Saturday, October 1, 2011

The View From Where I Sit....

...with my feet up, sipping a brandied hot chocolate.
     The past four months have been a tumultuous journey: fly to England, try out three weeks in a narrow boat, fly back to the U.S., pull off a Wiccan wedding on a hillside outside of Pullman, Washington; plan a separate reception with the help of FOJ's, pull together six months worth of paperwork and planning with Dear Sir in order to apply for and get a spouse visa to enter the U.K., try to sell my house and dispose of most of my belonging, pack up what's left, and finish up my job of eleven years--a job I grew into and loved, and grieved over even as it morphed away from student oriented, high-touch advising to a minimal customer service orientation with no real access to assistance for our students.
     Our unit went from the leader in distance education delivery and student services to being a private business clone of a well known and none too respected for-profit school, with the cry of "Budget cuts made us do it" ringing falsely in everyone's ears while our new director called us all together periodically to report " We don't know where, we don't know when--but we are going to deliver ten new programs in the next two years, raking in more money with less personnel."
     When queried by the puzzled amongst us about HOW this venture would get  off the ground, our fearless leader said, "the mission is undefined at this point."
     That was ten months ago. The upshot?  I am told "The mission" still remains undefined.
     Meanwhile students pay far more (a 16% tuition hike over last year--which included a 10% tuition hike) for a whole lot less. It was the appropriate time for me to to go. I have never been very good at delivering mediocrity or pretending the emperor is fully clothed when he's not. Witches have a saying: When it is time to move the Goddess may make the nest untenable." 
     I bled for my students who had no idea the juggernaut of dicey slices and--in my opinion--unnecessary changes that were coming at them as they started this academic year working on their distance degrees but my heart rended itself in two for my colleagues left behind in the melee.
     Distrust thickened the hallways like sour wine. Directors spoke in meetings about "tearing down the silos that separate us as coworkers..." meanwhile the walls grew taller as our unit had five directors purported to have been given significant raises, who seemed clueless about the students they supposedly are there to serve, or the level of angst growing amongst the gifted people who work on their behalf to serve those students--exceptionally fine people who were left with no real leadership, stravaging along in year four of the current budget crisis with no raises while five hundred employees were riffed from the University payroll.
     Under our previous dean who retired last December, it didn't matter if you worked for Distance Degree Programs for two weeks or twenty years--if you left you were sent off with a party--usually a pot luck--and the great, good wishes of the entire unit went with you.
     Under the new regime people just packed their boxes, turned off their computers, and left the building with no acknowledgement at all of their time with the unit, their contributions to the students or the University we served--nothing. (In my case some of my colleagues came down one by one to hug me and wish me well.) 
    While all of this was winding down to its inevitable conclusion Dear Sir worked furiously to paint, plant, and pretty up Cloudhouse in the hope it would sell.

Empty Cloudhouse, Pullman WA
     There were interested parties but every deal fell through as financing withered away in the depressed economic climate. We ended up turning in the keys to the sisters who held the papers and walking away from my investment.
     My husband and I endured three and a half months of bone dry, miserably hot days where the temperature was seventy six degrees by eight a.m. and rose into the eighties, nineties, and even hit one hundred and six by four p.m.    We both prefer low seventies and mild sunshine. He missed his beloved English weather and scenery; "that green and pleasant land."      I had endured twenty two years of miserable summers in Eastern Washington to complete my university degree and live near my employment and grandchildren.
     Alaskan at my core--born, raised, and shaped by the geography and weather for thirty two years--I consider any temperatures over seventy two degrees to be redundant. I also suffer from a chronic illness that is heightened by sunshine and stress. Give me the peace of nature and a good rainstorm any day!
     We careened gratefully from one dinner invitation to another by a dozens of friends. Les would arrive on campus at four thirty p.m. to pick me up and greet me with a kiss and a query, "Who are we dining with tonight?"
     "Tonight we eat with Sally and Joe Horton (which means his home smoked steel head trout may be on the menu!!), tomorrow night with Steve and Bonnie, Wednesday night we dine over at Cheri and Jeri Curtis' (which means exceptional wine and two of my beloveds who can take the mickey out of Les and he out of them--all with love and laughter). Then, let's see...oh we meet Larry and Lael for drinks and hor d' oeuvres Thursday at Sangrias', and we have a dinner party 
Sandy Field and Les
Friday night with Chrisi and Keith, and we are meeting Cheri, Jeri, Margy and Stelios at the Angry Bear after work next Monday. OH! And a dinner later next week with Charmaine and Sandy and we have an invite to Karen and Jim Baron's too...." the list is a long one and we gratefully thank all of you for your love and care.
     We were wined, dined, toasted, and roasted in great American tradition, which means we laughed, shared excellent food and wonderful memories, and my husband and I gained at least a stone if not two stone over those months, driving from dinner invitation to dinner invitation in the air conditioned car.
     Les and I longed for our boat, long walks along the canals, and life without the need for an automobile and enforced air con. Finally it was time to get "Rolling, rolling, rolling, keep those dawgies rolling, RAWHIDE!!" Yeah!
     I left the University with new employment from another department: the offer to instruct two online writing tutorials--beginning and advanced; and work as an e-tutor, assisting students who submitted their writing online for assessment and feedback. All possible with a with a laptop, wireless Internet and a dongle. We planned three days in Seattle to wind down a bit, see the sites and have a bit of a honeymoon before flying back to England on September 7th.
     The weekend of September 2nd was a home game weekend for the University football team. This meant Pullman, a small town of twenty nine thousand inhabitants swollen by eighteen thousand college students, would be descended upon by nearly twenty thousand Alumni and Cougar fans--many in RV's large enough to house a family of ten comfortably.
     This also meant long lines for everything, insane traffic as both Coug Fans and fans from their opponents rolled into town. Most of this fun would be fueled by tailgate parties featuring endless coolers full of beer and other alcoholic drinks.

Ashley & Lisa--our favorite barristas at Dissmores

     In order for Les and I to beat the alumni suffering hangovers and bad attitudes because-our-team couged-again-and-lost insanity driving 1200 RV's across the state via highway 26, we had to leave Sunday, September third at six thirty a.m.      We had a lovely sunrise breakfast with Sandy Field and then we stopped one last time at Dissmores so our favorite barristas could make us our "his and her lattes."
     By lunch time we were in Ellensburg, Washington eating at our favorite burger joint--The Red Horse Drive In. As we sat at the bar waiting for our burgers, fries, and chocolate milkshakes, Dear Sir looked at me in amazement. I stared back in kind.
     "God Jaq, It has been less than a year since we stopped here the first time on our way to your house when you picked me up in Seattle. It boggles the mind."
     "A-may-zing isn't it? So much has happened to us in eleven months. But it doesn't feel like a whirlwind romance Les. I feel like we've known each other at least a lifetime."
     "I know Darling...I feel the same way. I am so comfortable with you Jaq." We sat side by side--my small, soft hand entwined in his big calloused, work hardened one, watching the waitresses pick up orders. 
     We knew our marriage was a good thing--the right move for both of us. While our romance had depth to it that could not be accounted for by knowing each other a mere eleven months, the sheer number of events that occurred in this same time frame cemented our relationship in a way a longer, more drawn out courtship would not have accomplished. We were soul weary and sore for home. For us home is a narrow boat boat named Valerie moored on the canals somewhere in England.
    Les convinced me to stop at the Ginkgo Petrified Forest near Vantage, Washington. I always stand in awe at the view of David Govedare's life size metal sculptures on the bluff titled Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies.
     We detoured to Snoqualmie, Washington and their excellent Railroad Museum to find out about the worst loss of life in U.S. railroad history due to avalanches. The sky was so clear we had a spectacular view of Mount Rainier--a dormant volcano which looms over Seattle and which is usually cloaked in clouds and hidden.

Mount Rainier as we ascend to Snoqualmie Pass
We stopped to view Snoqualmie Falls which drops farther than Niagara and is breathtaking in its beauty. Finally we arrived in Seattle to what else? A bloody heatwave!       
     Checking in to the Marriott at SeaTac near the airport, we found our room had been upgraded for no additional charge to a Concierge room.
    The front desk staff presented us with a key to the concierge lounge, and a lovely room with Bath and Body shop soaps, shampoo and lotion, lovely, thick terry cloth robes to wear and a King size bed!! (The staff treated us very well and we highly recommend the SeaTac Marriott hotel to our friends.)
     We visited with Adelina Gonzales one last time over dinner at the Olive Garden. Before we parted I gave her the framed picture of a still life I had drawn years ago in College art class--a memento of me and our long friendship which began twenty two years ago at university. 
     In order to shrink my life to fit on the NB Valerie I had to do a considerable amount of weeding out, giving away and parting with beloved objects. A friend of mine asked if she could have one of my treasures as a remembrance. I took a cue from her and each of my closest friends received a memento of mine.
     (So please, please, please friends and family on both sides of the Atlantic--remember this when you think about gifting me and Les with stuffed teddy bears in love, collectible statues, pillows, pictures, etc. I had to give away the majority of my beloved treasures to make this move and we live on a narrow boat! Gift cards would be appropriate and much appreciated.)
     We hit the streets of Seattle and saw the usual sites: Pike Place Market, the Seattle Aquarium, and the Olympic Sculpture Park.
     I was impressed that the bright red chairs lined up for the public to sit and enjoy the art installations with and the scenery were not chained to the ground or stolen.
     After a night's soulful slumber we plowed through the mound of eight--count them--EIGHT pillows to find each other in the gi-normous bed. While king size is luxurious, I lost my husband several times during the night!
     After a delicious breakfast in the concierge lounge, we headed out for Tacoma, twenty six miles south. 
     While Seattle has amazing things to see, Tacoma is my favorite west side place to visit. On Commerce Street in Tacoma one can park in the University district and be within spitting distance of three very good museums: the Tacoma Museum of Glass, the Washington State History Museum, and the Tacoma Art Museum.  
     We wandered through the U. district, a re-purposed site of old railroad warehousing. Some of the tracks and signals were left in place and the new buildings were created with a nod to the old warehouses.
     I took Les the long way around to the street so he could appreciate the view of Union Railroad Station with its round, copper roof. 
     He thrilled as we stepped inside the marbled entrance and toured the refurbished beauty which houses the Tacoma Courthouse.
     Dear Sir's eyes grew wide as we walked across the Bridge of Glass and I pointed up to the Dale Chihouly installation in the ceiling!
     We visited the Hot Shop and watched young glass artists play with molten globs of glass. Afterward we sat on benches at the front of the museum eating ice cream and admiring the boats moored in the Dock Street Marina. When we win the lottery we will buy a condo overlooking the Glass Museum and have a boat moored in the adjacent marina! 
     We wandered uphill past the financial district to the newly gentrified theatre neighborhood and enjoyed the cultural masks from different countries built into the supporting beams of many of the buildings. Everywhere one looks in Tacoma there is art and a feast for the eye!
     We sat outside Tully's coffee, sipping lattes and enjoying the cool, sea-salt scented air as it rose up the city hills from Commencement Bay.
     Finally it was time to go and pick up Sparky and her room mate Mary from the Tulwila Train Station near our hotel. I was anticipating and dreading our meeting. I'd said my goodbye to Jesse--my favorite oldest daughter--and it had been painful enough. Now it was time to say farewell to my favorite youngest daughter.
     Sparky told me through her missing front teeth when she was six years old, "Mama I love you tho much I'm gonna live with you till I'm thirty thix." With her arms wrapped tightly around my knees to underscore her feelings. I knew that six year old was still in there muttering, "Thit! Thit! Thit! I knew I thould have thtuck with my original plan!"
     Spark had endured a couple of really rough years recently not the least of which was helping me through cancer treatments and the changes in my life the last eleven months had been difficult for her. Thank the Goddess she loved Les too and told him so. It made letting go a little easier.
     Spark and Mary were also here to take my 1995 Oldsmobile Cutlass Sedan AKA Tawanda, home with them to Portland. Sparky had gifted it to me in 2008 when my car died and I was too poor to afford a new one while hemorrhaging money to begin alternative cancer therapy. 
     After dinner we said our goodbyes and Spark and Mary drove off in Tawanda. Another circle was completing itself in my life. Now all I had to do was suffer through the nine hour plane ride and find my feet in England.
     Les takes overseas travel in stride. I hate to travel. Things move too fast, I get motion sick, I am claustrophobic, and I cannot even begin to describe how miserable I am when I have no control over my immediate surroundings and my body. 
     Flashback to childhood and hiding in hot, tiny, pitch black closets with my sister and every sharp implement in the house, waiting for an imminent attack.
     It was the plane ride from hell with no control over the air. Hot, oversold, and stuffed into chairs nut to butt. At one point I sat on the floor in the very back of the cabin and looked longingly at the handle which opens the door.
     We arrived in England to find a few things had changed while Les was away in the States. Due to those changes it became necessary for Les to schlep four LARGE suitcases nearly splitting at the seams, a computer bag and my carry on with five years of medical records and various other paperwork onto and off of, and onto and off of trolleys no less than six times in order to get us from Heathrow's interminable Terminal Five, to a high speed train stopping at ground level, to a bus, to a train, to Tina's car.
Tina, Lea, and Andy Elford aboard NB Ytene
     He refused to let me help as I was nearly falling asleep on my feet after being awake for nearly twenty three hours. Thank you Tina Elford for greeting us at the Rugby station and giving us a ride home. I sat in her rig and let the musical sound of her accent wash over me as she chatted with Les.      Smart, sassy and funny, with the same timeless beauty of model Lauren Hutton, Tina is a force with which to reckon. (Made you laugh didn't I Tina!! We seldom see ourselves as others see us.
 Tina and her husband Andy were Les' traveling mates for three years as they explored the canals in a convoy--Les aboard NB Valerie and the Elfords aboard their beautiful boat. Tina deposited us at Napton Marina and we were finally, finally home.
      We did it! We DID IT!
     We found each other online in November of 2009 across five thousand miles of ocean and two countries. We met in October 2010, fell in love, and courted via Skype and PennySaver; Dear Sir crossed the Atlantic six times in eleven months as our love affair grew serious. 
     He proposed to me in February, I visited England in May (did I mention I hate to travel??); we planned a wedding, got married, planned a reception, filed for my spouse visa, attempted to sell my home, dissolved most of my past 53 years of collected goods, said good bye to all near and dear, and finally....made it home to England!
     We are moored up now somewhere on the Ashby Canal. We've picked blackberries for pie (three pies--soon to be four actually!!), visited small farm shops, figured out the bus schedule to visit Coventry, and rambled around the charming Village of Stoke Golding where Henry VII was crowned after felling Richard III in a battle for the Kingdom of England.
     And the view from where I sit?
     It's a lovely golden day in early autumn. After taking on water, dumping the trash and emptying the toilet cassettes we moored up near Bosworth Field, walked to Shenton Station and back home for a nap.
The church spire at Stoke Golding from aboard our boat
    In a galley the size of a postage stamp fitted out with Les' bachelor cooking accouterments, I manage to bake a glorious blackberry and apple pie and serve up buttered baby potatoes with parsley, sauteed garlic green beans, and Alaska Salmon fillets with a Tarragon cream sauce for dinner.
      Ducks, geese, and swans visit the boat for scraps of bread. My husband and I walk along the towpath holding hands, to see what is over the next bridge. We laugh, discuss, and argue; we sleep and wake in each other's arms, grateful for every minute we share, taking each day as it comes.
Full moon over the cut, somewhere in England

     While our love story goes on, this is the final post for this blog. My thanks to all our followers for your interest. It's been a life affirming experience as a writer to have your support and enthusiasm. 
    I will be starting another blog titled appropriately enough, "From Where I Sit..." and it will cover a wide range of things--whatever catches my eye, mind and spirit as we cruise along through life in love aboard the NB Valerie.