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Friday, July 21, 2017


"If you want to know where your heart is, look where your mind goes when it wanders." ~ Vi Keeland, American author and attorney

     The definition of the title word is to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination. It is old English slang and I thank boater Mike Wall on NB Independence for bringing it to my attention. I also found coddiwomple on a list of 25 Words Every Traveler Should Know and I found nearly all those words resonated for me.
     I am pleased to report that NB Valerie passed the Boat Safety Certificate exam with five stars and flying colors. Every system on this boat easily meets or exceeds the current craft safety standards. The examiner was mightily impressed by the cleanliness of the engine bay and my oven/grill!
     I am also pleased to say that my new mattress is an absolute dream. I no longer wake up feeling as though I have spent the night on a torture rack in the dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition. The process of its unpacking and settling in was almost life-like and rather odd for an inanimate object. The mattress came rolled tightly in thick plastic and a long cardboard box. As soon as I slit the plastic and un-rolled the mattress onto the foundation, it began breathing by which I mean it was out-gassing with a synthetic stench that smelled like a combination of vinegar and old potato chip cooking oil. As the fumes wafted outward (I kept the stern hatch open for two days), the foam mattress also began to breathing in, taking in air and plumping up.  It is now so tall I have to hoik myself up in it, like a small child trying to clamber aboard mom and dad's bed.
     My sleep is physically restful but it seems tragically odd to lie down at night on a mattress Les and I have never shared. I had a horrible nightmare last night in which Les and I appeared at a doctor's surgery for an appointment for him. He was wasted, gaunt and exhausted. The nurse asked us to follow her. I gathered all our bags and we and trudged along a sidewalk down the street to some restaurant the size of a coat room where we were ordered to wait until Les' name was called. Les laid down on a banquette and I sat nearby reading the paper. Suddenly I realized it had gone from daylight to dark outside and our name had never been called. I put down the paper, turned to Les--and he was gone! Panic rose in my throat, my heart hammered like thunder ans I tore through the tiny establishment even going into the men's bathroom. No one had seen Les and no one cared. I was stricken with grief, awash in terror; a stranger in a foreign land who had lost her ill husband! How could I have misplaced him? What kind of wife was I? How could I have allowed myself to become distracted by reading the newspaper? Why didn't I hear Les get up and leave?
     I came awake suddenly, chest heaving, heart pounding with tears pouring down my face, breathing in gasps, my mind  asking me how I could possibly enjoy a decent night's sleep on a new mattress when I had been so negligent as to have lost my husband.
     It was 6:15 AM. I rose and checked the status of my batteries as Les always did first thing each morning. The refrigerator was running and the batteries were at 12.40 watts (50% charged). It is exceedingly dark and overcast here, and it has rained, and yet by 9:00 AM the new solar panels have charged the batteries right up to 13.00! Our old system could not do this, requiring me to run the engine to charge the batteries up again on an overcast day. This is brilliant and means one less worry for me. I can leave the boat now for more than 24 hours and I no longer have to return right away to run the engine and charge the batteries. The new solar panels will keep on top of it for me. I can also run the Ebspacher boiler heater (this heats the radiators throughout the inside of the boat and provides hot water for washing, as opposed to running the engine to get hot water and starting a fire in in the wood stove for heat), wash a load of laundry, or vacuum without having to let the engine run while I do it.
     I am in Braunston now, having cruised back here to meet up with my friend Ray Oakfield (NB Stronghold). He is a jack of all trades and a dark horse this one! Among all the knowledge he has gathered (plays classical guitar and piano, is an excellent cook, and a very proficient boater), Ray can splice rope and he is an encyclopedia of knot tying. I fixed dinner for us (Shish Kebobs using my mother's old recipe which I hadn't tasted in nearly fifty years!), steamed green beans with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and raspberries, toasted three cheese bread, and Peach Lazy Pie with cream). Ray brought the wine, and we had a nice evening catching up. Yesterday morning Ray came over and spliced my new mooring ropes, creating loops on one end and he sealed the other ends with heat sealed sleeving which is a tube of plastic that shrinks tight when heated. All the new mooring lines are in place now and I feel much better knowing the old, badly frayed rope is gone. We parted ways yesterday as Ray is headed for the South Oxford and the Thames. See you perhaps next year then...
     I opted to stay on in Braunston through Sunday as the weather has taken a cool, extremely windy turn with rain and thunder showers forecast and indeed it is blowing a hooley out there. I want to get my Satruday paper with the telly magazine up in the village, before I go and I think today I will attempt to make those yummy Stilton Cheese Puffs Ray is famous for sharing around. He used Nigel Slater's recipe and they are divine. I don't like blue cheese so I managed to find some White Stilton at Tesco in Southam of all places and I am keen to try this recipe.
==> <== Funny dog @Katie Schmeltzer Schmeltzer Schmeltzer Schmeltzer Schmeltzer Gillogley Reece #funnydogthoughts #hilariousdoggiftumblr #funnydoghaircuts #funnydogrhymes     I filled up with water, dumped the rubbish and washed the windows and solar panels at the water point while everyone else was having their tea (that would be dinner, supper, or the evening meal for Americans, depending on what part of the country you live). Not another soul was moving on the cut and the late summer sun disappeared behind the trees with a golden glow. I turned the boat in the marina entrance and backed up to the 14 day moorings just past the marina bridge. With all chores sorted I did a spider reccy using my slippers like big gloves, finding five and dispatching them all to Valhalla or wherever spiders go when they die with a satisfying clap of the slippers each time, and settled in to watch Outlander on More 4.  I cannot abide the eight legged horrors abseiling down in front of me in the dark while I am trying to relax and watch TV.
     I want to say hello to Angela formerly on NB Lady Ester. When she and her husband lived aboard they used to follow our blog. They sold their boat as Angela was struggling with a very bad knee. They were in Braunston yesterday, shopping for mooring lines for their new boat NB Annie. Angela has had knee replacement surgery and they are going to be back on the cut again. She stopped by to introduce herself and she told I was her role model. She had no idea how I managed to cope with having two knee surgeries in one year while living on a boat and caring for Les, and I inspired her. Thank you Angela, for taking the time to stop in and for your very kind and generous words. Welcome back to the cut!    

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Biding Time

“What is she like? I was told—she is a melancholy soul. She is like the sun to the night; a momentary gold. A star when dimmed by dawning light; the flicker of a candle blown. A lonely kite lost in flight—someone once had flown.”~Lang Leav, Australian poet and writer

      I cannot believe it has been nearly a month since I last posted to this blog. The list of projects on our boat has felt like different things on different days: the saving of my sanity, a mountain I must climb, a Honey Do list started by my Best Beloved to be finished by me, a black hole sucking up all my money and energy, a daily reason to get up and put one foot in front of the other when depression looms like a dark abyss, a long list of hurdles on a race course that requires stamina rather than speed, a Goddess-send, a one-thousand step program for rebuilding life after heart rending loss, a list that never seems to end, and endless treadmill of projects, a means of renewing our home...a way forward. 

     It will be six months next week since Les died. His death seems surreal now and so does my life. How, I ask myself, did I arrive here, on a boat, in another country, on my own? While I cannot believe Les is gone I find his memory is fading and I have to fight for every scrap. Part of that is emotional anesthetic, part of it is simply time, and a lot of it is the fact that last year Les changed drastically as his life wound down. I have to really reach to remember Les as he was four, five and six years ago when he was the picture of robust health. Death does that as it eats away at us, moment by moment, cell by cell. I didn't have time to take it all in; I was too busy caring for him and trying to make every moment count for us both while denying my own grief process. I didn't want to burden Les with my grief or the unbearable pain I felt in knowing I was losing him. I chose to cry in the shower instead of in front of him. I chose to be stoic and forge onward. I know now what a terrible mistake that was. I denied us both the chance to experience those precious, painful moments together and to say and do the final things we needed, wanted and should have experienced with each other.
    So, back to the boat. A year ago we asked folks who donated to our GoFundMe account if they would be comfortable with our changing the focus of our account from a trip back to America and family, and instead spend the money on NB Valerie, getting her ready for me to live on without Les. Without exception all of you who donated said,
     "Spend the money as you see fit." 
So we did. My deepest heartfelt thanks to all of you near and far who offered up your fiinancial support for our life on this boat. Items with an asterisk were completed by Les. It is time for an accounting now, of chores and how the money was spent, so here without further ado, is the list:
  • *Whale Gulper no-maintenance shower pump mounted inside the sink cupboard replacing the old unit mounted under the bathtub and behind a wooden panel which required laying on one's belly on the floor, removing the front panel of the bathtub and using a wrench to loosen the cap on the filter to clean it--every two months
  • Boat blacked to protect the hull from rust; good for four years
  • New anodes which also protect the hull from rust and decay
  • Two new steel T studs mounted on either side of the bow to make it easier for me to moor up on my own
  • A bicycle rack attached to the stern
  • *New bathroom sink and tiles to replace the old leaking sink and rotted wooden surround
  • *New brass cup style cabinet pulls on all the galley and saloon cupboards and drawers
  • *Replace all the LED light bulbs which were 9 bulb white lights, with 15 bulb warm lights throughout the boat
  • *Build a corner shelf above the bed with a small swiveling reading light mounted underneath, to match the shelf and light on the other side of the bed
  • *Longer tiller handle to accommodate my very short arms
  • The engine bay cleaned and painted
  • The engine cooling system flushed and refilled
  • Solid steel engine bay cover replaced with an aluminum checker plate cover so I can can lift it and access the engine and weed hatch
  • The horn, navigation lights, tunnel light and bilge pump switches moved from below my feet on the side of the stern locker (Les used his feet to operate them but mine don't reach that far), up in front of the gear shift so I can see them and reach them
  • The stern seats re-fitted (Les cut the storage boxes down but was not able to refit the padded seats that fit on top
  • Hook closure on outside stern doors
  • Clean off the roof
  • Cut down the wood box and move it forward
  • Replace the old solar array Les installed with a new system professionally installed by OnBoard Solar
  • Replace the broken boat hook and boat pole, and rotting gang plank
  • Replace the rotting and missing side fenders, bow fenders, and all the bow, stern and mid-line ropes which were four years old and fraying badly
  • Replace the clapped out stereo and mount the new model in the wall of the front closet
  • Stereo speakers installed in the ceiling of the boat
  • *Replace the ten year old telly with a new HD telly
  • *Replace the old toilet seat with a new oak seat
  • Replace our old, torn mattress with the inner springs poking up, with a new custom made quality Memory Foam mattress
     When someone is ill and fighting for their very life every single day for years, every moment it taken up with two things: the fight itself and attempting to live life as normally as possible. There is no time for anything else, like on-going boat maintenance. The last three years Les and I spent engaging in these things daily until in September of 2015 Les gave up. He was tired; tired of fighting. Tired of taking 28 pills a day, tired of eating a special diet, and tired of having to gauge everything we did by whether or not it would fight cancer or contribute to it. His scans were coming back favorably and he felt good; no he felt great! And finally Les was tired of spending nearly four hundred pounds a month on all the supplements, organic food, etc. etc. etc. that the alternative treatments required. He was tired of being stone cold broke every month without money to do things. Neither private insurance 'nor the NHS will pay for any cancer treatment but the standard chemotherapy and radiotherapy which of course costs hundreds of thousands more than the alternative, but that is a different conversation for another day. 
     I didn't care about being broke, I only ever cared about keeping Les alive and helping fight to regain his health and live our life with joy, and I knew that undergoing alternative cancer treatments requires a minimum two year commitment to the treatment without fail. In the scheme of things two years is not very long but it can feel like an eternity when one is dealing with cancer. I told Les this but he just couldn't hear me and as far as he was concerned it wasn't giving up He felt great, he looked good, his scans were coming back favorably so it would be okay. I knew otherwise but discussing it with Les only made him upset and angry. With my heart sinking, we pulled the plug on all the supplements, diet, organic foods, herbs, etc. Within four months the cancer invaded his bones. 
My sweet, sweet man, windlass in hand on the Lapworth flight up to Birmingham, late September 2015.
     I understood how Les felt. Indeed if anyone would grasp how the entire scenario wore him down day by day and made him feel it was me, for I have lived through two ovarian cancer diagnoses, major cancer staging surgery and a two year alternative treatment program (Gerson Therapy) requiring a major diet change (no meat, dairy, sugar, bread, oil, salt, caffeine or alcohol), thirteen glasses of freshly extracted organic juices daily, and up to four coffee enemas daily combined with 36 daily supplemental pills and two liquid supplements for a combined cost out of my pocket of $840 a month. I remember feeling exactly as Les did. So I if I could not convince him to continue treatment, all I could do was support his choices as best I could. Sadly Les could not undertake Gerson therapy as one has to have a fully functioning colon for the treatment to work. I knew we were in for a tough battle in 2014 when we were denied the stoma reversal due to cancer spreading to Les' liver.
     When we received the terminal cancer diagnosis Les asked me to save him, but without spending all our money. There was nothing I could do and my heart broke into thousands of pieces. Les was one of those people who had to see, feel, taste, and hear something, and know it in his bones before he believed a thing was fact. The trouble with that is by the time one knows at that level that cancer is terminal it is too late. All I could do I did and I took his hand and we walked together into what was left of our limited future together while Les spent every moment he could either planning on making my life without him easier or actually involved in projects to do the same. A lot of this time is sadly blurry for me as I had undergone my second knee replacement surgery and I was on pain medication that dulled my cognitive and emotional processes. After Les died and I returned to the boat I found dozens of lists Les had made, with notes to me about how to save money, how to apply for bereavement benefits, and how to save money on low cost cremations. All this Les did while being filled with ever increasing doses of Morphine which makes cognitive functioning very difficult. Nevertheless he researched, investigated and made notes for me to find once he was dead.
     One thing I do want to mention is the fact that the Oncologists at the RFH wanted Les to undergo a biopsy surgery on his spine. They were convinced the cancer they were seeing was not colon cancer. They were 95% certain it was bone sarcoma and it was a "second line cancer," caused by the five days of radiotherapy Les was forced to endure back in October of 2013. Unbeknownst to us at that time, while the treatment was only five days in length Les was given massive amounts of radiation treatment to the extent he could never endure another radiation exposure again--but of course along with so much else, we were not told of this either until June of 2016 when the Oncology team in London sought to give him radiation treatment on his spine and were shocked to uncover that Les had been maxed out on radiotherapy in 2013. Les asked the RFH Oncology team if spinal surgery would cure his disease or prolong his life. The answer was no, it would only serve to underscore 100% their diagnosis of bone sarcoma, and so Les refused the surgery and we came home.
     I know people don't know what to say or do when I break down and cry. That's okay. Let me cry. But please, please don't say, "Well at least you had six wonderful years together." Don't say, "At least you had a deep and true love that so many people never get to experience." Don't say, "Chin up Jaq, life goes on." Yes someone I considered a friend told me that the day after Les received the terminal cancer diagnosis. I got up and left their boat and I refuse to ever speak to them again. Because truly nothing anyone can say will make me feel better and I am angry that cancer stole the golden years Les and I deserved and were looking forward to spending together. Six years isn't even a blink of an eye. It is half a heart beat.
     I do not need anyone to remind me of the depth of mine and Les' love for one another. That knowledge is alive and well in my heart and soul. I live every day with the awareness that I will never see the look of absolute adoration in his lovely eyes ever again. I will never receive another text on my phone from Les saying, "I love you so much. Xxxxxx times a trilly billion more times than that." I've had to change my phone ring tone because I could not bear to hear it and know that Les will never go off to town again for bits and bobs, then call me to say, "Just having a coffee Jaq and I will soon be back home in your arms my sweet." I will never hear Les call my name or his incredible laugh or see his dimples wink at me ever again, and I will never ever experience his strong, warm arms reaching for me in the dark, pulling me close to his side, or feel his lips on mine. 
     I thank Adrian and Adam on NB Briar Rose for sitting with me as I fell apart one day when they were visiting, and not trying to make it better because they instinctively understood that nothing anyone says or does will ever make this loss less than utterly devastating for me. They patiently waited for the moment to pass. I thank Carol and George Palin on WB Still Rockin' for doing the same with me for three entire days, and to Ken and Sue Deveson on NB Cleddau for the same. Practical help, a pat on the arm, a hug, a tissue (an entire box of tissues), and a cup of tea are all helpful. So are Les stories. I am hungry to hear any and all stories about him, no matter how small or insignificant. We had so few years together and so many folks knew far longer than I did and they have wonderful, funny, touching stories of Les that bring him instantly to life again. 
Andy and Tina on NB Ytene recently. It made my heart sing to sing them cruise past. It also made me sad that Les wasn't with me to see them.
     More thanks are due to Andy and Tina Elford of NB Ytene. Although they graft hard five days a week with only Sunday and Tuesday off and Sunday is spent driving two hours to Peterborough to spend the day with Andy's 92 year old Aunt Beryl, taking her shopping and out to lunch, they both came and spent evenings with me on board NBV while I waited for the solar panel fitting and the mattress delivery. Thanks for dozens of fun and goofy rounds of the Railroad Game, bottles of wine, love and laughter, crying right along with me, getting me registered with your dentist and taking me to my appointments, and bringing me along to visit your lovely Auntie Beryl, She is a pip! Tina, thanks for spending a girls day out with me. I haven't done that for a long time and it was such fun.
      The Elfords cruised with Les for three years; they--and we--are more like family than friends and the stories they have of Les are side splittingly funny. After a grueling day working to keep a fleet of  hire boats clean, functioning, and turned around for hire, Andy and Tina came and worked on my boat, repairing things, fitting new bits and bobs, cleaning the roof, disconnecting the old solar panels, taking the wood box off the roof, cutting it down and putting it back on the roof; taking me to Midland Chandlers to purchase the raft of items that needed replacing on the boat, replacing the bathroom loo fan and then turning it around not once but twice! I am so grateful for Andy's expertise in boat repair and painting which he shared with me over the last month to prepare me for the remainder of the jobs that still call for my attention:
  • Sanding and painting the inside panels of the bow doors, the side hatch doors and the inner and outer stern doors
  • Clean out the tracks around all the windows inside from a decade of dead bugs, mold growth and moisture damage
  • Sanding and painting the wooden window sills
  • Sanding and painting the metal window frames inside and out
  • Sanding and refinishing the dinette table
  • Sanding and refinishing the galley counters
  • Sanding and refinishing all of the interior walls and ceiling. It's been nearly 11 years now and it is well past time 
  • Replace the rubber seals on the bow doors, the side hatch doors, the back stern hatch and door, and the outer stern doors 
  • Cover the stern steps with vinyl oak look planking and new rubber treads (the old carpet treads are lifting)
  • Finish painting the exterior of the boat
  • Order and apply vinyl lettering and coach line tape
The large double wood box with the huge 24o watt house solar panel and smaller 100 watt panel mounted on top.
The two new 165 watt each solar panels and the old 100 watt panel installed together on the roof.
     Finally I wish to thank Tim Rees-Davis of OnBoard Solar who did an absolutely splendid job of installing the new solar panels and all the new equipment so that it would work well for me and also pass the BSS exam which is tomorrow. Tim was the soul of patience as he worked, explaining things in a manner I could understand and removing old parts of our system no longer required so that I can sell them on e-Bay. The new installation means I can easily reach all the panels to clean them, tilt them, and I can easily clean and paint the roof beneath them.
NB Valerie with the smaller cut down wood box moved forward to make way for the new solar panels.
I would also like to thank Debra at Made2MeasureMattress for her assistance and understanding when I screwed up my measurements and the mattress had to be returned to their factory in Kent, cut down to the proper size and a new mattress cover sewn and re-delivered to me. The folks at Made2MeasureMattress were friendly, calm, understanding and worked hard to get me a new mattress in a matter of days.
The new mattress is 18 cm of reflex foam and 7 cm of cool blue memory foam with a quilted cool max cover and a total depth of 25 cm. It is more comfortable and provides a better night's sleep than my $1800.00 Sealy Posturpedic mattress back in the States.
     So what's next? 
     Tomorrow morning the Boat Examiner will come and hopefully all will pass muster. Lee Freeman is the person who has done all the past BSS for NB Valerie and he remembered Les and our boat. I hope by early tomorrow afternoon to be cruising through Braunston turning left and heading for Rugby. North at last, as the narrow canals are calling me.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Twenty Four Hour Round Trip

"Whatever our fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, 'This is what I need." It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment not discouragement--you will find strength there." ~ Joseph Campbell, American mythologist, writer and lecturer, 1904-1987

     After a bit of solitude to grapple with my restless grief, on Tuesday a boat appeared around the bend; one I recognized. It was my friend Ray on NB Stronghold, fresh from the Braunston Historic Boat Rally where, as a member of the Historic Boat Trust, Ray had the responsibility of steering the trust boat Nuneaton with Official parade Marshall Tim West aboard and towing the butty Brighton with actor (and Tim's wife) Prunella Scales and others aboard.
     Ray moored up in front of me and we had two lovely days together, in which he introduced to me the The Cobb BBQ  (Lakeland Kitchen store has them at a reasonable price) and Stilton Cheese Puffs, and I introduced Ray to some North and South American musical groups: The Indigo Girls, Pearl Django, Jean Pierre Rampal and Claude Bolling, and Strunz & Farah. We both have very catholic tastes in music, enjoy cooking and eating a good meal, have been educators, and have lost a spouse to illness. So Ray is comfortable with my grief and no words need to be spoken about it. He has walked his own road and he knows what it is; meanwhile I was privy to all the scuttlebutt concerning the boat rally--and a good time was had by all--and we improvised a meal together and I was able to see The Cobb in action.
Ryan in the blue T-shirt on his boat Southern Star, at Braunston, © Ray Oakfield, 2017
     Thursday brought Ryan Dimmock on NB Southern Star (partner in Jules Fuels), to refuel our boats. I filled up with diesel, bought a bottle of Calor (propane for cooking), and some bags of kindling since there is none available locally here via Ma Nature.  Watching Ryan maneuver his boat just before a bridge hole, past NB Valerie ad two other moored up boats, with other boats attempting to pass him (impatient gits!), all whilst towing a butty behind him, was a moment of beauty. Of course he left with a foil package of Pumpkin Cake and wave. Shortly after Ray cruised off too.
     Now on this boat when the water tank is full, the boat sits lower in the water. After six years of daily life aboard with no gauges to tell if the water tank is low to empty, I gauge where this is at by the feel of the boat. When full, NBV sits low with the cut cradling her and she has a heft that makes it easier to bring her in to moor up on a windy day. As the water tank empties, the boat rises in the water and feels lighter, like an 18 ton leaf skimming the surface, and she rocks about more when I walk or when the wind blows.
     I am perfecting this "feeling gauge" now. I last filled up a week ago on Thursday. The boat was now sitting high in the water and the tank had burped (what I call the sound of the stainless steel tank when it expands or contracts and makes a metallic sound as the water is used up), so I dipped the tank with the measuring stick Les made years ago. Surprise, surprise!! I still had half a tank of water, so I went ahead and got some laundry out of the way and took a shower which took me down to just under a quarter of a tank left. Time to move!
Image result for a cup o fjoe
     Friday morning broke quiet and still. I had my usual two cups of Joe (American slang for coffee, or Kwaaahfee as I used to say with great exaggeration each morning as it made Les crack one of his lovely smiles), sorted another load of laundry to wash as I went along and cruised off towards Braunston. Not far ahead I passed NB Bristol Cream with Zena and Chris aboard. When I was moored up at Napton Marina last month, they came over and introduced themselves. She reads our blog and they keep their boat in the marina there. We waved at each other in passing, and I slowly chugged past boat after boat on tick over. It took me an hour and half to travel the three and quarter miles to Braunston as a result of all the boats moored up along the way but I didn't care. Though overcast, the morning was lovely and birdsong accompanied me on my journey.
     At Braunston Turn there was someone on the water point and traffic was picking up so I decided to moor up in the first spot I saw--just past and opposite The Boat pub, and fill with water later. I had not slept well the night before. Four hours of sleep is a rough gig and that is my usual since Les died. Some nights I manage five and only rarely have I pulled six consecutive hours of sleep so after sorting out mooring up (putting up the TV antennae, putting out my small step in the bow that makes it easier for me to get in and out), and taking a walk over to Midland Chandlers to see what they had in stock that is on my list of needs, I decided a nap was in order.
Image result for Pela Pump
Pela Pump
Image result for Braunston Butchers     Saturday rolled in with warm weather, partly sunny skies, and just the right temperature for me! My normal morning routine no matter what time I wake, is two cups of coffee and a bowl of oatmeal made with steel cut oats, and then I have a tidy up. I washed the breakfast dishes, swept the floor, changed the sheets on the bed, washed a load of clothes and hung them to dry, cleaned out the loo, dressed and was off, walking up to Braunston Chandlers to buy a Pela Pump. Ray has one and he let borrow it some time back to remove water from the bilge in the engine bay. I decided then and there to get one. I looked online and at other chandlers and figured the cost at Braunston Chandlers was about the same after postage and handling. I wanted the six liter pump and they had one in stock. With that sorted I walked up in to the village store, picked up my Saturday paper, and crossed the street to the butcher shop which also carries the best fresh fruit and some veg. For £13.50 I took away a half pound of gorgeous proper thick cut American style bacon, a lovely freshly made chicken and mushroom pie, five fresh tomatoes, five splendidly ripe nectarines, a punnet of fat, juicy raspberries, two punnets of gleaming baby potatoes, a Sweetheart cabbage, and five fat, orange carrots. What a deal!! and I was home again all by 10:50 am! Just the way I did my Saturday chores, shopping and travels when I lived at Cloudhouse in Pullman, WA.
    I fixed myself another coffee and warmed a Croissant in the oven which I enjoyed while reading the paper. Boats came and went constantly. At one point I heard the distinctive putt-putt of a large old working boat so I popped my head out the window in time to say hello to Sarah on NB Chertsey! We have not seen each other since 2012. She looked grand and glowing at the tiller of her boat.
     After reading for several hours I walked over to The Boat Pub and splurged on a burger and fries for lunch. Back home a nap was in order. I was waiting for the boat traffic--which is heavy through Braunston on the weekends--to die down. By 5:30 PM all was quiet. The golden evening sun caused water reflections to sparkle on the roof. Time to move...
     I made my way to the water point by the Braunston stop-house, moored up, began filling the boat with water and dumped the rubbish. I washed the dishes, filled the tea kettle, put on a load of clothes to wash, and cleaned the windows on the towpath side. Not another boat came by and the canal was quiet during the dinner hour. Once the tank was full, it was time for me turn the boat in the entrance to Braunston Marina. This is the reason why I waited for the quiet of evening. I maneuvered NBV around the cafe boat which is always moored just after the water point and just before the marina entrance. I took my time and gently turned the boat. I didn't do it as smoothly as Les would have done, but I did it without trouble and in my own way and headed back the direction I had come from yesterday.
To turn the boat around here, one must pass the Cafe boat, turn the bow right and just put it into the bridge hole, then put it in reverse with the tiller over hard left and slowly turn the boat, straightening the tiller as the bow comes around.
     As I cruised slowly along the North Oxford again, a gentle breeze began to ruffle my hair. The evening air was scented with Sweet Woodruff and roses, and the illusive smell of Honeysuckle from a boater's permanent mooring garden. Swallows dipped and dived all around me. The bright pink blossoms of Fireweed moved in the breeze. I was surrounded on both sides of the cut by nature's floral arrangement: short green stalks of Yarrow poked their tightly clustered white heads up above the grass, interspersed with fat bowls of pink clover. The rigid stalks of Giant Hogweed stood above everything with panicles of bright white flowers. Foamy sprays of cream colored Meadowsweet danced in the evening air, with glimpses of purple Loosetrife tucked in between. Sheep grazed in the fields and I could feel my Best Beloved there with me, standing behind me, his arm around my waist, his right hand next to mine on the tiller. Ours was the only boat on the move. Everyone else had already moored up for the day, and the aroma of dinner hung in the air as I passed by long strings of boats,like rectangular jeweled beads moored all along the cut.
     In the hour and a half it took me to cruise back out to Bridge 103, the sun disappeared behind a low bank of silver clouds and the breeze freshened into a twelve mile an hour wind with gusts raking the trees, turning leaves inside out, making the weeping willow trees wave wildly in the wind. As the evening air cooled I found a spot, pulled in, moored up, set up the TV antennae, and enjoyed a scalding hot shower. Dressed in clean pajamas, I allowed the night to fold itself around me like a soft, sweet glove.    

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hotter Than H-E-Double Toothpicks!!!

"The only thing I know is this: I am full of wounds and still standing on my feet." ~ Nikos Kazantzakis, Greek author nominated nine times for the Nobel prize in literature; 1883-1957.

     It has been too hot to blog. Anything over 72F (22C) is redundant and unnecessary as far as this Alaskan is concerned. It was hovering in the range of 89-90F for five days and dropping to 60-65F at night with full on humidity. The weather has been insufferable. The heat makes me ill and all I can do is stay inside out of the sun, take cold showers (and exhaust my water supply like a mad woman), while waiting for reasonable weather to return--which it has at last! I've always said I would like living in a climate that may require me to wear  sweater in summer. I do get that over here a fair amount of time, but when there is a heat wave Holy Smoke!! Living in a metal tube can be hot, hot, hot.
     The week before the heat wave struck, the weather was dominated by high winds which kept me pinned in place. Had I known about the heat coming our way I would not have complained so much!!  I moved on from the lovely spot I had enjoyed on the N. Oxford and headed for Napton to spend time with friends Andy and Tina on NB Ytene. They live and work nearby so it was lovely to have some quality time catching up with them both, sharing good suppers, playing The Great Game of Britain (AKA the railroad game), laughing madly and remembering Les.
     Since they both have many years of experience as boaters and working with hire boats, I was able to benefit from it in relation to many of the projects still requiring attention on NBV. Andy sorted out the stern seats which Les undertook to resize. My Best Beloved made new boxes for them but he didn't have a chance to sort out the padded lids/seats so Andy did it brilliantly. He also stood by to coach me through my first engine oil change. Andy had to remove the filter which was practically welded in place! All in all it is a quite easy, though messy, job to do. I also took the opportunity to register with a local dentist. One cavity needs filling, and I picked up some tools and items needed for the work ahead. What work is that you ask?
Clean engine bay after an oil change.

My new mop with adjustable handle. It lives in the engine bay where it is used to keep things clean and tidy.

     I am in the process of completing the boat paint job which Les and I began in 2014. This requires finding the new patches of rust and treating them with rust converter, painting each patch with primer, letting it dry and sanding it, then giving each patch two coats of Highland Green paint with sanding in between. Once this has been accomplished the patches will be up to the same degree as the rest of the boat. Then I can tackle each side individually, the bow, the stern, and the roof with two coats of Highland Green (with light sanding in between the coats) and painting the tiller. the bow door bonnet, and other bits and pieces in accent colors. I have decided to go with vinyl decals instead of hiring someone to paint the sign writing, but the paint needs to cure for several months first. After a six month cure I can polish it. 
     The outer stern deck doors, the inner stern door, the side hatch doors and the bow doors have water damage and will need to be sanded and painted, rather than stained. Then I will look into either decals of roses and castles or I may try my hand at painting them myself. The window frames all need attention as well. I will be painting the metal frame black as the original black paint is now peeling inside and out. The wooden frames will be painted inside with a soft cream paint to match the curtains. The dinette table and the galley counters need sanding and refinishing. The bow fender buttons need replacing, as did the boat hook, boat pole, and plank, and the side fenders--two of which were missing. My mooring ropes are fraying after four years of heavy use so they will also be replaced. I picked up two new "nappy pins" as the mooring pins are called, one new mooring chain and one new mooring spike. I will be painting them bright colors so I don't lose them in the tall grass of the towpath when I am un-mooring, as I have done. It is amazing how rust colored mooring pins seem to disappear into the grass and become one with the dirt.
New side fenders, ropes and adjustable cleats. As a single handed cruiser I no longer have time to tie and untie fenders to the boat and adjust them when I am mooring up.  The adjustable cleats make this chore a snap.
Tidy bow. I can only manage to keep one pot of flowers alive for now. I am in training for next year when I hope to keep a roof garden going through summer.

    Solar Afloat is coming sometime in July to sort out the solar panels. The large 240 watt house panel Les installed in 2012 is too heavy for me to lift. I nearly took the tips of my fingers off four weeks ago attempting to get at the wood stored underneath. I cannot tip the panel to maximize solar gain and I cannot clean it properly. Everything on this boat has to work for me now, as a solo boater doing the work of two crew. I am replacing the large panel which will go to its new owner once Solar Afloat installs two new smaller 125 watt panels. This, combined with the small 100 watt panel we already have, will give me 350 watts--a gain of ten watts over what we have now, providing plenty of energy for the batteries. Just as important to me, I will be able to maneuver the smaller panels, clean them, and clean the roof underneath them. The current panels hadn't been cleaned in nearly a year. I did what I could and wow what a difference in energy readings! It is one more system on this boat that needs to be consistently cared for by me now--one more thing Dear Sir used to take care of for us once upon a time.
     I cleaned out the bow and stern lockers--Ewwww!!! My darling hubby was such a pack rat and collector of "anything that might come in handy some day!" Spiders large enough to harness and ride crawled up out of the bow locker prompting me to scream and the bloke on a nearby moored boat to ask if I was all right. 
     "Spiders! HUGE spiders in the bow locker!!!!"
     "Sorry I don't do spiders either," he said with a shudder of distaste, disappearing quickly inside his cratch cover. Dangerous times call for BIG ammo. I found a rusted hammer in the locker and pounded the bastards to oblivion. 
   I remember once when we were moored up at Apsley for a week, waiting for a doctor's appointment and blood test for Les in 2013, we noticed the woman on the boat in front of us came out every morning with a broom and swept her boat from side to side, end to end, stern, bow, and roof--every morning. Les wondered why she engaged in this peculiarly OCD cleaning behavior. I get it now; she was sweeping away the spiders. Good  move! 
...and after! I still need to go back and paint rust convertor on the locker floor.
     It is amazing what makes itself at home in the nooks and crannies of a boat. I gave one of those small, fat Go-Kart tires to Andy and Tina as I don't use them and we only ever had one.  I found it stuffed in the subterranean dark back corner of the stern locker. I didn't bother to look inside it as it never occurred to me there might be something in there besides spiders. Tina told me that when Andy picked it up later he found a bird's nest in it with several small baby birds, dead but still fresh, mouths opens for food that would never come. How on earth a bird managed to get inside the covered stern locker repeatedly, build a nest, and hatch eggs I will never know! Everything in the lockers is accounted for, cleaned up, locked up, and tidy. I am going to paint the insides of the lockers with a lighter green accent color so I can actually see what is inside them.
     After the winds of the second week in June finally died down and just as the heatwave was setting in, I cruised away from Napton Marina, two miles to the bottom of Napton locks. It was a sunny, calm morning and I started off early so as to avoid as many other boaters as possible. The North Oxford is a contour canal with few locks but a sinuously winding path around any and all hills and dales. Napton hill is quite large, spreading out for at least three miles around its bottom with a rise of 500 feet above sea level. The parts of the village at its feet are at 300 feet above sea level so this "bump" in the landscape commands one's attention. The canal was completed in 1774 and contouring or avoiding such obstacles by going around them is what gives it the winding twists and turns for which it is known. I winded (turned) the boat for the first time on my own, doing a splendid job if I do say so, and moored up in a lovely spot near the very end of the fourteen day moorings, just opposite a large sheep farm and its house sitting prominently on the brow of Napton hill. Two arms of the Napton windmill appeared beyond it in the distance. Not ten minutes later I received a text from our friends Mike and Phyllida Muir on NB Garnet. They were moored up in the pound just before the bottom lock. Off I went to meet them. 
     We last saw Mike and Phyll in 2012 at Brinklow where Les found a downed tree near the car park there and cut it up for all of us to share. Four years later we finally caught up with one another. Although born and raised in England, the Muirs spent over thirty years living in Canada and so they speak and understand North American! The next morning their boat moved down through the final lock and moored up behind me. Mike has extensive expertise in computer technology and he sorted Les' and my old computers, creating an external hard drive for me from my computer, moving all relevant files from old computer to new, and essentially cleaning up and wiping Les' hard dive so that the computers can be turned in to Curry's PC World for recycling. Thank you Mike! Another item ticked off the two mile long List of Things To Do.
Quelle surprise!! Mike Muir attempts to take a Selfie of the three of us aboard NB Garnet.
NB Valerie in front with bistro set and sun umbrella out and NB Garnet behind with BBQ at the ready.

     That evening Mike and Phyll treated me to dinner at The Folly pub. I can highly recommend the steak and cheese pie. It was delicious and a good time was had by all as we repaired to their boat for wine and chatter. Sadly the heat wave was building ominously each day, and I woke with a hangover to wilt in the steaming weather. No more wine for me then...suffice to say I spent the next three days in hell, extremely ill from the effects of the ridiculously hot and humid weather. I have no ability to function in hot weather. It sucks the life right out of me. I literally burned my way through my water supply, taking three cold showers a day, and spending the rest of the time stretched out on the bed with nothing but a pillow case soaked in cold water and rung out, draped over me, while I dreamed of snow. June 18th was our sixth wedding anniversary and my first without Les. I did my best to keep busy. I fixed dinner for Mike, Phyll and I: Les' favorite Nevi's Nooner sandwiches (poached chicken, cooled and shredded; crisply cooked streaky bacon, thin avocado slices on bread spread with mayonnaise mixed with diced fresh Tarragon), potato salad, and brownies.  We played a round of The Great Game of Britain and toasted Les' memory. 
NB Valerie with a fresh line of laundry out to air dry.
     Finally as the heatwave prepared to ebb, I rose and said goodbye to the Muirs. I was off again to fill up with water, dump my rubbish and visit the dentist for an exam. I was also looking for a quiet place in the countryside to hole up as the middle to the end of June is a tough time for me; June 18th ushers in two weeks of memorable misery and I am not fit to be in the company of others. June 24th marked five months to the day since Les died. June 27th is the one year anniversary of the death of a brilliant, funny, and amazing woman--my cousin Joanne--from lymphoma, and the following day, June 28th, is the one year anniversary of the oncologist sitting us down in her office and informing us that Les had cancer in his bones and it was terminal. Too many unbearably sad anniversaries to survive back to back. It is a good time to work on my book manuscript rough draft. The memories of Les on every page momentarily lighten my heart and remind me viscerally of how rare and deep is our love and how fortunate I am to carry the love of an amazing man all the way down to my bones.
     I managed to scrape and treat the rust spots on the towpath side of NBV.  Thankfully the weather has turned cooler once more, bringing with it rain. The sky leaks water and so do my eyes. My momentary remedy is afternoon naps and back-to-back reruns of the Big Bang Theory on E4. They make me laugh out loud at the smart, absurd comedy inherent in putting four science geeks together and watching the absurdities they get up to. It is lighthearted, frivolous telly, and for awhile my heart takes a rest from breaking.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Where is Home?

"Home is where the heart is." Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23 – August 25, AD 79), better known as Pliny the Elder (/ˈplɪni/); Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire.
My daughter Jesse collects me at last!

 On March 7th, after seventeen hours of travel I finally fell into my daughter Jesse's arms in Spokane, Washington, USA. A blizzard dumped five inches of snow on Eastern Washington, delaying and canceling flights. Welcome back Jaq!
     I spent six weeks moving between Jesse and Ben's home, the homes of friends in Pullman and Spokane, Sandpoint, Idaho and a hotel in the city. I had a lot of people to see and hundreds of miles of ground to cover. Instead of making this trip in May with Les I was making an abbreviated version of it with his ashes and my sorrow. I lieu of showing my Best beloved new sites, introducing him to other friends on the West side of the State he had yet to meet, attending our grandson's high school graduation, camping in the Olympic National forest, taking a hot air balloon ride over the Pacific, having lunch while sailing among the islands of Puget Sound in a three masted schooner, watching the sun set over the Pacific ocean, meeting our daughters, their spouses and our grandchildren for days of frolicking on the beach, sleeping in a yurt and touring a lighthouse, I was scattering Les' ashes on Kamiak Butte on the spot where we were married, connecting with Eastern Washington friends and family, and continuing to process Les' death and figure out life without him.
The Kamiak Butte trail was still in snow and ice! While we had cold, wet, miserable weather the entire time I was in E. Washington, Britain had a heat wave with 70F temperatures. Apparently I took the British weather to America with me; alas it returned with me too!
Our family up on Kamiak Butte where Les and I were married in 2011: Back row--daughter Jesseca, son-in-law Ben, oldest grandson Micheal. Front Row--grandson's Connor (6), Matthew (12) and Mike's girlfriend Learyc.
Our family continued: daughter Shiery AKA Sparky and her wife Kelli.

      This was a bittersweet trip on many different levels. It was wonderful to see Sparky and her wife Kelli, Jesse and her husband Ben, grandsons Michael, Matthew, and Connor but the circumstances were so sad. We missed Les' love, sense of humor and insights on American life. We did try to interject fun and humor where we could. We had a family meal at Nueva Vallerta Mexican restaurant in Pullman, and watched a pile of DVD's by British comedians such as Greg Davies Sarah Millican, and Michael MacIntyre. I spent time with the boys, taking them shopping at some very cool shops such as Boo Radleys, Wonders of the World, Aunties Bookstore and Uncles Games, having lunch with them and getting to know them again.
Grandsons Mike and Matt on our day out together, eating gelato from Apothecary Chocolates in the Flour Mill.

Connor on our day out, at High Bridge Park in Spokane.

Maryanne's Milk Bottle Diner in Spokane, Washington. Most menu items are under $10 and prepared fresh.
Real American milkshakes which fill a frosted glass with another half glass in the silver container! These are the real deal; I hate what passes for a "milkshake" these days. It is simply soft serve ice cream with a bunch of candy thrown in; too thick to suck up a straw and no taste whatever.
Old fashioned hand formed beef burgers on fresh homemade buns with hand cut fries still wearing their skins! I told Connor that when I was his age there were no MacDonald's or Burger King fast food places. Just diners like the Milk Bottle and good food like we were eating. His eyes were large and round with the wonder of it all and he ate most of his meal--an unusual occurrence for a young lad who usually picks and plays with his food most of the time.
The roiling waters of the Spokane River heading for the falls. Connor is a nature lover like his Mim. He asked for a day outside instead of in the shops so we headed for Riverfront Park.
The river was running high due to a winter of heavy snow and a spring with more of the same.
River spray flying upward to mist the people on the bridge.
Hard to believe looking at this picture that High Bridge Park is tucked right into a busy South Hill Spokane neighborhood.
Connor peeks over the edge, looking in the direction of Riverfront Park--where the Spokane river pictures were taken. There are two main events that grace the park each year: the Independence Day fireworks on the 4th of July and the Royal Fireworks Concert every August. The inspiration for this event came from the pageants and displays of music and fireworks begun at Versailles under the reign of Louis XIV. Spokane's Royal Fireworks Concert had a modest beginning in 1978 with an audience of 3000. Today this special event out doors overlooking the floating concert stage on the Spokane River, with Allegro's 60 piece Royal Band with the world's  only live choreographed fireworks display to the music of George Frederick Handel's Musick for the Royal Fireworks, 1749 is attended by nearly 40,000. Back in the '90's my friends and I came to High Bridge Park to view the fireworks for both events. Back then the trees were not tall enough to block the view!
Back in the early '90's when I first visited High Bridge Park few folks actually hung out there. We Witches liked to build a fire and hold esbats (full moon circles) to work magick. It was such a a wondrous place to hold rituals; quiet, protected, floating high above the city.
Part of the reason we could hold rituals there with little bother was because back then there was only a steep, rutted dirt path climbing up to the top. It has been gentrified now.
     I indulged in my favorite American foods I cannot get in Britain: Root Beer floats, real Mexican food, REAL hash brown potatoes as part of a full American Breakfast where I delighted in watching the waitress's eyes widen like saucers when I said, "I flew 7000 miles for these hash browns!" I enjoyed our crisp, crunchy, flavorful bacon with breakfast and in BLT sandwiches that included mustard, cheese, bacon, tomato, lettuce and mayo; enjoyed plates of delicious Italian food and tossed green salads in large free refillable bowls with fresh ingredients and a dozen choices of fresh dressing. My daughter Jesse took me to her favorite yarn shop in north Idaho where I bought some Alpaca yarn and she knitted me a wonderful winter hat to keep me warm while cruising. This is love.
When Americans hear the word "pudding", this is what we think of; Jello Brand is an easy to make custard like dessert which comes in about thirty flavors.
Proper Mexican cheese without one million scoville rated hot peppers as found over here in Britain. It is a blend of sharp Cheddar, Colby, and Monterey Jack and Americans are left to put in or leave out the chiles of their choice.
Tater Tots! Nothing like them exists in Britain and no--potato croquettes don't even come close.
Proper hashbrowns. Notice they do not come in pre-arranged geometrical shapes! As far as I know there is not a restaurant on this island that offers a truly real Full American breakfast because hashbrowns over here are always those Mickey D inspired, deep fat fried, greasy triangles.
Daughter Jesse's local coffee drive through with a window on two sides for faster service. The baristas often came out and took the orders of four cars at once--all in their head, no writing them down--and managed to get everything perfect every time! I love the American customer service and the British red phone box motif.
This is another coffee drive-through in Pullman, Washington. These drive-throughs are EVERYWHERE in the States, for coffee, fast food, and banking to name a few. I've only seen one drive-through in Britain and that is the Costa Coffee in Leamington Spa.
Spicy Garlic, Sweet and Spicy, Dill, Bread and Butter...
...and Sweet pickles!  Mmmm!!!
Salad dressing mix packets! I sure do miss these.
Need I say more? A freshly made salad dressing from a packet beats ready made jarred salad dressing any day.
I've looked everywhere for canned or tinned clams over here in Britain. I found them at Waitrose in Berkhamsted and nowhere else!
This is Jello brand er...jello or jelly at they say over here.
     Our dear friends Sally and Joe Horton, knowing I could not cope with juggling the schedules of all of our friends in Pullman, stepped in and hosted a pot luck reception at their house the day after their 40th wedding anniversary and two days before they left for eight weeks in Europe! This is love. It was wonderful to see so many of the folks we hold dear but unbearably sad to see them all again without Les, who commented to me when he stayed with me on his very first visit, "You have really fine friends Jaq. They are all really wonderful people and they obviously care about you a great deal."  Later, after we were married Les was absolutely tickled by the idea that my friends became our friends for of course they all loved Les too. Sally and Joe spoiled me with home cooked meals, Grand Seville cocktails, lunch at Rico's pub, and an opportunity to meet their daughter Fiona and her lovely baby girl Mackenzie.It is impossible to be sad for very long in the presence of such bright, sweet, and wonderful new life as a toddler parsing the world around them.
Proud mom Fiona, pround Granny Sally with adorable baby Mackenzie who was just on the cusp of learning to walk when I was there.
Rico's Pub in downtown Pullman, Washington. Rico's is  a landmark and a right of passage for many, many, many thousands of university students at WSU. Friends Leanne and Roger owned it and now help their daughter manage it. The proper fish and chips, burgers, real ale, stouts and porters are uniquely British and fabulously delicious.

     I also drove by Cloudhouse--our home just outside Pullman city limits, where Les and spent so many happy hours getting to know each other, falling in love, and living for months as newlyweds. It has apparently been sold to some trailer trash who have completely ruined it! I was in total shock, sobs wracking me as I realized our lovely home where I saw Les that first morning back in October of 2010 in nothing but his denim jeans as he leaned out on my back deck railing is gone now; it exists only in my memory. It was a visceral reminder that one really cannot ever go home again. 
The front garden with the mature Bradford pear tree is gone... is the seventeen foot back deck, bijou garden and for some reason, half the siding.
The back deck of Cloudhouse in better days.
The front garden under the shade of the flowering Pear Tree.
     Time spent with our friends Karen and Jim Barron included long talks about grief. Both lost spouses before finding each other. Karen and her first husband lived on a sailboat for eight years so she has a competent grasp of what life is like living aboard a boat. Les and I always enjoyed their amazing home which is filled with masks, sculptures and wonderful art. It is like a museum of cultural anthropology.
     For years now the Barrons have opened their home to foreign exchange students from other parts of the world seeking a degree from WSU. The students live with Karen and Jim for several years as they complete their degrees. Bonds of friendship are formed which build a lasting bridge of love that stretches between countries and families. I enjoyed  meeting Ashitotosh, the latest graduate student from India. He is working on a PhD in Economics. Ash may visit Britain some day and he knows he has a cruise on a narrow boat waiting for him. Karen and Jim also spoiled me with delicious meals, a pedicure with hot wax on my hands and feet, and Karen went with me to eat ice cream at Ferdinand's Creamery and visit the bears at the WSU Research Center--two of Les' favorite Pullman offerings. This is love. 
Karen and I with the Cougar sculpture in her front garden.

     I lunched with our friend, author and scholar Charmaine Wellington and we laughed and cried at memories of Les. I remember when we dined at her house in 2012 and Les was in proper awe of how she remodeled her home with her own two hands. Les loved such projects and he thought it fascinating and very cool that Charmaine plunged in, picked up hammer, nails and whatever else was required and created an amazing tiny home. This time we celebrated the next phase of her life, retired from WSU and traveling in her new RPod travel trailer. Time spent in her company was a gift of love.
Charmaine and her RPod travel trailer outside her home in Pullman.
     I stayed an extra day in Pullman to revisit the bears once more on my own, have one more ice cream cone for Les at Ferdinand's, and visit Sunnyside Park where I took my grandsons to feed the ducks when they were little; I sat on "our" bench--mine and Les'--and thought about all the times we enjoyed the view of Kamiak Butte, or watched as the sun set, the evening sky faded to dark, the stars twinkled above us and bats came out by the hundreds to swoop and swirl around us.

I took a walk on the nine mile Chipman Trail between Pullman, Washington and Moscow, Idaho. Les and I walked here many, many times as we talked about our plans for the future.
Beautiful downtown Pullman! Look at those WIDE lanes, and traffic signals above them with easy to read street signs.
Cruising past Rico's Pub.
The children's playground at Sunnyside Park where grandsons Michael, Matthew and Mim (that's me) spent hours playing together.
I took this picture for Les. He was always amazed by the covered picnic areas with built in BBQ's available at most parks.
Our bench at Sunnyside Park where we sat holding hands and enjoying the views of Kamiak Butte as the golden glow of evening dimmed.
The view of Kamiak in the far distance from our bench, overlooking the children's playground.
The pond at Sunnyside where the ducks waited for me, Mikey Boy and Matthew to appear with a loaf of bread.
The young Grizzly bears at Washington State University's Bear Research Center.
Time out for a Grizzly juvenile.
Les loved the bears and visited them several times a week...
along with several weekly visits to Ferdinand's Ice Cream!! This is a half licked sugar cone so you can imagine the actual size of the scoop before it started melting.
Marijuana is now legalized in Washington State and I knew Les would have stopped to take a picture; well actually Les would have gone in to see what it was all about!
I saw this on my way to Sunnyside Park and I had to stop and take a picture as I knew Les would have done so. His curiosity knew no bounds.
This little pantry is standing in the parking lot of a fire station! Why, Les would ask, it is located here? Because in Washington State if  someone wants or needs to abandon their baby, they can leave the child at the local fire station and no questions are asked. Safe haven laws are statutes in the United States that decriminalize the leaving of unharmed infants with police Stations, fires stations, rescue squads and hospitals. If a parent changes their mind they have thirty days to reclaim their child from the State. This little panty offers free diapers, formula and a few other comestibles that might make a difference for a poverty stricken young mother who is thinking of abandoning their child.
American Flags were flying high everywhere I looked and they were far larger than I've ever seen before--a side effect of The Donald being voted into the highest office in the land.
  I hiked Kamiak Butte on my own one final time. As my feet walked the damp trail, my mind saw another time and place; our wedding day as my sandaled feet made the trip up the path, the skirt of my long wedding dress billowing outward with each footfall, joy in my heart and anticipation at reaching the first summit and seeing my Best Beloved in his white shirt, black leather vest and black jeans, waiting for me with family and friends. This time only two chipmunks waited, playing on the sun warmed rocks just beyond the spot where we said our wedding vows and where I scattered some of Les' ashes a few weeks previously. The wind sighed in the tops of the pine trees and the air was heavy with their sun warmed scent. 

The view from where we were married and where I scattered some of  Les' ashes.
A chipmunk sits unconcerned by my presence in the warm afternoon sun.
       I had also stayed an extra day so our dear friends Larry and Lael Turnbow had time to return to their ranch in Potlatch, Idaho. They had a funeral to attend on the West side of the State and I wanted to see them while I was in the area. My visit with Larry and Lael was too brief but it was a sight for sore eyes to see them both. They have a love like mine and Les' and their life on the ranch is filled with projects, animals, and local wildlife. We so enjoyed staying at the ranch in 2012. Les experienced his first American Thanksgiving there, seated around the long table among loving friends. On our final morning Larry came and knocked at the guest house door about six a.m. "Elk! The herd is coming down the mountainside," he said as he handed a pair of binoculars to Les who watched in awe as the dark mass of the moving herd  flowed down through the trees and spread out in the open valley. As I said goodbye this time, a herd of Elk came down the mountainside across from the ranch and settled to grazing in the meadow. I felt as though it was a gift for Les. This is love. 
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Elk herd grazing in the meadow.

     I spent two days in a hotel with a dear friend from my University days at Eastern Washington University. Orinda Beiers is shorter than me with a cascade of hair that often reaches her waist. She earned a chemistry degree and puts it to good use at Hanford Nuclear Reservation keeping radioactive waste from escaping. I introduced Orinda to British tea years ago. This time she brought her teapot and we sat and sipped PG Tips and walked down memory lane together.
     She too has walked the grief trail with her childhood friend Val who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 38--a single mother with children aged ten and sixteen. Orinda took Val home to her house, called in Hospice and took care of Val until she died. Then she  and her husband Rob took care of Val's children.
     We talked, laughed, cried, commiserated and had a fabulous brunch at Old European Restaurant. Orinda introduced me to it years ago. Les and I frequented the one in Pullman where a "Full American" is standard fare: real hash browns--crispy and browned on the outside and cooked through to tenderness inside--mounded on one's plate (and not currently available in Britain), with real American bacon cooked to a mouth satisfying crunch and rich with taste, two eggs any of the six different ways one may order them (I like mine over easy--a concept I struggle to communicate to restaurant and pub staff in the UK), delicious fried American sausage patties--all meat and no rusk, bread, or cereal fillers, thank you very much; toast, biscuits or english muffin with butter and a choice of five different jams. Oh and freshly squeezed orange juice! Heaven!!  Orinda left home, husband, dogs, and daughter behind in the Tri-Cities to spend two girly days with me knowing intimately how broken with grief I was. This is love.
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Orinda and Rob.
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THIS is a full American! Eggs over easy, delicious Crispy bacon, and no potato triangles are seen in this picture.
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The round balls on the left are Ebileskivers--Swedish blueberry pancakes! The top plate is sporting proper hashbrowns and eggs benedict with real Hollandiase sauce.

     Our dear friends Sara and Bill Marlowe allowed me to escape into an evening of theater with a seat at the play Noises Off! which he directed for Spokane Civic Theater. Afterward I attended the opening night cast party with them and met the amazingly talented group of young actors whose performance was spot on. I stayed the night with Sara and Bill and we drank wine and remembered Les and all of the years Sara and I worked at Spokane Public Radio together. She still fills in for them and I met her one morning at the new station digs for a tour, saying hello to several of my old colleagues. Sara and Bill spoiled me with Breakfast at the fabulous Satellite Bar and Diner in downtown Spokane where I was gifted with one of their coffee mugs. The next afternoon we enjoyed a fabulous Mexican lunch and a movie matinee of Logan which was riveting. All three of us are sci-fi fantasy buffs,  the rare thing Les and I did not share, so it was fun. This is love.
Bill and Sarah sporting the windswept look at our wedding on Kamiak Butte in 2011.

       I spent a day and a night with my friend Jane Fritz who lives in a yurt in North Idaho. Jane and I also met through Spokane Public Radio. She produces radio programs about environmental issues for public broadcasting and is a published author of a definitive book about Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint where she resides. The lake is thirty two miles long and over 1500 feet deep. Jane has also spent over thirty years working with local Native American tribes supporting their culture and telling their stories.
     When we visited in 2012 Les was in awe of the majestic beauty of the lake and the wilderness around it. Jane and I drank herb tea and stayed up to the wee hours catching up, sharing memories. The next morning we were woken by the cackling calls of The Turkey Brothers--three wild turkeys who visit her acreage to forage, calling and displaying their fanned tail feathers. Ten wild deer also visited to graze while Jane tossed them some grain to supplement the meager supply of grass as it had been a hard winter and there was still some snow on the ground.
     We drove into Sandpoint and had a delicious breakfast with more hash browns, bacon, and eggs over easy in the company of our friend Victoria--another short-arse woman like me. In fact she and I could pass for sisters. After we ate we took a walk part way around the lake and on the way back a bald eagle settled into a nude Cottonwood tree to watch for fish. Another gift for Les...and yes all of this is love.
Jane in front of her yurt.
Life in the round!
Jane feeding the wild deer.
The Turkey Bros. fan their tails in a display.
My lovely friend Victoria and me.
Jane and Victoria with the magnificent North Idaho wilderness across Lake Pend Oreille, from our breakfast table.

     On my final day in the States another dear, dear friend from University days drove up from Moses Lake to spend the afternoon with me. Adelina Gonzales brought her new husband Santiago to meet me. He is a baker and brought a platter of delicious Mexican delights: Empanadas, pink cake, cookies, and more. 
Adelina and Santiago
     Back in 2012 Les and I stayed at Adelina's house in North Seattle. She was walking her own grief trail over the untimely death of her oldest daughter Raquel from what turned out to be an undiagnosed genetic disease. Adelina took part in our wedding on Kamiak Butte and Les adored her as do I. A single parent like me, Adelina had also spent years living alone, working hard at a career as a labor organizer, raising her children and delighting in her grandchildren.
     Our children knew each other from when they were little and we lived on campus at EWU. When her daughter Sandra heard I was actually marrying--a man?!! AND giving up my home with its extensive library to live in Britain on a tiny, narrow boat she exclaimed in stunned surprise, 
     "Wow! He must really be something if Jaq is marrying him and giving up her library of books to live in England on a boat!"
     Yes Sandra, Les really was something special: amazing, romantic, kind, funny, smart and he loved me without end or reserve. As the inscription in his wedding ring says, "You are my joy," and nothing is truer.

    As I opened the door to Adelina and Santiago I was thrilled to see the years of care and sorrow had disappeared from her face. She looked happy, relaxed, and fifteen years younger.  Clearly she is in good hands with her new husband. We had a long lunch at Luigi's Italian Restaurant and caught up with each other, our children and grandchildren and remembered Les fondly and well. Les and Santiago would have got on fabulously. The enduring nature of our friendship--this is love.
   Finally but not least there were dinners with the famous Wednesday Women. We met at a thirteen week course called Rise Up and Call Her Name, a investigation into the Goddess in Her guise throughout many cultures and across time. At the end of the course there were eight of us who bonded and sought a means of staying in touch with one another. Rosemarie Duffy, a retired Air Force Colonel and nurse anesthetist had just finished reading a book on women's intentional communities. She shared the idea of women's collective dinners and from her this group was born. We met every Wednesday night from 6-8 P.M. at one our homes each week. We didn't miss a dinner for five years. Over the decades the group lost two members who moved out of the area and I moved to Pullman, yet the love and bonding between us still remained and the Wednesday Women continued sometimes with me and sometimes without. We remain linked in love and spirit and it has been so for twenty three years now.
    When I announced to WW that I was getting married to an Englishman and moving to Britain to live on a narrow boat, they said, "Oh no you aren't--not until we check him out!" Les had the distinction of being the very first man to attend a WW dinner, where he won them over with his usual sweet, unassuming, kind and funny personality. Rosemarie though was the toughest nut to crack. At the end of dinner, over dessert and coffee she sat back and stared at Les intently.
     "So Les I want to know what you bring to the table because Jaq can already afford to eat at McDonald's on her own." 
Yep that was Rosemarie--the Colonel ascended and she was brisk, straightforward and right to the point! 
     After Les and I married the WW held a wedding dinner in our honor and their respective spouses and partners were also invited. The men nearly carried Les over the threshold of Kialynn's house in their shoulders. One man confided, " I have always wondered what our women discuss at these dinners!" 
The Wednesday Women in 2013:back row left to right: Kialynn, Lisa, Rosemarie, Rhea; Front row left to right: Marion and Gina.

     Being intelligent, creative and educated feminists as well as artists, teachers, writers, educators, poets, psychologists, feminist community leaders, witches, healers, chefs, several world travelers, with a nurse anesthetist and Air force Colonel in the mix, our conversations covered myriad topics and ascended to amazing intellectual heights and insights. After one evening with these women my mind was more stimulated than it was working five years for a major university among academics.
     So you can imagine my shock to hear that Rosemarie now suffered from short term memory loss caused by dementia requiring her to move to a residential care facility. I was also warned that she would probably not remember me and she didn't. Rosemarie--who had always stood straight and strong owing to her life as a soldier--now walks stooped over and shuffles like a much older person. Her lively blue eyes are dim and vague. She certainly did not remember Les or that the WW had taken her for dinner a couple of weeks previously. During the evening Rosemarie said to me, 
     "I am ready to die now." I asked her why. She replied,
    "I have nothing to live for anymore. I know I cannot remember anything. I don't have a car or my own home anymore and I am ready to go now." 
I asked Rosemarie what she did all day and her reply broke my heart:
    "I eat breakfast with the other residents and then I return to my room and watch TV until I get bored and go to bed." The WW women are her mainstay now, visiting her and taking her out for dinners. 
Around the table from left to right: Kialynn, Rosemarie, Rhea, Lisa; Marion--nearly 99 years old--sits next  to me. Gina arrived later.
Gina and Kialynn lovingly care for our sister friend Rosemarie. This is love.
     Life is so cruel. We work hard all of our lives to hopefully one day afford retirement and enjoy the fruits of our labors. We reach an age in our lives when we may have the wisdom and patience to finally appreciate what life still offers and then our bodies betray us. Rosemarie was a part of the Harvard Nurses Study which has run for over forty years. She watched her weight, exercised, and ate low fat meals in moderation and still her body betrayed her. I went home broken hearted and informed both of my daughters that if I should notice a marked issue with respect to memory loss (not the occasional lapse that generally comes with older age), I plan to get shit-faced drunk, fall off the stern of the boat and drown. I do not want to be warehoused and I certainly don't want my children burdened with the unbearable agony of "what to do with mom." It is a lose-lose situation for everyone involved.
     Finally this trip back to the States was necessary for me to definitely answer the question, "Where is home?"
     It is the most surreal and bizarre feeling to be a citizen born and raised in a country and return to find that is is no longer in fact home. I am surprised the TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) officials at the airport weren't wearing jack boots. The mood was tense for everyone with citizenship or visas to the States while we waited in line at Customs.
     Once past the gatekeepers and settled into my daughter's home in Spokane Valley, Washington, I experienced culture shock once more. I remember when Les and I returned in 2012 and I realized then just how BIG everything is over in America. Well this still holds true only now things are even BIGGER--cars, bottles of laundry detergent, shampoo, packages of meat, meal portions, automobiles. All seem to have been super duper sized since we were there last. Even my first born grandson is supersized at over six feet tall and size thirteen shoes! When Mikey Boy bends over to hug me now he can easily wrap his arms around me and pick me up. By comparison I feel like Britain is Lilliput!  And I found I missed the smallness of things in my adopted homeland and the ability to walk nearly everywhere.
     A vehicle of some kind is essential to do anything in the States. I knew I would need an automobile and when I began planning this trip in February I was so numbed by grief over Les' death that my mind was barely functioning. It is still functioning intermittently as I am easily taken by past events and lose track of the present. Driving a car or the boat is the only exception to this.
     Anyway, when I first checked on the cost of a rental car for six weeks the quoted price was $1700.00. For various reasons I was unable to make arrangements to rent a car before I left. Money was part of it. Les' State pension died with him because I am only 59--six and a half years from retirement age. I had applied for Bereavement Benefits but things move very slowly over here, especially when one is not a citizen but has indefinite leave to remain. Until the Department for Work and Pensions determined that I was eligible for benefits of £450.00 a month for one year, I simply had to make do with what we had in our bank account.
     After three weeks without a vehicle I went to Enterprise to rent a car and with insurance it cost me $1485.00 for three weeks! I emptied out my bank account and hit the road. After nine days some dear friends called to say their extra rig had come out of the repair shop and would I like to use it? Yes!! I returned the rental car and managed to get some of my money back. I would like to thank Joel and Keri for the use of their Honda CRV; for putting Sparky and Kelli up at their house and for dinner and evenings spent with two lovely people. This is love.
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Keri and Joel who graciously lent me their extra rig to drive. Young, hard grafting to make ends meet, they are a part of my extended family from the days of Sparky's childhood when Joel first came into our lives. He will always be one of mine and now his wife Keri is too. Their kindness and generosity touched me deeply.

     I would also like to thank our many friends who offered love and support--both emotional and financial to help me through this difficult period. I could not have made this foray back to the States to place some of Les' ashes on Kamiak Butte, touch bases with dear friends or spend time with our wonderful children and grandchildren were it not for the kindness and generosity of our dear friend Cousin Kindheart in Canada whom Les and I have never met. 
     CK found Les' blog first and then mine. Over the past six years we have become email and phone friends. He called me the day after Les died and among the things we discussed he said, 
     "I want to know what you need now young lady; whatever it is you tell me and it is yours." 
I thought about it for a week and called him to say I needed to go back to the States to be with our family over there but I simply couldn't afford it. He replied, 
     "Don't sweat it. The ticket is yours." This is love.
     That old saying about knowing who your real friends are when the chips are down holds true. Friends on both side of the world--on land and on the canals, in America and in Britain have offered me financial assistance, manual and practical assistance knowing my finances were precarious and that grief clouds the mind and breaks the heart, making it difficult to make decisions or even make sense of the world in any meaningful way. This is love. 
     To each and every one of you who said to me, 
     "Tell us what you need Jaq; anything we can do we will do. We are here for you," 
and who followed through and continue to do so in ways large and small: for your patience, your kindness, your assistance, your wisdom shared, for reaching out to me on the phone, via email and FaceBook, and in person, it is because of your unstinting support and love that I am finding my way again in this world without Les. It isn't easy. It is painful and tough but I will make it because while Les is gone I am not alone. I have a heart full of his love for me, and so many cherished memories; and I have all of you for which my thankfulness knows no bounds. 
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Patti Gora McRavin, or "The Rev," as Les affectionately referred to her; our dear friend who married us on Kamiak Butte and who has plumbed the awful depths of grief in her own widow's walk towards a new life and love. Patti emailed me frequently over the weeks and  months after Les died, providing me with insights into my current wretched state and hope and light for the journey ahead. This is love.

     And the answer to the question, "Where is home?" 
     Home is where the heart is, and mine is with Les, somewhere on the other side of the veil, but for my physical lifetime it is here in Britain where there are 2000 miles of canals and navigable rivers, sixty percent of which I have not yet cruised. Home is a narrow boat named Valerie and wherever I roam on her, that is home. I am able to live my dream because my husband ensured I could. That is love.
My sweet baby and his favorite place on this earth: the stern of NB Valerie with me by his side.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs