Sunday, January 30, 2011

Restoration and Recovery

"I walk without flinching through the burning cathedral of the summer.  My bank of wild grass is majestic and full of music.  It is a fire that solitude presses against my lips." -   Violette Leduc

     Somehow spring passed into summer. Both Dear Sir and myself faced personal challenges throughout the months. He lost emails through a technical glitch and had to rebuild his address book. Posting a note on his blog for folks to contact him at his new email address renewed many of his lost contacts. A few months later his laptop died a sudden death and had to be replaced with a new one. He was also frequently visiting family who needed him, and spending very little time cruising as a result.
NB Valerie courtesy L. Biggs
     Dear Sir was frantically searching for me across the web, finding me eventually on My Space which was no mean feat. I purposefully made it difficult to be found on account of my students who often expected me to advise them on the spot if they located me in cyber space.
     Unaware of his situation, my attention was taken up with unexpected health findings which raised the specter of cancer one more time.
     My colon seized up the beginning of June as it had almost three years previously to the day. A CT scan turned up a mass growing in my lower left abdomen. DING!! Round three: operation number four.
     Of course the doctor wanted to refer me to an Oncological surgeon immediately up in Spokane and of course I refused. I knew the drill intimately and I wouldn't be pressured into "supportive" cancer therapy in addition to surgery, or elect to have surgery in a Spokane hospital that might compromise my recovery. "Prepare for the worst and expect the best." I didn't believe it was cancer despite the concern of the medical professionals--I was still undergoing Gerson therapy. 
     I chose a good local surgeon and had a frank conversation about what he would do, and what I would choose to do, if he found cancer. I decided I would not tell my daughters until surgery was completed and results returned. I despised the thought of putting them through all the stressful uncertainty and heart rending worry yet again. A colleague took me aside and said, "What if you die on that operating table? Your daughters will never forgive you if they don't have chance to say good-bye and I love you."
      I compromised and called them both three days prior to surgery scheduled for the following Monday morning July 3rd, at Pullman Regional Hospital. I told them not to worry about me and not to come home--I'd call with the results.
     Monday morning dawned beautiful and bright in all summer's golden glory. I sat quietly by the window listening to birdsong in my garden and reviewing a special meditation tape to prepare for successful surgery when a sound at the back door caught my attention and someone called out "hello."
Jesse and Ben
     I opened my eyes to see all three of my loved ones trooping into the kitchen from the back deck. Inwardly I was incredibly relieved to see their faces. Jesse arranged for Sparky to come home as a surprise for me and Ben picked her up from the train station in Spokane.
     In the pre-op we laughed and carried on with the medical staff who giggled along with the crazy patient and her children. Jesse came back from the bathroom and announced,
     "I could hear you laughing all the way down the hall and into the restroom Ma. You are the only patient in pre-op who appears to be having a good time." Her dark left brow rose as she smiled crookedly at me.      
       "I'm only
Laughter is the best med
traveling through this lifetime once--I might as well enjoy every minute I have. I find I receive better care when I leave the staff in a good mood. They remember me fondly and try harder to attend to my needs. And should something happen on the operating table I'd like your last memories of me to be good ones."     

     And so finally it was time. I was given a nice IV injection of milk of amnesia and I knew no more until I came-to in post op. Two hours later the surgeon visited to say the lab results came back benign.
     Apparently in the perverse fashion of its inhabitant, my body decided it wasn't quite finished with that missing ovary and it attempted to fashion another, including a lovely stalk growing out of my abdominal wall for the cyst to rest upon--exactly where my ovary had once resided. Floating happily inside me, this mass touched my colon and caused it to seize up.
     Friends came to visit with happy relief bringing gorgeous flowers and the scent of summer mornings into the stuffy hospital room. My close friend Cheri Curtis (Little Bear) gave me a rhinestone dragonfly pin that I wore on my hospital gowns. I rested, walked, and was released to go home after two days.
deck chair therapy
View from my back deck
     Sparky stayed with me for a week. I took my pain meds and went to my happy place. She put the large green sun umbrella up on the back deck and we sat in Adirondack chairs with our drinks, enjoying the hot weather from the comfort of the shade. We filled our senses with the ZzzZzz of grasshoppers in the tall grass singing the summer temperature by rubbing their legs together. The hotter it gets, the faster they rub. The sky was cloudless, and the heat intense, driving us inside by noon.  
    The sun set in royal colors, the heat fled, and we revisited the back deck with mugs of hot tea as stars filled the sky. Frogs called out to one another all along the watercourse behind my house, and coyotes howled in the distance.  
Wee Man
     Day two on the back deck, our nirvana was interrupted by rustling and mewing down in my garden. Sparky investigated and returned holding in her hand a tiny silver tabby kitten, scared, hungry, and dehydrated. 
     Of course! Any stray, lost, broken animals and people within a fifty mile radius invariably find their way to Sparky the Rescue Woman. Since Sianna's death a year ago I had adamantly lived alone forgoing a replacement cat--as if there ever could be such a thing.
     Reluctantly I took the ball of fluff in the house, fed and watered him and settled in. Over a period of three days he endeared himself to me as he toddled back and forth from Sparkala's lap to mine triumphantly. Climbing my shoulder, he tucked himself up under my chin, purring loudly while attempting to suckle my ear lobe. I named him Wee Man.  
     He took my heart with his striking tabby features: a beautifully striped coat of fawn, silver, and shades of brown and black; the trademark M on his forehead, and his slightly elongated, upturned nose. Tabbies are extremely intelligent and often into mischief as a result of their intellectual curiosity. Smart cats (and children) are easily bored and must be kept perpetually occupied otherwise boredom reigns and trouble invariably ensues.
Steptoe Butte looking North from Kamiak Butte © theslowlane
    Spark headed back to her life in Portland and I recovered. My friend Karen Barron returned to Pullman and took me on my first hike to Kamiak Butte. I'd lived in Pullman for nine years and never once climbed it. Karen kept a pace that I found comfortable and gave me a set of trekking poles to keep. 
     I hiked up Pine Ridge Trail every weekend, taking in the incense of dry pines in the warm sun, the sound of bees foraging for late summer flowers, and the endless view. Nature and laughter are two superb restoratives.
     My life felt complete and my soul was happy. I knew my health was returning for the long haul. I was working on a book, and living in a lovely home amidst the quiet splendors of the Palouse. 
     I had a six year plan for retirement to England at which time I would have the means to buy my narrow boat and support myself independently. 
     My children and grand children were healthy and I had meaningful work that made a difference in the lives of others. After a very long haul I was four months away from completing the requisite two years and seven months of Gerson cancer therapy. And last but by no means least, Dear Sir was coming to visit in October for a week!

From: Jaqueline Almdale
To: Les Biggs
Subject: Restoration and Recovery
Date: Sun, 27 Jun 2010
Hello Les,
     I am in awe of your search for me on My Space. I don’t come up that quickly or easily on purpose so my current students don’t find me and attempt to befriend me with an eye to online advising services all hours of the day and night.
    Angel is a great name for your new laptop! May she protect your electronic life like an angel. I’m glad they were able to move your e-past into the present and onto her. I would love to see your photo library.
NB Valerie, courtesy L. Biggs
I can see you on NB Valerie, basking in the hot sun, enjoying the day. 
It makes me smile from ear to ear. So you are on the Shroppie now? And if I am following along correctly, you would hook up with the Staff and Worcs at Autherly and then head south to Stourport. Were you thinking of mooring Valerie at the Stourport Basin while you visit Jo, Kev and the kids?
Arriving at Stourport Basin © Clarabellegran
     When you are looking at a map of the U.S. bear in mind Spokane, Washington is the largest city between Seattle and Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota! 
    I have a good car and Spokane is only an hour and a half from Pullman so if it works for you, please don’t worry—I am happy to drive up and get you. It costs a pretty penny and takes additional time to arrive in Pullman or Lewiston via air; that said, wherever you land and whatever time that may be, I’ll be there with a smile and a hug to meet you. I’m the one my friends call on when they need a ride to the airport at 4 AM in order to catch an early morning flight.
     I have to work on Saturday, October 16th in Everett Washington, which is about 45 minutes North of Seattle. I was just thinking, if you wanted to come in to Seattle on Saturday the 16th of October and rest up after flying umpteen hours, I can pick you up in Seattle and drive us back to Pullman—it’s a six hour drive.
I-90 crosses the Columbia River Gorge © Sensibilis
  This would save you a bit in traveling fares and you could really experience the amazing geography of Washington State. No worries if this doesn’t work for your time frame. It just occurred to me though that we could kill two birds with one stone this way! You could actually see the Columbia River as we cross it. (I thought is was an inland sea the first time I saw it!)
     I climbed Kamiak Butte yesterday with my friend Karen. She introduced me to trekking poles which made it much easier to hike and climb. I ‘d like to hike up there with you while you are here. It is the last fringe of untouched forest surrounded by Wheat and Lentil farms as far as the eye can see.
Pine Ridge Trail, Kamiak Butte © theslowlane
     From the top of the butte one can see into Moscow, Idaho and the far off silhouette of the Blue Mountains in Oregon. It’s 3,641 feet high and 3.5 miles of forested hiking trails. Kamiak is only fifteen minutes from my house. Named after Chief Kamiaken of the Yakima tribe, the park encompasses 298 acres. The butte consists of pre-Cambrian quartz and was once the floor of an ancient sea.
     Quite a few of my friends would like to meet you and since your blog lists "women" under interests I thought I might host a Women & Wine event if you you don't mind being the only rooster in the hen house. Please let me know how you feel about all this and don't hesitate to tell me if you aren't comfortable with any plans. 
     It was 86 degrees F here today--too scorching hot for me. I got up early and started weeding the garden at 6:30 am before it was too hot to deal with it. I was all in by 10 am. Came in, showered off the garden muck, did laundry, paid bills, had a bit of lunch, and promptly fell asleep. Naps are becoming my one weakness!
Enjoy the sun!
Jaqueline X

From: les biggs
To: jaqueline
Subject: FW: trip planning
Date: Sun, 27 Jun 2010
     Thanks for letting me know your plans for the 16/17th and i will very soon be booking flights. I think I've chosen one and the only change will be to arrive in Seattle earlier in the day and find a hotel until i meet with you on Sunday.
     Now looking at the dates enclosed you can see i am thinking of being in Pullman for a week but can tweak this to suit your plans; please, please let me know your feelings. I am coming to meet a friend NOT to impose on her.
     Also to be considered is your invite for your friends to meet the man from across the pond. J it would be a pleasure to be the guest rooster in the hen house...I`m very easy going, friendly, and laid back so i`ll leave the plans to you and all i ask is give me dates etc. and i will book my flights to suit you. 
     The Seattle part is sorted and boy am i looking forward to that drive, all i need is to sort the Spokane departure date that falls in with your needs.
     Stourport and the R. Severn plan is off for now as i have a friend who has to under go day surgery and would like me to drive her back from hospital and stay a day or two until she is back on her feet. As she has been a good friend for many years, and helped me in the early period of Val passing away, saying yes was an easy decision.
     So plan now is to leave here (Tipton), cruise to Birmingham city centre and decide where to head next bearing in mind i will need a Marina for the boat with a train station nearby.

From: Jaqueline Almdale
To: Les Biggs
Subject: Trip Planning
Date: Thu, 9 Sep 2010
     Time is passing and I am growing ever more excited to finally meet you in person and catch up conversationally. Your trip over here has made traveling for work something to look forward to for the first time in years.
Jaqueline XX

From: les biggs
To: jaqueline
Subject: FW: Trip Planning
Date: Thu, 9 Sep 2010
Hi Jaqueline
Following your last letter re: Seattle i have now changed my`s ok i`m still coming to visit.
     J I have now decided that after looking at the links you sent for Seattle, that I would like to spend a few days there to at least see some of the interesting venues. Having thought about Las Vegas, it would serve no purpose staying for a week as all i have ever wanted to do is wander around a few of the larger themed hotels that have changed the "Strip" since i visited in 1980 and of course fly down into the canyon by Helicopter. As i have no intention of gambling in the city of "Lost Wages" I will have plenty of time to achieve what i plan and I really like the look of Seattle.
     So i might leave Vegas on the Thursday and stay in the Travelodge you suggested in Seattle. Still might even fly into Vegas from UK even earlier and extend the Seattle stay even longer.
     The most important thing before i click the buttons and book everything is that you are ok with the parts of the trip that affect you. Whatever happens i will be in Seattle ready to travel with you on Sun 17th.
     There is a way to get a Narrowboat through Customs........don`t even ask.....wait and see!
     Thursday the 22nd will be fine for you to put me on display at the Women & Wine evening under the banner of "he lives in a steel tube but then again he is English." LOL! Shall i dress as a pirate? Sounds like a fun evening with the expected and welcomed non stop questions. Kamiak Butte sounds like a nice trip too. Maybe we can do it if time allows.

From: Jaqueline Almdale
To: Les Biggs
Subject: Can You Hear Me now
Date: Sat, 2 Oct 2010
Good afternoon Les,
     It’s 7:12 am on Saturday morning here. Attached to this email is a word doc with the Pullman forecast for October through the 23rd, in metric—which makes no sense to me but of course will to you. We are in the midst of an unseasonably hot spell this week with day time temps in mid to high 80’s F. Rain is forecast for Sunday and Monday which I will welcome.
     I am so excited Les—soon you will be here! Thank you for your offer to bring things over for me. I cannot really think of anything. I can get PG Tips here at the store. I do subscribe to both Waterways World and Canal Boat. Just bring yourself. Your company is the best British import of which I can think!
     You won't need pirate gear Les. Those dimples deep enough to swim in, combined with your accent will be catnip to many a feminine heart. 
     Today I am off to the Farmer’s Market in Moscow, Idaho for some fresh veg. I’ll start some flour, salt, water, and yeast to rising for bread tomorrow. 
     I have a funeral to attend in Moscow at 10 am for my latest Hospice client who died last Sunday after a secondary diagnosis of breast cancer. I was so privileged to meet her lovely children who flew in from across the world to take care of their mum. I am always deeply touched by the way families open their homes and lives to me—a stranger—at such a terribly vulnerable time. 
     Serving as a Hospice Volunteer is a way of giving back to a community that supported me through three difficult years, and making use of my own experience facing death, with the hope it helps others who must do the same. 
     In the afternoon I’m back home to a day’s yard work, cleaning up for fall, scraping and sanding the front porch to ready it for a new coat of paint, giving the small trees and shrubs their final trim, hauling off debris, tidying up the beds, weeding again, and having the fella out to mow the grass and wack the weeds along the edges one final time, and hosing down the siding.      
     Tomorrow I’ll wash the windows, clean the carpet, and begin a good fall cleaning to get the house ready for winter, and bring in some bags of pellets for the pellet stove.
     I live in a large double wide mobile home. It is 1790 square feet—way too big for me. It was all brown when it was new over thirty years ago—brown walls, brown carpeting, and brown drapes. The woman from whom I bought this place decided to get rid of the brown interior. The walls are painted bright and lively colors and she installed 1760 square feet of white carpet!! It is a trial to care for—no shoes in the house as a result. 
     If I were going to stay here long term I would rip it all out and replace it with something like Pergo wood look plank flooring. I am not a fan of carpeting—it holds on to every bit of dust and dirt. I like a floor I can sweep and mop. Anyways it is time to clean the carpeting again, so I’ll get that done and over.
     On Sunday I will finish up yard and house chores, review my grandson Michael’s English and grammar lessons for next week, and volunteer two hours Sunday evening from 6-8 pm to the WSU Writing Center, tutoring university students—mostly Japanese—for whatever lesson or paper they bring in for help.
New Tricks ©
     Sunday evening is my television night: Nature at 7 pm, Nova at 8 pm. MI-5 at 9 pm, Masterpiece Mystery at 10 pm, and New Tricks at 11 pm. 
     I need to get back to writing my book. That too is on my list. And prepping for the trip over the mountains to Everett and Seattle.
     Do you like dark French roast or how do you take your coffee? Just let me know and I’ll make sure to have just what you like. It will be great fun for me to shop for your arrival Les. I noticed the food co-op in Moscow has British bacon.
     Funny, when the kids left home I was thrilled at the freedom I had to shop just for me—I stood in the grocery aisle that first time and reveled at the thought that I could have popcorn for dinner if I wanted, instead of buying bags of food, hauling them home, and whipping up the five hundred and sixty seven thousandth meal of a lifetime. 
     I was excited to consider buying whatever I wanted, and satisfying to know it would stay in the cupboard or fridge until I wanted it. No more boxes left with just one dried cracker in the bottom or empty juice containers on the back of the fridge shelf. Somewhere along the way I stopped being thrilled, and shopping for myself became just one more chore to consider.
     Take care of yourself Les. Bundle up, rest up too. Please give my regards to Jo, Kev, and the kids.
Jaqueline XX
P.S. I don’t want to miss your call. I am getting home a bit later in the evening now since I leave work at 5 pm and go to Snap Fitness to work out for an hour and half. I am usually home by 7 p.m. (2 AM your time??) I am up by 5 am every morning (noon in Britain?)

From: les biggs
To: jaqueline usa
Sent: Monday, October 04, 2010
Subject: Can You Hear me Now
Hi Jaqueline,
     The map tells me l am moored near the village of Flecknoe although my eyes are telling my brain this can`t be so as all they see are fields stretching up to a tree lined ridge maybe some 3/4 of a mile from the canal bank. Three freshly ploughed fields have given up their crops and the long lines left by the plough give the appearance of an army waiting to advance, held back only by the hedgerows cutting across and along each of their sides.
Moored outside Flecknoe © NB No Problem
     To the right the green fields stretch away until they meet the sky that seems to have fallen into them. My brain tells me this isn`t so but my eyes say it is. The tiny white specks could be pieces of cloud from the fallen sky but no, they are sheep.
     To my left the white clouds are losing the battle of holding back the onward marching blue. Above, the sun is is getting brighter in the ever thinning cloud. All i have to do now is wait.........the brightness hits and warms my face, the fields take on the appearance of thousands of small fires as the damp sodden earth evaporates giving off wisps of steam.
     A wonderful start to another day. Here is where the water gypsy will stay.
     2AM, now is the phone going to ring?

From: les biggs
To: jaqueline usa
Sent: Monday, October 04, 2010
Subject: Coming to America
 Hi Jaqueline
     Just a quick few lines before l hit the pillow to say how nice it was to hear your voice tonight. I was, previous to our chat, convinced we were going to have a great time nattering and now after hearing your gentle, caring, sincere voice, even more so.
     Perhaps if so many folk wish to meet the laid back English water gypsy we could maybe charge $20 a ticket and $5 for a photo with ALL receipts going towards the Jaqueline Almdale narrow boat retirement fund.
     Anyway J just to say again how nice to talk live and not just through a keyboard and l will e mail soon and phone again before l fly out.

From: Jaqueline Almdale
To: Les Biggs
Subject: My hotel in Everett
Date: Thu, 7 Oct 2010
      I so enjoy reading your descriptions of things and places Les. You are a natural at doing what we spend many hours teaching others how to do when writing—show me, don’t tell me. You have the gift for writing.
The Inn at Port Gardner, Everett WA © stevevankeuran
     You are probably buttoning up Valerie if you have not already done so. I calculate it is 2:28 pm in England. Below is the name of the hotel I’m booked into on Friday and Saturday, October 15th and 16th.
Inn at Port Gardner
Everett WA
     I know you will be at the Las Vegas Travel Lodge and then the Seattle one as well so I can always ring you there. I cannot believe it! You are nearly on your way. I’ll be holding you in my thoughts tomorrow and Saturday Les, and I’ll try to call you Saturday evening at your hotel.
     This weekend I’m going to read back through all of our emails to refresh my memory on things and people.
     Enjoy your flight over the pond!
Jaqueline XX

Saturday, January 22, 2011

There and Back Again

Palouse, Eastern Washington © Kevin McNeal
    In which Mim (that's me) and the Mikey Boy travel from a small town nestled into the folds of the Palouse to the BIG cities and discover the dee-lites and the sights of Seattle/ Tacoma, and the grace and goodness of returning home to those who love us.
      Dear Sir, meanwhile experiences a personal upheaval within his family which takes its toll on his heart and causes him to re-evaluate life.

Seattle city skyline ©
From: les biggs
Sent: Thursday, March 25, 2010 
To: jaqueline usa
Subject: broken hearts and broken homes
Hi Jaqueline, 
     What a lousy 2 weeks this has been...and it`s only this past week that things have calmed down. I am sad that people i so dearly love...could cause me so much heartache, a like of which i had not known since Val passed away. 
Prees Arm lift bridge, Llangollen canal
      At the moment i am in a marina arranged by 2 good boating friends who work there and will be going back Friday for as long as it takes to see everyone--both family and friends. On my return i am heading for the Llangollen canal which is my favourite canal, having lift bridges, tunnels, amazing Welsh scenery, staircase locks and Aqueducts (the most amazing one being the Pontcysyllte.) 
     I think after all this i must make that trip across the pond so you might just meet me yet as i told the kids you only get one life so make it as happy as possible whatever has to be done to achieve that aim.
   Well Jaqueline i`ll sign off now and thanks for being there. Single handed boating is great untill something like this happens and you find yourself alone to handle a crisis. Talking to friends here in the UK in so much depth is not an option as too many of them know the people involved.

From: Jaqueline
To: Les Biggs
Subject: This Too Shall Pass
Date: Mon, 29 Mar 2010 
Dear Les,
      I am so sorry for your troubles. I have been holding you close in my thoughts...I was worried about you. I think that as we get on in years, the accumulated hits our hearts and psyches take can really make us feel like we just cannot sustain anymore. I’ve been there too, more than once in my life.
     One grows tired sometimes and feels like we cannot take one more thing. So I understand where you were at, and how you got there. None of us gets out of this world in one piece—life is hard. What I’ve come to realize is that if I can just keep moving and breathing for as long as it takes to carry me out of fogbound depression and despair, I will eventually come to the other side and there will be people who need me and whom I need, experiences I would not want to miss, and reasons for me to live a bit longer. 
The Belle of Amherst, circa 1897
     Emily Dickinson is my favorite poet. She wrote:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chilliest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never in extremity 
It asked a crumb of me.

     I love this poem and it’s offered me great comfort throughout my life. I have sounded the depths of depression and discovered it is bottomless. I’ve had times when my take on this entire subject has been: 
                       Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And if it perches in mine
I will pluck it, eat it, 
    And keep putting one foot
   in front of the other.

     I’m so relieved you found that patch of blue sky Les. One of the things that kept me going through cancer was the certainty it was not my time yet because there are so many people out there I have not met and who will need to meet me—and vice versa. We never truly know how far and deep our presence impacts the lives of others.
     We are all books, and our lives are stories being written as we live. I hope I get a chance to read yours more fully. It sounds like you’ve been though some really tough times. I think that makes you and me characters with some rough edges, and that makes us more interesting. People who have had easy lives are often smooth edged and rather boring. They have never been stretched and tested by life. They settle comfortably into themselves and never have to plumb their own depth or climb their own heights. And they can be so bound up in themselves they cannot really relate to others.
     Staying present in the lives of all the people you love in whatever way you can is a good thing Les...try to remember everyone has at least one thing about which they are totally unreasonable. One cannot reason with someone who is behaving unreasonably. This last thought has saved me a lot of energy otherwise wasted to no good effect.
     I know you have friends on the cut and I am glad you are in the company of Tina and Andy at your current mooring. Stubbornly independent folk like you and me do not find it easy to reach out in a time of need, but it is important to try. It offers others the opportunity to experience the impact their life has on someone else in a way that truly matters.         
13th Century Valle Crucis Abbey, courtesy L. Biggs
     Oh the Llangollen canal! I could weep with joy that you are heading there. I’ve Googled it, and traveled the length of it via Google Earth. Beauty soothes the soul Les, and the Welsh countryside is a wonderful place to rest your soul.
    You know you are welcome here anytime. The days may be long but life is short and it is a good thing to make the best of every possibility. Remember What Lewis Carroll’s character the White Queen said in Through the Looking Glass: “I’ve often believed six impossible things before breakfast!” I’m glad to be your confidant and friend Les. An email from you always brightens my day and puts a lift in my step...feel free to call me at my private number if you wish.
Blessed be,
Jaqueline X

 Boats and Cruising: Valerie
NB Valerie moored at Marsworth Reservoir © L. Biggs
 Thursday, April 01, 2010

"Having to take a trip down south to help two of the kids with a problem brought home the realisation that although you can retire from work you never give up being a parent. So having made the trip with much assistance of Tina & Andy who between them squeezed me into their marina and drove me to the station (thanks guys) i decided to make it an extended break."

Les with Batu and Teo, 2010
From: les biggs
Sent: Saturday, April 03, 2010 
To: jaqueline usa
Subject: this too shall pass
Hi Jaqueline,
     Just a quick thank you for your recent e mail and i will write soon. Have extended my stay with all the kids as things have happened plus i`m enjoying the grandchildren in all three homes.
   Please do not worry...i promise this has now all gone over my head, i can do no more and what will be, will be. I am fully focused on my life ahead.
Bye for now,

From: Jaqueline

To: Les Biggs
Subject: this Too Shall Pass
Date: 3 April, 2010
Hi Les,
     I saw the pics on your blog of your grandchildren. They are adorable and I am glad you are tucked into the midst of your family. That’s a good place to be any time!
Jaqueline X 

Boats and Cruising: Valerie
Kiernan age five, 2010
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Back on the boat after nearly 3 weeks away helping sort a family crisis made me realise i really must go back more often as apart from the problem just being near
to everyone and being spoilt with love, scrummy meals and the grandchildren was the main reason i stayed so long.

From: les biggs

Sent: Tuesday, April 13, 2010 

To: jaqueline usa
Subject: This Too Shall Pass
Hi Jaqueline,
     Can l first say how nice it is to have you to talk to; l find it releases the stress of this sad, sorry situation. One other good thing from all this is my realisation that i will in future visit family more often and for at least a week at a time. In the past I would be down for a few days then back on the boat which is like a magnet to me but i now realise life is not a guaranteed term so l need to be closer to all the big kids and the tiny people.
      Plan now is perhaps cruise north to Stafford, travel help with the move, then back on board turning west toward a point north of Wolverhampton, then north via the Shropshire Union canal to the Llangollen junction. After that who knows perhaps it will be just the right time for another family visit. So that`s how things are at the moment....oh nearly forgot...i plan to do Las Vegas and come up to Washington State perhaps Oct/Nov, well it`s in my mind but i will try my best to make it happen.
Bye for now my friend,


To: Les BIggs
Subject: RE: There and Back again
Date: Thu, 15 Apr 2010
Dear Les,
      I’m happy to hear from you and to know you were able to receive some closure and reassurance. I missed your blog updates and emails, but I am thrilled you had down time with your family. It sounds like you are also finding balance in your own life and that is a tonic to be sure.
     As you well know, it is important to grieve that which is gone; it helps us to heal enough to remember life is grand most of the time...and it’s important to suck the marrow from life's bones. I was so happy to see on your blog that you were taking time to hang out with your sons, daughter in laws, and g’children. It is important to visit them regularly. They need you. You looked happy and for that I am glad.
     Autumn is my very favorite season. I look forward to having you here whenever you can make it. A bit of hot, dry weather in LV will rev up your batteries before winter closes around the cut again. In the meantime I am looking forward to reading your descriptions of the canals in spring and summer; the ebb and flow of traffic, people, and things you experience as you journey on...

Prees Arm Nature Reserve, courtesy L. Biggs
     I’ve been enjoying Maffi’s blog pictures of spring, and the various continuous cruisers' tales of traveling on the cut as warmer weather returns along with the hire boats. 
     Sue’s description of wild garlic had my mouth watering. I also love nettles and she says they grow everywhere. 
     I love to pick the young green nettle leaves and blanch them in a sink full of very hot water. It takes the sting out of them. They can be layered in Escalloped Potatoes, lasagna, quiche, or added in place of spinach in any dish. Their tap roots run five feet or more deep and they pull all the good minerals up from the sub soil. Nettles are just the thing for shakin’ off winter’s tired grasp and giving us a spurt of youthful energy.
     I will follow along with you, as you travel on toward the Llangollen canal. 

Take care my friend,
Jaqueline X

Lunar Orbiter Dessert (click for restaurant video)
      Me and Mikey Boy had a fabulous time in Seattle!  We went to the Space Needle, which was his favorite attraction. We visited it once during the day and again at night. The revolving restaurant is amazing. 
      "The restaurant turntable revolves on a track and wheel system that weighs roughly 125 tons, borrowed from railroad technology. All it takes to make the turntable revolve is a 1 horsepower motor (originally it was a 11/2 hp motor). The entire Space Needle saucer does not rotate, only a 14-foot ring next to the windows rotates on the Sky City restaurant level." (
Seattle monorail enters EMP building, Wikipedia
         We stayed at Hotel Monaco, in the heart of the Market district. This was Michael's first time staying in a posh hotel. For no extra charge I ordered a bathrobe from room service for his stay--it was his size and leopard print! The Maitre d' Hotel also brought up a round glass bowl with a goldfish in it to keep him company! We caught the monorail three blocks from our hotel. The monorail passes right through the Experience Music Project building and out by the Pacific Science Center. 
      We saw Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland on the five story tall IMAX giant movie screen in 3-D which was totally BRILLIANT!! Most Americans only know Carroll’s work from cheesy Disneyesque cartoons and very few of them of have read Through the Looking Glass, so the movie didn’t go over as well here in the States. We’ve both read Wonderland and Looking Glass, and we loved it.
     We stayed late and went to The Beatles laser light show at the Pacific Science Center. The laser dome is a squat structure with very low ceilings and no windows. There are seats to sit in but a local told us the best way to experience the laser light show is to stretch out on the carpet flat on our backs. It was Friday night and we laid down on the carpeted floor of the laser theater with all the teenagers and their dates (It only cost $5.00 a person to get in to the laser shows); the lights went out and the amphitheater was instantly totally pitch black. The Beatles anthology came up and amazing, intensely colored lights appeared about ten feet above over our heads in patterns to the music--like fireworks only much better! If I lived in Seattle I would go to the laser shows every weekend.
      We stopped by the Experience Music Project and saw the floor to ceiling (three stories tall) guitar sculpture, and the Science Fiction Museum which had a lot of Star Wars memorabilia used by the actors; costumes, set models of the death star--and the Wookie suit!! Mike and Matt have recently discovered these movies and they spend hours pretending to be characters from the films, fighting each other with their laser swords.
   Next up was the Pacific Science Center where we visited the butterfly garden which was filled with live butterflies of all sizes and colors, flittering around in the warm, damp air, landing on everything—including us. A glass walled incubator was filled with chrysalis from different species of butterflies, some of which were in the process of hatching. We also saw the animated dinosaur exhibit.
Le Escargot d' Cafe Compagne

       Dinner our first evening in town was at Cafe Compagne in order to fulfill Michael's wish of eating in a fine restaurant. I didn’t tell him but I ordered snails! I asked him to try one bite. Mike didn’t like them—said they tasted like a wad of grass, so I ate them, and the maitre d’ was nice enough to wash out a couple of snail shells for us to keep. (Michael wrote a paper for his fifth grade class about our trip titled, “I went to Seattle with my Grandmother and we ate Snails!!” The only kid in his class to eat them I am sure; my stock as a real cool grand mamma is way up with all the boys!!)
    I practiced for months before our trip so I could order our meal in French which delighted the wait staff and surprised Michael. It took our food a long time to arrive as it does when one is eating slow in a fine establishment. Mike was a bit antsy. He ordered Poulet Roti (roasted chicken and potatoes). When our plates arrived Mikey Boy took one bite and his eyes opened wide in amazement. “Wow Mim!! This was worth waiting for.” Quite a statement from a child who eats Mickey D’s, Pop Tarts, and frozen pizza a great deal of the time.  

      At six a.m. the next morning we breakfasted at Lowell's in Pike Place Market, watching the tug boats guide huge container barges into the dock as dawn slowly crept across Puget Sound. We saw the famous Market Fish Throwers, and the incredibly beautiful endless rows of fresh flowers, fruits, vegetables, wines, jewelry, and oh! EVERYTHING!!!

     We wandered through nine acres of market shops and stalls. Michael bought wind up toys for his momma, dad, and his brother Matthew. We ate delicious pizza by the slice at De’Laurenti’s followed by creamy scoops of real Italian hazelnut gelato. 
     Walking off lunch, we sauntered down to the Seattle Aquarium and watched in awe as the aquarium staff fed the Giant Pacific Octopus. Michael and I traipsed everywhere counting all the coffee houses! In Seattle there is a spectacle on nearly every street corner.

Pike Place Market Flower stall, Wikipedia

Our last morning in Seattle we got up at 5 a.m. and walked down to Le Panier Pattiserie across the cobbled lane from the Pike Place flower market. We ordered latte’s and croissants (“Wow Mim! These don’t taste anything like Pillsbury Crescent rolls!”) and watched the workers unload truck after truck of fresh flowers, their sweet scents mingling in the crisp morning air with the sea-brine scented wind. The cobbles glistened with the patina of rain. It was fascinating to sit and watch the stall owners arrange their fresh flowers, fruits, and vegetables for the day’s trade.
Tacoma Bridge of Glass © Tim Hurseley

     Driving down to Tacoma on the huge twelve lane freeway the speed limit posted is 60 MPH but the traffic is so congested it moves at 30 MPH. Michael was stunned at the endless lines of vehicles streaming onward, continually jockeying for a better lane, packed tight like beads on a string. 
Dale Chihuly glass installation, Tacoma Art Museum
     In Eastern Washington we believe in leaving one car length between us and the vehicle in front. I felt like I needed a reader board in the back window of my car that said, "Please forgive me--I'm from the East side!"
     In Tacoma Mike and I stayed at the Marriott Courtyard Inn. We went swimming every evening and soaked in the hot tub. We ate at the Pacific Grill--a very fine restaurant--and Michael had his first taste of Crème Brulee. 
       We sauntered down to the Tacoma Museum of Glass and sat in the Hot Shop watching as glass artists made wine goblets. We stopped in to the Tacoma Art Museum and viewed the Dale Chihuly glass installation. Their gift shop was our favorite. They had the best toys!
   Our final night on the West side we were both exhausted. Mike and I had spent four and half intense days and nights when I wasn't working, experiencing everything we could. Sleepless in Seattle was on TV so we stayed in, cuddled up, ordered sliders, fries, and a Martha Stewart brownie sundae from the Pacific Grill, and laughed ourselves silly.
Hello Cupcake!!
      The next morning after breakfasting at Grassi's Cafe, me and Mike took a final walk down Pacific Ave. past the museums and the beautifully restored Grand Union Rail Station. We stopped at Hello, Cupcake and bought a box of 24 assorted to take back home for our loved ones--just to show them how much we missed them.
     A week after we returned home I called the Mikey Boy and asked him about his favorite memory of our trip. He said, “My favorite memory is of our last night in the hotel when we went swimming, and then ordered room service, and watched movies, and laughed.” I was humbled and touched that after seeing all the wonders of Seattle and Tacoma, my grandson's favorite memory was that of spending a quiet evening with me. It was my favorite memory too.
Mim & The Wee One, 2010
     I had the Wee One (Matthew) come to stay with me the following weekend. We made a loaf of bread and ate the warm heels with butter, jam, and a cuppa; walked up the lane to see if the farmer’s cows were out, and took a loaf of store bought bread to Sunnyside Park and fed the ducks. 
     The birds (about thirty of them) remembered me well because I fed them frequently. We got out of the car and they swarmed out of the lake, waddling en mass over to us, chortling and quacking in excitement, flapping their wings hello. An older gent sitting across the lake on a bench laughingly called out, “Come here often ???”
     With the warmer weather my garden was poppin’ out all over. Daffodils, tulips, jonquils, hyacinths, fritillaries all in riotous bloom; the huge lilac bush near the back door fetched up plump buds. Fat spring robins strolled across the grass in their rust colored waist coats searching for earth worms. The solitary blue heron flew in early each morning to the nearby lagoon for a drink. In the wheat fields beyond my back deck Canadian Geese were pairing off for life; big males strutted while smaller females stood nearby, heads tilted coyly, watching. Spring sighed warmly while winter unclenched its fist and disappeared.

Boats and Cruising: Valerie
Sunday, April 25, 2010
"You may have noticed a change in the way and frequency of the blog lately but as you are aware i`m experiencing big family problems to personal to broadcast to the world wide web.
Some of my boating friends are aware of the problems and to those of my friends i have not met recently don`t feel offended if you think you have been blanked it`s only that we haven`t cruised by each other of late. My mission is to reach a safe haven where i can leave the boat to return south for a short time also to meet family for a short cruise before my return south by train.

      Dear Sir will post again one last time in June. After that there will be no more posts for six months, leaving his blog readers and many of his friends on the cut to wonder what has become of the captain of the NB Valerie.