Wednesday, December 23, 2015

How to Read This Blog

Thank you for coming to read our love story. Begin by going to the archive on the right and clicking on the first post in November 2010 titled Cancer and Loss and Depression, Oh My! The title may sound like a bummer but I promise you a love story that will make your heart sing with joy! Why? Because it is true--every word of it and if it can happen for me then True Love (yes with a capital L) can happen to anyone! Thank you for reading our love story. I wish you joy!
Jaqueline Biggs xxx

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Now Blogging at Boatlife!

Hello everyone,
     After six months of settling in to England and life as a newlywed aboard a narrowboat, I finally have some time to write again.
Dear Sir aka Les aka my darling husband, wanted us to blog together on his blog "Boats and Cruising" Valerie. With his full support I spent all day yesterday revamping his blog and making it "our" blog.
     While still located at it is now titled Boatlife: Continuously Cruising Aboard NB Valerie....
Our life and travels throughout 3000 miles of British inland waterways: a bit of canal history, an occasional mystery; spiced with large quantities of love, laughter,and great comraderie!
Please join us on our journey together!
Jaq and Les 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The View From Where I Sit....

...with my feet up, sipping a brandied hot chocolate.
     The past four months have been a tumultuous journey: fly to England, try out three weeks in a narrow boat, fly back to the U.S., pull off a Wiccan wedding on a hillside outside of Pullman, Washington; plan a separate reception with the help of FOJ's, pull together six months worth of paperwork and planning with Dear Sir in order to apply for and get a spouse visa to enter the U.K., try to sell my house and dispose of most of my belonging, pack up what's left, and finish up my job of eleven years--a job I grew into and loved, and grieved over even as it morphed away from student oriented, high-touch advising to a minimal customer service orientation with no real access to assistance for our students.
     Our unit went from the leader in distance education delivery and student services to being a private business clone of a well known and none too respected for-profit school, with the cry of "Budget cuts made us do it" ringing falsely in everyone's ears while our new director called us all together periodically to report " We don't know where, we don't know when--but we are going to deliver ten new programs in the next two years, raking in more money with less personnel."
     When queried by the puzzled amongst us about HOW this venture would get  off the ground, our fearless leader said, "the mission is undefined at this point."
     That was ten months ago. The upshot?  I am told "The mission" still remains undefined.
     Meanwhile students pay far more (a 16% tuition hike over last year--which included a 10% tuition hike) for a whole lot less. It was the appropriate time for me to to go. I have never been very good at delivering mediocrity or pretending the emperor is fully clothed when he's not. Witches have a saying: When it is time to move the Goddess may make the nest untenable." 
     I bled for my students who had no idea the juggernaut of dicey slices and--in my opinion--unnecessary changes that were coming at them as they started this academic year working on their distance degrees but my heart rended itself in two for my colleagues left behind in the melee.
     Distrust thickened the hallways like sour wine. Directors spoke in meetings about "tearing down the silos that separate us as coworkers..." meanwhile the walls grew taller as our unit had five directors purported to have been given significant raises, who seemed clueless about the students they supposedly are there to serve, or the level of angst growing amongst the gifted people who work on their behalf to serve those students--exceptionally fine people who were left with no real leadership, stravaging along in year four of the current budget crisis with no raises while five hundred employees were riffed from the University payroll.
     Under our previous dean who retired last December, it didn't matter if you worked for Distance Degree Programs for two weeks or twenty years--if you left you were sent off with a party--usually a pot luck--and the great, good wishes of the entire unit went with you.
     Under the new regime people just packed their boxes, turned off their computers, and left the building with no acknowledgement at all of their time with the unit, their contributions to the students or the University we served--nothing. (In my case some of my colleagues came down one by one to hug me and wish me well.) 
    While all of this was winding down to its inevitable conclusion Dear Sir worked furiously to paint, plant, and pretty up Cloudhouse in the hope it would sell.

Empty Cloudhouse, Pullman WA
     There were interested parties but every deal fell through as financing withered away in the depressed economic climate. We ended up turning in the keys to the sisters who held the papers and walking away from my investment.
     My husband and I endured three and a half months of bone dry, miserably hot days where the temperature was seventy six degrees by eight a.m. and rose into the eighties, nineties, and even hit one hundred and six by four p.m.    We both prefer low seventies and mild sunshine. He missed his beloved English weather and scenery; "that green and pleasant land."      I had endured twenty two years of miserable summers in Eastern Washington to complete my university degree and live near my employment and grandchildren.
     Alaskan at my core--born, raised, and shaped by the geography and weather for thirty two years--I consider any temperatures over seventy two degrees to be redundant. I also suffer from a chronic illness that is heightened by sunshine and stress. Give me the peace of nature and a good rainstorm any day!
     We careened gratefully from one dinner invitation to another by a dozens of friends. Les would arrive on campus at four thirty p.m. to pick me up and greet me with a kiss and a query, "Who are we dining with tonight?"
     "Tonight we eat with Sally and Joe Horton (which means his home smoked steel head trout may be on the menu!!), tomorrow night with Steve and Bonnie, Wednesday night we dine over at Cheri and Jeri Curtis' (which means exceptional wine and two of my beloveds who can take the mickey out of Les and he out of them--all with love and laughter). Then, let's see...oh we meet Larry and Lael for drinks and hor d' oeuvres Thursday at Sangrias', and we have a dinner party 
Sandy Field and Les
Friday night with Chrisi and Keith, and we are meeting Cheri, Jeri, Margy and Stelios at the Angry Bear after work next Monday. OH! And a dinner later next week with Charmaine and Sandy and we have an invite to Karen and Jim Baron's too...." the list is a long one and we gratefully thank all of you for your love and care.
     We were wined, dined, toasted, and roasted in great American tradition, which means we laughed, shared excellent food and wonderful memories, and my husband and I gained at least a stone if not two stone over those months, driving from dinner invitation to dinner invitation in the air conditioned car.
     Les and I longed for our boat, long walks along the canals, and life without the need for an automobile and enforced air con. Finally it was time to get "Rolling, rolling, rolling, keep those dawgies rolling, RAWHIDE!!" Yeah!
     I left the University with new employment from another department: the offer to instruct two online writing tutorials--beginning and advanced; and work as an e-tutor, assisting students who submitted their writing online for assessment and feedback. All possible with a with a laptop, wireless Internet and a dongle. We planned three days in Seattle to wind down a bit, see the sites and have a bit of a honeymoon before flying back to England on September 7th.
     The weekend of September 2nd was a home game weekend for the University football team. This meant Pullman, a small town of twenty nine thousand inhabitants swollen by eighteen thousand college students, would be descended upon by nearly twenty thousand Alumni and Cougar fans--many in RV's large enough to house a family of ten comfortably.
     This also meant long lines for everything, insane traffic as both Coug Fans and fans from their opponents rolled into town. Most of this fun would be fueled by tailgate parties featuring endless coolers full of beer and other alcoholic drinks.

Ashley & Lisa--our favorite barristas at Dissmores

     In order for Les and I to beat the alumni suffering hangovers and bad attitudes because-our-team couged-again-and-lost insanity driving 1200 RV's across the state via highway 26, we had to leave Sunday, September third at six thirty a.m.      We had a lovely sunrise breakfast with Sandy Field and then we stopped one last time at Dissmores so our favorite barristas could make us our "his and her lattes."
     By lunch time we were in Ellensburg, Washington eating at our favorite burger joint--The Red Horse Drive In. As we sat at the bar waiting for our burgers, fries, and chocolate milkshakes, Dear Sir looked at me in amazement. I stared back in kind.
     "God Jaq, It has been less than a year since we stopped here the first time on our way to your house when you picked me up in Seattle. It boggles the mind."
     "A-may-zing isn't it? So much has happened to us in eleven months. But it doesn't feel like a whirlwind romance Les. I feel like we've known each other at least a lifetime."
     "I know Darling...I feel the same way. I am so comfortable with you Jaq." We sat side by side--my small, soft hand entwined in his big calloused, work hardened one, watching the waitresses pick up orders. 
     We knew our marriage was a good thing--the right move for both of us. While our romance had depth to it that could not be accounted for by knowing each other a mere eleven months, the sheer number of events that occurred in this same time frame cemented our relationship in a way a longer, more drawn out courtship would not have accomplished. We were soul weary and sore for home. For us home is a narrow boat boat named Valerie moored on the canals somewhere in England.
    Les convinced me to stop at the Ginkgo Petrified Forest near Vantage, Washington. I always stand in awe at the view of David Govedare's life size metal sculptures on the bluff titled Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies.
     We detoured to Snoqualmie, Washington and their excellent Railroad Museum to find out about the worst loss of life in U.S. railroad history due to avalanches. The sky was so clear we had a spectacular view of Mount Rainier--a dormant volcano which looms over Seattle and which is usually cloaked in clouds and hidden.

Mount Rainier as we ascend to Snoqualmie Pass
We stopped to view Snoqualmie Falls which drops farther than Niagara and is breathtaking in its beauty. Finally we arrived in Seattle to what else? A bloody heatwave!       
     Checking in to the Marriott at SeaTac near the airport, we found our room had been upgraded for no additional charge to a Concierge room.
    The front desk staff presented us with a key to the concierge lounge, and a lovely room with Bath and Body shop soaps, shampoo and lotion, lovely, thick terry cloth robes to wear and a King size bed!! (The staff treated us very well and we highly recommend the SeaTac Marriott hotel to our friends.)
     We visited with Adelina Gonzales one last time over dinner at the Olive Garden. Before we parted I gave her the framed picture of a still life I had drawn years ago in College art class--a memento of me and our long friendship which began twenty two years ago at university. 
     In order to shrink my life to fit on the NB Valerie I had to do a considerable amount of weeding out, giving away and parting with beloved objects. A friend of mine asked if she could have one of my treasures as a remembrance. I took a cue from her and each of my closest friends received a memento of mine.
     (So please, please, please friends and family on both sides of the Atlantic--remember this when you think about gifting me and Les with stuffed teddy bears in love, collectible statues, pillows, pictures, etc. I had to give away the majority of my beloved treasures to make this move and we live on a narrow boat! Gift cards would be appropriate and much appreciated.)
     We hit the streets of Seattle and saw the usual sites: Pike Place Market, the Seattle Aquarium, and the Olympic Sculpture Park.
     I was impressed that the bright red chairs lined up for the public to sit and enjoy the art installations with and the scenery were not chained to the ground or stolen.
     After a night's soulful slumber we plowed through the mound of eight--count them--EIGHT pillows to find each other in the gi-normous bed. While king size is luxurious, I lost my husband several times during the night!
     After a delicious breakfast in the concierge lounge, we headed out for Tacoma, twenty six miles south. 
     While Seattle has amazing things to see, Tacoma is my favorite west side place to visit. On Commerce Street in Tacoma one can park in the University district and be within spitting distance of three very good museums: the Tacoma Museum of Glass, the Washington State History Museum, and the Tacoma Art Museum.  
     We wandered through the U. district, a re-purposed site of old railroad warehousing. Some of the tracks and signals were left in place and the new buildings were created with a nod to the old warehouses.
     I took Les the long way around to the street so he could appreciate the view of Union Railroad Station with its round, copper roof. 
     He thrilled as we stepped inside the marbled entrance and toured the refurbished beauty which houses the Tacoma Courthouse.
     Dear Sir's eyes grew wide as we walked across the Bridge of Glass and I pointed up to the Dale Chihouly installation in the ceiling!
     We visited the Hot Shop and watched young glass artists play with molten globs of glass. Afterward we sat on benches at the front of the museum eating ice cream and admiring the boats moored in the Dock Street Marina. When we win the lottery we will buy a condo overlooking the Glass Museum and have a boat moored in the adjacent marina! 
     We wandered uphill past the financial district to the newly gentrified theatre neighborhood and enjoyed the cultural masks from different countries built into the supporting beams of many of the buildings. Everywhere one looks in Tacoma there is art and a feast for the eye!
     We sat outside Tully's coffee, sipping lattes and enjoying the cool, sea-salt scented air as it rose up the city hills from Commencement Bay.
     Finally it was time to go and pick up Sparky and her room mate Mary from the Tulwila Train Station near our hotel. I was anticipating and dreading our meeting. I'd said my goodbye to Jesse--my favorite oldest daughter--and it had been painful enough. Now it was time to say farewell to my favorite youngest daughter.
     Sparky told me through her missing front teeth when she was six years old, "Mama I love you tho much I'm gonna live with you till I'm thirty thix." With her arms wrapped tightly around my knees to underscore her feelings. I knew that six year old was still in there muttering, "Thit! Thit! Thit! I knew I thould have thtuck with my original plan!"
     Spark had endured a couple of really rough years recently not the least of which was helping me through cancer treatments and the changes in my life the last eleven months had been difficult for her. Thank the Goddess she loved Les too and told him so. It made letting go a little easier.
     Spark and Mary were also here to take my 1995 Oldsmobile Cutlass Sedan AKA Tawanda, home with them to Portland. Sparky had gifted it to me in 2008 when my car died and I was too poor to afford a new one while hemorrhaging money to begin alternative cancer therapy. 
     After dinner we said our goodbyes and Spark and Mary drove off in Tawanda. Another circle was completing itself in my life. Now all I had to do was suffer through the nine hour plane ride and find my feet in England.
     Les takes overseas travel in stride. I hate to travel. Things move too fast, I get motion sick, I am claustrophobic, and I cannot even begin to describe how miserable I am when I have no control over my immediate surroundings and my body. 
     Flashback to childhood and hiding in hot, tiny, pitch black closets with my sister and every sharp implement in the house, waiting for an imminent attack.
     It was the plane ride from hell with no control over the air. Hot, oversold, and stuffed into chairs nut to butt. At one point I sat on the floor in the very back of the cabin and looked longingly at the handle which opens the door.
     We arrived in England to find a few things had changed while Les was away in the States. Due to those changes it became necessary for Les to schlep four LARGE suitcases nearly splitting at the seams, a computer bag and my carry on with five years of medical records and various other paperwork onto and off of, and onto and off of trolleys no less than six times in order to get us from Heathrow's interminable Terminal Five, to a high speed train stopping at ground level, to a bus, to a train, to Tina's car.
Tina, Lea, and Andy Elford aboard NB Ytene
     He refused to let me help as I was nearly falling asleep on my feet after being awake for nearly twenty three hours. Thank you Tina Elford for greeting us at the Rugby station and giving us a ride home. I sat in her rig and let the musical sound of her accent wash over me as she chatted with Les.      Smart, sassy and funny, with the same timeless beauty of model Lauren Hutton, Tina is a force with which to reckon. (Made you laugh didn't I Tina!! We seldom see ourselves as others see us.
 Tina and her husband Andy were Les' traveling mates for three years as they explored the canals in a convoy--Les aboard NB Valerie and the Elfords aboard their beautiful boat. Tina deposited us at Napton Marina and we were finally, finally home.
      We did it! We DID IT!
     We found each other online in November of 2009 across five thousand miles of ocean and two countries. We met in October 2010, fell in love, and courted via Skype and PennySaver; Dear Sir crossed the Atlantic six times in eleven months as our love affair grew serious. 
     He proposed to me in February, I visited England in May (did I mention I hate to travel??); we planned a wedding, got married, planned a reception, filed for my spouse visa, attempted to sell my home, dissolved most of my past 53 years of collected goods, said good bye to all near and dear, and finally....made it home to England!
     We are moored up now somewhere on the Ashby Canal. We've picked blackberries for pie (three pies--soon to be four actually!!), visited small farm shops, figured out the bus schedule to visit Coventry, and rambled around the charming Village of Stoke Golding where Henry VII was crowned after felling Richard III in a battle for the Kingdom of England.
     And the view from where I sit?
     It's a lovely golden day in early autumn. After taking on water, dumping the trash and emptying the toilet cassettes we moored up near Bosworth Field, walked to Shenton Station and back home for a nap.
The church spire at Stoke Golding from aboard our boat
    In a galley the size of a postage stamp fitted out with Les' bachelor cooking accouterments, I manage to bake a glorious blackberry and apple pie and serve up buttered baby potatoes with parsley, sauteed garlic green beans, and Alaska Salmon fillets with a Tarragon cream sauce for dinner.
      Ducks, geese, and swans visit the boat for scraps of bread. My husband and I walk along the towpath holding hands, to see what is over the next bridge. We laugh, discuss, and argue; we sleep and wake in each other's arms, grateful for every minute we share, taking each day as it comes.
Full moon over the cut, somewhere in England

     While our love story goes on, this is the final post for this blog. My thanks to all our followers for your interest. It's been a life affirming experience as a writer to have your support and enthusiasm. 
    I will be starting another blog titled appropriately enough, "From Where I Sit..." and it will cover a wide range of things--whatever catches my eye, mind and spirit as we cruise along through life in love aboard the NB Valerie.     

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Long and Winding Road

"You never leave someone behind, you take a part of them with you and leave a part of yourself behind." ~Anonymous

     August arrived with a hot breath and cloudless skies. Morning temperatures hovered at sixty two degrees by six a.m. and 87-98 degrees Fahrenheit by noon--day after relentlessly baking day.
89 degrees on  top of Steptoe Butte
   Occasionally an evening of cloud cover resulted in dry lightening and a bare sprinkle of rain that lasted for a minute--no more --with none of the cool, clean effects of a real rain storm. Mother Nature was a tease.
     Living for thirty two years in Alaska--where darkness holds sway for much of the year--I didn't realize one could grow tired of sunshine until I moved to Eastern Washington State. I personally feel that temperatures over seventy two degrees are redundant and unnecessary. Les feels hemmed in by the heat--trapped and unable to leave the house. We both want to go home to England where I look forward to the possibility of wearing a sweater in the summer!
     Due to the prolonged spring rains which drowned the region from March through the first week in June, the Palouse is still awash in wildflowers and greenery as the wheat fades from green to amber. The Palouse put on its best summer dress this season for Dear Sir.
     If that weren't enough, the local wildlife is keen to catch site of the exotic new species in town: the elusive English boatman--English Navis Ver. I've lived in Pullman for eleven years and Dear Sir has seen more wildlife in three months than I've seen my entire tenure here!
Dear Sir on the back deck
     Coyotes pass through the wheat near the back deck, eyeing him keenly and gather in the tall wheat grass at night to howl; a horned owl resting atop the house surprised Les one afternoon, swooping silently just overhead--it's five foot wingspan casting a shadow over my husband that made him cringe in amazement. Landing just across the fence in the wheat field, it proceeded to eat its lunch while Les watched.
     Deer cluster in the fields to take a gander at the shy British water gypsy driving our car. Once spotted, he slows down to watch them--and they leap across the road in front of us.
     A Martin (cousin of the mink, Ermine, Weasel, badger and wolverine) worked its way out of the adjacent field one afternoon and plopped into the seasonal watercourse behind our deck, taking no notice whatsoever of Dear Sir.
     The red roses Les gave me weeks ago stood in the sitting room window attracting hummingbirds. They whizzed up and hovered just outside attempting to figure out how to get to those gorgeous flowers.
     My yard has always been a haven for dragonflies--nine spotted skimmers, electric blue damselflies, red darters--they hatch out of the seasonal stream just the other side of my deck and patrol the yard for insects, gracing us with their aerial acrobatics, landing on anything that sits still for ten seconds including me.
   Lady bugs by the thousands peep through the leaves all over the yard, seeking out aphids. Praying Mantis' hang on the screen door awaiting an unsuspecting meal.
     After the garden has been watered, we sit under the Lilac tree in Adirondack chairs watching American Robins (fat thugs in size compared to their delicate English cousins) pull earthworms from the soil like fat strands of spaghetti.
     Dusk falls after the most spectacular sunsets and moon rises. The wild geese fly low and slow over the back deck, ruffling my hair with their wing beats, "Fwhoop-Fwhoop-Fwhoop."
     Darkness unveils an arm of the Milky Way strung with stars twinkling like holiday lights across the Northern skies. Les and I stand shoulder to shoulder, leaning on the back deck railing listening to the geese settle into the nearby lagoon for the night, muttering at each other in low quacks and nasal tones. We are taken by the peace and quiet of the darkness.
     Packing and clearing out commenced with the house growing emptier as each week passed. I am up to 22 boxes of "stuff" which was sent over to England via Mayflower Movers! Where we will put it all Goddess only knows. 
     We had several offers for my house and each one fell through. The housing market in America is flat. Sadly I am walking away from my equity and turning it back to the sisters who held the note for me. They will do with it as they choose. 
     It was a lovely home for me to live in while battling cancer and regaining my health; it was a wonderful home for entertaining friends and family; it was a great place to begin my life in earnest as a writer. 
     My favorite oldest daughter came home one last time for breakfast at the family table with her husband Ben, and the three boys--Michael, Matthew, and baby Connor. We tucked into a ham and leek frittata, toast with blackberry jam, orange juice, tea, and yogurt with cantaloupe and fresh blueberries.
     My funny, wonderful husband took the tinfoil (aluminium) from a dish, turned it into a hat and put it on his head, laughing with the boys. Michael said sweetly under his breath, "He's one of the good grandpas," and turned his blue eyes to look at me, full of smiles and wonder.
     We loaded up the cooler with homemade friend chicken, potato salad, melon chunks, radishes, crispy strips of red, yellow and green bell peppers, raw cauliflower and broccoli florets, peeled rounds of cucumber, Ranch dip, soda pop, juice packs, bags of beef jerky and headed out to Laird Park for a day of swimming at the park.
     The Civilian Conservation Corps dammed the Palouse River in 1933 to create a small lagoon amongst the giant pines of the Clearwater National Forest. 
     The boys brought their Aquablasters we gave them for their birthdays and we waded into the mountain cold water of the river. A sandy beach spread out between our toes while baby fish darted in the shallows.
     Michael caught brown trout fingerlings in his cupped hands and Les had at least as much fun with the Aquablasters as my grandsons!
     We splashed, swam, and dried out in the hot sun. Chairs set up in the shade of a nearby trees allowed us to lounge as we grazed from the cooler throughout the day, keeping an eye on the boys as they came up to towel off, warm up, and refuel before answering the siren call of the water once more.
     A hike over the dam took us into the cool, green quiet of the forest over a mile and a half of trail, across the river and back around to the swimming hole, passing many medicinal herbs in full bloom late in the season.
     We finally loaded up our rigs and headed home in the slanted rays of early evening sun. While I showered the sand off, the men loaded my sectional sofa--the comfy, overstuffed couch that eats your ass--into the back of the flatbed truck. Tucked alongside was my dining room table and chairs, and other bits Jesse decided she needed. Ben and the boys went though my DVD collection and took what they wanted.
     While Ben, Jesse, and Les tied down the load I fed the boys home made bread with butter. Michael held his baby brother in his arms. Connor bannahner as we call him, is a very serious little fella.
     His gaze catches my eye briefly before he looks away beyond my shoulder or off in the distance at something else. He smiles but seldom ever bursts out into laughter--even when someone is chewing on his feet like miniature corn on the cob. Connor will wriggle and giggle, but never burst into belly laughter; he will babble occasonally but he seldom ever smiles at me although he is enchanted by Dear Sir, and will grin over anything Les does.
     I asked Mikey Boy to give Connor a bit of the soft part of his bread with a wee bit of butter on it. Connor tentatively chewed as he looked beyond us, out the window at the fields. Swallowing, Connor turned his head, looked me squarely and intently in the eyes and said, "I like that."
     Michael's eyes grew wide. He gaped at me and I stared back in amazement. "Did you hear that Mim?? Connor said, 'I like that!!'"
      "I Heard it! Plain as day,"'I like that.'" Wow! Of course no one else was around to witness the moment and when we excitedly reported what Connor said, everyone poo-poohed us. Still, Mikey Boy and I know what we heard and we know Connor can speak in small sentences at eight months old--when he wants to!
The chairs under the Lilac tree
     Soon my beloveds gathered into their rig and headed for Fairfield. Les and I sat in the chairs under the Lilac tree holding hands and waving goodbye. Tears slipped from the corners of my eyes and splashed down my cheeks as my chest heaved with sobs.
      I thought I would grow old and die alone in Cloudhouse; I thought my grandsons would always come to stay with me here and we would bake round, brown loaves of bread together, and pans of macaroni and cheese; visit the Moscow Farmer's Market, walk down and see the neighbor's cows and goats, lay in the dark on my down comforter spread across the grassy yard watching for meteors and satellites; I thought we would make snow ice cream, watch movies, eat poached eggs on toast and drink cups of tea, and feed the ducks at Sunnyside Park while their childhoods passed.
     As I watched their truck kick up dust on the lane I realized it was the end of a life I thought I would lead in favor of another life somewhere else--with someone else.   

Sunday, August 21, 2011


“May you never steal, lie or cheat. But if you have to steal, then steal away my sorrows. If you have to lie, then lie with me all the nights of our life. If you have to cheat, then cheat death because I don’t want to live a day without you”. ~ wedding toast

     Thursday afternoon just after lunch I checked my email and read:
Your UK visa has been issued.
We encourage you to give feedback on the UK visa application process at:

Delivery times:
Within the USA: Next business day
Outside the USA: 2-5 days

Your passport will be dispatched from the New York office and will be delivered by UPS 1Z5W21R62491856007

This is an automated reply - please do not respond

     I jumped out of my office chair shrieking. One of my colleagues came in and said, "I bet I know what this is about. Your visa came through didn't it?" He put his arms around me and clutched me to his chest as I sobbed.
     I couldn't believe it! Less than twenty four hours after receiving the visa binders, my visa was issued and scheduled to arrive the next morning via UPS airmail!! All those long months of worrying, preparing, and stressing were over.
     Word traveled quickly through Van Doren Hall. Folks hugged me tightly and congratulated me. Cheri Curtis and I held each other on the stairwell and cried together. My relief was was utter and overwhelming.
     Cheri (aka Little Bear, or 'Bear') took me to lunch at Swill's to celebrate. I tried calling Les at home but there was no answer. Of all the days to be out toodling around town!!
      Les came at 4 p.m. to pick me up, sauntering into my office with a grin, bussing me lightly on the lips.
     "Hi handsome--guess what--my visa was approved!!!" Pulling me close and tight, Les kissed me until I felt the floor sway beneath my feet.
     "See--I told you it would come. I just had this feeling Jaq--I knew it would come through this week. I mean if you are an agent who looks at a dozen of these files a week and one arrives on your desk organized with tabbed binders like yours, and everyone else has stuffed documents into an envelope, which one are you going to look at first? You are going to sort out the organized one right away because most of the work has already been done."
     We drove home in the hot July afternoon with the air-con crisping the interior of the car into a bearable coolness, holding hands over the console, grinning like crazies. After changing out of my work clothes Dear Sir and I spent the evening cooking a lovely meal and celebrating quietly--just the two of us. 
     We began the second round of wedding celebrations with a drive to Spokane for dinner with the Rise Up Women, as the Wednesday Women also call themselves, in honor of how we met. Due to the date change from July 9th to July 23rd for our reception, none of my sisters could make the party--so they decided to host a dinner for us.
     It was a stifling hot afternoon; the late rays of sun turned to amber spilling through holes in the white clouds--harbingers of possible dry lightening later in the evening.
     As I pulled up in front of Kialynn's house I thought--for just a moment--I saw a man disappear into her door! Knowing the Wednesday Women and their strict rules against male attendance, I figured I was hallucinating under heat stress.
     Dear Sir and I strolled hand in hand up the walk and rang the bell. Rhea Giffin threw open the door backed up by the other Wednesday Women--and their men!
     We stepped inside fielding kisses, hugs, and handshakes from all directions as drinks were placed in our hands. Dear Sir settled onto the raised hearth in the living room to chat while I loaded our web sites onto Kialynn's twenty seven inch IMAC computer so we could share wedding pictures and videos of NB Valerie. The men soon fell under Les' spell as he answered questions about living on board a narrow boat.
     I gathered the women in the kitchen and showed them my new tattoo. The air filled with one of my favorite sounds: women's voices, rising and falling on a tide of laughter. Joy crackled in the air as we sipped wine and viewed wedding photos, pics of England and NB Valerie; Les fielded questions about the canals.
     Kialynn announced dinner was ready and we took our seats at an exquisitely set table--candles flickered softly, silverware glinted in the evening light, the tablecloth and napkins shined brightly. Platters of Copper River Salmon baked on a bed of onions, tossed salad, fresh baked warm bread, corn on the cob, and broccoli made their way around the assembled diners.
     Much chatting ensued as we talked about our recent experiences. Dear Sir and I were toasted and wished much love and happiness. My heart sang as I looked around the table at each woman--my soul sisters with their partners in attendance.
     These men were special because they chose to love real, smart, funny, opinionated, talented women; active in heart, mind and community spirit. The Wednesday Women are larger than life--and the men who love them lead interesting lives blessed with love. For Les and me they wove an evening of acceptance, good cheer, warmth, respect, and camaraderie.
     Gifts and cards appeared with coffee and dessert. I finally had a treasured piece of Rhea's papier mache
     "It's two birds on the word 'AND,' because I think it's one of the most important words in a relationship. The word 'and' includes both people in a situation. I made it small and light with many layers of Shellac so it will fit on your boat and you can hang it on the wall."
     A lovely card enclosed several hundred dollars for tickets to a London theatrical production of our choice. Les has never been to a live play so we will be planning our London season later this fall when we head south for the colder weather. (I want to visit Bosworth field--but not before Les and I can see a production of Richard III.)

The note inside said:
Blessings to you Jaq and Les--
May your hull never chink,
May your rudder never blink,
And your spirits never sink.

May the sun rise before you
And the moon be your steady companion
As you travel the canals
On your journey together.

Glimpse a bit of the Rise Up Women
When the moonlight strikes the water
And twinkles a reflection
...we'll be thinking of you!
Love, the Rise Up Women

     Did you know a poem written to honor a bride and groom on their wedding day in celebration of their marriage is called an epithalamium? Using an acrostic device, Lisa Conger wrote one for me and Les:
Beautiful, she is.                                            Good and loving,
Radiant and                                                   Rich in hope, and
In bloom with love.                                         Optimistic on this special
Devoted, and incandescent, she steps to the      Occasion--determined to
Edge of heaven in her bliss.                              Make meaningful music
                                                                       with this marriage.
     We drove home under a sunset streaked canopy studded with stars. We were filled with love, laughter, good food and most importantly--the joy of true friendship. Our lives overflowed with goodwill. Everyone wanted to spend time with me and Les because of the genuineness of our love and joy in each other, as well as our notable love story.
     We visited friends Larry and Lael Turnbow on their family ranch where Larry crafts beautiful handmade custom cabinets and wood furniture in his shop and Lael telecommutes to WSU to work on University projects. Their home reflects the love of family over three generations. The ranch consists of 240 acres of beautiful Idaho country--fields, springs, pasture, creeks and deep pine forest inherited from Larry's grandfather. 
     We joined them for breakfast one Saturday morning, feasting on fresh fruits, berries, and Lael's legendary homemade rolls. The day passed too quickly as we toured the ranch, heard stories about family, and shared Waterways World magazines. Les regaled Larry and Lael with canal and boat stories as we sipped Russian Coffee and enjoyed their company.
Banyon's at the Ridge, © L. Biggs
     We were wined and dined by Jerry and Cheri Curtis who treated us to a fine dinner at the golf course with its unparalleled views of Moscow Mountain. We  followed  dinner with a lovely early evening walk through the moonlit University of Idaho Arboretum--two couples strolling hand in had in the gathering dusk--romantic indeed.
     Saturday, July 23rd dawned beautiful and bright--a cloudless morning glory blue sky stretched as far as the eye could see. After a favorite breakfast of poached eggs on my husband's freshly baked bread, fried potatoes, ham, and coffee we drove into town and picked up the reception wine--a half case of The Chook, Sparkling Shiraz--and a half case of Le Perlina Moscato d'Asti sparkling white wine. 
     A quick stop by Dissmores yielded our wedding reception cake--which Dear Sir knew nothing about. Two stacked rounds of freshly baked carrot cake frosted with Cream Cheese icing--Les' favorite--were topped by the small wooden narrow boat he gave me when he came to visit the very first time. 
     "I found a way to get a narrow boat past customs," said Dear Sir as he pulled the lovely replica from his bag and handed it shyly to me last October. He had no idea where it would lead! 
     Brad the Baker went above and beyond, making our cake from scratch instead of using a mix. He grated fresh carrots from the store's produce section and the baking staff had a great time decorating it. My instructions were simple: blue beading to match the narrow boat topper and no flowers, but otherwise, have fun and enjoy yourselves. 
     Our cake was the talk of the store for days and Les was touched by the narrow boat floating on a canal of blue icing flowing across the top.
     Soon enough my favorite oldest daughter appeared with husband and sons in tow and we headed out for Chrisi and Keith Kincaid's farm for our party. 
     The yard looked gorgeous and Chrisi, Keith, Jerry, and Cheri were all working to get things set up. The round tables sat waiting with an air of expectancy, their crisp white cloths glowing in the early evening shade. 
Keith Kincaid at the oven
     The outdoor pizza oven was red hot and Keith was getting it set to begin cooking pizzas; his wife Chrisi had lovingly made dough from scratch that morning--for forty five guests! Cheri and Jerry filled galvanized buckets with ice and chopped pizza toppings.
     Soon folks arrived dipping into buckets of iced beer and soda to quench their thirst. The buffet table groaned with delicious foods brought by our guests. Music filled the air--and laughter; happy greetings and party chat hummed all around us as our friends dished plates and settled down on chairs around the tables, across the lawn and around the yard. 
     We set up Les' computer with videos of NB Valerie and his canal travels. People gathered in knots around the computer to watch. Excited talk about travel to Europe followed. 
     Children did cartwheels in the grass and walked along the stone garden walls as Jerry and Little Bear made the rounds repeatedly, wooden peels in hand, offering up slices of heavenly pizzas fresh from the oven. 
     I introduced Dear Sir to new friends while welcoming those he already knew. Soon enough two hours had passed and it was time to open the wine--which my husband deftly managed, cork after popping cork. Chrisi and I cut the wedding cake into tall chunks and me and Les passed out pieces of the moist, frosted confection to every guest, stopping to visit.
     I felt like a honey drunk bee, visiting blossom after delicious nectar-filled blossom only we were sipping the nectar of friendship in the garden of our friends. Les and I were touched by the grace and depth of their affection for us. 
     We had so much to celebrate--our love for one another, our marriage, my visa--the sheer simple, amazing story of how Dear Sir and I found each other from across an ocean. 
     Toasts were made as Ella Fitzgerald's voice filled the air. Les and I danced in one another's arms while all around us friends stood and watched; love's delight stole across face after face...
    "At last, my love has come along; my lonely days are over, and life is like a song..." There is nothing quite like being held in the bosom of family and friendship, surrounded by the ones we love at such a moment. 
     Eventually the sun cast long shadows across the grass. Folks hugged the two of us close, wished us well, and walked off hand in hand to their cars for the ride home. 
     As dusk settled down to keep us company, a core group huddled around one table: me and Les, Chrisi and Keith Kincaid, Cheri and Jerry Curtis, Christina Vala and her sweetheart Cliff Haight, and Gloria and David Tong. We poured more wine and we toasted, told tales, and laughed into the late evening. A damn good time was had by all and we will wrap cherished memories of our wedding reception close 'round our hearts and bring them home with us to England. 
Cliff & Christina
     The next morning me and Les met Christina and Cliff at the Old European for a late breakfast. Cliff regaled us with his method for manufacturing his own diesel gasoline from leftover restaurant oil and we laughed with glee at Christina's descriptions of Cliff in his mad scientist mode--his lovely, sweet, innocent blue eyes twinkling in reply. Cliff actually is a chemist by trade with a small boy's delight in making his own concoctions in their back yard!
     Christina is my heart's sister too. We attended graduate classes at WSU in Marxist Theory and shared good meals and movies over the years as she worked on her Master's degree. 
     Christina did me the immense kindness of looking after my house and keeping company with Sianna--Peeking Puss le Fuzzy Butt--whenever I had to travel for work. The two of them had a deep bond and Puss would actually begin purring whenever I mentioned Christina, her tail up like a pleasure flag for whatever adventures in lap cuddling and movie time might be in the works.
      It made it easier for me to travel for work knowing that two of my best beloved were hanging together, making tea and poached eggs, keeping the home fires burning until I returned.
     After sending our friends off with hugs and good-byes, Les and I returned home to veg out. Relaxed, happy, and tired from the night before, we napped in the late afternoon heat. Sunlight filled our bedroom, making the Phlox blue walls shine. The white sheets were crisp and cool as we lay together, our summer tanned skin a contrast of tumbled limbs and love. 
     "Chrisi and I had a brief chat about you last night." Dear Sir's English accent caressed my ears. His brown-green eyes sparkled as they swept over me. 
     "Mmm?" I was too drowsy to speak.
     "I told Chrisi I know now why you have very fine friends--every one of them. It is because of who you are."
     Leaning on one elbow and looking deep into my husband's sun and laughter creased face, I drawled, "What do you mean, 'who I am?'" I am just myself--it is the only person I can be." I looked at Les quizzically.
     "Exactly. Jaq you are a lovely person; a warm, beautiful woman. Chrisi and I agree you attract all those fine people to you because of who you are. You are such a good person. You're loving and generous. Your heart is filled with laughter. Being with you is pure joy. It really is." Les bent his head and kissed me long and slow.
    "Well darlin', Chrisi and I had a chat about you too!" It was Dear Sir's turn to lean in on one elbow, as I laid back on my pillow, smiling wickedly. "She said you are 'a good, good, kind, sweet man and exactly the love I deserve.'" 
     Dessert followed: a sumptuous counterpart to our nap, we feasted on slow, sweet kisses and afternoon delight.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Letting Go..

"Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go."  ~James Baldwin

     After months of locating and compiling documents; sifting, sorting, copying, collating; multiple runs to Office Depot for printer cartridges, reams of paper, file tabs, three ring binders and untold hours parsing the Ex-Pat Forum online for hints and advice I finally had my visa binders put together.
     In all they weighed ten pounds and were organized according to the the list of questions on the Spouse visa application form, with a total of 400 pages of paper copies not including original legal documents, wedding, engagement and other personal letters, and photographs.
     After reading, reviewing, and re-reading all the seemingly arbitrary instructions and writing them down step by step in a diary to be sure I understood what was required, we spent three hours into the late evening of July 11th filling out the online VAF4-A British spouse settlement visa application.
     Without Dear Sir I would  have F*&%ed it up entirely. Being dyslexic I found myself frequently confused by the British style of using four words to suggest what an American will state succinctly with a one or two word phrase. It seemed to me the UK Border Agency suggested one thing but actually meant something else.
     Once done parsing the seventeen online pages, we paid the eleven hundred and forty nine dollar fee and printed out the eleven pages of application which provided a receipt for funds paid, a special black bar code and a GWF reference number--all essential components to move forward in this bizarre paper chase. I wept in relief when we finished.
     Our next step required me to go online and book an appointment for biometrics with the nearest U.S. customs office in Spokane, Washington, and go to he U.S. Post Office for two passport quality photos taken without my eyeglasses, or any living expression on my face.
     Unlike the United States--which wants it citizenry to appear happy to be American by allowing us to smile for passport pictures--the UK wants solemnity bordering on criminality as the passport mug shot. As a result my visa picture looks like the zombie bride. 
      On Monday June 18th, we drove one hundred and seventy miles round trip from Pullman to Spokane and back in 93 degree weather for an appointment that took literally ten minutes. 
Foley U.S. Federal Courthouse-Spokane, WA
     Inside the Federal courthouse in the office of U.S. Customs and Homeland Security I was fingerprinted and photographed receiving that priceless red ink stamp on my biometrics appointment confirmation printout which must be included in the visa application packet.
     Dear Sir and I rose at five thirty am on Tuesday July 19, 2011 and went online to the WorldBridge site to pay the additional $300 dollars priority expedite fee. 
     Instructions required us to send the application the same day. We printed out that receipt with its special reference number, gathered the notebooks, and drove to FEDEX in Pullman at 7:30 a.m. to ship my visa application notebooks to New York, next day delivery. 
     Following the directions of the UK Border Agency we placed a copy of the priority expedite fee receipt on top of Notebook #1 (and just to be on the safe side I put a copy inside the cover of notebook #2).
     The clerk packed it carefully all the while trying to prepare us for the cost of shipping ten pounds of paper and binders overnight 3000 miles to the other coast of the continent. 
     "It doesn't matter; it doesn't matter how much it costs--these have got to go out today and arrive tomorrow before the close of business." Scooping up a black marker, Les wrote "priority expedite" and our receipt reference number in large black letters and numbers on the outside of the package per instructions from WorldBridge and we left one hundred and thirty six dollars poorer.
     Once again I burst into tears. I toiled away the previous four months to reach this moment when we let all our hard work go and trusted FEDEX to deliver it on time to the British consulate clearing officer who might recognize the veracity of our case.
     Les just believed it would go through. He saw no reason I would be denied a visa. I could think of several different reasons why the British consulate might deny me starting with the fact that, at age fifty three I am unlikely to ever contribute significantly to the GDP of England, and yet as Les' wife I am entitled to benefits for which I have never paid a dime. That simply does not happen in the Unites States of America. 
     I experience the privelege of having $130.00 a month deducted from my paycheck to ensure Dear Sir has health insurance here in this country--with a $500.00 deductible that must be met first. 
     We have our constitutional rights provided to us by the Bill of Rights--the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution which offer American citizens protection by limiting the powers of the federal government; and the freedom to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps--if we start out in life with bootstraps or find the means to save for a pair. 
     Our rights are being steadily eroded by the power of corporations, from whom we have no protection at all, and justice in America these days most often goes to those with means to afford it--just like health care.
     I have the right to work over six months of the year to pay 34% in taxes to a government who turns around and tells me I still have not paid enough--I owe yet more money and if I marry my tax bill will be even larger. With my money  the U.S. government will underwrite wars in foreign places for corporate greed dressed up to look like an affected interest in human rights.
     Our right to freedom of speech allows us to shout to the world the United States is "the greatest nation on earth" while our own go hungry, homeless, and die for lack of health insurance and medical care; American children go without decent educations, and little hope to afford a college degree. 
courtesy of  Mr. L. Biggs aka my gorgeous husband
     Our children can only clutch at a vain hope in the "American Dream"; the dream sold to so many immigrants from all over the world who flood to this country for a slim chance to secure a myth. 
     As if to underscore the absurd paradoxes of life in this country, Les and I were walking along the Pullman Albion Road last week when his eagle eye spotted a greenback in the grassy weeds along the roadside.  Quickly Dear Sir bent down and plucked the bill from the weeds, his eyes gleaming with excitement. It turned out to be a million dollar bill--printed for entertainment purposes. 
     "Well there you go love," I said sardonically. "The American dream implies our streets are paved with money--no one ever comes out and tells you it's funny money."
   Tuesday afternoon when Les came to pick me up from work he was particularly buoyant. We walked to the car hand in hand and Les kissed me tenderly as he said, "Let me get the car door for you Mrs. Biggs."
      I slid into the front passenger seat as Dear Sir opened the back door, reached inside and pulled out a dozen exquisite red roses and handed them to me with a card that read, "I love youXXX.Thank you for sorting the visa folders."
     For the second time that day tears slipped down my cheeks. I have received flowers from a man exactly three times in my entire life: the first time was the day before my fifty second birthday and the man was my new British friend "Dear Sir." 
    The second was in March and they were from my fiance Les; this time my husband Mr. Biggs, surprised me with flowers so beautiful they took my breath away!
     Wednesday, June 20th dawned hot and clear. We stopped at
Dissmores as usual on the way to work and ordered our lattes: a double shot caramel machiatto for Les, and a double shot Irish Cream latte for me. 
     The young women behind the counter know us well. They have followed my love story from its beginning and they are quite fond of The Brilliant Englishman. We chatted briefly filling Lisa and Ashlee in on where we were with the Visa application as they wished us well. 
    We sipped our hot drinks quietly as Les drove me up to campus, both of us tired from weeks of late nights sorting paperwork. We kissed good bye tenderly three times as is my wont because one kiss will not fortify me until we see each other again--I need three in order to leave a man like Dear Sir behind and trudge off to my office.
      After lunch I decided on a whim to check my email and see if there was anything from the UK Border Agency about receipt of our package.Logging into Gmail I saw "NEYOZVisa Information." Clicking quickly, the email opened and the following message appeared:

Dear Applicant

Your UK visa application has arrived safely at the UK Border Agency, New York and is currently being processed.
Priority Service:
Your application will be processed ahead of other visa applications. Under normal circumstances, non-settlement priority service applications will be processed within 48 hours. Settlement priority applications will be processed within 15 days (not including weekends or public holidays) from day of receipt at UK Border Agency visa section in USA.
Please note, as indicated in the terms of service, the amount paid for the priority service, as well as visa fees, is not refundable if the visa application is refused or, in exceptional cases, takes longer than 48 hours / 15 days to process the application.
You will receive further e-mails advising you of -
1. When your application reaches the next stage of the process; review by an Entry Clearance Officer, and
2. The outcome of your application. This e-mail will also provide you with details of your return package.
We are unable to respond to status enquiries. Further information on UK visa services is available at


UK Border Agency, New York

     I heaved a sigh of relief. It arrived! The consulate had my visa application and we must have done something right because they were actually going to process it as a priority!
      I was grateful I found the ExPat Forum and took the advice offered for Americans seeking a spouse settlement visa to the UK about organizing all data into tabbed notebooks. 
     I was thankful Dear Sir suggested we go a step further and create two identical binders--one labeled "original" and one labeled "copies." 
     It was my turn to be buoyant when Les came to pick me up from work. As we drive off campus he said thoughtfully, "I just have a feeling we will have a decision from the Border Agency this week." I raised my sarcastic left eyebrow which speaks silently, "Yeah right!" 
     "I just have this feeling Jaq; maybe living with a witch is rubbing off on me. I don't know why but I feel it in my gut."  
     And with his own knowing smile Dear Sir headed home in the late afternoon sun, the car flying along a road bordered on both sides by seemingly endless wheat fields transforming from green to gold in the baking summer heat.
The view from our back deck
     Later after dinner as I scooped ice cream into glasses for root beer floats I experienced deja vu--the realization washed over me that I had dreamt that very moment over six months ago: the evening sunset melting into gilded golds and hot pink fusing softly with evening purples across the sky as the landscape stood outlined in a dark silhouette; the frozen coolness of the ice cream carton, the scent of vanilla and cream, the fizz of root beer; the actual moment of feeling myself standing there in the kitchen at Cloudhouse, scoop in hand, my husband's left foot resting on his chair, his lovely brown eyes watching me with a smile from across the white counter.
     I have always done this dreaming ahead of time about seemingly unimportant daily events. It is the Universe's way of checking in with meto say, "You are where you belong."  
The family breadmaker
     Thursday July 21st was the beginning of the end of a hectic week in which Les went fishing on the Snake River with our friend Joe Horton and his buddy Roger Johnson. A brilliant time was had by all in the 80 plus degree weather, as Roger was kind enough to give Les an experience he will not forget, described briefly on Les' blog, "Boats and Cruising: Valerie." I took great pleasure in baking a pan of angel Bars for the guys, and packing a lunch for my husband.
     The countdown was on for our wedding reception planned Saturday, July 23rd--forty eight hours away.