Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I Give My Hand to You With All My Heart...

"I give my hand to you with all my heart. I can't wait to live my life with you; I can't wait to start..." Shania Twain

Friday, June 17th 2011
     Friday dawned partly sunny and warm. Les and I rose at 6 am and drove to Kamiak, hiking the Butte in the early dawn light to find the right place for our ceremony. We planned to do this on Wednesday but Les had fallen ill and it rained all week! I left my cares with the Goddess knowing that the days beforehand and the ritual of our wedding would unfold as She saw fit.
     We marked the spot by creating a circle out of fallen wood and tree branches, with a natural portal in the East between two small trees, for people to enter the circle. We hiked back down and headed for breakfast.
     People were starting to roll into town for our nuptials. Sparky and her room mate Mary arrived from Portland, Oregon the afternoon before and commenced to bleach and then tint Mary's hair a lovely deep blue. Mary looked hot!
    Jesse, Ben, Michael, Matthew and Connor arrived Friday morning. I started preparing the rehearsal dinner with Jesse's help and then we all drove to Moscow, Idaho to Swan Family Ink for a piercing and tattoos!
     I've always wanted my nose pierced to wear a tiny diamond chip. I decided my wedding was the appropriate event to mark with a piercing and it was done before I could change my mind! It is somewhat of a shock to one's mind when one realizes a needle has just pierced one's flesh.
     Some might ask why I would choose to have something painful done to mark such a joyous occasion. The pain passes quickly and endorphins kick in. It is a ritual for me that mirrors the courage it took to make the trek through the painful parts of life to arrive at a moment of divine joy such as my wedding day to my soul mate. This piercing reminds me of the journey and the destination.
     The needle was quickly and expertly withdrawn and replaced with a small sparkling chip on a pigtail stud which corkscrews into the piercing, holding it in place.
     Jesse, Sparky, and me all agreed upon the same tattoo to mark the fact that we all were born in Alaska, and we are related to one another; we chose to have them located on different parts of our bodies as a recognition that our lives are diverging in wildly different directions. Spark asked me to choose the image. I settled on a cluster of forget-me-nots--the Alaska State flower.
     Mine was placed on my chest across my cleavage; Jesse's was placed across the top of her foot, and Sparky had hers tattooed across her upper back. Mary joined the club and got her first tattoo on her left bicep! 
     Les and I got back home first and I resumed prepping food for the evening's dinner. People were rolling in now, from far and near.

Adelina Gonzales
Adelina  Gonzales
     My dear friend from my University days arrived with flowers and hugs. Adelina and I met at Eastern Washington University in 1990. Both of us were single parents and full time students. Our friendship grew quickly as we became involved in University activities and campus politics, living next door to one another in campus family housing. 
     I was hired as the H.O.M.E. (Helping Ourselves Means Education) Program Coordinator--a program which evolved from representing a small handful of low income single parent women on campus, to representing 56.5% of the student body--all of whom were older returning, non-traditional students--most with families of one sort or another, and whose needs as students were not being met by the University community due to ignorance of their issues.  
    Adelina ran for student body president and I helped with her campaign. She was elected as the first woman, first single parent, and first Chicano student in the school's 110 year history.
     Up to that point the student body government had been comprised solely of young, traditional sorority and fraternity students--who happened to be a minority on the EWU campus--yet they controlled a $125,000 budget and made decisions regarding expenditures which usually benefited their small clique instead of the majority student body. We were known across campus by those whose rule we opposed as the tiny trouble twins!
      Our friendship continued to grow over the years as Adelina began working as a union labor organizer, eventually settling in with SEIU--Service Employees International Union, bargaining for the rights of hospital and medical workers.
  Meanwhile and I finished up two years as a Federal VISTA volunteer (Volunteers In Service to America) working at the most poverty stricken elementary school in Spokane where I created the state's first neighborhood/school site council, a before and after school on site day care program, and an after school enrichment program overseen by EWU education students who fulfilled their practicum requirements by working in my program. After my two years of service I went to work for Spokane Public Radio. 
    In 1991 Adelina and I were introduced to the Re-Formed Congregation of the Goddess located in Madison, Wisconsin. We enrolled in CELLA--a Thealogical training program for women witches, expanding our knowledge and experience of The Goddess and the Craft. We became part of the CELLA PNW circle and met with a core of other women from California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and British Columbia throughout each year for six years to grow as witches and learn to serve our communities as Priestesses of the Goddess.
     Adelina continually encourages and supports me in my personal growth. I am grateful she reached out to me at University and continues to be a loving and supportive force to be reckoned with in my life.

Bill Marlow and Sara Edlin-Marlowe
     The next folks to arrive were Bill Marlowe and his wife Sara Edlin-Marlowe. Sara was employed at Spokane Public Radio as the Morning Edition host when I began working there in 1995. We bonded tightly over the course of five years, watching each other's backs, supporting one another at work and in our personal lives.
Sara Edlin-Marlowe
     Sara practiced a form of Buddhism for many years and is now allied strongly with the Unitarian Universalist church.
     She teaches Tai-Chi, and uses her immense experience in radio and her MFA in Theatre with an emphasis on directing to coach newly hired television newscasters on diction and on-air presence; she also directs theater for the local community, and teaches drama as an adjunct professor at Spokane Falls Community College (SFCC). 
     She writes and acts in one woman plays about the lives of Georgia O'Keefe, Sacagawea, and other notable women. Sara travels thither and yon across Washington and Idaho to perform her plays with underwriting from the WA and ID Humanities Commission.
     In her salad days Sara was a struggling New York actor who scored a part in the movie The Godfather and knew young Bobby De Niro before he encountered fame and fortune. 
Bill Marlowe
    Bill Marlowe is the Chair of the Drama Department at SFCC. He has directed one of the premier community theaters in the U.S. and across the nation extensively, acted in many high profile productions and worked as an equity Stage Manager on the New York stage. Bill also appeared in a movie with Antonio Banderas, LL Cool J and Sam Elliott.
      Between them, Bill and Sara have many decades of experience and fabulous stories about it all. They worked with Haley Joel Osmond and his parents before Haley was a star--they know and have worked with many fine stage and movie actors over the years--both American and British.
     Bill's direction of the Spartan Student Theatre at SFCC is legendary. His students produce some the best acted Shakespearean dramas in the Inland Northwest. 
     Married over twenty five years, Sara and Bill are wild, imaginative, witty and wonderful people who have folded me into their lives and hearts for which I am deeply thankful. 

Karen Barron
Karen Barron
     My most recent friendship to take root was with Karen. We met at Hospice Volunteer Training back in September 2009 and bonded quickly. Her husband Jim is retired from WSU and they are road gypsies much of the year.  
     Karen is a wonderful friend--smart, loyal, fierce in her convictions with an East Coast brusqueness that overlies a huge, warm heart and fabulous sense of humor.
     She is unusually gifted at seeing the whimsy in art and makes some wonderful pop art pieces of her own out of pottery. She introduced me to Kamiak Butte and trekking poles.
     Karen is a planner extraordinaire who prodded me throughout the months leading up to the wedding. Without her input we would not have had the ceremony we did.

Reverend Patti and Steve McRaven
Patti & Steve
     Patti and Steve's story appeared previously in this blog. Patti is empowered by the State to make our Wiccan hand fasting a legally recognized and binding wedding ceremony. Her husband Steve was walking me up the trail and handing me over to Dear Sir.
     Richly blessed by such friends as these, their threads embroider the tapestry of my life and make it shine with love.

The Rehearsal 
     The cast assembled, we caravaned in a body out to Kamiak Butte at 5:30 PM and proceeded to hike up the Pine Ridge trail to the top of the ridge. Most of these folks had never been up there; we had people ranging in age from mid 60's to age 5 months all wandering up Kamiak's pathways in the late afternoon sunshine. The trees created a cathedral effect and the evening air was scented with resinous pine and wild roses.  
     We took our time and gathered at the top--most of us out of breath except for Les, and Michael and Mathew who ran up and down the path four times! 
     Dear Sir was probably in the best shape of all of us! It took us about twenty seven minutes to climb to the ridge which I thought was brilliant given many of us had physical challenges to overcome.
     With scripts in hand we went through the ceremony with Bill Marlowe invoking the God in the character of a Southern Baptist preacher that had us all in stitches.
     Patti concluded with,"By the powers vested in me by the State of Washington I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride." 
     This was the first time Les had heard any of the service which I put together. Unknown to him, there were a few things left out of the rehearsal that would appear in the actual ritual in order to provide spontaneity and emotion. A few official words would be changed at the very end thanks to Cheri Curtis who couldn't be there in person but would be there in spirit through the final changes which were her suggestion. 
     I spent a long time thinking about Val over the past months. Les was deeply honest with me about their relationship in the things he chose to share with me. I wanted to be sure to include her in our ceremony because I know Dear Sir is a man I can trust and love due in large part to her love and influence on him.
     I also strongly believe that her soul brought Les and me together; that Val continues to look out for him and that I am blessed to be a part of her love for Les--as she is a part of my love for him. The remembrance was not mentioned at all in the rehearsal; I would include it in tomorrow's wedding ceremony.
     Soon enough our merry band wended its way back down Kamiak Butte and we caravaned back to our home for a Mexican dinner of Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas, Green Chile Burritos, rice, salsa, guacamole, chips, Cadillac Margaritas, Coronas with a slice of lime, and Chocolate cream pie! 
     After eating leisurely in the lengthening rays of late evening sun I handed out baskets with items representing each element of the five sacred things to the people who were invoking them in the ritual. I gathered my things and slipped away to my friend Sandy Field's house. Les would sleep alone tonight--his last as a bachelor. I would spend it with Adelina and Sandy.

Saturday, June 18th, 2011
     I awoke to a pearly grey sky threatening rain at some point in the day. Kamiak Butte rose majestically out of the clouds and sat over the skyline outside Sandy's kitchen window! I knew as Sandy prepared a fabulous breakfast for us that people were beginning to head out for the Butte and gather at our ritual place.
     Adelina left early to meet Sparky, Les, Jesse, Ben, Michael, Karen, Sara, Bill, and Patti. As principle players they were meeting up on Kamiak at 10 am to smudge each other with sage, be anointed with rosemary oil for remembrance, and to begin anchoring the energy of the circle.
     I showered, put on my gown and dressed my hair and face, dusting my cheeks, brow bones and collar bones with a bit of sparkling fairy dust. Dear Sir was waiting for me now on the ridge.
     It was windy in the parking lot of Kamiak Park and the air was laden with moisture--a fairly rare occurrence in June here where the Palouse reaches out to meet the high deserts of Eastern Washington.
     My friends Sally and Joe Horton had gone on up to the circle. Chrisi and Keith Kincaid, Sandy Field, and Steve McRaven were waiting for me. 
     I took Steve's arm and we set off. On the way we passed several hikers who took one look at me, figured out a wedding was happening somewhere at Kamiak and wished me and Steve well! 
     As we walked along I thanked Steve for walking me up the path and handing me over to Les.
     "You and Les are cut from the same cloth--you remind me very much of
     one another. You are both good men--kind, loving, gentle. I am so happy

     you agreed to do this for me."
     Tears welled up in my eyes as Steve thanked me for the opportunity to participate and gave me a kiss and hug, telling me he was honored to walk me up and participate in our wedding.       
     We arrived at the ridge top with the rain holding off, the world a magical place cloaked in a fragile mist. Chrisi, Keith, and Sandy went on ahead to be smudged, anointed, and enter the circle.
     Suddenly it was time and we began walking Eastward towards the gathering hidden just off the path, beyond the first group of trees and an old, gnarled, fallen tree trunk.
A word between two very fine men
     Les spotted us coming through the trees and didn't take his eyes off me. Dear Sir looked gorgeous in his fitted black jeans, black leather vest laced up the sides, and white dress shirt with silver cuff links. A white rose with rosemary and lavender graced his vest. 
     Adelina smudged Steve first, then turned to me saying, "May you have joy in your lives and love in your hearts forever Jaq. You are a priestess of the Goddess and She is within you." Sparky anointed my forehead with oil, giving me a daughter's blessing from deep in her heart.
     I entered the circle and began to walk sun wise stopping to hug and kiss each person there to witness our wedding; South, West, North, and East again to turn toward Center where Les, Patti, and Steve waited for me at the altar.

Sparky casting the circle
     Walking the perimeter sun wise and stopping at each direction Sparky cast the circle: 
   "By the air which is Her breath,
   By the fire of Her bright Spirit,
   By the waters of Her living womb,
   By the earth which is Her body,
   By that which is above and that
   which is below,
   This circle is cast and we are
   between the worlds.
   And what is between the worlds can change the world.
   So mote it be." 

East-"I am East, the symbol of air.  Know and remember that this is the element of life, of intelligence, and the inspiration that moves us onward. I bring to your wedding the power of mind."

South-"I am South, the symbol of fire. Know and remember that this is the element of passion, light, and energy; of the vigor which runs through our veins. I bring to your wedding the power of will."

West-"I am West, the symbol of water. Know and remember that this is the power of love, of growth, of the fruitfulness of the earth. I bring to your wedding the power of desire."

North-"I am North, the symbol of earth. Know and remember that this is the element of law, of endurance, of the understanding which cannot be shaken. I bring to your wedding the power of steadfastness."

Center-"I am center, the cauldron of life, death, and rebirth, and the well of the ancestors. Know and remember that this the power of regeneration and eternity, and I bring to your wedding the blessing of all those that have gone before you."

"I who am the beauty of the green earth
And the white moon among the stars
And the mysteries of the waters
I call upon your soul to arise
And come unto Me.
For I am the soul of Nature
That gives life to the universe.
From Me all things proceed
And unto Me they must return.
Let my worship be in the heart that rejoices
For behold—all acts of love
And pleasure are my rituals.

Let there be beauty and strength,
Power and compassion,
Honor and humility,
Mirth and reverence
Within you.
And you who seek
To know Me, know that
Your seeking and yearning
Will avail you not
Unless you know The Mystery:
For if that which you seek
You find not within yourself,
You will never find it without.
For behold, I have been with you
From the beginning,
And I am that
Which is attained
At the end of desire.
Blessed Be!"

"Lord of the colors of Day,
Untamed Awakener of Hearts,
Morning’s Son, Vine ripened Seed,
Heart’s ease and Sorrow’s end;
Sun Child, Seed Sower , Grain reborn;
Many jeweled One, Winter born King,
Wheat sheaf, Green Man, Lord of the Hunt,
Sailor of the last sea, Guardian of the gate,
Horned God, Lord of the Dance--
COME! Be here now.

Blessed be!"

Karen Barron: "Jaqueline is it true you come of your own free will and accord?"
Jaqueline: "yes, it is true I do come of my own free will and accord."
Karen Barron: "With whom do you come and whose blessings accompany you?"
Steve McRaven: "She comes with me, her brother, and is accompanied by all our blessings."
Karen Barron: "Les, take Jaqueline's hand and listen..."
Reverend Patti:
     "These two who are joined in love now have the desire to make their bond a matter of record, so that all the world and the society in which they live may witness it, and lend to them the support of their hearts and minds.
     Like stones should your love be firm. Like a star should your love be constant. Let the powers of the mind and of the intellect guide you in your marriage; let the strength of your wills bind you together, let the power of love and desire make you happy, and the strength of your dedication make you inseparable. Be independent of one another, and interdependent one to another. Be free in giving affection and warmth. Rejoice in laughter. Ever love, help, and respect each other and then know truly that you are one in the eyes of all assembled here today.

Blessed Be."


Patti: "Do you, Les, take Jaqueline to be your wife,
to be her constant friend,
her partner in life, and her true love;
To love her without reservation,
honor and respect her,
protect her from harm,
comfort her in times of distress,
and to grow with her in mind and spirit?"
Les: "I do."

Patti: "Do you, Jaqueline, take Les to be your husband,
To be his constant friend,
his partner in life, and his true love;
To love him without reservation,
honor and respect him,
protect him from harm,
comfort him in times of distress,
and to grow with him in mind and spirit?"
Jaqueline: "I do."

Patti ties the hand fasting cords
Patti: "Likewise, this cord is a symbol of the lives you have chosen to lead together. Up until this moment you have been separate in thought, word, and action. As these cords are tied together, your lives become intertwined. As the right hand is to the left hand, may you be forever one, sharing in all things, at home and abroad, in love and loyalty for all time to come."

Patti: "You cannot always be physically joined (Patti removes cord without untying it and lays it on the altar) therefore the exchange of rings is one of the deepest symbols of a marriage. It is a constant reminder, a shared touch between this man and this woman. The circle is a symbol of the eternal. To give a ring to someone you love is to say that your love has no beginning and no end.
     This bond I draw between you: that though you are parted in mind or in body, there will be a call in the core of you, one to the other, that nothing and no one else will answer to. By the secrets of earth and water is this bond woven -- unbreakable, irrevocable; by the laws that created fire and wind this call is set in you, in life and beyond life."
(Michael Kiddoo comes forward with the rings tied in a silk scarf and gives
them to Les)

Patti: "Les, as you slip the ring on Jaqueline’s finger, repeat after me:"
Les: I, Leslie Charles Biggs, in the name of the spirit of love which resides within us all, by the life that courses within my blood, and the love that resides within my heart take thee Jaqueline Marie Almdale to my hand, my heart, and my spirit to be my lawfully wedded wife. To desire thee and be desired by thee; to possess thee, and be possessed by thee as a token of our love. I promise to love thee wholly and completely without restraint; in sickness and in health; in plenty and in poverty; in this life and beyond where we shall meet, remember, and love again. I shall not seek to change thee in any way. I shall respect thee, thy beliefs, thy people, and thy ways as I respect myself.

Patti: "Jaqueline, as you slip the ring on Les’ finger, repeat after me:"
Jaqueline: I, Jaqueline Marie Almdale in the name of the spirit of love which resides within us alll, by the life that courses within my blood, and the love that resides within my heart take thee Leslie Charles Biggs to my hand, my heart, and my spirit to be my lawfully wedded husband. To desire thee and be desired by thee; to possess thee, and be possessed by thee as a token of our love. I promise to love thee wholly and completely without restraint; in sickness and in health; in plenty and in poverty; in this life and beyond where we shall meet, remember, and love again. I shall not seek to change thee in any way. I shall respect thee, thy beliefs, thy people, and thy ways as I respect myself.

Sara: "As a symbol of Her presence do I offer this bread which represents the Goddess. From this day and through this union Les, shall you know the Goddess through Jaqueline."
Jaqueline tears off a piece and feeds it to Les, saying:
"May you never hunger."
Les tears off a piece and feeds it to Jaqueline, saying:
"May you never hunger."

Bill: "As a symbol of His presence do I offer this wine which represents the God. From this day and through this union Jaqueline, shall you know the God through Les."

Les offers Jaqueline a sip, saying:
"May you never thirst."
Jaqueline offers Les a sip, saying:
"May you never thirst."

"I raise our cup in remembrance to Valerie Biggs.
She kept your heart and soul whole and full;
Filled with love, and joy, and passion;
And you kept hers as well.
She taught you to love truly.
I am thankful to her with all my heart for looking out for you then—and now.  
I rest assured in my belief that we three will be united someday,
For love never dies, and those who are remembered, live.
To Val." 

Patti: "By the power vested in me by the State of Washington , I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.
You may snog the witch! Blessed Be!"

The God and Goddess, and each of the five sacred things are devoked in turn:
"Thank you for keeping company with us; go if you must and stay if you will-- hail and farewell!"

Karen: (the broom was laid down in the East to close the circle.) 
“In the rituals of the once ways, from the Cymry (Kim-ree) in Wales, to the Romani whom we know of as Travelers, Tinkers, or Gypsies; to Africans brought to the Americas against their will, jumping the broom has been a ritual of love and marriage when formal, legal ceremonies were not allowed these subjugated peoples.
     Jaqueline and Les choose to jump the broom today as a sign of respect for all those who went before them, and as a sign of respect for a Witch's second most important tool—a besom or broom. Jumping the broom signifies an end to the old lives lived separately and an acknowledgement of a new life begun together." (Les and Jaqueline move around the circle widdershins, and jump the broom together standing outside the circle.)

Patti and all assembled:
"This circle is open but unbroken. May the peace of the Goddess go in our hearts. Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again!"
     Les and I stood outside the circle and greeted each witness with hugs and kisses. For some it was their first non-Christian ritual. Only three of us were Witches while two others were practicing Buddhists. Folks seemed genuinely touched by our vows and we were indeed blessed to have each person there to lend us their support, encouragement, friendship, and love. 
     We all walked leisurely back down to the car park and sallied forth to a wedding luncheon lovingly hosted and prepared by Karen and Jim Barron with help from Sally Horton, Chrisi Kincaid, and two students hired to assist.
     We chose to serve Pimm's #1 as our wedding punch. Most of the assembled Americans had never had it and everyone loved it. (Thank you Lucy!)
     Toasts were made, deeply touching our hearts. I looked around and tears sprang to my eyes in gratitude for the friends I have gathered to me over the years who were able to participate in our Wiccan Wedding Ritual and for Patti's willingness to become legally ordained in order to make our marriage legally binding while still holding fast to my spiritual beliefs. 
     I was thrilled beyond measure that my daughters, son-in-law, and grandchildren were there. I was moved in my soul to see how they accepted Dear Sir and folded Les into our family with love.
     Jesse asked me later if I felt different now that I was Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs.   
     "Yes. It feels like more."
     "You mean you feel more complete now that you are married?"
     "No--we were already complete and whole before we ever
      met. I don't really know how to explain this feeling." Not for the first time since I had met Dear Sir, I found myself without the appropriate words.
     As Les and I lay in each other's arms in the velvet dark of our wedding night we talked about the day and all the things which unfolded. He helped me find my words:
     The public acknowledgement of the depth of our love and desire for one another and the sharing of them with friends and family in attendance made our love bigger. Like all good things in life it became larger than the two of us; an unbroken circle within a circle of love spiraling out across the world...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Back From whence I came...

"And the seasons they go 'round and 'round...And the painted ponies go up and down. We're captive on the carousel of time; We can't return we can only look behind from where we came, and go round and round and round in the circle game." Joni Mitchell

     I survived the return trip but my left S-I joint (hip) went out of alignment again. I just cannot stand on manmade hard surfaces for hours at a time. Dirt is soft and forgiving but concrete, linoleum, brick, tarmac, etc. have no give and my hip joints are too loose from years of ballet stretches followed by too many years of sitting at a desk.

     It only takes about an inch of displacement to make my knees scream and swell, and my muscles ache. It takes nearly two weeks to recuperate each time this happens. Losing weight will help tremendously. Six months of work related stress with related exhaustion and depression concluded in a twenty five pound weight gain.  
     I was beginning to lose weight, tone up, and feel my muscles stretching and building as we lived aboard, traveling and working the locks and moving through our days with walks along the cut or off into local villages.
     I felt healthier because I was happy, active, and living in the present moment with the one I love. I didn't allow myself to think about work while in England. I knew what would be waiting for me when I returned. 

Heathrow Terminal 5 looks like a -25th centuray space docking station
     We boarded the plane Saturday at Heathrow, at 2:00 pm London time. Our takeoff was delayed an hour due to an on board passenger falling desperately ill just after boarding. An ambulance was called, the passenger was removed and his luggage was located. We were sixth in the cue for takeoff. For awhile I thought the pilot intended to drive the 747 to the coast and take off there...
      We arrived home in Pullman Sunday morning at nine am London time--1:30 am Pullman time. Both of us were wiped out. Sunday morning we went for latte's at Dissmore's, picked up some groceries and sat under the umbrella on the back deck like lizards, soaking up the dry warmth and resting. 
     We ate roast beef sandwiches with extra sharp cheddar, fresh bread slathered with horseradish mayonnaise, and homemade potato salad for dinner. As we cleaned up I suggested we take a walk and then come back and have a bite of cherry pie and a cup of tea. 
     With an affirmative nod Dear Sir took my hand and led me to the bedroom. "Let's rest for ten minutes first."  We lay down like spoons and fell into a deep sleep from which we awoke in the middle of the night. We fell back into a deep slumber and I dreamed we were cradled there in the bed at Cloudhouse; I woke up and looked at the view of the green waving wheat out of the window in the sitting room--but I was looking out of the boat window! I don't feel as though I've returned home; I feel like I left home behind.

Ozlem Biggs courtesy L. Biggs
      The second weekend in England we visited with Les and Val's son Steve his lovely wife Ozlem, and their boys Teo and Battu. They are a household of vegetarians nonetheless Ozlem fixed a brilliant dinner which included delicious chicken, several wonderful salads (I especially loved the potato salad with parsley and other yummy greens). Everything was prepared with loving care and dinner was most appreciated. For dessert we had profiteroles which I have never had before! They were decadent and divine! 
     A good visit commenced with Steve who is a body builder, wrestler, and promoter. We chatted a bit about his work and Ozlem told me a little about her family in Turkey. She was quite familar with using nettles as a nutritious food. I enjoyed her company and I appreciated the opportunity to get to know them.
Steve Biggs, Teo and Battu courtesy L. Biggs
     Their boys are wonderful--spirited and imaginative. At one point the oldest had both Les and I in his "chair" and pretended to barber our hair with his transformer.
     I enjoy watching Les with children. He clearly loves kids. Dear Sir can make up the most amazing, imaginative, and preposterous stories on a dime and kids love this about him. He gets right into their world at their level and participates. 
     When we visited with Les and Val's son Kevin and his wife Joanne, I enjoyed Les' reading of The Gruffalo to little Kiera as much as she did! The two of them have clearly done this gig before as each took a part in telling the story from the book, which is obviously her favorite.
      Kev took us grocery shopping before driving us back to the boat. Les has a pattern for shopping. He knows where everything familiar is, and he gets his cart and zooms through the store like a Ferrari on the Indianapolis speedway. He was nearly at the checkout stand and I was still standing there in an aisle with my mouth open.
      Grocery shopping in England is difficult for me and I nearly broke down and cried. Most things are labeled differently; all the weights and measures are in a foreign format; there are far more choices than we have here, and the cost is in Pounds and pence.
    One cut of meat which I recognized as a large, thin slice of sirloin steak was labeled Escalope! At first I thought I was being introduced to an antirely new species! It is beef, but it has been cut thin and sometimes is treated to a pounding with a mallet.  
     Groceries over there are for the most part less expensive than over here. We stopped at a greencrocers in a small village near the canal one afternoon. Nothing was said about whether the food was organic--I just assumed it probably was because it was locally produced and sold by the greengrocer. We purchased a lovely loaf of fresh bread, two heads of Boston or Bib lettuce, a bunch of green or spring onions, and a bag of mushrooms. all together it came to £2.30!
     In Pullman the loaf of fresh baked bread alone costs nearly $6.00. Bibb or Boston lettuce as its known here, is $5.00 a head. these two items alone would have cost $15.00 and that doesn't count the bunching onions or the mushrooms. 
     Some things are more expensive--lattes for example. The few times we bought them they were nearly £5 a piece; here, it depends on where one buys them. Starbucks and Zoe's are spendy but the lattes Dear Sir and I favor are $2.32 a piece at Dissmores. 
     A word about fish and chips: you have never really experieinced them in America--end of discussion!
     While moored in Berkhamstead--a lovely and very old town distinguished by the ruins of Berkhamstead castle from which William the Conquerer ascended to the English throne in 1066--we found a new fish and chips shop in the train station! 

     I cannot wax eloquently enough on the chips which were deep fried to a lovely light brown and full of potato flavor, or the fish; an entire fillet breaded and fried, wrapped in paper! Neither fish 'nor chips were greasy! English cooking knows how to treat the humble potato the taste of which is easily breaded and steamed into nonexistence over here; now I find American steak fries tasteless and greasy by comparison. They are deep fried slabs that look like potatoes and taste like cardboard.
     My first day back to work and nothing had changed--and everything had changed. New phones led to spending the morning learning a new system; a new email system meant none of my mapped network drives linked up to email and IT had to make several trips to restore things for me. My colleagues took brilliant care of my students and my returning work load wasn't too onerous; my emails were up to nearly four hundred but triage soon whittled them down to manageable I was caught up with them by Wednesday.
     Tuesday evening Les was ill--having contracted some crud on the airplane with its recirculating air system. He awoke in the middle of the night with swollen painful nasal cavities, a sinus headache, stuffed nose and raw throat. His eyes were dull and rhuemy and he looked miserable.
     He asked me to pick up something over the counter from the grocer's. I told him I would do that but he should know studies indicate those products do not make you better and certainly don't make you well faster; they make you think you feel better--until they wear off---so you can get out bed and cavort around at work when you should be resting. He agreed to try the alternative methods. 
     I ran to Moscow Food Co-op and picked up a bottle of Osha Root and some Oregon Grape Root tinctures. Osha root is an antibiotic the Pacific Northwest Native tribes have used for centuries. I figured if we were dealing with strep throat Osha would take care of it. Oregon Grape Root is an anti-viral of unparalleled strength which kills flu and other viruses. At home I had tincure of Goldenseal which is a soothing anti-inflammatory for soft mucous tissue like the mouth and throat.
     Les was under instructions to alternate tinctures once an hour; stay completely away form sugar which compromises the immune system's ability to function, drink loads of water, take EmergenC and rest.
    By Wednesday Les was still sick but non longer rhuemy.
     I thought some humor therapy would help boost his immune system so we watched the movie "Mama Mia!" sitting companionably close on the couch "that eats your ass," as my kids call my super comfy living room sofa.
     After dinner I cut his hair and then my own. The crud was migrating to his chest now and I could hear a slight wheezing. He said his chest felt tight to I used some Badger Chest rub (the non petroleum equivalent of Vicks Vapo Rub), and put him to bed with a hot washcloth on his chest covered by the heating pad turned on high.
     He woke up Thursday morning and said he still felt ill but the phlegm in his chest had loosened enough to cough it up, and while he was weak and tired, he had a bit more energy. I warned him not to succumb to the siren call of getting out of bed to do things.
     Rest is the only time our bodies actually heal themselves, which is why over the counter meds like Theraflu are so counter-productive. The heavy duty cocktail of chemicals and synthetic medicines subdues the physical effects of illness and tricks one into thinking health is just around the corner and functioning normally is fine. 
     In reality the disease is continuing to build a viral or bacterial load and will run its course as it sees fit, and it will actually take longer for one's body to recover because of the lack of rest involved in pretending not to be ill. 
     Les' poet shirt arrived in the mail. He tried it on with his black leather vest and black jeans. To be honest the shirt was not what it appeared online. It looked more like a homespun shorty nightgown and he was definitely not comfortable. So the poet shirt is out for him and we need to buy him a nice dressy white shirt for the wedding. We laughed hysterically as he posed in shirt, boxers and stockings and he made me take pictures. Ah well, the best laid plans...
     I was not feeling really great but I took the tinctures too in the hope I wouldn't fall ill as well. What timing!! Our wedding was only 48 hours away!  

Thursday, June 9, 2011

One of These Things is Not Like the Others...

"The difference between America and England is that Americans think 100 years is a long time, while the English think 100 miles is a long way." --Earle Hitchner
     It's odd I know...intellectually I always knew England and America were two different countries but in my own typical culturally myopic fashion I really thought most things would be similar if not the same.
     Now I am here and experiencing first hand which things are similar and which are VERY, very different:
     I was told this was so before I ever left the U.S. and I was absolutely incredulous. This is like saying there is not Pepsi in America. The web search for the veracity of this statement led me to several ex-patriot food web sites which underscored that certain comestibles Americans have always taken for granted are in fact not readily available in England.
     When Dear Sir arrived in Pullman last February I asked him if he had ever tasted Root Beer. He shook his head no and discussion ensued as to what product might be similar to Root Beer. Ginger Beer is probably it--but not really. And no, a Coke float is really not even close. 
     Root beer was brewed in the American colonies as a 2-12% alcohol mix by home breweries.  In the 1870's a pharmacist named Dr. Hires was turned on to a tea with 20 odd ingredients which he was loath to part. He tweaked the ingredient, and began dispensing Hires root beer concentrate which became so popular he moved on to dispensing the mixed drink, the main ingredient of which is sassafras root.
     Sassy root cannot be cultivated.the trees grow from Maine to the Ozarks in the southern USA. It needs to be dug in the springtime as the tree is just waking up.
     Sassafras is good for boosting a sluggish immune system, bringing on a hard sweat or fever, and treatment of gout, rheumatism, exczema and psoriasis. It was also used to kill head lice and other verminous infestations.
    Today's root beer is far less healthful having commercial additives and more sugar per serving than any other American soda pop, but it is quintessentially American like apple pie. We serve it up in hard frosted mugs, iced cold,  with scoops of vanilla ice cream floating in it. 
     Les, having had root beer floats for dessert thinks they are fine. I suggested we brew our own root beer and travel around to the different canal boat shows selling root beer floats throughout summer. We could become The Root Beer Float Boat! Great idea--too much work. 
     This is another cultural item, the pronunciation of which had us both in stitches.  Americans say "Gram crackers." Les pronounces it as "Gray-ham's crackers." But the box confuses him as it contains Graham cracker crumbs--not crackers. One can buy the box of crackers but I use the crumbs to make cheesecake and cookie bar crusts. 
     In England cooks use Digestive Biscuits. After sampling both I can tell you they are not close at all.

     Well, not American pickles. Who knew British pickles and American pickles were so different?? 
     I love Sweet pickles, Bread and butter pickles--which are my favorite--and banquet dills. They are fabulous in potato salads, tuna sandwiches and on hamburgers. I asked Les if he liked pickles and he threw a face and said, "No!"  Well I was totally amazed, but then he doesn't like olives either so go figure.
     We had occasion to eat hamburgers for lunch at Zoe's on the WSU campus one day last February. When our food came, Les lifted the bun and looked through the bits on his burger. Apparently in the USA burgers come dressed to the nines in things like lettuces, onion, tomato and yes! pickles. A large green dill pickle spear reclined across the girth of Dear Sir's burger.  He looked at it dubiously and asked me,
     "What is that?" The light went on in my head immediately. 
     "That is an American dill pickle. I gather pickles in your country are different, yeah?"
     "Oh yeah. English pickles are a mixture of different vegetables pickles on brine. Sometimes people add them into casseroles. I don't like them. I thought that was what you meant when you asked me if I liked pickles. What is this made of then?" Les asked curiously.
     "American pickles are made from one thing--cucumbers and only cucumbers, of different sizes. We do have a product something like your Branston Pickles but we call them pickled vegetables--not pickles."
     "I'll give this a go--" and just like that he picked up the green dill pickle spear from his burger and took a bite. "That is quite lovely, that is. Nothing like Branston pickle. I quite like it." 
     One cross cultural mystery solved and color me relieved because my potato salad and tuna sandwiches are famous and both contain AMERICAN pickles.
     In England I've found one item similar to U.S. pickles and they are tiny jars of even tinier Gherkins which the French call cornichons. I've also looked at a jar of Branston pickle in the grocery store and I've decided to weigh in with Les on those.
     My legendary chocolate Kahlua bundt cake requires amongst other esoteric ingredients, one three ounce packet of Jello Vanilla pudding and pie mix. After some research online I thought I would be quite clever and substitute Bird's English custard powder.  My Scottish friend Sally Horton warned me off.
     "Bird's custard powder is NOT anything like JELLO. I don't think the English have anything similar."  
   All righty then. It was two weeks prior to leaving for England and I borrowed a suitcase from my friend Chrisi Kincaid. I had the strangest dream that night; the suitcase was laying on my bed with the periwinkle sheets and the soft down comforter. I had just finished packing and was zipping the case shut when the phone rang. It was Chrisi checking to see if packing was going along okay.
     "How's the suitcase working Jaq? Will it hold all your clothes?"
     "I'm not taking any clothes," I replied starchly.
     "I'm a newlywed. I don't need any clothes."
     "Oh! My, well can I ask what you are taking?"
     "Boxes of Graham crackers and jars of pickles."

    Les tried to cultivate an appreciation in me for the dearness of land in England.
     "We only have a small island...we don't have loads of open space like you do in America. Land is dear in England. As a result roads are very narrow and houses are small. You wait until you come over and see for yourself."
     Well here I am and Dear Sir was right. I've never seen such narrow roads except in the Alaskan bush and those were rutted one way tracks plowed through to someones homestead.  
     The motorways in England are VERY narrow, and the roads are really lanes--literally. Toss into this the British roundabout instead of the American intersection with traffic lights for each direction and driving with a steering column and foot pedals on the right side of the car will do a Yank's head in. 
Parking half in the road and half on the sidewalk
     Add to this the chaotic fashion in which folks over here park--willy nilly any place they can squeeze in--half on and half off the side walk--and you may feel as I do: I could never get the hang of driving in England. Thank the Goddess we are traveling along the Water Road!
     In the States lanes are wide, usually very well marked, and each intersection has lights which indicate when it is your turn. When parking we are not allowed to park on the side walk and the car must be facing the same way as the direction of the traffic flow.
     Houses in England are much smaller than American homes but they are well planned, neatly kept, and every bit of space is accounted for. The same thing goes for yards. Due to the lack of space many English must choose between a bit of tarmac on which to park in front of their door, or a bit of garden space. There is not room for both and barely room for the car.
     "Give an Englishman or woman a bit of earth and they will make of it a garden," is also true.  I have seen some truly gorgeous postage stamp gardens, and hedges are a must for privacy. Long live the hedge!!

     In the nineteen forties and fifties U.S. farmers decided to do away with hedges--they supported vermin--both weeds and wildlife. Instead everything uncultivated was ripped from the ground. Land was placed under production to the very edges. Wildlife fled the fields, and weeds were carefully rooted out, cut and sprayed with herbicides annually.
     In England fields are contained with hedgerows which also hedge in private yards and gardens, public areas, and meanders along the canal sides and tow paths.
     In England's hedges I have found nettles, comfrey, lady's mantle, horsetail, feverfew, verbena, wild roses, blackberries, elderberries, hawthorn and cleavers galore. All are healthful medicinal herbs beneficial to humankind.
     In England I can harvest them from the boat or the tow path. In America I have to drive three hours northeast to a friend's land and, with his permission, pick a few nettles. The U.S. government campaign to destroy anything that cannot be marketed for money and copyrighted by a company has resulted in a loss of wildlife habitat and a means of folk accessing healthful plants for personal use.
     In England a farmer may own land, but the public has a right of way across his land and all paths are clearly gated and marked. In villages one may build on either side of the public right of way but not obstruct the public right to traverse the pathway. Such laws result in England being owned and accessed by every person--not just those who can afford land.
gate to public path across private land
     Dear Sir and I have discovered differences between us, but nothing we cannot discuss or laugh about. 
     He is truly a patient, loving, kind hearted soul, and a passionate, generous, mirthful man. He knows what--and who he loves.
     Truly I am blessed to be she who is loved by Les. He knows the same road travels back to him from my own heart.
    I'll leave you now with some of the glorious images of our journey from Cassiobury Park north west to Napton. Tomorrow night is our last in England and our honeymoon before the wedding is coming to a close.  

"your business keeps trade on the cut"
canal side home at Milton Keynes
Les walking down public path in Great Lindford Village

 Old canal warehouses on the left side of the cut in Woolverton...

... and brand new flats on the right side!
A lovely canalside cottage...

The interior of old canal wharehouses at Woolverton.
Chapel doors at Marsworth village, built 13th century, restored 19th
stained glass window, Marsworth chapel
William Walt lies under an an altar stone, buried 1583
boats of all shapes and sizes on the canals!
fishing competition at Cosgrove with LONG poles!
Horse tunnel under the canal at Cosgrove village.....
Horse's eye view....
view of the horse tunnel from the other side!
typical narrow English lane!
lovely canal bridge
open countryside...
Heron fishing the canal...
old hedges...
glorious fields...
and Cupani Sweet peas brought from Italy in teh 1500's!
Home made bread!
Les and his old arm chair which we gave away to a good home!
Lock side shops at Stoke Bruerne..
 The ice cream boat at Stoke Bruerne...
 canal side signs pointing out the tunnel ahead!
 Narrow boats mooring up for next week's festival at Stoke Bruerne...
 and NB Valerie entering the 3057 yard long Blisworth tunnel...
 the chains are there for those who fall in to hang onto...
 and comimng out the other side to Blisworth.
 The psychedelic narrow boat...
 and my favorite boater!!
 You never know waht is around the next bend...
 across the field....
or through the hedge!!
 There are witchy boats, and British witches on the cut!
Canal a la canard!
Swans a swimming...
and the interior of the 500 year old Nag's Head pub!