Saturday, July 30, 2011

Letting Go..

"Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go."  ~James Baldwin

     After months of locating and compiling documents; sifting, sorting, copying, collating; multiple runs to Office Depot for printer cartridges, reams of paper, file tabs, three ring binders and untold hours parsing the Ex-Pat Forum online for hints and advice I finally had my visa binders put together.
     In all they weighed ten pounds and were organized according to the the list of questions on the Spouse visa application form, with a total of 400 pages of paper copies not including original legal documents, wedding, engagement and other personal letters, and photographs.
     After reading, reviewing, and re-reading all the seemingly arbitrary instructions and writing them down step by step in a diary to be sure I understood what was required, we spent three hours into the late evening of July 11th filling out the online VAF4-A British spouse settlement visa application.
     Without Dear Sir I would  have F*&%ed it up entirely. Being dyslexic I found myself frequently confused by the British style of using four words to suggest what an American will state succinctly with a one or two word phrase. It seemed to me the UK Border Agency suggested one thing but actually meant something else.
     Once done parsing the seventeen online pages, we paid the eleven hundred and forty nine dollar fee and printed out the eleven pages of application which provided a receipt for funds paid, a special black bar code and a GWF reference number--all essential components to move forward in this bizarre paper chase. I wept in relief when we finished.
     Our next step required me to go online and book an appointment for biometrics with the nearest U.S. customs office in Spokane, Washington, and go to he U.S. Post Office for two passport quality photos taken without my eyeglasses, or any living expression on my face.
     Unlike the United States--which wants it citizenry to appear happy to be American by allowing us to smile for passport pictures--the UK wants solemnity bordering on criminality as the passport mug shot. As a result my visa picture looks like the zombie bride. 
      On Monday June 18th, we drove one hundred and seventy miles round trip from Pullman to Spokane and back in 93 degree weather for an appointment that took literally ten minutes. 
Foley U.S. Federal Courthouse-Spokane, WA
     Inside the Federal courthouse in the office of U.S. Customs and Homeland Security I was fingerprinted and photographed receiving that priceless red ink stamp on my biometrics appointment confirmation printout which must be included in the visa application packet.
     Dear Sir and I rose at five thirty am on Tuesday July 19, 2011 and went online to the WorldBridge site to pay the additional $300 dollars priority expedite fee. 
     Instructions required us to send the application the same day. We printed out that receipt with its special reference number, gathered the notebooks, and drove to FEDEX in Pullman at 7:30 a.m. to ship my visa application notebooks to New York, next day delivery. 
     Following the directions of the UK Border Agency we placed a copy of the priority expedite fee receipt on top of Notebook #1 (and just to be on the safe side I put a copy inside the cover of notebook #2).
     The clerk packed it carefully all the while trying to prepare us for the cost of shipping ten pounds of paper and binders overnight 3000 miles to the other coast of the continent. 
     "It doesn't matter; it doesn't matter how much it costs--these have got to go out today and arrive tomorrow before the close of business." Scooping up a black marker, Les wrote "priority expedite" and our receipt reference number in large black letters and numbers on the outside of the package per instructions from WorldBridge and we left one hundred and thirty six dollars poorer.
     Once again I burst into tears. I toiled away the previous four months to reach this moment when we let all our hard work go and trusted FEDEX to deliver it on time to the British consulate clearing officer who might recognize the veracity of our case.
     Les just believed it would go through. He saw no reason I would be denied a visa. I could think of several different reasons why the British consulate might deny me starting with the fact that, at age fifty three I am unlikely to ever contribute significantly to the GDP of England, and yet as Les' wife I am entitled to benefits for which I have never paid a dime. That simply does not happen in the Unites States of America. 
     I experience the privelege of having $130.00 a month deducted from my paycheck to ensure Dear Sir has health insurance here in this country--with a $500.00 deductible that must be met first. 
     We have our constitutional rights provided to us by the Bill of Rights--the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution which offer American citizens protection by limiting the powers of the federal government; and the freedom to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps--if we start out in life with bootstraps or find the means to save for a pair. 
     Our rights are being steadily eroded by the power of corporations, from whom we have no protection at all, and justice in America these days most often goes to those with means to afford it--just like health care.
     I have the right to work over six months of the year to pay 34% in taxes to a government who turns around and tells me I still have not paid enough--I owe yet more money and if I marry my tax bill will be even larger. With my money  the U.S. government will underwrite wars in foreign places for corporate greed dressed up to look like an affected interest in human rights.
     Our right to freedom of speech allows us to shout to the world the United States is "the greatest nation on earth" while our own go hungry, homeless, and die for lack of health insurance and medical care; American children go without decent educations, and little hope to afford a college degree. 
courtesy of  Mr. L. Biggs aka my gorgeous husband
     Our children can only clutch at a vain hope in the "American Dream"; the dream sold to so many immigrants from all over the world who flood to this country for a slim chance to secure a myth. 
     As if to underscore the absurd paradoxes of life in this country, Les and I were walking along the Pullman Albion Road last week when his eagle eye spotted a greenback in the grassy weeds along the roadside.  Quickly Dear Sir bent down and plucked the bill from the weeds, his eyes gleaming with excitement. It turned out to be a million dollar bill--printed for entertainment purposes. 
     "Well there you go love," I said sardonically. "The American dream implies our streets are paved with money--no one ever comes out and tells you it's funny money."
   Tuesday afternoon when Les came to pick me up from work he was particularly buoyant. We walked to the car hand in hand and Les kissed me tenderly as he said, "Let me get the car door for you Mrs. Biggs."
      I slid into the front passenger seat as Dear Sir opened the back door, reached inside and pulled out a dozen exquisite red roses and handed them to me with a card that read, "I love youXXX.Thank you for sorting the visa folders."
     For the second time that day tears slipped down my cheeks. I have received flowers from a man exactly three times in my entire life: the first time was the day before my fifty second birthday and the man was my new British friend "Dear Sir." 
    The second was in March and they were from my fiance Les; this time my husband Mr. Biggs, surprised me with flowers so beautiful they took my breath away!
     Wednesday, June 20th dawned hot and clear. We stopped at
Dissmores as usual on the way to work and ordered our lattes: a double shot caramel machiatto for Les, and a double shot Irish Cream latte for me. 
     The young women behind the counter know us well. They have followed my love story from its beginning and they are quite fond of The Brilliant Englishman. We chatted briefly filling Lisa and Ashlee in on where we were with the Visa application as they wished us well. 
    We sipped our hot drinks quietly as Les drove me up to campus, both of us tired from weeks of late nights sorting paperwork. We kissed good bye tenderly three times as is my wont because one kiss will not fortify me until we see each other again--I need three in order to leave a man like Dear Sir behind and trudge off to my office.
      After lunch I decided on a whim to check my email and see if there was anything from the UK Border Agency about receipt of our package.Logging into Gmail I saw "NEYOZVisa Information." Clicking quickly, the email opened and the following message appeared:

Dear Applicant

Your UK visa application has arrived safely at the UK Border Agency, New York and is currently being processed.
Priority Service:
Your application will be processed ahead of other visa applications. Under normal circumstances, non-settlement priority service applications will be processed within 48 hours. Settlement priority applications will be processed within 15 days (not including weekends or public holidays) from day of receipt at UK Border Agency visa section in USA.
Please note, as indicated in the terms of service, the amount paid for the priority service, as well as visa fees, is not refundable if the visa application is refused or, in exceptional cases, takes longer than 48 hours / 15 days to process the application.
You will receive further e-mails advising you of -
1. When your application reaches the next stage of the process; review by an Entry Clearance Officer, and
2. The outcome of your application. This e-mail will also provide you with details of your return package.
We are unable to respond to status enquiries. Further information on UK visa services is available at


UK Border Agency, New York

     I heaved a sigh of relief. It arrived! The consulate had my visa application and we must have done something right because they were actually going to process it as a priority!
      I was grateful I found the ExPat Forum and took the advice offered for Americans seeking a spouse settlement visa to the UK about organizing all data into tabbed notebooks. 
     I was thankful Dear Sir suggested we go a step further and create two identical binders--one labeled "original" and one labeled "copies." 
     It was my turn to be buoyant when Les came to pick me up from work. As we drive off campus he said thoughtfully, "I just have a feeling we will have a decision from the Border Agency this week." I raised my sarcastic left eyebrow which speaks silently, "Yeah right!" 
     "I just have this feeling Jaq; maybe living with a witch is rubbing off on me. I don't know why but I feel it in my gut."  
     And with his own knowing smile Dear Sir headed home in the late afternoon sun, the car flying along a road bordered on both sides by seemingly endless wheat fields transforming from green to gold in the baking summer heat.
The view from our back deck
     Later after dinner as I scooped ice cream into glasses for root beer floats I experienced deja vu--the realization washed over me that I had dreamt that very moment over six months ago: the evening sunset melting into gilded golds and hot pink fusing softly with evening purples across the sky as the landscape stood outlined in a dark silhouette; the frozen coolness of the ice cream carton, the scent of vanilla and cream, the fizz of root beer; the actual moment of feeling myself standing there in the kitchen at Cloudhouse, scoop in hand, my husband's left foot resting on his chair, his lovely brown eyes watching me with a smile from across the white counter.
     I have always done this dreaming ahead of time about seemingly unimportant daily events. It is the Universe's way of checking in with meto say, "You are where you belong."  
The family breadmaker
     Thursday July 21st was the beginning of the end of a hectic week in which Les went fishing on the Snake River with our friend Joe Horton and his buddy Roger Johnson. A brilliant time was had by all in the 80 plus degree weather, as Roger was kind enough to give Les an experience he will not forget, described briefly on Les' blog, "Boats and Cruising: Valerie." I took great pleasure in baking a pan of angel Bars for the guys, and packing a lunch for my husband.
     The countdown was on for our wedding reception planned Saturday, July 23rd--forty eight hours away. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Newlyweds Settle In

"Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself. But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires: ...To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving; To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy; To return home at eventide with gratitude; And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips." ~Khalil Gibran

early summer on the Palouse

     The first week after our wedding went by in a blur. Suddenly the the weather turned over and it was in the mid 80's and 90's here. Of course the air conditioner in both my car and the house decided to crap out at the same time! Four hundred and fifty dollars later both house and car were cool again.
     When Les was here last February we discussed his driving when we returned for our wedding. I couldn't bear to think of him cooped up throughout the long, hot summer, but he wasn't certain he wanted to drive unless the road lines were better marked.
     Upon our return in June Les was pleasantly surprised to see freshly painted road lines everywhere. I knew WSU and the City of Pullman would paint them fresh each spring in time for May commencement, but I told Les, "Just for you baby; I had them freshly painted just for you!"
     Dear Sir has been keeping the car and chauffering me to work and back each day. My first Monday back at work he showed up an hour early to get me, saying, "I forgot what time you told me to come get you and I miss you." What a great way to be greeted by one's husband!!
     We've frequented Ferdinand's Scoop Shop on campus for superb ice cream, visited the bears (orphaned grizzlies are brought to WSU's animal Science program where they are studied for metabolism research) and Les finally
got to see them close up and personal when four large grizzlies came charging down the hill of their huge outside pen and attempted to tear the steel doors off the inside of their cages to get at food. I am pretty sure the scent of our ice cream cones set them off. 
     Dear Sir has been working on the house, fixing things up, tidying up the garden beds, weeding, pruning, pressure washing the vinyl siding and painting the back deck and front porch. We've also been sorting, packing, and throwing things away--all to get the house readied for sale and me ready to move.
     Our wedding reception moved from July 9th to July 23rd to accommodate our hosts chrisi and Keith Kincaid who had an unforeseen international issue crop up which required travel to the Ukraine for a couple of weeks.
     With my new driver's license I am now official as Jaqueline Marie Biggs in this country, and was tickled pink to be addresed as "Mrs. Biggs" by the DOL attendant.
    Les was fascinated by the vision testing machine at the Department of Licensing. We spent an extra fifteen minutes chatting with the attendants about the differences between licensing of drivers in the U.S. and England.
     American drivers' licenses expire every five years and one must go in and take a vision test and renew all personal information with an updated picture in order for one's driver's license to stay current. Any change in the meantime, such as a name change or an address change means a new vision test and issuance of an updated license. In America our licenses serve our national picture identification. We have Social Security cards and numbers issued specifically to us but they may not be used for I.D. except to get one's initial license.
      Here in the States the age a person may first apply for a learner's permit differs from state to state like thousands of other laws. In Washington State one can get a farm permit at age twelve to drive large farm rigs. Most kids get a learner's permit at age fourteen which enables them to drive with a licensed driver in the car with them. One may apply for the final exam at age sixteen and become a fully licensed driver as long as one has had a learner's permit for six months.

Cornwall, England UK

     I've had great fun regaling my American friends with tales of the lane and a quarter sized narrow roads in England, the lack of parking, and the game of chicken played with oncoming traffic. Descriptions of large roundabouts with mounded hills in the middle blocking one's view of the other lanes give U.S. driver's pause for thought. Now that I know vision tests are not mandatory in the U.K. I will have to wear a DEPENDS adult diaper when traveling by car! 
     Les keeps wishing for lines on road telling him when to stop, when to yield, etc.etc. We have signs for those actions because lines on the roadway are obscured in winter weather six months of the year.

European traffic light
     He also pines for traffic lights on posts beside the lanes instead of hanging above his head in front of the lanes. Nonetheless Dear Sir drives quite well in our country.

American traffic lights
      I wake up every morning now with a smile, literally! For the first time in my life I don't open my eyes and tense up, waiting to find out what ninety mile an hour curve balls life is going to throw my way today.
     I am loved, appreciated, and deeply contented to be part of a very good partnership. We finish each other's sentences and blurt out the same ideas in unison.
     Our thoughts are often in sync without either of us saying anything initially to the other. We work together side by side to keep house, make plans, and we thoroughly enjoy one another's company. We love one another deeply. Folks smile at us in passing as we walk hand in hand, and others get a merry glint in their eyes when they spot us kissing. 
     My friends--so used to me being 'the woman who walked alone through this world with a juandiced eye toward men'--now smile indulgently at me and call out with a lilt in their voice, "Hello Mrs. Biggs!" It is obvious I am happier than I've ever been in my life, married to my brilliant Englishman. And why is he so brilliant? Because he loves me!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Working on the Spouse Visa Application

This is just a brief post to let folks know that we are busy working on the spouse visa application right now so there will be no new blog posts until we have cleared this initial process. The breakfast bar looks like someone is in the midst of putting together a major grant--there are piles of documents and papers with copies for each section and requirement. My previous experience as a grant writer is coming in handy!

I get up each morning at 5:50 AM, go for a one mile walk and do fifteen minutes on the exercise bike to make a stab at something physical.

After putting in a full day at work in front of a computer it is all I can do to spend two hours each evening on this intricate paperwork before my mind shuts down completely. Les makes copies during the day at Kinko's copy center and takes care of the domestic side of things: laundry, dishes, hoovering; in addition he's cleaned and painted the back deck and front porch, washed the windows, re-papered and painted the master bath and pressure washed the vinyl siding on the house to make it look like new, and bought a strimmer (weed whacker for Americans) to bring the back forty under control.

I broke down and cried at dinner last night when Les suggested he should go out and put the patio umbrella down because a large windstorm was coming. All my life I've had to do it all myself. I thought when I moved to Cloudhoue in 2007 that life would get easier--but cancer intervened, and fighting for my life took everything I had physically, emotionally, and financially. Life didn't get easier; I was worn out and could only focus on those most essential things in life. 

I am so grateful to have the love and loving care of a man who understands the true meaning of a loving partnership. Les put his arms around me, held me tucked in close to his chest and his heart, and said, "It's okay Jaq--you aren't going to live the rest of your life alone. Fifty-fifty, that's the deal.  We will look after each other and you don't have to do it all yourself anymore darling..." the rest of what took place will remain unwritten. Suffice to say it was enough to get him sent to the naughty step, and he made me laugh until I cried for joy.