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


  1. Hi Jaqueline, I love your blog! I do a lot of smiling and filling up when I read it. When you finally get to England I do hope somewhere along the lines our paths cross on the cut, who knows? Your writing is all embracing, and you can feel the emotion in your words, I only wish I had that gift! Take Care and looking forward to your next post Debbie, Nb T.Boo x

  2. Thank you Debbie! I'm so glad you are enjoying our story. The next blog post will be about the week Les spent with me last October--while he is actually here with me in February! ;)

    I'm sure our paths will cross sometime on the cut--and when they do we must stop and have a good chat over a cuppa.

    May all be well with you and your beau. I hope Skype is working well for you both.

  3. Hi Jaq,

    I really loved reading this post. Just you talking about being in the hospital with your kids, I can feel the sincerity and honesty in your writing. And the letters back and forth are sweet. So, when is this book coming out? Cliff says hi!!!

    Love, Christina :)

  4. Neil Diamond Song;

    I`m coming to America
    got a dream to take me there coming to america
    fell in love with a lady america
    from a boat onto a plane
    i`m coming to America la la la laaaaa (sing along)
    when i land in her arms i`m gonna be
    how happy for Jaq and me
    coming to America i`m coming to America etc.
    In the land of Liberty 5000 miles my love to see
    coming to America coming to America
    got a dream we want to share
    and our love will take us there
    from our boat so far away
    i`ll be arriving Thuurrrsssday
    In America america america america
    I`m coming to America

  5. Hi Christina!
    The book is sidelined for the moment until the blog is more complete. I will finish it because I want and need to but my hands are full between things at work, family, the blog, and LOVE! I am trusting the universe and the Goddess in all Her wisdom about the timing of these things. I miss you! Give Cliff a big hug for me.
    Love Jaq

  6. Les....

    Somewhere out there
    Beneath the pale moonlight
    Someone's thinking of me
    And loving me tonight.
    Somewhere out there
    someone's saying a prayer
    That we'll find one another
    In that big somewhere out there.
    And even though I know
    how very far apart we are
    It helps to think we might be
    wishing on the same bright star.
    And when the night wind starts
    To sing a lonely lullaby'
    It helps to think we're sleeping
    Underneath the same big sky,
    Somewhere out there
    If love can see us through
    Then we'll be together
    Somewhere out there
    Out where dreams come true.

    James Ingram and Linda Rondstadt

    (Lyrics by James Horner,Barry Mann, & Cynthia Weil)

  7. Hi Jaq - I loved reading your blog - and just having read Les's we would like to offer our congratulations on your engagement - he's a lovely fella and we are so glad he has found happiness. hopefully we will be able to meet you at long last when you are over on board Valerie.

  8. Hello Pip,
    I'm thrilled you are following our story and enjoying the journey. Thank you for your good wishes and support. As you say, Les is a wonderful person and we are blessed and fortunate to have found each other. I look forward to meeting you both as well.
    Welcome to our adventures!
    :) Jaqueline