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.


  1. Well grandma Mim i`m with Mikey boy so forget the snails.
    Reading through your blogs all the miserable times seem so long ago and the fact i got through it all is down to your being there at the end of an e mail or phone call. Now my darling it`s payback time so be prepared to be fussed over and loved for ever.

  2. Okay!! No snails for my fellas. I'm happy to eat your and Michael's share of Escargot and you can reciprocate by eating my share of any curry. :)

    Your latest blog post is a fine look back at some highlights of your travels. I will take your word for it the bloke blessing the bikes was in fact a vicar, albeit one who looked as though he could give the archangel Michael a run for his money.

    Having never been spoiled in my life except occasionally by my daughters, I will do my best to prepare for it. It's a tough job as they say, but you've elected me "to be fussed over and loved forever," and I will do my best to lap it all up! I am looking forward to spoiling you as well Les. It pleases me to please you. You are the joy in my journey,

  3. Although you have not heard much from me I am love, love, LOVING your blog. You even make me WANT to go to Seattle and Tacoma (of all places). You are rapidly becoming my favorite Authoress! Love you GOBS,

  4. Jaq - Any way to get this published in book form???? It's such a sweet story and so well written and illustrated. I have to say that I'm sorry I wasn't much of a help to you though your bout with cancer. My oldest brother, and then my mother, both passed away within 18 months of each other, from it.....and it almost took the rest of us with them - I'm still, as you say, fighting my way out daily from its heart heavy legacy. God alone is wise Jaq, but I do believe that you are on the right track: A happy life and people who need you, are the best immune boosters. You Go Girlfriend and You Keep Going! Much love..can't wait for the next read - couldn't sign up because I don't have any of those twittery or google-ish links. One e mail account is about all I can handle! I don't even text, which gives you some idea of my techno skills! So - please do keep sending me the links - with thanks for the troubles!

    My boys all flourish - I'll send you a recent photo - my 14 year old is a shade taller than me now. Gavin will be returning, from Afghanistan, to Fort Drum in NY in April sometime - at which time I'll be able to breathe again!
    Hugs and kisses,
    (I wasn't one of those whack-o students you were talking about was I?!)

  5. Hello Little woman! I'm so glad you are enjoying this tale. If I could tape one woman's laugh and play it repeatedly it would be yours. I love your laugh--it's gorgeous--and so are you. Keep giving all those fellas at Hanford a run for their money. They'll never know what hit them but they will love every minute of it!
    Love and Hugs,

  6. Darling Jamie,
    It's so good to hear from you. I'm so sorry for your losses. I'll light a candle for you and your family and hold you all in my thoughts--also holding Gavi in mind to come through war safely and return to you alive and well.

    You aren't the only Luddite around--I refuse to use a cell phone. I don't want to be tethered to he world that way. Texting is also out. Can you imagine what my dyslexic text messages would be like?? LOL! (That is Laugh Out Loud backwards)

    No--you were decidedly NOT one of those students. You were a joy to work with, and I treasure our friendship.
    Love and hugs,