Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Here, There, and Everywhere

"We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." ~Joseph Campbell

     The ensuing months have been extremely trying ones for Les and me. We know now what we miss each day we are apart from one another. At first it seemed like time was static--frozen in place for three months--now it feels like it is an ocean swell gathering momentum which might sweep me off my feet as it carries away my old life. It is totally surreal.
     I've gone from my initial six year plan to an accelerated six months during which my friendship with Dear Sir developed into a deeply loving, passionate relationship between two kindred spirits. In preparation for life in England as Les' wife, I have put my home up for sale, begun winnowing out my personal belongings, found Wee Man a new home, and given notice at work. 
     While I will continue to advise students throughout August of 2011, I participated in my last WSU commencement ceremony as a Ph.D hooding marshal, reading off 1100 names--half the graduating class in the Colleges of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, Engineering and Architecture, Pharmacy, Sciences, and the College of Veterinary Medicine (BS, MS and PhD candidates) and part of the largest graduating class in the history of Washington State University.
     I've dressed in regalia for the final time to line up and walk with my students in the ceremony for the the College of Liberal Arts; cheered them on, shook their hands and hugged them in congratulations as they returned down the main platform aisle with diploma covers in hand. 
     Debbie Elmore, one of my brilliant graduating seniors, and her husband Mike had difficulties finding a hotel for the May ninth commencement so I offered up my guest room and they graced my home with their company. After the Friday night pre-commencement festivities we had a lovely visit over a bottle of Late Harvest Riesling.
     Debbie & Mike brought me a gift to show their gratitude: a brand new copy of RTC Rolt's Narrow Boat sent over from England, and a worry stone with "Thank you" engraved on it. I was sincerely and deeply touched at their thoughtfulness. My mind goes back to the box I found recently when cleaning out one of the closets. Inside were years worth of thank you cards and printed emails from my former students:
     "Thanks for all your help and guidance over the past several years. I was somewhat  reluctant to enter an on-line program but knowing that you were available to answer my academic questions kept me calm. You were always quick with good advice and assistance. You made me feel as though I was not alone in cyber space"--Don; "Many, many thanks! I have been conditionally accepted for the Master's program in Historical Archeology at the University of Leicester. I cannot begin to convey my most heartfelt appreciation for all you have done. Your kindness has literally steered my life towards a path I once thought unobtainable"--Elizabeth; "I cannot express my gratitude for everything you have done for me throughout my time at WSU. You have been a wealth of information and a beacon when I didn't think I could handle the stress of one more semester. I am eternally grateful"--Kate; "I am pleased to report to you that I now have a master’s degree – something that would have never happened without your encouragement...Thank you Jaqueline for helping me discover the world of possibilities…and for the encouragement to always wonder…" Russ....
     Selling a home, planning a wedding, ending a career, and moving are all stressful events and doing all four at once has taken its toll. I feel utterly ragged around the edges. Each of these steps was accompanied by intense feelings and dealing with the emotional chow-chow has been exhausting.
     Sorting through my belongings is probably the easiest thing I do. They are after all only things. I've shrunk my library down to four boxes--which is a lot for a narrow boat, but Les insists we will find room for them.
     The majority of them are my books on medicinal herbalism and research texts to continue writing about recovering from cancer. I am hoping to put together a boater's medicine kit using my knowledge of healing herbs.
     Giving Wee Man away was the hardest thing of all. I tried so hard not to fall in love with him but I couldn't help myself. I miss the way he nuzzled in under my neck, misbehaved like a petulant child when he wanted my attention and played fetch with his rubber mouse.
     I miss his kitty talk and his warm, furry body curled up on my chest, purring. I miss his unconditional love, acceptance, and trust in me. I miss his tabby striped sleekness streaking to the front door every evening to greet me--tail raised, slightly curled at the tip; a flag of joy at my arrival, and his curious green eyes assaying my behavior to suss out what his human was up to next.
     Through a quarter of a million years of interaction with humans, dogs have been bred to trust our species and to defer to us in our relations with them. Cats are still feral animals and one can take the best care of a cat and still not be rewarded with its affection and trust, which makes it far more meaningful for me when a friend like Wee Man offers it... 
     He would love living on the boat but he would never survive the six month quarantine without any personal love and affection. Wee Man may not understand why I gave him away but he is living where he is loved and hopefully safe. I try to dull the pain of my loss with this knowledge.
    Putting the house up for sale has been pretty straightforward. Without Les here it no longer feels like home--it is merely a very nice house. I expect it to sell by August when we hope to have a spouse visa for me.

     For the last three months I have been facing these things here on my own--a series of endings and loss that make the ultimate gain of a new life with a man I adore--and who I know adores me--possible. Nonetheless losses and endings must be acknowledged for whatever reason they occur.
     Les calls me nearly every day and we talk for hours. I miss him so badly I ache, and the sound of his voice soothes me if only for the time we are talking to one another on the phone.
     Dear Sir's email love letters remind me why I fell so deeply in love with him to begin with. He is candid without being crass and sweet without being syrupy. He still makes me laugh which curiously eases the pain of being apart while making me miss him all the more.
     I arrived at my office one morning recently to find a bouquet of flowers on my desk with a card that read,"Get used to being spoilt." ~Love Les. It is the second time in my life I have received flowers from a man. This simple act of love and acknowledgement will never cease to touch me.
     Dear Sir is also suffering over in England. "The boat is so empty without you Jaq. It feels as though you've already been here...I see you everywhere I look. I cannot believe you've never set foot on it--I feel you here."
     We experienced a curious moment of synchronicity one morning as tenuous fingers of lemon sunlight crept across the bed to warm my face. Laying there in the blue cocoon of my room with my eyes closed I could see and feel myself in the galley of NB Valerie. I had put the kettle on and I called out to Les, "Cup of tea?" I was looking across the saloon, toward the front steps.
     Shortly after the phone rang and it was Les. As we talked quietly he told me he goes "walkabout" on the boat sussing up NB Valerie from my point of view. Sitting on the front steps with a cup of tea, he was staring into the galley and he could see me standing there as clear as if I were in front of him. I asked when this happened; A few minutes ago.

From: Les Biggs
To: Jaqueline
Date: Monday 03/21/11 4:05 PM (8 AM in Pullman)
Subject: I miss you so
Hi Jaq my little Peach,
     All this being apart for 3 months is getting harder by the day although now it`s just 62 days to go. Three weeks on the boat then back to the States to get married and sort things out, then we never have to part again.
     The Honeymoon will be a cruise lasting a lifetime, how cool is that. I have got your e mail about traveling for the University and of course i`ll phone you before you go.
     Do you know i was thinking that before we first met last year i could never understand people talking about love at first sight but it`s certainly a fact as we both know...all i know is you are the woman i've always dreamt of meeting and spending my life with.
     Just another quick e mail because i just need to keep talking to you, blimey that`s funny we spend hours on the phone most days of the week and i still need to talk across the keyboard, just shows you it`s love.
Kisses and hugs my darling.

     Writing wedding vows was simple enough but planning the wedding and a reception separately to ensure all the people I love can participate and celebrate with us has been challenging. There always seems to be one more detail to pursue.
Kamiak Butte
     The wedding is set for June. It will be attended by a very small contingent of family with a large reception following on July ninth and invitations to the reception will be going out when we return to the States.
     I leave for England May 21st. Travel is not my forte unless it is by train--and there are no trains to England from America.
      Having worked in the airline industry I am all too well aware of things the average air passenger is not. I despise being lied to about security measures that are supposedly in place to assure my safety when I know for a fact they do little of the kind--what most of these restrictions actually do is herd passengers like cattle and control us, providing a false sense of security. I refuse to be scanned--they can wand and grope me if they must while I undress starting with my shoes.
     My stomach is doing whirly gigs now at the thought of being trapped on a plane for hours on end. My feelings of nausea are one part related to being dyslexic; having a stomach and inner ear hardwired to my visual cortex in a scrambled manner, and two thirds related to my anxieties about flying.
      I have no desire to control anyone else but really need to control myself and my personal space. It is a remnant from my childhood...this does not a happy air passenger make. If everything else were not already enough, then this alone is proof that I love Les more than I ever thought possible. I will face my anxieties and overcome them, or beat them into submission to cross an ocean to be with him.
    My physician told me "do not drink alcohol, be sure to hydrate with water, get up and move at least once an hour, do not take anything to make you sleepy--and pray you don't throw a blood clot." I will be fine once I am on the ground in England, and in Les' arms.
     We will be together for three weeks on the boat, traveling up the Grand Union with visits to family. I am bringing a silicone Bundt pan with me so I can fill three orders for Chocolate Kahlua Bundt cake, and graham crackers to make Angel Bars for Kev! I am looking forward to meeting Les' children, grandchildren, and friends--and hopefully some of our fellow boaters.
     I crave the simple, quiet, uncomplicated life aboard our waterborne home where yesterday no longer exists, tomorrow hasn't happened yet, and only the present moment in the company of my husband matters.
    Dear Sir and I will come back to America together to marry in June, wrap up the sale of the house and apply for my spouse visa. The stress involved in this piece is huge. We have one shot to get it right. It is our understanding there is no appeal process. We cannot allow our minds to consider what might happen if....not after facing the losses that come with cancer; settling down to a single life--and finally finding each other from halfway across the globe.
     We have spent months going over the UK Border Agency web site instructions, the World Bridge partner site and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services home page, reviewing lists for what is required, gathering documents and making copies.
Galley before remodeling © LBiggs, 201
     On Dear Sir's side of the Atlantic ocean he keeps busy by sprucing up the NB Valerie. He's made some modifications such as moving the refrigerator up above the counter in the kitchen at my suggestion, filling its former space with the washing machine, and lowering the twelve inch rise of the steps to six inches to accommodate my stubby legs.
     Les' handiwork is quite fine indeed and I am very proud of his skills although he is extremely modest about them. 
     Dear Sir has washed down the walls, and the ceiling, put in a new floor, cleaned all the curtains and cushion covers, touched up the exterior paint,  brightened up the rubber floor mats, stripped and varnished the dinette table and blacked the stove.
     Cheri Curtis says she believes his next step will be to take a pair of hedge clippers out to trim the shrubs up and down the length of the Grand Union canal!
Galley after remodeling © LBiggs, 2011
     Les did a bit of shopping at Ikea and bought us a five quart cast iron enameled dutch oven with a lid so I can bake bread when I get there, and he has filled a drawer with spices and herbs from a list he requested of me. I do love to cook and and I adore feeding people. I cannot wait to make my first loaf of bread aboard NB Valerie.
     Friends gave us a lovely wedding gift of some funds with which they wanted me to purchase a trousseau. After thinking it over I called Les and asked about how to spend the money.
     "I thought perhaps rain gear would be a good thing to buy." He was quiet for a moment on the other end of the phone. I could see Dear Sir turning his head slightly and thinking about what I have just said.
     "Sorry darlin' what was that?"
     "I said I thought rain gear would be a good thing to buy with the money."
     "Say again please? I don't think I'm hearing you correctly."
     "RAIN GEAR--r-a-i-n- g-e-a-r--I thought rain gear would be be practical," by now I am wondering what on earth he thinks I said. I mean I know I am the one with the accent but still...Les' booming laughter fills the phone receiver.
     "Oh God I thought you were saying reindeer." We giggle hysterically.
     "That's right--love me, love my reindeer. We Alaskan women are VERY attached to our reindeer. I'm not sure what we will do with the carcass after we butcher it but we can keep it on the roof of the boat and cross that bridge when we come to it."
Home Sweet Home © LBiggs, 2011
     Meanwhile my wedding dress has arrived (thank you Sparky, Mary, and Elizabeth!) and half of Les' wedding outfit is here. I have less than forty eight hours now to tie up loose ends and take care of time sensitive details; double check the flower order for the wedding, order wedding cake and wine for the reception, pick up shoes, remember to pack my passport...
    From now on this blog will be written in the present moment as we have caught up to the here and now in this ongoing journey. True love prevails and the next post will take place from a narrow boat--in England!!

It is with great Joy 
we announce our 
upcoming nuptials:

Les C. Biggs
Jaqueline M. Almdale
will be handfasted
in an official 
Wiccan wedding ceremony
Saturday, June 18, 2011
10:00 am
Kamiak Butte
Pullman, WA USA
 Private luncheon 
to follow at the home 
Jim and Karen Barron
320 NW Joe Street.

An open reception 
will be held on
Saturday, July ninth, 2011
Keith and Chrisi Kincaid's farm
1251 Enman-Kincaid Rd. 

Living on a narrow boat 
means space is at a premium;
We ask guests to bring 
a pot luck dish to share 
in lieu of wedding gifts Please!
Join us for dinner, 
wedding cake, sparkling wine,
and dancing under 
the summer evening sky!

With joy and 
for having 
found each other,
Les & Jaqueline Biggs
will reaffirm 
their vows of marriage
in the presence 
family and friends,
sometime in September, 2011
at a British church
to be announced. 
Reception after
also to be announced. 
We will be
in residence at home 
aboard NB Valerie, 
somewhere on the
canals of England!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

February Cometh At Last!

 Grow old with me!  The best is yet to be.  ~Robert Browning
     February third finally arrived! Les called me at one a.m. his time, waiting in the chilled dark of his daughter in law's home for a cab to arrive to whisk him off to Heathrow Airport.
     "I cannot wait to hold you in my arms." Dear Sir's voice was low and husky with emotion, tinged with tiredness at waiting--for the cab and for three and half months to pass so we could be together.
     "Oh Les--I cannot wait to be in your arms."
     Twelve hours later at Pullman's tiny regional airport I watched Dear Sir's plane land and waited excitedly for him to walk off the aircraft. 
     Suddenly there he was--carry-on in hand. We slid into each other's arms and kissed gently, softly, holding on to each other tightly. I inhaled Les' scent and smiled with joy; to me he smells of home and love and heart's desire. People moved past and around us, seeking the baggage claim counter.
     We loaded Les' luggage into the trunk and headed to Dissmores for a latte and a caramel machiatto. The weather shaped up to mild winter sunshine--no snow--just for his arrival. He always seemed to bring fine weather with him!
   At home Dear Sir unpacked his cases on the bed with the periwinkle sheets. I'd cleared out a shelf for his clothes in the walk-in closet and hung extra hangars on the left side for him. 
     Les pulled a small blue box out of his luggage and handed it to me. The box was embossed with a dragonfly! I love dragonflies. I've collected them for more than twenty years. Inside was a lovely silver heart shaped locket with a gold dragonfly mounted over the front. 
     The back of the heart was engraved with three words: strength, courage & happiness. Dear Sir had been window shopping at a local cancer charity and the locket caught his eye. He slipped it on me and hooked the clasp in place, kissing me gently on the back of my neck. 
     We talked about this and that and I started fixing dinner--I don't even remember what we ate! I only remember how euphorically happy I was to watch Les settle in as though it were our home; to feel his presence expand to fill the empty spaces created when he left last October.  
     A pastel frosted dusk fell over the palouse crisping the air outside. Dear Sir sat watching me move about the house. I lit the pellet stove; as I rose up from the hearth, he took my hand and walked me to the bedroom. Cupping my face in his hands, Les kissed me long and deep, sweet and gentle....three days later we decided to venture out to face the world.
     In the interim we laughed and talked, slept, showered, drank tea and ate biscuits, and etc. etc. etc! The second night as we lay in each other's arms Les asked me to marry him. I said yes, and we fell asleep snuggled into each other like spoons, his strong arm wrapped around me just below my heart, which overflowed with joy.
     We visited several jewelry stores in Pullman and Moscow, looking for rings. I tried on traditional diamond engagements sets and if I had wanted one, Les would have given it to me. They had the lure of status but in the end they weren't me. 
     "That is the kind of bling Cinderella wears. I am more Cinder the ash girl. I would never be comfortable with that much bling on my hand. I want a ring that doesn't stick up so it won't get caught in the boat ropes."
Home Depot © LBiggs, 2010
     We visited a Home Depot store so Les could compare it with a British B & Q outlet, and went to the Movie theater to see a Jason Statham film, holding hands like young kids in love. 
     Les spent a day hanging out with my friend Jerry Curtis, who was recuperating from a double hip replacement surgery. Jerry's wife works with me at WSU and is my heart sister. 
     We arrived home in the evening to find the men making bets on how long it would take us to beat a path to the door! Dinner was Cheri's world class meat loaf stuffed with mushrooms and cheese, and mashed potatoes loaded with sour cream, cream cheese, and butter. Mmmmm!
     Cheri watched me closely throughout the evening. She was looking for signs that I had altered my conduct for Les' benefit. She watched intently so see if I behaved differently with Les around...if I constrained myself in any way, censored my talk. To her relief I was my usual self and Cheri knew then that Les and I were meant to be together because I could be myself in his presence and he loved and accepted me as I was.
     Days spun by all too quickly. We headed into Spokane to dine with the Wednesday Women. And who are they, you might well ask?
     In the fall of nineteen ninety five the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane offered a thirteen week course called "Rise Up and Call Her Name: Dark Goddesses of the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
     The course brought together a distinctive group of women. Some were new to the idea of a female God. Others were practicing witches, and all were feminists to the core; every one of us hungry to learn more about the power of the sacred feminine as an ideology which reflected women and God as female, powerful, and sacred--the beliefs of a world before it was overwhelmed by patriarchy. At the end of the course a core group of women wanted to stay connected to one another.
     Kialynn is a divorced mother of four who raised her family while putting herself through university to earn an advanced degree in Mathematics. She teaches at the local community college. Children grown now, Kialynn travels throughout the summer and is involved in a long term relationship with a gentleman who lives in an earth sheltered home. 
     A fabulous cook, She has a wonderful soaring laugh, a thoughtfully precise way of speaking, and a bullshit detecter that rivals anything Homeland Security could devise. A long, unhappy marriage and years of hard work to gain her independence meant Kialynn would love again--but she chose to live in her own home and maintain her own life.
     Lisa was married to an Economics professor with two young daughters when our group coalesced. A sweet, quiet soul, the WW helped her to uncover and revel in her talents: artist, writer, poet, teacher; Lisa is a licensed poetry therapist who teaches writing at Spokane Falls Community College. She is a featured poet in the Anthology Poetry Diner and her papier mache pieces are displayed in regional galleries.
     Eventually Lisa too left an unhappy marriage, regained her independence, and fell in love again with a deep hearted man who appreciates her wry sense of humor, her quietly thoughtful way of delving into a subject and challenging others about ideas, and the grace of her amazing love. Lisa has two daughters who have grown into exceptional women--like their mother.
    Rhea is an artist and peacemaker. Married for twenty six years to Jim--a sweet, funny, delicious man who moves through the world in disguise by day as a federal letter carrier, Rhea traveled to countries around the world with American teenagers to visit places in conflict with the U.S. She hoped to foment peace by bringing children from both sides together to share stories, experiences, and realize their common humanity. 
     Rhea's artistic medium is papier mache, and her story bowls sell for high commissions. Having branched out to other ideas, her home is a bright, lively place filled with cats, color, and a workshop with pieces in various phases of completion. Her work is shown in galleries across the Pacific Northwest. 
     Gina is the epitome of every small child's dream of a real fairy godmother. Soft spoken, gentle spirited, Gina is gifted with vision that allows her to view and understand the unseen wonders in the world and the human heart. 
     Mother and grandmother, she is married to a handsome hippy-turned-federal letter carrier; her husband Steve is gentle and kind with a rowdy sweetness to his soul that allows him to seek joy from life like a bear seeking honey.
     One of the most memorable Wiccan rituals I've ever participated in took place at their home in the woods of North Idaho. After an intense ritual experience, fabulous feast, and drumming around the bonfire, the assembled forty sang us witches home to the tune of "good night ladies."
     Retired now from the Federal Post office, Gina has begun to live a fully fruitful second stage of life; she just finished her college degree and is learning to be a professional chef. 
     Rosemarie is a tiny slip of a woman made of fine steel wire and Yankee determination. Red headed, with a fiery spirit, she is a nurse anesthetist, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and the mother of two gown children. Rosemarie's laughter is rich, nuanced, and laced with sensuality. She patented the call-it-as-I-see-it attitude. Hers' is a passionate, no holes barred, take no prisoners outlook on life. Rosemarie traveled all over the U.S. and the world connecting to good friends from her Air Force days and leaving a trail of broken hearts along the way.
     She volunteered her time to travel to third world countries with other Spokane medical professionals setting up hospitals and clinics providing free health care to people in dire need. 
     Now that Rosemarie is retired from the military and medicine she nurtures plants, homeless teenagers, and orphaned kittens. She rescues homeless mothers and their children, providing a space for them in her basement efficiency apartment to get on their feet and find their way back into the world. 
     Rosemarie jokes about her plain, black eye glass frames offered by the military base optometrist calling them her "birth control" glasses.
     Adelina is one of my oldest friends. We met at University--both of us single mothers and older returning students with hungry minds. One of nine children, she was the oldest girl upon whom too much responsibility was thrust too young. Adelina rebelled against the gender constraints forced upon her by her family, seeking an education and life experiences that carried her into the broader world filled with travel.
     Married and divorced, she raised four children while earning a business degree from Eastern Washington University. Adelina was elected the University student body president and was the first single parent, female, and Latina president in the school's one hundred and twenty four year history.
     She works for an international union organizing medical workers and fighting for the rights of working people. She embodies the saying by Delia Shapon-Devin: "Your heart is an organ the size of your fist. Keep loving, keep fighting.
     Adelina is a priestess of the Goddess with many arcane gifts, and a rich, round laugh that wraps around a person like a hug on a cold day. She left the group when she moved away and has recently returned.
Marian courtesy NW History and Art Museum
     Marian is our matriarch. Divorced as well after many years as a farmer's wife, Marian has always been an advocate for women's rights. She is a long standing member of the League of Women Voters, fought for the Equal Rights Amendment, and began the first feminist bookstore in Eastern Washington. 
     Marian is also a member of the Spokane Museum of Arts and Cultures and has worked on many of their exhibits over the years, finding herself honored recently in an exhibition titled "Women's Votes, Women's Voices: Washington Women's Suffrage Centennial Exhibit." Amazingly energetic, she traveled to China in her 80's!
     Together we became the Wednesday Women. Each Wednesday we took turns hosting dinner at our homes for the other women who showed up at six and left by eight.
     Every Wednesday I knew as did we all, that I had a standing dinner reservation in the company of people who loved me, accepted me, and cherished my friendship and contributions. No matter how bad my day went I knew there was always a place at the table for me in the presence of love. 
     We did not miss a Wednesday for five years
     We leaned on one another and supported each other though poverty, single parenthood, divorces, marriages, ill children, jobs lost and gained, degrees earned, deaths, births, witch camp, travels to far flung locales, love affairs begun and ended, graduations, illness, retirement and amazing personal growth. 
     I received more intellectual stimulation from one evening with the Wednesday Women than I have had in a decade of living in a college town and working for the University. These women are shakers and movers. They are my sisters and my collective heart; and I had to gain permission from all of them to bring a man to dinner!
     Not intimidated in the least by their intellect and sass, Les held his own with wit and keen observation. Marian knocked his socks off. At eighty nine years of age she can match wits with anyone and carry on a conversation that leaves many reeling in surprise.
     Marian took to Les right off and the feeling was mutual. She is generally the hard nut to crack but Les gathered her in with his genuine charm.  
     The WW had concerns for my well being: did Dear Sir bring to the table more than what I had in hand? After all I can afford to eat at McDonald's on my own. The answer was yes. 
     Was he accepting of me as a person in my own right and willing to allow me personal, intellectual, and religious freedom? Unequivocally yes.
     And did he please me in our personal relationship? Absolutely!! Dear Sir is an affectionate, talented, generous lover on every level. We both delight in one another's presence.
     Did he appreciate my talents and abilities and offer to nurture them? 
     Alice Walker once said, "The nature of this flower is to bloom." Flowers bloom best when tended by appreciative, attentive gardeners. With Les' loving care a deep core of living green came to life inside me. He is my muse and my patron.
The Monroe St. bridge  on the Spokane River © Lbiggs

Starting off early on Thursday morning, we had our usual Irish cream latte and a caramel Machiatto. We walked all over Spokane's Riverfront district and I shared my favorite places with Les: my old haunts and homes where I used to live.
     In the Flour Mill I took him to Wonders of the World and we found our engagement rings. While I was looking at Claddagh rings Les spotted a band with four green stones mounted in silver with ten tiny diamonds. The green gems are Alexandrite--a very rare Russian stone which changes its color under bright incandescent light and flashes purple.     
     The meaning of Alexandrite is joy! The ring fit my nature and taste perfectly but it was a size too small for my finger.
Our rings © LBiggs, 2010
     Les found a silver band with a Celtic endless lover's knot carved out of it. Across the hall was a jeweler who offered to size my ring and engrave Les' band while we had a cup of coffee. All he wanted in return was a twenty pound note. He collected monies from all over the world but had no British currency. 
    Dear Sir handed him a crisp new note and the deal was struck. Thirty minutes later my ring fit my finger and Les' was engraved with the words, "You are my joy." We drove home tired and happy, filled with the rich broth of good memories.
     Many years ago Les had given Val a weekend to do whatever she wanted. She asked him to spend it with her doing a bit of shopping and taking in the movie Evita. 
     Les agreed because he loved Val, it was her weekend and that is what she wanted to do. He didn't expect to enjoy the movie. They were both enthralled by it and that weekend was one of his favorite memories.
    Dear Sir wondered if I had ever seen the movie. I had not so we rented the DVD and watched it curled around each other on the couch. I deeply appreciated sharing in that sweet memory with Les. 
     Back in December Les made me promise to make reservations for dinner at Swilly's on Valentine's Day.
     I arrived home from work on February 14th to find a dark blue Swarovski jewelry bag on the kitchen counter along with a card--my very first Valentine's day card from a man!
One of "those" oblong boxes!
     Inside the bag was a long slender midnight blue box and inside the box was a gorgeous silver and crystal bracelet with links shaped like waves! It was a delicate, shimmering, artistically beautiful piece created with much thought and care and chosen with the same attention to detail. 
     Les knew me well and he knew what I liked: silver jewelry and simple, small pieces--nothing large or flashy. In one week's time I had received more bling from Dear Sir than I had ever been given in my entire life.
Valetnine's Day bracelet from Les
     We drove to dinner through the snow spangled night, under a dark blue sky the color of a Swarovski jewelry box, stars twinkling overhead like crystals. 
     At Swill's we ordered New York steaks with a Port wine reduction sauce, mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, Haricot verts in a butter glaze, baby salad greens with the house dressing and Sparkling Shiraz. 
     Les and I toasted each other and spent two hours eating, talking, and gazing into each other's eyes. I raised my glass to Val and Dear Sir quietly thanked me for that. I felt her there with us in the joy of that moment so it only seemed right. 
     After a dessert of Molten chocolate cake and coffee we bundled up, headed home and sank into bed under the warmth of the goose down comforter, wrapped in the bliss of each other's arms.
     Dear Sir and I moved through our daily routine together now: biscuits and tea first thing in the morning with lots of conversation and laughter; a hot shower, and me off to work and home again at night to be greeted by Les with something new to show me or tell me about his day. 
     Les built a brick path in the garden. He did dishes, laundry, and cleaned house without being asked and without my expecting it.
     "I even oovered."
     "You what?"
     "Oovered--you know--did the oovering."
     "I'm sorry darling but I don't know what that is. Say again???" (To me it sounded like he was saying Oeuf as in the French word for eggs. I was hard pressed to connect eggs with housekeeping!)
     "You know with the vaccum--I done the vacumming."
     "OHH! Hoovering. We don't call it hoovering over here; call it that and Yanks will think you mean 'hovering'."
     "Huv-a- ring--what's that then?"
     "You know--when you hang about over someone."
     "OHH! You mean haahvering." We laughed ourselves silly at our cultural differences and it was pointedly brought home to me that I am the one with the accent.
     The last week of Les' visit also brought snow--and lots of it. With the snow came Sparky to meet "the man who would take her mum away to England." 
     She had been having difficulties with her personal life and she needed to come home and immerse herself in mother love and ritual. Spark was reluctant to meet Les. She wanted me all to herself and she most certainly didn't want to like the bastard who was stealing her mother. 
     Les was sensitive to Sparky's feelings while being true to himself. I had to work each day which gave them two and a half days in which bonding might--or might not occur. 
     Dear Sir won Spark over with his easy going personality and frank thoughtfulness--they are alike in that way; but even more importantly Les won Spark's acceptance because of the way he treated me. 
  He was no different in her presence than when it was just the two of us; Les was loving, considerate, and affectionate. His eyes were filled with appreciation and desire whenever  he looked at me.
     Spark noted it.
"I've never seen you this happy Mama. You obviously love each other and you are good together. You make each other happy, and that's a rare thing." Les in turn thought Spark was wonderful--an apple that didn't fall too far from the tree!
The lane in front of Cloudhouse
     Our three weeks were gone, slipped away as quickly as grains of sand in an hour glass. As if in answer to the sadness in my soul at his leaving, the skies opened up and dumped a load of snow which had us driving from Pullman to Lewiston to Spokane, covering nearly two thirds the length of Washington State in less than twenty four hours in order to get Dear Sir on a plane back to England.
     Before we parted we finalized plans for my trip abroad in May and our wedding in June. We had to be apart one more time. When we met again, it would be on his turf.

What Comes Around Goes Around

"Our deeds still travel with us from afar, and what we have been makes us what we are." ~Dr. Tan Keng Khoo; "As ye sew, so shall ye reap." ~ Jeremiah 1:19
      I contacted my friend Patty and asked if we could meet for lunch when she was next in town. I needed to talk to someone who had walked this same road; I needed the advice of a sister friend in whom I could safely confide my personal insecurities and in whose advice I could trust.
     We lunched at Swilly's on a cotton clouded overcast winter's day in December 2010. Patty took my hands across the table. With tears and a huge smile she said, "I am so happy for you Jaq. You deserve this, and from what you've shared with me, Les sounds like a wonderful human being, and a perfect fit for you." 
     With a knowing look in her eyes, Patty went on, "You know why this has happened to you don't you? This is KARMA in action. You brought Steve and me together and now all that joy and love is coming back to you."
© PGora-Mcravin, 2009
      If anyone knew my journey it was Patty. Her love story is entwined with mine, and ours are entwined with other love stories; an unbroken circle within a circle that spirals out across the world.... 
     Patty and her late husband John were both employed by Washington State University; he was a professor of Economics in the College of Business. She taught for the Women's Studies Program and advised for WSU's Distance Degree Programs. With their two children Todd and Elizabeth—nicknamed Lili--the Kraemers seemed to have a perfect American middle class life.
     Shortly after moving to Pullman from Washington DC in the 1990's, Todd suffered a series of ill health issues diagnosed as asthma and food allergies. The asthma and sinus infections were, the doctor's suggested, brought on and exacerbated by the heavy agricultural field burning which ringed the city of Pullman and the outlying Whitman County farm lands. A quarter of a million acres in Eastern Washington were burned, with over half of those acres in Whitman County alone. The burning produced toxic agricultural smoke containing carcinogenic toxins and dangerous PM 2.5 particulate matter from annual field burning.
     Not only did this practice cause asthmatics to suffer repeated bouts of breathing crises and serious secondary infections such as deadly pneumonia brought on by inhaling the toxic smoke, anyone with COPD or emphysema and heart problems was at risk, and the lives of children with Cystic Fibrosis were directly threatened by the practice. 
©, 2010
     At least nine people died in Eastern Washington and North Idaho over a dozen years as a direct result of toxic agricultural field burning by the practice of 125 farmers. Many others were injured or forced to flee their homes.
     Spurred to address the issue due to the repercussions to Todd's health, John and Patty became involved in a regional group seeking to end field burning. They filed a Federal Lawsuit in 1999 under the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act on of behalf of their minor son.
     "I had to think of new ways to keep my son Todd awake so I could administer the nebulizer treatment again. It had been two hours since his last treatment, and his cough was beginning to get worse, compromising his ability to get oxygen.
     'Honey, let's count in Spanish. You remember, uno, dos, tres? How about German? Ein, zwei, drei. Just one more breath on the nebulizer, sweetie. Do it for mommy, please?'
     I would plead like this with my son, every 2 hours around the clock, for 3 weeks at a time. His heart pounds so hard I can feel it as it beats against my hands, cradling him, trying to get enough medicine in him to keep him alive. 
     I'd sleep next to him, so that his coughs would wake me. Sometimes, we'd have to make a spreadsheet to track the 14 medications he needed. We had good insurance but some weeks it would cost $100 even with co-pays. He is healthy when field burning stops."
Ag. field burning near Pullman WA © buffalogirl prod.
     The dark plumes of smoke generated by field burning blotted out the sun and hung suspended in the air for days and sometimes weeks at a time over a period of summer and early fall months, keeping anyone who was adversely affected by it from leaving their homes for groceries, medical care, or school. 
     The toxins in the smoke effectively prohibited those most at risk from using federally funded roads, libraries, and accessing education. The suit ended up in mediation which resulted in allowing the practice to continue with regulations taking into consideration time and space conditions in a manner which would no longer hospitalize or kill any more citizens.
     In October of 2001 Patty began working full time for a North Idaho non-profit begun by a majority of local concerned physicians seeking legal action on the deadly health consequences of agricultural field burning. I was hired to replace Patty as an advisor with WSU's Distance Degree Programs. I inherited her three hundred and fifty students and carried on in her footsteps.
     Early in the fall of 2004 John began to feel like he had an ongoing case of the flu which he could not shake. Doctors were unable to pinpoint the cause of his issues which were centered on his gut, so they prescribed massive doses of antibiotics. John continued to teach at University and work on field burning issues in spite of his pain and lack of energy.
     Early in November of 2004 he was admitted to the ER with severe abdominal pain. A CT scan showed nothing and John was sent home armed with another prescription for antibiotics. In mid November a severe attack sent him back to the ER. Another CT scan was taken.
     Patty and John were told the results were inconclusive. They asked John's physician if this could be cancer. The doctor said it was a possibility and scheduled a colonoscopy for the next day, after which John was told he had the worst case of Crohn's disease the doctor had ever seen. 
     With a prescription for Remicade--a drug which costs about $10,000 but is covered by most American health insurance companies--John was dosed intravenously before leaving the hospital.
    A few short weeks later another bout of severe abdominal pain brought John back to the ER and his internist insisted on a bowel resection surgery, assuming Crohn’s disease had caused a bad section of gut.
     Unknown to either John or Patty the attending surgeon was aware John's abdomen was full of cancer of unknown origin which quickly metastasized--the second CT scan was conclusive with notes by the radiologist indicating cancer had appeared to fill John’s abdomen, and his doctor didn't disclose this to them.
     After surgery the attending surgeon told Patty in the waiting room that John was completely full of inoperable and untreatable cancer which had metastasized all through his body. He angrily refused to help tell John this news and suggested to Patty that it was useless and would be "too expensive" to feed and hydrate her husband; the surgeon left it to Patty and her twelve year old daughter Lili to give John the gruesome news--he had two days to two weeks to live.
     John's physician, in an attempt to save his own ass, referred them to Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Washington in order to have a consult with a doctor who had pioneered a way that might deliver enough chemo to keep John alive for six more months.
     It was a long shot. Flying out of Pullman shortly before Thanksgiving, John arrived at Virginia Mason with the hope this treatment could buy him more time to be with his family.
     On John and Patty's 19th wedding anniversary Oncological surgeons at Virginia Mason told them nothing could be done for John--he had two weeks max. The plan was to take John home and let him die in his own bed, but he threw an embolism on December second and could not be moved. John died in hospital on December 10th, 2004 with Patty at his side.
     In the same hospital, on the same floor, Monica Jones was receiving toxic chemotherapy treatments for bile duct cancer. She had undergone twelve and half hours of surgery and would endure three years of ongoing chemo treatment with a brief remission before cancer returned to stalk her.
     During that time her husband Steve continued working full time to keep their health insurance and fund the expenses that come with a life threatening illness in America. He paid for trained Certified Nurse's Assistants to provide Monica the attention she needed at home where he could help care for her.
     Steve held down the fort for their seven children and took out a second mortgage on their home to provide Monica with money to travel back to Germany to visit family and fund a trip for the two of them on an Alaskan cruise to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. After a three year battle, Monica died in 2006 at Virginia Mason Medical Center from the cancer and the chemo. 
     My job required me to travel to the West side of Washington twice a year to meet students in person. February 12th 2007 found me in Port Angeles, Washington at the local community college staffing a table for Student Advising and Recruiting Day.
     The Director of Recruitment and Student Training walked slowly across the room to my table. As I watched him approach I became aware of his aura which was pulled tightly over him, thick and gray like a raincoat. This was an angry, lonely, inconsolable man.
     After a curt introduction, Steve Jones demanded of me in an accusatory tone, "Whatever happened to Patty Kraemer? She used to visit my school every year, and she would borrow my office to meet with our students. I liked her. She had a great sense of humor and we used to laugh, we did. Then all of sudden she stopped coming on visits."
     I explained to Steve that Patty took the job of her dreams in 2001, working to overturn agricultural burning in Washington and Idaho; that I was hired in her place and the same year budget cuts forced WSU Distance Degree Program advisors to stop traveling to community colleges. We didn't simply stop visiting his school--we stopped visiting any schools.
     "Hmm, well all right, it was nice meeting you. I've got students I need to advise. If you see Patty tell her Steve Jones said hello." Without further conversation he turned away from my table stooped forward as though he carried an enormous weight on his shoulders.
     At that very moment I heard a voice say, "Tell him about Patty." Looking around there was no one nearby. I shrugged to myself uncomfortably. I couldn't divulge my friend's grief to this stranger--I didn't know him and he was such a bitterly unhappy person...again came the summons only louder and followed by what I can only describe as a feeling of being struck on the back of my head--by what I know not as there was no one behind me, but I felt it nonetheless: "TELL HIM ABOUT PATTY!!!"
     I blurted out, "Patty's husband died of cancer some time back." Steve froze in his tracks, turned slowly and lifted his head to look at me, his gaze piercing mine. Walking back towards me he stopped again in front of my table and said, "My wife died from cancer last year."
     We stared at one another a very long minute. I waited, knowing something larger than myself was unfolding. 
     "Do you have her phone number? I'd like to get in touch with her."
     "I don't have it on me, but when I get back home I will find it and email you. Let me get your email address and phone number." Steve handed me his business card, thanked me in his soft southern drawl and ambled away, standing a bit taller.
     Tuesday, February 14th, back in my office in Pullman, I called Patty and told her about meeting Steve. I gave her his contact information knowing that I had done my part in whatever drama was about play out in their lives.
     Patty called Steve and left a voice mail message saying "Isn't this awful? It feels terrible and if you want to talk please give me a call." Leaving her phone number and email address, Patty hung up and waited to hear back. Six weeks went by. Steve was driving home from work one evening and he heard a voice in his head say, “Steve why haven't you called that nice lady back?"
     Patty was in her living room working at her computer in the early evening dark when the phone rang. It was Steve. They had an amazing conversation that seemed to last for hours about survival in the aftermath of widowhood and how the experience pulled the rug of life out from underneath them both.
     Patty told me later, "It was the first time since John's death that I felt humanly connected to someone else--that I didn't feel like an outcast from the human race."
     I had known how hard John's death hit Patty. She nearly died from her grief. It was only the needs of her children combined with a ton of support from the close knit Pullman community that helped her survive.
     A very experienced Hospice volunteer providing bereavement counseling to her told me that Patty was her most challenging client ever because she recognized how close to death Patty came in her grief over the loss of John. The volunteer knew Patty might choose death over life and there was nothing to be done to change her choice--all the volunteer could do was accompany Patty on the journey.
     Grief taught my friend why people in times past wore dark armbands and dressed in black for long periods of time. It was a signal to the community that the grief- stricken person could not be approached and dealt with like everyone else. It was a sign that this person was on a separate path and they needed to be treated with loving kindness and care.
Couer d'Alene Classic Car Show, ©
   Steve and Patty began calling one another regularly and their phone conversations became longer and longer. Finally they met in June of 2007 in Spokane for their first date. They each booked rooms at the same hotel, but on different floors. Patty knew Steve was a vintage car enthusiast. A classic car rally was being held that weekend in nearby Coeur d' Alene, Idaho.
     She packed a picnic lunch and they huddled in the cool, early June weather on the beach at Lake Coeur d' Alene, laughing and talking as he held her legs in his lap, rubbing them briskly to warm them.
     That evening they had dinner at Ella's Jazz Supper club. Everything went fine until the vocalist began singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"--John's favorite song compilation for his beloved daughter Lili, who loved the Wizard of Oz--which also turned out to be Monika's favorite as well.
     Steve and Patty survived their awkward moments--each of them having been with no one else but their spouses for several decades. Finding themselves back in the "Dating Game" was the very last thing they ever expected and of course the rules of personal relationships had changed drastically in the intervening decades as I myself was about to experience in the not so distant future.
    Over the ensuing months Steve and Patty propped each other up, secure in the knowledge that their kindred hearts traveled the same path together now toward the land of the living--no longer merely treading water alone.
     Steve proposed to Patty in July of 2008. I asked her how she knew it was right. She replied, "I had a laundry list of twenty things I thought would keep us from marrying; the main one being that I had two children I had to raise and I felt it was my responsibility to raise them.” Steve overturned every item on her list.
     With respect to her children he said, "I am all in Patty--I'm all in. I've raised seven children. 'I'll do anything to give Todd and Lili a good a life--and to give them back their mother."
     Patty realized Steve was a man who lived a life of highest integrity and love. His was a spacious heart "with enough room for me and all my personal struggles with room to spare; I realized with him everything would be all right. He meets me where I am; he fascinates me and challenges me--but in a gentle way that helps me grow."
     Steve’s commitment to Patty, Todd, and Lili showed in his actions.
     Patty lived in Pullman, Washington, nine miles from the Idaho state border. Steve lived in Spanaway--on the West Side of Washington State. He drove six hundred miles almost every weekend for two years in order to be with Patty and her children, nurturing a tenuous relationship with another man's kids--who were not keen on him or the idea of their mom marrying someone else.
     Theirs was the grief of childhood's loss; the loss of a parent and their family as they had known it. It took a long time for Todd and Lili to move through the stages of grief. Steve supported them in any way he could--any way they allowed--until he finally won them over with his spacious heart.
      In August of 2007 Steve and Patty called me and asked if they could treat me to lunch while they were both in town. At the restaurant they sat across from me holding hands. Each of them reached across the table and took one of my hands. Steve looked me in the eye and said, "We were told of your cancer diagnosis and we want you to know that if you decide to have treatment on the West Side we will be there to support you. You can stay at my house and I will personally drive you to your treatment sessions. We've both been on this trip Jaq and we know what you are facing. We will do everything in our power to support you."
     There were no dry eyes at the table that day. I was so deeply touched I had no words. It was totally unexpected and left me weeping in gratitude for the phenomenal gift of friendship…     
Beautiful! © PGora-Mcravin 2009
     I attended Patty and Steve’s wedding March 14, 2009 and had the honor of making their wedding cake. A glorious confection of lemon cake and Lemon Italian Buttercream Frosting with fresh raspberries soaked in Eau d' Vie d' Framboise in between the layers, my favorite oldest daughter Jesse--a trained pastry chef—worked with me; I baked the cake and made the frosting and she decorated it beautifully.
     At the church I was introduced to Steve's children and grandchildren as the woman who brought Steve and Patty together. They welcomed me with hugs and a certain level of respect. At the reception we danced, ate and celebrated with a mighty joy.
     Patty emailed me on the Winter Solstice two months before Dear Sir was due to arrive in my arms. 
From: Patty Kraemer
To: Jaqueline Almdale
Sent: Tues 12/21/2010
Subject: Checking in...
     And since you and I are now the best experts around on true love....I had to tell you this story. Steve came home from work last night with a big bouquet of flowers in his hands for me. He always finds those stargazer lilies whose fragrance I adore.
      He told me that a young student from work, Andrew, had talked to him that day. Andrew told Steve about how he was about to propose to his love this Christmas, and Steve described how Andrew pulled out a few rather ill-suited little bands to display.
      He asked Steve if he thought the young lady would actually say yes, seeing his meager offering of betrothal. Steve just said, "I got you covered, man."
      He remembered that there was a sweet three diamond ring that he'd gotten Monika the Christmas before she died, when she was on chemo. She didn't really ever wear the ring. And none of the daughters had claimed it.
      Steve just offered that ring to his student so Andrew could make the sort of proposal he felt his sweetheart deserved. I was so moved by that I just cried with happiness. Steve is just the dang sweetest and most romantic man I ever laid eyes on. (Of course, I haven't met Les yet!). I can hardly wait to hear how Andrew's proposal goes. And so, true love keeps on coming and growing. And embracing us all.
 Love Patty

From: Patty Kraemer
To: Jaqueline Almdale
Sent: Monday 01/17/11
Subject: Cool news...
      You remember that I told you that Steve had given the ring to Andrew to propose to his girlfriend? Well, she accepted! She's thrilled. And guess what? The ring fit her PERFECTLY. True love rules!
      They both love hiking and backpacking, so he took her on a hike near Leavenworth and had the ring and box in the snow for her to discover.
      They came by today to show Steve and thank him again. That was truly my Christmas gift this year. I hope you and Les and all the kids had a good holiday. February is just around the corner!
 Love Patty

Post Script:
Patty is ordained and will be officiating at our wedding. Steve will walk me up the path and stand with me as a part of the community that supports me as I choose to come forward and marry Les. And the circle of love grows, an unbroken circle within a circle that spirals out across the world....

Patty & Steve: A kiss to build a dream on