking it hard. I just got a message from a friend on the island, telling me that my old friend Sally had died. She was about 88 or so, and had been in really poor health lately, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected. But still.

Sally and I were connected in the oddest and most profound of ways. When Shel and I were thinking of moving to the island, back in 2000, we stayed in a B&B while we were looking around. And that was Sally’s B&B, and her Alabama drawl led us to discover that Sally and Shel’s mother Margaret had known each other in Auburn, Alabama, long before Shel was born. That was mind-boggling to all of us, and caused Shel to say “I can’t go anywhere without my Mom finding out about it!”

And it happened that in that B&B was a newspaper article about a writer’s group on the island. As it turned out, the article was there because that was Sally’s writing group, and it would be meeting the very next day. I’d never written, but thought I might like to, and so she invited me to join them. I enjoyed that afternoon so much that I became a member of that group, and for years we wrote faithfully together once a week.

One thing that happened as a result is that I became a writer, bit by bit. I started in that group, then dared to write here, on French Letters, and then started writing for magazines. And now I have a job where my title is Writer in Residence, and I owe all that to Sally.

The other thing that happened is that as soon as I heard about Sally I immediately thought that I had to tell Shel, because he always remained  floored that Sally and Margaret had known each other, and because she was our first friend on the island. And I was thinking that Shel would have wanted to tell Margaret about Sally’s passing, because even though they’d lost touch, there was still that connection.

But then I realized that there is no one left to tell. That story was entirely about people who are now gone from this life, first Margaret, then Shel, and now Sally. Somehow I’m left being the keeper of the story, even though so much of it belonged to them.

So now I’m telling you about it, so that these stories do not fade away forever, and so that the memories springing from that momentous coincidence, what my own mother would have called a fortuitous concourse of circumstance, have a place to live on.

What kind of story is it where all the main characters die at the end? It’s the story of life.