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Sunday, January 07, 2018

Here Comes the Sun!

"It is the life of the crystal, the architect of the flake, the fire of the frost, the soul of the sunbeam. This crisp winter air is full of it." ~John Burroughs, American naturalist and essayist, 1837-1921

     Today is day two of total sunshine! What a difference it makes to heart, soul, energy--especially solar energy. I woke this morning about thirty minutes after sunrise to find my batteries which usually read anywhere from 12.6 watts to 12.4 first thing of a dark and brooding winter morning, reading 13.5 and full of happy solar energy. Yes the lack of cloud cover coupled with glorious sunshine means the temperatures are colder and the canal wore a thin rime of ice across the surface but for An Alaskan, or a Canadian for that matter, the cold is relative. While it dropped to -2 C/28F last night, it isn't even comparable to the eight degree Celsius thaw my dear friend Bryce Lee enjoyed in Burlington, Ontario, Canada yesterday, bringing the temperature up to a whopping -30C/-20F! Lake Ontario is frozen with an inch and a half thick lid of ice. The wind chill makes it feel soooo much colder. Mind you, In Alaska the children still pile on their outdoor gear and have recess outside until the thermometer drops below -20F.
     A few days ago my daughter Jesse posted a meme on FaceBook asking "What is your favorite memory about snow?" Bear in mind my favorite oldest child hates being cold and wears sweats pants and and shirts until it is 80F/26C outside! No Joke...
She posted: "Yeah,’s pretty if I don’t have to be out in it but since I am forced to leave my house it’s a cold, gray land of suck."
Last moonlit walk by haikus*, via Flickr I responded:  Oh I have so many!! I love the smell of snow in the air. I love the soft, muffled sound it makes as the world is blanketed in snowflakes. I love the way the landscape appears clean and pristine after a fresh snowfall; how sharp edges become blurred with an accumulation of snow. I love moving across the ice on skates and the scriiiiiitch sound of my blades on the ice. I love spinning on ice skates!! I love sledding in the snow. I love the way the cold plants roses on my cheeks that last for hours after I've gone inside. I love making snow forts and snow people and dressing them up. I love making snow ice cream and eating it with my grandsons. I love the tradition I started when my daughters were small, of playing a certain piece of music which sounds like snowflakes dancing, to celebrate the very first snow fall ( I love the sound of children's happy laughter echoing across the snowy playground. I love the way playing in the snow makes me feel more alive. I love the memory I have of driving on a date, down to Girdwood from Anchorage, Alaska on a beautifully clear moonlit night two days after a heavy snowfall. The full moon reflected off the snowy mountainsides and rounded foothills; the dark road was a shining ribbon glazed with ice stretching out in front of us for miles, undulating as it wove up, over and down the landscape along Cook Inlet. It was one of the most breathtaking sights I've ever seen. I love the way snow cozies the world like a down comforter when I am snug and warm inside by the fire. I love the muffled sound of snow on the boat roof. It sounds like hundreds of small children's fingers tapping at random against the metal. I love how 12 feet of snow slows but does not stop life in Alaska--it just makes you resourceful about getting where you need to go and thankful to return home again. I love the way the snow covered landscape on short, clear winter days paints a sunset that appears to light the snow on fire with reflections of crimson, orange, and gold and then fades to a soft, serene pastel of muted blues and pinks before dusk gathers in. I love the way snow covered Spruce trees appear to be draped in sugared frosting. I love the glitter of hoar frost gathered on every twig and branch, outlining the world in sparkles. I love traveling by dog sled across the snowy ground, the schhhusssss sound of the sled runners mixed with the muffled pad-pad-pad of a dozen Husky feet and the way the dogs bay with high pitched excitement when they know they are going on a run.
Image result for snowshoe softball
 I adore gathering vehicles around a snowy, pristine field, passing around a bottle of Schnapps, and slipping feet into the creaking binders of snowshoes to gallop on giant's feet across snow up to our knees to play a game of snowshoe baseball. I love the crackle of a good fire and the smell of wood smoke on the wind. I love following the Iditarod sled dog race each March as it blazes a 1049 mile trail across the northern snow and ice. I love the delicate peeping chorus of Black Capped Chickadees gathering in a mass to strip a suburban shrub of its freeze dried berries or the sharp lonely caw of the Raven echoing across the barren landscape of frozen snow. I love that the Siberian Yupik Eskimo's have 40 terms for snow, the Canadian Inuit have 53, and the Inupiaq of Alaska have 70! There is not one thing I don't love about snow and I am thankful I was born and raised in Alaska-- the Great Land which fills my senses with memories of winter. xxx
 My favorite picture of me and Les was taken in January 2013 when we were iced in at Blisworth on the Grand Union. We went for a walk with friends on a snowy winter day. I discovered that Les didn't know how to make snow angels!! I stopped, looked at him with incredulousness on my face and slowly fell backwards in the snow and began to move my arms and legs. I held out my hand and Les pulled me upright and viola!! A snow angel. He was enraptured, bent over with laughter, just like a little kid. 
Stormguard Secondary Glazing Film - 6sqm | Robert Dyas
     My friend and fellow boater Ray Oakfield (NB Stronghold), left a comment asking for more information about the means by which I winter proof my windows, so here you go Ray: I always use a window film which is cut a bit larger than the windows, held in place with double sided tape (don't use the flimsy stuff that comes with the film. Les always bought wide, heavy duty double sided tape from Poundland in rolls of four for a quid). Once the window film is secured a hair dryer on low shrinks the film and makes it taut, blocking out the cold air and sealing the warm air inside making it as much as ten degrees warmer as soon as the film is in place. This film is available in the UK from Wickes, Argos, Robert Dyas, Home  Base and B&Q and online from Amazon.While this method works superbly, it does leave a residue of stickiness from the tape that builds up on the window frames over the years. I will be sanding our window frames this year and painting them a lovely cream to match the curtains so I have decided to have Perspex (plexiglass for Americans) cut to fit over each window and then purchase a good rubber seal from Seals Direct to fit all the way around the edge of each Perspex sheet. Then I will either install picture frame turn buttons which will hold the Perspex in place but make it easy to remove, or I will drill holes in the window frames and screw the Perspex sheets in place each winter. Either way will do the trick in creating double glazing and it will do away with the sticky tape on the window frames. Now I just have to figure out where to store them during the spring and summer!!
     Okay on to the next odds and sods as my hubby called these left over bits and bobs that are not necessarily directly related to boating or are to short to make a decent blog post: Coca Shell for composting loos. Our dear friends and fellow boaters (and the very fist boaters to install an Airhead Marine Composting toilet on their boat over here, blog about it, and the rest as they is history!) Ken and Sue Deveson have located a stockist who has tons of bags of cocoa shell much. Here are some pictures of Ken accepting a delivery!
To order cocoa shell go to the website www.tommytopsoil,com. Their phone number is 01422831112. Their address is Pine tree Farm, Hubbberton, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorks, HX6 1NT. If this is too big an order for you alone then go in with a couple of other boaters and get it delivered somewhere you can all moor up together and divide the bags among yourselves. This stockist does offer a discount on order of 10 bags or more.
Finally, tea bags. I discovered recently that tea bags are only 80% paper fiber and the rest is plastic! No matter what shape your "bag" comes in, it is sealed with plastic. The only brands to use 100% biodegradable materials is TeaPigs© which has moved from Nylon mesh tea pyramids to ones made from Corn Starch and Clipper over here in the UK.
     It is amazing what one learns when trying to avoid developing cancer from environmental pollutants. When my Oncologist and my Homeopathic Physician both told me to avoid using a microwave on my food and drink I knew I needed to pay attention. After all it is seldom that conventional medicine practitioners and alternative medicine practitioners agree on anything. So when they do agree I tend to listen. Another item I was warned about by both of them is heating any food or beverage in plastic or consuming anything which comes in plastic. 
     Why? Because plastics are notoriously unstable chemical compounds unlike glass which is inert. When plastic is heated it releases volatile compounds into the air, water, and our food and drink. Now think about all those cups of tea you've been consuming over the years, not to mention all the bottles of water you've drunk. Yeah I know, you may find the bottled water in the grocery store on a temperature controlled shelf or a cooler but do you know where those bottles have been stored for the many months before they reach your local grocery store? If they have sat out in the sun for any time at all then don't drink the water!!! This is why I have a good stainless steel water bottle and fill it at home. Now I know a lot of folks are going to pooh-pooh this and say, "Well you cannot avoid it and I've been doing this for years and I am fine," however bear this in mind: our immune systems can only tolerate so many hits before they are overwhelmed and fail to protect us. Cancer is a change in the cellular level of your DNA. It starts with one cell and generally takes many years to grow into a tumorous mass large enough to be detected or to cause mayhem in your body.  I was told that the ovarian cancer growing on my right ovary had been slowly multiplying over about 26 years. I was 52 when they found it. I would have been 26 when it began to grow from just one cell on my ovary and interestingly enough I was 26 when I started experiencing hormonal issues and pain in my right ovary every month, which my male GP's ignored. One last thing to consider: When my mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1993 the statistics were one in eight would develop the disease in their lifetime. When I was diagnosed in 2008 the statistics had jumped to one in four. When Les was diagnosed in 2013 the statistics were one in every two of us would develop cancer in our lifetimes. Cancer used to be extremely rare hundreds of years ago. I have gone to loose leaf tea and I have to say, it is amazing how different it tastes from the same brand (PG Tips) that I used to buy in enclosed rounds. It tastes better without plastics. Do your own taste test!! I dare you.

Friday, January 05, 2018

One Year Ends and Another One Begins

"Some people may not understand why those who are grieving are reluctant to move into a new year; they see a fresh year, a new season...but for the bereaved it's moving into a new calendar year, which their loved one will never live in." ~Zoe Clark-Coates, British author on grief after loss

     I had hoped to have posted again before now but time and life have a way of unraveling around my ankles these days. Having fetched up in such a lovely spot like the Flashes I was looking forward to chilling out, writing, sleeping and going for walks. This was the week before Christmas--my least favorite holiday. It is a dark and traumatic time of year for me under the best of circumstances, and this year doesn't rate even that high. The festive winter season brings so much baggage along with the short, cold days and long, dark nights. My baggage was packed for me in childhood, by a violent alcoholic step-father who undoubtedly had his baggage packed for him in his childhood by his alcoholic parents. It is a tragic chain of dysfunction and pain. I won't go into great detail. I will only say that guns were usually involved in shooting bulbs off the Christmas tree, presents and tree were tossed out into the snow, our home was ransacked and torn to pieces in molten anger, and my mother was beaten severely while I hung off my step father's leg, biting and screaming at him to "stop hitting my mother!" I was only a tiny, tow headed child and Christmas never got any better in our house. My mother and I walked on egg shells while she went through the motions every year of making Christmas a time of family celebration; our family simply didn't celebrate like everyone else. I never told my own children about my horrendous childhood until they were well past their mid twenties. I never wanted them to be tainted by that kind of pain. I did my utmost to break that chain, to provide my daughters with happy holiday memories of fairy lights, baked cookies, stockings filled and hanging at the end of their beds, candy canes and snow sprinkled love. Once I became a witch my focus changed from December 25th to the Winter Solstice--the turning of the wheel of the year back towards the light. Who in their right mind cannot celebrate such a pivotal seasonal event? The longest, darkest night of the year is my saving grace; it is the moment offering my heart and soul hope that all the goodness, grandeur and beauty, all the abundance and glory of nature will come back to me once more. It is a hallmark of the spirit as well. what lives will die and be reborn. This is nature's endless cycle.
     My first day moored at the flashes I was truly alone. I cleaned the boat, did laundry, and made a pot of soup, taking care of the Administration of Life Duties so I could spend the next few days resting and writing but the best laid plans etc. etc.etc. The 22nd dawned clear and bright, the sun splashed across the landscape lighting up the wet green grass. Soon enough I heard the put-put-put of a boat coming along behind me. It was the fuel boat NB Halsall which had refueled at Kings Lock chandlery and was back on their run. I flagged them down to get the two emergency jerry cans filled with diesel. As Lee and Roberta started to pull alongside me, a hug clump of grasses broke free of the offside bank and wrapped itself around their prop. Now Halsall is an old working boat and it doesn't have a weed hatch. The working boaters had to work stuff off the prop with a boat hook or take a dip in the cut to remove it by hand, so Lee worked diligently with his boat hook at clearing their prop.
NB Halsall clearing grass and weed from their prop.
     In the meantime another boat approached around the bend. It was NB Hobo. Now I had never met the owners Anne and Arthur, but I had seen their names mentioned on FaceBook as friends of Ray and Tracey Arbon on NB Billy Whiz and former owners of Tea Junction, the floating cafe. Arthur pulled in behind me and hovered while Anne stepped off with a puppy in tow on a lead. We explained the situation and I said it shouldn't take long to fill the jerry cans once Halsall's prop was cleared. Anne went back to relay this to Arthur. Just as Halsall was pulling away it was clear there was still weed around the prop so they came in about two boat lengths ahead of me and proceeded to sort it out and get on their way.
     Meanwhile NB Hobo decided to crack on as they were trying to reach Venetian Marina to rendezvous with Ray and Tracey. Somehow they ended up caught on a shallow lump of mud on the offside and their boat tipped sideways a bit. One of their four dogs decided to make a break for it as well and so a bit of pandelerium ensued. Dog back aboard, they pushed off the mud and started to pass NB Valerie and their engine cut out. Arthur couldn't get it started and so they pulled in to moor up in front of me. This was the start of a breakdown saga that stretched over the proceeding days.
     RCR was called out and a Marine Engineer (ME) appeared about an hour before dusk. Working in the waning light he ascertained that NB Hobo had diesel bug. Their tank was about half full of fuel. Getting stuck on the shallow offside had tipped their boat and the fuel in their tank, sloshing the diesel bug which usually lurks near the bottom in the interface between the diesel and the water in the tank caused by condensation and diesel additives. The bug was now mixed through their tank and clogging fuel lines and filters. Not good!!! I can definitively say boaters live in fear of that stuff because it can bring cruising to a complete halt and cost hundreds of pounds to remedy. The engineer pumped the diesel out of Hobo's tank and replaced the clogged fuel filter.
     As dusk closed in the ME's phone rang. It was his wife reminding them they were going Christmas shopping that evening, the 23rd. A bit rattled now by his wife's reminder call, with a numbing cold and darkness setting in, the poor bloke poured the contaminated fuel back into the tank instead of using some of the 100 litres of emergency fuel Anne and Arthur had stored in jerry cans. Tired, cold, and stressed no one remarked on this or took notice until the next morning, when the engine coughed, spluttered and fell silent once more. Another call to RCR early in the day brought two ME's back out. The diesel was pumped from the tank again and another clean fuel filter was installed, with a tube running from the engine to a clean jerry can of diesel. The engine was soon running and the ME's took off for the one mile walk to the nearest bridge and down the lane to their parked van. We truly were moored in the middle of nowhere. As Anne and Arthur set off after lunch their engine was still hesitant. I could not in all good conscience leave them to float around broken down on their own on Christmas Eve so I gave Anne my mobile number and told her to call me if they broke down again and I would tow them to Aqueduct Marina, which was only about three miles away. About forty minutes later my phone rang. The engine stalled and was well and truly dead.
     I threw on my cold weather gear, lifted my fenders, pulled my pins, and cruised off towards Nantwich. I came upon them about thirty minutes later. A slick of diesel lay on the surface of the cut for half a mile behind them. Arthur had fallen in the cut and was down inside changing into clean, dry clothes. Anne and the dogs were waiting on the towpath with the midline. Now I have never towed another boat, but I reasoned that if I took things slowly and was careful it would be okay. I just needed one of them to stay at their tiller and steer their boat. Anne came up and stood on her bow to keep an eye on the bow rope we attached to my stern bollards. Off we went and I am pleased to say NB Valerie performed like a champ. Sadly though, the afternoon was spent by then and we had about another forty minutes of daylight and of course just when all seemed to to be going well, the wind sprang up with a vengeance. We made it from bridge 21 through bridge 15. Coming out of the bridge hole the wind caught us broad side and I wasn't going fast enough to counter its power. We were pushed like paper boats over to the offside where cows stood grazing while staring at the strange interlopers on the other side of the fence. I tried to shift NB Hobo backwards and NB Valerie became stuck on the shallows. Arthur and I both had boat poles out shoving against the bank. Each time we broke free the wind viciously slammed our boats back against the offside.
     Just ahead of us a lovely boat was moored in the tranquil dusk which our engine revving and shouting was disturbing to say the least. It was NB Scarweather and the folks on the boat were out walking their dog. They stopped to help. I decided it was time to moor up and call it a night. I told Arthur and Anne that I was going to reverse off the shallows and push Hobo's stern against the towpath where Arthur could get off with the midline and begin pulling the boat in to moor up. As soon as Hobo's stern touched the metal siding on the towpath, I untied its bow from my stern and using their bow rope I heaved and pulled Hobo's nose clear of my stern fender buttons and shoved it towards the towpath, giving NB Valerie a bit of reverse wellie to keep Hobo's bow moving the right direction. As soon as they were moored up, I reversed NB Valerie out of the shallows, put her in forward and pulled in front of Hobo to moor up myself. The man from NB Scarweather was kind enough to hold my midline while I banged in the pins, tied up and dropped my fenders. A short while later as I was out on the bow filling my coal bucket, this same fellow was out having a smoke on his stern. We chatted briefly and introduced ourselves as boaters do. I explained how I came to be towing NB Hobo, and Richard, a retired Marine Engineer asked me if I was alone on my boat. I explained my circumstances and we parted for the evening. By now the cold I had picked up the first weekend in December and which I was desperate to shake, had settled down in my lungs.  I was exhausted, frozen, and sick. A scalding hot shower and clean jammies soon sorted me out and I fell into bed but of course I couldn't sleep because of the phlegm in my chest and the sharp stinging in my throat. A hot toddy of honey, lemon, and rum soothed things a bit and some tincture of the Herb Pharm's Immune Defense was taken as well.
     Christmas day arrived cold, with blustery winds blowing and a light scattered sprinkle of snow dusting the wet, muddy towpath. Tracey and Ray Arbon turned up mid morning with some emergency supplies for Anne and Arthur. I last spoke with Tracey back in May when I was moored up at Campbell Park in Milton Keynes on the Grand Union canal. It was lovely to see her again and to actually meet her husband Ray. With water topped up a bit and petrol for their generator, Anne and Arthur were settled in until tomorrow when I offered tow them the rest of the way to Aqueduct marina.
     As I was just putting the finishing touches on my evening meal, there was a knock on the boat. It was Richard from NB Scarweather inviting me aboard theirs for Christmas dinner. Seeing as I was just in the process of dishing up my own dinner, we agreed I would join them afterwards for wine and Port. I spent a lovely evening in their company. Richard explained the intricacies of diesel bug to me in his marvelous Scottish accent. He had served in the Merchant navy where he met Sarah in the Falklands. Richard has experience on the giant container vessels that move constantly across the face of the oceans. Sarah is a retired GP. She sipped a good wine, Richard and I emptied a full bottle of lovely Port, and we shared crackers spread with the most delicious Camembert I have ever tasted as we swapped stories and got to know each other. Their boat has a tug deck with a rather large water tank. They graciously offered to tow NB Hobo to Aqueduct marina since that is where they keep their boat and they were heading back the next morning. I was planning to fill up with water at the marina but Richard suggested I fill my tank from theirs as they were going back to the marina anyway. Aren't boaters lovely people??? Yes Mo, (NB Balmaha) they are.
     The next morning was bright and partly sunny. Richard brought Scarweather along side NB Valerie and moored up. A hose from their shower tap to my water tank soon had my boat filled with water and hunkered back down in the cut, siting more stable when the tank is full. Disconnecting the hose, Richard also reached out to take my rubbish bags from the bow deck.
Richard on the deck of NB Scarweather breasted up with NB Val and filling my water tank.
A hire boat passes decorated with blow up holiday figures.
     This is an example of the reason why I had to offer help to Anne and Arthur when they needed it. Les and I have been blessed to have had so much help and offers of help from all across the canal system and boaters are still helping me as I go it alone. It was an opportunity for me to pay that help forward to other boaters in a time of need. While I didn't manage to get them all the way to the marina, NB Valerie and I did get them to a place close to a bridge and a main road where assistance would reach them. We had the good fortune to fetch up near Richard and Sarah's boat and I made lovely new friends--a fine holiday gift offered by the vagaries of life on the cut. Soon enough Scarweather and Hobo were off and away.

     Two days later Ken and Sue Deveson came by to pick me up for lunch at Aqueduct marina where their boat NB Cleddau waits on the hard standing for blacking, painting and servicing. It was impossible to be so close and not stop in and give her a pat and rub! We enjoyed lunch together and a walk around the marina.
Image result for american slanted  brooms
American house broom with slanted brush.
      Two days later I brought NB Valerie into Aqueduct marina for a week. I was off to stay for three days with Carol and George Palin on their wide beam Still Rockin' moored at Hambledon marina on the Thames. They invited me to spend the New Years with them, knowing it would be a tough time for me and I might not be the best of company. We had a great time, walking along the Thames and across the nearby fields, watching Kites wheeling in the sky with their distinctive V shaped tails and amber under feathers. Les loved these birds and could sit watching them for hours. They treated me to a day out in Henley where we ate a delicious, leisurely breakfast at The Katherine Wheel, mooched about the streets enjoying the old black and white timbered architecture, explored the most amazing Tardis-like antique shop, and found a handle for my new American broom head the Devesons were kind enough to bring back for me from their recent trip to California. We share a passion for books, listened to music, laughed, napped, swapped family stories and relaxed in one another's company. The Palins treated me to lovely meals fixed by Carol (her Lemon chicken is mouthwatering!), and a New Year's Day dinner at Cote Brasserie in Marlowe, and drove me home all the way up to Cheshire and NB Valerie where George in his expert capacity as electrical engineer, repaired my TV antennae and cleared the fan on the composting loo which made a horrible growl from debris caught in it; several small leaves and a snail! I have been hunkered down for the last 48 hours enduring 70 MPH winds form winter Storm Eleanor which has lashed the British Isles.

     Tomorrow I take possession of a grocery delivery and will cruise out of the marina and into 2018, uncertainty dogging my wake. I need to make connections in the local area and enroll with the JobCentre Plus. I will have to return to Aqueduct marina on the 17th to have my diesel tank cleaned and a new stern gland fitted. Hopefully there will be nothing else required but I have been warned that the engine shaft and stern gland tube could be worn which would require an expensive overhaul that could conceivably reach a thousand pounds in the worst case scenario. The ME Chris here at the marina is hoping it will be an inexpensive and easy repair.
     This is what is feels like to be a widow in a newly unfolding year: 2018 is a new year without any new memories of Les. I feel even sadder and more alone than I did last year. It is the difference between moving forward through the year after his death, remembering Les and us together in his final months, weeks and days versus turning away now from our previous life together into an uncertain future which holds nothing tangible of the man I love. The cold wind is at my back and I am so alone without Les--without any new and recent memories of my sweet, kind, funny, loving Best Beloved to warm and sustain me.    

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs